Ratatouille

It was a nice surprise to see this special movie event was playing not to far from us. If I had the time and energy, we might have gotten out to see all four movies. I may still make it out to “Up” or “Wall-e”. Today though we enjoyed a Pixar film that I had not seen for a couple of years and I had to ask myself , Why? Why in the world don’t I watch this movie every few months. It is delightful and has one of the great emotional moments in any Disney Film.

Admittedly, rats in the kitchen is a disgusting idea, but when you go all in the way the film makers do here, it is easy to overcome your squeamishness. Our hero “Remy” just wants to cook and as the title of the book featured in the story says “Anyone Can Cook”. The creativity that goes into getting him into the kitchen and becoming the “puppet controlling guy” (puppet master is the word you are looking for Linguini) is elaborate, convoluted and hysterical. There are the usual twists and turns in the friendship and romance parts of the story, but the climax of the movie is all original heart.

Anton Ego: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.”

I can’t say it any better. Except that I enjoy writing positive reviews as well. They are not always as much fun, but they are often incredibly satisfying.

Advertisements

MEN IN BLACK 3

I was a big fan of the original Men in Black. The sequel I saw once in theaters and maybe once on satellite years later, it was not very memorable. I suspect that there is a return to the franchise more than a decade later because Mr. Smith needs a bit of a hit. Up until “Seven Pounds” a couple of years ago, Will Smith had taken over the role as biggest star in the world (apologies to Tom Cruise). Even a lousy movie like “Hancock” was a hit when he starred in it. Something happened in the last couple of years however. I don’t know why he has not been working, but looking at his upcoming slate of films, there seems to be a desperate need to reconnect to his audience. He has sequels to “Hancock”, “Bad Boys”, “I,Robot” lined up and his return to the front of the camera is today’s movie, another sequel. I have nothing wrong with a sequel if it is done right and feels like it exists for a story based reason. I can even accept a sequel if I like a character well enough and the story doesn’t work. What I originally liked about “Men in Black” was the creativity in concept and the execution of the story. The problem with “Men in Black II” was that it was a star vehicle and the originality felt warmed over. Frankly, I was not expecting much from this.

It is a mildly pleasant surprise to report that it works pretty well. While not as original as the first film, it is miles ahead of the second in plotting, character and inventiveness. Will Smith repeats his character riff on Agent J and there is not much new here. Tommy Lee Jones has the highest billed cameo appearance since Marlon Brando in Superman. The one real new treat of the acting ensemble is Josh Brolin, doing a spot on impression of Tommy Lee Jones’ agent K character in a time travel storyline that actually works pretty well. Time travel plots in science fiction are tricky things because there are continuity issues that can become confusing and the time period visited could turn out to be just a punchline and not really needed for the story. It turns out that the use of the 1969 time-frame works well for an obvious reason and for a nice twist as well. There are a few jokes made about the time period but most of the important references are about technology and the story that brought us back in time in the first place. I don’t want to say too much because the appreciation the movie earned in my eyes came from the surprise and you all should get to enjoy that as well.

The technical elements of the film are all sound. The modern MIB headquarters, reflects a futuristic vision, complete with strange visitors from other worlds. Most of what goes on there is treated as everyday minutiae. The villain of the piece, who is introduced in an extended escape sequence at the start of the film, is gruesome and very inventive in his looks. Like the previous films, the background on the threatening species is kept to a minimum, after all this is an action-comedy not a sociological mediation on humans place in the Universe. A little bit of double talk sets up the time travel possibility without making it an everyday outcome that would make every decision meaningless because we could always go back and fix it again. There are some good visual jokes and clever verbal sparring as the time travel technique is explained to us and J. The verbal bits are funny in these early sequences, but when they same type of talk comes up later, it is an important part of the story telling. The foreshadowing was just enough to make what comes later seem reasonable but not give away some of the surprise.

