This Week's Comics
commentary on all things fannish by a wordsmith in progress - may contain spoilers
Beginning in 1845 and ending in 1979, the film explores the backstory of mutant superhero Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his relationship with his older half-brother Victor aka the future supervillain Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), and their involvement in the Team X black ops squad created by Colonel William Stryker (Danny Huston).
Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) gets as much as he can out of the script with several well-conceived big action set pieces and capable performances from the main cast. There were reportedly major disputes between Hood and studio executives about the tone and direction of the film, and executive producer Richard Donner (director of Superman: The Movie) spent time on the set to smooth over the tensions. The creative differences may explain the uneven tone of the finished film, but Hood still proves capable of delivering exciting action scenes that fans will enjoy.
The screenplay by David Benioff (Troy, The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman), while faithful in broad strokes to the character's comic origin, suffers from rushing from one action scene to another while leaving characters and sub-plots undeveloped. Benioff's original draft had some good buzz attached to it and was reportedly more character driven, so the contributions of Woods and three other uncredited writers may represent what the studio wanted more than what the director wanted. It's satisfactory as far as summer action flicks go, but there was room to do much more. Still, it's not the disaster that X-Men: The Last Stand was.
The productions values are high, with contributions by cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine (Moulin Rouge!, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), production designer Barry Robison (Rendition, Nim's Island), costume designer Louise Mingenbach (X-Men, X2: X-Men United), and composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) leading the way. The CG visual effects are good and effectively add to the action scenes.
What really makes the film work are the performances of Jackman and Schreiber, both individually and together, providing some depth lacking in the script. Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine through four films has been iconic, and this has been true even when the scripts were lacking, and he carries this film with grit and determination. Schreiber delivers the goods as Victor, so alike his brother in some ways but also so very different. Where Wolverine struggles to control his dark side, Victor embraces his. I would have liked more screen time devoted to the dualism of these two characters and their relationship.
The rest of the cast is adequate to the task at hand, including Huston as Stryker (an older version of the character was played by Brian Cox in X2), Black Eyed Peas' singer will.i.am as John Wraith, Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox, Kevin Durand as the Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Taylor Kitsch as Gambit (although his Cajun accent is weak), Daniel Henney as Agent Zero, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, Scott Adkins as Weapon XI, Tim Pocock as a teenaged Scott Summers (the future superhero Cyclops), Max Cullen and Julia Blake as an elderly couple who help Wolverine, Troye Sivan and Michael-James Olsen as young Wolverine and young Victor, and Tahyna Tozzi as Kayla's sister Emma (possibly Emma Frost). There's also a fun cameo that I don't want to spoil for anyone, but fans should love it.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine sacrifices character development and plot coherence for action, but despite its flaws it manages to be an entertaining start to the summer film season. If you like Wolverine and you like action, this film should satisfy you.
[3.5 out of 5 stars]
Last Week's Comics
Jack of Fables #32, Madame Xanadu #9, Unknown Soldier #6, Top 10: Season Two Special #1, Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon #1, Justice League of America #31, Oracle: The Cure #1, Superman #686, Trinity #43, Wonder Woman #30, Captain America #48, The Mighty Avengers #23, New Avengers #51, Runaways #8, X-Force/Cable: Messiah War #1, X-Infernus #4, X-Men: Kingbreaker #4, X-Men: Sword of the Braddocks #1.
In 1986-87, DC Comics published a twelve-issue comic book series called Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. Later collected as a graphic novel, this series was a revolutionary and sophisticated take on superheroes with a heavy dose of social commentary. It also became the only graphic novel to be included on TIME Magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present." After several attempts to adapt it into a film by directors including Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), and Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) all collapsed, it looked like it would never get produced. It was worth the wait.
After a retired superhero known as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered, the vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) believes that there's a conspiracy to eliminate costumed heroes, and soon the other retired Watchmen--Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode)--become involved as events begin to spiral out of control, threatening the entire planet.
Director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300) proves his critics wrong, myself included, by successfully translating difficult source material into such a strong film. He's always been a talented visual stylist, so it's no surprise that by using Dave Gibbons' art as a blueprint, Snyder has quite literally and vividly brought the world of Watchmen to life, allowing fans of the graphic novel to feel like they've stepped inside them. He transforms each action scene into a slow motion ballet of carnage, and the opening credits montage that reveals the backstory is brilliantly executed. What's surprising, at least to me, is that after 300's cardboard story and woeful acting, Snyder manages to tell a compelling story with good performances. Perhaps it's simply a case of rising to the level of the material he's working with.
The screenplay by David Hayter (X-Men, X2: X-Men United) and Alex Tse (Sucker Free City), with uncredited revisions by the team of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, Star Trek), is largely faithful to the source material except for certain events at the end, but it's really only the method by which those events occur that has been changed rather than the events and their repercussions. The story that unfolds on the screen isn't as deep as in the graphic novel, but the social commentary in Alan Moore's works have always fared better on the printed page (see the film adaptation of V for Vendetta as another example). Still, the screenwriters deserve much credit for distilling such a complex tale into a two hour and forty-two minute film without losing the essence of the story or its characters, allowing it to be enjoyed by both fans of the graphic novel and a mainstream film audience. A three hour and ten minute director's cut will eventually be released on DVD.
