Tag Archive: Marvel

Thor: The Dark World: Grade: B-


Directed by: Alan Taylor

Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, & Stephen McFeely

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo

Until Thor: The Dark World was released, the only individual franchise in the Marvel Studio universe that had a sequel (and I am not counting The Incredible Hulk as being a sequel to The Hulk) was Iron ManThor: The Dark World is a bigger test for Marvel than Iron Man 2 was primarily because (1) audiences gravitated toward Robert Downey, Jr.’s defining performance so much that the actor alone ensured a huge box office in the first weekend alone; (2) a billionaire playboy who suits up in a electronically sophisticated flying robotic armor is more interesting than a mythological god whose only weapon is a fucking hammer and whose world looks like a poor man’s version of J.R.R. Tolkien; and (3) Tony Stark’s pop culture-infused sharp sarcasm is funnier than Thor’s old English dialogue. It is far less risky to have a wisecracking Robert Downey, Jr. in a real world setting than a Viking god from outer space, played by a relatively unknown actor.

With Thor: The Dark World, I am disturbingly finding myself walking out of the theater thinking once you have seen one Marvel film, you have seen them all.  These films are beginning to feel more like TV episodes (or I guess you can say issues of comic books). While I overall enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, I was disappointed to find that it was not much of an improvement over its predecessor.

In this sequel, Asgard is faced with a new threat in the form of the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his minions, who are these ancient creatures called Dark Elves and who seek to return the universe back to eternal darkness. Malekith intends to accomplish his goal with the use of the Aether during the Convergence, an event that occurs once every like 10,000 years in which all of the nine realms of the universe align together. Thor: The Dark World takes place right after the events of The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgard and the villainous brother is condemned to spend eternity inside a dungeon. Thor remains busy bringing peace to the various kingdoms. In the meantime, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his heartbroken love, continues her research into finding barriers between worlds. During her research, she stumbles across the Aether and is possessed by it. Thor finds her and returns her to Asgard to separate the Aether from Jane. However, discovery of the Aether reawakens Malekith, who descends upon Asgard to possess the powerful object.

If you can’t tell from my summary, Thor: The Dark World steeps itself a lot more into the fantasy Asgardian elements of this property than the first film. As one of the main directors of the hit TV show, Game of Thrones, director Alan Taylor is better suited to handle the fantasy aspect of the story than Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first film. This time Asgard feels more grounded and gritty and you get a sense that there are actual inhabitants outside of Thor, Odin and Loki. Taylor also does a fine job bringing back the humor the first film had and giving Thor: The Dark World a touch of lightness that the Marvel movies all seem to have. Here, it is obvious Joss Whedon exercised a heavy hand in many of this film’s humor, with gags and a great cameo from another Marvel superhero. Taylor also manages to avoid the typically dreadful third act climax/showdown that Marvel movies are sometimes plagued with (see Iron Man 1 and 2) – the final set piece is an inventive action sequence that, although not exceptional, is fun to watch.

However, despite the film’s virtues, Thor: The Dark World is held back by a number of elements. For one, Malekith is a woefully under-developed character, which is a real disappointment given how the very talented, charismatic, and versatile Christopher Eccleston (Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast to play Malekith, but he dropped out because of Hannibal) was cast to play this character. Aside from some decent design work on Malekith and his elvish minions, he doesn’t do a whole lot. Most of Malekith’s interactions occur with his henchman Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). He has one forgettable exchange with Thor and that is pretty much about it.

It is obvious that the studio decided to give short shrift to Malekith’s development in favor of allowing for more screen time to Loki, probably the most popular and memorable character in the Marvel movie universe next to Iron Man. Tom Hiddleston again proves himself to be indispensable to the enjoyment of this movie. He deftly combines a little boy vulnerability with his malevolent trickster traits. By now, Chris Hemsworth and Hiddleston have starred together in their third movie and you can see the two actors really hit their stride with these characters. At the same time, we are getting the same Loki that we saw in the first Thor and in The Avengers. There is no real character development here with him. The outcome with his character in this film seems to be setting him up for a third Thor film.

I have to say that I did not dig this more mature, noble Thor. I miss the cocky, impulsive, arrogant Norse god that we saw on display in the first film and in The Avengers. Now, he’s just some dull superhero who takes everything too seriously and much of the comedy he provided in Thor is gone (except for what Loki provides).

As for the rest of the characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find an expanded role for Rene Russo, who plays Thor’s mother. One of the best scenes in the film occurs between her and Malekith as she tries to protect Jane Foster from the dark elf. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard also return to serve as more comic relief. For awhile I was expecting to see the story delve into an interesting love triangle between Jaimie Alexander’s Sif, Thor, and Jane Foster, but other than a few hints here and there, nothing comes of this sub-plot. Many have pointed out that Anthony Hopkins barely registers in this film as Thor’s father, Odin. I disagree and I found the performance to be far better and memorable than what Hopkins did in the first film.

I had the misfortune of seeing Thor: The Dark World in 3D. Reportedly, director Alan Taylor was not told that his film would be converted to 3D and it shows. The 3D make the whole image darker for one, and the technology was not utilized in the least bit. There is some very nice design work and landscapes in the Asgardian scenes and you totally miss it by watching it in 3D.

Ultimately, Thor: The Dark World is a fun, escapist romp that’s worth spending a nice Sunday afternoon in the theater to see (without the 3D). There is nothing original in terms of storyline, visual effects, or characters, but you weren’t really expecting that anyway, were you? Its unfortunate the talents of Christopher Eccleston are totally wasted, but at least we get a large dose of Loki instead, which is always welcome. Make sure you stick around for the end credits (like you should do with every Marvel film) for a nice teaser for Guardians of the Galaxy.


Blade (1998): Grade: B+


Is this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, or Amazon Prime? Blade is not available for rent via Netflix Watch Instant, but it is available for rent on the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime.

Directed by: Stephen Norrington

Written by: David S. Goyer

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff, Donal Logue, Udo Kier, Sanaa Lathan

“You’re nothing to me but another dead vampire.”

Unofficially, Blade marks the beginning of the Marvel movie franchise. I say ‘unofficially’ because when New Line Cinema greenlit Blade in the late 90’s, nobody envisioned this film to be the financial success it would become, let alone give anyone the idea that audiences were hungry to see the Marvel comic book universe translated onto the big screen. In fact, New Line executives wanted Blade to be a comedic spoof, but writer and self-professed comic book fan, David Goyer (Man of Steel), insisted that the film remain true to its dark and serious comic book origins. With a B-list action star, average production budget, third-string superhero, and low box office expectations, Blade was released during the doldrum months of August (of 1998), when studios release their leftover summer films. To everyone’s surprise, Blade turned out to be a huge box office hit that spawned two more sequels, a TV series, and an anime series. It also gave studio executives and Marvel the idea that despite the box office failure of Batman and Robin (and Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel), which had come out 1 year prior to Blade, and further inspired by the massive box office success of The Matrix, which came out less than 1 year after Blade, a gold mine of Marvel’s properties was waiting to be tapped. Let me put it this way – without Blade, The Avengers may have never happened. The film’s unexpected success led Marvel to greenlight both X-Men and Spider-Man.

Besides injecting new life into the comic book genre, Blade reinvigorated the vampire genre as well, and gave this genre a much-needed contemporary vibe. It is difficult to imagine this now, but before Blade, the idea of a vampire nightclub inside a meatpacking warehouse filled with young vampire ravers was something not yet seen in a vampire film. Blade sparked the imagination behind later films and shows such as Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and True Blood.

Blade was created by comic book legends Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. Introduced in Tomb of Dracula #10 in 1973, Blade is a superhero and vampire hunter. He was born a vampire when his mother was bitten by a vampire while she was still pregnant with him. However, due to his unique DNA, Blade (Wesley Snipes) has all of the vampire’s strengths, but none of their weaknesses except for their thirst for blood. Blade is able to suppress his blood thirst with a serum, but in the film his body is becoming increasingly immune to the serum. Assisting him in his mission to vanquish all vampires is Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), a regular human who designs and builds Blade’s arsenal of weapons and also serves as a father figure to Blade. In this film, Blade is faced with a new vampire threat – Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a bitten vampire (as opposed to a pure blood vampire) who seeks to translate ancient vampire texts in order to awaken La Magra (the god of blood) so that Frost can gain godlike powers. With his minions (who include Donal Logue), Frost kidnaps the counsel of vampire elders (who are all pure bloods) in his quest to resurrect La Magra. Blade obviously has issues with this and seeks to put a stop to all these shenanigans.

