Justice League (2017)


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ surprisingly fun Justice League!


An ancient evil from beyond the stars has come to Earth to reclaim an ancient cube with the power to reshape and destroy worlds. And the only thing standing in the way of the death and destruction of everything, is a Caped Crusader, a Goddess, an Atlantean, the Fastest Man Alive, and a Cyborg…in Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ Justice League.


Originally helmed by Zack Synder and completed by Joss Whedon, Justice League brings together some of the greatest pop culture icons in modern American history for a movie that is, unfortunately, not very good. On a technical level, on a structural level, on just about every basic, fundamental filmmaking level, Justice League is, at best, subpar.

Visually speaking, the movie is all over the place. The color palette doesn’t match the production in any way, and is likely the result of Whedon’s drastic reshoots and alterations to the work already completed by Synder.

The saturation and brightness levels were clearly adjusted in post-production to move away from Snyder’s usual desatured, dark visuals. And in and of itself, these changes are likely going to be a welcomed change for many. Mature dramatics is one thing to want in a superhero movie. But drab, lifeless worlds and characters with no sense of enjoyment to any of it is a whole other thing.

However, these adjustments make every set, prop, costume, and clearly green-screen backdrops stand out in the worst way possible. The movie never looks like a cohesive, believable production. Ever. It’s always obvious that what we are seeing was done in a studio and on a computer.

In fact, this is only made worse by CGI reminiscent of the work seen in movies from the early 2000s. At times the movie actually dives right to “Scorpion King” levels of bad, as in the CGI monstrosity featured in Universal’s The Mummy 2, which infamously featured a monster that was the fusion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and a giant scorpion.

And to further compound this visual mess, the compositing work is somehow worse than the CGI itself. The effects never blend seamlessly with physical reality. This ranges from issues like shots of the island of Themyscira looking like it was ripped right out of a decade-old video game to the movie’s CGI baddies–the bug-like Parademons and the big, bad Steppenwolf–interacting less believably with the movie’s flesh-and-blood cast than the toons featured in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In a world where giant alien robots from the planet Cybertron and a humanoid raccoon and tree can believably stand-by-side with living, breathing people, there is no excuse for this level of bad CGI from a major studio and a massive budget.

MINOR LEAGUE

Of course, none of this even begins to touch upon the issues with everything else.

The plot of Justice League is little more a single thread that rationalizes everything on screen. There’s not much actually happening. Nor does what little we get actually ever mean anything. There’s no story. No heart. No character arcs. No emotional depth or dramatic weight anywhere for anything, even when certain scenes actually demand it.

And given how much material this movie lifts from actual stories featured in the pages of the comics, where such moments and images and stories are actually pulled off with some respective degree of emotional relevance, it’s shocking how hollow everything in Justice League really is.

One of the most glaring example–but certainly not the biggest offender–is when the team finally do overcome Steppenwolf and his army. This moment is a given. This is a Hollywood blockbuster after all. We expect the heroes to win. But in a good movie, that moment would come across as the single greatest thing we’ve ever witnessed…even if only for that singular instant in history.

We feel it when The Nazis die a ghastly death at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc. We feel it when The Avengers defeat Loki and his own alien army–specifically when Hulk finally gives Loki the beating he deserves.

But we don’t feel that here. There’s a big fight, and that final giant action set piece really is fun if not exceptionally creative or well-presented. But then it just kind of ends. Not unceremoniously. It’s certainly shown in such a way where the movie wants you to feel the same thing you might feel when the Luke blows up the Death Star. But that’s not what it will make you feel.

Instead, it’s just a sign that the movie is about to wrap things up.

Part of this has to do with the way everything is presented visually. It’s just not that exciting to watch. Fun, yes. Entertaining, yes. We get a good sense of everything that’s happening. We get the idea of what’s being given to us. This is a big fight where colorful and stupidly powered cartoon characters are fighting other stupidly powerful cartoon characters. Batman does this. Superman does that. And Wonder Woman is mixed in there too. And then it just sort of ends.

But this isn’t a cartoon. It shouldn’t have to meet the dramatic depth requirements of an old Saturday morning cartoon. It needs to be able to resonate with a general audience. It needs to make use of its massive budget and all the Hollywood magic that it can buy.

And in that same vein, the characters in the very big Hollywood blockbuster shouldn’t speak as if they’ve been pulled out of an old cartoon. Unless it’s one of the movie’s many wonderful small character moments–such as the bizarre, alpha-male bromance between Aquaman and Bruce Wayne of all things–the majority of the dialog is utterly insipid and heavily reliant on exposition.

This exposition, however, is required to explain the simple yet somehow purposely convoluted plot thread. Unlike the one glowing cube in The Avengers, this movie has three glowing cubes. And an unbelievable amount of time is spent on just trying to rationalize the existence of three cubes instead of one.

This means that rather than getting this emotionally powerful moment where Victor Stone confronts his father about his fears of being this inhuman fusion of flesh and alien technology. Rather than getting this, we get the two talking vaguely at each other about the stupid glowing cube. This scene between father and physically and mentally scarred son is instead just about a box. Hide the box. Steal the box. Take the box back.

Because these three Mother Boxes are the central focus of the movie rather than the actual, very straightforward danger that they represent, the movie has to constantly reinforce their existence at all times. This isn’t just a movie about the end of the world. No, it’s a movie about why these three boxes are so important.

A LITTLE FLAT

Now, that all having been said.

It still doesn’t yet begin to cover why the action is about as exciting as the various cartoons featuring these same characters. It doesn’t feel like a comic panel brought to three dimensions. Instead, it feels like it’s being replicated in yet another 2D plane. Again, it’s actually fun to watch. That’s very true. But it never feels like there’s any depth to it. There’s nothing there that you haven’t seen before in some fashion. It’s all paint-by-numbers, generic, uninteresting action by and large. All made worse by bad framing, questionable editing, and lackluster choreography. And that ever-present bad CGI and green screen.

A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN

Now all of that having been said. In spite of all that I’ve previously stated. In spite of all of that, Justice League is shockingly easy to watch. It’s much more often than not–again, almost shockingly so–fun to watch.