Like I said before, Tommy Lee Jones is basically an extended guest starring role here. That does not mean his presence is not felt however. Josh Brolin channels his character into a very believable younger version. He also manages with some acting skills and the script to make the character more distinct in anticipation of a dramatic alteration of his future attitudes. Emma Thompson is here for no particular reason at all, almost any actress in her age range could have played the part. I get the feeling there was more to the original story line but somewhere along the way it got trimmed and they must have already shot enough of her in the scenes they kept that eliminating her would be complicated. There was nothing wrong with her, but why have an Academy Award winning actress play such a nothing part? I did miss Rip Torn, his character added a third dimension to the original K and J interaction that is missing here. Speaking of third dimensions, we saw this in regular 2D and I did not feel I missed anything. Some of the sequences on high buildings and scaffolds might have given me a little more vertigo, but there was nothing in the story that 3D would enhance.

So while MIB 3 was not highly anticipated by me, it was enjoyable. I don’t think it will set the Summer Box office on fire. It is a little tough for me to look at it in these terms, but after it brings in it’s domestic take, it will probably be labeled a disappointment. A couple hundred million ain’t what it used to be. It is not an exceptional film but it is entertains enough. The ten year period between episodes will make this feel a little more fresh and as a result Smith will be able to continue making entertaining sequels. I wish he was doing something a little more challenging. He is a good actor who may be forced into these vehicles for the studio to make money off of. If he is not careful, he may burn out his welcome like so many others have.

Battleship

Loud, yes. Jingoistic, hell yes. Stupid, you know it. Entertaining as hell, you bet your butt. This movie will never be appreciated as cinema. There is nothing artistic about it and there is not one ounce of subtlety. So if that bothers you don’t go and see it. On the other hand, if you don’t mind being manipulated this may be the most guilty two hours you will spend this summer. “Battleship” is everything you might have been afraid of and it works it’s tail end off to give you a good time despite yourself. It looks great, plays on your emotions and leaves you with a goofy smile knowing that you have been taken advantage of. Like a roller coaster, you know what is coming but you want to enjoy it every minute.

How, you might ask, do you make a movie out of a board game that is not all that interesting to begin with? You start by jettisoning any obvious development of the story. There are only two or three references that will remind anyone of the game. This is basically an alien invasion movie like “Independence Day” only instead of the Air Force as the heroes we get the Navy. Build in a lone survivor vessel to fight most of the battles with and create a time based tension device. It is clear the aliens have superior weapons but they are not invincible and that makes the confrontations more meaningful. Unlike “Independence Day” this movie stays largely free of political decision making by higher ups. The President does make an appearance but only in background news footage. All the decision making we see is being done by fairly low level military personnel who are cut off from contact by the events we are witnessing.

Taylor Kitch, who earlier this year starred in the under rated John Carter, gets a chance to shine like Will Smith did sixteen years ago. He doesn’t have the same star power but he is a handsome guy with a appealing personality that he must learn to manage. He actually is the co-star because the U.S. Navy is the main hero in this film. There are big ships and little ships and men and women who do their darn-est to make the world safe. The most inspiring characters turn out to be a wounded Army Colonel and a couple dozen Veterans of World War Two and Korea. There is so much CGI in the movie that I was not sure if the actor playing the wounded Army officer is really legless or if his was a performance that is enhanced by special effects. The biggest Veteran of WWII makes a guest appearance and it is very satisfying although completely nonsensical. You still won’t care because it was so much fun just imagining it happen that you will not want to think about the impossible logistics and completely silly plot development. We just cackled with joy because it got our red, white and blue blood up.

There is one sequence that is from the game, as our destroyer plays cat and mouse with the aliens using not radar, but wave motion detectors. The grid that gives away the otherwise invisible space ships is pretty darn close to the plotting of target spaces in the game. Another reference to the game involves the explosive weapons the aliens launch into the Navy vessels. Those devices are suspiciously shaped like the pegs from the game that you would use to mark your hits and misses. The design and execution of those explosive effects is really nicely evocative of the outcome of a game when all the slots in your enemy ship are filled.

