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THOR!

So this weekend I hit up the local IMAX to check out Thor. I figured I’d have a lot to say about it. But turns out… nope. There’s really not that much to say.

Was it good? Sure. It’s funny, it’s got some good action, it’s got plenty of mark out moments for fans of the comic (Thor doing the hammer twirl, a certain Avenger making a cameo, etc… though the after credits easter egg fell flat with most of the audience at my showing)… but was it outstanding? Not really. It’s been pretty clear by now that Marvel is just planning on working a formula with their movies, and while it may be time tested, this is the 4th time we’ve seen it. You know we’re getting a fight at the beginning, one in the middle, and one big one at the end. You know we’re getting a romance. You know we’re getting some slapstick comedy and a bunch of winks to the comic fans. You know the hero is going to have a crisis of faith and have to adjust his outlook accordingly. And so on. So what really drives these movies is the strength of the performances. Thankfully, Chris Hemsworth brings Robert Downey Jr level goods as Thor, and Kat Dennings ruled hard in what little comedic relief screen time she had, but everyone else was pretty much just there. Ironically, the Asgardian who left the most powerful, most Godlike impression was “controversial pick” Idris Elba’s Heimdall; Anthony Hopkins as Odin is Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and Sif and The Warriors 3 get just enough time to let you know what medieval movie stereotypes they fill. Rene Russo as Frigga basically just gets a paycheck for showing up in the background. Tom Hiddleston was decent enough as Loki, but the character’s plans and motivations were somehow so simultaneously simplistic and over complicated that the character never clicked the way you want a movie villain to click. This was probably because in many ways, this was an origin story for Loki as well. That said, their final battle felt suitably epic, and slightly less pre-ordained than the final battles in movies like the Hulk and Iron Man 2.

Kenneth Branagh’s direction, as has been said many times, is well suited for the material, but he never really breaks the Marvel formula. Asgard is a visually stunning mix of Flash Gordon and Jack Kirby (in particular I thought they did a really great job of capturing the Rainbow Bridge without it being cheesy and a straight up rainbow), as is the Frost Giants homeland (dark as it is), but whenever there are human forms mixed in the landscape shots, it’s blatantly CGI. Same for the Frost Giants themselves, all of whom look like Ivan Ooze from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, only blue and more naked. The Destroyer, however, was virtually seamless. Seeing the movie in 3D was a decision made for me (I just wanted to see it in IMAX), and quite frankly I don’t think it really added anything. The sense of depth was nice I suppose, but really the 3D looked better in the IMAX credits than it did for anything in the movie. Still not sold on 3D, no sir.

As I write this, I actually find myself liking the movie better than my description makes it sound. So make no mistake, I definitely liked it, but to accurately decide how much I think I might have to see it again. Right now I’d rank it below Iron Man, but above Iron Man 2 and The Hulk. Which is still a pretty good spot to be in.

Grade: B+

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Iron Man 2: The Comic Noize Review.

Friday night. 10pm. Usually the absolute worst time to try to go a movie at New Roc City, because it’s guaranteed to be packed. And the more packed it is, the more people willing to talk through a movie will be there. And people LOVE to talk through the movies at the New Roc. I haven’t been to a movie there since 2008 that I haven’t ended up grinding my teeth through because some jerk won’t shut up. That’s the New York movie going experience for you I guess.

But I’m pleased to say that as of this past Friday’s 10pm showing of Iron Man 2, my streak has been broken.

Sadly, we weren’t able to get IMAX tickets as planned (maybe all the talkers were in there), but that was ok. I pretty much only like to see movies in IMAX that actively stimulate the visual palette. IM2 isn’t that kind of movie. What it IS a fun summertime superhero action movie, just like the first. Just slightly more convoluted. A lot of reviews are blaming that on the standard sequel trope of there being two villains (in IM2 it’s Sam Rockwell as arms dealer Justin Hammer and Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a combination of Iron Man bad guys Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo). To this I say nay.

Go back to the first movie. How many bad guys were there? I’ll tell you how many. Two. You had the head of the Ten Rings, and you had Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane. In fact, in many respects, both movies followed the same formula of lesser bad guy meets bigger bad guy. The difference in IM2 is that both it’s villains possess equal presence (as in command of the screen, not time on). Rockwell plays Hammer as a Bizarro Tony Stark, oozing desperation instead of charm and trying too hard at, well… everything (the self tanner covered palms… great touch). Rourke’s Vanko is far less extroverted; he’s a menacing, tattooed grunter with a thing for cockatoos, yet even with his lines being almost unintelligible, he commands the screen. No, it’s not the villains that clutter up the movie, it’s the plot.

Iron Man 2 just has a hair too much going on, plain and simple. You have Vanko trying to get revenge on Tony Stark because he feels Tony’s father stole his father’s work and ruined him, while Hammer just plain wants to replace Stark as the number one weapons guy for the Armed Forces. You have Tony dealing with his own daddy issues, as well as the fact that his suit is killing him via palladium poisoning. You have Garry Shandling as a pompous senator trying to get the Iron Man armor turned over to the government, and best friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle, a vast improvement over Terrance Howard) juggling his loyalties as a result. You have Tony and newly appointed CEO of Stark Industries Pepper’s relationship being put on the rocks because Tony doesn’t want to tell her that he’s going to die, plus his sultry new assistant isn’t all that she seems. You have Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury coming around to set up beats for the upcoming Avengers movie (and if you look closely towards the end, you’ll catch some images on a SHIELD tv monitor that show exactly when this sequel takes place in the growing Marvel movie-verse). All that plus several subdued cues from the classic “Demon In A Bottle” storyline… it all just adds up to a hair too much, and at times it drags the pacing down. That doesn’t mean it ever gets boring though.

Though they may feel few and far between, there are actually several great action sequences, including an awesome first go round for Iron Man (in a suit that pays homage to both the suitcase used to carry the armor in the comics and the Scarlet Centurion armor of the 80s) and a electrified whip wielding Vanko taking place smack in the middle of the Grand Prix, a mansion trashing brawl between a drunken Tony and a suit borrowing Rhodey, and a gymnastic smackdown of Hammer’s security guards from Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (and if anyone suffers from the clutter of the plot, it’s Johansson, who gets so little to do that she’s basically window dressing. Sultry, seductive window dressing.)

The final battle suffers from a little bit of generic action movie overkill, as Tony and Rhodey face down a large group of rampaging attack drones and a suited up Vanko, but it’s paced properly and shot so that you can tell what’s going on, and in this day and age that counts for a lot. And there are some touches of humor in there as well. In fact, in general it’s a pretty funny movie. As before, Robert Downey Jr’s performance keeps the tone light without ever sacrificing the stakes set up by the myriad of plots.

Was this as good a movie as the first? No. The first Iron Man was more stream lined in plot, and Downey’s performance added a freshness to it that the sequel lacks; this time we’re expecting it, and while we get it, it is clearly a continuation. Still, Iron Man 2 is exactly what the first one was: a fun, summer time superhero action movie, full of quips and explosions. And yes, there is an after credits Easter egg that made the audience break out in applause.

B+

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Tonight…

10pm.

Me, my local Imax, and Iron Man 2.

The official Comic Noize review will be up Monday.

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