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Swamp Thing

Directed by Wes Craven, 1982.


Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jordan, Dick Durock, David Hess, Nicolas Worth,
Ray Wise.
91 mins.

Idealistic botanist Alec Holland, working deep in the American swampland, has
discovered a revolutionary formula to combine animal and vegetable DNA. But when
power-hungry scientist Anton Arcane’s attempts to steal his creation cause a
horrific accident, Holland is mutated into the gruesome Swamp Thing….

MONSTROUS HEROES HAVE been lurking within the pages of comics since the early
sixties, when writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created the Incredible Hulk and
the rock-like Thing; characters ever-alienated by their ghastly appearances, no
matter how many times they saved the world. These cursed figures combine the great
powers of traditional superheroes with the tragedy of semi-human creatures such as
Frankenstein and the Wolf Man.

It’s a potent combo which has led to many successful creations since. One of the
most popular is the Swamp Thing, a 1971 effort by writer Len Wein (who went onto
co-create the X-Men’s Wolverine) and artist Bernie Wrightson. With many of the
characteristics of the Hulk but greater intelligence and no purple trousers, Swamp
Thing is a super-strong humanoid plant-beast, a towering mass of vegetable matter –
with a conscience.

After Superman and Batman (and Robin), Swamp Thing was surprisingly the next DC
Comics hero to hit the big screen with this early-80’s adaption. Behind the camera
was young fear-maestro-in-waiting Wes Craven, later to craft the likes of A
Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. However, despite the horror leanings of both
director and source material, Swamp Thing rarely invests in scares, concentrating
instead on action adventure elements.

The stylised gothic visuals of the comic would have been too much for this cheap
production; instead it simply sticks a man in a rubber suit in a real swamp. The
location shooting in luminous, sunlit South Carolina bayous is at odds with the
shadowy nature of the source material – it occasionally offers evocative imagery
though, such as the half-submerged ruins of a church, railings and tombstones
sticking out of the slimy water. Similarly downgraded is head villain Anton Arcane;
a sinister, castle-dwelling occultist in the comic, here he’s your standard evil
megalomaniac – albeit played with panache by future Bond baddie Louis Jordan.

In his original printed incarnation, Swamp Thing is alternately bleakly despondent


and chlorophylled with rage; despairing by his plight but determined to punish
those who caused it. Dick Durock, who plays the role here, is restricted by an
inflexible rubber mask and a lack of dialogue; but he manages to convey a mix of
sadness and dignified acceptance. Turning away from humanity, he trudges back into
the greenery – ‘It’s home’, he mutters.

Weird sequences, combined with the lush, claustrophobic swampland, give the film a
dream-like vibe

The creature from the green lagoon isn’t actually around that much; the nominal
protagonist of the piece is 80’s screen icon Adrienne Barbeau, who takes the role
of secret agent Cable (male in the comics). But she has little to do except admire
the scenery and not get killed: after the initial set up gives birth to the titular
monster, the middle act devolves into a lot of episodic, almost-plotless running
around in the marshlands. Arcane’s mercenaries chase Cable, who has hidden a vital
notebook containing Holland’s secrets, while her viney, grassy protector turns up
to routinely scupper their plans and rescue her at the last minute.

There’s a real A-Team vibe to these action sequences; big on machine guns and
stunts with cars and boats, but no-one really getting hurt. When Swamp Thing gets
his hands on the bad guys – standard incompetent henchmen all – he invariably
throws them through the air in slo-mo, and they splash harmlessly into the water.

The third act suddenly introduces real violence – limps are lopped off, heads are
crushed – and gratuitous nudity. The fantasy elements are also cranked up, as
Arcane attempts to engineer his own Swamp Thing, which initially results in a not-
very-intimidating pointy-eared dwarf. His second attempt is somewhat more
successful though equally bizarre, leading to a finale in which our heroic marsh-
man mud-wrestles what can only be described as a were-warthog, inexplicably
wielding a medieval broadsword.

The film is at it’s best during such outlandish moments. Swamp Thing, on
encountering a dead body, exhibits the power of resurrection; on seeing his mossy
saviour, the deadpan response of the healed is simply, ‘Oh sh*t, there goes the
neighbourhood.’ These weird sequences, combined with the lush claustrophobic
swampland – you can almost feel the humidity throughout – give the film a hazy,
dream-like vibe.

Despite its simplistic plot and humdrum action, Swamp Thing has an offbeat,
unpretentious charm, and its setting makes a unique backdrop for the genre. It
won’t keep you thrilled for ninety minutes, but this rubbery run-around won’t do
you any harm either.
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Directed by Zack Snyder, 2016.


Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons,
Laurence Fishburne, Gal Godot, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane.
151 mins.

The Man of Steel finds enemies on all sides, including a vengeful Dark Knight and a
doubting populace; but the greatest foe may be yet to come, as billionaire Lex
Luthor gets his hands on Kryptonian technology, and unleashes an abomination which
could wreak untold havoc and destruction….which would be bad.