The movie was clearly a salvage job. And as bad as the movie is, it clearly could have been much worse. And the clumsy, quick pace doesn’t allow the bad and boring moments to linger. The movie–forced as it may have been–benefits from the hatchet job that resulted in a final cut that’s well-under two hours. The fun stuff is constantly coming at you, making you almost forget entirely about the rest.

More so, the movie is elevated by the performances of its cast. Nobody drops the balls. Everyone is at the top of their game, even when they’re reciting dialog that sounds as if it were written by a middle-school student. As bad as the stuff that comes out of their mouth might sound to the human ear, every actor brings out the best in their respective Leaguer. They live up to the iconic imagery of their characters. And they deserve all the credit in the world for even attempting to make up for the terrible presentation of it all.

A MOVIE OUT OF TIME

Had this exact movie been released 10 or 15 years ago, it would have easily been an impressive, respectable feat.

Unfortunately, Justice League is incredibly late to the party. And it shows. The bar has been raised time and again–not just in superhero movies, but in blockbusters in general. And the movie we get doesn’t hold up in any notable way in 2017.

Making a Justice League movie should not be hard after such things have been done elsewhere better and with none of the issues Warner Bros. has continued to have. It shouldn’t be hard when DC Comics itself has managed to do it very well in animation, especially with projects like Justice League: The New Frontier (a much watch if you’ve been curious how DC should be handling their properties in live-action).

Justice League has more in common with the Transformers film franchise (especially the sequels) than it does anything from Marvel. The look, the immaturity (poorly) masquerading as something mature, the suspect storytelling, the generally bad dialog and character work.

But despite being very stupid, despite being bad on a basic fundamental filmmaking level…Justice League is still fun and entertaining. Not good, but not terrible either.
You certainly won’t feel like you wasted your time by watching it. And, after the shortfalls we’ve seen with Warner and DC’s previous movies, I guess this is a good thing. Justice League, like Wonder Woman–another deeply flawed but watchable movie–is a step in the right direction.

Let’s just hope a competent filmmaker is leading things when the next step is taken.

Surprisingly and happily, I suggest you CHILL with Justice League.

The Measure of a Man

Ya know, Spider-Man will always be the superhero that I feel speaks the best to us as a people. The self-sacrificing hero, idealistic, flawed, guilt-ridden and self-doubting, but always ready and willing to fight the good fight.
 
Superman is a beautiful symbol, but a horrific failure as a character. He’s so perfect that he’s unbearably flawed. He has to be twisted in some fashion or presented in some cynical fashion for people to care.
 
Batman is a childish power fantasy. The one who always wins. The one plagued by the least tragedy, the least faults. He’s the smartest, the richest, the coolest, the darkest, the most varied in his presentation. He’s said to be human, but he’s more a superman than, well, Superman.
 
I think Iron Man, especially more modern interpretations–the movies and the comics, since at least the “Extremis” storyline from about a decade ago–is a more nuanced take on the rich genius dressing up and playing hero. He has an arc. He grows and falters and has to learn from his tragic mistakes and failures. He’s an ideal for how those with true great power–money, influence–must also act responsibly, namely for the betterment of others.
 
But I don’t think any character has been as frequently well-written, well-tested, and well-examined as Daredevil.
 
Matt Murdock isn’t a man haunted and motivated solely by some childhood trauma, though he certainly has plenty of that under his belt. He wasn’t even set on his path to be a hero until he was a grown man in law school. He wasn’t a child sent off into the wild to be a symbol of hope.
 
Instead, Matt Murdock wanted to be a beneficial, caring member of society by becoming a lawyer who helped those in need. He was a man who was once a boy who wanted to grow up to be a real hero, no different than those who grow up wanting to be a cop or a doctor or a firefighter.
 
Oddball powers aside, Matt is, at his core, a blind martial artist who fights all sorts of realistic and superpowered villains in a homemade Halloween costume–literally, as he stitched his costume together from pieces of his father’s old boxing gear.
 
He deals frequently with real-world issues. He gets hurt and scared. His relationships deal with his lies and lifestyle in realistic ways–they get scared and hurt and leave and die. People learn to *hate* Matt Murdock as a person. There are consequences to his actions (he was even disbarred in New York in a fairly recent story, once his identity was made fully public).
 
How often do you see–specifically in a mainstream, in-continuity superhero comic–the hero dealing with serious personal issues like depression?
 
Yeah, like Batman, Daredevil always wins. The villains always get what’s coming to them, at least for a time. But unlike such characters as Batman, Matt Murdock’s stories carry with them the weight of years and years of writer’s testing the character. The character himself has scars.
 
More importantly, the character doesn’t simply win “because he’s Daredevil.” He’s not going to win because he’s always the smartest man in the room, or has all the money in the world to have the most asinine amount of toys, gear, tech, and even a personal army of highly-trained, super savvy children. Even his victories often come at a cost, personal or otherwise.
 
Superman is an ideal. Batman is a fantasy. Spider-Man is the best of us. Iron Man is wish fulfillment.
 
But Daredevil is, at his core, just a man.
 
Yeah, he can fight. But he’s not the best in the world.
 
Yeah, he has some super powers. But he’s more an acrobatic detective as a result.
 
But he’s still a man. Selfish, guilt-ridden, worn and broken by the world. He has a day job that he actually needs to do. He has relationships that are unhealthy for a variety of reasons. He suffers from things like depression.
 
His heroics, his actions and behavior are elevated even more than his “peers” because of how human and flawed he is constantly shown to be.
 
He’s given up, given in. But he always finds it in him to fight again. It’s never just a given. It’s never shown to be easy.
 
He’s not truly a man without fear, or even a guy who has some vague ability or personality trait to overcome such things. He’s just a man who won’t let himself stay down, even when by all rights he’d be forgiven for doing so. He fights and earns the title of “The Man Without Fear” by acting even when he is completely and utterly afraid.
 
That’s beautiful writing. That’s phenomenal character work.
 
“The measure of a man is not in how he gets knocked to the mat, it is in how he gets up.”
 
