Sunday, July 31, 2011

Super Hero Movie Reviews – Green Lantern – Captain America

  When I was a youngster, there were 2 major comic book companies DC (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) and Marvel (Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Hulk). I was a DC fan for the simple reason that each DC comic was its own story while the Marvel comics would be continued over multiple issues. Since I didn’t have the means or opportunity to get comics every month, I would get a DC comic when I had a dime to spend so I would be able to read a whole story, even though the Marvel characters were quirkier and seemed like more fun. As I got to my late teens and had more money to spend on comics, I was able to buy the Marvel comics on a regular basis and appreciate them as much as DC's characters.

  DC was first to get their characters to the big screen with Christopher Reeve’s Superman in the 70’s and Batman in the 80’s. Superman has struggled in the 21st century with the lackluster ‘Superman Returns’, but the Batman saga has been retold as the ‘Dark Knight’ and is a big seller yet again.

  After Superman and Batman, DC Comics has struggled to have a third franchise superhero to their movie roster. Watchmen was a great movie, but didn’t lend itself to any sequels since most of the main characters die and the story does not take place in the same universe as Batman and Superman. I liked Jonah Hex a lot more than most, but it did poorly at the box office. Wonder Woman is going to be back as a TV show. I think the Flash would be a pretty cool character for the big screen since he has a great cast of villains (Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, Gorilla Grodd, Captain Boomerang...), but for their latest effort, DC decided to go with another of their main characters, the Green Lantern.

  I went to see Green Lantern a couple of weeks ago. While my main pet peeve with superhero movies is that half the movie is spent retelling the origin, the Green Lantern’s origin comes with plenty of action with the Green Lantern of Earth’s corner of the galaxy Abin Sur, fighting super villain evil incarnate, Parallax, crashing to earth and while dying, sends his ring to find a man without fear to take his place. The ring finds Hal Jordan who is not the 60’s crew-cut test pilot I remember that has never smoked a cigarette, had a drink, and is saving himself for marriage, but is the 21st century Hal Jordan, a test pilot who breaks the rules, has daddy issues, gets drunk, and sleeps with the bosses daughter (among others). Jordan receives the ring, travels to the edges of the galaxy to meet all the other Green Lanterns (and their creators, the Guardians), learns the meaning of courage as he battles and defeats Parallax and saves the earth, the galaxy, the universe, and quite possibly the omniverse.

  In my opinion, the Green Lantern movie was excellently made. I didn’t think there was enough of GL using the ring, but there was enough action to satisfy me since the obligatory origin story was intermixed with Green Lantern action. The other Green Lanterns looked as freaky as remembered from the comics. There are thousands of Green Lanterns and not all of them are biped humanoids. I missed seeing the Green Lantern that was nothing but a giant eyeball, but the movie focused mostly on the bird/fish like GL, brutish rock like GL, and Sinestro the red human looking GL that eventually becomes a worthy super-villain in his own right. The guardians were transformed from balding little blue midgets with red costumes and big heads looking up at everyone to wizened brains each sitting on a miles-high column with red robes that stretched down for miles as they plotted their strategies for defeating Parallax (who was a Guardian gone bad). Hector Hammond was great as the weasel scientist who is infected with the energy from Parallax and becomes a telepathic super brain even as he becomes physically deformed. I hope the movie has done well enough ($114 million after 4 weeks) to warrant a sequel since the stage has been well set for more Green Lantern adventures to come without spending half a movie on an origin.

  On Friday, I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger,
the newest Marvel super hero movie. Captain America was the original 1940’s Marvel comic book super hero and was revived in the 1960’s as having lost 20 years frozen in an iceberg and being revived as a man out of time who struggles to find his place in the modern world.

  The movie spends a lot of time giving showing how weak and wimpy Steve Rogers from Brooklyn is and outlines his multiple attempts to get in the army. In between Roger’s demonstration of wimpiness we are treated to some scenes of Mr. Smith from the Matrix movies as a Nazi commander capturing an ancient energy source (the Cosmic Cube) and the attempts of his bug eyed Nazi scientist to harness the power it provides. Finally Rogers is accepted into the army into a special unit headed by escaped Nazi scientist Dr. Erskine, whose task is to create a new generation of super soldiers. Rogers continues his wimpy ways but demonstrates his courage and innate goodness and is chosen to be the first to receive the super-soldier treatment. As soon as Rogers is transformed into the perfect physical specimen, Dr. Erskine is killed and Rogers is further transformed from budding superhero to a war-bond salesman. Eventually Rogers decides to rescue his childhood friend (and a few hundred others) from the clutches of a Nazi prison camp and uncovers that Mr. Smith is in reality the Red Skull who is assembling a worldwide organization of evil called Hydra. The remaining third of the movie shows Captain America leading his handpicked crew to take apart Hydra and foiling a Hydra plot to blow up the major cities of the US but at the cost of being frozen in the Artic for 60+ years.

  For me the highlight of the movie was the inclusion of the Howling Commandos from the 60’s comic (set in World War II) Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos. Dum-Dum Dugan and rest of the crew look like they came straight out of the comics complete with the ‘WA-HOO’ battle cry. Left unmentioned in the movie was that the leader of the Howling Commandos was none other than Nick Fury. I also liked how Iron Man’s father, Tony Stark was integrated into the story as the US’s chief World War II scientist. Chris Evans plays Captain America and Steve Rogers like a superficial block of wood, but that is true to the comic book portrayal of the characters. The physical transformation is pretty amazing.

  My pet peeve with superhero movies is when half the movie is spent retelling the character’s origin and Captain America was worse than the usual. It seemed like it took forever for the action to get started and I didn’t care too much for a gun-toting Captain America, but the fight scenes on the train crossing the Alps and the Red Skull doomsday plane were great. I think one look at the pre super-soldier Steve Rogers would have been enough to let the audience know that he was a wimp and would have provided more action time.

  The surprise success of Iron Man has emboldened both DC and Marvel to cast a wide net for the next big super hero hit. Judging by the success of Captain America (100 million in a weekend and a half), Marvel has a big head start on next year’s Avengers movie. DC had the all time superhero hit in last year’s Dark Knight, but stumbled badly with Superman since 2006’s Superman Returns has been the only Superman movie in the last 25 years, while Marvel managed to restart the X-Man series this year and is restarting Spiderman next year. Restarting the series allows Marvel to kill off great villains like the Red Skull and the Green Goblin secure in the knowledge that they can be brought back in 10 years, but for someone my age, it is a little depressing to see characters I’ve known since my youth discarded and ‘rebooted’ at will.

  If DC wants a big super hero movie hit, I’d suggest thinking small instead of thinking big. There is a minor super hero called The Atom
, who is a scientist that can alter his size and mass, shrinking to this size of an atom and launching himself at a foe and increasing his mass at the moment of impact to simulate the effect of being hit by a pencil eraser that weighs 200 pounds. The special effects could range from the otherworldly (microscopic bacteria worlds) to technical (trying to defuse a bomb from the inside), to the sublime (giving a villain a heart attack or a stroke by entering his bloodstream and growing a bit). The only thing the Atom doesn’t have is a signature villain, but maybe one can just be made up or borrowed from another super hero.