Liam Neeson is in this movie but you would barely know it because his character is locked out of all the action. He gets to glower at Kitch a couple of times and growl a bit, but otherwise, his role is an extended cameo. Another set of stars that play a more prominent role are AC/DC and Credence Clearwater Revival. The Australian heavy metal band provides two perfect music cues for the action scenes. They better have gotten a big chunk of the production costs because their music makes all the difference in a couple of spots. I know John Fogarty is not getting his due because of the Fantasy Records contract that he fought against for twenty years. “Fortunate Son” is an anti-war song but it has a guitar riff and drum/baseline that screams “AMERICA”. It was used a few years ago in “Live Free or Die Hard” to much the same effect. So although the words are meant to be ironic, much like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”, meaning is in the mind of the listener. Audiences listening to this music in this context are getting a patriotic message not the satiric interpretation that CCR had intended.

This is not intelligent science fiction. We will get that next month with “Prometheus”. This is shoot em up, wave the flag, laugh at the jokes summer entertainment. People who hate Michael Bay should probably stay away because this movie apes so many of his films. Those who dig “Transformers”, “The Rock” and “Bad Boys” will be glad that the director here, Peter Berg, cribbed his movie from those sources. I went in a little jaded, hoping for the best in a movie even when it looks like it will let me down. Fortunately, every once on a while instead of being let down, we are rewarded with a nice surprise. This is like the shiny toy you get on Christmas, it may not be the gift you remember the most years later, but it is the one that you want to play with and enjoy right now.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

When I look around the theater and see that we are the youngest people in the audience, I begin to worry that I have officially passed into old fogeydom. That was pretty much what it looked like today when we went to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. When the cast is headlined by Judi Dench and Tom Wilkenson, you realize that this was not going to be a movie that was marketed to the usual teen audience. There is virtually no chance that this will break out into a four quadrant hit that will demand a sequel and a soda cup at the nearest Jack in the Box. This movie is counter programing to all the big summer blockbusters like “the Avengers” and “Battleship”. Nothing blows up, there are no super heroes or aliens or robots. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an adult film with humor, drama and a touch of pathos.

Critics will frequently point out the obviousness of a big action film, but a small adult drama can be just as obvious in the same ways. There is personal conflict between couples, romance that may or may not flourish, and an economic threat to the hotel in the title and all of the retirees. Throw in a sub plot concerning the star crossed love life of the young manager of the hotel and there is something for everyone. All of the plot threads go pretty much where you expect them to, so the surprises need to be in the dialogue and the performances. Luckily for us, the old timers are up to snuff at making some of this entertaining.

Maggie Smith lays on the cheese as a xenophobic former head of a prestigious family house, who is forced to dwell in her own version of hell in order to get a hip replacement that she needs. Will she overcome her racist tendencies, will she find a new purpose in life, will she surprise everyone with a level of humor that is unexpected? Will I spoil it for you if I give you an answer or have you already figured it out. Judi Dench is just as deeply troubled but for other reasons, and we will get a similar character arc for her plus a potential romance. Tom Wilkenson, feels a little miscast for the character he is supposed to be deep down, but as the world weary former justice, with a personal history of India, he serves as a guide for most of our main characters in the early parts of the movie. As an actor though, he is as reliable as ever and does his part to sell the wistful and forlorn victim of the past.

The movie has been beautifully shot and seems to give a real view of what it is like in some of the modern sections of India. There are a couple of characters that keep representing two opposing views of the culture and place. It is beautiful and the people are warm, it is also ugly and the sound of the urban world crushing your senses can be overpowering. Obviously the theme here is that everyone needs to try to overcome their patterns of life. Discovery is still the best reason to go on living. The retirees who find themselves living in India because they can’t afford to live at home, must overcome fear and the unfamiliar in order to get something out of the rest of their lives. The young couple has to fight tradition and and family to find a dream of happiness for themselves. Most manage to find their way in the end, and that is not a surprise because that is what the movie wants the audience to leave feeling good about.

