Tag Archives: Marvel

Looking Forward to ‘Civil War’? Support Your Local Comic Book Shop

There would be no “Captain America: Civil War” if, in 2006, comic book writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven hadn’t cooked up the original superhero feud to end all feuds, between The Cap and Iron Man.

Thanks to this iconic Marvel moment, everyone and their mother will be rushing out this weekend to see the latest big-screen adventure of the Avengers. (That’s right. It also happens to be Mother’s Day weekend. Be sure to take Mom with you.)

It’s fitting that 24 hours after the official debut of “Civil War,” shops around the country will observe Free Comic Book Day, a celebration of the genre that gave us Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, and Spider-Man.

Launched in 2002 by Diamond Comic Distributors and a panel of industry retailers, publishers and suppliers, Free Comic Book Day is held annually the first Saturday in May.

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The goal of the event is to introduce readers unfamiliar with comic books to this unique literary format and their local independent comic book shop.

“Each (shop) is unique in its community, with a style and personality all its own,” according to www.freecomicbookday.com.

I’ve never been much of a comic book reader. I remember thumbing through my older brothers’ issues of Archie and Superman, but I never got hooked on the genre. Still, with my love of fantasy, reading and stories, I’ve always felt a kinship with comic book enthusiasts. The comic book store is one of my favorite places to hang out.

As an entertainment reporter, I frequented one Lancaster shop — Bases Cards and Comics — for more than a decade. I first visited the store in 2000. It was the year of “X-Men,” when comic book movies became more than just kids stuff, and I was looking for quotes from fans already familiar with the mutant heroes.

The readers browsing at the shop that Wednesday morning were eager to talk about why they loved the X-Men. They were warm, engaging and articulate about the history and social relevance of the Marvel series.

Bases became my go-to spot for dozens of stories, an invaluable resource for research and gathering quotes and opinions about Hollywood’s comic book movie du jour. Winding my way among the brightly colored racks, I’d pounce on unsuspecting browsers in hopes of scoring an interview.

The shop also happened to be — and still is — a great place to spend time in, full of interesting, friendly and eccentric personalities. Owners Rob and Janice and manager James Preston are three of the most fun, welcoming people I’ve met. I have fond memories of chatting with them and their intelligent, opinionated customers about everything from Spider-Man, to the Man of Steel, to The Dark Knight, to San Diego Comic-Con, to Star Wars vs. Star Trek.

If you’ve never visited your local comic book shop, I urge you to give it a try on Saturday. At best, you’ll discover a thrilling new series or rekindle your passion for a childhood favorite. Maybe you’ll meet some potential new friends with common interests.

At worst, you’ll leave with a handful of free comics.

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Aside from Bases, Lancaster is home to two comic book shops. Battlegrounds carries a small selection of volumes, but specializes largely in tabletop gaming. My friends tell me that Horizon Comics offers great prices and selection.

Each shop will have its own policy to determine how many comics you’ll receive on Free Comic Book Day, but you’re guaranteed at least one, as long as supplies last.

Among the titles to be handed out are Archie, Bob’s Burgers, Marvel’s Civil War II, Serenity, Doctor Who, Suicide Squad, Pokemon, Assassin’s Creed, Attack on Titan, The Legend of Korra, and DC Super Hero Girls.

Photos: http://www.freecomicbookday.com, http://www.comicbookmovie.com, marvel.com.

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‘Batman v Superman’ and The Six Things I Never Want to See Again in a Comic Book Movie

After months of anticipation by fans eager to see their ultimate comic-book fantasies come to life, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” debuted to a record-breaking domestic haul of $166 million.

Last weekend, the movie set another very different kind of record. In a phenomenon referred to as a “second week slump,” its box office dropped by 68%. That’s the eighth biggest drop-off in history when it comes to similar sorts of films.

As a recent Los Angeles Times story points out, this is no real sweat off the backs of the makers of “Batman v Superman,” considering how much money the movie has already raked into their coffers.

But this development did spark an interesting debate about whether the so-called slump was due to poor word of mouth or because everyone who was planning to see the superhero showdown simply turned out to see it that first weekend.

Widely panned by critics and received less than enthusiastically by many moviegoers, according to exit polls, “Batman v Superman” isn’t the tedious failure reviewers have proclaimed it to be. Still, there’s no question the film could be better, especially with a few more polishings of its capriciously nonsensical screenplay.

The face-off between the Man of Steel and Gotham’s Dark Knight — with a little Wonder Woman as the filling in this superhero sandwich — is a labor of love by director Zack Snyder.

Snyder has a gift for faithfully duplicating sacred comic book moments hardcore fans are dying to see, while leaving the rest of us in the dark.

On a visual level, he trades in striking, if cliched, imagery that is undeniably entertaining. When it comes to narrative and dialogue, things get bumpier. Snyder movies are a lot of flash, little substance.

