Thursday, May 21, 2015


You may have heard about a new Supergirl TV show. If you haven't, then make sure to watch the trailer on YouTube (I think it shows a bit too much, but it looks good, anyway). But did you know that Supergirl once starred in a major motion picture more than 30 years ago?

Following the disaster of Superman III, the eccentric Salkind family, which own the movie rights to everything Superman, decided to try to revive the franchise with a Supergirl spinoff. Following the same formula of Superman: The Movie, the Salkinds went with an unknown to star in the lead — Helen Slater, who would later provide the voice of Talia Al-Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series. But, as with Superman, the top billing went to the villain, portrayed by a well-established Academy Award-winner — Faye Dunaway. And to round out the cast, the Salkinds chose one more big name to serve as the leader of an alien community — Peter O'Toole, who never won an Academy Award, but was nominated a record seven times for the Best Actor award.

Unfortunately, the Salkinds struck out on just about every other aspect of this movie. Christopher Reeve turned down an offer to cameo in this film, as did every other Superman character, except for the always-eager Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen). And despite his failure with the third film, the Salkinds actually wanted Richard Lester to return as director. But he wisely turned them down, leaving Jeannot Szwarc in charge, a Frenchman whose main claim to fame prior to this was Jaws 2. And, of course, John Williams did not return to write the score, giving the job to the accomplished Jerry Goldsmith, who actually did a fairly decent job here.

Supergirl was released in 1984 with a budget of $35 million. It only earned back $14 million and earned Golden Raspberry nominations for the most accomplished cast members — Dunaway (Worst Actress) and O'Toole (Worst Actor). The film currently holds a 7 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is all but forgotten and ignored by even the biggest Superman fans. So why is this movie so bad? Let's find out.

I always start each review by giving the movie a 5 out of 10, then adding or subtracting points along the way. But I dropped this movie's score down to a 0 rather quickly, and never had any reason to raise it back up. So I'll do my best to provide a synopsis for this mess of a film, and then I'll hit on my main complaints. Keep in mind, however, that this movie doesn't make one bit of sense, so my synopsis won't be very good.

We begin in Argo City, which is apparently a Kryptonian settlement in "inner space" (Earth and everything else is in outer space). Argo City is a bit more vibrant and alive than the Krypton we saw in Superman: The Movie, although it does feel rather hippie-ish — everyone's barefoot for some reason. The city's founder is Zaltar (Peter O'Toole), who is hanging out with Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater) and using some sort of magic wand to sculpt what he calls an Earth tree. I think he needs to work on his research, because his "tree" looks nothing like any tree I've ever seen.

Anyway, Zaltar then shows Kara the Omegahedron, a small, spinning, glowing sphere that is apparently one of two power sources for Argo City. Zaltar has taken this essential power source without permission in order to feel "inspired" as he creates his art. He uses the Omegahedron to make his "tree" slightly glow purple or whatever, and he explains to Kara that the Omegahedron can't actually make things come to life, but it can make things appear to be alive. He then creates a braclet for Kara and gives her the wand and sphere as he idly talks to her parents about his plans to visit Earth, or perhaps Saturn or Venus. Such a journey used to be impossible, but Zaltar points out a new spaceship he created that can make the trip.

Kara, meanwhile, spreads out on the ground like a child half her age and creates a dragonfly-like creature. She uses the Omegahedron to animate the insect, which begins flying around uncontrollably until it bursts through the thin membrane protecting Argo City. The Omegahedron is sucked out of the hole, and Kara almost is as well, but Zaltar saves her by patching up the hole with his wand. However, with the Omegahedron now lost to outer space, Argo City is doomed to die in a few days.

Without saying a word, Kara jumps into Zaltar's ship and takes off after the Omegahedron, and no one really tries to stop her. Zaltar explains to Kara's parents that she will survive the journey, but be forever changed. He, however, takes full responsibility for the catastrophe and basically volunteers to be sentenced to the Phantom Zone.

We then cut to Earth, where we meet Selena (Faye Dunaway), a witch-in-training, having a picnic on a tiger rug with her mentor/boyfriend Nigel the warlock. Just as Nigel complains that Selena is too impatient, the Omegahedron lands right in the middle of their picnic. Selena seizes the sphere, and instantly feels great power emanating from it. She proclaims this to be the key to unlocking her potential and takes off, leaving Nigel behind. As she drives away, the radio makes a quick announcement about Superman heading off on a peace-seeking mission in a galaxy a trillion miles away.

Kara then emerges from the lake a short time later, suddenly wearing her full Supergirl outfit for some reason. She is amazed to find she can crush rocks with ease, make flowers bloom with her ... heat vision? ... flower vision? ... and, most importantly, fly. And fly she does, performing aerial acrobatics Superman would never dream of attempting, and taking a quick tour around the world, becoming most interested a group of wild horses. After getting all that out of her system, she discovers her bracelet glows in proximity of the Omegahedron. But just her luck, the bracelet stops working when Selena places it in a strange dragon-shaped container for some reason. And would you know, that container just happens to be made of lead?

And now things really start to unravel. Supergirl's first night does not go well, as she has to fight off a couple of creepy truckers. But this one slightly dark moment is soon forgotten in this rather light-hearted and kid-friendly movie. Supergirl spends the night in the forest, literally sleeping next to a cute bunny rabbit. She's awoken by a nearby softball game being played by an all-girls school, to which Supergirl decides to join. She somehow transforms her super-outfit into a school uniform and makes her long blonde hair short and brown.

Kara visits the principal to enroll in the school, but he won't let her in without a letter of recommendation. Luckily, their meeting is interrupted by Nigel the warlock, who just happens to be a math teacher at the school, and is complaining about the poor behavior of the girls. The principal leaves with Nigel for just a minute, which is more than enough time for Supergirl to quickly type up a letter of recommendation from her cousin, Clark Kent, and sneak it into the principal's files. When he comes back, she tells him to check the K folder, and when he sees everything is in order, he leads "Linda Lee" to her room with Lucy Lane, who, you guessed it, is the never-before-mentioned little sister of Lois Lane. Lucy has a big poster of Superman, who Supergirl recognizes as her cousin. The two roommates talk about how they each have a family member working at the Daily Planet. Oh, and for added measure, Lucy happens to be dating Jimmy Olsen.

Oh, and as for Selena? She's set up base in an abandoned haunted house/amusement park with her ... friend? ... sister? All I know is she's a slow-witted lady who's supposed to be funny (the equivalent of Otis to Lex Luthor). Selena repeatedly talks of using the sphere for world domination, and she repeatedly shuns away Nigel, who tries to warn her of Supergirl's arrival and of meddling with objects beyond her understanding. But Selena's first priority is securing a boyfriend. She is smitten by the local gardner, whom all the school girls have a crush on because of his hunky looks and penchant for working without a shirt on.

