REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

28 08 2015

At this point, I am unsure how much good it does me to review “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as I would a movie.  I feel like it would be more useful to write up the experience of the film as a writer for Consumer Reports would describe a car – with matter-of-fact bullet-points and statistics.  What is the point of trying to capture the artistry of a film in the intricacies of prose when that film is little more than a top-of-the-line product?

The latest item off the “Avengers” conveyer belt amounts to little more than an 150 minute billboard for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Perhaps the one notable difference between “Age of Ultron” and its predecessor is that the events tend to sow discord that cleaves a wedge between the heroes as opposed to uniting them.  (I can only assume that was a decision that arose organically from the material and not as some kind of tie-in to the impending “Civil War.”)

Maestro Joss Whedon ensures that the film matches all the tech specs any fan looks for in a comic book movie.  It has action sequences the way cars have cupholders.  To top it all off, he assembles a climax that feels like it could (and maybe should) just exist as its own movie and is probably fetishized in the same way automotive aficionados value a powerful engine.  Maybe some of this would be exciting if it were not so painfully predictable.  Rather than inspiring me to marvel at the screen, it just made me feel numb.

Read the rest of this entry »


23 08 2015

Ant-ManAnt-Man,” the final piece in Marvel’s so-called “Phase Two” of their Cinematic Universe, invites us all to do what I have done for the past five years: not to take any of this too seriously.  With the constantly winking and self-effacing charm of Paul Rudd (and co-writer Adam McKay), the best Marvel movie in years is ironically the one that spits in the face of what the studio signifies.

This is the first film from the comic book behemoth since the original “Iron Man” back in 2008 that feels entirely sufficient as a film in its own right, not just a placeholder for the next super-sized sequel.  Granted, some of that might be a response to its iffy economic viability at the green-lighting stage of the process (and some concerns over authorship following the departure of writer/director Edgar Wright and his screenwriting partner Joe Cornish). Nonetheless, “Ant-Man” earns a second installment by virtue of its tongue-in-cheek spirit and fun sense of scale.

Rather than set up some cataclysmic battle of the fates where the powers of good do battle with a terrifying evil that beams a big blue light up into the sky, “Ant-Man” builds up to a fight between two men for one important thing.  This climax engages rather than numbs (as “Avengers” final acts tend to do) because it takes place on the human level where the rest of the film registers.  It also helps that the final clash is essentially the only major one in the movie, going against Marvel’s general tendency to throw in a major action set piece every 30 minutes or so to placate the thrill-seekers in the audience.

And every time it seems like “Ant-Man” is turning into a conveyer belt of Marvel tropes, Paul Rudd’s humor kicks in to disrupt the moment and make a joke at the studio’s expense. He plays on admittedly shorter leash than someone like Judd Apatow or David Wain gives him, but his sardonic wit proves a welcome reprieve of Marvel’s faux gravitas that proves suffocating in their more commercial products.

Read the rest of this entry »

REVIEW: Big Hero 6

27 02 2015

Disney Animation often tries to repackage tried and true formulas, although they usually pull their material from within.  “Tangled” and “Frozen,” of course, try to channel the hand-drawn princess magic.  “Big Hero 6,” on the other hand, appropriates from one of the best non-Mouse House animated films of recent years: “The Iron Giant.”

Baymax, the robotic spectacle of “Big Hero 6,” looks more like a giant marshmallow puff than a welded set of metal beams.  His function, however, proves virtually analogous to the Iron Giant’s.  Baymax arrives to help and to heal, not to inflict harm or wounds.  This mainly takes the form of ministering to a boy in a single-parent household still reeling from the loss of a family member; here, that would be the racially ambiguous Hiro.

Even though Baymax looks cushier and sounds more gently reassuring than the scratchily voiced (by Vin Diesel, no less) metallic behemoth, “Big Hero 6” feels lacking in the charm and emotional pull of “The Iron Giant.”  Heck, it falls short of even some of the mode mediocre Disney flicks.  And it certainly does not have the creativity of “Wreck-It Ralph” to fall back on when it cannot deliver on the feelings front.  While “Big Hero 6” crafts a clever world – San Fransokyo – in which its characters can roam and provides some flashy visuals, it skimps out on character development and thus cannot quite deliver that human spark when it needs to do so.

This might have something to do with the fact that the film started out as a Marvel property.  Even though they gave Disney full autonomy to make the movie they wanted, the influence of the comics juggernaut rears its head once more to spoil what could have been a great movie.  By the time “Big Hero 6” gets to some fairly complex moral deliberations from its simple-speaking robot in the final act, the stakes are not really established to make them feel of any consequence.  B-2stars

Random Factoid #527 / I’m a DC

6 01 2011

So Katie over at “Stories That Really Mattered” invited me to be a part of the meme called “I’m a Marvel, I’m a DC” (which should ring a bell from Mac/PC in your head).  I’m pretty noncommittal on the two comics powerhouses as I don’t read the books, and the movies just run together for me.

But, since she asked so nicely, I’ll make a commitment.  I’m a DC!!!

Why?  Three reasons.

  1. They had Heath Ledger.
  2. They have Batman and Christopher Nolan, who made “The Dark Knight,” the only comic-book movie worth talking about as anything other than a movie adaptation of a comic book.
  3. They have “Watchmen,” which was a pretty average movie, but a great graphic novel!  I only read it thanks to the movie, TIME magazine, and a friend’s recommendation, but I certainly did enjoy it.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read another one again, yet I certainly was enriched by reading an entirely different kind of literature.

So there.  Those are my reasons.  Take that, Spider-Man!  Turn off THAT dark!

Random Factoid #393

25 08 2010

Are all comic book movies not created equal from the start?  Seth Rogen apparently doesn’t think so.  In an interview with The Los Angeles Times‘ Hero Complex, the star of the upcoming comic book adaptation “The Green Hornet” had this to say:

“I like Marvel; I’ve kind of given up on DC at this point.”

The massive flaw of saying that DC sucks despite the fact that they have Batman notwithstanding, it’s an interesting prejudice/predilection.  Automatically judging a comic book – or movie – based on the comic book company behind it seems a bit over the top for me.  To me, a comic book movie is a comic book movie.  It’s up to the filmmakers, not the company, to make it good.  I bet Spider-Man could be just as cool at DC and Batman could rock at Marvel.

But then I got to thinking about the prejudices we all hold when we go to the movies.  Face it, we all have them.  I bet everyone has, at some point in their lives, used “Disney” as a pejorative term to describe something kiddy or campy.  That’s not to say they haven’t earned the association with their officially honed output of only animated and inspirational movies.

Beyond Disney, though, I don’t even give a hoot about the studio releasing a movie when it comes to quality.  I don’t think I’m the only one, but then again, is anyone going to say “Ugh, I’m not seeing ‘Takers’ because it was released by Screen Gems” this weekend?