Tag Archives: superheroes

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ satisfies in superhero summer

Director Bryan Singer invigorates his latest X-Men film with vintage 1980s charm in an origin story about how the mutant supergroup unites and divides in response to the villain Apocalypse.

And while battles between heroes are an X-Men tradition, warring among the ranks has become a superhero trope this season, at play in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Captain America: Civil War.”

Like similarly dressed beauties in celebrity magazines, it becomes a case of who wore it better, and that’s an unfair burden on what is ultimately a satisfying conclusion to the rebooted trilogy. Even with an ensemble that includes Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender and Poe from “Star Wars” (Oscar Isaac, unrecognizable as Apocalypse), it can’t match the magic of the latest Avengers movie, with multiple characters carefully inter-developed over a dozen films.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” is also a prequel, so the fate of its characters isn’t a mystery.

That’s not to say “Apocalypse” isn’t a fun flick on its own. It has a grand scope, great special effects and doesn’t require knowledge of its predecessors to enjoy. Those who know the characters get even more payoff.

As hinted at during the credits for 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” this film brings on Apocalypse, a super-powered mutant who can transfer his essence from one being to another and was revered as a god when he existed millennia ago. Resurrected in 1983 after centuries of lying dormant, Apocalypse is disgusted at the state of the world. He wants to wipe out greedy, intolerant humans and restore the mutants to their deified status. He magnifies the power of any mutant who sides with him.

Meanwhile, Professor X (James McAvoy) has renewed his focus on his School for Gifted Children, where Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are among the students learning to control their powers. The professor’s friend and rival, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Fassbender), put his mutant powers aside to live as a family man in Poland. But when personal tragedy strikes, he goes on a destructive streak.

Magneto and other disillusioned mutants — Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn in a very tiny outfit) — join forces with Apocalypse. Professor X and his protegé, including Raven/Mystique (Lawrence) and fellow blue person Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), unite to try to stop them.

A muscular, mutton-chopped X-Man — here referred to as Weapon X — isn’t part of the fight, but thrills in a brief, shirtless cameo.

McAvoy is all charm as Professor X. Fassbender brings gravitas to Magneto. Lawrence, though, seems like she might be over this kind of big franchise fare.

The standouts, in both character and performance, are Jean Gray and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Jean seems even more confident and powerful here than when Famke Janssen plays her in the previous/later “X-Men” films, plus she utters the movie’s best self-referential barb. In talking about trilogies, she says, “At least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst.”

Peters shines as Quicksilver, a dorky-cool, ultra-‘80s Marty McFly who provides both playful comedy and zippy action sequences.

Magneto also inspires awesome special-effects action, imploding and pulverizing historic sites.

Simon Kinberg’s screenplay is guilty of a few lame lines at key moments (“He thought that you were going to make a difference in this world, maybe even change it”), but otherwise keeps the story’s movement brisk and backstories clear, though the cast is big and includes several new faces.

The X-Men had a lot to accomplish in this film before Captain America and his crew swooped in with their own movie a couple weeks earlier. And even if the Avengers may have worn it better, the X-Men are doing just fine.

“X-Men: Apocalypse,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images.” Running time: 147 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ debuts at CinemaCon

Batman and Superman aren’t the only superheroes at odds this year, but while the setup might be similar, their messy “Dawn of Justice” showdown doesn’t even compare to the pure blockbuster joy of “Captain America: Civil War.”

Walt Disney Studios showed the film Wednesday morning to a rapt audience of theater owners and industry types at CinemaCon in Las Vegas in advance of its theatrical bow on May 6.

The film, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), finds the Avengers divided over their guilt about the peripheral body counts that always seem to be a consequence of their attempts to save the world. It’s a theme — the real life costs of supersized powers — that is permeating more than one story line in this age of ongoing superhero movies.

Thus in “Civil War,” half of the Avengers decide to submit to international oversight, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle). They get an assist from two new characters, too — Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who gets a big, quite funny and impressive introduction before debuting in his own film, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” out in 2017, and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who has a stand-alone film coming in 2018.

The other side, anchored by Captain America (Chris Evans), includes Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). They’re not into the whole regulation thing, and would rather be outlaws — especially when a conflict arises involving Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes, aka Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

The first few acts tread water in the lead-up to the climatic battles (there are a few). The absence of former “Avengers” director Joss Whedon is most felt in these early scenes that could have used a little more wit and banter. The essence of the conflict feels like a bit of a MacGuffin, too — but that barely even matters once the fighting starts and you’re reminded just how enjoyable these characters are when they’re together — even in conflict.

