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Marvel Movies Project: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Movie poster for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012).

Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze in 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the sequel to Ghost Rider, which came out in 2007. Five years between movies … I don’t know; maybe this indicates that a Ghost Rider sequel was not all that necessary? Cage is the only cast member from the first movie to return, which, again, might suggest that perhaps they could have skipped this one. Peter Fonda said back in 2007 that he’d be willing to play the Devil in a sequel, but maybe he changed his mind. Or it’s possible he was joking, seeing as this is what he said: “I hope so! It would be a huge payday.”

Yes … well. The generally admirable Ciarán Hinds steps into Fonda’s role. The equally excellent Idris Elba also co-stars for some reason along with some randoms. Anthony Stewart Head — Giles from Buffy! — briefly appears, making me sad that he doesn’t have a better movie career.

The story involves the antichrist. It climaxes with the apparent death of the devil and then, poof, the movie’s over, just like that. No extended denouement here. The whole thing is directed with a fair bit of shakycam and stylized camera angles that seem bizarre until you realize it was shot for 3D, which is fitting since 3D is as pointless a technology as this is a film.

This movie and Punisher: War Zone were both released under the “Marvel Knights” line, which focuses on the darker, more mature Marvel stories. So far I’m not impressed. Maybe now that Marvel has the rights to Daredevil back we’ll see them try out a Marvel Knights version of the character. That could be interesting. The rights to Ghost Rider, meanwhile, remain with Sony/Columbia; however, Nicolas Cage said last month that he believes he is done with the series. That’s a shame.

The most notable thing about this movie for me is Idris Elba joining the relatively short list of actors who’ve played more than one character in the Marvel movieverse. Here’s a visual survey of that illustrious company:

Collage of actors who've played more than one Marvel character in the movies.

Chris Evans as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers; Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity and Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Rebecca Romijn as Mystique in X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, and briefly in X-Men: First Class, and Joan in The Punisher; Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone and Volstagg in Thor; Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor and Moreau in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance; Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson in Daredevil and Happy Hogan in Iron Man and Iron Man 2, both of which he also directed; Ben Foster as Spacker Dave in The Punisher and Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand; and Sam Elliott as General Thunderbolt Ross in Hulk and Carter Slade in Ghost Rider.

Did I miss anyone (other than Stan Lee)?

The awards for most impressive physical transformation have to go to Rebecca Romijn (obviously) and Ray Stevenson. The man is Volstagg and The Punisher — an impressive feat.

Marvel Movies Project: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie poster for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

Hugh Jackman is back for a fourth go-round as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). As the title suggests, this film focuses on Wolverine’s origins, which were previously hinted at in X2. Here, we see younger versions of several familiar characters as Wolverine becomes “Weapon X” and gets his skeleton upgraded from bone to adamantium.

Our story begins in northern Canada in 1845 because it turns out Wolverine is really that old, as is Sabretooth, apparently. In a surprise twist, Sabretooth, here going by his real name, Victor Creed, turns out to be Wolverine’s brother: in this version of events, it is revealed that Victor’s father is also Wolverine’s real father, even though Wolverine’s fake father is played by an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hugh Jackman. Alright then.

After fathers real and fake both end up dead during a household dispute, Wolverine and Victor go on the run together. They become brothers in arms as well as in blood, and fight together in several wars: the US Civil War (despite being Canadian), World War I, World War II (they probably knew Captain America!), and finally Vietnam (again despite being Canadian). In Vietnam they meet Stryker — familiar to the audience from X2 — who invites them to be a part of an elite team of assassins, all of whom have “special skills,” which is to say they’re mutants. Wolverine becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the group’s activities and ultimately quits.

One of the countless pieces of useful life knowledge I’ve picked up from TV and the movies is that you should never join an elite team of assassins because chances are good that someday someone is going to decide it’s too risky to keep you alive. Indeed, this is what happens: Victor starts killing off the members of his old crew one by one. Wolverine has established a new life for himself back in his old Canadian stomping grounds: he’s a lumberjack, and he’s ok. But when Victor shows up and kills his lady love, Wolverine agrees to a deal with Stryker that will turn him into a stronger soldier and allow him to get revenge on Victor. And the rest is history.

The cast of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is large and includes some fairly big names, both real and fictional. A few well-known mutants — notably, Scott Summers, Emma Frost, and (surprise!) Professor X — appear briefly. In terms of celebrities from the real world, there’s multi-platinum recording artist will.i.am as John Wraith and Ryan Reynolds, here making his second attempt at a comic book movie, as Wade “Deadpool” Wilson. Poor Ryan Reynolds. Of all his superhero-related efforts, this is probably the best if only because Blade: Trinity and Green Lantern are both so wretchedly awful. Personally, I hate Deadpool in any form so I did not enjoy his performance here.

Also in the cast are a couple of actors known and beloved by certain audiences for their roles in iconic series: Dominic Monaghan — Merry in the Lord of the Rings movies and also Charlie on Lost — and Taylor Kitsch, who will always be Friday Night Lights‘ Tim Riggins to me. At the time Wolverine was released, I was really excited about the prospect of Riggins in an important role in this movie. It was disappointing, then, to find out how little screentime he actually has.

