Movie: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

I enjoyed the movie for the popcorn flick it was. But does it live up to the hype and the quality of recent Marvel outings like Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy? No. It doesn’t even surpass the quality of the first Avengers movie.

To be fair, I don’t really know what the problem with Age of Ultron is. There was too much going on, but at the same time, I do not know what else they could’ve taken out. There were too many characters, and some of them were short-changed; and I feel like the Hawkeye storyline was more an apology to the actor than an actual need for story-telling purposes. That said, I do love every scene Linda Cardellini was in.

Before I delve into the film further, I must give a warning. I will discuss the film at length and there will be spoilers. So leave now if you have plans of watching the movie, and don’t want to have twists ruined for you. Okay?

Okay. Now, let’s begin with what I didn’t like about the film.

Number one: Black Widow. The Natasha we met in Avengers and got to know better in Winter Soldier is gone. Instead we get a teen-aged girl with a lot of bravado, and a big crush on Bruce Banner. Now, while I understood the appeal of Banner to Natasha, I’m not a fan of how writer Whedon went about in showing it.

We start the film in battle. Natasha shares a moment with The Hulk during said battle. And in the next scene, she’s already flirting with him. (And I don’t care what the Cap says. That was flirting.) It felt so off. And it didn’t feel earned. I felt cheated that Natasha’s journey into realizing she has feelings for the Banner wasn’t shown to us, the audience. But mostly, I didn’t like how the love story was forced upon us when, by the end of the film, it turns out that there was no need for it at all.

Why were we given an undeveloped love story and made to invest in it, if it wasn’t even going anywhere? And no, don’t tell me that it was a set up to Bruce saving Natasha in Sokovia. Thor could’ve done that. There wasn’t even a fucking guard to keep Natasha in that cage. (And, let’s be real. If Natasha was able to make that primitive spy gadget to communicate to Hawkeye where she was, she could make a fucking key to escape that old-as-hell jail cell.)

And don’t tell me it’s a set up for The Hulk to leave the Avengers. Because it sure as hell doesn’t fly. Why? Because of the number two reason I don’t like Age of Ultron: everything Whedon did right by The Hulk in the first Avengers movie was undone in the sequel.

Fans cheered when Hulk was finally given justice on the big screen–thanks to Whedon. So it comes as a big shock that the big guy’s undoing would be in Whedon’s hand as well. Everything established in the first film, of how he was controlling his anger instead of fighting it, was thrown out the window for a love story between him and Natasha. A love story that, as you can tell by now, I’m really not a fan of.

Because it made monsters of the characters we were already growing to love. While Natasha became a damsel in distress that she never should’ve been, Bruce was having an identity crisis. When he’s with Tony Stark, he’s a whipping boy who never stands up for what he believes in. When he’s with Natasha, he’s a stuttering fool who has forgotten that he already dealt with romance before. He had Betty. He knew a relationship with a woman would be hard. But he loved Betty enough that he trusted himself with her.

He doesn’t have that with Natasha because their relationship was never processed properly. (That said, they never acknowledged his relationship with Betty either, so…)

And Hulk flying off into the sunset doesn’t sit well with me either because Bruce has done the running away before. It didn’t work. He understands that he needs people, just as much as he needs to be careful around them.

To be honest, I would’ve liked it better if the rumors from before the film premiered had been true. That the Hulk was catapulted into space while fighting Ultron. Because that’s the only way I can see Bruce leaving his Avengers family. Unwillingly. And, you know what? This could’ve been the major ‘death’ that the heroes could rally around. I mean, none of them would know that the Hulk could survive in space, right?

Because the death that we got? It only actually left an emotional impact on two characters. So, in the end, the whole climax felt disjointed. And this is the third reason why I didn’t like the Age of Ultron movie: there was a huge set-up for a major characters’ demise, but the death we got instead was insignificant. (Which pains me to write, because I absolutely adored Whedon’s and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on Pietro Maximoff.)

Let’s break it down: in this film, we finally get to know Clint Barton. We find out he has a family who he’s been trying to keep safe–and secret. Throughout the film, it’s underlined how much more mortal he is compared with the other Avengers–even with Natasha in the mix. And then he makes a promise to his wife, which you know is a death wish in big action films. Then, as a final nail in the coffin, his wife tells him how important he is to the Avengers, because he is the one who grounds them.

