SHE-ZAM: So what’s Mary Marvel’s new name?

Though it’s the sad end to a very long era, I’m not all that upset by DC’s scrapping the Captain Marvel name and officially naming the character Shazam. I’m disappointed, but it’s not New Disappointment. I’m disappointed that DC ever got their hands on the character in the first place; a much bigger issue to me than their salvaging what they can from him now that they’ve messed him up so badly.

To be clear, their ruining him isn’t a recent thing, but a long, complicated story that goes back to the ’70s and the exact moment they decided to acquire him. They’ve never known what to do with him and the word “Marvel” being so prominent in his name hasn’t helped their marketing. They’ve ended up with a character better known for his catch-phrase than his name.

The question I have – and here’s where I have the potential to be more upset – is how this will affect the other members of the Marvel Family. If there’s no Captain Marvel, what becomes of Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr? Do they exist in the DCnU and if so, what are their names?

Suggestions? Do you care?

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In which I approve of using movies as social tests, especially The Golden Child

In case you’re not yet familiar with it, Our Valued Customers is a webcomic that depicts actual remarks overheard in comic book stores. It’s meant to be enjoyed the same way people enjoy Real Housewives or checking in on the Kardashians: with much judgment and eye-rolling. Though it’s much easier to swallow than any reality show.

Occasionally though, I find myself thinking that a comment isn’t the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Like the one above. I strongly object to the harshness of the B-word, but as a fan of The Golden Child, I totally agree with its use as a litmus test for discovering My People. (Having already discovered My Wife, I don’t need it as a dating screen.) It’s a divisive movie with more people laughing at it than with it, so any time I find another appreciator, I know we’re going to get along. And if you don’t laugh until you ache at “I-ah-ah-ah-I want the kniiife…Pleeeeeease,” then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

So my question is: what movies do you use to tell if you’re going to get along with someone?

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Though I’ve left out a lot of important details, there are minor spoilers for the first act or two of Underworld: Awakening in this post.

Well, I was right. Awakening takes place twelve years after the events of Underworld: Evolution, just enough time for Selene to have had a baby and for that baby to have grown into India Eisley. At least on paper. Eisley is 18, and though she can pass for younger than that, she can’t pass for 12. That’s just one of the problems with the Twelve Years Later timeline.

My biggest issue with it is that it reboots the world, derailing for a while the momentum of the story that Len Wiseman and Danny McBride were building in the first two movies. Not that there was a clear direction where the series should have gone after Evolution. That movie ended in a way that left the story possibilities wide open, so skipping ahead twelve years is as valid a choice as any. It’s just that the world has changed so much between the two movies that it took me a while to catch up. And until I did, I felt like the film was cheating a little. Like they didn’t know where to go next, so they punted. By the end of the movie, I’d adapted to the new premise and now I’m eager for more; it just took the whole first act to get me there.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, the change I’m talking about is that shortly after Evolution, humanity discovers the existence of vampires and werewolves and immediately goes to war on them. Martial law is declared, there’s a huge Purge, and even Selene and Michael are affected. Selene is captured by the humans (led by Stephen Rea, the leader of a scientific think tank that’s trying to cure/eradicate the supernatural) and Michael’s fate is unknown for a while. Twelve years after her capture, Selene is woken from cryogenic sleep and initially believes that Michael was the one who rescued her. She quickly learns though that it was actually a young girl and that that girl is her and Michael’s daughter.

A quick sidebar about Michael: I was pleased that they found a lookalike actor to play him in Scott Speedman’s absence. I was afraid that Michael’s fate would happen off-camera and we’d have to learn about it through exposition. So though there’s not a lot of Michael in Awakening, there’s enough to keep me from feeling cheated.

I won’t reveal Michael’s actual fate here, but as far as Selene is concerned, he’s dead. The rest of the film has her struggling with her grief while also adapting to the knowledge that she has a daughter. Selene’s never been all that emotionally demonstrative, so the best part of the movie for me is watching her deal with that. There’s a cool, powerful scene where the daughter (she’s named Eve in the credits, but I don’t remember anyone actually calling her that in the film) is concerned that Selene is being cold towards her and Selene explains what’s going on. That’s the heart of the movie and it’s enough character development for Selene to keep me satisfied until the next movie.

There’s also some development in the world-building. Rea’s think tank wants Eve back and as Selene tries to prevent that from happening, she teams up with some sympathetic cops and eventually uncovers Rea’s true motives and a massive conspiracy behind the Purge. That revelation builds the engine that’ll keep the series going for another film or two and as long as Selene continues to get the treatment she deserves as a character, I’m on board for the ride.

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Though the movie’s five years old and I don’t think it’s necessary to say so: spoilers for Underworld: Evolution below.

