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Batman and Harley Quinn – A Review

batman-harley-quinn-2dI haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on ArkhamJustice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.

Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!

The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie.  I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.

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Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.

As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.

Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.

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We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.

The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?

Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.

Stream Recap – Far Cry

8b363ca59d94c2aca70a18588187a678-cool-games-pc-gamesIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein didn’t scratch that first-person shooter itch I had, I decided to keep going through my collection of unplayed games. Since I’ve been working through these chronologically, 2004’s Far Cry was up next. It’s another game I bought for less than five dollars during a sale, and one I missed when it was first released. And I had a vague memory of there being dinosaurs in the game. There wasn’t.

All I wanted was a fast paced shooter with some run and gun action. That shouldn’t be so hard to find! But Far Cry was not the game to satisfy that desire. As I would find out, the game wants me to stealth most of the time, to sneak and avoid danger. Sure, the stealth elements aren’t great and it still puts road blocks full of enemies in my way, but the game wants what it wants.

I was also unaware that the game was considered harder than normal back in the day, so when I chose “challenging” as my difficulty, I was pretty confident in my skills. Unfortunately, doing so severely ruined my fun. While I got away with quick saving my way to victory in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there was no such ability in Far Cry. Instead, I was stuck dying and reloading checkpoints, creating a Sisyphus-like experience for myself. It was hard and, because of my difficulty selection which can’t be changed, it stayed that way.

p-txtNow, I doubt I would have lowered the difficulty in the first place, as that would have felt like defeat after playing a few hours on one setting. And, I was completing levels, despite the challenge. But, the problem was, the challenge wasn’t satisfying. It was frustrating to have to replay the same mission over and over again, especially for a game of this length. The gun play isn’t always satisfying, the enemies seem to have perfect aim and their bullets can go through walls like paper. There were times when I would just and sit and stare, having no clue how to avoid being shot and killed.

For some, that difficulty would be welcomed. While I was streaming, I was visited by a few players who had beaten Far Cry on the highest setting, “realistic”, and I can’t imagine doing the same thing. The brutality of it all would have destroyed me. Every now and then, I feel embarrassed by my skills. When other players brag about a pistol-only play through or max difficulty settings, I just nod and accept I’m not that good. With Far Cry, I felt like there was some bad game design working against me as well. I can accept I’m no good at game, but it’s harder to accept being bad at a game with some obvious flaws.

farcry1To be fair, the game is still pretty for its age. And there were moments when I felt like Rambo and a sniping machine. But most times, I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be able to blow some stuff up and move forward. I never felt like I had momentum. The vehicles felt like a punishment. The mutants that show up start feeling like Doom clones. And the shotgun never felt hefty. A bad shotgun is one thing I can’t forgive.

And the voice acting? Ouch.

Will I keep going with this series? I doubt it. I’m not the biggest fan of open-world/sandbox games because they lack the direction I need to stay invested. I’ve heard good things about Far Cry 3 but there’s plenty of games for me to play that I think I will enjoy. I experienced the same issue with Hitman: Blood Money. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the game and that I didn’t care what the end looked like. That’s not a knock on that game because I just don’t like that sort of challenge. Stealth-ing is all stress with no relief and very little inertia. For some, that’s fine. For me, it gets old real fast.

Despite it’s faults and my lack of skill, I did finish Far Cry. I felt more relief than excitement, but I can say I powered through it. But, I’d rather find a game I enjoy next time.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Firewatch

16020907294366307In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Firewatch came to my attention because I pay even a little bit of attention to the world of video games. It looked beautiful, but not photo-realistic. I always appreciate graphics with character, like most of Blizzard’s games. Firewatch is colorful and it stands out. It’s not a brown wasteland or grey war zone, it’s a forest with personality. Even just a few screenshots are so eye catching that it was no surprise that the game ended up in my wishlist.

