Category Archives: Comics

Okay, I gotta do this– a quick and dirty review of “Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse”


Good film, see it.

Okay, maybe not that quick and dirty.  But first, as always….













Okay, full disclosure– as a Marvel fan(atic) I am embarrassed to admit that this film wasn’t really even on my radar until about two weeks ago, when I finally noticed the trailer on YouTube.  I vaguely remember hearing something about it back when, but I don’t pay attention to a lot of animation these days because so much of it is dreadful.  The upshot is that I was trundling along, mostly minding my own misery, in what I thought was the gray wasteland between Infinity War and Captain Marvel, when suddenly, boom!, this trailer smacks me right between the eyes– and suddenly the wasteland looked a little less gray.

Okay, a lot less.

Another disclosure– I have not kept up very well with the ever-expanding Marvel comic book multiverse in recent years.  In fact, the only comic I have purchased with regularity since about 2000 has been Rat Queens, and even that has tailed off lately.  I was vaguely aware of Miles Morales as an alternate Spider-man, but I was totally unaware that Gwen Stacy had been given her own turn as Spider-woman, and the idea caught me by surprise and thrilled me to death.  Yeah, I’m one of those romantic cupcakes who never got over Gwen’s death in the comic book, blah, blah, blah, so sue me.  It’s enough to say that the moment I saw the trailer, quite aside from all the other fascinating tidbits it offered, I was instantly on-board and ready to investigate this movie.

And, boy, am I glad I did.  Basically Miles Morales’ origin story as Spider-man in his reality, the movie also manages to weld together other Spideys from other realities into a coherent story about loss, friendship, love and becoming who you need to become, all in the face of a villain (a version of Kingpin far removed from Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of the character in Netflix’s Daredevil) who is maniacal, but possessed of an understandable, if misguided, motivation.  I often feel animated films skimp characterization, but this time, nope.  This movie is chiefly about character, and it is so very well written that I don’t think I detected a false note anywhere.

At the same time, on another level, it leaves me flummoxed.  How can one film be so serious and silly at the same time, often with the same characters in the same scene?  I mean, it has a cartoon (think Looney Tunes) Spidey pig hitting villains over the head with a giant mallet, and not only does it work in the midst of a completely intense battle, people in the theater I was in cheered.  Somehow the writers  (Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman) manage to blend pathos, off-the-wall humor, asides that very nearly break the fourth wall, intense struggle and loss and battles in which it is not at all clear all the good guys are going to survive, into a seamless whole in which the contrasting tones not only do not jar us out of our suspension of disbelief, they reinforce and invigorate each other.  It leaves me scratching my head.  I don’t know how they did it, but I like it.

Part of that off-the-wall/serious hybridization is the sheer look of the movie, which is bright, highly-colored, sharp and full of elements drawn directly from comic-books, such as little (or not so little) internal dialogue balloons, which might have seemed pretentious, or flat-out stupid, in other hands, but which work here.  I usually prefer my movies straight-forward and realistic, even my animation, but somehow this time around the comic-book elements worked.  Again, it is a mystery to me how, but I’m just going to go with it.

Other online reviewers have already pointed out that Spider-verse accomplishes what Justice League could not do last year– kick-start a superhero franchise in one fell swoop, and I won’t belabor a point that’s not original with me.  More incisive observers than I will have to parse out why one super-hero kick-start works, and another doesn’t.  All I know is, me like Spider-verseJustice League, ugh.

And now, in no particular order, some random notes–

  1. One of the big reveals in the movie, not at all hinted at in the trailer, was this universe’s Doc Ock, who is a woman, Dr. Oliva Octavius.  Her gender does nothing to reduce her menace.
  2. Having said that, I’m worried that I find this Doc Ock kinda, well, hot.  I guess I like intellectual women…?
  3. I like this universe’s Aunt May, too, although not for the same reasons.  All-too-often the Aunt May of the comic-books was Peter’s supportive mother figure.  This Aunt May is that, but a damn sight more, too.
  4. When Gwen Stacy is on the screen I can’t take my eyes off her.  Not because the character is pretty (although she is– and, no, I’m not being creepy), but because I get pretty badly verklempt about Gwen most days (Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, by the way, broke my heart all over again), and so I can’t get enough of a Gwen Stacy who is alive and kicking ass.  I will stand in line for her movie, if and when it comes out.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.
  5. The only downside of this film for me is perhaps the fact that I have now had the theme song of the original animated series stuck in my head for five days.  Ow….
  6. I mentioned that all the characters are well-drawn, but Miles, of course, takes center-stage, and I have hand out kudos again to the writers who crafted a kid who is utterly believable as a particular kid, with all the usual kid worries, suddenly caught up in things that grown men and women would have trouble dealing with.  This, of course, has been the whole theme of Spider-man since its inception, and Lord and Rothman’s take on it is excellent.

I don’t think I’m going to say much more, although there are things I haven’t revealed about the story, despite my spoiler warnings.  I will sum up by saying that I am pleased to discover, in an age of over-hype and media campaigns that would put the planning for D-Day to shame, we can still be surprised by a film that comes out of nowhere and knocks us on our butts.  And, yeah, the wait for Captain Marvel and Avengers: End Game is now just a little more tolerable.

See this movie.

‘Nuff said.









Another reaction to Avengers: Infinity War– but with SPOILERS!! YEE-HAW!!

Because I am the obsessive fan-boy that I am, I just had to go see Avengers: Infinity War again this evening.  That’s twice in twenty-four hours, children, and it may end up being three times in forty-eight hours, assuming that tomorrow I can do my morning exercise, pay my rent and do my laundry in a timely manner– you know, all the real-life check-off items that exist merely to allow nut-jobs like me to spend inordinate amounts of money and time re-watching Marvel movies.  What was once merely entertainment is now a way of life.  I am nerd, hear me roar.

(On the other hand, I wonder if seeing the same movie over and over again in a short amount of time is like doing too many wormhole jumps at once?  Hmm.  I’ll let you know, assuming my eyeballs don’t fall out)

Suffice to say, I enjoyed the movie even more the second time around, in part because I was prepared for the repartee going past at Warp Six.  I caught more nuances (especially one that is the core of this post– more about that in a minute), and the audience tonight was especially receptive and engaged.  Also, I didn’t have a distraction this time around that detracted a bit from my first viewing, i.e., tonight’s show was not 3-D.  I didn’t mention it in my post last night, but the 3-D yesterday, for some reason, seemed kinda muddy and dark.  Maybe it was my aging eyes, maybe it was the glasses.  All I know is that I liked the regular format better.

Now, about that nuance I mentioned–


Proceed no further if you don’t want to know some details about the film.  There, I have said it.  Don’t blame me if you keep reading and have your illusions shattered.



Okay, late in the film, Thanos has kicked everyone’s butt who came against him on his own ruined homeworld of Titan– Iron Man, Spider-man, Nebula, Drax, Mantis, Peter Quill/Starlord.  He has stabbed Tony right through his advanced armor and it looks like curtains for our playboy/philanthropist/genius (probably didn’t get the order right, but you get the point).  Dr. Strange, injured and collapsed nearby, tells Thanos he will surrender the Eye of Agamotto (aka, the Stone of Time) if Thanos will spare Tony.

Two critical points here– this well after the point in the film where Strange tells Tony that he, Strange, would let Tony and Peter Parker (Spider-man) both die before he would give up the Time Stone.  It is also after Strange, using the Time Stone, has examined 14 million-plus possible futures and found only one in which the Avengers were able to defeat Thanos.  That’s the setup.

(By the way, Tony and Strange do not like each other.  It’s almost worth the price of admission just to hear Strange call Tony a “douche-bag”.  Oh, yeah….)

Then Strange, strangely, reverses course and hands over the Time Stone to Thanos, ostensibly to save Iron Man’s life.  When Tony asks him why he did it, Strange says something to the effect that “this is the only way it could play out”, right before he dissolves (yes, Thanos wins the battle to reset the universe.  That’s part of why the cliffhanger ending is such a pisser).

Uh-huh.  I had funny feeling last night about Strange surrendering the Time Stone so meekly, and tonight I paid particularly close attention to Strange’s expression as Thanos takes the Time Stone.  By doing so I think I caught a piece of subtle business, about on the same level as the look Obi-Wan gives Han Solo when Han makes his ‘parsecs’ crack in Star Wars.  Strange is particularly intent as Thanos takes the Time Stone and puts it into his gauntlet– as if he wanted to make sure Thanos took it and added it to the gauntlet’s array of stones.

Bingo.  I am certain that Doctor Strange, that tricksy smarty-pants, has put some sort of mystical whammy on the Time Stone.  One that Thanos is not going to like.  At all.  One that is going to tick away like a time-bomb and play a big part in the Avengers’ ultimate victory.

The thought makes me grin maniacally and rub my hands in glee.  It makes the cliffhanger easier to deal with.  It is the sort of smart plotting that has made these movies, in general, a joy to watch (okay, not all equally.  Can you people just get over hating The Dark World, please?).

Last night I begged the movie’s producers to speed up the release of the next Avengers film.  I know, realistically, that’s not going to happen, if only because the next film is undoubtedly tied to the release of the Captain Marvel movie (oh, and there’s a sweet tidbit teasing that flick in Infinity War, too).  But I am a-quiver with anticipation.  The next year’s going to pass sooo slowly….

