Archive for Iron Man

Quick Cuts Plays “WHAT’S MORE LIKELY?”

Posted in 2013, Based on Comic Book, Comic Book Movies, DC Comics, Quick Cuts, Sam Raimi, Twilight, Vampires, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS: WHAT’S MORE LIKELY?
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Jenny Orosel

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  Tonight we’ll be playing a little game.

IRON MAN 3 opened in theaters last Friday, May 3rd.  The Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a nice run going back to X-MEN (2000) and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, SPIDER-MAN (2002).  Here we are in 2013 and they’re still going strong.

So, tonight we’re going to play a little game called “What’s More Likely?”

Our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters includes, in addition to L.L. Soares and myself, Nick Cato, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Jenny Orosel.  Thank you all for coming.

So, tonight’s game, “What’s More Likely?” works like this.  Looking ahead to the next ten years and answer the following questions. 

First question:  What’s more likely? That there will be more Marvel movies in the next ten years, or more zombie movies?

 Spider-Man-2-Movie

NICK CATO:  I think there will always be both, but superhero films seem to be more lucrative.

ARRUDA:  So, more Marvel movies then?

CATO:  Yes.

JENNY OROSEL:  Seeing as they’re now owned by Disney, we’re going to see more Marvel movies than ever.  I fully expect they’ll do two direct-to-video sequels or prequels for every one they have in the theater.

ARRUDA:  I hope not.  There’s nothing like a direct-to-video release to kill off a movie series.  Ugh!

dawn_of_the_dead(2004) L.L. SOARES:  Oh, what do you know!

Turning to the zombie genre for a moment, hopefully, oversaturation will result in a dwindling of zombie movies.

Marvel, however, has a nice variety of characters they can draw from (including many who have never been in a movie before), and should go strong for many years.

ARRUDA:  I agree.

PAUL MCMAHON:  With the success of THE AVENGERS (2012), there will definitely be more Marvel movies. I won’t be sure about zombie movies until we see how much money WORLD WAR Z (2013) makes. With all the buzz about production problems, it could either bring about a reanimation of the zombie sub-genre or put a bullet through its head.

SOARES:  I’m sick of zombies.  I wouldn’t mind putting a bullet through the head of the genre.

DANIEL KEOHANE: I’m going with Marvel movies, without a doubt.

Zombie movies are popular right now, but the superhero movies have a much wider reach and end up making more money, overall. And there are so many characters and teams to choose from, whereas zombies pretty much lumber along the same way each time.

ARRUDA:  I’m going with Marvel movies as well.

Okay, on to our second question: 

What’s more likely? That we’ll still be seeing Marvel movies in ten years, or that we’ll still be seeing movies based on books by Stephenie Meyer?

the-avengers-1235-wallmages

Dan, why don’t you start us off this time?

KEOHANE:  Marvel movies.

(The panel cheers.)

KEOHANE:  Thank you, thank you.

SOARES:  We’re not cheering you.  We’re cheering your pick.

KEOHANE:  Don’t ruin my moment.

Where was I?  Marvel movies.  Because as good a writer for her age group as Stephenie Meyer is, she can only crank out so much content.  Marvel not only has a slew of new comics coming out every month, they have half a century of classic stories already in the can ready to become movie-ized. Even the Avengers movie was loosely based on one of the first Avengers comics (I think). Not to mention DC’s Superman movies. They’ll keep making the same origin story over and over ad infinitum.

Twilight_poster_4

SOARES:  What are you bringing up DC comics for?  This question is about Marvel movies!  Pay attention, Dan!

ARRUDA:  But he makes a good point.  Not only does Marvel have more stories to choose from, but they can remake their own origin stories. Heck, they just did it with their latest SPIDER-MAN movie.

Let’s move on.  I don’t want to give Meyer any ideas.  The last thing I want is a TWILIGHT remake!

SOARES:  I predict that Stephenie Meyer will find a way to continue the Twilight series.

ARRUDA:  No!

