Wednesday, January 28, 2015

THE UNADAPTED: Fear Agent

**This edition of The Unadapted was written by Andrew Prenger, former comic-book monger and future best-selling novelist. Here's a look at a unique science-fiction series that needs some big (or small) screen love.**

When I was a retailer in a comic store I often tried to sell this by describing it as "Han Solo the comic book." That does a disservice to the overall story, but was generally a nice elevator description to get customers interested. In reality the story of Fear Agent is much more complex than that. Created by Rick Remender and Tony Moore in 2005 for Image Comics, the book is about Heath Huston who is initially introduced as a space-traveling exterminator. His job is to fly around to planets and get rid of unwanted alien infestations. What starts out as a simple eradication job on a backwater planet spins out to a sprawling space epic.

Country fried space bad-ass.
Remender always came off to me as a kitchen sink writer. As in, if he was on a book he was going to throw every idea he's ever had into it. There is no holding onto an idea and saving it for later. In some cases I don't think landings quite stick (I've never been a fan of his "Franken-Castle" run in Punisher), but it tends to work out well for him on other stories.

Fear Agent is every weird-ass science fiction idea thrown together. It features time travel, cloning, alternate realities, bizarre alien creatures, murderous robots, etc. It plays up more the fiction than the science in that never stops to ponder whether something could happen and there are no long treatises on how a technology could exist. This keeps the pace up and allows the reader to enjoy the action without bogging things down.

They don't make 'em like they used to.
Heathrow Huston is the strong character at the core of this odd universe that keeps all of the story-beats working. When the reader is first introduced to him he is simply an exterminator. He's a slobbish Southerner flying around space arguing with his sentient spaceship, Annie. He takes work to pay for his booze between jobs. Through happenstance in a refueling station Heath finds himself blasted back in time, discovering the origin of one of the universe's greatest threats. Heath is a character with a lot more depth than initially presented. He's fun, loves Mark Twain and seems like the stereotypical Texan hero. The longer the series goes on the reader gets to see his deeper levels. After the first two story-arcs the audience gets the full story on how Heath went from being a trucker and family man to cruising around space, killing aliens. It is a tragic tale of Earth being invaded by two different alien races and subsequently used as a battlefield.

This history informs everyone around Heath as well. All the secondary characters, like his ex-wife Charlotte and his current lover Mara, have their own stories rooted in the same tragic tale. How they handle it and how it affected them is explored nicely. Fear Agent explores the idea of a man doing something monstrous and begrudgingly seeking redemption for his actions. The ending is one of the best I've read in comics, resolving all the problems without giving the character an easy out.

Behold! Science!
Part of the fun of the series is definitely the art and design. The bulk of the penciling was handled by Tony Moore and Jerome Opena. They alternated story-arcs and had very compatible styles. There was an obvious choice to keep things vaguely retro. Heath Huston's suit is classic fifties sci-fi with the bubble head and giant jetpack. He flies around in a rocket ship with stylish fins and he takes out the giant-brain looking aliens with a ray gun that looked outdated when Star Wars came out in 1977.

Ideally, with all this in mind, I think this would be a good two-film franchise. There is too much information to be crammed successfully into one movie. That's not to say it couldn't be told in a trilogy, but I think it would be better served keeping it shorter. It's fun, it's punchy. There is a definite emotional hook, but there is also spectacle to it. A big budget would be necessary to believably portray the outrageous aliens which populate the series. With the huge success of Guardians of the Galaxy this would be a good movie to make as sort-of a companion to it. There is an audience for comedy/sci-fi movies and I feel this could help fill that need.

Alternately, it could also work well on television. There are quite a few emotional beats which would be served better with more build-up to them. The comic also had fill-ins every so often called "Tales of the Fear Agent" that served as one-shot stories which could be used for episodes covering the ground between the time Heath left a ravaged Earth to when the story starts. It would also be to their strength to imitate Arrow in some ways. Littering in flashbacks to a younger Heath fighting the war on Earth, leading up to his monstrous decision, while concurrently showing him trying to make it up would be a way to mine emotional drama. The two plots coming together in a series/season finale would be excellent.

Fear Agent Vol. -1
I've spent a lot of time pondering who would be ideal to play Heath Huston in a movie version of Fear Agent. Ironically my mind keeps dragging up Andrew Lincoln who plays Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. I think the connection is that comic book Rick was also created by Fear Agent artist Tony Moore, so that he and Huston both resemble each other stylistically. Ultimately I think Gerard Butler could pull it off if he is able to put on a realistic Texan accent. This would be more Rocknrolla Butler than 300. Heath is a muscular guy, but not completely ripped. In Rocknrolla Butler's character (named, One Two) was a good combination of friendly and ass-kicker.

