Strike While the Iron Is Hot (Iron Man 2, 2010)

iron-man-2-posterSeriously…Iron Man 2… not Invincible Iron Man???  What a miss…

Anyways, The first Iron Man was a surprise hit.  Marvel was building towards their shared movie universe and did not want to mess that up.  So, they stuck to their guns.  Favreau was back to direct Downey Jr. and the entire cast that survived made it back for the sequel.

Well, almost everyone.  Terrence Howard tried to renegotiate his fee, and Marvel was not interested…so they asked him to not let the door hit him on the ass and brought in Don Cheadle.  I was pretty torn.  I thought Howard did well and was likeable as Jim Rhodes.  On the other hand?  Love Don Cheadle.

One of the harder parts of Iron Man is his rogues gallery. He fights a lot of armored guys.  That can get repetitive…on the other hand, you have guys like the Mandarin.  A Magical Asian.  So they went with…um…Whiplash.  I wondered how they could make that interesting  They kind of succeeded.

Whiplash is obsessed with Stark because he feels Stark’s father betrayed his father.  The other villain in the film is Tony’s weaker competitor, Justin Hammer.  Hammer is trying to give the government the same kind of technology Stark has.  Ultimately they achieve it by using Whiplash, who has knowledge of Tony’s tech..  The film also introduces us to Natasha Romanoff, also known as the the Black Widow.  Whiplash is freed from the authorities by Hammer who wants to use his expertise.  Hammer is cocky, but he he is less competent than Tony or Whiplash, who double crosses Hammer to get his revenge on Tony.

There is a lot to like here.  But the best stuff is almost all at the end.  We get Stark and Rhodey fighting together against Hammer’s drones, Black Widow kicking butt and just a lot of cool stuff.  But at times, it feels like it is taking forever to get there.  This film has the exact opposite issue of the first film.  The build up is not all that involving as an audience member, but the ending is great.

Again, the chemistry between Downey and Paltrow is magnetic.  And Cheadle slides right into the role like he was always there.  Johansson gives us just a taste of the character to come, and it is great.  Rockwell is wonderfully sleazy as Justin Hammer.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is established as a major player tying the Marvel Cinematic Universe together.

Iron Man 2 is not quite the follow up I would have hoped for, but it would not sink the franchise or the MCU either.   It is one of the weakr entries, but strong enough to not be totally dismissed.

Being the Alien (The Martian, 2015)

The_Martian_posterFor being a comedy, (thanks People’s Choice Awards) The Martian feels pretty serious.

That does not mean it is devoid of humor.  Really, most any solid drama with have humor to break tension.  And considering the situation Mark Watley (Matt Damon) finds himself in?  Tension needs to break.  After an accident leaved Watley left behind on Mars, (believed dead) he finds himself struggling to find a way to last until the next mission to Mars can pick him up…in about four years.

The Martian is a thrilling account of survival that manages to be filled with concern and joy.  Ridley Scott likes his epics, but this is very low key in that regard.  Instead, it is a focus on character and endurance.  We get a window into Watley’s thoughts by way of his video recording everything he is doing as a journal.  On the one hand, this could have felt like weighty exposition, and some might wonder why the filmmakers did not opt for the near silence of the first half of Castaway.

Damon’s delivery is light and accessible, rather than clunky, and it is easy to connect with the character.  One of the film’s strengths is how it manages to give us insight to our characters very quickly, especially the crew.  We meet them mere moments before the storm that separates Watley.  And yet, you get a feel for the relationship of this crew and the dedication they have to each other in those few minutes.

The cast is very strong, everybody turning in enjoyable performances.  The visuals are solid, considering it is a lot of reddish sand and rock.  Scott really seems to like films set on barren planets.

The Martian is an engaging sci-fi drama well worth viewing.

Fantastic Lemonade

So…I was not a fan of the the latest stab f the Fantastic Four.  And I was not alone.  But Jamie Broadnax, whose writing I respect and enjoy, has voiced an appreciation of the film.

