Reviewapalooza

Some microreviews of a bunch of stuff I’ve streamed lately on Netflix.

redhoodCOVER[1]Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

I haven’t read the comics upon which this film was based, but I put off watching Under the Red Hood, because as I recalled, the Red Hood plot line hadn’t gone over very well with some fans. I can’t speak to why, however, because I felt this turned out pretty well for all characters concerned. There’s a very problematic plot point with regards to the ulterior motive behind the Red Hood’s actions, but it’s forgiveable.  The narrative delivered a twist when, perhaps, it didn’t need one, but at least it helped get the story to its logical conclusion.

Any writing issues are more than made up for by very well-executed action sequences (the way Nightwing moves in this film is brilliantly animated) and great voice acting turns by Bruce Greenwood as Batman and Jensen Ackles as the Red Hood.

220px-Planet_Hulk_DVD[1]Planet Hulk (2010)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

This probably deserves a slightly better rating on its own merits, but I felt that the translation from comics to film probably excised a lot of explanatory details that could have brought this story up to the next level. To be sure, I haven’t read the Planet Hulk comics, and I don’t necessarily feel compelled to do so after having seen the film, but I am willing to believe it’s probably a very decent storyline when told in its entirety. All of the elements for a great story are there, but I simply felt slightly irritated by a bunch of small things.

For example, I really didn’t feel that the opening sequence with Tony Stark narrating his reasons for sending the Hulk into space was an adequate explanation, especially given the characterization of the Hulk that followed, which actually made him seem rather rational and at times compassionate. And on that score, this isn’t the classic Jekyll/Hyde portrayal of the Hulk, but the film never bothered to address that.

DC-Showcase--Superman-Shazam--The-Return-of-Black-Adam[1]DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This actually contained four different short features, all roughly the same length. The lead-in feature is the Superman/Shazam short, and I was looking forward to this, because Jerry O’Connell was reprising the role of Captain Marvel that he so perfectly voiced in Justice League Unlimited. This was a lot to like about this, but sadly, Jerry O’Connell didn’t get much to work with. It’s an origin story, so Captain Marvel is only in about half of it, and during that time, the story asks him to go a little dark for the climax, and that works against the earnestness and incorruptibility that the actor sold so well in JLU.

My favorite short in the set was easily the Green Arrow one, which had some really nice action set-pieces, and was simply a ton of fun. The Jonah Hex short was also fantastic. Of the four, the only one for which I didn’t really care was the Spectre short, if only because it seemed out of place. The other protagonists–even Jonah Hex–are all heroic, but the Spectre is just really sadistic, and would have worked better in, say, a horror anthology.

220px-DoctorStrangeDVD[1]Doctor Strange (2007)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Just too melodramatic to be much fun. In my opinion, it didn’t manage to capture the weirdness of the world of Doctor Strange. It leaned too heavily on standard horror movie beats and imagery. For me, it’s just not Doctor Strange unless you have something that looks like this. I just wanted something more exotic, and maybe something that tried a little bit less to be a stand-alone film and origin story.

11153114_800[1]Hulk Vs. (2009)

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

This contained two mini-features: Hulk vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Wolverine. Of the two, the latter was probably more interesting, though it probably tried a little too hard to mesh together every major Wolverine plot line form the past 30 years. Both features wisely (I think) understood that the Hulk was the least interesting character in the cast, so they made the narratives more about the other characters. I felt Hulk vs. Thor was a little awkward in the way it physically separated Banner from the Hulk–it isn’t the way that I think of the character. For me, Banner is the Hulk, not just a trapped soul inside some rage monster with a soul of its own.

1344701352_iron[1]The Invincible Iron Man (2007)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

I didn’t really care for it, to be honest. It changed up the Iron Man origin too much in order to shoehorn in a plot about the resurrection of the Mandarin. In addition, the CG-rendered Iron Man armors were a jarring distraction. Additionally, the denouement hinges upon a romance between Tony Stark and another character that just seemed false–but worse, it doesn’t allow Stark to really do anything directly to defeat the Mandarin, such as he is in this film. Amidst other problems.

