Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Marvel movies

Get ‘Mutant Cinema” for your Kindle – FREE!

Just wanted to let folks know my Sequart book, “Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen” is available for download on Kindle for free. How can you not want to read it with a cool cover like this one, from artist Kevin Colden?

Click here to go straight to the download page!

Don’t dawdle, check it out now!

And as an incentive, the first five folks to email me with a link to a review (good or bad) on Amazon or elsewhere of the Kindle version will get a FREE surprise comics treat from the extensive haul in my garage.

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 5 – Comic-Book Movies and Mutant Cinema

I don’t have a lot of books about comic book movies, in part because I don’t think there are many out there that are not direct tie-in books. I have a few of those, including Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Making of the Movie, The Art of X2, The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion, and one or two more. Reference works are common, including Comic Book Movies by David Hughes and John Kenneth Muir’s comprehensive and readable (though pricey) Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

Of actual books on comics movies, I only have a few, including my own. So I’ll start there with a quick recap of how Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen came to be.


I was attending the first New York Comic-Con in February of 2006, enjoying the show despite having to endure a type of winter weather that had long been absent from my life. On the final day, I walked the floor of the Javits Center and came across the booth of Sequart, manned by Julian Darius and Mike Phillips. Julian had just released his book Batman Begins and the Comics, now re-released under the title Improving the Foundations: Batman Begins from Comics to Screen. He told me about the book and how it analyzed the movie scene by scene citing and analyzing how the comic book source material was used through the movie.

I immediately liked the idea and asked him if they were planning any more books like this. Julian said he was planning one on the then-upcoming Superman Returns. I asked if they had any plans for X-Men, which at that point was also coming soon with X-Men: The Last Stand. Mike said that was a good idea but they were mostly DC guys and didn’t know anyone who could write it. My brain went off and I said I could do it, and after a quick listing of my credentials we agreed to talk about it after the show.

A few weeks later we’d worked out a deal and I started writing. I found writing it to be alternately enjoyable and aggravating. A structure came easily, but finding time to devote to writing it in between other gigs that paid the kind of money I needed to keep the lights on was harder than I thought. Revising it also was tough — I felt like I could have revised it endlessly and made it a bit better with each draft, but then it was never going to get done.

Getting the book finished and revised took longer than expected and the book’s original target release date of autumn 2006 quickly revealed itself to be optimistic. Sequart did a great job in getting a small batch of an early version  printed up under the title X-Men: The Movie Trilogy and the Comics for the 2007 New York Comic-Con, complete with a cool cover illustration from Kevin Colden. Concerns about trademark lead to the revised title of Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, as suggested by Julian, and another round of revisions was made before the book became final.

Reaction to the book at that NYCC was a surprise to me. Interest was limited among fans, most of whom already had strong opinions about the movie and familiarity with the source material.

The final version of the book was completed later that year and thus began a frustrating process in gaining distribution for the book. There was some technical issue with getting the book listed on Amazon — which took much longer to resolve than anyone expected. By the time all was repaired and the book was up on the site, a lot of key momentum had been lost as interest in the movies had dwindled after X-Men: The Last Stand.

Having watched each of the movies in the trilogy now dozens of times in writing the book, I think the X-Men trilogy will go down as a trendsetter that got the comic book movie off the ground. But they’ve been outpaced in terms of quality by subsequent, more interesting comic book movies.

The biggest puzzle for me is the strength of antipathy fans have toward The Last Stand. I agree with most that it falls short of X2 in most regards. But having watched it many times I also think it’s really not that much worse than X2 or X-Men. Most of the antipathy centers on Brett Ratner, whose public persona is about as far removed from that of Bryan Singer as you can get. But Ratner really was a hired gun on that movie, brought on just a couple weeks before shooting was to begin.  Ratner’s focus was on finishing the movie on time more than making a personal impression on the material.

The real fault for the movie’s problems lies with Fox, which set an impossible shooting schedule for the film and got cold feet when it came to following through with the Dark Phoenix storyline.

