Category Archives: Comics

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray

Batman-Mask-of-the-Phantasm-Blu-rayI’ve written about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on more than one occasion, often in glowing terms. I dubbed it the definitive take on the Batman character for film and ranked it pretty highly on my list of best Batman movies of all time. In addition to that, I did a straight-up review of the film as well. Most of these articles are old by the standards of this blog, but all of those write-ups were based on the DVD release of the film. It’s taken Warner years to finally put this film on Blu Ray, but it’s finally here and I’m going to tell you about it.

Now since I’ve already done an actual review of the film, I’m not going to go into much detail though I did re-read my review and I have some embellishments I can make in order to pad this post out. The Blu Ray itself is what is important for this post. Mask of the Phantasm is a film I always felt would benefit from a high-definition transfer because of all of the deep blacks, particularly in the backgrounds. The DVD release was an old one and not particularly good by the standards of DVD. It was re-released in multi-packs with the direct-to-video Batman films based on the animated series and I don’t know if any of those were handled better than the version I have. As far as the transfer goes, the Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray is a mixed bag. My assumption the blacks would benefit was spot-on. Not only are they rich, but the deep blue of Batman’s cape looks great as well and the animation is nice and fluid. Sadly, there’s some blurring that takes place, particularly early in the film. I’m not sure if it persisted throughout at times and I just became engrossed in the plot or if it was confined to the beginning of the picture. Either way, it’s disappointing the transfer isn’t better.

The other disappointing aspect of the release is the complete lack of special features. The DVD did the same as both only include a standard definition version of the trailer for the film and nothing else. I find it hard to believe the likes of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t interested in doing something for this release, be it a commentary or a short piece on the making of the film. The subpar transfer and lack of special features really makes it feel like Warner cared little about the integrity of this release, which is a shame because it’s a film deserving of more respect.

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What you see is what you get.

And what a film it is! In re-watching it for this write-up I’m just reminded of how well it gets the Batman character. Seeing Bruce’s early years as a vigilante really drives home the tragedy of the Batman character. And I don’t mean the sad origin of Batman, but in how Bruce has given up any chance at a healthy life by committing to being Batman. He’s fighting an un-winnable battle to rid Gotham of crime and foregoing marriage, children, and the simple pleasures of life. He’s unquestionably doing good in the community and helping people, but it’s probably not a fulfilling lifestyle.

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The Joker could have felt tacked-on to give the film a recognizable villain, but his inclusion pays off

The other aspect of this film that really merits praise, because it feels overlooked in light of The Dark Knight, is its depiction of The Joker. The Joker of the cartoon series is somewhat of a cornball. There’s some danger to the character, but standards and practices kind of holds him back. He’s overshadowed by the likes of Mr. Freeze and Two-Face as far as memorable villains go. Instead he’s kind of the old reliable stand-by for Batman as decades of Joker material from the comics means it’s relatively easy to come up with a decent episode. Here we get The Joker that the animated series probably wanted to give us, but couldn’t. He’s still a nut, but so much more menacing. There’s a real tension in his scenes because he feels unpredictable. Is he going to aid a character? Kill him? What’s his endgame? It’s a shame he doesn’t share screen time with a character we as an audience are invested in, instead he’s paired with scum and we don’t mind if Joker opts to murder them. And what more can be said of Mark Hamill’s performance as The Joker? He’ll always be my favorite.

What we have here is a mixed bag, a great film undermined by a mediocre release. Even so, the Blu Ray is an easy recommend for those who do not have the film already, especially if you’re into Batman and you’ve never seen it. It may be a brief experience, but it’s worthwhile. For those like me who already had the DVD, it’s a tougher sell. This strikes me as a release that will be discounted to the ten dollar bin by this time next year, so maybe waiting on it is the right move if you’re not eager to re-watch. If you’re perfectly happy with the DVD then sure, feel free to pass on this one. I don’t feel burned by it, but I do feel like at 19.99 it’s probably five bucks too expensive. Next year is the film’s 25th anniversary so perhaps there’s an outside shot of Warner doing a more robust release, but I kind of doubt it. This is probably all we’ll get with maybe a future two-pack coming along with an HD transfer of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, but I doubt that would feature any additional content aside from the films themselves.


Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.


NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


Bucky O’Hare – The Arcade Game

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Bucky O’Hare (1992)

One of the underplayed downsides to the death of the arcade in America is the amount of arcade games that remained solely in the arcade realm. Arcade technology was always ahead of what was available in-home. Arcade cabinets were also often equipped with 4 or 6 player possibilities while virtually every home console in the 80s and 90s could only natively handle 2 players. Sometimes, companies would release two distinct games for the arcade and the home console. While gamers were enjoying co-op play with X-Men at the arcade the home console gamer was forced to experience Marvel’s most famous mutant team via a hideous top-down shooter/action game with horrendous technical issues. X-Men was a popular enough arcade game that it would eventually be released digitally about 20 years after it first hit arcades. It took awhile, but it made it. Other games were not so lucky, and one of them is Bucky O’Hare.

Bucky O’Hare has been a topic more than once here as I take a small sense of pride in being one of the small areas of the internet where Bucky can still exist. Bucky originated in the comics, and when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exploded he was one of the main beneficiaries. Suddenly, toy companies and television studios were scooping up licenses for any kind of anthropomorphic action series that could be tossed in front of children to make piles of money. These properties were often fast-tracked to the consumer as everyone assumed the TMNT were just some fad that would die a quick death. This meant television shows, toys, and even games were all put into development at around the same time and Bucky O’Hare got the full treatment. So even though the cartoon series would only last 13 episodes and see a quiet cancellation, the aspects of the license that took the longest to develop would still see release after the fall of the show.

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Good luck finding one of these.

Most people into retro-gaming or who had a Nintendo Entertainment System back in the day are familiar with Konami’s Bucky O’Hare for the NES; the Mega Man clone of surprising depth and skill. It’s become a bit of a cult hit these days and copies of the NES cart fetch a pretty decent price on the after-market. Lesser known, is Konami’s Bucky O’Hare game for the arcade, also simply titled Bucky O’Hare.

Like most of Konami’s  arcade games for licensed properties, Bucky O’Hare is a 4-player beat-em-up where the player takes on wave after wave of enemies before reaching the game’s conclusion. And like most games of this style, it sometimes feels like it was designed first and foremost to eat quarters and force gamers to spend a decent chunk of change in order to see the game to its conclusion. Where Bucky O’Hare differentiates itself from Konami’s other brawlers is in that the primary attack for each character is a projectile. All four characters; Bucky, Jenny, Deadeye, and Blinky – all possess a handgun to shoot at the bad guys with. This naturally allows the player to maintain some distance between them and the enemy which actually seems to result in fewer deaths when compared with X-Men or Turtles in Time. Each character also possesses a special attack, referred to as a gimmick weapon, that can be activated at any time and surprisingly doesn’t cost any health to activate. There’s also bomb attacks available and they’re pretty abundant and clear the screen of enemies or deal a significant chunk of damage to a boss, which feels really generous for a game of this genre.

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The game is enjoyable with one of two players, but these ones are always best with four.

The game also further distinguishes itself in style. The previously mentioned gimmick weapons though are sadly the only thing that really differentiates the characters. Of the four, I found Deadeye to be the most useful (though you would think a four-armed duck would possess more than one pistol) as his weapon is basically a temporary shield that orbits around him until it hits something. Jenny’s is a homing attack that’s also useful, though her attack animation is a liability. Bucky just tosses a bomb forward, and Blinky has a flame-thrower. Most of the levels move from left to right, but there’s variety from stage to stage. Some levels have the characters moving at an angle towards the screen (think the second stage from the first TMNT arcade game) and there’s a stage where you’re falling and another where the characters are all riding Toad Croakers that can even stomp on the enemies. Brawlers can get quite stale by design, and Bucky O’Hare does as good a job as any in keeping things as fresh as possible for the game’s duration (of roughly 45 minutes).

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Minimally animated, but fully voiced, cut scenes help to move the story along.

Perhaps surprisingly, the production values on Bucky O’Hare are quite high. It’s very bright and visually appealing with all of the characters looking like the source material. Bucky is the only one that looks a bit off to me, and Blinky is definitely too tall, but for the most part the characters and animations look great. The enemies are especially striking, though the variety is not great as you’ll mostly spend the game fighting Toad Storm Troopers and these little robots. The boss characters look awesome though and they’re mostly taken straight from the cartoon series. Toadborg is appropriately menacing looking and the final battle is against a Komplex-to-Go contraption that even looks like it’s suffered some damage since its encounter against Bucky in episode 13 of the series.

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You’ll be killing lots of Toad Storm Troopers in this one.

Which brings me to the aspect some Bucky fans seem to appreciate most is that this game seems to take place after the cartoon ended and serves as a nice book-end to the series. You take the fight straight to the Toad homeworld and vanquish Komplex seemingly forever. Konami made liberal use of the voice talent from the show and only a couple of voices are off (Blinky most notably being voiced by Scott McNeil). Even characters who aren’t playable still make voiced appearances like Willy and Bruiser. And if you’re into the comic, the omniscient mouse race that never made it into the series shows up in this game and it really feels like someone at Konami really cared about the representing the license as best as possible. It’s pretty cool considering they must have known already that this was to be the last major release for the license and that no season two was coming for the animated series.

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Willy and Bruiser even get to cameo in some cut scenes.

Bucky O’Hare for the arcade is a satisfying experience, especially so for fans of the license. It possesses some of the short-comings inherent with the genre, and I do wish a character like Bruiser or Dogstar was playable as neither was in the NES game, but this is a fun title worth tracking down. Of course, being that it’s been over 25 years since the game’s release, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a cabinet in the wild and it’s even rare to see them come up for sale on eBay. There are other means available to you, if you want to seek them out, and I’ll let you research that on your own should you wish to play it. Sadly, licensed games like these rarely receive a digital release in this day and age, but maybe this very mild Bucky comeback in 2017 could lead to a digital release of this game and the NES game, though I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath for either.


Logan

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Logan (2017)

A popular “gotcha” question from when I was a kid concerning comic books and the X-Men was, “What’s Wolverine’s mutant power?” The desired response was a reference to his claws, at which point one could interject with a “Nuh-uh! It’s his mutant healing factor!” Of course, later in the 90’s it would be revealed that his claws actually were a part of his mutation, thus putting an end to that one, but it was always kind of a stupid piece of trivia anyway. Wolverine’s defining trait are his claws, the healing stuff was just a way to excuse the beating he took in the pages of Incredible Hulk and X-Men. If he didn’t have those unbreakable claws, he probably never would have become the most popular member of the X-Men.

And yet, Wolverine’s claws were always a bit of an obstacle for comic writers and artists, and eventually animators and film makers as well. You have this violent, bad ass character, equipped with blades that can cut through almost anything, but he really can’t use them because of the obvious gore factor that would involve. Instead, Wolverine would often use the claws for show, deflect some attacks, cling to walls, cut through a fence, and everyone’s favorite – hack up some robots. That’s why it’s particularly liberating to see Wolverine go all out in the opening moments of Logan.

To a newcomer, or even someone who has just fancied themselves a casual fan, the violence and gore present in Logan will seem over the top, perhaps juvenile. The R rating the movie garnered may be viewed in a cynical fashion to appease young males who want f-bombs and blood out of their movies. For those who have been with this character since their childhood though, it’s a stark reveal of just who Wolverine is. This is the Wolverine we hear about from other characters, spoken of in hushed tones and feared by his enemies. This is a superhero who’s primary offense, and defense, is to just start hacking. And since this is applied to an older, very cynical, Wolverine we get a character who doesn’t operate in half measures – if you get in his way and threaten him or those who cares about, Wolverine won’t hesitate to remove your face from your skull.

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If you’ve always wanted to see Wolverine do this, then Logan will make you very happy.

Logan is a film set some 15 years or so in the future. It’s not a dystopian world or a wasteland. There are no flying cars or laser rifles, the setting is just an excuse to take a look at an aging, dying, Wolverine. When the film opens we see Wolverine has taken on a very mundane job as a limo driver. He walks with a limp, is an apparent alcoholic, and his wounds don’t close as quickly as they used to. When he’s not working, he’s scoring drugs and hopping the Mexican border where his perhaps only friends are hiding out:  Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The drugs Wolverine purchases are for Xavier, who’s past the ninety-year mark and struggling to keep his wits about him. When the world’s most dangerous telepath can’t control his old brain bad stuff can happen. Wolverine is apparently saving up some cash to buy a houseboat where he and Xavier can live out the rest of their days without fear of harming anyone, or anyone bothering them (in the case of Wolverine).

