“I Don’t Think Tony Would’ve Done What He Did, If He Didn’t Know That You Were Going To Be Here After He Was Gone…”
With Avengers: Endgame managing to tie up a decade’s worth of multi-layered storytelling with enormous success, with the recent re-release clearly a marketing tool to make sure Marvel’s gargantuan epic finally knocks Avatar off the top spot for highest grossing film of all time, the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home this week is arguably one of the first MCU films to carry with it a heavy sense of superhero fatigue, particularly with Endgame still taking up cinema screens across the globe, and one which follows on from the high watermark of what audiences now come to expect from releases within its’ respective cinematic universe. Acting as a sequel to both 2017’s Homecoming and Endgame, Far From Home sees Jon Watts return to direct Tom Holland’s portrayal of the friendly neighbourhood wall crawler for a film which although feels very familiar, is a sweet, thoroughly entertaining and highly comedic chapter in the Marvel universe, a move which sees young Peter Parker attempt to come to terms with the loss of Tony Stark/Iron Man by venturing upon a school trip in which his only goal is to build up the nerve to finally unleash his feelings on the zany MJ. Whilst a road trip without the sight of digitally designed mayhem would have been a bold choice indeed to follow on from Endgame, Far From Home of course features enough web-slinging and superhero goodness to make every MCU fan more than happy, and with such a likeable cast and sharp, clever dialogue, Watts’ movie shows there is still an abundance of life in the old Marvel movie making machine yet.
With an opening act which attempts in a hilarious cliff notes format to present the aftershocks of the events of Endgame, where those not affected by the so called “blip” have of course moved up in years whilst the returned have stayed the same, Far From Home successfully manages to blend the “Spidey” sensibility of Peter Parker attempting to balance the responsibility of a superhero with the wishes of a teenager as seen before in the likes of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, a movie which still remains top of most people’s favourite wall crawling live-action feature, and thanks to a deliciously engaging script, Holland’s performance is a tornado of teenage angst as he is constantly interrupted by Samuel L. Jackson’s returning Nick Fury and co. in order to aid Jake Gyllenhaal’s (Nocturnal Animals) Quentin Beck against the forces of “The Eternals”, even when asking out Zendaya’s (The Greatest Showman) MJ is the most important task in his life. As for Gyllenhaal, the multi-talented cinematic legend does begin somewhat awkward in a role of which an actor of his pedigree tends to avoid, particularly after the non-existent success of Prince of Persia, but as the movie’s central, and somewhat expected for those familiar with the Quentin Beck/Mysterio character, twist finally arrives, the American is allowed to breathe, turning a somewhat ordinary antagonist into one of the more memorable MCU villains, one which taps into previous Gyllenhaal roles, particularly his full-on level of unhinged madness within the superb Nightcrawler. With a runtime slightly too long and a concluding act which is hard to distinguish between other MCU chapter conclusions, Far From Home is an excellent Spider-Man film and a very good MCU story which takes on the heavy task of following on from Endgame and passes with just enough success.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Even If There’s A Small Chance. We Owe This, To Everyone Who’s Not In This Room, To Try…”
With the final season of Game of Thrones gracing eager audiences earlier in the month, April 2019 will always be remembered as the time in which pop culture exploded into realms of unprecedented greatness as society witnesses the end point of both TV’s most talked about show and of course, the enormously anticipated, Avengers: Endgame, the latest chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the sequel to last year’s excellent and groundbreaking, Infinity War. Presented as the final installment in the Kevin Feige coined, “Infinity Saga”, which began all the way back in 2008 with Iron Man, Endgame sees our grieving band of OG superheroes come to terms with, and more importantly, attempt to revert the catastrophic damage caused by Josh Brolin’s (Deadpool 2) megalomaniacal titan, Thanos, in the previous chapter, and with the giant purple one’s tricky finger snap having gone down in pop culture loire for evermore, the bar is set impressively high for a sequel which Marvel themselves see as the one film the entire MCU has pretty much been leading up to. Bamboozling critics and audiences alike with a staggeringly long three hour run time, it’s fair to say that in terms of excess, Endgame laps it up completely, and whilst anything stamped with the Marvel branding tends to be absolutely critic-proof, what an absolute pleasure it is in being able to confirm that Endgame is everything that it should be and more, an emotional, bizarre and thoroughly engaging and entertaining cinematic blockbuster which manages to effectively balance spectacle with narrative payoffs, resulting in a closing chapter which beautifully reinforces the idea that what Marvel have done will never ever be executed quite as brilliantly ever again in the history of cinema.
