Most movies I watch in the cinema nowadays are pure eye-candy popcorn entertainment. I know that superhero movies and James Bond are pretty jejune. I don't care — when I want depth and complexity, I read a book. If I really want something deep and/or artsy on film, Netflix awaits. The big screen, for me, is for mindless entertainment that's fun to look at.
I recently saw The Avengers courtesy of Netflix, and Skyfall in the theater. I wish it had been the other way around, because The Avengers deserves to be seen on a big screen, while Skyfall was okay but I could have waited to see it on DVD.
Let's face it, this is a movie that only worked as well as it did because SFX technology is now advanced enough that we can actually put comic books on the screen in live action and make them look good. I mean, the scene where the Hulk tries to pick up Thor's hammer and his feet sink into the concrete? A magnificent detail that is absolutely true to Marvel comics canon, but the expense of simulating it with older technology and CGI would probably have made it not worth doing.
The Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man knocking each other across two full pages? To say nothing of the Chitauri destroying Manhattan? Could not have been done so well ten years ago; could not have even been attempted twenty years ago.
Here is what the Hulk looked like 30 years ago:
So yeah, with all due props to Joss Whedon, The Avengers is an example of what you can do today with a large enough SFX budget. We're already at the point where just about anything human beings can imagine can be put on screen; as technology continues to improve, it will just become cheaper and faster. Being able to show Thanos and the Eternals trading smack-downs with Galactus will be no big technical feat.
So, while I did credit most of The Avenger's awesomeness to its special effects, the success of superhero movies in the future will also be more dependent on scripting and acting (probably much less the latter), since any director with a sufficient budget will be able to do eye-popping superhero action. (See the recent, decidedly non-awesome Green Lantern: it had a crap script and terrible plotting, and its special effects mostly went to waste.)
I have pretty much enjoyed everything Whedon has ever produced, and he didn't let me down with The Avengers. It wasn't just a thrill-ride; there was plenty of humor, respect for Marvel canon, and the obligatory Crowning Moments of Awesome.
Although the Hulk interrupting Loki's monologue to spank him like his daddy was also pretty awesome. (For some reason, all the YouTube versions of that scene have been overlaid with laugh tracks. WTF?)
One of the problems superhero teams like the Justice League and the Avengers have always had is dealing with a mix of street-level crimefighters and gods. The JLA has Batman and random second-stringers trying to hold their own with Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern. We believe Batman can do that, because he's the goddamn Batman. But Green Arrow and Black Canary? Not so much. Likewise, sometimes you kind of wonder what the hell Hawkeye and Captain America are supposed to do while Thor and Iron Man are fighting Cthulhu. The Avengers movie made it pretty credible (although the Black Widow popping away at the Chitauri with her handguns made me roll my eyes a little). Captain America holding his own against Loki? Awesome. (Though by the end of the movie, pretty much everyone had taken a piece out of Loki.)
So yeah, I will probably actually go see Avengers 2 in the theater. Iron Man 3? Not so sure.
I do wonder when they'll actually manage to make a decent DC superhero movie. (I don't count the Christopher Nolan Batman movies; yes, they're good, and the Batman is a DC character, but none of Nolan's films have hinted that he actually coexists with the rest of the DC universe.)
Casino Royale was glorious; not only reasonably faithful to the book, but an improvement in many ways. Gone was the camp and cartoonishness of earlier Bonds, and Craig brings Bond closer to what a 007 agent would actually have to be: a borderline sociopath. It was a perfect reboot of the Bond franchise.
Quantum of Solace was, frankly, crap. I found it utterly forgettable; in fact, I can't even really remember what the plot was.
Skyfall, Craig's third Bond film, was a pretty good Bond flick in a lot of ways, but it revived a lot of both what's good and what's bad about James Bond movies.
It pretty much has to be understood that Bond is what he is: a throwback to an earlier era who is never, ever going to be "Politically Correct." So I pretty much expect Bond films to be racist and sexist as hell. In that regard, Skyfall is only middling awful for a Bond movie. (That shower scene: yeah, just a little inappropriate. But typical Bond. Creepy Asian casinos keeping pet komodo dragons? Hey, that's goddamned enlightened compared to the Gypsy catfights of the Sean Connery era.) And the movies are far less offensive than the books.
Somewhat unevenly, Skyfall tries to present Bond (and by extension, MI6) as an aging warrior whose value in this modern, more "enlightened" world is called into question. When politicians and bureaucrats call M onto the carpet for MI6's screw-ups, on the one hand, their arguments are perfectly reasonable: the UK is a civilian government and even super-secret spy agencies don't get to run around doing whatever the hell they please with no oversight.
(Not that you could tell, with Bond regularly destroying planes, trains, ships, and automobiles, not to mention entire industries or downtown business districts, in other countries. And London.)
M's "Don't you little weevils understand that this is a dangerous world?" speech is interrupted by, of course, the villain wreaking havoc right in the middle of London. Sort of making her point for her. Except that this havoc was a result of MI6 (and M specifically) screwing the pooch. So, what point is being made? Should M and Bond be given an unfettered hand, or is it the bureaucrats and politicians who are right?
I wish the movie had really been examining this point in an intelligent and thought-provoking manner, but mostly it was an excuse to wreck London with runaway trains and explosions. In the end, the message seems to be a compromise: Bond is never really going to play by the rules, and the bureaucrats are never really going to leave him alone.
The first half of the movie was typical modern-era Bond, but I found the two climaxes (one in London, and one where we learn that Bond is basically an alternate universe Bruce Wayne) rather ridiculous, stretching my suspension of disbelief that had been somewhat tightened by the last two movies having avoided being quite so ridiculous as, say, the Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore eras. And the attempts to "deepen" Bond's origin story? Really, he doesn't need any depth. He's fucking James Bond, he is what he is.
I did, however, enjoy all the tributes to the old Bond, from new incarnations of Q and Moneypenny to the return of the Aston Martin and the Walther PPK. And Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva chewed up the screen (har, get it?) with the second-awesomest dentures James Bond has ever faced. I don't think there is any way to "de-camp" Jaws, but Bardem's performance was campy enough to make the wink at the old Bond villain work.