Wolverine’s day to day life is disrupted when a borderline hysterical woman (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) comes seeking his aid. Offering a substantial amount of money, she wishes for Wolverine to smuggle her and her daughter into Canada. Wolverine wants nothing to do with her, apparently not wanting any trouble. Soon a young man barges into his limo looking for info on the woman. He is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and we know from his demeanor and bad-ass cybernetic hand that he is certainly a bad dude and probably what the young woman is running from. Upon hearing this, Xavier naturally wants to help the woman as he senses a mutant presence, Caliban smells it as well (his mutant power). This is a big deal as there hasn’t been a mutant born in this world in over twenty years. Wolverine is sort of conned into helping the woman, and things get messy before they get any better.

Since she’s featured so heavily in the promotion, and the film makes little attempt to create any mystery about it, I might as well continue along and talk about Laura (Dafne Keen), the young mutant Wolverine and Co. end up taking in. Laura, known as X-23 in the comics, is a young girl with a very familiar set of powers and abilities, and also temperament. She is referred to by other characters as Wolverine’s daughter, but it might be more accurate to call her his clone. She’s on the run in search of a place called Eden and is running from Pierce and the people responsible for her existence. After the lengthy setup, the film turns into a road movie with Wolverine, Laura, and Xavier.

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Jackman and Stewart are just beautiful in their portrayals of Logan and Xavier.

Logan is not a feel good movie, and it doesn’t offer much mystery. I found myself anticipating almost every beat the film hits, but I also didn’t care. The world of Logan is harsh and unfriendly, but there are small moments to break up the grim that either provide humor or just a small slice of life. Xavier and Laura make for a fun pair and easily form a warm relationship, even if Laura is essentially mute. Perhaps to the surprise of some, Xavier is the character most often relied upon for comic relief. He and Wolverine clash well, but underneath the surface conflict it’s obvious the two love and respect each other. Wolverine is a surrogate son of sorts to this version of Xavier, and waits on him like a doting son, though he seems to take some enjoyment in complaining about it every step of the way. The relationship feels very authentic, which is a word that kept coming to me as I took in this picture. Patrick Stewart comes across as especially authentic as Xavier. There’s a scene where the trio sits down to dinner with some strangers and Stewart plays Xavier in a way that’s reminiscent of every dinner I’ve ever had with an elderly person I had only just met. He’s delighted to speak with someone other than his irritable traveling companion, but his performance never teeters on parody.

Hugh Jackman is a captivating Wolverine in this film. I suppose that comes as no surprise since he’s been playing this character for almost twenty years now (the same can be said of Stewart). Jackman worked with director/writer James Mangold on the story, loosely adapted from the Old Man Logan story from the comics. It’s clear from interviews with Jackman that this was an important film for him and an important story for him to have a part in telling as Wolverine, for it’s to be his last turn as the character. The Wolverine of this film is best described as the exact assumption most would have of an old man Wolverine. All of his lesser traits -his irritability, cynicism, vices and so on have only been strengthened by father time. He’s still a good guy inside, but his pessimism makes him more of an introvert than he’s ever been. The film doesn’t dwell on the past, but it makes it obvious that all of the X-Men are dead. This is a Wolverine who has lost everything. He doesn’t want to start over, he’d rather just die. He’s pulled through this movie by other characters as well as his inner sense of duty, but it’s a struggle. The film tells this story through action and not so much dialogue. In doing so, Mangold is able to avoid a lot of the tropes that plague other films attempting to tell a similar story.

