Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Son of Batman



He's a real son of a bat, that Damian Wayne. Based upon Grant Morrison's 2006 story "Batman and Son," Son of Batman introduces Bruce Wayne's dangerous little bastard into the DC Animated Universe. Damian, a name perhaps too on the nose, is the child of Bruce Wayne (voiced by Jason O'Mara) and his estranged beloved, the voluptuous international terrorist Talia al Ghul (voiced by Morena Baccarin). The details are of their union are sketchy, but Bruce Wayne and Talia did the nasty-in-the-past-y (after Talia spiked Bruce's drink), and the product of her dark night with the Dark Knight is a son. Ten years old when Son of Batman begins, Damian (voiced by Stuart Allen) is a violent and deadly boy assassin trained to be the heir to his grandfather Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins. 

Damian is a young boy who is intended to inherit a global network of ninja murderers based out of Himalayan monasteries. But when the League is attacked by Slade Wilson - Deathstroke - and Ra's is killed (Talia is so sure he's dead, she nonsensically doesn't even try to dump her father's body in the adjacent Lazarus Pit to see what happens), Talia brings Damian to Gotham City so he can get to know his other inheritance: the high tech, crime fighting legacy of the Batman. How lucky can one little rich kid get? Actually, Damian is less enthused with the Wayne side of his family. His father only has one servant! Alfred, whom Damian dismissively orders around as "Pennyworth," is equally unimpressed with the young new master of Wayne Manor. The most laughs in Son of Batman are gleaned from Alfred's weary interactions with Damian. Also funny is Damian's evaluation of Dick Grayson and his original Robin costume ("a little effeminate"). Damian thinks the same of Grayson himself. Sharp kid.

Damian loved and admired his grandfather, but Batman calls Ra's (pronounced here as "Raysch" al Ghul and voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) a madman. They're both right. Seeking to avenge his grandfather's murder, Damian and his reluctant father are drawn into a ridiculous plot by R'as involving the creation of an "unstoppable" army of flying man-bat ninjas that "no army would withstand." Uh huh. We do have nuclear weapons, but flying mutated bat ninjas, sure. Deathstroke appropriated this plot as his own when he killed R'as. Son of Batman hardly does Deathstroke justice. Instead of the superpowered international mercenary and master tactician Slade Wilson is in the comics, Son of Batman re-imagines Deathstroke (voiced by Thomas Gibson) as the jealous former heir to the League, cast aside by Ra's when Talia met Bruce Wayne and sired a son. Deathstroke seems to be jealous of both Batman and Damian for subsequently taking his spot in the League. In Son of Batman, Deathstroke gets his ass handed to him by a ten year old boy. In fact, it's Damian who takes his right eye by sticking it with the pointy end of his sword.

From Batman ripping off Killer Croc's prehensile tail to Damian - now the new Robin the Boy Wonder - interrupting Deathstroke's henchman Ubu's night with some of Gotham's finest prostitutes with murderous intentions, Son of Batman doesn't skimp on the crazy. The limitations of animation means Son of Batman doesn't delve too deeply into the various emotional complexities of what it truly means for Bruce Wayne to suddenly have a son or for Damian to meet his father. Son of Batman is a brisk 74 minutes and is primarily concerned with the absurd man-bat (men-bat?) plot and acts of bloody vengeance with swords. If you crave ultra-violence and questionable dialogue in a story about a ten year old kid who learns his father is Batman, Son of Batman will slake your thirst.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Note About TV Recaps

I've gotten a few inquiries about why there haven't been recaps of recent episodes of Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Back of the Head. First, thank you for noticing. Second, I might as well make the announcement:

I've decided to end writing recaps of television series for the foreseeable future. Never say never, but right now, they are kaput. A few factors weighed in on my decision. First is time. Basically, I find as I grow increasingly busy, I'm finding less and less time to keep up with watching my shows on a weekly, timely manner, much less write detailed, comedic (is always the goal) recaps about each episode. Frankly, I've felt like I haven't been doing my best work for the last few weeks. Also, the recent shut down of Television Without Pity because of a reduction of traffic was a sign of where the Internet is headed when it comes to full-length recaps of television. I too have seen a reduction of site traffic when it comes to recaps; fewer and fewer people seem interested in reading full length recaps.

As site traffic gradually drops, the imminent arrival of a brand new slew of superhero and comic book related television shows was also looming. If I felt I was stretched thin by S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, and Game of Thrones, there is also Gotham, The Flash, Constantine, and the upcoming Marvel Netflix shows soon. Was I going to recap them all? For free? Drop some and pick up others? Which ones? The answer I arrived at was: No, none of them, none of that. It was the only sane answer.

There's also Twitter; it's a lot of fun to watch TV shows as they air live and live Tweet along with the cast and writers. Bantering with and getting RTs and Favorites from Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet and Ming Na of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti, and Melissa Fumero of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and the writers of Arrow is incredibly satisfying.

None of this means a complete absence of television show coverage. I expect I'll always have things to say, discuss, analyze, and joke about regarding all of those and other television shows. I continue to have this forum to do just that in a longer length than 140 characters.

What will likely happen now is a move towards themed essays about shows as I decide I have things I'd like to discuss at length. For instance, I've been kicking around a piece about the redemption of Laurel Lance's character on Arrow for a little while. And as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues its remarkable turnaround* into a can't miss, kick-ass show in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I expect I'll have much to muse over by the time S.H.I.E.L.D. reaches its finale.

So, less TV on Back of the Head from here on out, but with any luck, less will mean more.

Thanks for reading, as always.


* I picked a hell of a time to quit writing about S.H.I.E.L.D. And Arrow. Both shows have never been better.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier



"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish
and the tyranny of evil men..." - Ezekiel 25:17
(Epitaph of Nicholas J. Fury)

At the conclusion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has engaged in a brutal battle with the Winter Soldier, revealed to be his long lost best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Grievously injured but refusing to fight Bucky any further, Rogers tosses away his shield, just as the three S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers he helped disable crash into the Potomac and destroy the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fortress headquarters. It's a metaphor writ large: Both Captain America and the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe have lost their shield. Though ultimately victorious, they've never been more defenseless, more vulnerable. Where do they go from here? The game has changed.

The heroic and magnificent Captain America: The Winter Soldier is indeed the game-changer for Marvel Studios. If their 2012 mega-blockbuster The Avengers was the "best comic book movie ever made," The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, sets its ambition even higher. Transcending its superhero genre, The Winter Soldier is simply one of the finest action-thrillers made in a decade, earning a place in a lofty pantheon alongside Die Hard, Terminator 2, Lethal Weapon, and the Bourne trilogy. It's a breathtaking conspiracy-espionage-action yarn with the highest stakes and global ramifications, as Captain America, Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) literally have their world and their belief systems torn asunder.

Two years after the events in The Avengers, Steve Rogers has transitioned as well as he can into his new life in the 21st century. (He amusingly keeps a To Do list in his pocket of things to "catch up on" like Star Wars (or Trek), Nirvana, and Marvin Gaye's "Troubleman.")  A lynchpin operative of S.H.I.E.L.D., performing black ops for Nick Fury (though ruing being "Fury's janitor"), Rogers remains a man out of time unsure of his place in the modern era. He toys with the idea of getting out, but what would the world's first and only Super Soldier do if he wasn't fighting evil? "MMA" is the suggestion of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), his fellow veteran and stalwart new friend. Indeed, in the climactic smackdown on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, Rogers resorts to mixed martial arts in his battle against the Winter Soldier, the terrifying assassin sent to kill Rogers and all his friends. 

When Nick Fury is suddenly assassinated, Rogers finds himself as a wanted man, hunted as a fugitive by S.H.I.E.L.D. on the orders of World Security Council member Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, as big a casting coup as Marvel Studios has ever had). Unsure of who to trust and why he's been targeted for death, Rogers gradually gathers his true allies, including Black Widow and Sam Wilson, who possesses a winged flying suit that makes him the Falcon. They go on the lam to investigate the assassination of Nick Fury by the mysterious superpowered operative known as the Winter Soldier. This leads Rogers and Natasha to delve into the darkest secrets of S.H.I.E.L.D., literally taking Steve Rogers back to his very beginnings with a multitude of callbacks to Captain America: The First Avenger. This includes a touching reunion with an elderly Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve's lost love from the 1940's.

The terrible truth Steve and Natasha learn, true believers: Hydra, Nazi Germany's secret science division, has been part of S.H.I.E.L.D. since its inception, "a parasite" growing inside of S.H.I.E.L.D., manipulating world events to create chaos and disorder. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), Hydra's top scientist, has become an artificial intelligence and created an algorithm to murder twenty million potential threats to Hydra's new world order. And Hydra's leader is none other than Alexander Pierce. (Redford's dying words when his plan is ultimately foiled are "Hail Hydra," a rather stunning piece of dialogue uttered by Redford. Why, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President's Men should be re-edited so that Redford bellows "Hail Hydra!" in those as well.)

Luckily, Nick Fury, with the help of Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), is alive and well. As Fury is wont to do, he has a plan to strike back at Hydra and "salvage" S.H.I.E.L.D. To Fury's chagrin, Captain America chooses to go further: He's going to take S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra down completely, with all that entails, and with all the ramifications inherent. Just as vital to Steve Rogers is saving his friend Bucky from the fate he's endured for 70 years as Hydra's "fist," their ghostly killer whom they cryogenically freeze and mind wipe after each mission, a fate perhaps worse than death.

What it all boils down to in The Winter Soldier are several sequences of stupendous action. From penetrating a S.H.I.E.L.D. freighter occupied by dozens of armed terrorists, a mano e mano slugfest with Batroc the Leaper (a classic comic book Captain America villain), to brutal battles against Hydra soldiers, including Crossbones (Frank Grillo), and the Winter Soldier himself, Captain America has never been more astonishingly bad ass. The fights are stunningly violent, and we truly understand just what makes Captain America the greatest warrior in the Marvel Universe. Proof positive: seeing Cap take down a S.H.I.E.L.D. fighter jet all by his lonesome.

As take no prisoners and unrelenting as Captain America is in smashing faces with his indestructible shield, he doesn't hog all of the action. The Black Widow is right there with him, zapping thugs with her electrical toys, and bludgeoning their faces with crowbars. In the air, the Falcon soars, taking out Hydra fighters left and right. Even Fury and Hill don't hesitate to pop caps in bad guys' asses. Redford's just as cruel, shooting his own housekeeper who walked in on him having a glass of milk with the Winter Soldier at his kitchen table. But all of the heroes are left with scars both psychological and physical. Captain America takes multiple bullets to the gut and nearly dies, until saved by a repentant Bucky.

Perhaps even more satisfying is the deft character work in The Winter Soldier. The quiet moments of conversation between the characters are some of the film's brightest spots, from the running gag of Natasha trying to get Steve to date one of available women in S.H.I.E.L.D. -- an obvious choice is the fetching Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), Steve's next door neighbor posing as a nurse on Fury's orders -- to the other running gag (literally) of how Rogers can run circles around Sam Wilson. When the scope of Hydra's perversion of S.H.I.E.L.D. is revealed, it rocks Fury, Hill and Natasha's entire worldview and reasons for being.

In his third and finest outing as Captain America, Chris Evans truly embodies Steve Rogers' virtue and likability, emerging as a modern action hero audiences can believe in, a man willing to do not just what's necessary, but what's right. Sam Jackson gets more screen time than ever and makes the most of exploring the shades of complexity in Nick Fury. Sebastian Stan creates necessary pathos as well as fearsomeness as the Winter Soldier, the long suffering Bucky Barnes. But not nearly enough praise is given to Scarlett Johansson; for her third outing as Black Widow, Johansson brings it from both a physical and an acting standpoint, the embodiment of the uncertainly of being a spy in the Marvel Universe. Natasha, normally unflappable and "only pretending to know everything," suddenly realizes all the lies she's been telling for years have been Hydra's and ventures to become something more. What a hire Johansson turned out to be for Marvel.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a total success, balancing timely questions about the state of our world and how much freedom we are willing to sacrifice in the name of security with themes of friendship and loyalty, all braced by state of the art spectacle and Marvelous superheroics. For Marvel Studios, it's a raising of the bar; not just a home run of the highest caliber of blockbuster filmmaking but a bold game-changer, a statement that they're playing a different and better game than everyone else. In a similar way to how Christopher Nolan pushed Batman beyond the comic book movie genre into something Oscar-caliber in The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier emerges as Marvel's new statement of the quality of films they are now capable of making, while still actively expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe with mentions of "Stephen Strange" and teases of the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver in next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Winter Soldier, with its prominent role for S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hern├índez), also upends the status quo of television's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with potentially exciting results. Things are changing in the Marvel Universe, and it's only fitting Captain America leads the way. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014




God said to Noah, there's gonna be a floody floody

As the torrent of rain floods the world in the third act of Darren Aronofsky's Noah, Noah himself sits with his family in their massive wooden ark and regales them with the First Story, the Creation: how God created the Heavens and the Earth, and all life in seven days, and the tale of Adam and Eve and the Original Sin that lead to banishment from Eden and all the misery Man inflicted on himself and the world that follows. What's remarkable about Noah are the visuals accompanying Noah's narration: From a Big Bang, God (addressed exclusively as "The Creator" in Noah) started creating life from single celled organisms, rapidly evolving them into every creature that swims in the seas, soars through the skies, or walks on two legs or more on the land. One would think we were actually watching an episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's as powerful signal as any that this isn't your (devout evangelical) father's story of Noah. Well, that and the rock monsters that used to be angels.

