Archive for marvel comics

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

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(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?

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(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…

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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!

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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: MARVEL VS. DC: THE MOVIE EDITION (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Comic Book Movies, DC Comics, Friday Night Knife Fights, Marvel Comics, Mutants!, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2011 by knifefighter

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

 

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back to FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  Tonight it’s Part 2 of our bout between DC and Marvel.

L.L. SOARES:  That’s right, it’s DC vs. MARVEL: THE MOVIE EDITION, where we decide which comic company has fared better on the big screen.

MA:  And now, since we answered all the introductory questions in Part 1, without any further hesitation, it’s time for the moment of truth.  Who has fared best in the movies, DC or MARVEL?

LS:  DC movies have always had the bigger budgets and the higher profiles. The Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies were blockbusters, as were the Tim Burton BATMAN movies. I’ve always wished that more DC characters were given a shot at the movies, especially Wonder Woman, but over the years the main thrust has always been Batman and Superman. A lot of people must think those are the only two characters DC has.

MA (laughing):  You mean there are more?

LS:  So it was a pleasant surprise to see a GREEN LANTERN movie come out – even if it was a letdown.


Marvel has had a much more checkered history with movies. A lot of people’s first exposure to Marvel heroes was through clunky cartoons in the 60s (little more than comic book panels moving slightly), then on to better SPIDER-MAN and FANTASTIC FOUR cartoons (which were still rather primitive compared to a Saturday morning staple everyone watched as kids back then, like SUPER FRIENDS (1973-1986).

MA:  I remember liking those old SPIDER-MAN and FANTASTIC FOUR cartoons.  I never liked the SUPER FRIENDS though.

LS:  You didn’t like the SUPER FRIENDS?  How un-American of you!

MA:  I don’t know. They were all too— friendly.

LS:  Even much earlier on, DC had the majestic SUPERMAN cartoons that Fleischer Studios did in the 1940s.

MA:  I love the Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons!

LS:  Yeah, they had some beautiful animation.

(And, for other early representations, I won’t even go into the early movie serials from the 40s and 50s that featured DC’s Superman and Batman. And yes, even Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA, before there was a Marvel!)

Marvel also had a few live-action television shows in the 70s, the most well-known being THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978-1982) with Bill Bixby and SPIDER-MAN (1977-1979) with Nicholas Hammond. The Hulk show was pretty much a remix of the David Janssen 1950s show THE FUGITIVE with a big green guy who popped up when David Banner (they even changed the character’s name from the alliterative “Bruce Banner”!) got mad.

There were also some Marvel-related movies in the 70s and 80s, like the goofy CAPTAIN AMERICA TV movies with Reb Brown: CAPTAIN AMERICA (1979) and CAPTAIN AMERICA II:  DEATH TOO SOON (1979), (and don’t forget Matt Salinger in yet another movie—in 1990—called CAPTAIN AMERICA!) and Dolph Lungren’s lame attempt to play THE PUNISHER (1989). But almost everything Marvel did up to this point was low-budget, as opposed to the big, flashy movies based on DC characters.

The first three X-MEN movies (and Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN movies) were a departure from that. They had bigger budgets and were much more high-profile projects. The fact that they were also big hits meant that Marvel was ready to join the big leagues. Suddenly, Marvel characters started to get the same respect as DC’s biggest characters.  The success of IRON MAN, a lesser known hero (to the mainstream – he’s been around in comics since the early 60s), was another big boost. Right now, I’d say the two companies have about equal clout in Hollywood, which is a big change from the 1980s.

MA:  I give the edge to Marvel.

While my favorite superhero movie of all time is THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), a DC comic movie, I’m still going with MARVEL as the one that’s faring better, and that’s because their recent run, beginning with X-MEN in 2000 and SPIDER-MAN in 2002, has been nothing short of incredible.  Even the films I haven’t loved, I’ve enjoyed.

Look at this list of movies:  X-MEN (2000), SPIDER-MAN (2002), X-2 (2003), SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), FANTASTIC FOUR (2005), X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007), IRON MAN (2008), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009), IRON MAN 2 (2010), THOR (2011), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and this list doesn’t include the BLADE movies or the PUNISHER movies.

The folks churning out the Marvel Comics movies have been on an incredible run, and it’s not over yet.  The march continues towards the AVENGERS movie in 2012, and who knows where it will go from there.

And the key to these movies is quality.  These films are all high quality movies.  They look good, they have talented directors at the helm, they have strong acting, and my favorite part— the writing in these films as a whole is pretty decent.

This Marvel run reminds me a lot of what Hammer Films did with vampire movies in the late 1960s/early 70s, when they were churning out vampire films left and right, and most of them were pretty darned good!

The difference is these Marvel folks are operating with a bigger budget than Hammer ever had, so they’re able to pour a heck of a lot of money into these superhero movies, and it shows.  Of course, big budgets alone do not good movies make, so the Marvel people deserve a lot of credit for the quality of these movies.  Sure, the money helps, but without the talent of everyone involved, these movies wouldn’t be as good.

One day people will look back and marvel (heh heh) at this Marvel run.  It’s truly something special.

Ls: You’re right – as far as sheer volume – Marvel’s run has been pretty amazing. Unlike DC, who seem to focus on two or three characters on film, Marvel has been ”spreading the love,” getting as many of their heroes onscreen as possible. And that means more variety and more chances that you’ll find a hero you like.

It’s like Marvel is making up for lost time. For so long, they haven’t had the chance to get their characters into movies – or if so, they were low-budget flicks. Now that they had some big successes, it has opened the door for lots of blockbusters. And you’re right about the high quality. Marvel is very conscious of its brand name and its characters are perceived, and is very protective about what they’re putting out lately (especially now that there is a company called “Marvel Studios”).

That said, Superman and Batman remain the two most famous superheroes of all time and they are well-known throughout the world. But Marvel shows no intention of slowing down and are trying to make their characters as iconic and universal as DC’s.

MA: DC’s recent run hasn’t come close to Marvel’s.  Their recent run began with BATMAN BEGINS (2005), and was followed by SUPERMAN RETURNS (2005) which I didn’t like all that much, and continued with THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), WATCHMEN (2009), JONAH HEX (2010), and GREEN LANTERN (2011).  Not bad, but it doesn’t measure up to the quantity and quality of the Marvel movies.

