Saturday, April 19, 2014

Give Us Your Worst, Part 24: Daredevil

Daredevil opened on February 14th in 2003, which is when I saw it with my girlfriend (who was cool enough to go out to see a superhero flick on Valentine's Day). Jumping ahead eleven years, I just re-watched it for the first time since it opened. This time I did so alone - my wife still remembers the movie well enough to have decided it wasn't worth seeing a second time.

The surprising thing about Daredevil isn't that they got so much wrong; it's that, given how bad the movie was, they actually got quite a few things right. Murdock's relationship with his father was portrayed well, and Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin was fantastic. Likewise, I respect the movie for trying to go dark, though the results were... uneven.

These days, there have been so many good and bad superhero movies, it's difficult to find commonalities or good rules of thumb, but back in 2003 it was pretty easy. At the time, bad superhero movies were almost universally made by directors who didn't like or respect the material. In that respect, Daredevil broke new ground for bad comic book movies - I think it's pretty clear Mark Steven Johnson loved the source material; he just didn't understand it.

He certainly didn't understand the characters. Daredevil is too dark here, Elektra too light. Elektra is not a kind, gentle person burdened with a violent life. She's essentially a sociopath with a code. Also, she's not a pushover. Bullseye takes her out without effort in this movie: that pisses me off as much as anything else here.

The film's tone works against it more often than not. They were going for operatic noir, and I appreciate the attempt. Unfortunately, the result was mainly just boring. The characters were written far too inconsistently for any emotional connection to form, and the action was - like so many things in this movie - ambitious but not successful.

Unlike a lot of what I've seen for this series, Daredevil wasn't unwatchable, just really bad. Even Duncan's Kingpin can't make it worth sitting through, though he comes surprisingly close. In a movie filled with characters who acted nothing like their comic counterparts, he actually delivered something close to authentic. The only thing hindering him was the script, which failed to appreciate the resources and power the character is supposed to have at his disposal.

I've said otherwise in the past, but after re-watching them both I'm ready to admit this wasn't quite as bad as the Elektra spin-off. It's close, but this was slightly less boring. Slightly.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Ever since Goldfinger hit screens in 1964, James Bond has been borderline superhuman. Over the years, we've seen a lot of superhero comics tropes integrated into Bond movies. And, of course, we've seen spy movies influence comics for decades.

"The Winter Soldier" might be the definitive word on that subject: it's a super spy thriller where the main characters are comic book superheroes. This is Roger Moore power-levels with a Daniel Craig tone - we've never gotten anything like that from the Bond franchise (or any other spy movie I can think of).

It is easily the darkest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. The movie's got plenty of laughs, but the tone is several shades darker than what we're used to from Marvel. We've seen these characters fighting for the fate of the world in several movies, but this is the first time it felt like they were battling for the planet's soul.

Some aspects of that do get a little preachy, but then this is Captain America we're talking about: he's supposed to be a little preachy.

From a fan perspective, I was extremely happy with the portrayal of the film's substantially large cast. In addition to Captain America and the movie's title character, it included Black Widow, Falcon, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill in substantial roles. There were several other characters given smaller parts, including Agent 13 and Batroc the Leaper.

And, yes: Batroc does, in fact, leap.

I've seen some people elevate this above The Avengers. I think that's a tad generous, but I think it's got a solid claim to the #2 spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sorry Iron Man fans: those movies are still great, but The Winter Soldier comes together better as a whole.

Without delving too deeply into spoilers, I'll also add this movie has some pretty big ramifications for the connected universe. It'll be particularly interesting to see where Agents of SHIELD goes from here.

Check this out as soon as possible. It's a great addition to the Marvel line-up. By now, I hope I don't still need to remind you to stick around through the credits. Just in case - don't leave. Because, if you thought it was impressive they were putting Batroc the Leaper onscreen, you haven't seen anything yet.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Futures Market 2014

It's strange: in some ways, it doesn't feel like summer at all. But here we are, getting ready to check out the year's first Marvel summer blockbuster, so there can be little doubt. In their defense, with four major films coming out this summer, Marvel had little choice but to expand the season. And they're not alone in comic properties: the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie hits this summer, as does another Sin City. Add those six to the total number of DC Comics adaptations hitting the screen, and you've got...

Same number. Seriously, DC? Beaten by IDW and Dark Horse. Ouch.

Moving on. Like last year, I'm looking at the science fiction, fantasy, superhero, and animated movies coming out this summer. You know: all the geek stuff. I'll provide an estimate for how I think the movie will do on the Tomatometer. Feel free to come back at the end of the summer and mock me for being widely off mark.

Good times for all. Let's begin....


Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Projected Tomatometer: 90%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: It would take a squadron of Hydra troopers to keep me out

I'm cheating on the Tomatometer, of course. With the movie opening in a few days, there's more than enough reviews to establish where the meter is going to fall.

Everything about the movie looks good. My favorite aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are the crossovers, and this is costarring Black Widow, who's been one of the best parts of Iron Man 2 and Avengers. Throw in the directors of some of the best half-hours of television of the last decade, and you've certainly got my attention.

But all that's icing: if the Disney/Marvel movies were half as good and twice as numerous, I'd still be there opening weekend, every time. Did I mention I'm a sucker for a connected superhero universe?


The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Projected Tomatometer: 85%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Almost nothing.

This is a tough one to predict - the last movie's only at 73%, but I suspect the spectacle alone will push this to at least the mid-80's. The franchise itself is in weird territory. The Raimi trilogy started a lot stronger than it finished, but most of us - myself included - didn't see the point in a reboot. But ASM brought me around on the idea. It approached the material from an entirely different tone and took another look at some of the quintessential elements of Peter Parker's story. I'm still not convinced it was the best direction for Sony to go with the property, but I have to admit it was a solid approach.

I'm hearing complaints from some that part two looks too busy - the massive cast of super-villains is reminding a handful of folks of the Schumacher Batman films and even the last Raimi Spider-Man. But I don't see it that way. The problem with the late 90's Batman movies wasn't that there too many antagonists; it's that the movies were poorly written and constructed. Same goes for Spider-Man 3.

I'm all for seeing Spider-Man take on as many members of his rogues gallery as they want to cram into the movie, so long as they don't screw it up. They're not going to screw this one up, right? RIGHT?

Hell, I'll probably still see it if they do.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Projected Tomatometer: 14%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer above 90%

I'm not going to waste too much of my time stating the obvious: the trailers for this... thing... look abysmal. Like someone made a low-budget CG special for TV a decade ago.

It's still an adaptation of one of the most famous fantasy series ever made, so I'm mentioning it here. But I'd be shocked if I saw this in the theater. Or on DVD, for that matter.

Projected Tomatometer: 85%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth and/or Tomatometer above 75%

It's easy to understand why people are skeptical at another American relaunch of the king of the monsters, but I really think they may have gotten this one right. The trailers have been a tad underwhelming so far, but only because they've held everything back. Most people still think Godzilla is the only monster in this movie, and I'm fairly certain that's not the case.

The tone and approach seem to be perfect. While I respect purists, Pacific Rim already demonstrated the obvious: that digital effects can work with this concept. While it's easy to imagine this being a major letdown, I'm cautiously optimistic.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Projected Tomatometer: 78%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: A consensus that it's at least better than Origins: Wolverine and X-Men 3

Days of Future Past is an extremely ambitious piece to adapt. It could easily be fantastic. In fact, it's not at all a stretch to imagine this being the best movie of the summer. But it's also entirely plausible this could crash and burn.

The reason it's such a wildcard is the reason it should be a sure bet: director Bryan Singer. This is the guy who started this franchise with X-Men and X-Men 2, both stellar films. His return to the X-Men should be a slam dunk. EXCEPT. X-Men 2 came out more than ten years ago. And, in that time, Singer hasn't been as consistent.

But I'm certainly not about to write off the directer of X-Men 2. I'm just a little hesitant to get too excited. Fox already burned me with their take on The Dark Phoenix Saga: let's hope they knock DoFP out of the park.

Projected Tomatometer: 40%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: For me to be wrong

I want to believe this will be good. I want to believe that the trailer where they re-purposed "Once Upon a Dream" into a song between Maleficent and Aurora encapsulates the nightmarish feel of the film, and wasn't just something cobbled together by Disney's marketing department.

I really truly want to believe that.

And there's a chance it's true. That chance's name is Robert Stromberg. You haven't seen anything he's directed, because this is his first time in that role. If, by some random happenstance, he turns out to be a brilliant storyteller, this movie could be amazing.

But here's the thing: he was hired by the people who produced Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great and Powerful. Disney's live-action fairy tale department is very adept at producing movies that look interesting but are extremely disappointing in reality. Hopefully, this will break the pattern, but I'm not at all optimistic.


Edge of Tomorrow
Projected Tomatometer: 80%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 80% AND good word-of-mouth
I was all set to write this off as another generic Tom Cruise sci-fi movie until I realized who directed it. Doug Liman has managed to impress me in the past by making movies far better than I'd have expected. Edge of Tomorrow looks extremely generic, but the fact they got a very un-generic director gives me some hope.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Projected Tomatometer: 80%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 90% AND good word-of-mouth
I'm not the world's biggest fan of the first one. I think it's a solid movie, but nowhere near deserving of the honors it's had heaped upon it. It's a decent, if over-rated, CG movie.

That said, I'm excited to see they're taking some risks with the second. Allowing the lead to age represents a decision that has a lot of potential. I refuse to get my hopes too high for a DreamWorks movie that isn't part of the Kung Fu Panda series, but I'll admit I'm intrigued.

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Projected Tomatometer: 27%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Something worthwhile in the movie
I don't need to hear that this movie is good: I think that's probably too high a bar to expect Michael Bay to clear, anyway. What I'm looking for is something interesting. And I mean something I'll find interesting: that the dinobots are well realized, that that spaceship with a design echoing Unicron is cool, or that the movie does more than mangle CG robots together.

It's not that I'm above watching these - I actually still like the first. It's just that, in the absence of plot or character development, Bay's really just thrown the same effects at the screen and expected us not to notice. Be honest: can you really parse out the plots to parts 2 and 3? Or, for that matter, the effects? Watching either is fundamentally the same experience as watching the other. I expect something different if I'm going to pay to see another.

Projected Tomatometer: 88%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Not sure - still mulling this one over
The projection is another cheat - this one's been out for a while overseas, and at least a few critics have already cast their votes. If I understand the trailer, this is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie about a group of survivors on a train perpetually outrunning a global winter. From what I can tell, the conflict comes less from the weather than class warfare on the train.

I'm undecided on whether I'll see it. Aspects sound intriguing, but the summer is pretty packed as it is.

The Congress
Projected Tomatometer: 85%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Really good word-of-mouth
Because two science fiction films opening this weekend wasn't enough....

This looks like another take on the "Being John Malkovich" blueprint. This time, it's starring Robin Wright as herself and as a digital version of herself. The trailer is interesting, and I like the general concept. That said, it looks more like something to watch on Netflix than to see on the big screen.

Oh, and - once again - don't give me any credit if my "projection" is close: I'm pulling that 85% from the 20 critics who have already spoken.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Projected Tomatometer: 80%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Decent reviews and strong recommendations
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an unexpected pleasure. Director Rupert Wyatt spun what should have been a by-the-numbers prequel into a clever and emotional relaunch. If he was coming back, I'd be far more excited.

Not that Matt Reeves is a bad choice. I didn't exactly like Cloverfield, but it was competently made. Hopefully, he entered this project with a plan and put together something awesome. It's just a long way from a sure bet.

Jupiter Ascending
Projected Tomatometer: I don't know. Let's go with 75%?
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Forget the critics - I'll see it unless I hear it's awful
Most people who actually saw Cloud Atlas - and there aren't many of us - agree it was a cool movie that was, perhaps, a tad overambitious. Regardless, I like the Wachowskis best when they're cutting loose with effects and visuals. I guess that's another way of saying my favorite movie from them remains Speed Racer. God, I love that crazy movie.

Well, consider me excited, because this looks just as crazy. If the trailers are to be believed, we're getting an insane space opera that will make the Fifth Element look dull in comparison.

All that said, this is by the people who made the Matrix sequels, so some caution is appropriate. The Wachowskis are by no means perfectly consistent, but they're wildly inventive. And while their career certainly has its blemishes, anyone who tries to reduce their filmography to a Shyamalan-like downward trajectory is gravely mistaken. Yeah, their most critically successful movie was their first, but it wasn't actually their best. And, while Cloud Atlas was flawed, it was still a solid movie.

I've got high hopes for this one. If it's a fraction as much fun as I'm expecting, it'll be well worth the price of admission.

Planes: Fire and Rescue
Projected Tomatometer: 25%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Ha. Ha. HAHAHAHA!
This is a cheap cash grab based on the success Disney's had marketing Cars and Planes toys to young kids, but that's no reason to write it off: the Lego movie was no less a glorified commercial. But don't worry: there are plenty of other reasons to write this off, starting with the 26% Freshness rating of its predecessor and continuing on to its crappy trailer.

Hell, I'm being generous even including Disney's sequel to the poorly rated spin-off of Pixar's worst films on this list. But it is Disney animation, and that gives it a certain kind of geek cred. Not enough to see, mind you - not even close - but enough to mention it in passing.

Projected Tomatometer: 30%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Is there time to completely rewrite and re-film it using a different director?
For those of you keeping track, this is the version of Hercules starring The Rock. It looks to be staying relatively true to the myth: judging from the trailers, he seems to be the son of Zeus, and he seems to have superpowers. Conceptually, that puts it ahead of "The Legend of Hercules," that movie released in January that tried to reboot the character in a gritty, realistic manner.

So, why then do I have no more faith in this than I had in that? Funny you should ask. This Hercules is directed by Brett Ratner.

Yeah. I think we're done here.


Guardians of the Galaxy
Projected Tomatometer: 70%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: I'm not seeing this movie unless it co-stars a badass talking raccoon with a gun. Ahem. See you opening day.
Let me get this out of the way up front: this movie might suck. I'm sorry, but there's a real chance. On the other hand, it could be the greatest movie ever made. And, in this case, the two preceding scenarios aren't mutually exclusive.

Rocket Raccoon. Groot. Gamora. Drax. Forget for a minute whether it's good or bad: the sheer fact this is coming out is astonishing in and of itself. These are four awesome heroes. Oh, and look at that: they've even got a pet human!

In a year of wild, crazy, ambitious summer movies, this is the wildest, craziest, and most ambitious of the bunch. I can't wait to check this out.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Projected Tomatometer: 25%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: I'm looking for a Tomatometer north of 60 and/or some solid recommendations.
I'm not sure what to make of this yet. On one hand, for all the negative press this has been getting, the approach isn't entirely a bad one. This is going to be a slightly darker version than we're used to. Whether or not the filmmakers were even aware of the fact, that actually brings the property closer to its origins.

That said, "Michael Bay" isn't a name you want listed on the production credits, and Jonathan Liebesman's resume isn't reassuring.

If I had to guess, I'd say I probably won't be seeing this in August. But stranger things have happened. For example: Disney is making a Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

Projected Tomatometer: 65%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer above 85% and/or good word-of-mouth
This one almost slipped below the radar entirely. I just came across the trailer today and suddenly became interested. Lucy appears to be about a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who gets superpowers. She seems more interested in survival and revenge than helping others, though it's not clear whether this ends with her becoming a superhero, a god, or going Akira on everyone's ass. Whichever way it goes, in the hands of director Luc Besson, there's reason to anticipate a lot of fun. There'd be more reason if this were ten years ago, but - like I keep saying - I am an optimist

The Expendables 3
Projected Tomatometer: 55%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good luck with that
I'm not a huge fan of this series, but I have been catching them as they appear on Netflix. That seems like a good strategy going forward: they're fun enough to kill an afternoon, but certainly not worth buying a movie ticket.

The villain this time is played by Mel Gibson. Probably a good casting call, since it's more or less impossible to take him seriously as a hero anymore.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Projected Tomatometer: 50%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Really good reviews and recommendations
Like most people old enough to do so in 2005, I saw Sin City in the theater. And, of course, I loved it. The movie was a new experience: a faithful adaptation of a comic book that retained the style and story. It was extremely cool. You know, for it's time.

But 2005 was a long time ago. And the thing that made Sin City great wasn't its characters or its plot: it was the look and tone. The issue is that look and tone aren't elements you need to build upon. Making another one isn't likely to offer a substantially different experience than you'd get re-watching the first.

Also, seeing something co-directed by Frank Miller isn't quite the selling point it was before he made The Spirit. Just saying.

I don't think this is going to be awful, but I'd be surprised if it was anything more than mediocre. If we're being completely honest, Rodriguez has always been more a cooler director than a good one, anyway. And that coolness factor doesn't really carry the same punch when the experience is nine years old.

But it's possible I'm being too dismissive. Maybe this will head into new territory and offer something unexpected. If I hear that's the case, I'll probably check this out and retract everything I'm typing here. But I wouldn't be typing it in the first place if I thought that was likely.