Friday, 27 February 2015

Wonder Woman: Warrior Princess

Wonder Woman is amazing. I'm just putting that out there. She just is. She is one of the greatest superheroes ever. One third of DCs Holy Trinity with Batman and Superman, she unfortunately has never got her proper due in terms of adaptions across other media the way Bats and Supes have.

Both of the World's Finest, particularly the Dark Knight, have starred in a multitude of solo cartoons and live action movies while Wonder Woman has never had a solo cartoon TV show or live action movie. She has had a solo cartoon movie though.

Praise Hera.

That was 2009's Wonder Woman and it was a origin story for the character, introducing her rich backstory as an Amazon princess from the isolated island of Themyscira, and how she was formed from sand, blood, and lightning by her mother Hippolyta.

Yes, you read that right. She was formed from sand, blood, rain and lightning. Hippolyta molded her infant body out of sand, cut her finger and bled on her sandy mold, raise it up towards the heavens in the rain, and it was struck by lightning causing Wonder Woman to be born.

I'm sorry but that is the most epic and mythic origin of any superhero ever. Now, I do understand that Superman and Batman's origins may be more iconic due to their simplicity, last son of dying alien planet sent to save humanity and a son sees parents murdered in front of him so he decides to dress up as a bat and punch crime in the face, but seriously they don't really compare.

"And then my mother hold me aloft, her blood mixing with the sand, as I was struck by lightning and given life."

Be honest with yourself, Wonder Woman's origin is steeped in classic mythology going back to Ancient Greece and is far more badass than nearly any other superhero's. She was born by literally being struck by lightning! Lightning striking things is still cool, right?

But here's the thing, since her story has been told less often and across fewer forms of media as Batman and Superman, it's less known and therefore is less embedded in the popular consciousness. Also, that is only the story of her birth, not how she became a superhero.

Unlike Superman or Batman, Wonder Woman's superhero origin isn't steeped in tragedy in the same way Batman's parents were murdered in front of him and he spent his life training to become Batman, or how Superman's home planet was destroyed along with his entire race, leaving him the sole surviving member of his people.

You can tell that it weighs heavy on his soul.

Wonder Woman was sent as an ambassador from Themyscira to the outside world, to serve as an emissary to foster understanding between two vastly different cultures, and fight on behalf of the Amazons for mankind. She became a superhero, not because she was traumatised by a tragic event into devoting her life to fighting crime like Batman nor because she was sent to be a beacon of hope to show humanity the way like Superman, but because she wanted to see the world of man and become its protector.

While Wonder Woman was sent to be beacon to humanity, it was not to be a symbol of hope really. Rather, she was sent to be a bridge between two isolated worlds, a beacon of understanding and strength. Both an emissary and a warrior, she serves to broker peace but to fight with force if that peace is broken. Not really a tragic superhero origin either.

I mean, her mother was raped by Ares, gave birth to his son, and then beheaded said son in battle, causing Ares to become an eternal enemy to the Amazons, and one of Wonder Woman's most bitter foes. So, one of her greatest enemies is the man who forced himself on her mother and who could have been her father if things had been different. However, I don't know if that is quite as tragic as your parents being shot in front of you after watching the Mark of Zorro.

"Leaving the theatre before the Mark of Zorro finished was the real tragedy that night."

Now, you might be asking yourself why I've been talking so much about Batman and Superman in relation to Wonder Woman. That's because where Superman is hero of light, symbolising the best qualities humanity can aspire to, and Batman is a hero of darkness, the shadowy guardian of a corrupt city, Wonder Woman is the perfect balance between both. A hero that embodies peace, justice and love, yet is a born warrior with a strong will and is not afraid to resort to violence if required.

However, after watching a couple of DC Original Animated Movies I noticed that Batman and Superman's characters are pretty consistent across the both films although they were made with different writers and directors. But Wonder Woman's wasn't. In fact, the way she was depicted in the films differed quite drastically.

In Justice League: War, a retelling of the Justice League with the New 52 reboot of the characters, where the rebooted Superman is possibly more overconfident than he usual, he is still Superman and Batman is still very much Batman, Wonder Woman is quite different to the poised superhero depicted in the Justice League animated series.

Rather she is kind of flighty and wild, lacking a sense of protocol or responsibility to her more diplomatic duties as an ambassador. While she does show the compassion and desire for justice associated with the character, since she delights only in battle, when she's not in the middle of a fight, she seems unable to pay attention to anything for long.

Although the scene where she has ice cream for the first time was brilliant.

The other film, 2009's Wonder Woman, is also an origins story, and for the first half of the film, Wonder Woman isn't Wonder Woman but Diana, princess of Themyscira. However, in this film, although she's young and headstrong, wanting to strike out and gain her independence, at the same time, she is skilled beyond her years and gifted with a grace and nobility rarely found.

She is what I would call the most true depiction of a young Wonder Woman I've seen, still learning and maturing but definitely growing into the superhero we know and love. All the qualities that make define her character are there, her compassion, her determination and refusal to give up a fight, her wisdom and intelligence, her physical strength and poise.

She's also badass as hell in this movie. Did I not mention that?

And I would say that vast difference in the depictions is as much because of that balance between light and dark which Wonder Woman embodies as it is the writers having fun showing different takes on the character. Whereas Batman and Superman are pretty nailed down in terms of their personalities and the types of heroes they are, Wonder Woman is slightly less defined as a character, allowing for different interpretation.

As long as you get her compassion, regal bearing, and sense of justice down, everything else is fair game. She can be a bit overzealous or brash, impatient or impulsive, composed and collected, soft spoken and intimidating. Whichever version of Wonder Woman you wish to tell will be true to the character if she bears herself like the warrior princess of a mythic people, displays empathy to those in need, and has an unwavering sense of what is right.

And that's awesome since it highlights how much she compliments the other members of the Holy Trinity by occupying the middle ground between two extremes, between light and dark, between ideals and gritty reality. That balance really is a core aspect of the character and a huge part of what makes her one of the greatest superheroes ever.

So, yeah. Like I said, Wonder Woman is amazing.


Wonder Woman in other media Wikipedia page

Wonder Woman (2009 film) Wikipedia page

Justice League: War Wikipedia page

Friday, 20 February 2015

Star Wars with Power Rings

Green Lantern has always been secretly a favourite hero of mine. By that I mean, that while there are a number of superheros that will always come before Green Lantern for me, there is something about Green Lantern and the idea of his powers that I've always liked. And although John Stewart is far cooler and more badass, I have always had a soft spot for Hal Jordan, maybe because I love his Green Lantern uniform the most.

Now I've spoken before about why the Empire was doomed once they went up against the Ewoks, or why a robot uprising led by R2D2 is inevitable but I haven't really discussed what makes Star Wars a space opera. Before I get into that, you may be asking how is this relevant to a intergalactic space cop with green jewelry? It's because, like I'll beat the point to death below, Green Lantern is a interstellar superhero.

The Green Lantern movie should have been Star Wars with power rings instead of lightsabers. No seriously, it could have been a sprawling epic spanning the galaxy with a variety of different alien species interacting and amazing space battles. More than any of the other mainstream DC superheroes, Green Lantern isn't tied to Earth but rather flew among the stars.

Look he's flying... in space!

While Superman might have the occasional interplanetary romp and even Batman has been known to breathe in space, Green Lantern is a truly cosmic superhero, part of an intergalactic police force, the guardian to a vast sector of space spanning solar systems. Due to the interstellar nature of the character, his adventures are should be sweeping space operas limited only by the imagination of the writer.

Where this relates to Star Wars is that a huge part of what made Star Wars resonate with so many people wasn't solely the fact there are lightsabers (although that is a good 70-80% of the reason) but because it offered this rich and expansive fictional universe with thousands of different alien species and hundreds of planets in a galaxy far far away. You have ice planets and sand planets and lava planets and forest moons and cloud cities.

There are creatures you can scarcely comprehend they look so weird or unusual. Alien races with their own cultures, fashion, and biological structures. And of course the obligatory green skinned alien girl. There is always a green skinned alien girl. And this vast diversity is matched by the futuristic or outer-worldly technology, with blasters, phasers, lightsabers, space ships, jetpacks, pod racers, and lightsabers.


