Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Men in Black 3D

What a lackluster couple of weeks its been for any film without a Marvel character running around in it. Dark Shadows was a dud, Battleship crashed and burned. All eyes focused on Big Willie and Tommy Lee to see if they could go toe to toe with the Avengers. The end result last weekend was a success but a mild one but if you were to read Nikki Finke over the last few days you would think the movie world was coming to an end. That woman laments film openings with more angst than 5 years of Beverly Hills 90210 ever could. Calm down Nikki take your medication. However, as far as the industry is concerned, it is a shame that Men in Black didn't shatter expectations but if you continue further to my review you may see why it shouldn't be that surprising that it was lackluster. It made about 54 million through Sunday and another 14 million for Monday. Which puts it at about 68 million for the overall weekend. Now compared to the previous versions and to usual blockbuster fare of this magnitude it's middling for sure. The real test is how it holds on its second weekend with Snow White and the Huntsman coming out next weekend.
Men in Black 3 brings back Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) as the world weary team tasked with containing and sometimes eliminating threats to our world from Foreign and Domestic aliens. In this go-round an old baddie, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), that K locked away on a Moon prison escapes to get his revenge on his old nemesis. Boris decides to eliminate K Back to the Future style as he travels back to 1969. J is tasked with going back to save his partner before Boris sends an invasion force in present day to destroy the Earth. He of course, runs into K's younger self (Josh Brolin) as they try to stop Boris together.
Honestly I had fun with this movie it is by far much better than the previous installment but honestly that isn't saying very much. The performances, and the pacing were great but I feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities here. Especially given how well Josh Brolin pulled off playing the younger K. The thing that I always loved about the first Men in Black is that it was sharply written with a very clever plot. Not to mention it was genuinely funny. I felt that a lot of the humor in this one felt forced and a little stale. Admittedly we haven't seen a Men in Black movie in about ten years maybe it has become outdated. One of the better sequences was the Andy Warhol stuff with Bill Hader but they featured so much of it in the trailers it kind of ruined the surprise and fun of it in the film. The time travel plot while kind of fun felt well traveled already by many other more successful films and TV shows. The one character that was supposed to be interesting and funny was Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) the temporal displacement guy who really only felt like a low rent Observer from the far more creative and interesting show Fringe. This plays into the narrative that we had been hearing about this film all along the past year or so that they were working off unfinished scripts and that Will Smith was being a diva about his massive trailer in NYC. Director Barry Sonnefeld denied the rumors about an unfinished script and I'm sure he's correct about it especially a film of this magnitude it would be extremely difficult to do on the fly but it does beg the question why not flesh the script out better? You had so many tacked on things here with Agent K and his watch and a somewhat lame payoff at the end. The relationship between older K and agent O (Emma Thompson) and then the weird attempt at a romantic angle in the past with Agent O (Alice Eve) that doesn't seem to go anywhere. These are very small things but they do add up and certainly take away some of the enjoyment for the film. As far as the 3D I think it holds up pretty well. This is definitely the kind of movie that 3D is made for. If you do see it I would suggest seeing it in all of it's 3D glory. Overall it's a fun but forgettable ride.
Grade: 3 Buckets

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Avengers

I've been waiting 25 years to see a movie like this and I waited a week and saw it twice before I decided to put pen to paper or in this case fingers to keys. After months of endless trailers, clips and tie-ins is it possible for a movie of this magnitude to live up to the hype and overall splendor it was intended for? The answer is just as easy-- yes, God yes may I have some more. The Avengers is the end result of a painstaking process that started in 2008 with Iron Man that sustained the tie-ins through 4 more films: Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and finally Captain America. Were they all masterpieces? No, far from it but they continued a narrative sometimes subtly sometimes in your face but this narrative started the building blocks for a massive project that would put all of Earth's mightiest heroes in one film. Producer Kevin Feige deserves a lot of the credit for this as he has successfully tied together on one team a Demi-God, a smart ass genius billionaire, a soldier from a different era, an indestructible Goliath and two superb agents of Shield. The toughest challenge after putting this team together is executing it and Director/writer Joss Whedon rose to the challenge and crushed a Grand Slam.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the God of Thunder's brother, has come to Earth to claim it for his own. His first action is to take the Tesseract or Cosmic Cube from Shield. For those of you unaware of what I am talking about look no further than after the end credits of Thor. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) brings in Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to study the Cosmic Cube and harness it's power. The Cube was also seen in the film Captain America - The First Avenger. The Red Skull used the cube to power his evil mechanical abominations until he was seemingly destroyed by the cube while fighting Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans). Loki snatches the cube and using his magic turns Selvig and Agent Clint Barton aka. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) against Nick Fury and his fellow Shield agents. Fury is forced to go to plan B which is to re-instate the Avengers Initiative. He sends his faithful agents Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to recruit Bruce Banner aka. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark aka. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to the team that already includes Captain America. They come together to fight Loki and a destructive alien force hellbent on destroying the Earth and claiming the Tesseract for themselves.

Again what more can I say, but damn, damn! It was by far one of the most entertaining films of the year but it may be one of the biggest summer films ever. God Bless Joss Whedon for his ability to put this together so well and curse him for doing it before I ever could. I always wanted to make big movies ever since I was a kid and to be able to be apart of something like the Avengers is pretty damn high on the bucket list if you know what I mean. The pacing, the script the overall action the balancing act of all of these heroes in one space. It was masterfully done and I tip my hat to him, honestly. Just trying to put a cork in Robert Downey Jr. alone had to be one of the biggest challenges, I love the guy but nobody has a bigger ego then that man. The Hulk was probably the best improvement of all. This is the first time they've gotten him right in any format. Mark Ruffalo played Banner with humor and pathos and really outshines previous Banners like Ed Norton and Eric Bana. As for the Hulk, he looked like Ruffalo and for the most part he seemed like he could be real as his emotions and playful side got some of the best Holy Shit moments as well as some of the biggest laughs. I also loved how Whedon bookended the other films and allowed the characters to breathe and grow. If you were to watch Iron Man to Iron Man 2 and then the Avengers you will see the evolution of Tony Stark that brings him into a larger more dangerous world that even he can't tackle on his own and they did it almost effortlessly.

Captain America also gets his due at being the leader of this team. This was also the part I was most concerned that Chris Evans wouldn't be able to step up to that plate and convince me he could do it. But he did that and more, throughout the film he was always the voice of reason and he was the only one to keep the focus on the mission without waver. He has a big moment during the invasion that in my mind solidified the character of Steve Rogers and showed without question that Chris Evans is more than capable of leading this team of extraordinary people. It was also great to see Black Widow get a nice chunk of the film to work with as she played it cool off of the Hulk and Loki. Poor Hawkeye doesn't get a whole lot of screen time but he is wonderfully played by Jeremy Renner who could totally take this character to do a stand-alone film of his own. He's got great range and he's tough and can effortlessly take over a film if given the opportunity. If anyone could make Hawkeye an A-list Avenger it's Renner. Tom Hiddleston's Loki also should get some massive credit here for weaving a complicated character like Loki into the fabric of the Avengers with his taunts and his aggression. It's hard to find an actor to play the role of such a despicable character like Loki and yet challenge the audience to still find a ray of sympathy for him. Which is what made his scenes with his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) that much more enjoyable. The two are masters in this realm and play up the scenes to make them even more dynamic then they probably intended to be. Hemsworth's Thor is also a difficult balancing act because of his Olde English vocabulary and the fact that he has otherworldly powers. Yet he brings a humanity to Thor that makes it easy to forget how much of another level he actually is on. Finally, with the support staff of Nick Fury, Coulson and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) the Avengers has something to fight for. I won't give away some of the story but there is a big death in the film and it carries a lot of weight that could only come about due to the extraordinary performances of these support characters. It literally gives the team its second wind to do what they have to do to bring Loki down.

I saw the film last week in 3D and this week in 2D and honestly it doesn't matter which format you see it in. I enjoyed it just as much on a 2D screen as I did a 3D one. Like many of the previous blockbuster films utilizing 3D they seem to focus more on space rather than shit flying at your face which is always a better strategy but it also makes you forget about the 3D altogether. There are so many great scenes and action set pieces that I would have to write a 200 page book just to describe them all. I'll just end by saying if you haven't seen the film like I don't know a few million over the past week, then what the hell are you waiting for?  I'm looking forward to seeing the new stand-alone films Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 and I'm really looking forward to seeing Thanos in Avengers 2. Yes, that's right for all of you who do not read comics that was Thanos sitting in that chair grinning at the end and it looks like he's going to be bringing his Infinity Gauntlet to raise the stakes and kick some Avengers ass. I'll be first in line in 2014. Avengers Assemble!

Grade 5 Buckets