Captain America

April 29, 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (DJ’s SPOILER FREE Take)

CELEBRATORY

Now, I’m not a psychic or anything.  I’m not from the future or possess some mutant power over probability or telepathy or the space time continuum.  However, I know…without a shadow of a doubt…that The Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be taken for granted in the next coming months.  Oh, we’ll all see it, for sure.  But cynics and critics who get paid a dime a word to say such cliched things as “this comic book movie craze is wearing thin for me” are going to crap on this film.  Hell, even some fans of the property are going to take for granted how great this film is.  The main question these groups of people will ask is if it is better than the first Avengers.  My answer to that is…no.  After hearing that, everyone will rush to judgement and think the film is a disappointment or even a failure.  It is astronomically far from that.  What you have to realize is that even before Age of Ultron was made, it was going to be impossible to make it better than the original.  The original Avengers is literally a dream come true.  It is a film that is the first ever culmination of years of planning and set-up for something that was thought to be impossible to pull off.  More so than Sin City.  More so than Watchmen.  The Avengers was not supposed to happen…but it did…and it was great.  Flawed?  Sure.  But despite whatever criticism lobbied toward it, it will forever have that glow of the first time.  All you realistically can hope for in a sequel is for it not to squander its predecessor’s steam or lose its way.  For it to continue exploring and expanding on the things that worked well in the original while managing to fix whatever mistakes the original suffered from.  Thankfully, Avengers: Age Of Ultron does that and then some.

Avengers: Age of Ultron centers around the assemblage of Earth’s mightiest heroes as they try and fend off a global assault from a self-aware computer program called Ultron.  The program itself is accidentally created by Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark.  The team must fight for their lives and fight to stay together while the world is on the brink of total annihilation.  But I don’t want to really talk about that.  I want to talk about the real reason why this film works and why it will continue to work going forward. 

What is the best parts of any Tarantino movie?  Is it the ultra violent action scenes?  Is it the cool soundtrack?  Is it the story?  Not for my money.  It is the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their witty verbiage in their interactions.  What was the best parts of the new Star Trek films?  Was it the space battles?  Was it the phaser shootouts?  Was it the lens flares?  Not for my money.  It was the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their palpable chemistry.  Their understanding of who each of their characters are.  The same can be said of the first Avengers and thankfully of Age of Ultron.  Don’t get me wrong, the action scenes and set pieces in all these films are crazy good.  However, these team-up Marvel films go as far and will continue to go as far as the characters’ chemistry and interactive dialogue will take them.  Action scenes are easy to pull off compared to the task of assembling a large cast of characters that you have to make lovable in different ways and believable in their conversations with one another.  Special effects are a cinch compared to writing a character so well that fan boys geek out about them as much when they are out of their super suit having a normal conversation as they would seeing them in their super suit battling murderous megalomaniacal robots.  Avengers: Age of Ultron’s chemistry is its superpower.  The story has its flaws, but you are willing to forgive them because you love these characters and you love to be a fly on the wall in their superhero lives. 


The original players that return…Tony, Cap’, Thor, Widow, Banner, Hawkeye…are just as good if not better than before.  Robert Downey Jr. is the rockstar of the group without managing to overshadow the others.  Chris Evans’ ability to be honest and vulnerable as Steve Rogers yet stern and leader-like as Captain America is a marvel to watch. (See what I did there?) Hemsworth’s Thor seems to work best when he is allowed to be humorous and play up the fish out of water trope, which he does again here.  Hawkeye gets a much talked about backstory, but in my opinion, he also gets much better material to work with as a team member.  The Banner/Widow “thang” does take some getting used to, but ScarJo and Ruffalo make it feel genuine.  Scarlett Johansson is also given a scene in the middle of this film that was almost out of place in its subject matter and the dramatic power in which she plays it.  Kudos and whoa.  

