Property review: Batman Forever

Batman-Forever-01Batman Forever

Warner Bros., 1995

The point in which the Bat falters

There comes a time in every Batman fan’s life where they must do the expected: rank the original quadrilogy of films. And, sure, everyone knows that any Batman fan worth their salt is going to put the first film in the No. 1 slot, Batman Returns second and Batman and Robin dead last. But where does that leave the third film if you’re not going by that requirement? In our estimation, squarely in the middle. A middling film deserves nothing more than that.

Batman Forever doesn’t have as many problems as its successor does, but it doesn’t exactly inspire the warmest feelings toward the franchise. Its main problem is the fact that Val Kilmer — as good as an actor as he might be — isn’t exactly our idea of Batman/Bruce Wayne. We were in no way convinced that he should have taken up the cowl and tights, well after he did. It was a colossal miscast that rather plunged the franchise into the downward spiral that it remained in until Batman Begins.

The second problem is the casting of Jim Carrey as the Riddler. He wasn’t terrible, but if he can steal every scene in a movie, he will, and it will not always be pleasant. We get the appeal of Carrey because he was the only person at the time that could have possibly carried off the campiness of the Riddler, but his presence actually hurt the film more than it helped.

While we’re on the subject of the villains present in the film, we have to give something to Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent/Two Face. Jones managed to make Two Face interesting and bring some much-needed levity to the proceedings, but we’re still upset at the way Two Face went out. Why mess up the established train of common sense that Two Face provided with a weak conclusion? It was unnecessary, and it made the conclusion a little underwhelming.

We appreciated the inclusion of Robin/Dick Grayson, which was needed after two previous films with the Boy Wonder missing. Grayson, as played by Chris O’Donnell, provided some of the films brightest spots, which is much better than the contributions of Nicole Kidman. Kidman, a fine actress in her own right, was a throwaway character and dragged the film down quite a bit. There is no chemistry between her character, Chase Meridian, and Val Kilmer’s Wayne, and it’s obvious pretty early on.

So, with uninteresting leads with no chemistry, a scene-hogging main villain and a decent plot, there’s nothing that really draws the Batman fan into watching it multiple times. A middling experience within a middle movie.

Story: 6

Like the comics: 3

Casting: 3

Total: 12 out of 30 or 4

How we grade

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of a maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: Transformers (2007)

Transformers 2007 main review

Transfomers

Dreamworks Pictures, 2007

Transformers rolls out in uneven debut

Let’s get one thing clear from the beginning: We at GI are not huge fans of the Transformers. Yes, we watched the original cartoon from the 1980s, and yes, we know the difference between an Autobot and a Decepticon. However, we did not revere the creatures who have more than meets the eye going on. Really, the only reason why we even bothered going to see the original film was because a certain former GI editor made demands. So, we indulged. It was not exactly the most fun two hours we’ve suffered through, but it wasn’t a total wash, either.

Transformers takes itself seriously, we’ll give it that. It’s based off of the original cartoon about the warring robots, but it tries hard to downplay its cartoon roots. With Michael Bay as the director, you know what you’re probably going to get: Lots of loud explosions and maybe some exposition that refers to the source material. Or maybe not. In this case, there are references such as Sam Witwicky and most of the Transformers’ names. But there’s this uncomfortable pall cast over everything that signals a struggle to be Transformers yet not be Transformers at the same time. It’s as if Bay wants to use the name to lure in old heads who love the franchise, but he doesn’t want to tread too much in the realm of giant talking robots who take the forms of common everyday objects because just who could believe that? While the premise is a bit much, you can take it because you more than likely took it back in the day when Transformers was still a thing.

Pushing the film along is the extensive use of live-action mixed with CGI. The mix is decent and mostly seamless, and it’s handled well. Usually, CGI and live action do not mix well at all, but this is well done enough that it’s not distracting. The acting is hit or miss, but the humor more than makes up for the stilted nature of the film. And while the acting is a little wooden, the chemistry between Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox is obvious and welcome. It’s more than obvious that these kids got together at some point during the making of the film, so it helps that it comes out in their scenes together.

