Thursday, March 27, 2014

Captain America: One Of The Best Comic Book Movies Ever

     Let me start by saying that I loved Captain America: The First Avenger. Let me add that I am very critical of comic book movies. Whether you're a fan of the genre or not, you should see this movie. Plot, cast, character development, Easter eggs, visual appeal, and more. It is all in there and it is, make no mistake, EPIC.

  This story is all about Cap and it should be. We pick up after the Avengers and Cap is still looking for his place in this world. He is essentially a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative and is working for Nick Fury (Sam Jackson). He is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the agency's motives and ends up caught in the middle of a bigger conspiracy. He is still joined with Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), but doesn't exactly trust her either. Labeled  a fugitive and forced to find unlikely allies, Cap must battle himself, the agency designed to protect his country, and the greatest villain he has ever faced. The Winter Soldier. The outcome will rock the existing Marvel Movie Universe.

   The casting between Jackson,Evans, and Johansson is truly special. Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury in every sense of the word and Scarlet Johansson balances hot with VERY believable ass kicking. It is Chris Evans that truly brings the movie to life. There were people out there who were not crazy about his performance, but he is born to be Cap. He embodies the character physically and did what Ryan Reynolds couldn't do as Green Lantern and Hannibal King. He left the idea of too much comedic silliness at home. Evans shows us Steve Roger's pain and there are times where you feel sorry for the guy. He is a man from a different time and his confusion is really fun to watch. 

   The supporting cast is possibly the best of any comic book film. Anthony Mackie is awesome and people will fall in love with The Falcon. He helps Cap find himself and becomes a really cool ally. The concept of fitting a guy with wings in the modern world is really done well and makes complete sense. His aerial attack looks fantastic and hopefully they find some room for him in the next Avengers movie. Frank Grillo doesn't disappoint as Brock Rumlow. While he doesn't don the iconic gear, sorry for the spoiler, we do see the foreshadowing and I think it will satisfy. 

 The story is top notch. It is a political thriller played out by comic book characters. Everything makes sense. The fight scenes are incredible! The opening battle with George St- Pierre's Batroc is a lot of fun and every fight we see with Winter Soldier is amazing. Sebastian Stan plays him like a terminator. Intense and at times looking unstoppable. He is as dark as can be and just leaps right out of the comic lore. He is a great villain and not even the biggest threat in the film. 

   The film keeps the spirit of the first one, doesn't shy from history, and paints the picture of what the film universe is becoming. It ties in with the Agents Of  S.H.I.E.L.D. show and there are plenty of character mentions from the Avengers and beyond. The scenes with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) are really touching and the wounded warrior sub plot works well. There are post credit  scenes that open up the universe even more and you get caught up in the fall out from the events here. There are little cool references to watch for, tons of action, and a strong story. It is a comic book movie that has heart and leaves it's audience hungry for Cap's next adventure. Well played Marvel. Well played.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Divergent ...Not Just Another Teen Movie?

There have been several attempts at turning books geared towards teenage girls into successful franchises. Twilight and Hunger Games were very successful. The Mortal Instruments and The Host were not.  This time around Divergent hits the big screen and it will most definitely find its audience.  It might even find its audience skews a bit older.

In Divergent, society is divided into casts, Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Candor (the honest) make up the different groups in the world remaining after nuclear war. Children are tested to see which group they belong to. They are free to choose any group they want. Each faction has its own initiation process and anyone who fails becomes an outcast and cannot return to their origin group. Once in a while a person appears who has traits of multiple groups. These are the divergent and they are feared because they can think for themselves. Beatrice is such a person and must determine where she belongs and stop a political struggle for control.

The cast is surprisingly good.  Shailene Woodley is Tris. She has an innocent appeal and works as both versions of our heroine. Theo James might be remembered from Underworld: Awakening or Downton Abbey, but he plays the mysterious Four. Jai Courtney is Eric and he might be my favorite character. He is there to be a jerk and is really good at it. Most of the movie focuses on Tris and her attempt to become Dauntless. They are agile, strong, fearless, and tatted up.  She isn’t Katniss and doesn’t have to be. There will be comparisons, but it is a different world and she is likable hero.

The movie will not have as much mass appeal, but it is not nearly as bad as some critics are saying. The world is cool and somewhat believable and the cast meshes pretty well together. It is an introductory story and that means a lot of set up. We spend a lot of time on Dauntless and really don’t get a lot of the back story of the brewing political take over. We get hints here and there, but not enough to make you really hate any of the villains beyond Eric.  Kate Winslet isn’t a strong villain. Mekhi Phifer isn’t there enough to develop opinions. I haven’t read the book so I can only assume this will change in the next movie.

My biggest flaw with Divergent is time. It is entirely too long. The training to be Dauntless is important, but I personally would rather have seen it summed up in a long Rocky Balboa type montage. The length will deter some from really enjoying the movie. Fans will be fine, but casual movie goers will find it a little long. Not dull, but long. The sequel has already been green lit so we will see the next book come to the big screen.  It’s not as cool as Hunger Games and not as cheesy as Twilight, but all in all Divergent is worth a watch. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Need For Speed...and a Better Movie

Need for Speed hits theaters in an attempt to fill the void left by Fast And Furious. The movie is based on a popular video game series that has been around for a while now. The game features police chases, stunts, and of course, speed.  Aaron Paul is riding his “Breaking Bad,” popularity into the starring role. There will be comparisons to the Fast Franchise, but the real question is, does Need for Speed measure up?

Toby Marshal is a country kid with a knack for racing that gets in some trouble and ends up in prison. He’s framed by a wealthy business associate and wants revenge. He gets a spectacular mustang from a hot British girl and enters a winner take all illegal street race. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as Toby tries to clear his name and save his family business.

The fans of the game will recognize a lot of the stunts and they play a little better in the game than in reality. It’s all about fast cars and illegal racing. The story is easy to follow, but it doesn’t connect as well as the fast movies do.  Things happen a little too fast and no pun is intended. The scale of the movie just feels a bit off.

The cast isn’t bad. I think we are all accustomed to Vin and the crew and this cast seems to lack a little bit of appeal in comparison. Imogene Poots is ok, but she isn’t enough to carry the movie. Michael Keaton is quirky and the rest of Paul’s team lacks the charisma of Torreto’s crew. I hate to keep comparing the two movies, but it is really hard not to do so. It has stunts, action and great looking cars, but I am not sure there’s enough gas in the tank to carry this potential franchise.

Friday, March 7, 2014

300 Rise Of A Companion Movie

   300 left a lot of people wanting more. It's visual style put Zack Snyder on the map and it is still one of the coolest looking movies of the last 10 years. 300 Rise of an Empire follows suite visually and takes us back to ancient Greece. The film isn't a sequel in the true sense. The majority of the story actually takes place during the events of 300. We get glimpses of Leonidas and are reintroduced to a few familiar faces.

      The Persian Army under the command of Xerxes marches towards Greece. While Leonidas and his 300 Spartans stand against him, another war is waged on the sea. The Democratic city of Athens, has a powerful navy, led by admiral Themistocles. Themistocles is forced to an unwilling alliance with the rival Spartans in hopes to defeat the vast Persian Army. Politics, a fractured land, and a daunting Persian commander threaten the fates of the world.

     Gerard Butler is replaced by Sulivan Stapelton, who most will not recognize. He is Themistocles and he dreams of a united Greece. His army is small, but like the 300, determined. Much of the war is fought on sea. The fight scenes are beautiful. Ballet and visual elegance. The naval battles are impressive and the way they weave together with the original story is nearly flawless. Themistocles isn't as brash as Leonidas, but he is a smart leader. He is battle tested and it is a shame we don't see them both fight side by side.

  Despite what you think, this story is about Artemesia. She is a former Greek and commander of the Persian fleet. She is cold, calculating, and responsible for Xerxes rise to power. She is the right balance of evil and like able. While Eva Green is getting older, she is aging like a fine wine. She has a commanding presence and looks great on screen.

  We do see a glimpse of how the god king is created, but this isn't really his story. He is the cause of the united Greece, but he doesn't see the majority of villain time. He looks as good as in 300, but he doesn't see much of the action in this go round.  The movie looks fantastic. The battles are fun to watch and it leaves you wanting more. Which is good because the stage is set for the inevitable third chapter.  I liked the first film better, but this is a nice compliment to the story. I would call it a sequel. It is definitely a companion.