Superheroes

All-Star Superman

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2011

Warner Bros. Animation/DC Comics

Directed by Sam Liu

Produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Sam Register

Written by Dwayne McDuffie

Based on “All-Star Superman” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

For a long time now I’ve been trying to figure out why the live action superhero movies produced by Warner Brothers/DC Comics are so dour, so dark and so depressing. Technically they’re great looking movies and I have no problem with the acting, which is often excellent. And they make money, no doubt about that. But for me they don’t have the same thrill I get when I watch the animated movies. And for my money the finest superhero movies Warner Brothers/DC Comics are doing are not the live action but the animated ones.

There’s “Batman: Mask of The Phantasm” which I consider the best Batman movie made to date. WB/DC is banging its collective head bloody against a brick wall trying to make a live action Justice League movie when the animation guys already have made the two best Justice League movies to date: “Justice League: The New Frontier” and “Justice League: Doom.” What else? There’s “Batman: Gotham Knights” “Green Lantern: First Flight” “Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths” “Batman: Year One” “Superman vs. The Elite.” And “The Dark Knight Returns” all of which I recommend wholeheartedly.

Sure, they go into dark and dangerous waters emotionally occasionally and some of them may be a little too much for younger viewers. But they are so much more in tune with the spirit of these characters I’ve grown up reading about and love so much. In the animated DC Universe, the superheroes embrace their destiny as such and deal with it. In the live action movies, DC superheroes seem to be ashamed of being superheroes and spent most of their time trying to be reclusive and not accept the destiny they’ve inherited.

Which roundaboutly brings me to ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. I recently sat down to watch it again after I watched “Man of Steel” for the second time and I just wanted to watch a Superman movie I really enjoyed. I’ve seen “Man of Steel” twice now and have no desire to see it again. I’ve seen ALL-STAR SUPERMAN three times now and I no doubt will see it three more times as I enjoy watching it a lot more. Even though it’s a movie where Superman makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Earth and his beloved friends, it’s one of the most uplifting endings in any superhero movie because that’s what Superman does. ALL-STAR SUPERMAN stays true to the spirit of Superman in a way that “Man of Steel” doesn’t.

While rescuing the crew of a manned spaceship mission to the sun, Superman (James Denton) absorbs an overdose of solar radiation that boosts his superpowers to unreal levels (he can lift 200 quintillion tons one handed now) as well as increasing his intelligence. But his cells are oversaturated with power and ironically, the very thing that gives him his powers is now killing him. Superman resolves to spend whatever time he has left coming to terms with some unresolved issues in his life.

Two of those issues are the complicated relationships he has with Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks) and Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) who was the one who manipulated the crisis with the spaceship that exposed Superman to the increased radiation. Lex has been sentenced to death by the World Court and he cannot accept the idea that Superman will continue to live after him.

Superman reveals that he’s really Clark Kent to Lois who doesn’t believe it because if Superman really were Clark Kent, she’d have proved it years ago. He gives her a serum synthesized from his own DNA that gives her superpowers for 24 hours as a birthday present and they spend a wonderful day together going dancing in Atlantis and stopping an attack on Metropolis by intelligent dinosaurs living at the Earth’s core.

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Clark Kent interviews Lex Luthor in Stryker’s Prison in one of the best scenes in the movie as Lex explains his philosophy of the world, himself, Superman and even Clark Kent who is is surprised when Lex admits to liking and even respecting Clark. Their interview is cut short by The Parasite (Michael Gough) breaking out of his cell and going on a rampage, freeing the other prisoners in the process. It’s highly amusing to watch Clark having to keep both himself and Lex out of harm’s way while covertly using his superpowers to do so.

After settling other affairs such as finding a home for the citizens of the bottle city of Kandor, Superman then faces his final challenge as Solaris (Robin Atkin Downes), the computerized tyrant sun turns Earth’s sun blue.  Can Superman defeat both Solaris and a now super powered Luthor before his final hour is done?

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It couldn’t have been easy for Dwyane McDuffie to adapt a twelve issue comic book series into a 76 minute film but that he was able to do so is a fitting testament to his amazing talent as a writer. And wisely he doesn’t try to do so. What we get here is sort of a “greatest hits” of the comic book series. And those who watch this without having read the comic may be confused as to who Atlas and Samson are, where they came from and why they’re here but let’s face it, if you’ve bought into everything else that has happened so far, my advice is just to go with it.

And that’s perhaps the strength in the story here: since it’s a self-contained story told outside of the regular Superman continuity (whatever that is these days) the script can have Superman resolve how he feels about his friends, the greatest love of his life and his greatest enemy and thereby Just Go With It. Where lesser writers insist on bringing Superman down to human levels where we can ‘relate’ to him, Dwyane McDuffie’s script finds the humanity in Superman and allows us to relate to him not by diminishing his power but emphasizing and elevating his heart, his compassion and his never ending battle for Truth, Justice and The American Way.

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The voice actors do their job well. Christina Hendricks is no Dana Delaney (who is pretty much the definitive animated Lois Lane) but for me, she and Anthony LaPaglia are the standouts. James Denton doesn’t really make much of an effort to give Superman and Clark Kent distinctively different voices and that’s a no-no. And the animation does a great job of suggesting Quitely’s artwork without imitating it. The music score I thought was rather exceptional as well.

So should you see ALL-STAR SUPERMAN? I certainly think so. It’s not the twelve issue comic book series and doesn’t try to be. But what it is a story about Superman’s last days and his final adventure. It’s about him dealing with own mortality and trying to resolve his relationship with two of the most important people in his life: one who loves him and one who hates him. It’s simply a good movie and a great Superman story. Enjoy.

76 Minutes

Rated PG

Man of Steel

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2013

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures/DC Entertainment

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Based on “Superman” created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Sooner or later it always comes down to real estate in a Superman movie, doesn’t it? I mean, in three of the previous Superman movies the plot revolved around extraordinary real estate schemes. And in MAN OF STEEL General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) plan for world conquest could be considered the ultimate form of gentrification. He intends to terraform Earth and make it uninhabitable for humans. But first he’s got to extract The Codex from the cells of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and resurrect the Kryptonian race. And it’s not that it’s a bad plan at all. I just wish it wasn’t such a slog to get to it.

