Tag Archives: comic book movies

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman movie posterOver the last decade and a half DC have, for the most part, missed the target with their attempts to get a movie ‘universe’ off the ground. Superman Returns and Green Lantern were total misfires while Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice felt overburdened by a sense of their own importance while being overlong and just a little to ‘dark’ (Suicide Squad remains a bizarre anomaly that while far from successful at least tried to do something different).

Wonder Woman then follows on from these, in the same universe and MoS, BvS:DOJ and SS (as, possibly, no one is calling them), but once the brief modern-day prologue is done with we are launched into one of the most entirely enjoyable comic movies in some time (though Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel still top it).

The opening scene setting is a little laborious as we are introduced to Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) and said island paradise, it’s race of Amazon warrior women and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the fact that we have flashed back to 1917. In this though there are some impressively flashy action beats and the design of Themyscira is excellent.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Gadot in Wonder Woman

From there though things soon pick up and we follow Diana And Steve as they, respectively, try to destroy the God of war Ares and foil a plot that would see Germany win the First World War.

While this is fairly standard and leads to the inevitable big battle scene (albeit a better staged one than any of the previous films in the series) two things set it apart.

First is that, unlike pretty much any other mainstream comic book so far, and certainly unlike any of the DC predecessors, Wonder Woman embraces the inherent ridiculousness of the form in the best of ways.

This leads to moments of humour in odd places but at no point did I feel like I was laughing at the film but more laughing with it, while in other movies similar moments either fell flat, got lost in cliché, or just felt laughable. This really begins with the first time we see Diana as Wonder Woman (though she’s never named as such) in ‘the real world’ and culminates in the big reveal of the main antagonist.

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Pine and Gadot

Secondly is that, for the most part, the lead is Diana and its her who leads the action scenes and is the hero of them while the male characters are sidekicks or, in the case of Trevor, the love interest in the way the female character usually would be, though he gets to have his moments too.

While this does falter somewhat towards the end, with one moment in particular, it wasn’t so much that it spoilt the rest of it for me and fits the general conventions of the style, and I hope Diana’s position remains strong heading into the upcoming Justice League as she is so far, by a long way, the best leading hero of the current DC films which is also testament to Gadot’s excellently pitched performance.

Themyscira - Wonder Woman

Themyscira

While the film does have its flaws, mostly where the cliché goes a little too far or where it gets a little lost in cgi video game-style territory (though this is far less than in either MoS or BvS:DoJ), it has given me some hope for the future of the franchise, if Zack Snyder can take some of the stylistic notes laid out here by Patty Jenkins and roll it into his work (Watchman proved he’s more than capable of making a good comic book movie after all).

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Logan

Logan Movie PosterIt seems like much of the recent success of comic book and superhero movies can be traced back to Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films which laid the groundwork, not only for their own ongoing and expanded franchise, but the Avengers series, and most other films in that genre as well.

In 2016 this initial foundation was expanded (with mixed results) by Deadpool, adding an ‘R-rated’ flavour to the now Sony/Marvel X-Men universe, and now James Mangold’s Logan has grabbed that more adult notion by the throat and, well, driven three claws through its head.

Despite being the X-Men film series’ most compelling character the previous pair of standalone films based on Wolverine (X-Men Origins and The Wolverine) had, to a greater or lesser extent, not quite the hit mark; either for the character’s long time fans or more casual moviegoers. Here then it was refreshing that from the start this Wolverine, again played by Hugh Jackman, felt far more true to the essence of the character established but never really seen previously.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Jackman as Logan/Howlett/Wolverine

Opening on a shot of an ageing Logan (aka Wolverine, aka James Howlett) waking up in the back seat of a limousine and then swiftly and brutally dealing with a gang of thugs trying to steal his hubcaps, it’s clear that Jackman, Mangold and co are using all of their R rating (15 in the UK) allowance of profanity and violence.