Clint Barton becomes the reason why the Avengers are fighting. For the good people who want to do good, not because they are forced to–but because they want to. Because they believe that there is a future worth fighting for.

And while I like the fact that Whedon subverts expectations by not killing Barton, the death of Pietro lacks the emotional punch for it to live up to the build-up Whedon wrote. For more than half the film, Pietro was a villain. A villain with valid intentions and a good back story, but a villain nonetheless. And what’s worse, he only even emotionally connected with Barton. And his sister Wanda, of course. But that’s it. You can’t rally around the death of someone who, for the most part, had been fighting against your goal.

Which is why I think Hulk being catapulted into space would work better was the pay-off to the Barton build up. He is as much a part of the Avengers team as Hawkeye is. He has connections with all the characters–even Wanda who would feel guilty for what she made him do in South Africa. And viewers are already invested in the character.

Now, did we need Wanda’s scream of death that disabled so many Ultrons? Not really. Did we need the badass way she ripped out the main Ultron’s core? That’s a no too, even if it is cool that the main villain dies at the hands of a female character. But we could’ve given that scene to Natasha instead.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Age of Ultron. But whatever it was, it wasn’t the film we got. It wasn’t the sassy-as-fuck Captain America who had a steady stream of sarcastic one-liners at the ready. It wasn’t the hard-headed Tony Stark who did things with reckless abandon, although I wasn’t really surprised by this one. It wasn’t the under-utilized Thor who was literally a deus ex machina. … Literally. What with him being the final key to bring the Vision to life. It wasn’t the Natasha Romanoff who undid all the good that the Natasha in the first Avengers and Winter Soldier had done. And it wasn’t the unsure Bruce Banner who acted without a spine for the entirety of the movie.

But with all my complaints about the movie, I did enjoy watching it. I enjoyed the twins. I enjoyed the Vision. I enjoyed Linda Cardellini, and Samuel L. Jackson, and the introduction of Helen Cho. I loved how it was equally important for our heroes to save the innocent people as it was to defeat the villain. And I loved how the film didn’t shy away from the fact that there will be casualties in battles like this.

And, honestly: I enjoyed the film going boom.

That said, my advice to people who have already enjoyed the film on first viewing? Don’t watch it again. Because I did. And that’s when I picked up all the things that didn’t hold up, and the things I realized I didn’t like.

I really hope Ant-Man is better than Age of Ultron.

Book: Kick-Ass 3

"Kick-Ass 3"

Teenager David Lizewski loved comic books and superheroes. So why couldn’t he be the hero?

He tried. Lacking training and armed only with a pair of batons, Lizewski foolishly donned a costume of his own design and took to the streets to stop crime. His reward for taking on a gang of thugs? A trip to intensive care after he got his ass kicked.

But after intense training from the black belt tween prodigy Hit-Girl, David became the hero known as Kick-Ass. And Kick-Ass went viral in the public consciousness. Overnight, seemingly everyone wanted to be a superhero.

And of course, every superhero needs and archenemy. Chris Genovese, mafia son and the super-villain known as Red Mist, raised an army and tried to raze New York’s Times Square. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl took them down…barely. But there were consequences: Superheroes were outlawed and Hit-Girl went to prison.

Now Dave must step up and lead the superhero team known as Justice Forever, just as a major threat appears on the horizon. Rocco Genovese, an old-school don whose weapon of choice is a golden pickaxe. He’s got 99 kill-notches on that axe. And he’s saving the 100th notch for someone very special.

I thought I was going to be able to predict the ending… I thought wrong. For a grim and gritty comic book series about the pratfalls of being a superhero in the real world, the series sure ended on a whimsical note. Not that I’m complaining. I like that the series ended on hope, even if not all the characters we’ve grown to know survived to the end.

But isn’t that what Kick-Ass has been about since it started? Superhero stories make it seem like everything will always be all right in the end. Even when the odds are obviously not in the hero’s favor. I mean, just take a look at the Superior Spider-Man title. Peter Parker died. Doctor Octopus took over his life. Thirty odd issues later and Peter’s back in his body, and the whole thing is about to get swept under a rug. So long as people need superheroes, they will always prevail. They will always get back up from their graves. Or, if they’re a DC title, they get rebooted for the nth time.