The story in Fear Agent has concluded, it's easily available in trade paperback. There are six volumes proper collecting the main story and one extra volume of the aforementioned "Tales of the Fear Agent" stories. Alternately Dark Horse has published the entire series in two over-sized hardcovers which look very nice. I like to think that even though the main story is definitively concluded, were a movie to come out and be a hit then Remember, Moore and Opena could come out with a "lost" story or maybe just a mini-series of Tales From the Fear Agent. That would be fun.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

GUEST COLUMN: Doctor Mordrid (1992 film)



**The following was written by Brian Baer. While technically not a Comic Book Movie...come on, it totally is. Enjoy this look at a forgotten film from a strange time known as "The Early 90's."**


Don’t get me wrong, I know everyone is excited for Benedict “Cheekbones” Cumberbatch to play Marvel's Doctor Strange on the big screen. Dr. Stephen Strange has already appeared in his own 1978 TV movie, along with an animated film and guest spots on various cartoons, all of which I’m sure will be covered on this site soon. But there’s an important also-ran appearance of the character, something which may as well count.
 
"Also-ran? I don't know what you're-"
"Ahem."
The opening credits of the 1992 straight-to-video film Doctor Mordrid: Master of the Unknown state “Based on an original idea by Charles Band,” but don’t let that fool you. Band’s studio, Full Moon Entertainment, is best known for the B-movie Puppet Master franchise, but they once held the rights to Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts. Those rights lapsed at some point before production apparently, and very little was changed before filming began. 
Names were altered (“The Ancient One” becomes “The Monitor,” etc.) and the costume is slightly different, but that’s about it. There’s still the astral projection, he still uses something that’s clearly intended to be the Eye of Agamotto. Nearly everything is in place, and the things that aren’t would’ve likely been changed anyways, given the way comics were adapted in the early 90s. You don’t have to squint too hard to see Doctor Strange.

Dr. Anton Mordrid is an immortal (not a brash surgeon) placed on Earth to guard mankind from a malevolent magician named Kabal (not Baron Mordo). He passes the centuries by scanning the planet’s news for suspicious stories, working as the landlord of a classy New York apartment building (not The Sanctum Sanctorum), and giving the occasional speech on the supernatural in criminology. When Kabal comes to Earth to use the Philosopher’s Stone to bring forth a bunch of demons, or something, only Dr. Mordrid and a cute police consultant (not Wong) can save us all.

Special!
Effects!
If that plot sounds vague and undercooked to you, you’re correct. However, the main cast is fantastic. Given the era this film was produced, there is literally no better option for Dr. Strange/Mordrid than Jeffrey Combs. The cult favorite star of Re-Animator plays the role with surprising charm. He has the innate ability to deliver absurd dialogue while still sounding like a genius, which comes in handy as a sorcerer. Kabal is played by veteran character actor Brian Thompson, best remembered from roles in The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even sleepwalking through a film, as he likely did here, he’s creepy and intimidating. Yvette Nipar plays the police consultant/love interest with a natural sense of sweetness and sincerity. Nipar has appeared regularly on TV over the past two decades, notably as Det. Lisa Madigan in the live action Robocop: The Series.

I'm pretty sure Brian Baer knows Yvette Nipar's
filmography better than she does. 
These great actors struggle to overcome Full Moon’s traditional rock-bottom budget. Production values aren’t great. The score is cheesy, effects are sparse and unconvincing, and outside of Strange/Mordrid’s impressive Sanctum Sanctorum/apartment, the sets are lazy at best. Another Full Moon hallmark, the explanation-free nudity, feels even more out of place than usual. By the time the stop-motion dinosaur skeleton battle finale comes around, Doctor Mordrid has devolved into complete camp.

Static? What ever do you mean?
The real failure of the film lies in the static nature of its protagonist. Dr. Strange has a fantastic origin story, as an arrogant man is humbled and forced to rebuild himself. It’s a man of science willing himself to become a master of magic. Doctor Mordrid isn’t an origin story. The character doesn’t really have an origin. Not only does this steal away every opportunity for organic exposition, Strange/Mordid is so stagnant he’s barely motivated. Our hero isn’t allowed to be sexy or sweary or to show any personality whatsoever. As perfect as Combs’ casting was, it’s a shame he didn’t have more to work with.

Even with the movie’s flaws, it’s still a shame Doctor Mordrid couldn’t have been Doctor Strange. Strange has always been an A-list character trapped in the B-list. He deserves more attention than he gets, and even a straight-to-video movie would have nudged him further into the public eye. Keeping the name intact likely wouldn’t have made the movie any better, but it certainly would’ve been more successful. Comic fans would’ve sought it out. It could’ve gotten a sequel.

But Full Moon didn’t make the wrong movie; they made the movie wrong. I’m sure there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Marvel Studios has the budget, the vision, and the cast to finally pull the character off. I’d rather get a good, big-budget, Cumberbatchy Doctor Strange than a cheap, tenuously adapted, Combsian version. It just would’ve been nice to get both.




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

PILOT LITE: Agent Carter (2015 television pilot)


Peggy Carter is a character who has had a long and, honestly, mostly forgotten history in comics. She first appeared as a World War 2 ally of Captain America's, but within modern comics she's better known as a relative to his frequent love interest, Sharon Carter. For decades, Peggy was a footnote in the history of the patriotic Avenger. That is, until Captain America: The First Avenger hit theatres and reintroduced the character to a brand new audience hungry for a strong female lead.