I’ve heard the game called a walking simulator and, if so, it’s the first one of those that I’ve played. But it doesn’t seem any less complicated than Telltale’s The Walking Dead. If this had come out years ago, we’d be calling it a point and click adventure game. Except, it’s short enough to play in an afternoon and it doesn’t break my brain with puzzles that only The Riddler would find fun.

firewatch_150305_06I played the game over the course of two days with my wife, Kendra. She’s one of those weird people who is perfectly happy to watch someone else play a game. I don’t know if it’s conditioning from being a sister to a gamer or just a Totoro like spirit. Because of her enjoyment of watching there are some games she requires her presence. Bioshock Infinite will be one of those, as will The Wolf Among Us. I think she found the trailer for Firewatch interesting, because it was added to the list.

So, the first day we played, everything went fine. Easy streamy, lemon squeezy. The second day… well, I’m an idiot. I had the mics muted the whole session. Which is too bad! Because, near the end of the game, the music gets nice and atmospheric and I started singing a great song. Kendra would tell you that the song was just me saying the words “fire” and “watch” over and over again, but there’s no video proof of that! This is a case of the Tenecious D’s “Tribute”!

ub3gfzt3vo6muca8jcy1But, that’s okay, because we both liked the game. Not the ending so much, but the whole experience was fun. It was stressful at times, funny and just a new type of game for us. The story was depressing at times, which is why you sometimes need someone there to lighten the mood. But the excellent voice acting really did take this game up from just being scenic to actually being immersive.

Also, I like shorter games. I don’t need them all to be four hours like Firewatch but gone are the days when I want all my games to be fifty hours or more. I liked Xenosaga lasting eighty hours because I was fifteen and all I did was game. Now that I’m older and have less time to play a game taking a weekend isn’t the worst thing in the world. And something the length of Firewatch or Limbo can really leave a strong impression. Especially compared to the opposite situation, like when I was praying that Fallout 3 would just end.

In conclusion, the stream might not have worked out because I’m a dope but the game is a good time. I recommend it easily, especially if you’re looking for something different or to play in front of someone who just likes watching. I might even revisit it someday and it won’t be a crazy commitment to do so. Plus, you can take pictures of trees!

You can find my previous streams and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Free Fire – A Review

free_fire_ver17Free Fire is an intense scene of an action movie, stretched out to ninety minutes. It’s a shootout that takes place entirely in an abandoned warehouse, between different and splitting parties. By extending that premise to a whole movie, director Ben Wheatley explores the fun you can have with a limited scope. Unfortunately, he also discovers the problems you can run into when your concept isn’t backed up by writing or imagination.

It’s the 1970s and we meet a whole bunch of gun traffickers looking to close a deal. Of course, things go wrong, bullets start flying and not everyone is going to make it out alive. That’s the premise and I’m not too sure Wheatley thought more beyond that. The movie feels trapped in the warehouse and not in a good or suspenseful way. There’s just not a lot to do or see once the killing starts.

The action in the movie never rises above fine. Guns fire and shoot people but that’s it. There’s never a great, inventive moment of violence. Yes, the movie is low budget but other cheap action films have found ways to impress. Because the shootout keeps the characters grounded and seeking cover, it’s all very impersonal. When one character shoots another, it doesn’t feel connected. If the gun play was there to simply move the plot along, that would be easy to deal with, but when the whole concept of the movie is based around bullets going everywhere, it wouldn’t hurt for a little style. Heck, most of the movie’s posters have more style! Even the seventies setting is really only there for costumes and lack of cellphones.

le2x3o9uopj1jmcmkfdkq7mdbxbThe dialog never does more than it needs to do. The only reason characters come across as likable is because we have some fun actors on hand. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are the straight men of the assemble, playing relatively grounded characters. Sharlto Copley brings his unique brand of insanity and detachment to the screen. He’s not a fantastic character, but Copley injects the role with much needed uniqueness. Armie Hammer, for the first time in his career, impressed me. He plays Copley’s bodyguard and he’s a character with skill and poise. In a movie set in the 1970’s, Hammer is the only one looking to have fun with the decade. His character might be the only stylistic choice with any impact. If he could play more roles like that, I might not think of him as the blandest face in film.