Underworld: Evolution continues the story of the first film in a couple of significant ways. I mean, as opposed to Rise of the Lycans, which just fills in details about a bunch of stuff you already know. It would’ve been easy to just remake Underworld and call it Underworld 2, but director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride (not that Danny McBride) showed that they were more interested in building a longer story. So we learn more details about the history of the vampires and werewolves while also getting to see Selene grow some more.

There was a line or two in Underworld about all the vampires and werewolves being descended from one person (who also had a human son: the ancestor of Scott Speedman’s character) and Evolution makes that the focus of its story. The remaining vampire lord, Marcus was the first vampire and when he awakens at the end of Underworld, the fracturing of vampire society sends him looking for his brother, William, the first werewolf. Apparently Marcus and Viktor were sort of keeping each other in check (presumably with the third vampire lord, Amelia weighing in on Viktor’s side), so with Viktor and Amelia dead, Marcus is free to release William and damn the consequences. William is apparently mad and would destroy the world or something. The script is pretty loose with motivations, which is its biggest flaw. At any rate, unfortunately for Selene, she unknowingly holds the key (literally and figuratively) to William’s location and Marcus is perfectly willing to kill her to learn it.

As she and Michael run from Marcus and uncover details about his plan (and about the mysterious man played by Derek Jacobi who’s also tracking the situation for his own, secret reasons), they continue and build on the relationship they started in Underworld. There’s still not a lot of chemistry between the actors, but I’m still willing to read that as their learning to trust each other. Not that they don’t trust each other – they’re clearly beyond the suspicious stage – it’s just that neither is sure what to expect from their relationship. When something bad happens to Michael and Selene loses it, it’s a nice bit of acting by Kate Beckinsale, but it seems over-the-top next to the lack of emotion she’s shown about him up to that point. I’m not going to accuse Beckinsale of bad acting, so I’m gonna read that as her surprising herself by how much she cares about and needs him. By the end of the movie, they actually do feel like a couple, so Selene has learned to rely on Michael more than she did in the first film.

Selene also goes through a different kind of growth in Evolution. The movie’s sub-title doesn’t just refer to the evolution of vampire and werewolf society, but also to physical changes in Selene. It’ll be interesting to see how Awakening deals with that.

More than that though, I’m curious to see how they’re going to deal with Scott Speedman’s absence. I would have liked another film with him in it to get comfortable with Selene and Michael as a couple before they’re split apart, but I’m keeping an open mind about his not being there. Hopefully, that will further Selene’s growth as a character in some way. I’ve avoided spoilers for Awakening (though I’ll have seen it by the time this posts), but I’m curious about India Eisley’s character and her relationship with Selene. There were far too many shots of Beckinsale’s belly during Evolution‘s sex scene to just be about how gorgeous it is. She was totally pregnant at the end of Evolution and I suspect that Eisley is playing her daughter. That’s not a spoiler; just my own theory. By the time this posts, I’ll know if I’m right.

Underworld (2003)

Something I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post on Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the final shot, which is basically the opening shot of Underworld laid over with some extremely spoilery dialogue from late in that movie. I don’t like that ending for Rise. It’s unnecessary to Rise‘s story and the only thing it accomplishes is reminding the audience that they didn’t get to see Selene (Kate Beckinsale). And, if you’re being introduced to these films by watching them in chronological order, it spoils a major plot twist in Underworld.

I do understand the desire to sneak Selene in there though. She’s a great character and the journey she goes on in Underworld is a fascinating one. I have reservations about the romance between her and Michael (Scott Speedman), but I’m able to get past it if I read their relationship differently than love. There’s not enough chemistry between them for me to root for them as a couple, but that wouldn’t be a problem if not for their kiss. Other than that, they’re just two people whose goals line up temporarily. The kiss suggests that they’re developing feelings for each other, but there’s a way of watching the movie where Michael represents something for Selene other than love.

As she’s starting to question not only herself, but her entire culture, Michael is the one person she knows outside of her society and the long war that’s been the center of her entire life. He’s the only filter she has as she attempts to see the world in a new way, so of course she latches onto him. Instead of lack of chemistry, we’re seeing reserve. Selene never lets herself be seen as vulnerable (except with Viktor) and Michael still doesn’t really trust her, so they’re not exactly opening up to each other. They’re just in a place where they need each other, so they try that experience on with a kiss. But the movie’s about a lot more than kissing.

It’s about Selene’s eyes being opened and her concept of who’s good and who’s evil being flipped on its head. Even if you’ve seen Rise of the Lycans and know who the good and bad guys really are, it’s still interesting watching Selene go through that process. That – and the leather, and the eyes, and the butt-kicking – is what makes her a great character.