Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Avengers Chronology

 Summer 2011 has come and gone, and with it the final Marvel Studios films left before the 2012 release of The Avengers. This is a historic event for comic book and cinema fans alike, with individual origin stories and character crossovers leading to a big-budget amalgamated event.

However, while there have been several films released so far, along with a couple viral shorts, the events of their stories revealed to not have been released in order of their actual occurrence withing the movie timeline. Here, I will attempt to straighten the chronology out and put the films in their proper viewing order, should any of the fans want to have a marathon in preparation for The Avengers, or simply want to make sure they're caught up before next summer.

Ordered by U.S. Theatrical Release Date
5/2/08 - Iron Man
6/13/08 - The Incredible Hulk
5/7/10 - Iron Man 2
5/6/11 - Thor
7/22/11 - Captain America: The First Avenger
5/4/12 - The Avengers

Ordered by Chronological Events
1) Captain America: The First Avenger
2) Hulk
3) Iron Man
4) The Incredible Hulk
5) The Consultant
6) A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Thor's Hammer
7) Thor
8) Iron Man 2

And before you object, allow me to clarify a few things.
First, the inclusion of Ang Lee's Hulk. This film came out in 2003 to box office success but critical failure. This simply wasn't the Hulk movie most people wanted, with a focus more on personal relationships and back-story and less on action (which I found to be a weird critique, given just how much action is in this film). However, while The Incredible Hulk did boast itself as a reboot and tied in to The Avengers, aside from a few brief rewrites of Hulk's origin, it basically picks up right where Hulk left off. If one wishes to get a better grip on the main characters of Hulk/Bruce Banner, his girlfriend Betty and her father General Ross, then I do recommend Hulk as a supplement to the Marvel Studios releases. Then again, I actually like this movie where many do not. Secondly, this is an approximation of the placement for the Agent Coulson shorts. Those actually would take place within the events of The Incredible Hulk and Thor, which brings me to my next point: Overlap.
The chronological list is nice for if you feel like throwing your DVDs or Blu-Rays and watching the films, but in an ideal world when I had time and capability to edit BluRay rips, I'd love to see the Avengers saga edited together into one, long chronological story.
If I were to do such a project, I think it'd play out something like this:

Captain America: The First Avenger
---starting with WWII era scenes, stop before modern day
Iron Man
--re-edited so opening flashback happens at the proper point in the film.
---stop before the scene of people trying to remove Mjolnir from the ground.
Iron Man 2
---stop after Agent Coulson leaves to go on a trip.
The Incredible Hulk
---stop after the 'blood falls into the bottle' scene
A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Thor's Hammer
The Incredible Hulk
---stop after Hulk's first encounter with soldiers Thor
---remaining scenes
The Incredible Hulk
---stop before Bruce/Betty get to NYC
Iron Man 2
---remaining scenes
The Incredible Hulk
---remaining scenes
Captain America: The First Avenger
---first scene (flashback), followed by Steve waking up in modern world.

Now, the Captain America final scene of him waking up in the modern world could play at the end of this series as well as maintaining it's place at the end of his film. That's a matter of preference, but I like the idea of having it as a bookend of this entire mess.

This is also a very basic cut. If I were truly to make this edit, I'd try to splice between the films wherever possible so we start to get a flow of jumping back and forth between various characters in their films. Given the passage of time in Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, these two are probably happening at around the same time. Iron Man 2 and Thor are definitely taking place during the same span of time, along with the Coulson shorts, so lots of intercutting would be required.

Anyway, I hope this has been an entertaining read and if you feel I've missed something or somehow got the order wrong, this is definitely open for debate!

