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Saturday, May 26, 2012

History Of A Gaming Table Part I

Hey there Chaos fanatics! Old man chaos is back in (somewhat) fine form today with a story about my own gaming table- a story of inspiration, vision, hard work, teamwork, and a lot of fun.

In May 2005, my friend Pete and I went to Games Day in Baltimore. There, we saw some great, great stuff. Besides all the great models and really cool people and games, I was intrigued by the battle tables. Now, up to this point, I had a green gaming mat, and Pete had made a great desert table, but that's it. As I looked around at Games Day I saw all kinds of terrain. Then, I saw something that I fell in love with as a gamer...

I saw an urban war zone, complete with roads, overpasses and very large buildings. When I inquired, the guys there said the buildings were provided by Gale Force Nine. As I looked at the beauty of that table, the gears began to turn in my head. That evening, back in the hotel, Pete and I began to bounce plans back and forth, and Pete whipped out his graph paper and began drawing... We thought of all kinds of crazy things we could never do (removable roads with sewers underneath, for example). Finally, we came up with a reasonable plan for it. It would be huge, have a bisecting road in the middle and have 3 roads going across the width of the table. There would be 8 (!) city blocks in which to put buildings, rubble, and whole armies. It would be a masterpiece.

In June, we began to build this dream table. Pete selected the heaviest, best wood to build a sturdy, heavy table (he has a tendency to over-engineer). We also bought white card to make the sidewalk sections. I called up Gale Force Nine and asked for several buildings. They said that they don't just make them like that- but I begged and they relented. They buildings were pricey, but oh so worth it. It was Pete, Joe, my brother, and another friend Brian building this in my basement in the heat of June. Just so you know, my basement has a boiler that emits a heat of like a billion degrees, so you could well imagine.

We had some laughs in that heat. Pete hammered everything into place. Joe decided to stop working and play with my vintage Scorpinok base from Transformers- since then he has been obsessed with it. Brian came to the house not realizing he was going to be pressed into service... I can still see him and my brother cutting little lines into the white card to denote the slabs for the sidewalks. I remember pouring a ton of Gorilla Glue and then putting the hab-blocks into place.

Then, when it was built, I began the painting process. At this point it was just me- this was now up to me to complete. I used paints from Home Depot to paint this huge table. I painted the roads black with yellow hash lines. I painted the hab-blocks dark grey, and then stippled lighter greys on top, to give it a textured effect. I also painted a ton of terrain pieces from Armorcast (at this point, there was really nothing from GW).

It took a full summer, but when all was said and done- the table and accompanying terrain came out wonderfully. Truly this is the biggest single project I had ever undertaken, with all of my friends lending their considerable might to it (except Joe, who is STILL playing with Scorpinok). The table was exactly what I wanted it to be- a table large enough for a huge city battle that could fit like 4 armies on it. It inspired Pete to build his own huge lava table (which is breathtakingly intricate and detailed).

We played some great games there. We played our "Gryphone IV Campaign" on that table (which my brother won with his Imperial Guard, by the way). The table has seen Plague Marines, Traitor Guard, Daemons, Imperial Guard, Ultramarines, Black Templars, Eldar, Tyranids, and Orks fight there. I bought new pieces of terrain for it as time went on (some from others, but certainly the GW Cityfight stuff were welcome additions). Good times at that table. Good times.

But, like all gaming sagas, this one must come to an end. It turns out that there were some problems with my table, or rather, my table's location. My basement was always too cramped to play in comfortably to begin with. It is an unfinished basement, and quite dusty (no matter how much I clean). The basement is also used for storage, thus cramping it further. And then there is the boiler- or as Pete calls it, the "gateway to hell". It is old and throws off so much damn heat that playing down there in the summer was next to impossible.

Finally, when my wife moved in last year, she needed to put her stuff down there too... As we cleaned and threw out old basement stuff we realized that the table was taking up too much room, and that it was always a hassle to play down there. So, we decided that the table would have to go. It took a lot of soul searching on my part, but I knew that this would be the right decision. So, I asked my friend Joe (STILL playing with Scorpinok) if he could take the table... He just bought a new house, and the table would fit comfortably in his garage. So, a few weeks ago Pete and Joe showed up and hauled away my table. A bittersweet end- I don't have my table, but at least my friend Joe has it which means I'll get to see it anytime I want...

But, this whole ordeal has left me with two questions:

First, I still want a gaming table of some kind, even if it is less opulent. But what should I do? I like the GW Realms of Battle- it is storage-able, but quite pricey. Pete suggested that I get two thin boards and paint them. It'll be cheap enough, and if they are lightweight I can store them (unlike my table, which weighed a ton). I'm not sure what I'll do... but I do know that, one day, I will have a gaming table once again...

Second... where the hell is Scorpinok? What the... I think Joe took both the table and Scorpinok with him... Damn him!! How did he pull that sleight of hand?! Now I have to find a way to get it back from him (I told you that he was obsessed with it!!).

Until next time Chaos fans!

Book Review (In Brief): Battle of the Fang

Hey there Chaos fans! It's been two weeks since I've posted (I've been a bit busy, but that's how it goes), but now I've got another one for you. I just finished Battle of the Fang by Chris Wright, so I thought I'd give you a brief review:

I had just finished reading Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett, and I really liked it. No, it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I prefer it when Abnett does the unexpected (Legion, Eisenhorn) as opposed to when he's predictable (Titanicus, Ravenor). After reading that saga of the Space Wolves war against the Thousand Sons, I decided to "finish" the trilogy by reading Battle of the Fang, which takes place only 1,000 years after the events of the Heresy (as opposed to being in the 41st millennium).

The book is really, really good. An action packed book that shows how things are going to go from here on out in the "Long War". The Thousand Sons are splintered, with some of the sorcerers still backing Magnus, while the other half has been banished for following Ahriman. Magnus has been plotting for a long time to attack The Fang, the Space Wolves' fortress on Fenris. The Thousand Sons want to destroy it, just as the Wolves ravaged Prospero during the Heresy. Of course, Magnus would not be the chosen of Tzeentch if he didn't have another, more secret motive than just simple revenge...

The Great Wolf now leading the Chapter, Ironhelm, has become obsessed with chasing down the remnants of the Thousand Sons. Following clues to Magnus' whereabouts, Ironhelm takes the vast majority of the Space Wolves with him to chase down a lead, and leaves only the 12th company, led by Greyloc, to protect the Fang. Of course, this was Magnus' plan all along; once Ironhelm is off on the proverbial wild goose chase, the Thousand Sons lay siege to the Fang, with Greyloc desperately defending the fortress with his handful of marines and normal Fenrisians.

The balance of the book is the siege itself. I mean it as a compliment that it reminded me of the sieges of The Lord of the Rings. Greyloc is surrounded and outnumbered, and must rely on cunning to hold the enemy back as long as possible. There are upsets for both sides, and the battle ebbs and flows as an epic showdown should. There are some great bits: the escape of a single Wolf ship, that leaves Fenris to find and warn Ironhelm; the waking of the Dreadnoughts (Bjorn is awesome), the collapsing of the entryways into the Fang, and more. But the height, of course, comes when Magnus himself is "summoned" to Fenris (he is a Daemon now, after all), and all hell breaks loose.

As I said, its action packed, and the author does a great job of contrasting the Wolves with their corrupt and soulless opponents. I also enjoyed the paths of two human soldiers, father and daughter no less, and the parallel paths they take in the course of the battle. Several marines are developed (Helfist and Redpelt stand out), as does the Wolf Priest Wyrmblade. I do wish that the author had developed Greyloc a bit more- he is a heroic figure, but he gets lost in the action at points, and gets overshadowed by Bjorn and Wyrmblade, which is too bad. I also wish that the author had developed Magnus and his two lieutnants (Temekh and Aphael) just a bit more, but that's just me wanting to give the bad guys their due.

