Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard (2015)

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This volume collects issues #19-25.

The series takes an interesting turn as Thor faces off against Roxxon Corporate President Darren Aggers. Aggers is clearly polluting the environment and Thor is none too happy about it. Unfortunately, for the God of thunder he cannot swing his hammer at this foe as he is protected by an entourage of lawyers and the politics and bureaucracy of human kind. Thor does have help with rookie agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., Roz Solomon, who tries to help Thor battle Aggers through legal means, though the Odinson is not big on patience in that regard.

In the future, Old King Thor desperately is trying to reignite life on Earth, which is now a barren wasteland. His granddaughters plead with him to give it up, but two of the most enduring traits of the God is his love of Midgard and his stubbornness. To complicate matters, Galactus shows up, very worn down and hungry, and the Earth will be his meal. But, not if the King of Asgard has something to say about it, “Have at thee”.

This collection is bittersweet for a few reasons. First, it signals the end of Aaron’s “God of Thunder” era for this series. Marvel and Aaron made headlines and announcements from different media sources that there would be a Goddess of Thunder, which meant the cancellation of this series as well as the launch of a new one. It does look like it is off to a good start, the Odinson is still around, and is continuing on plot threads from this series. The other bittersweet issue is that Easd Ribic will no longer be the primary artist with Aaron for Thor beyond this volume. He is teaming up with Jonathan Hickman for next year’s Secret Wars event (an excellent combo) but breakout artist Russel Dauterman joins team Thor and is doing a fine job with all things Asgardian. Well, enough of the future of this series and on to the content here…

I love this series and I was never really a Thor fan before picking up volume one. Aaron and Ribic grabbed me with the whole God Butcher arc, through volumes one and two, and forced me into being a mighty fan of thee! Even volume three with Ron Garney on pencils, and Malekith as the antagonist, was quite the awesome journey. I would give the first three volumes a no doubt grade of A++. But this entry here, I would give an A- or even a B+. It is great but does not reach the same plain as it’s predecessors.

Thor’s battle with Aggers and Roxxon has it’s ups and downs but ultimately reaches an anticlimactic conclusion. As Aggers is a new character, it would have been nice to have some more background information on him and how is able to do what he does. Plus, Thor has been around awhile, quite awhile, it seems he would be a bit brighter for a battle with the CEO of a Midgard corporation and not be so stereotypically fooled. The outcome for Asgardia and Broxton felt like it had been covered before in the event Seige and even during Fraction’s run, but felt really forced as Aaron, whether from orders from higher up or not, sets up a new status quo for both realms.

The bright spot of this tale is the moments of action, which Aaron sets up nicely and Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina make look legendary. Roz Solomon gets further developed which is a plus. She is a rocking new S.H.E.I.L.D agent. And although Aggers is a mystery and a too much of a cliche, he still made a nice villain for this story.

The main highlight for this collection for me is the story of old King Thor, that intersects with the modern tale, trying to revive a dead Earth only to have Galactus show up and be very hungry. Thor’s granddaughters are really cool and are a bunch of B.A.’s! And seeing old King Thor in action is sweet, especially against the devourer of worlds. Again, kudos to Ribic and Svorcina as they illustrate probably the best take on the big fella I have ever seen. The only issue I had here was that Glactus came off as spiteful and mocked Thor quite a bit. The best portrayals of Galactus are where he is cold and indifferent. He has no malice or feelings of revenge when devouring a world, he just does it because it is the will of the comos that relinquishes his hunger in this regard. But this is an undefined future and he looks extremely worn down. He did not even have a herald, so the personality change might have been to the centuries not being too kind to the big fella.

The final issue of the series is a combination of stories. One where a young Thor fights frost giants, another featuring the origin of Malekith, all while the granddaughters of Thor read on about these tales. Entertaining tales as they mostly are setup for the next era of Thor.

More love to Esad Ribic and the art teams here as they turn in incredible work. Ribic gets some help out at the end of this series from illustrators Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, and R. M. Guera.

So, for now, this is it for the God of Thunder and an amazing run, but the story does continue and as long as Jason Aaron is writing them and Marvel puts quality artists on them, I will stick with it.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 3: The Accursed (2014)

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Yes, I said it, and no, it is not hyperbole folks. Thor has always been my favorite comic book character. Thematically, the Thor mythos is a perfect blend of norse mythology, epic fantasy, and superhero tale that seems almost catered to my tastes. That been said, I’m very well acquainted with the best writers in the history of the character. Lee,Straczynski, Langridge, and most importantly, Simonson. For the past year or so, I’ve now added a new name to the very top of the list right alongside good ol’ Walt, and that name is Jason Aaron. After his incredibly awesome debut run featuring a spine-chilling and fantastic new villain, Gorr the God Butcher, he has returned to tackle a classic villain, and I was a little nervous. With his own original creations, sure, Aaron was great, but could he handle the classic Thor mythos with the same skill and impact? Oh yeah, you better believe he can. This volume has cemented my admiration and respect for Aaron.

This is the third volume of the “Thor: God of Thunder” series, under the Marvel NOW! initiative. It does feel less beefy than Aaron’s first Thor volumes, The God Butcher and Godbomb, as it features two one-off issues to bridge the gaps between the preceding Gorr story and the Roxxon story that is currently on the stands. This in no way diminishes the quality of the volume, however, as every issue, whether part of a multiple-issues story, or just a one off side-story, are all fantastic.

The first issue, #12, features Thor returning to Earth and spending time there, interacting with the various human friends he has made over the years and performing the sorts of acts you’d expect a noble, honorable god like Thor would perform. It’s not an action-packed issue, at all. It is a character study of a god, and it’s a great change of pace. It’s hard to explain, but this issue really humanizes Thor in a way only the very best stories can. It actually reminds me a lot of Superman for All Seasons, and I mean that in the best way. This sort of issue could easily become preachy and/or cheesy to the point of being unbearable, and it definitely strides that line very closely at times, but the fact that it is, for the most part, so poignant and affecting is a testament to Aaron’s fantastic writing.

Issues # 13-17 features the return of Malekith the Accursed. This is the meat n’ potatoes of the volume and once again, Aaron hit it out of the park. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but needless to say, this is a great adventure story. It is filled with very compelling characters, as Thor is joined in his quest this time in the form of the “League of Realms”. This group, appointed by the “Congress of Worlds,” is comprised of appointed warriors to represent each main race in the nine realms. It’s an odd set-up, and could come across as a cheesy Thor-centric Avengers rip-off, but it really is an interesting idea. The amount of humor and intensity pulled out of such a motley crew working together to tackle a truly terrorizing villain is superb. Each character, whether it’s the fancy dual-pitol wielding light elf Ivory Honeyshort, or the more taciturn dwarf Screwbeard, son of No-ears, son of Headwound (he likes to make things “go ‘splode” lol), all have great, unique personalities that bounce off each other and Thor quite nicely. Lots of belly-laugh inducing humor in this one, as well as great tension. Aaron’s characterization of Malekith is easily as fantastic a villain as Gorr was, but very distinctly unique. Malekith’s psychotic sadism and sociopathic, seemingly-senseless plans are made even more unnerving by his lighthearted and eloquently refined manner. Of course, his handling of Thor is stupendous, second to none in my humble opinion. Again, I can’t say it enough, Aaron did an amazing job. The story here is tense, full of gravitas as well as a more down-to-earth grittiness than his past work. Bravo!

Issue #18 ends the volume with a fantastic one-off story revolving around young viking Thor, back in the past and partying with a drunken dragon, and then kicking its ass. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I’m partially kidding. It’s a great, fun romp, but it’s also pretty moving as well, heartbreaking even. I’ll just leave it at that. I find the idea of young Thor to be brilliant, as he is a way to show major character development without erasing decades of comic history. I love that.

The art in this volume is definitely the aspect with the least amount of coherency. This volume features three different artists working the pen. Issue #12 is done by Nic Klein, and it’s definitely the weakest of the bunch. That isn’t to say Klein is BAD per se, but it is definitely shaky in parts. Some places, where Thor seems to have a deformed baby face with a five o’clock shadow, distract from the otherwise stupendous story-telling.