While it manages to get some things correct, Transformers does miss a few beats. Firstly, it’s a tad too long. It’s nice to have the military realism in the film because you’re going to want to know exactly what the government is doing throughout the film. But the film drags in too many places and that’s one of the them. Secondly, it’s a little hard to figure out and keep up with the different Transformers, especially because while some of them look exactly like their original series counterpart, some do not (i.e. Megatron and Starscream). Though Optimus Prime is voiced by the immeasurable Peter Cullen (again!), it’s hard to follow what’s going on when you’re constantly trying to figure out who’s a Deception and who’s an Autobot. Some of the lesser characters feel a little throwaway. Lastly, it’s a Michael Bay film so some of the logic is missing and you’re tasked with making spurious leaps in logic that assume you watched the original show religiously. Not everyone did, and that’s a terrible assumption to make. And what bothers us the most about that is, parts of the movie deviate from the show and the comics.

While it has its share of problems ranging from too much going on to too much deviation from source material, Transformers isn’t that bad. Just make sure you that you do know the difference between an Autobot and a Decepticon before you sit down to watch.

Casting: 8.5
Writing: 6
Like the comics?: 6
Total: 20.5/30 or 6.8

How we grade

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel Studios, 2014

 

Winter Soldier strikes cool balance

There is no such thing as not believing in the magic of superhero films. Marvel has proven that a ridiculous number of times over by this point, and you can’t deny the impact that a good action flick about beautiful people with super powers has over the general buying public. But then there comes along a solid title that takes things a step further in terms of technical details, action, acting and writing. That film manages to open a new path in terms of presentation and overall packaging that makes you, the viewer, believe that anything is possible in terms of the improvement in quality for all comic book-based properties. That film is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Let’s stop for a minute and take stock of the storyline, because this sets up just how well the movie makes its point about being a comic book property. Captain America is living life in the S.H.I.E.L.D way two years after the events of the Avengers. Things are good, he’s doing his job and all seems right in the world though he’s chafing a bit under the S.H.I.E.L.D rule. And then all hell breaks loose. In short order, Nick Fury is shot — apparently fatally — in Steve Rogers’ living room by an unknown assassin, S.H.I.E.L.D seems like it’s out to kill Rogers and he’s on the run while trying to figure out who and what can he trust. That assassin? It turns out this assassin isn’t really unknown but is the Winter Solider, someone that Rogers has encountered many a time before who’s fundamentally opposed to Rogers’ mission to stop the chaos.

There’s so much tight writing and story exposition jam-packed into two hours of Winter Soldier that it’s impossible to accurately describe the synopsis without giving away major plot points. Everything is a major plot point and the pacing at which it’s revealed is perfect. At no point did Winter Soldier give away the fact that it’s a two-hour film centered on political intrigue. At no point did it drag so much that details were lost. It’s the kind of movie that requires multiple viewings just to catch the little things that will be lost on the average moviegoer.

It’s a bad thing that the film doesn’t drag, though, because it’s the movie of the ridiculously good-looking (and great acting) people. Like every movie released in the Marvel cinematic universe, Winter Soldier seems to be casted with and directed by people who were secretly born to play their roles. Even the newcomer — Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon — fits this role so well that it’s as if he were always there, just waiting in the wings to be introduced. The acting is superb and it’s done in such a way that you really get behind the motivation of each individual, forgetting for just a moment that this, indeed, is a comic book come to the big screen.

Winter Soldier probably suffers from only one flaw and that’s the obviousness of the formula. It’s a great formula, and a great problem to have, but it’s pretty obvious by now that Marvel has its ducks in a row and they know how to put together a good crew and storyline for their movies. Winter Soldier slightly seems to fall into that complacency, but it quickly recovers and doesn’t stand for resting on its laurels for long. Just when you think there’s not enough action going on, there’s a distraction in the form of a great set piece or storyline push that remedies the problem. That’s the mark of a good movie.

Even if it is based on a comic book property.

Like the comics: 9

Acting: 9

Plot: 8.5

Overall score: 26.5/30 or 8.8

 

How we grade

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

 X-Men: Days of Future Past

20th Century Fox, 2014

 

 X-cellent return to form

Set aside any preconceived notions you may have had at the announcement of a new X-Men film. We’ll wait because we know just how hard that may be to do. Now that it’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.

X-Men Days of Future Past is phenomenal.

Everything that went wrong with The Last Stand (editor’s note: See 2Q2014’s property review) has been corrected. See, the acting wasn’t the problem; it was the storyline and the execution. Days of Future Past manages to take the bleak problems of its predecessor and turn them into bright spots, ironically, because Days of Future Past is a bleak and dark turn of events for the merry band of mutants.

Days of Future Past, while different from the Animated Series and the comic book original, is a solid adventure for the X-Men. The story posits that a single assassination is the linchpin that leads to the extinction of mutants by the Sentinels, aggressive mutant-hunting robots of the future. By stopping the assassination of Dr. Boliviar Trask, the X-Men will prevent the genocidal Sentinels from ever coming into being and, more importantly, prevent the slaughter of millions of humans and mutants, alike. To do this, they send Wolverine back into time to the point of divergence and hope that he can convince estranged friends Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr to work together for the common good once more.

The story takes some twists and turns, but by the end, you realize that this is a story of redemption and broken dreams healed. That’s not just for the characters, but also for the movie franchise. Let’s face it: Last Stand was horrible and a desecration of all that stands in the X-Men universe. Days of Future Past gets everything right and then some, starting with the re-emergence of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Next comes the healing of story butchering. Events that take place in Last Stand (no spoilers!) are erased throughout the film, but in particular the last five minutes of Days of Future Past quickly place a stake through the heart of Last Stand. Finally, comes the attention to detail, which is a major component of any comic book adaptation. Sure, Days of Future Past takes some liberties with the source material, but we’ll allow it if it means the story will flow better. Here, it does and the changes make sense. There’s no half-baked change for the sake of change.

Something else that Days of Future Past manages to accomplish is a sense of clarity. A time-traveling tale can be confusing with the lack of the right amount of distinguishing features to differentiate between eras. However, the film has a stunning amount of clarity, which makes everything obvious as to which time period is at the forefront. We had no trouble understanding the chain of events of the film — despite a lot of jumping between 1973 and 2023 — and additionally, the powers of all mutants involved were correct and instantly clear. That’s what happens when there is an obvious and immense level of detail paid to the source material, something Last Stand sorely lacked. And, unlike its predecessor, we had few gripes. We would have liked to have seen more Quicksilver and more of the newer mutants who joined the cause. Also, a little elaboration on the answer to the question of how the Sentinels evolved to the future state would have been nice, considering that original version’s answer of Mastermold was left out of the film entirely. However, those are small quibbles and a small price to pay for such a large love letter/apologetic note to fans.

Days of Future Past serves a multipronged purpose: pacify the veteran X-Men film fans; fix the problems of Last Stand; continue the story of the uncanny mutants through the First Class cast; continue the reboot of the film franchise; and serve as the swan song of the original trilogy’s cast. Days of Future Past manages to complete its tasks and usher in a new era of prosperity and promise for one of the most recognizable comic book franchises ever. Days of Future Past is an x-cellent return to form.

 

Like the comics: 7

Casting: 10

Plot: 10

Overall score: 27 out of 30 or 9

 

How we grade

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: X-Men: The Last Stand

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

X-Men: The Last Stand
20th Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment, 2006

 

X-cruciatingly bad x-ecution

 

We get that the X-Men film properties reside in a different universe than the comic book version. And we have no problems suspending disbelief when asked. But we will never sit idly by and watch a film take so many liberties with source material that entire comic book arcs are destroyed in one fell swoop.

So it begins with X-Men: The Last Stand, the third in the trilogy of films centered on our favorite mutants of Marvel fame. Last Stand was riding high on the fumes of X2: X-Men United, and rightfully so since X2 did a pretty decent job telling the tale of (the previously reviewed) God Loves, Man Kills and starting the Phoenix Saga. And that’s when things take an ominous turn. We should have known something was up when Bryan Singer didn’t return to the director’s chair. We really should have known something was up when Last Stand’s synopsis came calling. While X2 did a passable job with sort of mixing arcs together, Last Stand attempted to mesh Dark Phoenix Saga and the Gifted arc with little-to-no success. The film, while technically sound and well-paced, is riddled with errors and unnecessary changes that detract from the overall viewing experience.

To explain just what we find fault with in Last Stand, let’s start from the beginning. And bear with the spoilers here; they’re integral to explaining everything wrong with the film and are a great example of why Last Stand should have never been made. If you don’t want it spoiled — though you should have seen it by now — stop reading here.