MAN OF STEEL is yet another retelling of the origin of Superman, which we didn’t need. So I guess that’s why Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer threw in such unnecessary details such as: a Kryptonian civil war. Making Kal-El the literal savior of the Kryptonian race by having his cellular structure infused with The Codex which if I understand it correctly pretty much means that Kal-El’s cells contains billions of DNA sequences. Making General Zod and Kal-El’s dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe) best buds who have a falling out over this pesky civil war as Jor-El insists they don’t have time for this rubbish as Krypton is going to blow up any day now. The Krypton sequence is one of the best things about the movie. And not only because we see that Jor-El knows how to rumble, young man, rumble. The architecture, technology and costuming had me wishing that we could get a “World of Krypton” movie. This is the first Superman movie that actually made Krypton look like it would be a really cool place to live. If it wasn’t for the blowing up part that is.

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Okay, so you know the drill after that: Krypton blows up, Kal-El gets rocketed to Earth, found by kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent  (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. But then that’s when the plot goes into a whole other realm as we get scenes of Clark going walkabout, roaming the world, taking odd jobs and using his powers in secret to help out where he can. In between we have Lois Lane (Amy Adams) Colonel Hardy (Christopher Meloni) and Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) investigating an alien craft found in the Arctic that has a connection with Clark and ultimately leads her to Kansas.

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But here comes General Zod and his posse again, having been freed from The Phantom Zone when Krypton blew up. They’ve been wandering around the universe all this time and thanks to Clark’s fooling around, they come to Earth. Zod looks around and likes the property. He’ll take it. Clark has to convince Lt. General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) that he’s here for Truth, Justice and The American Way and they have to work together if they’re going to stop Zod.

I realize I’m being a little more flippant in this review than I usually am but that’s only because I wish MAN OF STEEL had been a little more flippant itself. This is a movie that takes itself way too seriously and moves ponderously from one drama drenched scene to another groaning under the weight of its own solemnity. It’s not a fun movie and there’s not a single moment where I felt like standing up and cheering when Superman flies in to save the day. Which is what I want to see when I go to a Superman movie.

There’s going to be plenty of Superman fans who are going to like this movie because they want their superhero movies to be stonefaced serious. Me, I think you can be serious and have some fun. Maybe I want too much, I dunno. I know that Superman fans desperately wanted to see a Superman movie with some action and him hitting things. Well, with a bunch of Kryptonian villains all with superpowers, there’s plenty of that. And the final throwdown between Superman and Zod will satisfy in the amount of sheer destructiveness. I myself don’t believe there’s a building left standing in Metropolis after the day the Kryptonians came to town.

I have no complaint with the acting at all. Especially Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon. Bravo, Mr. Shannon. I believe he’s one the best and most underrated actors working today. The guy’s Brando level good, trust me. And if you’re not familiar with his work then you need to be.

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As to what I didn’t like: so much added to the Superman origin story that I thought wasn’t needed was put in there simply so that audiences wouldn’t feel they were watching the same old same old. The fate of Jonathan Kent. The wonky direction by Zack Snyder in the fight sequences which really surprised me. In his past movies Snyder’s fight scene were really crisp, clean and well-choreographed, leaving no doubt as to who was getting hit and by whom. Here in MAN OF STEEL most of the fight scenes are just blurs going from one side of the screen to the other.  The ghost of Jor-El showing up just when he’s needed in places he has no business being. Superman’s resolution to the General Zod problem. I mean, I realize full well Zod left Superman with no choice but the Superman I know would have found another way.

And at the end of the day I suppose that’s really all it is. This isn’t a Superman I felt was my Superman. That’s not to say that he’s a bad Superman. He’s pretty good, in fact. Henry Cavill is a new Superman for a new generation and he does the character proud. But I’ll still stick with the 1978 model if that’s okay with you.

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143 minutes

PG-13

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

 

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 

This review is spoiler free as I’m pretty sure there will be some of you reading this who haven’t seen THE AVENGERS yet.  In about another month or so when more of you have seen it I’ll be rewriting the review so as to talk more in-depth about the movie.  Now if you want to read an excellent, more comprehensive review, by all means, go read Mark Bousquet’s review.  But be advised that Mark’s review has spoilers aplenty so if you’re the type who foams at the mouth at the very thought of spoilers, then don’t. 

 

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.  I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  Matter of fact, I’m sure of it.

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  If you don’t, I don’t wanna know you.  If every other movie I see this year turns out to be crap I honestly don’t care because I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13

 

The Incredible Hulk

2008

Universal Studios/Marvel Entertainment

Directed by Louis Leterrier

Produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd

Screenplay by Edward Norton (uncredited) and Zak Penn

Based on the comic book “The Incredible Hulk” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

For those of you who haven’t heard my yelling in the wilderness before now, allow me to yell some more: I thoroughly enjoyed the Ang Lee directed “Hulk” and still think it’s one of the best superhero movies made.  For years fanboys whined that superhero movies weren’t treated with the respect or dignity the characters deserved.  Well, they got a movie with an intelligent script, an A-list director, a top notch cast, photographed with style and imagination and what did they do?  BMW’ed that there wasn’t enough “Hulk Smash!”  They certainly can’t say that about THE INCREDIBLE HULK as there’s enough action in this one to make up for any lack of action in the first.  And it’s well directed action that serves the needs of the story and just isn’t put in there for “Hulk Smash!” value.  I enjoyed THE INCREDIBLE HULK for a lot of reasons I like “Hulk” They both share intelligent scripts, a top-notch cast and it’s photographed with style and imagination.  I don’t know if Louis Leterrier can be considered an A-list director but if he keeps on making movies this good, he will be.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK hits the ground running by giving us a condensed, reworked version of The Hulk’s origin.  In this one, General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) enlists the genius of radiation expert Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to revive a World War II era experiment: The Super-Soldier Project.  The idea is to physically enhance human beings to the pinnacle of peak human perfection.  If you’ve seen “Captain America” then you know how that worked out.  Ross thinks that Bruce can speed up the process.  Well, Doc Bruce Banner gets belted by gamma rays, turns into The Hulk and in the process injures not only Ross but his daughter Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) the love of Bruce’s life.  Now, when Bruce gets angry or outraged a startling metamorphosis occurs and he changes into a seven-foot tall, thousand pound, green skinned powerhouse driven by rage.  Bruce goes on the run, hiding from Ross and the United States Army while trying to find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.

We pick up Bruce working in a bottling plant in Rio de Janeiro.  He’s studying martial arts to help him control his anger.  He’s working on a cure for his condition with the help of the mysterious Mr. Blue who he communicates with via laptop and satellite uplink.  Ross finds Bruce due to a set of circumstances involving a cut finger, a soda bottle and the second funniest cameo Stan Lee has done in these Marvel movies.  Ross sends a team of Special Forces commandos to capture Banner.  They’re led by Blonsky (Tim Roth) a Russian born British black ops type of guy who’s past his prime.

The team finds Banner and they make the mistake of making him mad so you can guess what happens after that.  But Blonsky wants another crack at capturing Bruce and The Hulk and willingly volunteers to take the Super-Soldier serum himself so that he can have a fighting chance against The Hulk.  In the meantime, Bruce and Betty have reunited and decide to go toNew Yorkand seek out Mr. Blue themselves.  That plan is complicated by Ross, Blonsky and The Army showing up and in one of the movie’s really amazing battle sequences Bruce Hulks out and takes on the Army and Blonsky.  Blonsky’s able to actually hold his own for a while against The Hulk before the big green guy shows exactly why there’s ‘The Incredible’ in front of his name.

The fight leaves every bone in Blonsky’s body shattered but in a few hours he’s totally and completely healed.  This gets Blonsky to thinking: if he’s like this just from having taken the serum, what’ll happen if he gets a dose of gamma rays like Bruce Banner?  The answer leads to a simply fantastic showdown inNew York’sHarlem between The Hulk and Blonsky who has been transformed into a gamma powered Abomination.  But will Bruce be able to find a lasting cure?  Will he and Betty ever be able to have a normal life?

The really fun thing about THE INCREDIBLE HULK is that it follows the old school formula of storytelling that Marvel did so well way back in the 60’s/70’s: a healthy dose of plain ol’ superheroics with just enough soap opera elements to give the characters and the story the illusion of being something more than just the opportunity to have guys with bulging muscles whomping the piss outta each other.  But it’s done so well and with such respect for the source material that like “Iron Man” and “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” it’s elevated out of just being just another superhero movie and is A Good Movie, period.

I liked Edward Norton a lot in this movie.  He’s one of the best actors working today and his Bruce Banner really isn’t that far from the way Eric Bana played Banner in the 2003 movie.  Norton’s Banner is less repressed and more proactive but five years on the run from the government will make a man come out of his shell real fast.  I liked how even General Ross had to admit that Banner isn’t to be underestimated and not just because he can turn into The Hulk.  This is a Bruce Banner who in his own way can be as dangerous as his monstrous alter ego.  And speaking of General Ross, William Hurt did a far better job of playing ol’ ‘Thunderbolt’ than I thought he would.  It’s almost a shame he had to follow Sam Elliot’s definitive performance as General Ross because I think if William Hurt had done it first, we all might be saying that his version of Ross is the definitive one as William Hurt is just that good.  And saying Tim Roth is a terrific actor is as obvious as saying water is wet.  It’s just a given that in any role, Tim Roth is going to do his usual excellent job.  The only acting disappointment in the movie was Liv Tyler.  Not that she’s terrible as Betty Ross.  Far from it.  She’s quite good.  Just not as good as Jennifer Connelly.

The CGI Hulk in this one is an improvement over the 2003 version.  He’s way more muscular and it looked to my eyes as if the CGI guys tried to find a medium between the gray and green versions of The Hulk in that there are some scenes where he looks greener and others where he looks grayer.  In any case it’s a more natural looking green and this Hulk is a truly terrifying creature.  I’ve always considered The Hulk’s arch enemy to be the entire United States Army and in the comics The Hulk had some truly epic battles with them and so he does in this movie.  And the final fight between The Hulk and Blonsky/The Abomination is jaw-droppingly awesome in its sheer savagery.

So should you see THE INCREDIBLE HULK?  Chances are you probably already have. I’m not even going to get into which is better, this one or the 2003 “Hulk” I like and enjoy each of them for what they are.  Both are extremely well made movies with valid interpretations of the source material.  There’s a whole lot of references and nods to the comic book, the TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as well as the animated ‘Hulk’ series from the 80’s and 90’s that will give long time fans a chuckle and there’s more than enough action and character drama to ensure a good time at the movies will be had by all.  Enjoy.

114 minutes

Rated PG-13

Hulk

2003

Universal Pictures/Marvel Enterprises 

Directed by Ang Lee

Produced by Avi Arad, Larry J. Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, James Schamus, Stan Lee, Kevin Feige

Screenplay by James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman

Based on “The Incredible Hulk” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 

Comic book fans.  God bless ‘em.  Somebody better bless ‘em ‘cause they most surely need it.  For me to amplify on that statement we have to go back to the 1970’s.  All the way back to when all there were was TV movies, cartoons and shows based on my favorite Marvel characters like The Hulk, Captain America, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man.  The Dr. Strange TV movie actually wasn’t that bad but the two Captain America movies were pretty poor.  The Spider-Man TV series boasted a Spider-Man that wore a belt and one webshooter on the outside of his costume.  The Hulk TV series actually was very good at times and is still fondly remembered.  When you mention The Hulk to the average non-comic book fan, it’s the TV show they’ll probably remember.

But ever since those dismal days of Made-For-TV movies that looked they were filmed in somebody’s backyards or highly unconvincing sets with actors who clearly were doing this for the paycheck, comic book fans have been bitching, moaning and whining.

They gnashed their teeth, tore at their clothing and prayed for a major superhero movie with a lavish budget for quality special effects.  With an Academy Award winning director and actors who truly cared about the material and would treat it with respect.  With a literate screenplay that emphasized the emotional, dramatic and psychological life of its characters and simply wasn’t punchy-punchy-run-run.

And then they got HULK and they proceeded to lose their mollyfoggin’ minds.

HULK is a movie that polarizes comic book fans.  They either love it or hate it.  The main argument against the movie I hear is that it’s “boring” which I honestly don’t understand.  The Hulk isn’t your usual superhero and there are elements of the character’s backstory that deal with child and spousal abuse, alcoholism, emotional trauma, megalomania, the ethical responsibility of science and its practitioners.  The Hulk isn’t about a guy who puts on a costume and goes out to beat up on the bad guys.  It’s another type of character and needs to be told in another kind of way.  Not that The Hulk can’t be utilized in a superhero universe.  He has.  It’s just that his origin story has to be faithful to the uniqueness of the character and HULK certainly is unique among superhero movies.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a bionuclear researcher working on a branch of nanotechnology called ‘nanomeds’ which has medical applications.  It’s a project that comes to the attention of Major Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas).  Talbot envisions armies of soldiers who can heal themselves during combat using nanomeds.  Bruce isn’t interested.  Mainly because he just doesn’t like the military very much and he definitely doesn’t like Talbot who is most certainly interested in not only Bruce’s research but also his co-researcher and ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly).  Betty father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliott) is keeping an eye on all of them.  Betty and her father already have a strained relationship because of Bruce as General Ross has urged her time and again to stay away from him.

Turns out that in this instance, Daddy does know best.  After an accident in the lab in which Bruce is exposed to a insanely high dose of gamma radiation he finds himself in times of emotional stress turning into a seven foot tall, one thousand pound green skinned man-monster driven by rage.  Unknown to Bruce, his DNA has been mutated due to experiments his father David Banner (Nick Nolte) performed upon himself, those experiments uncannily similar to Bruce’s.  It’s the combination of Bruce’s already mutated DNA with the gamma radiation that gives birth to The Hulk.

Let me put it to you in the simplest way I can: you’re not gonna get “Hulk Smash!” in this one.  There is an absolutely wonderful battle between The Hulk and the Thunderbolt Ross led forces of the United States Army in the desert that is taken right from countless Hulk comic books but The Hulk pounding the piss outta the bad guys isn’t what’s at stake here.  You’ll have to wait for the Ed Norton starring “The Incredible Hulk” to get that.

What we have here is a movie about two adults who have been emotionally scarred by their parents.  Their true union is a struggle to heal their damaged psyches.  Both Bruce and Betty are victims of the monstrous egos of their respective fathers.  In Bruce’s case it causes him to turn into the living embodiment of his repressed rage.  In Betty’s case it causes her to be almost uncontrollably drawn to emotionally repressed men who can never give her what she truly needs to contribute to a healthy romantic relationship.

Heavy stuff for a superhero movie, huh?  Sure it is.  But it’s anything but boring and not every superhero movie has to be about punching out the bad guys.  HULK is more about how most of us are our own bad guys.

And directors of superhero movies could learn something from the astonishing visual techniques Ang Lee uses to not so much try to literally duplicate the storytelling methods of comic books but his strategy here seems to be to suggest those methods and not beat us over the head with it.  It’s amazing to watch a director use the split screen technique in a way that is truly different.  He uses pictures within picture, foreground and background merging with each other.  That’s why I never understand those who say that HULK is boring.  It’s a movie that is always moving just through the imaginative transitions from scene to the next.

But bitter waters come with the sweet and as much as I like HULK I have to agree with those of you who hate the Gamma Dogs sequence.  First of all; Gamma Dogs?  And second, the way it’s filmed at night it’s difficult to tell what’s going on.  And while Nick Nolte is one of my favorite actors I watch this movie and can’t help but wonder what movie did he think he was in.  And that ending is absolutely incomprehensible.  Mark Bousquet in his excellent review  of HULK says that the movie should have ended when The Hulk is transformed back into Bruce by the calming presence of Betty Ross and falls into her arms.  And he’s absolutely right.  We get another twenty minutes of Nick Nolte ranting and raving and trying to explain to Bruce what his deal is.  And there’s another nighttime fight except this one takes place in a lake where we really can’t see what the cuss is going on.

This is a movie where I can’t find fault with anybody’s acting job.  Sam Elliott is the definitive Thunderbolt Ross.  Jennifer Connelly continues to show why she’s one of the most dependable actresses working today.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen her turn in a bad performance.  Eric Bana makes for an interesting Bruce Banner.  He doesn’t play him as a wimp or as a weakling.  His Bruce Banner is a guy who has been dealt some pretty hard knocks by life ever since he was knee high to a knee and it’s taken his toll on his emotional make-up.

I’ve long given up trying to get comic book fans to see HULK through my eyes.  They hate it, they’re gonna hate it and I have come to terms with that.  I enjoy HULK and put it on the shelf with movies such as “The Rocketeer” “The Phantom” and “Speed Racer” which most people don’t like but I feel as if the filmmakers made those movies just for me.  I like to call HULK an art house superhero movie.  I’ve heard various critics call it a superhero movie for people who don’t like superhero movies.  Bottom line is this: HULK isn’t for everybody but I am glad it’s for me.

138 minutes

PG-13

Iron Man 2

2010

Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Kevin Feige and Susan Downey

Written by Justin Theroux

Based on “Iron Man” created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics.

I think the success of the first “Iron Man” and IRON MAN 2 has to be given to both Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Favreau.  Nothing in their past movie work indicated that either of them were capable of producing such a hip, smart and fun superhero movie as the first one and they’ve pulled off the feat of making a sequel that is just as hip, smart and fun.  IRON MAN 2 isn’t better than the first one. But it’s just as good and sometimes when you’re making a superhero movies that is examined with such a critical eye by lifelong fans of such a wildly popular character, ‘just as good’ is as good as you can possibly get.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) seemingly has the world on a golden string.  Thanks to his Iron Man technology he’s made the world a safer place.  He’s hosting a Stark Expo, reviving a tradition started by his late father Howard Stark (John Slattery) where he outlines a plan for world peace.  Tony’s so beloved by the American public that he can tell a Congressional Committee on national TV to go to hell.  The Committee, headed by Senator Stern (Gary Shandling) demands that the Iron Man technology be given over to The Defense Department and Tony being the arrogant narcissistic genius that he is (hey, that’s what it says in his file) refuses, assuring the Committee that the rest of the world is years away from having anything remotely close to his technology.

That’s before Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) shows up, wielding fearsome whip-like weapons powered by a duplicate of the arc reactor that powers Iron Man and keeps Tony Stark alive.  The secret of Vanko’s power source is wrapped up in a mystery involving Vanko’s father as well as Tony’s.  A secret that is shared by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who is aware that Tony is dying from palladium poisoning.  Palladium is a necessary component of the arc reactor and won’t work without it.  There’s only one way to save Tony’s life but that involves the impossible: creating a new element.

But Tony may not have time to accomplish that feat seeing as how his best friend Air Force Lt. Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes has given the Defense Department Tony’s Mark II version of the Iron Man armor.  The suit is handed over to Tony’s main business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) with instructions to weaponize the suit to the max.  Doing so will turn the wearer of the armor in a veritable War Machine.  Fortunately Tony has plenty of help thanks to his able assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who steps up to the plate and takes over running Tony’s company while he’s dealing with his multiple problems.  And as always, Tony is ably backed up by his bodyguard/chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) And if that isn’t enough, there’s Tony’s new assistant Natalie Rushman ( Scarlett Johansson) who is really S.H.I.E.L.D. agent extraordinaire Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow.

Now even in that brief summation of the plot you should get the impression that there’s a lot going on in IRON MAN 2 and you’re absolutely right.  There’s a whole lot going on but the story isn’t anywhere as confusing as I’ve heard folks say it is.  And I appreciate a superhero hero movie that has a lot of pieces in play.  There are a lot of characters in the movie and they’ve all got their own agendas working.  It makes for a story where all the characters have something at stake and aren’t just hanging around.

Robert Downey, Jr. once more does a masterful job of playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.  I don’t know of another actor today who can play such an arrogant jerk and make us love him.  I put it down toDowney’s unpredictability as an actor.  You just don’t know what he’s going to do next but you know it’s going to be amazing.  The rapport he has with Gwyneth Paltrow on screen is nothing short of terrific.  It’s truly fun to watch anytime they’re on screen together.

Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Tony’s best friend Rhodey and it’s an upgrade as Cheadle is by far the better of the two actors and he and Downey have a much better on-screen rapport.  Gary Shandling is surprisingly good in a small but pivotal role.  Sam Rockwell doesn’t play the Justin Hammer of the comics but his incarnation of the character is just fine by me.  Sam Rockwell is one of the most dependable actors working today as I don’t believe he’s capable of turning in a bad performance.  Mickey Rourke fits in surprisingly well as the main bad guy.  Rourke’s character doesn’t say a whole lot but his actions are what sets everything else in the movie in motion and Hammer as he is in this movie simply isn’t strong enough of an antagonist for Tony Stark/Iron Man but I strongly suspect we’ll be seeing Justin Hammer again and he’ll be a lot meaner next time around.

What else?  The screenplay by Justin Theroux is marvelously smart and witty and contains actual dialog and not stock conversations we’ve heard in a dozen other action/superhero movies.  Everybody has a unique voice and it’s always a pleasure to listen to dialog written by somebody who knows how to write it.  My major gripe with this movie?  You’re not gonna believe it but here goes: would it really have killed them to name Clark Gregg’s character Jasper Sitwell?  Because I don’t care what they call him, that’s who he’s playing.  And I want more Black Widow movies starring Scarlett Johansson.

So should you see IRON MAN 2?  Chances are you already have and at this point are either giving me a nod of agreement or giving me the digitus impudicus.  I thought it was a whole lot of fun and that’s what I want to see in a superhero movie.  I like to see a superhero movie where the superhero is having fun being one.  I like to see superheroes having adventures and overcoming adversity and defeating bad guys and saving the day.  I’m tired of superhero movies where the so-called hero is whining that he can’t catch a break or pay his rent (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man) or wrestling with his inner turmoil and existential angst while bemoaning that he must labor under the curse of having superpowers.  Sometimes you just want to recapture the wonder and excitement you felt when you were twelve years old on a summer Saturday afternoon with nothing to do but read a stack of your favorite comic books.  IRON MAN 2 will make you feel like that if you give it a chance.

PG-13

124 minutes

Iron Man

2008

Marvel Enterprises

Directed by Jon Favreau

Screenplay by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway

Based on “Iron Man” created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics

Produced by Avi Arad and Kevin Feigh

 

When I was growing up and my friends and I devoured Marvel Comics as fast as we could get ‘em, all my friends liked Spider-Man.  Which I could never understand.  Spider-Man was a nerdy loser who was always broke, never got the girl, was picked on unmercifully at school and things just never seemed to work out for him.  Which is what my life was like at that stage of my evolution.  So I could never fathom why I would want to read a comic about somebody whose life was as crappy as mine.  Hell, I didn’t have to read comics to know that life wasn’t fair.  I lived it.  I wanted to be Tony Stark.  Now that guy had the life.  Billionaire technological genius.  Brilliant inventor.  Had so many fine women he tripped over ‘em constantly.  Fleets of sports cars and private planes.  Let a team of superheroes live in his mansion and bankrolled their operation.  All that and he had the world’s most powerful weapon: a suit of hi-tech armor that turned Tony Stark into the greatest fighting machine on the face of the Earth: IRON MAN.  Watching the movie  brought back a whole lot of feelings for why I fell in love with the character years ago.  And a lot of that has to do with the outstanding performance of Robert Downey, Jr. the direction of Jon Favreau and the excellent screenplay.  Everybody involved with this movie obviously took time to do their homework and read the comics because what’s up there on the screen is extremely close to the tone and spirit of the comic books.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is delightfully enjoying his blatantly hedonistic lifestyle filled with women, liquor and trips around the world at a moment’s notice.  He’s babysat by his BFF Air Force Colonel James Rhodes (Terrance Howard) and his loyal Girl Friday Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who both worry and fret over Tony like Jewish grandmothers.  But Tony assures them there’s nothing to worry about, that’s he’s got it all under control.  Except when Tony has to demonstrate his latest weapon of mass destruction, the fearsome Jericho missile system in Afghanistan.  His armed escort is wiped out and Tony himself is captured by the terrorist group known as The Ten Rings who demand that he build the Jericho for them.  Complicating the situation is the fact that Tony has a chest full of shrapnel that ironically came from a bomb his own company built.  With the aid of a fellow captive (Shaun Toub) Tony is not only able to construct a device to keep the shrapnel away from his heart but also to build a crude but highly effective suit of iron armor that enables him to get away from his captors.

IRON MAN

Not that his situation back in the United States is much better.  Tony’s business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) doesn’t like it at all when Tony has a moment of clarity and announces that Stark Enterprises will no longer manufacture munitions.  Even Pepper and Jim Rhodes wonder if this is for real or some sort of publicity stunt on Tony’s part.  But Tony is quite serious.  So serious that he seals himself up in his basement workshop and proceeds to improve upon his armor design.  And he’s going to need it, especially when The Ten Rings find his crude prototype armor in the desert and begin piecing it back together.  But they need help to upgrade and improve the armor.  And that forces Tony Stark to come to terms with who has been and what he wants to be in the future.

Iron Man

While I thought IRON MAN was simply outstanding I can’t shake the feeling there’s going to be those who will complain that like the Ang Lee directed “Hulk” IRON MAN doesn’t have enough action.  But the movie isn’t so much about action as about Tony Stark understanding what he’s become and his desire to be better than what he has been.  To leave a legacy other than one of death and destruction.  And the wonderful thing about Tony Stark is that he’s just as badass and cool when he’s out of the armor as when he’s in it.  He’s not like a Superman or Batman in that their alter egos are radically different from their superhero personas.  Tony is a man used to using technology to accomplish his goals and that’s what the armor is: another piece of technology that enables him to save lives instead of taking them.  And if you want another reason for why this movie isn’t action heavy…well, actually Tony Stark doesn’t become Iron Man until the end of the movie.  This is very much an origin story and it’s a really good one.  The motivations are there, the characterizations are there and as Tony learns about the capabilities and potential of his latest creation we’re right there with him.

iron-man-3

Robert Downey, Jr. owns Tony Stark/Iron Man much in the same way that Michael Keaton owned Batman/Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeve owned Superman/Clark Kent. Downey and Favreau understand that if we don’t care about Tony Stark when he’s out of the suit we sure as hell won’t care for him when he’s in it. Downey’s Tony Stark is certainly a major prick in the first hour of the movie but he’s one of those charming pricks who can make you love him even while he’s screwing you over.  This is another terrific performance from one of my favorite actors and it’s really fun watching Downey at work.  Gwyneth Paltrow radiates sexy intelligence as Pepper Potts and the scenes between her and Downey are really great.  Terrence Howard could have had more to do as Jim Rhodes but he does have a nice little bit in Tony’s workshop when Rhodes looks at one of Tony’s prototype armors that is a foreshadowing of the bigger role the Rhodey character has in the two sequels.  Surprisingly enough, the only actor I have a problem with is Jon Favreau who cast himself as “Happy” Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver.  Since he’s also the director Favreau gives himself way too many scenes where Hogan is standing around looking over Stark’s shoulder looking all serious but not really contributing anything to the scene or the story overall.

pepperpotts

The special effects are outstanding.  There were a lot of scenes where I’m positive I wasn’t looking at CGI but at a man in a suit of hi-tech armor.  But after awhile I gave up trying to figure out when Iron Man was CGI and when he wasn’t and just sat back to enjoy the ride.  I dunno about you but I enjoy watching a superhero movie where the superhero is actually enjoying using his powers for good and there’s a definite sense of fun and adventure.  That’s not to say that IRON MAN doesn’t have its darker moments but the wit and intelligence of the characters and the story lifts it out of the “oh, I have such a burden to bear…woe is me” bag that most superhero movies are in.  These characters don’t have time to sit around and moan about how bad their lives are.  They’re smart enough to get up and do something about it.

Jeff Bridges almost steals the show as Obadiah Stane and Clark Gregg is quietly hilarious as Agent Phil Coulson.  In fact, one of the most amazing things about the Marvel Movie Universe is how Clark Gregg/Agent Coulson became the MVP of the MMU.

So should you see IRON MAN?  If you haven’t already I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  It’s a really smart, fun movie with engaging characters and a bedrock solid plot.  The writers have done a great job updating Iron Man’s origin and I applaud them for not shying away from portraying Tony Stark as what he is: a weapons manufacturer with all the ramifications that go along with that profession.  IRON MAN doesn’t get heavy into the politics but just enough to give the story added weight.   IRON MAN has rightly earned its place as the crown jewel of Marvel movies.  It, along with “Captain America” the two “Thor” movies, the two “Hulk” movies and of course the magnificent “Avengers” are the Marvel superhero movies I’ve been dreaming, hoping and praying to see ever since I was ten years old and I’m glad I’ve gotten to see them.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

 

 

 

 

Hulk Vs.

HULK VS.

2009

Marvel Animation/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

It’s taken me some time to finally get around to watching this one, I know.  Especially since it’s been around for so long.  I’ve been  prompted by the long-awaited “Avengers” movie which will be hitting theaters in a week to devoting time to watching the animated Marvel superhero movies I haven’t seen and re-watching the live action movies that I have.  I’m fairly familiar with the DC animated movies as I enjoy the stories and the animation much better than the Marvel animated movies that I have seen.  But as HULK VS. features two of my favorite Marvel superheroes going at it toe-to-toe, there was no way I couldn’t start with this one first.

HULK VS. THOR

Directed by Sam Liu

Produced by Frank Paur

Story by Craig Kyle and Frank Paur

Screenplay by Christopher Yost

 

Once a year in the fabled kingdom of Asgard, All-Father Odin lapses into the fabled Odinsleep for one week to regenerate his divine power.  During that week, every evil power in The Nine Worlds assaults Asgard, hoping to either destroy Odin or take his power.  But the faithful warriors of Asgard, led by Thor, the God of Thunder (Matthew Wolf) have always successfully protected Odin.

But this time, Loki, the God of Mischief (Graham McTavish) has what he thinks is a trick that will work.  He’s snatched Dr. Bruce Banner (Bryce Johnson) from Earth and brought him to Asgard.  With the aid of Amora The Enchantress (Kari Wahlgren) Loki magically separates The Hulk from Banner.  This enables Loki to gain full control over the man-monster and sends him on a rampage through Asgard.  Without Bruce Banner’s soul to provide some form of control over The Hulk, he’s now the very incarnation of pure rage and totally unstoppable.  Wave after wave of Asgard’s best warriors try to take down The Hulk and get the immortal piss walloped outta them.

And then we get to the moment we’ve been waiting for when Thor brings the thunder and lighting.  Not to mention his enchanted war hammer Mjolnir which he then proceeds to layeth the smackdown on the green varlet.  Let the ass-kicking commence.

While I liked HULK VS. THOR a lot more than HULK VS. WOLVERINE I didn’t like how Thor was portrayed as pretty much The Hulk’s punching bag in their fight.  There’s a scene about a minute, maybe a minute and a half long which it nothing but The Hulk pounding mercilessly on Thor.  Indeed, so badly is Thor beaten up that Hela, the daughter of Loki and the Asgardian goddess of death attempts to claim his soul. My own opinion is that Thor can beat just about anybody in The Marvel Universe and he certainly can beat The Hulk.  But hey, I didn’t write the story.  What I did like is how the story takes an unexpected twist when Loki kills Banner and as a result, The Hulk can’t be sent back to Earth since Banner’s soul now belongs to Hela.  This forces Thor and Loki to team up to recover Bruce Banner’s soul and reunite it with The Hulk before The Hulk destroys Asgard completely.

The animation isn’t anything to cheer about.  It’s of high quality, yes, but I’ve been spoiled by the DC animated features which are regularly spectacular.  But don’t get me wrong, now.  I’m recommending HULK VS. THOR.  It’s a solid, very well made straight-up superhero story that delighted me with its Old School 60’s/70’s Marvel vibe.  And I loved the final scene homage to the “Incredible Hulk” TV series.

HULK VS. WOLVERINE

Directed and Produced by Frank Paur

Screenplay by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost

The Hulk is on a rampage in the wilds of Canada.  Apparently he’s destroyed a small town and Wolverine is brought in by Department H to stop him.  What puzzles Wolverine (Steven Blum) is the numerous spent shell casings and heavy scent of gunpowder still in the air.  Somebody spent a lot of bullets trying to stop The Hulk but failed.  There’s also an odd toxic smell that Wolverine believes he can use to track The Hulk.

Wolverine soon tracks down Bruce Banner (Bryce Johnson) and slaps him around as Wolverine detects the same toxic smell on him.  The slapping around results in making Bruce Banner mad and we all know what happens when he gets mad.  The adamantium claws come out.  Let the ass-kicking commence.

The situation becomes complicated when Team X, composed of Deadpool, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike and Sabretooth show up.  They’ve been tracking The Hulk for weeks so as to capture him for Weapon X, the same project that created Wolverine by bonding adamantium to his skeleton.  It was actually Team X that destroyed the town fighting The Hulk and those were Deadpool’s bullet casings.   Both The Hulk and Wolverine are drugged and taken to the Weapon X facility where they will both have their memories erased and be used as living weapons.  It’s up to Wolverine to somehow escape, set The Hulk free and stay alive while Team X tries to kill or recapture the both of them.

HULK VS. WOLVERINE is pretty much a Wolverine story that guest-stars The Hulk.  Unlike HULK VS. THOR where The Hulk/Bruce Banner is an active character in the action of the story and it’s Bruce Banner’s choice that resolves the story’s conflict.  The villains in the story are Wolverine’s villains and the story stops cold at one point so that we can flashback to Wolverine’s origins.  And except for The Hulk, there’s no characters in the story I really care about or am interested in.  Wolverine has become the most overexposed and overrated character in comics in the last twenty years.  Deadpool I’ve never gotten the point of.  He’s supposed to be this utterly hilarious character but damned if I can see it.  As for Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike and Omega Red…meh.  Now that I’ve said all that, you may find it odd that I now say that “Wolverine: Origins” is one of my favorite superhero movies and I enjoyed both Wolverine and Deadpool in that one but that’s another review.

But it’s not all bad and considering it’s called HULK VS. WOLVERINE there’s no point in my BMW’ing about a movie that told me up front it’s just going to be a slugfest which is exactly what HULK VS. is from start to finish.  It’s made for longtime fans of these characters and it’s well worth a viewing on a Saturday afternoon.  HULK VS. THOR is 45 minutes long while HULK VS. WOLVERINE is 37 minutes long so it’s not going to take up half your day watching it.  The short run time of both stories means that there’s no filler scenes of unnecessary padding.  It’s straight action from start to finish.  Enjoy

 

 

 

X-Men: First Class


2011

20th Century Fox

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Produced by Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer

Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer

Based on “X-Men” characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Chris Claremont

In the interest of full disclosure I should let you know how I feel about The X-Men before I jump into this review.  Only because once you know where I’m coming from you’ll understand why I didn’t have a problem with this movie and indeed, enjoyed it a lot.  In fact, I liked it just as much as “X2” and “X-Men Origins:Wolverine”.  But we’ll get into that in a bit.  First off:

I like the movie incarnation of The X-Men much more than the comic book version.  And I speak as someone who has read and enjoyed the comic book since the 70’s.  It’s just that the whole “hated and feared by a world they’ve sworn to protect” thing makes more sense when The X-Men inhabit a world where it’s just humans and mutants.  It’s harder to buy when The X-Men exist in a world with a couple of thousand other super beings.  Personally, if I lived in The Marvel Universe I’d be more worried about Reed Richards having his own private doorway to a hostile universe in midtown Manhattan than mutants.  But that’s just me.

In any case, I didn’t have a problem with this rebooting of the movie X-Men universe mainly because it’s well done and doesn’t violate the spirit of the X-Men concept.  Particularly the Professor X/Magneto relationship which is the heart of this movie and if we don’t buy their relationship, we’re not going to buy the whole human/mutant conflict.  Yeah, there’s some serious tweaking of the traditional X-Men origin done here along with the line-up of original X-Men, the “First Class” of the title but not enough to prohibit my enjoyment of what is a pretty good superhero movie.  It’s no “Thor” but it was worth my time and money.

In separate storylines we’re introduced to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) who are both mutants with extraordinary power.  Charles is the most powerful telepath on the planet while Erik can create and manipulate magnetic fields.  But while Charles has enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege, Erik has only known terror, pain, sorrow and loss, beginning with the murder of his mother in a World War II concentration camp.  Surviving The Holocaust and growing to adulthood still not in full control of his abilities, Erik begins a worldwide hunt for Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) a mutant himself with energy absorbing powers.

In the meantime, Charles is contacted by Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), a CIA agent investigating The Hellfire Club which she learns is a mutant organization, led by Shaw and his right hand henchwoman Emma Frost (January Jones).  Moira can’t get anybody in the CIA to believe her except for The Man In Black (Oliver Platt) who offers Charles and Moira his facility to find other mutants to combat Shaw.

In short order, Charles locates Angel (Zoe Kravitz) Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Havok (Lucas Till).  Along with the shape shifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) Hank McCoy, the supergenius who will soon be known as The Beast and Erik, they form the First Class of X-Men.  They move to the Xavier family mansion in Westchester where they live, work and train together to control and hone their powers. And this class has one hell of a final test: prevent World War III as Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club are working behind the scenes to manipulate events to bring about The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS almost lost me in the first ten minutes because there’s such a huge plot hole that I couldn’t believe none of the four screenwriters plugged it.  But thanks to the directing of Matthew Vaughn, he keeps the story cracking along so well that after a while, I forgot all about the plot hole until after the movie was over.  Whoever cast January Jones as Emma Frost should be fired.  Her acting style is fine for the TV show “Mad Men” where her character is supposed to be emotionally repressed.  But it doesn’t suit the character of Emma Frost at all.  Now if they’d gotten Christina Hendricks to play Emma Frost…(Insert Derrick’s Hottie Growl © 2007 Derrick Ferguson)

Except for her, the other actors are really good, especially James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender who really have great chemistry and make us believe in the friendship between these two men who have such different dreams for their people.  Kevin Bacon is dynamite as Sebastian Shaw and there’s something to be said for the fact that even though he’s the bad guy, his point of view is ultimately proved to be the right one.  I saw Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone” which was one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen but I liked her performance and I like her a lot more here.

The 1960’s setting is inspired and at times, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS plays like a ‘60’s spy movie with superpowers.  But it never fails to entertain.  If you’re a dedicated X-fan then the way the continuity of the team has been changed and in some cases downright ignored will no doubt infuriate you to no end.  But if you’re willing to relax and enjoy a really well-made superhero movie that is serious without being too dark and filled with solid performances and outstanding action sequences then you’ll most likely enjoy X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.  I certainly did.

PG-13

132 minutes

 

 

Thor

2012

Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne

Based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protsevich

Based on The Marvel comic book THOR created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber

I like a lot of superheroes and love a whole bunch of others.  But ask me who my absolute favorite superhero is and without a doubt I’ll tell you its Thor.  I own a sizeable number of the issues written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby and all of the Walt Simonson issues and they’re among my most prized possessions when it comes to my comic book collection.

Why is Thor my favorite?  Where do I begin?  I love his grandeur, his majesty, his neo-Shakespearean way of speaking.  The fact that he’s not just a superhero: he’s The God of Thunder, wielding the enchanted war hammer Mjolnir.  He doesn’t just fight mortal supervillains such as The Absorbing Man and The Wrecker.  He also battles home grown immortal foes such as Frost Giants and Trolls.  His daddy is Odin, Monarch of Asgard who is so powerful that the gods of other pantheons speak softly around him.  Thor just doesn’t go on missions…he goes on quests to save the entire universe.  I can go on and on for days but you get the idea.  The comic book itself was a good mix of epic fantasy set in Asgard or other mythical realms and straight up superhero action when Thor would visit Earth to hang out with his mortal buddies in The Avengers or assume the humble human form of Dr. Donald Blake, greatest of healers.

I never dreamed that one day a THOR movie would be made but thanks to the quantum leap in movie making and technology, movies that once were considered unfilmable are now being made on a regular basis.  And I couldn’t be happier.  I’ve lived long enough to see a “Speed Racer” movie that blew my mind to splinters and now THOR.  If somebody gets around to making “Doom Patrol” and “Challengers of The Unknown” movies as good as those two I can die a happy man.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the greatest warrior in Asgard, home to a race of humanoids whose technology has given them abilities akin to that of gods.  In fact, they actually were worshiped as gods on Earth ages ago but after a war with The Frost Giants of Jotunheim, The Asgardians withdrew from Earth.  Thor himself is about to ascend the throne and take the place of All Father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as King of Asgard.  But that’s before Frost Giants invade, seeking to reclaim their greatest weapon, The Casket of Ancient Winters.

Defying Odin’s command, Thor invades Jotunheim along with his brother, The God of Mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) childhood crush and warrior maid Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and The Warriors Three: Volstagg The Voluminous (Ray Stevenson) Fandral The Dashing (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun The Grim (Tadanobu Asano).  After the furious battle that takes place, war between The Frost Giants and The Asgardians is renewed, breaking the long peace Odin worked so hard for.  Enraged, Odin casts Thor out of Asgard, stripping him of his god-like powers and sending him to Earth.  Odin also throws Mjolnir to Earth where it lands in the New Mexico desert with this enchantment: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, will possess the power of Thor”

The hammer attracts the attention of the locals, who try to lift it up in a redneck version of the drawing of Excalibur to no avail.  The hammer simply cannot be lifted.  It also attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. who erects a compound around the hammer.  Also interested in the hammer is astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Jane accidentally hits Thor with her truck but that’s okay as he apparently has the answers she needs about her current research which involves wormholes.  In a really nice scene, Thor explains in an off-handed manner that his people know all about wormholes and how to use them to travel between The Nine Realms.  They don’t call their own personal wormhole a wormhole, though.  They call it Bifrost, The Rainbow Bridge and it’s the means by which The Asgardians travel though The Nine Realms.  Thor strikes a bargain with Jane: if she’ll help him get back Mjolnir, he’ll tell her what she needs to know to complete her research.  However, there are complications in this bargain.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.

THOR bounces back and forth between the doings on Earth with Thor and his new found mortal allies and the intrigue on Asgard.  Odin has fallen into the sacred Odin Sleep to renew his power and that gives Loki the opportunity to step in and take control of Asgard.  The Warriors Three, along with Sif journey to Earth to help restore Thor to his rightful power and in the background, The Frost Giants plot with a secret traitor to destroy Asgard once and for all…

Let me say right up front that you’re not going to get a bad word about THOR outta me.  I absolutely loved this movie from start to finish and there ain’t a lot of movies these days I can say that about.  I loved Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor.  Sure, he’s an arrogant ass but he’s a likeable arrogant ass.  And he’s smart enough to realize during his time on Earth that he doesn’t have all the answers.  He’s teachable.  And that makes all the difference in his relationship to every other character in the movie.  I even liked Natalie Portman who looks much more at home with the SFX in this movie than she did in the “Star Wars” movies.  Maybe it’s because in Kenneth Branagh she had a director who actually likes working with his actors.  Anthony Hopkins is properly majestic and awe inspiring as Odin.  Hell, even Rene Russo gets her moment to shine in her small role as Frigga, wife of Odin.  The SFX are simply staggering and I loved how The Rainbow Bridge looks as if it’s got arcane, ancient circuitry within its structure.

The movie could have ended after the battle with The Frost Giants and I’d have been satisfied because to me that captured the totality of the Lee/Kirby Thor.  And I can’t let this review end with once again giving a standing ovation to the performance of Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson. Coulson has proven to be one of the major linchpins holding the Cinematic Marvel Universe together and with good reason. Thanks to the wonderful on-point performance of Clark Gregg, Coulson demonstrates a quiet authority and calm demeanor even while dealing with Asgardian gods and super-science from beyond the stars.

And Idris Elba as Heimdall is absolutely Epic.  ‘Nuff Said.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do so.  THOR is my favorite Marvel superhero movie. And probably always will be.

114 minutes

PG-13

And as an added bonus because I couldn’t help thinking of this while the movie was playing: