Movie Review: X2

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x220th Century Fox
2003
PG-13

“Logan, my tolerance for your smoking in the mansion notwithstanding, continue smoking that in here, and you’ll spend the rest of your days under the belief that you’re a six-year-old girl.”

Fascinating. All this time, and even though I’ve reviewed all the other X-Men movies that have come out, I’ve never did a proper review for the second movie in the franchise, X2: X-Men United. I don’t know what may have caused this glaring oversight; consider this my long-overdue rectification of that issue.

At the time, X2 was described by director Bryan Singer as a darker, Empire Strikes Back style movie for the Merry Mutants. And yes…that is a very apt description of this movie. And if you’re somehow unfamiliar with the X2 storyline, let me tell you…

After an opening where the President of the United States narrowly escapes an assassination attempt, Wolverine returns from the journey of discovery he went on at the end of the first movie back to the Xavier Institute to find Professor Xavier tracking a mutant with a very erratic movement pattern. Later, while the Professor and Cyclops are off visiting Magneto in his prison, and Storm and Jean Grey are out trying to find Nightcrawler (the mutant that tried to kill the President), a military scientist gets the go ahead to invade Xavier’s school for gifted students. Wolverine manages to get several of the kids to safety, and escapes with Rogue, Iceman and Pyro. Meanwhile, Xavier and Cyclops are captured, while Mystique helps Magnito escape his prison. The two then run into the other X-Men, and form an uneasy alliance to take down the military scientist that invaded the mansion. His name is Stryker, and turns out is the man who originally infused the adamantium to Wolvie’s skeleton. They find the location of Stryker’s underground base, where he is using Xavier to telepathically kill every mutant on the planet. They infiltrate the base, and manage to free the mutants being held there, as well as destroy the device that was going to kill all mutantkind, and Jean Grey dies using her powers to keep the burst dam from killing everyone before the X-Men’s jet can take off. Everyone is safe, but sad now, although Professor Xavier senses things are not over with Jean.

Overall, X2 is counted as the best of the first three X-Men films for good reason. The stakes were higher, not everyone gets out unscathed, the villains are cast in a more sympathetic light, and not everything is what you would call black and white, cut and dried, and what have you. When we get to the end, there’s a tremendous sense of loss, but also a glimmer of hope on the horizon. X2 is a very satisfying X-Men movie, as well as an action movie in general. I still watch this one frequently, at least once every year or so, and count this as one of the few sequels that was better than the movie that preceded it. Hindsight being what it is, obviously X2 was probably the last one that fans really liked, until the First Class prequel ten years later. Regardless, I can’t think of anyone who’s a fan of the X-Men movies who haven’t seen X2 yet; if this is the case, you owe it to yourself to rectify that. Recommended.

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Movie Review: CATWOMAN

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catwomanWarner Bros.
2004
PG-13

“Meow.”

It’s been fifteen years. Fifteen years. A decade and a half since Warner Bros. foisted upon us this live action big screen solo outing for one of Batman’s more notable rogues in his gallery. I can’t even recall who demanded a Catwoman film to be made, outside of the success of Batman Returns, where they pretty much greenlit a possible Catwoman spinoff with Michelle Pfeiffer. That, of course, didn’t pan out. But, then it did. With Halle Berry, no less. I have my issues with her as an actress, yes, but I’m always open to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

For the record, I never caught Catwoman when it was in the theaters initially. The previews didn’t impress me, and the word of mouth was not favorable. Also, this was probably the final DC movie to be released before Christopher Nolan would prove that a DC superhero movie didn’t have to suck.

But alas, a few years later, I was pet-sitting at my sister and brother-in-law’s place, and in a fit of boredom, saw a copy of Catwoman in their DVD collection, and figured, why not see how bad this movie is. I mean, the current 9% on Rotten Tomatoes can’t be that accurate, right?

*sigh* Spoilers: It is. Let’s proceed down amnesia lane, then.

