The Dark Knight Rises Versus The Avengers

One of the hallmarks of the geek community is comparing things we love and seeing how they stack up. Of course, the problem with doing this is that we wind up comparing things that don’t even match up. Back when The Dark Knight came out the big question was whether it was better than Iron Man and I thought it was incredibly annoying. It’s like comparing Die Hard to The Usual Suspects, they’re both somewhat dramatic action films, but that’s where the comparisons end. One’s a balls-out auctioner while the other is a really serious, more cerebral outing…with punching and costumes.

The same thing happened this year when people started comparing The Avengers to The Dark Knight Rises and I thought it was an equally foolish comparison. However, while watching Avengers for the second time at the drive-in last night I realized a few things about the two movies that made me like one over the other and, seeing as how this is the internet, I figured I’d share them with whoever will read them.

Right off the bat (heh, PUN!), Avengers is more fun and a more enjoyable watching experience. It’s the perfect movie to check out on a Saturday or Sunday. It also has a lot of great moments that made me geek out, but I realized something while watching Avengers again. The moments in that movie that I dug the most (Iron Man reflecting his blasts off of Cap’s shield, Hulk sucker punching Thor after a team up) were great moments that reminded me of ideas from comics, but those same kind of things in Dark Knight Rises reminded me of specific moments from Batman comics. This is obviously completely subjective, but I can’t separate those very personal moments of awesomeness form my childhood, so why not embrace them? It doesn’t discount anything from Avengers, but just gives DKR a leg up in my book.

I know a lot of people thought DKR was bleak and sad, but I actually found it really uplifting. The character of John Blake completely embodies the never-give-up attitude that’s kept humanity alive for all these centuries. That same attitude is something Batman had to rediscover and use to his advantage to save the city he loves. There’s some of that in Avengers, but I never really thought they’d be in trouble. That wasn’t going to happen, but with rumors swirling that Batman would die in this flick and Christopher Nolan being an incredibly ballsy filmmaker, there was a small part of me that thought it might happen and even that it should have happened. I left Avengers feeling pumped up and fueled by geek-love, but I actually felt good about humanity after watching Rises.

So, Dark Knight Rises has the leg up in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I like Avengers any less. They’re both hallmarks of filmmaking that should be appreciated by all kinds of audiences. It’s amazing the kind of things that can come from comic book source material.

The Avengers (2012) Is Awesome

I’m 29 this year. When I was a kid and falling in love with comics, I didn’t have a lot of good comic book movies to fall in love with. I didn’t really get into Batman, but wound up loving Batman Returns. The Superman movies never did it for me because they were just so far away from the Superman I knew from the comics. Heck, I remember getting excited about the Generation X and Nick Fury TV movies. Then we got Blade and X-Men and things changed. Eventually X2, Batman Begins, Dark Knight and Iron Man really made the comic book-based movie a thing to be reckoned with both in the box office and compared to other movies.

As the movies got better, I found the mediocre ones less interesting, but a little more disappointing. If you know how to do these things well, why not just keep doing them well. Is it so difficult to get someone who understands the material to make something good on a proper budget? Christopher Nolan did it, Jon Favreau did it and god damn, did Joss Whedon do it with Avengers.

My wife and I decided to head to the drive-in with some friends to see it. It kind of snuck up on my how excited I wound up being for this flick. I really like the Iron Man movies, didn’t like Ed Norton in Incredible Hulk, kinda sorta liked Thor and had a pretty good time with Captain America: The First Avenger, but the ad campaign, plus the fact that I wrote about the movie a bit for Spinoff Online got me pretty excited. Then I started hearing people I know and respect coming back raving about the movie. People were comparing it to Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note that both of them are die hard Marvel fans and, like me, never thought they’d see a movie like this in the real world, on the big screen, done this well.

And man, this movie is done well. Whedon did an amazing job trying together the very different movies, bringing in new characters, pumping up ones we’d only seen briefly and making them all work in ways that make sense. It just makes sense that Tony Stark’s flip attitude toward everything would eventually rub Captain America the wrong way or that Thor would find the petty complaints of mortals well, petty. But, this movie is so much more than great character beats. The action is spectacular in every sense of the word. The attack on the hellicarrier? Wow. I wasn’t sure if the rest of the movie could top that, but the end battle was magnificent. Those long tracking shots that don’t cut away moving throughout the city from small battle to small battle with different characters flying in and out and wrecking shop in different ways was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Ever.

I could go on and on. The moments with the Hulk? Amazing and hilarious. Possibly my favorite Hulk of all time. That small moment where Iron Man shoots his repulsors off of Cap’s shield or the shockwave sent out when Thor hit the shied? So awesome. Hawkeye calling the shots and using his ingenious bow and quiver? So cool. My wife poked fun at me for giggling with excitement throughout half the movie. I wasn’t sorry, I reveled in it. I really can’t remember having more fun at a movie in a long time. It was basically Expendables, but instead of starring actors I’ve known forever, this was characters.

Okay, now someone needs to get me a Justice League movie.

Quick Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

All I knew about going into The Kids Are All Right before watching it yesterday with the missus on her snow day was that Mark Ruffalo played the sperm donor for a pair of kids belonging to lesbians played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. It a movie I probably would have forgotten about, but the missus asked me to add it to our Netflix queue when it came out so I did. My initial thoughts proved to be pretty dead on, but after that the movie is about a lot of things. Let’s call the following SPOILERS if you want to go into the movie clean like I did. The kids meet up with Ruffalo and he starts interacting with them along with their moms. The girl is going off to college and the boy experiments with drugs and have an asshole friend. Bening doesn’t like Ruffalo coming into their lives because she kind of plays the daddy in her little family, being a control freak doctor. Moore’s more of a misguided free spirit moving from one business to another, currently working on a landscaping business that Ruffalo encourages her with by asking her to come do his house. Soon enough he’s doing her. After meandering around various details about their lives, the movie seems to settle on the infidelity and its aftermath as what it wants to focus on.

With such great performances from everyone in the cast, it’s sad that the film feels so unfocused and scattershot. The son goes from being potentially in trouble with his friend or life or something and winds up completely fading into the background, leaving a few dangling plot threads like what he wound up doing with his douchebag friend who wanted to pee on a stray dog’s head. There’s also a lot left unanswered with the girl too, like her crush on her friend. I can understand that the filmmakers were possibly trying to mirror real life and it’s lack of solid endings like we’re used to with movies and TV, but I feel like the daughter going off to college and the son telling the moms they should stick together because they’re old, just doesn’t do it for me. Too much is left unsaid and unfinished for my personal tastes, which is a shame because these actors and their excellent onscreen work deserve a better finished product.

Book Vs. Movie: Shutter Island

It’s been a year or two since I read Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel Shutter Island, so my memories are a little fuzzy. I do remember liking it. A lot. So much so, that I pretty much knocked the whole thing out over a weekend. That’s no small feat for me, as I read about as fast as a toddler going through his first Sesame Street book. There was a frenetic pace and such a deep level of intrigue in the novel, though, that I could barely put it down. Even the missus marveled at the speed with which I dispatched the book.

The book follows two U.S. Marshalls as they investigate an unusual escape on Shutter Island, a mental institute off the coast of Massachusetts near Boston. As the story progresses we learn more and more about our hero Teddy Daniels and the patients and doctors who keep Shutter Island in business. I will say that I highly recommend the book for anyone who enjoys mysteries, psychological adventures and perfectly crafted twist endings.

Shutter Island is a difficult book to talk about without revealing the surprise ending, so consider the rest of this review to be filled with SPOILERS until the last paragraph. Towards the end of the book (maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through, maybe someone with a better memory can help me out with the exact moment) we find out that Teddy is actually insane. Leading up to this point, we’re made to think that Teddy is actually being persecuted by the government for looking too much into Shutter Island, which he thinks of as a place where experimental surgeries are performed on the insane. Lehane writes this so well and gets us so much on Teddy’s side that when the doctor first tells him he’s not only no longer a Marshall, but he’s been on Shutter Island as a patient for two years, we don’t believe him, but soon enough, we realize that Lehane and Teddy have both taken us for a ride, one with his incredible writing, the other with his delusions. In the great history of surprise twists, I’d say it’s more like The Usual Suspects where it doesn’t make everything you’ve just seen pointless, but allows you to examine it in a different light on further reading. I’ll talk more about the twist in a moment.

It seemed like just a few weeks after I finished the book, it came out that Martin Scorsese would be directing a movie version with Leoardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo playing the Marshalls. I was curious to see how the whole thing would play out and found out over the weekend when watching the movie on On Demand with the missus and her parents at their house in New Hampshire. Damn, it was great. There’s always a concern with great directors that, as they age, they lose their magic, but Scorsese doesn’t seem to have that problem, thankfully.

The film version had such a fantastic sense of atmosphere the entire time. Something was wrong and we just didn’t know what it was, unless, of course, you read the book or know the twist ending in which case you know why and it’s fun to see how it’s played out. Watching the movie, I felt like I did the second time I watched Usual Suspects (I love that movie, if you couldn’t tell already). I knew what all the sideways glances really meant and why people were acting funny and just like that movie, it all works. Scorses even goes so far as to make some really strange edits like a woman drinking from a glass of what that was just handed to her, but isn’t there, to capture how things get fuzzy for Teddy. He’s got sufficient mental problems that keep him out of regular society and that comes across the second time around.

Overall, I was very impressed with everyone’s performances–Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow and Michelle Williams are also in the flick–along with Scorcese’s direction which captured the feelings I remember when reading the book. Most importantly, he pulled the twist ending off without it feeling too out-of-nowhere. Like I said there were so many “huh?” moments early on that, once the twist is revealed, they make sense, like why does Ruffalo have such trouble getting his holster off his belt? In the book, the key to the twist was getting us so far on Teddy’s side that the mere idea of the truth just doesn’t seem possible until we get all the real information and discover one of the basic rules of literature and storytelling: never trust a first person narrator. In this case, Teddy believes he’s telling the truth and really does believe he’s seeing the people he’s seeing, but, as we learn, that’s just not the case. I like how well first Lehane, then Scorcese handled putting the audience so far on Teddy’s side and then launching us over to the doctor’s side. Well done all around.

So, now that we’re out of spoiler territory, I recommend both the book and the movie, though try not get the end ruined for you. It’s a lot of fun to experience it unadulterated for the very first time and then to experience it again to see what’s really what from the beginning.