The art in issues #13-17 is done by Ron Garney. For the most part, he did a fantastic job. Upon opening the book, I was really sad to see Esad Ribic’s gorgeous painterly art style from the previous Thor volumes was missing, especially when I saw his gorgeous covers in this collection. However, Garney actually comes fairly close to capturing Ribic’s fantasy style and quality, at least relatively speaking. The art in these issues has a fairy-tale like beauty combined with a detailed and powerful sense of fantasy, with some nice comic book superhero boldness from time to time. It’s vibrantly colorful too, which can be a strange contrast to the darkness of the story, but I like it. While it’s not all perfect (the last half of issue 17 in particular is incredibly sloppy to the point of looking unfinished compared to the rest) but overall, Garney did great with the art in this book. I am impressed.

Issue #18’s art was done by Das Pastoras. I was a bit worried about his inclusion in this book, as I always found his past work to be incredibly off-putting. Here though, he did a great job. The best way I can describe it is to have you imagine Maurice Sendak’s art style with a graphic novel detail, and then ratchet the intensity to a level befitting a story where viking Thor fights a freaking DRAGON. Awesome.

I also appreciate the decreased pricing for this volume. While the five issue Malekith story is definitely less substantial than the eleven issues that Gorr received, this volume actually contains more issues than either of those volumes did. Volume 1 had five issues, Volume 2 had six, and this collection has seven issues in total. It’s nice to see us fans getting more content for our money. Hopefully Volume 4 will have eight issues.

All-in-all, this is another homerun from Jason Aaron. The various artists that joined him on this run – Klein, Pastoras, and most especially Garney- all did a great job rising to the task of proving art for Aaron’s brillaint writing. I’m just so floored by the aptitude of the writing here. The story moves along at an excellent pace, is brimming with a brilliant sense of cinematography, and is full of compelling, well-developed characters. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about this collection of issues is that Aaron plugged in some truly Simonson-level foreshadowing that indicates that his vision for Thor’s future will only get more epic and grand in scale from here on out. I can’t wait! Esad Ribic has also returned to the series as full-time artist, so the future of Thor is looking brighter than ever. If you ever read this Jason, know that I truly feel your name deserves songs to be sung in its honor in Valhalla. So whether you’re a major Thor fan, a big comic book fan in general, or even a newcomer to the character and want a good jumping off point, this (as well as God Butcher and Godbomb) is as good as any volume you’ll find written in the last several decades. As a massive fan of the Thor character, this gets my highest recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars

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X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006) – Movie Review

x-men the last stand

A departed fanboy director. A widely reported rush production. And Brett Ratner as replacement director. Things weren’t looking good for the third installment of our X-Heroes. Cynics crossed their arms in haughty resignation, while comic geeks vented their outrage in a fittingly Phoenix-inspired display. And yet despite the odds here it is, tipped as the last stand, and the fears of those expecting the worst were perhaps unjustified.

Promising more emotional grounding in his instalment, director Ratner managed to pacify the blood-braying fanboys (and girls) still reeling from the sudden departure of fan favourite Singer. A snazzy trailer helped, showcasing some saliva-inducing imagery, and confirming that Ratner was faithfully sticking to Singer’s staunch visual style. The question remained, however; could he follow through and create an X adventure worthy of its highly acclaimed predecessors? The surprising answer is yes. And no. Well, sort of. X-Men: The Last Stand is a leaner, more streamlined entry excelling in slick sets, breathtaking action, and top-notch special effects. This is a summer blockbuster to the core, and damn proud of it.

Ratner’s presence behind the camera is unmistakable, and it is undeniably his crowd-pleasing instincts that steer X3 through the pitfalls of studio money-spinning agendas that surrounded the production. Unleashed on his audience is an infectious enthusiasm for visual spectacle that generates satisfyingly outrageous cinematic results. Not only are we are afforded a spectacular face-off at the Grey residence, but also the stunning sight of the Golden Gate Bridge being magnificently relocated, and a striking finale in which the world is literally turned upside down in an emotional confrontation.

