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Movie Reviews

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

When this film was first announced, I have to say I was both kind of excited and a little worried. Excited because it looked pretty awesome, worried because, manga to live action adaptations tend to be kind of hit or miss. I also felt like even if it was good, it wouldn’t really have enough mainstream appeal to actually be successful.

While I really liked this movie, its not perfect. It has a lot of weird pacing issues and the ending left a bad taste but the visuals are amazing and the action sequences were all well done. The story is alright as well, though if anything it’s a little overly complex for the duration of the film. In preparation for the film I read through a lot of the original manga. The manga, is sort of a series of separate stories involving Alita, one event happens, then another happens, then another, and so on. The movie is sort of a remix of these stories where they are a bit more intertwined together. This Blending helps make things feel a little more like one big story, but it can make things a little harder to keep track of which characters are important to which storyline.

There are a lot of parts that are pretty faithful to the manga, and others that are toned down and others that seem to be new. For example, the first real story in the manga involves Alita and Ido tracking down a killer who is obsessed with eating people’s brains. The same killer shows up in the movies, but the brains part is removed and his role is expanded a bit so he shows up several times throughout the movie. There is a big set piece of Motorball, which is all in later story elements of the Manga, but in the movie, it’s introduced as a plot device earlier on, and we see less of Alita rising through the ranks of the sport, probably to save time. There are however plenty of other sequences that are lifted directly from the pages of the Manga.

As much as I like that they tried to make things more cohesive, it also kind of hurts the story a lot. Alita’s evolution from innocent little girl amnesiac to bad ass warrior is basically explained away by “mysterious past”. It feels a little unnatural. In the manga, she joins Motorball because she is mad at Ido and upset over a recent personal loss and essentially wants to forget her new past life. In the movie, she joins more “because it’s cool” and vaguely because the winner gets to go to Zalem. That personal loss moment doesn’t occur until the end of the film and she never really turns away from Ido. I found this a little disappointing since Ido and Alita competing against each other’s Motorball teams while pretending to be strangers was kind of a fun bit in the manga.

The next paragraph involves some spoilers for the film. There is also a lot of subplot involving Demi Moore’s character Rose, and the mysterious Nova. I really feel like the parts about Nova should have been seriously toned down or trimmed out, with more emphasis on Vector being the main villain of the film. The plot points for Nova literally go nowhere except to set up a sequel and the plot would have felt more contained without it. Demi Moore also has this weird tendency to just sort of show up a few times, to either be a snide bitch or to help out randomly. She exists to sort of give more backstory for Ido’s connection to Alita, but overall she just sort of feels uselessly tacked into everything.

This leads to my main disappointment with this film, which frankly, is only a disappointment if there is never a sequel. The movie just sort of… ends, with no real resolution. Things are set up for a sequel, but I worry it may not do well enough to get one, leaving the movie with a very meh ending. My one optimistic hope is that that the producer, James Cameron, best known for Avatar and Titanic, two of the largest films ever made, has such a huge hard on for the material that he’s been trying to make this movie for like 20 years. I feel like he may push a sequel out even if this first film is a flop.

One other thing I definitely want to address is the eyes. When the trailers first dropped for this, the one main topic of discussion were Alita’s large eyes. In the actual film, it’s really not an issue, at all for a few reasons. First, a lot of the cast has some sort of cyborg augmentation. Hell off the top of my head, I think there were only a few notable characters who didn’t have some level of cyborg going on. There are character with robot arms, characters with robot skulls, characters with robot legs, there are robot parts, everywhere. That’s part of the world of Iron City, where the film takes place. Also, during some flashbacks of Alita’s past, other characters with these same eyes are shown, which implies that it’s part of where she came from, and not just a gimmick to make her character look more “anime”.

Speaking if Iron City, it’s a really interesting setting for the story. I really like these sort of dystopian future cyberpunk settings, and Alita has a lot of great atmosphere to it. The story takes place in Iron City, which is basically a huge slummy junkyard that sits under the flying sky city of Zalem. Nothing is really shown of Zalem aside from it’s underside. Many of the characters have dreams of reaching this city, which is believed to be some sort of utopian paradise, and it’s a central plot element motivating several of the characters. The lower city is cluttered and crowded and full of cobbled together buildings, constructed from scraps dropped by the city of Zalem.

I also wanted to touch a bit on the violence as well, more for informational purposes than that I really have a problem with it. The movie itself is rated PG-13. There isn’t any sex or nudity, there isn’t a lot of swearing, but it’s fairly violent. The manga is extremely violent. It’s full of pretty detailed art of people getting their heads crushed or brains ripped out and eaten. The movie tones this down quite a bit, but there is still a ton of dismemberment. On one hand, it’s all cyborgs, so, they are “like robots”. Except as “cyborgs”, they ARE people, with robot bits. If a human has his head removed and put on a human body, just because it doesn’t have a bunch of blood, doesn’t mean it’s not a little graphic in nature.

