Superman & Batman: Apocalypse — review

Adapted by Tab Murphy from Supergirl From Krypton.

 

Superman & Batman: Apocalypse is a strange case in terms of what it wants to achieve. The title would tell you it’s a team-up between the World’s Finest, as they journey to Apocalypse to fight Darkseid. Which is what happens, but that isn’t the main event. Instead, the story is really about the arrival of Kara Zor-El, and how she adapts to Earth life with the guidance of cousin Kal-El and Wonder Woman, Diana. Bruce Wayne, a headline character sharing the billing with Kal-El, only plays a supporting role, and the story can’t seem to decide what it wants to be.

What it is though, is actually better than you might expect it to be. There are some real moments of believability, as Zor-El adjusts to her new home by going on a shopping spree and experiencing hot-dogs, all while dragging Kal-El around with her, who already feels Human enough to react how you might expect him to. Another highlight is her reaction to the death of Harbinger, which was underplayed to effect. Or is that just because I sensed a romantic subtext between them?

The best part is after the battle between Zor-El and Darkseid, destroying Kent Farm. When the Kents return, they see the destruction around them, and Kal-El stands amidst it with a girl in clothes ripped to shreds. His reaction takes the character from Superman to Clark Kent without the distinction. It’s a subtle, but important factor. Unfortunately, the battle itself is the problem. Having reasoned to Darkseid, Kal-El is able to take Zor-El away from Apocalypse, and prepares her for the meeting between his parents. Darkside then emerges from within to destroy Kal-El. It was a surprising twist, but follows completely brought down the tone of the story. Somehow, Darkside tossed Kal-El so far that he was thrown toward the sun. Meanwhile, Zor-El was left to fight Darkseid herself. It reminded me of Man of Steel‘s latter half, with the violence becoming so overblown that it lost its effect to the point of the audience no longer really feeling the force of the violence. The conflict between them wasn’t between the characters, it was just between two super-powered characters. And naturally, Zor-El’s clothes became torn-off, showing much flesh. Kal-El had a few rips here and there, but none to the point matching Zor-El’s. It was very reminiscent of Michael Bay: tedious levels of destruction, leading to an opportunity for eye candy. It felt like a weight on the end of an okay story, that makes you feel as if its too long (which it was), and had already reached a satisfying conclusion.

While the ending lacks confidence, what comes before is several stories in one, and the whole thing feels as if its an extended recap of a television series rather than a single story. Subplots and multiple plot-lines aren’t a bad thing, but Superman & Batman: Apocalypse doesn’t seem to be very good at them.

 

Superman & Batman: Apocalypse: multiple plotlines and overblown finale 5/10.

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BBC features – Friday 9 to Sunday 11th January 2015

Saturday 10th January 2015

06:00 Apache Territory (Frank L Moss/Charles R Marion/George W George)

Western. Cowboy Logan Cates (Rory Calhoun) is caught travelling through Apache territory. He must fight his way out and rescue a woman on his way.

 

07:10 Private’s Progress (John Boulting/Frank Harvey)

Lighthearted comedy about an upper-crust chap who joins the army and has problems coping with the regimented lifestyle. He soon becomes known as a misfit, only to find a little salvation in the form of his uncle, who has been looting German art treasures from behind enemy lines.

 

08:45 The Maggie (William Rose)

An Ealing Studios comedy-drama from 1954 depicting a clash of cultures between a hard-nosed American businessman and a crafty Scottish sea captain, inspired by Neil Munro’s stories of the Vital Spark and her captain Para Handy. The Maggie is a small, ageing Clyde puffer boat and her Captain, the wily Mactaggart, is desperately in need of £300 to renew his license. A chance meeting at a shipping firm office leads to a mistaken commission to transport furniture for an American businessman, Calvin B Marshall. On learning of the reality of how his goods were being transported, Marshall takes matters into his own hands. A plane and car chase ensues with numerous colourful adventures en-route to the Maggie’s final destination.

 

13:45 The Ipcress File (Bill Canaway/James Doran)

Spy thriller in which an agent is assigned to investigate a bizarre brain drain among scientists, and finds himself embroiled in a world of espionage where nobody can be trusted and nothing is what it seems. Based on the novel by Len Deighton, it has spawned two sequels.

