Book: Kingsman, the Secret Service

"Kingsman"

Around the globe, pop-culture celebrities are being abducted, and no one knows why. Jack London–superspy–is on the case.

But Jack has problems of his own: a deadbeat sister and her out-of-control son. Young Eggsy has fallen in with the wrong crowd, and his life is circling the drain. Only Jack stands between his nephew and a jail cell. But seeing something of himself in Eggsy, Jack offers him one last chance for a future–in spy school. Out of his element, surrounded by the best and the brightest, are Eggsy’s street smarts enough for him to make it as a secret agent? Does he have what it takes to help his uncle find the celebrities and save the world?

Confession: I only picked this up because I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film version–which while pretty different, still retains the main plot of the graphic novel. That said, I still don’t think I can pick a version I liked better.

The graphic novel, oddly enough, feels more realistic than the film. You can see how Eggsy would have a tougher time at spy school–while in and out of the academy. And he feels a little more grounded. And I really liked how Eggsy actually has a lot of classmates in spy school who ends up doing something, who aren’t just personality-less drones to fill up space like in the film. I also appreciated that most of the action aren’t very clean without feeling like it’s only there for the purpose of shock value.

What I didn’t really like though was how there was a lack of strong women in the graphic novel. That’s one of the things I liked about the film–how there was a strong female counterpoint to Eggsy–who wasn’t a love interest.

The film, which is again strange, is more visual than the graphic novel though. There’s a certain romanticism to espionage too, that isn’t as felt in the graphic novel.

Where the film trumps the graphic novel though is in how Uncle Jack dies. He might’ve gone out with a bang in the graphic novel, but the film had him explode. Not literally.

So, yeah, I really don’t know which version I liked best–but I liked both well enough that I have nothing bad to say about Kingsman.

In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing more adventures from Eggsy once the sequel comes out in theaters.

Movie: The Winter Soldier

"Captain America: Winter Soldier"

After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy–the Winter Soldier.

I was never a fan of Captain America. I’m a Spider-Man kind of guy. But ever since Marvel began expanding its cinematic universe, starting with Iron Man back in 2008, I held out hope that the world’s dullest superhero would get a character makeover to make him more relatable to today’s audiences.

Marvel didn’t do that. Instead they wrote a story to highlight what makes Captain America a hero–his heart, his belief…his faith. The First Avenger made me see the shine under the dull exterior of Steve Rogers. Fast forward to years later, after his attempt at leading the Avengers in their first team-up movie, and we see Captain America come to his own. Finally.

Steve Rogers is a man of virtue. That’s what makes him dull. Because you know he will never make a mistake, and that he will always consider other people’s fates first before his own. He is not one of us. He is the Superman of Marvel, the beacon of hope, and of all things good. Of what we have to aspire to be.

And we don’t like being shown our weaknesses.

But when you put Steve Rogers in a situation everyone of us faces? When you give him problems that we ourselves have? When you see him struggle with things we struggle with in a day-to-day basis? You start to see that he’s not perfect. That he is us…at our basest form. Someone who just wants to do good; someone who just wants to do right.

Someone with the courage to do so.

This is when we start to root for him.

The Captain America of Marvel’s cinematic universe speaks to us because he is not painted to be the person we should be–but the person we could be…if we only had the confidence to embrace who we are, regardless of how we look, of how big or small we are, of who is opposing us.

Captain America: The First Avenger made me believe that a modern hero could be as virtuous and clean as Steve Rogers. (Which is weird, seeing as that film was a period movie.) The Winter Soldier made me believe that we can be like him too. And that’s just one of the things I loved about The Winter Soldier.

The cast is stellar. Chris Evans is Steve Rogers. Scarlett Johansson shows new depths in her characterization of Black Widow. And new addition to the team Anthony Mackie is awesome as the Falcon. The supporting cast was just as great, but I don’t want to mention why exactly as that would spoil certain parts of the film.

Let’s just say the only character that let me down was Agent 13, but that’s not so much because of how she was acted, but because there wasn’t enough screen time for her, and for the set-up of her potential as a love interest for Captain America. Heck, Cap’s friendship with Black Widow has more chemistry than any of Cap’s scenes with Agent 13.

That said, it is going to be hard to root for a new love for Cap anyway because of a Peggy Carter cameo that will make you tear up. You don’t want Cap to move on just yet.

Another thing that The Winter Soldier does exceptionally well is the characterization of its villains. And the film has a lot of them. Baltroc, Crossbones, Armin Zola… The list goes on, and we’re not even counting the titular Winter Soldier yet. In a Captain America film, you expect things to be black and white. Cap, after all, is our All-American Hero whose intentions are pure and true. Evil should be evil. But that’s not the case with The Winter Soldier.

It’s all gray area. And that’s what makes the film all the more interesting.

What happens when the embodiment of  all things good come fact to face with the moralities of gray areas? How will he discern good from evil?

What happens when a man who values trust above all else, is told to trust no one?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier will take your expectations and throw it under a bus. And then it gives you a film you never thought you wanted–and make you enjoy it.

Book: A Calm Before Storm #4

"A Calm Before Storm #4"

Retired private investigator Derrick Storm was enjoying the easy life–until he fished up a decapitated head belonging to a victim of notorious criminal The Fear. When Derrick’s father, Carl, revealed that The Fear was also the man who killed Derrick’s mother, the game changed.

Following a lead, Derrick adn Carl set up a meeting at the Russian Embassy–only to interrupt The Fear in the midst of an assassination attempt on the ambassador. In doing so, Derrick and Carl were framed for the hit. Derrick’s CIA contact, Helen Pierce, managed to clear their names, only to shut them down, taking away their passports, weapons, and Derrick’s P.I. identification.

That wouldn’t stop the Sotmr men, though. Discovering that The Fear’s long game is to destabilize the Russian and German governments causing a potential world war, Derrick realized he had to reach out to the only contact he has left–Clara Strike, a CIA agent considered dead to the world–and the woman who crushed Derrick’s heart.

I am very tempted to say I liked the issue just because I feel like I’ve become too hard to please lately. My recent posts have all been a bit negative. But who would I be kidding? I can’t lie to save my life. Even in text form.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t hate this issue–I just didn’t like it. Very much. And my main gripe is this: nothing happened. At all.

We have Derrick, his dad, and his lover parachute to Russia. They ride a train where Derrick gets ambushed, but they don’t really learn anything they didn’t know before. And then they spend the rest of the issue beating up an old man for the whereabouts of The Fear. As soon as they leave, The Fear is revealed to be in the room they just departed all along.

Talk about an exercise in futility!

I don’t know how long this mini-series is supposed to go, but if they’re already resorting to filler issues like this, maybe it’s time to cut down the number of issue orders and just focus on telling the mystery straightforwardly. Or maybe branch out with a subplot featuring the CIA investigation of The Fear.

Either way, I’m hoping next issue would have a more substantial content.

Book: Frozen Heat

"Frozen Heat"

NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat gets more mystery than she imagined when she arrives at her latest crime scene. The body of an unidentified woman has been found stabbed to death and stuffed inside a suitcase left sitting in a freezer truck. A startling enough death, but an even bigger shock comes when this new homicide surprisingly connects to the unsolved murder of Detective Heat’s own mother. Killed gruesomly, the Jane Doe on ice launches Heat on a dangerous and emotional investigation, rekindling the cold case that has haunted her since she was nineteen. Paired once again with her romantic and investigative partner, top journalist Jameson Rook, Heat works to solve the mystery of the body in the suitcase while she also digs into unexplored areas of her mother’s background–areas Nikkie has been afraid to confront before, but now must.

Facing relentless danger as someone targets her for the next kill, Heat’s search will unearth painful family truths, expose a startling hidden life, and cause Nikkie to reexamine her own past. Heat’s passionate quest takes her and Rook from the back alleys of Manhattan to the avenues of Paris, trying to catch a ruthless killer. The question is, now that ther mother’s cold case has unexpectedly thawed, will Nikki Heat finally be able to solve the dark mystery that has been her demon for more than ten years?

The title of this novel is very apt. It’s frozen, and it takes time (and some chapters) before it completely thaws. Once it does though, it definitely takes you for a ride. But first, a detour.

I haven’t been a very good fan of Castle, the television series, for a couple of years now. Work has me tangled up in a lot of things, and my viewing habits suffered a little. Not that I’m complaining about the work. I love what I do. It does create an interesting predicament for me with regards to Frozen Heat though.

See, most of my complaints about the Nikki Heat novels is that they read too much like an episode of Castle. In some cases, events in the show also appear in the novels. And with a cast of characters that are very similar in both medium, it’s really hard to distinguish one from the other. And I have been wondering what the point is in providing new content when it’s a retread of what was already shown.

Of course, because I haven’t been watching Castle regularly for two seasons now, I have no idea if that’s the case for Frozen Heat. I do know for sure though that the new person in-charge of the precinct in the show is nothing like the one in the novel, but that’s just one difference. That’s pretty much the only thing I can say to compare the two nowadays.

On Frozen Heat alone though, I have more.

Now, as I already mentioned, the novel starts our at glacier pace. Well, no. Not really. But because it starts much like most mystery novels do, it feels glacier-like for me. There’s nothing new. And, once again, it reads too much like a novelization of a Castle episode–even if it’s one I haven’t seen.

That is, until they take the show on the road–and, in one case, overseas. That’s when things become interesting.

In Frozen Heat, we delve deeper into the mystery of Nikki Heat’s mother. Parts of the mystery mirror events that happen in the show, but I think this is finally where the novel separates itself from its source material. And I’m loving it.

As we unravel the death of Cynthia Heat, we also get a new look at who Nikki is as a person. And while past Nikki Heat novels has her pretty much being a printed copy of Kate Beckett, the one we get to know in Frozen Heat is someone new, someone different. And as the case blows open, we are introduced to a new arc that I hope will carry on (and get solved) in the next novel.

Another thing I loved about the latest book is the development of new characters introduced in Heat Rises. These character don’t exist in the show, for budgetary reasons I’m presuming, which is great for the novel because it adds to the series’s identity.

I must say, this is the first time I’m actually looking forward to the next Nikki Heat novel. Let’s check out if I’m the only one who is:
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