Tag Archives: superhero

Wonder Woman Excels Despite the Hype

Many critics were anticipating a poor showing of the film Wonder Woman because it is helmed by a woman: Patty Jenkins. The thinking apparently that a woman cannot drive a major Hollywood Blockbuster. Many people are heralding the film much the same way Hillary was heralded as the first female presidential nominee. Some people complained when a movie theater held a woman-only screening of the film, which drew more criticism from the other side of the issue. Other hype surrounding the film was that this is the first superhero film starring a female superhero as its main protagonist. The simple fact is that there isn’t a better female superhero to launch the effort. It pays off as well because Wonder Woman is the best DC Superhero film to date. This, despite the fact that Zack Snyder had his fingerprints all over it.

Gal Gadot exudes both a strength and a softness at the same time which is perfect for the role of Diana, Princess of the Amazons. Despite having a female superhero and taking the few side shots at feminism during an historical depiction, the film does not follow in the footsteps of the CW’s Supergirl in trying to become an Anthem of the new feminism, which might upset the more militant feminists out there. Rather, the plot focuses on telling the story of Wonder Woman’s development and entry into the modern, human world. This serves to actually tell a compelling story without delving into social mores and issues that would otherwise be divisive and distract from the enjoyment of the film.

The story departs slightly from the comic book depiction of Diana on Paradise Island, as well as its introduction of Steve Trevor, the American fighter Ace who is rescued by Diana and ushers her into the real world. There is no invisible jet, no spinning into her costume, and—for the most part—no alter ego. She is introduced to the war brass as Diana Prince, her secret identity from the comic book and TV show, but for the bulk of the film, she is Wonder Woman, even though no one actually addresses her by that title. She is simply Diana.

The bulk of the movie’s humor comes from Diana’s innocent reactions to what passes for modern society during the Great War. Chris Pratt, no I mean Chris Evans, no, sorry, Chris Hemsworth…nope, that’s not it. Oh, right, Chris Pine, of Star Trek, plays Steve Trevor, the American spy working for British intelligence to stop a Nazi chemical doomsday weapon that threatens to derail an armistice to end the war. There is an instant spark with Diana when she pulls him from the ocean after his plane crashes. The chemistry is tangible and plays well on screen, making their dynamic all the more real in the film’s climax. Pine’s portrayal is fine, if a little anachronistic. He tends to exude a 21st century swagger that would not have been tolerated by the British hierarchy in 1918.

The only detractor for the film is in its producer’s vision. Warner Brothers chose Zach Snyder to helm the DC cinematic universe and Snyder’s vision of the heroes in that universe is a dark one. Many fanboys have filled blogs and discussion boards with posts suggesting that Snyder is trying to adapt the DC graphic novels Injustice: Gods Among Us into the movies. That idea gets a serious booster shot with the antagonist in Wonder Woman. Snyder has an artistic eye for cinematic visuals. There is no denying that. But with the muted color pallet he chose for Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, it makes the viewing experience depressing. Snyder has a penchant for near monochromatic color filters as he displayed with his highly successful adaptation of the graphic novel 300. That pallet fits certain scenes, such as when Diana is first introduced to London (she says “it’s hideous”), but to make three films that way detracts from the viewing experience.

Despite Snyder’s limited vision, and the feminist hype, Wonder Woman is a great film and definitely worth the price of admission. Heck, skip the matinee and pay full price. It’s still worth it.

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Apocalypse Brings X-Men Back to the Beginning

The X-Men was one of the first comic book franchises to really break big in terms of public popularity. Oh, sure, Superman and Batman had their followings in the 70’s and the 90’s, but that was largely the fan-boy response and not indicative of the general movie-going public. But with Marvel selling the rights to Spider-man and the X-men, the comic book movie really came into its own. The X-men has been so hugely successful as a franchise that despite a lack of continuity between the titles and different actors being cast in the same roles across titles, people still follow it. It was even parodied in the Spring’s big hero surprise hit Deadpool, who commented on James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart both playing Professor X.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

This weekend’s X-Men Apocalypse is the best of the X-Men series thus far. Brian Singer brings the best of all the previous X-Men titles together for what amounts to a reboot of the franchise; bringing the characters from the first movie and the first class while setting up for a continuation of the story beyond this title. The only actor that remains the same from the first X-Men movie is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, who really has only a cameo in this movie. The characters of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, Phoenix and Cyclops, are recast as younger versions of themselves with Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones) as Jean and Tye Sheridan as Scott. Nightcrawler, Jubilee, Storm, and Angel are back with new actors while Charles, Magneto, Beast, Havoc, Mystique, and Quicksilver all make reappearances. One new mutant to the party is Psy-lock, played by Olivia Munn, one of the older mutants in the story.

Speaking of old mutants, what could very well be the first mutant in existence makes his appearance as the film’s titular character: Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac. Inadvertently awakened from a multi-millennial sleep by the overzealous CIA agent Moira McTaggart, Apocalypse sets about reclaiming his rightful place as the world’s ruler by finding the four most powerful mutants and augmenting their powers to help him enslave humanity. He finds Storm, Angel, Psylock and Magneto as his four horsemen. When Mystique learns of his existence and Magneto’s involvement, she enlists the X-Men to help foil the plan. The problem is that there are no X-Men. Charles has avoided training mutants to use their powers for combat ever since the assassination attempt on the President in “Days of Future Past.” Now Charles and Mystique must gather a bunch of young mutants with tenuous control over their abilities, and defeat five of the most powerful beings on the planet.

