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New Escapist Video! “Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Review in 3 Minutes +”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute feature film review to the channel, discussing Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

New Escapist Column! On the Multiverse as the Future of Franchising…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. The past few months have seen a lot of attention directed at the multiverse, with a suggestion that both Warner Bros. and Disney would be embracing it as a storytelling model going forward.

This shift is interesting, given how much effort these companies have build into fashioning internally consistent shared universes, singular narratives unfolding across dozens of films building inexorably towards a climactic pay-off. However, this shift towards the multiverse feels like a logical response to any number of market forces: the shattering of the idea of the monoculture in the midst of the streaming wars, the pull of nostalgia, and the demands of the actors making these movies. It’s a new world. Actually, it’s several new worlds.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a hot mess.

It is fun, witty and fast-moving. However, it is also disjointed, uneven and awkward. Age of Ultron is a big and bombastic summer blockbuster, but it feels like Marvel learned very little from The Avengers. Rather than simply taking what worked in the first film, it often seems like Age of Ultron doubles down on every part of its predecessor. There’s more action, there’s higher stakes, there’s bigger conflict, there’s more Tony, there’s even less of an idea what to do with Thor, there’s more continuity.

"Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?"

“Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?”

“More” seems to the be the word here. Age of Ultron is bigger than its predecessor in just about every way. The film boasts an ensemble so large that it threatens to collapse under its own weight – a fact perhaps wryly acknowledged by the genocidal robot’s evil plan at the climax. While it is nice to have more diversity in the cast – The Avengers are no longer a bunch of white guys and their token female colleague – it does seem like Age of Ultron strains and groans under all that Joss Whedon and Marvel heap upon it.

Bigger is not always better.

You know, "pull Thor's hammer" is probably not a family friendly party game...

You know, “pull Thor’s hammer” is probably not a family friendly party game…

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I’m A Marvel… or Am I A DC? I Can Never Tell…

I’m about half-a-year behind on this, I must confess. Back in January, the wonderful Katie over at Stories That Really Mattered asked a bunch of bloggers to come out in favour of one of the two major comic book companies, with an open invitation for other members of the community to participate. I’d like to pretend that I took so long to consider my own response because I’m cool (and cool people arrive late to the hottest parties), but the truth is I’ve just been a bit run off my feet these past few months. I was never cool, but I’ve learned to accept that.

However, in this season of blockbuster comic book movies, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on whether I am a bigger fan of Marvel, or DC. Given how close both are to my heart, expect a fair bit of waffle. Okay, a bit morewaffle than usual.

Let's not cloud the issue...

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Aaronofsky to Wrestle “The Wolverine”: Are Independent Directors the Best Choices for Superhero Cinema?

I’m going to be honest, I like it when relatively obscure film directors are handed the reigns to huge blockbuster properties. It seems that these “cult” film makers tend to bring something fresh from outside the studio system to their work. I might sound more than a bit pretentious, but it reminds me of the way that many of the blockbuster directors of the seventies – including Lucas and Spielberg – originated from outside the studio system before revolutionising it from inside. As a concept, would I rather watch Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins? No choice there. Any film with the name “Jerry Bruckheimer” attached or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man? Again, no choice. So, despite the fact that Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a critical failure and an infuriatingly (but, sadly, not unpredictably) disappointing film, am I alone in getting a little excited about Darren Aaronofsky’s The Wolverine.

Against all odds, I might be feeling pretty Jack(man)ed about this...

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Still Dead Set on Deadpool…

Looks like Robert Downey Jnr. isn’t Hollywood’s only two-franchise man at the moment – apparently Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool is still on the cards, at least according to the character’s creator. This is interesting not just because Reynolds will be the leading man in two major superhero productions (and possibly franchises) in the coming years, but also because he will be the first leading man to work with both DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment at the same time. Sure, he was in Blade III, but we don’t count that. It never happened. And I doubt he’d disagree with us on that.

Apparently Green Lantern's secret identity is Deadpool...

Apparently Green Lantern's secret identity is Deadpool...

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Blessed are the Geek, For They Shall Inherit the Earth…

It’s a good time to be a nerd. When exactly did it happen? How did Star Trek become cool again? When did nearly half of all blockbusters find their roots in the oft-mocked comic book artform? When did Comic Con become a major event in the Hollywood calendar? When did it become truly hip to be square?

Haute culture?

