Life of Pi

I didn’t know anything about this movie upon watching it except that it garnered near universal praise among critics. Unfortunately enough, that is usually a death sentence in my mind because it becomes impossible to live up to my newly raised expectations. If you like animals or fairy tales and aren’t a stickler for realism then you might enjoy Life of Pi but otherwise I wouldn’t strongly recommend it. A word of warning: it is impossible to have a serious discussion about this film without major spoilers so just know that moving forward.

Aside from all the media hoopla about this being a life-changing movie, I tried to lower my standards and come into Life of Pi with a clean palette. In a strange twist, the movie itself missteps and promises to tell the audience a tale that will "make you believe in God." The audacity of the statement is wondrous and pulls the viewer in but will very surely be tested by the end of the experience.

Life of Pi begins entertainingly enough with funny family anecdotes and experiences in India but the crux of the narrative is centered around the tragedy that occurs at the end of the first act. There are two versions of the story that follow: the animal story, shown to the audience over the next 60 minutes through lush colors and CGI, and the human story, told half-heartedly in an ending twist through a 1 minute monologue. The apparent purpose of the film is to spark introspection in a viewer who decides which version of the events is true.

The psychological aspect of Life of Pi holds interest. A young boy, put through serious trauma, anthropomorphizes his experiences based on his childhood zookeeper history. But even this account falls flat as the real meat of the story happens within minutes and Pi is left alone with the tiger for the majority of the tale. It is tempting to reflect on how this represents the conflict within himself but there aren’t any discoveries or lessons learned as a result. And even so, this is the obvious view that, while interesting, doesn’t lend support to the overall theme of belief in a higher power.

So let’s get into the two stories. Supposedly, the human story is the true account of four survivors trapped together on a lifeboat and the cruel and tragic events that led to them all dying save one. The animal story, on the other hand, is a wondrous fable portraying the survivors as animals, glossing over their deaths, and focusing on the ensuing internal struggle of the lone Indian boy, Pi, to survive.

Nearly every analysis of the film frames the viewer’s choice as thus: a cold, calculated, secular thinker will prefer the realistic human story, and a spiritual and heartfelt sympathizer will prefer the romantic animal version. I take issue with this drawing of lines- how is a story of a boy seeing his mother killed and then growing up any less inspiring than seeing a tiger kill a hyena that killed an orangutan? The belief of a higher power doesn’t lessen the tragedy of either, and surviving on the open sea for nearly a year is miraculous no matter the version of events. And while the animal account focused mostly on the adventures after the tragedy, the human story bluntly related the deaths of the others. Essentially, the animal story was given unfair advantage to be invested in, with the human side not even appearing in visuals, so those who believe in the latter are dismissed as cold hard factual people devoid of faith, when that is not nearly the truth.

Ironically, the beginning of the movie that focused on a boy in India named Pi was the best part. The ‘modern day’ framing device of the novelist asking an older Pi to recount the events of the past was hackneyed. What’s worse, the allegory should have been the point of analysis. Instead, Pi, who weaved this amazing tale after almost a year alone at sea, quickly gives in to the skeptical investigators and confesses the true events. This plot development is not believable either for a boy recovering from a wondrous experience or from a trauma victim who has blocked out painful memories. Especially since, at least in the movie, the investigators just wanted to know why the ship sank and didn’t care about the events that followed. On top of that, the annoying novelist then spells it out for the audience that the animals represent the real victims. Not only is the tiger parable unreal, but there is no believability in the post events or even the modern day recounting.

As an aside, getting into the actual storytelling of the animal story, there was a mix of good and bad. The CGI was a visual feat at times and the composition of colors was often stellar, but many scenes were very distracting and had me focusing on the uncanny valley more than the plot. But it wasn’t just the mixed visuals, the events too often shattered any suspension of belief. Knowing the ending illuminates that the allegory WAS fake and that the story WAS SUPPOSED TO be silly. To me, though, this conjures up memories of The Village- everybody spoke in a fake annoying 18th century accent that grated on my nerves but at the end it was revealed that, "Aha!", everything really took place in modern times and THAT’S why the accents were so bad, but the delivery still ruined 90% of the movie. Life of Pi’s stuttering between the emotional and the inane had similar effect.

By far, the biggest issue I have with Life of Pi is the teaser: "I will tell you a story that will make you believe in God." With a quick ending that has a single suggestive phrase, there just isn’t any pay-off. I kept looking for meaning to this story but every analysis obtusely stated that it was up to the individual viewer. I’m sorry but, after a 2 hour journey, that is the ultimate cop out.

Pi asks the novelist which story *he* prefers, to which he replies, "the one with the tiger." Pi answers, "And so goes with God." He then smiles and pretends that he has delivered on his promise to prove that God exists, and the two men share an uncomfortably touching yet meaningless moment.

My contention with Life of Pi has nothing to do with the religious undertones in the theme, it’s that the majority of the film had little to do with a higher power and the ending, while attempting to appear haughty and wise, had even less. It’s strange, because the only interpretation that makes any sense to me is that the young Pi, who believed in all gods and religions, now understands that they are only fairy tales to make people feel better. Just like his first allegory was a fabrication, it was something he told himself because he preferred it. It seems a counter intuitive message for such a spiritual experience and I doubt that’s what the creators intended but I think that just underscores the dangers of relying on the viewer.

A lot of critics credit Life of Pi for being ‘ambitious’ but this is what people say when a movie doesn’t work. This is what everyone said about Cloud Atlas. I’m not against a fanciful allegory of a tragedy but the trappings of spiritual enlightenment were strangely unfulfilled. A fairy tale can be a beautiful thing when framed correctly and, unfortunately, Life of Pi serves more as a lesson of what *not* to do.

End of Watch

I used to watch a bunch of random movies in the off-chance that I would find a diamond in the rough, something unknown that impressed me so much that I had to add it to my personal collection. Unfortunately, probably due to my years of experience being exposed to plotlines of all shapes and sizes, this doesn’t actually happen that much anymore. In Bruges a couple years ago is the last time that comes to mind. Nowadays I am just really happy if I can watch a random movie without expecting much and be surprised that the overall viewing experience is pretty good.

End of Watch is this movie. It’s nothing amazing but has scenes that can impress. It’s a cop movie, but it’s definitely not Just Another Cop Movie. Besides being filmed in a captured footage style, this movie does other things differently. The plot often focuses more on day to day minutia than on grand conspiracies or criminals. And it doesn’t get hung up on the Blair Witch camera thing by playing fast and loose with the footage source for the sake of having better camera shots. What results is a movie that ‘feels’ more authentic without the medium dragging the story down.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this movie is realistic, but it is certainly a realist portrayal of life as a police officer compared to other Hollywood offerings. The two partners ride around the squad car making immature jokes and talking just as much shit that you would expect two mid-twenties guys to talk about. The interactions with the sergeant and captain ring true, and even the conversations and ribbing of fellow police officers feels authentic. This is definitely a movie that has done research into departmental behavior- what got me is seeing a cop carry anti-bacterial gel around. It’s no wonder that this movie is a true dedication to police officers the world over.

It’s great to see a new director do something different that has some actual meaning attached to it. The opening police chase should grab you and immediately let you know that you are in for a change of pace. End of Watch focuses on the procedure more than the drama. Every entry into a house brings the fear of the unknown and every resolution allows the audience to breathe a sigh of relief. The film may not be a true peek into the lives of police officers but the attempt at least is there. The rest is up to you to love or hate.

Django Unchained

Django Unchained is poetic justice on steroids. This isn’t unexpected from Quentin Tarantino, whose last movie featured American soldiers shooting Hitler in the face with a machine gun and Jews burning down a theater full of Nazis. Here, an ex-slave literally whipping a slave owner and killing a plantation’s worth of rednecks fits nicely.

