The Wolverine Is Surprisingly Effective

 

Poster for The Wolverine, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Poster for The Wolverine,
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The superhero movies so far this summer have not wowed me, at best meeting expectations without exceeding them. My expectation was not high, however, for the new Wolverine movie, considering the sheer awfulness of the 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie, which was the only other solo Wolverine movie to date. This one, however, really captures the mutant’s essence, and was a genuinely pleasant surprise, making the film my favorite of the summer so far.

Because the Wolverine is effectively indestructible, the temptation might be to ramp up the power of his foes, effectively engaging in a cinematic arms’ race. One of the first of several right moves this film makes is de-powering Logan early on, making him susceptible to physical harm which he would have previously been easily able to shrug off. This means the fights with even regular human opponents to carry weight in the film, whereas one could reasonably said that, considering his power set, they would otherwise be meaningless unless a third party is in danger.

This also allows the filmmakers to scale down the plot as a whole, placing the titular mutant in what is essentially a Japanese gangster drama with superhero elements thrown in. The majority of the plot circles around a beautiful woman inheriting a large fortune, elements which would keep her from receiving it at any cost, and a rugged, dejected outsider who strives to defend her from those forces. Described that way, it sounds more like a film noir detective movie than a summer action blockbuster.

To be clear, there is no lack of action, or over-the-top superheroics here. The fight scene which has been talked about more than any other is a confrontation with gangsters on top of a speeding bullet train. Even faced with possible mortality, Wolverine seemingly sometimes has no regard for his own physical well-being, possibly out of sheer habit or simple dumb bravery, hurling himself around in combat with wild-eyed rage. Us comics fans, we like to see this. The berserker rage is, after all, an essential part of the character.

The film was shot in Japan, with a largely Japanese cast, which is definitely a change of pace. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper, as well as Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey who haunts the hero in his dreams, are the only outsiders in this film. For the most part I am happy to see a film of this scope where all of the supporting characters are not immediately recognizable. It allows oneself to submerge in the story to a greater degree, which is welcome in an age where each project has to be stacked with stars in order to be produced. Tao Okamoto as the woman in distress does a great job, considering she is tasked with providing the emotional heart of the story. A failure on her part would have meant that we do not care what Logan is fighting for. The other stand-out performance here is by Rila Fukushima, who provides not only much of the humor of the film, but also looks seriously intense when she wants to. The character sets herself up to follow Wolverine around for at least a while, and I for one would be disappointed to not see her at Logan’s side if there is another Wolverine film made. She does not seem to be cast in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, at least officially, but that is at the very least fully understandable given the cast in the film is already bursting at the seams.

The Japanese setting itself provides much of the visual excitement of the film. It is nice to, for once, see a superhero movie not set in New York. More than that, however, the moody weather and landscape, as well as the beautiful architecture, means that sometimes the location downright steals the show, though not in a negative way where it would distract from the impact of a scene. Simply put, the set design and locations chosen for this film are all top-notch, allowing the film to combine the fun of an action story with the thrill of watching something that is exciting aesthetically speaking.

This is not to suggest that everything in the film is pure gold. The climax of the film unfortunately succumbs somewhat to the generic action film confrontation in a villainous lair we have come to expect from every superhero movie (the alternative being a fight which knocks down half a city). The before-mentioned Viper character, too, has the general effect of simply not fitting in. Why her inclusion was necessary, frankly boggles the mind, as she appears simply to be a refuge from the much more garish X-Men movies Wolverine comes from originally.

These, however, are mere squabbles. The first two acts of the movie are so enjoyable, and the setup for the final confrontation is simply so satisfying, that nothing short of a complete fail in the climax could derail the momentum of the film. And it isn’t like any of the elements that I described as downsides are really bad, either. They merely don’t fit in as well as the other elements. Those slightly schizophrenic tendencies aside, the movie really does a fine job, and I suspect will serve as the quintessential Wolverine film for the foreseeable future.

