See it if you really have to – Battleship (2012)

 

In 1925, a film was released in Russia that changed the face of movie-making forever. Directed by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein, this silent film told the story of a mutiny aboard a Russian battleship in 1905. It is well-known for the iconic, and still powerful, Odessa Steps sequence, which helped place the word montage into the lexicon of film theory. Today, it is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. This film was called “The Battleship Potemkin”.

 

“Battleship”, released one week ago, is NOT a remake of “The Battleship Potemkin” (as if remaking that film made any sense to begin with). Instead, it’s a film based on an 1980s board game from Hasbro, the company behind the “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” toy lines. Yes, ladies and gents, the latest summer blockbuster of 2012 is based on a fucking BOARD GAME! Or should I say inspired….. since there are no characters or story in the “Battleship” game. Now, I’ve never played it, but from what I know, the objective of the game was for one player to predict the coordinates of the other player’s fleet of ships and destroy it entirely. I think you’re supposed to yell “You sunk my battleship!” (which sounds like a double entendre to me) when you lose.

 

You know Hollywood’s desperate for fresh ideas when they seek inspiration from board games. Perhaps in the next few years, there might be a “Monopoly” film. I could imagine the high concept for that (“It’s Mad Men meets Boardwalk Empire”). Or maybe there might be a “Snakes and Ladders” film coming out as well. Imagine the high concept for that (“It’s Snakes on a Plane meets Ladder 49”). I could go on and on. But I won’t.

 

Anyhoo, with the box-office successes of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and Michael Bay’s trilogy of “Transformers” films, movie studios were looking for the next 80s novelty to adapt into a big-budget blow-em-up summer blockbuster – or a shitty family movie like “The Smurfs”. Why “Battleship” was chosen is beyond me, but the only reason I can think of is its title – (Cue movie-trailer guy voice here) BATTLESHIP. The title itself conjures something bold, dynamic and dramatic in the mind of the viewer. Had it not been based on a Hasbro board game, you would assume that “Battleship” was a film in the vein of classic Naval action-thrillers like “The Hunt for Red October” and “Crimson Tide”.  But it’s not. It’s an ALIEN INVASION FILM set in the sea! And it co-stars everyone’s favourite good-girl-gone-bad, Rihanna!

 

Sergei Eisenstein is probably rolling in his grave right about now.

 

PLOT

Seven years ago, NASA discovered a planet similar to Earth. They called it Planet G. A signal is transmitted from a communications array in Hawaii to the planet. Meanwhile, Alex Hopper, the hero of our story, breaks into a store, steals a chicken burrito (I shit you not!), and gets tasered by the police. Why would he do something so asinine, you may ask? Oh, to impress Samantha Shane, the daughter of U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Shane. (Cue facepalm here). Older brother Stone Hopper is pissed off at Alex’s reckless attitude and forces him to join the U.S. Navy.

 

Seven years later,  Alex becomes a lieutenant on the USS John Paul Jones, while Stone is a commanding officer on the USS Sampson. Alex and Samantha are a couple now, and they do that tirelessly cliched scenario where they make out on a beach in the sunset. Also, he wants to ‘pop the question’ to Samantha, but has yet to get past the obstacle that is her daddy. Meanwhile, five alien ships from Planet G respond to NASA’s signal. One crashes in Hong Kong, and proceeds to BLOW SHIT UP, while the other four crash-land in the water near Hawaii. Of course, the John Paul Jones and the Sampson investigate. Their attempt to establish contact proves futile as the alien ships proceed to BLOW SHIT UP! What’s the reason behind the alien attack? Will Alex become more responsible, now that he’s staring danger in the face? Will Rihanna sing that annoying-as-fuck song “Birthday Cake” to force the aliens to retreat? And will Chris Brown make a guest appearance to sing in the remix? All these questions, and more, may be answered in “Battleship” (cue movie-trailer guy voice AND facepalm here).

 

CHARACTERS

Alex Hopper – Taylor Kitsch

Stone Hopper – Alexander Skarsgard

Samantha Shane – Brooklyn Decker

Admiral Shane – Liam Neeson

Cora Raikes – Rihanna

 

MY THOUGHTS: Peter Berg, director of “The Rundown” and “Hancock”, clearly studied the films of Michael Bay in order to make “Battleship”. From the music video-like camerawork to the stylized action sequences, the film feels as if Bay had his money-grubbing hands all over it. Even the scenes are reminiscent of Michael Bay films (the shot of outer space with the lens flare at the top-right of the frame; the Pentagon scene with the guys at the table deliberating “the next course of action”; the medium shot of the main actress in a bikini top etc. etc.). And I must admit that the film is mindless…. just like (nearly) everything from Michael Bay. But enough about Mr. Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles. Let’s talk about “Battleship”.

