Category: Comic Book and Superhero Movies


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Adapting Superman to any medium, even his birthplace of comic books, is no easy feat. Superhero stories are fueled by epic conflict, but when you are nearly a god (though not to a Dr. Manhattan-level of omniscience/omnipotence), it’s hard to design scenarios where the odds aren’t seemingly stacked overwhelmingly in Kal-El’s favor. And, in the process, most film adaptations of the Superman mythos ignore the godlike aspect of the last son of Krypton. Director Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch) understands how crucial Superman’s world-shattering strength is to his character, and in the process makes the first Superman film that really grasps how powerful this man is. However, the film also constantly left me hungry for the vulnerable human element that I loved so much in Superman Returns.

Because, to Man of Steel‘s credit, there hasn’t been a Superman film yet that truly delivers the sort of world-rending sci-fi action on display in practically every action sequence of Man of Steel. Alongside The Avengers and Avatar, this movie may very well have some of the best fight scenes in recent memory. Man of Steel seemingly draws as much inspiration for its action choreography from Japanese anime as it does traditional Western comic book influences, and the high-flying Dragonball Z-esque theatrics were a delight. And, in true Zack Snyder fashion, the action of the film almost never lets up from beginning to end, which is ultimately a shame because I wanted more of an emotional connection with the characters on screen which it rarely delivered.

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After rampant destruction of its natural resources leads to the imminent destruction of Krypton, Jor-El (Les Miserables‘ Russell Crowe) is forced to send his only son, Kal-El (Henry Cavill), to Earth as the last chance for the Kryptonian race. And, so baby Kal-El lands on Earth where he’s discovered in a Kansas corn field by Jonathan Kent (The Untouchables‘ Kevin Costner) and the radiation from Earth’s yellow sun endows him with superhuman strength including super-hearing, x-ray vision, heat vision, and flight. His powers even gain him the attention of intrepid report, Lois Lane (The Fighter‘s Amy Adams). But when the genocidal Kryptonian General Zod (Revolutionary Road‘s Michael Shannon) arrives on Earth looking to make a new Krypton on Earth’s ashes, Kal-El, known now as Clark Kent, must answer the call to being a hero and become the Superman that Earth needs.

Though that plot seems simple enough (in many ways, Man of Steel is a conventional origin story in the very modern vogue style), the movie is fast-paced and entertaining enough to never feel like it’s dragging over its two hour running time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the film rarely gives you time to breathe, and it’s all action, all the time focus ultimately becomes a tunnel vision obstructing us from getting a clearer view of why Clark would want to remain loyal to a humanity that was not always so kind and loving to him. Zack Snyder has a reputation as being all style and no substance, and sadly, it’s on full display in Man of Steel.

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Henry Cavill (and it’s difficult to sell just how important this is) looks like Superman should look like. He has that all American charm, good looks, and appeal, and I can’t imagine anyone having any complaints about his casting. His performance was nothing special, but it didn’t require him to do anything special either. Michael Shannon gave one of the better supporting performances for this blog in recent memory in Revolutionary Road and while clearly General Zod isn’t that kind of character, he made him appropriately larger than life. My only complaint in the casting of the film was Amy Adams who was as miscast as Lois Lane as Kate Bosworth was in Superman Returns.

I’m going to keep this review short because this is the first movie review I’ve written in like nearly two weeks now. I’ve been at Bonnaroo and writing articles preparing for Bonnaroo and writing articles for when I came back from Bonnaroo and working at the bar. This is my first day off in forever where I don’t have to go anywhere and I can just stay at home and enjoy myself. And that’s what I plan on doing. Probably going to play either The Last of Us or Bioshock Infinite. If you’re in the mood for a bombastic, science fiction action spectacular, Man of Steel delivers and then some with some of the craziest action scenes I’ve ever seen. If you’re wanting any depth with your superhero tale, you’ll be disappointed.

Final Score: B

 

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(A quick aside before I begin my review proper. Long time readers may remember that I used to be a bartender a year and a half ago before I went on my sojourn to New York City to be a music critic. For whatever reason, I didn’t decide to do that again when I came back from NYC, but I’m back at it again. And if I do alright enough on tips this summer, I will probably make it a habit of going to be the big summer blockbusters that I’m interested in while they’re still in theaters. If I don’t get good tips, that won’t happen, but hopefully that’s not the case)

In superhero movies fandom, there is no more nerve-wracking moment than when new blood is infused into your favorite superhero franchise. This anxiety can be traced back to Joel Schumacher’s stewardship of the Batman franchise who utterly obliterated all of the good work Tim Burton had done to transition comic book films to the big screen or when Brett Ratner unleashed the horrific X-Men 3: The Last Stand after Bryan Singer’s excellent first two entries in the series. But, sometimes, new blood can bring a series back to life, and after the emotionally stunted and dull Iron Man 2, Shane Black brought his wit and smarts to the series to make Iron Man 3 everything you could want from a summer blockbuster.

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Shane Black is famous as being one of the most highly-paid screenwriters in Hollywood history, particularly when he set the record for highest payday for a spec script ever for The Long Kiss Goodnight. However, to most Americans, he most famous for penning the first Lethal Weapon movie (the best one) as well as The Last Boy Scout and for writing and directing Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (his best film). And in so many different ways that it begins to border on insanity, Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black film through and through. Witty dialogue, a crackling sense of humor, a “buddy cop” dynamic, Christmas, and a love of bad guys carrying sub-machine guns, Iron Man 3 has all of the Shane Black staples and I loved the film for it.

After the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He can’t sleep, he has panic attacks, and he spends all of his spare time tinkering in his lab to the point that he’s made at least 42 versions of his Iron Man suit. And the stress and anxiety is tearing his relationship with Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow) apart. To make matters worse, a psychotic terrorist of unknown origins known only as the Mandarin (Hugo‘s Ben Kingsley) is causing destruction around the world. As Tony’s emotional state is disintegrating around him, a disgruntled biotech scientist (Guy Pearce) teams up with the Mandarin and brings the destruction literally to Tony’s doorstep.

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Iron Man 3 is nearly a point-by-point response to everything I hated in Iron Man 2. Whereas the latter was emotionally uncommitted, Iron Man 3 explores the frailer and more vulnerable side of Tony’s life and the price of his arrogance and general bastardry earlier in life. Whereas the latter’s action felt stale and unoriginal, Iron Man 3‘s set pieces are overflowing with excitement, originality, and a genuine sense of “stakes” towards the outcome. And where the first sequel felt dull and lifeless from beginning to end, Iron Man 3 is unequivocally hilarious from beginning to end, and it was rare when a scene in the film didn’t have my sister and I rolling in our seats with laughter from some great Tony Stark quip (or from a certain precocious kid but no spoilers from me).

Robert Downey Jr. gives one of his best performances since Zodiac as Tony Stark in this entry in the series. Perhaps because Shane Black helped coax Downey Jr. back into respectability with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but Shane Black helps Robert Downey Jr. tone down the mugging and incessant smirking that made Tony seem too one note in Iron Man 2, and we see this as a man who has confronted gods, aliens, and powers beyond his ken and the full front of his tiny place in the universe is bearing down on him, and through Downey’s performance, we see the full weight of this pressure. He still brings the laugh, but he also taps into something much deeper as well.

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Some have complained that while virtually everything else was great about Iron Man 3 (the action set pieces, the characterization, the dialogue, the performances), the actual story itself was kind of dumb. That may be true, but only in so far as Iron Man 3‘s ambitions are far different than say Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. With the exception of a general lambast of greed and hubris, Iron Man 3 has no political overtones (unlike the libertarian bent of Iron Man 2). In the best Shane Black tradition, it is simply an exercise in smart popcorn cinematic storytelling, and there wasn’t a minute of this film where I didn’t enjoy the action unfolding on screen.

If we can have a post-Nolan superhero world where people like Joss Whedon and (now) Shane Black can tap into some of the most treasured figures in American mythology (for what are superheroes except the ultimate American mythology) without finding themselves mired in overt political subtext and remember that superheroes can just be “fun” if they want to, then count me in. Because unless you’re Alan Moore, odds are that making your superheroes too serious will ruin what made us love them in the first place. Iron Man 3 may not have something grand to say, but you’ll have a hell of a time watching it unfold regardless.

Final Score: A-

 

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2008’s Iron Man breathed new life into the cinematic Marvel universe after catastrophe after catastrophe including Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine threatened to derail all of the good will Marvel superheroes had earned from movie goers in the late 90s and early 2000s. With a fresh script, Jon Favreau’s “one of us” direction, and Robert Downey Jr.’s career-resuscitating performance, Iron Man was a hit with critics and audiences alike, and is still one of the standard bearers of great superhero storytelling alongside The Dark Knight and The Avengers. I’ve avoided watching the sequel, Iron Man 2, for nearly three years now because all of the critics said it couldn’t hold a candle to the original film. And, sadly, they are right. Not only does Iron Man 2 completely lack the character-driven sparks of its forebear, it lacks most of the smart, fun spectacle that made the first such a massive hit to begin with.

Even when films are full of mindless explosions and endless action-sequences (ala any Michael Bay film), one can at least appreciate the spectacle of big-budget bombast. The Transformer films may be intellectual hogwash, but they are rarely boring (except for the over-long second film). So, it’s astounding that Iron Man 2 is both often mind-numbingly boring and totally devoid of compelling character development or witty dialogue. That it manages to not be as stupefyingly bad as Thor is only because of the natural and omnipresent charm of Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle as well as an absolutely scene-stealing turn from Moon‘s Sam Rockwell. Summer superhero blockbusters are supposed to be fun. More than any other trait that is what needs to matter (except for, maybe, Watchmen), and at the end of the day, Iron Man 2 was as far from fun as humanly possible.

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After defeating his father’s old partner at the end of the first film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has helped create an unheralded period of peace on Earth thanks to his powerful Iron Man suit. Although Tony lives the life of a rock star, it’s not all fun and games because the palladium used in the arc reactor keeping Tony alive (and that also powers his suit) is also slowly poisoning Tony’s bloodstream. To make matters worse, the United States government (in a situation that I can only say has to be a reference to Atlas Shrugged hero Hank Rearden) is calling on Tony to hand over the Iron Man tech to the military which Tony does not want to do. This also puts Tony at odds with his best friend, Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle), a military pilot who may be forced to act against his own best friend at his country’s orders.

The situation is compounded even further by the presence of an ambitious and greedy rival weapons manufacturer, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who will stop at nothing to develop his own version of Tony’s weaponry in order to secure lucrative development contracts with the government. And Tony’s life keeps getting worse when a revenge seeking Russian nuclear physicist, Ivan Vanko (Diner‘s Mickey Rourke), makes a suit of his own and terrorizes a Monaco speedrace under the moniker, Whiplash (they never actually say it in the film, but that’s who he is in the comics). As tensions grow high between Tony, Vanko, Hammer, Rhodes, and the U.S. government, Tony must choose where his loyalties lie, and he must find a cure to his Palladium poisoning before time runs out and before his increasingly reckless decision making runs his company into the ground.

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There really isn’t much to say about Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in this film. It’s par for the course from what we now expect from his portrayal of Tony Stark. No new ground was broken. And, hell, just like the rest of the film, there were times where even Downey’s performance felt phoned in. Perhaps he was just playing to how thin the script is. Don Cheadle proved an adequate replacement for Terrence Howard (who left the franchise after money disputes) although Rhodie himself didn’t have much to do in the film. The only real acting suprise/delight of the movie was Sam Rockwell’s deliciously pompous turn as the sneering and scheming Justin Hammer. It wasn’t a meaty part, but Rockwell ran with what he was given, and for the vast majority of the film, it seemed like he was the only one having any fun with his part.

And, in addition to the general predictable nature of the performances and characterizations (at least in The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale tapped into new layers of the Bruce Wayne character), the superhero spectacle of the film was virtually non-existent. During the film’s two-hour run time, which was mostly padding, there were exactly two moments where I felt the action was fun, witty, or new. The first is a fight where (SPOILERS I guess) Rhodes commandeers one of Tony’s power suits and becomes War Machine for the first time and Tony and Rhodes duke it out. It was fun and funny, and the fight furthered the story’s examination of the breakdown of their friendship. The other moment may not have had as much symbolic story impact, but a sequence where Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow infiltrates Hammer’s facility is pure, ass-kicking fun, and we don’t see enough bad-ass women in the movies these days (or ever).

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All in all, Iron Man 2 has to be one of my biggest superhero disappointments since the emo shenanigans of SpiderMan 3 (seriously, how freaking bad is that movie). Iron Man was one of the movies that helped make it okay to be a nerd at the box office again, and The Avengers would have never happened had it not been such a massive success. Thankfully, the reviews for Iron Man 3 have been much more positive than they were for this entry, and its release a couple of weeks ago was the only reason I even caved and watched Iron Man 2 in the first place. If you’re a fan of the Tony Stark character, I suppose it’s necessary to see for it’s place within the Marvel film canon, but if you’re a more casual superhero movie lover, go ahead and avoid this clunker. You aren’t missing anything.

