Of Thanos and Polymer Clay

I should probably have written this right after I actually saw Avengers: Infinity War, but…I didn’t. But I have seen it and it was fine. Nothing overly special but vastly better than Age of Ultron and Civil War – each tied for worst Marvel film.

The spoilers start here, so if you haven’t seen it, skip to the superman head!

Avengers-Infinity-War-Team-Cap-Banner

I was wrong-ish about who would die, because I completely forgot that there was a second film, originally pitched as Infinity War Part 2. I said Iron Man and Captain America would die. I stand by that, but obviously with a conclusion still on its way, that’s the one where it will happen.

Speaking of dying, we might as well jump straight to that. It was bad. Does anyone actually believe that Spider-Man is dead? Or Black Panther? Or the entirety of the Guardians? Of course not. We know they have their own solo films on the way. Then again, the way Black Panther goes, off-screen, makes me think that the Russos never actually intended for us to believe that these heroes are all dead. Rather, I think we’re just meant to wonder how they’re going to get themselves out of this situation. The answer will sadly probably be alternate timelines or time travel, neither of which I’m fond of. But really, I think the problem is that it’s an issue at all. I know the fact that Thanos actually clicks his fingers is meant to be a shock, because that’s the big finale that the heroes are meant to prevent, but all that death doesn’t make for a sad ending. It’s too much and it’s too obviously temporary. If anything, the very last scene of the film should have been the click. Then cut to black. Leave everyone wondering what it meant and who died.

Otherwise, it was decent. Absurd that right after they find out that their friend is dead, along with an entire race of people, Iron Man and chums are cracking jokes. But that’s just the Marvel way of desperately trying to cram comedy into every gap. There are a lot of heroes to keep up with, and mostly it’s balanced well. Perhaps too much Thor and Vision, perhaps too little Black Panther and Captain America/Nomad, but generally, it was well done. Other than how they chose to make Peter Quill fairly unlikeable and Gamora little more than a token sacrifice.

AIW

Thanos himself was good. I liked the way they made him less bloodthirsty than they might have. He talks to the heroes, rather than monologuing at them. He understands and respects – to a degree – their efforts to fight him. Even when he has defeated one of them, he doesn’t kill them. He knocks out Nomad, but then just steps over him. He reaches down to the defeated Scarlet Witch, but just holds her head in an almost comforting manner. He might be mad, but he’s not 2D, cartoon evil. This is, of course, contradicted by the earlier parts of the film, where he slaughters every last Asgardian and murders both Loki and Heimdall. But still…

And then there’s the after credits scene. Nothing too special, other than A) I don’t think Fury will be one of the ones to come back, and B) She’s coming! I’ve been looking forward to the solo Captain Marvel film since it was announced, and I’m looking forward to seeing her arrive in Avengers 4. The colourful logo on Fury’s pager seemed a little over the top though. I maintain that, rather than the logo, a shiver-inducing, exciting end would have been:

…CONNECTING…

…CONNECTED…

Fury?

I’m coming.

And also that she should be in his contacts as ‘The Other Cap’. But that’s beside the point. It was good, I’ll watch it again, but I hope Avengers 4 will be better.

And now Superman:

Superman head sculpt

I mentioned before that I tried my hand at sculpting in polymer clay, and Superman was the result. I then tried sculpture 2, the main character of the book that I’ve just finished and am now editing.

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It includes this weird, Winston Churchill-looking baby. Better than the original ET-Yoda hybrid look it had before. Alex herself, on the other hand, didn’t turn out so well. Confirmed by the number of times people called her a he.

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But the finished product turned out well enough. Plenty of issues, as with the Superman head, but I at least have an idea how to avoid those issues next time.

Final-Before

As for the book itself, even when I’ve edited it, I still need to finish writing another book that has to come out before it, so it will still be a while.

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WB vs Justice League

justice league

Dawn of Justice was terrible. Snyder made Superman into a dull, whining emo and Batman into a dim-witted, drunken, murdering psychopath who happens to dress like a bat. It goes without saying, then, that even after a mostly very good solo outing for Wonder Woman, I had no hope at all for Justice League.

Imagine my surprise, then, when after weeks of trying and failing to get in to see it, I found myself entirely alone in the cinema, enjoying most of what I was seeing. That’s right, I went to see Thor. I jest. I didn’t see Thor. Perhaps ‘enjoying’ is too strong a term. Easily tolerating.

Given how long it has been out now, I won’t try to avoid spoilers here but, honestly, there’s pretty much nothing TO spoil.

First off, the postivity of my opinion will obviously be swayed by how awful BvS was and the fact that it’s difficult not to compare Justice League with that. Were this the first team up film they had made, I would on the one hand be less forgiving, but on the other be a little more hopeful for the future of the DCMU (which is what I’m calling it). It had plenty of problems, but they seemed smaller than those in BvS, and there were actually enjoyable parts. On a scale of 1 (BvS) to 10 (WW – not that I’d quite give WW a 10/10), I would call Justice League a 6. In a proper rating out of 10, standing on its own merit, I’m not too sure what I could give it. Definitely less than that. 4?