Strangely enough, it isn’t these trademark qualities that most annoyed me about “Batman v Superman.”

Rather, it’s the fact that the movie leans so heavily on lazy, exhausted and, frankly, exhausting comic-book tropes seen too frequently in franchises of this genre, whether the films are produced by Marvel, DC, or someone else entirely.

If Hollywood expects us to continue to accept a new world order in which every other film it produces features spandex, capes and godlike beings who stoop to save puny earthlings, then filmmakers must stop serving up more of the same and offer more of what we haven’t seen before.

In that spirit, here are six things I never want to see again in a comic book movie.

(Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen “Batman v Superman.”)

1. Wanton Destruction of Major Cities 

In 2013’s “Man of Steel,” a good third of the film is devoted to the cataclysmic clobbering of comic book capital Metropolis as Henry Cavill’s Superman attempts to thwart would-be Kryptonian overlord General Zod from conquering the planet.

This goes on for so long and with so much casual carnage, it becomes disturbing and, ultimately, tedious.

In “Batman v Superman,” we discover there is a method to the madness of this urban annihilation — it sparks the conflict the sequel centers on — but unfortunately this only gives Snyder the opportunity to rehash the Metropolis massacre.

I totally get that the impending end of the world, as embodied by havoc wrecked on recognizable urban landmarks, is a staple of comic book climaxes, but we’ve seen this so many times  now, it doesn’t even register anymore.

Whether the Avengers are defending Manhattan from Loki and his computer-generated Chitauri army or the Guardians of the Galaxy are stepping in to save the day after the entire Nova Corp fleet is blown to oblivion, there’s no urgency left in this most overused of urgent plot devices.

And while we’re on the subject, is anyone else bothered by the way these movies — Snyder’s especially — trot out 9-11 imagery for cheap emotional impact?

I know it’s been awhile since that dark day in American history, but I still can’t stand seeing skyscrapers on the point of collapse while workers utter desperate prayers and copy paper and dust clog the streets, accompanied by ear-ringing sound effects. It’s heartbreaking, not to mention tasteless.

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2. Origin Stories (Unless We Haven’t Seen Them Before)

When it comes to comic book origin stories, none have received more cinematic play than the young Bruce Wayne’s dramatic, traumatic loss of his beloved parents.

The horrific scene, complete with a dark alley, theater marquee, wild-eyed gunman, slow motion, and shattered pearl necklace, has been dramatized several times on film, including 1989’s “Batman” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”

Though “Batman v Superman” doesn’t delve too deeply into the backstory of Ben Affleck’s aging, world-weary Bruce Wayne, Snyder feels the need to revisit this formative, horrific moment yet again. He has his reasons, of course, which we realize toward the film’s end, but they’re not very good ones.

I don’t know why directors feel the need to keep returning to our favorite superheroes’ roots. Heaven knows, we’ve sat through Spider-Man’s origin story about 50 bajillion times now, not to mention Wolverine’s, which has been examined from just about every possible angle.

So how about we institute a new rule? No more origin stories, unless it’s one we haven’t seen before or, at least, most of us aren’t familiar with.

I’d argue that’s half the reason the Iron Man trilogy was so successful — many of us were unfamiliar with the character — and a big part of why the recent Deadpool was a hit as well.

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3. Damsels in Distress

Considering that comic book movies sprouted from an industry that historically has not valued strong female characters, it’s no surprise Hollywood lags behind in this area as well.

Still, the studios have been making some encouraging progress lately, introducing more strong women with superhuman abilities in substantial roles, even if there are still only a handful of them.

Among these promising female role models are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven, and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. And Hollywood has more female-centric comic book flicks in the pipeline, including a “Wonder Woman” movie and “Captain Marvel,” featuring a woman in the lead.

Snyder at least introduces Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) in “Batman v Superman,” even if she only gets to really strut her lasso-wielding stuff in one scene. But troublingly, the rest of the film is populated by damsels in distress whose only function is to serve as bait for the gallant Superman.

In an egregious waste of the talents of Amy Adams, intrepid reporter Lois Lane spends the entire movie being rescued by Superman or doing inexplicably dumb things to motivate him, like tossing a Kryptonite spear into the water, only to clumsily attempt to retrieve it two scenes later.

Meanwhile, Supes’ beloved Ma Kent (again, a waste of Diane Lane) is held hostage in harsh fashion simply as a vehicle for the resolution of the male heroes’ conflict.

Fanboys may argue that the damsel in distress is a tried-and-true staple of comic book lore, but this is the 21st century and there is no excuse for any film’s female characters to languish without a reason to exist apart from their male co-stars.

And if all producers have in mind is lowest common denominator box office, it can’t hurt to present positive depictions of women that appeal to both genders.

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4. Easter Eggs for Movies I’d Rather Be Watching

This doesn’t happen all that often, but it did while I was watching “Batman vs Superman.”