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I wonder where she gets it from…

Laura proves to be a compelling character in her own right. Portrayed by newcomer Dafne Keen, Laura is a wide-eyed girl experiencing the world for the first time. Everything is interesting and new to her, and Keen is forced to tell us what Laura is thinking through her actions alone while also being restricted from changing her usual stoic facial expression. She’s a fun character to watch when the film slows down, but also a sad character during the action sequences when we are forced to watch a young girl brutally eviscerate other people with cold precision. She’s in a way been denied humanity, while also being denied a childhood. Again, Mangold does a great job of just putting this out there in the film without editorializing it. We don’t need a character to tell us now depressing her upbringing was. The film slowly gives us more and more of the Laura character and it’s one of the few aspects that feels rewarding. I would guess most people will leave the theater wanting to see more of this character in the future.

All of this is to say the movie isn’t perfect. Like most superhero pictures, it’s probably longer than it needs to be. While there are no obvious scenes that could have been axed, the film does move slowly and if an editor had been ordered to keep the runtime under two hours they probably could have found a way without much compromise. The film is also so centered on Wolverine and Laura that the antagonists feel like after-thoughts at times. And as I mentioned, it is very predictable and there is a sequence in the middle of the movie that bothered me as a result because the characters should have been able to see the danger up ahead.

The flaws within Logan are minor and do little to bring down what some are calling the best superhero movie yet. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, as Logan could function as any kind of movie if you took away the super powers. The film isn’t centered on a conflict of good vs evil with the fate of the world in the balance. It’s a character driven film, and for people who have considered themselves fans of the Wolverine character, this is probably the film you’ve been waiting for. It’s a film for those who appreciate the essence of what makes Wolverine special, and it’s able to present the character in an authentic way without devolving into a ton of fan service. More importantly, this is also clearly a worthy story for Jackman to go out on. This is his finest performance not just as Wolverine, but of any film I’ve seen him in, and I assume that was the personal goal of Jackman going into it. I was totally fine with this being Jackman’s last time playing Wolverine, but once the credits started rolling I must admit I was starting to wish for more, and as they say in show business, always leave them wanting more.


X-Men: Apocalypse

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X-Men:  Apocalypse (2016)

No Marvel property has had a more up and down relationship with the silver screen than the X-Men. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because at least it hasn’t been all down like the Fantastic Four, but it is frustrating for those who love the X-Men property. The first film was one of the early superhero films that launched this new found romance between Hollywood and Marvel, which also helped open the door to DC as well. That first film hit on a lot of what makes the X-Men unique, though it sacrificed action and plot in devoting so much of the film to setup. The second film seemed to better encapsulate what X-Men could be, but made some changes and decisions that felt rushed and short-sighted. Still, it was successful and the best X-Men film for a long time. Following X-Men 2, director Bryan Singer departed the franchise for Superman, and Brett Ratner came on to direct X-Men:  The Last Stand, a hot mess that at least had the decency to keep the run time down.

Following The Last Stand, Fox went away from their mutant franchise but did allow Wolverine to get his own terrible solo film. Seeing Marvel have success with other franchises without Fox likely helped bring the X-Men back with the Mathew Vaughn helmed X-Men: First Class. First Class was a new beginning for the franchise, though a confusing one as the continuity between it and the original trilogy seemed non-comittal at best. Was it a prequel? A reboot? Vaughn was one and done, and having not directed much worth discussing since X-Men 2, Singer took over for Days of Future Past, which further muddled the continuity between this new series and the original. Days of Future Past was a fun time travel piece. It also helped that it was adapting one of the most popular plots from the classic X-Men stories. It reunited the new cast with the old, and the conclusion seemed to reset the franchise as the heroes successfully changed the future leading the viewer to assume what happened in the original trilogy was basically undone, or at least severely altered, freeing this new franchise from further continuity scrutiny.

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Apocalypse with his two horsewomen Storm and Psylocke.

X-Men:  Apocalypse gives us a second completed trilogy, though one that clearly sets up for another X-Men film. It adapts the popular villain, Apocalypse, for the movie-going audience for the first time. Apocalypse is a tough sell in live-action. In the comics, his giant persona complete with big “A” belt buckle and blue lips somehow works, but viewed outside of that context looks ridiculous. His powers in the books began as being a kind of shape-shifter, with the emphasis placed on his ability to increase in size. Since his debut in the pages of X-Factor, Apocalypse has been retconned numerous times and his powers expanded to the point where it’s probably easier to just say that they’re undefined – he can do almost anything. As a plot device, he’s interesting in the sense that he’s a third alternative to the Xavier/Magneto world view. Xavier wants humans and mutants to co-exist, while Magneto wants to establish mutant supremacy. Apocalypse just wants to kill everybody and let the strong survive. He wants to rule over all as a god-like being. It makes sense for one who calls himself Apocalypse, though it’s not always interesting.

