Comic Con Batman v Superman Trailer reveals more plot

I may not be at San Diego Comic Con, but I can still ramble about what new coolness the companies are releasing. And Warner Brothers just released a new Batman v Superman trailer at the con:

My thoughts, in no particular order:

* This trailer feels like the most complete view we’ve seen of what the story will be, besides lots of people wondering about Superman’s motives and Batman asking him if he bleeds.

* If you read my review of Man of Steel, one thing I hoped was that the sequel would bring more lightness, optimism, humor. I think it’s clear from this trailer that they didn’t listen to me. Now, I like dark movies as much as the next geeky gothy type, but I also like my superhero stories to come with some hope. There’s mentions that Superman = hope, but it sure seems in short supply.

* I was glad to see they finally included Wonder Woman in the trailer. But don’t blink—you might miss her. Nor does she get to utter a single line of dialog.

* As I expected, Ben Affleck seems fine as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He carries the weight of the world with him, and gives his older Batman power and rage.

* Jesse Eisenberg looks to be a very different and potentially interesting take on Lex Luthor.

* Still a big fan of the returning cast, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishbone, et al seem to really have their parts down.

I am still cautiously optimistic that this will be a good movie, it looks like there’s a lot of quality in the production, acting, special effects, and so on. I do worry that it will be a two-and-a-half hour darkness fest though. I guess we’ll see in 2016.

Avengers: Age of Ultron—Epic fun not quite up to the original

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-16

With no stops scheduled today for The Dawning of Firebird Alex blog tour, this seemed a perfect time to offer my thoughts on something different. Last night, Michelle and I saw the Saturday night opening weekend showing of Avengers: Age of Ultron (in glorious 2D; regular readers know my distaste for 3D). There’s a lot of full reviews, and I hate to give spoilers, so here you’ll just get my impressions. And my impressions are precisely what I wrote in the title—I very much enjoyed the movie, but not quite as much as the first Avengers film.

Let’s get to the good stuff first. All the acting is excellent—the returning cast absolutely inhabits their roles, and the newcomers Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing the new Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver also sold their characters well. Paul Bettany isn’t a newcomer to the series, having done the voice of JARVIS since the original Iron Man, but his first on-camera role as the otherworldly Vision was great.

Director Joss Whedon has the ability to write stories that are global in scope, comic book wacky, and yet still leave room for quieter character moments and lots of sharp, quippy banter. He tears the team down, separates them, and builds them back up again, while creating an army of robots, an evil AI with anger issues, and a story that truly spans the globe. He makes the stakes both epic and personal. And not every thread gets wrapped up neatly with a bow.

On the other hand, so many characters means that there’s many themes brought up and left hanging, conversations never completed, some disjointedness. Marvel has said that there will be a release of a director’s cut with more than an hour of extra material, even an alternate ending, so clearly there’s a lot we’re missing. And yet despite feeling that we needed more, I felt that some of the action scenes went on too long. Some of that may have been my personal distaste for slow motion in action scenes. I prefer fast, kinetic action. I don’t think the original Avengers had much slo-mo action at all. But this one, we had a lot of slow-mo, hero-worship moments. There had to be some, of course, whenever you have a speedster like Quicksilver, but there was, in my personal opinion, more than was necessary. I’m sure a lot of people love that, but to me it just stops the energy, and if anything draws attention to how heavily the movie relies on CG. But my point is, I think the movie might have been better served if the action scenes were trimmed, and some of the character moments left in.

Something also needs to be said about the big bad. James Spader does a great job of giving Ultron character. But ultimately, he’s not the just-shy-of-unhinged-but-almost-relatable villain that Hiddleston’s Loki was. One of this movie’s big themes is should heroes be pre-emptive vs. reactive. Ultron lends himself to that, as the ultimate perversion of pre-emptive security. But being the vessel for a philosophical argument, even when brought to life so well by Spader, isn’t nearly as gripping as Loki, a wounded step-brother driven to usurp what he feels fate has unfairly stripped away from him.

