Civil War is a great film

captain-america-civil-warThe new film Captain America: Civil War is so good it eliminates the stench of Batman v. Superman. Well, almost.

Marvel cleans DC’s clock again, schooling them on how to showcase large numbers of heroes with style, wit and characterization. They even included Giant-Man!

Yes, it’s long — but only because they packed so much into this story, and it all works.

Go see it!

 

Bloat v. Spectacle: Dawn of Just a Franchise

My largely spoiler-free review of Batman v. Superman

My largely spoiler-free review of Batman v. Superman

For starts, here’s the good news:

After 75 years, DC has finally gotten all three of their iconic heroes together on the big screen. And in two out of the three, they are a faithful adaptation of the comic book characters that have thrilled people for generations.

But the bad news is they still haven’t nailed Superman.

Like the prequel, Man of Steel, this is a dark, gritty Superman. Memo to DC: Superman is neither dark nor gritty. He is a warm, sunny, big blue boy scout. He exudes hope and optimism. Why is this so hard for DC filmmakers to understand? Their TV division successfully pivots between dark and light characters on Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. 

Wonder Woman's appearance is the one time audiences cheered.

Wonder Woman’s appearance is the one time audiences cheered.

The other good news is Wonder Woman. She kicks major ass, despite having precious little screen time. For all those who scoffed at Gal Gadot’s casting, her costumed entrance is the only time the audience cheered. Loudly. Other reviewers have commented on this.

There is a scene in the final battle where Wonder Woman gets tossed through the air and lands violently in the rubble. Her reaction is a dark smile: she’s loving this, and it shows. If only there was more of that. And her.

More bad news: this film is 2 hours, 33 minutes long. A lot could be trimmed. We already know how Bruce Wayne’s parents die. There was no need to count the number of pearls his mom wore that fateful night. We get that a whole lot of people died when Superman battled General Zod last time out. Many buildings were destroyed. Superman is angst-ridden about the people and the buildings. People are pissed at him. A lot of people. Except for Lois, of course. And his Mom.

And more good news: this Batman is closer to the comic version than any previous adaptation. It borrows freely from Frank Miller’s excellent graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, and although stately Wayne Manor is long since abandoned and overgrown with weeds, we get a cool new Batcave (spiffy entrance to it via the batmobile, btw) at Bruce’s nearby lakeside home.

This is a Batman who’s been fighting crime a long time, and has the scars (emotional and otherwise) to prove it. Luckily, Alfred’s loyalty is intact, keeping Bruce alive and just this side of sanity. For the most part.

Bad news: Lex Luthor is back. Again.

It’s not that Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex is bad — he’s got an unconventional approach that mostly works. It’s just that he’s the only Superman villain we get most times, and we’ve seen more than enough of him. At least his diabolic plans don’t involve real estate projects this time.

Brainiac is a far more interesting villain for Superman. Cover of the first comic book I ever bought, back in the winter of 1963.

Brainiac is a far more interesting villain for Superman. Cover of the first comic book I ever bought, back in the winter of 1963.

Brainiac is the villain I really want to see, but the hints suggest Darkseid is the bad guy they are building towards a confrontation with, much like Marvel is with Thanos and the Avengers.

Speaking of Marvel, their long rivalry with DC is always a good thing for fans. Here’s hoping that future movies in the DC universe step up their game and give Marvel some real cinematic competition.

Batman V. Superman is bloated spectacle. If you’re a comics fan, or a connoisseur of pop culture, it’s a must see.  It comes up short when compared to almost all the Marvel films, but given the rich history of DC stories and characters, there are plenty of opportunities for them to catch up, and I hope they do.

And for those of you who are diehard DC fans, there’s always Monday night’s episode of Supergirl (not dark! not gritty!) guest starring the Flash (also neither dark nor gritty), appropriately entitled Worlds Finest.

