Look, I'm not one of the sorts of Star Trek fans who felt betrayed or insulted by 2009's Star Trek taking the focus into a new timeline. Nor am I terribly convinced by arguments that boil down to "it has too much action to be a proper Star Trek story". And truthfully, I have very few problems with Star Trek Into Darkness as a whole - but the problems I do have a pretty central to the film.
They're also pretty spoilery, so if you haven't seen it yet you probably want to take care of that before venturing below the cut.
It's rather hard to believe, but today is the tenth anniversary of the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, based on the Alan Moore comic of the same name. I never got a chance to see it in the theater, unfortunately (though I really wanted to), but once I acquired a DVD copy it quickly became one of my favorite movies, right up there with the Back to the Future and Indiana Jones films.
Sadly, the world in general does not appear to share my enthusiasm. I tend to attribute this to rampant Alan Moore fandom - he famously doesn't get on well with adaptations of his work, and LXG admittedly took rather a few more liberties than an adaptation can typically support.
But in this case, however, I think the changes work quite well. Certainly they don't distract from making the movie enjoyable to watch, in itself, and one of the chief delights of cameo- and reference-spotting remain intact.
Indeed, I credit The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen with helping to form my current interest in crossovers and shared universes, most notably the Wold Newton Universe (to which the League is tangentially related).
Anyway. I've always enjoyed the movie, and was quite disappointed a few years later when LXG2: War of the Worlds failed to materialize. Almost unbelievably, it seems that the concept might still have a chance - there are some early reports that Fox is developing the League as a television show. Details at this time are sketchy - not even to determine whether this is a reboot or a continuation of the film continuity - but I'm hopeful that whatever comes from he project will be at least as enjoyable as the movie is to me.
So yes, this is old news, but The Avengers is amazing. It takes everything that was good about the previous half-dozen Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and concentrates it down into two-and-a-half hours of what may be the best superhero movie to date.
If I had to pick one word to sum up the film, I think I would choose balanced. There are several ways that this is relevant - in terms of spectacle vs. plot, for example, the movie manages to excel at the former without it being (as is too often the case) at the expense of the latter. Also applicable is the way the film balanced the hitherto unprecedented - so far as I'm aware - team-up of heroes who previously carried four individual franchises, a feat made even more extraordinary by its success. Each one got some time in the spotlight, simultaneously continuing their stories from previous outings and emerging ready to slip back into solo-dom with minimal disruption.
Iron Man, having had around 100% more prior movie time than almost any of his team-mates, seemed to me to be the most static in terms of development, though his introduction would certainly seem to indicate his relationship with Pepper has developed from what I remember. There was also that nifty armor upgrade, which makes a nice midpoint between the backpack-armor we saw in Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3's rumored nano-tech-armor. Finally, he did have a bit of a character arc in his response to Captain America's remarks about sacrifice, and I really liked the way he insisted on interacting with Dr. Banner as a fellow scientist rather than a potential Hulk.
Then again, Hulkbuster!
Speaking of the Hulk, in some ways he had the most to overcome, with his multiple actors and somewhat uneven prior films. In a lot of ways, however, he was the breakout star of the film - certainly he was responsible for many of the film's most popular moments (such as the punching the first giant robot dragon-fish, and of course his "Puny god" line). Would these moments be enough to carry a solo film? I'm sure we'll find out eventually, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to Hulk and/or Dr. Banner making cameos in his team-mates' movies. I'd like to think, giving him going off with Tony at the end of Avengers, that Iron Man III is the most likely candidate for this, but given the trailers and early reactions to III so far I'm not holding my breath.
Other solo sequels are sounding equally good. Despite the fact that Thor was not really my favorite of the "Phase One" Marvel films, I'm very excited about the direction that the sequel is taking. Of course, part of this is because I somewhat jokingly predicted this back when the first film came out, but hey - Space Elves are cool anytime. Thor's appearance in The Avengers itself was not quite that exciting, unfortunately - his biggest roles, it seemed, were facilitating hero-on-hero brawls and contributing secondary characters, namely Loki and Dr. Selvig. Not that either of those is unimportant, but they just didn't have quite the same focus as some of the other members. It didn't help that Thor was the one who delivered what I thought was the worst line in the movie - though funny, "He's adopted" was a rather out-of-character statement, in more ways than one.
Rounding out the "Big Four" of the team is Captain America whom, more than the others, ended his last solo film on a bit of a cliffhanger. He didn't get a whole lot of a chance to catch his breath and adjust to the 21st century, either, though there are a few signs that such an adjustment is taking place - note his mention of feeling at home on the Helicarrier. More than adjusting to the times, though, we saw Cap adjusting to being part of a different team than he was used to. This will be important later, as 2014's scheduled film Captain America: The Winter Soldier sounds like it will feature not only the titular Solider (no spoilers, but that title's a giveaway for something we all knew would happen), but also Black Widow and a new hero, the Falcon. How exactly this will shake out remains to be seen, but it can't be harder than Cap learning to work with Tony and Thor (the latter of whom, incidentally, prompted Cap to utter my absolute favorite line in the whole film: "There's only one God, Ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that").
For all the appropriateness of Black Widow appearing in Winter Solider, it does seem a shame that it probably means she won't be getting her own movie. Both she and Hawkeye, in fact, managed the jump from "secondary character" to "ensemble lead" quite well, especially considering the latter's post-production introduction into Thor. Spending half the film mind-controlled was perhaps a bit of a heavy-handed way to generate audience sympathy for a relative unknown, but revealing and drawing on a shared past with Natasha made his integration surprisingly easy. And of course the Widow herself had a great second appearance, being an effective Avenger even with a slightly out-of-genre skillset.
Finally, Agent Coulson. From the moment that Joss Whedon was revealed as the film's director, speculation ran rampant that Phil "First Name Is Agent" Coulson wouldn't make it through the film. It was such an obvious ploy that when it actually happened, I was actually a little surprised. That didn't make it any less meaningful, of course, either to the audience or the other characters - it helped that Phil had some great character-building scenes before getting killed, especially the ones opposite Captain America.
Happily, in true comic-book fashion it appears that the Son of Coul has cheated death (exact method unknown, though I lean towards the "Nick Fury exaggerated the extent of his injuries to give the team something to Avenge" theory) and will be taking the lead in a Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D:
Not quite the SHIELD movie I was hoping for, but it has promise. I'm especially intrigued by the idea of the apparently anti-SHIELD organization The Rising Tide. Other details are sketchy at the moment but I'm definitely willing to give this show a try.
In a way, The Avengers was really a transition point not only in the development of the MCU, but the superhero-film industry generally. The effects of showing that such an elaborate project could not only work, but work well, remain to be seen - but in the meanwhile, bring on Phase II!
EDIT: Typically, just a few hours after I posted this another, much longer promo for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D went up. My interest is not reduced:
Being a former gun-shop owner and CCL instructor, the author of the Monster Hunter International series knows what he's talking about when it comes to the laws and the realities surrounding firearm ownership here in the U.S. Luckily for us, he hasn't lost his teaching skills by switching to writing best-selling novels, as he demonstrated a few nights ago:
That "best, most definitive and thorough article" is found on Larry's blog, under the title "An opinion on gun control", and is well worth your time if you're interested in hearing more about the topics touched on in the TV segment.
Back in April, I mentioned that I would be seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when it came out, no matter how it turned out. Well, the film has been out for a few weeks now, and I've gotten the chance to see it and form my opinion as to whether it was worth the effort.
About a month ago, news broke that the latest novel in the Dresden Files series, Cold Days, will be released on November 27th. Also revealed were the cover design and descriptive blurb:
HARRY DRESDEN LIVES!!!
After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.
He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.
Guess which Mab wants first?
Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.
Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own . . .
Well, that sounds cool1. Lots of questions are raised by this, such as who the immortal Harry's supposed to kill is, and whether they're someone, or even a type of someone, we've met before. And it's very interesting that the blurb is already talking about Harry getting out of being the Winter Knight - I would have expected that arc to stick around for another few books, or maybe even until the end of the series.
That cover art is pretty interesting, too - now, in the past the cover art has never tracked too closely to the plot of the novel (it's never been inaccurate, save for that hat, mind you, but trying to divine plot details from the art has usually2 proven futile), but for this one we have a fairly major shift in that Harry's carrying a rifle instead of his staff. So that could indicate that Harry's going to be switching up and/or expanding his tactical repertoire, especially if this immortal person is someone he can't get out of killing.
Anyway, I'm quite excited about this news - hopefully the preview chapters will be up sooner rather than later (rumor is the first to are in the paperback of Ghost Story - I'll have to see if I can scrounge one of those up).
In the meantime, I've been thinking for a while of giving the whole series a re-read, and this seems like the proverbial opportune moment. Hopefully it'll also make for some good blogging!
"The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama." - J. R. R. Tolkien, letter1 to Milton Waldman circa 1951.
Via Propnomicon comes news of an absolutely stunning Tolkien-related art project out of Germany. Benjamin Harff, as student at the Rhein-Sieg-Akademie for Realistic Visual Arts and Design, created for a class final one of the most beautiful copies of The Silmarillion I've ever seen:
In this interview, Harff gives some details about the creation process - it took him about a year to complete, first doing all the calligraphy by hand, then digitally combining it with the full Silmarillion text and creating the leather cover (which was professionally hand-bound) of what he calls the "Edel-Silmarallion". I hope Harff's professor was as impressed as I am!