*The following is two thirds of a review for The Avengers that I never finished almost 5 months ago. It didn't feel right finishing it now and it was long enough that I felt I should still publish it. So there you go..... Final line is a little ironic.
Almost exactly four year ago, I was sitting in a movie theater waiting for something I wasn't quite sure I believed. My friends and I had just watched Iron Man, an accomplishment of sorts itself. It had been fun and energetic, faithful to the character and Robert Downey Jr.'s unbelievably charismatic portrayal had been a game changer in the world of super hero movies. Now we were sitting through the credits, as we always do, to show our appreciation for the film as well as hopefully waiting for whatever tacked on little teaser scene the filmmakers had seen fit to add. We had all read on the internet about what we were most likely about to see but like I said, I wasn't sure I believed it. The credits faded out. Everything was quite. Then the scene started. Tony Stark is walking through the darkened halls of his home. Jarvis' security systems seem to have been overridden somehow. He discovers Nick Fury in his living room. Fury is cryptic of course, asking Stark if he thinks he is the "only super hero in the world" and saying that he wants to talk to him about the "Avengers Initiative". That's it, short and sweet but somehow opening up an entire world to all of us. The first thing I thought, the first thing I said to my friends was " This is actually happening. In our lifetimes this is happening". I know, sounds like something someone should be saying about the cure for cancer or legalized same-sex marriage. I don't think anyone other than serious super hero comic book fans will ever be able to understand the feeling we all had at that moment. A feeling that you knew well if you had spent your childhood reading Marvel and DC (and to a small degree Image) comics universes. The feeling that these are actual worlds, with characters that have their own development but often interact with one another. That interaction being one of the most intriguing things to read in modern comics. The closest comparison I can make to a non-fan is if you like a television show and it ends up having a spin-off and they do crossovers. If it's done well, it makes you feel good, feel like you're being rewarded for being a fan, for being loyal.
I just got home from seeing The Avengers for the second time. I'm going to see it a third, maybe a forth. Anyone who knows me knows how much of a Joss Whedon fan I am and I could probably write a million words just about him and his work so we won't focus on that. We'll focus on the biggest things that make this movie as good as it is.
First let's look at The Avengers in relation to the high water mark in the comic book movie world, The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan's calling card is his ability to take larger than life materiel and bring it back down to our level. Making it feel like it could exist in our world, like we could hear about it on the news. With The Avengers, Joss has mastered the other end of the spectrum. Years ago, Joss wrote the introduction for the hardcover collection of the DC comics limited series Identity Crisis. Something he wrote has always stayed with me. He referred to the "matter of fact absurdity that is the life of a super-powered person". He put in perfect words there what he has so perfectly accomplished here. The Avengers features high-tech weaponry, monsters, invading alien armies and gods. So many different larger than life elements that don't feel silly, don't feel absurd or overwhelming. This is simply how this world works. Other comic book movies have attempted to pull off being "comic booky" and failed because they made the mistake of blatantly asking their audience to take it seriously. The Avengers doesn't ask, it doesn't need to. It knows that it is absurd, can still be serious about it and doesn't need to pander to anyone. "The matter of fact absurdity"
Many people were apprehensive about this movie because they didn't think that is was possibly to have six super heroes in one movie and it not be a narrative mess. This was another reason why Whedon was the perfect choice for this job. He has spent his career writing engaging ensembles. Firefly starred nine character for goodness sake. Halfway through the first episode you felt like you had a good handle on all of them. It's no different here. Each hero has just the right amount of scenes bursting at the seams with character development. Everyone has their scene with everyone else as well as several amazing scenes all together. The only problem I had was that there are some gaps in terms of bridging from everyone's individual movies to how they arrived where they are in The Avenger but, realistically , not everything was going to fit.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Ghost Rider sucks.
Not just Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance or 2007's Ghost Rider but the comics too. The character sucks. It's a tough realization to come to. Ghost Rider, like many heroes (usually antiheroes actually) created in the 70's and the 90's were pretty one dimensional. There was a reason I feel that the first series run of the comic ran from '72 to '83 and then a new series started in '90. The 80's was this little oasis between two (mostly) barren wastelands of decades. The '80 were dark for comics but darkness with depth. That was not Ghost Rider. In my opinion, He was born out of late/post Vietnam War motorcycle gang image and worship. The idea of a biker superhero sounds pretty good but other than the image (along with a half hearted origin and motive) there wasn't much else to the character. It's no better today. Even popular and gritty writers of the present such as Garth Ennis, Daniel Way and Jason Aaron have taken a crack at making Ghost Rider relevant again. None of them succeeded even though their stories were pretty interesting. The bottom line is, once you spend 3 seconds saying to yourself "oh cool, he's got a flaming skull and chains" there isn't anything deeper to hit on.
