Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thor's Hammer Nails Another Hit

Thor: The Dark World Sheds Exciting New Light On Some Familiar Faces And Gives Us A Glimpse Of A Wider Marvel Universe 


ARTH VADER (AV): Marvel's Phase 2 is rolling like so much thunder (get it?). Thor: The Dark World carves a deeper swath into the lore of Thor, Asgard and the mythos of the 9 realms. Derived from a story buried waist-deep in Marvel cannon (history), Thor 2 unleashes the full creativity of Marvel Comics, Marvel Characters and of course, Marvel Studios, Bringing the audience for a showdown with the villainous Malekith the Accursed, Marvel continues to tap it's deep, rich well of original stories and content that has been in creation since the 1960's, With some noticeable yet easy-to-overlook differences between the books and the screen, this movie leads the audience on one heck of an intensely exciting ride. Pontificator, you're up. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Continuity has become something made up for the films, but at least this film was consistent with the first and all the new characters weren’t just made up for the film, but real existing characters from the comics.The translations of the characters from comic book to film was very well done and with such a long and rich history in the books, Thor has been handled like a deity (from Asgard… get it?).


AV: All the usual suspects return to the big screen for the sophomore installment of Thor 2. While I will let me esteemed and accomplished partner delve deeper in the cast, I want to first comment on the movie direction. Alan (Game of Thrones) Taylor and James (Guardians of The Galaxy) Gunn co-direct arguably the the most entertaining Thor so far and thread their unique cocktail of comedy, drama, sci-fi, huge battle-sequences, teaser content and eye-popping special effects into one fun and memorable fan-boy joy ride. With a scope as grand as the 9 realms, this movie is paced exceedingly well and keeps the viewer on seat's edge darn-near the entire film. For this Marvel-ite, the movie was a  real thrill. 

TP: The cast was, in a word, excellent. I’ll start at Chris Hemsworth in his return to the role of Thunder God, and move onto the return of Natalie Portman and Sir Anthony Hopkins in their roles as Thor love interest Jane Foster and All-Father Odin. Loki was a show stealer, easily usurping the screen every time Tom Hiddleston became the villain. Christopher Eccleston (best known to me as the 9th Doctor Who) was superb as the menacing Malekith. Once again, Idris Elba delivered as Heimdall. There was no place this film went wrong with acting and with the steady pace of humor and action, was very much what it set out to be… a blockbuster.

CAUTION: Spoilers, dead ahead!

AV: Okay Ponty, for me, to even discuss SF/X in a movie, I need to see something I haven't seen before. Not landmark, just a story prop that pushes (or even just nudges) the movie-going experience in a new direction. Thor:TDW does that. The trans-dimensional slug-fest that is the movie's grand final is furiously fast and fun. Watching Loki morph into several noted characters and even into the star-spangled Steve "Captain America" Rogers, was terrific. The fight scenes were big, bad-ass and bold. Seeing the 9 realms collapsing in on one another was awesome. The top notch effects were stunning and I dare say, 3D made it just that much better. Pontificator, your thoughts? 

TP: I expected no less than awesome Vader, and this film delivered like the mailman. I don’t know where to begin, and the film didn’t know where to end (literally). The weapons of the Dark Elves were jaw-dropping and the landscapes of the realms were spectacularly rendered. I shouldn’t have to mention that a film like this should be seen in IMAX 3D because the sound and effects are soooo much better! I know it’s an often overlooked part of the effects, but costume design goes a long way to set the tone of the film and adds to the overall effect, that makes the film special. 

AV: This movie goes deep, Ponty. Real deep. Forget the greater exploration of Asgard or the heavily discussed mid-credit scene with the Collector. I want to look to two different examples specifically. First, let's talk about Erik Selvin's  blackboard. This one scene could be harbinger of years of forthcoming Marvel movies! On this board, Erik outlines The Fault (Planet Hulk anyone?), the Crossroads (hello, Inhumans!) and the board even went as far to call out Earth 616. Good lord, Ponty!

Second, the visuals of the Nine Realms converging in on Each other. Did we see the 'flaming realm', Muspelheim? The realm ruled by the 900-foot evil of Surtur and his legion of Fire Demons? Are you kidding me? This is one fan-boy about to plotz over the implications of this board! Pontificator, please tell me I'm not alone here! 

TP: You are not alone Vader. Looking deeper, it was clear this film had so much more of all the elements that made the first film so good. There was no shortage of humor, I mean the kind that has you laughing out loud…but it was well contrasted to the dire feel of imminent doom the Dark Elves represented, and spectacular action sequences that broadened the scope of the film. At times it felt like a war film, at other times a buddy flick. There have been many times in the books where the brothers have teamed together for a common goal, and the betrayal of Thor by Loki is always an inevitable end. I was very pleased how those elements were played out onscreen and even knowing the scenario, was presented as fresh as the first time it ever happened.

