The Avengers

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.  

August 27, 2014

The 10 Best Superhero Films of All Time Blog Relay

We here at Simplistic Reviews are honored and happy to be apart of the Top 10 Superhero Films Blog Relay…mainly because we have this same conversation amongst ourselves nearly twice a day.  The rules are simple….well actually they aren’t.  They’re a bit more complicated and elaborate than our feeble minds are use to.  However it is all in an effort to make a rock solid, no doubt about it, objective/subjective list.  Here are the rules:

1. The list of movies will be passed to another blogger who will post their list within a week.
2. The blogger will take their list, remove 3 movies – with explanations, and replace with 3 new movies – with explanations.

3. If a movie lasts five rounds without being removed, it is locked into place.
4. If a movie is removed three different times, it is locked out and can no longer be chosen by someone else. 
5. Once four movies are locked into place, bloggers will replace 2 movies. 
6. Once eight movies are locked into place, bloggers will replace 1 movie. 
7. Once all ten movies are locked into place, the relay will be complete.

Confused yet?  Good.  Let me explain…no…there is too much.  Let me sum up.

Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights & Movie Nights began with a list of The Avengers, Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, The Incredibles, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, Superman, X-Men,Unbreakable, Batman: Under the Red Hood & Blade 2.

Andrew from A Fistful of Films rearranged things by removing Batman: Under the Red Hood, X-Men and Hellboy 2 and adding Chronicle, Mystery Men and The Rocketeer.

Ruth from FlixChatter yanked Blade 2, Chronicle and Mystery Men, and replaced them with Batman Begins, X-Men 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Terrence from The Focused Filmographer pulled out The Incredibles, Batman Returns and X-Men 2, before adding Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, V For Vendetta and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Jay from Life Vs Film dropped Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Superman, and Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm then put back in Incredibles and X-Men 2 and finally handed the ball over to us. Whew!!!

Our criteria was based primarily on overall quality, difficulty of concept, impact on the genre, and a 10-point must system.  That last one was probably a mistake.  Lets get started with a few thoughts on the films sticking around this round.

1. The Avengers (Locked)

The Avengers because…well…duh…it’s the f%*king Avengers!  This film…hell…that moment above was thought to be just a geek fever dream that was impossible to make, let alone, work as a film.  Whedon and company made the impossible…jaw droppingly possible.  The Avengers is a manifested representation of our childhood imaginations.  What?  Too much?

2. The Dark Knight (Locked)

Chris Nolan took the skeleton of the great crime drama Heat and put Batman and The Joker in it.  Are you freakin’ kidding me?!  As a result, came one of the finest performances we have ever, and maybe, will ever see.

3. Spider-Man 2 (Locked)

Still holds up in our opinion and nails Spidey’s world, look, motivations, and characters…which is more than we can say for its two bastard stepchildren The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2.

4. Iron Man (Locked)

The unquestionable birth of a cinematic superhero icon.  Close your eyes and try to come up with an actor who could play Tony Stark better than RDJ did in this…NOPE…you’re wrong.

5. Unbreakable (Locked)

Hey, remember when Shyamalan was good?  Hey, remember when Bruce Willis tried?  This film explores and breaks down the mythos and archetypes of superheroes and supervillains in a way we’ve probably never even thought about. IE: It’s literally superheroes for dummies.

6. The Incredibles  

Not only is this a terrific superhero film, it is one of the best family films centered on family that Pixar has probably done.  And it is the closest we are going to get to a good Fantastic Four movie for the foreseeable future.

7. The Guardians Of The Galaxy
A movie that went from low or no expectations to exceedingly high expectations in a matter of one trailer…and it still delivered Marvel’s riskiest success yet.  It felt more like Star Wars than the last 3 Star Wars films.  That has to count for something.

