Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

December 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

When I was a kid in 1977, Star Wars was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It had stuff going on in the background that would have been the centrepiece of another film, and the world had never seen lightsabres or thought of people tapping into a spiritual energy called the Force for vaguely godlike powers.  Finally, all of it was wrapped up in a rousing score, great effects and a classic good vs. evil story (with good as the underdog, of course). Luke Skywalker was taught to tap into the Force in a reserved, noble way in the name of peace, and not in a lustful, greedy way.

Arguably, that’s all George Lucas really needed to do, creatively. And about all he had to offer. The rest of the original trilogy extends the narrative to give us a fuller picture and allows Darth Vader to redeem himself.  On really generous days, I’m willing to say the three prequel films (produced much later) suffered from even clunkier acting and dialogue, but manage some kind of stunted message about the perils of giving in to hate and the perceived comfort of centralised power.  But then, that’s kind of what I said above, isn’t it. I guess it can at least be said the prequel films illustrate how it was with the best of intentions the characters populated the galaxy with troops that became the grumpy empire of doom.

But wait, there’s more.  And then, there’s more.  Along the way, we were given (I should say, sold) various refurbished versions of the original films that always seemed to improve some element while sabotaging another, and then a Clone Wars animated series produced by the same outstanding animators that made the Samurai Jack TV series. OK, fine.  I enjoyed the impressive visuals and disarmingly simple plots of Samurai Jack (how often is a TV series willing to go without dialogue?) and thought they made an enjoyable enough Star Wars romp in their own unique style. But wait, that Clone Wars was a sort of test run for a new 2008 Clone Wars film with computer animation and character faces so still they look like mannequins. And, the 2008 Clone Wars film is an appetizer for a new Clone Wars TV series.

The original trilogy told the story of a farm boy rejecting his father’s cold, hostile, increasingly mechanical way of doing things, and the father eventually redeeming himself after his original tragedy. There’s something interesting in the archetypes there, and a little relevance to modern life. But now I’m supposed to care about attacking octopus droids and a dude needing to blow up a generator so some clone troops can win. Jabba the Hutt was originally a throwaway line in the first film, and after a certain amount of suspense, he becomes a surprisingly well-realised archetype in the third film — the fat gangster as an alien slug. Kind of nifty, but not worth more than one appearance. Since then, he’s been inserted into the original 1977 film, and now features in this new Clone Wars film.  This film even introduces a Jabba relative, and guess what? He’s also a fat slug who presides over a room with alien dancing girls and an alien band.

If these new productions explored some hidden corner of the Star Wars world, and had better writing, I might not mind, but the 2008 film is proof Lucas is strip-mining his own, decades-old creative ideas to produce the same lightsabre-droid-I’ll-get-you-and-your-little-dog-too tedium. If it was about the slightest thing I might care. But it isn’t, so I don’t. All I can say at this point is please stop, George. All the magic is gone, and every little background critter has come forward to have his own moment. I won’t be seeing anything else, and I feel like a clone for seeing this much.

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

June 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

The Death of Superman was a multi-issue comic story in the early nineties, covering a number of issues, involving Superman’s tremendous battle with a monster known as Doomsday. In short, the two of them beat each other to death, and as it happened to go on sale at a slow news time, the media picked up on it and it somehow struck a nerve with people. Comic book stores had lineups around the block.

Warner now launches a series of stand-alone, independent animated superhero films with Superman: Doomsday, a pretty terrifically entertaining, if much shortened, adaptation of the story. Comic book fans have given the film the poorest ratings, not happy with changes to the story, but apparently there simply wasn’t time for everything, as Warner animated films are required to be and hour and fifteen minutes. The comic actually stopped publishing briefly, before bringing back a series of pseudo-Supermen as possible replacements (none of whom turned out to be the real thing) and as far as I can tell, it’s mainly that long prelude to the return that’s left out in the film.

Without the expectation that this will be some kind of utterly faithful adaptation of the comic, this is hugely enjoyable. Great animation and good performances, and not one but two really long slam-dunk action sequences I found at least as entertaining as anything in any live-action superhero film. So in short, comic book fans should brace themselves for something only loosely based on the comic, while more casual fans of Superman can kick back and enjoy a really entertaining ride.

Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)

June 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

Justice League: The New Frontier is the second in a series of stand-alone animated films (the first was Superman: Doomsday), and is a direct to video adaptation of the New Frontier comic by award winning writer and artist Darwyn Cooke, who was involved with this film as one of the writers and producers. Producer Bruce Timm was involved (the man behind the Justice League TV series) but this is a very different effort.

Set in the 1950s, the story features the origins of the Justice League heroes during an optimistic but still troubled time, with acknowledgments of the civil rights movement and paranoia about communism. We follow the origin story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern as well as the Martian Manhunter, though Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash are also prominently featured. And of course, we get their formation as a team for the first time against a threat too great for anything but a combined effort.

Cooke is a fan of the “Silver Age” of comics, and there are a few more obscure comic characters making brief appearances too. As far as the main cast, it’s Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) as Superman, Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under) as Batman, Lucy Lawless (Xena) as Wonder Woman, Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) as The Flash and David Boreanaz (Angel) as Green Lantern. The voice work is terrific, and even though Batman isn’t in much of the film, Jeremy Sisto makes a huge new impression. The animation ranges from excellent to outstanding, and I think the retro montage created for the opening credits is worth the price of admission alone.

It should be noted this isn’t for very young children. There’s an opening where an unknown character finishes writing a book about the malevolent force, and then shoots himself in the head. None of the bloodshed is terribly graphic, but it’s there so the film is rated PG-13 for violence. Personally, I’m glad to see animation being produced for adults, and I think it’s a great idea to adapt completely different comics and graphic novels into animated films, giving us different perspectives on these timeless characters. This is a sincere effort to make a worthwhile film, and I hope it finds some support out there.

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