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Marvel and the Never Ending Civil War

9 May

If you listen to the entertainment media, it is not a good time to be a DC fanboy, and I have been one my entire life.  For some reason, Batman v Superman was torn apart in the media and people act like it was a complete bomb, in spite of making $850 million.  And people have been complaining that DC has been completely invested in maiming characters and trying to make their comics as dark as possible.  At the same time, we are assured that Marvel Comics is experiencing a golden age, in both print and at the movies.  Civil War just opened and automatically we are told that it was one of the best comic book movies ever (Newsarama’s updated list places it in the top 10) and comic book creators are leaping over each other to heap praise upon it.  I would argue, however, it is more of a sign that the “House of Ideas” is completely out of ideas.  Basically, for the last ten years, Marvel has one story: hero versus hero.  There really is no need for the company to have villains as the heroes are having way too much fun smashing and clobberin’ each other to need anyone else to punch.  Don’t believe me, true believer?

Ten years, Marvel launched the comic event known as Civil War (you might have heard there is a movie based on?).  In it, Captain America and Iron Man, two of the Avengers’ Big Three, had a falling out and they convinced all of Marvel’s heroes to kick, stab, and eye blast all of the other heroes.

A few months later, World War Hulk happened.  Hulk, Marvel’s perennial grouch, decided the heroes wanted to kill him, even though he was a rare hero NO ONE tried to kill during Civil War.  So he returns to Earth, after an absence, and declares war on the world (hence the title).  The story goes so far as to have him capture four of Marvel’s most important characters, lock them in a gladiator pit, and demand they fight to the death…….almost.

A few months later, the X-men get in on the action of hero versus hero.  Famous 80s and 90s hero Bishop turns rogue (not Rogue, as she is a female X-man) on his team and tries to kill a baby.  Hopefully they took his hero card for that one.

Then we got Secret Invasion.  Please note, all four of these stories happened in a span of two years.  Now, in theory, Secret Invasion has a bad guy: the Skrulls!  Shape-shifting aliens bent on global conquest.  Definitely NOT a story where you have heroes fighting heroes.  Except for the fact that shape-shifting villains were disguised as the heroes, so fans could still see their favorite heroes punching and kicking and eye-gouging each other every month of this story.  And when you realize half the time it was the heroes fighting the heroes because they thought they were the shape-shifting alien villains…..at this point my head begins to spin.

Still, when all was said and done, fans finally had to wait for two years to see their favorite heroes fighting each other again.  But then, Shadowland happened and the Netflix superhero Daredevil beat up a bunch of not so super-superheroes.

In 2011, fans had two opportunities to read Marvel’s one storyline.  In Fear Itself, an ancient evil transformed several Marvel heroes and villains into his evil tools and unleashed marvelous chaos on the Marvel Universe.  And the X-men, the team of the 90s, fought it out in Schism, in which perennial bad boy of the X-men, Wolverine, is revealed to actually be the good boy of the X-men and former boy scout troop leader of the X-people Cyclops is outed as Marvel’s new favorite anti-hero.

And it’s just in time because the next year sees him lead his team of no longer merry mutants against the Avengers in Avengers vs. X-men.  For anyone keeping score, this was the eighth such story in six years.  This time, the Phoenix force, which caused Marvel’s most famous hero versus hero storyline of all time, returned to earth and possessed new heroes.  Cyclops, possessed bad boy, kills his mentor and ends up in jail.

A year later, Age of Ultron happened.  Now, much like Secret Invasion, this story hardly seems to be a case of hero versus hero at first glance.  Instead, evil robot Ultron finally conquers Earth……in the future.  Future Avengers decide the best way to stop Ultron is to send a hero, no longer trophy bad boy Wolverine, into the past and have him kill Hank Pym, the hero who created Ultron.  Hero kills hero…..check!

