Crossovers in comics are pretty formulaic most of the time and rarely offer anything beyond the thrill of seeing two famous characters from different backgrounds battling it out with each other. Few of them are well written, fewer even manage anything beyond a bare-bones plot to get the two characters kicking at each other. Considering all that could have gone wrong with Jason vs Freddy, I was pretty surprised at just how well the two meshed.
The plot for bringing them together actually made sense and neither of them had to take on the role of the good guy to make it into a good vs evil cliche. But the most surprising thing about the movie is just how enjoyable it turned out. This isn’t just an exercise in matching two horror icons, it’s a genuinely good movie with a great all-around cast, a good plot (for a horror movie) and some great action.
Superhero prose fiction that tells the story of the powerless daughter of the resident superhero couple who tries to live a normal live and still gets sucked into superhero craziness all the time. The story needs a very long time to actually start, then it’s over in a matter of second and things get sorted out. Most of the plot twists you see coming a mile away and getting there is only mildly interesting. Entirely average book that doesn’t hold any surprises nor can it really compel with interesting characters or situations, but if you have nothing else to do it’s an okay read.
I love good endings. But really good endings are quite rare. I have seen so many books, games, movie and TV-series falter at the finish line. Trying to give the characters a great send-off and bring all those storylines to a satisfying conclusion isn’t an easy thing. And a bad ending can seriously harm the entirety of what came before, even if it was okay (as has been seen with Mass Effect 3 recently), while a great ending can elevate a mediocre series to the next level. I’m much more likely to buy it on DVD or whatever medium of choice is available at the moment, if I like the ending. But I’m not going to buy a show, however great the initial seasons were, if the ending sucks (like in the new Battlestar Galactica).
The final season of Buffy, after the lackluster sixth one, showed that the show was back to form. Plot was back on the throne and ruled supreme. The first evil had started to hunt all potential vampire slayers, while Buffy and her friends tried to save the few surviving ones and were searching for a way to defeat their enemy. As expected, things went from bad to worse, with Buffy facing a crisis of leadership and some self-doubt, while potential slayer candidates were killed left and right.
There was still enough room for character development, even with the slightly expanded cast (the Buffy gang and all the new slayer candidates). Willow got a new girlfriend, Dawn had to deal with not being one of the chosen ones, Xander was mostly doing his usual thing, though he had his moments and Giles had to cope with being the teacher whose pupil had outgrown him. A new addition to the main cast, Andrew, went from goofy mini-villain to repentant Slayer-follower and had one of the most intense episodes of the entire season.
But really, the things that will make me remember the ending forevermore is the cataclysmic destruction of Sunny Dale (that’s how you go out, with a bang) and the clever way the show rewrote its own rulebook to achieve a new status quo. Once you see it happen, you’ll wonder why it didn’t happen earlier. It’s a game changer that offers endless new possibilities for Buffy’s world. So yeah, the show managed to go out with a bang both literally and figuratively. This was the kind of ending all narratives should have, introduce something that elevates everything that happened before to a new level while keeping the tone of what went before.
Rare they are, but when done as well as here, great endings can be incredibly satisfying.
While Grimm initially gives the impression of being a fantasy series that follows the usual trope of the chosen one who has to best the creatures of the night, it slightly subverts that in the first season. The difference is only small, but important enough to make the show fun to watch, as you can never be sure what happens next. Granted, that only applies to the meta-arc of the first season, as it’s a typical monster-of-the-week formula on the episode level.
Grimms are humans who can see the monsters among us, have hunted them for ages and are feared by them. The Grim of the show though, Nick Burkhardt, is first and foremost a cop and a Grimm second. Instead of murdering the monsters wherever he sees them, he only acts when they harm others. One of his best new friends is a sort-of-werewolf called Blutbaden (like all the monster titles on the show, it’s horribly mangled German).
That’s not to say that all of the monster are actually just fantasy creatures that want to get by, most of them are deadly in one or more ways. Sometimes their deadly nature is part of who they are, sometimes they really are monsters inside and outside. But that Nick manages to discriminate between those cases, going for the murderers, helping those in need, whether human or monster, and showing mercy whenever someone really can’t help himself, sets his character apart from similar ones on other shows (and others Grimm probably as well).
