Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Superhero Media: Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut

Longtime readers will be aware of my love for Superman II, despite it's age and many flaws. Natually, when the chance to grab the Donner cut on Blu-ray for $5 turned up, I grabbed it and settled in for a night of feeding the starving Film graduate in me. It was... interesting. For those not in the know, Richard Donner originally intended that Superman and Superman II would be a single film, about four hours with an intermission; odd, but not unheard of for the era, just consider 2001: A Space Odyssey. That Donner would be given the opportunity to rework Superman II to be closer to his "vision" is interesting in an academic sense, but still jars with his original, overall intention. Lucas aside, I'm usually a fan of visionary directors getting a chance to rework their masterpieces, but the complexities of Superman II mean that it's problematic at best. That said, the Donner cut is well worth watching, it's still a good film and there is plenty to enjoy, I'm just not certain that it would be fair to say that it is, in any way, the "superior" version. 

So what does the Donner cut do better? Well, the plot is a bit better, it flows better and doesn't seem quite as far-fetched. The reveal, when Lois Lane uncovers Clark Kent as Superman, is better, with Lois outsmarting Kal, rather than just throwing herself off cliffs until he's obliged to save her. Some of the new/extended scenes don't look great, even in HD, because they were unfinished in the 1970s and no amount of digital polish can improve what wasn't there to begin with. Sadly, although the ending is changed, it's not for the better, and I still feel that the best version was left on the cutting room floor, where a de-powered Zod, Ursa and Non (along with Lex) are carted away by some kind of Arctic police force and sent to prison. Here we get a re-hash of the problematic ending of Superman, not leaving open the idea of Lois being pregnant, which was one of the better ideas in Superman Returns.
For those, like myself, with an academic bent, the Donner cut is well worth checking out, but for those with a nostalgic take on the original, it is perhaps best left alone. I'm honestly not sure which one I'll be watching more moving forward, both have their good and bad points and are sitting about even in my estimation at the moment. Still, pretty much any version of Superman II is going to be superior to the next wave of Superman and Justice League films that are set to be released over the next few years. Actually, while my mind's on it, I must check out the documentaries on the disc, there's probably something pretty good... 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Miniatures Finished: Centurions/Space Heroes/Alien Civilians

Apologies, as you've seen half of these before, but now the group is finished: 

 The Centurions are Annihilus' army of 100 super-powered beings, forced into his service by the shrinking and dying Negative Zone. These minis are all various spare Clix I had in my collection, given interesting paint jobs. 

 Much as is my style, these colourful aliens can pull triple duty, as they will form a generic "Space" team for SuperSystem, allowing me to try out power combinations that don't fit my other teams. 

 As for their final role, they can work as Alien civilians in a wide range of games. Not bad for something I had laying around. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Superhero Media: Lego Batman - DC Superheroes Unite

No, this film has nothing to do with The Lego Movie, it is actually a tie-in for the Lego Batman series of video games, specifically Lego Batman 2. Lex Luthor gets the brilliant idea to team up with the Joker and the pair enact a plan to use modified Smilex to brainwash people into electing Luthor as President. Naturally, the Joker betrays Luthor and the Justice League has to take down a giant clown robot before it can destroy the city. As a piece of cinematic drama, Lego Batman - DC Superheroes Unite doesn't deliver, but as an extended trailer for a fun video game franchise, it's pretty good. Yes, it's just a bit of fun for the kids, but it's well done and entertaining enough that I've sat through it twice now; once because it was on before I started doing these "Superhero Media" blog entries. 

I'm struggling a bit with this one because the film was pretty much bang on average, not too many good bits and not too many bad bits. Robin's constant insistence that Batman call the JLA is rebuked in a very Batman fashion for very Batman reasons, Superman is so goody-goody that he borders on annoying and Cyborg is forgettable. One day I'm going to do an entry on why Cyborg's promotion to Leaguer was awkward tokenism, but for now enjoy him failing to be at all interesting. There's also a great callback where Robin thinks Batman's kryptonite hording habit is a tad paranoid, but Wonder Woman thinks it's a great idea. Also, no one seems to like Green Lantern very much, which I'm not sure isn't a reference to the terrible live action film or just a continuation of the joke from The Lego Movie

If you need something to get the kids into superheroes, or just want something on in the background while you paint, give this a go. It's not great, but there are a few laughs to be had and it's certainly better than most live action DC releases of the past few years. There are a couple of sequels and I may get to them at some point, but the media backlog still looms pretty big, maybe if they show up on Netflix.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Miniatures Finished: The Incredible, the Miraculous and Undead Squared

As painting is something of a stress relief for me, it's no wonder that essay season is a good time to get miniatures finished. 

 Brit (aka "Big Boobs Brit") from IDW, a converted Indy Clix, the smallest toy of Mr Incredible I've found to date and Mister Miracle. Brit will be important for a campaign down the track and my quest for a Heroic 28mm set of Incredibles continues.

 Two more fast and easy dipped Clix civilians and Mirror Master. Part of me is tempted to get a few more of these Clix and one of the new ones, leaning out of the mirror, to really capture the character, but that's an idea for down the track. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Superhero Media: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

This film has a horrendous reputation, it is famed for being one of the "death-blows" of superhero cinema. Now, before  go on to defend it for a little, I'll describe exactly why it's so god damned bad. Superman remains a shining gem of superhero cinema, but it was expensive and difficult to make, so much so that Richard Donner, the director, was fired partway through the sequel. Consequently, Superman II, as much as I love it, got a bit more camp and silly than the original, with more studio oversight and heavy editing. Continue this trend for two more films and you can understand how campy and dumb Superman IV got. It may be down to the idea, that never seems to go away completely, that superheroes are for children and, thus, jocular and simplistic are core watchwords of plot. Whilst I'm not inclined to compare comics too closely to other forms of art, Superman, at least, was a hit will all ages. Still the series devolved, and we're left with Superman IV as the final reminder of what started out as a great series. 

So, is there anything redeemable about Superman IV? Well, some of the ideas could work as the basis of much better story-lines. Superman (or, more likely, Hyperion or Invincible) decides to disarm the world by force? How would the USA react? Or Israel? Or North Korea? Each hero is the body of the "American Way", so could this be construed as Western Imperialism or a straight-up act of war? With nuclear weapons gone, would the 'hero' start on tanks, planes and/or guns? Could the planet Earth soon be under a totalitarian regime where knives and pointy sticks are whisked away by an omniscient ubermench? How could ordinary people fight back, and how would other heroes react? Iron Man would be pretty pissed when someone tried to take the suit out of his bones and Black Panther never reacts well to a border violation. Hell, there's a good RPG or narrative scenario right there, Black Panther has to take down the Man of Steel gone rogue.

Don't get me wrong, unless you're a few drinks in, don't bother with Superman IV. It's a dull mess that makes no sense and is best forgotten. The fights fail to be interesting and there are too many sub-plots that go nowhere. To be fair, there was no chance of this being good after Superman III, but it didn't need to be this bad either. Only bother with it if, like me, you're a completionist. Still, it was far more entertaining than Super Buddies

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Miniatures Finished: Cosmic Heroes and Cosmic Villains

Good progress continues, which is great because I've bought a tonne of clix this year! 

 Mantis, Gamora and Cosmo the Space Dog join my growing Guardians roster. 

 Brainiac, Space Phantom and Colonel America. Each are touch-up jobs on factory paints. Brainiac got a snow base as a tribute to Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Space Phantom is just a favorite early Avengers enemy and Colonel America will see some play in Zombies and Firefight games as well as being a good Avatar for Thanos.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Superhero Media: Super Buddies

God I watch some crap for these things. Seriously, I must have a problem, because every time I see a vaguely superhero-ish film on TV or Netflix, I have to watch it and add it to the Superhero Media backlog that never seems to go away completely. In this crapfest, some puppies get super-powers from magic collars that come in bags of dog food and decide to fight crime because what else would you do? The dogs have "personalities", in that they have a single defining aspect, such as food, sports, racism and being a girl. This review is going to be more a collection of bitter ranting about the quality of entertainment for children than an in-depth examination of superhero tropes as they are explored in different media. 

I was lucky growing up, the Disney Renascence was happening, classics like Watership Down and the Narnia books were readily avialble. Yes, crap like Street Sharks was on television, but there was quality available and it did better in the market. Most people of my vintage have only hazy memories of Street Sharks, but Batman The Animated Series and Animaniacs are firmly etched in our minds. I really hope that this dog turd of a film is soon forgotten and no children attach fond memories to the one girl dog getting princess powers and the puppy clearly voiced by a very white man saying "yo dogs" every thirty seconds. The evil alien is defeated with the powers of love and friendship and the whole sorry mess lasts just over an hour.

Is there a lesson to be learned from this garbage? Yes, go read We 3 instead and see how this concept can be done better. Hell, check out Cosmo the Space dog in Marvel comics or some of the newer work done with Krypto. Pet Avengers is pretty good for a joke comic and Thor, Frog of Thunder is always good for a laugh. The difference with those examples is, of course, that someone gave a crap and put a modicum of effort in. But hey, Super Buddies is only for your kids right? Who cares?