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The Future of Digital Publishing – DRM-Free Comics and New Imprints

We have seen two pieces of exciting news for fans of digital comics earlier this month. Both of the new developments may offer us a glimpse into the future of digital comics, and indeed, digital publishing as a whole.

jet-city-comicsThe first is the launch of Amazon’s new digital-first comic imprint, Jet City Comics. The first of the books released by them, Symposium #1, is already up. Written by Christian Cameron, the comic is a spin-off to the Foreworld Saga, by Neal Stephenson. Comic adaptations of G. R. R. Martin’s short story Meathouse Man, and Hugh Howey’s bestseller Wool are set to follow. The books will be released on Amazon’s Kindle platform first, but collections will be available through their online store in print form. While by themselves this news may not be hugely exciting, it does open up the door to exciting possibilities. The first step, naturally, would be original comics. Amazon previously made headlines by allowing users to get paid for their licensed fan-fiction, based on the properties that signed on for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds initiative. The strides Amazon is making in publishing may soon allow independent, first-time comic book writers and artists to put out their work independently, and make some money on it.

image-logoImage Comics, in the meantime, was the first of comic book companies to launch a DRM-free digital comic storefront. Whereas digital comics are now common, and apps such as ComiXology are hugely popular, they have so far only allowed customers to download and read comics through their applications. This has the effect of the reader not owning the comic he paid for, but instead effectively buying the right to read it from their library, and nothing else. Image Comics, on the other hand, the third largest comic book publisher, now offers direct download of the comics from their website. Once a title is paid for and downloaded, it can be read on any device that supports the format, as well as shared and distributed freely.

This, naturally, opens the publisher’s comics up to piracy. In a bold statement, however, the publisher of Image Comics Eric Stephenson said the following to Wired:

My stance on piracy is that piracy is bad for bad entertainment. There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high.

That certainly correlates with my own experience – I initially started reading pirated scans of Image Comics’ Spawn, but after catching up and deciding I really liked it, I started buying the issues as they came out, spending much of my hard-earned money on new releases of the title as a teenager.

The decision to launch their own storefront may not be completely idealistic, however. Image comics have been making headlines recently with two of their series, Saga and Sex having issues removed from the ComiXology iOS app, due to sexual content. The move appears to have been dictated by Apple’s iTunes policy, rather than by ComiXology itself, and the issues are still available through their website. This is, of course, hardly an ideal situation for Image, which has several titles aimed at adult audiences.

ComiXology also had a period of downtime one weekend in March, when Marvel announced it would be making over 700 issues available for free on the app, all on a single day. It turned out the servers were not prepared to meet the demand, as ComiXology was not accessible for users for the majority of that weekend. This meant that not only were users not able to purchase any comics during that time, but also that they were not able to access comics they had already purchased. The precedent set by this situation is a dangerous one, as the customers of the service evidently will not always have access to material they have already paid for. Image comics’ move, therefore, brings about the alternative that had been talked about as the ideal solution for customers for ages now, but until this month was not a reality due to fears of piracy.

Do you think these experiments will pay off, or is Image and Amazon being naive? Let me know in the comments!

San Diego Comic Con-Exclusive Posters Revealed

San Diego Comic Con International 2013 has just begun. Below are some of the coolest CCI-exclusive posters that were released for some upcoming movies.

First up is Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The next two movies to come out for them are Thor: The Dark World, set to come out November, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier next April. Below are the posters being handed out for free to con-goers this weekend.  

Captain America: The Winter Soldier CCI Poster; Image Courtesy of comicbookresources.com

Captain America: The Winter Soldier CCI Poster;
Image Courtesy of comicbookresources.com

Thor: The Dark World CCI Poster; Image courtesy of comicbookresources.com

Thor: The Dark World CCI Poster;
Image courtesy of comicbookresources.com

The Thor poster was created by Charlie Wen, and the Captain America by Ryan Meinerding, both veterans of Marvel CU. As both are drawn, they are, at best, artist renderings of what we may expect from the film. Winter Soldier’s prominence on the poster gives us a good idea, however, what we might expect from the character’s portrayal by Sebastian Stan.

While we are still waiting for Edgar Wright’s addition to the Marvel canon with Ant Man, slated for a 2015 release, we do have The World’s End from him for the end of the summer. The movie will be the end for the acclaimed, and very funny, Cornetto trilogy, so anticipation is high.  

The World's End CCI Poster; Image courtesy of denofgeek.com

The World’s End CCI Poster;
Image courtesy of denofgeek.com

Finally, we have two posters for next year’s Godzilla, from director Gareth Edwards, who previously brought us the great independent giant monster movie simply titled Monsters in 2010. Obviously tapped for the job due to the aptitude he showed there in handling human story against the backdrop of really big creatures, Edwards’ version of the King of Monsters already looks far superior than the 1998 Roland Emerich version.

