Monday, August 22, 2005

Superheroes: Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, and Sky High

Regular readers are probably mostly people that know me, and therefore know I like my comics. Maybe they've come here from a link in my signature on Newsarama. So my enthusiasm for these movies shouldn't be a surprise.

The funny thing is, since Fantasia and whatever disorder compels me to review everything I see has left a bit of time between me seeing these movies and writing about them, I find myself looking at the ratings I've jotted down on my little notepad, since that's what I thought coming out of them, and finding that the actual reviews don't quite match. For instance, Batman Begins originally had 3½ stars, and Sky High and even three. But as I sit down to write, I find myself recalling Sky High more fondly. My reservations about Batman were there when I saw it, but two months later, the stuff that made me somewhat giddy weren't coming to mind so quickly, whereas I was having a hard time recalling bits of Sky High that weren't kind of adorable.

I'm hoping for sequels from all three - Sky High because it is just that much fun, and Batman and Fantastic Four because with all the work they put into getting the origins set up, they deserve a chance to cut loose and just have some fun.

Batman Begins

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 June 2005 at Loews Boston Common #8 (first-run)

I have to admit, I kind of miss the Joel Schumacher/Adam West type of "Batman" story, if only because they are completely unconcerned with the question that stares you in the face when you see a "grounded-in-reality" comic book story like Batman Begins: If a man could combat crime effectively by dressing up like a bat and beating up crooks, why hasn't anybody tried it (successfully) yet? It's a peril that Christopher Nolan's film constantly flirts with: Fans want Batman dark, gritty and noir-ish, but they also want him fighting comics' best rogues gallery of colorful supervillains.

For this first installment, Nolan (along with co-writer and comic book specialist David Goyer) choose to emphasize the former, mostly building a solid framework with at least the appearance of realism while almost begrudgingly bringing the more fantastical elements in as the story progresses. This film's Gotham City isn't the gothic castle of Tim Burton's films or the four-color circus of Schumacher's. Aside from a few architectural oddities, it's just a city with a crime problem, and maybe a little bit more fondness for basic black style than one generally sees outside of a movie that wants to look cool. Batman's gadgets aren't so specialized and perfect as to raise questions like "seriously, did Bruce Wayne build a plane with just his butler's help?"

Read the rest at HBS.

Fantastic Four

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2005 at AMC Fenway #5 (first-run)

From the American Heritage Dictionary, via "fantastic: adj. (1) Quaint or strange in form, conception, or appearance. (2) (a) Unrestrainedly fanciful; extravagant; (b) Bizarre, as in form or appearance; strange; (c) Based on or existing only in fantasy; unreal; (3) Wonderful or superb; remarkable." The last definition is the most prevalent today, and the snarky one-liners about how Fantastic Four... isn't practically write themselves. But the real crime Fox's movie commits isn't one of execution; it's that it doesn't take the wild flights of fancy associated with these characters.

Sure, a lot of folks will tell you that the appeal of the Fantastic Four as a property is that they're a family, and that's undoubtedly part of it: When these characters first appeared in 1962, the soap-opera elements were a marked contrast to what DC's rather bland superheros were doing at the time. That was writer Stan Lee's doing, but just as important was what artist Jack Kirby would bring: A crazy new alien or supervillain or monster every month. You won't find much of that craziness here, though: No Mole Men, shape-shifting alien invaders, planet-eating giants, parallel universes, flying cars, underwater kings... Just a sadly predictable love triangle and a villain given too many shades of gray.

Read the rest at HBS.

Sky High

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2005 at AMC Fenway #11 (first-run)

Movies like Sky High should cause Marvel and DC to worry. Sure, it seems like clever superhero movies doing well would only indicate more demand for their characters, but think about it - Sky High selling tickets and DVDs means that America likes superheroes, even if they don't have a forty-year publishing history. So licensing Spider-Man might be worth it, but why bother with the second- or third-tier guys when you can just create your own? In terms of pleasing the audience, you only have to worry about whether or not Sky High is a good movie (yes), not whether or not Michael Angarano gets Will Stronghold "right" (N/A).

Will, you see, is the son of two of the cities most popular superheroes, Steve "The Commander" Stronghold (Kurt Russell) and Josie "Jetstream" Stronghold (Kelly Preston). The trouble is, though, it's the first day of high school, and he hasn't had any powers manifest. This is a problem, since he's going to a private school for the children of superheroes, and as soon as he gets there, he's classified as a sidekick. He's cool with that, though - his friends are sidekicks, and it means he's not in classes with Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the son of his father's arch-nemesis. When his father's super-strength manifests itself during a fight in the cafeteria, he's transferred to the "hero" classes, and a pretty upperclassman girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes an interest in him, and that's not so bad, either. Unless, of course, he starts taking his true friends for granted, or there's something more sinister going on than just the usual high school rivalries.

Read the rest at HBS.

Next up: Summer repeats

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