Ranking the 2011 Superhero Summer

Yesterday I wrote about the state of superhero movies, and how I think we may be right at the apex of this awesome trend.

Today’s topic is a bit more mundane than that one: I’m going to rank this summer’s superhero movies* and talk about why I ranked them where I did. The ratings in parentheses are from Rotten Tomatoes.

* I would have ranked The Green Hornet (which came out earlier in the year), but, like most everyone else, I didn’t see it.

4. Green Lantern (Critics: 26, Moviegoers: 53)
I usually go read reviews after I’ve seen a movie, not before. I’ve found that most movie critics aren’t looking for the same things in a movie that I am. And to fill my expectations, movies don’t have to be quite as good — sometimes I just want some mindless fun.

I think Green Lantern sits in the top of the mindless fun category. Ryan Reynolds is good, and Peter Sarsgaard was good as the villain. Blake Lively was incredibly bad, but I expected that. Was it a great movie? No. But the plot was solid, the action was good, and getting to see the Green Lantern homeworld of Oa brought to life was pretty cool. I don’t think I’ll own this one, but I would watch it again.

3. Thor (Critics: 77, Moviegoers: 80)
The chasm between Thor and Green Lantern is pretty big. The acting in Thor did not have a hole like Blake Lively (who’s anything but), and the film was superbly made by Kenneth Branagh. Was it a little cheesy? Absolutely, but as a former reader of comic books, that’s consistent. And how could it not be a little cheesy when it’s about a Norse god who’s exiled in our current world?*

* I might be the only person in America who will make this observation: Thor slightly reminded me of 1987’s Masters of the Universe, the atrocious He-Man movie starring Dolph Lundgren and Courtney Cox, only because it’s about some supernatural, weapon-wielding folks who travel to earth. I’m about  357% sure Branagh did not look to that movie for inspiration. Let’s pretend I never mentioned this.

2. X-Men: First Class (Critics: 86, Moviegoers: 88)
It’s a little harder to rate this one because it came first, and despite glowing reviews, it hasn’t exactly blown away at the box office ($347 million worldwide), and will likely be the lowest grossing of the X-Men movies (even lower than 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Maybe the re-boot came too soon after X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).

But I really liked it. I thought it was well done, the characters were compelling, and the action was sufficient. As far as a evaluating it outside the superhero/comic genre, it might stand up as the best film, something that non-superhero loving fans could appreciate.

1. Captain America: The First Avenger (Critics: 78, Moviegoers: 83)
This ranking is prejudiced by the fact that I am a huge Captain America and Avengers fan. I’ve wanted to see a good Captain America movie since I was a kid. (We pretend that the straight-to-video 1990 version does not exist. Never mention it again.) And that fact that this sets up next summer’s blockbuster The Avengers? I couldn’t be more pleased.

Despite all that rambling and my jaded perspective, it’s still a really good movie. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell were a terrific pair. Tommy Lee Jones is almost always good (and was in this). And Hugo Weaving is approaching Alan Rickman status as a villain extraordinaire.*

* Take a look at Rickman’s page, and Weaving’s page on IMDB. Great villain roles for Rickman: Snape in the Harry Potter movies; Sherrif George in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; and Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Three of my favorite movie villains. For Weaving: The Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger; the voice of Megatron in the Transformers movies; and Agent Smith in the Matrix movies. Are you kidding me? We need these two in a movie as dueling villains who’s final fight in stop motion as a building blows up behind them. Gold, I tell you.

Like Thor, I’m sure some viewers saw it as cheesy. The WWII setting, the small kid becomes big, the ending — it certainly had some cheese. But I didn’t think it was overdone, and the fight scenes were the best of the summer. I loved it and I am so stoked for The Avengers, I actually cheered* at the end when they showed some scenes from next summer’s blockbuster.

* And I am 35. And I was there by myself. I am here to fulfill all geek clichés, apparently. Oh, and I was living in someone’s basement at the time (though not my mother’s).

So here’s to a summer of fun superhero movies. If you haven’t, go see them. If you have, go see them again.


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A Superhero Summer

Though other summers have had multiple superhero/comic book movies, this summer was unique. With Marvel setting up its Avengers franchise with two movies (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger), with a re-boot of the X-Men franchise (X-Men: First Class) and DC pulling out a lesser-known character but popular hero (Green Lantern), this was a summer that didn’t depend on a Spider-Man or Batman movie to carry the day.*

* There was, of course, another superhero movie earlier in the year — The Green Hornet. I didn’t see it, but it made $227 million worldwide, so it’s hard to call it too much of a flop (even if it only made $98 million in the US).