Avengers Assemble!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Director: Michael Bay Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Hunington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro Co-Starring: Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk
Main Voices: Peter Cullen, Leonard Nimoy, Frank Welker, Hugo Weaving Watch for: Star Trek references.
Editor: James Haygood Would I Buy It: Blu-Ray, for sure. "How come the Decepticons always get the good shit?" I'm fighting an uphill battle with this one. Just call me OPTIMIST PRIME: THE MOVIE DEFENDER. The problem with Transformers 3 is that nobody, not a single fanboy, forgets Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's name is spoken with the same instant negativity as a new Nickelback album. The problem with TF3 is that there's a smear campaign on this film before it even hit it's release date. However, as I never, ever read a review on a movie I've been waiting to see before I go see it (unlike much of the internet-going populous who seems to think knowing if they're going to like it in advance is life/death), I got to watch this and have my fanboy mind thoroughly blown. Afterwards, I read some of the reviews and boy, am I glad I didn't. They're so busy hating on the film, they don't even realize just how many spoilers and plot twists they give away. At the good ol' Spenceley Spoileriffic, you should know that walking in the door, I've got the light on and the windows wide open. All spoilers are fair game. MSNBC? Shame on you. It wasn't cool when Rosie O'Donnell did it to Fight Club, it's not cool now. I don't care how much you hated something, don't ruin it for the people who want to see it. It's just manners. Now. The movie. Which rocked my emotional world. The main story is based off of a 3-episode arc of the original Transformers cartoon (known as G1 by the fans) entitled "The Ultimate Doom". This is the first of the series that goes beyond pulling elements from the series and in fact directly uses a plot, which it gets mad praise for from me. I actually discovered this quite by accident, as I'm a casual fan of the show. In preparation for the movie, i had been watching my G1 discs and it just so happened that the evening after I saw the movie, the next episode was "The Ultimate Doom". I about jumped up in my seat when I made the connection. The major addition to the movie plot is the betrayal of Sentinel Prime, a character with whom I am not familiar of in more than name. According to a TF-loving friend of mine, he was the Prime leader before Optimus, but that was about all there was to it. He never resurfaces and he never goes "evil", however this element of the story was one of the most shocking and interesting plots for me. I was caught totally by surprise. I was convinced Sentinel was pure Autobot, but I jumped out of my seat with everyone else when he shot Ironhide in the back. This wasn't a surprise to me that Ironhide died, I kind of called that before the movie came out. Given how he was "built up" (given more screentime if not character development) in RotF, my movie guy instincts told me that he'd be the one to kill when things got serious. And they did. And they got a lot more serious than I thought they would. It seems that Dark of the Moon best defines what Michael Bay has been trying to do all along, which is show that we are bystanders, nearly helpless victims of the 'natural disaster' that is the Transformers coming to our planet. Traditionally, you don't tend to get a lot of back story when the aliens invade. However, seeing as how in this film, we have 'good guy aliens' helping out, the expectation seems to be that the inward focus should be on the robot characters, we should have fully fleshed histories and know both who they are and where they've come from. Bollocks, I say. That's the fanboy talking. Off the top of my head, District 9, Independence Day, War of the Worlds and the entirety of the Alien/Predator franchises give barely a glimpse into the origins of their alien visitors. The only thing we need to know is that they're scary and they're here to kill us. As far as the Decepticons go, I'd say they've got that down. As a fan and filmmaker, I can't speak for Joe Moviegoer, who may have difficulty keeping track of which robot is which, but with the voicework and mannerisms of the main robot cast, I understand everything I need to about these characters in order for the movie to work. It may not be the robot-centered film the diehards wanted, but that's my main problem with raging fanboyism, is that they feel their own notion of what the movie should be defines exactly what the movie should be. Rather than sitting back in the chair and allowing the director to tell his version of the story, the dig their heels into the past and refuse to let go. Generally speaking, anyway. That's the impression that I get. Anyway, the twist is revealed, the Earth is invaded, the main characters are "killed off". Tell me, did anyone actually buy that? That's twice, Optimus. It ain't gonna work a third. The main thing that bothered me about that sequence is that as giant as the explosion was, it was caused by Starscream taking a pot-shot at them. Sure, you're probably supposed to feel disgusted and think "You cheap-ass no-good villains!", but aside from the characters in the movie and lil' kids who don't know better, I wonder who this scene actually fooled. I've seen complaints about the logic here in various message boards, stating "So, basically Optimus & Co. faked their deaths and hid out while the Decepticons killed hundreds/thousands of people? What a dick." From Optimus' character's standpoint, I understand this move. I wish I had a better idea as a writer for how they could've handled this, since the comic book death thing is quickly getting tiresome in this series, but when the bad guys say "Get off the planet or we're gonna kill people", making them think you're off the planet (or dead) is a pretty good offensive strategy. It makes them let their guard down. Sure, people are going to die, but how many more people would have if the Autobots had just run in, guns