By Glenn Walker
The mantra used to be Comics aren't just for kids anymore, but these days things have changed. A thought occurred to me several weeks back while watching the Super Bowl. We have gone mainstream. The nerds have inherited the earth.
I had friends and family call me during the game, not about the game, mind you but about the commercials, pushed to call by seeing trailers for the new Ghost Rider flick, and The Avengers of course. They didn't call me to find out what these movies are because they already knew – they wanted to know what I thought of them. They also wanted to know if there would be previews for The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, or even The Man of Steel during the game as well.
None of these things were unknown entities. They were all known quantities to folks who know nothing about comic books. This was not a game of ask-the-geek because he'll know what the hell it is, it was ask-the-geek because he'll know if we should see it. Gone are the days of only nerds knowing how many days until the next comic book movie comes out, now everyone is on that clock.
And for clarification, when I say things like nerd, geek, fanboy, etc., it's a term of endearment, and to differentiate ourselves from this new type of fan, the mainstream fan. Remember the days when nobody knew who Green Lantern was outside of your comic shop? Well, game over, your mom knows Green Lantern now. He's Ryan Reynolds in that flick that bombed last year. But still, there is awareness.
Almost all of our Hollywood blockbusters these days, whether they succeed or not, are based on comic books. Audiences around the world get indoctrinated to geek culture on a weekly basis watching "Big Bang Theory." Kevin Smith just started a nerd version of "Hardcore Pawn" set in his own comic book shop. Comics-based "The Walking Dead" gets better ratings on AMC than "Mad Men."
Comic book culture has gone mainstream. It has already happened. Nerds rule. The bad news is we're no longer special. Just sayin'.
By Glenn Walker
More and more, Hollywood in recent years has been leaning on the comics industry for ideas. Superheroes and comic books are huge on the big screen, and the year 2011 is no exception. We started the year with Seth Rogan's The Green Hornet, which, while not lasting too long in theaters, was much better than this Hornet fan could have ever anticipated.
Here's a date-by-date reference of what's coming up for superheroes and comics on the big screen. I have also included some of the major players in these movies. As you'll notice, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game now extends easily into superhero genre flicks.
April 1: Super
This one isn't actually based on a comic book property, but many folks will probably scream at the similarities with last year's Kick-Ass, and unfortunately, it's not an April Fools joke. Regular guy Rainn Wilson ("The Office) takes on the superhero identity of the Crimson Bolt to rescue his wife from a drug dealer. The flick promises a cast with Nathan Fillion ("Firefly," "Castle"), Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man), Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings), and Linda Cardellini (All-Star Superman, "Freaks and Geeks"), among others.
May 6: Thor
Marvel Comics' first hammer strike of the summer hits with their resident thunder god's first appearance on the screen, with the next step building to the Avengers movie. Hinted at the end of Iron Man 2, this is the tale of Thor, exiled by his father to Earth from the high-tech magical world of Asgard. It seems everything we thought was just Norse mythology is real, and now the worlds are merging, as evil from that realm threaten ours. Only Thor can save us. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby magic brought to life on the screen in 3D, starring Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek), Anthony Hopkins (Beowulf), Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Star Wars prequels), and directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, star, director, screenplay) -- I can't wait for this one.
June 3: X-Men: First Class
More Marvel Comics goodness in this 1960s period piece prequel to the X-Men franchise. This is the story of Charles Xavier and Magneto's friendship and falling out, and the formation of the first X-Men team. It's very loosely based on the comics, more tied to the movies. Look for James McAvoy (Wanted), Kevin Bacon (busy summer, Kev?) and the near-perfect casting of January Jones from "Mad Men" as Emma Frost.