 

“Battleship” has its good and bad points. For starters, the visual effects of the film are SUPERB. The alien ships and its armor-wearing occupants look fierce and menacing, and the high-tech weapons that they use are BAD-ASS!! For example, there’s a large metal ball which literally rolls through and destroys anything metallic in its sight. It is the most awesomest thing I have ever seen – in “Battleship”. And believe it or not, the film has an actual three-act structure. It doesn’t feel like the second and third acts are combined into a seamless number of set pieces without any indication of a dramatic reversal in the film (*cough* Transformers 2 & 3 *cough*). Our hero, who starts off as a total asshole, shows some character development as he takes charge and acts like a leader for the first time in his life. Honestly, I didn’t completely buy into it, but for what it’s worth, it works.

 

In terms of its bad points, the dialogue is often cheesy, cliched, and laughable. The acting was so-so, and there were no stand-out performances. Not even Rihanna, who does her best with the few lines that she’s given, stands out in the film. The plot of the film, ridiculous as it is, is taken way too seriously. And speaking of the plot, it’s never really stated why the aliens invade Earth in the first place, and why they seek to destroy anything in their way. And finally, there are cliches galore in this film – the main one being the “stop and stare” scenario in which the individual stands still like a dumb-ass when an alien mechanism is heading straight at him, utters something like “What the hell?” or “Oh shit!” and is then DECIMATED. Why doesn’t he just fucking run?! Jeez! Finally, I must mention one scene in which our heroes are looking at a computer screen and calling out the current coordinates of the USS John Paul Jones and the alien ships. As an homage of sorts to the actual “Battleship” board game in which the film ripped its title from, this scene is both smart and dumb – a rare feat in summer blockbusters.

 

Ultimately and surprisingly, despite its many flaws, I had fun with “Battleship”. It’s the type of film in which you’re required to leave your brains at the door, sit back and experience 2 hours of explosions, flashy special effects, Oscar-unworthy acting and stylized, super slo-mo. Then, when the film is over and you put your brains back into your head, you’ll be asking yourself “What the fuck did I just watch?!” In other words, it is what it is. A mindless summer blockbuster. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM?  If you like your summer movies with a slice of intelligence, look elsewhere. If you couldn’t care less about great acting and a well-written script, and you love to see things go “BOOM”, then feel free to watch “Battleship”.  Getting hammered before viewing it is optional.

 

MY RATING – 2  1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

– Matthew

See it if you really have to – John Carter (2012)

 

Like many people over the age of 12, I was skeptical about “John Carter”. Sure, it’s from Walt Disney Pictures, the studio behind the hugely successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. And yes, it’s directed by Andrew Stanton, the man behind the Pixar animated films “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E” (one of my all-time favourite movies, by the way). And I admit that every time I say, think, hear or type the name “John Carter”, I can’t help but think of the name “John Connor” i.e. the embryo/kid/man/ranting Christian Bale from “The Terminator”, “Terminator 2” (one of my all-time favourite movies, by the way), “Terminator 3” and “Terminator Salvation” respectively.

 

But ya see, it’s Disney’s ANIMATED films that are more popular, both commercially and critically, than their live-action efforts. With the exception of 2010’s “Tron Legacy”, 2011’s “The Muppets” (both of which I enjoyed immensely), and this year’s box-office smash “The Avengers” (FUN FACT: Marvel was purchased by Mickey Mouse and Friends in 2009 for $4 billion), there haven’t been any good live-action films  released from Walt Disney Pictures since the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. I won’t even delve into “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”  since that was a lame-ass attempt to squeeze the last remaining juices from the POTC franchise anyway.

 

Even when “John Carter” finally hit theaters, I was hesitant in spending my hard-earned money to see it. Reviews were mixed, with more critics and viewers praising the film’s visuals than anything else. But what was wrong with it? Was it the lead actor Taylor Kitsch? Was it the lead actress Lynn Collins? Or was it the large amount of computer-generated aliens in the film? Whatever the problems were, “John Carter” became a box office bomb as an end result. In order to recoup their losses, the film was shown in drive-ins, where it was paired with….believe it or not….The Avengers! I’m guessing that “John Carter” was shown last, since audiences can leave the drive-ins after seeing the more superior Avengers film. Perhaps. I’m just speculating here.

 

But like some people who still enjoy the flashy, special effects-laden, big-budget, box-office blockbuster, I was curious as to what the big fucking deal is with “John Carter” anyway. I mean, there had to be at least one good thing about the film – apart from its visuals, of course. The entire film couldn’t be that bad. Or could it? Well…..