KING KONG VS GODZILLA. Freddy vs Jason. Alien versus Predator. The clash of fan
favourites, so enticing in theory, inevitably fails when bought to life. ‘Versus’
is not a plot, it’s a main event, and these films strain to build up to a titular
bout which can only ever disappoint. Besides – who do you cheer for?

‘Versus movies’ never work.

Following up 2013’s Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice isn’t a ‘versus’ movie. Not
really. It’s a superhero team-up in the age old tradition, adhering faithfully to a
formula a thousand comics have used beforehand. You’ll find it in half the stories
Stan Lee ever wrote.

It goes like this: scheming supervillain (in this case, Jesse Eisenberg’s
hyperactive boy-billionaire Lex Luthor) contrives to bring two superheroes into
opposition, hoping to remove one or both in order to go about his latest sinister
plan uninterrupted. The heroes clash – but soon realise they’re on the same side,
then teaming up for a climactic confrontation with the cackling puppet master.
A more accurate title would be The Last Temptation of Superman. There are varying
degrees of Biblical allegory throughout the Man of Steel’s cinematic history, but
rarely this full-on. ‘The sky cracked, he came down, then there was fire,’ is how
one witness describes him, and even Batman (Affleck) displays wide-eyed, slow-
motion astonishment the first time he encounters his caped rival.

This is a flawed messiah however; Superman (a dignified Cavill) soars into


situations without considering repercussions, and has no dialogue with the
authorities. Now-girlfriend Lois Lane (Adams) strains to make him realise there are
always consequences, as does a vision of his dead father, a cameoing Kevin Costner.

Supes, like Jesus, is undermined and assailed from all sides. He’s mocked as a
‘false God’. He’s effectively put on trial for ignoring earthly laws. Luthor tempts
him into killing Batman to save Martha Kent’s life. And he’s brutally beaten by a
certain non-believer, who intends to finish him off with a kryptonite Spear of
Longinus (imagery which also appeared in Superman Returns) in an abandoned and
rundown church.

You weren’t expecting the japes of Iron Man, were you?

Director Zack Snyder doesn’t stop there; he takes these characters incredibly
seriously. While populist rival Marvel Studios have perfected a blueprint of fun
and energetic superhero adventures, Snyder is aiming for weighty themes and
mythological power. Alongside the Christian motifs, he also draws on Roman and
Greek heroes; far beyond humanity in their power and will, but equally epic in
their flaws. Like Achilles or Hercules, these caped crusaders are both great and
terrible, saviours and destroyers at once. Affleck’s Batman is pure focused rage,
causing untold property damage, injury and even death in pursuit of his goals;
while the tyrannical possibilities of Superman and made evident in a nightmare
vision of the future, and his tendency towards heavy-handedness to protect loved
ones escalates throughout.

There are varying degrees of Biblical allegory throughout the Man of Steel’s
cinematic history, but rarely this full-on

As with Snyder’s previous comic-based feature Watchmen, Dawn of Justice questions


the very idea of superheroes. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL notably
lacks a commanding, triumphant march, instead offering a series of ominous and
brooding themes throughout. News reports and chat shows are used to offer varying
perspectives on Superman’s effect on the world, asking if he causes more problems
than he solves.

Onto Batman, this is a world-weary, aging crime fighter, darker than any Dark
Knight we’ve seen onscreen before. Based on a 1986 re-invention of the character as
a violent vigilante, but lacking it’s back-from-retirement angle, Affleck’s Bat is
instead motivated by loss – not just the ever-present memories of his murdered
parents, but also a display in the Batcave commemorating a fallen Robin. When he
witnesses first hand another child orphaned during Superman’s city-devastating
battle with Zod – a scene heavy with 9/11 imagery – red mist descends and he sets
his sights on the last remaining Kryptonian – in the belief they are all as bad as
each other. Oh yes, there’s political allegory here too.

“If there’s even a one percent chance he is our enemy,” spits Affleck, “we have to
take it as an absolute certainty.” Ignoring sage advice from his Man Friday Alfred
(Jeremy Irons, keeping it classy), he then precedes to arm up and go to battle, in
a sea of self-justified fury. This is a Batman who brands thugs with his symbol,
ensuring they won’t last long behind bars, and blows away his enemies in air-
strikes with military grade weaponry.
This war-mongering, reactionary Batman is hard to stomach; and Superman shows
unfamiliar and uncomfortable traits too. Snyder is determined to show us our heroes
at their lowest points, lacking belief and wisdom, and giving in to their base
instincts. Often these don’t feel like the characters we know and love. Batman
eventually realises his hamartia, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Adam
West has never seemed further away.

It’s heavy stuff – not helped by the early death of a beloved albeit minor
character – and makes for almost oppressive viewing at times. Downbeat, ominous
action movies can work – see Terminator 2: Judgement Day – but Dawn of Justice
doesn’t have momentum of that movie, instead settling for a measured, epic tone,
and, for the first half at least, too long between action interludes.

