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Category: Superheroes


The first season of FX’s fringe superhero series Legion was an unexpected hit, but the sophomore season didn’t quite have the same mix of edgy, weird, and dark humor.  The series, based on the comic book by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, returns a little more than a week away for its third and final season, and FX has revealed the first look at what lies ahead.  FX has also released a summary to catch up anyone who missed last season:

Legion follows lead character David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who believed himself to be schizophrenic, only to discover that he is the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen.  From childhood, David shuffled from one psychiatric institution to the next until, in his early 30s, he met and fell in love with a beautiful and troubled fellow patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller).  After Syd and David shared a startling encounter, he was forced to confront the shocking reality that the voices he hears and the visions he sees are actually real. 

With the help of Syd and a team of specialists who also possess unique and extraordinary gifts – Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) and Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) – David unlocked a deeply suppressed truth: he had been haunted his entire life by a malicious parasite of unimaginable power.  Known as The Shadow King, this malevolent creature appeared in the form of David’s friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), but was actually an ancient being named Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban).  During an epic showdown, David managed to push Farouk out of his body and gain control of his mind.  With Farouk on the loose, the team formed an unlikely alliance with their former enemy, Clark DeBussy (Hamish Linklater), and his well-funded government organization, Division 3.  Unfortunately, the hunt for Farouk reawakened the dark voices in David’s head, and with them, a lust for power.  At odds with everyone he once considered a friend, David enlists the help of a young mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai) whose secret ability is key to his plans to repair the damage he caused.

That’s the story so far.

We were supposed to see even more X-Men this year.  Fox’s last hoorah, The New Mutants movie based on Chris Claremont’s comic book series was slated for release in theaters later this year, but it’s been pushed again, this time to April 3, 2020.  Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg is a producer on this series.

Take a look at this preview for Season 3–the final season–of Legion:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

After a few packed years of superhero movies, Dark Phoenix is going to be a target for comparison.  No single Marvel movie this year–including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame–really merits entry on a “best of the best” list, yet all had good, even great, moments, and easily belong in a top 25 superhero movie list.  Dark Phoenix now joins that group.  Instead of a galaxy-changing upheaval, first-time director and award-winning writer-producer Simon Kinberg marked the end of the X-Men movie saga with a personal story.  It’s a story of struggle and tragedy more attuned to the X-Men characters and the cinematic stories 20th Century Fox has told since we first met Patrick Stewart’s professor and Ian McKellen’s metal-manipulating frenemy way back in the year 2000.  Although it’s not as compelling and cinematic as James Mangold’s gold standard Logan or the incredible team-up in X-Men: Days of Future Past, actress Sophie Turner leads an emotional journey for her all-powerful Jean Grey that first began in X-Men: Apocalypse, really backing up that tagline from the movie posters: Every hero has a dark side.  They really meant it.

Kinberg wrote the original script for the Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he gets a lot closer to the spirit of the source material this time.  The key conflict mimics Marvel’s Jim Shooter and Chris Claremont’s reported struggle when they developed the character of Dark Phoenix, asking whether Jean Grey is irretrievably bad or bad only because she is possessed by a dark force.  At the same time most of the cosmic oddities are stripped from the comics story, but not all, pulling the necessary elements from the original tale in a more accessible way for audiences.  Jessica Chastain′s new villain and her compatriots from afar are very much the same as found in the comics, all but in name.  The opening act in particular is perfectly executed, beginning with a nicely cinematic launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and a return to the stealth fighter that Nicholas Hoult′s Beast had been building in X-Men: Apocalypse.  If you’ve seen the trailers or know the story then the subject of the scene is no surprise–a rescue of the astronauts aboard from a giant solar flare, directed by James McAvoy′s Professor X from Earth, but led in space by Jennifer Lawrence′s Mystique, who grew to be the front-line commander of the team in the last film.  The most entertaining superhero of all the X-Men movies is back, Evan Peters′ Quicksilver, this time using his speed and time-stopping powers to assemble the astronauts for rescue in the character’s third and final awesome show-stopper.  He’s accompanied by the teleport-wielding Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, providing actor Kodi Smit-McPhee the first of several key scenes that showcase his unique superhero, and round out a building arc for the typically background superhero.

