Saturday, October 23, 2010

Initial Reaction to Avengers: EMH

Ant-Man: "Actually we're 'defending' more than 'avenging'."

Iron Man: "Shut up, Pym

So I watched, and then re-watched, the first two episodes of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes “Breakout” Parts 1 & 2 (Although technically its episodes 6 and 7 as 1 through 5 are actually the prologue shorts I mentioned before put together). I can’t do a full review because I’d need to watch the whole season, but I figured with all my talk about this show the past few weeks I had to say something. So here are some random notes and thoughts I jotted down while watching:

-I know it’s supposed to be Robert Downey, Jr. inspired but the portrayal of Tony Stark is starting to bug me. He’s so smarmy and contradictory but lacks the charm from the Iron Man films. He just seems like a cocky jerk…which may or may not be true in the comic, I guess.

-How does S.H.I.E.L.D. expect to recruit any of the superheroes running around when their answers to even the simplest questions is “Sorry, that’s classified”? I mean superheroes by nature tend to be solitary creatures dissatisfied with the powers that be (Otherwise why would they take the law into their own hands) so they're already suspicious of authority figures; why make it worse by holding out on info?

-If Incompetent Scientist Supreme Hank Pym is so hesitant about being a superhero why does he call himself “Ant-Man”?

-Thor is awesome. That is all.

-There are so many cameos and nods to characters from the comics it’s not even funny. Hell yes The Red Ghost and his Super Apes! There’s even hint that Doctor Doom may be showing up sometime. Sweet! That said I only recognized about 65-75% of the characters on screen. My Fanboy powers must be relatively weak indeed.

-Special mention to Jeffery Combs as The Leader. Holy God, his delivery was downright chilling. Even though he only appeared for a few minutes (Less?) he was easily my favorite character shown. I eagerly await his return.

-Intellectually I’m aware that the theme song isn’t very good but for some reason I can’t get enough of it. Especially the instrumental version in the ending credits. It’s way catchier than Avengers: United They Stand.

-Graviton is hilarious! Fred Tatasciore has the character overEMPHASIZING (By screaming) some WORDS over others so HE sounds KINDA like THIS.

-The best way of attracting the Hulk is to yell out “I’m the strongest one there is”; he’ll almost immediately arrive to prove you wrong by pounding you into a fine paste.

-Speaking of Graviton his origin differs from the comic books but works well for the story the show sets up. Very well, in fact. Frankly the producers are going to have to make such changes with many characters and concepts since much of it is from dated source material. As long as they resemble and retain the spirit of their comic counterparts it shouldn’t be a problem.

-The final battle between the five heroes and Graviton was AWESOME! A giant slugfest that turned entire sections of New York City into a warzone; it was amazingly fun to watch! If this ends up being a regular occurrence this show will be a winner in my book.

-Its weird seeing Iron Man and the others standing up for the Hulk. Once in the comics Iron Man and some others (Not these gents) shot the Hulk into space to rid the Earth of his trouble making. We’ll see what happens by the end of the season.

-Though its mostly not a problem it’s still clear that, unless you watched the prequel shorts, you won’t get as much from this show. For example the shorts explain why Hawkeye and the Hulk were in prison, explain the specifics behind three of the four prisons, introduces the Black Widow (Who shows up here but has no lines in), and serve as better introductions for the characters in general. Iron Man and Thor come off pretty good and everyone looks badass and all, but there just wasn’t time to showcase everyone’s personality in-depth (Otherwise we’d have to cut into the fight with Graviton. Screw that noise). The shorts do a great job of doing this but if you missed it than you’re out of luck.

So bottom line I thought these first two episodes were really fun. Perhaps the scenario for the teams formation was not as epic as the three-part first episode of Justice League but it certainly worked well enough. And I think I prefer the big fight here. In conjunction with the shorts this was a strong opener for the series and I’m looking forward to seeing more. Hopefully once the season ends I’ll have a better idea about the overall product, but so far so good.

The next post will be my 50th blog entry (Not counting an early entry that just announced that I was sick) so expect something big. And by “big” I mean long. And by “long” I mean probably a rant of some sort. Here's a one word hint of the topic: SNIKT.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Young Justice Also May Not Suck!

Two are retired, two are renamed and one stopped wearing a bad wig

So I’ve had time to do research on this “Young Justice” cartoon and I’m pleased to announce that my somewhat downer statement from the Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes blog from earlier this month was a bit un-called for. Young Justice will probably be really good as it places a massive amount of DC Comics lore in the capable hands of Greg Weisman also created both The Spectacular Spider-Man and Gargoyles, two shows I’d rank very high on a “Top Cartoons of All Time” list. Plus news from the New York Comic-Con has put my mind somewhat as ease. The most important thing to take in mind with this new show is that it’s not necessarily a horrible adaptation of a underappreciated comic book because, well, it apparently has almost nothing to do with the book it shares a name with. There’s no point in being angry about it then.

Anyway I’d like to discuss the cartoon but before I do that I think I’ll talk a bit about the original comic for the uninformed.

In 1998 DC apparently realized that at that particular moment they had a surplus of teenage heroes/sidekicks running around in their titles, a lot of them with their own series that were doing well. The obvious next step would be take some of these characters and put them on a team and try them out in their own book. Apparently they were hesitant to start yet another Teen Titans reboot so instead they tried something a little different. And so Young Justice: The Secret #1 introduced a team-up involving the third Robin (Tim Drake), Impulse (Bart Allen, currently know…ugh, “Kid Flash”) and the modern version of Superboy. The three were featured in another “pilot” book titled Young Justice: World Without Grown-Ups and soon thereafter they were rewarded with an ongoing series. The trio was later joined by three other heroes: newcomer Secret, the new version of Arrowette and the second or third (Depending on which continuity DC currently says is the proper timeline) Wonder Girl (aka Cassie Sandsmark). Todd DeZago and Todd Nuack created the team (Nuack also drew them pretty much the entire book’s run) but the book and the team is mostly associated with comic writer extraordinaire Peter David who wrote damn near the entire series.

Robin, Impulse and Superboy unaware that its the gritty 90s

Note the lack of guns and pouches

The book was known for being on the silly side of things and being more about having fun than teen angst and the fact is that a lot of fans enjoyed that style. I myself was drawn to the book because I was familiar with Superboy and Impulse (Due to the Superman: The Return of Superman and Impulse: Reckless Youth trade paperbacks) and was regularly reading Robin’s solo title at the time and seeing the three teaming up intrigued me. To this day I have a strong love of Tim and Bart, even if some of the changes to Bart over the years have been questionable, and a certain fondness for Secret. In fact I think we are way overdue for a return of Secret who has been out of the hero biz for the last six or seven years. Anyway the book was eventually canceled with the miniseries Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day which led into yet another reboot of the Teen Titans (By my count the fifth or sixth time) which most of the remaining team ended up joining. That book was darker and a bit more angst filled than its predecessor but also involved characterization that some say were in contradiction to how Peter David (And other writers) had written them previously. Still even to this day Tim (Now known as Red Robin), Superboy, Wonder Girl and…bleh, “Kid Flash” are portrayed as being a tight nit group and regularly guest-star in each other’s titles.

But as I said the new Young Justice cartoon will not have much to do with the comic as it seems to take more influence from various versions of the Teen Titans comic. Only Superboy will appear (At least initially) from the old comic while Robin and…urgh, “Kid Flash” will be Dick Grayson and Wally West for reasons that sounded kind of like B.S. to me, but whatever. It’s not like Dick Grayson as Robin in animated form is cliché at this point or anything.

No wait, I meant it's "extremely" cliche at this point

Anyway new team members include Miss Martian, who’s background seems to have been changed to strengthen her connection to The Martian Manhunter, Atermis, a character who resembles Arrowette and shares a name with a Wonder Woman supporting character but the producers are being secretive about her true identity, and of course the leader of the team Aqualad Black Aqualad, a character created just for this show.

