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The Legion of Super-Heroes

Posted on June 27th, 2017

Dave!Ah memories.

Comixology (an online comic book distributor) has been adding older issues of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes to their offerings. When I logged on last night, they happened to be displaying the first book of the series I ever read, issue no. 253 (courtesy of a Whitman Comics poly-bag-three-pack* I found in the local Safeway)...

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes No. 253

Looking back, this was a pretty stupid cover. A bunch of costumed people come breaking through the wall of your clubhouse and you think they're there to join? Pretty sure I'd knock on the front door if I wanted to join up. But, this was par for the course back in the day. They always took the thrust of the story and found a way to repackage it in some ridiculous context to sell the book.

It was at this point... with this very issue... that I went from being a casual comic book reader to an obsessive comic book reader. I bought up every issue of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes I could find, and then started hunting for all the back-issues, all the way back to issue no. 197, which was when Superboy was re-titled Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. No easy feat. And it wasn't cheap either. Especially for somebody who mowed lawns to earn pocket money.

I don't know what it was about the Legion that made it so appealing to me. Perhaps because it was a super-hero book (which I already liked) with the added element of science fiction (something I also like). Superboy would time-travel to the future so he could have adventures with the team in the 30th century. An intriguing concept to be sure.

And then there were the sheer variety of super-heroes in the book. You name it, Legion probably had it at one time or another. The cast of characters is vast...

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes No. 253

From the time I started reading the book in 1980, many many changes would occur. The most notorious were the numerous ret-cons** that took place in the early 90's. Since Superboy was phased out of continuity at the time, suddenly the entire foundation of the Legion (which was inspired by Superboy) was no longer available. This left the writers scrambling for stories to keep the book's very existence relevant in the DC Comics Universe. And boy did they dream up some doozies. It was a confusing time, but the stories were still interesting, so I kept reading.

Eventually the huge mess that The Legion of Super-Heroes had become was too unmanageable even for writers with the best imaginations, so the entirety of their universe was completely rebooted in 1994.

The book was never the same.

But still I hung in there.

Ten years later in 2004, the book was completely rebooted again. It was okay, but not the Legion I wanted to read.

But still I hung in there.

Various mini-series and guest appearances would come and go after the last reboot died at issue 50. It was a depressing time for Legion fans because nothing made sense. Appearances would contradict each other and there was no overriding narrative to keep the team going.

But still I hung in there.

Then DC Comics' New 52 "reboot to end all reboots" happened and the Legion was brought back with two new books, neither of which were that great. I think they were canceled inside of two years.

But still I hung in there.

Then DC rebooted everything yet again with their "Rebirth" initiative. The Legion hasn't gotten a new book in the new continuity yet, but I'm sure it's coming. It always does.

And even though it's bound to disappoint compared to the glorious 80's that defined the series for me, I'll undoubtedly hang in there and buy the books.

It's hard not to be a fan for life when it comes to the Legion of Super-Heroes.

   
* Whitman was an imprint of Gold Key Comics. They would commission special print runs of DC Comics with their logo on the cover, bag three books together, then sell them in huge quantities all over the country in all kinds of stores... including the local Safeway grocery store where I got mine.

** The term "ret-con" means "retroactive continuity" and is when story elements established in past stories is changed, contradicted, or ignored in order to make past events have continuity with current storylines. Wikipedia has a fascinating article on the practice.

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BvS

Posted on February 22nd, 2016

Dave!I wish I could get excited for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie.

Batman is my favorite super-hero. I've always been a Superman fan. This should be the movie event of 2016.

But it's not.

After the heinous pile of shit that Man of Steel turned out to be, Zack Snyder has made me lose all confidence in his ability to bring super-heroes to the screen.

Even if the trailer is a bit intriguing...

But not necessarily in the right ways?

I dunno.

I'll probably go see it just because I feel I have to.

Hopefully I'll even enjoy it.

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ZIM!

Posted on July 10th, 2015

Dave!One of my favorite animated series of all time is Invader Zim.

Created by Jhonen Vasquez for Nickelodeon Animation Studio, the show was about as strange as a cartoon could get... with visuals and stories that have to be seen to be believed. Chronicling the never-ending schemes of Irken alien invader Zim (along with his faithful robot sidekick GIR) to conquer the earth, Invader Zim ran for a heartbreakingly short 27 episodes before being cancelled by the complete idiots at Nickelodeon.

But now, thanks to the magic of comic books and a return by Jhonen Vasquez, Zim is back...

Invader Zim No. 1

And it is glorious.

If you are even a passing fan of the cartoon (and how could you not be?) it is well worth picking up at your local comic book shop... or online digitally via Comixology.

   

Rank

Posted on June 2nd, 2015
Dave!I just saw my second ranking of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and thought it was about time I make my own. Which is harder than it sounds considering that I pretty much love every one of them! But rank them I did, and there wasn't anything truly unexpected to come out of it. Except for perhaps a new appreciation of the original Iron Man film. And away we go...

