Monthly Archives: May 2009

Terminator Salvation

MV5BMjA5MzE0MTMyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDYwNjAzMg@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_So, it’s a Terminator movie, right? These are basically brilliant studies of predestination versus free will and where humanity exists, set against the backdrop of evil robots bent on making explosions happen. Very much a win-win. The latest entry in the series, Terminator Salvation, made the good decision of ignoring the third movie (without necessarily contradicting it) and the understandable decision of ignoring the recently lamented Sarah Connor Chronicles. With all of the time travel events over the course of the series, pretty much anyone could create a canonical Terminator story these days, saving only that it doesn’t contradict the first two flicks. I still haven’t completely decided how I felt about this one, but I’ll say this in its favor: it made me want to rewatch the originals.

Our setting is some years after Judgment Day. Skynet has broken humanity but not destroyed it. There are still roving bands of civilians, and there is a serious resistance against the machines, and a young man named John Connor has had some solid successes thanks to his mother’s advice and foreknowledge, enough that people see him as at least a mascot and possibly a prophesied savior. And while Connor is preparing to fulfill the destiny that will cause Skynet to try to kill him via Austrian time travel desperation, an unexpected new party, Marcus Wright, shows up with information about the whereabouts of one very necessary Kyle Reese[1] and a decided lack of information about himself, such as where he came from and why he’s a robot. And suddenly our hero is adrift in a sea of questions with no more prophetic answers.

As far as the whole question of where humanity exists, this movie was a champion. I know I just called Connor the hero, and he’s always been half of the hero of the series. But for this movie, and without intending the claim to be a spoiler, Wright was very much the hero. Or, let us say, main character, as that’s equally precise and far less prejudicial. The predestiny part was kind of handwaved but ultimately irrelevant, which makes it hard for me to accept this as a pure Terminator movie; except that the original ignored questions of humanity, so I’ll let it pass. As part of a likely series of sequels, there’s still some time to address all relevant philosophies. So, for explosions and things, yeah, it’s here and Connor is ready to deal with it. But for philosophical discussion, the camera is firmly on Wright from start to finish.[2]

[1] John Connor’s father, thanks to a crazy-ass time loop. But seriously, I’m sure you must already know that.
[2] Well, and on the talented but tragically named Moon Bloodgood.

Fables: The Mean Seasons

In the wake of the Battle of Fabletown, the winds of change are blowing. The exiled Fables finally have prisoners who might reveal information as to the disposition of their long-abandoned homelands, not least of which would be the identity of their Adversary. Despite the seeming upswing in fortune, though, it’s really more of an ill wind as blows nobody any good. Political discord, births, deaths, clandestine spywork, and ultimately the scattering and separation of our long-time heroes, all blows on this wind. No wonder the book was named The Mean Seasons!

Although the book seemed to be rushing along on those winds, blowing a year past in almost the blink of an eye, there were several points of interest along the way. Demonstrations of just how capable of a leader that Bigby Wolf and Snow White each have really been are scattered throughout; particularly, Bigby’s prowess as a manager and spymaster are laid bare. Meanwhile, Snow stumbles onto an unfortunate murder mystery, and there’s a completely gratuitous WWII story thrown in. By and large, it’s a good book that suffers only by letting the ongoing plot simmer instead of boil. I’m still looking very much forward to whatever comes next.

Utimate Spider-Man: Carnage

Carnage is yet another book I am not sure how to adequately address. Not, this time, because I have mixed feelings about it. Rather, because there are huge turning point spoilers. I can’t say I know how long the consequences will ripple forward[1],but this felt like the single largest event since Peter first came to terms with his powers, or at the very least since the Ultimate Six storyline (but really that one was/will be more of a delayed reaction consequence thing, without the sense of immediacy shown here). Anyway, the story starts off with genetic engineering master-minded by Peter’s very first reformed enemy, Dr. Curt Connors aka Lizard Man[2], and ends up with the Spidey suit having been put away… for good?

Okay, probably not, but I think I like the idea of that part sticking around for a while. Brief spoiler discussion fodder below the footnotes.

[1] There’s an Amazon review (which you should avoid reading by all costs, as they are less good about spoilers than I) that implies the consequences are few if any. I’m not sure I can bring myself to believe it, though, since the series has stood out so high above the pack to date. I’ll let you know, though!
[2] Lizardman wins![3]
[3] I mean, spoiler alert, Lizard Man isn’t even in this book. I’m talking about something else. Continue reading

Ultimate X-Men: The Most Dangerous Game

I’m having a hard time quantifying my most recent Ultimate X-Men book. On the one hand, The Most Dangerous Game is every bit of retreaded ground that its title implies. What, you say? Mutants are being hunted for sport, and that’s all dangerous to the hunters? Inconceivable! But it has things going for it, too, including a nice murder mystery and a chance to get some face time with the many new mutants that have joined Xavier’s school lately. I pretty much feel like I have a handle on all of them again, and that’s pretty cool. On the whole, it was a perfectly serviceable middle-quality storyline that would seem terrible in some of the other Ultimate series and pretty much the best thing written in the rest.[1]

Things I look forward to in the next book: the fates of several X-Men missing from this story, and also maybe for Magneto or the Sentinels or some other cool ongoing enemy to come back. ‘Cause, those dudes are sweet.

[1] That most of the remaining “series” I have in mind tended to actually only be standalone books instead is perhaps beside the point?

Blood Rites

At some point between the last Dresden Files book and this one, I got accidentally spoiled for a piece of character development between Harry Dresden and Thomas Raith, a vampire of the White Court he’s been palling around with lately. (That is, of course, a drastic simplification and barely accurate at that, but so be it.) As such, it’s going to make it tricky for me to dig into the rich thematic ground here that I would and often have plumbed with great abandon for similar situations in other works. And while I could probably still kill this paragraph and start over in a theme-based review without letting you get spoiled by the character elements, these things are mostly more about me than the actual stuff I consumed, as you will have no doubt noticed by now.

After reading five previous novels, what I find that has been the most glaringly absent from the series, the single thing I could point at and say, “Where’s that?”, is porn. Thankfully, Blood Rites has solved this problem to my satisfaction. It’s like, you can only read so many books in a series and remain interested before someone puts some porn in there, am I right? And at long last, there Harry is, surrounded by women in lingerie, watching the cameramen and the boom operators as the director tries to get the shot just right. Because, porn![1] So, um, anyway, Harry is hired to clean up a little bit of entropy that has gotten all over the porn studio.[2] And as the formula dictates, he finds all too rapidly that he’s in something way over his head. Because, there’s the porn and the thing with Thomas, sure, but there’s also more fallout from the war between the wizards and the less pleasant vampires of the Red and Black courts, and at last a little bit of overt sexual tension between Harry and his long time CPD contact, Karrin Murphy.[3]

Plus, bonus awesome evil-detecting puppy!

[1] Oh, hey. You didn’t think I meant, y’know, a gradual devolution of the ongoing plotlines until all that’s left is a series of orgies “held together” by a pregnancy scare? Jesus, that would be a terrible book.
[2] Ew.
[3] I grew up on Moonlighting. Sue me.

Lucifer: Inferno

Here’s an irony for you. Despite being the book I finished most recently (and wrapping up today’s spate of reviews, in fact), it’s the one I remember least. Not, I’m pretty sure, as a reflection on Inferno‘s quality, either. I know I was liking it as I read. Anyway, though, I can say a few things about it. The first of which is that it feels like the second half of its predecessor, The Divine Comedy. And, okay, eponymously speaking, that seems apparent. But I still find it noteworthy because of the regularity with which graphic novel editors make a point of having standalone collections, as far as an ongoing series can accomplish that. And given the thematic divisions that tend to accompany plot breaks in Gaiman’s work and its spinoff here, it’s more noteworthy still. Which I guess is a lot of time spent to say, “Huh, it’s two halves of the same basic storyline, and that doesn’t happen often,” but like I said, it is unusual for the format.