Nevertheless, Bats and Supes were put together on the screen for a reason, and it’s
not to harmonise like the Carpenters. And when the Caped Crusader and the Man of
Steel eventually come to blows, of course it’s not as good as it should be, not as
good as it is in your head, and not as good as numerous comic book clashes between
the titular titans. Neither is it the gleeful, ultimately harmless hero vs hero
fisticuffs of The Avengers series; instead it’s a nightmarish vision of two heroes
at their lowest points ready to kill each other. There’s even a thunderstorm for
good measure.

But what follows more than makes up for it. Once the aforementioned face off is out
of the way, and we’re back to good old good versus evil, the film achieves a level
of emphatic comic book mayhem on a scale rarely seen before. This isn’t just an
epilogue with the now-friendly heroes snapping the cuffs on the villain; this is an
epic third-act that contains all the action and spectacle you could hope for. You
want to see Batman in a fight scene worthy of The Raid? It’s here. You want a
beloved iconic superheroine thrown in? Sure, how about Gal Gadot’s ferocious Wonder
Woman? You want notorious comic book monster Doomsday wreaking havoc? Done. He’s
even been supersized for you. How about a nuke in space?

Snyder finds new ways of presenting the character’s awe-inspiring abilities in


action. When a terrorist holds a gun to Lois’ head, Superman simply tackles him
faster than the eye can see, leaving three demolished walls in his wake and a
shocked Lois gazing on. Wonder Woman’s metal bracelets don’t just deflect mere
bullets anymore, they absorb energy beams and release them back at her attacker as
a shockwave. Batman is as wily and strategic as he’s always been in the comic –
although he’s not above dropping cars on his foes, which he does more than once.

Aside from bombastic action, Snyder’s other great talent is creating evocative and
awe-inspiring imagery, which he does here alongside cinematographer Larry Fong. The
first stunning glimpse of Batman, hanging in the corner of a dark room, like his
namesake; Superman surrounded by crowds at the Day of the Dead festival, reaching
out to him like a messiah; in fact every scene, every shot, is beautifully
composed, lit and filtered. Against the grainy, shadowy stock, and a palette of
deep earthy colours, elements like the glowing green Kryptonite or the blue glare
of the armoured Batsuit’s eyes become intense and otherworldly. Visually Batman v
Superman is far beyond the output of, say, Marvel Studios.

Aficionados will applaud Batman’s comic-faithful design, ditching the black rubber
of the 90s movies, or the overly-intricate SWAT-look of the more recent Christian
Bale incarnation. They’ll also be pleased to see further DC Comics characters
either introduced or hinted at, including Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash, laying
groundwork for the Justice League movie to follow in 2017.

Dawn of Justice certainly tries to give the viewer a twelve-course meal of super
heroics. Whether you want many dishes of heavy religious and political allusions
(and very few laughs) before you get to the action-packed dessert is the question.
Certainly it’s hard to see children sitting through this (try animated mini-classic
The Batman/Superman Movie) and there are better movies questioning superheroes (try
Watchmen or Super). But Dawn of Justice, in portraying comic book crusaders as
hubristic demi-gods, has vision and ambition that makes it worthwhile – if not
always perfect popcorn munching entertainment.
-----------------------------------
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, 2016.
Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Sebastian Stan, Scarlet Johansson, Anthony
Mackie, Don Cheadle, Daniel Bruhl, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Jeremy Renner,
Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, William Hurt.
147 mins.

Avengers leader Captain America attempts to track down his former ally-turned-
hitman Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier; but he’s not the only one, and not
everyone wants him alive. At the same time, the consequences of the Avenger’s
previous battles are bought to bare when the UN decides they need to be controlled
– or arrested.

EVERY YEAR FOR many years, the big boys of American comics Marvel and DC produce
crossover events; these are multi-issue storylines which normally involve all their
most popular characters fighting against a larger-than-usual threat. These are
often big on scale and spectacle, and low on originality or, to be honest, anything
else.

One of the more successful crossovers was 2006’s Civil War, written by Kick-Ass
creator Mark Millar. Rather than throwing all the A-list Marvel superheroes again
that year’s uber-villain, it instead had the heroes at each other’s throats,
divided by a US Government mandate that everyone with special powers register
themselves and reveal their secret identity. It’s an intriguing premise from the
offset, one that combines political intrigue, social commentary and, of course,
superheroes fighting each other en masse.

After twelve movies introducing a wealth of different caped and uncaped crusaders,
Marvel Studios were in a position to adapt Civil War as the third entry of their
Captain America series. Although understandably scaled down (the comic saga
sprawled across more than forty issues and included many characters Marvel Studios
can’t use), the fundamental elements are all in place; a battle of ethics and
wills between Captain America (Evans) and Tony Stark (Downey Jr), aka the
Invincible Iron Man – Cap believing autonomy is essential to superheroics, Stark
urging the Avengers to sign up and work with the authorities.

