Monday, August 29, 2011

Super Hero Summer Pt. 2 (definitely spoilers)

Here's a link to: Super Hero Summer Pt. 1


Yeah it's taken me awhile to get back to this I know, but what can I say...been wrapped up in reading Grant Morrison's "Supergods", started to reread "The Invisibles" but decided to wait until I can devote an entire day to immerse myself in that whole other world, also got my hands on Andrew Hickey's "An Incomprehensible Condition: Unauthorised Guide to Seven Soldiers", and have been trying to catch up on a lot of reading when it comes to "Flashpoint" and "Fear Itself" (yes I am ACTUALLY trying to read every tie-in for both events).  So suffice it to say (man I abuse that phrase) I haven't taken the additional time to sit down and go back over the other two movies, "Green Lantern" & "Captain America". 

So let's get this party started with:

"Green Lantern" opened up to the masses here in the United States on June 17th and I, of course, went to the midnight show once again.  There's just something about being in that environment, with fellow devotees to comic book lore, who are just excited to see their favorite ink-and-paper characters brought to life in live-action/CG glory.  Now this is the movie I was most excited to see, thusly the one I was also the most worried about.  The initial trailers did nothing to assuage my fears, seeming more like I was going to bear witness to a Ryan Reynolds comedy than a super hero action flick. 

Luckily the successive trailers showed me more of the film, and actually made me more excited to see it than I was with the first sneak peek.  So in I roll to the film and when the final credits rolled, I was left with a movie I enjoyed more than "Thor" but nowhere near as much as "X-Men: First Class". 

I was actually surprised by how Reynolds captured the Hal Jordan I would expect at this early juncture in his ring slinging.  I'm only a convert to the GL mythos with "Rebirth" and the Geoff Johns era so my touchstone for Hal's origins is the "Secret Origin" story from a few years back, but I felt like Reynolds got it pretty close.  There's some cheese to Reynold's acting sure, and add in the fact that I can't watch him without thinking about Van Wilder, but overall I feel like he captured the essence of a rookie Hal Jordan.

Even more surprising to me was Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, shocking casting move given the MTV world she came from, and even more shocking the job she did as Carol.  Chalk it up to low expectations if you want, but I felt like she more than delivered on her end of things, particularly in Carol's scenes with Hal Jordan. 

Peter Sarsgaard was the best part of the movie for me though.  His Hector Hammond was creepy to the Nth degree, playing out his role as the abandoned son quite well, and I really felt like he could have carried the film as the sole villain with only enough Parallax to establish his malevolent presence as the larger threat to the GL Corps.  The movie only scraped the surface of what Hammond is capable of, but then again, just like Hal, he was so new to his powers that it makes sense he wouldn't have mastered his psionic abilities just yet.

I thought Mark Strong did as well a job as possible with Sinestro as he could with the screen time given.  He strongly establish the very regal nature of Sinestro, and captured his authoritarian demeanor quite well.  Strong brings to the screen a presence worthy of the "greatest Green Lantern", and the script developed a strong least until that little between-credits scene that came out of nowhere and didn't fit into any of what had been established about Sinestro's character.  It was a moment to pop the comic book fans who know the future path of Sinestro, and to set-up a sequel.

Now as for the finer moments of the movie, I certainly appreciated little nods to the comics like the "Highball" & "Sapphire" tags on the helmets of Hal & Carol and playing Spot-The-Lantern during all the Oa scenes, but there was a certain something missing from the movie as a whole.  The space scenes were a tease, but I figure that's something intentional, and complaints I heard/read about Hal's limited use of his power ring aren't without merit, but then again we're also dealing with a guy in his first few days with the ring. 

Was it only a few days? Was it longer?  I don't know honestly, and maybe that's one of the issues with the movie....there's so much time spent in the set-up, that everything else just feels so compressed.  Hal travels to space, blows off the Guardians & his training, Hammond gets infected, Parallax rather abruptly descends on Earth, one off-handed comment about gravity sets up the end of the movie (really transparent, I honestly called that as the end of the big fight as soon as it was stated), and Carol pretty much figures out Hal's secret immediately.  That was a moment I really didn't mind though as sometimes it's nice for the female lead to actually not be fooled by something as simple as a mask.  GL-philes would tell you that the ring clouds the bearer's face to the general populus but it was a nice change to have Carol get it.

The big Parallax fight was...not so big given the immensity of the villain we're talking about here.  I immediately hated the character design as it just reminded me of the Galactus cloud from "FF: Rise Of The Silver Surfer", but resigned myself to someone along the lines of production not wanting a yellow bug to be the big bad of the GL-Verse.  And apparently killing off the main evil force of the GL comics in the first flick seemed an odd choice, but the movie didn't really establish the whole avatar of fear concept behind Parallax.  Guess that falls on Sinestro's shoulders which, as I stated earlier, didn't really fit with what had gone before.  The Sinestro presented throughout the movie was a staunch supporter of the Guardians and, despite their unwillingness to go along with his yellow ring idea, it was never even remotely hinted that Sinestro would turn his back on the Guardians or feel like he had something to prove by harnassing the power of fear.  It just did not fit at all within the confines of the character that had been presented for the previous two hours, and was truly just a fanboy moment tacked on to motivate a sequel.