Wrapping up, it’s a good cyberpunk film and manga adaptation. It’s more faithful of an adaptation than some other recent manga adaptations for sure (Ghost in the Shell). That said, it’s based on an old Manga, which means it’s not really going to be everyone’s cup of tea due to some of the cultural oddities that come along with that. It’s visually nice but it’s not nearly as accessible plotwise as say, a Marvel movie. Fans of Sci-Fi and cyberpunk should definitely enjoy it.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Sony is kind of in a weird place with it’s Spider-Man license.  They are working on their third reboot of the series, which is not tied to the MCU which they don’t really own any stake in.  So they have a pretty decent and successful Spider-Man series going now, but it’s technically part of a universe they can’t fully touch.  Take the recent Venom movie, for example.  Venom is pretty tied to Spider-Man, but this new movie itn’t part of the MCU, so that gets a little tricky.

Maybe they don’t really care a lot about continuity.

Maybe they also have just made a bold move that let’s the nor really care about continuity, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.

Into the Spider-Verse is a fantastically animated color fest that does a pretty good job of giving us an Origin story, while also giving us a developed world that lets everything sort of speed along without being yet another slow burn Spider-Man origin.  In fact the movie repeatedly pokes fun at the idea of yet another Origin Story, and how everyone already knows the origin on Spider-Man.  It’s an enjoyable film and I look forward to the eventual sequel and likely spin-offs.

Spoiler Free Thoughts

So, I had an idea of what to expect going into this movie, but I wasn’t super sure it would be that great.  I honestly kind of skip most of the animated comics based stuff these days, more for lack of time than anything.  I kind of worried this was joust going to feel like something that should have been a TV Special or straight to Blu-Ray sort of deal.  Considering how few films I actually see in a theater, that I went at all says something I suppose.

The basic plot follows the origin story of Miles Morales becoming Spider-Man.  It’s not quite the same as his comics origins but it shares some similarities.  So, you might be wondering why there is a Black Spider-man named Miles, he is not new to the Marvel Universe for this film at all.  This isn’t meant to be a detailed run down, but to sort of give you an idea.

Back in the early 2000s, Marvel created the Ultimate Universe.  This was essentially a new Marvel continuity where everything was darker and grittier and the Avengers were known as The Ultimates.  In 2011, Miles Morales was introduced as a new character who was also bitten by a radioactive spider.  Shortly afterwards, Peter Parker of the Ultimate universe was killed and Miles Morales too up the Spider-Man mantel in the Ultimate Universe.  Cut to more recent times, during Marvel’s Secret Wars event.  Basically, Marvel wanted to combine all of it’s various continuities into one continuity to trim the fat off things a bit and simplify everything.  So Secret Wars saw the Ultimate Universe crossing over with the main Earth-616 Continuity.   They used this plot to kill off some versions of heroes, and revive others by replacing them with their dimensional counterparts and just in general slim things down.  Miles Morales Spider-Man however, had become pretty popular, so he was spared and became part of the main Marvel continuity.

There is a lot more to it of course but I’m not really here to give a full history of Marvel Comics.  The real fun of the movie comes from “The Spider-Verse”, and the overall fairly tongue in cheek way it handles itself.  Early in the film, the plot is revealed involving Kingpin trying to open a gateway to other dimensions.  This rift causes several other Spider-folks to cross over into Miles’ world.  Miles being new to the job, gets some help and grief from these other Spider-people and of course, learns to be his own brand of Spider-Man.  We also get a brief history of each of the various other Spideys through little cut away story sequences, though for the most part, three of them are a pretty throw away part of the story.

So, the three throw away Spideys consist of: Spider-Man Noir, a Spider-Man from a 30s world who is a detective and lives in a black and white world; Spider-Ham, a Looney Tunes style anthropomorphic pig complete with Subspace hammers and random anvils; and SP//DR, a futuristic Anime girl who pilots a Spider-Man sort of robot.  These three pretty much exist as comic relief characters once they arrive.  Of the 6 main Spiders, they are probably the most one off anyway.

Most of the story revolves around Miles Morales, Peter Parker, and Gwen Stacey, and mostly Miles Morales and Peter Parker, as Peter shows Miles the ropes of being Spider-Man.  This particular Peter is a little washed up though, so Gwen gives a lot of later pointers and help to both.  I should add, this isn’t really like some training montage of teaching, it’s much more of a trial by fire sort of deal, as Peter and Gwen must work to get control of the dimensional gateway to get back to their own respective universes. 

There are a ton of references to all sort of Spidey things outside the actual Spideys.  Nods to things like the Tobey Maguire movies, several Spider-Man Memes from the old 60s cartoon, the comics themselves make an several appearances as part of the plot.  The whole thing feels very aware of itself while never really acknowledging itself.  It makes for a lot of great jokes and moments. 

It’s also really visually interesting.  It feels like a comic in motion.  Everything is very bright and colorful, and everything looks nice and smooth.  It’s a really great effect that would have never worked in a live action film.  I also like how the different Spideys are different styles as a not to their different universes.  SP//DR looks like an anime cartoon, Spider-Ham looks like a Looney Tunes cartoon, even a brief shot of Spider-Woman in her own world has a differently styled background that more matches what the Spider-Gwen comic looks like.