Meanwhile, the only solution is to go see Infinity War again.  I’ll just try not to cackle when Strange hands over the Time Stone.  You’re riding high now, Thanos, but just you wait, bitch– you are going down.





Three upcoming movies that have my attention

Now that we’re past the hysteria and hoopla around Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I thought I would share some thoughts on three upcoming movies that have grabbed my attention.  In no particular order–

Suicide Squad

Okay, I am at least interested–

Harley Quinn and Deadshot and the Joker (in what may be an even more freakish interpretation, by Jared Leto, than Heath Ledger’s) all in one film– and with Batman (Ben Affleck), too.  It looks like a full house of crazies.

Of course, it is entirely possible that for me Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury are affecting my emotional reaction to this trailer.  You could put Bohemian Rhapsody on a video of a dripping faucet and I’d watch it.

Interestingly, the Comic-con trailer for this same movie has a completely different feel, taking a much more serious and dramatic– maybe even tragic– tone.  The producers might want to figure out their marketing approach to this product.  Remember what happened to John Carter.  Just saying.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

If this film maintains the serious tone of Man of Steel, it will hit the ground– or the screen– with an excellent head-start, as far as I’m concerned.  That approach was one of the best things about Man of Steel, lifting me up and over some irritating flaws in the story logic.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Justice League, but the trio of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman is intrinsically interesting.  I will be interested in seeing how the film handles the initial conflict between Superman and Batman (rather a traditional element in their respective origin stories) and how their friendship then grows to form the League’s foundation.  And, I have to admit, Wonder Woman’s reveal in this trailer is pretty fun.

Captain America: Civil War

Of these three movies, this is the one I am the most jazzed about.  I have become a serious fan of Captain America as portrayed by Chris Evans in Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers movies.  The whole series of interconnected films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a creative stroke of genius, in my biased opinion, the brainchild of fans in positions of power, such as Kevin Feige (and now DC is playing serious catch-up with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad).  It is a great storytelling gimmick and should pay dividends for Marvel and Disney for years to come, even if the quality of the individual films varies (Age of Ultron, for example).

I was never a great fan of Captain America in the comics (for years I was obsessed with the X-Men), but Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap as a decent regular guy who acquires extraordinary powers and then must cope with being displaced in time is one of the best and most consistent character arcs in the whole MCU.  As long as Evans plays the role I will be watching with interest.

On the flip-side, there are upcoming movies that are not particularly on my must-see list–

X-Men: Apocalypse– Despite my deep and long-lasting affection for the X-Men, I’ve found the last several movies disappointing, despite the presence of great actors like Jennifer Lawrence.  After Days of Future Past apparently rebooted the series I have some hope, but I’m going to approach Apocalypse with caution.

Deadpool– hmm…no.  Not a fan, despite the presence of certain X-Men.  Sorry. (Oh, and the trailer’s kinda gory, fyi).

Warcraft– really uncertain about this one, and rather severely disappointed by the look of the trailer.  The live action and the CGI characters do not look as if they were matched up very well. I’ve been waiting for a World of Warcraft movie, and now that it’s here it looks…kinda lame, actually.  Dang.

Gods of Egypt– please.  Overwrought CGI and some sort of battle of the gods that looks like a cheap video-game. No, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows– oh, hell no.





Avengers: Age of Ultron– a review– please don’t kill me….

Yesterday I finally got to see Avengers: Age of Ultron

I loved the first Avengers movie, even though I have never been a huge fan of the comic (always X-Men for me, with a dash of Spider-man and Fantastic Four). Joss Whedon did a superlative job pulling together the disparate and often damaged individuals of the first film and creating a credible origin story that welded them together into a team. In the process he gave everyone the screen time and the attention they needed to become grounded characters in our minds. And the action suited the character development, and vice versa. All-in-all, it was a very well-written, tightly plotted action piece.

I can’t quite say the same for Age of Ultron.

Not that the movie is bad— the action sequences are intense, some of the twists Joss gives the characters are interesting (Natasha and Bruce Banner? Really?), and James Spader’s Ultron is a delightfully charming nutcase of a villain. The movie is well-done, in general.

But…to this (admittedly) picky, jaundiced old fart, the story-line seemed a little contrived, and some elements a tad too pat. The rescue of civilian bystanders during the climatic battle felt too safe, almost something that could muster the approval of the old Comic Code. At one point Thor disappears to figure out a vision given him by the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff), leaving the rest of the team to handle a further confrontation with Ultron on their own, a departure that felt to me like dereliction of duty. And, true to his well-known penchant for sacrificing characters for the sake of drama, Joss chose someone– Pietro (Quicksilver)– to die, selflessly, saving Hawkeye and a generic child. Somehow, though, his death didn’t elicit a lot of emotion in me. It was sort of, ‘oh, so that’s who Joss chose to knock off, okay, moving on.’ It almost felt rote.

