Tag Archives: Comic Book Movies

Aquaman – A Movie Review


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CaptureWith a charismatic lead, a globe trotting, byzantine plot and some truly creative and over-the-top visuals, Aquaman delivers one of the most entertaining and pure comic book-y superhero movies an audience is likely to get. Utterly embracing every element of the sometimes bizarre history (yes, history – the character has been around for over 75 years) of Aquaman, the movie gets just about everything right by not shying away from its source material. Aquaman does not try to make its hero anything other than what he is: a super strong dude who can breath underwater, who can swim really fast and who can talk to fish. Striking a perfect balance between silliness and outright silliness, Aquaman is exciting, fun and refreshing.

Jason Momoa makes a perfect, bro-inspired Aquaman and while this take may be a bit removed from the character as he is typically portrayed in the comics, Momoa’s performance works perfectly. His Arthur Curry is a man not on a mission, a man who has saved the world once (Justice League, anyone?) and a man who is happy to be left alone. While he is aware of his background as an Atlantean, he has no desire to explore it. Just get this guy a cold one and some quality time with his dad and he will be okay. Momoa has the character down as if he has been playing him for years and, should his screen appearances as Aquaman continue, his casting will likely be regarded as spot-on as that of Robert Downey, jr. as Iron Man. Momoa is that much at home as Aquaman.

The rest of the cast is more than up to supporting him, starting with Amber Heard’s Mera, an Atlantean herself who is more than a match for Momoa’s Arthur Curry. Heard is almost as fun to watch as Momoa, diving in her role with the same self aware smile and assurance that flavors the film. Her Mera is powerful and passionate and Heard is terrific in the role. When she is given some comedic notes to play, she is equally good and she and Momoa have a very nice chemistry.

Willem Dafoe and Nicole Kidman bring their acting pedigree and reputations to their roles as Vulko and Atlanta respectively. Both chew the appropriate scenery and lend the proceedings their stature. Seeing both of them de-aged by computer is remarkable. Dafoe, in particular, seems to have traveled as rough a road as the character he plays.

Of the many things Aquaman has going for it, its treatment of its villains is a cut above the typical, megalomaniacal adversaries comic book movies usually present. The performances turned in by Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master and Yahya Abdul Marteen II as Black Manta are terrific, sure, but the manner in which the story treats the villains is just as good. Motivations are clear. Plots are, too. They have objectives and both see themselves as the hero of the story. Further, they both have legitimate reasons for their hatred of Aquaman and their enmity is no stretch. This makes for satisfying conflict above the normal fare.

Director James Wan has created and visually stunning – if sometimes overwhelming – world in which Aquaman swims. The colors (from the odd day-glo choice of Mera’s hair) leap from the screen. The aquatic characters have life and depth and are interesting and amusing and the set pieces, particularly the one involving characters known as “The Trench” are as involving and frightening as anything in other comic book movies. Much like his cast, Wan embraced the form here and the movie is all the better for that choice.

One part Raiders of the Lost Ark, one part Romancing the Stone and all parts comic book movie, Aquaman is a romp the likes of which does not come around very often, especially in the increasingly cookie-cutter world of super hero movies. The cast is terrific. The action is engaging. The plot is fun.

If you cannot crack a smile or two during Aquaman, you might be taking life just a little too seriously, bro.

AQUAMAN receives FOUR and a HALF ANTHROPOMORPHIZED OCTOPI out of a possible FIVE

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – A Movie Review


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CaptureMany reviews start out with a variation on the phrase “you’ve never seen anything like this” and, upon seeing the reviewed film, one may say to one’s self, “I’ve seen many, many things like this.” In the case of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse “you’ve never seen anything like this” might be true.

Bold, inventive, involving and charming, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is such a delightful film that it entices you to want to line back up, purchase another ticket and see it again. Within moments of the movie’s opening scenes, I was wondering, with all the technological skill and acumen at work in cinema these days, why this movie was not mounted as a live-action project for, surely, the fact that it is an animated movie will significantly limit its box office potential and draw. Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I am a fan of all things comic book in the movies and that I truly enjoyed the latest Spider-Man film Spider-Man: Homecoming. I write this with little fear of being contradicted: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a far more fun and fulfilling movie than that one on every level.

