Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Dark Knight Rises

Year 5, Day 208 - 7/27/13 - Movie #1,492

BEFORE:  Because Comic-Con is not over until I hang my exhibitor badge ceremoniously from my dresser, atop a collection of about 8 or 9 others.  My BFF Andy urged me to watch this one last year, so we could discuss it in a podcast, but then I got busy with Comic-Con, that thing happened in Denver where some idiot shot up a theater, and I figured I could wait a bit.  That turned into a year's wait, but it got me other superhero films to bookend it, so I could compare and contrast, and for me that's what it's all about.

A film like this needs to be seen on the big screen - and by that I mean my larger living-room TV, not the small monitor in my man-cave.  But the problem with watching DVDs on that TV is that the screen tends to go really dark during night scenes, as in too dark to tell what's happening - it's some bad connection between the DVD player and the TV that I haven't been able to fix.  Well, the good news is that I've got the DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack, and I can watch a Blu-Ray disc on the Playstation 3, and I confess that this will be my first Blu-Ray viewing experience.

Maintaining the "JFK" connection, Martin Sheen from "The Amazing Spider-Man" was in that film with Gary Oldman (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2").

THE PLOT:  Eight years on, a new evil rises, causing the Batman to resurface and fight to protect Gotham City...

AFTER:  Wow! (I'm sorely tempted to just give that as a one-word review, followed by the score.)

So far this week I've seen three instances of adapting from comic-books, where the screenwriters felt comfortable borrowing from this storyline or that, attempting to put together something that would be greater than the sum of its parts.  I think this is the one that succeeded in doing that - taking bits from three of the best Batman storylines: "The Dark Knight Returns" (an injured Batman returns after a long absence), "Knightfall" (Batman battles Bane and gets injured even worse), and "No Man's Land" (Gotham City is cut-off from the mainland).

Echoes from previous films this week, too: Iron Man had to battle back after losing his fortune and was thought to be dead, Superman had to find a way to clear his city of its tormentors without damaging it further, and Spider-Man had to battle an enemy with a similar origin to his own.  All of that happens to Bruce Wayne/Batman in this film, and so much more.  So, really I have to perceive this film as one of the ultimate superhero films, it really covered a lot of ground, hit all these great story beats, had the big scary tech device, lots of little gadgetry, had a nod toward villains acting like modern terrorists, class conflict (similar to "Occupy Wall Street") and presented a giant conundrum, one that seemed impossible for the hero to overcome, even with the help of Gotham's police and civilians.

I've got no solid complaints, no nit-pick points, the only fault I can find is that the running time is a bit long, but, really, it needed to be, and it made good use of all that time.   I felt at times that it might be a little too cerebral, a little too complicated.  Maybe a little too much going on?  But then the twists started coming, and I won't reveal the key ones here, but as a comic-book fan I was shocked and stunned by them, even though they made perfect sense in retrospect.

Now, your mileage may vary, as always.  You might find this too long and overblown, or think this has too many punch-out scenes, I have to admit I don't know all of you well enough to say.  But from where I sit, Superman and Spider-Man just got schooled.

Also starring Christian Bale (last seen in "American Psycho"), Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Rachel Getting Married"), Michael Caine (last seen in "The Italian Job"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Outbreak"), Tom Hardy (last seen in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "Looper"), Matthew Modine (last seen in "Memphis Belle"), Marion Cotillard (last seen in "Contagion"), with cameos from Daniel Sunjata, Nestor Carbonell, Liam Neeson (last seen in "Battleship"), Cillian Murphy (last seen in "In Time"), Thomas Lennon (last seen in "Cedar Rapids"), William Devane.

RATING: 10 out of 10 board meetings

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man

Year 5, Day 207 - 7/26/13 - Movie #1,491

BEFORE:  Superman got his reboot, and tonight I look at Spider-Man's reboot - released just five years after the Tobey Maguire trilogy directed by Sam Raimi.  Was this really necessary?

I know I've been bouncing back and forth between Marvel and DC movies, but I do read comics from both companies, and I'm just going in the order that the actor linking seems to dictate.  Linking from "Man of Steel", Kevin Costner was also in "JFK" with Martin Sheen (last seen in "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World").   See?

THE PLOT:  Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father's former partner.

AFTER:  I spoke last night about writer's remorse - the simple mistake John Byrne made by starting his "Man of Steel" mini-series on Krypton.  I wonder if the overlords of the Spider-Man franchise had similar remorse after the first "Spider-Man" film in 2002.  They started with Mary Jane as Spidey's girlfriend, and seemed to have completely forgotten about Gwen Stacy, his first girlfriend from the comic books.  Long before there was "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob", male comic-book fans were divided into "Team Gwen" and "Team MJ", depending on when they started reading Spider-Man comics.

So in the do-over, Gwen is a major player, and MJ is absent.  For that matter, so is Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson and the entire staff of the Daily Bugle, and all the villains from the previous series.  Instead the focus is on Dr. Curt Connors, who comic fans know better as the Lizard, Flash Thompson gets a bigger role, and we get to see the enigmatic Spider-parents in flashback scenes.

The Superman and Spider-Man movies were also both very father-oriented.  Superman had to combine the lessons from both of his fathers, the Kryptonian Jor-El and his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent.  Peter Parker's father is absent, but he learns his moral lessons from his surrogate father, Uncle Ben Parker.

The Spider-Man story is another framework upon which various writers jump off from, so there are many tweaks made here to update Spider-Man for a new generation.  I know it really hasn't been that long, but if you think about it, there's a whole new bunch of high-school kids since the previous trilogy ended, and they're the ones that the story appeals most to.  So where Maguire's Spider-Man was quiet and unassuming, the new actor's Spider-Man is more rowdy and troubled, but also more rambling and incoherent.  I had a big trouble with the way he stammered through most of his dialogue.  Maguire may have been low-key, but at least he could form coherent sentences.

The tie-in here that gets Peter to that fateful OsCorp lab to get his spiderbite is his search for information about his father, who apparently worked in the field of cross-species genetics.  It's a clever way to draw a connection between a human with spider-powers, and a villain with lizard powers, essentially making them foil characters, opposite sides of the same coin.  Peter and Dr. Connors are friends and compatriots, but Spider-Man and the Lizard are violent enemies.   Oh, and it's also a clever way to introduce Spider-Man's webbing, since Richard Parker's work led to a super-strong, super-thin cable derived from spider's webs - so all Peter had to do was design the web-shooter, not the webbing inside.  (He has to do this, since unlike Maguire's Spidey, he doesn't have webbing coming out of his wrists...)

ASIDE: I'm not sure how I feel about the depiction of Richard Parker as a scientist.  The comic books revealed at one point that the Parkers were some kind of secret agents, who died in the line of duty somehow.  This sort of functioned a precursor to Spider-Man's role as a superhero.  Of course, the comic books also revealed at one point they were still alive, but then those beings were revealed to be evil robots who somehow didn't set off Spider-Man's spidey-sense.  You know what, it was a terrible storyline.  Forget I brought it up.

I've got an unintentional extra running theme developing this week - not just superheroes, but bullying.  I think it goes back to "Kick-Ass" even.  We had Tony Stark's young friend dealing with bullies, and Clark Kent being bullied as a child, and today it was Parker vs. Flash Thompson.  Makes sense, since showing heroes being heroic by stepping in to defend the weak and bullied is a very common theme.

Another weird coincidence, both this film and "Iron Man 3" had characters trying to use science to enable people to grow back lost limbs.  What are the chances of that, unless all of these movies are just copying from each other?   If you've lost an arm, though, I'm not sure that an injection of lizard DNA would be the go-to solution.  Have you tried a prosthetic arm?  The technology is getting quite good these days...  I also had problems with the design of the Lizard character, he just looked like a guy with bad skin - but in the comics he's got those great big alligator-like jaws, I wish they could have done something more like that.

Something else that's common to the Spider-Man movies - there's usually a blurring of the lines between good and evil.  I mean that it's tough to tell if the villains are truly evil, or just under the influence of a particular toxin, or serum, or alien suit mechanical tentacles.  General Zod was evil, without question - but Green Goblin, Lizard, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Venom?  They were clearly villains in the comic books, but in the movies it's tougher to say.  Where does the human personality begin and where do the outside influences take over?  Or since Spider-Man is also a product of radiation/chemicals, do these influences change them, or just bring out the person that they secretly wish they could be? 

Unfortunately, throughout this film, I got mostly the feeling I had watching "Man of Steel" the other day - that was not my Superman, and this is not my Spider-Man.  (I reject your reality, and substitute my own...)  The Spider-Man I followed in the comics between 1983 and, umm, last year, I guess is not really here.   This Spider-Man doesn't learn moves from a wrestler, he just seems to magically gain them with his Spider-sense, and he hones them by going to a warehouse and practicing skateboard tricks, dangling from chains, and dancing around like Kevin Bacon, "Footloose"-style.  Then he works in a bunch of free-running moves - so I guess you can call him "Peter Parkour".

NITPICK POINT: Also, as in "Man of Steel", I kept getting the feeling that most things were just way too convenient, everything is found or discovered or developed at the exact moment that it is most needed.  The algorithm/"magic formula" that Peter finds, the ease with which antidotes to things are produced, just by pushing a button!  This movie makes science look as simple as basic math, and I don't think that it is.  Not in cross-species genetics, anyway.  Penecillin and antibiotics seem like simple ideas now, but they took decades to be discovered and developed.

Anyway, my Spider-Man no longer exists in the comics, since he was married to Mary Jane, and that marriage got erased by a deal with the devil that saved Aunt May's life.  This was a terrible move on Marvel's part - if the new writer didn't want to write about MJ, there were much simpler and more dramatic ways to accomplish this - divorce or separation, for example, or faking her death (I guess they did that one before, though).  But having a hero make a deal with the devil should have some negative repercussions somewhere - heroes shouldn't even TALK to the devil, let alone make deals  (look what happened to Johnny Blaze in "Ghost Rider").

And in case you haven't heard, the comic-book Peter Parker is dead (well, comic-book dead, which is "mostly dead", which is slightly alive) after Dr. Octopus switched bodies with him just before he died, meaning Parker died in the villain's body and Doc Ock is running around as Spider-Man, trying to be a better hero.  Reviews are mixed, so if the audience rejects this storyline, I'm sure they'll find a way to bring Petey back.

Or maybe you read "Ultimate Spider-Man" comics - well, he's dead there, too.  But there is a new hero that took up the costume there, named Miles Morales.  I read an interview with the star of "Amazing Spider-Man", and he was making an argument for freshening up the franchise by saying "Peter Parker is now half-black, half-Hispanic now".  Umm, no, Ultimate Spider-Man may be that, but Peter Parker is not.  How can someone so connected to the franchise make such a blatant error?

Yep, any way you slice it, Spider-Man is dead.  Long live Spider-Man. 

Also starring Andrew Garfield (last seen in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"), Emma Stone (last seen in "Crazy, Stupid, Love."), Sally Field (last seen in "Smokey and the Bandit II"), Denis Leary (last seen in "Recount"), Rhys Ifans (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Irrfan Khan (last seen in "Life of Pi"), Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), with cameos from C. Thomas Howell, Stan Lee (last seen in "Iron Man 3")

RATING: 7 out of 10 construction cranes

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Man of Steel

Year 5, Day 205 - 7/24/13 - Movie #1,490

BEFORE: Comic-Con may be over, but the superhero movies keep rolling on - from Iron to Steel, get it?  Knowing that this Superman film was going to be released in late June was a great motivation for delaying the superhero chain, and then of course I delayed it too much, because this film's been out for a month now, and I'm just getting to it.  I'm still easing back into my routine, so I may only watch 4 films this week - I'll have to see how I feel.  Linking from "Iron Man 3", Guy Pearce was also in "L.A. Confidential" with Russell Crowe (last seen in "Les Miserables" - hmm, Crowe was in 2 of the 4 films I've seen in the theater this year...)

THE PLOT:  A young Clark Kent is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Superman Returns" (Movie #538)

AFTER: My first impression is that this is not "my" Superman, and I'm going to need some time to get used to this new version of the hero.  What do I mean by "my" Superman?  Aren't all Supermans (Supermen?) the same guy?  Sole survivor of a doomed planet, able to leap tall buildings, more powerful than a locomotive, etc. etc.

Well, no, not really.  The Superman of 1938 comics and radio doesn't resemble the Silver Age hero, which isn't like the ones on TV, and the one from the comic books now is a lot different as well.  This is a reboot, a chance to start the story anew, like "Casino Royale" for James Bond, it's very popular these days.

In fact, the DC Comics company decided to reboot Superman in print as well, thanks to a crossover event titled "Flashpoint" in which Flash (Wally West) ran so fast he went back in time (I'm guessing) and changed history, in a bit of a riff on "It's a Wonderful Life", and then they changed things back again, only a lot of things were made different.  Dead heroes like the other Flash (Barry Allen) were alive again, and the new writers could pick and choose which elements of the previous reality would move forward into the new one.

(ASIDE: Regardless of what you may read in the entertainment magazines, the decision to change Superman's costume, losing the red briefs, had (perhaps) nothing to do with aesthetics, it connects to a lawsuit from the estates of Superman's creators, which awarded the Superman name and character to one party, and costume and origin to another, in the hopes those two parties would work together going forward.  Didn't happen, so a cynical person might say they changed Supes' costume and backstory to save on some royalty checks.)

I've written before about when I really got into Superman comics, it was the previous reboot in 1986, with a miniseries similarly titled "The Man of Steel", written + drawn by John Byrne.  The DC Comics Universe had been relentlessly cluttered over the years, with alternate universes, Earth A, Earth 2, Earth Z, Bizarro Earth, Counter-Earth, etc.  Plus there was Supergirl, Superboy, Superdog, SuperMonkey, the bottled city of Kandor - which all kind of went against that "sole survivor" idea. So they consolidated the realities and killed off a bunch of heroes, wiped the slate clean and started fresh with a rocket from Krypton heading towards Earth.

(ASIDE #2: In those first Superman comics, Jor-El didn't really "aim" for Earth, he just wanted to get his baby Kal off of Krypton before it exploded.  But then other writers came on board and suggested he called the shot, which started to bend the bounds of credulity, even by comic book standards.  So, this guy 1) somehow knew about Earth, 2) somehow knew what effect Earth's yellow sun would have on his son and 3) somehow managed to hit Earth with a rocket from light-years away?  That's like aiming a peashooter at a beach, trying to hit one particular grain of sand, while the tide is coming in.)

Now DC Comics did their own reboot two years ago, essentially telling me that the stories between 1986 and 2011 no longer mattered, which is a slap in the face to older fans but a fresh start for new young ones.  I understand it, but I don't have to like it.  

My point is, the Superman story, or any superhero story for that matter, is a framework, upon which hundreds of writers get to hang their stories over the years, and each one changes the story by a little or a lot.  You have to hit certain story beats - he was born on Krypton, flew on a rocket, was found in a Kansas cornfield by the Kents, and eventually becomes a newspaper reporter/superhero in disguise.  Now, you can add little bits and take away others when you tell your Superman story - this film just happens to be one without Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, plus just a tiny bit of Lana Lang and Pete Ross (who's Caucasian again, but I guess since Perry White is now black, it balances out...).  Some versions have Ma and Pa Kent alive, some have them dead, this film decided to split the difference (as the recent comics have, with them alive in Action Comics but dead 5 years later in Superman Comics)

It's a lot like "Hamlet", where a dramatist might look for a new way to present the play, and find that he can't really change the lines or the plot points, but he can change the inflections or the stage directions in order to bring some new meaning to it.  Or maybe the story of Jesus is a better analogy (I've also written before of the many similarities between Superman and Jesus, too many to list here) because people can make films about different aspects of the Jesus story ("Passion of the Christ", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Jesus Christ Superstar") in essence telling the same story, but in almost completely different ways.  I feel more comfortable making the Superman/Jesus analogy since the film at one point places Supes in front of a prominent stained-glass window with Jesus on it, praying in the garden of Gethsemane...