For some reason, Selena decides to save the sphere's power and instead conjures a complicated and easily-failable spell to make the gardner, Ethan, fall in love with her. The spell will make him fall in love with the first person he sees, but it initially puts him into a strange trance, and he wanders away from Selena. Instead of chasing after him, she takes control of a bulldozer and tries to scoop him up. All this is happening in the middle of town, where Supergirl is out with Lucy, Jimmy and the gang at Popeye's Chicken. They all see the unmanned bulldozer running amok, and the only person who tries to stop it is Lucy. She jumps inside and tries to take control, but she is somehow knocked out. Jimmy may have taken a picture or two.

Finally, after standing idly by for far too long, Linda Lee sneaks off to the bathroom and emerges as Supergirl. But instead of helping her unconscious roommate, she saves the hunky boy, trapped inside the bulldozer's bucket. She rips the bucket off, and for some reason flies it rather far away. And for another unknown reason, she decides to turn back into schoolgirl Linda Lee before opening the bucket to save Ethan. And would you believe it, but Ethan spent all that time wandering around without seeing another soul until Linda. So he falls in love with her, which Selena sees through her magic mirror.

So Selena summons the "power of shadow," which conveniently happens to be an invisible monster. The monster is sent after Linda Lee, but is met and easily defeated by Supergirl. I think Selena then took the Omegahedron out of the dragon-box at this point for some reason, because Supergirl was finally able/willing to track it at that point. She follows the signal back to the abandoned amusement park, where Ethan also happens to be with chocolates and flowers, looking Linda there for some reason. And then ... ugh ... it just gets so stupid. I guess Supergirl and Selena get into a brief fight, but then stop for whatever reason.

When Selena realizes even the Omegahedron isn't powerful enough to defeat Supergirl, she reluctantly recruits Nigel, who provides her with a tribal wand that pure, unadulterated evil. Using the two devices together, Selena is able to get Ethan to fall in love with her, and banish Supergirl to the Phantom Zone (which Selena somehow knows all about). Supergirl goes flying away in the pane of glass just like General Zod. But after some time, she steps away from the glass to find a bleak, dark world where her powers don't work. After sitting and crying for some time, she falls into a tar pit, but is rescued by Zaltar.

However, Zaltar has quickly given up on life and become a drunken mess. In her most heroic moment of the movie, Supergirl shows Zaltar the error of his ways and convinces him to help her try to escape the Phantom Zone. And the escape turns out to be rather straightforward. They just have to crawl/climb up to the top of the cave or whatever. Sure, I guess it's kind of intense, with some sort of whirlwind, and Selena somehow manages to summon a few fireballs that completely miss her targets. Ultimately, Supergirl is able to escape, while Zaltar "tragically" falls to his death in the whirlwind.

Meanwhile, Selena finally got around to starting to take over the world, beginning with creating a gigantic mountain with a castle on it in the middle of the town. She also somehow takes control of the police. But several school girls, led by Lucy Lane, begin picketing against Selena, brandishing signs that say things like, "Dorm G Against Selena!" Selena sends the police after them, and Jimmy Olsen shows his heroic side by saying, "Uhh, Lucy? I don't think this is a good time to express yourself ..." and, "Hey! You can't arrest me! I'm Jimmy Olsen, a member of the press!" Selena then puts the two of them in round cages next to the betrayed Nigel, whom Selena cursed to wear slightly shabby clothing.

Supergirl then arrives for the final fight, and Selena once again summons the "power of shadow." I guess the enhanced magic of the evil wand helps, because this time we actually see the monster, which is a really crappy looking dragon. It attacks Supergirl and the screen gets all wonky and distorted, leading me to wonder whether this is a physical or psychological attack. Either way, Supergirl spends some time moaning and crying, and saying, "I can't! I can't!" She then hears Zaltar in her head, saying, "You can!" This gives her the confidence to ... I don't know ... create a big whirlwind that just ... sucked up Selena and her friend/sister who never did anything.

I honestly have no idea what happened (and I watched this twice), but somehow Supergirl caused the two bad guys to go away and the mountain and castle and everything vanishes. Nigel, however, gets off scot-free, despite actually playing a role on the wrong side of this event. Anyway, with the Omegahedron in hand, Supergirl says goodbye to Ethan, Lucy and Jimmy, and returns to her ship in the lake. She returns to Argo City in inner space as credits role, and I guess the lights grow a bit brighter, somehow implying that she may have saved her people.

So yeah, that's pretty much Supergirl. I did skip the really pointless scenes of Supergirl at school, learning she could suddenly solve complex math equations, and had a couple of random encounters with a bully, including one in the shower. And I'm sure there is a bunch of other stuff I'm missing, but it's all pretty stupid and pointless. So here are my top five complaints with the film:

1. Nothing makes sense.

They simply refuse to explain anything. We know that Zaltar created Argo City, but we don't know how or why. Was it related to the destruction of Krypton, or was that just a coincidence? And does Supergirl know that her cousin is not only on Earth, but is also both Superman and Clark Kent? And why did she become Supergirl in the first place? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. So many basic elements of this plot were presented without the slightest hint of explanation.

2. Supergirl is stupid.

I don't mean the concept of the character is a dumb one. I'm totally fine with the idea of there being a Supergirl in every media available. But in this movie, the character Kara Zor-El was presented as an idiotic simpleton. For some stretches on Earth, this makes a bit of sense as she's trying to adjust to Earth culture, and doesn't understand why girls pierce their ears and such. But in Argo City, her home, Kara should have appeared more intelligent. To put it bluntly, she basically acted like a special needs child. I don't want to offend anyone, but that was the impression I had. And throughout the whole movie, Supergirl very rarely displays any intelligence in a useful manner.

3. The villain is a witch.

Superman and magic rarely work. He, and his family of characters, are scientifically based. And the first three movies of this series understood that, using villains that had their roots in science, or the alien planet Superman is from. But in this movie, we are presented with an actual witch, who is able to conjure actual spells and demons. Her power did not derive from the alien technology of the Omegahedron like I initially suspected, but rather that scientific artifact was able to enhance her powers. But only so much. Ultimately, she needed to rely on an actual evil magic wand to truly threaten Supergirl. The problem here is that the audience was abruptly required to stretch their imagination in strange, new ways. Nothing magical had been previously established in this film series, so when it was suddenly introduced, it felt out of place and unsavory.

4. Awful special effects.

After helping the world believe a man could fly in the first Superman film, the Salkinds then did everything they could to make the world forget that in their following three films. Each subsequent installment had a lower budget and worse effects. And that problem could not have been more blatant here. Supergirl's big fight scenes involved invisible monsters and strange image distortions. And the flying looked so, so bad. It always looked like she was flying in front of a projection screen. And when we very first saw her as Supergirl, I swear I could see the wire lifting her out of the water. It really was that bad.