Into the Spider-Verse just works. The visuals work. The story works. The soundtrack works. The humor works. The drama works. The family narrative works. It all works.

The movie tells the origin story of Miles Morales and how he becomes Spider-Man. “Wait,” you might be saying, “Miles Morales? Where’s Peter Parker?” Don’t you worry. Peter Parker is here, too. In fact, a couple Petes show up and, when they do, Into the Spider-Verse does not get bogged down into explaining why they have shown up when they have or why these particular spider-people have made the scene. It simply tells its story trusting that its audience is smart enough and willing to follow along. If you are not in those categories, 1) you may not have a soul and, 2) this is not the movie for you. Into the Spider-Verse does a quick and brilliant job with the superhero origin story but does so from the perspective that the audience has seen this before and doesn’t need to know about why there are radioactive spiders or women spider-people or spider-pigs for that matter. It just wants to sweep the audience up in its story and it wildly succeeds in doing so.

At the core of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a story about family. Miles Morales is like many young people – loving his family but slightly embarrassed by them at the same time, craving his independence but reliant on advice from his elders. He does not know quite who he is or what he will become, but he is engaged in the process of finding out. That he is given superpowers at the same time is just one more problem to handle.

Miles Morales is a Spider-Man for our times, a mixed-race teenager who does not want the power when he receives it, is afraid to tell his parents what has happened to him (because, of course, he gained his power while doing something he should not have been doing) and simply wants to help – to do good. We can use more stories about characters like Miles and I hope we get them.

The voice cast featuring standout work by Shameik Moore as Miles and Jake Johnson as an aging Peter Parker are terrific. Listen for the voices of actors having a blast in this one. There are more than a handful that will surprise you. The direction by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman is terrific and the movie takes the audience on a wonderful, break-neck paced joy ride that one does not wish to end too soon. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might be (might be!) the best superhero movie released in 2018…

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE receives FIVE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-PIGS out of a possible FIVE

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Stan Lee – His Words Changed My Life


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Illustration by Jean Sinclair

Since Stan Lee’s death last week, I have been struggling to come up with an appropriate tribute or some words to encapsulate the affect this man I have never met had on me as a person who loves literature, popular culture and superheroes. I thought I might write about how Lee co-created some of the most iconic American characters of all time (Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men to name a few). I thought I might write about how I learned to read at his feet, devouring the exploits of those creations. I thought I might write about the joy I have had year-after-year of my life spending time with those characters.

But then I remembered something else that Lee (and those like him) taught me to love even when I was not conscious of the lesson, perhaps especially when I was not conscious of the lesson. He helped teach me values. He helped teach me right from wrong. He helped teach me about social justice.

I could give you examples from storylines and I could give you examples of characters. I could tell you that Lee was rarely a fan of so-called “anti heroes,” preferring his leads to be moral, to stand up for what they believed, to be governed by a powerful and responsible compass.

I could do that for paragraphs.

However, the credo that inspired Lee should be shared by him. Perhaps there is no better time than now.

But, before I do, thank you, Stan Lee, for the gifts you gave to me (and so many others). Thank you for my love of the written word, for my affinity for superheroics and, in a real way, for my very imagination.

There will never be another like you.

Excelsior!

Stan Lee Stan's Soapbox

Credit: Marvel

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Link’n’Blogs – 10.5.18: Comic Book Pioneer Ramona Fradon


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I loved Lincoln Logs when I was a kid. Though I never entertained the idea that I would be a designer, engineer or architect, something about putting together these wooden and plastic pieces was simply simple fun. Connecting to ideas through the blogosphere seems similar to this pursuit, hence the title of this weekly post. Each Friday, I intend to post something interesting I’ve read out there on the internets. Hopefully others will find these posts as fun or thought provoking as I have.

Comic book creators have, historically and primarily, been men. In the early days of the industry, this was even more true. Men were very much the norm and finding women comic book creators was a difficult task, indeed.

Enter Ramona Fradon.