The big takeaway from Dark Phoenix may be that it’s clear the material is capable of being recycled and resurrected many times, by different writers, directors, and actors.  Famke Janssen’s performance of Jean Grey was excellent in the original X-Men trilogy.  Sophie Turner’s performance is equally good.  In a few years we’ll see it all over again, which is pretty much what the Phoenix is all about.  Dark Phoenix will likely be accused of copying the empowered women theme of Captain Marvel.  In actuality Dark Phoenix was completed earlier, in October 2017, and if Dark Phoenix hadn’t been delayed by the Fox-Disney merger, the positions would no doubt be flipped to some extent.  The timing and similarities reportedly prompted Fox to go back and make some revisions.  But who says audiences can’t embrace two movies released within 90 days about the two most powerful superheroines in the Marvel pantheon?  Captain Marvel was able to generate far more buzz, and it’s a more upbeat story, so Dark Phoenix is unlikely to make a dent by comparison to that billion dollar box office hit.  But the acting and script for Dark Phoenix is probably a few degrees better, and the wrap-up of so many beloved characters makes Dark Phoenix a more important chapter for its franchise.

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In the world of the dark superhero universe you start with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke, and you might pick up Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, Garth Ennis’s Crossed, and if you go back a bit further you might pick up Jim Starlin’s Batman: A Death in the Family.  And you take another look at Tim Burton making Batman movies.  You also might stumble over Garth Ennis’s The Boys and Brian Michael Bendis’s Jessica Jones.  These last two comics are making their way to your television this summer, first with the return of Marvel’s Jessica Jones for its third season on Netflix as the swan song for all its Marvel series, and then Amazon Prime is stepping in with an adaptation of Ennis’s The Boys, dark in every other way that Jessica Jones isn’t.  Those are in addition to Brightburn, a movie written by the live-action superhero guru Gunn brothers about a kid with Superman powers who doesn’t use them for good.  Meaning lots of bloody gore and violence.  It’s still in theaters.

Our first trailer is for the final season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones Should it be a surprise that everything seems exactly as it was in the last season?  Is it enough that Krysten Ritter′s anti-hero conquers her demons one at a time?  Viewers want to cheer her on, to do anything to get happy in a dark and dreary real-life New York, but without development of her character beyond returning to the bottle and self-inflicted pain, we’re left to turn to other characters.  Thankfully that left her adopted sister Trish, played by Rachael Taylor, as last season’s real hero to root for.  But does Jeremy Bobb (Russian Doll) have a chance at filling in as next villain as Foolkiller after David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave?  And why another new guy for Jones, bringing in Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) instead of Luke Cage or The Punisher?

The Boys is a different kind of dark, but in many ways it’s just another effort to do what Alan Moore did with Watchmen–deconstruct superheroes until they are only recognizable because of the capes and costumes.  So think of the depraved nature of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, but add a multiplier.  Or if Watchmen was a normal school day, The Boys is Watchmen where the teenage kids take over.  The kids in this case include Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg as producers, so expect plenty of “adult language” aka expletives, and their typical brand of raunch and bodily fluids.   Is there a chance of some subtlety or nuance with these guys behind the series, or can we hope for something closer to Superbad?  The more promising elements in the trailer are found in the costumes (by Iron Man costume designer Laura Jean Shannon, Titans’ designer Joyce Schure, and Doom Patrol’s designer Carrie Grace) and the cast, including pop culture icon Karl Urban (Thor: Ragnarok, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Judge Dredd, Xena: Warrior Princess) and Erin Moriarty, who also starred on season one of Jessica Jones, Elizabeth Shue (The Karate Kid, Leaving Las Vegas), and Jennifer Esposito (Spin City, NCIS).

Take a look at these trailers for some of the darker edge of superheroes in genredom:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a comic book nearly two years in the making.  Or maybe 27 years.  And it may be the best single comic book issue of the year.  But as strange as the tale between the covers, the story of its creators is stranger still.  What you probably know is this:  In 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird published a single issue comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Intended as a spoof-parody-mash-up concoction of Marvel’s Daredevil and The New Mutants, Frank Miller’s Ronin, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus, the book sparked something much bigger for readers, becoming one of the most popular franchises for a few generations of readers and cartoon watchers (not to mention the impact it had via toys and movie tie-ins).  A couple unrelated–short-lived–parody spin-offs of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came and went unrelated to Eastman and Laird, including Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.