The film follows the industry trend of being precipitously long. As with the other superhero movies this year, it clocks in at two and a half hours long. It also tries to cram several sub plots in among the three main plots, and it can get confusing for the uninitiated. With so many characters interacting and integral to the plot, it is a challenge to weave a story that is not too complicated to follow. Fortunately, Singer manages the feat, if only just barely. There are one or two scenes where the viewer might be left wondering, “why did she do that?”

Game of Thrones alum Sophie Turner, better known as Sansa Stark, was cast as the younger Jean Grey. While many fan boys may think that Famke Janssen will always be THE Jean grey, Turner turns in a respectable performance, though she struggled with losing her English accent in a few scenes. While Jennifer Lawrence is probably the strong female hero in this story, Turner holds her own all through the film culminating the final conflict. She offers a different take on the character making Jean the pretty girl next door mutant, rather than Janssen’s exotically beautiful and worldly mutant.

Of all of the sub plots, one that has stuck around since “First Class” is Magneto’s flip flopping good and bad guy. In First Class, he is one of the first team of mutants to work with Charles, in fact it is the foundation of their lifelong relationship. His anger at the disparity in the treatment of mutants at the hands of humans always gets in the way of him doing the right thing. This film is no exception. After suffering a tragedy, Magneto is all about making humans pay, despite the pleas from Mystique and Charles. In this, Magneto is following his comic book origins of fighting against the X-Men as often as he fights alongside them.

We also finally get to see Professor Xavier bald again. It was looking for a while that only Patrick Stewart’s Xavier was going to be follicularly challenged as James McAvoy has a full head of think hair. McAvoy’s Xavier has always been more emotional and reactive than Stewart’s more mature Xavier, but now we see the effect of years of fighting and learning beginning to show up as McAvoy’s Xavier grows into the Xavier we know from Stewart. In the final scenes, it could be either actor playing the role as the more mature Xavier is finally realized.

One of the aspects of movie versions of comic book is that film designers tend to avoid the costumes depicted in the print comics. This could be for many reasons, not the least of which is that comic artists tend to draw over-sexualized costumes, particularly for the female heroes, also, spandex looks cheesy in real life and it is difficult to picture anyone taking a hero seriously while wearing skin-tight spandex in day-glo colors. Most of the comic stars have had their costumes re-imagined in a tactical ballistic nylon or Kevlar mesh and sporting darker colors. In many cases, they have no costume at all, they just wear street clothes. In this film, however, we get a nod to the comic costumes. In the final scene, the new team of X-Men enters the “danger room” to train and finally wear costumes that more closely reflect the comic book.

While this is no “Captain America: Civil War”—the best comic book movie yet—this is easily the best X-men movie thus far and while I would love to see it integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside the Avengers and Spiderman, it seems that 20th Century Fox is finally getting the X-Men right.

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From Comic Books to Cinema

This summer brings an opportunity to enjoy many relaxing pastimes from hiking to fishing to swimming and camping. Many people who don’t want to spend that much time outside in the heat might opt, instead, to take in a movie or two and Hollywood has plenty of blockbuster hits lined up for those cinemaphiles. Thor thundered into a huge box office and Pirates of the Carribean has plundered a heafty treasure as well. But along with Harry Potter and The Smurfs, the biggest blockbusters are predicted to be films based on comic books or sequels to established movie franchises.

There have been many movies the past few years based on comic books. Spiderman, Batman, and X-men have been hugely successful in terms of box office returns, but also as fan favorites. My wife and I were talking about why so many comic books are being adapted to film and the answer was so obvious that it is easily overlooked. The people making movies in Hollywood are my generation: raised on comic books and cartoons. Our adolescence has been peppered with the super acts of our heroes and depicted in the pages of comics and on the Saturday morning TV screens for years. This was the only way we could see these impossible feats of superhuman strength, since live actors could not do it and Hollywood did not possess the technology to create the effects.

Now, thanks to John Dykstra and John Lassiter and some serious computing power, we can have a man fly, shoot friggin lazers out of his friggin eyes, change into a snake, have razor sharp blades emerge from his hands, climb walls, and levitate a bus and have it all look as real as if he was putting on a jacket. Now we can enjoy the exploits of Superman, Batman, The Hulk, and this year, Green Lantern, and Captain America and watch the scenes that we used to see in pen and ink drawings years ago. Graphic novels are also getting the big screen treatment with films like Priest and there are nerd-as-hero movies like Scott Pilgrim Vs The World that are clearly inspired by comics and video games.

Of course, the other side of the issue is that Hollywood doesn’t have to wrack its collective brain to come up with anything truly original is they can mine 30 years of comic books for plotlines and characters and then create movie franchises based on those stories. This also accounts for the reboots of movies like last year’s Star Trek and this year’s Conan and adaptations of TV shows like last year’s A-Team.

But since I love comic books and love these adaptations, I will happily shell out the inflated ticket price as I enjoy watching my imagination come to life before my eyes. I have loved the Iron Man movies and the latest Hulk was even good. Bring on X-Men : First Class and Green Lantern!

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