The best part of the book? Well, I don't want to give it away, but I do want to discuss it, so here's what I'll do. I'll rate the book now 3 1/2 out of 4 marks of Chaos. If you've read the other two (A Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns) you really owe it to yourself to read this- they really do tie together quite nicely. If you've already read it and want to stick around, I'll briefly look at the ending, which may be one of  the strongest (and yet ambiguous) endings in the Black Library...

So, If you want no spoilers, stop reading now...




Well, OK, if you're still here, you want to know about that ending then. Here's the crux of the plot and the climax: while Magnus wants to conquer the Fang for the sake of revenge, he is also seeking to destroy something else. Wyrmblade has been working on something called "The Tempering", which could shift the balance of power in the universe once and for all. The gene-seed of Russ is strong, but unstable. It does lead some of the Space Wolves to fall into animal fury permanently (one flaw), and it cannot really be replicated on those outside of Fenris (the second flaw). Wyrmblade's plan is to "temper" the gene-seed- keeping its strengths while limiting the flaws. Wyrmblade's vision is of many, many Space Wolf successor chapters, each with this new and improved gene-seed. Wyrmblade says that they could make so many Wolves, that they could surround the Eye of Terror and traitor marines could never again leave it. The Space Wolves would truly be the protectors of a new, stronger Imperium.

This is what Magnus is really attacking the Fang for. Obviously Tzeentch and the other gods of Chaos would not want the Space Wolves to become so great in number that they can actually carry out Wyrmblade's plan, so Magnus goes to destroy "The Tempering" and all who know about it. Magnus tells Temekh that this is not about revenge, but about preventing a "possible future" (how Tzeentchian). That is what the siege is really about... stopping the Wolves from reaching their "true potential". Ultimately, Magnus is successful- he kills Wyrmblade and destroys all the materials and experiments regarding "The Tempering", and it is made clear that this was the last chance the Wolves would have to try this. Thus, even though the Thousand Sons lose the battle (with the return of Ironhelm's companies), they won the war by denying the Wolves a better future.

However, in true Tzeentchian fashion, that may not be a victory at all... Why, you say? Think about it this way... Only the Emperor knew how to do the gene-seed thing (and even his results were far from perfect); who is to say that "The Tempering" would have been successful? Several characters called Wyrmblade's experiments "an abomination". What if... what if it appeared to work and was carried out on the scale Wyrmblade intended? Would the Wolves have run riot across the galaxy? Or what if it appeared to work only to develop mutations later on, say nine thousand years hence? The Space Wolves could have been ruined... So, did the destruction of "The Tempering" really hurt the Wolves, or did it force them to remain true to themselves?

Thinking about it that way- I can't be sure if this is a win for Chaos or a win for the Imperium... And that's great about the book- being that it is only the 32nd millennium, the events of the Heresy are still "fresh". The book sets the stage for an ambiguous, dark future, full of war and stalemate, without hope or change, of squandered potential.

Did the good guys win or the bad guys? Neither. It is simply war, with no winners...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

Hey there folks! I'm back, as promised, with a review of The Avengers. Let me say right off the bat that, without a doubt, this is indeed the best of the Marvel Comics movies- by a mile. The movie has a ton going for it- action, special effects, and, most importantly, character interactions that are spot on. That said, I do have a few issues with the movie- not that I believe any movie has to be "perfect" (a subjective term if there ever was one); however, there are a few issues here that should be discussed. Mindless gushing isn't the same as a solid look at this movie- which clearly deserves a strong look. So- away we go:

The Good:

First off, the movie is something of a miracle. Who would have believed that there would have ever been a comic book movie with a team of superheroes- with the premise that they had movies before and would have movies afterward? Not even Watchmen (a one-off) could claim this. Indeed, it is fantastic that they managed this feat- these movies have been like reading the books- a crossover, in fact. Each independent movie ties into The Avengers- in both large and small ways. We see the Cosmic Cube's power in Captain America. We see the villain, Loki, get his start in Thor. We see why Hulk is an exile in The Incredible Hulk. We see the formation of the Avengers Initiative in Iron Man (which also served to establish "the rules" of this Marvel Universe). Then, taking these threads- they  weave together into the tapestry of The Avengers- the climax of this particular crossover. As a result, The Avengers has accomplished something that no other comic movie ever has- taking several individuals' stories and bringing them into a single, larger (and coherent) movie. This is more historic than the box office haul that The Avengers has had, truth be told. I still am in awe that they managed to do it, and do it so well.

