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Thor: The Dark World: It’s Hammer Time, Again

The original Thor was a timid movie made by a timid studio, still uncertain how fantastical they could make their superhero spectacles lest audiences revolt. That's why the title character -- a godlike being who hails from the otherworldly realm of Asgard -- spent so much time on boring old Earth, where he engaged in lots of lame fish-out-of-water comedy, middling action set-pieces that all seemed to occur in the same three-block radius of a fake, set-bound town and a chemistry-free romance with a visibly bored female lead. So whatever its flaws, Thor: The Dark World leaps and bounds over its predecessor simply due to the fact that it embraces, rather than runs from, its fantasy origins. Much like Thor himself, Marvel has matured since their early days (banking more than $600 million on an unprecedented superhero team-up movie helps with the growing-up process) and is now more willing to take chances, trusting that audiences are with them for the long haul.

James Spader’s Creepiest Performances Before The Avengers: Age of Ultron

When you stop and think about it, Marvel's announcement that James Spader will be playing Joss Whedon's latest Big Bad, the ass-kicking robot Ulton, in 2015's sure-to-be top-grossing movie The Avengers: Age of Ultron... despite what those Jarvis conspiracy theorists would have you believe. No, what's really surprising is that it's taken Spader this long to play a comic-book villain. The dude has been a grade-A onscreen creep since the late '80s, when movies like Less Than Zero pushed him onto a bad boy path that most recently led to his starring role as a Hannibal Lecter-style mentor on NBC's action-packed fall series The Blacklist. Considering his resume, he's the ideal choice to put Iron Man & Co. through their paces. Here are the future Ultron's five creepiest movie roles to date.

5 Things to Expect Now that Ben Affleck Is Batman

Now that we've all had a few hours to digest the head-scratching Ben Affleck is Batman news, here are five things this dubious casting announcement implies.

Kick-Ass 2: Its Existence is Futile

There were two central gimmicks behind Kick-Ass, the 2010 Matthew Vaughn-directed superhero satire based on the Mark Millar comic book, which hit stands in 2008. The first was the notion of an ordinary, powerless teenager suiting up in spandex to fight crime… and promptly getting his ass handed to him by practically every lowlife he confronted. The second was the presence of a pint-sized child soldier named Hit Girl, who came armed with a plethora of weapons, martial arts moves and a serious case of potty mouth. Both of these elements proved provocative enough to make the movie (and the comic) seem novel when placed alongside standard superhero fare, allowing it to attain almost instant cult status. At the same time, though, they also happen to be one-shot gags that can't really be repeated a second time, which explains why Kick-Ass 2 spends its roughly 103-minute runtime vainly trying to prove its existence. Watching this ill-advised sequel is like observing a stand-up comic trying to wring one more laugh out of a set-closing punchline when they really should have just dropped the mic and left the stage.

The Wolverine: Pain is For Chumps, Bub

If nothing else, The Wolverine is the first superhero movie released this summer that actually seems proud of its comic book origins. Shane Black's Iron Man 3 snarkily tweaked the genre's conventions… at least until the final act, when it became a traditional punch-punch-boom-boom affair, while Zack Snyder's Man of Steel plugged its hero into an alien invasion scenario that was more in the vein of Independence Day (minus that movie's good humor) than a Superman comic. If those directors seemed intent on running away from the source material, Wolverine helmer James Mangold is all too eager to embrace it. Freely adapted from a 1982 miniseries written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Frank Miller, The Wolverine could almost be released in print form as an arc in the character's ongoing solo title. Mangold's frames frequently resemble comic book panels and the story neatly unfolds in 22-minute chunks, each containing a mixture of intrigue and action and almost always ending on a cliffhanger setting up the next issue.

R.I.P.D.: Almost Dead on Arrival

It was with cautious optimism that I went to see R.I.P.D.. I’m not normally one for action movies -- which, in the age of Transformers, have become heavy on the explosions and light on the everything else. But, R.I.P.D. does have a few things going for it. It stars Jeff Bridges and it has an intriguing premise, based on a comic book by Peter M. Lenkov. It also does not feature a talking snail… like Ryan Reynolds’ other movie that’s opening this weekend.

Man of Steel: Not So Super

by Ethan Alter June 14, 2013 6:51 am
Man of Steel: Not So Super

How do you solve a problem like making a live-action movie starring Superman? Although the Last Son of Krypton has been a comic book icon since the late '30s, contemporary attempts to translate him to the big screen have routinely bumped up against certain limitations, which range from the technical challenges of believably rendering his super-sized feats of strength or storytelling obstacles like finding some kind of relatable chink in his flesh-colored steel armor.

Iron Man 3: Burning Down the House

Over the course of building Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios developed a house style for their blockbuster comic book movies that included a bright color palette, a light tone (particularly compared to their Distinguished Competition's more somber wares like Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy and Bryan Singer's self-serious Superman) that made room for plenty of humor amidst the derring-do, villains with a lot of firepower (but not much menace) and straightforward stories that lobbed few curveballs at the audience. What's interesting about Iron Man 3, which kicks off Phase 2 of the MCU, is that it very deliberately goes about blowing up Marvel's house style... along with the house of its signature hero, Tony Stark -- played, as always, by Robert Downey Jr. That particular point isn't a spoiler, since it's been heavily featured in the movie's many trailers and teasers. However, in order to really get into why IM3 represents such a departure (at least for a little while) from the Marvel status quo, I'm going to have to get into more specific detail about what incoming writer/director Shane Black (taking over from franchise starter, Jon Favreau) has in store for Tony and his armored alter ego without, of course, giving the whole game away. So here's a Spoiler Warning for anyone who has an ironclad resolve to go into the theater without hints of any kind.

Super Bowl XLVII: Judging the Movie Trailers

We critique all the big movie ads that aired during last night's big game, from Iron Man 3 to World War Z.

Five Reasons Not to Dread Dredd

by Ethan Alter September 21, 2012 6:02 am
Five Reasons Not to Dread Dredd

It's understandable if your reaction to the news that a new Judge Dredd movie was coming out would be "Why?" followed by "Wait... who?" After all, it's not like most stateside audiences have been readily exposed the titular futuristic lawman/executioner, who has been a star on the British comics scene since his introduction in 1977. And practically nobody remembers Hollywood's first attempt to turn the comic into a cross-platform property, the 1995 flop Judge Dredd, which paired a scowling Sylvester Stallone with a hyperactive Rob Schneider. With all that apathy working against it, this franchise reboot -- simply titled Dredd -- seems doomed from the get-go, a movie that a majority of moviegoers neither demanded nor needed.

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