5. A serious lack of urgency.

Argo City allegedly could only survive for a couple of days without the Omegahedron. So Supergirl should have been quite focused on finding it, like searching non-stop for this device. Even when her convenient tracking bracelet conveniently fails to penetrate lead, she still should have been out looking for this life-saving power source. But she chose to just casually meander around Earth, fly with the horses, sleep with the bunnies, and for some bizarre reason, set up a secret identity at a girls school. Only after goofing off for quite some time does she eventually get around to saving her family and friends. And she's not the only one. Selena, who was initially described as impatient, puts off her plans of world domination for the majority of this movie, as she inexplicably devotes so much of her time and energy on this worthless gardner boy. Why isn't anyone focused in this movie?

In conclusion, this was a truly horrible film, and everyone is right to ignore it. I don't hate it as much as Superman III, which I believe created the greater sin, but this is every bit as bad. It was so bad, it caused the Salkinds to sell the movie rights to Superman, which turned out to be a good thing in the long run. And the good news for the Supergirl TV show is that this movie set the standard so low, that no matter what they do, it will be better than this disaster.

Final score: 0

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood came out in 2010, was directed by Brandon Vietti and stars the voices of Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Jensen Ackles (Red Hood), John DiMaggio (Joker) and Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing). The story is a retelling of the death and return of Jason Todd, the second Robin. The original story in the comics is very long, complicated, convoluted, and confusing. So how did this movie handle it? Let's find out by adding and taking away points as we (and I mean I) go through the film.

The first point I'll add is for John DiMaggio's portrayal as the Joker. I know that Mark Hamill is the definitive voice of the Joker, but he can't and shouldn't voice him in every single movie. DiMaggio's gruff style was absolutely perfect for the tone of this film and the Joker's character design. This is a Joker with a little meat on his bones — someone who's capable of beating Robin to death with a crowbar and take a pretty mean beating at the end of the movie. I don't think anyone could have done a better job than DiMaggio with this Joker.

I'll then raise the score to a 7 for the simplification of Jason Todd's death. In the comics, this was a long, sprawling stupid tale of Jason searching for his mother. He narrowed it down to three possibilities, all of whom happened to be in the Middle East. And when he finally meets his real mom, it turns out she's working with the Joker, but then the Joker betrays her, and it's a big, long, unnecessarily dumb mess. This movie wisely cut out all that crap, focusing only on the essentials. And not only that, but they did a great job with the death scene itself. It had just the right amount of violence without becoming too gruesome.

Now I have to take away a point for the dialogue during the Amazo fight. Neil Patrick Harris was a great choice as Nightwing, but everything he said here was so, so stupid. When they first see Amazo, Batman explains it has the ability to mimic the powers of super humans, to which Nightwing asks, "What kind of super humans?" What kind of a question is that? What do you think, Nightwing? He also kept reacting to everything Batman did like he'd never worked with him before. But in case there was any confusion, a random thug on the street is able to explain everything: "That's Nightwing ... the first Robin." How does this guy know that?! It's odd that such a strong movie would have one scene filled entirely with forced, unnatural and expositional dialogue.

But I will bring the score back up to a 7 for the great flashback montage of Jason Todd's career as Robin. We got to see all the different costumes, and, more importantly, witness Jason become more and more violent with each passing year. This, like so much of this movie, was simple and effective.

Now I have to go back down a point because of all the out-of-place villains. This is a Batman story, so Joker, Ra's al Ghul, the Black Mask and a Riddler cameo are all welcome and wonderful. Amazo was pushing it, and the cybernetic ninjas went over the edge. What the heck were these things? How did they work? And why did the filmmakers feel the need to include some shiny lasers and lightsaber-esque swordplay? Keep the story grounded and realistic. That's when Batman's at his best.

As I said earlier, one of the great strengths of this film is its simple and effective moments. One particularly subdued, yet impactful moments was Alfred dropping his tray when he learned Jason Todd was alive. They didn't over do it, which is what makes it so great. We're at a 7 again.

And now we're at an 8 for the fantastic scene of Joker killing Black Mask's men. He quietly asks for a drink of water, then suddenly, quickly and efficiently uses that glass to prove that he is the biggest bad there is. Add on top DiMaggio's casual and laughing nature about the whole thing, and you've got a nice little masterpiece of a scene.

The best solution is always the simplest one. When DC wanted to resurrect Jason Todd, they did so in an extremely sloppy way. It involved an alternate version of Superboy punching a hole in the wall of reality. This caused Jason to wake up in his grave, somehow break through the coffin and dig through six feet of dirt. That was stupid. The greatest achievement of this film is that it helped us all forget that. Ra's al Ghul and his Lazarus Pits are already well established and accepted within the Batman universe. Having Ra's revive Jason is perfectly in line with his character and is a much more natural fit as a Batman story. I don't mind stories with alternate realities and whatnot, but those type of stories don't work well with Batman. This version does work, so I'll raise the score another point.

Sadly, this movie doesn't end on a high note. These filmmakers unwisely outdid themselves in earlier action scenes with Amazo and the cybernetic ninjas. So when they got down to the climax between three non-superpowered individuals — Batman, Red Hood and Joker — they had to take things to unrealistic extremes to seem better than what they'd done before. The fighting gets really over-the-top at the end with people being punched through walls and shattering toilets with faces. Try to smash your face into your toilet. No matter how hard you do it, you're not going to shatter that toilet without first shattering your skull. And then to top matters off, we have Batman dodging bullets. They went to great pains to show in slow motion that the gun was fired before Batman even started to move. Superman can do that. The Flash can do that. Batman cannot do that. So I have to regretfully dock this otherwise great movie a final point.

Final score: 8

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Planet Hulk

Planet Hulk came out in 2010, directed by Sam Liu and starring Rick D. Wasserman as the Hulk, Lisa Ann Beley as his girlfriend Caiera, and Mark Hildreth as the Red King. This movie is based off one of the few Hulk stories I've read, which shares the same name. Sadly, the balance of the story, World War Hulk, was not adapted into a sequel for this movie.

At first, I was skeptical with how good a Hulk story could be without Bruce Banner. But the comic managed to pull it off, giving me hope for the movie. I was also happy to see the animation was a step up from some of the earlier Marvel animated films. So let's see what my final verdict here. As a reminder, I start with a score of 5 out of 10 then add and subtract points throughout the movie.

