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Entries in marvel (4)

Thursday
Jul162015

Ant-Man

Travel back to 2008 with me for a moment. Remember when “Iron Man” was released? Back then, Iron Man wasn’t considered a top tier superhero. Among the non-comic fans, at least, there was Batman, Superman, Spiderman and only a select few others that were well known and highly lauded. But then the Jon Favreau directed action film hit theaters and Iron Man shot from a bottom rung superhero to the top of the Marvel universe, becoming arguably the most recognizable one in their whole canon. This is why I went into “Ant-Man,” a film whose superhero is even more obscure and backed by a supremely silly concept, with cautious optimism. Besides, Marvel has rarely stumbled since they began shaping their cinematic universe, so surely they could make “Ant-Man” enjoyable, right? I’m happy to say the answer is a resounding “yes.” It’s not going to make waves like “Iron Man” did and, frankly, it seems pretty slight compared to Marvel’s best films, but it’s nevertheless a fun, lighthearted superhero romp that is guaranteed to please the Marvel faithful.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a recently paroled convict. He’s a good man at heart, having done his time for a non-violent crime, but his record makes it hard for him to keep a job. The problem is that he has a young daughter whom he wants to care for, but has no income to do so. To compensate, he reluctantly agrees to take on a job with a ragtag group of guys, led by Luis (Michael Peña), to steal the contents of a safe at Dr. Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) house. However, after cracking into it, he finds only a suit, one that can shrink him down to the size of an ant. It turns out Pym has let him break in to test his determination and willpower because he needs his help in stopping his former company from potentially destroying the world.

As you can tell, the story is fairly standard superhero stuff, following the tried-and-true formula of “Hero needs to stop Bad Guy to prevent Evil Plot.” The screenwriters merely pulled a fill-in-the-blank, as they replaced the generic descriptors with a few specifics. It works on a basic level, but perhaps it comes as no surprise that the stakes are never raised particularly high, especially after the previous Marvel movies have done so much. “Ant-Man” is your standard go-through-the-motions superhero film, so it’s a bit difficult to truly care, but it’s elevated by a terrific cast and a few standout moments.

Paul Rudd may not seem like an ideal candidate for a superhero, given his smaller build and comedic history, but he fits the role perfectly. Ant-Man, while certainly a strong hero, depends more on agility and flexibility to get by, as he shrinks and grows at will, bullets whizzing by and missing by centimeters. Rudd, whose smaller build fits appropriately with the film’s literal smaller scale, pulls it off remarkably well, crafting a believable character and downplaying his usual big screen antics. In films like “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “I Love You, Man,” he broke character often, laughing during takes that he should have been stone-faced in, but he barely smiles here. Those who feared he may shtick the movie up needn’t worry; he’s all business and a delight to watch.

The film’s biggest stumbles come from an uneven story that never quite finds the correct flow, as it shoehorns in numerous connections to the overall “Avengers” universe. References meant to be humorous feel out of place and one scene midway through is hardly organic to the story, serving more as way to deviate from its story focus with action and dramatically introduce a noticeable character. Similarly, its drama falls flat. While I would hardly consider divulging the fate of the hundreds of ants that accompany Ant-Man on his mission a spoiler, I’ll refrain, but it must be said one particular late moment, seemingly played straight, was far and away the funniest part of the entire movie.

“Ant-Man” both succeeds and fails on those moments too. It’s far too goofy to take its drama seriously, but it’s far too fun to entirely criticize that goofiness. I’m not entirely convinced the character will mix well into the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe when he inevitably starts to crossover into other superhero films, but as a standalone adventure, “Ant-Man” is undeniably entertaining.

Ant-Man receives 3.5/5

Friday
Nov072014

Big Hero 6

When Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, one’s imagination couldn’t help but go wild. What stories in the existing Marvel Universe could be told with the talented Disney affiliated minds behind them? The possibilities were endless, which makes it that much more depressing that their first animated film based on a Marvel property is a dud. “Big Hero 6,” based on the comic book series of the same name lacks personality, a heartfelt story or even decent laughs. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, but neither is it very good. It’s just kind of there.

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is an engineering prodigy who graduated high school at age 13, but hasn’t done much since aside from hustling people in underground robot fighting. However, his brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), understands his potential and helps him harness it in an environment that could allow him to change the future with his inventions. After a successful exhibition of his nanobots, he is accepted into a school for the scientifically gifted, but he ends up not attending, as his brother is killed in a tragic fire shortly after. His brother’s invention, an inflatable medical robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit) is all Hiro has left of him. One day, when Baymax wanders off, Hiro follows him and discovers something he didn’t expect to find: someone wearing a kabuki mask is manipulating his nanobot technology for evil. So he, along with his brother’s school friends, use their engineering prowess to turn themselves and Baymax into superheroes and set out to identify the masked man and bring him down.

Despite its source material predating its release, “Big Hero 6” feels like a poor imitation of “The Incredibles.” It has a similar visual style, eccentric characters with crazy superpowers and the same dark-but-not-too-dark-so-as-to-appeal-to-the-kiddies narrative. Unfortunately, the narrative here isn’t particularly interesting, as it breezily moves from here to there with few moments of consequence in between. The only character worth caring about is Tadashi, primarily due to the wonderful sibling relationship he has with Hiro. Their relationship leads to some heartfelt and, eventually, heartbreaking moments, but he leaves the picture so early on that the rest of the film feels lackluster in comparison.

Once he leaves, the relationship angle is primarily centered around Hiro and Baymax, but it’s rudimentary at best. While not impossible to create a meaningful relationship between a human and machine, “Big Hero 6” squanders it by focusing less on the human qualities of Baymax and more on the fact that he’s a machine capable of upgrading. The more it focuses on the latter, the more the viewer realizes that whatever limited personality he has can be replicated. When Baymax finds himself in precarious situations later in the movie, it doesn’t matter. If he’s destroyed, it won’t be difficult to build another.

Luckily, there are a couple interesting twists in the movie to keep viewers interested, even if they don’t necessarily raise the stakes in any meaningful way. In particular, the finale is thrilling and goes in a direction that, at least visually, is wonderful. These final moments show the real beauty that this type of filmmaking is capable of imagining up, which goes a long way in making up for the rest of the film’s good, but typical aesthetics.

“Big Hero 6” is a movie without an audience. Older viewers with more distinguished tastes will be able to see through its thinness while younger audiences may find themselves too frightened by the admittedly menacing kabuki mask wearing enigma. But in the end, it simply lacks the personality, humor or charm of Disney’s other films and while it doesn’t offend in any way, neither does it impress. “Big Hero 6” is 102 minutes of pure mediocrity.

Big Hero 6 receives 2.5/5

Thursday
Apr032014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Has superhero fatigue set in? Six years have passed since the first “Iron Man” film, with each year seemingly more crammed with costumed heroes than the last, so one has to wonder how much longer this will last before the subgenre implodes on itself. If “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is any indication, it still has some legs, though it’s clear that we’re crossing into “been-there-done-that” territory at this point.

Although it had its detractors, I would argue that 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” is one of the best in the recent Marvel canon, right up there with “Iron Man” because the film showcased the type of courageousness and nobleness one would expect from a hero. Captain America didn’t fight for any other reason than because it was the right thing to do and his big heart and selfless desires—to fight and even die for his country, if necessary—validated him. He was a character that was easy to root for and love. Thematically, the film didn’t have much going on, but as a character study, it worked, which forgave its thematic thinness. “The Winter Soldier” introduces more themes, many of which pertain to today’s world due, in part, to its modern setting, but neglects to follow through on them. That is the film’s biggest deficiency.

The story takes place in Washington, D.C. where the Captain, also known as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is adjusting to his new life as a part of the Avengers working for S.H.I.E.L.D., the espionage agency that deals primarily with superhuman threats. S.H.I.E.L.D., under the leadership of Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is about to launch Operation Insight, which will place machine gun mounted helicarriers in the sky that are designed to protect the country’s citizens. The Captain doesn’t agree with this operation and, after a crazy turn of events, including a violent attack on Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the possibility of a S.H.I.E.L.D. compromise, he is branded a fugitive. So while being hunted by the mysterious Winter Soldier, he finds himself on the lam with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), vowing to uncover whatever plan is about to unfold and put a stop to it.

And it’s with the introduction of those helicarriers that the film introduces its themes. The Captain disagrees with the very idea, arguing that launching the operation would only scare people into giving up their freedoms (“This isn’t freedom; this is fear,” he explicitly says at one point). To him, placing these eyes in the sky, always peering below for potential threats, compromises the freedom and right to privacy America’s citizens deserve. In a post-9/11 world where phone tapping and other surveillance measures are commonplace, these ideas couldn’t be more relevant.

The film even questions the notion that joining the military is the greatest thing you can do. While the Captain still considers the well-being of the country’s citizens his number one priority, he talks about how joining today, as opposed to during the World War II era he grew up and found his patriotism in, isn’t the same. The moral compass of “the greatest generation” is now gone and we instead “protect” our citizens with fear and intimidation. In a strange way, the film supports serving your country through activism rather than enlisting in a time of government corruption and unconstitutional actions.

As intriguing as these themes are, “The Winter Soldier,” unfortunately, drops them all too quickly. Actual insight is limited and most come through deep exposition rather than narrative exploration. Instead, the film rests on the laurels of being yet another Marvel movie. The flip side to this somewhat disappointing coin is that, luckily, the majority of those Marvel movies, while not all great, have been pretty solid. The action here, while certainly not as bombastic as “The Avengers,” is serviceable, if a little clunky. While some of the action is fluid and fun, other moments are too shaky and hectic. The camera likes to zoom in occasionally and follow each punch and kick to their fast paced conclusions and doing so sometimes makes the action a bit hard to follow.

One welcome addition in this installment is the greater focus on Black Widow. Not much more than a periphery character in the previous films, she has an expanded role here and she is allowed to come into her own. She’s a more complicated person than her previous appearances might suggest and she has to battle her own motivations between doing what she’s ordered to do and doing what’s right. The bond she forms with the Captain doesn’t really lead anywhere if looking for an emotional arc, but it works nonetheless.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will do exactly what filmgoers will expect of it and in that regard, it’s a success. Most won’t care about its thematic inconsistencies and had they not been included in the first place, one couldn’t fault it, but bringing them up and dropping them so quickly afterwards only to bring them up again in a cheesy late movie speech is a missed opportunity. This film had the potential to be one of the more intelligent, insightful movies in the Marvel canon, but ends up compromising its ideas for more of the same old Marvel action. It’s just a good thing that Marvel action is still as impressive as it is. But while “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is easily recommendable right now, push this back a few years, when superhero fatigue has done more than show glimpses of itself, and it might not be.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier receives 3.5/5

Friday
Nov082013

Thor: The Dark World

If you ask me, out of all the Marvel movies leading up to and extending past last year’s summer megahit “The Avengers,” 2011’s “Thor” is by far the weakest. While certainly a summer spectacle worthy of the Marvel name, the main character was, quite simply, kind of dull. Thor simply didn’t have the personality of someone like Iron Man or the altruistic morals of Captain America or even the unpredictable nature of The Hulk. When compared to some of our greatest superheroes like Batman or Spiderman, Thor didn’t stack up. While those characters had demons to wrestle, events from their lives that dramatically changed them forever, Thor was a “just because” fighter. His motivation never really extended past the knowledge that it was simply what he was supposed to do. Such thinness is boring and it made “Thor” the only Marvel movie in this “Avengers” canon that wasn’t recommendable. Its sequel, “Thor: The Dark World” fares slightly better than its predecessor, but many of the same problems pervade it. It’s safe to say that if you enjoyed “Thor,” you’ll enjoy this, but Thor nevertheless remains the most uninteresting character in Marvel’s current movie bag.

Thousands of years ago, Bor, the father or Odin (Anthony Hopkins), defeated a monstrous race of beings known as the Dark Elves. Led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), their goal was to reverse the state of the nine realms to a period before creation using a relic known as the Aether. Despite their defeat, Malekith escaped, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike once again. The relic was then buried deep, in a place where hopefully nobody would ever find it. In present day, the alignment of the nine realms, known as the Convergence, is upon us. This alignment is causing vortexes to appear in the realms, one of which astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon. This leads her to the Aether, which manifests itself inside of her. Now Malekith is out to get it, but Thor, along with his untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is going to attempt to stop him and save Jane.

One change in Thor’s character that is immediately recognizable in this film is that his childish wanting-to-fight attitude from the previous movie has been replaced with a more mature willing-to-fight attitude. Rather than taking pleasure in it, he sees battle as his duty, to protect the nine realms. A late scene speech confirms this. Furthermore, due to a couple of scenes that shall not spoiled, he’s facing some true emotional pain. Thus, there is more character development here than there ever was before. This is a welcome inclusion and helps make him more likable, more like someone we would want to cheer for rather than someone we’re supposed to. This by no means makes Thor someone worth watching, but it’s a step in the right direction and if the excellent foreboding final shot is any indication, there are some truly exciting things on the horizon for the muscular god.

But hope for future greatness is not relevant to this current product. There is still a lot of bombastic action, as is common in all superhero movies, but little reason to care, mainly due to a somewhat confusing central story, some grating comic relief side characters and a bland enemy. Kat Dennings, in particular, tries far too hard here, cracking jokes at every turn to the point of obnoxiousness, while the enemies are faceless drones with masks akin to the emotionless one Michael Myers wears in the “Halloween” films. Despite an interesting dual hero/villain role for Loki (that is, unfortunately, far too short to have much impact), there’s little to keep one’s interest here.

Where “Thor: The Dark World” really finds its inspiration is in its action heavy finale. It’s so exciting, you’ll find yourself caring about what’s happening, even if you don’t really care about why. Other superhero movies, including this year’s “Iron Man 3” and “Man of Steel,” went far too over-the-top with their endings. The action came so fast and heavy that it was difficult to not become numb to it. Due to the film’s set-up, the characters see themselves flying through multiple vortexes, constantly transporting from place to place and narrowly escaping disaster. This allows for a variety other similar films can’t afford and it keeps you on your toes because what happens next is likely to be different and unexpected.

“Thor: The Dark World” isn’t without other merits either. It has some mildly amusing humor and one absolutely terrific off-kilter cameo from another popular Marvel character, but the film as a whole is decidedly lackluster, and that’s even if you don’t take into account how the 3D glasses further dim an already visually dark movie. In the end, it really is a shame all of the film’s inspiration comes from its action rather than its story because the latter trumps the former every time. “Thor: The Dark World” is kind of like a Stairmaster work out machine. You’re technically taking steps up, but you’re not really going anywhere.

Thor: The Dark World receives 2.5/5