X-Men: Apocalypse and a Post-Script to the 2016 Superhero Smackdowns

xmenapocI really did not plan for posts on superhero movies to take over my blog this year, but here we are with my fourth one in a row. Ah, well – at least this won’t be dwelling too much on the hero vs hero theme, because X-Men: Apocalypse is not an all-out, hero vs hero brawl like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. But, it still has some significant talking points – not to mention some crazy continuity issues – so let’s get to it! (Minor spoiler-ish stuff ahead).

The Battle

So, the big bad of the movie is Apocalypse, an ancient Egyptian mutant resurrected in the 1980’s who wastes no time in setting waste to the world as we know it (and played by Oscar Isaac as if he were Marlon Brando in Island of Dr. Moreau after Boo Berry-esque makeover). According to legend, Apoc always employs a guard of four mutant-powered horsemen to stand with him, help protect him and generally wreak havoc. This time around the mutants he has chosen are Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. This sets up the big hero vs hero battle of the movie, where Apoc’s X-Horsemen face off against Xavier’s X-Men.

Except it’s not really a hero vs hero battle. In the comics, Storm, Psylocke and Angel were all well-established members of the X-Men years before Apocalypse first appeared. The movie, however, has Apoc recruiting the trio long before they’ve even heard of Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted and Never-Aging, so there’s no real “good guys vs good guys” morality going on here. The Horsemen are the straight up bad guys, doing the bidding of an even badder guy. No moral choices hang in this battle, it just straight forward good vs evil.

That said, it still gives those familiar with the X-Men comics a superhero smackdown, because even though they’re “evil” versions of their comic counterparts, they are still Storm, Psylocke and Angel. And as such, we get some great scenes of Mohawk Storm dishing it out with Cyclops, Ninja Psylocke and Beast swiping and slicing at each other and (Arch)Angel’s metal wings of fury trying to pin down the teleporting Nightcrawler. And the fact that it isn’t a hero vs hero issue, actually works in its favour. It doesn’t have to get bogged down the heavy-handed sermonizing of BvS or deal with the weighty moral issues of Civil War, it can just give us a pure throwdown. And that’s just fine for this flick. And next to the expected Quicksilver slo-mo sequence, the final smackdown is the most enjoyable part of the movie.

FUN FACT: While it may lighter in tone than both BvS and Civil War, it definitely has the most collateral damage and massive casualties, not to mention the least fallout – than the other two films combined. I mean, Apocalypse morphs half of downtown Cairo into a big pyramid, and sooo many inhabited buildings, houses, cars and landmarks the world over get dismantled and sent skyward – the Sydney Opera House, Golden Gate Bridge – were talking tens of thousands of deaths, in addition to those who mercilessly perish at the hands of Magneto, Apocalypse and Weapon X (who was let loose by a remorseless Jean Grey – way to go Jean!).

Lampshading The Muties

Of course, being an X-Men movie, there are also some story problems – and I think it’s hilarious how the filmmakers have gone from not being able to line up the continuity of the first X-Trilogy with the current one to not even being able to line up the continuity of the films within the current trilogy…and it doesn’t seem to bother them a bit that so much stuff just doesn’t make sense. In fact, they call themselves out on almost all of it before the internet legions could have at ‘em.

First off, “lampshading” is trope where an element of a story that make shake a viewer’s willing disbelief is specifically called out by the characters in the story, as a way of saying “we get it, it doesn’t make sense, and we know it, but we’re going with it”. And X-Men Apocalypse is one of the lampshadiest movies to ever have lampshaded a lampshade. Just some examples:

  • Apocalypse takes place 20 years after X-Men First Class, yet no one in the cast seems to be 20 years older, which Professor X calls out when he sees Moira McTaggert and marvels at how she looks like she hasn’t aged a day since their first meeting.
  • Quicksilver is first seen chilling in his mom’s basement, exactly like he was a decade earlier when the X-Men first met him in Days of Future Past. He later calls this out when he mentions that he does nothing and has been living in his mom’s basement for 10 years.
  • Mystique, always a champion of not being ashamed of who you are and who would proudly display her natural blue skin whenever she could, spends a large portion of the film in her human guise (Jennifer Lawrence has gone on the record several times about despising the Mystique make-up process). Is Mystique no longer “loud and proud” about her mutant-ness? Nope, she just didn’t like all the attention she was getting for being a “hero” after the events of Days Of Future Past, so now she goes incognito as human. (So, she’s still not ashamed of who she is, she’s just trying to dodge the paparazzi, y’all)
  • The X-films have never done right by their mutants when it came to their uniforms, usually sticking them in nothing more than glorified flight suits. Apocalypse’s iteration of this is by far the blandest and most generic – but also the most acknowledged: “Hey guys, look – flight suits!” – Cyclops, stumbling across a locker in the Alkali Lake facility, which the X-Men quickly plunder.
  • When Scott, Jean, Kurt and Jubilee go see Return of the Jedi, they have a very meta talk about trilogies and how the third one always sucks (a slight dig at the less-than-loved X-Men: Last Stand, which got all but erased from X-continuity after Days of Future Past…or DID it?)
XmenFC_APOC

