Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blockbusting Movie Reviews - The Lego Batman Movie

I have a small confession. I say small, because it ultimately is not one I'm afraid to admit, nor is it, as I'm coming to find, all that implausible.

Batman is not my favorite character. I think because of his immense popularity, I tend to scrutinize him more, I tend to be very unforgiving of when they get something wrong. And I get annoyed with people giving Batman too much credit. Yes, he's very cool, and it's very ballsy that he has no powers. But there's so many cool characters both with and without powers in just the DC universe alone. I'm fine with Batman having captured the imaginations of so many, but I think he's far from the most important character of the DC universe.

That being said, the influence and popularity of the character is impossible to deny. And on good days, in good runs, Batman becomes one of my favorites. This is the tale of one such favorite.

LEGO Batman's charm is that fine line between revering its source material and completely dismantling its source material. Only LEGOs could get away straight-faced with saying that Batman's been crimefighting for 70 odd years and proceed to show a montage of all the times he gets into a weird mood about his place in the world. Only LEGOs could provide a platform for Batman to be both the most hilarious and the most heartwarming, while acknowledging the fact that he is also one of the most tragic figures of DC canon.

LEGO manages to find a way, over and over again, to walk this fine line of reverence and irreverence and make us laugh, while also making us feel something for a character that really, by all accounts, we should be exhausted by.

The line, as I like to illustrate it, is described thusly: Batman's parents were gunned down in a random act of violence that leads to him becoming Batman. Two of his best friends in the world are a man who is bulletproof and a woman who wears bulletproof bracelets. In there, there is an ironic tragedy and poetry... and a very, very good joke.

That line though is not exclusive to LEGO, because it carries on a tradition begun with the Adam West series in the 60s. The Adam West was ridiculous, broad, and absurd. But Adam West's Batman/Bruce Wayne played it all completely straight. He took it completely seriously. The Will Arnett-voiced Lego Batman is of a similar vein, though he often finds himself the butt of the joke more often than not. In fact, his problem may be that he takes himself way too seriously. He's managed to buy into his own hype and forgotten what it truly means to be a hero, and only what it means to be Batman.

And that's Batman as we've come to define him over the years. The Nolan Trilogy not only brought Batman into a realistic and plausible universe, it made Batman no-nonsense, and incredibly brooding. Which is an amazing feat to accomplish, considering Batman's always been a pretty broody character, at least in his big screen appearances. This is taken to an extreme with Batman V. Superman, where we see a war-torn, despondent, almost psychopathic Batman with a complete disregard for human life. In this way, he's managed to make himself a legend again, but only as Batman, the symbol of fear, not as a hero.

People always seem to conflate seriousness and darkness with grim, gritty, and tragic. Granted, if you lived through the 90s, they were one and the same. And it seemed like everyone had to be angry, violent anti-heroes who had everyone around them constantly dying, and every win tempered with unbelievable loss. Like it or not, Batman had a lot to do with that, with Frank Miller's 80s Dark Knight Returns, whom many cite as the inspiration for the BVS version of the Dark Knight. What people seem to miss though, is that this was a very specific moment in Batman's time, a specific aspect of him drawn to the forefront to explain his flaws and shortcomings. It was a character study in a very specific context. People mistook it for Batman always. And important people mistook it for comics always. Suddenly everything was grim-dark.

Some things managed to balance out the darkness along the way. We got the '89 Batman from Tim Burton, which mixed the Gothic and noir style with some good campy fun. And the 90s animated Batman was the perfect mix of tragedy and light.

But you can tell how good an adaptation is at handling the light, which ultimately is a necessary part of the Batman mythos, by how well they handle what people term the Bat-Family, specifically Robin. It's important to his story and his legacy. When Nolan and the creatives behind the Dark Knight Trilogy straight up said that they would never have Robin in their story, they were admitting to the shortcomings of their particular adaptation: their story isn't about the light, and the world was too sad to handle that kind of hope.

What I do truly love about the Batman mythos is the family. It's the fact that Bruce Wayne is an orphan, the kids he ends up taking under his wing are mostly orphans. His best friend is an orphan. And yet they band together to help him. Whenever he needs them, they are there. Despite his protestation, they are his family. And that is the most beautiful part to me: that despite how much he protests, the ultimate message of Batman is that everyone deserves a family. He has people to rely on and count on despite who he is and how he is. Yes, he is so often the loner, the brooder, the keeper of shadows. But that's not all he is. To pigeonhole Batman to the darkest corners and recesses limits the amount of wonderful stories you can tell. You don't need a new hero to tell those different stories. You can have Batman do it. Batman is also a person.

It's what makes the Lego Batman Movie so incredibly good to me. At the heart of it all is a simple message: we can't do it alone. We need friends. We need friends who become our family.

Huge props to what I think is the best voice performance of the movie, Michael Cera as my favorite character, Richard Grayson, aka Dick, aka Robin. Grayson's always been the light and what keeps Batman from slipping into his real dark side. It's why (well, it's not the sole reason why) Chris O'Donnell in Batman & Robin makes next to no sense and doesn't work. They're too close in age. There's no father/son foundation that can be formed with so little an age gap. Not one that we'd buy in a movie. Of course they play it as a joke in the movie, but Wayne adopts Grayson after the latter loses his parents, that much is true. And having someone to take under his wing makes Bruce a better hero. Like I said, much of this arc is played for laughs (Grayson is accidentally adopted by a very distracted Bruce; Grayson ends up living in the mansion for a week before Bruce even knows he's there; Grayson has no idea that Bruce and Batman are the same person until the very end of the movie) but Cera, much like Adam West and that series before him, plays it all absolutely seriously. I was touched when he asks if Bruce is looking to adopt, and his restrained glee as he frolics through Wayne Manor watched on security cam by Alfred and Bruce is heartwarming. In the grander scheme of the comics, Dick Grayson really holds a lot of the universe together, because he's everything that Batman the character has gotten right over the years. And when Batman admits what he's proud of, he's proud of what he did with Dick as Robin. Grayson grew up.

And what holds Batman back so often is that he is not allowed to grow up. He is not allowed to change and evolve. He must always be the loner and what's unfortunate is that so often he's rewarded for this behavior. He ends up proving everyone else wrong, his preparedness and paranoia allow him to escape any situation, and then with his skepticism and brooding he manages to do impossible things like single-handedly defeat the entire Justice League. Doesn't that sound like he's too powerful for a human? Hell, he's too powerful for a meta. Superman is never allowed to do that, yet people complain all the time that he's way too overpowerful.

It's what makes Will Arnett's Batman so interesting. He is these incarnations of Batman: cool gadgets, limitless supply of preparedness (he even has a counter for how many good ideas he's had versus everyone else), and an answer for everything (exaggerated here, because the world is made of LEGOs, so Batman has the added ability of making whatever he needs out of whatever is lying around). But we also see how his isolation makes him not only a tragic figure, but one that logically also becomes the butt of everyone's jokes. A major scene involves Batman and Robin infiltrating the Fortress of Solitude to steal the Phantom Zone Projector. Batman has to distract Superman while Robin breaks into the vault. Fortunately, Superman is already sufficiently distracted because they're having a huge party... that Batman was never invited to.

It's rather a sad situation when you really think about it, but of course it's played for a joke here, because humor is derived from sadness. It's what made the 60's Batman work. You don't just take something that is silly and make it silly. That's ineffective. You take something inherently sad and exaggerate it to its logical endpoint. You take an orphan who tragically loses his parents and decides to fight crime as a costumed vigilante, and take that to its logical extreme: a socially awkward billionaire who dresses up as a bat at night to fight crime with a number of improbable and increasingly specific gadgets because he preaches being prepared for every situation. Here we see where Batman's isolation and brooding has gotten him: his friends don't enjoy his company.

Juxtaposed to this, is a very fun, cinematically pleasing scene (as are a lot of the scenes in this movie, but this one really stood out for me) where Robin has to acrobat his way through the vault's defenses to steal the Projector. Batman guides him all through it, and Robin deftly navigates to the goal. We get to see something we don't normally see: we get to see Batman learn and grow. He realizes he's having fun. He realizes the bright side of having a sidekick, of having someone else other than himself to rely on. And that's fun to see!

That's the main point of all this. This is what I loved about Lego Batman. As good as the Dark Knight Trilogy is, and I do love The Dark Knight, it simply doesn't showcase growth. We see a Bruce Wayne become Batman, and through it all only Alfred asks him to stop being Batman, and the solution by the end of the trilogy is to be more Batman than before.

While it's very cool to see Batman be a badass, be the hero and save the day all while looking awesome in blac, it doesn't always make for a compelling movie. It doesn't make for a good story. It's a great character on its own, sure, but we want to see our characters struggle and grow and become better for it. The Batman of the Nolan Trilogy lacks growth and therefore lacks our empathy.

Arnett's Batman goes from being the butt of jokes to being the savior of Gotham once again. Early in the movie we have everyone coming to the realization that Batman is actually not good at his job, considering every single one of his adversaries is out and wreaking havoc. By the end, the city learns to trust him, because Batman learns to trust others. He insults Alfred initially, telling him he doesn't know what it's like to have a surrogate son. Again, it's a moment played for laughs, but when you consider the history of Batman, it's a terribly sad moment; it's a boy telling essentially the only father figure he's had in his life who has looked after him every day for the past few decades, you don't know what it's like to have a son. By the end, he fights alongside his faithful butler/friend/father figure. Same with the aforementioned Robin. Initially hesitant, following that Projector heist scene, the dynamic of Robin and Batman changes. Batman sees him as a capable partner. Barbara Gordon, the new police commissioner also has a rocky start with Batman. She wants to find a way to work alongside him, and he will have none of it (a not so subtle metaphor). He's also smitten with her (I hate this ship, by the way. I hate that people keep insisting on it. But that's a different discussion for another day) and so that's distracting, because he simply wants to impress her, not consider an equal.