Spoilery Thoughts

So moving on to a little more actual detail.  I have to say, I really enjoyed the villains.  Granted, they were fairly throw away in the case of Scorpion and Tombstone and Goblin, Prowler and Doc Ock were both pretty cool.   I don’t know if lady Octavius appears in any comics, though I suspect she does, it was a twist I didn’t see coming since I wasn’t familiar with the source material.  While we’re on the subject of twists, I also didn’t know about the Prowler thing, though when it was being set up, it felt really obvious.  Prowler overall really shines and feels pretty menacing.  I really liked all of his moments and it’s a shame he didn’t get more screen time.

Then there’s Kingpin.  I, kind of hated Kingpin.   I have just come off of wrapping up Daredevil on Netflix, I definitely never expected Kingpin to be Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, but this Kingpin was so outlandishly cartoonish, I found him a little hard to take seriously.  Don’t get me wrong, every character in this is highly stylized, but Kingpin’s microscopic head and massive body is outlandish even by the stylization of this universe.  His design felt more out of place than Penny Parker, who was literally designed like a 2D anime girl.

I also really enjoyed the contrasting Peter Parkers.  Peter from Miles’ universe is basically peak Spider-Man.  Getting to see him in action was also great, because he’s just full on Spider-Man.  No dark angst or worry and conflict, just Spidey being Spidey.  Then we get to meet Midlife Crisis Spider-Man, commonly called Fat Spider-Man.   There is so much nuance going on here that work so well.  He’s out of shape and doesn’t really care, but when it counts, he still just does what he does.  He’s been in the game long enough that everything is second nature, but he also has been doing it long enough he’s kind of become jaded and apathetic.

Then there’s Spider-Woman who sort of contrasts between Miles and Peter (Fat Peter, amazing Peter dies early on).  She is still kind of a rookie at being Spider-Woman, but she is driven and confident in her abilities.  I also particularly liked how both Peter and Gwen basically just accepted everything, because they have already been through plenty.

This does bring up some bits that almost felt like they should have been addressed.  Maybe a director’s cut could add them, and maybe they got dropped because the writer’s didn’t want to complicate things.  Maybe it wasn’t addressed because it would be kind of creepy since Fat Peter is like 40 and Gwen Stacy is something like 15 or 16.  Basically, Peter and Gwen never really acknowledge their relationships with their alternate selves.  There is a sub plot involving Fat Spider-Man and the alternate Mary-Jane Watson too, so it’s not completely off the table.  Gwen mentions that she couldn’t save her friend, spoiler, Spider Gwen basically killed her Peter while he was The Lizard, but doesn’t really seem weirded out by meeting an older version of her dead friend.  Meanwhile we get no history from Peter and any Gwen Stacy he may have known.  Gwen Stacy dying is kind of a big moment for some versions of Spider-Man. 

Otherwise, I really have no real complaints about the movie.  It does a great job of just rolling with everything and assuming we either already know or can figure it out.  The crossover mix nature of the plot is great too because it keeps the origin story of Miles Morales from being being, because we get several experienced and capable Spideys to watch instead.  I almost wish they would do a Spider-Gwen movie now, because I really enjoy that book and enjoyed her presence in the movie.  There is a post credits scene that sets up more cross universe shenanigans so I’m sure the sequel will bring her back.  Hopefully it will give us more Midlife Crisis Spider-Man too.

Review – Movie – Monster Trucks

So, I’m kind of a stupid sucker for this sort of thing. Kind of dumb movies based on dumb concepts. Monster Trucks really feels like one of those, in a meeting, guy says “What about, trucks, possessed by MONSTERS. And we could call it…. MONSTER TRUCKS. This is a Nickelodeon film and rated PG, so it’s pretty sanitary in it’s story and presentation. You’re not going to get much more than what you might expect. There’s quite a few faces that you’ll recognize in here as well, though the stars are Lucas Till, from MacGuyver as “Handsome outcast loser kid” and Jane Levy as “Nerdy Girl Love Interest”.

Some spoilerish thoughts and then a less spoilery wrap up beyond that.

Plot Summary

The film starts off with an oil company discovering an underground water source during a drilling operation. After penetrating the tunnels, a mysterious creature escapes from the well (several actually). They capture at least one creature and another hides inside a company truck that was crushed during the explosion.

A few notable characters are introduced, there’s a couple of Oil company people, a corporate jerk and a couple of science folks and there is this animal tracker/exterminator/tough dude hired by the Oil company. Honestly, their names aren’t super important, they are all pretty much just the characters you’d think of in these rolls existing. It’s clear they all basically exist to serve as plot foils for our hero in various ways.

Enter our hero, Tripp (MacGuyver). We get a brief introduction sequence, he seems to be kind of the loner stereotype though he doesn’t really look it, his mom and dad are divorced (the dad was working at the oil field) and his mom seems to be dating the town Sheriff. He also works at the local junk yard with Danny Glover in a wheelchair. The junked Oil company truck is dropped off and Tripp is rather excited by the prospect of taking the engine from it for his junker old timey project truck.