Heading in, it’s quite important to note that Endgame is not in anyway Infinity War part two, and whilst expectations and fan theories always affect judgement on the final piece, the fact that I’ve now watched Endgame twice goes to show that the fourth Avengers piece is not just another movie, in fact it’s almost too much of a movie, a three hour long comic book dream which expects its’ audience to be synchronised with every in-joke, every knowing aside and be able to recount what happened where and at what time in each of the preceding twenty one MCU chapters. If part of this selective band of followers, then Endgame seeks to provide as much fan service to you as humanly possible whilst crucially still understanding the fundamentals of filmmaking by biding its time with an opening act which seeks to show the effects of Thanos’ snap, one which impressively highlights melancholic tales of loss, depression and guilt, resulting in some of the most impressive writing I can remember seeing in a superhero film since The Dark Knight. With the PR team for Endgame deserving their own round of applause for brilliantly being able to manage not spoiling anything at all, pretty much everything seen in the film’s trailers either occurs during the opening thirty minutes or not at all, and whilst particular narrative choices are expected from fans with more observant qualities to their Marvel addiction, the fact remains that in order to enjoy Endgame‘s many shocks and surprises you must simply head in not being aware of anything, with one of the film’s many joys is being able to gasp, cry and fist-pump your way through the action with an audience who are as dedicated to both the characters and the franchise as you undoubtedly are, if not more so.
At three hours long, the fact that Endgame did not feel as if it was testing any sort of patience at any point is a remarkable feat in itself, with both the pacing and the editing serving the action rather splendidly in a way that only the best filmmakers can successfully manage to balance, and whilst at times particular characters seem to be slightly wasted or criminally underused, such a complaint is particularly minor and in a way obsolete, with the primary mission of the piece clearly offering the chance to serve conclusions to characters who have been with us since the start and being well aware that for the new breed, the future is both bright and holds their own tales ready to be told and explored as we head into the franchise’s new phase come the end of the year. With enough hilarious dialogue and slapstick performances to put most so-called comedies to shame, Endgame deliciously plays into the Marvel mould we have both come to know and love, and whilst the balance between light and dark never fails to hit the solemn, gritty realism of Logan, the emotional payoffs of particular character arcs will leave even the most cold-hearted of sociopaths in floods of tears as they come to realise that characters in which their time has been spent with for just over a decade may not be ever seen again, in this universe anyway. When it comes to reviewing Endgame, what Marvel have ultimately achieved is unprecedented in the realm of cinema, twenty two movies across eleven years and all leading to a conclusion which is worthy of both the hype and anticipation laid upon it, and in some way, just being part of such a magnificent journey is reason enough to fall in love with a movie which will not only make it difficult to look at any future superhero movie in the same way, but is in some ways a love letter to fans whose dedication and desire have ultimately made such a dream come true.
Overall Score: 9/10
“You Can Do It. You Can Do Anything. You’re The World’s Greatest Grandma…”
Tasked with being the first Marvel release to follow on from the universally accepted awesomeness of Avengers: Infinity War, Peyton Reed’s second instalment of Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s own MCU journey hits cinemas this week, reuniting audiences with a large proportion of characters from 2015’s excellent origin story as it delves deeper into the notion of the quantum realm and the hopeful return of Michelle Pfeiffer’s (mother!) Janet van Dyne, the original embodiment of The Wasp who was lost many years ago in order to save the world from nuclear disaster. With a zippy pace and a childish playfulness which parallels completely with the two preceding Marvel releases within 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp undoubtedly falls into the MCU category of “great fun but not particularly necessary” alongside previous examples such as Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and whilst come the closing credits Reed’s movie falls down under the weight of much better entries within the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, the razor-sharp comedy and fundamentally likeable characters at the heart of the drama all succeed in making Ant-Man and the Wasp a thoroughly enjoyable throwaway superhero ride.
With the Bond-esque sensibility of Black Panther and the gargantuan epic space opera of Infinity War proving to be two of the strongest entries within the MCU so far, it’s fair to say that Reed’s latest follows closest to that of a down-and-out comedy, one which stays well away from the R-rated expletives of Deadpool to keep within the remit of 12A rated family friendliness, but also one which feels comfortable poking fun at not only its’ titular character’s fundamental absurdity but the genre itself, with a bundle of well constructed gags eager to please casual and die-hard MCU fans alike. With each of the primary cast all thoroughly enjoying themselves, the dryness of Michael Douglas’ aged Hank Pym mixed in with the brilliance of a Paul Rudd who seems to have been born for the leading role offers the chance for constant giggles, a feat not undone when the movie switches to a more dramatic tone in order to introduce not one, but two leading villains in the form of Hannah John-Karmen’s (Ready Player One) Ghost and Walton Goggins’ (The Hateful Eight) excellent arms-dealing criminal, Sonny Burch. With the action and spectacle offering a much more expansive usage of the shrinking technology utilised by the movies’ heroes, a concluding car chase wraps the film up nicely, leaving the tone of the film within the up-beast positivity in which it began, and even with a post-credits sequence which ties into the mould of the universe set up within Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is an MCU movie which is undoubtedly great fun, but one which too feels oddly irrelevant considering the dramatic turn the franchise has taken in wait for next year’s concluding arc to the MCU as we know it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“When I’m Done, Half Of Humanity Will Still Exist. Perfectly Balanced, As All Things Should Be…”
Following the release of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man exactly ten years ago, the culmination of plot threads, narrative developments and vast array of characters which have encompassed the Marvel Cinematic Universe since then have all led in the direction of Avengers: Infinity War, the latest gargantuan superhero romp which sees each of the major Marvel characters of the past ten years come together and join forces in order to thwart the oncoming threat of Josh Brolin’s (Sicario) ominous Thanos, who vows to collect each of the Infinity Stones, six immensely powerful alien artefacts, in order to bend the universe to his evil and genocidal will. With the hype train well and truly steaming ahead, the anticipation for Infinity War is unprecedented within the realms of superhero cinema, and with a extensively star studded cast list and the directing duo of Anthony and Joe Russo at the helm, whose previous credits of course include Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War, expectations from audiences and critics alike are resoundingly off the charts. Thankfully, what the Russo’s have manged to achieve with Infinity War is a staggering, operatic work of spectacle and heartbreaking drama, a film, which on paper had no right to succeed, but has somehow resulted in the most rewarding, magical and downright jaw-dropping Marvel superhero experience in the MCU so far.
With two and a half hours worth of plot to dissect, Infinity War essentially breaks down into a quartet of individual narrative channels, with Earth being the base for the character band lead by Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers, space being the battleground for both the Guardians of the Galaxy subplot and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark own personal quest, and the entire universe being the backdrop for Brolin’s Thanos who travels from planet to planet leaving behind a cold, calculated and murderous path as he collects the all-powerful Infinity Stones. With the MCU struggling in the past to effectively conjure up groundbreaking and well-rounded villains, the introduction of Thanos follows in the footsteps of Black Panther‘s Killmonger by refusing to bow down to simply cannon fodder for superhero stardom and instead is the surprising central character of the piece, with the script superbly managing to highlight the character’s genocidal plan with some degree of purpose whilst at the same time introducing flaws and elements of empathy, particularly in the stand-out conversations between himself and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. Of course, with purple CGI muscles, a band of merry followers known as the Black Order and the Infinity Gauntlet in hand, the real power of the character is evidenced to an alarming degree too, with surprising character deaths by his own hand and a dedicated reluctance to fail, resulting in explosive action set pieces which both never seem to outstay their welcome and a include too a perilous sense of threat for everyone involved which the franchise up to now was thoroughly lacking.
