• Category Archives Superhero Movies
  • Any and all posts pertaining to superhero movies.

  • Canister X Movie Review #94: The Wraith: Eyes of Judgment (2005)

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    The Wraith: Eyes of Judgment (2005)
    Written by Stephen J. Semones and Frank Dirscherl
    Directed by Stephen J. Semones
    Runtime 50 min.
    4 out of 5

    I’ll admit I’d been looking forward to this film for a long time and when I finally received a rough cut of the film in the mail from the film’s director, Stephen J. Semones, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

    The Wraith: Eyes of Judgment is based on The Wraith comic series and novel created by Frank Dirscherl. It follows the story of Michael Reeve, an honest and dedicated cop who, through an encounter with The Wraith, finds himself adopting the crime fighter’s identity, both as The Wraith and the hero’s alter ego, billionaire Paul Sanderson.

     

    The good:

     

    This is the first longer-than-five-minutes independent superhero movie I’ve seen and I have to admit I was quite amazed, and pleased, with what I saw. There was an atmospheric sense to the film that made you believe, yes, you were in The Wraith’s world and you truly felt his presence. There’s a scene right at the opening that does that—an encounter between The Wraith and a robber—setting the tone for the rest of the film.

    The special effects were great—the CGI backgrounds, the “eyes of judgment” glowing on The Wraith’s chest, the sweeps of the city—and there’s no complaint from this fanboy here.

    The music was amazing. Then again, when getting Emmy-award winning composer Larry Groupé (Apt Pupil, The Usual Suspects, The Cable Guy) to do the music for your film, amazing is something of an understatement. The music was heroic, dark and, to a degree, sad. It really carried a sense of emotion, which helped move the story along. Speaking of music, “Home of Darkness,” sung by Mandi Leigh during the credits, was extraordinary and I wish there was a soundtrack for the film available because of it.

    The action and fighting were great and there were some really cool, super-realistic sequences where I jumped in my chair after each punch or kick. There was only one fight sequence that lasted just a few seconds that looked rehearsed.

    The story was down-to-earth, human, realistic and didn’t carry the sense of “there’s no way this can happen” like some of the superhero stuff coming out of Hollywood. You honestly believe that this story could happen in real life, which to me is a huge plus as I often wonder if superheroes could ever truly exist off the comic book page.

    Having read both the novel and the comic, the major props for the movie go to Stephen J. Semones for directing a flick that was 99% true to source material. Of course a few minor changes had to be made, but that’s film for you. Staying true to the comic or book the story is based off of has been time and again the biggest concern of fans of whatever franchise they happen to love. I’m happy to say Stephen nailed it on this one.

     

    The not-as-good:

     

    The story ended too soon, in my opinion. It felt like it was the beginning of a movie and didn’t carry a sense of closure that the story was over. All franchises have “origin films” (see Fantastic Four or Spider-man or Batman Begins) and they’re meant to be open-ended, but this one was a bit too open-ended. Though it was intended to pave the way for any future films, I wish there was something a little more finite to the tale. I still wouldn’t let this point hold you back from checking it out. If anything, I was really disappointed it ended so quickly.

    The acting, on the whole, was not bad. I understand independent films cannot hire the likes of Tom Hanks or Helen Hunt, but there were a few points where I wondered if the actor was monotonously reading his/her lines versus really saying them with conviction.

    All in all, I’d give this film 4 stars out of 5. I’m looking forward to the DVD and all the extra features (and believe me, there’s a ton of them) come September. I’ll be the first in line to get one. You should be there, too.


  • Canister X Movie Review #93: Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)

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    Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
    Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse
    Directed by Zack Snyder
    Runtime 215 min.
    5 out of 5

    After the Comedian has been murdered, lone remaining vigilante Rorschach begins an investigation into his old acquaintance’s death. Since most superheroes were banned from existing after some legislation several years before, he looks up old allies and even old enemies in his quest for the truth. Slowly, he begins to unravel a plot that could bring about a disaster unlike anything the world has ever seen before.

     

    Based on what some would argue is the greatest graphic novel and superhero story of all time, Watchmen written by Alan More and Dave Gibbons, this movie adaptation was years in the making. Not this specific rendition, but from what I know, the book was optioned way back when it came out in the ’80s but never got off the ground. One of the reasons was very few filmmakers had the guts to touch it because Watchmen is such a revered work amongst comic fans and even in some literary and academic circles.