Haute culture?

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Backlash to Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash…

I’m on a bit of a comic book binge this week (it helps that Hollywood is churning out so many of the damned movies), and I couldn’t help but not with a wry smile on my face the internet response to the first pictures of Mickey Rourke as the villain (or “a” villian, given the ambiguous roles played by Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson as a business rival and catsuit-wearing spy) in the new Iron Man film. There had been a lot of gossip about whether the loud-mouthed Oscar-nominated actor would be playing Whiplash or Crimson Dynamo. From what fans are saying about the image (appearing below), it appears he’s playing a weird amalgamation of both… and a few more to boot. Though most of fandom appears to have taken this pastiche in their stride, there are a few cynical souls remaining out there who are a little ticked off to see these characters revamped in such a strange way. However, mixing and matching and distorting is by no means anew thing when it comes to adapting iconic characters to the big screen.

It looks like someone has finally tamed Mickey Rourke's wild streak by making him wear an over-sized shock collar

It looks like someone has finally tamed Mickey Rourke's wild streak by making him wear an over-sized shock collar

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Green Lantern… The Other, Other Hot DC Comics Property

Everyone knows Batman and Superman. Those dudes – and their supporting casts – are the nearly the only ambassadors for DC Comics to the world of mainstream cinema. With the exception of the odd stand-alone project, such as Watchmen or Road to Perdition, DC seems to be having a hardtime transitioning its properties to film. Marvel has managed to secure franchises for many of their lights, both greater and lesser – ask the X-Men, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Blade, Iron Man, The Hulk and even The Punisher – leading me to wonder why DC has taken so long to get out there. Sure, perhaps Superman and Batman (and Wonder Woman) are the most iconic of their stable, but I’d also suggest that the Flash and Green Lantern also carry name recognition (though not to the same degree). I’m greatly anticipating Green Lantern as the second-biggest superhero event of next year (because Iron Man II has one of the best casts… ever), but I’m left to wonder: what the hell took you so long?

Doesn't he know that domino masks are sooooooo Silver Age?

Doesn't he know that domino masks are sooooooo Silver Age?

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Wolverine makes $85m

Well, I think we can safely confirm that the popcorn comic book genre is still alive and well, unthreatened by the deconstructionist fare that populated The Dark Knight and the bizarre union of big-budget effects and almost arthouse sensibilities that was Watchmen. Wolverine proved that Hollywood was still capable of making a good old-fashioned matinee-idol-powered piece of fluff.

The reviews are… underwhelming to say the least, but I certainly found the film to have its charms. It featured two of the most solid leading performances I’ve seen in a summer blockbuster (Hugh Jackman and Liev Schrieber), it never slowed down enough to allow its preposterous excuse for a plot to catch up with the sheer kinetic thrills and it was unapologetic about what it was. Still… eighty-five million? That means we can look forward to the Japanese-themed sequel and the many, many spinoffs in the next few years – but where’s my Magneto movie?

"Grrr... You're an animal!!!"

"Grrr... You're an animal!!!"

To be honest, the next certifiable box-office-monster in waiting is Iron Man II coming in next summer, followed by The Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. I might enjoy having a year off from big-budget comic book adaptations before running the gauntlet – there’s still Thor and Captain America due soon. And who could forget The Avengers – a superhero epic that looks set to star a superlative cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jnr., Edward Norton, alongside – possibly – Matthew McConaughey and – unlikely, but just maybe – Hugh Jackman? That’s three Oscar-nominees, one Oscar host and the dude from Failure to Launch. Pretty impressive cast.

Hollywood has truly found its new money-spinner. In the last year alone, we’ve had Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk and Punisher: Warzone. Admittedly a mixed crop in terms of quality, but no one can deny that the genre seems to be here to stay.

It seems hard to remember a time when there were really only two superhero franchises to speak of – Christopher Reeves as Superman and the Burton/Schumacher Batman series, both running four movies on a similar trajectory of quality (from very good to great to terrible to oh my god, my eyes!) – but, until the beginning of the last decade, that’s really all there were. So, how’d we end up here?

The answer, in a bizarre example of symmetry that most bloggers aspire to, leads right back to the subject of this post – Hugh Jackman. See, somehow Fox decided they wanted to make an X-Men movie. No one really knows why one of the most notorious popularist media companies in America decided to run with a group of superheroes relatively unknown outside comic books when Spiderman was still waiting for a screen adaptation. Even those who know that don’t know why they gave the job to Bryan Singer. As awesome as the dude is – and he is freakin’ awesome – his resume doesn’t exactly scream “big budget comic book epic” (featuring films about crippled gangsters, gay film directors and hiding Nazis). Still, for once Fox made a good decision. Maybe they were due.

Anyway, Singer pretty much knocked it out of the park. He found a way to mix an admittedly obvious subtext (during the second film, one confused parent asks “Have you tried not being gay a mutant?”) with very powerful visuals (a showdown on top of the Statue of Liberty, an impromptu redesign of a train station). Thus began one of two trends that pretty much defined the modern comic book movie: taking an edgy, relatively independent film director and giving them a boatload of money.

Pretty soon you had Spiderman trilogy directed by horror-maestro Sam Raimi and Batman reboot directed by low-key British director Christopher Nolan. Sure, this indoctrination of what would have been considered ‘risky’ directors was not exclusive to the comic genre – Peter Jackson directed the as-gross-as-it-sounds Brain Dead before taking to Middle Earth – but it was arguably most pronounced there. Jon Favreau directed Swingers, Made… and Iron Man. Kenneth Branagh, when he isn’t directing Hamlet, is working on a big screen adaptation of Thor. Oscar-nominated character actor Edward Norton ‘revised’ the script to The Incredible Hulk.

"Suit up!"

"Suit up!"

The other trend? Solid actors giving credible performances. Sure, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were playing supporting roles (and being billed as leads) more than two decades ago, but both left big teeth marks in the scenery. And sometimes it works – Nicholson’s Joker was meant to be nuts, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor was as much a clown as a supervillian – but sometimes it doesn’t – I sure hope no one on the sets of Batman Forever or Batman & Robin was lactose-intolerant, because Tommy Lee Jones and Arnold Swartzenagger might as well have been made from cheese.

On the other hand, in the past decade, we’ve had Sir Ian McKellen infusing pathos into a villian who can bend metal, Edward Norton fleeing the beast within, Gary Oldman trying to keep a city under control amid chaos, Robert Downey Jnr. playing a man-child who needed to grow up, Cillian Murphy tormenting asylum inmates as a malicious psychologist, Brian Cox portraying a man propelled as much by shame over his own family history as a burning racism, Heath Ledger delving into the lunacy of one of the genre’s most iconic creations. Okay, maybe not all performers have been so refrained (we’re looking at you Dominic West, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Bridges), but sometimes scenery just needs chewing.

The term ‘comic book movie’ has a bit of a negative connotation – perhaps partially justified by truly painful films like The Fantastic Four series, the later Batman and Superman movies – but a lot of people tend to forget that comic books are not solely the realm of psychologically-scarred anthropologically-themed vigilantes. The comic book – or graphic novel, depending on your level of pretension – movie genre also gave us movies like Ghost World, A History of Violence and The Road to Perdition, the latter of which featured Paul Newman’s last Oscar-nominated role. Rumours abound about a planned adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Please God, don’t ruin it!

So, where does that leave us? Well, the comic book movie looks to be here to stay, for better or for worse. I have to say I’m a little fascinated by the prospect, getting to see the emergence and evolution of a new style of film. Comic adaptations will likely take a while to earn any major respect from those who take the industry seriously – The Dark Knight put several cracks in that glass ceiling with several nominations and wins last year, but not enough to secure a Best Picture nomination – but so did a lot of other genres. Before The Silence of the Lambs, no horror had won the Best Picture Oscar.

I’m holding my breath for the Best Picture winning comic book film. It certainly ain’t going to be Wolverine… but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the first in a long line of projected X-Men spinoffs (that will include prequels Deadpool, Gambit, Magneto and First Class, as well as the inevitable sequels). It is directed by Gavin Hood (Totsi, Rendition) and stars a hideously talented cast including Hugh Jackman (the X-Men trilogy, The Prestige), Leiv Schreiber (the Scream trilogy, Defiance, The Manchurian Candidate, The Painted Veil), Danny Heuston (The Constant Gardener, The Proposition, Birth), Will.i.am (of the Black Eyed Peas), Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, Lost), Kevin Durand (Lost, Stargate SG-1) and Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder, Blade: Trinity). In a rare twist it was released in the UK on the 30th April 2009, before the US release date of 2nd May 2009.