Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Pitch: Thunderbolts

Remember way back in my Suicide Squad and Assault on Arkham reviews when I used the phrase "Dirty Dozen with supervillains" (or something similar)? I'm not sure how long ago that was, as I'm actually writing these articles months in advance at this point. Well, the idea has been rattling around my head for a while and whilst I didn't really want "The Pitch" to be about film franchises currently in operation, this feels like one of those things I need to commit to "paper" before it will finally leave me alone. So yeah, as much as I dislike the idea, this article is very much "Marvel does a better version of Suicide Squad" fan wanking and wishing out loud.

Marvel's Thunderbolts
With half of The Avengers having gone rogue, SHIELD (or whoever) need a strike team to deal with superhuman threats that are too much for conventional law enforcement and/or military to deal with but way below Tony Stark's notice. Needs must and SHIELD makes a decision to utilise a resource that they have cooling its heals in the Raft, criminals.

Against all common sense and moral decency, SHIELD is forced to activate the "Thunderbolts Program[me]" in order to bring in the renegade Captain America and his comrades. The team chases Cap across the globe, finding and fighting other villains (like the Serpent Squad or U-Foes), always one step behind the Star-spangled Avenger. Finally, they get one step ahead of Cap, only to encounter a major villain, say Count Nefaria or Gravitron. Although butting heads at first, the team comes together in time to save the day and form a genuine bond. The criminals are kept in check with "nanochains", essentially remote control tasers implanted in the spine. One shock hurts, the next cripples, the third causes permanent paralysis.

Longtime readers will know that I'm hardly a fan of "grim and gritty" superhero films, but I do think Thunderbolts could stand to have a "darker" tone than most MCU productions. Nothing like Spawn or even Man of Steel, but think closer to The Winter Soldier or act three of Civil War more so than Guardians of the Galaxy or Spider-Man: Homecoming. These are "bad guys" that we're watching, yes, but this is still a Marvel film, it should be fun.

Perhaps the best part of this film, from Marvel Studios' perspective, is that they have, essentially, already cast it. All it takes is an existing SHIELD character, like Coulson, Black Widow, Maria Hill or even Nick Fury, as the person running the show and maybe an offsider like Clay Quartermain, Jimmy Woo or Sharon Carter. The SHIELD folks run the team from a helicarrier, or submarine or something and have almost no scenes with the villains, so filming could be knocked out pretty quick. 

Now for the Thunderbolts themselves. Pick any really. Ideally, there needs to be a good balance of different powers, racial and gender diversity and some clashing personalities, but as some of the team will be killed off during the mission[s], new people could be introduced and the dynamic could constantly be shifting. So, who is out there to join up? 

Justin Hammer

Did you forget about this guy? Iron Man 2 may be one of the less-regarded MCU films, but this guy was still pretty cool. His wealth may have kept him out of prison after being dragged away at the end of the film, but some kind of plea bargain may have had him working for the government. We know he's still around in some form, because Diamonback has a "Mauler" suit in Luke Cage. Hammer doesn't even need to really be a Thunderbolt, he could just equip the team in the one, fun scene reminiscent of the weapon montage in Iron Man 2

Batroc the Leaper 

Possibly known to you only as "the guy Captain America beat up in act one of Winter Soldier", Batroc is a French mercenary, master kick-boxer and, in the MCU, decent traceur. Forget Captain Boomerang being on the team because the Flash didn't kill him that one time, Batroc held his own against freaking Cap for a couple of minutes. If we're recruiting people to go fight superheroes, I want this guy on the team. 
Baron Zemo
The Thunderbolts need a leader, and I can't think of anyone better than Baron Zemo. An underappreciated part of the masterpiece that was Civil War, Zemo of the MCU is a former special forces soldier who hates the Avengers after the death of his family in Age of Ultron. A tactical mastermind with a black ops history and a hatred of superheroes? Sounds like a good protagonist for a Thunderbolts film. Also, Zemo leads the comic Thunderbolts, so there's a nice little nod there. Oh, and he needs to wear a purple balaclava on the missions. 
Mister Hyde 
Need some star-power in your Thunderbolts, how about Kyle MacLachlan? I was, honestly, a little disappointed with Mister Hyde in Agents of SHIELD, but the few scenes where MacLachlan could cut loose where pretty damn special. Despite his cult status, MacLachlan is a talented actor who can bring a lot to an ensemble cast and Mister Hyde fills out any team nicely, being both a "big guy" and a "smart guy". Sure, in his last Agents of SHIELD appearance, we see him "cured", but what's a little serum and personal trauma when the world is at stake? 

Say what you like about the overall film, but Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky was a pretty damn great part of The Incredible Hulk (2008). The fight between a Hulk-serum infused Blonsky and the real Hulk is still one of my "Top 10" superhero fights on film. If SHIELD (or whomever) is assembling a team of villains to fight heroes, you need someone who can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk and there are currently no other contenders. On a personal note, I just want to see Tim Roth back and I doubt we'll ever get an Avengers vs Masters of Evil film. 
Madame Masque
Ok, so Whitney Frost is left insane and powerless after Season 2 of Agent Carter, but given the extra-dimensional source of her powers, pretty much anything would go. Maybe she's now somewhat indestructible and SHIELD/Hydra have been using her as a "Canary" since the 1950s or something similar? With a mask on and gun in hand, the snappy, hip, post-war dialogue would make a fun counter-point to the dour grunting of much of the male cast. Maybe there could be a fun bit between her and Tony Stark as well to make the fans squee. 

If the Thunderbolts are hunting Captain America, why not have a "failed" attempt to recreate Cap as part of the team. Not simply because an anti-hero would be a good fit for the team and serve as a possible protagonist, but because it could really drive the story. Will Simpson, in all likelihood, wanted to be Captain America, so his emotional journey in being part of a team of "bad guys" that are out to get Cap on behalf of the American government could give Thunderbolts a strong emotional core. A scene where Nuke is daubing his face with red, white and blue warpaint moments after having been told it's his job to kill Captain America? That's the scene that sells the entire film. 
I'm not really caught up on my Agents of SHIELD, but here's a neat character. A rogue Life Model Decoy (LMD) that gains sentience and rebels against its creators, Aida would work well in Thunderbolts for a couple of reasons. Firstly, gender balance is always nice, especially when the character's powers are those typically ascribed to male characters; endurance, strength and intelligence. Secondly, she can be killed off in a gruesome manner without upping the rating of the final film. A constant failing of the MCU is that the stakes never seem too high and no one seems to die. Suicide Squad failed to pull this off with Slipknot, Thunderbolts could do better with Aida. 

 I had actually forgotten that Diamondback was dragged off at the end of Luke Cage to be experimented on by the same doctor that gave Luke his powers. Now, it would probably stuff up the next season of Luke Cage to get a super-powered Diamondback in the Thunderbolts, but I would have felt remiss to not include him on the list. 

A mind-controlling Asgardian, what could possibly go wrong? Actually, in the extra material from Secret War, Nick Fury contemplates using the Purple Man to overthrow Latveria without bloodshed, so this isn't too far out of the range of possibility. I doubt Lorelei could really use her powers to escape when the person "firing" her nanochain is halfway across the world. Hey, it's almost like Thunderbolts could have a sexy, female character whose powers actually add something to the mission. Fancy that. 
Absorbing Man
How has this guy not shown up in a Thor film yet? Seriously. I don't need an entire film based around him, but at least have him try and Absorb Mjolnir and get messed up by Thor! Anyway, Absorbing Man is around and probably wants more screen time. Also, what an awesome power set to have on film! Imagine the visuals that could be created when Creel absorbs a chrome bumper, a rubber bouncy ball or even scalding steam to gain a momentary advantage in a fight. 
The Leader 
As with Lorelei above, the Leader probably wouldn't be the best choice for the Thunderbolts, powers-wise, but it would be fun to see the guy back. Perhaps just having the Leader in a cell, planning ops or running simulations with his super-intelligence, would be a bit fun; maybe even shave his head and put a green filter on the camera? 

Zhou Cheng

If you blinked during Iron Fist, you may have missed one of the best fight scenes in the programme. Cheng is probably the best "Drunken Master" I've seen since Jackie Chan filled the role and Lewis Tan is a lot of fun to watch. Cheng also presents an interesting logistical problem for any military operation, in how drunk can you really keep him? He's only really an effective fighter when he's somewhere between sloshed and paralytic, how do you ration that and keep tabs on it in the field? Martial arts are always a fun addition to a team line-up anyway, makes for different, and cheaper, stunts. 

Angar the Screamer
Another interesting character that came and went in Agents of SHIELD, Angar would fill the "Slipknot" role in Thunderbolts perfectly; being not really interesting enough to keep alive for the entire film. Just as the team get going in act two, Angar is killed in action and suddenly the stakes are bigger than they typically are in a Marvel film.

You'll notice that I haven't tried to work in Shocker, Scorpion or Vulture from Spider-man: Homecoming or done a theoretical casting for Songbird or Radioactive Man. This is because the entire point of this Thunderbolts idea is to be both contractually straightforward and cheap to do for Marvel Studios. Hell, The Leader and a handful of the above villains could just as easily be the antagonists for the film as getting actors for new characters would be. 

Unlike some of the more successful Marvel Studio efforts, Thunderbolts doesn't really need a "visionary" director or even one with a strong voice of their own. Anyone competent that can work within the "Dirty Dozen with supervillains" brief would be fine. Perhaps a good action director like Luc Besson, Paul Greengrass or the RZA could bring it together better than an unknown though?  

