by David Cornelius
It’s pretty darn easy to get excited about anything if Stan Lee’s your pitchman. Here he is at the beginning of “Mosaic,” the first in a new line of direct-to-video animated adventures from his Pow! Entertainment company. Listening to his introduction as he lays it on thick the way only Stan Lee can, you really start to think, why, sure, of course DVD is “the ultimate” in pop entertainment, and it’s about time Stan the Man got involved in the video premiere industry. Lee’s charisma is infectious, his ballyhoo unrivaled, and after a second energetic speech, this one from the special features section, I’m already looking forward to “Mosaic II.” Excelsior!No, wait, calm down. “Mosaic” is more fun than good, and without Stan’s friendly persuasion, I’d be mildly interested in catching the upcoming sequel out of slight curiosity, but that’s about it. But hey, Lee knows what sells, and that’s why his grinning mug is on the back of the DVD cover and his autograph is on the front. (The movie’s unofficial title is “Stan Lee Presents Mosaic.”)
"Pretty much what 'Ultimate Avengers' should have been."
Crisply animated in traditional 2D hand-drawn style (with the occasional CGI to beef up backgrounds) and penned by former “X-Men” comics writer Scott Lobdell (working from a story by Lee himself), “Mosaic” is the origin tale of Maggie Nelson (voiced by Anna Paquin), who goes from everyday high school student/aspiring actress to shape-shifting, wall-climbing, invisible-turning, butt-kicking superhero when she’s zapped by a mysterious magic stone belonging to the Chameliels, an ancient race who have hidden among humanity in centuries following the destruction of their peaceful island paradise, and who, by the way, have a prophecy about a human woman who will have the powers of a Chameliel and who will save the world. (Pause for long, tired breath. That’s a big sentence only Stan Lee could love.)
The bulk of the plot involves Maggie’s dad, an Interpol agent who’s been tracking a bad guy, not knowing he’s a Chameliel. The bad guy in question plans to steal back a heap of relics that will help him raise the dead, rule the world, that sort of thing. When Maggie’s dad is attacked by the villain, it’s up to Maggie and a Chameliel named Mosaic to do the whole good guy thing.
“Mosaic” aims for the same target audience as Marvel’s “Ultimate Avengers” video series; while not rated, the movie is perhaps a borderline PG-13, with plenty of gunplay, one death-by-neck-twisting, and a parade of other action-centric goodies that will appeal to older kids (of both genders) who have outgrown younger, safer fare. But where “Avengers” stumbled in its attempts to mix fantasy action with a harder edge, “Mosaic” succeeds, mainly because it avoids getting too dark, opting instead to just have fun with the character and her adventure. And when things do get a bit heavy (including an intense nightmare sequence and, later, a scene in which Maggie rescues a woman from a not-actually-mentioned-but-definitely-suggested rape attack), Lobdell finds a way to make these moments work in part of Maggie’s growth as a character.
Indeed, Lobdell manages to get right what many big budget comic book movies can’t: a proper balance between origin and plot. Unlike many first chapters, in which the plot seems incidental at best, here the story - a fairly solid mystery tinged with espionage - drives the origin forward. Maggie becoming a superhero and finding the villain are intertwined.
Yet it’s the script that also holds the film back. There’s an awkward mix of dramatic action and Stan Lee-fueled lightheartedness, and the comedy rarely works. While it’s nice to see the movie admit that it’s rehashing old ideas (when a boy sees Maggie climbing a building, he thinks it’s Spider-Man; Maggie jokes about being bitten by a radioactive chameleon), the comic relief is ill-fitting. Much of the banter, which probably reads well on the comic page, sounds clumsy coming from Paquin.
And then there’s the matter of exposition, which is inescapable. Every scene seems to have Maggie talking to herself, recapping the story so far, listing the characters we’ve already met, marveling at her own newfound abilities. Again, it’s pure Stan Lee - this is the equivalent of Peter Parker or Reed Richards thinking out loud - but it doesn’t translate very well to the screen.Ah, but then Stan the Man himself shows up in cartoon form for a cameo, and we smile, remembering just how much fun we’re having watching Maggie kick shape-shifter butt. “Mosiac” is quick, enjoyable fantasy entertainment, agreeable enough to think maybe Lee’s going somewhere good with this new line of movies. Sure, Stan, I’ll keep an eye our for Part Two. Just for you, old pal.
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originally posted: 01/06/07 20:29:16