The usual Tarantino staples make appearances. The gore is overt and even comedic at times. The cinematography begins with a bit of 70s direction (thankfully the exaggerated camera zooms become more scarce past the first 10 minutes). The anachronistic music worked wonderfully, with the tough persona of rap music juxtaposing against a line of submitted slaves and the modernized bluegrass filling in where appropriate. There almost hints to be a torture scene that we thankfully did not need to endure. And for good measure, a couple throwback actors like Don Johnson get small roles.

For a 3 hour affair, the pacing keeps the movie fun and surprisingly quick. The film jumps between action and plot smoothly and is never long between jokes. The dialog in the film is well scripted but I do feel that it falls short of Tarantino greatness. There are usually iconic scenes in his films, just before a conflict gets physical, where the audience can feel the nervous tension building to insufferable levels. It’s not that Django Unchained doesn’t have these moments- DiCaprio’s speech about skull phrenology comes closest- but there is a bit less focus on character monologue.

Aside from Tarantino’s continuing insistence to play a role in his films, the casting was great. Christoph Waltz is no doubt the heart of the movie but without Leonardo DiCaprio’s debonair southern charm in the role of the villain, I doubt much about the conflict would have been memorable. The German Dr. Schulz’s stilted inflection contrasted plantation owner Calvin Candie’s smooth charisma for one of the great rivalries of the year. Jamie Foxx played the badass as he can, starting slow before building into a more rounded character. Even Samuel L. Jackson gives his best performance which is certainly not always the case. I thought it was amusing that Walter Goggins, famous for roles like Shane Vendrell in The Shield and Boyd Crowder in Justified, gets typecast as a white supremacist good ol’ boy once again, but he does fit the role well.

If I had one gripe about Django Unchained, it’s that the gunplay is unimaginative. Sure, seeing splashes of blood spray off bodies for every bullet is fun but it is a one trick affair. Better choreography was sorely needed here, and it seems to me that a lot of the shooting at the end of the film was edited out to avoid this very banality.

Nothing stops Django Unchained from having a whole lot of fun with a touchy subject, however, and that’s the niche Quentin Tarantino is building himself now. It’s a great fit for his homage-laden personality and vintage cinematic knowledge. At a time when it’s so hard to shock movie audiences, stepping away from that solitary goal and just letting loose and pushing purposefully over-the-top feels just fine to me.


Now this is a 007 flick.

Like the previous entry, Quantum of Solace, this film is action-packed from start to end. Skyfall, however, is much more expertly driven from setpiece to setpiece. The flow of the story unfolds in a progression that feels natural and still maintains suspense and wonder.

An odd surprise is that this movie does not cap a trilogy and continue with the storyline of the previous two Daniel Craig entries. This is a nod to rebooting the old characters and structure of the legacy, leaving the door open for an infinite amount of follow-ups. While it is disappointing that Skyfall isn’t a direct sequel and now the series is again left to be a chronology of one-offs, the enclosed story actually works really well and has a clear beginning and ending. Audiences should be well satisfied with the presented package.

You might notice a bit of the cheeky repartee classic to some of the older James Bond movies. While the dialog sometimes approaches the realm of camp, it mostly serves to deliver more humor in a film that, while emotionally somber at times, looks to relieve anxiety with well placed laughs.

Overall, Skyfall isn’t a movie that redefines the genre or does something you haven’t seen before. It doesn’t need to live up to those expectations after the excellent reboot several years ago. What the film does need to be is a great stand-alone experience that doesn’t cheapen the new cannon. The cinematography is well done, the pacing of the action scenes and the emotional beats weave together naturally, and the movie is genuinely fun. Why haven’t you seen it yet?

Cloud Atlas

Wow. I never knew the Uncanny Valley could exist in live action. I expected to see a deep interconnected story with a clever ‘tie it all together’ ending and instead I felt like I was watching an Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence movie where the same actor plays 5 different roles bedecked in various levels of ridiculous makeup. If there’s anything we learned from Prometheus, it’s that it’s 2012 and old man makeup STILL doesn’t work. We seriously need to stop using it.