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I imagine that blurb might have started with “It could have been…”

Free Fire is adequate. It’s an easy, uninspired way to pass an afternoon. But it’s not going down as a classic. Maybe a curiosity, or an example of how far you can stretch an idea without bringing real life to it. Free Fire isn’t as stylistic as Smokin’ Aces and the characters aren’t as “out of this world” as that film either. Free Fire isn’t as clever as Reservoir Dogs, the movie it’s most likely trying to ape. The dialog isn’t as biting and it’s missing a soundtrack to breathe life into the the void. In a world where John Wick is the standard for brutality, Free Fire comes across as rather toothless. The characters take hits, but when they start dragging themselves along the floor, the movies slows down with them. There’s a twist here or there, but nothing that affects the plot or how you feel about the characters.

I think given a better director, Free Fire could have been a new classic. The ingredients are all there, but most people can make cornbread if they follow the directions. What Free Fire needed was funny, clever dialog between more unique characters in between interesting gun play. If you’re staring at a TV and Free Fire is on, I’d say let it play. But it’s not something you need to seek out. Watch John Wick: Chapter 2 or Hardcore Henry instead. They bring new life into all that killing.

Dunkirk – A Review

debs36zvoaad9xrDunkirk is the most stressful movie I’ve seen all year. It starts with a ticking soundtrack, with a loud, drawn out retreat from gunfire and then doesn’t stop, even for a second.

The movie takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk, in World War II before America became involved. Over the course of the film, we follow four stories; fighter pilots coming to provide air support, civilian ships coming to help with the retreat, soldiers trying to make their own escape and officers trying to get as many people off the beach as they can.

Director Christopher Nolan uses a time shift throughout the movie, switching between stories, which then gives us multiple points of views of the same events. It’s a technique that allows for the most stress-inducing ways to to watch the movie, giving Nolan the ability to go back and forth between near-death experiences by the minute.

screen-shot-2017-05-05-at-12-40-00-pm1All the performances are strong, with most actors going for a minimalist style. It helps with the desperation, that all of these soldiers are so worn out from waiting for the next bomb to drop that emoting is a thing of the past. Tom Hardy, one of the pilots we follow, is behind a mask the whole time, forcing the actor to express everything with only his eyes. I don’t think I realized how much Hardy could convey that way, even with his take on Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy’s story is also the one I found the most heart wrenching. His choices and story lead to some of the most inspiring and frustrating moments of the movie. Mark Rylance gets to show a little bit more emotion, playing a man just trying to do his part in a hopeless situation. It’s Cillain Murphy who gets to be the most emotional, though. Murphy’s a soldier who almost gets away from Dunkirk but, due to Rylance picking him off a sinking ship, has to contend with heading back in that very direction.

I should point out that I have no idea what Harry Styles looks like so I can’t say if he was good or not. Since no one gave a bad performance, I can assume he did fine. He doesn’t stand out for those of us who don’t have his poster on our walls.

596fbd94198d7-imageNolan has a a clear and widescreen eye and he films a war movie that looks unlike anything that’s come before. Where other films have made us feel as if we’re following troops on the ground, Dunkirk also shows how tiny someone can appear during these great events. At the same time, Nolan does create moments where we feel on the ground but it’s different than something like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t feel like we’re following the characters through these events, but that we’re experiencing them as well. That’s one of Nolan’s great strengths, creating immersive movies that feel like events rather than just a viewing. I was stressed because I felt like I was sinking with the ships, like I was avoiding being shot down.

Helping create that experience is Hans Zimmer’s score. While he does use more traditional music every now and then, Zimmer employs a constant ticking throughout the movie, along with an ostinato of strings that somehow seems to only ever speed up. Alone, the soundtrack would make you anxious. With Nolan’s film, it’s almost too much. And, while other Nolan films may suffer from weird sound mixing choices, they only add to the Dunkirk experience. Bullets sound unstoppable, water sounds crushing, planes sound like harbingers of mercy or doom.

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Dunkirk is a perfect movie-going experience, though not a fun one. It’s a movie that should be seen in theaters so that you can be fully immersed in it’s story, in it’s cinematography, in it’s sound. I don’t know how the movie will hold up during a second viewing, as I’ve only ever seen Inception and Interstellar once each. But Dunkirk should be seen, if only ever once, because it will be an experience you won’t forget, It’s one of the best movies of the summer and will probably end up being one of the best movies of the year. If this is the future of Nolan’s career, I can’t wait for his next film.