600full-hellboy-animated--blood-and-iron-posterHellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (2007)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

If you can get past the Saturday Morning Cartoon style of the animation, this is pretty neat. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and John Hurt lend their voices, but I don’t know if this is in the continuity of the films or the comic books or just some sort of hybrid. Perlman is great as Hellboy, as usual, and the narrative is interestingly ordered, with flashbacks in reverse chronological order interspersed between segments of the main action.

I wish the animation had been up to the task of attempting to reproduce the distinctive atmosphere of a Hellboy comic book. A property as stylistic as this deserved better.

155356.39026146[1]Justice League: Doom (2012)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The underlying plot is flawed, I think. Is Batman really the only person on Earth (and beyond) capable of inventing a plan to take each member of the Justice League out individually? But I suppose if you can accept the fact that Vandal Savage would go out of his way to steal Batman’s failsafe plans and put together a legion of doom in order to implement them, this is rather enjoyable.

There’s something rather odd about watching this, however, when one has seen the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, as this film uses the same voice actors. As a result, it felt kind of weird that this story should have been told in the continuity of the mainstream DC universe. Also, the climax was kind of ridiculous, even for a comic book film.

Superman vs. the Elite (2012)

SMvELITE_KEYART_DCU_FNLYRS2[1]

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

This should really be called Superman vs. The Authority. Because that’s what it is (The Authority have been reimagined as a smaller group called The Elite, but the parallels are, of course, glaring). So if you ever wondered how that would go down, this is how. Spoilers: he beats them.

Me, personally, I never wondered how that would play out, because these characters exist in vastly different comic book realities. And the fact that I kinda really loved the first couple of volumes of The Authority made me actively feel as though I didn’t want to see this confrontation. Let me just enjoy Superman and The Authority individually, please, and for different reasons.

And there’s an additional irony, of course, in the notion that The Authority, itself, is meant to be a sort of deconstructed version of The Justice League. But I won’t go there.

There were, to be sure, bits that I liked in this narrative. It isn’t an unworthy plot idea to want to explore how Superman’s version of truth, justice, and the American way fit into a post-9-11 worldview (I don’t believe that 9-11 actually happened in the DC universe, so this is just a meta commentary embodied in the comic book world by villains being more difficult to define and solutions existing in more of a grey area). At the same time, the structure of the story is a bit heavy-handed.

If nothing else, it’s just a bit difficult to reconcile the fact that members of the Elite go from worshipping Superman to wanting to kill him within a matter of days, and then, apparently, half the world basically going along with it just because Superman’s not cool anymore. I think the creators just tried to cram too many ideas into too short and lightweight a story.

Oh, also, –BEGIN SPOILERS– Superman lobotomizes a guy with his heat vision at the end. No joke. –END SPOILERS–

With all of that said, it was entertaining. But I wouldn’t recommend it over All Star Superman, which contained a lot more of what I consider to be the quintessence of the character.

By the way, animated version of The Authority, please!

All-Star Superman (2011)

all-star-superman-movie-image

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

I understand why the viewer response to this animated film seems to be rather polarized: it’s partially for the same reason that Grant Morrison, himself, seems to be somewhat polarizing as a comic book creator. It’s stuffed full of quirky details that even while interesting can sometimes be distracting, as though Morrison knows he’s a clever guy, and he kind of wants to rub it in your face. The overall narrative carries the viewer from one high concept to the next without ever dwelling too long upon anything, such that one never has the opportunity to question whether there’s anything there apart from a few neat story ideas.

Now take a 12-part Grant Morrison mini-series in which the individual installments were meant to more or less stand alone, and merge them into a 70 minute film that almost irrefutably feels disjointed and meandering, and see what happens.

And yet, I really enjoyed this film. Perhaps it’s because I recently saw Man of Steel in the theater, and there just wasn’t a lot to love about the Superman character in that film. But for whatever reason, I found this to be a charming and very fondly crafted portrayal of Superman and the sundry characters and notions that inhabit his universe. Yes, the plot feels more like a series of vignettes than an actual structured, conventional three-act narrative. The pacing is often oddly lackadaisical. But damn it–it just gets Superman right for me. And that counts for something.

Also, I would be remiss to not mention the original score by Christopher Drake. Surprisingly great for a film like this.

This film is, by the way, available to stream instantly through Netflix. Hence the reason I finally watched it, as I’m doing the 30-day trial.