Pictured: An extra from
the set of 
Dick Tracy.
Since that film, Peggy has been very popular with Marvel fans. this lead to her return in a Marvel one-shot film titled Agent Carter. Realistically, that should probably be reviewed as the series pilot. Both touch on a similar story: Carter is forced to prove her worth while rising up in male-dominated field (more on that in a little bit). And one could say that, since the short film came first, it is really the best jumping-on point for this show. And that may be true, but since it was essentially a special feature on the Iron Man 3 Blu-Ray, I'm going to treat it as its own separate entity.

The television series opens with the "death" of Steve Rogers, taken from the end of The First Avenger. We then find Carter, reeling from her loss but determined to keep moving forward. The opening establishes the duality of her character by inter-cutting her mundane morning routine with footage of her kicking ass. It's a nice way to quickly and effectively establish that this is tied to the larger Marvel universe while focusing on one of its unsung heroes. It also displays how great Hayley Atwell is in this role. She's pretty well acquainted with this character and seamlessly portrays all the aspects of Peggy's personality.

"I'm back!"
"I'm...not a robot?"
The story follows Carter as she teams up with Howard Stark (again played by Dominic Cooper) to clear his name after it's believed that he sold weapons to America's enemies after the war. Carter is teamed up with Edwin Jarvis, Stark's butler. This clever bit of plotting is a nice nod to the Jarvis character of The Avengers comics of yesteryear. Ever since Iron Man was released theatrically, the majority of new fans know Jarvis only as a computer system and don't realize that he was based on the team's manservant. Since, as a human, Jarvis has had a rich history within Marvel Comics, I like the idea of incorporating that into the Cinematic Universe. James D'Arcy plays Jarvis and skillfully balances the character's usefulness with his lack of worldliness. This could have easily been a bumbling, Jar Jar Binks-ian fool, so it's nice to see the creators not going "full-buffoon" with him. This is practically a masters class on how to make a character comic relief while still making him useful.

Am I the only one who thought of Dark City
when the Automat showed up? Yes?
The plot really kicks into gear when Carter and Jarvis begin looking into an implosion device that's been created based on Stark's science. After getting some assistance from Anton Vanko (Iron Man 2, represent!) they trace the weapon to a Roxxon Oil refinery. There's a big special effects-y showdown, and it ends rather predictably, but it's still very entertaining. One interesting aspect about the show is how much the fine line between strength and coldness is played up with regards to Carter. When a male SSR agent stands up for her early on in the pilot, she chastises him, claiming that she can take care of herself. Obviously, that's true and she didn't necessarily need assistance, but it's always nice to have someone in your corner, needed or not. At the same time, she's never in a physical confrontation that she can't fight her way out of. Sure, there's peril and the fights aren't easy for her, but she always finds a way to get the upper-hand on her own without the assistance of fellow agents. I think there will likely be time spent on Peggy maturing emotionally and being less shut-off as the series continues.

I find it odd/interesting that this series kind of erases the Agent Carter one-shot. I don't mean it pulls a Days of Future Past and wipes it away or there's any dialogue stating that it never happened. But the timelines don't exactly mesh. The short takes place one year after The First Avenger and this series happens two years after. Yet the short ends with Howard Stark recruiting Carter into founding SHIELD. Within this show, however (set one year after the short), the SSR has yet to become SHIELD and Peggy is still a desk-jockey. I understand the reasoning behind picking this story since it's far more dramatic. It just strikes me as a little odd, because Marvel has a very tight timeline for their cinematic universe and even missteps or moments that don't quite sync-up are still treated as valid. Hell, remember that scene from the end of The Incredible Hulk that implies Tony Stark is teaming up with Thunderbolt Ross? They made a one-shot simply to provide context for that, rather than ignore it. Compounding this perplexing bit of continuity is the fact that scenes from the short are featured in the opening domestic-life/kick-ass montage. So...it is canonical? Or not? At this point, I don't know.


What I do know is that the series premiere and the aforementioned one-shot do exactly what a good pilot should: they establish a tone quickly and effectively while creating an interesting story for a compelling lead. It's amazing how difficult something like that can be and what's even more amazing is how easy Agent Carter makes it look.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Justice League: Mortal (2007 script) part 2

In part one of this look back at Justice League: Mortal, I addressed the plot without getting into a whole lot of detail. Now that you've had time to track down the script, I'll be looking a bit deeper in regards to the characters and the overall story. Each section will focus on an actor and the part they were to play. Some of the casting seemed spot on while other actors seemed...less suited for their roles. Let's begin!