He soon discovers there is more to their truck after finding some missing oil, and later luring out the giant tentacled monster who has been drinking said oil. Around this time the Oil Company enforcer dude shows up with some goons. The monster sneaks off and hides inside Tripp’s Junker truck, where he remains for most of the movie. This also crates our first… Monster Truck. Tripp tells the goons to go ahead and search around while he pushes the truck and the monster out of the garage, where he runs into Jane Levy, who was coming by to help him out with some studying.

The monster starts acting up and she discovers the monster. With the goons quickly approaching they jump in the truck and the monster drives it off. They arrive at Meredith’s place (Jane Levy), where Tripp fixes up the truck so the monster and drive it better.

They take the Monster Truck out for a spin around town and to feed on some gasoline, only to discover gasoline kind of makes the Monster go kind of nutty. After some hi-jinks in the streets they end up ad Tripp’s dad’s place to get some more input on what happened with the Oil Field accident. His dad however rats them out to the Oil Company Goons. After a dramatic chase escape between the Truck, the Goons and the Sheriff, they end up at another place run by Meredith’s family, a cabin out in the woods.

You see kids, this is how we know she likes him, because she keeps hanging out with him and his crazy truck, despite all of the peril they keep getting involved with.

Through this whole crazy escapade, we’ve gotten a few glimpses at the Oil company scientist guy. It seems that he has two additional monsters help in captivity. After some testing, he finds that the monsters are smart and able to communicate telepathically with each other. He also greatly objects to the Oil Exec dude’s plan to kill the creatures so they can get on with drilling up Oil.

So the next morning Tripp and Meredith wake up to find that the monster as left. Fortunately, Meredith’s affections for Tripp are apparently creepier than they have been coming off because she has an app on her phone that is able to track Tripp’s phone, which is in the truck. Creepy much? Tripp doesn’t bat an eye at the fact that she has apparently been secretly stalking him using her cell phone. I mean tracking apps usually need special permissions, which would suggest at some point she snuck this app on her phone.

They track the monster to a facility owned by the Oil Execs and discover the other two creatures. Unfortunately, it was a trap and they are all ambushed and taken prisoner by the Oil Company guys. While being escorted off the premises, Meredith and Tripp are picked up by the Scientist guy, who wants to help the monsters escape so they don’t get killed. The scientists suggests they need to get the monsters back to the vent in the oil field so they can return home. But they need some way to move them fast.

Which brings us to… more… Monster Trucks.

Specifically, they essentially steal a couple of other trucks, rip out the engines and modify them using more stolen parts from a car dealer. But it’s for a good cause, or something.

Our heroes hijack the semi transporting the monsters and meet up with their newly hollowed out trucks. We get an action packed cross country race through the woods and up a mountain to the dig site, and some unexpected help from the Sheriff and our family of monsters is safely returned home. Everyone gets a nice feel good ending.

Thoughts

Ok, so yeah, this movie is definitely designed for a younger audience and it’s a Nick film. Most of the characters are all as a result pretty much cookie cutter stereotypes. The basic plot is… honestly pretty solid, as well as it’s execution. This is accepting the idea of tentacle monsters that like to control trucks is a thing. The real flaw of this film is that it’s a story that’s been done before, Kid (ok, the heroes are like 18 or something but you get the idea), kid finds alien/creature/sea animal and befriends it, corporate/government goons want to stop/kill said creature/alien, usually for “reasons” that amount to “they are the bad guys”. This movie doesn’t break any new ground. It’s still a pretty fun movie, and the special effects are pretty good as are the goofy stunts.

It’s not going to win any awards, but there are worse movies to watch and younger kids will get a kick out of the whole thing for sure.

 

Review – Movie – The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Spoiler Free Thoughts and Review

The Incredible Hulk seems to be a really hard hero to get right for movies.  He’s had a few of them and even a live action TV series in the 80s.  The Incredible Hulk is sort of the redheaded stepchild of the MCU.  It came out just after Iron Man.  It’s technically sort of part of the MCU, but no one really remembers or cares that it’s part of the MCU.  Part of this confusion is the change in actors from the movie and his next appearance in The Avengers.  They traded out Edward Norton for Mark Ruffalo.  This particular movie also exists in a weird space since it’s technically a sequel to the 2003 Ang Lee film simply called Hulk.  The rumors and stories I’ve read are that Norton was kind of a bear to work with on the whole thing and had a hand in altering a lot of the script until it was much less of a sequel and more of a reboot.  It doesn’t really directly contradict Ang Lee’s Hulk, but it doesn’t reference it either.  This is also part of why they dropped Norton for Ruffalo.

A lot of the problem with Hulk is that the exciting part, IE the big green monster, is boring and hard from a story perspective.  He’s not really a hero, he doesn’t really go around saving people really, he just gets mad and rages, and hopefully he’s raging against someone more evil than he is.  The part that works for the story, Bruce Banner, is kind of boring from a movie perspective.  It’s not super easy to depict “inner turmoil” on screen, which is part of what makes the Hulk and Banner who they are.

This film also is treated by the greater MCU the same way it treats it’s Ang Lee predecessor.  It’s not really acknowledge, it’s not really rejected.  It does seem to be kind of a goto reference for the TV MCU though.  Ironic since the TV MCU is also ignored by the movies.  Daredevil and Iron Fist make references to the final battle in Harlem, Agents of SHIELD makes references to Emil Blonsky a few times.