The story centres on the now somewhat less superpowered Logan and his efforts to care for a frail and elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and a young mutant named Laura (aka X-23, played by Dafne Keen). While the film has its fair share of action, mostly in a close up more personal style than the now common city-destruction of other comic book movies, the majority of the film focuses on these three leads.

Jackman puts in not only his best performance as the character to date, but one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from him, as he carries the weight of the film with a surprisingly nuanced delivery, capturing the essence of faded glory and un-graceful ageing excellently, while also delivering hugely in the action set pieces while keeping the now developed character intact.

Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman in Logan

Stewart as Xavier and Jackman

Stewart reveals new sides of Xavier, and seems to have a lot of infectious fun doing it, as he balances a streak of humour that clearly comes naturally to him with the emotional heft necessary for his position in the film and with the same weighty presence he’s always had in the role.

Keen meanwhile is a revelation as the intense Laura. Largely silent, her movements and facial expressions capture and transmit everything you need to know about this feral child and grow as the films goes on to a massively satisfying climax beyond I think anything seen elsewhere in the comic book movie canon. To be honest the same can be said of both Jackman and Stewart’s parts too and even Steven Merchant as Caliban puts in a good showing.

As well as tremendous acting, helped by a story and script rooted in more down to earth feelings, Logan comes with more of a sense of consequences than other superhero films.

Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23

Keen as Laura/X-23

Here you really feel like what is taking place matters and that there are real stakes for those involved, unlike the Avengers movies where we ultimately know the outcome from the start for a number of reasons.

So every action set piece, and there are a fair few, comes with a sense of genuinely not knowing what could happen – both Wolverine and Laura are vulnerable enough to not come across as instant winners in every fight and this is exploited in variously clever ways as the film goes on.

Rather than climaxing on a moment of light relief like comic book movies are wont to do, Logan cuts to black at an emotional peak leaving the audience satisfied and with the sense that this was a complete story but (crucially I guess for the studios) with avenues open for more to come, but in far less obvious ways than most other franchise films manage these days.

Hugh Jackman in Logan

Logan takes comic book action to the next level

In the end Logan may well not only have eclipsed X2 or Days of Future Past as the best of the X-Men series but taken its place at the top of the mainstream comic book movie pile by daring to be different in ways that almost remove it from that canon, if it weren’t for the super powered mutants leading the story.

And the Johnny Cash track that kicks off the credits is the cherry on top of an already exceedingly good cake.

And here’s that Johnny Cash song, just because…

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Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad posterAround 18 years or so ago the perception of comic book/superhero movies changed, seemingly forever, from slightly naff, campy b-movies to genuine blockbuster contenders thanks to the likes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man leading into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the ongoing (now somewhat inconsistent) Marvel Cinematic Universe behemoth.

Now, with Suicide Squad – the latest instalment in DC Comics’ attempt to set up their own ongoing series like Marvel’s, following Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – director David Ayer (of End of Watch and Fury fame) and the various shadowy studio figures behind him, seem fairly intent on taking us back to the superhero movies of the mid-90s.

Describing the actual plot of Suicide Squad is a challenge, but in broad strokes it deals with the formation of a new super team that, rather than being made up of heroes, is made up (mostly) of second level villains and, in its better moments, deals with them coming together and working together.

In it’s not so good moments the story follows them as they face off against an ancient evil force, supposedly with the ability to destroy the world, embodied by two rather un-inspired, at least partially CG creatures.

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad

The first stumble the film makes is in trying to be an origin story for a number of characters. This is very inconsistent as Deadshot (Will Smith) gets about three versions of his origin story while Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) gets a very short montage.

Certainly this shows their relative places in the movie, but it feels imbalanced and the lack of exposure for a few becomes problematic as they have relatively pivotal moments later on.

Along with these we get the loose origin of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) threaded throughout, providing as much an introduction to her as to her ‘Puddin’, ‘Mr J.’ – Jared Leto’s new take on Batman arch-nemesis The Joker – during which the duo proceed to steal the show. Though Smith gives them a run for the their money.