Marvel Cinematic Universe Character Rolecall

  1. The Avengers (Score: A+). This is the film that came along and made every comic book geek's wet dream come true. Finally. After suffering through the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises with their shitty stories, weak-ass villains, and nonsensical plots, we get an actual comic book team-up that's worth watching! Joss Whedon miraculously managed to weave a cohesive story that gives each character an equal share of screen-time. And having Loki as the villain was not only true to the comic book origins, but a flawless foil for Earth's Mightiest Heroes thanks to Tom Hiddleston's spot-on portrayal. Add in a jaw-dropping battle to repel a full-scale alien invasion and you've got a film I've watched more times than I can count. And am not done with it yet. Not by a longshot.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy (Score: A+). I held out very little hope for Guardians of the Galaxy from the minute I heard that Marvel was so foolish as to try and bring it to the big screen. I mean, come on... a talking tree and raccoon? How in the hell is that going to work? But thanks in no small part to the utter genius of James Gunn's vision, we ended up with what's probably the best Marvel film to date (even though The Avengers got there first for me and claims my top spot). Rocket and Groot not only made a flawless transition to film, they were essential to what made the team work so well. Mind-bending action and effects, a serious threat to overcome, some of the funniest ideas in a super-hero movie ever, and a faithful take on the source material makes this a movie that's almost too good to be true.
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Score: A+). The first Captain America film took an absurd, antiquated concept and somehow made it work. Beautifully. But now that we've left World War II, how could they possibly bring Cap to modern times and have him be relevant or a character to take seriously? By pulling at the threads of what is supposed to make America be "America" and having Steve Roger's unique viewpoint deal with the unraveling. This film wasn't just great... it was painfully so, reflecting on current events in a way I never thought possible from a comic book movie. As if that weren't enough, we got Falcon and more glorious Black Widow screen time. And Robert Redford.
  4. Iron Man (Score: A+). The movie that started it all. What made Iron Man so revolutionary is that it was such a fantastic translation from the comic book... faithful almost to a fault. But what really sold it was Robert Downey Jr. as Stark. Probably one of the most brilliant casting decisions in cinematic history, his performance set the tone for everything that followed. Getting Jeff Bridges to turn in one of his best modern performances as villainous Obadiah Stane was just the icing on the cake. I don't think Jon Favreau gets nearly enough credit for the founding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe... and all it takes is a fresh look at his film to see exactly why he is so deserving.
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger (Score: A+). I was beyond nervous for this movie, fearing that a flag-waving super-soldier would translate badly to the big screen. But Joe Johnston made all the right moves and it turned out far better than I had dreamed it could have. First, he was true to the source material and set the story in World War II. Second, he convinced Chris Evans to take the lead role (let's face it, the guy is Captain America). Third, he did an amazing job of reigning in such epic scope to such a beautiful, personal story. Bonus: Cap's costume here is hands-down the best cinematic super-hero costume I've ever seen. A wondrous melding of World War II gear with the iconic flag design that defines Captain America. Sadly he'd get a massive downgrade in The Avengers, but things got much better in Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron.
  6. Iron Man 3 (Score: A+). Yes, I gave this movie an "A+" which technically means it ties with the five movies above... but somebody had to end up at the bottom of the stack and it feels as though Iron Man 3... great as it is... should be there. And I can't quite put my finger as to why. I liked the story very much. I loved the action. The performances (featuring yet another Robert Downey Jr. stunner) were top notch. The humor was as witty and sharp as ever. And I was so very, very grateful that we didn't go down the "Demon in a Bottle" alcoholism storyline from the comics (and hinted at in Iron Man 2) that Shane Black could have done almost anything and still got my stamp of approval. So what is it that sets Iron Man 3 below the rest? Thinking about it, I'm guessing it could be two things. 1) The whole Ben Kingsley Mandarin reveal felt awkward and forced, even though it made better sense than the racist stereotype Mandarin from the comics. And 2) The post-traumatic stress syndrome plaguing Tony in the aftermath of The Battle for New York was handled about as good as it could have been in the context of the film... but still felt a bit out of place in the grand scheme of things. The fact that it's completely disappeared come Age of Ultron just reinforces this. All things considered, however, it's still about as good as a movie gets for me and did not disappoint.
  7. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Score: A). A great film that could have been genius if only it had the discipline to be more focused... and had Ultron being the terrifying villain he was made to be. But instead the story wandered all over the map (literally) with a series of story beats that seemed way too random... and Ultron never once felt like a threat, even when he was trying to destroy the world. So no A+ here. And yet... still a mind-blowing film that lived up to the unprecedented hype that had been built up around it. The Vision may have felt shoe-horned in (and his cape looked like shit) but we have The Vision! Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch may have powers that didn't maintain consistency and felt weirdly deus ex machina to the plot, but we have Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch! And the action sequences? Amazing. The special effects? Mind-blowing. There was just too much good stuff here to deny, and we got the sequel we all deserved. It's just that it could have been better... should have been better... and that will haunt the movie every time I watch it.
  8. Thor: The Dark World (Score: B). Truth to tell, I didn't really think this was a better film than the first one when it comes to the character of Thor. It's just that it came together in such a fantastic way in the grand scheme of things that I couldn't help but give it near-equal marks. It was a much bigger film since it didn't have an origin story tied to it, but that was expected. What wasn't expected was the little things that were so perfectly realized that make Thor be Thor. First of all, I absolutely loved how Thor's hammer was portrayed. The enchantment that makes it always return to Thor's hand was just so beautifully depicted as Thor went tumbling through dimensions that I felt as though I was actually watching THOR instead of a movie version of him. Second of all, Thor is a cosmic hero that goes far beyond earthly confines, and we finally get to see that here. And thirdly, Asgardians are in an entirely different world... literally... and though we didn't get as much as we probably should have, I think it was communicated much stronger in this movie than the first film (and absolutely The Avengers)... for that alone, I really enjoyed the film. Yes, the Dark Elves plot was a bit weak and we could have used a much stronger villain, but at least the antagonists in this film were consequential to the story, which can't really be said for most comic book villains at the cinema. And we got more of Hiddleston's Loki... that's always a good time.
  9. Iron Man 2 (Score: A-). For the life of me I don't understand the critical reception this movie got. Critics and fans alike lambasted it as a bad film, but I loved it. Great action beats, a compelling story, a fun villain, the introduction of Black Widow and War Machine... what's not to love? Yes, it's probably more "comic book" than "cinematic event"... but is that really such a bad thing for what's supposed to be a comic book movie? I took off half a point because it rambled a bit and didn't seem as tight as the first film... but Robert Downey Jr. once again brought Tony Stark as only Robert Downey Jr. can, and that compensates for just about any sin you can find in Iron Man 2.
  10. Thor (Score: B+). Don't get me wrong... I absolutely loved this film. Kenneth Branagh took the mystical side of the Marvel Universe and not only made it work in a way that surprised me, but somehow managed to both ground Thor as a man, yet elevate him as a super-hero. His characterization of the Asgardians (not to mention the stunning rendition of Asgard itself) approached a majesty that truly made them gods on-screen. The story was note-perfect. The special effects... especially in icy Jotunheim... were amazing. Where the movie fails and loses half a grade is the timing. The main storyline in the film takes place over what seems like two days, and it just doesn't add up when you factor in all the things that happened. Loki's false reign as king has almost zero weight when you consider he was on the throne for all of five minutes. Thor and Jane's romance seems even more implausible when you realize they're head-over-heels a day after she hits him with her car. Thor was made mortal for less than a day, and yet he somehow completely changed his views from arrogance to compassionate because of it? Yes, if you can put the timeline out of your head, this is a fantastic film (hence the B+) but I can't help but think it could have been so much better if they had just taken care to show the passage of time so events could breathe... rather than piling them all on top of each other in a ridiculous mishmash of happenings.
  11. The Incredible Hulk (Score: B). I honestly thought that Ang Lee's 2003 movie would nail The Hulk perfectly, because he seemed to grasp the concept that makes the character so compelling in the comics during his interviews about the film. Unfortunately, I didn't care for his take at all, and thought it was was a step backwards from even the Bill Bixby television show. The re-boot in 2008 was tied to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to a cameo by Tony Stark, so it gets included here, but a part of me doesn't think it really belongs. For one thing, the ending of The Incredible Hulk was a weak-ass mess that pretty much sabotages the entire flick... which is very un-Marvel-like. For another, Hulk was done so mind-blowingly brilliantly in The Avengers that it's tough to look back on this effort as being the "real" Hulk. Still, it has some shining moments and very good performances married to a decent script (up until the end, that is), so it makes a better than passing grade and is worth your valuable time to watch.
And there you have it. Next up? Ant Man! Which, unless I am totally taken by surprise, will end up in the middle of the pack. I can't wait.

