If my 12-year old self thought it was even remotely possible that several of my favorite Marvel superheroes would not only have their own solo movies fronted by big Hollywood celebrities, but one day all appear in the same movie as one big multi-movie universe event, I would’ve lost my mind. And, hell, even now in my 30s the fact that The Avengers movie exists makes me lose my mind! Back when Marvel kicked off the first batch of their self-produced films with Iron Man, the slim glimmering hope that it would lead to The Avengers was there, but I don’t think any of us comic book fans actually thought it would happen. The fact that it did, and that writer/director Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, managed to pull it off and make it into one of the biggest and thoroughly entertaining action blockbusters of the summer is a miracle.
What’s great is all the other Marvel movies have been leading to this. If you’ve been watching along with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, then this movie is all pay off from everything you’ve seen before. Yet it simultaneously works as a stand alone film that any viewer can watch and enjoy because of how well Whedon balances each character's introductions and screen time. It’s similar to watching any ensemble flick and wondering where all these characters came from before the movie. In this case, those movies exist and you can go back to them! But alas, let’s focus on the one at hand.Continue Reading
Spider-Man 2 is not only one of the best sequels ever made, it’s easily one of the best superhero movies ever made. And while the first Spider-Man most definitely felt like a Sam Raimi film, this one is 100 percent the filmmaker we’ve come to know and love over the years through films such as the Evil Dead trilogy to Darkman and A Simple Plan. It’s not surprising that his influence is more recognizable in the sequel looking back now in retrospect. The first Spider-Man was a major gamble for everyone involved. For Marvel, for the studio (Sony in this case), hell, even for the toy companies which I’m convinced are the reason the Green Goblin looks the way he does rather than looking like his comic book counterpart in appearance. But the gamble paid off and director Raimi delivered in spades, satisfying not only all the interested parties involved in the first movie’s investments, but savvy comic book fans and worldwide movie-goers alike. So, with the mega-success of the first Spider-Man, it feels like they pretty much left him alone to make the sequel exactly how he wanted to make it.
And the opening alone is impressive and unique. We’re re-told the plot and events of the first Spider-Man during the opening credit montage through a series of amazing drawings by comic artist legend Alex Ross, backed by Danny Elfman’s returning score. Once we’re brought up to speed, we pick up about two years after the events of the last movie and are thrown right into the hectic life of Peter Parker (Tobey McGuire), who is scootering along the busy streets of Manhattan trying to delive...
I have a confession to make. Spider-Man is the one movie I’ve seen in theaters more than any other in my life. I’m fairly certain that I caught it eight times in its original theatrical run and the first four times I saw it were all within the first 24 hours of its release. Before you declare me insane, let me explain.
Growing up, Spider-Man was my absolute favorite superhero. Never have I identified with a character as much as I did with Peter Parker; a shy, timid, smart, humble and good-hearted person who always seemed to get the short end of the stick. Then finally he’s granted this incredible power which he immediately takes for granted and that results in something terrible happening to someone near and dear to him. In other words, I learned a lot about morality and the differences between right and wrong from reading Spider-Man. All I ever wished for was a Spider-Man movie. Not surprising, there were in fact several previous attempts previous to bring Marvel’s most famous superhero to the silver screen. At one point, James Cameron, hot off of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Abyss, was on track to write and direct a Spider-Man movie, but with an inflating budget and a few radical changes to the source material, that version never materialized. Not too long before that, Canon Films was planning a film with Tobe Hooper at the helm (!), even going as far as creating a sales poster to help secure the financing. That version apparently would’ve sent the wallcrawler on a grand adventure in space, but alas, it never happened and that’s probably for the best.
Just to be up front and clear, the version of Green Lantern that I’m reviewing is the extended cut which is exclusive only to the Blu-ray release. The reason is that after seeing the theatrical cut, I feel that the extended cut is a more complete movie, both narratively and structurally, and probably far closer to the original vision and intent of director Martin Campbell than the one that played in theaters last summer which reeked of studio interference. That said, my initial reaction to that Green Lantern movie wasn’t predominantly positive.