Seeing an Asian girl in white person makeup with freckles was pretty creepy. Ditto for the white guys with Asian eyes. But even the regular makeup work was awful. Hugo Weaving played a devil character that was literally wearing Halloween face paint. Independent or not, this film’s budget was over $100 million yet it looked like it was made by a rookie team. Not really sure if I expected more from the Wachowski siblings.

But the makeup, while a good (and visual) talking point, is not the primary fault of Cloud Atlas. The movie is boring. It doesn’t resonate. The stories are fairly generic or straightforward and generally don’t warrant watching. The beginning of the movie asks viewers to be patient with the constant time jumping because eventually everything will tie together but when the credits rolled I was still unsure of the purpose of it all.

I’ll honestly come right out and say that maybe I don’t get the movie. Maybe the point is truly over my head. It’s likely, at least, that the book delves further into meaning than the film is able to, but what I saw was a collection of actors in bad makeup playing out classic movie tropes and stories in different settings, with no real clever connections between times or even a payoff at the end. I didn’t particularly feel attached to any of the lifeless characters and the cross dressing and race-transforming makeup was utterly distracting. A common theme among the stories was that of oppression, and that the strong prey on the weak, but even this didn’t translate into a good message or have a lasting impact.

By all accounts it sounds like I expected too much from Cloud Atlas but, the funny thing is, I wasn’t especially following its release and didn’t know anything about the story. I wasn’t even planning on seeing it but I went to the theater with friends. But the entire structure of the movie and the gravitas with which it is presented demand it be looked at through an epic lens and instead all I can clearly see is a puffed up 3 hour flop.

THX 1138

I just watched George Lucas’ directorial debut film for the first time. It’s from 1970 and is one of the many dystopian future movies that the generation produced. The film has an artsy tinge that you might not expect from George Lucas but it sort of makes sense considering this is a remake of a short student film he made a few years earlier. Still, the scene composition isn’t generally suited for mainstream audiences and might feel a bit tiresome. If you can get past that though I think you’ll find THX 1138 an overall satisfying experience, if a bit superficial and cheesy.

What is cool watching this thing is how many similarities to Star Wars you’ll notice. The police officers are robots that have radioed storm trooper voices. Seeing their stark uniforms walking in long futuristic hallways is also very reminiscent of the marching soldiers. Some of their voices as well as those of the computers have the cool ‘droid filter’ effects layered over them. There’s even a scene where the police are hitting the protagonist with extended shock nightsticks with electric sounds that are clear precursors to light sabers. And of course, the low tech 70s computers are awesome.

Funny enough, this film shares another similarity to the popular Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas released a director’s cut that has added computer graphics and ‘busy city’ scenes. It was a bit jarring watching a 70s movie and seeing this technology interjected but overall it was tastefully done.

By far the coolest thing I discovered in THX 1138 was when the main character was flipping through tv channels and settled on a police android beating a civilian. It was just a hologram of the man being hit with a nightstick repeatedly but I immediately recognized where the audio had been sampled. Imagine this vicious beating while listening to the intro of Nine Inch Nail’s Mr. Self Destruct and you’ll get the idea.

The Dark Knight Rises

I’ve been a big advocate of the previous Batman films and although I never posted about them I’ve held all other superhero movies up to their high standard (and most have failed miserably). That’s why it’s with a heavy heart that I confess that The Dark Knight Rises is only ‘so so’, or perhaps ‘pretty decent’ when I’m feeling charitable. Maybe I expected too much from this movie but it is clearly the worst of the trilogy. It tries to be weighty and meaningful but lacks the focus to deliver any real message. The film is more of a platform for introducing new characters and referencing old ones and there isn’t a whole lot of time for the Dark Knight to do anything cool. Let me repeat that: Batman isn’t a badass in the entire movie.

