Movie Review: BATMAN & ROBIN

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batman & robinWarner Bros.
1997
PG-13

“What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”

So, here we are, at what is universally thought of as not only the worst Batman movie, but maybe the worst superhero movie ever made. I personally disagree with the later assertion (Catwoman? Barb Wire? Freakin’ Superman IV, anyone?); as to the previous — that this is the worst Batman movie — yes. I whole-heartedly agree that Batman & Robin is a rank pile of bat-guano. Pun intended.

Again, I watched Batman & Robin the weekend it was released. I went with my brother-from-a-different-mother Scott. We’re both aficionados of bad, cheesy movies; watching Batman & Robin was nearly our undoing. That’s right, people. I deliberately watch movies like Manborg, and this was the movie that nearly broke me back in 1997.

Here’s the rundown: Batman (now played by George Clooney) and Robin (still played by Chris O’Donnell, but sporting a costume more in keeping with Nightwing) go up against the nefarious Mr. Freeze, who’s stealing the diamonds from the Gotham natural history museum to help power up his suit needed to keep him alive. Meanwhile, at a Wayne Enterprises lab in Brazil (wow, his corporation can be found anywhere), a Dr. Isley is helping to develop the Venom drug under Dr. Woodrue (hey, shout-out to the Swamp Thing, nifty), which leads into the creation of the hulking Bane. Then Dr. Woodrue tries to kill Dr. Isley, which only results in turning her into Poison Ivy and destroying everyone and everything in the lab, except for Bane, who is essentially her muscle, escaping to Gotham to wreak havoc on Wayne Enterprises. Meanwhile meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Mannor, Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, Barbara Wilson, surprise visits. Both Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze crash a charity event attended by the Dynamic Duo, Robin starts getting all angsty with Batman, Alfred is dying from the same affliction that Mr. Freeze has, and Barbara stumbles upon the Batcave and becomes a nipple-less Batgirl. They all team up and defeat Poison Ivy, then head out to stop Mr. Freeze from freezing Gotham and making horrendous ice-based puns. They arrive at the spot a bit too late, is attacked by Bane, where Robin and Batgirl take him out, while Batman stops Mr. Freeze with hope for finding a cure for his wife. Also, a few punches. Gotham is de-iced, Alfred is cured (because of course he would be), and we end on the silhouettes of the three heroes running away from this awful movie. The end.

Batman & Robin is a glorious train wreck that is still talked about 20 years after the fact. It’s easily the worst superhero / comic book movie to have been released in 1997, and that was the year that the live-action Spawn movie was released. The camp is turn up to past 11, with every opportunity for puns exploited to full effect. If you groaned at the idea of Bat Shark Repellent from the 1966 Batman movie, you’re going to love things like the Bat Credit Card, pop-out ice skates in the boots, the numerous ice-based puns and one-liners that Arnold Schwarzenegger chews up and spits out at an 87% efficiency rating. To say nothing of the head-scratching decisions this movie decided to go with. Batgirl is now Alfred’s niece, and not the daughter of Commissioner Gordon? Bane is a meat-headed, non-articulate muscle regulated to Poison Ivy’s bodyguard, instead of the criminal mastermind who broke Batman in the comics? The Nightwing costume for Robin? George Clooney? Truly, Batman & Robin is the worst Batman movie ever made…

…and yet, I can’t not watch it whenever I stumble upon it. It’s horrible, yes, but it’s gloriously horrible. For the same reason I love the 1960s Adam West Batman series, I will watch Batman & Robin just to glory in the campy badness. Really, to quote a better Batman movie, Batman & Robin may not have been the Batman movie we wanted, but (for 1997) it was definitely the Batman movie we deserved for the time. Recommended to watch at least once.

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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: SPIDER-MAN Homecoming

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spiderman_homecomingSony / Marvel
2017
PG-13

“Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”

Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the watchful eye of mentor Tony Stark, Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man. He also tries to return to his normal daily routine–distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a friendly neighborhood superhero. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.

So, here we are. Fifteen years since the very first Spider-Man movie made us believe it could be done. Since then, there’s been two sequels, a reboot, and another sequel. Now, everyone’s favorite web-slinger is back home with Marvel, and we have a third reboot. Did we need another redux? Have you seen Amazing Spider-Man 2? I haven’t yet, I was just asking. I hear it’s not good. I digress.

So, as I mentioned, Marvel Studios, through a deal they brokered with Sony (who has held the rights to Spider-Man for quite a while), they were able to play with their own toy again. And after a well-received cameo in Captain America: Civil War, I couldn’t wait for the full-length stand-alone movie to see how bad they could screw things up.

