The Avengers: A Summer Blockbuster With Heart, Laughs and ‘Hell, Yeahs!’

3 05 2012

Marvel’s The Avengers is the culmination of years of filmmaking and storytelling. With two Hulk movies, two Iron Man movies, a Thor movie and a Captain America movie already released, audiences finally get to see the payoff on the big screen. The plot has been set into motion, the characters have been established…all that’s left is a rip-roaring good time. And that’s exactly what director Joss Whedon and crew deliver. Here’s the breakdown:

Thor’s half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has a thirst for power (not to mention a grudge) and has set his sights on Earth, threatening the planet with an alien army. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of the secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D., must bring a disparate group of superheros together to combat this evil and save the world. But can Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) put aside their differences to save the day?

The Monkey: Joss Whedon fans rejoice. The Avengers is finally the vehicle that will get him the credit he has so long deserved. Whedonites have known, for years, that he’s a visionary artist who handles storytelling and character brilliantly. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and the less popular, but no less inventive, Firefly and Dollhouse have been made privy to Joss’ unique brand of entertainment for a while now. And with the current success of The Cabin in the Woods (which Whedon co-wrote and produced) and with the sure-fire smash hit that is The Avengers, expect Whedon to be handling some very big projects in the future. This is his year, and The Avengers is clearly his movie. It was a gamble on Marvel’s part to hand the reins of this massive undertaking to a relative big screen newcomer (up until now, Whedon’s major big screen credit was 2005’s Serenity, based on his Firefly TV show); but the decision was a stroke of genius, and positive reviews and word-of-mouth will lead The Avengers to box office platinum in no time.

Everything about this movie works. The special effects are breathtaking; the stakes are high and believable (in context); the acting is dead on; the emotional moments are there (and they’re surprisingly visceral); the humor is there; the “hell, yeah!” moments are there. The Avengers has it all and then some. Marvel’s move to release the solo hero films in anticipation of this grand team-up was ambitious at best, crazy at worst. How was a single film going to contain all these personalities, all these stories, that warranted stand-alone (not to mention sequel) films? Whedon has always excelled with ensemble casts, and his deft style was perfect for the job. The Avengers pays equal tribute to the various characters represented, even working to flesh them out still further, while uniting them. Everything from choice bits of dialogue to purposeful camera work helps achieve this sense of cohesion and solidity. The Avengers could have easily turned into a hack-and-slash job, with characters popping on and off camera, strung together with nothing more than flashy explosions and quipped one-liners. But Whedon elevates the whole concept and delivers a final product that goes beyond expectations. Not only is The Avengers a phenomenal movie-going experience, it far surpasses even the best of Marvel’s predecessor films. That in itself is a feat.

This is the perfect summer blockbuster. Not just explosions and fancy ad campaigns, but a genuine, well-plotted, well-written, well-executed story. These are characters that audiences have come to love and care about, and now they are brought together. They experience hilarious highs and depressing lows – and Whedon makes the audience feel it all, right alongside them. And yes, the explosions are impressive, arguably some of the best effects work seen to date. On a side note, the movie was converted to 3D, which usually results in sub-par viewing; however, the 3D was well done and was a lot of fun.

While many are saying the Hulk stole the show (and don’t get me wrong, he was a definite highlight), I’d have to say this is very much Iron Man’s movie. Downey, Jr. was made for this role and his third return to Tony Stark/Iron Man only solidifies that perception. His character goes through the most change, the biggest arc, and it’s clear Whedon has a soft spot for the character. He spends a lot of time setting Stark up – scenes with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are pitch-perfect. And despite his often ridiculous get-up, Hiddleston’s Loki is impressive. He stands his ground against the Avengers easily and makes for a quite scary and seemingly insurmountable foe.

The Weasel: It was only 142 minutes? It’s hard to think of a major flaw with the film. There were small plot points that seemed pointless (needing to steal a special mineral to help stabilize the alien power source, The Tesseract), but nothing felt forced or mis-paced. The newly introduced Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) seemed underutilized, a mere throwback to Whedon’s love of kick-ass female characters (Black Widow, apparently, just wasn’t enough for him).