And the earlier DC movies, BATMAN (1989), BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN FOREVER (1995), and BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997), and SUPERMAN (1978), SUPERMAN II (1980), SUPERMAN III (1983), and SUPERMAN IV (1987) were a mixed bag.  I strongly liked the first two movies in both the Batman and Superman series, and strongly disliked the last two movies in each of the original eries.  Of course, you can go back to the Adam West/Burt Ward movie BATMAN (1966) which is still a hoot today and remains one of my favorite movies.

LS: Great TV show too!

MA: Awesome TV show!

LS: I didn’t mind the old  ADVENTURES of SUPERMAN (1952 – 1958) TV show, starring George Reeves, either. It was goofy in its own way, too. But not half as much fun as the Adam West BATMAN show.

All in all, it’s a pretty close race, because the best of the DC movies match up pretty well with the best of the MARVEL movies, but I give a slight edge to MARVEL, because the quality and quantity of their movies since 2000 has been consistently impressive.

So, in conclusion, you called it a draw between the two, and I gave Marvel a slight edge, and so by the thinnest of margins, Marvel Movies win out over DC movies.

LS: On second, thought, I think you make a good argument for the sheer volume of quality Marvel movies. I think they’ve pulled out ahead as well. So it’s not that narrow a margin.

MA: There you have it. Marvel wins this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS!

That about wraps things up for us here.  Good night, everybody!

—END—

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

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

X-MEN : WHO WAS THE “REAL” FIRST CLASS?

Posted in 2011, Comic Book Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Mutants!, Special Columns, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2011 by knifefighter

X-MEN MUTANTS SCORE CARD
A Refresher Course in Marvel Mutants by L.L. Soares

The X-MEN movies have so jumbled up the players that movie-goers have no idea who came first in the “real” Marvel Universe. In their rush to get as many characters to the screen as quickly as possible, we’ve seen some old-timers appear in the mythology later than newbies, and it’s no surprise that it’s become a little difficult to keep track of who’s who.

So, for the sake of restoring some balance, here’s who the originals were and who came later on, before the mutant universe got so big, it got out of control.

In X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), we are introduced to Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), when they are young and first becoming aware of their mutant abilities. They join together and start gathering other mutants to help battle bad guy Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club. In the movies, the characters that they gather up include: The Beast, Banshee, Mystique, Havok, Darwin and a stripper named Angel. Were these really the First Class? No. The original X-Men, as they appeared back in UNCANNY X-MEN # 1 in September 1963, were:

The "real" X-Men First Class take on their first foe, Magneto, way back in X-MEN #1 © Copyright 1963 Marvel Comics


The Angel – Warren Worthington III, a young, rich guy with giant feathery wings. He kept them harnessed under his jacket when he was trying to pass as “normal.” Why this didn’t make him look like a hunchback is beyond me. We actually saw him in the first X-MEN movie trilogy, in modern day.

The Beast – Hank McCoy actually was an original member. And he was just a burly guy with funny feet in the beginning. And a scientific genius. But it wasn’t just his feet. He was incredibly nimble and acrobatic as a whole, and he must have had some kind of amplified strength, because he was able to handle himself well enough when fighting the bad guys. It wasn’t until the 70s that McCoy, experimenting on himself much like he did in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, mutated himself further into the furry blue guy that comic book readers nowadays know so well. And while McCoy could seem awkward in his “normal” guise, he was witty, liberated and fun when he got to jump into a fight. So no, he wasn’t as uptight as he is in the movies. As you can see, this is one of the few characters whose origin is actually close to the comics. That is rare!

Iceman – Bobby Drake was another character we met earlier in the first  X-MEN movie trilogy. He was the youngest member of the original team in the comics. In his first appearance, he looked more like “Snowman,” but as he gained more and more control over his powers, he was able to turn that snow into finely-chiseled ice.

Marvel Girl – This was the first “code name” Jean Grey had. She was a powerful telepath. But, since this was the 1960s, and she was a woman, she didn’t have a lot to do. And she had the condescending “Girl” in her name. Of course, this all changed later on when her hidden potential was unleashed as Phoenix, and then, Dark Phoenix, where Chris Claremont and John Byrne (in the comics) took the weakest of the original X-Men (well, the assumed weakest) and turned her into one of the most powerful characters in the entire Marvel Universe! Bravo!

Cyclops –Scott Summers led the first team. He was there from the beginning as Prof. X’s first pupil. You know him. He shoots powerful beams out of his eyes. He’s a main character in the first movie trilogy, but he’s absent from FIRST CLASS. However, his brother Alex is in the movie. Alex didn’t appear until the late 60s as Havok (in the comics), a guy who shoots energy beams out of his chest. Soon after he was joined by a green-haired beauty named Polaris, during a brief stint when Marvel tried to renew interest in the comic by infusing it with cutting-edge artists of the time, like Neal Adams and Jim Steranko.

Underused Jean Grey was finally given a chance to shine in "The Dark Phoenix Saga" of the 1980s. © Copyright Marvel Comics

By the mid-70s, the original X-Men didn’t have the endurance to keep readers happy, unfortunately, and sales were low. The comic didn’t even have original stories anymore – it was just reprints of older issues – and it hovered close to cancelation. Then writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum had the brilliant idea of rebooting the X-Men franchise (starting in 1975’s GIANT SIZE X-MEN # 1), with mostly new characters. The rest is history.

The "new" X-Men began in 1975. The original line-up was (from left to right) Storm, Colossus (the tall guy with the flat head), Wolverine (smoking the cigar), Cyclops, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire and Nightcrawler (the blue guy with the tail) . © Copyright Marvel Comics


The “New” X-MEN consisted of:

Cyclops (and soon afterwards, Jean Grey)  from the original team.

Storm – born in Africa, she controls weather and is pretty formidable.

Colossus – Russian-born lad who can turn his skin into invulnerable metal.

Nightcrawler – The German X-Man. He looks like a demon, is as nimble as The Beast, and can teleport with a burst of brimstone

Sunfire – a fire-based mutant from Japan, who had previously been a villain in IRON MAN comics (he was a bit of a hot-head, pun intended, and left soon after)

Thunderbird – A Native American hero, who died early on, sacrificing himself in a battle with villains to save the rest of the team.

Banshee – A former X-MEN villain from the early days, who decided to follow the straight and narrow under Prof. X. He’s from Ireland and he has a brogue (which is conspicuously absent in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS). He also has a voice that can destroy buildings and makes him able to fly in some odd way.

Wolverine – When he appeared as an X-Man, it wasn’t his first time in Marvel Comics. A little earlier he’d appeared in THE INCREDIBLE HULK comics, as a Canadian superhero sent to stop the Hulk when he invades Canada, while fighting his bestial foe The Wendigo. But becoming an X-Man was the best thing that ever happened to him. With his intensity, adamantium claws and “beserker rages” he quickly became the most interesting character in the new team, and, once fellow Canadian John Byrne stepped in as artist and co-writer, he became something of a superstar. Which means he suddenly became a lot more user-friendly to appeal to the mainstream (does he even have “beserker rages” anymore, where he loses control of himself? Not in the movies, certainly!).

As you can see, the “new” X-Men were like a United Nations of superheroes. Talk about diversity! And everyone had their own accents and ways of speaking in the comics – that was portrayed quite well in the dialogue. Unfortunately a lot of this character development was jettisoned in the movies.

After their introduction in GIANT SIZE X-MEN # 1, the new team became the focus of all new stories, starting with #94 of the regular UNCANNY X-MEN comic book. Chris Claremont took over the writing, and Dave Cockrum was eventually replaced by a young Canadian artist named John Byrne, who also helped write the stories. Claremont and Byrne’s run on X-MEN is legendary.

And what about Magneto? He actually was the first X-Men villain, appearing way back in X-MEN # 1. In subsequent appearances, he had other mutant allies, like in the movies. And just like the X-Men, they’ve had jumbled timelines in the jump from comics to film. So just who made up the first “Brotherhood of Mutants,” as Magneto’s anti-X-men were originally called?

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch – a brother and sister duo who were also mutants, Quicksilver could run incredibly fast (Marvel’s answer to The Flash) and the Scarlet Witch had magic-like powers that were based in genetic mutation (don’t ask me how that makes sense). They both eventually became heroes and were long-time members of THE AVENGERS.

The Toad – kind of the jester of the group, he was a cringing underling who could jump around like a frog and who was always being bossed around by Magneto.

Mastermind – the master of telepathic illusions, Mastermind could make you see whatever he wanted you to, but he was never given a lot to do until he was central to the Dark Phoenix storyline more than 20 years later – where it was his mental probing that unleashed the powerful Phoenix from the mind of Jean Grey.

So you can see, the movies and the comics are very different when it comes to team rosters. After the “new” X-Men took off in the 70s and 80s, the franchise split off into multiple other comics and offshoot teams, and the X-characters number in the hundreds by now. But this is “the way it began” in the comics.

-END-

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Mutants!, Prequels, Sequels, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A strip club. A voluptuous stripper leads young 20-somethings, MICHAEL ARRUDA [with lots of wavy dark brown hair] and L.L. SOARES [also with a full head of hair and thin], to a private room.)

STRIPPER: You realize with two of you together I charge double.

MA: We’re not interested in that kind of thing tonight.

STRIPPER: You’re not?

LS: No, we’re interested in something else, sort of a “you show us yours, and we’ll show you ours” kind of thing. (Looks at screen) Do I really have to spout this silly dialogue?

MA: Only because it’s a reference to a scene in the movie we’re reviewing today.  Now, shhhh, stay in character.

STRIPPER: “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine?” Isn’t that what I’m talking about?

MA: No. See, we know about your “special” ability. We know that this isn’t what you want to do with the rest of your life.

LS: You’re not alone. There are others like you, like us. So, can we see it?

STRIPPER: I’m so happy, I don’t know what to say. I’ve been waiting so long to show this to somebody. (pulls out a movie review and hands it over to MA and LS. They look it over)

MA: Thanks. This is very good. See, we’re putting together a team, a team of Cinema Knife Fighters. Armed to the teeth and ready to take on bad movies. We’d like you to join us. You don’t have to write alone anymore.

LS: Well, technically, you still have to write alone, you just get to be part of the Cinema Knife Fight family. It’s kind of like the Superman Family, except we don’t have Krypto the Superdog!

MA: Speaking of which, we have to get to work. (MA and LS morph into their present-day forms and find themselves now sitting inside a secret government bunker.) That was fun. I just love special effects.

LS: I preferred our previous location. What the hell are we doing here?

MA: We’re here to review the new movie, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and we’re here inside this bunker for two reasons. One, it’s one of the places where the young X-Men mutants congregate in the movie, and two, neither one of us would get very far with this review if we were still back at that strip club.

LS: Damn! I preferred that scene better!

MA: Well, let’s get this review started, and then after we’re done, you’re free to go back there if you want.

LS: Let’s get to it then!

MA: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS tells the story of how mutant leaders Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) first got together, and, of course, the edge to this story comes from the fact that we all know that they will eventually become Professor X and Magneto, Xavier’s future archenemy.

The story opens in 1944 Poland where we see a young Eric tormented by evil Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who shoots Eric’s mother dead in front of the boy’s eyes just to get the child to use his mutant powers. This scene is significant because it shows right off the bat the driving force behind Eric’s mistrust of humans.

LS: An opening scene that takes place during the Holocaust? That’s a bit intense for an otherwise action-packed superhero movie, isn’t it? But it’s handled well, considering.

MA: I liked it.  The action then switches to 1962 where a young Charles Xavier has just graduated from college and is quickly recruited by a government agent Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) who wants to learn more about the next step in human evolution, mutants. MacTaggart wants to learn more because she’s seen mutants with her own eyes. Xavier agrees to help her.

Meanwhile, a now-adult Erik is hell-bent on tracking down and killing Sebastian Shaw, who’s now a major player in world events, as Shaw has used his mutant powers to keep himself young. Shaw also has the ability to absorb all sorts of energy and to expel it whenever and wherever he chooses, making him a powerful foe. Shaw’s plan is to trick the United States and the Soviet Union into annihilating each other, which would then leave the mutants to run the world. Hence, Shaw is the one pulling the strings which will lead to the real life Cuban Missile Crisis.

LS: I wonder about the logic of Shaw’s plan. Sure, they’d get rid of the humans if they triggered a nuclear war, but what really would be left for them to “run the world” with. Buildings would be rubble. Most of the earth’s population would be gone. Sounds like a pretty crappy scenario to me.

MA:  I’m glad you mentioned this, because you’re dead on.  It is a stupid plan, and it’s hardly original. We’ve seen this plot countless times before, especially in the old James Bond films, where the super villain tries to get the world powers to destroy each other.  This didn’t bother me too much though, because the rest of the movie was so good.

LS: Funny you should mention Bond movies. I thought Shaw reminded me of a Bond villain in this one. Which isn’t an entirely bad thing.

MA: Xavier’s and MacTaggart’s investigation also leads them to Shaw, and it is here where they first meet Erik, who is trying to get his revenge. When Shaw eludes them, Xavier invites Erik to join his team. They recruit other mutants to join them and form a sort of mutant division of the CIA, though Erik is never really on the same page as Xavier, as he is led by his drive to find and kill Shaw.

They eventually track down Shaw, right in the middle of the Cuban Missile crisis, and it is here where the film’s climactic battle is fought. Since this is the beginning of the X-Men story, the conclusion is never in doubt, as we know what is going to happen between Xavier and Erik. Still, this movie makes for a mighty good show.

I liked X-MEN: FIRST CLASS a lot. In fact, it ranks as one of my favorite movies in the series. Why is this one so successful? Well, in short, It tells a good story, has two very enjoyable leads, a very good villain in Kevin Bacon, excellent special effects, a neat script and effective direction by director Matthew Vaughn.

I really enjoyed the two leads in this one. I thought both James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto) were excellent. I thought they both brought the same amount of determination and professionalism to the roles as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen did in the original trilogy.

It was a lot of fun seeing a young Xavier, flirting with women, and just being a little less guarded then the older mature Professor X. Still, this young Xavier is no goofball. He’s a serious young man with the same positive view of the world shared by his older self. I thought McAvoy was completely on target with his performance, and he portrayed the young Xavier exactly the way I expected him to be.

LS: I dunno. I didn’t care much for McAvoy at first. His performance did grow on me as the movie went on, but I wasn’t blown away by his portrayal of Charles. I think they could have found a better-suited actor to play such a pivotal role.

MA: Michael Fassbender did an even a better job with his performance as Erik Lehnsherr. In fact, Erik was my favorite character in the movie. Fassbender was thoroughly convincing as a young Magneto. He really made me believe that he would not be satisfied until he had killed the villainous Sebastian Shaw. Yet, he doesn’t come off as a lunatic, but just a man driven by the need to avenge his mother’s death. It’s a great performance by Fassbender.

And he certainly doesn’t share the same problem Hayden Christian had in the STAR WARS prequels, who never seemed, as Anakin Skywalker, to be a convincing young Darth Vader. It was like two completely different people. Not so here. Fassbender makes Erik/Magneto his own in this movie. This comes as no surprise, since Fassbender was also good in JONAH HEX (2010) and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

LS: I agree completely about Fassbender. He’s the best thing in the movie. He’s intense, powerful and driven. You believe his character. Frankly, I thought he was much better cast than McAvoy – although the scenes that MacAvoy won me over with were the ones that dealt with the growing friendship between Prof. X and Magneto, as they got to know each other.

MA: I also really enjoyed Kevin Bacon as the villain Sebastian Shaw. This is one reason why I liked this X-MEN movie better than THOR, because this movie has a much better villain. Bacon has played villainous roles before and he’s always been good at it. He’s especially dark in this one, slick, cold-hearted, and deliciously evil.

LS: I’m not so sure I bought Kevin Bacon in this role at all. He starts out in the movie as an evil Nazi. Then when we see him in the swinging 60s, he’s this American playboy type without a trace of a German accent? That annoyed me. I didn’t buy the transition at all.  But I did enjoy Bacon’s performance.

(A door opens, and AUSTIN POWERS springs into the room followed Mini-Me, girls in mini-skirts and hippies with guitars.)

POWERS:  It’s groovy, baby!  Oh, bee- have!  I’m looking for some mutant mojo.  You two look like mutants.  Are you— mutants?

LS:  No, we’re not frigging mutants!  So scram!

(Mini-Me flips off LS, then runs to MA and starts humping his leg.)

MA:  Hey, knock it off!

POWERS:  Mini-me, stop humping the mutant’s leg!

MA:  We’re not mutants!

LS:  No, but we do eat babies!

(Mini-Me suddenly flees, following AUSTIN POWERS and his band through another door, exiting the bunker.)

LS:  Where was I?

MA:  Kevin Bacon.

LS:  Oh yeah.  Bacon really seemed to be having fun playing Sebastian Shaw, and it showed. Even though I had trouble believing the character, I still enjoyed the performance a lot, if that makes sense. I just felt like the Nazi version of Shaw and the 60s version were two different people entirely. But in the 60s scenes especially, Bacon is very good.

MA: The supporting cast is also very good. Rose Byrne, who we saw earlier this year as the mom in INSIDIOUS (2011), and who you saw last week in BRIDESMAIDS (2011), is convincing as agent Moira MacTaggart. The young mutants are also memorable, led by Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique, January Jones as Emma Frost, and Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast. I also enjoyed seeing Oliver Platt on hand in a small role as a government agent.

LS: Rose Byrne was fine as Moira, although they don’t give her an awful lot to do besides tag along with Charles for most of the movie. January Jones was cool as ice as Emma Frost, which is what the character calls for. How cool is it to have Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost in this one? They were members of the “inner circle” of  the Hellfire Club (mentioned in passing here) – in the X-MEN comics. The original Hellfire Club storyline was one of the very best during the period when writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne were the creative force putting out X-MEN comics in the late 70s/early 80s. A real milestone in the medium.

But let’s look at Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique for a moment.

In the movie, we are led to believe that one night, Charles (as a child) comes across this mutant who can look like anyone she wants to, who has broken into his house looking for food, and suddenly they become best buds. They even go to Oxford University together years later and tell everyone they’re brother and sister. But this didn’t seem believable to me. Did he get his parents to adopt her way back when? Did he hide her in his room and sneak her food (the house sure was big enough for him to do this with no one noticing). It just didn’t ring true that Charles’s family would take her in so readily, especially when he suggests early on that they were rather cold people.

Raven looks like Jennifer Lawrence to us, when she’s not letting her guard down and showing her true self which is a blue alien-looking creature. But Charles has no problem accepting her for what she is. Needless to say, this makes them very close. Yet, in the future (the three X-MEN movies that we already saw), there doesn’t seem to be this strong emotional bond between the two characters. Even if she chose to turn “evil” later on (and she is a villain in the first three movies), wouldn’t there still be a powerful bond between her and Charles if they grew up together and he was the first person to accept her as she is?

For fans of the comics, we also get a mix of old and new characters in this new team, including Hank McCoy as the Beast (an original X-Man), Havok (who is Alex Summers, the brother of future X-Man Scott, who we better know as Cyclops) and some girl with dragonfly wings called Angel (comic fans know that Warren Worthington was the original Angel, and the dude had giant feathered wings, not frail-looking insect-like wings.) This “Angel” can also spit globs of what looks like napalm at her enemies! How the hell can she do that? Most of the other characters have powers that at least make sense on some level to make them believable. But being able to spit napalm? Come on! What is she, REPTILICUS (1961)?

MA: The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, the same man who directed KICK-ASS (2010), and while I may have enjoyed KICK-ASS more due to its originality, this movie is just as entertaining. There are so many good scenes in this movie, and not just action scenes. Thankfully, this is not one of those movies that is one action scene after another. There is substance here.

Also, thankfully, this movie was NOT in 3D! And I have to say, in 2D, this film looks terrific! Everything about this movie looked good, and not once did I think, “Gee, too bad it’s not in 3D.” I’m glad they decided not to ruin this movie by forcing 3D down our throats.

LS: Yeah, at least it wasn’t in 3D!

MA:  Back to director Vaughn. Some of the better scenes in this movie weren’t action scenes: the opening sequence with young Erik and the Nazis was very powerful; the recruiting montage where Xavier and Erik seek out their fellow mutants was excellent (and includes a very memorable cameo); and some of the early scenes where Erik is hunting down Sebastian Shaw are very effective.

And the action scenes are no slouch either. The attack on the government building when Shaw comes after the mutants is very well done and memorable, as was the climactic battle which takes place on the ocean waters during the Cuban missile crisis. The majority of scenes in this movie were handled exceedingly well.

Four writers wrote the screenplay, and I had my doubts about this, because to me it smelled of rewrites, but I gotta say, the script is terrific. It was written by Ashley Miller and Zach Stentz, who both wrote THOR (2011), and by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, the two folks who wrote KICK-ASS (2010).

LS: Yeah, Vaughn does a good job directing this one, and the script is decent. I have to admit, I wasn’t too excited about seeing this one, based on the trailer. It just didn’t look very exciting to me. But the movie itself was much better than I expected. I’m not too sure about the melding of superhero lore and history, however. Especially the whole “What if mutants caused the Cuban Missile Crisis” storyline. That seemed rather silly to me.

MA: The characterizations are all strong, the dialogue is clever and witty without being over-the-top silly, and the pacing is crisp, which is a good thing, because the movie clocks in at two hours and twelve minutes long, but it didn’t feel that way at all.

LS: I don’t know about that. For the most part it is well paced and works. But there was few parts in the middle where I felt time slow down a little. Nothing drastic, though. As far as all of the characterizations being strong – I’m not totally in agreement with that, either. I found several of the characters to just be really lame: from Angel to Banshee (where’s Sean’s Irish accent? And for that matter, where’s Moira McTaggert’s Scottish one? They were in the comics!) to Havok – another great character from the comics – who was reduced to a kind of generic, one-dimensional hot-headed delinquent.

And I’m a big fan of The Beast, but I thought Hank McCoy’s character was just too cliché in the “shy nerd” mode early on – I didn’t really like Nicholas Hoult’s performance much at all . Hank also presented me with another issue that irritated me about this movie. He has feet that look like hands, and this bothers him so much that he creates a serum to get rid of physical traits that don’t look “normal.” Yet he can hide his “affliction” very easily. By putting on some damn shoes!! He doesn’t have it half as bad as Mystique, whose true appearance would actually scare people. Yet Hank milks the angst about his feet for all its worth. And when he finally does turn into the furry blue version of the beast toward the end (a mutation of a mutation), he looks kinda lame. I’m guessing it’s a mix of make-up and CGI effects, and it just was a letdown for me. Although it was a lot of fun seeing the blue Beast in action in the climactic battle.

And don’t forget poor Darwin (Edi Gathegi). He’s the only African-American guy on the team, and not only is his power kind of lame in a fight (he can adapt to whatever is around him – such as growing gills underwater), but they kill him off early. What’s that about? Is this some kind of 80s slasher movie or something?

One cool character we forgot to mention was Azazel (Jason Flemyng) – one of Kevin Bacon’s henchmen. He looks like a devil and his power is he can teleport. He’s kind of a cross between Hellboy and Nightcrawler (which isn’t a stretch, since in the comics, he was supposedly Nightcrawler’s biological father), and I liked him a lot.

MA: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS also has a terrific movie score by Henry Jackman. It did remind me a little bit of the score for HANNA (2011) by the Chemical Brothers, but was different enough that I wasn’t thinking rip-off.

LS: For the most part I didn’t notice his score, except during the big fight at the end, and it occasionally annoyed me. So I wasn’t that impressed with it.

Some other things I did like about the film, though, were how the script explained lots of little things that happen later on. From how Magneto got his cool helmet, to how Charles got paralyzed, to the creation of mutant-finding computer Cerebro and the X-Men’s jet, the Blackbird.

MA:  I think you’re nitpicking. I really enjoyed X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, which surprised me because I really wasn’t expecting much from it. I have to put it up there as one of the most entertaining and satisfying movies of the year so far. I give it three and a half knives.

LS: I like it, but not as much as you. I give it three knives. It was good, but it didn’t blow me away. It was a big improvement over the third X-Men movie, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), but not as good as the first two, X-MEN (2000) and X2 (2003).

Oh, and I want to warn hardcore Marvel fans out there. We’ve been getting used to Marvel sneaking in a “secret scene” after the end credits of their movies. But there isn’t a scene like this at the end of X-MEN FIRST CLASS. So do not stay until the very end. You’ll just be wasting your time.

So why are we in this government bunker again?

MA: Because one of the key scenes in the movie took place here, when Shaw attacked the government complex to get to the mutants.

LS: Whatever.  I preferred the strip club. I’m going back there.

MA:    I’d go with you, but I’ve got a date with destiny.

LS:  Huh?

(There is a knock at the door, and a voluptuous woman enters.)

WOMAN:  Hi.  I’m Destiny.

MA (to LS) Excuse me.  (to audience)  See you all next time at Cinema Knife Fight, everyone!  (to woman)  So, tell me again about that “special” power you have?  You know, that thing you can do with your body.

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives X-MEN: FIRST CLASSthree and a half knives!

L.L. Soares gives X-MEN:FIRST CLASSthree knives!

THOR

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Marvel Comics, Mythological Creatures, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THOR (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast bridge made of multi-colored stones. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are walking across it, chatting, when they come across a large man in golden armor resting his hands on the hilt of a giant sword)

LS: Who the hell are you?

HEIMDALL: I am Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. I protect the way into the ancient city of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods.

LS: Oh that’s nice. You know where we can get a drink around here?

MA: Yeah, we’ve developed quite a thirst. We’ve been walking a long time now.

HEIMDALL: You appear to be two creatures from the human world of Midgard. You are not allowed to pass any further.

LS: Oh come on, man. We just saw the movie THOR, and we thought we’d check out Asgard. It looks like a great place to go on vacation.

MA: Yeah, it looks like fun. Do you have any amusement parks here?

HEIMDALL: Turn back, foolish humans. I knowest not how thou hast reached this place, but it is meant for the gods alone. Not for the likes of thee.

LS: What a friggin snob.

MA (to LS): I told you we should have gone to Transylvania.

HEIMDALL: Go back. Thou shalt go no further.

LS: Hey, what’s that? Looks like a bunch of unruly frost giants!

HEIMDALL (looks around): What? Where?

(LS and MA run past)

HEIMDALL: Huh? Where did those mortals go?

(LS and MA are suddenly in downtown Asgard, a city made of gold and jewels)

LS: So here we are, in the heart of the legendary city of Asgard, so we can do our review of the new superhero flick, THOR, in style.

THOR—if you didn’t know already—is the latest in the long line of superhero movies based on characters from Marvel Comics. This includes a multitude of heroes, from Spider-Man and the Hulk, to the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Elektra. To, of course, the X-Men and Iron Man. Hey, that’s a lot!

MA: To say that Marvel has been on a roll would be an understatement. Not only have there been a lot of these movies over the last decade, but they’ve been high in quality. It’s no accident these movies have done well. They’re made well.

LS: Back when I was a wee lad reading the actual comic books, the most you could hope for was the occasional TV-movie, or television shows like THE INCREDIBLE HULK with Bill Bixby. And, of course, some cartoons. But it was a rare event indeed for there to be an actual theatrical film based on Marvel Comics. And when it did happen, it was something low-budget and pretty awful.

For a long time, DC Comics held the key to big-budget superhero films based on their characters, like Superman and Batman. But Marvel has finally caught up.

In a few months, we’ll be seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, another classic Marvel character. And next year is the much-anticipated superhero team movie, THE AVENGERS, which will feature everyone from Iron Man and Thor, to Captain America and the Hulk.

MA: As long as they keep churning out quality products, I’ll continue to look forward to these movies.

LS: The latest release from Paramount and Marvel Studios is the story of THOR, the mighty Norse God of Thunder, who also happens to be a superhero.

THOR begins in the middle of the action. Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is studying anomalies of weather, and is pursuing a strange disturbance in the atmosphere with her team: Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) —who I thought at first was her father, but who I guess is her mentor—and her assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). They are following a strange tornado in a range rover, when they find a man in the center of it.

We then jump back in time to how he got there.

MA: Yet another movie that begins with a flashback. This is really becoming the trend these days, and I don’t like it. I wish these movies would start AT THE BEGINNING!

LS: I find it annoying too.

We then jump back to the city of Asgard – pretty much a world of its own – populated by gods from Norse mythology. The city is ruled by the one-eyed Odin the All-Father (Anthony Hopkins)— the king of the gods—and at first we see him telling his two young sons the story of how Odin and the warriors of Asgard were able to save the planet of Midgard (Earth) from the wrath of invading Frost Giants, and send them back to their own world. The war lasted for many years, and there is an uneasy truce between them. Odin’s two boys, Thor and Loki, are clearly in awe of their dad and both are being groomed to be his possible successor.

MA: Anthony Hopkins looks like he walked off the set of THE WOLFMAN (2010), put on some royal clothing, and entered Asgard.

LS: We then jump to when they are grown men. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the cocky, charismatic God of Thunder, is about to be named the new king. His younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), watches from the sidelines. The ceremony is interrupted by a breach in the city’s security. Frost Giants were somehow able to get into the city and attempt to steal back the glowing casket that holds their power (a trophy the Asgardians brought back from their long war). The giants are thwarted by the Destroyer – a kind of living robot who is installed in the great hall to protect the casket – but Thor is still outraged that the giants were able to get past the security boundaries at all, and he wants to go to the Frost Giants’ world to punish them for their arrogance.

Odin forbids it. The threat was taken care of, and he is not eager to start another war. He says that Thor is not ready to become king, that his decisions are too rash, and the day’s ceremony is postponed indefinitely.

Thor sneaks off to the Frost Giants’ world anyway, and is joined by his close friends: the warrior woman Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three, which are made up of the dashing swordsman Fandral (Josh Dallas), the Mongol warrior Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and the mountainous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). Loki tags along as well. They get there by being transported via a gigantic sphere-like contraption that works similarly to the transporter bridge on STAR TREK.

On the Frost Giants’ world, Thor and his friends almost start a full-blown war, until Odin appears and stops it. He takes his son and his friends back to Asgard, where he decries Thor’s arrogance and banishes him to the world of humans.