So what did I take out of this movie in the end? One word: potential.  The groundwork was laid for at least one sequel but "Green Lantern" was certainly not the foundation in which to establish a whole DCU movie-verse a la Marvel Films & The Avengers franchise.  I foresee a Hal Jordan spending time on Oa to further train, I see a true space odyssey involving the whole GL Corps (who were teased just enough to establish some personalities), and I see a massive CG war between them & the Sinestro Corps.  Only problem is the chronological confines of cinema don't really allow for the time it would take for Sinestro to truly build a Corps of his own.  They would likely a time gap between the 1st & 2nd films. 

That what's so wonderful about the medium of comics, Sinestro could fade away into the background for awhile after donning the yellow ring, popping up in snippets here & there as he recruits masters of fear to his Corps, but only after having a serious falling out with the Guardians over something that actually justifies the "greatest of the Lanterns" being expelled.

See that may actually be the problem with certain comics translated to movies.  As fans we take it for granted that people know the origin stories of every character, and while that may be true for certain characters like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man who have transcended the medium and become part of our cultural lexicon, our fashion branding, and with logos so well known that even a child who has never read a comic book in their life recognizes what that "S" represents. 

Green Lantern is not one of those characters, which is what made him an odd choice for that first big non-Batman WB movie.  We wanted space-faring, ring-slinging high adventure right off the bat, but got relationship-establishment and origin stories instead...something for the masses.  Now, that doesn't necessarily excuse the shortcomings of the film, but it may play into the disappointment from certain things we expected to witness as viewers.  Yes we were kind of short-changed when it came to the amazing feats a GL ring is capable of, and maybe I'm being a little forgiving in accepting that it will be part of the being tagged as "gritty" (ugh) sequel.  Still, I think I'm more curious to see what sort of larger epic they lay out with the GL Movie-verse and hoping that it all ties together in the long run.  Perhaps that's a side effect of reading Geoff John's GL comic books  =)

But, I guess what it comes down is will I buy the Blu-Ray and rewatch it?  Of course I will, and not just because I'm a completist fanboy, but also so I can formulate a second opinion.  I haven't watched the movie since my initial viewing on day one, and am quite curious to see if my thoughts remain the same.  Hell I didn't mind "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" on the first theatrical viewing, but thought it total dross when I bought the Blu-Ray and was dumbfounded how I found anything enjoyable about it the first time around.  Repeat viewing can change your opinion after took me three viewings in one day to realize that "Phantom Menace" was NOT a good movie.

So I will aim to come back this week with my thoughts on Captain America...hopefully that actually happens and it doesn't take two weeks to get my butt in gear!  In the mean time, I would also suggest you check out this little blog written by Greg Rucka as it pertains to "gritty": "Gritty" & Greg Rucka

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Super-Hero Summer

So I realized as I was trying to collect my thoughts about this next blog that I never addressed any of the major super-hero movies that permeated this summer's cinema viewing.  I expressed some thoughts about them in advance with an earlier blog (How Much Is Too Much?) but never actually wrote about them after my viewings  Bad fanboy, bad!  So, now that all four of the major comic book properties of the year have come and gone from theatres, let me take a look back at them in the order in which they were released.  First up...THOR!

I'll be honest, Thor was the movie that I didn't care one way or the other if I actually saw in the theatre.  Well maybe "didn't care" is a little strong, but it was certainly the flick I was the least interested in.  I don't read any Thor books now, nor have I ever, so perhaps that makes me an ideal audience for the movie version of the character.  In many ways, it seems that the less invested a movie-goer is in the comic book version, the more likely they are to be fair-and-balanced in their cinematic critique.  Too frequently I find that the comic book audience expects the movie versions of their favorites to adhere to a strict continuity that is, more often than not, an impossibility for films.  At least impossible if the film wants to be received by so-called mainstream audiences. 

Quick aside: is there anything NOT mainstream in today's society?  If you can find EVERYTHING on something as readily available as the Internet, doesn't that basically make it all mainstream? Go read "Crooked Little Vein" by Warren Ellis (Amazon Store)...

Back to the movie I had no connection to, the only one of the four I didn't bother going to see at a midnight show, Thor.  My expectations from the trailer were not high, I'm not saying I was expecting the Batman movie that shall not be named, but I just said to myself "that looks alright". 

Well when I finally got around to seeing the movie, suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Chris Hemsworth looked the part, maybe not to a "T" as I envision Thor to be a much thicker man, but he was every bit the Nordic God one would expect.  Arrogant, brash, and most importantly blond, Hemsworth filled the Thunder God's boots quite admirably.  Natalie Portman did a fine job as Jane Foster I suppose...she was brainy and cute, casting the appropriate glances at shirtless Thor, and serving quite well as the inevitable love interest for him.  Was there really any reason for the two characters to end up together? 