There’s a scene in the movie in which Affleck’s Batman retrieves an old photograph of Wonder Woman. In the picture, she’s all set for adventure, wearing her classic character get-up and posing with three fascinating looking guys.

At that moment, I had an epiphany: This photo is the movie I wish I was watching right now!

I’ve experienced similar feelings at various points in the Avengers franchise or while watching the most recent Spider-Man reboots and I think this is going to happen more and more as we’re subjected to a continued onslaught of vaguely familiar sequels, reboots and spin-offs.

Part of the fun of comic book movie franchises is that directors lace the latest chapters with in-jokes just for the fans and references to favorite plot points or story threads. They also tease us with sneak peeks at future heroes, villains or developments, a la Marvel’s now famous end credit scenes.

The danger in this comes when a film’s purpose is merely to set up yet another film. If that’s the case, who can blame the audience for wanting to skip ahead and get to the good part?

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5. Boring Villains From Outerspace

Ok, so we all know extraterrestrial baddies are a big thing in comic books.

On the big screen though, this trend hasn’t proven to be very compelling, thanks to an abundance of brightly colored body makeup, cheesy CG effects, hammy acting, and a lack of motivation we humans can relate to.

In “Batman vs Superman,” for instance, Snyder introduces not one, but two extremely popular extraterrestrial megaliths the Man of Steel famously faces off against on the comic page.

To be fair, one of these big baddies is only hinted at, not shown, but even the prospect of this creature’s impending arrival fails to stir anything more than obligatory excitement. (And if you’re not a comic-book reader, you probably don’t even know what’s going on here.)

It can’t be just me who doesn’t give a fig what lumpy, purple computer-generated overlord Thanos is up to, floating around on that space rock, or why blue-hued Ronan (despite poor Lee Pace’s best efforts) is so hot and bothered about … er … I can’t even remember.

In the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the fabulous Oscar Isaac dons the weird makeup of the epic villain the film’s title refers to, but the prospect only fills me with dread because these evil dudes from outer space and regions beyond are rarely worth remembering.

Give me a recognizably human baddie any day, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, with his chillingly uncertain motives and passion for chaos, or David Tenant’s Kilgrave — if I may reference the Marvel television series “Jessica Jones” — who channels his power to sickeningly selfish ends rather than aiming to conquer the world.

The human propensity to evil is always more terrifying than any otherworldly threat.

6. Joylessness Masked as Grit

One of the reasons critics have been quick to pile on “Batman v Superman” is because the film isn’t always fun to watch.

An over-the-top clash between two of comicdom’s biggest heroes should be full of giddy energy, to say the least, but too often the movie bogs down in a gloom thicker than the dust that lingers over a devastated Metropolis.

There’s a lot of glowering, and grumping, and daddy issues, and gravely cynical pronouncements about the nature of power, and muddy, muddled action sequences that don’t send our hearts racing or keep us teetering on the edge of our seats.

That’s not to say comic book movies shouldn’t be dark, or edgy, or disturbing, or that they should all be kid-friendly laugh-fests, like the Marvel movies tend to be.

“The Dark Knight” trilogy is lauded for its grit, but it’s many other things as well — elegant, stylish, thought-provoking and complex with kick-ass action and nonstop thrills.

“Deadpool” is shockingly jaded, but it’s also a hoot. Or consider Snyder’s own “Watchmen,” a film that, like its source material, is seriously twisted, but also very playful.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a massive hit because director James Gunn infused it with pure, infectious joy. Contrast that with the recent failure of the unbearably glum “Fantastic Four” reboot and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

Even the grittiest of comic book movies should speak to our sense of wonder.

Photos: http://www.youtube.com, marvel.wikia.com, marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com, blogs.indiewire.com, Marvel.

 

 

Celebrating 100 Blog Posts with 7 Days to Go Until ‘The Force Awakens’

Today, we are one week away from the official opening day of “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

It also happens to be the day of my 100th blog post.

In another happy coincidence, the two-year anniversary of the launching of this blog is Dec. 17, the day “The Force Awakens” debuts in early screenings.

Nearly two years ago, I was on bed rest and bored out of my mind after pregnancy complications. I had been out of work for almost two months and hadn’t written a thing. I was considering organizing my photos to pass the time when I had a conversation with my sister.

“Don’t organize your photos,” she said. “Start your blog.”

It just so happened that I had the subject of a post in mind. I wrote it, then very awkwardly began learning the basics of WordPress. And here we are.

Two years of blogging has been fun, freeing and often frustrating. I appreciate my tiny, devoted and extremely gracious band of readers, but sometimes this feels like a thankless task.

I had lost much of my motivation for blogging when I had another conversation with my sister, this one about a crazy idea to count down to the release of “The Force Awakens,” with new, Star Wars-related content almost every day for a month.

That crazy idea has turned out to be a blast and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for writing about and editing all things nerdy and cinematic.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, and I’m glad we still have an entire week to go.

In celebration of the 100th post at lavendervroman.com, I’ve decided to re-run one of my favorite essays from the blog, an oldie but goodie that very much applies to the warm, affectionate feelings I have for you, dear readers, and the entire Star Wars community.

Here it is. Let’s keep enjoying this moment together. There’s no telling how long it will last.

I Hope My Daughter Grows Up to Be a Nerd
(originally posted April 28, 2014)

Several years ago, when my husband and I still attended the San Diego Comic-Con — back when it was more fun than exhausting — we would occasionally observe a couple pushing a stroller through the crowd, grim looks on their faces as the Red Sea of sweaty fanboys refused to part for them.

“They’re nuts,” I used to say.

It was time for me to eat my words when we decided to take our 3-month-old daughter to WonderCon Anaheim, the cozier little sister to San Diego’s towering pop culture extravaganza.

We booked a hotel attached to the Anaheim Convention Center, packed up the million items of baby ephemera required for an overnight trip with an infant, outfitted the little munchkin in a yoda hat stitched by a crafty cousin and made the pilgrimage to our favorite geek mecca. Our baby’s “Doctor Who”-worshiping aunt came along for moral support.

Soon I had become one half of THAT couple, maneuvering a stroller through hordes of spandex-clad superheroes, unidentifiable anime critters and hairy dudes declaring, via T-shirt, their allegiance to DC or Marvel. As the husband headed off in the direction of the Warner Bros. panel, the aunt and I waited for the exhibit hall to open and my tiny daughter got her first eyeful of the convention’s colorful passersby.

As Batmen in black body armor, Stormtroopers armed with blasters, gender-bending Thors and Lokis, wispy Elsas from “Frozen” and a guy painted entirely silver to look like a certain surfboard-carrying comic book character paraded in front of her, my baby’s eyes grew wide. She had entered a strange new world.

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That’s when I got to thinking. Many parents want their children to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, ballet dancers, Olympic gymnasts or the president of the United States. Those pursuits are certainly admirable but when I think about my daughter’s future, I have a different fate in mind. I hope she grows up to be a nerd.

I suppose the odds are in my favor. My little girl wakes up every morning in a house littered with the traces of her parents’ geekdom. Posters of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” line the walls. Display cases full of Legos dominate the living room. Boxes of action figures are crammed into closets. Shelves overflow with books, many of them science fiction and fantasy. And on the mantle over the fireplace sits one of those fancy replica lightsabers, a cherished Christmas gift from dad to mom.

In this house, Sunday nights are dedicated to “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” the latest “Star Wars” news is hashed over and then rehashed and though we’re not a big comic book family, you’d better believe we’ll be there Friday when the latest Marvel movie hits theaters.

Most of our friends are nerds, too. Unlike the stereotype, they’re not 35-year-old men living in their mothers’ basements, playing World of Warcraft and guzzling Mountain Dew. They’re well adjusted, intelligent, productive members of society who also happen to read feminist comic books, debate the merits of “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek,” play “The Elder Scrolls” online, re-read the Harry Potter books annually, line up at midnight for movies, countdown to the next seasons of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” and get excited about Hayao Miyazaki.

These are some of the coolest, smartest, most fascinating people I know and that’s why I hope my daughter doesn’t choose to rebel against her nerd heritage in favor of a boring existence. Many people slog through life doing the bare minimum — going to work, going home to spend the night sitting in front of some reality TV show.

Nerds want more. They’re not satisfied with reality and the status quo. Their imaginations are always churning, always musing, always wondering: wouldn’t it be cool if … time travel was possible, vampires existed, the zombie apocalypse happened, there was life on other planets, some rich dude with a cave and clever gadgets could save society from the evil within or if a British time lord could alter the course of history.

Nerds are passionate and playful. When they care about something they really care. They don’t do things by halves. They’re obsessed and they want to share that obsession with you. They’re not content to just watch or listen, they want to live it, collect it, wear it on a T-shirt, write about it in an Internet chat room, join a club or — as evidenced by the number of people who indulge in cosplay at WonderCon and similar events around the country — transform themselves into their favorite characters.

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Some would argue that such obsessions are childish, pointless and don’t make a difference, but the sheer momentum of nerd passion has turned comic book and fantasy movies into a billion dollar industry in Hollywood, resurrected cancelled television shows, united scores of disconnected individuals and, yes, even accomplished some good in the world.

Take, for instance, The Harry Potter Alliance, thehpalliance.org, a self-described “coalition” of Harry Potter fans who have launched campaigns for literacy, equality and human rights around the world, donating books to impoverished kids, sending disaster relief supplies to Haiti, building a library and pressuring Warner Bros. about the use of child labor in the manufacturing of Harry Potter chocolates.