There we go. That's my big idea. Any thoughts, feedback or doubtful points? Put them in comments below.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Superhero Media: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II - Secret of the Ooze

Remember how good I said the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was? Well this isn't as good, but is still better than I remembered it being. Following on a couple of months from the defeat of the Shredder, the Turtles are living with April and aren't up to much, suffering some major cabin fever now that the Foot Clan aren't tearing around. There's also an element of the Turtles getting older, even though it hasn't been all that long since we met them in the last film, this will get explored more in the third film, which we'll get to in time. These peaceful times, however, won't last long, as the Shredder survived being crushed and is looking for revenge.The diminished Foot start recruiting at martial arts dojos and things get more complicated when a private lab, TGRI, come onto the scene and Splinter reveals the canister that once contained the ooze that mutated them all; a container marked "TGRI". 

The turtles decide to investigate, only to find that TGRI have already destroyed the ooze to cover their tracks, bar one canister, which the turtles are unable to stop the Foot from getting away with. Shredder plans to use the ooze to create his own mutants to battle the turtles, but is betrayed by the captured Professor Perry and ends up with Tokka and Rahzar, strong but infantalised mutants that the turtles can readily outsmart. The puppetry (still Jim Henson) is better in this film, but the fight scenes are not as well choreographed as the original, except perhaps "cold-cut ninja". Casey Jones being absent is a bit of a let-down, but he probably wouldn't have fit the tone as well as the first film. Also, Vanilla Ice raps over the big Turtles/Tokka Rahzar fight at the end, which is, of course, terrible. Seriously, have you listened to any Vanilla Ice lately? He drops references to being a Nazi. I'm not even kidding.

Secret of the Ooze is not as good as the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but is probably the sequel the original deserved. It's not as original, but the technology is better, the story is stronger, but the characters aren't as developed. I actually own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on DVD, but I don't think I'll bother with Secret of the Ooze as it just doesn't do it for me as much as the original or even Turtles Forever. That said, when Heroclix get around to making a Tokka and Rahzar, I'll be certain to grab them for Ultimate Alliance games, maybe even team them up with the Brotherhood of Mutants or put them in my Foot/Hand war game idea. See what I mean about even the bad (or, in this case, not quite as good) superhero films are still filled with ideas that can be used for gaming? Worth checking out if you've never seen it or haven't for years. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Miniatures Finished: 26/09/17

I have plans for a series of Ultimate Alliance games next year, which is steering my painting somewhat. 

 Killer Frost, Rat King and Mr Zsasz. 

 Mandroid Armour, Jocasta and Robin (Damien Wayne).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Superhero Media: Jumper

What is it with this sub-genre that I keep seeing films where the natural protagonist is relegated to secondary status in favour of a bland male who can't drive the plot? Both Kick-Ass films, Man of Steel and even The Dark Knight present a protagonist around whom the narrative does not take place and I'm getting a little sick of it. Let's deal with the elephant in the room first, I actually don't think Hayden Christensen is a terrible actor. Sure, the Star Wars prequels were nothing decent, but in the few places where Christensen gets to act without the stilted dialogue, he's not bad; think about the raid on the Jedi Temple, there's some decent physicality there. Even in Jumper, the first sequence after the credits, with the globe-trotting adventures and enviable lifestyle of the protagonist, Christensen shows that he really knows how to move in the space the camera provides. Shame about the rest of the film. 

The problem with Jumper isn't so much the cast, but the baffling setting and how the film fails to justify it. Naturally, I'm fine with the conceit that some people are born with the ability to "jump", teleport anywhere they can see or visualise, but why are they being hunted by the Catholic Church? Even taking into account the oddball things that the Vatican get up to in comics already (think Preacher, Black Panther or Hellsing), the wholesale genocide of a group of people merely because they can teleport and sometimes steal is pushing it a little. To do this they have access to a wide variety of advanced technology, which can track Jumpers through portals, stop them from jumping and basically whatever the plot needs to happen. Christensen plays David, a Jumper only recently tracked down by the church, whose motivation revolves around his realtionship with a childhood crush and keeping her safe. The other "allied" Jumper is Griffin, a man who saw the church kill his family as a child and slowly wipe out all of his peers over years, staying alive on luck and smarts and planning his revenge. 

Broken record and all that, but why does the story follow David and not Griffin? I'm not saying that a particular actor or part is "better", but why, at a script level, is the better story given to a support character? Who looked at the final draft and thought it was a good decision? As Hollywood is renowned for failing to take any risks, I'm not shocked that the decision was made and the more interesting narrative was sidelined. It made the film a lot worse than it should have been, or at least could have been. I'd actually be quite happy to see a remake of Jumper with the story being more along the lines of Griffin's narrative, because the visual style of the film and the fun that can be had with teleportation as a super power really need another go at being something decent.