Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

Main characters: Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman), Professor Charles Xavier (played in the future by Patrick Stewart and the past by James McAvoy), Magneto (future version played by Ian McKellen and past version by Michael Fasebender), Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence)

Directed by Bryan Singer

Main story: In the future, mutants are all being hunted down and imprisoned or killed by sentinels, robots that can adapt to mutant powers in battle.  To stop this from happening, Xavier and Magneto agree to send Wolverine back to the past to convince the younger versions of themselves to stop Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the sentinels.  The killing of Trask is what resulted in the sentinels being mass produced and put into use 50 years later.  Another mutant, Kitty Pryde uses her ability to send people back in time to send Wolverine back 50 years into the past, to 1973, where he has to find Prof. Xavier and Magneto and get them to reconcile long enough to stop Mystique and change the events of the future.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the fifth X-Men film, and the seventh film set in the X-men cinematic universe.  It is also the third part of a three film reclamation project aimed at setting the film franchise back on course after two brutally disappointing chapters, X-Men: the Last Stand and spinoff X-Men Origins: Wolverine, that left audiences with the feeling that the X-Men film world had reached the point of diminishing returns and should be set aside for a while like DC/Warner Bros. did with the Batman series (1998's dreadfully awful Batman & Robin resulted in a seven year absence on screen for the Dark Knight and almost singlehandedly put a bullet in superhero films).  The first film in the reset was X-Men: First Class, arriving in theaters five years after Last Stand and two years after Origins.  It was received much better by fans and critics, and was followed up in 2013 by The Wolverine, a half sequel to Origins/half bridge from Last Stand and First Class to Days of Future Past.  It's success was a perfect setup to this movie, which is supposed to serve as evidence that Bryan Singer and Co. have figured out what went wrong, righted the ship, and are ready to set out on a new course.  Whereas First Class and The Wolverine had an undercover objective of making you forget about Last Stand and Origins by focusing on the characters we enjoyed in previous films (Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique) and tossing aside everyone else, Days of Future Past is a two hour acknowledgement of what went wrong before and how it's going to be fixed.  So did they succeed?  I say largely yes with a huge caveat.

If you're a print version purist and get upset at any major deviations from the source material, then you're not going to like this movie. If you hate the very idea of retconning (changing events from previous issues or films through some kind of magic plot device, usually some altering of the space-time continuum, in an effort to clean up previous missteps or launch a new reality), then you're going to be really pissed off at the ending.  (Of course if you claim to hate deviations but loved Captain America: the Winter Soldier then please let me know so I can send a big fat red H for hypocrite to stitch to your clothes, because that movie was NOTHING like the comic version of the story).  I am neither a hater of retcons or a stickler for fealty to the comic version of a story, because I think you should clean up your mistakes instead of leaving them there like a big turd in the punchbowl and because the comic versions of a lot of these stories aren't very good.  This story is very much of the latter.  The comic version of this story is one of the most overrated story arcs in comic book history. Days of Future Past was a two issue story arc sandwiched in between three other stand alone issues, set up mainly to set up and establish Kitty Pryde as the newest member of the team.  It stands out so much in people's minds because it was surprise, unannounced dark turn for the series and because it gave us the first look at the sentinel robots that the X-Men would go on to do battle with many times over the years.  There is literally nothing else memorable about the story at all.  After reading it last year I figured that whatever Bryan Singer and Co. came up with for a movie would be superior, and I feel pretty vindicated.

The changes that seem to have people the most riled up are removing Kitty Pryde as the protagonist (in the comic she is the mutant that goes back in time to stop the assassination that leads to the deployment of the sentinels and the wiping out of all the mutants) and swapping in Wolverine, who casual movie going fans still love but a lot of fanboys are tired of; and giving Kitty the power to send people back in time, which she never had in the comics.  To which, I say: get over it already.  They people in charge made a business decision.  Nobody outside of fanboys care to see an X-Men movie centered around Kitty Pryde.  They want their Wolverine, Prof. X, Magneto, and Mystique.  It would be foolish to not give it to them.  Someday some filmmaker will create a comic book film that caters to every fanboys wishes, and it will bomb at the box office.  It's the movie business, and without the business there are no movies.  What matters more than anything else is the execution, which went very well.  Fasbender and McAvoy pick up right from where they left off in First Class, deftly conveying the difficult relationship between Xavier and Magneto that drives these movies when they are at their best.  Jackman does his Wolverine thing without swallowing the movie whole, and the story unfolds in such a way that people who came to see him get what they need but he doesn't eat up all the important screen time.  The 15 minutes we get of Quicksilver, centered around breaking Magneto out of a Pentagon prison cell, are one of the highlights of summer movies that you'll take with you.  And there are plenty of pop culture references from the earlier time including amusing bits about JFK and Richard Nixon.  The other X-Men, save Beast, don't get much time but they at least get to use it in some pretty cool fight scenes.

I give this a 4 out 5, with the understanding that a lot of comic book enthusiasts are going to have major issues with the changes I mentioned and the big retcon at the end, which I won't spoil here.  But if you got no beef with any of that then you should enjoy it thoroughly like I did.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review - Forever Evil

Warning - Major Spoilers Below.

After a long delayed seventh and final issue hit the stores this Wednesday, DC's 'Forever Evil' event series has come to a close.  And a huge close it was.  For me, it's up there with the best event series I've read.  It deftly hit every point on the Event Series checklist, and was exciting all the way through.  What's the Event Series Checklist, you say?  Well, here it is:

  • Has an enemy that more formidable than what the cast of characters in the universe usually face
  • Shuffles the deck amongst the regular heroes and villains, leading to alliances of necessity necessary to overcome the threat
  • Introduces some new characters (or gets rid of some existing ones)
  • Fleshes out some previously one or two dimensional characters into something broader
  • Elevates former bit players to a potentially bigger future role
  • Requires hard choices among the protagonists that alter existing relationships
  • Requires solutions above and beyond the norm
  • Changes the existing universe in major ways going forward
We got all of those here.  The Crime Syndicate coming over from Earth 3 imprisoned most of the Justice League members, took over the world's communication systems, and set free all of the imprisoned Super Criminals in the DC world.  The few remaining heroes who tried to fight them straight up were dealt with pretty quickly.  We got introduced New 52 style to Alexander Luthor from Earth 3, Bizarro, Ted Kord, and the Metal Men. We also bid goodbye to Luthor and Bizarro by series end, and seemingly to Vibe and Element Woman.  And we got a alliance of Batman and Catwoman along with Lex, Black Manta, Sinestro, and some other villains (Deathstroke, Captain Cold and Cyborg were all contributing by series end).  We got the 'death' of Nightwing.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The real winner of the series, character wise, was Lex Luthor.  The story was narrated from his point of view, and over seven issues we got the full range of his character.  We saw the evil, the confidence and the condescending superiority complex that we've come to expect from him over the years.  But we got a lot more.  When Bizarro, his underdeveloped creation, needed guidance and a confidence boost, instead of dismissing him Luthor put his proverbial arm around him and led him on.  When Dick Grayson was connected to the Murder Machine, and the only way to stop it was to stop his heart, Luthor didn't just kill him like you thought he would; he came up with a way to stop the machine and keep Grayson alive.  And at the end of the story he did a complete 180 in how he treated Ted Kord versus how he dealt with Kord's father at the beginning of the first issue.  (At the beginning of issue 1, he basically told Ted's father that he was taking his company.  At the end of issue 7 he told Ted, now in charge of Kord industries after his father's passing, that he was no longer pursuing the company and that he wanted Ted to run it and become a good competitor to Lexcorp).  The dialogue between he and Batman throughout the series was a classic 'you and I aren't that different' conversation, executed perfectly.  Lex and Bruce really are a lot alike.  They don't fully trust the superhumans that are operating on Earth, they see themselves as necessary saviors because they can see things that others can't and are willing to do what it takes to make things right in the world.  They aren't afraid to make personal sacrifices to do so, either.

