The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Captain America - Civil War

I apologize for the tardiness of this review. I will admit that I don't have much to say about "Civil War". I mean, it's great. Go see it. Read what I wrote about "Batman v. Superman" aka "BvS" aka "Beavis", and "Civil War" is the exact opposite of that.

But I feel I owe you all something, so I'll be brief.

1. It's much better than Mark Millar's comic book. They say ideas aren't good and bad in and of themselves, it's all about execution. "Civil War" sums it up. I hated the character assassination the comic series engaged in back in 2006. But this was the exact opposite. I flip-flopped between sides throughout it as both had their points, both mad their mistakes. In the end, I was neither on Team Cap or Team Tony.

2. Black Panther was great. I cannot wait for his movie. He was powerful, majestic, and oh so human.

3. I have gone back and forth on Spider-Man a little. But, in the end, I decided that I liked him. This was an awkward place to introduce him, but I felt the spirit of the character there and I think Tom Holland does well. As somebody who doesn't care for Toby Maguire's Spider-Man or Andrew Garfield's, I hope Holland is the one. And for those of you worried it'll be nothing but High School, well, Tom Holland will be aging between "Spider-Man Homecoming" and its sequel in Phase Four.

4. Zemo was great. I know some people didn't care for him, I think this comes from the fact that he didn't have the mask, the sword, and the lineage. But remove all that and I still saw the character there. A cunning, manipulative, evil, vengeful monster. And what's more, he won. And he's still alive, he might get a costume later. I could see him leading a Masters of Evil in a sequel, or starring in a "Thunderbolts" movie. His endgame was just heartbreaking, and in a less movie, things would have gone in another direction.

Also he had an actual, understandable motive. Why did Beavis's Lex Luthor do anything again?

5. In the end, I'm on Team Black Widow. Do what you feel is right, but change your mind when new information comes to light. She's still my favorite Avenger.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Apocalypse - - What, Now? - A Retro Review

This is a review I had planned for months. To coincide with the release of "X-Men Apocalypse", I was going to take on the 90's four-part "epic", "Beyond Good and Evil". However, as "Apocalypse" fast approaches, as the reviews pour in, I find that not only do I wish to save my $13 by not seeing it, I also don't want to waste what little free time I have with it. That's why I have yet to write my "Civil War" review, because I work a job that often keeps me busy for twelve to fourteen hours every day, and the rest of that time is spent sleeping. At this point, only a cameo from Deadpool could get me in there.

So before I dive into this "epic", I have two confessions to make. Number One: I never liked Apocalypse. But that's hardly a revelation as I have blogged about this before.

Apocalypse in a nutshell.

Second, and this one is probably going to upset a few of you; I don't love the 90's X-Men TAS. The first three seasons are pretty good... I like A LOT of what they did there, but mostly it aped what the comic books of that era were doing more than anything, and this was the era where Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld reigned supreme; the era where Chris Claremont was forced off the book after making the X-Men a success. More to the point, there wasn't enough diversity of characters on the team they chose, which was Jim Lee's Blue Strike Force along with Storm and Jean Grey. I don't mean diversity as in ethnicity in this case, but diversity of character. The team had two mysterious recalcitrant loners whom both pined for women they couldn't have relationships with. When Wolverine is on your team, Gambit is redundant as he is pretty much the exact same character, only with all of Wolverine's most obnoxious traits taken to eleven. I would rather have swapped out Gambit in favor of Colossus or even Nightcrawler (whom this show managed to make depressing instead of the trickster-like swashbuckler that Claremont and Cockrum made a generation of fans fall in love with). To make matters worse, when they did adapt classic stories like the Dark Phoenix Saga, they managed to get everything there superficially while losing the actual soul the original stories possessed.

Now that I have angered you sufficiently, let me talk about "Beyond Good and Evil" itself. I had initially intended to follow the format that I did with "The Greatest Evil", "Crime Wave", and "In Zarm's Way" but those leave me spending at least two hours per episode and this is a four-parter. A very painful four-parter. So I just watched them again, but I don't want to spend hours dissecting every scene and line of dialogue. Although, I will say that Apocalypse's dialogue is almost as funny as the Headman's.

