Batman vs. Captain America

18-Jul-12 10:29 AM by
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Showdowns and smackdowns are a popular impetus for comic book action sequences. The film The Avengers featured a contentious team-up of some of Marvel Comics' greatest heroes, while a recent comic book plot pitted this same team against the mutants known as the X-Men.

But rarely do we see authorized battles across the universes, those being DC and Marvel. Each has its own stable of superheroes, and never shall the twain meet (with the exception of the rare amalgam). Thank goodness for fan films, which know no limits and can pair the likes of Captain America and Batman.

I love that the film is completely plot-free, allowing the viewer to make up a reason not only for why these two good guys are fighting, but how they encountered each other in the first place. Did the Infinity Gauntlet breach the galactic barrier? Did Mr. Mxyzptlk play a trick? As believable as each explanation may be, I find it hard to believe that the hand-to-hand combat skills of a serum-enhanced super soldier could even temporarily overcome the extensive training the Dark Knight has had in all the world's martial arts — just watch how much more reliant Cap is on his shield than Batman is on his utility belt. Fortunately, the battle lets you choose the winner, with a separate concluding video for each: Batman or Captain America.

At the moment, this video is the only one in the "Ultimate Fan Fights" playlist. Given the production values and choreography (and excessive use of dramatic slow-motion) of this first battle, I hope to see more showdowns from this group, IGN's START.

(Hat tip to Gene Demaitre and ComicBookMovie)

Avengers Assemble

11-Oct-11 10:08 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 2 comments.

Ladies and gentlemen… boys and girls… I present to you: the summer blockbuster of 2012.

Marvel superheroes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Thor join forces as the Avengers, under the direction of Joss Whedon of Buffy and Firefly fame. The team's individual films have, on the whole, been good to great, so even I, only an occasional fan of Marvel Comics, find myself with high hopes and expectations for this collaboration.

This raises the question: Why can't DC Comics do this with their stable of legendary heroes? Their Batman franchise is going gangbusters, but they've so far failed to gain traction with Superman (though a reboot is coming in 2013) or Green Lantern. The IMDb lists a Wonder Woman TV show coming later this year, with a movie in 2015. By contrast, Marvel assembled their team in just four years.

We'll likely not have an answer until well after The Avengers' May 4, 2012, debut.

UPDATE: Do not be fooled by cheap imitations!

Or wanna-bes!

X-Men: First Class First Look

11-Feb-11 2:38 PM by
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Comic books have been adapted to film for decades, but it was Sony's adaptations of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) that seems to have kicked off the popularity the genre is currently enjoying. Now everything under the sun is getting the silver screen treatment, with 2011 in particular experiencing a glut. This year's lineup includes Thor, Captain America, and Green Lantern, all of which have potential to be great summer blockbusters.

The X-Men? Not so much.

The trilogy that ended in 2006 is getting a prequel. Well, another prequel: we already got the cleverly named X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which told the, uh, origins of Wolverine. By contrast, on June 3, we'll see the beginnings of the leaders of the two tribes of mutants that waged war across that trilogy. Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr are set to become Professor X and Magneto in X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn.

As trailers go, this one is mediocre. The use of clips from the first film, without showing the actors' faces, is clever. Their new avatars are James McAvoy, who played Mr. Tumnus the faun in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Michael Fassbender, from Inglourious Basterds and Jonah Hex. The trailer doesn't show us enough of Kevin Bacon as villain Sebastian Shaw. I'm also not sure I remember any history books acknowledging the role mutants played in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wanting more details, I checked out the film's official Web site, which disappointingly is simply a redirect to a Facebook fan page.

Although the original X-Men film showed only the first manifestation of Magneto's powers, we didn't see any of the intervening fifty-plus years in which he met Professor X then strayed from the path of justice. It's an interesting story — but with the four X-Men movies thus far being 50/50, I'm inclined to sit this one out.

(Hat tip to Erik Davis)

The Technology and Security of Iron Man 2

17-May-10 10:49 AM by
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Iron Man 2 Three years ago, my then-new employment at Computerworld partnered me with security maven Angela Gunn to produce a series of articles on a topic of mutual interest: geeky films. To make it appropriate for our employer's audience, we dissected the IT in films, she from a security perspective and I from a cinematic one. We wrote three such articles before Angela found employment elsewhere.

Movies are not a core topic for an enterprise IT magazine, so the series was put on the backburner. Fortunately, I recently found a new co-author with whom to collaborate. Bill Brenner of CSO Online, a publication affiliated with Computerworld, and I decide to revive the "Security Goes to the Movies" brand with a few changes. Instead of writing in two voices with one commenting on the other, we tried integrating our commentary into a consistent tone, making for a less jarring reading experience.

Our first outing was to see Iron Man 2 opening night with former Computerworld copyeditor Gene Demaitre, with whom I wrote the similarly cinematic IT piece, "Do Sci-Fi Films Get Advanced Tech Right?". Angela and I had reviewed the original Iron Man, and I was eager to put its successor to the same scrutiny.

The first fruit of this labor is now online:

The summer blockbuster season officially kicked off last Friday with Iron Man 2, an action-packed superhero flick that had the fifth-highest-grossing opening weekend in Hollywood's history. Whether you like the movie or not, at least one thing about it rings true — the plot and the characters provide a striking reflection of today's tech security industry.

Marvel's metallic superhero was first portrayed on the silver screen by Robert Downey Jr. in 2008's Iron Man. In that film, playboy industrialist Tony Stark has a crisis of conscience and brings the manufacture of weapons at his defense company to a halt. To chase down terrorists who have misappropriated his munitions, Stark builds himself an armored, weaponized exoskeleton suit (that can fly!) and becomes Iron Man, making his invention an object of desire to military profiteers.

The sequel is much the same, with more villains, more conniving and more suits. A montage catches us up on what's happened since the previous movie: With no country's military able to match Iron Man's technological superiority, Stark's vigilante action and deterrent policy have brought about a worldwide détente.

Since Stark is the only person who knows what makes Iron Man tick, the world's security rests entirely in his hands. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government wants to reproduce the Iron Man suit for its own militaristic purposes; the debate over private vs. public security forms one of the movie's core conflicts.

You can read the rest of our story at Computerworld.com (or CSO Online, if you prefer). Bill and I pretty happy with it and look forward to working together again.

One passage was rightfully left on the cutting room floor as it had little relevance to security technology, but Showbits readers may find it helpful to know:

There is a scene in Monaco in which Stark acts heroically without his suit, underscoring the fact that superpowers do not a superhero make. But the pendulum swings both ways, as later, we see an armored Stark making an ass of himself, akin to the Iron Man comic book plot "Demon in a Bottle." When he does battle evildoers, the film focuses tightly on the action, which provides less context for the overall scene; had the director pulled back on the camera a bit more, we'd have a better grasp of what's happening when.

Have you seen the film that kicked off the summer blockbuster season? What did you think, from any perspective?

Iron Man 2 Gets Whiplashed

06-Jan-10 2:39 PM by
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Iron Man was one of the most realistic and enjoyable superhero films of the last decade (Oughts? Noughts?). It captured both the struggle and the enthusiasm that we imagine anyone bequeathed superpowers would experience. (And it made for a dang funny RiffTrax.)

Though Iron Man may not be one of Marvel's most recognizable superheroes, being overshadowed by the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk, his theatrical debut paid off and quickly warranted itself a sequel. Last summer's purchase of Marvel by Disney hasn't slowed down the fast track our tin-can hero is on. The summer blockbuster season kicks off on May 7, 2010, with Iron Man 2:

The trailer shows Iron Man joined in combat by Rhodey as War Machine, as foreshadowed in the first film. The Mandarin was also a hinted villain in Iron Man, but I didn't recognize the enemy above; I had to consult IMDb to determine that it is Mickey Rourke as "Whiplash". Whoever that is (I don't follow the comic book), it's better than rumors that Stark's villain would be alcoholism, as seen in the 1979 comic book storyline "Demon in a Bottle" — that plot was already handled by 2008's Hancock.

What are your thoughts for Iron Man 2? High hopes, or low expectations?

Alpha Wolverine

16-Dec-08 10:00 AM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

DC and Marvel are going gangbusters at adapting their comic book licenses to the silver screen. Of the two, Marvel has had more releases, and also more bombs. Though their debuts of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises were financial and critical successes, I was less impressed with the third installments. So I'm not quite sure what to make of the upcoming X-Men spinoff that puts Hugh Jackman in the starring role he technically already had in the previous trilogy:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine comes out May 1st, 2009. Will you be in line?

Iron Man Faces His Greatest Foe

15-Sep-08 10:27 AM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

Iron Man: fights corporate moguls, ancient wizards, and … cancer?

Iron Man 2, currently slated for release on May 2, 2010, is offering fans the opportunity to be a part of comic book history. By bidding on this eBay auction, you can win a walk-on/extra role in the sequel, as well as a meet-and-greet with the cast, and a walk down the red carpet at the film's premiere. How much fun would that be? I can imagine smiling and waving at the papparazzi as they ask, "Who's that?" "I don't know, but he must be famous!"

Of course, there are caveats: "Role and length of screen time to be determined by Marvel"; "Role and length of screen time to be determined by Marvel, and there can be no assurance that the role will appear in the final version of the film"; "If experience cannot be fulfilled, Marvel will provide alternative set visits/premieres based on Marvel’s availability". Them's the breaks of working in Tinsel Town.

