Monday, 12 August 2013

World's Finest Villains: Parasite

I'm going to start my list of choices for World's Finest's antagonists with a character I loathe. Not in a love-to-loathe-them kind of way, like with Palpatine or any villain played by Kevin Spacey, but one that I can't stand the sight of.

Meet the Parasite.

Just look at him - he looks ridiculous! In Superman: Secret Origin, it's revealed that he got his powers from eating a radioactive donut. His dialogue is never great, and his power is fairly unoriginal (he steals the life-force/powers of others, leaving withered corpses behind).

Why then, if I dislike him so much, would I pit him against Superman and Batman? Well, I wouldn't have him as the movie's only villain. He'd work much better either as a subordinate for a bigger villain, or as an unrelated-but-still-minor villain for the false victory/false defeat in the middle.

This guy has connections. He works at S.T.A.R. Labs (the same place Dr. Emil Hamilton worked at), which is where he eats the radioactive donut, so there's an obvious connection there,. This would be a great way of getting Superman and Batman to/involved with S.T.A.R. Labs in order to introduce another villain (but I'll get onto them in another post - the links with S.T.A.R. Labs needs more space). What I'm trying to say is that he'd present a minor challenge for the heroes, but not one that would actually require all of their effort and skill; just something to fill a hole in the middle of the movie, and to set up the next antagonist, exactly as he did in Superman: Secret Origin.

What they would have to do to make Parasite is change his look completely, just as Synder's team redesigned Krypton; sure, you can add lots of subtle nods to the original version, but the look and feel has to suit the modern world, first and foremost. 

Xhibit enjoys hosting Pimp My Superhero way too much.

In Season 8 of Smallville, which I didn't watch out of respect for the first six seasons, Rudy Jones makes an appearance as a stereotypical dissaffected-youth-gets-powers-goes-all-supervillain, and causes havoc after temporarily pilfering Supes' powers. But he's just a kid. Here's a pic:

This is how Synder shouldn't reboot Parasite. There's absolutely nothing menacing about him, and to be honest he has nothing to do with the comic book character. This is the Supernatural approach: making an inhuman creature look perfectly normal. It works in the TV series Supernatural, but it doesn't normally work in anything else, which is where Smallville fell down on most counts in its later series', particularly with its rendition of Darkseid.

I'm getting sidetracked here - back to the Parasite! What Synder should really do is recreate the Parasite as a monster - make it so Rudy mutates properly into something inhuman, and not simply become a guy in a leather jacket or a fatty with pink skin.

In my next post in this series, I'll be discussing an interesting option for the central antagonist, one that I believe could make for an interesting plot: Black Mask.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Wolverine (review)

One of the best things about X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that, while the film wasn't exactly a failure, the writers/creators of later movies in the franchise have all but said "Yeah, forget the continuity. The Wolverine movie isn't important. We were kind of in a dark place after X-Men 3..."

...which is why it's no surprise at all that The Wolverine is not a sequel. It is entirely its own movie, and only makes a couple of minor references to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Instead, it focuses on X-Men 3 as the springboard, and we rejoin Logan's company 10 years after the big battle in San Francisco. He's been living in the woods, has promised not to kill...once again, we see a wounded Wolverine, haunted by having to kill lover Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), blah blah blah, it's not really anything new, but then again, there ain't nothin' new under the sun. So if you're expecting a labyrinthine plot, go watch Patriot Games or something.

If you can put up with being able to see the end coming a mile off (not to mention anticipating every single plot twist the film throws at you), then you'll enjoy The Wolverine, because the main focus is the action. It's on seeing Wolverine hack some bad guys into spare ribs, and it does that phenomenally well.  there's a good 15 minutes or so of sustained action, first at a funeral and then in/on top of a bullet train, and it's fantastic. The choreography is breathtaking, as are the visual effects.

The other draws are the setting and the scale. Coming straight after The Avengers, Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, you might think that it would be hard to take such a ground-level superhero movie seriously, but it isn't. Logan isn't saving the world, but that's quite refreshing. As amazing the battles of New York and Metropolis are, it's nice to follow a story that's not as big or as loud; something that knows it doesn't have to cause $2 trillion worth of damage to hold its audience's attention. I believe that there's a place for both in superhero cinema, and I'd like to see more on The Wolverine's level.

This villain annoyed me. She was boring and hugely cliche.

As for setting, all bar 2, maybe 3 scenes are set in Japan, which is unexplored territory for superheroes. in the X-Men universe it is quite important, as many important elements of Logan's past come from the comic run that this movie is loosely based on. In the movie itself, the location flits back and forth between traditional Japanese culture and architecture and modern Tokyo, and both are quite alien for Logan and (I would say) the audience. This really helps to give the movie a more frantic atmosphere; not only is Logan facing a new and previously unknown enemy, but he's been thrown into a foreign environment; both repeatedly threaten to swallow him up, but he manages to get through it and focus, not matter how hard it is initially. As Mariko (the love interest) says, "You wouldn't understand. You aren't Japanese."

