Tag Archives: Superheroes

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins initially disappointed me. All cinematic legends of the Dark Knight inevitably do, save those told by Paul Dini and Co.. I can remember leaving the theater in late 2005 with my Ambassador on my arm. She turned to me and said, “Somebody forgot to tell them they weren’t making Spider-Man.”

Our Hero, in jail.

Looking back now (after the abysmal failure of Spider-Man 3, the X-Men and Hulk sequels, and the endless parade of second rate cartoons Marvel’s churned out over the years) I realize how unfair this was to director Christopher (Memento) Noland, writer David S. (Blade) Goyer, and even Our Hero, Christian Bale. All did the best they could, and a much better job than anyone had any right to expect given the Bat’s long, largely-depressing, big screen history. This movie went through all eight levels of Development Hell, its makers fighting wars and rumors of wars that no doubt weighted on my mind as I stepped into the the theater, clouding judgment already hustled by my twenty years of comic-reading. I would’ve found fault with the best Bat-picture in the world and Batman Begins is far from that. It is, however, the second best Batman film in thirty years, easily surpassing Tim Burton’s efforts. {More}

Iron Man (2008)

In another unexpectedly pleasant surprise, Iron Man turned out to be perhaps the strongest of this passing summer’s superhero movies. I say “perhaps” because, while it lacks The Dark Knight‘s length and The Incredible Hulk‘s emotional sequel-baggage, Iron Man never rises to anything other than the low-tide line of my expectations. Movies are like that these days. I’m spoiled. We’ve all become spoiled by the expectation of eye-gouging special effects. I’ve believed a man could fly all my life; seeing it no longer impresses me. Much.

This movie impressed me…but not with its showy, summer-movie action scenes. No. Instead, Iron Man outflanked me, scaling the battlements of my cold, critic’s heart by reminding me why I used to drag my ass out of bed a six a.m. on a Sunday morning to watch the Iron Man cartoon that played on the Fox affiliate of my youth. Why, in other words, I liked Iron Man in the first place. {More}

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I’ll say this: it was better than I expected…if only because my expectations were so low. This sequel was long in coming, and all its flaws flow from the fact that no one (apart from me, it seems) enjoyed its predecessor.

Well, I hope you’re all happy. This movie is, in almost every way, a repudiation of Ang Lee’s Hulk, a one-eighty degree turn that falls all over itself to push all our Pavlovian buttons and make us squeal. Like a pile of red meat delivered to your door, it looks good but it’ll plug you up like a clogged septic tank, stuffing you with meaningless noise, flashing lights and disjointed images…much like the way Dr. Bruce Banner describes his experience as the Hulk: “It’s like someone poured ten gallons of acid into my brain.” I don’t know who Bruce is getting it from. Around these parts, you can get the same effect with a fraction of that dosage. Costs about as much as a movie ticket anyway (less if your date wants popcorn–mine, fortunately, did not) and you can enjoy it in the privacy of your own home, away from other people’s children, comments, loud laughter, and ill-timed cellphone usage. {More}

The Shadow (1994)

Our Hero, ladies and gentlemen.There are currents in the past, deep eddies in the sediment of time. They erode channels through their courses and join together to form deeper cuts, which in turn formed the modern world and all that drowns us within it. This is true for the modern concept of the superhero as much as anything else. Examining the headwaters of this genre requires us to go back “to the thrilling days of yesteryear,” as the Lone Ranger’s radio program used to say. And there are few yesteryear’s as thrilling as The Shadow‘s

We in the modern world owe the Shadow’s creators more than almost any other pre-modern superhero scribes (with the possible exception of Johnston McCulley, creator of the masked man known as Zorro). The Shadow and his contemporaries, the “masked adventures” and “mystery men” of inter-war adventure literature, afford us a remarkable opportunity to study a genre in its infancy, its key components only half-formed. In particular, the Shadow offers a peek into the roll popular demand and sheer, blind chance played in creation. Because, if not for the craziest of chances, the Shadow (as we know him) wouldn’t exist at all. {More}

Ultimate Avengers (2006)

Yeah, guy wearing a flag into battle. That's not an easy target.
Yeah, guy wearing a flag into battle. That's not an easy target.

Best to begin this with what Ultimate Avengers is not. It’s not the movie I’d hoped it would be. What is these days, right? It’s not a shot-by-shot recreation of the similarly named, and much more thematically complicated Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch comic book miniseries upon which it is based. It’s not necessarily a major milestone in American animation. (No Fritz the Cat’s here, folks, keep walking.) It is not Marvel’s answer to Paul Dini’s spectacular Justice League series, which did more with more characters, smaller budgets, and the Ever Present Eye of Cartoon Network’s Standards and Practices.

Ultimate Avengers is not a great movie at all…and it shakes and shutters on the cusp of being good. By any objective or technical measure it’s not really that, either. The reasons why become quickly apparent. But first: plot synopsis.