It’s an alright film, but I kind of prefer the Ang Lee vision of Hulk and frankly, I don’t really like Edward Norton as Banner.

Synopsis and Spoilers

The plot starts off with Banner working and hiding in Mexico, working at a soda bottling plant.  He’s communicating with Samuel Sterns, a scientist in the states, anonymously working to find a cure for his Hulkness.  During an accident, he accidentally cuts himself and some of his blood lands in one of the sodas which ends up giving Gamma Poisoning to poor Stan Lee.  This leads the military to Banner’s location.  They recruit special forces agent Emil Blonsky to head in and capture Banner.  After some Fitbit advertisements where Banner’s heart rate keeps increasing during his escape from the military, he finally Hulks out and battles it out with the soldiers before making his escape.

Jealous of the Hulk’s power, Blonsky gets injected with some experimental super soldier serum to help beef himself up and help him go up against the unstoppable force that is The Hulk.  Banner returns to the states to meet up with his old girlfriend Betty Ross, daughter of General Ross, who is leading the military charge against him.  Bruce wants to recover the data from the original experiment that transformed him into The Hulk to better help Dr. Sterns  find a cure.  Unfortunately for Banner, the Military has been alerted to his presence.  Hulk rears his raging face again and makes short work of the military forces, including Blonsky, despite his newfound strength.  Hulk flees with Betty after The Hulk “kills” Blonsky.

Bruce and Betty finally meet up with Samuel Sterns, who was able to formulate a cure, but possibly a faulty cure.  They administer the cure to Banner and afterwards General Ross, Blonsky and the military show up yet again and take Banner into custody.  After Ross heads out with Banner, Blonsky forces Dr. Stern to inject him with Banner’s blood.  The super soldier serum and the Hulk blood have a negative interaction and Blonsky is transformed into the classic Hulk nemesis, Abomination, who starts rampaging through Harlem.  General Ross agrees to let Banner go because the Hulk is the only one who can stop The Abomination.  After the two brutes trash out the city, prompting Wilson Fisk to leverage his power to rebuild things in his vision for control (no wait, wrong show), The Abomination is defeated and things come to a close.

Banner is later shown to be living in seclusion again and Tony Stark shows up to talk to General Ross in vague terms about the Avengers.

How it’s Connected

Aside from Robert Downy Jr’s cameo at the end, there’s not a whole lot else that comes up later.  There aren’t any references to The Absorbing Man in the first movie, there aren’t any Infinity Stones or much SHIELD even.  The events that take place in Harlem are mentioned in the Netflix Defenders shows some, primarily because those shows mostly take place in and around Harlem.  Though I find it kind of odd that the major event everyone talks about is Hulk and not, you know, the literal alien invasion and Avengers.  The Super Soldier serum theme is here, that of course relates to Captain America, Agent Carter, and a few bits in Agents of SHIELD.

Thoughts on What’s Next

There hasn’t been a straight followup for The Hulk, he shows up again in the later Avengers films and the upcoming Thor Ragnarok, but nothing new in terms of a solo film.  There is/was clearly some plan though, during the scene when Samuel Sterns turns Blonsky into the Abomination, he too gets infected by the Hulk Blood and his head starts mutating.  In the comics, Samuel Sterns is a smart dude with a big head villain named Leader.  Someone was pushing for this angle, though at this point it’s clearly gone nowhere.

Final Notes

The Incredible Hulk is an ok though pretty forgettable part of the greater MCU.  It’s not an awful movie, it just sort of, is.  Hulk is just sort of a hard guy to really do justice in film.

Review – Movie – Warcraft (2016)

I have to say, I was pretty excited to see the Warcraft movie.  I don’t currently play World of Warcraft but I got pretty deep into the game in recent years.  I played all of the original Warcraft games back in the day as well, especially Warcraft 2.  I also enjoy films such as The Lord of the Rings, which kind of felt like the same idea, a large sweeping epic.

Ultimately, I ended up really let down by this movie.  I’m not sure that it’s really a bad movie, it’s just not particularly amazing, despite the pretty impressive visuals.  The entire film, something just felt really off.  I worry a bit that my experience with the video game series was part of the reason for the sense of distraction I felt throughout the movie.  Warcraft isn’t a straight retelling of the Warcraft story, it’s simply, heavily influence by the lore.

It’s also important to know that the movie Warcraft is intended to be based more on the video game Warcraft, that old RTS game, and not World of Warcraft or the books.  This feels like it shouldn’t be notable, but it is, because World of Warcraft has expanded and mildly retconned things to make them work for it’s story.  It’s also worth pointing out because the original Warcraft didn’t exactly have an amazing, deep story.  Orcs come through the Dark Portal, Orca and Humans battle it out in a series of medieval battles.

All of the proper players are present on both sides, Gul’dan, Doomhammer, Blackhand, King Wrynn, Lothar, Medivh, Khadgar are all characters who would have had some hand in the events of this time period of the Lore.  The movie shows the Orcs baely leaving the area around the Dark Portal, though the game was a large war across several regions and Stormwind was eventually raided by Orcs.  I mostly wanted to mention this because the movie presents a really odd mix of set up for sequels while not quite explaining things that really could be important later in sequels.