 

PLOT

Based on the novel “A Princess of Mars” written by Edgar Rice Borroughs, “John Carter” begins in 1881 New York with the funeral of…well… John Carter, which is attended by his nephew Edgar Rice Borroughs. Yes, ladies and gents, the writer of “Tarzan” is John Carter’s nephew….. in the movie that is. Yeeeeah. Anyways, Edgar is given John’s personal journal, which he reads in hopes of figuring out how John actually died.

 

Cut to 1868 Arizona, and our hero John Carter is arrested by Union Colonel Powell. John recently served in the Confederate Army, and Powell requests his help in fighting the Apache. Instead, our hero escapes from prison, with Powell and his men pursuing him. While fighting off a small band of Apache, John and Powell (FUN FACT: John Powell is actually an Oscar-nominated film composer who composed the music for films like “Face/Off”,“The Bourne Trilogy” and “How to Train your Dragon”) wind up in a cave. Suddenly, John is attacked by a man wielding a blue knife. Apparently, he’s extra-terrestrial, and also he never heard the phrase “Never bring a knife to a gunfight”. After the man is shot, the knife is transformed into a glow-in-the-dark medallion. When John picks up the medallion, the man utters something in a weird language. Suddenly, our hero ends up in Mars. Due to the low gravity on Mars, John achieves the feat of jumping really high.  Yeeeeah.

 

Anyhoo, he’s discovered by a race of aliens called the Tharks. While in their society, he learns their beliefs, their mannerisms and even their language. (“Avatar“, anyone?). Also, he learns of a 1,000-year war between the human cities of Helium and Zodanga. This war is currently in a cease-fire due to the marriage between the HOT Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris, and the COLD Sab Than, king of Zodanga. Clearly, Dejah doesn’t want to marry Sab so she runs away.  John saves her from being captured by Sab and his army. Together, John and Dejah seek to defeat Sab, and find a way for John to return home. Will they succeed? Or will Dejah marry that douchebag Sab after all? And how exactly did John learn how to speak extra-terrestrial? Plot points, plot twists and plot holes abound in Disney’s “John Carter”.

 

CHARACTERS

John Carter – Taylor Kitsch

Dejah Thoris – Lynn Collins

Sola – Samantha Morton

Tars Tarkas – Willem Dafoe

Matai Shang – Mark Strong

Sab Than – Dominic West

Edgar Rice Borroughs – Daryl Sabara

 

MY THOUGHTS: Unlike the flashy, special effects-laden, big-budget, box-office blockbusters of yesteryear, “John Carter” actually has an interesting story. The problem is that like the flashy, special effects-laden, big-budget, box-office blockbusters of yesteryear, the film focuses more on visuals than on that interesting story. I mean, the world of Mars is visually impressive, and so are the societies of both the aliens and humans. But the story itself borders between pulpy adventure and sci-fi tedium, and I felt that it may have to do with the target audience of the film. Keep in mind, “John Carter” is rated PG-13, and it feels PG-13-ish for the first 20 minutes of the film, and the story itself is quite interesting at this point. But when Taylor Kitsch arrives on Mars, and tries his luck at long-jumping, you can imagine little kids (not adults, mind you) waking up from slumber and laughing their butts off at this scene. By the time he encounters the computer-generated Tharks, with their computer-generated offspring and computer-generated animals, the film feels like a Saturday morning cartoon.

The story then picks back up when the humans confront the Tharks, and I’m guessing that any guy who was sleeping during the “cartoon” section of the film would immediately re-gain their focus after seeing Lynn Collins. Why? ‘Cause she can act way better than Taylor Kitsch anyway. And she’s better-looking. But more than that, there is a certain depth to her character, though it’s not explored any further in the film. I mean, she wants to prevent the destruction of her people, and later on in the film, the destruction of Mars. What does John Carter want, apart from going home? His wife and child are dead (spoiler alert) and there’s Apaches and soldiers out to kill him, so what’s his motivation for going home? Worse yet, what’s the driving force behind John’s fight against the villain Sab Than? Unfortunately, it’s never shown or explained. As a result, the audience is forced to root for a man who can leap into flying airships in a single bound (whoop-de-fucking-doo!) while at the same time, wondering why we should give a shit.

While I was entertained by the film, I was underwhelmed by its narrative. And it’s this emphasis on style over substance that manifests itself through a plot that ranges from exciting and enjoyable to confusing and mindless. Also, the pacing was uneven, with scenes that either run too long or play themselves out too quickly. In the end, “John Carter” is yet another attempt by Walt Disney Pictures to re-create the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (still the best POTC movie EVER!) but to no avail. Too bad.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Obviously, it’s not the best film you’ll see this year… but it’s definitely not the worst. So it won’t hurt if you actually give “John Carter” a look. However, I’d recommend that you download it. After it collects some virtual dust on your hard drive, say in a day or two, you can gladly delete it.  Your computer will be thankful that you did!

