Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Superhero Media: Transformers (2007)

I hadn't seen this film for a number of years, but I remember loving it back in 2007. Yes, I really enjoyed Michael Bay's Transformers when I first saw it, shortly before I started studying cinema. You see, Bay makes big, dumb, fun films for an audience that doesn't want to think about them too much, and that's ok. And actually, Transformers was probably the perfect franchise for a series of big, dumb, fun films, the cartoons having always been dumb and fun, but occasionally aspiring to something greater. Really, there are quite a few moments to enjoy in Transformers, the Autobots and Decepitcons look good, but a little busy, the fight scenes are pretty decent and Michael Bay can shoot the hell out of a car chase. The real problem of the film is, once again, a focus on uninteresting characters at the cost of those with far more stake in what is happening around them.  

No, I'm not one of those fans who complains that there are more humans than Transformers in the film, I do think it was a good choice for the first one. However, Sam is a big problem, he literally has no reason to be in the film other than owning the glasses that both sides are hunting. I don't think Sam's motivation, of wanting to have sex, is that bad, it does fit his character, but his entitlement, narcissism and ignorance of his own privilege render him nothing more than an irritant rather than a character. Mikaela is the daughter of a car thief, why couldn't she initiate the plot by stealing Bumblebee? The sub-plot of Captain Lennox and his men surviving a Decepitcon attack, learning how to fight them and bringing that knowledge back home is really good, why wasn't the film about that? That would have been really cool, actually.

It was an interesting experience going back and taking another look at Transformers, the sexism and racism made for uncomfortable viewing, but at the same time, there were some great moments that felt overlooked in the broader discussion. Jon Voight is in this film, (remember that? I didn't) playing a surprisingly forward-thinking and pragmatic Defense Secretary who is willing to listen to the most outlandish theory from his lowliest subordinate when she brings him evidence of the impossible; I don't recall ever seeing that in any film. Having Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime is pretty damn fantastic and lends a shocking amount of gravitas to the character's dialogue. When Bumblebee and Mikaela decide to go back and join the fight, despite his being wounded and her being scared, is possibly the centerpiece moment of the film, but I didn't remember it. In short, Transformers is a study in contrasts; it's not good, but has great moments. Has a brilliant (for the most part) cast, but resorts to uncomfortable stereotyping. Perhaps worth another look, but far from a classic.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Miniatures Finished: 18/12/17

Mostly supers for campaigns and the odd thing I had knocking around. 

 Necronomicon Objective for French Revolution Campaign (GW), new and improved Superman, Tabitha Smith in Next Wave costume (both Clix). 

 The Fury "It kills superheroes" (converted Horrorclix), Centurius and Chemo (Clix). 
I actually wasn't happy with The Fury, so I've since converted it again and it will show up finished at a later date. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Superhero Media: Wild Wild West

I saw this one on Netflix and decided it was worth a go, I remembered liking it and it's not like there are a lot of good pulp/steampunk films anyway. In the years since I last watch Wild Wild West, I've seen a number of reviews that really tear into the film, rating it very poorly and steering people away from it; that's not fair. Sure, Wild Wild West is silly, but it's a fun silly and is also possibly the most subversive Hollywood film I have seen in years. No, really. For starters, Kevin Kline's Artemus Gordon is pretty heavily trans-coded and not in a negative way. The name "Artemus" reads like a masculine Artemis, Hellenic Goddess of war and the hunt, indicating a transition from female to male, this is corroborated by the character's comfort in female clothing and lack of self-judgment for wearing it. Artemus is fixated on his skill in creating things (typically read as female in literature) being seen as the equal to Jim West's strength, agility and combat prowess (typically male traits). Finally, Artemus' prosthetic breasts are under-sexualised, as if he has an active distaste or them, which is undercut by his attraction to Rita. Not great evidence, but it's there. 

The big twist I wasn't expecting when watching this film again was the epiphany that Dr Loveless is, in fact, the good guy. Unless, like Jim West and President Grant, you happen to be in favour of genocide and American colonialism. You see, Loveless' plan involves dissolving the United States and handing land back to France, the British Empire, Mexico and the Native Americans, as well as carving out a chunk of the Pacific Northwest for himself. That's right, the "bad guy" of the film plans to return Manhattan to the native tribes, complete with diplomatic recognition by and protection from Europe. Sure, more power to "Imperial" Europe isn't great, but that'll get fixed come 1914. Many of Loveless' henchmen are wounded Civil War veterans who fought for the South and were left to rot by the victors; Loveless made sure they got the best medical treatment and prosthesis available at his own expense. Despite his many, debasing sexual comments, Loveless employs several women in positions of authority, most of which require an education not available to many women at the time, in contrast Rita is shown to be incompetent and only able to follow the men around, the same men that constantly treat her as an object.

Finally, even though Loveless fought for the South in the war, he holds shockingly little racial prejudice (don't at me, apologists, the South fought for the right to own slaves, deal with it). When funding his scheme, Loveless milks money from rich Southern landowners who are funding a second rebellion, then turns around and guns down General McGrath's soldiers to prevent an uprising in the name of the Confederacy. And although Loveless throws more than a few racial slurs at Jim West, he works fine with other African-Americans and Native Americans, he only dislikes Jim West because Jim West is directly responsible for crippling him. Also the film has a steampunk spider mech and rail tank? Man, I didn't even talk about the assassins hiding in the paintings, which was pretty cool too. I wonder how many films actually have the protagonists working to take down the "real good guy"? I need to go back and watch some stuff again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

More Smash Characters - Wishful Thinking

Been on the Smash train a bit lately, playing my 2DS on the train ride to and from work, just getting my skills up before the new one drops, which may have been ages ago by the time you're reading this, but whatever. I'll happily admit that these articles are nothing more that ego-stroking fan-fiction exercises, why pretend they're anything grander than that? Hell, depending on how my other projects go, you may have already seen my Smash-inspired Super Mission Force project in action, as I've made the decision to publish AARs and similar articles as soon as they're done, rather than leave them for over a year. What do you guys want? It's not like I get paid for this.  
The following is a list of characters that I'd really like to see in Smash, not so fussed about what other people think, though I'll admit that these are real long-shots, especially given their lack of popularity in Japan.