So why does Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance suck? Well, first we'll start with Nicholas Cage, who's strategy for the past several years seems to have been "I'll just act crazy on camera and they'll think it's good right?". Wrong. Then there are the directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor who have previously been the writer/directors of the Crank films as well as Gamer. When it was first announced they were directing, many were excited about them bringing their manic style action to the franchise. Instead, the film is for lack of better word, boring. There are so many shots within action scenes that are held and focused on for way too long, almost as if they were trying to fill space.
The two things this movie has going for it are the bleak but beautiful stretches of Eastern European highway that are featured in an action sequence or two. Also Idris Elba's portrayal of Moreau, a heavy drinking french monk who convinces Cage's Johnny Blaze to help protect a young boy from evil forces. Yes, that small bit of plot I described there is exactly as recycled and bullshit as it sounds.
So to sum up: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance sucks.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Went to Movie Magic and caught a double feature of Sherlock Holmes 2 and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. Not much to say here so i'll be quick.
Sherlock Holmes 2: I really enjoyed the first one. Cast was great, Richie's manic directing created an incredibly fun atmosphere and it all didn't come off too gimmicky. Second time around however, it kinda comes off gimmicky. Especially the beginning. I am happy to say that it does finish stronger than it starts. Refreshing, considering how many movies like this go the opposite way. It wasn't at all bad. I just think that maybe the formula only works once.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1: Ok, i'm kinda pissed at myself for not having more to say here, or at least to rant about. It's just bad and there aren't a lot of ways to say it. All of the Twilight movies have been the same. Capable films made using horrendous source material. It's that simple. When I saw it, I thought Eclipse was the best so far and was therefor hoping the last two would continue the trend upward. Breaking Dawn part 1 however is the worst yet, mostly thanks to it being one half of what should have been one whole movie. The ONLY action scene in the whole movie is in the last 20 minutes. Not that the series has been known for the quality of it's action beats but that is just rediculess. The first half is some kind of bizarre interior design wet dream (which to be fair, all the Twilight films have been), the second half is a David Cronenberg movie. If David Cronenberg sucked, which he does not. It's all pretty awful.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Why can't it be snowing softly in every scene of every movie ever?
I'm not the biggest Liam Neeson fan. He's good at delivering menacing or poetical lines but there has always been something about how he delivers those lines and holds himself that i've found off-putting. As if there's no actual emotional weight behind any of it. His choices of roles in the past several years have annoyed me as well. "Yeah, i'll be a Lion who is actually Jesus and Zeus. Sure." I was also not as enthralled by Taken as most were. There was definitely some good bad-assary but the script was just not there. Especially considering the entire movie was marketed and sold on a single line of dialogue. That bugs the crap out of me.
I loved The Grey though. The story of a group of oil company employees whose plane crashes on their way home from working in northern Alaska. Neeson's character Ottway uses his superior knowhow to assume leadership of the group and together they try to survive in a frozen wasteland with almost no food or water to speak of. Oh right, and the wolves. There are wolves. A bunch of them. They are an ever-present danger. Just outside the group's range of sight for almost the entire film. Created using an extremely subtle combination of CGI and Animatronics, the wolves look great and are more than suitably intimidating.
This movie has come under a lot of fire from animal rights groups for portraying wolves in a negative light, as bloodthirsty man-eating monsters. I don't believe that's true. There are comments made in the film about how wolves normally avoid all contact with humans but if any intruders, human or not, are within a 30 mile radius of their den the wolves will flat out kill all of them. I don't know if this is true or not. However if it isn't I still don't see the problem. The wolves are still being portrayed as following their nature and defending their territory. I never once felt as though any of the animals were "evil" or attempting to kill the humans out of malice or for pleasure.
This is the first of directer Joe Carnahan's films to really hit me. 2010's The A-Team was a ton of fun, just like it's predecessor Smokin' Aces. The Grey goes much deeper than either however. There is action and adventure. But there is also a group of men finding out who they really are and how they view our world, nature and faith. And then one by one dying horribly.