The Challenge of Alita: Battle Angel

As people flock to theaters to see Captain Marvel and rave or criticize the film, there is another woman-centric sci-fi film that has caught the admiration of many others. But that film is not pulling in the box office dollars of the MCU film. That is not an indication of its quality, however. In fact, many who have seen Alita: Battle Angel have come away convinced it is the better film that deserved a better fate.

Right now, even though the Robert Rodriguez film has been out for over a month, it is too soon to declare Alita: Battle Angel a box office disappointment. To date it has grossed nearly $400 million dollars. Sure that is peanuts to what other films have pulled in, but it is not that bad. The film’s supposed budget was $170 million, so technically it made its money back and has a tiny profit. So, is that enough to get a sequel?

Fans of the cult film (and that is what Alita: Battle Angel is at this point, though it is worthy of that honor) are clamoring for a sequel, especially given how the film sets up future films. The problem is that the amount of money it has earned probably won’t be enough for a sequel to be greenlit. There is also the fact, that as of two days from now, 20th Century Fox, the film studio that released Alita: Battle Angel, will belong to Disney. Who knows if the House of the Mouse will be interested in pursuing a followup film. They have other properties that will generate more money for them.

Then again, we have seen cult favorites build enough of a following to convince studios to take another crack at the property. One recent example is Pacific Rim. That film was released in 2013 and was not a hit film, but it quickly developed a fan base, not unlike Alita. As the film did well in home media, it picked up more fans and demands for a sequel increased. Last year, a sequel was finally released, Pacific Rim: Uprising. Although the film was way inferior to the first Pacific Rim, it did demonstrate that we can always hold out hope for followups to non-hit films. This has happened with John Wick, The Boondock Saints, and others.

Bear in mind that this is not a guarantee. Films like Serenity and Dredd had devoted fans that tried to push awareness of the films so that sequels could be made, but they never came to be. Plus, while it is important to see the James Cameron-produced film in theaters now, it is equally, if not more important to buy the film when it is available in home media. That would demonstrate the lasting appeal of the cyberpunk action film, which is surprisingly faithful in spirit to the manga that inspired it. That would be a critical challenge for Alita: Battle Angel. The fan base has to be persistent and vocal. Then there is the matter of getting James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, and others to return to the stunning futuristic world that they created. Another issue is that if a sequel is commissioned will it get the same care and budget of the original? An easier way to convince execs to finance a sequel is if its budget can be controlled. That might mean that Alita’s next adventure might have to take place in the floating city of Zalem, which would look eerily like modern-day society. It might work given the decrepit state of the world below shown in Alita. In that case can it be as faithful to the manga as the original?

This is all speculation at this point. Go see the film if it is still playing. Despite its narrative flaws Alita: Battle Angel is a stunning cinematic experience that better captures a hero’s journey much better than the other superhero film out now in theaters.

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Captain Marvel Is A Solid MCU Entry

Captain Marvel is here at last, satisfying our desire for new content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), being that it’s been several months since we had anything from the famed MCU. At the same time, the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe sets us up for next month’s Avengers: Endgame.

As many know, Captain Marvel, based on the Marvel Comics character, has been mired in controversy lately thanks to Internet trolls and people with their own agendas. It’s a shame really, because all this noise is distracting from the film itself. It’s bad enough that so much is expected from an MCU film these days that unless the film is an absolute epic, it is bound to disappoint. With all this going on it may be difficult to judge Captain Marvel on its own merit.

Looking at the film objectively, it does have its faults but it’s not a disaster at all. In fact, on the whole, Captain Marvel is a solid entry to the MCU and has so much to enjoy. Part sci-fi space adventure, part fish-out-of-water story, part mystery and part buddy cop yarn, the film bridges the cosmic part of the MCU with the Earth-based part. It introduces us to Vers (Brie Larson), who lives on the Kree homeplanet Hala and is part of the Starforce, dedicated to peacekeeping throughout the Kree Empire. She and her squad routinely hunt the Kree’s mortal enemies, the shape-shifting Skrulls. Early in the film, Vers crash lands on Earth in 1995 and meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson sporting some amazing deaging CG). The two team up to find out why the Skrulls are infiltrating Earth until she is recovered by Starforce. Along the way, she has flashbacks that reveal she is actually Carol Danvers, a human test pilot and this revelation has her questioning her allegiance to the Kree.

Captain Marvel is an enjoyable film with some interesting twists and character moments. Some plot developments can be seen light years away but they’re well executed and the film is highlighted by the cast who are quite good, especially Jackson, who portrays a less jaded version of Nick Fury, and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the main Skrull in the film. Talos is an unexpectedly complex character and Mendelsohn’s acting is exceptionally good here as he is able to emote so effortlessly through the heavy Skrull makeup.