I’d go so far as to say that the world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit nerdier. I hope my daughter grows up to love a television show dearly, to take an enthusiastic stance when it comes to “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Marvel or DC, to adore a movie so much she can’t stop talking about it, to create a costume so she can “become” her favorite cartoon character, to acquire a ravenous taste for books, especially fiction and fantasy.

I hope she embraces and is embraced by other nerds as warmly as I have been embraced by them. If she can find it in her heart to do this, I know she’ll be happy.

Photos: Nick Vroman, Lavender Vroman.

Fantastic Four Isn’t Great, But It’s Not the Disaster Everyone Says It Is

Fantastic Four
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, language)
100 minutes

I find myself in the odd position of defending “Fantastic Four,” a film that received a dismal 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and delivered one of the worst box office performances ever for a movie associated with the lucrative Marvel brand.

Critics spent the last week and a half kicking this ill fated reboot while it’s down, and while I can’t say I blame them, the degree of gleeful vitriol directed at the film seems excessive to me.

“Fantastic Four” fails on many levels. Even in its best moments, it mostly doesn’t work. But what critics are overlooking is that director Josh Trank has taken a radically different approach to a comic book movie formula so worn, it’s becoming positively threadbare.

“Fantastic Four” is Trank’s weird but fascinating mad science experiment gone wrong. The director’s approach to one of comic book history’s most flamboyant franchises is so understated, it’s almost somnambulistic, but there’s something about the rubbed-rawness of it that is the perfect antidote to the hot-buttered-popcorn pageantry of movies like “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “The Avengers.”

Yes, there are all kinds of problems with the film, from an unpolished script that often reads like a first draft to its half-hearted, muddy-looking visual effects, but one gets the sense “Fantastic Four” could have been great. If Twentieth Century Fox is stubborn enough to forge ahead with a sequel, they may be onto something.

Trank’s career is most likely over. Whether Fox’s meddling or his inexperience are to blame for this is the subject of debate. Earlier this year, the director did the unthinkable and walked away from a Star Wars “anthology” film, a move that probably wasn’t his idea.

This is sad because Trank’s 2012 debut, “Chronicle,” showcases a talent for putting an original, realistic spin on the cliche comic book origin story. A drama about high school buddies who suddenly acquire superpowers, it clearly inspired the first act of “Fantastic Four,” which kicks off with the blossoming of an unlikely grade-school friendship between science nerd Reed Richards and street-smart Ben Grimm. (They’re played as adults by Miles Teller and Jamie Bell.)

Grimm’s family conveniently owns a scrapyard full of the parts Reed needs to complete his pet science project, a teleportation device, and Ben is just curious enough about his strange, little friend’s wacky ideas to go along with him.

The pair debut Reed’s creation at a high school science fair, attracting the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), a philanthropist researcher who has been working in vain on the same technology.

Storm offers Reed a scholarship to his scientific institute, where he’s recruited a team of young geniuses, including his children, brilliant Sue (Kate Mara) and irresponsible Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), along with Storm’s former protege, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebell), a brooding computer prodigy.

The first act of “Fantastic Four” focuses on the meeting of these eager, young minds and it isn’t half bad. This is largely due to the efforts of the film’s eager, young stars, who in previous roles have proven themselves to be incredibly gifted.

(Kudos, especially, to Mara, who may be the first woman in Hollywood to embody her superheroine with more regard for intellect than sex appeal.)

Unfortunately, the script does these promising performers a disservice. Penned by Trank, Jeremy Slater and “X-Men” scribe Simon Kinberg, the screenplay is in dire need of a few more drafts. Characters are left undeveloped, the pacing is out of joint, key scenes seem to have gone missing, the dialogue turns awkward, conflicts are hinted at but never fully materialize.

The scenario that imbues our quintet of heroes with powers that dramatically alter their body chemistries is as ridiculous as it is horrifying.

Yes, the way things go down in a fourth dimension dubbed “Planet Zero” is wildly insulting to the audience, but it also provides a brief glimpse into what a gloriously twisted thriller “Fantastic Four” could have been, dipping into Cronenbergian nightmares as our quartet of newly initiated heroes confront the terror of their freakishly transformed physiques, including super-stretchy limbs, invisibility, and involuntary combustion.

In sharp contrast to the cartoony 2005 film starring Chris Evans and Jessica Alba, Trank actually downplays the more over-the-top qualities of the Fantastic Foursome’s abilities. This counter-intuitive choice ultimately hurts the film — poor Jaime Bell suffers most as rock monster The Thing languishes in the background — but I have to admire how gutsily polar opposite Trank’s “Fantastic Four” movie is from the “Fantastic Four” movie we expect.

Also daring, and kinda dumb for filmmakers catering to comic book lovers who generally want to see their superheroes put the smack down: There is only one major action setpiece in the film, and it comes at the end, and it is a complete mess

Once again, some may see the absence of the genre’s trademark POW!, BANG!, BAM! moments as a flaw, and if box office is what you’re concerned about, that’s a pretty big flaw.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t help but wonder: Could there be a place for a comic book movie that doesn’t offer “Avengers”-style mayhem and destruction roughly every 10 minutes?