SOARES:  You just don’t put a cash cow like that out to pasture.

However, the future for Meyer-related projects is iffy – especially if something new grabs the public’s interest. Meanwhile, I think Marvel movies will be going strong in 10 years.

CATO:  Ten years from now?  Hopefully Meyer will be retired by then.

ARRUDA:  I’m with you.  I hope she’s retired.  I’ll be happy if I never have to see another movie based on a Stephenie Meyer book ever again.

KEOHANE:  I think Meyer is a very talented writer, and you’re not giving her enough credit.

ARRUDA:  Maybe so, but the TWILIGHT movies were awful, and they killed any interest I might have had in seeing THE HOST (2013).

SOARES:  I think you secretly like the TWILIGHT movies.  You talk about them so much.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, right!

MCMAHON:  Marvel movies, no question. They have new ideas and maybe some new-to-the-screen heroes as well.

And sorry, Michael, but it’s entirely possible, though, that in ten years they’ll be remaking the TWILIGHT movies. We can hope not.

ARRUDA:  That’s a horrible thought, though I agree with you.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s bound to happen.  If film history has taught us anything, it’s that remakes are always with us.

What about you, Jenny?  In ten years, Marvel movies or Stephenie Meyer movies?

OROSEL:  Ooh, that’s a tough one, since I fully expect Disney to eventually buy Stephenie Meyer, and turn Bella into a Disney Princess. 

ARRUDA:  This panel is getting more painful by the minute.

OROSEL:  I call it a tie.

ARRUDA:  Okay, it’s time for the third and final question of the night.

What’s more likely? Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark/Iron Man again, or Christian Bale plays Batman again?

Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3, and still going strong.

Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3, and still going strong.

MCMAHON:  Downey is already going to play Tony Stark in THE AVENGERS 2. There will probably be an IRON MAN 4. I can’t see him ditching that cash cow while the iron is hot. Ahem.

(Someone in the audience groans.)

MCMAHON:  I don’t think Christopher Nolan intends to do another Batman movie, and I can’t see Christian Bale playing that character under another director

ARRUDA:  Good point.  And I agree with you.

I say Robert Downey Jr. plays Iron Man again.  Between THE AVENGERS movies and the IRON MAN series, you’d think that he’d at least be back one more time as Iron Man if not more.

From what I’ve read, Bale is done as Batman.  You never know about these things, but I don’t expect him to play Batman again.

 

Christian Bale is Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Christian Bale is Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

OROSEL:  It’s going to be hard for Bale to keep it going as Batman as he ages, while even if Downey looks ragged and worn, it fits the Stark character.  Unless he ends up in rehab again.  Then all bets are off.

KEOHANE:  Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man without a doubt. This is just a guess–.

SOARES:  Really, Dan, it’s a guess?  You mean you don’t know? 

KEOHANE:  Sorry.  I left my crystal ball at home.

So, this is just a guess, but Downey seems to be enjoying himself immensely up there on the screen, whereas Christian Bale puts so much angst into his characters, his doctors will probably have him committed if he even thinks about doing another one of those.

CATO:  It may be too early to tell, but hopefully Downey will continue to play Stark…he’s perfect in the role, whereas we have yet to find a Batman everyone seems to agree on.

SOARES:  That’s for sure.  It’s all about the mask anyway.  Anyone can play Batman.

Both Downey and Bale probably want to focus on more artistic movies. That said, I think Batman is replaceable, as we’ve seen several people play him over the years, while Downey remains the definitive Tony Stark. I think it’s more likely Downey will be convinced to play Stark again.

ARRUDA:  Okay, there you have it.  It seems the general consensus is that Marvel movies will be around for a while.

That’s all the time we have for tonight.  Thanks for joining us everybody, and we’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Jenny Orosel

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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!

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.