Professor Xavier’s first class of mutants, (Top, circa 1962) are shocked to discover that none of them have aged more than 5 years over the past two decades (Bottom, circa 1983)

And then there are things that the film does not even mention, but just hang there, taunting viewers – like how Alex Summers is the X-Men’s own Benjamin Button. To wit:

1) We’ve got a 20+ year difference between siblings Alex and Scott Summers (Alex/Havok was a teen in First Class, and now, 20 years later, he has a little bro Scott/Cyclops who is just a teen himself in Apocalypse)

2) Alex should be pushing 40, but looks like he still hasn’t started shaving yet

3) Mr. and Mrs. Summers look to be in their late 40s themselves, and definitely not old enough to have a child of Alex’s supposed age.

So what gives? Well…does it even matter? The filmmakers don’t think it does, so why should we?

And therein lies part of the fun of the X-Men movies these days. In this age of superhero cinematic saturation, at least the X-Men films can stand out by being the most comic book-y of them all – complete with an implied mission statement that resonates with any comic fanboy or girl. Something like, “Give em’ some big flashy battles with the characters they wanna see, and if it doesn’t make sense, who cares – we’ll just ret-con it all later…maybe”

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Captain America: Civil War Is a Super-Hero Fight Done Right

civil-war-poster3I was a little hesitant to do my third post in a row on a superhero movie, especially since I usually only post on a monthly basis, so I try to keep my topics varied. But then I thought: Well, superheroes ARE pretty much dominating pop culture right now…and this post actually will tie in the last two quite neatly so…I quickly convinced myself to go ahead with it.

And now that the dust has settled from 2016’s third (but definitely not last) superhero box office assault, Captain America: Civil War has surprised absolutely no one by dominating its debut weekend with a domestic gross of $179 million (adding to its already-impressive global tally, which Box Office Mojo reports is currently at $494 million). So now let’s take a look at the other impressive feat the movie accomplished:

Namely, where this year’s other hero vs hero spectacle (Batman v Superman) went wrong, Captain America: Civil War went right. Many times, in fact – so let’s take a closer look. (Fair warning: minor spoilers ahoy!)

The Reason for Conflict

Civil War kicks off with an Avengers mission that results in the deaths of multiple innocent bystanders. This, in addition to civilian casualties from the events in the previous Avengers films, causes the United Nations to say that super-powered individuals need to be kept in check and should not be able to act with autonomy however they please. Thus, the team has a choice: work under the United Nations and only on approved missions or hang up their costumes and retire (or otherwise face arrest). The issue not only divides Captain America and Iron Man and the rest of team, but it is also gives the viewers something to weigh the pros and cons of and see which side they would support.

The conflict of BvS however, was between two superheroes who felt each other needed to be taken down because their methods proved that they were a threat to society. The fact that they were both correct – Superman has his carelessness about collateral damage and Batman’s overly violent tactics lead to many unnecessary deaths – are lost on both of them, and as a result the audience gets no one to really root for or even an issue to side with. Both are in the wrong and it becomes just two thick-headed heroes in grudge match.

The Battle

The big face-off in Civil War is simply glorious. It’s a comic book splash page come to life as each side of heroes charge into battle on a deserted airport runaway in the bright light of day. And while it’s a serious battle, there are still light-hearted moments to be had and even more amazingly, it involves 12 heroes flying and jumping and zapping and punching yet it never feels overcrowded, each hero gets a chance to shine and the action is crisp and clear and easy to follow.

Apparently Hawkeye didn't get the memo about red being Team Cap's signature colour

Apparently Hawkeye didn’t get the memo about red being Team Cap’s signature colour

The muddled big battle of BvS just looks even worse by comparison. Dark and gloomy and set mostly inside crumbling buildings – it’s sometimes hard to pick out exactly what’s going on, even though it’s just a one-on-one battle.

