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As someone who grew up with comic book superheroes, the last 15 years of so have been pretty enjoyable for me watching all my childhood heroes come to the big screen. Years of attempts to bring costumed crime fighters to the big screen had either failed to materialise (James Cameron's Spiderman) or just not have been up to much as movies (Matt Sallinger as Captain America) especially when it came to Marvel Comics characters. Blade was the first strike, X-Men and Spiderman changed the playing field, offering up genuine big budget takes on my favourites with proper actors and everything. Their sequels proved even more successful, and before long all of Marvel's big licenses were taken, and some of the company's more obscure properties were getting big screen adaptations, one of which was 2007's Ghost Rider.
The first Ghost Rider movie was far from a runaway success, financially or artistically. It wasn't totally awful, significantly better than Daredevil if we're being honest, but I have to say I was somewhat surprised when a second Ghost Rider movie emerged. It really looked like the first picture would be the characters sole foray onto the silver screen, at least until Marvel/Disney regained the license. Nicholas Cage was back as the titular character, and directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, of Crank 2 fame, were brought in to address the first film's lack of action sequences.
As it would turn out, Spirit of Vengeance, as this new Ghost Rider movie would be called, would in fact reboot the character. Despite using the same actor in the role. Now, the casting of Cage in the first movie came in for some criticism, mainly down to the perfectly valid reasoning he neither suited the role of a stunt-driver turned demonic vigilante, and was realistically too old for the role, but I wasn't so against it. Cage had spent most of the 1990s, when nobody wanted to make superhero pictures, trying to get Superman and Iron Man projects off the ground, he clearly REALLY wanted to be in at least one superhero movie, and his presence added a bit of panache to what would undoubtedly otherwise be effectively a B-Movie. He didn't exactly make the character his own, so why you would want to re-start the franchise using the same actor as the first movie is beyond me. Secondly, the first movie really served little purpose but to establish the character's origin (always the most tiresome bit of any adaptation) which it did in a suitable fashion. Spirit of Vengeance retcons this plot with a minor and completely unnecessary change that has no bearing on the plot. If you ask me, the truth is they simply couldn't come up with a decent way of writing Eva Mendes character from the first movie out of the plot.
Spirit of Vengeance opens somewhere in 'Eastern Europe'. Eastern Europe. Imagine a film set in 'North America'. Anyway we have a monk named Moreau (Idris Elba) who returns to his monastery/castle, which has a high tech command centre within it, to the news that a prophesised boy has been found. This boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan) is the product of his criminal mother Nadya (Violante Placido) making a deal with a demon named Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) in exchange for a son - a vessel to transfer himself into when the time comes. Needless to say the time has come, and the monks make it their business to try and shelter the boy until the time passes (allegedly in a few days)
Needless to say this does not go to plan, as the castle comes under siege from Carrigan (Johhny Whitworth) and his men. Carrigan is a smuggling gun for hire working for Roarke, and coincidentally also Nadya's ex boyfriend. Nadya and Danny do manage to escape, as Moreau seeks out help in the form of the exiled Johhny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) Blaze is a former stunt biker who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his father's life. As such he is prone to transforming into the legendary Ghost Rider, a leather clad avenger with a flaming skull. Moreau informs Blaze he has the means to lift this curse from him in exchange for his help, and it isn't long before Nadya finds herself part of the team when Carrigan finally gets his hands on Danny. It isn't long before a hidden monastery with ulterior plans for Danny get involved, and Roarke has to transform Carrigan into the demonic Blackout - with the ability to decay with his touch to help combat the Rider as good and evil collide with the fate of the world in the balance!
Seamlessly blending in all the bog standard superhero movie clichés (an attempt to give up the superhero identity being the most tired) with the plot-light, set-piece heavy formulae of the crank movies, Spirit of Vengeance makes significantly more bad decisions than it does good ones. The aspect of the Monks at the hidden monastery is a completely unexplored plot device lobbed in for the sake of offering up sacrificial characters for an action set piece, Moreau is an utterly bizarre addition to the plot who realistically is just there to involve Ghost Rider/Blaze. I don't really get why writers opt to ignore years worth of history and characters that not only do fans know and like, but actually genuinely tie in and compliment the main protagonist.
I don't totally grasp the point of changing the name of the Satanic arch fiend from Mephisto, who is the Marvel Universe's demon in chief, to the fabricated for this movie Roarke, nor making him a fairly clichéd old croaky voiced, leather glove and cheap suit wearing depiction of satan as opposed to the neat touch of having Peter Fonda play a significantly more stylish Beelzebub. I understand Fonda probably didn't want anything to do with this, but Ghost Rider's fairly entertaining take on Mephisto was one of its better aspects.
In fact, this is part of the movie's biggest problem; it doesn't seem to want memorable characters, as that might interfere with getting from one action set piece to the next. Ghost Rider/Blaze has become an absolute mess of a character, delivering self-loathing at what he is and bland attempts at humour in the same tone. Ghost Rider as a character was a particular favourite of mine as a kid, mainly because he looked awesome, but he was one of those rare cases where having 2 characters share a body worked out nicely. Here the Rider itself is described by Blaze as an emotionless, unreasonable machine who will stop at nothing to exact vengeance on wrong doers. This is a fairly shoddy, Poundland representation of the character to begin with, but when you figure in the fact he makes (terrible) wise cracks and acts exactly like Blaze in the final conflict you realise that they just wanted an excuse to make him so boring. Because make no mistake, they in fact do manage to make a demonic superhero who's head is a flaming skull pretty uneventful.
As much as I didn't want to rip into him for the first film, Nicholas Cage really, really fails with his performance here. Snapping from deadpan to hysterical with nothing in-between, I'm genuinely embarrassed for a guy who not too long ago had a respectable acting career. At times he almost seems to be trying to channel Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2 with his madcap facial expressions,
The supporting cast aren't any better. Idris Elba is a fine actor, and deserves every one of these paydays he is now receiving, but his terrible French accent (for the record, there is absolutely no need for his character to be French) and under-written character doesn't give him a lot to work with. Placido is superb eye candy but little else and Hinds depicts the devil himself like a villain on TV's Law & Order. Johnny Whitworth gives a fair crack at trying to give Carrigan/Blackout (he's never actually referred to as such by the way, I just think that's who he's meant to be based on) a bit of panache, but ultimately almost tries TOO hard to make a sneering villain and veers into annoying territory.
Arguably the film's biggest detraction is its direction though. In an attempt to cover up the fairly terrible semblance of a plot tied around the action sequences, the directors have attempted to get 'artistic' with the action sequences to try and excite viewers. As such we are treated to completely illogical (even with suspension of disbelief) scenes where Ghost Rider hovers and spins horizontally in mid air after an explosion, comic book style animated sequences, black and white scenes where you can't really tell what is going on and general odd, shaky cameras. Gentlemen, your protagonist has a flaming skull for a head, what is necessary to make Jason Statham stand out is not really required here, just have him do something cool. Fight scenes are a non event, over in a few punches, or in the final showdown's case shot in such a way it just isn't fun to watch. Ghost Rider also doesn't do a great deal of 'Riding' in Spirit of Vengeance. His motorcycle has undergone a dreadfully lame makeover, instead of being a unique, rather cool design like in the first movie we simply have a motorbike with the wheels on fire. The film does introduce the fun twist that Ghost Rider transforms whatever he rides, but we only see this once and the 'transformation' similarly consists just of a vehicles wheels being on fire.
When all is said and done, there really isn't a great deal of good one can say about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and this is from a man who actively looks for good in movies like this (I don't even think Green Lantern is a total disaster) It's a poorly written, badly executed film I'm surprised even got green-lighted. It's certainly got to be the final nail in the coffin for the character in the movies, at least until Marvel themselves get their hands back on the rights.
Video games, unlike movies, are a medium where sequels are actually more often than not better than their predecessors. Given that story usually comes second to gameplay, a second game allows the developers to refine aspects of the game to offer an improved experience, and developments in technology can lead to better graphics and more complex interactions. Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden 3 is one of those games that bucks this trend, and in fact finds itself severely inferior to its prequels.
Perhaps a bit of history is in order. Ninja Gaiden started out life in the 1980s as a side scrolling platform game known for being groundbreaking for its use of cut scenes to progress the story while also being an addictive and challenging game. 2 sequels followed before the series disappeared into the realms of memory. In the mid 1990s, when every company on the planet was churning out a 3D fighting game to cash in on Tekken and Virtua Fighter, Tecmo's Team Ninja, headed by the rather eccentric Mr. Itagaki, gave the world Dead Or Alive. DOA was essentially Virtua Fighter for dummies, its main talking point being the female characters oversized and over-animated breasts. What often got passed over was that one of the male cast was in fact Ninja Gaiden protagonist Ryu Hayabusa.
While the original wasn't that great, Dead or Alive did enough to warrant a sequel, which is where Team Ninja's efforts really bore fruit. Dead or Alive 2 was absolutely incredible in the visuals department, and also played a lot better than the first game. Itagaki and Team Ninja had arrived, and a few more sequels and spin-offs later he unleashed Hayabusa in his own adventure on the Xbox, re-starting the Ninja Gaiden series.
Quite bluntly, the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox is one of my favourite games ever. Renowned for its jaw dropping visuals and incredibly challenging gamplay, Ninja Gaiden pushed the play to their limit, really forcing you to immerse yourself of the combat system to get anywhere in the game. A sequel followed on the Xbox 360, and while it lacked the element of surprise over how outstanding it was, it was still an excellent game, one of the few I've ever pre-ordered.
However, at some point afterwards, Itagaki had a falling out with the Tecmo brass and he, and the majority of Team Ninja departed the company. Ninja Gaiden 3 would be the first game in any of Team Ninja's trademark series to be released without the original team, and its release seemed incredibly muted compared to the first 2 games. Quiet to the point it took me a few months to bother picking it up, and when I did, it was on sale in Asda. Not exactly promising signs, but on I persevered.
At its core, NG3 follows the same path as its predecessors. A third person 3D action game placing you squarely in control of Super Ninja Ryu Hayabusa as he uses his trademark sword, shurikens and bow & arrow to eviscerate all enemies that come into his path, all the while utilising his superhuman agility to manoeuvre through stages.
The plot takes a turn away from the first 2 games, which saw Ryu square off against a race of ancient demons known as Fiends. NG3 pits him against genetic terrorists the Lords of Alchemy as they declare war on the world using a combination of genetically engineered monsters and magic, which has drawn some criticism from fans, but it personally isn't one of the aspects that bothers me too much. I actually kind of enjoy the notion of letting us play as Ryu through other adventures, the same way he features in Dead Or Alive but doesn't have anything to do with the Fiends. On the flip-side, the story does bother me in that it simply isn't all that great. Now, neither of the first games may have had an overly gripping plot, but the one that was there made sense, entertained, and more importantly, lent the game some spectacular locales and enemies for Ryu to strut his stuff against. NG3 hops all over the globe, but the plot is almost an afterthought to explain why he's in the jungle one minute and the Antarctic the next. I mean really basic "oh they have another base at another generic videogame setting" stuff we're dealing with here. The first 2 games may not have been award winning for story, but they presented the opportunity to explore the lush fictional city of Vigoor, exploring its catacombs and churches. Here we have generic military base in the jungle, generic aircraft carrier, generic arctic military base and so on. It really deprives the game of any character.
Speaking of characters, this is an aspect NG3 really stumbles around. Ryu is portrayed essentially as he has been for the last 2 games, albeit with a new terribly clichéd 'inner struggle' with his conscience over his constant killing. At least that's what they were hinting at, it never really goes anywhere. We also see cameo's from other members of the Hayabusa ninja clan, including Joe Hayabusa and Momiji, a character from DS spin off Dragon Sword, basically just to say they were there. Likewise Dead Or Alive's Ayane shows up with a sword from Hayate which you only use for one level in one of the most utterly worthless cameos ever seen, topped only perhaps by Muramasa, who crops up for one cutscene near the end of the game. Potentially topping all of the returning case for worst cameo however is Genshin. Genshin was one of the main antagonists in Ninja Gaiden 2, the leader of the Black Spider Ninja clan, the mortal enemies of Ryu's Dragon Ninja clan. Killed at the end of the second game, he is first referenced as Ryu steals his sword from the ninja graveyard to use...and is later presented with the very same sword by Genshin's spirit. This cameo is not only pointless, but completely stupid. On the plus side, Ryu's sidekick from the original Ninja Gaiden II, Robert Sturgeon, makes a welcome little cameo, albeit a blink and you'll miss it one!
New characters include Ryu's obligatory sexy sidekick Mizuki McCloud, a pilot in the Japanese army. I'm sure this tough and sexy female solider thing is becoming quite a cliché in Japan, as I've seen 2 Godzilla movies with the exact same character in them, and she also has the obligatory innocent child who melts Ryu's heart in the form of her adopted daughter/actual niece Canna. She also has a geeky scientist brother in law type called Cliff helping her out. These aren't particularly badly written characters, but nothing about them stands out, and I managed to predict almost every plot development involving them within roughly 2 cutscenes of being introduced to them. New villains the Lords of Alchemy fare even worse. The main footsoldier enemy is known as The Regent of the Mask, a well spoke, English alchemist who places a curse on Ryu and is the LoA's main general on the field of battle. His design stands out in the game, in that it's almost decidedly un-Japanese, with a red robe and opera style mask, but realistically he looks like a standard enemy, and is fairly underwhelming as a boss compared to his predecessor, the aforementioned Genshin. The mastermind behind the LoA is revealed as a fairly standard mad-scientist who only really features for a single cutscene, giving him scant development for good or bad. Altogether, the LoA combine to form a completely odd group of villains with almost no real logic behind them. They want to destroy the world, have mastered magic, as their name alludes, yet are ALSO a genetic engineering menace. They breed dinosaurs, but this is only relevant for one level. Say what you want about some of the more outlandish fiend designs, at least there was a level of consistency in both design and purpose - this lot are almost as bad as the random baddies of NES games.