So all in all, an enjoyable ride, but nothing new. It's the perfect Wolverine movie and nothing more, but then again it doesn't need to be anything else. Nobody working on this project was intending the film to be a masterpiece, because that would be a ridiculous aspiration.

But here's my question: how can Logan survive so much damage and yet show no signs of mental trauma? I mean, in the first five minutes he gets most of his skin burned off, and all he does is breathe deeply while it heals, and then he never mentions it again. I guess it's just a testament to his sanity that he can go through so much pain and not go mad, although I'm pretty sure that there's a point where the mind just gives up, no matter how strong your bones are.

Here's the UK trailer. Feel free to watch it, I won't stop you.

I'm not going to talk about the post-credits scene a) because I don't want to spoil it (though I don't think it's that much of a spoiler anymore), and b) because I'm going to do a whole blog post on the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, which hits the screen next year.

And I leave you with this awesome image:

Friday, 2 August 2013

World's Finest

I go to Iceland for 16 days, and what do I find when I get back?

Even though this is exactly what I hoped/predicted Warner Brothers would do, it's hugely exciting news. Despite several attempts to create this movie, Batman and Superman have never before been seen on the big screen together. With all the speculation about a potential Justice League movie, and the success of Man of Steel, it was only a matter of time before Warner fed us something. As I understand it, all we got was a logo, a release date of 2015 and the tentative title of Superman VS Batman (which, truth be told, isn't hugely inspiring - just look at Freddie VS Jason and Alien VS Predator).

I'd originally planned to do a post explaining why a World's Finest (that's the name of the original comic-run in which Superman and Batman joined forces) movie was Warner's best option, but they've already taken my unspoken advice, so that blog post would unnecessary. What I will do is briefly say why I think this is a great idea, but also what I think Warner should try to avoid.

Why is World's Finest awesome?
Firstly, it's not as convoluted as Justice League. Warner's original plan was to do the reverse of Marvel's line-up, and have one movie that would introduce all the characters and spark off a series of individual movies. That would have been terrible - establishing such strong and complex characters and getting them all together and testing them to their limits against a Big Bad requires more than 2 hours. Start off small, don't bite off more than you can chew.

It goes without saying that Batman and Superman are two of the three most well-known superheroes in the world (the third being Spider-man), so it's natural for Warner to use that property to establish their DC Cinematic Universe. Plus, the success of Man of Steel and the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy has everyone wanting more of both. Now is the perfect time for them to team-up on the silver screen.

So start small, and then move onto bigger things. Get the two most important heroes right, and then you can bring in the other stars in future movies. In my opinion, the DCCU should go a little something like this:
  1. Man of Steel
  2. World's Finest
  3. Flash
  4. Wonder Woman or Aquaman (possibly - this stage isn't 100% necessary, but would be nice)
  5. Justice League
By the time you get to Justice League, you only have to introduce a couple of new superheroes, who are normally Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and sometimes Cyborg and/or Hawkgirl. Then, once the big film's out of the way, you can work on giving those other heroes their own movies.

What should Warner Brothers avoid?
Having the whole plot of the movie be Batman fighting Superman. That would be outright terrible. There's no way that a) they could find an interesting enough plot for it, and b) that it would be able to come anywhere near to matching the action in Man of Steel. After all, what's a human got on a Kryptonian? Even though Batman has a strong chance of winning (which he does many times in the comics), it wouldn't make a great movie.

That's not to say they shouldn't come into conflict at all. Just look at The Avengers: Joss Whedon effortlessly pitted Marvel's three biggest heroes - Iron Man, Captain America and Thor - against each other in what was portrayed as a really petty quarrel, and then Thor and Hulk fought each other later on. However, they worked out their differences for the finale and beat Loki and his army of aliens, and saved the day. That's really what World's Finest should do: have the two heroes at odds, but allow them to work their issues out before taking on the real enemy, whoever that may be.

To round off, here's a picture from the LEGO Justice League movie:

In one of my next posts, I'll talk about who I think would make the best villains in the movie. I hope this hasn't been too much of a geek rant - I just wanted to get my opinion out there. I'm really excited for this movie, but also worried that they might not get it right. Superman and Batman deserve to be done, er, justice.  :)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

I Am Number Four: book or film?

Having finally watched the movie adaptation of I Am Number Four, I thought it was about time I read the book, and so I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Safe to say I'll be reading the rest of the series.