8. Watchmen
Matt’s Zack Snyder hate is high, but even he cannot deny the awesomeness that is Watchmen.  Watchmen was thought to be an unfilmable masterpiece.  However, Snyder’s efforts here are the closest and truest interpretation of Alan Moore’s material we’ll ever get to see on the big screen.  Don’t think so.  Read up on what Fox wanted to do with Watchmen when they owned the property.  It’s scarier than a visit from Rorschach himself.
9. V For Vendetta
Any other time we wouldn’t consider V For Vendetta as a top film in the superhero genre, but after the events in Ferguson, MO and how Anonymous and other hacker groups have taken the mask of Guy Fawkes that or our “hero” V wears, and turned it into a symbol, this film carries even more meaning in this turbulent time. V is also another great adaptation of the works of Alan Moore and offered us a look at the future that we actually might not be that far away from.  Plus, there’s nothing wrong with seeing Natalie Portman in a baby doll dress.
10. The Rocketeer
Usually when there is no pressure and expectations are low, you get something great, case in point The Rocketeer.  Before Joe Johnston was able to bring justice back to Captain America: The First Avenger, he brought us another hero that kicked some Nazi ass.  Before we had The Shadow and The Phantom, The Rocketeer was the first big stab at creating a superhero from the days of radio serials.  From the iconic score of James Horner to the slimy turn of former James Bond, Timothy Dalton, everything works for this film.  It still captures the imagination of kids and adults because a guy flying around with a jetpack punching Nazis in the face is absolutely awesome.

Now, the superhero films we decided to substitute in are as follows.
 

11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

We know this movie has only been out since April, but after watching it multiple times since then, we can’t possibly leave it off this list.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably the second best Marvel film ever made.  It has a hero whose righteous indignation actually feels real and earned, a black comic relief character that manages to bring charm, dignity and usefulness to a role no one expected anything from, an enjoyable and self-reliant female lead who doesn’t fall into any stereotypical or lazy love interest scenario, an actual scary villain that, which has been poetically said before, may be better at killing people than the hero is at protecting them, and has probably some of the best and grittiest action scenes of any film on this list. (Cap’ and Winter Soldier street fight fo’ life!) It’s one of the few Marvel films and superhero films that feel genuinely important to the grand scheme of its own universe while still overcoming the obstacles of an early release date, a jumping of genres, and being directed by people primarily known for comedy.

12. Batman ’89

Say what you will about Tim Burton, but there hasn’t been a better marketed movie in the past 30 years than 1989’s Batman.  It was the birth of the “Dark Knight” and made many people forget about the Bill Dozier “Batman” series from the 1960s.  Everything is iconic about this film; from the sets by Anton Furst, the score of Danny Elfman, and of course Jack Nicholson’s Joker.  Batman ’89, despite some shortcomings, created something that hadn’t been seen before in cinema and gave us a Batman we could all be proud of.

 Now, the superhero films we decided to give the chop.

Batman Begins

It’s never easy to cut a film that not only made up for the mistakes of the past but put us on course for one of the most iconic film trilogies of all time. It’s not that Batman Begins is a bad film.  Quite the contrary.  However, there is still something uneven in it tone-wise that Nolan got a better handle on in The Dark Knight.  Um…and it’s hard for us to get past the fact that the weapon created by Wayne Enterprises in Begins (Essentially a dehydration machine) is eerily similar to a weapon used in 1966’s Batman film.

X2: X-Men United

Again, another tough one to remove from the list since X2 was able to fix all of the problems with the first film and add to the X-Men mythology.  Even with Hugh Jackman giving his best turn of Wolverine and Brian Cox proving to be one of the X-Men’s greatest foes, one film had to go, and X2 is unfortunately the casualty.

In historic Olympic fashion, we are going to hand the baton over to our friends over at Insession Film to make their choices.  You have one week.  Although, we’d like to think our list is pretty close to perfection so there is no need to change absolutely anything…YOU HEAR THAT JD, BLAKE, and BRENDAN?!?  NOT A FINGER!!!!

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.

September 26, 2013

Simplistic TV: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

TIE-IN

Agents of Shield – Tie-In

What do you do when you have a billion dollar IP and you are a billion dollar network?  Well, you try to make few billion more.  Just like what Justin Timberlake said in “The Social Network;”  “A million dollars isn’t cool anymore…..You know what’s cool?…….a billion dollars.”

