The Bigger They Come Part 2 (Godzilla, 2014)

godzilla_2014_posterGodzilla has always seemed to have some trouble when Hollywood takes the reins.  1998’s misguided spectacle is the pinnacle of this.  Gareth Edwards and his team opted to take a step back.  They did not, of course, go with the “Man in Rubber Suit” approach…but their digital Godzilla is far more in line with the traditional Godzilla.

Starting in 1999, there is a mysterious and horrifying event at a nuclear power plant in Janjira, Japan.  American employee Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife (Juliette Binoche) in the event, while his relationship with his son Ford becomes estranged as the years pass and Cranston’s obsession with the accident grows.  In 2014, Ford is in the military and returning home to his wife and son.  He gets a call that his father (still in Japan) has been arrested.  The location of the event is off limits to the public, due to claims of radiation.  Joe convinces Ford to explore Janjira one more time…and they discover a a secret research facility and some large monster referred to as a Muto that appears to be in hibernation. Of course, it wakes up and starts seeking it’s other half.

This results in the awakening of something else that comes in to fight these giants.  You know…Godzilla.  Godzilla is setup in this film as the hero, with no questions by the end of how people see him.

Edwards takes a very slow reveal approach.  This serves the film well, making it very satisfying when the audience gets to see Godzilla in full monster lizard glory.  At the same time, the film’s primary focus is on Ford and nurse (and wife) Elle.  And honestly?  They are tremendously boring characters.  So, when the film does not have Cranston or Ken Watanabe or Godzilla on screen, things get dull fast.

The opening credits are really nicely done, giving the audience old news reels indicating the existence of monsters…we get brief hints of Godzilla (mostly his back-plates) and evidence the military attempted to kill him.

Overall, the story is pretty simple, giant monsters appear and fight and cause destruction.  It is a fairly strong attempt to capture the feel of older Godzilla films, and in some ways does it smashingly well.  It is the centering of Ford and Elle that lacks any emotional punch that is needed in a film like this.  What makes it a bit more disappointing is Cranston and Binoche do have chemistry that makes them compelling…and they pull it off in about ten minutes of screen time.

Rebellious Teens (Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015)

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterAs with every sequel, things must get bigger and louder.  Unlike the first film, the danger really comes from within.  Tony is obsessed with changing the way things are done by building a peace keeping for that will put an end to the need for the Avengers.  He has been working on an A.I. to watch over the world and prevent tragedy.  Even as the Avengers are in action, he has Iron Man like robots trying to do crowd control.  But the people are not as confident.

When Tony gets access to some Asgardian technology, he recklessly uses it to try and jump a hurdle with his A.I.’s processing power.  Of course it goes wrong, resulting in a mad child called Ultron.  Ultron constantly works to better himself.  And one goal is to put an end to the Avengers.  Not quite in the way Tony anticipated…he was thinking retirement.  Ultron is thinking annihilation.  To better reach those ends, he brings brother and sister Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.  The orphans consented to Hydra experiments that have given them super-powers.  Pietro is the super-fast Quicksilver and Wanda has reality warping powers.

In a confrontation with Ultron, the Scarlet Witch manipulates several Avengers, including the Hulk who goes on a rampage.  Eventually the reveal of Ultron’s plans (including wiping out the human race) horrifies his cohorts.  His continuing evolution actually leads to the introduction of a new character for the MCU.  The Vision is introduced when the Mind Stone and lightening (along with the Jarvis AI) are combined to create the Vision.

Age of Ultron tries to be the Empire Strikes back, and is certainly loaded with darker themes than the previous films.  The performances are strong, and when the Scarlet Witch exposes Iron, Cap, Black Widow, Thor and the Hulk to their greatest fears of their past or potential futures, it threatens to break their bond apart.

The action is top notch.  There are several excellent and memorable fight sequences.  The jokes mostly land (but who thought it was a good idea for Tony to suggest if he can lift Thor’s hammer that he would reinstate the practice of kings sleeping with new brides on their wedding night).  There are a couple running jokes that can be particularly entertain.  The running gag about lifting Thor’s Hammer (which has a very good payoff) is especially fun.

The movie gives more attention to Hawkeye.  There was talk that Renner was very frustrated with the path the character took in the first Avengers.  This may be Whedon’s way of saying “sorry” to Renner.  It also establishes firmly the friendship with Natasha.

The effects are very good.  Vision looks very close to his comic book counterpart, without looking to fake.  Yet he is slightly unnatural.  Which is kind of the point.  Bettany gives life to the role.  It only took his seven years to be more than a voice-over (now he is a motion capture voice-over).

The film faced some criticism over Natasha calling herself a monster to Bruce Banner.  Some viewers felt the takeaway was that Natasha saw herself as a monster due to being sterilized.  I don’t know that I accept it was that clear cut.  Because the film is quite direct that it is the idea that she was a cold and efficient killer, and the folks who sterilized her believed this would make her that cold and efficient killer.  But I will agree it was somewhat clumsy in the writing, and Whedon deserves the credit for that.

In the end, I enjoyed this second outing with the Avengers.  It has some weak points, but nothing that ruined the overall enjoyment.

Player vs Player (Captain America: Civil War, 2016)

Marvels_captain_america_civil_war_posterCaptain America: Civil War was a risky gamble.  It has a bloated cast.  I mean, Captain America is joined by practically everyone (Except Thor and the Hulk).  The film was also going to be introducing us to a couple Major Players in Both the Black Panther and Spider-Man.  There was always the possibility that this would be so bogged down, we would have Marvels first failure…the first Marvel film that outright sucked.

And the film should be a huge mess.  We are being introduced to characters left and right.  And as usual, the villain of the film is pretty thin.  And yet, somehow?  The film works.  It stand and manages to remain extremely engaging.  The film is dealing with the fallout of collateral damage we have seen through the previous films.  All that destruction we have seen through the Avengers, Thor, Captain America the winter soldier.  Culminating in an event in this film in which an attempt to save people kills several visiting Wakandans.

The United Nations is determine to intervene.  And Tony Stark, after being confronted by an angry and heartbroken mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died in Ultron’s Sokovia attack, is determine to see it happen.  He, quite understandable, sees a need for Oversight.  And this is what sets off the Conflict within the Avengers.  Steve Rogers is certain that being shackled and having to get permission to fight the bad guys is a bad idea.  We of course, sympathize with Cap, but one of the things the film does very well?  The character motivations.  They make sense.  You understand why they choose the way they do.  And the the fact that certain characters miss the villain’s big plan is quite believable.

The film is action packed, but not at the expense of the overall story.  The characters get meaningful exchanges and yet, the film avoids feeling overly bogged down by a sense of self importance.  The events matter, questions are asked, but without the self aggrandizing approach other Super-hero films had recently.  Not naming names.  The cast does great work with the script they were given.  They bring the characters to life.

And then there is the humor.  This is by no means a light film, but it has very effective humor.  The film is not afraid that if we laugh we might miss “the important and heavy epic story being told”.  These people are friends.  They have history.  They care about each other.  And that is what gives the story it’s real conflict and weight.  But it is also those established relationships that allow the fun.

Of course, the big question was…Spider-Man and the Black Panther-will they work?  It is nice that we do not get an origin story (it should be pretty clear that T’Challa was already the Black Panther, he is not becoming the Black Panther for revenge).  But he does get a nice story arc focusing on the thirst for vengeance, leading him to wisdom in his new role as King.  Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa as young, confident royalty.  And yet, when he suffers lost, he gains a restrained ferocity.

And Tom Holland?  He is Spider-Man.  The portrayal of Spidey in this film was almost instantly lovable.  His rapid fire chatter was dead on.  He looked great in costume and his position of siding with Tony makes complete sense.  I am genuinely excited to see both Spider-Man and Black Panther’s solo films.

James Gunn (Director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films) said this was the best Marvel film to date.  And, in the end, if it is not actually the best?  It is pretty darn close.  This is a terrific adventure and worth seeing.

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