2014 once again saw two stories of hero versus hero rage.  In Original Sin, not at all to be confused with Identity Crisis, someone kills the Watcher.  Marvel heroes search all over and fight with each other over who might have been involved, only to find out former hero (instead of a hero’s wife…..I see what you did there Marvel!) Nick Fury killed the Watcher.  A few months later saw Axis, a story all about making heroes fight heroes again.  Which was good.  Because after 11 times in 8 years, people might have forgotten what Marvel comics was all about.

I debate whether to include Secret Wars, in which some Marvel heroes team up with Doom to save the Marvel Universe.  This leads to everyone fighting everyone.  But I won’t count it because in theory, it could be construed as an alternate reality, I think?

So here we are in 2016.  Marvel Studios has just released what everyone will tell you is the greatest superhero movie of all time!  This is your chance to watch your favorite heroes beat each other and it’s really serious.  It’s so serious, in fact, that Marvel has decided to publish a comic book tie-in series, Civil War II. It’s a story so good that they had to tell you twelve times!

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Amazing Spiderman

3 Sep

As most boys my age, I grew up watching Spiderman cartoons. My brother introduced me to comic books at an early age, letting me read his hand me down Spiderman books. Over time, I transitioned over to DC comics but I must confess that I have had always had a soft spot for the old webhead. Unlike everybody else, though, I was disappointed with Rami’s version of Spiderman movies. And though I wasn’t really looking forward to a reboot, I knew my youngest son would want to see the Amazing Spiderman. Plus, I must confess as an early 80s Spidey fan, I have always had a soft spot for Gwen Stacey, who was Spiderman’s girlfriend in the cartoons I grew up watching.

Now, I must confess, there were things I thought made no sense and other things I thought could have been approved upon. Frankly, Peter Parker should have been more of a nerd. I never really cared for the idea that Peter’s parents being spies, or in this movie, brilliant scientists murdered for hidden knowledge. Ben fills that role. Also, having Kurt Conners possibly being involved in their mysterious deaths makes him less of a tragic character and more of mustache twirling psycho.
But the biggest problem was having Kurt transform several policemen into lizard juniors and then have them not do a thing. The entire concept of having him try and make the city of New York into lizardville is a little much anyway. It could possibly have worked in a sequel movie episode but not a first appearance.

That said, I did believe this was the best Spiderman movie ever. Peter and Gwen were perfect together. It was also really nice having Spiderman use his sense of humor while beating on street thugs. It would have been nice for this to carry over more. I was glad to see Captain Stacey have an active role but I would have preferred if he would have died in a later movie also. Spiderman works best when he is in over his element and that was obvious in the movie while the Lizard threw him left and right.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. The characters really seemed to be overly smart high school kids. At times, the director tried a little too hard to be sweet and sentimental, like when all the construction crews all stayed in town to move their cranes into position for Spiderman. Or the overly quick why he dealt with Captain Stacey’s last request. Still, I personally thought this was else the best Spiderman movie ever. I even find myself looking forward to a sequel. This was a rare movie the entire family could agree on!

The Dark Knight Rises with minor spoilers

5 Aug

I just got back from The Dark Knight Rises for the second time.  I wanted to wait a bit before I reviewed the film with spoilers.  For those who wish to avoid them, I recommend you read this later.  Over the year I have had this blog, though, I have written about my love for Batman.  I must say he is one of the greatest comic book characters out there.  Unfortunately I rarely feel that the comic book writers themselves understand why.  Fortunately, Nolan gets it.  And I must say, I felt like the movie was even better the second time around. 

Like many, I went to see the movie the first time with unattainable expectations.  The Dark Knight changed how I see movies forever.  Heath Ledger’s Joker obviously was a game changer for bad guys in action movies.  The rise and fall of Harvey Dent was brilliantly presented.  And the cliffhanger ending had me awaiting the sequel when I walked out of the movies four years ago.  Having seen TDKR the first time was a bit of a let down because it couldn’t reach my expectations.  Another problem I suffered the first time I watched it though came from friends’ questions leading to the movie.  Several of my friends engaged in a healthy debate over whether this movie would feature Earth 1 or Earth 2 Batman, whereas throughout the movie it is obvious that it is neither.  It is Earth Nolan Batman.  Shades of previous Batman storylines shine through but this is entirely his game.  And he owns it. 