Most of the cast’s roles, in fact, are little more than cameos. But given the calibre of the people involved, it feels like this film was cast as an ensemble piece. Perhaps because of its association with the team-oriented X-Men movies, it was also marketed that way to an extent, with some of the posters featuring multiple characters. In reality, it’s almost a one-man show, with only Liev Schreiber (Victor) and Danny Huston (Stryker) coming anywhere close to matching Hugh Jackman’s screentime (oddly enough, Huston didn’t feature on any posters). To be fair, a one man show is what the title suggests.

But the result of having all these characters floating around not doing much is that the film suffers from a bit of overcrowding. It’s not as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand because all the minor characters are presented as, well, minor characters. Wolverine‘s problem is more comparable to the introduction of Gwen and Captain Stacy in Spider-Man 3: why hype the known names if you’re not going to use them?

Still, the movie is entertaining enough in a mindless sort of way. More notable from my perspective than the movie itself is the fact that I saw it being filmed. I was a student at the University of British Columbia when Wolverine was filming in Vancouver. The part about 10 minutes into the movie where Stryker’s team attacks a compound in Nigeria to find out where the adamantium comes from was filmed on campus, right outside the building where I had all my classes.

Image from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

They built a shantytown set like you see in that image (although in reality it wasn’t as big) outside the building. My friend and I wandered around trying to find out what was going on and she discovered it was for Wolverine. Then one night I was coming home from pub trivia and I saw a big crowd gathered around the area, which was all lit up. I went over to watch and I saw them do a few takes of some soldiers shooting at an unknown something represented by a green screen. Sadly, no stars were present. I did not get to see Hugh Jackman. It was pretty cool to see a Marvel movie in the flesh, though.

Marvel Movies Project: Blade: Trinity

As of Spider-Man 2, I am one third of the way through this Marvel Movies Project. Nine movies based on six Marvel characters/teams. Three sequels. Seven movies about solo (male) heroes and two ensembles. Today, as we enter the second leg of our journey, we encounter our first threequel.

Movie poster for Blade: Trinity (2004).

Blade: Trinity (2004) sees Blade pick up a couple of new allies in Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), daughter of his old friend Whistler, and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds). The three team up to take on the legendary first vampire Dracula, aka Drake (Dominic Purcell). Drake, who’s not a huge fan of our modern civilization, has been raised from a lengthy slumber by a crew of vampires whose leader is Danica Talos, played by the always awesome Parker Posey.

Given that Wesley Snipes actually went so far as to file a lawsuit against the producers of Blade: Trinity because he claimed “the director, screenplay and supporting cast of Blade: Trinity were forced on him in violation of his contract,” and this movie was “merely intended to set up spin-off movies,” the new additions to the cast seem like the obvious thing to talk about. The film marks the first chapter in Ryan Reynolds’ less-than-stellar comic book movie career: he’s also played Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (pretty lame) and of course Hal Jordan in Green Lantern (just plain awful). Apparently, there are still plans to go ahead with a Deadpool movie, too. Why? I don’t know. Anyways, Reynolds is not bad in this movie; he’s entertaining at times, his beard is very attractive, he looks good with his shirt off, and his scenes with Parker Posey (“HANNIBAL KING!!!!!!”) are fun. Reynolds just doesn’t have any chemistry with Wesley Snipes. At all. Their characters aren’t supposed to like each other, it’s true, but normally when two characters don’t like each other, you can get some humour or dramatic tension out of it. With Blade and Hannibal King, there’s only awkwardness. All King’s jokes fall completely flat when Blade is around. It’s terrible.

Jessica Biel fares better. Abigail is like a female version of Blade, not very talkative (though obviously not on the same level of taciturnity as Blade … because no one is), and she and Snipes have a decent vibe in their scenes together. No seething hatred here: I am thus forced to conclude Snipes’ main problem was with Ryan Reynolds.

Each of the three Blade movies had at least one good female character. Blade: Trinity actually has about three, which is pretty amazing for a comic book movie. There’s Abigail, obviously, and Danica is a very fun villain. Natasha Lyonne also appears as Sommerfield, a member of King and Abigail’s vampire-fighting gang, the Nightstalkers. Although Sommerfield doesn’t have that much to do, just her presence is kind of interesting: she is blind, a woman, and a computer geek, plus she’s a mom. It’s an unusual combination of traits for a comic book movie character. Her young daughter Zoe appears as well, and thanks to a couple of conversations that involve her this movie might technically pass the Bechdel Test. Of the movies I’ve watched for this project so far, I think X2 is the only other one that would pass. How sad.

That said, Blade: Trinity is full of sexist and homophobic language, not to mention plenty of stupid dick jokes. It’s noticeably much more lowest-common-denominator than the other two movies in the Blade series, which is too bad. The series wasn’t mindblowingly innovative or anything, but at least it wasn’t stupid. Blade: Trinity is stupid.

We have come to the end of Blade’s movie career so far. What’s next for Blade? Well, Marvel got the film rights to the character back, but apparently they don’t have plans to make a new movie at the moment. Wesley Snipes is currently in prison for tax evasion, but Wikipedia says he’ll be out in July and before he got locked up he said he’d be interested in doing a fourth film. You never know — stranger things have happened.