Joss Whedon juggles a lot of balls in the air for this movie, and mostly keeps them in the air. That is one hell of an achievement, and makes for a very entertaining film. This isn’t the ultimate superhero film, but it’s certainly worth seeing. I think we might be reaching the point where we’re beginning to see the disadvantages of the Marvel Cinematic Universe being so connected. Maybe superhero stores really are best when told in long-form serials like Daredevil, 13-episode “mini-movies” that allow for decompressed storytelling. And for my personal taste, a bit less slo-mo, please.

New Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer

Now that we’re in 2015, it’s time to get excited about 2015 comic book movies! And perhaps the most anticipated is Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. They have just released a second trailer:

It certainly doubles down on the epic world-hangs-in-the-balance soul-crushing. The trailer shows us some scenes we haven’t seen before, and raises the stakes, but still holds its cards close. For example, we know that Vision and Quicksilver are in the movie, but we’ve still not really had good looks at them on any trailer. We see Tony Stark suited up in the Hulkbuster armor but we don’t know why he and the Hulk are fighting. And we get the idea that Tony Stark created Ultron, but we don’t know the why, or what went wrong.

I’m not complaining, BTW. I don’t like trailers that basically lay out the entire film for you. I like trailers that show enough to engage me while at the same time, not leaving me feeling like I saw so much I don’t need to see the movie anymore. And I’ll say this for the trailer above: I’m engaged.

Less than 5 months…

Warner Bros announce superhero films through 2020

It’s all over the Interwebs now: Warner Brothers, in a shareholder meeting, listed their release schedule for future superhero movies. You can find them all over the net, in pages such as this one, but the bottom line is that the schedule includes 10 films (see the large graphic at the bottom of the post), as well as standalone Batman and Superman films not yet in the schedule.

Continue reading “Warner Bros announce superhero films through 2020”

Guardians Of The Galaxy fires on all thrusters

20140803-194217-70937812.jpg

Guardians of the Galaxy is hands down one of the most entertaining comics-sourced movies in a long time. It balances comedy and drama, action and character, sweeping space opera CGI with quiet personal moments. And as other-worldly as the settings and characters may be, Peter Quill’s attachment to the 60s and 70s music of his late mother’s youth grounds both the character and the entire movie in a very relatable way. In fact, that’s one of the real victories of this movie—it’s five protagonists are all completely relatable—even the talking cybernetics-enhanced raccoon.

Props must go to a mostly spectacular cast for pulling it off. Chris Pratt is note-perfect as the half-human roguish hero. Zoe Saldana also does a fantastic job as Gamora, the cybernetic-enhanced assassin with a heart of gold. I’d never heard of David Batista before, but he was just right for Dax. The supporting cast was (mostly) excellent. And Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as the voices of Rocket Racoon and Groot absolutely sell their characters. Diesel rings so much emotion out of Groot’s extremely limited vocabulary that he can make you laugh, cheer, and even cry with only a few words.

Yes, I said cry. As much humor as this movie has—and it truly doesn’t take itself too seriously—there are still some moments of authentic emotional connection that grab your heart. And because they’re not melodramatically overblown, that makes them all the more satisfying.

James Gunn can take a bow for the tightrope he walked in getting the tone just right. Clearly, trying to go “dark and moody” when you have a talking raccoon firing a machine gun atop a sentient tree won’t work, but embrace the cheese too much and you throw your audience out of the movie. Gunn nailed it, and in so doing delivered a movie that despite the drama and action is as hopeful as Man Of Steel or The Dark Knight Trilogy was bleak (I enjoyed all those movies…but they were WAY bleak).

