Is Joss Whedon trapped in his own mould?


I have been waiting with great excitement to see what Joss Whedon would do next. I have – with admittedly greater trepidation –  waited to see where the DCEU was heading. That they have converged in making a Batgirl film ought to delight me. Yet I’m rather ambivalent.

That’s partly because there’s a good chance this pairing won’t lead to anything. DC films loses directors faster than my students lose worksheets they are specifically told they will need again. The most high profile case was Ben Affleck departing the Batman but Wonder Woman also had to execute a mid-development switch and the Flash is arguably now on its fourth director.* So if in six months we read that Whedon is off the project then I won’t be surprised.

Even assuming it happens, there would be issues.

For starters, there are broader problems with the DCEU. It keeps turning out awesome trailers and mediocre film. That doesn’t suggest Whedon will be working with the greatest team.

There is also a definite feeling that superhero films with female leads should have female directors. I’m not sure how I feel about that. So I will note it is a potential issue and move on.

What makes me worry is precisely what makes so many people excited: this seems absolutely perfect for Whedon. A guy who is known for making superhero films and projects with strong female characters, now gets to make a superheroine movie. But doesn’t that mean they’ll be a lot of retreading?

I’d argue that we already saw his take on a woman as a superhero. It was called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and there were a 144 episodes of it. Buffy is essentially Peter Parker with stakes rather than spiderwebbing. The show referenced the Marvel universe repeatedly. Indeed, the Avenger’s catchphrase is used more in Buffy than in the entire MCU!

When Whedon became Marvel’s most important writer, he transfused what he’d taken from the Marvel comics of his youth back into the MCU. And as the franchise became the most successful in the history of cinema, the Whedon way of making superhero films became the default template for the genre as a whole. Even after he left the MCU, it still bore his imprint. A scene from Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy feel a lot like Buffy or Firefly with bigger budgets. Combine that with the fact that Whedon seems to have been burnt out by Age of Ultron, and it seems reasonable to wonder if Whedon has given all he has to offer to the world of comic adaptations.

He had been seeming to gravitate towards a very different kind of project. He directed an adaptation of a Shakespearean comedy. He wrote a paranormal romance. And he was at one point talking about his next project being: “a historical fiction slash horror movie about a time when the world was going insane, World War II.”

He described the latter idea as being:

“very different from everything I’ve ever done, except for that it’s exactly the same.”

My fear is that instead of that intriguing prospect, we’re now going to get a film that if not quite ‘exactly the same’ feels a lot like Whedon revisiting terrain he’s already conquered. The result is unlikely to be bad but nor does it feel like a full use of one of nerd culture’s greatest talents.


*Given all of this it is remarkable and disappointing that they’ve been unable to lose Zach Snyder

Why the best Korean food comes from the least exciting parts of Korea (Cable from Korea #11)

The Haeundae area of Busan boasts an appealing medley of attractive beaches, impressive skyscrapers and delightful mountains. These impressive assets draw in numerous tourists and make it one of the most desirable places to live in the whole of South Korea.

Ironically, it also has some of the worst food. I say that even though I eat there a fair bit. Like many western expats I go to Haeundae for half way decent burgers or pizza. But, by and large, that’s all you’ll find: fairly expensive meals that are less good than the average restaurant in any town in the US or UK. Look for the cheap and plentiful Korean food that you find in the rest of the country, and you’ll come up empty.

This becomes especially apparent whenever I meet people staying in hotels down there. When a friend from Vietnam visited Busan for an evening and heavy rain stopped us travelling very far, I found myself in the odd position of not being able to find somewhere that did barbeque, bibimbap or kimbap. As around 90% of restaurants in Korea do, this was a) odd and b) frustrating! Even with more clement weather it is still difficult. When my parents were in town, I wanted to take them for ramen but I – and their hotel concierge – simply couldn’t find anything. The nearest substitute they could suggest was massively expensive sushi! I wound up dragging them back out to my commuter, an hour and a half away by subway, to my favourite ramen place.

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It’s not just my opinion that it’s great. No fewer than four people had independently and insistently recommended it to me before I eventually visited. It has featured on Korean TV and people travel down from Seoul to try it.

However, the less remarked on restaurants around it will also do you a stonkingly good meal for the same price as a Starbuck’s coffee.

Tyler Cowen, an unlikely combination of economist and food writer, has explained that there are good reasons for this:

If a restaurant cannot cover its rent, it is not long for this world. According to a 2005 study, more than half of all restaurants close in the first three years of operation, so this is not a small problem. You can lay off kitchen staff when times get tough, or substitute the cheaper tilapia for the fancier and scarcer Chilean sea bass. But rent is a fixed cost, meaning that you have to pay it every month no matter how many customers walk through the door and no matter what ingredients you are serving.

Low-rent restaurants can experiment at relatively low risk. If a food idea does not work out, the proprietor is not left with an expensive lease. As a result, a strip-mall restaurant is more likely to try daring ideas than is a restaurant in, say, a large shopping mall. The people with the best, most creative, most innovative cooking ideas are not always the people with the most money. Many of them end up in dumpier locales, where they gradually improve real-estate values.

In a recent episode of the Ezra Klein show Cowen went further and singled out Korean suburbs as the place where the most interesting affordable food in the whole world is found. Given that Cowen seems to travel the world in large part to eat stuff that is quite a recommendation!