Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley,
Production Company: Waner Bros.
Release Date: March 6, 2009

There’s a large group comic geeks and assorted nerds the world over. Many of those geeks have been enjoying Hollywood’s recent turn to comics for quick cash profit. And of those many geeks, they’ve been given such ham-fisted attempts such as Batman and Robin, and an even lower extend, the Fantastic Four Franchise. I am one of the many comic book geeks out there, watching, and pondering, waiting for that one glimmering moment where the entire world believes it’s cool to be a geek all over again. Well, imagine my surprise when I heard about Watchmen, Alan Moore’s to the point, spawning graphic novel that covered politics, greed, and immortality to name a few topics. It’s a richly detailed, mystifying ride that will teach you something new each time you read it, and it’s a wholesome adventure with an inconclusive ending that leaves you with the ending devices. And that’s just the book. The comic was meant to only live within the paneled realm which Dave Gibbons created; certain story telling elements could only be portrayed in a comic book format, and untranslatable to any other format. But, damned if you can keep a filmmaker down, someone really wanted to reach a wider audience other than kids who spent too much time at the comic shop.

For all the cogs, there is only one spoon.

From Stage right strides in Zack Snyder, a respectable director hailed for his faithful representation of comicdom’s Frank Miller’s 300. He was able to capture the grandeur and glory of a chest thumping battle-hardened king Leonidas. Could Snyder capture the ethos, pathos and multiple underlying story elements that made Watchmen a timeless masterpiece? Well, he comes pretty close.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985 where costumed folk fight crime, pursue justice, and have deep psychological problems. President Nixon is running for a third term, and the doomsday clock (a huge symbol in the comic book) is set 5 minutes to zero hour. Cold war tensions have reached a tedious high with the Soviets invading Afghanistan, yet are reluctant to strike with America in possession of the living superman Dr.Manhattan. The chain of events starts with the murder of one Edward Blake; costumed vigilante Rorschach investigates only to find Blake is actually the superhero ‘The Comedian’. Rorschach believes he has discovered a plot to eliminate costumed adventurers and sets about warning his retired comrades: Dan Dreiberg/NiteOwl II, Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Jupiter (Juspeczyk as told in the comic). Dreiberg informs Adrian Veidt, the world’s smartest man and former costumed avenger Ozymandias with little success. This all of course the set up so far, and I don’t want to spoil it for those who have never read the book, so I’ll stop here, but I can at least elaborate on what I did, and didn’t like.

Didn’t I see you in ’27 Dresses’?

Zack Snyder was handed the role due to his success with merging special effects with live action, he does a fine job here; he seamlessly matches up a pre mega-scraper New York complete with Gunga Diner elephant float, conveys mood, theme and attitude all incredibly well. Dr. Manhattan’s ethereal blue glow is handled in practical way as I found out on his blog, it matches the character and it the blue is never a distraction, only a tool that never distracts from the bigger picture. The flashbacks are handled quite well, as he choose to cast the actors younger and let the rubber latex add the years on in the 1985 timeline. The sets are wonderfully dreary without letting on they were lifted quite literally from Dave Gibbon’s artwork, and he does a fantastic job of translating literal famous comic poses onto the silver screen (See Rorschach’s jump onto Comedian’s balcony, or Dreiberg in quiet contemplation after hearing the line ‘you quit’). There’s never a moment on screen that isn’t drenched in history or burgeoning with in-references and nods. Each place you look on screen there’s a visual queue, a tip of the hat to the comic fans, and for non comic fans there’s always something worth coming back to. The mythology painted from the visuals is a rich tapestry from which you can find something new in repeated viewings. The lighting lends a heavier context with certain characters and there’s a certain flux in the flow of any scene. I was thoroughly engulfed in this world; a mix of real sets and computer generated backgrounds gave it more depth and I praised Snyder’s attention to detail.

