Chris Evans

Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Avengers: Infinity War has quite a few significant achievements. Special effects, for example. But the two most salient ones are Josh Brolin’s performance (of a CG character, no less) and the pacing. Directors Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do an extraordinary job juggling the large cast and various storylines, which start splintered, then come together. But it’s the tension is the thing. The film opens with the introduction of a countdown clock, with the literal fate of the universe in the balance–the introduction’s both to the audience and the majority of the characters–and with that threat, the countdown is always present. There’s always more tension they can ratchet as things get more and more dire. It culminates in big finale, of course, with lots of moving pieces needing to sync up for that finale to work. But the most impressive thing is when, at around an hour and fifty minutes into the film (which runs two and a half hours, albeit with a questionable ten minute end credit sequence before the Marvel movie post-credits teaser), it becomes obvious they aren’t going to have time to wrap it up. The film’s so good at maintaining intensity, so good at latching on to the characters’ determined hopefulness, when defeat becomes visible and probable… it’s a shock. Even though there can’t be much other outcome, given the movie can’t really go on forever, can it?

Even if one of the big finale twists is a bit of a cheat since it relies entirely on something the audience (not to mention the characters) have any idea is possible.

Of course, what’s possible is what’s in question in Infinity War. Giant blue space alien (Brolin) is searching for six “infinity” stones, which–explained in a first act lecture to the audience (and Robert Downey Jr.)–will allow him to remake reality. Brolin starts the movie fighting with Chris Hemsworth out in space, but then goes off on his own storyline–arguably the film’s most successful, though it’s got limited competition and is the only consistent arc (thanks to Brolin’s shockingly good performance). How Brolin’s not just able to bring depth to the CG giant–which has far better CG than when Mark Ruffalo hulks out–also in terms of how he never gets caught up in the gooniness of the whole thing. Directors Russo play the whole thing straight–one of their greatest touches is treating Infinity War like an impromptu trip through the galaxy–but it wouldn’t work without Brolin. Everyone else who has to deal with the gooniness? Well, either it gets worked through like with Downey, Tom Holland, and Benedict Cumberbatch or utterly avoided like with Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Hemsworth is somewhere in the middle. He spends most of the movie with Bradley Cooper’s CG wiseass mercenary raccoon and straightfaces it through the gooniness. Everyone else in his scenes is CG (they also bring along the talking tree “voiced”–or audio filtered–by Vin Diesel).

Anyway. With Brolin, there’s gravitas in the fantastical alien stuff. With Downey’s plot line or Evans’s, there’s not. Even with Downey on a space ship hurtling through hyperspace (presumably, otherwise the Marvel universe is real small), no one wants to get too bogged down with the logic. Hemsworth, hanging out with Cooper and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy crew, acknowledges the existence of the fantastical without wanting to deal with it. It’s a wise move from the filmmakers. The Russo Brothers get better performances out of Galaxy regulars Chris Pratt and (especially) Zoe Saldana than their feature movies ever suggested possible. Though Pratt’s still way out of his depth opposite Downey, which is made even more clear when Holland and Cumberbatch are able to keep up. With Holland even surpassing Downey, in no small part thanks to Downey’s acquiescence. They have a wonderful rapport.

The storylines follow the ostensible Avengers “big four”–Downey, Hemsworth, Evans, and Ruffalo. Though Ruffalo is just moving through where he’s playing second fiddle. First it’s to Hemsworth, then to Downey, then to Evans. Ruffalo’s fine and likable as ever, but… Infinity War goes far in showing, while Ed Norton might be regretting the profit sharing, he didn’t miss out on any great acting opportunities with the franchise.

Evans also ends up supporting other storylines, like Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen trying to figure out how they’re going to survive the movie. Bettany is an android superhero (though he’s a distressingly weak android superhero in Infinity War) who has one of the rocks Brolin wants in his head. Olsen’s the woman who loves him; she’s also a superhero and the only one who can destroy said stone to save the universe, if need be. Evans protects them? He brings along sidekicks–Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, and eventually Sebastian Stan–to help, but even they get a little more to do. Johansson bonds with Danai Gurira (after Evans and company become second–or third–fiddle to the Black Panther cast), Mackie and Cheadle have some rapport. I guess Stan doesn’t really get anything. But then neither does Chadwick Boseman, who’s the actual Black Panther. He’s scenery.

And then they get Ruffalo lumped in too because… the movie doesn’t actually need him. It’s kind of shocking how good the CG works with Brolin’s character versus Ruffalo’s Hulk. I know I mentioned it already, but it’s really striking.

Anyway. Hemsworth teams up with Pratt, Saldana, and the other Guardians team members who get almost nothing to do in the film–especially not after their first scene confronting Brolin; an Infinity War needs cannon fodder, after all. He’s got his quest with the CG Guardians and some fun moments with Cooper; Peter Dinklage shows up at some point in there too.

Then there’s Downey, who’s got Holland and Cumberbatch with him as they hurtle through the galaxy for a showdown with Brolin. They think. They eventually team up with the Guardians cast, leading to those scenes where we have to pretend Pratt can hold his own opposite Downey. Oh, right. It’s after Pratt can’t hold his own opposite Hemsworth and every single character in the movie makes fun of him for it. Good scene, but whatever.

So a lot going on. Because then there’s also Brolin’s whole arc, which involves adoptive daughter Saldana (he took her in after killing her mother and half the population of her planet). Lots going on, all at once. When the movie gets to the third act and all the storylines are going fullsteam–Brolin can instantly teleport between them, which helps to streamline–it’s truly astounding what editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt manage with their cutting. The film has a rhythm to it already, but they’re able to rev it something spectacular for the finish. Infinity War is a technical marvel. No pun.

Alan Silvestri’s score even recovers from the first act, when it’s focusing on repeating franchise themes.

Performance wise… Brolin’s best. Then Downey. They get the most to do. Their showdown, for instance, hints at some great nemesis possibility. The movie’s just too big (and already too long when they get together) for it. Then Holland? Holland doesn’t get a lot to do after the first act, especially not once Pratt and company join his storyline, but he’s always great support for Downey and he’s got the film’s best single scene (for a non-CG actor, anyway). Then Hemsworth. Because after Hemsworth everyone is fine, but not particularly standout. Though Saldana, Bettany, and Olsen all have some rather good moments; Saldana because it’s opposite Brolin’s CG giant alien, Bettany and Olsen because they’re able to ooze chemistry even though Bettany’s caked in red body paint.

Evans, Boseman, Cumberbatch, whoever. They get their jobs done. The movie doesn’t task them with a lot and always implies if they got another scene or two, they’d be quite good. The rapport between Johansson and Gurira, Cheadle and Mackie, whoever. The film implies potential, but keeps it in check because the trains have to run on time.

Even Pratt’s fine. Karen Gillan’s still not good. And the movie doesn’t do poor Pom Klementieff any favors.

Just getting to the finish line with Infinity War is a win for directors Russo and the screenwriters. Getting it to the finish line with so much good stuff along the way… the film’s a lot more successful than should even be possible, given it’s so seeped in franchise continuity and bloated with characters. The filmmakers nimbly hop through it all. Because, frankly, they get to leverage it all with Brolin’s singular, phenomenal performance.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Josh Brolin (Thanos), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Chris Pratt (Peter Quill / Star-Lord), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / Hulk), Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Dave Bautista (Drax), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Ebony Maw), Carrie Coon (Proxima Midnight), Terry Notary (Cull Obsidian), Michael James Shaw (Corvus Glaive), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa / Black Panther), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes / War Machine), Peter Dinklage (Eitri), Benedict Wong (Wong), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Benicio Del Toro (The Collector), and William Hurt (Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross).