 

21:00 Marvel’s The Avengers (Joss Whedon)

Comic book action adventure. The director of peacekeeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D. gathers an elite team of superheroes including The Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man and Thor when the Norse god’s evil brother steals a cosmic cube from an underground base. The group must work together to protect the Earth from the leader of an extraterrestrial race and it’s army intent on harnessing the cube’s power.

 

22:00 The Other Boleyn (Peter Morgan)

A passionate story of love, rivalry and a family torn apart by ambition, based on Philippa Gregory’s novel. Against the epic backdrop of a defining period in English history, this is an intimate study of a relationship between a man and two sisters: the youngest replaces her sister in the man’s affections, starting a chain of events that lead ultimately to her death. The man is Henry VIII, King of England, and the two sisters Mary and Anne Boleyn. Mary is the first to catch the King’s eye, but is cast aside in favour of the dazzling Anne, whose passionate nature and relentless pursuit of the crown propel her towards her doom.

 

Sunday 11th January 2015

00:40 Lady Caroline Lamb (Robert Bolt)

Caroline Ponsonby, the highly strung daughter of Lord and Lady Bessborough, rushes into marriage with William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne. Growing bored with her placid husband, Caroline is drawn to the undeniable charms of fledgling poet George Byron and they begin a torrid affair, but since neither of them are prepared to play to the rules of Regency high society, their indiscretion leads to tragedy.

 

01:20 Kevin and Perry Go Large (Dave Cummings/Harry Enfield)

Comedy featuring characters from Harry Enfield’s sketch programmes. Kevin and Perry, the ultimate stroppy teenagers and aspiring DJs, are fed up with their ‘virgin’ status. They want action, so they decide to head to Ibiza, which they believe is home to the best clubs and carefree sex. There’s just one catch: Kevin’s parents want to come too.

 

02:40 Love (William Eubank)

Drama. An astronaut finds himself stranded on a space station in a constant orbit around the Earth. Contact with the outside world is impossible.

 

06:10 Shrek 2 (Andrew Adamson/Joe Stillman/J. David Stem/David N. Weiss)

BBC One Animated sequel following the grumpy ogre and his bride as they head for the land of Far Far Away to meet her parents. As Shrek contends with his new in-laws, the wicked Fairy Godmother sets in motion a dastardly scheme to scupper his marriage to Fiona. And will any of them survive at the hands of dandy assassin Puss in Boots?

Superman vs. the Elite — review

Adapted by Joe Kelly from What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?.

 

There are two ways of experiencing DC Universe Animated Originals, and that’s to either watch it for the animation or for the story. While most DC fans would watch for the animation, since they’re adaptations of other DC storylines, I watch the story. That’s because not only is this blog about screenwriting, but also because I’m pretentious enough to watch an animation for the plot.

Which is a shame in the case of Superman vs. the Elite, since it’s very well animated, but just not very interesting. The opening credits are a pop-art bombast, that shows you that this is going to be a slightly different style of adventure for Kal-El. The first scene is a diegetic adaptation of his adventures, done as knowingly badly as possible, before cutting to him watching the show in a shop window. It sets the scene well: the cell shading is more important than the story happening within that fictional show. But it’s strange that Lois Lane disapproves of it for being too corny, when in-fact, the story they’re in is just as bad – but this time unknowingly.

Yes, the animation is a vast improvement on previous Animated Originals, but the story hasn’t moved-on at all. Such an ambitious beginning sets you up for an exciting adventure, but it all turns out to be superfluous to the narrative. Even when writing for direct-to-DVD, story is still the most important thing, because it can get you on to writing other things. Really, the colouring style is a very deceptive way of keeping you watching a story that’s neither good or bad, and leaves you feeling indifferent. Which is the worst kind of bad – not even memorably so.

 

Superman vs. the Elite: improved animation, still quite boring. 4/10

Superman Doomsday — review

One of the most important things about Kal-El is his villains, without whom there’d be no point to his character. In fact, him having villains makes his tolerable, because it means that he’s at least doing something right. Superman Doomsday is about one thing: the fight between Kal-El and Doomsday. Kal-El being the Human element, who fights Doomsday to protect Metropolis, and Doomsday being the un-Human element, who destroys what he sees out of animalistic instinct. Doomsday is a key Kal-El villain, as the only creature that was ever able to actually kill him, in Superman vol. 2 #75, Doomsday!. And like other direct-to-DVD productions, Superman Doomsday adapts that storyline.

