Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

Watching X-Men: Days of Future Past made me realize exactly what comic book superhero movies need to do in order to keep audiences interested, and at the same time it reminded me of exactly what was wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

With the latest Spider-Man installment, the plot was roughly the same as what you'd see in a 90s Batman movie (although it didn't suffer from the other problems of that particular series). With the newest X-Men film, you get something that you haven't quite seen before. It didn't have a completely different vibe from its predecessors the way Captain America: The Winter Soldier did, but it didn't feel like just another installment that will blend in my memory with the rest of them.

As a fan of comic books, I don't think that it's a coincidence that the more the movies take from the comics as their inspiration, the better they tend to be, and this was no exception. Longtime comics readers know that this was an adaptation of a favorite story from the comic books. (I have fond memories of it myself, as a friend of mine gave me the second part as a back issue for my birthday.)

Of course, if you're expecting a direct adaptation of the comic story, you won't get it, but that's not what I'm talking about. What works in a monthly comic book won't work in a movie, especially one that's already rooted in its own continuity (and manages to have as many problems with said continuity as a comic book series that's been running for fifty years). The point is that if Hollywood is going to look to comic books as inspiration, then they should actually look to the comics - not just the characters but the stories.

Anyway, all that said, while I think that it's too early for me to declare that this is the best movie in the franchise (especially considering how partial I am to The Wolverine) it's safe to say that it's one of the better ones. For me, it had everything that I liked about the first two X-Men movies - strong characters, a good story, etc. Lots of people seem to hate the third X-Men movie, but I think that it got a couple of things right - 1) better action scenes and 2) a sense of fun. This movie manages to mix in all of those good qualities. I mean, is it just me, or do the fights in the first two movies look more like funky dances than fights? The fights in this one were much more visceral and compelling.

While the fate of the future is at stake, and that's treated with the appropriate heavy hand, the movie definitely has its fun moments. Quicksilver's big scene comes to mind quickly, but Wolverine's journey back to the 1970s has some comedic value as well, without being ridiculous and over-the-top.

I've heard at least one person say that this is up there with The Avengers. I'm not so sure, but maybe that's because my expectations were raised a bit too high. I will say that it's a good one, and I'll point out that my wife enjoyed it, even though she hasn't been a fan of the previous installments (didn't even bother with The Last Stand or First Class - although she did like The Wolverine). It seems to be a success at the box office as well, so hopefully this means that Hollywood will continue to look at the comics for story ideas. I could make a suggestion or two if they need one.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


I try to avoid strong-worded opinions about things where I feel as though I haven't done enough research. However, there are some issues where even though I feel like I don't know much about them, I feel like I know more than those who act like they're experts. Generally speaking, I try and steer away from heated debates on economic and (some) political issues. However, I did get into a mini debate over one particular hot button topic recently, and that was: socialism.

What is socialism? Well, it's un-American. It's anti-freedom. It means that working people have to give up their hard-earned money so illegal, freeloading, pregnant, abortionists can drive fancy cars and have cell phones. Oh, and Stalin. Hitler. Yeah. The bottom line? It doesn't work. It has never worked. It never will work. It is completely impossible for it to work.

Okay, maybe that's not quite what it is. However, that's the impression you get listening to some people. For them, it's bad, and there are no two ways about it. Personally, I think that it's a bit more complicated than that though.

For starters, I am well aware that tyrannical regimes like those of Stalin and Hitler used the word socialism to describe themselves. Under Hitler, it was the National Socialists. Under Stalin, it was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Both those guys were bad, so obviously if they're socialists, then socialism is bad. This, of course, makes sense. After all, North Korea's full title is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. That's why we know that democracy, republics, and Korea is bad. Wait...what?

Okay, so maybe simply dismissing a word because of the screwed up people who use it isn't a smart way to go about this. Looking up the word in the dictionary shows us what the problem is, as while one of the definitions, "a system of society or group living in which there is no private property" certainly sounds pretty extreme, another one, "a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies" leaves a bit more room for discussion, especially when we keep in mind that "industry" can also refer to a "service".