Captain America: Civil War (2016, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

I wasn’t aware it was possible, but go-to Marvel superhero movie composer Henry Jackman is actually getting worse as he does more of these movies. His score for Captain America: Civil War is laughable, which is too bad, because if the film hit the thematic beats Jackman failed to achieve? Well, it wouldn’t fix the script, but it would definitely make the film flow a bit better.

The film is two and a half hours of action scenes every ten minutes or so. Unless the action scene goes on for longer than ten minutes, in which case it screws up the rhythm of subsequent scenes. But directors Russo keep it on schedule. Their job is getting this train ride to its conclusion and they do it. Their action direction is a bunch of sped-up fight scenes and they’re usually pretty boring. The opening one, with its strong performances from the way too big cast, could’ve been amazing with better direction. And the big superhero showdown is awesome for the most part, only… it doesn’t make much narrative sense as far as keeping the players in motion.

But there’s a lot quite good about Civil War. They blow the chance to give Robert Downey Jr. an actual character to play here, but they get pretty close on occasion. His scenes opposite Tom Holland are fantastic and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script does give Downey the opportunity for character development. The film just rejects it.

The real standout is Sebastian Stan, who never quite gets enough to do because there’s always another action scene for the Russo Brothers to get through–they have a really lame chase sequence, more is usually just more–but Stan is hypnotic. He also has great chemistry with ostensible lead Chris Evans (and Evans’s replacement sidekick, Anthony Mackie). Less action, more character; would’ve helped Civil War a lot. Especially since that way too big cast is often pretty good together.

Elizabeth Olsen is good, she and Paul Bettany are great together. Bettany’s got a bit of a crap part. So does Jeremy Renner, but Renner does get better material. Markus and McFeely–or maybe it was the Russo Brothers–seem to acknowledge they need to hit emotional beats and then they skip them. Paul Rudd’s fun, though his character’s pretty thinly written. William Hurt is embarrassing himself. Emily VanCamp gets the worst part in the movie. Seemingly intentionally.

As for the newcomers to the brand? Well, Holland’s great. He’s playing the Marvel Studios (sorry, Walt Disney) version of Spider-Man. Can’t wait for his movie. Chadwick Boseman’s fine as the Black Panther. It really ought to be his movie, but there’s so much pretending it’s Evan’s. Instead, Boseman’s basically Boba Fett. Sort of literally. Villain Daniel Brühl gets a terrible part (though still better than VanCamp) and not much opportunity to act.

Rather weak cinematography from Trent Opaloch, but otherwise Civil War is a completely competent outing.

There’s a lot of potential to this film and the filmmakers didn’t go for any of it. Instead, they went for a bunch of mediocre action scenes, one heck of a superhero battle (proving having ten superheroes fight on the big screen is an accomplishment in itself) and a really weak ending.

Evans and Downey both look exhausted throughout the film. Evans doesn’t get the material he (and the film) deserves, while Downey rejects the material. But until the denouement, it’s perfectly fine stuff.

And Sebastian Stan is truly phenomenal.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic books by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Daniel Brühl (Zemo), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Don Cheadle (War Machine), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Paul Bettany (Vision), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) and Tom Holland (The Amazing Spider-Man).


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Joss Whedon)

There are no leads in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is a collection of poorly staged Bond movie action sequences featuring different people in costumes doing outrageous things but never having much consequence to their actions. There’s no time for consequence, not when director Whedon has to get to the next brand to showcase. Age of Ultron is a commercial for itself, for its various brands. Whedon happily turns everyone in the film into a caricature. I wonder if there are special Disney executive glasses to reveal the actors aren’t really saying their often lame dialogue, they’re really telling moms to buy two of the Falcon figure, one for Junior and one for your husband. Avengers: Obey Ultron is a better title anyway.

But it’s not a bad commercial. I mean, it’s not good, but it’s exceptional photography from Ben Davis. Davis saves this movie. He’s the only reason it’s tolerable. Whedon’s not good at the film. He tries a different, generic, accessible style for every set piece. He can’t do any of them, but Davis makes it work. Even when it’s outrageously stupid, Davis makes it work. Most of that outrageously stupid stuff comes in the middle section; it’s also when Age of Ultron gets better. Its cast can survive it being dumb. They’re already being poorly directed. Whedon does know what they should be doing though–the banter between Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans is initially lame, but they do build a chemistry, they do build a rapport. Age of Ultron is about a “team” but its actors are incredibly distant from one another. Whedon tries to stage group shots, but they’re painfully bad. No one has anything to say to one another.

Except for the two love stories. The very strange case of Mark Ruffalo, who has given up and doesn’t care who knows it, and Scarlett Johansson, who is bad in the film’s worst written role. And then Linda Cardellini as Jeremy Renner’s hidden bride. He didn’t tell the team! There’s a lot of team talk! Team, team, team! I even love typing the word team! Whedon’s got a very standard action story with the Ultron thing (an evil robot voiced by James Spader, who is awful in the film’s second worst written role), but then there’s the problem with the team! What problem with the team? The incredibly sketchily established problem with the team, because the team never really spends any real time together. Whedon’s got an idiotic present action for the film–a couple weeks at most, probably far less (no one ever sleeps in Age of Ultron because Toons don’t have to sleep)–and no time for actual character development. Instead, he tries to start straight at the second act of the subplots.

And, guess what, it’s bad. Just like the beginning and, unfortunately, end of the movie. Because, secretly, I really wanted to like this one. I thought it’d be funny. But this movie has a little kid living because a superhero died. Set to awful music from Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman. It’s laughable. It’s not effective because you can’t have effective with Toons. You sacrifice it for the spectacle.

Ultron has some spectacle. It’s kind of goofy and dumb, but it’s spectacle. It’s also terribly edited. Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek don’t appear to have many choices (actors often are strangely not available for two shots), but it’s still terrible editing. So it has terribly edited, goofy, dumb spectacle. It’s also got Paul Bettany playing a riff on Superman, channeling Christopher Reeve. It’s weird, it’s out of place, but it’s something actually special in the midst of all the goofy stuff.

Same goes for Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Sort of. Olsen turns out to be really good in a lame part. She has most of her scenes with Taylor-Johnson and basically carries him up to her level. Sure, she’s playing a caricature, but really dang well and they do get a better story line than most in the film.

Of the four leads, Chris Hemsworth is the most impressive. He has the worst part, the lamest subplot, yet it’s a movie star performance. You pay attention. Even when he gets the lamest action sequences too. Ultron is a bad commercial for Thor movies, except Hemsworth changes your mind. Least impressive is Ruffalo, who I mentioned had given up. His performance is silly, partially because Whedon plays the Hulk for laughs and cuteness (really), partially because it’s just a goofy part, and partially because Ruffalo is barely conscious. You fall asleep watching him.

The problem with the movie, besides being forty minutes too long because it’s all some nonsense about the safety of civilians, which is less about distinguishing itself from the superhero competition, and more about Disney declaring its concern for everyone. Because everyone can visit Disney World someday. You gotta stay bland.

There’s some really lazy acting from Robert Downey Jr. He does get better for long stretches, but he’s real lazy. Sam Jackson has more energy than him, because Jackson just does Julius. He does Disney Julius. And for a moment, Age of Ultron feels like something. It feels like the team has come together. Not the A Team, this team.

Team.

Only Whedon screws it all up. It’s hard to blame anyone else, but it’s a little strange because he does bring some passion to the film. It just isn’t any of the action set pieces. It’s none of the character stuff. It’s the iconic stuff. He really wants to be able to do the iconic stuff and it just doesn’t come off.

And James Spader is awful. He’s awful. So awful.

I think I’m going to go for a thousand words on Age of Ultron just because of Spader. Whedon wrote Spader’s part for David Spade and then cast Spader. It’s weird, but it should be true. It’s a goofy, comic part.

Anyway, Ultron’s occasionally enjoyable, but more often lame.

Bettany rules!

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Joss Whedon; screenplay by Whedon, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek; music by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (The Vision), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), James Spader (Ultron), Linda Cardellini (Laura Barton) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a bunch of great, thoughtful scenes and many excellent–and some just better than normal–performances but it doesn’t add up to much. Those fine scenes don’t have enough separation from the very hurried plot to resonate on their own. What should be subplots turn out to be nothing but texture scenes or, more cynically, ones to tie into later big plot developments.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do an adequate job with the film. Some of the action, particularly in the first half, is good. The big finale goes from way too hurried for the scenes with sidekicks Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie to way too protracted with Chris Evans’s second big fight opposite Sebastian Stan. These scenes take place amid the film’s only enormous CGI sequence, which the directors don’t really know what to do with.

The acting is all good; even the weaker performances like Johansson’s are mostly all right. Evans and Mackie are fantastic. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don’t have an honest relationship between any of the characters–Evans and Johansson, Evans and Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford–but the actors make it all work.

Though Redford does look a little lost. He doesn’t chew the scenery as much as the role requires.

Nice supporting work from Frank Grillo too.

The Winter Soldier stays engaging throughout–even during the bloated third act. The film’s already got the viewers invested in the characters.

It’s too bad though, it should’ve been better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Kevin Fiege; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


Snowpiercer (2013, Bong Joon-ho)

Snowpiercer is relentless. There are three quiet moments; I’m not estimating, I’m counting. The final quiet moment comes with some commentary on the earlier quiet moments. The relentlessness is appropriate, as the film concerns a train traveling through a frozen wasteland housing the last survivors of the human race. It’s a post-apocalyptic rumination on remorse and violence. Director Bong treats the viewer as a passenger on the train, forcing the viewer’s perspective through protagonist Chris Evans.

At times, the film seems episodic, which is only appropriate as the first act comes to a close and Evans–along with his fellow insurgents (they’re the poor people in the rear of the train)–discovers the train’s cars are all different. So it’s appropriate the journey through those cars is going to be different. Vignettes might be a strong description, but maybe not. Especially not when considering how Bong lets supporting characters’ subplots play out in background.

The casting is flawless. While Tilda Swinton spectacularly chews through all of her scenes, there’s great work from Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Ewen Bremner. The three leads–Evans, Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung–are all fantastic. Song only speaks Korean, but is excellent when just walking around. It’s a reluctant leading man performance from Evans; he, and all the other actors, show their characters’ sufferings without exposition.

Snowpiercer is also a visual feast. Bong’s presentation this train and its passengers is a constant surprise.

It’s a hard film; Bong doesn’t offer any quarter, neither does his cast.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; screenplay by Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on a screen story by Bong and the graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Steve M. Choe; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil; produced by Jeong Tae-sung, Lee Tae-hun, Park Chan-wook and Steven Nam; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Curtis), Song Kang-ho (Namgoong Minsu), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Ko Ah-sung (Yona), Alison Pill (Teacher), Vlad Ivanov (Franco the Elder), Luke Pasqualino (Grey), John Hurt (Gilliam) and Ed Harris (Wilford).


Puncture (2011, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen)

Puncture is a crusading attorney picture with a couple twists. First, there’s no trial and, specifically, no eureka moment in the trial. Second, the crusading attorney in question–played by Chris Evans–is haunted by more than demons or the bottle, he’s a rabid drug fiend. Oddly, Puncture never condemns the character’s drug use. In fact, he seems more with it high than not.

The film features technically wonderful performance, but no engaging character relationships. Co-director Mark Kassen plays Evans’s law partner–the responsible one–but their relationship never resonates. The film shows its most personality when it’s Evans, Kassen and Jesse L. Martin (as a mutual friend) hanging out. But Martin only shows up for two little scenes.

Brett Cullen is great as the bad guy attorney and he and Evans have a mildly interesting rapport. Puncture‘s problem is how the Kassen Brothers present Evans. They don’t really know what to do with the character; it might be a case where being accurate to history (it’s a true story) hobbles a film.

The only weak performance is probably Marshall Bell as Evans and Kassen’s client. He’s supposed to be fed up, vulgar and endearing. While Bell looks the part, he’s never believably earnest. On the other hand, Michael Biehn looks slicker than a used car salesman in Pomade but he still comes off as earnest.

The direction’s okay, though the wide frame is a mistake. The digital transitions are lame.

Puncture‘s plodding, but worth it for the acting.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen; screenplay by Chris Lopata, based on a story by Paul Danizger and Ela Thier; director of photography, Helge Gerull; edited by Chip Smith; music by Ryan Ross Smith; production designer, Christopher Stull; released by Millennium Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Mike Weiss), Mark Kassen (Paul Danziger), Michael Biehn (Red), Brett Cullen (Nathaniel Price), Marshall Bell (Jeffrey Dancort), Jesse L. Martin (Daryl King), Roxanna Hope (Sylvia), Jennifer Blanc (Stephany), Tess Parker (Jaime Weiss), Kate Burton (Senator O’Reilly) and Vinessa Shaw (Vicky Rogers).


The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)

For some inexplicable reason, partway through The Avengers, director Whedon and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, decide to switch over to really bad DV. The entire movie might be DV, but the middle section is painfully obvious. With Tom Hiddleston’s British machinations, it feels like the biggest, strangest (and possibly worst) “Masterpiece Theatre” ever.

While Whedon’s responsible for a lot of the film’s problems–the lousy first act, the utter absence of character development, some of the least ambitious direction in motion picture history–some of the problems came with the project. Sam Jackson isn’t just ludicrous, he’s bad. Scarlett Johansson as a Russian? And a super spy? It’s absurd.

But Whedon doesn’t give his better actors much to do either. Both Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. meander for the first half, though Evans is a little better (Downey recovers in the second half). Mark Ruffalo does better. Chris Hemsworth barely makes an impression; his appearance feels contractually obligated more than anyone else’s.

The movie does come together eventually though and Whedon does come up with some really funny scenes. He starts the movie incompetently small and then brings in the spectacle. The spectacle works, regardless of his direction, it’s just too bad The Avengers isn’t a cohesive work.

Hiddleston’s pretty good as the only non-CG villain and Clark Gregg does great supporting work. Jeremy Renner’s minuscule presence is inconsequential; Cobie Smulders is terrible.

Alan Silvestri’s score is dreadful.

But, as I said, The Avengers spectacle does entertain. Eventually.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Joss Whedon; screenplay by Whedon, based on a story by Zak Penn and Whedon and comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, James Chinlund; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Studios.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / The Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Stellan Skarsgård (Selvig), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts).


Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston)

I’m not sure where to start with Captain America. There are two obvious places. First is Chris Evans. His earnest performance is unlike any other superhero movie of the last few decades (because the character is fundamentally different). Second is Joe Johnston.

I think I’ll start with Johnston.

Captain America is very well-directed. Johnston manages a wide Panavision frame, lots of huge sets (maybe most obvious homage to the films of the thirties and forties) and a bunch of actors. But because he’s utilizing so much CG, either as backdrops or special effects… it lacks distinction. If I were unfamiliar with him as a director, this film would give me no insight other than him being able.

Back to Evans. Captain America’s a tough character because Evans has to sell being a good guy all the time, even before he’s Captain America (the frail CG version of Evans is the film’s most impressive visual effect, but his performance sells it), even when he’s out of costume. Evans is able to sell him wearing the outfit. Nothing else does.

The film’s the best of the Marvel Studios releases, but still has its problems. Hugo Weaving’s villain, while well-acted, isn’t interesting enough for all the screen time he gets. The Alan Silvestri score is mediocre at best.

Oddly, I think it’ll probably get better on repeat viewings, when one can appreciate it without anticipating it.

That statement made, it’s quite good even on the first viewing. And Stanley Tucci’s phenomenal.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Shelly Johnson; edited by Robert Dalva and Jeffrey Ford; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes), Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Phillips), Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt / Red Skull), Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark), Stanley Tucci (Dr. Abraham Erskine), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Neal McDonough (Timothy ‘Dum Dum’ Dugan), Derek Luke (Gabe Jones), Kenneth Choi (Jim Morita), JJ Feild (James Montgomery Falsworth), Bruno Ricci (Jacques Dernier) and Michael Brandon (Senator Brandt).


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright)

In terms of emotional depth, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World comes in a little below the average John Hughes teen picture. Supposedly Scott Pilgrim is about a listless twenty-something… but with Michael Cera playing the lead, it definitely feels about that deep.

Cera’s not bad, but he’s playing the same role he’s played since “Arrested Development.” Opposite Ellen Wong, who plays his high school aged girlfriend who he wrongs, he works. Opposite Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the object of his affection… well, she’s actually acting. So it doesn’t work.

It’s unfortunate Edgar Wright felt the need to “faithfully” adapt the comic book, because there’s a decent story without it and it’s unfortunate he wastes a lot of good performances on a gimmick movie.

Neither of the “superhero” cameos–Chris Evans and Brandon Routh–are bad (both are really funny). But they’re also both useless. All of the fight scenes are boring–the movie’s only interesting for a moment at the end, when it’s clear Cera and Wong have more chemistry and it seems like Wright would have noticed and figured something out to utilize it. Big shock, he doesn’t.

But the great performances–Kieran Culkin, Mark Webber, Alison Pill–are the straight supporting roles. And Wright wastes them.

Then there’s Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman’s performance is so one note, he makes Cera look deep. The movie nosedives once he shows up.

The movie’s got its funny moments and Wright is, technically, a fine, imaginative director.

Shame the script’s completely unimaginative.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; screenplay by Michael Bacall and Wright, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss; music by Nigel Godrich; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Eric Gitter, Nira Park, Marc Platt and Wright; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers), Kieran Culkin (Wallace Wells), Chris Evans (Lucas Lee), Anna Kendrick (Stacey Pilgrim), Alison Pill (Kim Pine), Brandon Routh (Todd Ingram), Ellen Wong (Knives Chau), Aubrey Plaza (Julie), Mark Webber (Steven) and Jason Schwartzman (Gideon Graves).


Push (2009, Paul McGuigan)

It’s understandable Push bombed at the box office. It’s hard to find a film so with much intelligence in the filmmaking, casting and acting applied to such a subpar script. Strangely, David Bourla’s script isn’t bad in regard to dialogue—there are some great exchanges between Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans—or in how it’s plotted—the narrative twists and turns resemble those in a heist movie. Where it fails is in creating an engaging setting—Push is a superhero movie where everyone has boring superpowers (it sort of feels like Summit wanted a teen superhero franchise to go along with Twilight).

Director McGuigan picked the film’s Hong Kong setting because he wanted something exotic a la Casablanca… and it does work. Fanning and Evans are basically Bogart and Rains here—a mildly abrasive, endearing chemistry. But maybe McGuigan worrying about bringing that sensibility to a superpowers movie just can’t truly work with the silly concept. In fact, McGuigan constantly works against the superpowers element.

I’d never seen Fanning in anything; I was shocked how good her performance is in this film. She and Evans are fantastic together. It’s distressing Bourla could write this great relationship between them, but couldn’t not be goofy when writing the script in general. Push shows why an established mythology is easier to adapt than to create.

Push might be better if you’re a fifteen year-old, albeit one who wants to see a superhero movie more like Casablanca than Iron Man.

Still, it’s okay.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul McGuigan; written by David Bourla; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music by Neil Davidge; production designer, François Séguin; produced by Bruce Davey, William Vince and Glenn Williamson; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Chris Evans (Nick Gant), Dakota Fanning (Cassie Holmes), Camilla Belle (Kira Hudson), Djimon Hounsou (Henry Carver), Ming-Na (Emily Hu) and Cliff Curtis (Hook Waters).


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