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Just got in from seeing Ant-Man…it’s nearing midnight as I write this, so I’ll keep it short. Or small. Like an ant. An ant man.
Hold on, let me try that again.
Just saw Ant-Man, and it was a vast improvement over the last Marvel film inflicted on us, Avengers: Age of Disjointed Nonsense. While I wasn’t terribly eager for yet another superhero origin story, this one was unique (I believe) in that it gave us our first legacy superhero, more or less, in which an older hero passes down his name and powers and so forth to another. It was also a story which worked at a much smaller (har har, yes, I know) scale than recent Marvel movies, less bogged down by the shared universe, or at least incorporating it in a more natural, less in-your-face fashion. Having only one superhero guest-star during the course of the main story was something of a relief, though from the looks of things we’re going to get the exact opposite of that in this forthcoming Civil War movie.
Anyway, it was exciting and interesting, and, something the Marvel movies have been particularly good at, funny without undermining the characters. If anything the humor helps along that suspension of disbelief required to buy into all this craziness. That’s the kind of deep insight that keeps you two or three dozen people coming back to Progressive Ruin Dot Com.
The film also had one of the greatest, most fitting cameos of all time. No, not Stan the Man (yes, he’s there)…I’m talking about this fella. And I gotta give them credit for actually working the phrase “tales to astonish” — the name of the comic Ant-Man first appeared in — into the dialogue.
So, Ant-Man: surprisingly good. I’d recommend you go see it, because I’m sure you totally haven’t by now.
That’s it, I’m off to bed. Pleas-ANT dreams!
(SPOILERS ahead…not many, but enough to annoy you if you haven’t seen the films)
Well, I went in wanting…okay, let me amend that. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing Jurassic World
at all, to be honest. I was perfectly happy waiting to get the disc from Netflix in about five or six months from now. As it turned out, though, there was a bit of a family outing to see the film and I was…perhaps “strongarmed” into going is putting it a little too harshly, but, ah, what the heck, to return to the beginning of this paragraph I went in wanting some dinosaur mayhem and that’s what I got.
While there’s a sameness to all the Jurassic family of movies, it’s probably been long enough since a new one’s been on the big screen that there’s a welcome nostalgic enjoyment to seeing the formula play out with minor variations and…I almost said “improved effects,” but the original Jurassic Park raised the bar so high it’s almost like there’s nowhere else for the effects to go. It was all a bunch of enjoyable nonsense, with, as noted, plenty of dinosaur action (sometimes a little too intense, maybe, judging by the family in the row ahead of us that quietly made their exit about 2/3rd of the way through the film), but I think this was enough. I don’t see a need to pay a return visit to the franchise for a fifth variation on “it appears dinosaurs and humans don’t mix,” but of course we will since the movie made all the money in its opening weekend. However, if the next movie is about a humongous mega-dinosaur mutant threatening the Earth and the only way to defeat it is by somehow growing Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum reprising the role, natch) to giant size and pitting the two against each other, I’ll be there opening day.
One more point, which I thought was interesting (and here’s the SPOILER I warned you about), is how the Tyrannosaur went from the being the Big Bad of the first two films to being, more or less, the hero of the fourth film. A heroism born of familiarity, and certainly played upon by the filmmakers…”enough of this new weird nasty dinosaur, let’s see our old friend the T-rex kick his ass!”
So, okay, I may be a little behind the times in finally seeing this film, but I noticed the new Criterion Blu-ray edition made it to Netflix and, well, I thought I’d give it a shot. This is one of those films where I’ve repeatedly seen the same stills over and over again in various contexts over the decades (the pic of Henry, as seen on the disc packaging above, and of course the hideously deformed baby). For years, without really knowing anything about this movie, I’d assumed the title referred to either that gentleman’s lofty hairdo, or perhaps to that weird baby-thing…I mean, it still can, I guess, but that there’s a more literal explanation in the film is oddly satisfying as well. Emphasis on “oddly.”
I…um, I don’t even know where to start on this movie. It’s like watching a nightmare, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. The terrifying dream logic pushes along the action in this horrible world all the characters are stuck in…it’s compelling and it’s awful, all at once. Not sure what it all means just yet — some stuff I got, some I’m still chewin’ on — and I’m certain if I looked around online I’d have plenty of people wanting to tell me what it does mean, but it’s nice to occasionally experience a movie where there’s still a little room to dig into it after taking a first pass. And imagine, not a digital dinosaur to be seen.
Haven’t really made the time to see this one yet. Perhaps if it starts getting some positive word of mouth I’ll be more inclined to go.
[Some minor SPOILERS AHEAD]
So I was clued in by one of Johanna’s recent posts that there was a new Justice League animated feature that was going to be available exclusively at Target stores, which seemed to come as a surprise to pretty much everybody. According to this interview with the director, there was a desire for a DC superhero cartoon that maybe skewed a little younger than the usual DC Direct films that could be marketed alongside the toylines, and this was the result.
They really want you to know that this is an “original movie,” since it not only tells you so in a blurb directly printed under the title, but this sticker is affixed to the front of the package as well:
And this sticker is slapped on the box too, reminding you about Superman’s 75th anniversary last year:
As for the cartoon itself…it’s entertaining enough, with plenty of superhero versus supervillain action and a simplistic time-travel plot. The Legion of Super-Heroes are involved, kinda sorta, with Dawnstar and Karate Kid as two potential members of that future super-team who find themselves in the present day, trying to prevent Lex Luthor from using Legion villain the Time Trapper to destroy the Justice League. Dawnstar is given, in addition to her traditional super-tracking powers, some kind of magical glowy energy-healing ability that seems to primarily exist to provide a quick ending to the climactic battle of the movie. Karate Kid’s ability to spot structural flaws are given enough of a flourish to be a visually-interesting super power, and his martial arts skills are given a good showcase in a battle with Robin.
The character designs are New 52-inspired, with too many seams and not enough red trunks:
…though Superman doesn’t have that terrible collar, which is a plus. Bizarro does
have red pants in this cartoon, in case you were worried. I should note that Superman’s design, from his costume to his facial features, do fluctuate somewhat throughout the feature, which is a little distracting.
One of the major highlights in the story is when everybody time travels back to Smallville, with the villains attempting to prevent the Kents from rescuing baby Kal-El, and the heroes trying to keep history on track. It’s a very funny, slightly surreal sequence as the good guys and bad guys play keep-away with Baby Kal, who is repeatedly referred to as “Superbaby.” This Silver Age fan approves.
While mostly enjoyable, if slight, there are some minor quibbles with the film, such as Robin’s characterization as a bit of a petulant child (meant to be comic relief, and probably funny to the target (heh) audience, but may grate on old people like you and me). Plus, the Time Trapper’s ultimate gambit, to apparently…wreck stuff around Earth with time vortices, I guess? — doesn’t seem like much of a final battle beyond giving heroes one last action scene to show off their stuff.
One surprising positive: this dude shows up, and though my initial reaction was “oh, no,” he’s actually one of the more entertaining parts of the film:
Yup, that’s the jester-ish Toyman from the ’70s Super Friends
cartoons, redesigned into apparently being some kind of robot-toy-thing himself:
…and a brief shot of a display in a 31st century museum gives us his extremely depressing fate:
The original Toyman of the ’70s cartoons was mostly just annoying. I want to know more about this
Toyman, who is less annoying and more creepy and / or goofy.
Bonus features on this disc include two of the original Super Friends episodes, both involving some kind of time travel, and I haven’t watched them yet because I’m sure I’ve seen them before and therefore they have already stolen away enough of my life.
Overall it’s a fun cartoon, despite some minor issues, and hopefully will lead to more all-ages original animated features based on DC properties. …By which of course I mean “Swamp Thing.”
…And that was my slightly-facetious reaction to the Man of Steel film I posted on the Twitter soon after getting home early Sunday morning (and referring to circumstances explained in the beginning of this Wikipedia article).
I do have to say, though, I now understand the reactions I was getting as described in this other Twitter post from Friday afternoon:
There is certainly a lot to like in the film…it’s well-cast, the film itself is beautifully shot, and the weaving of the Smallville flashbacks into the narrative was effective, I thought. As for the action sequences…well, whatever else you can say about director Zack Snyder, he can certainly deliver an action sequence that’s easily followed, as opposed to other films where “action” means “zoom the camera in close and shake it around a lot,” which too easily bamboozles my addled brain.
As for the other stuff…well, I’ll be getting into big ol’ SPOILERS here, so if haven’t seen the film, skip the text that immediately follows this shot of fiery-hot Henry Cavill, and continue reading after you see the pic of Supes and Lois holding hands:
Certainly a lot has been said about the sheer amount of destruction in the film…when the Daily Planet staffer tells Superman “you saved us!” after we just watched a huge chunk of Metropolis smashed into rubble, surely at the cost of more lives than you’d care to think about, one can almost be convinced that was intended as an ironic joke, a commentary on just how horrible it would be to live in a world where there were super-powered people flying around and fighting out their grudge matches through soft, watery citizens and balsa-wood buildings. Bully has a thoughtful commentary
on this film’s devastation of Metropolis that I suggest you read…the idea that so many folks seemingly died in a Superman film, with Superman unable to save them, seems incompatible with the very idea of a Superman story. Not that you can’t tell good stories about such a thing — this Hitman story
is one example — but…well, it just didn’t feel
right, you know? Yes, this is Superman’s first big challenge and he’s not quite learned the ropes yet, and yes, Superman had to choose between saving billions
versus saving thousands, but…well, one would have hoped Superman would have found a way to save everyone.
That’s the “reviewing the movie I would have preferred” versus “the movie I got” trope, I realize, but, man, my Superman would have saved them all.
(Jeff Parker notes in his review that this amount of collateral damage is a “stock convention of superhero stories,” and that “if they want you to think a lot of people died, you see footage of dead people.” And, you know, fair enough. Seeing it in live action, in this amount of detail, as opposed to looking at it on a comics page, makes it a little more difficult to suspend the disbelief, but I can see Parker’s point.)
The other Big Troubling Moment in the film, one that was in fact spoiled for me by someone’s casual retweeting of someone else’s comment upon it — oh, the dangers of the social Internet — is, of course, the killing of General Zod by Superman. It did bring to my mind the last time Superman openly killed anyone, in this comic here where he executes Phantom Zone villains responsible for the deaths of billions, acting as Krypton’s last arbitrator of justice. That was bit of a controversial move at the time, but it was shortly after the mid-1980s reboot of the character and it was intended, as memory serves, as the impetus for Superman’s code against killing, a long-standing tradition for the character.
Again, I’ve seen the argument made that the event in the film is a formative moment for Superman, that this will lead to his unwillingness to take a life ever again, particularly given the anguish he expresses in the moments afterward. And in the larger “journey of the hero” context, like the destruction of Metropolis, I can understand and even, for the sake of the story, accept the choices made here, but the old fanboy in me wants the Superman who doesn’t want anybody to die, and won’t let anybody die.
In short, when someone asks me if I liked Man of Steel, I suspect will lead my answer with a pause. There’s a lot to think about here, not the least of which is the contrast between the Superman I picture in my head versus the Superman that works onscreen, that works for the vast majority of people who haven’t been reading Superman comics for the last few decades. The audience I saw this with applauded at the end of the film, so clearly they were happy with it, though I did notice some…ambivalence? shock? certainly some quiet whispering in reaction to Zod’s death. So, you know, it wasn’t just me.
A couple of other brief comments: I liked the brief glimpses we got of the evolution of young Clark’s friendship with Pete Ross, I enjoy the new dynamic in the Lois and Clark relationship (no “I wonder why I never see Clark and Superman together” here!), Laurence Fishburne makes a great Perry White, and holy cow, we get Faora (Horo-Kanu and all!) and Steve Lombard! And I do have to admit, Fanboy Mike very much appreciated the moment when the military stood down and realized that Superman was on their side. That was nice.
Plus, I think they probably should have animated a giant red arrow pointing from the stained glass window Jesus to Clark in that one shot, just in case no one got the symbolism.
In addition, I came out of the movie with the most firm of convictions that Sears is the place to go for massively destructive fight scenes and for vans to throw at supervillains. That’s some effective sponsor placement!
But seriously, there is a lot to ponder in this film…it’s easy to dismiss as “not my Superman,” and I can understand that. There’s a part of me that even kinda sorta feel that way myself. There is still a lot here to appreciate, I think, as a valid reinterpretation of the character, and that there is so much discussion and debate over the film…that’s preferable to a forgettable film that inspires nothing.
However, you guys out there trying to convince us there are Aquaman references in Man of Steel? C’mon.
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 fiery 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.
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