With that in mind, it's pretty clear that even in good old freedom-loving 'Merica, we have a certain degree of socialism when it comes to some aspects of our lives, and I think that you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who would want to get rid of these things. For instance, if there's a fire in your house and the fire department puts it out, do they send you a bill? No. Taxpayers pay for it. And the fire department will put out any fire in their district, no matter who owns it. (That's how it's supposed to work, anyway.) The same goes for the police, road workers, the military, public school teachers (scumbags), and that guy who changed my tire when it went flat on the freeway. (So glad for him - as my infant son was in the car, and it was a hot day.)

It's crazy because you can bring this up to people who are of the "socialism = bad" mindset and they'll look at you like you're talking crazy, even though they can't tell you why those things AREN'T socialism.

Another point is that not every country that utilizes socialism more than the U.S.A. has devolved into a Orwellian dystopia. Look at the Scandinavian countries (let's count Finland as one of them to help my point as well). While they have their problems the same as every other country, their citizens enjoy a whole lot of freedoms.

So, what are you saying then, Lance? Are you some kind of socialist? Never mind if I am or not. I don't feel like I understand it enough to declare myself one or insist that I'm not one. If after reading this you determine that I am one, then that's okay with me. My point is just that if we're going to discuss socialism, and you're automatic, knee-jerk reaction is that it's 100% bad, then you understand it even less than I do.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review

Since I've been a fan of Spider-Man pretty much all of my life, and I've written about the movies before, I should write about the latest installment: The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

In short, what I thought was as follows: It was entertaining, and while it has its moments, it ultimately brings nothing new to the table. I can see why the reviews are mixed. It's not that there's anything particularly bad about it; it's just that the bar has been raised pretty high on superhero movies, and this one seems to be content with giving you what you've already had. (At least X-Men: Days of Future Past has some ambition - hopefully it will pan out.) Ultimately, if you love Spider-Man as I do, then you should see this. If you've never cared for him or superhero movies in general, this one's not going to win you over.

What's good:

The effects - Spider-Man certainly looks better than we've ever seen him before. While in the original, he kinda looked like a cartoon character swinging around New York City, this version didn't have me thinking about how it was CGI. You really just get into the moment. Plus, Spidey looks the closest to how he looks in the comics than he ever has before.

The humor - Spider-Man cracks jokes. That's a signature element to the character. We get a lot of this, and that's cool.

The leads - Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Sally Field all put in performances that make them really human and likeable. Jamie Foxx does a decent job with what he's given - more on that later.

What could be improved:

Too many villains - Batman Begins showed us that it was possible to have multiple villains and have everything work well, so I wasn't immediately writing this off when I found out that it would feature Electro, The Green Goblin, and The Rhino. Unfortunately, they weren't all used to great effect. The Rhino, in fact, felt like more of an afterthought than anything else. They could have saved him for the sequel.

Electro - Before I continue, let me say that I'm not a purist. I don't mind it when they make changes to characters so long as it's done for a good reason. However, Electro felt like a third-rate villain from the Burton/Shumacher era of Batman movies. Plus, he looked more like Dr. Manhattan than Electro. In the comics, Max Dillon was a sociopath to start with, and then when he got his powers it just made him worse. Why do all of Spidey's villains (in the movies) have to be sympathetic? It's not necessary, and we've seen great comic book villains who are bad because they simply have a screwed up world view. Personally, I think that they should have taken a note from the Nolan Batman movies and kept him a villain but gave him some true things to say (like Rha's al Ghul, The Joker, and Bane all did). This nerdy Max Dillon? Felt like I've seen it a million times before.

What sucked:

The guy who played Dr. Kafka - He felt like one of the supporting players from Batman and Robin.

What I'd like to see in the future:

Why not look to the comics and adapt Kraven's Last Hunt, the Clone Saga, the mystery of "Who is the Hobgoblin?" or Superior Spider-Man? They can mine those stories for good movies, and in the case of the Clone Saga, improve on it. Plus, I really wish that Marvel Studios owned the rights to him, because it would be great to see him team-up with some other superheroes like Daredevil.

I've heard that they're talking about making a Venom movie and a Sinister Six movie. That seems to me like they're just milking the franchise. Hopefully they'll start to lose money and then we can see Spidey back at Marvel so he can join the Avengers.

And for the record:

Yes, it was still tons better than Spider-Man 3.