Posts Tagged 'comic book movies'

Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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When it was announced that Tony Stark/Iron Man would be joining the third Captain America movie as a co-lead for the Civil War storyline, I was thrilled beyond words. Not because I’m a fan of the comic book version of the story (I didn’t read comics growing up, so I know nothing about how this plays out on the page), but because I knew a major conflict between two of the biggest Marvel cinematic heroes would be much more dramatically interesting than what we’ve gotten from any of the previous films, where the hero(es) face off against a string of lame, underwritten, one-note villains. The hero vs. hero scenes in The Avengers were the best parts of that movie, and to have an entire film focusing on these two A-listers in conflict could only be a good thing.

I’m a YUUUGE fan of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think it’s tied with The Avengers as the best movie so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (referenced as ‘MCU’ for the rest of this review). As such, I was looking forward to a third Cap movie more than any other upcoming Marvel project. Even more so after I found out directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo would be returning. Then, as news trickled down that Civil War would feature almost all of the Avengers characters & actors having to pick sides and square off against each other, my excitement grew by leaps and bounds. It would basically be a third Avengers movie (Avengers 2.5 as many called it), but grounded on Earth with serious political overtones, without any silly alien bad guy elements. Clearly, they were making this movie just for me.

If all that wasn’t enough, Disney Marvel (MCU) then made an historic deal with Sony Marvel to not only include Spider-Man in Civil War, but to basically take over creative control of a character who had been horribly misused for basically a decade (Amazing Spider-Man was good, but the last Spidey movie I really loved was Spider-Man 2 in 2004). Then they actually started making the movie, and we were eventually blessed with two jaw-dropping trailers that left little doubt this was going to be an epic, orgasmic geek experience.

And boy did it deliver. We’re now 8 years and 13 films (that’s 3 Iron Mans, 3 Captain Americas, 2 Thors, 2 Avengers, a Guardians of the Galaxy, an Ant-Man and one Incredible Hulk) into this crazy cinematic experiment, and Captain America: Civil War is without a doubt the best MCU movie yet. I’ve seen it twice as I write this review. It is a stunning accomplishment of action and storytelling. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in 2016 as of early May. No doubt that will change as we head into the fall, but I’d love for Civil War to stick around until the end of the year as one of my Best Picture contenders. It would be the first MCU movie to earn a spot at that table.

As with all my full reviews, SPOILERS AHEAD. Let’s get into the details…

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Reaction: Marvel’s ballsy PHASE THREE lineup announcement

Phase Three logos

I began writing this post on Tuesday, October 28, the day Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige did a Steve Jobs/Apple style keynote address in L.A. announcing Marvel’s entire slate of films through 2019, which will comprise “Phase Three” of this interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a very ambitious lineup of 9 films, which shows just how confident Marvel has become given their success since “Phase One” began with the original Iron Man in 2008. It includes several already established characters and properties (Captain America, Thor, Loki, Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy) along with brand new films and characters that Marvel hopes/assumes will each turn into their own hit franchises. The newbies include the already announced Doctor Strange movie (which will now presumably star Benedict Cumberbatch), a Black Panther movie, a Captain Marvel movie, the third Avengers movie (with the awesome Infinity War subtitle), which will be split into two parts, and finally, The Inhumans.

In case you can’t read the photo (click on it for the bigger version), here’s the full lineup:

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Review: MAN OF STEEL

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WARNING: Spoilers be comin! If you’re one of 8 people left who haven’t seen this movie, know that I discuss almost every detail of the plot at one point or another during this review. There, I told you.

Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever made, and my new NEW favorite movie of 2013. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen all year, and easily the best movie I’ve seen so far this summer. I can confidently say that the only other movies that even have a chance to compete for Best Movie of the Summer are Elysium and Pacific Rim. Most of my complaints about the film are trivial at best, so the “Didn’t Like” section won’t be as long as it has been with a lot of other movies recently. MoS is far from perfect, but I didn’t have any huge gripes with it. Sorry, no nitpicking section this go-around. Sad face. But do join me for nearly 5,000 words of astute, insightful, edumacational reviewing…

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REVIEW: THE AVENGERS (PLUS the fallout of its massive success, and looking ahead in the Marvel movie universe)

Before we get into the review, I just wanted to do a little bookkeeping, especially with regards to the money this thing is bringing in. The Avengers is officially a cultural phenomenon. People who don’t normally see movies in theaters have seen it. People who don’t normally see comic book movies have seen it. People who don’t talk about these kinds of movies are talking about it. People who don’t talk about box office results are talking about it. The fact that everyone on earth was talking about how much money it made helped it make even more money. I was watching Bill O’Reilly‘s show the Monday after that huge opening, and even he made mention of the crazy records it’s breaking. It’s insanity. I am finishing this piece after seeing it 3 times (at 3 different theaters!) and having thus contributed $19 to that billion-plus dollar haul. Let’s face it, without me, this movie is a total bomb. You’re welcome, Marvel.

