26 August 2011

Andy's Friday Four: Super Summer

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, it’s Andy’s Friday Five, but blame the studios for not being courteous enough to not bestow us with a fifth superhero flick. So four it is. I was going to include James Gunn’s Super as part of the equation, but really, any argument to support its inclusion would just falter. It’s a mentally deranged man who ‘fights crime’ as inspired by superheroes; he’s not heroic or superpowered in any fashion. As such, here we are.

May gave us our first bite of the superhero helping: Marvel’s iteration of the Norse God of Thunder, Thor, hit multiplexes with very positive reviews. It was a sign in the right direction for Joe Johnston’s Captain America, which at this point still lacked an adequate theatrical trailer and was clouded a bit in the secrecy world. Millions were made, Marvel was happy, and a month later Marvel hit gold again with a prequel to the X-Men franchise. Not nearly as profitable as Thor, but every bit as clever and great, Marvel had another success. DC and Warner Bros., not so much. GREEN LANTERN is a brilliant property that ultimately is still struggling to recoup its sizable production cost because of piss poor decisions. 3D didn’t add a thing, and the starpower of Ryan Reynolds and the sexiness of a one Blake Lively didn’t seem to really matter. The last superhero film of the summer was another one of those, ‘will it be a success or a huge shit storm?’ Captain America isn’t necessarily a popular character, and the public’s feedback to the films heavy patriotism was still uncertain. To the surprise of many – myself included – CAPTAIN AMERICA became, and still is as of this writing, a financial and critical success. Fans and critics dug its ‘40s vibe and the presence of a pure, uncorrupted hero of the people.

1. X-Men: First Class
I would love to write something brilliant to sum up why X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is at the top of my list, and I will, but I fear it won't be nearly as successful as this. Over at FlixChatter, Ruth took it upon herself to write 40 reasons why she loves the film, and frankly, that's one hell of a spot on list. The moment when Erik experiences serenity for the first time in decades and is fully able to unleash his near unlimited power; Henry Jackman's brilliant score; the stellar interplay between Erik and Xavier. Matthew Vaughn shot some absolutely stunning scenes, made all the more exhilarating by great editing which makes the movie fly by. The script is brilliant. The whole affair is brilliant.

FIRST CLASS boasts remarkable rewatch value, that much is certain. Stripping away all other X films, and looking at FIRST CLASS as a sole, stand alone endeavor, from beginning to end, it's one perfect story. The main big flaw is that there's not enough time to really do the Erik/Xavier friendship true justice. But what we have here, boy is it stunning. The story. The actors. The music. The editing. The director. The costume design. The special effects. The makeup. I enjoyed FIRST CLASS the most, and I think technically, it triumphs over the others.

2. Thor
Take Spider-Man's mantra of "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility", and apply that to the God of Thunder with acting out issues. And a ticked off and tired elderly father who gets pushed too far and banishes this young God of Thunder to teach him a lesson. Family dynamics, betrayals, character building, sacrifices, friends and world destroying mechanisms - it's great to be the movie THOR.

There's a lot happening, both in story and on screen, and I love that. Kenneth Branagh shoots the hell out of this film, making it possibly the most visually stunning of these pre-AVENGERS productions. The script isn't nearly as complex as I would like it, but there's just enough complexity in the Asgard material to appease me. Everything with Loki, for example: tremendous. That said, not a huge fan of everything that happened on earth, but I can deal. I do wish Thor's transformation from arrogant prince boy to hardened, Man Who Would Be King was padded out better. As it stands, it feels like whatever change he underwent happened primarily so he can shag Natalie Portman. Change like that doesn't last for too long. Hehe, funny sentence.

Similar to FIRST CLASS, THOR excels in multiple departments, and is both technically amazing to look at and listen to, as well as one hell of an enjoyment fair that demands rewatches. Another Marvel success.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger
Well, they did it. They actually did it. The writers and director made an genuinely good, realistic-like CAPTAIN AMERICA movie. That's quite the accomplishment. They should be proud of that right there.

Chris Evans is splendid as Steve Rogers, and Hayley Atwell is not only hot as Peggy Carter, but is also a strong female role that I wish had a bit more to do. It's obvious Hugo Weaving had a bit of fun with his Red Skull performance, which I'm sure he didn't have to do too much work to make. When I walked out of the theater, I was pleased, and pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

The major flaw of Steve Rogers was still there, though: he doesn't have enough dimension. What you see is what you get. Perhaps it might be refreshing to given a character like that for once since the emergence of 'broody' superhero films, but I want some substance to my character. I thought there was great material with Rogers when he was a publicity puppet to boost morale for the troops, but sadly, I just couldn't connect with the character enough. Still, Evans: I love you, man.

CAPTAIN AMERICA is a nice throwback to the 1940s, complete with great set designs and costumes. The action is competently shot and edited together. I enjoyed the presence of a young and innovative Howard Stark. Also dug the callbacks to THOR mythology. But even though I genuinely do like the movie, a second viewing wasn't as favorable. Hopefully that was just a fluke, and when I see it again (hitting DVD in mid October) that same sense of fun from the first screening will be there. As it stands, CAPTAIN AMERICA is in the middle, for me. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it. There's lots of good, and there's lots of *shrug*.

My apologies to Joe Johnston and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely if I offended you. No matter what, you guys crafted a good, entertaining movie!

4. Green Lantern
What the hell? Did they really think this was good enough to invest $200 million + in?

No, guys. No.

It all starts with the script. And this is not a confidant script. If GREEN LANTERN was written back during the 2007 Writer's Strike, I very well could forgive it for the screenwriting imperfections and general laziness, but it wasn't. The writers were given time to develop it, and were given a sizable enough budget to let their imaginations take them anywhere. Instead, what they wrote was a halfhearted, dullish, faceplam-worthy script that doesn't remotely reach its full potential.

Something I love about superheroes is the complexity of them. Thor started off as an arrogant git who had to be exiled and stripped of everything that made him who he was so he could rebuild himself, his character, into a good person; Charles and Erik start off as close friends but their ideologies force them to separate, but Erik, under the monicker Magneto, never loses respect for him; and even Steve Rogers has a tiny bit of complexity, being the short, skinny boy without an ounce of strength selected to be the powerful symbol of America, and the weight that must hold. Enter the GREEN LANTERN universe, where an being - human or alien - is given power only limited by ones imagination, fueled by the Power of Will. Hal Jordan, the protagonist, is filled with fear, but instead of being paralyzed by it, he becomes reckless and rash. Yet he's what the ring thought to be a individual worthwhile of the Lantern's power. Hal's battle to overcome fear and fight the ultimate vessel of fear should be harrowing, complex, real, difficult, and amazing to see. Instead, it's handled with all the subtlety and attention of TWILIGHT.

I have a lot of negative things to say about GREEN LANTERN, even though my initial review - although expressing my disappoints - was generally favorable. With time, and two rewatches, I've grown to see a lot of unfortunate decisions that were made. And particularly I hate the FANTASTIC FOUR-esque vibe that permeates the production. It feels like a big budgeted Saturday morning cartoon, and if that's what you wanted out of GREEN LANTERN, then I guess you were happily rewarded. No, I didn't want another DARK KNIGHT from this franchise, but what I wanted was a nice character piece that knew the appropriate times to use comedy in the film and when to leave it behind. There are a few successes and good ideas in GREEN LANTERN, but they're just not enough.


The two biggest successes of 2011 were two films I didn't have much faith in. Imagine that. Next year, Joss Whedon will most likely wow and amaze us with THE AVENGERS and Marc Webb better make a worthwhile AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to warrant the "starting over" (as was coined in the latest EMPIRE magazine). If there's other superhero movies coming out next year, hell if I remember right now. So, my list and comments, agree or vehemently disagree?


Alan said...

I'm with you pretty much entirely. Really bummed about what happened with GL, because he has always been my favorite worthless superhero. What do you say about a guy whose greatest weakness is the color yellow?

Anonymous said...

Glad you loved X-Men. I actually gave it 10/10 which is a bit exaggurated, but I truly believe it was the perfect summer movie, the best blockbuster of the year and one of my favourites so far.