 

MY RATING – 2  1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

– Matthew

I want my money back – This Means War (2012)

 

Yes, yes, I know…the summer blockbuster season has begun. So why am I reviewing a film that was released three days after Valentine’s Day, you may ask? ‘Cause in my ever-increasing list of films to watch, “This Means War” – for some weird-ass reason – was there.  You see, I have an immense passion for film (in case you haven’t figured it out by now) and as a result, I must watch movies that are good, bad and somewhere-in-between.  Let’s just say, “This Means War” isn’t good, and it definitely ain’t somewhere-in-between.

But why would I bash a film like “This Means War”? I mean, look at that poster, for God’s sake. There’s Chris Pine from “Star Trek”. There’s Tom Hardy from “Star Trek: Nemesis”, “Warrior” (which I hailed as the best film of 2011) and the upcoming superhero epic “The Dark Knight Rises”. And they’re both pointing at Reese Whiterspoon’s boobs! Yes, they are, ladies and gents. STOP DENYING IT! The point is, you have three hot stars in a film that’s both a romantic comedy and an action-packed spy film. And the trailer looked entertaining enough! So how could it possibly suck?

Sigh. Where do I begin?

McG. Is that a flavour enhancer found in chicken, snacks and soup? Nope, that’s MSG. McG is the director who made “This Means War”. But I understand the confusion. MSG, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is “generally recognized as safe”. McG, according to Hollywood, is “assumably a great director”. He’s known for both breathing life into the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise in 2000 and choking it to death with the annoyingly awful “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” in 2003.  But what made him Public Enemy No. 1 in my eyes was his directorial raping of the iconic “Terminator” franchise. Yes, ladies and gents, he’s the punk bitch who made “Terminator Salvation” in 2009. ‘Nuff said.

This should have been an early sign to me that “This Means War” would suck. But I became aware that McG directed the fucking film after I saw his stupid-ass nickname in the end credits. Shame on me, I know! Groan.

 

PLOT

FDR Foster and Tuck Henson are CIA agents and best friends. While FDR is single and womanizing, Tuck continually checks up on his ex-wife and son.  After a covert mission in Hong Kong to nab the German criminal Heinrich ends up “un-covert” due to their reckless actions – and the death of Heinrich’s brother as a result, the two agents are assigned to desk duty. One day, Tuck discovers an online dating website. There, he’s paired with Lauren Scott, a product testing executive. Lauren, who’s currently dealing with the engagement of her ex-boyfriend, was signed onto the site by her best friend Trish.  After the next couple of days, Tuck and Lauren meet up at a restaurant. FDR, insisting that he should provide ‘back-up’ to Tuck, hides nearby. CREEPPPPPY! Anyhoo, Tuck and Lauren hit it off.

FDR, unaware of the identity of Tuck’s date, meets Lauren in a video store. He tries to flirt with her, but to no avail. He persuades her to go on a date with him to the point of annoyance. Of course, she reluctantly says “Yes”. So now, Lauren is dating both FDR and Tuck. However, she’s unaware that they’re both CIA agents….and they know each other…. and they’re fighting for her…. and they’re using high-tech surveillance technology to keep tracks of her movements, phone messages and even her love-advice- of-sorts conversations with Trish. CREEPPPPPY!

Oh, and Heinrich’s out for revenge for the death of his brother – in case you were wondering!

 

CHARACTERS

Lauren Scott – Reese Whiterspoon

FDR Foster – Chris Pine

Tuck Henson – Tom Hardy

Heinrich – Til Schweiger

Trish – Chelsea Handler

Collins – Angela Bassett

 

MY THOUGHTS: From the computer-generated (or at least, it looks that way) backdrop of Hong Kong that opens the film, it’s apparent that “This Means War” was meant to be a live-action cartoon. Even the premise of two spies fighting each other resembles that of the “Spy vs. Spy” cartoons from “MAD TV” (Ironically, the working title for this film was actually “Spy vs. Spy”).  Speaking of cartoons, the action scenes in this film are so formulaic, over-the-top (with cars that explode during car chases and stuntmen attached to wires in a green-screen room falling off buildings) and choppily edited that they feel like feeble attempts at emulating the great action scenes of the past few decades. And when shots aren’t fired, the viewer is forced to suffer through the ridiculous love triangle between Reese’s, Chris’ and Tom’s characters. Admittedly, the love triangle between the three is fun to watch, but unfortunately, it’s JUST NOT FUNNY! All three stars try desperately to deliver hilarious performances, but how can they when the film’s attempts at being funny ultimately fail?!  And speaking of performances, the acting in the film was okay, but unmemorable. Chris and Tom actually have good chemistry together, although the idea that they do nearly everything together hints the possibility of a ‘bromance’  taking place between the two. Reese is cute as she always is, but is she a sex symbol? AWW HELL NO!! And she tries so hard to be one with her PG-13-level sex scenes with Chris and Tom. Ladies, if you’re thinking of watching this film just to see those two scenes, please don’t. You deserve much better. I’m just saying.