Let’s start with my three biggest problems:

The CGI – WB needs to get its &%$! together when it comes to many things, but perhaps the most obvious to even the most casual of moviegoers is the CGI. It is sensationally bad. JL contains the worst yet. From a terrible, 100% CGI villain to completely unnecessary 100% CGI Alfred, to green-screening that looks like an unfinished fan film, WB would be hard pressed to make the CGI any worse. Cyborg’s face doesn’t need to be CGI – just have him wear a half mask and do it up with little bits of CGI. Although, they couldn’t get Superman’s upper lip to look realistic, so perhaps all is lost in this department.

The length – Perhaps ‘learning’ from people complaining about the length of BvS, Justice League is only two hours long. That would be okay for a solo film, but this is a team-up of six major characters. Although it did, to be fair, seem to give the characters equal-ish screen time, it could have done with at least an extra 30 minutes. As it is, it feels as though Whedon or Snyder or someone forgot that a film should have a middle, and instead went straight from the beginning into a run up to the end. One moment, we’re seeing some of the characters doing their own thing, and the next it’s all go. It’s like Usain Bolt turning up for the Olympics opening ceremony only to hear the starting gun and everyone’s off running and he’s not even in his goddamn shorts!

The Foundation – The film itself can’t help that it has to work off BvS, but…it does. Snyder stupidly rushed into the death of Superman storyline when the world doesn’t trust him, Batman just tried to murder him, and Diana has barely even met him. Even we, the audience, don’t have a good grasp of him as a character (this particular iteration, that is). Yet we’re supposed to believe that the entire world is in mourning because of his death, and so is each of the soon-to-be League. There are shots of places around the world flying gigantic flags with the Superman logo on them. Simply moronic.

Since I’m not sure how else to continue this whatever-this-is, let’s talk about the heroes:

Batman

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Batman was a huge disappointment in BvS. He was stupid and oblivious (he lets himself get caught in Luthor’s servers twice, and clumsy, plodding Clark Kent manages to follow him there a third time without him even noticing. World’s greatest dewhat?). There was an allusion to him being an alcoholic womaniser, rather than this being simply a disguise and misdirection. He’s a murdering psychopath. He stands smirking as his traps hurt Superman instead of actually acting. He sees Doomsday about to laser-face him and cowers behind his hands instead of using his multitude of tools and skills to save himself (I maintain that the scene should have happened as is, except without him swearing and hiding, and when Diana turns around to see if he’s okay, he’s standing on the roof above, having escaped in time anyway – she’s still the hero who jumped in front of face laser to save him, and he’s still Batman).

batman arkham

But…I’m getting off track. In Justice League, we’re not too sure if he’s still a murderer because no one ever mentions it and he only fights parademons, which don’t count. He’s still not the Batman I want to see, but he’s a little closer to it. Despite being an older Batman, he shows no signs of the take-charge, always ten steps ahead, ready for anything, surprised by nothing Batman I want to see. For reference, Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman for me – a live action version of the Batman of the Arkham games would be the Marvel-buster (basically a more brutal, adult version of the animated series Batman). But he doesn’t seem quite as stupid this time, at least. The worst part for me was when Superman first shows up to fight Steppenwolf and Batman literally gasps, with a huge grin on his face. I mean…no.

Batman’s first scene is by far the best and (along with a certain two-sworded villain’s appearance in the post-credits) actually gave me a little hope for his solo film (NOTE: Before editing this, I read that he may now not be playing Batman again after all, which is disappointing – the problem is the Batman he’s been given, not how Affleck plays him). There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it just felt…nice. It felt Batman-ish. A common burglar is climbing out of a window with his loot, and in the window’s reflection, you see Batman watching. Then comes a fairly typical cat and mouse sequence where the thief tries to shoot him but Batman’s never quite there. Again, nothing special, but the most Batman-ish we’ve seen this Batman (and credit to the city around them – it felt like Gotham).

Wonder Woman

WW

There’s not too much to say about Wonder Woman. Her role is fairly minimal outside of hitting and slicing things. Otherwise, she’s really only there to protest bringing Superman back and to explain, unconvincingly, why she went off people in between WW and BvS. But what she did do, she did well.

It looked from the trailers like the team was a bit of a mess right up until Diana takes charge and gets them working as a team. This is not the case. Neither do they work badly together to start with, nor do they work particularly well together in the final fight. Perhaps WB’s collective brain will start working and we’ll see a Patty Jenkins Justice League next. I don’t know how she’d handle Batman, but WW, Superman, and Flash would all do well under her.