And we got some serious hard choices.  When the villains in the makeshift alliance to take down the Syndicate made it clear that they weren't going to take anyone alive, Batman objected but ultimately chose to stay with the group.  This was a subtle but important compromise to his legendary no killing moral code.  By the end of the series Black Manta, Sinestro, and Luthor had killed members of the Syndicate, and got no chastising from Bruce over their actions.  In limiting his protests, and in the various tidbits of information he revealed to Luthor along the way, Batman made himself vulnerable in ways he probably will regret later.  He also was faced with revealing what may be a friendship killer when he admitted to having a close enough attachment to Wonder Woman to use her lasso to pull all of the trapped Justice Leaguers back to freedom.  Have he and Wonder Woman been engaging in their own clandestine relationship unbeknownst to Superman, Wonder Woman's boyfriend?  Did they have a previous relationship?  What gives?  And in rebuffing Catwoman's advances, Bruce chose to avert an attachment ('People close to me get hurt' he said in issue 3) but may have created another monster in the form of a spurned love interest.  Catwoman's rejection of full on criminality may have been as much about trying to please Batman as any altruism on her part.  We'll see.

And the best thing about the way the series ended is that it did indeed change things in the DC Universe.  Lex Luthor is now a bona fide hero who saved the world, and is looking to continue as the savior he's always seen himself as.  The Justice League America team, set up by ARGUS as a counterweight to the original Justice League, is now in the wind and in the process of shedding members and picking up new ones.  The original League is going through the same process as Luthor looks to become a part of it over Superman's objections.  Dick Grayson can no longer be Nightwing since he was unmasked in front of the entire world.  There are the surviving Crime Syndicate members; a weakened Ultraman, the imprisoned Superwoman, and the escaped Owlman.  The ring that was being worn by Earth 3's Hal Jordan before he was killed by Sinestro is off in search of a new host.  And finally, there was the reveal of the Anti-Monitor, who has plundered the universe of Earth 3 and is looking for a confrontation with Darkseid.  The series tie-ins were all relevant to the main story as well.  Captain Cold's crew, the Rogues, are now looking at a more complicated life than the one they were living before the Syndicate arrived.  Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller, of ARGUS, are now looking at life under far more scrutiny than they'd faced before.  So yeah, there's a lot to look forward to in the future.

The long wait for the final resolution was worth the payoff.  Excellent work, guys.

Continuity or Quality?

So with X-Men: Days of Future Past about to hit the theaters, it's time to visit a topic that has become more and more of big deal as we've gotten more and more comic book movies.  The question is about continuity.  In an interview here, director Bryan Singer has basically thrown continuity under the bus in the name of good storytelling.  Anyone who has seen all or most of the X-Men and X-Men related films knows of the timeline inconsistencies that plague them, not just with the source material but with the film themselves.  Throughout the entire series, details and plot points have been introduced that would later be contradicted.  Whether it's when Prof. X met Magneto, the age of Moira McTaggert, or Bolivar Trask going from being a bald black guy in the 2000s (played by Bill Duke) to a short white guy (played by Peter Dinklage) in the 1970s, the series will have you repeatedly saying 'wait a minute...' to yourself when you see a certain character or hear a certain line. This is the fifth X-Men film and the seventh film set in the X-Men film universe; there are bound to be some loose ends here or there that don't get completely tied down.  And based on early reviews I'm reading from fans and critics, they don't particularly care.  Here are a few telling quotes from film reviews:

USA Today:  "It's a labyrinthine dance that may or may not line up with every detail in past X-Men sagas. But don't worry about fitting all the pieces together. too hard to Just sit back and enjoy."