Noah is an aggressive, bombastic, yet delicately even-handed attempt to tell the story of the Great Flood of the Bible. An epic that's part Old Testament and part Lord of the Rings, Noah literally starts at The Beginning, detailing how Noah (Russell Crowe) was descended from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. After Cain murdered Abel, Cain and his descendants established a corrupt, vainglorious, greedy population of mankind who "ruined" the world. Seth's descendants were not so prolific or destructive, with their single unbroken line of progeny that counts Methuselah (a decrepit-looking but cunning Anthony Hopkins) as Noah's grandfather. Wandering the Earth with his family, including wife Jennifer Connelly, their three sons including Logan Lerman from the Percy Jackson movies, and Harry Potter's Emma Watson, a dying girl they adopted who is "barren" from injuries she suffered as a child, the purpose of Noah's life becomes clear when The Creator sends him dreams of a great Flood. 

"He's going to destroy the world," Noah realizes. Not if Ray Winstone, as Tubal-Cain, the descendant of the original Cain, has anything to say about it. (He doesn't, as far as The Creator cares.) Winstone is the vile leader of men, who eats meat ("because they think it gives them strength," says Noah the vegetarian) and threatens to take the ark Noah built. Aronofsky tackles the logical issues of how Noah could have built a vessel the size of a city block by inventing a forest bloomed for him by The Creator from a seed from Eden, the original garden. This provides more than enough wood for the Watchers, the misshapen rock monsters who are fallen angels condemned by The Creator and betrayed by Man, to do the dirty work of actually constructing the ark. (If this were a Transformers movie, the Watchers would be Rockticons.) Later, the Watchers form a chain to defend the ark from Tubal-Cain's invaders, swatting hordes of men away and earning ascension back into Heaven as beings of light. As for the animals, two of every creature that will repopulate the Earth, The Creator sends them in CGI waves, hordes of snakes, birds, and massive predators magically assembling on the ark, very politely waiting to be placed to sleep by Noah's magic incense.

As Noah, Crowe segues from wise, determined savior to God's right hand madman, ready and willing to stab a baby in the eye. His sons were promised wives, but when Noah takes a field trip and sees the debased Wolf of Wall Street-like party Tubal-Cain's people were having in their makeshift city, he is consumed by fear of the corruption of all men, including himself, and determines that The Creator wants all men to die, including himself and his family. Noah's family took that news as well as you'd expect, but there's no time to argue as the Flood waters rise and Man is washed away (gruesomely, with much wailing and suffering) by Old Testament God's no-negotiations, take no prisoners wrath. 

When Connelly asked Hopkins to use his magic Methuselah powers to allow Watson to bear children, he acquiesces and Watson immediately jumps Noah's oldest son's bones. Soon she is with child, and Noah completely loses his shit at his family's direct violation of what he believes The Creator wants. Shame on Noah's family for wanting to live. Soon, Noah turns into a demented Biblical version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, stalking around the Ark with crazy eyes plotting to "strike down" Watson's infant upon birth if it's a girl. (If it's a boy, he gets to live until old age and be the last man to die.) 

Yet in the apparent year or more they were living in the ark, Noah never once noticed Tubal-Cain had managed to stow away on the ark. There Tubal-Cain was, lurking in the dark corners, thoughtlessly eating the sleeping animals (thereby decimating an untold number of the animal population -- Noah never noticed?), like Homer Simpson would. Tubal-Cain also whispered sweet nothings of revenge in Lerman's ear because Noah let his girlfriend get trampled by the invading hordes instead of save her. In some ways, Tubal-Cain was making some sense: Noah was a complete lunatic, hellbent on doing what he thinks The Creator wants from him. But when Noah and Tubal-Cain came to blows, Lerman did the right thing and chose family over the scumbag who symbolizes why there was a Flood that wiped out Mankind in the first place. Still, when Noah finds out Watson birthed twin girls, he was right there, knife in hand, ready to shiv some babies. But he couldn't shiv. He chose love. Which is heartwarming, although he spent a year putting the fear of God in his family, so...

And so it goes the ark found land, the waters receded, and Noah's family set off to start anew and repopulate the Earth. How, exactly, is the question? Let's look at who's left in the world: Lerman leaves to wander off by himself, presumably to live and die alone in the East, having never known a woman's touch. Noah and Jennifer Connelly die of old age. Watson has the oldest son, and there are the twin girls. Who are they to mate with? Noah's youngest son. Their uncle is going to get busy, one supposes. But then, the same questions can be asked of who exactly the original Cain and Seth mated with to begin with? The story has some holes, is the point. The most amusing part of Noah was after the Flood was over and Noah turned into a Biblical Nick Nolte; separated from his family, living in a cave, getting drunk on berry wine, and passing out naked on the beach. We see that Noah is fat. How does a prehistoric vegetarian who was living in a floating wooden box for a year get so chunky? These are questions that will be pondered and debated until the end of time.

Someone MIA from Noah: the Devil. The snake that tempted Eve appears in dream sequences and flashbacks, but where was Satan during the Flood? He must have sat this one out. Frankly, with all the crazy shit going on between Noah, Tubal-Cain, and God Himself, the Devil must have felt redundant.

Friday, March 21, 2014




In Divergent, a sixteen year old girl just wanted to learn parkour and ended up in the middle of a civil war. A hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, Chicago is a walled city of relic skyscrapers criss crossed by ziplines on the banks of a dried up Lake Michigan. No one knows much about the world beyond the wall, but within, Chicago's society voluntarily divided themselves into a series of rigid factions. Let's see: there's Dauntless, the black leather-clad parkour fanatics who protect the city. Erudite, the business suit-wearing smarty pants. Candor, who talk too much. Amity, where there's a great white shark that eats tourists. And Abnegation, the drab Salvation Army hand-me-down-wearing do gooders who run the government but are afraid of mirrors.

Shailene Woodley plays Tris, born into Abnegation. She doesn't feel good about doing endless do goodery and knows from the 2.1 seconds she's allowed to look in a mirror every day that she's a lot better looking than her faction allows her to be. Woodley admires Dauntless for their cool black outfits and their irrational capacity to climb up buildings and leap off of trains. All teenagers in Divergent Chicago must take a test where they get jabbed with a needle in the neck and hallucinate. This will reveal which faction they are destined for. But they can also choose a different faction if they want. It's kind of confusing, and confused is what Woodley is, especially when the lady who administers her test, Maggie Q, freaks out about her "inconclusive" results. You see, and it takes Woodley a while to realize this, Woodley is Divergent - meaning she has a lot going on upstairs and could belong to more than one faction. This makes her a threat to society, mostly because she's not great at doing what she's told.

In a Harry Potter-like sorting ceremony where instead of a talking hat, the kids cut their hands on the same knife (unhygienic) and bleed into white bowls, Woodley rejects her crappy faction and chooses Dauntless, to the chagrin of her loving parents Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn (Fitz from Scandal, who looks like he's just as dismayed at being married to Ashley Judd and would rather live in Vermont with Olivia Pope.) After being welcomed into Dauntless, Woodley is immediately jumping off a train and learns she runs like a girl. But she's brave enough to jump into what looks like a bottomless chasm first, and that's what's important to the parkour devotees. Woodley is glad to shed her grey Abnegation rags for cool Dauntless black leather and she makes friends, including Zoe Kravitz. Oddly, there are three guys in her class of initiates who look alike, one of whom is Miles Teller, her love interest co-star in The Spectacular Now, but here Woodley and Teller hate each other. 

Dauntless live in a rock quarry and hold fight clubs day and night. Woodley is hazed by Dauntless' sadistic leader Jai Courtney. To be hazed in Dauntless means becoming target practice for knife throwing and occasionally being the victim of attempted murder. Also, Woodley quickly learns she's lousy at fight club. She learns this by repeatedly getting punched in the face and ending up in the hospital, but she's never so injured that her good looks are threatened. There is no quit in Woodley, though, which impresses Theo James, her handsome Ken doll Dauntless instructor. They have the requisite hots for each other, and there's no prize for guessing that he is also Divergent. Takes one to know one, I suppose. James has tattoos of all of the factions on his back because he "doesn't want to be just one thing." He wants to be brave, selfless, smart, etc. By the way he plants one on Woodley, we know he's also horny.