A moment on the new Aqualad, if I may. The character was apparently conceived by the show’s creators in a dubious attempt to provide racial diversity. I won’t touch that today since I’d be here all night if I did. I assume that since there aren’t really a whole lot of viable choices for teenage black super heroes floating around in the DC library they had little choice but to just make someone up and tag an existing name on him. But then again why they chose not to include Static, Cyborg or Black Lightning’s daughters Thunder (Though I guess she isn’t really a teen) and Lightning in the show I have no idea. In fact after randomly naming off four young black DC superheroes off the top of my head that have all been relevant in some form in the last six years I’m downright baffled why they felt they needed to make an African-American version of Aqualad at all. Seriously, the world already thinks Aquaman is a joke; why the hell would they take his sidekick seriously? Because he can make water weapons? Because he has Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man’s haircut? Please. Let’s say Cyborg and Static don’t fit in with the sidekick theme the show seems to be going for. You could still have Thunder or Lightning (The latter being a better choice) and then just add Black Lightning to the Justice League (Who are regular guest stars) and BAM; a double whammy of diversity.

Sorry Static but it's back to obscurity with you

Regardless it’s Black Aqualad on this show and, like it or lump it, he will likely make history. In the devolvement stages of the show A-List comic writer and DC big wig Geoff Johns (Who wrote the Post-Young Justice version of Teen Titans that I mentioned) saw the early designs of the character, thought it looked cool, and decided to bring him to the DC universe proper. Though several comic characters were originally created in other media and later written into the comics (Including Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series, Firestar from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and recently Chloe Sullivan from Smallville) but I believe he’ll be the first character created by a TV show that ended up debuting in the comics first; simply because the issues introducing him happened to be released prior to the show’s series premier. That’s pretty weird, man. In the comic the character is Jackson Hyde and his story is currently unfolding in the pages of Brightest Day but I heard a strange rumor pegging the show’s BlAqualad as being Cal Durham, a minor Aquaman character from the 70s. Since I can’t find official sources confirming this anywhere for now I’ll assume it’s just pure jibber jabber and Jackson is the man both in the cartoon and books, but should it ever prove to be true then that means that Black Aqualad and Mr. Hyde were NEVER the same guy and that DC and the show’s creators may lack basic communication with each other. Which would be hilarious.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of things to get excited about here. Several aspects of the show were explained after the New York Comic Con and several of them have got me all sorts of eager. For one thing the characters will age. This may not seem too important but really with a lot of serial fiction, comics included, I get pretty sick of the same status quo year after year. Development is the key to good characters after all and frankly a guy who starts the show as being 14 years old and ends it being 18 will not be the same person he started as. That said who knows if it will ever be noticeable. The show is supposedly influenced by our old pal Joss Whedon and has something of a dark tone as a result. Obviously that may or may not be a positive but after that lighthearted/manic Teen Titans cartoon from a few years ago it should be a nice change of pace. There have also been some hints that not all of the team member will survive the first season. I will believe it when I see it; the number of main characters actually killed in a kids cartoon (As opposed to knocked out, in a coma, trapped in another dimension, captured by villains or simply “missing”) is pretty dang low. Also Peter David is apparently signed on to write a few episodes and has implied that he’ll be bringing in some of the spirit of the original comic…and heavily hinted an appearance by Secret, which would be her first outside of the books. Sweet!

The most interesting thing though is that there promises to be tons of cameos and guest appearances by other characters. I LOVE seeing characters show up like that in a cartoon I’m watching. That was part of the charm of Justice League/Unlimited and is the only thing I like about Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Unlike some other shows there are no embargos preventing the writers from using any of the vast characters in the DC backlogs so just about any hero or villain you can think could be featured at some point. We know Captain Marvel will appear at some point which is enough to make me actually watch the show by itself. Also the Wonder Twins will guest star so it’s not all good news I’m afraid.