I have to take a point off for the disappointing beginning. In the comic, the all-powerful team called the Illuminati decide to send Hulk to a different world after a particularly bad rampage. That pretty much happens here, except we don't get to see the whole Illuminati. Iron Man and Dr. Strange are clearly visible, but the other two — Mr. Fantastic and Professor Xavier — are reduced to ambiguous shadows that may or may not be those heroes. This isn't the movie's fault — it's Marvel's fault for splintering its properties and killing its strong sense of shared continuity for all movies. However, it is this movie's fault for not giving us a compelling reason to send Hulk into space in the first place. Iron Man (played again by the lackluster Marc Worden) gives a very dry monologue, briefly describing Hulk's powers in the broadest of terms but not fully explaining why the Hulk could not live on Earth anymore. I know this movie had a lot of story to get through in a short amount of time, but I think they could have used the opening credit sequence to show the Hulk destroying New York or something like that.

But I will bring the score back to a 5 for the strong sci-fi world this film portrays. I love the religion, the corrupt government, the gladiator arena, the variety of alien races and even simple things, like the talkbots. What a quick and simple way to explain why everyone is speaking English. This movie almost can stand alone as a great science fiction story without any connection to the Marvel universe. However, I wouldn't be reviewing it if it wasn't connected to Marvel.

I'll add another point for the great action scenes here. The fighting was captivating, the animation was stellar, and the violence took full advantage of the PG-13 rating. I particularly like the bug people being squished like bugs, and one of them had his eyeballs squeezed out of his head. It was a bit gruesome, but not as disturbing as it could have been. The violence and action enhanced the movie, giving it the gritty edge the story demanded.

Now it's time to bring the score back down to a 5 for the mistreatment of my favorite character from the comic, Miek. As his name implies, he is a meek, small bug man. But he undergoes the largest transformation in the story, literally growing into a larger insect toward the end. He also became the Hulk's most devoted follower, carrying that devotion to the point of fanaticism. And it was Miek who set up the events in World War Hulk because he felt the demands of justice had not been met. All this was taken out for time constraints (and most of it would have come in the nonexistent sequel, anyway). But the little we did get of Miek in this movie was quite frustrating to me. During the scene when each of the gladiators tells their story, Miek tries to tell his story three times, but constantly gets cut off. Why won't anyone let him tell his story?

I will give a point for the spikes. They are great. A little like deadly, parasitic aliens, and a little like zombies, they were a truly frightening threat. And it was quite traumatic watching a young Caiera have to kill her infected family, including her younger sister in her arms.

But now I have to take a point off for the biggest complaint of the film — replacing Silver Surfer with Beta Ray Bill. Again, this is a result of Marvel giving the rights of Silver Surfer to a different company, but in this case, they really needed to work out some kind of deal. Because Beta Ray Bill, the odd horse-Thor, is a poor substitute for one of Marvel's most powerful beings, the Silver Surfer. The scene didn't have near the impact it did in the comics.

Well, that's enough negativity. The score rises to a 6 for the Red King. He is a wonderful villain, maliciously ordering the gladiators to kill their friend and, even worse, engineering the threat of the spikes to set himself up as a hero. I loved his giant gold armor, his attitude, his voice, everything. And his death was satisfying. All in all, everything I want from a villain.

And I'll add one final point for the most tragic scene in the movie — a young girl disintegrating in Caiera's arms. That poor woman is just destined to have children die in her arms. But it was a captivating visual and an emotionally touching scene, lending this story more depth than one might normally expect from an Incredible Hulk story. Yeah, we sacrificed the classic conflict with Bruce Banner and his inner monster, but we got something entirely different and wonderful with this story.

All in all, Planet Hulk is a very good movie. With a few adjustments it could have been a truly great movie. And if Marvel would have made World War Hulk as a direct sequel, with the same animation and voices, that would have been a great movie as well.

Final score: 7

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Wolverine

Almost a year ago, Marvel released The Wolverine, something of a makeup for the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Hugh Jackman once again reprised the role that made him famous, and director James Mangold surrounded him with an almost entirely Japanese cast. Surprisingly, this movie attempted to continue the already convoluted X-Men movie continuity by taking place after X-Men: The Last Stand.

I'll start by adding a point for the captivating opening of this film. I loved seeing Wolverine during World War II — at Nagasaki, no less. It's about time we saw some of Wolverine's past adventures not in a montage.

And I'll raise the score to a 7 for this lovable, charming hermit Wolverine. It makes sense that he would want to retire from all civilization after a lifetime of wars culminating in him having to murder his girlfriend, Jean Grey. And the bits with Wolverine, the bear and the hunters were great. And it was really funny, too. That's one advantage of having Jackman play this character for so long — he knows how to inject just the right amount of humor without overdoing it.

I've heard there are some epic Wolverine stories that take place in Japan, but I've never read them. However, I will add another point for putting this movie in Japan. We got to see a lot of both traditional Japan and modern Japan. And I think both are fascinating, visually appealing places. I also enjoyed how this movie followed the same subtitle practice used on the TV show Lost. Whenever Wolverine was around and not understanding what anybody was saying, we weren't given any subtitles. It sometimes made following the story difficult, especially with all the foreign names, but I don't mind having to work a little to understand the story.

My first deduction will be for the ridiculous fight on the train. Wolverine is fighting normal humans — ninjas, but not mutants — and they are somehow able to stay on top of a bullet train moving 300 mph by jamming their knives into the roof. No. Wolverine can do that, sure. But not these guys. Or maybe you could show them try, but then fail. But no, this scene just went on and on and on with these ninjas jumping and stabbing the train and crawling on its roof. Just too much for me.

I'll take the score down to a 6 for Wolverine sleeping with Mariko. I don't care if she was his girlfriend in the comics. In this movie, it feels completely out of place. Wolverine looks old enough to be her dad, and he's spent all movie talking about saving her grandfather. Plus, he's been having nightly dreams with Jean. Everything about him sleeping with Mariko felt creepy and wrong.

But I will bring the score back up to a 7 for the intricate plot. We've got ninjas, double betrayals, corrupt politicians and family members. It's all really great. Now let's add on to that an injured and very angry Wolverine. We've rarely seen him actually kill anybody, and it was actually kind of refreshing.

Yashida is an interesting character, but his ultimate plan really fell apart at the end. Ultimately, he wanted Wolverine's healing factor so he could live forever. It took him a year to track Wolverine down and get him to Japan. He made his proposal, which was a fairly convincing argument. Wolverine naturally refused at first, but then he slept on it and had a dream with Jean, and I think he was leaning toward taking Yashida's offer. But instead of waiting for Wolverine to change his mind, Yashida immediately enacted Plan B, which involved faking his death and retreating to a giant samurai suit made of adamantium. That was just too much for me. Minus one point.

And now we fall down to a perfectly average 5 for the disappointing character of Viper. I really liked her showing up to the funeral in a glittery gold dress and happily recording all the fighting with her iPhone. I was really disappointed to find out she was a mutant, but this is an X-Men movie, so I guess  we need at least one mutant for Wolverine to fight. But what really made me mad was how disappointing her mutant powers turned out to be. I was fine with her simply manipulating poisons, but then she got shot and dramatically shed her skin. That was kind of exciting, and I was hoping to see some hideous snake creature underneath. But no. She ripped off her skin to reveal ... the exact same person underneath. Oh, and she lost her hair. Big whoop.

Now, if the movie ended there, this would simply be an average superhero movie, which is more than several X-Men films can say. But this movie doesn't end here. As is the case with all good Marvel films, we have a mid-credit scene, which is by far the best mid- or post-credit scene I've ever seen. Sure, seeing Samuel L. Jackson introduce himself as Nick Fury was pretty neat. But seeing Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return as Magneto and Professor X was infinitely more exciting. I had forgotten how fun it was to have those two together on the big screen. This was the perfect tease to X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Final score: 6

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Man of Steel

I've attempted to write this review several times, but it always felt too soon for me. I needed more time, more distance away from my emotional highs and lows and the overwhelmingly positive and negative reviews. And now, a little more than a year later, I finally feel like I'm removed enough to give this movie a mostly objective review.

Man of Steel is a reboot to the Superman franchise, which had been absent for seven years due to the lackluster response from Superman Returns, a film that I thoroughly enjoyed, despite its many faults. However, I did admit that it was time to do something new with the character. And I was very excited for this movie. But, for better and worse, almost everything we see in Man of Steel is in response to Superman Returns.

Zack Snyder, who had previously directed the film adaptation of DC's beloved Watchmen, was chosen as the director. Christopher Nolan was probably DC's first choice, since he had made three practically perfect and enormously profitable Batman films. Nolan opted out of the director's chair, but he was one of the producers and did help with the story. Henry Cavill, who, despite not being American, was cast again as Superman, having previously been chosen to play the character in one of the many failed Superman projects along the way. Amy Adams, who I knew best from The Muppets, was chosen as the new Lois Lane. And Michael Shannon had the unenviable role of following Terrence Stamp as General Zod.

As you might remember, I start off every review with a score of 5 out of 10. Then I add and take away points throughout the movie. And I'll immediately grant a point for this version of Krypton. Previously, the Krypton seen in the movies was intentionally cold and dead so that the viewers wouldn't feel too sad when it exploded. This movie took the opposite approach, giving us a colorful, lively planet with animals and monsters and incredible technology. But at the same time, there was this gray, hazy mist hovering over everything, helping add to the inevitability of the planet's demise. And I also liked how this movie took a page from Superman: The Animated Series by making Jor-El (Russell Crowe) an action hero. It makes sense that the father of the world's greatest hero was something of a hero himself. I thoroughly enjoyed everything Jor-El did here, including his dragon, war suit, his attitudes and intentions.

I have to admit that I was disappointed when I heard General Zod would be the villain. I was craving Brainiac or Darkseid. But it didn't take long for Michael Shannon to win me over. He actually feels like a real general with his short haircut, militaristic mannerisms and speech, and the fact that he had more than two followers. But what really got to me was how sympathetic of a character he was. True, he was a radical, but he ultimately only wanted to save his planet. I liked how he and Jor-El were once friends, and both agreed that Krypton would die soon. They just stood on opposite views of how to save it. This movie did a good job of making me feel bad for Zod, but not to the extent that I ever stopped wanting someone to defeat him. And for Zod, I will raise the score to 7.

It was an interesting choice of the movie to skip the scene of the rocket landing. It's an essential and interesting moment of Superman's origin, but it can be tedious. Especially when most of the audience already knows the basics. Instead, this movie opted to give us Clark's childhood in a series of flashbacks, which probably allowed them to show us more than they could have otherwise. It also helped that each of the flashbacks were powerful moments, played by great child actors who looked astonishingly exactly like Henry Cavill. And I'll add a point for the first flashback, which showed a young Clark struggling with advanced hearing and vision. In the previous movies, what little we saw of a young Clark showed him depressed with his inability to openly show his strength — and we get plenty of that here, too — but we didn't have any mention of what a physical and mental toll having those powers can be for a little kid.

I'll now raise the score to a 9 for the next big flashback, in which Clark saves his school bus and is spotted doing it. Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) kind of scolds Clark for this, to which Clark asks if he should have let all those people die. Jonathan says, "Maybe." Now, a lot of people took issue with comment, but I think they jumped the gun a little bit, interpreting that "maybe" to be a "yes," and not waiting for Jonathan to finish his thought. I think he thoroughly explained and justified himself, by saying that the world is not ready to accept an alien in its midst. And neither is he nor Clark. He then shows Clark the spaceship, and the poor boy immediately asks, "Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?" What a heart-breaking moment! How could anyone call Jonathan Kent callus after that? He only wants what's best for his son and the rest of the world. He might be wrong by having Clark suppress his powers, but his intentions are pure.

Now for the first time in this movie, I have to take a point off. This is for Clark destroying a man's semi truck after he poured a pitcher of beer on him. Yeah, that guy was a big jerk, and it was a pretty funny visual (in a movie with very little humor). But the whole thing felt very against Clark's character. I thought he was living this nomadic lifestyle to help people — while also searching for his identity. I don't care how much beer that guy pours on you, that is no justification to destroy a truck that likely belongs to a company — an innocent victim in all this. I wish Clark could have gotten his revenge in a less dramatic way. Or, better yet, not get revenge at all. Just turn the other cheek and walk away. This movie doesn't shy away from the Superman-Christ parallels, so why not have Clark act just a little more Christ-like?

But I will add a point for Clark's introduction to Lois Lane. Not only is this a great version of the character, but I really enjoyed the mystery that brought them together — an ancient Kryptonian ship that sort of became Superman's new Fortress of Solitude. And the best part of this scene was Clark's simple line: "I can do things that other people can't." That has to rank as one of the all-time most perfect Superman lines of all time. It actually reminds me a bit of 1938's Action Comics #1, when Superman told Lois that needn't be afraid of him. This is essential Superman here.

The score falls back down to an 8, though, with the absence of Kal-El's mom, Lara. It was great and wonderful to see Jor-El return, but if he was able to put his consciousness in that crystal, then why couldn't Lara? I think this scene could have played just as well with both of Kal's parents telling him the history of Krypton. This movie had the opportunity to give the largely ignored Lara some love, but it sadly chose not to.

After Clark meets his dad, he gets his suit and begins to learn to fly. And it is magical. Hans Zimmer's score is intentionally different from John Williams' classic march, and it fits this movie perfectly. While not necessarily as triumphant as Williams', it is still very inspiring, as is this whole movie. It's not as happy and gleeful as the previous Superman films, but it is still an inspiring, and most of all, realistic movie. This was the first time we saw Superman creating a sonic boom with his flight, and it was incredible. I loved everything about this scene from the costume to the broad smile on Clark's face. This is one of the few moments in the movie where you can just sit back and have fun, and it is precious. We're back to a 9 now.

The film becomes a perfect 10 with the jaw-dropping scene of Jonathan Kent choosing to die rather than risk exposing Clark's powers. Now, it is highly illogical for someone to risk their life like that for a dog, and you could argue against Jonathan's logic of telling Clark to stay put. But this goes back to the school bus scene. Jonathan was so worried about creating mass hysteria with the revelation of a super-powered alien, and the possibility of Clark being taken away by the government or worse. He placed the secrecy of Clark's powers at a higher priority than even his own life, and you may disagree with his reasoning, but you can't say that was not a powerful moment in the movie. And tying it all together is Clark telling this story to Lois Lane to show how important his secrecy is. And to Lois' credit, she honors his wishes and tries to kill the story. But it's too late by then.

What drops the score back down to a 9 may seem like an odd, contradictory point by me, but hear me out. I don't like that the "S" stands for hope. Originally, it was intended to just be the letter "S" for Superman and nothing more. But later, as the "S" grew more stylized, creators began playing with the idea of it being a completely different symbol that just happened to look like an "S." This was popularized in Superman: The Movie, which made the "S" the symbol of the House of El. I don't mind that so much, but over time, it has felt like many creators are uncomfortable with the idea of Superman naming himself such. And that idea is especially apparent in this movie, which only dares to whisper the name of Superman once or twice. I would much prefer to have Superman come out and boldly proclaim himself as the savior of the world. Superman is a type of Christ and Moses, and both of them did not shy away from announcing their divine callings to the world. It's not a lack of humility to say the truth. This might seem like an odd complaint, but it really contributes to the rather dour mood this movie spends so much time in. And it really could have used some more brightness.

And I'm going to take another point off for a rather confusing bit of darkness. When Clark visits Zod's ship, Zod communicates to him through — for lack of a better word — a dream. It's unclear whether the images were projected by Zod's thoughts or Clark's, but Zod's intent was to convince Clark to help rebuild Krypton. But instead of showing him the greatness of the lost race, Zod shows him the pile of human skulls the new Krypton will be built upon. Or maybe he didn't. Maybe Clark just imagined it. Either way, it was quite confusing and melodramatic when he sank into the skulls screaming. I think we could have conveyed this information without being so over the top.

Now on to something positive. The action scenes were amazing. Superman has never moved so fast and so powerful. And very realistic, too. I also loved the militaristic precision of Zod's army. And it was so refreshing for Superman to finally have somebody to punch. That was one of the biggest complaints against Superman Returns, and Man of Steel made sure we were never wanting for action. I have heard some people complain that Superman didn't take the fights to more remote areas to protect civilians. But I think these people are forgetting that this is a Superman just beginning his career as a superhero — he just barely learned how to fly. And I never saw an opportunity for him to take the fight out of the city. And I actually liked putting civilians at risk. More so than in any other Superman movie, I truly feared for the fate of the world. Buildings were collapsing, trains were exploding, and people were dying. The score's back up to a 9 now.

And I'll bring the movie back to a 10 for being the first Superman story I've seen that gave me a good reason for Superman falling in love with Lois. She tracked him down, learned all his secrets, and respected him. She then joined on the wild adventure, and proved she can keep up with him. She's one of the only people who understands Clark, and when they kiss at the end, it is deserved. I enjoy this romance so much more than in previous stories. And I'm so happy we don't have to suffer through watching Lois try to figure out Superman's secret identity.

Sadly, I can't leave this movie at a perfect score, and that's because of the most controversial moment of the whole film — the death of General Zod. When I saw this in the theater, a couple of people sitting in front of me stood up and left immediately after Superman killed Zod. This really altered my perception of the movie, but ultimately, and now a year later, I think it was the right thing for Superman to kill Zod. Playing off the Moses analogy, let's not forget that before Moses became a prophet, he did kill a man to save another. That action forced him to retreat to the wilderness, where he met God and became the great hero of the Israelite nation. Perhaps this is the big event that Clark needed to truly become Superman. So if I like the death scene, then why am I taking a point off? Well, that's for what immediately follows. Superman screams, and is comforted by Lois, and I wish we would have dwelled on them just a bit longer. Because suddenly, we were thrown into a rather goofy scene of the Army general calling Superman "effing stupid" for destroying a $12 million drone and the female captain blushing because Superman is "kinda hot." We needed time to process the death of Zod. We also did need to end with some lightness, but not so soon. And this scene ultimately did more harm than good, leaving a rather bad taste in many people's mouths.

But all in all, this was an amazing film. And to my own surprise, I actually like it more now than I did a year ago. I think I was initially a bit disappointed because I didn't get the movie I'd expected to see. But with some time and distance, I've grown to appreciate this movie for what it is, and not criticize it for what it is not. Yes, this is a darker, drearier Superman than we're accustomed to. But it's also a more realistic and exciting Superman than we've ever seen before. And hopefully, if Warner Bros. play their cards right, this will be the beginning of new movie franchise more spectacular than anything the Avengers could have ever hoped for.

Final score: 9 out of 10

Monday, April 21, 2014

The end of Tyrone Corbin

After three and a half miserable seasons, the Utah Jazz have finally let Tyrone Corbin go as head coach. I feel relieved for the Jazz — it's felt like we've just been spinning our wheels the whole time he was here. But I do feel a little bad for Corbin, since he is genuinely a nice guy. I only met him once, but he made an impression on me. Really good guys like that are a rarity in this field. But in the cutthroat business of the NBA, you can't keep a guy around just because he's really nice. You've got to perform, and Corbin certainly underachieved. To Utah's credit, they let him go in the nicest way possible. They simply waited for his contract to expire, then chose not to renew it.

Corbin's surprise hiring as head coach in Feb. 2011 came during one of the most tumultuous time in recent Jazz history. Kevin O'Connor's carefully constructed team had collapsed under its own weight, and the drama and egos of certain players (including but not limited to Deron Williams) had become too much for Jerry Sloan to bear. Had Larry H. Miller not died in 2009, I believe he could have sorted this out. But instead, this problem fell into the lap of Miller's son, Greg, who was unable to persuade Sloan to stay.

Since Sloan's top assistant, Phil Johnson, decided to retire with him, the Jazz decided to go with the No. 3 guy, Tyrone Corbin. He had been an assistant coach in Utah since 2004, and by 2011 had built up a bit of a reputation for himself, and I occasionally heard his name come up as a candidate for other coaching positions around the league. But it still was a bit of a surprise for him to replace Sloan so suddenly. Or rather, it was surprising that he wasn't first named interim coach, but immediately promoted to head coach and given an extension as soon as possible. I suppose Miller wanted to promote stability, but I think it would have been better to take some time to find the best possible candidate.

I know a player's career is not indicative of his coaching career, but just for fun, here's Corbin's playing resume: He spent four years with DePaul, and averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game his senior year. He was then drafted in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs with the 35th pick in 1985. He only played 15 games his rookie season, and was cut 31 games into his second. Corbin then signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the next year, he was included in the trade that sent Kevin Johnson to Phoenix for Larry Nance.

The 1988-89 season was the first full season Corbin spent with one team, and he even started 30 games for the Suns, averaging 8.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg. But then Phoenix left him exposed to the expansion draft, and he was picked up by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Corbin spent two and half seasons in Minnesota, putting up the best numbers of his career for those terrible teams. In 1990-91, he started all 82 games and averaged 18.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 4.2 apg. He also became the first Timberwolf to record a triple-double. But the next season, he was traded to the Utah Jazz for Thurl Bailey.

That trade wasn't very popular at the time, since Big T was popular among fans and teammates. John Stockton even expressed his disappointed of this trade in his autobiography. But the Jazz had more need of a small forward than another power forward, so the trade made sense. Corbin only spent two and a half years in Utah, peaking in 1992-93 with 11.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg. In 1993-94, the emergence of Bryon Russell relegated Corbin to the bench, and the next year, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Adam Keefe. Keefe never put up big numbers, but he was an important role player on the Jazz teams that made the Finals, and at least Stockton and Jeff Hornacek have publicly named him as one of their favorite teammates because he set great screens and always boxed out. Most people remember Corbin's playing days in Utah for his milk commercials.

Corbin only spent one year with Atlanta before being traded to the Sacramento Kings for Spud Webb. Half a season later, he and Walt Williams were traded to to the Miami Heat for Kevin Gamble and Billy Owens. Miami cut him after 22 games, and he signed with Atlanta, where he enjoyed the longest uninterrupted stretch of his career with one team — three full seasons. Combining his previous stint with the Hawks, Corbin played 277 games in Atlanta — more than he played anywhere else. His second longest tenure was with the Jazz at 233 games, although he played more playoff games with Utah, 37 to 26.

In 1999, Corbin was waived by the Hawks, and he signed a one-year deal with Sacramento. For the first time in his career, his tenure with a team didn't end by being cut or traded. After his second stint with the Kings ended, he signed with the Toronto Raptors in 2000. But he only played 15 games with them before he was included in the trade that sent Corliss Williamson to the Detroit Pistons for Jerome Williams. He was promptly cut by the Pistons and never played another NBA game.

So all in all, that was 16 years, 1,065 games and a career average of 9.2 ppg. That's nothing to sneeze at. I'd absolutely love to have a career like that. But then again, he was traded six times and waived three times. That's a lot of bouncing around and can't be too enjoyable. After retiring in 2001, he took a couple of years off before joining the Jazz bench in 2004, where he remained for 10 years. But now that's over, and to determine why, here's a quick look at his head coaching career:

When Corbin took over in Feb. 2011, the Jazz had a 31-23 record. Corbin finished the year 8-20 and the Jazz missed the playoffs, ending a four-year streak. Of course, that's not entirely Corbin's fault. The team was in complete disarray after Sloan's abrupt departure, and Deron Williams was immediately traded after Corbin took over. It would have been quite unrealistic for anybody to succeed in a situation full of so much internal and external turmoil.

Unfortunately, the fates conspired again against Corbin to mess up his first full season as head coach with the NBA lockout. Missing training camp and playing a condensed 66-game schedule was not good for him, but he managed to guide the Jazz to a 36-30 record and sneak into the playoffs. The Jazz were promptly swept by the Spurs, losing each game by an average of 16 points. On one hand, Corbin deserves some credit for achieving that much success through all the adversity; on the other hand, I feel like he underachieved a bit with that roster. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson could have been the best front court in the league, and Devin Harris seemed like he could have been a competent point guard to guide that team. But none of that potential was realized. That season was also highlighted by the failed Josh Howard experiment and Raja Bell getting into a fight with Corbin. A rather shaky start for our new coach, but most people were willing to give him one more year. Perhaps a full regular season would give us a good idea of what kind of a coach he was.

The 2012-13 season was just that. That playoff roster remained largely unchanged expect Harris was swapped out for Mo Williams and Howard for Marvin Williams. Yeah, Marvin is a pretty terrible player, and Mo only played in 46 games because of injuries, but I still expected more from this team. Jefferson, Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Randy Foye, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks should have been able to win more than 43 games, which in the West, kept the Jazz out of the playoffs. Jefferson had his least productive year in Utah with 17.8 ppg and 9.2 rpg, and Millsap had his worst year as a starter with 14.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg. It was a very difficult season to suffer through, but it only got worse the next year.

New general manager Dennis Lindsey made the right choice to let all the veterans from that disappointing team leave. I would have liked to have seen him get something in return for Jefferson and Millsap, but the important thing was to clear space for the talented young lottery picks to develop. And to help with the rebuilding process, Lindsey traded for all of Golden State's garbage players to fill up the salary cap. Unfortunately, Corbin took a liking to one of those garbage players, Richard Jefferson, and decided to make him a regular starter. Jefferson even openly talked about leaving the Jazz as soon as he could to join a contender, yet Corbin kept right on starting him and letting him steal minutes away from developing youngsters on the bench.

The most frustrating thing about this season was Corbin's reluctance to use a lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. He finally went to it for the last three or four games, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why it took so long. He wasn't winning in the present, so why didn't he focus completely on the future? Was it that important to help Richard Jefferson get a new contract next year? Would the Jazz really have lost more than 57 games had Enes Kanter started more? And you know what? Losing a few more games actually would have been pretty nice! When your season is a lost cause anyway, you might as well lose as much as you can to get a better draft pick. There really is nothing wrong with tanking.

And even though this was a rebuilding year for the Jazz, Corbin still could have found a way to succeed. On paper, I believe the Jazz have a better roster than the Suns. But Jeff Hornacek found a way to maximize their potential, and he almost took Phoenix to the playoffs (they would have been the third seed in the East). Another interesting thing is to look at the fates of the big three veterans that left the Jazz last year — Mo Williams, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. They all made the playoffs, Millsap was an All-Star, Jefferson might make the All-NBA Third Team, and Williams reinvented himself as a valuable sixth man. During Jerry Sloan's run, players that left the Jazz usually performed worse on their new teams. I'm talking about Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, and even Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Sloan was able to make players better. Under Corbin, players started to get worse, and then got better after they left.

So now I can finally breathe with Tyrone Corbin gone. This was the best move for the Jazz, and maybe the best move for Corbin. Perhaps he was only ever destined to be a good assistant coach, and there's nothing wrong with that. In the meantime, I can now hope the Jazz will get somebody good with their high draft pick, find a coach who can do for Utah what Hornacek did for Phoenix, and I can finally start rooting for my team to win again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Iron Man 3

So I've been putting off this review for a long time, but I think it's nice to have some distance between the initial hype of the movie. Iron Man 3 came out almost a full year ago, in May 2013. It returns Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle as Rhodey. New are Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley as the bad guys, and director Shane Black, who had previously directed only one other movie, something called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

This Iron Man movie follows two incredible Iron Man movies and the enormously successful Avengers movie. Marvel had been carefully building up their movie universe for this shared continuity world, and now that we're in the post-Avengers world, what would these movies look like? And how would these movies feel under the increased supervision of Disney? It came as no surprise that this movie grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, but does that mean this movie is any good?

I'll start by giving a point for the opening scene. It was great to start in 1999 with "I'm Blue" blasting away. Pre-Iron Man Tony Stark is a wonderful character, and the more we get of him the better. Plus, we got a fun quick cameo by the kindly heart surgeon who saved Tony's life after the accident. It would have been great to have also seen Pepper in 1999, but that probably would have been asking too much.

I'll raise the score to a 7 for the Mandarin's terrorist videos. The Mandarin used to be Iron Man's biggest villain, but has kind of grown out of favor lately because of his magical powers and potential racial undertones. But they had to use him in an Iron Man movie. He just needed a bit of cleaning up. And making him an Osama bin Laden figure was perfect. And getting Academy Award-winning Ben Kingsley to play him was even more perfect. These Mandarin videos were creepy and gripping.

Now I have to take a point off for the renaming of War Machine to Iron Patriot. There was absolutely no reason for this to happen other than giving the fan boys something to squeal about. "Ooo, Iron Patriot! He's from the comics!" But 90% of those fan boys know that Iron Patriot is actually a completely different character in completely different circumstances in a different and interesting story. Now that story is completely blocked off just because Marvel decided to randomly throw that name out.

I did, however, enjoy Tony's panic attacks. When you think about it, he really did have quite a traumatic experience in The Avengers. He battled an alien invasion, grabbed a nuclear warhead, and flew it into a different dimension, where he thought he was going to die. That's more than enough to mess with somebody's head — especially somebody who had previously only battled other people in suits just like the one he built. So I'll bring the score back up to a 7.

Now we begin the downward slope. I was very sad with what happened to Happy. He was played by Jon Favreau, who directed the first Iron Man movie, launching this whole movie empire. Sadly, he did not direct this one, and was relegated to a strange, annoying role that I guess was supposed to be funny, but really wasn't. He was then attacked, and it seemed like he was going to die. But for some reason, he didn't. Even though Tony kind of freaked out like he had died. Was he originally written to die in the script but Disney came in and said that's too dark? I don't really want to be making accusations like that and blame all the faults of this movie on the family-friendly Disney, but it really makes me wonder. Ultimately, to me, this movie felt like Happy needed to die. But he didn't. So I'll drop the score to a 6.

Never once did I say, "You know what these Iron Man movies need? Pepper Potts become an action hero." I'm kind of getting ahead of myself, but it really began when Tony put the suit on Pepper. I groaned in the theater. It felt unnecessary and unnatural. And then it only got worse at the end when Pepper actually became an action hero — gaining the Extremis  powers and suddenly the ability to fight like a trained martial artist. No thank you. Minus one point.

Now, the annoying little boy actually wasn't that annoying. But he was completely extraneous. Imagine this movie without him. Everything turns out exactly the same. The boy does absolutely nothing other than provide Tony an opportunity to crack some jokes. But he can crack jokes anytime with anyone. I'm not mad that a little boy was thrown into this movie — I'm mad that he was randomly and pointlessly thrown into this movie. It felt like a last-minute mandate from Disney, saying we need to throw in a kid here. Now we're down to a 4.

Rhodey is still a difficult character for me. Even though this is Don Cheadle's second time playing him, I still find myself longing for Terrence Howard. But that's neither here nor there. What really bugs me is this is the second movie in a row where the bad guy has taken over Rhodey's suit. You'd think he and Tony would put measures in place to prevent this after it happened the first time. But if anything, it seemed like it was even easier to get into the "Iron Patriot" suit this time. Yes, I know AIM oversaw the suit's redesign, but to be able to shut the whole thing down just by slightly burning its arm is way too easy. And then we had a weird thing going on, where a bad guy was able to hop into the suit and control, then they put the president in it, but he couldn't use it. Rhodey then saved the president, got him out of the suit, put it on and used it just fine. You'd think the president would at least try to free himself. He was, after all, trapped in one of the most powerful pieces of equipment in the world. I have to take off another point for this.

And now we fall to a low score of 2 because the MANDARIN IS A FAKE! How dare they waste Ben Kingsley like this! I kept waiting for them to show that the Mandarin was only pretending to be the goofy, druggy actor, or to be a body double or something. But no. The real bad guy was dorky Aldrich Killian, who got so mad about being stood up by Tony Stark on New Year's 13 years ago. By the way, why is this a Christmas movie when it was released in May? Anyway, when I found out the Mandarin was a fake, I became eternally embittered toward this film and lost all interest in it. They completely ruined the best thing going for it! Why should I keep caring?

Oh yeah, the barrel of monkeys scene. This was in all the trailers, with the truly spine tingling moment of Iron Man realizing 13 people have fallen out of an airplane, and he can only carry four. This was by far the best part of the whole movie, and the filmmakers knew it. One of the only bonuses on my DVD was a huge featurette explaining this scene in meticulous detail. They really did get a team of trained sky divers and jumped out of a real plane dozens of times to get all the shots. They only used CGI when absolutely necessary, and it really showed. It was an exciting, breath-taking scene that was very realistic and memorable. Unfortunately, it was almost too good. Everything else that followed afterward paled by comparison. I'll raise the score to a 3 for this scene, but the climatic battle won't get any points.

The final fight really wasn't so bad, although it was full of some annoying conveniences. Oh, so Tony's suits couldn't reach him earlier because of the rubble, and now, suddenly, when he needs them most, they just happen to show up. And during the fight, there were lots of weird little moments when he just happened to be able to get into a suit at just the right time, or when he suddenly found himself unable to locate one of his 40 suits flying around. Or the really weird part when his earpiece randomly fell out so he couldn't tell his suits not to attack Pepper. Don't worry, Tony, Pepper suddenly knows how to fight better than you ever could. And lets not even get started on how easily destructible these suits were. I thought he was supposed to be the invincible Iron Man. Now, I know I'm complaining a lot, but I won't take away a point, because the action was rather enjoyable and the special effects were very good.

But altogether, this was an incredibly disappointing installment in the Iron Man franchise and a poor way to kick off the second wave of the Marvel movie franchise. I think, sadly, it's time for Iron Man to stop having his own movies. Let's keep him in all the Avenger movies, and give him some cameos in other people's movies, but I don't want to see Iron Man struggle through another solo adventure like this one again.

Final score: 3