One of the game's main plot points, somewhat haphazardly tied in to an element of its gameplay is a cursed placed on Ryu leaving his arm looking a right nick and causing him intense pain. This affects the game in that occasionally, I think it's if you take too long to use one of the game's new Ultimate Technique's but I could be totally wrong there as it's never clear if it's caused by something you're doing on at predetermined points, Ryu starts moving in slow motion, the camera distorts and all you can do is lethargically swing your sword. This entire element of the game is a thoroughly odd mess. These slow motion segments are incredibly frustrating, especially if there are a few enemies to kill, but ultimately add nothing to the game in terms of challenge as I couldn't seem to die during them. What is really strange though, is that it also adds absolutely nothing to the plot except for a nonsensical way to have the game's final boss temporarily wield the Dragon Sword.
This odd slow-mo affliction is, in fact, one of the scant things added to the gameplay. The other is potentially even less exciting. The 'Kunai Climb' in which you scale walls by digging in your throwing knives and using the L and R triggers to alternatively scale your way up a surface. This is both incredibly time consuming and frustrating due to the fact the controls are set up in a way that almost purposefully prohibits doing it at any pace. Oddly, the designers were so delighted with this L-R-L-R movement system they also decided to apply it to climbing horizontal ropes, where it is every bit as frustrating. A variant on it also appears now in the process of swinging from horizontal poles, which now involves holding down both triggers, making what was, for 2 games, a fluid and instinctive system of movement a bogged down chore.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg though. Arguably NG3's biggest crime is that it doesn't even just rehash its predecessors...it actually takes genuine steps BACKWARDS. The combat system, involving only 2 buttons, X for light slash and Y for heavy, was famed throughout gamers for its depth; button bashing got you nowhere in Ninja Gaiden and its sequel, players had to learn the game's many combo attacks, master their timing and what would work on specific foes, and were rewarded with a feeling of genuine achievement as you cut a path through hordes of enemies. Ninja Gaiden 3 cuts down not only the number of attacks at your disposal, but also any manner of difficulty in pulling them off, rendering the game no more than an exercise in bashing buttons and hoping for the best, a tactic which works to a worrying degree.
Further limiting Ryu's arsenal of attacks, and in turn the player's variety, is the game's decision to omit the option to choose weapons. The first 2 games gave the player an arsenal of bladed devices to cut through your foes with, each one with different strengths and weaknesses. From Nunchuks to giant scythes, there was truly a weapon to suit every player's style and situation. In Ninja Gaiden 3 you have a sword. Well, technically Ryu wields 3 different swords throughout the game, but they all play identically, meaning the same 2 combos will in fact serve you all the way through the game.
It does have to be said that while I may have sounded completely negative, the game doesn't play bad as such, in fact, as dumbed down as the game is, as far as button mashing slash-fests go it is still quite playable and a decent way to waste some time, in particular a boss battle pitting a Ninja against a Tyrannosaurus Rex really cannot be anything but loved, but when you find a game which manages to find itself a more shallow and hollow experience than its original series entry, released on the previous generation of consoles, it really is hard not to feel exceptionally disappointed. The game is probably about on par with the derivative Ninja Blade game, which I enjoyed more mainly due to the fact it wasn't burdened by the expectations of having 2 incredibly prequels before it.
The aesthetics of the game are good without ever pushing the boundaries. The game looks slick enough, and while it doesn't quite have the 'OOMPH' visuals that Team Ninja became famous for, I find that slightly more forgivable given that absolutely nobody pushed the boundaries graphics wise quite like Itagaki. The sound is likewise passable, with everyone featuring a suitable voice actor and no particularly offensive dialog. The music could perhaps have done with a bit more work, not that it ever seemed out of place, but it didn't ever really strike me for its quality either.
When all is said and done, the best way I can possibly sum up Ninja Gaiden 3 is as follows; imagine an incredible movie, led by an eccentric but brilliant director who goes to painstaking lengths to ensure his movie features dreamy special effects, a sweeping score and incredible action set pieces. Give the film a charismatic star, a beautiful leading lady and an array of nefarious monstrous villains. Then give it a sequel with all of the above, but with the technical aspects upped again. Then imagine another sequel. The director is gone, in his place a hack doing his best to imitate, but with none of the imagination. The star is still there, but he's phoning it in, the female lead is a page 3 girl, and it's release goes Direct to DVD. That is effectively what Ninja Gaiden 3 is, a Direct-to-Video sequel. Bloodsport 2, Robocop 3 - an inferior, soulless continuation of a series that possibly should have went out on top. It isn't a terrible game, but how far it has fallen from its predecessor can, at times make it seem like one. Fans of the series will probably want to at least play it through, but I'd recommend doing so with extremely low expectations. Casual players might be put off by the excessive gore, but if that doesn't bother you it isn't the worst slash 'em up you'll ever play, but you could probably get your hands on the far superior second game for less cost.
Every now and again a movie comes along that bombs SO bad that even those who made it effectively disown it. Gigli, Jaws: The Revenge and Catwoman spring to mind, and every single one of those movies is every bit as bad as their made out to be (well to be fair I've only see half an hour of Gigli, but it was enough) however one of the original box office disaster, and one of the best known, is my topic of the day. George Lucas' Marvel Comics adaptation's failings have been held responsible from everything from the Star Wars prequels taking so long to get made to James Cameron's Spiderman never seeing the light of day. This is the film that bankrupted the man who'd just made Return of the Jedi AND Indiana Jones, this is Howard The Duck.
My feelings going into watching Howard The Duck for the first time in over 20 years were mixed. It's renowned for being awful, legend has it Lucas blocked it's home video release for years he resents it so much. However, the last time I watched it, on a VHS taped off the tv that I accidentally recorded over, I thoroughly enjoyed it. That and, in hindsight, I could really have done without the Star Wars prequels.
Based upon an obscure Marvel Comics character that featured in mainly adult-orientated, satirical stories, it's fairly insane to think Howard managed to beat Spiderman, Wolverine and the Hulk to the big screen, and I've actually heard this film's failings at the box office put studios off Marvel material for over a decade. I'm sceptical of this myself, but what is known as fact is George Lucas was really banking on this film to do big business for him, he was in debt at the time and was convinced this was his way to get back into the black.
The film follows Howard, an 'everyduck' living on a planet almost identical to ours, with the exception of the small detail that the dominant species evolved from ducks. Howard's status quo is ruined forever when he comes in from work to settle down for a beer only to get sucked straight from his living room and find himself somewhere on Earth. OUR Earth.
To be specific, he's in an alleyway in Cleveland. Scared and confused after encountering some of Cleveland's less desirable denizens, he happens upon a damsel in distress in the form of wannabe rockstar Beverley (Lea Thompson) who is getting hassled by some local punks. The pair form an unusual alliance and drive the scumbags off, before Beverley takes Howard in. We learn she's the lead singer of all female rockband Cherry Bomb, currently struggling to make it despite the worst efforts of their sleazy manager.
The following day Beverley takes Howard to see her lab assistant friend Phil (Tim Robbins) who's amazement ends up doing nothing but alienating Howard, leading him to storm off and try to live life without Beverley's help, trying his hardest to seek a decent job. It doesn't take long for him to see the error of his ways and join forces with Beverley again, ridding her off her manager in the process. It also turns out the visit to see Phil wasn't without merit, as he tracks down Dr. Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) who not only knows how Howard got here, but also how to send him home.
It turns out an experimental laser fired into space somehow sucked Howard from his living room to Cleveland, and Jennings figures reversing the process shouldn't be too tough. However, an accident while setting up this transit causes an explosion attracting the police, led by the suspicious Lt. Welker (Paul Guilfoyle) Howard, Beverley and Jennings manage to evade the police, but a bigger problem becomes apparent when Jennings starts to act strangely. It turns out that the laser managed to bring another alien being through, and this one, one of the 'Dark Overlords' is nowhere near as friendly as Howard. In fact, he intends to use the laser to bring all of his race, long imprisoned in a secluded dimension, to Earth, using Beverley as the first host body. Howard, after busting Phil from custody, must now fight to save our world and try to find a way back to his.
Howard The Duck takes a fairly straightforward theme, the unlikely hero thrown into an even more unlikely scenario where he manages to outsmart the disbelieving authorities, defeat his foe and rescue the girl, but it punts it off into an altogether weird new direction. The film's biggest flaw is actually its inability to judge what it wants to be. As I said, the Howard comic was actually aimed at more mature readers, and some of the humour the film throws up, as well more risqué elements such as the implied attraction between Howard and Beverley and a fairly pointless skit in which he gets a job in a sleazy sauna seem at odds with the family fun tone the rest of the movie seems to be aiming for. None of the scenes are THAT bad as in to make the film unsuitable for children, to be honest, all of it with the exception of a pair of feathery duck-girl breasts seen for 2 seconds at the start of the movie (which raised a giggle in 7 year old me) all of it really went over my head as a kid. Given that Lucas was banking on this movie being a phenomenon, I'm guessing the family angle was the one he was aiming for, so perhaps director Willard Huyck was curtailed in any attempts to make it too mature.
This isn't the film's only problem mind you. The bare bones of the plot are fine, but Howard really suffers from a lack of really filling them out, which makes the film's middle, where Howard struggles to find a job and wanders the streets, a tad tiresome. The film really comes to life when the Dark Overlord plot kicks off, because up until this point the plot is just trundling on without a purpose. Incidentally the character of the Dark Overlord is loosely based upon a character from the comics called Thog the Nether-Spawn, a 'Dark Overlord' actually responsible for bringing Howard to Earth. Perhaps they could have tried to implement that into the plot, by having him be the one responsible for bringing Howard to Earth somehow, perhaps by having him come through first and his first attempt at bringing his cohorts through messes up and results in Howard arriving. Having this almost demonic character as the movie's nemesis could also be seen as being another case of the film spitting the face of its family adventure nature, but the Dark Overlord is never portrayed as particularly frightening, and even when he reveals his true form, it turns out to be the kind of monster kids enjoy.
With all this said, as contradictory as this might sound, Howard The Duck still actually manages to be rather good, silly fun. I mean, I've no idea why George Lucas felt this was going to take monster money, because it isn't fantastic, but Howard has enough amusing lines, and the majority of the characters written well enough that it's more than possible to have quite a good time watching it.
Despite being a $2Million dollar special effect, played by numerous actors AND a voice actor, Howard manages to have his show stolen by Jeffrey Jones, particularly post possession. Jones is an absolute blast as the sarcastic villain, particularly during arguably the film's best scene in a roadside cafe. Not just in terms of his vocal delivery but some of his facial expressions are priceless.
The film also reawakened my childish crush on Lea Thompson (Marty's past-mum in Back to the Future) who looks absolute sensational despite the best attempts of the 1980s hair to ruin her. Her Beverley doesn't exactly ooze rockstar, but that's more of a writing issue than her portrayal, which is fine as the big hearted dreamer who takes Howard in. Tim Robbins (Oscar winning Tim Robbins) as the mad lab assistant Phillzy is a blast too. I'm pretty sure nobody saw the Shawshank Redemption coming at this stage.
In fact, arguably the biggest failing the film has in terms of performances is Howard. Now, nothing about Howard is bad as such, neither Chip Zien's voice acting nor the suit or puppetry is the issue, it's more a flaw in how the character has been written. While I understand that the entire point was that it's a twist on the concept of an 'everyman' having to save the day having Howard who is not only out of his depth but with the added issue of being 3 feet shorter than everyone else on an alien planet, very little is done to give Howard a standout character. He's supposed to be a wise-cracking, stiff-upper-beak style character, but memorable lines come in short supply and realistically the character could have benefitted from the middle of the movie being used for something other than seeing him try to fit in the real world. When we eventually see his disgust at duck hunting and subsequent assault on duck hunters, it adds a dash of character that Howard really could have done with more of. He's really what the movie hinges upon, the titular hero, and instead of being an iconic, cult hero, he's a fairly by the numbers movie talking animal hero.
Given that this was the 1980s, and we're pre-dating the now tired, overly glossy CGI, and Howard is achieved via a means similar to all of Lucas Star Wars critters and the cinematic Ninja Turtles, a time when it really was possible to have special effects with character, is all the more shocking. This isn't to say Howard is badly realised, because he really isn't, in fact, he looks great. The Dark Overlord's true form is realised through a stop-motion model, which I absolutely love but I'll gladly admit I'm a complete mark for stop-motion monsters.
Overall, I'm not totally sure where I stand on Howard The Duck. 'Worst Movie Ever' accusations are miles wide of the mark, which my inner child is more than a little glad of, but it is far from a classic. It's the kind of film that's unabashedly odd 1980s-ism is starting to win over fans on DVD, and anyone who enjoys the oddball sort of films this decade spawned will certainly find it an amusing way to spend an afternoon. With a slightly better writing team it could have been a much better picture, but to be totally honest it was never going to be the all-conquering, ranch-paying movie Lucas wanted it to be, and he realistically has nobody to blame for his hatred of it but himself. If it was a payday he wanted, Episode VII, or even Boba Fett the movie would have delivered in that sense. I find it impossible to come away from the movie having not enjoyed it, albeit that could be down to the sensational 80s pop musical number they close upon.
A fairly amusing throwaway bit of trivia is that Howard's original appearance came in the pages of obscure Marvel title Man-Thing (indeed Thog was actually one of Man-Thing's enemies), a character who himself got movie treatment in 2005, to an arguably worse response than Howards.
Sometimes the maths just doesn't add up. Despite having no interest whatsoever in Star Trek, I thoroughly enjoyed the comedy adventure movie Galaxy Quest, which saw the cast of a fictional Trek like show kidnapped from a Sci Fi convention by aliens to help save their universe. It's a fairly fun concept and the crew clearly had a lot of time for the genre they were sending up, but at the same time a bit of self awareness. Likewise, as a Jean Claude Van Damme fan, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him play (an exaggerated) version of himself in JCVD. Mix in the fact that I'm a huge fan of Bruce Campbell, and a film which comes across as almost a merger of Galaxy Quest and JCVD based around the B-Movie star sounds like a great night's entertainment. Sadly in this case 2+2+1 certainly did not equal 5.