But it was the climatic bit of peril the Avengers have to overcome that really left me cold. Ultron, obsessed with creating an extinction event for humanity so as to clear the planet for the next thing in evolutionary advancement (AI machines, of course), rips free a large portion of an Eastern European town from the earth and lifts it to about 20,000 feet, intending to drive it back into the planet by means of anti-gravity engines so as to recreate the effect of the dinosaur-killing asteroid of 65 million years ago.

Um, yeah.

To my mind there are a couple of things wrong with this scenario– 1. it’s hopelessly contrived and over-complicated, and 2. it probably wouldn’t work. It’s over-complicated because there are probably a hundred easier ways to accomplish the desired end (the annihilation of humanity), and it feels very much as if this particular modus exstinctio was chosen for its cinematic value. It wouldn’t work because of basic physics. The dinosaur-killing asteroid was not only massive, it was moving at many miles per second when it hit the Earth. Kinetic energy is directly proportional to the mass of the object, but it is also directly proportional to the square of the velocity at which the object is moving. The anti-gravity engines would have had to accelerate the mass of the town at something like (in very round numbers) 100 gravities (a delta-v the movie in no way depicts) to achieve the same terminal velocity, because the town, in just falling from that height, is going to hit the Earth in about 35 seconds anyway.

In short, I didn’t buy it.

And you, dear reader, at this point are probably thinking, Jeez, lighten up, dude, it’s just a superhero movie.

Well, you’re right. My problem is that I have high standards for my superhero movies.

I ran into the same issue, in a much smaller way, with Guardians of the Galaxy, and talked about it in my review of that film, months ago. I’m weird in that I actually want the science-fiction aspect of comic-book or superhero films (or comic-books, for that matter) to make sense, and not transgress the boundaries of known science too much.

As you might guess, I am often disappointed.

Still, as unreasonable as this expectation may be, it’s mine, I own it, and being disappointed in it with Age of Ultron meant that I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I wanted to. ‘Nuff said.

My own weirdo prejudices aside, I think it is fair to say that, in general, Age of Ultron suffered, quite simply, from being a sequel– a very good sequel, but still basically a follow-on work that borrows its energy from its predecessor. It proves that, in the end, even a genius (yes, I use that word) like Joss Whedon cannot escape certain imperatives of story-telling– among which is the necessity of each tale to stand on its own and to find its own sources of strength. It also proves that that sort of loss of energy can happen to anyone.

A cautionary tale for any story-teller.


Okay, what the BLEEEEP just happened?

Agents of Shield episode 117, which is not available online yet, ended just minutes ago here on the West Coast. It was heavily promoted as a tie-in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I guess it was, kinda–


I mean, the story mentions Hydra and everything, but it seemed to be more about the villain of the moment, called the Clairvoyant, whom the team has been chasing around for weeks. Something about the episode felt tacked on, as if someone were trying desperately to tie it all together, as if they had too many Christmas packages to wrap and not enough paper.

And, yeah, surprises are good, and doing the unexpected is really good, but I felt jerked around by the story, which kept us guessing about the true identity of the villain, and exactly who was Hydra and who wasn’t, all the way through. The final twist at the very end of the episode didn’t feel very right, either, although I can’t say I was upset by who turned out to be the traitor in the team– I never liked that guy much anyway.

I think my main problem is certain dissatisfaction with the concept of Hydra in the first place– evil that can lie in wait for decades before springing– aha!– and taking over everything. It’s a comic book version of evil that doesn’t much resemble real life– and, as much as I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I have to admit it shared this problem (if you tell me that, hey, this is all from comic books, well, I want my comic books to be realistic. So there). Real evil almost always shows its hand– it is about selfishness and power and self-gratification, and generally doesn’t take the long view of anything. Most evil, in fact, is committed by people who are telling themselves they’re doing the right thing. Self-delusion is a major component of evil, so cold-blooded and rational villains often strike me as fake and unreal. This is, in fact, a problem I’ve had with S. M. Stirling’s Draka.

I’ve complained in comments on other folks’ blogs that Agents of Shield has felt too safe. It’s obvious that Joss is making a bid to turn that around. This once, though, I am not sure I am buying it.

There is one bright spot, though– the next episode has Amy Acker in it. Hallelujah.

The problem with Superman

I missed it when it came out in the theaters, so three days ago I rushed down to my local mom-and-pop corner video store when I found out they had Man of Steel on DVD.

What follows is not a review, which would be fairly pointless for a film that’s been out for months. It is more my thoughts, reactions and questions regarding the film, and how it applies to the super-hero genre in general and my own, still-embryonic, super-hero tale.


Okay, that’s taken care of. Onward.