To add to your “nugget list” Vader…how about the rock creature Thor dispatched at the beginning being from the very first Thor comic book appearance, Journey Into Mystery #83…? Want more? The same creature was seen in the Planet Hulk animated movie, so now we actually have two ties to some future smashing seen in this film. Sounds like we’re coming full circle here.


AV: I have always said; "The greatest trick Marvel ever played was to convince the world Thor was legit." – and this movie (ahem) hammers that point home–in spades.  As an obscure Marvel character, the success of Thor and Thor TDW are true testament that Marvel is capable of making fun, engaging movies that entertain and build the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The truth is, Thor has been developed over 50 years (debuting in 1962 in Journey into Mystery #83) and if Marvel makes this movie matter, they have a rich and plentiful reserve from which they can pull new stories, new characters and new blockbusters. Bring me more Thor! 

TP: Well it goes without saying that Marvel is going big for its onscreen universe and this film sets up for the story to continue, in so many ways than the obvious.

ARTH VADER rates Thor: The Dark World: For the sake of full disclosure, there are some continuity problems with this film and their are a ton of places the uninitiated casual moviegoer can get completely lost. But even if you were unable to follow the story, the movie is entertaining and delights with a careful formula of whimsical dialogue, character-driven intrigue, and enough special effects to appease even the most dissuaded sci-fi fan. In short, Thor TDW delivers. So with a mighty burst of lightening, Thor: The Dark world electrifies 9 (9) busted—and vaguely Tesseract-looking–busted blocks. Ponty?

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Thor: The Dark World: This film was better than the first in nearly every category, except maybe the romance… but I didn’t come to see the God of Thunder get soft over a mortal. I came for pulse-pounding action, worlds in peril… and Loki, and I got all three! With a great story to fill the interim before Marvel onscreen explodes, great special effects and superb character acting, this film thunders in at nine (9) busted blocks.

BUT WAIT—THERE'S MORE! (This part is purely for the geeks. Oh and uh… SPOILERS!) 

AV: So we do have to speak for just a moment, on the mid-credit scene shot by director James Gunn. The scene was curious fro me, Ponty. To those who missed it or forgot, Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ra Stevenson) deliver one of the Infinity Gems to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) in an effort to keep more than one from being in Asgard (there are six total). The Tesseract (from the Avengers) is widely believed to be the Mind Gem. If indeed this scene holds true to Marvel cannon, then the red gem that was turned over was the Power Gem. This is an awesome development.

In the scene, an untold number of intergalactic items of interest can be viewed by including a member of the Flora Colossus, if not Groot himself of Gunn's forthcoming Guardians of The Galaxy. And then of course, is the cocoon. IS Adam Warlock inside? Wearing the Soul Gem? Ponty, help me out here, because I honestly can barely keep it together

TP: I’ve seen this film a few times, and always sit there and try like heck to figure out what I’m looking at in that scene. I know there are nuggets there…and worse still, they are probably the most obvious one’s we’re overlooking.

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Thor: The Dark World 9 / 10 Busted Blocks 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ender's Game Has Muddeled Beginning

With lots of effects, little substance and a few shinning moments, Ender's Game offers a lot for the audience to ponder.


ARTH VADER (AV): Well, old friend, Hollywood's done it again. From the ranks of fan favoritism, Hollywood snatches mediocrity from the jaws of potential awesomeness. Based on the beloved military sci-fi novel series of the same name by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game attempts to make social commentary through Earth's repelling of an alien invasion from the mysterious bug-like 'Formics.' By training young cadets to become nearly clairvoyant strategists, Earth's defense forces hope to tap into a latent hidden power in humans to win the day. As a subtext for the misalignment for military, humane and scientific imperatives, Ender's Game is a complicated context for survival and the human condition the movie attempts to give us a concise overview. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The film seems to be a blend of “Ender’s Game” and “Ender’s Shadow,” although heavier on the latter. Continuity will certainly suffer a bit in a situation like this, but the result of being able to tell a story that works for the silver screen and entertains may well be worth it. 


AV: What if they gave a movie and no big name actors came? Sure this movie has a super-studded cast of acting/sci-fi all-stars like Harrison (Han-Shot-First) Ford, Sir Ben (Don't call me the real Mandarin) Kingsley and the lovely and talented Viola (State-of-Play) Davis. These folks drop some credibility up in Ender's Game but I don't know if the movie is better or worse for it. I'm slowly migrating to the belief that some star power actually hurts a movie. Asa Butterfield's Ender is curious. The portrayal at times is passionate, at others overacted. While it was great to see Harry Ford return to our beloved sci-fi genre, he edged more toward grumpy old guy and less seasoned space-war vet. Director Gavin Wood paced the movie competently but leaves gaps in the storytelling big enough to drive a space cruiser through. Pontificator? 