At first it seems Cap and Stark are on the wrong teams; Stark ever the rock-star
rebel, has banged heads with the Government before and by his own admission,
doesn’t play well with others. Cap on the other hand enrolled in the military to
fight World War II, joined defence agency SHIELD and, well, wears the American
flag.

But Cap cheated to join the military; he overthrew SHIELD; and he’s always done
what he believes is right, regardless of orders. Stark feels guilty for previous
mistakes – primarily creating Ultron, an android which nearly wiped out all life on
earth – and feels the time has come for the Avengers to be answerable to someone.

Civil War doesn’t disappoint, constantly erupting with exhilarating set pieces

It’s effective drama which both Evans and Downey Jr are at the top of their game
for; both sympathetic and stubborn, both reaching out to find some common ground
even whilst they are battering each other in combat. We’ve never seen Stark this
vulnerable, stripped of his beloved Girl Friday Pepper Potts, at war with his
friends and even dropping his ego. Cap, under seige from all sides, refuses to
concede and makes himself and his companions criminals in the process. Civil War
doesn’t cop out either – this central conflict goes right down to the bitter
ending.

The third major player is Bucky Barnes (Stan) – Cap’s former buddy turned bionic-
armed assassin the Winter Soldier. Directors Andy and Joe Russo clearly love this
character – half the movie is spent tracking him down, with three different parties
after him; he throws down with just about everyone, and gets most of the coolest
moves. He’s an intriguingly ambivalent figure, sometimes a confused victim of
brainwashing, sometimes a merciless Terminator.

Many were worried before release Civil War would be another Avengers movie in all
but name, rather than a proper Captain America 3. The truth is, it’s both; it’s a
better outing for the team than Age of Ultron, but it never relegates Cap from the
main role, giving him more to do here than ever before, whilst putting his ethic-
driven actions under scrutiny. How far will he really go for his ideals? And which
ideals really motivate him?

Card-carrying Avengers powerhouses the Incredible Hulk and Thor don’t show up –
they might have ended the party too quickly – but everyone else is here, and
somehow they all have a worthy part in proceedings. Ant-Man (Rudd) turns up, and
turns it up to eleven; the latest version of Spider-Man (Holland) is introduced as
a protégé/comedic foil for Stark; but most entertaining is Paul Bettany’s red-faced
android the Vision. Noble, formidable on the battlefield, and rather silly, he
attempts to cook the Scarlet Witch (Olsen) a meal before announcing he’s never
actually eaten anything before.

The furious action in previous instalment The Winter Soldier was one of it’s key
selling points, and Civil War doesn’t disappoint, constantly erupting with
exhilarating set pieces. There are gritty, unflinching martial arts brawls in the
style of The Raid, but every superpower is made full use of as well. Each conflict
escalates as more and more superheroes get involved, leading to a thrilling
escape/chase sequence with everybody chasing Bucky, and Cap and his winged-sidekick
the Falcon (Mackie) chasing them; and then the movie’s centre-piece, a ten-minute,
tarmac-based royal rumble at an abandoned airport.

There are almost too many awe-inspiring moments to mention; Bucky and the Black
Panther (Boseman) outrun cars; Cap kicks a jeep into his foes; Stark is only saved
from a point-blank headshot by bulletproof glasses; and Ant-Man reverses his powers
in a wonderfully ridiculous sequence that shows he’s not out of his league amongst
all the big hitters. The match-up of hero vs hero is enormous fun, although
occasionally characters seem overpowered to balance up the battles; does Cap
punching Iron Man really have any effect? Wouldn’t he hurt his own hand?

It’s not perfect. Although African tribal hero Black Panther adds some global scale
to the proceedings, he’s really just here to promote his own movie, coming in 2018;
he’s also saddled with the weary ‘you-killed-my-father’ trope. It could also do
with trading one or two brawls for more time establishing the supporting characters
and surrounding context; how do the Avengers feel about fighting team mates they
risked their lives for in previous movies? It’s also strangely insular; what do the
public think about all this?

These are minor issues though. Civil War offers almost everything you could want –
political fallout, moral dillema, endless great action and almost too many
superheroes to count. It steps up the intensity of the character drama, with
genuine consequences, whilst never neglecting those essential laughs. Marvel
Studio’s best effort so far.
------------------------------
Directed by Pitof, 2004.
Starring Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson, Alex Borstein,
Frances Conroy.
104 mins.

A hapless young fashion designer stumbles into a web of corporate intrigue and
murder – and gets killed herself in the process. Resurrected as Catwoman, she seeks
vengeance…

THE SUPERHERO GENRE hasn’t been particularly kind to Halle Berry. Despite her
starring in five comic-based productions to date, with a total box office of nearly
$2 billion, she’s suffered repeatedly through unmemorable and underwritten roles
that failed to make use of her.