Charlie Jane Anders of io9.com declares that “Fantastic Four” is “the most self- loathing superhero movie I’ve ever seen.”

“The new ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot goes beyond darkness, into actual self-loathing,” she writes. “It’s kind of bizarre. … This movie’s central storyline is less a plot, and more a shame spiral.

I think Anders inadvertently pinpoints what is good about “Fantastic Four.”

Why shouldn’t a comic book movie be about shame instead of shallow spectacle? Self-loathing instead of shiny spandex?

Why shouldn’t it push “beyond darkness” into emotional territory that isn’t bizarre so much as it is realistic and even deeply uncomfortable?

Perhaps reviewers are circling “Fantastic Four” like a pack of sharks after a sardine because they don’t know what to make of it.

Photo: sciencefiction.com

 

 

 

 

‘Ant-Man’ Should Just Embrace Its Essential Silliness

Ant-Man
Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (sci-fi action violence)
117 minutes

Of the countless costumed superheroes Marvel has brought to the big screen, Ant-Man is one of the silliest.

A guy who wears an outfit that’s like a cross between an old-fashioned scuba suit and something out of the closet of G.I. Joe’s Cobra Commander is no match for Iron Man in the fashion department.

This is a dude who shrinks to the size of an insect and somehow that’s supposed to make him a deadly weapon. His sidekicks are six-legged creepy-crawlies he controls with his mind. He rides on the back of an ant, for Pete’s sake.

It’s kinda hard to picture him hanging with Thor and Black Widow.

Ant-Man’s early adventures include surviving a bathtub full of water and navigating a dance floor made lethal by an abundance of platform heels. Even The Cap, in all his homespun cheesiness, is far too majestic to hobnob with this would-be mini Avenger.

I say this not as a slam against Marvel’s newest and tiniest recruit, but to point out that “Ant-Man” the movie would work better if the studio just embraced the silliness and left it at that.

The signs of “Ant-Man’s” troubled production history are evident in the film’s uneven tone, which swings like a pendulum between pure, unapologetic fun and some “serious” — and seriously cliche — relationship drama.

“Ant-Man” appears to be aiming for the cool, irreverent, goofy vibe of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but what’s missing is “Guardians” director James Gunn’s precise vision.

It’s tempting to attribute “Ant-Man’s” identity issues to the dueling visions of original writer-director Edgar Wright, who shockingly left the project after almost a decade of script development, and Wright’s replacement, Peyton Reed, who primarily works in the romantic comedy genre.

No less than four screenwriters are credited with penning the flick, including Wright, “Attack the Block” director Joe Cornish, “Anchorman” director Adam McKay, and star Paul Rudd.

Marvel is fortunate to have Rudd. With his easygoing nice-guy charisma, the actor goes a long way toward making this confused comic book romp feel a little more cohesive.

That’s another issue with Marvel’s movie Ant-Man: He’s not a very interesting character.

Scott Lang is an electrical engineer fresh off a stint in San Quentin for a daring, well-intentioned cyber crime. All he wants to do is spend time with his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), but he’s lost custody after failing to pay child support.

(Poor Judy Greer pops up as exactly the kind of no-nonsense, anxious mom she portrayed earlier this summer in “Jurassic World.”)

After losing a thankless job at a popular dessert chain — in what has to be one of the weirdest product placement stunts ever — Scott attempts one last score, breaking into the house of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), scientist, tech company founder and discoverer of the mysterious “Pym Particle.”

Scott cracks the safe, absconds with a seemingly worthless helmet and leather suit, and soon learns he’s been recruited by Pym to retrieve a piece of dangerous, stolen technology from Pym’s former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

At this point, “Ant-Man” bogs down in exposition detailing the history and properties of Pym’s strange, black and red suit. Scott’s initiation into its uses, and his subsequent tutorial on how to ally himself with various species of his namesake insect, play like something out of another Disney property, the 1989 Rick Moranis comedy, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

The special effects are great, but there’s little at stake in the film’s early action sequences.

While Rudd does his best to endear us to Scott and his ant-colony cronies, Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are stranded in suffocatingly obvious scenes of father-daughter discord. Lilly plays Pym’s emotionally distant daughter, Hope, and is saddled with the same dominatrix-style bob worn by Bryce Dallas Howard in “Jurassic World.”

This leaves plenty of opportunity for Michael Pena to virtually pick up the movie and run away with it. As Scott’s ex-cellmate, Luis, the actor presides over a zany, if stereotypical, Greek chorus of criminal types who specialize in reviving the film whenever it shows signs of expiring.