This, however, is a film creaking with franchise baggage. The events of not one, but two previous X films bear down on Ratner’s film like the fists of Colossus, giving it a somewhat schizophrenic ambiance. The thrill-seeking director clearly struggles to compose X3 as both a sequel and a stand-alone adventure. As a consequence, few actors are given much to work with save the key players, who do what they can with a script that appears in a bit of a hurry. Famke Janssen stands heads above the rest: nothing short of brilliant as the returned Jean Grey (or Dark Phoenix), she portrays just the right amount of inner turmoil, vulnerability and downright creepy-ness to really hit the right notes. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are again the glue that holds everything together, both skilfully communicating the subtle nuances of their characters’ complex relationship. Others, like Kelsey Grammar’s Beast, and even James Marsden’s Cyclops come across as something of an after thought. There’s simply too much cast spread much too thinly.

The sacrifices extend throughout the rest of the film, too. Those little moments that imbued the other X films with heart and gravity are glaringly absent here; characters rush through expositional speeches, barely pausing for breath before the next explosive encounter. So while the pow-pow-pow approach ensures X3 a vigorous pace that effectively gathers momentum, its resultant whirlwind can tend to sweep over the rest of the film to its own detriment.

And when the final credits roll, just how has Ratner done with his last minute leap into the world of X? It’s difficult to judge how much tighter his X3 could have been if more time and creative control had been offered to him. The studio leash tightens noticeably as the running time accumulates: the three plot lines each struggle for exposure but none reach an entirely satisfactory conclusion. In the end, Ratner must be commended for crafting a film in a decidedly dubious climate, a film that is not only watchable, but entertaining too. X3 has its shortcomings, but there’s more than enough bang for your buck. And of course things are nicely left open for another installment. Now, where to find a fanboy director to fill those Singer-sized shoes?

 

7 out of 10 stars

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X2: X-Men United (2003) – Movie Review

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With nine films thus far and at least two more on the horizon, all released over a near-twenty year window, 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” film franchise is something of a wonder in today’s world of near- constant reboots and remakes. While it has by no means been a smooth ride, the fact remains that the long-running series has been a widely beloved and infinitely important one, especially when placed into historical perspective. Director Bryan Singer’s original entry was one of the first major comic-to-film adaptations that convinced studios and audiences alike that comic-book movies could not only be mature and enthralling, but could be certified hits once again after the genre seemed to die-out in the 90’s. And thus, a franchise was born and has stuck around ever since, through thick and thin.

It’s almost a surprise, however, that one of the best entries in the entire saga came so early- 2003’s follow-up “X2.” With Singer once again at the helm, the film is in every conceivable way an improvement over his excellent first film- it’s more thoughtful, more daring, more exciting… I think one could even reasonably say that not only is it arguably the greatest film in the franchise- it just might be one of the best comic-to-film adaptations of all time. Yes, it’s that good.

Some time after the original film, a brainwashed mutant called Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) is sent on a mission to try and assassinate the President of the United States under the guise of being a martyr for Mutant Freedom. Despite the mutant being stopped, the troubling event gives Colonel William Stryker (Brian Cox) the political edge and backing needed to get approval for an “investigation” on Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters- but his investigation is actually an invasion, as he storms the school, taking many students hostage and forcing the remaining X-Men to flee. At the same time, Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) are sent on a mission to collect Nightcrawler and learn his motivation for the attack, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) are captured by Stryker’s mysterious bodyguard (Kelly Hu) and the shape-shifting Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) helps her former leader Magneto (Ian McKellan) escape from his high-tech prison. Soon, the remaining mutants (including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Anna Paquin as Rogue and Shawn Ashmore as Iceman) are forced to team up with their former adversary to try and stop Stryker’s scheme to use Charles and his powers to wipe out all of the mutants on Earth.

Given the film’s nature as an ensemble piece, it’s near-impossible to discuss the performances of each actor individually. But to keep it brief, everyone returning from the original is great in their respective roles. Special commendation goes to Hugh Jackman and his continued excellence in the role that helped to define him as a superstar and to Famke Jannsen, who gets a lot more attention this time around. They are by far the stand-outs of the returning cast. I also highly enjoyed Stewart and McKellen, who bring a sense of class and elegance to their roles and are incredible as always. The newest additions are also outstanding. Brian Cox is one of the greatest actors of our time, and his turn as Stryker is quite remarkable. He gives the character both an easily- “despiseable” sense of threat and dread, yet also a nice and subtle sense of pain and pathos. He’s a cruel man, yet he has a past that might explain why he is the way he is. Alan Cumming is just magical as the frightened yet also amusing Nightcrawler, and there’s a lot of great moments in his performance. And Kelly Hu makes for a fun and furious adversary as Styker’s second-in-command “Lady Deathstrike.”

Singer returns to direct from a script by “X-Men” scribe David Hayter and the writing duo of Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. Singer got his start with hard-hitting thrillers like “The Usual Suspects” and “Apt Pupil”, and I think that’s part of what gives him an edge with the storytelling. He plays the stories straight and gives them a sense of real and honest threat, while also maintaining an emotional core that feels realistic despite the outlandish nature of the story and heavy Science-Fiction leanings of the material. He’s also a very gifted visual artist with a slick and savage sense of composition and flow that lends itself well to the needs of high- concept action. His work on the series has always been nothing less than stunning. The script is very tightly written and juggles the plethora of characters well- everyone has their moment to shine, every major player has a clearly defined role and arc and the pacing is superb. Some wonderful work is done with the writing, and it’s an honest shame that neither Hayter nor the writing partners of Dougherty and Harris were involved in the third entry.

The rest of the production is just marvelous. (Pardon the bad joke) Composer/co-editor John Ottman shapes some wonderful and memorable musical themes that compliment the tone and style perfectly, and he weaves together shots and sequences with a masterful touch. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel’s visual palette is cool and visually arresting, and his work is just stunningly gorgeous. Some wonderful visual flair is given thanks to his talent. And production and costume design courtesy Guy Hendrix Dyas and Louise Mingenbach respectively is just fantastic. The film is made with nothing but top-notch work from top-notch artists.

As it stands, “X2” is easily one of the best if not the single best entry in the long-running series. Its phenomenal direction, sharp and thoughtful writing, beautiful production and outstanding cast weave an enthralling and thrilling cinematic experience that still stands tall well over a decade later. It’s up there with the best of the best in terms of comic-book movies.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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X-Men (2000) – Movie Review

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“X-Men” is a rare treat– a blockbuster that lives up to its hype and a comic book adaptation that hits the mark.

Along with Tim Burton’s “Batman”, this stands head and shoulders above all other superhero movies. It’s a genre that’s usually synonymous with silly, campy, cartoonish crap, but Bryan Singer delivers a long-awaited exception to the rule. “X-Men” is smart, stylish, and very cool… one of the better sci fi/fantasy films of the last decade.

Of course, it helps to have good source material.

The X-Men comics, which originated in the 1960s, are more politically progressive and morally complex than older superhero stories such as “Superman” where the heroes are always right, and truth, justice, and the American Way always prevail. The series is a well-crafted parable about individuality and discrimination. The characters are mutants–struggling to find a place in a society that rejects them. Its primary villain, Magneto, isn’t an evil lunatic– he’s a sympathetic character, a misguided revolutionary playing Huey Newton to Professor Xavier’s Martin Luther King. The iconic character, Wolverine, is a beer-swilling anti-hero who cares little for ideals and fights only to protect himself and his loved ones. The female characters are as powerful and important as the men, rather than being mere love interests.

Rather than making just another flashy explosion-per-minute-special-effects-extravaganza, Singer practices the lost arts of character and plot development. As a result, the movie has a far greater depth than the average big budget summer flick. The acting is also quite good on the whole. Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine, is fantastic–a bona fide Clint Eastwood caliber badass. Some of the dialogue is fairly cheesy, but in the hands of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart it sounds quite convincing. (Stewart has made a career out of making lame dialogue sound cool.)

Hard-core fans of the comics have complained about the omission of several popular X-Men. This is silly. A movie that gave the background on every character in the comic books would be 6 hours long. There will be plenty of time to develop new characters in the forthcoming sequels. Fans have also complained about the casting of Anna Paquin as Rogue. I disagree. Rogue is unable to touch another human being without harming them–she would not realistically act like a confident, sassy warrior. Paquin did a tremendous job of conveying the fear and isolation that such a young woman would feel. She will undoubtedly grow into the part in future movies.

In the end, “X-Men” is a comic book movie. Superpowers are explained with silly pseudoscientific babble, the plot revolves around a fairly ridiculous take-over-the-world scheme, and names like “Magneto” are spoken with a straight face. Don’t read all the glowing reviews and expect Citizen Kane. But don’t underestimate “X-Men” either. It is an intelligent movie that people will enjoy whether or not they are familiar with the comic.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) – Movie Review

fantastic four silver surfer

When I was very young, my Mom bought my comics when she did the weekly grocery shopping. One day, mixed in with “The Flash”, “Superman”, “World’s Finest”, and “Action Comics”, was this weird thing called “Fantastic Four” # 35. She somehow bought it by mistake, and it changed my life. The Kirby art, the bickering between the heroes, the romance between Reed and Sue…I had never read anything like it in DC. A few months later, I was making my own weekly trips to the local drugstore, buying Spider-man, FF, and Sgt. Fury off the spinner rack for 12 cents each. Slowly, Supes and Batman faded away for me, they just could not compete with the Marvel stories.

Fast forward: we live in a post-Image Comics age. Fanboys raised on steroid freaks and chicks in thongs. Yet, somehow, these two FF movies are NOT cynical, they are NOT dark, the heroes are NOT blood-thirsty maniacs, they are ordinary people. The Urban Dictionary defines “cheesy” as: ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. Well, guess what? The old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four WAS ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. I liked FF1, I LOVE FF2. Why? Because the SPIRIT of the comics is right there, right up on screen.

I am going to be very specific when discussing “FF:RotSS”, so what follows will contain SPOILERS. All issue references concern the original run of the comic, which began in 1961.

The movie adapts the events of two famous story arcs from the period (1965-1968) considered to be the pinnacle of the collaboration between Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist). Those stories are in issues #48-50 (known as ‘the Galactus trilogy’), and #57-60 (Dr. Doom steals the Surfer’s power).

Tim Story and crew have made a much better movie this time out. The team members themselves are now very comfortable with their powers, and that translates on-screen into them having FUN. The FF always has featured bickering and corny jokes, and that is highlighted early on, without getting too over-the-top. The action really kicks in once we get to the wedding, and the Surfer appears.

All of the FF’s power effects are very, very well done, most notably Sue’s invisibility. The Surfer looks just outstanding, his visualization is believable in the way that Gollum from LOTR was: we forget quickly that this is a special effect, and engage with the character. His backstory is presented intact, and he slowly starts to reclaim his lost humanity. Sue is presented as the catalyst for his change of heart, in a way that Alicia was used in the comics.

A note about Chris Evans: he is the swaggering, exuberant heart of these ‘FF’ movies. Johnny has a definite character arc in this movie, and Evans has a good time showing us the more aware side of the Torch, along with the bravado and self-promotion that is the source of much humor. He never allows Johnny to be anything less than likable, and he gets some of the best scenes, including a very satisfying, Super-Skrull style trashing of Dr. Doom late in the movie.

Galactus…the original “Galactus trilogy” was a 3-issue meditation on the meaning of “Evil”, moral relativism, and the significance of Life itself. The events pivoted around a character called The Watcher, who is cosmically powerful, but sworn to non-interference. Stan Lee had spent 4 years slowly creating the “Marvel Universe” that the FF inhabited, and FF #48-50 was an expansion of various concepts he had already touched on previously. A feature film introducing THREE humanoid all-powerful cosmic beings (Watcher, Galactus, Silver Surfer), and prominently theorizing about the absolute value of life in the cosmos might be labeled “pretentious” by some, especially when the source material is a comic book. I would love to see that story myself, but I am critiquing “FF:RotSS” based on what it IS, not what it IS NOT. What we get is a streamlined story of global destruction that builds tension to a decent payoff. Galactus DOES appear at the very end, but his headpiece is engulfed in the film’s equivalent of “Kirby dots”, which were the artist’s trademark way of illustrating random, seething energy.