Marvel gets by with a lot of deficiencies on the strength of its characters’ charisma, and “Civil War” is no exception. It doesn’t matter how iconic the superhero is if they can’t keep an audience’s attention for nearly a decade of movies. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t rather spend a few minutes with Ant-Man, a character most of us hadn’t even heard of three years ago, than an entire film with this iteration of Superman.

Henry Cavill finds the complexity in playing Superman

Henry Cavill is the ideal Clark Kent. Mild-mannered, self-effacing, and the perfect gentleman, the British heartthrob embraces all the best qualities of Superman’s alter ego.

Beginning with Man of Steel (2013), Cavill gave his Kent a less clumsy and more reserved sensibility, compared to the late, great Christopher Reeves’ interpretation. Having created a distinct new Superman, he now takes things a step farther in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which we find him at odds with Ben Affleck’s Batman. The film invites audiences to witness the founding of the Justice League, and will lay the groundwork for a series of new Superman films in the years to come.

“This film expands on the world that you were introduced to in Man of Steel,” Cavill says. “Superman is now more confident and understands his role as a superhero better. He has a very strong sense of his mission on Earth and he disagrees with Batman’s way of doing things even though they both want to save lives and fight evil.”

In Batman v Superman, while the two DC Comics superheroes engage in their own private war, mankind faces a terrible new threat that makes it imperative that they put their differences aside and unite to save the planet. Directed by Zack Snyder, the film co-stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) and Diane Lane (Martha Kent) also reprise their characters from Man of Steel.

For the 32-year-old Cavill, the upcoming release of the highly-anticipated film will help him rebuild his career momentum after last year’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. disappointed audiences and critics alike.

Born in Jersey, England, to Colin and Marianne Cavill, Henry is the second youngest of five brothers. He was poised to carry on a family tradition of joining the military — his father served in the Navy before becoming a stockbroker, and two of his brothers are in the army and Royal Marines, respectively — until the lure of acting proved too strong.

Cavill’s acting career began in earnest with a small role in the 2002 remake of The Count of Monte Christo starring Guy Pearce. He later achieved recognition as Charles Brandon in the highly acclaimed TV series The Tudors, opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

What do you think is behind the appeal of the Superman character?

He represents a champion for good versus evil.  Superman is an ideal — he represents the good in all of us and he is determined to fight for justice as part of his mission in life. We may not have superpowers like he does, but he is someone whom we all admire and aspire to be like. He is a source of inspiration and hope, and when I play the character I try to reflect that with as much integrity and authenticity as possible.

Beginning with Man of Steel, would you say you’ve tried to make your mark on the character, and set your Clark Kent/Superman apart from Christopher Reeves’ interpretation?

It made no sense to try to emulate or compete with Christopher Reeves’ portrayal.  That will always stand on its own and be cherished by audiences.

I tried to be as faithful to the character as possible and at the same time bring something of my own sense of both Clark Kent and Superman.  I wanted my Clark Kent to be more retiring — someone who doesn’t want to draw any attention to himself. That’s why I didn’t want to play him as very clumsy or doing anything that makes people notice you. For Superman, I wanted to convey his integrity and sense of justice and capture his heroic and idealist spirit.

Given Superman’s extraordinary powers, is it essential to not turn him into this overly heroic or flawless being?

He’s not infallible, and he has his doubts at times. Those elements are very important in giving you a sense of his emotional vulnerability. I wanted to bring that to the character and I think it makes it so much more interesting for audiences to see that his man, even though he’s an extraordinary individual, also struggles at times to make sense of everything.

Do you share his very altruistic outlook?

I think we all want to do the right thing.  I have always been guided by that kind of principle. I’ve made mistakes like everyone else, of course, and Superman is going to make mistakes even though he’s a very good man with noble ideals.

He still has this outsider’s sensibility, and as someone who has been the subject of bullying I understand the anger that he has experienced as a teenager.  But in his case, it’s a big problem if someone with those kind of powers gets angry!

Men's Fitness ran this shot of Cavill, which the magazine said was presumably shot by his trainer Timothy Michael Blevins. Cavill the photo of his then-current physique was just the "minimum goal," he set for his second movie as Superman.
Men’s Fitness ran this shot of Cavill, which the magazine said was presumably shot by his trainer Timothy Michael Blevins. Cavill the photo of his then-current physique was just the “minimum goal,” he set for his second movie as Superman.

Do you get a boost out of wearing the Superman outfit?

Every time I put on the suit in the morning I would feel fantastic. It’s the ultimate feeling and that S is an iconic symbol. It’s not the easiest costume to get into and it takes several people to help get you into the suit because it’s a very tight fit. You become very close over the course of several months of getting you in and out of the suit!

Is this film taking off from where Man of Steel left us?

This film introduces us to Batman and the Justice League but it’s not a Superman sequel.  We will see those films down the road and this one helps develop new storylines and expand the kind of universe that will set the stage for more Superman stories in the future I hope.

Were you a big Superman comic book fan when you were growing up?

No, not really, but I was aware of superheroes like Superman, of course. I went to boarding school where even if I would have been allowed to leave the school grounds there were no comic stores in the area anyway. But when I first auditioned for the role (for DC’s original reboot Superman Returns, which eventually went to Brandon Routh) I began reading everything I could.

Then for Man of Steel, I did even more research in order to develop my own appreciation and understanding of the character beyond what was simply in the script. When I went back to the original comic books I discovered a wealth of insights into the character that made him much more interesting to me and what as an actor I could bring to the role. I tried to search for the complexity in the character and I hope to keep exploring new layers to Superman as we go along.

Superman grows up feeling like something of an outsider. You yourself were subjected to a lot of teasing when you were a kid because you were overweight. Does that give you an added sense of his mindset?

I understood what it means to not feel that you fit in and you need to look within yourself more. I grew up with the kind of complex that comes from being overweight and constantly teased and getting called things like “Fatty Cavill.” When you’re fat, kids use that to pick on you and make fun of you and you can react very negatively and let that make you miserable and self-pitying or you can react against that and use it as a motivating factor to make you more self-reliant and determined to stand up for yourself. (Read how Cavill got shredded for the role.)

My parents were very instrumental in encouraging me to not let those experiences inhibit me or make me more cautious about life. I was taught to have a positive outlook and instead of letting myself feel sad or sorry for myself I developed a stronger sense of who I am and what I wanted to accomplish in my life. All (that abuse) made me much tougher and more anxious to prove myself.

Is there a kind of ego boost to playing Superman?

There’s a certain pride you can take in playing this kind of iconic figure and it creates some excitement with people. I don’t walk the streets thinking I’m Superman, though, although it’s not a bad image to have. And girls don’t seem to mind, either.

How does your family react to your Superman status?

My brothers tease me to death. They’re always saying things like, “Let’s see who gets to defeat Superman today!”

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in wide release March 25.

‘Age of Ultron’ is an Avengers overdose

It will surely stand as one of the most peculiar and possibly ironic entries in a director’s filmography that in between Joss Whedon’s two “Avengers” films there reads “Much Ado About Nothing”: a low-budget, black-and-white Shakespeare adaption sandwiched between two of the most gargantuan blockbusters ever made.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” there is definitely aplenty ado-ing. Too much, certainly, but then again, we come to the Avengers for their clown-car excess of superheroes, their colorful coterie of capes.

What binds Whedon’s spectacles with his Shakespeare are the quips, which sail in iambic pentameter in one and zigzag between explosions in the others. The original 2012 “Avengers” should have had more of them, and there’s even less room in the massive — and massively overstuffed — sequel for Whedon’s dry, self-referential wit.

As a sequel, “Age of Ultron” pushes further into emotionality and complexity, adding up to a full but not particularly satisfying meal of franchise building, and leaving only a bread-crumb trail of Whedon’s banter to follow through the rubble.

The action starts predictably with the Avengers assaulting a remote HYDRA base in the fictional Eastern European republic of Sokovia. They are a weaving force: Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Their powers are as various (supernatural, technological, mythological) as their flaws (Iron Man’s narcissism, the Hulk’s rage, the Black Widow’s regrets). Downey’s glib Tony Stark/Iron Man is the lead-singer equivalent of this super group and, I suspect, the one Whedon likes writing for the most. “I’ve had a long day,” he sighs. “Eugene O’Neill long.”

What “Age of Ultron” has going for it, as such references prove, is a sense of fun, a lack of self-seriousness that persists even when things start going kablooey — something not always evident in other faux-serious superhero films. (See: “Man of Steel,” or rather, don’t.)

In Sokovia, they encounter duplicitous twins: the quick-footed Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mystical Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The real villain, though, is the titular Ultron, an artificial intelligence that the Scarlet Witch slyly leads Stark to create, birthing not the global protection system he hopes, but a maniacal Frankenstein born, thankfully, with some of his creator’s drollness.

