In 1990, I got into “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and eventually learned that the source material was adult-aimed comic books. The same year, the “Toxic Crusaders” cartoon was on TV and the Playmates action figures were right next to “TMNT” toys on the shelves. The source material here makes “TMNT’s” look tame by comparison, and I can only hope not too many kids checked out the 1984 “Toxic Avenger” movie and became traumatized.
Watchmen” popularized the idea of superheroes run amok, but that saga quickly moves beyond the question of “Who watches the Watchmen?” to its answer of “No one.” “The Boys” (July 2019, Amazon Prime) wallows in the question more, to its benefit. Based on a Wildstorm/Dynamite comic-book series that launched in 2006, the eight-episode first season introduces a corporation that sponsors and markets vigilante superheroes, but then it digs into the military-industrial complex. The Vought Corporation aims to have a relationship with the government similar to Lockheed-Martin, but with superheroes – not missiles — as the weapons they are peddling.
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” plays like a throw-it-at-the-wall experiment, but an earnest one. This eighth DC Extended Universe movie is certainly the least stiff — a free-flowing, time-jumping crime-and-evasion tale from the perspective of flighty narrator Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who we met in “Suicide Squad.” It’s not as good as it should be, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.
Even fairly serious “Terminator” fans might not know about this oddity: There was a prequel movie to “Salvation” – sort of. “Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series” (2009) is a six-episode web series with video-game animation that functions as a 75-minute movie. Thankfully, it’s not like watching someone play a video game. It’s driven by Resistance pilot Blair Williams (voiced by Moon Bloodgood) and hacker Laz Howard, a.k.a. Ghost (voiced by Cam Clarke), who can disrupt communications signals with a secret code.
With an unusually long gap between new Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, I decided to finally check out “Marvel’s Runaways” Season 1 (2017-18, Hulu). Now through three seasons, it’s part of the young-adult wing of the MCU, and I appreciate that it’s more colorful, sunnier (it’s set in Los Angeles, the opposite side of the continent from most MCU goings-on) and more fathomable than the other YA series, Freeform’s recently canceled “Cloak & Dagger.” It also has an amazing cast, but Season 1 has one big problem at its core.
Creator Damon Lindelof has taken the lessons learned on “Lost” – where time-jumping was a sometimes fun, sometimes hoary narrative device – and beautifully applied them to the nine-episode “Watchmen” (2019, HBO), a sequel to the comic/movie of the same name. Time is central to the “Watchmen” saga, the primary image of which is a clock counting down to the 1980s nuclear doomsday, especially with Dr. Manhattan existing outside of time as we mere mortals perceive it.
The Rocketeer” (1991) launched the 1990s boom of nostalgic proto-superhero films set in the time before “Superman’s” 1938 invention, and it set the bar high enough that it wouldn’t be matched by “The Shadow,” “The Phantom” or “The Mask of Zorro.” Director Joe Johnston’s film has everything, in a good way: Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly in star-making turns, rocket-pack flying effects that hold up today, unscrupulous feds and other baddies angling for the pack, classy dinner dates, chases through kitchens with pans flying, tommy-gun shootouts … tied together by James Horner’s score that evokes the idea of brighter days ahead.
The Last Boy Scout” (1991) has some of the best one-liners in action-film history. I was 13 when the film came out, and I recall that this was among the first “edgy” movies that my friends regularly quoted from. All of the Shane Black staples (he writes the screenplay here, while Tony Scott directs) are in place, including the thrown-together buddy (pseudo-)cops and the child who is incongruously in the mix. However, the back half is a big step down from the first half, like a football team that blows a big lead.
Total Recall” (2012) came out amid a glut of sci-fi remakes, and it did not supplant the 1990 original in the public’s consciousness. Judging by the poster and perhaps thinking of Colin Farrell from “Minority Report,” I imagined this as one of those gray, interchangeable dystopias. But that’s not quite accurate. The production design by Patrick Tatopoulos is so luscious – a colorful, oddly inviting drabness that’s closer to “Blade Runner” than “Minority Report” — that if the story was up to the same standard, “Total Recall” would be a classic.
The Nice Guys” (2016) is an entertaining action thriller even if a viewer isn’t already a fan of director/co-writer Shane Black. Viewed through the lens of his oeuvre, though, it plays as the culmination of concepts he’d been fine-tuning going back to his first credit, 1987’s “Lethal Weapon.”