May 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

The comic book movie train continues to make its rounds and the next stop is “Thor”, a movie from the Marvel Universe that interweaves comic book material with some Norse god fantasy elements that make the film a bit more fun than some of the more recent standard superhero adaptations. We’re going to get quite a few more superhero films this summer, including another “X-Men” movie, a Green Lantern film, and Captain America makes an appearance as well. I can still remember back to the fateful summer of 1990, seeing a poster for a “Captain America” movie while going to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the 4th time and being excited. Back then, super hero movies were a death sentence to major studios.

Today, they’re a gold mine. It’s hard to say whether this is a blessing or a curse; back when I was growing up, I’d probably love to see legitimate films being made about my favorite superheros like Batman and Spider-man and the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men. But at this point, there are so many movies out there about superheroes that it’s saturated the genre into one big muscle bound money machine. Not every one has been a  major success (they still can’t really get the Hulk right), but there have been enough that Marvel is now testing the waters in marketing their very own Justice League–the Avengers.

We’ve been introduced to a few already: “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” made a few years ago introduced us to S.H.I.E.L.D. and that sets up the other heroes to be included. This time it is Thor, and he’s sort of a cross between Super Man AND the Incredible Hulk–with a hammer, at least.

We’re first introduced to Thor as the ancient Norse character, along with his brother Loki, as the sons of Odin, king of Asgard, a realm of immortals who protect the other realms of the universe, including the earth. They had been at war with the Frost Giants, who look a bit like the orcs of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, crossed with Nightcrawler of the “X-Men”. These nasty creatures are conquered; but there still are a few around that may be launching another attack, and someone in Asgard may be a doublecrosser.

Thor sets out with his band of Merry Immortals including his brother, and launch an attack on the Frost Giants after they have attempted to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters. This of course is against Odin’s orders; and Thor, who is supposed to inherit the throne, is cast away onto Earth, relinquishing his powers and his Hammer, which is also sent to earth.

On earth we meet another slew of characters including the always charming, sweet, and gorgeous Natalie Portman playing Jane Foster, a scientist who has been studying the stars, discovers him along with her assistants. But there have been others watching her, and Thor’s landing on earth. S.H.I.E.L.D., which provides the earth “villains”, confisgate all of Foster’s work and have quarantined the Hammer, which is stuck in a rock much like the Sword in the Stone.

The film’s plot moves back and forth between worlds and in some ways, that’s a real hindrance because it doesn’t give us a chance to focus on what exactly the purpose of the film is. On the one hand, it’s a story of  loyalty and forgiveness, and overcoming immaturity. Thor, when first introduced, is a very brash and ill-tempered kid who has a large temper and likes to break things. He learns what every cliched immature character does, which is that growing up and taking responsibility pays off. In his case, it pays off in the form of a giant Hammer that can do some real damage when wielded.

Although the film is full of cliches and an added plot about S.H.I.E.L.D. that just feels thrown in for obligatory purposes to set up the inevitable “Avengers” film, it’s not without its own certain charm. Anthony Hopkins delivers a solid performance as Odin, Thor’s father; and Australian actor (aren’t they all?) Chris Hemsworth gives the film’s best performance as Thor. There are some comic scenes, too, although I don’t think there were enough. Sometimes the film seemed to want to have a better sense of humor than was allowed. It was also a surprise, a pleasant one, for me to see that Kenneth Branagh directed the film. While it’s no Shakespeare, there is seemingly a higher int

The other thing that I continue to be bothered by in superhero films is the seemingly constant need to throw in as many big bad robots or monsters as possible in what I call “miniboss syndrome”. In this case, a big beastly robot that looks like Gort’s little brother is sent down to destroy Thor and there’s a long uninteresting battle sequence between them that goes on far longer than needbe. Of course, this film, like any other superhero film, is an exercise in special effects. For the most part, they do work; but I just think there were some opportunities to flesh out some character relationships that were substituted with gratuitous battle sequences that just dulled the film down.

Now, it may seem like I wouldn’t recommend this film but I actually am. I did have enough fun and found it worthwhile. It’s not perfect, it’s a far cry from better franchises such as Spider-man and Batman; but it does deliver the goods enough to where you won’t be totally bored or think you wasted your money–unless you see this in 3-D. There is absolutely no reason to at all. It wasn’t filmed in 3-D, it was all done in post production. Skip it. See it in a regular or I-MAX theatre.

While I found the film overall entertaining, I can’t decide whether I’m looking forward to the rest of the comic book movies this summer, or any summer in the future. I guess if you are, then summer is coming. If you’re not, well…then, winter is coming.