For those wondering exactly who Mr. Campbell is, he is arguably the quintessential B-Movie actor. He is most famous for his leading role in Sam Raimi's breakout Evil Dead trilogy, where he played the unlikely hero Ash. Despite his performances, especially in the third movie Army of Darkness, stealing the show, for one reason or another Campbell has never managed to follow his good friend Mr. Raimi to the heights of Hollywood stardom, a few ventures into TV land with the title role in the short-lived Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and a recurring supporting role in Xena: Warrior Princess are as close to stardom as Campbell has mustered in a career spent largely as the sole draw in Direct-to-Video Horror and Sci Fi movies.
Despite his lack of mainstream success, Campbell has attained a fairly rabid and loyal fanbase, in part due to the fact he is often the best thing about movies he stars in, being a charismatic, quick witted and fairly handsome leading man, but certainly for myself a big part of his appeal is the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously. It would be easy to see a man with such a career could be bitter, but Campbell seems to take everything with a good dose of humour. His autobiography 'If Chins Could Kill' is a fantastic read that paints him as someone who is more than aware he isn't making high brow movies, but doesn't see why he shouldn't have fun with it.
My Name is Bruce sees 4 standard idiot teenagers unwittingly unleash an ancient Chinese demon while clowning around in a graveyard. The one survivor, Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) happens to be a phenomenal fan of Bruce Campbell, and as the demon, named Guan Di, starts to behead half of the small town of Gold Lick, Jeff comes up with a master plan to stop the demon.
Meanwhile, we find Bruce Campbell on the set of his latest classic 'CaveAlien 2'. After the shoot we discover Campbell is recently divorced, his agent (Ted Raimi) is sleeping with his ex-wife, and he spends his nights flooring bottles of booze in a trailer.
Campbell is dragged from this existence by Jeff, who kidnaps his idol and brings him to Gold Lick, as he believes Bruce is the only one who can stop Guan Di. Believing this is all a set up for a movie, Campbell plays along, but is realistically more interested in sleazing on Jeff's mum Kelly (Grace Thorsen) and soon finds himself out of his depth in his battle with a very real monster.
In general the idea behind the movie, washed up star is mistaken for his most famous character and drafted in to save the day, is workable. Certainly for fans of Campbell, litter it with some in-jokes and plenty of references to his past works and it should be a goer, correct? Sadly, My Name is Bruce manages to spectacularly nose-dive, making a complete waste of Campbell, Thorsen and every fan who has settled down to watch this movie's time.
As I say, the premise of Campbell being kidnapped to save the day, before finding himself out of his depth, is a fun one. It also would have provided an interesting twist on the Evil Dead movies, where Ash is a little different character wise in each movie, but he always follows the path of a reluctant hero who ends up saving the day. Watching Campbell reluctantly become an already reluctant hero could have been a fun, and fairly original, little plot point, yet despite almost all of the film's publicity referring to Campbell being mistaken for Ash, it honestly never actually happens in the film.
The hero status Campbell is thrust into also grates a little. It's never seen how Jeff manages to convince the entire town, except his mother, that Campbell is a potential saviour. It's a ridiculous premise, but not even one that is ever made humorous to the point that you can forgive it. Nobody else in Gold Lick actually seems to have seen a Campbell movie, they just seem to have went on Jeff's word that Bruce will save the day, they aren't portrayed as particularly idiotic, so it just doesn't sit right. I actually think My Name is Bruce would have benefitted from a Galaxy Quest like fan convention setting where it actually is believable a room full of people could see Campbell as their saviour.
The film also manages to completely misfire with any attempt at in-jokes. An early scene sees Jeff try to woo a girl by quoting Campbell pick up lines from various movies, which could have worked had it been deployed better, but instead just comes across cringeworthy. At one point I actually pre-empted, and was looking forward to, a joke that they stunningly never delivered. At one stage the mayor declares that Bruce will know what the best weapon to go monster hunting with so as the locals gather round to hear his answer, it becomes clear Bruce doesn't have a clue about guns. This scene BEGS for him to recall his 'This is my boom-stick...' speech where he highlights the details of his shotgun but instead it opts for a limp joke where he mutters incoherently and picks up the nearest pistol. In a film crafted effectively with the purpose of being an in-joke, one neat line about having made a film in Bulgaria aside, My Name is Bruce never delivers any witty or remotely clever nods to Campbell's filmography or even B-Movies in general. Instead we have utterly lame gags about urinating in beer bottles and tired racial stereotype clichés. There are some out of place musical interludes to try and move the story along, at least that's what they want you to think, to me it simply seems a dull attempt to make the film feel a bit more unique and culty. Realistically it's just lame.
Arguably the film's biggest crime is its astounding misuse of Bruce Campbell. This film could quite easily have been made based around a fictional movie star, because regardless of what his character is called, Campbell is not playing Bruce Campbell. In both his book and any interviews I have seen with Bruce, one of his most endearing features is his ability to not take himself or his work too seriously and actually have a laugh at his own expense. The problem here is that My Name is Bruce is written in such a horrendously infantile manner that it takes advantage of Campbell's self-deprecating humour to put him in scenarios that just aren't funny. Oh look, he's a cocky, sleazy film star his co-stars moan about behind his back - how original, but he's drinking bourbon from a dog bowl because his career is rubbish - incredible! The reason this movie appealed to me was that I wanted to see Bruce Campbell, or at least a somewhat an exaggerated depiction of him, instead he's stuck playing a tired cliché of a washed up movie star. ANY B-Movie actor could have played this role. Hell, when you take the rather out of place Oriental villain I wouldn't be surprised if this was originally planned as American Ninja: The Rebirth until even David Bradley and Michael Dudikoff passed it up.
It should tell you something that with that said Campbell is still essentially the film's only highlight, and even he is far from on form. All in all there were 2 moments Campbell really really shone in, the aforementioned Bulgaria line, and a scene in which he clearly sees a character walking away as the town feel he has disappeared. The facial expressions here as he hopelessly tries to explain what has happened are classic Campbell, realistically about the only time he really gets to show some of the character that has made him a fan favourite.
The only other members of the cast really given anything to work with are Sharpe and Thorsen, the former comes across as far too whiny and irritating, the latter fares slightly better, the lady is easy on the eye, but despite a fairly lacklustre writing job she manages to bring a bit of character and sarcastic humour to the film, doing her best to fill the void left by Campbell portraying a douche.
The film's production values are gutter, however this is the one failing of the film I am actually willing to forgive. I have actually heard a lot of Campbell's more sycophantic fans actually proclaim that the film was intentionally bad, and while I don't believe for a minute anyone actually sets out to write a worthless script, hokey effects can add a bit of character as long as they are employed properly. The Guan Di costume is probably the most expensive effect, and at best I could describe it as a bad early 1990s Power Rangers villain, but it actually serves its purpose, and actually raises more of a smile than any of the jokes in the movie.
I don't normally come down so hard on what is an out and out B-Movie, but I really am this movie's target audience, hell, I'm one of the few people that actually endured the thoroughly diabolical Evil Dead: Hail to the King videogame, and it's an insulting, parasitic trick to suck some more money out of Campbell's loyal fans. It really is without redeeming factor, and is quite easily the worst movie that Campbell has ever made (and that's saying something) and really doesn't offer anything, to anyone. Stick to the Evil Dead trilogy and Bubba Ho-Tep, all this will do is sour Campbell in your eyes.
Belated sequels, a risky game at the best of times, but one made tougher when it's a genre-blurring delight like the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Predator you're trying to follow up. Predator is a film with a special place in my heart, a film I grew up with. While that last phrase may make a few parents baulk in this age, it was a different time, Arnie films, despite the 18 ratings, were often almost cartoonish in their violence and any inclinations it put in kids towards the dark side of their nature were balanced out by the fear they put in you that if you broke the law a 6 foot hulking brute of an Austrian would show up and sort you out.
Needless to say Predators was a film that I both looked forward to, but the standards I would be holding it to were high. Of course this wasn't the first Predator sequel. In 1990 we swapped the Amazon jungle for the vastly underrated Predator 2, and in recent years there have been 2 hugely disappointing attempts to follow in the footsteps of videogames and comics by pitting the Predators against the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. Predators producer Robert Rodriguez done a fair bit of talking in the build up to its release, going as far as to denounce Predator 2 AND the Vs. movies, claiming this would be the sequel fans wanted to see. I've found Rodriguez movies hit and miss, and can't claim to have seen anything else by director Nimrod Antal's limited repertoire, so did my best to look forward to Predators. It couldn't be any worse than Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem could it?
The film's main protagonist, a British mercenary who we later learn answers to the name of Royce (Adrien Brody)opens the film falling through the sky with a parachute that opens when he reaches a certain height, landing him in the depths of a mysterious jungle. He soon encounters the rest of the cast, a nefarious bunch including a Yakuza hitman (Louis Ozawa), Israeli army sniper (Alice Braga), Russian special forces operative (Oleg Taktarov), Sierra Leone death squad gunner (Mahershali Ali), Mexican gang heavy (Danny Trejo), death row convict (Walton Goggins) and seemingly out of place doctor (Topher Grace) the group form an unlikely alliance when it becomes clear that they are being hunted by an unseen menace equipped with high tech weaponry. It soon becomes clear that they have all been brought here for a reason, for in their respective lives they are all predators, and as such they have been hand-picked as prey in the ultimate hunt.
It's worth getting something right out of the way before I talk about any other aspect of Predators, and that's the fact it is basically a remake of the original. During production Rodriguez was full of talk about how Predators was going to be set in the jungle, because that is where Predator belongs. In hindsight, this seems like an excuse for the film's crass lack of any originality. Perhaps I'm being a tad harsh, there are a few elements Predators throws into the mix to try and distance itself from the original.
There is the 'shocking' plot twist involving Edwin, Topher Grace's character, that realistically anyone over the age of 15 should be able to see coming within 5 minutes of the character's introduction. In case you've seen any of the film's publicity and are wondering when I'd mention Laurence Fishbourne's character, his role, in effect a cameo, is that of a survivor from a previous team of humans who contributes around 95% of the plot exposition in his minute role, effectively his character, Nolan, is there for this and only this purpose, to ensure the film's plot isn't contained entirely on the DVD sleeve.
Despite Rodriguez' insistence that the film was based entirely on Predator, with none of its sequels or spin-offs used for inspiration, Predators also manages to half introduce a plot straight out of the comic/novels about a Predator blood feud pitting the elite breed (the Predators in this film) with the standard chaps like the one dealt with by Arnie. In all reality, this isn't really integral to the plot at all; it's basically an exceptionally lazy way of trying to establish these Predators as exceptionally fearsome. It does lead to a fan-gasm Predator Vs. Predator battle, which is, realistically, pointless, too short and too dark for the desired effect. Ultimately, this attempt at getting these Predators, whom Nolan describes as being "wolves compared to dogs" over with the audience fails miserably, by large due to their rather pathetic performance, both in terms of appearance and actions.
Much work has went into the designs of the 3 'elite' Predators that appear. That's sarcasm by the way, one comes directly from the mid-90s action figure line, and I can't help but think the other 2 were designs that were in the pipeline before the toys got canned. One has over-sized protruding tusks, one has a sharp, almost bird of prey like mask (and has a neat, robot bird style tracker) and one that has a jaw bone attached to the bottom of his mask. All sarcasm aside, I do quite like the attempt at giving the Predators individual character; I just don't think they are particularly great designs. The one with the bird-like mask, I'll call him 'Falcon', is probably my favourite, but to be honest this character is only highlighted, or even expressed in the slightest, in one introductory scene. The jawbone one is the worst, it makes the Predator look like it sports a constant goofy grin. It's also been stated that the jaw bone belongs to an Alien. Which, again, spits in the face of the 'only drawing on Predator' rubbish, and also makes no sense as aliens have long, slender heads. Arguably the most disappointing thing about these predators, despite being referenced as being bigger than the one Arnie fought...they simply aren't.
Why am I spending so much time on the, rarely seen, bad guys? What about our heroes!? Eh, theres a reason I've been avoiding them. Like Fishbourne, Trejo is wasted in what is little more than a glorified cameo, and the rest of the supporting characters do little to capture the attention. Goggins appears to be having fun playing the same character he always plays as the psychotic con Stans, and does bring a bit of life to proceedings, and Taktarov does deserve some credit for making his Russian commando probably the most likable of all the human cast, but doesn't get a great deal to do except lug about a giant chaingun (yeah, exactly the same as Blaine's in Predator...) Ozawa plays a largely silent role, apart from a direct Predator 2 quote, and gets to take part in one of the film's most slaughtered sequences, where he apes Billy and opts to stay behind and duel the Predator armed with just a samurai sword he finds along the way. I didn't think the scene was THAT bad, although one criticism of it certainly stands up, the one about his motives. You see the one dynamic that is different about this team of protagonists from Arnie, Jesse and co. in Predator is that while they were a tightly knit team of commandoes, Predators' protagonists have never met one another, and given the nature of their characters, this could have created for a dynamic that is never really explored. Why would the Yakuza effectively give up his life to buy the other survivors, whom he has no real connection to?
The leading pair of Brody and Braga suffer mixed fates too. To be honest, Braga probably comes out the best, doing well with her portrayal of the proud soldier who is none too keen about teaming up with a mercenary, albeit the fact her character isn't written as a complete idiot helps her. Brody on the other hand...well I'd like to get it out of the way right now that I think Adrien Brody is a fine actor, but he is horrendously miscast here. While promoting the film it was stated that they wanted to avoid a Vin Diesel style muscleman to avoid accusations of just cloning Arnie (evidently the one aspect of Predator they weren't prepared to plagiarise) which actually piqued my interest. Brody could have thrived in the role of the manipulative Edwin or even as the clinical sniper, so imagine my surprise when it turns out he has been case in a generic hardman soldier role. The man deserves his due, he has clearly bulked up for the role, but a scene early on in which he appears to struggle hacking plantlife out of the way with a machete pretty much sums up his portrayal of a character at one stage referred to as 'the tough guy' (a choice of words I feel was more aimed at trying to get this idea over with the audience than actually a descriptive term) Brody simply isn't believable in the Arnie role.
In fact, Brody spearheads one of the film's fundamental problems. It tries to talk a good game, but ultimately when sat next to its predecessor it just looks plain silly. One 'standard' Predator toyed with a special forces team including Arnie, who went over EVERYONE in the 1980s, Apollo Creed, former WWF Superstar Jesse 'The Body' Ventura and Bill Duke (if you've ever seen an action film, you'll know his face) and pushed the Governator to the limit. Predators sees 3 'Elite' Predators bumble around and ultimately lose to a patchwork team of scumbags led by him from The Piano. With home advantage.
Oh yeah, didn't I mention? This film is set on an alien planet, a global open range if you will. Why didn't I mention this? Because it has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever except allowing Royce to moan about "getting off this rock" it sounds like a fairly neat idea to begin with, but then you think about it and it creates even more problems. If these are the top Predators, why do they need to airlift in prey to a set-up hunting ground when one of the scruffy Predators proved more than adept at hunting on Earth, which would surely be a more challenging hunt? Why is the jungle, one reference to an extinct plant aside, never seen to be any different from an Earth jungle? The whole thing seems set up with the sole purpose of creating one of those semi-upbeat, semi-downbeat defiant endings that really please nobody. On the subject of the more challenging hunt, the film also seems to have done away with any form of honour system in the Predator series, else wise I'm fairly confident Nolan would have been REWARDED for surviving 3 seasons.
The actual production values of the movie can't really be faulted. The effects are spot on and the score does its job, albeit mainly due to the huge assist provided by Alan Silvestri's excellent theme tune from the original. It's clear money has been spent, and spent fairly well with regards to the look of the movie, it's just a shame some of it didn't go towards writing a decent script.
So was Predators better than Requiem? It's a tougher call than I expected to be honest. In terms of production values and talent involved it certainly is, and the fact it's plot is so similar to the original movie means it bests it in that respect but at least Requiem did throw some semi-original ideas at the viewer and a few nice nods to the fans. Actually who am I kidding, Predators is bad but at least it doesn't completely contradict the events of one half of the 2 series' it incorporates.
Fans will probably still get a kick out of hearing Silvestri's score while soldier types are being stalked through the jungle, but realistically Predators is a one-watch movie every bit as derivative of its original as the countless rubbish direct-to-video rip-offs it has spawned over the years. If you ever wanted proof that a decent budget and cast doesn't a decent movie make, here's your perfect example.
Oh, and to finish on a suitable note, despite it being their primary source of inspiration, the writers clearly didn't pay much attention to the events of Predator, as its events are at one point referenced, stating that there was only one survivor from the team. I hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the original (shame on you) but that simply isn't the case. Idiots.
Given their long-standing popularity in the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras of video-gaming, the rejuvenation of Ninja-themed videogames seems to have been a short lived one. It was only a few scant years ago there were Tenchus, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Nightshade, Red Ninja, Otogi and their ilk clogging up the shelves of your local games retailer like Sho Kosugi had been appointed Prime Minister with Michael Dudikoff his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet since the Xbox became the 360 and the PS2 the PS3, those same black-clad, katana-wielding protagonists seem to have found themselves unemployed. Ryu Hayabusa's rise to prominence seems to have been cut-short since Tomonobu Itagaki's fall-out with Tecmo, but on the coat-tails of what may be his swansong in Ninja Gaiden 2 came this little title produced by From Software, introducing the world to Ken Ogawa.
It was indeed while reading up Tecmo's ninja title that Ninja Blade was brought to my attention...and it would be the last time I saw or heard of it until I stumbled over it in a supermarket bargain-bin. Having been a while since I let anything other than a football game grace my 360 I figured I'd give it a bash, after all it was less than a tenner.
The game slides you into the sleek black boots of Ken Ogawa, a modern-day ninja warrior and part of a covert Government strike force aimed at dealing with threats the beyond the capabilities of the military. He is thrust into action when a rogue-strain of hook worms dubbed 'Alpha-Worms', which mutate the bodies of their hosts into monstrous beings capable of inhuman acts, get loose in Tokyo. The only prior case of Alpha-Worms had been in a remote location where the military were able to Ground-Zero the area...naturally doing so to Tokyo would be unheard of so it's up to Ken and his team to stealth into the quarantined city and clean up.
The story certainly isn't going to win any awards, but it's serviceable and acts as a fair point of interest between levels. The game does hark back a lot to games of it's type from the olden-days, and the plot is almost 16-Bit in it's naivety. The characters and their designs are an almost surreal mixed bag - ranging from excellent (the snake-woman hybrid given an usual twist) through thoroughly generic (Ogawa senior...an elderly martial artist in a gi, with a beard) to downright bad (Ken). When the worst designed character in the game is your main one you are off to a pretty bad start it has to say. While it has become clear that a traditional ninja-garb would look pretty silly in a modern-day setting, Tecmo and Sega (to an extent) both succeeded in re-imagining their heroes for modern settings, From Software just don't seem to have grasped the idea. The most amusing thing about this is that if you read up on the game, apparently this was something they went to great lengths to work on. Ken just looks far too clunky, and heavy, almost more like a soldier or superhero than a ninja. His mask adds a feel of the latter, with it not being his mouth covered but quite the opposite. The bizarre metal plate on his forehead almost makes him look like a bottle-opener. The design of the standard enemies also leaves somewhat to be desired, looking more at place in a rubbish Resident Evil-clone (I'm thinking Blue Stinger) than would-be opponents in a martial-arts themed game.
So what of the actual game? Well the crux of the game works along the same lines as all the aforementioned Ninja-reboots. It's a 3D action game with an emphasis placed upon swordplay against multiple foes, many of whom are more equipped for long-ranged combat with you, mixed up with some boss battles against either large, monstrous enemies or other ninja-style characters. In this sense the game is serviceable. You have a decent selection of weapons at your disposal, the usual standard blade, strong but slow one and fast but weak ones, a nice touch is your projectile, which breaks from conventional shurikens and arrows and replaces them with a circular boomerang-styled weapon. This throwing device is also where the game involves the infamous trait of 'Ninja Magic' with Ken being able to charge it with fire, wind of lightning abilities to suit certain situations. This gameplay meat-and-bones isn't too challenging, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't actually rather enjoy it. Sure it doesn't grab the attention and imagination like Ninja Gaiden, but it's certainly a solid imitator and is solidly constructed.
The game's control scheme is easy to pick up and get used to, however there are times when the buttons don't respond as fluidly as you would like them to, which can lead to a great deal of frustration. One of the reasons Ninja Gaiden became such a hit was how magnificently the action flowed from your fingertips to the screen. Messing up a series of wall-jumps when you know you pressed the buttons timely is incredibly infuriating. Unresponsive buttons also brings us nicely to arguably the game's biggest talking point...
Who remembers when Quick-Time-Events (QTEs for brevity) were something of a rarity in games? For those unaware of what I'm talking about, a QTE takes place during the cut-scenes between gameplay stages, where the player is prompted to push a certain button within a very limited space of time. The first time I encountered these was in Sega's Shenmue, where they served a purpose, of keeping the player involved in a very story-driven game, well. As years have went by more and more games have incorporated them into their cut-scenes (most notably Resident Evil 4) However Ninja Blade takes QTEs to a perverse level. There's at least 3 every cut-scene. Now for a start this is incredibly intrusive and irritating to begin with, I mean when you get to a cut scene am I the only one who would actually like to watch some of them without a bloody great 'X' or 'B' or such in the middle of the screen? Couple in the aforementioned somewhat slack controls and you are in for something incredibly frustrating.
Aesthetically the game is, as with it's gameplay, solid if unspectacular. The graphics, when it comes to Ken, the levels and the cut-scenes, are nicely done without ever blowing you away, but the enemies are really rather disappointingly depicted, with flat textures looking decidedly last-generation. The sound consists of stock 'exciting' themes that serve their purpose without living long in the memory. The voice acting is likewise, it keeps things moving without ever really standing out. The game does boast the tones of the sexy Kelly Hu, although bizarrely it's for the fairly minor serpentine Yakuza villainess mentioned earlier in the piece.
When all is said and done...Ninja Blade is a decent game. It'll pass the time on a rainy day for those who really enjoyed Ninja Gaiden 2, but don't expect to find yourself raving about it and considering it one of your favourite games. Personally I don't regret the £9.99 I spent on it, but also had no qualms about trading it in upon completing the game.
Given how much the WWE seems intent on cashing in on it's history with DVD reissues and retrospectives, Classic Superstars action figures and even unlockable legends in their modern day Smackdown Vs. Raw titles, it really is a surprise that WWE Legends of Wrestlemania took so long to actually come to exist. Perhaps THQ, the WWE's licensed videogame maker, were put off by how dismal Acclaim's Legends of Wrestling series of games played, perhaps they just couldn't be bothered trying to negotiate around all the fall-outs the WWE has had with legendary wrestlers...maybe they just didn't have time while trying to get out a new SDvR title every year, whatever the reason, as someone who no longer has any desire to watch wrestling but still holds fond memories of the days when I genuinely thought the Ultimate Warrior was channelling electricity through the ring ropes, I looked forward to the game's release and made it a rare full price purchase not long after it hit the shelves.
First impressions of the game looked good, it had a really good roster of superstars from the 1980s and 90s, when I actually watched wrestling, with most of the big names present : The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker, The Hart Foundation, The Legion of Doom, Mr. Perfect, Million Dollar Man, Ravishing Rick Rude, SGT Slaughter, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan...the majority of classic tussles were there to be recreated, or a good few dream matches were there to be made. Sadly there were a handful of really telling omissions that soured things for me. It's a well established fact there is some form of dispute between Macho Man Randy Savage and the WWE, but this I one case where I would have liked to have seen a bit of olive branch extending. Savage was a major figure in the majority of early Wrestlemania's, held the WWF Title and was a contributor to at least a couple of anyone who grew up with wrestling during this time's favourite matches. Key example being his match against Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat, who is himself suspicious in his absence. How a tag team as brilliant as Demolition, 3 times tag champions, managed to get passed by is another source of frustration, and while all of the above can easily be made in Create-A-Legend, it isn't the point. Poor Marty Jannety isn't even that lucky, despite the fact his tag-team, The Rockers, are clearly acknowledged in Shaun Michaels alternate outfit.
Speaking of the alternate outfits...the choices for who gets them, and what they received, are bizarre to say the least. Michaels, Undertaker and Slaughter are all well done, but wouldn't we all liked to have seen an alternate costume for the Warrior, a man who never seemed to wear the same outfit twice? How about Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart getting costumes they wore when solo? Hogan with his latter day trousers? Even the ones who did get alternate costumes don't always get them chosen well. The Rock wouldn't have been a first choice for a 2nd costume from me, given his iconic black trunks look is the one everyone associates with him, but if he had to get one, why not opt for his blue and white get up when he was known as Rocky Maivia?
What further rubs in these sort of omissions is the fact that most of the space on the disc that could have been used for these features has went on a much trumpeted ability to import current day superstars from the latest Smackdown Vs. Raw game. Now this is all well and good, but it raises the question of why someone buying a game purposefully aimed at the old school market would want to play as current day superstars?
So I bet you're wondering when I'm actually going to get to the game as opposed to ranting about who is in it and what they are wearing? Well I'll start by talking about how it actually plays before I get around to talking about the ways you can play it. The game is deliberately set out as more of an arcade-styled venture than the SDvR titles, so there's none of the spirit meter, damage building up on areas of the body or fatigue that characterises those games, instead the wrestlers, for the first time in a WWF/E game since WWF Attitude back on the N64, have health bars. Personally I think there are both pros and cons to this system, Spirit Meters can lead to less one-sided matches, but they can also lead to epic length episodes between the ropes; given that Legends of Wrestlemania is setting itself out as an arcade game the shorter bouts health meters cause fits that bill more.
With regards to finishing moves the game introduces a system you could say is derived from the spirit meter, whereby your wrestler goes up a 'level' upon a bar below your health being filled, the filling of which is naturally accomplished by performing successful moves. When you go up a level more powerful moves become available to you, for example in level one a grapple may lead to an armbar, in level two the same command would execute a suplex and once you hit level three it would lead to a power bomb. Once you fill the bar on the final level, 3, you are able to execute your finisher by pressing A and X in unison to start a chain.
What's a chain you ask? Well this is Legends of Wrestlemania's other gameplay distinction. At certain points during the match, usually caused by grappling with groggy opponents or opponents in specific areas (in the corner, next to the announce tables etc) you will be faced with a chain of Quick Time Events (QTEs for brevity) where it becomes a race between you and your opponent to press a button that flashes up onscreen first. Pull off a few of these in a row to perform a devastating combo of attacks, or as I was saying, your wrestler's finisher. I can see some merit in this system, for example in some of the single player modes it allows you to accurately recreate events from matches that you couldn't do as fluidly in open play, but in general this system is one of Legends of Wrestlemania's biggest flaws. It becomes a case of you playing less of the match than simply watching it and trying to press the correct button first, which needless to say isn't a great deal of fun.
As I mentioned, the game has deliberately set out for a simplistic, arcade feel, but some of the decisions made towards doing so in fact turn out counter-productive. For example, only the 4 face buttons of the controller are used, in theory great, but with multiple commands crammed onto these 4 buttons it becomes more complicated than simply having assigned commands to the shoulder buttons would have been. You end up doing things you don't want to while trying to run or taunt that could easily have been avoided by just using the shoulder buttons.
The worst thing about these irritating flaws is that at it's core the game actually is pretty decent. If you stick to the basic uses of the buttons they all respond well, the wrestlers move fluidly and there is definite potential with the engine.