June 17: Green Lantern
In a summer dominated by Marvel at the movies, this is the one DC Comics fans have been waiting for. Test pilot Hal Jordan is given a magical Power Ring by a dying alien and becomes the Green Lantern, just one of thousands of space police officers commanded by the Guardians of the Universe. He undergoes training by a cadre of other alien cops and then tries to save the Earth from threats within and beyond. Ryan Reynolds, who has previous played Marvel heroes Hannibal King (Blade: Trinity) and Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is in the title role. Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead) is Hector Hammond, Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption) is Senator Hammond, Blake Lively (The Town) is Carol Ferris, Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) is Sinestro, Angela Bassett (Contact) is Amanda Waller, Dennis Heyspert (Jarhead, "24") voices Kilowog, and John Larroquette ("Chuck," "Night Court") reprises his voice role as Tomar-Re (from the animated Green Lantern: First Flight).
This will be a geekfest and serious eye candy -- this is the summer's must-see flick, and the first in what Warner Bros. hopes will be a new franchise.
July 22: Captain America: The First Avenger
The set-up to The Avengers film takes a step back into the past to spotlight Marvel's World War II superhero Captain America. Scrawny Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans (Fantastic Four's Human Torch, The Losers, Scott Pilgrim), can't serve in the military so volunteers as a guinea pig in the Super Soldier program. He emerges as a fighting machine of physical perfection. He defends the U.S. against the forces of the Red Skull (played by former Matrix Agent and LOTR elf Hugo Weaving) and the Nazis, before ending up stranded in the 21st century. The rest of the supporting cast boasts fanboy cred as well. Included is Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black), Stanley Tucci (Burlesque), Neal McDonough (DC Showcase: Green Arrow, Tin Man), and Dominic Cooper (the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). This one looks great.
July 29: Cowboys & Aliens
This one is based on a little-known 1990s graphic novel where cowboys and Indians in the Old West repel an alien invasion. Iron Man's Jon Faveau directs Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) and Daniel Craig (James Bond) in this Steven Spielberg/Ron Howard production. Other noteworthy players include Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, Galaxy Quest), Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender), and Clancy Brown (Highlander, voice of Odin in "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes," and Mr. Krabs in "Spongebob Squarepants").
No Date Yet: Luke Cage
Another Marvel Studios production, Tyrese Gibson (Transformers) plays wrongly convicted man who escapes from prison after gaining superpowers. This movie does not yet have a release date or a full cast and crew listing, but is currently slated for 2011.
The summer ends the superhero movies list for 2011, but 2012 has a full slate as well. Highlights include Hugh Jackman returning to his best-known character in The Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds reprising his role as Deadpool, and Nicholas Cage returns in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Next summer finally brings The Avengers, what Marvel movies have been building to for the past few years, as well as Men in Black III, the reboot with Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man, Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and the year 2012 ends with something called Superman: The Man of Steel. These are good times to be a comics reader, and a film fan.
By Allison Eckel
Critics have said that Iron Man 2 has lost the lilt, irreverent attitude of its predecessor; that it relies too much on grand, CG-laden battle scenes. To that, I say, Well, duh! It’s a Hero Sequel. Of course it has lost its irreverent attitude. When we get to Part 2, it’s time to get serious, to understand the power one wields and the corresponding weight of that responsibility.
Speaking of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man … The Hero Sequel also contains a more insidious bad guy. Meeting Otto Octavious was, at first, a dream come true for Peter Parker. The Joker was better left for the Dark Knight. Clark was getting too comfortable with Lois until Zod and his cronies gave him a serious challenge. In Iron Man 2, we have a dark-mirror counterpart to Tony Stark in Ivan, the brilliant son to a dead, brilliant inventor. One was raised with success and privilege; the other, in exile and squalor, resenting the first. When they meet, Tony as Iron Man has brought peace to the world because no nation on Earth can contend with the battle suit. Ivan proves that Iron Man is touchable, and destruction reigns.
Two elements of the typical Hero Sequel are not upheld in Iron Man 2, and I like the result. First is the illusion that the Hero has a choice whether to continue in the Good Fight or hang up the tights. In Spider-Man 2, a doctor tells Peter, “Maybe you’re not supposed to be Spider-Man climbing those walls. You always have a choice, Peter.” Peter foolishly believes him and puts the suit in the garbage. He thought that when his powers left him he could go back to a “normal” life. But comics readers know that the Hero really does not have a choice.