This is one of those epic events that some types of fans love where most of the show's major villains are brought together into some kind of grand alliance. In "Beyond Good and Evil" we are given Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, Magneto, Mystique, Sabretooth, the Nasty Boys, as well as an awkward cameo by Deathbird whom was shown in a menacing scene at the end of the two-parter, "Sanctuary", really amounted to nothing... I will talk a little bit more about that later.

Another weakness of all this is that we were never given a real reason for all of these personalities to come together. Sabretooth works as a mercenary, and the Nasty Boys are just minions but we're never given a reason for Mr. Sinister or Mystique to be there. Well, let me walk that back a little, we are given a reason for Sinister to work with Apocalypse, but this was in the era where his motives, origins, and whom he was as a character had yet to be defined. The same year this four-parter aired, Marvel Comics revealed that Sinister's ultimate goal was to create the perfect mutant, using Scott Summers and Jean Grey's DNA, in order to destroy Apocalypse. But X-Men the Animated Series introduced Sinister years before the comics gave him an origin and a motive. This also explains the mess the comics found themselves in during this era. But here, Sinister wanted to help Apocalypse wipe out and re-create existence because... reasons.

Magneto's motivations for being there change within the four-parter. At first we're told he's there because Apocalypse promised to resurrect his deceased wife, Magda. But two episodes later, Magda is forgotten and we're told Apocalypse promised Magneto a world in which mutants ruled.

As for Mystique, they never even pay lip service as to why she's there.

Apocalypse, himself, is a mess in this four-parter. Let's start with the fact that this isn't the present day Apocalypse, but the one from 3999 that stole Cable's computer and traveled through time. It leads me to wonder where the present-day Apocalypse is. Well, the last time we had an episode that focused on him, he was shot out into space by his own spaceship whom Beast had fallen in love with (I don't know... I don't know...), before seeing him briefly on a star ship with Deathbird. I had assumed that he got picked up by her and they formed an alliance. Or perhaps 3999 Apocalypse forged the alliance, but I'm getting ahead of myself... more on the time travel aspects in a bit.

What's Apocalypse's motive in this? Well, up until now and throughout all of his appearances in comic books since his very first appearance, all subsequent appearances in the comics and all media, Apocalypse has always been the ultimate darwinist. He believes in survival of the fittest. Only the strong shall survive. Regular humans are weak, they should be destroyed. Only the most powerful mutants should survive to make future generations more powerful. I may not like Apocalypse as a character, but at least this motive fits in with the X-Men's themes of evolution. But, in "Beyond Good and Evil" Apocalypse took a very strange detour.

Apparently Apocalypse was able to keep this pyramid a secret for thousands of years.

In the year 3999, Cable invades Apocalypse's secret pyramid in Egypt and attempts to finally destroy the monster, but Apocalypse gets the drop on him, steals his computer and as he prepares to kill Cable, Cable shouts at him that he will never win. Then Apocalypse pauses to consider this... on a cosmic level, before using Cable's computer to blink himself to a weird temple that exists outside of time. Cable shouts that Apocalypse is evil, but Apocalypse disagrees that he is malevolent... just that he simply is who he is, he thinks himself above good and evil... then he stops and starts to consider Cable's accusation. So what conclusion does Apocalypse reach? That he is the personification of evil and that an elemental balance between good and evil will always deny him final victory. Um, what? Why? How? Why? Que? A villain who admits that he's evil doesn't work outside of comedy. I have no problem with Negaduck or Evil Emperor Zurg reveling in their evil, but a dramatic villain like Apocalypse whom believes in social darwinism believes that he is making the world a better place. It's messed up, it is evil, but he wouldn't think that he himself is evil. Hitler didn't think he was evil. Hell, in no version of the story does the Devil think he's evil. The Shadows from "Babylon 5" had similar motivations, as darwinists whom would destroy entire races they believed were weak, they felt they were helping the strong thrive and creating a better universe. But no, all of this is out the window and Apocalypse is now the personification of evil... and the X-Men are agreeing with him, even with Beast pointing out that once Apocalypse is destroyed, evil will simply take on another form. The fact of the matter is that Apocalypse was the wrong villain to tell a story like this with, and for that matter, the X-Men were the wrong franchise. You can get away with it when it's the Justice League or the Avengers, and while the X-Men are heroes, it was never about good vs evil... it was about acceptance, bigotry, and clashing ideologies... and while some of those ideologies were evil, nobody who clung to them believed they were anything but the heroes of their own story.