The movie works, I think, pretty well up to the point where Professor Xavier confronts Phoenix at her parents home and she disintegrates him. After that, the Phoenix storyline is dropped until the end of the film. And that ending changes the original story significantly from Jean as the hero, sacrificing herself because she knows she can’t control this level of power, to Wolverine becoming the hero and killing Jean even though he loves her. On the surface, it’s similar, but deep down, it’s quite different.

The other thing The Last Stand did well was to just unleash the characters into the action. On the first two films, Singer offered up inventive but short action sequences that always felt restrained. And it worked to keep the audience hungry for more because it gives the creators a place to go. But I don’t know that his instincts would have allowed him to deliver the kind of satisfying mayhem that Last Stand delivered.

In the end, I’m proud of the book, enjoyed the experience of writing it and learned a lot about my own personal strengths and shortcomings in the process.

If you’re interested in more, check out the book’s page on Sequart.com here, where you can read a sample chapter on previous movie and TV adaptations of X-Men and order the book. You also can get it from Amazon.com here.

Comic-book movies are definitely evolving. It’ll be interesting to see where Marvel goes once they’ve done two or three movies each with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Avengers. It’ll be just as interesting to see if DC can recover from the dismal reception of Green Lantern and figure out how to make the likes of Flash and Wonder Woman into good movies. And with Sony already re-inventing Spider-Man, the pressure will be on Fox to find some way to make good with new versions of Daredevil and Fantastic Four. Comic book movies are sure to stick around for a good ten years — it’s just what they will look like and whether audiences will tire of them that is up for debate.

Covering ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

Chris Evans stars in Captain America: The First Avenger.

I should mention that I occasionally write for Newsarama.com, and wrote for them some articles on Captain America: The First Avenger.

These usually involve attending a junket, which consists of some combination of a press conference, roundtable interviews and one-on-one interviews. Nine times out of ten, these junkets are held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny in Beverly Hills, so anyone who’s looking for a star sighting in L.A. could do a lot worse than to hang out at the valet station of this hotel. For example, while waiting for my car after the Cap junket, actor Jason Bateman pulled up and hopped out to meet with some publicists working on, I assume, something related to Horrible Bosses or The Change-Up.

Anyway, in addition to getting to see the movie in 3D a week early on the Paramount lot, I showed up at the Four Seasons for a press conference with the filmmakers. On the panel were director Joe Johnston; screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; and Marvel Studios execs Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito. You can read what came of that session here.

That was followed by roundtables, where a hotel room is set up for groups of journalists — usually around a dozen or so at a time — to interview the talent. These are strictly timed and usually very short, forcing the interviewers to jockey for position to ask their questions before your 10 minutes with Chris Evans is up. For Cap, the actors did the roundtables, and we got a few minutes with Evans, the charming Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan. Read what came my group’s short session with Evans here.

Sometimes there even is a takeaway or, more accurately, a gift bag offered to the press. The bag at Cap included an action figure, a collectible cup from Dunkin Donuts, a copy of the soundtrack on CD and a Cap-branded copy of Norton Internet Security 2011 that is useless to me because I only work on Macs. There also are production notes with bios, credits and information on the making of the film for journalists to use as reference.

The third and final piece I wrote from the Cap junket was this review, which most people reading this blog will be able to compare with their own views on the film now that it’s been out in theaters for three weekends.

A lot of sites will take some of these interviews and transcribe them into Q and A style interviews. I’ve tried to do that in the past, but have come to the conclusion that it’s a huge pain in the ass and not nearly as effective as writing a more traditional news story. Writing an article, you can put the appropriate emphasis on what people say in interviews, provide context and get the point across much more clearly. Transcribing an interview is a tedious process that exposes the vast divide between the way people use language when they talk and clear writing. The latter is almost always better, devoid of the filler language most people are never aware is used unless you have to try to write it out. Email interviews are almost always better for quick Q and A’s. Long audio interviews like you’d find in the Comics Journal would require a lot of back and forth, editing and copy editing to get to the published state.

I managed to see Captain America: The First Avenger a second time when my wife and I had the opportunity to leave the house without the baby while some friends babysat for us. I liked the movie more the second time, and even though I enjoyed the 3D on the first viewing, I saw the 2D version the second time and it didn’t affect my opinion of the experience in the slightest.

