Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Summer blockbuster season is officially upon us, and you can't have a summer blockbuster without a proper action hero. After all, someone needs to stare into the distance with grim determination, crack jokes in the middle of a tense fight, run in slow motion away from an explosion, and make audiences everywhere swoon over the silhouette of their perfect profile in the sunset. 2014 has its own crop of actors competing for our affections and wallets, all of them hoping to be the next big movie star. But which one is truly the most heroic? Who stands triumphant over his fallen comrades as the best action hero of the year?
The Ones We've Seen:
Mark Wahlberg, Transformers: Age of Extinction Who He’s Playing: Cade Yaeger, a struggling inventor who stumbles across and injure Optimus Prime and restores him to health. Strengths: No matter what he’s in, Wahlberg gives off an intimidating vibe – he seems like the kind of guy who would punch a giant robot in the face without thinking twice about it – but he’s also able to give whichever tough guy he’s playing this time some charm. Wahlberg isn’t afraid of anything, especially not the rules of logic that state a born and bred Texan shouldn’t speak like he grew up in Boston. Weaknesses: It’s a Transformers film, so ultimately, character is less important than robots punching each other. Wahlberg doesn’t get a lot to work with here, but he doesn’t seem to put in enough work to make Cade anything other than a generic tough guy. He could be giving this same performance in basically any action movie.
Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow Who He’s Playing: Major William Cage, a solider in the United Defense Forces who goes back in time to one day in particular every time he dies. Strengths: Everyone knows that Cruise can perform impressive stunts or drive alien spaceships with ease, but Edge of Tomorrow brought back a side of the actor that we haven’t seen in a while, something that was dearly missed in many of his recent blockbusters. We are, of course, talking about his ability to play a complete jackass better than almost anyone in Hollywood. As Cage, Cruise was sarcastic, rude, obnoxious and more charming than he’s been in years, and it felt like a proper return to his former action hero glory. Weaknesses: Once he stops being so obnoxious, we like him less, and the movie suffers for it. Plus, all of the charm in the world isn’t able to distract us from how awkward Cruise looks in the battle skeleton, which seems uncomfortable and unwieldy.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, X-Men: Days of Future Past Who They’re Playing: Professor X and Magneto, of course. Strengths: One of the things that make the X-Men movies so great is the chemistry between Professor X and Magneto, and McAvoy and Fassbender have it in spades. Every time these two are onscreen together it’s exciting, which makes them one of the best action hero teams around. They also bring a sense of gravitas and depth to their characters, rather than just letting the stunts and effects carry the film, which makes their characters and relationship even more compelling, and the X-Men films as a whole more enjoyable. McAvoy’s drunk, depressed Charles is a tour de force performance that you’re unlikely to see in most summer blockbusters. Weaknesses: As interesting as they are together, their performances can easily get lost in the complicated plot and cast of thousands. Sure, McAvoy and Fassbender are brilliant together, but when you left the theater, the only person you were still talking about was Quicksilver.
Chris Evans, Captain America: The Winter Soldier Who He’s Playing: Captain America, duh. Strengths: A lot of the time, people seem to think that Cap is a dull, by-the-book, overly-serious character who’s focused on nothing but rules and easily confused by technology. But Evans gives him dimension, charm and the kind of biting wit that is normally associated with Tony Stark. He easily carries the film with his performance, which is by turns sympathetic, intense, and incredibly hilarious, and he managed to make the most impressive, complicated stunts look simple and graceful. Plus, he has the best profile of anyone on this list, and everyone knows an action hero is nothing without a strong jawline. Weaknesses: As charismatic as Evans is, Cap often gets overlooked in favor of the more dramatic or hilarious characters, like the Winter Soldier or Falcon, since they’re a bit flashier.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Godzilla Who He’s Playing: Ford Brody, a US soldier specializing in EODs. Strengths: Like Wahlberg, Taylor-Johnson looks like an action hero. He’s got the steely gaze, the clenched jaw and the trademark action hero biceps, all of which help him come across as a tough, capable soldier. He’s best in the quieter moments when Ford is reuniting with his family or connecting with his father or comforting a lost child on the train, which gives him a bit more depth and charm than the average hero. Weaknesses: Unfortunately, that’s the only thing that Ford Brody has going for him. He’s rather generic, staring out at monsters with a blank face and getting little to do other than running from disaster to disaster. If only Godzilla had realized that Ken Watanabe was the real protagonist of the film; maybe then Ford wouldn’t seem so bland.