But Barbara is more than capable. We get to see it shortly after she takes over and saves the mayor during a villain's raid (The mayor, inexplicably voiced by Mariah Carey, easily the most inconceivable voice for this movie) and all throughout when she has all the trappings of a Batgirl in the making. As a sidenote, I loved that she was a Lego-of-Color (that has to be a thing, right?) as was Two-Face! I'm one of those people who was sad that we never got to see the Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent pay off in the Burton movies, so I'm glad it had some screentime here.

Babs is also the voice of reason with Bruce, as she continually pushes him to team up. She only lets him out of jail after he agrees to team up (she incarcerates him after he breaks into Arkham and sends Joker to the Phantom Zone) and has a save the cat moment (well, save the butler moment) as they attempt to raid the Joker-occupied Wayne Manor.

The movie is absolutely hilarious. It manages to get jokes both out of the inherent absurdity of everything in Batman lore, while also pointing out absurdities (Babs catches Batman and Robin sneaking about, and asks if this is his son. Batman waffles. Babs states this whole situation is weirder if he's not) in its decades long history. Obviously, because Lego itself is a visual medium, it pulls great sight gags only achievable with Legos. Batman having a tantrum in front of Alfred comes to mind.
It's also action-packed. Along with the impressive visual style and cinematography, the movie's got a lot of action sequences. Some of them I will say are not as clean as The Lego Movie's, some of the later sequences are bit harder to track, but overall it's impressive and moves so fluidly you forget it's all animation sometimes. I mean, then something crazy happens and you're like, "Of course," but overall.
But ultimately, it's got heart. It gives these characters so much more than jokes and fun. But it also doesn't make them all sadness and grief either. It makes Joker question his purpose if Batman doesn't care about him, it gives Batman a reason outside of himself to be the hero he was meant to be.
You see, when you watch the Nolan Trilogy, when you read a lot of comics, and when you play Arkham, you see Batman's highest priority is Gotham. But ultimately, that love is something intangible and abstract and doesn't convey to an audience. What does however, is the love of a boy for his father, the love of an orphan for his parents and his surrogate father, and a person who was afraid to love find a way to accept love in his life. And learning that the ultimate goodness in the world is how you inspire others and how together people can change the world, rather than what one person does on their own, is the meaning of being a hero.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 4 -- Supergirl VS. The Luthors, and Arrow Takes On Guns

A lighter fourth week as two of the shows (your friend and mine, Flash; and the Legends) are on hiatus for Valentine’s, but the remaining two shows decide to double down on their increased prominence this week, and it’s a good thing too.

Arrow I think is still suffering ill will from its previous two seasons lost in a kind of plot hell. This season has done wonders to course-correct that: ending the Felicity/Ollie love story chief among them, but adding the new recruits and giving them a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, de-powering the main villain and linking them to Ollie’s past, placing Diggle and Thea in key places to move their respective stories forward, and Ollie also being mayor are huge helps as well. The characters Adrian Chase, Susan Williams, and now Tina/Dinah are solid character additions as well. The flashbacks have also been better utilized this season, better narrating relevant storylines and even occasionally flashing back to the first season, linking it to one of Arrow’s better years.

All this to say though, for everything that Arrow has been doing right as of late, it needed “Spectre of the Gun” to prove that all this wasn’t just retcon, but building a more solid foundation. We’ve now seen that Susan is not someone to trust (and how sad are we that Ollie as of right now doesn’t know but we as the audience do? Oh, dramatic irony, thou art cruel) and with the return of Thea this week (I cheered when the elevator doors opened to reveal her standing with Ollie) who still doesn’t like her, we understand how founded her feelings are. It’s also given us more development for Quentin other than being a drunken mourning father. He is now taking his deputy mayor duties seriously, and has taken Rene on as an assistant. It’s logical, strong development.

The episode manages to accomplish two things that I think Arrow needed: it gave us Ollie as an effective mayor, not just as Green Arrow. One emphasis in particular of Arrow this season is the double lives of the characters. Flash doesn’t have this emphasis, Barry and The Flash are one contiguous character. The Legends need no such differentiation outside of space and time. Of course, Kara and Supergirl deal with the duality a lot, and we’ve been seeing that come to the forefront with Mon-El as of late. But Ollie is unique, in that his alter ego is as influential as the “other guy.” Imagine the immense consequences of Green Arrow being revealed to be the mayor. Kara is at the end of the day, just a reporter. Ollie however is the highest-profile figure in Star City, so the duality is more interesting to me. What I liked about this episode that was pulled off better than other episodes with a similar premise is that it needed to be Ollie that solved the problem of the week, not Green Arrow.

And the problem of the week is an immense one, an ambitious one, almost out of place in this very alternate DC-CWverse. Gun control, gun violence, the second amendment, and the politics of the rights and wrongs of owning, selling, buying, registering, and carrying guns is a huge, messy, ugly topic of conversation. It is not one that can be solved in an hour-long comic book TV adaptation. Although they don’t try to, and Arrow takes great pains in containing the tragedy and the ensuing political action to the city in which it is, and in making this a very specific branch of a farther-reaching conversation, it is initially a cringe-worthy feeling episode. Rene advocates owning guns and we see why in his flashbacks, to a drug-addled wife murdered by her dealer, and the daughter who was taken from them. Curtis does not, and he voices the side of black citizens who feel specifically targeted by recent gun violence. Felicity is everyone’s party-planning aunt, who insists that politics be left out of social interaction. Quentin’s a cop who sees the necessity for registration, Diggle’s a military man who sees similarly. Dinah’s a former cop who doesn’t. Ollie’s caught in the middle, believing he owes the victims of the shooting spree in City Hall some form of justice.

What makes it cringe-worthy is that the gun debate comes strong out of the gate, with Rene and Curtis immediately politicizing the City Hall shooting spree. (Exacerbating everyone’s point of views is Rene’s use of a firearm that considering his record should not be allowed to own one. Considering he stopped the shooter though, at least temporarily, he remains steadfast.) We already know the limitations and constraints of the show, and we know they’re not going to magically solve this debate because we know all too well in the real world that it is as of yet unsolved, with many choosing to believe that “this is simply what it is.” But the discomfort doesn’t last too long. Because the emphasis remains on Ollie and how he is going to close up this issue. Guided by Quentin and Thea (who I’m glad are both taking more active roles this season) Ollie forgoes the Arrow (although Arrow does hunt down the name of the shooter for a segment) to guide legislation as the Mayor. He bunkers down with one of the city counselors who shot down the Registration ordinance in the previous administration. As he says, there must be something they can agree on.

It’s what the rest of the cast slowly learns too. Rene and Curtis being the main mouth pieces for the opposing sides, come to an understanding. Curtis breaks it down with Felicity, getting at the true heart of the matter: why don’t people talk about things anymore? Everyone shut down and anything we could disagree about was seen as rude if we brought it up in public. It’s a sentiment that rings true in the current political climate, and is one of the truer moments of the episode.

Ollie’s confrontation of the shooter makes this a personal moment, and gives the Green Arrow alter ego a real purpose. We get to see the power and influence and trust of the mayor. The other thing that I think Arrow has needed has been a good, unclear villain devoid of powers. Ultimately, the man responsible for the shooting is no one connected to Prometheus or Darhk, or Tobias Church or some darker conspiracy of coordinated shootings. It’s just a man who lost a wife and kids to another random act of violence. Everyone is mad, he says. Everyone feels powerless. Again, it’s prevalent commentary on the state of things these days, and we never feel he is a true villain. But he does embody true frustrations, and true fantasizations of how we would maybe like to deal with those problems, even though we know better and know it solves nothing, only causes more pain and loss.
There’s a lot that the Arrow episode manages to get right. Like I said, the treatment of its villain is sympathetic, but he still faces justice for the people he killed. Ollie makes a decision, he weighs the sides but understands what side he has to come down on. He passes Gun Registration laws that satisfying the opposing councilwoman, as they are drafted by Rene, a responsible gun owner who also acknowledges the other side. (Tellingly of course, we never see what the order actually entails. Like I said, it’s too big of a conversation for them to have an easy solution by episode’s end.) The conversation between Felicity and Curtis is an unexpected gem of a scene and one of my favorite scenes in a strong line of them from Arrow’s last couple of episodes.

Two stray thoughts before we cross over to Earth 38:
I like Dinah and Diggle as a pair. Diggle really making sure Dinah feels safe and feels like she belongs is a great character development opportunity for both of them. My fear? I’m just trained to recognize certain beats after years of TV drama. I’m worried that this leads to romantic interest. Best case, Dinah admits she likes Diggle. Worst case, it’s an affair. I’m hoping I’m wrong, and it’s just a case of the actors giving takes that were way more comfortable than they really should have been.

Chase is shot during the City Hall massacre so he remains in the hospital at his wife’s request. Later, when Arrow is interrogating a gangleader on the street, Vigilante shows up and kills the gangleader. Now, we all know at this point Vigilante is Chase. They’ve been dropping hints about it all along, and if you actually go to the IMDB page, Chase’s actor is actually listed as the actor for both Chase and Vigilante. (This is what spoiled it for me, although I already had this thought long before.) So was this a red herring to all of us? Chase looks barely able to move and Vigilante seemed pretty mobile, jumping off that scaffold at the end of the scene. Or are we really supposed to believe that there is yet another masked hero whose identity is yet to be revealed? Either way, it’s interesting.

Supergirl also needed an episode like this. So far, I’ve been enjoying the sophomore season of Kara and friends, with two major minuses: the loss of Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant is a much more glaring blow than even I realized at the time she left; and the Jimmy Olsen/Guardian storyline is just not as interesting to me as the screentime it’s getting. I also think of the four shows, it’s struggling the most to keep up. While Arrow is giving us a strong course correction that’s paying off, Legends has trimmed the fat and given us a better focus, and The Flash remains as strong as its first season, the episodes of Supergirl have been good, not great. They’ve had moments, but not quite as much to bring you back week to week as would be required of an average viewer.

