Friday, June 11, 2004

Superhero Movie Night

Last Friday, I took part in my church youth group's all-night Superhero Movie Marathon. Five and a half flicks, seen over twelve hours, and only myself and the youth minister made it through the entire night without going to sleep. None of the films were new to me, but as is common with films that tend to engender certain expectations before viewing them, a repeat viewing allows one to see the movie in a less biased light.

Batman (1989)

I first saw this one over a decade ago, and liked it. I watched it again on the big screen last semester, and having become far more in-tune with Batman over the intervening time, I found myself overwhelmed with the liberties taken and the flaws I perceived.

Why is the Waynes' murder apparently an incredibly obscure fact in Gotham City? Why is Alfred so keen on Bruce sharing his secret identity, to the point of letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave on his own initiative? Why does Batman, whose opposition to guns and killing are integral parts of his character, have guns on his vehicles and demonstrate a ready willingness to kill his opponents? And what's up with Bruce Wayne sleeping with a woman after their first date?

But Keaton and Nicholson are both fantastic, the look of the film is spot-on, and the Joker's murderous pranks are suitably deranged. I'll have to watch "Batman Returns" again to compare the two, but this one is certainly better than Schumacher's installments, though I'm sure "Batman Begins" will put them all to shame.


This would have been the best film of the night except for two things, one of which has been cited repeatedly in reviews. Namely, the Goblin's mask robs the character of any and all reason for putting Willem Dafoe under it. Without the ability to use his eyes or facial expressions to convey characterization, Dafoe is reduced to lots of excessive bodily movements. This makes the Goblin more of a caricature than a character. Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus already has the advantage over the Goblin in this respect.

Second, Spider-Man isn't nearly funny enough. One of Spidey's defining characteristics, that which sets him apart from so many other superheroes, is his wise-cracking. Brian Michael Bendis has captured this aspect so well in "Ultimate Spider-Man," which had such an enormous influence on this film, and yet the filmmakers abandoned this tidbit and made Spidey terribly serious. He gets a couple of jokes here and there, but nothing terribly memorable.

But other than these two complaints, the movie was practically perfect. And now that the origin is taken care of, I have some pretty high expectations for the sequel.


Good, but not great. I maintain that the opening sequence of Magneto in a concentration camp was pure genius on the creative team's part, an inspired way to convey the heart of the X-Men's tale. It also adds a sympathetic side to Magneto's struggle, focusing on what I've long felt is a neglected aspect of his character. And as evil plots go, I rather like the one in play here. It's ethically troublsome, but it's well-intentioned and not outright malevolent. I prefer this Magneto to Grant Morrison's "must destroy New York" take on the character.

Some of the fun in-jokes ("yellow spandex") seem more hackneyed upon repeat viewing, and since much of the film is involved in bringing characters together and explaining the set-up, it sometimes feels a bit tedious. But it was necessary.

I'm still wondering, though, how did the X-Men know to be in Canada to save Logan and Rogue?

X2: X-Men United

Easily the best of the night. It fixes all of the flaws present in its predecessor, and improves on so much more. Nightcrawler, my favorite X-man, is translated wonderfully to the big screen. Brian Cox turns in a fantastic performance as a man whose own personal troubles and failings have caused his hate to take control of him.

Singer juggles a larger group of characters here, and does it more deftly than in the first film. As a result, you come away feeling that you've gained valuable insight into every character, even the minor players like Pyro. And he also makes good and ingenious use of their powers.

It's two hours and fifteen minutes long, and yet it doesn't drag at all. If I need to point to any flaws in this film, it's that it's a little *too* sequel-friendly. But those elements are not emphasized so heavily that they're a burden, so this film still stands perfectly well on its own.

The Hulk

The definite low point of the evening. I thought "Hulk" was OK when I saw it in the theater. I wasn't enamoured of it, but I thought it was unfairly maligned by many. This viewing definitely changed my opinion for the worse.

Some parts were admittedly good. I still feel Bana's performance was better than others say. In fact, most of the actors do a great job (except for the guy playing Talbot). Even Nick Nolte was satisfying, because while I found myself increasingly disliking his character and subplot, he does play crazy well. I still like the comic-booky split frames, except when two frames show the same scene from different angles. And the Hulk versus the military in the desert was the high point of the film.

The whole "Bruce's dad" subplot should have been scrapped. It contributed most of the film's bad moments, added little of merit, and served to convolute the origin story. A perfectly good ending with Bruce and Betty hugging in the street was followed by a ridiculous fight scene. I *still* don't understand what's happening in the last 5 minutes, and I found myself increasingly upset with the military's willingness to stand by while Nolte acted increasingly nutty. And given these events, it makes it very unlikely that Bruce "Krenzler" would ever take his birth father's name. I didn't really mind the Hulk dogs, but their fight scene was too dark to be worth the time. Lose the dad subplot, and this overly long 2.5 hour film could easily come in at under 2 hours, a much more reasonable length.

It took too long for the Hulk to actually appear onscreen, and when he did, he wasn't done right for long. As one reviewer put it, there's a line between being a very large person and a small giant. An 8-9 foot tall Hulk is pushing the limits of believability; a 15-foot Hulk is simply a monster. Watch how much Bruce has to shrink in front of Betty at the end, and you'll see what I mean. It strips the character of any remaining realism, and you'll note that as the film progresses, Ang Lee was increasingly hesistant to actually put the Hulk in the same frame with another person.

My hope is that if they pursue a sequel, it's sure to be better than this one.

Finally, we watched the first hour of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The animation looked a bit pixillated on the 12-foot screen, but otherwise I enjoyed it yet again. I only wish the others, who have never seen this one before, had gotten to finish it. At least those who watched the first half were intrigued enough to want to see the remainder.


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