The same holds true for what Disney is trying to do with Marvel.  If you go back 20 years ago, the Marvel name was essentially worthless.  The comic book market wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on and there didn’t seem to be any hope in sight.  Sure, you had Dolph Lundgren’s “The Punisher” and who could forget Roger Corman’s “Fantastic Four,” but those attempts to translate comics to celluloid were busts.  Fast forward a decade, where “Spider-Man,” with Toby Maguire as the aforementioned web-slinger, hits the theaters and everything changes.  With the help of “Spider-Man,” comics are once again viable options, sales went up, and every major studio snatched up as many comic properties as fast as they could, just ask Jay and Silent Bob.  While it was the catalyst, Marvel Studios was also the outlier compared to Fox and Sony.  It always seemed that Marvel Studios had the comic fan’s best interest at heart.  It wasn’t until 2008 with “Iron Man” that you saw what Marvel Studios really had up their sleeve, and what DC Comics wishes they could even get close to sniffing.

But I’m not here to knock DC Comics, I’m here to praise Marvel’s newest tie-in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” the next step in both Marvel Studios’ and Disney’s passive takeover of our minds and wallets.  “Agents” follows the unsung heroes of the Marvel Universe, secret agents who work under S.H.I.E.L.D, or Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (no wonder Tony Stark had a hard time remembering them when he first met Agent Coulson).  In the first episode we find out that Chitauri technology has been stolen and is now being sold on the black market.  There is an unknown hacker group known as The Rising Tide hacking into S.H.I.E.L.D’s databases obtaining classified information, and guess what, Coulson is back!  His death was apparently faked in “The Avengers” and he was sent into hiding by the Agency.  Oh comic book logic….

While the show will be eaten up by comic book fans and fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can see this show becoming a niche.  I say a niche mainly because of the way topics are brought up in the pilot.  To the lament who has never seen any of the Marvel films, especially “The Avengers” you will be lost.  The Battle of New York is brought up casually, the reveal that Agent Coulson is still alive is made to seem like a major revelation, and if you haven’t seen “Iron Man 3” the term “Extremis” will likely go right over your head.

The concept of having a tie-in being this tied-in, is a double-edged sword.  Yes, on one side of the coin, if you love the Marvel Universe, you will hang on to every plot point, reference, and every little detail to see if you can find out how “Agents” will fit into the upcoming Marvel films.

On the other side, this show is catering to one audience; the die hard comic head, whereas the lament will be left to ask questions to his friend who loves comics and it might result in the murder of said lament……maybe.  But, Disney is genius at marketing.  Even if you haven’t seen any, or very few, of the Marvel films this will be an extremely accessible show.  One, because it’s on regular network TV, and you don’t have to have cable to watch “Agents.”  Two, if this show interests you, wouldn’t it be enough for the newbie to seek out the past Marvel films and maybe even start buying comics?  I’d have to say so.  And three, well, Disney has more money than God, so even if this little experiment doesn’t succeed all the way, at least Disney knows where it’s bread and butter is; at the multiplexes.

Overall, “Agents” has huge upside, and it’s a calculated risk that will likely payoff, mostly because this show is going to be a launching point for more niche heroes.  I’m just spit-balling here, but you could end up seeing the likes of Luke Cage, Iron First, The New Warriors, Hercules, and other heroes that could find their place in the Marvel Universe, even if it’s on the small screen.  As most pilots can be, “Agents” is uneven, but will leave nerds wanting more and more each week, just as “Heroes” did nearly a decade before, but hopefully “Agents” doesn’t suffer the same fate as the lack-luster show that preceded it.