The success of these movies is a mixed bag. The four movies have combined to make $524 million at the domestic box office, and that’s with Captain America being in only week two, and some change coming in on the other films. We could be talking $600 million for the four films, which would only be called a complete failure by the extremely pessimistic.

But none of them are going to break $200 likely (though Cap has a chance), and none will grace the top 5 in 2011. Heck, they’ll all be behind Hangover 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and I’ve heard lots of negative about those two sequels.

Are superhero movies starting to die?

I believe the answer is yes. When X-Men (2000) initiated the new era of superhero flicks, my fanboy dreams were realized. I remember talking with a friend, who thought America would burn out of superhero movies within 2-3 years. The Spider-Man series and especially the new Batman series by director Christopher Nolan, made sure that didn’t happen. We’re 11 years into this run of movies, and it’s going strong.

Next year it will continue with The Dark Knight Rises, but I think we’re at the top of the hill. When I saw previews for The Amazing Spider-Man (due in theaters next July, a couple of weeks ahead of The Dark Knight Rises) there was no enthusiasm. It was mostly: why are they already re-doing Spider-Man? Spider-Man 3 will only be six years old, and though it was the worst of that trilogy, it still feels too soon.

I really hope I’m wrong. Next summer will also feature The Avengers (out in May), a movie I’ve anticipated since I was 12. I know a lot of moviegoers are griping about Hollywood’s lack of originality, but I have loved the last 11 years and all the cool superhero movies. Of the top 20 best US grossing superhero films of all-time, 19 of them have come in the last 11 years with Batman (1989) being the lone exception.

So I will enjoy the next few years and the continued superhero era, because it’s likely not going to be that way too much longer.

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Voldemort vs. Emperor Palpatine

I was asked the following question on Facebook: who would win in a battle of Voldemort vs the Imperial Emperor (Star Wars) and wondering which side you would take? I hastily answered the Emperor, but wanted to give it further thought. So why not write a post about it? So here you go: the definitive piece on what would happen if Voldemort faced off in a duel against Emperor Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious.

First off, some ground rules. Neither has the aid of anyone else. That means no Nagini for Voldemort, and no apprentice for Palpatine (who I think would have chosen Darth Vader over previous apprentices). The only weapons allowed would be Voldemort with his wand and Palpatine would be allowed his lightsaber, and of course, their abilities with magic and the Force.

Second, from a timeline perspective, this is Voldemort after he was raised to power again during the events of the Harry Potter books. I don’t know enough about Voldemort during his previous terror campaign that ended with the death of Harry’s parents. This Palpatine is write after he has defeated Mace Windu (he totally faked losing to him to gain Anakin as an apprentice, by the way) and Yoda. I believe this was the height of his abilities.

So who would win? I think it would be a fierce battle, but I think Palpatine wins here.

First major assumption: the Avada Kedavra spell would be blocked by the lightsaber. Lightsabers are crafted by Jedi and Sith using crystals that have both power and Force capabilities. Like catching Force lightning, I believe a lightsaber could be used to deflect curses, even the most powerful variety. Similarly, I think most of Palpatine’s force tricks could be counter-acted through spells Voldemort could use. I think after several minutes of battle, the two well-matched, evil foes would realize, much like Count Dooku in his battle with Yoda, that the battle would not come down to one’s knowledge of magic or the Force, but by one’s ability to fight hand-to-hand.

Voldemort’s big tactical advantage is flight, and his ability to travel from place to place. Though Palpatine can Force jump, and use the Force to run quickly, Voldemort could extend the battle almost indefinitely by flying around or aparating to different locales.

But assuming they ever did stand toe-to-toe, it would come down to hand-to-hand combat. From reading all seven Harry Potter novels (most of them multiple times), I get no sense that the wizards and witches in that world have much need of combat skills, not the traditional kind anyway. Voldemort, even when he was Tom Riddle at Hogwarts, always had followers to do the dirty work. He was an awesome wizard, but he was an even better evil mastermind who had lackeys and snakes to defend him.

Voldemort would not go easily. Once he figured out that it was going to be a sword battle, he would find a magic sword of some kind, something that could withstand the heat and power of a lightsaber. Even so, he’d eventually be sliced in two or run through by Palpatine; game over.

I realize that this wouldn’t actually be killing Voldemort — if the horcruxes still existed, he would rise again. But that first match-up would go to Palpatine. Voldemort would likely come better prepared for round two.

Palpatine wouldn’t last long though; Harry and Luke would be a powerful combo that would easily take down the Emperor, likely with a lot of arguing between Leia and Hermione along the way.

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Top 5 Worst Love Interests in Super-Hero Movies

Since Superman in 1978, there has been a pretty consistent pattern in super-hero movies, especially those based on popular comic books: a love interest who usually ends up in danger and who acts as humanizer for our hero. After watching Green Lantern and Thor this summer (more thoughts on those movies in a later post), the pattern held. And a question arose in my mind: who is the worst love interest in super-hero movie history? So that of course devolved into a ranking and a top (or bottom) 5. So here you go.

Top 5 Worst Love Interests in Super-Hero Movies

  1. Kim Bassinger (Vicki Vale) — Batman (1989)
  2. Blake Lively (Carol Ferris) — Green Lantern (2011)
  3. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Daws) — The Dark Knight (2008)
  4. Kirsten Dundst (Mary Jane Watson) —  Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007)
  5. Eva Mendes (Roxanne Simpson) — Ghost Rider (2007)

Kim Bassinger set the bar so low in Batman, that it will take a monumentally poor effort to ever unseat her. Blake Lively tried to reach her level of plastic-ness, but was unable to. Shame on you, Blake.

I realize I’m probably in the minority with Maggie Gyllenhaal, but I don’t like her, and she turned the Rachel character from a tough-minded woman into a bore. I wasn’t all that disappointed when she died.

Kirsten Dundst has the honor of bringing her poor portrayal of MJ to three movies. Unlike Gyllenhall’s character, Dundst’s character survived all three films (much to my disappointment). And Eva Mendes is not good in Ghost Rider; of course, neither was anyone else, so maybe I should have graded her on a curve.

Interestingly enough, despite the lackluster love interests, all of these movies (besides Ghost Rider) is certainly re-watchable, and Batman, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are very good movies, with many saying The Dark Knight is the best in the genre’s history. So maybe a great leading lady isn’t all that important to have an awesome super-hero flick…

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Movie Review: Super 8

I’ve seen four movies this summer, and I would rank them this way:

  1. Super 8
  2. X-Men First Class
  3. Thor
  4. Green Lantern

I liked all of them, but there’s a pretty big chasm between X-Men First Class and Thor, between Thor and Green Lantern.

Easily the best of the bunch was Super 8. If you haven’t seen it, go get some tickets; you won’t regret it. It is well done from top to bottom, with a tremendous mix of charaters, action, drama and nostalgia. It combines a lot of well-known elements, and puts them together into an original, refreshing film that hits all of the right emotional notes.

Nearly everything worked in this one. One of my biggest worries whenever I watch a film with a lot of kids is it is that the kids will stink. I think it’s hard to find good kid actors, and I think it’s even harder to get good performances out of them. There are certainly exceptions when an ensemble kid cast have succeeds (like Goonies or The Sandlot), but the Hollywood graveyard is filled with ensemble kid flicks that didn’t work because they chose the wrong kids, or the director didn’t know how to use them.

In this case, the kids made the movie. Their characters were believable, sympathetic and compelling. Joel Courtney, who plays the lead, was an absolute stud, and even did a great job acting to be a bad actor when the plot called for it. Elle Fanning was fabulous and shows she’s not just the kid sister of Dakota. The other kids were equally stunning in their roles.

The adult actors were also nearly flawless, from the dad (Kyle Chandler) to the detestable, evil army dude (Noah Emmerich, best remembered for supporting roles in Frequency and The Truman Show). The casting was a level above most movies.

The story was compelling and memorable. The setting of a small Ohio town in 1979 was perfectly done. Though I was only 3 when this movie ‘happened’, it brought back a nostalgia few period movies reach. Whether you were growing up in the 70s or the 80s, the underlying elements of the setting, like riding your bike a few houses down or having your world revolve around simple things, resonate and pull you into the story.

Though none of the storyline or sci-fi elements were completely original (kids find alien who’s trying to find its way home has been done before), the pieces were greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s scary and intense is parts, so it’s not for little children, but good for everyone else. It’s the kind of original, fun movie I hope comes every summer. Last summer, Inception captured my imagination and was my favorite. Though the two films couldn’t be any more different, my winner this summer is Super 8.

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College Football Playoffs: The Finals

Before reading this, let me recommend a couple other things:

I completely realize that this is a hypothetical exercise. I also realize that my seeding and my ‘simulations’ are not what would have actually happened if we had a playoff; the at-large selections could have been different, and if a playoff is implemented in the next 5-10 years, I’m not sure they would include all conferences like I did (and think you should do).

My biggest mistake was including Boise State and not Nevada. Who won head-to-head? The Wolfpack. And after watching them last night beat an ACC foe (BC’s defense is pretty good), they are a deserving team. If I had included Nevada, the seeding would have looked something like this:

  1. Auburn
  2. Oregon
  3. TCU
  4. Stanford
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Ohio State
  8. Missouri
  9. Arkansas
  10. Alabama
  11. Nevada
  12. Virginia Tech
  13. Nebraska
  14. Central Florida
  15. UConn
  16. Miami (OH)

This would have changed some of the initial games, and likely the results.*

* With Boise State out as the No. 7 seed, Ohio State would have hosted Alabama in the first round, which would have been an awesome game, and I would have picked the Crimson Tide to win in Columbus. Roll Tide.

Regardless, this has been a fun exercise, and one which again demonstrates just how cool a true playoff would be in comparison to the current system. More excitement, better football, and likely more revenue for the sport.

National Championship, Monday, Jan. 10 in San Diego
No. 4 seed Stanford vs. No. 3 seed TCU
What a match-up! TCU’s defense is, in many ways, the nightmare match-up for the Cardinal. Though Stanford has faced (and beat) some good defenses in 2010, the team has not seen a defense with TCU’s  combination of speed and discipline. The Hornfrogs’ weakness is the power running game, which Stanford can do, but not at the level of a Wisconsin, and we saw how that turned out for the Badgers in real life.

TCU would win the key battle in this match-up: TCU’s defense vs. Stanford’s offense, enabling a 27-17 Hornfrog victory and making them the champs.

Your national champion would come from a conference that, as of today, is heavily disadvantaged in the current BCS system. That is, of course, until they join the Big East in 2012. And then Gary Patterson, like Urban Meyer before him, will turn from playoff proponent to BCS apologist. Funny how the club looks a lot better from the inside.


College Football Playoffs: Semi-Finals

Before reading this, let me recommend a couple other things:

Apparently, I lack imagination. Based on the results of my second round simulation (above) the top 4 seeds moved on — Auburn, Oregon, TCU and Stanford. Now, that’s what I ‘predicted’, but the cool thing is that this likely wouldn’t have been the case. One or two of the group of Ohio State, Boise State, Virginia Tech or Alabama would likely have made the semi-finals.

But in my little simulation, the top 4 moved on to the semi-finals to be held on New Year’s Day — one game in  the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California (would happen every year), while another game would be rotated among bidding sites (as would the championship approximately a week later). In this case, I am putting the other semi-final in New Orleans, and the championship game in San Diego (why not?).

Saturday, January 1
Pasadena Semi-Final, 5:30pm EST, TCU vs. Oregon
What an awesome match-up: a dangerous, speed offense, against an opportunistic, speed defense. Really, this is the worse possible playoff matchup for Oregon. None of the other defenses in the 16-team field can match TCU’s speed and scheming. The match-up that would have been worst for TCU in the playoffs would have been the bruising offense of Wisconsin — one that played out in the real Rose Bowl.

This game would be tight, many points would be scored, and TCU would have cemented their legitimacy even more than they did through the real-world Rose Bowl victory. 38-30, Hornfrogs.

New Orleans Semi-Final, 8:30pm EST, Stanford vs. Auburn
The great, Hiesman-trophy winning Cam Newton vs. the runner-up and presumed top pick in the 2011 NFL draft Andrew Luck. A bruising, efficient pro-style offense, vs. an offense built around a singular QB who combines the skills of Vince Young and Tim Tebow. The Farm vs. the South.

The Auburn defense was suspect throughout the season. They gave up 34 to Kentucky, 43 to Arkansas, and 31 to Mississippi and Georgia. Not of these offenses can match the power and efficiency of Stanford. The Cardinal only gave up more than 30 points twice — @ Oregon and against USC.

I don’t think Auburn would be able to stop Stanford’s attack, and I think the Cardinal defense would get enough stops against the awesome Newton. Stanford prevails, 47-31.

The national championship game would have been played on Monday, Jan. 10, in San Diego, pitting the undefeated Hornfrogs vs. the powerful Cardinal. And instead of a lousy month off between the decision surrounding the BCS Championship game and its conclusion, the drama would have built up over weeks, leading up to a thrilling conclusion. We’ll explore those results next week.

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