A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Logan Review – Old Man Stabby

Logan, 2017, Hugh Jackman, posterTITLE: Logan
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
STUDIOS: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Kinberg Genere, Hutch Parker Entertainment, The Donners’ Company
RATING: R
RUN-TIME: 137 min
RELEASED: 
March 3, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a fan of the X-Men film series, Logan is in many ways a frustrating film. It’s very much the expressionistic, character-driven piece it sets out to be. But the Wolverine character is heavily defined by the world he’s in. A world filled with prejudice toward super-powered mutants. In Logan, that world has been heavily altered. While we all love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, what this movie really could have used was a little more world-building.

In the year 2029, mutantkind has been nearly eradicated. Logan, the man formerly known as Wolverine, is one of the last ones alive. In his care is a frail Charles Xavier, suffering from dementia and seizures. Logan isn’t exactly in great health himself. But danger once again finds our clawed hero, this time in the form of a young girl named Laura. Like Logan, she has adamantium claws, healing powers, and a deadly temper. She is hunted by Transigen, the group responsible for wiping out mutantkind. And if they have their way, Logan, Charles, and this mysterious girl are next.

Comic book fans know Logan is somewhat based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan book. That story features a gray-haired Logan in a world conquered by supervillains. The first lines in the very first panel are: “No one knows what happened on the night the heroes fell. All we know is that they disappeared and evil triumphed and the bad guys have been calling the shots ever since.”

logan-image-1-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenThere’s very little information like this in Logan. Information that helps us define the different world we see these familiar characters in. I’m not of the belief that absolutely everything needs to be spelled out for the audience. But the memory of the X-Men team is very much a part of this movie. It even implies that a new generation will pick up where Logan and the others left off. So wouldn’t it be helpful to tell us what happened to the X-Men? Were they all hunted down and killed by Transigen? Was there a big battle, like in Old Man Logan? We don’t have to comb through the roster one by one. But for instance, Logan loved Jean Grey. That could have been used to prompt a line or two about how she and some of the others died.

Instead, the film is chipped away at by these questions about how the established characters got to where they are, and who some of these new characters are. We do get allusions to a tragic event involving the widespread telepathic side-effects of one of Xavier’s seizes in Westchester, New York. To the uninitiated, Westchester was the home of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and home base to the X-Men. So it’s reasonable to assume that’s where many of them died. But casual moviegoers won’t know that. Hell, I’m fairly versed in X-Men lore and it took me awhile to put it together.

logan-image-2-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenHalf the potential of a story like this lies in exploring the dystopian future, and how we got there. Logan doesn’t do much of that, and the movie suffers for it.

Still, Logan is indeed the R-rated Wolverine flick many have waited for. The movie takes full advantage of its expanded parameters. We see severed limbs aplenty, gallons of spilled blood, claw shots through the face, and plenty of F-bombs. If this really is Hugh Jackman’s last go-around as Wolverine, he goes out in a blaze of bloody and cathartic glory.

Jackman’s claim that this is the last time he’ll pop the claws is a downer for sure. In 17 years, he’s played the character seven times. Nine if you count his brief uncredited appearances in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s left an indelible mark on the character and the X-Men franchise as a whole, bringing tremendous depth and likability in addition to the berserker rage that fans love. What’s more, I’m not ready to fully rule Jackman out of another appearance in the role. He’s publicly flirted with coming back for certain scenarios, and it’s not like he’s been typecast. He was Jean Valjean, for crying out loud. More importantly, he’s a proven and highly lucrative commodity in that role. It’s show business, folks. Anything is possible.

logan-hugh-jackman-patrick-stewartPerhaps less publicized is that Logan is perhaps Patrick Stewart’s last time playing Charles Xavier. Something else this movie has going for it is the novelty of ol’ Captain Picard dropping a few F-bombs. Why the hell not?

Dafne Keen makes her film debut here as Laura, a.k.a. X-23. Not a bad way to make your entrance, with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart at your side. She’s quite the find. Keen doesn’t speak for most of the movie, and has to convey a quiet rage beyond her years. She becomes the perfect mini-Wolverine.

There’s been a good amount of talk about Logan defying the genre of superhero movies. While I maintain this genre is more versatile than people give it credit for, Logan feels unlike most, if not any superhero movie you’ve ever seen. At one point, Xavier and Laura are watching Shane. That’s extremely fitting, given the movie’s clear influence on Logan. Mangold has also talked about The Cowboys starring John Wayne, and The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood. Oddly enough, he’s also mentioned Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler.

logan-image-3-hugh-jackmanLogan is hardly the most satisfying installment in the X-Men franchise. But it’s absolutely the most unique. There’s an undeniable thrill and catharsis to seeing Jackman rage out as Wolverine, potentially for the last time. From a performance standpoint, he absolutely sticks the landing here. Though that should come as surprise to absolutely no one.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Rogue One Review – A Force of Nostalgia

Rogue One posterTITLE: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker. 
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
133 min
RELEASED: 
December 16, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Rogue One was going to be a different kind of Star Wars movie. Less a space fantasy, more ground-level combat flick. A movie that puts the war in Star Wars. If we’re going to have one of these movies a year for the foreseeable future, the franchise needs to expand its boundaries. So different is fine. But what we get here is something that simultaneously does and does not feel like the Star Wars we know. That’s a double-edged sword. Or perhaps a double-bladed lightsaber.

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance steals the Death Star plans before the events of A New Hope. Our main character is Jyn Erso, whose long lost father develops the plans for the battle station. She is recruited by the Rebellion’s Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to help locate her father, who has long been forced into service by the Empire. Along for the ride are Andor’s droid K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Together, this small band of rebels will win a crucial victory against the Empire. But the cost will be great.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-ersoThat all sound vaguely familiar? It should. Like The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One is in many ways a love letter to the original 1977 Star Wars film, and there are plenty of parallels to draw. In addition to the obvious characters and imagery, Rogue One is peppered with little details, cameos, and callbacks to firmly plant it in A New Hope territory. Certain shots from the film are even mimicked once we get inside the Death Star. The plot also has numerous parallels. Our rebels sneak into enemy territory to sabotage the Empire, they dress in Imperial uniforms, there’s a droid (K-2SO in this case) manipulating things from a control room, we get a big space battle, etc. Rogue One is definitely a retro movie just as The Force Awakens was, albeit with a darker tone.

But that darker tone doesn’t necessarily help things. For so many years, a subgroup of Star Wars geeks have lamented some of the lighter elements in the movies (the Ewoks come to mind), longing for the series to focus more on the serious, dramatic, and dare I say cool side of things. To an extent, Rogue One does just that. It feels like a Platoon or Saving Private Ryan sort of movie with Star Wars stuff pasted on to it. The movie misses that sense of awe and wonder that helped make the original trilogy (and even the prequel trilogy) distinct and special. There’s nothing wrong with expanding your boundaries. But you’ve also got to remember what universe you’re in.

Rogue One, cast photoWhat’s more, these characters aren’t exactly the most memorable the franchise has produced. We understand their motivations and what drives them. But once you get past that, they’re not particularly likable or distinct. Our ensemble consists of about six people, so there’s not a lot of room for little personal moments where we get to know them as people. Case in point: Han and Leia arguing in the early minutes of The Empire Strikes Back. Or Obi-Wan talking to Luke about his father in A New Hope. When it comes to our main character, Jyn, we know what happened to her when she was a child, and we get some vague information about what she’s done as a teenager and a young adult. But outside of her starting the story as a cynic, there’s not much to her.

Ironically, the most charming character in the movie is the K-2SO, who isn’t even human. He’s got an Alfred Pennyworth, sarcastic butler thing going for him. Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, is the leader of an extremist group, and Jyn’s adopted father. His body is largely mechanical, and he needs the aid of a respirator. His dynamic with Jyn might have been interesting to explore as the movie progressed, but he’s only in the first half. Chirrut Imwe is fairly interesting. But again, we know so little about him.

rogue-one-darth-vaderBecause our main characters are fairly blasé, the classic Star Wars elements wind up serving as nostalgia boosters to keep us interested. Instead of being riveted by the story that’s unfolding, we’re looking at the stuff we recognize from that amazing movie from 40 years ago. It’s a nice recipe for warm fuzzies. Especially when we see some familiar Rebel faces, both at the base and in the space battle, two of which are played by actors from the prequels. In a perfect world, those nostalgia elements should be the garnish on top of an already compelling movie. But consider this: How appealing is Rogue One if you scale back Darth Vader’s involvement, and pluck out a few of those familiar faces?

Still, it’s fun to see Vader doing Vader stuff, especially when we get to the closing moments of the film. His entrance takes place on a planet from Episode III, which was a nice surprise. But here’s an opinion that might not be popular: The returning James Earl Jones sounds too kind. It’s like Mufasa is in the Darth Vader suit. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jones had a fantastic growl in his voice, as if there was a rage constantly boiling under the surface. It was fitting, considering all that talk about anger, hate, and the dark side. In both Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels, he’s lost his edge. But you can’t have someone else do Vader’s voice, can you? Jones likely has the role as long as he wants it, which is how it should be. I just wish he’d release his anger…

Rogue One, image 4This is the first Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a John Williams score, which means Michael Giacchino has one of the most unenviable jobs in cinematic history. Imagine having to not only follow John Williams, but follow up on arguably his most iconic work. To his credit though, Giacchino pulls it off. He still has the classic Williams songs to work with, of course. But what he produces still feels authentic to the Star Wars universe. That’s a hell of an achievement, all things considered.

Peter Cushing returns to the role of Governor Tarkin in this movie. That was unexpected, considering he died in 1994. But through the magic of CGI, and the voice talents of Guy Henry, he’s back. It mostly works fine. Though I’d be curious to know what those who were close to Cushing think about this little trick. Also, does this mean the door is open for Alec Guinness to “return” as Obi-Wan Kenobi in future movies?

Rogue One makes for a decent viewing experience, with a lot of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. If you needed proof that the Star Wars Anthology idea can work from a creative standpoint, you now have it. But it may be the worst Star Wars film in terms of holding up to repeated viewings. All the best stuff in this movie was in A New Hope first. So given the choice, why not just watch A New Hope?

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Ghosbusters In-Depth Review – Good Enough

Ghostbusters, 2016 posterTITLE: Ghostbusters
STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
STUDIOS: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Pascal Pictures, Feigco Entertainment, Ghost Corps Production Company
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 116 min
RELEASED: 
July 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The verdict from a life-long ghosthead: It’s good. Not great, and certainly not the classic it’s based on. But pretty good. After everything this movie and the people who’ve made it have been subjected to, I’d say pretty good is good enough.

Who’d have thought such a beloved movie, such a cherished brand, could prompt such hate? Just the stuff that’s been thrown at Leslie Jones (#LoveForLeslieJ) is enough to make you want to shower for five days. But the metric ton of sexism, and general brattiness shoveled in this movie’s direction has been preposterous. I love Ghostbusters as much as anybody else on the planet. The original film was a perfect storm of improv, acting, special effects (as they existed then), music, and storytelling. It touched an emotional chord, and captured the world’s imagination like few movies are privileged to do. I hold it very close to my heart.

But it’s still just a movie. A movie co-produced by Ivan Reitman, who directed the original, as well as Dan Ackroyd himself. A movie that clearly adores its source material, to the point that it stops in its tracks multiple times to have scenes with original cast members. It even goes out of its way to use Slimer, and give the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man an appearance. Let’s keep this all in perspective.

Ghostbusters, image 1, 2016While you can’t excuse all the hate that’s been thrown at this movie, when it comes to ’80s kids I think a lot of it stems from the idea that these ladies are “not my Ghostbusters.” I get that. Some of this backlash likely could have been avoided if they’d gone with a Creed style sequel set decades after the original. Same cast as this movie, same creative team, with a cameo from the Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd characters. Obviously, that leaves you with the question of what happened to Egon Spengler. But it could have worked. That’s what I’d have preferred, perhaps selfishly.

To its credit, the remake tells its own story, albeit hitting some of the original’s bullet points. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is fired from her university position when her belief in the paranormal is brought to light. She teams with childhood friend Abby Yates (McCarthy) and her associate Jilian Holtzman (McKinnon) to research the ghostly and the unknown. Their first case takes them to the New York City subway, where they meet MTA worker Patty Tolan (Jones). From there, a mystery unravels as to how and why the city is infested with ghosts. Like the original, the movie’s climax ends with a fight against a giant, pasty white monster.

While the ghosts and spooky stuff was important, the success of the 1984 film had more with the Ghostbusters themselves. The characters were fun, their interplay was strong (not to mention hysterical), and you were rooting for them. In making a new Ghostbusters movie, remake or not, half your battle is in the creation of new characters. On that front, the movie starts off shakily. But by the second act, we’ve got a good team on our hands. I can’t give enough credit to Feig, his co-writer Katie Dippold, and these ladies for creating characters that are new, yet with a dynamic that feels familiar.

Ghostbusters, McKinnon, WiigMcCarthy essentially fills the Dan Aykroyd role in this movie, becoming the chirpy heart of the team. She plays off the skeptical Wiig, whose more reserved role keep things grounded in the first act, and adds weight to the ghostly stuff once it takes off. I’ve always preferred Wiig in more dramatic roles, and she earns her keep here. Leslie Jones is, frankly, the sassy one. But her character has enough heart to round her out.

Here’s something that won’t earn me any friends: Kate McKinnon’s performance as Holtzman was grating at first. They were pushing her too hard as “the zany one,” which made me nervous for her. IIf Holtzman had been too flippant for too long, we’d have had…*gulp*…the Jar Jar Binks of Ghostbusters.

Thankfully, the character finds her groove. She becomes an intriguing balance of misfit and super genius. Critics have called this a breakout performance for McKinnon. I’m with them. But yeesh, don’t scare me like that…

Chris Hemsworth surprises with his comedic chops. He could have strictly been a hottie for Wiig to drool over. But he adds real value as yet another misfit, this one comedically out of touch with reality. Based on his role in the climactic sequence, had the Kevin character been tweaked a bit, he might have been okay as the villain.

Ghostbusters, 2016, us against themThere’s a syrupy “rise above ridicule” vibe to the movie that I didn’t expect. The ladies are all outcasts who must overcome the city’s perception of them and save the day. We’re reminded that these four aren’t just coworkers. They’re friends. We get little sentimental moments between Erin and Abby. Patty yells: “Get outta my friend, ghost!” Holtzman gives a little speech about how she finally has a family. You almost expect someone to shout “Friends Forever!” Even our villain is a former bullying victim striking back at society. This idea was present in the original. But they didn’t point right at it like this movie does, and it didn’t seem as personal in nature. How ironic. A movie trying to talk to kids about bullying gets bullied online by adults, many of whom were likely bullied as children.

You know what I’m sick of? “Spontaneous banter.” It’s present in a lot of modern comedies, Ghostbusters included. Characters will be proceeding in a scene. Suddenly, someone will either go off on an unrelated tangent or say something embarrassingly personal. A certain vulnerability or humanity will peek through. Then, as suddenly as they stopped, they’ll pick up where they left off. Sometimes it works. But often it’s inorganic, and kills tension in a scene.

For instance, about midway through the movie a ghost throws a character out a window at Ghostbusters HQ. The ladies end up talking to a cop about the incident, and he cracks: “You saw a ghost? Like the movie with Patrick Swayze?” Melissa McCarthy’s character has a comeback, then suddenly she and Wiig go on a tangent about Patrick Swayze movies. They’re in trouble with the cops because someone was thrown out their window. But the stakes suddenly disappear, then reappear, so we can have banter. StopDoingThat. Not every movie can afford to snip holes in the fabric of its reality so we can have pop culture references.

Slimer

Like a a certain section of moviegoers, I’ve got CGI fatigue. In the ’80s, the Ghostbusters franchise was heralded for its special effects. So to see modern CGI in a Ghostbusters movie feels awkward. I’d wager part of this can be chalked up to the “not my Ghostbusters” factor. But there’s some legitimacy to it. You almost can’t look at these ghosts without being reminded of the live action Scooby Doo movie. But they should be fine for kids and the average moviegoer. Admittedly, our climactic monster looks pretty good. I also like that they added a little glisten to Slimer. He is made of slime, isn’t he?

To its credit, and my great surprise, this movie has one of the best credits sequences I’ve ever seen. They cut in and out of a dance scene, set to “Get Ghost” by Mark Ronson, Passion Pit, and A$AP Ferg. It’s infectiously catchy.

So in the end, was it all that bad? No, not really. It’s not the movie I wanted. But I’m okay with that. After all these years, we finally got a new Ghostbusters movie. And people in my theater were laughing and having fun. It’s tough not to like that.

Kristen Wiig, Ghostbusters premiereThen you have this picture. I absolutely adore this. Look at the faces on those kids! This captures what the new movie can mean to young girls around the world. For that matter, it captures what the old movie meant to so many of us. If you’re a child of the ’80s, swap in a childhood version of yourself and put Bill Murray in Kristen Wiig’s place. Different era, same scene.

Maybe, like the original Ghostbusters, we were meant to pass it on to a new generation.

Maybe we did get the right movie after all…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Blatant Insubordination: “What’s Star Wars About?”

Captain Kirk, You haven't seen Star Wars?By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“What’s Star Wars about?”

A young lady asked me this at work the other day without a hint of snark. She’s an outdoorsy girl without much use for movies. But still, it’s easy to just assume everybody knows what Star Wars is. You’d think people would inevitably see the original simply by virtue of being alive.

But I think that’s a geek bias seeping through. After I got this question I put the above meme (Get it?) on my Facebook. One of the comments I got read: “I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. Thought about getting the DVD and starting from the beginning, but I’m not sure where it starts.”

I don’t push Star Wars, or anything else I love, on other people. But if people are curious about this kind of thing, I’m happy to offer my opinions. And this idea of explaining what Star Wars is about intrigues me. How do you offer a simple explanation of something that’s come to encompass so much?

Star Wars, trioFor whatever reason, when I got this question I thought of Kyle Gnepper over at Unshaven Comics. I’ve seen Kyle and the Unshaven crew a bunch of times at Chicago area comic conventions over the years. When he’s hyping a new comic series, he’s always got a one-sentence pitch to hook you in. Something to catch your interest and intrigue you. I won’t try to directly quote him for fear of butchering his words. But for instance, he might hype Unshaven’s The Samurnauts by saying: “It’s about a group of samurai astronauts led by an immortal Kung Fu warrior monkey.”

At that point you’ve got to at least look, right?

So what would a similar pitch be for Star Wars? And by Star Wars, I mean the original 1977 film. The young lady I spoke to was shocked to hear there were seven movies in all, with more on the way. But Episode IV: A New Hope is how the world at large was introduced to this strange universe, and it obviously served as the basis for everything else. That’s where newbs should start.

Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New HopeI figure simplicity and conciseness is important when you begin to explain something like this. Don’t start by trying to explain who Darth Vader is, or what a Jedi is, or how the Skywalkers are all related to each other. You’ll lose them if you try to explain all that stuff.

Here’s the “Gnepperfied” Star Wars synopsis that I came up with: “It’s about a galactic dictatorship with a weapon that can destroy a planet, and the rebel heroes fighting against them.”

Some might argue it’s too simple or generic. But that’s the point, isn’t it? You lure them in with the broad strokes, and then explore the intricacies as you get closer. Once you’re past the simple explanations, you can get into how the Empire works, who the iconic characters are, etc.

On the subject of those iconic characters, I’ve recently started wearing character socks to work. Star Wars, superheroes, etc. Because, you know, that’s what cool people do. One such pair features little images of C-3PO. This girl in question sees the socks, her eyes pop and she asks: “Are those Minions on your socks?”

We can only do so much.

Click here for more Blatant Insubordination.

Image 2 from usatoday.com. Image 3 from digitalspy.com.

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Three Times Marvel Crossed Paths With Pro Wrestling

Drax, Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014By Eric Shaw
Contributor

It seems as if the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ultimately reach a point at which it incorporates just about all of Hollywood. This thing – the MCU, that is – just keeps expanding, through films, television, and even Netflix. At some point there are hardly going to be any actors left who haven’t at least dipped a toe into the industry’s biggest superhero world.

But really, that’s half the fun. We love to see our favorite actors from TV, movies, or types of entertainment dabble in superheroism. For instance, the casting of Parks and Recreation darling Chris Pratt in Guardians Of The Galaxy delighted droves of TV comedy lovers, and this summer’s introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead in Doctor Strange is sure to rope in some loyal Sherlock devotees.

