Wednesday, April 13, 2011

All the Geek's Men: 2011 Superhero Trailer Showdown

There's already been plenty written about the number of super hero movies arriving in theaters this year (one down - Green Hornet- and four to go at least). Obviously 2011 is going to be the year of Marvel and DC. And with no prominent sequels (well, not technically), all four of the major comic book movies on the horizon are all origin stories of sorts. So, with the summer movie season right around the corner, let's take a quick look at the four major super hero flicks coming our way over the next few months, and see why they look good, bad, just plain silly, or all of the above.

Thor (May 6) - dir. Kenneth Branagh:
No, you didn't read that wrong; Kenneth "Shakespeare addict" Branagh is in the director's chair for the film adaptation of Thor. Based loosely (very, very loosely) on characters from Norse mythology, Branagh's film follows the titular Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he is cast out of his world (Asgard) and into ours. And judging by the trailer, a great deal of when-worlds-collide mayhem ensues.

Why: Hemsworth may be a relative unknown, but he's surrounded by a impressive roster of cast mates, including Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgaard, Anthony Hopkins, Michelle Monaghan, and current good-God-she's-everywhere star Natalie Portman. Additionally, the effects and production values looks pretty solid, and the film seems to have a sense of humor, mostly courtesy of Dennings' quirky assistant.

Why Not: It seems to want to cram in an awful lot. The fight scenes in Thor's world look more interesting than those in our world, but they look like they might be the sort of thing that gets condensed into an opening montage or flashback. The second (and much better) trailer, makes the film look more epic, but some of the effects look a little lazy/unfinished (although that was in February). Also, with so much to cover (in terms of characters, story threads, and locations), one has to wonder if the film can do justice to everything it's trying to take on in its first installment (even with a 130 min run time).

Trailer Grade (1): B-/C+
Trailer Grade (2): B

X-Men: First Class (June 3) - dir. Matthew Vaughn:
After the, er, less-than-stellar film that was Wolverine, the X-Men franchise is jumping back to the 60s to tell the story of how Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) came to create his school for mutants, in turn making his best friend Eric/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) become his archenemy.

Why: Despite its big budget trappings, the cast is decidedly more indie/art house, with names like McAvoy, Fassbender, Rose Byrne, and Jennifer Lawrence. Even more encouraging is the presence of Matthew Vaughn, who was able to make dynamic and effective action sequences on a very small budget in Kick Ass.

Why Not: This is one of those sequels/prequels that makes me wonder if it really needs to exist. We know which characters (among the majors) will live, which could potentially kill any drive or tension in the story. There's also so many characters with special powers, and the film could have trouble giving each a moment to shine.

Trailer Grade: B/B-

Green Lantern (June 17) - dir. Martin Campbell:
The other green guy hitting theaters this year is the Green Lantern, a super hero who was always interesting (to me, at least) because he was part of a guild of heroes with the same powers. Usually heroes are stand alone or part of a group of diverse heroes (The Justice League, The Avengers, etc...). The hero here is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a test pilot who becomes part of the order of the Green Lanterns (probably not the official name) after a member crash-lands on earth and bequeaths his ring of power to him.

Why: Unfortunately, there aren't too many reasons why for this one. The main draw is simply the character himself, and a handful of decent look VFX action shots. The 100% motion capture suit/VFX suit gets points for originality and detail. That is except for...

Why Not: The face mask. Of all of the parts of Jordan's suit, the face mask looks too separate from Reynolds' face, and it hasn't improved from the first trailer to the Wonder Con footage. Also, Reynolds' main romantic interest, Blake Lively, manages to give a bad impression in her single line of dialogue ("This test,'s imPORtant!"). The overall effect looks only marginally better than the two Fantastic Four films.

Trailer Grade: C

Captain America (July 22) - dir. Joe Johnston:
You probably don't remember the Captain America movie from the 1990s, and there's a very good reason for that. In addition to looking extraordinarily cheap, it's also insanely awful. Suffice it to say that surpassing Hollywood's first attempt at this classic hero isn't going to be a Herculean task, not that Joe Johnston and crew shouldn't be trying.

Why: Of all of the superhero flicks coming out this summer, this is the one that - from its trailer - most thoroughly seems to immerse itself in its own world. Johnston's vision of the WW2-set origin tale has a touch of pulp adventure story to it, and it totally works. The production values have are somewhat cartoon-y, but also very lush and convincing. And even though Chris Evans may be the star, it's the supporting cast that's the real draw, namely Hugo Weaving as the Captain's archenemy, Red Skull.

Why Not: Joe Johnston's last film, The Wolfman, was also a lush looking period film, but that wasn't enough to make up for the director's (and writer's) failings. Also, in such a cynical time, will a hero who screams "AMERICA #1 ALL THE WAY!!!!" even from his costume even work, or will it just come off as laughably over-patriotic?

Trailer Grade: B/B+

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