DJ Cotrona as Superman

At the time, Cotrona had done very little of note. He had a few bit-parts here and there, but this would have definitely been his highest-profile role. Since then, he's gone on to play Flint in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and star in the From Dusk Till Dawn television series. He definitely has the physique of Superman, but his youthful demeanor and look doesn't quite fit the script's older, more established take on the character. Overall, the character is portrayed how he should be: selfless, noble and pretty much untouchably "super". The third act takes a page from Infinite Crisis and pits Superman against the league thanks to some mind-control. I really like this story beat, but feel that the movie screws it up a bit. It hinges on the idea that Supes thinks Lois has been killed. However, she's not a character and has no presence in the film. It relies too much on the public's knowledge of their relationship and history. That's not a bad thing in some cases, but since it's so important for the finale, she really needs to be seen and (more importantly) felt within the context of the story. She doesn't have to be a major character, just the same level as Iris Allen or maybe a little smaller. Since her "death" is so important at the end, we need to SEE her and understand what she means to Big Blue.

Armie Hammer as Batman

Batman is a pseudo-villain/kinda-hero in the story. He was to be played by Armie Hammer, who has gone on to co-star in David Fincher's The Social Network and received second-billing in the movie that he lead with The Lone Ranger (thanks Johnny Depp). Hammer has been very vocal about his support for this film and how delighted he was to have the role. He spoke to MTV in 2012 and got very excited with the thought of his costume test photos leaking online. He described the batsuit as having pistons and gears on it, almost like an exoskeleton. Batman's role within the narrative skewed toward the uber-paranoid loner that he'd become in the expanded DC comics of the time. He designs a massive satellite system to monitor and disable metahumans that he deems to be threats and included the JLA in that group. His technology is what causes the team to come under fire and in the end must face that in the hardest way possible. That leads to my biggest issue within the story: the climactic killing of Max Lord. I love the scene and think it's a great "no win" moment, it's just the details I have a problem with. In the comics, it's Wonder Woman who does the deed and I think they should have stuck with that. I realize thematically that Batman doing it is symbolic of him taking responsibility of the situation. However, Batman's "no kill" rule is too well established in the public psyche to be broken. Look at the uproar over Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel. Supes and Batman shouldn't kill...EVER. Other heroes (like WW) shouldn't kill...UNLESS. That's an important distinction. I truly believe that Superman and Batman would die before killing. Wonder Woman, however, would kill to save others or herself. And I think it's important to show that contrast. Plus, this could be mined for drama in future stories. I mean, a super-powered hero snaps the neck of a mere mortal? That's dramatic gold! If Batman does it, he's just a human who is fallible and easy to forgive. However, the nature of the plot sets this up as an easy fix in a future draft.

Adam Brody as The Flash

As I said before, my favorite of the characters in here was The Flash. There is something refreshing and very interesting to see a guy who is married and has a normal family life but is also a superhero. He has no noticeable past trauma and no inner demons. He's just a guy with a gift who wants to help people. That alone is far more inspiring than anything in Man of Steel. Flash is pretty much perfectly written. He's funny, a bit starry-eyed but above all else, he's inspirational. He's easily the soul of the movie and keeps his head even when things are at their darkest. His relationship with Iris is played a lot like Wash and Zoe from Firefly. They're both strong independent characters who love each other and are completely comfortable in their relationship, even when he has to do things that may endanger him. In the end, Flash makes the ultimate sacrifice to defeat the OMAC nanites and save the world. His death is visually reminiscent of Crisis on Infinite Earth's climax and leads to the torch being passed to Wally as the new Flash. What's interesting to me is that the film opens and closes on his funeral, yet it doesn't feel wholly tragic. Sure, it's sad that a hero died, but it's not the sole feeling that is roused by the ending. There's a sense of renewal in seeing Wally suited up and it also underscores how important these heroes are. The fact that there's a threat that can kill them shows the need for them to band together. Flash was to be played by Adam Brody, who seemed a bit too young to me. At the time, he was fresh off a hit teen-drama The OC and was pretty much only known for that. I understand the reasoning behind his casting, but I feel someone with just a few more years on him should have taken the role.

Megan Gale as Wonder Woman

Gale is an Australian model who had pretty much no acting experience at the time this movie was in production. Seeing as how the role was pretty physical, it makes sense that they went with someone who could probably handle it. The climax of the movie features Wonder Woman going head to head with Superman. If filmed correctly, that could have been an incredibly epic battle. As I mentioned earlier, Wonder Woman no longer kills Max Lord during this battle. I've explained above why Batman shouldn't be the one to do it, but almost more importantly than that, I think Wonder Woman definitely should be the one to. She's a warrior who was raised to do whatever is necessary for the greater good. On more than one occasion, that's included killing. The sequel could even reveal that the death was filmed and made public (as in the comic) to turn the public against superheroes. Any way you slice it, Wonder Woman doing the killing makes more sense.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter

J'onn J'onzz is probably the most underdeveloped Leaguer in the script. Since he's a non-human member of the team (and doesn't have a huge red S on his shirt), he needs a little more explanation than was given in the film to get the audience properly invested in him. In the comics, J'onn has a shockingly tragic backstory: he's the sole survivor of a species that went extinct by its own hand. Unlike Superman, who was a baby and had no memory of his home-planet, J'onn was a grown man with a family. And he had to watch them all get consumed by flames. What's worse, when he was transported to Earth, he accidentally killed the first person he saw which has weighed heavily upon him ever since. As such, he has a great deal of empathy for humanity. In the film, he's the first League member to be attacked and spends much of the running time submerged in a cocoon of water. It's unfortunate that more of his backstory doesn't come through in the script, but as I mentioned earlier, his (and everyone's) history could have been briefly explained in a couple of lines of dialogue or a credit-sequence that briefly. Hugh Keays-Byrne is best known for his villainous turn in Miller's Mad Max or from the television series FarscapeAs such, he's a genre veteran with plenty of experience with make-up and prosthetics which would likely have been a requirement for the role.