Subplots and Introductions

It wouldn’t be a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie if there wasn’t a set-up for new characters and/or spin-off films, and Civil War keeps the status quo. At the risk of overcrowding a film bursting with returning characters, the filmmakers added two new ones – Black Panther and the rebooted-for-the-MCU Spider-Man – to the mix. But unlike BvS, which shoehorned in a lame side story that went nowhere and had nothing to do with main plot at all in order to tease the future Justice League members, the new debuts in Civil War are more organic and connect to the plot

Black Panther/T’Challa is royalty from Wakanda, the nation which lost a number of citizens in the tragedy depicted in the opening mission and he is present, along with Black Widow, when a bomb goes off at the UN and kills his father, the king of Wakanda. This gives him his own agenda which then crosses paths with the rest of the Avengers.  And Tony Stark, needing to beef up his ranks for the impending smack down with Cap’s own beefed-up team of supporters, heads out to Queens, NY to have a little chat with one Peter Parker – a nervous, techie teen who lives with his Aunt May (hello, Marisa Tomei!). Tony (with the help from many StarkTech surveillance gadgets) has correctly sussed out that Parker is the new spider-themed hero that has been cleaning up crime in New York. A quick recruitment drive later and Spidey is on Team Iron Man (and easily one of the best parts of the big smackdown).

All in all, it’s much more plausible and thought-out  than just having the new heroes  “show up” unannounced to join in a big fight, much to the confusion of the other players – which is exactly how Wonder Woman was brought into BvS (which was very welcome, of course – but still very clunky).

Fanboy Moments and Surprise Twists

Civil War has a number of definite, clear fanboy moments – cool shots or scenes that look fine to the average viewer but hold something more for the seasoned fan (e.g. Hawkeye + Ant-Man…’nuff said).

BvS couldn’t even make a moment out of explaining the absence of Robin by showing his defaced costume in a display case, since it wasn’t even close to recognizable as Robin’s costume in the first place.

Civil War also had an awesome surprise from Ant-Man (that was spoiled for some when it was revealed in a Lego tie-in playset, of all things) as well as a final-act twist that literally had me gasp (although, I never watch the full trailers for movies I’m going to see, so it may very well have been a twist that was already revealed).

But the big surprise in BvS is…Superman dies. And then he gets buried, but the twist is that he may not actually be dead?

Um, yeah – the dude’s in the upcoming Justice League movies and he’s also, y’know Superman…so, I can pretty much guarantee that not one person was shocked by this shocking twist.

 

Listen, I’ll always be a DC fanboy at heart, but Captain America: Civil War was just the palette cleanser that was needed after the overcooked Batman v Superman. And it somehow managed to do something pretty amazing, too – it got me actually looking forward to the next Spider-Man film (I KNOW).

 

 

Batman v Superman: Pros v Cons (Part II)

 

batmanvsuperman-headerContinuing my breakdown of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – my last post covered some of the films Pros, so this time around I’m digging into its Cons. Word of warning – my Cons contain deeper dives into the film and its specifics, so if you haven’t seen it yet…Spoilers Ahoy!

Cons

Desaturation – Director Zach Snyder has never met something bright he couldn’t suck the life out of or something pristine he couldn’t muck up with a few handfuls of dirt, and Batman v Superman is no different. It’s a film whose primary colours appear to be brown/grey/blue.

One of Man of Steel’s problem points for comic fans was how dirty and dark Superman’s costume looked. And once the first official images from BvS appeared, featuring a suited-up Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, it was apparent that this was going to be standard practice going forward. Granted, Superman’s “S” shield in BvS is indeed brighter than the Man of Steel version, but everything else – and I mean EVERYTHING else is sucked dry of colour.

batman-vs-superman-robin-pic

Robin’s costume…or just a pair of greasy coveralls that Batman wears when tuning up the batmobile?

This is done to such a degree that a big Easter Egg in one scene flew right by me unnoticed, even though I was looking straight at it. The scene in question shows Bruce Wayne in the batcave as he walks by a dark costume encased in glass and defaced with a spray-painted taunt from the Joker. I just naturally assumed it was one of Batman’s old costumes (the dude has a thing for saving memorabilia, after all). It wasn’t until I saw a still of that scene a few days later when I realized, “Holy crap – that’s ROBIN’s costume!” (and that makes it a big moment for fans who know that in the comics, Batman’s second Robin, Jason Todd, was brutally killed by the Joker). But, with all of its signature red and yellow leeched out, the Robin costume was barely recognizable, unless you managed to notice the barely discernable “R” emblem (and if you weren’t too distracted with trying to read the Joker’s message).