You may have picked up that I’m a tad cynical about these Spider-Man movies. Since Spider-Man 3 ten years prior, my wide-eyed fanboy love had felt jaded that anything after Spider-Man 2 would be disappointing at best. There was a glimmer of hope with the introduction of him in Civil War; but, would a side character rol translate into a feature-length movie? Could Marvel make Spider-Man…well, amazing again?

Well, they did a good job trying.

Don’t misread that–Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very good Spider-Man movie. Easily my second-favorite to date, right behind Spider-Man 2.

There’s a lot to like about Homecoming: Tom Holland is probably the best teenage Peter Parker / Spider-Man going, as he convinced me that he could be bullied and picked upon in his civilian garb. The chemistry between the main characters was fantastic, especially between Pete and his best friend / “Chair Guy” Ned. And Michael Keaton as The Vulture was inspired, as he took what I consider to be one of the more goofier Silver Age villains in Spider-Man’s rogue gallery and made him into something genuinely chilling. The script was well-written, witty and smart, and had me laughing out loud more than just a handful of times. The action scenes were very well done as well, culminating in a final battle scene that had me holding my breath. Good job there, movie. And yet, with all of that going for this thing, I do have to point out what I found to be kind of, sort of not good about it. Minor quibbles, maybe, but they have to be said.

Also, I should point out that I’m probably going to be letting lose with some spoilers ahead, so if you’re one of those who haven’t seen this yet…go see it first. Also, welcome back from whatever isolated cave you emerged from. Anyway…

Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t feel like a full-on Spider-Man movie. The second half did, certainly. But for the first half or so, this felt more like a teen show on the Disney Channel. Which, okay, I understand that Marvel is owned by Disney, and this is a teenaged Peter Parker, interacting with his teenage chums in high school. But for a handful of Spidey scenes, the first half was more of a sloggy, sudsy teen soap. A very well made and engaging teen soap, but a teen soap nonetheless. Freaks And Geeks, if you will. I would wager to say that it wasn’t until Peter got his high-tech Stark suit taken away from him, that this truly became a Spider-Man movie. The moment that Peter steps up to the hero plate despite not having all the nifty gizmos and gadgets, you didn’t have to say “With great power comes great responsibility”, it was demonstrated by the actions perfectly.

I could continue on like this for pages, but I’d rather just urge you to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming for yourselves. It’s a rather good take on Spider-Man, and kudos for finally getting back home to Marvel. Here’s to many more.

Wait…”Homecoming”…back home at Marvel…I think there was more to that title than just that Homecoming dance in the movie…mind blown…

Movie Review: LOGAN

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logan20th Century Fox
2017
R

“Charles Xavier, the world famous mutant octogenarian.”
“Actually, I’m a nonagenarian.”

In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

I think we can all agree that Wolverine was the best thing about all of the X-Men movies that have been produced since 2000. Even the ones that were sub-par, with just a cameo of Wolvie made it at least a bit more bearable to sit through. An all-too-brief oasis of awesome in an otherwise mediocre experience. He was the best thing about that otherwise forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. And I have yet to find the strength to review that one.

With Logan, we finally get to witness our favorite X-Men character’s swan song…along with another X-Men’s swan song in the process. More on that in a bit. Also, perhaps now would be the best time to hoist the !!!SPOILERS!!! flag, so in case you’re one of the five or so people who haven’t watched Logan yet, you’ve been warned. And why are you reading this, when you can be watching Logan? Good grief, let’s get our priorities in order, here.

Anyway, after watching Logan with the rest of the Exalted Geeks (and then promptly recording a Pubcast about it), I have to say that, if this is the way in which Wolverine is going to go out, then it’s a very satisfying way to go. Let’s face it, there was no other way than with a hard “R” rating that would do the character justice, and this movie uses that. And yet, even though this is a movie about the X-Men, Logan manages to be much, much more than just a mere superhero movie. This is a gritty western that happens to feature the Marvel mutants.

