Blog Archive

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tarzan and Jane (2017) Season One - Review


I’m what one might call a bit of a Tarzan nut, in fact I'm a massive fan of most of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and it drives me crazy how often his works are mucked up.  I’ve read and reviewed almost everything he’s written and have seen all the Tarzan movies outside a few of the silent era ones, and that is why I am completely shocked at how much I like this new animated Netflix series because they really play fast and loose with the Tarzan mythology. This series actually turns Tarzan into a superhero, with actual super powers, and yet it somehow works. That Avi Arad, former CEO of Marvel Studios, is the one to come up with this concept should make this decision more understandable.


People have been adapting Tarzan stories for almost a hundred years now and though none of them have been all that accurate to the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs they mostly hit all the necessary high points of his origin story, which is why I find this Netflix original series so intriguing as they make some serious and radical changes to the Tarzan story. This version of Tarzan does not take place in the early years of the 20th Century as it did in the books but is a modern updating of his tale, this of course isn’t the first time this has been done and not even the first time an updated Tarzan has appeared on television, but it also completely rewrites his origin story as well as just what kind of a hero Tarzan is.


No ship's mutiny lands Tarzan’s parents in the darkest jungles of Africa this time but instead it's a plane crash that kills the infant Tarzan's parents, and though he is found and raised by the ape Kala, as he was in the books, this Tarzan was not born in Africa as his parents died in the crash so Tarzan was obviously born earlier. Stranger still is that Kala does not bring him back to her fellow apes but takes him to the nearest native village so the Shaman there can heal the injuries the little fellow had sustained during the crash. Lucky for the kid Doctor Porter (Paul Dobson) was also visiting this village at the time, he came to Africa to learn of the local medicines and lore to see if he could combine them with what modern medical science has come up with, and he does what he can to help the Shaman with the injured babe. The Shaman then mixes his potions with Porter’s medicines and they then coat the baby during a fire lit ceremony.

 

I’m not sure how you bottle essence of lion, cheetah and gorilla but Porter managed it.

Come morning the Chief (Omari Newton) tells Porter that the child had died, but in fact the Shaman and the Chief’s son Muviro (Doron Bell) had slipped the baby out of the village and returned him to Kala. The Shaman explains to Muviro that, “Something changed when our medicines merged, they healed him but something else happened as well. He is still human but he is also more.” Porter is kept in the dark because knowledge of what Tarzan has become could not only be dangerous for him but for the village as well. It was at this point I actually got a bit worried.  I was okay with the updating of the story but having Kala bringing Tarzan to a human village and then having said villagers give the baby back to an ape after a “magical/science cure” had healed him was just a little too different from the Tarzan I grew up with. They even screw up and have the Shaman name him Tarzan because he is a “Child of the Jungle” while any Tarzan fan worth his salt knows that Tarzan is ape language for “white skin.” Then we have the whole animal powers thing to contend with.

 

He is as strong as a gorilla.

 

Is as fast as a cheetah.

 

And he can extend claws out of his hands and feet.

Tarzan in the books is a man in peak physical shape with incredible fighting agility, if to be compared to any superhero it'd be Captain America, but this take on the ape man is more in keeping with the superhero Animal Man from DC comics than it is with Tarzan.  But despite the weirdness of these changes I pushed on and watched as the show gave us a young Tarzan being given lessons by Muviro, who has become like a big brother to the jungle boy, and then I couldn't help but smile as we got to see Tarzan kicking the crap out of evil poachers who dare ply their trade in his jungle. This is the Tarzan I’m familiar, Lord of the Jungle and ass kicker of evil doers.

Note: In the books Muviro is as a sub-chief of the Waziri, a warrior tribe who kind of makeup Tarzan’s jungle entourage, and is one of Tarzan’s closest friends.  This was a nice nod to the source material.

Things go great for a few years until Porter returns and an assistant of his accidentally captures footage of Tarzan swinging through the trees and then later he is recorded again by tourists operating a camera drone. This particular video goes viral and stories of a jungle boy begin to spread. The man behind the poaching wants this kid captured, his true motivations for this are not revealed until much later, but wanting to trap Tarzan is one thing but to actually catch him is another. More years pass and Porter makes another visit to the Wazuri village this time with his daughter Jane (Rebecca Shoichet), and when she gets lost in the jungle she is saved from becoming panther chow by Tarzan.  This is when the show begins to fire on all cylinders.

 

“You Tarzan, me awesome.”

This version of Jane is a complete delight. As an author Burroughs was a product of his time and thus his women characters were not always the strongest, in the books Jane was normally relegated to damsel in distress and only got to show off her own jungle skills in the book Tarzan’s Quest, but in this show Jane is pretty much Tarzan’s equal, minus the animal super powers that is. Another interesting and rather nice change is that Jane is of mixed heritage, her father a very British and very white doctor while her mother is an African-American movie star. The show never makes an issue of Jane's racial diversity and instead focuses on how awesome she is.  This version of Jane is smart, passionate, good in a fight, and whose gymnastics skills allow her to keep up with Tarzan while swinging through the jungle or running across the rooftops of London.


The meeting of Tarzan and Jane is also a perfect example of how this show gets the comic aspect just right, when she first encounters Tarzan she assumes he is an inarticulate jungle boy and thus we get a nod to the halting English of the Johnny Weissmuller/Maureen O’Sullivan Tarzan movies as she introduces herself to Tarzan with a clumsy "Me, Jane."  Now of course Muviro has schooled Tarzan since he was a little kid and so his English is close to perfect, but he still responds, “Me, Tarzan” and continues to play the dumb savage as a kind of running joke, and when Jane finds out she’s been had it’s a great character moment between the two that is both sweet and funny. The entire eight episode run of this season has a deft hand with both action and comedy with solid writing throughout, but it did take me a bit longer to get use to the CGI animation, it's fine but doesn't quite compare to the stuff we saw in Disney’s Legend of Tarzan cartoon.


Of course a big element of the Tarzan stories is missing here and that would be the love story between Tarzan and Jane. This series has them meet when they are in their teens, and a young Tarzan and Jane getting into some steamy jungle loving was not going to happen on what is primarily a kid’s show, but what we do get is an amazing friendship that one can see will eventually develop into something much deeper.

We may not get the classic love story but the show does provide a good amount of drama, when Tarzan is forced to run back and help Jane when she trips while the two are being chased by a helicopter he is netted and captured. Turns out the Earl of Greystoke had scene that youtube footage of the jungle boy and is sure that Tarzan is his grandson. He’d hired people to infiltrate Porter’s staff and to look for and retrieve Tarzan but when the teen ape man is brought to civilization, and stuck in a bedroom for the first time, he wants no part of it.

 

“The jungle is my home, not this cage.”

Lucky for us Lord Greystoke isn’t the show’s villain, he had no idea that the people he'd hired would treat Tarzan like an animal, and he is able to get Tarzan to understand that though Kala is his mother he did have other parents and that Greystoke is Tarzan's family as well. The jungle lad agrees to stay in London and attend private school, though he does wear the school uniform putting on shoes is out of the question, and this all provide us with some nice “fish out of water” humor, but it also allows him to reconnect with Jane who just so happens to have ended up enrolling at the same school.  It's a small world, roll with it.

Tarzan kind of blames Jane for that whole "being captured" thing but once the two bury the hatchet they become a dynamic duo of crime solving awesomeness, well as long as that crime involves the poaching and smuggling of animals or the sabotaging of the Lord Greystoke’s company. Mystery solving is what makes up the bulk of this season as Tarzan and Jane bounce back and forth between the urban jungle (where his skills translate well to parkour) and the jungles of Africa (where he surprisingly never calls for an elephant stampede), and allows us to watch the two of them fend off against countless balaclava wearing goons.

 

Tarzan and Jane versus Rent-a-Thugs.

Who the mastermind behind all the nefarious goings is pretty obvious, and would doubtfully escape the deductions of anyone over the age of five, but that doesn’t stop the show from being insanely fun. The mysterious villain isn’t even the only conflict as Jane’s mother Angela (Marci T. House) shows up after inexplicably giving up a career as an international movie star to go into investigative journalism, and her first job is to bring down the Earl of Greystoke...for some reason. Sure the mastermind has been framing the Earl but she shows up at the first crime scene, a burning warehouse owned by Greystoke company, sporting an Anti-Lord Greystoke button. I'm not quite sure she understands how journalism works.

 

Maybe she wants a career at Fox News.

What would Tarzan’s early years have been like if he’d been found while still a teenager? That is an interesting idea to explore and they do it fairly good job with it despite some of the changes being odd to say the least, and I could have have done without the occasionally lame moments such Tarzan using his super powers to shame a jerk at school on the football field or Lord Greystoke giving Tarzan a cellphone without bothering to tell him what it is or how it works, but those missteps are overshadowed but many cool moments such as Tarzan wondering "Where are we?" and Jane pulling up Google Maps on her phone.  Overall the show consists of some great story telling, has a good balance of comedy and action, manages to bring some fresh ideas to the mythos, and has an excellent cast of voice actors, all resulting in a Tarzan show worth checking out.

 


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Power Pack (1991) – Pilot Reviewed


Back in the early 80s Marvel editor Louise Simonson was encouraged to write a comic book of her own, a policy Editor in Chief Jim Shooter was trying to promote at the time, and so with artist June Brigman she created the superhero team known as Power Pack. Of course the most unusual thing about this team is that it was the first superhero group consisting of pre-teen heroes, even younger than the New Mutants, and having little kids thrown into dangerous situations is often dicey subject matter. The kids powers were given to them by “Whitey” Whitemane, a member of the Kymellian race who resemble humanoid horses, and they had come to Earth to stop Dr. James Powers from accidentally destroying the planet due to an error in his formula, which could have caused a chain reaction and destroyed the world. Whitey’s attempts to warn the professor are hampered by an enemy alien reptilian race called the Snarks; the Power family is kidnapped and Whitey is killed rescuing the children, but before he dies he bestows them his powers, as well as his sentient spaceship called Friday.

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The team consists of twelve year old Alex Power (code name Zero-G) who has the ability control gravity, ten year old Julie Power (code name Lightspeed) who has super-speed and flight, eight year old Jack Power (code name Mass Master) who can control his size and density, and lastly there is five year old Katie Power (code name Energizer) who can disintegrate any kind of matter, including water and air molecules, store that energy up and then expel it in balls of explosive energy. I must say that’s a pretty dangerous power to give a five year old.