The villain is so forgettable that you forget that he’s actually in the film in the first place. Angela Bassett’s role as Chris’ and Tom’s boss is a welcome touch, but it’s clear that she deserves to be in a better film.  The story leans too much on the romantic comedy side than on the action side, which will arouse the anger of many heterosexual males forced to watch this film by their girlfriends. Oh, and did I mention that the wit and humour of Chelsea Handler, host of the popular E! Network talk show “Chelsea Lately”, is squandered throughout the film? All of her jokes fall flat,  she looks uninspired to act, and she sounds a lot older than she actually is. Tom Hardy even calls her an “old man”. Now that’s fucked up! Funny (for a bit), but fucked up! Overall, “This Means War” is a forgettable and painfully unfunny film that tries way too hard to appeal to the mindless action fanatic in most (if not all) men and the heartwarming romance fan in most (if not all) women. But in the end, it falls flat – smack dab in the middle.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? If you do see it, or if you buy the DVD which comes out next Tuesday by the way, then you’ll only be increasing McG’s power as a director. By the time his power has reached its limit, he’ll proceed to destroy another franchise. And it may be your favourite TV show, movie or… God forbid… your favourite cartoon from your childhood. So please, dear reader, do your part. Skip this shit. And if you have seen it in theaters, and hated it, demand your money back. IT’S YOUR RIGHT!

 

MY RATING – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

– Matthew

Definitely see this movie – The Avengers (2012)

 

After 8 long, incredible months since I’ve involved myself in the wide world of blogging, I’m proud to say that I’ve finally reached my 25th post. Now I must admit, 25 is a small yet reasonable number when it comes to blog posts, but then again, when you  have other priorities to handle, it’s a challenge to set aside time to post something new. But I have had a hell of a time doing it, and I appreciate the feedback that I’ve received. Also, blogging has been rather helpful in improving my writing skills – whether you as a reader notices it or not. I hope to continue writing my silly reviews, and I hope that you will continue reading them.

It’s destined that my 25th post would be dedicated to “The Avengers” since this is the film that has officially begun the summer blockbuster season of 2012. And by the look of the vast number of films about to be released within the next few months, I can guarantee that there will be a LOT to write about.

In my last post, I recapped five Marvel Studios superhero films – “Iron Man”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Iron Man 2”, “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”.  Interestingly,  these films were connected thematically to the “Avengers Initiative”, a plot which was revealed by the character of Nick Fury (played by Samuel “I’ve had it with these muthafucking snakes on this muthafucking plane” L. Jackson) at the end of “Iron Man”. The “Avengers Initiative” is a project launched by the counter-terrorism agency S.H.I.E.L.D. to form a team of super-powered individuals who will save the world from the threat of destruction. With the subsequent films, audiences were teased with small post-credit scenes which hinted the development of an actual “Avengers” film. Five superheroes later, the Avengers were finally assembled.

But is the final product worth the four-year wait or is it just another mindless summer blockbuster that’ll be forgotten by year’s end? Or will it be remembered up until “The Dark Knight Rises” (one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year) comes out? Let’s see, shall we?

 

PLOT

Following the events of “Thor”, S.H.I.E.L.D. has acquired a mysterious object known as the “Tesseract”. In a S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility, the Tesseract is suddenly activated. A portal is opened, thus allowing Loki – the god of mischief and the adopted brother of Thor –  to reach Earth. Loki takes the Tesseract and escapes (with the help of Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye) who he mentally enslaves) before Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., can capture him. Realizing that a threat is imminent, Nick finally launches the “Avengers Initiative”. S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow) is assigned by Nick to locate Dr. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Hulk) who has gone into hiding  after the events of “The Incredible Hulk”. Meanwhile, Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) is called on to help review the research on the Tesseract while Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) is assigned by Nick to locate Loki and retrieve the Tesseract. However, both heroes are confronted by the god of thunder himself, Thor. His goal is to apprehend Loki and return him to the heavenly kingdom of Asgard to answer for his usurping of Odin’s (Thor’s father) throne. Loki, on the other hand, has a bigger goal in mind. Having made a pact with a race of alien warmongers called the Chituari, Loki seeks to use the Tesseract to open a portal to allow them to enter into our world and destroy it. With Earth’s future in the balance, the heroes are forced to put their differences aside and unite to defeat Loki and the Chiturai. Will they succeed or will they die trying?

 

CHARACTERS

Tony Stark/Iron Man – Robert Downey Jr.