Spin-offs can cover everything from the painfully awful to the quite good, but rarely do they manage to surpass the original material from which they were spun off. Puss in boots is one of the few exceptions. While the Shrek franchise has been good apart from the dismal fourth part, it’s hard to deny that it has become a little bit stale. Shrek got his happily after, repeatedly at that. Time for some new blood.
Puss is the story of two brothers who have grown apart, a story about redemption and friendship with the most unlikely characters to carry those emotions (one a cat, the other a walking, talking egg) and yet the movie largely succeeds. It’s not a drama, but the dramatic touches makes Puss feel more serious than any of the Shrek sequels has. It’s also fun, has action and humor at the right moments and makes you wish that they’ll do a sequel (but only until they actually make a sequel and it’s just more of the same).
Plot holes do not automatically weaken a movie (or any other kind of narrative). Sometimes they manage to strengthen the impression that just as real life, things are chaotic, everyone has access only to limited information and people in general do stupid things that go against anything an objective observer would do. Hitman felt a little like that to me.
There’s no sane reason to kill the hitman, after all he’s part of the same organization that goes after him and he would have no incentive to publicize that the surviving Belicoff isn’t the real one. He is a hitman after all, what does he care about who rules Russia. But in a paranoid way the actions of the Belicoff double and his henchmen do make sense.
Hitman is the rare movie that takes a video game, uses bit and pieces from it and makes a compelling movie out of those that has no right to
be as entertaining and enjoyable as it is. I’ve never played the original games, but even then I thought that Timothy Olyphant was a miscast, when I first saw him in the movie. Thankfully I was wrong.
Anybody thinking they don’t make action movies like in the 80ties anymore, will have at least one counterexample. A cool, level-headed anti-hero who is played completely straight and with no hidden smirk that says it’s all just fun and games. Enemies that pose a real threat. A music score that is absolutely perfect. A level of graphic violence that reminds me of the best 80ties actioner. I had no expectations when going into this movie and now it’s one of my favorite. Sometimes good things happens.
Past Future Present 2011 2/16
If you’ve ever read William Barton’s When We Were Real and liked it, you might be happy to know that Barton has written more in the same setting. You might be not so happy to know that despite the Deus Ex machina-like happy ending of WWWR, that the further future of humanity in that universe looks much bleaker (not that WWWR was all that happy throughout). Though, if you have been reading Barton for some time, you should have kind of expected this.
Soldiers Home takes place in that barren future. Humanity has been nearly wiped out in a war between two more advanced alien races, the Spinefellows and the Starfish. The Spinefellows used humans as cannon fodder to win the war, but afterwards the human race was in its death throes. All that remains are remnants of humanity, among them the soldier POV of the story. On a desolate habitat claimed by former artificial creations of humanity, he mostly plays the observer and tries to go on, despite having lost all purpose. The war is over and won, but there’s not much to do.
There’s a pretty similar story by Barton, “Engine of Desire”, that takes place in the same future and even has a similar plot. Lone human survivor trying to go on when he or the reader is not sure for what. Both stories feel like a melancholic swan song for the human race. We’ve learned from the earliest age that everything will end, but we rarely get this for ourselves until we are older. The same holds true for humanity in general. Barton’s story manages to cloth that idea, that we won’t be around forever, into a narrative that makes it easy to grasp, to feel what it means that our entire race and culture is gone. And then he shows us that even in the end you can go with dignity.
As simple as the plot is, as powerful is the writing here. It puts its hooks into you and doesn’t let go.
PS.: Sean Williams and Shane Dix wrote a trilogy called Echoes of Earth where two extremely powerful alien races, the apparently benevolent Spinners and the malevolent Starfish, destroy the races of our galaxy in a never-ending conflict, among them humanity. I wonder if the two read Barton’s story or if it was just chance.
Doing a sequel is hard work. Sure, the first film has to set everything up, introduce the characters and tell a good story as well, but the sequel has it even worse. It has to tell a new story that still feels like a logical continuation of the first one, get the characters right and yet add some new ideas to keep everything fresh. The balancing act between old and new is never easy. Go too far in one direction and everyone will accuse you of doing a repeat act, go too far with new stuff and you will annoy fans of the first movie and confuse normal movie-goers.
In that regard, Underworld Evolution feels like the perfect sequel to me. It starts where the first movie ended and sports the same style. The main characters (Selene and Michael) still feel like the characters from the first movie, but they follow the arc set off in the first part. Okay, the movie really lucked out on with Tony Curran playing the second vampire elder Markus Corvinus. After Viktor was killed at the end of the first movie, I thought no other actor could provide the same menacing presence as Bill Nighty, but Tony Curran managed. His vampire elder was less controlled, more manic and yet just as convincing as Nighty had been. Sometimes lighting strikes the same place twice.
Apart from the characters, the story is just as good. A little bit less complex than in the first part and with even more focus on the action, but still strong to carry an entire movie. This time it’s not about the big war between the vampires and the werewolves, but about the original carriers of the vampire and the werewolf virus and their attempt to create another superior hybrid. It ends just like the first one, with the plot resolved but enough potential to make a good third part (that sadly didn’t happen, instead we got a pointless and boring prequel and a ten-years-later sequel which I haven’t seen yet, but which really doesn’t sound good at all).
When I think about Chase, I think of the missed chance. If the series could had continued to its natural conclusion, this could have easily been as important as Starman. An extremely well written comic-series that didn’t try to distance itself from the whole superhero angle of the world it took place in, but tried to elevate the source material to something more complex and interesting.
Even from the start Chase was somewhat different from most DC characters, in that she actively (sort of) hated superheroes. Her father had been a superhero during the time between the old guard (Justice Society) and the modern guard (Justice League) and was killed (as were most of his friends) by an inventor gone insane due to his wife getting killed in a struggle between heroes and villains. This singular act defined how Chase thought about the whole superhero community. Vigilantes had to be controlled. She was the kind of character Marvel’s Civil War crossover could have needed to balance
the calculating depiction of the pro-registration side, a human viewpoint that was easily to understand and get behind.
Chase started working for the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations), which gave the series a decidedly X-Files spin (paranoia- and style-wise). Most of her operations were about dealing with superheroes and metahumans whose powers had gone out of control. Her view on heroes and metas only worked in her favor and made her the perfect employee for the DEO, especially as she had a latent meta-ability herself, which could turn off others superheroes.
The thing that made Chase so interesting was the line she walked. Her character-arc could have gone the conventional hating-vigilantes to slowly accepting them, even appreciating them route. Or it could have gone from merely hating them to actively persecuting them, with Chase consumed by her hate in the end. The third route, the one I thing the series played with was her walking the line between the two extremes for all her life, never quite sure where to fit in. This ambiguity fueled the first nine issues and made her such a perfect viewpoint character, someone who is both self-assured and yet never quite sure of the world around her. Just like life for most people is.
Slum Online is the kind of novel that feels science fictional even if it isn’t. Due to the fragmentation of our culture, for some people it’s just a present day story and for others, those who had never any contact with MMORPGs or any other kind of massively multiplayer online game with a persistent world it’s just like the science fiction of yesteryear about virtual realities. For the first kind, it’s a sort of zen-story about multiplayer games, a quest for meaning in the artificial, highly constrained world of online games (or gaming worlds in general). For those who still see it as science fiction, it’s merely an affirmation of living in the real world and the dangers of virtual reality.
Personally, I wasn’t really impressed by the book: the story was a tad too predictable, the massively multiplayer online beat’em up world underwhelming, even less immersive than an old MMORPG like Ultima Online and the whole philosophical gaming angle a bit too simplistic for my taste. You probably get a more complex look at the same topic from reading some MMORPG blogs than from this novel. But still, it was a nice and fast read and while a bit too simplistic for my taste, it probably is just right for teenagers.