Reel Critics: Two for the money

The great stuff of superheroes

This could also be called "Cash of the Titans." Featuring many classic Marvel Comics characters and a fun cast, "The Avengers" is the Super Bowl of superheroes. It's nearly 2 ½ hours of wisecracking, overblown annihilation. I loved it.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's adopted brother, vies for world dominance by virtue of his sleek helmet, intergalactic flying monkeys and posh accent.

It's up to one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to assemble a team to stop him — and what a team! Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Dr. Bruce Banner, aka Hulk, all together on a giant plane. Pity there weren't any snakes.

It's a real casting coup (and cash cow) to gather Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner (as Hawkeye) and Mark Ruffalo (the only one not wearing tights).

Downey's deadpan works overtime here much to our delight. Ruffalo is finally the right actor to portray Banner as a schlubby scientist, reluctantly recruited because of the destruction he can inflict when he's angry.

The best scenes involve trash-talking, bickering and sucker-punching the super-egos, followed by the inevitable assault on poor New York City. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the ride, folks. And stick around for the super-sequel teaser.


A pirate's life for them

Why do pirates so love the pirate life? Do they love to plunder and pillage, waving their cutlasses about, or are they most fond of — Ham Night?

In this latest Aardman Animations rollicker, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" takes silliness to the high seas. Directed by Peter Lord ("Chicken Run") and Jeff Newitt, the jokes come fast and furious, clever and nutty enough to give both grown-ups and kids the giggles.

Pirate Captain (brilliantly voiced by Hugh Grant) sports a luxuriant red beard and is the Susan Lucci of nominees for the Best Pirate of the Year award. His hapless quests to steal more booty are hilarious, and he is a laughing stock to everyone but his shabby, loyal crew.

In a goofy twist on history, Pirate Captain meets Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) who is not a kindly dowager but tiny terror. He also hangs out with Charles Darwin, a "manpanzee," novelist Jane Austen, the Elephant Man and a little parrot named Polly.

Whether viewed in 3-D or in the cheap seats, there is no mistaking the amazing attention to detail in the handmade characters and sets. The subtlest of expressions are made just by the painstaking tweaking of a clay brow by hand, not computer. This personal touch brings added warmth and dimension to another brilliant Aardman creation.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine. JOHN DEPKO has the week off.

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