And then as if things weren’t dark enough, we’re given a final climatic fight with three of the most dour-looking superheroes taking on a CGI monstrosity in the middle of what appears to be a maelstrom of mud, dirt and rock. Ugh.

And this look parallels the feel of the film itself. In fact, the last five major DC films (The Dark Knight TrilogyMan of Steel, BvS) have all been colourless, joyless affairs – and if this is the type of cinematic universe DC wants to create, I’m not sure if I want to be a part of it.

No

No

Lex Luthor – While some problem areas of the film are tolerable, Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Superman’s arch enemy, is not. Who would ever think it would be a good idea to take the confident, arrogant and formidable evil entrepreneur that is Lex Luthor and turn him into a jittery, twitchy, incessantly rambling scientific genius with unresolved daddy issues who constantly appears to be one facial tic away from being fitted for a strait-jacket? The makers of this film, that’s who.

Bodycount Batman – If you’re making a Batman movie, the one thing you for sure do NOT want to do is make your Batman into someone who states that we should just straight-up kill someone even if we are only 1% sure that he could become an unstoppable threat – and then have that Batman soullessly and needlessly gun down, stab and kill a number of hired bad guys who are more or less just in his way. Not cool, Bat-bro, not cool.

The Title Conflict – I have a few big issues stemming from this, so let me break ‘em down for you:

1  First off, the “hero vs hero” is not only a long-standing trope in comics, but as of late, it has become one of the most overused tropes (there’s so much I can say about this, I may actually do another whole post about it). Case in point – Spring 2016 not only brings us Batman v Superman, but also Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, featuring Team Captain America v Team Iron Man, as well as DC Entertainment’s animated release, Justice League vs Teen Titans. *Sigh* can’t everyone just get along? (Answer: Of course not, because comics).

2  Next up, this statement: For generations, comic book fans have always asked – ‘who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?’  – which has appeared in one form or another in so many pieces about the movie. This seems to infer that the film is finally giving  the fans something they have wanted to see for decades. Well, not so much. Because you know who asks that kind of question? Kids. Little kids ask that question. Older fans don’t ask that question because they know they can find a dozen different instances where that scenario has already been played out in various comics and graphic novels over the years. And the fans also know that while they do tend to make for some good reading, ultimately, they don’t end up mattering in the big scheme of things. That’s what makes the first cinematic pairing of DC’s two most popular heroes so frustrating – because without even seeing the movie we all know that no matter the outcome of this conflict, the end result will be Bats and Supes buddying up going forward (thanks in no small part to DC’s well-publicized announcements of two upcoming Justice League films and a slate of solo spinoffs).

3  Which brings me to this point – the film’s reason behind the “hero vs hero” conflict. Generally these conflicts can make for a good comic book story because they are usually the result of one of the following scenarios:

  • two heroes/teams meeting for the first time and mistakenly think each other is the enemy
  • a hero/team is forced to turn against their comrades (eg., via mind control, or in order to ensure the safety of innocents)
  • a controversial choice is made or stand is taken that divides heroes and ultimately makes them fight for what they think is right.

But none of these hold true for Batman v Superman.

The heroes whole conflict is because Bat-Douche thinks the Son of Krypton is an irresponsible threat to civilians and Super-Smug thinks the Dark Knight is ruthless vigilante meting out his own sadistic brand of justice. They are both aware of one another, but don’t know each other – so of course, neither try to approach the other and say, “Hey dude, we both want to stop evil, but I think you should maybe check yourself a bit, y’know?” Instead, they just start right in with the fisty-punchy ka-pows and the bang-bang-zappy. (Superman does try for one brief second to reason with Batman, but then gets sucker bat-punched and goes off the rails…again).

So, the title conflict is ultimately between two heroes who have both been in the wrong with their actions – but are blind to it. They only think that it is the other who needs to be held accountable for what they’ve wrought, when in fact they both do. There’s no side to root for and no real resolution to their fight. They finally switch from bitter enemies to battle buddies after realizing that they’ve been played by Luthor and trudge off to join what really should have been the title bout of Dawn of Justice:

Wonder Woman v Doomsday!