The movie wasn’t perfect. The action didn’t feel as kinetic as Man of Steel or Avengers. Benicio Del Toro did a fine portrayal of The Collector, but it was a nothing character (as was Karen Gillan’s character, Nebula. All of her lines and scenes could have been given to Djimon Hounsou’s character with hardly any change in the film). But it’s definitely one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen in a while, and I can’t wait to see it again!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Is A Winner

image

We recently saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier (in glorious 2D; we generally avoid 3D). Marvel Studios has been firing on all cylinders when it comes to their movies for a while now, and this one is no exception. It moves at a frenetic, exciting pace, has snappy dialog, really well choreographed action sequences, and for a film that uses as many effects as this, it doesn’t feel “digital” if that makes sense.

I think the really tight direction/editing has a lot to do with it, as does the really excellent cast. Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and newcomer to the franchise Anthony Mackie (as Sam Wilson/Falcon) are all completely believable and invested in their parts. The movie looks and sounds great, but it’s the performances that keep you involved in the story.

Marvel bills this movie as a “70s political thriller, with superheroes” but I’d consider it more a superhero action movie with political overtones. Yes, the consternation over the social and political implications of the actions of S.H.I.E.L.D. are absolutely part of the movie, as is an internal conspiracy. But unlike political thrillers that keep the identity of the conspirators secret as part of the “thrill,” Captain America telegraphs the plot pretty early on—and honestly, in some rather heavy handed info-dump scenes. But that isn’t enough to make the movie less enjoyable, unless you walk in expecting deep mysteries.

I’d definitely recommend this movie to fans of Marvel movies, superhero movies, and action movies in general.

 

It’s definitely worth visiting Thor’s Dark World

Thor_The_Dark_World_Jane_punches_Loki

Yesterday, Michelle and I went to the cinema to see Thor: The Dark World. The title, for those who wonder, relates to one of the “nine realms” in Marvel’s Thor mythology, specifically the world of Dark Elves, Svartalfheim, called “the dark world” by those who find the name a mouthful. Those are the big baddies of the movie, and they definitely are big, and bad.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the title also implies that this is a dark and brooding movie (especially considering how dark and brooding the trailers have been), but in fact Thor is filled with a lot of quips, wise-cracks, and humor that really works. A lot of the reason the humor works so well is that the cast is so excellent. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have a fantastic rapport with each other, and there’s real chemistry between Portman and the rest of the cast. There are moments of loss and emotion, and yet the manage to naturally sneak in moments of real levity that aren’t forced. This movie truly got the relationships right, and if you enjoyed them before, you’ll enjoy them again.

Thor: The Dark World gets other things right too, not just the relationships. After the events of The Avengers, every Marvel movie has to answer one question: if the events of this movie are so cataclysmic, why isn’t the entire team called, why does just one hero show up? This movie has a solid answer: most of the action doesn’t take place on Earth; that portion that does happens pretty quickly, and it’s over before the entire “response team” could have been assembled. The stakes are incredibly high, and we get to see Thor not simply being strong but making noble, heroic choices, as you would hope a hero would do.

While the tone, relationships, and the overall adventure/plot were hits, there were some misses. Malekith (a sadly under-utilized Chris Eccleston) and his dark elves are pretty perfunctory villains. While some of the CGI was great (I especially loved the dark elf ships and the Kursed, a type of dark elf berserker), there were moments when it looked a bit cartoony. (I should mention here that we saw the movie in glorious 2D; my general dislike of 3D is well documented in my ramblings. I heard that the 3D wasn’t anything special, but maybe the IMAX 3D was better). But none of this was enough to pull me out of the movie. It was a great ride, I highly enjoyed it, and would recommend it.

 

The effects of Gravity

GravityMovie

 

For Michelle’s birthday, we saw Gravity, one of the rare truly original science fiction films not based on an existing franchise. The movie stars Sandra Bullock as a scientist and George Clooney as an astronaut who end up in a catastrophic disaster in orbit. And that’s all the plot you’ll get from me.