So what's Apocalypse's grand scheme? To abduct all of the most powerful telepaths in existence, from across time, bring them outside of time, kill them all at once so he can stop time, end existence, and re-create the universe in his own image. This is how he plans to get around the elemental balance of good and evil. I'm still trying to figure out how the hell a social darwinist reaches this ridiculous conclusion.

The time travel in this story is a mess. Now, I know time travel is difficult. I know it has a history of being misused in X-Men stories, but this is whole new levels of bullshit. Cable and the X-Men travel to ancient Egypt where they destroy Apocalypse's pyramid where he keeps his lazarus chamber in order to prevent him from becoming immortal and wrecking havoc on the world. They succeed but 3999 Apocalypse is now outside of the time and thus immune. When he is finally defeated, he is forced to exit the axis and back in the time stream, with his pyramid destroyed in the past, he ceases to exist. Cable and the X-Men erase Apocalypse from history. And yet Warren Worthington III still has metal wings and blue skin. There are no consequences to any of this; although for some reason, Xavier's legs work again.

If you are going to use time travel in your series, you need to establish clear rules and consider the consequences for your actions. This isn't me demanding closed-loop time travel ala "Gargoyles" and nothing but. "X-Men" already established in previous episodes that changing history was possible three times, and they dealt with the consequences of those changes fairly well, I might quibble here and there but they were consistent with their own rules. But this... nothing. It was poorly thought out spectacle.

This was intended to be the grand finale for the series. I think the idea was simply "let's throw in as many villains as we can for one big brawl". But, as a grand finale, it would have failed. Why? Notice that I barely talked the X-Men themselves. They barely factored into the story. I mean, they were in it and they did things, but this was mostly Cable and Apocalypse's story. Yes, we get Scott and Jean's second wedding, but then Sinister kidnaps Jean because Apocalypse "TOLD HIM TO!" and then neither Scott nor Jean factor much into the story ever again. Beast provides techno-jargon, but Bishop's sister, Shard, plays a larger part. The X-Men themselves don't even factor into the final battle with Apocalypse, except for Wolverine. So it's Wolverine, Cable, Magneto, Mystique, and Bishop battling Apocalypse... and only one of these characters is one of the series' regulars. Jean Grey gets kidnapped. Scott whines about it but doesn't really do anything. Beast provides techno-jargon. Gambit, Rogue, Storm, Jubilee, etc don't really do much except participate in some small skirmishes if that. Hell, Psylocke gets more to do and this is both her first appearance and an extended cameo where she winds up as just one more kidnapped psychic.

Speaking of cameos. Remember that weird Jim Carrey style janitor of the time stream that annoyed Bishop (and the audience) for four episodes? Then he transformed into Immortus. I didn't know who Immortus was. And, even as a comics reader, it wasn't for another fifteen years before I found out who Immortus was, and that he was another identity for Kang the Conquerer? And, to this day, I have no idea why he was here. He contributed nothing.

This was bad, folks. This was so, so bad. I'd be more lenient if this was an 80's cartoon. But in an era where "Batman the Animated Series" and "Gargoyles" were on the air, you don't just shunt your main characters off to the side and let the occasional guest stars take over for what you planned to be your grand finale. Yeah, Spider-Man may not be about dimension hopping and wars for the fate of all existence, but at least the finale of Spider-Man: TAS was still about Spider-Man. At least the finales for the 90's Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons didn't shunt their characters off to the side. Hell, even the finale of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon didn't do that, and that was airing around the same time.

Granted, this turned out not to be the finale, and the show then went on to end with a whimper. But looking back at the show, especially it's first two or three seasons, you can see why, despite all of it's flaws, it made the X-Men household names. "Beyond Good and Evil" just betrayed the very premise and themes of the series, and grand finale or not, really had no business being a part of the show. It's weird. It's just bad. I don't know what went on here, what the thought processes were, but the show's audience deserved better than this.