Soon afterwards, Odin falls into a long coma called “The Odin Sleep” which seems close to death, and Loki becomes the new King of Asgard. While up to this point, Loki has seemed to be a good guy, in awe of his brother Thor, it is revealed that, upon becoming king, he is not so good after all, and has an agenda of his own. When he finds out the truth of his birth (a story that didn’t make complete sense to me), it makes him even more determined to tear the world of Asgard apart.

MA: You’re sure going into lots of detail here. Maybe you should just let the folks watch the movie.

LS: I actually dreaded reviewing this one because the story is so complex, and involves so many characters, that it’s hard to give a concise synopsis.

MA: Try this on for size: Thor annoys his dad and gets banished to Earth. There you go. Let’s move on now.

LS: When Thor is banished to Earth, he is stripped of his powers and reduced to little more than a human himself. And his ascension to earth is the tornado that Jane Foster sees in the beginning of the movie. In the middle of the storm, her vehicle hits Thor, and she’s afraid she’s hurt an innocent bystander. It is later on that she realizes that Thor was the actual heart of the storm.

Meanwhile, Thor’s sacred weapon, his hammer Mjolnir, has also hurtled to earth. When it is lodged in a stone (much like Excalibur and the King Arthur legend), crowds of bystanders try to pull it out. But no mortal man can move the hammer. Only Thor can, when and if he redeems himself. The rest of the tale involves Thor trying to do just that. Redeem himself and regain his powers and the throne of Asgard. But he has a long way to go. Meanwhile, Loki has started unleashing much chaos on Asgard.

At one point, Sif and the Warriors Three arrive on earth to help Thor. And Loki sends the Destroyer down to kill him. Meanwhile, the clandestine government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, which fans of the IRON MAN movies will be familiar with, are on the scene, under the jurisdiction of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, also from the IRON MAN movies). S.H.I.E.L.D. – a kind of special ops CIA-type organization – is trying to determine what the hammer is, and what is the source of its power (energy readings of the weapon are off the map).

Throw in an brief appearance by archer Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who long-time Marvel fans know better as the future Avenger, Hawkeye, and you’ve got yet another piece of the puzzle leading up to 2012’s big event movie, THE AVENGERS.

MA: Which after this synopsis is tomorrow!

Seriously, that was a very detailed and informative synopsis. You’re obviously a long-time fan of the comic books, so what did you think of the THOR movie? Did it live up to your expectations?

LS: Like most adaptations, there are both good and bad elements to the movie. But I had a good time overall.

MA: I did, too.

LS: First off, it’s got some very talented people involved, from director Kenneth Branagh, who made his name in adapting Shakespeare plays to the big screen, like HENRY V (1989) and HAMLET (1996).

The acting is pretty good too, from Anthony Hopkins to Natalie Portman, and solid actors like Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson and Stellen Skarsgard in smaller roles. But I guess the big question is, how does Chris Hemsworth work out as Thor? Is he able to bring the character to life? I think he does a good job.

In the comics, the character was much more serious, but Hemsworth seems so absorbed in playing Thor, that the times when we get laughs from his behavior in this strange new world actually seem pretty genuine. And not only can he act, of course, but Hemsworth looks the part, being extremely well-muscled for the job.

MA: Yes, I enjoyed Hemsworth as Thor too. I thought he both looked and sounded like Thor, and I especially enjoyed his scenes where he’s getting used to our life on Earth.

(Another armored warrior approaches them. This one is BALDER THE BRAVE)

BALDER: Halt! What art thou humans doing here in Asgard?

LS: BALDER! I have to admit, I was very disappointed you didn’t make it into the movie. Sorry to hear it, chap.

BALDER (lowers head): Yes, they cut me out of the script completely. I guess there were already too many characters.

(BALDER lifts his head again, and finds the two humans are gone)

BALDER: Where didst those rascals go now?

(We suddenly find ourselves in the royal throne room of Asgard)

LS: Where was I? Oh yes, Anthony Hopkins brings his regal bearing once again to the role of a fatherly monarch.

MA: I thought Hopkins just mailed it in here. There really wasn’t much for him to do with this role. I enjoyed him much more in THE RITE (2011) which we saw earlier this year.

LS: Yeah, I guess you’re right. He could have played this role in his sleep – which is ironic, since for a big part of the movie he is asleep.

I also missed some of the fun language from the comics. Thor and the Asgardians speak in flowery ways here, but long gone are the “thees” and “thous” of the old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics. And I never got to hear Thor say the immortal line “I Say Thee Nay!”

MA: Yeah, I’m real sad about that (rolls his eyes).

LS: Tom Middleton, the other crucial role here, is okay as Loki. Early on, I didn’t care for him, much. He seemed to be too earnest and actually a good guy – it would have been nice if he’s show potential for evil earlier—but once his darker side finally did come out, he turned out to be an okay villain.

MA: Yeah, if you’re watching SCOOBY DOO! I thought Loki was one of the weakest characters in the movie. I didn’t like him as a villain at all, and that’s major knock I have against the movie, that it doesn’t have much of a villain. I wasn’t that impressed with Middleton’s performance. I thought he made Loki rather wimpy.

LS: Like I said, he was okay, but not terrific. In the comics, Loki is a much more formidable foe. Where Thor is pure brute strength, Loki is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the universe. He is certainly a force to be reckoned with, in the comics. Here—not so much. But even in the comics, Loki always had his weasely side. Although there is a cool fight on the rainbow bridge between the brothers toward the end that’s not too bad. I also didn’t care much for the “secret” of Loki’s birth. I thought it was kind of lame.

The growing romance between Thor and Jane Foster is also a key component of the movie. Natalie Portman seems like an odd choice for a superhero flick, especially when she has been in much more arty fair lately, like last year’s BLACK SWAN, but she was also in the fantasy/comedy YOUR HIGHNESS last month, so she isn’t opposed to being in more mainstream movies.

MA: And don’t forget she was in the three STAR WARS movies, EPISODES I, II, and III as Padme, Anakin Skywalker’s wife and Luke Skywalker’s mom.

LS: She’s good in THOR, but she isn’t given very much to do here, except look at Thor with googly eyes. It’s definitely not one of her better roles.

And while I love Ray Stevenson (he even played another Marvel character – The Punisher – to great effect in 2009’s PUNISHER WAR ZONE), I thought he was a kind of a weak Volstagg. Not that it was his fault at all. His acting was fine. But in the comics, Volstagg is a gigantic, obese glutton of a man (and a hilarious story-teller, where he is always the hero in his stories). Whoever did the work on Stevenson’s costume and make-up did a shoddy job. He looks like Volstagg after a year on Jenny Craig, when he should be mammoth in size. And he could have been given a few more chances to make us laugh.

MA: I thought Natalie Portman did a fine job as Jane Foster, and I can say the same for Stellan Skarsgard who played her mentor Erik Selvig, and Kat Dennings who played their young intern Darcy. Now, none of them delivered what you would call Oscar caliber performances, but they were by far my favorite characters in the movie, and whenever they were on screen, I liked the film that much better. And a lot of this is because of their strong performances. So, I have to give them credit.

LS: I actually found Kat Dennings’ character to be rather irritating as the movie went on. And Portman and Skarsgard –two Oscar-caliber actors –are given pretty one-dimensional roles here. So I don’t agree that the earthbound characters are the best thing in the movie.

MA: Well, they’re a heck of a lot more fun than whiny Low Key— I mean, Loki.

I also enjoyed Idris Elba, who we’ve seen in several horror movies in the past few years, even though he was unrecognizable as Heimdall. It’s still a cool character, and he did a good job with him.

LS: Yeah, Elba is pretty much always reliable, and he’s very good here.

(Another large, armored WARRIOR enters the throne room)

WARRIOR: How darest thou humans enter the throne room of the mighty Odin! Prepare to die!

LS: We’re sorry, mister. We didn’t know this room was off limits.

MA: Yeah, it’s our first time here.  We sure could use a brochure or a map.  Would you happen to have one handy?

WARRIOR: There is no excuse for such arrogance!

LS: Hey, isn’t that Ulik and his trolls invading the streets of Asgard?

WARRIOR: What! (runs outside) Where are those dastardly trolls?

(LS and MA rush past him unnoticed)

LS: THOR was available in three different versions in theaters. In regular 2D, in 3D, and in IMAX. I saw the 3D version, which meant an extra $5.00 for glasses.

MA: I saw the 3D version as well.

LS: While the 3D effects did seem pretty good when the movie began, after a while, I pretty much stopped noticing. I’m not sure if it was because I just got used to the 3D, or if it was just poorly used here, and I only became aware of it again a few times during fight scenes. Overall, I thought it was a waste of money, and would have been just as happy to see the 2D version.

MA: I agree. To me, the 3D effects were most noticeable during the Asgard scenes. When the story took place on earth, I hardly noticed the 3D at all.

LS: And of course, as Marvel movie fans already know, you need to stick around until the very end – after all the credits – to see a “secret” scene that appears at the very end. Not surprisingly, this scene involves another appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury, and more clues about the upcoming AVENGERS movie.

So what did you think of THOR, Michael?

MA: I found THOR likeable enough. I mean, I certainly enjoyed watching it, but I thought it was an uneven film, and this lack of consistency prevented it from reaching the next level.

I thought the scenes on earth worked best. They were humorous, and I liked the pacing to these scenes. I enjoyed the characters—Natalie Portman’s scientist and her mentor and intern—a lot, and it was fun seeing Thor interact with the real world.

The scenes in Asgard, while visually impressive, lacked punch. They reminded me somewhat of the opening scenes on Krypton way back in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1979), only those scenes happened at the beginning of the movie, while these Asgard scenes continue throughout the whole movie. There’s nothing really wrong with these Asgard scenes, but compared to the scenes on Earth, they’re rather flat and nowhere near as fun. It’s almost like two different movies.

The story’s likable enough. I like Thor’s story, and I think screenwriter Ashley Miller did a good job telling it, but again, the earth scenes are so much better. The dialogue is quick and witty, while on Asgard things are just more mundane.

The jumping back and forth between Earth and Asgard didn’t really work for me. I would have preferred an opening scene on Asgard, and then that would be it. I would have enjoyed seeing the rest of the story take place on earth.

LS: I don’t think it was as bad as all that. Asgard is a very important aspect of Thor’s story and belongs here.

MA:  Then they should have done a better job writing these scenes.  Thor and his Asgard buddies are about as lively as a bunch of Jedi Knights huddled around Yoda, while the Earth scenes have spunk.

LS:  I actually liked most of the scenes in Asgard. While I like Portman, I didn’t think Jane Foster was all that compelling a character. So I’m glad it didn’t take place exclusively on Earth.

MA: I wasn’t that impressed by Kenneth Branagh’s direction, either. While the film looked good, I thought it was short on impressive action. I thought the best action sequence was the fight between Thor and the Destroyer, which I found exciting and well-staged. But the rest of the action I thought was average at best.

And while the scenes in Asgard do look good, it’s difficult to come out and state unequivocally that these scenes are “stunning” because as good as they look—and the city and the bridge do look terrific— they still look like CGI animation, and it’s just not the same as looking at a remarkable set built for a movie like this. It’s just not the same.

Still, I thought THOR was fun. It was lively, energetic, and colorful. It’s also fun to watch these Marvel movies as they make their way towards the inevitable AVENGERS film coming out next year.

So, I liked THOR, but it didn’t blow me away. I give it two and a half knives.

LS: I thought it was a good superhero film, at least as good as the IRON MAN movies, and a worthy addition to the Marvel pantheon….

MA: I liked the first IRON MAN better.

LS: …..but I didn’t love it. I thought it was overstuffed at times and would have appreciated more gravitas. I expected something dramatic and powerful from Kenneth Branagh, but this was pretty much his version of a fluff piece.

I give it three knives.

MA: I almost gave it three knives, but I also found the ending and the climactic battle between Thor and Loki lacking. Had it been stronger, I would have rated this one higher.

So, that about wraps things up. Now, what?

LS: Let’s go there! (Points to a restaurant sign that reads, VOLSTAGG’S ALL U CAN EAT BUFFET) I’ve worked up an appetite.

MA: Sounds good. All right, folks, we’ll see you next time with a review of another new movie.

LS: I can’t wait to down a case of that Asgard Ale!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THOR 2 and a half knives


LL Soares gives THOR 3 knives