highlights from the periodic revivals of 4-Color to 35-Millimeter

Once “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” caught up to real time in January 2020, it went on hiatus, to be revived every six months or so to look back on the new live-action movies based on superhero comics. Here’s some highlights from the June 2020, December 2020, June 2021, and December 2021 revivals of the feature:

On Bloodshot:

One reason why the revelation that Garrison’s entire background is a lie concocted by Eric is such a dud is because said revelation changes absolutely nothing. Diesel’s one-note Garrison is the same guy throughout the entire movie. It’s hard to get too arsed about a character’s crisis of identity when it does nothing to change anything about that identity in the least.

On Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn):

I love every element of Christina Hodson’s superlative script (Quinn giving Lance a hair-tie in the midst of the fight! The sandwich! Cain having a cast, not because her arm is broken, but so she can be a better pickpocket! The sandwich! Bertinelli hating being called the crossbow killer! The sandwich! Quinn firing bean-bag rounds full of glitter! The fucking sandwich, which is so perfect!), but the thing I love best is that she leans into Quinn’s psychotherapy background. She’s constantly psychoanalyzing the people around her just kind of randomly. I particularly love when Sionis has her tied up and she tries to get him not to do the clichéd detailing of his master plan and she sums up his psychoses in about two seconds.

On Faust: Love of the Damned:

At least the rest of the cast is trying. They’re still terrible, because they have to speak the words this script gives them, but you can tell they’re at least putting in the effort. Jeffrey Combs and Andrew Divoff are always eminently watchable, and have both made careers out of taking badly written roles and making them compelling, as both are extremely skilled with facial expressions and both have fantastic voices. Isabel Brook and Mónica van Campen have even worse roles, but they also do their best, with Brook in particular being at least vaguely convincing in all the many modes De Camp is required to be in (compassionate shrink, rape victim, person desperately in lust with Jaspers for no obvious reason, and M’s mind slave), and van Campen is obviously having a grand ol’ time as the slinky seductress/sadist. Kudos also to Fermí Reixach as the police commissioner, who does a wonderful job in his epic rant at M right before he dies.

On The Old Guard:

Director Gina Prince-Blythewood deserves a ton of credit here, as the movie manages that perfect balance between strong character work and powerful action sequences that superhero movies rely on if they want to be any good. The fight choreography is also stellar. The four immortals fight like a well-oiled machine, and Freeman—a combat Marine—mixes in well with them. I particularly like how easy they all make it, and I particularly like how the immortals all fight with more aggression than their opponents, simply because they know they can’t be hurt permanently. (I also like that the filmmakers are aware that guns don’t have an infinite supply of ammunition and need to be regularly reloaded.)

The exception is Theron’s Andy, but not just because she becomes mortal partway through the movie—rather it’s because she’s really so much better than anyone else. It’s so effortless for her, she almost seems bored. I used to do karate with a high-ranking black belt—he’s since left our dojo to open his own dojo in a different discipline—and he is an amazing fighter. What blew me away watching him in sparring tournaments is that he barely moved and just made everything look so easy and effortless as he knocked people repeatedly to the ground and kicked them repeatedly in the head. Theron has that same style about her in her fight scenes.

On The New Mutants:

Occasionally, Boone remembers that he’s doing a movie about teens, like when Illyana spikes Reyes’s tea so they can play, or when they sneak up to the attic. But mostly it’s a horror piece, and to drive it home, Boone and Lee have changed every character’s origin just enough to add murder to it. Sam didn’t just blast out of a coal mine, he killed his father and several other miners while doing it. Roberto didn’t just manifest his powers (which now include extreme heat, unlike his comics counterpart) in front of a bunch of people, he killed his girlfriend while doing so. Rahne wasn’t just condemned by her priest, but she killed the priest, too. And the demon bear is apparently a manifestation of Dani’s fear, and it destroyed her home.

On Wonder Woman 1984:

But then we have the fact that Steve Trevor’s ghost takes over some random dude’s body and life and nobody ever comments on it! Diana’s wish has, for all intents and purposes ended this guy—who never even gets a name—and she never once expresses a micron of concern for him. This is, frankly, despicable behavior, especially given that Diana and Trevor sleep together, so she’s now also raped this person. The actions are appalling enough on their own terms, but to have it be this character in particular is a disastrous misreading of who Diana/Wonder Woman is not just in her previous movie, but in the rest of this one.

On Zack Snyder’s Justice League:

First off, there is absolutely no reason, none, why this movie had to be four hours. Every scene took about twice as long as it needed to, several scenes were utterly pointless and/or repetitive, and the movie is chock-full of unnecessary slow-motion scenes, usually accompanied by some dirge-y rock song or other. Mind you, there are also necessary slow-motion scenes, those being when the Flash is moving very fast, so the rest of the world is in slo-mo to show his perceptions. But the effect of that is severely diluted because half the fucking movie has been in slo-mo up to the point that Barry Allen first shows up.