Final Verdict – Pros v Cons: Cons

 

Batman v Superman: Pros v Cons (Part I)

BvSposterIt has been just under a week since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice punched it’s way to a record-breaking box office debut (as of this writing, the film’s worldwide grosses have just passed the half a billion mark) and a lot of talk has been made about the reception of the film. It certainly hasn’t won over the critics, as the overall consensus has been resoundingly poor (it currently sits at 29% “fresh” on the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes and has an average score of 44/100 over on Metacritic). There has been a lot of buzz-speak against this fact, and about how the film was “not made for the critics” but is a “film for the fans”.

But is it really? I’m a comic book fan, and while I didn’t think it was a “bad” film, I did think it was really “meh” – because even though it is mostly well-made and has its share of good moments, I found that there were a lot of problems story-wise as well as stylistically – and overall it’s definitely not the type of film I was ever hoping a Batman/Superman team-up would be. And even though the audience may have turned out in droves to support its debut, it seemed they left  mostly feeling “meh” as well (Cinemascore had viewers giving the film an overall “B” rating –  but also noting that this came partly from a  balanced amount of “A” and “C” grades given, and not simply a majority of “B” grades). It would appear then, that just as many movie-goers are enjoying the film as those who are not, while the remaining group doesn’t see much difference either way.

So, in the spirit of pitting two forces against one another, I’m going to dive a little deeper into my own views on the film and do a two-part Pros v Cons of Batman v Superman. Up first, the Pros!

Pros

Addressing the destruction in Man of Steel – By opening the film with a civilians-eye view of the destruction in Metropolis caused during Man of Steel‘s climatic fight between Superman and Zod, the film addresses head-on the biggest problem point of that film – that hundreds, if not thousands of innocent bystanders would have been killed during their battle, and no one seemed to bat an eyelash about it, most especially Superman himself. This time around we see the affect it had on those caught in the catastrophe, including one Bruce Wayne.

Wonder Woman – The long overdue big screen debut of the Amazing Amazon didn’t disappoint – the only problem being that there wasn’t enough of her, with her barely-there subplot only serving to set up future films. But still, when Gal Gadot finally suited up to join the fight against Doomsday, my face cracked the smile that had been absent from minute one of watching the film. And that smile was also due in part to…

Wonder Woman’s theme – Junkie XL collaborating on the score with Hans Zimmer seemed like an odd choice, but when Wonder Woman finally appeared, all armoured-up and backed by this jacked-up, synthesized, pulsating orchestration, it was just all kinds of right.

Batman_v_Superman_Dawn_of_Justice_WW

And just like that, the movie suddenly gets a whole lot better

Alfred – Comic book fans have known for years that Alfred is more than just a butler and surrogate father, he’s a bad-ass dude in his own right. It was refreshing to see Jeremy Irons’ portrayal of him was more as Bruce Wayne’s tech-savvy right-hand man, fully capable of tasks like drone-piloting the Batwing, than just as someone who simply buttles and tut-tuts.

The Batcave – Having the entrance to the Batcave be hidden in the middle of lake that magically parts like the Red Sea when the batmobile launches over it was the kind of stuff we needed more of – it’s a little nod to the past (in this case the 60’s Batman series with the cave entrance hidden behind a false cliffside) that’s also modern enough to give you one of those fun “oh, cool!” superhero moments that are largely lacking otherwise in the film.

The introduction of the other future Justice Leaguers – With every new hero that was announced for this film – Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg – it seemed like DC Entertainment and Warner Bros were so desperate to play catch-up to Marvel’s cinematic universe that they were going to overstuff this movie with too many points of focus. Luckily, these three heroes were all only seen briefly (apart from Flash’s cryptic cameo in the Batcave) on a few minutes of surveillance footage – with only  minimal dialogue and explanation – just a teaser of what we can expect to see of them sometime down the road.

Up next: The Cons!

Halloween Treats: Surprisingly Good Late-Series Horror Sequels

The horror genre is easily the most prolific when it comes to sequels. Unfortunately, quantity rarely means quality, and most horror franchises tend to see diminishing returns with each lackluster entry. So it’s always a treat to stumble across a late-series entry that’s actually better than would ever be expected. So if you’re looking for some such treats this Halloween, here are a few you can check out.

Final Destination 5

The unique thing that sets apart the Final Destination films from other horror fare has also been its downfall. In the first FD, the idea of turning Death itself into a supernatural slasher (determined to right the scales in his favour when a teen’s premonition saves him and his classmates from a plane explosion where they would have surely perished), was original and exciting. But with each sequel simply repeating the same conceit with different characters, it quickly became old hat – not only to audiences, but to people within the movies themselves. The characters in the fourth installment don’t even bat an eye when they find out Death is stalking them, they just dutifully move the action along from one high-concept deathtrap set piece to another.

So it was surprising that when Final Destination 5 came out, there was some obvious effort on the filmmaker’s part to kick the quality back up a few notches. And it worked. Suspense oozes out of every deathtrap sequence and the signature opening catastrophe was stellar – second only to the highway pile-up of FD 2. The collapse of a huge suspension bridge is well staged and choreographed and the special effects are incredible (and personally, a little jarring – since the bridge that was used in the film is Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, which is just a mere 5 minutes away from where I live, and I always think of it collapsing whenever I drive over it now).

Another plus is that the film tries to mix up the whole “Death is killing the survivors in the order they should’ve died” by adding in a ghoulish twist – that the survivors may be able to avoid death by Death by killing someone else in their place. And to top it all off, the 3D work is handled very well, with set-ups designed specifically for 3D filming – no muddy, post-conversion 3D here.

Saw VI

I liked Saw. I did not care for Saw II. And I have no idea why I saw every subsequent Saw film even though I’m not a fan of torture and the copious flashback reveals made each film just more and more muddled. I guess I just kept hoping that one of the sequels would at least be able to hold up to the first one. Thankfully, it finally paid off with Saw VI.

Sorry, you'll have to wait - this ride's all full.

Sorry, you’ll have to wait – this ride’s all full.

Instead of deadly games master Jigsaw or his minions selecting immoral or damaged souls to “learn the value of life” by placing them in deathtraps (which is about as morally righteous as Jason Voorhees narrowing his victim list to only trespassing campers and annoying teens), this time the action is centered on a person whose day-to-day life involves playing god with people’s lives. A health insurance agent whose personal selection policy favours the healthy over the ill has resulted in the deaths of a number of individuals who were denied coverage and treatment (including Jigsaw himself). After being kidnapped, he awakens to find himself trapped in a deadly funhouse of terror traps along with six of his coworkers and associates, who are strapped to a literal carousel of death. He now has to make his way through the funhouse by juggling the fates of the lives of those six just as he juggled with the lives of every sick person who he denied coverage. And just for an extra kick in the ‘nads, he is being observed by the wife and child of one such man who recently died.

Hmm…a Saw film that is actually comments on a current and controversial topic (health care)? And does so while offering some great suspense-filled set-pieces? Yep, there you have it – Saw VI, the best of all the Saw sequels.

Halloween: H20

How many times do I have to tell you - we have no more candy!

Go away – we have no more candy!

I’ve already mentioned the film officially known as Halloween: Twenty Years Later in a few previous posts, so I’ll just sum it up quickly: this seventh installment of the Halloween franchise disregarded sequels 4-6, brought back ultimate final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and had her face off once again with the murderous, masked Michael Myers in a direct follow-up to the first two Halloween films, which is easily the best sequel since Halloween II. With a focus that leans heavily on suspense-over-gore that was the original film’s trademark, the only quibble here is that it’s too short. The set-up seems a tad rushed and an extra 10 minutes before the final act would have been welcome. But no deal breaker is this! I’ll take a brisk Halloween: H20 over the other late sequels or either of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes any day.

Honourable (Video Game) Mention

Silent Hill Downpour

SHDPThe survival horror franchise that is Silent Hill has seen many ups and downs since it’s high-water mark of Silent Hill 2: Shattered Dreams. When subsequent installments like Silent Hill: The Room and Silent Hill Homecoming didn’t do much to thrill fans or critics, not much was expected from eighth entry Silent Hill Downpour.

