Friday, July 21, 2017

Superhero Media: Suicide Squad

In my years studying film and the years since graduation, I don't believe I've seen a better example of how the Hollywood System alters cinema better than Suicide Squad. Seriously, if you can see this film for free (it's on Netflix now), it's worth a watch, just to see what the hell is going on; yes, it's bad, but not as bad as you've probably heard. Firstly, this is a really basic pitch, right? It's The Dirty Dozen with supervillains, should be pretty simple to get up and going, but a combination of compressed writing time and a need to build on the extended universe before Justice League kind of killed that. Much of the film seems to be missing, whole scenes and character arcs are glossed over; when does Rick Flagg start trusting the prisoners? One scene he's ready to kill them all and the next he's relying on Deadshot to cover his back. When do Harley and Deadshot become friends? One scene they tolerate each other, the next he refuses to shoot her even though doing so will literally get him everything he wants. Why is Katana not in half the film? And when does she become one of the criminals? She's clearly an independent contractor, but for some reason she goes to drink with the criminals when they wander off. 

I could keep going. Also, there is no damn way Amanda Waller could have planned for everything she claims to have; how did she know that Flagg would fall for the Enchantress? How did she know that The Joker would run amuck in a very specific way in which Batman wouldn't stop him for once? I'm not just nitpicking for the hell of it here, I really feel like there was a lot left on the cutting room floor here and maybe there was a good version of this film that will never see the light of day. Also, as good a character as she is, why the hell is Harley Quinn on the team? Sure, she can fight, but not as well as some other members of the team, and Waller admits that she's a "wildcard", read: liability. From a meta-film standpoint, yes, they needed a major female character in the squad, but were Killer Frost, Plastique, Cheetah and Cheshire all busy on the day? What the hell is Harley supposed to do against Superman, who is the intended target of the Suicide Squad to begin with?

Being the music nerd I am, I would be remiss to not comment on the soundtrack, which hit big. It is also a mess, it sounds like a rebellious 15 year-old's Spotify playlist and lacks any context. Sure there are quite a few great songs on there, but they don't got together. In both Guardians of the Galaxy films, the "Awesome Mix" is precisely a mix tape,  given to Starlord by his mother, so of course it sounds like that. In Suicide Squad, we just have a collection of, mostly pretty good, songs that don't even match the theme of the film. I also look forward to hearing Kanye's "Black Skinhead" every time a black character is kicking arse in a major film for at least the next decade. What else is there to say? Suicide Squad is a mess and I doubt anyone except hardcore DCU fans will be talking about it in a couple of years. Give it a watch if you haven't yet, but not really one for the books.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 16

Having just defeated the Grey Gargoyle, our heroes are about to place the headset given to them by Immortus on his head, when Immortus himself appears before them. Immortus explains that the heroes have actually been working for Kang all along, who disguised himself as Immortus to trick them into doing his bidding. The heroes must listen to Immortus if they wish to prevent Kang from conquering the Earth. The heroes plan to go back in time, meet themselves and get a beer instead of doing missions for Kang, but Immortus explains that this will not work. Instead, they need to go to the Eternal Fortress in the Omega dimension and retrieve the Chronatron so that they can defeat Kang. The heroes ask Immortus a series of questions, like what will The Arsonist's next name be and is he really just an older version of Kang? Immortus replies that The Arsonist will eventually be The Flamer, multiverse theory is a bitch and that Avengers Forever tried to clear it up but it's still kinda confusing. After arguing some more, our heroes decide to go to the Omega Dimension. The Eternal Fortress appears to be of a kind of "Science-Fiction Aztec" design, our heroes enter the first chamber and find themselves confronted with none other than Galactus, devourer of worlds!

"Leave and you shall not be harmed, stay and Galactus shall destroy you!" booms the massive figure. In response, The Arsonist hurls a Molotov at Galactus's foot, the giant does not notice. Gigawatt punches into the throne on which Galactus sits by accident, finding that it is hollow and filled with circuitry.  
"Destory the throne!" shouts Gigawatt. Totally ignoring their comrade, Sonic Tsunami grovels before Galactus and Spiderstrike tries to ask the ancient for help in their quest to stop Kang. Manzilla rushes forward and begins to smash apart the throne just as Gigawatt is flung into a nearby wall with a gesture from Galactus. 

"I told you to leave!" roars Galactus. The Arsonist lights a fire at Galactus' foot cackles in a way that would make most mental health workers nervous. Under continued pummeling from Manzilla, the throne cracks open and what turned out to be a giant projection of Galactus disappears. In the next room, our heroes encounter a trio energy spiders, who, despite growing when they are hit by Spiderstrike's energy touch, turn out to be pretty easy to defeat.