Berry played the role of weather-witch Storm in four X-Men films, but the character
never had a storyline of her own. Despite Berry’s superstar status and Best Actress
Oscar, Storm was always a support act, the character defined only by her screen-
searing power displays of wind and lightning – and her ever-changing white wigs.

And so in 2004, Berry went solo, headlining her own comicbook adaption in the form
of Catwoman, a character with a long and successful history of live-action
appearances but no break-out solo movie before.

Rather than a straight-forward comic adaption, here the iconic anti-hero is


retooled to serve as a post-Spider-Man vehicle for Berry, mimicking Tobey Maguire’s
zero-to-hero character arc in that movie, even down to the opening and closing
voice-overs; and mirroring Michelle Pfieffer’s popular take on the feline fatale in
Batman Returns as a mousy employee murdered by her ruthless boss.

The first twenty minutes do a reasonable job of putting the pieces of plot in
place; Berry is likeable loser Patience Phillips (not Selina Kyle as per other
incarnations), and Sharon Stone’s aging and upstaged supermodel suggests a somewhat
conflicted character, at odds with her philandering millionaire mogul of a husband.

Patience runs through a list of loser clichés almost immediately; dowdy, late for
work, terrified of her boss, messes up romantic encounters…she even has, ‘Get a
life!’ yelled at her by rowdy bikers at a late night party (she’s not attending –
she just wants them to turn the music down).

She then metamorphoses from demure to deadly in the kind of joyfully ludicrous
manner befitting a comicbook: rushing last-minute blueprints (another loser cliché)
to a remote chemical factory, she witnesses some underhanded corporate shenanigans
and is subsequently murdered by drowning in a conduit pipe. Washing up onshore she
is resurrected by a group of unconvincing CGI tabbies (Batman Returns did this
better, and with real cats), and turned into a preening, prowling, whip-cracking
creature of the night.

As a character of blurred morality, Patience’s inevitable identity crisis becomes


more about self definition than the usual ‘helping-people-vs-personal-life’
conundrum we’re used to in superhero movies (although, again, Batman Returns did
this better). Although she delights in her new identity initially, soon she’s in
over her head; she’s alarmed by aggressive and sexual desires she never knew she
had, and wrongly imprisoned for murder, wondering if this is the life she truly
wants.

The evil scheme is the sort of forgettable filler excusable in a monthly comic, but
hardly worthy of a $100m big-screen enterprise
But that’s not all; the opening credits run over a montage of cats and cat women
throughout history, and a bit of mystical mumbo-jumbo informs us that Patience is
the latest in a long-line of feline avatars. She even gets her own mysterious
mentor to guide her – think Obi-Wan as a weird cat lady. Donning a mask based on
kitty deity Bastet, Patience becomes more than the jewel thief of the comics –
she’s a faux-Egyptian cat priestess.

There are undeniably some interesting ideas here. A fashion designer literally
redesigning herself, acquiring all the superficial traits idealised women have.
With enough mascara and lipstick for a Revlon commercial, Patience becomes her own
muse and model, and the rooftops and alleyways her catwalk (no pun intended – in
fact that would be a better name for the film).

Catwoman’s barely-there costume makes sense as the sort of bizarre concoction you’d
see at a fashion show or Lady Gaga gig. But it’s so wretched, so ludicrously
unsuitable for acrobatics or combat, that it almost stops the film dead every time
Berry dons it. Equally her adoption of cat-like physicality and behaviours is at
points flat-out silly, such as when she saunters into a night club and orders a
White Russian sans everything but the cream; or hissing aggressively at dogs; or
scarfing endless cans of tuna.

The evil scheme regarding toxic face cream – no, really – is the sort of
forgettable filler excusable in a monthly comic, but hardly worthy of a $100m big-
screen enterprise. It represents a worthy theme – the corrupting nature of the
search for beauty at all costs – but one that just hasn’t been incorporated into
the plot properly.

Don’t look for solace in the performances either. Patience’s romcom-style sidekicks
are irritating at best; Lambert Wilson is wasted as Berry’s one-dimensional
ruthless boss; and Bejamin Bratt, as the investigating cop and obligatory love-
interest, has little to do but represent Patience’s ideal man. He also takes ages
to work out Catwoman’s secret identity is the only black woman in the movie.

Sharon Stone offers a painfully arch villainous performance as fashionista and ex-
model Laurel Hedare. You might argue she works here by her very presence; a
metatextual comment on her own career as an aging beauty whose star has dimmed as
younger women have taken the limelight. Stone is exactly the sort of actress who
might have played Catwoman had she been ten years younger, and so represents the
inherent doom of both Hollywood and the beauty industry. But she’s still a wooden
and ineffective foe, bordering on pantomime.

The fight scenes flop; over-choreographed and edited to death; they probably looked
good on storyboards, but in execution they’re completely unrealistic and lack any
impact. And how does Patience know Brazilian martial art capoeira all of a sudden?
Surely that doesn’t come with cat-resuscitation? The special effects are no better:
awkward CGI versions of Berry are all too common, leaping and swinging around the
scenery in a way that only emphasises their rubbery-looking nature.