The problem with Superman Doomsday is that, for a villain with top billing, alongside the protagonist, Doomsday doesn’t really appear very much. As soon as he escapes, and heads toward Metropolis, Kal-El engages him and the fight begins. But the fight is also over pretty quickly, and what follows is a new story involving a false Kal-El and Lex Luthor, who’s never actually defeated or reaches some sort of closure. The final shot is Luthor realizing his first plan’s failed, only to declare that he’ll beat Kal-El eventually. Which just about sums-up how this works: there are lots of elements of the mythology, which are either underused or unnecessary. One scene has Toyman terrorising a bridge, only for Toyman to be instantly killed minutes later. He even had to introduce himself to the audience by speaking in the third person, along with puns. That’s a thing, as well. Superman Doomsday is filled with puns, and after a while they lose their effect.

A much more daring approach would have been to make the whole thing a battle between the two, ending in their mutual defeats. Except Warner Premiere don’t really like having continuity between their different releases, so that’s put the scuppers on that idea. And they clearly didn’t want to do something more than ninety minutes long, since it wasn’t being released in mainstream cinema. Which is immediately a problem, since they wanted there to be a fight with Doomsday, but also a continuation involving the infamous resurrection, since they didn’t want to end of the sombre not of their flagship character being killed, without a way for him to have survived.

So really, the problem with Superman Doomsday is that it’s not really about Doomsday. Doomsday is only there for Superman to quickly die, and make the real story be actually about him showing his ability to survive anything. And given it’s direct-to-DVD, and that therefore, only fans will be seeing it… wouldn’t they want a bit more than that? Rather than taking eighty minutes to get a message the same message as always, isn’t there a more interesting spin on it? Of course, it is only eighty minutes, and there isn’t really a legitimate problem with something at least being watchable and satisfying the audience. It might not be much – in fact, it’s pretty much the most basic idea of Superman being unkillable – but the animation’s pretty cool, and there are worse ways to pass eighty minutes of an evening. Even if it isn’t what you might be expecting.

 

Superman Doomsday: tangential storytelling with adequate animation. 5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy — review

Marvel are one of the most interesting motion picture studios there are right now, because everything they release is an adaptation of their comic book lines. In adaptations, source material doesn’t matter. I’ve never read a Marvel comic book, so I’ve never known what to expect. I can also say that I’ve never felt alienated by that, and have never needed to research characters to understand the plot. Guardians of the Galaxy is their strangest release yet, because –  I’m informed – not even Marvel readers knew of them. The small number of followers the line has is all that prevents this from being an original production from Marvel, that instead launches a line rather than promoting it. But I only know all this because I follow these kind of circles, and make it my business to know these things anyway. Most people will assume that Guardians of the Galaxy is just as well read as Captain America Comics or Avengers. And because Marvel Studios always hold the interest of Most People, rather than fans, they didn’t need to do anything different this time. By treating Guardians of the Galaxy with the same respect they’d give Avengers, they were able to introduce the audience to more characters for their cinematic universe without them ever knowing they were a special case.

As with every team-up, what their first appearance has to do is introduce the members. What I like about the Guardians of the Galaxy more than anything is the diversity: there’s only one Human. And the other non-Human members don’t look Human either. Which is convenient, since that makes Peter Quill the surrogate character: through him, we experience the galaxy, and the expansion of the MCU.

 

Quill is extremely likeable, because he isn’t a cliched hero. In fact, he isn’t a hero at all. He’s an idiot. He’s the guy more focused on the music playing in his headphones than the battle taking place around him. But you like him for it, because you know you’d only be doing the same. Casting is the most important factor in the story of a galactic misfit team, and Chris Pratt inhabits the role in a way that shows you, without modesty, that this is a role only Pratt could play. He’s like Henry Jones meets Han Solo meets Chris Pratt himself. You can see that there’s so much of him in the role, that it’s as if the role was created for him. Either way, he’s the first to bring Quill to life in live action, cementing himself in the minds of anyone who saw it as the character. You really want to believe that it was meant to be.

Gamora… honestly, I didn’t find Gamora memorable at all. Zoe Saldana is well-known to fans of science fiction cinema, having featured in Avatar and the Star Trek reboot. I remember Grace Randolph describing her as “Zoe Saldana in space”, and there isn’t really anything I can say to add to that. (Of course, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything she said in her review, but that also doesn’t mean I can’t still like her as a person.)