Here, we meet one Patience Phillips, a graphic designer working for a cosmetics company called Hedare Beauty. She’s what you would call mousy, personality wise: a meek people-pleaser who’s used by the alpha types at her place of enslavement employment. But, as plot convenience would have it, she stumbles upon a discussion between the CEO’s wife and a scientist about the danger of the new skin cream they’re about to foist upon the consumers, and after being discovered eavesdropping, is literally flushed out of the building, drowning in the process. But, then she’s brought back to life by an Egyptian Mau cat that happened to be in the area (how convenient), and now has super-duper cat-like abilities, like really good balance, looking adorable while playing with a ball of yarn, and being confounded by a laser pointer. I would presume. She then learns from an eccentric cat lady that she’s now one in a long line of “cat women” who have taken the mantle in the past after being resurrected by cats. So, Patience then takes on the name…well, Catwoman, and begins investigating the evil corporation she used to work at, and…

…okay, look. It’s getting rather painful having to remember this movie to write the premise, let along watching it all together. Let’s just invoke my standard “wackiness ensues” for the rest of the bit, and if you’re masochistic enough to wonder what happens, by all means, have at it. In any case…

One other thing to point out, here: Clearly, the inspiration for this Catwoman was cribbed from the origin that Tim Burton made up for Batman Returns, and bears no resemblance to the cat burglar origins within the proper Batman comic book universe. I have no problem with that, whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I find that concept intriguing, something that, if put in the right hands, could be rich with stories from throughout history. Unfortunately, that was not the case, here. Clearly, the residue of Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies was still influencing things, as Berry plays Catwoman as having the powers of slinking around in skimpy leather while spouting off bad cat-based puns with the dialogue. To say nothing of how over-the-top Sharron Stone went with her villain character.

In the end, Catwoman encapsulates everything that went wrong with comic book movies in the 1990s and a bit into the Aughts. Things got better, yes, but with Catwoman, I’m left with a very, very bad taste in my mouth. Best to just trash this nasty hairball and pass on this.

Movie Review: The AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

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amazing spider-manColumbia Pictures
2012
PG-13

“You know, in the future, if you’re going to steal cars, don’t dress like a car thief, man.”

For the longest time, I avoided watching The Amazing Spider-Man. I didn’t want to watch a movie that I felt was completely unnecessary. It had only been ten years since the first Spider-Man film tickled my fanboy sensibilities, and to me this whole rebooting nonsense was getting ridiculous. And thus, true to my curmudgeonly ways, I held off watching The Amazing Spider-Man for a couple of years. Until now, of course. The fanboy curiosity got the best of me, finally, coincidentally when it had been on DVD long enough to be rented for cheep. Fancy that.

First things first–The Amazing Spider-Man came about not from a strong desire to reboot the franchise (though, given Spider-Man 3, I wouldn’t have been that surprised if that was the case); seems Sony was more than willing to do a Spider-Man 4 with Sam Raimi, but his schedule was a bit busy, and Sony was in danger of having the rights revert back to Marvel in the intern, so they had to go forward without Raimi; but, instead of doing SM4 without him, they opted to do an entirely new take with another director. So…okay, understandable. Personally, I think Spider-Man belongs back home at Marvel Studios, but that’s not the point.

Also, kind of wanted to point out that I’m not out to compare The Amazing Spider-Man with the 2002 adjective-less Spider-Man. I shall be reviewing this on its own merits. So, with that in mind, how did The Amazing Spider-Man fare? Did the movie do live action justice to one of my all-time favorite comic book characters? Or is this the worst thing to happen since One More Day?

The Amazing Spider-Man is your basic origin story for the character, and anyone familiar with the comics know it well: Geekity-nerd Peter Parker, unpopular with his high school comrades, but popular with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, gets bitten by an experimented-on spider while at a science lab, and suddenly finds himself going through puberty…er, I mean, gaining the proportional speed and agility of spider, and using that power to be a jerk to his loved ones (are we sure his isn’t puberty, here?). His Uncle Ben dies at the hands of the thief Peter could have stopped but didn’t (see: “jerk”), and thus becomes the Luchador-esque crime fighter known as Spider-Man. Just in time, too, because his scientist mentor has taken a formula to regrow his arm, which it has…along with turning the rest of him into a lizard person. And in the process of trying to take down the Lizard, his crush’s police chief father gets caught in the crossfire, all the while learning the hard way that with great something-something comes great something-or-other. I haven’t worked that part out yet…

I found Amazing Spider-Man…well, not terrible. Not unwatchable. There was a lot of action, a lot of things going on, we get yet another variation of the origin story and such. Andrew Garfield did okay as Peter Parker; however, writing this after watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, I can’t help but compare him to what I now consider the definitive big screen Peter Parker…and he ranks a bit below Tobey Maguire still. I did enjoy the incorporation of The Lizard as the antagonist this go-around; overall, though, it seemed a bit more flash and a not much more than that. It was entertaining, and that was that. Worth a rental, I would say.