Pretty, but still super lame

Bottom line is that this show could be extremely amazing. As of now it has all the tools a show needs to be incredible. Technically I think it has more going for it than Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has, though in EMH’s defense Disney and Marvel Comics have provided significantly less talking about awesome their show will be and more showing how awesome their show will be and are thus winning the war. Time will tell who wins in the end but if what we think we know turns out to be true the real winners will be the fans.

Wesley Snipes & His Amazing Friends

Young Justice premiers November 26th 2010 on that one channel that used to play cartoons all the time Cartoon Network. I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: G.I. Joe - The Rise of Cobra

At some point in the recent past Hollywood ran out of original ideas for movies and began looking to various sources for inspiration. My least favorite example of this is the horrifyingly awful Michael Bay Transformers movies (Revenge of the Fallen being the worse of the two) but of course they’re not the only example. Apparently some producer some years ago wanted to make a film featuring advanced military technology. So our old friend Hasbro reared its money grubbing head into the picture and offered up Transformers’ sister franchise G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Fast forward a few years later to 2009 and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra hits theaters. Now the main difference between Bay’s abominations and the G.I. Joe flick was that Transformers had almost no tools for a good movie during its pre-production and therefore failed in execution while the Joe film had a hell of a lot of things going for it before hand. And yet it still managed to fail.
Here’s the story in a nutshell:
G.I. Joe is the codename for America’s an international coalition’s daring, highly skilled special mission force and also Ripcord. Its purpose: to defend human freedom against Cobra M.A.R.S., a ruthless terrorist organization weapons manufacturer determined to rule the world do something undoubtedly evil.
Sigh. Fine.
WARNING: This review contains massive spoilers
Laird James McCullen Destro XXIV James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), head of the legalized weapons dealer known as M.A.R.S., has just developed a horrifying weapon of mass destruction: a nanotechnology based warhead that can eat entire cities and possibly the whole world. Instead of confiscating the weapon and locking up McCullen for war crimes NATO instead buy four of them and charge their finest troops including Duke (Channing Tatum) and for some reason Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) with their delivery. Because their finest troops are actually inept however a mysterious, highly advanced and hostile force appear and wipe Duke’s team out (But sadly forgetting to kill Ripcord) and almost make off with the weapons, failing only due to the interference of a different highly advanced and less-hostile force later identified as Codename: G.I. Joe. Thus the conflict revolves around control of these dangerous weapons between these two different armies, neither of which is actually Cobra.
"Trust me; I'm a Doctor!"
That’s kind of unfair to say since this film is more like an origin story for Cobra but it’s still really weird to watch a G.I. Joe story where the Joes don’t fight their traditional enemy. It’s like watching the Autobots not fighting Decepticons or Lion-O and the Thundercats fighting Space Marines rather than Mumm-Ra (Actually that last thing sounded pretty badass). Truth be told this movie takes a lot of liberties with the original story presented in the old comic book and cartoon, but for the most part it’s oddly not that big of an issue. Some things are minor while others throw whole origins down the toilet but the average alteration makes sense for dramatic storytelling purposes and can be forgiven. For example in this film G.I. Joe is an international peace keeping group rather than an American organization and this change was made to in order to avoid isolating folk during international releases. Whatever. That’s not a big deal; some characters are now a little more foreign than they used to be, but who cares?
You won’t hear me say this too much about a film but the action scenes were great. They were fun to watch and possibly by itself make the movie worth checking out as a dumb popcorn flick. Maybe there’s a bit too much of it but that’s a relatively minor complaint...comparatively speaking, I mean. Even the stupid “Accelerator Suits” that the trailers made such a big deal about weren’t that bad mainly because they were limited to one scene and then were gone before they wore out their welcome. The plot may not have been Shakespeare but damn if M.A.R.S.’ evil plan wasn’t one of the more intriguing plots I’ve seen in a film, albeit a bit convoluted and probably impossible to ever happen in real life. Their true plot is not revealed until the end of the movie but they left themselves so much room for error that even when the Joes show up to ruin everything it’s clear that their interference was taken into account and doesn’t affect a goddamn thing. I was rooting for the bad guys firmly by this point.