Thankfully the blue smurf penis was petitioned out of this publicity snapshot

The characters themselves are visually stunning (Malin Akerman Anyone? Damn!), but just as Dr.Manhattan is detached from humanity, I too felt the actors were a little too disconnected. Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg didn’t feel as intimated or as non-threatening in plain clothes; his physical demeanor and mere presence at times were staged as him being powerless, yet he always felt much more in command. Malin Akerman is as always a knockout, but she felt like she was going through the motions of her character, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Dr.Manhattan’s numbness to the world wasn’t really felt through Billy Crudup’s voice, but he does come close a few times. Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, the world’s smartest man certainly feels like he’s conveying the same detachment, although if his words carried the same impact as his punches he would have been fully realized. All this, and the one character that came shining through was the stark black and white characterization provided by Jackie Earle Hale in Rorschach. The raspy voice over’s, absoluteness of his morals and drive for the truth couldn’t have been played better.
Too bad there’s no such thing as a sequel in this universe, I know who Hollywood would happily create a spin-off for his character.

Damn you Bruce Wayne, damn you.

The logic behind someone putting on mask and doing dumb things at 3:00am isn’t explained easily; it takes someone that’s little bit off kilter and willing to bend rules to do something like that. The overall feel of the book is captured nicely through the music, tone, dialogue and pacing. There’s never a moment you feel left in the dark with anyone’s motives and I can’t say enough about the eye candy throughout the production. As a comic geek, I was thrilled to see this adaptation come to fruitition. Everything is a little bit larger than life, and the production crew really outdid themselves in this Alan Moore tale of politics and superheroes. There were many layers omitted for obvious timing reasons, but that’s the fate of a book to movie adaptation; there’s always going to be a few sacrificed plot devices to fit the entirety of a film.

If you want a film that’s beautiful to look at, has lots of history and a loyal fan base, check out Watchmen. You won’t be disappointed.

8.5 out of 10

Punisher:War Zone

“Frick I forgot the BULLETS!”

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Lexi Alexander
Starring: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, a bunch of copper shell jackets
Production Company: Lions Gate Films
Release Date: Dec 5, 2008

Punisher: War Zone reads less like “revenge”, and more like “re-hash”. This is the Punisher’s third time at bat, with a new production company, new director, and new star Ray Stevenson. This version wasn’t anything horrible, yet between the plot holes and one dimensional characters, it all feels a little flat. Granted, no one in Punisher: War Zone is going to walk away with any statuettes, but the screen writer should at least examine what makes the comic book character tick.

Frank Castle is the NYPD cop whose family is massacred after witnessing a mob slaying. Frank, the lone survivor takes it upon himself to punish the unjust that the cops can’t touch by donning black garb and using a skull as his symbol. He’s been doing this a long time, as NYPD’s finest can attest to; the special Punisher unit has an entire basement full of evidence and an exceedingly high body count. Along with this, they have his true identity, but no leads to his whereabouts. Listing off all those facts, the cops stick up for him at every turn and actually let him go every chance they get since they believe he’s doing the city a favor; It’s nice knowing that mass murderers are held in such high authority by the people paid to protect us. Frank unknowingly kills an undercover FBI agent posing as a mob strong arm in an opening scene. In the process, he horribly mangles Billy Russoti (Dominic West) in a glass recycling machine, the set up there is that Billy becomes Jigsaw, the stitch faced killer out to do Punisher in.

“Now where did I put that girdle?”

There’s at least some motivation there. Billy wants to kill Punisher because he’s screwed with his face, and of course the big P is ruining his whole mob-drug-trafficking-trade as well. So there’s the set up; you got two bloodthirsty guys, each with their own sets of tools who will inevitably meet up for one final death match. Along the way we’re introduced to a whole bunch of throw away characters like Julie Benz, who I have to say looks waaaaay better raven haired than blonde, a stone eyed Colin Salmon and a completely wasted Wayne Knight as Microchip. I really wanted to like this movie, as I was disappointed with Jonathan Hensleigh/Thomas Jane’s Punisher, I figured a new addition, or a reimaging under Marvel Knights more explosive, bloody line would kick things up a notch as the Vertigo line for DC did a few years back. I didn’t get anything this time around, just another shoot em’ up action-fest that plodded along trading an actual storyline for bloody head count.

Guess he didn’t like the Fantastic Four movies either

For all the bashing, I do have to say the lightning, costumes and sets were beautifully done right. The atmosphere for each setting played nicely to each character, showcasing the darker traits that I didn’t see before. The lightning used particularly in Punisher’s Lair against the neon drudgery that was the Bradstreet hotel was refreshing. Not only did the ample shadows give good hiding spots, it also garnered a few points in my books.

The Punisher series of movies can’t take many more outings; probably one more film will be the final nail in this coffin. The franchise is either handled badly or just isn’t worth reviving, believe me when I was a kid watching the Dolph Lundgren version I was enthralled. Although these days my tastes have matured and I’ve moved onto more ‘Dark Knight’ reboot worthy films of late.

2.0 out of 10

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Tim Story
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Julian McMahon
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Review done 4:45 PM 5/16/2008

As you probably know, this is the story of four superheroes enbued with powers that fight crime. I think I just summed up the entire likeability factor in once sentence. That being said, I wish I could stop here, but I try to commit myself to writing a bit more than ‘don’t bother’. As it is, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the dismal sequel follow up to the original Fantastic Four movie. Same director, same characters, some new nuanced plot, even the same villain (Dr.Doom) makes an appearance. I would probably be more forgiving, but seriously, I’m insulted as a comic book fanatic.

The characters are still one tracked and static. They all have the same goals and the same damn personalities plus a few more special effects to add ‘weight’. Additionally I’ll break down the characters as you’d expect. Although, this might sound familiar if you read my review of the first movie:

Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is smart and a scientist because he’s constantly playing with new technological gadgets.

The Thing (Michael Chiklis) should focus on getting a Hulk/Thing cross over. Seriously.

Human Torch (Chris Evans) excels at being a dick. He is however, the most fun character and automatically the coolest character, and for some reason is the only person to have any sort of personality. This is INCREDIBLY sad.

Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) looks good in skin tight blue spandex.

Silver Surfer (voiced by one very cool Laurence Fishburne) looks cool, an act cool, and is a complete and utter TOOL to Galactus. Plus, they screwed up his source, scope, and majesty of power.

The tone you’re hearing is the one of complete annoyance, basically because Hollywood decided to hand the keys to the FF franchise, which was built on over 60 years of excellent stories over to the guy who directed ‘Taxi’ starring that guy from SNL who can sing pretty good. And that movie sucked! If there were any justice left in the world, the producers would have made Silver Surfer the main character with the FF in a cameo role. Who really cares if Reed and Sue Richards are getting married? It’s not like there was any sort of impending doom that could stop this huge crux of marital vows, right? Oh, the Silver Surfer showed up. And he’s not really doing anything, he’s just scoping out the earth as a tasty treat for his boss, Galactus. So the Fantastic Four have to stop him from….looking around.

As an added treat [sic], Julian McMahon reprises his role as ├╝ber evil Dr.Doom – who in the comics was a horribly scarred maniac despot ruler of Latvia, hell-bent on destroying the world with his superior scientific knowledge, some magical powers and GENIUS intellect. The movies however, opted for a good looking all American boy that prances around in a cape and is a millionaire industrialist, y’know: because business is evil. Anyway, Dr.Doom shows up, helps the military and the FF capture the Silver Surfer in perhaps the silliest way possible. At this point, he harnesses the Surfer’s power and it’s up to the most immature character, the human torch to take him down. All this is happening while: Galactus is on his way to make earth his next dinner. God, I wish this was made up – oh wait, it IS.

There’s quite a bit of build up to Galactus, he’s basically the quasi villain, the be-all, end-all of the earth. The ultimate destroyer of all humanity. And what are we treated with? A BIG FUCKING BLACK CLOUD. How entirely menacing is that? Even on paper it sounds ridiculous and it somehow got past the special effects team. If this thing eats worlds, it defies all logic of internal organs, stomachs, this thing must have a brain and reasoning if it gave powers to the Silver Surfer, yet it’s just A BIG FUCKING BLACK CLOUD.

***********some spoilers, like I care***********
Somehow, in this entirely too long, too loud, too stupid movie, the writers thought it would be smart to have the Surfer destroy Galactus WITH THE POWERS GIVEN TO HIM BY GALACTUS IN THE FIRST PLACE. And it was this bit of scientific writing that was supposed to bring all the events of this sitcom together and make sense.

FF: Rise of the Silver Surfer is just like 70’s big bellbottoms – utterly forgettable, short, loud, preposterous and full of stupid.

1 ouf of 10