Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

The superhero movieverse continues to expand, and DC is desperately trying to keep up with Marvel. In the comic book world, they’re fairly even. Superman and Batman pretty much rule the empire, but the feminist icon Wonder Woman isn’t that far behind. They’re all a part of the Justice League, that also includes Green Lantern (…) and Aquaman. In the movie world, DC has had lackluster results for the most part compared to Marvel. But they want to change that, and “Wonder Woman” is their first effort as a step in the right direction.

Quite. Gal Gadot plays the titular character; and, at first I had reservations about her as a leading actress. In the beginning moments of the film, she looks more like a Kardashian model than a would-be superhero. But once we are taken back to her origins, watching her grow as a warrior goddess, it starts to feel more credible.

First, she really can kick ass. Diana, the character’s actual name, comes from a paradise island called Themyscira, and is raised by the Queen, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). She is not her mother, but acts as one. Her sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), believes that Diana has a gift of physical prowess and can be a great asset. She wants to train her, and make her a warrior. But Hippolyta has reservations, and wants to protect her. We learn that the backstory of their people has to do with the god Zeus, whose son Ares poisons Zeus’s creation of mankind with the need for war. Diana’s people, the Amazons, believe that if Ares is destroyed, mankind will be just and good because Ares’ influence of warmongering will be gone. It’s revealed that Zeus left behind a weapon after fighting his son, a “godkiller”, in case Ares returns to destroy the Amazons.

Worlds collide as WWI rages in the late teens of the 20th century, and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) finds himself crash landing in the ocean surrounding the island. He’s chased by the Germans, and a war spills out into the island’s shore. Diana makes a choice to follow Trevor back to the west, to help stop the war, believing that Ares is behind it all. Trevor doesn’t really follow her logic, but believes in her as an ally, and sees what kind of power she has.

It turns out that Trevor is quite handy as well, being a spy for the British, and capturing a book of chemical gas formulas composed by “Doctor Poison” (Elena Anaya), who works for the Germans in chemical warfare, developing mustard gas among other things. By giving the book to the British, Trevor believes it can help stop the war. Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), believes in bringing an end to the war with an armistice summit. Diana thinks that General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is the one who must be stopped, as she believes he is Ares.

Trevor enlists a ragtag group of men including Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Cheif (Eugene Brave Rock), none who are that special in their own right, but are willing to join Trevor in an almost suicide mission to stop the spread of the poison gas by infiltrating a German gala. Diana goes on her own, to the chagrin of Trevor, who still thinks she’s delusional about Ares. Well, it turns out…she might be right after all.

The film is not entirely wall to wall action; but its balance of humor and character development is nicely strung together by direction Patty Jenkins. There is even some touching romance in the film to make it even more fulfilling. It’s summer action block buster entertainment at its finest; and it’s nice to see a woman at the helm, a strong woman at that, who more than proves her worth as a superhero. Wonder Woman will join the Justice League later this year. Before this film, I was weary–but now, I’m actually a lot more intrigued. Maybe this film is the changing tide for DC’s cinematic fortunes. It certainly is a worthy pivot.

My rating: :-)

Kick-Ass 2

August 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Kick-Ass” was a fun, if a bit overviolent romp that put a bit of a realistic spin on the superhero genre. Of course, it wanted to have it both ways: cartoonish violence mixed with realistic violence. In most ways, it worked because it had so much fun with itself and didnt take itself too seriously. With the sequel, it packs on more violence and does the same thing; but it also adds another wrinkle, which is a “sexy” angle that comes off more as just audaciously perverse than it does comical or ironic.

“Kick-Ass 2” again follows the exploits of a group of superheroes who are real people and really have no super powers. Dave, or Kick-Ass, played well again by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is now a senior in high school with his bombshell girlfriend and is learning to be a better “ass-kicker” basically with the help of Mindy, or Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). The two here have great chemistry, and there’s even a bit of tension between them because of what Dave wants to accomplish versus what Mindy isn’t allowed to any longer. She’s basically grounded from being Hit Girl after her father (Big Daddy) was killed in the first film and her guardian, a cop named Marcus, wants to protect her from sharing that same fate.