Sometimes, film adaptations of comic book properties can become successful and influential enough to impact future portrayals of that property in the comic books. This happened with Blade. Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s version of the vampire hunter is very loosely similar to David Goyer’s script. The comic book Blade was not super-powered at all – he was just some guy who was immune to vampirism and who threw wooden knives to kill vampires. The character wasn’t even that popular in the comic books. In Tomb of Dracula, Blade was a supporting character and the main focus in that series was Dracula. In later years, Marvel tried to revive him during the 1990’s, but he never caught on with readers. Once the film was released and became a big success, Marvel pretty much adopted Goyer’s version for the comic book version. Ironically, despite the success of the Blade trilogy of films, Blade has remained unpopular in the comics.

If you are familiar with 70’s blaxploitation films, you will probably recognize Blade as a modern blaxploitation movie. In fact, the comic book Blade was intended to be a blaxploitation character. Like his 70’s predecessors, Blade is a black man who can chop your ass up with his martial arts skills. Deacon Frost and his gang are like The Man in that they control the cops and politicians and they have the money, the power, and the rules on their side.

I would argue that the most rewatched and coolest scene in Blade is the opening rave sequence. It perfectly sets the tone of the entire film (and it is the only time we will ever see ex-porn star Traci Lords prove that her talents may perhaps have gone beyond porn and blowjobs). The opening sequence makes it clear that Blade is not going to be some kid-friendly superhero film like the pre-Chris Nolan Batman films, The Phantom, The Shadow, or Dick Tracy. With this sequence, Blade promised and delivered Sam Raimi-esque buckets of blood, a grim and dark tone, martial arts violence (Wesley Snipes has been a martial artist since the age of 12 and has earned a 5th dan black belt in Shotokan Karate and a 2nd dan black belt in Hapkido), and the superhero even says the word “fuck!”

I have never been too keen on Wesley Snipes. Aside from a few standout roles in Jungle Fever, New Jack City, and White Men Can’t Jump, Snipes has carved himself an uninspired career of starring in play-by-numbers action movies like Passenger 57, Demolition Man, Boiling Point, and Drop Zone. However, I have to give credit where credit is due and credit is certainly due to Snipes’ electrifying presence in Blade. Simply put, Wesley Snipes IS Blade and the first film alone turned that role into Snipes’ signature career character. Marvel Studios has regained ownership of the Blade property and apparently, a new film is in development. However, I cannot begin to even fathom who else can play this character other than Wesley Snipes (LL Cool J was initially attached to star as the vampire hunter…Mama Said Knock You Out). Director Guillermo Del Toro, who directed Blade II, even went so far as to state, “Wesley knows Blade better than David Goyer, better than me, better than anyone else involved in the franchise.” While this role did not require top notch acting skills, it did require a dedication to the role, which Snipes wholeheartedly embraced.

Stephen Dorff (in his only enjoyable role), who plays Deacon Frost, is surprisingly effective in a role that almost went to Jet Li (who opted to instead star in Lethal Weapon IV…good move, Jet, but in all fairness, no one thought that film would be ok and this film would be so good). The actor brings an air of menace and sinister theatricality that although comes off cliché at times, it works for this type of movie. His best moments are with Udo Kier, the German actor who plays one of the head vampires. However, among all the villains, its Donal Logue who chews up the screen as Frost’s right-hand man, Quinn. Its strange to see Logue in this film after seeing him in The Tao of Steve, in which he displays the same mannerisms as his vampire character here. And legendary Kris Kristofferson is a brilliant casting choice as Blade’s mentor, Whistler. He brings gravitas and experience to the piece, and his old grizzled badassery nicely complements Blade’s cool badassery.

Aside from the very 90’s getup that Blade has, Blade remains a remarkably stylish film – it contains slo-mo, time-lapse shots, overcranking and undercranking, and fast-edits using shaky handheld cameras. Much of what this film has predated what we saw in action movies for well over the next decade. However, the one film that everyone compares this film to is The Matrix solely because the Keanu Reeves movie came out less than a year after Blade did and there is much in that film that Blade had already done. Watch both films back to back and you will see a lot of similarities in action choreography, shots, and themes. Blade is also strikingly atmospheric – the score, when not pounding out annoying techno tracks, produces an incessant heartbeat-like John Carpenter percussion. Admittedly, some of the VFX has not aged well, but it doesn’t take you out of the movie and it is compensated by having some satisfying practical work.