And Green Lantern taps into that wild flight of imagination scifi like Star Wars offers. The initial hype for the Green Lantern movie even billed it as the new Star Wars, and that one of the Green Lantern's greatest strengths as a character was the fact that he can do these epic space adventures that most other superheroes can't really.

Free of the constraints of stories set on Earth, the Green Lantern can offer adventures on alien worlds thousand of light years away where the density is five times that of Earth due to the high density of the world's core or where the clouds are made out of crystal. He can battle space smugglers or space pirates, space ghosts or space mercenaries. Basically anything with space in front of it.

Like his eternal struggle against Space Jam.

But where it makes perfect sense for Green Lantern to be gallivanting out in space, it was always weird when the X-Men went out to another solar system to fight in the Shi'ar civil war with and against aliens millions of light years away, especially since the X-Men are ostentatiously supposed to be a metaphor for discrimination which doesn't quite work if they're completely removed from the environment of that discrimination.

Likewise, the Flash is such a grounded superhero, tied so strongly to Central City in the same way Batman is to Gotham, that although he could have the odd adventure on another planet, it was usually with the Justice League since it doesn't really fit his character.

Running in the vacuum of space? Seems legit.

Now I really wanted to like the Green Lantern movie, I really did. But for all the moments the Green Lantern gets the intergalactic part of Green Lantern right, there are at least two moments where he's on Earth moping around because he's not brave enough or playing Hot Rods with his power ring.

And although there was a lot of fan service in the movie by having so many of the Green Lanterns present on Oa when Hal is there, we never spend any time with them nor do we even see them do anything interesting or cool. They're just there. In the background.

Even worse is that because of the dark colour palette and terribly render CGI in the large group shot showcasing the weird variety of alien species that make up the Green Lantern corp, it makes it real difficult to distinguish the different aliens apart since they kinda blur into each other.

And honestly, that sounds way more racist written down than it did in my head. 

I honestly didn't care about Hal Jordan's childhood friend becoming evil and growing a bobble head, him goofing off with his nerdy friend, or even his relationship with Carol. That was all boring Earth stuff which, aside from the bobble head guy, should have been in the first act to set up his character and the life he lead... which he then leaves in the second act to fly around in space!

Also, the Earth stuff really bogged down the narrative since there was too much cutting back and forth going on between the two bad guys, bobble head and Parallax. Especially since the movie was trying to set them both up as legitimate threats to Green Lantern while explaining their motivations (bobble head is a creep who wants to sleep with Carol and is jealous of Hal, while Parallax is evil).

That was time we could instead have been spending with Tomar-Re because the more time spent with Tomar-Re, the better. Tomar-Re is the parrot fish looking alien who teaches Hal how to use his ring to fly. And it really is one of the more elegant scenes in the movie. The wry way Tomar-Re says, "We're gonna fly now" as though he knows what he said will blow Hal's mind but he's just gonna put it out there calm as can be because that's just how he does.

It's actually a great scene.

And the film would really had benefited from more scenes like that. They rushed the training sequence on Oa just to have Hal immediately doubt himself after Sinestro said something mean, so he quits and flies back to Earth. This was where we could have seen Hal truly realising the unlimited potential of the ring and develop his own unique way of using it, since every Lantern's constructs are slightly different based on their personality and imagination.

It also could have been an opportunity to see how the training serves to teach Lanterns to focus their will or highlight some of the many aliens we saw in the dark background before. But instead, we barely got to hear Killiwog really get lay into Hal for being a powser before he's whisked away back to Earth to play Hot Rods.

For some reason, I find the vastly diverse intergalactic police force armed with power rings more interesting.

One last thing, while a lot of people didn't like the casting, I thought that Ryan Reynolds would make a great Hal Jordan and truly he's one of the best things about the movie. Although at times a bit too jokey and immature, he really nailed the young Hal Jordan, cocksure and brash, unable to follow instructions yet dedicated.

Too bad he just happens to be a good Hal Jordan in a terrible Green Lantern movie.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Cyclops in Love - The Romantic History

It's Valentine's Day, and because it's Valentine's Day I thought it best to take a look into the Cyclops' love life since that's the first thing I thought of when I realised I needed to write a Valentine's Day article. I also postponed the article a day to release it on Valentine's Day, but that's more because that I'm lazy and hadn't finished it than any real reason to coincide with the holiday.

Now, Cyclops, aka Scott Summers, is one of my favourite X-Men ever. There is just something about the character, his design, his sense of commitment and leadership, and the epic nature of his powers that really appealed to me. I've already talked about Cyclops and why he's a badass before, but just to reiterate, I think he is a far more interesting character than most people give him credit for.

Yep, totally not badass blasting frikkin' Captain America away like that. Not badass at all.

He is one of the best examples of the tortured hero Marvel has, and they have a monopoly on tortured heroes, from the Hulk's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde trauma to Spider-Man's teenage angst. But where other Marvel superheroes' problems seem to come from trying to reconcile their everyday life with the responsibility of having a spandex-wearing crime fighting alter ego, Cyclop's initial conflict came from his powers themselves.

For Cyclops shaped a large part of he interacts with the world and deals with things based on the anxiety and fear he has about the destructive force of his powers.  He tries to keep himself in control at all times for fear of accidentally letting loose an optic blast in a moment of carelessness and hurting his loved ones.

I love that aspect of Cyclops and it explains much of the stiffness often attributed to the character. He has to remain stoic and in control at all times since one little mishap in a moment of laxity can lead to adding a new skylight in a train station's roof.

"Let's see here... that's one skylight with concussion force installation, oh, overtime for the night shift... hmm, you're looking at a hefty fee but luckily for you, we're having a discount on concussion force installs at the moment, 20% off."

But I'm not here to talk about how amazing it would be to shoot concussion beams out your eyes, mostly because I've already done that in the past. Rather, like I already mentioned in the first paragraph (it's at the top of the page if you skipped past it, have a look), I'm gonna talk about Cyclop's eventful love life.

Now, Cyclop's has had a pretty eventful and messy series of romantic relationships, most notably with Jean Grey, who most people pick as his true love, primarily because she was his first. However, comics being comics, things often got a bit confusing for Cyclops' and Jean's relationship, mostly because she kept on dying and being brought back to life all the time on him. Constantly dying and being resurrected causes a strain on a relationship, even for a devoted partner. And man, Cyclops is a devoted partner.

So devoted in fact that when Jean died for the first time, committing suicide due to something about being a Phoenix, Cyclops was a little upset to say the least, despite the fact she's a phoenix and will come back to life since that's what phoenixes do.

And they always came back with a thing for sexy tight red costumes and flames for some reason.

But after Jean died, Scott met Madelyne Pryor a woman who looked exactly like Jean. Like exactly alike. Not "oh, you kinda sorta look like this woman I loved" but full blown "holy shit, you must be a clone of the woman I loved!", which makes sense since she was a clone of Jean Grey but Cyclops didn't know that nor really cared.

Yeah, you know how after a break up, people sometimes get with someone who has a similar appearance to the person who broke up with them because they aren't over them? Well, Scott married a clone of the woman he loved after he lost her. And this is done with nothing more than the occasional comment that Madelyne looks exactly like Jean which is a little weird but eh, whatever.

Seriously, in the comics of the time, Cyclops shows some indecision and confusion that Madelyne is completely identical to Jean but he kinda just goes with it when he should be freaking the hell out and questioning how this possible.

And in hindsight this lack of questioning is obviously because this is a man dealing with the loss of the love of his life and when he found someone exactly like the person he lost, he doesn't want to question it for fear of losing that 'second chance'. Which is fair enough I guess since everybody deals with loss in their own way but seriously, she looks exactly the same! Doesn't that raise any flags? Look out for the flags, Scott!

Flags, Scott!

Of course Jean eventually came back to life because phoenix, so Scott obviously did the right thing and promptly divorced Madelyne, the woman he married and said he loved for her and not solely because she looked exactly like Jean. Oh, that caused Madelyne to go evil and become the Goblin Queen (don't ask) by the way, so good going there Cyclops.