So something like “Luthors” comes along and manages to give us some good development for the main characters, as well as a compelling villain and hero dynamic amongst the eponymous Luthor family. Lillian, who heads CADMUS, and is still causing problems for all the alien friends of Earth, is back and is appealing to Lena’s sympathetic side, her need to feel like she belongs. Lillian’s pure evil done right. While various portrayals of her son Lex may come off as misguided but well-meaning, there is no sugar-coating Lillian. She hates aliens. She knows that destroying them is what’s best for Earth. And she alone has the solution to make it happen. Huh, a narcissistic xenophobe who blames aliens for all our problems. I wonder where they got that idea?

What makes the episode truly inspiring though, is Kara’s insistence that Lena is innocent in the proceedings. It’s taking the boy scout benefit of the doubt and revving it to its fullest. After all, when would an El ever trust a Luthor? Everyone is trying to talk her out of it, but Kara sticks to her guns. What I enjoy about it is something that feeds into a larger argument about Superman and his superfamily in general. People believe it’s naïveté, but Kara is not naïve. Based on what she knows, she is forming her opinion. The fact that it clashes with everyone else’s, from Alex and J’onn to Jimmy and Snapper, does not somehow make her naïve. But it’s something we do throw out when a minority opinion is expressed. Feeding back into what we were discussing about Arrow, it’s indicative of us never talking anymore. We prefer to be validated by someone who shares our opinion, rather than challenged by someone who opposes that opinion with one of their own. When and why did we stop listening to each other? Taking each other’s ideas and opinions into consideration? I don’t know, but it leads to situations like this. These are fictional characters, but how much does the situation ring true? A person who simply association is seen as guilty of crimes they did not commit. One person alone believes they are telling the truth, but the world dismisses it, because it doesn’t jibe with what they already know. In this case: the Luthors are bad, therefore Lena is also bad. Nothing Kara says is all that convincing, but it’s still not taken into consideration not because she lacks compelling evidence, but simply because it makes more sense to them: Lex was bad, Lillian is bad, Lena must be bad also.

I also love that Lena is innocent, and that Kara was right. There’s a possible tease in the tag that Lena may turn at some point, but for now, everything was done right. Everyone’s very much in pure support role to Kara this week, but it does need to be all about her, for an episode as important as this. Supergirl is still the reason to watch the show, and this episode showed that. A protagonist who is willing to fight for what’s right despite the odds, that sounds like the House of El to me.

My two closing thoughts are my least favorite and most favorite relationship moments:
Kara and Mon-El have a chance at episode’s end to talk, and Kara is ready to admit her feelings for him. There’s a kiss coming, before Mr. Mxyzptlk interrupts to tease next week’s episode. I think Kara and Mon-El are adorable and it’s been going right. The moment I hate is as Kara closes in for the kiss, she takes off her glasses. It’s so stupid. Do people just not kiss with glasses on? I wear glasses, I’ve kissed girls with glasses on. Hell, I’ve kissed girls who also have glasses on, we don’t just remove our glasses to kiss, we know how to do it with glasses on! It happens only in TV and movies! People remove their glasses, and most blatantly, they do it JUST BEFORE THE KISS. It’s so obvious and so telling. It’s purely for the audience to know a kiss is happening. It’s a character who literally never takes off their glasses suddenly taking off their glasses because reasons!? Ugh, it’s so trite. They’re lucky they’re so charming.

On the other hand, the top of the episode sees the whole gang waiting in the space bar for Alex to finally bring in this person she’s been dating to meet everyone. Of course, everyone’s ironically saying ‘he’, Kara is nervous. Alex arrives with Maggie, and introduces her, though initially not as “my girlfriend.” But everyone is quick to catch on, and quick to embrace it. Winn and her play pool. Jimmy hugs Alex, asking why didn’t you say already. J’onn only smiles knowingly. Alex: “You knew!?” J’onn: “It wasn’t my secret to reveal.” Perfect. They continue to do right by this whole relationship.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 3 -- It's A Matter Of Family for Supergirl, Family Flash, Team Arrow, and the Legends of Tomorrow

We dive into week three and it’s all about family on the CW foursome!

Legends has become way more comfortable in its own skin with slicker writing and more streamlined storytelling. It was the clear winner of the week as it took to the week’s unofficial theme with aplomb, even ending with a toast to family! We got to see a lot of potential from the team working as a cohesive unit: Sara gives everyone’s marching orders for when they hit the ground to rescue George Washington and preserve the legacy of the American Revolution. Obviously, these are simply the best laid plans of mice and men, as things quickly go awry: Sara gets shot and is taken back to the Wave Rider while Mick and General Washington are captured and taken to the British encampment. Nick and Amaya are sent to track down the British squadron that have them, Martin has to operate on Sara without the help of Gideon with the Wave Rider’s power off-line, which Jax and a miniature Ray are working to restore.

Speaking of mice, mini-Ray, who has also been de-powered, is pursued by a stowaway rat through the ventilation system on his way to restore power to the Wave Rider. It’s a great callback to Ray telling Mick at the beginning that his messy living habits have attracted rodents. (He later gifts Mick the rat, because… it’s Christmas! A couple months late, but I guess nothing happens “on time” while lost in the time stream.)

The prodigal son of the Legends Rip Hunter has returned, but he’s been brainwashed through the machinations of Eobard Thawne, and is now working for the Legion to recover the Spear of Destiny. Rip is actually the one who shoots Sara, then boards the Wave Rider to take out Jax, Martin, and finish the job on Sara. I’m stoked about this interesting bit of character development for Rip, and I’m curious as to how it gets developed with the next couple of episodes. Rip now has a disregard and loathing for everything he attempted to do with his so-called previous life: his attempts to save his child and wife, and his recruitment of the Legends are now excessive mistakes; I fear this is all going to be disregarded once Rip returns to normal, and may be very much sidelined on the way there. But with how self-aware and self-correcting Legends has been this season, it’d be a refreshing attempt to add layers of complexity to Rip and how he goes forward from there. Maybe he doesn’t necessarily continue dismissing the slaughter of his family, but maybe he now regrets not being more ruthless in his convictions. Maybe he becomes more direct, rather than putting together a convoluted plan like the Legends in the first place. Would a more ruthless, angry Rip fit in to the seemingly more organized Legends team dynamic? That’s speculation, of course. Until the next beat, we can only guess. Rip gets away with their piece of the Spear.

Even with the team’s initial plan completely decimated, everyone rallies and does their best with what they’re given. In particular, Jax gets put in charge when Sara is disabled. He shows some mettle, but gets bested by the superior strategist Rip (it’s actually a great showcase for both of them, as they both were pretty much relegated to buffoonery in the first season). He laments to Sara at the end, “How do you make the right decision when there isn’t even a right choice?”

Supergirl is missing Jimmy (entirely) and Mon-El (for the main part) for the episode’s proceedings, but it does pit J’onn, M’gann, Kara, Alex, Winn, and a few DEO red-shirts up against a White Martian who was once bonded to M’gann and is now hell-bent on killing her for her treachery. It actually turns out to be two White Martians, in what is one of my more favorite twists from the four shows. J’onn has to convince M’gann not to confront the White Martian on her own, that she is stronger with her newfound family protecting her and working together. It’s a meaningful insistence from the person on the show who for so long was so alone and had more or less adjusted to being on his own. Everyone is willing to pitch in, Winn foregoing the beat with Jimmy to track the Martian, and Alex delaying meeting Maggie that evening at a concert of her favorite band to check up on the team.

Of course, the central relationship of the show is rocked a bit, with Alex and Kara at odds. The aforementioned concert is the same night as Kara’s “Earth birthday”, celebrating the day she arrived on Earth. Kara wants to make it a big deal, Alex is hoping they can raincheck it for another night. It’d be a kind of flimsy source of conflict for my tastes, but Alex and Kara, and specifically pointing to the performances of Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist, provide enough humanity and ground them in enough reality that we sympathize with their perspective. Alex and Maggie’s relationship has been portrayed so positively so far that we are rooting for them. In the last couple episodes, we’ve seen Kara struggle with isolation from the rest of the team as they form new relationships and dynamics (Alex & Maggie, Jimmy & Winn, J’onn & M’gann, and now Mon-El wanting some distance) leaving Supergirl herself often by herself. It’s what makes their heart-to-heart so tragic, when it’s revealed that the second White Martian was posing as Alex since they’d locked down the DEO. It sucks to lose the impact of the two sisters resolving their feelings, even though they do try and do a second version of it at the conclusion of the episode. Of course, since Supergirl has always been about family first and foremost, it is simply an affirmation of what they’ve always promised to each other. Alex promises that her new relationship will not change their sisterhood, and she even pushes Kara to rethink her feelings of Mon-El. But I can’t shake the feeling that something is coming that will really test the newly fractured team. We’re going to see if everyone really is there for each other in more than just word.

Team Arrow and Team Flash stepped up their teamwork games this week, with both ensembles called together to deal with the respective threats. Team Flash has another baddie of the week, who is also a remnant of Flashpoint and is killing the cops that brought him in there, even though they’re not cops in the real timeline. We’re deprived of Cisco or HR dubbing Clive Yorkin with a meta nickname, but he proves to be a very perplexing and dangerous threat of the week. It forces Wally to fast-track learning how to phase (something he was struggling with at the episode’s onset). We also get a fantastic feat-of-the-week from Barry as he manages to phase an entire train through an obstacle. (Coming in very close second is Cisco, who manages to vibe into Flashpoint, which involves first vibing into an alternate universe where Flashpoint was not undone.)