The contributions of cinematographer Larry Fong (Lost, 300), production designer Alex McDowell (The Crow, Fight Club), and costumer designer Michael Wilkinson (Babel, 300) are very important to realizing the story's world on the screen. Fong's bold use of color and lighting achieves the dramatic effect required, McDowell's sets convey a sense of the real world with a twist in some scenes and a sense of the fantastic in others, and Wilkinson's costumes, designed with an assist by comic book artists Adam Hughes and John Cassaday, look quite convincing on the screen. The sweeping score by Tyler Bates (The Devil's Rejects, 300) captures the changing moods of the story, punctuated by several perfect songs (some of which were actually referenced in the graphic novel). The visual effects are outstanding, but rarely drown out the human aspects of the story.
Former child actor Haley (The Bad News Bears) dominates the film with his visceral and frightening performance as Rorschach. Crudup is chillingly aloof as Doctor Manhattan, a man transformed into a cosmic being and who seems to have lost his humanity, conveying so much through body language and subtle facial expressions. Wilson is a very believable Nite Owl, while former model Akerman is respectably solid as Silk Spectre. The Comedian is a nasty piece of work who, like many such people, is also superficially charming, and Morgan captures that perfectly. Although Goode isn't a match for how Ozymandias was portrayed in the comics, he's well-suited to the role of an arrogant genius for whom the ends justify the means.
The rest of the cast is solid, including Carla Gugino as the original Silk Spectre, Matt Frewer as retired villain Moloch, Stephen McHattie as the retired original Nite Owl, Robert Wisden as President Nixon, Frank Novak as Henry Kissinger, Danny Woodburn as Big Figure, and Eli Snyder (the director's son) as a young Rorschach.
Watchmen the film lacks some of the complexity of Watchmen the graphic novel, but I suspect the former comes as close as possible to realizing the latter on screen as one could hope for. As a film, it's excellent, offering a compelling story, quality acting, incredible visuals, and a visceral experience. Highly recommended. I watched it on an IMAX screen. If you have an opportunity to see it in IMAX, I recommend it.
Note to parents: yes, I know it's based on a comic book and has costumed heroes, but Watchmen has an R rating for a very good reason. The film has graphic violence, profanity, nudity, extended sex scenes, and a violent attempted rape. Be aware of this before deciding to take your children to see it.
[4.5 stars out of 5]
Labels: star trek
Labels: harry potter
New Avengers #50: Brian Michael Bendis ranks up there with Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis when it comes to writing clever dialogue. This issue is no exception.
Runaways #7: Takeshi Miyazawa's manga-influenced art is a sight for sore eyes after the previous six issues featured the hideous, cartoonish art of Humberto Ramos. I am so not a Ramos fan. Miyazawa, however, is perfect for these characters, and this is his third time working on them.
Angel #18: Angel the television show ended perfectly. After reading eight issues of Angel the comic book, I'm still not convinced it was necessary to continue the story in comic book form.
Wonder Woman #29: I'm a big fan of writer Gail Simone, but this story arc just isn't working for me.
Doctor Who: The Whispering Gallery: Good as a one shot story. The premise is a little slight, but at least it isn't stretched out longer than necessary. I love Ben Templesmith's art.
Marvels: Eye of the Camera #4: Alex Ross provided the art for the original Marvels in 1994. Ross isn't involved with this follow-up, but Jay Anacleto's lovely art is a fine substitute.
The two hour pilot of Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prequel, will be released first on DVD on April 21st, with the series proper to debut on the Sci Fi Channel in 2010. Caprica is set fifty-one years before BSG, focusing on the rivalry between the Adama and the Graystone families as well as the creation of the Cylons. The showrunner is former 24 writer/producer Remi Aubuchon.
It looks like the next DC Comics superhero to hit the big screen will be Green Lantern. Warner Bros. has a script by Eli Stone creators Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim and former Smallville and Heroes writer Michael Green, and the studio is in final negotiations with Casino Royale director Martin Campbell to direct. No casting yet, but the film will feature the Hal Jordan incarnation of the character.
Just eight days until the premiere of Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse. Some reviews have suggested the first episode is a little uneven, but that's to be expected. All of Whedon's previous shows took a little time to find their voice, too. I just hope the FOX network shows some patience, unlike with Firefly.
You might recall that I was somewhat disappointed by the first two issues of this major event miniseries. Once writer Grant Morrison hit his stride in the third issue, it just got better and better, culminating in a mindblowing finale that only Morrison could have crafted, and one that exceeded all of my expectations. It's so wonderfully weird and cosmic.
Morrison is one mad bastard of a writer, and I mean that in an entirely positive way. I love his work (although it took me awhile to forgive him for killing off Jean Grey again). I've been a fan since his work on Animal Man in the late 1980s.
And, really, how can one not love a comic where Captain Carrot makes a cameo appearance?
In other news, the creator of the Geek Girls Rule! blog invited me to become a contributing writer to said blog and I accepted. I'm honored and thrilled to be asked to contribute there, and I hope you check out the blog.
As part of the event, it's going to show "The Sea Devils" in its entirety, the great 1972 six-part serial featuring the Third Doctor, the Master, and the titular monsters.
You know what I'll be watching tonight (I'll also send in my pledge next week when I get paid).
Labels: doctor who
Johns captures the spirit of the early Legion stories while easily fitting the characters into the show's continuity without significant changes. This episode fulfills the promise of what Smallville at its best can be, the story of Clark Kent's journey from young man to legendary hero, while reminding me of why I fell in love with the superhero genre in the first place. Truly, this was an exciting first appearance by the Legion in live action. I couldn't have asked for more.