Sometimes I feel that I act and go about my day because I think it’s the only thing there is to do. I’m tired, hurt, afraid all the time. I feel like I just carry that with me because there’s only one other option, which is to just lay down and die. But I don’t do that…because, “I don’t know.” I wish I did. But I don’t. At best, maybe it’s just more fear that keeps me from doing it. Sometimes it’s just pure resentment or rage, like I’m sticking it to the universe. Like it’s some stupid act of defiance by not just giving up.
 
I wish it was because I had the attitude that I won’t and can’t give up. At the very least, I wish I could see myself as a man who can get knocked down and get back up no matter what. That maybe I do live up to that notion.
 
I just see myself as a stubborn coward. But I want to be a man without fear.
 
Sometimes I think wanting that for myself is good enough. And maybe it is. It’s a comforting thought, at least.
 
I mean, I haven’t thrown in the towel just yet. Right?
Marvel’s “Daredevil” (Vol. 4, Issue #10)

Thor: Ragnarok


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the most colorful, campiest Marvel movie to date, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok!


When they discover their long-lost sister is also the Goddess of Death, Thor and Loki will have to work together to save the Nine Realms from total destruction in Thor: Ragnarok.

RISK AND REWARD

Director Taika Waititi presents us with what is arguably Marvel’s most ambitious production yet.

And it’s rather fitting, really. Thor’s first cinematic outing was also the riskiest of Marvel’s first phase of movies. That movie took audiences away from the relatively grounded world of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and even Captain America. It exposed audiences to Marvel’s larger, stranger concepts of magic, super-science, gods, and the greater cosmic landscape.

Now, those first two entries in the Thor series of films may not have been the most successful for Marvel Studios. Nor were they the best received, especially Thor: The Dark World.

Both movies were criticized by many for a variety of reasons. The first was too focused on an expected but not entirely welcomed romantic subplot and lacked the sort of scope fans were expecting, with little of the mystical realm of Asgard being shown. And in the case of The Dark World, the movie was plagued by an incredibly underwhelming villain and under-cooked story.

RISK AND REWARD

That said, both movies have their fair share of fans. And even if The Dark World is largely considered to be the closest thing Marvel Studios has made to a cinematic misfire, it’s still a watchable and enjoyable movie. It simply pales in comparison to its abundant sister films.

More so, both films were and still are some of Marvel’s most ambitious, riskiest movies. Even long after fans have been exposed to the colorful cast and many worlds seen in Gunn’s pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Because while many fans might be turned off by Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and the love story between her and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, it remained a welcome change of pace to the usual mix of overtly macho stories presented in Marvel’s other movies. They were the closest thing the studio had made to a traditional Rom-Com.

And Thor: Ragnarok is no different in that regard. But rather than being a romantic-comedy that also happens to feature colorful superheroes and villains, Ragnarok is the closest thing Marvel has made to a traditional buddy comedy.

No matter what is happening on screen, the movie is constantly cracking jokes. Whether it’s a callback to previous movies, some shenanigans between Thor and Loki, or Jeff Goldblum stealing the show with his scene-chewing as Grandmaster, the not-so benevolent ruler of a planet inhabited by the castoffs of the universe and gamemaster of the gladitorial-like Contest of Champions.

And while Thor: Ragnarok obviously lifts some visual cues from James Gunn’s work on Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie also maintains its own personal style. Of course, that style is very close to those seen in movies like Flash Gordon and Heavy Metal, with this emphasis on camp, humor, and the strangest, coolest art and music design seen and heard in a major Hollywood blockbuster.

WHAT IN THE HELA?

That said, failing to be wholly original might be the only thing Thor: Ragnarok fails at.
Because compared to its sister films, Waititi infuses the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some much needed structure, character work, and fun.

There is no romantic subplot. There is no moment where the jokes and action fail to shine. The main villain, Hela, is not only developed just enough but also brought to life by Cate Blanchett’s insane desire to be the MCU’s most dangerous and alluring foe to date. She even manages to give Goldblum a run for his money when it comes to chewing the scenery–and I do mean that in the best way possible.

And Karl Urban’s sympathetic not-quite a villain, Scourge–Hela’s hand-picked lackey looking for a chance to prove his worth to somebody, anybody–is proof that even smaller roles are better fleshed out than anything seen in the previous two movies.

RAGNAROK & ROLL

More so, it also opens up Marvel’s approach to movies in a way it has yet to do.

The humor isn’t new. Nor is the color palette. But Thor: Ragnarok does show that Marvel is now opening itself up to the idea that these movies don’t need some major crossover event to bring in other notable characters, even if only for a few brief scenes.

More than ever, you don’t need to have seen either The Incredible Hulk or Doctor Strange to understand who they are or why they appear in this movie. Knowing they exist at all certainly helps, but it’s not necessary to enjoy their scenes or contributions to the rest of the movie.

Now, could Thor: Ragnarok have done without Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange? Yes, and easily so. But his appearance also doesn’t feel forced. Instead, it’s a nice way to show that these characters do know each other, that they and their worlds do collide–that such a thing can happen at any time for any reason. And, more importantly, this can be done without derailing the film.

A major complaint by even the biggest fans of Marvel’s movies (and their comics) has often been the logical issue of this world of interconnected superheroes who never show up to help or even fight their friends outside of The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War.

Sure, characters like Tony Stark have appeared in movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming. But he also served a major, recurring role within the context of that film. He was important to the development of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker.

But in Thor: Ragnarok, Dr. Strange pops up to help drive the plot forward, and then just as quickly takes his leave. He’s treated like any other ancillary role might be in any other movie. But because we do know the character–because the character has had his own movie at some point–what might have been an unimportant, forgettable role is instead greatly improved. And on the same note, fans no longer have to wonder why these characters fail to cross paths more frequently.

IF HE BE WORTHY…

Now, the movie isn’t without its faults. The most glaring of which is how its apocalyptic scenario is undercut by the movie’s emphasis on humor over dramatics.

There are, of course, some deadly serious moments to be found in the movie, but they feel less impactful–even if intentionally so–than they could have been. “Ragnarok” should conjure up images of death and destruction on a cosmic scale, and the movie does give us as much. But it will likely ring a bit hollow for some.

The movie, in a way, does make light of things like dictators, violent fights to the death, and, yes, the end of the world itself. All these things are present in this film. But they’re presented in a comedic light. Again, Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy first and anything else a distant second.

For some, this might prove to be a disconnect that is difficult or even impossible to overcome. It might taint any fun that might be had with the movie.

But for those looking to escape the world for two hours and go on a colorful, hilarious ride across the cosmos that also features some great visuals and action scenes, Thor: Ragnarok is more than worthy of your time.

I definitely suggest you CHILL with Thor: Ragnarok.

Watchmen


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the adaptation of a comic once thought unfilmable, 2009’s Watchmen!


When one of their own is brutally assaulted and thrown out a high-rise window by a mysterious assailant, a former group of costumed vigilantes must solve an ever-growing mystery that threatens not only them but the entire world…in Watchmen.

NOT UN-FILMABLE

Watchmen, from director Zack Snyder and based on the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is a flawed but highly enjoyable adaptation of a story once believed to be un-filmable.

Now, yes, fans of the original comic series will find themselves conflicted by the way Synder elects to faithfully adapt so much while also omitting or changing other key details.

Some characters are more confident than originally written or have their backstory glanced over. The ending is similar but notably different. Even the reason why costumed vigilantes are no longer active in this world is almost entirely omitted, despite that still being a core aspect of the movie’s story.

But there’s so much done right here that even some of the more drastic alterations are ignorable if not necessarily forgivable.

IT’S ABOUT CHARACTERS

As grand of a story as the original is, it’s Watchmen‘s cast of flawed and deeply troubled characters that really establishes the comic as a modern classic.

The twin plots that revolve around a murder mystery and a global threat are typical comicbook fair. And in a time when so many adaptations of classic comicbook characters are hitting theaters each summer, such things feel rather mechanical. Even in 2009, when the movie originally released, such plots had been done to death in both comics and Hollywood.

But characters like the masked and hyper-violent Rorschach and the ever impotent Nite Owl struggling to find their purpose in a world that doesn’t want or need them? That’s a strong, engaging story.

Their struggles and arcs are not just a stark contrast to the fairly light-hearted efforts from Marvel Studios (or the more recent, wholly underwhelming efforts from Warner Bros.), but also well-realized despite this being a plot-centric ensemble film.

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is an inspired casting choice. Haley seamless slips between a troubled man who has lost any semblance of sanity to a hyper-violent psychopath to a sympathetic, almost selfless antihero.

Patrick Wilson as the middle-aged Nite Owl is a likable, book-ish type who has begrudingly accepted his new life as a private citizen. But his internal struggle as someone who feels as if the world has stripped him of his very manhood just oozes out of Wilson at every turn.

And Billy Crudup’s mostly CGI performance as the man-turned-god Dr. Manhattan carries with it a sense of loneliness and dramatic heft that might have been lost entirely with someone else in the role. Portraying a character who simultaneously has no emotions whatsoever due to his lack of tangible humanity and an inhuman degree of loneliness and heartache that comes along with that is a tough sell. It would have been very easy for anyone in this role to simply come across as bored or unsure of themselves. But Crudup somehow pulls off this balancing act without fail.

STUMBLING BLOCKS

That all said, however, the movie is not without its faults. One of the most unfortunate issues is how the movie’s already limited female cast have their roles reduced even more in the adaptation process.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the female characters–the mother/daughter pair who share the identity of Silk Specter–portrayed by Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman, respectively–were never large roles. In fact, Moore’s original story reduced them largely to the victim and child of rape, one of several notable if wholly unnecessary story beats glanced over in the final movie. Their contributions beyond this are almost nonexistent in both comic and movie.

Then there’s this bizarre habit Zack Snyder has of stripping key scenes of any emotional weight.

There are several times when a given scene is hamstrung by slow-motion, strange musical choices, or simply emphasizing and focusing on the worst thing possible. Whether it’s a very off-putting sex scene or giving entirely human characters superhuman strength at random moments, it’s likely to pull viewers out of the moment as they scratch their heads and ask themselves “Why is this happening?”

IMPERFECTION ISN’T BAD

That all said, Snyder’s Watchmen is easily his best movie to date. His choice to adhere as much as possible to the source material (both in its written content as much as its visuals) results in a faithful-enough adaptation that is streamlined in the best of ways. The spirit of the story and characters remain intact. And the performances bring the characters to life in a way even Snyder’s faithful visuals could never manage on their own.

This is not a perfect adaptation. It’s not even the best adaptation of a comicbook property. But it is one that works in spite of some glaring shortcomings. And that’s not something you can normally expect to find in those projects Snyder has more creative freedom with.

And despite the way audiences and critics gave the movie a lukewarm reception upon its release nearly a decade ago, Watchmen alway was–and continues to be–a movie worth CHILLING with. And in a time when comicbook movies are the hottest thing every summer, it may resonate more with viewers now than ever before.

Spider-Man


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look back at Sam Raimi’s groundbreaking 2002 classic superhero blockbuster: Spider-Man!


Tobey McGuire is Peter Parker, the prototypical high school geek granted great power from the bite of a genetically altered spider. But when he fails to understand the meaning of, “With great power, must also come great responsibility,” it will take the tragic death of his Uncle Ben for Peter to become the hero he was destined to be.

And along the way, he’ll struggle to keep his loved ones safe from the phenomenal Willem Dafoe’s menacing and crazed Green Goblin in Sam Raim’s classic 2002 feature film, Spider-Man.

313

It was the spring of 1989. I was nearly 4-years old. And it was–for reasons that I am forever unsure of–call it fate, call it karma–but issue 313 of Amazing Spider-Man made it into my hands during a family vacation to beautiful Santa Cruz, California.

Jump forward over 13 years later. It’s now the spring of 2002. I was a 16-year old high school junior, and summer vacation was only a few weeks away. But it wasn’t summer vacation or my impending semester finals that were on my mind. No, I was fixated on counting down the weeks, days, and hours until the upcoming release of Sony and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

GOOD WITH THE BAD

I grew up reading Spider-Man. In fact, I still have my original copy of that comic my parents bought me nearly 30 years ago now. I even have a framed copy on my wall, a birthday gift from my wife–and one in much better condition than my dog-eared, tattered-edged original.