What you don’t know is that eight years after the Turtles saw their first comic–in 1992–comic creators Shane Bookman and his brother Paul released their scrappy indie creation on the unsuspecting comic book universe: Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls Like Eastman and Laird, the Bookmans had their own share of ups and downs, tales of fame and fortune (evidently Eastman sold off his rights to the Turtles some 20 years ago, etc.).  So in 2017 Eastman and writer David Avallone and artist Ben Bishop (with Troy Little, Brittany Peer, Tomi Varga, and Taylor Esposito) took the Bookmans’ story to Kickstarter, and nearly 1,200 backers brought in more than $100,000.  Now it’s all done, first to tell the Bookmans’ story in a new monthly comic beginning this past week called Drawing Blood, and at the same time with a companion comic they created and discussed in their comic industry exploits, Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls, Issue #1.

 

The result?  Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls is an idea as good as any Turtles tale you’ve read, and as finely crafted an origin story, full of action, top-notch writing, beautiful layouts, and exciting new characters: referred to as the Ragdolls (from the cat breed), they are three female cats who encounter gamma rays, cosmic rays, genetic mutagens, and who knows what other comic book superpower trigger was tapped, to become Tezuka, Otomo, and Miyazaki.  Speaking, Ronin-trained, defender cats.  Otomo is the most fearsome, Miyazaki speaks in Haiku poems, and Tezuka is a master tactician.

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Of the dozens of movies coming to your local theater between now and August, we spotted ten to highlight today.  Although Disney continues to recycle past hits into new variants, like Dumbo, Aladdin, Toy Story, and Lion King, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, and the rest of the pack are still holding their own with their latest efforts, all vying for the biggest box office win.  So along with Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man: Far From Home (partnering with Disney’s Marvel Studios) and the latest Disney purchase, 20th Century Fox’s Dark Phoenix, there’s Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla: King of the Monsters coming next week, Universal’s The Secret Life of Pets 2, Columbia and Amblin’s Men in Black: International, New Line and Warner Brothers’ Shaft sequel, Universal’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Luc Besson’s Anna, and Columbia delivering Quentin Tarentino’s next feature, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, all in the coming summer season (realizing the studios don’t follow the actual calendar seasons).

You may have seen a few of these movie trailers before, but most we’ve been stacking up for today.  We’re even throwing in the trailer for the Downton Abbey movie, which eeks into the summer calendar, arriving September 20.

So start planning to fit these in.  This week sees Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown team up with Godzilla in the first big movie on our list, Godzilla: King of the Monsters The final X-Men movie of the 20-year run arrives the following week with Dark Phoenix We’re sure Men in Black: International will be a big hit.  And the third Marvel movie of the year arrives with Spider-Man: Far from Home for the Fourth of July weekend.  Some good prospects lie ahead!

In case you missed them, here are the movie trailers for the summer’s biggest releases:

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Warner Brothers continues to struggle with how next to turn the DC universe of films into a cash cow like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  First a report that Ben Affleck′s replacement will be Robert Pattinson, an actor known for both the lucrative Harry Potter franchise and Twilight franchise, was then followed by a report that Nicholas Hoult was being considered.  Hoult, co-star of the X-Men movies as Beast, among other roles, makes more sense, as first–he has the charisma and look to be both Batman and alter ego Bruce Wayne, and second,–because he’d follow that common casting preference that already has seen two dozen actors playing superheroes flip from DC characters to Warner characters or vice versa.  These reports were followed by word that two other actors were on the Batman shortlist: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who already portrayed both Quicksilver in the MCU and Kick-Ass in his own series) and Armie Hammer.  Why wouldn’t they just stop with Armie Hammer?  If the studio has already ruled out Denzel Washington (just watch him in the Equalizer franchise, he’d be perfect!), then the closest to how Batman and Bruce have been drawn in the comics for 80 years is Armie Hammer.  He has that John Hamm suave manner and he’s already shown he can play a great hero opposite Superman Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  With the next new comics adaptation it does seem like Warner Brothers may be doing something right.  It’s on television instead of at the movies, where the Arrowverse group of series has seen greater success than the studio’s movie efforts.  It’s the new Batwoman series, and the CW released the first trailer for the series late this week (check it out below).