I have always been a history nerd and a comic book geek.  My earliest readings came from a battered encyclopedia collection for historical information and my brother’s hand me down comic books.  Upon watching this movie, it became incredibly apparent that I was watching a film showcasing the French Revolution in modern day America, starring Batman.  Honestly, there is no part of that concept that isn’t thrilling to me.  I have always thought the French Revolution was much more fascinating than the American Revolution because it is a warning.  The revolution of a poor huddled mass led by the intelligentsia can be a wonderful victory (see the American Revolution) or it can be an unmitigated disaster.  The French Revolution kicked into high gear with the storming of the Bastille, a French political prison.  This is harkened to in TDKR in which Blackgate Prison is stormed early in Bane’s revolution.  In fact, I was genuinely surprised Bane didn’t draw the comparisons himself. This victory for the poor though quickly paved way to the Reign of Terror.  During the Reign of Terror, the rich and powerful (and eventually anyone who threatened the powers that be) were slaughtered by the thousands.  This is also alluded to in TDKR in a wonderful scene in which Scarecrow ran court for the newly “freed” Gothamites.

Meanwhile, if you are looking at the comic book comparisons, Earth Nolan features several of the most famous Batman storylines of the last two decades.  Obvious similarities are apparent with the Knightfall arc. The story pillars are streamlined down to the essentials.  I will say I was genuinely surprised with how much they showed.  The first fight between Bane and Batman was brutal.  The story then entered Act 2 which was influenced heavily by “No Man’s Land.”  A lot of this was my favorite parts of the movie.  I enjoyed the police, led by Gordon, working against Bane’s minions.  Other influences come from a myriad of stories, like “The Dark Knight” and Earth 2 Batman stories.  My favorite part though relates to Batman and Selina’s relationship.  Outside of Lois and Clark, this has always been my favorite comic book romance, since seeing Adam West and the various Catwomen in classic Bat-TV.

I still believe overall that Avengers is the best movie of the year.  The Dark Knight is still my favorite movie of all time.  But with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has brought a beautiful finish to Batman’s story.  This was definitely the most “comic book movie” of Nolan’s trilogy and I love it.  And my favorite part is that even though this was Nolan and Bale’s last Bat movie (for now), it leaves off with a chance for a totally new direction of stories.  Good show!

Batman Forever seemed to last forever

24 Jul

With Dark Knight Rises opening last weekend, the Burton/Schumacher Batman films played on the movie channels.  I have not seen any of them since they came out and decided I would watch each of them.  My DVR played against me however and I only got the chance to watch my favorite of the four, Batman Forever. I was about fourteen when it came out and remember enjoying it much more than Returns.  And I recall hating Batman and Robin, so I was ok with this development.

I just finished watching Forever though and am in a daze.  Like most boys of the 80s, I loved watching repeats of Adam West and Burt Ward jovially beating the daylights out of the “Clown Prince of Crime” and the like.  So I am used to Batman having his tongue inserted squarely in cheek.  But this was truly painful.  In fact, the entire movie can be summed up best by one of Riddler’s last lines.  After describing his master plan, he looks at Batman and asks, “Was that over the top?”

I remember that being my problem with Batman and Robin.  But upon rewatching this “masterpiece” I was floored at just how over the top the entire movie was.  While not as in your face as the leering view at Batman’s jockstrap in the Schumacher’s last movie, the full two to three seconds image of the Bat Butt will now be burned in my adult mind forever.  Watching Two Face cackle like Ceaser Romero on steroids, I feel I must go back and watch Dark Knight just to wash the taste out of my mouth.  And though I love seeing the aesthetic reappear in the Lego Batman games, the giant statues littering the Gotham skyline was horribly distracting.