Drax now. I liked Drax more than I expected, since actor Dave Bautista’s a wrestler, and that made me really skeptical. But I found him entertaining in what we got of him. Bautista intelligently underplayed Drax to make the character work. Rather than him being a raging fighter with anger management issues (basically, Space Hulk), he gave us a fragile soul in a powerful body. Which isn’t to say I find him a sophisticated actor, but Bautista admits that he only has so much range. Director James Gunn should be congratulated for bringing-out the best of what Bautista could offer, and he became a character that you really grew to like. He’s the biggest achievement of Guardians of the Galaxy, I feel.

Rocket Racoon! He was by far my favourite member of the team, since he’s, without sugarcoating it, a modified racoon that can speak, has an attitude, likes drinking and builds weapons. He’s pissed at his own forced existence, and feels that he has no place in the galaxy, since there really ain’t no thing like him ‘cept him. It’s difficult remembering any one character without the others, but Racoon is the one that just edges forward to be the one that won me over with this one. Plus, I also found him to be closest to the winning idea of Guardians of the Galaxy: that even if you feel as if you don’t belong, there’s someone out there who wants to meet you, and make you feel wanted. He gets by far the best character development, and by the end has learnt to use his anger for good. He’s the story’s character.

And finally, Groot. Groot is the most well-executed character in all of this. The humanoids don’t need to convince us they’re real, we can see that. A talking racoon isn’t too far a stretch of the imagination, but a sentient tree that can grow its roots as weapons and shields requires the most dedication to be convincing. And it worked. By God, it worked. Groot’s earned a worldwide following since his premiere, and that’s totally understandable. I was distracted by Racoon, but Groot is more popular by consensus, especially in the child demographic. I like Groot for no other reason than him being so well realised.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy‘s most important contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its expansion of that Universe. The Thor series was the first to be inter-planetary, but this is the first time a story’s focused on a planet other than Earth. Thanos was a very interesting villain, and definitely made me excited for Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, even if that was his single purpose. The Infinity Stones are also a fascinating concept, and I’m glad the Guardians of the Galaxy were allowed to be part of something significant, rather than a jolly about the galaxy. They’re now very important characters, as the only people that actually know about the Infinity Stones, and must surely have a role in the future of the MCU. A crossover’s inevitable. Gunn denies it, but they can’t not simply because of their place in events.  Not only that, but it proves an ensemble team-up, especially in the superhero genre, don’t necessarily need to have their origin prequel. It’s far more satisfying to see them all being seen for the first time together, and feeling as if you already know them. Which is the only really origins really happen. It’s something I wish would stop cluttering-up the MCU, since the team-ups are far more interesting than something made just to set up events for the main event.

Of all the Marvel releases I’ve encountered in my viewing, this is the most… awesome.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: best example of ensemble characters. 8/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — review

Okay, context. I am not a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the first book, and that’s about it. I was mostly put-off by Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets, as that was the scariest thing I’d ever read or seen at the time. And yet… Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is definitely one of the greatest motion pictures I’ve ever seen. Why? Because it achieves what all great franchises should – transcending itself, to exist on its own, without the support of what comes before or after it. Normally, I’m critical of halving finales, which this series was the first to do, inspiring Twilight with Breaking DawnThe Hunger Games with Mockingjay and even inspiring Peter Jackson to divide The Hobbit into three strenuous epics.

What makes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 such an achievement, is because of its overwhelming theme of ending. Not loss, or despair – all of which could be used by filmmakers with a preference for grit over realism – but of the concept of endings itself. From the very beginning, we’re in the middle of affairs. Which is why this manages to escapes its bonds within the Harry Potter series to become a self-standing tale of what it means to reach that inevitable moment in life when you all move on and leave behind what you used to be, and into the great unknown future to become something else. That’s the case in the Harry Potter world, as well as in the real world. Both cast and crew had spent the past decade in a world so vividly created it might as well be real. Stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson began their acting careers at its commencement, and had almost no other life. David Yates might not be the only Harry Potter director, but he’s contributed to the most. And it shows here, because his career’s been defined by working with these actors, who’s lives in turn have been defined by growing up in a world so fantastical that it probably made them until that point delirious with love for that world and those characters, living in two worlds, and now being expected to leave one of them behind, and continue working as actors, rather than living as wizards. All with the cruel irony of being forever remembered as those wizards in everything they do beyond that.