The main set up element is Durotan’s Orc baby, who makes several appearances in the film though doesn’t do much, since he is a baby.  This baby orc, in the Lore will grow up to be Thrall, aka Green Jesus, who is the first leader and founder of the modern Horde.  The real missed opportunities though come from what feels like the complete omission of anything before the orcs enter the portal at the start of the movie.

I really feel like even a narrated montage of events leading up to why the Orcs are entering the portal would have really helped.  There isn’t any mention of Sargeras or the Burning Legion that I recall, though Fel Energy is a large part of the plot.  There also isn’t any mention of Grom Hellscream.  Grom isn’t part of the “First War” featured in this film, but he was the first Orc to be corrupted by the Blood of Mannoroth which lead to the downfall and corruption of the Orcs.  He later becomes friends with Thrall and in general is a very pivotal character in many later plot elements.  He is also the father of Garrosh Hellscream, though it would take a dozen movies to get to the events that make Garrosh Hellscream important.  Maybe the plan is to tell his story with flashbacks in a later film.

Like I said, the little things like this kept coming up as distractions, which may have tainted my enjoyment of the film, though there’s definitely more to it.  It’s easy to compare this movie to The Lord of the Rings, both are grand tales of high fantasy with a large following of fans.  Visually the effects, especially the orcs look great, but there’s also this odd factor where everything just feels extremely clean, TOO clean.  You never really get the feel for the grittiness of the war, it just feels, much like the original game, like an excuse to have some Orcs and Humans fight each other.

The other major problem is the schizoid all over the place plot.  This is also part of where a bit more fleshing out of the back story would have really helped a lot.  Giving us some better glimpses as to the corruption that seduced Gul’Dan and Medivh would have gone a long way to show the motivation behind these two.  A montage sequence at the opening of the power of Sargeras (effectively, the devil), and the Burning Legion, and their quest for power and how it led to the fall of the once peaceful and noble Orcs would have done a lot to make characters like Durotan and Garona, who question the actions of their people, more sympathetic.  Instead the movie just opens on a giant portal and Gul’dan sucking the life from a bunch of blue people to power said portal.  No real premise provided.

Ultimately, while I did find this film disappointing, I accept that the early Lore of the Warcraft universe is in fact, kind of bland.  There’s set up in this movie to eventually to run through Thrall’s story, which could easily have interweaving bits setting up the story of Arthas.  Both of these events are really good plot lines and would make incredible movies.  I just hope that the poor performance of this film doesn’t hurt the chances for sequels, because I’d love to see Thrall’s time as a gladiator and his eventual creation of the Horde on the big screen.  I’d definitely love to see the fall of Arthas as well, as his story is such a tragic tale that would work well as a movie.  While Warcraft kind of falls flat as a film, I’m holding out hope that things can get better in some sequels.  It’s just so bad this weak initial story pretty much has to be told first, since it’s the foundation of everything else

Review – Movie – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

So, the first Michael Bay Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action movie kind of got a lot of flack.  To be fair, though, it’s not actually directed by Michael Bay, it’s just produced, so it’s not as awful of a live action remake as The Transformers movies are, it was however quite a departure from what people think of when they think Ninja Turtles.

The second film in this series is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and it seems to be the answer to what a lot of people wanted and expected from the first movie.  Where TMNT is an updated modern take on the basic Turtles vs The Foot idea, Out of the Shadows is a very blatant tribute and Nostalgia fest for the original 80s TMNT cartoon show.   It actually kind of feels a little sad with just how blatant of a tribute it is.

Rocksteady and Bebop? Check!

The Turtle Van?  Check!

Krang? Check!

Baxter Stockman?  Check!

The Technodrom?  Check!

Also, unlike a lot of remakes and updates, things stay fairly true to the original, or at least, much more aligned with the spirit of the original.  Rocksteady and Bebop for example, are pretty unmistakable.  Krang is a little weird but still very much is obviously Krang with his goofy robot body.  Baxter Stockman follows the original comic and modern show versions of being African American instead of a goofy white guy with orange hair, but he’s still a goofy scientist.

This movie very much feels like a response to the “This isn’t the Turtles I remember” complaints of the first TMNT film.

Honestly, I kind of feels like it makes the film better.  I didn’t hate the original TMNT, but the nostalgia level of Out of the Shadows definitely does it’s job.

The biggest fault of this film is the some what flimsy plot.  It’s not awful, but there’s quite a few “what” moments, one of them is a pretty crucial hinge to everything.  Early on in the film, The Shredder is rescued by The Foot, amidst the rescue, he is suddenly kidnapped by Krang, who wants to recruit The Shredder to gather several McGuffin devices in order to open a portal from Dimension X so Krang can take over The Earth.  Very Classic 80s Cartoon to be sure.  It’s just very, sudden, however with zero build up.  It’s just suddenly “Hey, giant brain man, let’s work together”.  It kind of feels like it could have been massaged a little bit on the flow.

