Fantastic Four (2005) Written by Michael France and Mark Frost Directed by Tim Story Runtime 106 min. 3.5 out of 5
Five people are endowed with superpowers after an accident on a space station. Four become a force for good. One becomes a force for evil. That’s pretty much it.
This is a fun movie and I liked it. It had a solid origin story, some good action, and pretty good SFX. Each character was clearly defined, even stereotypical, but that’s the Fantastic Four for you.
A lot of people griped on this movie. It was not bad. Wasn’t as “cosmic” or over-the-top as I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t a bad flick by any means. It was a great translation of comic book to screen and carried that vibe with it from beginning to end.
The invisibility effects of the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) were awesome, a sweet combination of complete I-can’t-see-you-at-all invisibility with the glass-like, transparent humanoid figure so we can see her enough to know what she’s doing.
The Human Torch (Chris Evans) looked like a man on fire, which he is, but animated enough so we can make out his actions, his costume, facial expressions and anything else we needed to in a given scene.
Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd): at some points he looked like a real-life stretchy dude, at others the CGI was very clear (i.e. that scene when he stretches his hand under the door to unlock it from the outside).
The Thing (Michael Chiklis), arguably the hardest costume because you didn’t want to run the risk of making him look like a cartoon character by going all CGI (as good as the Hulk looks even in The Avengers, there’s still an animated quality to it), but you also didn’t want bad prosthetics either. The Thing in this movie looked amazing and looked real. Well done.
Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) was fine as is, his costume something like an elaborate cosplay. I would’ve liked more detail in the cloak, some sort of pattern, but the whole how-he-got-his-armor thing was pretty cool.
What worked especially well was the dynamic of family and all the love, bickering and craziness that goes along with having one. There was real chemistry between all the main players and it added a dynamic to the team that made the whole scenario believable.
What also makes the Fantastic Four different is they’re public superheroes without secret identities, that is, though they have codenames, everyone knows who they are. While Iron Man did this, too, having a whole family who everyone knows who they are changes the game. It’s also different because, unlike Iron Man, they didn’t decide, “Hey, let’s be superheroes,” but instead it’s something that kind of happens and they discover how important it is they use their powers to help people.
For me, Fantastic Four was a good movie that I like popping into the DVD player now and then.
Chronicle (2012) Written by Max Landis Directed by Josh Trank Runtime 84 min. 5 out of 5
Andrew Detmer’s got a tough life: he’s bullied at school, his mom’s dying of cancer, and his dad is an alcoholic. Andrew also likes to film things and his friend, Steve, gets him to film something him and Matt have found in the woods: a strange deep hole with a weird blue crystalline object inside it. After the boys develop telekinetic abilities, all bets are off as they discover exactly what they are capable of. The problem, however, is that with great power comes great temptation and Andrew begins to discover not only the extent of his power but what is deep inside of him. Soon, the group of friends are divided and one has gone off the deep end.
This movie is the boss. This is very much in the vein of Unbreakable, that is, the story of people pre-superhero or pre-supervillain, how they got their abilities, the discovery of their powers, the honing of them, and the ultimate decision as to what to do with them.
Filmed via “shaky cam” documentary style, Chronicle looks like a home movie but carries the strong story and special effects of a major blockbuster. Actually, it has a stronger story than most major blockbusters, but that’s another topic. This flick is completely down-to-earth despite its out-of-this-world premise. By doing it documentary style, the character development of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Steve (Michael B. Jordan) and Matt (Alex Russell) is through the roof and you care about each one, hope for each one, and get mad at each one when they do something you think you wouldn’t do yourself. Well done, boys. Well done.
Telekinesis is the name of the game in this movie, that is, the ability to move and control things with your mind. While we’ve seen this power on screen before, this flick really gets into the potential of that ability from simply causing objects to float all the way to making yourself fly. Telekinesis would be the power to choose if one was presented with it because the majority of superpowers can ultimately come from it: flight, strength, stopping objects from hitting you, forcing bad guys to stop their actions, and more.
What makes this flick stand out is its intense study into what having such an incredible power does to a person, whether for good or ill. This is something we seldom see in standard superhero cinema as usually you got the hero or villain get their powers and already start using them based on their personality or because of how they’re raised, or they are used a certain way because of a recent event. This flick asks the question—even answers it—does absolute power corrupt absolutely?
I’ve never seen a documentary-style superhero movie before. Correction: I’ve never seen a documentary-style superhero/villain origin movie before and I am curious if others exist. Will have to track them down because I thoroughly enjoyed Chronicle, was captivated by it, and it brings a level of realism to the material that even your most-seriously-attempted-at-realism superhero movies can’t portray. It’s about everyday people suddenly getting a powerful ability with everyday people reactions, temptations, and usages.
Such a well done flick. So good. You need to see this. What Blair Witch did for horror Chronicle does for the superhero genre.
All-Star Superman (2011) Written by Dwayne McDuffie Directed by Sam Liu Runtime 76 min. 5 out of 5
The Man of Steel is dying after receiving an extreme dose of solar radiation. Trying to live out his last days and wrap up all loose ends, he spends it with Lois and gives her a special serum that grants her superpowers for twenty-four hours. When unexpected twists and turns arise, the two must save Metropolis together. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has plans of his own and when he gets his hands on the serum that granted Lois superpowers, he becomes as powerful as Superman.
Can the Last Son of Krypton stop his arch nemesis while also saving the Earth from a damaged sun before he perishes?
When I think of classic Superman, I think of this story. The reason is because this story involves all of the classic elements of Superman lore, everything from the basics like Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, all the way to the Fortress of Solitude, the bottle city of Kandor, a full array of superpowers—and in the case of this story, some new ones, which reminds me of the “bonus” powers portrayed in Superman IV (though they’re not silly in this one like they were in that flick)—the Phantom Zone, Superman using not only his super brawn but also his super brains, Lois having superpowers (which has happened quite a lot in Supes’s history—she’s got a cool costume in this, by the way), and a ton more.
Based on the graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, this flick asks the hard questions about Superman’s mortality, if such a thing is possible, and if it is possible, then how would that possibly play out? Unlike Superman’s death when the Man of Steel went up against Doomsday, this story isn’t about a giant slugfest, but about a slow death caused by the very thing that gives Superman his powers: the sun. It’s about him coming to terms with his own mortality and setting things in order before his final moment arrives.
One of the great things about these direct-to-DVD super flicks from DC is they’re all stand-alone features based on a graphic novel and by being so, they also carry with it the same art style from the book. In this case, it’s Frank Quitely’s art animated. I admit it took a while for his art to grow on me. Perhaps because it’s so simple and clean, yet by being that way, he’s able to create some pretty realistic-looking superheroes. Seeing it animated like we do in this flick brings Superman et al. to life and makes this comic book fan very happy.
Out of all the Superman adaptations done thus far, All-Star Superman is one of the greats and gets high props for being an awesome animated flick with a great cast, great art direction, a great story and, most importantly, having the greatest hero of them all, one who’s definitely an all-star: Superman.
Note: This post was originally published on Jeffrey Allen Davis’s blog
The Axiom-man Origin and Why I Write Superhero Fiction
The Axiom-man Saga is an old story. A couple decades, in fact, as it was around then that I started to daydream about a similar hero while walking my paper route each morning. I’d get so lost in this story about a hero caught in a cosmic war between Good and Evil that I’d be done my route before I knew it and would often run house-to-house to double check and make sure I delivered the paper to the right places.
In that fantasy, of course, I played the hero. As the story grew and I got older, I ended up transferring the honor of being that character to someone else, a fictitious someone else who would one day go by the name of Gabriel Garrison.
Axiom-man began to take shape in concept throughout all my years of delivering the paper—and went by a different name, which was featured in my novel, April, written as Peter Fox (for that secret name, you’ll just have to read the book to find out). In 1995, Axiom-man received his new costume, the one he wears today. At the time, Axiom-man—originally called Trinity—and this concept character of mine were two different people. Trinity was more of a supernatural hero ala Spawn and fought demons, whereas my other hero was more down-to-Earth in nature and had very Superman-like powers. Yes, I know: Superman isn’t very down-to-Earth, but he does deal with things on this plane of existence 9 times out of 10. Anyway, as time went on, Trinity became Axiom—who was yet another character at the time—and as even more time went on and after being inspired by the likes of Frank Dirscherl and his Wraith character—who back in 2005 had one novel, a comic and a movie in the works—I decided it was time to put my long-thought-about superhero to paper. I merged my paper route fantasy character with Axiom because I always had an affinity for him, and after doing a quick web search on the Axiom name and finding a company out there with the same name, I went and made it my own by adding “man” to the end of it, hyphenated, of course, because that’s who Axiom-man really is: a self-evident truth embodied in a single person, in his case the self-evident truth of being one to do good rather than evil. From there it was an issue of scaling his powers waaaay back and settling upon three of them: strength, flight and eye beams. And when I say I scaled his powers way back, I mean way, way back. When Axiom-man debuted, he could only lift around 1000 pounds, could fly at about 60 kilometers an hour, and his energy beams only carried so much force. I didn’t want to make him too powerful thus making him always the winner and, because of his great strength, have no choice but to always pit him against ultra powerful foes. My story was to take place in our world under the idea of, “If this happened in our reality tomorrow, how would it most likely play out?” Making him with that kind of power set helped keep him grounded in reality and gave me plenty of options for enemies he could fight to sometimes win and sometimes lose against.
