Guardians of the Galaxy

August 2, 2014

GuardiansOfTheGalaxy

The announcement that Marvel was truly cashing in its credibility chips – even moreso than they did with Thor, for despite that character being well known, introducing a whole intergalactic mythos is a far cry from following the origin of an earth bound superhero – with Guardians of the Galaxy, a little known (and unknown completely to me) property into the Cinematic Universe that has become the Hollywood juggernaut of the last 8 or so years, was a huge surprise to many. Giving a huge budget to little known character that were based in worlds entirely unknown and populating it with B list stars was a ballsy move, especially considering there’s little earth-based grounding to ease the transition. This significant departure from the normal formula is probably why this has been the most anticipated of the Marvel films in a while, if only because there was a huge question mark around how it would be received. Handing over co-writing and directing duties to James Gunn, who cut his teeth at micro-budget schlock studio Troma and whose directorial efforts have thus far been intriguing, if not always successful, idiosyncratic genre exercises. The fact that we get a pretty traditional space opera drenched in the kind of Whedonesque post-modern humour that’s been one of the keys to the success of the Marvel enterprise is almost disappointing in its obviousness. Not to say it isn’t enjoyable – it is actually very much so – but for those of us looking to see what this multi-film franchise could really do, it gives us a clearer idea of just what the limits are, even as it expands beyond what’s come before. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thor: The Dark World

November 18, 2013

Thor-The-Dark-World

I have long approached the Marvel Cinematic Universe project with fascination and a minor degree of excitement about the possibilities of such a venture without being overly impressed with the end products, The Avengers excepted.  Of all the individual character films, I felt the first Thor was the most successful.  It expanded the universe – quite literally – with a deftness and humour that can so often sink a big-budget spectacle when it comes to introducing vast worlds and new mythologies (Green Lantern, anyone?).  Comic book superheroes are arguably most accessible when they’re weighted in the real world, so for instance Spider-man is easily relatable because he’s just a kid in New York City with some amazing powers and the wider audience doesn’t have to stretch too much to go along with it.  Of course we live in a different world than we did 15 years ago, where the nerdy intergalactic aspects of these types of things were shunned by the mainstream as being “ridiculous” and “nerdy” since nowadays all of the old comic book geek stigma is gone.  Still, introducing the 9 realms to a wider audience wasn’t an easy task, but by contrasting the busy, Roger Dean-esque world of Asgard with the bright, clean lines of the New Mexico desert, and by extension the operatic family drama of Odin and his ilk with the fish-out-of-water silliness of a demi-god wandering through small town America with a bunch of scientists, the pill was easy to swallow.  Thor: The Dark World operates on the basis that the heavily lifting has already been done (many people loathe the origin stories and wait for the characters to properly act already established in the sequels), but it turns out the character introduction wasn’t the only reason the fantastical/grounded dichotomy worked.  The new Thor spends most of its time not understanding the careful balance of the first entry, and suffers for a long period for it.   Read the rest of this entry »

Iron Man 3

May 3, 2013

IRON MAN 3

The Marvel Machine rampages on in Iron Man 3, which is already taking in incredible amounts of money because, I think, Marvel is exceptionally good at product management.  It says something about the skill of digital effects companies that you can make a solid action blockbuster product without the specific skill-set of an “action director”, and thus we have reached the point where the talent is brought in for their ability to keep a certain level of quality, not take risks and, most importantly, keep the writing snappy.  Though some of the films have had minor aesthetic differences, they all more or less look the same:  generally bright, inoffensive, with a dash of pop art stylization without going full-blown Ang Lee.  The last two entries, especially, have had one major authorial difference and that’s in the writing.  The Avengers largely kept to Joss Whedon’s not inconsiderable talent for wit, and now Iron Man 3 flows right into Shane Black’s wheelhouse.  The fact that it’s distinctive is down almost solely to the script, and if it doesn’t set it necessarily to a higher standard than other Marvel fare, it’s at least different.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Amazing Spider-Man

August 17, 2012

There have been too many cynical studio cash-ins to count.  If they see a proven franchise sitting in front of them, executives will do whatever they can to milk it for all its worth.  The Amazing Spider-Man is one such property, although instead of milking it for every last cent, the motivation here was simple: keep the rights.  Due to a deal with Disney and Marvel, Sony had to produce a film featuring the Spider-man character before a certain amount of time for them to retain the rights, and here it is.  As a result, there’s a somewhat antiseptic quality to the film.  However, it feels less like a blatant cash-in a la Alien vs Predator than it does a protective measure.  The studio handprints are all over it, but they’re more concerned with protecting the property (and not messing up a new version of a popular franchise) then they do with duping the public into a hastily thrown-together profit squeeze. Read the rest of this entry »

The Avengers

May 5, 2012

Despite being a ready-made blockbuster success, The Avengers had a pretty significant hurdle to clear if it wanted to be any good – a notion that is hardly necessary when the quality of a film like this is rarely important when it comes to being a “success”.  Ensemble films are tricky enough, but when four of the central characters have each had movies of their own, attempting to corral them all into something sensible without giving short-shrift to anyone is doubly (or, quadruply?) so.  This is all to say that anyone who says that writer/director Joss Whedon, who was given the task of putting this all together, merely has to “not screw it up,” they’re doing an extreme disservice to the sheer difficulty of the task at hand.  A surfeit of good, existing elements is probably harder to make into something even basically functional as a movie than starting from the ground up.  It’s a small wonder, then, that The Avengers is not only good, it is better than it probably needs to be and is certainly the best of this slate of Marvel films.

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The question that continued to weigh on my mind as I viewed Joe Johnstone’s Captain America: The First Avenger, the latest in the series of extraordinarily expensive supplemental materials for 2012’s Avengers spectacular, was this:  are comic book movies boring or am I bored of comic book movies?  I’m not entirely sure, and although I realize the premise isn’t entirely true (I am excited to see Nolan’s next entry in his Dark Knight series), I couldn’t even feign enthusiasm for any of the superhero tentpoles that have graced the screens this summer.  As a matter of fact, I only saw this one and X-Men: First Class, so maybe I’m just being harsh.  I’m sure I’ll rent Thor just to get myself up to speed, but at this point the Marvel Universe (or really, the Avengers Universe) entries are all too mediocre to get excited about.  They feel more like filling in the prerequisites for a course I don’t particularly want to take.  I recognize that Captain America isn’t all that bad, but it’s not all that good either. Read the rest of this entry »