Friday Night Knife Fights Presents: MARVEL VS. DC – THE MOVIE EDITION

Posted in 2011, DC Comics, Friday Night Knife Fights, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS
DC vs. MARVEL: THE MOVIE EDITION (Part 1 of 2)
With Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome to another edition of Friday Night Knife Fights. We have a terrific bout in store for you tonight, as it’s DC vs. MARVEL: THE MOVIE EDITION. I’m joined tonight, as always, by L.L. Soares. L.L, you ready?

(L.L. SOARES, wearing boxing gloves, delivers a right hook to MA’s chin, knocking him off his feet.)

LS: Yep.

MA (getting back on his feet and dusting himself off): Nice punch. Anyway, it’s DC and Marvel that will be battling, not us.

LS: Too bad.

MA: With the explosion of superhero movies that have burst onto the scene in recent years, it’s time to decide which comic company is faring better on film, DC or Marvel? This debate will concentrate solely on the movies based on DC and Marvel comics, rather than the comics themselves. That’s a debate for a different day.

So, let’s get this rumble rolling. What’s the best movie version of a DC comic? You can choose more than one favorite if you’d like.

LS: Best DC Movie? Probably the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, BATMAN BEGINS (2005) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). They’re not perfect, but they have a level of intelligence and moodiness to them that really work. I also really liked 1980’s SUPERMAN II, for reasons I’ll discuss later in this installment.

I really liked WATCHMEN (2009), based on the DC miniseries by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, too. I’m a big Alan Moore fan, and the movie pales next to its source material, but strictly as a movie, it was actually really good. I also liked the adaptation of another Alan Moore series, V FOR VENDETTA (2006).

MA: I agree with your choices, except for V FOR VENDETTA, which I wasn’t crazy about.

LS: Well whoop-de-doo.

MA: For me, THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) is by far the best movie version of a DC comic. But I also like BATMAN BEGINS (2005), BATMAN (1989), BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN (1966), SUPERMAN II (1980), SUPERMAN (1978), and WATCHMEN (2009).

LS: I’m not a big Superman fan, but I am a big fan of SUPERMAN II (1980), mainly for the performance of Terrence Stamp as General Zod. The one thing I always thought was baffling about the Superman movies is that Lex Luthor is the villain in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE. Even the latest one had Kevin Spacey playing the role instead of good ol’ Gene Hackman, but once again, the bad guy was Lex.

MA: I’ve never understood this either.

LS: Superman has all kinds of other villains they could use. But in SUPERMAN II, while Lex is in it, the real baddies are the three criminals from the “Phantom Zone,” who come to earth to fight Superman. And General Zod is the best of the three. Stamp is just terrific in the role, and his quote “Kneel Before Zod!” is actually a cool catch-phrase.

MA: I agree. I like Stamp as General Zod, too, and SUPERMAN II is also my favorite Christopher Reeve Superman film, and a big reason it’s my favorite are the villains.

There are a lot of Batman movies on my list, but interestingly enough, neither Christian Bale (Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT and BATMAN BEGINS) nor Michael Keaton (Batman in BATMAN [1989] and BATMAN RETURNS) impressed me all that much as Batman. Adam West did his campy thing in the 1966 version, and strangely enough, even though West’s performance, as it was in the 1960s TV series, is high camp, I’d have to say he remains my favorite Batman. Keaton’s overshadowed by Jack Nicholson’s Joker in his first movie, and then by Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in his second, while Bale is simply serviceable in the role of the caped crusader. Of course, THE DARK KNIGHT is owned by Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, though the film is so good there’s much more to like than just Ledger.

LS: I think that in the movies, almost anyone can play Batman. Once he dons that costume, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is kind of one-dimensional. That’s why I don’t think any actors have really stood out as Batman so far. The costume is more iconic and effective than the person inside it, if that makes sense. I don’t even think Bruce Wayne is all that interesting either. The Batman movies seem much more interesting for the villains than the hero. Batman always had great bad guys. At least the movies have exploited his “rogues gallery” more than the Superman movies have.