This December, DC will release Aquaman, a multi-million dollar film about a man who talks to fish. It likely would not be happening without Fradon’s creativity.

Take a read at this Vulture profile by clicking on Fradon’s work below… It is a delightful read!

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Teen Titans Go! to the Movies – A Movie Review


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TeenLooking for some brilliant silliness? Looking for a laugh-out-loud time at the movies? Looking for a self-aware, self-conscious, self-skewering narrative? If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is for you. Based on Teen Titans Go! which is, itself, based on a classic DC comic book, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies takes the barest of plots (Robin believes himself the only superhero who has not had a movie adaptation of his adventures and sets out to get one) and manages to fill 75 minutes with some truly inventive and involving, hilarious scenes.

For Robin to get a film, his friends (Beast Boy, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire) help him with two plots. The first, and most uproarious, is eminently logical: if there were no other superheroes, the powers that be in Hollywood would have to make a movie about Robin. If he is the only show in town, what choice would they have? Thus ensues a devilish skewering of the origins of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and others (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?). This may well have been the high point of the movie and it is so very good that it warrants a second viewing.

The second idea the Titans posit is that, if Robin had an archenemy, then he would be A-list enough to inspire a film. To that end, the Titans try to make an enemy out of Deathstroke the Terminator – a name not particularly kid friendly. It is changed to Slade in the television show (as Deathstroke’s civilian name is Slade Wilson) and the movie follows suit. One of the best running gags of the film is that the Titans consistently mistake Slade for Deadpool. Since Deadpool was most likely based on Deathstroke (you can read about that here if you choose… it is a pretty twisty story), this joke is all the more fun.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is fun overall. There are terrific voice performances (including Nicholas Cage as Superman and, if you do not get the significance of that one, here is another piece for you to enjoy) and the movie goes down incredibly easily. There is much for adults to marvel at (pun intended) while the kids laugh at fart jokes and, frankly, the fart jokes themselves are highly entertaining, too.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies was one of my favorite movies of the late summer. Go see it. Sit back, relax and let the silliness and meta-humor wash over you. You will be glad you did.

Boo-yah! Bravo, Warner Animation!

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES receives FIVE WAFFLES out of a possible FIVE

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Ant-Man and the Wasp – A Movie Review


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ant man wasp

Peyton Reed director of Ant-Man and the Wasp and his team of writers, which includes star Paul Rudd (in very fine form here) had an unenviable task ahead of them when they set out to make their film. Knowing they were going to follow the massive Avengers | Infinity War they had to decide, if you will pardon the pun, to go big or go home.

Surprisingly – and effectively – they chose to go home or, at least, to stay close to home. Of all the Marvel Studios films to date, Ant-Man and the Wasp might be the smallest (okay, that one was totally unintentional – I caught it on my proofread!) in terms of stakes and scope.

Picking up over a year after Ant-Man and almost a year after Captain America: Civil WarAnt-Man and the Wasp opens on lovable hero Scott Lang (Rudd) who is holding up as well as he can under the house arrest he agreed to in exchange for his release from prison following the events of Civil War – somebody get me his lawyer if I get into trouble. Violating the Sovokia Accords in Civil War was tantamount to treason. A year of house arrest? Nice job, counselor. Scott is waiting for the day, coming very soon, that he can take off his ankle bracelet, bid farewell to spot inspections by the FBI and leave his home.

Of course, completing his sentence will not be that easy. It turns out Hank Pym (a very fun, very game Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly who is so good perhaps Marvel sound have titled the film The Wasp and Ant-Man) need help that only Scott can provide.

And off we go…

What is  bold about the movie is the change of pace tone it strikes. It is about as far removed from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as any one of these films to date and, following the heaviness of Infinity War, that is a surprisingly welcome change. The universe is not at stake. The fate of the world does not hang in the balance. The survival of the city is not in play. Rather there are personal goals at hand and family goals at that.

