Tag Archives: Marvel

The Black Panther Claws the Box Office

A second super hero movie has the internet all atwitter this week with accolades such as “historic” and “triumphant” pretty much for the same reasons.  Last year’s Wonder Woman was the first female super hero movie and the first directed by a woman.  This year, “The Black Panther” is touted as the first super hero movie with a Black protagonist and directed by a black director.  Now the veracity of that claim can be and has been debated, but that is irrelevant to the quality of the film.  The Black Panther is a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not the only black one) that interacts with the Avengers.  His character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America Civil War and played a major role in the events of that film.  In this movie, we learn more about the Black Panther and his alter ego, King T’Challa, ruler of the fictional African country of Wakanda, but the focus of this movie is not really T’Challa or the Black Panther.  One could argue the movie is actually about Wakanda.  As Wakanda is in Africa, it follows that this movie will feature predominately black characters.  In fact, the only principle characters that are not black is Andy Serkis’s Klaw and Martin Freeman’s Ross.  Given the setting of the movie and the characters, one would expect certain social commentary about race relations.  This film does not shirk in this regard, and in fact, is a bit “in your face” about it, almost too much so, which is the only problem I have with this otherwise enjoyable action movie.

One observation that bears notice is that story told in “The Black Panther”, while set within the MCU, has absolutely no bearing on the greater MCU story arcs. There is no mention of the Infinity Stones, the Avengers or any other heroes at all.  In fact, it almost seems as though Freeman’s Ross was tacked on just to tie it in, as his presence really doesn’t move the plot much.  Having said that, he does offer a bit of humor.

The rest of the cast turn in solid performances.  Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as King T’Challa and brings the same brooding strength to this performance.  His likeable naiveté dares the viewer not to like him.  His skills as the Black Panther, while impressive, are still developing and he finds himself in dire straits on more than one occasion.  Boseman conveys this and portrays T’Challa’s learning process convincingly.

Angela Basset stars as T’Challa’s mother and brings out his humanity along with Letitia Wrght’s performance as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister.  We also meet his ex-girlfriend and the general of the king’s guard, who all serve to help T’Challa face his first major challenge as king: A literal challenge for the throne from his American cousin, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The story is full of intrigue and more than one plot twist and if the writers and producers had left it at that, it would have made for an outstanding movie.  But with the current social climate, they couldn’t resist attacking the perceived “white-dominated” power structure in the world that was only serving to keep down “those who look like us,” as Killmonger says.

Of course, the film will win the box office.  It is an MCU film, after all, and opening on a weekend bereft of any real box office competition.  The movie was enjoyable, but it doesn’t rank as high as Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy, and while it is good, it is not quite historic or triumphant.  Movies should earn those accolades with plot, character and message, not by the gender or the color of the skin of the actor or director.  I still give it a thumbs up.


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Suicide Squad is Killing It

I found myself doubting the appeal of the latest DC super hero movie to hit the theaters when it was first announced for several reasons. First, a story of a collection of B-rated super villains that team up to save the world when there are already so many super heroes available to do that seemed problematic. Second, the announced roster of villains wasn’t all that impressive and the casting seemed designed to pull seats rather than to do the story justice. When the first previews were leaked at comic con last year, I was increasingly dubious. The film just didn’t hold any appeal to me, so I doubted very much that I would go. Now, I had the same reservations when Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, and it was the best Marvel film until this year’s Captain America: Civil War, so in keeping a similar open mind, I went to see the film, despite the poor reviews it received. I am glad I did. Despite its depressing and ominous title, Suicide Squad is the most fun DC movie to date.

With Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman, DC brought in director Zack Snyder, who has really gone dark, trying to add more gravitas to the stories, apparently thinking that movie goers won’t take a superhero film seriously unless it delves deep into the darkness that inhabits the human soul, and reveals the conflict therein. Both of those films do that in spades, to the point of being rather depressing and making it difficult to appreciate the heroics. Suicide Squad was directed by David Ayer, who also has a bent for making dark films such as Training Day, SWAT, and Fury, but also knows how to inject levity into the film to counterbalance the darkness (although I never did find anything funny in Fury). Zack Snyder does have a directing credit on Suicide Squad, probably for the scenes that set up next year’s Justice League.