Nah, not in my look back on the film, they didn't exactly have moments that brought them together, or shared interests in which to establish their relationship.  Certainly nothing happened that justifies the whole close of the film & the endless love that apparently exists between Thor and Jane Foster.  Falling in love during times of extreme duress I suppose?  Or maybe it's just that Foster has additional scientific curiosity that requires her to see more of shirtless Thor.

Sarcasm aside, I did like the film but I felt it was the weakest of this years film offerings.  The Warriors Four were an interesting part of the cast, even though the movie itself did little to really establish why they were so fiercely loyal to Thor.  It's not as if Thor was a guy anyone would want to hang out with; he'd be a great guy to have fight at your side and party with after, but why the hell would anyone want to be friend's with this jackass?  Then again, who wouldn't want to be friend's with the boss' son?

Now there was great addition to this film: Anthony Hopkins as Odin.  He may not have had the most screen time considering he was forced into the Odinsleep for a good portion, but his take on "angry dad" was top-shelf. 

But it was Tom Hiddleston who stole the show as Loki, even Ted Allpress was pretty cool as Young Loki.  His machinations that set-up the  film were the cog of the whole thing, and it looks like that will be the case with The Avengers movie as well.  He was just so detestable...a natural villain if there ever was one...I'd say someone from the Bond franchise should cast this guy in the future.

Also the movie had a tendency towards boring with a very long gap between action sequences (where there really only 3?), and tendencies towards humorous dialogue during the Earth scenes that seemed very...typical...of any movie made in the last several years (and Brian Michael Bendis comics).  Not every person speaks in quips and snarky soundbites.  This movie felt more like a set-up for The Avengers than anything else with not much else going on.  Loki's involvement in that movie has pretty much been a given as long as The Avengers has been on the table so his fate in Thor is rather unimportant, just leaves the question of how he'll get back, same as Thor, and I found myself just waiting to see Nick Fury and Agent Coulson make their required appearances.  Cool to see Hawkeye, but you'd never know it was him if you didn't already know going in. 

So would I recommend it? Yeah, Thor isn't bad by any mean...there just nothing about it that made me say to myself "I need to see this again", and my eventual Blu-Ray purchase of this movie will have more to do with my fanboy buying tendencies then my strong desire to see it again.  The movie will be available right on my birthday, September 13th.

Next in line, we had "X-Men: First Class", and I will admit right off the bat that this was the movie I was most terrified to actually see when I first watched the trailer.  After the abysmal movie that was "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", I basically expected a crap fest out of 1st Class too.  The previews leaned towards that given their total disregard for what really happened in comic book world, but I also try not to go into any comic book movie with that in my head.  Based on what went down in the three previous X-Men films I knew it was an impossibility for Matthew Vaughn, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and the other screenwriters to use the original five as their leads.  So off they went with Havok, Mystique, Beast, Darwin, Banshee, and the female Angel as the originals with Erik Lehnsherr & Charles Xavier leading the pack, and the events set in the 1960s. 

Immediately I knew it wasn't a possibility for this movie to have any connection to the Bryan Singer/Brett Ratner flicks given not only the time frame but also the characters used.  For some reason, this actually gave me more hope for a quality movie, as did the additional trailers that were released. Then, as it turned out, none of my fears had any merit because this movie stands as my favorite of the four!

It suffers from the same problem as the other three comic movies of the summer in that the extended cast is quite interchangable and really have no depth, but the relationship between Xavier & Magneto, the work put into the parts by James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender, the interweaving of reality into fantasy, it all comes together to make the flaws rather...miniscule.  The action was exciting, the powers displayed by the various characters were quite a sight to behold, and even the cameo appearance of Wolverine felt like it fit (even if it may not necessarily work in the X-Canon established by Origins).  Watching the evolution of Xavier from a rather playboy-esque character into a leader was something to behold, as was the transformation of Erik Lehnsherr into Magneto.  Or perhaps it wasn't a transformation, and more likely a snake shedding its skin. Perhaps Magneto is who Erik always was underneath, it just took time for that skin to emerge.

Again, there are issues.  Most of the assorted X-Men don't have much in the way of personality and that hurts certain moments of the film, specifically when Darwin dies.   Only Beast & Mystique have much in the way of character development outside of Mags & Xavier, but unlike Thor, the strength of the two main characters & the larger story is more than enough to carry the film. 

"X-Men First Class " was without a doubt in my mind the best of the Super Hero movies of 2011, and the one I am most looking forward to purchasing on Blu-Ray when it comes out on September 9th.  It is the best X-Men since "X2", and maybe the best Marvel comics movie since the first Iron Man. Buy this: X-Men: 1st Class at Amazon.

Well I'm tired so I will have to continue this later in the week with my thoughts on "Green Lantern" and "Captain America: First Avenger".  Thanks for reading!