Common as Green Lantern

It could also be argued that Green Lantern was just as underdeveloped as Martian Manhunter, but since he's a human I feel like there's less explanation needed. When he's introduced within the story, he uses his power ring to create a 3-D rendering of a blue-print from his architectural firm. It's a cool idea to show just how complex his creations can be. Going with John Stewart was a great choice, at the time. He was the GL used on the Justice League animated series and was gaining popularity in the comics as well. Sadly, He's been pushed to the sidelines now since DC forced Hal Jordan back into prominence. Since it was announced that Stewart would be in the film, it had been rumored that Common would be playing the role, despite not doing much acting. Since then he's been in considerably more movies (even one comic book movie: Wanted) and would still be a valid choice if John Stewart makes any other live-action appearances.

Anton Yelchin as Kid Flash

I had no idea that Wally West was in the script. At first glance it seems a bit muddled to have two Flashes in the same movie, especially one that is introducing a whole team of heroes. But it ends up feeling very natural. Wally's origin is only slightly addressed, which is ok overall. In a lot of ways, his story is about coming of age as a hero. He goes from keeping his powers secret to becoming a sidekick to a full-on hero over the course of the film. It's a lot of story but it's handled surprisingly well for the limited screen-time it receives. At the time, Anton Yelchin was known mostly for smaller, Indie movies. He was one of the few actors who was probably the exact age that his character should have been. Yelchin is 10 years younger than Adam Brody, and the age gap should probably be a bit wider. But, I think he was planning on playing the role a bit "younger" so it probably would have worked out fine. One interesting note is that Yelchin is the first Flash seen in the script. It opens with a funeral (implied to be Batman's but actually Barry's) and Flash is seen in attendance. This serves both to show he has taken up his uncle's mantle and to hide the fact that Barry had died. That isn't revealed until the concluding book-end scene.

Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman

Aquaman, perhaps appropriately, has some hidden depths within the story. He's portrayed as the ruler of Atlantis and has a healthy disdain for those who live on the surface. The fact that the script ignored public perception and made him a brooding bad-ass was a wise choice. And yet they also played into those same expectations by using his "talking to fish" powers in pivotal moments, thus showing how useful they can be. My only major complaint is his name; throughout the script he's known as "King Arthur". I think the allusion is a little too overt and they should have substituted his Atlantean name, King Orin. Also, since he's clearly a very proud and isolationist leader in this story, it seems like he would be the kind of character to deem "Arthur Curry" a slave name bestowed upon him by the surface dwellers. He has a backstory that is suggested to be quite complicated and at the time of story is not aligned with the League. It's implied that he sustained a grievous injury in a past adventure with the team and lost a hand as a result. His hand is replaced by one made of enchanted water, much like his character had in the comic at the time. This injury caused him to extricate himself from the League stating, "I've given my pound of flesh."

Jay Baruchel as Max Lord

This was probably the wildest wild card in the entire cast. Baruchel was best known as "the funny/skinny guy in Knocked Up" at this point in his career and had made a name as playing a 3rd or 4th tier sidekick in raunchy comedy movies. He'd had a few leading roles, but nothing on the level of Justice League and certainly nothing villainous. What I find funny is how opposite he naturally is from the way the character is described in the script. He's essentially an anti-Bruce Wayne who owns a chain of burger restaurants called "Planet Krypton" (a plot point taken from Kingdom Come and its sequel The Kingdom). Max has a dark secret, however. As a child he was put through the OMAC Project and developed psychic powers as a result. That coupled with nano-bots hiding in the food from his burgers creates an army of OMAC cyborgs. Far from the fun-loving Max of the 80's Justice League comics, this version borrows heavily from the Infinite Crisis version who is eventually murdered by Wonder Woman. The lead up to this death is very similar in the film, while the outcome is slightly different (see above). I like Baruchel, but I don't see him in this role. He looked like he was about 17 at the time, and I don't think had the smug arrogance to pull off the role. Who knows, though. Maybe he would have proven me wrong.

Teresa Palmer as Talia Al Ghul

Talia in the script is drawn from the DC Universe comics of the mid-2000's pretty much exclusively. She works with Max Lord and uses her past love-affair with Batman to gain access to the League. Her father, Ra's Al Ghul, is spoken of as having died previously. She holds Batman responsible. It's never stated explicitly how he died, but since this film was in the works only a couple of years after Batman Begins, I think it would have been a cool idea to anchor it to that series. Obviously they had a different Batman, but I wish they had considered getting Christian Bale on board. Theresa Palmer was pretty unknown at the time of this film. Since then, she's built up her career pretty steadily with supporting roles in major studio films. In 2012 he starred in the film Warm Bodies and has had a very busy film-slate ever since.

