• Tag Archives comic book
  • 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 #83: Superman: Doomsday (2007)

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    Superman: Doomsday (2007)
    Written by Duane Capizzi
    Directed by Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery and Brandon Vietti
    Runtime 78 min.
    4 out of 5

    Digging deep beneath the planet’s surface, Lexcorp accidentally unearths the merciless killing machine known as Doomsday. Immediately, the behemoth of rage goes on a rampage, destroying everything in its path, and all efforts to stop it fail.

    The Man of Steel, learning of the destruction and deaths in Metropolis, takes it upon himself to bring the monster down before more lives are lost.

    The battle is epic.

    The action is huge.

    The consequences are dire.

    Superman fails, falls . . .

    Dies.

    Adapted from the biggest and most shocking comic book story of all time, Superman: Doomsday is the emotional and action-packed tale of the life, death and return of the world’s greatest superhero.

     

    This story is dark, and not just because Superman dies. This isn’t a kids cartoon. The themes are mature (i.e. Lois half-naked in the Fortress of Solitude), Lex Luthor, distraught over Superman’s absence in his own weird way, is the most evil Lex ever seen in a cartoon and the things he does at some points in the film make you go, “Man, that’s evil. Not just evil. Hugely evil.”

    What was most astonishing was the swearing. I never would have expected that from a Superman cartoon.

    On the plus side, the battle between Superman and Doomsday is the greatest slugfest this reviewer has ever seen in a superhero cartoon (and I’ve seen nearly all of them). The story is solid and packs a lot in given the amount of time Warner Brothers seems to allow for these direct-to-DVD animated movies of theirs.

    The animation is dynamic, the coloring bold, the art in the style of the Justice League cartoons.

    This DVD includes a few special features, most notably the enthralling documentary on the life, death and return of Superman, chronicling the death saga from conception to fruition, with interviews with the many artists, writers and editors on the project.

    A very awesome movie.


  • Canister X Movie Review #81: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

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    Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
    Written by Stan Berkowitz
    Directed by Sam Liu
    Runtime 67 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    The Man of Steel has been framed for the murder of Metallo.

    Now on the public’s radar as a wanted man, Superman must team up with his greatest ally—and closest friend—Batman, to clear his name and show the public what really happened the night Metallo died. But before he can do that, he must survive an onslaught of superheroes and supervillains alike, all of whom have come to cash in on the bounty for his capture.

    Meanwhile, a giant kryptonite meteor is on a collision course for Earth, making things even worse for the Man of Steel who has no way to stop it, especially since the President of the United States, Lex Luthor, wants to destroy it himself with nuclear missiles.

    Will the Earth survive and will Superman restore his good name?

     

    This movie, based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, is a comic book fan’s dream come true. Not only does it feature all of comicdom’s two most popular icons, but also a super supporting cast consisting of Power Girl, Captain Atom, Major Force, Black Lightning, Starfire, Katana and a host of other familiar faces, including, but not limited to, Captain Cold, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Lady Shiva and a ton of others.

    The story is solid, simple, but enough to really showcase each character: Superman as the one who doesn’t kill; Batman as the disgruntled detective; Lex Luthor as the glory-seeking, power-mad President—it totally works. The pacing was bang on and not once was I bored. Even the humor was in-step with the rest of the movie and didn’t come across like jokes from left field. Case in point, the giant robot in the end would’ve come across as goofy had not an explanation been given for the way it looked.

    There was a good give-and-take between Batman and Superman in this flick, too, both in their banter with one another, their approach to doing things, and also in saving each other’s bacon. Sometimes it seems that whenever the two team up, it’s always Batman that saves Superman. It was awesome a balance was finally struck between who helps who and when.

    I’m a huge fan of Ed McGuinness’s rendition of Superman and to see that they mimicked that art style in this feature made this fanboy happy. His Superman is big and strong and powerful. His Batman is top notch, too, same with the other characters.

    Of course, having Superman voiced by Tim Daly and Batman voiced by Kevin Conroy only adds to it as these guys were the voice talent behind these characters on their respective animated series. I really wish they would’ve been used for all the animated movies, but sadly that’s not the case and, of course, there’re different behind-the-scenes reasons as to why that is. Regardless, each actor captures each character perfectly, their tone, inflections and presentation reflecting the hero they’re supposed to portray.

    Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was one of the early feature-length DC animated movies and still holds up to this day as a classic.

    Highly Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #72: The Spirit (2008)

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    The Spirit (2008)
    Written by Frank Miller
    Directed by Frank Miller
    Runtime 103 min.
    3.5 out of 5

    Denny Colt was one of the best cops Central City has ever known. After being killed in the line of duty, he returns from the grave as the Spirit and fights evil as a masked crime fighter. Enter the Octopus, an evil villain bent on gaining immortality and will do anything and stop at nothing to achieve it.

     

    So basically this is Sin City meets an old pulp superhero, the Spirit, who was created by Will Eisner. We can thank Frank Miller for the Sin City spin on this flick as he was the man behind it. Which, to me, is fine. I thought Sin City was the breath of fresh air movies needed and adding that kind of style and storytelling to the world of the Spirit is cool with me. Granted, I never read the comics so I can’t comment on if that was a smart move for an adaptation or not. I can comment that the costume change—going from an all-blue suit and fedora with a red tie, to an all-black suit and fedora with a red tie—was a cool move as a guy in a blue suit, a non-spandex one, wouldn’t translate to film very well.

    This movie is big time over-the-top, so leave your expectations for a realistic comic book movie at the door. The characters take a ton of abuse and keep on kicking. I mean, the Spirit taking a toilet to the head and still standing after? Come on. But if you go in not expecting a realistic superhero movie, then this won’t bother you.

    On a visual scale, this movie is aces. The black and white, the spot coloring, the glows, the different animated scenes thrown in—again, like Sin City but a really cool way to do a super flick and it makes me wonder how it might look if it was done with some of the more major franchises—i.e. if Captain America had a couple slick, three-or-four-second animated scenes as part of the movie. You never know.

    Gabriel Macht did just fine as the Spirit—was tough, suave and able to hold his own on the action scale. Samuel L. Jackson as the Octopus—well, he’s SLJ so you got SLJ. I love the guy but he’s the same guy in every movie despite what he’s supposed to be. Granted, there are a few exceptions (i.e. The Caveman’s Valentine).

    Bottom line: this is a crazy ride and cool detective story blended with superhero action and mayhem. It won’t change your life, but it certainly might add to it in a little way.

    Good movie.


  • Canister X Movie Review #68: Spawn (1997)

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    Spawn (1997)
    Written by Alan McElroy
    Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé
    Runtime 96 min.
    3 out of 5

    Seasoned soldier Al Simmons is double-crossed by his boss, Jason Wynn, and is assassinated. Heading straight to Hell, Al cuts a deal with the devil and is sent back to Earth. The catch? It’s five years later and his beloved wife Wanda is married to his best friend. Worse, Al’s rethinking his vow to lead Hell’s war against Heaven. Endowed with the powers of a hellspawn, he not only looks terrible but is hounded by a demented and demonic clown and finds himself at a crossroads as to what to do with these new abilities. Deciding to take his fate into his own hands, Al begins to mark out his own path as Spawn.

     

    This movie is a CGI extravaganza unlike anything that had ever been seen in a superhero film at the time. Most of the effects are computer, and I mean com-put-er, but those were how effects looked back then so whatever.

    That stuff aside, the movie’s all right. They got Al’s origin right, but really seemed to tame down the gruesome exploits of a hellspawn for mainstream audiences. Realistically, a true Spawn film would be rated R and loaded with language and so much gore that even the most desensitized audiences would cringe.

    Michael Jai White as Spawn worked for me. He was tough, brooding, had the grumbly voice, and the dude knows how to fight! (He’s a real-life martial artist in several disciplines.)

    John Leguizamo as the Clown/Violator was awesome. He was disgusting, funny, rude and was a thorn in Al’s side right from the get-go.

    The story seemed more like an overview versus the thick of Spawn’s mythos. Spawn does have a dense mythology with a lot of players and it’s real hard to get all that into an hour-and-a-half movie. At the same time, they didn’t have a choice but to go short and sweet because Spawn—back then and outside of the comic book universe—was completely unknown. Even now, unless you’re a comic fan, not many people know who he is. Hard to convince a studio to green-light a long Spawn movie.