Fun Fact:  DC Comics and Batman legend, Jeph Loeb, who wrote classics such as The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, is an Executive Producer for “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,”

July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim (DJ’s Take)…And Inexplicably…The DC Film Universe

GEEKGASM

One question that has been plaguing my thoughts ever since I walked out of the dreary and utterly disappointing Man Of Steel.  That question is, why does DC/Warner keep entrusting their comic book movie properties to Christopher Nolan?  A man who set out to produce a Superman movie and wound up producing an Incredible Hulk movie more morbid and depressing than Ang Lee’s, starring someone who resembles Superman in appearance but not in character.  A man who admittedly does not truly care for the material he is supposed to be translating into film.  A man who is admittedly apoplectic about the concerns of the comic book fans he’s supposed to be catering to.  A man who feels more comfortable turning anything resembling a classic superhero into a moping, colorless, suicide inducing allegory for daddy issues.  Why would DC/Warner give their entire comic book HISTORY to him?  Yes, I know it’s because Nolan is one of the finest directors working today.  Yes, I know it’s because Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a 3 billion dollar worldwide success.  Yes, I know it’s because Nolan’s Batman trilogy is also the most critically lauded and awarded comic book franchise ever.  Problem is that his bleek, moody, and dystopian societal outlook ONLY WORKS FOR F%*KING BATMAN.  Batman is a dark character.  So yes, the more gritty and realistic you make him, the better he gets.  However, that formula DOES NOT work for the entire DC Universe.  A flawed strategy I spoke about and foresaw during my Dark Knight Rises review almost a year ago.  DC/Warner was effectively entrusting the construction of their cinematic universe to someone who DID NOT want to construct their cinematic universe.  

You’re probably asking yourself why am I ranting about Man Of Steel, Chris Nolan and DC/Warner in the beginning of a Pacific Rim review.  Well, it’s because DC/Warner does have another director in their stable that not only knows the material, but has a genuine love for the material.  A man who should be constructing their universe.  That man is Pacific Rim’s director Guillermo Del Toro.  Give me a reason why not him.  Worried Del Toro can’t bring fun, eclectic comic book characters like Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Wonder Woman convincingly to life?  See Hellboy.  Worried Del Toro doesn’t have the chops to do comic book perfect action scenes and sequences?  See Blade 2.  Worried Del Toro can’t give a film pathos and originality?  See Pan’s Labyrinth.  Worried that a comic book nerd would be the wrong choice to helm a superhero epic.  See Avengers.  Worried that a film like Justice League is just too big to bestow upon him.  Well, Del Toro was the first person Peter Jackson asked to do The Hobbit before scheduling conflicts interceded.  If Peter Jackson was willing to hand over the best fantasy franchise ever made to Del Toro, why is it such a far leap for DC/Warner to trust him with the JLA?  Del Toro’s resume just grows and grows almost without notice.  Pacific Rim is just another awesome notch on his belt.

Rim is the fulfillment of a promise Del Toro delivered when he leaked the film’s original title at Comic-Con. (Giant F%*king Robots Versus Giant F%*king Monsters)  This is a tech versus terror smörgåsbord that draws breath from it’s Toho Company & Manga Studios predecessors and creates something amazingly fresh and original out of it.  If I was a producer on that 2014 Godzilla movie or that long awaited Voltron film, I’d shut down shop right now.  There is NOTHING I can think of that those two films can do to equal, let alone, top Pacific Rim.  Yes, Rim may be cliched empty calories as far as it’s character archetypes and plot are concerned.  However, it is the most tasty empty calories you’ll enjoy this summer and probably this entire year.  I haven’t seen a film with as many GEEKGASM moments since The Avengers.  Instead of the action scenes being incomprehensible, emotionally hollow, blunders, with the visual resonating effect of a strobe light…(Hello Battleship and EVERY Transformers movie)…they end up being well crafted, stunning, and cathartic displays of raw violence.  The special effects here are, and I was convinced of this from just the trailer, the best I personally have ever seen.  That is not hyperbole.  Every effect, every monster tooth, every robot rivet, every building toppling explosion looks breathtaking and FINISHED.  Every penny of the budget and every drop of sweat from the VFX crew is on the screen from beginning to end.  Guillermo Del Toro understands the concept of fan service.  And instead of shying away from it like most, he embraces it.  He doesn’t mind having a character in a giant robot shoot a fallen monster, video game style, as a joke just to get a “Hell, Yeah!” from the audience.  That is who I would want to make my comic book universe.  Someone who wants to please BOTH the fans and the uninitiated.  Someone who can have a balls to the wall battle scene and still have time to make the battle fun.  Yes, fun.  It is not a four letter word, literally and figuratively.  Fun is a word that needs to be the lifeblood of genre movies like this.  If it isn’t fun, then why the hell should we watch?