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What made the run of this comic so good is that it wasn’t just a “kid’s comic book” but that it tackled some pretty heavy and mature topics such as pollution, drug abuse, runaways, kidnapping, gun violence, bullying, orphanhood, and homelessness. The four children fought all manner of dangerous foes in the Marvel Universe, teaming up with the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine, all while keeping their crime fighting lives secret from their parents. Unlike certain superheroes the Powers children have loving parents, and they are often emotionally torn about keeping their secret lives from them, but that’s what makes for great drama in any story let alone a comic book. Sadly the creative team changed, much to the chagrin of the fans, and the series was cancelled in 1991. Strangely this cancellation led to an attempt at creating a Saturday morning kids show, even strange was it was not animated but live action, and once again television execs ditched pretty much everything about the comic book characters in favor of generic family fun.

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The pilot begins with a voice over explaining about how during his travels throughout the universe he had learned of amazing powers; that in the right hands could be extraordinary and in the wrong hands dark and destructive. So when the time came to pass on his powers he found a group of young children who inspired him with their innocence and honesty, so much so that he believed he could trust them with his powers. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s not surprising that a Saturday morning kid show would ditch the origin story that involves intergalactic beings that resemble horses and reptiles, ninety’s television budget would certainly not allow for it, but that opening narration is so vague that we are left with no clue as to who and the hell gave them their powers. Was it aliens or possibly God himself?

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“Here are some powers kids, go and start smiting people.”

Missing aliens aside the biggest departure from the source material is that the parents are now completely aware that their kids have extraordinary abilities, and then for some reason treat it like annoyance that could get their kids shunned at school. When the dad spots Jack (Bradley Machry) using his powers to shrink down small enough to retrieve his retainer that had fallen down the drain, he calls everyone for a family lecture telling the kids that, “It is important to remember that with power comes responsibility, to yourselves and to this family.” So for a second there I thought he was going to trot out the classic “With great power comes great responsibility” but no, he seems more worried that people will freak out and possibly cause the property value of their house to drop. Look, no parent is going to want their children running out to fight crime, but that’s why in the comic the kids kept it secret from them. With parental units aware of their children’s ability it completely hamstrings the basic premise of the show; that premise being it’s a show about superhero kids.

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“You can’t go fight Doctor Doom, it’s a school night dammit!”

Another alteration is the powers themselves; Jack in the comic could increase his density to shrink, using his classic Jack-Hammer attack against foes, or he could spread out his density and become a cloud, but in this show all he does is shrink, and the fact that in small form he still weighs the same is never addressed. Alex (Nathaniel Moreau) is shown using his gravity powers to lift a small aquarium, and later he uses it to rise himself out of a pit, so that is fairly accurate to his powers found in the comic book just not all that cinematic. Now in the case of Julie (Margot Finley) the show just has her function as basically Kid Flash with a rainbow streak behind her, the ability to fly is never addressed. Then there is Katie (Jacelyn Holmes) who in this pilot never disintegrates anything nor does she form explosive balls of energy, instead we see her causing a small ball she is holding to glow while staring outside at children playing. That she is staring at these kids with a look, one that would be more appropriate for Stephen King’s Carrie, is what's a little troubling.

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“Mommy, they will all burn. Burn I tell you.”

Sure, it can’t be easy to fit in an origin story/introduction to a group of characters when you only have roughly 26 minutes to work with, and you still have to get the kids on some kind of adventure as well, but what dastardly villain will the Power kids take on for their television debut? Sadly no villain from the pages of Marvel comics will grace this Saturday morning pilot, instead Jack we will get pushed into breaking into an old abandoned mansion, a haunted looking place that use to be owned by Doctor Mobius and the Circus of the Macabre, by couple of schoolmates. To sneak in, and to apparently impress his new school buds though he still hides his powers from them, Jack shrinks down to miniscule size so that he can crawl under the back door of the mansion. He then encounters a rat.

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Honey I Shrunk the Kids this is not.

While bumbling around the cobweb strewn mansion with his new found friends, who scream at seeing such horrifying sights as skeletons and guillotines, they then spot a painting of Doctor Mobius and the kid who conned Jack into committing a B&E in the first places convinces our young hero take this jeweled amulet they find lying on the ground below the painting.  What’s the point of breaking and entering if you’re not going to steal anything? The trio are then chased out of the mansion by spooky noises.

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Even Casper would be ashamed of these kids.

Back at home Julie begs Alex to handle her chores so that she can lightspeed over to the local arcade to hang out with her new friends, thus she misses out on this entire adventure, because as Jack returns and we find out that the spirit of Doctor Mobius has followed him home, but only to apparently nicky-nicky nine door the Power home.  When Alex answers the door, after the ghost knocked and demanding, “Return it to me!” the ghosts vanishes just before Alex opens the door.

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Evil ghost or neighborhood pervert, you decide.

So Alex, Jack and Katie return to the haunted house to return that which was stolen. Then it turns out that the ghost of Doctor Mobius is a real dick about having stolen things returned to him.  While attempting to return the amulet Jack is trapped in an iron maiden, Alex is dropped into a bottomless pit and Katie is attacked by a mother freaking zombie! A five year old girl being attacked by the undead isn’t something one would expect to see on a Saturday morning kids show and I’m not sure if this is awesome or phenomenally stupid.

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It’s all good cause Katie fries his undead ass.

Jack is able to shrink down to escape the iron maiden, Alex uses his gravity powers to float up out of the pit, and they meet up with Katie to finally put the amulet back where it belongs, but Mobius is still be a totally pill about the whole thing and he heats up the amulet as Katie tries to place inside the setting in the painting. This whole scene with Alex using his power to lift Katie up to the painting, her screaming “I can’t, its burning my hand!” as a beam of energy superheats the amulet she is holding, is just bizarre. For most of the show we are treated to low rent Family Ties comedy, but then in the last act we get a five year old girl being attacked by a zombie and then burned by a vengeful ghost, one who she was trying to help…what the hell is up with that?

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Next is this nasty spectres going to melt off their faces?

Katie does managed to get the amulet back into its rightful spot, and the group head home just in time to find out that Julie had used her Lightspeed powers to do the chores that she asked Alex to do for her in the first place, and thus the parents are still left oblivious to what their kids have been up to. The episode ends with Alex getting a phone call from a pretty girl he met at school, and him yelling at Jack to get off the extension, basically your standard family sitcom ending.

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Standard if you forget about the pissy ghost and his haunted painting.

That this show didn’t get picked up as series is not surprising, the fact that not only was it aired but that it actually aired several times during regular children's programming on Fox as a Saturday morning special is completely baffling. Of course the real mystery is to the why the network felt a live action version of this comic was the way to go and not the more sensible animated route. A cartoon with cute alien horses that bestow powers to a group of kids seems like an easy sell to me, but then again I’m not a network executive.

In conclusion the show took almost nothing from the source material, all the actors were pretty bad, and the plot for this pilot episode was beyond bizarre. Of course now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is bringing millions of dollars in ticket sales, not to mention the Marvel Netflix shows, it’s been announced that Power Pack will get another live action shot, but don’t hold your breath as shows or movies focusing on preteens will always be a bit of a hard sell.  Then again maybe the creators of the Netflix series Stranger Things will take a shot at it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Assassin's Creed (2016) – Review

When one goes to see a movie based on a video game a certain level of understanding should be brought to the table and that bit of understanding would be that there is a very good chance the movie is going to suck. From the bottom of the barrel Uwe Boll films (i.e. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale ) to the more fun but still far from good Resident Evil movies there really hasn’t been a really good film based off a video game property, even something as easy to do as a car chase movie resulted in the abysmal Need For Speed film, and now with Assassin’s Creed we find an entry that kind of falls right in the middle.


Though based on the popular Ubisoft game series this particular story does not use any of those games a reference but instead deals with a new character that of convicted murderer Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) who had been sentenced to death by lethal injection, but after his execution is carried out he is then “resurrected” by the scientists of Abstergo Industries. And why would a mysterious and powerful organization go to all that trouble to get their hands on a murderer? Well turns out that Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) has developed a machine called the Animus which allows the user to venture back in time to the life an ancestor via genetic memory. All displayed like the most kickass virtual reality game.

 

Could this be the future of PlayStation VR?

So the reason Abstergo Industries needs Callum Lynch is because he is the last surviving descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, a member of the Assassins Creed a secret society bent on preventing the evil Templar Order from taking over the world, and Aguilar is last person known to have in his possession the Apple of Eden, which the Templars need for their whole conquest of the world thing. And just what is the Apple of Eden? Well according to this movie it is the actually apple that Adam and Eve ate in defiance of God, and that if the Templars can retrieve the Apple they can remove freewill and end violence in the world once and for all. Now as MacGuffins go this one is beyond silly, sure Indiana Jones has gone after Holy relics but the actually apple from the Garden of Eden is something that breaks even my broad suspension of disbelief. Sophia hints that its origins could be alien in nature but that idea is never explored and certainly doesn’t help the movie's case at all.


Of course the reason people go to see they type of adventure movies is for all that kickass action, but being it is made clear that everything Callum experiences while hooked up to the Animus is just a glorified flashback, that all we see has happened hundreds of years ago and the outcome of these action scenes had already been laid out hundreds of years ago and that nothing Callum does is actually effecting anything, does tend to rob the film of any sort of emotional impact. Way to remove any sense of suspense movie. That the hero in a movie is most likely going to survive whatever daring-do his exploits throw at him is something most movie viewers are well aware of but in the case of Assassin’s Creed we are watching a character watching the life of another character through that persons eyes, but without any way to change things. So basically time travel without the danger of murdering your grandfather, though it does murder any sense of tension an action scene needs to function as a storytelling device.

 

What I wouldn't do for a DeLorean and a Flux Capacitor right now.

The whole plot of this movie comes down to the current Templar Order repeatedly sticking kidnapped dudes into the Animus until one of them reveals the hidden location of the Apple of Eden, but where films like The Da Vinci Code have groups of people scrambling over the globe looking to crack some ancient mystery Assassin’s Creed spends 90% of the screen time in the research aspect of the hunt. Dress up all that research in as much virtual reality action scenes as you want the result is the same, and when the location of the Apple of Eden is revealed the movie wraps up in record time as if the filmmakers have suddenly realized how bored the audience has gotten.