    On the plus side, this flick is intensely atmospheric and harkens back to Tim Burton’s Batman movies in a lot of ways. There is a sense of Spawn’s world throughout the film and not just, “Oh, this is happening in that city down the block.” Some of the fights were top notch, too, especially the Spawn vs Violator battle when the Clown first reveals his true form. This was new for comic book flicks at the time and should not go unappreciated.

    Maybe Spawn’ll get a second shot at the big screen? There have been rumors of that for years. You never know.


  • Canister X Movie Review #64: The Punisher (2004)

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    The Punisher (2004)
    Written by Jonathan Hensleigh and Michael France
    Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
    Runtime 124 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) has just completed his final mission with the FBI: posing as European arms dealer Otto Krieg to lure Bobby Saint—son of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta)—into a deal and eventually put him away. A shootout ensues and Bobby is killed. Frank retires and heads down to Florida on vacation with his family. When Howard Saint discovers Frank’s true identity and that “Krieg” didn’t die in the shootout, he sends a team of men to take out Frank’s family as payback for killing his son. Howard Saint’s men kill everyone including, they think, Frank. But Frank survives—barely—and soon gets well enough to punish Howard and his family slowly and painfully in an effort to balance the scales of justice.

     

    I’m a huge fan of this movie despite there being a big divide amongst fans about it. Personally, it hit home to me on a lot of levels and this is why I love it. It’s a story of tragedy and pain, things going south in a big way, and one man trying to make things right the only way he knows how. What especially impressed me was the overall feel of the film and how that reflected Frank’s journey from family man to broken man to Punisher. In the beginning, everything is happy, cheery, colorful, and then once all are killed, suddenly the tone goes bleak, it’s all grays and browns and blacks, and everything becomes ultra serious. Even the humorous bits are done in a serious manner.

    I also liked the glimpses into the lives of the others in Frank’s apartment building: Joan (Rebecca Romijn), Bumpo (John Pinette) and Spacker Dave (Ben Foster). To be honest, I don’t know how true they were to their comic book counterparts as I haven’t read them, but as portrayed on film, I liked them as characters and had a soft spot for each of them as I saw bits and pieces of others I once knew inside them.

    Back to Frank, Thomas Jane played it in spades. He was depressed, brooding, angry, idealistic, righteous and distraught all at the same time. He brought each of these elements to the fore whenever they were best called upon and went beyond just a gun-wielding vigilante. He would’ve made an excellent Batman should he have ever been offered the role.

    When I saw him as the Punisher again in the fan film, Dirty Laundry, I cheered him on the whole way through and felt like I was back at home in Frank Castle’s life, walking with him as he dealt with the pain of losing everyone he’d ever loved while once again rising to the call of duty because he was needed.

    Frank’s inspiring speech in The Punisher about sometimes the law being inadequate gets every fanboy pumped up and cheering, and while I find it hard to believe Frank’s motive is only punishment and not vengeance, it’s still a memorable moment in the film.

    This flick is one of my favorites and is highly recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #61: Mystery Men (1999)

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    Mystery Men (1999)
    Written by Neil Cuthbert
    Directed by Kinka Usher
    Runtime 121 min.
    4 out of 5

    Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) is the hero of Champion City, but when he’s kidnapped by the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), a ragtag team of wannabe superheroes must rise to the occasion and thwart Casanova’s plan before it’s too late. That is, if they don’t screw things up first.

     

    If there ever was a Seinfeld of superhero movies, this would be it. What I mean is, it’s a blend of everyday people doing super stuff while still dealing with the mundane of everyday life. The humor is overt in some places ala Kramer, and utterly-subtle-yet-brilliant in others (i.e. When the Shoveler hosts a superhero recruitment party in his backyard, his wife tells him she’ll divorce him if one person vomits in their pool and he replies deadpan: “That’s fair.”).

    This movie was a strange hybrid of wannabe-superheroes-from-our-world living in a comic book world. Normally, those two “realities” don’t collide in superhero stories, but they did here and thus became the crux of the story: guys and girls who want to be heroes but don’t have the chops to cut it in a reality where you need to be super to survive.

