Warner Brothers

July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim (DJ’s Take)…And Inexplicably…The DC Film Universe

GEEKGASM

One question that has been plaguing my thoughts ever since I walked out of the dreary and utterly disappointing Man Of Steel.  That question is, why does DC/Warner keep entrusting their comic book movie properties to Christopher Nolan?  A man who set out to produce a Superman movie and wound up producing an Incredible Hulk movie more morbid and depressing than Ang Lee’s, starring someone who resembles Superman in appearance but not in character.  A man who admittedly does not truly care for the material he is supposed to be translating into film.  A man who is admittedly apoplectic about the concerns of the comic book fans he’s supposed to be catering to.  A man who feels more comfortable turning anything resembling a classic superhero into a moping, colorless, suicide inducing allegory for daddy issues.  Why would DC/Warner give their entire comic book HISTORY to him?  Yes, I know it’s because Nolan is one of the finest directors working today.  Yes, I know it’s because Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a 3 billion dollar worldwide success.  Yes, I know it’s because Nolan’s Batman trilogy is also the most critically lauded and awarded comic book franchise ever.  Problem is that his bleek, moody, and dystopian societal outlook ONLY WORKS FOR F%*KING BATMAN.  Batman is a dark character.  So yes, the more gritty and realistic you make him, the better he gets.  However, that formula DOES NOT work for the entire DC Universe.  A flawed strategy I spoke about and foresaw during my Dark Knight Rises review almost a year ago.  DC/Warner was effectively entrusting the construction of their cinematic universe to someone who DID NOT want to construct their cinematic universe.  

You’re probably asking yourself why am I ranting about Man Of Steel, Chris Nolan and DC/Warner in the beginning of a Pacific Rim review.  Well, it’s because DC/Warner does have another director in their stable that not only knows the material, but has a genuine love for the material.  A man who should be constructing their universe.  That man is Pacific Rim’s director Guillermo Del Toro.  Give me a reason why not him.  Worried Del Toro can’t bring fun, eclectic comic book characters like Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Wonder Woman convincingly to life?  See Hellboy.  Worried Del Toro doesn’t have the chops to do comic book perfect action scenes and sequences?  See Blade 2.  Worried Del Toro can’t give a film pathos and originality?  See Pan’s Labyrinth.  Worried that a comic book nerd would be the wrong choice to helm a superhero epic.  See Avengers.  Worried that a film like Justice League is just too big to bestow upon him.  Well, Del Toro was the first person Peter Jackson asked to do The Hobbit before scheduling conflicts interceded.  If Peter Jackson was willing to hand over the best fantasy franchise ever made to Del Toro, why is it such a far leap for DC/Warner to trust him with the JLA?  Del Toro’s resume just grows and grows almost without notice.  Pacific Rim is just another awesome notch on his belt.

Rim is the fulfillment of a promise Del Toro delivered when he leaked the film’s original title at Comic-Con. (Giant F%*king Robots Versus Giant F%*king Monsters)  This is a tech versus terror smörgåsbord that draws breath from it’s Toho Company & Manga Studios predecessors and creates something amazingly fresh and original out of it.  If I was a producer on that 2014 Godzilla movie or that long awaited Voltron film, I’d shut down shop right now.  There is NOTHING I can think of that those two films can do to equal, let alone, top Pacific Rim.  Yes, Rim may be cliched empty calories as far as it’s character archetypes and plot are concerned.  However, it is the most tasty empty calories you’ll enjoy this summer and probably this entire year.  I haven’t seen a film with as many GEEKGASM moments since The Avengers.  Instead of the action scenes being incomprehensible, emotionally hollow, blunders, with the visual resonating effect of a strobe light…(Hello Battleship and EVERY Transformers movie)…they end up being well crafted, stunning, and cathartic displays of raw violence.  The special effects here are, and I was convinced of this from just the trailer, the best I personally have ever seen.  That is not hyperbole.  Every effect, every monster tooth, every robot rivet, every building toppling explosion looks breathtaking and FINISHED.  Every penny of the budget and every drop of sweat from the VFX crew is on the screen from beginning to end.  Guillermo Del Toro understands the concept of fan service.  And instead of shying away from it like most, he embraces it.  He doesn’t mind having a character in a giant robot shoot a fallen monster, video game style, as a joke just to get a “Hell, Yeah!” from the audience.  That is who I would want to make my comic book universe.  Someone who wants to please BOTH the fans and the uninitiated.  Someone who can have a balls to the wall battle scene and still have time to make the battle fun.  Yes, fun.  It is not a four letter word, literally and figuratively.  Fun is a word that needs to be the lifeblood of genre movies like this.  If it isn’t fun, then why the hell should we watch?

