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”