Summer movie season is in full effect with the arrival of the third movie of the, sort of rebooted X-men franchise. X-men: Apocalypse hit theaters on Friday May 27th, so how was it? Let’s dive in.

I’ve got to say that thanks to X-men: Days Of Future Past, I don’t know what timeline to follow. X-men, X2 and X-men: Last Stand were all in one universe. 2011 saw the rebooting of the franchise with X-men: First class. We got new actors portraying characters like Magneto and Prof. X, albeit younger versions. Then Days Of Future past came out and all of a sudden we had characters from the original trilogy showing up amongst all the new characters? So , really I don’t know what to follow and what not to follow. This is a problem that will show up, particularly in this movie.

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The Story:

It’s a bit of a standard plot. It feels very much like something we’ve seen before, but that may not have been that big an issue if it was executed very well.  Essentially it’s the arrival of a new villain and his followers into the modern world. He’s been asleep for quite some time and now he’s woken up angry. All this while Charles Xavier and Mystique band together to bring a new group of X-men together to stop this threat. One issue that this movie has is that it spends too much time setting things up.

We need a setup for the villain Apocalypse. We need a setup for his followers. One by one, I might add. We get a set up for Mystique, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, and Strom. It takes a while before all that set up leads to too much substantial. There are some good moments in there. Storm is one of the better “new” characters introduced. She looks true to her origins, mohawk and all. They pay homage to her roots as a thief when she was under the control/tutelage of the Shadow King.  There was a powerful scene with Magneto and his family that also stands out as one of the high points of the movie. Once things get going it’s fairly by the number. No other real themes are explored and character development becomes lacking. Some character’s motivations are weak while other characters are just plain bad. No more is this true than with Moira McTaggret. Easily one of the worst things about this movie. Her character is so bland and poorly written it’s not funny. I really felt she had almost no purpose in this movie. She’s pretty much there to be Charles Xavier’s love interest. ( Minor Spoilers) there’s even a point where she suits up with the X-men?? Very dumb if you ask me. Pyschlocke is a character that was making her first big screen debut and I was hoping for good things but left slightly disappointed. She looked the part, that’s for sure. Her costume has probably been the most accurate of any of the X-men, so that’s a plus, but again, she had weak motivations and zero character development. Her “ending” was definitely a WTF moment that really stood out to me. They built up Cyclops a bit more but in the long run it didn’t really pay off all that much. I will admit it was good to see the stalwarts like him and Jean Grey back in the fold.

Then we get to Mystique. Oh Mystique, what are going to do with you? At this point she bares almost no resemblance to the comics or cartoon version of her character. Hell, she barely resembles the version played by Rebecca Romijn. The question is whether this is a good thing or a bad thing? I think a case can be made for both.

From a comics/cartoon perspective, Mystique was nothing more than a self interested villain who played a vital part in certain X-men’s lives. In the comics/cartoon she was the mother of Nightcrawler. She also had a hand in Rogue’s upbringing as well. She had her complex moments but she was certainly no leader for good.  The original trilogy of X-men movies pretty much showcase her in this way, save for the fact that she is on Magneto’s team.

The current crop of movies showcases her as a much more sympathetic character. She has a good heart but is prone to anger and even hate. She’s still kind of a loner but she fights for mutant kind. Jenifer Lawrence’s version is the more complex and perhaps more interesting version but is it too far from the source material? That’s up to the public to decide. One thing I can’t agree with is having her be in constant human form. It goes against her character, not just in the comics but in the movies as well, particularly the first 3 and First Class. To be fair they do try to explain why she is in human form as often as she is but I don’t know. It’s very clearly an excuse to capitalize on Jennifer Lawrence’s fame which doesn’t service the character.

At the end of it all, everything requires so much explanation and setup that when characters do turn, one way or the other, it doesn’t feel earned. This becomes very evident as we get to the climax of the movie.

 

The Action:

Entertaining but could’ve been better. There are some nuggets that are worth mentioning. ( SPOILERS coming) Wolverine’s surprise cameo manages to be the best action set piece in the whole movie. It was really a treat to see Wolverine unleashed from his Weapon X program. I still think that the movie creators held back a bit too much. They could’ve went a little further with the gore in that scene. It’s worth mentioning that Cyclops did have an extra kick in his attack in this movie. I really felt as if he could bring the pain if he needed t, but he didn’t really have ample opportunity throughout the movie. Even Mystique had very little to do in terms of action. Nightcrawler showed flashes of promise when he was duking it out with someone but again, too little. I did find that he was extremely useful throughout the movie, in fact without him the X-men would’ve been screwed on several occasions.

I will say that making such otherworldly powers work on screen is a challenge and they did a good job making it as dynamic as possible but aside from a few moments, action is not director, Bryan Singer’s strength. Wolverine, once again manages to outshine his cast mates when it comes to action in this movie.

 

The Villain:

Sebastian Shaw continues to reign supreme as the best pure X-men villain ever portrayed on screen. I wanted to love Apocalypse so badly and instead I had to settle for tolerating him. I think it’s pretty clear that most fans did not like his look in the movie. As someone I know pointed out…” He looks like a purple man with a clown’s mouth.” Not exactly a glowing review for the costume department. He lacks size and strength but what about his motivations? Fairly generic, is the way I’d put it. He wants to take over the world from the weaker species simply because he can, no other reason really. Apocalypse does have a threat to him but he doesn’t have that extra weight to make him anything other than just another powerful villain.

But the thing is that when does get a chance to flex his muscle, you see he means business. I just wish he would’ve done a little more and rely less on his 4 horsemen. He did have some fun lines of dialogue that can get stuck in your head and the actor does a commendable job with what he has but for someone as epic a villain as Apocalypse, that’s simply not good enough.