A lot of this has to do with the actors playing the villains because every single one of the antagonist who had a decent speaking role was more interesting and complex than their Joe counterpart. Special mention for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he is awesome as The Doctor; he’s so deliciously evil and has just the right amount of ham in his delivery. I thought Eccleston as Destro/McCullen was a close second. Hell, for the first half the of movie I thought Sienna Miller as The Baroness was pretty good since the character was so insanely cruel and ruthless and had every right to be. Sure Miller was out-acted by almost everyone in this film and the character lacked a East European accent and that was lame, but she was firmly in the same category of “villains better than the heroes.” At first. Things go horribly wrong with but we’ll get to that later.
On the heroes side of things there were only two characters I liked and I’m not sure they should count. One was Sergeant Stone played by Brendan Fraser in a thirty second cameo! He had more personality than just about every other Joe featured while doing nothing at all and through the whole movie I was wondering why he wasn’t the damn star. The other one was Snake-Eyes played by martial arts stuntman extraordinaire Ray Park who apparently did a butt load of research on the role and the world of G.I. Joe despite having no lines. This film got most of the aspects of the character dead-on and the spirit is faithfully rendered. So basically when G.I. Joe 2: The Squeakquel comes out the plot damn well better be about Sergeant Stone and Snake-Eyes fighting Cobra Commander and the Mummy he summoned or else critical reception will surely be mixed.
G.I. Joe II: Curse of the Cobra's Mummy
Coming 2012
The plot is not very smart but that’s not why we came here, right? Really most of the problems are things tied directly to the fact that this is one of the worst group of heroes I’ve ever seen collected on screen and anything else can be ignored due to explosions and The Doctor. The heroes are either flat and dull or upsettingly miscast or mind numbingly stupid. In some cases the actor is totally at fault but in general the characters themselves are terribly written and I spent the whole film waiting patiently for Destro to blow them all up. For example the people who thought Duke would best be played by Channing Tatum clearly have a much different opinion of the acting method than I do. If by "acting" you mean blandly read your lines like a robot and betray no sense of humanity than yes, clearly Tatum is his generation’s finest thespian. Good news: he’s in six movies next year. Here as Duke he’s not the worst in the film but he’s boring and since he’s our protagonist it’s a problem when I like the villain more than him.
Duke’s comrade in arms is of course Ripcord, played by Marlon Wayans who takes time out of his busy film schedule of portraying baby size thieves and young white women (White Chicks 2 coming in 2011. Seriously) to join us as “Wacky Black Sidekick”. Why no science fiction epic is complete without an inept Wacky Black Sidekick to bumble around and say incredibly stupid things to reinforce how capable and intelligent his white compatriot is. Hell, the plot is aware of how incompetent Wacky Black Sidekick is and the Joes even tell him that he fails their entry test but let him slide because of Duke. It’s like Affirmative Action if it was used for the sake of comedy rather than to actually help minorities. You know what would make it better? Shoehorn a romance with one of the few female characters in the film that’s devoid of any logic or chemistry, of course!
Pictured: The same damn character
Speaking of whom we also have Scarlett played by model actor Rachel Nichol who in the original comic was a badass Action Girl who could probably wipe the floor with nearly any other character in a one of one fight but who was nothing more than extra load here. She adds NOTHING to the story or to the action scenes. Her real purpose in this film: someone for Ripcord to hit on! Her character is awful as well since she’s supposed to be a “logic and reason above feelings” type of a person but since she keeps repeating that “emotions can’t be explained by science” I assume she doesn’t actually know what emotions are. In a nitpick sense it kind of bothers me that the cool romance between her and the mute Snake-Eyes from the comic was not included but really it’s not that big a deal. It’s far worse that she hooks up with Ripcord, however, because a) he’s a buffoon and we shouldn’t encourage that behavior in audiences by pointing out they may be able to hook up with a redhead and b) the way they present their relationship over the course of the film it makes about as much sense as The Doctor making-out with Destro in the final moments of the movie. And I would have bought that a little easier I think! In retrospect it probably would have been easier and less headache inducing to have her hook up with Duke. But oh boy did Duke have his hands full in the romance department.