Sadly the game also manages to let itself down when it comes to ways to play it too. Not so much in terms of the match types on offer; there are a plethora of them, even the Hell in the Cell makes an appearance despite the fact the majority of the wrestlers on offer left the company long before it came into play. Sadly it's the amount of single player options that let the game down. There are 2 main modes of play, Legend Killer and Wrestlemania tour mode. Legend Killer is a highly repetitive mode where you take one a wrestler made in Create-A-Legend mode and pit him in Survival guantlets against a set number of opponents (usually 10) one after the other with only a minor health boost between bouts. This wouldn't be so bad if it mixed up the match types, but it really becomes more a test of your boredom endurance than endurance of your character. The other mode is far more interesting, but far too sparse. Tour mode is separated into 3 sub-categories; Relive, Rewrite and Re-Imagine, in which you take on a classic match and are charged with ensuring it goes to plan, goes the other way, or goes whichever way you choose in a different type of match respectively. This is actually quite a neat mode, as you are given certain objectives to fulfill (make the opponent bleed, perform so many top rope manoeuvres etc) in order to sustain or change the course of history. The matches are prefixed by neat little highlight videos of the matches and their buildup, and really the only complaint I have about this mode is how limited the number of matches in it are. There are numerous ways of speculating how this could have been done better, for example limiting the scope to wrestlemanias, especially without Randy Savage, really limited the options, but maybe a few tag-team matches in there wouldn't have gone amiss. Personally I would like to see a sequel elaborate on this mode.
Aesthetically theres little to complain about the game, the characters appear with more exaggerated physiques than in real life, but that was purposeful to play up the somewhat cartoonish nature of wrestling's characters in those days. Everyone looks sufficiently like who they are meant to though, and all of the Wrestlemania arenas are recreated with wonderful detail. Likewise the sound is excellent, with one of the better commentaries I've heard being provided by Jerry 'The King' Lawler and Jim Ross. The pair have recorded commentary that actually talks about the wrestler's character and achievements as well as the match in hand, which adds an air of realism to the proceedings. The majority of the superstars come complete with their iconic entrance music, which is a big part of setting up the atmosphere of the game, though there are some bizarre flubs. The Big Bossman for example comes out to the music he used during his rather cringe worthy run in the early 2000s as a villain as opposed to the 'Hard Time' tune he used during the time this game bases him on, and the British Bulldog oddly doesn't enter to Rule Britania...at least not the opening of the song that he used in real life.
Overall, it may seem like I've done a whole lot of complaining about WWE Legends of Wrestlemania and very little praising to justify the score I've given it, although that's more due to the nature of such a property than the game itself. When a game like this, trying to capture everything that made a certain property from your childhood, comes along, it's natural that you want it to be perfect, to incorporate everything you loved about it, and when it misses some things out, you can't help but be disappointed. Couple that with the fact THQ did make some genuine mistakes with the gameplay it does make for one incredibly negative sounding review, but be assured this isn't a terrible game by any means, and it's lightyears better than Acclaim's effort at a similar title. It does pick up some life in the multiplayer field, but even then the QTEs do their best to ruin the atmosphere.
When all is said and done, the game isn't a disaster. It does enough right, especially in the Wrestlemania tour mode, that I don't regret buying it, but it is a fact that the THQ really dropped the ball and have made an ok game out of what could quite easily have been an incredible one. Those of you like me, who grew up with the WWF in this era will get a kick out of it, but I'd probably wait until it loses a few pounds off the price.
Based on the incredibly popular Manga and Anime, Fist of the North Star was made in 1995, and was set to be the movie to catapult lower-grade action star Gary Daniels to bigger and better things. Sadly, as with the previous year's Streetfighter and Jean Claude Van Damme, things didn't quite work out that way, and Daniels has been confined to the Straight-to-video wasteland since.
While this may immediately lose a lot of face for me with the anime crowd, I was never really a huge fan of the anime, it got really repetitive, really fast, and the only saving grace was the cool fight scenes, and even they started to get repetitive after a while. A lot of fans of the anime absolutely loathed this movie, basically because it didn't recreate the cartoon scene by scene, lost a few characters and, you know, made a transition from long anime series to live action motion picture.
The movie is set in a post-apocalypse future where water is scarce and the majority of the Earth is a wasteland. The main character is Kenshiro(Gary Daniels), his father Ryuken (Malcolm Macdowell) was killed at the hand of his friend Shin (Costas Mandylor). Ryuken was the 'Fist of the North Star', which means that he was the greatest fighter of his Martial Art, Shin is the 'Master of Southern Cross', and takes it upon himself to rule the world, he cannot fight Ryuken, because the teachings say that North Star and Southern Cross should never fight, so he simply guns down Ryuken, which makes Kenshiro the Fist of the North Star. While this is happening, Kenshiro is with his girlfriend Julia (Isako Washio) and Shin and his men launch a surprise attack, leaving Kenshiro for dead and kidnapping Julia.
Years later, the City of Southern cross rules the land, with Shin watching from the top of his mighty tower with Julia prisoner, while his men, lead by Jackal (Chris Penn) are terrorising the nearby village of Paradise Valley.
Kenshiro happens upon the valley, and encounters a blind girl named Lynn(Nalona Herron) and her wannabe hero brother Bat (Dante Basco). After he cures Lynn's blindness, the pair share some sort of link, because she is charged with opening his eyes to his destiny, which he is in denial of. The locals are trying to fight the 'Crossmen', as Shin's troops are called, but they cannot offer much resistance, and it isn't long before the Southern Cross flies above the Valley.
But Lynn sends Bat to find Kenshiro, and despite his initial reluctance to help, despite the great distance between them, Kenshiro hears Lynn's screams of horror at what is happening clearly, and the pair sneak back into the Valley via the sewers, before launching an attack that leads to the demise of an army of crossmen, but Bat is also killed saving Kenshiro from Jackal, whom Kenshiro instructs to go to Shin, and inform him that his time is up.
Taking one of the crossmen's motorbikes, Ken sets off to the City of Southern Cross to fulfill his destiny, and take back his girlfriend.
Fist of the North Star is part Martial Arts movie, part Post-Apocalypse movie and part love story. It's an incredibly frustrating picture, it looks brilliant, and has a lot of things going for it, but it also falls down at a pretty key element.
Ironically, the thing that most detractors seem to miss, are the actually flaws of the movie itself. Too concerned with running off how it doesn't represent the anime, they miss out on all the good things the movie has to offer, but also hilariously manage to never cite the actual probelms the movie faces. The film suffers from 2 conflicting forces trying to make it. Director Tony Randel, famous for his work on Hellbound:Hellraiser 2, wasn't really keen on the martial arts side of the story. Which is a pretty crappy development for a movie where the two main characters are martial arts masters. Randel wanted the emphasis to be placed firmly on the love story angle of the movie.
Gary Daniels however, a fan of the anime and kickboxing champion, was quite the opposite, and wanted the movie to play up the martial arts element more, which, when you think about it, makes sense.
In easily the best DVD treatment a 'B' picture has ever recieved, the UK DVD of the movie, Fist of the North Star recieved a 2-DVD special edition release, which boasts numerous insights into the movie from Daniels, where he declares that while he was happy with Randel's look of the movie, he was disgusted with his shooting and editing of the fight scenes, which is often noticeabley bad. In an excellent audio commentary, Daniels even highlights the movie's faults, something you rarely hear in an Audio commentary, usually pointless re-tellings of the movie's story full of lots of back patting. This commentary discusses the problems, and Daniels doesn't try to disguise the fact that there was some friction involved with the making of it.
His comments about the fight sequences are completely true. While some of them were changed to have him fighting less opponents(Randel apparently didn't want him to seem too strong), a lot of the fight scenes could have been improved greatly via the simple act of better editing and camera use. Some fights, as Daniels points out, don't show you exactly who or what Kenshiro is up against, and sometimes the camera stays stationary for far too long, and others is too close to be able to tell that Daniels can actually fight. Some of them do allow him to shine and look pretty good, and his showdown with Shin at the end of the movie is better than it has any right to be, given that Mandylor isn't much of a fighter, but on the whole, with better editing, I would have given this film an extra star.
It's a shame, because on the plus side, while the movie has it's share of annoying characters(ie Bat), it's also pretty damn good fun as far as post-apocaylpse movies go. It's heroes are likable, and it's villains suitabley nasty, especially in the scene of them attacking the village, and with the excellent action scenes that Daniels can produce, it could have been very good.
The fights aren't the only problem mind, some of the acting is pretty bad. While I like Daniels, and at times in this movie he comes accross as perfect for the role, in a few scenes...he just seems devoid of all character...like he is trying to be Jet Li or something.
Costas Mandylor really isn't very convincing as the murderous Shin, and Daniels reveals on the DVD that the role was originally intended for Julian Sands(!) who would probably have been more suited, given his villainous turns in the entertaining Warlock and it's sequels.
It's hard to tell if Dante Basco is bringing the annoying element to Bat, or if he is just written that way, and 'Downtown' Julie Brown, who apparently hosted MTV or something should have stuck to it.
On the plus side of the acting, Isako Washio seems to be trying single handedly at times to salvage the film as a serious venture. Her English isn't perfect, which is actually quite sexy, and she is probably the true highlight acting wise. Chris Penn does pretty well with his role also, coming away with the memorable "it ain't easy being sleazy", and generally seeming to love this nasty villainous character.
The film does feature some nice support from Ron Howard as a crazy Crossman and Melvin Van Peebles as a rebel leader to try and bolster some quality.
The special effects in the movie are actually pretty good. The wasteland may not be overly original, but it's well created, and Shin's art deco obsessed city is actually a really nice set, and also realised with some excellent miniatures. The overly gory scenes of violence, such as Kenshiro getting his scars, do something to recall the cartoon, and they are fairly well done. Along with the really awesome and atmospheric sets, the film has a bizarre habit of giving every character some form of leather clothing to wear. Seriously, Leather shop owners need not worry if there is an apocalypse.
Another aspect in which the movie comes off very well is the soundtrack. Christopher L. Stone creates an epic and heroic theme for the movie, and his soundtrack is excellent, and along with the sets and effects goes to show that this movie had the production values to be something very special.
And that's the worst thing about the movie, it had the potential to be great. Had Randel allowed Daniels, or basically anyone with any experience in working with martial arts scenes, authority over the Martial arts based aspects of the film, chances are this would have been a genre classic. Hell, the fight scenes are usually the only bits directors get right in Daniels' movies.
As it stands, Fist of the North Star is either one of the best B-Movie action movies, or a frustratingly mediocre A movie. Personally, while I acknowledge that it's lack of success in a fundamental area of a Martial Arts movie, ie the fight scenes, hinder it quite a bit, personally I still found the movie enjoyable enough to watch it more than once and not regret it.
For fans of Daniels, this is a must see, fans of the anime who are open minded should give it a look, and those looking for a fun Post Apocalypse Martial Arts mix with good production values and a great score should also have a look at the movie. It's pretty entertaining, and it's just a shame it wasn't handled a little better, or it could have been truly great, Sci Fi classic. It's certainly not the horror-show anime purists make it out to be.
It will always cause me a great deal of confusion why some movies hit DVD before others. I know rights will play a part in the issue, but at the same time, am I the only person who thinks a company would be better off, and stand a better chance of making money, shelling out that extra at the start to get the rights to put out a decent film on DVD as opposed to getting a piece of absolute gash cinema and sticking it out at a quid a DVD, likely only to sell 4 copies? Films like Curfew make me think that, and get me quite angry that nobody has put out Monster Squad on Region 2 disk yet.
You see, I usually start a review by talking a bit about the movie in question, generally slaver some trivia about it, however, Curfew is a movie so painfully dull and insignificant that it doesn't deserve it, and even then I doubt anyone has anything interesting to say a bout it. A pitiful late-1980s slasher movie with nothing to distinguish it from the 100s of other painfully unexciting movies released in that genre during the 1980s.
We follow Stephanie Davenport (Kyle Richards), a teenage girl in any town USA, issued a 10pm curfew by her strict father Walter (Frank Miller), which is going to interfere with her date with the school's top football player being her only concern. However, it turns out Walter is a judge, and 2 brothers he sentenced to death named Bob (John Putch and Ray (Wendell Wellman) have escaped from prison and make their way to the Davenport household to exact revenge upon Walter by terrorising the family.
Ok so I could go more in-depth here, but I really don't think the film deserves it, and I don't want to subject myself to thinking about it too long. The film is really a rather by-the-numbers genre entry with nothing at all going for it. The brothers, who are supposed to come across as insane and sadistic, are merely cringe worthy, especially as they attempt to make Bob somewhat sympathetic. It's also never explained how they manage to break out of Death Row, and it's hard to picture 2 such morons managing to pull it off.
Even the killings are unoriginal and dull, as well as mostly taking place offscreen. This really is bottom of the barrel, completely pointless stuff here.
The acting can't salvage anything either. Richards was in the first 2 Halloween movies, and so therefore should have not only known better than to star in such crap (with that said, she is an Aunt of the Hilton sisters...hardly known for good choice in roles) but also have been expected to put in at least a competent performance as opposed to the wooden, emotion free main character we're subjected to. Worse yet are Putch and Wellman, the former, in trying to make Bob somewhat of a misunderstood manchild, just comes across as a klutz, and the latter, in trying to make Ray seem sinister and twisted, bypasses his target and just becomes stupid.
As I mentioned, effectively every death takes place offscreen, eliminating the need for complex effects, and given that the film looks at least 15 years older than it actually is, it's a safe bet to assume they would be rank-rotten anyway. Naturally with a movie as unexceptional as this, the score is naturally incredibly forgettable. In fact, given that so little action actually takes place onscreen, I really doubt it even went as far as to have standard shock numbers, because the film doesn't even pull any cheap-scares on the audience, so the score doesn't even need to sound even pseudo-exciting.
I realise this is a scandalously short review, but Curfew really doesn't give me anything to talk about, it's just so infuriatingly boring that there is nothing else worth saying really, beyond "Don't watch it" it really is just a standard 1980s Slasher with nothing to differentiate itself with, or even an unoriginal idea executed well enough to garner even slight interest. When you hear people complain about how boring and lifeless Jason and Freddy sequels are, ignore them, as they've clearly never been subjected to a truly awful and lifeless slasher in the vein of this nonsense.
Shockingly, somehow director Gary Winick managed to carve out a directorial career after this debacle, and was actually at the helm for the recent cinematic production of Charlotte's Web (!) One has to assume the producers weren't familiar with his earlier work.
Tetsuo is a movie I have meant to get around to seeing for a long time. It's been much touted by generally everyone who has seen it as everything from live action anime, live action Akira to the Japanese Eraserhead. Given my liking for Godzilla and Martial Arts movies, I oft find myself reading about Asian films, and one that always comes for praise is this ultra-low budget Black and White film from director Shinya Tsukamoto.