As a child of the 90s, I grew up playing as Spider-Man on my Nintendo Entertainment System and watching Spider-Man every weekday afternoon and Saturday morning on FOX 11. My friends and I would talk about that day’s episode the next day, every day at school.

The animation–and the show’s distinct lack of any punching or kicking–a demand made by the executives at FOX Kid’s–taints any nostalgia I may have once had for it. However, it did give me–as I’m sure it did so many other children back then–a look into many of Spider-Man’s most riveting storylines from the then-30 year publication history of my favorite superhero.

I learned about old foes like Doctor Octopus and the Chameleon–Spider-Man’s very first supervillain! I learned about newer threats like the alien symbiote, Venom. I learned of Venom’s origins as the infamous black suit first seen in the 80s, which in turn taught me all about Marvel Comic’s Secret Wars–the company’s (and the industry’s) first major inter-company crossover event.

So while the show fails in many ways to hold up to the passage of time, it’s legacy is in the way the creative team compressed an in-depth summary of the character’s history into an all-too brief 65 episodes.

FIRST SCREENING

I remember going to the first screening, early in the morning at my local movie theater, for Spider-Man. I sat in my
favorite seat. I came out singing Chad Kroeger’s “Hero”, the movie’s official theme song, which was a solid song back then but also a stark contrast to Danny Elfman’s even better original composition.

But just as much then as it is now, it’s very clear to me that the movie has number of flaws.

The most glaring of which remains a regular thorn in the sides of those who watch Raimi’s movies in anticipation of the next Spider-Man feature film: the Power Ranger-esque outfit that DaFoe dons for his role as The Green Goblin.

The suit itself symbolized a distinct lack of budget a movie of this scale required. The special effects have aged even worse than DaFoe’s green jumpsuit and helmet. It’s almost as if the intent were for the sets to look artificial. And much of the fun action sequences we expected to leap out of the panels of the comic and onto the big-screen turned out to be framed in Raimi’s budget-conscious style. Many things happened off-screen, such as Spidey’s webbing-up of criminals. He leaps into frame from just off-camera instead of swinging, twirling in the air, and then landing with grace.

Much of this was greatly improved come the somehow superior sequel, of course. And that movie holds up very well today, even in direct comparison to Marvel Studio’s impressive and ever-expanding catalog. But Raimi’s first remains flawed and hindered by many aspects of its visuals.

MOVIE IMPERFECT

Much like FOX’s cartoon from the 90s, Raimi’s original Spider-Man film remains both entertaining and important for a number of reasons despite it’s visual flaws. Not the least of which was proving, without a shadow of a doubt, that general audiences were absolutely ready once more for colorful, comic-accurate superhero movies–a risk that Bryan Singer’s X-Men was unable to take more than a year earlier.

More so, the movie’s visuals–which absolutely scream, “Sam Raimi made this!”–give it an almost timeless feel. Aside from the heavily dated CGI, which was still a bit wonky even back in 2002. But the sets, costumes, and visual shortcuts feel as if they were pulled from the movies of the same era of comic books that inspired Raimi’s film–Marvel’s “Silver Age.”

As with the classic horror movies that inspired Raimi’s vision for his Evil Dead movies, the visual aesthetic of the TV shows, movies, and comic books of the 60s and 70s would influence his vision for Spider-Man.

The intentionally melodramatic performances from McGuire, DaFoe, Kirsten Dunst, and even professional wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage–“pontificating” might even be a better word at times, especially during DaFoe’s mesmerizing monologues that range from terrifying to heart-breakingly psychotic to some hybrid of Shakespearean and Saturday-morning cartoon.

The bright colors, comicbook panel-styled framing, the soap opera-inspired love-triangle between Peter, Mary Jane, and James Franco’s Harry Osborn. The hokey but classic Hollywood–and still iconic–image of Spider-Man kissing the literal girl next-door upside down in the rain.

ENHANCE, NOT DETRACT

And while some critics might feel as if such things have aged the movie as much, if not more than it’s CGI, I stand by the opinion that they enhance the viewing experience.

Spider-Man maintains the same spirit and camp of Adam West’s classic Batman TV show. Both comic-accurate to the era that inspired them. Entertaining and engaging for viewers of all ages. And a sincere honesty to them that can be found lacking in some modern adaptations of our favorite superheroes.

It is a movie unafraid to be as true to what it is: an adaptation of a comic book that remains a staple of American pop-culture after more than 50 years. It is not a dark or mature reinterpretation. It is not a general audience-friendly approach that minimizes or sacrifices core aspects of the material to be more believable. It is a melodramatic soap opera involving a young man in colorful tights trying to save the girl he loves.

Spider-Man is whimsical, charming, funny, exciting, griping, heartwarming, and heartbreaking. It will leave you in love with Kirsten Dunst’s adorkable redhead, an admittedly drastic departure from the comics, but also one that gives us a budding relationship you want to see blossom on-screen with McGuire’s boy next-door. It will leave a lingering sense of sorrow somewhere deep inside you after Peter spends those final moments with his loving Uncle Ben. And it will fill you with glee when Peter swings through the New York skyline for the first time.

FEELS RIGHT

The movie is far from perfect. Its special effects didn’t hold up all that well back then, and are hurting much more now. And the tone of the movie can leave you questioning if this is a movie from 15-years ago or 50.

But it makes you feel everything you should feel from watching a Spider-Man movie by presenting a story and characters that are true to the spirit of then-40 years worth of comic book lore loved by millions.

Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve had the world believing a man could fly when Superman debuted nearly 40-years ago. And 15 years ago, Raimi and McGuire’s Spider-Man had us all believing in a hero who can do whatever it is a spider can.

Spider-Man remains, true believer, a big CHILL.

’nuff said.

Wonder Woman


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at Warner/DC’s Wonder Woman, feat. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine!

A full transcript of the review is available to read below.