Of course, with so many characters and so little time spared on deep characterisation aside from the film’s leading antagonist, particular individuals do become somewhat by-products of a larger endgame, particularly those involved in the drama taking place on Earth and specifically, Wakanda, but with eighteen previous stories worth of backstory and development behind it, Infinity War isn’t designed to further character arcs and instead is there to tie up the development already achieved and offer long-awaited fan service for which it undenaibly achieves. Whether it’s the banter fuelled dialogue between Tony Stark and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange or the egotistical match-up between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, amidst all the grandiose drama, Infinity War still manages to hold onto the razor-sharp comedic puns the franchise is renowned for without ever feeling cheesy or stupid enough to lose its’ dramatic edge, and whilst the best moments are undoubtedly in the other-worldly realms in which Downey Jr. and Pratt are present, the film as a whole balances its’ monumental premise with staggering ease. Of course, with Infinity War only part one of a much bigger design, there is a resounding sense of payoff not yet being ripely achieved, but with a ground-breaking, melancholic and brazen concluding scene which rips up the cinematic blockbuster rule book completely, the year long wait for the concluding chapter is of course undeniably agonising, but one which if continuing the success of Infinity War, will undoubtedly be an experience to savour.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Have To Stop Her Here And Now, And Prevent Ragnarok, The End Of Everything…”
With arguably two of the weakest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, the return of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor marks the seventeenth entry in the gargantuan comic franchise, and whilst the character is awash with charisma and undeniable charm, it seems Hemsworth’s God of thunder has been the recipient of being better served when mixed in with the collective Marvel characters rather than being free to fight battles on his lonesome. Inevitably therefore, Ragnarok, directed by New Zealand’s Taika Waititi, manages to follow in the footsteps of Captain America: Civil War by for all intents and purposes being an Avengers movie, just without the titular phrasing slapped across it, with Hemsworth’s character this time being surrounded by the likes of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner and the return of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in his battle against Cate Blanchett’s evil goddess of death, Hela. With Waititi’s previous works including the likes of What We Do In The Shadows and last year’s critically acclaimed independent groundbreaker, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the Kiwi’s ascent into Hollywood stardom continues the MCU’s usage of interesting, promising directors after Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 and Jon Watt’s take on Spiderman: Homecoming earlier this year, and what Waititi has managed to achieve with Ragnarok is undeniably create the best of the Thor standalone releases so far, but with a aching sense of inconsequentiality running through it, the latest MCU release is supercharged in style but lacking wholly in any sense of prolonging substance.
Faced with the passing of father Odin, Thor heeds the warning of the coming of Cate Blanchett’s Hela, the Goddess of Death, whose desire to overthrow the Asgardian kingdom could potentially lead to the coming of Ragnarok, a prophetic armageddon which eradicates the existence of Asgard from the face of the universe, but with the God of Thunder’s preoccupied exile onto the planet of Sakaar, Thor must first overcome the greatest gladiator battle of all time before returning to save his home planet from certain destruction. With the chugging riffs of Led Zeppelin and a colourful, sparkly tone which made Guardians of the Galaxy so joyous throughout, Ragnarok is a movie which soaks up the fundamental ridiculousness of Thor’s character and simply hands the audience an undeniably entertaining comic adventure on a multi-coloured plate, and whilst the rib tickling comedy and likeable characters, both old and new, keep the audience chuckling and the lengthy running time manageable, the latest Marvel adventure does suffer at times from having almost too much to say without any of it having any real consequence. With a emo-inflicted villain who is too camp to take seriously, strangely jarring cameos from particular Hollywood stars and a limited screen presence from the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Idris Elba, Ragnarok suffers where the likes of Civil War prevailed, with the latter working with each pieces of the chess board onto something of consequence, and considering the future which lies ahead for the fate of the MCU, Ragnarok is indeed a highly enjoyable addition to the Marvel universe but ultimately doesn’t seem exactly necessary.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Can’t You Just Be A Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man..?”