Now, the first half of this film takes place in one of the spaces in-between the story beats - Clark Kent is out of college (or high school, not sure which) and is traveling around the world doing odd jobs, like fishing or bartending, only using his superpowers when needed, because he believes that the world will not accept him as a hero, that they'll be suspicious of such a powerful alien in their midst. That's an interesting stage for Superman to be in, and I wish the movie could have spent more time there.  (as with Jesus, the years between childhood and his early thirties are something of a mystery)  But the constant use of flashback, showing scenes from his childhood almost randomly, do affect this stage, because we don't completely feel the years of isolation from his parents and friends.

Before that, the film opens with the traditional (but longer than usual) destruction of Krypton, preceded by a conflict over birthing rights and resources, or something, and a debate over who gets to rule the planet for the next few hours before it blows up.  As for that "Man of Steel" miniseries, author John Byrne later said he made a storytelling blunder by starting the story on Krypton, and he wished he'd saved that part of the story for later, so the audience would find out about Superman's origin at the same time he did.  It's the simple mistake of an omniscient narrator, born from an ambition to get the audience all of the information they need, at the expense of suspense.  I don't think it counts as a mistake here, because Jor-El is an important part of the story on Krypton, and later on Earth as well. (OK, a hologram of Jor-El, but it's a really good and smart one.)

We all know what's coming, well, by "we" I mean Superman fans - General Zod is bound to escape from the Phantom Zone somehow and come to Earth to try and conquer it.  And Superman is expected to give himself up, sacrificing himself in return for the salvation of the world (see? Jesus!), but since we know Zod is evil, it's going to come down to fisticuffs.

Now, here's where the movie kind of lost me, because the second half seemed a lot like a carbon copy of "The Avengers".  Perhaps this film was in development first, but it got released second, so I feel the need to make the comparison.  Both films feature an alien attack on Earth, and a villain connected to one of the heroes - just replace Loki with Zod, and "cosmic cube" with "world engine" and it's really the same deal.  Plus a lot of skyscrapers get knocked down in both films, which doesn't call 9/11 to mind at all, really, Hollywood, keep doing this, I just can't get enough.

Speaking of which, the Zod/Superman showdown was, in my opinion, extremely repetitive.  They kept knocking each other into building after building, never hurting each other, but destroying a heck of a lot of real estate.  As the protector of Metropolis, and Earth, I wondered when Superman would find a way to move the battle elsewhere, so he wouldn't further harm the city he was trying to save.  Really, I expect more of Superman, he needed to find a better way.

I also find fault with most everything in the film seeming just a bit too convenient.  Right after Superman finds his purpose (and his suit), Zod shows up?  OK, they explain that one, but it still seems like rather suspicious timing.  The 4 or 5 people that Superman is working with (Lois, Dr. Hamilton, army guy and um, other army guy) just happen to have the exact combined necessary skill set to figure out a plan to combat the alien doohickey?  Again, it's a huge coincidence.  Deus ex machina (or at least "Jor-El ex Machina") times four because there were at least four alien doohickeys total, all of which were created by advanced aliens, but somehow humans are able to figure them out at just the right time.

In the end, what makes a hero?  In this film, the difference between a villain and a hero is that a villain will kill without remorse, and a hero will kill when he has to, but feel bad about it later.  I'm not sure that sends an appropriate message out to the kids - is that really how we want to think about Superman, shouldn't we expect more from him?  I know I do.

NITPICK POINT #1 (and believe me, I have a bunch, even if I don't list them all here...): So, Superman's flight is just advanced jumping?  I mean, he doesn't put out energy from his feet or anything, so maybe.  But if you jump and just keep going, is that the same as flying?  Douglas Adams wrote that the secret to flying is throwing yourself at the ground and missing - that seems to be what Superman does, only he jumps in the air and then just fails to fall.  Isn't that what a plane does?  It just moves forward really fast, and doesn't fall, and then when it keeps going straight and the curvature of the Earth makes the ground farther away, the plane is flying, right?  (NOTE: I do not actually know how a plane stays in the air...) But, then, how does Superman hover?

