Thor

It should come as little shock to anyone who visits this site that the staff here are nerdlings (not to be confused with zerglings) to the nth degree. As such, it surprises one even less that several of us are not only avid comic book readers, but more specifically fans of the Marvel comics version of Thor, Norse God of Thunder. We've sat through two Hulks (one terrible, one kinda fun), two Iron Man films (both good, first one better), and a lot of trailers; but finally, ladies and gentlemen...It's Hammer Time!

I had to say it at least once. I won't do it again. Promise.

The picture starts off following a team of storm chasing astrophysicists headed by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who at the age of 29 is finally looking over the age of 18), the film, and the team, quickly run into Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Quite literally. With a car. Not the most auspicious introduction, certainly. Quickly, however, the story rewinds back a few hundred years to develop the backstory of Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) defense of the nine realms (of which Earth is one) against the threat of the Frost Giants. The narration continues on about how it will be his future heir's duty, either Thor or his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to hold the line. It's here where we're reminded yet again that Hopkins is a member of that elite cadre of actors of whom we wouldn't mind listening to a reading of the Sears catalogue.

As time passes, Thor is chosen as heir to the throne, (much to the consternation of Loki) though he is still brash and headstrong. Eventually he leads an ill-fated expedition into the heart of the Frost Giant kingdom, kicking ass and taking names like any storm god should, but threatening the tenuous truce that has lasted the last few centuries. Odin gets ticked, and rightfully so, booting Thor from Asgard to Midgard (Earth for those less up on their Viking nomenclature). It's here where the film turns into more of a romantic comedy, but still maintains its charm, providing a timely break from all the Magic talk and immortals. It's these elements that help cement what is essentially a high fantasy film into a relatable reality, which is a key quality for a superhero flick.

Speaking of which, as this is being integrated into the grand "Marvel Avengers film plan", there are a lot of references to the Hulk and Iron Man films, as well as a nod to the Captain America picture slated for later this year. All of this is done with much the same style and technique that the original comics did years ago, and never bogs down the film. Indeed, when a giant armored weapon of godly distruction is sent to New Mexico and the first response by a government agent is "Is this another one of Stark's?" only to be followed by "Who knows? He never tells me anything." is a nice light touch, keeping the film universe alive.

All told, Thor is a rollicking good adventure flick. It takes just the right amount of time to develop its characters enough so that when the requisite effects-laden battles begin, you actually care about the results even though you know exactly what they'll be. Additionally, the film is fun enough that when it comes home on Blu-Ray or DVD, you can still have a blast with a superhero-themed Cavalcade crew.

Kick-Ass

Movie adaptations of comic books are tricky. Things that work in comics do not always work in film, and vice versa.  As a result, changes need to be made appropriately.  Filmmakers have to weigh the value of faithfulness to the source against creating a stronger film.   Like Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen (2009)Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass primary weakness as a film is how well it adapts the story from the comic book.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average American teen, mildly bored with life and reader of comic books.  Dave decides to make his life more meaningful by getting involved in his community, helping out at homeless shelters, joining extra-curricular programs at school, and working up the nerve to talk to girls.  Wait… no, that would be an appropriate response.  No, Dave goes the saner route of buying a SCUBA outfit, and fighting crime as the superhero, Kick-Ass.

Shockingly, on his first real patrol, Dave is stabbed and run over by a car.

After “months of healing” are over, Dave goes right back out and fights crime again-albeit more successfully-and is broadcast on YouTube.  Kick-Ass becomes a sensation, inspiring a father and daughter vigilante team to also don super-hero costumes as Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), who go on a mission to destroy local mob boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)-enlisting Kick-Ass to help...with graphically violent results.

Like the original comic book, the film’s tone is uneven at best.  At varying points, the film is about the realities of trying to be a vigilante, dealing with high school awkardness, an epic revenge drama, a shoot ‘em up, a commentary on fame and mass media, a satire of super-hero films, a mob film, and an absurdist comedy.  While Vaughn’s strong visual sense makes the film a pleasure to watch, and the film is at no point boring, the constant shifting between various genres left the film with no real identity.  Which in Vaughn’s defense, is very faithful to the comic book.

Also faithful to the comic, Kick-Ass is actually the least interesting character.  At minimum, he needs to anchor the ludicrous story of Hit-Girl, Big Daddy, and Frank D’Amico.  In the comic book, Dave’s constant narration provides this anchor.  Unfortunately, in the film, he becomes lost in his own story, struggling to keep up with the other personalities on screen. This is not a shock considering the acting talent he's up against. Nicholas Cage, as always, delivers an interesting performance combining his normal insanity with more than a little nod to Adam West.  Mark Strong demonstrates that he possesses probably the best American accent in all of England.

Then there’s Chloe Moretz.

Moretz steals the show playing an 11-year-old, unstoppable engine of violence.  Her least disturbing aspect is her foul mouth.  Much, much worse is how she brutally dismembers at least thirty armed mob enforcers.  Granted, the audience won't feel bad for the guys getting killed, but when it’s a cute little girl, it’s at the very least...disconcerting.  The most amusing audience reaction to Hit-Girl was when someone finally managed to hit her.  Everyone was shocked and horrified that the little girl got kicked in the face.  You know, after she spent the better part of the film lopping people’s legs off and crushing them in hydraulic presses, I may be jaded.

Overall, Kick-Ass is an intriguing addition to the growing library of super-heroes on film.  It’s visually gripping, action-packed, and entertaining; and while it's not a “realistic” portrayal of what someone trying to be a super-hero in real life like Mark Millar said it would be, it does have a sweet jetpack. If nothing else, he doesn’t call the audience assholes at the end for reading his comics.