Final Score: C

 

This review is dedicated to the memory of everyone who lost their life in the senseless violence in Aurora, CO.

It’s been eleven years since the 9/11 tragedy left its immeasurable imprint in the American psyche. With a seismic shift in American foreign policy and the lengths that Americans were willing to go to guarantee their own safety (even if it meant sacrificing their own liberty), the terrorists changed the American way of life whether we’d like to admit it or not. With the PATRIOT Act, unmanned drones, and a government with the power to assassinate its own citizens (if and when they’re considered foreign enemy combatants), the America of today is radically different than the America pre-that fateful Monday morning. It isn’t just our political culture that reflects the post 9/11 world. It is our arts and popular media. Would Jack Bauer have been so beloved in a world where his questionable tactics weren’t deemed (by some) a rough necessity? More than any other superhero, Christopher Nolan’s Batman has become the the superhero of the post 9/11-world, but the very British (and cynical) Mr. Nolan (Inception) turns the concept of the American hero completely on its head.

Starting with Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as well as his iconic The Dark Knight Returns (which TDKR‘s title is a more than apt homage/subversion), Batman has seen a slow, steady disintegration from the stalwart hero of the Silver Age to a more morally and psychologically complex anti-hero. Some writers even went so far as to paint Bruce as an aristocratic vigilante whose crime fighting masked serious mental illness (or at least highly repressed neuroses). What else is Watchmen‘s Nite Owl but a sexually repressed playboy/Batman stand-in who decides to fight crime because he’s bored? When Christopher Nola resuscitated the Batman franchise in 2005 (eight years after Joel Schumacher nearly destroyed it), he took the darker Batman mythos as a jumping off point for an examination of one man who represented both the best and worst in the American character.

The Dark Knight hinged thematically (the Joker without question drove the plot) entirely on this debate as framed between Harvey Dent and Batman. Dent was the idealistic crusader. He would stop at nothing to battle crime even if it meant crossing moral lines to get there. Bruce hadn’t become quite so cynical yet. The tipping point (which began Nolan’s almost too subtle commentary) was the arrival of the Joker who pushed Dent to his limits. He broke the man Gotham had invested considerable authority in and turned him into a force of nihilistic destruction. And although the Batman was able to stop Joker’s reign of terror, the Joker won. He made Bruce compromise. Batman took the blame for Dent’s death (and kept his transformation into Two-Face a secret) and went into hiding. Bruce even turned into a recluse because without Rachel Dawes and without Batman, he had nothing. Gotham chose to invest all of its power (as we find out in TDKR) into stopping criminals and honoring the legacy of Dent. It turns out the Joker knew what he was doing after all.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the death of Harvey Dent. Although the streets of Gotham are safe, organized crime has simply moved from the mob to the boardroom. In one of the film’s best scenes, a young and highly capable cat-burglar, Selina Kyle (Brokeback Mounain‘s Anne Hathaway), breaks into Wayne Manor to steal finger prints from Bruce Wayne (as well as a pearl necklace that caught her fancy). After she’s betrayed by those that she was working for in the first place, we quickly learn that one of the largest shareholders in Wayne Enterprises is one of Gotham’s most merciless killers. It is, in fact, this same man who has hired the film’s Big Bad in the first place to wreak havoc on the streets of Gotham in an attempt to wrest control of Wayne Enterprise from Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately for Mr. Daggett, Bane is not an animal that can be controlled.

Bane (Inception‘s Tom Hardy) is a hulking brute with no code other than to watch the world burn. His malicious and unyielding penchant for evil even managed to get him excommunicated from the same League of Shadows that wanted to destroy Gotham in Batman Begins. In the film’s opening set piece (which isn’t fully understood until much later in the film), Bane intentionally hands himself over to the CIA in order to capture a Russian nuclear scientist in a mid-air hijacking where one of his men gladly volunteers to die in the wreckage so there’s proof who committed the crime. After a daring robbery of the Gotham Stock Exchange which effectively brings Batman out of retirement, the fight between Batman and Bane can barely be categorized as such. In their first physical confrontation, Bane doesn’t just beat Batman. He destroys him, breaking his back and tossing Bruce in an inescapable eastern European pit to force Bruce to watch the destruction of Gotham.

Which leads to the heart of the film. Before Bruce went into seclusion, he had been working on a nuclear fusion energy source that could completely power Gotham forever. He was doing this with the financing of wealthy philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). However, after studies showed how the device could be weaponized, Bruce and Lucian Fox hid the reactor away beneath the city. After Bane breaks Bruce, he commandeers the reactor and turns its core into a slowly ticking time bomb. After blowing the bridges out of the city (and trapping most of the police in the sewers), Bane takes control of Gotham, and it’s up to Commisioner Gordan (Nil By Mouth‘s Gary Oldman) and the few remaining cops, including idealistic and driven young cop John Blake (Brick‘s Joseph Gordon-Levitt), to lead the resistance as the city prays for the return of the Batman.

It’s difficult to discuss the thematic turning point in the film where it suddenly became more clear that Nolan was trying to recreate the superhero story as a post 9/11 allegory (which led to the retroactive recognition of all of the other themes I’ve already pointed out) without spoiling the end of the film. Here goes. It finally struck me that Batman was meant to stand for the unchecked power and vigilantism of the post 9/11 America when he (probably not a huge spoiler) finally returns to Gotham after escaping the pit. Bruce failed to stop Bane because Bane represented a force that the Batman couldn’t defeat on his own. His complete lack of faith in the decency of others and his refusal to ask for the help of anyone else (including isolating his closest friend, Alfred) meant he was doomed to failure. As soon as he returns to Gotham, he immediately enlists the help of everyone he can which shows Batman’s transformation into a leader who isn’t too proud to admit when he needs help.

All of the franchise’s villains represent some breed of modern terrorist (which should have been painfully obvious) though the series subverts traditional conservative propaganda by showing what true (near) nihilism looks like as opposed to religious/state-sponsored terrorism. R’as Al Ghul was a cynic who thought the only way to fix the world was to destroy it. The Joker committed violence for violence’s sake. He was more interested in making everyone recognize what he saw as the futility of existence and the absurdity of morality. Bane saw himself as the successor to R’as Al Ghul’s legacy but instead wanted a vicious anarchism through a destructive cleansing. While the franchise has created a world of good vs. evil, it’s also a world of flawed heroes versus grand existential philosophies on the meaninglessness of modern life.

As fascinating as the film is at a thematic level, it’s also still a superhero movie, and, thankfully, it also succeeds in that era (though it’s length becomes a bit of a problem). The film is overflowing with masterfully staged action set pieces. Whether it’s Batman leading the entire GCPD on a manhunt when he first returns (before his good name is cleared), Batman and Selina Kyle fighting off Bane’s men or a shoot-out between the GCPD and the forces of Daggett and Bane, the film has enough action to counterbalance it’s overt social themes even before the marked shift in pace in the film’s final half. The film’s last half sees The Dark Knight Rises transform as much into a war film as it is a superhero movie. Gotham has been occupied, and Batman and all of the decent forces left in Gotham have to take up arms in a gorgeously constructed and choreographed fight to the death.

Nolan’s dedication to character-driven storytelling is just as great in this film as it has been in the past. With TDKR as his last chance to speak on these characters, it is great to report that he brings all of the remaining characters full circle in their respective arcs. Without wanting to spoil the film, it’s safe to say that Bruce’s arc is immensely satisfying and brought to an acceptable close. No matter where the Batman franchise goes from here, Christopher Nolan will always have left his mark on the Batman mythos. The most surprising aspect of the film was Nolan’s totally original creation, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake. An orphan like Bruce, Blake was an instantly endearing and charming creation that showed the human decency that Bruce Wayne thought was mostly extinct in Gotham. In a film with so many established characters, it was wonderful that a new character made the deepest emotional impact.

Not everything about the film is a winner though. As effective a villain as Bane is (he accomplishes far more damage than the other two Big Bads combined), he is pretty dull. Ignoring the fact that his breathing apparatus makes it impossible to understand half of what he says, he simply lacks the presence of the Joker or even Ra’s Al Ghul. It’s probably unfair to compare him to Heath Ledger’s Joker which will likely go down as the all-time greatest superhero villain in cinema. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that with such a grand and epic film, Christopher Nolan could have done better than a hulking brute with no real personality other than a terrifying evil. He nearly reminds one of Marlo Stanfield, the cold and calculating killer from The Wire who could never live up to the high bar set by Stringer Bell. Except Nolan’s rendition of Bane makes Marlo Stanfield look like a nuanced creation from a Jonathan Franzen novel.

Similarly, despite her major role in the film’s final act, I still firmly believe that The Dark Knight Rises could have done without Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate. It’s not that Cotillard isn’t a wonderful actress. She’s phenomenal (and incredibly gorgeous), but Miranda was just another female placeholder until the film’s end. Her romance with Bruce in the film’s first act made about zero sense even if you take into account that he had been mourning the loss of Rachel Dawes for eight years. Where The Amazing Spider-Man deftly explored romance with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (which was ultimately more interesting than the film’s actual heroics), The Dark Knight Rises shows the same romantic understanding and life as George Lucas in Revenge of the Sith (which is to say not at all). I will for the life of me never understand why writer’s try to shoehorn romances into stories when they have no idea how to write a good love story.

In surprisingly American fashion, the Brit Nolan also tries to have it both way when he both lampoons and defends the modern economic strife in America. I have heard people refer to Bane as an allegory for the “militarm of the Occupy movement” and have also heard people read into the greed and corruption that would foster that sort of resentment in the first place. Nolan doesn’t handle economic malaise with the same sure-eyed clarity that he uses to take aim at terrorism, national security, and unchecked power (benevolent or not). Also, the simple fact that he tries to please both sides of his audience rather than coming out and just saying what he believes is a bit of Hollywood commercialism that he is usually better than.

Despite the film’s flaws, Nolan’s film is so ambitious that only the most hardened cynic would focus so hard on them as to not see the forest for the trees. Yes, the film is too long. Yes, Bane is a mush-mouth of the highest order  and simply lacks an imposing emotional presence. But, with the entire Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has reshaped the possibilities of the mainstream superhero movie. He aims a little higher. He believed that you could entertain and educate. He took the risk that you could transform the modern American myth, the superhero, into a reflection of the society that spawned the myth in the first place. The Dark Knight Rises may not be perfect, but as a summer American blockbuster, you couldn’t possibly ask for much more.

Final Score: A-

2009’s (500) Days of Summer remains one of my favorite indie romances of the aughts. I’ve always thought of it as the modern update to Annie Hall (although obviously not quite as good). I watch it at least once a year. I actually watched it with my ex-girlfriend (well, she wasn’t my real girlfriend cause we were never official) and it proved to be an eerie presage to the fate of our relationship (i.e. I was far more involved with it than she was and she never really wanted to date but I did and shortly after we broke up she finally found a boyfriend). I bring up (500) Days of Summer because before this year, it was the sole feature film of director Marc Webb (besides a documentary about My Chemical Romance). He seems like an odd choice to helm the reboot of one of the most successful film franchises of all time, the Spider-Man series. He has one other movie under his belt, and it was an indie romance. Whoever made the gamble on his vision over at Columbia Pictures deserves a promotion then because Marc Webb defied my expectations over what I thought was an unnecessary film. Considering that the original Spider-Man movie is only ten years old, re-telling Peter Parker’s origin story doesn’t really seem all that necessary. However, Marc Webb did such a deft job of re-introducing us to the character (and adding his and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves’ own spin on the story which hews closer to the comics origin because of the Lizard and Gwen Stacy). For all superhero fans, The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the must see films of the summer.

Peter Parker’s origins are obviously well known at this point, but like I said, The Amazing Spider-Man takes a different (read: better) tack on it than the original Spider-Man. Peter Parker (The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield) is a young, dorky high school student that loves to take pictures and like his (disappeared) parents, he’s a natural science whiz. Ever since his geneticist father and mother disappeared when he was a kid, Peter has lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and his Aunt Mae (Sally Field). He’s got a crush on the feisty and gorgeous Gwen Stacy (The Help‘s Emma Stone) who has a job as an intern at the pharmaceutical conglomerate Oscorp where she works for the disfigured (i.e. he’s missing an arm) scientist Curt Connors (Notting Hill‘s Rhys Ifans). One day, Peter visits the Oscorp labs to meet Curt Connors, who knew Peter’s father, when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider that was a part of an experiment Peter’s father was doing on cross-species genetics. The bite radically alters Peter Parker’s DNA and gives him the abilities of a spider including super strength, adhesive hands and feet, and super reflexes (however, true to the comics, he has to make his web himself). After Uncle Ben is murdered because Peter didn’t use his powers to stop a convenience store robbery, Peter vows to use his newfound powers for good and becomes the Spider-Man, fighting crime across New York City (even if it means garnering the ire of his new girlfriend Gwen’s father, a police captain [Dennis Leary]). He has to fight more than just common street thugs though when Curt Connors injects himself with a formula he thinks will help him regenerate his arm but instead transforms him into the murderous Lizard.

