Archive for the Superhero Category

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Posted in Action, Adventure, Martial Arts, Superhero with tags on August 9, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a really ugly film. Part one of the original trilogy, also with the same exact title, was released back in 1990 and it confounded expectations to be quite good. Its massive popularity ($260.6 million in 2014 dollars) generated two sequels, each of dwindling quality. A computer animated entry entitled TMNT in 2007 built on the success of the 2003–2009 TV series. Now we’re given a new interpretation on the first motion picture and it’s a sloppy, bewildering mess. The scattershot construction would be bad on its own terms, but when compared to previous incarnations, it achieves a new low.

The history of an established franchise is severely corrupted . The mythology of our beloved foursome is devalued in favor of a tale largely focused on Megan Fox’s character. Reporter April O’Neil is trying to get information about a villainous organization called the Foot Clan that is terrorizing New York City. Side note: A fun drinking game might be to take a drink every time there is a close-up shot of her posterior. At one point, the director actually has her bouncing on a trampoline. I’m not kidding. Fox is not believable as the ambitious go-getting journalist she is supposed to be here but it’s too easy to pick on her so let’s simply move on. The Foot Clan is led by Shredder who looks like a samurai Transformer in a suit of armor with Ginsu knives for hands. He’s ridiculous. Yet he is relegated to secondary villain status in deference to the ubiquity of evil industry mogul Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), a villain as generic as they come. At various junctures his malevolent plan is thwarted by 4 shadowy vigilantes. April sees this and reports her findings to her boss (Whoopi Goldberg). Naturally neither she nor anyone else believes her. Just who are these 4 masked defenders? What follows is a lot of indecipherable nonsense.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manages to be a really ugly piece of entertainment in a myriad of ways. Dreary events are connected by loud lumbering disorganized mayhem punctuated by lots of noise, all strung together. The action set-pieces are so stridently generic that I couldn’t even describe them immediately after this headache was over. The dimly lit “excitement” is so cluttered, your eyes will glaze over from the miasma of the chaos. A large part of the story has nothing to do with ninja turtles, but rather a bunch of human beings that wouldn’t have enough presence to activate an automatic door, let alone occupy the focus of a movie. And the turtles themselves look disgusting, like gooey roided-up hulks impregnated with reptilian features. We never get to know the characters. The four of them were completely interchangeable as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t differentiate their violent militarized personalities apart. They do wear different colored masks at least. I think one wore glasses. Perhaps even more grotesque is Splinter, their rescued lab rat mentor who learned Ninjutsu from a book he found. He sports rat facial hair and the Asian garb out of an old martial arts flick. He’s voiced by Tony Shalhoub (!). The atmosphere is extremely depressing. The only time some 90s magic is shown is when the turtles start beatboxing in an elevator. It’s at that moment the production starts to feel a little fun, but the second that’s over, the feature reverts back to being a dour desecration of the lighthearted source material. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had me shell-shocked.

08-07-14

Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on August 3, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Guardians of the Galaxy photo starrating-5stars.jpgAt heart, Guardians of the Galaxy is a simple tale about a group of misfits. A mysterious orb of untold power is stolen by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka Star-Lord on the planet Morag. The valuable artifact is coveted by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genocidal militarist of the Kree race. Star-Lord attempts to sell the relic on the planet Xandar and pocket the money, but before he can, it is intercepted by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a curvaceous alien warrior. The ensuing commotion also draws in Rocket (Bradley Cooper) a anthropomorphic raccoon and Groot (Vin Diesel) a tree-like biped. They all end up in jail where they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a massive brute out for vengeance. This rag tag aggregation of prisoners become allies who unite against a common threat.