Awful. Just awful.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ponderings On a Special Snowflake

Ever since "Agents of SHIELD" started, I believed that something was incredibly wrong with the show. The problems centered around Chloe Bennet's character. Skye aka Mary Sue Poots aka Daisy Johnson aka Quake aka Special Snowflake. From Day One the character didn't work. Chloe Bennet never once displayed the acting chops to carry the show. And yet, despite all the negative feedback, and not just from me, but from the press. Despite it all, the character wasn't killed off, or downplayed. She was pushed to the forefront. Somebody there must have really liked her.

The other day, she made the following statement at Wizard World Des Moines:

"I don’t know. People who make movies for Marvel, why don’t you acknowledge what happens on our show? Why don’t you guys go ask them that? Cause they don’t seem to care!"

And then she didn't stop, she kept on going.

"The Marvel Cinematic Universe loves to pretend that everything is connected, but then they don’t acknowledge our show at all. So, I would love to do that, but they don’t seem to keen on that idea."

She sounds angry, doesn't she? Maybe she's sticking up for her co-workers; but I don't think this is the case. I think she's realized that Marvel Studios isn't going to make her a movie star. Now, this is all conjecture on my part. But if you'll allow me.

Ike Perlmutter is the CEO of Marvel Entertainment. Up until about a year ago, when Kevin Feige split Marvel Studios from Marvel Entertainment, Perlmutter had a lot of control over the movie division. If Disney wanted Perlmutter gone, it would probably involve a pay out of at least a couple billion dollars. What kind of problems did Perlmutter cause? Well, he's the reason there was no Black Widow movie for such a long time, and why she had little to no merchandise. He was the reason Joss Whedon left (and now Whedon has expressed interest in returning). He's the one that told Marvel Comics to downplay mutants in favor of Inhumans due to their pissing contest with Fox. But, most interesting, he was the one that pushed for that Inhumans movie that Feige recently took off the slate indefinitely.

Now, how much of that is Hollywood politics and how much isn't we can't really know. But the enmity between Feige and Perlmutter is not a secret. Beyond that, the worst kept secret in Hollywood is that Marvel Studios doesn't care for AoS at all. Joss Whedon has slammed it. The Russo Brothers have slammed it. Feige has never been particularly kind to it... he's praised the Netflix shows, but was always very conspicuously silent about AoS.

And even more recently, AoS was renewed for a fourth season while Agent Carter has been cancelled, and the "Marvel's Most Wanted" AoS spin-off starring Mockingbird has been scrapped. It was also announced that amid record low ratings, AoS was moving to a new time-slot at 10 pm. That's a death slot. It's obvious to me that ABC has no further interest in programming based on Marvel. It's also obvious to me that ABC plans to bleed off whatever episode order they have for AoS, and then at four seasons, they have enough episodes to sell the re-runs into syndication... this is a pretty common practice. Usually if you make it to three seasons, a fourth is all but guaranteed because there is money to make in syndication. But after the fourth season, the show is done.

I think Ike Perlmutter and Chloe Bennet hoped the show would run for seven seasons. By the time it ended, it would have been just in time for that scheduled "Inhumans" movie to begin production. I think Perlmutter told Chloe Bennet that he would make her a movie star. Sort of like when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" ran for seven seasons before becoming a movie series. She wouldn't have been the main character in "Inhumans" because Ike doesn't like women-led superhero movies, but she'd have likely been a very key player.

Chloe Bennet just bit the hand that fed her, because she probably realizes that her dreams of becoming a movie star are now over. Or, at least, not going to happen at Marvel. Her resume is already very thin. I suppose her career could one day surge, but given that she doesn't seem to possess much in the way of talent, it's not likely. She's already a failed pop star.

Long story short. I think Ike Perlmutter was the one that liked her. Ike Perlmutter wanted this "Inhumans" movie. I think Ike Perlmutter said he would make Chloe a movie star. I think Chloe Bennet really wanted to become a movie star. I think Chloe Bennet sees AoS as her paying her dues, and the path to movie stardom. I don't think any of this is happening anymore. But, ultimately, I think this is why this Skye character was shoved at us.

But this is all just a theory, I could be wrong.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Star Wars Rebels - Season Two

Sometimes your mindset can affect your enjoyment of something. Case in point, "Star Wars Rebels" season one. I didn't think it was bad when I watched it, but I had trouble enjoying it. Well, I'm here to eat crow because I recently re-watched it and, while some of my complaints about Ezra Bridger still stand, I was wondering what I was talking about. Honestly, I was still bitter towards the franchise as a whole. The sour taste of the prequels was still in my mouth.

