Captain America's Director

Last Friday I read that Joe Johnston is directing The First Avenger: Captain America, which is scheduled to open July 22, 2011. Then, the next morning, his second film as director, The Rocketeer(1991) was on one of the cable channels so of course I had to watch it again. I think it still holds up as one of the more well made comic-inspired movies even though by today's standards the pace is a bit slow. I had forgotten what a great cast it had and how cool some of the set pieces were.

I think Johnston's a great choice for the Cap movie and I'm looking forward to researching what his take on Cap will be.

Branagh's Thor

I'm only about nine months behind the times, but I'm just now researching Marvel's decision to give the directing reigns of Thor (2011) to Kenneth Branagh. On the surface it seems like an odd choice, but apparently Branagh has immersed himself in the Marvel Universe and its Thor mythology. According to a MTV Splashpage report back in February, he impressed Marvel execs with his knowledge of the character's long comic history.

A quick perusal of his IMDB entry shows that Branagh is perfectly suited to bring Thor to the screen. He obviously has a lifelong interest in legends, myths, and characters with god-like qualities or delusions of godhood. I think a lot of cape fans won't be satisfied until a movie combines over-the-top superhero action with the weighty, cerebral and Oscar-worthy qualities of a Shakespearean epic. (I think these expectations are unrealistic- BTW) Nevertheless, could Thor be the movie that satisfies these hard to please critics?

Stagecoach, Tom Tyler and Capes

I watched Stagecoach(1939) Saturday morning on Turner Classic Movies and was amazed at how well it holds up even by today's standards. I saw it as a kid but it didn't impress me as much back then. Now I can appreciate how groundbreaking it must have been when it was released. Now i realize that, in 1939, Westerns were considered low brow entertainment- just throwaway Saturday serial fare and shallow shoot em ups for kids. (kinda sounds like the way superhero movies are looked down upon by a lot of critics today)

Then along comes this film that's chock full of believable, well-drawn characters, a screenplay that's full of compelling ideas and emotions and a beautifully designed plot. For a superhero geek like me, it has the bonus of having the future Captain Marvel,Tom Tyler, as John Wayne's nemesis. In the brief time he's on screen, Tyler is impressive. He plays a bad ass gunfighter named Luke Plummer, and he manages to convey a killer's attitude with just a few lines of dialogue.

The only disappointing part of the film is how the climactic gunfight is handled. If the movie censors of the time had allowed more violence to be shown, Tyler's showdown with Wayne would have been epic. Unfortunately, the director, John Ford, had to cut away just as the bullets started to fly between Plummer and Wayne's character, The Ringo Kid.

Two years later, Tom Tyler would become the first actor to portray a superhero in a live-action motion picture. To this day, film historians praise his work in The Adventures of Captain Marvel(1941), and the serial is considered the best example of that genre. He would go on to portray another hero, The Phantom(1943) and appear in over fifty films, mostly Westerns. But there's a sad irony in Tyler's story. The man who was a champion weightlifter in his day, and made a career of portraying larger than life characters, and who portrayed the invincible Captain Marvel, was struck down exactly fifteen years later by the horrible, crippling disease of rheumatoid arthritis.

Since learning about Tyler a few years ago, I've always thought his life story would make a moving film. It would have the humorous element of Tyler learning to become a screen superhero, there would be a dose of film history, and it would have the tragedy of his early death. But in the end, the movie would conclude on an inspiring note. The movie would show that his Captain Marvel was timeless and that it lives on in today's pop culture. It would show how his legacy lives on in the phenomenon of today's hugely successful superhero movies. Who knows, maybe there's a screen writer out there somewhere working on Tyler's life story as I write this.

Who is "The Coon"?

The episode of South Park on Weds. night was one of the best superhero satires I've ever seen. There were so many little touches that told me Parker and Stone know their cape movies. I dug how Mysterion mimicked Christian Bale's Batman voice, and the internal dialogue of Cartman/The Coon. Definitely had a little Rorschach thrown in there too. I loved the line Cartman says at one point, something like "The city is a filthy whore that cries out to be saved..." Great stuff.

My favorite thing has to be the name of Professor Chaos' sidekick, General Disarray. Brilliant.

Gavin Hood - Origins Director

Tuesday night, I watched a show on the Fox Movie Channel called Life After Film School and Gavin Hood, director of X-Men Origins, was the guest. This was the first time I'd seen the program. In case you've never seen it, each week three film students interview an accomplished director, actor or other film pro.

In just thirty minutes I learned a lot about Hood's career and his involvement with Origins. I learned that he grew up in South Africa and he didn't see a TV show until he was 13. He also never picked up a comic book until Hugh Jackman asked him if he wanted to direct Origins.

He won critical acclaim for his feature length directorial debut, Tsotsi (2005), and his Hollywood debut, Rendition (2007).

Hugh Jackman deserves a lot of credit for offering the Origins' director's reigns to Hood. Here was a guy with no experience with a big budget movie, no background in comics, and Jackman had faith in him. This was a huge gamble to take on such an important movie. In my opinion the gamble paid off because Hood was able to give Wolverine's story a depth that's lacking in some superhero movies. Hood said he really "got" what was at the core of Wolverine- that internal struggle between the killing machine and the guy who wants to do the right thing.

After seeing Origins, I'm definitely going to pick up his other two films.

X-Men Origins

I just left the 7:30 showing of X-Men Origins, and thought I'd give my immediate impression. Overall, I thought it was another strong addition to the Marvel movie universe. Usually I think origin stories are the weakest part of most superhero movies because we're just counting the minutes until the hero first uses his power. But, I thought this one was fascinating because Wolverine has such a unique backstory. I loved the way they portrayed the whole "Weapon X" concept, and how they foreshadowed lots of elements that appeared in X-Men (2000). (I can't believe it's been 9 years since we were wondering who the hell this Hugh Jackman guy is they have playing Wolverine.)

A couple of other thoughts- I have never seen Lynn Collins before this film, but I'm officially a fan now. She is stunning and a talented actor. I thought the scenes with just her and Logan were some of the strongest parts of the movie. The scene in the cabin in which she tells the little folk tale about the wolverine and the trickster was very well done. Another highlight, I thought, was every minute Liev Schreiber was on screen. Having an Oscar caliber actor portraying Victor Creed added a worthy foe for Logan. (BTW- it was cool that they never actually called him by his codename. Maybe he doesn't have one in this movie.) I also liked that he wasn't just a cartoony cliche baddie. The movie did a nice job of explaining the psychological motivation for the hatred between Creed and Logan. Sibling rivalry, betrayal, and revenge were plausible reasons for the two of them wanting to gut each other.

Now, having praised the movie, I have to say some of the plot holes were a bit hard to ignore. I won't go into them here but there were several that were pretty glaring. I also thought the plot got bogged down just a tad here and there. So in a nutshell- the movie satisfied my expectations but certainly didn't blow me away on a Watchmen level. It's another winner for Marvel, and a perfect set up for Wolvie's next chapter in the summer of '12.