The movie does have some nice elements to it; Michael Fassbender seems to be the one actor somewhat invested in the character he is playing but Jeremy Irons is clearly in “paycheck cashing mode” as Sophia’s evil Templar father, and then we have Marion Cotillard as Sophie who starts out vaguely interesting and then the movie ends with her character turning into an idiotic movie cliché. The producers claim that about 80% of what you see on screen is real and not CGI, and if that true I’m impressed because the parkour action sequences is about the only thing that stands out in this movie, but unfortunately the decided to use a horrible filter in the editing process that tends to make all these amazing action sequences look like the graphics of the video game the film is based on.

 

Not sure that was the way to go there guys.

Assassin’s Creed is certainly not the worst video game based movie, and the action scenes overall are thrilling, but as mentioned the very premise robs the film of any sense of tension and the overall plot about the “Apple of Eden” is ridiculous. With lowered expectations I found the film to be inoffensively entertaining but not one I could ever see myself visiting again.

Final Observations:

• Sophia wants to end violence across the globe but later seems shocked that this involves a magic doohickey that robs people of their freewill. Just how out of the loop with the Templars is she?
• Abstergo Industries kidnaps descendants of the Assassins to rob them of their genetic memory and then lets them hang out together in dayrooms for no Earthly reason.
• Trips in the Animus gives the user the combat knowledge of their ancestors, so once again either lock them up in tiny cells or kill them after they are no longer useful.
• The Templar Order arms their modern security forces with batons and crossbows. Is there something wrong with giving them guns? Was there a Templar code mentioned explaining this that I missed?
• The film ends with hints at a sequel and if such a thing were to happen it would most likely be direct to DVD movie and will not star anyone from this film…well maybe Jeremy Irons.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show: "The Bride of Darkseid"

Lasting one season, with only eight episodes, this Super Friends run did have some interesting elements to it, most notably the caliber of villains on display. Unlike the first few seasons of Super Friends, where our heroes tackled misguided aliens or scientists with crazy ideas, this series followed in the vein of The Challenge of the Super Friends where actual super villains from the comics were allowed to appear. But instead of various members of Legion of Doom trying to take over the world each week the Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show mostly followed three of DC’s bigger guns when it comes to villains; Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and Darkseid. The last one being the chief antagonist for the show’s short run, but what really distinguished Darkseid from the rest of the rogues gallery was his constantly being sidetracked from conquering the universe so that he could to hit on Wonder Woman.

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The series formula at this point was two short stories per half-hour but in the case of “The Bride of Darkseid” it was the whole half-hour but made into a two-parter. The episode begins with the narrator telling us, “Somewhere on a dusty desert road Black Vulcan pursues two bank robbers" and we see Black Vulcan having a hard time catching this car full of crooks for some reason.  I know he’s not the in the same league as The Flash when it comes to speed but you’d think his powers would allow him to fly faster than 60 mph, but then it gets worse as he's thwarted by the bank robbers activating a smoke screen.

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“If only I had the ability to fly above this.”

Just as the crooks think they’ve got it made they find their car turned into a bathtub. What wizardry is this you ask? Well the Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show introduces a new hero to the Saturday morning roster in the form of Firestorm, and as super powered heroes go he’s a tough one to beat. Created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom in the late 70s Firestorm has the ability to rearrange the atomic and subatomic structure of inorganic matter and then to create objects of different atomic characteristics of equal mass. So he can turn a car into a bathtub with basically just a thought and a wave of his hand, kind of like a wizard. That he doesn’t end any conflict or threat in a matter of seconds can be chalked up to him not being all that bright.

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He could have turned the cars fuel into water but this seemed more fun.

After helping Black Vulcan, whose embarrassing performance gets him stuck on monitor duty for today’s adventure, Firestorm stops the Daily Planet globe from falling to the streets below by turning it into a hot air balloon (we are going to assume he later turned it back), and he saves a ship from colliding into an iceberg by turning the ice into lead so that it sinks to the bottom of the sea. These two events were witnessed by Superman and Wonder Woman who along with the rest gang think he would make a powerful Superfriend, but they are concerned that they don’t know much about him. Because Standards and Practices at the time still wouldn't let Batman actually hit villains he’s once again relegated to operating the Bat Computer.

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World’s Greatest Data Entry Operator.

Batman informs the group that, “According to spectral-genetic analysis of this photograph Firestorm’s genetic code is composed of quadruple DNA helixes. It means Firestorm appears to be two people in one.” Batman got all that from analyzing a photograph? That is one amazing computer and a hell of a camera, but while the Superfriends are pondering the ramifications of this new hero we cut away to the arrival of the series’ chief villain, the all-powerful Darkseid. Along with his son Kalibak Darkseid has come to defeat the Superfriends so as to assure his reign over the planet Earth, but that’s not the only thing on his agenda as he makes it clear to his son that no harm should come to Wonder Woman.

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Darkseid brings his kid on an interplanetary booty call.

Using his Omega Beams to trigger a volcanic eruption Darkseid lures the Superfriends into a trap. Superman, Black Vulcan, Batman and Robin are captured in a net made of a kryptonite alloy (whenever Superman is involved the villains kind of need to have some kind of kryptonite around), and Wonder Woman is wrapped up like a Christmas package and seized by Kalibak.

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Wonder Woman in bondage managed to survive the transition from comic to cartoon.

Before Darkseid can carry out his kidnapping scheme Firestorm arrives and turns Wonder Woman’s bonds into ribbons that she can easily break out of, and he dissolves the net holding the rest of the Superfriends. You’d think going with “dissolving” would be your go to attack in almost all instances, but what Firestorm lacks in brains he makes up for in creativity. When Batman asks just who is this Darkseid person, Superman informs the group that, “Darkseid comes from the planet Apokolips, and is said to be the most powerful leader of the intergalactic underworld.”  Superman wisely leaves out the fact that Darkseid is also a notorious perv.


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“Damnit you fool, this isn’t Wonder Woman’s shower cam.”

Back on Apokolips Darkseid’s chief science officer, the diabolical DeSaad, has developed a machine called the “Mind Probe” and with but a push of a button DeSaad can alter the personality of any living thing. Kalibak wants to try it out on Batman or Superman but Darkseid growls, “Silence, Kalibak. As soon as I can penetrate the Hall of Justice Wonder Woman will be our first victim. I’ve always dreamed of making her my ally but with this device I can make her my queen.” I know this is a Saturday morning cartoon but that all seems a tad rapey to me. So it’s a good thing that the Hall of Justice is protected by a force fields that keeps out all intruders, well that is until hormone raging Firestorm bumps into the off switch while dreaming of a Mrs. Robinson relationship with Wonder Woman, and deactivates the force field which allows Darkseid to kidnap her.

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It seems to be a contest here as to who is the lamest Superfriend.

Superman later consoles the newest member by saying, “There’s no time to blame yourself Firestorm.” Which I assume is code for, “Once we rescue Wonder Woman you’re fired.” Batman spots Wonder Woman’s magic lasso on the floor and Robin brilliantly deduces, “This doesn’t look good, Batman.” Thanks Robin, your input is valuable, now go back and help Alfred dust the Batcave.  Black Vulcan is able to use the Hall of Justice computer to locate Apokolips (Wait, isn't that Batman's job?) and so Superman announces who will be a member of the rescue team, “Batman, Robin, Firestorm, I think it’s time we paid a Darkseid a visit.” Yeah, bring the idiot that is responsible for her being captured in the first place and leave the black guy behind to answer the phone.

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“Oh, you guys are just terrible!”

The Superfriends arrive on Apokolips via a hollow meteor and immediately infiltrate Darkseid’s headquarters. Unbeknownst to them Darkseid hasn’t been idle and Wonder Woman had spent some time under DeSaad’s evil Mind Probe. The team quickly discover where Wonder Woman is being held, and because Darkseid doesn’t want to make it too easy for them he sends giant kryptonite energy balls at them, which Firestorm is able to easily deactivate, and then a troop of robots that are incapacitated when Firestorm turns the floor into an oils slick.

Note: Once again Standards and Practices for children’s television shows prevented the writers and animators of The Super Friends from using something they deemed to frightening for children. Those familiar with DC comics and Darkseid know that his chief shock troops consist of Parademons.

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These are the Parademons from the comics.

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This is what we got on the Super Friends.

Eventually the Superfriends find Wonder Woman’s cell and rescue her, but things kind of go south rather quickly when Wonder Woman leads them into a trap. Turns out DeSaad’s machine worked just fine and now Wonder Woman has partnered up with Darkseid (let’s all agree as a group that they didn’t have time to consummate their relationship) and the Superfriends are held fast by the power of the Mind Probe as Darkseid informs them that, “She is mine now, as you all shall be. At the touch of the button you shall become servants of both myself and my future queen, Wonder Woman.”

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I wonder where these two will register for wedding gifts.

Things don’t look good for the Superfriends, not even Superman has the mental power to resist DeSaad’s diabolical device, but there is one thing that Darkseid hadn’t planned on and that is Firestorm. Turns out the Firestorm being two minds in one body (High School student Ronnie Raymond and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Martin Stein who become Firestorm when the two merge) allows them to resist the Mind Probe and break free of its evil grip.

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And yes Firestorm will make the, “Two heads are better than one” joke.

Once Firestorm is free of the Mind Probe he blasts it into pieces thus freeing the rest of the Superfriends from its evil grip. Superman rolls up Darkseid, DeSadd and Kalibak in the floor, which if you know anything about Darkseid’s power set this is utter bullshit, and Batman whips out Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth stating that, “Only the power of her magic lasso can save her now.” Batman snares Wonder Woman in its golden coils and states, “Stop, Wonder Woman. By the power of Hera, you are now free.” The Amazon is then able to break the hold the Mind Probe had on her, but while everyone was marveling at the returning friend Darkseid and company freed themselves from the rolled up floor. “Nothing can stand my Omega Beams,” Darkseid claims, but which Superman seems to manage with but a little effort, and it does buy them enough time for Wonder Woman to use Darkseid’s Stargate device to open a portal home.

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Note: In the comics a “Boom Tube” was used as a dimensional point-to-point travel portal, mostly for traveling between New Genesis and Apokolips, why this show changed it to a Stargate is beyond me. Maybe the “boom” in Boom Tube sounded too violent.

Even though Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show has the our heroes pitted against very dangerous foes the action is still relegated to people being caught in nets and escaping force field beams or some such nonsense. A battle between Superman and Darkseid should be a titanic battle of epic proportions and not the lame ass nonsense we see here.  Sadly even though comics in the 80s had got darker over the years with such works as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns kids were still not allowed to see such violence on their Saturday morning programs.