Instead, let me just say that I’m still reeling from the film. I really can’t say a single bad thing about this film. Bullock carries the entire movie brilliantly. You feel for her completely at every point. Clooney plays to type but does it very well. The film making was amazing. Some shots seemed to go on forever without cutaways, giving you a fully majestic sweep of their breathtaking environment, while others were so short and tense and exciting you were on the edge of your seat. The movie was short by modern standards at only 90 minutes, but it wasn’t a minute too long or too short.

This was also the most realistic portrayal of the actual environments that we’ve seen in a long time. The shuttles, space stations, weightlessness within them, and so on, was dead on to documentary footage. And the space debris and other dangers seemed so real and so intense that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was really happening. And I need to mention the 3D. Readers of my ramblings know that I dislike 3D and only have enjoyed it in very specific occasions. Well, we saw Gravity in IMAX 3D and it was absolutely incredible. The 3D was not used as a gimmick, but extremely judiciously to add depth to the enormous distances of space, to give dimension to the vessels and objects, and to add to the intensity of space debris.  This is one of the very few movies I’d recommend the 3D.

At the same time, the amazing effects and craft of Gravity never takes away from the emotional charge of the movie—it enhances it. This is definitely a movie that sticks with you, and that’s why I’d recommend it.

Iron Man: The third time’s a charm

iron-man-3-1_620x350

 

Last night, we saw Iron Man 3 in glorious 2D (I doubt we ever will be truly sold on 3D…sorry major studios). And it was thoroughly enjoyable. It was definitely a more coherent and cohesive movie than Iron Man 2. And it managed to walk the line between answering “serious” questions such as how would a “non-enhanced” human being react to the insanity of the alien invasion of The Avengers, what is Tony Stark without the suit, and so on—and maintaining the “comic book fun” that one expects from a movie like this. There are character moments, it goes dark at times, but there are also the action set pieces and quips and optimism that one expects.

Marvel really has the formula down: find the right lead actor to completely inhabit the part of the superhero. Surround him with an excellent cast of A-level actors whose talents lend plausibility and gravitas to even the most surreal story. Hire an extremely competent, edgy director (preferably one with art-house and/or geek cred) and the best special effects people you can afford. With all those elements, even if the story isn’t that great (see The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2) you’re still at least going to get a fun ride. But when the story is good, as with Iron Man 3, you get the full package. And this movie is definitely the full package—a fully engaging superhero movie that takes turns you don’t expect and delivers on all fronts.

Obviously, I highly recommend it.

The Aisle seat is open: Goodbye Roger Ebert

I’ve never paid close attention to movie reviews. Probably because the movies I like tend to be “review proof” movies like action, adventure, superhero, fantasy, and science-fiction films. And by review proof I mean two things. First, the films have a built-in appeal to their target audience, so even if they’re terrible they’ll sell tickets. After all, the reviews of the Transformer films or G.I. Joe were all abysmal and yet the films were huge hits. But also I mean that very often, it seems that  some reviewers have a built-in prejudice that if a movie doesn’t consist of two hours of unhappy people sitting silently staring at each other over cups of tea, the movie isn’t true art and doesn’t deserve to be in the cinema.

Roger Ebert was never that guy. I remember watching his “At The Movies” reviews as a kid, because it seemed to me, he reviewed the movies I loved as if he was a kid himself. As I grew up, I realized it’s because the guy didn’t just love movies, but he loved the sheer entertainment quality of movies, and could enjoy both the “teacup tragedy” and the space epic for their own strengths.

As I said, I never really watched or read movie reviews, but I did note—and rate—his. Even when I didn’t agree, I felt he gave the movies a fair shake. And as a writer, he was entertaining, not precious and clever. Which probably why he’s one of the extremely few movie reviewers I ever knew, or looked for review by.

I had known about his health issues and his loss of his voice, so it had certainly not been lost on me that he was nearing his final act. When I read today that Roger Ebert died at 70 after a recurrence of cancer, I wasn’t surprised, but I immediately saddened. He held a mirror up to the art that he loved in a way that few critics ever do. He made an impact on the way that film is discussed and watched, and he will be missed.