Iron Man 2 never wastes time with this. Tony tells a Senator Garry Shandling that there is no weapon suit, that the Iron Man suit is him and cannot be separate. Tony understands that there is no choice, there is only the consequences. When something begins to go wrong with his mini-arc reactor, his choice is not whether to stop the hero gig but whether to eke out a few extra weeks of life or die in a fantastically fun fireball of glory.
Which brings us to the second element of the Hero Sequel not maintained in Iron Man 2: the love interest. Pepper’s back, given a new role at Stark Industries, yet she seems completely inconsequential. I bet they could have saved Paltrow’s fee, left her out of the movie, and the only difference would be the running time. I am actually glad about this. The typical Hero Sequel uses the love interest to propel the emotional elements of the Hero’s journey. Peter Parker spends a lot of time pining over Mary Jane. Superman 2 is unwatchable according to my kids because it is all about Lois. Bruce can’t be the committed Batman we all want because he has to rescue What’s-her-name. But not Tony. Iron Man 2 makes references to a relationship between Tony and Pepper (and yes, there is a brief kissing scene), but it keeps this on the side and does not let it get in the way. Tony is still Tony, with or without Pepper.
There is a third element of the Hero Sequel that usually serves to undermine the movie rather than improve it: increased character roster. With Iron Man, we were content to meet Tony and his little gang: his girl Pepper, his buddy Rhodey, and occasional cut-up Happy. The bad business man was the bad guy, so that was a tight package. The sequel, we are told time and again, has to add characters, right? So a new bad businessman works with an evil bad guy while a new tough lady in a cat suit makes eyes at our hero and displays questionable loyalties. Wait, is this Iron Man 2 or Batman Returns?
Actually, the elongated cast of characters in Iron Man 2 does have the potential of spiraling out of control, especially since we also meet Nick Fury and see further into his clandestine organization S.H.I.E.L.D. These bits provide a convenient way through a plot point while also laying the ground work for the next three Marvel Studios releases: Thor (May 2011), Captain America (July 2011) and The Avengers (May 2012). At the end of this stream, we may get a third Iron Man movie.
That is a lot of plot to fit into a neat package, all tied together with explosions and battles. The critics are a little divided as to whether it works. I wrote previously that Iron Man saved the Hero Movie genre. I won’t say that Iron Man 2 is at all ground breaking for the Hero Sequel. However, I will say that I enjoyed it and it gave my eight-year-old and me a lot to discuss in the car ride home, which to me is worth the price of admission.
Iron Man 2 does not have the level of personal brutality witnessed in the beginning of Iron Man. Nor does it have a bedroom scene. It does have a brief view of a lady in her underwear, which made my eight-year-old boy snicker. If you would like to introduce your kids to the Marvel heroes of Iron Man and upcoming films Thor (2011), Captain America (2011), and The Avengers(2012), visit the all ages comics rack at All Things Fun! for the Super Hero Squad (also a cartoon, Cartoon Network, 8pm). Another fun offering from Marvel Kids is Power Pack.
By Allison Eckel
I am going to assume that all of you have seen Marvel Studios’ first release, Iron Man. It has been well-reviewed, even by usually high-brow sites like Salon.com. Plus, we can usually count on director Jon Favreau (Made, Zathura), who wrote Swingers, to bring real humor and poignancy to even the dorkiest script (witness Elf).
But then again, Iron Man is a live action super-hero movie. Many have tried to tame this beast, and few have done it remotely well. Although there are many I enjoy, I am hard pressed to find any I would consider “good movies.” Daredevil? Nope. Blade? Nope. Superman Returns? Not even close.
My husband and I just re-watched Batman Begins, which has garnered praise as a successful Batman movie. Roger Ebert wrote: “The movie works dramatically in addition to being an entertainment.” But I still winced with embarrassment at more than one lame line (most of which regarded the car).
And we all remember the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, when the Green Goblin confronts Spidey during a parade on a crowded Manhattan street. Instead of being a dramatic confrontation with innocent lives in the balance, it became a pricey Power Rangers episode.
