Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The January Jones Effect a term I have coined for when a performer appearing in a comic book film has a name that sounds even more like a comic book character's name than the name of the character they are playing.

New case in point is the young actor Sebastian Stan, appearing next month as Bucky Barnes, Captain America's ill-fated sidekick in the motion picture Captain America: The First Avenger being released on July22

Will the appearance of Bucky in a successful film convince movie makers that boy sidekicks can work in superhero flicks? Only time will tell, old chum, only time will tell.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gene Colan Takes On DC Icons

The prolific and unique Gene Colan passed away at age 84 on June 23. He was a master of storytelling and action pacing. In terms of visuals, for some reason the word that comes to mind for his style was "slippery". Everything had a liquid feel to it, as though each comic panel morphed into the next one. I loved his work on Marvel's clever and absurdist Howard the Duck with writer Steve Gerber. The same team took on the Man of Steel in The Phantom Zone miniseries of 1982, exploring the furthest reaches of the titular nether region; which also meant some other DC Icons slipping into the fray. Here are some selections with inks by Tony Dezuniga.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Green Lantern's Light!


Green Lantern is a superhero movie that dares to be fun and exciting and return the comic book hero to a time when it was about good versus evil. The movie reminded me of what I love about comics, a feeling that has taken a beating with some of the torturously dark films of recent years.

Now this was more like it. I found Green Lantern to be more in the spirit of superheroes than almost any movie I've yet seen. I've gotten quite used to the idea that when I see a superhero movie, it's going to be the movie version, ie a version of a character made acceptable to regular movie viewers, at best meeting the fan half way. The thing is, often this almost seems to be how fans want it, there is a sense of embarrassment over the fantastical excesses of the four-colour universe. Because of this I'd come to believe a superhero movie is just never going to be as enjoyable, as limitless-feeling, as reading a comic.

This is one of the first comic movies I can remember that so fully embraces its comics roots, sparing just about nothing and thus becoming a fantasy and science fiction film as well as a superhero movie. It's really only hampered by being an origin movie, and because of that there are not going to be huge dramatic surprises, as we see a hero gain power, and a villain gain power, and then a clash, although even that contains some interesting twists. To those who see Green Lantern as derivative, what they don't realize is how many things actually derive from GL, from the style of his costume, which preceded Spider-man, to the Green Lantern Corps, which, as a powerful universal peace force, was surely an influence on the Jedi of Star Wars - though admittedly the Lensmen series of books was an influence on the Green Lantern Corps.

Some of the CGI is being criticized, but I really have yet to see a film where CGI isn't apparent, including the highly praised Avatar, which I stopped watching after about forty minutes due to the leaden heavy-handedness of its story. Certainly the big boss villain of this film, the giant evil cloud with a head called Parallax, in some shots reminds me a bit of Malebolgia from the original 1997 Spawn movie, but at least his mouth movements are in unison with his words ( I think Malebolgia was supposed to be uttering thoughts telepathically but that was never apparent). There is at least a wonderful malevolence to the Parallax monster, its sense of being evil incarnate palpable but without it being overdone. I've read some compare its look to giant fecal matter, but if someone's stool looked remotely like that, they would be well advised to see a doctor immediately.

To me an important element of this film was the way in which the viewer is reminded that superheroes fight for the good of humanity, believing it worth saving. After a slew of comic book type movies with a sort of juvenile jadedness, actually daring to return to the roots of what a superhero story is about is a powerful message, one I believe audiences will respond to. It doesn't have a bunch of "cool" or "hip" dialogue. There is nothing - ugh - "badass" in sight. So many comics I've read in the last ten years seem to create dramatic situations simply so the hero can utter a tough guy line. While this movie has some drama, and gives its characters lives, it never loses its focus on being a superhero film about powers and saving the world. There are no long-winded dramatic scenes to try to convince us this is all "real", an element of many comics and comic movies that to me always takes away from the reality, the fact it's being taken so deadly seriously seeming to make it all the sillier.

