Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Plot of ‘The Voices’ Fell Short of Giving Justice to the Promise of Its Premise



Jerry is a factory worker suffering from psychological imbalance.  Whenever he doesn’t take his prescribed medication, he experiences hallucinations, which includes imagining that his pets – Mr. Whiskers (a cat) and Bosco (a dog) – can talk.  And he prefers it this way, as his world is brighter and more cheerful.  On the other hand, whenever he takes his pills, he becomes more in tune with reality; thus, he sees his world as it is – messy and bleak – and is haunted by nightmares of his abused childhood.  Struggling with his mental condition – with Mr. Whiskers and Bosco somewhat acting as his id and superego respectively – an unintended, accidental killing (or is it?) would propel him into becoming a serial killer.

I’m probably not the first one to notice (because it’s that obvious) that The Voices is like a twisted version of the comic strip, Garfield – a socially awkward adult that talks to his cynical cat and is adored by his blissful dog.  It’s the perfect premise for a dark comedy.  That’s why I was really looking forward to this film after I got to read its synopsis.

Unfortunately, the premise was not transformed into the adorable and smart plot that I was expecting.  Sure, the story is not really bad.  In fact, most critics liked it.  But I find it lacking.  I believe there was a lot more that can be accomplished with the available material.

Ryan Reynolds’ performance here has been one of his best yet.  He really thrives in playing deranged, funny characters.  And it’s the best thing that I can probably take from this movie – a reminder that Ryan Reynolds is born to play the loony Wade Wilson a.k.a. Deadpool.  Now that’s one movie I would really hate to be disappointed about.

Why 'Digimon' is Objectively Better than 'Pokemon'



I’ve grown up enjoying both Pokemon and Digimon.  But though Pokemon is the bigger and more popular franchise, I’ve always held the belief that – at least with regards to anime series – Digimon is better than Pokemon (but with regards to games and other products, I have no say on the matter since I’ve only got the chance to play Pokemon video games and card games and never with any Digimon games, though I’m familiar with the gameplay of Digimon World 2).

As far as premise is concerned, there is more substance in Digimon’s than Pokemon’s.  Both shows involve humans directing “monsters” to battle.  However, in Pokemon, the whole battling is primarily intended for human amusement.  It’s basically a reinvented form of cockfighting.  On the other hand, in Digimon, the battling has a nobler purpose – usually, to protect the world or humanity from evil threats.  Moreover, a Digimon acts more of a partner to the human in battle rather than just being a pawn as with the relationship of a Pokemon and its owner/trainer.  

Pokemon tells the story of a boy named Ash Ketchum who left home to travel the world to find and collect as much Pokemon as he can, then oblige them to battle with other people’s Pokemon, so that he can be the greatest Pokemon master ever.  The charm of Pokemon is hinged on the appeal of collecting, and as a collector of stuff myself (comics, books, toys, etc.), I understand the thrill of collecting things.  But, seriously, even if all these Pokemon don’t mind or even fancy being collected and used by humans for sport, there’s something selfish and petty about Ash’s motivation as well as the concept of Pokemon collecting and battling.   

Actually, I disdain Ash Ketchum.  Though he has some likable qualities, like genuinely loving his Pokemon and sincerity in offering friendship to everyone (even his antagonists), he is, nevertheless, an incompetent, dumb, bland, and annoying character.  It’s so frustrating how he is easily gullible and lacks some form of tactical talent as a Pokemon trainer (especially when you get to play his doppelganger, Red, in the games.  Red is a more interesting character and makes much smarter decision than Ash – primarily because Red is your virtual avatar.  Also, the characters in the manga – including Red, who happens to also star on a Pokemon manga series – have more personality and more interesting Pokemon lineups).  And there hasn’t been much character development with Ash either.  He’s basically what he is now as he was about eighteen year ago.            