Hey Widow.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes Called…

To be honest, the new players are the ones that I really spent my time focusing on.  Getting inserted into a world where the chemistry of characters is so important is no easy feat.  3 out of the 4 newbies manage to slide in with ease.  Elizabeth Olsen really does a fine job with Scarlet Witch, proving that she is keeping all the talent in the Olsen family.  Paul Bettany’s jump from voice over J.A.R.V.I.S. to live action Vision is so good that it is a flaw in the film that we don’t get more of him.  Andy Serkis even steals a scene as a character who may or may not be the nemesis in the upcoming Black Panther film.  But my one standout from the Avengers: Age of Ultron is predictably James Spader’s titular character.  The thing you have to prepare for, which will catch you off guard as it did me, is how funny and alive Ultron is in this film.  Some who have seen this performance already have been put off by this, believing a robot wouldn’t possess this much personality.  However, if you take the time to understand that this is a robot with the soul of one Tony Stark, it makes sense.  Ultron would of course be as eccentric and comically quirky as its genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist father.  Fans of James Spader will be amazed by how many of the actor’s signature mannerisms and facial ticks are alive and well in Ultron.  Getting back to my point about dialogue scenes, Ultron’s verbal interactions with Vision are possibly my favorites in the film.

Quicksilver is the new player that I had the most issues with.  The largest praise I can offer Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance is that it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  He and Olsen’s accents are not even as bad as I thought they were going to be.  Taylor-Johnson is not really bad at all.  It is just a bit of a low-key performance for a character that had so much more personality in X-Men: Days of Future Past.  And I freely admit that I thought Taylor-Johnson would be the superior Pietro Maximoff.  However, Evan Peters, much like what his character would do, steals Taylor-Johnson’s lunch in comparison.

Here I’ve been waxing poetic about character and dialogue and chemistry and I have neglected to talk about the popcorn action moments in this film.  I apologize.  Rest easy.  There are many. 

PUNY AFFORDABLE SEDAN!

Soooooo many.  So much so, that the biggest action scene in the first Avengers is merely the opening scene to this film.  Whedon, having written great set pieces in comic books for years, seems to have finally come into his own creating them as a director in his films.  The television show composition and cleanness of the first Avengers, a topic of criticism in the past, is gone thanks to the addition of cinematographer Ben Davis.  Davis, fresh off his stint on some film called Guardians of the Galaxy, really makes the film appear more cinematic while keeping its vibrancy. (Sorry DC)  Both know exactly what we want on a base level in an Avengers film, and both generously spoon feed us battle after battle with a wink and a smile. 

NERDGASM!!!

Speaking to the flaws of the film, I will say that there are some very hurried and even skipped over moments of exposition and character development in spots.  You can almost feel when a scene has been trimmed down for time.  This is why I was initially happy when the film was reported to be 3 hours long at first.  Film length never bothers me if there is a lot of story to tell or character development to get through.  You have not one but two beings of artificial intelligence whose motivations come at you at breakneck speed.  This is something in which Marvel appears to recognize, considering their announcement of an extended cut Blu-ray with alternate endings coming our way in the future.  Long films do limit their own box office receipts, so I understand the give and take that Marvel/Disney are up against.  Fans of the stand alone films Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World will also be saddened to see little to nothing being carried over from those two films into Age of Ultron.  Most importantly, why Tony is back to being Iron Man after appearing to give it up in his last cinematic outing.  

Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the best summer popcorn flick you’re going to see this year…the best you’ve had in two years…and the most fun you’ll have in the theater until the end of the year.  No, I don’t think it surpasses its predecessor on a comic book movie level, but that should not prevent you from CELEBRATING it or the fact that we got TWO of these films that were an unrealistically optimistic fantasy in our minds a little under a decade ago…with TWO MORE on the way!  Have some Vision…get tangled in strings…don’t drink from Thor’s flask…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  

March 25, 2015

Late-to-the-party Matt: Who are these chicks?

Anyone worth their film-going, or trailer viewing, salt has seen and dissected the “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” trailer over and over again. The main points of interest have revolved around who is who, mainly the person in the cave and the woman seen while Thor is being seemingly electrocuted. However, one person still isn’t being talked about nearly enough. It’s her; see below:

WHO IS F, IS SHE?!

The main reason I bring this up is the recent mention that Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, has already been cast. Could this woman be Captain Marvel right under our nose. The other reason I bring this up is the fact that she was not only in the 3rd Avengers trailer, but also the 2nd. See below:

Could this just be a MacGuffin? Maybe, but I also find it hard to believe that you would include a “nothing” character in not just one, but two trailers. The other speculation is that this character is simply this same character below:

The main argument I have with this, and while it might be weak, is that the two actresses do not look alike. Sure, characters are re-cast all the time (Ed Norton/Mark Ruffalo anyone?) and there seems to be more to this character than meets the eye.

Leave any comments in the comments section and yell at me for my ineptitude or lack of sense.

January 7, 2015

Simplistic TV: Agent Carter Premiere Episode

SPIRIT

Maybe it’s because I’m an unapologetic Marvel “fanboy”.  Maybe it’s because strong female heroines like Ellen Ripley, Beatrix Kiddo, and Sarah Connor have always been more interesting to me than their stereotypical square-jawed Dudley Do-Right male counterparts.  Maybe it’s because several other shows in the same genre, including its parent company predecessor, underwhelmed out the gate.  Maybe it’s because my male physiology reacts to seeing the flawless Hayley Atwell by raising my endorphin levels to a staggering amount.  Hell, it may be all of those reasons combined which resulted in my enjoyment of the premiere for Agent Carter. 

Agent Carter, a spin-off of Marvel’s best One-Shot short film of the same name and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes place about a year after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger and follows that film’s standout character, Agent Peggy Carter.  Carter, a war hero of the highest order, is now forced to find her way and try to do her job as a spy while stuck in a chauvinistic, male driven world keen to keep her serving coffee and answering phones.  So yeah, it’s like Mad Men meets Alias.  Truthfully, the series gives Marvel a real opportunity to flesh out the Peggy Carter character.  Thus, bringing more understanding as to why Cap’ still pines for her and why she would be the one chosen as the first Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Carter has got the no nonsense determination of a Nick Fury and the beautiful but deadly charm of Black Widow.

“Love The Hat.”

In defense of Agent Carter’s less enjoyable programming peers, shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Constantine, and even (gulp) Gotham have story arcs meant to be spread across the normal 20 to 26 episode season structure.  Agent Carter is meant to be a strong, short arching, cinematic punch of 8 episodes; much like a standard UK television series.  (Which is why UK television is of a higher quality than American television in my opinion.  Although, that’s a conversation for another day)  However, it is clear from at least the first two episodes that showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas are confident in what they are doing, know what their show needs to accomplish, and know how to SMOOTHLY insert elements of its comic book and MCU source material in a way that enhances the experience instead of hindering it.  (Ahem!  Gotham.  Ahem!)  And really, it’s just plain fun.  The 40s era SPIRIT and charm has always been a great vessel for any absurd or unbelievable concepts the show wants to try.  (See: Indiana Jones)  And don’t worry about punches being pulled either.  Agent Carter may not be Boardwalk Empire in terms of graphic violence, but it is not from a lack of trying.  There is death and brutality in this female led, 40s era, 8 o’clock, comic book show, owned by Disney that may surprise you. 

Hayley Atwell seems to be born to play this role.  You can see why Marvel had the confidence to give her a big showcase show like this that she has to practically carry alone.  She not only nails every countering line to the volley of sexist insults hurled her way, she seems to have the ability to share an instant chemistry with whichever actor they put across from her.  She fortunately gets to separate herself from Scarlett Johansson and Ming-Na because they both play very guarded characters.  Peggy Carter is guarded in a different way in my opinion.  While Melinda May and Black Widow use lies to protect themselves, Carter, armed with truth, almost dares anyone wanting to crack her shell to step up try.  Her confidence as a character and Atwell’s portrayal of that confidence is perfect.

Dominic Cooper, although having a minor role, is still great as Howard Stark.  He does not take the easy way out by doing a Robert Downey Jr. impersonation.  He leans more toward the Howard Hughes/Citizen Kane type of billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist.  My one tiny gripe would be the Edwin Jarvis character, played by James D’Arcy.  D’Arcy is a great choice for the role and plays Jarvis well, but I hope the writers turn up his snark a bit more.  I realize I am contaminated by Paul Bettany’s brilliant A.I. version, and I know they are utilizing the role reversal of Peggy being tough and Jarvis being foppish.  I just want the banter between the two of them to be a little more biting, much like it is with Downey Jr. and Bettany.  It is there between the two…but I’m greedy for more. 

The rest of the supporting cast is fine in their roles, more or less not getting in the way of the story.  I say that hoping the Lyndsy Fonseca waitress character Angie either amounts to something much bigger or falls a little more to the wayside.  Shea Whigham’s character Roger Dooley is a preferable boss to Peggy Carter than Bradley Whitford’s Agent Flynn from the Marvel One-Shot.  Dooley seems to fit better in the era than Whitford’s Agent Flynn did.  Now, that may just be because I’m used to seeing Whigham on Boardwalk Empire.  However, I like to think it’s his gruff and unapologetic use of chauvinism as apposed to Flynn’s snarky approach.  Whigham is clueless to Carter’s activities, but I don’t see him as a cliched idiot. 

While staying up to see a humdrum Ant-Man trailer, I managed to find something even better cooking right under my nose.  Agent Carter is a show that hits the ground running with a quality to it that might catch you off guard.  It is a welcome addition to the Marvel universe and seems to bring hope that Marvel shows to follow will also learn from its predecessors mistakes.  Scan yourself for vita-rays…have someone tie you to a chair…turn on some Benny Goodman…oh and tip generously…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

November 24, 2014

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – Captain America

VINTAGE

Now-a-days comic book movies have become the saving grace of the summer blockbuster season. What were once exorcises in a maligned art form are now the most highly anticipated events of the year. So for the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at comic book films from back in the day. When they were still paying their dues. When all the answers to every problem wasn’t an army of digital effects artists and programmers. All aboard the “Action Movie Time Machine”. It’s time to visit the first
The year is 1979. A nuclear power plant known as Three Mile Island, had a near melt-down. Robert Duvall loves the smell of napalm in the morning”. Young men and women with radical hairdos mourn the death of punk legend Sid Vicious. All this and Reb Brown throws his shield as “Captain America”.
THE SKINNY
It all begins with Steven Rogers, Reb Brown, who has just returned home for a long stint with the Marines, from which he has been discharged. His plan now is to see America, as he drifts from town to town in his killer ’70s pussy-mobile. Complete with seagull “van art”. With his military career behind him, Steve plans to get along by selling his paintings… Not the Captain American you remember from the comics?
This is all fine and well until he receives some distressing news from Jeff, an old friend who asks Steve to meet with him. As Steve makes his way to meet Jeff’s home, a group of teamsters attempt to  kill Steve by creating an oil slick on the cliff side road Steve is traveling on. Steve loses control and slides off the edge of the cliff. Miraculously, Steve emerges unscathed and doesn’t seem to be alarmed in any way.
This oil slick scene consists of Steve trying to regain control of his van for over thirty seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but believe me, it’s classic ’70s goofy. Aside from it being goofy, this scene stands out because one talented madman had to operate the van, sliding on the edge of a cliff, as they filmed the scene. Bravo!
Eventually Steve arrives, only to find Jeff murdered. He meets with Simon Wells, a scientist who once worked with Steve’s father conducting secret experiments and carrying out highly classified projects for the United States government. Simon suggests that perhaps Jeff’s death and the attack on Steve could be connected. Someone must be trying to get their hands on Jeff’s data concerning the Neutron Bomb which he has been building. And Steve was attacked because…his father, who is now dead, did…umm…stuff..?
Steve’s father was developing a special steroid to boost the average man’s strength and endurance. This synthetic steroid is called the “F.L.A.G. Serum”. Simon now wants Steve to follow in his fathers footsteps by taking the FLAG Serum and using his increased strength to help protect the Neutron Bomb.
This is around the time our story develops in two ways;
The first being a terrorist crime boss plot  to build a Neutron Bomb and detonate it in the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Az. The bomb will kill everyone within so many miles, but leave everything else untouched. With everyone dead, his men will be able to walk right in and steal the city blind.
The second is Steve wrestling with the temptation of his newly found freedom and instead taking on the responsibility of becoming a super soldier and fighting off terrorists. What helps Steve make up his mind is several more attacks on his life by hired goons. One of which is almost fatal. Steve’s life is saved when Simon injects the FLAG Serum into Steve while he is unconscious. The serum works and Steve recovers almost overnight.

With Steve now on board, Simon has a red, white and blue costume designed to conceal Steve’s identity while he’s fighting for America. This new outfit comes with a Plexiglas shield, a refurbished van complete with high-tech doo-dads and a patriotically painted motorbike.
With the Neutron Bomb now complete, Steve races to intercept it in transport. Once he does, Simon meets Steve to disarm the bomb before it blows…which he does… The End.
THE VERDICT
Before I share my thought on “Captain America”, I would like to cover a little bit of Marvel movie history.
This is the second time Captain America was portrait in any live-action incarnation. The first being a fifteen part serial starring Dick Purcell, from 1944. It was a poor adaptation of the then Timely Comics character. Purcell played District Attorney Grant Gardner who became Captain America to prevent a mad doctor from acquiring equipment to build super weapons. No super soldier serum equals no Captain America in my opinion.
Now, years later, Marvel had been trying to take the company in other directions. They were chomping at the bit the to have more of their characters adapted into film and television. The only problem was that the technology, at the time, wasn’t powerful enough portray some of the more fantastic super human concepts. The various production teams that worked on these projects were also often limited by budget. These shortcomings resulted in either one of two things.
They had to re-imagine certain character elements, simplifying them to help sell the overall production. Or they tried to make do with what they had and failed miserably. The Incredible Hulk television show was a good example of this. Rather than adding ridiculous prosthetic makeup and costume to Bill Bixby’s character (David Banner) to make him look like the Hulk, they just painted Lou Ferrigno green. They kept it simple, focused on the characters and it worked.
The same goes for this film. Reb Brown actually plays the son of Captain America. This way Universal Studios didn’t have to spend the extra money turning the film into a period piece set in some foreign country so Captain America could punch Hitler in the face. What doesn’t work so much is that his shield and costume are completely re-invented. He looks nothing like the Steve Rogers/Captain America from the comic book and comes off pretty goofy. But, after all, it was the ’70s. If I’m not upset about Batman’s “Tumbler” not looking like the classic Bat-mobile, or that he has shark repellent in his helicopter, or that “Bat-nipples” are a thing, I guess I can’t get to excited about a Plexiglas shield and motorcycle helmet.
The REAL problem with “Captain America” is that it is a ’70s made for television movie of the week. And with that it has hammy acting, poor edits, mediocre special effects, it lacks a major comic book villain and it drags a bit in the middle. Is it a great film? No. But it is a pretty fun super hero time capsule.
It aired on CBS long before my time, but I could imagine being a child back in ’79 – sitting in front of the television, patiently waiting for the movie to start and complaining that the commercials are taking too long. Mmmm, the sweet smell or nostalgia. 
  So in conclusion, “Captain America” isn’t for everyone. But for those of you who are comic nerds or if the ’70s were your heyday — you’re going to love it.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes another trip on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, Semper Fi Punk!
For more from Cory, check out his website slaughterfilm.com, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!
April 5, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

STAKES

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first post-Avengers Marvel movie to give me and most other Marvel fans the one thing we’ve wanted.  The one thing Iron Man 3 squandered away for a punchline.  The one thing Thor: The Dark World got close to delivering but got handcuffed by Thor’s…well…immortality.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier finally gave me STAKES.  It finally provides the feeling of true peril and importance to the grand scheme of this carefully constructed Marvel cinematic universe.  People not only get hurt in this film, they get hurt bad.  They bleed, they suffer, they die.  And throughout the chaos, you finally get the sense that important sh%* is on the line.  AND THAT’S EXCLUDING THE WINTER SOLDIER PLOTLINE!

I’ve been on media blackout for this followup to Captain America: The First Avenger since I saw the face melting first trailer.  I did this because Marvel, god bless ’em, has a bad habit of revealing the best parts of their films in their commercials. (Not as bad as Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 revealing EVERY part of their film in their 30+ commercials, but still.)  That first trailer gave me everything I needed to know about this film.  Since then, I’ve inadvertently overheard really positive stuff, going as far as to say, “It’s better than The Avengers”.  Well, I’m of the opinion that The Avengers is THE BEST superhero film ever made.  So, to even make a claim like that really raised my expectations for what I’d see.  I’m glad to report my expectations were met with ease.  Now, I’m not saying that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is better than The Avengers.  I mean, COME ON!  Need I remind you THIS happened?:

However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most well structured, action packed, comic book fan friendly, solo hero film Marvel Studios has ever made.  
Now let me get my largest criticism out of the way, because I’m a comic book movie snob.  We snobs complain first and praise second.  This movie should NOT be subtitled The Winter Soldier.  It is not an entirely accurate description of the main crux of the film.  As awesome as the actual Winter Soldier is, and holy f%#king sh%* is he awesome in this, he is merely an instrument for the story’s true villain.  A more appropriate title might have been Captain America: Shield vs S.H.I.E.L.D. or Captain America: The Sins Of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Captain America: The Soldier Without A Country.  Okay that last one is a bit wordy.  My point is that the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is the beginning, middle and end of what this film is about.  It’s a story about Captain America finding his place in S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.H.I.E.L.D. realizing their place in the world.  The twists and turns that come with this journey are surprising, even with the film already being revealed to be a political thriller.  I mean, we heard that it would be, but did you actually think Marvel would have the balls to fully do so?  Well, they did.  The Winter Soldier himself does serve as a strong bridge into the next chapter of Steve Rogers’ story.  His presence somewhat mirrors that of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.  He steps in, causes major damage, then steps out.  But his potential for the future is astronomical.  Winter Soldier could be Marvel’s first legitimately dangerous and morally complex villain/anti-hero since Loki.   That’s because the breadcrumbs for this character have been laid out so well and the dynamic between him and Captain America is so strong.
Sebastian Stan will be a household name after this film, but let me just put in my two cents before he is.  I now understand what Joe Johnston and Kevin Feige saw in Stan when they cast him in Captain America: The First Avenger.  Not only did he have to be able to hint at the potential dark nature of (SPOILER ALERT) Bucky Barnes in the first film.  We also had to buy into his friendship Steve.  And that was something Stan accomplished in a very short amount of screentime.  That chemistry and friendship set the foundation for this film’s largest emotional conflict.  Over time, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth brought to life two characters audiences now love to see on screen together.  Sebastian Stan and Chris Evans have the potential to be a worthy successor to them. 
While Stan’s character has established chemistry with Evans, Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson create new and equally rich chemistry with him here.  From his first line of dialogue, I knew Mackie understood and loved this world he now inhabits.  He isn’t just the plucky comic relief either.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of playing a comic book character instead of playing an actual character.  Mackie doesn’t fall for it.  He brings legitimacy and realism to the role of Sam Wilson.  You never doubt that he is a capable soldier and that he has deeper layers to him.  The kindred spirit relationship he shares with Steve works well.  Their connection felt even realer to me than Tony Stark and Rhodey’s.  And speaking of layers, it is now evident that Scarlett Johansson understands Black Widow inside and out.  Watching her play around with the subtle intricacies of Natasha Romanoff never gets old for me.  Since that scene in Avengers where she uses her weakness to play Loki, I revel in the moments I get to see ScarJo play this part.  I also love how this film doesn’t resort to the predictably forced romantic relationship motif.  Cap’ and Widow are friends.  Their relationship is as fraternal as Cap’s relationship was with Bucky.  Having it be this way makes it more meaningful in my opinion.  They can talk without the hesitance that comes with romantic entanglements.  Their bond was only shown briefly in the Avengers, but thankfully expanded on in this film.  
There is a scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that I call “The Captain’s Orders Scene”.  You will know it when you see it.  On paper, it is a scene that probably shouldn’t work.  One might think it too corny or cliché.  Thoughts I used to have about Captain America as a comic book character in general.  However, Chris Evans has come into his own so much with Steve Rogers, I totally bought it.  I buy him and his entire wholesome, honest, righteous attitude.  And because I buy it, I accept it when other characters buy it too.  People are willing to fight and die for Cap’.  And if they let him down, they are genuinely upset that they did.  When Anthony Mackie’s character Sam Wilson says “I’m sorry Cap’.”, there isn’t one bit of cynicism behind his words.  Chris Evans made this concept work.  He made a grown man running around in a red, white and blue outfit spouting platitudes about freedom, justice and the American way friggin’ work…TODAY.  There was a time where Marvel was hesitant to even call their film Captain America due to their fear of how the title would be received in foreign markets.  Now I’m watching set videos from the Avengers: Age Of Ultron set in Seoul Korea where little Korean children are geeking out about that same Captain America running down their streets.  Chris Evans made that happen.  I was sorry to hear about Evans wanting to retire from acting.  It is going to be quite a task finding another actor who will be able to believably sell Captain America the same way he does.  
Dear Russo Brothers…I’m sorry I ever doubted your abilities to deliver an action spectacle befitting a superhero movie.  No, I’m serious.  The action scenes in The Winter Soldier are gonna surprise you.  They are gritty and bloody and brutally intense.  Hell, the street fight between Captain America and Winter Soldier is my second favorite one on one fight scene in a comic book movie.  (Spider-Man vs Doc Ock on the train is still my number one.)  In addition to their apparent mastery of action, the Russo’s do a great job filling out the film with great character moments.  No one feels superfluous and each character feels three dimensional.  A car ride conversation between Cap’ and Black Widow is as entertaining as a motorcycle vs Quinn Jet showdown.  Joe Johnston’s direction was perfect for the first film because of the era.  However, the Russo Brothers have figured out a solid blueprint for using this character in our time.  
To go on any further would be to spoil this movie more than I already have.  Needless to say, it earns its place as one of Marvel’s best and is deserving of all the praise it’s getting…um…except for that “Better Than The Avengers” praise.  I MEAN, COME ON!:
Say your pledge of allegiance…salute the flag…never get in an elevator with Steve Rogers…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  
November 4, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (DJ’s Take)

MIGHTY

The first Thor film was a charming and clever way to introduce the idea of gods and monsters to the relatively grounded Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Director Kenneth Branagh didn’t shy away from the absurdity of gods/aliens from a magical kingdom visiting our planet/realm.  He dove headlong into it and used dry humor to take some of the edge off the skepticism. (Are you paying attention DC execs still trying to make a Wonder Woman film?)  After Thor’s moderate box office success and a great deal of believability groundwork laid by Branagh and Joss Whedon in 2012’s The Avengers, audiences were prepared to pull back their cynical blinders to see even more otherworldly spectacle.  Alan Taylor, an untouchable don from HBO’s Game Of Thrones, grabbed the reigns for the sequel Thor: The Dark World.  And I am happy, and relieved to say that Taylor keeps the character and the series on an upward track.

Thor: The Dark World brings back The MIGHTY Avenger Thor and pits him and the people of Asgard up against a race of creatures called Dark Elves who intend on bringing back infinite darkness to the galaxy with the help of a mystical substance.  To put it more simply, Thor: The Dark World is a mcguffin film.  It is a mcguffin film much in the same way Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers was.  However, I appreciate that Alan Taylor and writer Christopher Yost used the trick of turning a character, who would be useless otherwise, into the mcguffin.  Jane Foster would typically serve the purpose of being the character who asks questions that trigger all of the expository explanations.  But here, her reasons for asking are vital to her character’s immediate survival.  (I’m looking at you Man Of Steel)  The stakes are high, the action is intense, and the scope is much bigger than before.

Alan Taylor is right at home on a medieval battlefield, and it shows.  There is an invasion scene that began to remind me of the one in the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles Of Riddick.  However, the danger and destruction seemed to hold more weight.  The battle was more visceral and imaginative.  Taylor offers the same comforting feeling to the Asgardian material as Branagh did.  The only place where Taylor seemed a little out of his depth was in the scenes shot on modern day earth.  The scenes with normal people.  It was reported that Joss Whedon was flown in to help fix a few scenes in the film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they involved Dr. Selvig, Jane Foster, and Darcy Lewis mucking about.  Thankfully, these scenes are minor bridges in between the battles and bedlam of the story.  Taylor should also get credit, though I’m not sure how much, for the great performances in the film.  None more so than that of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.          

Here is a little peek behind the curtain.  I usually choose a picture for my reviews that best personifies what I hated or, in this case, loved about what I’m reviewing.  Those two Asgardian gentlemen up above, and the arc their relationship takes, serves as the main reason to go see this film.  Their chemistry was a bit clumsy in the first Thor film.  Something I attribute to the rush in explaining the origins of these strange characters.  Since then, Thor and Loki’s scenes together have become better and better.  This film displays the apex of their relationship thematically and performance-wise.  There is so much subtext in every interaction and argument they have.  It is obvious that these two actors not only have a perfect rapport, but they actually enjoy working with one another.  Natalie Portman’s character of Jane Foster is less ditsy and naive then she was before.  However, Portman’s talents still feel a bit wasted with this character.  If we didn’t live in the generation of impatience, another half hour could have allowed more time to focus on Jane Foster’s hinted rivalry with Lady Sif for Thor’s affections.  All the other supporting characters come to play and seem to revel in every moment of screen time.  

Now don’t let my praise of the Thor: The Dark World lead you to believe it is perfect.  There are a few flaws the audience has to get through.  The story takes a minute to truly get going, some of the well delivered dramatic moments and gravitas are occasionally short circuited by an ill timed joke, and there are some minor plot holes to navigate.  But the biggest weakness of the film, and I never figured I’d say this, is its antagonists.  The villain of the first Thor film was primarily Loki.  An almost perfect morally gray character with varying complexities and nuances.  A villain so rich in character, most fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now cheer for him.  Hell, he all but dominated Comic-Con in a way usually reserved for people with the initials RDJ.  Malekith is a menacing and believable threat to Thor and even Odin.  However, he has about as much complexity and nuance as Inspector Gadget’s nemesis Dr. Claw.  He’s evil for evil’s sake.  We learn little about him other than he and his people want the universe draped in darkness.  I may just be a bit bitter because with a character as deadly as Malekith, played by an actor the quality of a Christopher Eccleston, I expected more depth.

Thor: The Dark World is a rare sequel.  A sequel you’ll love if you loved the original, and a sequel you might be more inclined to like even if you hated the original.  The characters are more focused and free to be who they are, the plot is more daring, and the scale is much larger.  Coming off of the mildly disappointing and geek enraging Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World is a terrific cleanser of your comic book movie pallet.  Prepare for battle…watch out for rock monsters…and nude scientists…behold it…then tell me I’m wrong.

October 17, 2012

31 Nights Of Halloween, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

RIDICULOUS

When I first heard that they were making a live action adaption of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, my ‘BAD IDEA’ alarm went off like a tugboat horn.  When I found out that Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Wanted, was helming the project, my ‘GIVE IT A CHANCE’ indicator light began to flash.  But after watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I’m saddened to see my ‘SATISFACTION’ tank is on E.  I drive a really strange car.

Whew!  Where do I start?  The acting?  Honest Abe is played by Benjamin Walker.  Walker plays him as bland and boring as you might imagine Abe Lincoln to be.  But that is the problem.  You’ve resigned to the fact that your hero will be boring, and yet, give him no one fun to play off of.  Well, they do but he is very underutilized.  And that character is Henry Sturgess played by Dominic Cooper.  You may remember Cooper as a young Howard Stark in Captain America.  Now there is a film with a patriotic hero who could have easily been boring but wasn’t, while still not betraying his character.  Though, Benjamin Walker is no Chris Evans.  I digress.  Cooper has the only performance in this film that seems to feel right.  He is having fun.  Everyone else is either sleepwalking or overacting to the point of mugging at the camera.  Even the love story between Abe and Mary Todd seems forced.  Yes, they made one of the most historically famous romances seem forced.  

Visually?  I’ll be frank.  The special effects in this film, whether it be because of budget restrictions or laziness, are surprisingly awful.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  The worst vampire effects I have ever seen, by far.  And that includes Van Helsing.  The CGI face transformations for the vamps in this make them appear more like cheap cartoons than creatures of the night.  You remember in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Christopher Lloyd…..24 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT….reveals he’s a cartoon and becomes an amalgamation of live action man and Chuck Jones animation?  That is what these vampires look like when they go all savage.  Any moment that they are supposed to be scary is sabotaged by these lackluster effects.  They could have gone practical for much cheaper and garnered a better result.

What about the action?  Well, the action scenes are poorly staged and executed   Which baffles me seeing as this, AGAIN, is the director of Wanted.  There is a fight scene in this film that takes place during a stampede of horses.  And I have no hesitation saying that it is the most RIDICULOUS action sequence I have ever witnessed.  It is a perfect storm of horrible CGI, horrible action staging, horrible acting, and a horrible payoff.  This was when I knew I was in trouble, because this laughable scene happens only 40 minutes in.

Despite all these things, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s number one flaw is it’s tone.  It is something that, if they had gotten right, would allow us to ignore the other mistakes.  This is a story about Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president, being a vampire hunter.  And they play this film entirely serious.  The title, let alone the concept, screams ‘tongue and cheek’.  Yet, this film tries to invoke an emotional response from you.  And they do it haphazardly.  Middle of the road doesn’t work for this material.  If you want to go dark with this…go really dark.  If not, you have to go campy.  Instead, it tries to stick with the same tired, cliched, tropes you can probably see coming from a mile away.  So, here is an equally tired, cliched, summation of this film that you can probably see coming from a mile away.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has no fangs, no teeth, no bite…it just plain sucks.  Watch it…bring your garlic…then tell me I’m wrong.

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