With solid character development, a healthy dose of humor, dazzling special effects and so much more, The Avengers is the movie of summer, and maybe even the movie of the year. And stay during the credits for a mid-credit teaser scene (there reportedly is even a second scene after the credits); clearly this is not the last of the Avengers and a sequel is in the works. Let’s just hope this isn’t the last of Whedon’s involvement either.

5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did The Avengers live up to the hype? Did Whedon do an acceptable job tying the Marvel properties together? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Due Date: This Is One Date You Can Be Late For

5 11 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis take a break from their respective franchises (namely Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes and The Hangover) to star in the road trip comedy Due Date, from director Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover). Here’s the breakdown:

Peter (Downey, Jr.) is on his way home for the birth of his child. But after an incident on the plane puts him on the no-fly list, Peter must rely on odd-ball Ethan and his dog Sonny to get him all the way across the country…in one piece.

The Monkey: Downey, Jr. and Galifianakis are wonderful actors, and seeing them together is a treat. Their comedy styles juxtapose perfectly and they play off each other well.

And Juliette Lewis popped up again, as a hilarious pot-dealing mom. After her amazing performance in Conviction, and now her comedic role in Due Date, I’m really hoping to see her in more movies in the future!

The funniest moments in the movie are the most irreverent. From spitting in a dog’s face to punching a kid in the stomach to drinking human ashes, outrageous and uncalled for moments like these make Due Date a cut above the typical comedy.

The Weasel: Unfortunately, there were not nearly enough of these over-the-top moments. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly myriad over-the-top moments, but they were all predictable, rote and, frankly, all featured in the various trailers for the movie.

The film spiraled into a mish-mash of unrelated, unfunny and unbelievable ridiculousness. And then Jamie Foxx was thrown in the mix, who’s character’s purpose was to cause tension between Peter and his pregnant wife, all in an attempt to give the movie some semblance of a dramatic core. It didn’t quite work out that way.

As the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but think I had missed something. A great director, two wonderful actors, in some truly hilarious scenes…but it all didn’t come together.

Due Date gave away all the funny parts in the trailers, and, ultimately, felt more like a movie to tide fans over until they see these actors in their next big movies.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did the trailers give too much away? Would you like to see Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis in another comedy together? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Iron Man 2: A Well-Oiled Machine of a Sequel

18 05 2010

Iron Man 2 has been dominating the box office, even beating out Ridley Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, leading the U.S. box office for the second week in a row. Reuniting Robert Downey, Jr. with director Jon Favreau seems to have done the trick, adding one more successful comic book movie to the ever growing roster. Here’s the breakdown:

Billionaire playboy Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), has become a one-man army, acting as a sort of world peace keeper. Because of the Iron Man suit’s near invincibility, the U.S. government, along with rival industrialist Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), become intent on gaining access to the suit’s technology.

Add in Tony’s recently acquired and debilitating blood disease, a feisty new assistant with a secret (Scarlett Johansson), a scorned Russian inventor (Mickey Rourke) and an old friend turned ally (Don Cheadle) and Iron Man 2 has all the ingredients necessary for a summer blockbuster.

The Monkey: Right off the bat, I have to give the filmmakers kudos for keeping this sequel “simple;” not simple effects, not simple story, but a straightforward, no-doubt-about-it sequel. The title is clear – no lengthy sub-title, just the oft-discarded “2.” And there was a certain level of confidence that the movie could perform well without having to cave to industry trends by choosing to release the movie in standard 2D instead of 3D (the same can be said for the upcoming Prince of Persia as well).

Unlike many blockbuster wannabe’s, Iron Man 2 knows what it is – a colorful, effects-laden comic book movie. And that’s exactly what it delivers. The set-pieces are extravagant (namely, the Stark Expo), the effects are dazzling and the film abandons the path of dark, gritty drama for an even lighter and much more humorous script than even the first installment.

Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance is inspired – just as Tony Stark declares, “I am Iron Man,” Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark. His wit and subtlety elevate Iron Man 2 beyond a mere eye-candy flick to a solid, legitimate film.

Many critics have lamented the many new characters and the multiple plot threads, claiming the movie can’t contain them successfully (similar to the universally disappointing Spider-Man 3); however, I didn’t get a sense of compacted plotting or superfluous character. Even thinking back on the complexity of the story, it indeed seems a bit too much for a two hour movie, but the end result is completely satisfying.

The Weasel: Downey, Jr.’s is the only performance most people will pay attention to, and for good reason. The supporting characters of Iron Man 2, while not distracting, hardly add anything worth speaking of. Just about any actor even remotely fitting the character could have been plugged into the various roles (as made evident by the positively baffling move to replace Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle – Cheadle added absolutely nothing to the role, making the switch pointless and confusing). The only exception to this might be Gwyneth Paltrow, who, after two movies, I think has earned the right to be Tony Stark’s go-to gal, Pepper Potts.

While the myriad plots worked well together, an overall theme, an element that tied everything together, was sorely lacking. The writers tried to remedy this with a half-hearted storyline involving Tony’s father, but it felt forced and tacked on. Should it have been further explored? To create more emotional weight and cohesion, maybe, but it could have just as easily slipped into cliché and melodrama.

A successful sequel, to be sure. And while Iron Man 2 stands alone, the movie provides some wonderful teasers for future Marvel projects, the culmination of which is The Avengers in summer 2012 (make sure to stay till the end of the credits for a special teaser). And Iron Man 3 has already been announced, with a possible 2013 release.

3.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Iron Man 2 live up to the original? Are you excited for the upcoming Marvel movies? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Sherlock Holmes: It’s Elementary…But Fun!

31 12 2009

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes has been touted as the start to a new film franchise.  With an all-star cast (Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, Jude Law as Dr. Watson, Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, Rachel McAdams as Forgettable-Female-Lead), it has all the necessary ingredients for a series of sequels.  Here’s the breakdown:

The movie starts with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson catching secret society member and master occultist Lord Blackwood (who has been responsible for a series of murders).  Blackwood’s subsequent execution seems to be the end of another case for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson…that is until Lord Blackwood rises from the dead.

What follows is an action-packed jaunt through Victorian England as Holmes and Watson try to solve the Mystery of the Undead Dark Magic User.  Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) shows up as Holmes’ ex-lover from New Jersey (hence the obvious lack of British accent), and acts as a tie between the intrepid sleuth and the shadowy Professor Moriarty (presumably the big baddie for later installments).

The Monkey: Robert Downey, Jr. is always fun to watch, although I couldn’t help but notice his turn as Sherlock was basically Tony Stark circa 1890.  Jude Law was surprisingly good in a smaller role than he usually plays.  Mark Strong delivered his dark and ominous lines with sufficient malice and crooked-tooth evil.  The action was suitably suspenseful, the mystery suitably mysterious.  The best part of the movie, however, was Hans Zimmer’s score.  In a word, perfect!  The banjo theme set the tone for the whole movie, and, I think, the whole series.  Playful yet dark, seedy yet sophisticated.

The Weasel: Being the start to a series, I assumed the audience would be treated to a bit more back story.  How did Watson and Holmes meet?  What is their history?  The movie hints at Watson’s military career, but it’s never explored.  The movie felt more like a second or third installment, instead of an establishing movie.  Rachel McAdams was sorely underused.  They could have cut her character completely with hardly any damage done to the plot.  She deserved better (the introduction of Professor Moriarty hints that she will have a bigger part to play in later movies).

As a whole, Sherlock Holmes delivers: fun action scenes, humour (with an “ou”) and an amazing score.  I wish there would have been more of an “origins” vibe, but I’m excited nonetheless to see how the characters grow in subsequent films.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What did you think?  Tell me what you liked and didn’t like about Sherlock Holmes in the comments!

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