NITPICK POINT #2: I've got major issues with the passage of time as it relates to space travel.  Did Superman's rocket have a hyperdrive?  If not, how long did it take it to get to Earth?  How much time is "300 cycles" in the Phantom Zone?  And how did Jor-El's technology interface with that of the scout ship?  Did Kryptonian technology not change over 18,000 years?  If not, why do I have to upgrade my computer software every two?

(ASIDE: They did a story in the comics where Superman got to watch Krypton explode, because his rocket ship DID travel faster than light, which meant that due to the time-space continuum, it took 20 years or so for light from Krypton to reach Earth, because the images we see of stars and planets are all years old.  All of the stars in the Milky Way could have blinked out already, and we wouldn't know about it for years - that's how space equals time in the long run.  But this is the point where the editor of the comic book should have said to the writer, "You are WAY too geeky, even by comic book standards, and the logistics of this story are over the heads of 99% of the audience..." NITPICK POINT about the ASIDE: So, how did the Kryptonite get here so fast??)

NITPICK POINT #3: The "S" on Superman's chest does NOT mean "hope".  It means "House of El", which Jor-El said STOOD for hope.  It's not a literal translation, it's more like how "IHOP" means "you can get pancakes here". 

And speaking of hope, maybe you heard the news out of Comic-Con that the next Superman film will also feature Batman, though we don't yet know if they'll be fighting each other or working together (probably both), or much else about the film, but we hope it will eventually lead to a Justice League film, as a franchise and not a typical stand-alone DC Comics film.

Also starring Henry Cavill (last seen in "Stardust"), Amy Adams (last seen in "The Muppets"), Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner (last seen in "For Love of the Game"), Diane Lane (last seen in "Secretariat"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Contagion"), Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff (last seen in "Johnny English Reborn"), Michael Kelly (last seen in "The Adjustment Bureau").

RATING: 7 out of 10 satellites

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Iron Man 3

Year 5, Day 202 - 7/21/13 - Movie #1,489

BEFORE: I'm just back from San Diego Comic-Con, but I watched this film two days previous, on Sunday night - it was my reward to myself for surviving another trip there, possibly my tenth.  It's tough to say when I started going, the conventions seem to all run together after a few years.  I won't relate the entire adventure here, mainly because most of it involved sitting in a chair at a booth for long stretches of time, and partly because I tend to visit the same restaurants and buy some of the same things, and repeat many of the actions I did in years previous.

And that what it's become for me, largely a set of repeated actions, though each year I see some new faces and costumes, hear some news about different upcoming projects, sell slightly different merchandise.  But I decided for once I'd go off the beaten path a bit.  Well, originally I'd planned to see this film as part of the Comic-Con film programming, as I was sure they'd include it.  Nope, though they were screening the FIRST Iron Man film, that did me little good.  And since it's mostly gone from theaters in NYC, my next best shot was to see if it was playing in the San Diego area, at some time when I wouldn't be at the booth, or eating dinner, or sleeping.  I had one shot, late Sunday night there was a 10:15 pm show in a town called Chula Vista.

I'm sure it's a lovely place, nestled halfway between San Diego and Tijuana, but I went there after dark, and perhaps it wasn't the best of plans, but I figured I was armed with my iPhone, with maps and internet and I'd be fine.  So, after 8 hours working the con, breaking down the booth and schlepping unsold merchandise back to my hotel, I still had 4 hours to learn how to get to Chula Vista.  Plenty of time - so much time that I stopped for a full BBQ dinner and two beers on the way.  At this point, the sensible thing would have been to go back to the hotel and rest up for my flight back, but I persisted.  Chula Vista or bust.

