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Superhero

Two of the best things about the film: The Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba) and The Silver Surfer (Laurence Fishburn).

It’s easy to say that this film isn’t great but it’s much harder to work out exactly what’s wrong with it. It’s not terrible. I think it’s just that nothing is taken seriously enough to allow you to become fully immersed in the story and as a result you don’t feel much emotion or tension. It’s stuck between a comedy and an action film but is not funny enough to be the former or serious enough to be the latter. So you smile weakly and are only slightly invested in the action sequences.

There’s not doubt however that as in the first film, Chris Evans is great as Johnny Storm – his ego-driven, narcissistic personality here a mile away from his more subdued and honourable, but just as impressive performance as Captain America. Jessica Alba definitely acts and looks the part as The Invisible Girl. In the film she is frequently described as “The Hottest Girl on Earth” and it’s hard to argue with that description. Ioan Gruffudd is merely ok as Mister Fantastic. The role would have better been filled by an actor who has more weight and charisma. He is the FF’s leader after all. The the less said about The Thing’s cheap lumpy polystyrene-looking make-up the better – it’s just as well his girlfriend is blind.

One of the better things about the film is the Silver Surfer – an alien who er.. flies about on a surfboard scouting out planets suitable for his master Galactus to consume. He is both earnest and enigmatic. He has chosen the Earth as Galactus’s next target. In doing so had made himself an enemy of The Fantastic Four and at the same time become of great interest to their usual enemy Dr Doom (Julian McMahon).  Galactus – I have no opinion on although I know it annoyed comic fanatics that he is represented here as a galaxy eating cloud. But you know… maybe an alien on a surfboard is ridiculous enough? without adding a huge purple guy who can eat planets to the mix?

I struggle to say whether this is better or worse than the first film but it felt to me a little worse – it certainly seemed to end the franchise. There is however a reboot with new cast coming very soon.

A very average pre-Thor, pre-Avengers superhero film. 5/10

The question you want to ask everytime there’s a threat to humanity: “Why don’t the other Avengers just help out?” is half-answered here as Captain America (Chris Evans) teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Captain America. He has an (almost) indestructible shield but it’s not very large. So how does he cope with a group of soldiers with machine-guns spraying bullets in his direction? Not a problem –  they will handily aim directly at the target-like design on his shield (never at his exposed legs). Helpfully his assailants will often shoot bullets at his shield long enough for him to angle it and deflect the bullets back at them.

There are a few moments like that in this movie that you need to suspend your disbelief for – maybe too many. This sequel though is definitely an improvement over the OK yet rather bland 2010 original, Captain America : The First Avenger in which weakling asthmatic army recruit Chris Evans was transformed into towering musclebound super-soldier Captain America by an experimental serum. Just like his character Evans has now grown into the role. There’s less nostalgia-tinged 1950s matinee idol about Captain America this time around although he still has enough of those old-fashioned qualities to make him honourable and admirable.

The story begins well, with the concealed threat of Hydra gradually revealed. This is followed by a great set piece in which Captain America has to fend off an attack from ten Hydra agents in a cramped elevator. Forced onto the run he teams up with fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). But can she be trusted? In fact can anyone be trusted?

The subtitle of the film: ‘The Winter Soldier’ refers to a mysterious masked assassin (Sebastian Stan) who has never failed and whose actions have shaped much of history. Soon his target becomes Captain America himself.

This is an entertaining and tense film, with Evans, Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson (as S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury) all on good form. My main issue was one of predictability. Having seen most, if not all of the previous Marvel super hero films *SPOILERS ALERT*, I instinctively knew that when Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) boasted about his three huge brand new hovering armoured fortresses – they would end up being used against S.H.I.E.L.D. I also immediately knew  when one of the main characters died – despite appearances to the contrary – that they weren’t actually dead. It was just too obvious that they wouldn’t kill off this particular character.

Overall this could have done with being more believable (within it’s universe) and also would have been better if it had diverted from the now well established Marvel-movie formula a little more. Otherwise this is a pretty good super-hero film. There’s a slightly unspectacular and unsaitsfying finale but this is redeemed by a touching ending. A solid 7/10.

The Hulk wrecks havoc in downtown San Francisco.

“You wouldn’t like me when I am angry”. Muscles bulge, skin turns green, clothes rip off but amazingly stretchy shorts stay on. Yes it’s The Hulk (AKA Bruce Banner here played by Eric Bana). This is a surprsingly mature adaption by Ang Lee. I presume this is relatively faithful to the comic book. The style of dialogue often seems similar to a comic and at times it adopts comic style frames to tell the story. It’s an interesting stylistic choice and works well.

However the introduction drags on for ages. Let’s face it – we all want to see the Hulk power-fantasy, not sit through reams of interminable dialogue. “How do you feel when you are the Hulk?” asks Bruce’s girlfriend Betty (Jennifer Connelly, her with the amazing eyes). “I don’t have any memory of it except… I feel free and ….. I like it”. We all like it. Hulk is at his best when smashing up things, and then growing bigger with rage and smashing even bigger things up. Yes give us some backstory but not quite so much please.

Once the Hulk finally appears and the indignity of having to beat up 3 hulk-like dogs aside (don’t ask), things get better from this point on. There are actually 2 villians here. The first is General Ross (Sam Elliot) Jennifer’s father who wants to control or destroy the Hulk. Ross brings out the full force of the US Army against the Hulk and the results are spectacular with the Hulk making huge flying leaps across the landscape while catching Hellfire missiles in his hands and flinging them back at the pursing helicopters. It’s not long before the General realises that perhaps his greatest weapon is his daughter Jennifer…

Then there’s Bruce’s Father David (Nick Nolte) who has shadier motives but whose intentions slowly become clear over the course of film. There’s a disappointing final ‘kludge’ where another Hulk-like entity is conjured up just so the Hulk has something equal to fight against but overall this is a good film albeit it one with far too much exposition.

“Hulk Smash!” (eventually anyway) 7/10

Guess who the star draw is? New to this instalment is Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) on the far left.

The X-Men films are strange, you have these mutants with amazing powers but they don’t seem to be able to do a lot with them most of the time. Take Professor X (Patrick Stewart) – according to this instalment able to kill any (non-helmeted) mutant on the planet just with the power of his mind. You wouldn’t know it normally. Storm (Halle Berry) can fly/hover above the ground but seems unable to use this power to save herself (or anyone else) when in a crashing plane. Cyclops (James Marsden), might as well just be a man with a gun because that’s mostly all he uses his eye beams for – shooting the odd person. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) – incredibly powerful when the plot requires it but most of the time she uses her telekinetic powers in a very limited way.

All this neatly sums up most of the early X-Men films – interesting but unspectacular. (compare one of the X-Men films to The Avengers for example). The movies do have other strengths however and I will get to those later.

For now back to the story: William Stryker (Brian Cox) has captured  Professor X and is planning to to trick him into using his aforementioned lethal mind power to kill all the mutants on the planet. This is as much a concern for the X-Men’s arch-enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen) as it for the X-Men so the one time enemies become allies as they team up to combat this deadly threat.

This is much better than the first X-Men film. It has a more gripping plot and is generally better executed. There’s still the problem that the X-men have to spend as much time saving the (mutant) children as they do battling the bad guys. Although even without the children there is always a reason why they are never to able to fully open up with their powers – some restriction or obstacle that’s stopping them. In a way though this what makes the series clever. It’s all about, getting the right X-Men into the right place so they can then use their combined powers to work around these restrictions. When everything does work it’s like a big satisfying puzzle, when the pieces finally click together to produce a solution.

I find most of the early X-Men films a bit lightweight, lacking in impact – and this is no exception but it’s intelligent (for the superhero genre) especially so with it’s layered commentary on attitudes and discrimination toward minority people and groups. More importantly though it has good action sequences.

6/10

The Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds) wishes his alien training instructor used mouthwash.

I know this is based on a comic book, but even so it sounds like someone is making up the narration at the start of the film. “In Sector 2814 of the universe of Mazak is the galaxy of Weebo and located there is the planet of Fircruk. Here the universe’s great guardians are able to harness the glowing green essence of willpower to overcome the the ancient evil force Zabbalax”. That’s pretty much what it sounds like only with slightly different sounding made up names.

Regular human and cocky test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is chosen to become one of the aforementioned guardians (The Lantern Corps) and although very inept to start with, he is destined to become one of the greatest guardians of all…

While not one of the most iconic superheroes ever created, The Green Lantern (Hal) does has super powers that are among the the most imaginative. Actually literally, because he is able to create anything he can imagine. A huge monster is in front of him ready to attack? No problem, he can just imagine a train track where the monster is standing and then imagine a speeding train just about to hit it. The train and track will appear – albeit in a strange green form –  and smash the monster to pieces.

I remember one of my friends posting on Facebook that he thought this was the worst comic to film adaption ever made. It could well be, but as someone who hasn’t read the comics, and therefore wasn’t taking it very seriously, I did find it quite enjoyable. The unusual Lantern powers and setting (the film is set both in space and on Earth) mean it’s unlike almost any other superhero film to date. So it is refreshing in that way. On the downside the movie does feel very lightweight in many areas, neither the script, drama, or relationships between characters really have the weight to lift this beyond a fun action piece. Enjoy it for what it is. 5/10