   

ULTRON!

Posted on May 9th, 2015

Dave!Okay then.

I wrote up my thoughts about Avengers: Age of Ultron immediately after having seen the film last Sunday while I was in Reno. Originally, I was going to post everything Monday, but ultimately decided I'd "sit on it" for a couple days in case I had new thoughts upon further reflection. "Days" turned into a "week" because new information kept leaking out about the film. Information that had direct bearing on my comments.

And so now there are a couple comments on my comments.

Which makes me wish I had just posted everything last Monday as originally planned, because that would have been a lot less work.

But anyway...

I am a huge, huge, huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A Marvel movie has topped my list of favorite films every year since I started making lists... Iron Man 2 in 2010, Captain America and Thor in 2011, The Avengers in 2012, Iron Man 3 in 2013, and Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. My guess is that Iron Man would have topped my list in 2008 (if I had one back then), and it seems inevitable that Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (or possibly Ant Man) will top it this year. These films are a dream come true for a long-time comic book geek like me, and Marvel seems incapable of making a misstep with their various franchises.

At least from the "big-picture" perspective. But I'll get to that in a minute.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mind-bogglingly huge film that defies a quick description, so I'm not even going to try. Instead, I'll just reprint the official description thusly: "When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it's up to Earth's Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans."

(UPDATE COMMENT: And the result is going to end up being one of the most successful movies of all time)...

Avengers: Age of Ultron

And, for the most part, I loved it.

It's a highly entertaining effort that has some of the most ambitious and mid-blowing action sequences ever put to film.

But it's not without its problems.

Which I get into in an extended entry. Needless to say, spoilers will ensue...

Spoiler Zone!

   
Before I begin, I feel compelled to mention that the title of the film is taken from a comic book maxi-series by Brian Michael Bendis from 2013. And yet it's an entirely different story that bears no resemblance to the source material. This is probably a good thing, because I found the comic book a bit uneven. In some places it felt rushed and oddly incomplete... in others it was plodding, bordering on tedious with an ending you could see from miles away. As if that weren't reason enough to go in a different direction, many of the key characters (like Wolverine) aren't available to Marvel Studios, having been licensed away to other companies.

And off we go...

As the movie begins, Earth's Mightiest Heroes are hell-bent on retrieving Loki's magical scepter (from the first Avengers film) and track it down to a HYDRA base in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia. It's much too powerful and dangerous to be left in the hands of mere mortals, so Thor is quite serious about getting it off the earth.

Unfortunately for the Avengers, their efforts are hampered by the evil Baron Strucker, who has been infusing people with energy from the scepter to give them super-powers. His only(?) success story is with "The Twins"... Pietro and Wanda Maximoff... who volunteered for experimentation after their parents were killed by Stark weaponry. Pietro (AKA Quicksilver) has super-speed and Wanda (AKA Scarlet Witch) has the ability to manipulate energy in the form of physical blasts or telekinesis. She also has limited telepathy and the ability to manipulate minds by clouding them with a person's darkest fears.

AN ASIDE: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this depiction of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch is quite different than what you get in the comic books. In the source material, Pietro and Wanda are mutants... the next evolution of humanity, and developed their powers naturally (UPDATE COMMENT: Except not any more, as it turns out). But since 20th Century Fox owns all rights to the X-Men and, by extension, mutants, writer/director Joss Whedon had to take a different approach. He chose to tie their origin to previous Marvel Cinematic Universe events, and I think his solution was a very good one. Though I sure wish Wanda's powers weren't so deus ex machina to the plot, the whole "mental manipulation" stuff conveniently coming from nowhere because Joss needed a story beat.

Anyway...

Despite Scarlet Witch using her powers to enchant Black Widow, Iron Man, and Thor, The Avengers prevail and recover the scepter... only because Wanda determines that Tony (whom she hates for making the weapons that orphaned her) will destroy himself with it. Sure enough, Stark then convinces Thor to let him run some test on the artifact, which results in him finding out that the gemstone powering the scepter contains a highly advanced artificial intelligence. Thinking this might be the key to powering his plans for a global "Ultron" defense network, he convinces Bruce Banner to help him download the AI. Chaos ensues when Ultron overtakes Tony's J.A.R.V.I.S. AI (which has been much loved since he first appeared way back in the first Iron Man) and decides (rightly) he needs to inhabit one of Stark's robots and eliminate all of humanity to save the planet. To do so, he steals the scepter and takes over Iron Man's "Iron Legion" manufacturing equipment so he can create scores of Ultron Drones to do his bidding.

So far as plots go, so far so good. Whedon got James Spader to voice Ultron, which is about all he needed to do. Spader can read the frickin' phone book and make it sound compelling, so the hard part of defining the movie's "villain" was done. The only thing that rubs me the wrong way is the utter stupidity of, once again, having totally alien technology somehow being compatible with earth-based computers (shades of Independence Day, Batman!). It's a plot point that never works well because it makes so little sense.

And then things kind of went off the rails for me.

Ultron ends up convincing Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to work with him to destroy The Avengers. Which seems utterly bizarre. Even given the context of a sci-fi/fantasy epic like Age of Ultron, who in their right mind thinks that teaming up with a giant evil robot ends well? I guess an argument could be made that their lives in Sokovia kept them sheltered from every evil robot book/movie ever made, but it still seems a huge stretch that Pietro and Wanda would ignore something as obvious as "never trust an evil robot," even as a tool for revenge.

But trust him they do, so off they go to Africa so they can purchase a ship-load of vibranium from arms dealer Ulysses Klaue to make an invulnerable body from which Ultron can rule the planet. Vibranium also being the metal from which Captain America's indestructible shield is made.

AN ASIDE: Here is where Marvel brings Black Panther, super-hero ruler of Wakanda, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe... even if they don't show him directly. It also sets things up for super-villain "Klaw" (as "Klaue") and his sonic-powers to eventually show up. And while Whedon did it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, I still think it ultimately worked. Even if it was a tad distracting from the story.

Anyway...