George Miller as The Director

Miller has had a very interesting career as a director. He gained fame and acclaim as a director of gritty Aussie action films like Mad Max and The Road Warrior but in the 2000's he's far better known for kid-friendly fare like the Happy Feet franchise. I guess that's a nice balance for a movie like Justice LeagueThe WETA Workshop was hired to create the costumes and props for this film. While none of them have leaked online, the descriptions of the costumes have sounded like the comic designs mixed with a real-world aesthetic. Hopefully those designs will see the light of day sometime soon. With Miller's influence, the film was to be shot in Australia to capitalize on much-coveted tax rebates that would significantly lower the film's budget. However, the writer's strike of 2007 hit full-swing as the script was being prepped for its first round of re-writes. That's not the end of the world (The same thing happened to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobraso its re-writes came during filming) but shortly before shooting commenced, it was announced that the rebates were being rescinded. The studio decided to cancel the feature rather than waste more time and money looking for new shooting locations without a fine-tuned script. Miller went on to make a 4th film in the Mad Max series, called Fury Roadwhich is slated for release this summer. The cast contains 2 of the leads of this film (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Megan Gale) and was going to have a third, but Teresa Palmer couldn't fit it in her schedule.

One of the only pictures of the assembled cast
(with George Miller and a couple crew members).

For the most part, I was a fan of the characterizations of the majority of the league. They were done in fairly broad strokes, but in an ensemble piece that also serves as a franchise introduction, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I've said it before, but the focused nature of the story was also definitely a plus. It was very economical in the way it balanced story and action. We're dealing with 7 heroes (8 if you count Wally), 2 villains and a few tertiary cast members. That's pretty unwieldy and yet the story never strays from the immediacy of the plot. That does lead to some story issues for me (like the aforementioned lack of substance for some Leaguers) but I still think that this is a better way to go than getting too bogged down with backstory and "here's what you need to know" type set-up. Also, this is a total quibble, but I also would have loved to see Buddy Blank's name in there somewhere, possibly as the suited up OMAC soldier or as one of the psychic kids in the 70's.

Sadly, we're still waiting on a proper Justice League movie. DC currently has one slated for 2017. Maybe they'll have their house in order enough to actually complete it this go around. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 CBM Year in Review


It's been a damn good year for comic book media. Perhaps the biggest advances have been in the realm of television. Once the black sheep of the entertainment industry, TV is now the go-to for intricately plotted, nuanced and serialized drama. Add to that the continuing dominance of comic book movies and it's no surprise that countless properties continue to be optioned and adapted.

As such, frequent collaborator Brian Baer and I have come together to take a look back at the last year of comic book film and television. We have arranged them into our personal best and worst for each category. Enjoy!

Best Movie
BAER: Guardians of the Galaxy
The A-Holes
Guardians is a cleverly designed pastiche of beloved popcorn adventure flicks from the 70s and 80s, updated with breathtaking visuals, a dedicated cast, a visionary director, an incredible soundtrack and a wicked sense of humor.

COLBY: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Those who know me, know of my obsessive love for the X-Men franchise. Who would have thought that the 7th film in the series would turn out to be such an intricately constructed and wonderfully realized way to bridge the branching narrative that had been established in past movies? Plus it provides the added bonus of wiping away past problems with the franchise. It was nuanced and beautifully shot and the love for the characters was obvious. And don't even get me started about that Quicksilver scene...

Worst Movie
BAER: I, Frankenstein
Ugly, humorless, and the worst kind of uninspired. The comic was made to sell the movie, and the movie never should’ve been made.

Yikes.
COLBY: Hercules
While TMNT and Amazing Spider-Man 2 were assuredly awful, I'm going to go with Hercules. This is a testament to the power of directing. It's based on Hercules: The Thracean War by Steve Moore (the whole "based on" thing will have to be gone into in another article, because that's an interesting story) and has a really good cast. Dwayne Johnson is a capable action star and the supporting players feature John Hurt and Ian McShane. That said, the movie retains what I call "The Ratner Stink". It's soullessly shot and feels overwhelmingly boring. I also find it odd that the film's title is a bit of a misnomer seeing as how it focuses so much on Hercules' team of heroic sidekicks. In the end, Spidey 2 is a worse film, but Hercules is a shockingly sad disappointment.

Best TV Series
"Hullo, guv."
BAER: Constantine
In a year full of strong comic-based TV, none stood out like NBC’s Hellblazer adaptation. It had the most potential to go horribly, horribly wrong, as well. Instead we get an old-fashioned X-Files style chiller with loads of gore, crazy supernatural ideas, and a borderline unlikeable protagonist. It’s like nothing else on TV.