Woodley becomes mired in the dirty politics of her city, which center around who gets to call the shots in Divergent Chicago. The leader of Erudite is Kate Winslet, sporting her American accent. Winslet believes strongly that Erudite should run Chicago, and of course they should, because they wear business suits. Winslet plots to overthrow Abnegation and she also wants to kill all the Divergents because Divergents be trouble, yo. Winslet's plan is deviously clever: as soon as Dauntless finalized their freshman class of initiates, she uses mind control to turn all the Dauntless into killbots and sics them on the Abnegation shanty town. The third act of Divergent is a rather shocking bloodbath. Within ten minutes, Woodley is orphaned. She watches her mother Judd get murdered as they attempt to flee and has an emotional breakdown. Not long after, her father gets gunned down, but Woodley barely shrugs. Then again, she's got a war to win, and win it she does.

As the centerpiece of Divergent, Woodley is very charming, with a winning natural charisma about her. When Woodley proudly snarls "I'm Divergent!" at Winslet right before she jabs her in the neck with mind control serum, she's super cute. She may be Divergent and can throw a mean knife, but even by the end, Woodley is no Ronda Rousey in the hand to hand combat department. Woodley loses three straight fights, including one to a mind controlled James, but her pleas of "I love you!" snaps him right out from beating her to death. There's a fun running gag where whenever Woodley points a gun at someone, no one ever believes she'll shoot. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" Woodley pouts before opening fire. Probably the best moment in Divergent is when Woodley is strapped to a zipline and thrillingly soars across the Chicago skyline. Ziplining totally beats parkour, unless you crash headfirst into a wall. Thankfully, Woodley did not smash her pretty face into a wall and will return in the sequel, the next movie titled after a word many will need to look up in a dictionary: Insurgent.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Arrow 2x16 - "Suicide Squad"

One day, while guarding Felicity's body from the potential threat of Slade Wilson snapping her neck, John Diggle receives a booty call from his ex-wife/current girlfriend Lyla. Next thing he knows, Diggle is plunged into an international incident of murder and deceit alongside some of DC Comics and Arrow's shadiest super criminals. Diggle becomes a member of the Suicide Squad. The Suicide Squad is a hell of an idea: force incarcerated super villains to do black ops for the government. If they die in the process, cool. If they attempt to escape, cool -- an implant in their head detonates and kills them. If they succeed, that's good too. For the Squad's overseer and A.R.G.U.S. bigwig Amanda Waller, DC Comics' premiere super spy and super bitch, it's a win-win-win concept. Well, until Diggle gets involved. That Diggle, so "rigid" (according to Lyla) and determined to see the world in black and white (not a race thing). You can't take Dig anywhere.

Diggle's foray with the Suicide Squad begins, as many of James Bond's do, post-coital. Waller was nice enough to let Diggle and Lyla wrap up in the Ostrander Hotel suite (named for comic book writer John Ostrander - he must be very proud to have his name coined as a sex room. I know I would be) that all A.R.G.U.S. agents use for secret sexy time. Waller brings both Lyla and Diggle back to A.R.G.U.S. HQ to brief them on a terrible chemical agent in the hands of a terrorist named Gholem Qadir, an old acquaintance of Lyla and Diggle's. You see, six years ago while Oliver Queen was trapped on a hellish Island, Lyla and Diggle were serving in Afghanistan getting shot at while herding refugees. Diggle saved Qadir's life; Qadir later became a high value informer for the US Government and went free. Now Qadir has this chemical agent and Waller wants it, as she explains while checking off countries that exists in the DC Universe: Khandaq, Qurac, and Markovia. Qadir was actually the mysterious buyer of Malcolm Merlyn's earthquake machine a few episodes ago.

Unfortunately, being strong armed into the Suicide Squad means Diggle has to work alongside guys he and the Arrow have fought in the past: Shrapnel, Bronze Tiger, and the one that really pisses him off, Deadshot, his arch enemy and the man who killed his brother. Worse, Diggle gets the lamest codename: Freelancer (Black Driver is better). Lyla meanwhile is Harbinger, her character's classic comic book name from the Crisis. No clue why Waller is Mockingbird and not The Wall. Though he hates Deadshot and isn't all that fond of the Suicide Squad, at least Diggle doesn't have that bomb in his head rigged to explode. If there's one thing that would really piss James Bond off about the Suicide Squad, they all have the irritating habit of touching their ear when speaking on comm -- the most obvious dead giveaway that they're spies.

