10 posts categorized "comic book"


'Batman v Superman' -- Superheroes, superbattle, superboredom

Why can't these guys just get along? (Courtesy: Warner Bros.)

Look, up on the screen, it’s Superman and Batman!

On second thought, don’t bother.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the umpteenth Batman or Superman big screen adventure, is straight out of the What Else Can We Contrive to Make Big Bucks Department.

Two DC Comics superheroes battling and rolling around in the mud with the ferocity of teeth-clinched, squabbling presidential candidates?  At first I didn’t get it all.  After a little research, it seems that the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight have gone at it before in the comic book pages.

A lot of times, in fact.  But now that I get it, I don’t want it.

Ben Affleck, who can act despite some poor project choices (Gigli, Jersey Girl), does all he can for a guy trapped behind a Batman mask and limited to a seething guttural growl most of the time.  Batman to Superman: “Tell me, do you bleed?  You will.”

British actor Henry Cavill, back in the cape and with a big S on his chest after Man of Steel, has the chiseled facial features commonly associated with Superman.  Cavill’s lack of even a trace of facial flexibility, however, makes me think of him more as The Man of Rock.

This film’s two best actors, Amy Adams (American Hustle) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), do all they can to make the most of their screen time.  In a film where digital set pieces dominate, though, Lois Lane (Adams) and a young Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) are used merely as brief buffers to move things along to the next mega-rumble in the cement jungles of Metropolis and Gotham City.    

Honestly, I even cringe a little at the title.  Batman v Superman?  Are we to believe this is some kind of legal battle before the Supreme Court?  Nope, just a little clever title trickery from our friends in Hollywood, who, by the way, would like very much for you to spend your money and one tick over two and a-half hours of your life watching Batman and Superman throw each other through walls in the rain.

Zack Snyder (300), back in the Superguy director’s chair after Man of Steel three years ago, does an OK job of stringing together explosive special-effects set pieces.  But’s that’s all we’ve got here, except for a little monster mashing that’s been done often and better in other fight-to-the-finish extravaganzas like the Transformers franchise.

I’m thinking the best battles may have occurred in the writer’s room.  Hard to believe, I know, but there may have been one.  Chris Terrio, an Academy Award winner for his Argo script, which starred Affleck in 2012, and Davis S. Goyer, who penned Man of Steel and other Batman flicks, are credited as screenwriters here.

If you’re hoping for even a trace of character depth, plot development or more than a smattering of dialogue to explain what the fuss is all about, don’t bother looking in this sky or lighting up the Bat Signal.

Call this one Batman v Superman:  Yawn of Justice.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (violent action, some sensuality)

151 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  1½ (out of 4)


Yep, 'Cowboys & Aliens;' Git over it

Whoa, hold on a minute Western movie purists.

Before you get a burr under your saddle because Old West gunslingers take on high-tech aliens from outer-space in the sci-fi Western "Cowboys & Aliens," you should know that uneasy genre saddle bag-fellows have gotten into dust-ups before.

It's been a while, but left-handed outlaw Billy the Kid took on none other than Dracula himself in 1966 in a horror-Western titled "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula."  That same year, the West got a little wilder with another odd pairing.  How many of you remember "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter"?

I didn't think so.

"Cowboys & Aliens" is a genre hybrid.  Granted, it's a far-fetched one, or at least it appears to be until you realize that in fiction there are no real boundaries except the limit of one's imagination.

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who concocted the comic book this film is based on in 1997, obviously can go off the usual grid when it comes to storytelling.

And so can director Jon Favreau (The "Iron Man" franchise) and, for that matter, co-stars  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, who draws top billing.  In today's ruthless Hollywood, James Bond trumps Han Solo apparently.

Set in New Mexico Territory circa 1875, "Cowboys & Aliens" begins with a jolt.  A camera pan across the dust and scraggly brush soon reveals a startled former outlaw named Jake Lonergan (Craig).  Jake awakes from some sort of unexplained trauma that has rendered him with no memory, but with some sort of newfangled bracelet that, to say the least, "ain't from around here."

Jake staggers into the saloon in the former boom town of Absolution (gotta love those town names in Westerns).  Before he can enjoy a few shots of whiskey, he's flirted with by a mysterious alluring lady named Ella (Olivia Wilde of "The Change-Up"), arrested and thrown in the pokey.

But not for long.  As the title clearly states, the Wild West is about to get a little wilder.  Strange lights illuminate the night sky, and before the citizens -- good and bad hombres alike -- know what's hitting them, several of the townsfolk are lassoed from flying machines and carried off into the darkness.

In traditional  Westerns, this would be the moment when a posse is formed.  Heck, that even happens when things get down and dirty (and thirsty) in "Rango."

In this one, though, the supposedly good guys, led by ruthless rancher Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), form an alliance with the mysterious stranger (Craig) and some equally ravaged Indians to square off against the otherworldly marauders from up yonder somewhere.

A gaggle of screenwriters throw every cliché in the book into this thing.  Dolarhyde, the toughest guy in these here parts, has a bully/wimp for a son (Paul Dano).  Nat (Adam Beach), the rancher's No. 1 hand, of course displays all the traits the old man would want in a son.

As weird as all this is, however, the production value is top notch.  The special effects live up to their title, director Favreau stirs the off-kilter genre melting pot with gusto and the acting gets the job done in all areas.  I do wish Ford had backed off just a little from his over-gruffness a little earlier than he did, though.

Think of "Cowboys & Aliens" as that odd looking, but bright and shiny dangerous ride way back at the edge of the carnival.

Then strap yourself in for a wild ride and go kick some serious alien hiney.


No ring of honor, but 'Green Lantern's' fun

In essence, the challenge for the main character in "Green Lantern" is exactly the same as the task for the filmmakers.

The degree of success for both depend chiefly on the imagination.  Imagine it well enough and it will happen.  If the anointed G. Lantern needs a chainsaw, for instance, he need only imagine one and it appears.

A winning comic book-to-big screen transformation, however, might not be so easily accessed.

The ability to make it happen is pivotal in a movie year when the long-vaulted and stashed away comic book character is the second superhero, of sorts, to go green.

Seth Rogen donned a black mask (oddly enough) as "The Green Hornet" back in January.  Now comes Ryan Reynolds, People magazine's reigning "sexiest man alive" as flaky-yet-fearless test pilot Hal Jordan.

Jordan, as any self-respecting action comic book fan knows, has a date with a mysterious, green-glowing ring brought to Earth by a dying member of the Green Lantern Corps.

"Green Lantern," scripted by a gaggle of writers, is directed with some pizazz by established filmmaker Martin Campbell.  Campbell has called the shots on a varied cinematic menagerie; two James Bond adventures (the "Casino Royale" remake, "GoldenEye"), a "Zorro" flick and edgy Mel Gibson in "Edge of Darkness."

Campbell doesn't elevate a comic book romp into near-Shakespeare as Kenneth Branagh did recently with "Thor," a twist admired from this aisle seat.

Instead,,"Green Lantern" lights up as a rather goofball slant on superherodom.  On a very busy day where Hal crashes a jet in a test pilot dogfight and arrives very tardy for a birthday party, he's abruptly whisked away in a green cloud to the scene of a recent alien ship crash site where the dying Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is in a bit of a rush to pass on the ring.

Even though it gets somber at times -- there is, after all the reverent oath -- "Green Lantern" is mostly about being an escapism frolic that hits on enough entertainment cylinders most of the time.

Hal, being the first Earthling to join the forces that protect the universe (many looking like they just stepped out of the "Star Wars" bar), is, shall we say, a reluctant hero.  This will all come down to a battle of wills between the Green Lanterns and Parallax, literally a dark cloud of destruction that builds on fear and might just pay Earth a destructive visit.

The special-effects, which are primarily computer-generated (right down to the Green Lantern suit and mask), are top notch throughout.  Reynolds ("Buried," "The Proposal") is steady enough as Hal, and Blake Lively, who had more to do in "The Town," holds her own as Lois Lane.  Excuse me, as  Carol Ferris.

Comic book thrillers like this must, by definition, have someone to overact and chew the scenery.  In this case it's Tim Robbins as pompous Senator Hammond.  Peter Sarsgaard comes close to overdoing it as Hector, the senator's son.  But as Hector's involvement in the plot escalates, Sarsgaard wisely tones down his actions.

Bottom line, "Green Lantern" is a lively enough thrill ride around the universe.

Speaking of a thrill ride around the universe, though, a question:  If veteran Green Lantern-er Abin Sur requires a space ship to zip around the galaxies (and eventually crash-land in an Earth swamp), how is new recruit Hal Jordan able to soar solo without so much as a pair of goggles?

Enlighten me, oh mystic Green Lantern.  


The new 'X-Men' has class, 'First Class'

Back before sequelitis hit epidemic proportions in Hollywood in the 1980s with the "Halloween," "Lethal Weapon" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, it was pretty much one-and-done for most big-budget movie stories.

Today's audiences, quite familiar with sequels, are witnessing the next step in prolonging bottom-line profit for tent-pole (blockbuster) flicks:  prequels.

The "Star Trek" and "Batman" franchises pulled off the out-with-the-old (tired stories, highly paid actors)-in-with-the-new (fresh stories, rising stars not yet demanding top dollar) re-tooling well enough.

Now comes the "X-Men" reboot, which I must tell you, is more fun and better conceived than most.

Gone are Patrick Stewart as telepath Charles Xavier/Professor X and Ian McKellen as Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto, of course.  Three treks around the mutant trail were enough for them, or for the filmmakers.  (See above about star salaries.)

James McAvoy (Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) head the cast in "X-Men:  First Class," an ambitious, well-mounted origin sci-fi adventure sure to please comic book and franchise movie fans with equal fist-pumping approval.

That's because "First Class" lives up to its subtitle all the way.  The ensemble cast of mutants, beginning with McAvoy ( "The Last King of Scotland," "Atonement") and Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds," "300") and continuing with Jennifer Lawrence (an Oscar nominee for "Winter's Bone") as shape-shifting Raven/Mystique and Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon") as one bad mutated World War II Nazi, is about as first class as a prequel can hope to be.

Without giving too much of the plot away, let's just say that it unfolds mostly in the 1960s, a time of racial (and mutant) prejudice and Cold War unease.

Director Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Kick-Ass") and a handful of writers (including Vaughn and previous "X-Men" director Bryan Singer) weave the emergence of mutants into known human culture and the growing Cuban Missile Crisis seamlessly.

As I've written many times in this space, filmmakers taking on projects that require outlandish special effects are limited only by their levels of imagination in this age of computer-generated visual magic.

Like most -- no, make that all -- big-budget productions that pre-order eye-popping effects (an anchor chain cutting a luxury yacht in half, for instance) then try to form the story around the bedazzlement, this "X-Men" overdoes it a little.

Overall, though, this origin adventure should keep audience members on the edge of their seats.  McAvoy, the Scottish rising star, is quite playful at first as a twentysomething Charles Xavier of privilege.

Flip that coin over and German actor  Fassbender is equally effective as Erik Lehnsherr, the metal-bender who will, before this adventure concludes, be called Eric and reply, "I prefer Magneto."

I prefer "X-Men: First Class" to many of the prequels that have come down the cinematic pipeline.
"First Class" is at the head of the 21st century reboot class from this aisle seat.


The Norse god-man who fell to Earth

"Thor" rumbles to the screen sporting hunky rising star Chris Hemsworth from Australia, Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman and Mjolnir, a battle hammer flung down to New Mexico from a Norse mythology god heavens above.

Director Kenneth Branagh is the guy who really puts the fantasy-drama hammer down, though.   Despite the impressive pedigree of the actors, Branagh, the Academy Award-nominated star and director of "Henry V" in 1989, brings at least the feeling of Shakespearian weight and importance to what in reality is a popcorn fantasy action-hero flick born from a Marvel Comics book launched in 1962.

"Thor," like his Marvel cousin "Superman," goes for some somber seriousness in between moments of action-on-steroids.  "The X-Men," "Fantastic Four" and especially "Iron Man" franchises appear in it solely for fun (and, of course, profit) in their bombastic cinematic incarnations.

With a script by a trio of writers and a story by former "Thor" comic scribe J. Michael Straczynski, Branagh tailors "Thor" as Shakespearian by way of Norse mythology:  Hopkins blurts his lines regally, yet with a bluster as Odin, the king of Asgard.  He's war weary, aged and battle-scarred.

In fact, Odin sports an eye patch sort of like Rooster Cogburn's in "True Grit." It's more John Wayne than Jeff Bridges, though.

The classic story pits brother against brother.  And, wouldn't you know it, the king is ripe for assassination.  That's Shakespearian enough to put Branagh in his filmmaking comfort zone.  And the Irish born filmmaker/actor doesn't let us down.  

For those of you who haven't been grabbing every "Thor" comic book to hit the racks since the early '60s, know that Thor (Hemsworth) gets on his royal daddy's bad side on the very day he's supposed to take over the throne.  Brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) may have a little to do with stirring up the Frost Giants across the Rainbow Bridge.

Thor is banished to Earth, where, without his powers, he must fall for a fetching young research scientist (Portman) and eat an entire box of Pop Tarts before even going to a local New Mexico diner for breakfast.

"Thor" is magnificently staged by production designer Bo Welch ("Men in Black"), an Oscar nominee four times over.  It loses a bit of its larger-than-life fantasy voyage buoyancy due to the unnecessary 3-D, which was retro-fitted into a film hardly in need of a plastic-glasses gimmick.

This is an engaging story, even if you're not a comic book-to-big screen fanboy.  That's the best news.

Serious movie lovers will appreciate the way Portman, just off-pointe after completing production on "Black Swan" (her Best Actress Oscar winner), brings a nice balance of science nerd and eligible female.  Even a dedicated scientist can't help noticing how well a pair of earthly jeans hang on a fallen Norse god, apparently.

Hemsworth, who played Kirk in the 2009 "Star Trek" do-over, gets to display a little acting range as he mingles with the Earth-bound humans and gets in a shouting match or two with Papa Odin (Hopkins).

Much of the time, though, it's hammer time for Hemsworth.  He slings it well in a special-effects comic book action flick that'll thrill, grab the heart and even remind some of what a comic book designed by Shakespeare might look like on a movie screen.

To see, or not to see.  That's not the question.

Go.  Eat overpriced movie snacks.  Enjoy some intelligent silliness for a change.


'Hornet's buzz is all wrong, but enjoyable

I got a kick out of "The Green Hornet" for the very reason fanboy comic book geeks and devotees of the former radio drama, serial feature and TV series won't.

In the hands of Seth Rogen, a formerly chubby big screen comic schlub who stars and co-wrote the script, the "Hornet" aims its stinger primarily at the funny bone.

I'm pretty sure that if offbeat French director Michel Gondry ("Human Nature," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") didn't pull back on the creative reins at times, Britt Reid (Rogen) and his gadget guru/weapons creator/coffee chef Kato (Jay Chou) might just hang around the Los Angeles mansion and read comic books about themselves much of the time.

As it is, Britt, who inherits his recently and mysteriously deceased dad's (Tom Wilkinson) newspaper, is a playboy lout stunned into crime fighting as a way to get back at his old man.

Once Britt decides to fight crime, he has no idea what The Green Hornet should do.  So while he's hanging around his late dad's newspaper, Britt hires a new secretary (Cameron Diaz, who keeps hanging in there).  She thinks she's doing research, but actually she's calling Hornet shots.

Rogen and  Chou, an Asian pop music star, play off each other well.  The reason many of the fanboys even care about this big-screen adaptation of "The Green Hornet" is that chop-socky hero Bruce Lee played Kato during its one-season run on ABC in 1966/'67.

Chou, a singer not a martial arts guy, recreates Lee's cool demeanor.  From this aisle seat, though, Chou's lack of English language command dilutes some of the rhythmn of scenes.

The twist here is that Britt and Kato want their own niche for The Green Hornet and his unnamed sidekick.  So they pretend to be bad guys, irritating both the local authorities and L.A.'s unofficial crime lord, a dapper little ruthless guy named Benjamin Chudnofsky portrayed by Christoph Waltz.

If you're anything like me, you'll have to push Waltz's marvelous, Oscar-winning performance in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" in '09 to the far reaches of the memory bank to enjoy what's going on here (pretty silly stuff).  

You should also know that although much is being hyped about "The Green Hornet" being presented in 3-D, that decision was made after principal photography was already in the can.  So the 3-D, with the exception of a fiery explosion or two, is no big whoop.

I may be all alone on this, but I like Rogen's laid-back, goofball turn as the title character.  In a stand-off between The Green Hornet, Batman and Spider-Man, the bat and the spider dude would probably laugh so hard they'd wet their spandex just looking at this masked avenger.

Don't go expecting a superhero flick you will reverently admire.  Go for a film that looks a lot like what a comic book-to-big screen conversion should usually look and feel like.

Just not this time, Seth.  Not that I mind, but the tight-lipped fanboys won't appreciate going for the gags.


'Pilgrim's' progress, then combat overkill

Until it implodes artistically due to battle redundancy overkill about three quarters of the way through, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" rocks the summer movie scene with ferocious style and wry wit.

Film-goers might as well concede that what we see is what we get with Michael Cera.  His on-screen forte is a soft-spoken wimp who exudes charm.

Thanks to "Scott Pilgrim" director/co-writer director Edgar Wright, though, the 22-year-old Canadian corrals that impish charm to serve the movie extremely well.  In fact, Cera is the best I've seen him since he played Ellen Page's shy high school boyfriend Paulie Bleeker in "Juno" in 2007.

Cera could probably get by playing a high schooler into his mid-40s.  Here's a shocker, though.  Cera plays his age in "Scott Pilgrim." That's about the only link to reality you should expect in an outrageous, stylized comic-actioner from Wright, the British filmmaker who brought "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" to the screen.

Based on Canadian Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-pack of graphic novels that debuted in 2004, "Scott Pilgrim" explodes as a musical, yes a musical, for movie-goers who grew up watching music videos and playing Nintendo.  Wright sums the game plan up succinctly in the film's production notes:

"In the world of 'Scott Pilgrim,' minor disagreements are resolved in mortal combat."

What that means for those in the audience is a major re-tooling of the traditional Hollywood musical.  Instead of merely bursting into song (a la Busby Berkeley) to hammer a plot shift home, guitars wail, characters fly through the air in video game-like combat and manga and video game iconography fills the screen.

He may be impish, but out-of-work Toronto garage band (actually apartment band) bass player Scott Pilgrim (Cera) has no problem attracting the ladies.  His old high school girlfriend Kim (Alison Pill of "Dan in Real Life") sits stoic and stone-faced behind his band's drums.

Even though Scott's been out of school for years, he has a current high school girlfriend named Knives Chau (newcomer Ellen Wong), who adores him.  Once purple-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of "Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof") roller-blades by, however, all young Mr. Pilgrim can think of is Ramona, a recent arrival from the U.S.

All Scott has to do -- much to his surprise -- is defeat Ramona's seven evil exes.

And that's the problem with one of the summer's most refreshing film ideas.  The first evil ex is fun.  Newcomer Satya Bhabha, vamping wildly as Ramona's former junior high school boyfriend Matthew Patel, crashes through the ceiling with a chorus of pointy-teethed evil vamps behind him.

The fact that there are identical twins to deal with helps.  But after a couple of wild video-game send-up combats, I found myself wondering how many more would be coming.  ("Four more?  OMG," as this film's frequent pop-up messages might pronounce.)

Cera is good; finally showing more versatility within his impish persona.  And director Wright brings one of the summer's most stylized, skillfully sly tales to the screen.

Somebody should have pushed the "Game Over" button before clever wit and blasting music vitality implode within itself, though. 


Acting, blazing action a blast in 'Iron Man 2'

The only problem with the first "Iron Man" two years ago was that director Jon Favreau fell into the trap of action extravaganza overkill.  The ultimate battle finale felt like it had more chapters than "War and Peace."

Favreau has learned his lesson.  "Iron Man 2," which rocks with pulsating action and outstanding acting (a rare combination), builds to a spectacular crescendo, then ends on an emotional human note.

In fact, the sequel takes a cue from comic book hero and competitor Superman.  The Man of Steel liked to whisk Lois Lane suddenly skyward and then park on a rooftop for a flirty, "Go ahead, kiss her" chat after the bombastic dust settled.

Screenwriter Justin Theroux's feature film debut came in the outrageously funny "Tropic Thunder," which drew Downey an Oscar nomination.  He takes some chances here that work, like letting this film's lead character get drunk and shame himself with birthday party angry rant.  From a bottom-out low often comes a rise to great heights, however.  Theroux's script manages that. 

"I am Iron Man," billionaire industrialist and former weapons dealer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) proclaims during a press conference that comes at the end the first "Iron Man" and launches the sequel.  You're in for a robust two hours of "Holy s%#*!" action sequences, dandy performances and witty, if at times silly, dialogue.

Six months after the first adventure, admittedly egocentric Stark is flaunting his wealth, his "peacemaker" iron suit with rockets in the heels and his need for flaunting applause at Stark Expo.  His late father put on a similar chest-thumping dog and pony show first, looking a little like vintage Walt Disney talking about Tomorrowland.  Tony's flashy reboot, however, more closely resembles a slightly larger-than-life version of Apple CEO Steve Jobs bestowing the iPad on the world.

The government wants to take Stark's invention away.  So Stark proclaims to the Senate Armed Services Committee (with Garry Shandling chewing the scenery as Sen. Stern) that no possible threat exists that can rival Iron Man, so chill, America.  

Pretty soon after that, a Russian named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) whips up a lightning-whip knock-off version of the Iron Man technology and off we go into grand adventure.

Rourke, nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award in 2009 as the washed-up modern day gladiator in "The Wrestler," is perfectly cast as a vengeful Russian who's way smarter than he looks.

Vanco constantly chews on a toothpick, even when he's slicing race cars apart at the Monaco Grand Prix or plotting Stark's demise.  The camera loves Rourke's craggy face, and the veteran actor -- a survivor of good times and bad -- is rivaled by only one other toothpick chewer in the history of cinema.  That's Paul Newman.

"Iron Man 2," not unlike Stark's flashy computer gadgets, unlimited resources and, of course, the red-and-gold supersuit, borders on being an embarrassment of riches.  The technical effects astound even more this time than the first time around.

Downey, one of the finest actors working today for my money, is super and completely comfortable in the suit and out.  Like his character, Downey is a gifted man who has beat the odds to get where he is.

Few actors can still act engulfed in a formidable costume.  Downey, on screen during the Christmas holidays as the title character in "Sherlock Holmes," is one of them.  Perhaps the finest.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark's assistant "Pepper" Potts, and their verbal tête-à-tête is even more finely tuned than it was in '08.

Newcomers, who are all great, include Scarlett Johansson ("The Spirit," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona") kicking hiney and not taking names in a unitard as mystery lady Stark assistant Natalie Rushman.  Also, Sam Rockwell ("Everybody's Fine") struts his stuff quite well as a spoiled, jealous arms manufacturer.

Don Cheadle, nominated for an Oscar for "Hotel Rwanda" in 2004, takes over the role of military liaison Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes seamlessly, like he belonged there all the time.  Cheadle is so good, in fact, that some "Iron Man" fans might be thinking, "Terrence Howard who?"

"Iron Man 2" falls just short of measuring up to the name of its parent franchise company, Marvel.  It's a blast of a superhero action sequel.  It's just that No. 2 must, by definition, revisit a cinematic world now familiar and, therefore, slightly redundant.


They robot: Send in the clones

I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to laugh the first time you see Ving Rhames in a long-haired wig on screen in "Surrogates" as The Prophet.

Chances are you will, though.  And you might giggle again at the futuristic drug screen that seems right out of Woody Allen's "Sleeper."

If you can stand all that, you might feel some mild fascination for a near-future where technology has advanced to the point where humans can sit around in comfortable chairs all day.  Surrogates, you see, venture out into the world to do the dirty work.

Directed by Jonathan Mostow, who called the shots on the metal-grinding "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" in 2003, "Surrogates" mixes silly sci-fi with an old fashioned detective yarn with Bruce Willis out front.

Crime is down and the surrogates -- all beautiful and young, of course -- get to have all the fun in place of their human counterparts.  One of them (Rosamund Pike as Greer's wife Maggie) runs a beauty parlor where a facial peel takes on a new, literal meaning.  It's not all Barbie and Ken idyllic happiness, however.  

Humans begin to die in their comfy "stim chairs" while hooked up to their surrogates.  This not only invalidates the warranty, it might lead to panic, if not in the streets in bedrooms where most of the humans are sequestered.

There are two Bruce Willises at work in "Surrogates."  There's a 30ish-looking robot made in his likeness, an FBI detective named Greer.  He's a combination of Willis's acting, some serious computer-enhanced face lifting and a very bad -- probably on purpose -- sandy-haired wig.

Then there's Willis as the human Greer, a stay-at-home armchair cop.  That Greer mopes around because his wife won't come out of her room.  So he lets his surrogate do the walking, the arresting and the running around chasing some very bad guys out to destroy the surrogates.