As I said before model actor Sienna Miller as The Baroness is pretty good. She’s not a good actor by any means but she does alright with a character that is extremely awesome so it would have been okay except for her “character development” over the course of the film. This, my friends, is by far the worst part of this movie so forgive me because I was sense a huge rant over this coming. Feel free to skip ahead to the Panda Score and Pros/Con section.
When we first meet the Baroness she’s one of the villains trying to steal the warheads and Duke instantly recognizes her as a former girlfriend. Okay, that’s not quite how it was in the cartoon but, hey, it’s Hollywood. Duke later expands on this by revealing that the night they got engaged she made him promise to look out for her younger brother scientist Rex during their next deployment and of course the brother is promptly killed. Rather than talking to her about it and helping her get through the death of her only living family Duke decides to abandoned her altogether because he couldn’t face her due to his failure. Well that’s a dick thing to do and quite frankly I understand why she would drastically change in personality after those events and become a cold hearted and irredeemable murderer/terrorist. That’s just good drama. Or it was until it’s finally revealed near the end of the film that The Doctor has actually been mind controlling her from the very beginning, thus absolving her of her crimes. Oh and it turns out that The Doctor IS Rex having gone crazy and evil, thus absolving Duke of his crimes. So basically the wonderfully cruel villain who has her husband killed for laughs evolves into a...girl that needs Duke to rescue her from her evil brother.
Your incompetent writing broke Picard
This plot point is not only ridiculous and contrived but it’s also sexist to a degree I thought Hollywood would have been passed by now! The initial idea that Duke is responsible for sparking The Baroness’ turn to terrorism is fine in itself since it not only gives her motivation for why she’s doing it (Having lost everyone important to her in one swoop) but it also paints Duke as an imperfect human being who made bad choices like anyone else and now he has to make up for them. Not only was the reveal a cop-out that weakens both characters it also implies that the cure for being a tough as all hell lady in a male dominant action film will be to realize that you seriously need a man in your life! Since the only other important female character (Scarlett) does dick all in the film I have to assume that Hollywood saw the original comic and cartoon and said “Wow, that’s a whole lot women not making dinner for their husbands. We’ll don’t worry; we’ll fix that in pre-production.” Screw you Hollywood, screw you producers, and screw you director Stephen Sommers for letting this slip through! The sequel will be coming out sooner than later and there’s a way to fix this issue but I doubt they’d have the balls to do it.
The Baroness in an earlier draft of the film
Phew. Okay, I’m better now.
Basically this movie is pretty bad, but it’s not so bad that it can’t be watched. It’s fine as a guilty pleasure type and like I said the action is good enough to make it a passable popcorn flick. The villains are great but protagonists fall extremely short. It’s a horrible sign when your heroes are less interesting than your villains, especially in a campy/dumb movie like this. I call this principle the “M. Bison Effect” as the old Street Fighter movie suffered from a very similar problem. If you can stand the awful characters it probably makes an alright Movie Night with your significant other, but don’t be confused: this movie is terrible and it is completely because of the weakness of the cast and the badly written people they portray. Except for The Doctor. And Destro. And Storm Shadow. And Zartan. They were sweet.
For you G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a horrible disappointment
But for Bison it was Tuesday
I give G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 2 Adorable Pandas out of 5.

-Good action scenes
-The villains, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are great
-The protagonists are awful/boring/insulting
-Wacky Black Sidekick Rides Again!
-Unbearable romantic subplots
-Strong female characters not so strong after all
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