Here, we find Wolverine–now just going by his civilian name Logan–past his prime. His healing factor is failing him, bringing along several complications with it. Almost all of the other X-Men have died, and due to government modified corn (seriously) there hasn’t been any other mutants born in ages. Professor Xavier is still alive, but he’s in his 90s and suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, causing his mutant brain to become classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the gov’ment. Logan has been taking care of Xavier at a secret location on the U. S. / Mexico boarder, working as a for-hire chauffeur, providing the meds necessary to keep Xavier’s seizures at bay. He’s hoping to buy a boat, so that he can have his father figure live out his final days in peace on the ocean. But, all of that is stuck on the back burner when they find themselves the guardians of a young girl that seems to be a hot commodity for a shady gov’ment agency. Now, Logan, Xavier and this kid is on the run to the north to get her to a place that may or may not exist. Oh, and the girl seems to have the same powers, accessories and disposition of a certain aging Canuk we all know and love.

Hype for Logan couldn’t have been higher leading up to the opening of the movie. We all knew this was going to be Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of the character he played since 2000. Then we heard that Patrick Stewart was going to hang up his Professor X character after this one, as well. This was going to be the Wolverine movie set in Fox’s Mutant universe to end an era, and the two actors couldn’t have picked a better film to go out on.

Aside that it is possible to make a comic book superhero movie that’s smart, dark and doesn’t insult the audience’s collective intelligence, it finally manage to let the true character of the Wolverine come out, a man who struggles to do the right thing, despite the inner demons and the ravages of time and age. It maintains a bleak future, but with a light of hope at the end. Also, there’s tons and tons of what we’ve all wanted to see since we saw Jackman’s Wolverine pop his claws in the 2000 X-Men movie: Wolverine’s berserker rage. This may be a Marvel-based superhero movie, but it earns its “R” rating, so be warned, ye who want to bring your young kids with.

That said, Logan is more a modern western, with more than a passing comparison with a Sam Pickenpaw flick (the move Shane is referenced a couple of times, especially at the tear-inducing ending), rather than the glossy sci-fi that the X-Men reside in. The result is a grittiness that’s organic and not forced, where you feel how tired and reluctant to go on with his past Logan is. To that end, everyone involved with the acting were fantastic, especially the young girl who portrayed X-23/Laura. My favorite scene with her was where she was eating cereal when she senses the Reavers trying to stealthily sneak up on her. She pauses, then takes another bite of the breakfast food anyway. You have to watch it to understand, I guess.

Which is what I’m urging all of you to do, if you haven’t done so already. So what if you don’t like comic book superhero movies. Logan manages to transcend this label, and will stick with you long after you realize there is no post-credit scenes, and you just stuck around because they were playing a Johnny Cash song. No, not that one. The other one.

Movie Review: The LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

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lego-batman-movieWarner Bros.
2017
PG

“Wait a minute. Bruce Wayne is Batman…’s roommate?”

There are big changes brewing in Gotham, but if Batman wants to save the city from the Joker’s hostile takeover, he may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up. Maybe his superhero sidekick Robin and loyal butler Alfred can show him a thing or two.

Admittedly, 2014’s The Lego Movie was probably one of the more unexpected hit movies based on a toy property to come out that didn’t have giant robots turning into vehicles or Michael Bay’s name attached to it. I still haven’t watched The Lego Movie as of this writing, mind you; that’s mostly due to my disdain of the nigh-ubiquitous “Everything Is Awesome” theme song that certain chipper types at work seem to utilize as their own personal theme music. I’m sure I’ll get over myself and get around to watching it eventually. Not as of yet, though.

Anyway, reportedly the most popular side character in that movie was Batman, which lead to the spinoff, The Lego Batman Movie. There was no doubt in my head that I was going to see this movie. I remember sitting in the theater a year prior, waiting for the exorcise in overstuffed mediocrity that was Batman V. Superman, and watching the teaser for The Lego Batman Movie, then leaning over to one of the Exalted Geeks in attendance and saying, “Why aren’t we watching this movie?” The Lego Batman Movie, even then, looked to be the superior Batman movie to, not only the one that we ended up watching that day, but to pretty much every other Batman movie that has come before.

Calm down, fanboys and fangirls. You know I’m right. Just hear me out. But first, the rundown (also, there may be spoilers ahead, so be ye warned):

The fun begins with Batman villain The Joker, along with pretty much all of Batman’s rogue gallery (and then some) attempting to hijack a plane carrying stupid amounts of explosives, when he’s once again foiled by The Batman…only to have his heart broken when Batman informs Joker that he doesn’t consider him his greatest nemesis. This prompts the Joker to begin planning his greatest revenge against the Dark Knight…by surrendering himself and the rest of the rogues to the newly appointed Commissioner Barbara Gordon, thereby rendering Batman’s crime fighting services superfluous. Bruce Wayne, while attending a charity event, inadvertently adopts Dick Grayson, then hatches a plan to sneak into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to steal the Phantom Zone projector with plans to put Joker in the most inescapable jail in existence. Of course, this is just playing into the Joker’s hands, as his master plan is to break out all of the ultimate baddies that were stuck in the Phantom Zone previously to take over Gotham. Can Batman get over his need to be on his own to fight the evil that has taken over Gotham? Will he allow himself to be part of a family again? Is it possible to reference every single aspect of Batman history without coming off as pandering and ham-fisted?

