Archive for the Marvel Comics Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Marvel Comics, Movie Music, Music for Film, Mutants!, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , on July 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI
By Barry Lee Dejasu
(Part 2 of 2)

Composer Marco Beltrami

Composer Marco Beltrami

Part Two: THE WOLVERINE

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Directed by James Mangold (with whom Mr. Beltrami worked on 3:10 TO YUMA), THE WOLVERINE stars Hugh Jackman as the eponymous character, a metal-clawed (and indestructible) mutant of the X-MEN franchise, left wandering the world alone in the wake of the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006).  Logan’s travels take him to Japan—where his own mysterious past comes back to haunt him in ways that could challenge his whole future.

BLD: Superman, Indiana Jones, and many other staple cinematic heroes have a central musical theme—something to identify them with as soon as it’s heard.  How did you approach the character of Wolverine, in these regards?

MB:  THE WOLVERINE is a very unique take on the superhero movie.  In that respect, it’s a very stylized picture.  Most of it takes place in Japan, and there’s a little bit of a mystery to it, almost a noir-ish mystery to it; the character Wolverine is a bit of a loner.  Having said that, there is a sound and melodic structure and harmonic structure that is used for him, but it’s not like a Superman type of theme; it’s much more reserved.  I used early on when you see him, in the woods, (a) harmonica.  The harmonica has a fairly strong thread throughout the score, as Wolverine’s sound.  Sometimes it’s processed and treated, other times it’s fairly straight, but it seems to work well for him, and it goes well with the harmonic structure that’s used for him.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.

BLD: The fact that the movie is set in Japan immediately puts into mind, of many a typical American moviegoer, images of exotic locale and culture.

MB:  Things that we consciously avoided, musically.  I think the last thing that Jim (James Mangold) and I wanted to do was Japanese music associated with Japanese places.  There’s a reference; I do use Japanese instruments, (but) not really in a traditional way; koto is used, but as a percussion instrument.

Koto, a Japanese instrument used in the score.

Koto, a Japanese instrument used in the score.

There’s Japanese flute stuff, but it’s treated in more of a Western way; it’s not really based on any pentatonic scales.  There’s echo tunnel drumming that takes place in there, but often times it’s processed, and different effects are put on it; so it’s nothing really traditionally Japanese as part of the score.

BLD: How was it to work on this (particularly unique) superhero movie?

MB:  It was really refreshing.  It really went smooth.  Jim was really into the stuff; he’s very musical, and had really interesting comments and ideas that would spur me, creatively, in different ways.  It was a lot of fun.  Again, it was a short schedule; we started on it…it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was sort of fast, and there was a lot of music in it.  It goes off in a lot of different directions.  The ride goes from the woods of the Pacific Northwest to part of urban Japan.  It’s a really fun movie to watch.

***

Part Three: In Closing

BLD: In what portion of a movie’s production do you usually come aboard?

MB:  It’s different in every project.  This, THE WOLVERINE, was all shot except for a couple of pickup shots, and I had a full edit.  The next movie I’m doing, which is called THE HOMESMAN, a Tommy Lee Jones project, they’re just finishing shooting right now, and we’ll start talking about stuff (in the) next week.  It can be early in the process, which I like, because it gives time to think about a new way to approach things.  There’s a certain time factor; if you rush what you’re doing in too short a time, it can handicap the process of exploration.  Coming on a little bit earlier is a bit better.  Although, having said that, I don’t like working from scripts; if someone sends me a script, I usually don’t start working right away, because it’s really deceiving.  I’ve tried that in the past, and stuff that I’d come up with invariably (had) nothing to do with the movie that was shot.  It changes dramatically.

BLD: What particular (or non-particular) movies would you most want to work on, if you had the opportunity?

MB:  The movies most influential to me are probably the (ones) scored by Bernard Hermann—you know, the Hitchcock stuff; the spaghetti westerns (scored by Ennio) Morricone, and the Fellini movies by Nino Rota.  And to some extent, I’ve been able to do some Western stuff, which I really enjoy doing.  Just…the way Morricone was able to make non-orchestral sounds part of the score, that really inspired me.  Similarly, the Rota scores, the music doesn’t take itself seriously, and it skipped genres, and plays with a lot of different colors.  There are some I haven’t done much of yet, but are something that would be very appealing to me.  They don’t make movies like that now, but if there were, I think that’s what I’d be most excited about.

BLD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MB:  You know, maybe, I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to work in a variety of genres, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring musically.  The worst thing to me would be to keep repeating things over and over, and (to) repeat the work of other people.  To explore other areas is what I find interesting about film scoring, and I hope that I can continue to be able to do so.

THE WOLVERINE opens on July 26th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes, Surprises! with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

iron_man_3_new_poster (2)

(THE SCENE: The sky.  Two figures in Iron Man suits zoom by. Inside the body armor are MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This is so cool!  I can’t believe Tony Stark was okay with our borrowing these suits.

L.L SOARES (laughs):  Who said anything about borrowing?

MA:  But you said you spoke with Stark and he agreed that—.

LS (laughs some more):  And you believed me?  What a doofus!

MA:  So, you’re telling me that we stole these suits?

LS:  Something like that.  But don’t worry.  We’ll fly these babies back before anyone even notices they’re gone.  I just thought it would be cool to be wearing them while we review today’s movie.

MA:  From up here?  While we’re flying in these things?

LS:  What’s the matter?  Can’t you do two things at once?

MA:  I most certainly can, and I’ll prove it to you by going first and starting the review.

LS:  Suit yourself. (snickers)  That’s a pun.

(MA Socks LS with his iron fist, sending him away flailing.)

MA:  And that’s a punch.  You owe me after all the trouble you’ve gotten me into today.

Anyway, welcome folks, today we’re reviewing IRON MAN 3 (2013) the third movie in the wildly popular Marvel Iron Man series starring Robert Downey Jr. as everybody’s favorite superhero alter ego, Tony Stark.  We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, how the Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a tremendous run during the past decade with a string of well-made hits.  Iron Man, thanks to Robert Downey Jr., might be their most popular movie character to date.

LS (returns):  By the way, I owe you this.

(LS punches MA, sending him hurtling toward the Earth. At the last minute, he stops his descent and flies back up into the sky)

MA: Let’s call a truce until the end of the review at least. I’m really looking forward to this one.

LS: Okay okay. We’ll have our big battle after the review.

MA: So, as I was saying, Iron Man is a very popular character in an amazingly successful series.  The Marvel movies have done so well because for the most part, they’re made so well.  And IRON MAN 3 only adds to the list of high quality movies.

LS: How about ending the commercial for Marvel Comics and get on with the review? Not all their movies are that high quality. I wasn’t all that impressed with IRON MAN 2, for instance. The script was pretty lame. So I’m not really sure why you’re gushing so much.

MA: I gotta give credit where credit is due.  They’ve got a tremendous track record.

LS: Michael, your autographed photo of Stan Lee just arrived! He signed it, “To my favorite shill.”

MA: In this one, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) just isn’t the same guy anymore.  He’s suffering the after-effects of his traumatic encounter with both aliens and a massive worm hole at the end of last year’s blockbuster Marvel movie THE AVENGERS (2012).  He can’t sleep, he suffers anxiety attacks, and things aren’t going too well with the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

LS: I thought this was interesting, that Stark actually had some psychological fallout after the events of THE AVENGERS. In the comics – and most superhero movies – it’s like these guys take everything in stride and never get affected. So that was an interesting idea, having him suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Except they never really do anything interesting with it. Stark just has some panic attacks at some inopportune moments. But the movie only really touches upon this in a very superficial way. When the real action starts, it’s pretty much an afterthought. This was a clever idea that wasn’t used all that well.

MA: I disagree.  I thought he had confidence problems throughout the film, even at the end.  I thought the film did a good job highlighting his weaknesses.

But back to the story.  A terrorist by the name of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has set his sights on humiliating the United States and in particular the President (William Sadler).  Leading the team to find and destroy The Mandarin is Tony Stark’s buddy Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).  Rhodes dons a patriotic red white and blue Iron Man suit and goes by the name of Iron Patriot.  He tells Stark that he doesn’t need his help, as catching The Mandarin is government business, not superhero business.

LS: Yeah, the big joke is that they changed the name of War Machine (Rhodes’ original name when in the metal suit) to Iron Patriot because “War Machine” didn’t do well in a focus group. This is a kind of satirical point, but sadly, also reflects the way the movies dumb down and sanitize comic book characters to fit certain audience expectations. Kind of ironic, actually.

MA:  You’re thinking too much.  It was funny, plain and simple.

LS: Yeah, I’m thinking too much about the things that annoyed me about this movie.

As for the Mandarin, they take a character who is supposed to be a Chinese warlord longing for the days of the ancient dynasties, and turn him into an Osama Bin Laden wannabe. Maybe that is more timely, but it also seems really cliché.

MA: But when Stark’s friend and personal security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau- yep, the same Jon Favreau who directed IRON MAN & IRON MAN 2) is critically wounded in a terrorist blast credited to the Mandarin, Stark calls out the villain in a public rant in front of news cameras where he gives out his home address to the baddie and says he’ll be waiting for him.

(WAR MACHINE suddenly flies toward them and stops)

WAR MACHINE: What the hell are you guys doing here? And where did you get those suits?

MA: Uh oh.

LS: How do you know one of us isn’t the real IRON MAN?

WAR MACHINE: Because you’re just hovering in the sky, arguing about movies.

LS: Oh.

WAR MACHINE: I suggest you take it down to Earth, before you get mistaken for enemy crafts. This is monitored airspace.

MA: I told you this was a dumb idea.

LS: I still think it’s fun.

WAR MACHINE: Fun? These suits are a responsibility, not a game. Does Stark even know that you have them?

MA: Errr.

LS: Sure he does.

WAR MACHINE: I think I’ll call in and check with Mr. Stark. (Talks on radio) Tony, did you let two idiots borrow Iron Man suits today?

(Looks around)

WAR MACHINE: Where did those guys go?

iron-man-3-international-poster

(LS and MA are back on the ground)

LS: That guy is a real stick in the mud.

MA: These suits are probably worth millions of dollars. I think we should bring them back.

LS: All in good time, my friend. We’ve got to finish the review. Race you to the other end of the beach.

MA: Okay.