For whatever reason, Warner Brothers, the CW, etc. are hesitant to put their prime DC character–Batman–on the small screen.  Just like they were hesitant showing Superman on Smallville back in “the WB” days, or giving Batman his due within the Gotham series continuity.  But this new Batwoman series looks like it could be the closest viewers are going to get to a TV bat-hero.  Series star Ruby Rose proved she has the charisma and physicality for a major superheroine/action role in The Meg, Resident Evil, Vin Diesel’s XXX series, and the John Wick series.  Her character of Kate Kane aka Batwoman in last August’s CW Arrowverse crossover “Elseworlds,” the highlight of the event (along with John Wesley Shipp donning his 1990 Flash costume), was received well by viewers.  The new trailer seems as “Batman” in look and feel as anything Warner has produced for TV–or film.

Even better, the great Rachel Skarsten (former Black Canary of Birds of Prey and star of Lost Girl and Reign) plays a villain named Alice–Batwoman’s twin sister who took on the persona of an evil Wonderlander in the comics–who looks like she can run circles around Harley Quinn.

Batwoman has been one of DC Comics′ most fascinating characters since she was re-designed by Alex Ross for DC’s 52 series in 2006, but she really came into her own in 2009 in the Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series written and drawn by Eisner Award nominees James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli, and she was fleshed out further in 2010-2013 in the award-winning Batwoman solo series written and drawn by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman.

Take a look at the first trailer for CW’s Batwoman:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is he a superhero?

A character who gives of himself to save lives, repeatedly, using his unusual mental and physical abilities–that’s pretty much our definition of superhero.  If The Punisher is a superhero, if Batman would be a superhero without the costume, then you have the The Equalizer Denzel Washington is back again, in the sequel to the surprise 2014 reboot of the 1980s television series, and if you missed Washington as this character in 2014, it’s time to catch up, as The Equalizer 2 makes its way to several steaming platforms, including Vudu and Amazon Prime, and it’s now showing on Starz.

And what a sequel!  It is another one of those rare films that surpasses its predecessor.  More intrigue, more action, and even without the origin story from the first movie, The Equalizer 2 proves audiences don’t need it to jump into a finally crafted story of spies and revenge.  Washington is back as Robert McCall, and he’s The Saint, Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and The Shadow all rolled up into one.  This time he’s started a new life in Boston, and learns about the city through his job as a Lyft driver.  Diehard film fans really only need to see the one other name on the marquee with Washington to know what they’re in for: Antoine Fuqua.  Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, The Magnificent Seven) directs the film like he does all his others, like he has something to prove.  The Equalizer 2 is worthy of its popular and critically acclaimed star, and Fuqua adds to the character with a spectacular setting for the film’s finale: a hurricane pummeling the coast of Massachusetts.

If you’re looking forward to the new Star Wars television series The Mandalorian, you have another reason to catch The Equalizer 2, as the series star Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Great Wall) plays a former team member of McCall in his CIA days.  The subplots may even be better than the main story, and in one McCall mentors a young neighbor played by Ashton Sanders (Moonlight).  Other supporting roles are filled by some familiar faces, including returning actors Melissa Leo (Homicide, Oblivion, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and Bill Pullman (Deceived, Independence Day, Spaceballs), plus the always versatile Sakina Jaffrey (Heroes, Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M. Night Shyamalan is an auteur in a small league of directors that includes Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Stanley Kubrick.  First, you either love or hate each creator’s oeuvre, their signature, their style.  But their works are unmistakably their own.  Shyamalan’s impact to modern film can’t be overstated.  You can look at films before and after his surprise hit The Sixth Sense and see a shift toward films that require that surprise at the end.  That trademark is now an integral part of cinema, even though it has been used as a story tool throughout the history of film and storytelling.  But his use of this, his success from it, made everyone else jump on the bandwagon.  Each of his films has something new to say, but his approach is unique compared to his peers.  His take on superheroes is entirely different from anything else, and yet his love for comics and his genius in digging into what makes a great superhero tale proves his knowledge of the genre.  If you’re a fan of the modern Detective Comics, where Batman is so dark it’s almost as much horror as superhero crimefighter, then you should check out his trilogy, beginning with Unbreakable, followed by Split, and now streaming on Vudu, GooglePlay, YouTube, Amazon, and other home video media, his third chapter in the trilogy, Glass It is truly an epic film, the kind of story written by a comics reader and for a comics reader.

Most superhero movies follow a certain formula.  The tropes are all there for the plucking, so it’s how the story is told that makes the exceptional superhero movie.  Shyamalan’s slowly simmering follow-up returns to Bruce Willis′s David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson′s Elijah Price from the 2000 first chapter Unbreakable.  We find Dunn has continued his pursuit of justice, brilliantly partnered with his own “man in the chair,” his son from Unbreakable, played again by Spencer Treat Clark (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) now all grown up, in an intriguing update to the character.  Price, however, has been relegated to a medical facility, visited frequently by his doting mother, played by returning actress Charlayne Woodard (Pose, Medium).

Sarah Paulson (Ocean’s Eight) proves exactly why she’s been cast as a young Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the coming series Ratched, co-starring in Glass as Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist studying people who think they are superheroes, out to prove them wrong and get them the mental help she believes they need.  Enter Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has multiple personality disorders–24 personalities in all–brilliantly portrayed by James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix) who introduced the character in the suspense-horror film Split.  Split was a surprise for everyone, carefully marketed as just another creepy Shyamalan movie, with the surprise ending that Crumb’s supervillain persona was The Beast, and an even bigger surprise: that Split was a sequel to Unbreakable.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

These days most movies translate just fine from the big screen to a home high definition television.  Late December’s release from Warner Brothers, DC’s Aquaman, is a surprisingly good transfer, showcasing the film’s epic fantasy seascapes and truly unique otherworld sea creatures without the sound contrast and lighting issues that plague recent action film releases.  Aquaman is available now on 4D, Blu-ray, DVD, and in digital formats, and it’s available both on Vudu and Amazon Prime.  A single word to describe this rare, solid entry in the DC franchise?  Epic.  Throughout the film viewers will see concepts from the history of fantasy films absorbed into its plot, from the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, to Ray Harryhausen fantasy classics, King Solomon’s Mines and Tomb Raider, and even Harry Potter and Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories.

It all begins with the cast, and in particular the chemistry between the always cool and confident actor who looks born to play superheroes, Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, and Amber Heard as a beautiful grown-up Ariel turned badass named Mera, who may be the best realized heroine from the comics in the DC universe.  Aquaman director James Wan (Furious 7) does something rare for the superhero genre and forms his film around a romance between the two as they embark on a quest across the planet for the legendary trident of King Atlan, first king of the earliest water-breathers living under the sea.  Wan makes that happen more successfully than other DC romances of the past, including even Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  What is not lost on the small screen is the CGI-heavy undersea universe, but this time a film is CGI-heavy in a good, exciting way (Aquaman knocks the much lauded CGI film Avatar out of the water in every way).  Atlanteans riding sea horses, sharks, whales, and turtles.  Aquaman and Mera hiding out inside a whale, Pinocchio-style.  The film hits its visual zenith with a giant Kraken-like beast with an appearance as awesome as seeing Godzilla for the first time.  The visuals have all the imagination and colorful execution that makes for a rewatchable film, and the score has a pounding synth feel, with a mixed vibe of Daft Punk from Tron: Legacy and Queen from Flash Gordon.

The home release is accompanied by 15 behind-the-scenes features.  The best has Dolph Lundgren explaining the connections between key characters and concepts in the comic books with the portrayal in the film, in Going Deep Into the World of Aquaman.  You get a feel for how energetic and how fun Jason Momoa is in real life in Becoming Aquaman and A Match Made in Atlantis.  Details of how the director expanded on the comics and where he mixed Kaiju and historical sea stories can be found in James Wan: World Builder.  Heroines of Atlantis will leave viewers convinced future films in the series need more women characters, with only two to speak of in this film.  Other features include Aqua Tech, Atlantis Warfare, Black Manta, Villainous Training, Kingdoms of the Seven Seas, Creating Undersea Creatures, three Scene Study Breakdowns (the Sicily battle, the early submarine attack, and the underwater trench climax), and a sneak preview of Shazam.

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