And that’s another thing.  Ash – unappealing of a character that he is – has been the central character of Pokemon all this time.  That’s 18 seasons being stuck with this character.  And his characterization and purpose is basically intact all this time: travel the world, collect Pokemon, have mediocre adventures, battle with other trainers, so that he “can be the very best.”  Yada, yada. 

In Digimon, there are diverse protagonists, so you have the option of choosing which character you want to root for or relate to.  In the first series of Digimon, there were seven (which became eight later on) main protagonists.  And that’s just the first series, there have been more series after that, hence, more characters.  Moreover, actual character developments are happening with these characters.  They are not stagnant, but dynamic.  These characters grow up.  These characters change.  New characters are introduced.  It’s just like the character pool of Power Rangers

As what was already mentioned in the previous paragraph, Digimon also has the advantage of having different series like the Gundam franchise.  With each Digimon incarnation, there is a different set of characters and premises and rules.  Again, just like Gundam.  It keeps everything fresh and exciting.       
 
In terms of strorytelling, Pokemon is dumber, goofier, and more light-hearted, which is actually not a problem, but it makes the extent of its storytelling limited.  It doesn’t help either that the writing on Pokemon is just plain bad a significant amount of time.   On the other hand, Digimon’s storytelling is smarter and purposeful.  Yes, there is some amount of campiness on Digimon, of course, but that’s just for the sake of creating humor (it’s still a kid’s show after all).  Nonetheless, because of its more substantial premise, Digimon is able to have much more depth and stakes (i.e. death and tragedy happens) in its storytelling. 

And because there is more maturity in its storytelling, Digimon’s villains are often more interesting.  Digimon’s villains are more ambitious and ruthless.  Most Digimon villains are consistently in “global menace” level.  In Pokemon, though Ash encounters some serious threats once in a while (especially in the movies), the campy Team Rocket serves as the regular antagonists.  Now, I like their trademark chant and member Meowth (since I have an affinity to cats), but Team Rocket is just a pesky group of antagonists that we just can’t take seriously. 

Speaking of Meowth, he is one of the rare Pokemon that can communicate by human language.  Almost all other Pokemon merely utter their names (or syllables from their names).  But all Digimon can talk!  The ability to talk does not only give Digimon more personality and appearance of intelligence and independence, but also establishes better relationship between the Digimon and his human (again, they are partners).

The nature of evolution is also more interesting with Digimon than Pokemon.  A Pokemon evolves in a ladderized manner, and once it gets to the next level, it permanently stays at that form.   On the other hand, a Digimon’s evolution to a higher form isn’t permanent.  It can always go back to its status quo. Moreover, aside from evolving into a higher form, there are other varieties of Digimon evolution.  For example, Digimon can combine (temporarily, of course) with another Digimon to form a new Digimon form.  Also, humans can even (temporarily) combine with or transform into Digimon.  Evolution is definitely more exciting and complex in Digimon.   

Simply put, Digimon has the superiority in plot, premise, characters, and even in some other small details – like, Digivices and tags and crests are aesthetically cooler, more personalized, and has much more utility than Pokedexes and gym badges.  So those who say that Digimon is just an inferior imitation of Pokemon don’t really know what they are saying – either they haven’t watched enough episodes of both shows or they simply lack good taste.  Pokemon might have come first, but Digimon is objectively better. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is Awesomely Epic, But Fails to Up the Ante



For the record, I do love Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It is even my most favorite movie I’ve seen this year so far.  However, I was expecting something more out of it.  I was hoping it would surpass the previous Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy, as the greatest Marvel film ever just as GotG surpassed the Marvel film prior it, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Also, I was hoping that it would provide a massive game-changing effect on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  However, though AoU (I will be referring to Avengers: Age of Ultron as such from here on) has some status quo changes at the conclusion of its high-stake narrative, there aren’t any Winter Soldier-level shakeups at all.

AoU has been extremely spectacular (especially the climactic battle sequence), and watching all those superheroes assembling together and just be superheroes is exciting enough.  However, the experience I had with the first Avengers movie wherein I was blown away by the culmination of Phase One’s years of build-up – all those superheroes standing together for the first time – has not been replicated when I watched AoU.  I still had a terrific time with AoU, but just not at the same level as the first one.     

AoU noticeably wobbles a bit with its story, and treads on a couple of plot elements that we have already seen in the first Avengers movie.  It has a good amount of humor despite of having a darker tone, but it’s not as clever and funny as the first one.  However, it does have a better distribution of important character moments, more thematic depth, and more eye-popping action sequences.       
       
In conclusion, Avengers: Age of Ultron might not be as insightful or game-changing as Captain America: Winter Soldier, and not as fun as Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was still a very enjoyable epic movie.    

May 1 in the US, but April 22 in the Philippines. Yeah!

Miscellaneous musings:
  • I find it funny that, in a likely attempt to subtly tie up the Rage of Ultron graphic novel with the movie, Marvel was willing to give us a glimpse of how the new Marvel Universe will turn out post-Secret Wars.  Rage of Ultron was earlier released this month and is obviously set after Secret Wars
  • I was expecting an Ant-Man reference.  Maybe as minor as a mention of Dr. Hank Pym (Ultron’s original creator in the comics).  There was none.
  • It was interesting in that one scene where Ultron leans his head sideways as if he’s Raymond Reddington.
  • The take on Hawkeye’s character here is a bit similar to the down-to-earth theme of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic book series.  
  • The Hulkbuster vs. Hulk sequence was pretty badass as expected.  But I’m not satisfied with how it concluded.   
  • I was annoyed that Joss Whedon employed his trademark “kill a beloved character” plot element once again, but only because it was done as a gratuitous attempt to create a dramatic effect (on the contrary, the “death” of Phil Coulson in the first movie served a purpose).  The death of that Avenger really felt unnecessary at that point.  It didn’t really improve nor push the story forward.
  • AoU has the weakest mid/post-credit scene in a Marvel movie ever. 
  • That fake bootlegged Spider-Man post-credit scene could have ruined AoU’s mid-credit scene for me.  That one really makes scenes.  It has a Whedonian touch and a perfect Spider-Man characterization.  It’s frustrating that that was a fake.   Why didn’t Marvel do something of the same effect?   
  • Or, maybe… Just maybe…Hmmmm…. Okay.  I’m calling this.  Maybe that Spider-Man post-credit scene is legit after all, but reserved for the American audiences on May 1, just as it was with the shawarma scene in Avengers.  I might just be delusional here (because I want a Spider-Man cameo so bad), but I’m still calling it. 
  • Here’s an exciting thought: Joss Whedon directing and co-writing the next Spider-Man movie!  With Whedon’s knack for writing funny one-liners and Spider-Man’s reputation as a wisecracker – it’s a perfect match.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The '12 Monkeys' TV Series Turned Out to Be Just as Interesting as the Movie It Was Based On



When I learned that a 12 Monkeys TV series was being developed by Syfy, I was doubtful that it’s going to be any good.  The 12 Monkeys movie is one of the most brilliant time travel tales ever.  The story has already been told.  Retelling it in TV format – even if there will be some reinventions – would not only seem redundant and unnecessary, but, it felt like, that no matter what, the TV series will always look like a cheap knock-off in comparison to the movie.  So I didn’t immediately jump into the show once it started back in January. 

But, then, I found myself marathoning it this April.  Was just compelled to try it.  And I was immensely entertained.  It’s not as smart and fresh as the movie.  But it was just as interesting.  The core premise of the movie – a guy named James Cole from a post-apocalyptic future is sent back in time (our present) to stop the enigmatic “Army of the 12 Monkeys” from releasing a plague that will put humanity at the verge of extinction – is the same with the TV series.  But there are much more complicated details involved with the TV series as well as well-done diversions from the source material.       

The rules of time travel set by its premise was not particularly innovative or mindblowing, and even have some shades of outlandishness at some details.  But the narrative consistently adhered to those rules, so there’s not much distraction from inconsistencies – unsatisfying those rules may be.  And it did result to some enjoyable storytelling. 

The writing isn’t perfect.  There’s always the nagging feeling that there’s something dumb and incoherent regarding plot details and character motivations.  Nonetheless, I’m just too entertained to even care.  Also, there is the fact that the story isn’t finished yet.  There’s still a lot of mystery.  Maybe everything will only perfectly make sense once the story ends.      
 
A couple of things already went full circle by the time the season concluded, but there are still plenty of intriguing questions left unanswered as well as room for thrilling storytelling opportunities set up by the game-changing events of the season finale that I am legitimately excited for season 2.  Not bad for a “cheap knock-off” of a classic 90’s film.

Monday, April 20, 2015

‘The Man with the Iron Fists 2’ is a Disappointing, Dull Sequel



The first The Man with the Iron Fists movie (released back in 2012) had a stupid, mess of a story.  However, it did feature a good amount of ludicrous, themed characters that delightfully made the movie look like an adaptation of an old-school fighting game like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.  Thus, despite its bad script and direction, it still resulted to a fun watch.  Unfortunately, the sequel doesn’t have the advantage of having a bunch of oddball warriors battling among themselves, which made this movie unremarkable and not as fun.

The Man with the Iron Fists 2 employs a familiar plot and a couple of clichéd tropes from old Hong Kong martial arts movies.  At the early part of the narrative, I was still finding it enjoyable because of the nostalgic appeal provided by its hackneyed tone (I adored Hong Kong martial arts flicks when I was a kid).  But as the movie goes on, I found myself getting tired of being able to predict every plot development and twist that unfolds.  By the time it gets to its last third, I couldn’t care less of the story. 

For a martial arts film, the fight choreography was impressive – if we’re still in the 80’s or 90’s.  By today’s standard (set by films like The Raid), the action was pretty lacking and lackluster.  It was as uncreative and unimaginative as its plot. 

The Man with the Iron Fists 2 is, simply speaking, a bad movie.  Even if you enjoyed the first movie – or, rather – especially if you enjoyed the first movie, you will find The Man with the Iron Fists 2 a disappointing and dull sequel.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

'Wyrmwood' is an Atypical, Insanely Funny Zombie Flick



The Australian-produced Wyrmwood: Road of the Damned – also known as simply Wyrmwood – tells of a zombie apocalypse that seemingly ensued after a meteor shower (it was unrevealed, however, whether there’s a direct connection between the meteor shower and the zombie apocalypse) and follows a mechanic named Barry taking a Mad Max-style road trip amidst it to get to his sister, Brooke, who, unbeknownst to him, has been taken captive by a shady military unit so that she can be a lab rat for a mad scientist’s experiment on zombies.          

What’s unique about this movie is how the specifics of this particular zombie apocalypse is shrouded in mystery and weirdness – People with blood type “A-” are unaffected; liquid fuel ceased to be inflammable (hence, became useless) when the zombie apocalypse started;  the breath of zombies are discovered to be efficient substitutes for liquid fuel, but this stops working when dusk arrives, as the zombies apparently use the “fuel” generated by their breath to move quicker during night-time; and, most interesting of all, Brooke gained the power to control zombies after getting experimented on.  The movie ends without actually providing clear explanations regarding these bizarre happenings.  Thus, by not attempting to make sense of it all, it only enhanced Wyrmwood’s insanity.  Which is a good thing, actually.  This is the kind of movie that doesn’t need to be strong with its logic, but in fact proportionately increases in entertainment value by how ridiculous and insane it gets.  

What I like most about this movie is how it was able to make me genuinely laugh aloud.  There are no gags involved here (like the classic zombie movie Shaun of the Dead); the mood is straight-up dire and deadpan.  However, hilarity is successfully generated by ludicrous situations and screw-ups that the narrative fabulously sets up.

Wyrmwood doesn’t have the makings of a classic, and it does use a couple of the clichés of the zombie genre, but it tells a sufficiently creative and amusing spin to an otherwise worn-out premise.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

'Furious 7' is Not the Franchise's Best, but Proved That It Still Has a Lot Left in the Tank



Furious 7 has received from critics the highest rating ever given to a Fast and Furious movie.  However, I think that it’s being overrated a bit.  I think – with all due respect – that if we get rid of the sentimental value of this film serving as a Paul Walker tribute, and we can just be a bit more honest about it, and judge this movie on its own merit, we’ll arrive at the conclusion that this movie is not as great as Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.  Seriously.  In my personal opinion, the past two Fast and Furious movies are better – the best two in the franchise. 

Furious 7 featured clever humor and one-liners here and there, but there was also some noticeable bad writing done on a couple of eye-roll inducing dialogues.  There were plenty of exhilarating and goofy action scenes to enjoy, but the climactic action sequence felt bloated and cluttered (hence, looked inferior compared to the action scenes during the early acts of the movie).  And the Rock – who lights up every scene he’s in and has a lot of scene-stealing lines ever since he joined the franchise – lacked screen-time.  Also, the camera work and editing were bad at times. 

Don’t misinterpret however that I didn’t like the movie.  I did.  It was a very fun watch.  For all its flaws, Furious 7 has ample good stuff to easily make up for it.  Firstly, again, most of the action scenes – both those involving cars and close-combat – were fantastic (I just didn’t like the climax – except for Paul Walker’s fight sequence.  That was awesome).  Secondly, I genuinely laughed whenever its attempts at humor hit the target (Tyrese Gibson’s character provided a good dose of comic relief once again).  Thirdly, the new characters were great.  It was a thrill to see The Transporter clash with Dominic Toretto; Jason Statham’s character has been, by far, the greatest, most badass villain of this franchise.  And Kurt Russell’s “bureaucratic badass agent” character was a delightful addition to the Fast and Furious universe – the guy was easily likable.  And, lastly, just like its predecessors, Furious 7 also has a lot of heart.

Moreover, I also have to applaud the work done on Paul Walker’s character.  I approve that instead of being killed off, he was instead retired in the most satisfying way possible.  I was also amazed by how the scenes that Walker was unable to shoot (because of his untimely death) were flawlessly accomplished by means of his brothers serving as stand-ins, strategic camera angles, and – most importantly – CGI.  Cinema magic has indeed come a long way.  The not-so-subtle, heartwarming tribute sequence at the end – to establish Brian O’Conner’s retirement from the franchise – was also a nice touch (though it was kind of funny how the manner of the characters’ behavior towards Brian’s retirement was as if he actually died). 

Furious 7 is dumb (as expected of this franchise), but immensely entertaining (as expected of this franchise since Fast Five).  And this latest Fast and Furious installment simply proved that this franchise still has a lot left in the tank. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Top 10 (Non-Western) Gunslingers in Fiction


I already made a list out of my favorite Western gunslingers in fiction (check it out).  This list is now exclusively made of fictional gunslingers that are not cowboys or gunfighters functioning in a Western setting.  However, it’s fine if these characters have some subtle references to or took some inspiration from the “Western cowboy” trope – they will still be considered for this list if so.  To qualify as a “gunslinger”, the character’s trademark weapons should be handguns, so anyone who regularly wields a weapon aside from handguns is disqualified for consideration.     

10.) HELLBOY

 
Hellboy, whose real name is Anung Un Rama (which means “and upon his brow is set a crown of flame”), is a demon that was summoned from Hell when he was still a baby by Nazi occultists.  He was rescued by the Allied forces and Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm, who took it up for himself to raise him as his own son.  Thus, Hellboy would grow up like a normal human, familiar with and engaging in human culture and practices.  He would also develop a knack for humor, gab, and sarcasm.  