Once in Markovia, Diggle makes contact with Qadir all-friendly like, and is the target of a fake assassination attempt by Deadshot. For no reason whatsoever, Shrapnel panics and bolts out of the mission, and out of the series as Waller explodes the device in his head. So long Shrapnel, and thanks for joining the Arrow universe, Sean Maher. That was weird and pointless, except to show off how Waller killing a Squad member works. Later, in a gala ball in a mansion owned by Qadir, Deadshot sneaks his way into the secret sub basement and discovers the chemical agent he's supposedly able to "pocket" is actually a room full of tanks of the stuff. Waller's been lying to them! Plus she sent a drone to blow the whole mansion up.

For some reason, Diggle decides he has to save Deadshot, who's not interested in skedaddling back to the rally point. Diggle, who got to know Deadshot a little bit and knows he does merc work to provide for his young daughter named Zoe he never sees, invokes Zoe to get Deadshot to not commit suicide. In that moment, Diggle explains to Lyla, the man he hates most in the world showed more character than Amanda Waller, who's charged with guarding the world. Funny how that works. Turns out Amanda Waller runs the Homicide Squad along with the Suicide Squad. Also, Bronze Tiger was there too and killed Qadir. And the drone tried to murder the Suicide Squad until Lyla and Diggle tricked it and blew the drone up, It was really kind of a slapdash op, this whole Suicide Squad business. Waller concludes this messy affair by giving Diggle a dressing down and sending him back to the waiting arms of Oliver Queen, who may not have noticed Diggle was AWOL and went off to Eastern Europe for a few days.

Oliver's quivering in fear. He says he's not and he's full of surly, grim-faced bravado, but he is totally terrified of Slade Wilson and what Slade can do to his family and friends. Haunted by nightmares of bloody Shado in his bed calling him a murderer, Oliver irrationally starts burning bridges. He asks the Russian Bratva to find Slade, refuses to do them a favor in return, and earns their emnity. What's Russian for "he's acting like more of a jerk than usual?"Oliver shuts Sara out while he stomps around Verdant above ground and below ground. Felicity has to chide him that they are still crime fighters and sends him off to stop a burglary at Giffen Street (named for comic book writer Keith Giffen), where he's unaware Slade is stalking him in full Deathstroke armor until Oliver finds the present Slade left for him: his old Deathstroke mask with an arrow through the eye. Later, when the Bratva comes through for Oliver with Slade's address, Oliver invades Slade's lair to find the Bratva's leader dead with an arrow in the eye and a home movie of Shado playing on the wall. This freaks Oliver out.

Luckily, Laurel and Sara are there for him. The Lance sisters are getting along again and Laurel is sober, downing virgin cocktails Sara whips up from behind the bar. Laurel actually was able to talk some sense into Oliver, who scoffs at her assertion that she knows him better than anyone. Then Sara, who he tried to break up with as if Slade would suddenly not attack Sara if he hears they're no longer together, finally reaches him and gets him to admit he's afraid and doesn't know how to beat Slade. No more tough talk from Oliver. Sara and the Canary are standing by Oliver and the Arrow. But Oliver has another idea and goes to see "an old friend": lo and behold, Oliver Queen drops by A.R.G.U.S. because he personally knows (and hates) Amanda Waller. And Waller has intel to share, about a mercenary who's cut a swath of death and destruction around the world and into Starling City: a man they're calling Deathstroke!

However, the single most important takeaway from "Suicide Squad" is the prisoner in one of the cells who claims she's a trained therapist. Harley Quinn exists in the Arrow universe! And she was voiced by Tara Strong, who plays Harley in the Batman Animated Series. This way well be Arrow's best easter egg ever, puddin'.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #Uprising 2x15 - "Yes Men"

The following recap of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be decidedly pro-Lorelei. Lorelei! Isn't she wonderful? Yes, she is. Beautiful, dangerous, seductive -- did I mention incredible? Wow. I'd follow her on the Bifrost across the Nine Realms into the Dark World and back again. Or at least to that penthouse in Vegas Ward took her to. Oh, and Sif was here too. She's cool. Pretty cool. A little stiff, that Sif. A bit too rigid about being a good soldier and following orders, which is why she gets along with S.H.I.E.L.D. so well and can be taunted about never getting any quality hammer time with Thor. Sif is great, but I'm afraid she is no Lorelei. Lorelei! Where for art thou, Lorelei?

"Yes Men" brought the hottest Asgardians who aren't the blond-haired, hammer swinging Odinson to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and they all got to play nicely together. But mostly not nicely. Making the most of guest stars Jaimie Alexander from the Thor movies as Lady Sif and Elena Satine of Smallville and Magic City as Lorelei (LORELEI!), "Yes Men" put the gorgeous ladies of Asgard front and center in a smashing episode. And as Asgardians are wont to do, they left quite a bit of destruction in their wake, physically for Coulson's airplane and emotionally for Coulson's team.

Sif was surprised but pleased to find the Son of Coul alive after Thor reported his heroic death before the battle of New York two years ago. For Coulson's part, he's seen Sif in action in New Mexico and was glad to have a heavy hitter from the Marvel movies swinging her double sided sword for the good guys. Plus, it's a big bonus that she can work Fitz's holo table. Coulson wasted no time grilling her about any blue aliens she might be aware of (the Kree get the most significant shout out) but Sif assures Coulson no blue aliens have visited Earth. Coulson knows better, though, and the blood of blue aliens is foremost on his mind, as it's also coursing through his veins as well as Skye's.

According to Lady Sif, Lorelei is a terrible threat to Earth. She was imprisoned on Asgard for 600 years, with a golden collar preventing her from speaking and thus controlling the hearts and minds of men. But after the events of Thor: The Dark World, Lorelei broke free and escaped to Earth. And I for one welcome our gorgeous would-be queen. As soon as Lorelei arrived, a guy who was on his honeymoon and then a swarthy biker gang fell under her thrall. Though a newcomer to this realm, Lorelei quickly grew aware she was scraping the bottom of the barrel for lackeys, but the answer to her prayers (not that she prays) arrived in the form of Agent Ward. Ward arrived with Sif and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to apprehend Lorelei. All it took was some cooing and her sweet gentle touch for Ward to quickly turn, steal a Harley and abscond with Lorelei to a place much for fitting for a woman of Lorelei's stature: Vegas, baby! A penthouse in Caesar's Palace, no less. Probably the Mike Tyson Tiger suite in The Hangover. But the only tiger in this suite was Lorelei, who jumped Ward's bones and showed him her dark world. That Ward, luckiest guy on Midgard.

It didn't take long for Ward to come up with a plan to go on the offensive against his S.H.I.E.L.D. mates. Before Coulson, Sif, and May knew what was happening, Ward and Lorelei had taken the plane, with cheerful help from an amusingly enthralled Fitz. They tried blowing Sif out of their prison cage, but she's really good at not dying and instead hanging on to the outside of airplanes. Meanwhile, Lorelei slapped May around and taunted her that Ward is now hers and confessed that the one he secretly loves isn't the Cavalry he has sex with. Soon, with help from Simmons and by punching out Fitz (Simmons: "Poor thing. He's always getting knocked out, isn't he?") Coulson saves Sif. Sif and Lorelei can have an Asgardian lady smackdown while Ward and May tear the plane apart working out their issues. Sadly, Sif bests Lorelei in physical combat and slaps on the collar that stole Lorelei's sweet voice away. Her spell is broken and Ward and Fitz are back to normal. Though it all came at the cost of May and Ward are now done being not so secret groin buddies. But I must ask, what crime did Lorelei commit that she must be punished so severely? All she did was get some bikers and some cops to fight off S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sif for her. Sure, he broke up a marriage, but so what? That suite in Vegas? Ward paid for it. Why, it was Sif who kicked the door down and damaged Caesar's Palace private property! It's simply unfair Lorelei was taken away from us so soon.

The good news is Skye is alive and, if not well, because as Simmons points out, she was shot twice, her stomach perforated, and was only saved by a mysterious serum made from blue alien blood, she's at least acting normally. Simmons constantly takes samples of her blood but can't determine it's properties, going so far as to yell at Coulson about his stonewalling her ability to report her findings (or lack thereof) to S.H.I.E.L.D. But Coulson has his reasons ("Tahiti sucks") and it's this: He wants answers and S.H.I.E.L.D. is not the place to get them. Rather, they'll do whatever they can to stop him. Coulson needs to know just what the hell Nick Fury knows and why he went to such lengths to bring Coulson back to life, and so do we. Finally, Coulson explains everything to Skye about the blue alien blood that kept them both from meeting their maker, and Skye is pretty non-plussed about it all, simply grateful to be alive. Now, Coulson lays out the endgame for season one, that he and Skye will do whatever it takes to get to the secret of Tahiti and the blue alien -- only for This Week's Shocking Reveal to drop that May has been spying on them the whole time!

"Coulson knows," May reports. Coulson Knows is the new Coulson Lives.