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Review: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

I went into X-Men: First Class with fairly high hopes. I wasn’t expecting it to be Best Picture material (though I’d have been thrilled if it was), but I definitely expected it to at least be the best of the 4 comic book movies this summer (the others of course being Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern). X-Men is by far my favorite comic book property, and by extension my favorite Marvel property. I love a lot of these characters, and have since the X-Men cartoon in the early 90’s (as with every other comic book movie, I never read the comics). Magneto in particular is my favorite individual comic book character, and he’s also one of my favorite villains in all of fiction. The themes and issues X-Men deals with grant it the potential for the best, most real world-based storylines of any major comic property. As much as I love pure fantasy, it’s much more challenging (and thus rewarding when it’s done well) to credibly place superhuman characters in the real world, which is what X does best. Hollywood’s cinematic versions of X-Men have produced mixed results. I’d say Bryan Singer‘s X-Men (2000) was very good, X2 (2003) was great, Brett Ratner‘s X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) was fucking awful, and the first spinoff, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), is entertaining, but can only be described as seriously flawed at best. In other words, X-Men has been very hard to get right.

I was happy to see Fox decide to go in a new direction for this reboot/prequel (because really, Last Stand had driven the franchise off a cliff creatively), and I thought at the time that Matthew Vaughn was a capable enough choice to take the director’s chair. Vaughn started out as a producer (he produced Guy Ritchie‘s classics Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), and has moved smoothly into directing, first with Layer Cake, then on to Stardust (which I have no interest in ever seeing) and last year’s underrated and underseen Kick-Ass. I think he’s developing nicely as a director, and his second foray into the comic book genre is a great improvement with regards to his filmmaking style and the quality of the effects, stunts and production value. Of course, the main reason for that is the fact that the budget of this movie was probably greater than the combined budgets of every other project he’s ever been involved with. He did especially well when he put together his crew. He used Ridley Scott‘s cinematographer (the great John Mathieson), Christopher Nolan‘s editor (the great Lee Smith) and stunt coordinator (the great Tom Struthers), as well as the legendary Brian Smrz as his second unit director. Basically, with a crew like that, my mom could direct this movie. I kid, of course (no offense, mom). Vaughn clearly had a vision here and brought his own sensibilities to the project.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD THROUGHOUT. I can’t cover this movie the way I need to without giving stuff away, so my best recommendation is not to read this until after you’ve seen the movie, or if you just don’t care about being spoiled. Most of you don’t need this review to decide whether or not you’ll see the film, you’re just reading it to get my opinion. But in case you haven’t decided, go see it. If you’re a fan of the first two X-Men movies, this is definitely worth your time. On top of that, you don’t have to pay extra for crappy 3D! What else could you want?

WHAT I LIKED

Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto & James McAvoy as Charles Xavier. These two actors, and their characters’ relationship, are the glue of the movie, and that glue is strong. I was a bit hesitant when I first heard about McAvoy being cast, but as the trailers came out, those fears were quickly alleviated. He’s a fine actor, and gives another fine performance here. I loved seeing what pre-wheelchair Xavier was like, particularly early on when we see the playboy side of him. In the other movies, Patrick Stewart‘s Xavier is always The Great Mentor. Those of you unfamiliar with Fassbender (most of you will remember him either from 300 or as the British officer involved in that great bar scene from Inglourious Basterds), best get used to seeing him a lot in the next couple years. He is the latest actor that Hollywood is trying desperately to make a movie star out of, and for the first time in a long time, I hope in this instance that they succeed. This guy has it all, and in the end, First Class is his movie. His Magneto is exactly what I wanted, and it was also cool seeing this character in action as a younger, more vital man (one who speaks 4 different languages in the movie!). No disrespect to Ian McKellen, of course, who was superb in the role in different ways.

