Friday, May 1, 2015

movie review: AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON

Avengers: Age of Ultron is, in short, one great movie. A visual spectacular that deals with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner creating an artificial intelligence lifeform, Ultron, that severly backfires when Ultron decides to wipe out humanity, and the Avengers need to save the world by stopping Ultron and his army of robots. Director Joss Whedon brought back what worked and fixed the problems the first movie had. Gone was the slower paced first hour the primary film suffered. This one starts with an amazing action sequence, and things only get better from there. All the action scenes are highlights, and unlike the Nolan-Snyder approach, are fun and colorful and still convey danger and thrills. Another flaw in the first film was that many scenes happened on a SHIELD aircraft, giving the movie, at times, an almost made-for-television feel.  The sequel avoids such a contrivance, yet still has quieter character scenes that match the big budget spectacle of the action scenes. Stand out moments include the Avengers' party, that concludes with everyone trying to lift Thor's hammer, and the banter between the various characters, such as everyone ragging on Captain America after he tells Iron Man to watch his language during the film's first sequence.


All of the actors return to their respective roles. Chris Hemsworth, who kind of phoned in his performance in the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, redeems himself with a stellar performance. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johanson, and Mark Ruffalo all continue with great performances as their characters.   Jeremy Renner, who was kind of the odd man out in the first movie, shines here as Hawkeye in character scenes, and if Tony Stark is the brains, Thor the might, and Steve Rogers the soul, you could say Clint Barton is the heart of the Avengers. Three new major characters are introduced: The Vision, played by Paul Bettany, The Scarlet Witch, played by the Olsen Twins' younger sister Elizabeth, and Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson. Of the three, I thought Scarlet Witch had the best portrayal, perhaps due to Whedon's credentials in similar characters dating back to his Buffy The Vampire Slayer years. Quicksilver has a pivotal scene, where as the movie seems to be setting up Hawkeye for a heroic final fate, only to give us a "you didn't see that coming" swerve, that needless to say, means Quicksilver may now be the sole property of the X Men franchise.  Ironically, as good as Johnson was as Quicksilver, I thought Evan Peters' competing portrayal in X Men: Days of Future Past was slightly better, and the film effects of his speed were better realised (and I'm saying this as someone who isn't a big fan of the X Men franchise). The film ends with the founding Avengers moving on, leaving Captain America and Black Widow to train a new incarnation of the team consisting of the Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Falcon, and War Machine.

I've always been a DC guy. But I have to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting it right. I kind of fear for the upcoming Batman v Superman and Justice League movies because the powers-that-be at DC/WB have lost sight of what a superhero movie could be. Colors are washed out, everything is taken to a level of seriousness one would expect from a documentary on the Holocaust.  The fun has been sucked out. The Marvel Cinematic Universe remembers that superheroes could be fun. Avengers: Age of Ultron squeaks in just below Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the second best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Convergence: Shazam #1

I thought Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's Thunderworld Adventures was going to be a tough act to follow. I thought Jeff Parker, with his hit-or-miss writing on Batman '66 would turn in an okay, but not excellent script.  I thought there was no way Convergence: Shazam could come close to equalling Thunderworld Adventures. I was wrong! Convergence: Shazam has, indeed, equaled Thunderworld.  Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner hit a home run. You have to understand, as a Captain Marvel fan, it's just so unusual to have two superb Shazam products back to back, and ironically... or perhaps subconsciously prophetic... without Black Adam in the spotlight.  This really hasn't happened since the 1970s.  But we got it now.  Thunderworld Adventures and Convergence: Shazam.
 
Parker turned in a brilliant script. He wrote all the characters' personalities perfectly, and completely in line with each character.  The plot has to do with a dome covering Fawcett City, preventing Billy, Freddy, and Mary from transforming into the Marvel Family for one year.  Two comments: One, there is a difference between this comic's continuity and Thunderworld. This comic is set on the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-S, where Billy first became Captain Marvel in the 1940s, and after some time, along with the entire cast of characters, was trapped by Sivana in Suspendium for decades.  Parker does a masterful job recapping that bit of history in the story.  Thunderworld, on the other hand, is set on the post-Flashpoint Earth 5, which keeps the entire original Fawcett continuity timeline, but transplants it to the modern day.  Second, the only mistake I noticed is Parker refers to Fawcett City.  The pre-COIE Earth-S had no Fawcett City.  Billy and the others live in New York City (the term "Fawcett City" was first used in COIE).