Movie Review: BATMAN RETURNS

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batman returnsWarner Bros.
1992
PG-13

“Actually, this is all just a bad dream. You’re at home, in bed, heavily sedated, resting comfortably, dying from the carcinogens you personally spewed in a lifetime of profiteering. Tragic irony or poetic justice, you tell me.”

So, now that the world knows my thoughts on the 1989 Batman movie (and if you somehow missed it, it’s right here), you’re probably wondering if I happen to harbor the same “meh” reaction to the sequel, Batman Returns. Well…yes and no. And as always, there a long-winded story behind this.

Unlike the first Batman movie, I actually watched Batman Returns in the theater when it came out in the summer of 1992. And upon my first viewing of the movie, I wasn’t all that impressed. Looking back there were some factors that lent to that: The big one probably being expecting an action movie based on a comic book character. I was not expecting a really dark comedy disguised as an action movie.

It’s Christmastime (even though the movie was released in June, but whatever, it’s Christmas now), and after a flashback featuring a surprise Pee Wee Herman, we meet Salina Kyle, the rather put-upon secretary of Gotham business magnate Max Shreck, a man who, as the name suggests, is a very power man who probably fades away when the sun comes up. After accidentally discovering some nefarious doings Max’s company was involved in, Max personally pushes her out of a multi-story window, where she presumably dies but then brought back to life by ally cats. Meanwhile, there’s a deformed weirdo that dwells in Gotham’s surprisingly elaborate sewer system, calling himself the Penguin working with Shriek to become Mayor of Gotham. Between that and the appearance of Catwoman in the mix, Batman has his hands full this go-round.

Upon initial watching, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with Batman Returns. It was just a little too weird for my tastes back then. Of course, as time passed and my tastes and sensibilities developed to what they are now, Batman Returns grew to become my favorite of the four Burton / Schumacher-era Batman movies. I’ve grown to appreciate the darkly Gothic weirdness, the bizarre twisted take of the comic book superhero world. The take on the Penguin here is gleefully terrifying, Catwoman proves to be a perfect foil to Batman (though I found myself wondering more than once how she could actually movie in that vacuum-sealed costume), and Gotham itself is a fever dream of a nightmarish Wonderland architecture. The fact that it is set during Christmas just adds to the ambience.

Overall, if you’re going to watch only one of the four Burton/Schumacher Batman movies, I recommend Batman Returns. Now, to relive the horrors that were the two following Batman movies…*shiver*

Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER

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black pantherMarvel Studios
2018
PG-13

“If you say one more word, I’ll feed you to my children! I’m kidding, we’re vegitarians.”

It’s been ten years since Marvel Studios kicked off their own private Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. Hard to believe we’ve come this far, with far more hits than misses under their belt. And here we are, finally with a proper introduction to the Black Panther.

It probably goes without saying (but I’mma say it anyway) that my familiarity with the Black Panther is rudimentary at best — a superhero king of Wakanda, a small reclusive east African country which is deceptively more advanced than advertised, due to being situated on the only deposit of Vibranium in the world. Of course, this knowledge of the comic character was gleaned more from the various Marvel encyclopedias and comic book online resources than having actually collected the comic books themselves. But, that goes for most of the Marvel character movies, really.

With the Black Panther, I’ve learned my lesson with the other Marvel movies I initially passed on watching in the theater due to my stupid notion that, since I didn’t care about the comic books themselves, I wouldn’t really like the movies, and went to see this in the theaters with the Exalted Geeks on opening weekend, and let the movie speak for itself, to entertain or not, all on its own merits. And once again, Black Panther proved to be not only entertaining, but manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

The story of Black Panther takes place immediately after the events in Captain America: Civil War; T’Challa is heading back to Wakanda to attend his coronation as king and officially take up the mantle of the Black Panther. His first act as king is recovering a bit of stolen Vibranium from the same black market arms dealer that was disarmed (literally) in Age Of Ultron. They capture the arms dealer, but then he’s broken out of custody by a mysterious missionary with a Wakandan ring. The mystery of this particular individual vexes T’Challa, until the mystery guy shows up explaining that he’s the son of the previous king’s brother who was slain in the movie’s opening flashback. He goes by the name of Killmonger now, and he’s now here to challenge T’Challa for the throne. And things go well…for Killmonger, who tosses T’Challa over the edge of a deep chasm, and immediately implements some changes in the way things go in Wakanda. Namely, by supplying Vibranium technology to other countries, and taking over the world. You know, the usual supervillain stuff. Oh, and he also has the special plants that provide the Black Panther powers destroyed. Because…I don’t know, he was planning on living forever, I guess? But, fortunately, one of the plants is secretly saved by T’Challa’s remaining family, and is taken to an independent tribe where — surprise! — T’Challa is not dead, but is in a coma! Yeah, kinda saw that one coming, really. So then, he gets better, thanks to that plant, and it’s off to liberate Wakanda from Killmonger with an EPIC BATTLE SEQUENCE! Then there’s the mid-credits and end-credits scenes, then you can go use the potty and go home.

I’m starting to sound like the proverbial broken record with these things, but I’ll repeat it anyway: despite not having much interest in the comic books this movie was built from, Black Panther proved to be far more interesting and entertaining than it should have been. There are several very compelling characters in this movie, not just the title character, which lends to a depth in the story beyond the standard good guy vs. bad guy formula. Of course,this is a Marvel movie, and not just a character piece, and the action scenes more than provide the adequate adrenaline fix. Just the casino scene alone is worth the price of the admission, but then the ending battle will leave you needing a cigarette, even if you’ve never smoked in your life. I have to say that, as far as favorite characters go, the two that I loved were the returning Ulysses Klaue, who pretty much stole every scene he was in with his manic glee, and Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, who also steals the scenes she’s in with her snarky wit and intelligence, and while not only is the movie’s Q-like inventor of all the gadgets, but proves she can kick butt along with the best of them.

With Black Panther, we have a movie that left me with my jaw gaping open on more than one occasion. The visuals are gorgeous, the characters have depth beyond archetypes, and the action will leave you breathless. Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie of the bunch? Eh, I still contend that Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 is still the best, but Black Panther cuts a very, very close second. Highly recommended to watch while it’s still in the theaters.

Movie Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE

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justice leagueWarner Bros.
2017
PG-13

“I miss the days when one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.”

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

Lead-up to the big DCEU team-up movie has not been an easy one. While I seemed to be in the minority in thinking that Man Of Steel was decent if not severely flawed, Batman V Superman was a hot mess, and Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but at least it was a bit more entertaining. Wonder Woman was awesome, but something I consider more an exception to the rule, rather than being a positive step in the right direction for the DCEU franchise. So, it was up to Justice League to fully turn my doubts around about the viability of the series. Will Justice League prove to be the contender with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will this prove to be its undoing, ending up like Universal’s Dark Universe?

Also, I realize this is going to be posted at the beginning of the new year, a couple of months since it premiered in theaters, but regardless, possible spoilers ahead. I won’t know until I’ve written this thing, and all.

Pretty much picking up in the aftermath of Batman V Superman, it seems the death of Superman has caught the attention of an ancient intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf, who has tried to conquer the Earth before, but was stopped by the ancient heroes…heroes which included the Amazons, the Atlantians, and the Green Lantern Corps, among others. Now that the so-called “old gods” have disappeared, Steppenwolf has come back to retrieve three hidden alien devices that, when combined, will turn the planet into the hellish world he desires it to be. As such, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting other superpowered heroes to help stop the invasion and beat it back from whence it came. Among the ranks are half-Atlantian, half-Human Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, Speed Force-adept Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. Cyborg is unique in that his powers stem from bonding with the very alien items that Steppenwolf is searching for. Even with that lineup, though, the team still seems to get their collective butts handed to them. They need to get another team member with a bit more power to go toe-to-toe with this New God. Someone…super. Some kind of super man, if you will.

Okay, fine: they resurrect Superman. I told you there would be spoilers.

So, Steppenwolf gets all three devices, goes to Russia and begins terraforming, and the superheroes plus a newly revived Superman (complete with shiny new duds) shows up, lay the smackdown, and everything ends on a happy note, with Bruce and Diana continuing with the notion of formation a league of some sort, for justice. Then the post-credits scene happens, and now I’m sad again. You’ll see what I mean when it happens.

I’ll be forthright: I went into watching Justice League with some very, very lowered expectations. Like, nearly non-existent. I was pretty much convinced that Wonder Woman was a fluke, and Justice League would continue in the same level of suckage the other two “team-up” movies in the DCEU were. But, I was proven slightly wrong.