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The Acting:

A bit of a mixed bag here. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James Macavoy’s Prof. Xavier are as good as they always are. They are able to make most of their scenes compelling and elevate the rest of the cast, particularly Fassbender. Jennifer Lawrence is also quite good, no real false moments in her performance. She’s comfortable in the role as it has evolved. Rose Byrne’s Moira Mactaggert is the weakest of the bunch. Almost every moment she said a line of dialogue, I cringed. To be fair, she didn’t have the best lines to work with but she did her self no favors with her wooden delivery. Speaking of wooden, Sophie Turner could’ve done a better job as Jean Grey. She had moments that felt very forced. Particularly moments she had to carry on her own. Evan Peters’s Quicksilver always managed to make me laugh. He injected energy in every scene much like he did in Days Of Future Past.

Oscar Issac actually did a good job as Apocalypse for what he was given, so it’s hard to blame him for the sub par representation of the character. Everyone else in the movie was average enough to get by.

Overall:

Not as bad as Batman vs Superman but no where near as good as Civil War. Middle of the road seems fair for X-men: Apcalypse. It had some high points but ultimately for the scope of the villain, it should’ve been better. I appreciate what Brian Singer did for the X-men franchise but I think it’s time to bring in a fresh eye. Aside from that, Fox studios has to really decide what continuity they want to follow. Do the X-men first meet Wolverine in this movie or in the first one? Is Mystique a pure villain or is she a hero? Why is Jubilee a kid here and a kid in X2? With all of these questions and more looming how are they going to keep going?

Hugh Jackman already stated that Wolverine 3 is the last time he’d be playing Logan, so does that mean they will recast the role? I’ve heard rumors that X-23 will take over as the “Wolverine” of the team( X-23 is Wolverine’s daughter for those unaware.) If that’s to be believed that means that she would show up before Logan ever joined the X-men? I think that would be met with a tepid response from fanboys but who knows? We’ll see what Fox has up it’s sleeve once Wolverine 3 wraps.

 

 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Astronomers have discovered 1,284 more planets beyond our solar system, with nine possibly in orbits suitable for surface water that could bolster the prospects of supporting life, scientists said on Tuesday.

The announcement brings the total number of confirmed planets outside the solar system to 3,264. Called exoplanets, the bulk were detected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which searched for habitable planets like Earth.

The new planets were identified during Kepler’s four-year primary mission, which ended in 2013, and previously had been considered planet-candidates.

Scientists announcing the largest single finding of planets to date used a new analysis technique that applied statistical models to confirm the batch as planets, while ruling out scenarios that could falsely appear to be orbiting planets.

“We now know there could be more planets than stars,” Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director, said in a news release. “This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe.”

Of the new planets, nearly 550 could be rocky like Earth, NASA said. Nine planets are the right distance from a star to support temperatures at which water could pool. The discovery brings to 21 the total number of known planets with such conditions, which could permit life.

Kepler looked for slight changes in the amount of light coming from about 150,000 target stars. Some of the changes were caused by orbiting planets passing across, or transiting, the face of their host stars, relative to Kepler’s line of sight.

The phenomenon is identical to Monday’s transit of Mercury across the sun, as seen from Earth’s perspective.

The analysis technique, developed by Princeton University astronomer Tim Morton and colleagues, analyzed which changes in the amount of light are due to planets transiting and which are due to stars or other objects.

The team verified, with a more than 99 percent accuracy, that 1,284 candidates were indeed orbiting planets, Morton said.

The results suggest that more than 10 billion potentially habitable planets could exist throughout the galaxy, said Kepler lead scientist Natalie Batalha, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The nearest potentially habitable planet is about 11 light years from Earth.

“Astronomically speaking, that’s a very close neighbor,” she said.

Sadly, comic legend Darwyn Cooke passed away on May 14th of this year. He was only 53 years old. Cooke, no doubt had more stories to tell, and with his impressive track record you know that we will be missing out on fantastic pieces of work.

Cooke was a Toronto born creator who started fairly late in the comics game at the age of 38 or so. Despite this, he quickly made a name for himself. Nearly everything he put out became seminal work. I mean this in the best way possible because I feel that he was almost the ultimate opportunist, in the fact that he didn’t need a lot of chances to hit one out of the park. He took whatever he worked on and ran with it at full speed. Cooke was of a rare breed, proving he could be both an excellent artist AND writer. Cooke always claimed he hated writing but damn, he was good at it, and he had distinctive styles for both. Cooke made a name for himself working on Batman The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, and his own art style reflected that but his style still had it’s own unique flavor. His penchant for lighting and drama really stick out in my mind. His art was detailed, but simple enough to increase efficiency. Cooke stated on a few occasions that he developed his art style in this way in order to work quickly without having to sacrifice quality, and he never missed a deadline. His writing style was also as unique. He manged to tell complex and nuanced work without delving into excessive violence or gore thus making it accessible for . He was a major advocate for all age comics. In fact, he was quite critical of mainstream comic companies not tailoring enough of their modern material for younger readers.

His first work was the excellent Batman: Ego one shot ,which he wrote and drew. It was a psychologically complex look at Batman’s worst enemy, Himself. I find that it’s still criminally underrated. Certainly one of my favorite Batman stories of all time. It wasn’t until Justice League: New Frontier that the public really started paying attention and critical acclaim soon followed.

Cooke was as much a teacher as he was a creator. He was vocal about sharing tips and advise to any aspiring artist or writer. Fans always wanted to see him do more creator owned work but it was not to be.

NOT RELEASED (NR) Darwyn Cooke Illustrates 23 Variant Covers For The DC Universe You Wish Really Existed http://comicsalliance.com/darwyn-cooke-dc-variants-december/NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Artist Darwyn Cooke attends the 2010 New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javitz Center on October 8, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

If you’ve never heard of Darwyn Cooke, do yourself a favor and check out a few of these recommendations.

DC:The New Frontier: 6 issue miniseries

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Probably what he will most be remembered for is the re imagining and reweaving of the origin of the Justice League, in many ways, the heart of the DC universe. Tackling both art & writing duties, Cooke manged to showcase a tale that could appeal to anyone at a time where grim and gritty seemed the norm. His idealistic view of a better hope for tomorrow never came through quite so poignantly as it did with New Frontier. The limited series manged to win an Eisner, Harvey and Joe Shuster Award for best limited series, High accolades indeed.