War for the Planet of the Apes – A Review

apesposterRise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite movie going experiences of the last ten years. I wanted to see it, but in no way did I think it was going to be good. Even when the reviews dropped, I had no real idea what to expect. I was taken aback by the movie. The “NO!” moment of Rise made my jaw drop, it was so shocking and thrilling. It was, and still is, a fantastic film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a stressful one, because everything you want to happen goes wrong. The conflict between the fading humans and “dawning” apes of the movie felt like it was tipping over for two hours and was intense with little relief. It’s an impressive sequel, and darker as well.

And with that we come to War for the Planet of the Apes. The first thing to mention is that this third film is bleaker than the last two. This isn’t a triumphant, crowd pleasing series topper. It’s dark, depressing and the light at the end of the tunnel feels dimmer than one might hope to see.

The movie opens with a battle between human military and an ape fort. The military is out to end the ape problem once and for all, hoping to kill the simian leader (and hero of the series) Caesar. When Caesar offers peace once more and things go wrong again, it’s time for treaties to end. Caesar gets selfish and, of course, things don’t work out and the rest of the movie is about Caesar trying to amend his mistakes.

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Did I mention the movie is bleak? It’s winter, so the movie is full of dead landscapes and gray skies. The world feels like it’s fading away. The people left alive aren’t the best humanity has to offer. Even the apes feel directionless, trapped between annihilation or all out war.

The movie also spends a lot of time in a military base that really brings the dark. Cages, work forces, fanatics with omega tattoos. Director Matt Reeves seems to be channeling his best Spielberg with this set, with more than one allusion to Schindler’s List. And that won’t be the last movie referenced either. The film is built off of the blueprints of The Ten Commandments, Apocalypse Now and True Grit. 

While Rise was a boiler and Dawn was an all out blockbuster, War is character piece. It’s a contemplative film, more focused on Caesar’s journey than an actual war. This might put some off, as there’s very little in the way of action set pieces, save for the opening and climax. Nothing on par with the apes escaping in Rise or the raid on the human settlement in Dawn. The moments of action we see are more harrowing than thrilling. While I liked the film, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that the series ends on smaller notes. But it resonates at the end, in ways that Dawn didn’t.

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Woody Harrelson is a scary guy in the movie. He’s crazy, sure, but he’s focused. He’s in charge. His life is violence and he’s made tough choices, even if he wasn’t forced into them. He’s a bit like Patton, a bit of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He hates the newly intelligent apes, but needs them. Like Caesar, his mistakes might threaten his own people.

Of course, it’s Caesar who owns the screen. Ever since the first in this new reboot series, Caesar has carried these movies. Surrounded by character actors, Andy Serkis continues to be the most compelling actor on screen and makes Caesar a hero to root for. The work begun with Gollum has been refined to perfection. Caesar is now one of the great movie characters of all time.

ltxlrsiw1tvsuzmnv47lLike this year’s Logan, which left me depressed in all sorts of ways, War attaches itself to you and ruins your day. I don’t know how rewatchable a film like that is, as blockbusters don’t do that too often. The Hunger Games and it’s sequels had a stronghold for a while on depressing, big budget dystopias. The “fun” of Rise is gone in this third chapter and replaced with something that’s a bit more meaningful, but less enjoyable. It’s a movie that’s good for you, it tricks you into eating your vegetables with large scale storytelling and CGI apes. But you wouldn’t want to see this every weekend at the movies, it would be horrible for your good mood. A fun time? Not really. Recommended? Absolutely.

Castlevania: The Anime – A Review

castlevania_netflixRemember when you first played Castlevania and you had to deal with the Catholic church persecuting you and then, after completing that two hour introduction, the game finally gave you your first and final boss fight for about ten minutes?

You liar. That never happened. You don’t remember anything!

I’d call myself a fan of the Castlevania games without having played all of them. Under my belt, I have the first three games from the NES, the first two Gameboy Advance titles and Castlevania: Lament of Innocence for the PS2. I like the series and if more was available for the PC, I’d play it. All of which to say, I was excited for this Netflix-produced anime.

screenshot-49-800x450This show is four episodes, making for a less than two hour movie in actuality. The first episode starts off well enough. We meet Dracula, who is smitten by Lisa, a local doctor looking to learn more from the Count’s library. The two get married and things don’t go well, sending Dracula into a rage that kills the population of the countryside. Episode one, check.

