Comic Book Movie Rewatch: Hulk Vs

New year, new intro to my comic book movie posts. I really enjoy movies based on comic books, whether they be well-known like the X-Men movies, or obscure films like the 1990 Captain America. Every time I watch one (or re-watch one) I write up a post with my thoughts. I try to be spoiler free, but the older the movie, the less careful I am. This time it was the 2009 animated movie Hulk Vs.

hulk_vsHulk Vs

IMDb Rating: 7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: N/A

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 66%

My Rating: 5/10

I haven’t watched very many of Marvel’s animated movies, so this was a bit of a new experience for me. I had heard some good things about this two-part movie, and it was definitely entertaining.

The first part was Hulk vs Thor. After a very quick set-up sequence, the rest of the movie was basically just one long battle. Loki and Amora start things off by releasing the Hulk from Banner and unleashing him on Asgard. The fact that they were able to subdue the Hulk so quickly and efficiently was a little odd, even more so later on as they really struggle when facing him later on.

There were a few character moments that I really liked. The first was the portrayal of Bruce as scrawny. I often see him as a bit more muscular and it never seems to fit quite right. The fact that Banner was always so nervous and anxious was another nice touch. He truly looked and felt haunted by the Hulk. All that was highlighted at the end when he refuses to accept the Hulk back into himself.

Other than Banner, the rest of this section was mostly action. It was fun for a while, but a little more story would have been nice.

The second segment was Hulk vs Wolverine, and it was by far the better piece. Some of that was due to the fact that it was about Wolverine, not the Hulk. The setup was pretty straightforward, Logan’s sent to track down the Hulk after a town is destroyed. He does so and they begin to fight. The fight was great. Hulk completely destroys Wolverine, but then I noticed a change. When they first start battling, Wolverine tries to overpower the Hulk. He fights like he’s always been stronger than his opponent. When he loses (badly), the next time goes after the Hulk he uses speed and tactics. It was pretty subtle, but it made a huge difference. It developed the character while improving the action. I really liked that touch. Another aspect of the battles that was nice was that Wolverine actually used his claws. In so many animated versions of the X-Men, Wolverine doesn’t actually use his claws to injure. He uses them to defend himself, to slice his way through walls, or to threaten people, but it’s pretty rare that he actually draws blood. Not so in this movie. He carves people up (though, for the most part he’s attacking the those who can take it without dying).

Things quickly turn in the story when both Wolverine and the Hulk are captured by several of Wolverine’s enemies. At this point, I was a little disappointed because I was expecting the movie to be about Hulk (you know, because his name’s in the title), but the segment was primarily about Wolverine. Having the focus on Wolverine gave the story more depth, but made me less sympathetic towards Banner and the Hulk.

Overall, it was a fun movie, but not a great one. I don’t think I’d watch it again, but it was a great way to kill an hour.

 

Comic Book Movie Rewatch: Captain America: Civil War

New year, new intro to my comic book movie posts. I really enjoy movies based on comic books, whether they be blockbusters like the MCU and DCEU films, or old, cheesy films like the 90s Ninja Turtles movies. Every time I watch one (or re-watch one) I write up a post with my thoughts. I try to be spoiler free, but the older the movie, the less careful I am. This time it was the 2016 movie Captain America: Civil War.

captain-america-civil-war-posterCaptain America: Civil War

IMDb Rating: 8.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 90%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 89%

My Rating: 7/10

The Captain America franchise has been an interesting one. The first movie seems separate from the rest of the universe because it’s primarily set in the 40s. The second movie started the shift away from the light and fun Marvel films and started showing that the actions of the Avengers had consequences, which almost made it like an Avengers 1.5. This entry takes it a step further. It could easily have been the 3rd Avengers rather than the 3rd Captain America.

Usually, when so many characters are involved in a movie, character development suffers. There’s just not enough screen time for everyone. I didn’t think Civil War had that problem. Sure, some characters, like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and even Black Widow take a backseat, they still add something to the story and their characters grow throughout the course of the film. Not only did the movie manage to develop all of the previously introduced characters, it also added a few new faces. That was impressive.

As good as the character development was, the story had some real problems. There were two problems that bothered me the most. The first was the villain, Baron Zemo. Marvel really struggles to create memorable villains, and Zemo may be one of the least memorable in the franchise. He’s supposed to be a cunning manipulator, but by the end of the movie, you realize that his plan was so dependent on things out of his control that if anything, anything at all had gone differently, everything he was trying to do would have fallen apart. He didn’t really manipulate anyone, he just got lucky.

The other big problem with the story was that Steve Rogers has absolutely no valid reason for disagreeing with the accords. His best argument is basically ‘what if I don’t agree with the UN’s decision about something?’ The movie uses a quote from the original comic

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right….

When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, YOU move.”

That sounds great, and when said by someone like Captain America, it’s inspiring. The problem is that pretty much every dictator and fascist regime has used that exact same argument to justify horrendous actions. Marvel has introduced moral ambiguity into their universe, and by doing so, they’ve eliminated that quote as a legitimate argument. Tony learned this lesson in Age of Ultron. In that movie, Stark creates Ultron to protect mankind. He knows, without doubt, that he’s in the right and that it needs to be done… it didn’t work out so well. That’s why he’s so adamant that the accords are a good thing. He’s learned that accountability and oversight are necessary.

Whew, sorry about the rant.

Anyway, despite the plot issues, the movie is a lot of fun. Even though the universe is getting more serious, there’s still some great humor (albeit more subdued than in previous movies), and the battle scenes are everything you could hope for. It’s not the best installment in the MCU, but it’s a good movie and should make the following movies much more interesting.

I Recently Finished Reading: The Blade Itself

the_blade_itselfThis is the book that really got me out of my reading slump. I didn’t really have any expectations going into it. I had heard of the series, and that it was one of the better speculative fiction audiobook series, but I had no idea what the premise was. I’m really glad I gave it a shot.

The beginning of the book was a little difficult. Some of that was because I was in a slump and wasn’t getting into any book, but some of it was because early in the book the characters are really flat. Each character was very focused, and it wasn’t until later in the book that they started to express other interests. Logen is all about survival, Luthar is nothing but slacking off his training to go drinking, Glokta is bitterness and torture, and so on. During the second half of the book the expand into new roles and are challenged in new ways, which opens them up as characters and finally gives the sense that they are more than they seem. The one exception is Yulwei, who is introduced far too late to experience the same character development that the others get.

I wasn’t immediately sucked into the world, but it became clear very quickly that it was rich and diverse. I’m not one who maps things out in my head, but I didn’t have much trouble keeping the different nations straight. The magic system was confusing, mostly because so little time was spent exploring it. Bayaz was obviously capable of doing quite a bit, but the apprentice, Malacus, seemed to have no ability at all. I can only assume that the magic will be better defined as the series goes on, but it would have been nice to get a better idea of the rules.

That leads me to one of the most unusual aspects of the book for me. It read like part of a series and not a stand-alone. Usually, it seems like the first book in a series tells a complete story. My guess is that’s usually because authors are unsure whether or not they’ll get to tell the rest of the story. If the first book doesn’t sell well, then there’s no reason to publish subsequent books. This book is different. There wasn’t a lot of plot movement. Instead, the story focuses on positioning the characters. By the time I finished the book, I only had a vague idea of who the villain of the series was, and it would be hard to summarize the plot of the book as a whole. Each character had a story arc, but there didn’t seem to be any overarching story.

While there were aspects of the book that left me hoping for more, on the whole it was very enjoyable. I hope that the sequels are as entertaining.

I Recently Finished Reading: Odd Hours

oddhoursI actually finished this book a while ago, but I’m just now getting to writing about it. (I blame the busy holiday season.)

This book reminded me more of the 2nd book than the others, but it had more  mystery, and wasn’t nearly as linear. I think some of that was because the story revolved around Odd reacting to others actions, rather than setting events in motion himself. That may not be the best way to put it, but it’s all I can come up with.

One of the best parts of this series is how Odd uses his extraordinary abilities to solve problems. He can’t really do anything that affects the world around him, yet he manages to use his gifts to change his situation. The frustrating part of this is that there is no explanation given on how or why Odd has these abilities, and even less information on how new ones develop. This book has Odd gaining new powers, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason for these new abilities except to add complexity to the story. At some point in the series, the author will need to address this, or else Odd’s powers run the risk of just becoming cheap plot devices.

I really liked the characters that were introduced in this book. Annamaria will be an interesting addition. It’s clear that she has some sort of connection to Odd’s lost love, Stormy, but no indication (as of yet) as to what that connection might be. Not only that, but it’s possible, though not explicit, that she has some sort of supernatural ability. Birdie Hopkins is another character with an extraordinary gift. I hope she makes more appearances in the later books.

The addition of characters with similar (if less spectacular) abilities has been a nice change. The gifts are always subtle, but helpful, and give the story the supernatural edge that makes it so interesting. I keep hoping, however, that more answers will come. I don’t necessarily need to know the source of these abilities, or even if they can be used for nefarious purposes (though that wouldn’t surprise me). What I’m really looking for are the rules. Odd’s given a few, but because he doesn’t have any answers for himself, the reader doesn’t either. That gets a little frustrating.

I’ll probably start the next book soon, and I’m looking forward to it. The stakes keep getting bigger, and I’m excited to see what role Odd plays.

Comic Book Movie Rewatch: All-Star Superman

I’ve decided to go back and watch a bunch of movies based on comic books. No real reason, just something I thought would be fun. This time it was the 2011 movie All-Star Superman.

All-Star Superman

all-star-supermanIMDb Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 62%

My Rating: 6/10

DC has generally done a really good job with their animated films. This one, however, was a little disappointing. I know that the comic is considered one of the best Superman stories of all time, but I haven’t actually read it, so I can’t compare the movie to the comic.

Technically, the movie is solid. The voice acting and animation are very well done, and while the music wasn’t particularly memorable, it wasn’t distracting either.

The main problem I had with the movie was the numerous plot-lines. The movie’s short, just an hour and fifteen minutes, but there are about four main stories, each only loosely connected to each other. Each segment seemed a little episodic rather than forming a cohesive whole. That kind of works in a movie based on a comic series, but it still left me feeling unsatisfied.

The premise of the movie, that Superman must face his imminent death, is interesting. While it’s not uncommon for superheroes to be invulnerable to the point of immortality, for me, Superman has always been one of the most blatant examples of this. Having a story that gives him no opportunity to avoid his fate was refreshing. I appreciated the relaxed and calm manner in which he went about his business, and that he quickly and readily accepted his situation. That, along with how he chose to spend his remaining time, showed me the kind of Superman I could support. Someone who is comfortable with the decisions he’s made, and has accepted the consequences of his actions.

It was a decent movie. Not among the best of the animated DC films, but it was entertaining. I’ve never particularly liked Superman, but this movie managed to give me a new perspective on him, which I appreciate.

Comic Book Movie Rewatch: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’ve decided to go back and watch a bunch of movies based on comic books. No real reason, just something I thought would be fun. This time it was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remakes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tmnt2IMDb Rating: 5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 22%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 51%

My Rating: 4/10

This is not a very good movie. Some of my reasons for thinking that may be colored by my love for the original live action movie, but given the rotten tomatoes score, I don’t think it plays that big of a part.

There are two really big flaws in the movie. The first is how it tries to make everything bigger. In the comics, the turtles are only about 3 feet tall. In the cartoon and first set of movies, they’re between five and six feet tall. Here, they’re seven to eight feet tall, four feet wide, and bullet-proof. There are scenes where Raphael looks more like the Hulk than a turtle. Of course, since the turtles are these behemoths, the Shredder also has to be bigger and badder. Unfortunately, instead of making him smarter or more skilled, the writers just decided to give him robotic armor with a seemingly infinite number of blades attached to it that can return to him on command. I think the point to these changes was to raise the stakes and make the battles more dramatic, but instead it just strained the suspension of disbelief due to lazy writing. An eight foot tall, 4 foot wide turtle isn’t going to fit through a three foot manhole, and that’s the most subtle problem.

The other big issue was with the changes to the backstory. Involving April in the Turtles creation seemed like a lazy way to connect her to the team. Suddenly, instead of her learning about them through competent reporting, she gets this artificial relationship with the turtles and the villain. Everything just seems so contrived. It strips April’s character of depth and just makes her the unfortunate woman who coincidentally gets sucked into the plot.

There was some good in the movie. Mostly it was how distinct the turtles were. In many of the previous live action movies, the personality of each turtle was really subdues. Raphael was often the most developed, followed by Leonardo. Donatello and Michelangelo were often just background characters. In this version, every turtle is fully developed. Each turtle has a unique strength, and each is on display during parts of the movie. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as developed as it could have been, because they rarely use those strengths to complement each other in the battle scenes.

Given the initial fear over how Michael Bay was planning to set up the movie, the fact that it ended up being a mediocre movie is actually a bit of a relief.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

tmnt2IMDb Rating: 6.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes critics: 38%

Rotten Tomatoes audience: 49%

My Rating: 4/10

While this installment wasn’t much of an improvement over the first one, it was an improvement. Most of the inspiration for this movie seemed to come from the 1987 animated series, which helped keep the movie lighter in tone than the first one. Bringing in well-known characters like Baxter Stockman, Bebop, Rocksteady, and Krang also helped. The filmmakers also toned back some of the excessive changes from the first movie. Shredder wasn’t a giant mechanical monster and the turtles weren’t quite as hulking (though their size did seem a bit inconsistent throughout the movie).

April O’Niel is still a problem character. She’s too integral to the series to take her out, but she doesn’t really contribute anything to the story either. Vernon is a much more useful sidekick, even if he’s a reluctant one. Like the previous film, the turtles are well developed, and to an even greater extent this time around. Donatello gets to show off his technical expertise, Leonardo shows his struggles in learning how to be a leader, Raphael is as moody as ever, and Michelangelo continues to be the goofball, but starts to learn the consequences of that behavior as well. Casey Jones is also introduced in the movie, but he was a disappointment.

The villains in the movie were a big draw. Not only was Shredder back, but they added Bebop and Rocksteady, while throwing in Krang as well. That’s a lot of new pieces, and overall, the balance was good. The biggest issue was that none of the villains really got to show why they were so bad. Shredder is kind of in the background. Bebop and Rocksteady have one big fight scene to show off their strength, but were mostly treated as comic relief, and Krang just talked a lot about how smart he was without ever actually outsmarting anyone.

Of the two movies, this second one was better, but it still wasn’t very good. It also has the dubious honor of being the only movie based on these characters that probably didn’t turn a profit. Even though the quality of this movie was better, the franchise is fading. I would expect a third movie to be planned, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Take that as you will.

 

I’m in a Reading Slump

I’m struggling to get into any books right now. I’ve started four or five, but can’t seem to get past the first chapter or two before I decide that it’s not really what I’m in the mood for and I drop it. I get these every so often, and it’s frustrating. Reading, or listening to audiobooks, is one of the primary ways I relax and unwind, so when I’m in a slump, the stress starts to build up.

Usually these slumps only last for a week or two. During that time I end up finding a book I can finish, even if I never really get into it. Once I’ve finished one, then I generally pick up the next book pretty easily. Now, though, I’m on my fourth week of having nothing to read and I can’t seem to break out of it.

One of the reasons I listen to audiobooks is so I can do other things at the same time. I’ll often plug in my headphones and take my kids to the playground. Or maybe I’ll do chores around the house while listening to my book. Since I don’t have a book, I’ve been using that time to listen to the radio or Pandora. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really helped.

Any thoughts? What do you do when you want something to read but nothing keeps your attention?