Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Comic Book Movies 2017

So I've now seen, I think, all comic book movies for the year. I didn't see the latest Transformers or My Little Pony, which certainly have comics based on them, but didn't start that way. And even if they had, I still would have missed them. I'm not sure there's ever been a good Transformers movie (maybe the first one) and My Little Pony just isn't my cup of tea.

It was not a pretty good year for comic book movies. There were also nothing that I would consider an abomination before God (see: Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse). So even the bottom of the list was still a reasonably entertaining movie, if not flawed.

So, here we go. This is my list. Your mileage may vary:

8. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Any other year this is a perfectly fine movie, and it's flaws would be annoying, but not impossible to overcome. But it suffers from not being as surprising, which the first Kingsman was, and from bloat and poor story decisions. The deaths in the first Kingsman were shocking and served the story. In this one they were...actively annoying. Plus they criminally underused Halle Berry.

It really felt like they needed to another pass on the script to tighten it up. But on the upside it was nice to see an actual romance happening in the movie. And the Elton John cameo was pretty fun.

7. Lego Batman

I don't think there all that much wrong with the movie, actually. I just don't think I was the target market for it. Which as a geek who loves comics and Lego may sound weird. But even with all the pop culture references thrown in (I'm not sure how many 7-year-olds are going to be thrilled to see Voldemort and the Eye of Sauron as cameos), it still skews pretty young. And its message is delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Which is fine, it's a kids movie.

But it's telling that we bought the movie but haven't been in any hurry to rewatch it. Batman was a great part of the first movie, but maybe a little Batman goes a long way in the Lego world.

6. Justice League

On the upside, it's not the complete disaster that I thought it was firmly tracking to be. It had every right to be one. Zach Snyder has had virtually no clue how to handle DC characters and his departure from the film for tragic personal reasons should have been one more nail in the coffin. Instead, thanks largely to Josh Whedon's touch, it's a perfectly watchable blockbuster. Deeply flawed, mind you. The pacing is all over the place and Stephenwolf doesn't even count as a F-level villain to rally the heroes to fight. I'm a pretty decent-sized DC comics fan and until this movie I'd never heard of the character. So there's that.

The best that can said for the movie is that it's a soft reset of the DC Extended Universe. Snyder brought the cool, but he never brought the fun. There were a couple of scenes, especially towards the end, that made me want to jump up and go "See, that's who they're supposed to be!" The movie is tracking to be a disappointment at the box office, but it's the first DCEU movie that's given me hope that they're on the right path for future stories. Stick around for both in-credit scenes. One is funny. The other is deeply intriguing.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

If Kingsman suffered from not being a surprise and being bloated, so did GotG2, it just handled it better. The first GotG was such a shock, even to me, that I still can't believe they pulled off a great movie from D-list characters. It's impossible to match the surprise of the first one, so director James Gunn falls into the semi-predictable trap of trying to just give more....all over the place. Scenes run longer than they should, there are too many plots going on and, of course, the ridiculous number of end credit scenes.

Having said that, when it works, it works. Yondu is by far the most interesting character in this movie. The opening sequence is great and the last scene is genuinely moving. And you want to see more of them. Now that the "mystery" of Peter Quill's dad is over with and, presumably, the Infinity Stones storyline, it'll be interesting to see what they do in the third movie.

4. Wonder Woman

I will commit the small sacrilege of saying this is not the greatest movie of the year. In fact, I'd consider it mid-tier Marvel in a historical complex. It's just the minor miracle that Warner Bros./DC finally managed to make a good DCEU movie that kind of makes its accomplishments overblown. So what's my problem with it? Well, the third act is a special effects nightmare, don't get me started on defeating the God of War by beating him up, and I'm still deeply annoyed that they completely cut any reference to the Greek goddesses in her origin. There are two versions of Diana's origin kicking around....that the Greek goddesses gave her powers and life, and that she's a demi-goddess daughter of Zeus. For such a feminist icon character, I prefer the former.

But obviously there's a lot to love here. The relationship between Steve and Trevor is great. The Amazons are spectacular and the No Man's Land Scene remains the most emotionally powerful action sequence of any movie so far this year. And Gal Gadot is a treasure. Wonder Woman's quality and it's success make it one of the most culturally important movies of the year. I'm thrilled it did well and look forward to the sequel in 2019. Mainly because I can't wait to see when they're given more room to cut loose. And hopefully design a non-stupid third act.

3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Exactly no one was in a hurry for another Spider-Man after one mediocre (Amazing Spider-Man 1) and two head pounding against the wall pieces of shit (Spider-Man 3, Amazing Spider-Man 2). But then Marvel and Sony struck a deal. If you ever want proof of what Marvel does looks simple but is in fact phenomenally hard, compare this movie to Sony's last three failed attempts. Marvel knows what's it doing.

It took guts to go "You know what, you know his origin and about Uncle Ben so we're not even going to mention it." Let's cast an actor who looks like he could be in high school and not attending its 10th anniversary reunion. Let's make Queens actually look multi-cultural. And how about making the Vulture....The Vulture... a scary and culturally relevant villain.

It's a fun movie with a charming cast. Yeah, I'm not overly fond of souping up Spider-Man's suit so that he's Iron Man Jr. at times, but it's a forgivable sin and explained well and funny in the context of the movie. Marvel remembered that Spider-Man is supposed to a fun, lovable loser. You'd think that would be an easy trick to master, but the last three Spider-Man movies say otherwise.

2. Thor: Ragnarok

Look, it's funny. Every review says that this movie brings the funny. Up until now the funniest Marvel movies have been Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel-but-not-really Deadpool. This is funnier than both of them. How you make a funny movie about the apocalypse does take some skill, and director Taika Waititi has it in abundance. Thank god someone watched Ghostbusters and realised that Chris Helmsworth is better as a comedic actor than as a dramatic one. Plus, everyone else looks like they're having a blast.

But the awesome thing about the movie is all the subtle little things the movie also manages to get in there. Hela's rage about how Odin covered up everything the two of them did together to make Asgard. "You never asked where the gold came from!" Which is a lovely shot at colonialism and as Waititi is of indigenous descent, he would know a thing or two about it. And there may well be no spectacularly gay scene this year than Valkyrie strutting across the Rainbow Bridge with fireworks exploding behind her. My sole annoyance with the movie is cutting a scene which shows a woman coming out her chambers.

It's a fun movie, with great action scenes and some subtext. It makes me want to see Waititi do another Thor movie (maybe with a female Thor, as is now in the comics. That hammer is just lying around, even if it's currently in pieces). Can't say I ever thought I would want another Thor movie before this.

1. Logan

For a beloved character Wolverine has had very few good cinematic experiences. The first X-Men was pretty good. X-Men 2 was great. Days of Future Past was pretty good. That's about it. After that most of his appearances have been blah, terrible or frustrating. The Wolverine, for example, took perhaps his best story based on the classic Claremont/Miller story of the 80s and absolutely lobotomised it in the third act. They cut a scene with Wolverine fighting a hundred ninjas, for god's sake, but left in an idiotic CGI fight was a giant samurai robot.

But Logan does a whole bunch of things right, finally, for Hugh Jackman's swan song. It's R-rated so they don't have to play cute with the violence. It does a seamless job of combining genres, which the best super hero movies do. So it's not Logan in the tights fighting bad guys, it's Logan as the ageing gunslinger who just wants to be left in peace, dragged out for one last job.

And here's the amazing thing. Jackman and Patrick Stewart are fully invested in this movie. They know this is their last go at these characters and want to send them off on a good note. So these are their best performances as these characters. Stewart seems to particularly relish being able to curse like a sailor in the movie. But they are left in the dust by Dafne Keen as Laura. That young woman stole the movie clean out from under their feet. If Fox isn't working on a spin-off for her, they're idiots.

Not everyone gets to walk away from a character on a high note. Very few do, actually. But Logan is not only the best comic book movie of the year, it should get Oscar consideration somewhere along the lines. It's the grimmest and most violent of the list, but the most emotional. If you don't well up during the final scene of the movie, then there's no hope for you....

Last Five
1. Wake me up, when September comes - Green Day
2. The complex - Blue Man Group
3. Night windows - The Weakerthans
4. Back at your door - Maroon 5
5. Sherry Darling - Bruce Springsteen*

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