Godzilla Poster for CCI; Image Courtesy of comicbooknews.com

Godzilla Poster for CCI;
Image Courtesy of comicbooknews.com

 

Godzilla CCI Poster; Image courtesy of liveforfilms.com

Godzilla CCI Poster;
Image courtesy of liveforfilms.com

As a bonus feature, see below for a picture of Godzilla from the CCI exhibit. While it is not necessarily an exact representation of what the creature will look like in the film, it does give us an idea. It definitely looks a lot closer to his Japanese roots than the dinosaured-up version from the 1998 remake.

Godzilla Encounter in CCI; Image Courtesy of collider.com

Godzilla Encounter in CCI;
Image Courtesy of collider.com

Which of these movies are you most excited for? Let me know in the comments!

Beware the Batman Is, Shockingly, Not Terrible

Beware the Batman logo; Photo courtesy of Cartoon Network

This article was going to be about how terrible the CGI in Cartoon Network’s new Beware the Batman looks. However, to my surprise watching “Hunted”, the premiere episode, it really did not bother me as much as I expected.

I am still puzzled by the decision to go all-CGI. I realize shows like Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Clone Wars have been successful enough to prove it a viable model. However, the fact is, that while Pixar has the money and time to make really quality CGI animation, that is not an option for television. The problem is texture, in particular with clothing, which tends to all look like spandex, which can be distracting. What we are left with is animation that is already dated by about 10 years the moment it is released, in comparison to what we are used to seeing in cinemas and video games. The alternative, 2D animation, even if on the cheap side, would look much more timeless – proof positive being Batman: The Animated Series, which I have been re-watching of late, and which still holds up completely (and would be far cheaper to do now, due to the new technology). See, for example, the title sequence below, or if you want to watch a full episode, I would heavily recommend “I Am the Night”, which is as serious a take on Batman as anything Nolan ever produced.

The plot of Beware the Batman‘s first episode feels brief, the story being only lightly wrapped up. This, once again, does not compare favorably to the classic animated series I mentioned before. It may be, however, an indication of more of a continuous storyline than that incarnation, which mostly ended each episode with a return to the status quo. Looking ahead to the available details of upcoming episodes, the format of “villain of the week” appears to hold true, but there are indications that the focus will switch to character interaction. As an example, the third episode will feature the first appearance of Anarky, who has been described by producer Mitch Watson as the Moriarty to Batman’s Sherlock. However, if the plot synopsis available online indicates their confrontation is relegated to a “meanwhile”, the main plot of the episode apparently being about putting Batman putting his new sidekick, Katana, introduced at the end of this episode, to the test.

Overall, however, the show feels exciting. The writing is clever and quick. Batman himself is still, it seems, learning some of the ropes, and is not quite as confident as he is often portrayed. It is unclear in the show how well he is known in Gotham City yet, or what his relationship with the police is. Gordon is also a lieutenant, not the commissioner. Alfred, on the other hand, is more rough and physical, taking more of an active interest in Bruce’s training. I can see the show trying to introduce more detective elements, even though it often gets carried away with running from explosions.

I will actually be quite curious to see where this series goes. In particular, if it chooses to go the route of multi-episode story lines, I may end up being a fan of it. Though, once again, it would help if everything in the show didn’t look like it was cast from plastic.

What do you think? Have you seen the show? What were, or are, your expectations for it? Will you give the next episodes a shot?

Why Wanted Is a Secretly Brilliant Warning About Brainwashing

Poster for Wanted, Image courtesy of Wikipedia

So, the other week, having a few hours to spare, I decided to re-watch Wanted, the 2008 movie about supernaturally gifted assassins, starring James McAvoy. To be clear, the only reason I even put the movie in is not to analyze its plot structure or re-experience a story arc, it’s just a really crazy, fun movie, start to finish. But I’m here to talk about another aspect of that movie, one that I never noticed before.

Warning: This rest of this article will be heavily into spoilers, so you should stop reading if you care about having the end of a 5 year old movie spoiled.

Wanted is actually kind of brilliant, in a way, but it’s genius is hiding behind a plot twist, so that until now, I never really noticed it. Basically, the movie is about Wesley Gibson who is gifted in a way most people aren’t – he can slow down time, bend bullets, and generally kick ass, it’s just that he interprets the flare-ups of his power as anxiety attacks. So, for all intents and purposes, he has superpowers, which becomes important, because the superhero analogy is what prompted me to interpret the movie this way.