Wonder Woman, from director Patty Jenkins, follows Gal Gadot’s Diana, Princess of Themysicra and would-be warrior, as she ventures into the world of man for the first time during the tail-end of World War I. And she does so in order to fight alongside the forces of good against the German army and the God of War himself, Ares.

The Unpopular Truth

The unpopular truth at the moment is that Wonder Woman not only fails to be Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ saving grace after three highly faulty entries in their own cinematic universe. It not only fails at this, but it also fails to be an outright good movie.

Despite the misplaced praise that the movie is getting from a large number of critics and fans for having a much lighter tone, much needed humor, and a female lead…Wonder Woman still struggles with the exact same problems that plagued her predecessors.

And it does so by failing to tell a coherent story, reducing every character to a singular trait or action, and completely falling apart come its highly contrived and laughably bad final act.

The Good

Now, there is some good to be found in Wonder Woman. Because if nothing else, Wonder Woman definitely provides a strong promise of something better, something greater down the line.

Unlike previous efforts, Wonder Woman is bleak and sullen only when necessary–and with a backdrop like war-torn Europe, where men, women, and children are dying in horrific ways, this isn’t surprising.

But despite this, there’s a persistent sense of hope throughout the movie–something completely missing in even Man of Steel, a movie about a character who has been the
embodiment of Hope, Truth, Justice, and the American way for nearly a century.

And a lot of this good will comes from both Gal Gadot and Chris Pine’s on-screen presence.

Waiting for Gadot

Gadot absolutely encapsulates the persona and iconic imagery of Diana. She’s brave, inspiring, and fiercely dedicated to those she cares for. She wears and moves in what could easily be a hokey costume with all the grace and heroic posturing that Chris Evans brings to the equally hokey and colorful persona and costume of Captain America.

In addition, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor almost out-boyscouts Captain America despite being a mere mortal man. He’s every bit as brave, inspiring, and dedicated as Diana, but he brings the world-weary and world-savvy perspective of the modern age that contrasts wonderfully against the incredibly naive and innocent Diana, who has never left her Paradise Island.

Minimum Effort

That said, these great performances are squandered due to Jenkins and company failing to do anything of value with them.

Diana, for example, simply wishes to put a stop to Ares and thus the entire concept of war itself. Steve, meanwhile, wants the same thing, but is aware–like any of us watching the movie–that war is a concept, an inherent, dark part of human nature. It isn’t something that can simply be stopped.

But this conflict, as often as it pops up while Diana and Steve trek across war-torn Europe, never really goes anywhere. Neither Diana or Steve are changed by their experience. Diana starts and ends her own movie the exact same way. Steve does as well.

Worse, there are far too many characters that are no more than plot devices. Tools to deliver a witty line, keep the plot moving, or to be the face of some vague menacing evil. But they never actually contribute to the plot or story.

Danny Huston and Elana Anaya are positioned to be the leading antagonists of the film, but they never really do anything. And, by the end, they’re quickly brushed aside without much celebration. Even Ares himself is little more than a cameo and a punching bag.

Say What

Now, it’s not to be expected that the secondary and tertiary characters be given much in the way of development. But they should be given material that warrants having them present at all. They need clear, defining moments that make them stand out. And, despite some strong performances, this never happens. Too many characters are simply just there to fill space.

For a movie that runs nearly 2-and-a-half hours, Wonder Woman has little to actually say or do outside of its stylish, fun action sequences.

A Promise

I left the theater hating Wonder Woman, cursing Patty Jenkins and Zack Snyder, and wishing I hadn’t even bothered with the movie. But not because the movie is outright terrible.

No, I was–and still am, to some degree–infuriated by how the movie could have been absolutely wonderful but, for whatever reason, wasn’t. Gadot, Pine, the setting, the thematic elements, the sequences on Themysicra and in the trenches of World War I. All beautiful in either concept or execution.

But like with everything Zack Snyder touches, it’s all window dressing for an empty, hollow viewing experience that makes for a great trailer–and a highly enticing promise of something to look forward to, eventually, maybe–but a bad movie.

Had this been where Warner Bros. and DC started several years ago, Wonder Woman would get a full pass from me. I’d have enjoyed it then as a shaky but confident first step.

But now, when we have nearly a decade of incredibly well done comic book movies being pumped out yearly from Marvel and already three movies from DC and Warner Bros.? It hardly lives up to anything other than low expectations.

Is Wonder Woman a terrible movie? No. Is it a terribly disappointing one? Yes. But it’s also worth your time and money to CHILL with Gadot and company, even if the final result isn’t as good as everyone else seems to be making it out to be–not even close. It’s fun and entertaining enough, something the previous three entires failed to be. And if Warner and DC can keep to the promise Wonder Woman makes, it will definitely have been worth it. But only time will tell.

Batman vs Superman

SYNOPSIS

After the destructive Battle of Metropolis, Superman has become a polarizing figure across the world. Some see him as a savior. Others see his interference in world affairs as a threat against the freedom and rights of the human race. And this includes the violent vigilante of Gotham City known as The Batman.


I hated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I don’t think I’ve ever hidden this or why I feel this way. Namely, what should have been a massive milestone in popular culture–this first-time ever meeting of two of our greatest pop-culture icons on the big screen–was stripped of any value by a studio, by lazy writing and directing, by this notion that the simple spectacle of these two characters sharing the screen would be “good enough.”

The result was a godawful mess that failed to tell a coherent story, failed to capture the essence of any of its characters, and focused entirely on creating brief moments of visual flair rather than a cohesive, engaging cinematic experience.

What’s worse is that it failed the audience, the fans and culture raised on these characters. Even if you aren’t a comicbook fan, you know these characters. You love, to some degree, these characters and what they represent. They’re a notable part of our modern (pop) culture. And Warn Bros., Zack Snyder, and everyone else involved failed them and us.

And it didn’t need to be that way. There were nuggest of a good story. They mined classic stories for cool moments but left what made those moments and stories compelling in the first place. All it takes is reinserting what was already there, making full use of existing material to bring everything to where it should be. And I think I’ve mostly got it down with my version.