Notice that I was able to avoid the now-popular Michael F. Assbender jokes. But seriously, learn his name, because he may be the single most in demand actor in the industry right now. And he’s got the talent to back up that demand.

Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I didn’t realize going in that Bacon was going to be the primary villain. I loved every minute of him in this movie, especially in the beginning, when he’s a German concentration camp officer as a young Erik Lensherr learns firsthand what humanity is capable of. I was most impressed by his near perfect German accent and his delivery of the language. He clearly had a lot of fun filming that stuff. Later on, he’s a more typical scheming comic book villain, but he’s a believable and worthy foe, and that’s all we really needed. I know Bacon has done villain work before, but to carry the primary baddie role in a huge movie like this? That’s certainly a first for him, and I thought he was excellent. I like that he’s the one that creates the telepath immunity helmet Magneto will later take as his own.



He didn’t spend 6 years in evil medical school to be called Mister, thank you very much.

Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. Other than Xavier and Magneto, she has the strongest character arc and the most to do. For those of us who saw Winter’s Bone, there’s no surprise that she’s so good here, but she’ll truly hit the big time next spring as the star of the first Hunger Games movie. I like her early friendship with Xavier (though I do find it dubious he considers her “just a friend” and was able to resist being attracted to her all those years), and I bought how she eventually came around to Magneto’s way of thinking. When she joins him for good at the end of the movie in her “turn to the dark side” moment, I bought that as well. She’s fantastic, and I’d say she has a bright future, but with an Oscar nomination at age 20 and prominent roles in two big franchise movies, that future is now. I just hope she’s not stuck doing only X-Men and Hunger Games movies for the next 5 years, though it’s entirely possible.

-I liked most of the other mutants. I say most because I hated one (see below), thought another was completely wasted, and was utterly confused by a third. We’ll get into that in a minute. Nicholas Hoult was really good as Hank McCoy and later in some fantastic makeup as Beast. He gets the most character development of all the secondary characters. Lucas Till made good use of little screen time as Alex Summers/Havok (I assume this is Cyclops‘ future dad?), and Caleb Landry Jones was okay as Banshee, though he’s mostly relegated to the role of comic relief. Sebastian Shaw’s mutant henchmen had almost nothing to do character-wise, but Jason Flemyng certainly looked cool in makeup as Azazel (future father of Nightcrawler).

The 1960’s period art direction. It’s refreshing to see a big summer movie done completely in period. You often see these movies with futuristic settings and technology, or set in medieval/ancient times (Gladiator, Troy, etc.), but rarely do we see these movies set in the 60’s and 70’s (we’ll get another 70’s-set summer extravaganza this week in Super 8). They did a fantastic job putting us in that time period. A lot of people have said parts of the movie feel like an old James Bond flick, and I can see the comparison. You especially feel it inside Shaw’s secret, diabolical submarine. I half-expected him to sit there in the captain’s chair with his pinky in his mouth, Dr. Evil style. He clearly had sharks with frickin laser beams on their heads somewhere inside that thing. Other times, some of the sets had a very 2001/Clockwork Orange/Dr. Strangelove Kubrickian tone to them.

The visual effects. Were excellent. ‘Nuff said. Because a lot of  movies nowadays are rushed to completion because of predetermined release dates they MUST meet, many of them are often lacking in the overall quality of their visuals. For the most part, that is not the case here. Vaughn even cleverly uses some of his effects shots in ways that most directors doing their first big effects flick seldom do. Case in point is Hank McCoy’s big transformation into Beast, which I thought was cleverly shot as a POV sequence. Very cool.

-The Hugh Jackman/Wolverine cameo. I’m sooo glad I didn’t know about this going in. (And sorry if I just ruined it for you, but you were warned about spoilers)This was quite literally one of the best cameos I’ve ever seen. Just brilliant. It was quick, it was efficient, it made sense within the context of the plot, and it was restrained.

There was also a very subtle, but cool blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Rebecca Romijn cameo during one of Mystique’s transformations that I thought was very well-placed. She really does look like an older Jennifer Lawrence.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

Zoe Kravitz as Angel. Let’s just say she wasn’t up to par, particularly when surrounded by a group of such great actors. I’m wondering, what exactly are her credentials, other than being Lenny Kravitz‘s daughter? Because being cast in a major motion picture should require more than that. Second, I think Angel is just a lame character, at least as shown here. I know they had to scrape the barrel for the secondary mutants (as obviously people like Cyclops, Colossus and Storm can’t be introduced until years later in this storyline), but surely they could have thought of SOMEONE better than this. Apparently not, so instead we have a mediocre actress playing an uninteresting character. Not a good combination. Was I supposed to give a shit when she turned bad? Cuz I didn’t. Speaking of which, I had to laugh later on in the film when she’s supposed to look intimidating flying around with her mosquito wings, spitting fire loogies at people.

-I also could have gone without Tornado Man, aka Alex Gonzalez as Riptide. I don’t think he has a single line of dialogue, and all he really does is walk around with his best “evil mutant” face, and occasionally twirling his hands around to create mini twisters. I dunno, it was just cheesy. They should’ve found another evil mutant or just given someone else more screen time in his place.

Darwin’s death. Sigh. Do I just go full on rant mode here or try to exercise restraint? Ehhh, who am I kidding? So one of the mutants Xavier and Magneto recruit is Darwin (played by Kenyan actor Edi Gathegi), whose power is to…adapt to his surroundings (e.g. if he sticks his head into an aquarium he grows gills). Unfortunately, this power is not put to any practical use…until it’s time for him to sacrifice himself for the white mutants. Of course! What I’m getting at is that once again, I have to sit through a situation where the only motherfucking black male in the group of main characters dies FIRST and dies prematurely. Are you fucking kidding me with this shit?! Let’s put this in perspective; you’ve got the black female playing the weakest, least interesting mutant, and the black male mutant being underutilized and killed off early. Fuck you. I love this shit. Almost every major player in Hollywood is openly liberal, yet time after time after time, we are forced to put up with completely whitewashed casts, with the minority characters (a vast majority of the time) forcefully inserted either to meet a race quota (which is typically 1) or simply to act out racial/ethnic/cultural stereotypes. The hypocrisy of it is stunning, and I’ve f’ing had it. Put this cliché to BED, and take your fake white liberal guilt and shove it up your ass. I’m done with rich white liberals, three words that constitute quite the oxymoron. STOP. KILLING. THE. COLORED. GUY. FIRST. COCKSUCKERS.

-I got a little tired of Xavier putting his fingers on his head every time he used his powers (as if he were pressing the “telepathy ON” button), but I suppose he had to do something other than intently squinting his eyes. I suppose. I don’t recall this being an issue with the earlier films, but I guess I’ll have to go back and watch em again (the first two, anyway).

-Once again we have an X-Men movie without a memorable score or set of themes. I guess it’s just not meant to be. I guess it’s too much to ask. Composer Henry Jackman (who also did the music for Vaughn’s Kick-Ass) has crafted a perfectly competent score that hits the right marks at the right times. Problem is, I don’t remember one note of that score, and thus have no desire to own it. Am I crazy in thinking there should be an awesome X-Men theme (the cartoon had one!) and that Magneto should have his own “Imperial March”? I don’t think so, brah.

I rest my case:

Going forward into the summer, there’s some potential with the other two big comic book movies, with Alan Silvestri scoring Captain America and James Newton Howard working on Green Lantern. Silvestri has created some of the greatest themes in movie history (Back to the Future, Predator, Forrest Gump, etc.) and James Newton Howard is James Newton Howard.

WHAT CONFUSED ME

January Jones as Emma Frost. It’s like, I think she’s a good actress, but I still can’t say for sure, even after seeing her twice now this year (she was in Unknown if you’ve already forgotten). That’s probably a bad sign that I’ve subconsciously chosen to ignore it because I think she’s gorgeous. Logic dictates that she isn’t really trying, her part wasn’t written well enough, or she’s just not very good. Those are the only options. I haven’t yet gotten around to watching Mad Men (for which she’s received 2 Golden Globe nominations), which I guess would be the best evidence for or against her having any talent. I mean, okay, she looks good in her ridiculously out of place white outfits, and I thought the “diamond person” effects were actually pretty solid. She also has a couple of good moments where she uses her telepathy, most notably the scene with the Russian general.

One more thing about her character: why the fuck does she disappear during the climax of the movie?! Through the whole movie, she’s shown as being Sebastian Shaw’s Number 2, the one he cares about most, but when it all comes to a head she’s sitting on the bench. Okay, so we see her in CIA custody, she overhears two guys talking about a war with mutants, then cuts a little hole through the one-way glass with her diamond finger and taunts them, and then…she’s gone. She can cut a hole through the window with her diamond finger, but apparently has no desire to further use her considerable powers to escape. When we next see her, at the very end of the movie, she’s literally laying down on a slab, just chillin’, when Magneto and his boys come and rescue her. Did no one else notice this?