Richard Stark’s: Parker- Vol 1 -4

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Cooke often said that Parker was the story he was born to do and if you look at the end result, it’s hard to disagree. Sure, it’s an adaptation of various novels by Richard Stark but Cooke really brought the stories to life and managed to make Parker a household name. I’ve written about my love for the Parker books before so I won’t go on too long but if you’re looking for bad ass crime noir, look no further than Parker. I’d say the finest art Darwyn Cooke ever did. So simple, yet so complex. Feast your eyes on this spread.

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The Spirit:  #1–6, 8–12

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The only ongoing, monthly series Darwyn Cooke ever had but it was an instant classic. Also regarded as the only successful revival of The Spirit to match the quality of Will Eisner’s work. That is huge praise considering how well regarded Eisner’s Spirit work is. Much in the tradition of Eisner’s work, Cooke focused on one and done stories. Every issue had something unique about it. Be it a point of view or just the way to tell the story itself. The tones were as varied as they come. You had straight up detective stories and other times you had light hearted comedies. It seemed like the sky was the limit when it came to Cooke crafting The Spirit. He was only on the title for 11 issues but, as Darwyn Cooke always did, made his mark. Forget the horrible movie, read this instead.If you can track down the trade, vol 1 contains the excellent Batman/Spirit crossover that Jeph Loeb and him worked on. It’s a wonderful story and winner of the Eisner award for best single issue.

Batman: Ego

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I have to mention Batman: Ego again. It’s such a complete and satisfying read and it’s only one issue, 64 pages long! It’s more concerned in exploring the dark psyche of Batman/ Bruce Wayne rather than focusing on fisticuffs. When we are self dive into self anyliss the results can be… interesting. Imagine what the analysis would be like for someone who puts on a Bat suit and beats up criminals in order to avenge his parents death? Let me give you a preview.

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Just look at that monstrous image along with that sharp dialogue and tell me it wasn’t cool. The actual one shot is a bit difficult to locate but thankfully it was collected in trade paperback( Batman: Ego and other tales)  along with some excellent Catwoman stories Cooke worked on. Not as action packed as a story like Dark Knight Returns but just as meaty.

 

Watchmen: The Minute Men: 6 issue mini series

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Comic fans know how massive Alan Moore’s Watchmen was and still is. Imagine the idea of having a prequel without his involvement… Sacrilege, right? DC took a big gamble and decided to give a few select creators the keys to the kingdom, one of those creators was luckily Cooke. He initially passed on the offer from DC but came up with a story that didn’t step all over Alan Moore’s story and manged to provide further insight into something that hadn’t been explored to it’s fullest yet. In came the Minute Men. It tells the story of Hollis Mason recounting his days with the Minute Men in the 40’s. But writing his autobiography provides to be more challenging as he faces various sources trying to silence his story. It’s a thoroughly engaging story that was regarded as one of the better prequels to come out of the Before Watchmen stories.

 

I have to give a shout out to the brief stint Cooke had drawing Jonah Hex with writers, Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti. Cooke’s art sensibilities fit surprisingly well within the western motif and his art only helped elevate the excellent writing that series already had.

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These and many more stories should be discovered and consumed by the reading public. A talent such as Darwyn Cooke’s deserves wider recognition than just a comics guy. He was a true artist and visionary, certainly one of the most influential ones of his generation. I’ll leave you with the classic opening for Batman Beyond, which he animated. Farewell Daryn Cooke. The world has lost you but you are not forgotten.

The Avengers have faced some difficult opponents, either as a team or on their own: the Red Skull, Loki, the Mandarin, Ultron. However, in “Captain America: Civil War,” they face a new kind of enemy: each other. “Civil War” divides the Avengers, forcing them to align with either Iron Man or Captain America. Iron Man believes superheroes should sign a government document that will keep them all accountable; Captain America fears the government will abuse that power and it would be dangerous to sign. They are also split on exactly how the Winter Soldier — the Cap’s brainwashed best friend Bucky Barnes — should be brought to justice. This conflict will challenge and even ruin friendships, and it will bring an end to the Avengers as we know them.

“Captain America: Civil War” is a tense, thought-provoking superhero film that is both global and personal in its scope. It ventures into definite moral gray areas and sometimes it’s tough to decide who is actually doing the right thing. Although there are a lot of superheroes, and a lot of subplots, the Russo brothers — who also helmed 2014’s excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — successfully manage everything that’s going on and never lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and the Cap. “Civil War” is a must-see for Marvel fans and shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Civil War” starts by examining a theme that, a little surprisingly, is often overlooked in superhero films: collateral damage. When superheroes battle super-powered villains, city blocks tend to get leveled and the landscape gets destroyed. We may not like to think about it, but in these types of epic battles, civilian casualties would be difficult to avoid. In “Civil War,” Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, inadvertently kills civilians while trying to stop a bomb. This incident appears to be the last straw in a long line of catastrophic Avengers-related events (New York, Washington, D.C., Sokovia), and the United Nations presents the Avengers with a document called the Sokovia Accords, which are designed to control them and keep them accountable.

Normally the rebel but now haunted by his past mistakes, Tony Stark is one of the first to sign. However, Steve Rogers can’t bring himself to do the same. He’s afraid of giving the government this kind of control, and he is concerned the government could abuse this power. He also believes Bucky Barnes is a victim of brainwashing, even though the government has labeled his as a No. 1 priority terrorist and has ordered their agents to kill him on sight. Captain America ends up going rouge with Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and several other Avengers, and Tony is forced to hunt him down with the help of War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow — and a couple surprise allies.