The climactic confrontation sees Catwoman enter Stone’s HQ, and proceed to kick her
through huge canvasses of her old modelling photos, literally destroying her image
of herself. Interesting conceptually, but in the same year Tobey Maguire’s web-
swinger was battling multi-limbed Doctor Octopus atop a speeding train in Spider-
Man 2, Halle Berry kicking Sharon Stone about a bit doesn’t really cut it. To make
matters worse, it’s backed by the inappropriate R&B soundtrack which litters much
of the movie.

Freed from the constraints of a Hollywood blockbuster, Catwoman might have been
worthwhile; as a weird, stylized, Kafka-esque art-house flick about a repressed
woman acquiring cat-like traits whilst lost in the fabricated, obsessive beauty
industry. But as the ill-conceived wannabe-crowd pleaser it is, Catwoman not only
wastes worthwhile ideas, it wastes an Oscar winning lead actress and a beloved
character. Thankfully Anna Hathaway gave us a far superior version eight years
later in The Dark Knight Rises, leaving Catwoman remembered only as an example of
how not to adapt a comic book icon.
-------------------------------------

Directed by Martin Campbell, 2011.


Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins,
Taiki Waititi, Angela Basset.
114 mins.

Combating a fearsome galactic menace, dying alien Abi Sur travels to earth, where
he meets hotshot pilot Hal Jordan – whom he gives him a powerful weapon, and urges
to take his place in the mighty Green Lantern Corps…

IN THE WAKE OF of Marvel Studios’ string of hits, Warner Bros sought to bring a
previously untapped four-colour classic to the big screen. With one of the richest
and most well-defined mythologies in the superhero genre, endless potential for
spectacle, and wise-cracking star Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, DC Comics’ Green
Lantern seems ideal for blockbuster treatment. It had scope far beyond most movies
of the genre; it could be everything from Spider-Man to Star Wars.

Don’t get your expectations up. Green Lantern is a decent effort that was victim of
a huge critical lambasting, and subsequently collapsed at the box office; a
backlash, though, that was more the result of the movie not realizing it’s sky-
high potential than being genuinely bad. Director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye,
Casino Royale) solidly covers all the basics, but his point-and-shoot approach is
suited to more grounded, stunt-filled action movies like Bond; he never really
embraces the possibilities of the CGI-fuelled concept on offer here – a hero who
can materialize any object he desires in a second, made of shimmering green
willpower projected from an alien ring.

In addition, the central character of Hal Jordan is transformed from the comics’
blue collar, seat-of-the-pants daredevil to a wisecracking, irresponsible shirker;
this is Ryan Reynolds playing himself as a superhero. Warner Bros were banking on
his undeniable charm and humour to replicate Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man triumph.
But this robs the viewer of a potentially interesting and fresh take, a engine-
grease, regular Joe superhero, who is nether shy science geek, millionaire playboy
or tortured loner.

That aside, the movie is more-or-less faithful to the comic it’s based on. It’s
never less then competent and entertaining, but never reaches the high notes ones
hopes for in the genre. The greatest asset of the movie is Mark Strong’s wolf-in-
slightly-less-scary-wolf’s-clothing Sinestro. Both creepy and respectable at once,
Sinestro adds genuine otherworldly presence to proceedings, while also making the
ultimate hard-ass drill commander for Jordan’s induction into the Lantern Corps.
The requisite training scene effectively showcases the powers of the ring while
also setting up a fierce rivalry between the two; though Sinestro ultimately grows
to respect his upstart colleague, it’s merely the first step of an intriguing
‘hate-respect’ relationship which has lasted fifty years in the comics.

A more expansive tale than most comic book movies, Green Lantern often approaches
the scope and scale of Star Wars

Like many recent movies of the genre, Green Lantern fills many small roles with
established actors in hope of giving them more to do in potential sequels. Future
Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi simply provides a frat-boy sparring partner
for Reynolds, while Tim Robbins essays that rarest of screen characters; the
supervillain’s daddy. Blake Lively is solid as love interest Carol Ferris, but
hugely unlikely as both ace fighter pilot and corporate mogul. She shares a certain
chemistry with Reynolds (the two later married), and humorously points out how
ineffective his mask is. Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan lend famous tones
to animated characters.

Speaking of animated characters, the geek-to-freak villain Hector Hammond provides


plenty of weird, skittish menace after being effected by alien goo. An increasingly
unhinged Peter Skarsgard is clearly enjoying the role, thankfully keeping ham to a
minimum despite ridiculous prosthetics. Hammond is only the starter villain
however; soul-drinking, cloud-shaped abomination Parallax soars through space like
an intergalactic Great White, intent on spreading devastation and death across
planet earth.

Which would be bad.

Green Lantern is a movie that could only exist after the birth of CGI, and as you’d
expect, the screen is often filled with spectacular visuals. A more expansive tale
than most comic book movies, the film often approaches the scope and scale of Star
Wars; offering deep space combat, an intergalactic civilisation and more than a
cantina-full of bizarre extra-terrestrials. Beloved characters such as Kilowog and
Tomar Re show just how far digital effects have come, whilst also highlighting
great art design in turning the simple cartoons of the 60’s comics into a living,
breathing alien menagerie.

For a genre that straddles the boundaries between the everyday and complete
fantasy, Green Lantern will be a tipping point for some. Aside from the inherent
ridiculousness of the power ring (the movie wisely doesn’t even attempt to explain
it), this is a movie which features, as a climax, a man fighting a huge brown space
blob with green aeroplanes and boxing gloves he creates out of his own willpower.
It never collapses under it’s own inherent absurdity, but turning concepts from
twee 1960’s comics into a modern action movie should perhaps have been given more
care. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s grounded Batman outings should stay well clear.

If this is to be the only Green Lantern movie, at least for the time being, then it
does at least feature many of the highlights of half a century of comic mythology;
the death of Abin Sur, Hal Jordan’s initiation, the Corps, Parallax, the fall of
Sinestro. All this and more is neatly mixed into the storyline, rather than simply
being a greatest hits collection ala Daredevil (2003). Although not quite the
blockbuster fans were hoping for, Green Lantern should suffice until the character
returns the big screen. Hopefully it’s not too far away – the potential is
certainly there.
-------------------------------------------------
Director Simon Wincer, 1996.
Starring Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, James Remar, Catherine Zeta-
Jones, Patrick McGoohan.
96 mins.

New York tycoon and mob boss Xander Drax is searching the globe for the mystical
Skulls of Touganda, which he believes will give him tremendous powers. Newspaper
editor Dave Palmer learns of his scheme and sends out his daughter Diana to
investigate – and she is aided by a seemingly immortal figure known as the Ghost
Who Walks….

FIRST APPEARING IN newspaper comic strips in 1936, jungle-based do-gooder the


Phantom is arguably the very first superhero, beating Superman to the punch by two
years. Writer Lee Falk’s creation is the twenty-first in a long line of domino-
masked adventurers to take the name, a legacy passed down from father to son for
centuries. A printing error caused his costume – planned to be camouflage green –
to come out purple, and it stuck; eighty years on, he’s still the only prominent
superhero to wear the colour.

Apart from a 1943 black and white serial (and it’s sequel, in which the hero was
renamed Captain Africa when the rights expired), the Phantom didn’t make it to the
big screen until 1996. Advertising at the time suggested the dark antics of Batman,
the pre-eminent cinematic superhero of the period, but the Phantom is less a
vengeful figure of the night, and more Indiana Jones in a purple bodysuit; the
movie an endless series of cliff-hangers, last-second escapes and breathless
rescues. It wastes little time with the hero’s origin story either; after a two-
minute pre-credit info-dump, it’s straight down to business.

Almost every serial staple pops up, including some that even Indy missed;
gangsters, skeletons, pirates, secret caves, sharks, tigers, wolves, sword fights,
hidden treasure, cannonballs, biplanes, noble natives, ancient artifacts with
mystical powers, crumbling rope bridges above deadly ravines…and how’s this for a
climax; the Phantom fights not one, not two, but three arch-villains in a row. When
was the last time Batman did that?

Billy Zane is spot-on as the zen-like crusader, a purer, nobler hero than most.
Sincere and cheerful, he gives advice to kids like, ‘Stay away from bad guys,’ and
only uses his twin pistols to shoot the guns out of the hands of his foes. He’s
such a bloody good bloke, you can imagine that after a day chasing through the
jungle on his white steed, he goes home and listens to the Carpenters. Kristy
Swanson, smart, two-fisted and aware of the ludicrousness of the situation, is the
best Tom Boy Lois Lane there never was. As the indigo crime-basher’s guidance-
giving ghost-dad, Patrick McGoohan is nicely acerbic, admonishing his son for
everything from not stopping the baddies to his lack of success with women.

Almost every serial staple pops up, including some that even Indy missed

The opposing team come up short though. Treat William’s Xander Drax is every smooth
40’s playboy wrapped into one – trouble is, he’s never anything but affably
likeable, and never comes across as a threat; even when casually spearing his
underworld colleagues, or disintegrating them with lasers. Catherine Zeta-Jones
hams it up as his bad-girl consort and leader of a band of female air pirates, and
James Remar is unconvincing at best as their head thug and tomb raider – a shame as
his Indiana-Jones-gone-to-seed could’ve been something. It’s left to Cary-Hiroyuki
Tagawa, appearing in the third act, to add some sneering, vehement villainy to the
proceedings (typical dialogue: ‘Ghost Who Walks? I’ll cut you off at the knee-!’).