I thought about taking a cab there, but my phone said it was 15 minutes away, and I figured that with a fare of about $20 each way, this could end up being the most expensive movie I'd ever seen.  So I gave the civic trolley system a try, with an all-day pass costing just $5 I figured I'd cut costs, and with a trolley map on my phone, I'd be able to figure out where to get off.  No problem, I still had 2 hours until showtime.  After about 30 minutes on the trolley I realized I was about 10 miles from downtown, and when I got off the trolley, I was still 5 long blocks from the movie theater.  Still plenty of time, until I got to the place where the theater was supposed to be, and couldn't find it.  But there was a mall, so I went by the mall, asked someone for directions, found the mall directory (no help), asked someone else for directions, and basically walked the long way around this huge mall, finally finding the theater in the back, up on the second floor.  Made it with about 15 minutes to spare, but I was completely exhausted from walking (having also walked a fair amount around the convention center in the 4 days prior).

At this point, I wondered if I'd be able to stay awake for the film.  Some Mountain Dew helped, but when it was over I still had that big walk back to the trolley, and honestly I wasn't even sure if it would still be running after 12:30 am.  Got there at 1 am, to find that the last trolley into town was due in just 15 minutes.  Back to my hotel by 2 am, and finally to bed.

The next day, Monday morning, nothing seemed to go right.  I had trouble with the UPS store, trouble packing, trouble checking out of the hotel, missed the bus to the airport, broke a wheel on my luggage, split my pants, and so on.  All these delays meant I was in a cab at 10:45 am for an 11:30 flight.  The taxi went a few blocks and then got held up by two trains and two trolleys crossing - it was if the universe did not want me to make my flight, and I didn't.  So I had to pay a change fee and got back to NY on Tuesday am instead of Monday pm.  I think back to what I could have done differently, and all I've got is the trip to Chula Vista, meaning that this still ended up being the most expensive movie I've ever seen.

Linking from "Kick-Ass", Nicolas Cage was also in "The Family Man" with Don Cheadle (last seen in "Mission to Mars").

THE PLOT: When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Iron Man 2" (Movie #1,091) & "The Avengers" (Movie #1,144)

AFTER:  If I'm tough on comic-book movies, it's because I love them so.  Many of them have to walk a fine line when depicting someone with superpowers (or even without, in the case of "Kick-Ass").  If the main character is TOO powerful then we mere humans can't identify with them, but if they're too weak, then we can't idolize them.  Marvel's track record with this is pretty good - think of how Spider-Man was both a cool superhero and a nerdy science geek at the same time.  Hulk is the strongest one there is, but he turns into puny Bruce Banner. 

In the case of Iron Man/Tony Stark, you've got an (allegedly) invulnerable suit and a very vulnerable man.  Here he is seen after the events depicted in "Avengers", and he's an insomniac, constantly  tinkering with different armors all hours of the day, dealing with his problems by not dealing with them.  He's far from healthy, prone to anxiety attacks, and though he's doing a lot of work, the implication is that much of it may not be good work.

Some of the best Iron Man comics played upon a different vulnerability of Tony Stark - alcoholism.  That's when James Rhodes first wore the Iron Man armor (Secret Wars/West Coast Avengers era) while Tony was deep in his addiction, having lost his company and driven away his friends.  He got himself clean eventually, but the character still deals with his addiction, and that's powerful stuff for a comic book.

In the films, Stark is shown drinking wine, and I kind of wish they would address this, seeing as he already has the type of personality that drives people away, or keeps them at a distance.  But without the addiction coming into play, he's just a rich asshole.  He's trying to change, but an asshole who apologizes is still an asshole - and instead of being the guy who knows the right thing to say, he should be the guy who MEANS it.

Instead, Stark challenges the Mandarin quite publicly, and it leads to the loss of his house, loss of friends, loss of his job, and he has to rebuild, literally and figuratively.  It's the same process an alcoholic might go through, but without having to get clean.  Plus, isn't he also addicted to building robot suits, in a sense?  They sort of imply that he's going to get himself well, but don't we hear this all the time from armor...I mean, drug and alcohol addicts?

