Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer '08 Super Hero Movie Roundup

I've officially seen more superhero flicks this summer than any other. Granted, I've probably watched more flicks this summer than any other (Even 'Sex In THe City' snuck in there... but it wasn't my idea!), so that doesn't necessarily reflect a sudden rise in the number of superhero flicks this year. There were undeniably a lot to choose from, though. I haven't seen them *all* (the one that comes to mind is Hellboy 2), but I think I got pretty close.

I just thought I'd give my two cents on the movies I saw, since, well, I haven't blogged in a while. Sure there's a ton of things going on in my life right now (planning a wedding, first and foremost), but it's fun to talk about movies. Everyone's a critic for a reason. It's FUN.

Iron Man

This has been out for a while, now, and most everything that has been said about it has been said, so I'll keep it short. I liked it enough to go see it twice, and it was pretty good for a super hero flick. First, the bad. It had an underdeveloped supervillain, which is one flaw that seems to dog a lot of traditional superhero origin movies. I cannot help but wonder why. X-Men managed to pull it off years ago, but every other origin movie in recent memory always manages to screw it up somehow. Now the good. Robert Downie Jr. Enough said. He was so good here, that goodness spilled over and subsequently almost made him the best thing about The Incredible Hulk movie. Speaking of which...

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk works for three reasons: 1) Hulk says "HULK SMASH!", and then proceeds to smash. 2) The villain is an obsessed military-type turned giant super-soldier psychopath, and not a giant cloudish, elemental... thing. Fisticuffs > Whatever it is Ang Lee's Hulk did in the final showdown of that movie. 3) Tony Stark drops by and says hi.

Ok, those aren't the only reasons, but those points do illustrate what a different direction this movie takes from the previous one. This movie was just more intense. It helps that it isn't trying to tell an origin story, so the plot basically hits the ground running. The first movie meandered in various different directions with little to hold the whole thing together. That's fine for an art film, but if you're going to have a giant green CG monster headline your movie, all the introspective stuff needs to be tight, focused, and keep the intensity at a certain level. The new Hulk keeps the plot tight and focused. Basically it's a fugitive story in comicbook wrappings. Who doesn't like a good chase?

Also, it's interesting that Marvel is trying to tie its franchises together by having the Hulk and Iron Man coexist in the same universe. The foreshadowing of Captain America and the Avengers is great fan service and builds anticipation for what's to come. The only downside is you are left wondering if all of this effort is going to pay off down the line for the fans. After, all they are now more compelled to invest into Marvel's subsequent movies. For instance, the Thor movie. I wouldn't have been particularly interested in watching that per se, but if it ties into the larger universe... hell, now I have to.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that things don't start to suck.


This was VERY different from the source material. The comic book Wanted was built on a fascinating premise: supervillains are real, but after a war in which they won and defeated all the superheroes, they remade reality into what we have today, a world where superheroes and supervillains are remembered only in comics. Super villains live in the shadows, controlling everything in secret, keeping their activities clandestine for fear that the superheroes of the multiverse will bear down on them if they reveal themselves.

The movie Wanted is about... a secret league of assassins. Who can shoot bullets that curve. Ok! Long story short: turn your brain off, and you might enjoy this. It's very dumb, but fun if you're in the right mood. I wasn't quite in the right mood, but I did manage to turn my brain off once bullets started curving, and I came away relatively unscarred. If you must leave your brain on to enjoy a movie, then I suggest you take a pee break when they start talking about rat bombs. Spare yourself that much, at least.


This is the only superhero movie on the list that isn't based on a preexisting property. The reviews had been mostly negative, so I went in with low expectations. Maybe the low expectations had something to do with it, but I came away pleasantly surprised. It did not suck nearly as much as the reviews said it would. It was definitely not as bad as Wild Wild West (which was atrocious). In fact I liked it a lot more than Wanted. I think what bugged most people is the slightly unexpected change in direction and mood the film takes partway through.

The movie starts out as a really fascinating look at the reformation of a really powerful bum, who feels compelled to help people but can't seem to keep it together enough to prevent massive property damage from occurring. It's funny, it's smart, and it seems to be making some sort of commentary on how American society treats it celebrities. All good. Then the plot does a 180, things seem to get grimmer, and it threatens to end in tragedy. Not good?

Here's how I look at it. The first half was brilliant, but I had a hard time figuring out how it was supposed to end. The second half was brilliant in it's own way, though the critics are right in saying it failed to deliver on what the first half promised. What I think the second half delivers is something else entirely that was still my cup of tea. I like tragic heroes, so shoot me. Maybe there was a better way to stitch up the two ends of the movie, but I also happen to like twists like the one Hancock throws at you. It was a little jarring, for sure, but not entirely illogical, and I thought there was enough foreshadowing in the first half that there was something else going on under the surface.

I hope they follow up on Hancock. They've created an interesting character here that deserves a little more time in the spotlight before he's retired for good.

The Dark Knight

I kinda had the opposite problem going into this movie that I did with Hancock. The reviews and word-of-mouth for The Dark Knight were so overwhelmingly positive that I had convinced myself it couldn't possibly be THAT good. I was sure I was going to be disappointed.

Well, it's good to be wrong once in a while.

Believe the hype. The Dark Knight delivers on every promise and then just keeps delivering. I honestly cannot recall the last time a movie kept me on the edge of my seat for two hours straight. Well... maybe Terminator 2 did, but I was a kid back then. Doesn't count.

I probably don't need to gush over the acting in this film (I hear Heath Ledger's performance is a posthumous Oscar wild card), since everyone else has done that already. I don't need to harp on the brilliant pacing and plot either. I'll just explain the main reason I want to see this movie again.

Christopher Nolan has a habit of crafting tales that make you think twice about what you just saw, and in the light of new information, whether you interpreted things right the first time. Momento and The Prestige come to mind. It's not too much of a stretch to say that Nolan regularly lies in his stories and then hints later on that he was fibbing, but doesn't always come right out and says so, leaving the viewer to wonder what was really going on at any given moment. In The Dark Knight's version of the Joker, Nolan has basically created a character that embodies Nolan's distinct approach to storytelling.

The Joker lies. Sometimes his lies are harmless, and sometimes they make the difference between life and death. But they are all sinister lies, and it is difficult to tell when they cease, if they ever ceased at all. This Joker injects every scene he is in with a thick air of unpredictability that spills out into the rest of the movie. You're never sure if you can trust the Joker, and eventually a sort of paranoia sets in that makes you fear the worse for everyone in the movie at any given moment. That's how effective the Joker's lies are, and that is what makes him the greatest movie protagonist I've seen on screen in a long, long time time... perhaps ever.

The best part is that the Joker, like Nolan, never explicitly tells you when he was lying and when he wasn't. You have to pay attention to what's happening to figure that out. So it would just be fun to go back, watch the movie, and reevaluate his motives and goals at any given moment, and rethred the labyrinth of the Joker's psychological mind games.

Also, I was too freaked out most of the time the first time around to really think straight. Yeah I'm a wimp.

In Conclusion

This has been a really interesting year for superhero movies. The big two, Marvel and DC, attempted things that can potentially advance the genre to heights unseen. Marvel has begun the process of presenting its heroes as part of one, coherent, shared universe. The Hulk can show up in a future Iron Man movie, and vice versa, and both movies dropped huge teases about future heroes that will get the big screen treatment. That's a fantastic premise and I can't help but wonder what took them so long to get round to implementing that approach.

The Dark Knight, on the other hand, really upped the ante in terms of plot and complexity. Never has a movie succeeded so gloriously at telling a serious, compelling, grounded story about a man who runs around in tights fighting evil. The folks at Marvel should be wondering how they can do the same for their franchises. Here's hoping they swing for the fences like Nolan did. The recent Iron Man comics have been telling interesting espionage-themed stories of late... maybe that's one way to go?

In any case, this year has really set everything up for good things to come. It may be downhill from here... I do have a hard time imagining how another batsequel could possibly top The Dark Knight, and I harbor fears about the Marvel movieverse crumbling under its own weight.

I'm an optimist though, and I'll see you at the Thor movie!