Of course, Scott and Jean couldn't be happy for long since we all know how boring showing a loving supportive couple in a healthy relationship is, so Scott started feeling dissatisfied in his marriage to Jean. He felt the relationship had become stale and hadn't progressed past their initial teenage love, because all the stuff that had happened since and the entirety of their marriage was somehow still 'teenage'.

So naturally Cyclops has a telepathic affair with Emma Frost, former White Queen and enemy of the X-Men because that was the clever thing to do. That's a much better idea than talking about how he feels and trying to fix things with Jean by communicating to her openly and honestly. And it's not like Jean is the most powerful telepath on the planet bar Professor X and would ever find out... oh, wait...

Yeah, Jean kinda abused Emma's mind for a bit. Good going, Scott.

Beast painstakingly put Emma back together one piece at a time by hand, er, I mean paw. Then Emma and Scott got together and actually made a great couple together. She challenged his stiffness and with her trademark snark, cattiness, and seductive personality, really got Cyclops to let loose with less inhibitions and more confidence in his decisions.

Those decisions were not always the easiest or necessarily the 'right' ones but they were the ones he felt he needed to take in order to do what was best for mutantkind once there were less than 150 mutants left follow the events of House of M (long story). And Emma offered him support and was there for him.

So naturally during the events of the Avengers vs X-Men when Cyclops and Emma are bonded with the Phoenix force therefore kinda evil, Cyclops forcibly takes Emma's portion of the Phoenix force in order to kill Professor X. Yeah, kinda didn't help that relationship.

You know, when I first thought about writing this article, it was gonna be about how Scott is a great romantic partner. No really, I was gonna talk about how devoted and caring he is, how difficult it must have been to maintain two long-lasting relationships with telepaths, how his stoic nature belies a romantic soul...

He only has an eye for you.

But instead, it kinda ended up being about how he's a dick who can't properly express his emotions or deal with what he is going through effectively, often making poor decisions and hurting the one he loves. Go figure.

So Happy Valentine's Day or whatever. Just hope your Valentine isn't a jerkwad that doesn't know how to keep his sexy psychic projections out of another telepaths head.


Cyclops (comics) Wikipedia page

Jean Grey (comics) Wikipedia page

Madelyne Pryor Wikipedia page

Emma Frost Wikipedia page

Friday, 6 February 2015

Kung Fu Panda 2: The Lack of Pandering

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a far better movie than any movie called Kung Fu Panda 2 has any right to be. In nearly every other example of a movie with such an obviously child-pandering title, you'd be totally justified in dismissing it as a terribly phoned-in animated children's movie.

I mean, the title seems like the laziest effort by film executives ever, just slapping two unrelated things together in order to sell merchandise to children. How did that pitch meeting even go?

Executive #1: We need a new animated movie to market towards kids, something just a little edgy but still safe enough their parents will let them watch it.
Executive #2: Hey, you know what kids love? Pandas. Everybody loves pandas.
Executive #1: Yes, pandas, right!
Executive #2: You know what else people love? Kung fu. Like Jackie Chan stuff where he fights off 5 guys with a noodle and some chopsticks.
Executive #1: Of course...
Executive #2: Well, how about we put them together. Like "Panda Kung Fu!"
Executive #1: I'm not sure...
Executive #2: No, wait, I got it. "Kung Fu Panda"! And the panda is voice by Jack Black! Oh! And his father is a goose!
Executive #1: Why a goose?
Executive #2: No reason!
Executive #1: Yes, I like it! Let's green light this baby

And so Kung Fu Panda was born...

Blizzard executives later latched onto the 'panda' part but added 'monk' because as everyone knows, pandas are synonymous with monks.

Now the first Kung Fu Panda was a surprisingly charming tale about a bumbling panda named Po who is chosen as the Dragon Warrior, and has to learn kung fu to face off a villainous snow leopard kung fu master who has broken free of his unbreakable prison.