The plot is rather simple: in an effort to head off the next Doomsday scenario in a world where Superman died fighting the threat, the government decides to create a task force of meta humans that they can control if they ever need to use them. The Suicide Squad is supposed to be made up of the worst of the worst super villains in captivity. Each is implanted with an explosive capsule that will detonate and kill them if they try to escape and the only chance for a reprieve is to accomplish the task given to them. The plot is bleak and a little thin, though I love the irony that the threat the squad is tasked with eliminating is a threat that the government created in building the team.

The real salvation for Suicide Squad, however, is the cast, which is ironic considering I was doubtful about them to begin with. Will Smith is a fine actor, but I always raise an eyebrow when producers change the ethnicity of an established character because mostly it is done out of some misguided sense of political correctness, or in the case of Wild Wild West—to sell more tickets. But Smith does work as the hit man for hire, Deadshot, in this film. The breakout star, without any question, however, is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. I cannot imagine any other actress assuming that role as accurately, as beautifully and as true to the story as Robbie. She made the film for me. Viola Davis takes a menacing turn as Amanda Waller, the head of a covert government agency tasked with doing things the government can disavow when needed. I’m not used to seeing her as “the bad guy” but she pulls it off easily in this film. Jai Courtney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, also star as Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc, respectively.

One of the more public discussions is Jared Leto as the Joker. He doesn’t have as significant role in this film as some fans would like, and those fans are being quite vocal about their displeasure. One person is even going as far as to file a lawsuit against Warner Brothers (DC’s parent company) for false advertising. Unfortunately, any real fanboy knows that Joker was never a part of the Suicide Squad. His role in this film serves only two purposes: One, to provide a motivation and back story for Harley Quinn and two, to foreshadow the next Batman movie. He also does interact with the plot in a major way during one of the film’s key sequences, but it is not his movie.

While there are some problems with the script and the dialog, it is good to see a DC movie with plot and character development that consists of more than wrestling with inner darkness. It is also good to see a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, like Batman Vs. Superman did. If the next plate of DC films can continue in this vein, they might just close the gap on Marvel’s cinematic universe and give movie goers a whole different set of films to spend months and years anticipating. Let’s hope that Zack Snyder learns something from this movie in time to make Justice League better than Dawn of Justice, because I would have to say that Suicide Squad is arguably the best DC film yet.


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Rewriting History X-Men Style

In this age of comic-book-based movies ruling the multiplex, it is little wonder that the reigning box office champ is X-Men: Days of Future Past, the latest in the 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise. The movie effectively wraps up the last four X-men movies in a nice little package, incorporating the actors from the first three X-Men movies and the actors who played the younger versions of them in the last one. It is all very neat and tidy, except for two glaring discrepancies that just about every fan noticed: the claws and Professor X.

Continuity is that aspect of storytelling in which facts and events set up in early stories are accounted for in later stories using the same characters. It is essential in soap operas and movies sequels and to a slightly lesser extent in TV series (of course the TV serial has made a resurgence, hence the “previously on [insert show title here]). When something significant happens to a major character, the viewer has to accept it as a fact of life for the character. This is why writers rarely kill off a principal character: the viewers then expect not to see them again (exception for Southpark’s Kenny).

The character Wolverine, played in all movies by Hugh Jackman, has two spinoff movies of his own, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine. In the latter film, Wolverine’s adamantium claws are severed (an impossibility, by the way) by the Silver Samurai, to be regenerated as bone claws by his mutant healing ability. At the end of that film, in a post-credits scene, Wolverine is approached by Professor X and Magneto asking for his help.

Jump ahead to X-Men: Days of Future Passed and Wolverine is helping the X-Men fight a losing war against mutant hunting robots called Sentinels. The problem is that Wolverine has his adamantium claws back. This begs the question of how that happened. The movie says nothing of it, he is just happily shredding away as if he never lost the metal claws.

Of course, the plot of the film involves Wolverine sending his consciousness back in time to take over his younger body to prevent the advent of the Sentinels in the first place, and in this younger body, he had not yet acquired the adamantium in his bones. But the future self has the metal claws. Brian Singer, the director of the X-Men films offered a half-hearted possibility: perhaps Magneto helped restore his claws. He did not say this definitively what happened. He said nothing definitive.

