Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top 3 Superhero/Comic Movies of 2011

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing as many movies as I would have liked, which includes some of which should be included in the running for this list. Given that mishap, it would be more than inappropriate for me to make some definite assertion of the credibility of this list. To the extent of what I did manage to see, I’d like to think my opinion on the matter is reliable; as for what I didn’t see, the most I can do for now is give my impressions of the movies.

Contestants: Captain America The First Avenger, Priest, Thor, X-Men First Class

#3 – Thor
Of all the movies I saw, Thor was without a doubt the worst. That’s not to say it was tremendously worse, because it wasn’t. Quite the contrary, it was a fun ride from start to finish. If you’ve seen my first blog entry about it, you should already be familiar with my thoughts on it. Comparatively, it evokes memories of Spiderman 3 which notoriously attempted to deal with the web-slinger’s universe from far too many angles. The same is the case here, with two stories acting simultaneously that might have been better developed and more engaging independently.

#2 – Captain America: The First Avenger
The First Avenger is that rare breed of movie that you absolutely want to love, but just can’t bring yourself to appreciate in the theater. My expectations were a gripping and compelling story told with stylized action sequences in between. From the trailers, that seemed to be what the movie was going for. Instead, the dialogue was quite goofy, the action stylized but repetitive, and the story silly. These aren’t things that make or break a movie, but that’s not how I felt the movie was advertised (which, I suppose, makes my opinion on the matter slightly biased). That disappointment aside, I don’t feel like the dialogue worked out regardless (honestly, such a comical take on world war should be punishable), the action became less interesting as the movie progressed, and only the Red Skull took the story seriously. I’m actually only realizing as I write this that that’s one of the problems present in Thor.

#1 – X-Men: First Class
This was the definitive superhero/comic movie of the season. It was everything you’d expect from an X-Men movie and more. That goes without saying it had its flaws. The performances seemed inconsistent at times to me, and the characters’ backstories were very noticeably rushed. This was a situation where it seemed like the characters involved in this movie should have all gotten the “Wolverine treatment” prior…except a quality treatment. Those gripes aside, First Class was a genuinely enjoyable movie from start to finish. The tone is consistent, the story deeper and darker than the original trilogy without becoming convoluted, and the cast of new faces a big refreshment. It’s one of few movies I’d hope everyone got a chance to see.

Impressions: Cowboys and Aliens, Green Lantern, Transformers Dark of the Moon

#3 – Transformers: Dark of the Moon
I don’t think I have to say much about this one. I enjoyed the first Transformers, but everything went downhill with Revenge of the Fallen. Based on the trailers, this seemed like an even bigger version of the first sequel, and that’s not something I’d be looking forward to at any given moment. More indistinguishable robots, a bigger plot with less relevance to anything relevant, more of Shia running around and screaming, a new set of annoying comic relief characters, and an enhanced dose of Michael Bay’s signature action movie treatment.

#2 – Green Lantern
The trailers for the Green Lantern were the weakest selling point and a major turnoff for me. Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan was a questionable casting choice in my opinion, on par with the casting in Fantastic Four, but at least that movie knew that it wasn’t looking to be taken completely seriously. Green Lantern gave me an entirely different impression, seeming like the kind of film hoping to make a lasting impact, just like the last DC Comics superhero movie to garner acclaim. I won’t spell out that reference any further. The effects look poor, and the trailer footage gave me the impression that Reynolds wouldn’t be capable of playing a convincing character.

#1 – Cowboys and Aliens
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford joining forces was a concept that was too good to be true. I spent the better part of six months anticipating the release of this movie, so it’s one of the biggest shames of the summer that I never got around to seeing it. Nonetheless, I still have high expectations for the day I do have to pleasure of witnessing how well a western can meld with a science fiction tale as well as the chemistry between the modern James Bond and Indiana Jones. There’s something about those two’s prior roles that engages me, and I expect that engagement won’t be betrayed.

PS: I will be seeing Transformers (without any positive expectations) sometime in October. My opinion of that movie after viewing it likely won’t differ from my initial impressions.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thor Review

Being an esteemed student at the University of Georgia, I had the absolute pleasure of being able to watch a free screening of Thor. I remember my initial reaction to Thor when I first heard that it was in production. “How can they turn the story of a hammer-wielding god of thunder into a marketable movie?” The answer to that question was simple then, and it’s simple now. Marvel. Anything will Marvel’s name on it is bound to generate an incredible amount of buzz in the film industry, especially when they’re able to throw around references to better movies. But that practice in itself is a double-edged sword to those willing enough to consider the marketing strategy behind it.

When a movie can stand on its own merits, the need to cater to the public’s tastes becomes obsolete. Iron Man sold incredibly well, and it did so as a stand-alone movie. On the other hand, Thor advertised itself by referencing it as being a production from the creators of Iron Man, a movie with generally positive reviews and a positive following of fans. Why would Marvel need to do this? Of course, everyone already knew (or should have known) that the same people must have made Thor, as they are both intellectual properties of Marvel. The reasoning behind publicizing one movie with the success of a predecessor rests behind the studio/producer’s expectations of how well the movie will be able to stand alone. If they have low expectations, it becomes profitable to associate it with a piece of work that’s accepted as “great.” People, casual movie-goers particularly, will then come to expect a movie along the same lines of quality. In truth, one should expect a movie of lesser quality. Making the association between two movies is a clear cut sign that the parties responsible aren’t entirely confident that their newest work will receive as much acclaim as the last. It happens all the time. “From the writers of Hangover.” “By the visionary director of Buitiful.” “With five-time Academy Award-winner (insert actor’s name here).” Knowing that the creators aren’t confident in the work as a whole, I automatically lose confidence in it as well. Accompanied with my inherent distaste for the idea of a movie based on Thor, my motivation to see it was far below par.

To move away from that rant and back to my actual complaints with the movie, I’ll start by saying that it was much better than I expected, but not for the reasons I had previously anticipated. I expected Thor to be a poorly acted, contain a structurally fragmented plot, to have below-average special effects, and to try to take the concept too seriously. Some of those predictions proved well-made. Others fell short of the mark.

As for the pros of Thor, there are admittedly some fairly high points to be made. When the movie started, I immediately revoked any sentiments I harbored about the special effects beforehand. Visually, the movie was quite strong, and I did enjoy (for the most part) what I saw on screen. The costume design also stood out to me, particularly with Loki. He’s the kind of character who you should be able to recognize regardless who designs him – and notice him, I did. Odin’s eye piece and armor were great in my opinion, though I could only really see it comparatively (the comparison being between his subtle armor and Zeus’ extravagantly shiny and blinding armor from the Clash of the Titans remake). The costume that I really expected to fall through was Thor’s. Anyone who walks around in a red cape and a winged helmet is bound to look silly at one point or another, but there was a degree of professionalism to the outfit that I can’t quite wrap my mind around. The second high point was the foreshadowing. What this movie does best is serve as a huge advertisement for The Avengers which is going to be released sometime next year. Captain America did something very similar to this with the new technology being born from an Asgardian stone, it’s conclusion containing Nick Fury doing that thing that he likes to do in these Marvel movies, and a teaser trailer for The Avengers. Thor isn’t quite that covert with its advertising (please note the sarcasm), but there is something to be found that either hints at a sequel or at The Avengers. One such factor is Thor’s desire to return to earth. The second is that…well, Thor is one of the Avengers. If they never originally planned to make a Thor movie, it likely became a prerequisite for filming an Avengers movie. They needed backstories for each of the heroes meant to come together, and this was one of those backstories.

Now for the cons. I’ll try to keep this brief because I feel like I have an abundance of thoughts on this subject, but there’s no guarantee. First, I’d like to address that the story was somewhat fragmented, just as I’d predicted. At its core (if it can be said to have one), Thor was two movies. There was the first story of Thor’s intended ascension to the throne and Loki’s interference; and there was the story of Thor’s banishment to Earth. This duality of plotlines also spelled out another problem I had with the movie, which was the tone, something that I’ll discuss in conjunction with the story. To sum it up, there seemed to be a disconnect, largely because Asgard and Earth were so different visually, and what was happening in Asgard didn’t really have any influence over the events on Earth. To make matters worse, the events on Earth seemed more like a side story than anything else because it served much more as comic relief than the “life-or-death” mood set up in Asgard. Even Thor’s companions, who were typically serious in all that they did, became comical when they arrived on Earth. This separation between the fundamental function of the two worlds made the tone highly inconsistent. It’s not a problem having comic relief, but not to the point that it detracts from what the movie is supposed to be, which I felt was something serious. Tom Hiddleston as Loki seemed truly tormented and grave in his performance, as did Anthony Hopkins as Odin, but everyone else seemed somewhat campy, out on the set having a blast. Thor felt as though it was intended to be two completely different movies, one focused on Earth and one focused on Asgard. In the first, Thor could be banished to Earth and go through the process of redeeming himself so that he may return to his homeland. When he finally is able to return, he finds himself attached to the planet, and makes an oath to one day return. In the second part, Thor could return to Asgard to find that Loki has taken over, and wage war against his brother. The conflict would be the “dramatic sequel” that can function without having to introduce characters, as well as the bridge (get it, bridge?) that bestows upon Thor the ability to freely travel between two worlds. That ending would solidify his return to Earth for the Avengers. The last complaint I have (which I promise to keep brief) is the acting. Again, it seems inconsistent for a movie that I’m positive I’m supposed to be taking seriously. The characters, Thor particularly, too often move between being silly and serious. Sure, because of this, you never know what to expect in a scene, but it doesn’t always go over well for those who are anticipating something that they can invest themselves in.

The cons, for me, far outweigh the pros. Not in an overbearing way so that they’d completely ruin the movie for be, but enough for me to withhold my recommendation of it. I’d rate Thor a 55/100 give or take.

P.S. I still have no intention of seeing The Green Lantern unless a friend happens to acquire a DVD copy, and I can watch it for free.