I’m a bit disappointed that Iris again plays victim for the episode, leaving it to Barry to constantly re-assure her, but she does make the decision to finally tell Joe about her impending death. Joe is appropriately angered at everyone for not telling him sooner, but that soon goes by the wayside when Clive Yorkin manages to infect Iris instead of killing Joe. It brings the team together, to work as a unit. Caitlin steps up to use her powers and freeze the infection in Iris’ arm. She’s of course afraid to do this as Killer Frost takes over, but Julian manages to talk her down. So with losing Iris’ agency this week, we do manage to involve Caitlin and Julian once more, who were left out for the most part last week. Caitlin and Julian have a unique perspective, both possessing the potential of a villain within. Clive is another remnant of the Alchemy husks, so we’re still mopping up Julian’s alter ego’s mess, and Caitlin is never far away from Killer Frost, but she for now has her under control. The two have a complex dynamic, evidenced by the proceedings of this episode, culminating with them getting a drink together at the end, symbolizing their mutual bond and relief at having each other. Last week, we learned what it means to be a hero. This week, we’re learning that the main thing to remember is that no hero does it alone. (Hmm… “Stronger together”… That sounds familiar…)

Joe doesn’t have as much to contribute to the team sometimes, lacking the knowledge of Caitlin, Barry, and Cisco (and now Julian), or the powers of them and Wally. But it’s a relief to have Team Flash all on the same page again. In an aside, Joe asks Barry to confirm if Savitar’s prophecy is specifically about Iris. Barry confirms, but I’m still sticking to my theory that Joe himself may attempt to replace her. I also liked the comic relief that he brought to the episode, twice being asked to choose between Barry and Wally (once in a bet on who’s faster, and later by Cecile’s daughter who asks which Flash is the true hero). I now can’t shake the feeling that there is a foreboding to this question too, that Joe is possibly going to have to answer this question in a life-or-death situation.

Team Arrow are jumping into their own life-or-death situation as the team heads to Russia. It’s the first outing for Dinah who is learning to control her powers as the Canary. Rene gets held back (citing “international incidents”) but he’s also babysitting a returning Quentin who has an interview with Susan Williams and he’s helping him prep. It’s an unexpected pairing that works, and also has a rather touching story at its heart, revealed towards the end of the episode. The rest of the team meanwhile is working well together, Diggle’s back in the fold, Felicity’s stepping up in a more active role that actually works, and Dinah offers a fresh perspective to Ollie that none of the rest of the team is willing to give him. I’m not quite so taken with Dinah as of yet, but she does show a lot of potential. I think she’s going to be a great Canary, but I am not there yet, neither is she.

The focus though is that Diggle and Felicity are allowing their darker natures to take over: Diggle
tortures a prisoner for information, Felicity threatens a contact with information she learned from the Pandora. Ollie confronts them both and again demands that they be better than him. Unlike last week, this plea felt more earned, and it felt less hypocritical by Ollie. He truly cares about Diggle, who has a son, and Felicity, who he knows is hurting right now. We see Ollie have to resort to his old ways again in order to bring General Walker within reach. It makes the dynamic of the trio complicated. Of course all of them see the reasoning of being better, but the results speak for themselves. Julian pleading with Caitlin rings on one level. They are new friends. Ollie pleading with Felicity and Diggle for the sake of their humanity rings on a whole other level. They are old friends. The old guard. At this point the most senior members of Team Arrow and the wider CWverse. At the end, Diggle at least sees the light, but realizes that they aren’t better than Ollie, they make each other better. They are each other’s reason to be better. Felicity is still taking the Pandora to heart. Granted, her dark side path was nowhere near as upsetting as Diggle beating up a hostage. I’m interested to see where her path with the Pandora continues, as it seems Diggle’s has, at least for now, come to a close. Even separated, Rene and Quentin both learn the same essential lesson: no one is able to do this on their own.

We had some exciting twists to end Arrow and Flash. Supergirl’s ending was less exciting, more melancholy, with M’gann unexpectedly deciding to return to Mars to free other White Martians who may share her altered view. J’onn and M’gann share a psychic good-bye. Team Arrow also had a good-bye, with Rory, aka Ragman finding his rags suddenly depowered from containing the nuclear blast of the stolen warhead, departing for parts unknown. Susan Williams, the reporter, who is now Ollie’s girlfriend for all intents and purposes, reveals her true colors in the tag scene. I knew I never could quite trust her, and it looks like her real scoop is trying to connect the vigilante Green Arrow to the mayor Oliver Queen. I thought maybe she’d have some connection to the Bratva or an enemy in the Russian past, due to a foreshadowing camera shot of the alcohol she pours for Ollie when he visits her late one night. (It’s Russian Vodka, the same that appears in the flashbacks with Ollie and Anatoly.) It looks like she’d just done a lot of in-depth research. Thea’s doubts are confirmed though, so I’m interested in where this goes.

Of course, the big cliffhanger is Flash’s, but we all kinda knew what it was going to be because of the headlines from the future. Jessie Quick returns from Earth 2, and it looks like Earth 2 Wells has been captured by… Gorilla Grodd. (Looks like the budget for the shows has been expanded significantly, considering the CGI-heavy Dominators crossover, then the Kevin Smith aliens on Supergirl, plus an extended appearance by both J’onn and M’gann in their Green Martian forms, and now Grodd’s coming back!? Not to mention Legends and Ray and Nate.) That reminds me, as a side-note, can I say I really love how they visualize Amaya’s Vixen powers? When she jumps in the water and we see the Patronus-like specter of a seal as she hits the water is awesome. Basically, I like that they’re Patronuses. Oh, but that also reminds me, because I almost forgot, I really didn’t like this side-plot in Legends of Nate sleeping with Amaya. But I will say that I do like twice now Legends has had the girl determine the nature of the relationship, and we’ve had Ray and now Nate be left as the pining unrequited. I still find it boring character development, (I find the platonic and respectful dynamic of Mick and Amaya much more interesting) but I thought they acted it really well, and it drove to a cute conclusion.

No major cliffhanger for Legends, or particularly crazy ending. But we end with them here, because they get to cheers a toast to saving George Washington, the American Revolution, America, and Christmas all in one adventure. I loved Mick’s inspirational speech to Washington, about how being an American means being the rebel, being the upstart, and never giving up. It’s true, and it’s so much a part of our legacy. He deserves that statue dedicated to him. I really am impressed with the writing in particular on Legends as of late. Sara’s toast highlights the essential theme of the week: “We will get Rip back. We will beat the Legion. Because we have something they don’t have. We are family. And family… fight like hell.” And never was a sentiment more true: you watch the sisters on Supergirl, the multi-faceted family on Flash, the multi-generational family on Arrow, and the misfit bickering time travelers on Legends fight ferociously with each other, but most of all for each other. And that’s why they are our heroes.

Final Power Ranking and Individual Grades:
1.) Legends of Tomorrow - A
2.) Arrow - A
3.) The Flash - B
4.) Supergirl - B

Friday, February 3, 2017

This Week In The DC-CWverse - Week 2 - Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends Of Tomorrow Define What It Means To Be A Hero

A strong second week as 2017 settles in (and we all settle in for the long road ahead, but I won’t get political at this juncture). There’s always been some subtle cohesion amongst the four shows since they’re all made in such a similar style. Their casting, acting, and writing all skew in a similar direction. As I said last week, Flash can verge a little more melodramatic, Arrow is a bit darker, Legends has to incorporate sci-fi both hard- and soft-boiled (though much more of the latter, its own challenge to make it interesting and believable), and Supergirl can become philosophical and political. But they all feel very similar. As the universe has expanded and Team Arrow has had to accept more and more about reality, they’ve gone off the rails the past couple seasons, but are returning to form. Legends and Supergirl are stronger and much cleaner in their sophomore seasons than their first. But Flash wins the week with a solid episode that sees some excellent growth of key characters while involving almost all of Team Flash.

All four shows were about defining what it means to be a hero, (Supergirl’s episode of course was named “We Can Be Heroes”) and who gets to be one in this world. Jimmy’s Guardian, who is aided by stretched-thin Winn, is at last revealed to Supergirl, who couldn’t be angrier. But she is distracted, also training Mon-El to be her partner in the field. In one of my favorite scenes of the week, Jimmy and Kara fight over why she gets to determine who is and who isn’t a hero. I enjoyed the disagreement a lot because of its unresolved nature. Supergirl overall felt unresolved in a good way, considering how often it has such a soft ending with everyone together, toasting and celebrating their accomplishments. Jimmy feels like she is underestimating him and he has grown tired of being the “sidekick.” The real problem that Kara has is that Guardian is ultimately human. Supergirl and Mon-El can take hits, make mistakes, be in jeopardy. Guardian can’t. Supergirl worries that he’s going to end up killed in the field. Like I said, I enjoy the stalemate they reach by the end of the episode, where Jimmy and Winn go off to continue their work despite the lack of Kara’s blessing, while Kara allows to continue grudgingly, as she doesn’t approve of the recklessness.

Speaking of recklessness, Supergirl also has to confront Mon-El about his mistakes on his first active day. Mon-El leaves innocents vulnerable in order to save Supergirl who reminds him she does not need saving, which leaves Kara to question Mon-El’s motivations for wanting to be a hero.

Though initially reckless as he learned of his powers, Wally is proving a much more capable lancer in the field to Barry, and I’m heartened to see Barry letting him take in the spotlight.

Ollie believes Tina’s revenge plot is equally reckless, and could end with her own death. Tina, who shares meta powers with Earth 2 Laurel/Siren, is adamantly against joining Team Arrow or even get their help. In the meantime, the arc allows time for Felicity to find her own heroism, from her days as a hacktivist. The interaction with fellow hacker Kujo Sledgehammer is a fairly obvious deus ex machina but I think it’s well-disguised, and she proves to be the savior needed to finally free Diggle.

Chase’s attempts to obstruct Diggle being handed over to corrupt General Walker gets short shrift in this episode, and most of the threat and stakes are off-screen. Diggle’s a strong character, so we’re obviously rooting for him, but I found myself forgetting about everything that was truly in their way, since we heard news of the situation developing as Diggle was hearing about it: through Chase and Ollie. So with that, the fact that the deus ex machina to resolve the arc comes in the form of Kujo Sledgehammer and it gets us needed and wanted character development for Felicity, I’m fine with it.
Meanwhile, a former Legend and the daughter of a Legend are two major contributors to the proceedings this week. Phil manages to find his inner Rip Hunter and uses some of his movie knowledge to drive a wedge between Damien Darhk/Malcolm Merlyn and Eobard Thawne, sowing seeds of doubt about Eobard’s motivations to find the Spear of Destiny. Lily Stein is a huge help in the episode to unlocking the secrets of the retrieved medallion. Darhk and Merlyn do some decided heroic deeds to save Eobard, when they put their brainpower and expertise together to save him from the avatar of death in the Speed Force, Black Flash. I enjoyed the focus on the villains. Darhk, Merlyn, and Eobard, despite their quibbling and campiness, are far more threatening villains than Vandal Savage ever was on the show last season (Ugh… It still pains me. Savage is one of my favorite villains in the comics and they wasted him). Their plot and motivations were brought to the fore for this episode, which has really helped ground Legends much better than their first season.

The Spear of Destiny, already cited as the MacGuffin of this story, (as it rather always has been in pop culture) is bringing the Legion and the Legends in conflict, but at the center of it all is the speedster Eobard Thawne. Darhk and Merlyn are frustrated that Thawne treats them like grunts and want to know why. The Legends are still unclear of the identity of the mystery speedster. What I love about the episode is the switching back and forth as the two groups arrive at the answers in their own ways. Darhk and Merlyn, with the help of Phil/Rip Hunter, piece together that the pieces don’t add up: why would a speedster who can traverse time freely want something that rewrites reality? They realize he’s moving from something, not toward it. From there they deduce his motivations. The Legends, bickering group of misfits that they are, have very smart people in their ranks. Sarah, Martin, Amaya, Nate, and Ray put their heads together to understand the same. Nate eventually realizes that the speedster is trying to undo something, not do something with the Spear. They realize it’s his own non-existence, and Martin realizes it’s Eobard after which he attempts to explain the complex rabbit hole of Eobard Thawne, the speedster who is outside of time because he was taken out of existence, and is now trying to outrun his own non-existence. Confused? Honestly, Darhk and Merlyn get a much more articulate confession from Eobard in the vault of Rip Hunter.

From the tag at the end of Legends, we see Rip may be coming back slightly brainwashed. This will lead to him finding himself and his heroism again. On Arrow, the main focus is Tina Boland, an undercover cop who watched her boyfriend get killed by Sonos, the night of the particle accelerator explosion. Tina’s not interested in being a hero, but that’s what Ollie is trying to drive her toward. Revenge, vengeance, hate, he knows doesn’t bring closure. It won’t bring her the satisfaction she seeks. Even if she does get to kill Sonos, it won’t be the end. She will not move on from it, have a new and better life in a new chapter. Deep down, she seems to know he’s right, but she doesn’t waver. To be fair, for the most part, Ollie doesn’t try and stop her. In the end, she does kill Sonos, despite Ollie attempting to convince her one last time that she can be better. It’s an interesting moment, because I’m interested and frustrated by this dynamic of Ollie demanding that people around him be better than he is, when he is so willing to kill, to do what is necessary. Tina, who comes to Ollie after all is said and done to confess he was right, wants to join the team, because she acknowledges that emptiness that vengeance did not fill. I am happy that she arrives at this conclusion on her own, that she still killed her target, instead of her conceding to Ollie at any point before it was over. Ollie’s main point is that there’s always second chance, and that one thing that helps fill that emptiness is friends.

One person who knows the isolation of despair and the kinship of shared experience exceptionally well is J’onn J’onzz. I’m enjoying the Martian Manhunter much more in Supergirl. I liked him just fine on the Justice League animated but he was often too sad. I prefer the angry, war-torn Manhunter. He’s immediately more interesting to me. This is the J’onn J’onzz who has locked up M’gann for the rest of her life for being a White Martian. While M’gann’s character doesn’t take any new twists, J’onn’s does. And it does enhance their overall relationship. M’gann showed mercy to the Greens, she helped J’onn when he was dying, and accepts J’onn’s psychic connection. Her arc is pretty static, but he returns the gesture, finally. He asks Kara and Alex to be present for the psychic link (because Supergirl again is always about family). J’onn accepts that his anger and vengeance have led to a void, or as he says: “Hates becomes the reason you live when you’ve lost everything.” He and M’gann turn to each other now to be there for each other like no one else can. They saw the same war. And they are now both survivors of the same war.

The big hero proving ground is on The Flash, and surprisingly it’s not Wally. It’s Cisco. Thus far, Cisco’s fears and insecurities have kept him from realizing and utilizing his powers to their fullest potential. Luckily, Gypsy has arrived to collect HR who violated Earth 19’s rules jumping to a parallel Earth, and she shares his powers. Maybe it’s that Cisco suddenly feels less alone in his powers, maybe it’s that he finds himself absolutely enamored by Gypsy, maybe it’s that he now hears that people believe in him because it took someone with HR’s face to convince him, but whatever it might be, Vibe bests Gypsy in their battle to the “death”, and he shows her mercy. HR gets to stay on Earth Prime but can never go back, and Gypsy has to go back empty-handed (but not without two huge bags of coffee, which she loves on Prime Earth. It’s not good on 19). It’s interesting that a lot of what defines being a hero this week is mercy: Cisco spares Gypsy, Kara spares LiveWire, Ollie still gives Tina a second chance, J’onn offers forgiveness to M’gann, even Darhk and Merlyn save Eobard.

While the men are doing a lot of good, it’s the women who take a lot of steps towards solid character development and are the stand-out stars this week.
Merlyn and Darhk dominate the proceedings on Legends (and Darhk even provides the opening narration, a great subversion that only works if you sit through those DC-CW voice-over prologues) and are a perfect mix of menacing and campy.
Mon-El also confesses his true feelings to Kara, his real motivations for wanting to work as a hero alongside her. When Kara doesn’t have anything totally concrete to say, he now has the awkward task of asking them to remain friends, and being co-workers. Kara may reciprocate the feelings, but for now, I like this development that she is unsure. It’s a quite different Kara from the first season.
Martin has to own up to Lily essentially being an aberration. It’s a unique and difficult situation, Martin admits that he never wanted children, but that now that he has one, he realizes he couldn’t believe that.
Curtis hasn’t quite adjusted to his altered role out of the field once more, but his sonic dampener proves vital to the proceedings of the episode. I am definitely loving the development of Rene and Curtis’ bromance. They couldn’t be more different, but are bonded together over what must feel like a major betrayal by Evelyn. They’re in the same “class” after all. And now they feel like they’re a bit on their own with the more senior members of Team Arrow. I like that they can be honest with each other, Curtis calls Rene a bit crazy, Rene tells Curtis to focus on his strengths.
The other great bromance this week: Cisco and HR finally have a heart-to-heart, which actually contrasts beautifully to what happened with the Supergirl team. Supergirl, Jimmy, Winn, and Mon-El leave on an unsure note. But Cisco, who steps up to fight for HR, tells him, “I made an investment in you.” Team Flash invests in each other.

But it’s the women who step up, who pull the strings, who inspire, and who take agency.
M’gann doesn’t give up. She accepts responsibility, and she accepts forgiveness.
Lily for her part comes to terms with her unique existence. She’s a huge help with unlocking the secrets of the medallion. In the end, their heart-to-heart is my favorite scene of the week.
Talia Al Ghul is shown to be a huge asset and inspiration for Ollie in becoming the Arrow. She practically originates the use of a bow and arrow, which in the flashback Ollie is adamantly against.
LiveWire is also responsible for deepening the complexity of her and Supergirl’s arch-rivalry. I was initially hesitant with all the talk of LiveWire becoming Supergirls rival. I thought they were fast-tracking something to have a Lex/Superman dynamic in place. But Leslie/LiveWire is really good. This episode, she’s a bit more of a victim, (which also leads to the evil scientist that kidnaps her to appropriately call her ‘a nasty woman’) but she still keeps her ability, both meta and psychological. She’s in Supergirl’s head. At the end, they agree not to kill each other and an understanding passes between them. LiveWire is a victim, yes. But this is who she is now, and she can own it and become her own person again. Supergirl is bound to bring her to justice, but also feels some responsibility outside of her own belief in the good of people to give her a chance at redemption.
Alex and Maggie don’t have too much to do, but they provide some comic relief to Supergirl, making bets with each other over Kara’s behavior.
And of course, Iris, who has been simply the victim of the impending Savitar thus far, steps up and takes control of the narrative. I like when she drops knowledge about goings-on in the city because she’s the journalist. It’s an easy way for them to have her contribute and they often forget this. But in this episode, Iris wants to bring in an arms dealer and her subsequent article to leave a legacy as a writer. She gets Wally to team up with her, appealing to his desire for them to be like their Flashpoint counterparts where they are a brother/sister crimefighting team. I’m a little sad that it’s revealed she’s doing it to further her own agenda, because I’d be legitimately interested in them working together more often. I also get bothered sometimes by “death wish” character developments, but Candice Patton keeps Iris grounded. She refuses to be the victim.

My only complaint about the storyline is Iris confesses that she doesn’t want to be like her mom, dying without having left anything of substance in the world. Barry responds with, “She left a son who is a hero. And a daughter who is the love of my life.” Ugh. She couldn’t be a daughter who is a brilliant writer? Or an intelligent and curious person who inspires?
It’s a small complaint though, in what is overall a charming, funny, dramatic, and action-packed Flash episode, that could be the strongest of this season so far.
Vibe VS. Gypsy features a brief cameo. Since the portal powers allow them to travel anywhere in the multiverse, they end up on Earth-38 right in Cat Grant’s old office, and Miss Tessmacher runs and hides from the brawl.

Flash himself cameos briefly in Arrow as well. Since Tina was a police officer in CCPD, Ollie calls Captain Singh for information. Singh refuses to believe he’s talking to the real Green Arrow, until Ollie still on the phone, quickly sends off a text, and a moment later we see Flash flash in and out of Singh’s office to leave a Post-It Note vouching for Ollie. It’s a brilliant moment, and a good moment of levity for the heavy Arrow show.

As heavy as it is though, after Felicity surfs the deep web to find some missing files that would exonerate him, Diggle’s going home. In the final scene, Tina reveals to Ollie that Tina was her undercover name and that her real name is… Dinah. Finally, some good news on Arrow.

Extra Notes
-  Jimmy takes a shot at Mon-El that feels like a subversion of how women fighting for the same man’s affections are often written. If this is purposeful, I like it a lot.
-  Being a fan of Kara as a Red Lantern in the comics, I enjoy seeing her anger manifest on the show as well.
-  Are Mon-El’s sunglasses while he’s crimefighting supposed to be a double inversion of Superman wearing regular glasses when he’s disguised as Clark Kent?
-  Speaking of Mon-El, two great line-readings from him: “I thought you were just a professionally handsome desk person.” And, when LiveWire tells him his Superman cosplay sucks, “That’s…not nice.”
-  I like the idea that Tom Cavanaugh is now playing the 3rd or 4th version of the same character, but that Wells is always bound to Cisco. Their relationship grows and deepens despite it being a completely different Wells from the one we started with.
-  That Rip Hunter cliffhanger at the end of Legends, though.
-  Two things I hate were both done on Arrow: I hate the scene of a computer geek having to explain internet slang to someone else. In this case, Felicity takes a moment to explain to Rory what ‘IRL’ means. I also hate when someone describes their relationship as, “Lovers.” Tina reveals to Ollie that her and her police partner were also sleeping together. But to call them ‘lovers’ in a serious scene seriously takes me out of it.

(Individual) Grades and (My) Power Ranking:
1.) The Flash – A
2.) Arrow – B+
3.) Supergirl – A-
4.) Legends Of Tomorrow – B

Best Scene: 
I was a big fan of Damien and Malcolm outwitting the Black Flash.

Best Cut-To:
Eobard: "Because they’re idiots."
Cut-to: The Legends bickering amongst themselves again.

Favorite Fight Scene:
In the flashback, Ollie fighting off a group of guards with a pistol is brutal.

Most Forgotten Character:
I would like Thea back now, please.

Favorite Tech Geek One-Liner (AKA, The Felicity/Cisco/Curtis/Ray/Nate Comic Relief Memorial One-Liner: 
Actually goes to Dr. Martin Stein this week. To Jefferson, when asked if he’s drinking gin. “Don’t be ridiculous! It’s brandy. What do you take me for, a sailor?”

Best Dramatic Moment:
Lily and Martin win for their scene. It’s the most comic book of circumstances, and they manage to ground it in believability.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My 20 Most-Anticipated Blockbusters For 2017

The Lego Batman Movie
February 10

I've been loving what LEGO's been doing in terms of their movies. Of course, The LEGO Movie is the main one, but they've been knocking out of the park with small-time, self-aware, sight-gag-heavy animated features on video. Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis make for a fantastic Batman and Joker.

John Wick 2
February 10

People vastly underestimate how good Reeves can be in very specific roles. Demanding from him an accent or extreme nuance is dicey. But making him the badass in a dystopian world is way more fitting. The first one was fun, I can't see any reason the sequel won't be even better.

Kong: Skull Island
March 10

I'm not completely sure why I am as excited about this movie, but damn if I'm not intrigued by the trailers. And if this truly is leading to a remade Godzilla VS. Kong, I'm excited to the Kong that measures up to the 2014 Godzilla. At the very least, I hope this movie's more exciting than the Peter Jackson rehash of the original.

Beauty and the Beast
March 17

I am also unnecessarily excited for this movie, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the live action remakes of Disney so far. Beauty and the Beast sports an impressive cast, and from the trailers looks like a gorgeous movie. I'm looking forward to it all, and I'm incredibly excited for Emma Watson as Belle. Of course, the idea of Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor as Cogsworth and Lumiere, though? I mean, I'm in. If Disney can make me watch and care about Cinderella and Jungle Book, two animated stories that I really don't care all that much for, I have high hopes for what they do with an animated I truly love. I hope I'm not disappointed, because I know they're going to be doing more of the ones I love very soon. Like Aladdin, for instance.

Power Rangers
March 24

Very polarizing movie. I, like some of my friends, grew up with the Rangers as heroes on TV. Many of my other friends did not, and this movie looks as stupid to them now as the TV show did to them back then. This movie adaptation's also attempting to make them very serious, which is something Power Rangers has never been able to do. They deal with serious issues, certainly. And they have characters with serious pasts. But the tonal shift to being a dramatic story about unlikely heroes from what was originally a show about five do-gooder kids is rather jarring. No one's found a good groove yet to adapting these paper-thin kids show plots into grand blockbusters with substance. Transformers sacrifices a lot of character work. Smurfs had to go slightly more adult-themed humor. The Chipmunks are as incredibly mindless as the TV show to mixed success. GI Joe turned generic action. I don't understand what Battleship was. Maybe Power Rangers is the one to do it. After all, they are the ones with previous big screen experience, though those adaptations were far more straightforward.

Ghost In The Shell
March 31

While I'm still not happy about ScarJo's casting, the anime of the same name is far too close to my heart to pass up seeing this movie. Casting aside, I do think she is a marvelous actor, and I'm excited to see the rest of the cast in place as well. Besides that, like I said, Ghost In The Shell is my favorite anime of all time. It deserves a worthy live action adaptation and now is as a good time as any to do it.

Fate of the Furious
April 14

The title suggests a finale, but who knows. I'm interested in what could possibly have driven Dom to betray the family, but who knows. The series has been absolutely mindless fun since the first film, and it has never let up on its action sequences. Fast 5 was a bit twisty with no real stakes, and people mostly hate Fast & Furious (number 4) but for the most part, it's an upward trajectory. I can't help rooting for these absolutely batshit, brilliant characters.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
May 5

I'll keep this brief, because I don't believe in a Marvel VS. DC argument, but for all the crap DC gets about being dark and color corrected... I gotta say that the Marvel movies to me look incredibly washed out. Nowhere is that more apparent than in what should be the most colorful movie: a heist film set in outer space backed by a 60s/70s greatest hits soundtrack. While I loved the movie, I couldn't shake how unbelievably drab it all looked. Well, the trailers for the second installment look to be brighter and more vibrant. The poster here looks more alive than anything I remember from the first movie. I'm not totally clear on where the sequel is going, either Star Lord is searching for his dad or they're looking for one more Infinity Gem, but I'm hopeful it also gives us an idea of how the Guardians impact the Infinity War storyline. Also, I'm damn excited for Baby Groot.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
May 12

Guy Ritchie is incredible at action comedy. So good at it in fact, that he managed to take Sherlock Holmes and completely turn him into an action star as well. But seriously, in terms of history, Ritchie's pretty irreverent. But his action sequences are quite good. I was pleasantly surprised by Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I'm rather excited he's helming the live action Aladdin. The Arthurian adaptation looks a bit mixed bag, but I love the cast, and I won't say no to a Guy Ritchie film, so this one's in the bag. And honestly, it couldn't be anything worse than Dracula Untold.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
May 26

I think everyone's grown rather weary of the Pirates franchise. On Stranger Tides was relatively lacking in excitement, and before that At World's End was overloaded and convoluted. Javier Bardem in the trailer sells it for me. It looks like it's going to a more horror-based foundation, which I'm excited for. And to tease it at least initially without Jack Sparrow I think is a refreshing change-up. The character will always be the star. It doesn't mean he has to be in ever selling point of it.

Wonder Woman
June 2

I'm going to admit something I don't like admitting. I kinda need Wonder Woman to be good, guys. Because honestly, if it isn't, I don't think I have much left in me to see how Justice League goes. I'll just give up on DC movies entirely. And I'm a huge DC fan. Grew up reading the comics, I was the perfect age for the Superman, Batman, and Justice League animateds, I loved all the initial adaptations, from Smallville to Superman Returns, from Batman to Dark Knight Rises. I also loved Man of Steel. I'm a big defender of Batman VS Superman (the extended cut), and of Suicide Squad (though you don't need to see it more than once). But I concede the movies have a lot of negatives. And while for me personally, I don't have near as many problems with them, the discussion has worn me down. I need Wonder Woman to be objectively wonderful, because not only do fans like me kinda deserve it at this point, but Wonder Woman the character herself deserves it. We've never had a big screen adaptation of her, and the trailers have looked incredibly promising. I was proud and emotional as I watched it, in a way that I haven't been for a superhero movie yet. I think it's time, and I think it's going to be amazing. Because moreso than me needing it, I think the world right now could use it too.

Transformers: The Last Knight
June 23

It feels weird to transition from that very candid and serious blurb for Wonder Woman, to this. This movie I know is going to be mostly flaming garbage. But the Transformers series has grown on me, possibly like a tumor, but at this point a friendly, benign one. I haven't the slightest idea what's going on plot-wise in the Transformers universe anymore, I assume that the other knights are dead, even though I don't know who they were in the first place. Either way, I want to see giant machines kick each other's ass, and since I have to wait til next February for the superior Pacific Rim 2, I'll settle for a Transformers in the meantime.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
July 7

Get it? Because he's coming home to Marvel, guys! He was in Avengers! While I understand Iron Man being important to getting the lesser-known Avengers over, I'm having a hard time understanding why he needs to be such a part of Spider-Man. Regardless, I always get a bit excited when Tony suits up, and Tom Holland has already won me over as the Web Head. Michael Keaton also has me intrigued for his Vulture, and the more teen-oriented focus of the trailer suggests that we're getting the Spider-Man I've always admired the most: the kid who has to grow up. I know we make a lot of jokes about Spider-Man almost in constant reboot, but I think this is the one, guys.