Hellboy joins the organization founded by Prof. Bruttenholm – the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) – and uses his innate demonic strengths to fight in humanity’s behalf against occult threats.  Though he carries a variety of paraphernalia to combat supernatural evil forces, his primary weapon of choice is a large-ass revolver named “Good Samaritan.”  However, he’s only number ten in this list because he himself admits that he is a lousy shot and prefers to fight close-range.  

Ron Perlman killed it when he portrayed Hellboy in the film adaptation.   

9.) JUDGE DREDD

This character originally appeared in comics, but was also given a terrific live-action portrayal by Karl Urban in an underrated film adaptation back in 2012 (let’s pretend the one starring Stallone never happened).  In a dystopian future, Dredd is a “Street Judge” – a law enforcement officer who is literally a police, judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one.   Hence, once he apprehends a criminal, he can immediately convict and sentence him, and carry out the appropriate execution when necessary.  Being a Street Judge, Dredd possesses the standard issue “Lawgiver pistol” – which is designed to be exclusively handled by him and has six kinds of ammo.        

8.) THE PHANTOM

 
“The Phantom” is a masked crime-fighter persona that has been passed from father to son.  Because of this, the Phantom is thought of by people as immortal and has been given nicknames like “The Ghost Who Walks.”  The current Phantom, who is  being featured in the popular comic strips, is Kit Walker, the 21st Phantom in line.  He has no superpowers, but uses his skills, wits, and his reputation as a “ghost” to fight crime.  The Phantom doesn’t particularly seek criminals and then shoot them, often choosing to beat them up instead.  But he will use his two M1911 pistols when the occasion calls for it. 

7.) DAISUKE JIGEN

Jigen is a character from the popular manga/anime series Lupin III.   Jigen is often by Lupin’s side when he’s on a heist.  Though his primary function in Lupin’s crew is that of a “trigger man”, he also fulfills duties as Lupin’s aide-de-camp or unofficial “number two.”   He is adept in a variety of firearms, but his preference is that of a Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver.   He possesses amazing quickness and accuracy as a shooter, and is known to use the notch of his fedora to improve his aim.      

6.) THE SHADOW

The Shadow originated from the pulp era of comics and novels, and is just one of several Zorro-inspired “wealthy gentleman by day, masked crime-fighter by night” adventure heroes that emerged during that time (one other example of which is Batman).   My first encounter with the character was in the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin.  I was impressed by how “unique” of a superhero he was – particularly, how he will laugh maniacally like a villain to intimidate his opponents.  He possesses psychic powers and can also make himself invisible.  But even with these superpowers, the Shadow still arms himself with a pair of pistols.

5.) JOHN PRESTON

What if you can mix close-combat martial arts with gun-slinging?  That is what the movie Equilibrium explored with “Gun Kata”, a fictional fighting style that I adore.  John Preston (played by Christian Bale) is the main protagonist of the movie.  And in this movie’s universe, he is considered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Gun Kata fighters there are.  Equilibrium is a must-watch, not necessarily due to its story, but because of John Preston’s awesome close-combat gunfights.   

4.) SPIKE SPIEGEL

I admit that when I wrote my list on fictional Western cowboys/gunfighters, I forgot about Spike.  He would have qualified for that list since Cowboy Bebop is a “space western” and Spike is even referenced as a “space cowboy.”  So I intend to make it right with Spike, and make a little exception for him here (besides, I also established in the introduction that it’s acceptable if the character has “some subtle references to or took some inspiration from the ‘Western cowboy’ trope.”  Moreover, Spike isn’t really a complete “cowboy/gunfighter character in a Western setting”).  

Spike used to work for the Red Dragon Syndicate, but after faking his death so he can leave the syndicate, he found himself working as a bounty hunter with former cop Jet Black.  Spike shows proficiency in several skills, including martial arts, sleight of hand, piloting, and – of course – shooting.  Spike’s trademark gun is a Jericho 941.      

3.) ALUCARD

This reinvention of Dracula is my choice for the greatest “vampire hunter” character in fiction (read my “vampire hunters” list for a more detailed analysis of the character).  He can easily tear apart his opponents by means of his viciously powerful vampire powers, but favors engaging in battle with a pair of large, badass handguns:   the Hellsing ARMS .454 Casull Auto (or “The Casull” for short) and the Hellsing ARMS 13 mm Auto Anti-Freak Combat Pistol, Jackal (or “The Jackal” for short).  The Joker-like, “badass gunslinger” persona is what initially drew me to this character. 

2.) VASH THE STAMPEDE

Vash is one of the coolest anime characters ever.  As what I had written about him in the past:
At face value, Vash has one of the coolest get-ups or appearances found in anime.  Just one look at him and you can easily tell that he’s one kickass, badass dude.  And the appearance is not at all deceiving.  At the first episode, we learn how awesome he is when the fact that he’s a guy with a high bounty on his head was presented.  And then we got acquainted with his superhuman agility, reflexes, and eyesight, which are combined with his superior gunslinging skills.  More than that, the reason the anime is titled “trigun” is because Vash has three guns in his disposal: his revolver, a cybernetic left arm that turns to a machine gun, and his “Angel Arm” – his right arm, when activated by his revolver, turns into a powerful cannon that can level cities with a single blast.
Awesome dude.

1.) GENJO SANZO

I’ve been an anime fan for many years now, and Genjo Sanzo has remained as my most favorite anime character all this time.  A large part of it is because of the unparalleled depth and charisma of this gunslinging monk.  After being crowned as the 31st Sanzo and tasked to travel to the West to recover his late master’s Holy Sutra, he was led to a weapons room to arm himself for his mission.  Without any further thought, he proceeded to make a sole pick: a “banishing gun” – a five-shot Smith & Wesson revolver.   However, he was not only a gunslinger by his choice of weapon.  He truly embodied the personality of a gunslinger – terse but crusty; lonely; dogged; an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude; and never backs down from a necessary challenge, no matter how formidable and grim it is.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The ‘Daredevil’ Web TV Series is Simply Batmanly



Just finished watching Daredevil’s first season.  And I have one word for it:  “Batmanly.”  It’s a word I kind of invented (though it’s very much likely that I’m not the only one who was able to “invent” this word; it’s not that hard to think of, really) to describe something that has the same kind of badassery, angst, and/or awesomeness – or any other quality for that matter – as Batman.  In the past I’ve made use of “Batman-like” or “Batman-esque”, but “Batmanly” certainly has a better ring to it.  (Which is understandable, really, for Daredevil has always had the same tone as Batman – or, rather, Frank Miller’s respective runs on both comic book characters have put the same distinctively grim and gritty tone on their characters.  Hence, providing Daredevil a “Batmanly” adjective is simply appropriate.)     

The first season of Daredevil served as a slow-paced, 13-episode origin story.  Heck, Daredevil was only officially born – name and costume and all – in the second half of the last episode!  It would have been tedious if it had not been so well-written, and so well-directed, and so well-acted – so well-everything.  The fight scenes were brilliant, the themes were thoughtful, and there were a lot of great character developments.  It was simply too engaging to find something complaining about.  Though I would have loved for it to have shown more concrete connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the subtle ones featured, and to see Matt ditch the crude ninja outfit for the Daredevil costume sooner, and to see Matt’s walking stick being converted into Daredevil’s trademark billy club, and for Ben Urich to have not been killed off (because he’s an important character in the Daredevil/Spider-Man universe, and could still have been probably used in future MCU stories), but those are mere preferences rather than actual complains.    
    