It is these characters that are the film’s highlight – while the dialogue is fairly awful, the charisma of the performances and the essence of the characters that has made them favourites in the comic for, in some cases, decades, shines through.

The Joker (Leto)

The Joker (Leto)

Robbie is exactly the kind of demented fun that was promised, though I agree some of the more gratuitous camera angles smack a little too much of Michael Bay’s framing of Megan Fox, but aside from that she provides the nearest thing this film manages to emotional weight through her fabulously deranged relationship with ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’.

Smith’s Deadshot is far from the stone cold killer assassin he is built up to be as he provides some more emotion through his relationship with his daughter that plays as a pivotal motivation throughout, even if I couldn’t help but feel this kind of good guy/bad guy balancing act was added in to get a ‘name star’ such as Smith to play the part.

As is obligatory I should give a few opinions on Leto’s Joker… as he only appears relatively briefly its hard to have a full view but I liked what I saw with the modern ‘gangsta’ style echoing past versions who echoed gangster styles of their time – particularly Jack Nicholson’s version and the original comic book version.

Harley Quinn (Robbie)

Harley Quinn (Robbie)

Aside from that the relationship between him and Harley added a new dimension to the character and led to one of the film’s most striking images during a flashback involving the two and I can’t wait to see a more fully fledged version of the character, hopefully squaring off against Affleck’s Batman who was such a highlight of ‘BVS:DOJ’.

The rest of Suicide Squad unfortunately can’t escape feeling like it’s stuck in the mid-90s. A slightly poorly realised, special effects based, big bad with a fairly non-specific plan to destroy/rule the world is the epitome of this leading to a hugely unsatisfying denouement while being reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Russell Mulchay’s The Shadow.

Added to this is the fact that once again it has far from succeeded in establishing the DC comics universe on-screen in any meaningful way with a tone so different from the two previous films that, other than the presence of Affleck’s Bat and a couple of flashbacks, this could have been an entirely stand alone piece.

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)

All that said I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun, certainly some could have been trimmed from the first third to up the pace and the apparent main villain was at once too much and too little, but as a fan of the aforementioned Batman Forever and The Shadow I couldn’t help but enjoy Suicide Squad on a similar level to them.

So, really it’s not a ‘good film’ but I still had a good time… make of that what you will, and I can’t wait to see more of The Joker and Harley Quinn.

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X-Men

x-men movie poster16 years ago, in the wake of Blade, the first bona-fide Marvel comics based blockbuster movie hit the screens in the form of director Bryan Singer’s version of X-Men. Since then the franchise has gone on to become a long series of sequels (some good; X-Men 2, First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool – some less so; X3: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine – some a bit average; The Wolverine), but what was its origin like?

The film traces the story of what seems to be the X-Men’s first clash with The Brotherhood of Mutants and their leader, Magneto (Ian McKellen), through the eyes of new recruit Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and young mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin). This structure cleverly offers an audience potentially unfamiliar with the comics an easy way into this already established world on two levels, though both with the sense of the outsider.

This outsider nature is one that Singer laces heavily throughout, making it into something of a motif from the opening prologue showing us the origin of Magneto in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War, to the introductions of Wolverine and Rogue to the whole notion of Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Echoing the comic books’ 1960s origins that, supposedly, dealt with issues surrounding the civil rights movement, Singer incorporates a broader version of this theme more suited to a millennial audience, showing the two sides of the divide on the argument of integration and isolation/hostility that is still relevant now.

At barely an hour and 40 minutes Singer doesn’t deeply explore these issues but they are evident, what he does do in that time though is create a fast paced action movie. Unfortunately the short run time (something of a blessing compared to some of the over long movies that now populate this genre) means the large number of characters are, for the most part, underdeveloped; Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) get a decent amount of time to become slightly more than 2D but really the rest of the pack are fairly weakly painted hero or villain types.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

A highlight scene comes early on that sets the ground for Magneto and Professor X as they attend a debate on mutant rights and meet afterwards outside the meeting hall. Here the chemistry between McKellen and Stewart that has become the stuff of legend sparks and they certainly provide the most convincing aspect of the film and are amazing to watch just talking – though McKellen does go on to ham it up a bit too much later.