When the Avengers inevitably show up to stop Ultron, Scarlet Witch turns her powers on The Hulk, which causes him to flee and then tear apart Johannesburg. An awesome battle with a Hulk-Buster Iron Man suit ensues. As does one of the best action sequences of the film. An action sequence so destructive that it makes the world turn against The Avengers. Thinking they need to lie low for a while, Hawkeye flies everybody to his safe house (a farm in the countryside)... which comes complete with a wife and kids. This is a really nice turn for Jeremy Renner, whose character spent almost the entirety of the first Avengers movie being a mind-controlled stooge (which Hawkeye acknowledges earlier in a beautiful Whedonesque moment).

And it's at this point that the movie shits the bed.

Though it's probably not Joss Whedon's fault.

In order to set up future Marvel Films... primary of which is the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, the Infinity Gems are finally named by name. Which is not a bad thing except for how they did it: Thor flies off and convinces Erik Selvig to watch him take a bath. Yes, you read that right, a frickin' bath! Granted, it was a bath in magical waters that somehow allow Thor to access the visions he had while enchanted by Scarlet Witch, but come on! A magic bath? Really? This idiocy was shoehorned into the film so badly that one has to wonder if Joss Whedon was forced to do it at gun-point (UPDATE COMMENT: Sure enough, he was).

More copious amounts of bed-shitting were had as we watch Black Widow share a tender moment with Bruce Banner, who's now her boyfriend... I guess (no clue where this leaves Bruce Banner's long-time girlfriend in the comics, Betty Ross). Which has no real purpose for the story except to set-up even more future Marvel films by taking The Hulk out of the picture later on. But no worries... I'm sure he'll be back in Avengers: The Infinity War. Or perhaps a Planet Hulk film, which would be awesome.

Eventually Nick Fury shows up to give a pep-talk and pull the team together. Which is a good thing, because Ultron has now globe-hopped to Seoul so he can use the scepter to compel The Avengers' personal doctor, Helen Cho, to use her tissue-creation technology to make him that dreamy indestructible vibranium body he's always wanted (assumably so he can survive the end of the world?). As if that weren't enough balls in the air, meanwhile-meanwhile we have Tony Stark jetting off to some secret "heart of the internet" access point called "NEXUS" to find out what's preventing Ultron from gaining access to the world's nuclear arsenal and simply blowing up the earth to eliminate all mankind.

SPOILER ALERT: Turns out it's the J.A.R.V.I.S. AI that's keeping Ultron away from the nukes. Which means Ultron is just going to have to find another way to end it all.

But Ultron will have a hard time doing so without his cool new indestructible bio-mechanical body, so The Avengers make plans to steal it before he can upload his consciousness to it. Which is kinda hokey, but it gives Black Widow some awesome screen-time, so I try to be forgiving. Especially since she succeeds in stealing it so beautifully. Alas, she's captured in the process, but them's the breaks.

And now we go from "off the rails" to "off the continent" as Tony Stark decides to put Helen Cho's empty android body to good use... by uploading Jarvis into it. This does not sit well at all with the rest of The Avengers... especially Captain America... who worry that one insane homicidal all-powerful killer robot is enough. They don't need Tony making a second one. But the decision is taken out of their hands when Thor comes back from his magic bath and uses his magic hammer to create magic lightning to magically bring the J.A.R.V.I.S.-infused android shell to life (Shades of Frankenstein, Batman!). Thus we end up with something not-quite Ultron, not-quite-J.A.R.V.I.S., but something all new... Thor's magic bath vision becomes THE VISION! And one of the all-powerful Infinity Stones bonds to his forehead.

AN ASIDE: The Vision is my favorite Avenger in the comic books. His Pinocchio-inspired "I want to be a real-live boy" story arc (long before Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation) when paired with his super-cool density-manipulating properties, his awesome abilities, his relationship with Scarlet Witch, and his amazing design... well, he's the complete super-hero package. He has it all. Over the years many of my favorite Avengers stories center around The Vision or have him as a major factor. He has links to so many pieces of the Avengers puzzle that he could arguably be considered the key component to the entire team from the moment he debuted. Needless to say I was thrilled that he was being added to the Cinematic Avengers. But a little less than thrilled with his cape, which looks like some kind of nebulous CGI blob. It's so distracting that it sabotages this otherwise cool interpretation of the character.

Anyway...

The Vision is so pure of form that he has no problem lifting Thor's hammer... a test of worthiness that conveniently makes him trusted by the team and an instant Avenger...

Avengers Age of Ultron: THE VISION!

AN ASIDE: A scene of all the various Avengers attempting to lift Thor's hammer earlier in the film... but being found unworthy thus unable... is a favorite moment of the movie for me. Captain America was slightly able to budge it (much to the horror of Thor!), which had me convinced Steve Rogers would be wielding Mjolnir against Ultron at the climatic end-battle of the film once all else failed (which would been a much better ending than we got, but oh well).

Anyway...

The Black Widow manages to get an S.O.S. to Hawkeye during her captivity, which leads the entire team back to where the movie began: Sokovia. It's then that they discover how Ultron plans to destroy all humanity since he couldn't get ahold of any nukes... he's going to go all "asteroid killed the dinosaurs" and use the vibranium to elevate a massive chunk of Sokovia high above the planet, then let it fall back to earth... causing an extinction-level event.

Kind of a convoluted plan for somebody as smart as Ultron, but it leads to the best line in the movie when Hawkeye says "The city is flying, and all I've got is a bow and arrow"... so why not?

This is the part of the movie where Ultron distracts the team by sending an endless onslaught of drones against them. Which would be pretty cool... except there was so much going on that it was tough to take in everything you were seeing. Maybe subsequent viewings will make it easier to digest, but I feel this was a bit of a problem for the movie. The action felt more abstract than personal. Something Joss must have felt as well, because he decided to do what he always does to up the stakes... kill somebody off. Which, in this case, was Quicksilver. He died in a hail of bullets while saving Hawkeye who was saving a child during a massive evacuation of Flying Sokovia (courtesy of Nick Fury and a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier).

It was a Whedon move that didn't really have any impact at all. Partly because it is just so damn predictable of him... but mostly because nobody gave a shit about Quicksilver. Unlike when he killed off Coulson in the first film, Pietro had so little screen time that the audience barely knew who he was. All we did know was that he's fast... so fast he can grab Ulysses Klaue's pistol, unload all the bullets, and line them up on a table in the blink of an eye. Which makes you think that evading a hail of bullets would be a piece of cake for him, but Whedon wanted him dead, so internal logic goes out the window.

UPDATE COMMENT: Apparently I was wrong in thinking nobody gave a shit about Quicksilver. Some people cared so deeply that Joss Whedon got death threats for offing him. Stay classy, internet!

Eventually The Avengers save all the people on Floating Sokovia and figure out a way of destroying the land mass before it can destroy the world. The Vision then tracks down Ultron's last remaining body and evaporates him. So, yay, I guess. It was all so anticlimactic to me that I had a hard time really caring.

Then the team kind of breaks up. The Hulk didn't want to make Black Widow be a fugitive, so he flies off in a Quinjet. Thor's visions have him needing to return to Asgard. Tony Stark leaves to focus on bigger things. Hawkeye goes home to his family.

Which means it's time for a new team of Avengers to assemble... Captain America and Black Widow join The Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, and The Falcon to form Avengers 2.0 (with the help of Erik Selvig, Helen Cho, and (of course) Nick Fury (and probably Maria Hill as well). Roll credits.

Not that Avengers: Infinity War needed any more setting up, but a mid-credits sequence has Thanos putting on The Infinity Gauntlet so he can (finally) "do it himself." Which I'm guessing means collect all the Infinity Gems and destroy the universe so he can impress Death, whom he has a major crush on.

The end.

Like I said, in the "big picture" sense, I loved the film... despite its many problems. It just hit so many geeky buttons in me that I couldn't help but love it.

Though three overreaching problems I haven't addressed yet made it more difficult for me than it should have been...

1) Ultron is not scary or very threatening.
In the comics, Ultron is a terrifying presence. He's whacked out of his artificial mind, and the death and destruction that comes from his insanity-driven rage is a horrifying part of his character. The movie version was positively tame by comparison. Sure he wanted to destroy all humanity, but it never felt as though the Avengers were in much danger stopping him. James Spader was flawless casting, but his Ultron needed more heinous things to do to live up to his legacy.

2) The movie was all over the place.
And I mean that literally. It hops all over the globe at such a breakneck pace that you're left wondering if The Avengers and Ultron have access to some kind of secret teleportation technology we don't see. Even with Tony Stark's advanced transportation, it would take many hours to get from place to place... yet it always seems instantaneous. I like the idea of Earth's Mightiest Heroes actually spanning the entire earth, but it got a bit ridiculous.

3) Too little time for too much stuff.
In the first film, everybody had a role to play, and that's what made it such genius. For the sequel, I have a hard time recollecting exactly what Thor and Captain America had to contribute other than non-stop fighting. The Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver were all introduced, but had so little screen time that they were pretty much reduced to cameos. And speaking of cameos... was anybody not in this movie? Oh yeah... Jane Foster and Pepper Potts... except they got screen time without actually appearing. Couple the massive cast with the abundance of time wasted setting up future films and there was barely time enough for this film. Had things been stripped down a bit and more screen time was devoted to the task at hand instead of what's coming next, it would have been a much better movie.

   
Next up, Captain America: Civil War, which is already promising to have a cast that equals or exceeds The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In addition to The Avengers 2.0 team (Cap, Widow, Falcon, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and War Machine), we're also getting Iron Man, Black Panther, Ant Man, Winter Soldier, Agent Thirteen, General Thunderbolt Ross(!), Crossbones, Baron Zemo, and... wait for it... the Marvel Cinematic Universe debut of Spider-Man. PLUS Martin Freeman just signed on for some unspecified role as well. I can only guess Agent Carter, Maria Hill, and Nick Fury will be shoehorned in as well. How are they going to fit an actual story in there?

I honestly dunno. But I can't wait to find out.

Time to update my "Y2K Super-Hero Comic Book Renaissance" scorecard...