Thirdly[1], I have a fair amount of respect for the character evolution that Carey has been giving Lucifer. He’s always been an interesting and occasionally, briefly, likeable anti-hero. It would be hard to publish very many months’ worth of comics without that much to recommend the main character. But at some point that has crept up on me unawares, there was a tipping point to a process I hadn’t really perceived before the fact: he’s been gradually infusing Lucifer with a certain nobility of spirit[2] to match his uncompromising (albeit typically self-serving) sense of honor, to the point where now, any time things seem to be going pear-shaped, I’m not merely interested to see the story of how he twists things to his advantage and wins after all. No, at this point in the tale, I unexpectedly find myself genuinely disappointed at the idea that he might not win through. Sympathy for the devil, indeed.

Also? Mazikeen[3] has surprised me once again, and I think before very long at all she will be my favorite character in the series, and maybe even retroactively a very strong finisher in Sandman itself.

[1] I know what you are thinking. I respectfully disagree.
[2] See also the impressive To Reign in Hell, by the always impressive Steven Brust.
[3] Who I see I have never previously mentioned is Lucifer’s one-time right-hand woman, and more recently (as the newly-appointed leader of her people) one of his many grasping adversaries. Though of course it’s more nuanced than that.

Star Trek

MV5BMjE5NDQ5OTE4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTE3NDIzMw@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Obviously, you are aware of this movie, and you’ve probably already formed your own opinion. And anyway, I’d be leery of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it. In theory, this constrains my review by quite a lot, but I figure it leaves me free to talk about what I really wanted to anyway. But, first things first. Did I like it? Enough to see it three times on opening weekend. Did it have flaws? I can think of a couple offhand, one extremely nitpicky and one that, absent, would have failed to feel like a Star Trek movie anyway. Plus, I think I’m willing to claim that at one point, there was actually an insufficient amount of technobabble. Was it accessible to non-fans? I feel as though it really was, and the reviews I’ve heard from non-fans (and in one case, an actively anti-fan) have borne this impression out. So you should really go see it, if this has not already occurred.

Because what J.J. Abrams made here was a philosophical, character-driven action movie, and really, how many of those do you think exist? Of the ones that exist, how many do you think aren’t insufferably smug about it? This right here is a narrow field to occupy! Action: ’cause, you know, space battles and laser gun fights. Character-driven: the driving forces of the story are all based in interactions. Kirk and McCoy’s friendship. Kirk and Spock’s rivalry. Spock’s relationship with his human mother. Nero’s irrational impulse for personal rather than systemic revenge. (He’s the bad guy.) Philosophical: take a group of people that shook the foundations of the Federation (and, projecting outward less than you’d think, the galaxy) and drastically change their history. Okay, many of the changes were not drastic, but one was, and there are clear, subtle ripples from there even before the main plot of the movie takes over. And then explore the question of random chance versus unalterable destiny.

I liked that by the end of the movie, the history of the Federation is vastly divergent from the one that fans of five TV series and ten movies know. And I like that it’s not going to be “fixed.” It was a bold move that I think is going to pay off in spades for the future of the franchise. But as much as I approve of that, I absolutely adored watching as, moment by moment, destiny pushed beloved characters into roles that they had fallen into by seeming happenstance in the original timeline. This new Trek may have surprisingly non-causal time travel that never really existed in “my father’s” Star Trek, but it also has some modicum of fate. And that’s kind of cool.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Volume 3

