Archive for March, 2015

Like a fine meal, I sometimes like to see how movies settle.  I have often left a theater feeling good about how I just spent the last couple hours, only to completely change my mind upon further reflection.  Some movies don’t stand the test of time, and a second viewing reveals all the flaws and plot holes.  In fact, about 90% of all films can be described this way. Conversely, some movies get better with age.

Marvel’s The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend of all-time (probably until the next one) and will probably rank among the highest grossing films ever, and the highest not made by James Cameron (Of course, at $14.00 a ticket, there’s no way it wasn’t going to).  After seeing it on opening day, I left the theater feeling good about myself.  When people asked what I thought, I said it was “fun,” which is true.  It was a fun, popcorn, mostly-brainless, fluff piece.  The 3D was pretty pointless, but if we have to have 3D in our lives, my attitude is “Do no harm,” which this instance did not.  There was just the right amount of humor, and ridiculous amounts of action, to make it worth the money.  Every character had a good amount of time and development, and considering all the stars that had to align to make the thing, Joss Whedon should be awarded an Oscar just for getting it done.  So, plusses all around, right?

Not so fast.  With a slight twist, or on the wrong day, a lot of those plusses can be flipped.  The “right amount of humor” could be changed to “borderline silly” with one more bad pun.  Each character getting their time to develop can also mean that it got a little long-winded (It did!) while they fleshed out seven heroes and a major baddie.  It could be argued that the 3D “doing no harm” was actually, in fact, pointless.  “Ridiculous amounts of action” can be spun as just plain “ridiculous.” Catch me on an off day, and those factors suddenly become major stumbling blocks to my enjoyment.

This is why movies are both great and cripplingly annoying at the same time.  The things that bother me seldom bother anybody else, and even when I point out a movie’s foibles, other people will agree with me and yet not change their opinion.  Which is good, because, I mean, what do I know? (I did once have a friend rail against me for telling her The Hunger Games sucked, shouting, “Just stop talking because I want to like it and you can’t stop me!”)  I tend to think that all movies should be judged with the same measuring stick, but most people tend to group movies in ways that often allow bad movies to get a pass.  Obviously, the expectations for the next Liam Neeson action movie are such that there will probably be no Oscars in Oscar Schindler’s future, but he makes millions of dollars and people seem to enjoy watching him use his “particular set of skills,” so why bother with story, eh?

The Avengers did manage to do both.  It is unique in being a sequel to five different films, with each one being a franchise on its own.  You would think that fact would set the bar incredibly high because they have been building up to this for many years.  However, when looking at the core audience for The Avengers, maybe it would have been hard for people to not like it.  Comic book fans have been drooling about this for eons, it would have to have been a disaster of Phantom Menace proportions for them not to enjoy it.  Entirely possible, of course, but unlikely, because it seems that if Hollywood has learned one thing over the last ten years or so, it is don’t piss off the fanboys.  Does this mean, though, that Avengers is a good movie, or did people will it good?

The film begins with Thor’s sniveling half-brother, Loki, exiled at the end of Thor, in league with an unseen force, conspiring to destroy Earth and capture an alien artifact called The Tessaract (which is apparently alien for “glowing cube of doom”), seen at the end of Thor and Captain America.  Basically, if you missed Thor and don’t read comics, you’re kind of out in Jotunheim so far.  Loki succeeds in obtaining the cube, and also using his mind trickery to control SHIELD agent Clint Barton and scientist Stellan Skarsgard (who both appeared in, you guessed it, Thor.  For a Marvel comic that not many people care about, this film sure owes a lot to that one.)

In an effort to stop Loki, SHIELD honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, having way too good a time to collect a paycheck) calls in his team of Avengers; beings with extraordinary powers that he has been keeping an eye on throughout the previous five movies.  At this point, it’s just Captain America, Black Widow and Iron Man, but they are able to capture Loki and cart him back to their floating headquarters.  However, on the way, Thor swoops in and grabs his half-brother, wanting to keep it in the family.  This sets up one of the most interesting sequences in the movie, as Iron Man and Cap confront Thor and we get the first sense that these guys don’t really like each other. Thor tries to fry Iron Man with some godly lightning and Iron Man’s armor absorbs it and turns it into energy, which was pretty awesome. Still, their squabble is brief, and they eventually all agree to hang together and see how this SHIELD thing plays out. Fury has also brought Bruce Banner into the fold, but for his scientific expertise, even though he can turn into a giant, indestructible destructive monster. This doesn’t sit well with the other would-be Avengers. And who can blame them? Sure, he may be the only one who can study the Tessaract, but is a flying headquarters really the best place for a Hulk?

Now within said flying headquarters, there is then a great deal of standing around and moving of holographic computer screens as they build tension and establish that Banner has a hard time keeping his anger in check, Captain America doesn’t trust SHIELD and Tony Stark is a snarky, little jerk.  Thor, in fact, sums up the squabbling quite well by telling his comrades that they are all “so petty… and tiny.”

As Black Widow interrogates Loki, we learn that she has a salty past, and owes Barton her life, so she is intent on getting him back on the right side.  We are also given a fairly useless red herring, as Loki leads her to believe that the he was captured on purpose, and that the Hulk is somehow going to be Loki’s maguffin to harness the power of the Tessaract.  It’s really all an elaborate set-up to get Banner to turn into the Hulk just as Loki’s forces attack the heli-carrier to rescue their leader, and chaos ensues.  I may have missed some of the details, but the whole Hulk/Power source storyline seemingly went nowhere, as it turns out Loki was really just pulling strings to get the Hulk running loose in SHIELD headquarters because he wanted to see the fight between his brother and ol’ Green-skin. Guess he doesn’t have much faith in his own troops, but it did make for an awesome sequence.


Anywho, Loki escapes (even though there was no real reason for him to be there, anyway), Agent Coulson is killed, and the Avengers are scattered in the wind.

Fury then rather callously uses Agent Coulson’s death at Loki’s hands as inspiration to help the Avengers to look past their petty differences and stop Loki. With the help of now-good-again Agent “Hawkeye” Barton, they go to New York, because Loki is going to use Tony Stark’s new repulsor-powered skyscraper as a conduit to get The Tessaract to open a doorway for an alien invasion of Earth. I don’t know what purpose the building serves, either, but it looks cool.

So, it is six Avengers against an entire alien army in the final battle, and the good guys finally learn to work together to save their planet. Captain America uses his leadership skills to help bring them together, and gives the coolest line of the movie when, while barking orders to everyone, looks at the Hulk and simply tells him to, “Smash.” Oddly enough, minutes before, we also got the movie’s most-unintentionally funny line, when Bruce Banner shows up seemingly out of nowhere on a moped and mentions that this alien invasion thing is “pretty horrible.” A deleted scene reveals that he landed in Jersey, saw the aliens attacking New York, and was given the moped by Harry Dean Stanton so he could make it there and help fight the bad guys. I get that the movie may have flowed better without it, but it did seem weird that Hulk just kind of showed up out of nowhere. Oh well. He did beat up a lot of bad guys.

Here’s the funny part about this movie. Despite being horribly out-numbered, I never doubted for a minute that the Avengers would come out on top in this one. And of course the good guys were always going to win, but even within the reality of the movie, I don’t think the outcome was ever in doubt. Because Loki was the only real villain, and the rest of them were faceless drones, it would have seemed odd if Captain America was murdered by one of them. As I’ve said a million times, it is the writer’s job to convince the audience that there are real stakes here, and yes, an alien invasion should make for high stakes, but come on, “They have a Hulk.” The aliens never really had much of a chance.


Still, how do you wipe out thousands of aliens when you only have six heroes? Why, the Phantom Menace ending, of course. You blow up their ship and they’ll all die for no reason. The good news is that there was a nuclear missile at play for just that task. The testy members of the World Security Council that order Nick Fury around decided that New York was a lost cause and the only way to nip this alien invasion thing in the bud was nuke the whole city. Fortunately, Iron Man was able to grab the nuke, fly it into the Tessaract-created portal, shoot it at the alien ship, and fall through the portal seconds before Black Widow used Loki’s own mind-controlling staff to close the portal up for good. Whew. That was a lot of stuff at the end there. Maybe there were high stakes.

The point of it all is teamwork. To further illustrate what a great team they are, most of them go their separate ways at the end. Thor takes Loki back to Asgard to face judgment. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner take off for the ultimate Bromance vacation. Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America are stuck working for Shield, even though Cap complained about their duplicity for most of the movie. However, according to Nick Fury, the team will be there if the Earth needs it, which will be at least three more movies.

I know there’s a lot of snark here, but to be perfectly honest, The Avengers is a very watchable movie. It has foibles, but what movie doesn’t? As I said in the first paragraph, it is sometimes good to see how a movie settles, and this one settles very well. There are obviously no perfect movies out there, but this one does its job. It entertained a lot of people, myself included, enough to be excited for the second one, and that’s really all that anyone can ask.

With the not-awaited-at-all news that there will soon be a third installment in the Tron saga, I figured I would revisit my blog post from 2010 after seeing Tron: Legacy. I updated it a little, so it wouldn’t seem like just a retread, which is what I was kind of hoping for from the movie itself. Anyway, here goes:



Things were different back then. It was 1982.  Atari 2600 was the rage.  There was trouble in the Middle East.  Coke vs. Pepsi was a big debate, as was coke vs. heroin.  I was six years-old, and I was mesmerized by Disney’s Tron. Well, admittedly, I was mesmerized by the blue and red light bulbs that people seemed to be wearing and the really cool light-cycles.  The rest of it went way over my head. But I still loved the movie.

My, my, how things have changed. Or not. Sure, Atari is not the rage anymore, but I pretty much use current technology exclusively just to play those old games.  There’s still trouble in the Middle East.  And Tron: Legacy was cool for the light-cycles and the rest pretty much baffled me.  For example, this question continues to plague me: was Jeff Bridges trying to recreate The Dude from The Big Lebowski or is that just the way he acts nowadays in every role?*


I have been trying to be less critical of movies as I get older, and I think overall I’ve done well (and I think actually seeing fewer movies helps), so when I first heard that they were doing a sequel to Tron, my first instinct was, “Another silly re-tread? Forget it.”  Then I saw some trailers, and I thought it looked pretty cool and figured it was worth my time.

Remember, kids; always trust your instincts.

“But, Durs, didn’t it look cool?” you may be thinking.  And, sure, the light-cycles, the Matrix-esque fighting with glowing frisbees, and the return of the big horse-shoe ships were all very fun.  But we have video games for that kind of thing.  Come on, including the 3-D glasses, do you want to spend $13 on a couple of minor aspects of a movie?  The rest of it was just a lot of talking about things that actually don’t exist (also similar to The Matrix, only without the crappy philosophy and Keanu Reeves looking dumb and constantly asking, “What?”), and I’m not sure why we should care what happens in the “Tron World” for that very reason: it doesn’t actually exist.  What are the stakes except that The Dude may not survive long enough to drink another White Russian?  And, sure, there are movies with less at stake.  Weekend at Bernie’s, for one.  But the job of the screenwriter is to make the audience care about these things.  If you can convince the audience that saving the “Tron World” is important, then you have accomplished something as a screenwriter. For example, I have never personally traveled through time, but I understand why Marty and Doc had to succeed in Back to the Future. It’s all about stakes. Tron: Legacy front-loaded all the cool stuff in the first 45 minutes or so, then spent a loooooong time explaining why it all happened. And over a very visually-exciting dinner, no less. However, I never got an explanation on why it mattered. Apparently, the bad guys were going to invade the real world somehow, but whatever…

In Tron: Legacy, Sam Flynn (Son of Dude) gets a strange “page” from his father’s arcade, and assumes it is from his old man who disappeared twenty years ago. Sam investigates and is pulled him into the same Tron World where Kevin “Dude” Flynn has been hanging out for the last two decades, apparently getting really high. When father and son reunite, they (along with the oddly-named Quorra) embark on a quest to stop this big bad guy of Tron world, who was apparently created by Kevin somehow. Why he created bad guys I can’t recall, but I’m sure the movie explained it. And I’m sure the explanation was convoluted and took forever. There was something about a CLU and and a program that looked like Kevin  (Two Dudes!), but honestly I just wanted to see the life-cycles. The plot was not really important, and this is one of the few times where I can honestly say that. I actually don’t even remember how it ended, so… NO SPOILERS HERE!

I think I know the thinking behind this sequel. Much like the Wall Street sequel coming on the heels of some economic turmoil, the folks at Disney probably thought that since we are in this digital age, the time was ripe for a Tron sequel.  They maybe thought the whole Grid thing and all of us essentially being Programs or Users these days would lend itself to the story of Tron, even 30 years later.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Despite my Atari reference earlier, it’s a much different world now.  The games we play on our phones are better than the original Tron special effects, which were done mostly with paint and canvas, by the way.  For all that talk about Tron being the first movie to use CGI, only about 15 minutes of the film are computer animated, because the technology didn’t exist yet to combine digital animation with real-life characters.  Not to mention that that the computers they used actually had only 2 MB of memory. So, basically calculators.  I think there’s more than that in a pen these days. There have even been huge advances since Tron: Legacy was released in 2010. We can now track our pizza order online through its entire creation, down to the placement of every pepperoni. That may actually have light-cycles beat.


Point is, our standards for what is cool and what technology can and should do have changed.  I’m not sure lighty frisbees cut it anymore.  To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, and a franchise that hopefully gets its re-launch right; it seems to me that these people were so concerned about whether or not they could make a better Tron movie, that they didn’t stop to think if they should (or, y’know, write a decent script.) We have conquered the digital frontier already, Dude. I don’t think we need to hear about it again (and apparently, again, Tron 3).  If I’m interested in a history lesson, I’ll just watch the original Tron.

* – This is one element that is a little dated since 2010, because it has been proven that, in fact, that is how Jeff Bridges acts nowadays.