I think Avengers looks like it’s going to be the blockbuster of 2012, and I’m impressed with how well Marvel Studios has pulled off this big plan to build to it, starting way back with the first Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. I liked Thor okay and thought X-Men: First Class was terrific, so the summer’s been good for Marvel movies.

I was less impressed with Green Lantern, which was never obviously terrible but was so formulaic in the way it told the origin story and so rigidly followed the conventions of superhero movies that it just never added up to anything memorable. Green Lantern 2 needs to go in a different direction, so I suggest they reduce Hal Jordan to a cameo and make the movie about Guy Gardner, John Stewart and G’Nort. It most likely would tank at the box office, but at least people would have a reaction of some kind to what’s on the screen, even it’s just that two of those three characters are annoying as hell.

‘O Logan, Where Art Thou?’, a.k.a. another Fox-Marvel movie misses the point

A few days of thinking about the new trailer to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” that officially hit the web Monday have me downgrading the clip from my first impressions. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE HD

There’s a lot going on in this clip, but this appears to be a great example of how movies sometimes try really hard to be faithful to the comics and yet somehow still get it completely wrong. These clips show interesting bits and pieces of the character’s comic book history, starting with “Origin” and progressing to the pivotal Silver Fox-Sabretooth story that first appeared about 20 years ago in Wolverine #10. So far, so good.

What’s most problematic is the introduction of William Stryker and the implication that Logan turned to the Weapon X program intentionally to get back at Sabretooth. Stryker was made part of Logan’s past in the franchise-best “X2,” but this particular change is a major one for the character that significantly alters his entire motivation and points out just how much the character has changed (and not necessarily for the better) in his nearly 35-year history.

The first real definition of the character came at the hands of Chris Claremont, who wrote Logan almost esclusively from 1975 to the early 1990s, and evolved Logan from a wild man whose instinct for mayhem won out over brain power to the famed “failed samurai” of the Frank Miller-drawn 1982 miniseries. Much of the character’s appeal to fans came from Claremont’s resistance to nail down an origin or a past for Logan — in retrospect, a great idea for the way it teased fans used to having every aspect of a character’s life and motivation fully laid out before them. Logan himself stated on many occasions that he cared not a whit for who was responsible for what happened to him or for digging up his lost memories. He lived in the present, and eventually a little bit for the future.

But Wolverine’s popularity couldn’t keep writers from trying to fill in Logan’s past. Barry Windsor Smith’s “Weapon X” was the first, but while it portrayed the event of how Logan got his claws it was wisely light on the details of who was responsible. What was definitely clear was that this was done to him against his will — and the trauma it caused largely responsible for his lack of control over himself and his lost memories. This still worked within the overall X-Men universe, as the forces that experimented on Logan against his will was another example of the mutant-human conflict.

So having Logan turn to Stryker and willingly undergo the Weapon X procedure and join Stryker’s special team is a radical change. Instead of a wild loner, or victim of experimentation, Logan’s now motivated by his desire for revenge on Sabretooth. This is a more conventional character, but that’s not surprising given the direction the comics (and the movies) have been taking for years now. Fox could have made a much more distinctive movie if they’d gone the Japan route — but it appears that’s the last thing the studio expects from its superhero franchises.

Looking at the rest of the trailer, the sheer number of mutants appearing in this film is impressive, though in danger of treading on the comics’ unfortunate tendancy to connect everyone to everyone else at every opportunity by throwing in Emma Frost and what looks like a young Storm. (Young Scott Summers is apparently in the movie, too.) Gambit looks good, though I’m still not sold on Liev Shrieber as Sabretooth. And the final line Jackman delivers just lacks the kind of aggression you’d expect from the character.

In the meantime, we’ve got “The Spirit,” which is increasingly looking like niche fare (I haven’t seen it yet), and “Watchmen,” which is becoming so big a movie that it likely will affect how Hollywood treats superhero movies for years to come — for good or ill.

‘Punisher: War Zone’ review

“Punisher: War Zone” is far and away the best Punisher pic of the three that have been made to date. That was the least I expected from the pic. What’s encouraging is it’s also a decent action pic that adds enough flair and style to its violent proceedings to finally strike a tone that suits the character and the genre.

(If you’re new to the Punisher, check out this photogallery I wrote on his history for Metromix. If you want to know more about the making of the film, I have a story on the filmmakers and one on the actors over at Newsarama.)

The first thing this movie does right is cast Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle. Not only does Stevenson look and sound the part, but in the action sequences he moves with the confidence, poise and apparent skill that an ex-Marine like Castle would have. And that makes a big difference, compared to the goofy and limited fights of the previous Punisher movies. He also has the right touch in the story scenes. Castle’s never been much of a talker, but Stevenson for the first time on screen really evokes the character’s smoldering rage and seeming genius for dealing out death.

So be warned: there’s a reason this movie is rated R. This movie starts out with Castle in full Punisher mode, massacring criminals with just the right mix of deadly seriousness and action-movie inventiveness. There’s plenty of head splitting, blood splattering, severed limbs and brutal, bone-crunching deaths.

All of this is executed with likeable style by director Lexi Alexander. The movie looks better than you think it will, with lighting that evokes the mix of bright and muted coloring of more recent Punisher comics. The action sequences are well-staged and, unusually in an age of hyper-quick editing, easy to follow. The film also cuts away from its most cartoony violence quickly, keeping the “did that just happen?” effect without staying on screen long enough to look fake.

The film also sticks closely to the Punisher milieu and resists diverging into action movie cliché. There’s not a single car chase. Nor is there a forced relationship between the Punisher and Julie Benz’s widow of an FBI agent.

Some found what little was done with the Punisher connecting with Benz’s daughter annoying, but given the circumstances that turned Castle into the Punisher, it makes sense. Also appearing are a few cop characters, played by Colin Salmon and Dash Mihok, who get a little personality despite their limited roles. And then there’s Microchip, long an element of the comic book series, played by “Seinfeld” alumnus Wayne Knight. Knight plays Micro as a serious supporter of the Punisher’s campaign, while bringing just enough comic relief to the movie.

It’s not all good, though.

The villain of the piece is Jigsaw — who first appeared as the Punisher’s nemesis way back in Amazing Spider-Man #162. Played here by Dominic West, who appeared in “300” and starred in the excellent HBO series “The Wire,” we see his character traumatized and transformed into Jigsaw in a scene that successfully makes your skin crawl. But West’s portrayal of the character borrows a lot from Jack Nicholson’s turn as the Joker — one scene in the film directly evokes that performance — and it so far has been a litmus test for the audience, with some loving it and others thinking it too over the top and cartoonish. I leaned toward the latter camp, but not so much that it took much away from the movie.

Helping Jigsaw out is Doug Hutchison as “Looney Bin” Jim, Jigsaw’s insane brother. Hutchison is great at creepy and crazy — he played the liver-eating, stretching Tooms in a pair of the best episodes ever of “The X-Files” — and he in some strange way balances out Jigsaw despite being no less cartoonish and weird. So your mileage on LBJ, as he’s called, may vary.

Additionally, the plot has some major holes in it that, despite being glossed over fairly quickly, are enough to make your head hurt if you apply too much brain power to them. The most egregious for me being a plot point that involves Jigsaw seeking immunity for his crimes that, while set up early on in the script, just is too hard to swallow when it eventually pays off.

The result is a film that in some ways succeeds by exceeding the admittedly low expectations set by previous films and in other ways fails as a mainstream movie experience. But it’s important to remember that it’s not intended to be a mainstream movie experience. This is a niche picture, rated-R and intentionally limited by its concept to appeal to mostly young men who like to watch thugs and things blow up real good. Marvel seems to understand this completely, marketing this as the first Marvel Knights picture complete with its own version of the flipping pages logo at the start of the film. They also kept the budget at $35 million, an amount that seems to ensure they studio won’t lose much money even if it’s a massive flop — which it won’t be given its niche appeal.

Bottom line: If you love the Punisher of the MAX series of comics, or are a general fan of this sort of action movie, you’ll likely love this movie. If you’re a more general Punisher or Marvel fan, you probably won’t get as much out of it, and if you prefer the Punisher as a quasi-villain guest star in the all-ages Spider-Man tales of the 1970s, your money and time will be better spent elsewhere.

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