The live-action super-hero movie is an unattainable dream. We want to see buff, suave leading men playing out the characters we have read for decades, but actors have difficulty remaining suave when wearing spandex, rubber, masks, and capes.
Then along came Iron Man. This character wears a metal exosuit, not spandex and a rubber cowl, automatically making this movie easier for the filmmakers in the believability category. The styling of the suit is actually, dare I say, elegant. And on my first viewing, the effects blended seamlessly. I’m sure I will begin to see the flaws on repeated viewings in the comfort of my own living room, with the power of pause and rewind in my hand. You know, I don’t think I winced at all during Iron Man. Oh, no, wait. There was one moment. The Burger King product placement was shameful, though it was one of the best-handled of its kind, so that I almost didn’t see the commercial until it was too late.
I will admit that I am not familiar with the Iron Man comics; I grew up a DC girl. But as a comics reader, I know about hero origin stories, the gray areas of morality, the epiphanies that can send a billionaire playboy down a righteous path, etc. Actually, I found many parallels between Tony Stark’s story in the movie and the circumstances that send Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), another heir to a munitions powerhouse, to don a mask and fight injustice. Both are injured, separated from society, and learn that the munitions bearing their names are in the hands of “the bad guys.” That realization sends them both to renounce their playboy ways, step outside the bounds of society and the law, and pursue vigilante justice. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though. Ollie becomes fixated on Robin Hood and takes from the power mongers to help the little guy, usually on city streets. Stark builds a bad-ass power suit and goes after the same bad guys who captured him, and then the guys who hired them. Stark’s story on the big screen is tight. He’s captured, he invents a suit to free himself from rebels that use his company’s munitions, he redesigns the suit to defeat the rebels, he discovers corporate corruption, and continues his new mission. We don’t get the sound-bite-sized moral lesson rammed down our throats as with Spider-Man (“With great power comes great responsibility”) or a theme pervading every aspect of the universe as with the notion of fear in Batman Begins.
Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Stark succeeds in sealing the deal. He is simply awesome. He plays a brilliant techno-geek (“at age six he built his first engine”) who looks amazing in a designer suit; equally at home in a ratty T-shirt, gold-titanium exosuit, or Armani. Those are not easy balls to balance. I thought his transformation from slick and bored to earnest and driven was convincing yet did not require long brooding moments to achieve. He emerged from each circumstance with a new plan, a new direction, and got it done. Boom. I am so enamored of him as Stark that it may cause me to see The Incredible Hulk (June 13) just to see his cameo. For certain, I will be seeing the Iron Man sequel in 2010.
My viewing partner for Iron Man was my six-year-old son. Iron Man is rated PG-13, and I am usually a staunch gate-keeper for the entertainment that reaches my kids. But I decided to take a chance, and he and I set out for adventure. We picked a Monday evening, so the few people there with us would not mind if I needed to explain plot details or “bad words” to my boy. The more mature material in the movie happens early in the film. Stark is kidnapped by Afghani rebels and tortured (briefly). My son is not used to seeing that much personal firepower on the screen at one time, nor that level of personal violence, but he weathered it okay. Oh, and there was one scene back in the U.S. between Stark and certain young lady through which I covered by boy’s eyes.
Once in the red and gold suit, the violence is mostly “fantasy violence” – a guy in a metal suit blowing stuff up, or two guys in metal suits fighting in the street. My son is more adjusted to this sort of spectacle from cartoons such as Ben 10 (Cartoon Network), the new Spectacular Spider-Man on CW, and anything rated Y-7. Actually, the filmmakers showed remarkable restraint with the blood-and-guts factor: it is almost non-existent, except for the wounds suffered by Stark himself.
My son is now all about Iron Man. He is convinced that he will be able to invent the crazy fuel cell that powers the exosuit. He wants to know where he can buy gold and titanium to put together the armor. For now, I hope he will be happy with books, comics, PJs, and action figures for inspiration. We will be popping into All Things Fun soon to see what we can find to keep the fandom going until April 2010.