There’s also a subplot involving Casey Jones tracking down Rocksteady and Bebop which feels pretty superfluous to the everything.  It seems to exist entirely so create an excuse to throw Casey Jones into the movie.  He basically fills the role of Vernon from the first TMNT, someone for April O’Neal to pal around with when she isn’t hanging out with the turtles.

There’s also an ooze subplot that goes nowhere after Rocksteady and Bebop become a thing.  That is, it’s there to mutate Rocksteady and Bebop, which is fine, but then it lingers around a bit until the end where a choice is made, one that never really felt like it had any appropriate build up to actually give it any meaningful impact.

The real bottom line is that the plot, or plots aren’t awful ideas, it’s more that there’s just too much crammed into one film, and as a result, nothing gets fleshed out to any meaningful level.  Maybe I’m looking for too much from a movie about giant martial artist turtles, but I can’t help but think that maybe, splitting things out a across a couple of films would have helped solidify everything a bit better, giving us something much better than what we got.  Maybe run with Shredder being rescued and meeting with a shadowy unknown, creating Bebop and Rocksteady and introducing Casey Jones as more of an antagonist and foil, then keeping Krang and the idea of being forced to live “In the Shadows” as a plot for a third connected film.

Review – Movie – Logan (2017)

The latest and supposedly last outing for Wolverine, or at least, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Logan is one of the better comic book movies we’ve had for sure, though not totally flawless.  Most of my complaints with this movie however stem more from how sloppy Fox has been with the X-men universe continuity, and not so much with the film itself.  Much like the previous Wolverine movie, The Wolverine, this film pretty much exists in a vacuum from the other movies in the series.  There’s a vague underlying theme about how awful Logan’s existence is because, while he never dies, everything he cares about eventually does.  There’s also a brief mention of “The Statue of Liberty” which is a throwback to the original X-men when Hugh Jackman took up the role, but it felt more like an Easter egg than a plot point.

It also brings up the question of “Where does this fall in continuity”.  Is it the old time line or the new timeline?  If he mentioned the Statue of Liberty from the first X-men, that would imply this is old timeline, except there are a few little nods to the new timeline, like the return of the mutant Caliban seen briefly in X-men Apocalypse.   Or the point about how there haven’t been any new mutants in something like 25 years, which seems contradictory to X-men 3, which showed us some future where there were clearly some young mutants in the school.

Nitpicky continuity stuff aside, the movie starts off a little rough but ends up on a pretty good note overall.  It’s also worth noting that this movie, like Deadpool, is definitely rated R.  Where Deadpool was more R rated for it’s crude sexual jokes, Wolverine gets it’s rating for language, a lot of gory violence, and one moment of very, very brief, non sexual nudity.  I only bring this up really because it’s worth noting in case anyone wants to take their 9 year old to the film and because it kind of felt a little unnecessary.  I hate to sound like some sort of grump over language, but given the history of the X-men franchise and the character, adding in a bunch of “fucks” almost makes some of the characters seem out of character and all of the extra goriness on the claw slashing didn’t really add a lot to the plot.

It all also felt a bit out of place as the movie progressed and more and more of Laura and her backstory, the young girl tagging along with Wolverine, became the focus of the film.  It’s like hey, here’s a bunch of kids going completely psycho in the movie violent way possible because “Edgy cool”.

The whole film also does a pretty effective job of being a bit of an emotional roller coaster, as everyone around poor Logan seems to get harmed or killed by the people following them.  Not to mention Logan himself, who is not anywhere near peak form as the poisoning in his body from his Adamantium skeleton is finally getting the best of him.  He’s feeling a lot of pain, his claws don’t always work, and he isn’t quite healing as well as he used to.  It certainly helps give some urgency to the character.  The regular X-men movies usually managed to write off Wolverine when Magneto was around, since Wolverine can’t do anything to Magneto, The Wolverine had Logan under the influence of some poison that suppressed his abilities, I guess something needs to be done to make a guy who can’t be harmed interesting (see also The Hulk).

The core of the movie is about the interaction between Logan, Laura and Xavier as they run from a band of pretty bland bad guys.  They are involved in Laura’s past, but they are essentially just an extension, spin off or figure version of Alkali and Stryker’s band, that same old repeating thread.  There is also Weapon 24, who is the main baddie for Wolverine to battle.  It’s not super clear what makes this guy so special other than “He’s like Wolverine only extra feral” and ultimately is pretty much a throw away nobody who only exists as someone who can stand toe to toe with Wolverine and not get killed in 1 claw swipe.

Laura manages to be an interesting character, despite being mute for much of the film.  The aged Charles Xavier is also incredibly likable in this movie, though his purpose and point isn’t super clear to the big picture.  He’s basically become a super powered senile old mutant, he has some mysterious vaguely explained crisis from the past, and serves as a father figure to Logan who in turn serves as a father figure to Laura, which makes a fun dynamic, but also felt like there were some pieces missing to help explain, at the very least, why Logan hadn’t just put him out of his misery already.  I mean I get that they are old friends, but he really feels like he is suffering with no possible recovery, if Logan really cared he could have saved both of them a lot of trouble a long time ago by giving him a quiet quick send off.  I know that sounds cruel but in the context of the film world presented, it honestly isn’t.