Meanwhile, Kick-Ass realizes he can’t save the city of New York by himself and instead of being a dynamic duo with Hit-Girl, he is enlisted in a team of crime fighters known as Justice Forever, headed up by Colonel Stars and Stripes (well played by Jim Carrey), a born again ex-mafioso who can either beat you up by himself, or have his dog do it for him. Other heroes include Night Bitch (Lindy Booth) and Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), the former who begins a bit of a romance with Kick-Ass as they patrol the streets fighting crime.

There’s still a “real world” element in this film that they like to play with: in one scene, a group of punks try recording a fight with Kick-Ass on their phone in the hopes it’ll go viral. In another, the new supervillain The Motherf*cker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tweets his rage and want of revenge for Kick-Ass after he killed his father in the first movie, and recruits a group of evildoers in hopes of making an army of villains to take down the city of New York–for no apparent reason.

That’s all well and good, and there are some comic scenes involving these antics that makes the movie fun. But the whole product never seems to be quite right; and, sometimes when the movie is supposed to be funny or goofy, it just comes off as awkward and even offensive. The bigger faux pas is the more sexual angle the film takes. This is handled in a pretty useless subplot involving Mindy and a group of snobs led by Brooke (Claudia Lee) as head cheerleader. This plot feels more like a sequel to “Mean Girls” than it does “Kick-Ass” as Mindy tries to find a new identity for herself, Popular-Girl (sorry). There’s an entire dance sequence that just feels a bit icky if you realize that Lee isn’t even 18 yet in real life; but in terms of importance of the plot, there isn’t any.

This film is completely unadulterated, and unfiltered. I have no issue with that in theory; but you have to execute it correctly. If you’re going to bill the movie as a black comedy or a cartoonish superhero comedy action film, you have to use the right tone, and this film never achieves that. The satire isn’t convincing, there doesn’t seem to be an awareness that some of the humor is tasteless and unworthy, and there are even pacing problems as the film comes to its climax because there has been so much exposition in the previous two acts that try to pull the movie in too many directions. Some of the narration by Kick-Ass makes it seem like you’re watching a synopsis of a film rather than the film itself.

I can’t say I was bored through any of it, or that it was a waste of time. Some of it is very charming; and since this revolves more around Hit-Girl and Moretz is such a good young actress, it can be very appealing. In some ways it wants to be a coming of age story, and it works occasionally. There are humorous scenes, and some big laughs. And of course, the fight scenes are competent. The sequel raises the ante of stakes and ambition. But with great ambition comes great responsibility, and this film really doesn’t want the responsibility. It just wants to wallow in its indulgence. If that were the point, and it was driven home correctly, then I’d say the film did its job. But writer/director Jeff Wadlow and company needed to do a better job of putting it all together. Maybe the comic book series this is based on does that; but then again, in that medium, you can get away with a lot more and pay less consequences. In the movie world, there are rules. And if you’re going to break them, you’d better have a good excuse. This film’s excuse isn’t much better than “the dog ate my homework”.

My rating: :?

The Wolverine

August 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Wolverine is one of my favorite super heroes. With “X-Men”, Wolverine was always the most intriguing character because he was so conflicted. On one hand, he has a good heart. But he’s also very angry and violent, and he hates authority. It makes sense that eventually Wolverine would get his own film series, because he’s such a three dimensional character. And he’s so well played by Hugh Jackman that it’s always appealing to know there’s a film coming out with Wolverine in it. In “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, he just wasn’t given a very good story. In “The Wolverine”, however, things are a little different.

