SUPERHERO MOVIE SCORECARD

DC/Warner Bros.


The white flag has been thrown. After months of both Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and the untitled Captain America threequel sitting tight on the same May 6, 2016 release date, the World’s Finest have yielded (♪ to Captain America’s mighty shield ♪…ed).

DC’s flagship film will now release six weeks earlier on March 25.

Before we all assume Marvel was the only one to show a little muscle-flexing here, the announcement did come with a big second half: Warner Bros. has slated nine movies based on DC properties following Bats vs Supes, one as soon as that August. Titles for these announced films are expected to be revealed within the next month.

While everyone on Twitter seemed to jump all this as strictly a victory for Marvel, this is really a win for everyone. What part of “we get Batman vs Superman six weeks early” is a bad thing? By the time March rolls around we’re already dying for an event movie, as the earnings on films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier — an early April release — have shown. With any hope, this could be the beginning of studios bucking the traditional summer flustercluck model and releasing big movies regardless of month.

Marvel Studios



Marvel Studios is doing pretty good now. Scratch that; Marvel Studios has never been better. Having just released Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps their trickiest property yet, the studio has come into another smash hit in what will likely be the top domestic earner of the summer.

Meanwhile, spring was also pretty great for them, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (on blu-ray soon) did gangbusters. The Avengers sequel is on the horizon for next summer and the studio just showed enough muscle to win the game of chicken with DC and keep Cap 3 on the summer opener date.

Gawrsh, all this good will going around and you start to forget all the shitty things that are happening with them right now too. Like, remember that little film Ant-Man and that one director guy who left because fuck artists who want creative control? Yeah, add him to the long list of people scorned by the studio. [By the way, Mickey Rourke is still talking about his displeasure with Marvel, four years later.]

Or how about the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman, the first credited female writer on a Marvel film, is getting continually discredited in interviews by Guardians director and general POS James Gunn? Classy stuff here.

And all you guys and gals wondering when the studio will finally take the big leap and make a female-starring superhero flick? Don’t worry because Marvel head guru Kevin Feige “won’t be swayed” into doing that.

Look, I like what Marvel’s doing, mostly, but there’s an awful lot of worship going on that is simply not justified when looking at how blatantly skeevy they can be. I mean, there has to be a point where… oh look, S.H.I.E.L.D. characters may appear in Ant-Man (goes back to sleep).

Sony/Spider-Man

And yet, it could always be worse.

Back at Comic-Con it was announced that The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is getting pushed to an undetermined 2018 date, while Drew Goddard’s villain team-up, The Sinister Six, will be out November 11, 2016.

Naturally, this shakeup didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the idea that Sony knows what it’s doing, especially among the crowd that naively thinks the movie rights to Spider-Man can and will go back to Marvel within the next five years.

Since then, Sony has beat Marvel to the punch by announcing a female-led Spider-Man spinoff flick coming in 2017. No further details were announced, but special features on the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2 blu-ray reportedly confirm that Felicity Jones’ character in the film is Felicia Hardy/Black Cat, seemingly putting her as the top contender to headline the project.

First, yay for Sony in being the first out of the gate to do the female-led superhero thing. Clearly, they sensed the could get some leeway on Marvel in this area and went for it. Not to mention there’s kind of a growing demand for it.

But at this point, it’s hard to imagine that this will amount to anything more than bragging rights. You can only muster so much enthusiasm for a Black Cat movie when Sony hasn’t made a truly great film starring Spider-Man for almost a decade. And this is coming from the guy who liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

All is not well in Spidey-land as the franchise’s toxic producer Avi Arad seems to be more preoccupied with churning out as many Spider-Man related films as possible to keep the rights away from Marvel rather than put the work in to make something amazing. For that, he would have to keep his nose out of the director and screenwriter’s business and let them make a coherent movie — something he clearly will not do. Producer/studio interference is this franchise’s biggest enemy right now.

In other news, the proposed Venom film is reportedly now going by the title Venom/Carnage. Might be reading into this a bit much, but I think Carnage might show up in this movie. The symbiote spinoff, headed by Alex Kurtzman (ouch), is also set to land sometime in 2017.

Fox/X-Men/Fantastic Four


Lastly, things are also going quite well for Fox’s Marvel properties and without all the wildly objectionable stuff to cover up that Marvel has. Seriously, they’re doing good for now, plain and simple.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was a smash hit — the biggest earner in the franchise so far. X-Men has never been more primed for big time franchise possibilities, with or without Bryan Singer (still no word on whether Fox has officially asked him back for X-Men: Apocalypse. Those underage sexual abuse allegations have been cleared but still leave an understandably bad taste.)