 I do think that these things are not raising a huge stink because they for the most part minor details, throwaway lines from the first movie or 30 second appearances in X: Men - the Last Stand, which we'd all like to forget about.  If Cyclops were still alive in the future after getting disintegrated in Last Stand that would be a different matter, but that's not what they did.  It looks to me like people are more concerned with just having a good product on the screen in front of them than with whether or not every single i is dotted and every t is crossed.  And for the most part, it's not really a big deal.  Because let's be real, the source material isn't a model of consistency either. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dial it Down Daniel

So Daniel Bryan has gotten neck surgery, and will be out for a little while.  The WWE is reportedly going to heed the doctor's prognosis when they decide what to do with the WWE title he holds.  If he's only going to be gone a short time, they'll keep the belt on him.  If it's going to be longer they'll strip him and move on.  No matter what happens, my advice to Daniel Bryan when it comes to his in ring work is.....tone it down.  You got nothing left to prove about what you can do.  You have achieved a level of popularity that few in the business have manged to reach.  Don't jeopardize your long term health and your career going forward by being reckless and hurting yourself over and over.  Bryan's injury is reportedly the result of several years of punishment and not some freak kind of thing.  That's all the more reason to start dialing it back some now.  The last thing Bryan (and the WWE for that matter) need is for Bryan to end up like the Dynamite Kid or Mick Foley or, god forbid, Chris Benoit.  But that's a real possibility given his style and the reckless abandon with which he performs.  And that's why I'm saying here that it's time for him to dial things back a little.

In my 30 years as a fan, I've seen many an exciting, high flying, risk taking wrestler come and go.  They captivate you early on with their athleticism, their exciting repertoire, and their willingness to do crazy death defying stunts in the name of thrilling the crowd.  Some go on to have long careers but many find themselves a shell of themselves 10 years later, an injury riddled shell of themselves only able to do a fraction of what they used to and ready for the glue factory way ahead of their time.  Daniel Bryan's ring style is almost identical to Benoit's, who was modeled himself after Dynamite Kid.  The suplexes, the diving headbutts, the crossface submission hold (once Benoit's finisher and now dubbed the yes lock for Bryan), along with a few moves to distinguish each from the other two.  But the Kid ended up a near cripple after years of that work took its toll on his body, and Benoit suffered multiple concussions throughout his career that undoubtedly helped put him in the mental state that led him to end his own life.

But they're not the only ones for Bryan to look back to with a cautious eye.  Shawn Micheals was another performer in that vein, and he spent five years on the shelf with a back injury that appeared career ending before he made a miraculous recovery.  Mick Foley was the King of Extreme, taking chairshots, falling through tables, and torturing himself in all kinds of different ways for our amusement.  And then one day, at the young age of 35 he was no longer fit for a full time career and was reduced to sporadic action for the next 12 years.  Seeing him in action during his part timer years was sad; he was reduced to mostly doing more stunts because he couldn't do the actual wrestling part of matches anymore.  While Bryan doesn't do flying leaps off the top of steel cages onto tables, or take full force chairshots to the head, he does take more than his share of risks.

I'm not saying he should turn into a Lou Thez-era mat wrestler.  But it's time for him to figure out what moves he can put on the shelf and stick them there.  As a fan I'd like to see 10 to 15 more years of work from Bryan, not 3 to 5.  If he wants that then it's time for some tough choices.  We didn't ask for Mick Foley to do all that crazy stuff, and we don't ask for Bryan to do all the things he does, either.  He's talented enough to figure it out and entertain us just as well as he does now, and he doesn't owe us any more than he's already given us.  Time to look out for number one, Daniel.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review - Son of Batman

Son of Batman is the latest movie from DC Animation, very loosely based on the 'Batman and Son' story arc from Grant Morrison's run on the Batman and Robin comic.  It centers around Damian Wayne's arrival in Gotham, his origin, his introduction to his father, and his struggle to overcome his training as a killer and his desire for revenge.  The movie is 84 minutes long and is third DC animated movie (the first two being Flashpoint: Paradox and Justice League: War) set in the New 52 DC continuity (Flashpoint being the event that kicked off the New 52). 

The movie starts off at the base of the League of Assassins where Damian, his mother Talia al Ghul, and longtime Batman adversary Ra's al Ghul are attacked by Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke) and his minions.  In this story Slade was once the right hand of Ra's but was cast out of the League due to his actions, and is none too happy over it.  He takes out several League warriors, and fatally wounds Ra's before being run off by Damian, Talia, and the surviving League members.  Talia decides that with things shaking out the way they are it would be a good time for Damian to meet and reside with his father......who just happens to be Batman.

The action moves to Gotham, where Batman struggles to keep his son in line.  Educated beyond his years, Damian manages to sneak into Wayne Enterprises and download vital information.  At night he takes to the street to hunt down the thugs he thinks can lead him to Deathstroke.  Along the way he runs into Nightwing, who doesn't exactly hit it off with him.  Bruce tries to lecture him on his code of not killing, then decides the best thing to do is bring him along with him at night.  Damian dons the Robin costume but doesn't take to the Dark Knight's code very well.  While he struggles to adjust and Batman struggles to keep him in line, his mother moves on Deathstroke and get captured.

While all this is going on, Deathstroke is using a kidnapped Kirk Langstrom (the Dr. behind the Man-Bat serum) to create an army of Man-Bat soldiers for his own version of the League of Assassins. The big climax involves Damian venturing off alone to Deathstroke's base of operations, while Batman and Nightwing try to figure out where he's going so they can help him find his mother and stop him from killing Deathstroke (or getting killed himself).  We get a big showdown between the Dark Knight and Deathstroke, then between Deathstroke and Damian to close things out in exciting fashion.

So how was it?  In my book, excellent.  Damian Wayne is one of the best new characters introduced towards the end of the pre-New 52 continuity, and that carries over here.  We got a glimpse of the condescending snark he constantly threw towards Alfred and the other members of the Bat family, and it was as fun as it was in print.  The fight scenes were plentiful and very well done, as well as anything you might see in a live action film.  They were violent, but in a way that makes sense given the nature of the confrontations that were taking place.  There was no gratuitous profanity like in Justice League: War.  I found that totally unnecessary and not helpful to the story in any way.  I'm glad they didn't go back to that well here in an effort to be more mature and edgy.

The story flowed well and was very clear and coherent from start to finish, and it ended in such a way that left the door open to further adventures from the caped crusader and his son, and the extended Bat family.  There were no glaring issues like I found with Avengers: Confidential.  Every important character gets enough screen time and dialogue to establish their presence in the story and contribute to it in a meaningful way.  There is no wasted time on throwaway scenes or lines.  The running time is short for a full length movie but I think this actually helps since there's no filler.

All in all, another excellent piece of work by DC animation.  I highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Amazing Spider Man 2: What do you people want?


I saw Amazing Spider Man 2, and thought it was excellent.  Apparently that sentiment is not unanimous.  There are a lot of really stupid reviews being filed, with some absolutely stupid opinions.  There tend to be two camps here, the 'First series of movies were better' crowd and the 'I hate all of these movies (even though I go see them all at the theater) crowd'.  Both crowds are inconsistent as hell, insufferable, a just plain incorrect.  Look, no movie is perfect and I'm sure I'll find shortcomings with this one after repeated viewings.  But.....come on people.  These arguments need to be shot down because they're just dumb.  So it's time to knock them down.

The Raimi trilogy was better it wasn't.  Of course, the first concession you get from these people is that Spider Man 3 was bad.  They offer that up before you can even mention it yourself.  And that's fine, because then we can just compare the first two Raimi movies with their counterparts from the new series.  And when we do that...I'm sorry, but the Raimi films come up short.  Now don't get me wrong, the first one was great at the time and still is good in my book but the second Raimi film was called the best superhero movie ever when it came out and now......not so much.  I will make one concession to the first Raimi film.  The leadup to Uncle Ben's death was straight from the comic book and is better than in the new series, where they seemed to want to get through it quickly so they could move on to the main thrust of the story.  Beyond that.....please.  The organic web shooting seemed like an interesting departure to me at the time, but now it just looks silly.  The other spider-like qualities developed are enhancements of normal human abilites; organic webshooting means that he grew new spider-esque glands as a result of being bitten by a spider and taking on some of it's DNA.  The web shooters are both a representation of Peter embracing what happened to him and a demonstration of his intellect as a scientist. Getting rid of that just deletes an important part of the character.

And let's look at some other things, filmmaking issues.  First, the Green Goblin looks like a Power Ranger.  Second, there's the just stupid kidnapping scene where the Goblin gasses Spider Man, takes him to a rooftop and gives him a chance to join him.  He does all of this without bothering to takes Spidey's mask off to see who he is.  Third, Gwen Stacy is a much better character in the new series than Mary Jane was in the Raimi films, and just because of Kirsten Dunst's not so good acting.  Mary Jane only has two purposes: to fall in love with Peter and fall into danger so he has to rescue her.  On the other hand, Gwen helps Peter infiltrate Oscorp and is his intellectual equal.  She helps him figure out how to beat Electro, and helps him actually do it.  She is a true partner, despite having no super powers.  The movie version of Mary Jane is just a hot babe that Peter fell for in high school for obvious physical reasons; beyond that the character doesn't provide any real reason for Peter to dig her other than her being hot and being in close proximity to him.  You can imagine a 40-something year old Gwen and Peter still challenging each other intellectually and stimulating each other in ways beyond the physical.   Not so with Peter and Mary Jane from the Raimi films; Peter was totally her superior in every way and would have gotten bored with her over time.  You cannot ignore these things when comparing the two films.

It's get worse with the second film.  Raimi's Spider-Man 2 gave us:

  • Peter losing his powers because he lost his smile (h/t to the guys at for nailing this).
  • Doctor Octopus under the control of his AI-infused robot arms.  The guy was having arguments with the damn robot arms throughout the movie and eventually won the argument which allowed him to sacrifice himself and save the day.
  • Harry Osborn getting pissed enough at Peter to want to kill him, but then showing up Mary Jane's wedding where he would likely run into the same guy that he unmasked as Spider Man, blames for his father's death, and literally wants to kill.
  • Harry's butler waiting until the next movie to tell him that hey, Spidey didn't kill your Dad!
  • Spidey getting unmasked in front of a subway full of people, all of whom pledge to not tell anyone.  
There is literally nothing in Amazing Spider Man 2 that approaches those levels of stupidity.  By the end of ASM 2, Peter is a changed man.  He's made hard choices, seen them backfire on him with dire consequences, and is faced with giving up or manning up and moving forward despite his loss.  No such thing happens in the second Raimi film; Mary Jane basically makes Peter's decision for him regarding their relationship.  He never really figured out why he needed to be Spider-Man; his powers were triggered back into effectiveness when Mary Jane was in danger and away he went. 

These movies just suck

I'm going to be brief here.  There's a segment of the comic book/superhero fan world that finds reasons to hate on almost every movie that comes out.  Whether it's source material truthers or costume scolds, they always have some logic that ultimately leads to them hating the movie.  ASM 2 gives them a few bits of gold which of course they are running with.  Rhino's suit, a mech suit instead of the suit from the comic book costume that looks a rubber rhino Halloween costume, offends the costume scolds who want every costume to look exactly like the comic no matter how ridiculous it would look onscreen in a live action film.  These are the people who want Sam Wilson to don a red and white falcon suit in a movie when he's flying around and getting shot at.  They also wanted the orignal Electro costume, which looks absolutely stupid in the comic book, instead of the way they made Jamie Foxx look.  I got nothing for you folks.  Really, I got nothing.  If you complaining about this kind of thing, to the point where it's a disqualifier, you need to just get a life already.