I realize this is a different Iron Man story than the comic book ones, but the film should still honor where it came from.  Why not adapt the "Armor Wars" storyline from the 80's?  The one where Tony realizes his tech was stolen by Spymaster and used to make armors for Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, Beetle, Stilt-Man, etc. and he has to battle them all to get it back - plenty of chance in that storyline for redemption.  Or hey, combine the alcoholism storyline with Armor Wars - you get personal growth, character development, revenge AND redemption.  But what do I know?  I'm not a studio executive.

Another key difference between the comic books and the film is the nature of the Mandarin character.  The Mandarin is one of Iron Man's greatest villains in the comic, and he's really old-school Chinese, with the robes and thrones and palaces and all that.  Plus he's got 10 rings from a UFO that give him TEN different superpowers - how cool is that?  But the film dispenses with the rings, and all the Confucius-type stuff, probably because they don't want to offend the huge Chinese market, and spoil the overseas box office.

So instead the Mandarin is more of a Bin Laden-style terrorist, so his name makes NO sense.  He does have an army of followers willing to blow themselves up to make a point, so I see the tie-in to recent events, but the Mandarin himself has sort of a Kentucky accent, then a Liverpudlian one.  So he's part Billy Bob Thorton, part Ringo Starr (?) and the screenplay bends over backwards to accommodate that.  (I think I'm not quite giving the plot away here, there's more to discover)  His army is revealed to be U.S. soldiers who have lost limbs, and therefore mad at the guvmint, but honestly I think this does a huge disservice to our veterans, just to satisfy China.  What a mistake.

I saw Delta's new airplane safety video, and when they got to the part about sitting in an exit row, and if you don't want the responsibility of helping others out of the plane, you should notify the crew you want to switch seats.  They had two white men (played by the same actor) who were willing to sit there, and a black man who definitely wasn't - so he switched seats with another clone of the helpful white man.  You have to be careful with this sort of thing - the implication was that all white men are willing to help in an emergency, and all black men are not.  I foresee some phone calls from the NAACP.

Other nitpicks: in the comic books, there is NO connection between Mandarin and A.I.M. None.  A.I.M. has been led by Graviton, Mentallo, Super-Adaptoid, M.O.D.O.K. and others, but never the Mandarin.  I say, if you're not going to do the Mandarin story right, then don't do it.  Pick another Iron Man villain.

The comics also did a storyline with Extremis, which was more of a virus that allowed people to heal themselves, not blow themselves up.  It also allowed Tony Stark to integrate his armor into his body somehow - which means it's been used as sort of a "magic bullet" DNA re-sequencing thing, it does whatever the writers need it to do.  It's like what "hacking" was in 90's computer movies.   Hmm, looking back on the storyline, it seems that Mandarin did try to release Extremis to reshape the human race, at least those that had a certain genetic sequence, but of course this movie didn't go that way either, and went in a completely different direction.

NITPICK POINT: And then, given all of Extremis' negative effects, for Stark to say, "Oh, well, I'll just fix Extremis."  Like it's THAT easy.  His expertise is with electronics, not viruses and DNA.  Would you say, "Oh, well, I'll just cure cancer"?  Why can't they make medications that work without negative side effects?  Because it's difficult.  

Now the positives: this was still a very thrilling action movie, and the final battle was particularly stunning, though it did sort of repeat the same tricks over and over.

Maybe you heard the news out of Comic-Con - Downey's in for two more "Avengers" movies, and "Age of Ultron" is the subtitle for next one, but the storyline will probably not resemble the recent comic-book crossover of the same name.  I'm optimistic, but it also looks like another case of adapting a comic-book story while messing with it at the same time.

Also starring Robert Downey Jr., (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows") Gwyneth Paltow (last seen in "Contagion"), Guy Pearce (last seen in "Prometheus"), Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau (last heard in "John Carter"), Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Oliver Twist"), James Badge Dale, William Sadler (last seen in "Freaked"), Miguel Ferrer (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), the voice of Paul Bettany (last seen in "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"), with cameos from Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Collateral"), Bill Maher, Joan Rivers, Stan Lee.

RATING: 8 out of 10 security badges