Recently, DC/Warner announced that Nolan won’t be producing the Justice League film.  However, it’s a safe bet that they won’t have the sense or vision to pick someone like Guillermo Del Toro to take the reigns.  They are losing the arms race to Marvel and it saddens me.  Not because I want them to win.  I love Marvel.  It saddens me because the two companies competing is better for the audiences than one totally dominating the other.  DC/Warner’s savior is right in their face flapping his arms like a cartoon character, and they still can’t see it.  Don’t believe me?  Watch Pacific Rim…imagine while doing so the same care, fun and GEEKGASM moments put into a Justice League film….cry your heart out when you realize that will probably never happen….then tell me I’m wrong.

May 12, 2013

Iron Man 3 (Matt’s Take)

CHUCKLES

Iron Man 3 – Chuckles

The one thing I didn’t expect was that I was going to be laughing more than saying “Wow, the MK 42 Armor just blow an entire shipyard up!”  In there lies the rub with Marvel/Disney’s newest blockbuster superhero epic, “Iron Man 3.”  While great at times, I couldn’t help but think I was watching “Lethal Weapon,” “Predator,” and “The Last Boy Scout” all at once, and oh yeah, there happened to be some superheroes doing some superhero-type stuff.

When I first heard that Shane Black was taking over for Jon Favreau with “Iron Man 3” I thought it was really interesting. I know Black from the “Lethal Weapon” series and of course as Hawkins in “Predator.”  There were moments in “Iron Man” that I thought Jim Rhodes was going to lean over and tell Tony a joke about his sister, but sigh, it wasn’t meant to be.  Anyway, but with Black at the helm you get a totally different take on a Marvel movie, it’s dark, funny, twisted, and bombastic, even more so than “The Avengers” at times.

The sequel picks up about a year after the events in New York in “Avengers.”  Tony Stark is suffering from post-traumatic and has become obsessed with building new Mark Armor, preparing for humanity’s next big threat.  Jim Rhodes has taken his role as War Machine in stride, now becoming to overly-patriotic American savior, The Iron Patriot.  Of course things don’t stay quiet for long as The Mandarin, a mysterious new terrorist with a Baptist preacher drawl, begins his reign of destruction, which brings Iron Man back into the fold, ready to stop this newest villain.

Stark’s newest adventure draws inspiration from the “Extremis” storyline from 2005-2006, and throws in The Mandarin for an added bad guy, which works, but you might be surprised by way he is ultimately used come the end of the film.  While the first two “Iron Man” films focused on Stark and his shortcomings, there is more of a sense that while Tony is still a loner at heart, he is broken down emotionally after “Avengers” and relies more on Pepper Potts, Rhodes, and his trusty robot buter, J.A.R.V.I.S.  The film talks a lot about demons, and while it could have been said and forgotten about, this theme plays well into what Tony is fighting with, both internally and externally.

The casting is once again pitch perfect, and the additions of Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce give the film more clout, especially Pearce, who is great and fills the void that Sam Rockwell vacated when Justin Hammer was essentially written out of the Iron Man universe, sadly.

Like Jon Favreau said, it’s Kiss, Kiss, Clank, Clank.”  For some that might not be what you were looking for in the newest Iron Man film, but Black has set the tone for Marvel’s “Phase 2” plans, by adding more humor and a few big twists that should hopefully carry over to “Captain America 2” “Thor 2” and what I’m waiting for the most “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Fun Fact:  Between “The Last Boy Scout” and “Last Action Hero” Black made a pretty penny; netting over $3 Million dollars for his scripts.