The movie quotes numerous scenes and images from the books of 1961-1967, too many to list completely here. Notable examples of this are:

> FF #60 p. 5: Doom uses the power cosmic to create a cyclone, just like in the film;

> FF #49 p. 10 pnl 1-2: visualization of a world destroyed by Galactus, similar to the movie’s opening shot;

> FF Annual #3 (1965) p. 23 pnl 4-6: Stan and Jack are barred from Reed/Sue’s wedding reception, and Stan is kept out in the movie;

> FF #59 p. 14 pnl 1: Doom deliberately causes freezing weather while flying overhead, in the movie the Surfer does the same thing unintentionally.

My one serious criticism of “FF:RotSS” is the total absence of Kirby’s signature crazy machinery. The FF comic book became stuffed full of elaborate gadgets and vehicles early on in the series, and the movie lags far behind. We get the Fantasti-car, but there is no Pogo Plane, Jet-cycle, etc.

I take issue with those who decry “FF:RotSS” for its PG rating. I read these very stories when I was 10 years old, and I just do not understand people complaining about a comic book being made into a family movie. The jokes are not adolescent gross-out humor like “Shrek”. The scene in the disco early on is typical, where the script has fun with the iconic image of Reed as a stuffed-shirt. This is done playfully, and is not a betrayal of the character. In fact, Reed declares a “Nerd Manifesto” later on that should warm the hearts of brainy, socially awkward teenage boys everywhere. The important thing, to me, is that THE MOVIE WORKS on its own terms, and remains terrifically entertaining from start to finish.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Fantastic Four (2005) – Movie Review

fantastic four 2005

Fantastic Four is one of the superhero films from the 2000’s, that I can recall, which wasn’t insufferably bleak or incredibly serious to a point where any shred of humor was seen as obtuse to the film’s narrative. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an indisputable breakthrough in superhero films, but it also made the seriousness of superhero films standard, something that would follow into the late 2000’s and early 2010’s as Marvel built up The Avengers. Fantastic Four reminds of the quirkiness superhero films were once predicated upon, and while it may get a bit too corny at times, and its focus can never really settle, it’s also a very commercial film that satisfies on some level of entertainment when it gives every card in its deck a fair time to shine.

We open by looking at a physicist named Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), who is convinced evolution was triggered millions of years ago by stray elements of cosmic energy in space, some of which will pass near Earth very soon. His pal, astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), works by his side on this potentially revolutionary discovery by helping him convince their old classmate Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), the CEO of Von Doom Industries, to allow both of them access to his private space station to further experiment with the effects of these cosmic energy particles. While Doom agrees, he winds up walking away with most of the profits that this experiment will bring, affirming Reed’s desperation to make his project work.

Still, he persists on and brings his close friends Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) along for the ride. However, when a trip to outer space goes awry, exposure with the cosmic energy results in the four receiving deformities and enhanced human abilities that have never before been seen: Reed possesses the ability to stretch every limb of his body, Susan has the ability to disappear and reappear at will, Johnny can engulf himself in flames, and Ben turns into a hideous, orange rock monster.

Following the four’s mutations, writers Michael France and Mark Frost focus a great deal of their time on the agony that these mutations bring, particularly The Thing, who experiences his wife leaving him shortly after revealing his deformity. While this agony is a solid angle (one I’d argue is necessary in most superhero films), too much of the time is spent profiling The Thing and not enough on the remaining characters of the film. Reed and Ben, who are ultimately the film’s main focus, wind up monopolizing too much of the picture, and any time we see Johnny it’s when he’s right in the middle of making a smug comment or being his typical, flirtatious self.

The action in Fantastic Four has a colorful commercial look to it, brilliantly bold and very vibrant in a way that makes many of the scenes pop with life. It manages to achieve a comic book aesthetic without resorting to picture-in-picture editing. One particularly involving scene takes place on a suspension bridge, where The Thing is seen pummeling everything in his sight and the remaining three members of the team must resort to either relaxing him or protecting drivers and innocent bystanders.

The goofiness in Fantastic Four, however, in an age of dark superhero films that come with slick aesthetics and brooding characters, is a delightful change of pace. Yes, there is a point when one wishes director Tim Story, France, and Frost would command a tighter grip on the seriousness of the writing, but the pulpy fun of Fantastic Four, in addition to the effects and the neatly choreographed action, keep it a moving, satisfying spectacle that is more than just colors flying around on screen, trying to find their place.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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