blazing and been torn down before they know exactly what they were up against? You have to pick your battles. That being said, when they came back, boy did they come back. I'm not sure if the fact that it's a robot makes it okay, but I laughed pretty hard at the Wreckers tearing the fight pilot bot to pieces. "This is going to hurt". It got me hero-loving, take-THAT-you-fiend! juices flowing in the best of ways. Every Decepticon death from this point on earned some sort of exclamation from me. I was quite impressed with just how brutal this PG-13 adventure got. The absolute most brutal death was that of Starscream, everyone's favorite power-hungry, evil fighter jet. As Sam was flung about during Starscream's pain-induced fit, I couldn't help but be reminded of the eye removal scene in Kill Bill 2. The friend I saw it with was upset because it was a "stupid death for Starscream", but when I saw it, I couldn't help but think of it as a great moment for Sam. He killed a 'leader-class' bot on his own. That's substantial. Plus, Starscream was a little bitch anyway and deserved to go out like a little bitch, just like his quick death in the animated movie. My friend was also upset with how they killed Soundwave, calling it, similarly, a "terrible death for that character". I think he's thinking of Soundwave, the autotune-bot from the show, of whom I have no knowledge of his fate, but deserved something grand. Movie Soundwave had a bit part and died of the way a secondary villain dies in any given action movie. That worked fine for me. No one really understands how the group of Autobots ended up in a captive situation considering all of their limbs are made of projectile weapons, but that's a fairly standard movie thing (that I recall Austin Powers making fun of), so I'm willing to just let it slide. Optimus' kill-them-all rampage was quick, well, explosive. Michael Bay got himself in trouble with this one, by comparing it to the infamous one-shot from "Old Boy", said by many to be the greatest and most realistic fight scene of all time. So, when Michael Bay described this shot we got a 'mere glimpse' of in the trailers, I assumed it was going to be just like Old Boy, from the side, panning along. However, I'd say this is more like a Snyder "300" shot, time ramping and shifting in focal view. Most of what we see in the trailer is what we get in this scene, aside from the finale of punching a fairly large piece out of Shockwave and using his own cannon to bring down the primary pillar. Shockwave. The marketing made him out to be a bigger deal than he actually was in this movie. Perhaps it was to draw attention away from the fact that the main villain would be this new Autobot fire truck dude, but more likely it was just to get the fanboys excited and sell a few more action figures. He looked cool, though. I'd probably be happier with him if I hadn't seen all the marketing materials. They really didn't make him have much purpose though, aside from telling the worm-creature what to devour next. The human aspect of the action was one of the really surprising factors here. The V-22 and wingsuit shots from the trailers, I actually did think that was just about all we were going to get. The wingsuit sequence is one of my favorite scenes from this movie. Not only is a lot (most?) of it practically filmed, but the depth of these shots was amazing for the 3D version. I particularly love the thread-the-needle with the one soldier waving his arms frantically, fearing he's going to snag himself on some debris as they shoot through the building. It was a very exciting scene that you just wouldn't have gotten in this movie from anyone but Bay. Part of me likes to think Bay saw the other Hasbro property film, GI Joe, and thought "No, guys. THIS is how you do a military movie". Food for thought, Duke. The building collapse was amazing. If you saw it, you know. I needn't go into it. My other favorite action bit was the Prime v. Prime fight at the end. It seemed that they finally got the scale right for shooting a Transformer fight. Whereas in the first two films, many of the battles were shot low and close from the "human perspective", Optimus & Sentinel's fight felt more like a proper "movie perspective", where we were able to clearly see the fight choreography. The shot after Optimus is knocked away and all the smaller Autobots are attacking Sentinal simultaneously completely rocks my socks. Bumblebee attacks low, turns to car-mode to avoid being hit and re-transforms and opens fire again while simultaneously Sideswipe attacks from above, being carried over and away from Sentinel by the raised shield, while other bots I didn't have the capacity to pay attention to are also attacking as well. Excellent shot. My only major change to this film would be to remove the parents' scenes entirely. They do crack me up, but in this movie they do nothing but slow the first half down by basically nagging to Sam about things we already know. It's such a random, needless appearance that you could cut at the shots right before they show up each time, connect the bookending shots on either side and the movie still flows just fine. Shia's interview with Malkovich could be the only one and the movie would be okay. We don't need to see the job hunt, or them driving him around to it. Sorry, parents. You're great, but you're just making the whole thing too busy, just like last time. Anyway, I could go on and on, but to summarize, the human plot gets us through the movie, I liked the new girl fine, the robots looked absolutely amazing, in graphics and in 3D and the almost-too-dramatic style of the cinematography really does it's best to show them off as much as possible. This movie was a whole lot of fun. Fanboy note: Megatron's wideshot for his first transformation is fuckin' beautiful. I also love that each of the main transformers are given a transforming glory shot, usually before their last scene. And Bumblebee, the final transformation of the trilogy, does exactly what the first of the trilogy does: it includes the original G1 sound effect. Perfect.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tron: Legacy

Director: Joseph Kosinski Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Jeff Bridges Co-Starring: Anis Cheurfa, Bruce Boxleitner Watch for: Cillian Murphy, Daft Punk Editor: James Haygood Would I Buy It: Blu-Ray, for sure. Greetings, Programs. Explaining how I feel about Tron has been a difficult task. You could call it "pretty", you could call it "cool", "eye-catching", "heavily-contrasted", any number of things. I've never had this much trouble describing why I like something as much as I do. It's just... cool. Warriors on the mesa fighting battles with high tech boomerangs, chasing each other on fold-up motorcycles, flying through floating mountains... it's just cool. Though, let's start with this. One thing I don't understand about Tron are the rules of the world. They did a few things different in Legacy from the original film that I'm not quite sure I understand the thinking behind. In 1982's TRON, I always imagined that the Programs were made of light. The way they were glowing, how they interacted with things, it just seemed like they were a core of light contained by clothing. In Legacy, they are depicted more as physical bodies that wear lightstrips on their clothing as a fashion statement. Is it more like the Matrix, and they are merely a simulation that merely perceive everything as we see it as someone would a 3D room on their computer, or are these physical beings of a minute scale trapped between high-speed electrons? This is why I felt a little cheated with how they handled the laser in this movie. Sam (and the entire room) gets a nice digitizing filter thrown on the shot and BOOM, he's in the Grid. That felt a little cheap compared to the bit-by-bit scanning of Flynn in the original. Granted, newer times, faster technology, but to someone with a passive understanding of visual effects, that seems like cheating. Also, the ending with Quorra leaves a little to be desired. First of all, if she is just information in a computer, bits of code saved on the magnetic disc of a hard drive, how is it the laser is able to convert her into a physical form of flesh and blood? Does the laser work like a 3D printer? Perhaps more like the machine that rebuilds Leeloo in The Fifth Element? Also, did she have her clothes like Sam was given his original outfit back, or did she land crouched and naked like one of the Terminators? The movie takes it's premise lightly, brushing the finer details under the rug, hoping the visuals and details of the story will be enough to keep people from thinking about it too hard. That being said, this movie is freakin' COOL. It maintains the basic structure of the original in a poetic form that would make George Lucas and Bryan Singer nod with approval. Our main character, Sam, accidentally gets zapped into the Grid and before he has little more than a basic understanding of what has happened, he's thrown into a barrage of techno-gladiator matches where he must fight for his life (and some more plot development). Soon after, there's some light plot development, defining the mission and planning what our characters must do, which leads them to a Program that can help them find their way (though Castor turns out to be a bit less loyal than Dumont), which then leads us to a solar-sailor journey and the final action sequence. Legacy takes the basic concepts of the first film, glow-frisbee combat and wall-building lightcycles, and refreshes them with an exciting, gravity-defying and acrobatic flare. There is not a single, action-movie-going male who didn't watch Rinzler and open his eyes a bit wider as he unnecessarily flipped over an incoming disc before landing and ducking to dodge it on it's way back. The action was well-shot, well-choreographed, and while each set it brief, you definitely come away feeling like you've seen something you've never seen before. The lightcycle match is fast-paced, suspenseful and just brutal enough that the audience will cringe at each death, but Disney will still let the film be released under their name. I did rather enjoy the "We've gotta work together" segment. It can be likened to Tron and Ram playfully messing with the red programs (in blue bikes?) in the original film, but there was something about the teamwork aspect that tugged on my heartstrings when we had to watch Sam's new/only friend be crushed by the relentless Clu. Oh, Clu. He was probably the biggest triumph and failure of this film. Of all the special effects in this movie, there were two that pulled me back to reality. The first is the Tron arcade game Sam finds with internet flash-game graphics in a 1980's machine, the second is Clu. Well, before that even, digitally de-aged Flynn talking to young Sam. For a minute, my over-thinking brain thought that maybe the reason he looked digital in that shot was going to be some "Clu was acting as Sam's father in Flynn's absence!"... but no. That's just silly fanboy crap. The young Flynn work was very good. In a lot of shots, he does look very, very lifelike. However, the uncanny valley is working against them. The most noticeable thing had to be mouth movement. It's as though his lips were pressed up against a pane of glass as he spoke. The big climactic moment with Clu getting sucked back into Flynn, yelling as he does so... that flat, semi-open scream just completely yanked me out of it. I wish the production had had more time/money/staff/whatever they needed to get Clu to look better. I feel like they could have. Tron, the character, was the briefest and coolest of any. "Flynn, GO!" echoed in my ears for days after my first viewing. The picking up of the red identity disc was a tad fanfilm/hero goes to the Dark Side for my taste, as we really don't get an explanation of what exactly happens to Tron between that scene and his fight with Sam. It is assumed he is run through the rectifier like so many programs, but obviously he's so different from Clu's legion of troops that there's something else going on here. Perhaps we'll get more on that in a sequel. Sam himself was a solid lead. He's a typical fatherless hero as far as movies go and he really is more of a visual presence than anything esoteric, but as a hero walking us through the story, he works well enough. Quorra is a bit different than I imagined. She's a bit more wide-eyed and naive, though in a way that makes her seem curious more than unintelligent. She obviously knows much about her world and how to survive in it, as the strong female lead should, but Wilde plays her in such a way that she seems very fragile also. Now that I'm thinking about it, Flynn also had something that took me out of the moment. "Man." I don't want to say that Flynn is a hippie, but he's definitely gone down some sort of techno-spiritual path in his 20 years (or however many it's been in Grid-time) that he was missing. A few moments he felt more like the man trying to be a savior to his people rather than the one who actually was. This might be unusual turf for Bridges to be playing on, but the role felt like something between 1982 Kevin Flynn and Jeffrey Lebowski, with touches of Gandalf for flare (Seriously, the sequence of him reabsorbing Clu? Total Gandalf). Just certain moments (mostly in action scenes) it felt like he didn't know quite how to carry himself, but for the moments he did nail, he nailed them hard. Beyond that, the world looked great. The glossy, CG-esque nature of the ship and world designs worked in their favor to help the digital sets, props and costumes feel natural against their practical counterparts. There were so many shots with different levels of integration that my CG detector shut off early on and I was able to sit back and just take in all the visuals without over-analyzing every frame. Also, the score from notable artists Daft Punk refuses to fade into the background, leaving a very distinct and memorable impression to accompany the nonstop visual feast. Overall, Tron: Legacy didn't have the strongest story of all the films released this summer, but it certainly is high on the list for the amount of heart behind it. It's a welcome continuation of a film that now finds itself in a budding franchise few hardcore fans, such as myself, ever expected to see. There is talk already of a trilogy set after the two films, as well as a TV series, not to mention the Tron: Evolution game (which I kick ASS at, btw. Seriously, find me on the Game Grid and you will see) and various types of merchandise. I think it's safe to say that we won't have to wait another 20 years for the sequel. End of line.