May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3 (DJ’s Take)

HUMOROUS

I was watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and suddenly an Iron Man movie broke out.  I’m sorry.  That was rude.  Okay, let me be clear.  I love Iron Man.  I love Robert Downey Jr..  I love Shane Black.  And I’ve admitted many times that RDJ could spew out Black’s dialogue in a film about recycling Coke bottles and I’d watch.  It’s just that Iron Man 3 does everything it can to test that loyalty.  Is it as good as Avengers?  Of course not.  Is it the best film of the trilogy?  Not in my opinion.  Is it better than Iron Man 2?  I’m not so sure I can say that.  To be honest, Iron Man 3 is a different genre than Iron Man 2 and even Iron Man 1.  And that is where my hesitance to tout it comes from.  When I first heard that Shane Black was doing part 3, I was psyched.  The man has made a living of making great action comedies for years.  Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, and Long Kiss Goodnight, to name a few.  However, the things I loved about those films is that despite the humor and comedic interactions, you could suddenly find yourself in a gritty, bloody, hardcore shootout.  Humorous scenes suddenly turned on their ear by a visceral murder.  A suicidal breakdown.  Revenge at any cost.  And Black could weave these things effortlessly.  Even though those films had the help of an R rating, I had faith that Black could still come close to delivering a little taste of this in Iron Man 3.  Especially with the threat of Tony Stark’s biggest comic book nemesis, The Mandarin, looming over the storyline.  The tone from the commercials also seemed to hint at the darkest plot we’d seen for the character.  However,  Iron Man 3 turns away from Martin Riggs, Charly Baltimore, and Joe Hallenbeck and leans more toward Gay Perry and Harry Lockhart.  In other words, Iron Man 3 is not an action comedy.  It is a comedy with action in it.

Is that a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite films.  However, the tone wouldn’t be the first I’d use to fit this superhero film.  Take for instance the handling of the film’s villain.  Director Shane Black does something with The Mandarin, that I won’t spoil, which comic book fans will either love or absolutely despise.  This…um…how should I put this…’reinvention’ fits the tone of a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but not any Marvel film we’ve seen thus far.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The jokes in Iron Man 3 are very funny.  But they far outnumber any action you will see in it.  I, for one, thought the balance of this action comedy franchise was preparing to shift.  I was just misled as to which direction it was shifting.  A direction I thought was  reserved for Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man or James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.

The performances by the returning cast are solid once again.  They are the one constant of the franchise.  As I’ve said before, Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark.  He captures the essence of that character better than any actor has any comic book character ever.  Though, this is the lightest lifting Downey Jr. has had to do performance wise.  They touch on Tony’s post traumatic stress disorder brought on from his experiences in The Avengers.  Unfortunately, it is not fully explored and eventually brushed away through jokes way faster than Stark’s self destructive tendencies were in Iron Man 2.  This film is probably the funniest Tony Stark has ever been.  However, the best performance Robert Downey Jr. has given as the character is still, ironically, in Avengers.  Even though Paltrow is disliked in her public persona, she is adored as Pepper Potts.  Keeping serve opposite an actor such as Downey Jr., in four films now, is something she deserves enormous credit for.  Cheadle, though almost an afterthought in this film, also has proven that he can hold his own against Downey Jr. in a scene.  More so than Terrence Howard did in Iron Man 1.  I just wish these two could get more screen time together.  Because when they do interact, the relationship of Tony and Rhodey just sings.

I had high hopes for Kingsley as The Mandarin.  Sexy Beast proved to me how much of a badass he can be.  However, Black’s risky reinvention of his character limited what Kingsley was allowed to do.  Speaking of missed opportunities, Guy Pearce’s abilities were also minimally tapped in this.  His flippancy, though amusing, didn’t really seem to present a viable danger to our hero.  Even through the climax.  Love or hate Iron Man 2, there was no question as to the danger and threat that Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko gave Tony.  The villains in Iron Man 3 don’t scare you as much as Vanko, Stane, or even Hammer did.