There are countless similar examples, and the most exciting ones depend entirely on what you’re interested in. For me, in Marvel or elsewhere, the most enjoyable entertainment crossovers are usually when pro wrestlers or fighters find themselves in popular films. It’s always fun to get a look at their acting chops outside the ring and see how their imposing frames are used in action sequences. Rest assured, it’s happened in Marvel films.

In fact, there are three extremely noteworthy examples.

Randy Savage, Spider-Man, Bone Saw McGrawRandy Savage in Spider-Man

I have to start with what might still be the best appearance ever by a pro wrestler on the big screen. It’s been almost 15 years since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but anyone who loved it ought to remember “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s role. Early in the film, as he’s just discovering his powers, Peter Parker enters an underground cage fight to earn some cash, get a car and impress Mary Jane Watson. His opponent: Bone Saw McGraw.

The sheer lunacy with which Randy Savage played this character was delightful to behold. He took his ordinary persona in the pro wrestling world and amplified it significantly to fit the comic book movie atmosphere. As a result, ost Spider-Man and WWE fans alike will never forget the role. Incidentally, the character even made a sneaky appearance in the beloved Spider-Man title that was once part of Activision‘s gaming lineup. He could be unlocked for a sort of special boss fight, though unfortunately Savage didn’t do any voice acting.

Mickey Rourke, Whiplash, Iron Man 2Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2

I’m bending the rules with Rourke, but only slightly. Many will recall that this bizarre, muscled actor did have a brief boxing career during a hiatus from Hollywood. Additionally, part of his big comeback to film was the 2008 film The Wrestler – arguably the best movie ever made about pro wrestling. He also appeared at Wrestlemania XXV and punched out Chris Jericho. So he’s a sort of honorary member of the pro wrestling community. And his turn as the villain Whiplash in Iron Man 2 was perfectly worthy of the absurd theatricality of WWE stars.

Sadly, the character has since been largely forgotten, thanks in large part to Iron Man 2‘s consistent ranking near the bottom of the Marvel movies. Still, give this one deserves another look and you’ll appreciate the larger-than-life, ultra-ripped, stringy-haired portrayal as something pretty WWE-esque. There’s even an Iron Man 2-themed game at Gala’s jackpots page that shows Rourke’s character in the background, looking like the ghostly image of a pro wrestler. The game is one of many that fusees Marvel characters with casino gameplay, but uses very real images from the film – and Rourke calls to mind images of wrestlers like Edge or even Savage turning slowly to finish off opponents.

Dave Bautista, Batista, Guardians of the Galaxy, DraxBatista in Guardians Of The Galaxy

Dave Bautista, aka Batista, has actually gotten pretty busy with his film career. Let’s not call him the next Dwayne Johnson just yet, but he may be in the early stages of a more complete wrestling-to-film transition. Just last year he had an amusing role in the James Bond film Spectre, and according to his IMDB page he may be playing The Kurgan in a remake of Highlander.

But Batista’s most enjoyable and probably most famous film role to this point was his turn as Drax in the aforementioned Guardians Of The Galaxy. Essentially a well-meaning alien thug who’s light on words and heavy on muscle, Drax fit in perfectly with the movie’s cast of misfit talents who stumble into become superheroes. A sequel’s already been announced, and it looks like Batista has a firm hold on a budding franchise.

Image 1 from cbn.com. Image 2 from wrestlersinhollywood.tumblr.com. Image 3 from blastr.com. Image 4 from crave online.com.

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A Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review – Why So Serious?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeTITLE: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual films
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 151 min
RELEASED: March 25, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This movie had a lot of mud thrown its way before even one shot was in the can. Some of that was fair. Much of it wasn’t. Man of Steel wasn’t as well received as many would have liked. Then people jumped on the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. There was also a lot of skepticism about the inclusion of all the Justice League characters, not to mention Doomsday. And that’s just some of it. So after all that, what’s the bottom line on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?

Is this movie as bad as so many critics say it is? No. Is it a deeply flawed movie? Yes.