I suppose the simplicity of “Ant-Man” could be considered refreshing after the complicated pomp and circumstance of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Aside from a few references to “Ultron,” a cameo by one of the lesser Avengers, and a prologue featuring some famous S.H.I.E.L.D. alumni, “Ant-Man” remains relatively unentangled by Marvel’s sticky web of intrigue.

Oddly, it’s in the last 20 minutes or so that the movie hits its stride in a hilariously hair-brained finale involving a private jet, The Cures’s “Disintegration,” a bug zapper, Thomas the Tank Engine and several other inspired elements that capitalize on the shrinkage and expansion possibilities of Pym’s amazing particle.

If only the entire film was this peculiar.

Photo: es.gizmodo.com

 

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Full of Fun Surprises

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Three stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction; suggestive comments)
141 minutes

Thor, Captain America and Iron Man may be the flashiest, most popular Avengers but they’re also, arguably, the least compelling members of Marvel’s superhero collective.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has fabulous hair, a big hammer and wrestles with Shakespearean family drama.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is decent and square and also kinda sad that everyone he ever knew and loved is now dead.

Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, is Steve Jobs with better hair, nicer clothes, more charm and an obsession with technology that is both an asset and an Achilles heel.

These guys are great and all, but they’ve each starred in at least two solo movies apiece. By now, we know pretty much everything there is to know about them.

So it’s an unexpected pleasure that “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” devotes its attention to characters who spent a lot of time lingering in the background in 2002’s “Avengers.”

At last, we discover everything we’ve ever wanted to know about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the stoic archer who skulked through the “Avengers” in a Loki-induced trance.

We also find out just what is going on between him and lethal assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who piqued our curiosity with the tiny gold arrow she wore around her neck in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The relationship isn’t quite what we expected and that’s half the fun of “Age of Ultron.” The movie brims with enjoyable little surprises, from cameo appearances by minor characters to clever winks to previous Marvel outings.

The Hulk finds romance. Black Widow gets to be vulnerable as well as spectacularly lethal. Maria Hill actually cracks a few jokes (only natural considering she’s played by funny-girl Cobie Smulders).

Jarvis the computer, who has always been one of Iron Man’s most sharply sketched personalities, thanks to Paul Bettany’s tart voice work, undergoes a delightful evolution.

If the Marvel movie franchise has become an almost impossibly tangled web, director Joss Whedon is a nimble spider, spinning off dozens of new plot threads, wrapping up neat, little moments for a vast ensemble of characters, deftly interweaving CGI spectacle and satisfying emotion. This is movie-making on an unprecedented, gargantuan scale. It’s no wonder the guy needs a break.

When it comes to theme, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t break much new ground. United, the Avengers stand. Divided … well, not so much.

The glories of the team’s combined might are illustrated in a prologue that sees the superheroes working in perfect harmony as they ambush a Hydra base in the snowy woods of the fictional Eastern European nation of Sokovia.

Our band of heroes emerge victorious with a new toy for Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to play with, containing one of the infamous infinity stones that Marvel villains are always after. They also acquire a pair of new enemies, eerily gifted Sokovian twins played by Emily Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

When Tony starts poking into the infinity stone’s properties, back at the shiny S.H.I.E.L.D lab — or at least the corrupted organization formerly known as S.H.I.E.L.D — he discovers alien technology perfectly suited to realizing his pet project: an artificial intelligence program powerful enough to enforce world peace.

Without bothering to consult the other Avengers, Stark talks the skeptical Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) into helping him create the super program known as Ultron. Apparently, these guys have never seen “The Terminator,” because the being they spawn is a malevolent, red-eyed robot who misinterprets his mission to disastrous effect.

Once again, the Avengers begin to doubt each other, especially as Olsen’s Scarlet Witch — a welcome new female presence in the testosterone-filled Marvel landscape — unleashes her witchy powers of mind control upon them, causing them to relive painful pasts and envision future fears.

Leading the clash of consciences are Stark and The Cap, whose dueling philosophies on power and peace put them deeply at odds. (Could this be the beginning of a certain Civil War?)

At this point, the Marvel universe has become so complicated — spanning multiple galaxies, planets, dimensions and eras — that plot almost ceases to be relevant.

While I enjoyed nearly every minute of “Age of Ultron,” I felt at times as if my grasp on the whole thing was slipping. Who could say exactly what was happening at any given moment?

I don’t think it’s just me and my sometimes foggy, sleep-deprived brain, either. My theory is that, at this point, only the Marvel script supervisors know precisely what is going on.

Still, there’s a familiarity that anchors us.

Elements of “Beauty and the Beast” can be found in the movie’s unlikely central romance, even if the coupling comes out of left field.

There are shades of the “Frankenstein” myth in Ultron, who proves to be one of Marvel’s more fascinating baddies, thanks to James Spader’s acerbic vocalization.

As lofty, and perhaps unachievable, as its ambitions are, it isn’t the money-shot action sequences that ground “Age of Ultron.”