The Ones We Haven’t:
Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy Who He’s Playing: Peter Quill a.k.a. Star Lord, a pilot and thief who teams up with a band of misfits in order to protect the galaxy. Strengths: As anyone who has ever seen a single episode of Parks and Recreation can attest, Pratt basically radiates charm. He’s funny, he’s warm, he’s likable and if the trailer is any indication, he can kick some serious butt as well. A goofy action comedy is the perfect vehicle for Pratt, and the combination of his comedic chops and his natural gift with stunts (he does every single one of Andy Dwyer’s pratfalls himself) should be enough to turn him into a proper movie star. Weaknesses: Pratt might be just a touch too goofy to be taken seriously as an action hero. Sure, he’s tall and buff, but he seems more likely to hug your than punch you, which might make it difficult for audiences to see him as a tough, intimidating superhero.
Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Who He’s Playing: Caesar, the Simian ruler of the new nation of Apes that has taken over the planet. Strengths: We might have to wait until July 11 to see Serkis in action, but we did manage to get a good impression of the character in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis is wonderful at communicating Caesar’s thoughts and ideas even without words, which gives him the advantage of not having to deal with the typical cheesy action movie dialogue, and his performance is intense and intimidating. Weaknesses: It might be a challenge for universal audiences to connect with an ape the same way that they would a human, but Serkis proved in Rise that he can instill Caesar with plenty of empathy. Now able to speak, we imagine he'll top even himself.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Hercules Who He’s Playing: Hercules. Who else would The Rock play? Strengths: Despite his intimidating size, Johnson is an incredibly goofy, charismatic guy, and he’s generally very good a bringing that to the characters he plays. An ideal Hercules would blend the action and heroics with enough charm to make us care about him and root for him, and if there’s one thing that Johnson is good at, it’s winning over an audience. Weaknesses: Hercules has to follow the dismal Legend of Hercules and Pompeii, so Johnson is under a lot of pressure to create a charming, likable, interesting character in order to avoid being lumped in with the rest of them. That’s a big challenge for his first proper action hero role, and the trailer seems to give off a dismal, serious vibe, so he’ll have a lot working against him.
Scarlett Johansson, Lucy Who She’s Playing: Lucy, a woman with the ability to access and control her brain’s full potential, which gives her the ability to control the world around her. Strengths: With experience as both a leading lady and a superhero, Johansson should have no trouble blending both to create an exciting, original character. As Lucy, she gives off a strong, independent vibe that’s at once intimidating and compelling. And we already know that Johansson’s able to inject a healthy dose of charm into whoever she’s playing, so it seems like Lucy might just beat the boys at their own game. Weaknesses: She’s got a complex, convoluted plot to contend with, which means she’ll need to spend a lot of time rattling off exposition. That takes away from the time the audience spends getting to know the character, and if Johansson doesn’t make it interesting enough, it could keep them from connecting with Lucy.
Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, and Pete Plozek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Who They’re Playing: Ritchson is Raphael, Fisher is Michelangelo, Howard is Donatello and Plozek will be playing Leonardo, although his voice will be dubbed over by Johnny Knoxville. Strengths: They’re all practically unknown, which means that audiences don’t quite know what to expect from them – a fact which the Turtles themselves would no doubt use to their advantage. The most recognizable of the bunch is Fisher, whose role as Mickey Milkovich on Shameless has proven that he’s a talented actor who brings a lot of depth and layers to his characters. He turned one of the show’s bullies into one of its heroes, which bodes well for his ability to connect with an audience. Weaknesses: The Turtles themselves are CGI, and since the trailer promises weird, slightly freaky-looking creatures, it’s going to be a challenge for them to give a compelling performance through all of the effects. Since they themselves will be unrecognizable, it’s going to be harder for them to win over the audience and get them to root for these characters.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
We can't say exactly how much we were "supposed to" be laughing at Transformers: Age of Extinction, but we managed a few chuckles just the same. Michael Bay's latest blockbuster has no shortage of ridiculous moments, lines, scenes, and overarching themes. Here are the 10 most absurd elements in the film:
10) "MY FACE IS MY WARRANT."When asked to produce a warrant before trespassing on Yaeger property, Lost's Man in Black responds with the above proclamation... which is just a little less menacing than it is ridiculous.
9) THE KIDNAPPING OF TESSA YAEGERNicola Peltz's character serves no distinct purpose other than to be yelled about. Her overprotective dad (Mark Wahlberg) yells about her dating her thick-headed boyfriend (Jack Reynor), who yells right back. Then, the two of them get to yell about her being kidnapped by a robot spaceship. But here's the kicker: she isn't really meant to be kidnapped. She just happens to be inside a car that is a little too close to Optimus Prime when they kidnap him. Her attempts to bust open the car windshield (a suggestion that is, of course, yelled to her by her dad) are half-hearted and futile. But the kicker of the kicker: the futuristic, space-traveling robot monsters use a rope net to do the kidnapping.
8) OPTIMUS PRIME'S CLOSING MONOLOGUELittered with idioms like, "There are questions we were never meant to know the answers to, but who we are and where we came from is not one of them," and "When you look to the stars, pretend that one of them is the soul I've spent this movie trying to prove to everyone I probably have, even though I'm a robot," Optimus' final speech to close out the film is as cheesy and vacant as something out of a teen soap with a religious slant.
7) "I WENT THROUGH THE SAME THING WITH BUMBLEBEE."Optimus Prime can empathize with Cade Yaeger's fatherhood headaches. Apparently he's been dealing with his own surrogate child's teenage rebellion and sexual exploration.
6) "ALGORITHMS! MATH!"Stanley Tucci, playing a brilliant scientist, yells this at one point. You've got to imagine that Michael Bay was using these words as script placeholders until he could wrangle a technologically adroit consultant to fill in the gaps... but then just forgot about it in the wake of designing his nineteenth explosion.
5) THE ULTIMATE MESSAGE"Some things shouldn't be invented." So... Transformers is anti-science, then?
4) DRINK BUD LIGHT, EVERYBODY!Struggling to control a wayward spaceship, Wahlberg careens down into the middle of Chicago's rush hour, crashing onto a civilian vehicle and a Bud Light truck. The spill results in a flood of Bud Light bottles and cans, one of which Wahlberg cracks open on a vehicle door as a tacit threat to an angry resident of the Windy City.
3) MARK WAHLBERG'S NAME IS CADE YAEGERThat is a silly name.
2) DON'T MESS WITH TEXASWhen Mark Wahlberg meets his daughter's Irish boyfriend, he calls him "Lucky Charms" and jabs that he doesn't sound like he's from Texas. This coming from a guy who, just a few minutes earlier, exclaimed, "I think we fownd a Transfawmah!"
1) ISN'T IT ROMANTIC?In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Peltz plays 17-year-old high school senior Tessa Yaeger. Reynor plays her boyfriend, the 20-year-old Shane Dyson. Tessa's father Cade presumes such a partnership to be in conflict with statutory law, but is put in his place when Shane produces a laminated newspaper article detailing the Romeo and Juliet Laws, passed in Texas in 2011 (in real life), that allow for the maintenance of any romantic union that began when both parties were minors, even if one breaches the 18-year mark before the other. Got that? The dude carries around a copy of an article that proves he is legally cool to have sex with an underage woman. This is a several-minute-long scene in a Transformers movie devoted to excusing, or presenting a world in which excuses are readily available for, what would otherwise be deemed statutory rape. Weird as all hell.
Check out our review of the movie here!
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.