Despite that, I’ve mostly enjoyed Apocalypse as a foil as sometimes it’s nice to have one villain in a hero’s rogue’s gallery that’s just plain evil. I never really expected to see him in a film, but if he had been brought over, I expected him to be heavily altered to ground him a bit more. To my surprise, Singer and company did no such thing with Apocalypse.

The film opens with a flashback to a ritual involving Apocalypse in Cairo. He’s being placed in the base of a pyramid, surrounded by his disciples and attendants, as they prepare a second person on a separate slab within the tomb. We learn shortly after that this is a ritual to transfer Apocalypse’s essence to a new host to allow him to continue to live for years upon years.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is explained later as the first mutant, who likely lived for centuries even before that flashback took place. He was worshipped as a god called En Sabah Nur, and the film actually never directly refers to him as Apocalypse. He’s yet another blue-skinned mutant with weird metal dreadlocks and vaguely Egyptian themed armor. Returning character Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) learned through research that he was the suspected first mutant, and each time he transferred to a new, mutant, host he would gain their powers. As a result, Apocalypse possesses numerous abilities that go very much undefined in the film. He’s portrayed similarly to Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan for much of the film, basically disintegrating people who get in his way without so much as a gesture. Other guys are melded into walls or the ground, and we also see him do some minor mind manipulation. He’s able to somehow sync with satellites to learn about the state of the world after awakening after thousands of years, and perhaps most importantly, is able to draw out the max potential of other mutants. He displays this by assembling his four horsemen:  Storm, Psylocke, Archangel, and eventually Magneto.

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Jean, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops are expected to shoulder some of the load in this film, but aren’t given adequate character development to really let them sine.

Now, I’m not one for spoilers when reviewing films. It strikes me as lazy, but I’m going to kind of spoil something in this paragraph as it relates to Magneto (Michael Fassbender). We see him with Apocalypse in all of the promotional imagery, so I don’t consider it much of a spoiler to point that out. When we first see Magneto in the film though, he’s married with a daughter and working in a steel mill in Poland. He has a conversation with his daughter before she goes to bed about how his parents were taken from him, and assures her the same won’t befall her. The film could not have telegraphed what’s to follow any more implicitly than that. Again, I don’t mean to spoil anything, but obviously something bad happens which leads Magneto to Apocalypse and I felt irritated by the whole setup. Did we really need Magneto to be, once again, re-motivated to take on humanity? When we left him in Days of Future Past, he really had no reason to change his ways and could have been left as a sulking, angry, and determined adversary for the X-Men without the need for additional motivation.

I suppose I should just cut to the chase and say I did not like this movie. Apocalypse doesn’t work as a villain. He has the personality of a natural disaster. His motivations are vague and uninteresting. They appear to be mostly in-line with his comic book motivations, but I don’t know how much of that is me filling in the blanks with what I know from that medium or the film actually earning that conclusion. His supporting cast is even less interesting as there’s really no character development devoted to his followers. He’s also absurdly over-powered, to the point where it’s not really believable when he (spoiler?) eventually fails to bring death and destruction to the world.

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Evan Peters returns as Quicksilver to basically do the same thing he did in Days of Future Past, only with an 80’s soundtrack this time.

None of that is the fault of actor Oscar Isaac, he does about as well as he can with what the script and screenplay give him. And as far as X-Men scripts go, X-Men: Apocalypse hits a new low. When it’s not having its characters spout tired cliches, it’s having them say nothing much at all or clumsily setting up whats to come, as if we need the film to help foreshadow anything. James McAvoy returns as Charles Xavier and he probably comes off the best, as Xavier is pretty easy to write. He’s paired often with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, who’s pushed into a starring role, probably not because her character is suited for such, but most likely because of how her star has risen since First Class. Mystique is poorly suited to be so front and center in the story as she’s clumsily written. Her motivations change so quickly and effortlessly you would think Xavier is mentally controlling her. The same can be said for Magneto.