This challenged me to think about the film a bit harder.  Specifically, are there things I did like?  Things that I could appreciate even if they did not work?

There things I liked.  For instance, Franklin Storm.  I liked him.  He radiated a general kindness and his interactions with Johnny and Sue were welcome additions.  It’s frustrating he kind of fades away until he is needed for the “Big Emotional Motivation” towards the end.

johnny_stormI did like Johnny Storm in general.  The specifics frustrate me…Johnny as a free spirited risk taker works better for me than “Angry Risk Taker”.  Michael B. Jordan manages to still infuse some charm into the role.

I like the cast in general.  All the actors are proven talent, so the issue was never performance.  The actors did their best with questionable material.  Dr. Doom especially suffers there.  Nothing about his early behavior suggests what he will become.  There is an offhanded comment about whether the world should be saved…but once everyone gets their powers, Doom is lost and nobody seems to care.  Once he reappears he hates the world and wants to destroy…because.

The use of powers, especially by Reed, were pretty effective.

I liked the inter-dimensional travel part of the plot.  The use of science in general.  The early suggestions of Sc-Fi Adventure would have been a great path to go.  This was clearly borrowed from the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics.  I think this works well.

Leaping from there, I think would have benefited the film to have a different villain.  Victor Von Doom should have been there, but more as a scientific foil for Reed.  It might have been a good idea to borrow from the comics, unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, Doom alters their coordinates, resulting in the tragedy that gives them all powers.  And Sue would be there with them.  Not sitting back at a computer terminal.

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Instead, a different villain.  An obvious choice would have been Annihilus.  The discovery of an alternate dimension is not one way.  Save Doom for a later film in the franchise.

reed_richardsAnd then there is the whole deal of Reed running away.  Yeah, it gives Ben his motivation for anger towards Reed.  But it felt like getting rid of Reed was more because they did not know what to do with him.  The idea that Reed sees Ben in his rock form and simply runs away…just does not gel.  It would have made more sense to show Reed working with Franklin and Sue Storm with the goal of getting everybody back to normal.  The big conflict with the military regarding the attempts to turn Ben and Johnny into weapons.

There are all sorts of ways this film could have gone to be better.  A brighter color pallet for instance.  More humor.  More heroics.

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And for Pete’s sake…give Ben Grimm some pants.

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Blahtastic (Fantastic Four, 2015)

fantastic-four-2015-posterTruthfully, the Fantastic Four reboot is exactly what I would expect from someone behind Chronicle.  Chronicle was a good film, but it was tonally dark, focused on the breakdown of family bonds and friendship.  It was dark and sad.  None of these are really good tones for the Fantastic Four.

Josh Trank has already tried disowning the movie, but the problem is?  It sure looks like the kind of movie I would expect from him.  The film has a color treatment to suck out any and all vibrancy. It is a serious and un-cheery affair.  Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) is not a carefree adventure loving guy…now he is and aggressive, unhappy street racer.

Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is…a guy?  Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is awkward socially, so is Reed (Mile Teller) and so is Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).  There is nothing that makes the characters easy to tell apart…and little to see a spark of heroism.

The film takes forever to get to the pivotal accident that gives everyone their powers.  And then the film gets real boring.  Doctor Doom is terribly dull, and lacks any visual identity.  Sure, he has a green cloak.  But He looks like a generic villain, like they forgot to finish the character design in the pre-production stage.

dr_doomThe film lacks any joy of discovery with the characters, and focuses on the darkest take of their getting powers.  They do not have code names in the film.  Everybody refers to the as Subjects.  Johnny’s digs at Ben are simply mean, lacking the playful spirit (Captured so well by Chris Evans) of the character in the comics.

This is a dull film, that misses why people love these characters in the first place.  I wish it had been a disaster, because that might have been interesting to watch.

And there is just something about the Thing not wearing pants that just looks weird.

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