In another chamber, the Champions of the Omniverse encounter four alien ghosts guarding a device sitting on a statue.The heroes ask if the ghosts will fight Kang with them, they receive alien ghost noises in return. As the nominal "science officer", Koga is shoved forwards by the team to scan the ghosts, but is unable to work his own scanner. Arsonist gets sick of waiting and walks to the device, the ghosts suddenly turn and attack, slamming him back. Unbidden, Manzilla picks up Spiderstrike and hurls him at the statue, the latter hitting the statue square-on, face first. Thankfully, Spiderstrike's face is tougher than it is ugly and he survives to pick up the mysterious device, labelled "Forcefield Nullifier". Spiderstrike lobs the device down the room to Manzilla, who hands it off to Koga before wading into the fight. Gigawatt, Manzilla, Spiderstrike and Sonic Tsunami wade in to fight the alien ghosts, and make short work of them with lightning, ice balls and fists. Keen to keep going, Manzilla heads straight to the next room, where he promptly ignores a laser booby trap and grabs a book standing on a pedestal. By the time the rest of the Champions catch up, the next door is opening and they are confronted by three killer robots! 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Superhero Media: Ratchet & Clank (2015)

Longtime readers of Lead Capes will be aware that I'm a pretty big fan of the Ratchet & Clank series of video games. I started playing the games on PS2 and still play them regularly today, though Nexus and Ratchet & Clank (PS4) were disappointments and the series looks set to be mothballed and only appear in side-games from now on. Even given the, typically horrendous, history of video game to film adaptations, I was quietly optimistic that Ratchet & Clank would break the mold and be at least a bit of fun without being teeth-grinding-ly silly or twee. And it mostly gets there. Ratchet & Clank is basically another CGI kids' film that's trying to play in the Disney/Pixar park but doesn't have the chops, despite having Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson and Sylvester Stallone on the acting roster. Although I respect the production decision to keep the game voice actors for the core cast, it may have worked against them in terms of attracting an audience. 

Many reviews of this film make the criticism that it reads like a series of cut scenes from a video game stitched together, but I don't see it. There are plenty of character moments, quiet stretches and world building that the Ratchet & Clank games tend to do in voice-over during gameplay. Being a film aimed squarely at children, there are a couple of recurring jokes that grate, like Blarg playing with phones and Ratchet's boss being unable to operate a cherry picker, but the characters are fun to be around and many of the elements that made the game so good translate across media perfectly well. It's a lot of fun to see the Sheepinator, Buzz Blades and Swingshot on the screen, and whilst the RYNO not being used at all feels like a misstep, its showing up is a fun sequence anyway. 

This is far from perfect, but it's enjoyable enough and worth a watch if you're a fan of the games. It doesn't quite capture the charm and genius of the games, especially the PS2 trilogy (before they got overly pretentious) and the sequel tease will never be realised, but there's enough to enjoy. I picked this up on DVD from a bargain bin, but if you can stream it, that may be the better way to go. What you're probably better off doing is picking up the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy on PS3 or from PSN if you can, they're fun games and the third in the series may well be great. Classic characters, I'm hoping this isn't the last time we'll see them.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Cryptic Conflicts - Part 1

The Scarlet Blade, The Anachronism, Lucky, Mindstorm and Colonel Quantum have found themselves transported to a mysterious patchwork planet by a being calling itself "The Yonder". In a section of familiar-looking city, they come across other teams of superheroes. Are these the foes they have been set to battle? 

 Rival team "The European Union" gather on the roof of a local restaurant. 

 Mindstorm scouts ahead, protected by a mental shield. 

Backbreaker takes umbrage to Mindstorm's constant psychic barrage and returns the favour with a Police Van. 
A massive clash between the Equalsiers and the Omega Squad results in shockingly few casulties. 
The European Union battle strange foes with incredible powers. 

Mindstorm and Lucky provide support for the front-line fighters in the team. 
Somehow, Mindstorm survived this. 
A team-up between Scarlet Blade and Colonel Quantum forces the game to a draw. 

Lampposts make good clubs in a pinch. 

The Anachronism swings his blade with deadly effect. 

"Equalisers engage!" 

Thanks to my fellow NWA members for the pictures of this game. Hopefully, I have the time to make the report a little more narrative-based for the next game.

For an alternate take on the game, check out Ian's Blog:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Superhero Media: The Green Hornet

I'm not actually entirely sure how this film came to be. Well, I do know that a major Hollywood studio wanted to get some cash from the booming superhero trend and grabbed the first license they could find; but I'm not sure how this film, specifically, was the result. Firstly, Green Hornet is probably not as bad as you may have been told it is. Sure, it's not great but I'd describe it more as a "poor" or "not very good" film than an outright bad one. The Green Hornet feels more like it should have come out a decade earlier, not in the aftermath of Iron Man when the idea of quality production on superhero films was generating profit and critical acclaim. The casting of the film cops a lot of flak, but even Seth Rogen does ok and even Christoph Waltz can't make his character convincing. 