Ratchet and Clank
Yes, I'm a big fan and there's probably no way that Sony will be up for "loaning" the characters to Nintendo for any reason but, hear me out on this one. Insomniac games clearly don't care about the Ratchet & Clank series anymore with the crappy reboot being the last thing done, so porting the characters to Smash would be a quick and easy way to keep an income from the IP. A few cents from every Nintendo eStore download and Amiibo sale would add up quickly and maybe enough to give us a satisfying end to the Future series at some stage. Hey, this is a Wish List after all.

Earthworm Jim
Technically a classic SNES-era character in his own right, Earthworm Jim has always been a lot of fun in how he plays and move and I'd feel that it would translate well to Smash. Blasting with his ray gun, swinging on his own earthworm body like a rope and using Snot as a parachute would all fit the ethos of Smash perfectly. A Final Smash were Jim pulls out the Barn Blaster and clears the screen would fit nicely too. He probably doesn't need to bring Peter Puppy, PsyCrow or Professor Monkey for a Head with him as playable characters, but assist trophies would be fun to see.

A Boy and his Blob
I actually really enjoy the original A Boy and his Blob, despite its many flaws, having finished it more than once on emulator. The difficulty and awkwardness of the game is offset for me by the unique ideas and atmosphere provided. I'm yet to play the Wii version because I can't find a copy, but I'm happy to see the characters back for a new generation to discover. For those not in the know, the Blob is able to transform its shape into almost anything when given the right flavour of jellybean by the Boy and now you're probably getting an idea of how cool these two would be in Smash. Have one of the Fighter Stances be a hug and the Final Smash is feeding Blob a grape jellybean to make him into the Giant.

Joanna Dark
Essentially everyone my age has played more than a few hours of Goldeneye on N64, due to the issues around licensed games we never got a true sequel, but I always felt Perfect Dark was underrated. (I also like Rogue Agent, but mainly for the insane setting and Bond fan-baiting) The secret agent protagonist, Joanna Dark is a fun mix of Lara Croft and Solid Snake with a great variety of weapons and equipment, including guns that shoot through walls and temporary invisibility. Although she may not be the most iconic characters in video game history, Joanna Dark is probably the closest my generation will get to connecting with all those hours spent playing Goldeneye in Smash.

I'm a big fan of The Venture Bros and own all the DVDs; there's this one scene towards the end of Season 4 where people are describing what they think a sex move called the "Rusty Venture" is. It's a pretty graphic scene and really funny if you're into that sort of thing, but the version that can be found on YouTube with the "censor bleeps" is, in my opinion, actually funnier. Despite being known best for the most adult game on N64, Conker doesn't 'need' to bring all of his fluids, stimulants and language to Smash to work as a character. With enough sarcasm, bleeped dialogue and not-quite-PC antics, Conker would fit well without breaking the family-friendly tone. Think something along the lines of The Simpsons, where the 'adult' humour is pitched to go over the heads of the kids watching anyway. 

Sorry to say, but I have a few more of these in me yet, stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Superhero Media: Fant4stic

Where do I start with this garbage fire? Almost every element of this film screams "studio mandates", even down to its very existence. Clearly Fox were desperate to hold onto the license in a post-Avengers world, but it *had* to be a hit, so let's include everything from every hit film that didn't involve superheroes from the past decade? See what I mean, none of this makes sense! Hire the director of Chronicle, then cut his dreary film to something even less exciting? I can't even. This is almost Super Buddies bad. And I'm not just saying that because I like Fantastic Four comics, this is just genuinely a bad film. There was one scene, just the one, that I kind of liked, where Victor Doom (he doesn't deserve to be called Doctor Doom) is walking through a hallway, killing people by looking at them and bullets can't even touch him; sure, the character is bad, but that scene finally shows off just how powerful Doom should be. 

What I don't get is how Fantastic Four seems impossible to adapt? The Incredibles is the template, it's a family of superheroes who are also some of the biggest celebrities on the planet, seems like an easy pitch. Somehow though, we always end up with half-measures and odd little designs. Like, is it too much to ask that both Johnny and Sue Storm be the same race? I don't care which race, just make them look like siblings. Also, Doom is the greatest comic supervillain of all time, maybe put a bit or care and attention into how he's done? Doom is the dictator of a small European nation, has an Iron-Man style suit of armour, is a wizard, saved his mother from hell, is thousands of years old and genuinely believes that only he can save the world. Maybe stop killing him off in the first film? God forbid maybe do a Doom film or lay him in over a few films? Yes, I'm a fan, but this still seems like pretty basic narrative layout to me. 

Don't watch this film. Not just because it's a bad Fantastic Four film, or a bad superhero film; it's just straight-up a terrible film and not worth wasting your time. The characters are bland, the plot makes no sense and it looks drab and awful. It was made for selfish reasons by a corporation that only wanted to get something into cinemas and did not care about the quality of what they produced, it's bad for the film industry to encourage that kind of behavior, don't give this shit any more oxygen.