The other issue is Professor X. He was killed by the Phoenix in X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Although in the end, we hear some other person speaking in his voice; we saw the Professor’s body disintegrate, so it cannot be his body the voice is coming from. Yet at the end of The Wolverine, Professor X is back in his body—complete with wheel chair—asking Wolverine for help. Now, comic book characters have an affinity for coming back from the dead. Barry Allen’s Flash was killed in the 90’s and he got better. Superman was killed by Doomsday and he got better. But in every one of those cases, the resurrection was explained (albeit sometimes very flimsily) by some plot device like time travel or alternate realities or parallel universes or cloning or something. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, there is no explanation of how this happened. Perhaps Brian Singer will suggest that Professor X is related to Kenny.

So, while Days of Future Passed is a very enjoyable film, it leaves two unresolved plot holes that the viewer will have to fill in on their own.


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Fighting For, and In, Red, White and Blue

Another superhero made his big screen debut this weekend in a summer of comic book adaptations and sequels. Xmen: First Class, Thor and Green Lantern have all pulled large audiences to the theaters in 3D and this weekend Captain America joined the ranks. In fact, during the trailers previews for next year’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spiderman heralded more to come. While I have bemoaned Hollywood’s lack of true originality, these comic adaptations have, for the most part, produced some of the better movies of the season and Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the best of the bunch.

Captain America

Captain America was created in 1940 as propaganda material for the pro-war effort and enjoyed great success during the war. After the war, the comic’s popularity fell and it was cancelled only to be revived in the 60’s. The character bears a costume with a conspicuously patriotic theme but little practical functionality. As such, it doesn’t typically translate from the comic page well. Two failed TV series in the 80’s and 90’s attest to the difficulty in bringing Captain America to life. The costume just looked to cheesy, to comic-bookish for movie audiences to buy into. Other hero films manage to explain or redesign the superhero costume to make it acceptable for the audience such as the battle uniforms for the X-Men, the flight suits for the Fantastic Four or Batman’s armored bodysuit. For Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel Studios revisions the costume as an adapted Battle Dress Uniform, similar to the fatigues soldiers wear but with the patriotic flair.

The film stars Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers, AKA Captain America, a frustrated, patriotic wanna-be soldier who gets denied from World War II military service because of health reasons. He instead becomes a test subject for a super soldier serum designed to create the perfect human being. After creating the first successful test subject, the scientist (Stanley Tucci) who developed the serum is killed by a German agent of Hydra, a scientific terrorist arm of the Nazi party. Hydra is headed by The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who was the first (albeit not entirely successful) test subject of the serum. Rodgers joins the war effort to thwart Hydra’s nefarious plans. The hero’s origin story is only slightly different from the comic book and holds true to the character development set forth in the comic series with some updating. The writers combined several of Captain America’s adventures in this film, including how he came to the modern age from 1943.

The Captain is not Chris Evans’ first spin in superhero tights. He was also cast as Johnny Storm, AKA The Human Torch, in the Fantastic Four movies. In this latest film, Evans’ face is CGI’d onto a skinny little body for the scenes before the procedure. His portrayal of Steve Rodgers is quite different from his Johnny Storm. While Storm was a wise-cracking party animal, Rodgers is a thoughtful, compassionate patriot who cannot abide a bully. This is a critical component of the film’s success; the audience cannot help but emote with Rodgers and root for the allied fight. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Haley Atwell round out an outstanding cast, all of whom turn in convincing performances. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is sufficiently sinister and makes a convincing villain. In fact, of all the adaptations in film and TV over the years, Weaving’s Red Skull is by far the best.

Captain America is arguably the best super hero movie of the year and stands with Iron Man as one of the best ever. It also serves as an introduction to next summer’s The Avengers which will team up Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Nick Fury and some other super heroes to save the world. This movie is a must see.