The story works in some of Captain Marvel's greatest foes, and there are scores of cameos and Easter Eggs.  The art by Evan "Doc" Shaner is excellent, and unlike Cameron Stewart, who captured the C.C. Beck flavor while still making it very modern looking, Shaner's art has a more authentic Golden Age look to it. I can't wait to see what's in store for issue 2 when the Gotham By Gaslight version of Batman comes to Earth-S.  Supposedly, after the Mulitversity and Convergence events, DC continuity will be tweaked (editorial:  I hate the "New 52", so they could scrap that continuity all together as far as I'm concerned), and I am hoping Thunderworld Adventures will get picked up as an on-going series, featuring the Earth 5 Marvel Family... and Parker and Shaner would be a great team to launch it.  And between Thunderworld and Convergence: Shazam I hope Toby Emmerich, Dwayne Johnson and the powers-that-be at New Line Cinema are paying close attention on how to properly bring the World's Mightiest Mortal to life on the silver screen. As for Convergence: Shazam #1, it earns an A+.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #22

This issue features bronze age great Mike W. Barr supplying the script. Since I suggested some bronze age writers, like Barr, should be assigned scripting duties on this series, could it mean the powers-that-be at DC may be reading my blog? If so, you have to give Andy Fish a chance at writing this series, too. Barr's script is good, featuring the Penguin, who is foiled by an umbrella trap set by the Dynamic Duo.  To gain his revenge, Penguin discards his birds and umbrella themed crimes, and starts committing crimes loosely based on various bat references.  The cliffhanger of Penguin trapping Batman and Robin in a plexiglass cage infested with blood-sucking vampire bats is one of the most ingenious ones to appear in this series. One of the finnier moments has Batman impersonating a professor, and we can clearly see the Bat-costume under the disguise, yet Penguin doesn't seem to notice it. Unfortunately, the full enjoyment of Barr's script is somewhat hampered by mundane and cartoonish art by Michael Avon Oeming. This issue earns a C+, knocked down a grade for the poor artwork.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #21


This issue features an excellent story by Jeff Parker featuring the Manga villain Lord Death Man. Parker's effort this time around is top notch, and deals with The Penguin's attempt at smuggling flower seeds to Japan leading to Batman and Batgirl (Robin has to take time off to recover from Pengy's vertigo umbrella) travelling to Japan to encounter the fabled villain.  Highlights of the script include the Penguin's death trap that opens the story, Batman and Batgirl fighting ninja, and a spooky trek through Death Man's cave. Add to Parker's clever script excellent artwork by Sandy Jarrell, and you have one of the best issues of this series in too long of a time.  This issue earns a solid A.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #20

This issue features a new writer, Rob Williams, who turns in a story featuring the Joker seemingly becoming a crime fighter, which in reality is just an elaborate ruse to snake the loot of all of Gotham's other arch criminals.  Williams' effort is kind of uneven. He gets in some good moments, like a frustrated Bruce yelling "Blast!", only to apologize for his dark side. Contrast that with a Joker who really doesn't come across as the Cesar Romero version.  The art by Ruben Procopio is generally good, but there are some mystifying inconsistencies, such as the second half of the story sees Jokerman in a completely different costume and Jokermobile than the first half with no explanation.  Likewise, the first part of the story has Mayor Linseed portrayed as a generic white man (not looking like the actor who portrayed him, Byron Keith), while the second half of the story sees Linseed once again erroneously portrayed as the African-American mayor from Batman Forever. Despite Procopio getting credit, it almost looks like a different artist drew the second half. This issue earns a C+.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #19

In this issue writer Jeff Parker brings back third season villains Lord Marmaduke Ffogg, his sister Lady Penelope Peasoup, and their finishing girls' class of crime students.  Parker comes up with a good script that in some ways is superior to the original three-part TV episode. Ffogg and his team have come to Gotham during an Old English festival to spread his new fog that drugs people into "seeing things his way".  Clever moments include Alfred saving the Dynamic Duo when Ffogg's daughter Prudence cuts their Bat-rope during a Bat-Climb, and how they handle fighting the all-girl gang without punching.  Once again, Mayor Linseed is incorrectly portrayed as the African-American mayor from Batman Forever, a continuity gaffe that puts it in conflict not only of the TV series, but of Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith's Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet miniseries.  The art by Leonardo Romero is excellent, and ranks up there with some of the best of the series.  His only mistakes are drawing Batman's costume a little too baggy, and getting Robin's tunic wrong in several panels.  Overall, this issue earns a B.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Elvis' 80th Birthday


Today would have been Elvis Presley's 80th birthday.  To celebrate, here are the links to the Elvis articles I published on this blog.

The Best Elvis Songs You've Never Heard

Young Dreams: A Look at Elvis' Movies

What If Elvis Lived?




Of course, it needs to be mentioned Elvis was a big fan of The Marvel Family, specifically Captain Marvel Jr.  With the upcoming movie, hopefully the producers (and Dwayne Johnson- who is a self-professed Elvis fan) are savvy enough to be aware of this, and include several of Elvis' tunes on the soundtrack.

Happy Birthday, Elvis.