After the destruction left in the wake of Superman’s battle with Zod, the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill) unknowingly has an enemy in Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman (Ben Affleck). Then, 18 months later Superman causes an international incident when he swoops in to save Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from a terrorist group. While his intentions are good, Superman’s actions have sparked a mass debate about if and how he should be monitored and regulated. Meanwhile, young business tycoon and hereditary CEO of Lexcorp Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has plans of his own regarding the Man of Steel…

Batman v Superman, image 1

Audiences hoping for something in the vein of a Marvel movie likely got a rude awakening from Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder’s superhero films, going as far back as Watchmen, are very serious, and at times very grim. This is a stark contrast to what we get from Marvel Studios, and also Fox’s X-Men movies. Those various superhero franchises (Iron Man, X-Men, Captain America, etc.) have all found their own balance between action blockbuster and comedy. That comedy is more important than a lot of people think. While I’ve always maintained superhero stories can be more than simple escapist tales about people punching each other, people should also be able to have fun when they see these movies. And that fun pays dividends. For proof, look no further than Deadpool, a movie made for $58 million that went on to make $745 million worldwide.

Fun doesn’t mean belittling the story or universe, either. There’s a moment in Batman v Superman when Batman saves Martha Kent (Diane Lane), and tells her “I’m a friend of your son.” She replies with a simple: “I figured. The cape…” There are precious few moments like this in the movie. But humor and levity are such valuable storytelling tools, particularly in terms of endearing the characters to us. And they’ve largely been cast aside in Batman v Superman. The notion that levity somehow takes away from a movie’s epic factor, or even it’s “dark tone,” is simply a fallacy. Cast in point: Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Those films weren’t funny, per se. But they had little moments of levity that made the dark and chaotic stuff that much more impactful. By comparison, this movie feels like darkness on top of darkness.

Batman v. Superman, image 2The movie also has slow build-up to the confrontation between the two titular characters. This results in the first half of the proceedings being flat-out boring at times. We get a lot of good information regarding the characters and their world. But between the bleak and dreary look these movies have been given, and the lack of levity or fun, I can see many a casual moviegoer falling asleep here. Batman v Superman tries to slap a band-aid on this problem with some nightmare sequences in which Batman fights against a tyrannical Superman. While they do have a certain appeal, they contribute little to the actual story, and end up being more frustrating than anything else.

But let’s not pile on, here. The movie isn’t devoid of positives by any means. Batman fans jumped all over the casting of Ben Affleck like a pack of rabid dogs, and perhaps justifiably so. But as a lifelong Batman buff, I say Affleck gets a passing grade as The Dark Knight. I maintain Affleck wasn’t a bad choice for Daredevil either. Both Daredevil and Batman v Superman had problems. In the case of Daredevil, Affleck took the heat for those flaws because he was the face of the film. Hopefully, history won’t point the finger at him again.

Batman v Superman, image 3, Jesse EisenbergJesse Eisenberg is partially channelling Heath Ledger’s Joker in his portrayal of Lex Luthor. That’s fine, I suppose. Once he gets into full blown supervillain mode, he’s very good. To those of us who saw him in The Social Network, that should be no surprise. Heck, the Lex Luthor we see here isn’t unlike Mark Zuckerberg, really.

Perhaps the single best aspect of Batman v Superman is that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) gets put over like a million bucks. In my theater, when she finally showed up in costume, the audience cheered. That’s a hell of a sign. I’d never seen Gal Gadot before, but she carries herself well in the role. This obviously bodes well for a Wonder Woman movie.

As one might have guessed with the presence of Doomsday, this movie goes the Death of Superman route. On paper it sounds risky. But it works on the screen, particularly in setting up a Justice League movie. Superman’s death can galvanize the other heroes into working together for the greater good. What’s more, the fight with Doomsday is amazing. It’s almost as if they met their entire action quota with that one fight. They also seemingly learned their lesson from Man of Steel, and didn’t destroy an entire city this time.

Batman v Superman, image 4There will be lessons to learn from Batman v Superman as well. The biggest one being not taking things so damn seriously. Not every superhero movie needs to conform to the Marvel formula. But it would be silly not to learn from the success of something that spawned an entire cinematic universe. Batman v Superman should have been a fanboy classic for the ages. While it’s not quite as bad as it’s been made out to be, what we got was definitely not that. Frankly, that’s a crime. All the tools were there, but they couldn’t get the job done. As a long time DC Comics fan, that’s an awful miscarriage of justice.

Maybe that should have been the title.

Images courtesy of rottentomatoes.com. 

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