No really, this actually happens in the movie. (I couldn’t get the fuckin thing to embed.)

-This movie does nothing to explain why a kid growing up in Westchester, New York has a British accent. I’m talking to you, Charles Xavier.

-I don’t know if this really confused me more than it did simply amuse the F out of me. LOL, why does Havoc do a techno dance as he’s using his power?

-At the end of the movie, Moira MacTaggert (as played by the lovely Rose Byrne) promises Xavier she’ll never reveal where he and the other mutants are hiding. My question…why would they need her to in the first place? The CIA knows his name, because he just f’n worked with them. Yet no one in the government will think to look for him at his family’s gigantic estate?! Am I the only one who instantly thought of this?


He prefers…Magneto.

So, where does the series go from here? I honestly don’t know. Obviously, they’ll want to keep this cast together for probably 2 more movies, which means they can’t skip ahead in time to the 2000’s and bring in Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue or the other more popular X-Men characters. The writers will have to come up with more period storylines, presumably one set in the 70’s for the next film. I have no idea where that will go, except to beg the filmmakers not to make the Vietnam War a major plot point. Anything but that for the love of God! Regardless, for now we have another solid X-Men movie, and in this dismal moviegoing year, we can at least be thankful for that.

I don’t have an official list, but this is easily one of the top 10 comic book movies ever, maybe top 5. I have to see it again before I definitively place it, but I’m not on board with those who say it’s the best X-Men movie. It might be better than the first one (only slightly if it is), but X2 is still the best in the series, and still the second best comic book movie ever, behind the almighty Dark Knight.

THOR review


OH, HAI Loki. OH, HAI Thor.


Pass through my portal? Sheeeeeee-it.

As a disclaimer, I went into Thor having read none of the comics (I was not a comic book reader as a kid) and with no expectations or loyalty to the characters. I thought it looked cool, I liked the casting, and I was very interested in what Kenneth Branagh would bring as a director, given that he was known primarily as a Shakespearean actor and director, and not someone who comes to mind when you think of “summer entertainment”. I was also curious what drew Natalie Portman to the project. Was the script that good (unlikely) or is she really a closet geek? She certainly doesn’t need to do this kind of movie anymore. If I were to rank this among the 4 big comic book movies this summer (X-Men: First Class, Captain America and Green Lantern being other others) according to my level of anticipation for them, I’d probably have ranked it second behind X-Men. I liked the idea of being introduced to a new fantasy universe in Asgard, but I was hesitant because the effects work shown in the trailers was not all that impressive. Also, almost every advance review I’d seen claimed that the two-thirds of the film that take place in Asgard were not as good as the one-third that takes place on Earth. No matter! I went in with an open mind, not expecting anything great, but hoping it would pleasantly surprise me. Ummmm…it did not.

I didn’t dislike the movie, and I didn’t really like it, either. It was just okay. It’s certainly harmless in the sense that it’s entertaining. I’m willing to bet it will be well-received by general audiences, but I thought there was more potential here. In the end, it just looks like Kenneth Branagh was not ready to be handed the reigns to a $150 million comic book/action/fantasy movie. At the very least, he wasn’t ready to deliver one in the short window that the studios now demand for these summer blockbusters. I blame the movie’s failures first and foremost on the script, and then on the inexperience of the director. Since this seems to be working well for me, we’ll again do the liked/didn’t like format. I’ll try to keep it spoiler free, but where I do delve into spoilers, I shall let you know.

WHAT I LIKED

Chris Hemsworth as Thor. He does a solid job with the opportunities he’s given, but never really gets the chance to shine. Like most critics, I agree that he’s at his best in the Earthbound scenes, where he does a very good fish-out-of-water routine (this is where the film gets most of its humor). He has the best line in the entire movie when he walks into the town’s pet shop and demands, “I need a horse!” That was one of maybe 2 times I LOL’d during the flick. I look forward to seeing him return in The Avengers, as I trust Joss Whedon will have a better idea what to do with him than Branagh and the screenwriters here did.

Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper dude at the end of the rainbow bridge (which is what they actually call it). I like how they modified his voice, and he has an almost Klingon-like sense of duty and honor, which I really enjoyed. He was easily my favorite character in this movie. Heimdall is white in the comics, but apparently the filmmakers noticed the utter lack of minorities in their cast (Elba is one of two non-whites in the cast), and decided to throw the colored folks a bone ala Michael Clarke Duncan playing Kingpin in Daredevil. The fact that he doesn’t die is a fucking miracle.

-I also liked Anthony Hopkins as Odin, though I just wish the script were worthy of his talents. Regardless, it’s cool to see him hamming it up in a genre movie, and he certainly brings the required gravitas to the role of king of Asgard.

-And of course, it’s always good to see Clark Gregg playing Agent Coulson. An underrated actor if ever there was one. This may actually be the most screen time he’s had in any of these Avengers tie-in movies. Speaking of which, look for a couple of very quick references to Tony Stark and The Hulk.

-I liked Jeremy Renner‘s cameo as Hawkeye (who he’ll also play in The Avengers), but it was such a brief, throwaway scene that it may have been best if they actually threw it away.

-I REALLY liked Kat Dennings at the Thor premiere:


It’s great to see a young actress with some…curves.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

The script. The story and screenplay here are credited to 5 different writers, which is typically not a good sign. Some of these people have done great work individually in the past, but once you start putting rewrite on top of rewrite on top of rewrite, overall cohesiveness begans to evaporate. There are no truly memorable scenes, conversations end abruptly, and there are awkward one-liners. For instance (SPOILER AHEAD), the last line of the entire movie is literally, “She searches for you.” After that, it cuts to the end credits, and I was left sitting there going, huh? Very strange.

The lack of a memorable score/set of themes. This has been a continuing, inexplicable problem with comic book movies. If I think back to all the comic book movies since X-Men started this craze in 2000, only a few (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and that’s about it) had memorable music that I wanted to own. I don’t understand why this isn’t a priority for the directors of these films. Look, I’m not asking for “The Superman March” every time out, but I strongly believe every big superhero should have a strong theme, and all of these films should have their own motifs and unique musical stylings. In reality, most of them have incredibly bland scores, and sadly, Thor is no exception. Patrick Doyle is a good enough composer, but I think it’s pretty clear this genre is not his area of expertise. The score here isn’t bad, but it’s completely forgettable, and features no themes that I can recall. Unfortunately, it seems that there are only 5-10 composers working today who can truly handle this kind of movie properly. Off the top of my head, I’ll put John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Don Davis (the Matrix trilogy), Tyler Bates (300) and David Arnold (Stargate, Independence Day, all of the recent Bond flicks) in that group.

Most of my problems with the film have to do with how the Asgard parts of the movie were handled. During the Asgard scenes (which I’d guess take up 60% of the screen time), it’s a pure fantasy movie, and I think for the most part it falls flat on its face in giving us good fantasy.

The CGI. The visual effects throughout the film are average at best, but especially lackluster with regards to the Asgard scenes. You can tell about 90% of Asgard was created in a computer, and the place never felt real in the way that the fantasy worlds of The Lord of the Rings did. In fact, the filmmakers and effects guys should have followed the brilliant example set by the LOTR team. Apparently, no one on this crew has heard of a miniature, or a model, or realized that you have to combine practical effects with your CGI to make these fantasy worlds look real. Instead, they went the Star Wars prequel route and simply made EVERYTHING in the computer. When Thor and his boys go to the ice world (whatever it’s called), at no point did I feel they were even on a set. It looked exactly like what it probably was, 4 or 5 people standing on a soundstage surrounded by massive green screens. If you’re gonna do that, your CGI better be Avatar-good, and it certainly wasn’t. The main ‘castle’ of Asgard looks like a giant golden church organ.

The action. Despite having Vic Armstrong, one of the all-time greats, supervising the action and second unit, the fight choreography is incredibly boring and poorly shot. When Thor infiltrates the S.H.I.E.L.D. compound in an attempt to get his hammer back, he dispatches the soldiers mostly by punching them in the chest and/or pushing them to the ground. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that. When Thor and Loki fight at the end of the film, it should be an epic clash between rival brothers. Suffice to say, it is not.

-I was also disappointed by the sound design. There were a lot of opportunities here for the the creation of cool, new sound effects, and for the most part those opportunities are squandered. When Thor uses his hammer, it should be an EPIC auditory experience. Instead, it’s just meh. And again, I have to blame the lack of emphasis on this on Branagh, because he had two of the best sound mixers in the industry working on the film. Ugh.