I was disappointed to see that not once did she fly. I still don’t know for sure if this version of Wonder Woman CAN fly. She certainly seemed to in her solo film, but it wasn’t clear enough. I’ve said before that, to me, she is almost Superman’s equal. He has more raw strength and power, but she is a demigod (or maybe full god in this version?) and is magic-based, and a trained warrior. These things together – again, to me – make her pretty much his equal in terms of who can beat who (up until Superman totally unleashes, that is; which he didn’t). I was worried, then, when I saw in a leaked video of Superman’s fight with them, that they headbutt each other. She barely knocks his head back, but then he headbutts her back and she gets planted in the concrete. The full scene is slightly better, as he actually headbutts her first, and does as little damage as her return headbutt. This at least shows that the most powerful man in the universe has to make some real effort to hurt her (but look out further down for how that’s completely ruined later on).

Superman

superman

We all knew he was going to come back in this film, but it was as though all the characters knew he was going to come back in this film too. There was no light bulb moment when they realise they can bring him back; there was no clever or interesting way they went about it; there was no emotional realisation that it might actually be possible; there was no real drama to him suddenly being alive again. Aquaman and Diana put forward their ideas that it might be a bad idea – that they don’t know that he’d come back wholly himself – but otherwise, there’s not really any discussion about it.

Then there’s the fact that he’s only in three crucial scenes. His fight with the others, his talk with Lois, and then the end fight when he turns up to save the day, single-handed. Again, this is where a longer film would have come in handy. Perhaps the worst thing about this is that when he does turn up to fight Steppenwolf (cue Batman’s schoolgirl gasp), he bats him about like a cat playing with a dead mouse. This is badly handled. Not only because the other superpowered heroes do him almost no damage (remember how Superman had to really try in order to hurt WW?), but also because of the introductory flashback scene of the first time he comes to Earth, and is fought by Amazons, Atlantians, ‘the tribes of man’, and…wait for it…gods. Yes, the actual gods fight him, and he’s still only just sent packing. But Superman turns up and that’s that. He doesn’t even get a hair out of place while ‘fighting’ Steppenwolf. This, to me, is a little too much. Steppenwolf should at least have got in a couple of good hits. It should have been Superman’s power that allowed them TOGETHER to overwhelm Steppenwolf. Sure, he should be capable of defeating him single-handed, but it shouldn’t be that easy, or else what is the point of the Justice League? Not to mention, if Steppenwolf had hurt Superman a bit, we’d have been wondering just how much more damage Darkseid will be able to do (and I really just can’t get over how weak it makes Diana seem).

Bad faceAnd he was just creepy and weird, like a Henry Cavill doppleganger was brought in to play him. He was so inhuman and unemotional all the way through – even when fighting Steppenwolf – as though he resented having to be there – character and actor.

 

Also, where did he get his new suit?

Flash

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Apparently, Flash was most people’s favourite character. I don’t really understand why. His scenes with his father were a bit weak – there was no chemistry there at all. A lot of his humour was way over the top, forced, unfunny, and just childish. He runs weirdly. There’s a scene near the end where he’s running along a road, and I literally thought he was falling or something because of the way his arms were flailing about. But no, that’s just how he runs.

He is perhaps the most pointless character, as at least the others have reason to be there. Flash is just there because he’s part of the Justice League, so he HAS to be. Sure, he saves some people, but there’s no part where he earns his place in the team or the film.

Aquaman

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I expected to dislike Aquaman. I don’t dislike Jason Mamoa, but his characters come across as too arrogant and smug for my liking. But, aside from a bit too much of the “Oh yeah”s and the “My man”s and the “Yeah-ya”s – which are nails on chalkboard to most non-Americans – he was actually okay. Not more than okay, but okay. I’ve read reviews that refer to him as the ‘bad boy’, which is just ridiculous. There’s nothing bad boy-ish about him other than his initial refusal to help. That’s it. He doesn’t hesitate for a second once he’s onboard. Doesn’t second guess anyone, doesn’t take issue with Diana taking charge and giving orders (one order), nothing. He has a teeny tiny spat with Cyborg which is over in an instant and feels no more serious than the rest of his banter.

What I don’t understand, though, is why he helps in the first place. Steppenwolf attacks Queen Mera, and Aquaman turns up to get beaten too. Then Mera – queen, remember – tells him that his then-queen mother gave him up to protect him (which he seems to immediately accept and change his previously-negative opinion of said mother), and that it would have been the mother’s duty (as queen) to go after Steppenwolf, but now it is Aquaman’s. W…why? Why is the queen’s duty not the queen’s duty now that the queen is a different queen? At least the Amazon queen actually makes some effort herself (and is actually acted properly too). It’s made to sound as though this is the first time Aquaman has even turned up in Atlantis, too, which makes it all even weirder.

Cyborg

Cyborg

I’ve heard it said that this is the weakest character, but I don’t agree. I don’t think he is given any less screen time than other characters, and best of all, his self-pity doesn’t last long and isn’t overwhelmingly irritating like certain other Batman/Superman films I could mention. He’s well acted, badly-CGI’d, and plays a crucial role in the story – but not so crucial that you feel he should have had a bigger part to play.