Steve Rogers/Captain America – Chris Evans

Bruce Banner/The Hulk – Mark Ruffalo

Thor – Chris Hemsworth

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow – Scarlett Johannson

Clint Barton/Hawkeye – Jeremy Renner

Loki – Tom Hiddleston

Nick Fury – Samuel L. Jackson

 

MY THOUGHTS: Whether you’ve read online reviews or heard it through word-of-mouth, you’re probably aware that “The Avengers” has received a shit-ton of praise since its release. Does it deserve it? HELL FRICKIN’ YES!!! First of all, it’s directed by Joss Whedon, the man behind the hugely successful “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series, the cult classic “Firefly” and its movie spinoff “Serenity”. His ability to co-ordinate an ensemble cast of characters is applied brilliantly in “The Avengers”. Before the film’s release, I was worried that certain characters (more particularly Hawkeye and Black Widow who aren’t super-powered) would be outshone by others. Well, I can safely say that ALL of the Avengers shine brightly in this film. Everyone has his or her own personality, from the egotistical Tony Stark (expertly played by Robert Downey Jr.) to the self-sacrificing Steve Rogers (played convincingly by Chris Evans). Of course, these heroes don’t get along at first, and it’s great to see them confront each other verbally and physically. But when these personalities team up for the final fight against Loki, that’s when you understand why they’re chosen in the first place. Speaking of Loki, I was impressed by the way his villainous character was stepped up since his last appearance in “Thor”. He’s manipulative, deceptive and cold-blooded. And he’s still the spoiled brat that he was in “Thor”. And speaking of the final fight, the last 20 minutes or so of this film is one of the most exciting, visually stimulating and jaw-dropping sequences I’ve ever seen in a film – PERIOD! This sequence alone is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

For a 142-minute film, there’s absolutely NO boring moments in “The Avengers”. NONE! That doesn’t mean that the whole film is wall-to-wall full of action. There’s brilliant character development,  a well-written story, sharp, witty dialogue and much-needed doses of humour. Even Bruce Banner (played impressively by Mark Ruffalo) has a funny bone, which is a change from the moody performance by Edward Norton in “The Incredible Hulk”. On the subject of Bruce Banner, he is, in my opinion, THE stand-out character in the film. When he becomes the Hulk, it isn’t incredible…. it’s fucking AWESOME!

Long story short, “The Avengers” was definitely worth my time, my money and the four-year wait. It’s arguably one of the best superhero-team movies I’ve ever seen (the crown still goes to Zack Synder’s Watchmen which I still consider to be a masterpiece). And yes, I know it’s May….but I’m going to say it. And I don’t care if I sound like a geeky fan-boy (which I am…sorta) at this point. “The Avengers” is one of the BEST movies of 2012! There, I said it.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? Unless you honestly hate superhero films, or hate films with the slightest bit of over-the-top action, dazzling special effects and protagonists in tight costumes, then you should see this movie immediately. I should mention that I had the privilege of viewing “The Avengers” in 3D and it was worth every penny. But whether you plan to see it in 3D or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s still definitely worth checking out on the big screen! I have a feeling that it’ll be talked about for months to come….even after “The Dark Knight Rises” is released this August.

 

MY RATING – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

– Matthew

Avengers Assemble: A Recap

After four years of speculation and anticipation, “The Avengers” is finally here. Directed by Joss Whedon (who created the hugely popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series, including the cult sci-fi TV series Firefly and its movie spin-off Serenity) , it received surprisingly positive reviews from film critics even before its official release date. It’s also been praised by comic-book fans and non-comic-book fans alike. By the looks of things, this film will be talked about for weeks to come – until some other superhero movie comes out, like say…. I don’t know…. “The Dark Knight Rises”!  And yes, I know that “The Amazing Spiderman” is set for release before “TDKR”, but I still have my doubts about that film. I mean, was “Spider-Man 3” that bad of a movie that Columbia Pictures had to REDO the origin story of everyone’s favourite web-slinger? Why couldn’t they just do a “Spider-Man 4” instead of wasting everyone’s fucking time?!

‘ Cause it’s Hollywood. See… I just answered my own question.

Anyhoo, this post is NOT about “The Avengers” film. I haven’t seen it yet, but when I do (which will be really REALLY soon), I will do a separate review on it. And I promise, it will not be a one-sentence review like “THE AVENGERS is the greatest movie of all time!” (even though I might be tempted to write shit like that after I see it) . But for now, this post is dedicated to the 5 films which sequentially led to the masterpiece that (hopefully) is “The Avengers”: “Iron Man”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Iron Man 2”, “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”. It’s required that you watch all of these films in order to understand the back-story of “The Avengers” (DURRRRRHHHHHH!!!) but to be honest, you don’t need to watch ALL of them. I’m not saying that the ones that you don’t need to see are suckable, but they don’t really add much to the build-up to the “Avengers” film.