I did my best to keep the central “themes” (if there is any such thing to really find in the original BvS), characters, and beats. I’ve minimized and repurposed what felt unnecessary or convoluted. And I expanded and filled in all the gaps I could think to fill. It comes across as a significant departure from what we got in theaters, but I think it still feels very familiar and true to the supposed spirit of everything. And I hope you’ll enjoy and agree.

Be sure to join me each night over on Twitch to chat along as I type like a monkey at a keyboard. 


THE KNIGHTMARE

In the not-too distant future, the majority of the world finds itself under the authoritarian rule of SUPERMAN and his High Council, living in highly-advanced, seemingly utopic metropolises. However, Council-controlled territories are constantly threatened not only by the warring nations of Themyscira and Atlantis, but also the human resistance.

Led by BATMAN and powered by several metahumans, The Resistance seeks to overthrow Superman’s regime and prevent the three nations from going to war. But during a mission to recover an element believed to be Superman’s only weakness, everything goes to hell. Batman and his squad are betrayed and captured, and then tortured and executed by Superman personally.

However, this doesn’t go unnoticed. A young man, BARRY–a young metahuman–dressed in red, makeshift armor witnesses Batman’s execution from the shadows. And just before Superman puts his hand through Batman’s chest, Batman signals Barry to implement a last-ditch fail-safe protocol.

“Do it.”

With those final words, Barry flees, breaking the sound barrier several times over, going faster and faster, with Superman hot on his tail. And just before Superman can take hold of him, Barry disappears in a flash of red and white light.

Barry has traveled through time and space, arriving in the Batcave several years earlier than where we started. There he finds BRUCE WAYNE at his work station–a younger but still tired and haggard man–preparing for his nightly patrol. Barry warns Bruce of Superman’s reign of terror, that Lois is the key to it all. And with this, Barry’s words and appearance and breaking of the space-time continuum, Bruce finds his mind flooding with shattered images of this bleak future, of his death.

However, we soon see why this was a final protocol. Because with his message delivered, Barry finds himself erased from existence, his being stripped away, atom-by-atom, until only pure energy is left.

And as Barry’s essence dissipates around him, Bruce is left terrified and sure of what he has to do next: kill the Man of Steel.

Smash to black and raise title:

BATMAN vs SUPERMAN

A DELICATE BALANCE

LOIS LANE is flown in to the middle of a political hot zone to speak with a GENERAL from the island nation of Themyscira, a highly advanced, female-led democracy with a penchant for military action. And as Lois and the General get into a heated debate about the ethical and moral implications of pre-emptive military actions, they find themselves under attack.

Amidst the chaos, Superman arrives. He pulls Lois out of harm’s way and single-handedly puts a stop to the conflict, much to the chagrin of the General. And while Superman attempts to play the smiling boy scout, the General isn’t buying it. Instead, she warns about an alien interfering with the affairs of humanity.

Meanwhile in Metropolis (and across the world), Superman is revealed to be a polarizing public figure. Many see Superman as a savior, intervening in crimes and world conflicts to the benefit of everyone. Others, however, see him as a menace. An outsider upsetting the natural order of things. LEX LUTHOR–the hometown hero largely responsible for rebuilding Metropolis after Superman’s battle with Zod–leads the charge, uniting the people of Metropolis and the world against this dangerous alien threat.

At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent returns to find himself soaking in this political shit storm. And that’s when Perry White informs him of the latest local threat–the urban legend of Gotham City known as the Batman. The Batman has been said to serve up his own violent brand of justice, frequently brutalizing and occasionally killing criminals. Recently, he’s taken to branding his “victims” as a warning to others.

We witness the latest incident, which sees The Batman breaking up a human trafficking ring, one supposedly headed by businessman (and possible criminal kingpin) Oswald Cobblepot. (And among the girls rescued is the plucky CARRIE KELLEY).

Upon hearing this, Clark makes the decision to head to Gotham to investigate the rumored Batman further.

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

Clark ventures through Gotham, interviewing the criminals harmed by the Batman and the locals aided by him. The criminals fear him and the civilians adore him, believing his violent ways are the only way to deal with criminals that the (perceived) corrupt Gotham PD “allow” to slip through the cracks. A corruption that Clark briefly witnesses firsthand.

That night, as Batman hunts and chases the Scarecrow–currently brewing up a new batch of fear toxin–through the streets of Gotham, resulting in severe collateral damage (property and civilian). But before Batman can finish beating Scarecrow half-to-death in a mindless rage, Superman intervenes.

In a brief altercation, Superman threatens to put down the Batman if he continues down this violent path. But Batman, recalling that moment in the cave–the visions–stands his ground, pointing out that Superman has let the Scarecrow go free, that the alien has no idea the sort of repercussions his actions have. He’s a demon playing at God.

ESCALATION

At the apartment he shares with Lois, Clark worries about his place in the world. About his future among men, with Lois. A family. Where does he belong? But while she attempts to assuage his guilt, he has to depart for the public hearing against him at the UN. And that’s when she receives an anonymous tip about Luthor conducting illegal activities down at the docks that evening, meaning she has to stay in Metropolis and can’t make the trip to the UN with Clark.

Sometime later, Superman speaks publicly at the United Nations in an attempt to defend himself against accusations made by the Themysciran government. Lex Luthor only adds fuel to the fire with an impassioned speech about the losses suffered at the hands of Superman during the Battle of Metropolis. He presents a man, a soldier on the verge of death during his service and defense of the city. The man, JOHN CORBEN, has been restored thanks to the efforts of Lex Corp medical cybernetics.

But during the hearing, Superman appears to lose control, growing into a rage over the accusations made by Luthor and the Themysciran representative, Diana Prince.

That night at the Metropolis Docks, Lois and photographer JIMMY OLSON investigate an anonymous tip regarding Luthor receiving an illegal payoff.

But then, Batman arrives on the scene. He attacks Luthor and his paramilitary henchmen, searching for evidence and answers about Luthor’s ties to the recent activities in Gotham. But Batman is exhausted by weeks of minimal sleep, injured by his years of waging war on crime.