-The main bad guys in the Asgard world are the Frost Giants. No, really. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how anyone above age 12 is supposed to find creatures called “frost giants” imposing. On top of that, the fact that they’re all CG doesn’t help, nor does the fact that they look cheesy. They’re 12-foot tall grey demons with dark orange eyes who walk around in their skivvies. Instead of using actual weapons, they turn their arms into giant ice swords. Ooo. And their primary power derives from what appears to be a blue Energon Cube. It’s just really f’n goofy.

-I don’t like that Thor only wears his helmet in one or two scenes the entire movie. It’s a small gripe, and I know the reason is so that we see the star’s face, but come on, that’s a badass helmet! His armor doesn’t look complete without it.

Rene Russo, who is completely wasted in a tiny role as Thor’s momz. She hasn’t done anything since Yours, Mine and Ours in 2005, and THIS is what she comes back for? I don’t get it. I’d say she came back for a payday, but Marvel is notorious for being stingy with their actors’ salaries.

Back in the real world:

-I’m supposed to believe that Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard‘s characters, who are super smart astrological scientists, choose to live in this tiny, no-name town in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico? This made no sense at all to me. It’s funny, because the Earth/New Mexico scenes are relatively low-budget. This tiny town required very few sets and interiors, and looks to have no more than 3 different roads in it. It looks very cheap, too cheap even. And they give no logical reason why scientists of this caliber would be calling it home. On top of that, they work out of what appears to be an abandoned restaurant or something. It just didn’t seem right. The movie reportedly cost $150 million, and I’d say that about 20 of that was spent on the New Mexico scenes. The rest appears to have been spent on manpower creating the mediocre CGI.

From reading this review, it probably comes across that I didn’t enjoy the movie more than is actually the case. I just thought there were a lot of blown opportunities from top to bottom. If you’re not as nerdy or picky as I am, you’ll probably enjoy the flick a lot more than I did. If you were interested in seeing the movie at all, I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t, but if my concerns mirror yours, your expectations should be drastically lowered. I had fun watching Thor, but it didn’t click with me the way I hoped it would. Plus, it’s easier (and more fun) to point out a film’s flaws than it is to praise what it did right. I’m not expecting this summer to produce a lot of high quality films, but summer movie season is always fun and I’m glad it’s underway. But if you’re choosing between this and Fast Five this week, go see The Rock vs. Vin Diesel instead.

POST-CREDITS BONUS SCENE SPOILERS AHEAD:

I of course stayed for the bonus scene at the end of the credits, as has become the custom for Marvel movies in the leadup to The Avengers. In this one, Stellan Skarsgard is brought into a S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘base’, where he meets Sam Jackson‘s Nick Fury, who opens a mysterious briefcase to show some glowing blue object that Fury proposes is potentially a source of unlimited power. I’ll have to do some research into what this thing was, but I didn’t recognize it from the Thor movie. The big reveal is that Loki is in the background watching them (he’s invisible to them), and we’re lead to believe he will soon make an attempt to take and use this power source. It doesn’t have that wow factor that previous bonus scenes had (like the one after Iron Man 2 where we first see Thor’s hammer), mainly because in Thor, we’ve just seen Loki as a primary villain, and he wasn’t all that impressive. My concern is the rumor that Loki is going to be the main villain in The Avengers, and the fact that this scene gives those rumors credibility. I’m not sure if it was the writing, Tom Hiddleston‘s performance, or the nature of the character itself, but I wasn’t that impressed with Loki as a bad guy, and I don’t know that he could be the memorable villain that The Avengers requires. The rumors could be false, but all of these bonus scenes have eventually led to something else, so Loki didn’t appear there just for shits and giggles. What I’m personally hoping is that it was merely a setup for the Thor sequel and not for The Avengers. If that’s the case, I’m fine with it, but if it’s a wink and a nudge that Loki will feature prominently in The Avengers, I may have to throw the red challenge flag. Anyway, that’s my two cents on that.

I gave Thor 2.5 stars out of 5 on Flixster, and a 6/10 on IMDb.

As summer movie season continues, I actually have pretty high hopes for Bridesmaids next weekend. I’m hearing good things, and the trailer is very funny. I think guys will be able to enjoy it, and women have been waiting for their own raunchy, R-rated comedy like this for a long time. Let the inevitable “it’s The Hangover for girls!” comparisons begin.


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