While there’s a lot going on in “Civil War,” the directors keep everything running smoothly, and it feels like every character and plot point gets just the right amount of screen time. It’s a more satisfying film than last summer’s “Age of Ultron,” which remains the only MCU film that I don’t own and the only one that left me feeling slightly disappointed. “Civil War” does a better job of managing its large cast and finding time for some quieter, more character-focused moments, even in the midst of all the action. Marvel’s weak link is sometimes its villains, and you could say this film’s villain, Helmut Zemo, isn’t as dynamic as he could have been. But this film was never really meant to be about the Avengers fighting an outside villain: it’s about what happens when they fight each other, and Zemo is merely the catalyst who facilitates that conflict.

Although this is very much the Cap and Iron Man’s film, there are some great cameo appearances and newcomers here. I was excited to see Ant-Man join the Avengers for the first time, and the revelation of his new “special ability” is one of the best — and funniest — moments of the film. I also really loved Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther, and I’m excited for his upcoming solo film. He brings an outside perspective to the conflict, and he’s definitely a superhero you want to have on your side. And no review of “Civil War” would be complete without talking about Spider-Man. I was a little nervous about how the character would blend with the Avengers, but the Russos handle his introduction marvelously, sending Tony Stark to recruit the excitable and lovably awkward teenager. It’s also a blast to see him using his powers in the big showdown between the opposing groups of superheroes.

The film ends on a slightly ambiguous note, which I was actually happy about. There’s not a direct resolution to the conflict, and the Russos don’t completely repair the division in the team. I was concerned the film would try to rush and wrap everything up too neatly, and thankfully, it doesn’t do that. The conflict will continue to impact Marvel films in the future. All in all, I was very pleased with “Civil War.” I’m not sure yet exactly where this ranks on my list of favorite MCU films, but it’s definitely in the top 5. I guess I’ll just have to go see it again.

It’s time to conclude this epic list and give these flicks the recognition they deserve. Marvel may have the edge in the big screen world, but DC surely has the upper hand in the animated world. The cream of the crop here, only confirms that.

14. J.L.A: Gods and Monsters

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Bruce Timm made a bit of a comeback producing and co-writing this movie after going a brief hiatus. Thankfully he delivered a very strong entry to the DC animated movie line that had otherwise been lacking in the last few releases. Gods and Monsters turned out to be, not only a breath of fresh air, but a totally new and re-imagined universe for the DC trinity of Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman. These are not the characters we think we know so well, but they’re not entirely unrecognizable either. Superman is the son of General Zod in this tale. He is also raised by Mexican immigrant parents. Kirk Langstrom is Batman who is, in fact turning into a vampire bat with an insatiable blood lust. Wonder Woman is the daughter of Darkseid. These changes give these characters a noticeably different world view. They’re not always nice, and they’re not always selfless in their crusade. Aside from these hooky concepts there lies an interesting story as well. It’s thoroughly compelling throughout and delivers a climatic ending to boot. Voice acting is solid from almost everyone involved. If you want something fresh and engaging, check this out.

13. Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths

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Crisis On Two Earths tell an interesting story but the bread and butter is in the movies execution. It’s thoroughly entertaining. It’s a simple enough premise…The JLA vs themselves, sort of. The DC universe is known for having multiple Earths that contain multiple versions of characters we know and love. In this case, the JLA face off against the villainous side of themselves called The Syndicate. It’s intriguing to see the road not taken for some of these characters, especially someone like Batman. What would he really be like if he did go just a little bit further over the edge? Another plus for the movie is it’s similar feel to the fantastic Justice League Unlimited TV series. It plays off the shows strength while still having it’s own distinct flavor. Voice acting for this one is solid. Actor, James Woods plays a particularly good evil Batman( Owlman). There are also some great lines in it, that showcase depth and humor. As an added treat you get a supposed origin to Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. The explanation for Wonder Woman even having a jet is worth the watch alone.

12. Green Lantern: First Flight

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Warner Bros. finally gives Green Lantern: Hal Jordan his first well deserved, full length animated feature. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful entry to the lineup DC had at that point. On the other hand it makes one wonder how the big screen creators could’ve screwed up so badly on Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern? First Flight was everything the big screen version should’ve been and it did it in less time and a vastly reduced budget. It’s an origin story that most fast enough not to bore us with the details and it showcases Sinestro as much as he needs to be showcased. Think of it as the Green Lantern version of Denzel Washington’s, Training Day film. A lot of it is Sinestro showing Hal Jordan the ropes, but along the way we see Sinestro for who he truly is. The animation is solid. There are some very exciting action pieces that simply demand your attention. The story is so fast that sometimes it could afford to take it’s time an explore certain things a little further. It’s a good first entry for Green Lantern, but Sinestro steals the show.

11. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

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The sequel to the excellent First Flight film proves to be even better than it’s predecessor. It also improves on the short film concept that Gotham Knight tried to do when it came out. Emerald Knights features a series of short stories that focus on different members of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. All the stories are exceptional despite showcasing a lot of lesser known characters that may not be as appealing as Hal Jordan. Every short is worth watching just for the animation alone. It’s some of the best to come out of the DCU. One of the short stories is based on a comic story by writer, Alan Moore called ” Mogo doesn’t socialize”. This is just one of the highlights that this collection of shorts has to offer.

10. Superman/Shazam: The Return Of Black Adam plus DC shorts

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The collection of short films for this installment is easily the strongest for me. All 4 shorts arguably do more for the characters than any of their big screen counterparts. We know this is especially true of Jonah Hex. Remember that horrible movie with Megan Fox?… I try to forget too. The Jonah Hex short featured in this collection is an accurate portrayal of what this awesome character can offer to audiences. I think an HBO or Netflix show would do this character justice. The Green Arrow short is a ton of fun and also a much more faithful interpretation of the character than the Arrow TV show. The Spectre is one of my favorite DC characters so I was thrilled with the prospect of having a short based on his adventures. It turned out to be pretty damn good too. The longest short is the titular Superman/Shazam story. It’s worthy of it’s lengthier run time. It’s a nice modernization of the Shazam mythos. The voice acting on display here is top notch. Warner Bros. and DC really did a good job in picking the talent for this one. Give this a try and you won’t be disappointed. At the very least you’ll regain your respect for Jonah Hex.

