X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer

Happy Halloween!

In case you missed it, the above is the international trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Once again, this looks like an amazing trailer for what should prove to be an actually great movie, given Mr. Singer’s track record with X-Men movies.

So we evidently have a post-apocalyptic future setting (X-Men’s favorite) where everyone wears battle armor and ethnic minorities wear war paint. Whatever, I’m just glad to finally see Bishop. (Interesting tidbit, the Asian female you see playing Blink is actually Fan Bingbing, a major Chinese movie star who also had a bit role in Iron Man 3 – at least, the Chinese release of Iron Man 3). Wonder if we’ll see a Cable cameo. I believe we can safely assume that the aforementioned apocalypse is caused by the Sentinel program of Bolivar Trask, which is what I imagine they must go back in time in order to prevent from coming to fruition.

We have heard that Logan is chosen to go back in time (instead of Kitty Pryde who did so in the original comic) because the process would likely kill anyone else. OK, fair enough, they had to make Wolverine a main character somehow, because of course they do, and besides, I like Hugh Jackman, he deserves it. But, and here’s the good part; while this movie will definitely feature Wolverine, it doesn’t look like the bulk of the story will deal with his development, thank the cinema gods!

After First Class, we heard James McAvoy talk about the plot ideas for the next X-Men movie and how much his character had been affected by the events of the first, and that this movie would explore some of Charles’ struggles. Now we know what those appear to be:  Eric has left and formed his mutant terrorist group, while Charles has both been betrayed by the U.S. government, and has lost his ability to walk. When future Xavier is looking him in the eye at the very end, he says, “We need you to hope again.” It would appear that Charles has lost his faith in humanity, which is kind of the defining distinction between him and Eric, and become apathetic.

I actually really like that angle – it actually explains why he wiped Moira’s memory at the end of the first one, which kind of upset me when I saw it. If Xavier felt he could trust any human alive, it was her, and yet he still wiped her memory. Now we know why; he may not have really trusted her anymore. And Wolverine is the only one who has a chance of getting him to come out of it. I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Also of note, is that there appears to be at least one point of tension between Magneto and Mystique. Their relationship always seems…well, unusual, let’s say, I wonder what’s happening now?

Anything else you noticed, or liked, or didn’t like?

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier Teaser

Video

I like the idea of a political thriller super hero movie, and I think it’s something that could bring a lot of glory and depth to Cap’s character. Here’s hoping Marvel pulls it off! Are you excited?

Man of Something Part 1

The Man of Steel hit theaters last week, and since I’m actually back in the States again (and not in China), I could actually go see it!  So I did. And there were some cool parts. And boy, did it look good. But by about halfway through the movie I was very aware that this would not be the movie I had been hoping for.

This is your official spoiler warning: I talk about specific scenes and plot points, and re-write them. It’s only for those who have seen the movie or who won’t be seeing the movie. I promise this blog will still be here after you see it.

As always, I’ll start with where the movie excelled. And for that you need look no further than the visuals. Whether it was in space, on Krypton, or in Metropolis, everything here looked beautiful, though dark. The vistas and landscapes of Krypton, the snowscapes of the Arctic, and the cityscapes of ground zero in Metropolis were like paintings, and the design of the ships, costumes, and technology was similarly sumptuous.

In addition, it had some amazingly strong performances: Henry Cavill has been snubbed out of being a household name for a long time, but I can see him earning it with this one; he didn’t have much to work with script-wise, but he still packed an emotional range into the character that saved the movie from being unbearable. Michael Shannon was bristling with aggression and insanity as General Zod. Amy Adams as Lois Lane was impressive, as expected; she didn’t come off as overly pushy, in-your-face reporter girl, which was a relief. Russell Crowe did a fine job, but for much of the movie his character was very flat. I didn’t really like this take on the Kents, but given what they were aiming for, I think Kevin Costner hit it out of the park with that “Maybe.”

Finally, let’s talk action. The fight scenes are fittingly epic, with major smack-down on all sides, lots of explosions and indiscriminate destruction. The fight between Superman and Zod is possibly the best super hero fight since Spider-Man and Green Goblin in 2001. Unfortunately, there’s so much fighting going on, it eventually loses its pizzazz.