The next three episodes follow the unwilling savior Trevor Belmont, last surviving member of a vampire hunting family. As it turns out, his family was driven out and killed by the Catholic church, the same church that made Dracula so angry. While I came in hoping for some fun, vampire slaying action, that’s not what I got. Castlevania, instead, holds back the action in exchange for non-stop monologues from priests, drunks and Belmont. The church is bad, Belmont is afraid, people suck, etc.. That’s what we get for two and half episodes.

40912fbc3ad4c3acd004feeb92eb70adcf4ee041It’s only in the last fifteen minutes, when we meet Alucard, does the series have any momentum. Sure, him and Belmont have a classic battle of misunderstanding, but it took too long to get to that point. The last minute teases what I wanted all along, characters from the game declaring war on Dracula.

Season two has been confirmed by Netflix and will have eight episodes, which is great, since combined with the first we’ll have a full season between the two. If the show had been more episodes, maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed. It feels like we got a show that was unfinished, more of a proof of concept than a complete work. On the other hand, maybe if the show was twelve episodes, I would have tuned out after the first three, not having the patience to keep going much longer.

I was worried that this show would be too similar to the fantastic Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and, boy, was I wrong. That movie hit the ground running and had some amazing set pieces and action. Castlevania has animation that looks low budget, with a high bloom effect hoping to hide the cheap quality of the show. There’s a focus on the gore, showing us how brutal demons are and how squishy humans tend to be. But, to me, it all felt gratuitous and unearned, considering how underwhelming the plot and action were in general. The only time it felt right was during a fight with a cyclops, which was a brief respite from ecclesiastical soap boxes and self-doubting.  It wants to be an anime for grownups, but it forgets to be an anime for the people that are actually watching the thing.

Also, there’s no music from the games in the show. Not a “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears”. Nothing. Instead, we get forgettable orchestral pieces that serve to prove my point about video game music. It boggles my mind that they would make an anime based on a game that has some of the most memorable music and not use it. Part of the what made Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children so enjoyable for me was the use of classic tracks from the game. I don’t know if it was a copyrights issue or the show thought it was better than the games, but it’s a heavy mark against it.

I didn’t like the show, in case I didn’t get that across. It spends two hours making Catholicism the villain without having anything new to say about the church or religion. We’ve seen these stories before and done better elsewhere. Heck, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame tackles that issue and has better animation (and is shorter too). Dracula and his castle is on screen for all of ten minutes and Belmont doesn’t take action until the very end. I came in wanting to see Belmonts fighting Draculas and I got Warren Ellis’ Sunday school report card. If it had been an actual adaptation of Castlevania, it might have stood out among the hundred other options I have for anime. As it is, it’s forgettable, an example of what I don’t want in a Castlevania game. Haven’t the Belmonts been through enough?

Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Review

spider_man_posterThe first Spider-Man movie came out in a day and age that has long past, one that you might not be able to recall. Spider-Man was a big deal, a massive event in theaters that got me to buy my tickets in advance for the first time. All the showings of it’s opening night were sold out. It was the post-9/11 movie we needed at the time. It was also fun and exciting and the first time the character had ever been on the big screen. It’s hard to put into words the energy that film created.

Now, that movie almost feels archaic. It’s a single, self-contained character story that takes place during the most important time in the hero’s life. Yes, it has plot-threads for a sequel, but when you look at the mess that is Amazing Spider-Man or it’s sequel, the first Sam Raimi film almost looks shy about presenting a sequel. It was a different world, one where a film had to actually be released and do well at the box office for it to get a sequel.

But we’re in a brave new world now! And while we’ve had many Spider-Man films since that first, landmark entry, we’ve never had a fifteen year old Peter Parker in a world of superheroes. So, now we have a Spider-Man who gets to interact with Iron Man and potentially join the Avengers. If he looks bad doing super heroics, it’s because other, better heroes have set the standard. And while Spider-Man: Homecoming tackles this, it’s not the area where the movie shines. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. are fun and quippy. But it’s where the movie feels less exciting.

spiderman-homecoming-3Peter was in high school for all of ten minutes in the first Tobey Maguire film and the Amazing Spider-Man failed to deliver on that front (as well as many others) even though it was greenlit for that very reason. So while it might seem like a repeat to put the kid in school, it’s not something we’ve actually seen in full effect before. And besides, it’s the story Spider-Man: Homecoming wants to tell anyway. The supporting cast in Peter’s life are memorable and funny and, if the series wanted to go that route, Marvel could set a whole film around just a week of Peter in school, no super heroics, and it would still be entertaining. I mean, I still turn out whenever a kid is bemoaning popularity status or attending parties, but that’s because I hate high school. But, I think that says something to the charm of the movie that I actually cared about Peter’s sophomore life, at least, most of the time.

It helps that Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker. He captures the youth, the enthusiasm, the awkwardness and the strength of the character. He does a great job being over his head and enjoying this new life at the same time. He likes being Spider-Man, which is an important part of the character that can be forgotten when responsibilities abound.

zendaya-in-spider-man-homecomingJacob Batalon’s Ned is hilarious and a great teammate for Peter. Zendaya’s Michelle has a promising future, made brighter by how many laughs she gets in a layered performance. Marisa Tomei doesn’t get the most screen time, nor does her Aunt May really shine, but she’s a pleasant addition. 

Really, the only character who the movie fails is Liz, Peter’s crush. I wish I could tell her more about her, but the movie didn’t so I’m at a loss. I think the shadow of Mary Jane looms over all the films that have come since and Marvel hasn’t entirely solved the issue just yet. Liz is nice, she’s smart, but she’s only there to be crushed upon. While the end of the movie does promise a solution to that, it doesn’t change the fact that we spent two hours with a character that doesn’t seem to matter to the writers.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is… well, he’s fine. It’s hard to beat the scenery chewing of Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin or the visual splendor of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. Keaton’s fairly actuate to the comics, visually frightening at times and physically up to the task of being the villain of the movie. But he’s not very interesting as a character and I was never waiting for his next scene. To be fair, in the comics, the Vulture is the second super villain Spider-Man ever dealt with and since we don’t want to see him go against the Chameleon or try to replicate the previous movies’ villains, he does make a certain amount of sense to include. If we have to stick to villains that haven’t appeared in films, I’d prefer Mysterio or Kraven the Hunter.

spider-man-homecoming-webbing-ferryThe action is never incredible, nothing in this film comes close to the train battle from Spider-Man 2 or even the crane rescue from the Spider-Man 3. But, there’s a kinetic energy to the scenes here and they move well. The idea in Spider-Man: Homecoming is that Peter is still new to all of this and not very good at the job. He’s got heart, but little coordination. What might normally be a car chase becomes a run through the suburbs. What normally would be a battle over a crowded ferry becomes an attempt to just do as little damage as possible. So, no, the action isn’t spectacular, but it works because Peter isn’t spectacular at being Spider-Man just yet.

My only other major gripe might not bother many other people. And it might be a minor spoiler, but I doubt it. The movie replicates a fairly iconic moment from Spider-Man comic history, one that Stan Lee wrote himself. In the comic, Peter triumphs because he thinks of all the people counting on him and everyone he loves. He can’t fail them. He overcomes a great challenge because his responsibility is great. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the scene is replicated from panel to screen, but the motivation is lost. Peter overcomes because he wants to be a superhero. He needs to prove it to himself. Normally, that would be fine as motivation, but for those of us who read Lee’s early comics, we know the scene has been done better. There’s a power to that moment that was lost in translation.

Other than that, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun time. It’s colorful, it’s zippy and it makes me excited to see this version of Peter Parker again. I know I’ve referenced the original trilogy multiple times in this review, but I do think this new entry is the first film to differentiate itself from what’s come before. It successfully stands on it’s own. It has personality, a vision and it makes for a pretty good Spider-Man movie.

Wonder Woman – A Review

wwposter5It’s insane to me that Warner Bros. and DC Comics took seventy-five years to make a Wonder Woman movie. In that time, they’ve made movies for Steel, Jonah Hex, Catwoman, Supergirl, Constantine, the Suicide Squad and yes, I chose the bad ones to point out. I mean, they had a Lobo film in the works before they had a final script for their premier heroine.

But, the movie is here, so we can (but probably not for long) move on from that fact. Let’s focus on the film instead.

I had hesitancy about the movie leading up to seeing it. After all, Man of Steel made me rage until I had destroyed all the love in my life. (old blog, please come back to this one). Batman V. Superman was so dumb I just felt bad for it. And though Wonder Woman was a highlight in that movie, anything remotely NOT dumb would have been a relief during that two and a half hours.

But I was pleasantly surprised. For first two thirds of the movie, Wonder Woman is the film I wanted for years. The first third, which takes place in Themyscira, is great and the island itself feels exactly right. The Amazons have a Spartan vibe, without the machismo, and feel like a real society, even if our time with them isn’t that long. The action scenes that take place there have a 300 vibe, but those scenes are done with confidence and not in way that wears our patience.

Steve Trevor, as played by Chris Pine, is likable and charming, but he’s got an edge to him and also comes across as more progressive than his World War I society. The chemistry between him and Gal Gadot is on point and there’s some great interplay between the two early on.

The action is great. I think, like Captain America, we sometimes forget how strong Wonder Woman really is. But, unlike the First Avenger, Wonder Woman’s powers are big league. She can topple buildings, toss trucks and wreck through soldiers as she goes for jog. When her full powers are on display, such as the terrific charge through the front lines that ends the first half of the movie, she really is a full blown super hero.

ww-11802rv21But Wonder Woman is more than just a set of powers and lassos and bracelets. Gal Gadot is, and I don’t want to understate this, fantastic. For years, I thought Wonder Woman would be one of the hardest characters to cast, but I can’t imagine anyone doing the job better than her. There are times when I could of sworn the character walked right out the comics. She’s inspiring, she’s dangerous, she’s funny, smart, naive, she’s stubborn but for the right reasons. When she speaks, you believe her. When she charges into battle, you want to follow her. Gadot embodies the character in such a defining way that it feels iconic before the movie is even over.

wonder-womanAnd now, with all that praise, here comes my critique and my struggle to not spoil anything. And that’s hard, because my problem with the film, is in the third act and might qualify as a twist. For a long time, the movie seems like it’s going one way and it works. Characters are learning lessons, humanity is getting called out for being the worst species to ever walk the earth and it feels right. But, they need a big action scene to end with and after we’ve seen what a tank Wonder Woman is, the stakes have to be raised. The final confrontation is so fantastical and out there, it almost feels like it’s betraying the rest of the excellent movie that came before it. Actually, the excellent animated movie with Keri Russel might have hurt the live action’s take on the confrontation. It’s not a deal breaker, it doesn’t make the movie a bad film, but I feel like a stronger third act could have put this movie up there with Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins.

But, please, don’t take my issues with the finale to indicate I don’t like the movie. It was great, should be seen and I look forward to watching it again. To meet expectations seventy-five years in the making is a daunting task, but Patty Jenkins was up to the challenge and delivered. This was the first live action DC movie I loved since the Dark Knight way back in 2008.

 

Batman and Robin Volume 6 – A Review

I received a copy of this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Batman and RobinThis is the first time I’ve read this title and actually enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because Damian is only seen as a corpse, which means he’s silent. I think a big part of it is that I’ve always liked globe-trotting Batman tales, and I like the guest stars we have in this volume. What comes across as a pleasant surprise, though it shouldn’t, is that Batman isn’t a jerk to everyone he meets. Sure, he’s his normal Batman-self when it comes to people telling him what to do, but he almost seems cordial when talking to Aquaman or Frankenstein. The latter is just fun to see any day.

Ra’s is up to his old tricks again, which is fine, but I wish he would go back to doing some big villain plotting again and give us a break from the Lazarus Pits for a while. Batman is out to find the bodies of his son, Damian and his ex-girlfriend/villain Talia. He’s focused, as he is wont to be, but it’s not a focused that makes him insufferable. He’s downright relatable.

The final issue, with Batman sneaking into the Justice League Watchtower and going to a big, bad place is fun and it was nice to see him to so without coming across better than all heroes on Earth. For once, while reading this book, I want the next volume. And maybe I’ll go back to the books I skipped. Am I just a sucker for fun art? Maybe, but I think Peter Tomasi actually has stepped up his game.