I was never that big a fan of the character, although I was familiar enough with him considering his multiple appearances in the Justice League of America comics. I also felt that Ryan Reynolds (whom I like) wasn’t exactly the ideal actor I’d peg as his comic book counterpart Hal Jordon. Instead he seemed more in line to play the Wally West version of The Flash, something that was actually in the cards after Blade: Trinity when that film’s writer/director David S. Goyer was going to helm The Flash movie. It’s also a bit odd considering Reynolds is playing Deadpool over in the Marvel cinematic universe as seen in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.Continue Reading
Growing up an avid comic book fan, I always fancied myself a Marvel kid over a DC kid. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the cinematic versions of both Superman and Batman, I loved those, but I often found myself relating more to the characters of the Marvel universe, in particular Spider-Man who was always my favorite superhero. Through Spidey, I of course discovered The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and the X-Men books to name a few, but I honestly never found myself into any of The Mighty Thor material. Sure, I read The Avengers and also dug when Thor would interact with the other superheroes of the Marvel Universe, but I never found myself a “fan” of the character or intrigued by his mythology, which in actuality is Norse. So with that in mind, when I watched the movie version of Thor, I had very little expectation or trepidation. I just wanted to enjoy it as a piece of straight-forward popcorn entertainment, and hope that it played to me the way it would to a general audience. Thankfully Marvel Studios managed to take a character that I’d never really been all that interested in and produce a thoroughly enjoyable action flick.
After a very brief introduction on Earth with Natalie Portman’s character Jane Foster, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their assistant Darcy (Katt Dennings) first encountering Thor (a scene that will repeat itself later in the movie), we’re brought to Asgard, the home of Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins) and his people and given a short history of the great war between the Asgardians and the Jotuns aka the Frost Giants, a race of monster-like creatures determined to bring about a new ice age to the mortal world. Odin led the great battle which drove the Frost Giants back into their own world of Jotunheim with their great source of power taken by the Asgardians and brought back to Asgard, hence bringing about peace to the Nine Realms. Odin raised two boys, Thor and Loki, with the hope that one day one of them would ascend to the throne and take his place as the new king. Thor is the chosen one, but during his ceremony, a handful of Frost Giants manage to sneak into Asgard in an attempt to steal back their power source. Considering it an attack on their people, Thor rashly and arrogantly takes a small group of his finest and most trusted warriors to seek retribution on the Frost Giants' home.Continue Reading
The Incredible Hulk
After a long and rich 50-year history in the pages of Marvel Comics, The Incredible Hulk marks the second cinematic interpretation of the fan favorite titanic superhero. Abandoning all of what was established in Ang Lee’s 2003 version of Hulk, this version takes more of a cue from the original Incredible Hulk TV series of the late ’70s and is presented as a “reboot” rather than a sequel. Instead of spending an hour with exposition and showing a drawn out “origin” story like the other movie did (and as most superhero movies in general do these days), this version manages to encapsulate the birth of Bruce Banner’s alter ego in the span of a few minutes during a clever opening credits montage. Visually, it’s exactly what most casual fans of the TV show remember; Bruce is strapped down to a chair, the circular light beam from a giant machine shines down on his forehead and during his experimentation with gamma radiation he accidently over-exposes himself which turns him into the angry green goliath. As the credits unfold, Banner (Edward Norton) as the Hulk inadvertently hurts the love of his life, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father General ‘Thunderball’ Ross (William Hurt). And much like the TV series, Banner is then on the run and in hiding by the second scene of the movie, desperately trying to come to terms with his anger, find a cure, and keep the beast at bay.
When we find Bruce, he’s in Brazil working at a bottle plant factory by day and meeting with a yoga guru by night trying to learn how to control his inner hostilities. Meanwhile, he’s communicating with a mysterious scientist simply known only as Mr. Blue via the Internet and exchanging theories and notes regarding his condition. Ever since the incident we witnessed during the opening credits, General Ross has been on the hunt for Banner and the Hulk, and when Bruce accidently pokes his finger at work and inadvertently sheds a drop of his blood into one of the soda bottles headed for America, it eventually reveals his whereabouts. General Ross puts together a military team fronted by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to bring in Banner.
Needless to say, everything comes to a head when a group of Bruce’s co-worker thugs confront him at the plant just as the military team is prepping to make their move. They make him angry, he Hulk’s out and is yet again on the run, this time opting to find a way back to North America to track down Mr. Blue in person and hopefully come up with a cure based on both their expertise and research thus far. He reconnects with Betty and she fully insists on supporting him on his journey to New York to find Mister Blue and attempt to create a cure.
Blonsky is a truly passionate soldier, inspired by the thrill of the hunt, but perhaps a few years past his prime. When Blonsky reveals his obsession to track down Banner and the Hulk, General Ross enlists him for the “super soldier” program (originated by the original super soldier, Captain America during World War II!). It isn’t until Blonksy meets with Mister Blue, aka Samuel Sterns, that he gets the necessary dosage to transform him into the Hulk-like monster, “the Abomination,” who wrecks havoc and destruction on Harlem. With no choice, Ross sends in Banner as the Hulk to stop Abomination before he destroys the entire city.
