World War Z

World War Z

I feared this was the case from the trailer. The book was so good, but probably not fit to be adapted on screen.

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Superhero Movie Power Rankings – Marvel’s The Avengers

avengers

We continue to the next film in the Superhero Movie Power Rankings — Marvel’s The Avengers. As always, if you are new to this blog, I recommend you start with the inaugural post on the Super Movie Power Rankings, which can be found here. Also, check out the Man of Steel review here. The Avengers announced to the world that superhero movies are here to stay by raking in over $1.5 billion, the 3rd highest total of all time. In doing so, it established itself as a standard by which all other superhero movies will be judged. But where will it fall in the Superhero Movie Power Rankings?

1. How entertaining is it? (30%)

While this is a serious question for most of the movies we will be reviewing, for The Avengers, it is mostly rhetorical. This is probably the most entertaining superhero movie of all time. While “most entertaining” does not necessarily equal “best,” it certainly pushes a movie in the right direction. Virtually everyone agrees this film is entertaining, but in what ways was it entertaining? What sets it apart? Great action sequences and fight scenes should be a given in all superhero films, but unfortunately they are often underwhelming. Either the villain doesn’t quite offer a big enough challenge, or the fight scene is too short, or there are no real fight scenes whatsoever.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

The Avengers avoids all those problems. In this film, we get to see Captain America vs. Loki; Iron Man vs. Loki; Iron Man vs. Thor; Thor vs. Hulk (HOLY CRAP!!!!!); Loki, Hawkeye, Hulk, and random henchmen vs. Helicarrier and assorted Avengers; the Avengers vs. EVERYTHING EVER, and this gem:

Hulk Smash!

Hulk Smash!

No other superhero movie can compare to the sheer number of big time fight scenes, and nearly all of them are done very well. The Avengers was very well-made, but it also had some serious advantages that most other superhero movies don’t. Because every major hero and villain had been introduced in one more more previous films, the movie was able to get right into the main plot without a lot of gearing up time for introductions and the like. As we begin to see more and more superhero sequels, these movies will also experience this advantage. It does make me worry about the long-rumored Justice League movie’s strategy of introducing most of the heros in that movie first. In any case, Joss Whedon did an excellent job of creating an exciting film that is just as entertaining on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so on viewings.

Verdict: 10/10, as if there were any question

2. How good is the plot and character development? (20%)

The plot was not as strong as some other superhero movies, but it still provided a serviceable reason to get the Avengers together to beat down some baddies and save the world. An alien invasion may be a somehwat generic plot device, but it honestly took something on this scale to be able to succesfully launch the first movie. Adding Loki as the mastermind/key antagonist was a brilliant move as it allowed some action sequences toward the beginning and also gave us Thor vs. Hulk, AKA every comic book geek’s dream. Character development was surprisingly solid. We got to see the Avengers move from arrogant mavericks to uniting under Cap’s leadership, as it should be. We got to see Tony Stark make the final move from carefree billionaire playboy to self-sacrificing hero. Mark Ruffalo added some great nuace to the Hulk.

Plot and character development are always going to be weaker in an ensemble film than in a movie featuring a single hero. There are simply too many faces that need screen time. However, The Avengers did a great job of balancing this screen time and gave us the best combination of plot and character development we’ve probably ever seen in an ensemble film. The generic nature of the alien invasion coupled with the fact that the aliens’ motivation was never explained (though I expect this will be fleshed out in the next movie or perhaps the third with Thanos) prevents a perfect score, but this movie still performed admirably.

Verdict: 9/10

3. How good is the casting and acting? (20%)

Another solid job by Marvel here. Since every character had been introduced in a previous movie, there was little work to do besides recasting the Hulk. For some reason, quite possibly the studio’s increasingly bad reputation for being quite cheap with their actor pay (despite making money hand over fist), they were not able to come to terms with Edward Norton. This is ironic since they are paying Robert Downey Jr. bajillions to return to future Avengers movies.

After 3 Iron Man and 1 Avengers movies, RDJ has all the money. All of it.

After 3 Iron Man and 1 Avengers movies, RDJ has all the money. All of it.

In any case, Mark Ruffalo turned out to be a great choice. While he doesn’t project the same kind of under-the-surface rage that Norton harnessed, he was much more believable as a genius scientist and also as the Hulk. The rest of the actors ranged from transcendent (RDJ) to very good (Chris Evans) to serviceable (Jeremy Renner) to surprisingly not-as-good-as-you’d-expect (Jackson). Still, the characters with the most screen time were great, Tom Hiddleston was amazing as Loki, and no one was actively detracting from the movie.

Verdict: 9/10

4. How true is it to the source material? (15%)

Earth-616 or Ultimate? That is the question. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is obviously more influenced by the Ultimate Universe, and I’m fine with that, as long as they stick the early years of Ultimate and not the latter. The Ultimate Universe is based in more realism, and in a post-Christopher Nolan climate, that is immensely important. The characters all matched up very well with their comic counterparts. The main complaint I’ve heard deals with Hawkeye being much too serious, but again, this fits with the Ultimate version of the character. All other characters were presented brilliantly.

Verdict: 10/10

5. X-Factor (15%)

Well, it’s only the highest grossing superhero movie of all time. Its success guaranteed we are getting Phase 2 and 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It proved that ensemble films could be done much better than they had been done in the past, with each major character getting the proper balance of screentime. Did I mentioned it made over $1.5 billion?

One...(point five)...BILLION dollars!

One…(point five)…BILLION dollars!

Oh yeah, and it got a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was so much fun, even the critics couldn’t crash the party. This one’s obvious.

Verdict: 10/10

Final Score: 9.60/10.00

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Superhero Movie Power Rankings – Man of Steel

Man of Steel
In honor of Man of Steel recently debuting in theaters, we will start off the Superhero Movie Power Rankings (trademark still pending) in an appropriate place–with Superman. If you missed the first post on the Superhero Movie Power Rankings, I suggest you head over here to get started. I should also note that there will be MASSIVE SPOILERAGE below. So don’t blame me when you find out what happens in the movie.

Before we jump into the five major categories, I feel like we should address a major issue. With Superman, perhaps more than any other superhero out there, there is a massive disconnect between what the critics want and expect and what the average moviegoer wants. Case in point: Man of Steel has been a massive box office success. Word of mouth reviews are typically very strong, and Rotten Tomatoes’ audience rating says 82% of people liked it. However, it only gets a certified rotten 56% from the critics, and even lower than that from the so-called “top critics.” This offers and interesting juxtaposition with Superman Returns, arguably the biggest superhero movie flop of all time. Despite the fact that it is clearly a terrible, terrible movie, and the fact that it was widely panned by fans, the critics on Rotten Tomatoes give it a certified fresh rating of 75%. How can this be? My theory is that most critics are unable to judge each Superman movie on its own merits; instead, they compare each one to the original Christopher Reeve films (and probably the first two to be honest). The dirty secret is, none of those films were very good. They may have been good in 1978, when the first one came out, but today we are capable of seeing so much more. The critics seem to like the lighthearted tone of those movies, and Clark Kent was an absolute goofball. Even Lex Luthor was degraded to some sort of evil real estate shark rather than the criminal mastermind he should be.

Lex Luthor is not This Guy

If your movie’s baddie resembles this guy, you should probably rethink things.

While I know everyone in the 1970s ate that stuff up, casual and hardcore fans wouldn’t take it seriously anymore. We demand serious storylines that make sense and characters with nuance. Yes, Superman is the Big Boy Scout, but he should also struggle with some serious moral and ethical dilemmas–no one, even the Big Blue, is above that. That’s why almost all casual and hardcore fans hated Superman Returns, even though it was so incredibly faithful to the Donner films that it was basically a giant ripoff. So why should we compare every new Superman movie to the old ones, even if they are clearly inferior superhero movies? We shouldn’t, and simple nostalgia is not a good enough reason to. With that said, let’s move on to the rankings.

1. How entertaining is it? (30%)

Man of Steel is flat-out fun to watch. There was not a single second of this movie in which I was bored. Of course, it really helps that the most enthralling action scene in the movie didn’t look like this:

Wait, Superman has super-fast reflexes doesn't he? Why didn't he blink when something got near his eye? Is that one of his superpowers now?

Wait, Superman has super-fast reflexes doesn’t he? Why didn’t he blink when something got near his eye? Is that one of his superpowers now?

This movie went balls to the wall from start to finish. Superman was punching, kicking, and flying. Zod and his cronies were causing general mayhem. Heck, even MaximusJor-El got in on the action. Without a doubt, this movie’s main success is that it is the first Superman movie (out of 6 tries mind you!) to give him a villain worthy of challenging him. No, Poisonous Electric Fingernails ManNuclear Man doesn’t count. You may say, “But Zod was also the villain in Superman 2.” Well, you would be right, but I have a hard time taking any villain seriously when he’s relying on this guy to be his wingman.

"Non wish he could tell you how angry he is!"

“Non wish he could tell you how angry he is!”

But seriously, this movie was a lot of fun to watch. Another contributing factor was the non-linear storyline. We got to see a lot of Clark’s formative years without having to spend one hour straight doing it. I expect to see some future comic book flicks copy this format, as it allows the audience to experience some action sequences in the beginning, as opposed to spending the first half of the movie watching the hero become said hero, before finally seeing him don the costume and get to fighting. Man of Steel doesn’t quite meet the same standard of entertainment as a powerhouse the like Avengers, but it comes pretty darn close in its own right. I imagine this movie will be just as fun to watch the second and third times around, and I think it will still be entertaining me 20 years from now.

Verdict: 9/10

2. How good is the plot and character development? (20%)

Yet another strong area for Man of Steel. Too many superhero movies these days come out with a paper-thin plot and/or wooden characters. Here is the basic plot of Man of Steel: Krypton doesn’t allow natural babies to be born. Superman’s parents secretly have a natural birth. Superman is sent to earth by his father to avoid blowing up with the rest of Krypton. Zod, who’s entire purpose in life if the protection and preservation of the Kryptonian people, finds out the Jor-El sent the means of reproducing Kryptonians via genesis with Superman to earth. Zod finds out the the code is stored within Superman and that earth would actually make a pretty good foundation for a new Krypton. Zod wants to kill Superman and destroy earth to resurrect Krypton. The plot makes perfect sense, and gives Zod a real, justifiable reason why he wants to cause chaos, as opposed to, you know, just having a random grudge against Superman’s family for no reason. It was interesting and allowed for plenty of action. The character development was solid too. We saw Superman struggle with being hesitant to get involved in anything because of the influence of Jonathan Kent, while he was also struggling with wanting to be involved in everything because of a deep-seated moral responsibility, also the influence of Jonathan Kent. Then we saw him move into full-fledged hero mode at the influence of his biological father. Solid development. Zod even had some nuance, as opposed to being just a megalomaniac.

Verdict: 9/10

3. How good is the casting and acting? (20%)

WB did a solid job of casting this movie, and the actors were solid as well. While no one was knock-your-socks-off incredible, there were no poor performances either. Henry Cavill performed well in the most important role. He did a great job of displaying a reserved strength. Michael Shannon did a solid job as Zod, though he could have been slightly more intimidating. Overall, Amy Adams was a good Lois Lane. Certainly better than the past two, but readers of the comics will probably feel that something is missing. Lois Lane is a tough-as-nails reporter, and while Adams did display some of that attitude, I thought she displayed a lot more of it in The Fighter. Maybe the Boston accent just makes people seem tougher, but since I have seen her do it better before, I thought she could have brought just a little more. Some people will be disappointed in deviating from the comics by casting Perry White as a black man, but I really like what Lawrence Fishburne did and can’t wait to seem him get a more prominent role in the sequels. Good move WB. So overall, it wasn’t perfect, but very solid.

Verdict: 7/10

4. How true is it to the source material? (15%)

This one is tricky, because the movie deviates from the comics in three main areas, but I can see why each of the decisions were made. Note: I’m not counting minor changes like Perry White being black or Lois Lane having red hair. Those decisions worked out just fine. Jimmy Olsen apparently being recast as a female is a little weird and a more drastic change, but I’m also tabling that to focus on the main three changes.

1. This is the first time we’ve ever heard anything about couples not being allowed to reproduce on Krypton, and how Superman was the only natural birth in centuries, etc. If you examine this change closely, it appears to be made only for the sake of the plot. Without it, the whole story and Zod’s motivations for his actions throughout the movie fall apart. Normally, I’m against making changes simply for the sake of the plot. It’s indicative of poor writing. However, we know that Goyer and Nolan are anything but bad writers, and the change did make some sense. It allowed Superman to represent hope, and that is one of the major themes of the comic book character. Overall, it wasn’t a perfect change, but I’m okay with it.

2. Jonathan Kent died differently.Depending on the continuity, we’ve seen Jonathan Kent die of hearts attacks and Braniac attacks.

It should go without saying, but don't let this guy around your dad.

It should go without saying, but don’t let this guy around your dad.

In the movie, Jonathan Kent dies in a tornado, which really isn’t that drastic of an alteration considering they live in Kansas and every Spring, their lives look something like this:

Look out Pa! There's a cow flying at your head!

Look out Pa! There’s a cow flying at your head!

The major and somewhat disappointing change was that Clark sat there and watched and didn’t do anything about it because his dad didn’t want him to. This is a little bit of a change from the comics, and I think the comic Superman would have found a way to save his dad. So I’m deducting some for this one.

3. SPOILERS!!!! In the most controversial change, Superman kills Zod by breaking his neck. I’m actually okay with this, as previously, Superman has shown the willingness to kill when no alternatives exists. Superman actually executed Zod in the comics, though this has been retconned by the New 52. Superman also “killed” Doomsday. It turns out Doomsday can’t really die, but Superman didn’t know that at the time. Point is, he will kill for the greater good when his back is up against the wall. It should also offer some character development in the sequels, as perhaps he will decide to never kill again.

Besides these three things, the rest of the movie was incredibly faithful to the Superman mythos I thought.

Verdict: 8/10

5. X-factor (15%)

Finally DC proved they can make a non-Batman superhero movie with a major character without it completely sucking. That’s really all you need to know. We already know that this movie is going to have at least a sequel or two, and there’s real reason to hope that those Justice League rumors they’ve been teasing us with for years might actually come true. If DC can manage to produce even 75% of the quality of the Marvel Cinematic U, it will all be worth it. I should also mention that Man of Steel has some of the best, if not the best, fight scenes in any superhero movie ever.

Verdict: 9/10

Final Score:8.45/10.00

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Superhero Movie Power Rankings

Welcome to The Geek Theses! I hope you’ll join me as I christen this blog with its virginal post. And what better topic to discuss than superhero movies? Comic book movies are a hot topic among geek-kind. Geeks like me can sit around for hours debating the intricacies and merits of every comic book movie that comes out. Is it good? Is it bad? Was it true to the source material? Did they use the right villain? Why the heck did they go with that version of the costume? Did they really just make a movie about perhaps the most powerful hero ever, and the most impressive thing he did was to survive getting shot in the eye with a handgun?

Picard and Riker disapprove of superhero films with lame action sequences.

Picard and Riker disapprove of superhero films with lame action sequences.

In asking all these very important questions, we geeks are really just trying to accomplish one thing. We want to know which movie is better than the other. At the end of the day, we just want a simple hierarchy of superhero flicks, so we can all know which one is the best, and which ones follow it.

That’s where the Superhero Movie Power Rankings (trademark pending) come into play. The Superhero Movie Power Rankings are a foolproof method for ranking superhero movies on a scale of seizure-inducing greatness to Spider-Man 3. The Superhero Movie Power Rankings have been proven to be over 99.943(repeating)% accurate by science. And you can’t argue with science.

“Holy crap. This is amazing! How does it work?” you say. Well, I’m glad you asked. For one time and one time only, I will let you in on the secret Superhero Movie Power Rankings Formula (patent pending). The secret formula is comprised of five different categories that are each weighted by importance. Each movie is scored on a scale of 1 to 10 (how original, I know), and then each of these scores are combined into one final score. As you can see, there is absolutely no way one can go wrong with such flawless methodology. And that’s the brilliance of it. So without further ado, here is a look behind the curtain.

1. How entertaining is it? (30%)

This is the most important category. Why do we watch movies? To be entertained of course. I’m not interested in parsing words with people who think the primary objective of cinema is to portray art. Movies can do that, but the film business is a moneymaking business, and it’s in the business of entertaining people and taking their cash to do it. When it’s all said and done, we go to the movies hoping to be entertained. You can hire good actors, follow the comics to a “T” page-by-page, and have stunning visuals, but if your movie isn’t entertaining, people aren’t going to like it. Cough…Watchmen…cough. Scoring high in this category is simple: the more entertaining the movie, the higher a score it gets. Rewatchability, the quality of the action scenes, and the edge-of-your-seat factor all play into entertainment.

2. How good is the plot and character development? (20%)

This is also key to a great superhero movie. Does the plot even pass the basic laugh test, or is it something an eight-year-old could punch holes in? Were the characters static the whole movie, or did they change? If they did change, was it a gradual process that made sense, or did they just go from Dr. House-level jerk to selfless hero simply because the plot called for it (see Lantern, Green). The thing is, we geeks aren’t just satisfied with seeing our favorite characters on the screen anymore. We can’t be placated with a pair of tights and any old lame excuse for the hero to beat down some villains. We want an intelligent plot with nuanced characters. If you can’t do that, you might as well go straight-to-DVD because Christopher Nolan and Marvel (mostly) are prepared to make good movies. Scores in this category consider both the plot and character development. Only movies with a stellar plot and nuanced character development can achieve a maximum score. Movies that perform well in one area and not so well in the other will be deducted.

3. How good is the casting and acting? (20%)

No one wants to see a potentially good movie get completely derailed by terrible acting. This is where George Lucas went so wrong in Episodes 1-3. I might crucified for this, but the overall plot for Episodes 1-3 wasn’t horrible (except for the Gungans). What really derailed the whole thing was that Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen are historically terrible actors. Tommy Wiseau had more charisma in The Room. I’m pretty sure Natalie Portman would have had more chemistry with a cardboard cutout of Bruce Campbell. So this is really important. This is probably most evidenced by the fact that the brilliance of the casting and acting of Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man pretty much singlehandedly launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Movies with great casting and acting will score high in this category. To get a perfect 10, the movie must have one or more transcendent performances and the rest of the cast must be memorable. Movies with any wooden or weak performances will be deducted.

Hint: Casting this man will not get you a high score in this category.

Hint: Casting this man will not get you a high score in this category.

4. How true is it to the source material? (15%)

This is a tricky one because to some geeks, it matters more than any other factor. And then to the vast majority of the audience, it doesn’t matter one bit because they have never read a comic in their lives. That’s right. We geeks hate to admit this, but comic book movies aren’t made for just geeks. Of the 16 movies that have grossed over $1 billion in box office revenues (as of June 2013), 25% are comic book movies. Another 50%, for a total of 75%, are in genres or franchises that are historically considered the domain of geeks. Those movies didn’t make hand over fist because geeks loved them. They raked in cash because eveyone loved them. At the same time, we can’t just throw the comics out, right? We can’t just take one of the greatest comic book villains ever and turn him into an absolute joke who has nothing in common with his comic book counterpart can we? I’m looking at you, Fantastic Four. At the same time, some changes are necessary. The best example of this is how Iron Man changed the origin story from its Cold War roots to fit a post-9/11 setting. Yes it deviated from the source material, but it was a brilliant change that actually improved on the source, and virtually everyone agrees on it. So to score high in this category, the movie must either remain remarkably consistent with the comics, or if any changes were made, they must be smart changes that actually make sense.

5. X-factor (15%)

This category is exactly what it appears to be. Movies with some other redeeming quality that does not fit into the major four above will get higher scores here. Did your movie exceed even the wildest expectations, and thus launch the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and thereby give us countless hours of other quality superhero entertainment? Hello, Iron Man, you get a good score here. Was your movie of such high quality that even the most conceited critics admitted it should receive serious Oscar consideration? Step up, The Dark Knight, we’re calling your number.

Well, that’s basically it. Very soon, I’ll start posting superhero movie reviews with their official Superhero Movie Power Ranking (trademark still pending) score. I hope you enjoy.

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