But seriously, why CGI the entire cyborg half of his face? It’s unnecessary and awful.

JL

When it came to humour, as I’ve already said, Flash failed to amuse most of the time, but even that wasn’t totally horrendous as Age of Ultron taught me to expect from Whedon. The worst of it was the bit we already saw, with him getting excited about the Bat signal. Otherwise it was his general awkward, immature nature that was supposed to amuse. There were, I think, two parts that actually made me laugh – one of which is an older woman on the news, which has nothing to do with anything.

Danny Elfman – I’m assuming at Whedon’s behest, or at least permission – brought back the Batman and Superman themes (the proper ones), which worked quite well for Batman, despite him not being a Batman worthy of that theme. For Superman, I can only assume the part where it was used properly was cut. The only time we hear it is a bizzaro version when he’s not himself and is fighting the team. There is a recognisable sound when he punches Steppenwolf, which might be at least a bit of the theme, but it was barely audible underneath the noise of Steppenwolf hitting the ground. Perhaps just as well, since he was even less deserving of it than Batman.

HARWOOD

‘Flat’ is probably the best word to describe it. Nothing ever felt remotely dangerous or dramatic, the only time the characters had a hint of emotional interaction with each other was when Bruce annoys Diana and she shoves him. Even that was over in an instant and they were apologising to each other minutes later. There’s no coming together, no clumsiness of people not used to working as a team and not used to trusting others, no…anything much. I’m not even totally sure why it would have been so terrible if Steppenwolf got all three motherboxes. I’m sure it was explained… It’s full of missed opportunities, rushes into things too fast, leaves no time for meaningful character development. It’s more like a pitch for a full film: ‘These are just some of the things you’ll see if you let us make a full Justice League movie’.

So, perhaps the main reason I actually ended up enjoying my two hours was because it was not as terrible as Dawn of Justice. I can’t explain why else I left the cinema not feeling as though I wasted two hours. I want the extended cut (BvS was less terrible in the extended cut), but whose do I want? Snyder’s? Not really. Whedon’s? Not really. I just want a longer, fuller version. But for now, I’m just surprised that I actually want to see it again.

Batman

See also:

The Big Blue Boy Scout
Birth of the Superhero

Zack Snyder v Batman v Superman

Or: Zack Snyder v The DC Universe

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When I first heard about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I was more excited about it than I was about The Force Awakens (though that changed, of course, as TFA came closer). I wasn’t sure what to make of Ben Affleck being cast as Batman, but I thought he might do well. I was not a fan of Jesse Eisenberg being cast as Lex Luthor, but beyond that, I was expecting a good film.

Then the trailers started coming in. The first few teasers were good and only increased my excitement for the film. But it soon started to get worrying. Batman seemed to be doing things Batman shouldn’t be doing. He seemed to be showing too much emotion for my liking. Luthor was acting like an idiot. Doomsday right there in a trailer?! But I still held out hope. There have been trailers before that ill portrayed the film, and I could live with a slightly different take on Batman – every actor is going to play him differently, obviously, and I’ll never get the live action version that’s in my head anyway.

But after my hopes coming and going and coming and going again, I watched the film this morning not knowing what to think. And…I still don’t know what to think. If I were to give the briefest review, I would say it had good bits and bad bits, and overall I quite enjoyed it. But I’ll go a little deeper than that, with no spoilers.

Let’s randomly start with Lex Luthor. I was completely justified in my concerns about Jesse Eisenberg’s casting. He was probably the worst thing about the film. In the three video reviews I watched yesterday of the film, he was twice referred to as being very like Jim Carey. And the more the film goes on, the more I can see why. Though he isn’t as over the top as the reviews can make him seem, there are a couple of places where he brought to mind Carey’s Riddler in Arkham Asylum at the end of Batman Forever. He is certainly a new take on the character, being borderline schizophrenic rather than insane through his megalomania. He does at least have a few decent lines regarding whether Superman is truly good.

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Gal Gadot was a good choice for Wonder Woman, I thought, and she gives off a sense of power and virtue. Her sudden appearance (sudden to most of the characters) towards the end of the film made me smile, yet I can see how people not entirely familiar with her character would be very confused. Why, they would muse, is Wonder Woman doing more damage to Doomsday than Superman?

Affleck did a good job as Batman. I’ve heard a lot of people say he’s the best thing about the film, but I don’t know if I would go that far. To me, he is similar to Cavill as Superman: good, but not all that remarkable. I wouldn’t like to see him replaced and I’d be happy to watch him in the role again, but his name wouldn’t roll off my tongue if I was asked who I think the best Batman is (Kevin Conroy, since you ask). I’ll come back to more of Batman in a minute.

It’s difficult to talk about the film without properly…talking about it. A lot of the issues revolve around things that are, or could be considered, spoilers. But suffice to say that one annoyance is that the trailers pretty much show us the entire film. There is very little in there that will surprise you after watching those. Which is absolutely ridiculous on the part of the marketing team. Doomsday should never have been shown in the trailers, particularly. Even Wonder Woman’s best bits are in the trailers.

Just like my ramblings, the film is all over the place and lacking in any kind of sense of consistency or substance. I don’t understand a lot of the choices, such as sitting Metropolis right next to Gotham (you literally see the Bat signal from Metropolis), or having Batman closer to the end of his career just as the Justice League begins come together. Unfortunately, a lot of it is stuff I can’t mention in a spoiler-free review (like the plot point they used for the resolution – ridiculous and too soon). The dream sequences are another particularly confusing aspect of the film, since they don’t actually seem to have any relevance to anything.

It’s as though there are multiple films playing out in one, and Snyder doesn’t know which one to point the camera at. Although for the most part the way it jumps about isn’t too confusing, there is a lot of stuff that didn’t need to be in there at all. Like the cameos from the other Justice League members. The cameos themselves are bad, the way they are done is bad, and they are utterly pointless except to show Batman and Wonder Woman that there are more metahumans out there, which isn’t necessary information for this film. Why not end the film with one of them saying something like, ‘You know, there were more videos on that drive…’ and going from there?

In the end, though, the thing that really brought the film down was Batman. Yes, you’ve heard that he’s the best part, and yes he’s very good. But he kills people. Like a moron, Snyder tried to excuse it as not murder, but just plain old manslaughter. Funnily enough, that doesn’t make it okay. As I said, I can deal with a different take on the character, but when you completely alter a fundamental aspect of that character…well, you’re a twat.

Batman Kills.jpg

Not only does Batman kill, but he kills unnecessarily. Each and every kill could have been avoided and handled differently. At one point he even has devices that disable his enemies’ guns, so clearly some kind of brain activity is possible when it comes to thinking non-lethally. But instead, Snyder decides to take the lazy approach and just murder everyone else. And it is laziness because, at the end of the day, Batman in the comics can actually be quite profound, and that includes his reasons for not killing and his justifications for why it isn’t necessary, right, or his choice to make. Writing in good reasons why Batman still sticks to his all-important rule is so much harder than ‘oh, well, you know, he’s just tired of bad people doing bad things and stuff…’, so they simply didn’t bother.

That said, I wonder how the gentleman that Superman smashed through a brick wall at 100mph is doing.

One of the biggest aspects of Batman’s character is his iron will. And that extends to his not killing. But that’s not the only reason he doesn’t kill. It’s because he knows how close to the edge he is. He knows the darkness inside him. And he knows that if he were to go down that path, there would be no coming back; he would become everything that he has been fighting against. But no, Zack Snyder knows better, right?

Interesting question: If Batman is so happy to murder people, why is the Joker alive?

I decided early that I would never take a life. Right around the time I decided that I wanted to live. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision and it was more than moral. It’s about identity. As long as you can choose that, choose who you are in the world…you can choose to call yourself sane.‘ – Batman, New Earth

Vengeance blackens the soul, Bruce. I’ve always feared that you would become that which you fought against. You walk the edge of that abyss every night, but you haven’t fallen in and I thank heaven for that.‘ – Alfred, Mask of the Phantasm

If you kill a killer, the number of killers in the world remains the same.’ – Batman

It Always Starts With One

My biggest issue with the film is actually that in doing the things he has done, Snyder has impacted the entire DC cinematic universe. Everything to come has to work off the template that Snyder has laid down, even if Snyder himself is gone. And he absolutely should be removed from the Justice League, in my opinion. I don’t think he, or David S Goyer, should be allowed anywhere near the DCMU again. Or any superhero film for that matter.

To me, Snyder with BvS is a lot like Frank Miller with Dark Knight Returns. I know a lot of people love that graphic novel and think it’s the ultimate Batman, but I detest it (sorry). Neither of them seem to understand or even like either Batman or Superman.

But, as I said before, at the end of the day I did enjoy the film more than I disliked it. And I think I have run out of things to say without spoilers.

Batman

If you want more Superman and Batman, here are a couple of articles I’ve written before on the subject(s):

The Big Blue Boy Scout

Birth of the Superhero

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I know you miss my clever titles, but…SEO.

As you may have noticed, I enjoy superhero films. And games. And sometimes graphic novels. So, naturally, I have been looking forward to The Avengers: Age of Ultron since it was announced. Admittedly, I actually found myself less enthusiastic about it as time went on, to the point that when I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn’t remember that I was going to see it. But, I was happy to be going back in to see Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, et al. Mostly, I wanted to see one of the new additions to the Avengers team, The Vision. Well, I say mostly, but it was half that and half wanting to see James Spader’s Ultron.

From the trailers, we got the impression that Ultron could be the first villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who was truly menacing, intimidating, and scary. Someone who posed a very real threat to the Avengers, powerful as they are. Unfortunately, what we got was…a comedian.

Avengers Age of Ultron

Let’s start from the start. The snowy, forest scene that we saw plenty of pictures of gets blasted apart by the Avengers and Hydra. Already, about 1 minute in, the film made its first mistake. It tried to copy the impressive single-shot sequence from near the end of the first Avengers. The one where the camera moves from one Avenger to the next, to the next, without cutting. It looked good in that film. In this film, it was some of the worst CGI I’ve seen for a long time. It was contrived and looked simply awful.

And that just, for me, sums up a lot of Joss Whedon’s writing in Age of Ultron. He seemed more concerned with getting cheap laughs than telling a story. With forcing ‘cool’ scenes than actually telling us what the hell was going on. Although the story is simple, I found myself confused more than once. Ultron himself seems to go through a few different variations of his evil plan but we, the audience, seem to find that out by accident. Of course, the story itself is the biggest cliche there is when it comes to stories involving artificial intelligence, but that should have been okay. After all, it’s how a story is told that’s the main thing. Unfortunately, it was told quite badly.

Ultron. It’s James Spader! How do you get a voice like James Spader’s to come out of your villain’s mouth, and still manage to make him benign and unthreatening? Yes, he’s more powerful than any of the Avengers and, yes, he kills a few people, but he also jokes constantly. It takes a very special writer to write a character who is both witty and scary, and Joss Whedon is not that writer. So yes, Ultron is funny. Very funny in places. But what do you want from a big, bad villain: threat and menace, or some laughs? The humour of the Marvel films is one of their attractions, but set yourself a damn limit!

It’s Iron Man 3 and Mandarin all over again. Remember how good the trailers seemed? How menacing and threatening The Mandarin sounded? We knew it was going to be good. Then we watched the film and…Trevor Slattery. What? Not that Ultron isn’t a threat. He’s just not threatening.

It seems like Whedon wanted him to be like a moody teenager at first, since he has only just been created. But he never really bothers to push the character down that route. Which leaves him a bit all over the place (like most of the film).

James Spader is, naturally, very good as Ultron regardless of the writing.

avengers-age-ultron-poster

You’ve probably noticed that the writing is the main let down of the film for me. It had little structure. Things just happened. It was simply ‘Oh now this is happening’, rather than ‘This is happening because he did that, and they need this outcome, blah blah blah…’ Rarely was there much cohesion between the scenes and the storytelling.

So those are my main complaints.

It’s less of a complaint, but I was disappointed with how little Paul Bettany’s The Vision was in it. He appears late on in the film, and only really has 4 or 5 scenes. And a very small handful of lines. Yet, despite that, he was one of the best things about the film. Him and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who was much better utilised this time round. And funny.

Thor seemed a little redundant this time, despite practically being a god. In fact, he took more of a beating from Ultron than any of the mere mortals, who held their own against him perfectly well. But there was no real story to his character, other than in a set up for future films. Though in light of the other issues, this didn’t really bother me. He was still Thor as we know him – though perhaps not taking quite as much punishment as we know he should be able to.

Overall, I did enjoy the film, you might be surprised to hear. I will definitely watch it again, perhaps at the cinema with the free ticket I got to make up for the flickering of the screen throughout.

I should probably list all the things I liked about it now, but it’s actually a lot harder than listing the things I didn’t. The memory of the film seems quite blurry, thanks to the aforementioned lack of structure.

Ah, but I know what I will complain about again though! Coulson. No Phil Coulson. The current events of Agents of SHIELD do mean that it kind of makes sense that he wouldn’t have a cameo, but I’d hoped they would find a way. After all, his death in the first film caused such outrage that Marvel had to bring him back!

But then I read Whedon’s comments on the topic. As far as he’s concerned, Coulson is dead to the MCU. Basically, he sounds extremely bitter, with his ego bruised by the fact that Marvel decided to undo his decision to kill the character. I wouldn’t be too happy either, but at the end of the day, these characters are Marvel’s not Whedon’s. The fans are Marvel’s, not Whedon’s. So I’m as disappointed with Whedon as I was with the film. More so, actually.

What I found amusing by his statements concerning Coulson, though, was that he said that the plot device of someone dying and then coming back can be used to the point of there never feeling like there’s something at stake. While that’s true (and let’s ignore the fact that it doesn’t lessen the impact at the time), he’s saying this after putting out a film that contains the utterly pointless death of a main character. Not only is it utterly pointless, and only there so that we feel like the whole thing had been dangerous and they didn’t all get out unscathed, but it seemed like he had been thrown into the film for that purpose.

age-of-ultron-the-vision

I understand the idea that characters might need to die, otherwise it’s all too easy and clean and nothing really feels like it’s at stake, but that’s not necessarily the case. Ultron could have been the villain who tore the heroes apart on the inside. Who got in their heads and broke them. After all, as someone said: Ultron probably knew more about each of them that they knew about each other. He could quite easily have used that knowledge. No one needed to die in order for them to not make it out unscathed. But more to the point, if you are going to kill a character, don’t make it so entirely contrived.

But anyway, that’s probably enough ranting. Go and see it. It’s quite good, despite what I’ve said… I’d probably rate it 4th or 5th out of the Marvel films.

Batman V Superman

Finally, we have a trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. And that subtitle is still stupid.

The trailer was leaked on Thursday night/Friday morning and was promptly removed from most corners of the internet. I’m not sure of the quality of the original leak, but the version I saw was a fairly bad cam version (someone recorded it off the screen with a phone or camcorder). In response, a probably very annoyed Snyder/Warner Brothers did the best thing: they released the full quality version on Friday night. No doubt you’ve already seen it, but…watch it again:

Already there’s a lot of whinging about it, even though it’s a two-minute teaser trailer. It’s pretty much balanced between Superman and Batman, and alludes to the unrest among the people. It also gives us our first look at Batman in motion, and he looks bigger than Superman. The tone of the trailer is dark – by necessity – and people are assuming that means the entire film will be a dark and gritty adaptation. While I’m among the ones hoping that it won’t be (Superman shouldn’t be dark OR gritty), I’m not about to leap to such conclusions based on our first tease of the film.

There’s still some more to come with Snyder’s original IMAX event on Monday. I’m not sure exactly what will be there, but I read in one place that there will be two trailers shown for it. Snyder himself tweeted that there will be some shots in the trailer there that we didn’t get in Friday’s release. I had read earlier in the week that Aquman, Flash and Cyborg all get a brief shot, which didn’t happen, so perhaps they’ll be in Monday’s. I wonder too, though, if the IMAX event trailers will be like the comic-con one, where only those attending will get to see it, and the public never will.

The Dark Knight will take on the Big Blue Boy Scout in Zack Snyder’s second DC universe entry. Not a lot is known about the plot, except that it will deal with some of the aftermath of the events in Man of Steel (Zod invading and killing a lot of people, and Superman himself destroying the remains of Metropolis). It seems public opinion will be mostly against him, and he’ll be considered a menace rather than a hero. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) will no doubt take full advantage of this, as he’ll consider the flying alien a threat too.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman

Judging by the batwing scene in the trailer, it seems someone – probably Luthor – will take control of Batman’s toys and use them to trick Superman into attacking the Dark Knight. Maybe. That’s a complete guess. Somehow, though, the two will come to blows. That can’t last the entire film, though, so who knows what the rest will be about.

Most of the Superman scenes, to me, seem to be some kind of dream sequence – perhaps a nightmare that he’s having as the public turn on him, making him question himself and what he might turn into. There is a shot of some soldiers with the Superman shield on their shoulders. Could that be an allusion to the alternate reality where Superman turns into a brutal dictator?

There’s plenty of stuff in the trailer that could be broken down and talked about at length, but…I won’t. Did you see the Riddler easter egg though?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (still stupid) will be out on 25 March 2016. It stars Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jason Mamoa (Aquaman), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor). And some others.

Jason Mamoa Aquaman

Agents of SHIELD

…and other miscellaneous stuff not mentioned in the title.*

I almost spelled miscellaneous without my browser’s help! Which would be mildly impressive if I weren’t supposed to be a writer.

I haven’t written anything other than the book tour posts for quite a while, and I still can’t think of anything much to say, so I thought I’d ramble about some stuff. Starting, and quite possibly comprising entirely of, the Agents of SHIELD finale.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Agents of SHIELD is a spin-off from Marvel’s Avengers. SHIELD is, of course, the government agency put together to protect people from stuff. They are the ones who put together the Avengers initiative. The TV series is headed by Agent Coulson, who has a small role in some of the Avengers’ solo films (Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor…and off the top of my head I think that’s all) and then another small, but pivotal, role in the Avengers film itself (or Avengers Assemble in the UK, since apparently we can’t tell the difference between the Hulk and Mrs Peel).

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of SHIELD started off a little too cheesy for my liking, but I decided to give it more of a chance, because I like Agent Coulson a lot. He is very stand-out in the films for someone who has so little screen time. He also always manages to say something funny, even in the most serious of situations, without taking away from that seriousness. I’m glad I did, because the show gets better and better. And better. The acting, CGI, story and general writing all improves quite drastically over the course of a single season. In fact, it has come so far in a short time that it feels to me like I watched the end of the second, or even third, season rather than only the first.

As soon as it got its talons (’cause the SHIELD symbol is a bird! Get it?) into a solid overarching storyline, it really got going, and took some turns that I thought were actually quite brave for any TV show, let alone one that has such a mixed reception.

Spoilers ACTIVATE, as…no SHIELD agent would ever say.