As we all are well aware, with great power comes great responsibility, and although it only seems like yesterday when the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire led Spider-Man films graced the big screen, here we are this week with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixteenth film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Tom Holland in a leading role which swiftly follows on from the likes of Maguire and Andrew Garfield after his cameo appearance within the superbly entertaining Captain America: Civil War. Perhaps not holding as much expectation as other MCU entries, Homecoming’s main reason for existence arguably rests on the shoulders of young Holland, with his own feature film giving him utmost freedom to exact his own take on the character of Peter Parker to a larger extent than was offered back in Civil War, and with the rather unknown figure of director Jon Watts at the helm, Homecoming could be regarded as a much more experimental MCU than one might first expect. With a charming lead performance from Tom Holland, an excellent villainous turn from Michael Keaton and enough jokes to poke fun at so many so-called contemporary comedies, I’m happy to report that Homecoming is a crowd-pleasing success, if suffering from a slight linger of cliche and a strain of superhero fatigue.
Forgetting any means of backstory and heading straight into a mildly trained Peter Parker, Homecoming mixes the 80’s sensibility of movies such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with the latter making a brief appearance halfway through the action, with the flashy, sharp-witted action that has come to encompass many Marvel releases, and with Tom Holland, his youth and puppy-esque, wide-eyed curiosity is arguably the most definitive version of Peter Parker to date. Although sometimes the performance does become slightly grating, with the Aaron Sorkin-esque way in which his lines are spoken come across too fast at times to keep up, the innocence of youth is effectively balanced by the faux leather wearing Vulture, a villain who not only is one of the more memorable of the entire MCU, actually has a deep sense of characterisation and is welded effectively into the narrative enough to feel for for both his actions and the actions of the titular hero. Whilst the overall narrative is somewhat disposable and highly obvious at times, the array of side-splitting jokes and flashy secondary characters keep the film entertaining enough to just deserve its’ two hour plus runtime and with a sequel destined to arrive in the near future, Homecoming is indeed an effective reboot of the Spider-Man franchise.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Sometimes, The Thing You’ve Been Looking For Your Whole Life, Is Right There Beside You All Along…”
Whilst the first Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which expectations were not exactly of the highest order, the finished product was ironically one of the best the franchise has had to offer so far, introducing expertly characterised leading heroes amongst a crowd-pleasing narrative which managed to balance the irregularity and oddness of the source material whilst serving up arguably the best jukebox soundtrack this side of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With power comes increasing levels of responsibility however and a sequel to the biggest surprise of 2014 was downright inevitable, yet with James Gunn returning as director and the added involvement of iconic screen presences such as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Vol. 2 is indeed up there with the most excitable releases of the year and a movie which is lynch-pinned within a period of twelve months in which there are so many superb upcoming movies to look forward to and a year in which Vol. 2 begins the triage of MCU movies which are set to be released over the course of 2017. What we have with Vol. 2 however is a sequel which is indeed as inventive and magical as it’s predecessor, playing all the cards in all the right areas to keep its’ intended audience more than happy, but too a movie which suffers from the issue in which many sequels tend to have, with it not entirely being up to the critical level of the original but still being an excellent new addition into the MCU.
With the added input of Kurt Russell as Ego, the long lost father of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Vol. 2 thrives on the same sense of retro-loving freedom which encompassed the original, nodding its’ head at a wide range of nostalgic avenues alongside yet another successful jukebox soundtrack which ticks off everything from E.L.O to George Harrison across a two-hour plus runtime which does seem a tad too drawn out come the final act. Furthermore, in a similar vein to that of Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 attempts to differ slightly from its’ predecessor by sticking to a driving narrative which comes across as a much darker and melancholic tale, focusing upon a wide range of notions such as the meaning of family alongside a deeper sense of characterisation for each of the leading guardians who individually have enough substantial screen time between them to sway off arguments of favouritism from fans, even when the superbly managed inclusion of Baby Groot manages to steal every scene in which he is involved in. Whilst not setting up anything major in terms of the future of the MCU, Vol. 2 is a substantially entertaining blockbuster which although features arguably a higher dose of comedy than the first, is inevitably not as surprisingly awesome than one indeed hoped for, yet with a core character base in which you could happily spend an entire lifetime with, James Gunn’s second helping of galaxy saving guardians is entertainment galore.
Overall Score: 8/10
DAN – With the release of Peyton Reed’s Ant Man this week, the mammoth of a machine that is Marvel continues to ever-grow and seemingly swallow everything in its’ path, regardless of the competition at hand. With Comic Con last week seemingly handing the hype trophy over to DC due in part to the explosion of Batman and TV related goodness, cast interviews and movie trailers, particularly that of the eagerly anticipated Suicide Squad, it seems obvious that DC are staging an attempt to sway the Marvel machine off its’ course for the time being even though they still hold the award for best comic-related movie ever in the form of The Dark Knight. So with DC winning the hype-race at Comic Con, Marvel have seemingly decided to take a seat back from the fire-fight for the time being and allow us to revel in the formation of a new Avenger in the form of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, the incarcerated criminal who unwillingly undertakes the role of Ant Man under the guidance of Micheal Douglas’s Hank Pym, a retired former S.H.I.E.L.D agent who had once previously been the occupier of the famous Ant Man suit. Where before Marvel films have seemed to undertake a very similar, formulaic layout, Ant Man points more towards the spectrum of Guardians of the Galaxy, particularly in terms of its’ high comedic value, something of which makes Ant Man one of the most enjoyable Marvel entries so far, and ultimately concludes Phase Two of the MCU in a rather cool and collective fashion.
The entire reason for why Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded so well last year was the unexpected turn it took from the rather similar and over-used Marvel film blueprint for almost all entries in the MCU up to its’ release, with it combining a underlying comedic element and self-mockery to the fundamental questionable concept of a team of heroes that combined a tree and a talking raccoon. Add in a scorching soundtrack and a well-chosen cast, Guardians of the Galaxy truly was one of the highlights of last year, let alone in its’ own expandable universe, and Ant Man swiftly follows suit by once again being another Marvel related success which combines a huge riff of comedy, due in part to the influence of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish who left half-way through production, and a wonderful cast, strongly spearheaded by the one-two of both Rudd and Douglas. Compared to the spectacle of most MCU-related movies, it was actually quite refreshing to see Ant Man take more of a low-key approach, with the action only really taking place in the final act of the film after some interesting and highly enjoyable character development in the first two-thirds, with scenes in which the miniaturisation was used in a hugely comical manner being one of the many highlights of the film.
Other highlights of the film included Ant Man’s accidental meeting with a fully-formed Avenger and the way the film included Easter Eggs and references to the MCU, particularly its’ attempt to signify its’ move away from the Avengers with Pym’s statement of them being busy “toppling a city somewhere”, rather tongue-in-cheek at the destruction caused in Age of Ultron. Such levels of destruction thankfully cannot be attributed to Ant Man however with the biggest moment of chaos being caused by an enlargement of Thomas the Tank Engine in a scene with produced chuckles from the entire screening audience. In terms of the problems, Ant Man does seem to bear resemblance to Guardians a bit too much resulting in a lack of freshness from Marvel’s POV, particularly when the latter was only released last year, whilst the plot thread of the Quantum Realm seemed a bit too rushed and jack-hammered in to be truly interesting. All in all however, Ant Man succeeds in being a rather entertaining and much welcomed entry into the MCU, and in my opinion beats Age of Ultron for best Marvel film so far this year. Up next, Fantastic Four. What a time to be alive.
Dan’s Score: 8/10
PETE – Dan has hit the nail on the head. Ant-Man was another one of the MCU’s films that honestly looked a bit naff. The trailers were lacking and it felt like the whole movie was pretty much summed up within them, yet like Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a huge surprise. The journey of an ex-con turned superhero was fantastic. Instead of dropping you into a story with characters who know their powers, their limits and strengths, we actually see a someone become a hero who doesn’t have infinite wealth or training to begin with.
The story was great fun. Ant-Man always seemed a but dull to me but Marvel have the uncanny ability to create characters that are so likeable and fun that make me want to run down to the comic store and dig into the back catalogue for a little more. Now as I haven’t seen anything involving Ant-Man, I can only say that I enjoyed the portrayal I saw, whether it is accurate or not. Paul Rudd simply doesn’t age and I’m sure for many years to come we could see him playing this role because he was great fun. His comedic wrap sheet means that he can execute lines on a whim and be extremely convincing doing so. Its the character that he can embody. Yet, considering Ant-Man is supposed to have a master degree, we really don’t see much about this at all but hopefully we can see it in his next outing.
It makes me wonder how people become evil in the Marvel world. The claims of righteous acts aren’t enough to justify it for me. When you watch a massive city/town lifted into the sky and the Avengers destroying this giant threat, why would you honestly think that your squishy body has any sort of chance. The ending for said villain was rather quick and honestly it felt a little rushed. The sequence was fantastic fun but it was to short compared to the entirety of the movie but nevertheless, it isn’t the typical way we see Marvel villains go and is rather liberating to see it so.
Marvel are great when it comes to visuals but it does feel as if Ant-Man’s budget was a little smaller in the CGI department as all the backgrounds in the miniature scenes lacked fidelity as looked very fuzzy. As for the rest, the ants look awesome and the giant scenes tended to uphold the general trend set by Marvel. The music was on point and the action was explosive and funny all at once. Is it better than Guardians? No. Is it worth your time? Hell yes. Its great and I really can’t wait until he makes an appearance in other instalments and we get a lot more cameos. PS – That SHIELD cameo was pretty damn epic! 8/10!
Overall Score – 8/10
It’s that money-making, mind-blowing, blockbuster time everyone and with the simply unbelievable performance of Furious 7 over the course of the past few weeks, where I believe it is now into the top ten of highest-grossing films EVER (Seriously?), it is time for Avengers: Age of Ultron to firmly push it, and many others in the top ten, out of its place. In terms of the money-making side of movies this year, one of the conundrums of 2015 is what will take more; Avengers or Star Wars? After watching the latest addition to the MCU however, I think the one true question is whether they will match each other in terms of quality. After returning from the midnight showing on Thursday morning, slightly knackered but still rolling on, I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars has a lot to live up to. Avengers: Age of Ultron is pretty fab.
The real winning formula of the first Avengers movie was that each and every character got their own decent share of screen time, and although Downey Jr. and Hiddleston as Iron Man and Loki respectively, were the stand out performers, not one of the actors and actresses in such a huge ensemble cast felt left out in any way. Fortunately for Age of Ultron, this formula is pretty much adhered to, even with the inclusion of a bunch of new characters, where, sloppy Russian accents aside, Olson and Taylor-Johnson as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are a fantastic addition to the MCU, whilst Bettany’s portrayal of The Vision was a wonder to behold, although there should have been a rain-check on that cape. No capes. Top marks for best newcomer however has to go to big baddie Ultron, magnificently voiced by James Spader, who walks away with the award for best CGI robot-thing in a MCU film so far, not only due to the stark realism of the characters’ presence on screen, but because Ultron felt like a proper character, someone who you could believe in, and someone you felt afraid to the bone of, something of which is rare in a lot of CGI characters.
With the first Avengers being one of the standout pictures in the MCU, Age of Ultron kind of needed to change direction, if only slightly, in order to sway away from the dreadful curse of being only “more of the same”, and the way in which Whedon and co. have decided to do this is to make Age of Ultron a much darker film than the first. Yes, the banter between the team is still rife as ever, but the darkness stemmed from Ultron himself, who came off as a much more cold and malevolent presence than I ever thought Loki was, as brilliant as he is as the bad guy of Asgard, to the whole sterialisation story of Black Widow, which was pretty damn depressing to say the least. In the case of Age of Ultron, the step into the dark-side worked and the threat of impending doom was always there, particularly in the final battle, cemented with the death of one of the supposed key characters of the Avengers, which although was teased throughout the film, had a sickening, yet cleverly finessed, twist to cap it all off.
Yes the film does have faults. The whole MCU cross-ins and cross-overs, mixed with interwoven stories and plot points would obviously be confusing to the lay movie watcher who just happens to have not seen any of the previous installments and decides to watch Age of Ultron, but my question to that person would be, why watch it without seeing at least the first Avengers previously anyhow? Even as a keen follower of the MCU (not the comics however), even I at times tend to get lost and confused regarding what Infinity Stone is what, who is where etc. etc. so the level of confusion for someone oblivious to the stories previous is going to pretty high. The film also had an awful knack or rushing certain plot points, with it sometimes just resorting to another jumping, action, blowing up scene, which is always good fun, but seemed a bit too much at certain points. I mean, don’t even get me started on what Thor did at the pond thing. I have no clue whatsoever. My usual moan of runtime however, cannot be adhered to this time, with the film’s 140 minute runtime surprisingly flying past, something of which hasn’t happened since last years’ Interstellar.