As for Brie Larson, her performance is rather stoic and comes off as a largely unemotional hero and not very interesting despite her personal dilemma. Larson is OK as Danvers/Captain Marvel. but one has to wonder if anyone else could have done the role better. This could be a problem because she is supposed to be a major player from here on out. But there is room for growth and Larson is a talented actor. She does have some good banter and chemistry with Jackson, but Jackson is the more charismatic of the two. Larson’s performance is just part of the problem the film has. It’s slickly made and has many fun moments, but the direction is bland at times and some pivotal scenes are poorly lit, which detracts from their impact. Marvel Studios has a penchant for hiring largely inexperienced, but talented directors and this usually works. In this situation, perhaps the film studio should have gone with someone other than Ann Boden and Ryan Fleck. The two don’t seem to have distinctive voices like James Gunn or Taika Waititi.

The film is not bad by all means, its merits easily outweigh its problems. It’s quite awesome with dazzling special effects, a great ’90s soundtrack,and hits most of its marks. Plus, the mystery behind Danvers’ identity and what happened to her are done well. Despite what some trolls are proclaiming it doesn’t have some kind of feminist agenda. It’s a straight up superhero adventure. Also, Captain Marvel is an important entry of the MCU because it explains how many aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to being. Plus, its post-credits scene is vital to Avengers: Endgame. On the whole, Captain Marvel is a respectable, flashy high-middle tier entry of the MCU that adds new wrinkles to the ever-growing film universe.

Prejudging Dark Phoenix Before Its Release

20th Century Fox has released a new trailer for the last, proper X-Men film, Dark Phoenix. What is most interesting and disturbing, depending on one’s point of view, about the trailer’s release is the reaction from fans. While some enjoy it, and look forward to the X-Men film, others are reacting with indifference or downright negativity. This is somewhat baffling to witness and is evidence of how divided fans and our culture at large has become. We’re seeing this everywhere with vitriol hurled at Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, DC, the MCU and other franchises for many reasons. But the negativity towards Dark Phoenix before the film has come out is just going overboard.

There are many reasons to be skeptical for the upcoming superhero film and it’s not just because the director is a newbie. The film essentially retells a major subplot from X-Men: The Last Stand, which adapted parts of the famous and beloved Dark Phoenix story from the comics. However, the film was subpar and the trailer to Dark Phoenix uncomfortably reminds some of that film. While this is unavoidable, the new film will focus on the Dark Phoenix story and Jean Grey’s struggle. True, it won’t be a beat-by-beat adaptation of the comic book story, but what live-action adaptation of a comic book story is completely faithful? A couple of them are considered among the best superhero films of all time.

Then there is the anger that some have towards Fox for being neglectful towards the X-Men franchise. Fox’s track record with the X-Men films is admittedly mixed. For every Logan there is an X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The last X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse was not received well, though personally, I thought it was enjoyable and had an epic tone in its last act. The poor reaction to X-Men: Apocalypse has fed the negativity toward X-Men films going forward.

But we have to give the studio some credit. If not for them, the superhero films as we know it would not exist. Kevin Feige, the Marvel Studios guru, got his start in superhero films with the Fox X-Men films. He gained valuable insight and experience that helped him launch the successful MCU. Also, Fox released high-quality productions like Logan, Deadpool and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Still, many feel that the Fox X-Men films have run their course and a much-needed break is due. Or rather a radical reboot that is faithful to the comic books, which Marvel Studios can only produce.

As we all know, Marvel Studios will reboot the X-Men films since Disney has acquired the film rights to the X-Men. At this point, many are more than ready to move on from the Fox version of the X-Men and are eager to see how Marvel Studios reimagines and recasts the X-Men films. For them, Dark Phoenix feels redundant and think “what’s the point?” of this film since the Fox X-Men franchise is coming to an end. Some are angered that based on what is known about Dark Phoenix and some negative early screening reactions that the film is destined to be a stinker and don’t feel the need to see it.

This is unfair towards the film and the efforts of the cast and crew. In the end, it may wind up being as bad as many believe and a terrible way to end the Fox X-Men films. However, it’s best to keep an open mind and being objective towards this film. Hopefully, it can be a decent wrap up of the X-Men saga. After all, it will be the last X-Men film for a while given Marvel Studios’ crowded plate.

Superheroes Represent At The Oscars

Last night, the Academy Awards were surprisingly kind to superhero films. Sure, there were some disappointments, big and small; seriously, First Man had better special effects than Avengers: Infinity War? Please. But on the whole the superhero film genre was well represented in the Academy Awards for films that came out in 2018.