Ultron (James Spader) builds himself a muscular metallic body and begins amassing a robot army to rid the planet of human life. Spader plays Ultron who is too similar to other mechanical monsters to equal Tom Hiddleston’s great Loki, the nemesis of the last “Avengers” film. But Spader’s jocular menace adds plenty. He wickedly hums Pinocchio melodies: “There are no strings on me.”

But the drama of “Age of Ultron” lies only partly in the battle with Ultron. The film is really focused on the fraying dysfunction of the Avengers and their existential quandaries as proficient killers now untethered from the dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. agency.

There’s not a wrong note in the cast; just about anything with the likes of Spader, Ruffalo, Johansson, Hemsworth and Downey can’t help but entertain. But the dive into the vulnerability of the Avengers doesn’t add much depth (is the home life of an arrow slinger named Hawkeye important?) and saps the film’s zip.

All the character arcs _ the Avengers, the bad guys and the new characters _ are simply too much to tackle, even for a master juggler like Whedon. The movie’s hefty machinery _ the action sequences, the sequel baiting — suck up much of the movie’s oxygen.

In the relentless march forward of the Marvel juggernaut, “Age of Ultron” feels like a movie trying to stay light on its feet but gets swallowed up by a larger power: The Franchise.  

Can Superman, Spider-Man rescue the porn business?

We all know he can leap tall buildings in a single bound and bend steel in his bare hands. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that during a time of crisis even the porn industry turns to Superman.

The same week in June that Warner Bros. released the Superman blockbuster “Man of Steel,” Vivid Entertainment Group put out its own superhero flick, “Man of Steel XXX: A Porn Parody.”

Although it’s safe to assume that “Steel XXX” didn’t quite match the $116.6 million opening weekend of the Warner Bros. hit, if it performs anything like 2010’s “Batman XXX: A Porn Parody,” it will become the most-rented and highest-selling porn video of the year. At a cost of more than $100,000, it will also be one of the most expensive porn movies made.

Parodies, once a cheaply filmed niche segment of the adult movie market, are big business these days – filled with expensive special effects, real story lines, actors who can (sometimes) actually act and costumes that even comic-book geeks find authentic.

The movies may also help save an industry looking to rebound from years of Internet piracy, illegal downloads and amateur videos that have caused a serious financial hit, said Mark Kernes, senior editor at Adult Video News. The business has gone from annual revenues of as much as $12 billion a few years ago to about $7 billion today.

“We certainly do have a problem with piracy … and sadly no one seems to be able to do anything about it,” said Kernes.

But now Superman is coming to the rescue, along with Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man.

All four have taken star turns in full-length, slickly produced films that include hard-core crime fighting and, well, other hard-core scenes – although milder versions were made of some of the same films.

Neither the makers of the mainstream movies nor comic book writer and Iron Man creator Stan Lee wanted to comment. A person who answered the phone at Lee’s office said he doubted Lee had heard of the parodies, and then hung up. Lee, himself, didn’t respond to an email.

Marvel Comics also did not respond to requests for comment. Warner Bros.’ DC Entertainment Division, which makes the Superman and Batman films, had no comment, said spokeswoman Courtney Simmons.

Since the trend toward superhero parodies began three years ago, no porn company making them has been sued. For years the courts have ruled that parodies, like other forms of speech, are protected by the First Amendment.

“Mainstream porn, from a copyright protection, from a First Amendment protection, is essentially the same as any other form of written expression,” said entertainment lawyer David Ginsburg, who is executive director of the UCLA School of Law’s entertainment, media and intellectual property law program.

“The rules of parody apply as equally to porn as they do to any other form of parody, like ‘Saturday Night Live’ or Mad Magazine,” he said.

The porn parody superhero revolution seems to have begun in earnest around 2010, when veteran adult film director Axel Braun, who boasts of having a collection of DC and Marvel comics dating to his childhood, brought his “Batman XXX” film to Vivid Entertainment Group.

The company’s chief executive, Steven Hirsch, initially wasn’t that impressed. But when the film became the biggest-selling and renting video of the year, Hirsch said, he quickly realized there was a core demographic his business was overlooking: comic-book geeks.

Soon Vivid was cranking out four to six of the films a year, timing their release to whenever the mainstream films hit theaters.

Other companies soon followed with their own releases, including: “The Justice League Of Porn Star Heroes” and a parody of the vampire television series “True Blood.”

Production costs can be more than 10 times as high as making a traditional pornographic movie, but the parodies sell for three times as much, Braun said.

They are, said Hirsch, the best-selling movies on Vivid TV, “after our celebrity sex tapes.”