Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Superhero Media: Wonder Woman (2017)

It's really interesting to be able to see a film like Wonder Woman and the impact that it's had in real time, rather than learning about it in a lecture like Star Wars or Thelma and Louise. For most of this review, I'm going to be focusing on the broader implications of the film and the film as an individual piece of art, but let's get the bit you want to see out of the way first. Wonder Woman is, at the time of writing (May 2018) the best film that the DCU has produced in its current format, though I will admit to actually enjoying Justice League on its own merits. More importantly, Wonder Woman is the first major cinema release to be a solo outing for a female superhero. I'm not going to get too heavily into the feminism on this one, (see my Tank Girl review for that sort of thing), but I really think it's great that so many girls and young women have gravitated towards this character, especially this version. 

 (Good to see that Diana's leaned a thing or two from Captain Falcon)

So here we are, in this interesting space where Wonder Woman is something of a classic, without nesescarily being a particularly good film. Yes, Wonder Woman is very watchable, Gal Gadot is a brilliant actor in her own right and perfect for the role and despite still being too CGI-heavy, the film looks better than any of the other DCU efforts. On the other hand, the narrative runs out of steam before the third act, the villains are pretty forgettable, Diana is far too naive for how smart she's supposed to be and the Great War setting still really irks me on a number of levels. The decision behind the setting is obvious, Wonder Woman needed to be differentiated from Captain America - The First Avenger, so World War 2 was out, but the Great War doesn't make much sense, especially if we're to believe the "Evil Germans" aspect; yeah, a country with a decaying government and collapsing economy are a real Wonder Woman level threat. Even if it invited the Marvel comparison, WWII would just have been a better fit, or hell, be gutsy and do the American Civil War, Spanish Civil War or Vietnam.

Also, the DCU music problem raises its ugly head again; "Is She With You?" is the only iconic piece of music produced for any of these films, and although it's from Batman V Superman, I thought we'd get it here as well. No such luck, though we do get a few not quite as good "versions" of the theme. C'mon DC/WB, pull your fingers out and do the damn score properly. Although I did really enjoy this film both times I've watched it, I probably won't be revisiting it again any time soon. This version of Wonder Woman is brilliant and I hope she survives whatever Flashpoint turns out to be and maybe gets the script she deserves in any sequels. If you love this film to bits, great! I like the Tom Jane The The Punisher and Affleck Daredevil, but don't think they're necessarily "good" films. Wonder Woman may not reach the heights of Superman - The Movie, The Incredibles or Black Panther, but it is a milestone that has inspired a generation of women to pick up comic books and I don't think that's ever a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

MI:13 - Part IX

As Pete Wisdom and the team return to MI:13 HQ, Quincey Harker requests that the trusted members of the team are brought into a meeting separate from the rest of the Ministry to start the investigation. With a returned Sandman, the Medic, Union Jack and Wisdom gathered around Harker who mumbles something about vampire spies before splashing the quartet of superheroes with water from a bottle hidden in his shawl. Harker explains that it is probable that Vampires have infiltrated MI:13 and the first order is to discover how many spies are in the ranks. The Medic, Union Jack and Sandman are handed UV torches and told to look for people's reactions, Vampires will begin to sweat and panic under the light. The heroes are sent to the main MI:13 office, several floors down, told to keep things quiet so as to not cause a panic and let any vampires slip away. 

Being subtle and clever have never been strong suits for the team, so it takes the trio a while to get the hang of looking through the office workers for any signs of vampire infiltrators. Quite by accident, Union Jack uncovers a vampire in an office and, reacting in panic, punches the undead square in the face. In panic at being uncovered, the vampire turns to mist and starts to flee; all of this supernatural activity starts a panic and the remaining office workers begin to flee for an exit. Leaping into the fray, The Medic uses his power to drain off the abilities of others to remove the vampiric talent of turning into mist, leaving the panicking vampire defenseless. To cut off the monster's escape, Union Jack throws Sandman towards it, luckily, Sandman lands safely and is able to use his gas gun to knock the creature out and trap it. Acting in the best interests of Occupational Health and Safety, The Medic convinces the fleeing workers to take the stairs rather than the lift. 

Charging into the fight, Union Jack fails somehow to hit the sleeping vampire, so withdraws and places himself in front of the fire exit. Seeing that the vampires are vulnerable to his sleeping gas, Sandman begins to dose the fleeing workers and search them, finding that one was, indeed, a vampire. Whilst Sandman and the Medic continue to check the officer workers for signs of vampirism, Union Jack proceeds to beat the vampires into unconsciousness with a combination of his fists and nearby cubicle walls. As the remaining workers stampede towards the blocked fire exit, Sandman spays his gas once more to keep them from escaping. After missing a sleeping vampire for the second time, Union Jack finally connects and takes another monster out of the fight. As some of the workers come to, they run back towards the lift, only to find that the Medic is blocking their path.

Quite by chance, Sandman uncovers another Vampire, which immediately turns into a pall of mist and attempts to escape the rampaging superheroes, but only gets a few meters before the Medic deactivates its powers. As the workers panic around him, Union Jack grabs the vampire, running around the room for no discernible reason. The Medic sabotages the lift to prevent any health and safety violations before charging towards Union Jack and his captive. Between the three heroes, short work is made of the last Vampire. Taking the three captives to Harker, MI:13 soon learn that Dracula is planning to attack an enchantment that is keeping him out of England. Harker explains that in 1941, a coven of witches cast a spell to deny Hitler and the Axis forces access to the British Isle, which, as the Axis included Dracula at the time, also prevents Vampires from crossing the channel. Dracula's Forces are planning to attack the magical circle in New Forest and dispel the enchantment. 

Our trio of heroes camp for a couple of days near a stone circle in the New Forest, keeping an eye out for any vampiric action. In a flash of eldritch light, a seductive and demonic figure appears, with a bodyguard of vampires; wasting no time, she begins to weave her magic, spellfire blasting Union Jack. In return, Union Jack charges the demonic sorceress, who hardcore Marvel comics fans may recognise as Lilith, only to be immediately dog-piled by the vampires. The Vampire soldiers surround the Medic, keeping him pinned down. No one seems to be bothering with Sandman, who is throwing up in a nearby bush due to chemotherapy induced nausea. The trio of vampires sink their teeth deep into Union Jack's flesh and drink his blood, preventing him from closing on Lilith whilst she casts her spells. Things look bleak for a moment, as the Medic is unable to drain the magic from Lilith and Sandman finds he can't land an attack on the vampires. Thankfully, Union Jack's [slightly bullshit] powers enable him to walk straight out of combat with no damage and kick Lilith into unconsciousness in two quick rounds.

Harker does his best, but Lilith is such a powerful entity that she soon escapes, but not before MI:13 is able to extract Dracula's plans. Dracula has allied himself with Captain Fate, a mystical entity capable of creating magical ships that can travel through space and the air; together they have constructed a giant battleship, filled with vampires, on the moon. Soon, the ship will descend on the United Kingdom and the only hope our heroes have is to intercept it and try and eliminate Fate's control. The plan is to use magic provided by Wizlord and Pete Wisdom to teleport the team to Fate's ship, where they will engage in battle, hopefully preventing the attack and somehow surviving reentry. Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Superhero Media: Ratchet & Clank 3 - Up Your Arsenal

Best game in the series, hands down. Off the back of Going Commando, the adventure starts with a news report of planet Veldin being attacked by the alien Tyhrranoids and Ratchet loading up the ship for a return home. From the first landing, Ratchet and Clank are thrown into a Galaxy-wide war against Doctor Nefarious and his Tyhrranoid allies, fighting alongside the Galactic Rangers, a team of Robot soldiers. The whole game feels like a natural progression from the previous two, growing bigger without feeling bloated, building on the foundations set way back in the first game, but still being of something new and interesting. Despite the fact there are things that would be done better in the Future games on PS3, Up Your Arsenal still finds the high watermark of the series because it comes across as the most 'complete', with all of the elements being improved from the previous games, rather than introduced here. The weapon-leveling is better, though needing to get through 10 "levels" does make it feel more like a chore at times than a reward. The Skill Points also work really well here, fitting into the game organically and being fun to shoot for. 

Unlike a great many Sci-Fi/Fantasy games, the "battle" sections of Up Your Arsenal really create a hectic atmosphere and evoke the mood of being in the midst of a war, even if the Galactic Rangers rarely demonstrate a great deal of competence. The new villain, Doctor Nefarious, is used well, with a good balance of humour and menace that easily makes him the best antagonist in the series. Also not having anything tied in with Ratchet's origins really helps Nefarious as a character in his own right, especially retrospectively, when it will turn out that all of the Future antagonists have another piece of the puzzle that is the disappearance of the Lombax species. Nope, none of that, instead we get a building of the characters we've come to know and love, with Clank being the "breakout" character of the pair in their own setting and Captain Quark getting a close to his narrative arc. New characters like Laurence, the irreverent robot butler and Sasha, probably the only potential love interest for Ratchet that is also interesting in her own right, also bring up the overall quality. 

I will never get sick of playing this game, everything about it just works for me in a way most video games don't. Unlike the previous games, there's not too many sections of "busy work" and, unlike the next games, none of the weapons are functionally useless. I'm still not fond of Captain Quark, but he does reach a good character point here, just a pity he keeps coming back. There are so many little things I could list here that really stick in my mind, like the Swingshot and Dynamo becoming the one item, having multiple quick-select rings, ship upgrades only costing bolts rather than another resource and only one set of collectables that trade for cash. Not that I'm the kind of blogger inclined to do something like a "Top 10 Video Games" list, but if I were, Up Your Arsenal would be on there somewhere; I will keep playing this for as long as I can get something to run it. I really hope Insomniac do something good with the characters again at some point, but we'll get to that as we get to later games.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Thinking Out Loud: Super Smash Prescience

If you're the kind of person to keep up with the Smash Bros Ultimate news, like I am, you'll know that expansion characters two and three are The Hero (from Dragonquest) and Banjo Kazooie. Now, I'm not going to rant too hard about another JRPG sword character joining the roster (but, like, really? Another one?), but I am naturally ecstatic to see Banjo and Kazooie coming down the pipeline, Banjo Tooie being one of my favourite games from the Nintendo 64. As always, there was outcry from fans that their personal pick didn't make the cut, especially the Waluigi set, but here's the thing kids; Waluigi is coming, I guarantee it. Much like Ridley and King K Rool, fans have been clamoring for Waluigi to join the Smash Bros roster since the Melee days, so of course he'll be appearing soon; if I had to guess, he'll be number five. Now, I'm not keen on Waluigi, I find him off-putting and simply don't get why he has such a following, plus there's already too many Mario characters in Smash, but I get that he will have his place soon enough and I'll deal with it. As it stands, I'm very much aware that I prefer the "mascot" characters to the more human ones, because that, to me, is part of the charm of the Smash Bros series. 

Where one draws the line between the mascots and the "realistic" humans is completely arbitrary, of course, I let Captain Falcon slide (and dive, punch and kick) despite never having owned an F-Zero game, because his cartoony behaviour charmed me in an instant. In contrast, the only Fire Emblem character I ever cared anything for was Roy, because he had a fun set of moves in Melee. Although I play neither, I really like that Sonic and Mega Man joined the roster over the years, because, to me, as someone who grew up with a SNES and a N64, that's what video games looked like, and Smash Bros was the crossover I had always wanted. The days of the "Mascot Platformer" dominating the market are long gone, but still I find myself more interested in characters like Rayman, Dixie Kong, Mouser and Daroach joining the game, probably because I'd much rather throw stars and/or bananas than swing a sword in a slightly different way to how at least nine other characters already swing a sword. See also; I'd much rather a Booster Gold film than another take on Batman. 

So, ok, let's talk about Goku again, because that's still a thing apparently. Personally, I'm a little disappointed that Jump Stars isn't coming to Switch anytime soon, but will live with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and doesn't that game just make more sense as a crossover vehicle with Goku in it? I could totally see Goku as DLC in any of the many anime crossover fighting games, but the only anime ascetic in Smash Bros is leftover art style from JRPGs, with most of the classic mascot characters having more in common with the art styles of Disney and Hanna Barbera than anything else. If Smash Bros continues into the future far enough, I'd happily see it expand to include Anime, Film and Television, but to my eye, there's so much more scope for video game characters before that kind of branching out happens. Not just some of the classics I would enjoy like Lara Croft, Bomberman and Starfy, but also some of the newer icons along the lines of Shovel Knight, Cuphead and Sands. I understand the reality that I have absolutely zero influence over who will join the roster in the future, but I hope to see more Banjo Kazooies and fewer "The Hero"s. Dragon Quest is cool and all, but why not let me play as a Metal Slime? C'mon. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Superhero Media: Batman Return of the Caped Crusaders

Holy Caravaggio Batman! What a masterpiece! For the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Batman television programme, Warner Animation put together possibly the greatest Batman film of all time. Ok, that's a bit much, but how are Lego Batman and Return of the Caped Crusaders way better than every live-action Batman since The Dark Knight? You have a problem DC. When a Gotham prime-time variety show is interrupted by Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman, the dynamic duo leap into action and a chase across the city begins, just like the classic programme. Before you know it, there are death traps, colourful gas, hokey fights and dodgy props, everything you could remember from the original, but there's so much more. 

Return of the Caped Crusaders is definitely made for fans of the classic Batman, but there's so much in there for anyone with a decent knowledge of the character. I'm struggling to think of a major Batman comic or film that doesn't get at least a throwaway line; Adam West dropping "this is the operating table, and I'm the surgeon" is fantastic. It's actually Robin who gets the best lines though, "Holy Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!", "Holy unholy alliance!" and, said in response to Catwoman suggesting that she and Batman run away to Europe ala The Dark Knight Rises, "Holy unsatisfying ending!". The scene with three Catwomen is a brilliant nod to the history of the character, remember when, in the 1960s, no one got on the internet and made racist complaints about an established African-American actor playing Catwoman? Crazy times, those sixties.

What else can I say? This is genius. A loving tribute to the classic '60s Batman, a fun film in its own right and a good Batman adventure. Yes, it's silly, but as I've said countless times, the silliness of the genre should be embraced, not shunned. How many "super serious" Batman films have actually been good? Two out of five? Yet Return of the Caped Crusaders is entertaining the whole way through, funny where it needs to be and exciting when the action ramps up. Once again, I don't get why DC and WB are so intent on segmenting their talent when the Warner Premiere/Warner Animation department is able to turn out gems like this on little budget but the live action productions are bloated, dull and overly expensive. As soon as cash allows, I'm picking up Batman Vs Two-Face to bask in more awesomeness.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

MI-13: Part VIII

The halls of MI-13 are buzzing with activity after the declaration of war from Dracula. Almost the entire agency has crammed into the briefing room, with Pete Wisdom up the front gesturing to a screen displaying pictures from the Jaspers Murder. 
"Ok, first things first, vampires are real and pretty much always have been. British intelligence services first became aware of the threat in 1875, when Vladimir Tepes Dracula arrived on our shores and began a brief reign of terror. The incident was hushed-up and fictionalised, but the version you know from popular culture is close to the truth. 
The next major incident came when Dracula joined the Axis powers in the Second World War, supplying Nazi High Command with several Vampiric operatives, the most infamous being Baron Blood, son of the original Union Jack. What Dracula never let on to Hitler was that he maintains mental control of all vampires, no matter how far away they are from his presence, even lasting when he sleeps for decades. When it became apparent that the Axis were going to lose the war, the Vampires withdrew and weren't heard of again for quite a while. 
Since the 1980s, worldwide Vampire activity has been at an all-time low, but now it seems Dracula has been planning an invasion of Great Britain, presumably for that entire time. Why here? We don't know, but what we do know is that Dracula is the leading military strategist of our time. Trained from birth. Centuries of experience. We are in a game of chess against him. Everything from here on out is keeping pace with an immortal genius, any questions?"

A silence falls over the room, spawned mostly by disbelief, when someone finds his voice, Union Jack asks if something so absurd could possibly be real. Wisdom points out that less than 48 hours ago, Union Jack himself was trapped in an alternate universe battling a killer robot. Questions abound of how good a strategist Dracula can really be if he announces his attacks and murders public figures, leading Wisdom to attempt to explain that they are not facing a man, but an immortal monster with unlimited power and abilities beyond imagination. As there is currently no expert in Vampires at MI-13, the first mission is to recruit a man called Quincey Harker, Britain's leading Vampire expert and the descendant of Jonathan and Mina Harker. As Purple Shadow and Psylocke are currently on a mission, and Sandman is undergoing chemotherapy, Wisdom elects to take Union Jack and new recruit, the Medic, with him as bodyguards. 

Landing the MI-13 helicopter on top of a multi-level car park, the trio of heroes walk through the shadows, not knowing what could by waiting out there in the darkness. With a shriek and flaps of loose clothing, a creature leaps out of the shadows, hurling itself at the Medic, only for Union Jack to step between them, absorbing the damage from raking claws. Using his powers to transfer strength and health between people, the Medic 'steals' some muscle mass from the attacking vampire and 'loans' it to Union Jack and Pete Wisdom. Ahead of the team, a squadron of paramilitary-attired figures suddenly transforms into a pall of mist and drifts towards them, leading the Medic to cry out in panic and demand if anyone knew that Vampires could do that. Not wanting to get boxed in, Union Jack charges towards the nearest Vampire, fining Pete Wisdom right alongside him. 

With his strength increased by the Medic's powers, Union Jack quickly pummels the first vampire into submission. Using the mystical knives that are his trademark, Pete Wisdom slashes at the cloud of mist that was a squad of Vampire soldiers, but even the magical energies that he wields seem to have no effect. The final Vampire charges into Pete Wisdom, baring its fangs, but the intelligence officer is surprisingly spry and dodges the flashing canines. As the Vampire Soldiers circle Wisdom, the Medic drains strength from them until a couple collapse, meanwhile Union Jack rips off the boom arm at the front of the parking garage, swinging it with enough force to bisect the last Vampire. Together, the team make quick work of the remaining Vampire Soldiers and quickly make their way to their rendezvous with Quincey Harker. 

The aged and wizened Quincey Harker is spending his twilight years in a rest home, but despite the wheelchair and blanket over his knees, a keen intelligence burns in his eyes. When Harker comes face-to-face with Wisdom, the elderly Vampire hunter is ready with his question; 
"He's back, isn't he?" 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Superhero Media: Max Steel (2016)

I found this on Netflix a little while back and decided to give it a go on a quiet night, even though I've never seen a single episode of the animated programme. Max returns with his mother to the small country town where his father died over a decade before in a mysterious explosion. Before you can say "Spider-Man, anyone?", Max has stumbled upon an alien computer called Steel and the pair start to work together to fight an oncoming invasion. Unique, Max Steel is not, but it does have a great deal of charm and excellent production values; the scenes in which Max discovers the energy his body produces have some gorgeous CGI, far better than most major release films. The costuming is also excellent, with the "Max Steel" reveal being really neat and the forgettable villain also looking like a refugee from Tron: Legacy, but in a good way. 

There's not a great deal more I can say directly about Max Steel, as the story is pretty basic and the charm that is there comes from the design, rather than the basic script. The world-building that happens is subtle enough to ignore, but the names of the aliens are so forgettable that I haven't even been bothered to look them up for this article. There are shades of Image Comics' Tech Jacket here, as well as the relationship between Max and Steel being reminiscent of Bootser Gold and Skeets. This isn't criticism, this kind of bricolage of existing tropes and ideas is my kind of thing, being a postmodernist, comics like Invincible and Hawkeye - Kate Bishob do this really well. Yes, Max Steel is a combination of Tech Jacket, Spider-Man and Booster Gold, but that doesn't mean that he's not interesting in his own right. It's a good lesson for creating your own supers for gaming. 

I'm not rushing out to give the Max Steel animated progamme a go, but if there were more films, I'd happily watch them. In the same vein, don't expect to see a Max Steel joining my Ultimate Alliance project any time soon. What I really should do is read some more Booster Gold. I really hope we get a good Booster Gold film some day, but until then, Max Steel is enjoyable enough and certainly more fun to watch than a few things I've seen.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Pitch: Mandrake

When I started "The Pitch" this was what I really wanted to do, a Defenders of the Earth "Expanded Universe" film franchise. I kept pushing it back because it felt like a big commitment, so Atomic Robo hit first, then I felt there was more time-pressure on Thunderbolts and Batman. Let's face it, I'm not so much committing to one "Pitch" here, rather four; Mandrake, Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Defenders of the Earth, that's a lot of work to do, so don't expect them all done promptly. 
Why start with Mandrake, as opposed to Flash or the Phantom? Well, for much the same reason Marvel Studios started with Iron Man; the character is pretty new to most audiences, not having had a film release since the 1950s, reducing any fatigue that may erupt from a "reboot" of Flash or the Ghost Who Walks. Also, again like Iron Man, if the film bombs, that's it, we're done, wait a few years and try again with Prince Valiant or something. 

Leon Mandrake is veteran stage magician with a devoted following and worldwide fame, blending traditional illusions with modern technology and a little something... "extra". Known only to Mandrake and his technician, Lothar, Mandrake can use mystical powers developed training in Asia, mostly his "fast hypnotism", enabling him to create elaborate illusions in seconds. When his assistant, Narda, is revealed to be European nobility on the run from the Singh Brotherhood, an international criminal cartel, Mandrake is forced to use his abilities to fight crime and discovers a new purpose in his life.

We don't need to reinvent the wheel on this one, we have Iron Man, Batman Begins and The Prestige to work from and give us the bare bones. Mandrake starts out as a celebrity cad with some extraordinary abilities, selfish, but good deep down. Crisis forces Mandrake to confront who he is and how he lives his life, eventually he makes the right choice and saves the day. 
I'd like to stay away from the "love interest kidnapping as inciting incident" trope, so this will come down to more of a chase narrative, with plenty of globetrotting and exotic locations, Mandrake is a celebrity after all. It all builds to a big showdown somewhere really cool looking, like Monaco, where Mandrake, Lothar and Narda concoct an elaborate illusion to trap the Singh leader and escape before the authorities and media arrive.

See above, Iron Man meets Ocean's Eleven with a bit of The Prestige mixed in. Fun, breezy and mostly light, no one needs to see a Frank Miller-esque take on Mandrake of all things. The next few films in the series will have increasing stakes, so this one gets to be pretty straightforward. We're introducing the characters, the world and a recurring antagonist in the Singh Brotherhood, so no need to bog the audience down with heavy-handed plot. Light is good. 

This is always trickier than most people think it is; it's not just a matter of picking actors I like, or look like the character. For a franchise especially, it needs to be someone with a solid career but not so much in demand that they can't commit to a series of films. Think about RDJ as Iron Man, that was a good cast, decent actor, not much on his plate at the time, same deal here, after all, we're hoping for at least four films in this series. 

Mandrake: After thinking about this for a while, I just couldn't go past my original pick for Doctor Strange, Guy Pearce: 
A seasoned actor with a great filmography who's demonstrated that he can say patently ridiculous things with a straight face, I can't think of anyone better. Pearce is getting "old" in Hollywood leading man terms (he's only 50), but Mandrake doesn't need to punch a lot of people or strut around with his shirt off. Pearce has the charisma and chops to play the defacto "leader" of the Defenders of the Earth for a handful of films, letting the younger guys take over later, just like in the cartoon. 

Lothar: Let's face it, Lothar needs to change, the "jungle savage" was racist, the buff engineer was a bit camp, how about a Jonathan Creek-esque magical technician? Played by none other than Richard Ayoade: 
These days, technicians for illusionists are highly-competent engineers and designers, not teamsters, so a big, buff, Lothar would look a little silly. Think of the version in this film as like Oracle to Batman or Micro to the Punisher, the "guy in the chair", making gadgets, watching cameras and planning tactics. Plus there's always room for a couple of fun Moss/Mighty Boosh references. 

Narda: If things go well with this franchise, we'll need actors to step up into the hero roles and become the new Defenders of the Earth, so our Narda needs to be a bit younger than Mandrake, but still an accomplished actor, someone like Olivia Wilde: 
Wilde has had a couple of meaty roles, but has never really seemed to be able to "breakout", something like Mandrake could be her chance. Popular genre, franchise opportunity and being able to play opposite a veteran talent have made more than one career in the past. I get the feeling Wilde is better than she's had the chance to be yet.

Singh Boss: I've got this thing about hiring any Asian actor to play any nationality, probably due to having had Asian family members since childhood. Thankfully, I'm also a fan of Asian cinema and always happy to do a bit of research. The antagonist for this film would be played by Byung-hun Lee: 
Lee has already broken through to Hollywood thanks to GI-Joe Retaliation and The Magnificent Seven (2016), but for this film, we're basically asking him to replay his character from The Good The Bad The Weird. A crazed gang boss with big aspirations and an absolute ruthlessness, the "Singh Boss" will probably carry across a couple of films, so having someone fun and memorable is a real must; think of him as the DOE Loki if that helps. 

This is a little tricky because of the balance that needs to be struck, but I think Edgar Wright needs another shot at a superhero title. Ideally, Mandrake would be slick, polished and funny, which Wright has shown himself adept and filming before, just think more Baby Driver than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

What next? 
So Mandrake ends with our hero triumphant, most of the Singh in gaol and everything tied up nicely, but let's not forget the post-credits sting! 

Mandrake is walking through a stately office building talking to "Mr Walker" about the problem represented by the Singh Brotherhood. They discuss the need to deal with the Brotherhood, but how they lack the manpower. Mr Walker suggests another recruit and a young woman walks in introduced as his daughter, Jedda Walker. 

That's right, the next film is The Phantom, both to save the crazy space stuff for the third film and to continue the through-line of the Singh Brotherhood as antagonists. Probably a while before I get to that one sorry, but it is coming! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Superhero Media: Thunderbirds (2004)

My DVD copy of Hulk (2003) comes with a teaser trailer of this film, which essentially features a CGI Thunderbird 2 landing outside the British Houses of Parliament to the strings of "Boys are Back" by Thin Lizzy. Suffice to say, I was pretty stoked when I came across it one day. The final product, by which I mean the trailer for the actual film, made it look like Spy Kids with a coat of Thunderbirds paint, so being the discerning teenager I was at the time, I gave it a miss. Flash forward too many years and I finally gave Thunderbirds a watch and was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the focus on the child characters does injure potential enjoyment of the film, but the framework around the children is actually really good. Seriously, the props, sets and design of this film makes the Thunderbirds feel more "real" than pretty much any other version of the characters. 

The story works well enough, The Hood and his cronies conceive a plot to draw all of the Thunderbirds to Thunderbird 5, then steal the remaining craft to run a series of bank robberies and simultaneously discredit International Rescue. It's a good enough plot for the film and whilst I always like Ben Kingsley, having him play an Asian man is really something that shouldn't have happened in 2004. The saving grace of the film is the delightful double-act of Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope and Ron Cook as Parker, their comic timing and banter may well be worth a watch alone, plus the FAB 1 design is pretty funky as well, with a fun retro-futurist look. Sadly, there's not much to film that would translate well to Supers gaming; International Rescue being framed is more of a RPG set-up for a group like MI-13 or the Croatoans than a straight-up superhero fight. 

Despite the fan vitriol online, I don't really think that there was a "better" version of live-action Thunderbirds that could have been brought to the big screen. Sadly, the franchise simply isn't popular enough to carry the kind of film that the adult fans want to see. I don't actually think that's really a bad thing, I have no desire to see a "grim and gritty" take on Thunderbirds, I really feel that would defeat the purpose of the story. There's a Doctor Who novel entitled "The Indestructible Man" which features a corrupted and collapsed International Rescue style organisation, and whilst the book is enjoyable enough, it didn't make me yearn for more deconstructed Thunderbirds material. Thunderbirds is really a "watch it or don't" case, it's not great but there's also nothing really that bad about it. Except for Hans Zimmer's terrible re-working of the classic theme; why do we let that guy play with existing songs? It never ends up any good.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Miniatures Finished: 02/01/2018

Without a major project to work towards, I'm just getting whatever I feel like done. 

 April O'Neill, Pete Wisdom and Ash. (two clix and Hasslefree)

 Made one more Wakandan sentry gun, Baymax (keychain) and another inmate/prisoner. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Superhero Media: The Dark Knight Rises

So this film was pretty disappointing, right? I distinctly remember walking out of the cinema with my then girlfriend and really hating pretty much everything about The Dark Knight Rises, I'd actually considered leaving midway through the film, I was that disappointed. Unlike many, my disappointment with The Dark Knight Rises was not down to it being lackluster follow-on to The Dark Knight, but rather, an unsatisfying mashup of Knightfall, No Man's Land and The Dark Knight Returns, with a few elements of Year One crammed in there for good measure. What a mess. To my surprise, The Dark Knight Rises improved in my estimation after a second viewing; it's still a mess with a shocking number of poor decisions having gone into its making, but there is also a fair bit there to enjoy. Several years after the death of Harvey Dent, draconian laws have been enacted to eliminate organised crime in Gotham and the Batman has disappeared. There is an extended areoplane hijacking sequence to introduce Bane and remind us that Chritopher Nolan is a brilliant cinematographer. 

As I've mentioned in the past, Bane is one of my favorite Batman villains, so I was really excited to see him done well in a film, especially after Batman & Robin. Boy, was I in for a let-down. No, it's not just Tom Hardy's bizarre choice of accent, but the villain could really have been pretty much anyone and made more sense; Hush, Red Hood, Catman, Lady Shiva, the list goes on. But let's face it, it had to be Bane so that we could get the back-breaking scene in to appease the fanboys. Seriously that accent though, did the Seppos making the film (Nolan is English though?) just not realise that an Oxbridge accent sounds goofy on a guy who crawled out of a hole in the desert, especially when Alfred Pennyworth is played by a Geordie? Seems like that should have been caught after the fist table read. Whilst I'm throwing shade, the pacing in this film is way off, the first act covers a few weeks, the second the better part of a year and the third a couple of days; ever wonder why The Dark Knight Rises feels weird to watch? There you go.

What works in The Dark Knight Rises? Batman making human connections with Catwoman and "Robin" helps to erode that terrible "one man alone" mystique that clings to the character. There are some great speeches from Bane and Alfred. This is probably the best realised and least fetishised version of Catwoman on the big screen, even though she still has her underage prostitute friend from Year One, because, apparently, I'm the only person in the world that finds that character creepy and unnecessary. Seriously, guys. This is not a good film, but there is more to enjoy than the first viewing would indicate. I'm hopeful that we can leave this grimdark take on Batman in the past sooner or later and move on to something else, but the Nolan trilogy will remain a high watermark for the character, even with it's flaws. It will be a while before I come back to this version of Gotham, but maybe one day I'll feel the need to watch the street battle in the third act again.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

MI-13: Part VII

As the dust settles and the echo of the Boom Tube fades away, the heroes of MI-13 take a breath and begin to wonder just how they will return home. On the wind comes a chilling laugh, lilting madly, seemingly coming from everywhere at once. Extending her psychic senses, Psyloke tries to detect the source of the foul laugh, only to discover that it is in their very minds. The laugh is replaced by an equally unnerving voice, 
"Oh stop, please, my sides can't take anymore, I haven't had this much fun in ages," the voice comes from a comical figure descending from the sky like Mary Poppins; a funny man dressed in a derby hat and tweed suit that our heroes recognise as Lord James Jaspers. In their home universe, the Minister of Defense, in this crooked world, however, he is god. 
"I thought I was done with all the superheroes," he pulls a comically-long cigar from nowhere and lights it with a snap of his fingers, "I'm so glad I get to play with some of you again. Other people's toys are always the best to break." 

The members of MI-13 are on edge, they know they can't possibly fight "Mad Jim" Jaspers, but they don't have a choice, having been abandoned by The Champions of the Omniverse. Union Jack signals for the others to get behind him, bracing to attack and provide a distraction when Purple Shadow points out what Jaspers is holding; the Motherboxx. 
"Lovely, isn't it?" croons Jaspers, catching Purple Shadow's eye, "with this little beauty, I can take my show on the road, make all realities as fun as my one. Jim Jaspers, Mad God of the Omniverse, how does that sound?" In response, Union Jack shouts and leaps towards Jaspers, reaching for the Motherboxx, their only way home. Taking advantage of the confusion, Psylocke tries to wrest the Motherboxx from Jasper's grasp with her telekinesis, but with nothing more than a twitch of his eyebrow, the mad god turns Psylocke into a teapot. Union Jack attempts to place his handcuffs on Jaspers, but instead finds himself holding onto a venomous snake. 

Purple Shadow charges into the fray, attempting to envelop Jaspers in her mysterious aura, but the giggling madman just seems to be constantly out of reach. In desperation, Union Jack swings the snake in his hands at Jaspers, who is regarding the super-soldier with a critical eye. 
"Love the look," Jaspers purrs, his weskit changing to one emblazoned with the Union Jack, "suits me, don't you think? How about a new look for you, while I'm at it?" With a wave of his hand, Jaspers turns Union Jack into John Bull. Despite his new rotund form, John Bull continues to grab for the Motherboxx, but it always seems to be in a different hand. Purple Shadow is experiencing similar trouble, as none of her blows seem to land; with a wink, Jaspers turns her into a literal shadow. Knowing that his failure will mean the end of the multiverse, John Bull struggles bravely on, hoping against hope that he can destroy the Motherboxx before Jaspers can use it. 

Just when John Bull's strength is at its last ebb, a boom and flash of light fills the air, and Manzilla of The Champions of the Omniverse is standing behind Mad Jim Jaspers. Turning further than a human neck would allow, Jasper's head spins to take in the newcomer, grinning madly. 
"More toys?" Jaspers squeals like a child. 
"No," grunts Manzilla in response, "Manzilla here to save day!" In the monstrous Champion's claw is a clasped a second Motherboxx, which he activates, summoning another Boom Tube. When the light fades, another terrifying form is left looming over Jaspers; The Fury. 