COLBY: Constantine
Can't I just give a three-way tie to Arrow, Flash and Constantine? Since I must pick one, I'm going with Constantine. There was every reason in the world that this show should have been an artistic failure and faded into obscurity. Luckily, thanks to a spot-on cast and comic-based writing, this show has given Hellblazer fans the adaptation that they deserve. The love for the source material shows through on every level and network limitations are creatively bypassed. The fact that the aforementioned shows were so good isn't much of a surprise, and since Constantine has surpassed expectation at every turn, it stands out from the pack.

Worst TV Series
BAER: Gotham
Gotham is a gritty cop drama that has been awkwardly expanded to an ensemble piece. Most characters seem uncertain what they’re doing on screen. It has so much going for it, including a great design sensibility, but it’s still a dull and useless appendage to the Dark Knight mythos. If it couldn’t fall back on the ever-bankable Batman name, this would’ve been axed by now.

COLBY: The Walking Dead
"CARRLL!!"
With the comic book TV explosion of late, there's been quite a few of exceptional quality. As such, it was hard to select a worst show. So I didn't go with anything new. My biggest problem with The Walking Dead is that there is no momentum. The characters have fallen into the same plot-traps time and again over the last five years and never seem to learn anything. That leads to the lack of any real hope that I've mentioned before. If these characters are doomed to repeat their same mistakes ad infinitum, then why should I keep watching?  I just wish this "character-driven drama" was more focused on growing its characters.

Best Announcement
BAER: Marvel's film slate
There is so much to be excited for, from the things we expected (Avengers sequels, Civil War) to the things we really, really hoped for (Captain Marvel, Black Panther).

"I know, we're awesome..."
COLBY: Marvel's film slate
There's really nothing else it could be. Marvel's been hitting it out of the park since day one and "phase three" of their film series seems to be continuing that trend. With some new storylines and characters getting much-needed appearances, the Marvel brand has never felt fresher.

Worst Announcement
BAER: DC's film slate
Warner Brothers is putting the horse in front of the cart. Instead of building a franchise block-by-block, the cautious Marvel way, everything is being thrown into production with the blind hope that the films are successful, the actors like their roles, and anyone even wants to watch another Green Lantern film.

COLBY: Sony's Spider-Man spin-offs
"I'll be back...like it or not."
My gut reaction is to go with DC's desperate attempt at being Marvel. However, I'm going to go with Sony's announcement that they'll be making franchises out of c-level Spider-villains, matronly aunts and newly-created heroines. As desperate as DC seemed this year, Sony and their floundering franchise looked even worse. And the recent email hacking scandal has, sadly, proven just how out of their depth they really are.

Best Casting
BAER: Georges St-Pierre as Batroc in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
*French noises*
Of all the happy surprises of Winter Soldier, nothing beats a bad-ass Batroc the Leaper. Casting real-life MMA master St-Pierre was a perfect fit for the hard-hitting, stunt-based style the Russo brothers brought to the Marvel Universe.

COLBY: Tom Cavanagh as Dr. Wells in The Flash
Wells is a tricky role. He has no direct correlation within the comic book (that we know of, at this point anyway) and could have fallen completely flat. Luckily, because of Cavanagh's interesting mix of warmth and sinister misdirection, the character has become a fan favorite.

Worst Casting
BAER: Josh Brolin as Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.
*Jabba laughter*
Yes, Thanos is clearly set to be a huge character in the broad scope of the Marvel movies, and it's only fitting he is treated with sufficient gravitas for that. But it's obvious a real actor, let alone a big, expensive, brand-name actor, isn't required. Thanos is as CGI as Groot and his voice is twice as modulated. Brolin is unrecognizable. Instead of finding a talented motion capture and/or voice actor, the studio chose to throw money away.

COLBY: James Cromwell as Krei in Big Hero 6
**Spoilers**
This is an odd choice since the actor and the movie were both pretty good, actually. My problem is that it was obvious stunt-casting. When he's first introduced in the movie as Hiro's mentor (literally, his first scene) I told my girlfriend, "I bet he's the bad guy". And sure enough, 70 minutes and a few plot twits later, I was right. Since the misdirection was so obvious and obtuse, this seemingly tiny quibble almost ruined an otherwise fun and good-natured movie for me.

Best Fight
BAER: Flash vs. Arrow from The Flash
Your move, DC films...
God help me, this fight was stunning. The characterizations and superpowers/trick arrows were so perfect, it was a comic book come to life in the purest sense. It brought me right back to the childlike glee I felt during my first viewing of Whedon’s Avengers.

COLBY: X-Men vs. Sentinels from X-Men: Days of Future Past
I've spent 20 years waiting to see the X-Men take on these murderous, mutant hunting robots in live action and I do believe it was worth the wait. Among the many, many things that this film did right was to portray the Sentinels as wholly unstoppable. Seeing the future X-Men throw everything they had at them to no avail was simultaneously thrilling and heartbreaking.

Worst Fight
BAER: The 3rd act of Amazing Spider-Man 2
I was willing to put up with a lot of disappointments in this movie, just due to the perfection of Andrew Garfield's take on Peter Parker, and the ensuing charm of his interactions with Emma Stone. Still, the battle at the power plant (along with the finale with the shoehorned Goblin character) was a bridge too far. It was a cluttered, lackluster sequel and that fight was a garish, patronizing strobe light of CGI nonsense and what is literally the worst music I’ve ever heard.

What am I looking at?
COLBY: TMNT vs. Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Really, just about any fight in this movie could qualify. Everything's so hyper-kinetic and overly CGI'd that any movement becomes a muddled mass of pixels. The final battle with Shredder is a special mess, however. It contains all of the bleary activity of the earlier fights but contains none of the danger or gravitas of a movie-ending showdown. Shredder is broadly drawn at best and has pretty much no motivation for his evil plan. That coupled with the annoyingly staged fight creates something both boring and jarringly fast-paced. So in the end you forget it's supposed to be a battle between characters and just see four green blobs moving quickly around another, silver blob.

Best Actor
"Wait, I'm bald in 2014? Ok, let's
change the future."
BAER: James McAvoy in X-Men: Days of Future Past
With Bryan Singer back in the director’s seat, DoFP was more than a fun sequel, it was deep and heartfelt. This was best expressed through McAvoy’s performance as the young Charles Xavier, a man who’s had everything taken from him, and who is asked to sacrifice even more. McAvoy makes you feel that pain and helplessness in his powerful performance.

COLBY: Matt Ryan in Constantine
Keanu who? Ryan is so comfortable with the role of John Constantine, it almost makes one forget that the character was adapted (horridly) once before. Sure, he's a little more likable than the comic version, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. The fact that he won over a jaded old fan like me is a testament to his skill as an actor.

Worst Actor
BAER: Bill Nighy in I, Frankenstein
Look, Bill Nighy is a fantastic actor, okay? FANTASTIC. But this was a paycheck film in the worst possible sense. He looked uncomfortable and embarrassed every moment he was on screen.

Why can't Koenig be
a series regular?
COLBY: B. J. Britt in Agents of SHIELD
I've spent the last year wondering how this guy got a reoccurring role in a Marvel series. He always sounds like he's reading his lines from a cue-card and plays his character ridiculously broadly. It's annoying to see such amateurish acting make its way onto a big-budget television series.

Best Actress
BAER: Scarlett Johansson in Captain America: The Winter Solider
Johansson has the Black Widow character down perfectly by now - She’s the snarky, supremely confident super-spy. She's prepared for everything. The events of Winter Soldier, however, rattle her. Johansson digs deeper into the Widow, bringing surprisingly vulnerability and genuine warmth.

"You! Go rent Snowpiercer!"
COLBY: Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer was an underrated gem that made a splash with critics, but didn't get the wide release it deserved. Swinton plays the hell out of her role as a smarmy, Thatcher-esque elite who helps keep the lower classes of the movie's future society in their place. She is cowardly, aggravating and wonderfully realized. A great performance in a great movie.

Worst Actress
BAER: Erin Richards in Gotham
Of all the characters on Gotham, Richards' has the least connection to anything happening in the plot. The actress manages to project a confused blankness anytime she's on screen, like she's eternally caught off guard. It's as if, on some metatextual level, even she doesn't realize what she's doing there. If that's being done intentionally, I'll gladly change this to Best Actress

COLBY: Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney in Gotham
I didn't mind this character in the pilot, but about halfway through her second appearance on this show I realized that what was a quirky performance ONCE quickly turns into a grating annoyance. The character isn't written with the most nuance, but a more capable actor could have added something more than manic Nicolas Cage-ian screaming to suggest menace.

Best Cameo or Reference
"See you in 2018!"
BAER: All the "Inhumans" stuff in Agents of SHIELD
There's a little thrill every time something from the Marvel cinematic universe finds its way into onto the show. This goes double for any comics character or concept that pops up. And now, we're getting comics stuff introduced into the Marvel cinematic universe through the show? It's like Agents of SHIELD finally has a reason to exist.

COLBY: The DC References in The Flash
This series follows in Arrow's footsteps and fully accepts its comic book roots by making great use of the various corners of the wider DC Universe. Early on, the series featured "Hex's Gun Shop" as a location and later episodes teased the in-universe films Blue Devil 2 and Nighthawk & Cinnamon. While DC comics themselves seem to be intent on wiping away their long history, it's nice to see this show embrace it.

Worst Cameo or Reference
Is it still a cameo if they
get their own poster?
BAER: Every time they say "52" on Arrow and Flash.
Yeah, yeah. New 52. We get it. No reason to make it every street name, apartment number, police call sign, and TV station.

COLBY: Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
While I don't think the movie deserved the critical savaging it received (I thought it was pretty much on par with the original, for better or worse), I hated these cameos. The co-directors play wounded hitmen in a television show that Nancy watches and provide stupidly on-the-nose exposition and foreshadowing. No one has ever accused Frank Miller of being subtle, but damn.


And that's that for 2014! Agree? Disagree? We don't care, but feel free to comment below anyway!