It won’t be a blockbuster, but it appears that it is doing very well in the demographic it is aimed at. The Four o’clock show we went to was packed. There were quite a number of laughs from a receptive crowd, and the look on everyone’s face afterward seemed satisfied. It was a perfectly nice film, it reminded me of the Movie “Calendar Girls” from a couple of years ago. A decent comedy directed at a middle aged crowd and older, that had enough dramatic bite to it that it feels like it is about something. In the long run all it is really about is two hours. At least it is a pleasant two hours.

Bite The Bullet Update

This is an update to a post I did nearly two years ago on one of the Original Movie A Day Project Films. I have long wanted to see Bite the Bullet in it’s original widescreen form, but it has not been available. The version in the original post was a pan and scan DVD that I acquired for a very modest price. You can find my original comments here. “Bite the Bullet” was a big scale Western at a time that such movies were dying out. It features a brutal 700 mile horse race across deserts and mountains and plains. It is perfect for a director to compose shots that will fill that screen with those vistas and also show the characters in relevant space. A month ago I read a review of a Blu Ray release of Bite the Bullet and went in search of it. It turns out that the film was not being mass marketed but was a specialty release with only 3000 copies being produced. None of them was available at any of my local retail outlets so off to the internet I flew. I could buy a new copy on Amazon for $36 plus shipping. I found a used copy on ebay for thirty and went for it. I am happy to say that it was worth the investment. I still think the last few minutes of the movie are underdeveloped, but the rest of the film looks spectacular.

There is an early shot of two trains passing each other in a railroad yard that would cut out one of the trains in the pan and scan version. Since the character we are following would need to stay in the frame, a severely cropped for television version leaves out a side of the picture. Here one gets a greater sense of the enormous changes that are taking place in the world at this time because of the trains passing each other in what might charitably be called a small town. Later shots of the railway also cut out the whole train in the shots, but here we get to see it as it moves across a bridge or travels though a forest. These are mostly little points in the movie, the real use of the widescreen comes in the horse race scenes, especially those set in some wide desert vistas. In the current widescreen Blu ray, we can see shots that include several of the contestants in the race at once, although they are clearly a great distance from one another. The empty spaces between them emphasize the desolate nature of the environment. In some later scenes, the layout of the territory in a chase and prison break makes more sense because of the way we can view it. There is a scene in which Gene Hackman’s character chases down Jan Michael Vincent and lays into him for the negligent way he has treated his horse, it has more drama and excitement in it with the space not being as condensed as in the pan and scan version.

This was one of the first times I remember seeing the death of a horse from exhaustion being visualized in such a dramatic way. John Wayne’s horse in True Grit gives up the ghost when he is trying to get Maddie Ross back to the trading post. Here, we see all of the horses perspiring and covered in foaming sweat. Their legs are shaky and the riders are either tender and cautious or reckless and indifferent. As the animals are falling in the sand or rolling down a hillside, the broad view makes us much more aware of how difficult the race really would be. I am very satisfied with the quality of the picture and the extra price was worth it to me. One more comment about the movie that is unrelated to it’s presentation. Hackman has a great piece of dialogue about the charge at San Juan Hill that his character was supposed to be a part of. It sounds at first like it is going to be a sucker punch slam at the Spanish American War and Teddy Roosevelt. Instead it reminds me,and I hope you, of why Theodore Roosevelt was in fact one of our greatest leaders. After having his glasses shot off and his arm nicked, Roosevelt rallies the Rough Riders to storm the hill. Hackmans character says that they didn’t follow out of a desire for victory, or to promote freedom. They went willingly with Roosevelt into the rain of death from above because they would have been ashamed not to. If it’s not a true story, it feels like one.

Dark Shadows

This is a very deceptive trailer. It looks for all intents and purposes as if they are taking the Dark Shadows soap opera and turning it into a comedy with the odd Tim Burton/Johnny Depp touch. Most everything that is funny in the movie is in the trailer, and often, when it is seen in the context of the movie, it is not really designed to provoke a laugh. While it might appear that the music featured in the trailer is in some way a satire, the film is not really satiric at all. The music and the images are evocative of the time and place of the films primary setting, 1972. The title scroll features The Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin”, and it is both pure seventies hokum and mystical at the same time. Most of the rest of the songs work the same way, they bring out the mood of the time period but not in the self aware and mocking style that is seen in so many other movies. The song score reflects events and place for the audience, but more on this later. When I was a kid, I remember seeing Dark Shadows on TV, it was a late afternoon soap opera that had Gothic and horror elements to it. While I would drop in from time to time, it was not a must see and I have very little recall of the story or other characters. Barnabas Collins was the only character I remember and the only one that I wanted to see. The problem for a kid my age was that there was way too much exposition and not enough of the horror of a vampire sucking the blood out of people. The current film tries to remedy this by putting in several bloody killings and some other supernatural gibberish to keep us hooked on the story. The set up goes very quickly and it was done with a good deal of panache. The tragic history of the Collins family is revealed and the fate of Barnabas is transferred to the Twentieth century almost immediately. This sets up the only comedic elements to the story, a fish out of water plot device that almost always provokes chuckles when used right. The arcane manner of speech and the lack of familiarity with modern conveniences, put the Johnny Depp played Barnabas at the center of any jokes. It is not long into this story that most of those jokes slip away and we are mostly returned to a soap opera horror story.

 This movie is more like a soap opera than any other kind of genre. There are small town intrigues that keep the locals a part of the story but always in the background. We have mysterious visitors who keep their true identities secret until a crucial point in the plot line. There are outrageous plot twists that seem to have nothing to do with the main story and often trail off into nothingness. Sometimes those plot twists are designed to distract us from what is obviously coming and sometimes they are there to fulfill our expectations of the genre. In the last section of the movie, there are reversals and surprises that have virtually nothing to do with the main plot. They exist to give other characters something to do and bring the audience something to enjoy. The only soap opera convention that was not a part of this film was the “evil twin” trope, which will probably be first paragraph if they ever decide to do a sequel to this film.

 I like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp together, but there have been misfires before. I disliked the “Alice in Wonderland” from a couple of years ago, but thought “Sweeney Todd” was great. There is a real feeling in the movie that they wanted to tell a real story and be true to the source material. The humor is needed to sell the film to an audience that loves Johnny Depp as a quirky character. Most of the time here, there is a real character that is odd only in context. When a joke is layered on top of that, it feels like the point of the story is lost. All of the visuals are really solid, and the moody “Collinswood Manor” is nicely imagined. The historical scenes and those featuring a 1970’s vibe work pretty well with the lighting and the music. The jokes mostly have nothing to do with the story and simply reflect the absurdity of taking any of this seriously. This feels self defeating in a lot of places. Our investment in the characters is not enhanced by the humor, it undermines our ability to care much about the outcome. The film makers continue to act as if we should treat this seriously and then another weird development comes along to side track us. Except for the little boy David Collins, the modern family Collins is a waste of talent. The actors are fine but Michelle Pfieffer has virtually nothing to do for most of the story. She is exposition central for the current events of the family but plays no active part except at the end and that feels tagged on. Also tagged on is the plot line that Chloe Grace Moretz ends up enduring. She plays bitchy and odd very well but the point of it all is lost on me except that it feels like a typical soap opera ploy for more distraction in the background. The idea that Barnabas is going to restore the family is a good plot device, but after we see a montage of building and construction projects we have no idea what is happening. Eva Green as the villainous witch Angelique is beautiful in a overdone soap opera manner. She also goes over the top for very little purpose and we are never sure if the people she works with are aware of her powers or not. As with most material like this, the continuity of the story is less important that getting to the next dramatic scene.

 I enjoyed the song score, there are several nice 70’s era hits interspersed in the story and background. “Superfly” makes very little sense put was great to hear. The same could be said for the “Carpenters”. There is a ball sequence that accomplishes nothing except getting Alice Cooper in the movie and making a pretty weak joke out of it. The Danny Elfman score was appropriately moody. I thought it fit the creepy tone of the Gothic story elements really well. The problem was not with any one element of the movie but with the odd way that it is all supposed to fit together. Ultimately, I thought it failed to be as memorable as a fan of any of these elements could want. It does not disgrace the memory of the TV series but it also does not make you want to go back and see it again.