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As a kid I’d have preferred a super powered smack down over this.

Note: The voice of Batman for this run of Super Friends was provided by Adam West, decades after hanging up the cowl from his successful Batman live action series, and the voice of Darkseid was delivered by the king of cartoon voices Frank Welker and viewers of Inspector Gadget may notice that Darkseid sounds a lot like the gravelly voice Dr. Claw as Welker voiced them both. Watching this show I kept expecting Darkseid to end each episode declaring, “I’ll get you next time, Superfriends!”

Monday, January 2, 2017

Wonder Woman (2011) Unaired Pilot – Review

In the thirty years since Lynda Carter retired her red, white and blue Wonder Woman costume the heroic Amazon was back to just appearing in her long running comic book or in the occasional animated cartoon, but in 2011 NBC decided to take their shot at bringing DC’s most well-known female superhero back into the world of live action. The idea of a Wonder Woman movie or new series had become almost an annual thing (Does anyone remember the Megan Fox as Wonder Woman rumor?) but where Batman and Superman churned out multiple versions on both the big and small screen over the last few decades no one had been able to get a Wonder Woman project off the ground. This version, created by television wunderkind David E. Kelley, was to be a reinvention of the iconic DC Comic character where she would now be a successful corporate executive as well as a vigilante crime fighter. Then after test screenings of the unfinished pilot were met with a large degree of negative feedback NBC shelved the entire project. Today we will take a look at what exactly went wrong with this “new” take on Wonder Woman.

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The pilot opens with a Willis Parks (B.J. Britt), a young African American from the inner-city who just learned he'd been accepted into a college, who then has his scholastic dreams put on hold when he then proceeds to bleed from his eyes and ears.  This completely ruins his family’s celebratory mood and it’s this kid’s illness and eventual death that spurs Wonder Woman into action. Later we learn that this was all caused by an illegal super-steroid created by evil businesswoman Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley), and sure this teen’s death is tragic but why was he taking a performance-enhancing drug? Was it through a sports scholarship that he got accepted into college? If so young Willis isn’t all that innocent, and if he didn't purposely take the steriod then we are to believe Veronica Cale was slipping this experimental drug into the lunches of random teenagers? Regardless this kid did not deserve to die and Veronica Cale must be stopped. And who can stop this evil head of a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company? Why that would be Diana Themyscira (Adrianne Palicki) of course, the heroic head of a multi-million dollar merchandizing company. Turns out that this version of Wonder Woman has three identities; first there is Diana Themyscira powerful head of Themyscira Industries, then we have her costumed Wonder Woman persona whose crime fighting is funded by the merchandise sold by her company, and finally there is Diana Prince who lives alone with her cat. Basically this is like if everyone new that millionaire Bruce Wayne was Batman but he also had a third and "secret identity" so that he could chill and watch episodes of The Bachelor.

Note: One of Diana's biggest peeves is about her being objectified by the over endowed breasts of her action figure, "I never agreed to merchandize my tits!"

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I wonder if she is mad that both Batman and Superman’s toys drastically outsell hers.

Secret identities and superheroes go together like macaroni and cheese, but having three identities is a bit odd (Moon Knight is one of the rare superheroes to operate multiple identities and it eventually drove him crazy), but in the case of this version of Wonder Woman it is incredibly stupid. There are three key reasons for a secret identity; first so that the people close to you won’t be target by enemies of your super alter-ego, secondly so that the authorities can’t arrest you for your blatant illegal activities as a vigilante, and third is so that you can have some semblance of a normal life when not punching super villains. Yet in this pilot it’s revealed that Diana Themyscira is publically known to be the vigilante Wonder Woman, pundits on television decry or laud her criminal antics, but apparently the Los Angeles police department is cool with a rich industrialist violating every constitutional law in the book. In Gotham City Commission Gordon can operate in secret with Batman, as he can fall back on plausible deniability, but if Bruce Wayne publicly came out as Batman he would be forced to arrest him. Yet in this show Wonder Woman not only chases down and beats up suspects she later tortures and kills them, sometimes while they are in police custody and in the very hospital room she put them in, and she is never held accountable for these actions.

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“No Mister Henchman, I expect you to die.”

Our first introduction to Wonder Woman is her chasing a super-enhanced henchmen called John O’Quinn (Joseph Gatt) through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, she uses her “Lasso of Truth” to catch him and then while pinned to the sidewalk she sticks him with a hypodermic needle to get a blood sample from him. When the authorities arrive and a police officer tells Wonder Woman to “Give him up” her response is to this request is, “If I give him to you he’ll lawyer up.” What exactly are her options here? Did she plan on just outright murdering the dude? Or does Themyscira Industries have a secret gulag for incarcerating Wonder Woman’s enemies? There is a difference between working outside the law and flagrantly breaking it. This version of Wonder Woman is more The Punisher type vigilante and not the symbol of hope and democracy that the character had stood for in the pages of the comics for generations. Later when she wants to find out where Veronica Cale’s secret lab is located she browbeats her way passed the cops guarding O’Quinn’s hospital room, she takes out her “Lasso of Truth” sets it down unused, and then proceeds to torture the information out of him by breaking his arm.

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“My lasso could have forced him to talk, but where's the fun in that?”