So in conclusion, yes, the film does have flaws, but the positives overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives, with a stellar cast being put to great use to continue the fun of the MCU which doesn’t seem to be in danger of crippling anytime soon. Is it better than the first? On first watch, probably not, but the beauty of a blockbuster is that there are a ridiculous amounts of chances to watch it again (I think it is showing 30 times a day in my local multiplex) and a second watch is something of which I am looking forward to already. Age of Ultron is a solid and spectacular farewell to the directorial duties of Joss Whedon too, who has supplied the Marvel fans with two of the finest superhero films of all time. Farewell Mr. Whedon. Its’ been emotional,
Overall Score: 8/10
Once again I’m back to feeling half my age, hyped up for the new Marvels’ Avengers: Age of Ultron movie where the cinema staff obviously did not want to calm me down when handing me a free action figure with my coke! But I digress, the film was amazing and was all I could want from an Avengers film, but that’s not to say there wasn’t a few disappointments. (SPOILER WARNING)
Let’s start with the first scene with the Avengers going against a Hydra base. I would have liked a bit of context on how all of the Avengers assembled (LOL), for example, at the end of Iron Man 3, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Tony Stark blow up all of his Iron Suits? Yet here he is flying around! Don’t get me wrong, I love Iron Man but just a bit of context would have been nice, unless I missed something.
Now, I don’t know if any of my fellow reviewers here on Black Ribbon watch Marvels Agents Of Shield, but it was awesome seeing Dr List and Strucker, the Hydra Villains at the beginning, which have been seen in the TV show and now appear on the big screen. Having Dr List introduce Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch fitted well with the back story of Agents of Shield, with Hydra kidnapping people with powers.
The interactions, mainly the wit, between the characters were in my opinion top class. The cinema audience laughed at the characters’ banter and gasped at the shock of the Vision handing Thor his hammer which made the film all that more enjoyable to watch. I did enjoy seeing some back story into Hawkeye and Black Widow which was well deserved and did lead me to anticipate one of their deaths but was gladly mistaken. I would have liked some more scenes with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch where although you get a brief description of them telling Ultron about their past, it felt like there was very limited dialogue between them and the Avengers which I would have much preferred to see.
In terms of the fighting choreography, being an Avengers film I think we all expected some amazing action and I was not the slightest bit disappointed. All of the fights seemed original, well- paced and made full advantage of the surroundings. The combos between the characters were clever, however I would have liked if they mixed up the combination of characters. I lost count the number of times Thor did a combo attack with Captain America.
To me what makes a good action film is a good villain. In the case of Ultron, he is good and has character, despite being a robot. With an understandable motive and evil plan however I was slightly let down. In the trailers he seemed more malicious, giving off an evil Pinocchio vibe giving that awesome line “There are no strings on me” where just thinking about it gets me hyped up! However, in the movie he just felt less impressive but this could be due to him being out-shined by the Vision. I would have liked to see Ultron kill an Avenger with his hands or at least a bit more close quarters rather than random shootings with a helicopter. Sure he cuts off Klaw’s arm but who cares about Klaw? Hardly jaw dropping stuff!
Like every Marvel film there is always a teaser at the end of the credits and this time we see Thanos pulling out the Infinity Gauntlet saying “I will just do it myself”; F*!& yeah! This small clip has got me psyched up like a bat out of hell! I can’t even imagine the amount of carnage which is going to occur, however I am slightly worried about the new Avengers they showed at the end (War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Falcon) as they hardly seem like replacements for their predecessors but maybe I read that entire scene wrong.
I know I have listed many negative points throughout the review but believe me when I say this; I loved it and I’m very much tempted to go watch the film again which for me never happens. I loved seeing the character interaction between the huge roster of heroes with all of them getting a fair amount of screen time whilst the action scenes were creative and fast paced whilst showing constant humour, and all of this is setting up for another huge film in the future with Thanos. I’m sure most of you will go see this film regardless, however for those on the fence, go see this film!