Ryan Reynolds really surprised me. Going in, I always liked the way he could pull off smart-guy roles, such as in Blade Trinity, but here I was pleasantly surprised by his capacity for sweetness and sincerity, especially in the scene where he pleads with the nicely rendered Guardians for the chance to try to save earth - a scene that strongly evoked similar confrontations from the comics where Hal Jordan has to tell his immortal bosses that they don't know everything.

There is little about the dialogue that doesn't work for me. Many comic fans feel embarrassed by romantic dialogue, but the truth is that relationships work that way. I loved some of the scenes of Hal and Blake Lively's Carol speaking, set against a wistful, dreamy sunrise background, and there is much amusement in how she deals with his new powers and dual identity.

Mark Strong was incredibly charismatic as the still (at this point) heroic Sinestro, and I greatly appreciate that the actor reportedly fought to ensure that Sin would not be revamped with a goatee and a pony tail, as if an alien would be aware of the fashions on earth and thus feel embarrassed to have a non-hip mustache. Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond looked like a classic movie monster as he begins to mutate. His tweaked origin I felt was integrated more satisfyingly into the the larger story than in many superhero movies with multiple villains.

I love the other members of the Corps who appear, Abin Sur and Tomar Re both projecting a sense of nobility, and Kilowog appearing suitably menacing and ominous. Unlike some reviewers, I'm glad that the Corps is not part of the final action scenes, because for me the movie was about Hal. But I greatly enjoyed the scenes where Hal is part of a giant Corps assembly, and we can see many of the members who have been part of the comic mythos since the Silver Age.

The action in the movie is big and fun, with many amusing green energy constructs, and in the end, Hal's way of defeating his opponent is pure classic comic book. I left the film when it was over with a sense of excitement about the endless possibilities of superhero stories.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

X-Men: First Class


Here we are with the exciting new "one post every six months" format. It's been way too long, but it started with losing the internet temporarily and also was related to me initially wanting to only reach 100 posts.

But with this outrage called X-Men: First Class being foisted on the public, I can no longer keep silent!

Just joking, I didn't dislike it that much, I just didn't love it. I sort of want to feel the excitement that other people experienced from the new X-Men movie but it didn't have it for me. I'm not trying to convince anyone who liked it not to, because to me, in the grand scheme of things, someone enjoying a movie that I didn't particularly like is not the worst thing in the world, in fact if someone enjoys an evening at the movies it's pretty positive.

First of all let me say my problem is not, as it is with a lot of fans, that the First Class has nothing to do with the original X-Men team, which we all know consisted of Ringo, Gilligan, Shaggy, Potsie, Drooper and Snork. I completely support film tweaks of original material when there is reason to go back in with more recent revelations, and so forth, or just to not be extremely laborious and predictable - I'm a big Smallville fan, after all, which, more often than not, played fast and loose with the mythos in a knowing way, such as how Lena Luthor was depicted. I would hardly expect a film production company to invest in a story that wasn't very successful its first time around even as a comic book, as in the case of X-Men and its original team. Do those "hardcore" fans really want a step by step retelling of the original Marvel stories, with scenes such as the X-Men using their powers in construction jobs to raise money? I mean, I'd get a kick out of that, but I think some of the so-called "purists" would scream bloody murder. Just not cool enough. Comic fans hate being exposed to the general public as liking silly things.

I'll run down some of my problems with X-Men First Class.