War For The Planet Of The Apes
July 14

I don't know what it is, but the remade Planet of the Apes series has quietly won me over. I'm obsessed with how good the acting of the humans and the apes has been, and I've been impressed with how the series has developed thus far. The all-out war that is promised looks to be devastating and breathtaking. I'm thoroughly excited.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets
July 21

Did not know about this movie until I saw its trailer before Rogue One in December. I've developed a huge crush on Cara Delevingne, so she might very well be the only reason I'm seeing this movie. But the phrase "City of a Thousand Planets" also has me intrigued, let's be honest. I don't know the comic it's based on.

Blade Runner 2049
October 6

Blade Runner occupies a curious quantum space for me. On one hand, it's a complete story. The original movie requires no follow-up. The questions it leaves unanswered do not require another movie to answer those. Deckard is likely a replicant, but it's irrelevant to his decision at the conclusion of the original movie. However, I like Gosling in action. I think Blade Runner is a deserving world to have a follow-up story in. I also think that modern filmmaking is informed and inspired by Blade Runner as a key inspiration for many modern filmmakers, so to have them circle back and address that world they were born of, is a marvelous idea. I hope thought and care goes into the story of the sequel and it's not just franchise fodder (though of course I fear every sequel, reboot, remake, or prequel is money-driven).

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
October 6

I was strangely impressed by the first Kingsman movie and the sequel promises to be at least equally good. Here's hoping it is.

Thor: Ragnarok
November 3

Dark World was mostly a disappointment. So Ragnarok also has quite a bit riding on it too. I'm excited about the idea of Banner and Thor paired up, since we didn't see as much of them as I'd hoped in Ultron and Civil War. I think in terms of the Infinity War storyline, this movie is also going to have a lot of implications for that, plus Loki will be there! I'm excited for this as well.

Justice League
November 17

As I said, depending on Wonder Woman, I'm excited for Jason Momoa's Aquaman and Ezra Miller's Flash. Barry Allen's never been my favorite Flash, though the TV show has helped that, and Ezra is so unbelievably charming that his casting has also gotten me excited for this. I'm curious as to how they bring back Superman, and I'm also excited for a lot of the movie being Diana and Bruce paired up trying to get a team together. Everything has looked really cool thus far, and I loved the shift in tone for the trailer. Hopefully, this is much more cohesive than the effort of BVS. And maybe after so many missteps, Wonder Woman and Justice League can course-correct The DC Cinematic Universe.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
December 15

I don't know about you guys, but I love that my calendar years are going to be culminating in a Star Wars film from now on. Episode VII got me excited for the rest of this trilogy and beyond. Rogue One proved that the stand-alone films have a lot of promise. While I'm not totally jazzed on a Han Solo prequel (much less a trilogy) I am incredibly jazzed for The Last Jedi. Episode VII thrust Star Wars into a more modern context. It unified the saga thus far and has us set up for any number of possibilities going forward.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

WWE Royal Rumble -- 5 Matches To Watch And Prepare For The 30th Annual Royal Rumble

The 30th Annual Royal Rumble is tomorrow and it's the first time in about six or seven years that I've been truly excited for it, which is too bad, because it's an amazing show (third biggest of the year, I think Summerslam is more popular) and an important show, as we get to see what everyone's trajectory is for WrestleMania, the biggest show of the year.

The problem with the last four Rumbles is that we could all see who was winning from a mile away. There were no surprises, and there was no excitement. Keep in mind, you don't need both to have a good match or show. You can be unpredictable, but the twist has to be solid and the pay-off may be hit or miss. Or you can have a very predictable story with familiar beats, but the storytellers responsible for selling it are great storytellers and they will make the pay-off worth it.
WWE tends to suffer from two problems with the former situation: their incredibly convoluted mystery storylines peter out and lead to terrible conclusions, or they think they are being completely fresh and unpredictable, when like I said their endings are telegraphed months in advance.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a largely predictable ending. But giving us no other possibilities or sacrificing character and coherency makes it bad. Last year, it was exciting to see Triple H return and actually win, but we knew the only story that was being told was Reigns vs. Trips for WrestleMania. The year before was everyone being slaughtered and character assassinated simply to make Reigns look like a deserving winner. It was poorly executed. As soon as Batista returned, it was obvious who was winning in 2014. And as soon as Cena entered the Rumble in 2013 after losing to The Rock at WrestleMania the year before (plus Rock going into a title match the same night of the Rumble) we all knew who was winning.

The problem before that was that the rosters were incredibly thin, limiting options. Jericho was the likely (and rightful) winner of 2012's and the fact that there really wasn't a viable option outside of that (plus Sheamus being the eventual winner) speaks to that. The 2011 Rumble is 40-people deep, but that still feels like they're pushing it. Nothing truly exciting comes from the '11 Rumble.

One thing to keep in mind is that the card for the Rumble night also features other matches, and likely at least one or two titles being defended. It's not often people will pull double-duty for a match that night and the Rumble, though people have done it.
But basically, if you're looking at the undercard and thinking, "Who's left for the Rumble?" that's a bad sign.

This year, we don't have that problem, and it's truly the most unpredictable the Rumble's been in years. Like I said, probably since 2010. Of course, as soon as Edge made a surprise return, we all knew he was gonna win. But up until then, I would've been harder-pressed to tell you who was winning that Rumble. There's definitely some good stuff in the title matches and the rest of the card: Styles/Cena is going to be an epic clash, and I'm frankly more excited about it than I am Reigns/Owens, which is likely not to disappoint either. Plus, I'm sure there's some hilarious lines forthcoming from Jericho who will be suspended above the ring in a shark cage. (Wow, are we in the late 90s again all of a sudden?) Charlotte and Bayley are fighting for the RAW Women's Championship, and the Smackdown women also have a multi-man tag match on the card, as well as Sasha and Nia Jax. Cesaro and Sheamus are set to pull double-duty, defending the RAW tag belts against Gallows and Anderson (who may also pull double duty). Neville and Rich Swann are fighting for the Cruiserweight title. Twenty-two of the spots are filled in already:

Xavier Woods of the New Day, Baron Corbin (who is already the third winner of the annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale), Enzo's partner Big Cass, and The Hype Bros' Mojo Rawley all enter their first Royal Rumble this year.
Eternal underdog Sami Zayn, giant dog Braun Strowman, and old dog Goldberg enter their second Rumbles.
Brock Lesnar (who won in 2002) and Big E are about to go in for a third time.
Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Luke Harper, and Rusev all enter their fourth.
Bray Wyatt's in his fifth, Sheamus is in his sixth.
This will be Randy Orton's 8th (he won in '09), Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler's 9th, Chris Jericho and The Miz's 10th, Undertaker's 11th (he won in '07), and Big Show's 12th.

Predicting the remaining eight spots is a bit unclear this year with the brand split, with NXT, and with how well WWE has been masking their booking this year.
Enzo Amore is a likely possibility, as well as Jinder Mahal. Heath Slater and Rhyno were both so popular they got the Smackdown tag titles first, and this would be a good place to re-introduce them after taking themselves out of title contention.
Speaking of the tag titles, the Smackdown titles don't have a spot on the card. They may be on the pre-show, or Shane may be holding them off the show to save them for the Elimination Chamber PPV which is just two weeks after the Rumble. Regardless, we may see the Champs American Alpha get some cross-brand exposure at the Rumble.

If these were the first six, that would leave two remaining spots for surprise entrants.
Finn Balor, the first Universal Champion on RAW, who has been out injured, has been cleared but has yet to be re-introduced to RAW. It's been quiet on his front the past few weeks, which may hint at his reappearance here at the Rumble, setting him on a path to take back what he lost, by challening whoever wins the Reigns/Owens match.
Also a possibility is NXT call-up Samoa Joe. The monster heel Joe doesn't have a spot on the card fro Takeover, so it's possible he makes his debut for the main roster at the Rumble. A free agent winning the Rumble has a lot of storytelling opportunity: the GM's and the commissioners would want a popular dominating force for their roster (if only to take it away from the other team) but the champions (especially if they're Owens and Styles, the heels who know Joe) they're not gonna want their title in contention with him.
Nakamura is also a possible NXT call-up but I think it's highly unlikely, as I think they're going to need him anchoring NXT a bit longer.
One name that is now ever-present of course is James Ellsworth. I'm not quite sure what he'd do in the Rumble, but his continued relevance on SmackDown Live and pairing with Carmella plus his campaigning for a spot seem to suggest the WWE isn't ready to let go of this weirdo with a dream quite yet.

Outside of NXT, there's the possibility of Triple H. We know Seth Rollins is no longer involved in the Rumble, after losing his spot to Sami Zayn on RAW. At the moment, he doesn't have a means into the match, but Triple H may insert himself into it, and Rollins is likely to come out and interfere with Trips' chances at winning, furthering their storyline heading into WrestleMania.
The other big name of course is Kurt Angle. Angle's been the WWE prodigal son for many years, and he was just recently announced as the headliner for their Hall of Fame 2017 class, and it immediately sparked rumors that he could have an impact on the Rumble, or at the very least a "one last match" sorta deal at WrestleMania. He's come out to deny those rumors, although who knows, when a wrestler has to address rumors, it's often pretty clear they're setting up a swerve. In this case, I would be surprised if he enters, I wouldn't be suprrised if he doesn't.