Gladly that was not the case. In a serious effort to bring back the creepiness and chills that have been missing from the survival horror genre, Silent Hill Downpour wrapped its single-protagonist main story in the pseudo-open world setting of the town of Silent Hill itself – complete with a number of optional side quests and stories to explore. These side quests, which involve solving mysteries connected to the macabre history of the town, is what actually provides most of the chills of the game, and it was just great to see Silent Hill (the town) being treated like an actual character instead of just a backdrop. Sure there were a few shortcomings with the game itself, but again – we’re talking about Silent Hill and about surprisingly good late-series horror entries, and that means that the box next to Silent Hill Downpour is the one to check off.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

The Three 3-D Three-Quels of the Early 80s

In between its 50s heyday and its current-day renaissance, 3-D films briefly came back in vogue in the early 80s. This period was only punctuated by a handful of films, the most notable of which all happened to be the third installments of popular horror franchises. So let’s take a little look back on this trifecta of third dimension terrors and the mark they made on pop culture history.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)f13iiiskinnyposter

Opening weekend: $9.4 million
Total domestic gross: $36.6 million

In the early 80s, advances made in 3-D technology, along with the release of a couple of quickie, low-budget 3-D flicks, caught the attention of the major motion picture studios. Frank Mancuso, Jr. got the ball rolling at Paramount and soon movie theatres across North America were being upgraded to support the next generation of 3-D films. Originally, Star Trek III was slated to be given the inaugural 3-D treatment, but when that plan fell through, Friday the 13th Part III ended up with the honour.

It proved to be a wise decision, because even though the expensive 3-D process resulted in a bigger budget than the typical slasher films of the day were given, the box office results were worth it. Friday the 13th Part III not only opened at #1, but it also became the film to finally dislodge E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial from the top slot. It also greatly improved of the box office results of Friday the 13th Part 2 and helped set the franchise on its path to longevity.

Its success also prompted other studios to take notice, and soon its formula for success was being implemented on other familiar franchises – albeit with drastically different results.

jaws3dposterJaws 3-D (1983)

Opening weekend: $13.4 million
Total domestic gross: $45.5 million

Whereas the addition of 3-D to Friday the 13th Part III was generally seen as nothing more than a fun enhancement to the film, the 3-D aspect of the second Jaws sequel was generally regarded as a “gimmick” to lure viewers into theatres. Basically, Friday the 13th Part III could stand on its own without the 3-D effects, but Jaws 3-D was seen as a poorly written and directed film than relied heavily on its 3-D effects. This might not have necessarily been a problem however, if the effects were well done. Unfortunately, while Friday the 13th Part III had a number of practical effects and props designed for it, Jaws 3-D relied more on a number of post-production effects that were hardly convincing on their own, and then made worse due to the murky 3-D conversion process.

(top) Friday the 13th Part III's eye-popping practical fx and (bottom) Jaws 3-D's murky, cut-n-paste post-production fx

(top) Friday the 13th Part III’s eye-popping practical fx and (bottom) Jaws 3-D’s murky, cut-n-paste post-production fx

Still, as a gimmick, it did the trick and pulled in some respectable box office numbers. And while it ended up raking in more than Friday the 13th Part III, it didn’t mirror that film’s feat of improving on its previous franchise entry. Coupled with the poor reception it received critically and its dismal and cheesy effects, the most successful film of the 80s 3-D revival also signaled that the end of this era was near. And in just a few months, the last major 3-D film of the 80s would confirm it.

Amityville 3-D (1983)

Opening weekend: $2.3 million
Total domestic gross: $6.3 million

Just as with Jaws 3-D, the third Amityville film appropriated “3-D” directly into its title, making dual use of the numeral 3. However, due to a potential lawsuit from The Lutz family (whose history with the iconic, supposedly haunted/cursed New Jersey house provided the basis for the first two Amityville films), the makers of Amityville 3-D had to actually add a disclaimer to the film’s advertisements that stated it was not a sequel to The Amityville Horror and Amityville II: The Possession.

amity3dposterUltimately, that proved to be of little consequence to the film’s reception. The 3-D effects were called out for being blurred, murky and headache-inducing while the film itself struck out big-time with critics (it currently has a 0% rating on the aggregate rating site Rotten Tomatoes). The Amityville franchise was already faltering before Amityville 3-D hit the theatre, and even though it opened at #1 just like Friday the 13th Part III and Jaws 3-D, its  take was so meager that its total domestic gross didn’t even come close to the amounts those films pulled in for just their opening weekends.

The new age of 3-D was now most certainly as dead as any of the hapless victims featured in this triumvirate of 3-D terrors, and it would take over 20 years before 3-D would again make a significant mark on moviedom.

Nowadays, the improvements in the 3-D process has resulted in many films of a quality that is leaps and bounds beyond those of the 80s. However, that doesn’t stop many a genre lover from looking back at this era and these films with endearing nostalgia for delightfully silly effects viewed through cheap, cardboard, two-toned glasses.

Franchise Highs and Lows: Halloween

Just a glance at my most-used tags lets me know that I tend to talk about the Halloween films a lot. But seeing as how I did a “Franchise Highs and Lows” piece for Friday the 13th on a Friday the 13th, I just couldn’t let October 31st come to pass without giving the Halloween franchise the same treatmeant – so let’s get to it!

HIGHS

halloween1978Halloween (1978) – The first and still the best. It kick-started the modern slasher genre and set the template that would be used by countless followers. In the hands of writer-director John Carpenter, a simple story of a masked killer (Michael Myers) stalking three girls in the peaceful suburb of Haddonfield,  Illinois became a chilling tale of suspense and terror. Add in perfect performances by Jamie Lee Curtis as the definitive final girl, Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, Michael’s determined and slightly off-kiltermyers1 psychiatrist and you have a modern-day classic.

The Original Mask – take one William Shatner “Captain Kirk” mask, paint it white, and voila – the terrifying non-face of evil is born.

Halloween Theme  – It’s safe to say that the tension and scares in Halloween would have been a lot less effective if it were not for the inclusion of John Carpenter’s score. His main theme has also become so iconic that it’s the horror movie version of the Bond theme, appearing in one form or another in every film in the  Halloween franchise (which was also a sly way for the producers of the non-Carpenter sequels to get his name on the credits).

Halloween 4 and Halloween H20

The original Halloween series was resurrected not once, but twice – and both times it rose from the dead to give fans exactly what they wanted – a return to that classic “Halloween feel”. Halloween 4 returned Michael Myers to the franchise after the Myers-less Halloween III and Halloween H20 brought Jamie Lee Curtis back into the fold after a 17 year absence – ignoring the nonsense wrought by Halloween 6 (more on that below) and picking up the story after Halloween II (which I explained in more detail here).

This Moment*

Halloween 4 Opening Credits – This sequence has an understated genius. It’s nothing flashy or ground-breaking – just some bleak, countryside Halloween-themed images that get more and more sinister looking as the sun sets and the score build ominously. Definitely sets the tension for the film right from the start.

LOWS

Halloween III: Season of the Witch – this non-canon sequel was an attempt at taking the franchise into an anthology-type direction, but with absolutely no connection to the previous films at all (it took place in the “real” world, where Halloween was only a movie) the “III” added to the title only served to confuse and anger movie-goers who went in expecting Michael Myers and instead got an evil, cult-worshipping mask manufacturer bent on killing a ton of kiddies with his deadly masks.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – the sixth Halloween entry  tried to introduce an over-wrought cult mythology to explain the motivations of Michael Myers. Constant studio interference to the final cut of the film resulted in a bootleg director’s cut surfacing on dvd (aka Halloween 666) with almost 45 minutes of cut footage and storylines. With or without it though, the film was still a jumbled mess full of questionable continuity and plot holes a-plenty.

myers5b

I guess even masked killers want to experiment with their look sometimes

Mask Continuity – Unlike fellow franchisers Jason (Friday the 13th) and Ghostface (Scream), Michael Myers didn’t wear a mass-produced mask. And that became a problem with each successive Halloween film as they tried their best to replicate the original. They met with varying degrees of success, with the worst of the lot definitely being Halloween 5’s flat-ironed hair/flared neck version.

Busta Rhymes – With no more Dr. Loomis in the storyline, Halloween: Resurrection enlisted rapper Busta Rhymes to go mano a mano with Michael Myers. Playing Freddie, a kung fu loving reality tv producer, Rhymes used his velociraptor maw to chew scenery with gusto and make viewers long for the days of the dearly departed Donald Pleasence.

Rob Zombie’s Vision – while Zombie indeed brought new ideas to his 2007 take on Halloween (detailed more here), his “vision” also included changing Haddonfield to a town that was mostly dirty and unappealing and filled with mostly dirty, unappealing (and not to mention foul-mouthed) people – not doing a lot for empathy there. And by Halloween II (2009), Laurie Strode had become so insufferable you were almost rooting for Michael to actually kill her this time around. And as for Michael – he was turned into such a mindless rampaging beast that it almost seemed like a parody (seriously, when you have Michael Myers foot-stomping someone’s head until it is a literal mashed, bloody pulp, the result isn’t scary, it’s just revolting).

But, just to end on a good note, I leave you with this – a decidedly different take on a classic scene – Happy Halloween!

lil halloween

*gif via Popobawa