I hate to say I really can’t think of a redeeming part of the movie now as an adult.  I want to like Kilmer as Batman but when the first line of the dark knight in a movie is “No, I will get take out,” it is difficult to view the movie with open eyes.  I hope I can sit down and watch the other three movies soon.  But as of right now, all I can think is thank goodness for Nolan.  Here’s hoping Warner can think of a way to continue this series.  Any possible return to the manic nature of the Batverse before is utterly terrifying. Much more so than hearing Prince sing of the glories of Gotham or watching Robin beat the daylights (nightlights?) out of the neon brigade of ninjas.

The Dark Knight Rose to the occasion!

20 Jul

I just got in from the midnight premiere of The Dark Night Rises. A lot has been said (and threats made apparently) about the movie and a lot will be said in the coming weeks. Expectations were unbelievably high for this movie riding on the prior two movies in Nolan’s triology. I don’t think it would have been possible for it to meet those expectations. What follows are my spoiler free thoughts.

First, I must state, The Dark Knight is my favorite movie ever. Heath Ledger gave the role of a life time with his Joker. Bale, Caine, Oldman, and Freeman likewise gave excellent performances. But to me, the rise and fall of Harvey Dent was the heart of the movie. I finally got the Two-Face story I always thought we deserved. And the conclusion, when Batman decided to take credit for Two-Face’s crimes, was beautiful. So when the announcement was made that this movie would take place eight years later, I was horribly disappointed. It took me several months to accept this but I finally made my peace with it a few months ago.

Dark Knight Rises is a very different animal from The Dark Knight. It was a wonderful movie but I believe it is missing the break neck pace and excitement of Ledger’s Joker or Harvey’s fall. Nolan’s concluding act is a slow boil, building to the final conflict. It is very entertaining and if you know your Batman history from the comic books, the movie is highly influenced by two great Batman stories from the last twenty years. But, by the nature of the story, it does slow down at points. This doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, I truly enjoyed the whole movie, but I was hoping for more Dark Knight but like many paid reviewers point out, the last movie plays more like Batman Begins.

The origin of Bane is brilliantly told. He comes across as an unstoppable force, which plays like his original storyline in the comic books. I was quite surprised at just how well I thought he was done. I must confess, as much as I loved the Batman cartoon from Dini, I never thought Bane was treated with the respect he deserved. And this continued in all other versions until this movie. Finally, someone “got” Bane. Pretty much how I feel about everyone in the Bat-verse. Nolan gets this stuff.

Catwoman plays a lot like Ledger’s Joker. When I heard Anne Hathaway was going to be Catwoman all I could think was that it was insane. Disney’s princess could NOT be the ultimate femme fatale. I was blown away though. She IS Catwoman. Unlike previous Batman movie Catwomen, this story doesn’t require cats magically saving a woman and transforming her into a vigilante. And the costume is the best Catwoman costume since Balent did the art in the comics or the classic adventures of Burt Ward and Adam West.

Dark Knight Rises is not Dark Knight. It is a very different animal. Nolan brings about a wonderful conclusion to his trilogy. I still think the previous movie is better but this was a fantastic, slow building movie. The end of the movie played just how I hoped it would. I can’t wait until I can add this movie to my collection. To me, the movie is best summed up by a line from the last movie. Sometimes, we need our faith rewarded. Nolan rewarded his fans. I hate this was the end.

My thoughts on Avatar

18 Jun

I know I am a few years late, but I finally sat down and watched Avatar today.  My wife and son both enjoyed the movie when they saw it and convinced me I should give it a shot.  My older brother described it as a movie, “With enough of a romantic subplot for it to qualify as a woman’s movie and action for men to enjoy it.  Enough tree hugging to make democrats happy and enough of a fight to make republicans happy.” This interested me.  Having seen the movie, I must confess this seemed a good enough description for it.  As much as I liked it, though, it seemed very derivative to me. 

I didn’t watch it all this time because it seemed like everyone was watching it just because everyone was watching it.  Or they lauded it for being “big” or “cinematic.”  It was too artsy sounding to me.  But years of pressure finally wore me down today and I watched it.  It was a decent movie.  I love a good science fiction movie and it was decent.  But that’s it.  I still think people bragged about it because it was the reaction you were supposed to have. 

I enjoyed the characters and I enjoyed the science fiction aspects.  The alien animal species were fun.  I did notice that the horse animal sounded like a raptor from Jurassic Park.  I enjoyed the Bones squint who was a nerdy scientist in the show.  Many of the vehicles looked like things you would imagine in the future.  As a social studies guy, I liked that various religions influenced the alien species.  Even the title Avatar connects the movie with classical Hinduism and the different avatars of the god Vishnu. 

The movie looked pretty, true, but seemed overly CG.  I am tired of seeing western cultures portrayed as the bad guys in movies.  My biggest problem though was just how formulaic the movie was.  If you have seen any movie in which the “civilized world” comes into contact with the “native world,” you know the themes the movie has to hit on.  My favorite movie like this is The Last Samurai.  The two movies were very thematically similar.  The hero of the movies is hired to deal with a situation with a group fighting against “progress.”  In the midst of trying to do this, our hero finds himself brought into the native tribe and finds love.  The beauty of the native culture eventually wins him over and he fights the group he arrived with.  In a way, I even appreciate The Last Samurai’s conclusion even more.  The heroic side loses because more often than not in the real world, this is what happens. 

Once again, I know I am late, but I will say Avatar is a good movie.  It’s predictable but the acting is mostly good.  The star of the movie is one of my favorite new action stars.  It’s a fun look at different cultures I suppose.  After watching the movie, I checked it out on IMDB and see a potential sequel is planned, if not two.  I must confess I don’t see the need for it.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you give it a shot.  If you have seen it, I would love to see what you think.

My Thoughts on Crazy, Stupid, Love

6 Sep

So today’s post is a little different.  I had a crazy, busy weekend.  School work, church stuff, and family stuff dominated this three day weekend.  My wife and I wisely planned our anniversary around a holiday weekend, and although it is always nice, it’s almost always packed with five or six thousand things to do.  This weekend, my wife and I decided to go to a movie.  We saw Crazy, Stupid, Love this weekend.  I must confess, though I like Steven Carroll, I have never really loved him in a movie.  This was fantastic though.  The storyline was funny and (I have always been a romantic sap) quite good.  I honestly don’t recall the last movie where everyone laughed so much.  Our hero, Stephen Carroll, finds that his wife cheated on him and tries to move on with life.  To do so, though, requires help from a local big shot with the ladies, Ryan Gosling, to teach him about women today.  This goes quite well, until Ryan realizes he is in love, and needs help from Stephen to get the lady.  Eventually it all blows up, like all movies must.  But it does it really well.  Meanwhile, Stephen’s middle school son has a crush on a high school kid, who has a crush on dear old dad.  This leads to the one part of the movie I was disappointed in.  From a (former) boy’s perspective, I can imagine the excitement that would come from a scene near the end, but as a parent, I was really disgusted by it.  Other than that one point, though, this movie was a resounding success.  Easily an 8 or 9. 

On a different note, the new 52 is now in high gear.  I am very excited about.  Although I use this for all sorts of random thoughts, I know I mainly use it for comic book information.  So, over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing the issues I get.  I get some via subsciption, I will be getting several day and date digitally.  When I get them, I will review each first issue.  On the other hand, I will be getting some issues in a hardcover come DC.  I will review it as a whole, not specific issues.  Let me know what you think.