OK, that’s the short list of what was good in this movie, and some of those were still qualified. I’ll mention some things that were really lacking, then I’ll dive in to a re-imagining of Man of Steel.

First, where was the humor? Batman Begins was lighter than this movie, for cryin’ out loud. The unrelenting heaviness seemed completely inappropriate for a super hero summer blockbuster movie at all, let alone a Superman movie. What’s worse is that the ever-present mood made their few, awkward attempts at humor feel out of place and fall flat all the more. This shortage of levity made it difficult to watch.

Second, why was everything so washed out? Everyone looked pasty white, except Jor-El for some reason. All the colors were muted to what seemed like an obscene degree. That kind of thing might work in a Batman movie, where, y’know, everything takes place at night anyway, but in a broad daylight movie, you’ve gotta put that color there.

And third, someone needs to organize an intervention for Hans Zimmer. His work has become increasingly similar as of late. Step 1: lots of percussion. Step 2: dramatic chord progression. Step 3: have those strings riff around on top. Step 4: no one notices the lack of melody. Inception. The Dark Knight Rises. Man of Steel. I like Zimmer, I really do, but I can’t help but feel like we’re missing out on some great themes and motifs because this percussion-driven mood poem is not only accepted, but praised as awesome because Zimmer’s name is on it. Maybe he’s a genius who’s purposefully pushing soundtracks in a new, minimalist direction and I’m just not a fan, but I much prefer his earlier stuff (Lion King, Prince of Egypt, Gladiator). (Remind to write a piece about how good Michael Giacchino is someday).

OK, that was the easy stuff. Anyone can point out things like that. What comes next is a little trickier. This movie just didn’t speak to me. I’m not excited to see more Superman after watching it. I don’t feel like I know this film’s Superman very well. He wasn’t a very memorable character. The guys that stands out in this movie is General Zod, followed by Jor-El. What I feel it really came down to was that Superman himself didn’t have much of a story to tell. It felt like there were big action set pieces to get to, and Zod had a clear motivation, but the writers just didn’t know what they were getting at with the main character.

Finally, a Superman movie unafraid to ask the tough questions

In fact, this lack of clear narrative direction resulted in a lot of conflicting themes. Jor-El broke Kryptonian law and had a naturally-born son who would have the choice of becoming the kind of man he wanted. But then Superman’s choices in this movie are almost entirely made for him, or they’re so extreme that its clear he has no choice at all: Save the school bus of kids or let them drown to protect my secret? Sacrifice the Earth or turn myself in to Zod? No hero points for that one. Even the final conflict with Zod, where it’s a choice between sacrificing the family he’s about to kill or killing Zod is specifically designed to be inevitable, to push him to justifiably have to kill Zod. So in the end, as Zod had revealed, he is genetically engineered to pursue the path he is, while Superman…also has no other real path to pursue. He can’t help but save people, even when Pa Kent seriously discourages it. He’s clearly got this hero mindset down, but where on Earth and/or Krypton does it come from??

Superman has no reason to be a good person, besides the fact that its easy for him to save school buses; Pa Kent lives and dies to keep him from doing so, he never knew Jor-El, much less his aspirations for him as a hero or leader, and he apparently struggles with trusting humanity himself. Oh, well, I’m the protagonist, I guess I’ll do the right thing and save the world for no good reason. ? I’m so confused.

It’s super effective

Next on the list of Things That Confuse Stubbazubba, is why does Lois Lane do any of the things she does? What is her motivation? I mean, tracking down Clark’s secret is one thing, after she personally encountered him, and a touch that I rather like, but printing a story about him against her boss’ wishes, and then not, just because she feels sorry for his sob story about his dad? It’s almost as if Lois’ character was so poorly thought out that she was written just to reflect the poorly thought out internal conflict of the main character (which is only ever talked about, never acted upon; he’s a hero from the word ‘go,’ he just…makes a show of debating it sometimes). In which case, why are we wasting Ms. Adams’ valuable time here?