The first and foremost aspect of Man of Steel I really appreciate is that it deals with the tale of Superman with the gravity it deserves. It has humor, but the humor is appropriate and integral to the story, based on the interactions of the characters and not on silly villains or jokes. And there’s not a speck of camp in evidence, which is a profound relief. In my opinion, most other film versions of Superman have abjectly failed in this regard, and I am almost giddy to see a version that takes the character and his world seriously.

The initial scenes on Krypton kept me utterly riveted, aided in no small part by Hans Zimmer’s terrific score. Snyder’s vision of Krypton and Kryptonians is of a dying world and a great race in its decadence. When General Zod commits a coup just as Jor-el is trying to convince the Kryptonian high council of their peril, and a brief civil war ensues, I was rapt. Zod kills Jor-el just as Kal-el’s starship/bassinet launches, which is a great dramatic moment.

Once Kal-el/Clark Kent is on Earth, the movie adheres to some aspects of the classic template, and alters others (in this version Lana Lang is a brunette, and Lois Lane is a redhead. Go figure). Chief among the changes is that Lois Lane figures out Superman’s identity early on, so that particular piece of story tension is off the table, for the better, in my opinion. Clark’s struggle to find his place and understand who he is is dealt with in both present time and flashback. Just about the moment he gets it down, Zod and his surviving flunkies show up. Seems Jor-el had slipped the Codex, the master genetic database for Kryptonians, into Kal-el before sending him off. Zod needs the Codex to recreate the Kryptonian race, whom he then plans to settle on an Earth terraformed to Kryptonian standards, which will mean the destruction of the human race. At this point, it is game on between Superman and Zod (one point– don’t ever threaten Ma Kent. Very bad idea).

A tremendous amount of punching, throwing, smashing and general mayhem ensue, first in Smallville, and then in Metropolis. Once on Earth, the Kryptonians share Superman’s basic super-strength and invulnerability, although finer skills like heat-vision, flying and super-hearing take time to develop. The Kryptonians have to wear breathing apparatus, otherwise exposure to Earth’s atmosphere causes pain and disorientation as these extra abilities awaken and cause sensory overload.

Superman’s initial encounter with Faora and Nam-ek, two of Zod’s flunkies, is basically a stalemate until Superman manages to damage Faora’s breathing apparatus. Superman’s climatic battle with Zod is even more of a stalemate, because Zod has now acclimated to Earth’s atmosphere. The climatic moment comes as Zod, head-locked by Superman, threatens to fry bystanders with his heat vision. Superman warns him not to; when it becomes apparent Zod will carry out his threat, Superman snaps his neck and kills him.


Rewind, look at that again. Superman breaks Zod’s neck. And at that moment, I was completely thrown out of the movie.

Why? Because up until that point, we had seen that Superman and the other Kryptonians were evenly matched. The fights have a frustrating aspect to them, precisely because nobody seems to really get the upper hand. More to the point, nobody gets physically hurt. In the fight in Smallville, neither Superman nor Faora and Nam-Ek suffer so much as a bloody nose. Faora is rendered unconscious, but that’s because of her breathing apparatus’ destruction. Her face doesn’t even get smudged. Superman takes a flaming locomotive engine in the kisser and emerges without a hair out of place. He throws Nam-Ek into the rail-yard in the first place and Nam-Ek apparently suffers no significant damage. Ditto through the titanic fight between Superman and Zod, up until the last moment.

Reviewing online arguments regarding this moment of the film, a lot of people seemed to justify what is, to me, a glaring logic failure by saying “Superman was on Earth longer, he was stronger”. Well, if so, foreshadow it. Have Superman break Nam-ek’s arm and give Faora a bloody lip, or something, so long as it indicates mutual vulnerability. This is a piece of narrative debt– not only must expectations set up in the first act be fulfilled in the third, the action of the third act must be adequately foreshadowed in the first.

For my money, this was not done adequately. Killing Zod in that manner seemed to violate the rules set up for this universe, which appeared to be that even super-powered Kryptonians cannot significantly hurt one another. Considering all the action that had gone before, where Zod and Superman were basically tossing each other through buildings (and doubtless causing massive collateral casualties in the process) without a scratch, Superman suddenly snuffing Zod in this manner was jarringly out of place for me. What had been, at times, a powerful movie suddenly seemed contrived and false.

(As an aside, a lot of other people were upset by Superman killing Zod because “Superman doesn’t kill people.” Well, in the first instance, wrong, Superman has killed before. In the second instance, as far as I am concerned, the idea that Superman was above killing has always been unrealistic and a relic of the old Comic Code days. I was okay with him putting Zod six feet under, or however they do it on Krypton. ‘Nuff said on that subject).