Recently, DC/Warner announced that Nolan won’t be producing the Justice League film.  However, it’s a safe bet that they won’t have the sense or vision to pick someone like Guillermo Del Toro to take the reigns.  They are losing the arms race to Marvel and it saddens me.  Not because I want them to win.  I love Marvel.  It saddens me because the two companies competing is better for the audiences than one totally dominating the other.  DC/Warner’s savior is right in their face flapping his arms like a cartoon character, and they still can’t see it.  Don’t believe me?  Watch Pacific Rim…imagine while doing so the same care, fun and GEEKGASM moments put into a Justice League film….cry your heart out when you realize that will probably never happen….then tell me I’m wrong.

September 12, 2012

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (DJ’s Take)

UNFLINCHING

Lets face it.  Despite Nolan’s Batman run, when it comes to bringing their creations to the silver screen, WB/DC Comics sucks.  This is a company that owns the rights to ALL of their creations, unlike Marvel….can cross over WHOEVER they want with WHOEVER they want without legal obstacles….unlike Marvel…has a roster of A-list heroes nearly double the size of Marvel’s.  But the only movie they can manage to make that isn’t a failure lately is Batman.  Singer’s Superman…sucked and underperformed.  Watchmen…though great….underperformed.  Flash movie…in development hell for years.  Wonder Woman movie….in development hell for years.  Wonder Woman TV series….cancelled in the pilot stage.  Jonah Hex…blew chunks.  Catwoman…a joke.  Green Lantern…set up to be WB/DC’s new tent pole but subsequently shoved a tent pole right back up their ass.  Its gotten so bad that their third attempt at Superman seems to be copying the tone of Nolan’s Batman Begins, in the obtuse thinking that it is the ONLY way to do a superhero movie right.  However, the real puzzle of the matter is that the WB/DC direct to dvd animation films seem to always be amazing.  Sometimes even better than their motion picture counter parts.  I’m talking to you Green Lantern.  That brings us to The Dark Knight Returns Part 1.

Before comic book writer Frank Miller went crazy and did The Spirit (Boy, I got to stop bringing this film up), he had a pretty good track record of awesome.  Sin City, 300, Big Guy and Rusty.  But before those was perhaps his crowning achievement, The Dark Knight Returns.  It was the story of an older retired Batman putting on the cape and cowl once more to take back the streets of Gotham.  It was gritty.  It was gruff.  It was great.  Now over a quarter of a century later, DC animation brings it to life.  And the results are amazing.  Director Jay Oliva, who has done previous work on other great DC animated films like Under The Red Hood and Batman: Year One, really gets the feel of Miller’s graphic novel.  The dark tone and the brutal violence in it is so UNFLINCHING and raw, I found myself several times checking the rating on it.  In live action, this film would be rated R without question.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the performances in this as well.  There has always been one quintessential Batman for me.  Its not Bale, or Clooney, or Kilmer, or even Keaton.  It is Kevin Conroy.  His portrail is the first one that pops into my mind when I hear someone mention Batman.  Bruce Greenwood has done a great job recently with a very similar voice.   However, Peter Weller’s grizzled old Batman in The Dark Knight Returns fits the material like a glove.  His use of “Son” will put a smile on your face for sure.  David Selby also turns in a strong performance as Commissioner Gordon.  They both hit all the familiar beats and add some new ones as well.  The credit should go to long time casting and voice director Andrea Romano.  If you ever want to be wowed, take a look at her filmography.

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 delivers in every way a Batman fan would want and gives WB/DC’s animation department another homerun project.  WB/DC might want to consider using the braintrust over there (Executive Producer Bruce Timm Especially) to help get their meandering motion pictures off the ground.  Turn out the lights…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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