Others are already saying that Daredevil is the greatest superhero TV series now.  Now, I wouldn’t go that far.  I still think The Flash and Arrow are better.  And, again, the first season has merely been an origin story for Daredevil.   We’ll only really know once we get to see some actual superheroing being done, which we’ll have to wait until the next season.  However, if this fantastic first season is any indication, I think that it has a good chance of getting there.  Daredevil is Marvel’s real first step into taking TV dominance from DC. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

In ‘Batman vs. Robin’, Batman Faces One of His Biggest Challenges Yet – Being a Father



Batman vs. Robin is set months after the events of 2014’s Son of Batman.  Damien Wayne – now permanently staying with his father, Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman, and serving as his Robin – is struggling with the paradigm change.  Raised and trained by his grandfather Ra’s al Ghul to kill without hesitation but is now being taught by Batman to avoid it – “Justice, not vengeance,” as Batman constantly reminds him – Damien has a difficult time keeping his grim, murderous instincts in check when dealing with criminals, but overcomes the temptation because of a sincere desire to honor his father. 

However, with both Bruce and Damien suffering from flawed and damaged personalities, friction between them is inevitable.  Bruce, concerned for Damien’s safety as well as the chance of him succumbing to the darkness inside him, wants to keep him in a tight leash.  On the other hand, Damien is deeply frustrated of his father’s lack of trust.

Batman and Robin’s strained, “powder-keg” relationship is inevitably set to explode.  All it takes is a spark.  And that spark came in the form of the Court of Owls – a sinister, secret society of Gotham’s rich and elite, who has manipulated the city from the shadows for generations to advance their agendas and preserve their power.  A part of their plans involves recruiting the rich Bruce Wayne into their ranks, but, ironically, also involves destroying his alter-ego, Batman, who they consider a great threat to their operations (I have no idea, though, why they didn’t do it sooner in Batman’s career).  The Court of Owls plans to attack Batman by exploiting the rift between him and Robin, and create conflict between the two (hence, the “Batman vs. Robin” title).  They intend to do this by sending their lead henchman, Talon, to win over Robin and manipulate him into joining their side. 

Batman vs. Robin’s plot made it possible for a compelling father-and-son drama unfold in its storytelling. And I believe the movie has successfully fleshed out what I think is the most powerfully unique thing about the whole “Damien Wayne as Robin”: the father-and-son drama it brings to the “Batman and Robin” dynamic – Batman struggling to be a father, Robin struggling to be a son.  Sure, Bruce Wayne also served as a father figure to Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake.  But it’s different with Damien because he’s his biological son.  The connection between them is much significant – as well as any chemistry and conflict that can develop – due to being their own flesh-and-blood with each other.  Batman’s struggles as a father put additional depth to the unique “humanized” charm that makes him stand out in the DC superhero pantheon.  And Damien being tormented in his search for identity, acceptance, and redemption makes him distinctive above all the Robins that came before him.  Above its enjoyable action and beautiful animation, this aspect, for me, is what makes Batman vs. Robin a great film. 

Miscellaneous musings:
  • Observation: Batman animated films > Justice League animated films.  So far, I haven’t disliked a Batman animated movie yet.     
  • I would love to see Grant Morrison’s “Batman and Robin” – wherein Dick Grayson was Batman with Damien Wayne as his Robin – adapted into an animated film.  But since that happened pre-New 52 and DC is seemingly adapting New 52 concepts exclusively for their current direct-to-video animated features, I don’t see this a likely thing happening.  Bummer.
  • I like Damien Wayne as a character.  The fantastic development of the character made him my choice as favorite Robin.  Yes, he’s an arrogant brat, but he’s a lovable arrogant brat.  However, I noticed that some annoyance was being provoked by the quality of the voicing of Damien in this movie.  The experience was like hearing Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph.  
  • The cameo of future Damien Wayne Batman from Batman #666 was much appreciated.
  • Next on DC Universe Animated Original Movies: a dark, Elseworld-style story titled Justice League: Gods and Monsters, wherein Superman is the son of Zod (not Jor-el), Wonder Woman is a New God, and Batman is a vampire.  I recently saw the teaser trailer.  And it looks pretty godawful.  And the worst thing is that this is produced by Bruce Timm, the man who created the beloved “Timmverse” – the greatest animated adaptation of the DC universe.  I wish he opted for a more lighthearted project.