Superhero movies are inherently ridiculous. Beings, often from another planet, dress up in some getup and fight crime with their bizarre superhuman abilities. Silly no? That’s why I like mine served with a big fat helping of comedy. The more winking at the audience, the better. Guardians of the Galaxy may be from a comic book, but it doesn’t feel like a Marvel picture in the traditional sense. It concerns a disparate team that are rather disorganized. This motley collection of mercenaries are pretty selfish too. Fighting corruption is the furthest thing from this sorry gang’s mindset as you can get. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t yearn to adhere to the superhero template. It wants to kick back and relax to the soft rock stylings of the 70s. The production would prefer to just rest its feet on the archetype like it was an ottoman.

What makes the fabric of this story work, is the charismatic mix of personalities that ordinarily would have no business being friends. There’s no reason why this unorthodox lot would ever associate with one another. The combination of individuals is unlike anything ever seen before and yet they are instantly recognizable. First and foremost is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill or Star-Lord as he prefers to be called. He’s a roguish, opportunist who just exudes swagger. Indiana Jones or Han Solo would consider him one of their own. He’s in good company. Zoe Saldana is the sexy Gamora, an assassin, the last of her Zehoberi race. She is a quick witted match for the womanizing Star-Lord. Great shades of Princess Leia! Of humanoid appearance, she sparks believable chemistry with Star-Lord even though she is a green skinned alien. Drax the Destroyer is a tremendously muscled thing not dissimilar to the Hulk. In spite of his brutish looks and psychopathic personality, he masks a remarkably sensitive backstory of pain. Ronan the Accuser killed his family and now he seeks to avenger their death. Gamora has ties to Ronan that will prove to be quite useful.

Computer animated creations can be a mixed bag. Jar Jar Binks anyone? However here the technology has been used with fascinating vitality. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is a genetically engineered raccoon that has been given sentient intelligence. A completely realistic CGI creation, he is nonetheless one of the most engaging all the characters, his rather chaotic, trigger happy temperament notwithstanding. One cannot acknowledge Rocket without also mentioning Groot, a tree creature voiced by Vin Diesel. The two of them are bounty hunters that work in tandem. The imposing guy speaks only three words: “I am Groot.” Despite his limited vocabulary, Rocket and Groot understand one another perfectly which gives rise to some very humorous conversations. Groot is an innocent that exudes more heart than all of the other entities put together.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the spiritual sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy we dreamed about. Action packed, well written and most of all fun! This is a space epic where the unexpected happens. Gamora and Star-Lord romantically bond over Elvin Bishop‘s easy listening classic “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”. A baby tree boogies down to “ABC” by The Jackson 5. Glenn Close sports a hair-don’t that looks like a triple dollop of cake frosting. Director James Gunn has never helmed a production this huge.  His highest profile box office success heretofore was as the screenwriter for the live-action Scooby-Doo in 2002. He pulls out all the stops here.  Superhero movies never get Oscar consideration for costume design but Alexandra Byrne’s work needs be recognized. I truly hope she will garner a nomination. Even during battles scenes, the frightened citizens in the background had creative wardrobe details that I haven’t seen since the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier’s work in The Fifth Element. The jaw-dropping manifestation of this universe is a marvel of modern technology, fashion, and special effects. The art direction never ceases to amaze in a world where outstanding visually impressive displays have become commonplace. And let’s not forget that soundtrack, a brilliant blend of early 70s light rock classics that actually exist to cement the deep emotional bond the main protagonist had with his mother. It’s a stunning presentation full of pathos, love, joy and humor. Sorry Transformers: Age of Extinction, but in the words of a pop hit on this soundtrack, I’m hooked on a feeling. I’m high on believing that Guardians of the Galaxy is the summer blockbuster we’ve been waiting for.

07-31-14

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on May 25, 2014 by Mark Hobin

X-Men: Days of Future Past photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgOne wouldn’t think the seventh entry in a series would be cause for excitement, but X-Men: Days of Future Past (DOFP) is a rousing episode in the franchise. For one thing, it is a deft merger of X-Men films. The cast of the original trilogy is united with their younger counterparts of the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class. It’s a tribute to Simon Kinberg’s script that for all its characters and detailed exposition, DOFP still manages to present an intelligible story. The time-traveling that begins with a dystopian future in the year 2023 then jumps back to 1973 where most of the chronicle takes place. A word of caution: anyone not up on their X-Men history will require a brief primer to bring yourself up to speed with mutant lore. In addition to the ever-shifting allegiances and objectives, there’s a host of new people. The Avengers had a meager 6 superheroes. DOFP has an astounding 20+ mutants. Thankfully most of these (Storm, Iceman, Bishop, Colossus) are merely window dressing in the background. Others get a few lines (Shadowcat, Beast, Quicksilver). Only Wolverine, Mystique (Raven), Professor X and Magneto are truly indispensable mutants. The narrative wisely focuses on them.

The majority of DOFP takes place a decade after the events of First Class in 1973. A smart move, given that it was the previous apex of this anthology. Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) is an important new villain. A dangerous extremist, he advocates robots called Sentinels to protect humans from the mutant threat. We’re presented an alternate storyline of what originally happened. In an effort to put an end to his madness, Mystique assassinated him. Ironically this would ultimately cause more harm than good. As a result, she is captured and her shapeshifting power is harnessed to engineer the unstoppable Sentinel robots. They ultimately lead to the complete annihilation of life as we know it. That’s the grim scene that opens the film. So the mutants decide to send Wolverine back in time to stop Mystique from causing an event that triggers the Sentimental program. Will the mutants be successful? Wolverine will have to enlist the help of their younger mutant selves.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the very best of a decent franchise. It marks the return of director Bryan Singer who helmed the first two respected entries before the collection took a serious nosedive with X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and those two Wolverine-centric movies.  He entertainingly combines multiple entries into a coherent tale that conveniently incorporates a lot of fan service. That this doesn’t feel like the climax it should be, but rather another setup to further sequels is a bit regrettable. DOFP doesn’t introduce innovation to the formula. “Humans cannot be trusted” vs. “Can’t we all just get along?” mentalities continue to propel the dramatic discussion with Magneto and Professor X each representing the respective arguments.  But why quibble? There are great moments here that transcend all others in the series. Chief among them is a jailbreak featuring new mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who can move at supersonic speeds. He must free Magneto from a prison cell beneath The Pentagon at one point. How he accomplishes the task is a dazzling sequence in slow motion that displays more inventiveness and wit than anything else in the entire picture. It’s a peak that kind of makes you wish the whole saga had been about him.

05-22-14

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on May 4, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgI’m exercising restraint when I say that The Amazing Spider Man 2 (TASM2) is a staggeringly disorganized, senseless drudgery of a picture. The production is expensively produced, techno-spastic, headache inducing mess. It’s populated by undeveloped roles that merely exist as a prelude to future chapters. TASM2 is not concerned with telling a coherent tale. The narrative is more focused on cramming multiple threads of various origin stories in preparation of the main event later. Apparently these fragments will have meaning not just in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 (2016) but also in spin-offs Venom (in development) and The Sinister Six. This recipe for disaster is comprised of 3 parts: A) cluttered action B) multiple narratives left unresolved for later sequels and C) too many antagonists.

When you get right down to it, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t really about Spider-Man at all. It’s about the villains, 3 main ones in my estimation. We’ve got Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) who becomes the Rhino, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) who becomes the Green Goblin, and nerdy Max Dillon (a criminally miscast Jamie Foxx) who becomes Electro.  They’ll (presumably) comprise three of the members in the all-villain superteam known as The Sinister Six. Sony is clearly trying to beef up their stake in their Marvel property in a nod that seeks to compete with Disney and their Marvel universe centered around The Avengers. There are numerous other characters too. I have neither the strength nor desire to list them all here but surprisingly few exhibit any originality or nuance. Case in point, actor Marton Csokas weirdly channels Dr. Strangelove to play Dr. Ashley Kafka, the founder of the Ravencroft Institute. A notable exception is Sally Field as Aunt May who is a refreshing ocean of calm in a sea of madness.

Spider-Man is on somewhat more solid ground when he is allowed to be Peter Parker and not some CGI blur zipping across the screen. A technological exhibition doesn‘t engage the emotions like a personality. Scenes invoking humanity are preferable, although it’s really stretching credibility to have a man in his 30s pretending to graduate high school.  Garfield portrays Peter Parker as a smug hipster. He even self-knowingly whistles the Spider-Man TV theme. Unfortunately his supposedly spontaneous witticisms come off as shtick and not as the lighthearted banter I believe was written to endear us to the superhero. His interactions with girlfriend Gwen Stacy feel like manufactured affectations that cause the couple to conventionally fall in love, break up, get back together at various intervals for the sole purpose of romantic conflict. Their ersatz charm is sheer torture to anyone who values sincerity. A heinous screenplay derails even quiet moments that should be making us give a care in between explosions.

The whole production is a labor intensive chore to watch. We are presented with a visual and aural assault on the senses. The over-abundance of special effects are so chaotic at times that the brain cannot even reconcile what is happening. The battles are computer generated imagery where people are irrelevant. Take the fight sequences between combatants. Spider-Man is wearing a mask. Electro is a glowing blue humanoid. They’re thrust into a cacophonous light display of sound and fury that is an animated nightmare. A significant portion of the movie holds literally nothing organic on screen. There are bolts of lightning, crashes and pyrotechnics. The destruction of Times Square should be an awe inspiring experience but the event barely incites any concern from the audience. It gets lost in the annihilation of all the public property – the financial repercussions of which are never addressed. Of course you’re not meant to think about such things. This is just a bunch of random stuff that happens, a holding pattern if you will, that connects parts 1 and 3. The film is a glorified advertisement for upcoming installments. TASM2 is not a movie, it’s a 142 minute trailer, and very unsatisfying one at that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Posted in Action, Adventure, Superhero, Thriller with tags on April 6, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Captain America: The Winter Soldier photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgCaptain America: The Winter Soldier is the 9th installment in the series of superhero films, independently produced by Marvel Studios. The series has been dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its own acronym MCU. There are in fact different phases designed to apparently conquer the movie world (and your wallet). We’re currently in Phase 2 which will culminate with Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). I’m only mentioning all this because some people take this stuff with a very straight face. The deeper we get into these franchises, the more they demand that you’ve see the others. I’ve seen everything but even my eyes begin to glaze over when actors start tossing around names and organizations like we’re in the middle of a history lesson. I’m just here to watch a fun flick and I’m happy to say that this is indeed an enjoyable picture. The Avengers and Iron Man are better, but it ranks in the top half of the 9 entries thus far.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up two years after the events of The Avengers (2012). Following a lot of exposition that extends this movie 16 minutes past the 2 hour sweet spot, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) entrusts Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) with a hard drive containing sensitive information. When he refuses to hand it over to senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce.(Robert Redford), Steve is branded an enemy of the very organization he once served. A superhuman agent codenamed the Winter Soldier does Secretary Pierce’s bidding. The Winter Soldier’s identity is a secret so no details on him. Helping Steve get to the bottom things are fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. member Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson / Falcon (Anthony Mackie). They’re both quite good. Scarlett Johansson fetchingly straddles the line between friend and flirt. Anthony Mackie has genuine camaraderie with Chris Evans as Steve’s buddy who he meets while jogging. The three of them joining forces makes this feel sort of like an Avengers movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an entertaining spy thriller. The story includes lots of rousing action sequences . The hand to hand combat scenes draw heavily from martial arts films in the best possible way. The pace is efficient with a narrative that doesn’t disappoint fans looking for excitement featuring people they already know and love. There’s enough human interaction to satisfy those who savor a little character development in their superhero flicks. Occasionally the overly complex story takes itself a bit too seriously. I welcome the humor of Thor. Fan boys will appreciate the reverence, but anyone unfamiliar with the Avengers universe might not be as captivated. Thankfully the tone shines with the occasional witty quips where everyone in the production can simply lighten up.

P.S. Given Marvel’s history, I shouldn’t have to point out that there are mid-credits and post-credits stingers that you should probably stick around for. That is unless that extra large Coke you drank is playing havoc with your bladder.

The Wolverine

Posted in Action, Adventure, Superhero with tags on July 28, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Wolverine photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgFor those keeping track, this the sixth installment in the X-Men film series and picks up where #3 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) left off. In it our fearless hero the Wolverine–a.k.a. Logan–is confronted by the past as he experiences hallucinations of Jean Grey as well as the Nagasaki bombing of 1945. There he reflects back on a Japanese soldier he saved. Yashida is now a CEO dying of cancer and wants to return the favor with an interesting proposition.

In this cluttered cast there are actually three women vying for our hero’s attention. First there’s the ghost of Jean whom he was forced to kill. She keeps popping up to haunt our protagonist. She’s lovingly photographed in white with soft focus. Is that a halo I see? In addition we get Yukio, a woman who has powers allowing her to see people’s deaths. She is the messenger sent to bring the Wolverine to Japan. And then there’s Yashida’s granddaughter, Mariko, whom he meets when he gets there. Not vying for his attention is a villain named Viper who looks like a porn star. She’s played with ultra camp by Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova. She forces The Wolverine to confront his own mortality. For the majority of the saga, the Wolverine can be hurt as any human man. That’s a bummer because it reduces the drama to that of an ordinary person, albeit one who looks like Hugh Jackman. This is not an event in the way that Man of Steel or Iron Man 3 were this summer. It’s a much smaller picture.  I should be clear, though, this is BETTER than Man of Steel. Nevertheless, with his powers removed, this could be any generic 90s actioner.

The Wolverine is a middling attempt with a plot that is kind of dull. For a superhero film, there’s not a whole lot of fantasy. There’s a rousing sequence atop a speeding train. That got my pace quickening a bit. But for the most part it’s a minor entry in the X-Men franchise. I’ll admit there’s something to be said for a toned down effort with limited special effects and an intimate story. But this feels like a B-movie with characters cobbled together by screenwriters who have liberally sampled from Ninja, Samurai and Yakuza films. It all climaxes in a silly way that has nothing to do with the rest of the tale. No detailed spoilers, but a robot is involved. I’m not kidding.  It’s telling that the most exhilarating part of the entire picture comes 1 minute after the credits start rolling. There we’re given a glimpse of what could have been.

A Note for Parents: This sets a new high (or low) for PG-13 rated entertainment. It is extremely violent. They creatively edit around it so the amount of blood is minimal. However there are a multitude of stabbings and when the Wolverine operates on his own chest by slicing it open, well I had to look away. The scene where he is mercilessly shot in the back with poison-dipped arrows so that he resembles a porcupine, was an image I won‘t soon forget either. If this had been rated R, I wouldn’t even be talking about this. The MPAA have always had harsher restrictions for sex and profanity than violence, but their hypocrisy is really shameful here. This far exceeds the normal level for a PG-13 rated film.

Despicable Me 2

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Crime, Superhero with tags on July 3, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Despicable Me 2 photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgWhen we last saw Felonious Gru, former super-villain, he had adopted three adorable orphan girls: Margo, Edith, and Agnes. They’ve formed their own surrogate family as he’s settled into a life of blissful domesticity. However when a secret laboratory somewhere near the Arctic Circle, is lifted and taken by a large flying magnet, The Anti-Villain League (AVL) calls Gru out of retirement so he may help solve the case by thinking like a criminal. This is the basic outline of the tale, but Despicable Me 2 is a much more relaxed affair than its predecessor. The storytelling isn’t centered on advancing plot, but rather focused completely on earning laughs. It’s almost Zen-like in its approach to humor.

The voice actors give the cast vigor pushing this from the enjoyable to the revelatory. There’s a zippy exaggeration to their actions that make their performances even funnier. Steve Carell is once again, compelling as the lead. When Gru walks down the street with the confidence of a man in love, the musical interlude is as triumphant as John Travolta’s famous strut in Saturday Night Fever. Kristen Wiig is back, but this time as Lucy Wilde, an AVL agent. The actress’ real expressions and body movements can be seen in the animation. Every raised eyebrow, awkward statement, and nervous gesture is there. Watching her behave is an absolute delight. Her development from adversary to ally is bewitching. It’s unusual that while she is competent, she’s not particularly beautiful, a rarity in a cartoon love interest. The complete manifestation of the character is captivating. The head of the AVL, Silas Sheepsbutt, oops I mean, Ramsbottom is played by Steve Coogan. (That was their joke, by the way) He speaks with an affected sophistication. Ken Jeong as a wig store proprietor and Benjamin Bratt as the owner of a Mexican restaurant, are possible suspects in Gru’s search. They’re amusing editions that highlight great voice casting coupled with wonderful animation.

Where sequels often lazily retread Part 1, Despicable Me 2 aims higher. Gru is now an entrepreneur with a new line of jams, tapped to aid in the capture of a mysterious evildoer. In his personal life he’s attempting to meet someone special. The story unfolds with the focus of a gentle stroll and the production is the better for it. The chronicle builds upon Gru’s character from the original as it explores the possibility of a girlfriend for him. There’s a familiarity, a knowing sarcasm with the pitfalls of the dating world that infuses Gru’s journey. This is especially true concerning Shannon, a gum-chewing blonde bimbo he goes on a date with. She favors unnaturally orange tans and leopard print dresses. You could say she comes across as a tad superficial. “Your accent is so exotic” she says in her Valley Girl patois. “I know someone who can fix that for you.“

For all of Despicable Me 2’s speedy 98 minutes, it never ceases to be anything less than a snappy joy. It is gag filled fun fest. We hear a rumor that a past villain died while riding a shark into a volcano with 250 pounds of TNT strapped to his chest. Then they proceed to show you what that might look like. The atmosphere is steeped in the manic lunacy of animator Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons of the 40s and 50s. This brings me to Gru’s minions which take on an even more pivotal role this time around. Their nonsensical language is exploited for maximum giggles. I can’t over-emphasize how wonderful they are here. There’s a zaniness that children will adore, but there’s also an edge that adults will appreciate.

Man of Steel

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on June 14, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Man of Steel photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgGeneral: What are you smiling about, Captain?
Captain: I just think he’s kinda hot.

Henry Cavill certainly looks like Superman. He’s handsome, almost distractingly so, sports a ripped physique that adheres closer to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine than any previous incarnation of the role. The Brit even speaks the part affecting a perfect American accent with the necessary gravitas to make everything he says sound meaningful. But that’s where compliments end for Man of Steel.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic superhero is given the bigger is better treatment in this updated version for moviegoers raised on Transformers films. Zack “I directed 300” Snyder has taken courses at the Michael Bay school for directors where spectacle is key and damn any coherence or dialogue that gets in the way. Loud noise is more important than the story. Millions of dollars gloriously spent to envision beautifully designed worlds of breathtaking 3D graphics only to be obliterated in some fantastic assault of bombs, explosions and mayhem. A bombastic excess where even Superman’s cape is digitally animated. Snyder’s aesthetic is money and spend lots of it

Man of Steel is an overinflated packed to the rafters display of computer generated imagery (CGI) that makes Transformers seem like Forbidden Planet by comparison. The CGI is ridiculously wild and unchecked. A full third of this film is fight scenes. Not exciting ones, but blurry, relentless onslaughts that are hard to follow. I think I counted three epic battles but honestly one conflict blurs indistinguishably into the next. Their sole purpose exists so Snyder can blow stuff up. The wanton annihilation of buildings in the climax doesn’t even appear to be Planet Earth anymore. At one point Superman wrestles with tentacles in the center of the globe as some rocket machine deconstructs the earth’s atmosphere to that of an alien planet. The whole spectacle is so removed from anything organic, it doesn’t even exist as a live action movie with human actors. More like a virtual 3D universe populated by automatons rendered by a computer program.

The obscene amount of CGI-enhanced activity might’ve been tolerable if it served a coherent story. Unfortunately following the haphazard chronology is a task in itself. Good luck figuring out what time period we‘re in. The films was apparently edited in a blender. First we’re on Krypton, then we’re on an oil rig with an adult Clark Kent, now Clark is a kid in school overwhelmed by his powers, suddenly he‘s older rescuing his classmates from a bus. Now he’s Superman in the Arctic. Now back as a child again with his parents near a tornado. The script flash forwards, then back, then forward and back again, back and forth, back and forth over and over to the point of complete incoherence. The movie is an attention punishing 143 minutes and you feel every single one of them.

Part of the reason the story is so mind numbingly long is because the plot spends an inordinate amount of time delving into Kryptonian society, and explaining the sociopolitical and ecological situation before the planet’s destruction. Just what I want to see in a Superhero film. How about some scenes inside the Kryptonian Senate while they vote on various bills and legislation? Last time I checked this was called Man of Steel but it’s a full hour before he even dons the suit and near the very end before someone clearly calls him Superman. Even then it’s used as more of a throwaway joke.

There are moments where the script attempts to convey Superman’s inner conflict. The narrative tries to present Superman’s undying love for the people of his adoptive planet earth. But his devotion never makes sense. He experiences overwhelming rejection from the faceless masses his whole life. We’re given infrequent glimpses of his interactions with the human population. School bullies tease him as a child, a bar patron humiliates him (shades of Superman II), the military wants to give him up to uber villain General Zod. This is predicted in early scenes by his father (Kevin Costner) who warns him: “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.” We comprehend why Superman isn’t accepted, but not why he still cares for the citizens of this foreign world called Earth. The population disregards him so thoroughly. We have no reason to sympathize, to care, or even to watch.

The movie is the creation of sterile perfectionism. The actors are pretty, everyone hits their marks, says their lines and does exactly what is asked of them. It exhibits slick professionalism but not art. The picture has no essence. There is no warmth, no wit, no humor, no joy. The only thing more offensive than the vulgar reliance on special effects in this flick, are the product placement deals. Word has it that it earned $160 million even before it ever played in a single theater due to all the advertising negotiations made. It doesn’t come without a cost. Superman literally has a fight that starts at 7-Eleven, heads over to IHOP afterwards, then wraps at Sears. All the while the aforementioned businesses conspicuously pop up in scenes where the action is a muddy blur but their beaming signs are clear as day. There is no spark of life to be found in Man of Steel. It is a soulless product bought and paid for by the Hollywood machine.

Iron Man 3

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on May 3, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Iron Man 3 photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgAs a fan of writer/director Shane Black, I see Iron Man 3 more as the long awaited follow-up to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang than part two in the superhero franchise. Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy the Iron Man series just fine, but it’s the writer’s wit that captivates me more than awesome technology. In both respects, Iron Man 3 does not disappoint.

An enigmatic terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has taken control of the U.S. broadcasting signal. He has claimed responsibility for a string of bombings across the nation and ultimately threatens the safety of the President.  The threat becomes personal when Tony Stark’s security officer Happy Hogan is gravely injured in one of the attacks. As is usually the case in these Iron Man movies, multiple characters abound. Jessica Biel Rebecca Hall plays a botanist who manipulates DNA to reproduce the limbs of plants. Guy Pearce is also on hand as brilliant scientist Aldrich Killian, who continues to harbor a bitter resentment well after Tony had rebuffed him years before. He’s currently involved in scientific work isolating and empowering certain areas of the human brain. But the most welcome addition is a young Tennessee boy named Harley (Ty Simpkins) who is sort of an amusing foil for Robert Downey Jr. They’ve got great chemistry as a comedic team in the couple scenes that they have together.

I’ve never taken to superhero films that take themselves too seriously. I was one of the few that actually appreciated Iron Man 2 over the original. And this time around, I think I preferred this to part two. With Tony Stark as a lead portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., all of the Iron Man entries have been infused with a lighthearted touch. Its charm helps make this superhero picture a lively romp. Shane Black does a brilliant job at keeping the series light and fun while injecting enough of the requisite dramatic struggle that seems to afflict all superheroes. His major battle with The Mandarin is underscored by juggling relationship problems with girlfriend Pepper Potts and post-traumatic stress related to the events documented in The Avengers. While not particularly deep, the ideas help make the character a bit more complex than simply a generic champion for righteousness. If there is a failing, it’s that the action reverts to a conventional big loud explosion fest at the end. It’s still entertaining. I only wish the story had been as clever as the dialogue. That’s ultimately what makes this the funniest Iron Man yet.

Dredd

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on September 21, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Note: Dredd is offered in a 3D version as well. As I feel that format (1) actually makes things look worse and (2) solely exists to charge $4 more for the very same film, I watched this in the clearer, brighter, and less expensive 2D.

PhotobucketDredd is a character featured in British science-fiction oriented 2000 AD comics. He has made it to the big screen once before in a 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Based on that less than successful adaptation, my expectations weren’t particularly high for this. What a nice surprise that this is an entertaining improvement. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to win any storytelling awards. The whole thing plays out like an amalgamation of RoboCop Meets The Raid with a little Mad Max thrown in for good measure. But if you’re looking for a potent summer action flick (foolishly released in the fall) this should fit the bill.

In the future, the United States has become an ever expanding wasteland. People live in housing blocks that have become slums blighted by crime. The Judges are a new type of law enforcement that serve as judge, jury and executioner all in one. Judge Dredd is our hero and Judge Cassandra Anderson is his fledgling sidekick with psychic abilities. Hooligans driving recklessly down the street lead the pair to the Peach Trees housing block. The 200-story slum tower is run by a murderous drug lord called Ma-Ma. She is the sole supplier of Slo-Mo, an addictive new narcotic that hinders the user’s sense of time. Now Dredd and Anderson must infiltrate her drug den and take down Ma-Ma and her ruthless network of thugs within the building.

Dredd is an eye-popping combat film that is a violent pulp tale of mayhem. Actor Karl Urban strikes just the right balance as our lead. He’s all business as a no-nonsense superhero that gets the job done without ever cracking wise. He’s a poker-faced protector that never shows his face. Ok granted we do see his chin at least protruding from a helmet that covers his head. Actress Lena Headey as Ma-Ma is a bit harder to accept. She reads more like the grande dame on a prime time soap opera than the criminal kingpin she portrays here. Thankfully Olivia Thirlby gives us a reason to care in the engaging emotional arc her rookie Judge must undergo. The script conveniently involves a mind altering substance, called Slo-Mo, which gives the director free reign to slow down action sequences whenever the users are hyped up on the product. It effectively slows perception down and renders everything as if the air has been bedazzled with sparkles. Their production design of the future oddly gave me nostalgia for the late 80s sci-fi TV series Max Headroom. Some scenes almost looks as if they’ve been artificially colorized. The effects are kind of cheap, but if you’re a fan of shoot–’em–ups you’ll get your money’s worth. The violence supports an oppressively dreary tone. Its R rating is well deserved, but it’s highly stylized and artificial as befitting its comic book roots. Yes, we’ve seen this all before, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I guess.

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