Jaspers stares at The Fury for a moment, the cyobite monster assessing its target in return. The eerie silence is split only when Jaspers utters a concerned whisper. 
"You're not the one I made." Taking the opportunity provided by a momentary distraction on Jaspers' behalf, Manzilla leaps towards the mad god, grabbing for the Motherboxx. Time slows and reality changes, what was a bombed-out section of alternate London becomes an endless void of unreality, chunks of matter from across the Omniverse drift by as both Jaspers and the Fury rapidly shift their forms in a deadly embrace, each using their endless versatility to attempt an advantage. Knowing that the Motherboxx is their only way home, Psylocke levitates as close as she dares to the swirling melee of Jaspers and the Fury, but is unable to make out the device in the flail of limbs.

Purple Shadow kicks some debris from the chunk of reality the team finds themselves on, gauging how it drifts to assess the gravity of the void; reaching a conclusion, she takes a run-up and leaps towards the next island in the abyss. Union Jack, restored to his true self, takes a leap of his own, towards the chimeric Jim Jaspers, attempting to batter the monster into submission, for his trouble, a failing limb bites deep into his flesh. The keen, animal eyes of Manzilla spot the Motherboxx in the tangle of Jaspers and the Fury, he reaches for it, but is blasted by the Fury, the cold, cyobite intelligence determining the Champion to be a threat. Not wanting to get any closer, Psylocke manipulates the Motherboxx with her telekinesis, trying to lift it away, but a spiked tendril lashes out from Jaspers and hits Psylocke with enough force to knock her out.

Scrabbling for the Motherboxx, Union Jack finds himself caught in a shifting mass of what was once Jim Jaspers, with any solid purchase slipping from his grasp. Landing on a section of concrete floating in the void, Purple Shadow finds a portable toilet and hefts it towards the swirling melee ahead of her, offering a hearty "Eat shit!" at Jaspers as she does so. Unfortunately, her throw misses everyone except Union Jack, however, the blow activates Jack's powers, temporarily increasing his strength. Surrounded, Jaspers turns himself into a swirling vortex of blades, ripping through everything around him. Union Jack, Manzilla and even the Fury are torn apart. Rearing back several mustached heads, the Jaspers-beast laughs in victory. 

Seeing her last chance, Purple Shadow leaps from the safety of the concrete platform towards Jaspers, reaching out for the Motherboxx in the quivering bulk of flesh and snatching it clear. Before Jaspers can stop her, Purple Shadow hammers every button on the device she can find, opening a dozen Boom Tubes. In an instant, Union Jack, Psylocke and Manzilla are sucked away. The last thing Purple Shadow sees as she is drawn into the closest Boom Tube is Jaspers and the Fury being torn to shreds as the conflicting pulls of all the open portals creates a gravity rift; both monsters die screaming in each other's embrace. 

Purple Shadow, worn out from the extended conflict, loses consciousness as she tumbles through the omniverse, she finally comes to on the floor of the MI-13 training room where she left what seems like days ago. Standing over her is a male figure in a green coat and a sinister-looking skull-shaped helmet. 
"Good afternoon, Miss Ashwood," the newcomer's voice is polite, "welcome home. My name is Ulysses, I am one of the Champions of the Omniverse and I am here for the Motherboxx." 
Purple Shadow gets to her feet wearily and backs away from the stranger, looking around to see both Psylocke and Union Jack unconscious on the floor behind her.
"How do I know you're telling the truth?" demands Purple Shadow, "This could be anywhere!" Ulysses pauses to consider a moment, before threatening to take the Motherboxx by force. 

Purple Shadow is not moved, demanding to know why MI-13 cannot keep the Motherboxx and how Ulysses arrived before her. Ulysses explains the the Motherboxx is too dangerous to be allowed to remain in this primitive time, as it has the power not only to open trans-dimensional portals, but also to rearrange matter itself, and this his own, innate powers also allow him to travel between realities, but the process is time-consuming. Purple Shadow is not moved, and demands a demonstration of the Motherboxx, holding it just within Ulysses' reach so that he can heal her teammates. When Union Jack and Psylocke revive, they too have questions, such as why they should be afraid of Ulysses when the other Champions of the Omniverse have proven to be such incompetents. Ulysses explains that the Champions that MI-13 met are the "Canaries" and that Eon reserves the competent warriors, such as himself, for the truly important missions. After some deliberation, the team reluctantly hands the Motherboxx over and Ulysses departs, promising to see some of them again. 

Once the stranger has departed, the team wastes no time reporting to Pete Wisdom what happened and where they have been. Within an hour, the full force of MI-13 is brought to bare against the unsuspecting Lord James Jaspers MP. Wisdom and the team lead the charge, hoping their combined power will be enough to win out before Jaspers becomes "Mad Jim" in this timeline; they are shocked to find the Lord dead, sprawled over his desk and drained of blood. A quick investigation yields several letters in Medieval Romanian and a missive scrawled on the bedroom mirror in blood:

“Wisdom -
        I declare, on behalf of my landless nation, war on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Tell any of you that are left: we will be coming, you will be the last,

        Tepes of Wallachia”