MA: And while Christopher Reeve was constantly knocked for his lack of acting ability way back when, before his personal tragedy which eventually claimed his life, I have to say that as the years have passed, looking back, Reeve is the definitive Superman, though I really do enjoy George Reeves’ TV Superman from the 1950s as well, but I think Christopher Reeve’s comic timing as Clarke Kent lifts him above his TV counterpart.

Reeve’s performance as the Man of Steel in both those Superman movies is a large reason why I like them so much.

LS: Oh, I always liked Reeve. Maybe he wasn’t the best actor in the first one, but even then he’s not that bad, and as the series went on, he really became the best Superman. The funny thing is, I thought Brandon Roush was really good as Superman in the SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and was a good choice to take over the role, and yet, because the movie was considered a disappointment at the box-office, he won’t get another shot at playing the character.

MA: I didn’t really like SUPERMAN RETURNS, but it wasn’t Roush’s fault. You’re right. He made an excellent Superman. One of the reasons I didn’t like it was because Lex Luthor was the villain again!

LS: There’s something else that’s interesting about Batman and Superman in the movies. On the surface, Superman is a story about outer space and Batman is a story about inner space. What do I mean by that? Well, Superman is from another planet, so he is literally from outer space. And he seems more “external” for lack of a better word. His dominant power is probably his super strength – and he’s constantly using it to perform amazing feats. Batman epitomizes “inner space” – the workings of the mind. His origin is steeped in psychology. Bruce Wayne often invents new weapons and outsmarts bad guys using his brain. Most of his villains are clinically insane. Everything about him points toward the brain. And yet, in the movies, Superman – the alien – seems more relatable and human, while Batman is more distant and untouchable.

MA: I would agree with that assessment, but we’re supposed to be debating Marvel vs. DC, not Batman vs. Superman.

LS: Sorry about that. It was just something that came to mind when comparing the movies.

MA: Moving on to Marvel, what’s the best movie version(s) of a MARVEL comic?

I’ll go first this time.

I would go with IRON MAN (2008) as the best Marvel version. I thought Robert Downey Jr. carried that movie on his back with a first rate performance, and having Jeff Bridges in the role of the villain didn’t hurt! IRON MAN was a well-made movie that satisfied from start to finish. It was a film with a definite edge and attitude. It’s also a lot of fun.

Other Marvel notables include: SPIDER-MAN (2002), SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)

I also liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) a lot.

LS: My picks for the Best Marvel Movie include the first two X-MEN movies (2000 and 2003), which are very good, as is the first IRON MAN.

I’m not a big Spider-Man fan. The character is even more whiny and angst-ridden in the movies than he was in the comics! But I do think the second SPIDER-MAN movie (2004) is the best of that bunch, and that’s totally because of Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus!

But my favorite Marvel movie  is PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008).

MA: Yeah, I liked PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, but I wouldn’t list it as my favorite.

LS: I just think it’s so over-the-top, so violent, that I don’t think Marvel will ever let one their characters get that “out of control” again on film. I like the pure chaos of it.

Since the first X-MEN film, Marvel movies have maintained a certain level of quality which is much different from decades ago, when Marvel-related movies were mostly low-budget and cheesy.

MA: Yes, I remember those days, when we only saw Marvel in low-budget TV movies. I guess there was the INCREDIBLE HULK TV show (1978-82), but I never liked it very much.

Okay, let’s switch to the worst movies. What’s your pick for the worst DC movie?

LS: It’s easy! It’s a tie between BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) and BATMAN FOREVER (1995), the two Joel Schumacher Batman movies. I think he was trying to go for the campy feel of the Adam West 60s TV show, but they completely miss the mark, and are abysmally bad.

MA: You got that right. They’re awful. But I actually don’t hate BATMAN AND ROBIN as much as I do BATMAN FOREVER, mostly because in BATMAN FOREVER I didn’t enjoy either Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face or Jim Carrey as the Riddler, while in BATMAN AND ROBIN I actually didn’t mind Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.

My picks for the worst DC movies are BATMAN FOREVER (1995), SUPERMAN III (1983), SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987), and SUPERGIRL (1984). My least favorite is a tie between BATMAN FOREVER & SUPERMAN III. At least Supergirl was cute!

Okay, now we’re moving on to the worst MARVEL movies, and I’ll answer my own question.

I’ve got two, DAREDEVIL (2003) and HULK (2003). Both of these movies were dreadful.

LS: The third SPIDER-MAN movie (2007) is beyond bad, and it’s a complete waste of Venom, who easily could have been spun off into his own movie if done right – he’s a great character. But the movie just squandered him. The film versions of DAREDEVIL and ELEKTRA (2005) are also incredibly bad, to the point of being difficult to watch.

MA: Yeah, I forgot to include SPIDER-MAN 3 on my list, although I liked it better than DAREDEVIL and HULK.

LS: I might be one of the few people on the planet who actually liked the first HULK movie. I’m such a huge fan of the character, that I found various aspects of the movie to be very interesting, and I liked Eric Bana as Bruce Banner a lot. I just think director Ang Lee over-thought the whole thing and tried to make too much of a meaningful “art film” (for lack of a better phrase) out of something that wasn’t as lofty as Lee’s intentions. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and trying to do something that blows us away, but Ang Lee’s HULK movie fails in the long run. But I liked Bana, I like the way the Hulk looked in the movie and how he fought the military (and those goofy giant dogs).

While the second HULK movie was more satisfying in some ways, because it was more in tune with the comics (he fights a villain from the comics, The Abomination – even if they changed him almost beyond recognition–and things were primed for the coming of another villain, The Leader), it also seemed more by-the-numbers. It was more the kind of movie that comics fans would expect. Ang Lee tried too hard, and the second Hulk movie was too safe, although I did like Edward Norton as Banner. The best HULK movie lies somewhere between the two – something more ambitious than the second one, but not as dense and sometimes impenetrable as the first one.

MA: All right, then.

That about wraps things up for Part 1. Be sure to join us next Friday for Part 2 when L.L. and I will decide, who has fared best in the movies, DC or MARVEL? The second part should be quite the knock-out.

LS: I’ll say. (Punches MA in the face again, once more knocking him to the ground.) Gotta love it. This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. We’ll see you next week for Part 2.

(MA gets back up, and he’s now dressed like a boxer. His face bloodied and bruised, he staggers aimlessly in background.)

MA (doing his best Stallone voice.): Adrian! Adrian!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

QUICK CUTS – Favorite Superhero Movies

Posted in 2011, Quick Cuts, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  Favorite Superhero Movies
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Daniel Keohane

With the release of THOR, the latest Marvel superhero movie, we asked ourselves: What’s our favorite superhero movies? 

Here are our answers:

Daniel Keohane:

I thought the first SPIDER-MAN (2002) and the second X-MEN (2003) movies were two of the best. Personally, I also thought DAREDEVIL (2003) kicked butt.

Michael Arruda:

       My top 3 are:

       1.      THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

       2.      IRON MAN (2008)

       3.      KICK-ASS (2010)

L.L. Soares:

What’s your favorite superhero movie (s)?

It’s hard to choose just one, but these are three of the best:

a)      SIN CITY (2005) – not really superheroes, but based on the comic book series by Frank Miller. Definitely the most stylish comic book movie so far.

b)      WATCHMEN (2009) – compared to the comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, there’s no way it couldn’t be a letdown. Compared to other comic book movies, it’s pretty great, especially the scenes with Rorscach.

c)      PUNISHER WAR ZONE (2008) – It took three Punisher movies to finally get it right. This one is great because it’s violent as hell, and earns it’s hard R rating. It’s maybe the only time Marvel Comics decided to take a risk, cut loose, and do something that wasn’t safe and mainstream. And I bet you this never happens again. Ray Stevenson is pretty much perfect as Frank Castle and Dominic West turns in a pretty crazy performance as his nemesis, Jigsaw. And the ending is an entertaining bloodbath. This is probably by favorite of the three.