And of course, just to address all rumors, Kenny Omega's name has come up as a surprise entrant. He's coming off his greatest year in NJPW, after his rising star has put on caliber matches time and time again all over the world. He made it clear that he wants to be remembered as the guy who never went to WWE, but after a losing effort at WrestleKingdom against Okada, he's also stated that he's "weighing all his options." Again, like Angle, it could be smoke and mirrors, or who knows. I do know that Omega's appearance would be likened to AJ Styles' debut at last year's. Yet again, a "never thought we'd see it" kind of event. I think Omega's frankly not as well known as AJ Styles (personally, I've known Styles' work for years, Omega's only recently entered my radar in the last couple years) so I don't know how his reception would be if he were to debut, but I think the live crowd would be ecstatic.

And it's the most outlandish rumor, and one that I frankly don't know how to process properly, because his retirement was so emotional and sad. Daniel Bryan's name has come up recently. Between The Miz stealing his repertoire of moves, and their constant fighting over Miz's need to feel validated as a "true wrestler", and Daniel Bryan being absent from Talking Smack and leaving a lot of the talking segments to Shane O'Mac over the past month or so, the rumor has formed that they're trying to make us forget about Bryan a bit before surprising everyone and having him enter. Like I said, I think his injuries and risk are real, I think his retirement was serious, and I think there have been other reasons for him to take time off, but the Daniel Bryan fan in me is holding a very small candle of hope for this.

In regards to the winner, like I said, it's up in the air. There's a lot of possibilities. Sheamus, Orton, Undertaker, and Lesnar have all previously won the Rumble. And it has been the season of returning winners taking their second Rumble wins after a hiatus (Cena wins in '13, after previously winning in '08, then Batista in '14, after ultimately winning in '05, and Triple H in '16, after taking it in '02). Lesnar's win gap would equal Triple H's if he were to do it, but I don't think he will, because Lesnar/Goldberg is the goal for WrestleMania. Sheamus' first win was nothing to write home about so they seem unlikely to repeat that. Orton has a far more interesting story developing with the Wyatt family, although if they were to add a title to that eventual breakdown, then this could be the route that gets us to Bray's first ever championship reign. Maybe Orton wins the Rumble, Bray wins the championship in the Elimination Chamber, retains at WrestleMania to become a face? Undertaker has the intriguing win, because it's 10 years exactly since he last won. Maybe if he were champion, we'd see him hold on to the Championship til Wrestlemania where it's Undertaker VS. Cena, and Cena ties Ric Flair for championship reigns, while leaving WrestleMania as a heel for defeating The Undertaker?

Amongst the rest of the entrants, Goldberg also seems unlikely, I have a feeling Goldberg eliminates Lesnar somewhere in the middle, and Lesnar returns to cost Goldberg the win. I expect Baron Corbin to make a huge impact, like Kane in 2001 or Wyatt in '15, but I don't think he's going to win. The only other two names I can think of for strong possibilities are Braun Strowman, Cesaro, or Ambrose. Ambrose got very close last year, eliminated by the eventual winner Triple H, and stayed in contention for Road Block. It's an interesting story they've never really run with, that the runner-up seeks redemption and overcomes the next year. I'm not particularly interested in Ambrose/Styles again, but the prospect of the Elimination Chamber for their brand adds some unpredictablity to it (The Chamber featuring Styles, Ambrose, Cena, Corbin, Orton or Wyatt, and possibly Samoa Joe? Sign me up). Cesaro is top of the "least most unlikely to win" list, which includes Dolph Ziggler and Rusev. Should all be stronger contenders for winning, but I simply think they aren't. Strowman, having been booked as a monster all year, seems primed to dominate a Rumble which would be his specialty in all likelihood. We'll have to see where he falls in placement.

So there's a lot of reason to watch, based simply on the unpredictability of the match, as well as the prospects of how the title matches could turn out. The brand split again adds intrigue to the proceedings. That's hard to accomplish in the modern era of massive spoilers and rumor mills completely dominating the internet.

But in addition to that, there's some amazing talent on the roster, both rosters. And these five matches I want to recommend show off a lot of the talent that is going to be involved in tomorrow night's epic battle royale.

1.) Brock Lesnar VS. Goldberg, 
special guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin -- WrestleMania XX

Wrestling fans will likely be questioning why I'm starting off with this turd of a match. But I think it's important to see, with one of the strongest storylines going into the Rumble itself being the rivalry of the Beast Incarnate and the returning master of the Spear, where everyone's collective memory left off with one Bill Goldberg.

This should have been an easy slam dunk of a match for WWE. Two money names, an epic clash at the 20th biggest show of all time, overseen by the biggest star of all time in Steve Austin. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. When the fans got word that both Lesnar and Goldberg were leaving right after this match for other career choices, suddenly the stakes were gone. And honestly, by this point, people weren't caring too much about the stakes of this match in the first place. The titles were being contested by hotter commodities Angle and Guerrero (who put on one of many amazing matches between the two), and the triple threat match of Michaels, Triple H, and Chris Benoit, which we can't talk about anymore. Even the Undertaker/Kane fight was billed as a main event over this. The match itself features two monsters trash-talking each other forever, so much so that Austin eventually has to encourage them to fight. Austin is more over than either man in the match and it really sucks to see. The crowd shits on the match the whole time, nothing remarkable happens, Goldberg wins to the boos of the crowd. Lesnar flips off the crowd before he bows out. Austin Stunners both men and has a beer with the audience as if he won. But we all lost.

I just want everyone to take in the crowd when Goldberg enters the match tomorrow night. It's going to be explosive. It's going to be thunderous. It's going to be as if this travesty wasn't the last thing we all so Goldberg do before he left. That's the beauty of wrestling, is how it keeps going, how everyone forgets everything for the next moment.

2.) AJ Styles VS. Baron Corbin VS. Dolph Ziggler 
for the WWE Championship -- The Wild Card Finals, SmackDown Live

Styles isn't likely to enter the Rumble this year as he's in a title match with Cena, but Corbin and Ziggler are both set to appear and this match showcases just how good they are: Ziggler at a perseverant face in peril, Corbin as the lone wolf, couldn't give two shits heel. Styles works the match injured, so the bulk of the match is left to Ziggler and Corbin. It's a fantastic show of talent, and I can't believe
it's from TV and not a PPV. See a match from two people who are likely to have a big impact on Sunday's proceedings.

3.) Samoa Joe VS. Finn Balor 
for the NXT Championship -- NXT Takeover: Dallas
As for two men who are speculated to have an impact on Sunday, I think it's only right to see how good these two are. This is my favorite defense for Balor, who fights a hard fight against challenger Joe. Joe gets cut open almost immediately and bleeds up a storm. The stop-and-start of the medics trying to clean him and close him up feels like a stopper to the momentum, but seeing just how badly he bleeds and his insistence on fighting through it adds to the intensity of the match. Suddenly you understand why it's an exciting idea that either (or both) could be involved in the Rumble tomorrow night.

4.) 5-on-5 SmackDown Live VS. RAW 
-- Survivor Series 2016
The match involves many of the major players in the Rumble as well as some other big names. It's an awesome exhibition of WWE's ability, when it wants to, to tell multiple interweaving (and sometimes conflicting) storylines in a single match. The over-arching stakes are bragging rights. RAW has already won two of the three brand vs. brand elimination matches for the evening. And their team of best friends Jericho and Owens, former friends Reigns and Seth, and mighty oak Braun Strowman, appear a much more cohesive team on the outset than SmackDown's. Luke Harper isn't quite trusting of Orton who has just joined the Family, and the fact that Orton is joining Wyatt in the match instead of Harper has him miffed. Styles and Ambrose are feuding over the belt by this time so it's unclear how much they can get along to win this match. Shane McMahon places himself into the match as well in a show of solidarity with "his guys." But that might put them at a disadvantage against a more seasoned team of wrestlers. There's some tension with Reigns and Seth trying to get along, as well as having former Shield-mate Ambrose on the other side. Same for the Wyatts, who are all in the SmackDown corner, but have to contend with the former family member Strowman who has their number. Also some tension is teased with Jericho wanting to be co-captain with Owens who isn't always as fit to lead the team. Of course, Stephanie McMahon threatens Team RAW's jobs if they don't deliver a win. Again, it's a captivating match to watch for how they manage to weave all these stories against each other. Plus, everyone works their asses off. For a non-prop match, this one's got some guts.

5.) The 20th Annual Royal Rumble 
-- San Antonio, TX

Ten years ago, the Royal Rumble was in the same place. The roster was split over three brands. There's a lot to be excited about in this match (but also, there's the vampire Kevin Thorn) with a lot of different acts: early going is Flair, until Kane comes in at 10. Some amazing choreography among the bigger stars. Orton, Benoit, and surprise entrant Van Dam enter back-to-back-to-back and as JR says, "Business picks up." Khali dominates the ring and practically empties it before Undertake makes his entrance at number 30. Orton and Edge put the beatdown on Undertaker before he and Michaels are left as the final two. They proceed to have a one-on-one that would be worthy of any main event spot. And the two Texas natives split the crowd and offer a nailbiter before Taker throws Michaels over after a failed Sweet Chin Music. It's a really crisp Rumble for how chaotic these affairs should be, and you'll at least be able to find the highlights on YouTube.

Bonus matches:
Since Lesnar/Goldberg is rather short and ineffectual, here's a couple extra ones, because I wanted them somewhere, but they didn't quite edge out these five.

Kurt Angle VS. Eddie Guerrero 
for the WWE Championship -- WrestleMania XX
I mentioned it earlier, but this is worth the watch. Angle is one of the most amazing performers ever, and there will never be an equal for the charisma of Eddie Guerrero. They put on a hell of a match here.

Sami Zayn VS. Cesaro VS. Kevin Owens VS. The Miz 
for the Intercontinental Championship -- Extreme Rules 2016
Extreme Rules has softened over the years. It's barely a B-show PPV anymore, more like a C-show. But last year's was great for two reasons: Styles and Reigns in the main event, and this match. Miz comes out on top, but not before some excellent wrestling from three other guys I consider the best. And The Miz was just breaking out on his very hot run with the IC title, one of the better heels to hold it in recent memory.

And that's it! Who are you betting on?