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: : :|

The Incredible Hulk

July 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

A few years ago, they tried this experiment. Ang Lee was to direct “Hulk” starring Eric Bana (also known as the half-Ryan Theriot, half-Vinny Del Negro clone) as Bruce Banner, one of the biggest conundrums in super hero history. His super ego, the Hulk, was both a hero…and a villain. He wasn’t a bad villain but he caused destruction and had no control over what he did. It was your Jekyll & Hyde for a new age.

But let’s go even before that, to when Stan Lee first invented the Hulk back in the 70’s. You can pretty much place almost all Marvel Super heroes in one category: emo. Every single one of these guys are suffering, every day people who happen to be given a great gift and a great curse. It’s true with Spiderman, it’s true with the X-Men, and it’s true with the Incredible Hulk. It all had to do with gamma rays and nuclear explosions and radiation…such was the times. Everyone was in fear of greatness, everyone was in fear of horribleness. Everyone should have been afraid of the 80’s.

Let’s go back to the “Hulk” movie: it was lame. That was that. Decades of hype, having to deal with Lou Ferrigno, all leads up to a CGI mess that disappointed me in Marvel, Eric Bana, and most importantly, Ang Lee. There was no identification of who Bruce Banner was, or who the Hulk was, except a CGI giant.

So, I suppose someone thought this was too much of a travesty to just let go, and they green lit (green eh?) another “Hulk” picture. But this wouldn’t be a sequel. Nope, they were going to pretend that other “Hulk” movie didn’t exist.

They did the right thing. With all the origin stuff pretty much being thrown at you during the opening credits, we glide through the back story with crackles and pops and cool green effects, and are ready for a new, fresh story…beginning in…Brazil. Great start!

Bruce finds himself ostracized, but not just because he is a lonely guy. He’s also hiding from the military. And he wants to get back home, but he needs to find the cure to his “Hulk” issues. He starts speaking to a “Mr. Blue”, someone he probably found through craigslist while looking for a friend, and is of course, “Mr. Green”. Mr. Blue wants to help Bruce but he needs data captured from the original experiment that turned Banner into the Hulk to begin with…but Banner doesn’t have it, and thus needs to get back “home”, to the university where it was created.

There is a problem, however; in a small mishap at work, Banner accidentally bleeds into a bottle of some kind of Brazillian juice at the manufacturing plant he is working at–and the bottle is shipped to the USA…and an unknowing purchaser of this elixir finds there’s more punch to the juice than the name claims. The pay off of WHOM this affects is pretty amusing.

That alerts the military, and then all hell breaks loose in Brazil (for once, not caused by a soccer riot) and Banner becomes the Hulk, and for the next few months, disappears and actually gets himself to America, and back into the arms of his old sweet heart, of whom we know nothing about, Betty Ross.

That’s problem number one. While it’s nice to think that everybody by now knows the story of the Hulk and trust me, the theaters will be packed with fanboys who will know more about the Hulk than medical doctors know about the human anatomy–it still doesn’t mean the screenwriter gets off the hook for not setting up a relationship story better. Zak Penn, I expected more out of you.

The script is much crisper, much more thought provoking, and MUCH more fun than the previous “Hulk”–but by saying more thought provoking, I’m putting more of an indictment on “Hulk” than I’m giving credit for “The Incredible Hulk”.

There are some nice inside jokes here that I think most people WILL get, especially if you grew up on the show (watch for a nice little cameo of someone you’ll remember from the old “Incredible Hulk” series, happy to receive a free pizza while on duty as a security guard). But aside from that, this film suffers from just about every other super hero movie and that is…it degrades into a fanboy circle jerk fight scene between Mr. Super Hero and Mr. Nemesis…and Mr. Nemesis is MUCH bigger and scarier.

Now, didn’t we JUST see this with “Iron Man”? Look I know that not all studios know what’s going on in each other’s litters, but the fights between the Grey Hulk and the Green Hulk are RIGHT out of “Iron Man”. It’s as if the designers just grabbed stuff from “Iron Man” and replaced the two guys fighting each other.

And while there’s a bit more heart and humanity in this film than “Hulk”, there is so much more to Bruce Banner and the tortuous story he has that is left out of this film. But trust me, Ed Norton does about as good a job as you can expect.

And as for the Hulk itself? Well, it definitely looks better. When he’s standing there, not pulverizing things, it does look like a living, breathing CREATURE. However, when he SPEAKS…eye rolls galore. Not necessary and takes away from the mystique.

Overall, this is a movie kids will LOVE, so Dads–take your boys to see this immediately. They will absolutely love it. You may enjoy it as well.

The last scene is probably my favorite of the whole film. It links two super hero movies together that I hope does come to fruition in the future because it features my new favorite super hero right now…which I’ve probably given away already. But it’s a real treat the way this film ends.

I’d still recommend “Iron Man” over this, but if you’re gonna see one comic book movie you may as well see them all because there are more to come this summer.

:grin::grin::smile: out of :grin::grin::grin::grin: