Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reel Low - Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)

Imagine a world in which the costumed heroes collectively known as the Avengers have seemingly vanquished all evil from Earth, turned in their tights and started families, only to be brought together once more to battle a reinvigorated Ultron, hellbent on world domination. It does not go well. They lose. They die. But their children are saved from the calamity. So begins Marvel's Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, an interesting entry in their new animated feature series.

How exactly the world's mightiest heroes are defeated is unclear. But this is not their story. It is the story of their kids becoming the next generation of Avengers.

The surviving four kids are raised by Tony Stark in seclusion over the course of 12 years, training to live up to their parents' mantels. They do plenty of dumb things along the way that their parents would never do in a Marvel story, but because they're sheltered kids thrust into new situations, they are completely believable.

This film is aimed at a different audience than the other animated features Marvel has released thus far. While they have all been rated PG-13, Next Avengers is PG. The brief synopsis at the out-start of the film is all viewers really need to know before stepping into this world, which is a good thing for youngsters and non-Marvel zombies alike. That said, there are plenty of Marvel easter eggs for the fanboys out there, too. Granted, I can see how the more well-versed fans out there will complain over the pairing of Captain America and the Black Widow, but I'm fine with good 'ol Steve liking Natasha enough to put a ring on it, and seeing as the result is a nice mix of Cap's leadership with a hint of the Widow's nasty streak was enough to seal it for me.

And that's probably the real fun of this flick: seeing how these kids are so much like their parents, but at the same time something new because of the combination of powers and personalities of their folks.

While there is that element of fun in Next Avengers and it's only rated PG, there is also an undeniable darkness to the movie. Everything these kids are going through reminds them of the parents they didn't know and how they were defeated by the very adversary who is attempting to kill them now. And through that darkness, they must persevere to become heroes with each awkward step they take. I find that universally appealing.

Now not everything is perfect. Henry Pym, Jr., son of Giant Man and the Wasp, is the biggest problem. His character annoys throughout the entire film, serving as comic relief that is commonly dished out in other cartoons through the animal sidekick. Henry is the youngest of the group, probably 12, so perhaps kids watching the movie will relate to him better, but his act ran will likely run thin on adults.

Also, Azari is severely underdeveloped as a character and is the least compelling of the group. He is the son of Black Panther and presumably Storm, who is not mentioned by name but by the otherwise unexplained electricity powers he possesses (that is, unless you think T'Challa got mixed up in some genetic A.I.M. experiment gone awry with Electro). There is plenty of material to mine for him from that combo, but was never delved into.

I have not watched the two Ultimate Avengers movies or Invincible Iron Man, all of which may serve as prequels (my research proved to be inconclusive). It'd be interesting to see if this continues the events in those movies in any way, but I have heard mixed things, at best, about them and have refrained from checking them out thus far.

However, I would welcome additional Next Avengers films. They would certainly continue to be produced with children in mind, but that underlying darkness that made this one more compelling than expected would continue to resinate in future installments.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Audio/Visuals: Watchmen (film)

The weekend has come and gone and most of us have probably been to the movies to see Watchmen. I went to a midnight showing on Thursday but refrained from writing about it. Like the graphic novel, there is quite a lot to take in and digest. Again, like the source material, it bears watching again to catch things one might not have noticed the first time around.

One of the things that became apparent upon leaving the theater was that Alan Moore was wrong, Watchmen is not unfilmable. If anything, this movie is an example of where we stand technologically in the art of movie making. If you can conceive it, you can film it. However, Moore might have been speaking to the more subtle elements of the book as opposed to the gross. To a degree, some of that was lost in this adaptation but that has more to do with the way the two different media function. A big difference is that time is a different obstacle for both to work with. In any case, I don’t want to wax too philosophical about media and will get right down to it.

Things I liked about Watchmen:
  • The visuals - The movie is loaded with sumptuous scenes and colors that invoke the feeling of a comic book but put them in a world that might have been. This isn’t an attempt at realism that other comic book movies have gone for, this is hyperrealism at its finest.
  • The pacing - Pacing a movie like this must have been a monumental task in and of itself. However, the almost three hours spent in the theater feel like nothing.
  • Music - Wonderfully careful song choices are made throughout to create Watchmen’s 1985 as well as an opening sequence that is one of the best in recent memory.
  • The hyperviolence - This is a scary and dangerous time for the world and no one pulls punches, not even Dr. Manhattan. In a scene from the comic where Manhattan simply vaporizes the heads of two mobsters, he completely turns them inside-out in the film. Our other heroes, if they can be called that, are equally as harsh on their opponents. Compound fractures and crunching face punches fill the action scenes.
  • The sex - Watchmen has one of the most realistic sex scenes I can think of. It is both hilarious and unsettling to watch, making one feel like a voyeur and punctuating the fact that costumed crusaders probably have an equally odd sex life in juxtaposition to their daily life.
Things I didn’t like about Watchmen:
  • The weight of an impending nuclear holocaust just wasn’t there. Maybe this is just my memories of growing up during the 80s and what it felt like to have that mushroom cloud seemingly always hovering on the horizon. That just didn’t come through for me.
  • It felt like at times they were too married to dialogue from the comic books to the point where some characters just sounded odd. An example is that the exchange in Vietnam between The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan following the murder of a pregnant woman is taken pretty much verbatim from the book. The words spoken by The Comedian just don’t sound consistent with the kind of person we’ve seen. Just because something reads really well doesn’t mean it will sound good when spoken aloud.
  • There weren’t enough subtle clues it seemed that pointed to the villain, as it were. The comic book was practically littered with signs pointing to the answer to the mystery. When the reveal is finally made, you can’t help but slap your head and realize it’s been the 400 pound gorilla in the room all along. This doesn’t really happen in the movie.
That about gets at the heart of my feelings for the movie although I could go on and on. I’m anxious now for its release onto BluRay so that I can maybe catch things that I missed in the theater and to continue this discussion.