First, Cyclops was never killed by Jean Grey, either as the Phoenix or Dark Phoenix, at any point in their history together. The Phoenix entity made sure that Jean was kept alive and healed so that she could reunite with Cyclops at some point. The Phoenix understood and knew that Cyclops was important to Jean. So, killing him made no sense.

Second, Phoenix would have never and never, ever killed Professor X. Charles Xavier was a mentor to Jean and was one of the few people on Earth that the woman trusted. She wouldn’t have killed him. Also, Wolverine was angry with Xavier about erecting the psychic blocks in Jean’s mind, but Cyclops was actually the person who had that particular scripted conversation with Xavier.

Third, Beast was a member of the team for many years and didn’t just return during the Phoenix Saga. He was there the entire time.

Fourth, while we’re on the subject of team members’ appearances in the film, we should point out a long-standing issue we’ve had with the X-Men films: Rogue and Iceman were NEVER a couple. Likewise, Kitty Pride and Iceman didn’t flirt with each other. Kitty was actually interested in Colossus — which was outright ignored in the film — and Iceman was a frequent makeup/break up paramour of Lorna Dane (Polaris). The made-up romance triangle with de-aged characters is an insult.

Fifth, Juggernaut is not a mutant. If the writers had bothered to do some research, they would have come across Cain Marko’s origin story that stated in detail that Juggernaut is a mystical avatar given his powers by the Gem of Cyttorak. He was an ordinary man mystically transformed by the Gem. Thus, when Leech’s powers activated near him at the end, he should have been completely unaffected. And, Juggernaut should have immediately recognized Magneto by this point and Magneto should have known who Juggernaut is — stepbrother of Charles Xavier. No aspect of that important relationship was ever mentioned.

Sixth, Dark Phoenix never joined the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She didn’t need to. She was, however, manipulated into joining the Hellfire Club, which was also conveniently glossed over by X-Men: First Class (see the real origin for Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost).

Seventh, Rogue never took the cure. She was interested in it, but never took it. That’s something that’s touched upon in the Animated Series episode of The Cure (first airing, Feb. 20, 1993). Also, her given name is Anna Marie, not just Marie. See this quarter’s Marvel Character Highlight.

Eighth, Psylocke was present in the movie, but if you blinked, you missed her. She is killed at the end along with several other characters. She also is not a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Callisto (the leader of the Morlocks in the comics) isn’t either, and neither is Jamie Madrox aka Multiple Man.

Ninth, Jean does not have split personality as the Phoenix. She IS the Phoenix. The entity that is the Phoenix is part of her, not some different side to her. Basically, the Phoenix possesses her and bonds with her. It doesn’t just show up randomly. In the comics, the real Jean was sealed under Jamaica Bay while the Phoenix manifested her in reality.

Finally, Wolverine doesn’t kill Jean during the Dark Phoenix Saga. He was completely in love with her. Given that several of his love interests over the years have died, there was no way that he would have killed her then. He does kill her in New X-Men, but Dark Phoenix Saga that is not. Also, Sabertooth is not present, which doesn’t make any sense, either.

That’s just barely touching on what’s wrong with the film. It gets so many little things wrong with the “loose” adaptations that you have to wonder what exactly did it get right. One of the few things that does go right for the film is the casting. The lead characters are still perfectly casted, and the choice of Kelsey Grammar as Beast/Hank McCoy is one of the best castings we’ve ever seen. He was the perfect and only choice for that role. However, there’s still no fan-favorite Gambit — which would have solved the Rogue/Iceman problem — and there’s still way too much emphasis put on Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is comfortable as well he should be since he’s the perfect Wolverine. But a little less emphasis on him and little more on the story might have helped. Alas, James Marsden was wasted in the film and the character of Cyclops paid the price. That’s a shame, really, because Cyclops is supposed to be a centerpiece in the Dark Phoenix portion, not Wolverine.

Last Stand isn’t a good movie, in the sense of being an X-Men film and in the sense of being an adaptation telling a story of the X-Men. It seems Marvel has trouble whenever it gets to three (see last quarter’s review of Spider-Man 3), and that’s a problem when you’re telling two of the biggest arcs of your most famous group of not-so-ordinary folks.

 

Like the comics: 1

Casting: 7

Plot: 2

Overall score: 10 out of 30 or 3

 

How we grade

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in the case of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory, and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Property review: Spider-Man 3

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Spider-Man 3

Columbia Pictures, 2007

Webcrawler stumbles a third time

Let’s get something straight from the beginning: Tobey Maguire, in no way, failed the Spider-Man franchise. There’s plenty of blame to go around outside of the cast of the once-juggernaut film property featuring everyone’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, but none of it needs to ensnare Maguire in its web. No, the blame game needs to be played like a who’s who gathering of spin the terrible film bottle with Sam Raimi and whoever was his casting director.

Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 had quite a bit going for each film, especially the first film. But by the time the third film rolls around, there isn’t much here to be seen that hasn’t been done before. That is the unfortunate nature of a trilogy.

There’s Peter Parker, Maguire’s lovable underdog that has as much rooting power and likability to carry a film from start to finish. Then there’s Mary Jane Watson, the heroine. While Kirsten Dunst does an admirable job of being the redheaded damsel in distress that is early Watson, she was kind of playing it by the numbers by the time the final piece of the puzzle was in place. For some reason, Bryce Dallas Howard is thrown in as longtime Spider-Man girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace and James Franco round out the villainy, which is a rather numerous rogue gallery.

The fact that we’ve just typed three names in one sentence to describe the lineup of villains is a major problem and, quite frankly, the worst issue with the film. The story is fine and we like the origin story told here for Venom. The problem is there isn’t enough time to showcase Venom’s story properly. The reason? Too many villains. We’ve said it time and again: Too many foes for the protagonist can and will ruin a film. Spider-Man 3 is easily the worst offender of this practice.

The film feels overly long and bloated to start with, but when Sandman turns into New Goblin who turns into Venom, it’s just too much to deal with. The pacing suffers immediately after New Goblin makes his first appearance, and once Eddie Brock takes on the symbiote/“black suit,” the film swiftly devolves into unmitigated chaos.

Another problem was the terrible effect of dragging in villains for the sake of having a villain. Venom immediately suffers the brunt of the pain here and it’s appalling what’s done to the character. First of all, in the comics, a pumpkin bomb from the New Goblin does not kill Venom; cancer eventually does the job. Second of all, if you’re going to bother doing Venom at all, do him justice and get it right. Venom is arguably Spider-Man’s most lethal and engaging foe, a lot like the Joker is to Batman or Lex Luthor is to Superman. Venom deserved his own film, and pairing him up to fight the wall-crawler is an immediate injustice to the character’s history. Venom doesn’t need anyone else to carry his movie if done right. Finally, Venom looked terrible. The character CGI was awful and looked cheap. If this is the reason why it took so long to get Venom in a film against Spidey, they could have kept him and saved him for the eventual reboot we all knew was coming.

And that reboot? It was apparent with the rote aura surrounding the film long before its release. What is especially angering is the dumbed-down approach to the film itself. In the months leading up to the film, the mainstream appeal to the basic filmgoer was pandering at best, highly insulting at worst. Seriously? The advertising and trailer appeal of a “black suit” that makes Peter Parker flip out was terrible. Trust us when we say the average movie viewer had no idea what the alien symbiote was about let alone cared. So when the comic knowledgeable saw that, it caused a chuckle for what it was worth. Spider-Man had become a “movie event of the year” type of thing, and indeed, his cash sense was probably tingling. Too bad he had to sacrifice quality to do it.

Terrible pacing, too many villains, a tired subplot and an overall lackadaisical feel? Thanks but no thanks. The spider had done all that a spider can and it was well past time for him to move on.

Like the comics?: 7

Casting: 7

Plot: 5

Overall score: 19 out of 30 or 6

How we grade

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in the case of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory, and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Property review: Batman Returns

Batman Returns 01

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Batman Returns

Warner Bros., 1992

Batman returns with a little fanfare, but too many enemies

Batman Returns is solid, no doubt about it. Sure, it has some stumbles and could use a little polishing in the finer points, but like most Tim Burton-directed pieces, the Batman’s second outing on the big screen is an enjoyable cinematic set piece designed to bring the malevolence, sexual tension and tortured soul platitudes that can be mustered from Batman’s arsenal.

What we love the most about Batman Returns is the comfort zone it presents. It’s directed as if it knows its Batman in the second round of the fight, and it’s OK with being Batman. There’s no fussiness with establishing who Batman is and why he does what he does; the viewer already knows that — it’s already banking on the fact that you’ve seen the first film.

Batman succeeds here with the brashness expected of a box office experienced sequel. Burton pulls no punches letting you know that Bruce Wayne is a man used to getting his way and he will work as either the Caped Crusader or Wayne to achieve his goals. And this is where Michael Keaton succeeds once again. His Wayne is more self-assured, more confident in his approach to playing the dual role required. Michelle Pfeiffer is deliciously decadent as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, though we never once bought the “Kyle is a meek woman” act at all. Whatever Pfeiffer managed to build, she wonderfully and masterfully destroys with a simple meow to a stunned Batman and Penguin. Her Catwoman is a master class in movie sexiness. And all that needs to be said about Danny DeVito as the Penguin? He was born to play the role. And along with Christopher Walken, he manages to steal the film.

And that belies the problem with the film. For all of its panache and star casting, Batman doesn’t get enough screen time to justify calling it a return. Keaton isn’t on screen nearly enough because there’s basically three villains all chewing scenery at once. Returns falls prey to — and is the progenitor of — the concept of “Too Many Villains Syndrome.” When Batman’s attention is split that many ways, the story’s focus suffers. It’s hard to wrap up Returns and it’s pretty obvious in a specific scene: Batman chases the Penguin and Catwoman after Shreck’s Department Store blows up and each fly off in a different direction. Batman winds up not catching either one because he really can’t figure out how to catch one over the other first. That is not the dilemma your hero should have.

Batman Returns still remains one of our favorite Batman tales and favorite movies, in general. It’s got the dark, gritty atmosphere that we’ve come to love from Burton, and it remains the last real, viable and serious Batman film until the Christopher Nolan trilogy of films were launched. Returns still provides a good return investment if you’re into the origin of Batman’s silver screen outings.

Like the comics?: 3

Casting: 10

Plot: 8

Overall score: 21 out of 30 or 7

How we grade

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in the case of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory, and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Property review: God Loves, Man Kills

God Loves, Man Kills scan

God Loves, Man Kills

Marvel Comics, 1982

God loves, but man kills discriminatively

In the dark recesses of the human soul lies a need to persecute. Every being that can afford to call itself human has the potential and inclination to sling labels of acrimony, to breed hatred for the sake of promoting themselves in the hierarchy of life. In the Marvel universe, it’s no different and yet maybe, somehow on a deeper level it’s worse. On a different plane of persecution from the normal homo sapien banter sit mutants. Homo superior knows that minute difference in makeup means jealousy, anger and retaliation. They also know it means the difference between staying alive and using super powers for good and dying a martyr for the cause.

God Loves, Man Kills is the culmination of Marvel’s attempt at framing the differences in mutant-human relations. The chilling murder of children, racism and classism — all for the sake of someone else being different — are effectively told through the eyes of the X-Men and various mutants who come into contact with the group and the antagonist, William Stryker. If you’ve seen the excellent X2 film, this is the main arc that makes up the bulk of the story. The movie, for all of its interweaving of characters and plot elements from various other arcs, is merely the entry point to the source material. But, what’s depicted is far worse. Stryker’s violent and horrific past that led to his crusade against mutants is the backbone for the present-day acts of brutality. Where the story succeeds is showing the genesis of Stryker’s cause and his means of achieving his goal: The eradication of the mutant population.

The excellent storytelling is obvious through the purposeful exposition and writing. It may not always be clear through the prose of characters like Professor Charles Xavier or Cyclops, but the main goal of all of the characters in the arc is nicely made bare in what is relatively short work. The art has a vintage ’80s inking and coloring to it, and the level of detail is outstanding.

The X-Men arcs have always had a story to tell, and God Loves, Man Kills is no different. The quality of the storytelling, the way it deftly weaves violently opposed viewpoints and the well-paced action make a powerful combination. The most interesting part of it all, however? How it so closely parallels the ills of today’s real society. This is another notch in Marvel’s favor toward its ability to relate to the real world at hand.

 

Plot: 10

Art quality: 10

Writing: 10

Overall score: 10

 

How we grade

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: Afro Samurai

Afro Samurai screengrabAfro Samurai

Funimation Entertainment, 2007

Afro Samurai is a concerto of high-quality hack and slash

There were never that many black samurai in history. Save for their fictional counterparts, let’s just say diversity wasn’t the thing in ancient Japan. But for all of that lack of attention to historical detail, Afro Samurai manages to evoke sympathy and more than enough interest with its protagonist and story.

One of the things we’ve come to love about Afro Samurai in the years since its first release and airing are the characters.

True, Afro doesn’t say too much but Ninja Ninja more than makes up for that. Afro is your Afro Samurai coverclassically stoic protagonist who doesn’t say much and chooses to let his actions speak louder than his words ever could. Ninja Ninja is — spoiler alert! — his consciousness, saying the things he wishes he could say out loud and looking like a smaller, more cool version of himself. The dynamic between the two characters, both voiced by the incomparable Samuel L. Jackson, is the meat of the plot and carries the story, though Afro’s quest to own the No. 1 headband and be the No. 1 fighter in the world is important as well.

Make no mistake, though, the duo roaming around chopping people to death in that quest is the draw of the story.

And while the characters are interesting, it’s their stories and history that make the show. How exactly Afro comes into possession of the No. 2 headband and his quest to run from his past of violence and death is riveting. Within five episodes the Empty Seven Clan is introduced and the fights for the No. 2 headband are detailed. The art style of the fights is gorgeous and the soundtrack, composed by the RZA, is worth replaying. Though everything isn’t wrapped up nicely and neatly, the five episodes tell the story at a nice pace and put the action at the forefront where it should be.

We even appreciate the naturally developed ending, which leads to Afro Samurai Resurrection, though it isn’t quite as good as the original. But with a stellar voice cast, beautiful animation and a pretty good plot and soundtrack, Afro Samurai is worth starting from the beginning.

Plot: 10

Animation quality: 10

Casting: 10

Score: 30 out of 30 or 10

HOW WE GRADE

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 and 30 overall.

Property review: TMNT Vol. 1 (1987 animated series)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1

Lionsgate Home Entertainment, 2004

Turtles fight bare bones DVD

True children of the ’80s will tell you that one of the things imprinted in their memory is what they watched on television. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were important then, and children soaked it up. So, imagine GI’s surprise when the DVDs were finally released for public consumption. Spanning nine seasons, some of the most important establishing material is found in the first season, and the DVDs provide a look at the opening five-part miniseries that launched the show. But, if you’re looking for a quality introduction to the Turtles, keep looking because this version isn’t all that great.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

The quality of the presentation is terrible for starters. While it’s obvious this is a show from the ’80s and broadcast quality isn’t going to be as good as say 2004, when the disc was released, it still should be better than what’s here. Then, add in quite a few graphical errors, a lack of extras on the disc and the confusing inclusion of several episodes from the 10th and final season and you have a poor mess of a DVD.

Great voice acting and a killer soundtrack help, though. It’s something when a series can draw you in because of its soundtrack and perfect casting, and the first season of the show managed that greatly. Practically speaking, the first season’s merits save the DVD from most of its negative traits.

And, we can get around it all because it’s the Turtles, and having the series on DVD greatly increases the amount of problems we’re willing to put up with just to have the series in our collection. We can’t complain that much as children of the ’80s and as superfans of the series. We just wish the quality was a little better and some of the behind-the-scenes material had been added here. That would be have tubularly awesome.

Plot: 8

Like the comics: 3

Casting: 10

Total score: 21 out of 30 or 7

What to watch

The five episodes here are the five-part miniseries that introduced the Turtles in animated television.

1. Turtle Tracks: The introduction and origin story of the Turtles. Keep in mind that this origin story greatly differs from the comics and film.

2. Enter the Shredder: The introduction of Krang and Shredder, and also the creation of Rocksteady and Bebop.

3. A Thing About Rats: Baxter Stockman is introduced and joins with Shredder.

4. Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X: Krang’s partial backstory is given and Dimension X is named. Michaelangelo gains a love interest.

5. Shredded and Splintered: Shredder and Splinter switch bodies, and Splinter’s bond with Turtles is fleshed out.

HOW WE GRADE

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 and 30 overall.