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So Iron Man 3
was better than Iron Man 2
and neither are a patch on Iron Man No Number but Is Now Referred to As Iron Man 1
, but all in all, like I once said about the X-Men
film franchise at a time when there were
only three X-Men films, that we got three watchable and generally likable Iron Man movies at all
is relatively miraculous.
I did have the same problem with this film that I did with the previous installment, that too often during the film I found myself thinking “why am I being shown this when I could be seeing Iron Man doing stuff instead” — particularly during that middle “Tony Stark, Action Spy Detective, Goes to Tennessee” segment of the film. But, I can’t say I wasn’t entertained, and you end up getting more Iron Man armor action than you can handle during the film’s climax, with too brief glimpses of the dozens of different armored suits Stark apparently assembled between sequels.
Okay, the “not enough Iron Man action” is kind of a terrible complaint…Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark carries the show whether he’s in armor or not, and I did enjoy the film. And it’s not as if I was expecting beginning-to-end Iron Man fight scenes…I realize there’s such a thing as “pacing.” When you get right down to it, the amount of Iron Man action was exactly the amount and of the correct quality for the story they were telling, he said as if anyone cared what he thought. I guess the old fanboy in me wanted more Iron Man in action at the height of his powers, outside of struggling against both technological and psychological failures, but I guess that’s what the Avengers movies are for. That this film, along with Downey’s portrayal, makes us like and care about the “civilian” identity as much, if not more so, than the superhero identity, is its real strength. Tony’s a cool dude that sometimes wears super-armor and his movies are fun…what am I complaining about, really?
Also, it’s nice that Bruce Banner was played by the same actor in more than one feature film. The lack of MODOK is points against, however. And, as always, not enough Miguel Ferrer, which is my gripe about pretty much every film.
In other news, I saw the new direct-to-home-video-disc Superman Unbound
film, adapting that “Superman meets the REAL Brainiac” story that ran in the comics a couple of years back. …Well, that was certainly a Superman versus Brainiac story, with some neat visuals and an interesting subplot about Superman’s overprotectiveness of people in his life. Plus, the story ends on a big life-changing decision, which would probably have an impact on the sequel they spend time setting up at the very end of the film (a scene placed during the credits, actually) should one ever come, which it won’t.
It was fine, but honestly, though, I wish DC would just straight up adapt some classic Silver Age stories for their direct-to-DVD film program for a change…it’ll never happen, but it’s nice to think about. …At least the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon took care of that need for a few years.
“Skinny little Hansi.”
“She grew up. She filled out.”
[There may be SPOILERS ahead for The Dark Knight Returns, both animated and comic-ated.]
Now I suspect it’s going to be hard to believe that one can forget a large, gun-totin’ woman named Bruno, topless save for some kind of adhesive swastikas placed over her breasts, and yet this is apparently what happened to me prior to popping in Part Two of DC’s direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. If I had remembered, I’m sure it would have crossed my mind at least once to ponder “I wonder if they’re actually going to go through with that” or “I wonder if they’ll tone it down a bit.” Instead, it came as a complete surprise to me when Bruno showed up on screen. And it certainly is a different experience seeing Bruno in a four-minute fully-animated action sequence on a 50-inch screen as opposed to seeing a handful of panels in a comic book. And by “different” I mean “that’s going to come as a shock when Mom puts this on for Little Billy and then walks back into the room when Bruno’s onscreen fighting Batman.” Yeah, yeah, it’s PG-13 an’ all, but man, that felt like a bit much. So of course I got a screenshot and shared it with you on my site. You’re welcome.
As for the parts of this cartoon that aren’t about topless Neo-Nazis: what I was really looking forward to was Michael Emerson’s turn as The Joker. Emerson was probably the best part of that TV show Lost, playing an evil and slimy little jerk who was still at least somewhat sympathetic and certainly charismatic, and that performance comes though in this role as well. A bit of Emerson’s voice work on the Joker reminded me of, oddly enough, Paul Lynde, which I’m guessing was likely more coincidental than deliberate, and is certainly not a complaint. (And of course, when one thinks of Paul Lynde in relation to Batman, this comes to mind.) His Joker was definitely creepy and unsettling, and probably the high point of this whole endeavor.
And speaking of the whole endeavor…one of the most intrinsic parts of the original Dark Knight Returns comics was the constant internal dialogue running throughout, revealing each character’s hopes, fears, etc., as well as providing the most affecting and emotional points of the story. When Alfred dies as the Wayne Mansion burns, just seeing him drop onscreen doesn’t have anywhere near the impact of reading Alfred’s “Of course” when the same thing happens in the comic. And when they push the dialogue from the comic’s internal thoughts to the cartoon’s external voice…well, let’s just say having Commissioner Gordon outright say “I think of Sarah…the rest is easy” as part of a retirement speech to a roomful of people lacks the gravitas it has when he repeats it to himself in the comic.