9. Wonder Woman

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We finally get a solo Wonder Woman animated movie simply titled ” Wonder Woman”. It serves as a modernization of her sometimes convoluted origins. It provides enough context for any newcomers to our favorite amazon warrior. It balances various tropes very well. Like Thor, Wonder Woman can get quite chessy if not done with the utmost finesse. They make it humorous  enough without making fun of the source material. It’s as much a character piece as it is anything else. The attention to detail in her arc just shows the love and appreciation the creators have for her. Her supporting cast gets that same detail. Steve Trevor shines thanks to Nathon Fillion but the true star is Keri Russell’s Wonder Woman. She is the Wonder Woman we all deserve. She’s compassionate yet firm. She kicks ass when she has to but isn’t blood hungry. The creators don’t dumb her down either. She’s naive about dealing in the modern world but she isn’t stupid. The villains are also a strong point. Hades proves a formidable and truly cool DC villain. One can only hope that 2017’s big screen version of Wonder Woman is remotely as good as this small animated feature.

8. Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker

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The only film to come out of TV’s Batman Beyond universe turns out to be a gem. This movie turned out to be so good it could easily place higher on this list but the decisions started to get hard and I had to go with my gut. For those unaware, the Batman Beyond universe is set a considerable amount of years in the future. Bruce Wayne is well into his 80’s and has passed off the cape and cowl to a younger Batman named Terry Mcginnis. SO how is it that the Joker is back? Well, that’s the mystery. It’s a great story that brings back all of Bruce Wayne’s bad memories of his worst foe back into the forefront. It’s especially cool to see Terry battle against the Joker we all know and love. Mark Hamil returns to voice the clown prince of crime, and he’s great. There’s a particularly dark flashback sequence in the movie that sends chills down the spine. It’s got a surprising amount of emotinal heft for something that was still technically aimed for a younger audience,, but the less spoilers you get about the movie, the better. It’s also penned by Batman T.A.S. great, Paul Dini, what more do you want?

7. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

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The only truly great DC animated movie made after Bruce Timm’s brief departure from the animated movie line.Based on the comic by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert, it’s basically a nice alternate reality tale where everything is different except for one person. The Flash. Basically one morning Barry Allen wakes up and finds out that his Mother is alive and well. That’s not all. He quickly discovers that there are no other costumed heroes out there except Batman. Superman never existed and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are power mad dictators. The world is in shambles and no one really knows why… Except Flash. It’s wonderfully paced, with not a moment wasted. I especially love all the subtle( And sometimes not too subtle) references to the DC universe as a whole. It really makes for an enjoyable experience for the DC fanboy, not that you have to be one to enjoy it. As much as it says Justice League on the box, make no mistake, this is a Flash story. Easily one of the best portrayals of the character that there’s been. An important thing to point out here is that it is quite violent. DC held very little back. This is a brutal world and never does it show more than in the climatic ending. Exhilarating right to the end, a  must watch.

6. Justice League: New Frontier

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Shifting gears away from Flashpoint’s dystopic world, to the innocent time of the 50’s and 60’s. Based on Darwyn Cooke’s ” New Frontier” period piece, we get a glimpse of the early beginnings of Hal Jordan( Green Lantern), Martian Manhunter and the Justice League as a whole. IN a rare case, the movie might actually be better than the source material, which speaks to the effectiveness of this movie. It’s a brilliantly crafted story that blends all the various plot points so beautifully. Every thread leads to something. Some might argue that the payoff isn’t as good as the journey and they may be right but dammit, it’s awesome. The voice actors are nearly all pitch perfect. If the action spectacle of the superhero genre is too much for you, then this is the movie to watch. It carries many themes that get explored all the way to the ending of the movie. It’s sort of an answer to Alan Moore’s Watchmen without intending to be. It demonstrates that you can tell a sophisticated tale for both younger and mature readers without delving into the hyper violence. Not to say that this is light viewing, quite the contrary. From romance, to fear mongering to racism to morality, this one’s got it all. I find that those looking for awesome looking action tend to be underwhelmed, but thats not what the movie is truly going for anyway. There is enough action sprinkled around to sustain most people but the story is where it’s at. This clip is a wonderful example of an alien trying to fit in by simply copying what it sees on Television.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ojK3NbIHg

5. Superman vs The Elite

elite

MY favorite Superman movie of all time. Based on Joe Kelly’s ” What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way?” Nothing else seems to capture the essence of what makes Superman who he is more aptly than this movie in my opinion. I always say it’s the perfect Superman story for any Superman hater because it addresses the very complaints most of them have with the character head on. This movie rises up above just being another generic comic book movie into something far deeper.  It’s a simple enough story that’s told remarkably well. After years of having Superman on the scene, a new group called the Elite appears. They are a much more brutal type of superhero that goes to places that Superman never could. They kill, and the public seems to like it.  Amongst many questions of right and wrong it poses the most important one. Why does Superman? The answer to that is all the more powerful when you see it unfold in the movie. Superman doesn’t compromise his values or his beliefs, no matter what. That becomes his greatest flaw and his greatest virtue. The movie plays on that very well. I found that by watching this unfold you see that his greatest weakness is not always Kyrptonite. The overly angular animation might put off a few but it doesn’t matter. The story, acting and action are too solid to be ignored.I think the message to take away here is no matter what kind of heroes you think we need, Superman will always be Superman and there will always be a need for a hero like him. If you were disillusioned watching Batman vs Superman than watch this. It will make you believe in the power of hope again.