Trying to talk about the plot of the movie will be tough, generally because their isn't much to talk about. A Japanese Metal Fetishist(Shinya Tsukamoto - Ichi the Killer) inserts a rusty pipe into a gaping leg wound, and while in pain is knocked down by a Taxi Driver(Tomorowo Taguchi - Gamera 2:The Advent of Legion). The taxi driver starts to go through physical changes, as metal parts start to sprout from him and he is chased from the subway by a girl with a clawed metal hand(Nobu Kanaoka - Tokyo Fist).
He is also having odd dreams about his girlfriend(Kei Fujiwara - Organ) sporting a huge drainpipe phallus sodomising him. Their real life relationship takes a turn for the worse as his phallus turns into a huge drill-bit mid intercourse, and he starts to degenerate further into some sort of mechanical monster. Then, the fetishist reappears, more than a little annoyed about being knocked down, and itching for a scrap...
At least thats about as much as I got, the movie is essentially a 65 minute series of peculiar images and situations sort of welded together in a way that makes very little sense. While Im sure the art crowd will love it's off-the wall nature, and a lot of people herald it as a classic. Personally I wasn't much impressed at all by it's flippantly disjointed nature and lack of any attempt at characterisation. There is very little dialogue spoken, but strangely I don't even think that's where the biggest problem lies, it's more with Tsukamoto's constant attempts to (unsucessfully in my case) shock viewers with as many scenes of random outrageousness as possible. While he does make some nice use of Sam Raimi style camera, as he pioneered in the Evil Dead, but on the whole I just found the film boring. There is a message buried in it somewhere, about how society is heading, people turning into machines and such, but its conveyed in such a ridiculous manner that the most positive reaction this movie can even hope to extract from the viewer is laughter. People often make a lot of the gore in the movie, but personally I didn't think it was all that bad. The scene of the fetishist installing the pipe into his leg was pretty gruesome, less due to the visuals of it, and actually more down to the way Tsukamoto plays it.
The climatic battle between the two machine/men is also pretty uninspiring. Lots of sped up first person camera and the same type of sped up movement of the characters while they don't actually move their feet.
The performances, what little there are of them, are generally of a high standard. All the actors generally do well with the tiny scraps of character they are given, which doesn't really say much, but nobody's acting offended me, and on the whole I guess this means their performances were decent, with as little character as their roles had, Im not sure even a collection of the world's best actors could have done anything productive. As Im often blurting out, Im not keen on the whole reviewing subtitled actors performances, but given each character has about 7 lines each, I don't feel so bad about this judgement.
The film is shot to a pounding techno soundtrack that suits the movie perfectly. At least if you listened to the soundtrack and watched the movie sans sound you would feel this, but I feel the music is used at the wrong times. The really pounding stuff should have been used for the dramatic scenes, whereas it occasionally just plays during some of the random scenes. In the few instances that the soundtrack is used wisely, the results are superb.
Considering that the movie was made on a shoestring budget, the special effects in Tetsuo are surprisingly good. All the transformation effects look pretty damn realistic, with the only fault coming from the fact the design of what the characters turn into is garbage. Had a proper design been implemented with these effects, they really could have been on to a winner, instead, all Im left with is a feeling that if Tsukamoto ever gives up on directing, he could do a decent job in special effects.
On the whole, I really do not see where people are drawing all of these glowing recommendations of Tetsuo from. Admittedley, Im not at all a fan of David Lynch, and a lot of people are keen to liken this to his work, but I just don't really see where people were drawing any sort of entertainment from. I once read a review that stated that this was more a superb student film than the cult classic it's made out to be, and I wholley agree with this view. Tsukamoto can clearly make films, his effects,camera work and general production values are superb, especially when the low budget is taken into account, however, this doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable experience, and not a film Im too proud to have paid a decent amount of money for on DVD.
It's the well done production that saves Tetsuo from getting a minimal score, however, it caused me a lot of grief if I should recommend it or not. While I feel the film's qualities are an excellent example to people of how a minimal budget, if used properly, can look very good, the actual content of the film itself really isn't worth it unless maybe David Lynch fans want to check it out in order to see how they feel it compares. So, I don't regret having seen Tetsuo, I just kind of wish I hadn't paid for the privelidge. I settled on dishing out a 'No', basically because I have absolutely no motivation to ever watch Tetsuo again. While I have said this about films and still gave them a recommendation, they all had at least one thing to inspire me to watch them again, Tetsuo simply doesn't.
Released in 2003, in what was probably an attempt to cash in on the success of Marvel's recent Big-Screen adaptations X-Men and Spiderman, Daredevil was met with decent success financially, but didn't quite strike the same chord with viewers or reviewers as the prior Marvel movies did. Some put that down to a lack of familiarity with the character - your average member of general public is lucky to have heard of Daredevil, some might have remembered him from a guest appearance in the Spiderman cartoon but otherwise he's had little to no exposure outwith the medium of comics. In hindsight this excuse was a bit naïve, I'm willing to bet ¾ of Sin City's audience had never heard of its source material.
Daredevil follows Matt Murdock(Ben Affleck), Matt's childhood wasn't the best, he lost his boxer father when he was offed for refusing to take a dive and the boy was blinded in a freak incident involving a truck of toxic waste. However, Matt's other senses were supercharged when he was blinded, and he has devoted his life to fighting crime in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York city, both by night as the vigilante Daredevil, and by day as a lawyer.
The movie follows him as he falls in love with Elektra Natchios(Jennifer Garner), the daughter of corrupt businessman Nikolas(Erick Avari), who is in league with Wilson Fisk(Michael Clarke Duncan), known to all as 'The Kingpin' of New York crime.
When Natchios tells the Kingpin he wants out of their business ventures, he calls in an Irish assassin named Bullseye(Colin Farrell) to take care of the entire Natchios family. Daredevil tries to stop him, but Elektra ends up believing that Daredevil killed her father, and goes into training to kill him.
Things heat up on the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen as Daredevil tries to bring down Bullseye and the Kingpin, Bullseye tries to finish his job and Elektra tries to kill the man she believes killed her father, unknown to her he is the man she loves...
So the story write-up is pretty short, but it essentially covers the entire movie. The plot is very, very standard, especially for a super hero movie, with the plot not offering anything even remotely noteworthy. Everything here has been done before in more inventive, and generally more interesting ways, from the love/hate relationship of the two costumed ones (see: Batman Returns, and this was also planned for Spiderman 2) to the whole self-questioning angle done in every superhero movie ever, you have seen everything here before, but done with that little bit more class, skill and general likeability.
The plot's main fault is that it's just boring, something no comic movie ever should be. They've tried to take the Batman route and make things dark and gothic, not things I associated with Daredevil, and it just seems rather silly and forced to try and ensure Spiderman didn't totally show it up.
It's also littered with annoying holes, such as how a reporter came to the conclusion, without ever seeing either one, that Matt Murdock and Daredevil were one and the same.
Along with their X-Men movies, Daredevil carries on Fox's obsession with outfitting super heroes in leather outfits. While I suppose it's better than lycra in terms of practicality, I half wish they had got the Spiderman rights, to see if they made him up like a gimp.
This wouldn't be so bad, the X-Men suits worked pretty well, but Daredevil's design just plain sucks. Daredevil had a pretty plain costume to begin with (actually he has had 3,a mostly yellow one with a red torso, a sleeker black and red number and the all red outfit used here) and to try and make it more interesting, they have added lots of straps and buckles and stuff that just makes it look more like fetish gear. the mask is also poor, instead of a cowl covering the neck like in Batman, DD's just covers the top of his head making it look a bit like a daft bandana. I would have thought the black and red outfit would have been easier, and cooler to realise on the big screen, but I guess it isn't as recognisable. Although one ridiculous aspect of Daredevil's leather reworking begs to be mentioned:
Matt's hearing is supersonic right?(in one of the movie's coolest little things, he sleeps with his ears submerged in water to drown out the sounds of the city), but he wears a leather suit. Leather, the loudest material when moving on the planet, he must be in agony every time he moves a muscle.
I would be lying if I said the plot was total garbage. It occasionally throws in some little gems of decency that get your hopes up. Along with the aforementioned alternate take on a waterbed, Matt also has to pop painkillers after a night's work, which reveals a true human side. The scenes of him explaining to Elektra how he can gain a semblance of sight when water hits a surface, and he asks her to stand in the rain, is also a wonderful little scene, but then the fine folks behind the film completely undo all their good work by having ludicrous scenes of Daredevil writing the 'DD' logo in lighter fluid on the floor, waiting for someone to throw a cigarette on it to ignite it and reveal it's his work. This just disgusted me with it's stupidity, and it's never explained who coined the name 'Daredevil' to begin with, has he always called himself that? Then how did the press get his name? couldn't he have picked something cooler?
Even in my comic reading days, I never picked up more than 2 issues of Daredevil, so I can't say how much characters have been altered, if at all, from their printed counterparts in most cases. I don't think Bullseye was Irish, and I know for a fact the Kingpin wasn't black, but far as I can say honestly, I don't know how much else has changed. I hear that Daredevil killing villains is totally out of character, but I'm not picking up the comic just for the purpose of this review to find out, although one thing I do know is that DD is not Spiderman, and therefore should not be able to pull off some of the stuff he is doing in terms of gymnastics. Sure he is meant to be at the peak of physical condition, but really, be serious here.
Indeed, a lot has been made of the whole black Kingpin, and to be honest, Im not sure which side I fall into. I wasn't overly bothered, because I didn't even know Kingpin had anything to do with Daredevil, I always saw him as primarily a Spiderman foe, but I wasn't really impressed with the way the character was written anyway. While the Kingpin was pretty generic to begin with, this version of him tries to break the mold and just ends up a clichéd mess leaving roses on his victims.
Funnily enough, the acting is actually of a pretty high standard, if not really right character wise. I'm by no means an Affleck fan, and I'm not sure I believe his claims he is a huge fan of the comic, but I really did feel for him here, he did seem to be trying, and put in a decent show, but I just couldn't buy him as Daredevil. He just didn't seem to suit the role at all, which, as I say, is a shame because he actually does seem to put a lot in it, and he is one of the reasons the aforementioned rain scene works so well.
A similar case of performance good, but not really character is Clarke Duncan's Kingpin. While most people complained about his skin colour, and those on the defence cited the fact that he puts in a good performance as a villain, what they seem to neglect is that a good villain he plays, but he isn't the Kingpin, although the horrible writing job on the character saw to it that not even a real life version of the Kingpin could have played him well here.
Farrell takes what is a pretty worthless role in that of Bullseye and makes it memorable, amusing, and one of the movie's highlights, the film also sports a good supporting cast including Jon Favreau as Matt's friend Foggy Nelson, but I'm not at all a fan of Jennifer Garner as Elektra. Garner is most famous for her TV show Alias, and how her pathetic and emotionless performance as Elektra earned a spin-off movie I'll never know. She also isn't all that attractive, sorry to break it to you.
The movie tried to pass itself of as an action movie with Martial Arts overtones, which roughly translates to lots of fights done with wire-fu. They even got in Tsuyoshi Abe, a B-Movie martial arts fight choreographer, to do the fights. The stunt crew includes names like Kane Hodder and Nils Allen Stewart, but at the end of the day, the action scenes are boring, unoriginal, and just a waste of time. No fight captured my interest in the least, and this is the epitome of why wire-fu should never have taken off, the fights do nothing spectacular, and yet aren't at all realistic, meaning you have a middle of the road, boring level of quality.
The special effects...well they aren't that bad. The constant CGI looks very bad in some scenes, but good in others. The DD 'Sonar' effect is well realised though, and pretty cool at that.
The less said about the music, the better, I can assure you. Instead of taking the sensible route to a good super hero soundtrack (ie handing Danny Elfman your cash), Fox decided to take the other route and aim for the 'yoof' culture, littering the film's soundtrack with such hateable acts as N.E.R.D, Evanescence, Hoobastank, Saliva and House of Pain. Did they really think playing the aural bile that is N.E.R.D's lapdance would build up some sort of 'street' atmosphere about the Kingpin? the bloody irritating gothic rock rubbish of Evanescence, who crop up twice (that's 5 times too much) would honestly capture the feel of a gothic city? well the fact is, it just makes this film look like an expensive advert for the soundtrack CD.
On the whole, while Im willing to accept it isn't a complete failure, I really do not see any reason why anyone would want to put money and time towards a movie like Daredevil. It's a failed attempt to cash in on Spiderman via copying Batman, and does nothing more than make you appreciate those two movies more. I hear the director's cut DVD is much better, but after witnessing the theatrical debacle, why would I want to take the chance?
Im willing to give the film a second star, mainly because it did seem that most of the cast were trying, and doing a decent job, but the characters and story they were working with was utter garbage, so they were really powerless to stop this being a turkey. Unless you are trying some sort of sadistic challenge to watch every comic book movie ever, or just the bad ones(actually that makes up about 70% of all of them anyway), then I wouldn't wish Daredevil upon you.
Its quite amusing that Steven Speilberg, a man known more for his family and adventure movies, is actually the man behind one of the most famous, and easily one of the best, horror or monster movies of all time. Indeed, his little movie about a big shark, titled Jaws, is not only one of the first 'Summer Blockbusters', but introduced so many things that have become conventions of the horror movie, that its become hard to make a movie about any sort of monster that isn't derivative of Jaws somehow.
Its also tough to try and name many movies that have made such an impact on popular culture than Jaws. The theme tune is synonymous with not only sharks, but impending danger, the sight of some form of fin-styled shape piercing through a mass of water, or in some cases land, likewise indicates something dangerous on the approach, and lest we forget that the movie established the view that the Great White Shark is a ruthless and evil monster in the eyes of the general populace.
As I'm sure you know, Jaws began life as a novel by a man named Peter Benchley, although the differences between his book and the finished movie are reportedly numerous, I've never read it myself, so can't say first-hand. I've heard the book is more of a trashy soap-opera than an 'Animal-on-the-loose' tale, which I find quite amusing, given that after Jaws, everything Benchley seemed to write was about some form of marine-based monster on the rampage, these were, on two occasions, turned into 2-part TV movies. Benchley himself was originally brought in to write the movie's script, which apparently followed his novel rather faithfully, but it ultimately proved to be for nothing as his script was eschewed in favour of one from Carl Gottlieb which cut down on the characters' backstories, made them more likable, and placed more emphasis on the shark.