One is that while we were given an origin for Magneto's hatred of mankind that contained absolutely nothing surprising but which instead, in typical prequel fashion, drew it out painfully, we actually learn nothing about where Xavier's humanitarianism really comes from. It seems like this iconic mutant's entire basis for his sunny outlook is simply that, having grown up rich, he experienced few real difficulties and was sheltered, having no chance to view either humanity's darker side or its more heroic side, which basically makes him seem naive. Granted, he's psychic, so in a way he is privy to everyone's thoughts and experiences. Maybe he's optimistic because he's able to tune in on some of people's finer thoughts, but that would also of course mean he could see their most evil thoughts. How does he sort that out? How does he deal with the potential disgust? But that's another thing - in this version, Xavier seems to just roam around in people's minds with no compunctions, and not just for tactical purposes, though he does that as well. He's depicted as virtuous, but at no point is it viewed as slightly shady for him to change someone's mind on an issue using psychic tampering. He is depicted as doing so quite playfully, and is not shown as having a moment of realization that this might not be much better, from an ethical point of view, than Magneto using his own powers aggressively.

Most of the young mutants have extremely generic, blurry personality types, with none of the actors, save the young actor depicting Hank McCoy, the kid from About a Boy, using acting ability to imbue the character with a sense of life as a good actor does when a character is underwritten. Havok seemed like a very poor man's version of Chris Evans' Human Torch from the much-maligned Fantastic Four movies. Angel, based on some new concept Angel, and portrayed by the daughter of Denise Huxtable, goes from being horrified that villain Kevin Bacon's forces have just slaughtered a bunch of men to suddenly joining up with him because of...why? Because some of those guys who were just brutally slaughtered made fun of her when they were alive, I guess. I've been made fun of before but I would still be utterly traumatized to see the perpetrators actually brutally killed, and I sure wouldn't want to then put myself in the hands of the killers. She sure didn't seem that cruel or that naive. I have to say I can not reconcile that side of her with anything shown previous to that moment; not as we can see the development of X2's version of Pyro.

In the end Magneto kills Sebastian Shaw by very slowly moving a coin through his head. He's bulletproof but supposedly this action contains no energy at all for Shaw to absorb because it's happening very slowly. Huh. Because to me, it might work better to throw Shaw's ship into space with him in it to see if he could absorb a vacuum. Or if Mags isn't quite up to that at this stage in his Jedi career, wrap a section of the hull around Shaw and then throw him into space. But it wouldn't have the poetic justice, I grant you. And putting things in space isn't as cool and "badass", which seems to be the esthetic demand for all films deemed worthy by fanboy masses.

I could sit and pick apart leaps in logic all day but I would bore everyone, especially myself. Comic geeks like myself are on shaky ground when they pick apart logic. In the approximately 4,000 comics I own there is probably an overall average of 10,000 crazy leaps of logic. But those comics, mostly, are fun to read, and I didn't find the film much fun at all. I will happily go along with crazy logic if it's for something fun that doesn't take itself so deadly seriously as this movie does, and if I have something invested in the characters. I mean my other blog is about how much I love b-movies, so I'm not trying to present myself as a snobby, serious film critic. X-Men First Class has moments, but there is also a lot of tedium waiting for something to happen. The action scenes I found were actually less exciting than the fight at Jean Grey's parent's home from the hated (by most) X-Men: The Last Stand; I felt much less invested emotionally because I hardly cared about the characters. If any of the nominal good guys had died I'd have been unlikely to cry myself softly to sleep that night. Also, the climactic scenes were choreographed and filmed sloppily so it was hard to make any spatial sense. I applaud the ambition of introducing battleships to superhero action, but not a lot of the action felt very visceral at all. There was nothing to match Wolverine's battle with Deathstrike at the end of X2, and as a villain Bacon doesn't measure up to Brian Cox's (admittedly less dynamic-looking) Stryker, even if he cuts footloose on making evil facial expressions while involved in mundane activities such as sitting in a chair.

If you liked the film, more power to you. I always say, if everyone felt like I do about everything, I'd lose my individuality and I sure wouldn't want that; and having fun watching a movie other people don't like isn't a sin. I know, I do it all the time.

Just so we don't all leave with a bad taste in our mouths, here's some art from a piece I always loved, a backup Steve Mellor did for Spider-ham back in the day. Mellor's style is great, I would have loved to have seen more superhero stuff like this.