TP: The delivery of Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley was exactly as expected. They are both excellent actors that immersed themselves in their roles. The unexpected treats were Asa Butterfield and the entire cast of child actors. It was simply superb how they carried the film and never once made it feel cheesy or scripted. The performances of the cast were absolutely enthralling and the direction of the film kept it at a steady and intense pace which added to the immersion experience. As for those “gaps” Vader, I’ll get to that later.


AV: Ponty, I am about ready to cry "Uncle" with the overdone visual effects of today's Hollywood. While everything looks stunning in this movie, the plastic and fiberglass-looking environments look woefully uninviting. We would be better served to spend more of the movie time in the half-human and half-fornic base or the Fornic hive near the end of the film. Most of the time was spent on the zero gravity training sessions and that was just all-out boring to me (especially given that Gravity came out just last month). The visual effects were quite good but just overdone for me. 

TP: This film could have gone very wrong at this point, but absolutely didn’t. The special effects were fantastic, but it was the small areas that brought it home for me. Certainly the giant space battle scenes were epic, filling the screen with more action than the eye could follow, but for me, it was the space arena training that took my imagination. Coming off of “Gravity,” I’m still reeling from the idea of floating in space, and the zero gravity environment presented (easily done with wire work) was splendidly done both in effects and to further the story in showcasing the superior tactical mind of Ender Wiggins.  


AV: Science Fiction is starting to find a different voice. With beginnings in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and through the Earth-as-an-Alien target story arcs of today, Sci-Fi hasn't proven to be a particularly kind genre to mankind. But things are changing. Such is the case with Ender's Game. The age-old tale of the sacrifice of a select few for the greater good–and survival of us all–is the story of Ender Wiggin's place in our fictional future. Does the survival of man justify the genocide of an other-worldly species... even if they did throw the first punch? Does survival dictate that we sacrifice the innocence and lives of a few for the good of all over a perceived threat? Do the people we chose to fight our wars deserve full disclosure of the context and consequences of their actions? There is even a subtext of survival of the fittest as well. The story broker's better conversation than the movie suggests–or delivers.

TP: There was much to see in this film. The portrayal of Ender as a strategic genius by the various situations he was manipulated into, was riveting. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Batman, “figuring it out” really appeals to me. This helped me cope with the planet-sized plot holes at the end of the film. The twist ending that the “games” weren’t really games was excellent. The shock and awe this realization had on Ender, after he ended the war with a brilliant, but genocidal strategy, was heavy. His breakdown coincided with the breakdown of all sense for the film after that. The thought that this minor, in that mental state, would be left alone to roam and wander freely didn’t make sense.  That he would find a live Formic and queen embryo just a short walk from the military base, didn’t make sense. Bringing the embryo back to the base undetected… yup, no sense. Promoted and left on his own wandering through space with said embryo, nope… not a shred of sense to that either. A rushed ending if ever there was one.

AV: The movie implies that Ender's journey is not over. Author Orson Scott Card wrote a series of adventures and trials further chronicling Ender's travels. Perhaps later installments deserve a deeper, more authentic view of the universe of conflict and morality this story starts us on. I would be interested but the experience of the next movie cannot rival the first. There is an opportunity here to tell a much better story than that of the 'young gifted hero who saves us all'—but Hollywood will have to take a chance on a script that doesn't follow the 'good guy always wins' convention. Ponty, what did you think? 

TP: Box office sales are a great determining factor when contemplating a sequel Vader, but for this film, more goes into the thought, in my opinion. Let’s suppose it does well enough to warrant a sequel (which is doesn’t look to be doing), there is the problem of having nowhere to go with the story that I would want to follow. Wandering through space with a Formic queen embryo can have many possibilities, but everything that made this film enjoyable for me has already been wrapped up. I’ll be happy with a release on Blu-ray that adds all the deleted scenes back into the film so it all makes sense in the end.


ARTH VADER rates Ender's Game: This movie has its moments. There are times I have empathy and even respect for the hero and there are other times that, as a viewer, I could care less about what happens next. Though slow and at times witless, the story and statements are indeed weightier than the film itself. Certainly worth a watch, but this movie's lack of unique identity and story gaps are filled in with long sessions of so-what space training that leaves this fan hopeful that the next installment of the Ender's Game saga fares better than the six (6) busted blocks of the first film. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Ender’s Game: This film wasn’t a terrible film, in fact it was downright excellent with great effects, superb acting, intriguing story and a pace that kept me locked in. I found myself surprised at how enjoyable the film was given the fact it was mainly driven by child actors, with some excellent Harrison Ford sprinkled in. That said, I think the ending was rushed and dropped the ball, a tactical error, which strategically busted only seven (7) blocks… when it could have done much better. 

Ender's Game: 6.5 / 10 Busted Blocks 
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