So you have a superhero, who is recruited, right at the beginning of the movie, by the supervillains, who kill whoever they want for money, while telling themselves they’re doing it to keep balance. They’re meant to be getting their orders from a loom, providing names of their targets, but without their knowing, the leader of the Fraternity has been manufacturing the orders to suit his own purposes. This is revealed in the plot twist. What they tell him, however, is that being in the Fraternity is his destiny, that his father was in it, and that his father was recently killed by a man named Cross. In actual fact, Cross is his father, and is the good guy of the movie, who was trying to save his son from the terrible league of assassins. We can see what he was saving Wesley from when we see the training montage he is subjected to.

They actually use fairly standard brainwashing techniques to rewire his brain. It looks like a particularly brutal training sequence until you know they’re the bad guys, but in the real world, that would be called torture and brainwashing. In one scene, he is literally beaten for days until he says he doesn’t know who he is any longer. I’m serious, watch the movie again, they keep beating him asking him why he’s there, hitting him for every wrong answer, and the right answer is self-dissociation. This is quite literally how you break a person, and get him to kill people for you. Then in the next scene, they take him to what they tell him is his father’s room, and tell him to pick an object in it to associate himself with, thereby giving him a new identity, now that they’ve beaten the old one out of him.

What’s more, Wesley isn’t the only member of the Fraternity that was completely brainwashed. Angelina Jolie plays Fox in the movie, and during a moment when Wesley questions his choice of joining it, she tells him a story of a little girl whose father was burned in front of her, and who was subsequently branded with a hot wire hanger. As she walks away, a scar is revealed, making it painfully obvious that she is the girl. She tells Wesley that she later found out that her father’s killer’s name had come up as a target for the Fraternity, but the assassin failed to pull the trigger, which is why she now follows the orders unquestioningly. Of course, knowing what we now know, that truth could just as easily be one of the following two.

  1. They lied about the killer’s name coming up to get her to join. It’s clear they’ve fabricated hit orders before, so this would be nothing new, and they’re clearly not above complete telling a traumatized person complete b.s. to recruit a skilled member.
  2. Her father’s killer could just as easily been a member of the fraternity himself! It’s clear at least a few members are nearly psychotic and completely willing to inflict terrible suffering under orders, and they believe the mystical source of their commands fanatically. And considering they knowingly send Wesley to kill his own father, it is clear there is no moral compass in the organization at all.

The saddest part of it is, Fox believes the lie so much, that she ends up killing herself in the climax of the movie when she’s told her name came up as a target, even though she knows about the fabricated orders now! That’s how deep the brainwashing goes.

Anyway, I realize none of this is groundbreaking, because the Fraternity is revealed in the movie as being evil, but I don’t think a standard viewing allows one to realize just how evil they actually are, because you don’t even question them while the most hideous of their crimes are being perpetrated (which is sort of like brainwashing the audience themselves). So, I guess, let that be a lesson – if you’re told you have superpowers and that a shadowy organization is going to help train you to avenge the death of the father you never knew, maybe try and question the situation a little bit instead of blindly jumping in, as appealing as all the assassinating may seem on the surface.

New Poster and Trailer for Spike Lee’s Oldboy Hits the Internet

We have been hearing rumors of the Oldboy remake for years now (originally set to be directed by Spielberg and starring Will Smith), but this is the first visual clue as to what we can expect from Spike Lee’s take on the 2003 Korean film. I am a huge fan of the Chan-wook Park original (hardly a contraversial opinion), so I’m glad to see the newly related images similar enough to the original, while there’s still enough difference to keep us guessing – this certainly doesn’t look like a shot-for-shot remake.

First poster for Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake;
Image courtesy of Geekosystem

The poster is certainly an interesting image, and the overall look is definitely very reminiscent of the Korean classic. The tagline, “Ask not why you were imprisoned. Ask why you were set free,” is potentially spoilery, but not overly so. Thankfully, the first trailer is similarly restrained in terms of spoilers.

Given that this is the redband trailer, however, it is not even a little restrained when it comes to violent imagery. And Oldboy is definitely a very violent story, I just hope it doesn’t remake doesn’t ignore the sort of weird beauty that made the initial film enticing.

Also, while I knew about Samuel L. Jackson’s presence in the cast, I was not aware that Elizabeth Olsen was playing the female lead. That, more than anything else, makes me believe in the movie, because I really like her in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Josh Brolin, frankly, has been slipping (his performances in Jonah Hex and Gangster Squad  were particularly lackluster).

How do you think the poster and trailer compare to the original? What are your views if you haven’t seen the Korean version? Comment below!