First of all, I liked that this storyline took from the “Wolverine” series that Frank Miller worked on in the 80’s in which Logan is in Japan. I always liked those comics, and I liked that Wolverine was the feature star of a comic book series because he certainly could carry one. We’re introduced to Wolverine at first during the Nagasaki bombings. He saves the life of a Japanese soldier who grows old and lives a full life thanks to Wolverine saving him. The old man named Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) is a successful business guru who is on his death bed and asks to see Wolverine one last time. Wolverine, meanwhile, is grieving the loss of his beloved Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) whom he had to kill in “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Her ghost haunts his dreams and he can’t get over losing her, especially since he had to take her life. But he accepts the offer from the old man, whose invitation is delivered by a precocious girl with some nifty ninja moves named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who can see into the future. He is taken to Japan where he meets Yashida’s beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) whom Yashida is afraid for because he feels like if he dies, she will not be protected. So he reveals to Wolverine that he wants to take the thing that makes Wolverine “immortal”, and have it for himself since he believes Wolverine doesn’t want to live forever, anyway.

Wolverine doesn’t take the offer, though, and the old man dies. This leaves Mariko vulnerable to the Yakuza who are after Yashida’s business. Her own fiance is behind this so he can gain control of the company which has been left to her. So Wolverine steps in to help her, and gets caught in the middle. He also has suspicions of an assistant of Yashida, a bombshell named Dr. Green (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who does something to Wolverine that takes away his powers for a while and it’s revealed she’s after the same thing Yashida was.

All of this is pretty entertaining fodder for an effective, efficient super hero action film that delivers what “Origins” didn’t, and that’s a compelling story. Predictable? Absolutely. But the performances by Fukushima, Okamoto and Jackman are strong enough that the lacking creative qualities are compensated. Jackman’s performance is absolutely perfect. He has really owned this role of Wolverine and it’s actually a shame he will never be considered for an Academy Award because this is a comic book character and not a period piece. He absolutely commands the screen when he’s on, and practically carries the movie on his back. I almost think he shouldn’t be put in another “X-Men” movie because it might undermine the rest of the characters. He’s just that good.

Some of the action sequences are breathtaking, too. There’s a sequence on top of a super fast train that, while mostly CG, is pretty enthralling. The climactic battle with a giant Robosamurai is a pretty good one, too. When you put it all together, it’s a fun movie. It’s nothing great, but it’s a good entry into the “Wolverine” series. I hope it can continue this way, too, because Jackman is a real treat to see playing this role.

My rating: :-)

Iron Man 3

May 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

I had to go back and look up my review of “Iron Man 2” to remember what I thought of it. That seems to be standard operating procedure when it comes to comic book movies lately. Years ago I used to read comic books, and I enjoyed them. But they disappeared from my mind almost the instant my eyes finished the last panel. It’s not that they’re not worth remembering; it’s just that for the most part, there’s nothing to remember. I’d read it, enjoy it, and move on. That’s not including the deeper graphic novels I’ve read such as “Watchmen”, “The Sandman” or “From Hell”. Even mini-series such as “Midnight Nation” and certain storylines of major super heroes like “The Dark Knight Returns” have resonated in my mind. But something like a random “Superman” or “Punisher” comic tends to be nothing more than eye candy.

That’s pretty much the equivalent of a summer blockbuster, too. They’re not meant to challenge your brain or make you think about anything. And the good ones will keep your mind occupied so that when you’re ready to flush it out, it isn’t a painful experience. Maybe movies like these don’t really need to stay in your memory anyway.

That was my approach to “Iron Man 3”. When I had read my review, I did recall a few things from part 2. I didn’t find it to be as entertaining as “Iron Man” mainly because it was more of the same, which is true of a lot of sequels. I enjoyed elements of it, mostly concerning Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark, which is always a treat. So going into “Iron Man 3”, I suppose I had really no expectations. I’ve found that’s the best way to enjoy a movie like this. Then again, it didn’t help when it came to “Men in Black 3”. But sometimes movies disappoint without expectations at all.