What has happened since then? Well, Marvel Comics has put out some excellent comic books, particularly "Darth Vader" as written by Kieron Gillen. Rebels' season two kicking off with the impressive "Siege of Lothal" two-parter which also helped fix Darth Vader in my eyes. Even little things like the Death Battle between Darth Vader and Dr. Doom reminded me of what I enjoyed about the franchise to begin with and why. Also, a little movie called "The Force Awakens" which I really ended up loving.

As such, I recently re-watched "Rebels" season one on Blu-ray and I loved it. I was wondering what the hell I was complaining about. My comments about the Inquisitor (the Grand Inquisitor as revealed in season two) about becoming very Saturday Morning made me face palm. He only had two actual encounters with the crew of the Ghost before Grand Moff Tarkin showed up. Honestly, I must have been letting my bitterness towards the prequels and other recent Lucas approved entries into the franchise cloud my judgement. So, I would like to retroactively raise my grade to an A-. This is a quality action-adventure animated series. Probably the best one to air since the wave of "Spectacular Spider-Man", "Young Justice", "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes", etc. So, mea culpa.

I watched season two in a few large batches. A lot of it has blended together, but it was pretty damn enjoyable. I'll keep it to the highlights.

"Siege of Lothal" was a terrific opening that reminded you of why Darth Vader was and still is one of cinema's most iconic villains, if not the most iconic villains. When I left him off my Top Twenty-Five Movie Villains list and video, well that was me being mad at the prequels. He definitely deserved to be in the Top Ten based on the Original Trilogy alone. "Siege of Lothal" helped remind me of that. Re-introducing Darth Vader as a specter of death in a galaxy far, far away. James Earl Jones returning to voice Vader just helped authenticate it. Sam Witwer turns in a great performance as Emperor Palpatine, so much so that until I looked at the end credits, I thought it was Ian McDiarmid.

The crew of the Ghost also gets fleshed out alongside the universe. We're no longer confined to the Lothal System, although it will still play a large part. We visit other worlds, meet old and new characters alike. Princess Leia makes a welcome appearance midway through the season, and a returned Maul (no longer Darth) makes an appearance in the finale where it becomes clear he will play a larger part... and that is not unwelcome as "Rebels" infuses him with something "The Phantom Menace" did not, a personality. Personality goes a long way.

I should also discuss Ahsoka Tano. Now, I didn't care much for "Clone Wars" at all. Honestly, it's part of an era that I don't care for, but I schooled myself on Ahsoka and watched some of her essential episodes, and I'm glad I did because I found a very likable character. Also it made Anakin Skywalker a likable character, the character Obi Wan Kenobi was talking about in "A New Hope". And I'm glad I watched them because it made Ahsoka's fateful encounter with Darth Vader in the season finale "Twilight of the Apprentice" that much more powerful.

Lots of characters get fleshed out. A highlight in "Matters of Honor" when Zeb and Agent Kallus are stranded together on a moon of Geonosis and must rely on each other. It's a plot I've seen a million times before, but Zeb and especially Kallus benefit from it and by extension, through Kallus, the Empire benefits from it. It's not often we get into the mindset of an Imperial and see what motivates them, their nationalism, how they feel about the orders they are given. While we can hardly excuse Kallus's actions regardless of the fact that he was following orders, we gain an understanding of the man. Likewise we understand Zeb, played by the always fantastic Steve Blum, more.

The new Inquistors are fun, but don't have the air of the Grand Inquistor. The Fifth Brother was kind of a throwaway, but I enjoyed the Seventh Sister, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar... "Star Wars" has always lacked women as villains, so it was nice to see one... and I winced as she suffered a brutal death at Maul's hands.

Kanan and Hera remain the strongest of our protagonists, and I eagerly anticipate seeing where Kanan goes considering what happened to him at the season's climax. Also, I recommend Greg Weisman's excellent "Kanan" comic book. I've warmed up to Ezra a little, but he's still not my favorite character. But that being said, he's finally in a spot where I can say he's got potential. We'll see where he goes from here, but I hope that no punches are pulled.

Good stuff. Good show. I look forward to season three.

Next: "Civil War".