And that whole business with Superman nearly being killed by the atomic explosion, and his subsequent revival. In the cartoon, it’s simply weird and grotesque. In the comic, with Superman’s inner pleading with Mother Earth, there’s that undercurrent of sadness and despair and desire to protect that’s left unspoken, nor even implied, in the adaptation. …I suspect some enterprising group of fans will someday make a reedit of these films, filling in the lost narration themselves, that the cartoons sorely lack.
Not to say that these films are entirely without merit…the big set pieces still work just fine: Batman’s battle with the Mutants leader, the last confrontation with the Joker, the climactic fight with Superman. And even the nearly last bit of business, with Carrie and Clark at Bruce’s grave site…that was pulled off nicely. I also appreciated that they didn’t stray too far from the comic’s 1980s origins, keeping Reagan as President, and there’s even a brief shot somewhere near the end of the film, which of course I can’t locate now, showing a storefront for “VHS / BETA” or something like that. Or maybe I imagined it. You make the call.
Overall, the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns animated adaptation was an interesting experiment, if flawed, with some nice voice work. I understand the choices the filmmakers made…well, my jury’s still out on the Bruno thing, but I guess fans would have complained if she wasn’t there…but in my opinion the loss of the internal dialogues from the comic cut most of the heart out of the story.
Well anyway, if these Dark Knight cartoons do well, maybe we’ll get an animated version of the sequel Dark Knight Strikes Again. That I’d like to see.
If you’re wondering about that Hansi comic, here you go.
…Ah, I’m just yankin’ your chains, I thought it was pretty good. And, let’s face it, with a handful of popular superhero films functioning as prequels and the unavoidable advertising onslaught, the film could have been directed by the reanimated corpse of Ed Wood and still pulled in more money over the course of the opening weekend than most everyone who’s reading this has ever seen, combined. But, credit where credit is due, Whedon and the gang did a good job making all this nonsense entertaining and appealing to the general public, which kept people buying tickets past that first weekend. Of course, they had good characters to work with, thanks to Jack Kirby and the rest of the Marvel Bullpen, and in a good and just world it would have been “Jack Kirby’s” — well, okay, “Stan ‘n’ Jack’s The Avengers” and not Marvel’s The Avengers on the marquee.
And, yes, as you’ve likely heard, the Hulk is the best part of the film. Finally, it is understood by Hollywood that Hulk smashing stuff is fun, and the Hulk/Banner relationship can have some gravitas without dragging the rest of the film down with it. I fully expect this newly-remade golden egg-laden goose to be cut open for new Hulk movies, but perhaps I’m just being cynical.
I’m not going to go overlong on my comments about The Avengers, like I usually do for my movie “reviews,” but I did want to note a couple of things: first, when I saw Iron Man and Captain America teaming up to fight Loki, the 12-year-old part of Mike’s brain immediately thought “WHOA! COOL!” while the grown-up part of Mike’s brain thought “…what the hell am I looking at? Is this actually happening?” Fortunately, 12-Year-Old Mike won out, because, damn, it was Iron Man and Captain America fighting Loki. In live-action. On a movie screen. Played by actual adults. That hits me right in the nerd-spot.
Second, there’s this bit of business which really annoyed me ahead of my seeing the film. Thankfully, they were just very minor props whose sole use was as beacons for Iron Man’s costume, and we didn’t get any sales pitch beyond a long, lingering look at them onscreen, but still, I glared at them and thought unhappy things when I saw them. “Ooh, I know what you are!” I thought, clutching at the armrests of the theatre’s chair. …Okay, I actually just rolled my eyes a bit, but c’mon.
Finally…did I mention that this post may contain spoilers? Because freakin’ THANOS, man:
I’m totally in the bag for Jim Starlin, especially
for Thanos, and if we get full-on Thanos action in the next movie, as implied by that mid-credits scene, that will indeed be an Oscar-winner…in my heart. I mean, just picture this
on the silver screen:
You’re right, it would
So, anyway, The Avengers…a fun superhero movie, and probably in the top…oh, six or seven superhero movies ever made, I’d guess, somewhere after these two.
Speaking of Thanos, I’ve had a handful of people coming into the shop over the last couple of weeks asking after 1) Infinity Gauntlet, 2) Thanos Quest, and 3) Iron Man #55 (the first appearance of Thanos), usually saying something along the lines of “I bet these are really popular thanks to the Avengers movie!” Well…not really, no…those particular titles have been in high demand for the better part of twenty years. I don’t think I’ve had every issue of Infinity Gauntlet in stock at the same time more than a dozen times since the series wrapped up way back when, and copies of Thanos Quest blow out the door almost as quickly as we buy them. And it’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure nobody cared too much about Iron Man #55 ’til after Thanos came back in the early ’90s…now I almost never see copies of it.
To answer Andrew‘s question from the other day, about the Avengers movie effect on sales…actually, I don’t think I’ve seen that big of a bump. We’re doing very well right now, but I’m not getting that “we’re only here because of the Avengers movie” vibe from anyone…except maybe the people looking for “key” Thanos comics. Avengers Vs. The X-Men is doing exceptionally well, though that’s more preaching to the converted than bringing in new readers. I am getting some kids here and there picking up Avengers comics that probably normally wouldn’t, and, you know, I’ll take it.
images from Silver Surfer #34 (February 1990) by Jim Starlin, Ron Lim & Tom Christopher; Warlock Special Edition #6 (May 1983), reprinting Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1977), by Starlin & Joe Rubinstein; movie poster from Internet parts unknown…I just like the sound of “Los Vengadores”
So, while the rest of you were out there watching your Hunger Games and your Three Stooges and (to a somewhat lesser extent) your Cabin in the Woods, I was enjoying, for certain values of the term “enjoy,” a free screening of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance:
Yes, it’s another Nicolas Cage-tacular, with no piece of scenery left unbitten. It was also directed by the same guys who did the Crank
films, and there were at times moments of those films’ energy and humor in this otherwise turgid sequel, but alas the decision was made to attempt “plot” and “characterization” at the expense of “Ghost Rider doing crazy shit.”
Or “Nicolas Cage doing crazy shit,” I suppose I should mention, since there’s one scene where Cage, as Johnny Blaze, is apparently barely containing his transformation to Ghost Rider while he’s interrogating this one fellow. Did I say “interrogating?” I mean “yelling and jerking his head around and acting like a lunatic and basically barking at the dude” and it was either the worst acting I’ve ever seen or, dare I say, the greatest acting I’ve ever seen. Honestly, say what you will about the man and his acting choices…once he’s made his decision, Cage just full out goes for it.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first film, so I don’t recall if it establishes Ghost Rider’s super power of making anything he rides turn into a flaming hellengine of death. In this film, he hops into the control booth of some huge piece of construction equipment, which proceeds to burst into flames and become something terrifying and awesome, and later Ghostie hops onto some big truck which also becomes all firey and rad. Frankly, had the film just been Ghost Rider driving a variety of vehicles that are on fire while fighting the bad guys or monsters or other cars that are on fire, I think we would have had somethin’ here.
Also of note:
- Cage’s opening narration catching folks up on Ghost Rider’s back story: pretty sure the intent was “down to earth recounting of fantastic events” in order to somehow promote the audience’s suspension of disbelief in the premise, but somehow the tone of Cage’s line-reads made it sound hilarious. Not to mention the fact that you’ve already got people who willingly came to a film about a demonically-possessed motorcyclist…they probably don’t need the semi-embarrassed hardsell on the product.
- There’s a cheap, obvious joke in which one of the villains of this piece, Decay (who has the power to…well, guess) is going through a lunchbox trying to find food that won’t crumble to dust in his hands, and finding success with a Twinkie. Like I said, it’s cheap and obvious, but still, it was amusing.
- Ghost Rider is not nearly as loquacious as he is in the funnybooks: he only speaks a couple lines of dialogue. The first time, it’s genuinely creepy, as he mockingly repeats “does this hurt” (or something similar) to a bad guy who had mocked him with the same words a bit earlier. The second bit is Ghost Rider laying the completely unnecessary quip “Roadkill” after his nemesis is flattened by a vehicle after a battle. I suppose it was supposed to be “funny” or “cool,” but…nah, sorry, it was neither.
- And there are times when Ghost Rider just does…odd things, which were sort of baffling at the time (like when he just kinda stands there, rocking back and forth, during a pause in a battle). While talking about this film with a coworker, he mentioned that he read an interview where Cage said he took inspiration from a pet snake in his portrayal of Ghost Rider, and…you know, I haven’t verified that, have no idea if it’s true, but I’m not going to check because I want that to be true and I do not wish to be disappointed.
So, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – worth seeing for free, I guess, if you’re not otherwise busy. Even at about 90 minutes or so, it’s a bit overlong, but if you enjoy Nic Cage movies, this one is certainly very Nic Cage-y.
I should also tell you that, as we were walking into the theater, there was a group of about a half-dozen or so kids, about 6 to 8 years of age, coming to the movie as well, all cheerfully chanting “GHOST RI-DER! GHOST RI-DER! GHOST RI-DER!” …All things considered, that made the evening’s entire movie-going experience worth it.
Okay, I may be paraphrasing the quote slightly, but the title of this post points at what I think was the main problem with this film, and perhaps why it’s not performing quite up to some folks’ expectations…though a $53 million dollar weekend (or $70 million, including the international take) seems okay to me, and writing it off a flop already, as everyone seems anxious to do, seems to be jumping the gun just a little. Let’s see how it does over the week or so…and more importantly, how it continues to do internationally, since that seems to be saving a lot of films’ bacons lately. (‘Course, if it takes in, like, $5 million next weekend, you may be on to something.)
Anyway, enough money talk…was the film any good?
Well…sorta. I liked a lot of it, some of it was…unpleasant, and essentially undermining the whole venture was a fatal conceptual flaw to the film that may have proven to be its undoing. It was enjoyable if shallow, with a thin plot that barely held the film together, and when the end comes you can’t help but think “wait…that was it?”
Lemme get into some SPOILERS after this pic of Ryan Reynolds looking befuddled…SPOILERS end after the Sinestro image farther down the post:
- The main problem with the film is this: nobody cares about the primary menace, a big glowing cloud of evil (which has a face, at least, unlike a certain other film‘s big cloud of evil) that’s tied into the whole Green Lantern/Guardians mythology, and all that talk about “the yellow color of evil” and “the green of will” and blah blah blah no one gives a shit.
They were partway on the right track, with Hal Jordan as the new fish-out-of-water recruit, which allows us to learn along with Hal about the Green Lantern Corps. But seriously…you’ve got Sinestro right there. A plot involving the corruption of power and fall into evil of Sinestro, with only Hal to stop him, would be a conflict of a more personal and relatable nature than the impending menace of the Giant Special Effect.
Okay, that’s essentially the story from the direct-to-DVD animated film Green Lantern: First Flight, and I know I’ve complained about the trope of having the superhero’s main villain be a bigger, badder version of himself…but it’s a missed opportunity to have such a well-cast and performed Sinestro (played by Mark Strong) and not have him as your primary antagonist. (We are given a brief teaser in an after-movie/mid-credits bonus scene, where Sinestro dons the yellow ring…enticing, and further reminder that I would have rather watched that story than the one we got.)
I realize this is a very fanboyish thing to do, to complain that they should have done this story instead of that story, but this seems like such an obvious thing I really wonder why they made this decision. With any luck, maybe the film will make just enough to get us the sequel they so obviously set up for.
- There is a lot to like, despite my misgivings about the, well, entire structure of the film. I thought the film was well-cast…I already mentioned Strong as Sinestro, and Ryan Reynolds made a pretty good Hal Jordan. Geoffrey Rush, as the voice of Tomar-Re, made that character far more entertaining than I expected him to be. Taika Waititi as Hal’s pal Tom gave us some nice humorous counterpoint to the whole Green Lantern business.
- Speaking of Tom, I did appreciate that bit of business when Hal demonstrates the ring to him and Tom shouts “you’re a superhero!” I like that the concept of superheroes is a known one in this film’s world (not that I think there are other superheroes there, just that it exists as a pop culture thing, as in the real world), instead of the title character being the very first time the very idea of a “superhero” was ever conceived.
- While I liked Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond, who gave the character some creepily-humorous personality, I found myself put off by the grotesque screeching that the character did too often. That was just…kinda gross, really. But the bits with Hammond using his newfound telepathic powers to further alienate himself by discovering, say, what his father really thought of him, were nicely done. And by the time they showed him in the wheelchair, near the climax of the film, I really thought, just for a second, they were going to give us the immobilized super-giant-head Hector Hammond from the comics. Ah, well.
- Blake Lively made a good Carol Ferris, Hal’s boss and former girlfriend, with her best bit being her reaction to Green Lantern showing up on her balcony and not being fooled for long by Hal’s get-up. In fact, that whole scene was probably one of the best in the film, undercutting the whole “secret identity” cliché in amusing fashion.
- Come to think of it, the best bits of the film were the character interactions, far more than the “making things with light” special-effect showcases. Hal talking to his nephew, Hal remembering his father’s last flight, Tom giving Hal crap about being responsible, Hector realizing his failures, Hal meeting with – and being trained by – the other Green Lanterns, the frisson between Sinestro and this upstart human Lantern who took the place of his friend Abin Sur…heck, even Hal meeting Abin Sur, as brief as it was, carried more weight than all that other Parallax business.
And seeing Hal argue with the Guardians, even briefly…that, almost more than anything else, felt like seeing the comic directly translated to the screen.
- I’m still kind of weirded out that I just saw a major Hollywood movie that featured Kilowog as a character. This is not the future I was expecting.
- Should probably note something about the CGI costumes, since such a big deal was made out them. Thought they worked out okay…a little busy, but not distractingly so, and they did successfully give the impression of the amount of power the Green Lanterns were wielding. However, Hal’s mask never seemed not awkward, for some reason.
And the actual power ring stuff itself…I am very glad they used the rings power to make things and not just to shoot green lasers, even if the Hot Wheels-esque car track in the helicopter rescue scene was just a tad over the top (even if nicely foreshadowed by the toy car track sequence in the nephew’s bedroom). Happy to see big green ring-constructed fists punching things. No big green catcher’s mitts, but maybe next time.
- Favorite moment of the evening…after the extra mid-credits scene with Sinestro, I overheard someone else in the theater exclaiming “I knew that he wasn’t any good!” A guy with the name “Sinestro” turned out to be bad…who knew?
Not quite up there with the time when, after Fellowship of the Ring was over, hearing someone in the theater say in disbelief “wait…there’s gonna be another movie?” but it’s close.
In conclusion, I thought it was a brave choice to kill off Hal Jordan and bring in the power team of Medphyll and Ch’p to take over the film franchise.
But seriously, while there was a lot to like in the film, it seemed like a huge missed opportunity to go with the plot they did. I liked the character stuff far more than the special effects hoohar, and if they had built the story’s primary conflict around the characters (like, oh, say, Hal versus Sinestro), we might have had a better film. And there still would have been room for the special effects, too, I’m sure.
(Minor SPOILERS for Thor follow.)
So I saw Thor this past week, and I thought it wasn’t too bad. A lot better than I expected a Thor movie was likely to be, all things considered. Certainly better than the Thor that appeared in The Incredible Hulk Returns TV movie, but still undecided if it was better than Thor from Adventures in Babysitting.
Some of the early action scenes suffered a bit from jerky-cam close-ups where you couldn’t tell what was going on, and too much of the film was people in shadows fighting dark blue-skinned creatures at night, so that was a bit rough. But overall, the film was nicely cast, the general tone was light and fun, and it was quickly and excitingly paced. Not deep, but enjoyable.
One question: I may need to watch the film again once it hits home video to pin down the timeline. How long is Thor on Earth? A couple of days, maybe? It’s possible I’m forgetting a line of dialogue indicating “SUDDENLY, TWO MONTHS LATER” or something, but I’m pretty sure the whole “Thor learns an important lesson about arrogance and sacrifice” only takes about 48 hours to play out, which means Odin’s reparative Odinsleep is basically an eight-hour good night’s rest. Not quite the godly and epic storytelling events Lee ‘n’ Kirby prepped us for.
But that’s just me being a fanboy nitpicker, really. The compressed timeline is fine for story purposes here, and, as I noted, it’s possible I’m forgetting something re: the fugiting of tempus here.
The Jack Kirby-ness of Asgard came through fairly well, I think. The armor, the buildings, the Rainbow Bridge, the big ol’ teleportation machine at the end of the Rainbow Bridge, the Destroyer: all very nicely Kirby. I had my doubts about how Loki’s horned helmet was going to play in live action, but even that worked out okay. Heimdall was good ‘n’ badass, making all those folks griping about the fact he was being played by (gasp) a black man look even more like chumps than they did already. And man, Fandral of the Warriors Three looked like he just popped off the comics page, didn’t he?
So overall…yeah, Thor was an entertaining time at the moving pictures. Not a classic or a gamechanger or anything, but a pleasant enough action flick, and sometimes that’s all you need.
So there were a handful of shots in the new DVD Superman / Batman: Apocalypse
where Batman is just standing there, cape wrapped around him, more tightly around the legs, looking like Morticia from the Addams Family
. …Well, it amused me
Overall, the film was enjoyable, taking a mostly-unreadable multi-issue story from the Superman / Batman comic book series and translating it into a surprisingly entertaining action-packed hour and a quarter. Calling it Superman / Batman: Apocalypse is a bit misleading, as it’s more Superman / Batman / Wonder Woman / Supergirl: Apocalypse but I suppose that title would be a little more difficult to market.
Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Susan Eisenberg reprise their roles as the DC Universe’s Big Three, and Summer Glau from Firefly and the Terminator TV series does a solid job as Supergirl. Nice to see appearances by Crisis on Infinite Earth‘s Harbinger, and (as pictured above) Krypto…I sort of wondered if younger viewers would be thrown off by the idea of a dog in a Superman cape, but I remembered that there was that Krypto animated series a while back, so the concept’s had some general audience play recently. Plus, it’s not like kids are going to question the idea of a super-powered pet dog for Superman, because, let’s face it, what kid wouldn’t love the idea of that?
Another treat was getting more animated action with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World creations…Darkseid, of course, but also the Female Furies, Big Barda, and Granny Goodness (voiced by Ed Asner, reprising the role from the animated Superman series, and never not weirdly hilarious). That there isn’t some kind of dedicated Fourth World animation project is a huge shame…all that stuff is made for cartoons.
I watched the Netflix rental version of this movie, so 1) I had to wait a month for it to clear the Warner Bros. one-month new movie embargo that Netflix has, and 2) I didn’t get any of the special features, including the new Green Arrow short, so that stuff will have to wait ’til I get the retail edition someday. (On Blu-Ray, since I recently purchased a new widescreen hi-def TV. Which means I’ll need to get a Blu-Ray player. …DARN YOU, ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY. Wasn’t my Betamax good enough? Wasn’t it?)
So, Superman / Batman: Apocalypse…one of the better direct-to-DVD animated releases from DC, I thought, and while it’d be nice if there were a follow-up full-length Supergirl adventure, I don’t know that we can realistically expect that (especially given producer Bruce Timm’s comments regarding sales on the Wonder Woman cartoon). Parents wanting to pick this up for their young’uns should note that there are a lot of spears and swords going through folks in this movie, and a use or two of some harsh language. But all your kids are playing the Grand Theft Autos and listening to the Insane Clown Posses, so it’s probably too late for them anyway.
And here are these, because I want all your monies:
Oh, this post probably contains some spoilers. Sorry about that.
* Because someone’s gonna bring it up…Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia in The Addams Family, also played Marsha, the Queen of Diamonds in the ’60s Batman TV show. So there’s your Morticia/Batman connection, aside from the one I made above.
So I saw the new Transformers movie. Some minor SPOILERS ahead:
- Yes, the twins (essentially, stereotypes of black people) were a bit…uncomfortable. Sure, they do get in a couple of good lines at the expense of Sam’s college roommate, but one suspects that these characters really weren’t thought through too much. Lots of nervous laughter in my particular viewing’s audience.
- The whole business with “robot testicles” has been played up a bit too much as a complaint, I think. It’s a brief background sight gag of a couple of wrecking balls dangling from the crotch area of a giant robot whose job is destroying things. Sure, why wouldn’t it have wrecking balls? Yes, it’s a dumb gag, but it’s not any more ridiculous than anything else in this movie. If I were in charge of the film, I would have left the twins out, but I probably would have gone for the testicles gag. I’m not proud.
- I think it was at the point when the evil robots were chatting with their Supreme Leader at their space base when I had this exact thought: “What the hell am I watching?”
- Yeah, I know, just at that point?
- The plot was essentially an excuse to send robots to fight around the world so that the lovely architecture of foreign lands could be Blown Up Real Good, but…well, it hard to resist some full on giant robot battle action. By and large I had an easier time following the action sequences this time around than I did in the first film.
- However, I had a harder time following some of the dialogue…I don’t know if it’s excessive processing of the robot voices in production, or just bad speakers at the theatre, or my hearing’s just shot from all those loud Juice Newton concerts I went to in my misspent youth, but I couldn’t make out the occasional piece of dialogue.
- I think something may have been wrong with Megan Fox’s back, as she sure seemed to be bending over a lot.
- I wanted to see more of ancient humans interacting with the alien robots. Ah, well. Also, I thought we were going to get some Beast Wars-esque robots disguised as animals in those flashbacks for some reason. We did get a large cat-bot eventually, but that’s not the same.
- Really, movie? That’s all the Deep Roy you’re going to give me? That’s a damned shame, that’s what that is.
- I realize that for plot reasons, Optimus Prime by necessity was out for a good chunk of the picture, but…well, I would have liked more Optimus in the film. The scene where he’s facing off with that government agent who’s trying to get the Autobots to leave…one got a real sense of dignity, wisdom, and patience out of Optimus, which, considering it’s a digital effect of a huge honkin’ robot, is quite the feat.
Overall…so long as they stuck to the action (or to scenes with Optimus Prime being awesome), the film was okay. Not as good as the first one (which I realize for some people “good” is a relative term in discussing these movies…hey, I was pleasantly surprised by the first film, what can I tell you), and this new movie certainly doesn’t have an ounce of brainmatter anywhere in it, but…well, I’d give a third film a shot, I suppose.
However, that G.I. Joe trailer hasn’t really improved any with repeated viewings, has it?
And now, another installment of “SPIN or SARCASM,” featuring the back cover of the recently released Howard the Duck: Special Edition DVD:
“One of the most talked-about movies of all time….”
“…This unbelievably funny comedy….”
“…A hidden treasure the whole family can enjoy.”
“…Groundbreaking special effects.”
“…Its transformation into a cultural phenomenon.”
Those particular quotes just kind of jumped out at me from the DVD cover…yes, this means I now own a copy of the DVD. Don’t you judge me. Anyway, I suppose “one of the most talked-about movies” is certainly true, as is the business about being a “cultural phenomenon.” Enormous cinematic bombs do tend to stick around in the public consciousness for a while…I couldn’t tell you who won the Best Picture Oscar last year, but by God, I remember Howard the Duck pretty much scene-for-scene.
The other quotes…”unbelievably funny comedy” is pushing it a bit. Let’s settle for “mildly amusing.” And while some of the special effects were nice, like the stop motion monster near the end of the film, I don’t know that I’d go for “groundbreaking.” But there is some nice soundwork, and the Howard suit is actually a lot more technologically complex than I realized, after getting a brief shot of its innards during one of the DVD extras. In addition, “fun for the whole family” apparently includes that scene at the beginning of the movie with naked duck breasts (er, what?). I forget where I saw it, but an online review noted that the “fun for the whole family” line was right above a warning on the back cover that read “certain portions of this picture may be unsuitable for younger children.” Granted, not much in the film is the type of the material that’ll warp Little Billy’s mind and turn him into a mass murderer, but there is a joke or two that might need some adult supervision.
Yeah, yeah, I’m nitpicking. Hey, it’s all in fun…I gotta admire whoever wrote the copy on this DVD cover for doing a good job putting a positive spin on a film that’s very famously a failure and a flop.
Now, about those special features…there’s nearly an hour’s worth of bonus material, which, when I first heard about it, surprised the hell out of me. I totally figured we’d get a barebones disc, with the movie and maybe the trailers, dumped on the market at a rock-bottom price. We do get the trailer (with actors talking about Howard as if he’s a real person), plus some other vintage behind-the-scenes shorts (including one with Thomas Dolby and his work on the soundtrack), but we also get new interviews with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck (the folks who wrote/directed/produced the film), Lea Thompson (who played “Beverly”), Jeffrey Jones (“Jenning/Dark Overlord”) and Ed Gale (who was in the actual Howard costume). There is lots of vintage behind the scenes footage and stills accompanying the interviews, including several appearances by George Lucas his own self supervising the shooting, inspecting the effects, and very clearly pondering the creation of Jar Jar Binks. Or maybe I’m just reading into things, here.
Another element that surprised me, beyond the fact that there even were special features, is the honesty regarding the film’s impact. Granted, for most of the interviews, there is a very upbeat, positive spin on the film. Lots of tales of hard work and enormous effort and hurdles to be overcome and so on…can’t blame them for trying to defend the work they put into the film. Most folks don’t make a film trying for a disastrous flop. But then they have to admit that, yes, the film may not have performed up to expectations, to say the least. Well, it’s not like they could have denied it, right? They’re fully aware of the film’s place in cinematic and cultural history, and there is some discussion regarding how they reacted to the film’s reception at the time (hint: not entirely well).
Howard’s creator, the late Steve Gerber, is mentioned briefly, and there is a quick glimpse or two of the comics, plus a few mentions of how funny those comics were. Though, listening to the interviews, I sorta get the feeling that the folks making the film didn’t really grasp what it was that made Howard special. Well, okay, maybe the actual two hour movie established that already, but there’s still…nothing specific I can point to, but just a general sense from what was said that Howard’s essence eluded them. No real shame in that, however…Howard’s essence has pretty much eluded everyone whose name wasn’t “Steven Gerber.”
All that said…I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is a good movie. It isn’t. But it’s not a horrible movie. It is, in a strange way, charmingly awful. It’s watchable, it’s dumb, it’s occasionally amusing, it has Jeffrey Jones putting teethmarks in the scenery, it has Tim Robbins in one of his earliest roles, and it has Lea Thompson. Boy, does it ever have Lea Thompson. And occasionally, for only the briefest moments, you do get a minuscule reminder of the Howard you know and love from the comics.
But this…this…is the final insult:
After everything else they’ve put Howard through, they stripped away his cigar, present in all the previous publicity and tie-in material for the film, for the DVD cover? Here’s the original:
Okay, he now has feet sticking out of the egg (which he didn’t have before in the above poster* this cover was based on, and appear to have been taken from this other poster
and Photoshopped in), but still…to deprive a duck of his smokes. That’s a damn shame, that’s what that is.
ONE FINAL WARNING: If you do decide to watch, or rewatch, this movie, you will have the refrain from the “Howard the Duck” theme song, as performed by the in-movie band Cherry Bomb, running through your head, unbidden, in a constant loop. This is the price you pay for quality entertainment.
* I had a vague recollection of a series of posters with Howard slowly busting out of the egg, and perhaps one of them had his feet sticking out, too…but perhaps I’m imagining things. I can’t Google up any examples and there are no such posters at the IMDB entry. But I did find this awesome German poster for the film (“HOWARD – An Animal Hero,” if Babel Fish is not lying to me), so my internet search was not in vain!
Last Friday night, I went to go see the new Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer, and…short review: what they gave us was pretty good, what they didn’t give us was pretty annoying.
Overall, it’s an improvement over the first film. I’m one of the few people on the planet who actually kinda sorta liked the first film, despite its flaws and missed opportunities. This film feels like it’s a little smoother, more action packed, more humor, more attachment to the characters (c’mon, the Thing is lovable in every medium), and doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at a short 90 minutes. Maybe too short, which I’ll get to the spoiler section.
And, speaking of which, let me do my usual SPOILER WARNING, as I’m going to let loose with some FF movie secrets just after this next pic. When you see the second picture, the spoilers will be over. Okay, internet pals? Okay!
- Let’s get the biggie out of the way, first: as you may have gathered from my Saturday morning post, there just ain’t any Galactus in the picture. At one point in the film, you see a shadow that resembles his helmet cast across the face of a planet, and near the end you kinda sorta maybe possibly see a face in the giant Galact-o-cloud.
Now, if you’re gonna mention Galactus during the course of the film, and if Galactus is presented as the true, looming threat…to not have the heroes directly face off against Galactus at the end of the story seems like a bit of a cheat. Or, at the very least, disappointing. An extra ten minutes or so featuring the FF fighting Galactus would have pushed this flick from “not too bad” to “absolutely fantastic.” Er, so to speak.
And this isn’t just “Galactus should have appeared in the movie exactly as he appeared in the 1960s.” It’s just that having the heroes mope around on Earth while the film’s Special Guest Star Superhero takes care of the real threat doesn’t seem like a wise choice.
- Speaking of the Galact-o-cloud, I have to admit it did look really menacing, particularly in the shots showing it about to encompass/devour the Earth.
- The Silver Surfer himself…now, look, I’ve mentioned before the improbability of the Surfer actually working as a character. It’s a guy, covered in silver, who flies on a surfboard. You’d think that’d be as goofy as all get out, but it (usually) works on paper, and it works out swimmingly on film. The initial chase sequence with the Surfer and the Human Torch is a blast, and the other (too few) sequences of the Surfer in action are quite nicely done.
- The relationships within the family work very well, which is important. The focus for the FF should always be “family” — this isn’t just a superteam of folks with oddball powers. They’re bound together by love and friendship, and this aspect of the FF translated well to film. In particular, the friendly-adverserial relationship between the Torch and the Thing, and Sue’s patience and acceptance of Reed’s inability to completely put aside science for romance.
- I think we still haven’t quite achieved the level of technology required to properly present a stretchy guy in live action. The bachelor party dance sequence, with Reed attempting to cut a rug with some rubbery moves, pretty much just screamed “CGI.” Okay, duh, it’s gotta be CGI, but it didn’t look convincing in the slightest. It looked okay during the Ferris wheel rescue sequence, and during the climactic Doom battle…but more on that in a moment.
- There’s product placement all over this flick, but for the most part it actually works in context (i.e. Johnny’s attempts at sponsorship). Even the “Dodge” logo on the Fantasticar amused more than offended.
- Okay, I know I said before we don’t need any more Stan Lee cameos…but the one in this film is almost directly out the original FF comics. How can I say no?
- Dr. Doom’s possession of the Surfer’s powers worked better than I expected as well. The visuals of Doom riding the board looked like they were taken right out of the similar event in the original comics. Even better, though, was the Torch’s acquisition of all the Four’s powers in order to battle the cosmically-powered Doom, turning him into, for all intents and purposes, the Super Skrull. If there’s one thing I never expected to see in a live action film, it’s a flaming rocky fist at the end of a stretched arm. (In real life…sure, I expect to see that all the time.)
“Hey, look, is that Galact…oh, no, it’s just a cloud. Never mind.”
And there you go. I liked it. So sue me.
Also, one of the attached trailers to this film was for the forthcoming live-action Underdog movie. And…um…it actually didn’t look half bad. (It just goes to show you that Peter Dinklage improves everything.) Not that I’m expecting to pay money to see it in a theatre…I’ll just rent it via Netflix so no one has to know I’m watching it, except me…and, I guess, the few thousand of you who just read that. (EDIT: Paul Di Filippo has got my back re: Underdog.)
Let me know what you thought of the film in the comments section here…and don’t forget to let your voice be known in my little survey from Sunday.