The action across the movie feels like a hybrid of what had come before, with a particularly physical feel often in the vein of an 80s action movie (prior to these things becoming almost entirely computer generated spectacles) and what was to come later with hints of the CG smash-fests of more recent movies. This gives it a split feel that isn’t entirely effective, but serves its purpose and we get great signature moments from all the main heroes and villains even if these do feel a little gimmicky.

The film’s climax, based around the Statue of Liberty, lacks a certain weight within the story which is something that marks the whole of this first X-Men film giving it the feeling of being at best the start of something, at worst a hyper-extended trailer for the franchise. That said, its enjoyable enough on its own merits and certainly at the time was successful enough to warrant the superior sequel that really allowed the characters and story more room to breathe than they had here.

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Blade

Blade movie posterAround the release of Deadpool in February 2016 a lot of fuss was made by some about its ‘R’ rating in the USA (15 in the UK). This ranged from surprise at a ‘comic book movie’ being given such a certification, to claims that it was the first of its kind.

Long before Deadpool though, before Marvel’s Avengers assembled and even before Fox launched their still ongoing X-Men franchise actor/producer Wesley Snipes and director Stephen Norrington unleashed what could be credited as the first new-style Marvel movie on the cinema going audience, Blade, in 1998, with its own hard R rating (18 in the UK).

First appearing in comics in 1973, Blade is a vampire hunting half-vampire, leading to his nickname ‘Daywalker’. Snipes and Norrington realised him here in the midst of a kind of race war between the vampires, who have existed in a loose peace with humans for thousands of years, and Blade and a few (largely unseen) humans fighting to maintain the peace while an upstart vampire, Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), is hell-bent on shattering it and the tradition of the blood suckers.

Wesley Snipes as Blade

Snipes as Blade

The story is pretty run of the mill for this kind of thing; Frost claims leadership of the vampires from ‘pure blood’ leader Dragonetti (the always eccentrically marvelous Udo Kier) and sets out to turn himself into legendary ‘blood god’ La Magra.

Blade is out to stop him while at the same time constantly seeking vengeance for his dead mother while being assisted by Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who makes his weapons and it all ends up pretty much as you’d expect.

What really makes the film though is the style it is made with. Placed almost equidistant between the heyday of shoot ‘em up action in the 1980s and the emergence of the MCU, it somehow seems to fill this space perfectly.

Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost

Dorff as Frost

As Blade, Snipes is all moody poses and action hero quips (complete with a suitable amount of ‘f-bombs’) while the fight sequences are based around martial arts in the way of the action stars that began with Bruce Lee and continued (with lesser success) with Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal et al but has become a bit passe these days.

Alongside this Norris paints a gritty and dark city that may be Detroit (though it’s never explicitly stated) and looks like visions of New York seen through the 1970s and 80s that, for me, is highly reminiscent of Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander. This gives the film a great setting that I can see as something akin to the Hell’s Kitchen seen in Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones which in a loose way connects it with the current MCU.

Within all of this it seems the film wants to deal with a few issues, specifically to do with race and drugs, but it never really pays these anything more than lip service. I think this is to the movie’s benefit though, and keeps it more in the sphere of a pure action film without getting bogged down in anything more.

Blade and Frost

Blade and Frost

As the film reaches its climax some early CGI does give it something of a dated feel but, with the expectation of this it didn’t spoil it for me (you can’t expect a film from 1998 to have special effects as good as today and I’m sure in 20 years we’ll be saying the same about Captain America: Civil War and its ilk).

