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: :-)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

In 2014, we were treated to a new batch of heroes from Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was skeptical at first because I had never even heard of this comic book series before. It turns out, the Guardians go back to 1969, however the ones depicted in the film are from a “modern” reinvention, that goes back to the latter part of the 20th century. While there’s history there, this is a relatively new series. Nevertheless, my wariness for a new comic book franchise was diminished when I saw that James Gunn, formerly of TROMA, was attached to it. I’ve been a fan of his work dating back to his early days, and really enjoyed his later films such as “Slither”. When I saw the first “Guardians of the Galaxy”, whatever reservations I had were completely vanquished. I was thoroughly entertained by the characters: Star-Lord, or Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). I actually couldn’t wait for their next adventure, having so much fun watching them in their first film.

Now, we’re treated to that next story; and once again, it was a pleasure. The cast is a bit bigger this time, including previous side characters (and somewhat villains) such as Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). While the core Guardians are still the main focus, there is an ample amount of time given to these other characters, especially Yondu.

The opening credit sequence alone is enough to fall in love with this film. We see a growing Baby Groot (only potted in the finale of the last film), dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the Guardians fight a giant slimy creature as a favor to a group of people known as the Sovereign, who are condescending but open to rewarding them for protecting their (precious?) batteries. Nebula, Gamora’s sister, is being held by the Sovereign, and release her back to the Guardians once the task of destroying the creature (in another amusing sequence) is complete. However, Rocket steals some of these batteries, and the Sovereign goes after them. Their style of space battle resembles old Atari games for some reason. It’s inexplicable, but funny nonetheless.

We also open with another story, that becomes part of the bigger plot, that involves a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), young and dashing, charming a young woman. We later find out what the significance of this flashback is, and are re-introduced to Ego as an older man, who now claims to be Peter’s estranged father.

When the Guardians escape the grasp of the Sovereign, and other shenanigans, Peter and Gamora go with Ego to his home “planet”, along with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a mysterious but intriguing character that catches Drax’s fancy (although he’s unwilling to admit it). We learn that Ego is known as a “Celestial”, a god-like being, and can control pretty much anything he wants, if he can share that power with someone. He wants that someone to be Peter, who is unsure whether to believe that this is his father.

Father and son relationships are extensively explored in this film–I almost wonder if this would have been better suited to be released around Father’s Day. You have the backstory of Peter and Ego, with Peter still holding onto his resentment that he watched his mother die without his father around. Then, there’s Peter and Yondu, who raised Peter to be a thief and stands by his reasoning: “he was skinny, and made it easy for thievin'” (paraphrased). Yondu, part of the Ravagers–a group of intergalactic smugglers–refuses to admit any other reasoning why he kept Peter around. But we find out why later in the film. It makes sense, and it’s actually quite touching.

That’s the other strength of the film. While it is funny–sometimes uproariously so–it’s also poignant at times. There’s a lot more to this film than just space battles and quick wit. And I think that, like Peter Jackson maturing into his calling for “Lord of the Rings”, James Gunn has found his calling in “Guardians”. It’s like he was made for this series. Yes, it strays from the original comic books and that’s partly why I credit him so much. He made this his own in a sense; and here, in this sequel, he’s really mastered it.

There was never a moment where I was bored, antsy, or frustrated. There are moments when Drax gets a little carried away, and a few awkward moments here and there–but for the most part, all of it works in the grand scheme. The film is almost two and a half hours long, and it really felt like it needed all of that to tell a complete story. Nothing is rushed or slapdash. Gunn takes his time building something and working it into a satisfying conclusion. Yes, there are some cliched, predictable plot twists and devices–I think that comes with the territory of a superhero film. They’re all, by design, franchised to be the same story structure. But there are some really nice surprises along the way, and you might want to keep a few Kleenex handy at a few points.

I know the future of this series ultimately will tie into The Avengers at some point–if the rumors are true–but as they stay in their own universe, I hope Gunn sticks with the series. To me, he’s the heart and soul and foundation of it. Yes, the characters are great–Peter and Gamora have excellent chemistry. Even Mantis and Drax share some nice screen time. Rocket is always a pleasure. And I can’t write this review without completely gushing over Baby Groot. He is adorable, and steals a lot of scenes.

But it’s everything that makes this sequel even bigger, and better than the original. It brings everything up a level, which is what sequels are supposed to do anyway. It’s a great way to start the blockbuster season; but more than that, it stands alone as probably the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year.

My rating: :D

Doctor Strange

November 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The Marvel Universe, like any universe, can always welcome Benedict Cumberbatch with open arms. He takes the character of Doctor Strange–that’s his real name, not just his super hero name–an arrogant, callous, selfish surgeon who is involved in a car crash that nearly destroys his hands. This of course renders him useless as a surgeon; and even though the crash was 100% his fault, he still goes on a quest to try and heal his hands because he doesn’t think that maybe he deserves this punishment for being such a mean guy.