In setting the scale in this fashion, the filmmakers avoid one of the traps that hangs up superhero movies, namely how is tension created without building bigger mousetraps after bigger mousetraps? Ant-Man and the Wasp understands that its best assets are its sterling and delightful cast (Michael Pena is back as Luis!), the fantastic shirking/growing action scenes and a breezy plot (that may not hold up to very much scrutiny).

Paul Rudd is lovable, energetic and as excited by what he can do as the audience is watching him do it. He is all emotion and utterly convincing as a C-List superhero trying to simply be a dad. His comedic timing is spot on and his Ant-Man is the most grounded of all the Marvel characters – less silly than Star Lord and less angsty than Hawkeye. I could watch this shtick for a long time before it got old. Evangeline Lilly deserves a larger spotlight than she gets here, and the spotlight here is pretty large. Her Wasp is a no-nonsense, accomplished heroine who is more than capable of carrying the film and the caper on her own. Together, they are a wonderful team. The movie could have done a bit more with their dynamic, actually.

The set pieces are truly inventive and fun to watch. Peyton Reed does a remarkable job keeping them fresh and distinguishing them from the kind of action we have seen in prior films. There is some creativity at play here and the effects benefit greatly from being experienced on the big screen.

The plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is intended to be light and airy. It succeeds. Perhaps too well. If there is a draw back its found in the success of these films. We expect them to be layered thematically, to swell with emotion, to make us cry while we laugh. Infinity War set that high a bar. Ant-Man and the Wasp is not that movie. It is something different. Once I allowed myself to settle into that, I had a great time.

You will, too.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP receives FOUR GIANT SALT SHAKERS out of a possible FIVE

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The Best Sequential Art I Read Last Week: May 23 – 29, 2018


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I am a comic book collector and happy to be one. I might say “proud” if I hadn’t, over a year ago, switched to reading digital as opposed to print comics. I feel a bit robbed of the tactile sensations of the hobby – of the turn of the page, the sneaking look to the panel a page over, the bagging and shorting and stacking and filing. Though I read my comics in a different medium than I used to, I still treat each Wednesday (comic book delivery day to specialty shops around the country) as different from the other days of the week. I subscribe and now, rather than go to the comic store to be handed the books pulled for my “Hold Slot,” I click a button on my iPad and watch them download.

Then I read them.

Rare is the week that I don’t read them all between Wednesdays and some weeks I have, well… let’s just say more comic books in my digital downloads than a grown man should. Comic book legend Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit) is one of the most influential men even to put pencil to drawing board in the pursuit of making comics. So influential was he that the industry awards (think the Oscars or the Emmys or the Grammys) are named The Eisner Awards. He called comic books “sequential art,” perhaps because he became embarrassed by his profession when he had to admit what he did for a living. This is my weekly reaction to the comics I read.

Comics I Read Last Week:

The best comic I read last week was Invincible Iron Man #600.

Untitled

Writers: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Various

When I noted this book was in my weekly subscriptions, I had a feeling it would end up as the Pick of the Week for a number of reasons: the character, the arc and the writer.

Iron Man’s renaissance from the 2008 Marvel Studios film (the one that spawned the cottage industry) seems to know no end. Iron Man has ever been a character I have enjoyed, but Marvel has rightly focused on him and he has become the face of the comic book line in many ways. I have been very happy to follow him.

The 600th issue of Iron Man also serves to conclude a long-running arc. Typically, these issues, unless they are utterly mismanaged, tend to be very good. Iron Man #600 is no exception.

But it is Brian Michael Bendis that puts this book to the top of my pile this week. The long-time Marvel writer has decamped for DC (which is very exciting) and Iron Man #600 marks his last work at his former company. It also marks the end of a long running arc and Bendis ties up all kinds of loose ends in this one. Throughout his career, he has seemed to fall in love with the characters he writes, and Iron Man is no exception. He has added to Tony Stark’s story in important ways, created new characters that will be around Iron Man’s world for years to come and influenced the direction of the entire Marvel line from this title. He has commanded the participation of top artists because of his talent. He has made Iron Man a best seller and a wonderful book.

I will miss him on the character, though I am excited to see what he can do with the relatively obscure DC character he is taking over… what is that guy’s name again?

Oh, yeah. Superman.

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