Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Movie Reviews - Captain America, Thor, Green Lanter, X-Men

So far this year, I have seen 6 movies. Four of them have been of the comic-superhero genre: X-Men First Class, Thor, Green Lantern & most recently Captain America. King’s Speech and Kung-Fu Panda 2 were the others.

I have two kids; a 10 yr old son and a 6 yr old daughter. My son is the bigger superhero fan—big surprise. Because of this, my wife and I typically preview a movie together to determine whether it is appropriate to take one or more of our kids to see.

With this in mind, I’ll list the order that I liked these superhero movies.

1. Captain America
2. Thor
3. Green Lantern
4. X-Men

Now my reviews—in reverse order

4. X-Men
—I liked much of the story of this movie set in and around the Cuban Missile Crisis/Cold War tensions between the Soviets & the US. I enjoyed seeing the growth of some characters we’re only used to seeing as mature, fully powered mutants. I thought there was a great distinction between good/evil and the importance of each person to choose what is right, along with the emphasis that a life motivated by revenge will only engage in its own justified violence.

I didn’t like the fact that there seemed to be little desire for continuity with the other movies as characters were moved and placed in times they do not belong. Things the characters don’t know in the “later” movies are shown.

With that said, I did not take my son to see this movie. Some of the brutality was too much, especially in regard to Magneto’s character—brutality acted upon him and by him. I also thought there was too much given to women in lingerie and a fantasy sex scene. Neither of these really added to the story and each scene could have been done well without them. While I laughed at Wolverine’s cameo and thought the behavior was consistent with the character, the F-Word was too strong and unnecessary.

There were several things I liked about this movie but more things I did not. It’s one of those “I could have liked it more if…” kind of movies. I may let my son watch some scenes on the DVD provided we fast forward others, but we will not be buying this one.

3. Green Lantern
—I must admit I have been a GL fan since I was a kid. For me, his status and power was always the most misunderstood and poorly represented in the cartoons I grew up with. I never spent money on comics but the occasional one I found seemed to have a different set up than other standard heroes. So with that, I’ve been looking forward to this attempt.

When I saw the first trailer, I thought it was going to be a disaster. They made it look like a comedy routine. It was certainly better than that. Some of the special effects were excellent and I’ve been told were very good on the 3-D level which I did not get to see.

This movie was OK, it was entertaining and had some good discussions again about the choice of doing what is right and courage in the face of great adversity. It makes the great point—one that I’ve tried to teach my kids—that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather it is the ability to act and do what is right/necessary in the face of fear. There was also the emphasis of the impact that fathers can have on their children both positively and negatively.

In many ways, the story dragged too much. Hal Jordan really only used his ring a couple of times in the whole movie and for too long he was the reluctant hero. This is a tired motif, imho and does not understand Hal Jordan’s character or why the ring would select him.

Being a GL fan, I thought this was the wrong way to portray Hal Jordan. He could be a rule breaker, but not because he was irresponsible, rather because he pushed the limits. As a test pilot, I always thought of him wanting to be the best, but unable to prove it in the “real world” of air combat—where he could make a difference. Kind of like the frustration many police officers feel when they move to a desk job and no longer go out in the field. There is a desire to get out there do something and prove that they are still capable. It is from this thought that I always pictured Hal Jordan as longing for something greater and a true desire to be a hero. He just needed the opportunity. The ring chose him in part b/c of this desire and his courage.

Overall, I was not impressed with the movie enough to want to take my kids to see it and pay that money. I’ll wait for the DVD and decide later if I’ll actually purchase it.

2. Thor
—I really enjoyed this movie and in many ways is closer to a 1b than it is a genuine 2. I did take my son to see this one.

Fortunately, the movie did not spend a whole lot of time on the Norse Mythology angle as a set of beliefs. But if I remember correctly, it did intro the movie with the thought that there was a time when humans did not believe they were alone in the universe. I thought that a good intro considering most people do not equate belief in extraterrestrials on the same level as belief in God or gods. These beings from Asgard are not really gods, but just advanced aliens who have a connection to our planet. It implies that all gods really fall into this category but doesn’t make it overbearing or insulting to those who have a belief. This was appreciated.

There was minor language and no real nudity. The humor was appropriate and not crude. I thought the story moved well and introduced a character that most people don’t know a whole lot about.

I thought the contrast of Thor at the beginning of the movie—prideful & arrogant—to how he was at the end was a compelling story. A good hero/warrior/king cannot hold to the idea of always being right or that because he’s the strongest he should get his way. I thought the look of Asgard was good as well as the various armor people wore.