(They continue talking as they have a foot race in the Iron Man suits)

LS: Was it just me or was Favreau incredibly annoying in this movie?

MA: Oh, he might have been a little annoying, but I kinda liked him, and he really wasn’t in it enough to be too annoying.

LS:  His character, Happy Hogan (who he has played in all three IRON MAN movies) is just grating in this movie. Every time he appeared onscreen, I just wanted him to go away. I don’t remember him being this annoying in the previous films. I’m just glad that, after he gets caught in an explosion, he’s stuck in a hospital bed and we only see him rarely.

MA: And like all good movie villains, the Mandarin wastes no time in descending upon Stark’s compound and blowing it to bits.  But not before Stark is visited by a former girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who tells him she thinks her boss Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is working for the Mandarin.

LS: How intriguing!

MA: Her boss, Killian, is a brilliant scientist who, along with Maya, has been working on experiments involving the process of regeneration.  Their treatment allows humans to grow back limbs.  Killian once tried to work with Tony Stark, but Stark snubbed him.

Killian also dated Pepper Pots for a time.  It’s a small world.

LS: Too small. The scene where Stark first meets both Killian and Maya (New Year’s Eve 1999, on the eve of Y2K, in Switzerland) starts the movie, and while it’s not a bad opening, I have to admit, the more this movie went on, the more I didn’t really care about these characters at all.

MA: After the Mandarin destroys Stark’s compound and kidnaps Pepper Potts, all bets are off, and Tony Stark makes it his mission to track down the terrorist and rescue the love of his life.  Along the way, there’s a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and I can easily see how hardcore fans might not like it, but I thought it was refreshing and quite funny.

LS: Yeah, let’s not spoil it, except to say there’s a very interesting twist that involves the Mandarin’s reason why he’s involved in all this skullduggery. The thing is – I’m a big fan of the character, and I had a mixed reaction to the big surprise. On the one hand, I felt a little cheated, except that this character not once seemed like the Mandarin from the comics. On the other hand, I thought the surprise was clever and funny, and maybe the only truly inspired moment in the entire movie. So I can’t complain too much.

MA: I have to say, I really liked IRON MAN 3 and place it among my favorite Marvel superhero movies. While not quite as good as THE AVENGERS or the first IRON MAN movie, it’s right behind them, and is way better than IRON MAN 2 (2010) which I barely remember.

LS: I remember IRON MAN 2 just fine, and I wish I didn’t. It was pretty bad. And totally wasted the Iron Man villain Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke in that one, and except for one cool scene, he mostly just sits around doing nothing). Like IRON MAN 2, the third one eventually pushes aside a great villain from the comics to focus on a more generic bad guy, in this case, Guy Pearce’s Killian.

There are so many better villains who could have been in this movie instead, involved in the plot with the Mandarin. And if the effects guys want to give us tons of  guys in armor, then why not do it right and give us the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man?  No, instead we get Pearce’s Killian, who is about as compelling as toothpaste.

MA:  I liked Killian.  I think Pearce gave him an edge that made him better than he should have been.

LS:  An edge? (laughs) You really think so? Good for you.

There’s also a subplot about how Killian founded the organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), which opened up a ton of possibilities. In the comics, A.I.M. is an organization of evil that gave us MODOK – a major bad guy in the Marvel Universe! When A.I.M. was first mentioned in IRON MAN 3, I immediately hoped this meant that we’d eventually get an appearance by MODOK, but no such luck, at least not in this movie. Another total letdown.

And what’s with the need to have a hundred people in Iron Man suits in every movie? They did a variation of this in the second one, and in this one, there are a ton of remote-control Iron Man suits (pretty much an army of robots) in the big final fight, and it’s mostly boring. How about one really cool and powerful Iron Man instead of a hundred second-rate ones? But I guess it keeps the CGI guys busy.

MA: That didn’t bother me.  This one actually plays better than its story, which is nothing special, but the writing, the dialogue, the special effects, and most of all the acting lift it to the top.  And while the story wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, it was interesting and entertaining.  I liked the regenerative science Killian was working on.

LS: The Lizard did it better in the last SPIDER-MAN movie, and even that movie wasn’t that great. And why do people who get this regenerative upgrade from Killian have the side-effect of turning into a crispy critter? At first, I thought they were Lava Men, another old-time Marvel reference, but no, it’s just a drug side-effect that makes no sense at all.

MA: Well, I found it interesting.  I liked the terrorist plot involving the Mandarin and the later twists which went along with it.  I liked how Tony Stark had to deal with his post-AVENGERS trauma.  I liked that Pepper Potts was more involved in this story, and I enjoyed the stuff about her relationship with Stark.  All in all, it was a very likable story.  I thought it was a very successful screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black.

LS: I thought that, except for the big plot surprise in the middle and a couple of good scenes, the script was pretty crappy for most of the movie’s running time. In fact, I will go so far as to say this one is on the same quality level as IRON MAN 2. Which is nothing to get excited about.

MA:  I don’t think so at all.  The script here is far superior to the one in IRON MAN 2.  Just the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship alone is an upgrade.

LS:  But we still haven’t gotten to the worst thing in the movie…

iron-man-3-poster

MA:  I think all that high altitude flying we just did went to your head.  Not only is IRON MAN 3 a decent movie, it’s one of the best Marvel movies period!  I think you’re letting your affection for the comics cloud your judgment.  Jeesh!

LS: This movie pretty much made me forgot about any affection I had for the comics while it was onscreen. So it can’t be that. Maybe it’s….just a bad movie?

(Tony Stark appears above them in his IRON MAN suit)

STARK: Stop right there and identify yourselves.

MA: We’re the guys from Cinema Knife Fight, Mr. Stark.

LS: Yeah, don’t worry. We’ll return your dopey iron suits.

MA: I swear, I had no idea he didn’t ask you first.

LS: What a stool pigeon.

STARK: I have now taken control of the suits. You will have to vacate them.

(The suits open up, dropping LS and MA on the beach)

STARK: You’re lucky I don’t press charges, or kick your butts.

LS: Oh go play with your transistors.

STARK: I’ll let you two morons off the hook this time – against my better judgment. But don’t let it happen again.

(IRON MAN flies away, followed by the two radio-controlled suits)

MA (Looks around the beach): Do you even know where we are? How are we going to get home.

LS: Just finish the review. We’ll worry about that later.

MA: I guess so.

Shane Black also directed, and I thought he did a fantastic job here.  The pacing was great.  The movie clocks in at over two hours, but for me, it flew by, and there was barely a dull moment.  Yet, this doesn’t mean it was non-stop boring action.  It’s not.  There’s quite a bit of story here.

LS: Black does an okay job directing this one, but the script, which he co-wrote, didn’t excite me at all. It has one good moment, and then it’s business as usual.

I also found the big “Battle of 100 Iron Men” showdown at the end went on way too long and was tedious as hell. Black previously directed the 2005 movie, KISS KISS BANG BANG, a kind of neo-noir, which also starred Robert Downey, Jr. Otherwise, he’s mostly known as a writer, best known for the screenplays of the LETHAL WEAPON series. This movie looks good, but overall, it’s a very mediocre effort by Black.

MA: I didn’t find that final battle long at all.  I thought the timing was just right.

While the film looked great, I saw it in 3D, and I can’t say I was impressed.  This is one you could probably enjoy just as well in 2D.

LS: I saw it in 3D as well. Only because all of the 2D showings were SOLD OUT way ahead of time. What does this tell you? That this movie is going to be a big hit. But also that the audience is sick of being gouged by the more expensive 3D tickets, which only rarely are worth the added expense. If I see a movie that’s in 3D and 2D these days, which one I choose to see is based more on the convenience of the show time than anything else. I didn’t want to pay extra for 3D here, but I had no choice.

That said, I was completely underwhelmed by the 3D effects in IRON MAN 3. For most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was watching a 3D movie. I urge our readers – if you have to see this one –don’t spend the extra money for 3D. It’s not worth it.

MA: But the best part of IRON MAN 3 is the performances, starting with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  He’s the most compelling superhero out there right now, mostly because—and this has always been the best part of the Marvel Universe—he’s a deeply flawed character.  He’s a guy who’s impulsive, quirky, and incredibly fun to be around.  He has no business being a superhero, but he is, and that’s what makes his story so cool.  Downey has played Stark in four movies now, and I can’t say that I’m even close to being tired of watching him.  I hope he plays the role again.

LS: God, you eat this stuff up, don’t you? Downey is fine as Stark. But he deserves better scripts than this.

MA (laughs):  As far as eating this stuff up, what can I say?  I sit through tons of bad movies every year.  The Marvel movies are not among them.  The odds says these film should be tiring by now.  They’re not.

LS:  The first IRON MAN was a decent movie, and he brought his A-game to it. He was also a real highlight in THE AVENGERS. But the IRON MAN sequels have been pretty embarrassing in comparison. Downey really needs to move on to better movies. Right now, he’s kind of trapped in a dumpster. Someone needs to open the lid and let him out.

MA: He brings his A-game here as well.  And if he’s smart he’ll keep making these films because it’s the perfect role for him, and there’s still more he can do with it.

LS: They’re the perfect movies to keep his bank account full. But a challenge for him as an actor? I don’t think so. Unless the scripts get better, he’s spinning his wheels.

MA: I really like Gwyneth Paltrow too, and she’s splendid here as Pepper Potts.  She’s played Potts four times now as well, and it’s probably her best performance as Potts.  She certainly has more to do in this movie than she’s had in the others.  Stark and Potts, as played by Downey and Paltrow, make a very likeable couple.

LS: I don’t know. I find Paltrow really stilted in these films. There’s this sense that she feels she’s too good to be acting in this kind of movie. Maybe she is. She never once seems relaxed or natural in this role. She has a couple of okay moments (one where she gains some strange super powers temporarily), but overall I just didn’t care for her. And I think if there’s any chemistry between Downey and her, it’s because Downey is doing enough acting to make them both look good. I’m just not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, I guess.

MA: I don’t get that sense at all.  Maybe one of the reasons she doesn’t appear relaxed is because her character is dating Tony Stark!

Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, took over the role of Colonel James Rhodes in IRON MAN 2, and I remember not being all that impressed.  He’s excellent this time around, though, and it helps that Rhodes is integral the plot here.