Secondly, you must hand it to both Joss Whedon and the people who cast these actors in their respective roles- for they have done so much to make this movie (and Marvel movies in general) a success. It is plain to see that each actor has come to the table ready to give it their all- each has brought so much already (in their individual movies) that it is amazing that no one shirks or falters here. You know it is bad when I can't say there was a weak link in the "Big 6"... all were great. Robert Downey Jr, after "phoning in" his performance in Iron Man 2, is perfection here- a blend of brilliance, cockiness, arrogance, and heart. Chris Hemmsworth is great as Thor- a bit more humble, but still a god nevertheless. Chris Evans is simply amazing as Captain America- he plainly shows that he is a man out of "his time", but he shows Cap's strengths- he adapts quickly, trying to come up to speed. He also plays Cap as strong, wise, and an urbane leader- there's no "golly gee" moment that makes him look like a fool for being patriotic or from being in the 1940s. Mark Ruffalo does a great job as Banner- he's a bit more accepting of what he has become, and I think there's a difference when his Hulk just "comes on" as opposed to when he "wills it" to- great ideas there- and Ruffalo makes sure that Banner is a human being above all else (don't get me wrong, I thought Edward Norton did just fine too, but Ruffalo beats him because the overall movie is better). Rounding out is Scarlett Johanson as Black Widow, giving her more depth this time out, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye- this guy is pissed, but he never lets that control his actions- he is so focused in the final battle despite what he suffers in the movie that you root for him, but you are also intimidated by him. Of course, there's also the supporting crew- Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to be Nick Fury (even his secrets have secrets, a neat twist), and Clark Gregg gets his moments as Colson.

As I said, the casting would be nothing without the script and direction from Joss Whedon. It is apparent that he "gets" these guys- and he has little interest in just blowing stuff up for the heck of it. He wants to show these superheroes bouncing off each other- fighting, arguing, distrusting, then finally saving each others' bacon, and then working as a team to protect the world. Each character acts "as they should"- at no point did I say "No! Cap would never do that"... Each character is pitch perfect, and that may be this movie's greatest strength- the chemistry between these guys is fantastic, and each gets their chance to shine, and then they help the rest of the cast shine too. Their attitudes, mannerisms, their line delivery- it made the thought that these 6 superheroes are together seem totally believable. And Whendon should get the credit for a huge chunk of that- another director would have emphasized the spectacle over the characters, and that didn't happen here, which raises the movie from great to fantastic.

Third, there's the action. In the age of fast cuts, slow motion, CGI, and all the other issues, many action movies seem to suffer from ADD- look at Transformers for proof of that. So many movies move so damn quick camera-wise, that you get no sense of the logistics regarding the fights or carnage. There's no clear picture of what is happening or what is at stake. In The Avengers, Whedon isn't afraid to calmly show the action without it being overwhelming. You clearly follow what's happening, and boy, the fighting in this movie is stupendous. The secret is, again, the action plays second fiddle to the characters. Throughout the several fight scenes, the movie is squarely on the heroes, you care about them and you see it through them. The movie never seeks to drown them (or the audience) out, which only makes the whole stronger.

Finally, I'd be remiss to mention the other secret weapon of The Avengers- Tom Hiddleston's Loki. He has it the hardest here. Now, most comic book movies, the villain doesn't come back. Yes, there's Magneto, but he's not strictly "the villain". Yes, there's Lex Luthor, but he plays second fiddle in Superman 2 (and the less said about 4 and Returns, the better). See, the good villains usually die, never to return, so in the sequel, there's a new villain. Here, Loki is the main baddie, as he was in Thor. And truthfully, his "villainy" is less developed by Whedon than the heroes are (more on that below). But Hiddleston makes the most of it, imbuing his Loki with a sense of "Paradise Lost"- he has fallen from grace- so far, in fact, that he sells himself in order to make Earth (and by extension, Thor) suffer. If Loki can't serve in Asgard, he will reign on Earth. But even then, he can't do it alone, and he seems to have made a Faustian deal to bring an evil alien army to help him conquer Earth. Loki is, for all his power, pathetic and sad- no longer the second son of Odin, but instead, a dim and perverted reflection of his former majesty. Hiddleston gets that, and makes Loki lash out in rage because of it- fantastic acting, and I hope that we can see more of him.

The Bad:

The film is terrific, don't get me wrong. It is, simply put, the strongest Marvel movie to date, and is one of the best comic movies, period. That said, there are some problems here- and they are not minor quibbles, like "I wish the soundtrack was better" (which I thought was fine, by the way) or "Gee- I wish Cap's costume was a bit more like his movie" or some crap- no. These are legitimate concerns and critiques, not nitpicking. So, let's look:

First, the movie is, at times, like a run-away freight train. It moves incredibly fast. Now, that in itself isn't bad- however, certain scenes become choppy. The movie ends up feeling a bit disjointed at times, which makes one wish they would just breathe for a second. It jumps from character to character, scene to scene so damn fast, that it feels like it is about to break under the strain, though it doesn't. But it comes close to collapsing under its weight, which makes viewing it problematic at times.

Second, as I said earlier, the villains of the piece, Loki and the alien Chitari, are not that well developed. The only reason Loki fares so well is that Hiddleston gives it his all, with looks and quirks which show the turmoil he is feeling- but it is not explicitly stated. We know based on his performance what Loki wants, but the surface reason is "he wants to conquer". The "Faustian deal" angle and the "revenge on Thor" factor are more implied than a vibrant part of the movie, which hurts overall. Equally, the Chitari are never more than just alien marauders- they are not developed, lack motivation, and are, ultimately, easily disposable. They exist to be punching bags, and that is it. They are not explained beyond that. Do they have a grudge against Earth? Do they seek war for its own sake? Is it about honor? How did they fall in with Loki? Or the mysterious evil at the end credits? It's too bad, as the look of them is pretty cool en masse, but they are never anything more than low level baddies that the heroes get to punch.

Third, the humor itself is sometimes over the top. Yes, the movie needs a sense of humor, and most of it is tonally perfect. However, there are elements that, while humorous now, will be looked at with disdain later. I guarantee it. When Hulk beats Loki like a rag doll, people laughed and exploded with cheers. I KNOW that, one day, people will say it was too far over the top, almost cartoonish. There are several bits like that- and I feel it dragged the movie down a bit.

Finally, there is no larger theme here. For this, I blame Nolan. He has spoiled us, with his Batman movies being about more than just a comic book movie or an action movie. The Nolan films have reflected our fears about terrorism, how far we go to fight it, and if, by gazing into the abyss, the abyss gazes also, just to name a few. Now, most movies don't do that (let alone comic movies), but the modern Batman films have done that so well, that I think comic movies CAN act as Sci-Fi, in terms of making you ask questions about real life through these fantastic characters. Now, of the Marvel Universe movies, only Captain America approached that, by asking "in war, just what makes a man a hero". With Avengers, there seems to be no larger theme or idea. The only thing this movie wants to do is get these guys together and have a good time with it. Perhaps the second Avengers will play with a larger theme than that- and IF Thanos is the baddie, I could see just that happening.

Bottom Line:

I loved this movie. It is, beyond all doubt, the best Marvel Universe movie. Great characterization, amazing action sequences, big and little moments, you name it. It is also one of the best comic movies too (though I think Nolan's Batmans have been untouchable- not because they are perfect, but because they go beyond the simple "man in a mask" approach and accomplish something much bigger). For sheer entertainment, you can't beat The Avengers. But the movie also has a heart- it is not cynical, or just mindless action. For those reasons, it earns a 4 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.

Until next we meet....

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lead-Up To The Avengers

Hey there Chaos fans! Old man Chaos is back. I'll be seeing The Avengers this weekend (along with half of America, I should think). The past few weeks, my wife and I decided to do a re-watch of all the Marvel movies, from the original Iron Man all the way through to Captain America. I figured I'd write briefly about each one, and see how they stack against each other. I must say that one of the things that struck me is how the movies go together in big and subtle ways. Indeed, this really IS like reading the comics, as each is tied together month to month, issue to issue, in a big crossover. That is really cool, I think... But anyways, lets look at them, starting with Iron Man...

Iron Man- this is the one that "started" the current Marvel age of movies. No one expected it to be the hit that it would become, the cultural phenom that would return Robert Downey Jr. back to stardom AND kick off a new wave of Marvel movies. It also has the reputation of being the best comic based movie ever. Is it?

Re-watching it again, I came away with the same opinion I had in 2008- its a great movie, but NOT the best. No doubt, the casting of RDJr is a masterstroke. Indeed, he truly IS Tony Stark- he captures the blend of genius, artist, spoiled rich guy, patriot... all in one package. However, I think that is an issue- his performance blinds viewers to the problems of Iron Man the movie (which become glaringly apparent on multiple viewings)- he's so good that the flaws get overlooked.

The movie starts off great- how they update Stark's origin for the War on Terror is nothing short of amazing. The terrorist who demands that the kidnapped Stark build him a new weapon, Stark's improvised suit, and his escape is breathtaking... Then the movie slows considerably, as Stark tinkers with his armor, realizing the good he can do. But then, there's no action for a LARGE stretch, and it is only held up by RDJrs humor and goodwill. Then, when it is suddenly (and poorly) revealed that his partner Obediah Stane is behind all the trouble, the movie accelerates so quickly, and Stane is reduced to a one-note and easily disposed of villain, that the end of the movie seems rather weightless and unearned. Don't get me wrong, the movie IS good, but it isn't the best comic movie, nor even the best Marvel movie.

What SHOULD have happened, is this: Iron Man goes back to fight the terrorists, and the main baddie has copied the suit that Tony used to escape (with some mods, naturally). Plenty of action, and Stark learns that Iron Man can do good on a global scale. But, only at the end does the audience see that Stane is the string puller of the terrorists, leaving Tony to deal with that in the next issue, er, movie... Instead, the end cleared the board, and only made matters worse for the planning of...

Iron Man 2: Now, when I first saw this one in theaters, I did not like it at all- I thought it was a wasted opportunity, far weaker than the original. Most critics complained that it was too busy setting up future Marvel movies- I disagree totally. There actually ISN'T much in here for the Avengers. Sure, there's a bit of it with Fury and such, but that is not the problem. The issue is the far too messy plot and weak villains.

Basically, AS written, neither Whiplash nor Justin Hammer are  developed very well. While I like Sam Rockwell, he is not made villainous enough here. As for Roarke, he's great, but the script gives him so little to do. Meanwhile, Stark is facing illness from his "heart", which causes him to fall into depression. Further, the government wants the specs for the Iron Man suit, and Stark refuses.

The problem is- there's great ideas here. If Tony is the rich kid who has it all, Whiplash is the opposite- brilliant but abused and downtrodden. If they planned it better, he would have been a great foil. If they planned it better, it would have been Stane trying to take the company from within, not Hammer being Stark's competition. Finally, they could have done more with the government being hostile to Stark, thus ratcheting up tension between him and Rhodes (well played by Don Cheadle).

Upon this recent viewing, I liked the movie more than the first time, but I still see it as a missed opportunity- with more careful plotting, this could have been a strong movie. Instead, it's just a mediocre comic book sequel.

The Incredible Hulk: This one is often forgotten, as it came out sandwiched between Iron Man and The Dark Knight in 2008 (ouch!). That's too bad, because the movie is quite solid. It follows up Ang Lee's poor "The Hulk" without explicitly acknowledging it; and while improving on that failure in every way.

Edward Norton does a fine job as Banner. He dreads his powers, and seeks to suppress it entirely, even if that means cutting himself off from his true love, Betty, and his life as a scientist. However, THEY just won't leave him alone. The government wants him- General Ross wants to bring the monster in so that they can study him and make a new line of super soldiers. Norton plays the "man on the run" very well, and his weariness is palpable, as is his happiness that he might get a second chance with Betty. Of course, it goes wrong when the General tries to make soldier Emil Blonsky into a super solider to beat the Hulk- with Blonsky becoming the out of control Abomination.

The movie is fun and action packed. The Hulk looks great, and the movie is well shot- the scenes in South America are nicely framed. However, it doesn't quite gel together, and it does go off on some tangents before getting back on track. The final battle with the Abomination was well done, but it was a bit overstuffed and way too CGI-ish, as was the sudden dropping in of the Leader in a rather ham-fisted way... Overall, its not Marvel's best, though it is stronger than people give it credit for.

Thor: This was the biggest surprise. Who amongst us would have thought- a) Marvel will make a big-budget Thor movie and b) that it would be any good? Ha- not too many, but it happened. Director Kenneth Brannagh used his Shakespeare to forge the relationship between the Norse brothers into a classical conflict.

The casting really helps here- Chris Hemmsworth is great as Thor- he exudes the strength, heroism, and recklessness in equal measure- and he certainly looks the part. Anthony Hopkins is exalted as Odin- wise, powerful, sentimental at heart but he hides that behind a tough exterior. Tom Hiddleston generates the right mix of pain and deceit as Loki- a polar opposite of Thor, and yet connected in deep ways. And while I don't buy that Natalie Portman is an astrophysicist, she does just fine otherwise. The cast is rounded out by Stellan Skarsgard as a professor, Colm Feore as the King of the Frost Giants, and Idris Elba as Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost. The cast is very strong, and each does their part without overwhelming the proceedings.

The movie does a great job blending fantasy and science with a comic book sensibility. The action scenes are great, particularly when Thor confronts the Frost Giants, and later when Loki unleashes the power of the Destroyer against a helpless Thor. The themes of the movie (learning to be humble, and learning to accept yourself) is strong, as is the fractured relationship between Thor and his brother Loki. However, the movie tries to shoe-horn an unnecessary love interest (could he learn about humanity without falling in love with Portman? Geez.), and the final battle ends rather abruptly (it seems like a Marvel movie problem, at this point). Otherwise, Thor is surprisingly good, better than it has any right to be.

Captain America: I reviewed Captain America right here in the Chaos Corner blog when it came out last year. It certainly holds up to repeat viewings, and my assessment of it still stands. It is the best of the Marvel movies. It has an epic scope, while retaining an eye on the character of Steve Rogers (played with grace by Chris Evans). His nemesis Red Skull is played equally well by Hugo Weaving, who between this and Agent Smith makes him THE go-to bad guy. The movie is fun, action-packed, and true to the spirit of Captain America, the Marvel universe, World War II adventures, and comic book movies as a whole. It too ends the final battle between the Red Skull and Cap too abruptly- though, based on the execution, I would bet that we'll see Red Skull again. And the conclusion sets us up nicely for The Avengers...

So, here is my rating for each of the movies (using my scientifically proven Marks of Chaos rating method ;-):

Iron Man: 3 our of 4

Iron Man 2: 2 out of 4

Incredible Hulk: 2 1/2 out of 4

Thor: 3 out of 4

Captain America: 3 1/2 out of 4

I'll be back with a review of The Avengers as soon as I've seen it. Until next time...