On the other end of the coin, Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, for now going by The Fantastic Four, recently finished shooting in Louisiana. As of yet, almost nothing has been revealed about the project, aside from the origin being reportedly different.

The film had no presence at this year’s Comic Con, but a photo was recently released showing what could be our first look at Ben Grimm/The Thing, played by Jamie Bell.

The Josh Trank helmed reboot is set to open June 19, 2015, with its sequel already scheduled for the ever popular 2017.

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FIVE FAVORITES OF SUMMER ’14

5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 / Guardians of the Galaxy

“What?! How dare you even put these two in range of each other, much less tie them. Hack!”
Oh sorry, just having imaginary, displaced fanboy screeches in my head again.
Yes, this is a pairing you won’t likely find on any similar lists, as the general consensus seems to be that everything about Guardians of the Galaxy needs to be worshiped while, conversely, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deserves nothing less than to be shit upon.

All that is sort of weird to me because, by and large, both movies have more similarities than differences. They’re both colorful, jaunty, visual effects-filled comic book adaptions; they both rely on a good bit of humor; both have villains that don’t live up to their potential; you’ll likely roll your eyes at some point during both; and both have a significant use of music throughout.

In fact, the only real place the two films diverge the most is in each one’s respective shortcomings. Spider-Man, while definitely having some good ideas, is a studio hatchet job that never becomes one coherent story. On the opposite end, Guardians is stitched together well but can thank its willingness to stick to formula for that.

But whether messy or tame, each film lives up to its promise of summer blockbuster fun and is a blast in its own respective way.

4. Edge of Tomorrow

Not only is Edge of Tomorrow a bunch of fun, it’s a wholly surprising bunch of fun. Like finding $10 in a pile of leaves. Seriously, my interest in this one went from low beforehand to very high after.

The joy in watching Edge of Tomorrow is in seeing Tom Cruise adjust his decisions each time the day resets to either better or more disastrous results. And hey, Tom Cruise is pretty fun to watch too, as he goes from milquetoast figurehead to badass warrior. It’s action-y, funny(-y), and pretty dern clever(-y).

The ending could have used a little bit of work but by that point the film has gotten way too much mileage out of the premise to care all that much.

It’s a shame this one didn’t catch on with audiences the way it really should have, actually not sucking and all, but home video has a talent for giving new life to under-appreciated films.

Color me impressed.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past, like its signature letter, is a bit of a crossroads. Old meets new. Established story meets artistic interpretation. Somber meets humor. Story momentum meets character introspection.

Thankfully, DOFP is one of those movies that can pull this blend off in a very focused way. It has many memorable moments but none of them seem to demand more focus than they’re worth. Not to mention it’s kind of a blast to see this cast interact, most of all McAvoy and Fassbender again.

My personal hope is that, for the sequel, director Bryan Singer (or whoever picks up director’s duties for next time) brings more of a tangible visual style to X-Men: Apocalypse, more in line with what Matthew Vaughn did with First Class. But if that story is as good as this films is, then they will at least still have their priorities straight.  

2. Snowpiercer

When Hollywood fails, look elsewhere. What’s remarkable about Snowpiercer is that, as a foreign film, it actually manages to beat Hollywood at its own game.

There’s no shortage of sci-fi action thrillers out there. There are, however, not that many that can pull off a film as thoughtful, gritty and memorable as this one. Anyone inclined to think a bit during their gun fights should find reward in Snowpiercer as the pointed commentary keeps things perpetually interesting.

And lookey here, you don’t even have to leave the house to watch the film. It’s still available to rent on most on-demand services (good luck finding one of the, like, seven theaters it’s still playing at).



1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There were many good sci-fi films out this summer and a refreshing amount of movies that didn’t treat the audience like complete idiots. This film is the best in both categories.

It’s hard to talk about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes outside the context of squeeing about every little thing in it. But this is my favorites list so I’m allowed, dammit!

Where to start? The stunning motion capture performances by the hero and villain? The four or five times where Planet of the Apes iconography seemed on the verge of bursting through? Gary Oldman’s archetype-defying character? Maybe the emotional intensity that starts right away and just does. not. let. up.?

If all that sounds good, it’s because it is. It so, positively, is.

UPCOMING HOME VIDEO CALENDAR — MAY 2014 EDITION

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (August 19)

Good news: The latest Spider-Man sequel is hitting the shelves earlier than anticipated. 

Bad news: it’s because it under-performed in almost every way it could have.

Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had high hopes dropped on its shoulders from the start and couldn’t live up to it all. But despite its glaring problems, it’s still one of the most fun movies this summer, mess and all. If you can push past the fragmented scripting, mishandled villains and clear evidence of studio/producer meddling, there are many moments of pure elation in the Marc Webb-helmed follow up.

Stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are more electric together on screen than the villain of the piece and every single Spider-Man sequence visually hits it out of the park. Never before has the fun and energy of being Spider-Man been better conveyed. And, even if it wasn’t properly built up to, the last 20 minutes of the movie are a gut punch the likes of which we normally don’t see in blockbuster entertainment.
While Sony hasn’t scrapped all future plans by any means (Sinister Six is now on for November 2016, with ASM 3 releasing in 2018), that doesn’t mean this franchise isn’t in trouble and they know it. If there was any listening to reason, the head honchos would keep their nose out of the editing room, let Marc Webb do his thing, and cut loose a certain producer who has led these movies astray for some time.
Luckily, each edition of ASM 2 comes with a better than average amount of special features, including featurettes on the awesome visual effects of the film and filmmaker commentary. But the big daddy among them, and perhaps key in shifting perception of the film, is the 13 deleted scenes from the film, many of which include scrapped plotlines that could have fleshed the film out more. The same thing happened with the first movie and this one look to be no exception.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is available for pre-order now at $19.99.
Buy It

Godzilla (September 16)

Speaking of films that had a lot of hopes and anticipation riding on them, Gareth Edwards’ update on the king of monsters also didn’t get quite the welcome wagon they were expecting. 
But rather than decry it as a bad movie, most people were left scratching their heads, wondering “when does the big guy show up?”
Devoted superfans (or maybe just time-savvy individuals) have clocked the estimated screen time of Godzilla in this latest movie at nine minutes and 49 seconds. That’s a surprisingly short amount of time for a two hour film named after the character. It’s easy to see Edwards trying to emulate the restraint of films like Jaws and Jurassic Park in revealing the monster.
However, you need something to keep the interest up in between all the monster business. That’s where this film falters a bit. All 10 minutes of Godzilla are pretty darn cool but the human characters are largely flat, joyless archetypes and are more serviceable than endearing.
What keeps the film’s head above water is that Edwards knows how to get just the right tone out of the film and crafts some suspenseful set pieces with the rampaging M.U.T.Os and their fearsome EMP blasts. Where payoff is sparing, tension and scale are left to carry the piece.
It’s honestly hard to predict how new viewers will react to this one, whether it be them appreciating the tone and risks the movie takes or just continually checking their watches. As such, it’s better to recommend a rental first for newbs, just to make sure. If you dig it, the blu-ray editions have the requisite Warner Bros. amount of special features and should hold enough hi-def glory to make it worth while.

Godzilla is available for pre-order now at $22.99.

Rent first, buy later

Little could we have guessed that while Spider-Man was tangling its web in reboot complexities and Marvel was focusing on expanding and yucking it up, X-Men would sneak past them and become the most consistently satisfying superhero franchise around.

Sure, it took a few embarrassing mistakes getting there, but with X-Men: Days of Future Past, the series cements itself in greatness while paving the way for newer and better things.
Days of Future Past is like watching a harmonic convergence between old and new. The veterans return to remind us what we loved about the originals, while the new blood expands on what soared in First Class (the Xavier/Magneto dichotomy) and teases some great new avenues (Quicksilver). Best of all, there’s one hell of a solid story to back up this seemingly daunting effort.

There are just so few, minuscule places this passing of the torch goes wrong. It’s certainly not in performances (stellar), effects (polished) or tone (full of gravitas). Bryan Singer seems to be the only weak-ish chain, as the man is not as strong in visuals and action as he is in character studies and performances. A more colorful palette might have benefited the past scenes as well, but neither gripe makes much of a dent in the overall picture.

World started circling last month that an extended cut of the film would be released, and while that’s confirmed to be true, it looks like it won’t be released until sometime next year. Until then, fans will have to be content with a few deleted scenes on this blu-ray version, reportedly including Ana Paquin’s much-publicized cut scenes as Rogue, as well as a few other special feature goodies. The biggest missing piece of the regular blu-ray edition is a lack of a DVD copy, which, sadly, seems to be less of a given these days.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is available for pre-order now at $22.99.

Buy it

Maleficent (November 4)

When things are all said and done, Maleficent will no doubt have the strongest legs of any film this summer. The re-imagining of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale is entering its 11th week in the box office top 10, longer than any other film released since May. Domestic and foreign grosses have pushed it past heavy hitters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in global earnings and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping there.
Success like that is nothing short of impressive. It’s just a shame it had to come with this movie, for which there is no higher compliment than “meh”.
For being a story immersed in magic, there’s surprisingly little of it felt throughout Maleficent. All heart and ingenuity are thrown out so Disney and their production designer director can focus on what apparently matters most: dumping tons of visual effects on screen for hokey battle scenes and overdone fairy comedy.

Angelina Jolie certainly looks the part, but only occasionally gets to live up to it, as the humanizing “she’s not so bad when you understand her” angle once again manages to make a character less interesting than they were. One or two scenes are the exception to a film where the main character is nothing close to how we remember her.    

There’s nothing really to hate about Maleficent — there’s also nothing that deserves distinct praise about it. It’s just consistently stale; a concept that should be full of life but just goes through it’s required, banal motions. It just exists.

Rent it if you must

The Rest:


Neighbors (September 23)

Million Dollar Arm (October 7)

Blended (August 26)

A Million Ways to Die in the West (October 7)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY REVIEW

We said they were crazy. We said that it could never happen. Yet here we are two years later and a movie based on the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s cosmic D-list heroes, exists. So how did Marvel, at the height of their success, take one daring step further and deliver a movie where a talking raccoon and tree seem right at home?

Simple: milk the Marvel formula for all it’s worth and make the film as fluffy as possible. Some audiences clearly dig that; this is a case from the other side that sees all the so-called “fun” as misplaced priority if done wrong.

After Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a space-junk scrounger from Earth calling himself Star Lord, comes into possession of a magical MacGuffin orb, he’s the most popular guy in the galaxy. Mainly because everyone wants to forcefully take it off his hands, most of all the alien religious fanatic Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). To escape prison — eventually keep the orb from evildoers — Quill teams up with a band of misfits, consisting of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a hated assassin desperate to escape her master; Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), misfit bounty hunters; and Drax (Dave Bautista), a revenge-driven psychopath. Together they become… you know.

I like fun. No really, I do. That’s what Guardians of the Galaxy sets out to be, for which it largely succeeds. Everything you’ve come to expect from Marvel is here — crazy superhero action, snarky one-liners, stunning production values and end-credit zingers. The world of GOTG is solidly established (in what doesn’t completely feel like a flurry of exposition) and finds a nice visual blend between many sci-fi space epics, while singling itself out from it’s peers with it’s sheer Marvel attitude.

Pratt has enough natural charisma to be believable, both in the comedy and drama sectors, while Saldana gets to be at least a little bit more than “action girl”. Cooper and Diesel steal the show more than once, thanks to their vocal performance and some playful animation work, respectively. And Dave Bautista, well, he’s trying, so I guess that helps.

Pace, meanwhile, does his best mean-mugging and lands somewhere between Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 in Marvel’s one-dimensional villains spectrum. But he sure looks cool.

There was a feeling way back in the beginning of this whole saga that a Guardians of the Galaxy movie would be too foreign and off-putting for regular audiences to enjoy. Looking at it now, it’s clear this is as familiar a movie as Marvel will ever make, story-wise. Not only is the MacGuffin set-up a time-worn, rote plot, it’s one we’ve seen in Marvel movies more than enough times already. It’s not so much that it’s a story that doesn’t work (clearly it does), but it’s an obvious compromise to make the movie more widely appealing.

That might just be the heart of why this movie is so frustrating: it’s consistently compromised to make it as accessible as it possibly could be.

And all that might have been ok if they didn’t decide to throw the picture’s intelligence out the window too.

James Gunn’s script –and subsequent directing — holds blame. Humor is a staple of all Marvel movies and it’s normally in good taste. Here, the dialogue and quips are nothing short of grating, relying more on profanity than anything (the kids will love it!). High school improv shows are the closest parallel to use in describing the movie’s juvenile exchanges (Exhibit A: The “I have a plan” scene) and even then, a high schooler might have come up with better lines. It’s all part of the movie’s “too cool for school” tone that comes off as more annoying than clever; more tiresome than invigorating.

Unfortunately that also translates over to the film’s soundtrack, hand picked by Gunn, that almost prides itself in how much attention it can siphon away from the movie. Sorry, but Joan Jett and Blue Swede have no place in this space epic, no matter how much reasoning they give it. Even if the tunes are supposed to keep us grounded in humanity, it never comes off as anything more than a producer’s half-cocked plan to sell more mp3s because “PEOPLE KNOW AND LIKE THESE SONGS.”

Furthermore, the less said about the film’s embarrassing dance numbers, the better.

Each lame joke and misplaced song choice brings the movie down a notch, but every stellar action piece, performance tick or sudden emotional moment brings things back up, making for a roller coaster experience of mixed emotions. It’s another case of moments making and breaking the movie.

By the time the underwhelming post-credits stinger wraps, Guardians does end up on top, evening itself out to be a weightless, mostly entertaining summer popcorn flick that should float most people’s boats. But Marvel’s best it is not, though they’ll obviously keep telling you that. With the basic concept sold, here’s hoping that Gunn and the Marvel team straighten their priorities for next time, leave the mix tape at home and shoot for the stars a bit more.

6.5/10