LS: I think Cheadle is wasted in these movies. He’s Iron Man’s uptight sidekick. (Yawns). It’s funny how many good actors are wasted in this thing.

MA: Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, I suspect, is going to generate some strong reactions from fans.  Diehard fans of the comics will probably hate him, while those of us, myself included, who aren’t as familiar with the comics, will find his performance refreshing and funny.  I loved it.

LS: I’m a diehard comics fan, or at least I used to be, and I didn’t hate him at all. I was disappointed they made him a Bin Laden clone—that just seemed very lazy to me—but despite any problems I have with the character here, I think Kingsley is the best thing in the movie. Maybe even better than Downey, because he doesn’t have to appear onscreen in almost every scene like Downey does, and doesn’t seem as burnt out.

MA (shaking his head):  Downey doesn’t come off as burnt out at all.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Guy Pearce is excellent as the villainous Aldrich Killian.  Killian is a particularly cold-hearted scientist, and Pearce does a good job bringing him to life.  I enjoyed Pearce here more than in last year’s PROMETHEUS (2012).

LS: When we first see Killian in a flashback, he looks like a reject from REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984), with sloppy hair and bad teeth. When we see him in modern day, “cold” is the operative word here. Pearce might as well be playing a robot. He has about as much depth as a puddle. I really didn’t like him, and usually I’m a fan. I also hated the whole Killian character and storyline. He’s a major villain here, and yet he seemed generic and boring. The villain(s) might just be the most important thing about a superhero movie (if it’s not an origin story). And as one of the major villains here, Killian, is a complete snooze.

MA: For a complete snooze, he’s pretty damn deadly! He has the upper hand over Tony Stark/Iron Man throughout the film, and he was believable doing it.  I liked him.

I also enjoyed Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen.  Hall was memorable in Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN (2010), and here as Maya she’s sexy, smart, and she has a dark side as well.  I liked her a lot.

LS: I liked Hall a lot, too. I didn’t care about her character’s storyline all that much, but I found that she was warm and human onscreen in ways Paltrow never comes close to being. Rebecca Hall just seems to relax in front of the camera and seems like a real person, and her scenes with Paltrow just make the contrast all that more glaring. Based on this movie, I’d rather date Rebecca Hall any day of the week. Paltrow comes off as an android ice queen.

MA: I’d have no problem dating either one of them.

The supporting cast is also very good.  I particularly enjoyed Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.  He was a bit goofy, but I found him likeable.

LS: I already said what I thought about Favreau. They should have killed the character off in the explosion scene and spared us.

You didn’t mention James Badge Dale, who plays Eric Savin, Killian’s right hand man. I had a mixed reaction to him. It’s not like Savin has much of a personality either, but there are a few times where he seems to be trying to do something with the role. Most of the time, he’s just this killing machine, but I actually thought he was pretty good.

MA: Overall, I loved IRON MAN 3.  As the third film in the series, I had hoped it would be good, but wouldn’t have been surprised if it dropped off a bit in quality. Far from this, it was better than I expected.  It just might be my favorite film of the year so far.  Then again, I have a soft spot for the Marvel superhero films, mostly because they tend to feature strong acting, solid writing and storytelling, and impressive visual effects.  IRON MAN 3 is no exception.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS (stares at him): You’re joking, right?

MA: No way.  I loved it.

LS (shakes his head): And I notice you completely overlooked some of the worst aspects of the movie. Just didn’t mention them at all.

MA: Like what?

LS: Like a character named Harley Keener. Who is he? He’s a kid who helps Stark out after his Iron Man suit crash lands in Kansas. He’s a cute kid who lives with a single mother we never see, and Stark meets him when he stashes his damaged suit in the garage behind the kid’s house. There’s this big chunk of the movie that’s just about Stark and Harley, to give us some kind of surrogate father/son bonding that is meant to warm our hearts and show us that Stark has a heart of gold after all.

They have this cute banter back and forth, and Stark says some obnoxious stuff to the kid, and you think, “Wow, he’s still the same wise-cracking Tony Stark,” but he’s not. He’s gone soft, and he’s gotten stupid. This entire storyline played like an outtake from REAL STEEL (2011), another movie about a cute kid and a metal guy. These scenes were sappy and dripping with saccharine.

MA (laughing):  No they’re not!  The scenes in REAL STEEL were much more syrupy sweet than these!  These scenes were just amusing, and I didn’t mention them because I didn’t think much of them.  They’re a small part of the movie – it’s not like the kid is main player in the film. He’s not.  So, there’s a big difference between REAL STEEL and this.

LS: It’s long enough. It seemed to last a good half hour. It probably felt longer than it actually was.

In IRON MAN 3, Simpkins plays a sickeningly cutesy kid who is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a friggin blackboard. Every time he was onscreen, I completely hated this movie. And Stark’s smart-ass interplay with him was just as aggravating. This sequence made the entire movie grind to a halt, and the movie never fully recovers, going forward.

MA:  I think you just hate kids.

LS: I didn’t have any problem with Pierce Gagnon, the kid in LOOPER (2012), or Haley Joel-Osment back in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). I don’t have any problem with kids who can act, and aren’t in a movie just to provide some sappy subplot.

I also think that Marvel movies are starting to get in a rut.  They take the comics and dumb them down, sandpaper away any real rough edges, and then hook them up to a script that is by-the-numbers and predictable. Aside from one surprise in IRON MAN 3, the movie is so predictable that it could have been written in someone’s sleep. These movies are all cookie-cutter products, and anything that was cool about them is going stale pretty quickly.

MA: Wow. I don’t view IRON MAN 3 as dumbed down or predictable at all.   And you think it could have been written in someone’s sleep?  Then that guy must be pretty smart to come up with a major unexpected plot twist in the middle of his nap!  It’s a cool story.  I can’t believe you’re complaining about it so much.

LS:  THE AVENGERS was a rare exception. But for the most part, the more recent Marvel movies have been pretty bland. And I grew up on Marvel Comics. I was a hardcore fan of the comics and these characters. So I should be the target audience, right? Someone who actually cared about these superheroes? Not even close. These movies aren’t made to appeal to long-time fans. They’re made to appeal to the widest audience possible—compromises and illogical changes are embraced without question—to separate them from their money.

MA:  They also appeal to people who appreciate good movies!  I can see why you, as a fan of the comics, would be more critical of the Marvel movies, but it’s not like for the rest of us the movies suck.  They’re well-produced, well-written, and well-acted.  I don’t see them as cookie-cutter movies at all.  That’s not to say that the Marvel movies don’t all follow a similar formula.  They do, but it’s a formula that so far is still working.

LS:  But it’s not just about comparing this stuff with the comics. If I was a hardcore comics fan and that was my only gripe, then I would hate the movie because of the way it treats the Mandarin, for example. But that’s not my problem. My problem is the script is very weak. Maybe it is no surprise that Marvel is now part of the Disney family. Because anything that was unique and exciting about Marvel’s characters is being washed away to give us the most assembly-line type of product possible.

I wish Downey would move on to better movies. He’s done what he could to make Tony Stark cool, despite completely moronic scripts. And he deserves to get the chance to actually act again.

MA:  No.  He should keep playing Tony Stark.  He has yet to wear out his welcome, and he might not.

LS:  I give IRON MAN 3 just one knife. And that’s only for Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall, and maybe 10 minutes of Robert Downey’s Tony Stark here. Otherwise, I think this movie is a waste of time. I’m sure it will make a gazillion dollars. I’m sure there are there are fans who will go completely gaga over it. But I’m one long-time Marvel fan who thinks it’s a dud.

There’s an end credit montage after the movie, that looks like a 70s action TV show, and it’s more fun than the entire movie that came before it.

Oh, and by the way, this one has a “cookie” at the very end. A secret scene after all the final credits role. Just like almost all other Marvel movies recently. This is annoying, because the end credits of this movie seem to go on forever, and the secret scene isn’t worth the wait at all!

MA:  I laughed at the last scene.  I thought it was funny.  And unlike you, I think people should run out to see this one.  It’s one of the more entertaining films of the year.

So how are we going to get back home?

LS: Hitchhike, of course!

(The two of them walk across the beach to the road and stick out their thumbs. A huge military-looking vehicle stops for them. The door opens)

LS: DOCTOR DOOM! I sure am glad to see you.

DOOM: Hop inside, gentlemen. You can accompany me in my latest plan for world domination.

LS: Excellent! After seeing IRON MAN 3, some world domination sounds like a great antidote!

MA: How do I get into these situations?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives IRON MAN 3 ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives IRON MAN 3 ~one friggin knife!

QUICK CUTS: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SAM RAIMI MOVIE?

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, Crime Films, Demonic Possession, Demons, Drive-in Movies, Fun Stuff!, Horror, Indie Horror, Marvel Comics, Quick Cuts, Sam Raimi, Superheroes with tags , , , on March 15, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SAM RAIMI MOVIE?
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Kelly Laymon, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With Sam Raimi’s latest movie OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) now in theaters, we’ve decided to celebrate the occasion by asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to name their favorite Sam Raimi film.

Okay Cinema Knife Fighters, What’s your favorite Sam Raimi movie, and why? 

*****

DANIEL KEOHANE:  I’d have to say SPIDER-MAN (2002), being a major web-slinger fan as a kid. Granted, ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) was a hoot when I saw it at 2:00 am during a 24-hour film festival… but overall, his first SPIDER-MAN is on top of the list.

Spider Man poster

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, I have to agree with you.  My favorite has to be the first SPIDER-MAN (2002), as well.  True, SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) might be the better movie, but I remember being so blown away and impressed by the first one, for me, it remains my favorite Raimi picture.

Sure, there are his EVIL DEAD movies, and his thrillers like THE GIFT (2000), and the current OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is pretty amazing, but personally, I prefer Spidey over the Wizard and a bunch of munchkins any day of the week.

KELLY LAYMON:  I have zero interest in the new OZ flick. Partly because I thought it was released four weeks ago when they had the giant premiere by my old apartment and I had to see James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams in a true giant hot air balloon above my apartment.

simple_plan_poster

But as much as I enjoy the EVIL DEAD films and the SPIDER-MAN flicks, I might have to go A SIMPLE PLAN (1998) on this one. (And I’m overlooking his baseball flick, which people know kills me!) But I just love a good crime movie where money and some dead bodies muddy the entire situation. I love stories about people who are presented with an opportunity and act drastically.