There are two main plot points that stand out to me. First is the reason Coulson is alive and not dead. He died in the Avengers, and I think it was really only due to fan outrage that Joss Whedon decided to bring him back. Coulson believes that he only died for a short while, but the EMTs arrived in time to revive him. Nick Fury then used his supposed death to unite the Avengers. This is not so subtly disproved by Shepherd Book’s (or whatever his name is in this) line of ‘He really doesn’t know, does he?’ It’s an absolutely terrible line, badly delivered, and contributed to me wondering if this was going to be a worthwhile show. However, now we were all wondering what really happened to Coulson.

Agent Coulson

Over the course of the season, Coulson begins to wonder as well. A nice touch is that every time anyone mentions Tahiti – where he supposedly spent his R&R time – he is compelled to respond with ‘It’s a magical place’. To begin with, this seems like an amusing quirk of Coulson’s, until you realise that it really is a compulsion. Then he realises too. And it’s a surprisingly impactful moment when he does, because he’s always such a believer in SHIELD that when he starts to doubt what he’s been told by them, you really feel sorry for him.

In short, he discovers that SHIELD scientists brought him back to life with a controversial process, and that he was begging them to let him die the entire time. Which is quite sad. As though that weren’t bad enough, he then discovers that the drug they used was being harvested from some kind of alien who appeared to have been cut in half at some point. It looked a bit like a Frost Giant (from Thor), but according to internet consensus, it isn’t. And then as though THAT weren’t bad enough, he discovers that he was overseeing the research for the project, which was being put together in case an Avenger fell, and told Nick ‘Motherf*$#ing’ Fury in no uncertain terms that the project should not continue, as too many psychological issues arose from the process.

The second plot point was the brave one, I thought. I don’t really remember any other show that has done it. My memory isn’t the best, though, and I’m sure it has been done at some point. Episode 17 reveals that one of Coulson’s team – Ward – is actually a Hydra agent. And it’s not one of those ‘Oh, really he’s a SHIELD agent pretending to be a Hyrda agent pretending to be a SHIELD agent’ things. Nor does he have a change of heart at the end and save their lives. He’s simply a traitor. I thought, after nearly a full season of him protecting the team and whatnot, this was quite a brave direction to take. That said, I have to say I think Ward was the weakest character and actor. He was a little too stereotypical, generic tough guy. The actress who plays Skye seems to have realised that her looks alone won’t pull her through, and so has improved her acting a lot, but Ward hasn’t changed.

Nick Fury

Lastly, I wanted to rave about the finale, which inspired me to write this meandering post. It was very good. It was, by far, the best episode of the season. It was let down only by Bill Paxton’s overacting. He was fine up till this episode, but then his character went a tad crazy. But what I liked most about the episode was Samuel L Jackson’s appearance (as Nick Fury, obviously). I never read about the TV shows I’m watching, so I never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to be in it, etc. If I wasn’t so oblivious, I would have guessed that he’d be in it, but…I am and I didn’t.

‘FitzSimmons’ – the team’s scientific duo – are trapped in a storage unit at the bottom of the ocean, after having been ejected from their plane by Ward. They work out a way to escape, but the problem is that they’ll still be in the middle of the ocean with the bends and nobody looking for them. Fitz rigged up a weak transponder thingy, but it’s on a SHIELD frequency, which no one will be listening for. The other problem is that they only have enough air for one of them to survive. Fitz, being in love with Simmons, makes her take it. Before she can argue too much, he blasts the window out and the ocean surges in.

It’s a pretty good scene in itself, with the air flooding out of the window, followed by Simmons. Then we see that she’s dragging the unconscious Fitz with her. They reach the surface and she starts shouting for help. There’s no telling if she’s just vainly shouting at nothing, or if she can actually see something. The camera follows her underwater several times as she struggles to stay afloat, and then suddenly, it breaches the surface and Nick Fury is staring down at her! Hanging out of a helicopter and reaching for her hand. It’s very good, even if it is a ludicrous idea that a helicopter would hover that low over someone in the sea… It turns out someone was listening on that frequency. If I hadn’t had a cat on my knee, I might have leapt to my feet in excitement and broken into the American national anthem, probably while a bald eagle swooped in to land on my shoulder. But the cat was sleeping.

Fury has a bit more than a cameo this time, and even shoots someone. His justification of what they did to Coulson is, on the one hand, a little weak, but on the other, kind of makes you proud of Coulson. Basically, Coulson says that program was only ever meant for a fallen Avenger, to which Fury replies ‘Exactly!’ He might as well have given Coulson a big hug, for how much that simple statement would have meant to him.

Anyway, the meandering ramblings have run out. It was a very good finale, and I enjoyed it even more than the Arrow finale, which I also watched last night. I’m looking forward to the next season of both (and I’m relieved that Agents of SHIELD has actually been renewed for a second season, as it was a bit touch and go).

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Promo

It turns out I have not written about other miscellaneous stuff after all. May The Force Be With You, or something.