Archive for Superhero

Iron Man 2 (5/10)

Posted in Entertainment, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by Brandon

Remember the final battle in the first Iron Man? It was technically thrilling, but entirely unncessary to the plot – it just seemed like the filmmakers felt the need to put in a final bombastic action sequence. That fight is the weakest of the entire movie, which is one of the slickest action pics of all time. And unfortunately, Iron Man 2 seems to have learned more from that clunky final boss fight than it did from the rest of the semi-brilliant origin story. Continue reading

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The Spirit (6/10)

Posted in Entertainment, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2009 by Brandon

the-spirit

Splatter-splash visuals, slapdash implementation, candy coated violence, a buffet of curvy femme fatales, and a loose balance of zippy post-hero irony and hilarity make up the backbone of The Spirit, at once at homage to and a skewering of the comic book and its often ridiculous conceits. Its audacity as its risks its way through territory that would make 300 or Sin City look like high art may be mistaken for ignorance and poor quality, but there are too many inside jokes, too many self-referential gags, for this to be easily labeled as a bottom-of-the-barrell shlock-fest that only trades in cliches without acknoweldging them.

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The Dark Knight (10/10)

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2008 by Brandon

Burned into your brain after you’ve seen “The Dark Knight” will be a deranged face painted a jagged white with grotesquely exaggerated lipstick, two uncomfortably visible scars protruding from the corners of the mouth, oily green longish hair, and a cackling maniacal laugh that truly is the stuff of nightmares.

But not only will you be left with Heath Ledger’s compulsorily watchable performance (more on that later), you’ll also walk away with some rather dark themes and gripping psychological questions that will probably stay longer with you than any comic book movie ever has. The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie ever made, and not only that, it’s the best movie of the year and features many of the best performances of the decade.

It’s been several months since the events of Batman Begins took place, and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is finding out that roaming around the city as a caped crusader isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Though he has succeeded in squelching the criminal underworld’s activity, copycats roam the streets, wearing fake bat costumes and claiming that they’re doing just as much good as the Dark Knight.

Then there’s Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham’s new DA who has done more than Batman ever could in bringing the city’s scum to justice. He’s the white knight to Batman’s dark one, a man of unquestionable moral character and a solid belief that Batman is a necessary evil in the dark and brooding times in which Gotham finds itself.

Enter the Joker (Heath Ledger), a psychopathic killer with little on his mind except causing chaos and bringing the city of Gotham to its knees, and he has his eyes particularly on Dent and the Batman, determined to corrupt these two incorruptibles.

This triad forms the backbone of the entire movie, and the interaction between them is darkly fascinating, touching on a myriad of themes, including terrorism, justice, evil, and crime. Superhero films have explored these kinds of things before, but never with such finesse and talent – the Dark Knight is not out of place being compared with “The Departed” and “The Godfather”; it’s an epic unpredictable crime saga composed of larger-than-life characters and a willingness to go some pretty dark places for the sake of the story, and it’s absorbing in every way.

Much moreso than Batman Begins, “The Dark Knight” is an ensemble epic, where Batman is not the main focus at all – the film may be named after him, but he’s just a small piece of the puzzle and part of the five major roles that make up the central story of the movie. Every character has their story and they all fit together perfectly, and the corresponding performances are just as strong.

Maggie Gyllenhall is Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent’s love interest and Bruce’s ex-flame, who broke up with him because she couldn’t be with him as long as Gotham needed Batman. Now that Dent is looking like he’s set to make Batman obsolete, Bruce is interested in starting up their relationship again. She replaces Katie Holmes from the last one, and does an infinitely better job, playing her as a more mature, savvy, and active role in the affairs of the police and the DA instead of just a pretty face.

Gary Oldman is back as Chief of Police Gordon, and it’s absolutely astounding what he can do with such a small role. It’s slightly bigger than Gyllenhall’s and slightly smaller than Eckhart’s, but with the intensity with which he displays Gordon’s unabashed dedication to good, it’s always fun to watch him. Usually characters who are nothing but good in a film are boring, but Oldman razes that notion to the ground.

Christian Bale continues to show how great of an actor he truly is – Batman and Bruce Wayne have few lines in this movie but he makes every one of them true – he’s a man who has been broken by a dark past, whose actions to try to do good are being thwarted left and right, and he’s deeply tortured by the results.

Aaron Eckhart is a joyous surprise as Harvey Dent – at first he seems like he’s just going to be playing him like a straight arrow, but as the film unfolds he adds layers to his character with expertise and when a dramatic and horrific change occurs about an hour and a half into the film, Eckhart makes the transformation believable and engrossing despite not having much time in which to do it. It’s nearly an Oscar-worthy performance, but unfortunately for him he had to give this performance in a film with the best villain of the decade played one of the best actors of his generation – Heath Ledger as the Joker.

Ledger’s death rocked the entertainment world earlier this year, and profoundly affected hundreds of thousands of people, and though the pessimist may want to claim that the only reason his performance appears so good is because we want to remember him fondly, this view is simply naïve. Remember Jack Nicholson? Not after watching “The Dark Knight”, you won’t. For years Nicholson’s performance in Burton’s original “Batman” was widely considered to be one of the best villains of all time, but Ledger’s Joker is an entirely different beast that takes Nicholson’s performance and beats it to death while obliterating it from our memory.

Nicholson played the Joker as a showman, a demented three-ring circus clown who sprayed deadly acid from a flower on his lapel and cackled his way to world-renowned insanity. Ledger takes the Joker down a much darker road, and makes Nicholson’s performance look like, well, a joke. This Joker could kick Nicholson’s ass, cutting him open with dozens of knives because it meant he could “savor the pain more.”

But to reduce Ledger to merely comparisons to Nicholson would be an insult to the instantly classic and, I’ll say it, I’ll use the “P” word, perfect performance. We never find out who his daddy is (except in a scene that skewers and stabs the traditional idea of super-villains having some kind of emotionally powerful back-story), and we never truly understand why he’s doing all this, except to cause chaos, which is perhaps more terrifying than anything. As Wayne’s trusty butler Alfred puts it, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.”

And indeed that’s all the Joker does seem to want – appearing out of nowhere, with no traceable past, he wreaks havoc across the city like some kind of perverse ghost, a circus in town that nobody wants, and because of this freedom, Ledger is allowed full reign of his character. Ledger’s Joker is an instant classic not only because he plays him a lot more darker than Nicholson did (and in fact Ledger’s Joker is much closer to the original comics), but because of how much you never really think of him as Ledger. It’s to the actor’s credit that you don’t really think about his death until after the movie is over – for the most part you’ll be picking that stray jaw up from the floor with how perfectly (yes, I used the “p” word again) he he hobbles, wobbles, struts, and dances from scene to scene, inserting a devilish cackle here, some smacking lips there, and a “why so serious?” over there. It’s a terrifying, brutal, fascinating, riveting performance – every time he’s onscreen you won’t be able to take your eyes off him.

And now that I’m done ranting about Heath Ledger’s performance for four paragraphs, a couple of minor players should be mentioned – Michael Caine as Alfred is his usual dapper self; in a role that could have been overlooked for how few lines it has, he owns it and puts his stamp on the film like only he can. And then of course there’s Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Bruce’s weapons, supplies, and suit specialist. You don’t get any more charismatic than Freeman, and he can make the most tired script seem fresh and new merely through his soothing voice.

Fortunately for him he’s working with a fantastic script, developed by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, and the siblings have really penned one for the books – there’s quiet moments between two characters, grand speeches about heroes and villains and which one Gotham needs, why the Joker does what he does. “I’m like a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one!” he exclaims gleefully.

Nolan has also made a clear change from “Begins” – whereas Gotham still seemed to be eternally stuck in the middle of the night in his original, and obviously existed in some kind of strange post-Burton futuristic Gotham world, there are plenty of day time scenes here, and most of the sets are perfectly realistic, the kind of pseudo-New York that exists in most every superhero movie. The change actually works, as the realistic setting only amplifies the fear we see upon seeing the Joker perform his acts of terror.

The music is so good it deserves mentioning too – subtle but suited to every situation – when Batman stands atop a building and drops down into the night, swooping his wings out in a bold yet graceful manner, the score will soar along with your nerves and your heart-rate. When the Joker is taunting one of his victims or simply staring at the camera, the score is simply chilling.

Are there flaws with this movie? Probably. There are some cases where’s it’s questionable as to whether or not they needed to include such a large cast (and 2 ½ hours “The Dark Knight” may try some viewers’ patience but it didn’t once test mine), but if you ask me the huge cast and the myriad of story threads only aided how much of a grand epic crime drama this movie was. It’s certain to please some viewers who normally don’t like comic book films, but it’s also got enough for us nerds to happily feast away. The way it juggles its themes and characters is masterful, it’s acted superbly by every single member of its cast, and it’s certainly the best movie of the summer. Probably the best movie of the year. Is it, however one of the best movies of all time, a masterpiece that transcends genres and demographics? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

The Incredible Hulk (8/10)

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2008 by Brandon

A big green monster stomping around smashing into things means absolutely nothing if the viewer can’t identify with what lies beneath the surface of that monster, and in the new, bigger, better, badder Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton gives us the perfect performance with which to identify before he goes into rage mode. It’s the strongest thing about an already strong movie, one that successfully continues this superhero summer after the homerun of Iron Man.

I was one of the few people who really appreciated what Ang Lee tried to do with the original Hulk back in 2003. He wanted to give us a superhero movie that was as much about the human drama as it was about the superpowers. Unfortunately for him, it got caught up in some rather bloated acting scenes, and way too little smashing. Let’s face it – when you go to see a movie entitled, “Hulk,” you want to see one or two things being tossed around, and possibly even the Hulk breaking a police car in two and using them as boxing gloves, but no, we didn’t get that.

Louis Leterrier, the director, whose previous credits include the Transporter films and Jet Li’s fumble, “Unleashed,” didn’t exactly have me all fired up with excitement. I was looking forward to it with a tinge of apprehension, and thankfully, Leterrier more than outdid himself, easily surpassing anything else he’s ever done and placing himself squarely alongside Iron Man’s helm-meister Jon Favreau as a superior superhero director. The Incredible Hulk is more gritty and rough around the edges, as opposed to Iron Man’s sleekly polished shine, but that suits its central character perfectly, and the result is a smash-fest that will leave viewers excited for more.

Any relation to the previous movie is done away with, as we learn, through a series of flashing images, that an experiment went horribly wrong and forced Dr. Bruce Banner to flee the US army and take refuge in South America, where he’s been hiding for the past five years, perfecting calming techniques so as to never let the Hulk take over again. The plot details are kind of hazy within the first half hour – Leterrier doesn’t take us the traditional route of superpower origin story, and refuses to lead his audience along like a poor puppy dog on a leash – this is a fast and brutal story and within fifteen or twenty minutes we’re treated to our first Hulk sighting as the army discovers Banner’s location and sends in a team after him.

Because so little time is spent before we see the big smashing green thing, we need a solid central character around whom the conflict can be centered, and, with marvelous conservation of energy and a minimum of scenes, Leterrier gives us that in the form of Edward Norton, whose earnest belief that he must never again let this green monster overtake his body succeeds in pulling the audience with him through these episodes of anger. When we see him transform into the Hulk, our heart breaks along with his, because we know how hard he has worked to never let the Hulk overtake him again. There’s finally an energy and heart inside this big lug, and the superb CGI overtakes Ang Lee’s version by leaps and bounds (pun intended). Leterrier makes the Hulk a much more realistic character (as realistic as any ten foot tall green muscular beast can be), who bleeds, gets cut, and has rippling biceps that would make Ah-nold salivate with envy. He is one bad-ass mother, but he’s centralized around Dr. Bruce Banner’s trials and tribulations, and it works.

Obviously, because one of the main complaints of the first film was not enough action, Leterrier makes sure to gives us plenty of what we crave, and some of the action scenes in this movie rank among the best in Marvel movie history. Leterrier manages to take what could essentially be a giant green galoot randomly smashing things and transforms it into a two ton ballet of fists and metal crashing into each other to ridiculous results. Moreso than the miminalistic and futurustic Iron Man, the Hulk is a true summer movie, complete with liberal explosions, monsters crashing into each other to spectacular, literally earth-shattering results, and a strong central story thread running throughout.

The film is not without its weaknesses. The central love story between Dr. Banner and the general’s daughter, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), is seriously malnourished, and though Norton and Tyler share nearly electrifying chemistry in a scene or two, it’s not enough to save what often comes off as contrived cheese. At one point the Hulk actually says the name, “Betty” out loud, and I had to struggle not to laugh. William Hurt as the general who is pursuing the Hulk, as well as Betty Ross’s father, is competent and admirable, and he brings some much needed heart to the side story of the struggle between Betty and her dad. Tim Roth as the increasingly depraved villain (an army commander who becomes jealous of the Hulk’s powers and tries to find ways to achieve superhuman strength), unfortunately never comes off as anything more than a caricature, but damn, what a caricature! He’s deliciously creepy and his developing insanity throughout the film is pulled off masterfully, but the script he’s handed is just not much to work with. This movie is clearly about Bruce Banner, and it doesn’t waste much time developing the humanity of others.

In the future, the first decade of the 21st century might come to be known as the comic book movie decade, and rightfully so. This is a great time to be alive if you’re a comic book fan, and this new Hulk continues the successful trend of superhero movies. That, and Marvel is clearly dropping hints into their movies about a potential mash-up movie in the future, and if, like me, one of the things you miss in comic book movies is how, in the original comics, Spider-Man talked to Daredevil while chilling with Johnny Storm, then it’s even more thrilling. This is a comic book movie for comic book fans, and chances are if you liked previous Marvel movies, you’ll love this one. It has its frayed edges and gritty exterior, but that’s part of its appeal, and as long as a few hundreds tons of concrete, glass, and metal get destroyed as a result of this big green dude’s antics, who really cares?

Hobbit director! And a trailer…

Posted in Movie News with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by Brandon

Well, it is official. Guillermo del Toro, one of the best fantasy directors working today, is going to direct the Hobbit and its sequel. Yesss! He would be my second choice after Peter Jackson – he has such a talent, and I’m really looking forward to his vision of Middle Earth. Plus, Peter Jackson is executive producer, so he’ll be able to make sure the world of the Hobbit isn’t completely incongruous with the world of Lord of the Rings. Here’s hoping it smashes more box-office records and draws more critical attention…

And, here’s the trailer for the new movie by the creators of Scary Movie and Airplane!, appropriately called “Superhero Movie!”  It looks like it will be okay, though I’m worried because it didn’t make me laugh as much as the trailer for Scary Movie 4 did. In any case, it looks light years better than Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, and Date Movie, so I’ll probably go see it in theatres.