His backstory and mythology were left unaltered and kept the same as the character I thought about growing up, still the product of a nameless messenger having visited him and granting him his abilities without explanation. As the story goes on, Axiom-man finds out why he received his powers and how he is caught in a cosmic war that has raged since time immemorial.
The reason Axiom-man made his debut in books rather than comics was because, at the time I brought him to market, I knew of superhero fiction but didn’t think to do it independently. Frank Dirscherl’s The Wraith and Knight Seeker by Eric Cooper showed me otherwise. Axiom-man was originally a comic book character and I even drew a 21- or 22-page comic with him when he was called Trinity back in high school. I still have it somewhere and might publish it one day as a kind of behind-the-scenes thing. Anyway . . .
By doing superheroes in prose, I was able to work alone, could tell the story exactly how I wanted it, and because I was already self-publishing other fiction at the time, had the system in place to get Axiom-man out there.
You know, even though Axiom-man was my first official superhero release, I look over my fiction and every book I’ve written is a superhero novel in some way. Take A Red Dark Night, for example. It’s about a summer camp under siege by blood creatures. One of the protagonists, Tarek, is superheroic in nature, wears an otherworldly outfit complete with a cape, and shoots blue fire from a gauntlet on his forearm.
My epic fantasy book, some quarter million words long, called The Way of the Fog, is about a group of people who get superpowers in a medieval/fantasy-style setting.
My zombie trilogy, Undead World, deals with the supernatural, time travel, and each character is superheroic in how they act, even archetypical in some cases, with comic book-like good vs evil action.
Zombie Fight Night—aside from an aged Axiom-man making an appearance in there, is full of comic book characters monster-wise, everything from werewolves to vampires; to robots to pirates; to ninjas to samurai; and beyond, all battling the undead.
The Metahumans vs anthology series is, obviously, about Metahumans aka superheroes fighting a themed foe throughout each book.
As mentioned, my love story, April, is about a comic book writer who’s fallen in love, and what does he write? Superhero comics.
I think it’s only fitting that superhero fiction in its truest form—an actual superhero storyline—became a part of my repertoire. It seemed inevitable considering my love for the genre. Ever since I knew what a superhero was—at three years old, I think—I’ve been hooked, and not a day in my life has gone by where I haven’t thought about them, theorized about them, fantasized about them, pretended to be them and more. I even wear Superman and Batman onesies to bed for crying out loud!
Calling me a geek is an understatement, but I don’t care. Geeks make the world go round and fanboys are the ones providing people with entertainment. Superhero fiction just happens to be my main venue for doing so.
And where is Axiom-man going from here? Well, thus far, 7 prose books have been released along with a few comics and short stories. The whole saga is planned to be 50 books long, so I’m coming up on being 20 percent finished. The good part is the story is pretty much all mentally written. I had 9 years or so of delivering papers to get the story right, after all.
What I’m enjoying about the superhero fiction format is I’m able to do things with my characters that comic books don’t allow, at least, current superhero comics don’t allow. I’ve long advocated—and still do—that the comic book is the greatest storytelling medium to ever come down the pike, with books being a close second. Why? Because it’s the one-two punch of pictures combined with narration, whereas prose is a text-only medium. I still believe that, but being that at this stage in my career I’m primarily a writer versus a writer/artist, I’m sticking to books and the book medium is capable of telling superhero stories in a way comics haven’t as yet, namely getting inside a character’s head. Very few comic writers have succeeded in that in the past. Superhero comics are far too picture-heavy these days, with flashy computer coloring jobs, flimsy stories and scant dialogue. I miss the old days where there were almost equal amounts of text and pictures. At least with The Axiom-man Saga as it stands now, I can bring the reader dense characters where every thought and feeling is brought to the fore and, hopefully, pull the reader into the characters’ shoes in a way that superhero comics don’t. That’s my main goal with this: bring the reader in so that they feel they are experiencing my fiction versus just reading it. I’ve yet to read a superhero comic where this has happened. I have, however, read superhero books where this has occurred, Batman: Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil being a major favorite of mine and my first foray into the superhero fiction world.
What also sets The Axiom-man Saga apart from any of the current superhero offerings is that it’s a cross-medium superhero story that encompasses books, comics and short stories, all part of the same continuity. This has never been done before, and putting new spins on old things is one of the things I’ve always striven for in my fiction, especially in this industry where things are pretty copycat and cookie-cutter (we all know of certain authors that seem to turn out the same book over and over again just under a different title, right?).
Whether Axiom-man becomes this wild success or remains under the radar, for me it’s about writing the superhero story I always wanted to read, the one I’ve always thought about, and the one that, when my time on Earth is done, is the one I’ll be remembered by. It’s meant to be a career piece, a giant story with a beginning, middle and end, the story of a superhero, his life, and what that means to the world around us.