As many have already indicated, The Batman Lego Movie was a highly enjoyable animated action comedy that not only works well as a satire of the various bits of media that Batman has appeared in since Detective Comics No. Something-or-other, but somehow gets to the very heart of who the character of Batman is much better than the other movies ever did. And that is, deep down, Batman doesn’t want to suffer the pain of losing the people he loves, so he keeps everyone at a distance. Until he comes across a situation in which he has to drop those emotional shields of his and let others inside to work together. As a family, if you will.

Character deconstruction aside, The Lego Batman movie should be watched by everyone, not only the fans of the Batman movies, or the first Lego Movie, but everyone. The writing, the animated action, the imagination that went behind this, everything gels together so well that you almost have to take in a second showing just to get all the things you may have missed before. And believe me, if you want to go just to geek out on the Batman, this movie is jammed to the cowl with various references and Easter eggs to geek upon. Even I was impressed at how obscure some of the villains included were.

I need to reel myself in, lest I spend more time geeking out about this movie. Bottom line, if you haven’t seen The Lego Batman Movie by now, you need to go see it while it’s still out in the theaters.

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NecRoSarX Chronicles Header

So, here we are. The tail end of the month of May. Which means, we’re officially at the half-way mark of the year that is 2016. And since there hasn’t been much as far as “content” on this blog of mine, outside of the usual NSR post, I thought now would be a good time to bring anyone still reading this up to speed as far as the goings on in the life of your beloved Uncle NecRo.

Besides still doing NECRO SHOCK RADIO, I’m also recording and producing another podcast, called WILL CODE FOR BEER. Essentially a PUBcast, it’s more or less the recording of the various conversations the constantly mentioned (and alluded to) Coven of Exalted Geeks have on the night we converge at Sean O’Casey’s in Omaha. Then, I chop the entirety up into half-hour long bits and post them here on this blog that was recently set up. Things tend to get wacky. You should check ’em out, if you have nothing else better to do.

Once in a while, there’s a special Nerd Rage Episode, where we get together after watching a movie, and discuss our thoughts on the thing. So far, there’s one for Batman V Superman, and Captain America: Civil War. Coming soon: X-Men Apocalypse.

Earlier this month, at the beginning of May, the four seniors in the youth group graduated. The final night for the season was the last week in April, and there was hardly anyone there who didn’t find themselves verklempt. Proud of those kids, I am. The second week in May, though, my own nephew/godson Christopher graduated High School. Here’s the obligatory pic:

IMG_20160515_141149321_HDR

Click to embiggen

Also having graduated on the same weekend as Chris (and thus necessitating having to miss out on it due to helping with the open house and all that) was my cousin’s eldest, Trevor Donahey. Here’s the obligatory pic:

TREVOR DONAHEY GRADUATION PIC 2016

Click to embiggen

Gads, I’m still wrapping my head around how these two lads are now 18 and moving on to the next phase in life. Only six more years until my next nephew graduates. Better pace myself, here. Feel old, I do.

I didn’t help out with the annual pancake feed that my aunt and uncle does with their Volunteer Rescue team in Dunlap, Iowa this year. The idea was to bring along the two younger nephews to it, so they could gorge on breakfast stuff and have some fun hanging out with the cusins and riding on the fire trucks. Which I did. And they did. Only, I made the grave mistake of taking my blood pressure and diabetes medication without any food, which resulted in enough of a pain level that resulted in me having to leave after only an hour or so. Fortunately, my sister and brother-in-law decided to attend the feed also, so the boys just rode back with their parents. I felt awful having to leave so soon; but, I was feeling even more awful physically. I got back to the Haunted Victorian without further incident, and after an extended nap the pain was gone and I was back to my normal self. And by that, I mean the post-nap depression swing was in full-force.

I trust everyone managed to enjoy their Memorial Day. Everyone reading this in America, that is. If you’re not from America and have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a day set aside to remember those who died in active military service, traditionally by drinking copious amounts of beer and eating obscene amounts of grilled meat.

Merely good-natured ribbing, my dear Alphonse. Cheers, all.

::END TRANSMISSION::

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