 

4. Batman: Year One

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The classic story from Frank Miller and co. get’s the movie treatment it deserves here. Nolan’s Batman Begins touches on various things from that story but this animated movie gives us, an almost panel for panel adaptation. Add Bryan Cranston voicing Jim Gordon and you;ll see why the end result was as good as it is. It’s as much a Gordon story as much as it is a Batman one. The inner monologue Gordon has gives the movie a delightfully  crime noir feel throughout. Corruption, violence and prostitution are running rampant in Gotham and it’s rotting the city to the core. Enter Batman. It doesn’t pull punches and we’re better as an audience for it. We see his inexperience starting out as Batman. He makes mistakes and so does Gordon, both professionally and personally. The animation is exceptional here. They did a commendable job translating David Mazzucchelli’s distinct artwork on screen. A story this iconic had a lot of pressure going in but it thankfully met expectations and delivered a great Bat-flick.

 

3. Batman: Under The Hood

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This movie definitely outdid it’s original source material. It cut the fat and refined the great points in writer, Judd Winnick’s Under The Red Hood storyline. It’s the story of Batman’s greatest failure coming back to haunt him, the death of Jason Todd. Jason Todd was the second Robin after Dick Grayson gave up the mantle. On one of many missions with Batman, Robin runs into the Joker and becomes one of his many victims. The movie covers this flashback sequence in some detail. It’s brutal and unforgiving in it’s portrayal. Fast forward to the present day and a new crime fighter is on the scene that goes by the Red Hood. His identity is a mystery but there is some connection to Jason Todd that hits Batman on a personal level. Once the Joker gets involved the stakes become that much higher. The movie plays on some similar themes that Superman vs The Elite touched on, and that is of the choice never to kill. Is is justified to totally abide by that code even in the case of someone like the Joker? Batman has to face that letting him live might have led to the death of Jason Todd. The Red Hood certainly throws that right in Batman’s face time and again. There’s a great scene at the end that touches on this the best. It’s one of the most tense and emotionally charged scenes I’ve ever seen in animation. Actor Bruce Greenwood nails playing Batman/Bruce Wayne. For my money the best to do so since Kevin Conroy. It’s a very dark and bleak story but not just that way for the sake of being that way. The script is masterful in making the dark moments have real depth and the payoffs of this are aplenty. The animation matches the quality of the script and the acting, giving us the nuance necessary for the big dramatic moments. For a long time this was the premier Batman film the DC animated line released and depending on who you ask, it still very well may be.

2. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

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The first animated feature for DC is also the only one to have a limited theatrical release. I missed out on watching it on the big screen but I would LOVE to watch it in that format today. Mask Of The Phantasm spins directly out of the critically acclaimed Batman: Animated Series, as you can tell by the distinctive Bruce Timm art style. A team of writers, including the great Paul Dini, were charged with writing the story and script, and each gave the movie their distinct flavor to the work. Having a larger budget allowed the creators to put a lot more attention to detail. The animation is better than it ever was and every punch or line of dialogue can be heard with crystal clarity. Even the music gets an added umph to it. As for the story, the movie is really an amalgamation of 2 or 3 Batman comics, namely Batman: Year one and Batman: Year Two. I feel it greatly improves on the source material, particularly Batman: Year Two.  The movie adds it’s own little things here and there and the end result is the benchmark of any good superhero movie, not just an animated one. When an animated movie can transcend in that way you know you’re watching something special. Something, even timeless perhaps. Both Kevin Conroy( Batman) and Mark Hamil ( Joker) arguably give their best performances as their respective characters but it’s Dana Delany who really makes an impression. Delany was so good that I feel she helped elevate everyone else involved. Her performance as Andrea Beaumont( Bruce’s first true love) really helps to create a rich an engrossing character who will forever be remembered fondly by fans.

Aside from seeing Bruce Wayne’s journey to become the Dark Knight for the first time, we also get an even rarer thing, especially for flashbacks. You get to see a time where Bruce was happy. His relationship with Andrea Beaumont made him happy enough to not even want to become Batman anymore. It only helps to make Bruce Wayne more human. Everyone of us has good memories to go along with the bad no matter how traumatic an experience we had. Watch the movie to see how the tide turns and how ultimately Bruce Wayne becomes Batman anyway. I’ve always loved this moment between Bruce and his parents.

Check out this classic and you won’t be disappointed.

1. The Dark Knight Returns : The deluxe edition

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Speaking of classics. we get to The Dark Knight Returns. Nearly 3 hours running time for this epic masterpiece based on Frank Miller’s seminal work. This turned out to be Executive Producer, Bruce Timm’s last movie before taking his hiatus, and what a way to go out.  The creators behind this movie knew full well the amount of care that had to be taken in adapting, possibly the greatest Batman story of all time. When this project was announced early on  you could see that they were certainly making an effort to stay close to the source material. They announced it as a 2 parter, indicating that no vital moments would be cut from the story. Once it became as seamless movie once it was released in a deluxe edition.

The story is one about an Batman coming back out of retirement to save the city once more. Bruce Wayne’s in his 50’s and crime is as rampant as ever, while Batman hasn’t been seen in 10 years. It’s a strong character piece that really dives into why Bruce Wayne is Batman, and just how much he needs to be Batman. Eventually Bruce can’t keep watching Gotham go down the hole and he can’t continue to block out the voice in his head that seems to be screaming out for him to return as Batman. It’s especially interesting to see where Batman’s supporting characters are at that stage in their lives. Gordon is weeks away from retirement and Harvey Dent finally had reconstructive surgery on his face to repair any lingering reminders of being Two-Face. And the Joker? He’s been in a comatose state for years, that is, until Batman resurfaces. It’s a timeless story that is still very much a reflection of 1980’s America but can also be applied to various parts of the rest of the world. it’s psychologically complex and even politically charged. The role that the media plays is also something very unique to The Dark Knight Returns. In some ways things haven’t changed, if anything, they may be even worse in today’s world.

We also get a great sense of finality to this epic. It very much feels like this will be the last time for certain conflicts that arise. Many films have been greatly influenced by Dark Knight Returns including Batman vs Superman. For my money, Dark Knight Returns gets their conflict right, as evidenced by this tense exchange between the 2 men.