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Powers Far Beyond Those of Mortal Men

As my wife and I sat at the restaurant eating dinner tonight, she giggled even though I had not said anything. I asked what was so funny and she smiled and said “I’m doing a you” as she tilted her head at the table next to us. We both smiled and went back to our meals as both of us tuned into the conversation going on at the other table. Now, I do not intentionally listen to other’s conversations as a matter of course, but when people talk loud, it is hard to ignore them, so I get a chuckle every now and again and sometimes I get more than an earful of other people’s lives. Sometimes, it takes every bit of self control to avoid saying something in response. A little while later, I heard a guy at another table announce that he was just not as familiar with DC as he was with Marvel, at which point both my wife and I laughed again. I almost chimed in on this topic, because, as a guy and a geek, I am fully versed in comic lore.

I am so well versed in fact, that when we were kids, one of my brother’s favorite pastimes was to ask me who I thought would win in a fight between this superhero and that one. Then we would debate the logic of my position, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the heroes in question. Did you know that Superman would not easily defeat the incredible Hulk given that Thor only fought him to standstill? Hulk gets stronger as he gets madder, and it only makes sense that Superman pummeling him through a mountain might just tick him off a little bit.

I used to frequent comic shops (and folks, don’t even think of calling them “funny books.” You’re likely to rile up some nerd collective that will paper your yard with Archie and Jughead magazines) where I would catch up on the latest issues of my favorite heroes. Of course, I had to take my little brother with me on most of these trips. He continued to collect them after I had moved onto more adult pastimes. I still have many of the comics I bought in my youth stored in little plastic bags in several boxes in a closet (you can’t store them in a garage or attic, as the humidity and heat would degrade the paper…just a tip from me to you.) These magazines would fetch a pretty penny in the market if I chose to sell them, which I won’t. I don’t believe in spending good money on something with the expressed purpose of getting rid of it later. Then again, who knows—when I am old and retired and my savings has long run out and I am subsisting on ramen noodles and mac and cheese and selling plasma, I might be persuaded to sell one or two.

One of my favorite TV shows on right now is “The Big Bang Theory” which is a sitcom about four nerds who work as astrophysics researchers for a university and live as the ultimate geeks complete with a video game addiction, social awkwardness, and—to my point—an understanding on comic lore that blurs the lines of reality. What I like about the show is that I have met people just like this; people who can recite Superman’s lineage back three generations or explain the timeline in detail between the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and the first time he put on the Batman cowl. These people also cried about the recent Star Trek movie because it changed the timeline from the original series and everyone knows that the Enterprise was built at the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, not on Earth as the new movie portrayed. They will also take you to task for referring to Gandalf the Grey when talking about The Return of The King (in which, of course everyone knows, he was Gandalf the White).

My fanaticism did not end at in-depth discussions. After the Batman movie that came out in 1989, I was disappointed that the film did not delve into the origins of the hero, so I wrote a story outline. I was online in a SF writers group and shared my outline there. This outline told the story of Batman’s origin against the backdrop of one of his mentors killing crime lords in Gotham. Sound familiar? I was sitting in the theater watching Batman Begins with the oddest feeling of Déjà Vu when it hit me why the story seemed so familiar. Never share intellectual property online.

Anyway, as my kids grew, they would play the same game with me that their uncle had played. Even now, with my sons as adults, at some point during a visit, the discussion will turn to superheroes either on TV or coming to the movies. My sons have most of their knowledge of comic heroes from cartoon series, which as any comic follower knows, is just not the same. Cartoons change the back story to fit whatever plot they want to film at the time. They think they are “updating” the heroes to appeal to a modern audience, but we all know it’s just to make more money revising old stories which is cheaper than developing brand new ones. Many times I have to start a conversation with my sons with “in the original comic…” so they understand why something they saw was significant.

Sometimes, though, a revision is needed and even tolerable. Yes, I regularly watch Smallville and Heroes and I just watched Iron Man 2 and I have seen just about every superhero movie that Hollywood puts out, but I have not bought a comic book in at least 15 years. I have been to a comic store, but only to browse and converse with the diehard comic geeks. It was during one such visit that I found out that the Flash (aka Barry Allen) had come back to life after 20 years of being dead. It seems “he got better.” This is the only way I can keep myself versed in the goings on in the DC and Marvel universes. How else can I understand the conversations of those upon whom I eavesdrop?



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