Avengers: Infinity War


The latest Avengers movie, starring…everyone. Heck, you’re probably in it too!

(2018) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff and a cast of thousands. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

 

This is to date the biggest and most epic Marvel movie ever – until the next untitled Avengers movie, filmed concurrently with this one and scheduled for release in May 2019.

The mad Titan Thanos, seeing that the Universe is dreadfully out of balance, believes that he has a solution that will restore balance: to kill half of the entire population of the universe at random. There’s no practical way to do that so he has to do something that has never been done – he must retrieve all six of the Infinity Stones, gems created by the Big Bang and each with control of a different aspect of the universe – space, time, the mind, the soul, and so on.

Of course, the superheroes all oppose this plan and they come from all over – nearly every Marvel movie preceding this one is represented here from the spacefaring Guardians of the Galaxy to the high tech Black Panther and of course the various and sundry Avengers films. It’s a colossal undertaking and quite frankly I didn’t expect them to pull it off. There are an awful lot of characters here and a lot of them really don’t get much screen time.

Thanos (Brolin) gets a ton of screen time and it’s no joke the best portrayal of a comic book villain since Heath Ledger won an Oscar for playing one. Thanos is truly the Big Bad of the Marvel Universe and while the heroes valiantly take him on, things don’t look too good. It’s an epic tale that is taking two movies to tell.

The action is as you’d expect spectacular and the effects seamless. There are even some poignant moments, most of them occurring in the last twenty minutes of the film. Who knew that Marvel knows pathos? In any case, this is an emotional rollercoaster that every Marvel fan is going to be overjoyed to take – even the usually hard-to-impress fanboys have been singing the praises of this one.

Yes, I realize you’ve probably already seen it and if you haven’t you likely aren’t going to and frankly you’re probably not reading this review in that case. So you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve already purchased a digital copy (the Blu-Ray and DVD editions were just released) and likely you’ll be getting one of those. This isn’t the best Marvel movie yet but it’s damn close.

REASONS TO GO: Brolin gives a game-changing performance as Thanos. The action is non-stop and without peer. There are some very poignant moments.
REASONS TO STAY: There are too many characters to keep track of.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nearly non-stop sci-fi/superhero action and violence, some crude references and some scenes with disturbing content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At the beginning of the film, the distress call from the Asgardian ship is the voice of Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first Thor film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Captain America: Civil War
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
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The Dark Knight


The Dark Knight

Batman heads towards Sturgis, not realizing he's about to have the crap kicked out of him by 100,000 bikers.

(2008) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Nestor Carbonel, Cillian Murphy, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, William Fichtner, Ng Chin Han.  Directed by Christopher Nolan

Most of us have light and darkness within our souls in equal or near-equal measures. There are few of us who are truly evil or completely good. In many ways, those sorts of personalities are aberrations, mutants that deviate from the norm. For most of us, that darkness and light are constantly at war as we strive to do the right thing…or the easy thing. For some of us that war ends in victory; for others, crashing defeat.

A bank robbery of a bank that launders money for the mob sets a chain of events in motion. The gangs, once completely in control of Gotham City are on the defensive after Batman (Bale) has largely cleaned up crime. They are approached by The Joker (Ledger), who offers to kill their nemesis for half of their funds, which their Chinese accountant Lau (Han) has transported to Hong Kong for safekeeping. The crime lords turn down the Joker’s generous offer, with one of them, Gambol (White) putting a bounty on the Joker’s head. That doesn’t end so well for Gambol and his gang is taken over by the Joker.

Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Oldman) and Batman decide to bring in the new crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) on board their attempts to bring down the mob once and for all. Dent is dating assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal), who was the childhood sweetheart of Bruce Wayne, Batman’s civilian alter ego. While that raises Batman’s hackles somewhat, he realizes that Dent is the city’s great white hope and the best chance for him to retire the Batman cowl and live a normal life.

Batman captures Lau in a spectacular and daring raid in Hong Kong, allowing Gordon and Dent to arrest the mob en masse. The Joker announces that until Batman reveals his true identity, he is going to kill somebody in Gotham and he makes good on it, murdering the police commissioner and the judge presiding over the mobster’s trial. An attempt to murder the mayor is foiled by Gordon who is apparently killed in the process. Wayne decides to reveal his secret identity and is about to do so when Dent announces that he is the Batman, prompting Dent to be put into protective custody. The Joker goes after him and Batman rushes to the rescue. The Joker is captured with the help of Gordon, who had faked his death.

It turns out however that Dent was captured after all as was Rachel. The two of them have been taken to buildings on opposite ends of town, and are set to blow up at the same time. While the police and Batman race to rescue both Dent and Rachel, events are set in motion that will change the lives of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent forever, transmute friend into foe and change Batman’s image in Gotham City from Dark Knight to something far more sinister.

This was the movie that owned 2008 and to a large extent the ripples of its success still rumble through Hollywood and influence the way movies are made. For many, this is not only the best comic book movie ever made; it’s the best movie period. I can certainly see their point.

Nolan made a movie that is all about choices and that war between good and evil in all of us. The best of us can be pushed towards darkness under the right circumstances. Nolan seems interested in seeing how far the breaking point is for a good man and his interest in this is seen through the eyes of the Joker. It’s hard to even comprehend, but our avatar in the movie is the villain and most of us don’t even recognize. That is an act of filmmaking genius in my book.

What helps pull it off is a performance for the ages by the late Heath Ledger. By now most everybody knows that Ledger died shortly after filming completed of an accidental overdose of prescription medicines and would win nearly every acting award posthumously for his work here. There are those who felt that it might well have been a sympathy vote but even had Ledger not passed away he would have deserved every accolade. His Joker is complex, insane yes but not a caricature – this is a real flesh and blood madman who is equal parts brilliant to equal parts insane. He is the center of the movie even if he’s not onscreen for much of it. His presence is felt in every moment of the film and when he is onscreen, there is no doubt that Ledger is the center of audience attention.

It also helps that nearly every other performance in this movie is outstanding. Eckhart’s craggy good looks make him the all-American hero, from dimpled chin to brilliant smile making his fall all the more wrenching. Gyllenhaal, who replaced Kate Holmes in the role (she inexplicably gave up the part to work in Mad Money with Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah…huh?) is much sweeter and more down-to-earth, making her a better fit than the fidgety Holmes. Freeman and Caine are also terrific, playing both ends of Batman’s moral compass. Oldman gets to play the hero, something he rarely gets to do (although his Sirius Black performance in the Harry Potter film might bring more of those roles his way).

Bale is the lead role here but to be quite honest he isn’t the focus. It takes a generous performer to allow his cast mates to shine, particularly when you are the de facto lead but Bale did that here, stepping out of the spotlight (or the Bat-Signal more appropriately) to become a part of an ensemble more than the heroic lead. It’s a gutsy move by both director and star and it pays off in spades.

The movie has an epic sense to it as well as a sense of tragedy which elevate this above the usual popcorn fare. The excellent script, by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, is almost Shakespearean in its scope. Those who denigrate comic books and the movies based on them as childish and one-dimensional would do well to watch this movie. These are characters you care about that have problems you can relate to in a setting that’s grand and larger than life.

The Dark Knight proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a big popcorn movie can be intelligent and daring as well, and still make box office bucks. It establishes Nolan as one of the great directors working today. A sequel is currently being filmed as of this writing for release in July of 2012 and barring a complete meltdown will likely be the Big Kahuna in terms of box office next year. If it’s half as good as this movie was, it will earn that title proudly.

WHY RENT THIS: Ledger’s performance is one of the greatest ever on film. Tremendous action and a great story make this one of the best comic book movies ever made.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many characters create too many subplots.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the violence is awfully intense and the Joker can be extremely disturbing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first Batman movie that features none of the following elements – Bruce Wayne in a tuxedo, Wayne manor or live/CGI bats. It is also the fourth movie to bring in a billion dollars in worldwide box office, and the first comic book-based movie to win an acting Oscar (Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The 2-Disc DVD set includes some promotional viral videos of various cast members in characters being interviewed on a faux news program about the notorious Batman. There are also some featurettes on the Blu-Ray that cover the gadgets Batman uses as well as examining the psychology of Bruce Wayne.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1B on a $185M production budget; the movie was a ginormous blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

TOMORROW: Mammoth

X-Men: First Class


X-Men: First Class

You can tell it's the 60s: they're playing chess on an actual chessboard.

(2011) Superhero (20th Century Fox) James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Alex Gonzalez, Zoe Kravitz, Matt Craven, Lucas Till, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, James Remar, Rade Serbedzija, Ray Wise, M. Ironside, Bill Milner, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn. Directed by Matthew Vaughn

It is a failing of humanity that the things we don’t understand, we tend to fear and the things we fear we tend to destroy. This is what leads to genocide, and that kind of hatred and malevolence can have unintended consequences.

Erik Lensherr (Milner) is the son of Jews who have been taken to a concentration camp, displaying great power over magnetism when angered. A Nazi scientist (Bacon) notices this and determines to find out how he can use Lensherr as a weapon for the Third Reich. In order to force Lensherr’s co-operation, he executes his mother in front of him.

After the war, the adult Lensherr (Fassbender) goes on a rampage, hunting down Nazis who had anything to do with his torture, with emphasis in particular on the scientist who now goes by the name of Sebastian Shaw. His powers still only manifest when he’s angry but he’s not yet grown into the powerful mutant he will become.

Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is graduating from Oxford and has become an expert on human mutation, o much so that he is approached by Agent Moira MacTaggert (Byrne) of the Central Intelligence Agency to give expert testimony to the higher-ups of the CIA, including a skeptical agency chief (Craven). It seems that MacTaggert has been chasing Sebastian Shaw as well, and witnessed the telepathic powers of his associate Emma Frost (J. Jones) and the teleportation powers of Azazel (Flemyng), one of the associates of the Hellfire Club that Shaw runs. Xavier brings along Raven Darkholme (Lawrence), a young orphan his family adopted. When Xavier’s scientific presentation fails to impress, he reveals that both he and Raven are mutants; he a powerful telepath and she a shape-shifter.

They are taken charge of by an eager, jovial section chief (Platt) who has built a facility for the study of mutants, only without any mutants. That changes when one of the scientists working for them, Hank McCoy (Hoult) turns out to have hands for feet and has animal-like powers. He discovers a kindred spirit in Raven, who like Hank longs to be normal-looking (Raven in her natural appearance has blue skin, golden eyes and brick-red hair).

During a government attack on Shaw’s boat, the government is foiled by Azazel and Riptide (Gonzalez), a mutant who can generate tornado-like windstorms. Shaw, Frost, Azazel and Riptide escape on a submarine that Shaw had built inside his boat despite the efforts of Lensherr who arrives mid-fight in an attempt to murder Shaw, who recognizes his old pupil.

Xavier rescues Lensherr from drowning and recruits him to be part of the government team. Lensherr really isn’t much of a team player, but his growing friendship and respect for Xavier keeps him around. They realize that since Shaw has a mutant team that can easily wipe out even a military attack, a mutant team of their own will be needed. Using Cerebro, a computer that enhances Xavier’s telepathic abilities and allows him to “find” mutants, he and Lensherr go on a recruiting drive, allowing him to find Angel Salvadore (Kravitz) – a stripper with wings, Darwin (Gathegi) who can adapt to any survival situation, Banshee (C.L. Jones) who can project sonic blasts that allow him to fly and also act as sonar, and Havoc (Till) who fires lethal blasts out of his chest.

Shaw finds out what Xavier and Lensherr, who are now going as Professor X and Magneto (suggested by Raven who’s going by Mystique, while McCoy is Beast), are up to and orchestrates an attack on his new recruits, killing one and recruiting Angel to his cause. Shaw, who sees the mutants as the next step in evolution, is up to no good – he is the one who has through subtle and not-so-subtle influence in both the Soviet Union and the United States, created the Cuban Missile Crisis in hopes of starting World War III, from which he and his fellow mutants would rise from the ashes to rule the world. Xavier and his X-Men (a play on G-Men bestowed on the group by MacTaggert who is their CIA liaison), must stop it despite the group’s youth and inexperience.

Vaughn, who has done the superhero thing before with Kick-Ass (he was originally supposed to direct the third X-Men movie but dropped out because he didn’t think he could finish it in the time allotted by the studio) and is also the man behind Stardust, one of my favorite movies of recent years, does a pretty spiffy job here. He has a great visual eye and has done this as essentially a James Bond movie from the 60s with superheroes. It’s a brilliant concept that he doesn’t always pull off but manages to enough to make the movie interesting.

One of the main reasons the movie works is the chemistry between McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence. These are three talents rising in the industry – Lawrence already has an Oscar nomination for her stellar work in Winter’s Bone – and all have enormous potential to be stars. McAvoy plays the contemplative Xavier with an even keel, rarely raising his voice or seemingly getting excited but that doesn’t mean he isn’t emotional; it is amusing to watch him trying to pick up girls with his line about mutations at various Oxford pubs.

Fassbender is much more intense as Magneto, making the pain of his childhood palpable but well-covered by layers of anger. His need for revenge has driven him to hate all humans, wanting to forestall another Holocaust-like fate for his fellow mutants. The leadership of the CIA and the military will certainly not assuage his paranoia much.

Lawrence does Mystique as a troubled soul, whose power is wrapped up in deception but yet yearns to be perceived as normal. She develops an attraction for Magneto despite Beast’s obvious crush on her, and she is very much attached in a sisterly way to Xavier.

The movie goes a long way into showing how Xavier and Magneto went from the best of friends to the most implacable of foes. It also depicts how Xavier was paralyzed and shows the founding of his school where the X-Men would eventually be based. While Wolverine and an adult Mystique make cameos (both very playfully done I might add), the mutants from the first trilogy of the X-movies largely are absent.

Fox has made no secret that they plan to make a new trilogy starting with this one. The question is, will I want to see the next one? The answer is a resounding yes. While the 60s atmosphere that was created was rife with anachronisms (the miniskirt, which is clearly worn by several characters and extras during the film, wasn’t introduced until a few years after the Crisis for example and the soundtrack is rife with music that wasn’t recorded until afterwards either), the feel of the Bond movies is retained and that makes the movie special.

The action sequences (particularly the battle with the Russian and American fleets with the mutants that ends the film) are well done. As summer superhero movies go, this is definitely a cut above, although lacking the epic scope of Thor earlier this year. It certainly is a promising reboot of the franchise and continues the run of quality Marvel films that we’ve been getting over the past five years. Hopefully Fox will continue to follow Marvel’s lead and keep the quality of this franchise high.

REASONS TO GO: Great action sequences and good chemistry between McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence.

REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t capture the period as well as it might have.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some partial nudity and a few mildly bad words, along with some action sequence that may be too intense for the youngsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fassbender and McAvoy both appeared in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” early on in their careers but haven’t appeared together in the same project since.

HOME OR THEATER: The action sequences are huge and need a huge canvas.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Outlander

MegaMind


MegaMind

If nothing else, MegaMind sure knows how to make an entrance.

(2010) Animated Superhero Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, David Cross, J.K. Simmons, Ben Stiller, Stephen Kearin, Justin Theroux, Jessica Schulte, Tom McGrath. Directed by Tom McGrath

It is a bit of an existential quandary that without evil, good cannot exist. In order to be good, there has to be a comparison point; if we don’t know what evil is, how do we know we’re good?

Evil itself can be environmental. MegaMind (Ferrell) comes to Earth as a baby escaping the destruction of his home planet. His escape pod lands in a prison for the criminally gifted where he is raised to believe that the right thing to do is steal and avoid being caught. His nemesis, Metro Man (Pitt) is also from a doomed planet in the same quadrant as MegaMind’s former home; however, whereas MegaMind lands among the scum of the earth, baby Metro Man lands in the lap of luxury.

Curiously, both of them wind up at the same school (which MegaMind pronounces as “shool”; it is a running gag throughout the movie that Mega has difficulty pronouncing certain words correctly) where Metro Man is well on the road to being a hero, admired by all his classmates who are amazed at the superpowers of flight, super strength and heat vision that Metro Man possesses. Mega unfortunately has none of these, only a genuine desire to be liked which is virtually impossible given the shadow he must labor in. He resolves that if he can’t do the right thing properly, he is at least good at doing the wrong thing and maybe that’s his destiny.

He becomes a super villain, an inventor of extraordinary weapons and machines. His modus operandi is very similar; he kidnaps Metro Man’s girlfriend newscaster Roxanne Richi (Fey), Metro Man comes to rescue her, MegaMind springs a trap but his plans ultimately fail and Metro Man sends him back to prison.

However, this one time, Mega and his faithful Minion (Cross), a kind of goldfish in a gorilla robot suit (don’t ask), actually do defeat the good guy – they disintegrate him with their death ray, as a matter of fact. Much to Mega’s surprise, they rule Metro City – which Mega, true to form, pronounces as Metrosity, which rhymes with atrocity.

He has it all now; power, wealth, the ability to do whatever he wants whenever he wants but it is curiously empty. He has discovered that without good to oppose him, evil is meaningless. With Metro Man gone, he needs another nemesis, so he sets out to create one. Using the DNA of Metro Man (taken from the dandruff on his cape), he uses Roxanne’s cameraman Hal (Hill) as the subject (quite accidentally) and, in the guise of space father (a very funny homage to Marlon Brando as Jor-El in Superman: The Movie) trains the former cameraman (who had a huge but unrequited crush on Roxanne) as a hero (look for a very amusing Donkey Kong reference here). However, Titan (or, Tighten as Hal spells it) has other plans, plans that will require Mega to find his inner hero and save Metro City. Holy Role Reversal, Batman!

The movie is very amusing and has some unexpected touches in various locations, some obvious and some not – for example, Roxanne is very plainly based on Lois Lane, whereas the Metro Man museum where much of the action takes place has the Image Comics logo just as plainly a part of the building’s overall design, which should make many a geeky fanboy happy as a clam. Just as an aside, where the heck did that old saw come from? Are clams really happy? Is their life’s ambition to make it into a really nice chowder? Inquiring minds want to know.

Be that as it may, everyone (fanboy or not) will get a kick out of Ferrell’s performance. It is truly unique and quirky and Ferrell at his best. Perhaps I’m a little bit out of line, but I think it’s some of his best work since Anchorman. Yeah, I know it’s a cartoon.

The movie’s plot is a bit simplistic, but the underlying message is quite surprisingly sophisticated, taking a fresh view of the nature of evil and its need for a counterbalance. That one may go over the heads of younger kids who are more interested in the toys and Mega’s pet robots (think mechanical Minions from Despicable Me only without the charm), which are the latest in a long line of obvious merchandising ploys from recent animated features. They are more annoying than cute, however.

While this year’s animated feature derby hasn’t turned up anything on the level of Up or Ponyo, there have still been some solid quality movies out there like the aforementioned Despicable Me, Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon. MegaMind is at least as good as any of those, which is good news for parents weary of recent kidflicks that haven’t measured up.

REASONS TO GO: Plays plenty of homage to the comic book superheroes. Plenty of humor for big kids as well as small fries. Ferrell is fabulous as the malapropism-prone MegaMind.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit on the simplistic side and the robot pets are annoying after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few mildly naughty words but probably not words you haven’t said in front of the kids before, accidentally or otherwise. Yeah, let the whole fam damily go out and see this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to promote the movie, Will Ferrell gathered 1580 of his friends and their acquaintances in superhero costumes to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for most superheroes gathered in one place.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh c’mon; you know the kids won’t give you a moment’s peace until you take them to see this in the theater three or four times.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: I Remember

Zoom: Academy for Superheroes


Zoom

Tim Allen is pleased to find out that he isn't responsible for the problems of Zoom.

(Columbia) Tim Allen, Courtney Cox, Rip Torn, Chevy Chase, Spencer Breslin, Ryan Newman, Kate Mara, Michael Cassidy, Kevin Zegers, Thomas F. Wilson. Directed by Pete Hewitt.

I’m all for superheroes. I love ’em. Really, I do. Give me a movie about a superhero and I’ll almost certainly be there, unless it’s Catwoman. I will admit to missing that one, and after I saw it on DVD, I realized I’d made the right decision. I’ve even enjoyed the faux heroes of Sky High and The Specials.

Being a long time fan of the genre, I will admit that much of what goes on is intended for younger audiences. After all, comic books are part of the American landscape for most kids. That’s why it didn’t faze me – at least at first – that a superhero movie was coming out aimed directly for small fries. I enjoy Tim Allen, at least most of the time, so I had hopes that this would be along the lines of a GalaxyQuest for the spandex set.

Hope may spring eternal for a blogger, but not so much for Jack Shepard (Allen). He runs an auto shop that prides itself on taking the time to fix cars right. What his customers don’t know is that Jack was once better known by another name – Zoom, team leader of the Zenith Project, kids with special powers who had been trained by the government to be a genuine superhero team. They had been the pride of America, protecting us from threats foreign and domestic until an ambitious general named Larraby (Torn) irradiated them with gamma radiation (doesn’t Bruce Banner have a patent on that?) causing one of them, Concussion, to go berserk and attack his own team, killing all of them except for Zoom who is forced to run faster than he ever has before, creating a vortex into which his brother is sucked, never to be seen again. This leaves Jack without any speed powers (except in one finger) and retired, more or less happily, for 30 years.

However, there is a threat on the horizon. Nebbish scientist Dr. Grant (Chase) has determined that a transdimensional portal is about to manifest in our world, and when it does Concussion will be loosed on our world again. He and General Larraby decide to revive Project Zenith and use the powerless Zoom as a trainer for a new generation of heroes. Comely (but clumsy) psychologist Marsha Holloway (Cox) is sent to fetch Jack, promising him that the kids won’t be irradiated, but “natural ” methods will be used. A half million dollar paycheck doesn’t hurt either.

The kids – superstrong six-year-old Cindy Collins a.k.a. Princess (Newman), chunky twelve-year-old Tucker Williams a.k.a. Megaboy (Breslin) who is able to inflate various parts of his body, sixteen-year-old telekinetic Summer Jones a.k.a. Wonder (Mara) and seventeen-year-old Dylan West a.k.a. Houdini (Cassidy) who is able to turn invisible at will – are skeptical. The world has changed in thirty years and the idea of becoming a superhero, while cool, is a little passé. Zoom, for his part, is just going through the motions. He hasn’t been told what the kids are being trained for, so he thinks it’s just a government lark. He’s there strictly for the paycheck.

As time grows short, the pressure begins to mount on Jack to train the kids – or else. Gradually, he begins to grudgingly learn to like the kids and begins to actually prepare them for the life of a superhero, until he finds out the truth. Can he prepare the kids in time so that they don’t meet the same end as his previous team?

The movie is loosely – verrrrrry loosely – based on an illustrated book by Jason Lethcoe. However, the similarities between his book and Sky High were too noticeable and so the decision was made to alter the storyline. What results is a pastiche from various movies, some good, some bad but none working cohesively. Allen and Cox do their work gamely and manage not to disgrace themselves. Neither does the young cast, although Newman’s Princess was so annoying that by the end of the movie I was hoping that a meteor might hit her, or at least some calamity would befall her that might cause her to miss the rest of the movie.

Because the movie is aimed squarely at a younger set, the action is dumbed down. The fact that Jack’s team (which included his fiancee, by the way) had been killed by his own brother could have been explored in greater depth, but it was glossed over, the filmmakers not wanting anything unpleasant for the tykes in the audience to dwell on. Mostly everyone acts like buffoons, and the comedy, such as it is, is of the pee-pee doo-doo ca-ca variety, as one of my writing teachers used to identify the style.

This very much has the look and feel of a Saturday morning made-for-TV movie, something that might have aired on the Disney channel or Nickelodeon (and it probably will anyway). Young kids who are not so discerning (and I’m talking of the four to six-year-old variety) will probably get a kick out of it, while their parents will spend their time eagerly anticipating the end credits. That’s a shame, because there are some nice elements here, enough so that they could have made a decent movie of it in better hands. Director Pete Hewitt (whose previous movie was Garfield which should tell you all you need to know) needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. Incidentally, the movie was released theatrically as Zoom but was retitled for the DVD release on perhaps the hopelessly insane chance that the audience might not recognize it.

WHY RENT THIS: Allen and Cox are at least pleasant. Some of the special effects are tolerable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Dumbed down for kids, the movie misses some real opportunities to explore complex themes. Newman is way annoying.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the rumor is a little rude and of the toilet variety but otherwise okay for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A photo of the old Zenith team not only includes Allen and Zegers but also Alexis Bledel, Wilmer Valderrama and Devon Aoki.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a collection of four public service-type shorts aimed squarely at teaching youngsters good values.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.5M on an unreported production budget (but one I would guess would be north of $50M); the movie was a major flop.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Town

Kick-Ass


Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass and Hit Girl do what they do best.

(Lionsgate) Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca, Omari Hardwick, Xander Berkeley, Craig Ferguson, Yancy Butler, Elizabeth McGovern, Garrett M. Brown, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Kofi Natei. Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Everyone wants to become that which we most admire. We want to be heroic, rich, athletic, good-looking, shrewd or all of the above. We long to become the same type of person as our heroes. If our hero has superpowers, however, that becomes a bit dicey.

Dave Lizewski (Johnson) is a gawky, rail-thin high school student whose only power, as he himself admits, is to be invisible to girls, in particular Katie Deauxma (Fonseca) whom he is sweet on. His mom (McGovern) had a massive aneurysm at the breakfast table and died a couple of years earlier, leaving Dave and his somewhat oblivious dad (Brown) trying to make things work alone together. He hangs out with his fellow geeky friends Marty (Duke) and Todd (Peters) at the local comic book store slash cafe. The three of them are constantly being set upon by bullies and having their money and things taken from them.

Dave is fed up with this. He wonders why, with all the comic books in the world, nobody has actually attempted to be a costumed superhero (his friends respond “because he’d get his ass kicked in five minutes,” which seems accurate to me). Being fed up, he orders a wet suit that looks a bit like a superhero costume and decides to try out the lifestyle for himself.

His first attempt ends up horribly, with Dave ending up hospitalized. The silver lining on that cloud is that his nerve endings wind up “messed up,” allowing Dave to not feel pain as much as the rest of us do. That turns out to be very handy in his line of work. When Dave intercedes in a gang beating, the incident is captured on a phone cam and becomes an Internet sensation. When Dave is asked who he is, he responds “I’m Kick-Ass” and a legend is born.

What Dave doesn’t know is that there are a couple of costumed vigilantes who are actually out there. Damon Macready a.k.a. Big Daddy (Cage) is teaching his daughter Mindy a.k.a. Hit Girl (Moretz) to be a lethal combat machine. Damon has an issue with crime boss Frank D’Amico (Strong) who was indirectly responsible for the death of his wife and he intends to take him down, despite the objections of his ex-partner Marcus Williams (Hardwick) who worries about the effects of this on Mindy, whom he helped raise.

Through a set of coincidental circumstances, D’Amico gets his sights set on Kick-Ass who was present at a massacre of thugs by Hit Girl. The most unprepared superhero of all time is about to face unimaginable brutality; can he become the superhero he longs to be?

This isn’t your big daddy’s superhero film. This is a movie that is literally awash in cultural reference, so much so that you might wind up wondering if Quentin Tarantino has a hand in it (he doesn’t, but I suspect he finds this movie delightful). Director Matthew Vaughn, who made the criminally underrated Stardust as well as the ultracool crime drama Layer Cake, hits all the right notes here, from the many references to superhero movies from Spider-Man to Batman with stops at Men in Black and Mystery Men.

There are also some nice little subtexts, with Katie striking up a friendship with Dave because she thinks he’s gay, and much of the ass-kicking being done by 11-year-old Mindy, who has the mouth of a sailor and the moves of Jet Li; one of her first sequences is done to the timeless strains of the Dickies’ version of “The Banana Splits Theme Song.”

Now some, like Roger Ebert, have found the latter aspect reprehensible. Certainly Hit Girl is not meant to be a role model; it seemed to me that the filmmakers took special care to make sure she didn’t wind up that way. Was she put in mortal jeopardy? Yes she was, but I’m one of those folks who don’t think that should be taboo. After all, nobody said boo when two kids were menaced by a T-Rex in the original Jurassic Park and it is no less fantasy for a kid to be menaced by a hallway-full of machine gun-toting goombahs. However, it is true the violence is excessive and brutal in places and sensitive souls may find it to be too much.

That said, I found this to be a good deal of fun. While Moretz was a bit too cute in places, Cage and Johnson held up their end well and Strong is rapidly becoming one of the best villains in the business, his brutish D’Amico a far cry from the urbane Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes but just as vicious and effective.

A special mention of Christopher Mintz-Plasse should be made. Although I don’t want to give away too much about his role as it is crucial to the plot, let me say I think he’s perfectly cast for the role and adds a good deal to the movie. He also nicely sets up a prospective sequel should the box office warrant it.

This is meant to be over-the-top and satirical, and those who find videogames to be too tame will probably have some fun with this. For the rest of us, check your inhibitions at the door, and try to keep in mind this is just a movie that’s not meant to be taken as a serious examination of societal woes. It’s a live action Looney Tune, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the occasional anvil to the head.

REASONS TO GO: Stylized violence, a wicked sense of humor and an accurate portrayal of geekly sorts. Never afraid to go too over the top.

REASONS TO STAY: Chloe Moretz is a little too precious at times. One gets numbed to the brutality after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: Let’s see, there’s lots of violence, some of it gory and gruesome; there’s some nudity and sexuality; there’s also some drug use. Hmmmmm….I’m thinking you might want to think twice before taking the kiddies to see this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stan Lee makes a cameo in the movie as one of the people watching the news footage of Kick-Ass on television. Also, Nicolas Cage modeled his speech mannerisms as Big Daddy on Adam West of the television version of Batman.

HOME OR THEATER: Big, dumb, fun movies like this one need to be seen on a big screen with a raucous audience.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Amusement