 

It’s a mature, sophisticated take on a classic hero that boils down everything that Batman is about. No stone is left unturned here. Big kudos has to go to all the voice actors especially Peter Weller, who does a good job playing an older Bruce/Batman. The fight scenes are OUTSTANDING. The best I’ve seen of any animated feature. Even the musical score is fantastic. I was hard pressed to find something that could match, or even surpass Mask Of The Phantasm but if anything could, this would be it.

Hope you enjoyed the list! Hope you’re as excited by the upcoming Killing Joke as I am.

 

 

 

To me, animes are like apples. They’re really delicious, savoury, and crunchy when you get a good one; grainy, odd, and inedible when you get a bad one.

The problem with animes? While many look interesting conceptually, the experience becomes soured once you’ve taken a bite. Macross Delta, shame on thee!

It is no secret that most animes cater to what brings in the ratings; the uniquely good ones get lost in the minutiae of haremfests/loli whores, over-dragged shonen, yaoi slash, incest drama, gratuitous hentai fan service, and pop star worship.

AKA, the genre hexafecta equivalent to alcohol—addictive but will rob you of brain cells before you know it.

It’s been a few weeks since the debut of the Spring Anime Season and if you’re still wondering which ones do not fall under the abovementioned hexafecta, read on.

Anime Kiznaiver7) Kiznaiver

How to describe this show? Sense8 on crack perhaps?

Seven unique high schoolers are kidnapped and surgically implanted with a device that allows them to feel each other’s pain, turning them into test subjects for world peace.

Do I sound high writing that? I assure you I’m not but it’d probably be a good idea to be on something when watching the show. In no way do I publicly condone getting you-know-what, but when the opening theme is sung by Boom Boom Satellites…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ER7YspeMBFc

It’s almost as if the situation calls for it.

I’m keeping a close eye on this one. I genuinely did not think I’d like it but the concept is so farfetched that after all 5 episodes released thus far, I’m left wondering where the story might go. In a very intrigued kind of way.

6) Sailor Moon Crystal: Season 3

Anime Sailor Venus beads
Want your craphole to get in a world of hurt?

As a legit fan of the original 90s Sailor Moon anime, I was disappointed at how closely Crystal followed the manga.

I can appreciate some aspects that were faithfully retained including: the original transformation sequences, the overall story progression, and even Sailor Venus’ anal beads. But where Crystal does not deviate lies in the implementation of action sequences, or lack thereof.

“Makkuri!… Akwa!… Miraja!” (Mercury Aqua Mirage)

Kaboom!

Minion of the week dead!

A minute after she’s introduced.

Anime Uranus Neptune

Crystal Season 3 made the list because of two reasons: Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune. Easily the most interesting of the outer Senshi, Haruka and Michirou’s introduction into the Sailor universe is not as straightforward as clear allies to the Senshi.

Plus, for those of us who were exposed to the “cousin-fiasco” in the DIC/Cloverway dub, we can finally experience the yuri love as it was always meant to be.

And that folks, is what Sailor Says… Moon Pranetu Powah!!! Meeeeik Apu!

5) Sakamoto Desu Ga? (Haven’t you heard? I’m Sakamoto)

Anime Sakamoto

This is arguably this season’s equivalent to Daily Life of High School Boys.

In a word, it’s funny!

In several words, the show follows an episodic format (two-to-three shorts per episode) documenting the daily experiences of the “Cool, Cooler, Coolest” and admirably perfect high school student, Sakamoto.

Now, why would anyone care about a perfect student?

Because while Sakamoto comes up with quick solutions, is charmingly handsome, and is skilled in pretty much everything, his imperfection lies in his social awareness.

Or maybe he’s fully aware but has a sociopathic tendency to toy with social interactions? Tun dun dun!

Whatever. Come for the concept, stay for the hilarity. Sakamoto desu ga? is high school slice-of-life with the exaggerated anime funnies.

4) Big Order

Anime Big Order

As the manga was originally written by Sakae Esuno, the same writer/illustrator behind Mirai Nikki (Future Diary), I had certain expectations for Big Order.

Expectations which included:

  • a convoluted-yet-interesting mess of a concept
  • high stakes action scenes
  • the incorporation of outlandish supernatural abilities
  • the presence of a psycho female lead.

No complaints here.

In the Big Order world, an omnipotent being grants a selection of human beings an ability—ranging from divination to immortality—directly correlated to a heartfelt wish that they had made. Dubbed “Orders”, these humans with abilities have naturally risen to power. Feeling guilty from having “destroyed” the world 10 years prior, our hero, Eiji Hoshimiya, has taken himself off the Order radar but soon spearheads a global domination plot in order to save his sister.

As a fan of Mirai Nikki, all I have to say in excitement for this show is: “Tea, biscuits, biscuits, f*** this tea!” Future Diary misheard lyrics fans will know…

3) Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn RE:0096

That’s a mouthful of a title.
Anime Gundam UnicornMy interest in Gundam Unicorn is… well justified enough considering I haven’t bothered with a Gundam anime since Gundam 00 (Season 2 DOES NOT EXIST).

Gundam Unicorn is not immune to the “thematic staples” that reappear in every Gundam installment. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. a female lead, often in her teens, with strong political clout to avert/cause a space-scale war.
  2. a masked, blonde villain/anti-hero, whose piloting skills are often unparalleled.
  3. a war between two factions—one Earth-based, the other colony-based.
  4. the male lead’s coming of age, in opposition to the female lead’s class and political views.

For those who find this franchise formula overdone, there is hope. If there’s one thing I can pinpoint that would explain my revived interest in the franchise… I feel that one thing would be dialogue.

Seriously, the Unicorn dialogue is a reminder of the franchise’s potential and I hope it continues for the rest of the season and the next. The new Gundam Wing, perhaps?

 

2) Lost Village

Anime Lost Village 02

Out of all the animes in this list, I would say Lost Village has the weakest animation.

However, it provides a concept so intriguing that it’s worth skimming over the artistry.