The Avengers... A+
Avengers: Age of Ultron... A
Batman Begins... A
Batman Dark Knight... A+
Batman Dark Knight Rises... A
Big Hero Six... A+
Blade... B
Blade 2... B
Blade Trinity... B-
Captain America... A+
Captain America: The Winter Soldier... A+
Catwoman... F
Daredevil... B-
Daredevil (Director's Cut)... B+
Elektra... D
Fantastic Four... C
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer... D
Guardians of the Galaxy... A+
Ghost Rider... C
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance... D
Green Hornet... D
Green Lantern... C+
Hellboy... A
Hellboy 2: Golden Army... A
Hulk... C-
Incredible Hulk... B
The Incredibles... A+
Iron Man... A+
Iron Man 2... A-
Iron Man 3... A+
Jonah Hex... F
Kick-Ass... B+
Kick-Ass 2... B-
Man of Steel... F-
Punisher... C+
Punisher War Zone... C
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World... C
Spider-Man... B+
Spider-Man 2... A
Spider-Man 3... D-
Amazing Spider-Man... B
Amazing Spider-Man 2... B-
Superman Returns... C+
Thor... B+
Thor: The Dark World... B
Watchmen... B
The Wolverine... B
X-Men... C
X-Men 2: United... D
X-Men 3: Last Stand... F-
X-Men Origins: Wolverine... D
X-Men: Days of Future Past... B-
X-Men: First Class... B

   

Bullet Sunday 353 – Movie Edition!

Posted on November 3rd, 2013

Dave!With nothing but work to write about, I've decided to take a look at some films I've seen recently.

So grab your popcorn... because a Special All Movie Edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...

Movie Review Posters

   
The Way Way Back (B+). Every once in a while you tune into a movie on a long plane ride simply because it's the least unappealing option out of the crap you haven't seen. In this case, I picked The Way Way Back because the cast included Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Steve Carell, and the amazing Sam Rockwell. Turns out it's a really good "coming of age" story about an awkward kid named Duncan who is forced to accompany his mom, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend's spoiled daughter to a summer resort town. There he meets the slacker manager of the local Water Wizz theme park, learns what life is really about, and has his life forever changed. Yeah, it sounds like a movie you've seen a hundred times before, but it's surprisingly fresh (despite the ending, which falls back to more familiar territory). The great cast and smart performances were just the icing on the cake.

Now You See Me (D+). Holy crap what a stupid, stupid film. The movie begins as four D-list magicians are recruited by a mystery man to band together to become the hottest magic act in the world, "The Four Horsemen." Of course, absolutely no explanation is given as to how they actually become the hottest magic act in the world... all of a sudden they just are. With their fame escalating, they perform their biggest show yet (or one would assume, since you don't see a single magic trick before the finale), where they proceed to "magically" rob a bank. Thus begins a tedious game of cat and mouse between The Four Horsemen and a special investigator (Mark Ruffalo), his Interpol collaborator (Mélanie Laurent), and a famous magician de-bunker (Morgan Freeman). With each new show the foursome become inexplicably more famous... and understandably more wanted by the law for the crimes they perform on stage. Along the way they perform elaborate but unnecessary magic tricks which make -zero- sense to the plot (why in the hell pretend to rob a vault and come back later for the money when you can just JUST TAKE THE FUCKING MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE?!). And that's the problem... nothing here really makes sense. Even the things that might make sense go unexplained, which doesn't make sense. Regardless of whether or not the magicians get away with their crimes... they're still going to be wanted by the law. And for what? To join some secret society that nobody gives a shit about except them? And the ending is about as stupid as it gets... the nonsensical "trap" set for one of the characters can be defeated in five minutes if the character calls a lawyer... or ANYBODY... to explain who set the trap and what happened. Dumb. SO dumb. I'm embarrassed for everyone involved.

Monsters University (B). Make no mistake, Monsters, Inc. is my favorite Pixar film by far, and the idea of getting to revisit that world had my expectations running high. And I wasn't let down. Mike and Sully were just as funny and appealing as ever, and Pixar's attention to detail was shining through stronger than I've seen in years. So why did this feel like a sorry retread of Revenge of the Nerds via a made-for-TV animated special? Probably because it didn't really break any new ground. Since it's a prequel to Monsters, Inc., characterization actually takes a big step backwards so you can start from the beginning. Not that it wasn't cute to see a young Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan pal around, but I'd rather see what they're doing now instead of looking back at where they were. Still, the story isn't all bad. After starting out as rivals, Mike and Sully team up with the nerds of a forgotten Monsters University fraternity to prove they have what it takes to become "scarers" at Monsters Inc. Except they don't, which means the entire premise of the story was moot. Oh well. It had funny moments and was beautifully imagined... that alone from Pixar is better than most movies you'll see.

