Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Two new bits of information from the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. First, according to Twitch, the movie is looking to add a new international location to its filming schedule, and will be shooting in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea. Rumors of a Korean shoot have been circulating for some time now, and although star Mark Ruffalo has shot them down in the past, Korean representatives have confirmed that South Korea will be joining Italy and the U.K. as filming locations for the upcoming film. In addition, Korean actress Kim Soo-hyun has been added to film's cast of thousands, and although her character has yet to be revealed she has reportedly been cast "in a villain role."
Kim's character would be the third villain in Age of Ultron, as James Spader and Thomas Kretschmann have already signed on to play Ultron and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, respectively. It's very likely that her character will play more of a supporting role, and probably work for or with one of the two main villains of the film, although, since her role is being kept under wraps, there's still a chance that she would be playing a more prominent villain. Superhero films have often been known to use multiple villains as a way of distracting both the heroes and the audience from the real villain of the piece, which means either Strucker or Ultron would be used to draw attention away from a more important character. However, both Ultron and Strucker are long-term adversaries of the Avengers in the comics, so it would be a more logical choice for the film to use them as the primary villains.
Regardless of the size of the role that Kim will play, the addition of a third villain might be cause for concern amongst fans of the series. Of course, having multiple villains in a superhero film is nothing new, but it's a difficult feat to pull of successfully, which might explain why there are so few films in which such a trope has worked well. Most movies like to establish some sort of backstory for their villains, in order for the audience to understand why they have turned to evil, and why they choose to terrorize this particular city or hero. Adding a second or even third villain would then require additional backstory for those characters as well, which tends to eat up a significant amount of the film's runtime — not to mention the fact that a film can only sustain so many subplots before everything starts to become convoluted. Spider-Man 3 attempted to circumvent the backstory issue by connecting Sandman with Uncle Ben's murder, but even that became confusing when added to Harry Osborn inheriting his father's role as the Green Goblin and Venom turning to evil after a petty feud with Peter Parker. Yes, that film has a myriad of other issues, but having three separate superheroes competing for screentime and Spider-Man's attention did nothing but drag things down even further.
Of course, even if Kim is playing a more supporting, henchman-type role instead of being a distinct villain in her own right, that doesn't necessarily mean the film is in the clear. Iron Man 2 attempted to add in a second villain with the addition of Justin Hammer, who plays a secondary role to Ivan Vanko, and assists in his scheme to take down Tony Stark, but ultimately, his storyline feels like an unneccessary subplot, and he's dispatched with easily and quietly. The plot of the film works just as well without him, and he doesn't add anything important to Tony's story or even to Vanko's story, so all he's doing is providing addition wisecracks and taking attention away from the rest of the story. It's not just Marvel that has difficulty balancing multiple villains, either; The Dark Knight Rises attempted to work in both Bane and Talia al Ghul by having the former provide the main villainy causing problems within Gotham, while distracting Batman from the fact that Talia was the mastermind behind the whole thing. Most of the film's plot focused on Bane, and when it was revealed at the very end that his story was actually hers, it felt more like an attempt at a surprise twist ending than anything else. She was never given the attention needed to make that ending feel earned or justified, which again, results in the double-villain trope being unsuccessful.
Even without factoring in Kim's character, the deck is stacked against Age of Ultron. Both Ultron and Strucker are significant parts of the Avengers mythology, which means they have complicated and dense histories, which the film will have to find a way of condensing or entwining in order to do justice to both of the character's origins and relationship with the Avengers. Marvel has been known to focus on one villain as the main antagonist, and slowly establish the second one as a long-term villain who will play a more significant role in the next film. However, in this case, it's impossible to tell if that will be the direction they choose for Age of Ultron, as neither Ultron or Strucker gives of the impression of being a one-and-done character, which makes it all the more important that both characters receive the time and attention they need. The best way to go about this would be to follow in the footsteps of The Dark Knight, which incorporated Two-Face's origin story into the Joker's plot, and allowed them both to succeed as the villains of the piece. If Age of Ultron can find a way to combine the two stories — for example, having Ultron work for HYDRA, or having him be the catalyst for Strucker's founding of the organization — then it might be able to avoid the "multiple villain" curse that haunts superhero films.
With the addition of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Rhodey, Age of Ultron already has the difficult task of keeping the story from becoming over-crowded with characters, and so, as a result, multiple villains doesn't seem to be a solid plan. They're already having to relegate some of the good guys to background and subplots, which makes it hard to see where writer/director Joss Whedon will be able to fit in the many backstories needed to sustain a proper villain arc. Furthermore, the increased size of the cast seems to be counterintuitive to the "smaller" and "more personal" nature of the story that he has promised, as more characters means there is less room to focus on the individual, be it hero or villain. The Marvel universe has thus far seen great results with its attempts to focus on the psychological and emotional elements of the characters as well as the action that we expect, and the description of the script for Age of Ultron makes it sound as if this will be joining Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier as successful looks at the inner lives of the heroes. But adding in so many new characters seems to undermine that story thread, and might only result in a film that has too many plots to properly explore anything.
We're hoping that Marvel will be able to avoid the pitfalls that come with having too many villains in a film, and we'd like to see Age of Ultron join the short list of superhero films that have been successful. However, the larger this cast seems to grow, the more reservations we have about whether or not the film will be able to pull it off. It's a delicate balancing act to work so many subplots and backstories into a film that is cohesive and engaging, but Marvel's on a hot streak right now, so we'll just have to hold out hope that Age of Ultron won't allow everything to come crashing down. And if it does, at least they'll have a few dozen more films in which to make things right.
There's going to be a musical based on the first Rocky movie. You know, the one that launched Sylvester Stallone to superstardom. To that, I say, "Really?" This isn't just going to be some small, off-Broadway affair. No, this is going to be on Broadway, the big leagues. Again, I say, "Really?"
On the surface of it, it is an inspiring story that could be turned into a play. It's one of the ultimate underdog stories and there's one thing the Great White Way loves, it's tales of people coming back to beat some of the longest odds. But I'm not sure that this is one that should have been given the green light. There's just a lot of things working against it.
The thing that worries me the most is the boxing sequences. As a huge sports fan, I am ALWAYS gritting my teeth when I watch sports movies because real-life sports events are really hard to duplicate. That's when you have the budget and camerawork to make it look as realistic as possible. This is going to be on a stage and I have a bad, bad feeling that the boxing sequences are going to stink. I'm talking WWE-telegraphed punches. Running up a fake set of stairs to the top is also going to look really awkward. I don't know how Andy Karl is going to be when playing Balboa and I'm not sure he was the best pick for the role. I also think that there's not an actress that can really play the awkward and endearing role of Adrian like Talia Shire did.
Secondly... it's a musical! I think Burgess Meredith is up somewhere in heaven making a lot of angry noise about someone playing the role of Mickey and SINGING. "You're going to eat lightning and crap thunder!/Keep training, Rocky! You'll rend Apollo Creed asunder!"
Of course, if they don't have the orchestra play the main Rocky theme at the beginning, then everyone in the theater should just get up and walk out. That should be a given right there and they might as well have Survivor play "Eye of the Tiger" (Yes, yes, I know that was from Rocky III. It's not like the band is doing anything now).
I'm giving this play a standing eight-count already. Really.
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Heads up: this article deals heavily with spoilers from The Dark Knight Rises. Beware!
Fan service: the most delicate of comic book movie moments.
When crafting an adaptation of a well-known property — be it a comic book, old film or anything remotely founded in pop culture knowledge — the balance between reinvention and homage is always tricky. Do you make the film for the invested fan base with the potential of leaving the uninitiated in the dust, or do you broaden the scope, scrap the geeky details that made it popular in the first place in hopes of hooking a larger audience? In Hollywood, it's generally the latter, but the wisest of filmmakers have found ways of weaving source material details or inside jokes into their movies that serve as a wink to dedicated fans. Marvel Pictures is the master of fan service; Iron Man's after credit scene, in which Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) for the "Avengers Initiative" only made sense to true comic book fans. In 2012, that same seed that made The Avengers into a $600 million blockbuster.
Christopher Nolan's Batman movies have never been as dedicated to the comic book inspiration as any of Marvel's big screen properties — but still, that hasn't stopped the director from throwing fans a few bones. The conclusion of Batman Begins was the ultimate teaser: a recovered piece of evidence that pointed directly to the eventual inclusion of The Joker, Batman's greatest adversary. The fan service moment tied directly into the film's conclusion, signifying Batman's place in the dynamic of Gotham City. A new baddie? Batman's on the scene. Nolan paid it off with The Dark Knight, putting The Joker front and center, a presence that was so commanding, there was little room for wink wink moments of Batman mythology.
Four years after The Dark Knight, Nolan serves up the third and final installment, The Dark Knight Rises — an episode unexpectedly chock full of fan service. Unlike its Marvel counterparts (which take every possible moment to throw something in the background of a scene that can be traced backwards or forward to other films), Nolan's world building in the Batman franchise has been internal and rarely predicated on nods to the comics. One especially inspired choice has been the return of The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) in every entry. In some ways, his appearance in The Dark Knight Rises is fan service — Murphy's deliciously sadistic take spices up the grim reality and always inspires cheers — but he's also a keystone of the Gotham City Nolan has constructed over the past decade. He should pop up because he's part of the fabric of Gotham's underbelly.
This is where the rest of The Dark Knight Rises' fan service takes a turn for the bewildering. Nolan has never let his Batman bad guys feel like random choices, always choosing members of the rogue's gallery for thematic connectivity over who would make the best action figure. Bane and Catwoman are great choices for Batman's peaceful fight for socioeconomic equality. From a fan's point of view, they're characters we know and love, but they don't feel like decisions made to serve that burning desire. But in the last few minutes of The Dark Knight Rises, the name-dropping goes off the rails. Tying Bane's past into Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows is intriguing, logical connective tissue to Batman Begins, but revealing Miranda Tate to be Ra's' daughter Talia screams fan service. In the comics, Talia's allegiances to both justice and terrorism helps her become a dimensional character and a romantic interest for Bruce Wayne. She would have fit right in to TDKR (and even without her appearance, Liam Neeson's return as a memory of Ra's Al Ghul's works perfectly in the movie) — but not as a late-in-the-game reveal. When Talia finally pulls off her mask as Bane's puppeteer, there's little build up to it, a blank moment left to be filled in by people who know their Batman. Talia could have been a movie all her own had she been revealed earlier on, but in The Dark Knight Rises she helps overstuff the movie.
Even more facepalm-worthy is the reveal of John Blake (played earnestly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Another great character undercooked by the sheer volume and ambition of The Dark Knight Rises, the serious and heartfelt cop runs with the inspiration of Batman's sacrifice and prepares to take on the mantle of the Caped Crusader in the final moments of the film. Picking up a package left for him by Wayne, we get a blindsided moment of fan service: apparently, Blake's real name is Robin. John Robin Blake? Robin John Blake? John Blake Robin? The true organization of Blake's full name could stand as one of cinema's greatest questions, but which ever way it's assembled, the nod to Batman's Boy Wonder is cringe-worthy in the context of Nolan's trilogy. Why throw in the joke? For years, fans have speculated whether Nolan would dare introduce Robin into his films. But the casual inclusion works against the film's emotional finale. Blake could have simply been a man inspired by the greatness of Batman. Instead, he's tied to the comics in a goofy manner. (And Nolan has opened up a can of worms: prepare for a year of speculation on whether we'll see a Robin film starring Gordon-Levitt.)
Earlier this summer, we saw The Amazing Spider-Man trail off with a baffling mid-credit teaser scene. The two and a half hour film took its action out on an energetic scene of Spidey zipping through New York City — but the filmmakers wanted more. A tease. We got one more snippet of footage, a villain non-reveal that drains the film of all its last minute thrills. To a lesser degree, this is what happens to The Dark Knight Rises. Batman's final moments are breathtaking, guiding a timed atom bomb out of the city limits in one last moment of triumph (the action of this scene is so thrilling, there's little time to even process Talia Al Ghul). But as the final minutes play out, with Robin discovering the Batcave and the revelation that Wayne is — what!? — alive, Dark Knight Rises plays itself out with a less concrete finale that ultimately takes away from the emotional fulfillment. That's the trouble with fan service: playing the right card at the exact right amount can be a powerful connection with the audience. Playing it at the wrong time... and you get whatever the heck was going on in Green Lantern (a movie this Green Lantern nut absolutely dug, but found himself defending as the minority, and understandably so).
I love Batman and I love the colorful, expansive world that's been built up for decades in the comics. But when it comes to the movies, there's a careful balance to be found that Dark Knight Rises just didn't nail this time around. But what say you? Did you find the ending of Dark Knight Rises fulfilling? Did it nod to Batman in all the right ways or was it overkill?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.