Category Archives: Marvel Comics

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.

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy– kind of a review, but more of a confessional…..

As of yesterday, I have now seen Guardians of the Galaxy three times–

And I think I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong with the movie.

Okay, okay, put down the pitch-forks and the nooses– let me re-phrase.

In reality there’s nothing seriously wrong with the movie– it is actually, in my opinion, the best movie of the summer and possibly the year. It’s funny, and heartfelt, dramatic where it needs to be and irreverent in exactly the right places. The cast has chemistry out the wazoo. Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Starlord plays off Zoe Saldana’s Gamora perfectly, quarreling while building up a mutual attraction that feels genuine precisely because it never goes too far. Dave Bautista is great as Drax, and Bradley Cooper’s voicing of Rocket is excellent. The action keeps you going, although the final battle might be just a little too frantic. Certainly, three viewings have allowed me to catch more detail, including all the pop culture references.

The movie overall is just well-written, with plenty of character and dialogue that keeps you interested. You believe that this is a hodgepodge band of losers who find a new purpose with each other, and it makes you wish the next movie was in the can and coming soon. As a child of the Seventies, I appreciated the soundtrack of golden oldies, which are not only perfectly deployed in the film but reinforce the emotional core of Peter’s character.

And yet…

(mild spoilers from here on in)

Each time I’ve seen the film, I have caught myself feeling oddly dissatisfied at different points in the story. It took me a while to figure out what was bugging me, but in the end I got there.

This movie is based on a comic.

And at this point you’re probably saying, Oh, no duh– why am I reading this nimrod…?

Allow me to explain.

It has often been said that science-fiction does not really work in comic books. The confines of panels on a page somehow make it difficult to convey the vastness of space or the intricacies of technology. There are exceptions, but all too often “sci-fi” in comics has been more metaphorical than scientific.

It seems that some of this metaphorical approach leaked into Guardians. When the team/gang approaches the outlaw mining operation called Knowhere, it is described as the gargantuan head of a dead “Celestial being”. This is straight out of the comic, but to me it is on the same level as the giant space slug in The Empire Strikes Back— both throw me out of the narrative. My suspension of disbelief, at least for a moment, goes spung. Some other elements of Guardians do the same thing to me– for example, the shiny, colorful Xandar, which looks like one big mall. And, dammit, Yondo, the chief Ravager and oddball father-figure to Peter, has a piece of plastic down the middle of his head (alien Mohawk?), which probably worked far better in the comic than it does on-screen, where I found it really distracting. In general, with the exception of Rocket and Groot, the aliens in the film don’t give me much of a sense of being, well, alien. I found myself almost wishing for the Brood to show up.

To sum up, the fault lies not in the movie, but in my own damn pickiness. I have a prejudice for the gritty, and a preference for sci-fi that tries to create a workaday world that at least looks scientifically plausible. Guardians does that in some places, but falls down in others.

Science fiction is hard; movie science-fiction, I have concluded, is doubly so. Getting right the feel of the visuals of a future or alien universe is difficult. There are movies and TV shows that do this well– Alien/Aliens, Blade Runner, and Firefly (although, admittedly, all of these films and shows had various issues with plausibility). But all too often writers, directors and production design folk don’t make the effort to do it right, and instead they fall back on tropes that suggest alien-ness (plastic Mohawks) or futurity (Xandar Mall). There is just enough of this in Guardians to leave me with a sense of unease and disappointment, at least with the visuals.

I willingly admit that this carping is unfair, especially regarding a movie that didn’t set out to be Blade Runner in the first place. The film, in general, is really well-done– for example, for all my dislike of Yondo’s appearance, his character is great, and I loved Michael Rooker’s performance. My complaints do not destroy my enjoyment of the movie– but the little things that nag me about it leave me wanting just a little bit more of something– more grit, more plausibility, a universe that is a bit more gray and shadow, like the universe I live in. It keeps me from giving the movie a perfect 5 trolls (you have to see the movie), but more like 4.75.

In the end, as a review, everyone should take this with a grain of salt. I doubt very many people even noticed the issues I had with the picture. This basically comes down to a statement about my own personal taste in sci-fi, and an acknowledgment that I am a picky, grumpy, contrarian old fart who wants things his way and complains loudly when he doesn’t get it.

I will eventually, I expect, get over it. And then there’s Interstellar. 🙂

Later.

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–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS

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.

Movie review– “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier last night–

With this film the grand movie story-arc of Marvel marches on, with an important chapter in the sub-story of Captain America (Steve Rogers).

Wait a second–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS

There, I feel better.

This installment is a fast-paced action piece, in which the information comes fast and furious and you need to pay attention to what is going on or you’ll miss some important point. The basic plot is that Captain America, still working for SHIELD, continues to try to find his place in a future with which he still has not quite come to grips. Going out on a mission, ostensibly to rescue hostages on a SHIELD seagoing rocket launch platform, he discovers that fellow operative Natasha Romanoff has another agenda, to retrieve information from the ship’s computers. He confronts Nick Fury, head of SHIELD, who reveals a secret project to build new heli-carriers that are intended to eliminate terrorist threats.

It turns out, however, that not everything is kosher at SHIELD, and these heli-carriers are in danger of being re-purposed by SHIELD’s old adversary, HYDRA. Cap is also unexpectedly confronted by a piece of his past. At this point the elephant dung hits the turbine blades, and the action roller-coaster is screaming down its first curve.

That should give you a flavor of what this movie is about; despite my spoiler warning I don’t really want to give away too much. There are some nice twists and turns in the film, and a couple of serious points– how the mechanisms designed to protect people are vulnerable to being misused to oppress them, and the fact that some politicos might see advantages to themselves in the willingness of people give up their liberties in return for security– themes that are entirely too relevant in our real world.

The film does mostly take itself seriously, but there are some enjoyable lighter moments (one of the running gags is how everyone seems to be trying to get Steve a date). The interactions between Steve, Natasha, Nick Fury, and Sam Wilson (the Falcon) are sharp, and a refreshing aspect of the characters is that not everyone gets along perfectly– Rogers and Fury particularly don’t see eye-to-eye.

On the whole the movie is one more solid brick in the cinematic house Marvel is building. I give it four out of five shields (I am trying to re-calibrate my ratings to leave some room for the potentially perfect film. More Goodreads, less Amazon). If I have to criticize something about the film, it is exactly the fact that the information sometimes comes at you very quickly. The writers could have slowed it down a little and only added a couple of minutes to the running time.

Note: DO NOT leave the theater before the end of the credits. As has become typical with Marvel films, there are additional scenes midway through the credits and at the end. The middle scene is particularly interesting, although neither match the utter greatness of the shawarma scene at the end of The Avengers. God bless you, Joss Whedon.