The best thing about Kick-Ass is that his creators, Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., granted him something no other superheroes have: an expiration date. David Lizewski gets an actual ending. And that’s one of the biggest reasons why Kick-Ass will live on in fans’ hearts as a great work. Because the plots didn’t need stretching. Because the characters were allowed to grow, and to keep growing until they reached their natural end. And because no weird subplot had to be introduced just to keep the title alive.

There really isn’t a lot to say about Kick-Ass’s final foray into superheroics. It kicked ass. Spectacularly. And I will remember it fondly.

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: Animen 5-6

"Animen 6"

In the first four issues of Animen, we meet four of six plane crash survivors who suddenly gain superpowers–based on animals that they see just before they lost consciousness during the crash.

They find out that the lightning that caused their plane to crash, was also the source of their new-found powers. And that supernatural beings want to take the pieces of lightning embedded on their bodies to rid the world of humans.

Yes, it’s not the most original of plots–but at least it has one. And you can pretty much tell where the story is going.

Oh, wait. Were you looking for a synopsis? Well, I can’t really include the actual synopsis as it pretty much spoils whatever happens in the previous issues; so you’ll have to make do with the gist. Which is what I already gave. So let’s get one with it–

Whatever goodwill I had for the series is quickly dissipating. Not because the quality went down, it’s the same. It’s just that… I can’t believe I was taken in for a ride. I actually thought Animen was on to something okay, if not good. But as we get to know the characters better, I find myself not caring less and less about them. And, to be honest, I also find them a little grating.

On a good note, all the characters have distinct personalities. Unfortunately, you can’t relate to any one of them. One owns a chopper, one owns a yacht. Both of them don’t seem to have any family or work. And our one anchor to the crazy world that writer Ron Mendoza is relegated to the sidelines, while he tries to make a romantic move after killing– Oh, wait. Spoilers.

So, yeah. The characters of Animen, now that we know them, are shallow, self-absorbed, and kind of selfish. They don’t have redeeming qualities, and the only thing that’s keeping me from rooting against them is the fact that the villains are… well… more evil.

But I plan to stick with the series. It’s just a few issues now, anyway. Let’s see where the writer takes the plot. And I will read them without expectations. Or, at the very least, with less expectations than I had for the first six issues. Let’s just hope that whatever happens in the last issues would actually make sense.

Book: Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady

"Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady"

Being a maid is tough enough, but when Mely lands a job under a group of unconventional employers, she steps up to the unique challenge for the sake of her family. When Mely’s sister enters the picture, Mely is reminded of a disturbing past, made complicated by an unsettling romantic revelation. All this in a tragicomedy about domestic help, sibling rivalry, and shattered dreams.

And Carlo Vergara is back!

Sort of.

The creator of the beloved Zsazsa Zaturnnah has written a new superhero-centric story in Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady. It’s sold as a graphic novel, but it’s not exactly written as one.

You see, Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady is a one-act play. Turned into a graphic novel. And it shows.

But first, the good:

The wit and fun dialogue that made Zsazsa Zaturnnah stand out is very much present in Carlo Vergara’s new work. The character of Mely is lovable, even though she’s not exactly the typical protagonist. And the love story works. Vergara is a master of unconventional pairings.

Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good for me.

My biggest concern with Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady is the set-up. As a one-act play, I understand the need for situating the whole thing in one location. As a comic book, I don’t. This is something the publisher should have mulled over before deciding to publish it as such.

There are a number of ways to adapt the story without constraining it to the platform it was written for. Zsazsa Zaturnnah is a great example. It successfully transcended the comics platform to become a breakout musical hit. The movie would’ve been amazing too had it benefited from a good director, or at the very least, a decent main cast.

Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady would’ve been a great way to do it the other way around. By turning a good one-act play into an interesting comics story. By allowing it to breathe. Or, at the very least, by allowing your characters to move locations.

And this brings me to my second concern: the heavy-handed delivery of information. Had there been movement in the setting, the dynamic between the characters would’ve been more fluid. Outside forces could then trigger the mile-long discourses each character had bursting out from their chests.

A one-act play doesn’t have the luxury of changing set-ups, so ultra-sensitive triggers are more acceptable. Comic books don’t have such limitations. So what was so hard about tweaking the script a little bit to do such changes?

This leads me to wonder if there was pressure involved on the side of the publisher to have a new release from Carlo Vergara, without regard for the quality of the eventual product.

And so, instead of an amazing comeback for Carlo Vergara, what we get instead is comic book with a lot of potential, but whose promise is wasted on a hastily put-together release.

I was expecting more from this. Much, much more.

Movie: Thor, the Dark World

"Thor: The Dark World"

‘Thor: The Dark World’ continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of ‘Thor’ and ‘The Avengers,’ Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos…but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.” (c) Disney

When your first film already succeeds in grounding your unruly protagonist into a believable hero, it’s going to be a challenge to make the sequel work. Factor in the fact that Thor and Loki, two of the main characters, also squared off in The Avengers? Let’s just say I came in to this film with very low expectations.

And it completely blew me away.

Confession: I fell asleep while watching the first Thor movie. I thought the story divide between Asgard and Earth were too jarring, and I didn’t really enjoy the story. Also, Chris Hemsworth’s bleach-blonde do in the first film was very distracting. And I found that it went a bit heavy on the exposition.

The second film didn’t have that problem: we already know the characters. The events of The Avengers film were dealt with expertly through a couple of lines, and a hilarious cameo. Thor’s blonde do is no longer distracting. And the story… Well, the story was cool.

This is a superhero film, so it’s not like we expect the story to be mind-blowing. The action was, though. But the story served its purpose. It catches you in its web, it makes you care, and you root for the heroes to win. And the amazing thing is, our heroes are no longer bogged down with the journey to better themselves. They’ve already proven that they are heroes in the first film. The Avengers, although light on the character development, have seen them grow some more. This sequel sets our heroes up for a fall because of said growth. And this was genius.

I remember disliking Iron Man 2 because it felt like a cheap version of the first Iron Man film. But that was mostly because our hero failed to live up to the promise set when the first film ended. Iron Man 3, I believe, was a better sequel because it didn’t devolve the character of Tony Stark. It just raised the stakes. And that is exactly what Thor: The Dark World did. Our heroes retained the lessons they learned–but now, they have to use those and then some, to save the worlds.

You notice how I keep saying ‘heroes?’ Because it isn’t just Thor we’re going to root for in this film. Jane Foster also takes a more active role in this film. And so does… another character.

Image and perception take the spotlight in the Thor sequel. And I feel that that’s the main story angle of Thor: The Dark World. We already know who the characters are. We’ve seen them become better. And now, they have to prove to the other characters that what happened in the first film was not a fluke. That what happened in The Avengers was a bridge. And now their growth continues. It’s about maintaining the image and breaking how the other characters perceive them.

And then, there’s trust. This movie is also about learning to trust–and risking so much in that trusting.

I wasn’t a fan of Thor because of the first film. I am a fan now.

Last thought: I loved the climactic battle. I loved how the film used the divisive divide between worlds in such a way that made all the world-jumping integral. And I loved how, unlike Man of Steel, the characters knew to try to get people away from the fight.

Book: The Superior Spider-Man, Issue #18

"Superior Spider-Man 018"

I really do not like Otto Octavius as Spider-Man. And pitting him against a Spider-Man that is more like Peter Parker has made me decide on one thing. I’m dropping this title. Well, after this current arc.

It’s just that…

Well, I want my Spider-Man to be a hero. Flawed, yes. But a hero. With the right morals. A superhero is someone I’m supposed to look up to. The Superior Spider-Man isn’t someone I’d want to be my role model. I’ve stuck out this long because I keep hoping that the mystery would be unraveled by now. Or, at least, there would be some headway in that front. But the team behind the title have dragged it out to the point that… well, it’s ridiculous how badly paced the story is, in my opinion. We’d get bits and nibbles of the main arc once every four issues?

Well, I’m done.

I’m not even going to post about the next issue anymore. (Hell, it took me forever to get to this one.) I’ll just read and see the end of the Spider-Man 2099 arc, and then that’s it.

I really had high hopes for you, Superior Spider-Man. But ultimately, I think you’re a failed experiment.