The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Tough Numbers for Franken

Happy Busiest Travel Day of the Year! Making the click-through worthwhile today: some wretched polling numbers for Senator Al Franken, some easily-overlooked signs that the U.S. border is getting more secure and the problem of illegal immigration is being gradually resolved, and a look back at the ill-considered cinematic mess that was Batman vs. Superman.

Yeesh! Only 22 Percent of Minnesotans Say Al Franken Should Stay in Office

Senator Al Franken’s not up for reelection until 2020, and there’s a lot of time between now and then. But his future suddenly looks a lot cloudier:

In less than a week since sexual harassment allegations were leveled against Minnesota Senator Al Franken, his approval rating has plummeted and many Minnesotans say he should resign, according to an exclusive KSTP/SurveyUSA poll.

In a poll conducted Monday night after allegations from a second woman were made public, only 22 percent of 600 Minnesotans surveyed said he should remain in office. Another 33 percent say he should resign, while 36 percent say he should wait for results of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

“To me the striking findings in this poll are first, that only 22 percent are behind Al Franken staying in office,” Carleton College Political Scientist Steven Schier said.

Everybody’s replaceable.

Those Easily-Overlooked Signs of a Gradually-Improving Country

Two key details are buried deep in a Washington Post article about how the Trump administration is “following a blueprint to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States — those who are undocumented and those here legally — and overhaul the U.S. immigration system for generations to come.”

Arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are up more than 40 percent this year, and the agency wants to more than double its staff by 2023, according to a federal contracting notice published this month. ICE is calling for a major increase in workplace raids and has signed more than two dozen agreements with state and local governments that want to help arrest and detain undocumented residents.

 . . . Illegal crossings along the border with Mexico have plunged to their lowest level in 45 years, and U.S. agents are catching a far greater share of those attempting to sneak in.

Republicans are going to face tough midterm elections in 2018, whether they pass tax reform on not. But they probably will be able to point to some improvements in the quality of life of Americans even without passing big bills: a more secure border and dramatic drops in illegal immigration, the elimination of the Islamic State as a state, an unemployment rate around 4.5 percent, a stock market that has increased 28 percent since Election Day 2016, and a more accountable and better-performing Department of Veterans Affairs. (Right now, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector, and one of the long-term ideas on the table is merging the VA programs with TRICARE, the Pentagon’s insurance plan that allows active-duty military personnel to use private health-care providers.)

Looking Back at the Mess That Was Batman Vs. Superman

With Justice League now in theaters, perhaps it’s safe to look back at Batman v. Superman, the messiest and least satisfying wildly-hyped big-budget superhero blockbuster since the Joel Schumaker Batman films. Perhaps what made BvS so maddening is that so many of the film’s problems could have been avoided by listening to a voice of reason early in the process.

“Hey, fellas . . . you can do a story that introduces Batman, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, and sets up a future Justice League film, or you can make a film version of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, or you can do a film version of the early 1990s “The Death of Superman” storyline . . . but you can’t do two, and you certainly can’t do all three.”

The simplest and most glaring reason the film was so unsatisfying was that it tried to do way too much and ended up doing none of it well by the time the credits rolled. Man of Steel had done a nice little job of setting up Henry Cavill’s Superman, leaning a lot on the imagery of the television series Smallville and Kevin Costner.

Then Warner Brothers and DC looked on in envy at the runaway ticket sales of The Avengers, and decided it wanted to equal that, except they weren’t willing to follow Marvel’s formula of introducing at least three heroes (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) in their own stand-alone movies before teaming them up. One of the reasons that The Avengers was so satisfying was because it revolved around the spy agency introduced in the Iron Man movies, the Tesseract MacGuffin from the Captain America movie, and the villain from Thor, all previously suggested by the presence of Nick Fury in each movie . . . it felt like a culmination of multiple strands of a story.

Every once in a while, BvS made an interesting choice. We had already seen Batman in seven films (eight, if you count Adam West) so the creative team felt compelled to offer a new, slightly different version of the character. Ben Affleck largely delivered this: an older Bruce Wayne, on the back half of his career as Batman, wondering how much good he’s really done and — at least it seemed — one that had never really worked with Gotham’s police. “Alfred, we’ve always been criminals.” (Of course, in Justice League, Batman is chatting and strategizing with Commissioner Gordon, just like he always did in other portrayals.)

Gal Gadot’s casting of Wonder Woman is about as perfect as it gets. (Some of us are less than surprised that the world would find the best representation of feminine beauty, strength, and indomitable resolve in Israel. After my visit, I concluded that the country had three things in abundance: beautiful women, M-16 rifles, and beautiful women carrying M-16 rifles.) Of course, this raises the question of whether such a key and appealing character should be introduced to audiences in a glorified cameo.

Even worse, Batman v. Superman decided to introduce three of the DC Comics’ big heroes, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg in . . . grainy security camera footage! This was no way to introduce any key character, much less three of them, and if the creative team absolutely had to go that route, it’s the right fodder for a post-credits teaser, not a time-out right before the climactic battle.

Finally, someone needed to say to the producers, “no, Jesse Eisenberg is not the guy you want to cast as Lex Luthor.” In the comics and most previous media, Luthor is cold, calculating, ruthless . . . always in control. Someone decided Eisenberg playing Luthor as a mix between Mark Zuckerberg and Heath Ledger’s Joker was a better choice than, say, Bryan Cranston. The result is a main antagonist who’s annoying and weird and distracting, rather than ever really menacing.

Ugh. Then there are the problems with the film’s structure. It starts slow, then focuses on some fair and potentially good story-generating questions: if Superman appeared in our world today, would we trust him? How would he feel about our lack of faith in him? But in order to set up the titular battle, Bruce Wayne jumps from a reasonable conclusion — Superman is extremely powerful, answers to no one, and is an intolerable danger without any check or balance — to “Superman must be killed.”

When Superman and Batman fought in The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel that the movie is clearly aimed to visually emulate, readers understood that these were different versions of the characters they knew. In that story’s altered, not-too-distant future, each one had a much clearer motivations for trying to incapacitate or kill the other. Superman had become a government agent to a doddering, quasi-fascistic president (resembling Reagan, which is pretty ironic considering how Frank Miller’s political views would evolve) and Batman had become the lone force of order in Gotham City in a world that had just witnessed a limited nuclear exchange. Even here, the motive isn’t that great, but it’s at least helped by an initial discussion between the two characters where both pledge to the other that despite their past friendship and respect, neither is willing to back down.

Batman vs. Superman resolves the titular fight on “save Martha,” which many viewers interpreted as Batman deciding to not kill Superman because their mothers have the same name. This could have been fixed with the simplest change of dialogue, if Superman’s at the precipice of death and desperately pleads, “please… save my mother.” Bruce Wayne, obsessed orphan, would no doubt hesitate to strike the killing blow if he learned A) an innocent mother is in danger and B) his foe, who he thought was a malevolent danger, is more concerned for his mother’s safety than his own.

Finally, the movie ends with Superman dead from his fight with Doomsday, and let’s face it, no one believes that the filmmakers are going to kill off the franchise’s central character, particularly one that they just introduced one film ago. We, the audience, know in our guts that Superman’s death doesn’t mean anything because we know he’ll come back, probably pretty soon. Compare this to Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, which focused on much more plausible personal conflict between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. That movie does have a consequence: Cap becomes a fugitive, loses his shield, and while he and Tony appear to reach a détente, we know their friendship will never be the same. Emotional stakes can be more tense than physical stakes; deep down, we know the bad guy’s plan to blow up the world isn’t going to work, otherwise they won’t make any sequels!

ADDENDA: To all my readers, have a happy Thanksgiving, have a shrewd Black Friday and safe travels. (Everything I endorsed in the last gift-giving guide is still good.)

This weekend, I dip my toe into sports commentary; after Sunday’s New York Jets-Carolina Panthers game, I’ll be a guest on the post-game podcast of TurnOnTheJets, the best and most in-depth independent blog focused on Gang Green.

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