Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern: Some Light Entertainment

The latest entry in this Summer of Heroes, the GREEN LANTERN movie, is getting a far sourer reception than it warrants. True, it's not a cinema masterpiece; it's got some hokey dialogue and tired tropes; it goes to that ever-drier well of Daddy Issues at which every modern action flick seems to water; it's hampered by Ryan Reynolds straining to be a charming wiseass; and (spoiler, sorta) the hero would not have been able to defeat the main villain if said villain weren't really, really stupid.

But I still liked it, because it brought to life two of the best aspects of the Green Lantern comics series.

The first is the cosmic factor. Although we've had a plethora of comics movies in the last couple of decades, they've largely stayed earthbound. Generally, the farthest even spacegoing heroes such as Superman get is Earth orbit. We've occasionally had folks come to Earth from outer space, such as in the second FANTASTIC FOUR movie; but the heroes generally hang around terra firma. One gets the feeling that producers feel that non-fan moviegoers don't want too many out-of-this-world concepts in one movie. For instance, the X-MEN movies are about mutants, and so the movies deal only with mutants. The comics may throw in non-mutant antagonists, and aliens, and demons and Lovecraftian elder gods and everything else the creators could think of to keep a series going; but the moviemakers are unwilling to tell stories about anything but mutants. Thus, while the comic-book Phoenix saga had the ill-fated character fly to another galaxy, consume a sun, destroy a civilization, trigger a huge trial-by-combat on the moon between the X-Men and another group of superbeings, and then commit suicide by alien deathray, X-MEN 3's Phoenix just mopes around Earth and kills her friends.

But both GREEN LANTERN and last month's THOR movie break that mold. THOR involves other dimensions, gods, frost giants, and lots of cosmic. GREEN LANTERN brings us right into the GL mythos from the opening narration, featuring a boatload of aliens and the concept of a universe-wide police force of superpowered beings.

The other is the sense of wonder. That goes hand-in-glove with freeing our hero from the confines of Earth. There's something wonderful and freeing about seeing someone actually flying tthrough space (and surviving), without a spacesuit or a spaceship -- only a superpowered ring. It's an image that original Silver Age GL artist Gil Kane made so thrilling. And the movie replicates it. That alone makes the overpriced ticket I bought for this 3-D extravaganza worth it.

Alas, since the huge cost of the GL movie made its fate as a disappointment inevitable if it failed to set box-office records, we will likely see less of this cosmic sense of wonder in our movies. Let's enjoy it while we can. Life's too short to stay earthbound.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Movie Turns the Tide

For me, the best thing about Disney's release of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is Harper Colllins're-release of the novel that "suggested" aspects of the movie's plot, and gave it its subtitle: Tim Powers's ON STRANGER TIDES.

I just finished this terrific tale of piracy and black magic in the 18-century Caribbean, and can't recommend it highly enough. It's got sea battles, swordfights, magical contests, engaging characters, and a pace that never flags. It's far more enjoyable than the movie it "suggested."

Monday, June 06, 2011

The X-Men from UNCLE

There's a story that during the Silver Age of comic books, the 1960's, when the James Bond movies were at the height of their popularity, DC Comics had the license to create James Bond comics. But after an adaptation of "Dr. No" released months before the movie version was released failed to sell, DC did nothing with it.

Nevertheless, the Silver Age -- including the "Marvel Age" -- of comics and the "Bond Age" of spy cinema came into being at the same time, with Fantastic Four #1 being released close in time to "Dr. No," and the first issue of X-Men coming out the same year that "From Russia with Love" graced movie screens.

Up to now, the array of Marvel movie adaptations have not addressed the 1960's origins of Marvel Comics, thanks to the conceit that has kept the Marvel Universe going for 50 years: The events of Marvel history are constantly moved forward in time, with each movie taking place in present time.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is the first Marvel film to embrace the Marvel Age's 1960's origins. It does so by exploring the past between Professor Xavier and Magneto, presented in the 2000 X-Men movie as elderly men with a past as allies. There's some foundation for that in the comics (although the comics depicted the two working together as young adults in 1950's Isreal); but since the movie fits into the X-Men film continuity, it can't actually tell the tale of the original X-Men from the comics of the 1960's since those characters (Cyclops, Iceman,Angel, Jean Gray) have for the most part been depicted as being in their 20s and 30s in the present day.

Instead, the movie has young Xavier and Magneto gather one of the original X-Men (The Beast, depicted as middle-aged in the third X-Men movie) and various other mutants shown in the comic book, including current villainess Mystique (with a pseudo-scientific explanation of why she appears to be in her 30s in the present-day-set movies).

Anyway, all that is really an excuse for X-Men First Class's most enjoyable aspect: A Marvel movie set in the 1960's, the salad days for Marvel Comics. And to the movie makers, the Marvel 1960's is the James Bond 1960's. Set after set conjures images of Ken Adam's Bond set design -- particularly the villain's lair (in a submarine, naturally). The filmmakers throw in the crisp men's fashions of the era, and even some film techniques popular in the '60's such as split-screens.

They do play anachronistic with the womens' fashions: Although the movie is set in 1962, we don't see Jackie Kennedy sweaters or bouffants; instead, women wear the miniskirts and boots that didn't come into fashion until mid-decade. But in a movie where characters violate the laws of physics with impunity, I can forgive them an alternate-world '60's in which a decade of fashion is collapsed into one year.

I found the Bond/UNCLE setting for the movie a delight. It brought new life to a movie series that was enervated by the disappointing third movie, X-Men: Last Stand, with suffered from lack of participation from X-director Bryan Singer. This movie brings Singer back, as producer;and also enlists director Matthew Vaughn, who directed last year's superhero adaptation/satire KICK-ASS with such energy.

S0 far, we've had a fun movie summer, with THOR, KUNG-FU PANDA 2, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4, and this film. And the summer hasn't even officially started yet.