Outmanned and outgunned, Batman only escapes due to the intervention of Carrie Kelley, now donning a cheap costume and armed to the teeth. She gets Batman to the Batmobile in the nick of time and the two escape into the night.

But during the chaos, Jimmy is killed and Lois is abducted by none other than THE JOKER.

PREPARING FOR WAR

Back in the Batcave, as ALFRED tends to Bruce’s serious injuries, Carrie discovers and is enthralled by a damaged costume that once belonged to Batman’s “sidekick,” Robin. But this opens up old wounds and memories for Bruce. Flashbacks of the Joker brutally murdering a teen boy, JASON, dressed in that very same costume Carrie is looking at. All he can manage to tell her is that the “uniform” once belonged to a soldier, a dear comrade in arms that he failed to protect.

Meanwhile, Superman returns home to find that Lois is missing. That Jimmy has been killed in the line of duty. And that Batman is responsible for it all by bringing his war to Metropolis.

And elsewhere, Joker prepares for one last joke, mocking and torturing Lois as he prepares to prove that not even the big blue boy scout is safe from corruption and compromising his morals.

BATMAN VS SUPERMAN

Superman arrives in Gotham City and almost immediately discovers the location of the Batcave, and it’s beneath Wayne Manor.

Superman smashes into the Batcave, demanding that Batman show himself.

And then, he does.

Superman finds himself suddenly pinned to the ground, Batman standing atop him in almost certain victory from the very beginning. As the light shines across them, we see that Batman is decked out in a highly-advanced suit of (bat-themed) armor. He’s completely ready for war with the Superman.

The two engage in a massive battle that obliterates the Batcave, Wayne Manor, and a good chunk of Gotham. Superman is going to put a stop to the Batman and his war. Batman won’t yield for no man or god. This is his city, his war. His planet.

But the cost is great and Superman proves to be too powerful, more powerful than Batman ever thought possible. For the first time ever, the Batman is the one afraid. He’s too old, too tired, and too broken. And his body finally gives out, fighting until his literal final breath.

Carrie runs to his side, begging Superman to leave her and the now-dead Bruce alone.

This isn’t what Superman wanted. He’s not a killer. He only wanted to bring a violent vigilante/terrorist to justice. Physically unharmed but emotionally and morally destroyed, Superman leaves.

THE KILLING JOKE

Sometime later, as Superman struggles with the reality that he can’t find or hear any sign of Lois, a terrifying broadcast hits all of Metropolis. It’s the Joker.

Joker laughs about Superman killing the Batman. He never thought Big Blue would do that on his own, that he’d take out his most prized plaything. Guess the jokes on him, for once–and he hates it. And that’s why, for one last huck-yuck, he’s planning on taking away everything dear to Superman.

He reveals that he’s been broadcasting from the Daily Planet and that, in a short matter of time, Joker, the Planet, its staff, and all of Metropolis will be nothing but a smoking crater. A number of nuclear weapons are scattered across the city and in the foundation of the Planet. However, Lois is somewhere else. So, Superman will have to decide: his city or his lady. Man or God, make your choice.

Meanwhile, in the ruins of the Batcave, Carrie and Alfred discover that Bruce is still alive. He’s seriously injured, but still alive. And he comes to just in time to see Joker’s broadcast, to realize that this is the moment he was warned about. Carrie isn’t sure what they can do, or what they should do. But Bruce knows. He understands Superman at this point. He’ll go after the bomb, save the city, even if it means losing Lois. But Batman can’t allow that to happen, because it’ll mean the dark future he witnessed will come true. And that’s why they have to save Lois Lane.

Superman races across Metropolis, dealing with various traps and tricks as he snatches up each bomb, one by one. And Batman and Carrie–now donning an alternate Robin uniform–track down Lois and kick some ass.

Superman manages to nab all the bombs, taking them into space where they safely explode. However, he’s nearly killed by the experience.

When he returns to Earth–half-dead, almost entirely depowered, and enraged beyond belief by what the Joker has put him through–believing Joker has killed Lois (and Joker sure he has)–he moves in to kill the Joker, personally.

And that’s when Batman arrives, revealing that Lois is safe and that the Joker is his cross to carry, not Superman’s. That it only takes one bad day for a good man to be driven to dark future. But Superman isn’t a man, he’s something else. Something different. Something more. He has to be better than them. Be an example for others to live up to, not fear.

And with this, and the sight of Lois safe, Superman calms just long enough to leave the Joker in Batman’s care. And he leaves with Lois at his side.

A NEW FRONTIER

Weeks and months pass.

Luthor eagerly leads the public charge against Superman, Batman, and all metahumans and vigilantes acting of their own volition. Against the will of the people. The destruction of Metropolis, the recent near-destruction of it again would have never occurred if not for their presence and action. Lois, alone, investigates and reports on Luthor’s political efforts.

Superman has retired to isolation, in his fortress of solitude somewhere in the Arctic, healing from his injuries and reflecting on his role and impact as a God among humans.

The Joker, alive but brutally injured–teeth missing and jaw broken–is locked away in the depths of Arkham.

Elsewhere, at a private gala, Bruce Wayne tracks down the Diana Prince. The two flirt endlessly and discuss art, but are both aware that the other is hiding something.

Later, Diana returns to her hotel room only to find the Batman waiting for her. And, in a flash, quickly and almost easily disarms him. And he can only smile. He knew there was something different about her. And she knows that Bruce Wayne is hiding behind that mask, much to Bruce’s shock.

He presents her an old photograph. A picture of her somehow alive and armed for battle in a strange costume during the Second World War. He knows who and what she is. But he’s not here to out her, only to warn her than he’s watching her, just like all the others.

Brief flashes of his interaction with key methaumans. A Scarlet speedster–Barry from the beginning of the film, only without the armor–stopping a robbery. A supposed “aquaman” attacking a fishing vessel and oil rigs. A college student undergoing cybernetic augmentation provided by Lex Corp.

When he finishes, Diana looks up from the photo only to discover that the Batman is gone. Her confusion and surprise quickly turning into focused, serious look. Her own pulse-pounding theme rising as we…

Cut to black, raise the title, and roll credits.

THE END