In a nutshell, Lost Village documents the journey of 30 individuals (yes, 30) as they explore the forgotten village of Nanaki, with the hopes of detaching themselves from a society to which they cannot conform and to reinvent their identities by creating their own mini-utopia.

What they find in Nanaki, however, is something sinister, confounding, and very much linked to the supernatural.

Surprise!

None of them can leave!

Or at least, not yet.

Lost Village is Lost meets Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni (When They Cry).

You’ll see the parallels to Lost within the first two episodes. But why Higurashi?

Anime Lovepon

Cuz this loveable psycho beyotch!

I kid you not, I find myself yelling out Shokei! (Execute!) at the most random circumstances. And hopefully, you will too. I’m just waiting for the part when at least one of the girls pulls a Rena/Takako/Shmion laugh.

Fun fact: Both Lost Village and Kiznaiver are, as far as I know, original animes (i.e. not ported from a manga or video game) credited to have both been written by Mari Okada.

1) Joker Game

Anime Joker GameAs it stands, Joker Game tops this chart because it excels in a lot of things:

  • Animation—Production I.G. OP… OP
  • Concept—In the years leading up to World War II, Japan’s department of intelligence sends a group of highly trained spies all over the world, in an effort to gather intelligence for Japan’s success on the conflicts to come.
  • Storytelling—despite following an episodic formula, every episode is intriguing; every episode has a twist.
  • Music—the inclusion of jazz elements into the soundtrack help paint the 1930s atmosphere

Joker Game borrows elements from three great animes: Darker than Black, Death Parade, and Night Raid 1931.

Of course, whether Joker Game lives up to these three remains to be seen but the hallmarks for its potential are easily recognizable.

How ‘bout dem animes apples?

In no way am I condemning animes that fall under the above-outlined hexafecta (eehh, that’s a lie) but let’s be honest. There are just waaaaay too many bad apples that cater to the masses.

So go ahead! Throw away that bushel of bad apples and feast on the (potentially) few good ones!

Durarara x2 Ketsu should be a part of this list but I haven’t had a chance to watch it all in one go. After all, the story can be very confusing.

Finally one of the most influential Japanese animations in being adopted into a live-action. Yup, Ghost in the Shell is being made into a potential Hollywood Blockbuster. Surprisingly the movie is getting attention even before it hit the movie theatres due to a rather big controversy.

Scarlett Johansson is to play the role of cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi. The internet went into a  franzy, accusing Hollywood of Whitewashing. The American movie industry has been known for whitewashing pretty much since movies were being made, with whites often being cast to play the roles of black, Native Americans, Arabs, and even Orientals:

Mickey Rooney as I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

That’s just… I can’t even….

Justin Chatwin as Goku in Dragonball: Evolution (2009)

What the F…? WHY? You just totally ruined my childhood!

Jim Sturgess as Hae-Joo Chang in Cloud Atlas (2012)

Yeah, because I bet there are, like, NO Korean actors that could have actually played the part…

 

Sadly it’s a very long list and I just scrapped the very tip of this voluminous iceberg. At any rate Hollywood is getting a lot of backlash for casting ScarJo for a role that should be played by an Asian actress. To make matters even more ridiculous it’s rumoured the caucasian actress is going to be adorned with some makeup and re-tweaked with CGI to make her look more Oriental.

Fans of the franchise were infuriated, some even compiled a list of Asian actresses, including the kickass Rinko Kikuchi who can actually make a very decent Kusanagi.

Don’t get me wrong, I think ScarJo is a great actress, plus she already proved herself as an action babe by portraying the Black Widow and Lucy. The actual problem is that ScarJo is more of a brand-name and an eye candy in the movies she stars in, which is exactly why she was hired to play the role of Motoko Kusanagi. Now, while A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE will tell what’s wrong with casting ScarJo for the role (just check the internet) I’ll tell you why it’s sort of right.

First, ScarJo is a brand name. Yup, there you have it. Unfortunately I cannot think of one Asian female actress that has the same huge international fan-base as her. Sad but true. There are plenty of famous Asian actresses, but the problem is they’re all famous in ASIA… The movie industry is first and foremost a money making industry, and yes, they can take a chance and cast a legit Asian woman to play the part, but in that case only fans of Ghost in the Shell will buy a ticket to see the movie, which essentially means losing money. With ScarJo as the lead more people will watch the movie, even if they’ve never heard of Ghost in the Shell. As always it’s all about the money…

Second, it brought the whitewashing issue to the surface on a scale never seen before. Yup, it’s not ScarJo’s fault, in fact it’s a little hard to tell at whom to point the finger at, quite frankly. Hell, maybe it’s even the fault of the audience — i.e. us. Perhaps WE should show more interest in watching international movie with non-white actors, huh? This is a two-way street. Anyhow it’s a good thing that this happened because as a result there is a greater awareness with what is wrong with the movie industry. The more people talk about this and point out what is wrong, along with actually doing something about it, like, I don’t know, insisting on casting more minorities for leads, the more likely things like whitewashing will become less frequent.

My final argument when it comes to ScarJo in Ghost in the Shell: Yay!! They’re finally making a (potentially very good) movie out of it!!! Okay, look, they paid her a TON of money to star in the movie, which is why she agreed, most probably. If they can afford to pay her so much in means they have the money to invest in the live-action adaptation to make it a quality film. I know I want to watch it, even with ScarJo as  Kusanagi, as bottom line is that the franchise is AMAZING: it’s smart, original, visually appealing, and rises very interesting existential questions. More anime should be adapted into movies and I’m not talking about the Attack on Titan type of cinematography adaptation… Anime should get the respect and international attention it deserves, especially with cult classics like AkiraSpirited Away… and the list goes on.

The solution is most probably to be more sensitive to race issues, as well as more respectful: cast the proper actors, invest money, and lastly we as audience should also be more open minded.

Bottom line is that you can go and watch Ghost in the Shell when it comes out, or you can opt-out, the choice is yours. Either way, hopefully, the ScarJo debate will bring some positive changes into the movie industry in the future.