It’s not only while dressed as Wonder Woman that she is breaking the law but at one point Diana Themyscira holds a press conference where she tells the world that Veronica Cale is illegally manufacturing a steroidal compound that has caused the deaths of at least six teenagers, and she then points at a picture of Veronica Cale and states, “This woman is responsible, but I can’t prove it.” She ends the press conference by addressing Veronica Cale personally, “Miss Cale, trust me, if the law doesn’t get you I will.” Does she not understand what slander is? She publicly accuses a person of numerous crimes, states clearly that she has no actual proof, and then ends her speech with a veiled threat of violence. That’s slander and assault. How is she not in jail or at least spending every waking moment in court? I know the rich and powerful get away with a lot but there is a limit.

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“They can’t arrest me, I have a cool jet and an action figure line.”

Later Veronica Cale pays Diana a visit, without lawyers or the police which I found rather odd if not outright stupid, and she spends the entire meeting proclaiming her innocence. What the fuck? She doesn’t need to proclaim her innocence as Diana had just announced to the world she had no proof of Cale Pharmaceuticals criminal activities, but instead of just letting her lawyers handle things Cale felt the need to threaten Wonder Woman in person, stating that if she didn’t a back off she’d sick her Washington DC friends on her. This leads to Diana have dinner with Senator Warren (Edward Herrmann) where he informs her that, “There is some concern in Washington regarding your criminal conduct. Some questions as to why you haven’t been investigated or prosecuted.” Her quippy comeback is that the country is in such lousy shape that they should be worrying about the economy and not her “work habits.” The Senator replies, “You beat people up, you commit torture, last night you all but choked a man to death. You stabbed him with a needle to draw his blood. Even the most liberal interpretation of the Patriot Act doesn’t contemplate the things you do.”

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Does this show want me to side with the corrupt politician?

Simply put this not a version of Wonder Woman I could see anyone getting behind. If I let slide the stupidity of her triple identity I still can’t get behind the turning of Wonder Woman into a cold and callous vigilante who is okay with the murder and torture of her enemies. When Wonder Woman eventually gets the location of the secret lab she bashes her way in where she then proceeds to fight off an army of “Super-Soldiers” maiming and killing several of them, but the real kicker is when she impales a security guard with a metal pipe.

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Noooo, he only had two more years to retirement!

Note: Her police contact had told her not to enter the facility because they couldn’t get a warrant, but then he also told her that once she breaks in it will be a crime scene and then the police will be allowed to enter.  Is that how the law works?

After heroically murdering her way through Veronica Cale’s minions she comes face to face with the evil CEO herself, and Cale calmly states, “You have invaded my place of business with no warrant. You have injured my employees, some of them catastrophically, others you have killed, and I have all of it on various cameras. You are about to meet your equal Wonder Woman…the American Criminal Justice System.” And how does Wonder Woman respond to a woman who is basically stating the facts? She rolls her eyes in disdain,  lashes out with her lasso, drags Veronica towards her by the neck, picks her up and slams her against the wall and then asks, “Want to feel my lesson?

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This is heroic?

Wonder Woman returns to Themyscira Industries where she is greeted by applauding crowds, well applauding employees to be more accurate (If they didn't applaud would they be fired?), we learn that Veronica Cale has been arrested, which is apparently a good thing even though her lawyers will have her free in a couple of hours, and so the day is saved. *sigh* There is so much wrong with this show it’s hard to believe it got passed the script stage. Her costume looks like it was designed for a cosplaying prostitute, her entourage of lackeys are a gaggle of bickering idiots lead by Henry Johns (Cary Elwes) as the man who runs the company while she is out torturing people, and then we have Steve Trevor (Justin Bruening) who first shows up in flashback form as the man Diana left behind so that she could pursue her one woman war on crime, and to say these two lack any screen chemistry is an understatement to end all understatements.

Note: She broke it off with Trevor because her crime fighting would endanger those she is close to.  Of course if she is known publicly as both Diana Themyscira and Wonder Woman wouldn’t any friends or employees of hers be a target? So either she’s not very bright or that was the best excuse she could come up with to dump Trevor.

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"If you want you could tie my up for old time sake."

To throw the moral compass of this show further out of whack the episode concludes with Trevor showing up as a Justice Department representative, the one sent by the corrupt Senator Warren to investigate Diana, but despite being married Trevor still has a thing for Diana so he immediately finds Diana "innocent" without bothering to investigate. In conclusion Wonder Woman openly commits multiple crimes, flagrantly flaunts authority to get what she wants, and is never held accountable for any of this because her ex-boyfriend now works for the Justice Department and can help cover them up…somehow.

Wait, there’s more...

We get an epilogue of her in her Diana Prince persona settling down in her little apartment with her cat Sylvester, and over sad music she creates a Facebook account where she registers herself as single and her cat as her only friend. I’m not sure if this implies that her cat already had a Facebook account but regardless this is a pathetic way to end a show. If this is supposed to humanize her character it fails miserably as all we’ve seen is that she has an almost complete disdain for the law and the people around her, and her living alone with a cat does not change this one bit. If anything it hardens the idea that she is quite possibly nuts, and if the show had been picked up by NBC I would have expected it to eventually reveal that the Diana Themyscira and Wonder Woman personas were all part of the delusional mind of Diana Prince, and the cat was telling her who to kill.

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“Sylvester, why does Jodi Foster wants us to kill The President?"