After my nearly 2000 word rant about Magic Mike, I’ll try to keep this review brief. Andrew Garfield is a star. I thought he gave a wonderful performance in The Social Network (I was honestly just as impressed with him as I was Jesse Eisenberg), and he keeps up that momentum in The Amazing Spider-Man. What’s always made Spidey such a compelling super hero is that Peter Parker is as important (if not more important) to the storytelling as his masked alter-ego. It’s all about growing-up and using what gifts you were given even if the costs are high. I loved Tobey Maguire as Spidey last time around but he never really nailed the sarcasm and sense of humor that is key to the Spidey persona. Not only does Andrew Garfield nab all of the pubescent angst and growing up themes (even if he’s 28 in real life and looks in no way shape or form like a high school student), he’s able to bring a cockiness and wit to the part that Tobey couldn’t. Give it a year or so, and Andrew Garfield will be one of the biggest young stars in the biz. Emma Stone is good as well even if she isn’t really stretching herself as the thinking man’s love interest that she’s played for half a decade now. It was weird seeing Rhys Ifans (who bears a freakish resemblance to Buffy‘s Anthony Stewart Head these days) in an action film since I will eternally think of him as the weird roommate in Notting Hill. Special props must also be given to Martin Sheen who lent more weight to the pivotal role of Uncle Ben than was given in the other films.

The script takes its time spelling out Spider-Man’s origin story and I applaud the decision to do so. It allows the characters to breathe, and The Amazing Spider-Man is as much a romantic comedy as it is a special-effects ridden action movie. We actually find ourselves invested in the romance of Gwen and Peter (as opposed to how little I cared about Peter’s yearnings for Mary Jane [though I can at least blame part of that on Kirsten Dunst’s horrid acting] in the original trilogy), and it was one of the most enjoyable love stories of the last year. Garfield and Stone had fantastic on-screen chemistry. Similarly, Uncle Ben had a very prominent place in the film which meant his death actually registered an emotional impact and there’s a scene towards the end of the film where Peter listens to the last voice mail that Uncle Ben ever gave him (which he had initially ignored) that nearly made me cry. However, the script does have one major misstep. The Lizard is an awful villain. Whereas the first two-thirds of the film are genuinely compelling material as we get a darker look at Peter’s origins (as well as his motivations to be a hero and some interesting questions about whether his vigilantism is even “right”), the film’s final act falls apart because The Lizard is just not interesting. It’s not Rhys Ifans’ fault and he’s good as the scenes where he’s Curt Connor. However, unlike Doc Ock (Spider-Man 2 is still my favorite entry in the franchise and one of my favorite superhero films ever), the characters motivations and goals just aren’t compelling.

I’m going to draw this to a close because 3000 words in one day is enough (and now I can finally watch the movies I have at home from Netflix since I’m caught up with what I lost out on due to the power outage) especially considering I still have to do my Song of the Day post and I’ve been replaying Chrono Trigger. Some final thoughts. Much like (500) Days of Summer, this film has an awesome soundtrack and I kind of want to buy it. Andrew Garfield would make an excellent Yorick if they ever decide to adapt Y: The Last Man into a TV series or into a movie series (they can’t just do one movie. I’d kill somebody). There’s no way that Gwen Stacy survives the next movie (especially if Norman Osborn finally shows up as the bad guy). Also, now I don’t have to go see another movie in the theaters until the 20th when The Dark Knight Rises finally comes out. Even more than The Avengers, that’s the movie of the summer of 2012 that I want to see, and I’m really ready to see how Christopher Nolan brings his Dark Knight trilogy to a close.

Final Score: B+

I’ve reviewed seasons 4-7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as well as the entirety of the canonical season 8 in graphic novel form). I’ve pontificated on the brilliance of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I’m currently in the process of reviewing Angel. Give it time and I will review Firefly and Dollhouse. I’m a Joss Whedon believer. I’m also a huge comic book fan. I’ve reviewed some graphic novels here and there (though lately I’ve been on a manga kick), and obviously, I’ve taken on a super hero movie or two. So, when I found out that Joss Whedon (who I put in the same league as TV luminaries like Steven Moffat, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse) was going to be helming the long-rumored and long-labored live-action adaptation of The Avengers, I was obviously excited. Over 7 seasons of Buffy, 5 seasons of Angel, and shorter (but not less brilliant) tenures with other programs, Joss Whedon earned his crown as the king of American “popcorn science fiction/fantasy” storytelling (Lindelof and Cuse are ultimately a little more serious and cerebral though Whedon’s best moments match theirs). Much like Steven Moffat has redefined what was possible with the decades long story of Doctor Who under his tenure as the showrunner, Joss Whedon set virtually all of the precedents for modern, serialized sci-fi storytelling with Buffy and Angel. If anyone was going to be able to make The Avengers work, it was him (or Christopher Nolan though his version would have been intensely dark). So, after three weeks of waiting to see the film so that I could see it with my dad and sister after returning to WV from NYC, I’ve finally seen The Avengers. It matched my expectations and more to make one of the best superhero films yet.

While the story is admittedly threadbare and mostly serves as an excuse for Joss Whedon to explore the power dynamics among this group of extraordinary (and broken) heroes as well as set up one explosive set piece after another (which makes my mouth salivate over what he could have accomplished with his TV shows had he had network support), it more than accomplishes what it needs in order to propel this thrilling film from its beginning to its impossible to overstate as epic end. Covert government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is studying an extradimensional object known as the Tesseract (am I the only one who immediately thought of A Wrinkle in Time?) which could be the key to sustainable, unlimited clean energy when their secret government facility is attacked by Loki (War Horse‘s Tom Hiddleston), the brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is on an attempt to subjugate the Earth with the help of an alien species called the Chitauri. After Loki steals the Tesseract (and corrupts Hawkeye (The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner) and others into his brainwashed slaves), S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Pulp Fiction‘s Samuel L. Jackson) is forced to call together Earth’s mightiest heroes to defend the planet from an imminent and apocalyptic invasion. But when your group includes the billionaire playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man (Two Girls and a Guy‘s Robert Downey Jr.), super soldier Steve Rogers/Captain American (Chris Evans) who’s spent the last 70 years frozen in ice, former Russian spy Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Lost in Translation’s Scarlet Johansson), tempermental god Thor, and reclusive scientist/unstoppable force of destruction Bruce Banner/The Hulk (The Kids Are All Right‘s Mark Ruffalo), it’s a given that just getting these guys to work together is going to be as monumental a task as defeating the supernatural forces ready to destroy Earth.

