Monday, February 27, 2012

Justice League: Doom (2012) Direct to Video animated movie

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: returning all-star voice cast, excellent cast chemistry, decent character development, ongoing sense of tension, nostalgic large scale superpower action

The Bad: sub-standard animation and artwork compared to other DC animated movies

Current Availability Status: Awaiting region 3 singapore release.


Ladies and Gentlemen, we are finally seeing actual story and art continuity in the DC animated movies! Yes SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE was the follow-up to SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES, but they looked so different that you would think they were unrelated. JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM feels and looks like an actual "episode 2" following "JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS". Same writer, same voices, same art style, same music, same character we used to know and love. Loved by all, except their enemies.

The enemies of the Justice League, led by the immortal Vandal Savage have formulated a clandestine plan to eliminate the superheroes. One by one, they manage to turn the heroes' strengths against themselves, prey on their physical and psychological weaknesses, and effectively put them out of commission. Even worse is the revelation that this plan was initially concocted by one of the League's own members. It does not stop here however. Vandal Savage, convinced that humanity is its own virus, intends to wipe out half the population of earth and return the world to a new stone age. He and his allies would then rule the survivors and bring order to the planet. But nobody counted on the last minute intervention by Cyborg, an up and coming superhero most would remember as one of the Teen Titans.

Loosely adapted from Mark Waid's "JLA: Tower of Babel" story arc, JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM really gets into the minds of our favorite heroes. In its short run time, we get to experience our heroes' insecurities, weaknesses, fears, but also get to see how they overcome those limitations individually and as a team. That is what seperates heroes from just people with superpowers!

Voice acting is awesome as usual and as always it is a treat to hear most of the cast of the Justice League animated series in their respective roles again. So memorable are the performances of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daley, Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly and Michael rosenbaum that whenever most people open a comic book, it is their voices they hear as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Flash respectively. Nathan Fillon reprises his Green Lantern role from Emerald Knights, another refreshing attempt at a continuity nod. One funny thing though, Tim Daley's voice seems to have deepened to the level of Kevin Conroy's 90s era Batman voice.

Snappy, naturally flowing dialogue complements the terrific cast chemistry. With a brisk pace that never lets up on the tension, Justice League: Doom could have been a near perfect score. Something HAS to ruin that and sadly in this case, it is the art and animation.

Animation is a little bit disappointing, looking more like a high budget TV series than movie standard. Aside from a few outstanding scenes, particularly the battle sequences, the animation is nowhere near the fluidity of, say, Batman Year One or All Star Superman. The japanese anime-ish style is strongest now more thanks to Telecom Animation Film, a japanese anime company who's credits include BRAVE STORY, TIDE LINE BLUE and, believe it or not, later episodes of INUYASHA.

Not that its bad, in fact it is good. The characters look really hot but sometimes you get anime-styled facial expressions creeping in, like Batman over there, and that just looks..........weird.

Designs aside, the level of detail in the artwork is just one big let down. Other than tights, there is no reason why civillian clothing or even capes have no folds in them at all. Even worse is how weapons and cybernetics are drawn.

Many of Cyborg's robot parts, particularly his face plating, looks like face paint.

And those guns around Cheetah look like some school kid's doodles colored in microsoft paint.

One gets the feeling that most time and effort went into this year's BATMAN YEAR ONE and JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM was produced merely as a "side project" since they had Dwayne McDuffie's exceptional script lying around. No point of it going to waste. Anyhow, should Warner Premiere decide to create an entire Justice League movie series, pumping just a bit more money and effort into the animation production would help things a lot. They already have top notch writing and acting talent, veteran producers and directors who respect the DC comics. No point mucking things up with mediocre technicalities.
*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you were a fan of the Justice League and Justice League unlimited Tv series and once again year for large scale superhero action with well developed characters and a solid comic book story
Avoid it: if you are looking for movie level art and animation standards

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: B
Voice work: A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": C+

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: Awesome special effects (at least better than the first), tongue-in-cheek tone, dynamic camera work, surprisingly well acted supporting roles.

The Bad: derivative story, no sense of peril in fight scenes, Nicholas Cage's unintentionally hilarious acting, little emotional anchor in the characters, anticlimatic climax.

Lesson of the day: If you are going to watch something from the creators of "Crank", do not expect a movie that takes itself seriously. Especially not a movie whose trailer shows Nicholas Cage pissing fire. This sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider is by no means a horrid film; it looks amazing thanks to the advances in special effects and the kinetic camera work of directors Neveldine and Tylor.

Ghost rider Spirit of Vengence looks a lot better than its predecessor despite only having half the budget. It is darker, grittier and a lot more fun. Special effects have also taken a huge leap. Just check out the sequel's Ghost rider look ......

And compare it to how it looked in the preceeding film

The charred skull, body caked in ash with hellfire and smoke billowing forth sure beats this pasty white CGI skull and a stove flame.
Neveldine and Tylor works the camera such that it is always in motion adding a heightened dynamic feel and energy to the whole show. Which is good since this movie needs all the energy it can muster.

Essentially, the story is a poor man's excuse for a copy of Terminator 2. A boy named Danny (perhaps a shout out to Danny Ketch from the comics) is prophesised to become the vessel for the devil himself. A rogue french monk seeks out Johnny Blaze in order to enlist the help of the Ghost Rider in finding and protecting the boy from the forces of darkness. All the while, Blaze must struggle with his inner demon which threatens to take over him body and soul.

Before you say "But its written by David S Goyer! The dark Knight, Batman Begins, and Dark City were awesome", do remember that he also wrote "Jumper" and Blade Trinity. And remember too that while writing Ghost Rider, he was most likely working on Dark Knight Rises. Something had to give and Dark Knight Rises, with its bigger budget, made the choice easy. Characterisations are thin, bordering purely on archetypes than trying to develop them at all. "Strong protective mother", "wayward kid", "unstoppable hunter". No attempt is made to develop any of them beyond archetypes. Yes there are the mandatory scenes of our dark hero earning the trust of his young companion and regaining some of his lose humanity but

The acting is mixed at best. Child actor Fergus Riordan shines as Danny. Same goes to Idris Elba as the french monk Moreau who despite his limited screentime, manages to make his character the most memorable in the film. Sadly a muddled screenplay, given the once over by 3 different writers, completely undermind their efforts. The only one who does not need his acting efforts underminded is Nicolas Cage himself. He hams his way through the role of Johnny Blaze, overacting and underacting at all the wrong times. Most hilarious is this scene where Johnny Blaze totally freaks out and goes crazy from trying to keep the Ghost Rider contained. Someone like Jim Carrey would have made it cool (he did in "The Mask") but seeing Nicholas Cage going batshit insane is just...........disturbing.

Perhaps The greatest sin this movie commits is never giving a conflict or opponent that puts Ghost Rider's full power to the test. Fights never have that sense of peril when you know Ghost rider can immolate anyone with a touch or a stare. Action sequences get really boring when you know your hero is going to win. He takes out his chain, swings it about, fight over. And every time he does not win is because he does something silly, like stand around looking cool instead of finishing off opponents. Sure there is this one guy who can decompose a live person into skeletons with a single touch but Ghost Rider is neither alive nor a person.

Maybe Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence is not a straight faced movie. How can it be? It never takes itself seriously. Maybe it might have worked as a disorienting satire of dark anti-heros and quasi religious "angel/devil" ramblings. Alas any intent at satire is lost among three different writers and directors who are known for satirical, high octane thrills for the ADD afflicted sensory deprived generation .

And they totally missed a good Highlander reference opportunity for Christopher Lambert.
*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if good special effects, hyper kinetic camerawork and unintentional dark humor is your thing. Also if you did not like the first film.
Avoid it: because the comics are better and because there is nothing much to this film beyond the special effects and camerwork

Entertainment: B-
Story: C-
Acting: B-
Characters: C-
Music: C
Replay value: C+
"Brains": C-