New additions to the cast include younger versions of mutants featured in the original trilogy:  Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Cyclops and his relationship with brother Alex/Havok (Lucas Till) is fit into the film by being the younger brother, instead of the older one as he was in the comics. His struggle to control his optic blast mutant power is kind of glossed over and not really dwelled on as Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) presents him with his special glasses pretty quickly. He’s a pretty terrible character who’s primary motivation is apparently skipping out on class to go to the mall – how 80’s! Jean is portrayed rather predictably as the girl scared of her own powers. She has a vision of the coming apocalypse which is what gets the X-Men involved in seeking out more information on En Sabah Nur. Smit-Mcphee’s Nightcrawler is easily my favorite addition to the cast. He’s depicted the same as he was in X-Men 2, visually speaking, and he’s kind of cautious and quirky and is an obvious gentle soul not suited for violence. His religious beliefs are not front and center, but he is shown praying at one point.

The film mostly suffers by just being uninteresting, and it runs over two hours in length. Even at such a length, the plot moves relatively fast as it relates to Apocalypse who just teleports wherever he wants. There’s a pointless detour taken when the X-Men collide with the military and an old foe from the past film, which seems to exist only to setup a soulless cameo. The film builds towards a confrontation with Apocalypse in which we’re supposed to care about the new recruits taking center stage, but we have so little invested in them that it just feels hollow, not to mention expected. The film also wastes the 80’s setting, really not using it for anything other than a few jokes that were probably too obvious for That 80’s Show. Worse, it feels rather forced since none of the characters look like they’ve aged the twenty or so years that have past since First Class.

The resolution is a foregone conclusion from the start, and we’re left with a big, empty, action film that didn’t really need to be an X-Men film. So little of what makes the X-Men special as a property is encapsulated here, and what is feels like retread. I was checking the time an hour into this one, and I couldn’t wait to be done with it and had to struggle through the credits to see the epilogue, which did little to excite me for another film. It feels like Singer is just setting up to tell a story he missed out on with his first go-around with the series, though I have no idea if a next film is a guarantee. Most of the contracts with the heavy hitters likely need to be renegotiated, and what incentive is there for some of them to return? I suppose they could get by without Magneto, since he felt shoe-horned into this film to begin with, but Mystique was positioned as the leader of the X-Men so I don’t know how they get out of that if Lawrence has no interest in reprising her role.

In the end, I’m left to say “who cares?” where a next film is concerned. We already have the reported excellence of Logan to indulge with, and another X-Men film will need to be tackled by people who have the motivation to craft a worthwhile story that begs to be told. Apocalypse did not do that, I don’t think it killed the franchise, but it did bring it back to where it was following The Last Stand. If X-Men Origins: Wolverine is excluded, this is the worst X-Men film yet. I’d rather watch The Last Stand because it at least has an interesting plot, if poorly executed, and it’s a hell of a lot shorter. Like The Last Stand, I find myself not really caring where the franchise goes from here, or if it continues at all, and that’s a pretty poor lasting impression for X-Men:  Apocalypse.


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Michelangelo

img_0905At last, my quartet is complete! The famed heroes in a half shell have had their finest animated series likeness released to eager collectors around the globe and the results are pretty awesome. If you follow this blog, you may have caught my posts about the first three turtles. Leonardo and Donatello were released simultaneously in the late summer with Raphael arriving in the fall. The wait for the fourth, and perhaps most popular, turtle was a bit longer than expected, but Michelangelo is now being shipped world-wide by American distributors and the good news is; he’s probably the best of the bunch.

If you have seen either of my two posts on the other turtles, then you are likely familiar with the general look and construction of these figures. All four turtles are essentially the same figure, just with different swappable parts and their signature color scheme and belt buckle. They’re sturdy, mostly plastic figures with loads or articulation despite the fact that they’re hindered by their turtle anatomy. The lower portion of the figures, specifically from the knee down, is painted die-cast which gives them a solid base ensuring it will take more than the wind to knock these ninjas over. And even though those lower portions are die-cast, the paint job is seamless and you would never know by looking at them. Bandai’s SH Figuarts line is known for being a high quality line, and the turtles do not disappoint in this regard.

When it comes to the accessories, there’s been a clear pattern with these figures. Each turtle comes with two heads, with one featuring a serious, kind of generic expression that’s the same for all four turtles, and one that’s unique to each brother. They have four sets of hands:  fists, fists with a hole through the center for gripping weapons, slightly opened fists for a more gentle grasp, and open palms. Each turtle naturally comes with his signature weapon, a unique accessory or two, and a swappable belt piece that contains holsters for their weapons (in the show, these holsters would often “disappear” when the turtles didn’t have their weapons holstered and this piece allows collectors to do the same).

It’s the accessories that differentiate each turtle from the other, so not unexpectedly, it’s my enthusiasm for these that make Mikey my favorite of the pack. Someone over at Bandai must love Michelangelo, because he easily has the most accessories. Mikey comes with two sets of nunchaku:  one set is all plastic and features a frozen pose, the other has each end connected by an actual chain. The NECA Mirage Michelangelo was the first one I encountered that featured the real chain links on the nunchaku and I still love that effect even ten years later. There’s no denying though that the more realistic representation of the weapons does limit the poses one can achieve, which is why Bandai included the additional “frozen” weapons. Even though the chain on these is all plastic, the detail is still excellent making them look light-years ahead of anything Playmates has done with their figures. One ‘chuck is positioned in a triangle-like pose for an under-arm position, while the other has more of a swinging look. I’m torn on if I prefer these to the Revoltech nunchaku included in their version of Mikey from the current animated series, which features a disc at the end of the chain to really simulate the animated look of a twirling nunchaku. The nunchaku with the actual chain links are also great for posing as they have natural weight. They’re also the only ones that can really be holstered on Mikey’s back. Both offer great options for display.

The other included accessory is Michelangelo’s turtle hook. The turtle hook first appeared occasionally as a grappling hook carried by all of the turtles, but eventually the show would phase-out Michelangelo’s nunchaku and have him only wield the turtle hook due to the perception of nunchaku being too violent in some circles. It was pretty stupid to see Mikey standing there alongside his brothers with nothing but a grappling hook to defend himself, but it happened. Interestingly, virtually all of the toys associated with the cartoon would still feature nunchaku and I can’t recall a single one that had the turtle hook, so it’s inclusion as an accessory is certainly long overdue. Bandai used actual rope to connect the handle and the hook portion and it looks great. The hook unfortunately is permanently in its open position, but it probably would have been either really fragile or over-sized if it featured moving parts. The rope is also too short for it to look like an actual grappling hook, but it probably would have looked sillier if it was absurdly long (the cartoon version stored the additional rope in the shell portion which isn’t feasible in reality). While I’ll always consider Mikey’s weapons to be his ‘chucks, I do love the look of the turtle hook and it’s a fun display piece.

Mikey’s second head features a smirking grin. It’s not unexpected that his unique head sculpt would be something light-hearted, as opposed to the angry expressions worn by Leo and Raph. I still find it kind of weird though as the smile gives his head a shape I can’t ever recall seeing depicted in the cartoon. In short, I think Bandai could have done Mikey better in this regard. And it’s also kind of disappointing that Bandai included the same generic facial expression for each turtle. I get it that it helps cut down on costs, but how expensive is it to make a new mold for such a small piece? Obviously, Michelangelo wasn’t always smiling and goofing off in the show, but who really is going to display their Michelangelo with the serious expression? Very few, I’d wager.

That about covers it. Any of the flaws possessed by the other turtles are naturally attributable to Michelangelo too, but so are all of the good points. These four represent a pretty awesome collection, but the true test lies ahead. Will Bandai continue to support this line beyond the four turtles? So few companies have. Shredder was unveiled last year, but I have yet to see anyone start taking pre-orders so I’m not holding my breath. With the New York Toy Fair drawing close, perhaps we’ll see how far Bandai intends to take this. I’d love to round out the villains at least with Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady joining Shredder. Foot Soldiers, Master Splinter, and April would be the icing on the cake, should they come to be. Anything beyond that would be unexpected, but most likely welcomed.

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