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: : :?

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&M enthusiasts 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: :-)

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: : :|

Kick-Ass

April 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, giving his nephew Peter a little bit of foreshadowing as he emerges as The Amazing Spider-man. True words.

But how about when you have no power? Kick-Ass, also known as David Lizewski (played by English actor Aaron Johnson), asks this question in the film “Kick-Ass”, a non-superhero super-hero movie that works almost as two movies. One, a light hearted comic book movie that features a lot of action, and cartoon violence. The other is a more serious undertone of betrayal, hatred, and exploitation on the part of fathers and their children. Do the two work?

Well, let’s back up for a moment. “Kick-Ass” introduces a super hero idea in which we live in the normal world, and one kid doesn’t understand why there hasn’t been a copy-cat of a comic book super-hero. He invents one that ultimately is named Kick-Ass, and goes to try and save kittens or junkies from being beaten up by a gang of other junkies. When he is incapacitated by one such group, he has lost some feeling in certain parts of his body so he is able to withstand more beatings than the normal human being. In all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, this was the most painfully realistic set up for an origin story I’ve seen. Nothing about military experiments. No explosions in the lab, no radioactive side effects from an arachnid bite. No, this was just a kid who got a little over his head and wound up surviving a stab wound among other injuries.

But, instead of deterring him from fighting crime, it inspires him even more. He is an internet sensation, and he designs a MySpace page (dating the film’s development process, obviously). He gets the attention of two others–a disenchanted father (played by Nicholas Cage) and his daughter, Mindy. He has an idea to showcase her as a superhero as well–but a much more violent one, as Hit Girl. She’s got a mouth that would give Irish Spring and Dove a billion dollar endorsement, and moves that make Cat Woman look like an amateur.

They somewhat “team up” when Kick-Ass is asked by The Hot Chick at David’s school, as they have become chums since she thinks he’s her gay BFF, to tell one of her former “clients” at a help clinic to back off of her. When Kick-Ass goes to this guy’s pad, he realizes he really is way in over his head as there are five or six other guys in there and they can easily kill him. But Hit Girl comes in and saves the day, and from there, the other more insidious plot develops.

A drug cartel is being run in the city underground by a powerful “lumber entrepreneur” named Frank D’Amico (played by another English actor, Mark Strong), and his plans are being spoiled by an unidentified “masked man” who has been killing his men. On this night when Kick-Ass is identified as being a part of the scheme (since the “client” was working for him), he is indicted fully by D’Amico, who wants him dead. His son, Chris (played by McLovin, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to create his own super hero persona to lure Kick-Ass and let his dad catch him. He wants to “learn about the family business”. His father allows it, and thus creates Red Mist.

When we learn about Mindy’s father’s past, the plot becomes a bit muddled in its purpose. What was once a fun loving, cute, and somewhat realistic approach to what it would be like to be a “real life superhero” becomes a darker, more sardonic tale of revenge and manipulation. Mindy’s Dad, Damon (super hero persona is Big Daddy, and he sports a very funny Adam West impersonation), raises his daughter to be a lethal killer so he can exact revenge on D’Amico for selling him out and causing major family complications. When she is enlisted as Hit Girl, she is more than willing. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just brainwashing and we should dislike Damon; or, we should feel he’s justified. It’s a slippery slope, and one that may be a little too heavy-handed for otherwise such a jovial movie.

The film’s fork in the road occurs when Kick-Ass  and Big Daddy are captured by D’Amico’s men, and there’s a very real danger of them being killed. While David is narrating the film, he reminds us of other endings in which the hero narrates even when he’s not alive. Is it a ruse? Or will this film go that far to prove a point?

The film, from this point, sheds its realistic layer of skin and uncovers what I guess it was going for all along–superhero comic book violence and big explosions.

It’s hard to say whether it’s a total failure. I was, by this time, completely enthralled by the film. I really liked the characters, and I really hated the bad guys. In the climactic ending, it is extremely unrealistic and extremely violent. It bears no resemblance to the sweet and funny movie it started as. But I didn’t dislike how it progressed. If you look at a lot of comic book stories, some of them do resemble normal stories of normal people in fantastic situations. Peter Parker is the perfect example. He is exactly what “Kick-Ass” is emulating, except that Peter Parker *does* possess super powers.

The lesson of the film is certainly muddled because of the bombastic way the film ends. It goes from being about taking responsibility for who you are, the loss of identity, and the exploitation of society, to being about getting revenge and losing yourself in the super hero persona. My feeling is that’s what the filmmakers wanted. They wanted this ultimately to be a sarcastic super hero film that ends like all other super hero movies end. And of course, it ends on a note that leaves it open for a sequel.

I liked this film a lot, and I would love to see a sequel. I’d love to revisit these characters. But I wonder if maybe they were missing something here. It’s hard to feel sorry for Damon, Mindy’s dad, because he’s made her a victim just as much as he made himself. Whether Mindy likes her lifestyle as being a cold-blooded killer or not, she wasn’t really given the choice. It’s a bit dark and moody and out of place in a movie that’s supposed to be mostly for laughs. However, I do find it daring that they chose to make her so young. This is an age when the younger generation has an advantage over the older ones. They have technology, and so many more things at their fingertips. Is it really overexposure and exploiting? Or is it just the way things are now? Every generation takes a few steps back and a few steps forward. The invention of Hit Girl is tricky because I certainly wouldn’t like to see anyone try to mimic her in real life–they’d be killed. But her spirit is nothing to be offended by or be ashamed or afraid of. Her heart is in the right place. I also would hope that David has realized how much his docile and sympathetic father has been so much better for him letting him make his own choices, unlike Chris and Mindy, who have had their destinies and decisions forced upon them by their fathers. I do think the film missed the boat on that revelation.

Overall though, this is a good yarn, and it’s fun. Yes it gets a bit heavy handed at times, but I still find it very entertaining–and before you start feeling bad about reveling in Hit Girl’s ability to kill 5 men in less than 1 minute, remember that these are heartless criminals who do nothing for society except have more money than you and make crass remarks about women and double park when they shouldn’t. So really, she did us all a favor.

Take the film as an origin story for a comic book, and there’s not a lot of difference between this and any other comic book movie you’ve seen. And it delivers as well as the best ones out there.

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: :|

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