As we're all aware, sometimes when a book gets a film adaptation, the story is torn to pieces. Just look at Phillip Pullman's beautiful His Dark Materials series. New Line released The Golden Compass in 2007, which is apparently one of their most expensive movies to date. Visually, it was a masterpiece (I mean, it's really worth watching the movie just for the incredible VFX, particularly the ice bears), but it softened a lot of the atheist themes of the book (though not enough to prevent harsh criticism about it being violently anti-Catholic) and rearranged many of the events in the book for absolutely no reason. This, and the fact that the whole thing was badly paced, caused the movie to flop; a brilliant book flopped, even after New Line emptied their wallets throwing money at the production.

Similarly, the first Percy Jackson movie was almost indistinguishable from the book. While I understand that the Percy Jackson books are oddly structured (that's not a criticism, as I'm a big fan of the series and enjoy its picaresque style) and would not easily leap to the screen, I think that Fox handled the material really badly, probably worse than New Line did with Northern Lights. They shuffled everything around to fit the Hollywood formula, skipping over loads of important plot elements, characters, and the series' underlying villain completely. However, it was still reasonably enjoyable.

So, I Am Number Four: The Book. First book in the Lorien Legacies series. Written by James Frey and Jobie Hughes under the pen name Pittacus Lore. Young adult sci-fi romp.

And then, I Am Number Four: The Movie. First and now probably only movie in a planned but shelved series. Directed by D.J. Caruso and, though you wouldn't guess from watching it, produced by Michael Bay, all for Touchstone Pictures. Teen sci-fi action movie (sort of).

What's it all about? Well, there's this guy, called John Smith. He's fourteen (but played by 23-year-old Alex Pettyfer), and he's one of only eighteen remaining aliens from the planet Lorien, which was invaded several years before the story starts by the villains, the Mogadorians, an evil race who use life force to sustain their technology. The nine Lorien children sent to Earth are protected by a special charm that means that they can only be killed in sequence. However, that doesn't help John; the first three are dead, and he is Number Four.

That's the basics of the premise. There are lots of details about Lorien's core and about Lorien's alien magic, and lots of backstory about life on Lorien and John's memories, and all these flashbacks of the war and explanations about why some Lorien-people have powers and some, like John's protector Henri, don't, but none of that's important. Or at least, Touchstone Pictures didn't think so. Everything I've just mentioned is left out of the movie, and that's not even a quarter of the total omissions.

So what's in the movie, then? Well, the bare bones of the story: John moves to a new town in Ohio, knowing that he's next. He makes a friend in Sam Goode, an alien conspiracy theorist, and a girlfriend in Sarah Hart (still a better love story than Twilight), and then there's this jerk called Mark's all very simple, really, and aside from a few props here and there and the alien bad guys themselves, there's nothing very sci-fi about it at all. John could just as easily be a young undercover spy (perhaps in the vein of Alex Rider?), on the run from some enemy agents. The sci-fi almost feels unnecessary...until the end.

There's the school battle, and in the movie it's awesome. It's a little different to the book, but it's still cool. And Number Six is introduced.

This is where the comparison gets interesting, because Six is actually a better character in the movie than in the book. I'm serious - though Six has just as many lines in both, Teresa Palmer shows us some emotion in the movie, whereas in the book Six doesn't really do much except fight. Her entrance is an unexpected twist, but a bit flat. It feels like a tag-on. In the movie, Six is introduced about an hour earlier through some little bits that are hinted at in the book but never explicitly described, and they work a treat. They make her a serious badass.

The villains are much better as well, even if the film does make them seem slightly silly. While the gangster-styled Mogadorians of the book are imposing, the gill-nosed, supermarket-frequenting Mogadorians of the movie are both funny in their semi-assimilation of human technology and culture, and also hugely menacing; the way they dispose of their loose ends is beautifully sadistic, especially in tandem with their humorous side. My only comparison is the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs (which was undoubtedly a huge influence on this). Again, watch the movie for yourself to see what I'm talking about. I don't want to write spoilers, and I don't think I can do the scene justice anyway.

However, the lack of any Lorien whatsoever does make me a bit sad. Though the book isn't amazingly written (not bad, just not anything overly special), the concepts described about Lorien and why some of its inhabitants have powers is kind of beautiful. I won't put it here; it's not a major spoiler or anything, but you should read it for yourself. It's more powerful that way. There are also lots of flashbacks to John's family on Lorien and the life he had there, and they flesh him and a few other characters out massively, as well as providing some depth to a later plot development (involving a gecko and John's grandfather). I know the movie had a limited budget, but it would've been nice if they'd have made a bit of an effort. The book has such heart and depth, whereas the movie focuses on the teen love-story aspect a little more than is necessary and makes the science just out-and-out sci-fi. No magic involved.

All in all, I'd say watch the movie and then read the book. I enjoyed the movie, but if you come from it having read the book and expecting the same warmth, you'll be disappointed.

P.S. the book has lots of swearing in it, which is just one of the things that makes it 'young adult' rather than 'teen'. The movie didn't, and was firmly 'young teen'. Complete change in maturity level. Know your audience. Just sayin'.