    At the same time, Mystery Men was meant to be a comedy as the rogues gallery were very ’60s Batman: the Frat Boys, the Disco Boys, the Suits, and others. Strangely, they were led by a leader who was much more competent and had the smarts to devise a plausible plan to take over the city.

    As a comic book and superhero fan, I appreciated the nods to comicdom and its characters, namely when they discuss how Lance Hunt couldn’t be Captain Amazing because: “Lance Hunt wears glasses, Captain Amazing doesn’t wear glasses.” Nice commentary on the how-does-anyone-not-know-Clark-Kent-is-Superman debate.

    The casting is perfect. Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious, William H. Macy as the Shoveler, Paul Reubens as the Spleen, Janeane Garofalo as the Bowler, Hank Azaria as the Blue Raja, Kel Mitchell as Invisible Boy and Wes Studi as the Sphinx. They all played it straight, which was what sold it given that they’re really ridiculous characters—farting as a superpower?—and made you feel for these guys and cheer them on as they bumbled their way through their adventure.

    I’ve said it before that I like lighthearted superhero movies, and what makes this one work is that while it’s a comedy, it’s not a parody like Superhero Movie, for example. It’s just simply fun.

    And fun is good.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #45: Iron Man (2008)

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    Iron Man (2008)
    Written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway
    Directed by Jon Favreau
    Runtime 126 min.
    5 out of 5

    Tony Stark has it all: money, women, fame, and little regard for anyone else but himself, but when he’s kidnapped by a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings, everything changes and he soon finds himself with a car battery connected to a magnet in his chest. Tiny bits of shrapnel from the blast that led to his capture are slowly making their way to his heart and the magnet is keeping them at bay.

    The Ten Rings want him to build them a weapon and Tony knows that if he does, the world will fall into the terrorists’ hands. He needs to find a way to escape and to do so he must create something more than just the weapon the Ten Rings wanted him to.

    After inventing a metal suit with some crude weaponry, he manages to escape the Ten Rings’ lair and return to the world as a new man. Taking his iron suit discovery to a whole new level, he becomes Iron Man and sets to right the wrongs of his past and ensure that the terrorists who tried to enslave him won’t do so to anyone else.

    Iron Man is a thrill ride you don’t want to miss!

     

    There’s something about origin stories that I have an extreme soft spot for and Iron Man is near perfect in that regard. Given that Iron Man is a “human hero with no powers” ala Batman and it’s his suit which gives him his abilities, he becomes instantly relatable (well, okay, maybe not one hundred percent as I’m not a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist like him), but I’m on the journey of life like Tony with my own share of pain and turning points. The movie’s pacing is bang on and progresses “as if this really happened,” which is a huge plus for a superhero movie. (I’m a fan of super flicks that come from the angle, “If this happened tomorrow, this is how it’d most likely play out.” My own superhero series, The Axiom-man Saga, is based on that premise.)

    The Iron Man armor looks amazing and real, which is a big deal because most of it is CGI. I’m glad they were able to create real-looking metal armor that didn’t look totally fake. Likewise, to see the progression from the oh-so-crude Mark One armor all the way up the Mark Three was cool.

    The rest of the special effects were out-of-sight, especially the ultrasonic flying sequences. Looking at the world from Tony’s perspective inside the suit put you in his shoes—in his armor—and made you feel like you were Iron Man along with him.

    This flick also boasts a killer soundtrack and score that gets you pumped.

    Let’s see . . .

    Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Right from the first scene he lets you know who he is and what he believes in: himself. This carries throughout the rest of the film, but he also does a good job of becoming a changed man as the story goes on and the Tony we meet in the beginning of the movie is different from the one at the end. A lot of actors who are on supposed journeys during a story don’t pull that off and usually come across as the same guy from start to finish.

    Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts is dynamite. She’s strong, witty and is one of the few people who can go toe-to-toe with Tony’s narcissistic personality. Excellent casting for this role.

    Iron Man was the stepping off point for Marvel’s Phase One, which would later culminate in The Avengers. I don’t think at the time anyone knew that Iron Man—who back then wasn’t really known outside of the comic book community—would become such the massive hit it was, the franchise growing bigger and bigger with each outing.

    But I can see why. This movie is awesome.