First, the good: all the superheroes were done right. I’ve said that Ben Afleck was probably my favorite Bruce Wayne / Batman so far, and I’m sticking by it. Wonder Woman is still awe-inspiring as well as a furious butt-kicker (all apologies to Lynda Carter, you’ll always be my first Wonder Woman). As far as the newbies go: I had my doubts about Aquaman, and especially Jason “shirts make me itchy” Momoa’s kind of dude-bro vibe I got from the previews, but that actually works for the character. I was impressed. I am now interested in a possible Aquaman stand-alone if he continues playing the character, no mean feat. This iteration of the Flash, while effective as the comic relief of the group (because the world is not yet ready for Plastic Man, pity as that is), I wasn’t fully convinced he was Barry Allen. He seemed more Wally West than Allen. But, that’s the direction they took, and he played it well. The biggest surprise for me here was Cyborg, as I was convinced he was going to be regulated to background character that only comes up to give out technobabble and such. No, his arc was fairly substantial, given the time frame. And since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, I have to say it: Superman is finally Superman. No longer is he brooding, he actually laughs at times. Even his costume is brighter than on Man Of Steel. Also, the running time is significantly less than the other movies, so it goes by in a relatively brisk pace. Which, really, brings up:

The bad: While I was glad for a nice, refreshingly shorter movie run time, I get the feeling that maybe that extra half-hour would have actually been beneficial to flesh out things a bit better. Like, with the main baddy of the film, Steppenwolf. He’s not only the most two-dimensional villain I’ve come across since the heyday of the 1990s superhero films, but his motion-capture CG rendering is the worst I’ve seen. It took a lot out of my enjoyment, as I kept thinking how hard it could have been to just use a live actor and use the CG sparingly to beef things up? Could have used some more baking time, guys.

Overall, while the action and fight scenes were breathtaking, and finally getting to see Supes back in form, Justice League seemed to fall just short of the epicness that a team up movie like this should have been. Regardless, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and while not a complete turn-around, Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. Definitely try and catch this on a big screen some time.

Movie Review: BATMAN

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batman (1989)Warner Bros.
1989
PG-13

“Batman! Batman! Can somebody tell me what kind of world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!”

I remember all the hype surrounding the Batman movie of 1989. There was suddenly an explosion of merch items and tie-ins everywhere you turned. The classic 1960s television show was being shown in daily afternoon re-runs on the local UHF station in my area. The billboards were ubiquitous. There was a cereal, for crying out loud. I knew of at least three guys from my class that watched it multiple times in the theaters that summer. Even if you never had an interest in the comic book character itself, you knew of its existence that year, let me tell you.

And I never watched the original 1989 Tim Burton movie. I had better things to do, really. You can send your hate mail to my email address.

Seriously, even though I did watch all the other following sequels in the Tim Burton Batman series in the theater, I never did get around to watching the 1989 Batman, until about last year when I finally got around to popping it in and seeing what all the hype was about. And I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but…I really wasn’t all that impressed.

Maybe it was because I’m writing this post-Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy, or because this is what you would call the Comic Book Movie Renaissance. Maybe it was because everybody who not only have seen it and were equally shocked that I hadn’t yet (despite being both a Batman and Tim Burton fan) and had raised my expectations of this being the GREATEST MOVIE EVER(TM), that I was rather underwhelmed when I did watch it.

Mind you, I don’t hate 1989’s Batman. Far from it, for all of you extremist fanboys out there. It was quite entertaining, and had a nice dark yet whimsical quality that is vintage Burton shining through. For my money, Michael Keaton remains the undisputed Best Bruce Wayne / Batman in cinematic history (all apologies to the late, great Adam West). And Jack Nicholson made The Joker an icon all his own. No argument there. I think everybody should watch this Batman at least once, preferably as a double-header with Batman Returns.

I know, I know. There’s the point that, when this was released, the whole live action comic book adaptations available were dismal, and this Batman proved that you could make a dark and somewhat serious comic book superhero movie without delving into camp. And, I’m sure if my parents did decide to let me watch this back when I was 15, it would have certainly blown my mind, and I would be writing this with less jaded nostalgia glasses.

And so, here we are. 1989’s Batman. I like it, but I don’t love it. It is what it is.

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