And that’s the reason the overarching theme of ending is so apparent – because it’s true. This was the conclusion to a life’s work, that not just the actors had grown-up with, but people. The series had, and still does, inspire so many people worldwide. They feel they’re being allowed to escape whatever it is that makes them want to leave their muggle life, and Hogwarts has given them a place to go and be inspired by dreams of acceptance. As Dumbledore says, “Of course it’s all in your head, Harry. But why should that mean it isn’t real?”. That line of itself is testament to Rowling’s inspiring skills as a storysmith. With this universe, she’s poured all of life into seven books, with which she, the characters, the stars, and the feelings of hope imbued within the readers, will live forever. The Harry Potter books are Horcruxes, and this makes the final part of the story metaphysical. Rowling wrote how it felt to reach the end of something. To let go of the thing you loved the most, but also to free of its burden, and to be allowed to go on and create other things, and be another thing. And that allowed the cast of characters – all of whom are given the respect they deserve and defining moments of what they meant and mean to us – to be so believeable. They really were approaching their final journey in that world, and the characters are shown to know that. They know this is what will define the lives they’ll come to have, and what the world after this event will be like.

Such a combination gives a canvas to the audience, and gives them faith to continue. I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve. Everyone’s reflecting on what this year’s meant to them, and what they’re going to do next year. It is the end of something today. The end of an important chapter. People will have met the people they’ll be spending the rest of their lives with. Others may have departed. Some will have begun school, as I did over a decade over. Others will have left, as I did earlier in this decade. The final day was a massive deal for all of us. We knew it meant, because we’d already seen it in the form of Deathly Hallows. But that gave us context, and allowed us to feel that it was good. I myself remember the final moment with my form tutor, one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. And the crushing feeling of knowing that the person I’d spent the past five years pining-after might not even think about me again. I remember my first day, and my last day. Even now, I’m applying for University. I’ll leave behind my college adventures, and begin something a new. A new life, which, in turn, will end. In my final school year, I’d taken part in a social experiment. One of the best artists I’ll ever know made YouTube videos every day of 2012. And over that year, we became closer than I ever thought we would. And we felt as if we’d defined ourselves in those 365 days. By the time it ended at the New Year, it was as if an entire chunk of our lives, a whole year, had ended. That’s what these characters faced – their final school year. It taught me the power of art, and how it can change lives. Honestly, writing this, I can’t tell which of those two worlds I’m talking about anymore.

So listen. And let me tell you something.

The final shot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 could be my favourite last shot in all of cinema. Because everything preceding it had felt like the summary of a lifetime. The heavy spirit of knowing it was the last time these characters would laugh together, and run together, and fight together. Even if they still did after the story ended, but we’d never see that. I don’t want to. It was ended perfectly, and should never be continued. I may be the only person that forbids J.K. Rowling from adding to the Harry Potter series. The final shot, as Potter, Wealsey and Granger look on, now in the present day, and parents, at their children, as they travel onwards toward Hogwarts. That shot? It… changed me. Because, to quote the final words of the source material, “all was well”. They’d had their adventure, but now an even bigger adventure began. They’d created a world safe for their children to inhabit, and had been given the reward of having those children. That it had all been for something. In the end, they really all did live happily ever after. But in a way that we can relate to. Of the past, and the future. And the present. They were so proud of what they’d accomplished, and I felt that pride for them. Because I saw in them myself. What I could do – whatever I wanted. That, even if things are emotional now, it, all of it, everything will pay off. And that we’ll look back and it will all make sense. Maybe in years to come, we’ll get to where we started, and nothing will have changed at all. The walls will have come tumbling down, the cities we love will have changed. But it might not have to feel like it.

More than anything, it makes me want to create. To tell stories. To attempt to understand what it means to be alive, and to have lived. If, when I am done, I’m as pleased to have worked for my happiness as much as the cast, crew, and Rowling herself, were of this… then I shall be happy indeed. Because that’s what’s out there. I thought I feared time and ageing. But not anymore. Now, I see time for what it really is.. What a way to begin a new year. The year I leave college, and go to University. And I don’t want to miss a thing.

The only thing I regret is not being a part of the Harry Potter fanbase when it began. To have read The Philosopher’s Stone with everyone else, and to have heard it was being adapted. And to go on that journey. But the way I’ve experienced this series is mine only. And nobody can take that away from me. Because, as JK Rowling once said: the stories that we love the most live inside of forever.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: what to have lived means. 10/10