    Enter director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead (2004), Man of Steel, 300 and more), whose eye for detail and a knack for visual storytelling takes on the gargantuan project and does his best to faithfully adapt Watchmen to the big screen. Him and his creative team nail it, in my opinion, and adapt the book the only way something like Watchmen could be adapted: panel-by-panel. It was the safest route but also the smartest. Some changes were made—like the ending—but for the most part, the book is translated completely as is to the big screen. Even the director’s cut includes additional scenes and animated clips from Tales of the Black Freighter interspersed throughout just like the graphic novel has bits of the pirate comic peppered throughout the main narrative.

    Watchmen asks the question: what would superheroes be like if they existed in the real world? Whether they are of the superpowerless variety or something more Superman-like ala Dr. Manhattan, you get an honest portrayal of superheroes in real life, all centered around the mystery of the murder of one of their friends.

    This story is about as down-to-earth as you get regarding superheroes in real life, and depending on the angle you’re coming from, can be equal to or more so than Kick-Ass in that regard.

    Each character in the flick matched their character in the book, all the way from the crazy-yet-cynical Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to black-and-white-justice-seeking Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), to idealistic-yet-obsessed Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), to insecure-but-strong Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), to misguided-but-you-can-see-how-he’s-right Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and a supporting cast that makes every moment believable.

    The Watchmen story is so dense that the fact they were able to take the twelve-part series and showcase nearly all of it in around three and a half hours—I’m talking about the ultimate cut of the movie, which includes Tales of the Black Freighter and a bunch of additional footage not seen in the theatrical release—is pretty impressive. What’s amazing about the Watchmen narrative and thus the movie is the incredible amount of history for the characters that needed to be shown without bogging down the main story, which was the Comedian’s murder. You get to know these characters intimately, their pasts, their present and in some cases, their future.

    Zack Snyder’s knack for visuals gave this flick its own flavor and tone thanks to the color filters on the film. The score is fantastic. The action scenes were well done and quickly-paced, using brutal fighting techniques and the right amount of blood.

    Watchmen is certainly not your traditional superhero flick. It’s a superhero drama and is meant for an audience who likes to have some thinking along with their superhero slugfests. As a comic book fan, I appreciated the movie’s faithfulness to the graphic novel, the overall story of Watchmen, and how each person involved really seemed to take this movie seriously. Nothing was tongue-in-cheek.

    Watchmen ranks right up there as one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. If you consider yourself a superhero fan, then you should check it out. It’s a serious look at the genre through the lens of a clever story with amazing characters, all of which you feel like you’ve known for ages instead of just for a few hours on the screen.

    Highly recommended. Not for kids.


  • Canister X Movie Review #92: Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood (2009)

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    Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood (2009)
    Written by Zack Snyder and Alex Tse
    Directed by Daniel DelPurgatorio and Mike Smith
    Runtime 26 min.
    4 out of 5

    The DVD contains two features: Tales of the Black Freighter, an animated adaptation of that oh-so-bloody pirate comic embedded in the overall Watchmen strip (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons), and Under the Hood, a TV show interview with Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie) about his bestselling, tell-all autobiography regarding his time as the original Nite-Owl during the first superhero boom of the late ’30s/early ’40s.

     

    Tales of the Black Freighter was remarkable, grisly, and just plain cool. Even if you don’t like pirate stories, it’s guaranteed you’ll dig this. It’s a story about survival, the need to save others and the consequences of choosing that path, and what might happen to a man who becomes so obsessed with an ideal that he runs the risk of distorting reality completely.

     

    Under the Hood was equally well done. Done as a “look back” magazine television show—complete with commercial breaks using products from the Watchmen graphic novel—it explores the origin of the superhero fraternity through the very realistic eyes and humble spirit of Hollis Mason. You forget that it’s fiction quite easily and the segment also has that nostalgic feel of the Watchmen movie.