OK, so the first two problems were just the two leads. Maybe the rest of the characters were better? Sadly, not so much. Pa Kent is afraid that people will fear Clark, a reasonable fear and a good twist on the character, but why he’s afraid enough of that to die to prevent the secret getting out is a mystery. Yes, we can just figure that it’s a scary prospect to possibly have your child taken away by black suits or an angry mob, but the movie never shows the Kents feeling that fear, so it lacks explanatory power for Jonathan’s motivation. Instead, he just comes off as paranoid to the point of completely uncaring about the fate of others (Really? He struggles with whether or not to let a school bus of children die? These aren’t strangers, these are Clark’s friends, their neighbors’ kids, people he knows!), yet still likable? Curse you, Kevin Costner and your considerable folksy charm! Faora (Zod’s lieutenant) has the opposite problem: She keeps spouting off all this stuff about evolutionary advantage, hinting at her motivations, which don’t really gel with Zod’s fanaticism that well, but when they’re on-screen together, all that just disappears.  How did those two end up working together?

Their love for fashionable armor, I presume.

I’m sorry, folks, but there is hardly a character that is well done here. There’s not even a central theme they’re working with: Hope is a buzzword they throw around, but that didn’t really come up in any significant way, while the outsider/humanity thing was talked about and we had some awkward scenes where soldiers started trusting him (because…wait, he hadn’t done anything to impress those soldiers…how did that scene even happen?), but it was hardly central to anyone’s motivation, mostly because no one had any motivation…except the villains, and they couldn’t even agree on one. They paid lip service to themes, but didn’t actually put any into the DNA of this tale.

So…that’s a lot to re-write. While many people would probably prefer going back to concept, I’m going to try and keep the major plot points as they are, and stick to what I think the filmmakers wanted to get across. So, Superman will kill Zod in the end, but that makes this a tragic Superman story. Unorthodox for an origin story, but that’s the way it’s got to go.

First things first; Superman has to be way more Big Blue Boy Scout and way less Batman. So he will not be destroying trucks like a petulant teenager. He will be saving people, not in the abstract, but preventing harm to everyone he can get to. This motivation needs to spring from somewhere: He needs to feel a deep connection to the human race, and to specific individuals. His mother is a good candidate, as is Lois, and some more people he’ll have to have scenes with from Smallville, and preferably the crew of the Daily Planet. And his relationship with his dad is going to be re-tooled.

Let’s talk about that. The way I see it, Superman cannot be a hero without Ma and Pa Kent kind of inculcating that in him as he grows up. However, encouraging him not to use his powers in public is all well and good, and they should be afraid of losing him. I want the audience to feel that fear, so we are going to see a bit more into their lives. They will be established as good, honest, loving people who have been unable to have children in a single scene, possibly at the hospital when they find out. Then the ship falls from the sky, revealing the baby Kal-El. They are bewildered, but overjoyed. But the next morning, the sheriff knocks on the door, accompanied by an FBI agent in a jet black suit and tie. The Kents are terrified, and as they ask if they can take a look around the field, they must think of something fast to stall for time so Jonathan can move the ship before they can go look. They are successful, barely, but they resolve to hide him from prying eyes until they can sort things out.

Flash forward to the X-ray vision/hiding in the closet scene, which works as-is. Cut to young Clark at home, listening in on his parents going back and forth about what happened. His dad is certain the teacher will report it, but mom said she was able to put it out of everyone’s mind. Dad is still not totally satisfied, but mom promises to help him learn to hide his gifts. Clark runs off crying (possibly at super-speed).

Flash forward to the school bus scene. Spend extra time establishing that Clark and Lana are good friends, then as the bus fills with water, have them make eye contact just before Clark disappears. Bus is saved, Pete is saved specifically, as-is. This time, in the scene afterwards, first off I want Martha to come out first and just sit next to Clark and hold his head against her. When Pa Kent comes to talk to Clark, Clark apologizes. He says he tried to just shut it out and hide from it all, but he just couldn’t listen to the screams and see how afraid they were when he could help. Pa Kent looks Clark in the eyes and says, “Clark, don’t you ever apologize to me for doing the right thing again.” Ma Kent takes over, “Your…talents, they’re yours to help people with, even if we forget that when we’re afraid.” Clark replies, not quite understanding, “Afraid?  What am I, some kind of monster?” And then we do the spaceship scene as-is.