“Iron Man 3” did not disappoint; on the contrary, I was pleasantly entertained. Downey, Jr. returns as the deadpan but smug and thoroughly egotistical Tony Stark. This time he’s remembered a time when he blew off a potential client, named Aldrich Killian (played well by Guy Pearce). It was 1999, and New Year’s Eve, and Stark had females on his mind, a “botanist” named Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). She began developing something that later becomes known as “Extremis”, a volcanic virus inside you that helps heal your physical disabilities while also turning you bright red. Killian comes off as a bit nerdy and clingy for Tony’s liking, and so he leaves him high and dry.

This turns out to be a big mistake for Stark as now Killian has fully developed the virus “Extremis” and plans on using it for his own benefit, at the expense of Tony Stark’s life. But Stark isn’t the only one targeted. He also has a thing for his wife, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) who was at one time Stark’s assistant.

Another villain trolling around known as the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), who is threatening the President and all of America to terrorize anyone and anything he can to make his statement about…whatever it is he is making a statement about. This catches the eye of Stark enough to threaten him, and tells the Mandarin publicly what his home address is.

Next thing you know, Stark’s home is destroyed and all of his toys with it. Except one suit, which gets so badly damaged that Stark has to practically build it from scratch. He has a little bit of help, after being dumped in Tennessee due to his artificial assistant JARVIS using a flight plan previously made by Stark to investigate the Mandarin. He meets a kid named Harley (nicely played by Ty Simpkins) who is also handy with electronics, and the two form a small bond as they help each other out of their respective jams.

There’s a twist about the Mandarin I won’t give away but you shouldn’t be too surprised when it happens. There really isn’t anything that surprises in a film like this–it really is just a blow-em-up with all the bells and whistles. What makes it fun is Downey Jr.’s performance, some big laughs, some sweet moments between him and Harley and him and Pepper, and there’s a very funny scene involving Kingsley that makes his performance one of the best in the film.

It’s another “getaway” movie. It really doesn’t take itself that seriously, and it doesn’t beat you over the head too much with overblown special effects. There is just enough character development thrown in to make it more than just a spectacle for the eyes.

Out of the three films, I may keep this one in mind the most. I liked that they raised the stakes a bit for Stark, making him start from scratch, having to pull all of his resources. He gets some help from his buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle, good as always), and Favreau is a delight as Happy. But since Stark has such an easy time being a genius and indestructible hero, it was nice to see him have to lose a little bit so he could really have to fend for himself. He’s also still struggling with his near run in with death back in “The Avengers” (making a nice cross reference), so he has some demons to battle there.

The action scenes are well done, and well written too. This is coming from Shane Black, who directed and co-wrote the film. He is all-too well known in the Hollywood world for being a master of action. He wrote films like “Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Boy Scout”, “Last Action Hero” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, for example. He has just enough wit, and just enough bombastic action in this film to make it a well rounded experience.

My rating: :-)

The Amazing Spider-Man

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I think you can mark this film as the official date when the comic book world of cinema has started to eat itself. With all of the remakes and reboots, Sony Pictures decided to join the fun because they still had the rights from the original trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi. Instead of doing something original, though, they just re-hash the origin story and pepper in a few new details that are actually closer to the Spider-Man story. Some are interesting, some are just filler. The most disappointing part of the filler is the story of the fate of Peter Parker’s parents. It’s such a muddled story and surrounded by mystery, that it really just feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Again, we are introduced to the shy, but precocious Peter (played by Andrew Garfield), and this time we’re given his true first girlfriend from the comics, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Gwen is a bit of a science nerd like Parker, and the two develop an awkward but affectionate love story that wedges into the mad scientist monster story that gives Spider-Man his villain.

All right, must I go through the plot? Let me summarize: the mad scientist (Rhys Ilfans) wants to create re-generation in humans to make them “perfect”. He and Parker’s father worked on it until Parker’s death. Peter wants to help the scientist, Curt Connors, but inadvertently turns Connors into a giant lizard monster because he gives him an equation that can help create the syrum that is supposed to re-generate limbs. Peter’s uncle dies at the hands of a gunman just like in the movie that came out only 10 years ago, and if you’ve forgotten what happens next in Peter’s story you really should regret that lobotomy you got.

The biggest problem with this reboot is that it has none of the joy or creativity of the Raimi films. Sure, “Spider-man 3” was overstuffed. But it at least had some entertaining moments. This movie has no sense of humor about its hero, it has no real sense of place…half of it feels like you’re in “Virtual Spidey World”, where you’re just swinging along with him getting all kinds of vertigo in the process. Parker’s anguished demeanor (for good reasons) throughout is a high contrast to his bubbly Spidey alter ego, and though that can be explained by him enjoying the endorphins released when flinging himself all over NYC, it still doesn’t really add up and winds up being a bit distracting even.

We also get another New York City to the Rescue moment. This was a bit painful in the original; here it is literally a Deus Ex Machina. We are fortunately spared a love triangle, though. There is no Harry Osborn–in fact we never even see Norman Osborn (but we probably will in the sequel).

One thing that kept going through my mind while watching this film was that it made absolutely no difference who directed it. In “The Avengers”, there is a real face on the film–Joss Whedon. Why? Because he takes the time with his characters and knows how to develop a good story and flesh them out. Raimi did the same thing with this franchise only a decade ago. But this has no face, no uniqueness. It is just simply an action super hero movie. Big deal. Sure, it’ll make money because of the name, because of the franchise, because we want to see Spider-Man. And the shame is, Garfield does about a good a job as anyone could filling Tobey Maguire’s shoes. In fact, in some ways, I think he’s better equipped to play the part. But he’s given nothing to really work with, nor is Emma Stone who also delivers a fine performance.

Sally Field is wasted along with Martin Sheen, and Denis Leary is only somewhat useful as George Stacy, Gwen’s dad. The film doesn’t seem to want to be anything more than a glorified video game. It moves along very slowly at first, then when it gets to the action, we’re already unconvinced of the spectacle. It’s like watching people ride a roller coaster. Sure it looks fun for them. But you really wish you could be the one in the car, feeling the exhilaration. Instead, we’re just spectators to something that we’ve already seen before, and done better–even if the special effects are superior.

Oh, and Stan Lee delivers another cringe inducing cameo. But I hope you aren’t surprised by that.

My rating: : :?

Iron Man 2

May 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Comic book movie sequels can be a conundrum. While you already have the pressure of being a sequel already, most of the time you’re given the chance to flesh out your hero a little more and give them another villain to work with. You do, however, have the advantage of a lot more material to work with. Marvel is the most prominent icon in comic book movies today, with the successes of The “Spiderman” series, the “X-Men” series, a revamped “Hulk” series, and of course the first “Iron Man”. But the “Iron Man” series has a different kind of approach to its sequel because the function of its hero, Tony Stark, isn’t a tortured soul like Peter Parker or Bruce Banner. He’s actually a charismatic billionaire who loves life and loves his money. So the angle here isn’t about morphing into a monster or using super hero strength to counter a nerdy teenage existence. Quite simply, “Iron Man” is about one thing:

Toys. Tony Stark loves his main toy, the Iron Man suit with all its bells and whistles and impossible awesomeness. He doesn’t believe it should go to the military to be used in some liberal agenda. He also believes he’s the only one who can be trusted enough to use it. Copycats have tried and failed; except for an ex-con in Russian whose father used to work with Tony’s father and was exiled from the project. The Russian, played by Mickey Rourke in a very underused role, creates a suit that can rival Iron Man’s power and ability. It also happens to look pretty cool.

Meanwhile, Tony is tangled up in a plot with a group called S.H.I.E.L.D. that knows Tony’s suit can be useful; but Tony himself is useless. Scarlett Johansson plays Black Widow (though she’s never referred to that code name in the fim; she’s Natasha or Natalie), part of the organization, and Samuel L. Jackson plays Nick Fury.

Also, Ivan (Rourke) is lured into a scheme by a rival gun maker named Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) to build a better Iron Man suit so he can upstage Tony Stark.

This is all well and good, and I think the movie tries to show off how cool it is a little too much. The thing I liked so much about the first film was that it was surprisingly charming and interesting as well as being pretty good to look at. The final battle scene was as hokey as they come; but by that time, the film was already likable enough to where I didn’t care.

But a sequel was not going to really be surprising. We knew what we were getting, ultimately. This wasn’t going to be like “Superman II” or “Spider-man II” or even “X-Men 2”. There was no real growth for Tony. Tony is Tony. He has a bit of a problem with his ticker, but it doesn’t really change who he is. This one’s just louder and more stuff gets blowed up. In a somewhat self-serving and indulgent scene, Tony and his long time pal Rhodey (played this time by Don Cheadle instead of Terrence Howard) get into a big macho fight that leaves Tony’s pad really busted up. And of course their friendship is kind of hurt at that point.

The movie is very predictable and not as enjoyable as the first. There’s a freshness missing; and while Downey, Jr. and Rourkey provide entertaining characters and some nice moments, the movie still is what it is: it’s just an action film. Sure, that’s fine. I still enjoyed that part of it. Perhaps this series is a bit doomed in that regard. Tony will never NOT be Tony, nor will he have room to grow to be more mature. He’s fun and charming, but there’s not anything flawed enough in him to make a real change. In other words, there’s not as much at stake. Not for his character or what will happen to his life. He puts on a suit that’s able to be pulverized by an electronic whip and still survive. He’s still insanely rich; and the future’s bright. I’m not sure where else this story needs to go.

But if there is going to be an “Iron Man 3”, which I feel there will, I think it’s a mistake. The next project for this would be a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” film, or the Avengers. I think the last bit at the end of the film credits reveals that’s probably inevitable. I think that may be a lot more fun than seeing a guy fly around in a metal suit blowing stuff up for two hours for a third time.

My rating: : :|

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

May 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The Super Hero Train continues its wrath into our summer movie cineplexes, and this time–we revisit the X-Men. But not all of them. No, apparently the franchise made enough money to justify reinventing the series focusing on certain individuals of the clan, and why not kick it off with its most interesting and conflicted? Wolverine, or Logan (or James, as you will know him), is once again at the heart and center of epic battles and getting himself into all kinds of trouble with the government. But this time, he’s a bit naive to it all. He even falls in love.

Hugh Jackman brings a little more punch and anger to his character in this film, and in some scenes, just a look at the pain in his eyes tells you enough that Jackman can handle it. His portrayal of Wolverine in this film is his finest of the series, and while it won’t get him an Oscar nod (or even an invite to host again), he does make up for a somewhat sloppy narrative, a clunky first act, and an extremely predictable overall film. Like Will Smith did for the simplistic “I Am Legend”, Jackman is a large reason why this film works at all.

But it isn’t all about him. Some of the battle scenes, especially the climactic one with Weapon XI (also known as Deadpool–also known as something that’s crawled into my nightmares before), are breathtaking, and while the character relations between Wolverine and his brother Victor (played by Liev Schrieber who seems to enjoy playing an animal) and Wolverine and his love interest (that pays off after a forced beginning) are strenuously contrived–they don’t ruin the film completely.

This film is passable, and sometimes it is actually kind of fun. But of all the super hero movies we’re being inundated with, it would not surprise me if this one happens to fall between the cracks and disappears into oblivion until it becomes a cult classic twenty years from now. There’s nothing too spectacular–and even the great battle at the end steals a bit from various movies. I nearly suspected CGI prints were stolen from “The Phantom Menace” at times. I’d recommend seeing “Star Trek” over this–but if you’re in need of a Wolverine jones (which is a clinical condition, I’ve read), then this movie won’t disappoint. For die hard fans of the series and the character, you will be disappointed.

My rating: :|