Marvel’s Avengers

Having seen the Box Office Returns and watched the TV for the last few days, I doubt that many of you have waited to hear my point of view on this film before you went out and saw it. It was pretty obvious that this was going to be one of the big films of the summer, what was not as obvious was whether it would be any good. I won’t hold you in suspense about my assessment, It’s terrific entertainment and the kind of summer popcorn movie that should keep the theaters busy until the next big blockbuster shows up. This movie has a cool factor all over it, all the comic fans and casual fans and their families are going to have a good time at the movies.

Marvel has been building to this film for several years now. As new super heroes from the Marvel Universe have made their way on to the screen, there has been an attempt to connect them with the thread of SHIELD, as the agent that will bring them all together. This has been a grand idea much like the Harry Potter films managed to follow one another with a good deal of consistency, the Marvel Super Heroes have stayed mostly true to their origins and layered on a bit more for the coming climax. While the Potter films have had the advantage of being true chapters in an ongoing narrative, the Marvel characters have had to live in their own worlds and break into a story that could bring them into one universe together. The first film to plant that seed was the excellent “Iron Man”. It was followed up by the reboot of the “Hulk” franchise which was launched without the desired success earlier and needed a more consistent tone. The reboot with Edward Norton worked, but it did not break any box office records, it was perhaps about the same in financial return as the Eric Banna version had been, but it did water the seed of this particular concept. The second “Iron Man” movie was a disappointment but it did introduce a new character or two who would make more memorable appearances in the current film. Then, last year, we got a double whammy with the very serviceable “Thor” and the truly excellent “Captain America”. Each film set up a small connection to the Avenger’s Initiative that makes the current movie the capstone of the series.

 The writer/director of “The Avengers”, Joss Whedon, understands what the comic book crowd wants and delivers it in abundance. There are several smackdowns between our main characters as the story is being set up. Each gives the geeks the kind of moment they have wanted since the characters first showed up on the page. We get to see Ironman face off with Thor, and then Thor match fists with the Hulk, and Captain America take them all on in one form or another. Those are the sugar bombs placed around the story that draw in the comic book crowd. After all you can’t expect this group of larger than life figures to mix perfectly right off the bat. Eventually they will come together but it will not be a smooth transition nor will it be one without loss. There is a threat to the planet that only our heroes will be able to respond to. They need some motivation, and while there are a lot of ways this could have gone, I think the idea that finally triggers it works because of some of those links set up in other films. Once you have seen the movie you will know what I mean, but I am not going to give anything away.

 All of the characters get a chance to have some moments of glory. The least developed is “Hawkeye” played by Jeremy Renner. This is an actor I like more every time I see him. He was really solid in the last Mission Impossible movie and will be the featured star of the “Bourne” reboot coming later this summer. He has the smallest amount of dialogue and the least developed of the characters in the movie but manages to hold our attention every time he is on screen. When he pulls out his bow and gets ready for business, we all anticipate some Robin Hood type moments and are not disappointed. Part of the reason that his character is underdeveloped here is that he is playing for the wrong side for the first half of the movie. It is a little complicated but it does set up some revenge factor in the second half that makes us root for him. Marvel is going to have tons of money to spend on new films featuring these characters, in using Hawkeye they have a film that could be told with a smaller budget and a much more dark story.

 Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow is a spy character that would need to be modified a little to make a whole film. There is an excellent set up of her skill set early in the movie, but she really is a comic book version of a spy and there would need to be an outlandish over the top story to justify her presence. The fighting skills would make it seem too much like the “Electra” spin-off of “Daredevil”. It would all be about hyper fighting skills. The better story is the other set of skills she has, I just don’t see how you could get a whole movie out of that trick. Her character is good for the background of these hero movies but would struggle to meet the needs of a stand alone movie. There is however a satisfactory payoff of her manipulative skills in this film, one that justifies here in a featured part. At the end of the movie it was hard to find something for her to do and that may be the one weak spot in the story telling.

There is a lot of humor in the interaction of the main hero characters. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is his usual smug but charming rebel. He provokes all the others at some point or another, and it is his conversion to the cause that makes the team finally come together. He of course has all the best jokes as well, stealing the function that Tommy Lee Jones had in “Captain America” last year. The vast majority of humorous dialogue is his or it is connected directly to his character. He is well used in the story as a point of conflict and for comic relief. While I am on the subject of comic relief, I want to mention the character of Agent Phil Coulson. The actor Gregg Olsen has played him for several films and he has always had the right dry delivery for his lines. His role has been to stand in for us mere mortals while still being able to carry off a stoic expression in the face of billionaire genius arms manufacturers, monster green scientists and demi-gods from another world dressed as background scenery from Wagner Operas. After Tony Stark, he gets the best jokes, but they are humorous only because of his delivery and timing. This was good casting from several years ago that is paying off in this film.

Thor and Nick Fury are along for the ride. They move the plot when it needs to be moved and there are places that the story depends on them for a dramatic intervention, but they are the two characters that stay the most on the surface of any of the main players. This is an ensemble piece and everyone has a contribution to make, they can’t all be equal contributions. The work of both actors is fine and there are some good lines delivered by Samuel Jackson, and some nice visual images with Thor, but none of their character’s roles were meaningful outside of the confines of the ensemble. Everyone gets a moment here and there and both of these characters shine in their moments, the moments are just not as memorable as those for other players.

My favorite Avenger is “Captain America”. I liked the stand alone movie from last year the best of all of the others with the possible exception of the first Ironman. Chris Evans Cap is still a straight shooter, who when moved to modern times can see the hypocrisy of the new world more clearly than others can. He is disillusioned by what his country and the world have become. His lack of cynicism in contrast to Tony Stark sets up a very effective conflict for the middle section of the film. His heroic persona is mocked, but then shown to be exactly the kind of thing that can make a difference when the chips are down. He is an argument for patriotism even in the muddled times we currently live in. Steve Rogers also knows how to lead, you make decisions that you hope are right and then follow through the best you can. His character has the initial fight with the evil “Loki” early in the movie, but after that, he has to be everywhere as part of a team and his stand alone moments are fewer as a result. His orders to the defenders of the Earth are clearly needed and there are two swell payoffs that provoke smiles from the audience. The second one gets a cheer from all the comic book geeks because it is a favorite saying from the Marvel Universe.

 After two prior attempts to make the Hulk a success as a screen character, the writers, director and casting finally pay off. Mark Ruffalo is a great Bruce Banner, disheveled, world weary and with an anger problem that makes him the focus of much of the movie. When everyone is not walking on eggshells and the Hulk finally comes out, we get a much more successful version of the green monster that Dr. Banner discretely refers to as “the other guy”. There is clearly a problem with having an uncontrollable monster on your side. The story acknowledges that this is a complex nut to crack and finally does. “Loki” as played by Tom Hiddleston, is not perturbed or threatened by any of the other heroes. Even his brother Thor is viewed as just another threat. The one character he does seem worried about is the Hulk, and in the biggest cheer in the whole movie, we get to see why. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner make a connection in the movie, and I would not be surprised to see them team up again, but if I were Robert Downey Jr., I’d watch out for Ruffalo and the Hulk stealing his thunder in another movie. The film is nearly two and a half hours long. It is packed with a number of story lines and characters and comic book conflict set up. Yet despite the possibility that it could end up a bloated piece of junk like “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” or “Spiderman 3” were, it manages to tell a story quickly and efficiently with a lot of humor and plenty of fireworks. You get a lot of bang for your buck with “Marvel’s The Avengers”. It is an unashamed piece of pop entertainment that delivers for the audience the elements they want in a summer movie. Just try not to get sick from eating too much popcorn in the theaters this summer.