Flash forward to another scene. It’s a bully scene, but it’s not the one in the movie. Clark is in high school, he’s friends with Lana and Pete, they’re eating lunch, and some bully starts picking on Pete and/or Lana. Clark steps in, tries to defuse things, but the bully taunts and taunts, harassing Clark, Pete, and Lana, which finally gets Clark to snap. He sends the bully flying. This elicits cheers from the students, but Pa Kent kind of freaks out, tells him hospitalizing boys with no hope of fighting back is a sickening abuse of his gifts and an insult to everything they’ve taught him, and showing off like that in front of hundreds of people is asking to be taken away, to destroy his life and his parents’. Segue directly into the tornado scene, which can still play largely as-is (though Pa Kent dying to save a dog is pretty dumb; make it someone’s kid at least, preferably Ma Kent herself).

OK, so Clark has learned his lesson about keeping a low profile the hard way now, and the best part is Pa Kent actually has to sacrifice himself in the tornado because anything else would arouse too much suspicion with Clark’s feat of strength the same day. Now, the next challenge is to get from that Uncle Ben moment to world-traveling silent do-gooder. From the end of the tornado scene, segue into montage of Clark and mom at the funeral, Clark on graduation day bummed that his dad isn’t there, and him taking care of the farm but not really doing anything else. Mom comes to him and pretty much tells him this isn’t the future his father envisioned for him. Clark brings up his other parents, his heritage, and Ma Kent suggests he search for clues. He says he couldn’t leave her, as she’s all he has left. She replies something along the lines of, “No, Clark, you have more than just me. You have a future, a destiny. You will always be my son, but you are a gift to the whole world, and I’m not going to let you waste your gifts doing farm work for me. You, more than anyone, can become whoever you want to be, because I know you’ll always be the same good man. Just remember the good woman who raised you every now and then, OK?”

That wasn’t so bad. They have a scene at the bus stop where he says good-bye, and then we flash forward to the ship/oil rig scene. It plays as-is, followed by the clothes-nabbing, hitch-hiking, and bar-tending scenes, where he will show way more interest in what the military guys are saying about the discovery site. He gets harassed by the redneck, walks away, totally doesn’t destroy his truck like a child (heck, maybe have him save him somehow).

OK, so that’s the first part, kind of the obligatory exposition to his motivation. We feel connected to his upbringing and his motivation now, I think. Moreso, at least. We know he helps because he feels empathy and because the Kents raised him to be that way, while also hitting home the fear of being discovered, and the quest to discover more about himself. I’ll wrap up here for tonight, and continue on the next chance I get with another character that has to be re-directed a bit; Lois Lane.

Like or subscribe if you like the direction this is going, and leave a comment if you have any input or if something seems wrong to you.

Trailer of Steel

 

OK, the new trailer released last week for Warner Bros’ upcoming Man of Steel is probably one of the most effective trailers for a super hero movie ever. I am a Marvel fan, a huge Avengers fan, and Iron Man may be my personal favorite, but for some reason none of the Iron Man 3 trailers, good as they have been, have really made me think that this movie was going to rock my world. It may yet, and I’ll definitely go see it and post a review if I find something worth digging in to, but the trailers have been pretty lackluster.

The new Man of Steel trailer couldn’t be more different. It excels on pretty much every level. I’m not a hardcore Superman fan (more on that later), but after watching this trailer, I want this movie to be the summer’s biggest hit, if for nothing other than how artfully crafted the trailer is. The team that put this trailer together really flexed their muscles in three areas: Establishing the conflict, the visuals, and the performances.

The Conflict

Each and every movie, each and every story, is about conflict. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. As many have pointed out, Superman’s nigh-unbounded power prunes out a lot of potential sources of conflict, as physical challenges are often central to stories about people with physical super-powers. However, that kind of constraint often brings out the best creative work, right? According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Superman of MoS will be “frustrated, angry, lost.” He’ll be beset by emotional conflict.