His love interest, Christine (Rachel McAdams), tries her best to stick by him professionally and personally. Professionally because she works with him, and personally because she is in love with him. But he turns her away, and he goes on his own to find his cure. He hears about a former patient that was cured of paralysis of his spine. He was told he’d never walk again, and he defied that. Strange can’t believe such a thing, but he’s given his file which convinces him. This takes him all the way to Kathmandu in Nepal, to a compound called Kamar-Taj. There, he meets The Ancient One–that’s her real name, not just her super hero name–an intelligent, wise, and has incredible powers that intrigue Strange. She also happens to be bald, but Tilda Swinton can pull anything off.

Strange learns that we can harness an energy and use it, divining from other universes and multiverses and whatnot. It’s like Hawking mixed with Confucius. With time, belief, and training, Strange can harness the energy himself, and cure his hands. More importantly, the Ancient One and her disciple Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) want to recruit Strange to fight against a dark entity who wants to control all universes–Dormammu. Dormammu has his own disciples, including Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who is the resident adversary in this yarn.

Dormammu eventually makes an appearance–he isn’t all that intimidating, looking more like a cross between a Michael Bay Transformer and a Disney ride prop (I wonder why). The dark realm that he controls actually looks a bit inviting. Not a murky, dangerous looking place but rather a blue hued star system you’d see at a Planetarium. But Dormammu means business, and the Ancient One needs to find as many soldiers as she can to destroy him.

He acts as a devious type who can lure you into using dark magic, thinking that you will be more powerful and use it for immortality. Strange, for the most part, doesn’t want any part of the revolution–but he’s roped in, and decides he can actually serve mankind humbly. Somehow he has a cosmic draw to the magic and sorcery, and attracts a sharp looking cape that becomes his pal, and protects him.

There are some really big laughs in this film, which adds to its entertainment value. While the origin story plays out as standard fare, and there really are no surprises in the storytelling, the spikes of humor are a nice touch. One involves a running joke with a resident Master, Wong (Benedict Wong–that’s his real name, not just–OK you get it), who is quite a treat. There is some play with the name “Strange”, which is a little more predictable but still elicits laughs.

Mordo and Strange have nice chemistry working together to fend off the evil forces, and the action sequences are pretty spectacular to watch. As a spectacle, it’s what you’d expect from Marvel. Again, it’s not anything better than what we’ve seen in previous films in the MCU–but Cumberbatch, Swinton, Wong, and Ejiofor all make it something a little more special.

It’s a good two hour venture into a new piece of an ever expanding universe–and that’s better than what DC is giving us so far.

My rating: :-)

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

May 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

The Marvel Universe is getting more and more crowded, and in some cases, cloudier and cloudier. I haven’t followed all of them, and some of them I’ve forgotten–but I plod along and try to keep up. 2012’s “The Avengers” seemed to be the best of the Universe, pitting fine actors in fine getups against interesting and entertaining villains for a 2 and a half hour long joyride. I thought Joss Whedon was the perfect guy to bring all of that together, and he’s called upon again to make lightning strike twice.

The Avengers are brought back together, this time to stop a genetic experiment headed by Hydra, a terrorist organization that exists in the Universe. They discover two new mutant kids (which gets dangerously close to “X-Men” fodder) from a place called Sokovia. The new kids are twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. Pietro can move at the speed of light, and Wanda can manipulate people’s thoughts and also send out bursts of red energy. They’re somewhat effective but also raw since they haven’t been properly cultivated yet.

While the Avengers are crashing this mission, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., always appealing) is hit with a “vision” by Wanda, projecting the Avengers’ deaths. He believes the world needs a “coat of armor” to shield us from evil. With that, he wants to create something called “Ultron”, which is artificial intelligence harvested from a scepter. Ultron (voiced by James Spader), becomes the Frankenstein’s monster and main villain of the film, breaking off from the idea of protecting the world by thinking it has to destroy it. Everybody, including Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, the best of the Hulk/Banner actors thus far), sort of blames Stark for this new issue that they all have to stop. Meanwhile, Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has begun to have feelings for Banner, and the two of them share a few moments of reluctant passion–but Banner has cold feet due to his wild and unpredictable counterpart.

The other subplots include ace archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) revealing he has a family, Steve Rogers aka Captain America may feel unnecessary when a war isn’t being waged, and Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D. still wants to be part of the gang. Ultron wants to destroy the Avengers before destroying the world, and enlists the help of the Maximoffs, who at first are compliant with his idea.