Recognizing the MCU

Comic book fans had reasons to celebrate last month when Black Panther was nominated for best film. As we all know, this is the first time a superhero film earned that prestigious nomination. Whether or not the film deserved it is open for debate. But nevertheless it was a great and historic moment for fans as at last the superhero film was recognized as a genuine piece of cinematic art. OK, this is a bit hyperbolic, but the fact is that for too long superhero films were considered juvenile fare though that has been far from the truth.

black panther at wakanda

In the past, these films were often nominated for best visual effects or some other technical category and sometimes won. That has changed slowly over recent years. The Dark Knight picked up an award for Best Supporting Actor in addition to getting numerous technical nominations. However, many rightly felt that The Dark Knight should have been nominated for Best Picture, and this snub caused a changed in the amount of films that can get the Best Picture nomination. Others also believed that Logan should have received a Best Picture nomination, but it did get one for Best Adapted Screenplay. This was the first time a superhero film got such a distinguished nomination. With this, it was only a matter of time before a superhero film was nominated for Best Picture and that happened only a year later.

Of course, cynics will credit Black Panther’s numerous nominations to a strong marketing campaign from Disney, and they would not be wrong. But in the end the film studio was largely successful with Black Panther nabbing the coveted Best Picture nomination. Honestly, it winning was always a long shot, especially since it didn’t garner nominations for directing, writing or acting. Traditionally, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a huge bias against genre films. No science fiction film has ever won, and only a couple of fantasy films have won including The Shape of Water. Also, that film just won for Best Picture the year before. There wasn’t any way the Academy would allow a genre film to win for Best Picture two years in a row. In fact, this doesn’t happen with other genres. Besides, the Academy likes to pick “important” biographies or historical dramas with timely messages.

Put all that aside for now. It was great that not only was Black Panther nominated, but that it actually won three well-deserved awards. The most for any superhero film. Frankly, it would have been a shock if the film didn’t win for Best Costume Design or Best Production Design. In these categories, Black Panther excelled with its unique and eye-popping visual look and costumes. The award for Best Original Music Score was a pleasant surprise since the score was so enchanting. These wins signal the Academy’s recognition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) quality and caliber. This will be the first of many awards that the MCU will win. It may be a long time before an MCU film or any superhero film will win for Best Picture, but it will happen.

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Netflix Moves In New Superhero Directions With The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is the newest streaming series from Netflix and is that service’s first step away from their Marvel superhero shows. This time, Netflix adapted the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. Both the show and the comic book are a about an eccentric family of superheroes and their dysfunctional relationship. What makes this superhero team stand out is that they were once seven infants who were instantaneously conceived and born back in 1989 at the same time. A goofball billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) buys and “adopts” these children then begins grooming them to be superheroes. Eventually they leave him to find their way in the world and away from superheroics.

Flashforward to the present and Hargreeves has died, prompting a reunion by the now-adult children who have gone on their unique and separate ways. Luther (Tom Hopper) is a gentle giant with super strength and lives on the moon in isolation. Diego (David Castañeda) is a rebellious vigilante with extraordinary knife-throwing skills. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is a famous movie star with the ability to manipulate reality by using the Rumor. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is shiftless drug addict who can communicate with the dead, including the sixth member, Ben (Justin H. Min), who died some time ago. Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) can travel through time and space, while the final child, Vanya (Ellen Page), doesn’t have any powers and is treated as the black sheep in the makeshift family.

When the siblings come together, Luther and Diego quickly argue over whether or not their father was murdered. Meanwhile, Number Five was trapped in the future for several decades and is finally able to return to the present to join his siblings for their father’s funeral. But he is determined to find out what causes a worldwide apocalyptic event in a few days that wipes out humanity. At the same time, he is hunted by mysterious superhuman assassins (Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton) for unknown reasons. These events bring out revelations about each member of the Umbrella Academy and forces them to drift further apart as it becomes clear that they cannot relate to each other.

The Umbrella Academy is a quirky and entertaining family/superhero show punctuated by offbeat characters, inventive editing and show-stopping action scenes. It’s not as great as some critics and fans are proclaiming. It sometimes tries too hard to be edgy and quirky to the point  that it can be offputting. The first episode was a bit of a chore to get through because the premise’s setup was not particularly engaging. But it quickly picks up the pace and grabs your attention after the first episode.

Some characters like Klaus can be annoying and cloy, but overall all of these oddballs are endearing as they grapple with their father’s memory. He was a cold, distant person who treated them as objects and this created damaging trauma that each of them deal with in their own ways. Other members of the Umbrella Academy and their associates stand out like kindly Luther, Number Five with his dilemma of being an adult trapped in a child’s body and Vanya who struggles to find her place in the world as an ordinary person. Obviously this is not your standard superhero TV show and it is refreshing as it is more like Legion than traditional fare like the CW superhero shows.  More importantly, the characters and their interactions, not to mention the exciting fight scenes, are reasons for comic book and superhero fans to watch The Umbrella Academy.