Ultimate Avengers opens (like so much else in the Marvel Universe) during the winningest days of World War II. Hitler is dead, his armies in retreat, Germany safely carpet-bombed back to the Middle Ages. “But what,” asks the radio announcer, “are these rumors of a secret Nazi super weapon aimed at Washington? Categorically false, says the War [nee, Defense] Department. And we believe them!” {More}

Superman Returns (2006)

"Nope, sorry. We're full up on codpieces today. Some other time."I’ve never been happy with the Man of Steel’s celluloid incarnations for the same reason cited by all the comics industry pros: the damn Boy Scout is a real chore to write, and a stone cold bitch to write well. Years of previous (mis)conceptions about just who and what he is don’t help. Neither does the fact that his world (by which I mean the 1930s) has moved on.

First there’s the Conflict Problem, both Internal and External. Superman’s external conflicts are often hilariously one-sided, while his internal ones have none of Batman’s brooding insanity, none of Peter Parker’s conflicting loyalties…he can’t even match Tony Stark’s problem with intimacy, since it’s not like Supes doesn’t have plenty of opportunities to get some. He appears, or is often written to appear, as a whole and hearty individual in-and-of himself, apart and above the other tortured souls populating his multiverse. And that seems to be okay for everyone involved with creating his adventures, including Bryan Singer. {More}

Justice League (2001)

Strike a pose.The Justice League of America, in its most rarefied form, represents a powerhouse of D.C. comics heaviest hitters, originally created as a marketing gimmick in 1960 by that great creator of gimmicks and Godhead of the silver age, the comics writer Gardner Fox. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

With the success The Batman/Superman Adventures in the late ’90s, and the continued dumbing down of Batman Beyond, the production team of Rich Fogel, Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini set to do the Next Logical Thing: get the fuck off the WB (sure didn’t do Buffy any harm) and throw wide the golden gates of their superhero universe. After all, if two heroes could make such a splash in the admittedly-small pond of American-produced superhero animation, think of what seven might do for the network lucky enough to carry it? {More}

Supergirl (1984)

"I just don't know...you sure you're not staring at my 'S'?"Both comic book and movie begin with Argo City, a civic center blown free from the planet Krypton with its gravity and atmosphere completely intact (take that, laws of physics). I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that the Action Comics team threw in a few pictures with this story. Not so here. Opening with a “bang” is one of the first things to go out the window, despite this film’s nominal connection with the wider Superman franchise. After all, why show us something we can just talk about it? And have Peter O’Toole stand around, waving his magic wand?

O’Toole is Zaltar, Argo City’s apparent savior. See, in this version of the story, Krypton’s death blasted Argo into a funky, negative universe called “innerspace” (narrated by William Shatner). Zaltar’s the guy who figured out how to keep the air in and everyone’s feet on the ground. How? Magic of course, with a little help from the film’s MacGuffin: a shinny pokeball called “the omegahedron.”

More than a miniature Unicron, the omegahedron can “create the illusion of life,” power the entire city, provide oxygen and (we assume) nourishment for its numerous inhabitants, and do all of this from the palm of Peter O’Toole’s hand.

Wait. What is this thing (so vital to the city’s basic survival) doing in the palm of Zaltar’s hand, anyway? Oh, he “borrowed” it. I see. Wonderful. This can only end well. {More}

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

"Stop, or my mom will shoot!"The next industry Uncle Tom who calls Alan Moore out for his righteous hatred of Hollywood need only look at this train wreck. Do that, and understand that the pain you feel is nothing compared to what it might be if, say, you’d actually created this “property.” That’s the term they use. Not “story,” not “idea,” but “property.” As if the book were a piece of over-mortgaged real estate.

I have a lot of love for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I’ll admit I would never heard of the book if not for this idiotic little film. That alone ameliorates my otherwise-all-encompassing hatred of it, and the system that birthed it. Movies like this make me wish the aliens from Independence Day really would hurry up and destroy Los Angeles with their incredibly slow fireballs.

This film is a throwback to the Golden Age of superhero movies. That was not a happy time, despite my choice of verbiage. Sure, Richard Donner’s Superman led the pack, but so did those crappy, made-for-TV Captain America movies. Remember Dolph Lundgren as He-Man? Or The Punisher? Have you forgotten that the era of Tim Burton’s Batman also cursed us with Joel Schumacher’s? I haven’t! {More}

Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)

''Was that you, George?''Short and sweet version:

The defining, stand out scene of this whole movie (the one we all get our pictures from) turns out to be a dream sequence.

Long and painful version:

Remember when I called The Incredible Hulk Returns “a fine capstone” to the series? Well, that was the truth. It’s unfortunate no one at NBC realized this in time. Not very surprising, though. Happens everywhere. A decent little picture miraculously becomes popular (popular enough to snatch the fifth highest rating of any program aired in the same week) only to be sullied by a lackluster, assembly-line sequel.

Hot off the success of Returns, NBC rushed to make a deal with Marvel for future Incredible Hulk outings. And, wouldn’t you know it, less than a year later Trial of the Incredible Hulk roared and flexed its way to prime time. And as the talking head said on the news, right before the aliens blew up all those cities, “Indeed, God help us all.” {More}