To be specific, David S. Goyer, who also worked on the script for the Dark Knight trilogy, has said that the team is not approaching the movie as a comic book movie at all, and are instead focusing on the “first contact” themes of isolation, acceptance, and societal fear. Also at the heart of this movie will be Superman’s personal struggle to choose his destiny; it sounds like while Jor-El encourages him to be the paragon of truth, justice, and such, the Kents encourage him all his life to hide his abilities at all costs. Carrying that kind of secret, and that kind of lack of identity, around all your life will definitely weigh on you, and I’m extremely excited to see that conflict ground a Superman movie, to watch him choose the outfit (which we understand will be some kind of Kryptonian under armor), and reveal himself to a world which then feebly proceeds to try and destroy him.

The Visuals

Not to let the emotional themes outshine the fact that this is, in fact, a comic book movie, General Zod and his robot army will prove a physical threat to the Earth, if not to the Big Blue Boy Scout himself, that Superman will have to face. And if you were like me and saw Superman Returns and thought, “I guess fighting tidal waves and continents and such forces of nature are really the only appropriate physical challenges for Supes,” there was an extremely satisfying amount of punching and fighting going on!

And it looks like a significant amount of it won’t even be on Earth. There’s some definite military action going on around the time that Kal-El is sent away, and we see clips of laser-shooting spacecraft dog-fighting in the air, Zod and accomplices bound in what appears to be some kind of tribunal where he defiantly shouts that he “will find him,” supposedly referring to Kal-El, in addition to the shots of Mr. and Mrs. El sending off their infant son.

We know also that in this retelling, Kal-El is different from pretty much every other Kryptonian, in that he was born naturally, and not genetically pre-designed and born in a test tube. This apparently becomes a huge deal on Krypton, and may be what leads to the huge military conflict we see in the opening shots of the trailer. So not only would Kal-El be an alien on Earth, but also a genetic freak amongst Kryptonians. That might make him the only Kryptonian to get super powers in the light of a yellow sun, which would be a cool twist.

However that turns out, Krypton certainly looks alien, both from our world and the Krypton of yester-year, while still not being truly novel. The design that went into the structures, tech, and costumes here, though, looks pretty grand. I bet there’ll be whole featurettes on Kryptonian society and how its reflected in their stuff. One final question remains; is Krypton destroyed in this movie? It’s not clear in the trailer, since evidently Zod and presumably Jor-El exchange words after Kal-El is gone (“I WILL FIND HIM!” if memory serves). Kal-El may have just been sent away to protect him from the war, which was possibly specifically trying to kill him, and not from the planet’s total annihilation. That’s something Zod might unleash later after his court martial.

The Performances

Looking over the cast list is pretty breath-taking; Henry Cavill, the runner-up for every big part in the last half dozen or so years, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon, and more. They did not skimp on the talent for this movie, which just makes me more excited to see how they can push the envelope with the writing for a Superman story. The scene of Jonathan Kent revealing to a young Clark his origin, followed by the tear-jerking reaffirmation of paternal love was promising to me, though Costner still has to win me away from John Schneider’s character in Smallville.

But y’know who I’m hoping to be impressed by most? Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I am sincerely hoping that Lois Lane becomes a fleshed out character for this new take on Supes. I like the idea that she’s trying to track down this urban legend of Superman, but I hope she goes way deeper than that. I want her to have a story of her own, which intertwines with Superman. I don’t know how they’re going to develop a relationship, since it appears that their first meeting is in that interrogation room. Maybe they don’t need that yet? Maybe Lois is just the one who trusts who he is, when all the world is afraid of what he is, and thereby gives him the hope to keep going at some crucial moment.

And Amy Adams, I believe, can deliver that. She has shown an impressive range since her big break in Enchanted (following an appearance in the first season of Smallville, no less), and I’m hoping we can get a truly nuanced character that’s so much more than just the dogged journalist we’re all kind of seen enough of. That would be the crowning accomplishment of a modern, “realistic,” and grounded take on Superman, is make a dynamic Lois Lane.

“It Means Hope…”

This trailer has kindled within me a bright hope for Man of Steel. I grew up watching Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, I actually liked Superman Returns, but I admit I’ve never been able to really fall in love with the character. I watched Batman cartoons, Spider-Man cartoons, and X-Men cartoons, and love all of those characters. When the X-Men, Spider-Man, and new Batman movies came out, I loved those, too.  My most recent super hero love is the Avengers, because of their movies. I guess I’m saying that I – and probably many in my generation – need a Superman movie to really blow us away and speak to today’s audience. That’s what this trailer has promised; a re-imagined, relevant, riveting spectacle, both visually and dramatically. Obviously, trailers are not necessarily a reliable way to judge the movie they market for, but with the team behind this one, and the look of this trailer, the Man of Steel fills me with hope!

P.S.:  The soundtrack. Yes, this is good stuff, it backs up the action on the screen and builds everything up perfectly. But, while everyone loves to heap praise on everything Hans Zimmer puts out (which is a freaking ton), this track is little more than an interesting percussion track, a chord progression, and some non-melodic riffs in the strings. Which is most of what Zimmer’s soundtracks are. He makes one actually singable melody per movie, and the rest is just chord progressions layered on top of a driving percussion track. Inception, TDK, they all start to sound alike. I’m hoping his Man of Steel theme can go toe-to-toe with Williams’ original, and be far less subtle than his “Molossus” from Batman Begins (the only actual melody in the TDK trilogy). Gladiator was gorgeous, I just hope Zimmer will weave multiple themes in different moods through it all again.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

This is my first review of an RPG book, and this time its the impressive Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game from Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd.  This is taken right from a post I made about it on a game forum, so it’s not particularly well organized.  I think, however, that it gets it all across.

MHR is extremely different from most supers RPGs. Powers and other abilities are not rated in an objective, output-measured way, but rather they are rated by their plot significance. That comes in flavors from d4 (for things that are liabilities more than assets) to d12 (for things which are truly awesome to behold, i.e. Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor). Heroes put together a dice pool made of dice from their powers, distinctions (personality quirks or background details that are relevant), etc., etc., roll, take the highest rolling two dice for their Total and take the largest remaining die (in terms of size, not number rolled) for the Effect. The breadth of things that can be put into a dice pool is quite wide, including one’s own Physical, Mental, or Emotional Stress (also from d4 to d12); the Stress of an enemy; an Asset created by an ally like Invisible Woman’s forcefields d8; a Scene Distinction like Falling Boulders d10; an enemy’s Complication like All Webbed Up d8, etc., etc.

The dicepool represents all the plot factors in play, including environment, the emotional state of the heroes, knowledge/expertise in a certain domain, the previous actions of others, and, of course, the powers. So when a hero succeeds or fails, it’s an emotional result as much as it is a purely physical one. You know why they fight, in addition to just how. Part of your character’s background and story is in every roll. That lends itself extremely well to emotive role-playing.

That being said, the lack of objectivity makes for some strange-ness. The difference between Spider-Man’s Superhuman Strength d10 and Thor’s God-like Strength d12 is much less than you might expect. The universality of the mechanics (every roll produces an Effect Die that becomes or increases an Asset/Complication or Physical/Mental/Emotional Stress, or decreases/removes one of the same) means that everything feels quite same-y (as in Teleport doesn’t really have unique mechanics, and works exactly like Superhuman Speed or Acrobatics for most purposes).

You’re Nightcrawler, right?

The Powers aren’t that differentiated in and of themselves, but what does help differentiate them is the Special Effects (SFX) you attach to them. These are discrete effects that exist outside of the above-mentioned universal rules, usually in the form of dice pool manipulation or result manipulation, and they usually cost a Plot Point to activate. Plot Points are given out by the DM constantly, or can be earned by players by using a Distinction against themselves (including it in their dice pool as a d4), similar to Aspects/Compels in FATE.

For that reason, if you are averse to “disassociated mechanics,” then you may want to steer clear. One of the important ways a player can gain PP is by activating a Limit which shuts down their powers or SFX. So Captain America’s player voluntarily has Cap lose his shield in order to get a PP, and must roll to attempt to recover it. The player is thus both actor and writer for their character.