While it takes it’s cue from Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Phantom is not quite up
to Spielberg standards. Set pieces are fun but there are no classics, and the
editing is a little saggy in places, disrupting the momentum. It also lacks a
certain edge – nasty things happen in the Indy movies to show exactly what will
befall our hero if he fails, and more of that was required here.

More evocative visuals wouldn’t have gone amiss either. It looks like a TV movie,
never making good use of the jungle settings or art deco New York, and the ancient
caves which should be shadowy and atmospheric just look like sets. Though Drax
threatens the entire world, it all feels small scale. His choice of weapons – the
sacred skulls – aren’t very impressive McGuffins, lacking the mystique of the Ark
of the Covenant or Holy Grail.

Despite such drawbacks, it’s hard to dislike The Phantom; if it’s all a bit too
light-weight and leisurely to be truly thrilling, it’s good-natured enthusiasm and
love of the material make for an enjoyable watch. Sometimes you don’t want to see a
superhero trapped in an identity crisis, or reflecting on how isolated they are
from those they protect; sometimes you just want to see a man in a mask fight a
bunch of thugs, get rescued by his pet wolf, escape in a bi-plane, and then jump
down onto a galloping horse just before the plane explodes.
-------------------------------
Director Mark A.Z. Dippé, 1997.
Starring Michael Jai White, Jon Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, Nicol Williamson, Melinda
Clarke, Theresa Randle.
96 mins.

When Black Ops assassin Al Simmons is murdered by his boss, he is resurrected after
making a deal with the demon Malebolgia – in return for seeing his wife again, he
will become Spawn, leader of an evil army…

1997 WAS THE all-time nadir for superhero movies. In cinemas, Batman & Robin bought
the caped crusader’s screen success to a screeching halt. Basketball superstar
Shaquille O’Neal starred in Steel, a movie so bad it’s been practically forgotten
altogether. On television, Justice League of America was so bad it was never even
broadcast. But the worst of the lot is Spawn, a genre low point that at best is a
dodgy special effects reel, and at worst is a tasteless, incoherent mess.

The best thing you can say about Spawn is that it sticks admirably to it’s source
material. The original comic, published in 1992, was aimed at those who though
Batman and Spider-Man and co were too nice, offering instead a demonic caped hero
with no compunction about extreme violence – and that was before he even gained his
powers. Equipt with ‘necroplasmic’ battle suit which can morph into all kinds of
vicious weapons, massive guns, and an endless thirst for vengeance, Spawn is
certainly not your father’s superhero. Suffice to say his stories don’t end with
him snapping the cuffs on the villains and taking them to jail.

First-time director Mark AZ Dippé’s big screen adaption certainly captures the
brooding darkness of the comics – but doesn’t balance it out with any kind of
warmth or humanity. The tone is relentlessly negative throughout, and the main
characters range from unpleasant to abhorrent. Simmons (Jai White) himself begins
the movie as an assassin, and while he cares about his family and befriends a
street kid, is hard to sympathise with. Jai White, who spends most of the movie
under layers of prosthetics, tries hard but can’t do much with a character whose
only emotions are anger, confusion, or both.

Should-be standout effects sequences are notable for all the wrong reasons

Spawn spends interminable amounts of time skulking around grim back alleys
tormented by John Leguizamo’s Clown, a vile demon who occasionally transforms into
a towering monster. Leguizamo is the only one onscreen who seems to be enjoying
himself, but the Clown is so obnoxious he’s hard to watch. The rest of the cast
don’t fare much better: Martin Sheen is utterly wasted as Simmon’s backstabbing
Black Ops boss, providing no more than one-note beard-stroking villainy. Nicol
Williamson does his best to provide some gravelly-voiced gravitas as Simmon’s
mystical mentor, but he turns up too late in proceedings to have much effect.

Director Dippé is a special effects veteran with the likes of Terminator 2 and
Jurassic Park among his impressive credits. Yet the CGI here is surprisingly rather
lame; cartoonish and overused, it’s rarely more convincing than Who Framed Roger
Rabbit. Should-be standout sequences such as Spawn jumping through a skylight, his
cape flapping around him, are notable for all the wrong reasons, and the final
battle is like watching a 1995 PlayStation game.
The action scenes are uniformly poor. A motorbike/oil tanker chase is slow and
stagey, and battles between Spawn and the Clown’s monstrous alter ego the Violator
are just another excuse for CGI overload. It’s also hard to get excited when the
rules are never established; if Simmons is dead already – and his armour heals all
wounds – is he ever really in any danger? Can he create anything he likes with his
armour? And if the Violator can kick Spawn’s ass – and he does – why doesn’t he
lead Malebolgia’s army?

It’s a struggle to find anything good to say about Spawn. It’s poorly scripted,
it’s overloaded with terrible CGI, and it’s just so unpleasant you’ll want to wash
your hands afterwards and listen to the Carpenters. You’re best just watching the
last ten seconds – a moody shot of the title character perched on the city rooftops
which conveys the iconography of the comic perfectly, the only agreeable part of an
otherwise entirely disagreeable fi

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