PAUL MCMAHONTHE EVIL DEAD (1981) is my favorite Raimi film. I had a co-worker hand me a VHS tape of it.

“This is the worst-looking movie you’ll ever love,” he said.

I watched it twice in a row that night and ordered my first copy the next morning. The rest of his work is pretty good (with the possible exception of SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), but I can’t imagine living in a world where THE EVIL DEAD doesn’t exist.

the-evil-dead-original-1981-poster

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I have to agree with Paul. I remember seeing THE EVIL DEAD the first time at a drive-in theater. It was the second feature after George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), which I had seen about 10 times by then. I’d heard about EVIL DEAD but hadn’t seen it, and it was a real treat. It was just gory and insane and Bruce Campbell was amazing as Ash. While I’ve enjoyed Raimi’s work since then, including his often-overlooked slapstick flick CRIME WAVE (1985) and the underrated DRAG ME TO HELL (2009), nothing comes close to the original EVIL DEAD for me.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well that’s it for this edition of QUICK CUTS. See you again next week with reviews of more new movies.

—END—

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Cinema Knife Fights, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The top of a skyscraper. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk along the edge looking down at the tops of smaller buildings and the tiny cars and trucks driving along the streets below.)

MA: I definitely wouldn’t like being Spider-Man. I don’t like heights.

LS: What? Are you afraid you’d fall or something? Or worse yet, that someone might push you, like this? (Shoves MA off the building, and MA is heard screaming as he falls). Yeah, I know we usually save these shenanigans for the end of the column, but we thought we’d shake things up a bit, and have some fun right off the bat. (someone taps LS on the shoulder. He turns to see MA standing behind him.)

MA: Your turn. (He shoves LS off the building, and we hear LS cry out, “Yippee!!”) I was going to cry payback, but he’s having too good a time, the crazy bastard. (Someone taps MA on the shoulder. It’s SPIDER-MAN.)

SPIDER-MAN: Will you two stop fooling around, stop playing with the special effects equipment and get to reviewing the movie? I want to hear what you have to say about it.

MA: I dunno. After you hear what we have to say, you may be the one pushing us off buildings.

SPIDER-MAN: I wouldn’t do that. I’m SPIDER-MAN. I’m a good guy.

LS (climbs up the side of the building until he reaches the top): Hey, Spidey! How’s it hanging?

MA: He wants us to review today’s movie. He’s anxious to hear what we have to say.

LS: Sure. Today we’re reviewing THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012), the latest Marvel superhero movie to hit the big screen.

I wasn’t really sure what the point was of rebooting the series. Everyone already knows Spider-Man and the cast of characters. Why not just make it a new Spider-Man movie? Even if they pretended the three Sam Raimi-directed movies didn’t happen, did we really need his origin story told again?

MA: I’m with you in this line of questioning. I just didn’t see the need, and for me, it seemed way too soon for a reboot. That being said, I went into this one with an open mind. I felt the same way before seeing last summer’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and I ended up loving that movie.

LS: Despite this, the movie does an okay job of retelling things with just enough spin to make it a little different this go-round.

MA (grimaces): I don’t know about that, but continue.

LS: This time, the focus is on Peter Parker’s parents, who drop him off at the house of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) and disappear into the night, never to be seen again. Were they secret agents or something?

MA: It would have been nice if the movie had shed some light on this, but it doesn’t.

LS: Peter was old enough to remember it all vividly, but young enough so that Ben and May raise him for the majority of his life, and you can tell they’re a close-knit family.

The origin is tweaked a little, as Peter gets bitten by a spider while poking around in the genetics lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who, it turns out, worked closely with Peter’s father at one point. Connors now works for Oscorp., the shady conglomerate owned by Norman Osborne (who, we know from the previous films—and the comics—is really the Green Goblin, but we never see him in this movie – we just hear that he is gravely ill). Connors is trying to develop a way to splice animal and human genes in order to combat disease—something that his unseen “boss” needs to stay alive. But Connors is also in this for himself, since he lost an arm and is eager to grow one back using reptile genes.

Peter finds some old documents linking his father to Connors and then goes to seek him out. It’s in that Oscorp. lab that special spiders are being bred to create very strong web strands (sold by Oscorp. to manufacturers). There are hints that maybe Peter was predisposed beforehand to take on the powers of the spider that bites him, since those same spiders (and their amazingly strong webs) were the result of an early experiment by his father. Is there a chance Daddy altered young Peter’s DNA somehow? Well, if he did, we certainly won’t find out in this movie!

Along the way we meet Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone)—at least the new movie gets this right. In the comics, Gwen was Peter’s first real girlfriend and Mary Jane came later (something Sam Raimi got backwards)—who is an intern at Oscorp., working for Dr. Connors. She also goes to Peter’s high school and he’s had a crush on her from afar. Her father is Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), who is in charge of the NYC police force. And who becomes obsessed with capturing Spider-Man once the masked crime-fighter makes his presence known.

The death of Uncle Ben, a pivotal event in the creation of Spider-Man is also handled a bit differently here, as a guy robbing a convenience store where Peter is buying milk, runs into Ben (who is looking for Peter) and shoots him in a scuffle. Where in the first Raimi movie, Peter’s failing to stop the criminal led to his taking on “responsibility” in the form of Spider-Man, there’s the added motivation here that Peter is also trying to track down the guy who shot Uncle Ben and got away – so that vengeance is a big part of why he dons the red and blue costume.

And those super-strong spider webs that Oscorp makes? Scientific genius Peter uses them as part of his costume, thus coming full circle, since one of those spiders was the one that gave him his powers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Connors has finally figured out how to make his regeneration serum work (thanks to an equation provided by Peter) and injects himself in an act of desperation that first grows him a new arm, then turns him into the vicious creature known as The Lizard. And it’s up to Spider-Man to stop him.

While I still don’t see the point of starting the story all over again from the beginning, I guess it works here because of the entirely new cast of actors in these roles, and the new director, Marc Webb. A fresh start isn’t all that awful, but THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has as many flaws as it has fresh spins.

MA: I’ll say, and then some!

LS:  First off, Andrew Garfield is pretty annoying as Peter Parker.

MA: I’ll second that right here. I did not like Garfield as Peter Parker.

LS: The way he almost twitches as he speaks, his inability to articulate his thoughts, his occasional stammer, he’s more a collection of tics than the nerdy guy we know from the comics (and the Raimi movies). In fact, his mannerisms are actually kind of creepy. I actually found it irritating to watch Garfield onscreen. I was never a big fan of Tobey Maguire as Parker, but I almost missed him in comparison to Garfield. Which is too bad, because Garfield looks right physically. It’s just his odd behavior that throws things off a little. And if you don’t really like the “hero” in a movie like this, it kind of limits how much you’re going to enjoy the movie overall.

MA: I agree. That might have been my biggest problem with this movie, that I didn’t enjoy Andrew Garfield’s performance. Pretty hard to like a movie called THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN when you don’t like Spider-Man!

I actually liked Tobey Maguire a lot as Spider-Man, so it goes without saying, I missed him here. I also missed the wise-cracking Spider-Man from the comics. He’s nowhere to be found in this movie.

LS: What about the scene, when he first starts patrolling the streets as Spider-Man, and jokes about a car thief pulling out a knife. “You found my weakness, small knives!”

MA: That was one of the rare times Spider-Man tries to be funny. Garfield and the writers seemed to be going for a darker element here—perhaps taking a page out of Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN series—because for the most part things seemed more serious here and less like the Spider-Man comics I remember. But the trouble is, while it may be serious, it’s not all that dark. In fact, I found Garfield’s interpretation of Spider-Man dull.

LS: You’re right, he is dull. This Peter Parker doesn’t have much of a personality. And, for the record, there is no reason why Spider-Man has to be particularly dark. In the early days, what made him so interesting was that he was constantly telling jokes when he fought villains. He was the complete opposite of dark. Despite what Hollywood thinks, not every superhero has to be dark! Spider-Man certainly doesn’t need to be. It would have been a lot more refreshing if he was constantly cracking jokes.

MA: I also didn’t buy him as a high school student. He seemed older.

LS: I liked Emma Stone as Gwen, but she isn’t given an awful lot to do here except fall for Peter and become his confidante.

MA: I didn’t like Stone either. Again, as was the case with Garfield, I didn’t buy her as a high school student. And she seems to be head over heels in love with him almost immediately, and I didn’t understand why. We never really see them get to know each other. Yeah, they do share some onscreen chemistry once they’re together, but that’s because they’re a real life item. In the movie, I didn’t really buy their relationship.

LS: Denis Leary is okay as Captain Stacy, the guy who declares Spider-Man a menace, but I really missed Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson, who is nowhere to be found in this version of the story. There’s a cable channel like CNN called the Daily Bugle, and that’s all we see of it. Maybe the newspaper went out of business?

MA: That’s another huge drawback to this movie, in my book. J. Jonah Jameson, as annoying as he is, has always been one of my favorite Spider-Man characters, and he’s nowhere in this movie. His absence created a void that the movie was unable to fill.

Yeah, Leary is okay, but I thought Captain Stacy was pretty boring. And the scene near the end when he comes to Spider-Man’s rescue and declares, “No, he’s not alone!” nearly made me throw up!

LS: Sheen and Field are appropriately sappy in their roles as Peter’s uncle and aunt. I didn’t think Field actually looked scrawny and sickly enough to be Aunt May (in the comics, there used to constantly be the threat that she’d have a heart attack and Peter would be alone).

MA: Sappy and then some! I think Sheen was covered in maple syrup in his scenes. Again, I nearly gagged when Peter Parker is listening to his uncle’s voice message after he’s died and Sheen says “You’re my hero.” I almost expected to hear Bette Midler start singing.

LS: Yeah, that was hard to sit through. I hate when movies get that sappy.

MA: I missed Cliff Robertson from the Raimi movies.

LS: Me, too.

MA: I also didn’t find Uncle Ben’s death scene anywhere near as dramatic as it was portrayed in the Raimi movie.

And you’re right about Sally Field. She didn’t seem sickly enough to be Aunt May. She wasn’t sick or weak at all, for that matter.

LS: Yeah, she’s just way too healthy-looking. And whether or not she actually is an appropriate age, she didn’t seem old enough to play the character.

Rhys Ifans is okay as Curt Connors, but nobody is really amazing in this movie. Everyone for the most part is just doing their job.

MA: Agreed. Although one supporting bit that I did like was by C. Thomas Howell. He plays the father of a little boy who Spider-Man rescues on the bridge, in probably the movie’s best sequence. It’s a brief bit, but Howell makes the most of it.

And although you mention Curt Connors, you didn’t mention his alter-ego, The Lizard. Yes, this is another knock on this movie: I didn’t like The Lizard. I thought he was just another standard CGI creation with little personality. When it comes to superhero movie villains, I thought he was a big-time fail. I wasn’t even that impressed with the way he looked. Next to Willem Dafoe as The Green Goblin in the first Raimi SPIDER-MAN film (2002), The Lizard is a tadpole in comparison.

LS: Let’s not go there. I HATED the way the Green Goblin looked in the Raimi movies. I swear he looked like one of the Power Rangers.

MA:  Well, okay, I guess that came out wrong.  I was talking more about Willem Dafoe’s performance as the Green Goblin, rather than just how the Green Goblin looked, because you’re right, the look was silly, but I liked the way Dafoe made him menacing.

LS:  And I wasn’t as disappointed with the way The Lizard looked as you were. Sure, there’s too much CGI involved, which makes him look fake some of the time. And instead of a lizard’s snout they give him a weird grin – he looked like The Joker or something (or 1961’s MR. SARDONICUS!). But, over time, it grew on me.

Stuff I liked: the scenes with Spider-Man swinging around the city and his fights with  The Lizard, aren’t half-bad. I’ve always liked The Lizard as one of Spider-Man’s more interesting villains.

MA: Yes, the special effects were better than the Tobey Maguire movies, but that’s to be expected, since the CGI technology seems to get better and better. The scenes of Spidey swinging around the city look great. However, while the special effects have improved, that doesn’t translate into quality scenes. I wasn’t impressed by the Spider-Man vs. The Lizard battle scenes, nor did I find much in this movie that made it all that cinematic. I liked the one sequence on the bridge, as that was impressive, but other than that, I wasn’t impressed by the directorial effort by Marc Webb.

And once again, I thought the 3D effects were unnecessary and added next to nothing to this movie.

LS: Luckily, I didn’t see this one in 3D, so I didn’t have to pay extra and I didn’t have to feel like I wasted money once again.

But I have lots of questions, too. If the serum changed Curt Connors’ genetic structure, why would he revert back to his human self after a short time? Wouldn’t he stay The Lizard permanently?

MA: You’d think so.

LS: And what was up with the stupid storyline about The Lizard having some kind of gas that turns other people into Lizards like him? It seemed tacked on like an afterthought, they never really developed it or made the transformed people look dangerous, and the people (mostly cops) get “cured” way to easily by the end. Once again—a very convenient resolution for a serum that is supposed to change people on a cellular level.

And, to back up for a moment, once Peter is aware of his new powers, why does he use them so many times in public, where there are lots of witnesses? This just seems incredibly stupid. It’s like he doesn’t even try to hide his “secret” from the outside world. Why don a mask later on, then? There’s this whole series of scenes early on that annoyed the hell out of me. You’re telling me that all the people who saw him do amazing things in school couldn’t figure out he was later Spider-Man. Aren’t there any smart kids in that high school?

MA: Yup, I was thinking the same thing. My take on it was that the writers didn’t seem as if they wanted to be bothered with these details. It was almost as if they felt the previous movies had explained things so they wouldn’t.

I thought this movie lacked details. I didn’t know, for example, how Peter Parker even felt to be Spider-Man in this movie. Was he upset about it? Happy? Psyched? At first, he’s totally unable to control his new abilities, yet he doesn’t even seem upset by this. The next thing we know he’s outside swinging from buildings like he’s been doing it for years. Yep, just another day at the office. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty excited about these new abilities. I didn’t get this from Garfield’s Spider-Man.

LS: Taken on its own, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN just seemed kind of mediocre to me.

MA: I found it less than mediocre.

LS: Nothing really “amazing” at all, but not completely horrible, either. And it actually goes up a notch when compared to the last Sam Raimi Spidey flick, SPIDER-MAN 3, which was just abysmal and ranks with the worst supherhero movies of all time (and what a waste of the Sandman and Venom!). Despite its flaws, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is at least an improvement over where Raimi was going with his Spider-Man movies.

I give it two and a half knives. Which isn’t a great rating. Either catch a cheap matinee or wait until it comes to cable or Netflix.

MA: I didn’t like SPIDER-MAN 3 either, but I also didn’t enjoy THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

The biggest problem with this movie is it never drew me into its world. I missed the wise-cracking Spider-Man from the comics, as Andrew Garfield’s interpretation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man lacked humor and heart. There was something “off” about it, and as a result, I never got into his character.

I liked Garfield in one scene, where he breaks down over a confrontation with his Uncle Ben about his dad. This was a very good scene, and Garfield’s excellent in it, but for me, that was as good as it got. This movie seemed to be setting up Spider-Man to be a darker character, but the story never makes good on this promise.

Speaking of set-up, early on, a lot is made of Peter Parker’s parents, especially his dad, and their subsequent disappearance, so much so that it appears their fate will play a role in the story later on, but strangely, the movie never goes in that direction. Parker’s missing dad is mentioned throughout the movie, but no further light is shed on his fate. I found this disappointing.

LS: You just know the “secret” of his parents will be explored more in the sequel. None of these movies is self-contained anymore. Everything has to leave loose ends for next time. If that’s not the line between art and consumerism, I don’t know what is. They just want you to buy one product after another, instead of just telling a complete, satisfying story.

MA: I didn’t love any of the characters and found them all to be mediocre at best, and I was very disappointed with The Lizard as the villain.

I was also disappointed with the screenplay. I thought it did a poor job developing the characters, especially the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. I didn’t think it did a good job of carving out the Spider-Man character either, as he seemed pretty generic here, and the conflict between Spidey and The Lizard wasn’t all that interesting.

This surprised me, because one of the writers, Alvin Sargent, a screenwriter who’s been in the business since the 1950s, also wrote the screenplay for SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004).

LS: The one with Dr. Octopus. That might be my favorite of the Spider-Man movies.

MA: Then again, he also was one of the writers involved with SPIDER-MAN 3. One of the other writers who worked on the screenplay for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Steve Kloves, also wrote the screenplays for the HARRY POTTER movies. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by my disappointment.

I also didn’t enjoy the direction by Marc Webb. Other than the scene on the bridge, there really weren’t a lot of cool scenes in this one, and there was very little that made this movie seem cinematic.

I really didn’t like THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at all. Except for the fact that it was pleasing to the eyes, I thought it was a dud.

I give it one and a half knives, and I sincerely hope they don’t make another one. This is not the kind of movie that should inspire a series.

LS: Well you’re not going to get your wish. Plans are already moving forward for the next one. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was a box-office hit the first day it opened. Which proves you don’t need quality to keep a franchise alive and bringing in the cash.

Also, like all Marvel movies these days, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has an extra scene during the end credits (luckily, you don’t have to wait until the very end of the credits to see it). I didn’t think it was as good (or as clear) as similar “easter eggs” in other Marvel movies, but you might want to stay a little bit when the credits start rolling, to see it.

MA: If it wasn’t a scene showing Spider-Man about to join The Avengers, I wasn’t interested! Like the rest of the movie, this scene was a dud.

LS: Yep, it doesn’t help clarify anything.

Well, we disagree on this one. I didn’t love this movie, but I’m surprised that I liked it a little more than you did. I thought you’d be sticking up for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

SPIDER-MAN: I can’t say that I like either one of your opinions of this movie. I loved it!

LS: Spider-Man! You’re still hanging around.

SPIDER-MAN: Sure I am, I wanted to hear your review.

MA: But don’t you think you deserve better? You’re one of my all-time favorite comic book characters! This movie doesn’t do you justice, and you shouldn’t settle for something like this!

SPIDER-MAN: I dunno. They paid me a lot of money. It’s hard to dislike something that pays so well. How much do you guys get paid?

(MA & LS push SPIDER-MAN off the building.)

LS: Sore topic.
MA: Yep, he hit a nerve. Let’s go grab a bite to eat before we review our next movie. Shall we take the elevator?

LS: Elevator? Who needs an elevator in Cinema Knife Fight land? (Leaps from building) Geronimooooooooooooooooo!

MA: I’ll still take the elevator. (Presses button, door slides open, to reveal THE LIZARD in the elevator.)

THE LIZARD (grinning and revealing his mouthful of sharp teeth): Going down?

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ~two and a half knives.

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2012

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Aliens, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT COMING ATTRACTIONS: JULY 2012
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  A crowded beach in July.  Sunbathers and swimmers are everywhere, and MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are sitting on beach chairs, catching up on some summer reading.)

L.L. SOARES (puts down his copy of “Justine” by the Marquis de Sade):  As much as I’m enjoying this book, I wish things would liven up around here.  A visit from a great white shark, or some hungry piranhas would be just the thing!  Any chance these creatures will be showing up in our July movies this summer?

MICHAEL ARRUDA (puts down his copy of “SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Go to the Movies”): Unfortunately, no.  Just a couple of superheroes, a silly comedy, and Oliver Stone’s latest.

LS:  No piranhas?

MA:  I’m afraid not.  Didn’t you get your fill of piranhas last month with your review of PIRANHA 3DD?

LS:  It was over all too soon.

MA:  Which, for the rest of the planet, was a good thing!  How about we start our July Coming Attractions column?

LS:  Sure.

MA:  Up first, it’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012), which actually opens on Tuesday, July 3, so technically, the first weekend of July, we’ll be doing two Cinema Knife Fights because we’ll also be reviewing Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012) which opens on Friday, July 6.

In regards to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, admittedly, I’m a sucker for superhero movies, especially the Marvel movies of the past decade, and so yes, I am definitely looking forward to this movie.  But that being said, there’s a part of me who isn’t into it, the part of me who feels it’s just too soon after the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire movies to be starting a new Spider-Man series, but that’s just me.

Based on the previews, Andrew Garfield looks like he’s going to make a good Spider-Man, and the film as a whole looks pretty good, again, based on the trailers I’ve seen.  No Mary Jane in this one, as Peter Parker’s love interest here is Gwen Stacy, as played by Emma Stone, who was in THE HELP (2011), and she was also in ZOMBIELAND (2009) a few years back.