I am just guessing, but it seems possible to me that the writers of the movie basically wrote themselves into a corner. Having committed themselves to Kryptonian invulnerability on Earth, they got to the climatic battle, couldn’t figure out how to end it in a consistent manner, and just threw in the neck snap business sort of ad hoc. I could be completely off-base on that point– it’s possible they didn’t realize there is a major logical problem, but that would be worse. However that may be, it’s clear to me that killing Zod in that manner without adequate preparation represents a major breakdown of the movie’s internal logic. There are other logic flaws in the story line that I won’t spend time discussing, but they are minor compared to this final “What the f….?”

If I had been part of the writing team for this movie (I can dream, can’t I?) I would have lobbied hard to make Superman and the Kryptonians vulnerable in one way or another, and to show it well before the climatic battle. Personally, I have never liked Superman’s invulnerability as a concept. It has long been identified as problematic for story-telling. It means that, aside from kryptonite, magic and a very few special villains, there is basically no way to put Superman in jeopardy in any ordinary sense. Over the years there have been several major reboots/re-imaginings that sought to dial Superman’s powers back and make him more vulnerable, but the mythos always seems to return to the classic character template. As a consequence, there have been decades of Superman stories lacking any real sense of danger.

Contrast Superman with Batman, especially Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about– Batman fails, is hurt, he definitely runs the risk of death, and he has to struggle to overcome adversity. As a result, a case could be made that Batman is the more compelling character of the two.

So this is the problem with Superman– one I want to definitely avoid in crafting my own story. It’s evident to me that when the time comes I will have to very carefully craft my tale, determine in advance the rules of the universe (as opposed to my usual, make-it-up-as-I-go process) and clearly outline the strengths and limits of my characters. Most particularly I want them to be vulnerable in some fashion that creates real danger and a real story.

As for Man of Steel itself, it has so many really strong elements, and fundamentally the right approach to the character, that it will eventually end up in my DVD collection. The minor logic flaws, almost inevitable in a fantasy about super-heroes (you’re starting with an impossible premise in the first place, so making it sound logical is really hard), I can generally forgive. As far as Zod’s death goes, I will just have to somehow compartmentalize my confusion and disappointment over it.

Perhaps the next film in this series will be able to avoid this sort of problem. More importantly, hopefully I can take this lesson to heart and make my story stronger.


Some additional thoughts, a few days later–

I’ve had the opportunity to watch the movie through again, paying closer attention to some of the details, and I feel impelled to clarify my view of the movie. Man of Steel, for my personal taste, is probably the best Superman movie ever made. It is not perfect and it is certainly not a masterpiece, but it does most the things I’ve always wanted to see in a Superman film, taking a much more realistic approach (e.g., yes, when two superbeings battle it out in an urban area, you’re going to get civilian casualties) to the mythos. There are still pieces of the narrative that don’t feel particularly well thought out, and Zod’s death still seems a massive failure/cop-out, but on the whole I appreciate the direction in which Snyder took this version.

Saying this is the best Superman movie ever is, frankly, also a statement of how I feel about most previous Superman films. Basically it’s been 35 years of general disappointment, with the first third of Superman (1978) being okay and Superman Returns (2006) being a worthy effort. Most everything else Superman-related in the movies has been worthless, in my opinion. Perhaps this puts my appreciation of Man of Steel in perspective. Hopefully the next film will build on the foundation Snyder has built.

A review of “Thor: The Dark World”

I went to see Thor: The Dark World yesterday–

When I saw the first Thor film in 2011, my reaction was basically “meh”. It had some good moments, and I will watch just about anything Natalie Portman is in, but the first film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, had such a small-scale, TV-movie feel to it that I felt it fell short of its potential.

That’s not a problem with Thor:The Dark World.

There is a prologue about the ancient battle between the dark elves, who want to (what else?) return the universe to darkness, and the Asgardians, who want to keep the light (and all the lovely beer and pretzels that go with it). My daughter leaned over to me during this and whispered, “Lord of the Rings”, and this sequence indeed has that feel. The Asgardians defeat the dark elves, but the victory is, of course, less than complete– the dark elf leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, unrecognizable in costume), escapes to fight another day. The Asgardians hide away the energy (the “Aether”) that powered the dark elf bid for darkness, and all of this sets up the present-day action.

This film, as a whole, has a much more satisfyingly epic feel to it, as the story plays out across several worlds, including Svartalfheim, the home of the dark elves, which is devastated after their initial defeat by the Asgardians. The action is not insipid, there are several nice twists and turns, and once again Tom Hiddleston surpasses himself as Loki. Tricky as Loki is, there are some moments when you get the sense that there is more going on beneath the surface, and with Hiddleston’s character you’re never quite sure what’s a con and what’s for real.

Natalie Portman does a fine job as Jane Foster, as does Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Kat Dennings is once again good as the comic-relief Darcy, but there are nice bits of humor spread fairly evenly around most of the cast. The film, while epic, doesn’t take itself completely serious, but the humor fits and isn’t jarringly out-of-place.

The film falls short of perfection– there are two post-credit stingers that were disappointing; one that I found just confusing (my ignorance has since been relieved, but I am not going to the spoil it here) and a second that seemed too pat. More importantly, there is a late movie reveal that I did not like, as in, “They’re not going there, are they? Oh God, they’re going there.” To me, this reveal undercut the story to a certain extent.

On the whole, though, the film kept me engaged and interested. Aside from the one reveal, I didn’t really have any moments where I started to critique the movie while it was still running (generally a very bad sign). More than that, I know I’m involved when elements of the film start to spark inspirational resonances for my own writing– watching the sequences on Svartalfheim, I found myself thinking “Parts of Princess of Stars will look like this”.

On the whole, four out of five hammers.


Review of Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing”

I have resumed progress on Princess of Shadows. I mean it. Really. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share some thoughts on another subject.

A few days back I went to see Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing.

I really looked forward to seeing this– I mean, oh, my God, it’s Joss Whedon! Doing Shakespeare! That’s almost as good as Joss Whedon! Doing X-Men! (ahem). Add to that the fact that Much Ado is one of my favorites of Bill’s plays, and the anticipation level was high.

And I will tell you what I thought of the movie just as soon as I figure out what I thought of the movie.

Actually, that’s stretching it more than a little. I liked the movie; but my initial reaction to it was very odd. This version, filmed on a tiny budget in Whedon’s own home in a few days, in black-and-white, no less, has so many actors Whedon has worked with before– Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Sean Maher, Clark Gregg, etc, etc. It was fun watching all these very good actors together, most of whom I remember from staggeringly great TV and movies, doing something different. Alexis Denisof was good as Benedict, and Amy Acker was a great Beatrice. Of course, I think Amy Acker is one of the most incandescently beautiful women in show business and I would watch her reading government press releases. As Beatrice, she is perhaps the standout actress in the ensemble– by turns funny, sad, fierce and sharp-tongued– and, man, can she do a heroic pratfall.

Another standout is Clark Gregg, who plays Leonato. Gregg is one of those actors who you always see in films as characters but who never seems to draw a lot of attention to himself– except, of course, he is now getting a lot of attention (at least among the fan-folk) for his roles in the Marvel Iron Man, Thor and Avengers movies. He broke everybody’s heart in Avengers in which he had one of the best death scenes in recent comic-book movie history. As Leonato he starts out quiet, until the wedding, when he explodes, torn between shame over Hero and vengeance for the Prince and Claudio’s insult.

And that brings me to my reaction to the movie. Basically, this movie is so very, very low-key that I had trouble at first tracking it– at least, until the wedding. In the first part of the movie, everybody delivers their lines easily and matter-of-factly and the action is easy-going. Beatrice and Benedict do spark off each other, but their repartee is cool and restrained. And that’s where I realized that my perception of Much Ado has probably been distorted by the Kenneth Branagh movie version from 1993. That version is fun, but it’s infamously over the top, especially with that cavalry charge opening sequence.

There’s no cavalry charge in Whedon’s version, and not just because they couldn’t afford horses on their budget (the Prince and his entourage show up at Leonato’s in cars, and not even limos). Whedon’s Much Ado is so laid back that I have to think it’s an intentional directorial choice– a decision to be the anti-Branagh with this material. As such, it’s refreshing– it’s just my own head that needed to be readjusted, because the acting is consistently good and the tension does build.

The first sign of trouble, naturally, is Don John. Sean Maher does a good job with Don John, establishing his malignant intentions, while, at the same time, creating a very different take on his relationship with his henchmen, especially a female Conrade. His scheme to destroy Claudio and Hero’s intended wedding unfolds pretty smoothly, and is played out rather more convincingly than in the Branagh version.

After being so laid back, as well as quite funny, during its first portion, the movie’s tension and conflict suddenly escalate by several orders of magnitude at the wedding, as you might expect. Everybody with speaking parts in this sequence is good, but especially Gregg and Jillian Morgese (Hero). The following sequence between Benedict and Beatrice is wonderful, and fully plays out the admission of mutual love and admiration these two people have for each other, against the backdrop of a disaster. For me this scene has always been the core of the play, the pay-off for all the tension and conflict between Benedict and Beatrice, and Denisof and Acker pull it off and make it look easy. The rest of the movie stays at this high level to the final resolution, relieved by the (again understated, but funny) Nathan Fillion as Dogberry.

Basically, this movie works, and works well, but don’t expect over-the-top. It’s easy-going and filled with humor until sudden disaster strikes, which is probably very close to Bill’s original intention, with a powerful contrast between light-hearted conspiracy and witty “skirmishes of wit” at the beginning and the horrifying catastrophe of false accusation and betrayal in the second part. Just make sure you see it with no preconceptions. Especially about horses.


Sort of a review of The Wolverine, plus some immature whining….

I’ve made some progress on the hard-copy edit of Shadows, even though real life has intervened over the last couple of days to pull me away. Dang you, real life. Meanwhile, I need to get something off my chest.

I went to see “The Wolverine” a few days ago–

All-in-all, one of the best Marvel pictures lately, and the best solo Wolverine effort out there. Hugh Jackman has always stood out as Wolverine/Logan; he seems to get the character in a way the other actors portraying X-Men in previous films have not.

At the start of the picture, it appears to be kinda in the aftermath of X-Men: The Last Stand— Wolverine is hiding out in the northern woods, grieving for Jean Grey, and not doing particularly well in general (hallucinations, poor grooming, and apparently a lot of alcohol are involved). A quirky Japanese assassin named Yukio contacts Logan and takes him to Japan, where he is confronted by faces from his past and new dangers.

The whole story is mostly character driven, with the introduction of a love interest for Logan. As such, it is very well done, and the action is tight and compelling. As with the X-Men movies in general, the storyline is not quite canon, in my opinion, as it changes some details of the comic-book storyline, not always for the best. My chief question mark about the movie, though, is a surprise twist at the end that I did not anticipate and which I am not sure I wholly liked. It may grow on me in time. On the whole I give the movie a solid thumbs-up.

As to things to come, I am very pleased and hopeful that the next X-Men production revolves around the “Days of Future Past” storyline, one of the best X-Men storylines ever. Bryan Singer picked a good one to adapt. Plus, the announced cast promises to be great, with Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and Ellen Page returning as Kitty Pryde (down, boy…remember, they’re young enough to be your daughters…down, I say…). I’m looking forward to this one.

But I have to say, for my money, on the whole, all things considered, the X-Men movies have been a let-down.

I’m not a canon purist; I understand things like books and comics have to be adapted to the screen. But it seems to me that there’s been some serious disrespect of at least the spirit of the canon by the film-makers of this series; “X-Men: First Class” is a particular example (Moira MacTaggert as a CIA agent? Really?). It’s gotten to the point that I don’t recognize the storylines anymore; that’s why “Days of Future Past” is welcome.

But my biggest disappointment, frankly, is that no one ever figured out how to adapt “Where No X-Man Has Gone Before”.

For me, my X-Men ur-moment was October, 1977. I was in Germany, in the Army, and one night while on guard duty, but off-watch in the guard-shack, I picked up a comic someone had left behind on a cot, because I had nothing better to do. It was X-Men #107. I read it, and my mind underwent a profound re-orientation– aka, I was completely blown away. Here was a superhero team that argued and squabbled, who attacked first and didn’t apologize, one of whose members (guess who?) looked borderline homicidal, and who were actually getting their asses kicked and had to be rescued– all while the universe itself hung in the balance. It was worlds away (no pun intended) from the DC comics I’d read since I was a kid. The subsequent issues, the collaboration of John Byrne and Chris Claremont, confirmed to me that this was something special. I was hooked.

So, somewhere deep down, I want this storyline on-screen. I want the Shi’ar. I want Lilandra. I want the mad Emperor D’Ken and the M’krann Crystal. I want the Soul-Drinker (not to keep, mind you. Worse than a pit-bull). I want to see the X-Men come through the star gate, not knowing where they’re being sent, and come face-to-face with the Imperial Guard. Dammit, I want to see the Starjammers come down in the nick of time, in a blaze of blasters and aplomb, and pull the X-Men’s butts out of the fire. And I want to see Jean Grey save the freaking universe.

Want, want, want…. I’ve come to understand a few things since I was that rather silly kid who picked up that comic thirty-six years ago. One thing is that, most usually, I don’t get what I want. The movies are what they are– the storylines have diverged from canon, the Jean Grey character appears to be out of the picture for good, and no amount of whining is going to change those facts. I don’t own the characters or the universe. The situations and characters are in the hands of other people– many of them very talented and creative folk, mind you, with a right to their own vision. So I just have to put my disappointment in a box and go on….

…to the best therapy for literary disappointment I know– writing. It’s the same reaction I had in the wake of Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (an abortion) and the premature cancellation of Firefly (a crime for which anyone has yet to be prosecuted)– I go and start writing something I feel rescues the spirit of the failed work (while– ahem– staying well on this side of plagiarism). I find that feeling let down by other writers/creators is definitely inspirational. It’s partly because of earlier disappointments that I actually have a backlog of projects beside the Divine Lotus series. It’s definitely better than drowning my sorrows in bourbon. Way better than crack. If you’re going to medicate by means of an addictive substance, writing is truly superior.

Okay, so that’s off my chest. Back to work. Later.