Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why I Don't Want A Captain Planet Movie (And Neither Should You)

Growing up in the 90s, we had no shortage of cheesy shows. Captain Planet was chief among them. It was more than chief. It was mega-chief. It was MASTER CHIEF. See what I did there.

There's been recent talk of a movie adaptation of this prototypical, middling 90s fare. As much as I love nostalgia, as many insipid things as there are from the 90s that I still love regardless, and as much as I actually enjoyed the Cap as a show, the movie is going to be a big-budget waste of time, no matter how it's spun. No amount of time and effort and care could make this a good movie, and let's be honest with ourselves, no amount of time, effort, or care will be put into trying to make this a good movie anyway.

I know people who are excited for this movie, and I have to believe that these are the same people who were sad when Joel Schumacher didn't continue after Batman & Robin, and were pleased rather than dismayed to remember there's only been two G.I. Joe movies so far, and list Episode II as their favorite of the prequels, because they find the love story "effective" and "powerful" and Hayden Christensen "believable."

I don't usually like to impress my beliefs upon people. But this is just one of those instances where I must insist that I am right and everyone and everything else is wrong. Beyond the simple reason that they will ruin your childhood, yet again, there are bigger reasons Captain Planet in particular will fail. Do not allow Hollywood to convince you Captain Planet will be any good. It won't.

Here Are 5 Reasons Why Captain Planet The Movie Is a Bad Idea (And You Should Be Afraid Of What It Means For Movies)

1.) The internal logic of the show itself is inherently flawed.
Here! These will make you look disco-fabulous!
You wanna talk about comic book movies being a mess because they didn't make stronger choices about what in the long mythology of those superheroes was going to be incorporated or not and how? Imagine making a movie based on a show which, from its outset, has internal logic flaws so blatant, it destroys its own premise?
You hear it right at the beginning with that voiceover. "Gaia, spirit of the earth, decides the best way to use her near-omnipotence is put the fate of the earth into the hands of five teenagers for no particular reason."
What? Is that not what it says at the beginning of every episode? My bad.
So Gaia, a spirit, a god, has the power to create the rings that summon Captain Planet, so therefore, she has the power to create Captain Planet. Now, she can see all the peril of the Earth all at once, why wouldn't she just summon Captain Planet herself and send him where he is needed immediately?
Without the rings, Captain Planet is free to move about the earth himself, and we could actually have a superhero movie, which is far less egregious. But they're not going to do that, so we have these kids, who serve as less than a plot device.
The Captain is not a mecha, he's not controlled by the children and their wills. He doesn't have to recharge by returning to the rings, he gets restored by sunlight that comes through unaffected by greenhouse gases, or clean ocean water, or, I'm assuming, by rubbing gluten-free, non-processed pasta on himself.
Why is a powerful, magical being adding a middle man to unleashing a powerful, magical hero? Alright, logic aside, we know it's to add characters to the ensemble, particularly kids, because it is after all a kids' show. But that leads us to the second problem...

2.) The Planeteers are the most unbelievably useless ensemble in the history of cartoons.
There were two other very dominant ensembles on TV around the same time as the Planeteers, and two other analogous examples I want to talk about as well.

Bet you didn't think a rainbow could kick your ass, huh?
So first, you had The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. They were teenagers too, each with distinct personalities, occasionally compelling internal conflict, and were entrusted directly with power to affect the outcome of a battle. The central idea of MMPR was that young people can be important and do extraordinary things as long as they apply themselves and believe in themselves. We weren't hit over the head with it, but we were reminded that the Rangers outside of their crimefighting, still went to school, maintained jobs, and were all accomplished martial artists. (Well, except Kimberly. She liked to just push Putties with her legs most of the time.)
Trust me, they're all different!
The other, were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Again, they were teenagers, with distinct personalities, a very compelling internal conflict (siblings are always better at it), and were taught to believe in themselves and each other to overcome any adversity. The central idea of TMNT was not heavily emphasized, favoring instead a more general good vs. evil. But in movies, which also came out in the 90s, stressed teamwork and family, and to always think ahead.
Both ensembles were plenty capable individually, as seen throughout the series, but they were always strongest together. The team-up was always the best of all possible strategies, but it always timed out well, leaving space for more individual moments, such as Tommy and Kimberly falling in love or Leonardo and Raphael fighting out their differences. But when it counted, they could get the job done either way.
Then you have these guys:
Linka doesn't even know how to stand in the fucking frame.
Five special young people, my ass. Explain to me when in the series we saw their individual talents exhibited, what made these guys the chosen Planeteers? In an ensemble, they are strongest together. Individually, they have their personal contributions, but together they work in a functional system.
The Planeteers do not. Not only do they not have any individual powers (their rings are very weak manipulators of their respective elements, like handicapped Earth/Air/Water/Fire Benders) but they also lack individual personalities. None of them are particular smart, they have no natural leader, there's no strategist, and there's no reluctant hero. On top of that, Captain Planet exists to do everything. As we already discussed, he's the real power. The Planeteers are placeholders. But their uselessness exceeds even that.
The members of the ensemble also function apart. That's the basis of some of the internal conflict sometimes, as well as the basis for some of the villain's plots where they attempt to destroy the team from within. One of the team decides they are above the team, that they can go it alone and this pride is their downfall. That could make for an interesting movie: Dissent amongst the Planeteers.
It would, except for one problem: the Planeteers cannot form Captain Planet unless they are all in the same place, at the same time, and conscious and able to put their arm up in the air and scream an element. No Planeteer can elevate themselves above the others because none of them can go it alone. Some could argue that this makes the ensemble argument stronger, but it's quite the opposite. Captain Planet is above the ensemble already, and he's the necessary hero, because the internal logic of the show has only served to create 5 useless characters.
And that's made even more evident by the fact that they have no personalities whatsoever. They spend half the time fighting for no reason, and the other half idiotically splitting up to see if they can help, knowing full well that the person who can help the most cannot be summoned without all of them in one place.
The only plausible movie plot is having the kids taken separately by five different villains who somehow alter the rings for evil purposes, and the rest of the movie is our wait to finally seeing the reunion. But I honestly feel like there's no effective way of doing that; it only serves to highlight the fact that this is not an ensemble, this is a superhero who's weakness is the fact that he has to be called by 5 kids who possess no means to help themselves.

3.) Not that it matters how terrible the good guys are anyway, because the villains are all third-tier Batman villains at best.
It's like the Village People if they weren't terrible,
but also weren't a singing group.
Hoggish Greedly. Sly Sludge. Looten Plunder. Duke Nukem.
These names strike about as much fear in my heart as Calendar Man, and Killer Moth, and Crazy Quilt. And they're just as useless.
We're passed the point of pure good vs. evil. What made the villain so interesting in Skyfall was a slight sympathy we shared with Javier Bardem's character. What gives Darth Vader a wonderful arc as a villain is that Luke fights for his good side. What makes Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs both unsettling and compelling, easily one of the most compelling and dynamic movie villains of all time, is that he's well-spoken, intellectual, and even reasonable when it comes to his crimes. He understands morality but reasons around it. He's not irrationally compelled to kill, nor is he on a psychopathic killing spree. These villains have dynamics, complexity, they are compelled to do something because for them the ends justify the means, and there is a greater good.
The villains of the Captain Planet universe though, by their very nature, must be doing evil for evil's sake. They are either selfish or extremely short-sighted. And how can you enjoy a villain that's either of those things? The answer is you don't. The villain loses credibility, the hero's struggle suddenly becomes idiotic, the movie becomes a chore.
And that's what would happen if you put any of these villains at the helm of a Captain Planet movie. I can't stand when my villain is an idiot. In Jurassic Park: Lost World, they bring a T-Rex to Los Angeles. What exactly did they think was going to happen? I'm supposed to buy that that entire movie universe believed that was going to go off without a hitch?
How am I to believe an entire universe is okay with someone who looks like Doctor Blight or Verminous Skum walking around, believing that they aren't a villain? It calls for some comic book sized suspension of disbelief. So let's meet it on that ground.
Lex Luthor of Superman is extremely intelligent, charismatic, and driven not by evil, but by what he believes is right. Again, he believes in a greater good.
The Joker of Batman is an agent of pure chaos. He kills and terrorizes indiscriminately but is very impossible to catch because of his unpredictability and his lethality.
None of the villain characters fall on either end of this scale. They're not written deeply enough. They have a one-track mind which in itself makes no sense. Their choices are harmful to the environment, and ultimately the place where they live, which means they are ensuring their own eventual destruction.
If there's one villain I can't stand more than the villain who's an idiot, it's the villain who, when the hero says, "But you'll die too!" the villain says, "Fine with me!" More often than not, this is the writer of the piece essentially saying to his audience I can't be bothered coming up with a compelling antagonist. And we deserve better.
Could we get better from an eco-terrorist based rogues gallery?
Well, maybe. Take Looten Plunder, for instance. He's an unethical businessman meant to explain the dangers of capitalism.
Now that would be an interesting villain in today's political and financial climate. We have companies with the unbounded ability to exist as dangerous monopolies, to eliminate competition through legal acrobatics, to cut corners and manufacture shoddy products with safety oversight, and a general neglect for human life and the ramifications on the world as a whole, all with profits being the absolute bottom line.
This is a real conflict, topical, relevant. You could have a very devious Plunder character, head of a technology manufacturing company, all the with unethical business practices, the public scandals, the political tie-in, and everything that's hot-button right now.
But then we are expected to believe Captain Planet flies in and saves the day by...closing down these factories and...what? Standing there until Plunder goes through all the paperwork to change everything?
The problem is, you can't go for a more dynamic villain without a more realistic representation of pollution or consumerism, or any of these evils, because the hero doesn't lend itself to that kind of rogues gallery. Captain Planet's not an ethics lawyer. 
No movie plot could build enough credibility in a realistic context so that we can suspend our disbelief over all our problems being solved by a blue guy who flew out of five kids' power rings.

Wait. ...Duke Nukem?

4.) So Just What Exactly Can A Captain Planet Movie Be About?
You can't go darker and grittier with Captain Planet. The villains don't lend itself to that. The hero doesn't lend itself to that. So we have to pretty much take everything as is and attempt to basically do an episode in an extended format. Worked great for the Power Rangers, that's for sure. And by that I mean it was horrible.
We know, but never seem to actually learn, that just because something works in one medium doesn't mean it will work in another. A TV show could lead to a great movie, but that doesn't mean it will. I'm nervous about an Arrested Development movie. I can tolerate those characters half an hour at a time. I love those characters. I love it as a TV show. Can they make me stick around for an hour and a half or more? I just don't know. Then again, it can work. The Simpsons was translated as is to the big screen. It operates like one long episode. But that's because the Simpsons are dynamic characters, the plot serves the characters rather than some sort of external message, and while it's formulaic, it's not with its unpredictability.
What surprises could you possibly expect from a Captain Planet movie? How could they play with that show's inherent formula? How can you effectively split up the Planeteers without it being a self-imposed choice or that's not annoying? How do you place obstacles in the way of Captain Planet without it being cheesy? You can't. In one episode he gets weakened because Sly Sludge literally sprays him with sludge. And they have to find a water hole to clean him off. Oh yes, this has summer blockbuster written all over it.
And like I said, the grittier, darker trend of late doesn't work for Captain Planet. But "As is", doesn't work for Captain Planet either.
Considering the trend, it's going to be a live-action adaptation, which asks a lot of its audience in terms of suspending disbelief. Accepting the Man of Steel in a modern context is one thing. Accepting Captain Planet is quite another, and one that I don't think a movie can do. Is there a screenwriter out there dying to have their Captain Planet movie idea produced because they know how to do it? More to the point, is there a screenwriter out there who even has the slightest idea for a Captain Planet movie?

5.) Finally, maybe most important of all, what really is the message of Captain Planet?
Sesame Street is a successful and long-running children's program for many reasons. One of the most important is that it deals with real-world issues in a frank and honest way, but in a fantastical context. Big Bird loses his nest after a hurricane hits Sesame Street and this episode aired after the events of Hurricane Katrina. Children who were forced to evacuate because of national emergencies were learning from Big Bird how to deal with those feelings.
And here again, the internal logic of Captain Planet fails to deliver a clear message of environmentalism. The Captain is not battling against a shady corporation, or real world problems like oil tankers and global warming. Many of these real world problems are either much more complicated than simply adding a villain's face to them, or just lack a villain. Global warming is the entire human race's fault, not a specific person. How is Captain Planet supposed to fly in and bring us to justice? What kind of a message are we sending when you show real world villainy like an ill-equipped factory with cheap labor being taken advantage of, being closed because Mr. Green Hair made a smart-ass pun and throws a giant rock in front of the door so you can't go inside anymore?
That doesn't solve anything. The real world solutions to problems like these are myriad and honestly, kind of boring for a movie.
The message of the show, well-intentioned though it may be, is lost in the attempt to also make a cartoon show that producers thought would be appealing to kids (appealing enough to buy the action figures, anyway).

With that in mind, the movie has one of two outcomes: it's a typical, though lame, superhero clash with some hokey, shallow environmental sentimentality pasted on top of it, as the show essentially was, or it's a heavy-handed, preachy, and simplistic morality play starring actors as plot devices, with a typical, though lame, superhero clash inexplicably shoehorned into it.