And this time around the villain is The Lizard.

LS:  I’m not sure what to expect, either. Originally, I wasn’t too thrilled about them rebooting the series, telling Spider-Man’s origin all over again, etc. But the more I see of it, the more I think it could work. I was getting very tired of Tobey Maguire in the role of Peter Parker, and while I think Sam Raimi can be great, he was getting incredibly tiresome as the director of the Spider-Man series. SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), especially, was a horrible movie. So it needed some fresh blood.

(BARNABAS COLLINS walks by, holding an umbrella to block out the sun)

BARNABAS: Did I hear someone say “fresh blood?”

LS: None for you, you Johnny Depp look-alike.

BARNABAS: Drat! How did you know I was a vampire?

LS: The heavy white-make-up, the aversion to the sun, the fangs?

BARNABAS: Oh!

LS: Now stop bothering us before I put a stake in you.

BARNABAS: Be seeing you guys (BARNABAS hurries off the beach)

LS: Have I mentioned lately how much I hated Tim Burton’s version of DARK SHADOWS? It’s actually one of these movies that I dislike MORE the more I think about it.

MA: I didn’t like it either, and I also have to agree with you about SPIDER-MAN 3.

LS:  Where was I? Oh yeah, Spider-Man. I think Andrew Garfield could be an improvement as Peter. Gwen was his first girlfriend, so it makes sense she would be in this reboot and not Mary Jane (who came later in the comics—Sam Raimi had it all backwards). And the Lizard is one of Spider-Man’s better villains. So this one has potential. I hope it blows the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies out of the water. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Next up is SAVAGES, as you said. Based on the book by Don Winslow, it’s about three pot dealers who go up against a vicious drug cartel who wants to cut in on their business. I’m actually looking forward to this one a lot more than THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I’m not a big Spider-Man fan, and SAVAGES looks more up my alley. A crime drama with lots of violence. It looks like Oliver Stone could be getting his mojo back. I hope so.

MA:  Yes, I’d expect you to be salivating over this one, since it stars one of your favorite actors, Taylor Kitsch (who earlier this year starred in BATTLESHIP and JOHN CARTER).  I didn’t like him in either of those movies, and so I’m looking forward to giving him another chance.

LS: Yeah, Kitsch deserves some success for a change.

MA: If anything, SAVAGES looks like it’ll be intense.  And yes, it’s directed by Oliver Stone, but truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Oliver Stone movie that I’ve really liked.  Interestingly, one of the screenwriters, Shane Salerno, also wrote the screenplay for ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007), the second Alien vs. Predator movie, and one that I liked a lot.

Besides Taylor Kitsch, the other male lead in this one is Aaron Johnson, who played Kick-Ass in KICK-ASS (2010), and who looks completely different here. And the female lead is played by the beautiful Blake Lively, who we saw in last year’s THE GREEN LANTERN (2011).

I’ll also be looking forward to seeing Benicio del Toro in this one.

LS: Me, too. And don’t forget Salma Hayek as the head of the cartel. I’m betting this one is going to be a lot of fun.

MA: On July 13, there isn’t anything of interest opening at the theaters, and so most likely we’ll be bringing you a DVD review instead.

On July 20, we’ll be reviewing this summer’s most anticipated release, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES   (2012), Christopher Nolan’s third and final BATMAN movie.  I’m certainly looking forward to this movie, as I absolutely loved THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and enjoyed BATMAN BEGINS (2005) a lot, too.  THE DARK KNIGHT is my favorite superhero movie of all time, as I believe it transcended the genre.  It’s one of my favorite movies period!

LS: I believe Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker transcended the genre. Otherwise, I thought THE DARK KNIGHT was a pretty standard superhero movie. I like it, but I don’t think it’s some kind of masterpiece like you do.

MA: That being said, I can’t really imagine THE DARK KNIGHT RISES topping THE DARK KNIGHT, so my expectations for this movie aren’t that high.  I’m still looking forward to it, though.  Batman’s always been one of my favorite superheroes, and I’ve enjoyed the various portrayals of Batman over the years, from Adam West to Michael Keaton.  Strangely, as much as I’ve loved the Chris Nolan Batman movies, I haven’t really enjoyed Christian Bale as Batman all that much.  He’s okay, but he hasn’t been the reason why I’ve liked these films so much.

Anyway, it has a great cast, it’s got Nolan at the helm, and it looks terrific, so there you go.

LS:  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES might be interesting. I think the villain, Bane, has a lot of potential. In the comics, he broke Batman’s back. I wonder if that will happen here.

MA:  Yes, I agree.  I think Bane has the potential to be another cool villain.

LS:  I’m not as excited about Anne Hathaway playing Catwoman, but we’ll see what happens. I think DARK KNIGHT RISES will be better than you’re expecting, for some reason. As for the character of Batman, I still maintain that anyone can play him. He’s a cipher. Under that cowl, Paul Reubens could be playing Batman, and it wouldn’t matter.

(PEE-WEE HERMAN dressed as Batman skips by them, carrying a huge beach ball.  He stops, aims and throws the ball at MA, but it bounces off the arm of MA’s beach chair and slams PEE-WEE in the head.)

PEE-WEE:  Ouch!  Hey, I meant to do that!

MA:  Yeah, right.  Hit the road, Pee-wee.

PEE WEE:  Pee-wee?  I’m Batman!

LS:  You’re Pee-wee!

PEE-WEE:  I know you are, but what am I?  (Skips away)  Has anyone seen my Bat Bicycle?  (Exits)

LS:  And then the month concludes with the July 27th release of THE WATCH. This one features Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill as members of a neighborhood watch group who come across some extraterrestrial monsters. It could go either way.

MA:  I don’t have much to say about this one, except that based on the previews, it seems very mediocre.  We’ll see.  I like Ben Stiller sometimes, but I’ve never been much of a Vince Vaughn fan, and Jonah Hill is following up on the success of 21 JUMP STREET (2012).  I really enjoyed Hill in MONEYBALL (2011).

And it’s written by Seth Rogen, who last year gave us the uninspired THE GREEN HORNET (2011).

LS: Everyone involved has done good stuff—and some stuff that wasn’t so good. So like I said, it could go either way. I hope it’s good. I hope it’s funny. I just don’t have high expectations for it. But I certainly go into a movie hoping it will be better than I expect.

MA: Well, that sums up our movies for July.  Shall we get back to our reading?

LS:  I still wish we’d get a visit by some hungry piranhas.

MA:  Well, don’t look now, but you’re about to get your wish.

LS:  Really?

MA:  Look over there.  (points to ocean.)

(A group of swimmers start screaming, and a huge pool of red darkens the water.)

LIFEGUARD:  Everybody out of the water!  Piranha!  Piranha!

LS:  Ah, the sights and sounds of a beach on a summer’s day.  All is right with the world.  Hey, how did you know the piranhas were coming?

MA: A little bird told me.

(A seagull flies above them with a piranha in its mouth.)

LS: I guess it’s true that seagulls will eat anything.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE AVENGERS: WHO WAS THE “REAL” FIRST TEAM?

Posted in 2012, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by knifefighter

AVENGERS SCORE CARD
A Refresher Course in Marvel History from L.L. Soares

When X-MEN: FIRST CLASS came out last year, I wrote an article comparing the movie to the “real” first class of X-Men from the comics. People seemed to like the refresher course in Marvel Comics history, so I figured I’d do the same thing with THE AVENGERS.

The Avengers first assembled way back in AVENGERS # 1, in September 1963, (© Copyright Marvel Comics )

So how accurate is the new movie version of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS in comparison with how the group really came together? Well, the movies are always going to rewrite history for their own reasons, but in some ways,  things are pretty close to the source material this time around. Let’s take a look.

Back in September 1963, Marvel was just starting out, and had introduced a bunch of brand new superheroes on an unsuspecting public. Remember, DC Comics already had a bunch of characters from the past to draw from—like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman—but Marvel had to start fresh in the early 60s. They already had one superhero team, THE FANTASTIC FOUR (which was also the first official Marvel superhero comic book), but what about all those other characters that had been created in the meantime? Why not get a bunch of them and put them together in a team that could really kick the butt of any big-time foe? And so AVENGERS # 1 came out.

And  the original AVENGERS were born.

(Note: They weren’t even the only AVENGERS back then! In the 60s, there was a  popular British TV show also called THE AVENGERS (1961- 1969) starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as classy super spies!)

So who was in that first team? Well, Thor was there, so was Iron Man. They were two of Marvel’s heavy hitters right from the start.

A lot of people either find it hard to believe that the Hulk was an original member, or they will scratch their heads and ask “But he was one of the DEFENDERS,  wasn’t he?” However, both are true. Hulk was in the original Avengers, although he only lasted a few issues before he took off. He wasn’t really that much of a team player back then. And yes, the Hulk was also a member of DEFENDERS, another superhero team, which first assembled in Marvel Feature # 1, in 1971. That team was made up of some of the more “rebellious” characters in the Marvel Universe, including Namor the Submariner, Dr. Strange, and the Silver Surfer (and were eventually joined by memorable Defenders Valkyrie and Nighthawk, and a rotating cast of others). Somehow, Hulk was able to stick with the Defenders for a lot longer than his time in the Avengers. I was never sure why. He just never seemed like a very cooperative character to me.

Captain America didn’t join the team until AVENGERS # 4, when the supersoldier from World War II was discovered frozen in ice. But he became an indispensable member of the team very quickly and became the heart and the conscience of The Avengers.

Captain America joined the team in AVENGERS # 4. (© Copyright Marvel Comics)

Also in the original Avengers were Ant Man and the Wasp, a guy and a gal who could reduce themselves to the size of insects. Scientist Henry Pym and his partner Janet Van Dyne had previously appeared in the comic book called TALES TO ASTONISH, which would eventually showcase stories of the Hulk (and a little later, the Submariner as well). Pym was the one who would invent various cool weapons for the group. And by the time Captain America shows up in issue 4, he had already decided bigger was better and changed his superhero identity from Ant Man to Giant Man.