If you haven't seen Amazing Spider Man 2, go see it.  It's excellent, and please don't let anyone tell you other wise.

Extreme Rules Review

OK, so Extreme Rules is in the bag and we're on to the next show, Payback.  I did a lot better with my predictions this time.  I was a putrid 2 for 8 with my WrestleMania picks, but I went 5 for 7 here.  My two misses were picking Big E to retain the Intercontinental Title against Wade Barrett and picking the six man tag match to end in a non finish of some kind.  Instead we got a new champ in Barrett and a decisive finish in the tag team match, and if I'd known about the news with Batista I would have definitely made a different pick.  I thought it was a good show all in all.  Match by match, here's how I saw it:
  • Triple Threat Match: Cesaro vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Jack Swagger - Good opener.  Swagger was the first to get eliminated, leaving Cesaro and Van Dam.  They had a good back and forth, and the ECW-style finish was very good.  Cesaro winning continues his push, but I see a real issue in how to keep him as a heel given the reaction he's getting from the crowds.  He still can't talk, so he needs a mouthpiece, but there aren't any good guy managers around anymore.  Right now there's no one you can put him in there with that will own the crowd, except maybe Daniel Bryan.  We'll see what happens.
  • Handicap Match: Rusev vs. Xavier Woods and R-Truth - No surprise here.  Truth and Woods put up a good fight, better than these matches usually give us.  I still have no idea why you put two credible guys like Woods and Truth up as handicap match fodder.  Rusev didn't totally squash them, and we didn't get the usual one guy killing two at the same time kind of stuff that takes place in these matches.  The action was mainly one on one throughout, which does help Truth and Woods save some face.
  • Barrett vs. Langston - I was surprised by the clean finish.  This was a very good match.  Langston is much better than your average power lifter type wrestler, and Barrett has always been good in the ring.  Barrett has a similar problem as Cesaro in that he's supposed to be a heel but he's getting cheered by the live crowds.  A few months of investment into his new character will do that for you.  Barrett is getting a push here, but he's gotten that before.  He has the goods to move up the card, but will it finally happen this time?  Langston's future is kind of cloudy to me.  He looked good in the loss, and has the look of a World Title contender.  Dropping the I-C Title is either a sign that he's going to move up or that they're done with him for a while.  We'll see.
  • Six Man Tag Team Match: The Shield vs. Evolution - Good but not great match here. The first half was like a RAW level match, but the second half was tremendous and it was all due to the Shield. I was caught off guard by Batista cleanly jobbing for the finish; he just got beat straight up by Roman Reigns with no shenanigans.  The news yesterday that Batista is not particularly happy with the way things have gone for him since he came back and would be going away early, perhaps for good, cleared it up really quickly. That was a he's leaving the company kind of finish.
  • Diva's Title Match: Paige vs. Tamina Snuka - It was what it was.  They only six minutes and some change to work.  Paige is good in the ring and Tamina is good enough to have a decent match with her.  
  • Steel Cage Match: John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt - This was strange, and not in a good way.  The finish was an overbooked mess, and didn't help Bray look like a main eventer even in victory.  Cena was fighting off Rowan and Harper in addition to Bray and still looked like the winner.  Then the whole bit with the lights going out and the demon child distracting Cena....just too much.  But, at least the right man won.
  • Main Event: Daniel Bryan vs. Kane - This was a throwback match, to the days of Attitude Era RAW, and the hardcore, falls count anywhere matches.  They went backstage and used all kind of weapons, tables, crowbars, you name it.  Bryan loaded Kane on a forklift and drove him back down to the ring, then followed up with a diving leap off the top of the forklift. Just crazy stuff.   But it was entertaining as hell, and Bryan carried a fun match and good show ender.  The finish was absolutely bananas. 
Excellent overall show in my book.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Print vs. Film - Under the Red Hood

This is my first crack at reviewing stories that were captured both in print and on film, be it live action or animated.  The 'Red Hood' storyline took place in 2005 and 2006 in print, while the animated movie came out in 2010.  The story revolves around Jason Todd, who had been working as Robin until he was killed by the Joker, mysteriously returning to Gotham under a new guise to wreak havoc on the criminals in the city and to haunt Bruce Wayne/Batman, still recovering from losing Todd some time ago.  Todd shows up as the Red Hood and begins to deal with Gotham's criminals in ways that Batman refused to stoop to and in doing so pisses off the Black Mask, the main crime boss in Gotham at the time.  Mask sends a parade of goons to get the Hood, while Bruce tries to stop him in a more humane fashion.  The story, in both versions, culminates in an intense three way showdown between Todd, Batman, and the Joker as Todd tries to enact his final revenge against the man who killed him.

How close are the two versions?

On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is an identical retelling and 1 is a a lifting of the title and main characters with no other similarities, I'd give this a 4.  You have the same main characters (Batman/Bruce, Red Hood/Todd) and major supporting characters (Joker, Black Mask, Dick Grayson/Nightwing) and the same story.  You also have the same scenes and set pieces throughout both.  In areas where things are handled differently, the ultimate end result in regards to the overall story are the same.  The biggest change from print to is in how Jason's resurrection is chronicled.  In the comic, Jason was brought back to life when Superboy Prime punched the universe (Ugh....yes, that's what really happened.  Example A of how the original source material is not always better.), and then fully rejuvenated after taking a swim in one of Ra's Al Ghul's Lazarus Pits.  In the movie, the Superboy part is totally removed; Ra's steals Jason's body and puts him in the pit himself.  In the film Ra's hired the Joker to slow down Batman and Robin, and in the process Joker killed Robin.  Ra's, out of guilt and the respect he has for Bruce revives Jason as it was not his intent to kill him.  In the comic, Joker kidnapped Jason's Mom to lure Jason into a trap, then blew up Jason and his Mom killing them both.

What's better in print?

The circumstances that lead to the final showdown work better in the comic book version.  In the movie, Black Mask hires Joker as a means of last resort to get Red Hood; Joker promptly double crosses him and kills his henchmen before getting snatched by the Red Hood.  In the comic, Hood tricks Mask into killing the henchmen himself while we don't see how he was able to abduct the Joker.  The print version does a better job of showing just how smart Todd is and that he's not just an angry vigilante.  The print version also has a series of panels where Batman consults with some of the other heroes from the DC universe who have been killed and resurrected or have dealt with the kid of dark forces that need to be tapped into to pull that kind of thing off, in an effort to determine whether the clues that Jason is back from the dead are adding up to what he thinks they are.  This is left out of the movie entirely, and it's a loss because we got to see Batman in a different light, searching for answers about something he just can't understand.

What's better on film?

As I mentioned earlier, the resurrection of Jason Todd.  It hurt me to type 'Superboy Prime punched the universe' as much as I'm sure it hurt you read it.  That abomination was used as a god awful deux et machina to undo a bunch of things that had transpired in the DC universe, and it did not go over well.  They could have found some reason for Ra's to retrieve Jason's body and put him in the Lazarus Pit to revive him. This is exactly what my guys  at Movie Trailer Reviews are talking about here

So which version is better?

I'd call this a push.  Both versions do their job well.  The story focuses on Jason's anger and Bruce's regret, and in both versions those sentiments are conveyed well.  The intensity of the final showdown is there n both versions.  The big reveal to Jason's real beef with Bruce is communicated just as well in both.  It turns out Jason's true beef is not that Bruce failed to save him, but that Bruce didn't avenge him by killing the Joker.  In his eyes Joker's evil warrants an exception to Bruce's no killing rule, and Bruce's failure to see that is the real way that he let Jason down.  As you both read and watch that, you may find yourself agreeing with Jason.  You can't go wrong with either version of the story; I recommend trying both.