But alas, now I’m getting off on a tangent, and running a bit long.  Logan really is a good film, it’s definitely the best of the Wolverine trilogy, though I’m not sure that it’s quite the best X-men film.  It’s also a nice send off to Wolverine while also serving as an origin story for X-23, Wolverine’s replacement.

Review – Movie – The Wolverine

I’m feeling a little lost on the logic behind the X-Men movies, just a bit.  I mean there’s the original X-men trilogy, then there’s the new timeline X-men, then there’s these Wolverine movies sprinkled in.  The Wolverine definitely takes place after X-men 3, since there’s these little flashes of Famke Janssen as Jean Grey and references to X-men 3.  What it doesn’t really reference at all is Origins: Wolverine, which is sort of the actual predecessor film.  Actually aside from the few almost unneeded references to X3, The Wolverine feels really isolated from the rest of the X-men universe.  The setting, all of the other mutants, the villain, it all feels like it exists in a vacuum.

This kind of hurts this movie quite a bit.  It’s an interesting setting and story, but there’s this little back of the mind nag that says “Where is everyone else?”  There’s no Sabertooth, though technically he died in X1, something that could have been explained away.  I mention Sabertooth because he would have been the obvious thread to tie this film a bit to Origins: Wolverine, since he was such a centerpiece of that movie’s plot and character development.    Still, there’s also not really any mention of Xavier’s school, or Storm or Rogue or anyone Wolverine has been fighting with for years.  Instead we get a little opening bit involving Wolverine getting pissy at some hunters for poisoning a bear.  This all felt like a wasted chance to tie this into the bigger picture better.  It would have been expensive to drop cameos from everyone in the X-men universe but dropping in a couple of the lesser know (cheaper) actors for a bit at the beginning at the school then having Yukio pick him up from there would have worked much better.

Instead we get hunters and a story in a vacuum despite having all these little bits happening around it.

Aside from that issue, what about the film itself.  There’s definitely a different tone to these single character movies than the larger X-men films, The focus is Wolverine, all the way, he’s always present and the whole plot revolves around his burdens and life and what makes him tick.  Most of the film takes place in Japan, as Logan is invited by an old friend who is on his death bed, wishing to thank Logan for saving his life many years ago during WW2.  There’s a lot of fish out of water element to this story, as the rough and tumble Wolverine navigates through the orderly Japanese landscape.

There’s a lager plot at work however, and Wolverine gets a bit of a taste for life without his healing ability, which makes things complicated during his battles.  The fight sequences are probably the best part of this film, and they are numerous.  There’s definitely a very Asian cinema style creeping into things here, and not just because of the setting.  The camera work and choreography of the fights are all much more stylistic in nature.  Wolverine’s feral fighting style definitely shows it’s difference from the much more fluid martial arts methods employed by his opponents.  It’s a nice chance of pace in these films really and is handles pretty nicely given the different fighting techniques.

Really the entire movie kind of feels like an excuse to get Wolverine to fight Ninjas.

There’s also the romance sub plot.  It seems a bit relevant to mention the plotline of this movie is lifted a bit from a comic plot line, though it involved a few more other X-men, a lot of the surrounding characters are there.  Mariko in the comics is one of Wolverine’s sometimes love interests.  In fact the comic some of the events of this film are inspired from draw involved the X-men gathering for a wedding between the two.  In this movie however, their romance feels, and is, really rushed, especially considering the climax amounts to Wolverine staging a rescue of his captured love.  Considering he didn’t even want to come to Japan originally and only planned to stay for a day originally, it seems a little out there that he essentially is willing to run somewhat recklessly into this rescue attempt.

This is compounded more by the really pointless Jean Grey scenes spliced in randomly.

Which also brings up another dodgy bit on the plot side, it’s never really shown well what connects Logan and Yashida Wolverine is just sort of in Japan during Hiroshima, for unclear reasons, saves this one random Japanese soldier from a nuclear blast, for which he is clearly grateful, and then as near as the story tells us, they have not seen each other since.  Its understandable Yashida would want to thank Logan one last time before his death, it’s not super clear why Logan should or would care.  Not to mention that part of Logan’s character is that he can’t really remember anything from his past, which presumably would include that time he saved some random Japanese guy.  I mean he didn’t seem to remember his actual blood brother during the first X-men movie, one whom he fought along side during WW2 if the Origins opening is to be believed, but hey, random Japanese business guy.

So yeah, there’s a lot of off points on the plot, and the film feels like it is completely disconnected from the X-men universe, aside from the one thread that feels like a random after thought.  I will give it a good point though, the effects are much better than Origins: Wolverine.  The action is also really great with a good Asian style going on with things.  One thing I will also add, there could be some redemption with the upcoming Logan film, if it bothers to reference anything in this film.  Part of the plot involved taking Logan’s power away and transferring it to another, now we get Logan, with Old Wolverine, maybe he has aged as a side effect of what happened during this film?  I’m not sure if they are organized enough on these movies to make the pieces feel like part of the same puzzle unfortunately.