     

    Also included is the very cool motion comic of the first chapter of the Watchmen graphic novel. This was just plain cool and the animation was far more than I expected. Thought I was only going to get a few sliding frames ala some anime segments but instead got a lot of animation for each panel of the graphic novel. In fact, this segment alone sold me on getting the whole graphic novel animated DVD. Likewise, you also get a behind-the-scenes featurette on the back stories that are Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood and what they mean to the overall Watchmen experience.

    The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is solely because five stars means I’ve been blown away and, well, the Watchmen theatrical film already did that and this isn’t quite as good. It’s my hope, however, that on the Watchmen director’s cut they splice in Tales of the Black Freighter as shown above. Very cool. They shot all the newsstand scenes with the kid reading the comic book for it anyway so might as well use them.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #91: V for Vendetta (2005)

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    V for Vendetta (2005)
    Written by The Wachowski Brothers
    Directed by James McTeigue
    Runtime 132 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    In the late 2020s, the United Kingdom is the only last stable government in the world and is led by the oppressive Norsefire party. Under such a tight regime, the people are controlled at every turn. The exchange? Bow down and you’ll live in peace and safety.

    From out of the shadows rises V (Hugo Weaving), a Guy Fawkes-mask-wearing caped activist who has a thorough plan meant to topple the present government and, over the course of a year, expose the Norsefire regime for what they really are and inspire the people to be free.

    After being saved by V from an attempted rape, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) goes into hiding in V’s lair and learns not only of V’s plans for the UK, but also about herself, her fears, and what it will take for her to rise from her own ashes to help him on his quest.

    This movie was based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

     

    Hugo Weaving is insane in this. His acting is through the roof! I mean, come on, the guy had a mask on the entire time. You don’t see his face, and yet with every nuance of every word, every expressive tone, every bit of body language, you didn’t need the aid of a face to sell you on what he was saying or why he was saying it. No small feat and was truly amazing. And that “V speech” when he introduces himself to Evey? Go. Watch it. Now. Awesome.

    Natalie Portman is the bomb as Evey Hammond. I love her in nearly everything she does and her performance in V for Vendetta is no exception, especially when her character starts going through the wringer and she starts to break down. That scene where she gets her head shaved? That happened in real life. That was really her hair and was a one-take deal shot with three cameras, and a very poignant scene in the film. Her journey from start to finish is the audience’s on-screen link to V and his quest, and by the end, you’re with him one hundred percent.

    While there are some differences between the movie and the graphic novel, they by no means take away from it, in my opinion. There will always be differences when adapting books to film.

    V in this flick is a kind of Robin Hood-meets-Zorro figure, but instead of having the people behind him, he’s on his own with only Evey at his side. However, over the course of the year the story takes place, and as V unfolds his plan, the people start to get behind him, first in their hearts and then in their actions.

    Speaking of action, I love V’s fighting in this, spinning his swords and holding his own against multiple opponents. Some of the trickery he uses to evade capture also reminds me of Batman-like tactics.

    The movie is a strong one, interesting from start to finish, and one that not only inspires, but makes me grateful I live in a free country like Canada and not in a fascist state.

    V for Vendetta also spilled over into the real world—our world—inspiring folks to wear Guy Fawkes masks during public demonstrations, like Occupy Wall Street. If that doesn’t show the impact of a movie, I don’t know what does.

    This is a superhero movie with depth and is an important addition to any superhero fan’s library.

    Highly recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #90: Unbreakable (2000)

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    Unbreakable (2000)
    Written by M. Night Shyamalan
    Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
    Runtime 106 min.
    5 out of 5

    Ordinary David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has a failing marriage, a son who needs him, and a job as a security guard. However, all that changes after a severe train wreck and he is the only survivor. Even more miraculous, he is completely unharmed. When confronted by a man named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who suggests David is invulnerable, David shrugs it off but eventually begins to test himself and discovers that maybe he’s not that ordinary after all and soon learns he can do things no other man can. At Elijah’s insistence, David explores his abilities even more and soon begins a journey that reveals maybe he is indeed unbreakable.

     

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love superhero origin stories and Unbreakable is just that. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan of Sixth Sense fame, Unbreakable is a story deconstructing the superhero, and suggesting a possible real life origin for these amazing people, while keeping your interest from start to finish.

    Using the real-life medical condition osteogenesis imperfecta as a springboard, suggesting that if someone with such frail bones can exist, is it not possible someone with unbreakable bones—even body—can exist? And thus is the story as we follow Elijah Price as he searches out this amazing possibility in the person of David Dunn.

    This movie also heavily references comic books, Elijah posing the idea that comic books are modern day retellings of stories of times past and of real people who once were able to do things other people couldn’t.

    Each moment of this movie is an in-depth look at what makes the superhero tick, everything from the discovery of his power, to his motivation in using it, to the doubt that such a possibility could exist in a person, to finding a possible weakness, to balancing having this special ability with the demands of everyday life, and more.

    This movie is a drama and not an action flick. While there is some action, namely toward the end, it’s a life and times superhero story that makes you stop and think about what being a person with an extraordinary ability might actually be like, if it would be easy or hard, or a bit of both. What kind of challenges would you face? What kinds of benefits?

    Apparently, M. Night Shyamalan came up with the idea following the standard three-part structure of a superhero story: the origin, the rise to being a hero, then the final confrontation with the villain. The movie has all these elements, but because he found it the most interesting, Shyamalan spends most of the time focusing on the origin. As a result, there is such depth surrounding David Dunn and Elijah Price that as the hero and villain, they rival characters that have been around for decades in terms of richness. Very well done.

    This movie is just so, so good and is one of my all-time favorites. It’s one of those flicks to throw on on a rainy day, get under a blanket, and get swept up in the world of the superhero only to be inspired to look for the spectacular in one’s own self.

    Highly recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #89: Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther (2006)

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    Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther (2006)
    Written by Greg Johnson
    Directed by Will Meugniot and Richard Sebast
    Runtime 73 min.
    4 out of 5

    Picking up pretty much right where Ultimate Avengers left off, Ultimate Avengers 2 starts off in Wakanda and the kingdom falls under attack from Herr Kleiser, who kills the king and sends the prince, T’Challa, into action by taking up the mantle of the Black Panther. Black Panther then heads to the city to find Captain America. The Avengers are assembled and head to Wakanda to stop the Chitauri threat, resuming their battle from the first movie.

     

    I liked the first movie a bit better, but probably because it was the birth of the Avengers vs them in full swing but that’s just me: I like origin stuff. Ultimate Avengers 2, however, is still a solid flick and falls right in line with its predecessor. (Always recommend watching these two back-to-back if you have the time, and with a little-over-an-hour runtime each, that’s definitely doable.)

    The battles in this flick are awesome and showcase some all-out superhero-vs-alien mayhem. Like the first, each character gets their moment to shine and it’s like being reacquainted with old friends.

    I love the depiction of the Avengers in this. Everyone is their stereotypical selves, something that they captured in the live action movie, but, to me, got even more right in this flick. Totally adds to it.

    Like the first, the art direction is top notch. Everyone matches the way they looked in the first movie, giving it that sense of continuity. They had the same voice talent as the first for this as well. I love it when animated flicks keep the cast consistent outing-to-outing.

    Watching this flick along with the first makes it a good final act to a stellar movie, but can also stand just fine on its own.

    Glad I have it as part of my superhero movie collection.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #88: Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (2006)

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    Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (2006)
    Written by Greg Johnson
    Directed by Curt Geda and Steven E. Gordon
    Runtime 71 min.
    4 out of 5

    In World War II, the Nazis tried to launch an intercontinental missile and was thwarted by Captain America, but at great cost: Captain America fell into icy waters and was presumed dead. Some sixty years later, he was found and revived by S.H.I.E.L.D., who ends up convincing him to join their fight against the alien Chitauri. When the Chitauri attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. implements Project Avenger and begins assembling together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to take on the Chitauri and put a stop to them once and for all.

     

    This ensemble flick is one of the greats and is a solid introduction for the uninitiated to the Avengers—Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Giant Man, Wasp and Hulk—all led by Nick Fury.

    It’s evenly paced, exciting, and gives each member of the team enough screen time to give them a chance to lock in with the viewer and make that viewer-character connection before moving on to the next guy.

    Marvel’s direct-to-video efforts have been lacking and haven’t been that great because they’ve been very busy—albeit very successfully—focusing their efforts on bringing their heroes to the big screen. Ultimate Avengers and its sequel are the major exceptions to their animated shortcomings and this movie is every bit as good as their live action counterparts. I also think that’s the secret to making a good animated movie: treat it with the same care and seriousness as a live action film and you’ll hit it out of the ballpark every time. It works in Japanese animation. No reason why it wouldn’t work here in the West.

    This movie was good start to finish. Had a story that spanned decades, and made you care about what was going on from first frame to last.

    You have multiple plotlines going on, ranging from the Avengers dealing with the Chitauri to Bruce Banner trying to find a cure for the Hulk, to Captain America trying to find his place in the world. The amazing thing is they fit all these plotlines into a very short runtime (just over an hour).

    The art direction was superb and I enjoyed how everyone looked in this, especially Hulk. (For me, he’s one of those guys that don’t always come out well.)

    While there’s a pretty good dose of violence in this movie, it’s much more kid-friendly than the majority of DC’s animated features and is safe for kids (depending on your household rules for this sort of thing). Personally, I let my kids watch it but don’t let them watch the DC movies.

    Whether a Marvel fan, an Avengers fan, or a superhero fan in general, Ultimate Avengers is a fantastic flick worth watching many times over. What’s cool is it’s basically part one of two and goes right into its sequel, Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther, without missing a beat, so if you have both, you’re in for a doubly-good time.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #87: Thor (2011)

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    Thor (2011)
    Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne
    Directed by Kenneth Branagh
    Runtime 115 min.
    5 out of 5

    Long ago Odin (Anthony Hopkins) led Asgard to victory against the Jotunheim Frost Giants and captured the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Warriors. Over a thousand years later, Odin is about to crown his son, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), as King of Asgard, but the coronation ceremony is interrupted when the Front Giants find a way into the weapons vault and try to steal back the Casket. Fortunately, it wasn’t stolen as the giants fell before they could take it. Wanting to make an example of them, Thor and some of his loyal companions travel to Jotunheim against his father’s wishes and start a war with the giants. Odin rescues them but not without grave consequences: upon returning to Asgard, Thor is banished to Earth for his actions, powerless and alone. Only his hammer, Mjolnir, is sent with him, but now with an enchantment that only the worthy can wield it—and Thor is not.

    On Earth, Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist who was there along with her mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig, the night Thor came through the wormhole.

    Meanwhile, Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), finds out that his own heritage is not what he was told and, upon finding out his true origin, seeks to ensure his brother never returns to Asgard so he could become the king instead.

    While on Earth, Thor must learn what it means to be humble, care for others, and thus earn his place as the proper king of Asgard, all in time to stop his brother from leading the Frost Giants into Asgard and destroying Odin’s kingdom.

     

    This flick was Marvel’s fourth film in its Phase One plan leading up to The Avengers.

    I love this movie. It’s down-to-earth, fun, has a good story and enough action to keep things exciting but not so much that it bogs down the entire movie.

    Up until this flick, Thor was basically an unknown character to the movie-going public, and Thor does its job on giving the character a rich history, making you care about him, and making you cheer him on on his path to redemption.

    The scenes on Asgard were breathtaking—heavenly, even—the size and scope of the city enough to inspire awe. The stuff on Earth, well, it’s just the stuff on Earth and this is the first I’ve personally seen the realms of fantasy and reality merge so well. There was a bit of that in the Harry Potter movies, but those kids never went to another world where it’s fantasy-type stuff 24/7.

    The special effects were awesome and, to me, were a kind of unintentional preview to an exciting live action Superman movie, with Thor being the one in the red cape this time. The flying sequences were powerful, the strength, the lightning blasts—all good stuff, and with The Avengers on the horizon, the climatic fight scene between Thor and the Destroyer was well-paced and well done, saving Thor’s best for the ensemble film to come a year later.

    The relationship between Thor and Loki was done especially well because most siblings feel that their parents favor one above the other. There’s always going to be some sibling rivalry, jealousy and competitiveness. This flick nailed that, in my opinion, especially on Loki’s side of things. I mean, at times you can’t help but feel bad for the guy and sympathize with his motives (that’s the mark of a good villain, by the way).

    Thor is a sweet introduction to the character, sets him up really well for The Avengers, and this reviewer can’t wait to check out Thor: The Dark World and see how the Mighty Thor grows as a hero and as Asgard’s king.