What follows is a review of all five films. I won’t explain all the events that occur in each one, since it’s really not necessary to do so. But I will give you my honest opinion of each of them. Also, I’ll mention how each film connects with one another, and how it leads (in some way or another) to “The Avengers”.  And no, they’re not spoiler alerts, so please don’t close this tab just yet.

 

SEE THIS MOVIE – IRON MAN (2008)

The movie that started it all! After the disappointing “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Spider-Man 3” were released in 2006 and 2007 respectively, Marvel Studios came back to Hollywood in full force with the hugely successful, and STILL incredibly awesome, film “Iron Man”. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (billionaire and scientist turned bad-ass superhero in a suit of armour), Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane (business partner turned bad guy), Gwyneth Paltrow as “Pepper” Potts (assistant turned potential love interest) and Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James Rhodes (military liaison turned potential sidekick) . “Iron Man” has a well-written story, a superb cast and exciting action sequences. But what makes this film truly special is Robert Downey Jr.  He OWNS the role of Tony Stark. He brings his charisma and sharp wit to the character, making him one of the most appealing movie superheroes in years.  And the film brilliantly introduces the premise of “The Avengers” in a short yet memorable scene involving Nick Fury (played by Samuel “Yes, they deserved to die, and I hope they burn in hell!” L. Jackson), Director of the counter-terrorist agency S.H.I.E.L.D.  Four years after its release, “Iron Man” is the first, and still the best, of the pre-Avengers films. Even on its own, it stands as one of the best superhero movies in recent years.  4 out of 5 stars

 

IT WAS AIGHT – THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

Interestingly, this is the only film in the Avengers roster that isn’t distributed by Paramount Pictures. Instead, it’s released by Universal Studios, which also released 2003’s “Hulk”, directed by Ang Lee of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame. Unlike the boring, unappealing and altogether fucking confusing “Hulk” (although I was impressed by the comic book panel transitions in the film), “The Incredible Hulk” delivered what audiences desired initially – a quick pace, spectacularly over-the-top action sequences and an extremely pissed-off green giant. Luckily for that audience, “The Incredible Hulk” does not redo its origin story just because the previous film sucked ass (“Spider-Man 3″, anyone?). Dr. Bruce Banner’s (Edward Norton’s) transformation from timid scientist to gamma-radiated monster occurs within the film’s opening title sequence. The film focuses primarily on Bruce’s search for a cure for his gamma radiation, and the means to control the raging beast inside of him.  However, he must face British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) who is hired by General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) to hunt and capture Bruce. Apparently, the experiment that turned Bruce into the Hulk was part of the Super Soldier experiment of the 1940s that turned Steve Rogers (who I’ll talk about later) into Captain America. The Army seeks to make an army of Super Soldiers (or in this case, Super Hulks or some shit like that) so they need Bruce alive. However, Emil is aware of Bruce’s transformation abilities. Therefore, he undergoes the same experiment and becomes the ugly-ass abomination known as…. the Abomination! I will admit that the final fight between the Hulk and the Abomination is really frickin’ AWESOME, even though its outcome was a tad bit disappointing. But my gripe with the film was its story. There wasn’t anything new, or interesting, from what we’ve already known from the mythos of the Incredible Hulk. Also, I didn’t feel anything for the characters.  They showed no sign of change throughout the film, especially Bruce Banner (though well acted by Edward Norton) who starts and ends the film as the same tortured individual.  Also, to be honestly, I was never a fan of the Hulk.  I mean, it’s hard to root for a protagonist who uses brute strength and anger instead of wits and intelligence (like Iron Man).  Speaking of which, Iron Man….or should I say Tony Stark, appears in the film to speak to Ross about the formation of the Avengers team. Overall, “The Incredible Hulk” works as a stand-alone Hulk film, and not so much as an Avengers film. Not great, but not bad either. 3 out of 5 stars

 

WORTH A LOOK – IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Apparently, director Jon Favreau was pressured by Paramount Pictures to rush the production of “Iron Man 2” to ensure that it began the summer blockbuster season of 2010. And admittedly, as a fan of the original “Iron Man”, I must say that it shows. The story tries to pack in the sub-plots of Tony Stark’s slow death due to blood poisoning (due to the arc reactor – a.k.a. the shiny glowy watchamacallit on his chest), his unwillingness to trust his friend James Rhodes (played this time by Don Cheadle), his relationship with his assistant “Pepper” Potts, his involvement in the upcoming Avengers team, a rival weapons manufacturer called Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell),  a secret involving his deceased father Howard Stark, and a villain called Whiplash (Mickey Rourke). Now, I’m all for a well-developed plot, but when you try to pack a bunch of unnecessary sub-plots that makes me less concerned about the real story taking place, then I quickly lose interest. Fortunately, “Iron Man 2” is saved by most, if not all, of the same elements that made its precessor a great movie: a solid cast, a decent villain, awesome action sequences and witty dialogue. And it introduced the characters of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Black Widow, played by the ridiculously hot Scarlett Johansson, and War Machine (a.k.a. James Rhodes in a grey Iron Man suit).  In the end, “Iron Man 2” is a worthy sequel that’s actually quite watchable, despite its imperfections. And we see Thor’s hammer at the end of the film (oops – spoiler alert!), so yeah, it’s actually relevant to the Avengers story after all.  3 1/2  out of 5 stars

 

IT WAS AIGHT – THOR (2011)

You would think that adapting “Thor” into film would be simple enough to accomplish. But it isn’t. Apart from a director brave enough to bring the story of the Norse god of thunder to life (Kenneth Branagh) an actor willing enough to play said god (Chris Hemsworth), and a strong supporting cast to support him (Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston among others), what’s necessary for a film of this magnitude is a great story. And unfortunately, this is where “Thor” falters. In a nutshell, Thor is cast down to Earth from the heavenly kingdom of Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins) for his reckless attitude. While looking for his mystical hammer, he eventually falls for Jane Foster (Portman), a scientist who witnesses Thor’s fall to Earth, and learns a thing or too about humility and sacrifice. When he finds his hammer, he goes back to Asgard to save the kingdom from the clutches of his evil adoptive brother Loki (Hiddleston). While the visuals are really gorgeous to look at, and the action sequences involving Thor (which are few, unfortunately) are great to look at, the film suffers from its second act. It’s admittedly funny to see Thor as a mortal, trying to learn the ways of us Earth people. But it feels as if a LARGE CHUNK of the film is all about a powerless Thor. I want to see Thor kick ass and smash shit with a wave of his hammer, not walk into a pet store and demand a fucking horse! And what was up with the brief and uneventful appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)? I mean, he shows up, aims his bow and arrow at the powerless Thor, is then ordered by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stand down, and then he’s gone. WHADAFUCK?!  And in case you were wondering, Loki survives in the end (he’ll be the main villain in “The Avengers”) and a mysterious device called a “Tesseract” is discovered by Nick Fury. Even though “Thor” has its great moments, I still felt that it deserved a much better story – and I know I’m not the only one who thinks that as well. 3 out of 5 stars

 

WORTH A LOOK – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

The last, and the most underrated, of the Avengers films. And it’s a shame that it’s so underrated compared to the more popular “Thor”, because it’s actually much better. Yeah, I said it! Set during WWII, “Captain America” tells the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a skinny guy from Brooklyn with dreams of serving his country in the war. Fortunately, he gets into an army training program, and is selected to become the first subject in the Super Soldier experiment (which was hinted in “The Incredible Hulk”. See how it’s all connected? Smart, huh?).  Now a muscular man with super strength, he’s used as a propaganda tool for the U.S. Army. But Steve wants more. He actually wants to fight the Nazis, and he proves his worth by saving a group of POWs from the villainous Nazi officer Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). With the assistance of British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and a young Howard Stark (a.k.a. Tony Stark’s dad. SEE HOW IT’S ALL CONNECTED, GODDAMMIT?!), and with a nigh-indestructible shield as his primary weapon, Steve takes the fight to the Red Skull as Captain America. I was impressed by the retro, nostalgic vibe of the film and I was also surprised by Chris Evans’ convincing performance as Steve Rogers. He plays a man who’s willing to die for his country, and I can’t wait to see how this character trait is applied in “The Avengers”. Even though the first half of the film is a bit slow, the second half delivers enough action and adventure to leave you satisfied. And yes, I admit that the Red Skull was a two-dimensional villain, but in my opinion, I felt that this was how he’s supposed to be. He’s a standard comic-book villain who wants the “Tesseract” (yes, the same mysterious object from “Thor”) to conquer the world. Like I said, STANDARD…COMIC…BOOK…VILLAIN. What more do you want from a 1940s-themed superhero movie? And I liked the conclusion of the film, where Steve (spoiler alert) is awaken from cryogenic sleep into 2011 New York by…..who else? NICK FURY! (I SAID IT BEFORE. IT’S ALL CONNECTED). In the end, I was thoroughly impressed by the film, and I can safely say that this is one of the more better films in the Avengers roster. Yeah, I said it!  3 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

So what’s your favourite pre-Avengers film? Did you enjoy any of them or do you despise all of them for “ruining your childhood superheroes?” Are you hyped up for “The Avengers” or do you think it’s just another mindless popcorn movie? And who’s your favourite Avenger?  Whatever it is, I’d like to know. So, please leave a comment. Until the review of “The Avengers”, I remain LEGALLY BLACK.

– Matthew