Blade is an underrated and underappreciated film that still manages to deliver an entertaining product that clips along at a nice fast-moving pace. As I said before, Marvel now controls this property and based on how insanely successful they have been with their other properties, I have high hopes that they can reboot this franchise to be just as good as it used to be, if not better (let’s not forget how bad Blade: Trinity was).

By far, the most difficult comic book superhero to adapt to the silver screen is CAPTAIN AMERICA. First, from a studio business perspective, CAPTAIN AMERICA is a horrible property for any studio to distribute because of its uniquely American character. Paramount and Marvel Studios can pretty much kiss any prospect of big international box office goodbye. Financial success of this movie solely relies on how it does at the U.S. box office. Second, a superhero who pretty much wears an American flag, has a shield for a weapon, and is called Captain America is going to be a pretty tough sell to jaded, tech savvy kids who are more used to the likes of darker superheroes like Batman and Wolverine. I always felt that the best way to overcome the cheese factor of CAPTAIN AMERICA was to approach the character in 1 of 2 ways: you either set it during World War II and make it look nostalgic like THE ROCKETEER (also directed by Joe Johnston) or you go the other extreme and set the story in a cold, dark, gritty world of international espionage that deals with issues of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and other modern day political issues. What would not work on the big screen would be to tell a straight-forward comic book superhero tale like they did for GREEN LANTERN.

Fortunately, Paramount and Marvel Studios seemed to agree and opted to set CAPTAIN AMERICA during the 1940s. Many fans questioned the choice to have Joe Johnston helm the film, especially after the disasterous results of his last film, THE WOLFMAN. For one, THE WOLFMAN can’t really be blamed on Johnston because he took over the directing reins from another director pretty late into the production. Johnston did the best he could to shape that film into something half-way decent given the little time he was given. More importantly, Johnston’s successful adaptation of THE ROCKETEER and his love of the 1940’s era made him the perfect choice to bring CAPTAIN AMERICA to the screen. A protégé of Steven Spielberg, Johnston presents a classic, nostalgic take on America’s superhero with a story that’s full of the sort of action and adventure that’s reminiscent of 30’s and 40’s era serial adventure movies. The movie isn’t perfect by a long shot, but it miraculously avoids being a disaster, which it easily could have been in the hands of most directors.

CAPTAIN AMERICA is sort of Marvel Comics’ answer to DC’s Superman. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) begins as a scrawny young man who’s numerous attempts to enlist in the Army are denied due to the laundry list of health conditions he suffers from. Undeterred, Rogers continues to try joining the Army and go overseas to fight the Nazis. One day, Rogers’ frustrations are overheard by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), an expatriate German scientist who now works for the U.S. government. The doctor is developing a super-soldier secret serum that enhances the physical attributes of a person. The doctor uses his influence to get Rogers enlisted and eventually become the doctor’s first subject to be injected with the super-soldier serum. The serum works and Rogers basically becomes super-human powered. At first, Rogers is relegated to selling war bonds in traveling musical shows. Dressed in a costume and calling himself Captain America, Rogers becomes a celebrity. However, his real desire is to join America’s soldiers to defeat the Nazis. He finally gets that chance by freeing a platoon of soldiers who have been captured by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a Nazi officer who plans to use his personal army to take over the world, including Nazi Germany. Finally gaining legitimacy, Captain America becomes America’s go-to soldier and is sent out to take out the Red Skull.

I was really skeptical when Marvel announced the casting of Chris Evans as Captain America. I had just seen him in last year’s THE LOSERS and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how this actor could possibly embody the nobility, courage, and patriotism that symbolizes Captain America. I always felt that Paul Walker would have been the ideal Captain America and I still feel he was the better choice. Although I wasn’t overall disappointed by Evans’ portrayal of Captain America, there was something missing. I didn’t sense the larger-than-life presence that I should have felt whenever I saw Captain America. Even when he fights alongside other superheroes (as we will see in next year’s THE AVENGERS), Captain America exudes a commanding, almost god-like presence. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that from Chris Evans.

On the other hand, Chris Evans is supported by a marvelous supporting cast that brings a lot of energy and humor to the film. Its been a while since I’ve seen Tommy Lee Jones in a film and his appearance was a most welcome sight. Jones plays Colonel Chester Phillips, who works with Dr. Erskine to develop the super-soldier program. Jones plays the craggy, sarcastic character that we have seen him do in the past, most notably in THE FUGITIVE. Normally, the superhero’s love interest is usually a two-dimensional damsel in distress figure who barely registers on the audience’s radar. This was glaringly true in this summer’s GREEN LANTERN. However, CAPTAIN AMERICA breaks that mold with Hayley Atwell, who plays SSR officer Peggy Carter. Carter has spunk, intelligence, and as much bravery as Captain America. I have a feeling this movie will get Atwell a well-deserved notice by audiences and studio executives. Rounding out the strong supporting cast is Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine and Neal McDonough and Derek Luke as members of Captain America’s Howling Commandos. All of these actors bring dimensionality to the film. By the way, I missed the Stan Lee cameo so if anyone saw him, please feel free to submit a comment to this review and let me know where I can find him.

Saving the best for last, CAPTAIN AMERICA, like most other action-adventure films, benefits greatly from the fine performance of Hugo Weaving as Captain America’s arch-nemesis, Red Skull. You couldn’t ask for better casting than Hugo Weaving to play the Nazi and he plays him to absolute perfection. Unlike my disappointment with Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Voldemort in HARRY POTTER 7.5, Weaving wisely avoids a clichéd portrayal of the Red Skull’s evil. He infuses the character with enough nuances to give the character dimensionality and originality.

When it was announced Martin Campbell would direct GREEN LANTERN, I expected that the director’s old-school mentality would result in a lot more practical effects than CG effects. However, the director instead opted to rely on much more CG effects, which clearly became a problem for someone who’s not used to using CG effects in his films. Joe Johnston doesn’t make this mistake with CAPTAIN AMERICA. The director has been around a long time and he began making movies before CG effects entirely took over practical effects. Consequently, Johnston is comfortable using practical effects and he does so frequently in CAPTAIN AMERICA. Because of its practical effects, the movie adds to the nostalgia effect and I felt like I was watching an 80s action-adventure film.

At the same time, Johnston’s direction also results in unoriginal and clichéd action sequences that we’ve seen way too many times in past films. None of the action sequences are interesting and this is where the fresh perspective of a younger director would have come in handy. The scenes where Captain America saves the American soldiers from the Red Skull’s castle and where Captain America goes after the Red Skull in the 3rd Act completely lack originality. I wanted to see set-ups and choreography I had never seen before such as what Zack Snyder had done in THE WATCHMEN. I also never felt that Captain America was in any danger. I understand that a character of his mythic proportions will always escape danger, but it would have been nice to at least have felt some high stakes in the situations the hero finds himself in. I didn’t even get this in the scene where his sidekick, Bucky Barnes, gets killed.

Another issue I had with CAPTAIN AMERICA was the lack of clear motivation for Steve Rogers. Its made clear that Rogers wants to join the Army to fight for his country against the Nazis. However, we don’t get a good picture as to why he’s so determined to do so. At one point he tells someone that he doesn’t like bullies because he’s a weak guy, but there needs to be more. What lies in his past that compels him to be the man that he is? This is a basic problem that comic book superheroes face in that their motivations are usually not explained in-depth. They are simply committed to fight for justice and their reason for doing so is usually pretty basic. However, in a movie, I think you need to give the character a little more motivation than what you would find in a comic book. That way, you dimensionalize the character more and connect with him better.

CAPTAIN AMERICA is a decent overall effort from Joe Johnston and I was grateful that the director was at least able to avoid crafting a complete disaster. If you love the 1940s era and were particularly a fan of THE ROCKETEER, then you’ll find a certain pleasure in watching this movie. Don’t go into this expecting high superhero art like THE DARK KNIGHT because this was clearly not intended to be that. It’s as summer-y as a summer popcorn movie can get (I think I said that about SUPER 8 as well), which is not entirely a bad thing. By the way, make sure you stick around through the end credits to see a teaser trailer for THE AVENGERS.