Alongside Tim Burton’s Batman, Blade stands as one of the clear building blocks that led to the glut of comic book movies we have today (for better or worse), but still stands strong not only as an exponent of that genre but also as a great, supernatural, hyper-violent, action movie in its own right that has clearly influenced films like The Matrix and others since.

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Deadpool

Deadpool movie posterOnly a week after its release, watching the latest offering from the X-Men line of Marvel movies, Deadpool, comes with a surprising amount of baggage. First there’s the hugely positive response it’s received from movie-goers (with a few exceptions), and secondly the fact that, apparently against all expectations, the 15 rated (R in the U.S.) film has had the most successful opening weekend of any of the movies in the X-Men franchise.

Because of this I will freely admit to having done my best to maintain level expectations as, despite the positive notices and word of mouth, I found it hard to comprehend quite how ‘The Merc With The Mouth’ could be successfully realised on-screen. This approach led to me having a great time in the cinema, but certainly noticing that Deadpool is far from a perfect or totally successful film.

As is de rigueur for new superhero movies (though actually this is at least the second time we’ve seen a version of Deadpool on-screen, as he also appeared, played by Reynolds, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) this is a fairly formulaic origin story tracing, in a round about way, the transition of ex-special forces operative, Wade Wilson, into the titular mutant mercenary assassin. In doing so it hits pretty much every expected convention bang on with a lost love, a tortured transformation sequence and ultimately culminating in a CGI heavy confrontation between the hero and the villain who had a hand in his creation.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool

So far so standard, and it is this that has led to the criticism that there is of the movie. For a film that set its stall as being a subversion of a now very well-known, potentially over saturated, genre, it’s sticks hard and fast to what has come before and, in many ways, other films have already added twists to these conventions without sending them up.

However, what Deadpool does pull off, for the most part, is to be genuinely fun – whether that comes in the form all out jokes, over the top (compared to standard superhero fare) violence or just plain joie de vivre varies. With the exception of a few genuinely brutal torture scenes it had me laughing throughout and, even when it was trying a bit too hard to be ‘meta’, things never quite fell into the tedium that is always lurking around that word.

Ryan Reynolds clearly gives his all in the lead role and, while we rarely see his face without either the iconic black and red mask or thick ‘scar’ make up, he delivers one of his least grating performances to date. As well as the physical nature of the performance with some great stunts mixed in with the CGI, he gets the tone of the delivery of Deadpool spot on with a real sense of irreverence rarely seen in the often over earnest world of superheros.

Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead

Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead

A clever little addition to the mask really helps bring the character to life as his eyes and ‘eyebrows’ move and contort, a bit like a more sarcastic version of Watchmen’s Rorschach, and save the movie from having a star with a perpetually blank face.

As well as sending up elements of the genre that have already been surpassed there are a couple of other problems with Deadpool that, it seems, many are forgiving with the argument that it all comes with a knowing nod and wink. Unfortunately that doesn’t make jokes at the expense of the protagonist’s ‘blind old lady’ roommate any easier to stomach or the fact that Wilson’s love interest is about as generic a damsel in distress as you can get (despite a potentially more interesting start).

The only real link to wider ‘X-Universe’ comes with the inclusion of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead from the X-Men and a few shots of Professor Xavier’s school. This makes for a few nice touches both comically from Deadpool’s ‘meta’ asides to just the simple fact of seeing other familiar characters reacting to these asides and giving the whole thing something of a grounding in this world – though quite how Deadpool can fit in to the wider series I can’t quite fathom.

Deadpool and Ajax (Ed Skrein)

Deadpool and Ajax (Ed Skrein)

For all its evident faults Deadpool remains a very entertaining and funny hour and forty minutes and (other than when it got a bit nasty) I was rarely not at least smiling, though mostly laughing, even if the humour was far from the most intellectual and at times reminded me of the teen comedies of the late 90s.

When compared the self-consciously ‘real’ likes of the DC movies and the often somewhat earnest Marvel franchise films (Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy excepted) Deadpool remains great fun and a nice diversion from the main features of the series which continue in the not too distant future with X-Men: Apocalypse (following on from Days of Future Past) and a third solo outing for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman posterHaving heard very mixed reviews of the latest offering from Matthew Vaughan, Kingsman: The Secret Service, I went in with surprisingly balanced expectations. Having been a fan of Kick-Ass, Stardust and X-Men: First Class that Vaughan directed, but less Kick-Ass 2 that he produced, I had an idea what to expect in terms of irreverent, comicbook-y, fun and, to a degree, that’s what I got.

The film tells the story of a new recruit to the titular secret agents organisation and takes us through his recruitment and training while a Roger Moore-era James Bond like plot ticks away in the background. In the second half of the film this plot comes to the fore and we get a fairly run of the mill spy thriller climax, albeit with its tongue in its cheek and certainly not in the manner of the more recent, super serious, Bond films.

While all this sounds like it should be a lot of fun, and at points it is, the main problem with the film is how much it tries to cram in making a bit on the long side for a light-hearted romp and with a few too many ideas too. As well as his basic story, the recruit we follow, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), has the double back story of being son of a Kingsman as well as being working class (with all the stereotypical tropes that come with that). This packs the whole film, but especially the first half, with constant fish out of water reminders of this and a moral of sorts about making more out of your life on your own terms.

Colin Firth and Taron Egerton

Colin Firth and Taron Egerton

It is the team of mentors for Eggsy that provide most of the film’s highlights with Colin Firth appearing to have a great time as Harry Hart, codename Galahad, showing us a hint of what his Bond may have been, albeit with a lot more comic book style action that the worlds most famous super spy has ever seen. Along with Firth, Mark Strong’s Merlin is highly entertaining with an affected Scottish accent in a Q-like role, and, though Michael Caine doesn’t do a huge amount in the M role of Arthur, he is great whenever he is on screen.

Another performer who seems to be having fun is Samuel L. Jackson as chief villain Valentine, a self-confessed fan of the movies Kingsman pastiches adding an extra ‘meta’ level to proceedings.

Samuel L Jackson

Samuel L Jackson

As a whole though the cast are the ones having the most fun as, while nothing is particularly unenjoyable, I couldn’t help but feel the plot was fairly standard while Vaughan’s style of action is something that has now become fairly run of the mill and, after the well executed fight scene in the pub, nothing felt very fresh.

At the time of release quite a lot was made about some of the films less savoury humour, and one moment in particular, and, while this was a little out-of-place and off colour, it wasn’t quite as deplorable to me as some made out, though crucially it also wasn’t actually funny as it attempted to parody the innuendo heavy finale’s of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

Much like the aforementioned Kick-Ass 2, Kingsman: The Secret Service is far from being a bad movie but just seems to be missing something, particularly as the initial premise seems to be quite a promising one.

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Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron posterJust a short time after watching a bona fide sci-fi classic focused on artificial intelligence in Blade Runner, my next cinema trip was to see another, somewhat different, sci-fi movie including artificial intelligence, Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Continuing the story of what has become know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Age of Ultron throws us right into the heart of the action as the titular super team are attacking the Hydra compound of Baron Von Strucker and it rarely lets up from there.

When it does let up the film does have some nice character moments, in a comic book style, with the relationship between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansen) forming the back bone of this, along with the bickering between the team members that formed a lot of the first movie’s down time.

There are, within the Banner/Romanov scenes, some really good acting performances that actually manage to convey a sense of emotion within the melodrama of the rest, while the rest of the team do what they do, and continue to do it well and in entertaining fashion.

Banner and Romanoff

Banner and Romanoff

What makes this work better than in the first Avengers movie is that it seems a lot less frivolous and is more about people trying to find levity in the heart of a serious situation.

On top of the characters who we’ve come to know across the series thus far, a few new ones come into the fray while others are further expanded upon. So Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) becomes more central and helps the film along and new Avenger, The Vision (Paul Bettany), is genuinely very well executed and interesting (to say more would be a bit too much of a spoiler).

On top of this we get Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff who were also a breath of fresh air and genuinely interesting new characters.

Wanda works her 'magic'

Wanda works her ‘magic’

While this adds even more characters to the mix and risked making the movie a mess of superpowers, I found that the balance remained between them so it never really felt too overcrowded and they were all used as well as could be expected.

As is only appropriate for ‘The World’s Mightiest Heroes’ the situation they find themselves in is one that threatens the safety of the entire world and this is where we get one of the main issues with the movie. This comes due to the fact that we already know there is at least another Captain America film and two more Avengers films to come, so the world isn’t going to end here and certain characters can’t be killed off. This does somewhat lose some of the tension.

That said, the movie’s big bad, Ultron is, for the first chunk of proceedings an impressive piece of work. On a technical level the wholly CG character is hugely impressive and we now seem to have reached a point where a conversation between such a character and a live action one can take place without it seeming at all strange and Ultron fits in perfectly into every such scene.

Ultron, Mk 1

Ultron, Mk 1

Unfortunately, in the third act we revert to what seems to be an MCU staple of a horde of robots in a big action scene – though it is again well executed, just has a feeling of deja vu.

Of course what this movie really is, is the culmination of Marvel’s second phase so, really, it is like a two-hour long third act of spectacle and in that it really delivers as we get a greatest hits of Avengers style set pieces with each having its own inventive twist.

Particularly impressive is Iron Man’s ‘Hulkbuster’ making its long-awaited debut in a genuinely inventive battle scene, the interplay between Thor and Captain America with hammer and shield combos and the final stand-off between the whole team and Ultron which could easily be a comic book splash page.

Hulk and the Hulkbuster

Hulk and the Hulkbuster

This spectacle is all very impressive and, on first watch, it seems the movie has struck a balance to make it an enjoyable stand-alone film in itself. My only concern here is that I thought the same of the first Avengers and it has failed to stand up to repeat viewing in spectacular fashion.

In the end I can’t help but shake the feeling that what Joss Whedon has delivered here is a marvelous spectacle (pun intended), but the films from the MCU I will go back to won’t be the Avengers team ups but more the likes of the ‘quirky’ Guaridans of the Galaxy or the more thriller based Winter Solider.

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Films of 2014

So, before I begin this will be short as I haven’t seen nearly as many new movies this year as I’d like, but none-the-less here are my thoughts on things based on what I have seen.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Prison1As seems to something that’s going to continue well into the next decade Marvel took a big chunk of the blockbuster release schedule this year, but, unlike the last few years they actually lived up to the hype.

Following on from the sugary but ultimately unsatisfying confections of The Avengers and Iron Man 3, and the frankly rubbish Thor: The Dark World, Marvel studios stepped up their game in 2014 with the thriller-like Captain America: Winter Soldier that re-established some sense of intrigue in the ongoing Avengers storyline and the massively enjoyable and fun Guardians of the Galaxy that was one of the most enjoyable things I saw all year, whether new or not.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

The X-Men also re-established themselves as a group of Marvel characters worth watching as Bryan Singer returned to the director’s chair for Days of Future Past which built on the great work Matthew Vaughan did in First Class to be a great action adventure and set up some exciting prospects for the future.

Sony’s other Marvel property, Spider-Man fared less well in the bland follow-up to the almost ironically named The Amazing Spider-Man.

WyldStyle and Batman

WyldStyle and Batman

Family films were broadly catered for from the usual places but for me the stand out was The Lego Movie.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy it was a massively entertaining ride with enough smart jokes to make it something far more than any pre-release talk could have suggested.

It also added another great take on Batman to the cinematic canon that looks set to get his own stand alone follow-up.

Interstellar - Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey

Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey

One of the most anticipated movies of the year was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I was very glad I had avoided most of the pre-release hype and bluster when I went to see it and enjoyed it hugely as it combined a sense of adventure with ideas and thoughts akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While it was divisive with audiences, for me it perfectly balanced the two kinds of sci-fi, with spectacle standing alongside science and including one of the best pieces of stand alone world building I’ve seen in a long time.

