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Review: ‘The Avengers’ is everything expected and more

Writer-director Joss Whedon (“Serenity,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) has set the bar for superhero movies. From Iron Man’s quick wit to the Hulk’s smashing, “The Avengers” is simply amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the “Iron Man” movies, “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and bringing the three together made for one epic flick.

The movie is as much dialogue-driven as it is action-driven. Yeah, the action is explosive and exciting, but dialogue that is so clever and brilliant that the entire theater laughs is what really made the movie for me.


The Plot
It would be naïve to brush off “The Avengers” as just another superhero movie. It isn’t your regular super-powered vigilantes in tights fighting some diabolical maniac. Well, it is about vigilantes fighting a diabolical maniac, but there’s more to it than that.

“The Avengers” takes into account a key element of the movies that preceded it.

The Tesseract appears at the post-credits scene of “Thor.” S.H.I.E.L.D.

Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reveals the Cosmic Cube to Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), who was being manipulated by Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It appears again – but chronologically first – in “Captain America,” where Red Skull plans to use its comic power for world domination.

Now, (in the present of the movie), the Tesseract becomes active in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and rips open a portal. Enter Loki.

It is then up to the Avengers to settle their differences and save the world.

The Cast
It’s rare that an ensemble cast works well; this is one of those rarities. This perfection stems from the intra-group conflict and chemistry. The heroes spend as much time fighting each other as fighting the baddies.

The movie answers questions of anyone who’s ever wondered who would win in a fight between Iron Man and Thor or Thor and Captain America or Captain America and the Hulk or the Hulk and Thor.

The characters aren’t necessarily redefined for “The Avengers,” but there are differences, most of which work for the better.

Robert Downey Jr. has already been established as playboy genius Tony Stark. However, in “The Avengers,” he was more witty than in “Iron Man.” Some reviewers (cough cough NPR) go as far as saying he’s obnoxious. But his wit isn’t without reason.

Though I was originally opposed to Chris Evans portraying Captain America on the principal that an actor shouldn’t be allowed to portray two heroes in the same universe. It wasn’t until “The Avengers” that I fully accepted him in this role.

Mark Ruffalo is easily the best Hulk in the past decade. He delivered lines regarding physics and gamma radiation with ease, as Bruce Banner should.

I’m normally not a fan of Scarlett Johansson, but as Black Widow she became one of Whedon’s token badass females. She blended perfectly into her character.

Even though Jeremy Renner doesn’t have the biggest role in the movie, his role as Hawkeye opened up potential for a Hawkeye movie. There’s a lot about Hawkeye that remains unknown to the casual movie-goer.

The 3-D

Special edition Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America (not pictured) 3-D glasses will be available at participating theaters. Cool, but not made for glasses-wearers.

Wearing 3-D glasses over prescription glasses has never been easy, and even moreso when they are Avengers-themed 3-D glasses. While the glasses were novel, I spent two previews trying to figure out how to keep both pairs of glasses on my face. I ended up using a hair tie to hold the arms together on one side.

That brief struggle was totally worth it. The 3-D was unobtrusive and undemanding. Also, Hulk look good in 3-D.

“The Avengers” is a must-see. Perhaps, even a must-see-twice.

If you’re not sure you want to have your mind blown by 142 minutes of pure awesome, think of it this way: before even being released in the U.S., it’s already grossed more than $281 million. How could anyone resist being a part of knocking James Cameron down a notch on the list of highest grossing films?

Oh, and stay for the post-credits scene.

Rating: 5/5


Review: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”

Andy Samberg: It has the two key qualities of a classic Nic Cage action film. Number one…
Nicolas Cage: All the dialogue is either whispered or screamed.
Andy Samberg: And, of course, number two…
Nicolas Cage: Everything in the movie is on fire.
– “Weekend Update: Get in the Cage,” Saturday Night Live (s.37 : ep.14)

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

It’s been about a month and a half since I saw “Ghost Rider.” Last night, I saw “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” in not-3-D.

As the movie started, I realized I had made a colossal mistake. And no, it wasn’t seeing a Nic Cage movie. Going in this movie expecting a sequel is just about the dumbest thing anyone could do. With the new directors, producers, writers and actors, it might as well have been an entirely new Ghost Rider movie that just so happened to star the one and only Nicolas Cage.

In some ways, I actually wish it were the first Ghost Rider movie. It wasn’t better or worse than the 2007 movie, but its structure presented itself as the first in a series.

Another mistake I made — but don’t regret — was not seeing it in 3-D. It is obviously intended to be viewed in 3-D, and I imagine I missed an entire dimension of awesome. However, I also avoided 95 minutes of nausea.

Der Plot (the plot)

The movie begins at a monastery in Eastern Europe where Anthony Head is a monk. Some guy on a motorcycle — who isn’t Nic Cage — shows up looking for a kid. There’s some mention of a ritual, which one could only assume involves killing said kid. Then… BAM! gunfight and car chase.

An “inFAMOUS”-cutscene-style animation gives a general background to who Johnny Blaze is and how he became Ghost Rider — you know, for all the people who chose to see “Spirit of Vengeance” without seeing  “Ghost Rider.”

After the brief background story of Blaze’s deal with the devil, we’re back in Eastern Europe where he just so happens to be hiding out. How convenient! Now he can go save the kid, not fall in love with Eva Mendes — who isn’t even in the movie –, and kill all the things with his “Penance Stare.” Oops… spoiler alert.

The primary problem with both of the Ghost Rider movies is that lack of character development. I was pretty invested in the plot, but so much more could have been done with Johnny Blaze’s struggle with being the Ghost Rider and his motivation to protect the kid. It was almost as if Johnny Blaze was supposed to fulfill the father-role for the 13-year-old Devil’s spawn… but he didn’t.

Then again who cares about character development when everything’s on fire? NOBODY.

On the more cinematographic side of things…

The directing was a bit… avant-garde, which wasn’t bad. It was different from any other comic book movie I’d ever seen. (Aside from maybe The Spirit, but I like to pretend I haven’t seen that one.)

The effects were a wonderful reminder of how far CGI has come in the last five years. AND EVERYTHING WAS ON FAKE FIRE.

If I were to honestly rate this movie for its quality, I’d probably give it a 1.5 out of 5. However, I enjoy Nicolas Cage movies for all the wrong reasons and that earns “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” a 3.5 out of 5.

If my review doesn’t convince you to go to the theater right now, here are a few of my favorite Johnny Blaze lines from the movie.

I get it. You’re the devil’s baby mama.

You will tell me or I will eat your stinking soul.

There was a bee. I thought it was going to sting your face.

Guns and wine. Naughty priests.


So I bought “Ghost Rider” last night

While I was browsing the wall of DVDs at Slackers, I came across this gem:

For four dollars, who could resist?

I googled “Best Nic Cage movie” and found a very interesting post from Jan. 7, 2011 on Moviefone. The post, aptly titled “Nicolas Cage Movies: His 10 Best and Worst,” listed “Ghost Rider” as his fifth worst movie. With such a ringing endorsement, I couldn’t wait to watch it.

Nicolas Cage never ceases to fascinate me. A lot of people love to hate Nic, but I honestly find his movies amusing. Perhaps “amusing” is the wrong word — hilarious may be more accurate.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with “Ghost Rider,” it was originally a comic published by Marvel. I’ll admit I’ve never even glanced at one of the comics, so quick: read what the Marvel Universe Wiki says so I don’t have to pretend to know what I’m talking about.

John Blaze was born into a world of motorcycle grease and cheering crowds. The son of Barton Blaze and Naomi Kale, Johnny spent his early years in the Quentin Carnival, where his parents starred in a stunt show with Craig “Crash” Simpson. His idyllic home life ended abruptly, however, when Naomi abandoned John, taking his younger siblings – Barbara and Daniel – with her. Naomi’s decision to leave had been difficult, but she felt it was necessary because of the family curse. She feared that her own firstborn would suffer in the same way that she had, so she left him behind and placed her other children in the care of a woman named Francis Ketch.

The movie adaptation starring the one and only Nic Cage came out in 2007. Now, five years later and month before the sequel is released, I watched it for the first time.

Like most comic book adaptations, the backstory wasn’t entirely true to the comics, but that’s easy to get over. So what if the movie says Johnny traded his soul for his father’s well-being instead of his adoptive father’s?

This was another stellar Nic Cage performance. I’m not sure if Johnny Blaze in the comics was as –how should I put this– quirky as Cage’s portrayal, but his taste in music and TV made Blaze more accessible to casual moviegoer/movie-watcher.

My favorite part? The transformation from Johnny Blaze to the Ghost Rider. I can imagine the script or the director saying, “Imagine what it would be like if you were turning into a burning skeleton.” And this is what you get:

Which was almost as epic as…

It bore similarities to “Drive Angry” (or “Drive Angry” bore similarities to “Ghost Rider”), which is what was running through my mind for the majority of movie. Such a comparison may be as atrocious to actual “Ghost Rider” fans as recognizing Harrison Ford from something like “Air Force One” instead of his roles as Hans Solo and Indiana Jones. However, it is undeniable. It’s all about the antihero conquering hellish evil.

Overall, I didn’t think it wasn’t an entirely horrible film; just another movie graced with Nic Cage’s unique style of acting.

Oh, by the way, happy birthday, Mr. Cage.

Until next time,

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