June 14th: Man of Steel

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Release Date: 2013
Director: Zack Snyder
Why I picked this: Umm, Superman.

Well, that was disappointing. Despite years of preparation and hype, along with the talent behind and in front of the camera, the new Superman reboot fails to live up to expectations.

Okay

May 2nd: Iron Man 3

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Release Date: 2013
Director: Shane Black
Why I picked this: Do I need to say?

After an underwhelming first sequel and an extremely well done crossover film in “The Avengers,” the third entry in the Tony Stark is finally here, with a new director and completely different mindset. Unlike “Iron Man 2,” this film doesn’t shoehorn references from the larger Marvel universe for the sake of doing so, but rather focuses mainly on the struggles of Tony Stark as Iron Man, of course played by Robert Downey Jr. But while larger Marvel elements such as S.H.I.E.L.D. are sidelined in this film, it is clear that the bigger developments of the Marvel universe have taken a personal and mental toll on Tony, who is having difficulty coping with the existence of out worldly  and mythological beings, as well as his near-death experience in New York City. Tony’s coping mechanism turns out to be designing and building as many different suits as his imagination allows him to, which in turn takes a toll on his girlfriend and partner, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Coupled with this are old ghosts coming back to haunt him in the form of a former one-night stand Maya Hansen, played by Rebecca Hall, and scientist Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, who is ignored by Tony all the way back at a New Year’s party in 1999. In the present day, the two have further developed a substance named Extremis, which is meant to have regenerative properties; but as we see in the film, it has many more uses than that. Guy Pearce always disappears into his roles and he is no different here; I was almost shocked when he entered the movie looking completely different as a disabled Killian. Rebecca Hall’s character, on the other hand, feels very underwritten. And hanging over all is the notorious terroris The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, who has a very commanding presence every moment he occupies the screen. Don Cheadle returns as Tony’s best friend Rhodey, aka War Machine, aka Iron Patriot; I found him more convincing as a military man here more than in the second installment, though he did very little as Iron Patriot; I don’t think he ever used his suit weapons. Director of the first two films Jon Favreau returns as comic relief Happy Hogan, though with a reduced role after the first fifteen minutes or so, and we have an evil henchman in James Badge Dale as Eric Savin, who brings much energy to his role. Basically, this cast rocks. Some underwritten parts, but nothing wrong with the acting, especially with Robert Downey Jr., who has the uncanny ability to own every scene. The story was a mixed bag, however. While Tony is shown to be traumatized, I felt that this aspect of the film’s story was not further developed and added nothing to the Extremis storyline; also, his trauma rarely felt like an urgent issue. Stark has an occasional panic attack, but it is either rushed, or put together with comedic dialogue, making it difficult to take his panic seriously. Eventually, this storyline is dropped completely. The only successful scene depicting his panic was one where a nightmare causes Tony to accidentally summon his suit. While this is a Tony Stark movie, I was disappointed with the use of his suits; one of my favorite parts had Tony Stark with MacGyver’ed equipment infiltrating a mansion, but I felt that his new suit, Mark XLII, was mostly played off as a joke, always failing, usually in a comedic fashion. There’s a plot development involving a villain that stirred up quite a lot of controversy; while I had no problem with it, my problem was how the filmmakers attempted to justify and alleviate this change. Co-writer and director Shane Black has created a very fresh Iron Man film, but one derivative of his own previous work such as “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s some tongue-and-cheek narration, a Christmas setting, a buddy cop-like scene, and tons of humor; this is easily the funniest Marvel film. Black attempts to inject some 70’s spy film elements in the feel and look of the movie, which is evident in the wonderful credits sequence; too bad the scene afterwards was a disappointment. It’s a well crafted film, with my only major gripe being the rushed nature of some of the editing; some major scenes don’t give enough time to let them sink in for the audience.

Featuring a great ensemble and predictably awesome action, this film feels fresh and new despite being a “franchise movie”; however, some plot elements, such as Tony Stark’s inner demons, were disappointingly not developed well.

Good

March 1st: Watchmen

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Release Date: 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Why I picked this: It looks like a unique comic book movie

Based on the famous graphic novel, this movie takes a realistic view at the concept of a “superhero.” Having only skimmed a few parts of the novel, I can’t say I had that great of a grasp of the source material going in, but the film was very good at setting the scene, establishing characters and background, and creating a distinct atmosphere, with help from a great six-minute opening title sequence that showcases the jarring differences between this world and our reality. That being said, there were still annoying aspects of the movie. The film takes place during an alternate 1980s, where Richard Nixon is still president, the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union is at its highest, and costumed vigilantes have been outlawed. The film begins with Edward Blake AKA the Comedian, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, murdered by a mysterious figure. Still-active vigilante Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, begins to investigate and theorizes that someone is looking to murder old superheroes. He warns the other “Watchmen,” the group in which the Comedian and Rorschach belonged to years ago, including Daniel Dreisburg AKA Nite Owl, played by Patrick Wilson, Laurie Jupiter AKA Silk Spectre, played by Malin Akerman, Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias, played by Matthew Goode, and Dr. Manhattan, formerly Jon Osterman, played by Billy Crudup. Some of these characters have their backstories revealed through their own dedicated flashback sequence, specifically the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, and Rorschach. These flashbacks were some of my favorite parts of the movie; although they stall the plot, they are very revealing and flesh out these characters. However, the other characters receive much less attention, which I found frustrating given their large role in the movie. Jackie Earle Haley does an admirable job as the cynical and no-holds-barred Rorschach, though his noir-esque narrations were worthy of eye-rolling, especially with his Christian Bale Batman-like voice. Billy Crudup is great as Dr. Manhattan; being beyond human and having god-like powers, he does a great job portraying someone who is loosing his detachment to humanity. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl might be my favorite character; he is certainly the most human and relatable. He comes across as Clark Kent if he were a real person. The Comedian is probably one of the less sympathetic character, but he has one of the more interesting backstories and Morgan plays the toughened character very well. But pretty much everyone else in the cast failed to make an impression on me. Director Zack Snyder is probably one of the best visual directors today, but it is evident that he tried much too hard to replicate the look of the graphic novel. He attempts to fit as many visual details in each frame, as though you were looking at a panel of a graphic novel, but a few parts feel stilted and lifeless as a result. While the story and flashbacks were intriguing, the narrative structure doesn’t fit a two and a half hour long movie as well as it does with a comic book. Staying engaged throughout the entire movie might be challenging to some. And rarely did the movie feel alive; again, it was like looking at a moving graphic novel. And as a result, some heavy scenes didn’t have as heavy of an impact as they should have. The city is vast and atmospheric, but never feels populated with real people, so a certain scene of destruction had no impact on me. I was also annoyed by music choices; the songs chosen to play during scenes were “obvious,” it that makes sense. Though they fit the scene, they were not inspired or unique choices, which put me out of the scene. In fact, this movie had the most bizarre use of the song “Hallelujah” I’ve ever seen.

The story and acting is mostly good, as are the visuals. However, it doesn’t make the best transition from graphic novel to film and feels lifeless at points.

January 12th: Dredd

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Release Date: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Why I picked this: Reddit is fawning over it

Brutal, stylistic, and minimalistic. That’s how I would describe “Dredd.” Critically acclaimed but bombing at the box office, this comic book movie is minimal in plot and character development, but heavy on slow motion effects and stylistic violence. The premise is simple: In a futuristic wasteland and dystopian America, Judges enforce the law as judge, jury, and executioner. Judge Dredd, portrayed by Karl Urban, along with rookie Judge Anderson, portrayed by Olivia Thirlby, fight their way through a large apartment complex to take down crime and drug lord Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey. The set up is basically identical to last year’s “The Raid: Redemption,” but while “The Raid” was a non-stop adrenaline roller coaster, “Dredd’s” intensity comes in bursts. The actions of the main characters do carry weight, and Anderson does go through changes in her character. Urban’s Judge Dredd serves mostly as a vehicle to the action, with the only character change he goes through being his growing respect for Anderson. True to the original comic book, Dredd never shows his face, leaving Urban to convey all of his emotions with the lower part of his face. Urban does an admirable job with the limitations this imposes, but you’ll be left wishing the dialogue for him was better written. It gets a little cheesy. Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma makes for a menacing villain, but her performance is forgettable. The action is satisfying and very well crafted, especially compared to today’s big action blockbusters, but rarely is it exciting. The climax was not as climatic as I hoped it would be, but I was still satisfied with the movie as a whole.

It lacks depth, but this comic book action movie has everything it needs to be a satisfying watch, especially for its unique visuals and its stylistic violence.