But, an unexpected thing happens as Ultron tries to improve itself with something that turns out to manifest itself as another potential hero. Vision (Paul Bettany) turns out to bear one of the Infinity Stones on his brow, but wants to help for good rather than help Ultron once he is unleashed by Thor. Vision becomes somewhat paternal to the Avengers, even though every scene he’s on screen I keep thinking someone’s going to ask him, “Who are you and what are you doing here, noob?”

Ultron clashes with the Avengers throughout the film, causing massive destruction to poor Sokovia, but loses the Maximoffs to the good side eventually. By the film’s climax, it’s pretty evident whoever wins, Sokovia loses big time. That place gets absolutely demolished.

It brings me to an epiphany that I first had while watching “Man of Steel”–shouldn’t superheroes have just a little bit of regard for the place they’re saving? I know that these movies have to keep upping the ante–but really, there’s not going to be an earth enough left to save if these guys (and gals) don’t show a little bit of restraint when it comes to destroying bridges and building structures. It’s also amazing that barely any Sokovian gets hurt during the deluge. They keep finding ways to survive out of massive earthquakes–I guess it speaks to their strength as a people, but it’s a bit…you know, hard to believe.

Most of the film’s running time is packed with action, explosions and noise. In the first film, this formula seemed to work better. Maybe because there was a central narrative at work, focusing on the right characters and giving everybody a good amount of screen time. Here, the characters seem rushed into the next action sequence, barely given enough time to breathe–and when they are, it’s not that interesting. Everything from the first film is copied here, as a sequel would, and it just seems to be more retread than refreshing. While the first film was a rip roaring adventure with a lot of laughs, this one dulled by its third act.

It’s not that the characters aren’t appealing–and Whedon does get a lot of out of them. But we’ve seen all of this before, and Ultron just doesn’t come through as a great villain. He’s got all the tropes, but sometimes he’s silly and unconvincing.

The Universe will keep expanding, but the more things expand, the closer it gets to snapping and falling apart.

My rating::?

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I thought when I first saw ads for this film that Marvel Studios was really scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to pluck anything out of their catalog to sell to kids so that they could rake in money and dominate another summer. Then I saw that James Gunn’s name was attached and I started to change my mind a bit. I had never heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy” before learning of the film’s release; after reading up a little bit on it, it actually looked like it could be a fun vehicle. Another thing I was hesitant to be excited about was the casting of Dave Bautista. He doesn’t ever come across as charismatic or endearing. Finally I stopped my preconceived notions like a nosebleed and decided to just go see the film and draw an opinion on what I saw on the screen.

What I saw was pure, absolute, 100% entertainment. This is what summer action movies are supposed to be like. While the first twenty minutes or so are quite a lot to take in–lot of backstory–once it settles in and our feet are firmly planted, it is a real treat. Gunn’s flair for humor permeates the whole film, which is a good thing. It’s funny to think a former Troma filmmaker could pull this off. But he does. And he even includes his old pal Lloyd Kaufman (former founder of Troma Films and director of “The Toxic Avenger” among other films) as a prison inmate in one scene.

The story involves a group of criminals in their own way thrust together by a nice MacGuffin (a little metal orb) that is worth a lot; but what it is, nobody really knows. We begin with the backstory of the main character, Peter Quill (very nicely played by Chris Pratt), as he’s a child tragically watching his mother die before him in a hospital. The only thing that seems to comfort him is his walkman (this is 1988), with an “Awesome Mix” playing. He is told he is going to be taken care of by his grandfather; but once he runs outside, tears streaming down his face, he is picked up by a large spacecraft. Decades later, he is a grown man and a thief working for the alien that abducted (and ultimately raised) him, Yondu (Michael Rooker, always a pleasure to see) and steals an orb that is meant for Yondu so he can sell it. Only Quill is attacked by a group led by someone named Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and escapes with the orb, enraging Yondu. It turns out Korath wanted the orb for a Kree alien named Ronan, whose assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is hired to track down Quill and take the orb from him. Meanwhile, there’s a price of Quill’s head that draws the attention of a scruffy raccoon-like being, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his companion, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and all parties converge on the planet Xandar, and are thrown in prison after some shenanigans take place.

There is a lot going on here, so I’ll just summarize: Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Quill, all pretty much team up to escape prison. They are helped by another inmate, Drax (who has a back story involving Gamora that’s too complicated to get into in this review), played by Bautista. They escape, and are wanted by just about everybody–but they discover that the orb is actually a casing for something called the Infinity Stone that–wait for it–can give you ultimate power. Ronan wants it, but he has someone to answer to as well–Thanos. Ronan turns out to be a rogue and wants it for himself, and Gamora’s half sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), fights for Ronan. The team basically has to save the planet Xandar from Ronan and his quest for the Infinity Stone.

So try to follow all that. Actually, even if you’re extremely confused, the film never gets bogged down too much with plot that it takes away from the action and adventure of the story. The film’s two hour length is perfect and timed and paced well so that it’s rarely a dull moment.

But it’s really the characters of the Guardians that shine. Quill is your everyman, someone we all can relate to, and his sense of humor is charming. Rocket is a loudmouth but also amusing; Gamora is stunning and of course her chemistry with Quill is palpable. The surprise to me is Bautista’s performance as Drax. While Drax is hardly charismatic by design, it is his droll demeanor that actually winds up being what’s appealing about him. He has no reflection, no identity for irony (he once is told something “went over his head” and he retorts: “Nothing goes over my head. I would catch it immediately.”) and he speaks with a ridiculous vernacular for someone of his brawny size. Bautista plays it totally straight, no winking at the camera, and that makes Drax one of the strongest presences on screen, regardless of his physical prowess.

There are also some very tender moments, and one of the most touching actually involves Drax and Rocket. I won’t give away what it is, because it’s a major plot point, but I will note that it tugged at the heart strings. Of course Quill’s tragic back story with his mother resonates, and he is always seen carrying his walkman, trying to impress anyone he can with his awesome music (which for me was hit or miss).

The film reminded me of “The Avengers” in its spirit and emphasis on character and humor. The camaraderie between the gang is fun, and even when they’re at odds (which happens occasionally), it’s still a hoot.

Even though it seems like Marvel reached for this one, it proves there are some gems even at the bottom of whatever barrel they are scraping at. And because Marvel believes religiously in sequels, I know we will see these characters again.

And I look very much forward to seeing them.

My rating::D

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. Its not that theyre not worth remembering; its just that for the most part, theres nothing to remember. Id read it, enjoy it, and move on. Thats not including the deeper graphic novels Ive 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.

Thats pretty much the equivalent of a summer blockbuster, too. Theyre not meant to challenge your brain or make you think about anything. And the good ones will keep your mind occupied so that when youre ready to flush it out, it isnt a painful experience. Maybe movies like these dont 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 didnt 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 asa 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 hishome 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 amuddled 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 superhero 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: : :?

Captain America: The First Avenger

July 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

I remember back in the summer of 1990, I was going to see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the second time in the theatre, when I spotted a really cool looking poster for an upcoming movie. All it was was a shield, red white and blue. I recognized it immediately. It was Captain America.

In my youth, there was nary a superhero film (besides the “Superman” sequels)until 1989’s “Batman”, so I was really excited. I thought, well if there’s going to be a movie for Captain America, then maybe they’ll make a Spider-Man movie, too!

Well, that poster was the last I heard of “Captain America”, the movie. It was only about a decade later when I read that the movie was such a bomb, it wasn’t even really released at all. Back in those days, Hollywood wasn’t about to spend money to churn out superhero movies the way they do now, like a fast food combo meal.

And so, my childhood was left with no “Captain America” movie. And now, into my thirties, I realize by seeing this 2011 film, that I wish I could go back to my childhood and take this film with me. If I were 11 years old again, I probably would have enjoyed the film thoroughly.

Instead, I was absolutely thoroughly bored with this film. Every simple-minded gag and plot device is utilized here. It’s just your average Rah-Rah Go America style action flick, and the lack of depth to the characters and plot would’ve been ignored had I been a kid, simply amazed and swept off my feet by the dazzling special effects. Instead, nothing worked for me.

The film is, like every other comic book movie, an origin story. And like most Marvel comic book heroes, this one is an underdeveloped kid who suddenly gets massive powers. He goes from being the Little Engine That Could to the Coors Light Train, blasting through enemies (who look like a cross between S&Menthusiasts and the Cobra Command)at a breakneck pace. He has a love interest, played dutifully by the amazingly beautiful Hayley Atwell, and he has a boss, played amusingly by Tommy Lee Jones. The only real waste of a good character actor is Hugo Weaving, who plays the main villain known as the Red Skull. He’s so paper thin and uninteresting, it’s really a shame. Captain America himself is played actually pretty well by Chris Evans, who has already had a comic book character attached to his name in his career. That’s another thing that’s strange to me: time was, a comic book hero that became a movie also became the identity of the actor. Christopher Reeve was Superman. That was it. But now, you’ve got actors who are appearing in several comic book movies as separate heroes. I wonder if kids know the difference, or care.

What does it matter anyway? We’re so inundated with comic book movies, they all start to look the same. I enjoyed “Thor” for what it was, and it was at least a bit different. But this movie is just your average, garden variety, run of the mill superhero movie; but it lacks heart and eagerness to please. It’s almost as if just because it’s Red, White, and Blue, we should cheer. It’s the Flag Waving Comic Book Hero Movie.

Well, I’m sure that will appeal to certain audiences. Count me out.

My rating: :(

Thor

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: :-)

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