On Black Widow:

In many ways, this is the perfect Black Widow movie. Most of the MCU movies have been superheroic twists on existing movie subgenres, and the only way to go with the Widow would be to do a spy thriller, à la James Bond or Jason Bourne.

And we very much get that in Black Widow, from the globe-hopping to the car chase in Budapest to the multiple scenes of hand-to-hand combat to the fancy-ass gadgets to the ridiculous bad-guy headquarters. We get a Black Widow Greatest Hits, with her feigning helplessness to get information (Avengers), kicking ass during a car chase (Age of Ultron), disguising herself with a face mask (Winter Soldier), and coming up with clever strategies to solve problems (Endgame). Oh, and her mad computer skillz (Iron Man 2).

Plus, we get a full accounting of her background, after all the hints dropped in Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Winter Soldier.

On The Suicide Squad:

As with the last movie, the performances are superb. Margot Robbie is perfection itself as Quinn, and her every scene is gold. The high point of the film is her post-coital murder of Presidente Luna, especially with her lengthy monologue on the subject of her complicated love life while Luna is bleeding out on the floor. Just an epic moment, the perfect Harley Quinn scene. Her escape from captivity, complete with explosions of rose petals behind her, is a close second.

Viola Davis remains great casting as Waller, even though she’s once again written as a psychopath and an incompetent, neither of which she should be portrayed as. This is a woman who got one over on Batman, for crying out loud (in Suicide Squad #10, one of my favorite Batman moments). One of the few women of color in comics, and one of the most complex and interesting characters as originally conceived and written by John Ostrander in the 1980s is reduced to a cardboard villain once again. It’s more misreading of the source material, as is killing off Captain Boomerang. While Jai Courtney is pretty nowhere in the role (Nick Taraby was so much better as Digger Harkness in Arrow), Boomerbutt has been one of the mainstays of this version of the Squad snice 1987, and to kill him off in the first fifteen minutes of the film is like doing an X-Men movie and killing off Wolverine, or a Fantastic Four movie and killing off the Thing.

On Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:

I haven’t even mentioned the title character, and it’s kind of too bad that Simu Liu stands out so little from his own movie, but that’s mostly because they surrounded him with so many great actors in Awkwafina, Leung, Zhang, Yeoh, and Kingsley. But Liu provides Shang-Chi with a very straightforward heroism that fits with the character he’s based on perfectly. The original comics character was trying to redeem the sins of his father, as well as those he committed himself in his service, and I like the way Liu plays a person who’s trying very hard to run away from a life he doesn’t want. He’s in a boring job that nonetheless pays the bills, he has a good, fun life. But when he’s attacked on the bus, his first thoughts are to keep the other people on the bus safe, and when it’s over, his next thought is of his sister’s safety. When it matters, he antes up and kicks in, which is what heroes are supposed to do.

On Venom: Let There Be Carnage:

Kelly Marcel’s script is full of some great lines, most of them Venom’s (Kasady’s are mostly pretty bog-standard oh-look-how-cool-I-am serial killer nonsense, but Harrelson delivers them well). And there are so many great bits, from Venom making a disastrous breakfast while singing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” to Venom at a rave, to Brock mentioning ice cream and Venom complaining that he gets brain-freeze, to Kasady’s plaintive, “That’s bad journalism!” while bitching about how Brock didn’t tell his side of the story.

On Eternals:

It’s funny, there are a lot of ways that this movie reminds me of Watchmen. The death of one of the main characters drives the plot, we get multiple flashbacks, one of the main characters turns out to be a bad guy, and there are way too may characters to fit in one movie.

Indeed, one of my issues with the Zack Snyder adaptation of Watchmen was that the story was badly served by whittling it down to a feature film’s running time, and the same holds true for this. For this to truly achieve the scope it needs to succeed, for the characters to actually have the space to be characters instead of plot movers, for the breadth and depth of the storyline to really get a chance to shine, this needed to be a six-episode series on Disney+.

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Eternals

The MCU continues its trend toward spotlighting comics characters who aren’t exactly A-list, which worked particularly well with Guardians of the Galaxy. Unfortunately, translating Jack Kirby’s Eternals to the big screen doesn’t fly as well as it might due to cast bloat and a disappointing lack of heroism. The great superhero movie rewatch finishes off this run of movies with Eternals (on the very day it launches on Disney+ no less!).

