Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lots of Man, Not So Much Iron

The exciting–and curiously deviant–Iron Man 3 leaves lots of questions concerning the future of Marvel's Iconic Tony Stark.


ARTH VADER (AV): Iron Man 3 is a fun, frantic and fractured look at arguably the most iconic personality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). As an Iron Man movie it was cool, but we got a little less Iron and a little more man in this third installment of the franchise. The MCU owes everything to Iron Man, Tony Stark and Robert Downey, Jr. This movie is the first big Marvel movie effort to drop in Marvel's vaunted Phase II, the first post-Avengers cinematic release and this film took a very strange turn for the Golden Avenger. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Marvel has been pretty good with continuity within the movie universe they have created and this film is no exception. If you stuck around after the credits, then you saw the tie-in to the Avengers movie(s). Now if we are comparing it to the comics for continuity and accurate portrayal of the material, then there are a few areas where this film falls short... specifically, the Mandarin.


AV: It's been said once, if not a thousand times, Robert Downey Jr IS Tony Stark. Honestly, if anyone out there happens to be reading this blog and  you don't at least know who Stark is, even just by earlier movies, stop here because NONE of what we have to say will matter to you. Marvel movies are nothing if they're not deep characterizations–and IM3 delivers. Curiously, Jon Faveau did not direct here and I, for one, noticed. 

TP: Everyone is back, and everyone did what was expected of them. Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark, there is no question. Don Cheadle was given the opportunity to showcase why James Rhodes should be considered for his own film. It remains to be seen if he made the case well enough. Guy Pearce has established himself as a movie bad guy and just added to that legacy with his role as Dr. Killian. I expected Ben Kingsley to blow me away as the Mandarin, but instead was disappointed my expectations weren’t met... while at the same time Kingsley delivered within the role he was given.

AV: As THE premiere hero of Marvel's 'technology age' of comics, Iron Man is all about tech and SFX. This movie offers some very cool effects shots I will call out two of my favs. First, the Extremis villains are fantastically portrayed on screen. Watching limbs regenerate and hyper-intense molten skin shots were great to establish a sense of villainy–more than just another super-villain or tech robot. It's so well done, the effects feel understated and thats some of my favorite kind of SFX.

Next is the 'armored legion' of remote controlled Iron Man suits at the movie's finale that are a fitting tribute to (Tony) Stark's incredibly cool genius as an inventor, scientist and arms dealer-turned- power magnate. Watching almost four-dozen Iron Men onscreen at once.. well, it was enough to make me plotz. Pontificator? 

TP: Although they were excellent as expected Vader, I also feel that there was an opportunity missed here to do something above and beyond, to push the envelope to a place we haven’t been yet. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t displeased with the effects... in fact I was very happy to see all the different armors although I wish they could have went more in depth with the differences between the types of armors. The tidbits they showed were just enough to wet my whistle, but I wanted to be dowsed in armor envy.


AV: There were a few things that I took issue with in the film. First, I hated the fact that the Mandarin was essentially a joke. He's just way too cool a character (in the Marvel comic world) to laugh-off and make into some sort of dopey prop. Sir Ben Kingsly did a stellar job as a reluctant world-class terrorist – but it was still very disheartening. 

Next, why is Stark blowing up all the armor? I love the story arc showing us how Tony is 'letting go' of the Iron Man persona and making the story more about Tony than about Iron Man, but seriously WHAT THE HELL? Are you kidding me? It's insane. Sure he can make more but… ugh! 

Lastly… surgery to remove the arc reactor? Again, the storytelling aspect offered great symbolism but come on! That's why there's an Iron Man in the first place. I felt VERY much like Marvel was writing off Iron Man (yes I did read in the credits that "Tony Stark will return) but this was another huge mis-step to me. I'm not alone here am I Ponty? 

TP: No Vader you're not alone. There was misuse... and missed opportunity. That about sums up this film. The Mandarin was a chance to really do something spectacular, and instead it was simply a plot point to take us somewhere else. That somewhere else we were taken was to another missed opportunity in the form of Extremis. Surprisingly they stayed pretty accurate with what it does and how it works, but to not have Stark incorporate it into his tech, as he did in the comics, was probably (and quietly) one of the biggest missed opportunities of recent filming. It was a chance to take the special effects a notch higher. It was a chance to springboard in the upcoming Avengers film. It was a chance to take the character into a new direction... something that would have added more punch to this film. It was interesting of them to play up Tony Stark more and show us more of the man inside the armor, but I went to see that man... when he’s IN the armor, with every expectation of going somewhere we didn’t go before. Unfortunately where we were taken wasn’t anywhere I wanted to be.


AV: Yes, please. As of the posting of this installment, Robert Downey Jr is asking for a reported $100 Million for a new set of appearances including Iron Man 4 (slated for a 2016 release), Avengers 2 (2015) & 3 (2018) and an undisclosed number of cameos in related and future inter-connected Marvel movies. I say he's worth every penny. It's a steal. Hello? Marvel Studios? This is a no brainer: make it happen. You will make two-dozen times that or more. What's the hold-up? Where's my pen…?

TP: I would have been content if this was an Iron Man trilogy... and they moved on to other characters and more Avengers movies. If they wanted to, they could make many more Iron Man films than just the next, but to do so (and do it well) would mean they would have to really dig back into the source material and come up with something broader in scope, but narrower in vision... and that would take an effort that I’m not sure Marvel would invest in.


ARTH VADER Rates Iron Man 3: All said, I really liked this movie. A loaded story that featured a lot more Man than Iron but that was ok (who wasn't delighted by Tony's interaction with the kid or the Tony Stark: Spymaster sequence where he uses his inventiveness to fashion a deadly arsenal out of stuff from Home Depot?). While it left me with tons of questions–what's the future hold for Iron Man/Stark? How did Pepper get surgically cured from a gene-altering injection? Why were the Iron Men so easy to take down?–but I gotta say, as ever, I was blown away. 

Lots of humor, lots of great story and dialogue and a ton of Easter eggs for the fans (how about the giant "A" left standing in the rubble of Stark's house… West Coast Avengers anyone?). This movie is worth double the admission price –yes, I did it see it twice on opening weekend. All told, Iron Man 3 Repulsor blasts his way through to eight (8) glowing, white-hot busted blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Iron Man 3: A good film with great effects and maybe a little too much comedy, I can’t help reflecting on those areas and missed chances to make this film even better. It was entertaining and fun, and in the final analysis, this is the true measure of why I even go to the movies. Even through all of this, the movie was able to uni-beam seven (7) armored blocks. 

Iron Man 3: 7.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

More Than Meets The Sky

Universal Picture's Oblivion Shows Us There Is More Than One Kind of Artificial Intelligence


ARTH VADER (AV): Continuity is a curious topic here, Pontificator. The movie is the brainchild of a graphic novel that never was. Released as an exclusive preview at San Diego ComiCon in 2009, the beautifully illustrated spreads were breathtaking. The rumor is that the limited content was always meant to be a storyboard for a movie proposal. Regardless, the story is as visually stunning as those wonderfully rendered initial promotional spreads. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Again, I don’t have any reference to compare continuity (in other words, I haven’t read the book... that never was). I’ll leave such comparisons to those that have had the exclusive opportunity to indulge in both the limited content and the film.


AV: For me, Mr. Tom Cruise has had a solid–if not stellar–run of sci-fi and fantasy films. Mission: Impossible, War of The Worlds and Minority Report  are all solid sci-fi flicks. Heck, I even dug him as the Vampire Lestat in Interview With A Vampire. Even Morgan "I-Can-Do-No-Movie-Wrong" Freeman joins the cast along with British relative newcomer Andrea Riseborough to help Oblivion–the cast is well stacked. The character-driven storyline is well shot and laden with enough effects shots to keep any SFX studio busy (and proud). The movie is a stunning victory as, according to creator Joseph Kosinski, an "… homage to science fiction movies from the 1970's." That is certainly evident in the breath-taking, post apocalyptic Manhattan scenes the movie displays. Ponty? 

TP: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now again, Tom Cruise is one of the premier action sci-fi hero’s of our time. Despite his age, he continues to deliver physically impressive performances and is actually a really good actor (Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire anyone?). Adding Morgan Freeman to the cast is just sealing the deal for viewership. I didn’t see anyone in a role that wasn’t a great choice for their part. The direction of the film was predicable, at first, but quickly became a series of interesting surprises.

AV: First rate. The visual effects are masterful. The landscapes are immersive and tech is believably 'near-future'. Here's what I saw; ever since Chuck Heston pounded his frustrated mits into the rolling surf after identifying the blasted remains of the Statue of Liberty, Sci-Fi films have treated us with scenes of the ruin and decay of New York at the hands of some horrible catastrophe. Whether it's being blown to pieces in Independence Day or engulfed in water in The Day After Tomorrow, the Big Apple has suffered devastation aplenty. Such is the case in Oblivion. Deep Canyons remain of mid-town and cryptic spires jutting out of the landscape are just gorgeous. The effects folks over at Pixomondo lead the way with the stupefying effects for this film. Well done, folks. I would almost encourage seeing this movie for the effects shots alone. 

TP: I will sum up the special effects in two words: top notch. The landscapes were convincing and awesome and the drones were believably menacing. I know there was CGI in this film... there had to be, but I never noticed it. That’s the best kind of CGI, the kind you know is there, but just can’t spot. The props were also very impressive. As small of a scene as it was, especially in the overall. 


AV: This movie, while not entirely original, did have a unique spin on the "after the end of the world" story arc. While I believe we are (purposely) left with as many questions as answers, the movie was fun and exceptionally entertaining. Indulge me, oh reader, with these questions. If the clones of Jack and Victoria are told of the horrible outcome war with the "scavs" and the terrible price for victory 60 years earlier—is that all just a lie? Even if the devastation is six decades old, why does it look like hundreds of years prior–even thousands? Are the scavs aliens or a human construct? Why would Jack be 'allowed' to have a secret cottage/refuge? Does that mean ALL Jack clones have this? Why did the Scavs need so much ocean water? How do the 'survivors' eat? Where is their water supply? I could go on but there a great many holes in the story. You want to see Oblivion and enjoy it, I strongly suggest you turn your brain off. It will be for the best. Thoughts, Ponty? 

TP: Certain plot points were very easy for me to see early in the film Vader. I basically called it within the first ten minutes. The impressive part of the movie is the rest of the story that I never saw coming. That said, I really wanted to know how they intended to tie the loose end of multiple clones already earth-side and operating when the Tet is destroyed? I thought is was genius to flip what we were being told...and things be the opposite of what Jack believed. Earth lost the war, and he has become an instrument for hunting the remnants of his own people. Ironically, the survivor’s of Earth (Scavs) have indeed become “alien” to him. The word “oblivion” means to forget, and it was an apt title given the fact it was Jack’s memories, which survived being systematically wiped, that were the key to finally changing everything.


AV: I could see having more of this story unfold before me. I don't know if that's in the works but the movie has merit and offers plenty of scenarios that could easily inspire sequels. I would also love to have some of the above questions answered. While the trend in Hollywood is to offer multiple installments to even half-baked stories, this movie could see more fleshing out. That said, I could take or leave a part two. How say you, sir? 

TP: I have to say that there need not be a sequel to this film, it stands very well by itself. However, if they wanted to make one... I know a few angles that they could approach it from... not the least of which is a prequel to show the invasion and subsequent destruction.


ARTH VADER rates Oblivion: You could do a lot worse than seeing this movie. Pensive, serious, great  characters driven by a cryptic story, this film entertains and offers a unique twist on the alien invasion cannon. If you are NOT a Tom Cruise fan, this movie is filled to the brim with Jack so you might want to consider that before plunking down your digits for a ticket. Rest assured, this is an excellent first round salvo to kick-off the 2013 summer movie season to which I gladly give up seven (7) Busted Blocks for Oblivion because Earth is–indeed–a memory worth fighting for. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Oblivion: A great film and a very interesting and engaging story made this one a very entertaining view. It wasn’t overwhelmed with action, but had enough of it and it was intense enough to keep the film exciting...and explode seven (7) busted blocks.

Oblivion: 7/10 Busted Blocks

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