This third volume marks the last of the Ultimate Marvel Team-Ups, and I cannot say I’m sorry to see them go. For every reasonably good story, such as Spidey’s encounters with the woefully underused Ultimate Black Widow or the Chinese storybook account of his meeting with an ultimate (as opposed to Ultimate) fighting guy (Shang-Li, or something, who I guess was relevant in mainstream Marvel continuity at some point, that point probably falling in the 1970s?), there’s a kind of terrible story about him running into Blade (Blade, for fuck’s sake!) and Elektra and the old-people version of the Fantastic Four[1] and a particularly bitchy Daredevil, all for no apparent reason. Yet even here, there are moments of good writing, such as when he has a conversation with Johnny Storm about power and responsibility as related to stable living, or when he gives a class speech about his research into a hero. The last bit, in fact, rose above every attempt by writer and artist alike to be cloying and overwrought, and I have to give mad props to the soul of the story for managing that in the face of such strong opposition from its creators.

Which I guess is my point in a nutshell. It really has been a very rarely bad series, but I’m so used to unadulterated brilliance from the majority of the Marvel Ultimate universe that something merely okay but with moments that shine still feels like too much work. So, I’m glad it’s over because I’d continue to go looking for those moments, and now I won’t have to anymore, secure in the knowledge that I’ll have them dropped in my lap by ongoing future titles instead, where the rhythm has already been perfected. (These three books were among the earliest written in the Ultimate continuity, in case you were not previously aware.)

Oh, and I’m also glad it’s over because the art kept changing, sometimes in the middle of the same story, and as annoying as that sounds, I also almost never liked any of that art. Would stable and bad have been better or worse than fluctuating and bad? This is a question I hope never to consider again.

[1] Who have since been replaced-or-retconned in Ultimate continuity, as you will no doubt be aware from my review earlier this morning, and from the nine previous ones.

12 Rounds

I ducked into the dollar movie last Wednesday to watch 12 Rounds, which is kind of a puzzling film. At first glance, it’s a cross between Speed and Die Hard 3, in which our New Orleans cop hero is forced by a vengeful international terrorist to cater to his every whim, one round at a time, or risk the death of his pixie-looking but tough wife. And within the set time limits, for added tension. The characters’ puzzle-solving skills are dumbed down just a little too much for my personal taste, possibly as an artifact of the WWE audience that was its primary target, but by and large it’s a serviceable action movie as put together by a, y’know, vengeful international terrorist.

And then there’s this weird turning point in the final act where the cops and FBI guys suddenly get a lot more intelligent than they’d been at any previous moment, and using clues that do not actually exist anywhere in the prior scripting, they determine that this movie has a twist ending wherein revenge was never really the point. And suddenly there are unreferenced helicopter pilots in the cast, and it’s all very much like a particularly imaginative audience member at one of the test screenings had said, “You know what would be a cooler ending than what we just watched?” and the writer and director had nodded and just created this new, purportedly cooler ending out of whole cloth without worrying about the fact that they needed to alter the rest of the movie for that to make any kind of sense.

This is maybe not as bad as it sounds. I mean it was bad, no question, but it was also interesting in a head-spinning kind of way to see the rules of plotting be so flagrantly ignored. Very few movies are (let’s say) brave enough to make this kind of artistic decision. Kudos?

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Ghosts

It’s been almost a week and an unfortunately high number of other books since I read Ghosts, but I can certainly say that I liked it. The Cosmic Cube storyline that started all the way back in God War finally comes to a head, and in such a way as to make me like that book a little better than I did at the time[1]. Basically, big bad guy Thanatos shows up to swipe the Cosmic Cube he tricked Reed Richards into making for him, which has consumed Reed’s attention for so long that all of his relationships are falling by the wayside. And as if a godlike dude with complete control over death being given a device chock-full of cosmic powers[2] isn’t enough to worry about, two threats from the communist past are also hanging around to make life tricky for our overwhelmed heroes. So, if you’ve been missing the Crimson Dynamo from your admittedly non-existent Ultimate Iron Man series[4] or the Red Ghost (who you may recall controls hyper-intelligent animals and is also sort of a ghost) from this series, Carey has got you covered! Meanwhile, brief spoilers below the break. Continue reading