World War Z (B-). Anybody expecting that this film will in any way resemble the brilliant novel by Max Brooks (or the even more brilliant audiobook of the same novel) is in for severe disappointment. This is an action flick which just happens to share a name with the afore-mentioned book, and that's all. However... if you are able to put that behind you, it's a pretty good action flick. Gone are the lumbering zombies of old, these zombies are shockingly fast and virtually unstoppable. Lucky for us, Brad Pitt arrives on the scene to save us all as a United Nations investigator intent on scouring the globe for a cure. What ensues is an intense and dark thriller that relies on really good special effects and some surprisingly good acting talent. At times the combo proves lethal, sucking you in and suffocating you with a plague that never seems anything less than overwhelming. It's for this reason that I enjoyed the film so much, despite fully expecting to hate it. As if that weren't delicious enough, there are scenes that won't leave your head any time soon, and I can't offer bigger praise than that.

Enough Said (C). I went into this film with high hopes given the 95% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It was painted as a romantic comedy, which I generally hate, but the previews featuring James Gandolfini and Julia Louis Dreyfus looked as though it was a rom-com that was thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, the exact opposite proved to be true. This movie is so far inside the box that it simply didn't work for me. I go to movies to escape my boring life, and Enough Said was so pedestrian that it had me longing for the more exciting things I experience every day... like sitting on the toilet. What's worse is that the big "twist" at the center of the story (Julia Louis Dreyfus finds out that she is dating the man her new best friend divorced) is something right out of a bad Seinfeld plot, but not as funny. Not even a little bit. It's actually painful to watch, and the predictable outcome is so unsurprising that you'll wonder what the point of the movie was in the first place. From what I can tell, it was to prove that James Gandolfini is a gifted actor who has unexpected range. And he does. He's easily the most enjoyable part of the film, and about the only thing I enjoyed in it. Which makes his passing all that more painful.

Man of Steel (F-). When I first saw the latest Superman re-re-boot, I loathed the film so much that I didn't even want to think about reviewing it. Instead I decided to wait until it hit video so that I could look at it with fresh eyes and see if I would revise my opinion. Nope! If anything, I hate the movie even more upon second viewing. This is incredibly painful to type given that I love the character of Superman, felt the cast assembled was top-notch, and had such high hopes for the film. Instead I was disappointed at every turn. I hated just about everything to do with Man of Steel, and am horrified that this abomination is the cinematic future direction for the character. The is not Superman. Not the Superman I know, anyway. This imitation origin story begins on planet Krypton where scientist Jor-El is predicting doom and gloom for the planet, and decides to salvage the legacy of his people by stealing "The Codex"... a wholly unnecessary plot device masquerading as some kind of genetic program that breeds Kryptonians. This raises the ire of General Zod, though who knows why. Anyway, Zod is exiled to the Phantom Zone, Krypton goes boom, and baby Kal-El is rocketed to earth where he is raised as human Clark Kent by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane (easily the two best things about the film). The death of his father results in Clark wandering the earth... saving lives and trying to find his place in the world. Meanwhile intrepid reporter Lois Lane tries to track down this "mystery man" and stumbles upon one of the worst-kept secrets ever. But that's not Clark's only problem, as General Zod has escaped and returned to Earth to reclaim The Codex and remake our planet into a new Krypton... destroying everything in the process. Loads and loads of laughable super-battles and disaster porn ensues. None of it even remotely worth watching. The controversial moment in the film comes when Superman chooses to kill General Zod because humans are too fucking stupid to run away when somebody is trying to vaporize them with heat vision, at which point I didn't give a shit if Superman, Lois Lane, Perry White, or any other idiotic characters in the film lived or died. And why should I? The people behind this atrocity aren't writing about Superman and don't give a flying fuck about maintaining the integrity of the characters. Next up? Imitation Superman vs. Ben Affleck Batman. Oh how thrilling. Praise be to Odin's raven that Marvel's new Thor and Captain America films are coming to rescue us.

And now it's time to update my "Y2K Super-Hero Comic Book Renaissance Scorecard" as follows...

The Amazing Spider-Man... B-
The Avengers... A+
Batman Begins... A
Batman Dark Knight... A+
Batman Dark Knight Rises... A
Blade... B
Blade 2... B
Blade Trinity... B-
Captain America... A+
Catwoman... F
Daredevil... B-
Daredevil (Director's Cut)... B+
Elektra... D
Fantastic Four... C
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer... D
Ghost Rider... C
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance... D
Green Hornet... D
Green Lantern... C+
Hellboy... A
Hellboy 2: Golden Army... A
Hulk... C-
Incredible Hulk... B
The Incredibles... A+
Iron Man... A+
Iron Man 2... A-
Iron Man 3... A+
Jonah Hex... F
Kick-Ass... B+
Kick-Ass 2... C
Man of Steel... F+
Punisher... C+
Punisher War Zone... C
R.I.P.D.... C-
Spider-Man... B+
Spider-Man 2... A
Spider-Man 3... D-
Amazing Spider-Man... B
Superman Returns... C+
Thor... B+
Watchmen... B
The Wolverine... B
X-Men... C
X-Men 2: United... D
X-Men 3: Last Stand... F-
X-Men Origins: Wolverine... D
X-Men: First Class... B

   

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