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From “Thor” to “Green Lantern”: The Highs and Lows in 2011 Comic Book Movies

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on this year’s comic book movie crop. This was a make-it-or-break-it year for Marvel, which successfully launched not one but two huge franchises (Thor and Captain America) as part of its buildup to next year’s The Avengers
Meanwhile, stuck between two Batman movies, DC bet the farm on Green Lantern to be the next Iron Man only to find that Hal Jordan’s weakness is in fact not the color yellow but poor scriptwriting and lackluster special effects. And Iron Man director Jon Favreau teamed up with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in what seemed like a surefire … well, you’ll have to read this list of the “highs” and “lows” of the year in comic book movies to find out where that one ranked.


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High: The Cast of Thor
It’s
a testament to Marvel’s willingness to take risks that the studio
turned over one of its top characters to Kenneth Branagh, an
actor/director more known for Shakespearean sonnets than
rock-’em-sock-’em action. But the gamble paid off, with Branagh bringing
the same level of grandeur to Thor, Odin, and the rest of the Asgard
crew as he did to Hamlet and Henry V. It certainly helped that the cast was stocked with serious thespians like Anthony Hopkins
and Tom Hiddleston. Marvel also gambled on up-and-comer Chris Hemsworth
over a proven star, thus freeing the role from the baggage of an
established star persona. (Ahem, Ryan Reynolds …) Even the supporting
roles shined, with everyone from Idris Elba to 2 Broke Girls star Kat Dennings giving breakout performances. As with Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau, Branagh’s work on Thor
proved once again that actor/directors are often the key to delivering
strong, character-driven films. So how about signing Ben Affleck up for
the currently director-less Thor sequel? 

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Low: Every Comic Book Movie Coming Out in 3D 
Complaining
about Hollywood’s current obsession with 3D seems a bit pointless
considering that you can’t even set foot in a movie theater these days
without paying a surcharge for a pair of uncomfortable glasses. But it’s
a shame that, with the exception of The Adventures of Tintin and The Green Hornet,
every comic book movie this year was filmed traditionally and then
converted to 3D in postproduction. While we got occasional marvels like Thor‘s rainbow bridge, most of the offerings failed to offer much justification for jumping on the 3D bandwagon. (See Green Hornet for proof that not ever hero works in three dimensions.) Even Tintin, a fun romp which harkens back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and other treats from the pre-digital age, would’ve been just as thrilling without the 3D gimmickry. With news that The Avengers is also undergoing the 3D post-conversion before next summer’s release, it looks like the 3D is becoming as essential to Marvel movies as a Stan Lee cameo. 

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Director
Matthew Vaughn brought a mod, James Bond’ian flair to this solidly
entertaining reboot of a franchise that was at a serious low point
following X-Men: The Last Stand. But the dream team of McAvoy and
Fassbender injected life into the decade-old X-Men franchise by giving
us fresh takes on Professor X and Magneto. (The scenes where the
unlikely duo traveled the globe recruiting mutants were some of the
movie’s best moments.) With Magneto, Fassbender brought the suave menace
that has made him a rising star to the role, while McAvoy offered a
charmingly rogueish Xavier who was still learning the ropes in the
mutant/human war. Their chemistry compensated for some of the weaker
links in the cast of younger mutants and helped distract from the fact
that every non-white character in the movie ended up either dead or on
the side of Kevin Bacon and his fellow evil mutants. Well, at least
Bacon’s side was well-dressed. 

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Low: Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford’s Lack of Chemistry in Cowboys & Aliens
And 2011’s “I don’t remember asking for that” award, a title held last year by Jonah Hex,
goes to this adaptation of a comic that absolutely no one has heard of.
Teaming up Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford with director Jon Favreau (Iron Man)
seemed like a license to print money. So what went wrong? Blame a
script that never went beyond the title conflict and didn’t allow Craig
and Ford to do more than look sour and grunt at each other. 

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High: The USO Montage in Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America
earns my vote for 2011’s best comic book movie thanks to its deft mix
of action, humor, and historical drama. And the scene that perfectly
exemplifies how director Joe Johnston and crew nailed the character is
the USO tour montage that manages to work in both a Stan Lee cameo and a
nod to the famous comic book cover where Cap punches out Hitler. With a
strong cast and special effects that were actually incorporated into
the story (who knew a skinny Chris Evans could be so effective?), Captain America was more than just an Avengers prequel. Sure, I could’ve used more scenes of The Howling Commandos busting Nazi heads. But there’s always the sequel …

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Low: All 114 Minutes of Green Lantern
DC took a huge tumble with the special effects-heavy Green Lantern, a film that wanted to be the next Iron Man but barely rose above the level of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Though it wasn’t for lack of trying — DC/Warner Bros. flooded stores
with Green Lantern merchandise, slapping Ryan Reynolds’ mug on
everything from sneakers to 7-11 cups. The marketing blitz
was reminiscent of the Joel Schumacher Batman films of the ’90s in terms
of in-your-face onslaught. Sadly, the film was even more painful to sit
through than the sight of watching Green Lantern shill for cell phone
companies. 

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High: The Dark Knight Rises Trailer
2011
ended with a peek at next year’s most-anticipated film in the form of a
buzz-worthy trailer and a six-minute prequel before Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Picking up several years after the events of The Dark Knight,
the trailer finds Gotham being terrorized by Bane, a
ruffled-coat-wearing terrorist who just might match Joker in his sheer
disregard for authority. As Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman hints in the
trailer, Christopher Nolan and company seem to be addressing the recent
Occupy Wall Street protests in The Dark Knight Rises‘ battle
between Gotham’s haves and have-nots. Nolan once again delivers dazzling
visuals like the sight of a football stadium being swallowed into the
Earth, while fans are already buzzing about the “Easter egg” in the trailer that may hint to a Robin appearance. And then there’s Tom Hardy’s Bane …
 

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Low: The Fact that Nobody Can Understand a Word Bane Says
While
Hardy looks to be giving an intense performance as Bane, many fans feel
that the character’s mask and thick accent make him difficult to
understand. (The majority of complaints come from folks who saw the
prequel on IMAX screens.) While most of what Bane says is decipherable,
it’s a little concerning to have bad buzz floating around months before
release. (Studio execs are reportedly “scared to death” about the Bane
issue.) For his part, Nolan isn’t planning to change Bane’s voice
or the sound mix all that much. According to a source close to the
production, “Chris wants the audience to catch up and participate rather
than push everything at them. He doesn’t dumb things down.” Here’s
hoping that I won’t have to put Bane on next year’s “low” list.

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