The Imitation GameSomething of a wild card entry for me was The Imitation Game as, while its subject (Alan Turing) was one that greatly interested me and it starred Benedict Cumberbatch, who is generally a great performer, it had something of the look of an Oscar-bait biopic come English costume drama to it.

Thankfully it avoided this and ended up being very entertaining while also tackling some serious issues and taking a look at an only recently revealed part of second world war history.

PrideIn the end though, my favourite film of the year has to go to Matthew Warchus’ Pride. With its story of gay rights campaigners in London supporting striking Welsh miners in the mid-80s it could have been a very worthy film, but, instead it took a huge load of exuberance and positivity, along with all the issues surrounding both sets of characters, and created the most all-round entertaining and engaging movie I saw all year.

At no point did it shy away from anything, but at the same time it didn’t preach or posture and, while it encouraged tears along with the laughter, Pride made for the best time I had in a cinema in 2014.

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The Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger blu-ray

(Before I start, as a bit of warning, the last pic in the review is a bit graphic.)

While the likes of Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD are lesser known, but still relatively mainstream, entries in the Troma canon, their one film that really did crossover into wider public consciousness (it even spawned a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon series… seriously) is The Toxic Avenger.

Now available in a surprisingly good blu-ray HD transfer from 88 Films I have re-visted this king of schlock movies and, as is expected, on pretty much every level it is awful, but…

For the first part of the film every character is detestable, from Melvin, our de-facto hero and the much put upon janitor at Tromaville’s gym to the initial antagonists who are only more deplorable than our ‘hero’ and everyone else because they get their kicks from running down kids in their suped up car and getting off (literally) to the photos they take of the graphic aftermath.

While there is humour in these scenes, in a typically broad Troma kind of way, they do take some effort to get through and really only the hope that all these guys get their come-uppance carried me through.

Toxie

Toxie

Once our titular hero, aka Toxie, arrives, following a surprisingly good transformation scene, things change. Certainly political correctness remains a foreign concept, but at least pretty much everyone is given a good going over (if that makes it any better?), but finally we have someone to root for in Toxie and his newly found blind girlfriend, whom he saves from what is looking like its going to be a particular brutal fate.

From this point on this becomes a comic book movie in concept and convention, just one where the hero commits genuinely horrific acts to the bad guys while a Viz like streak of humour continues to run through the whole thing.

As is to be expected from Troma, these acts really are where the focus lies so we get death by gym equipment, maiming by sauna, a particular ‘nice’ Three Stooges eye-poke moment and many more.

Toxie and Sara

Toxie and Sara

As the film goes one thing that struck me on this watch is quite how knowing the ‘no-budget’ vibe seems to be as we get basic but none-the-less reasonably executed car stunts and fight scenes that hint that actually, it might not be as cheap as it looks. Some research suggests the film cost $500,000 so far from a blockbuster budget but with a no name cast and crew this explains how the Toxie’s ‘big moments’ were achieved.

This knowing sense really is what takes what would be an un-watchably offensive film and turns it into a watchable superhero comedy horror.

Wanda and Julie

Wanda and Julie

With a surprisingly big climactic scene that I first thought was using stock footage but actually seemed to be shot for the film, The Toxic Avenger entirely lived up to my memories and expectations (its been over a decade since I saw it) and it was clear why this is one of the jewels in Troma’s crown and the movie that made their name.

Certainly its not going to be for everyone, but if you can suspend disbelief and good taste for 80 minutes or so its schlocky combination of poorly shot and enacted sex, brutal violence and puerile comedy (with a little bit of thinly referenced social commentary) really does hit the spot.

And because I remember loving it as a kid, and having some of the toys, here’s the intro to the kids TV show based on the movie (hard to believe, even one series ever got made of this):

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