Bane is an interesting villain. His voice borders on comical and cartoony but he is the center of most of the scenes he’s in and feels like a truly heinous fellow. The first fight where he beats Batman up is expected but the Dark Knight could’ve tried harder. I get that the point of the scene is that Bruce doesn’t really want to go on living, or at least he is apathetic to the idea, or- well, I guess I don’t really get it all that well. You see, the film directly states themes like this out loud but does a really bad job of making me believe them. Remember- Show, don’t Tell.

“You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”

The same holds true for the second Bane fight. All of a sudden Batman has the goods and handily defeats this villain who was established to be expertly adept at hand to hand combat? With all the tools at Batman’s disposal he wins the fight with his fists because, what, he regained his confidence?

Batman is simply not Batman in this movie. He attacks Bane with smoke pellets! In the end it is Catwoman who has to kill him. She even does all the cool motorcycle combat to destroy the tanks while Bruce is busy dodging missiles. On that note, I have to say, I understand Batman isn’t supposed to kill people but the grittier and more realistic you make a movie like this, the more it starts to get ridiculous that the dude doesn’t fire a gun. He’s flying an attack aircraft and fighting against tanks to try to recover a nuclear device and he can’t blow shit up? He escorts a crowd of police to an army of well equipped street thugs and instead of dispersing them with superior firepower he allows countless officers to get slaughtered? Mixing in modern military tech doesn’t mix very well with a refusal to kill. Hunting down Bane to get into a fist fight with him stands in stark contrast to having him walking out defiantly against the Batwing that could’ve easily mowed him down.

Scenarios where the plot gives me pause are numerous. What is up with Bane not killing Batman but putting him in a prison under the watch of guys who help him recover? How does he sneak back into an island city that is walled off? And speaking of which, what are Batman’s priorities when he first returns? Because the ‘lighting up a building with the bat symbol’ thing is just exposition. No point of it at all, and what did he do? Spend a few hours setting up an elaborate symbol and lighting mechanism when a ticking nuclear bomb threatened Gotham? It is a bit ridiculous.

But totally worth it.

So Batman is bedridden, Catwoman actually does cooler stuff, and Robin has a great first half but then is relegated to chauffeuring a busload of kids by the end of the movie. Too many characters without clear roles makes them all a bit muddy. Even the title ‘Rises’ feels forced and characters use the word in ways that are unnatural just to give legitimacy to the movie title.

So I can nitpick plot points and complain about specific scenes or character motivations all day but the crux of my dissatisfaction comes down to the plot being all over the place. The movie doesn’t really have a good reason to be so long. The story lacks the typical Nolan elegance. I don’t want to come off like I hate the film because it really is ‘pretty decent’ but, for me, the end of this revered trilogy is really a case of missed opportunities.

Bane’s defeat and death is unsatisfying. Robin’s character arc of getting disenfranchised with the police force is squandered and unclear. The whole ‘Batman against the police’ is a sideshow that really should be a much larger focus of the movie. Without his disgrace playing prominently, his redemption is anticlimactic.

Imagine if Batman isn’t so stupid as to just walk up and fight Bane hand to hand. Imagine if he tries something, some trick, but still fails because Bane is a badass. Then imagine Batman making an awesome escape somehow and Bane not believing he got out of the trap but taking chase. Batman gets to the city and would get away except the police complicate matters and Batman finds himself running from them both, and because of that Bane catches him. Batman isn’t a total idiot, the villain is still formidable, the police are an actual problem, and *then* we can start to show Robin get disenfranchised with the police.

What’s so utterly disappointing is that The Dark Knight Rises falls into the same trap that helped doom the old Batman movies. It gives us Catwoman, Robin, the Batwing, and really all we needed was the Dark Knight himself.


Full disclosure: the amount of nerd hype surrounding this movie in the last couple of weeks has predisposed me to dislike it. However, if my review of The Avengers can be counted as like company, I’d say I can still be fairly objective in these situations. Just to play it safe, I went on a media blackout and didn’t watch any trailers or discuss the upcoming movie at all. I only tangentially heard that the whole thing was “kind of an Alien prequel” and entered the theater with zero expectations. So given all of this, how did Prometheus fare?

The answer is a resounding ‘awful’.

Prometheus is set in 2093, in the same universe as the Alien saga but with a disconnected crew on a separate spaceship. Their mission is to find the origin of human life but things obviously go wrong. The problem is, in a film with this kind of clout, absolutely everything was so unabashedly generic and predictable that I almost thought Ridley Scott was pulling a Cabin in the Woods and making fun of action/suspense movies.

See if any of this sounds familiar to you: a collection of the world’s most dysfunctional scientists get stuck in a bad situation and find themselves slowly killed off until only a scrappy girl survives. Although this big picture is a tired joke, I can commend the writers for attempting a more ambitious A-story. The problem is that all the little butterfly wings that set the plot points aflutter are laughable. One scientist leads the team into a desolate series of tunnels and sends out robotic mappers to scout ahead. Once they reach their destination he gets creeped out and wants to abandon the team and head back on his own. After another sorry sack joins him, they proceed to immediately get lost. Here is the guy who everybody else was following because he was literally mapping out the entire tunnel network and has a fucking nav device in his hand and we are supposed to believe that he gets lost? So then he and the other guy are foibling around, completely freaked at of the possibility of encountering anything slightly alive UNTIL they find a little critter and proceed to lose all traces of self preservation and repeatedly poke it.

“Aww, check out this alien that looks like a pissed off cobra about to strike! It’s so cute!”

The ending even does Wile E. Coyote proud and features a sequence where the survivors are fleeing a spaceship wreckage by running in the same direction it is rolling towards them instead of simply sidestepping it. In case the audience isn’t infuriated enough, one of the characters actually trips and falls and *rolls sideways* out of the way while the other (more able) character continues to run along the path of destruction and dies.

The future technology in Prometheus isn’t very convincing either. It’s 2093 so many things are similar to today but of course there is all the spaceship technology. But when a couple scientists are getting mauled on the planet surface and no one is monitoring their activity, the captain of the ship wonders what happened to them and sends down a team to recover them. Let me see… the scientists were wired with cameras and radios and have been communicating successfully until they disappeared but what, there’s no way to check their recorded playback? I mean Jesus, the thought of not recording that shit today would be unheard of. Mixing modern technology with the plot tropes of yesteryear is lazy screenwriting.

Another futuristic failure? Prometheus has the worst guns you will ever see in a sci-fi movie EVER. The only time the gun resembling a pulse shotgun is used it is totally worthless. It looks like a toy gun that can’t even generate the recoil of a Nerf rifle.

Motivations are poorly handled in this film as well. First of all, the android-with-questionable-motives character from the other Alien movies returns but by the end of everything the reasons for some of his actions make absolutely no sense unless ‘doing crazy things to keep the audience guessing’ counts as a proper character arc these days. I will concede that at least the script attempts to maintain a mystery, but for every scarcely clever moment there are two others that can be seen a mile away. When it is obvious that one character is another’s daughter but for some reason the film pretends that you are too stupid to realize it, and then removes all subtlety out of a scene by inserting an excruciating reveal of “Father!”, I could take no more.

Also, why does old people makeup in movies still suck so bad? The aliens look more real than this guy.

So Prometheus is a crappy movie with forgettable characters acting out an overdone plot. What does it have? The obvious answer is, the alien. Not just any alien, but some strain of the classic Giger monster that is burned into our memory. But even here the movie fails us. The fan service is horrible – the original film was about science and explaining the biology and life cycle of the mysterious life form. This was a large part of the creature’s success and why it continues to be so iconic. Instead, Prometheus gives us an ‘anything goes’ mentality where the aliens have several forms that are very different from each other. Instead of a well thought out biology we are treated to an amalgamation of various shock tactics. The creators have specifically said that they didn’t want to do the same movie over again and wanted to break the cycle of showing what audiences expect. I can respect this, but then why make a movie that repeats all of the OTHER things that audiences have seen before, excluding the one thing that would have pleased us?

