Tag Archives: Captain America: The First Avenger

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor the dark world

Though I enjoyed Marvel’s first Thor film (my review) well enough, I didn’t like it as much as I did the first Iron Man film or Captain America: The First Avenger and especially not as much as The Avengers (my review). That being said, the high quality of The Avengers and the altogether decent Iron Man 3 (my review) had me excited that Thor: The Dark World would be at least an improvement on its predecessor – and, thankfully, it is.

Thor: The Dark World opens with an introduction to the film’s villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a Dark Elf set to destroy the universe with an evil substance called the Aether. We witness Odin’s father defeat Malekith and hide the Aether, but Malekith and other Dark Elves manage to escape in suspended animation. The film then picks up after the events of The Avengers, with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) being imprisoned for his crimes against Earth. Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Warriors Three (Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, and Tadanobu Asano), and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) are fighting to make peace in the Nine Realms. On Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), along with her assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), is still searching for a way to make contact with Thor again after their last encounter. Her research leads her to the discovery of some sort of magic portal, through which she is accidentally teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether, awakening Malekith and threatening her life. Thor returns to Earth and seeks to find a way to save her life, eventually turning to Loki as his only hope for saving Jane, Asgard, and the universe itself.

Marvel has done an excellent job of casting people perfect for their roles, with the prime example being Tony Stark as Robert Downey, Jr. Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark. Chris Hemsworth is no exception here, as he really falls into his stride and wields the god of thunder’s hammer perfectly. The return of Hiddleston as Loki is also a welcome addition to the film; Hiddleston’s ability to be simultaneously charming and sinister is put to good use as Thor turns to him for help…can he really be trusted? The character brings a couple of nice twists and plenty of humor (including one particular scene in which he jokingly morphs into a certain Captain who we all know and love), though I fear that the character almost turned into too much of a good thing, similarly to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. Now, fear not, he never fully crosses that line, but in true Loki fashion he toes the line carefully, with a few jokes becoming a bit annoying for me because they came all at once. Still, Loki’s presence here was overall a good thing, and it would have been a much less entertaining film without him. Part of the reason why the return of Loki is so satisfying is because it gives him a chance to be brother to Thor again. Thor doesn’t know whether or not he can trust his brother, which in one scene he reveals is hard for him to accept. The two were raised together, and it’s difficult for Thor to accept that the person who he spent so many years with has no good left in him. It’s an interesting dynamic that is explored pretty well, however briefly.

Other faces are back in varying capacities. At least a brief mention should be given to Idris Elba as Heimdall, who is simply lots of fun – and he even gets his moment to shine here! Natalie Portman as Jane does a better job here than she did in the first film…but I still don’t believe that she’s a scientist. Thankfully, her relationship with Thor is a bit more believable this time around, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still think she’s an awkward character. The role of her assistant, Darcy, played by Kat Dennings, contrasts with her role in the first film in the sense that I actually liked her here; rather than simply being the comedic relief for the film, she played a definitive part in defeating the villain in the end, and the moments in which she WAS comedic relief played off better this time around. I like that Stellan Skarsgård is back as Dr. Erik Selvig, though you could say that his role here has been switched with Darcy’s in the first film. You could make the argument that the silliness/eccentricity of the character here (he spends more than half the film not wearing pants) is a result from Loki spending too much time in his head during The Avengers, but the fact of the matter here is that Skarsgård would have been put to better use as someone who could convince us that the science in the film is actually believable, rather than using Jane as the throwaway scientist. Either way, he’s at least moderately entertaining here…just a bit of wasted potential. Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin, but he’s gone from bad father in the first film to bad king in this film, making decisions based less on good judgement and more on pride. He even calls Jane a goat…it just seems odd. Eccleston as Malekith makes an appropriately menacing villain, but there is little explanation as to why he is the way he is or any sort of reason for his actions. Again, it just seems like a wasted opportunity.

The visuals of the film are on the whole better than in the first film, which relied mostly on CGI and often looked pretty cartoony. The CGI that is used in TDW is on the whole much more tasteful and refined, but it otherwise relies more on actual sets rather than on a green screen, which I really appreciate. I also really admire the ties that it makes to The Avengers; like Iron Man 3, the implications of Loki’s war crimes on Earth and the effects that they had on our heroes are explored here, from Loki’s imprisonment to Selvig’s eccentricity to various other small examples. It just helps the film to feel a part of the greater universe that Marvel has compiled, and it’s done without making it seem like TDW relies on the events of The Avengers to make sense. 

Since I’m the music guy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brian Tyler’s score for the film. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed when I first learned that Patrick Doyle wouldn’t be returning to score the sequel, since I generally appreciated his work on the first film, but that disappointment has disappeared since listening to Tyler’s score in full. The energy that he also brought to Iron Man 3 is just as present here without feeling like a rehash, and, while his music is almost entirely his own creation, he doesn’t completely abandon the main theme from Doyle’s score, an act that I appreciate for continuity’s sake. The score is definitely worth picking up and listening to if you’re interested in those sorts of things!

This film leaves us with some interesting questions that I won’t spoil here, but just know that the future of Thor and friends should hopefully be a great ride. On the whole, Thor: The Dark World takes what was good about the first film and improves on it, and it also flips around much of what made the first film, shall we say, less than stellar, to make a film that feels fun, adventurous, and even weighted at times, all in the best of ways.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content

Advertisements

Gangster Squad (2013)

I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of this film the other day. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what it was about (aside from what I assumed was a squad of gangsters), and I didn’t know what the critics were saying about it. I only knew who was in it and that I got to see it for free, which was good enough for me. Thankfully, Gangster Squad was quite a fun film.

The story takes placte in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and everything about it feels authentic, from the clothes to the music to the lack of today’s advanced technology – the last of these being pretty important since this film features some elements of espionage. From the very beginning of the film – as in the first two minutes – we are shown that this is going to be a pretty violent film, which makes sense since we’re dealing with gangsters. The title is derived from a special team of cops, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whose goal is to take down the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer and now the head of organized crime in LA.

In the assembling of the so-called “Gangster Squad,” we’re treated to what I consider to be an Avengers-esque montage in which we’re introduced to each member and their specific talents one by one. There was another scene later that seemed to be a cross between the fight montage from Captain America: The First Avenger and the newspaper headlines sequences from various other films (i.e. Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, etc.). That’s not to say that they weren’t well-done or original – just familiar.

There are two standout performances in this film. The first comes from Josh Brolin as “Sarge” (as he’s called in the movie); I’d only seen him before in The Goonies and in the 2010 remake of True Grit, so seeing him in the lead role here was a nice, real introduction to him as an actor. His character exuded a strong confidence that fit his position as leader, and his desire to do the right thing no matter what was palpable. Ryan Gosling was even better than Brolin; I’d never seen him in anything before and only knew that he had been in The Notebook, so I didn’t anticipate him being anything special, but I was amazed to see that he was not only competent but also quite good. His character is Sgt. Jerry Wooters, a man who is at first reluctant to join the Gangster Squad, but his fraternization with Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the death of a friend at the hand of some of Cohen’s men convince him to join the fight. Gosling’s character brings some humanity to the field; he’s passionate for both his friends and his girl, and he holds the lives of these people at a higher priority level than he does the arrest of Mickey Cohen. He makes sure to keep Sarge in check so that he’s keeping his own life a priority.

*major spoilers in this paragraph*

My favorite part of this film was that the filmmakers weren’t afraid to let members of the Gangster Squad die; in fact, two of them do. They don’t have a miraculous recovery, but their deaths do not feel superficial…it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers killed them just to kill them. Sometimes, it seems like characters are killed just for the sake of killing them, and other times it seems like characters that should die due to injury are granted ridiculous reprieves. Thankfully, this film is smarter than that.

*end spoilers*

Overall, Gangster Squad may be violent and have some bad language, but that’s expected from a film like this. It’s a lot of fun, the actors do a great job, Jablonsky’s score is (surprisingly) superb, and the film itself feels neither too long nor too short; at just under two hours, it’s a perfect length for a film like this. The storytelling is pushed along by the action, but it isn’t mindless at all, and, in fact, most of it is quite entertaining. Everything is done really well, from the 1940s setting to the acting by everyone involved – Brolin, Gosling, Penn, Stone, et al. – does a fantastic job in a film that does a fine job of kick-starting this year’s movie lineup.

EDIT

Upon mulling over it a while longer, I’ve lowered my original rating by a star. Enjoyable, but not fantastic. Suffers from poor storytelling, flat character development, awful dialogue, and a few instances of just bad cinematography. I stand by my evaluation of Gosling especially, who was brilliant, but everyone else, including Brolin to a point, falls short.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for strong violence and language


Captain America: The First Avenger (2010) – Alan Silvestri

Really, if I chose any soundtrack other than Alan Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger for today, I don’t know if I could call myself an American.

The score to Captain America is one of my favorites of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, helped along by the fact that Alan Silvestri (Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump) is also one of my favorite film composers, and nothing quite says “America” like the Cap’s main theme (as far as film themes go, that is).

Most of the Captain America score is pretty excellent, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hear lots of Back to the Future and Night at the Museum throughout. For example, compare the opening seconds of “Hydra Lab” with “George to the Rescue – Pt. 1” from Back to the Future (click titles for YouTube links). Captain America’s “Farewell to Bucky” is the track that sounds especially like some bits of Night at the Museum. Sure, it’s a little disappointing, but the theme itself takes away a lot of that disappointment for me…it’s just too darned American/fun.

I really don’t have too much to say about this one; it is what it is and it does it well. Sure, it borrows freely from Silvestri’s other scores, but it still manages to be one of the better superhero soundtracks that I’ve ever heard…certainly not the best, though. But with a main theme like this and a song composed by famed Disney composer Alan Menken (Beauty and the BeastAladdinTangled), called “Star Spangled Man”, how can you go wrong?

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

1. “Captain America Main Titles”    0:56

2. “Frozen Wasteland”    1:53

3. “Schmidt’s Treasure”    3:01

4. “Farewell to Bucky”    2:50

5. “Hydra Lab”    1:54

6. “Training the Supersoldier”    1:08

7. “Schmidt’s Story”    1:59

8. “Vitarays”    4:25

9. “Captain America “We Did It””    1:59

10. “Kruger Chase”    2:55

11. “Hostage On the Pier”    2:46

12. “General’s Resign”    2:18

13. “Unauthorized Night Flight”    3:13

14. “Troop Liberation”    5:06

15. “Factory Inferno”    5:06

16. “Triumphant Return”    2:16

17. “Invader’s Montage”    2:16

18. “Hydra Train”    3:27

19. “Rain Fire Upon Them”    1:39

20. “Motorcycle Mayhem”    3:05

21. “Invasion”    5:09

22. “Fight on the Flight Deck”    3:30

23. “This is My Choice”    3:26

24. “Passage of Time”    1:35

25. “Captain America”    1:08

26. “Star Spangled Man”  2:53

27. “Captain America March”    2:36

Total Length: app. 74 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad