Director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and his team wonderfully bring Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” comic book to the big screen in a 2004 film that has such top-shelf production design that it almost overshadows the story and characters. But not quite; Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is a likably gruff hero whose relationships with his adoptive father (John Hurt as Dr. Broom) and the woman he loves (Selma Blair as Liz) shine through.
Five minutes into “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” (2011), it’s clear that this is a better movie than “Ghost Rider” (2007). A great car-and-motorcycle chase through the hills of Eastern Europe (where the film is shot) ends with Moreau (Idris Elba, doing a Marvel twofer that year with “Thor”) flying through the air over the side of a cliff, but delivering bullets to the enemy’s tires while falling to his apparent demise.
Released between the two sequels in the summer of 2003, “The Animatrix” – a 100-minute DVD collection of animated shorts – fills in some gaps and gives us a fuller picture of the “Matrix” mythology. The storytelling is sharp, some written by the Wachowskis or based on a story by them, and the animation is consistently beautiful while running a gamut of styles. It’s not for fans strictly into the kung-fu fights or the main characters (who only make cameo appearances), but it’s a treasure trove for those who want new angles into the material and fewer gaps in the narrative.
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who also gave us “Daredevil” (2003), “Ghost Rider” (2007) is another slick Hollywood product from the era when seeing a comic-book superhero portrayed in live action had an intrinsic cool factor. But “Ghost Rider” is stridently paint-by-numbers, never off-the-rails incompetent in its production but never engaging in its narrative or themes. The best part about watching it is that I now have context for listening to the “Ghost Rider” episodes of podcasts that make fun of old movies.
Alot of “The Matrix Reloaded” and the first part of “The Matrix Revolutions” (both from 2003) get too philosophical, too talky, with the Oracle and other players inside the Matrix – for reasons of programming or whatever — not exactly being straight shooters as Neo (and we) seek information. But then the two ships split up – Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) going on their spiritual quest to the Machine City while Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) head back to Zion to help with the fight – and “Revolutions” hits rarified blockbuster territory occupied by “Return of the Jedi” (1983) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019).
Ifeel a little sorry for the “Fantastic Four” franchise. The 2005 and 2007 entries are competent children’s movies that failed to catch fire at a time when adult superhero movies were taking off. For the 2015 “Fantastic Four” – which I’ll call “Fant4stic,” based on the logo — director/co-writer Josh Trank (“Chronicle”) and co-writers Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg craft an adult superhero film, going for a brooding tone that would make Zack Snyder proud, complemented by dimly lit cinematography by Matthew Jensen. Unfortunately, this was a time when people were digging the comedic side of the trend-setting Marvel Cinematic Universe. This property can’t get the timing right.
The Matrix” (1999) is one of those sci-fi films that rewards people paying close attention; to understand the specifics of the world is to feel like we’ve become a smarter person. It’s a challenging task, but doable. “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003), on the other hand, calls out for one of those “Movie Explained” YouTube videos that are so ubiquitous nowadays.
Working from a screenplay by returning writer David S. Goyer, Guillermo del Toro probably didn’t know it at the time, but he directs “Blade II” (2002) as a trial run for “The Strain,” his 2014-17 TV series. The creature effects are strikingly similar across both projects, namely the next strain of vampires. In “Blade II,” their human mouths open “Predator”-style, and in “The Strain,” they reveal tubes that can strike from a distance — “Alien”-style, to the extreme.
The “Fantastic Four” franchise steps it up a notch for “Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007), which many superhero genre observers point to as 1) the best “Fantastic Four” movie and 2) evidence that the “Fantastic Four” franchise is pretty darn weak, if this is the best entry. The titular Oscar-statuette-looking demigod, performed by genre regular Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, has pathos: He must create craters in the Earth to destroy it, because it’s what he was made to do by his planet-eating creator, Galactus. But he doesn’t like doing it.
Of all the movies not yet released on 4K with Atmos, “Twister” (1996) is perhaps the most shameful oversight. It’s wall-to-wall action and tension and delightfully drawn storm chasers, and the special effects totally hold up two decades later. Co-produced by Steven Spielberg and co-written by Michael Crichton, “Twister” is from the era when the word “blockbuster” had some cachet, when people would keep such movies on their radar throughout the summer, enjoying them on a packed opening weekend or in the dollar theater months later.