My Star Wars memories from 1975

SW first imageSW first image-2SW first image-4SW first image-8

In late 1975 I was 17. While reading Jim Steranko’s excellent genre magazine, Mediascene, I saw a reference to an upcoming film called The Star Wars. There was a tiny black-and-white photo of Ralph McQuarrie’s ominous painting of a man in a black mask looming over a group of heroes (top left image).

Back in those days, science fiction movies inhabited their own special ghetto. Fans expected little, and that’s what we usually got. The Star Wars made very little impression on me.

A few months later, in early 1976, Starlog magazine reproduced several more McQuarrie paintings, depicting early versions of characters and scenes that have since become iconic. That’s when I began to pay attention.

Two images really grabbed me: A desert planet, where a pair of robots (one of which bore a striking resemblance to Maria, the art deco robot from Fritz lang’s silent film, Metropolis); and a scene where white-armored troops brandished some kind of laser sword.

There were other paintings. The characters stood on a cliff, looking out over the same desert world, with twin suns shining overhead. It reminded me of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

My curiosity was piqued.

I continued to follow occasional news accounts in Mediascene and Starlog  until late spring of 1977, when Marvel Comics published the first issue of a comic book adaptation of what was now simply called Star Wars.

The art by Howard Chaykin and script by Roy Thomas was interesting, definitely better than most film-to-comic adaptations. What fascinated me was that the two robots were characters in their own right, with dialogue and, it appeared, personalities.

The film opened on Wednesday, May 25, 1977. The next morning the N.Y. Daily News gave it a 3.5 star (out of 4) review by Kathleen Carroll. I was stunned.

You have to remember that science fiction films didn’t get 3 star reviews in mainstream newspapers those days. Most got a single star. Maybe two, if there was a well-known actor involved.

I dragged my girlfriend off to the Loews Astor Plaza theater in Times Square that evening  — the film was only on 32 screens nationwide and just two in Manhattan. While we waited for the movie to begin, I paid $3.50 for a glossy souvenir booklet for the film. Major films did that back then; it cost almost as much as the $4.00 ticket price.

Looking through the booklet, I got my first real look at images from the film itself. I remember thinking, “It looks like they put a classic Marvel comic book on the big screen.” Then, as now, Marvel meant quality and authenticity.

A few minutes later, the lights dimmed.

As Star Wars began, John Williams’ soaring orchestral score filled the theater, one of the very first equipped with Dolby stereo.

Mind. Blown.

Suffice to say, I’ve been a fan ever since.

There have been a few rough patches (Ewoks, Jar-Jar, and much of the prequels), but I have faith in director J.J. Abrams. He’s a fan. He’s also a talented director who knows how to please an audience.

Speaking of audiences, there are still people out there who scoff at Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, comic books, and anything related to science fiction and fantasy. We call these people mundanes, because that is the kind of life they live.

Mundanes sneer at those of us who are enthusiastic about the fantastic. They just don’t get it. They never will. Their loss.

Star Wars and other genre fare like Marvel’s The Avengers are popular because they are modern day fairy tales. And to paraphrase author G.K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

I am seeing The Force Awakens later today.

Afterwards, I’ll be ready to slay more dragons, in whatever form they appear.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones: the female superheroes we’ve been waiting for

Jessica Jones and Trish Walker

Jessica Jones and Trish Walker

Marvel’s latest TV series, Jessica Jones, tells the story of a former superhero eking out a living as a private investigator in New York City. She’s incredibly strong and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. She also drinks a lot, and is generally a mess.

And rather than give us one strong female superhero, Marvel throws in a version of Patsy Walker (a Marvel character first published in 1944) as Jessica’s foster-sister.

There’s also a third Marvel hero, Luke Cage, Jessica’s on-again, off-again love interest.

And David Tennant is positively creepy as Killgrave, whose mind-controlling power nearly destroyed Jessica once before.

It’s a dark and compelling story. Marvel really ups the ante for superheroes on television with Jessica Jones.

Now available on Netflix, this series exists in the same universe as the Avengers and Marvel’s other Netflix show, Daredevil.