After all that, you’d think I hated the film.  I don’t.  Iron Man 3 is not a step backwards for the franchise or for Marvel.  It, to me, is just a risky step sideways.  A step in a different direction.  A direction, as The Mandarin warned, I didn’t see coming.  Suit up…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

December 10, 2012

Crappy Holidays: The Man With The Iron Fists

CONVOLUTED 

I am usually in favor of the person at the helm of a particular genre film loving the material they are making.  You put Joss Whedon, a man who has comic book blood running through his veins, in charge of The Avengers, you get a film that is highly enjoyable to the uninitiated while still respecting and indulging the built in fan base.  You put Marc Webb, who is known mostly for music videos and 500 Days Of Summer, in charge of Spider-Man, you get a Twilight-esque, tweentastic, crapfest that commits every single atrocity a superhero film critic uses to devalue the genre.  So, I was very interested when I heard RZA, a man who has loved martial arts films his entire life, was actually doing one.  Unfortunately, The Man With The Iron Fists turns out to be a film with good intentions but poor execution.

For those who don’t know, RZA is a founding member of the 90s rap group The Wu Tang Clan.  Watching any of their videos or listening to any of their song lyrics should illustrate how much he is into martial arts films.  Fellow martial arts film fan Quentin Tarantino even sought RZA’s help to pick out the proper songs for his film Kill Bill Volume 1.  A friendship grew and led to many collaborations.  The culmination would be RZA’s seven year dream project The Man With The Iron Fists.  RZA wrote the script under the watchful eye of Tarantino and fellow friend Eli Roth, and took on directing duties himself.  With all that history and love, with all those helping hands, it is a shame that the film itself turns out to be such a CONVOLUTED mess.  There are so many storylines happening at once with so many vaguely explained characters, you’ll be hard pressed to follow along.  This weakens any stakes the film tries to set up and creates nothing but confusion for the audience.  I’m a pretty attentive guy when it comes to movies, but even I found myself muttering “Is that guy a good guy or a bad guy?” more often than not.  Robert Rodriguez’s films Planet Terror and Machete stumbled into the same problem.  However, those films have a tongue and cheek approach throughout that distracts you from their overly confusing plots.  The Man With The Iron Fist is not light enough to excuse the clutter.

So, why bombard the audience?  I believe RZA does this in a futile effort to world-build.  To create a universe that he can transport us to and manipulate it’s rules.  However, he is not nearly as experienced enough of a filmmaker to do that.  To really pull this film off he’d have to have the scope creating skills of a Chris Nolan or an Ang Lee with the character creation understanding of a Quentin Tarantino or a Guy Ritchie.  He does not.  He would have been better off making this script simple.  A revenge flick or an epic quest.  Not a Shaw Brothers version of Snatch.

The performances are a mishmash as well.  You have RZA as the lead playing everything completely straight, while Russell ‘Why The Hell Am I Here?’ Crowe clowns around like its an SNL sketch.  Now, I can’t completely blame RZA for Crowe’s performance.  I’m not sure how much direction a hip hop mogul can seriously give an Oscar winner before being laughed off his own set.  It might have been a better idea to just have unknowns in these parts to give RZA more control over the performances.  That or have producer Eli Roth direct the film outright.  His lack of understanding in how to direct his talent shows. 

The one positive I can give The Man With The Iron Fists is that its nice to look at.  The cinematography is descent and the action scenes are very fun.  How much of it was RZA and how much of it was stunt choreographer Corey Yuen and Eli Roth is debatable.  The CGI feels slightly out of place at times, but not any more than the hip hop soundtrack. 

The Man With The Iron Fists is the text book example of someone biting off more than they can chew.  RZA is a gigantic fan of the martial arts film genre and you can see his love for it buried underneath the chaos.  However, a more tempered and measured approach to the story and direction could have possibly helped make a better film.  If you want to see this done right, watch Kill Bill Volume 1 or 2.  If you want to see it done not so right…drink some honey nectar…watch The Man With The Iron Fists…then tell me I’m wrong. 

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