The reason The Incredible Hulk works so well as a fun comic book movie should be credited to director Louis Leterrier, most well known for The Transporter movies starring Jason Statham. If you glance through his resume of films, it’s clear that the man knows how to shoot and stage his action set-pieces. The problem most filmmakers run into when it comes to making a movie of this magnitude is that the “Hulk” is primarily going to be an all CGI creation, so it takes a certain amount of meticulous planning and staging of the action to sell the illusion that the Hulk is interacting with the other characters and causing all the onscreen damage. Leterrier pulls this off in spades, not only with the fight sequence at the college campus but, in particular, the big climactic battle between Hulk and Abomination in the streets of Harlem. While the two fictitious characters are duking it out—hell, the Hulk breaks a police patrol vehicle in half and uses the pieces as boxing gloves at one point!—the surrounding action is real, exploding cars and all.
Also, this is the first Hulk movie to fully embrace the comic book counter-part of the character and give him worthy adversaries and challenges to fight! On the television show, the Hulk didn’t really do much other than come to the rescue when needed. In Ang Lee’s movie, if I recall correctly, he battles a tank an hour and a half into the movie? But in this, it’s several tanks and the freakin’ army. And finally he fights another creature of equal size and strength born from the same experimentation that he was born from. You get your full-on comic book-esque battle. You get your “Hulk Smash!” line of dialogue, and he does indeed smash. And you even get wonderful hints towards future villains like Mr. Blue, aka Samuel Sterns, slowly morphing into “the Leader,” a well known character in the comic book world of the Hulk. And for die-hard savvy fans, there are fun little cameos by the original Bruce Banner, Bill Bixby, via an old show on television as well as original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, as the college security guard. Those always make for fun little nods to previous incarnations.
Casting-wise the film is pretty solid, especially considering we’d seen a lot of these characters played by other actors just a few short years back. But William Hurt as General Ross and Liv Tyler as Betty Ross are spot on and terrific in their respective roles, especially when showing the estranged relationship between the two. Edward Norton is not the ideal name I’d think of when it comes to casting Banner/Hulk, but he does a serviceable job of trying to evoke the same sympathy we felt for the Bixby version, which is why I think a lot of fans have always been drawn to the character. Looking at it now in retrospect, The Avengers proves that Mark Ruffalo was the perfect actor to play both Bruce Banner and the Hulk and, since this is intended to be the precursor to The Avengers, it’s a shame they didn’t cast Ruffalo sooner! But regardless, The Incredible Hulk manages to capture the fun and spirit of the original source material and it makes for a wonderful follow-up to Marvel’s other big hit prior, Iron Man.
Fun Fact: Both the Harlem battle with Abomination and Banner’s suicide attempt in the Arctic (an alternate opening provided on the DVD/Blu-Ray as a deleted scene) are both referenced by Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner in The Avengers!
Punisher: War Zone
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wished for a proper Punisher movie. As a diehard comic book reader and collector, there was a point where I discovered the idea of vigilantism and The Punisher immediately became my favorite superhero (actually, more like an anti-hero and minus the “super” part since he has no legitimate powers other than being a complete and total badass). With over 30-some-odd years of history and through various directions that comic creators have taken the character, it would seem that there are plenty of great stories to cull from in order to make a solid movie adaptation. But for whatever reason, while all the Punisher movies have incorporated different aspects of the original source material, none of the cinematic translations have been 100 percent successful, either financially at the box office or critically among both reviewers and fans. However, if you’re well-versed in the run by writer Garth Ennis over the course of the last decade or so, then Punisher: War Zone comes pretty darn close to capturing the over-the-top gory lunacy of Ennis’s books.
The movie wastes little time in getting right into the violent action. After a brief title sequence, the film opens at a grand dinner gala with several heads of the mob congregating to discuss business and celebrate with Uncle G, the Godfather-esque elder of the East Coast mafia. But their dinner is cut abruptly short when the Punisher drops in and literally slaughters just about all 30 of these bad guys in the span of a few short minutes. The action is brutal, highly stylized, fast in pace, and so over the top that you won’t be able to process everything going on with just one viewing. The Punisher manages to cut a head off, break a neck, lodge his hunter knife into a skull, kick a chair leg into the eye of a thug, then hang upside down from the chandelier where he unloads a never-ending spray of bullets from his machine guns into whomever is left in the room, as well as anyone else stupid enough to enter it. Did I mention this is all just in the first 10 minutes?
It’s interesting to revisit Chuck Russell’s 1994 adaptation of The Mask, now almost 20 some-odd years later knowing that this was the second of three Jim Carrey movies (the other two being Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber) that would catapult the funnyman into super stardom. Also, considering that this is a far cry from the original comic book version of the character in which the Mask was conceived as a darker and more violent vigilante, who would’ve thought that when Dark Horse Comics first debuted the character he’d eventually spawn an animated series and kid friendly sequel?! But I digress…
In the movie, Jim Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a mild-mannered, overly nice and yet kind-of nerdy bank teller who, for the most part, can’t catch a break anywhere in his personal life. His female co-workers don’t want to date him (and in fact, take advantage of his niceness); his boss is always riding him (despite him being a model employee), and he’s even getting ripped off by his local mechanics. His best friend Charlie (the late Richard Jeni) believes in him, though, and tries to boost his confidence by bringing him out to the hot new club in Edge City, the Coco Bongo. Meanwhile, gangster (and Coco Bongo manager) Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene) is plotting the hostile takeover of city turf from mob boss Niko once he and his crew have established their cred by pulling off a risky bank robbery.
Though there’s already been about a dozen since and dozens more to come, Kick-Ass could be considered the final word on the superhero movie; it neatly puts an end to the myth and redefines the genre perfectly. Based on a comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class), Kick-Ass is vivaciously violent and proudly R-rated. It plays as both an action movie and a send-up of the clichés of superheroes and vigilantes flicks. But this is no Hero At Large (a lame John Ritter would-be superhero flick from 1980), though it's humorous and ultra creative, by the end its grim tone moves it closer to the V For Vendetta or even Watchmen heaviness territory.
The film follows three separate New York kid storylines which eventually come together in a most surprising way. Teenage comic-book geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), out of loneliness and an urge to make something of himself, dons a superhero costume, names himself Kick-Ass and sets out to fight crime. His first attempt to take on street punks puts him in the hospital, the good news, though, is he comes out with some actual kinda super-powers; severe nerve damage gives him the capacity to endure extreme pain. His next go at taking on petty criminals is captured on camera and makes the antics of Kick-Ass an Internet sensation.
The most compelling story line is that of an eleven-year-old girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her ex-cop father (Nicolas Cage). He has trained her to be a killing machine in both martial arts and weaponry. Using the names Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, their goal is revenge against the mobster Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) whose criminal empire got Big Daddy kicked off the police force. Now he is a man utterly obsessed, and they wreak havoc on Frank’s criminal enterprises, killing his crew slowly. They even rescue Kick-Ass from a jam, creating a minor alliance with him and a common enemy in Frank.
Meanwhile, Frank’s misfit teenage son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, famous for playing McLovin in Superbad) eager to gain his father’s respect and entrance into the family business, convinces his dad that he can lure in the vigilantes with his own superhero persona. He becomes Red Mist and does manage to befriend Kick-Ass, which leads to the gangsters capturing Big-Daddy and then an all out spectacular battle with Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl taking on Red Mist, Frank and his entire criminal team.
Most controversial, like a mini version of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, little Chloe Grace Moretz is a killing machine who kills gleefully (at one point the theme to the Banana Splits plays while she goes on a rampage). She also has a foul mouth (raunchy-mouthed kids have come a long way since The Bad News Bears); strangely some critics were more outraged by her naughty language than her actions.
In an era when superhero flicks seem to be dominating both film and culture, Kick-Ass has the nerve to show the effects that pain and violence can have of the psyches of the heroes. Dave often rues the pain he has caused and the aftermath of his work. Nicolas Cage, in his more rare under control acting mode, brings a lot of sympathy to his on-paper unlikable role, a guy who has taken his daughter’s childhood from her. His outcome is eventually tragic, but the film is so exciting that the audience never has time to be mired in too much sadness. Though Kick-Ass is truly a live action comic book, it has the heart and emotional sophistication of a great novel.
1978’s Superman began to the era of the superhero film. It would still be another decade before they would become a summer rite of passage at the box office, but Superman helped usher them from small screen, low budget affairs to big splashy tent poles with classy casts. Its first and only watchable sequel, Superman II, has had a fascinating history. It was already in production while the first film was being made and its director was fired halfway through, replaced by journeyman Richard Lester. Superman II may be the last of the quality “comic” comic book films, before the much darker Batman would change the landscape.
You may recall at the beginning of the first Superman flick Marlon Brando as Superman’s old man, Jor-El, sentenced three criminals - General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the big mute, Non (Jack O’Halloran) - to a life of hurling through space stuck in a square bubble (the kind Queen used in their Greatest Hits album cover). Superman II opens with Superman (Christopher Reeve) making a big boo-boo. He tosses a terrorist’s hydrogen bomb into space and its explosion frees the prisoners who make their way to Earth. But first, back on Earth, Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) escapes from prison, finds Superman’s North Pole getaway, and learns much of his secret history. Meanwhile, on a trip to Niagara Falls, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) finally looks past Clark’s Kent’s glasses and realizes he’s Superman, they go back to his ice pad and get jiggy.Continue Reading