Captain America: Civil War (B+). Wouldn’t you know: every time I start to wonder if the superhero genre is played out, the next superhero movie I see turns out to be entertaining and enjoyable. The plot of CACW was reasonably clear, and the fight scenes were exciting without being too ridiculous. Most of the Avengers seemed to show up for this one, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There were also a couple of people I didn’t recognize: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and Vision (Paul Bettany, Dogville). They must have joined the club in a movie I missed. Vision was a little troubling to me; he seemed so powerful as to kind of upset the balance of power. I mean, he can shoot lasers and dematerialize at will? But I still enjoyed it, and it didn’t really feel like two and half hours. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Marisa Tomei (The Big Short) pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. The same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo, of Community fame) also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier, which left me cold, so I’m glad to see they’ve upped their game.
Avengers: Age of Ultron. (B+). This film is a fun, entertaining Summer action blockbuster film. It’s got all the usual characters—Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And of course, there’s even some screentime for Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson). With all the characters, you almost wonder how writer Joss Whedon has time to develop the characters and the story. But Whedon is no newcomer to this. There’s time to develop a little backstory—particularly for Hawkeye and even time enough for a little budding romance. And there’s time to develop an action packed story arch with the unintended creation of Ultron—a super android (James Spader). By the end of the film we are introduced to a new superhero—Vision (Paul Bettany), who teams up with the good guys to help defeat Ultron and his army of super-being androids. There’s plenty of action in this film but I have to say that after a while some of the fight scenes in this film began to seem a little too similar to the fight scenes in the last Avengers film. I just hope that’s not a sign that the franchise is wearing thin. Certainly, there will be more to come. And you will want to stay for the credits so that you’ll get a glimpse of the next villain to do battle with the Avengers.
Chef (C+). This movie has been playing in Dallas theaters since the beginning of the summer, so I thought I’d better see what could justify such a lengthy run. It was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat) writes, directs, and stars as Carl Casper, a well-known Los Angeles chef in a swanky restaurant. A Twitter feud with a snarky food critic gets Casper fired, and he decides to reconnect with his love for cooking—and with his 10-year-old son, whom he hasn’t had much time for since a divorce—by starting up a food truck. It’s a perfectly decent movie, but it felt a little slight for the big screen. And occasional brief appearances by big stars—Robert Downey, Jr.! Dustin Hoffman! A tatted-up Scarlett Johansson!—are more distracting than anything else.
Iron Man 3 (C). I remember enjoying the first Iron Man and not caring much for the second one. The latest installment also left me cold. Once again, Robert Downey, Jr. (The Avengers) plays the swaggering genius-zillionaire Tony Stark. Only now, Stark has lost a bit of his swagger–he even has an occasional panic attack, for crying out loud! But this is no time for Stark to take a soul-searching sabbatical, for a new threat has emerged–a superterrorist called the Mandarin, played with some panache by Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog). Unfortunately, the innumerable explosions, the endless digital effects, and even the remarkably steely abs of Gwyneth Paltrow (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) just weren’t that entertaining. And I wasn’t the only one who was turned off; I saw a family in the theater with a couple of kids, one of whom was dressed up at Iron Man, and about halfway through the film, I realized that they had all left. It is probably too violent for little ones, I guess, but it is rated PG-13 after all. Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential), Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), and Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) costar. Oh, be sure to stay through all the closing credits for an amusing final scene.
Iron Man 2 (C). I think Movie Man Mike gave this sequel high marks, but I just can’t go there. In fairness, I had a slight headache when I entered the theater, so maybe I wasn’t in the best shape to see a loud action movie. But my head was POUNDING by the time I left. Anyway, if you saw the first Iron Man, this is basically more of the same. Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder) reprises his role as Tony Stark, a zillionaire businessman with a suit that gives him superpowers. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) steals most of his scenes as metal-mouthed villain Ivan Vanko. Scarlett Johansson (He’s Just Not That Into You) has surprisingly little screen time as girl-from-legal/secret-martial-arts-expert Natalie Rushman. Anyhoo, it’s loud, lots of stuff blows up, and the cuts are edited so fast you really never know what’s going on. Stay through the end credits for a scene that I guess hints at the contents of Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 2 (B+). The general rule for sequels is that the second movie is not as good as the first. Not so with Iron Man 2. The sequel is at least as good as the first and probably better. Where the first movie was focused upon introducing the character and the concept, the second movie is able to develop the character further and bring some new challenges to Iron Man. This is a great Summer film because it’s full of high-stakes action scenes. The conflict in this movie comes from the fact that the military sees the Iron Man technology as a potential threat and it wants the technology for its own purposes. Iron Man, played by Robert Downey, Jr., assures the military that the technology is safe in his hands. Little does he know, a Russian villain named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has the technology, and he develops his own super-suit. Add to the mix Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who’s an arms dealer desperate to get the U.S. Government’s business, and you have a recipe for a potential catastrophe. The cast has a lot of surprising big names (also Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson), all of whom play their parts well and add flavor to the mix. If you don’t see this at the theaters, you should at least rent it. And if you haven’t seen the first one, check it out too (although it’s not a prerequisite to understanding and following the second film).
Sherlock Holmes (D+). Based on the reviews I had seen, I expected Sherlock Holmes to be mediocre–but I didn’t expect it to be this mediocre. As played by Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder), the supersleuth is not only a genius at deduction but also a formidable practitioner of the martial arts. With Dr. Watson (Jude Law, The Holiday) in tow, Holmes investigates a bizarre case in which a hanged murderer has apparently risen from the grave and threatens to take over England with an army of the undead, or something like that. Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers) has very little to do as American con artist Irene Adler. Choppily-edited fight scenes and overwhelmingly brown and gray cinematography do not add to the enjoyment. Suffice to say, it wasn’t the best 2 hours and 15 minutes of my life.