Where do the Black Widow and Hawkeye come into this? Well, they were both Avengers, just not right away. The funny thing is, both of them first appeared in the pages of TALES OF SUSPENSE, which was where Iron Man stories were published before he got his own comic book, and both of them began as Iron Man’s villains! In those days, most of Iron Man’s villains were either Russian or Chinese (making him probably the most political superhero of his day, even though, unfortunately, a lot of those storylines seem very dated now because of their timeliness back then). Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow was originally a Russian spy (and a bit of a seductress) with exceptional fighting abilities (she first appeared in Tales of Suspense # 52) and Hawkeye first appeared as a carnival archer with exceptional skill who was seduced by the Widow to help her in her attempts to defeat Iron Man (Hawkeye first appeared in TOS #57). So they do actually have a long history together. As you already know, both of them became good guys, with Hawkeye joining the Avengers in issue # 16. But since that time, he’s been one of the most recognizable and steady members of the Avengers. Meanwhile, the Black Widow would come and go, because she often had other matters to attend to (including a brief stint as Daredevil’s “sidekick” in the early 1970s).

Hawkeye the way he should have looked in the AVENGERS movie, with his distinctive mask. (© Copyright Marvel Comics)

And was Loki really the bad guy back then who brought the Avengers together? Well, yes he was! Except in AVENGERS # 1 he was able to take on the appearance of the Hulk to cause some chaos that brought the rest of the Avengers together to stop him, culminating in the rest of the team fighting the Hulk. There weren’t any aliens in the skies helping Loki back then.

S.H.I.E.L.D.  Commander Nick Fury had nothing to do with the Avengers back then. In fact, he was just starting out as the head of  S.H.I.E.L.D. himself, after a stint in World War II (in one of Marvel’s few war comics, SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS). The movies have cleverly been using him as the one who brought the team together, but back in the 1960s, he was too busy fighting the evil forces of the secret organization HYDRA.

Throughout the 60s, there were lots more interesting members of the team, including the android The Vision (one of my favorites) who would control his density at will. And the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, two original members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants who started out as X-Men villains and came over to the side of good (there seemed to be a lot of bad guys turning good back then). Also members at different times were the Black Panther (an African prince turned superhero, who had first appeared in the pages of THE FANTASTIC FOUR), the demigod Hercules (who came from the pages of THOR) and the lesser known Swordsman, the Black Knight, and a one-shot character named Wonder Man (who first appeared and then “died” in AVENGERS # 9), but who would show up again a decade or so later to become a prominent member of the team.

While the Hulk didn’t last long as a member of the AVENGERS, he was a long-time member of another team, THE DEFENDERS, which debuted in 1971. (© Copyright Marvel Comics)

By the time the 70s came around, the team expanded further and had a rotating cast of characters as various members joined, left, and rejoined again.

So the movie is actually more faithful to the source material than it first appears. But this is the “way it began” for the Avengers in the comic books, where they originated.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

THE AVENGERS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Aliens, Based on Comic Book, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Joss Whedon, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE AVENGERS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a massive flying aircraft carrier, hovering in the sky. CLOSE-UP reveals MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES at the controls.)

MA:  For a minute there, I thought I had prepared for the wrong movie, BATTLESHIP.

LS:  Nope. This is a Helicarrier, one of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s prize possessions. If he ever finds out we took it, he’s gonna be soooo pissed. (cackles)

MA:  Yeah, I know what it is. You want to tell me again how it is we’re sitting at the controls?

LS:  Fury and the Avengers are all out celebrating their victory over the bad guys, and everyone else is dead tired, so I slipped a friend of mine who works here some cash, and we get to take this baby for a brief spin. Just long enough to review the movie. Don’t worry. We’ll get her back without a scratch.

MA: I hope so. This is an expensive piece of equipment. I wouldn’t want to have to pay the bill if we damaged it.

LS:  You worry too much. Why don’t you start the review?  I see some buttons and controls I want to play with.

MA:  Today’s movie, THE AVENGERS, is the long-awaited, much-anticipated Marvel superhero movie that’s been on moviegoers’ minds ever since the after-the-credits final scene of IRON MAN (2008) when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) approached Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) about the Avengers Initiative.

There was also some anxiety surrounding this one:  with all the hype and expectation, would it be as good as fans hoped for?  I’ll cut right to the chase and say yes, it’s every bit as good and then some.

LS: That might be a bit premature, but go on.

MA: In THE AVENGERS, the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s half-brother, is still bitter from having to live his life in the shadow of his famous sibling, and so he accepts a role from the Chitauri, an alien race that wants to conquer the galaxy. Loki will help the Chitauri conquer the Earth, and in return, Loki will become King of the Earth. To do this, Loki steals the Tesseract, an energy source of unlimited potential that had been in the possession of one Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

LS: Yeah, a lot of this stuff comes from the previous Marvel movies. The Tesseract (called “The Cosmic Cube” in the comics) is something we last saw the Red Skull trying to get in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) . Loki,  the sniveling brother of Thor, was also the main villain in THOR (also 2011). THE AVENGERS just brings this all full circle.

MA: To save the world and stop Loki and the Chitauri, Fury activates the “Avengers Initiative,” which pretty much means rounding up the local superheroes to battle the bad guys. The Avengers include Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.,) Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

LS: Yeah, we previously saw the Black Widow in IRON MAN 2 (2010), and Hawkeye in THOR. So these are familiar faces as well. It’s actually pretty cool that all of the actors returned to reprise their original rolls. Too often in blockbusters like this, some actors, for whatever reasons, have to be replaced, and it’s just not the same. In THE AVENGERS, the only original actor who isn’t returning is Edward Norton, who was Bruce Banner in 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK (or, for real hardcore Hulk fans, Eric Bana, who was played the role in Ang Lee’s 2003 movie, HULK). Here, Banner (and the Hulk) are played by Mark Ruffalo. A great actor, who actually makes you forget those other guys, so I wasn’t too sad to see him as part of this cast.

MA: What makes this movie so interesting is none of these guys like each other nor do they trust each other, and they don’t even trust Nick Fury, so even before they’re battling the bad guys, their battling themselves, and it’s these skirmishes that make up the best part of the movie.

LS: Well, yes and no. Not all of the skirmishes are equally good.

MA: Nit-picker!

LS:  I wonder what this big red button does?

MA:  Should you really be pressing a button that’s big and red?

LS:  Too late. I already pressed it. Hmm. Harmless.

(MA looks out his window and sees an engine falling from the Helicarrier.)

MA:  Do me a favor and don’t press any more buttons.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.

But these folks are superheroes, and so eventually, they all patch up their differences and set their sights on working together and defeating Loki and the Chitauri in a climactic battle sequence that is one for the ages. I joke about this, that they’re superheroes and so of course they eventually work together, but one of the strengths of THE AVENGERS is very little of it plays like a predictable superhero tale. The movie is exceedingly fresh.

LS: I’m not so sure about that, either. The movie is good, it’s exciting. But “exceedingly fresh?” That might be pushing it a little bit.

MA: I absolutely loved THE AVENGERS. It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It just has so many things going for it.

Probably the most impressive thing about THE AVENGERS is with all these characters in this movie, I never felt cheated. Not only do all these guys get sufficient quality screen time, with plenty of key moments, but some of them, Captain America and Thor in particular, were more enjoyable and more satisfying here than in their own movies CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR.

LS: What about the Hulk?

MA: Yeah, the Hulk, too.

Robert Downey Jr. also returns to top form, capturing the magnetism and seemingly endless “bad boy” playboy energy he showed back in IRON MAN. He too is much better in this movie than he was in IRON MAN 2.

The cast is downright impressive. Downey Jr. is my favorite here, because I really enjoy his interpretation of Tony Stark, but he’s far from being alone in this movie, although I would say he’s the unofficial leader of this group and its most captivating and entertaining character.

LS: Yeah, Downey is great as Stark/Iron Man. But “the most captivating and entertaining character?” I don’t know about that. What about the Hulk?

MA: The Hulk’s cool, but Tony Stark is more fun to watch than Bruce Banner.

Chris Evans shines as Captain America, and I liked him better here than in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, as his character is better defined. He’s out of place in the 21st century, at first, and he’s disappointed that the nation isn’t quite the bastion of patriotism and heroism it was when he last saw it during World War II. But he adapts, and he brings his sense of patriotism and pride to the fight. On the battlefield, he’s also the Avengers’ strategic leader, directing the team and giving them their duties.

LS: Yeah, Evans is better here than he was in the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie. I also think Cap is a much more interesting character in the modern world. I’m not as psyched about his adventures in a fictionalized past as I am with him being a fish out of water in current times. He’s more compelling now. And his “boy scout” image isn’t so black and white anymore. The time change forces him to develop more as a character.

By the way, WHAT ABOUT THE HULK?

MA: What is it with you and the Hulk, anyway?  Hey!  Watch where you’re going!

(The Helicarrier accidentally takes off the top of a skyscraper)

LS: Woops. Now we’re in for it. Fury is bound to lower our security clearance for this.

MA: Our security clearance? I just hope he has some good insurance on this thing. Anyway, now that you have us back on track, I’ll get back to the review.

Mark Ruffalo enjoys a strong debut as the Hulk.

LS: Finally!

MA:  Honestly, I didn’t miss Edward Norton one bit, and this surprised me, because I thought I would. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is very likeable, and he plays him less haunted and more introspective. I also like the way they made the Hulk’s face resemble Ruffalo’s.

LS: Yeah Ruffalo is great in this role, and you’re right. The reason why the Hulk finally works so well here, is because he doesn’t take himself so damn seriously. Banner has a really sarcastic/ironic sense of humor that sets him apart from the more angsty/tortured previous Banners. And the Hulk himself actually has some funny scenes. While I like the darker, more tragic Hulk, I thought this version was a breath of fresh air and more interesting for the movies. And yeah, the CGI effects, where the Hulk’s face actually does look like Ruffalo’s, are pretty good here. And for the record, I thought Hulk was the best thing in this movie.

MA: What a surprise!

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, and although I mentioned I enjoyed him more here than in THOR, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy him in THOR. He’s excellent in both moves. I just enjoyed his scenes a bit more in this one.

LS: I like Hemsworth and Thor a lot. For some reason I thought he was a bit more subdued here than in his own movie, but Thor is always an enjoyable character. And I thought the skirmish between Thor and the Hulk was the best of the Avengers’ infighting battles.

MA: Scarlett Johansson is excellent as Black Widow, and she just might have more screen time than any of the Avengers!  And you know what?  I didn’t mind one bit!  When will she have her own movie?

LS: That might just happen, because she is very good here. I wasn’t as excited about her scenes in the midst of battling aliens, where I thought she was outgunned, but the one-on-one scenes of her and the other characters are terrific. It would have been nice if she at least tried to have a Russian accent, though.

MA: Jeremy Renner is very good as Hawkeye, and Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to do a lot as Nick Fury, and he doesn’t disappoint.

LS: I think you’re selling Hawkeye short.

MA:  No, I just thought I’d let you talk about him.

LS:  Yeah, right.

Renner does a fine job as Marvel’s master archer, even if he does spend half of the movie in the thrall of Loki. But where the hell is his mask? It’s not like the character’s costume in the comics is so complex. That cool mask of his would have been nice. Are Hollywood actors so egotistical that they have to show their faces as much as possible? In Iron Man’s case, it makes sense that we see Stark’s head inside the armor, because Iron Man’s mask is completely expressionless. But if the characters in the comics have masks, I think the characters in the movies should as well. Even Captain America here “loses” his mask in the midst of battle toward the end. Although I didn’t think that was necessary.

Masks are important!  (reaches into a bag. )  Here, put this on. (places a mask over MA’s face. Then puts one on himself.)

MA:  Cool. Thanks!

LS:  Gee, it’s dark in here.

MA:  Dark?  Your mask doesn’t have any slits for eyes!  Take that thing off!  (rips off LS’s mask and his own. )  What are you trying to do?  Get us killed?

LS:  Stop your worrying. This thing can practically fly itself!

As for Nick Fury, I never really cared for the character much in the comics, and he doesn’t do a lot for me here, either. I like Sam Jackson, and he does provide a link between all the characters, so he makes sense in the movie. But I could take him or leave him.

MA: Clark Gregg returns as likable agent Phil Coulson, and when your cast includes Stellan Skarsgard and Gwyneth Paltrow in supporting roles, you know you’ve got something good going. Skarsgard of course plays Selvig, the brilliant scientist we met in THOR, and Paltrow is Pepper Pots, Tony Stark’s love interest.

LS: In some ways, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is actually more compelling than Nick Fury, as a character, although his slavish worship of the superheroes (like his wanting Captain America to sign his trading cards) seemed a bit condescending at times.

MA: I thought it was pretty funny. Besides, Coulson is the stand-in for us. He’s the fanboy of the group.

LS: I realize that. But they make him look a little too geeky, when he’s supposed to be a professional. His “big scene” here, though, is pretty good. Although I think they put way too much importance on him as an inspiration to the others.

MA: I liked that scene.

LS: Also pretty good here is Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. Most people will recognize Smulders as Robin on the hit CBS sitcom HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. But she’s very good in this more serious role, as well.

MA: And Tom Hiddleston turns in a fine performance as Loki, although Loki is still not one of my favorite villains. He’s simply not powerful enough, either in strength or mind, to really wow me. I never get the feeling he’s actually powerful enough to defeat the heroes. Not a good trait to have if you’re a villain. He’s like the Rodney Dangerfield of villains. No respect. Well, he hasn’t really earned it.

LS: Now we’re getting into what I didn’t like about the movie. THE AVENGERS has a lot going for it. It’s a lot of fun, the fight scenes are great, the characters—for the most part—are very well done. But my biggest beef with this movie is that it just didn’t have a strong enough villain. I thought Loki was a letdown. We’d already seen him in the THOR movie, and didn’t need to have him be the bad guy here, too (even if, in the original issue of THE AVENGERS # 1 way back in 1963, it was Loki who brought the team together to fight him – and he didn’t need Nick Fury back then to do it).

I just don’t think Loki is a strong enough character. And the generic aliens didn’t help all that much. It was like these great heroes get together to fight an inferior bad guy and a bunch of flying CGI effects. A strong villain would have made for a better movie. And if there is one flaw with THE AVENGERS, I’d say that’s it.

MA:  I can’t disagree with you there. THE AVENGERS lacks a compelling villain, but I liked the actual Avengers so much, I didn’t really care.

LS:  Also – what is up with Loki? Sometimes he seems to have unlimited power. Other times he doesn’t use his powers at all and seems kind of lame as a bad guy. Which one is it? Is he as formidable as Thor or not? If he’s taking on an entire team, you’d think he would have to be pretty impressive, but he’s not. The same goes for the aliens. Sometimes normal people like the Black Widow and Hawkeye are able to fight the aliens off. Other times, they are able to take on Iron Man (even if he is weakened at that point). And they just didn’t seem scary enough. Their living whale battleships were pretty cool, though.

MA: But the true star of THE AVENGERS is writer/director Joss Whedon. What a few weeks it’s been for Whedon. He wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) which came out a few weeks ago, which was an excellent movie, and I have to say, THE AVENGERS is even better.

LS: Yeah, Whedon does a good job here. I could see a lot of other directors dropping the ball here, but Whedon does a great job juggling everyone throughout the movie and keeping them all—well, most of them—consistently interesting. It’s tough to direct a movie like this and turn out something as good as Whedon has here.

MA: Whedon does everything right here, and for a guy to do that with such an ambitious project like THE AVENGERS, that’s incredibly impressive. So yeah, there are so many ways this movie could have been disappointing, and Whedon avoids all of them.

The best part is he gives all these characters key scenes, and lots of them. You certainly don’t watch this movie and think there’s just too many characters involved. It’s the opposite. You’ll find yourself not getting enough of these characters.

LS: I agree there.

MA: I loved the interactions between the superheroes, and these scenes of in-fighting and bickering make for some of the best moments of the movie. When Iron Man first bickers with Thor and makes fun of the way he speaks, it’s a hoot. You have a three way fight between Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, a memorable bout between the Hulk and Thor, and the tension-filled scene with all of them at each other’s throats on board the Helicarrier. And we haven’t even gotten to the main battle to protect the world yet!

LS: I liked the in-fighting for the most part, even if I do think that Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk were in a completely different class from the rest of the characters. Captain America seemed pretty useless in comparison to the big boys, and the Black Widow seems completely out of her depth once the aliens show up. Hawkeye would to, except he has those amazing gadgets on his arrows, to keep him interesting.

Another thing about Hawkeye is, in the comics, he’s more wise-cracking and enjoyable. I thought Renner played him way too serious. And he could have worn the damn mask!

MA: You and that mask! Whedon’s screenplay also gets the humor right in this one. There are plenty of funny moments in THE AVENGERS, some are laugh out loud funny. Whedon’s dialogue is fabulous.

There are also some really impressive battle scenes here, very cinematic. The battle on and around the Helicarrier was amazing, and the climactic battle between the Avengers and the Chitauri is not to be missed.

LS: The big battle between the Avengers and the aliens is great because of the Avengers themselves. But the aliens are so generic, the team could have been fighting robots and it would have been the exact same thing. They needed a more exciting enemy.

MA: I saw THE AVENGERS in 3D, and I thought it looked excellent, though to be honest, this movie is so entertaining I bet it plays just as well in 2D. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

LS: I saw it in 3D, too. And while I thought it was fine, I eventually just forgot I was wearing the glasses, and didn’t really see why it had to be in 3D. I’m sure in 2D, it would have been just fine.

MA: THE AVENGERS runs 2 hours and 22 minutes, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It held my interest from start to finish.

LS: Me, too. I wasn’t bored at all. It is an exciting movie, despite my few complaints.

MA: THE AVENGERS is my pick for the most entertaining movie of the year so far. Yeah, I’ll admit, I’m biased because I really like the Marvel superhero movies, but as those things go, this one is one of the best. It just might be THE best. I love IRON MAN (2008), and I really enjoyed last year’s X-MEN FIRST CLASS (2011), and THE AVENGERS is every bit as enjoyable as these movies. What just might make it even better is THE AVENGERS is a bit more cinematic than those two movies. Joss Whedon includes some grand and memorable action sequences that lift this one to a higher level. Plus you’re dealing with an ensemble cast of characters that you’d be hard-pressed to match elsewhere.

LS: Yeah, THE AVENGERS is one of the best Marvel movies so far. Also, when I went to see it on Friday night, every single showing was already sold out. I had to see it at a Saturday matinee instead. So I’m sure this one is going to be a huge box-office hit. (Editor’s Note: since this review was written, THE AVENGERS went on to have the biggest movie opening weekend in box-office history, with over $200 million in the U.S. alone).

MA: Hands down, THE AVENGERS is a winner. I give it four knives.

LS: Well, it does have a lot going for it. A great cast, great heroes, and great fight scenes. But it’s not perfect. The first half of it, as S.H.I.E.L.D gathered up the heroes, did move a little slow at times. Not boring, mind you, but I found myself thinking “hurry up and assemble already!” And I still say the “big bad” left a lot to be desired (you’d think Joss Whedon, who added the phrase “big bad” to our lexicon in his BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series, would have been more conscious of the need for a worthy bad guy).

One thing, though. Like most of these movies, there’s a hidden scene or “Easter egg” once the credits start rolling. But this time, it happens pretty early on and you don’t have to sit through all of the credits. In THE AVENGERS this extra scene gives us a major teaser as to who’s going to be the enemy in THE AVENGERS 2, and he’s way more lethal than half-assed Loki. So that got me excited, knowing what they have in store for next time. I’m not saying a word about who the classic villain is, though. You have to go see the movie if you want to find out. But I will say that Jim Starlin fans (of which I’m one) will be very psyched!

MA:  But if you do stay to the very end of the credits, there is an additional scene, but it’s played strictly for laughs and it’s not as important as the prior scene you just mentioned. Still, it cracked up those of us still sitting in the theater.

LS:  I liked this movie a lot, but I just didn’t think it was as perfect as you did. I give it three and a half knives. As in, it’s great and people should go see it, but it could have been even better!

MA: Well, there you have it. Shouldn’t we be returning the Helicarrier now, before Nick Fury notices it’s gone?

LS: I guess so.

MA: So what are you going to tell him when he asks about the giant scrape on the side of the Helicarrier?

LS: I’ll blame it on aliens.

MA:  Good idea!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE AVENGERS ~ four knives!

LL Soares gives THE AVENGERS~three and a half knives.