Surrogate Greer partners with Surrogate FBI Agent Peters, portrayed well by Australian Radha Mitchell.  Mitchell, who appeared in Robert Benton's "Feast of Love" a couple years back, has no problem with a trio of performances; playing the real Peters, her surrogate and a mystery character not to be given away here.

Oh, and there's a mad scientist (James Cromwell) to be corralled as well.  Willis retreats into his teeth-clinched "Die Hard" mode for that.

There are some resisters who believe all humanity has evaporated from the population with the rise of surrogates.  The Prophet (Rhames, tee hee) heads that group from a junkyard DMZ zone so run down it could have been a slum rejected by the aliens for "District 9."

When the robot Greer gets destroyed and, I kid you not, crucified on a junkyard cross, the flesh-and-bone Greer must venture out into the surrogate-filled world himself.  Or, as Liza Minnelli warbled in "Cabaret," one of my favorite musicals, Greer must heed the call to no longer just sit there alone in his room.  Like it or not, he must "come to the cabaret," so to speak.  

Should you invest your money and join the party as well?  Sure, why not?  Just expect lots of violence, almost an equal amount of silly sci-fi and a plot that offers few surprises.


The mutant chronicles

Silly, explosive and so far over the top a reality bottom is not even a possibility, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is a comic book fan boy ride hullabaloo.

Those who don't wait sleeplessly for the next comic book-to-big screen transition need to remember that the "Wolverine" prequel to the "X-Men" trio of films is, at least from this aisle seat, wildly entertaining in its specific niche.

The odd thing is that Gavin Hood is directing a spectacle pic that features Hugh Jackman roaring from the depths of his mutant soul and spouting lines like, "You wanted an animal. You got one!"

Hood, you see, is the South Africa-born filmmaker who sprang to fame by directing "Tsotsi," the Academy Award-winning Johannesburg street crime-drama of 2006.

I like the fact that Hood doesn't try to bring high-brow artistic credence to a comic-book flick. On the contrary, he embraces the fantasy genre. But by doing so, he injects depth of character to Wolverine's long journey from misunderstood teen mutant to a genetically enhanced ultimate killing machine with berserker rage and adamantium claws.

Wolverine is reborn -- or rather recreated "Frankenstein" style -- into sort of a rage-filled hulk with Edward's scissorhands.

The guy sitting next to me during the screening I attended couldn't contain himself at times. I had to giggle under my breath when he said, "Yeah, like that's going to happen" more than once.

That, my friends, is exactly the point. The appeal of the "X-Men" series, not to mention "Batman," "Spider-Man," "Iron Man," "Watchmen" and all the other comic book men filling our movie screens, is that they provide escapism fantasy entertainment.

"Wolverine" does it better than most, thanks to Jackman, who reprises his role in the odd beard sans mustache, director Hood and excellent actor Liev Schreiber. There's even a love interest (Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox) in this explosive yarn that begins in 1845 Canada and hops forward in time.

Schreiber, on screen recently in "Defiance" and "The Ten," portrays Wolverine's older brother Victor. They are bonded allies in pre-title scenes that show them fighting back-to-back in every war from the American Civil War to Viet Nam. Hood is obviously having a little fun with the necessary pre-story, so its quite all right to giggle through scenes that eventually find the brothers facing a firing squad ... and discussing plans for what they'll do after.

Victor, an indestructible feral creature with super-human strength like his brother, has a much deeper blood lust and no intention of embracing his human side. "Wolverine" eventually gets around to pitting brother against brother, but family squabbles give way to even bigger challenges.

Danny Huston is effective as Col. William Stryker, portrayed in "X2" as an older character by Brian Cox. Stryker, sort of a Dr. Frankenstein for mutants, is rounding up odd human-like creatures with superior powers with a devious plan in mind. He makes Wolverine into what he is in the later "X-Men" flicks, and it's a more interesting journey than you might think.

Hood does what most fantasy directors don't. He provides the over-the-top thrills without dragging things out. Technically, this is a spectacle flick truly deserving of the descriptive word. Oscar nominated director of photography Donald McAlpine ("Moulin Rouge!") brings out the character drama beautifully, even against a backdrop that eventually includes Hollywood's version of the nuke power plant complex at Three Mile Island.

"Wolverine" is what it is. That means a really good time for the fan boy comic book and fantasy film crowd and some snickers and doable off-the-hinge entertainment for the rest of us.