While I find it hard to believe that anyone hasn't seen, or at least doesn't know the plot of Jaws, a brief rundown of the plot looks like this;
The small Island of Amity thrives on it's summer tourist invasion, something that the local Mayor, Larry Vaughn(Murray Hamilton) knows all too well. So when a girl washes up half-eaten on his beach and the new Sheriff, Martin Brody(Roy Schneider) wants to close the beach on the 4th of July, he has none of it.
Naturally his failure to take heed proves costly, as a young boy is devoured, and an oceanographer named Hooper(Richard Dreyfuss) is called in to sort things out. He is stunned by the bite radius on the remains of the first girl, and theorises that it must be a huge Great White Shark that is behind it. The parents of the boy killed on the beach offer a bounty for the shark's head, causing a frenzy of wannabe hunters to appear, a boat of such lads manage to catch a tiger shark, which Amity, despite Hooper's protestations, decides to accept as the killer so it can go back to it's business. Naturally it isn't long before it becomes clear that this is most certainly not the problem solved, Hooper and Brody must team up with a gritty old sea-dog named Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt the creature before it kills off the town's economy, but things also soon become clear that this is no ordinary shark they are dealing with...
Indeed, the plot of Jaws isn't exactly full of intricate twists or incredibly thought-provoking points, yet it does what it does very well, sets up a group of likable and diverse characters, and pits them against a seemingly unstoppable force that they must find some way to rid the waters of. Its one of those true examples of simplicity working, with the film devoting far more time to building up suspense for the shark and it's attacks than trying to be too smart a movie. Even if it never even attempts to explain how the shark got to that size, its also one of the few cases where it doesn't really require to, it has the audience gripped to the point where it doesn't really cross your mind how it got to that size, you just kind of accept it. Given some of the ridiculous explanations given for killer animals in the movies that tried to latch a ride on Jaws's coat-tails, maybe its actually a good thing they didn't elaborate.
One of the things that certainly works in Jaws favour are it's characters. I've heard that likable characters in the novel were few and far between, yet I feel that the trinity of men who go out to kill the shark are all likable in their own ways. Brody, the borderline hydrophobiac, something else which the movie never explains, and all around everyman who wants the beach safe for his kids, Hooper, the nerdy yet quite funny man of science and the grizzly Quint, whose monologue which explains his passion for hunting sharks is one of the movie's most powerful scenes. Even the support characters are well written, and despite the trimming down of their stories, their still written in a manner that makes them likable, making you care if they get eaten by a giant shark or not.
And that's really where the movie's money shots lie, the shark attacks. From the iconic opening sequence to Brody's final showdown with the monster, all of them are edgy, wonderfully shot excercises in action set-pieces. Possibly due to the nature of it, wherein the crew are in the middle of the Ocean, which is the shark's elment, but I always found Jaws more terrifying than any almost any other movie, despite the fact I'm rarely in water. Could it be that sharks are just naturally nasty looking creatures, and the thought of them carving their way through the murky depths is scarier than any fictional monster? who knows, but in this light, Jaws worked on me in ways hundreds of other movies of it's sort have tried and failed to do.
Acting in the movie is, at worst, good. Schneider is good as the all-around-everyman Brody, making him likable, but it's Dreyfuss nerdy Hooper and Shaw's unforgettable Quint that really steal the show here, most notably the latter, between his aformentioned speach, his sailors songs and general capture of the spirit of a ship's captain. All the supporting players, led by Hamilton as well as Lorraine Gary as Brody's wife, are also worthy of praise for solid performances, with everyone putting in a show deserving of their casting.
Special Effects are an aspect of the movie that has both in some cases withstood the test of time and in others aged quite badly. While the animatronic shark is a marvel for 1974, and in many scenes is chillingly convincing, in some it does look painfully rubbery, although thankfully these are in a minority. As I mentioned, sharks are, naturally, quite unnerving in appearance, so they didn't have to put work into making it extra-scary, they simply had to get their model, famously dubbed 'Bruce', to look like a real shark, which, in many places, it does, so mission accomplished.
Possibly the greatest accomplishment of the film is John Williams absolutely instense score. Easily one of the most recognisable and iconic themes in movie history, Williams' work here is so well remembered for a reason...its brilliant. Absolutely imperative to the process of building up the tension required, Williams score is masterful at getting the audience to the edge of their seats, and is quite probably the movie's best feature, which is no mean feat.
While I do acknowledge that it isn't perfect, with some of Bruce's appearances being a little cringeworthy(but hell, it was 1974) Jaws is one of the few movies which I feel thouroughly deserves it's accepted status as a classic. Giving the movie anything less than full-marks would be short-changing it, as it is not only one of the most gripping and exciting movies I've ever had the pleasure of watching, as well as proving itself more than capable of standing the test of time and repeated viewing, it has also inspired countless other movies, and while many of them have been schlocky and disgraceful rip-offs, it has also had a positive influence on plenty of great movies, and is, by it's own right, one of the all time greats itself.
Somehow, despite the fact I enjoyed the original, I somehow managed to miss out on catching Spider-Man 2 in the cinema. It sat on my DVD shelf for months as well, until Igot around trying to chip into my never ending backlog of DVDs.
The movie picks up a few years after the events of the original movie, which are recapped, in a very brief way, in the credits, and in the first section of the film. For those unaware of the story, and who don't mind spoilers for the first movie, youngster Peter Parker(Tobey Maguire - Seabiscuit) was bitten by a genetically modified spider, and gained spider-like abilities, such as being able to climb walls and fire web and so on. When his uncle was killed by a robber Peter could have stopped, he dedicates his life to fighting crime as the masked hero Spiderman. However, as with any young man, Peter has personal problems as well. He doesn't want to show affection to the girl he loves,Mary Jane(Kirsten Dunst - The Crow:Salvation), in case she gets hurt, and his best friend Harry(James Franco - The Ape) hates his alter ego, because he blames him for the death of his father.
When things pick up, Peter is now living in the city, trying to get by in university while holding down part time jobs in pizza delivery and freelance photography while maintaining his crime-fighting duties.
As he tries to sort things out with Mary Jane, who is getting more and more tired of his attitude towards her, he comes under a new threat from a scientist named Dr.Octavious(Alfred Molina - Raiders of the Lost Ark), who is a kindly man by default, but is driven mad by a set of cybernetic tentacles fused onto his waist in a lab accident. Doc Ock, as the press dubs him, plans to do the experiment again, on a much grander scale, which would put the entire of New York at risk if it goes the same way as the first. This occurs just as Peter decides to give up his alter ego, and he is lead into a conflict over his desires, and his responsibilities. When Octavious kidnaps Mary Jane, these both collide and Peter is forced to take up his role as the hero once more, even if it costs him his private life.
The story may sound basic, but naturally I've cut corners here and there, and it is a comic book movie at that, but you should be able to take the gist of the plot from that. For the most part, I feel the plot of the movie is very good, and while you might write it off as typical action movie rubbish, I feel obliged to stand up for it, as while it may not differ in story to a B-Superhero movie, there is no denying Spider-Man 2 does it with a panache that not even it's peers in the big-budget superhero movies can stand up to. Like the original, the movie does preach it's 'with great power comes great responisibility' message, which may sound cheesy, but movies like this are needed, and when they are made like this, the slightly corny nature of it doesn't deter at all.
My only plot complaints really, were that too much of the film, especially at the start, harked back too closely to the original movie. While I realise this was supposed to represent Peter discovering his powers again and so on, I just wish they had showed a little more originality in doing so. Some of the conversations used to establish the relationships between Peter and Harry and Mary Jane came accross as really forced and a bit silly. When someone is your friend, regardless of gender, while walking down a street at night and asking if you want to go get something to eat wouldn't immediately smack me as meaning they were trying to talk you out of marriage.
One thing about the plot that bothered me, not in it's implementation, but in way of it's timing in the series. I felt the second entry was possibly too soon to pull the Spiderman considering retirement angle. I hear Sam Raimi only has plans for a trilogy, but even then the third and final movie would have been a better time to pull it. On the subject of the angle, one thing that bothered me, was the way Peter's powers seemed to disappear, just because he gave up the name. Sure they wouldn't have worked as well, but things like strength wouldn't have been altered so significantly in such a short space of time.
One thing I did like was some subtle links to the first movie, such as Mary Jane asking her would be fiancee to kiss her upside down,stuff like that is cool to see.
Another plus is that Doctor Octopus has been realised a lot better than the Green Goblin was. While the Doc didn't look much like his comic counterpart, his outfit actually looked more natural, and general more menacing than the Goblin's. Sadly the character of the Black Cat was removed from the movie, my suspicion being that they felt she was going to resemble Catwoman from Batman Returns too much, but the absence of the Lizard was a bit of a kick where it hurts, after all the talk of two villains, only getting one was a bit disappointing.
Acting in the movie is generally spot on, with all the characters returning from the first movie still keeping up a high standard, and I especially felt James Franco did well in the, again, supporting role of Harry, hopefully he gets his chance to shine. Molina brings Octavious to life well, and thankfully doesn't try to out-crazy Willem Dafoe's performance in the first film and instead goes for the opposite type of crazy: calm.
The music...well it does it's job. There is no denying Danny Elfman's score is good, but when compared to the masterful themes he crafted for Batman and the Flash, his Spiderman seems slightly lacking, but in saying that it is better than anything that Daredevil,The Hulk,X-Men or The Punisher got in their movies. It's more the soundtrack advertisement elements of the music that annoy me. Because they are ok, but when it comes to stuff like that it's a personal taste thing, and the songs didn't do it for me. I did like the oriental woman's rendition of the old cartoon theme.
The special effects are as good as you could expect. Everything looks awesome effects wise, from Spidey swinging the streets to Ock's tentacles, it's just...spectacular.
The thing I enjoyed most about this movie, was when it let itself go. After the first while, where I complained about it recapping the first film too much, when Spider-Man 2 finally became it's own movie, it was awesome. Action scenes kept me on the edge of my seat, this was a genuinely exciting film, that also had good characters and a well performing cast. I would say it's not Oscar worthy, but it's ten times better than any of the Lord of the Rings films in terms of acting and excitement. Here is an extremely well made movie that is not only exciting, but is quality in most aspects, and has acting of a standard that series could only dream of. Apparently no matter how good a comic-book movie is, it's still a comic-book movie in the eyes of some, which is just sad.
I would recommend this movie to anyone, especially those who like Spiderman, be it in his animated or comic book form. Raimi is clearly a fan, and it shows. His movies combine a genuine enthusiasm for the subject with actual film-making quality into an under three hour spectacle that I fail to see how anyone couldn't get some enjoyment from.
While it may seem like I am getting a little over-enthusiastic with my scoring of the movie, especially given that I reeled off a number of faults in it, but there is something about Spider-Man 2 that just works, in a way that very few other comic-book movies have done, and like it's prequel, has excelled into actually hitting the leagues of being a 'proper' movie in the eyes of many(if not the Academy). Such is the acceptance of these movies, I hear popular 16-year old girls talking about it being cool, not something you expect from something comic-book related.
So I'm sticking with the part of me that says Spider-Man 2 is worth 4-Stars, it's only when you go through it with the deliberate intention of finding faults that they actually smack you in the face, at least that is what I found, but granted I did grow up reading Spiderman comics, and my days off college were often spent sitting watching Fox Kids reruns of the awesome cartoon, so perhaps my view is a little biased. However, all I can really say, is that you should watch Spider-Man 2. Watch the first movie first, but if you take anything out of the original, part 2 will certainly hold entertainment for you. It's an action movie, a summer blockbuster, and generally just a damn good time in DVD form.
Given that I wasn't exactly enamoured with the original Fantastic 4 movie, it goes without saying I didn't exactly rush to see it's 2007 follow up 'Rise of the Silver Surfer'. I thought the first movie was fairly harmless fluff, clean fun for kids who like superheroes and aren't into the drama of Spiderman's lovelife or the dark side of Batman, maybe because I'd never read the Fantastic 4 comic, or even particularly liked the cartoon, I didn't go into it with overly high expectations. One thing that really did rub me the wrong way about the film was it's handling of Dr. Victor von Doom. Now I've long given up buying comics, this recent boom in superhero movies has been great for me because it lets me relive my childhood somewhat, and I'm not the type of person who throws a fit over the slightest change made to characters - Spiderman having the ability to produce web and no have to build web shooters didn't fuss me, nor did the fact Wolverine didn't wear yellow lycra, but what writer Mark Frost and director Tim Story did to one of the most iconic villains in all of comics was actually terrible. Given this had taken place, and knowing that the film, by definition of having the Silver Surfer in the title, would involve Galactus, one of the few other Fantastic 4 characters I actually enjoy, but also one of the more far fetched ones, I really wasn't sure I wanted to see the sequel. However it was going for £3 in Asda when I was doing my shopping and it was a Monday night so I thought "to hell with it" and bought it.
The film picks up pretty much where the first left off as the Fantastic 4 - Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffud), The Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), The Human Torch (Chris Evans) and The Thing (Michael Chiklis) are living it up as New York's media darling super group. Mr. Fantastic aka Reed Richards and Invisible Woman aka Sue Storm are about to have a Posh & Becks style wedding, the torch aka Johnny Storm is living carefree and womanising and the Thing aka Ben Grimm has come to terms somewhat with his rocky demeanor and enjoying life with his blind girlfriend Alicia (Kerry Washington) .
However, during his bachelor party Reed is approached by General Hager (Andre Braugher) about a series of bizarre phenomena taking place across the globe. It turns out cosmic energy, the likes of which gave the FF their powers, is going haywire and there are spikes of it all over the world, with the only clue being blurred photos of a some form of silver object.