Prometheus is the classic case of a movie being worse because of its pedigree, though don’t think that means it would be considered good otherwise. But damn, at least the movie looks nice. 

Movie Rights

This video by MovieBob is pretty fascinating.


It basically says that when movie studios hold the rights to certain properties, they can lose the rights if they don’t use them. What studios end up doing is pumping out bad films quickly to keep their licenses intact.

This is the complete opposite of what is good for movie viewers. Instead of someone taking a property and doing something awesome with it, we are instead treated to half assed shovel entertainment that is primarily a business move and not meant to be good. This means we get to see beloved comic book characters repeatedly raped just to make sure no one else can use them.

Ang Lee’s Hulk film did so poorly that they ended up selling the rights back to Marvel and we can all see how much better The Avengers is for it. Not being able to get Spiderman interacting with those guys because of a crappy teen reboot, however, is heartbreaking.

You know, in the video game industry we often comment about how we should look to Hollywood for superior business models but this is a case where I’d rather stay away. Video game licenses are often done on a per game basis, or for a predetermined number of games, rather than some muddled system where the rights holder can essentially besiege a property for as long as they want. I bet you all can’t wait for Ghostrider 3.

The Avengers

The epic saga that Marvel has been slowly laying the groundwork for has finally arrived and comic book junkies everywhere are rejoicing! So you’re expecting me to talk about how this is a hyped up blockbuster that nerds are gonna sing about even though it really isn’t anything special, right? Frankly, I was expecting the same thing. I think myself quite a talent at judging movies from their trailers alone and The Avengers promos had me yawning. Then this movie goes and gets released and completely shatters my presumptions. Not only was it good, it was awesome.

How did this happen? Iron Man disappointed and the sequel was pretty good yet deeply flawed. Captain America was overly cheesy. Thor actually was ok considering its 1950s era space background but plain and predictable. And no one has ever been able to create a good Hulk movie. So how did The Avengers pull off the superhero stew?

This is a case of the sum equaling more than the parts. When you throw a bunch of different superheroes together, the interplay between them is paramount. There really isn’t anything more important than that. Joss Whedon, who I just criticized for forcing the dialog in Cabin in the Woods, delivers a perfect blend of humor and sincerity. Every hero is cast extremely well and each actor gets to show off their skills in a number of scenes unhampered by special effects. I am astonished that even Samuel L. Jackson’s acting was decent. You need to give a director credit where it is due.

As a personal aside, there is another story aspect that I find satisfying, more for its noticeable absence. There is no love interest- no damsel in distress. There are too many characters to focus on each’s high school crush and the film is better for it.

Sure there are a couple of nitpicks. I always hate seeing the deus ex machina of a  destroyed mothership automatically disabling all the bad soldiers on the ground. The Hulk fought all movie to be in control of his monster but at the end it was effortless and sudden- he didn’t overcome his inner conflict, the plot just glazed over it. The classic ‘U.S. government who just wants to nuke everything’ annoyingly comes into play but it is kept to a minimum. So there are eye rolling moments, but when they happen they are over before you can dwell on them too long and you are back to being awed by action.

Speaking of which, the combat scenes feel ripped right out of the comic books. The action is better executed and more entertaining than any of the movies leading up to this one. Ever wanted to know what would happen if Superhero A fights Superhero B? The Avengers has a bit of that spliced about. But there are other interactions to sate our curiosity. What would happen if the Hulk tries to pick up Thor’s hammer, or if Thor slams Mjolnir into Captain America’s shield? Which team members would get along? All these answers are the keys to the film’s success, which is interesting, because the plot isn’t overly complicated and doesn’t have a legitimate ‘twist’ to it, but it unfolds slowly enough to stay fresh. Everybody knows from the get go what the big climactic clash at the end of the movie will be but the ride getting there holds your attention surprisingly well.

One final note. The post-credit reveal that all of these movies are famous for is bound to be very generic for those unfamiliar with the comics. I am not a big Marvel geek but I am overly excited by the possibility of future properties. Two words: Infinity Gauntlet.