I've detailed my experiences working as an extra and how ot requires patience for long hours and minimum wage. If that wasn't appealing enough, now you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege! It might be cheaper to just move to L.A. and sign up for any of the many casting companies that handle such crowd scenes. But if you're bidding on this auction, chances are your goal is not to grab your 15 seconds of fame, but to support a noble cause: proceeds from the auction go to Stand Up To Cancer (a charity I could find listed at neither Charity Navigator nor GuideStar non-profit profile and rating services), making this bidding war a more philanthropic exploitation of geek culture than some other auctions.

As a sci-fi geek and a former participant in cancer fundraisers, the angles of this auction piqued my interest. Though I'm not sure if an eBay auction can be limited to pre-qualified bidders, this one claims to require screening of interested parties. Curious, I filled out the last Wednesday, back when the going price was only $8000. I received a call back Thursday afternoon on my voice mail. I returned it on Friday and left them a voice mail. No progress has been made beyond this game of tag, and with the auction ending in 13 hours, it looks like I will not be able to contribute my entire life savings toward this auction.

(Hat tip to ComingSoon.net)

Hulk (a) Smash!!

27-Jun-08 11:05 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

Bill Bixby's Hulk impressed on me the quintessential rendition of the monster, which made Eric Bana's take all the more monstrous. I have spent the last five years submerging memories of that 2003 Hulk film, and I worried that this summer's second attempt at the green giant would be more of the same. But with the reassurances of Marvel devotees, I paid my admission and steeled myself for the worst.

It's amazing what a difference is made when a film's star shares my opinion. As Ed Norton said on Jimmy Kimmel, "We're trying to rescue this franchise from the crapper!" He thus took a heavy hand in the scripting and editing of this outing, resulting in a much more engaging and fluid tale.

From the opening, it's clear this film is neither sequel nor remake. Dr. Banner's backstory is told primarily through brief vignettes that play out under the opening credit sequence. This encapsulation suffices for comic book buffs; others will pick up the details from ensuing dialogue. The story is clearly an homage to its television namesake: Within the first few minutes of the opening is a cameo by Bill Bixby, and later there's Lou Ferrigno in a much more noticeable and respectful appearance than in the last Hulk film. This is not a movie-length episode of the television series, but there are many common elements, such as a protagonist on the run, looking for a cure, which could not be present in an "origin" story such as Ang Lee's. The renewed focus on character development is a welcome change from the 2003 version that featured arena-type combat, a ridiculous villain, and a hero we could neither understand nor sympathize with.

The supporting cast here creates a valuable context for Banner to develop in. Like Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, William Hurt has aged into an excellent villain almost unrecognizable from his usual throwaway fare in films such as Michael and A.I. His brassy, hard-as-nails general is someone whose motivations we can almost understand, smartly keeping him from being the true villain. General Ross is also a more interesting father figure than the one Nick Nolte tried to play in the last Hulk film; Banner's relationships are sufficiently complex and painful without introducing unnecessary and villainous family.

As for the Hulk's actual adversary, I was hesitant by what the trailers suggested: essentially an evil Hulk, manufactured through the same means that brought us our original hero. Yet the smallest of details banished my concerns and instead subtly incorporated the Hulk into the rich Marvel mythos. It seems the gamma radiation which put Banner on the lam was a byproduct of research into creating the perfect "super-soldier" — a phrase that should hold meaning to any fan of the Marvel universe.

The Incredible Hulk has a good mix of action and dialogue. Banner is subjected to only three transformations, and in the style of Alien, his first appearance is kept almost entirely in the dark. Action fans may've expected more of the title character and less of his human counterpart, but I think the film's focus is exactly where its cinematic predecessor showed (by counterexample) it should be. (There could've been even more; I'm told there are over 70 minutes of deleted scenes, several of which are visible in the trailers.) Director Louis Leterrier deftly works the threat of the Hulk into even non-action sequences. There's a tense scene in which a metamorphosis begins and Betty climbs atop the thrashing figure to offer calming words, piercing Banner's confused haze to remind him who he is. Perhaps this act struck me for being so similar to my mother's own actions when my father had a seizure.

There are a few inconsistencies. When Banner is driving at night with "a person of interest", he ducks down in his car seat; but the next morning, he feels comfortable strolling through an open glade with her in broad daylight. When threatened, he pushes his love interest away for her own safety — but later, when he knows he's about to transform, he makes no such gestures. Is this guy a brilliant scientist or not??

More to the point: is The Incredible Hulk a brilliant film? I'd say yes, and it's almost enough to make me wonder if the 2003 film was Marvel Comics' attempt at New Coke to make us appreciate the reboot all the more. Iron Man is still the summer film to beat, but as superheroes go, Ed Norton has created an unexpectedly incredible movie.