Not always a good idea…

The game is extremely effective at hitting that somewhat overblown, somewhat melodramatic comic book style just right. People tend to get into their characters as they pursue their Milestones, little events that fit into a larger character arc which each grants XP. The largest shortcoming is that there is no point-buy character generation mini-game. There is random chargen, but it suffers from the same issues as all random chargen schemes. The default method of building chars is just by eyeballing their abilities and proficiencies and assigning a reasonable die. This works for most groups, so long as the DM trims down on excesses so everyone feels like they’re on a relatively even keel. However, even great power discrepancies are somewhat mitigated by the fact that those rolling lower dice are more likely to roll nat 1s, which are Opportunities, which bring additional PP. In practice, however, it’s better to have bigger dice, since larger Effect Dice are typically the key to handling powerful opposition.

OK, that’s the main body of the review, now time for MHR’s marks!

Rules-

  • Innovation:  Milestones, dice pools, the Doom Pool, everything about MHR is fascinating and fun, and the system is flexible and robust.  5/5
  • Execution:  Delivers an amazing comic book romp in play, but lack of mechanical variety and point-buy chargen keeps it away from a full score.  4/5

Presentation-

  • Writing:  The book is succinct, with lots of sidebars to explain things, but nothing that got me excited to play or would be good for a re-read.  3/5
  • Look:  The layout and art is classic Marvel good-ness, lots of beautiful action poses and the illustrations used in explaining dice mechanics are colorful and effective.  5/5

Overall: 4.25, and high marks for value, at just $20 for the paperback ($13.88 right now on Amazon), and $10 for the PDF on DriveThru RPG. Hm, maybe Value should be another category?

Amazing Spider-Man, Part 2

In this Part 2 of a two-part analysis of The Amazing Spider-Man’s struggle to be as good of  a movie as I wanted it to be, I focus on the villain and the overall effect of the underdeveloped themes. It picks up right where Part 1 left off, so here’s a link.

Continue reading

The Amazing Spider-Man, Part 1

In this extended analysis, I’m going to look at several things that are keeping The Amazing Spider-Man from really blowing us away, and how I would’ve fixed it.

I really wanted to love The Amazing Spider-Man. Many people complained that it was too soon to reboot the franchise as the original came out only ten years ago, etc., etc., but I – being a lover of all super heroes and Spider-Man in particular – was firm in my belief that if a reboot had a new, interesting spin to bring to the character and could deliver a great Spidey story that the Sam Raimi films couldn’t, why did we have to arbitrarily wait longer for a good show? Did TASM deliver on those fronts? Did it justify the rapid reboot? Well, yes and no. At the risk of engendering the ire of Film Crit Hulk*, I feel like this movie had problems with it’s ‘second act.’ Let’s examine what TASM brings to the Spider-Man legend, and also what it needed to change, story-wise, to justify the sudden reboot.

Marc Webb’s reboot of Spider-Man definitely explores some new angles to the character; the mystery about his father’s work, his parents’ death, and what’s going on at OsCorp is instantly intriguing. In addition, you’ve got an understandably broody Peter Parker, who shows the wear-and-tear of having his parents leave and then die as a child, then growing up as an outcast. That, connected to the ‘who am I?’ theme, is a great new interpretation of Spider-Man.

Andrew Garfield really pulled off a lovable Peter Parker, despite – or perhaps because of – spending so much screen-time fumbling for words. As Spider-Man, he does great as a new, uncertain super hero, except when he’s an obnoxious, wise-cracking super hero. Unfortunately, that latter end is kind of unacceptable for Spider-Man; he has to be funny, not obnoxious. When Peter was wracked with emotion, though, Garfield delivered a visceral, satisfying performance. As high school student Parker, Garfield gets lots of hesitant, awkward glory, especially when combined with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy.

Stone’s Gwen was bright, assertive, and beautiful. Their chemistry was positively tangible, thanks both to their talent and Marc Webb’s directing chops, but I still felt like their relationship lacked depth. Yes, she kind of sticks up for/befriends him at the beginning and he likes to show off the super powers for her, but I don’t know what they find interesting about each other, besides Gwen’s eyes and Peter’s smile. I feel like they only got together because the writers knew they were supposed to. Not that real life high school relationships don’t form based purely on physical attraction sometimes, but those are dumb; I mean, sure, every guy in the audience would’ve loved to make out with Emma Stone, but that’s not engaging enough for a real story.

It’s not like there’s a lack of opportunities for them to spend time together and, y’know, actually talk to each other, either; they’re both brilliant high school scientists, and they clearly think the other is cute, they just needed to show a scene or two of them working together/flirting in science class before they jump to dating each other. These are two talented actors and a great director, this should have been the best super hero relationship yet, but for all the charm of the scenes they have, the script needed another scene or two between “awkward classmates” and “boyfriend-girlfriend” to really bring the audience all the way in. You’re not engaging the audience, not making us care about the story, with “They kind of know each other, and then they start going out, and they’re adorably awkward about it until the important stuff happens in the last 20 minutes.” I am paying you, you can do better.

Leaving aside the two leads, the supporting characters are brilliant, as well. Uncle Ben by Martin Sheen had that great blue-collar working man dignity and knew just how to come down on Peter for shirking his responsibilities and bullying at school. Sally Field’s Aunt May was solid, if not quite as extraordinary as Uncle Ben. Though I liked Rosemary Harris’ quaint, wisdom-spouting Aunt May from the Sam Raimi trilogy, Sally Field’s version was far better for this interpretation of the wall-crawler. Finally, Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy was a great foil for Peter; he was the embodiment of power & responsibility which Peter was still struggling to understand.

But again, an opportunity was missed here. Captain Stacy was convinced Spider-Man was a dangerous vigilante and was determined to bring him in. In the comics, George Stacy is a supporter both of Spider-Man and his daughter’s relationship with Peter Parker, whom he guessed was the aforementioned wall-crawler. I think they were kind of trying to have him kind of go there by the end of the movie, it seems kind of muddled. But let’s assume those were the two endpoints.

Right now, the end of this plotline makes no sense; Captain Stacy, a by-the-book cop, has been trying to apprehend the vigilante Spider-Man the entire movie. Mind you, Spider-Man has still done very little to look like anything but a vigilante, at least that the public has seen. However, when it is revealed that Spider-Man is Peter Parker – the disrespectful punk kid his daughter is wasting her time with – then he realizes the city needs Spider-Man…because…well, huh. He’s not even aware of the situation with the Genali device, he had no idea that Peter actually had a plan. In fact, Stacy is the one who saves Spidey from the Lizard a bit later anyway, so I don’t know how he determines that Spider-Man is needed from all that.

Once again, we needed some transition steps here to really build up to that conclusion; Peter and/or Spidey needed to interact with Capt. Stacy a few more times. After Peter realizes he’s just out for revenge after getting chewed out by Capt. Stacy at dinner, Spidey should have gone on a ‘friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’ tour, stopping all manner of petty thieves and crimes, maybe even leaving notes to the police. Stacy can’t make sense of it initially, until the possible connection between Peter and Spider-Man dawns on him.

To test it, have him drop some important police info, like about another sting or something, in front of Peter and mention that the police can’t take the next step for whatever reason, and then have Spider-Man act on it. This would confirm in Stacy’s mind that 1) Peter is Spider-Man, and 2) he can and will be a benefit to the city. Stacy then turns into a subtle advocate for the web-slinger, redirecting police resources away from pursuing him. He also tries to mentor Peter as much as he can, trying to give him tips or hints whenever he runs into him. Spidey should then be seen applying some of these. Now their relationship is established, and the audience gets a real sense that Stacy will be an ally for the foreseeable future.

This way, when Stacy is killed by the Lizard, he’s not just the love interest’s dad, who didn’t like him anyway; he’s a surrogate father figure, a man who is looking out for him both privately and publicly, and who is helping make Spider-Man the hero he is. Judging by the final words scene and how much his death seemed to affect Peter, I’d say the writers wanted that kind of emotional punch, but didn’t know how to make it happen and made the mistake of assuming we would care because we’re supposed to. This is how you make us care; make him an emotional and crime-fighting asset, and then take him away. It worked for Sirius Black, it’ll work here.

Part II, where I talk about the Lizard – and oh is there a lot to talk about there – among other things will be up in the next day or two, so check back soon!

*Film Crit Hulk wrote an eye-opening article on the Myth of the Three Act Structure, in which he…well…just go read the article, it’s that good.