I'm not normally one to forgive asinine "Fanboy Rage", but I do wonder that the story of the Green Hornet was so changed. Although the character is quite old, many versions keep the idea that the Lone Ranger was an ancestor of Britt Reid and the inspiration to turn his live of idle leisure into something more meaningful; enter Kato and the rest is history. I get the feeling that the more "traditional" Green Hornet origin would have worked better with the characterisation that Rogen brought to the role. There would have been more of an arc for the Hornet and some moments of temptation to compromise could have made him more identifiable. Also, the central place of the newspaper in the narrative feels anachronistic even for 2011, it probably should have been replaced with a The Newsroom-style subsidiary of one of the bigger outlets for verisimilitude.

A guy I used to play music with really likes this film, and I can see why; it is a lot of fun in places and looks really polished. As a fan of Gamera films and DBZ, I really can't criticize anyone too harshly for enjoying this, it's not Super Buddies bad after all. I've heard that the new Green Hornet comic series that spun out of this film are actually really good, though I'm yet to check them out. I'm hoping that there will be a good version of Green Hornet put to film at some stage, the character has such a legacy that it really deserves to take its place alongside the pantheon of superheroes that have achieved new acclaim in recent years. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Champions of the Omniverse - Part 15

When last we left our heroes, they were struggling mid-battle against the Super-Skrull, with only Gigawatt and Spiderstrike left standing. Thankfully, Sonic Tsunami and Manzilla have just arrived on the scene and head straight towards the sounds of carnage. Still attempting to doge Super-Skrull's attacks, Spiderstrike runs into a nearby theater and Gigawatt uses his Stark Industries Image Inducer to hide in the crowd. Sick of being toyed with, Super-Skrul bathes the area in Nova flame, catching much of the crowd, including Gigawatt in the blast. The Gregarious Gigawatt is down and only three Champions remained. Roaring a challenge, Manzilla weaves through the canyons of New York and flies straight at Super-Skrull, freezing the alien invader in a block of ice and sending him plummeting to the ground. The ice shatters in a flurry of sleet when Super-Skrull hits the pavement, leaving the arch-villain stunned for a moment until a combined pummeling from Spiderstrike and Manzilla brings him down. Attaching the headset given to them by Immortus to Super-Skrull's head, the team are pulled back, once again, to Limbo.

For their next mission, Immortus shows our heroes a battle between a rock monster from space and The Avengers. The rock monster turns out to be none other than The Grey Gargoyle, who destroys a new atomic isotope during the fight, hastening the nuclear holocaust which is set to envelop the Earth. Given that the depicted battle happened in the past of the current reality, the team ask how history can be changed? Immortus explains that "Multiverse Theory is a bitch" and that the team probably wouldn't understand the explanation if he gave it anyway. Seeing that planning has been working more or less well for them, the team ponder how to defeat the Grey Gargoyle before he gets into the city and destroys the isotope. Sonic Tsunami is smart enough to try looking up information on the Avengers' computer and the team formulate a plan of taking turns getting Grey Gargoyle's attention and hoping to draw him away from the city. The Arsonist volunteers to be turned to stone multiple times to experience what it's like. 

As has become typical, the team find themselves momentarily stunned upon arrival in a different time zone. As they spot a lumbering rock monster crest the horizon, the heroes maneuver into a line and head towards their foe. Jogging across the field, Sonic Tsunami manipulates water to make himself a set of ice armour and Koga bends the light around the team, rendering them invisible to the rock monster. The Arsonist starts the fray by hurling a Molotov cocktail and lighting up their rocky foe. As Manzilla swoops around behind the monster to line up an attack, Firenado wreaths it in a sphere of flame, which it proceeds to walk through unharmed. As one, the team attack, Koga charging in with blade drawn, Gigawatt hurling a bolt of lightening and Sonic Tsunami unleashing a wave of sleet, but the attacks have no effect on the mass of rock. Firenado comes to the rescue, cracking open the ambulatory boulder with a blast of flame, revealing Grey Gargoyle, who immediately grandstands, 
"Fools! you have released me and now you will die!" 
As is to prove his point, Grey Gargoyle reaches out and turns The Arsonist to stone. Coming to a decision, Manzilla dives into a dead-drop, coming down directly on Grey Gargoyle's head, knocking both himself and his foe into unconsciousness.