An excerpt:

There are just too many characters here, and very few of them are well served. Most of the actors are doing the best they can, but there just isn’t space to give them room to breathe. The only characters who really work are Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. The former’s eagerness to aid humanity in the flashbacks and his complete burnout in the present day is beautifully played by Henry, while Jolie invests you fully in Thena’s disturbed state.

Almost all the rest of them are either underused or are too busy serving plot functions to actually be interesting characters. Or both.

now available for preorder: Phenomenons: Every Human Creature

You can now preorder Phenomenons: Every Human Creature, the nifty-keeno new shared-world superhero anthology soon to be released by Crazy 8 Press!

Conceived by New York Times best-selling author Michael Jan Friedman, this is a superhero universe not quite like anything you’ve ever seen.

Here’s the table of contents:

  • “Salvaged” by Michael Jan Friedman
  • “Salt for Gold” by Mary Fan
  • “The Light Shines in the Darkness” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  • “Red Sky in Mourning” by Michael A. Burstein
  • “Stealing Home” by Aaron Rosenberg
  • “First Op” by Robert Greenberger
  • “<null>” by Glenn Hauman
  • “The Primacy of Gravity” by Paul Kupperberg
  • “Taking Charge” by Heather E. Hutsell
  • “Tiny Lives Writ Large” by Dan Hernandez
  • “The Jungle” by Ron Marz
  • “Going for the Gold” by Peter David
  • “Lipstick Lilly versus Electric Lady in the ‘Land” by Marie Vibbert
  • “Dheeb” by Ilsa J. Bick
  • “ROI, Part 1: Pigs in a Blanket” by Russ Colchamiro & Hildy Silverman
  • “ROI, Part 2: Feint of Heart” by Russ Colchamiro & Hildy Silverman
  • “The Last Rambler” by Geoffrey Thorne
  • “The Return” by Michael Jan Friedman

The stories feature lots of cool heroes: Black Hat, Colosa & Particula, the Grey Guardsman, Lipstick Lilly, Luminosity, null, Professor Paracelsus, the Ramblers, Sarcastic Fringehead, Syntax, Torque, Zig Zag, and lots more!

My story is about Luminosity, a Bronx-based superhero who used to be an assistant district attorney, and now defends the people of the Boogie-Down. When members of the Bronx Bruisers, a super-powered gang, start trashing small businesses on St. Ann’s Avenue, Luminosity — who can manipulate the entire light spectrum — must stop them while her best friend De’Andra Jones must figure out who’s behind the Bruisers’ attacks.

My story also ties into the stories before and after it, as well. It was fun coordinating stuff with Mary and Michael…..

Check the book out!

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Well, it’s better than the first one, though it’s still pretty dumb, but it’s salvaged by some gleefully goofball immersive acting by Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, and especially Tom Hardy in the dual title role. The great superhero movie rewatch rings in the new year with Venom: Let There Be Carnage.

An excerpt:

Kelly Marcel’s script is full of some great lines, most of them Venom’s (Kasady’s are mostly pretty bog-standard oh-look-how-cool-I-am serial killer nonsense, but Harrelson delivers them well). And there are so many great bits, from Venom making a disastrous breakfast while singing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” to Venom at a rave, to Brock mentioning ice cream and Venom complaining that he gets brain-freeze, to Kasady’s plaintive, “That’s bad journalism!” while bitching about how Brock didn’t tell his side of the story.

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The MCU finally remembers that Asian people exist! And it’s a glorious, wonderful tribute to Asian cinema and Chinese (and Chinese-American) culture. Plus Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung and Ben Kingsley and Awkwafina and so much more! The great superhero movie rewatch learns the story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

An excerpt:

One of the good things about the MCU is the way they’ve taken various filmic subgenres and done superheroic takes on them, whether it’s a war movie (Captain America: The First Avenger), Afro-futurism (Black Panther), a political thriller (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), an 80s sci-fi action movie (Thor: Ragnarok), a comedy heist flick (Ant-Man), or a spy thriller (Black Widow). With Shang-Chi it’s very much an Asian martial arts movie, with the gloriously choreographed (and magnificently filmed) fight scenes, the family drama, the over-the-top martial arts moves, and the presence of creatures from Chinese mythology both obvious (big red dragon!) and comparatively obscure (Morris the hundun).

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Suicide Squad

The DCEU takes a mulligan on the Suicide Squad, hoping that James Gunn can bring some Guardians of the Galaxy magic to Task Force X, and he mostly succeeds! The great superhero movie rewatch is much more impressed with The Suicide Squad.

An excerpt:

As with the last movie, the performances are superb. Margot Robbie is perfection itself as Quinn, and her every scene is gold. The high point of the film is her post-coital murder of Presidente Luna, especially with her lengthy monologue on the subject of her complicated love life while Luna is bleeding out on the floor. Just an epic moment, the perfect Harley Quinn scene. Her escape from captivity, complete with explosions of rose petals behind her, is a close second.

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Black Widow

It’s too little too late in so many ways, but Scarlett Johansson finally gets the spotlight she deserved, a decade after she debuted her version of Natasha Romanoff. Appropriately, her solo film is a spy thriller, with great performances not just by her, but by Florence Pugh and David Harbour as her fake sister and fake father. The great superhero movie rewatch kicks off its year-end revival with Black Widow.

An excerpt:

The movie is tremendous fun, with the fast pace that you expect from a Marvel movie, but also with the strong, honest characterizations. Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh make a superlative double act, and their banter carries the movie. They talk like siblings, and Belova’s pointed commentary on Romanoff’s second life as a hero lands beautifully, as does Romanoff responding the same way she always does: not by talking about it, but by anteing up and kicking in and doing what’s right. The best, of course, is Belova teasing Romanoff about her “superhero landing” pose, which she’s used in pretty much every appearance going back to Iron Man 2, and it’s hilarious, particularly when Belova herself tries the pose. (“That was disgusting…”)

nifty new Kickstarter featuring me: Phenomenons

Mighty Michael Jan Friedman has created a wonderful new shared world: Phenomenons: Every Human Creature. He’s funding it on Kickstarter, and it includes a bunch of great authors getting together to do a great new take on superheroes:

  • Ilsa J. Bick
  • Michael A. Burstein
  • Russ Colchamiro
  • Peter David
  • Keith R.A. DeCandido
  • Mary Fan
  • Robert Greenberger
  • Glenn Hauman
  • Dan Hernandez
  • Heather E. Hutsell
  • Paul Kupperberg
  • Ron Marz
  • Aaron Rosenberg
  • Hildy Silverman
  • Geoffrey Thorne
  • Marie Vibbert

This anthology is going to be a lot of fun, so please consider funding it!

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Joss Whedon’s reshoots of Justice League had their problems (particularly the removal of Cyborg’s entire storyline and a dull-ass villain), but thanks to HBO Max, we can now spend four hours being shown why Zack Snyder’s original cut needed reshoots in the first place. Ugh. The great superhero movie rewatch slogs through Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

An excerpt:

Okay, having spent eleven paragraphs trashing this bloated mess of a movie, let me at least say what I unreservedly loved about it, and it was a major cause of why Whedon has (justifiably) been vilified: Victor Stone is the absolute heart and soul of this movie. We actually see his mother, and she’s a person (a damn cool one, in fact), not just an unseen figure who was fridged. And Stone’s journey through the film, and his relationship with his father, is much stronger and more powerful here than it was in the theatrical release, in which Cyborg was barely a character. Whedon’s history with characters of color is not great, and we have it writ large here, as he completely trashed the Black guy’s story arc for no compellingly good reason. (Leaving it in would have made the theatrical version so much better…)

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Wonder Woman 1984

Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and Chris Pine all return from 2017’s Wonder Woman and give us a spectacularly frustrating movie that takes place in 1984 for no compellingly good reason. Good performances by Gadot, Pine, Kristen Wiig, and Pedro Pascal are overshadowed by a horrible script. The great superhero movie rewatch returns to look at Wonder Woman 1984.

An excerpt:-

There are three aspects of this movie that show up its major difficulties, consisting of the two best things about it and the absolute worst thing about it.

The two best are both related to one very important aspect of Diana’s character: she is a hero. This is reemphasized by the lesson that Antiope teaches her in the flashback at the top of the movie. She isn’t just a warrior, she’s a hero. Too often Hollywood superhero movies forget the second half of that word, but it’s very much a part of Diana. This is best seen in two distinct places: in the White House fight scene, where she takes great pains not to inflict major harm on the Secret Service agents who have been assigned to Lord pretty much against their will, and then in the end where it’s not might that wins the day but an appeal to humanity and compassion. (It’s not particularly realistic that everyone recants their wishes, but the metaphor and message are important enough and satisfying enough from a story perspective that I’m willing to forgive it.)

But then we have the fact that Steve Trevor’s ghost takes over some random dude’s body and life and nobody ever comments on it! Diana’s wish has, for all intents and purposes ended this guy—who never even gets a name—and she never once expresses a micron of concern for him. This is, frankly, despicable behavior, especially given that Diana and Trevor sleep together, so she’s now also raped this person. The actions are appalling enough on their own terms, but to have it be this character in particular is a disastrous misreading of who Diana/Wonder Woman is not just in her previous movie, but in the rest of this one.