In many ways, this movie portrays biblical concepts like “pride comes before a fall” or “ God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. It was the intent of Odin that Thor would learn and grow through a period of discipline and humiliation. Thor was a great warrior, but he was not a great leader or a great man (a theme that comes again in Captain America). And this is true in my life as well as how God works in our world today, particularly with those who claim the name of Jesus—God disciplines those He loves and if He is not disciplining you, you are illegitimate and not truly His (see Hebrews 12).

I thought the action was good and well paced—good fight scenes that weren’t gory. One thing I feared in this movie was the depiction of the Rainbow Bridge that connects the worlds together. I always thought it looked stupid in the cartoon versions—I liked this one.

Overall, I thought this was a great movie and was pretty comfortable taking my son to see it. I expect to purchase a copy when it comes out on DVD.

1. Captain America
—This was a great, entertaining movie. It’s not intended to win Oscars, but entertain. I just saw this movie over the weekend so my review has more details and a few spoilers.

Once again there was not any nudity and only minimal language. Even the action violence was not bloody or extreme. I felt comfortable taking my son to see the movie and considered taking my daughter, but she was not interested.

I was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to make the movie interesting considering even my son was already familiar with Captain America’s story. I thought they did a great job setting up the Steve Rogers character as the 90 pound weakling but who still had courage. To paraphrase another movie line, “his heart was writing checks his body couldn’t cash.”

Steve had a heart to serve his country and fight alongside other men laying down their lives. He wanted to be a hero and lived with a sense of courage and responsibility; as well as a sense of obligation. Love of country & true patriotism is actually an increasingly rare perspective coming out of Hollywood—and this movie was full of it. When a character in a movie disrespected the war effort and the news, Steve was the one who had the strength of character to confront him—resulting in his own beating.

Steve failed several times to pass the entrance exam into the army but he didn’t want to give up. Other ways of serving his country was not enough. He wanted to fight even though he knew he didn’t have the physical tools to survive long. This caught the eye of a scientist developing the super soldier formula. When asked, Steve’s motivation was not killing Nazi’s or a hatred for the enemy, rather it was because he didn’t like bullies—an experience he was familiar with.

When Steve made it to basic training, he was clearly not qualified or able to be a soldier. Tommy Lee Jones played his character of the General very well. And here enters one of the great aspects of the movie and what makes a good hero. One candidate looked the part, had all of the measurables they were looking for, but his character was not.

Tommy Lee says, “it takes more than guts to be a hero (soldier, not sure)” and he throws a dummy grenade into the exercising men. All of them, even the preferred candidate, scatter except Steve who without hesitation jumps on it to save others. “He’s still skinny” is the response from the impressed general.

In talking with the scientist, Steve learns that the formula takes who you are and amplifies it. A good man becomes great, a bad man becomes worse (which is what happened to the bad guy in the movie, Red Skull). Steve is reminded that power and strength that is not coupled with humility and compassion is dangerous—which is why he as a 90 pound weakling was the ideal candidate. A good man is better than a good soldier.

Once he becomes the hero, rather than be given the opportunity to live it out, he has the humiliating task of peddling War Bonds as an actor in a hokey costume. They really had fun with this part and did it well. But what Steve was unwilling to do before (not put his life on the line by collecting scrap metal), he finds himself essentially doing—living in safety when others are being injured and dying.

Steve is a hero, but has not been given the opportunity. Despite the fact that he could whip any soldier in the military, when he is put in front of them, they blow him off as “just an actor”—he has not proven himself to them or even himself. He knows he is made for something more and is dissatisfied with life as he waits for the opportunity.

When the opportunity presents itself—he has to take it.

He was looking for the moment.
He was willing in the moment.
He made the most of the moment.

In so doing, he rescued 400 prisoners of war from the bad guys.

Now everyone knows he’s a hero, he is Captain America.

The rest of the movie details the exploits of Captain America against the bad guys. There’s a good difference between what CA wants to do with his power vs. what Red Skull wants to do with his. Red Skull wants to rise above the rules of society and nation—no longer living in Hitler’s shadow and criticizes CA for wearing the “flag on your chest”. I would have appreciated a response from Cap on this statement.

Red Skull personifies Nietzsche’s “Uberman” in many ways—thinking that he has risen above the constraints and morals of the lesser men. And because he has no moral foundation himself, he was not a good man before, he is worse when given power and thus tries to subject everyone to serve him even if it means killing most everyone else.

Cap thwarts the plan and sacrifices himself to save numerous cities in America. In so doing, he is frozen in arctic ice and reawakened some 70+ years later. Everyone he knows has died, the nation has moved on and in future movies he’ll have to figure out how to serve his country and the world.

It’s a nice lead in to The Avengers movie coming out next year which will partner Cap with Ironman, Thor, Hulk and several others. Be sure and stay to the end of the credits to see the preview.

I will definitely be getting this one on DVD when it comes out.

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