The pedigree of the actors in this film should speak volumes about how well-acted it is (along with Joss Whedon’s natural ability to really bring out the chemistry in his stars). There are four Academy Award nominees in the cast (Robert Downey Jr. for Chaplin and Tropic Thunder, Sam Jackson for Pulp Fiction, Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right, and Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker), one Academy Award winner (Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love), two BAFTA winners (Scarlet Johansson for Lost in Translation and Sam Jackson), and they’ve all got a plethora of other industry awards under their belts. You’d think with this much talent in one film that there wouldn’t be enough for every one to do, but you’d be wrong. While there are a ton of huge action sequences in this film, the reason why The Avengers has become such a critical success (and at least partially why it’s been such a commercial success) is that Whedon figured out the best way to bring out through the script and the actors both the highs and lows of these characters and how to best make them clash and bounce off each other. Fans of the comics know that Iron Man and Captain America aren’t crazy about one another and putting Robert Downey Jr.’s glib anti-hero alongside the almost Superman-esque innocence and idealism of Cap makes for some of the film’s best moments. Similarly, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner (which was my second favorite casting decision of the film) shows a man who always seems like he’s on the verge of finally losing it and Ruffalo captures both the intensity and anger of Bruce Banner along side his intelligence. I could go on all day about the scenes where Robert Downey Jr. trying to get under specific characters skins were brilliant, but there was a wonderful chemistry between the two brains of the group with him and Mark Ruffalo to off-set the heavy-handed violence the film wasn’t afraid to employ. However, the best part of the cast was easily Tom Hiddleston. He was the only redeeming aspect of Thor, and once again, he stole the whole damn show again. I still think his costume is just about the dumbest looking costume in the history of superhero movies, but Tom Hiddleston was just deliciously evil.

From a script perspective, the movie was pure Joss Whedon and contained all of the touchstones of his television programs. A minor but well-beloved character dies in a brutal and unexpected way. Dark comedy is intermixed in even the most dramatic moments. Seriously, this film could be laugh out loud funny at times (mostly involving Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth). There’s a never-ending stream of pop-culture references. You’ve got a female character who kicks nearly as much ass as the men (especially considering that she doesn’t have any superpowers whatsoever or even a gimmick like Hawkeye’s archery). You’ve got a massive ensemble piece that explores the power dynamics between wildly different and almost inherently incompatible people. You have a story about what it means to be a hero and the meaning of sacrifice and service. The film may not be especially complicated from a plot perspective (it basically chugs around to exactly where you think it’s going to go), but thematically, Whedon hit a home run. Super hero movies whose names aren’t Watchmen (or the Christopher Nolan Batman films) are supposed to be fun, escapist fantasy, and Whedon delivers everything you’d expect from a stunning summer blockbuster, but he also fills the film with more brains, humor, and heart than any superhero film in years .

Still, all of my plaudits about Whedon’s script and his sense of humor and his encyclopedic knowledge of American pop culture would be for naught if Whedon didn’t deliver the spectacle that you’ve come to expect from your superhero movies, and to say that The Avengers is probably the most epic superhero film of all time would be the understatement of the century. There are action sequences in this film that rival some of the greatest movie battle scenes of all time. Whether we’re talking the final fight in Avatar or the Battle for Zion in Matrix Revolutions, this film’s final fights in, above, and around the streets of Manhattan has the potential to outshine them all. It was a special effects extravaganza, but with that sense of choreography and urgency that only Whedon could really deliver. There’s not a wasted explosion or a wasted second of that scene. In some way, it propels the story, speaks a little bit about the resourcefulness and strength (or weaknesses of our heroes) or just gives an excuse for Whedon to show that he was the master of intelligent action programming back in his hay day. The film has a handful of absolutely massive set-pieces and for those who grow tired of the Transformers-esque Hollywood machine of explosions with no substance, let’s just say that Whedon avoids the pitfalls of having a massive budget and wasting it on fluff. There’s a genius to these action sequences, and anyone who saw Serenity knows Whedon was going to be able to deliver.

Considering all of the negative press that Peter Jackson’s decision to film The Hobbit in 48 fps (instead of the usual 24 fps) has received as well as Christopher Nolan’s decision to put Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, I don’t think it’s a stretch that The Avengers will come to be known as the event film of 2012. Since it broke the opening weekend record (and the second weekend record) and is tied for the fastest film to ever make $1 billion, it shouldn’t suprise anyone when The Avengers winds up being one of the top three grossing films of all time (it’s been out three weeks now and is already at sixth place). For Joss Whedon fans, this is an affirmation of everything we’ve always known about our beloved hero, and while it won’t bring back prematurely canceled brilliant programs like Firefly, it does let us know that if Whedon ever decides to make another TV program in the future, maybe it will finally have the audience it needs to survive. While I almost wish that there had been a more cerebral nature to the plot, I can’t fault Whedon for trying to make the film as accessible as possible, and if this is the moment that finally catapults Whedon out of “cult” status and into the mainstream, I must tip my hat to one of my favorite pop-culture figures of the last twenty years.

Final Score: A-

Discounting Tim Burton’s Batman which rang in the end of the decade, the 1980s were not a kind period for movie adaptations of comic books. Whether it’s the painful to watch bastardization of Frank Castle with Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher or Howard the Duck (which is a regular contender for Worst Film of All Time) or any of the god-awful Superman films from the 80s but especially Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the comic book movies from those days are pretty much all universally horrendous. For a long time I knew that in 1982 Wes Craven had adapted DC fantasy horror comic Swamp Thing into a movie. Alan Moore’s run on the series (after the film had been made) is fairly legendary in the comics world as a writer revitalizing an all but forgotten character into one of the hottest properties of the era, and since I loved both Alan Moore and Wes Craven, I believe that I purposefully added this film to my master blog list (because after watching it, I’m positive it wasn’t nominated for any types of industry awards). Voluntarily subjecting myself to this film was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in ages because without question, this is the worst Wes Craven film I’ve ever watched.

After being sent to supervise a government research project helmed by charming plant geneticist Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise), Alice Cable (Carnivale‘s Adrienne Barbeau) is quickly forced on the run when mad scientist Anton Arcane (Louis Jordan) destroys Holland’s lab and apparently kills Holland to steal his work. Though Cable is able to escape, she is pursued by Arcane’s thugs because she possesses Dr. Holland’s final notebook detailing the last steps of his process to essentially solve humanity’s hunger problems with crops that can grow anywhere. As Arcane’s men chase Cable through the treacherous Louisiana swamps, an unlikely savior comes to her side. Mutated into a half-plant/half-man hybrid by the chemicals that everyone thought had killed him, Dr. Holland is now alive and Cable’s protector as a monster with the heart of a human.

This review is going to be really short because this movie is really bad and I’d rather spend my time watching one last episode of Doctor Who before I go to bed than devote 1000 words to this film (though it managed to pull legitimately poetic moments out of its ass from time to time but that’s Wes Craven for you). The plot is completely nonsensical and it fails to capture the fantasy-horror/psychological elements that makes the comics so memorable and is instead a series of action sequences tied together by a borderline incomprehensible plot. The acting is truly terrible as well and everyone seems to be taking pleasure in making things as campy as humanly possible. The special effects are egregiously bad. Understanding that this is 1982 and not everyone has a George Lucas budget to work with, but I had to control my laughter every time I saw Swamp Thing on screen. The editing is also atrocious and whether it’s the silly transitions the film would use for screen swipes or just the general lack of anything tying the events together, the film was a mess. Even the lighting was horrific and there were many moments in the film where it was just too dark to see what was happening and not because that was the director’s intention. I can’t even recommend this film to people who love “so bad they’re good films” because this one is simply so bad it’s terrible.

Final Score: C-

For long running movie franchises, the origin story is currently in vogue. With the success achieved by Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise with Batman Begins as well as Paul Haggis’s gritty re-imagining of the James Bond universe with the Casino Royale prequel film, film makers realized they could breathe new life into stale and tired franchises by getting back to basics and showing where these fantastic universes came from. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, comic book films were more than happy to just drop you in the established uinverse of the comics and assume you had the requisite knowledge of the backstory to follow along. However, even the first entries in comic franchises these days, such as Iron Man or Captain America, recognize the storytelling potential of actually giving these heroes’ origins, and with that in mind, director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) decided to craft a prequel tale for the X-Men film franchise, and in the process created easily the best film in the X-Men (and potentially whole Marvel universe) franchise and the best comic book film since The Dark Knight and Watchmen.

Set primarily in 1962, at the height of U.S. and Russian tensions during the Cold War, X-Men: First Class chronicles the origins of the superhero group of mutants known as the X-Men, under the leadership of powerful telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Atonement). Studying genetics at Oxford with his best friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone), another mutant with the ability to shapeshift, Charles finds himself drawn into an international struggle that places him smack in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Parallel (and eventually concurrent) to Charles Xavier’s story is that of Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds), a Holocaust survivor hunting for the Nazi scientists who conducted cruel experiments on him as a child to foster his mutant power of controlling magnetic fields. This nazi scientist is now known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who runs a group known as the Hellfire Club alongside fellow mutant Emma Frost (January Jones, Mad Men) who are intent on starting World War III between the U.S. and Russia to create a world where mutants can reign. As Xavier, Lensherr, and the mutants they recruit fight to save the world, a schism forms between Xavier’s peaceful approach to co-existence with humanity and Lensherr’s mutant-supremacy at any cost ideology.

In a role originally inhabited by screen legend Ian McKellan, Michael Fassbender proceeded to not just equal McKellan in the role of Magneto but to simply surpass him in all ways imaginable. To be fair to McKellan, Fassbender had a lot more to work with as this early version of Lensherr is a complex and tragic figure. The old comparison was always that Professor X was Martin Luther King and Magneto was Malcolm X. Here we get to see them in the early stages of this emerging dichotomy, and Fassbender has a lot of pain and suffering to draw from in this character. He’s a roiling pot of rage, bitterness, and revenge, and Fassbender manages to make Lensherr far more sympathetic than the occasionally naive and altruistic Xavier. James McAvoy, who will always be Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me, surprised me by bringing such a charismatic flair to one of comicdom’s most iconic characters. He gets to play a young Xavier, who is a slightly cocky lothario, and it’s a fun side of the subdued Professor X that we normally never get to see.

Not since The Dark Knight or Watchmen has a mainstream comic book film found such story telling heights by going to such dark places. The average super hero film is escapist fantasy, but this is an especially cynical look at the way humanity reacts to that which is different and how man’s inhumanity man can cause us to turn to the dark side. By setting the story against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vaughn uses a historical allegory as both a plot device and symbolism and it works marvelously. Also, few writers (even in the comics) have ever done such a good job at painting Magneto as this compelling of an anti-villain. It’s no spoiler that by the end of this film, Lensherr wil pit himself against Xavier and draw a line in the sand, but the film manages to ratchet up the tension by showing in heart-breaking detail exactly why Lensherr would be so afraid and untrusting of a human race that fears and despises him. In both comics and film, this is one of the finest renderings of one of the most complex villains in the history of comics.

I heartily respect the writers’ decision to inhabit this film with some less-exposed members of the X-Team. Wolverine is only found in one scene-stealing cameo, and you see nothing of Rogue, Cyclops, Storm, or Jean Grey. Instead, this X-Man line-up consists of Banshee, Havok, Darwin, Angel (not the original one but a girl), Beast, and Mystique. This gives the film a freshness and it permits the writers to throw away the continuity of the previous films and work from scratch to create a new and compelling story. The scenes between Beast and Mystique who both have to wrestle with unfortunate physical deformities because of their mutations do more to add to the development of the team dynamics than any of the love triangle between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine did in the previous films. Similarly, there was just more of a group chemistry among these actors who weren’t established stars like the original cast so we’re allowed to identify with them more as their characters rather than as iconic actors in iconic roles.

The film was far from perfect. January Jones was terribly miscast as Emma Frost. She was wooden, and while Emma Frost is the original ice queen, Jones failed to capture any of her intelligence and strength which has made her such a powerful figure in the X-Men universe for the last 20 years. The end of the film became too focused on providing explosive action sequences (which were all uniformly awesome) instead of the meaty character development that the beginning of the film focused on. Michael Ironside should never be cast in a film even in as tiny a role as the one he receives in this film. All in all, these are small complaints about an otherwise fantastic addition to the world of superhero films that remain true to the spirit and energy of the original series (even if it plays fast and loose with continuity). Superhero films are a mixed bag because for every Iron Man or Spiderman 2, there’s a Thor or The Green Lantern. Fortunately, I can recommend this to all fans of superhero epics without the slightest hesitation. This was one of the best superhero films in years.

Final Score: A-

Kenneth Branagh.

 

Shakespeare. Most prolific British actor of his generation. Gilderoy Lockhart (for the younger audiences). These are all reasonable associations to make when you hear Kenneth Branagh’s name. No man has done more to re-invigorate interest in William Shakespeare since Laurence Olivier, and he’s truly a legend of the silver screen. So, when I heard that he was tapped to direct the film adapation of Marvel Comics’ Thor, I was immediately intrigued. While I’m not as familiar with the god of thunder as I am other members of the Marvel Universe, I knew that the rich backstory and mythology of Asgard could make for some potentially intriguing cinema if Kenneth Branagh were free to do it the right way. Well, let’s just say that Branagh should stick to Shakespeare. In a world that is post the original Iron Man/ The Dark Knight/ X-2: X-Men United/ and Spiderman 2, audiences have come to expect a little more sophistication and finesse in our comic book adaptions, and Thor failed to deliver on virtually any important front.

Rooted deeply in both ancient Norse mythology as well as modern science fiction conventions, Thor is the origin tale of the titular god of thunder. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the arrogant and powerful son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and heir to the mythical kingdom of Asgard, much to the jealousy of his brother Loki. Right as Thor is about to be coronated as the new king of Asgard, events fall into motion that lead Thor to commit a blunderous and foolish assault on the enemies of Asgard and threatens the safety of the entire realm. Odin banishes Thor to Earth and strips him of all of his powers to teach him humility. Loki uses the ensuing chaos of Thor’s banishment to try and secure the throne for himself, and Thor finds himself on Earth without his powers and must learn the true meaning of being a hero in order to gain back his magical hammer, Mjolnir, and save the kingdom of Asgard as well as Earth.

Where to begin with the faults of the film (because there are so few positives)? Well, let’s begin with the most basic element which is the story and characterization. While I respect Branagh’s desires to construct an interesting mythology and background to frame the film in, he merely sets up a skeletal shell with rushed exposition and a rare combination of technobabble and hand-waving. No one in the film (except for possibly Loki who still comes off as comically evil) has any real depth or dimensions. Thor is possibly the most flat superhero that I can think of. People often complain that Superman lacks any real depth and most of the films do terrible jobs of examining him as a character (the under-rated Superman Returns excepted), but there’s some hidden depths to be found if you actually pay attention. I examined this film trying to desperately try and find some hidden meaning in his character and it just didn’t exist. His tale of redemption is virtually unbelievable as I can’t really find one single moment in the film that would have sparked the sort of change that he suddenly and unbelievably exhibits. The heavy-handed morality of the film simply re-inforces the shallow storytelling stereotypes that unfairly exist around comic books and its incredibly unfortunate.

The wooden and unnatural Chris Hemsworth aside, this film has the making of a virtually A-list cast that it squanders on awkward dialogue and endless exposition. Natalie Portman went from the sublime Black Swan to a character who literally exists to look pretty and tame Thor. Stellan Skarsgaard is a star of the Scandinavian screen and he is reduced to explaining the Norse mythology or uttering scientific nonsense. Idris Elba (aka Stringer Bell from The Wire) is acting tour-de-force and he plays the equivalent of a human door. Not even Anthony Hopkins is given enough to work with. If you give that man crumbs, he can turn it into a feast, and he is simply starved for good material. The only surprise of the whole film was Tom Hiddleston as the villainous Loki who at least adds some gravitas to his transformation to the dark side, but he too is weighed down by the absolutely silly nature of the plot.

I could continue to pick apart other significant flaws of the film such as how in such a special effects heavy film, I felt like I was playing a high budget video game rather than a summer block-buster or how unbelievably dumb Loki’s costume is, but I’m going to stop now and simply state that there is no one I can recommend this to outside of hardcore fans of The Avengers or Thor‘s comic itself. If the character of Thor returns for The Avengers film, I am certain that Joss Whedon will be able to come up with something better for him to do than this waste of celluloid, but that’s in the future, and now, we are stuck with this dreadful excuse of superhero pageantry. It’s not well-written enough in the drama department to take itself as seriously as does (unlike The Dark Knight) and whenever it attempts humor, it falls flat on its face (unlike Iron Man). It is only saved by an occasionally evocative world in Asgard and Tom Hiddleston’s stand-out performance. Otherwise, the god of thunder doesn’t go out with a bang but rather a whimper.

Final Score: C-

My freshman year of college was the screenwriter’s union strike. All of my favorite shows had shortened seasons and it honestly ruined Heroes forever. It was generally a miserable time to be a TV fan, but one great thing did come out of the whole ordeal (besides the guy that played Ricardo Alpert on Lost being able to return to the show). Joss Whedon was unable by union orders to write anything for TV or the big screen during the strike. However, he was still feeling creative (cause he’s Joss Whedon and he’s awesome) so he managed to find away around the whole embargo by writing a series of vignettes for a webseries starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion. From those humble beginnings, we got the modern cult classic, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

In Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Neil Patrick Harris plays the titular Dr. Horrible/Billy Buddy who is an aspiring super-villain who wants to gain access to the Evil League of Evil. However, he’s fairly incompetent and sort of a dork. He is always being thwarted by his nemesis Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). Dr. Horrible is also in love with the cute girl (Felicia Day) he sees every day at the laundry mat and has to deal with his romantic attraction to her as it compares against his desires to commit evil. Eventually, Dr. Horrible concocts a scheme that he hopes will get him into the League of Evil, defeat Captain Hammer, and even get Penny in the deal. All of this action is set to the tune of pretty decent musical numbers.

“Laundry Day” was a great song. It was probably the most memorable song of the whole musical. The only other Joss Whedon musical number I enjoy as much as it is Tara’s love song to Willow on Buffy in “Once More with Feeling”. Neil Patrick Harris has a great voice and he summons a nerdy charm for the part. Nate Fillion is also awesome. But he always is. Captain Mal from Firefly is the successor to Han Solo, and he plays Captain Hammer like a meat-headed tool and it’s quite funny. I’m not as big a fan of Felicia Day though. It was great to see Simon Helbert (Wolowitz from Big Bang Theory) as Dr. Horrible’s side-kick Moist.

If you’re a fan of Joss Whedon, why haven’t you watched this yet? It’s classic Whedon. If you like modern style musicals, once again, this is really good. I don’t know if I think it’s quite as great as everybody else does, but I still really enjoy the series. My grandmother made the incredibly absurd statement that this would lead people to being goth. I don’t even remotely know how that’s possible but old people can be sort of ignorant sometimes. I love her dearly, but what a dumb thing to say.

Final Score: B+