The film is at its headiest and most thrilling when it puts the mayhem on pause for the sake of intimate interactions between its god-like heroes — trading war stories at a party, licking their wounds after retreating to a remote farmhouse.

The Avengers are most endearing when they are most human.

 

 

 

Are WonderCon Glory Days Already in the Past?

It was a weekend of hellfire and brimstone, and geeks on parade.

It was the only place in the country where you could find scowling street preachers, moms and dads with cute, little Jawas in tow, gender-bending Harley Quinns and Hulks, and ladies in anime finery that made all but the perviest of amateur photographers blush.

It was WonderCon, that annual gathering of comic book nerds and pop culture enthusiasts, where the atmosphere is a weird, entertaining mixture of family friendly and R-rated.

Transforming the Anaheim Convention Center into a colorful sea of celebrities, comic book artists, superheroes, Disney princesses, “Game of Thrones” characters and animated critters, the event wrapped Sunday after three days of movie, TV and manga-inspired madness.

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This was my fourth year at WonderCon, an event I anticipate with relish. I love taking in the unusual sights and sounds of the convention, communing with fellow fangirls and -boys, and letting my enthusiasm for pop culture run wild.

This time around, though, the bloom was off the rose. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I need to take a breather, but the convention is starting to feel a bit repetitive to me.

In 2012, organizer Comic-Con International moved its second largest event from San Francisco to Anaheim, an exciting development for Southern California pop culture enthusiasts. Since then, however, the programming at WonderCon has grown less compelling and less relevant with each year.

This is especially true when it comes to the film-related portion of the convention. Because WonderCon competes with its big sister convention, San Diego Comic-Con, the major Hollywood studios aren’t willing to expend the resources to make appearances at both events.

Disney throws its own convention, D23, so that rules out any Marvel movie or Star Wars presence at WonderCon. Meanwhile, Fox, Warner Bros. and their ilk won’t loan out footage or talent from their most anticipated comic book or sci-fi flicks when they’ll be bringing out the big guns in July at Comic-Con.

Initially, WonderCon organizers managed to scrape together some interesting Q&A sessions and sneak peaks anyway.

In the past, featured films included “Battleship,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Prometheus,” “Pacific Rim,” “The Conjuring,” “This is the End,” “Evil Dead,” “Godzilla” and “The Maze Runner.” Stars such as Charlize Theron, Emma Stone, Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen appeared to discuss their projects.

Those days are apparently over. This year’s Hollywood programming could only be described as dismal.

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Aside from a presentation by horror outfit Blumhouse, the only major movie event at WonderCon this year was a Warner Bros. panel.

What did Warner Bros. deem worthy of showcasing to the thousands of fans who filled the convention center’s flying-saucer-like Arena? Aside from some admittedly electrifying footage from the upcoming “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the studio spent the majority of its (extremely brief) time hawking the cheesy disaster flick “San Andreas,” starring Dwayne Johnson.

The Rock couldn’t be bothered to attend, leaving director Brad Peyton and co-stars Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario to congratulate themselves on finding the “emotions” in this ridiculous looking film.

I propose that WonderCon organizers refrain from insulting convention-goers with half-hearted, mediocre offering and just jettison the movie portion of the event. They should focus on their strengths: the comic books, the TV shows, the nerdy Internet phenoms.

That isn’t to say that there wasn’t good stuff to be seen at the 2015 Con. I sat in on a delightful panel for BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” which returns for a third season on April 18.

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There were screenings and signings and sneak peeks galore. Geek icons Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick held audiences spellbound. There were Q&As and special screenings for popular series “Gotham” and “The Flash,” while viewers were courted by newbies “American Odyssey” and “iZombie.”

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The convention’s exhibit hall continues to be an overwhelmingly wondrous place to shop for nerd necessities, like action figures, comic books, T-shirts and pleasingly strange curios, although it does tend to feature the same vendors year after year.

The fans who attend WonderCon never fail to entertain, especially the ones who turn out in the elaborate handmade get-ups that inspire the rest of us to point with childlike glee and whip out our cameras.

My favorites this year included the entire, elaborately costumed team from “Big Hero Six,” a handful of convincing “Game of Thrones” lookalikes, a baby Tank Girl, a couple of tiny Jawas, a fabulous Poison Ivy drag queen and the usual assortment of Star Wars fans, who never fail to pull out all the stops when it comes to wardrobe.

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It has been reported that organizers plan to move the 2016 edition of WonderCon to the Los Angeles Convention Center, a development that raises all kinds of questions for the future of the event.

Will this larger, more Hollywood-centric location inject some much-needed novelty into the event? Perhaps give it the heft it needs to attract stronger programming?

Or will it turn it into the impossible-to-navigate, hyper-commercial circus that San Diego Comic-Con has become?

Only time will tell.

Here’s hoping time will be kind to us, the fans who love WonderCon.

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Photos: Nick Vroman, Lavender Vroman