Hager wants Reed to build some form of device to track the energy, but publicly declines to focus on his wedding, all the while planning to do so anyway. The big day gets spoiled as one of these cosmic power anomalies hits New York, almost causing a helicopter filming the ceremony to crash into the middle of it. The silver entity is seen flying by and the Human Torch takes off in pursuit, only to finally confront the being and discovering a silver humanoid being on what appears to be a flying surfboard. Quickly dispatched by the being, the Torch returns to the FF's home in the Baxter building to be met witch scepticism by teammates and the military alike.
It also transpires that the FF aren't the only ones tracking the being, it's presence and cosmic energy managed to free the evil Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) from his solidified state and after an encounter with it showcased it's awesome power, he claims to be fighting on the same side as the military and heroes, and, against the team's wishes, he is brought on board by Hager, but are his intentions true? Can the combined forces of Doom, the Fantastic Four and the army stop the Silver Surfer? Is he even the one behind the impending threat to the Earth?
If there is one thing that Rise of the Silver Surfer can't be accused of letting slip is that it does maintain the same cartoon, family friendly appeal of the first movie, which I suppose is to it's credit considering it is set against the backdrop of impending Armageddon. There are no serious moral issues or angst afoot in the movie, it plays it's characters at a "what you see is what you get" style and this can be seen as one of it's biggest pros and also it's biggest detractions.
You see, it's very simple to compare this to the Silver Surfer's first appearance in the 2-episode arc of the 1994 Fantastic Four animated series, because the characters are given roughly about the same amount of depth, arguably moreso in some cases in the cartoon. We know that within seconds of Doom's arrival he's up to no good, upon his second appearance it's clear the Surfer really isn't the evil being the characters thought him to be at first and we all know Johnny will learn a cringe worthy moral lesson and win over the girl who spurns him for his immature nature. In a sense it's refreshing to not be weighed down by characters in constant monologue, dripping in angst and questioning their place. The film really is like a live action cartoon, complete with entertaining but 'safe' action sequences and humour that doesn't always work.
It's also a bad thing in that it offers absolutely no surprises or development. You could argue Johnny undergoes a bit of a change, but at the end of the day when the inevitable third movie/Human Torch spinoff comes out you know he'll still be the same carefree hero. Even the Surfer, whose predicament, if not character, changes in the viewers eyes can be seen coming from a mile off, and not just for those of us familiar with his story.
Now this wouldn't be a major disaster if the movie stuck to it's guns as what it is - a comic book adventure, but far too much of the movie, especially at the beginning, is devoted to Reed and Sue's wedding, thus almost every other character in the movie is relegated to that of a supporting role. Johnny gets a bit of screen time to cause Reed stress but The Thing is criminally underused. Likewise there is little to no point in Doom's resurrection. He gets a minor influx of power based loosely on a story from the comics and is really no more than a minor irritation. Infuriatingly, and pointlessly, he's also cured of his scarring so we're really just seeing Julian McMahon mincing about like a prat. Couldn't they have written in some other evil scientist for this role? The Wizard or something? Doom was already a bumbling idiot in the first film, couldn't they have saved him to be utilised properly in a third movie? If a third film is released I can't help but think they'll bring Doom back again, only this time he'll just be Julian McMahon in a Dr. Doom t-shirt, probably throwing stones at the Baxter Building windows as Earth is invaded by Skrulls or something.
The worst treatment is reserved for the film's 2 new main characters. The Silver Surfer lights up the screen whenever he appears, not through good writing mind you, but because he looks cool, yet he is used hilariously sparsely, and is almost mute throughout. Little to no display of his power is shown, and to be blunt he doesn't really do a great deal. If 'The Rise of the Silver Surfer' is to play a supporting role in a film like this I'd hate to see what his fall is. Now for the other main character I'll put this in a spoiler. It's not really necessary I spoil it, but this really annoyed me
As expected, with the introduction of The Silver Surfer comes the introduction of Galactus. Only if you thought the complete under-use of the Silver Surfer's character was bad...well at least he got to be a character. As I said in the opening, I was sceptical about Galactus appearance. Why? Well he's a 50 foot tall alien being in a suit of purple and blue armour who rams a giant drill into planets and drains them of life. While I think it would be possible to portray him and do it justice, with a big redesign, apparently director Tim Story swore he'd never make a film with giant robots in it, and Galactus cut too close to the bone so he becomes...a giant dust cloud. Seriously "screw superpowers Sue, get the dyson" that and he...or it, only actually appears for about 2 minutes onscreen, so this ancient universal force that destroys planets isn't actually deemed as important to the movie as Sue Storm's acne or Julian McMahon's pearly whites.
It's not even a particularly badly made picture. The acting may not be anything to write home about but in general it's passable. Evans is again probably the best performer, actually striving to bring something close to character to a role underwritten. The banter between he and Chiklis is, like the latter actor, criminally underused and once again a high point of the film, and Laurence Fishbourne's voice is perfect for the Surfer, exuding that wonderful air of authority and charisma...but these are the supporting players. Alba and Gruffud aren't bad as such, they just really don't seem interested. McMahon's abhorrent portrayal of Doom carries on, made all the worse by the fact they wrote in an absurd means of undoing the damage done to his skin by the cosmic radiation so he can freely swan about in designer clothes and cut a figure not even remotely menacing.
The special effects are probably generally a step-up from the first movie, the Surfer looks and moves fantastic, and arguably the best scene in the movie is where Johnny, also now actually being clearly seen as the Human Torch, have their chase throughout Manhattan. Given that the Thing is now a minor character, his suit actually looks significantly worse than in the first movie, lacking the necessary physical presence and the ability to showcase any sort of real character from the actor. The effects used for Mr. Fantastic's stretching and Invisible Woman's disappearing both do their job well enough without inspiring awe. The worst effect in the movie is Alba's terrible blonde wig.
At the end of the day, Rise of the Silver Surfer isn't a complete disaster. It is pretty bad though, and when a 2-episode mid-1990s cartoon can portray the same story arc better, perhaps it is time the writers and director take a long, hard look at themselves. I mean it's not the worst movie ever, and those under the age of 14 who enjoyed the first film will probably be entertained for it's duration, but it's a real wasted opportunity, and I doubt it will find much resonance in those above the aforementioned age, especially those with an affinity for the comics. There has been talk of a Silver Surfer movie, which may prove to the be the best thing that comes out of this, but I find it hard to see a third movie in this franchise making money, and having seen what has been done to 2 of the Fantastic Four's iconic villains already, I shudder to think who would get butchered next.
Given that the bandwagon for superhero movies finally seems to be slowing down a little, it was inevitable that a more obscure comic character would manage to creep his way onto the big screen next to the Incredible Hulk and Batman. The Spirit was a newspaper comic strip famous for it's genre-hopping ways, focusing on the adventures of a masked detective that ended decades ago, and despite a recent DC Comics reinvention, the character still isn't really a big enough name that you would think a movie based upon it would be bankable.
Enter Frank Miller, legendary comic writer and director of the adaptation of his own graphic novel Sin City. If anyone could make The Spirit a money-maker it was Miller, whose history as a writer would guarantee the comic fan-boy's presence and his impressive work with Sin City both the trendy and film-geek crowd's interest. The film would be shot in a style not 100 miles away from Sin City's - lots of black and white with dashes of colour and various other stylistic shots. This set alarm bells ringing in my head right away, the visual style used for Sin City worked so well because it's how the comic was drawn - the spirit used conventional B&W in the old days and colour once it became the norm, to me it really looked like Miller was simply trying to cash in on the success of Sin City and had picked up the license for a fairly obscure comic as means of doing so without causing too much of an outcry from the character's fan base.
The film follows The Spirit (Gabriel Macht)- aka rookie cop Denny Colt, killed in the line of duty but somehow resurrected with the ability to heal himself from wounds. With the blessing of his former Captain Dolan (Dan Lauria) he takes on his secret identity and acts to help the police, bending the rules that they cannot.
The Spirit's world takes a turn for the dramatic when his first love Sand Sarif (Eva Mendes) returns to town - but not as the girl he knew, but as a criminal femme fatale on the hunt for an ancient treasure. However, it turns out that The Octopus also seeks a completely different ancient treasure, yet the two end up with the wrong treasure each and things become complicated. While the treasure Sarif seeks is of value to her only for it's golden nature, The Octopus seeks an elixir that would make him immortal, meaning The Spirit faces a race against time to stop his arch nemesis and save the City.
The saddest thing about The Spirit is that I'm not even really omitting a lot of the plot here. You may be wondering where all the other faces on the poster come into it - Scarlett Johansson as Silken Floss, sidekick to The Octopus? Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellen Dolan? Jaime King as Lorelei, angel of death? Yes their all in there, but none of them actually do anything significant to the film's plot...come to thing of it there isn't really anything significant about the plot.
Now this might sound like some sort of bitter ranting here, and quite hypocritical from someone whose forte is action films, but the Spirit's plot really is dire, made all the worse by the film's overbearing sense of thinking it's smart. I could have let this plot slide had it been padded with all sorts of wild action sequences, but truth is it's padded with cringe-worthy humour and scenes of The Spirit flirting with the female cast. A little romance and sexual tension isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the fact is the characters are so flat it's impossible to do anything but roll your eyes at their attempts at interaction. Had every one of these scenes ended with a hardcore sex-scene perhaps The Spirit could have found more success marketing itself as a story-driven porno film.
When thinking about The Spirit I can't help but compare it to a film with a somewhat similar background in the form of 1996's The Phantom. Based on a newspaper comic as opposed to the flashier Marvel or DC heroes, The Phantom embraced it's roots and made itself as a simple, perhaps somewhat silly swashbuckling action movie. It got critically slaughtered. The funny thing about The Phantom is that if you watch it now, it really isn't that bad. Like I say it's a bit silly, and god knows that purple suit looks awful, but it's a fairly fun, decently acted caper that pretty much embodies the phrase "comic book adventure". So how does this relate to The Spirit? Well, The Phantom was based on a similar pulpy adventure hero, and it embraced this, and tried unsuccessfully to fly into the wind and be a success in a market that didn't want Superheroes, it wanted grittyness, and realism. The Spirit on the other hand lifts a few elements from it's source material but tries to rearrange them to fit what's 'cool' today. Thus we have the pointless attempts at style, which I'll get back to later, and some of the worst written characters ever seen on screen. For reasons unknown The Spirit has somehow developed superhuman healing in his transition from funnybook to film, and while I think he's supposed to be written as a ladies man, it's so terribly done he comes across as more of a creep. The Octopus apparently originated as a Master of disguise, only identifiable by his trademark gloves...here he's portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, so given the tickets he sells there's no danger his face will ever be hidden, and instead our villain is a bit of a weirdo who likes to play dress-up as Samurais, Russians, cowboys and in a scene you have to think was inserted sheerly to court controversy a Nazi. It makes you wonder why they even bothered paying for the license to an existing property instead of making one up themselves ala Sam Raimi with Darkman - oh wait, I know, because then they would have to actually write the characters and give them some background and not have the safety net of "you should have read the comics you heathen" snobbery when people question why nothing about the characters is explained! We do get a (highly predictable) new origin for The Spirit, after much tedious "we are brothers" interplay between he and The Octopus, but Jackson's character is one of the most terribly written things I've ever seen in a movie. We're told The Octopus is The Spirit's arch enemy, we're told that The Octopus is evil...but we're never told or shown exactly what he does that is evil. He clones his henchmen and wants to be immortal...but he doesn't really strike me as a criminal mastermind or threat to the world. He's given no story, he reveals he was a coroner, so clearly his alter-ego, facial tattoos and obsession with the number 8 happened sometime between the birth of The Spirit and the movie, but why? If Miller had actually took his finger out and written a movie, and as much as I loathe origin tales, it would have made more sense to show either his or The Spirit's origin, as is we come into it and both are already active and its almost as though you're watching a sequel, like you should know who and what these people are and are all about.
The film also seems to be on a quest to randomly insert as many unnecessary characters as possible. Remember Spiderman 3? How it got a bit cramped as new villains were showing up left right and centre? This is worse. Was there a purpose is Paz Vega's character or were they hoping the sight of her in a belly dancer outfit would distract viewers enough not to notice? Was there a need for Lorelei at all? Was this film just Frank Miller's excuse to have a grand-scale perv-session and get paid for it?
Then there comes the art style...oh boy. Now as I said, this worked in Sin City. It was a fresh way to make the film, and it accurately represented how the comics looked. With The Spirit, Miller effectively turned a masterstroke that really made Sin City into a cheap gimmick. It wouldn't be so bad if there was any consistency to it, but some scenes are colour and just dark, some are B&W with dashes of red, some are sepia, some monochrome...its just jarring jumping from scene to scene where everything is different. The film does have some glorious shots yes, some of the monochrome stuff works, and the first time you see silhouette fighting it is cool yeah, but overall the way the film just jumps from look to look almost comes across as self indulgent on the part of the director.
I can't quite make my mind up if the acting is tragic, mainly because the characters are so terribly written, but let's just say there aren't many good things to say. Macht doesn't exactly excel as a leading man, nor is he convincing as a lothario. Jackson comes across as more camp than menacing and overall there are only 3 members of the cast able to come out of this mess with their heads held high - Johansson is the only player who actually manages to deliver her comedy relief lines with any success, Lauria was made to play these grizzled cop roles and Paulson is clearly trying her hardest with a cardboard character.
On the plus side, the film's score isn't bad, but then that will happen if you basically rip-off Danny Elfman's Batman score - the only thing this film has in common with a good movie.
I know you're thinking "this guy can't be serious, there's no way a film with a cast and budget like this can be that bad" but I'm not lying. I'm not a fan of The Spirit comic, so this isn't a bitter fanboy rant, it's someone who enjoys movies, and has a soft spot for this type of Superhero adventure, disgusted at how a shockingly high budget, cast and crew can be squandered on such a terrible, terrible movie. It's genuinely one of the worst films I've ever seen, and off the top of my head the worst comic book adaptation ever (yes, worse than even Daredevil) it really should be skipped. Yes it's packed to the gills with beautiful women, but my cinema ticket to see this tripe cost me £6.60. Six. Pound. Sixty. For that you could go to your local Asda and pick up a copy of FHM for some beautiful celebrity women in states of undress and use your change to buy a half decent DVD in their sale.