In all honesty, I completely dismissed Kung Fu Panda when it came out. I thought it was gonna be a bland pandering children's animated film with little character development and shoehorned pop cultural references to appeal to adults forced to watch with their kids. I didn't watch it for ages since I saw no merit, or at least no appeal to me personally, in what I thought it was, since movies like that can sometimes be enjoyable (possibly maybe) but are mostly bland and forgettable.

I'm just gonna leave this up here...

But I was wrong and misjudged Kung Fu Panda unfairly. Not only was it a lot of fun, with memorable characters and numerous funny moments, but it was well-written with some decent character development and a solid narrative arc, that, although not amazingly original, was executed really well.

They also treated the kung fu with respect as though they put some real research into it and didn't just make stuff up with no consideration for the tradition of martial arts. Furthermore, the animation is fantastic, fast paced and colourful, giving the action sequences a real energy and sense of dynamism to them. And those action sequences are rather superbly choreographed with each of the Furious Five's different kung fu styles working together in clever and inventive ways, flowing perfectly.

There were even some poignant moments with real emotional weight. In a movie about a kung fu panda.

Tigress' back story is legitimately sad. I just want to hug her and tell her that it's okay.

However, as the Nostalgia Critic pointed out in his spot on review of the movie, the villain is kinda weak. Well, weak is a bit harsh. Maybe meh is a better. He's actually got a pretty good back story and the reasons for his villainy are quite fleshed out but as bad guys go, he's okay I guess. It might be only in comparison to the how likable and memorable the other characters are that he seems a letdown but he's a little bit of a letdown nevertheless.

That is not the case in Kung Fu Panda 2. Gary Oldman's Lord Shen is a fantastic villain. His design is gorgeous, with the seamless blend of metal armour plating on his talons and blades within his wings, flowing silk robe, and striking tail feathers. In line with bird physique, his movements are quick and balletic, offering an unique and interesting fighting style.

But even more than that, it is his personality, back story, and motivations which really shine and make him a truly great antagonist. Driven by a sense of perfectionism, he craved the praised of his parents but directed his talents in destructive means which was prophesied would lead to his defeat by a warrior of black and white.

Naturally, Shen decided to avoid that prophecy by killing the entire panda population because of course that was the most logical solution to that problem. He then goes back 'victorious' to his parents expecting their approval but instead finds banishment and brokenhearted parents.

"Did you see me, mom? Did you see me, dad? I annihilated an entire species! Did you see it?"

Denied his birthright and feeling betrayed by his parents, Shen spends years cultivating his revenge, building an army and developing a weapon which will destroy kung fu because he's evil and stuff. He also feels denied happiness, stating that happiness must be taken and he will take his, which is a fantastic line.

But not only is he a fully fleshed out and well designed villain, he has some really funny moments too with some excellent dialogue expertly delivered by Oldman which makes his character utterly memorable and iconic. Like the scene where he is practicing what he will say when he finally meets Po, rehearsing the same line with different delivery and changing the wording in order to be more menacing. It's great.

Aside from its amazing villain, Kung Fu Panda 2 tops the first movie for me in other ways as well. The animation is even more impressive and pretty, with utterly seamless and fluid action sequences which are beautifully choreographed. Just check out the first action scene of the movie where Po and the Furious Five fight off Shen's wolf army:

Even better though is the character development. Po's back story is fully fleshed out and instead of possibly undermining or demystifying the character, only serves to enrich his character and provides significant dramatic impetus to his narrative arc.

Furthermore, learning of his shared past with Shen, that Shen murdered his parents and wiped out his entire species, only builds up the drama and conflict between the two characters and leads to a thrilling and fitting climax.

There is more I could say about the film, like its touching subplot about Po's adoptive goose father worrying that Po won't love him anymore now that Po knows he isn't his son [um, spoilers, I guess?]. Or the way it conveys the philosophical teaches of martial arts maybe with even more respect and reverence than the first film. Or the fact that every side character gets a good line or two and doesn't feel wasted or bland like a cut out character. Or that the plot unfolds very naturally and never seems forced or contrived.

Or I could just say again that Kung Fu Panda 2 is a better movie than any movie called Kung Fu Panda 2 has any right to be.


Kung Fu Panda Wikipedia page

Kung Fu Panda 2 Wikipedia page