Tag Archives: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel’s The Defenders

Marvel's The Defenders logoOver the last few years Marvel and Netflix have teamed up to give a place within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to some of the comic and movie juggernaut’s less brightly coloured characters.

From Daredevil to Iron Fist the four initial characters, five if you count anti-hero Punisher who’s yet to have his own series, they’ve all had their good and bad points and, much like the movies had The Avengers, have had an obvious target in mind, The Defenders.

I had my concerns going into the series as, while I had generally enjoyed the two Daredevil series (I think due to my already established interest in the character and his story), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist had all suffered from having too many episodes and not quite enough story.

Jones particularly dragged in places despite the excellent Kilgrave story, but, in The Defenders, a shared underlying thread has come together in a genuinely satisfying way.

The Defenders - Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Story faults aside, what had impressed about the standalone series was how each sat within its own genre version of the Marvel world, from gritty 70s style crime cinema (Daredevil) to a kind of tidied up blaxploitation (Luke Cage) and, in the first few episodes at least, but threaded throughout, The Defenders echoed these motifs around the individual characters very well.

The story, as previously mentioned, pulled elements of all the shows together but it’s particularly parts of the Daredevil plot and the Iron Fist back story that lead things. Featuring Marvel’s famous band of evil ninjas, The Hand, and their ongoing plans for New York – as usual based loosely around machinations of power and destroying things that don’t stand up to too in-depth an exploration but make for a good antagonising force.

Sigourney Weaver in The Defenders

Weaver as Alexandra

While we’d met a few members of The Hand in the past their new apparent leader revealed here comes in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.

Echoing many of her famed genre roles of the past its clear that Weaver is having a great time chewing up scenery in a brilliantly villainous fashion with little of the potential nuance that modern villains might often have, though as the series goes on her story gains a little more depth, but nothing to change her excellently played villainy and a story arc that looks like it will make her more sympathetic actually develops the other way.

She’s ably backed up by previously introduced members of The Hand which leads to the forming of The Defenders as a kind of angsty, grumbling, street level version of The Avengers.

This formation is expectedly rocky but does lead to some brilliant moments between the characters dotted throughout the series hinting at more to come, particularly between comic book co-stars Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). This is best demonstrated in the series’ fourth episode where things all fall into place (well as much as they do at any point) and we get probably the most of the quartet in a room talking before the inevitable fighting starts.

The Defenders in action

The Defenders in action

Speaking of action, as with the previous series, this was all much more ‘realistic’ (for superhero stuff) than the movies with plenty of blood and far more heft to what happens, including a number of severed limbs and decapitations which really are to be expected when katanas seem to be the general weapon of choice.

While there wasn’t quite a single standout action moment like some of the past series had, everything there was, until the very end, was brilliantly handled and really it was the weight of implausibility that only mildly tainted the big battle scene in the climax.

At only eight episodes compared to the lead in series’ 13, it was far tighter, focussing only on the one story, while giving us hints of side arcs but not feeling the need to explore them in detail.

In all this made for the most satisfying of the Marvel/Netflix series so far, but it may well suffer from not being as accessible to those who haven’t seen all the build up, but for those who have it’s a pretty non-stop ride and a nice alternative to the ever-increasing sci-fi scale of the cinematic releases.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 posterWhen James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air in a rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that was already beginning to grow somewhat stale.

Now, three years later, its sequel has appeared with far more anticipation and again the hope that it would help add something new to the now apparently inescapable MCU juggernaut.

From the start Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much more of the same as Gunn, once again in the director’s chair, subverts standard action movie expectations as a big action scene takes place as the background to a dance sequence from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) accompanied by yet another nostalgia heavy musical choice.

While this is all fine and entertaining it sets up something that becomes a bit of a frustration, particularly in the first half of the film. The use of vintage pop songs and irreverent punchlines was a highlight of the first movie but here they often seem a bit too forced and it almost as if nothing can happen without a joke being thrown in at the end.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 - baby groot

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

Some of these are great but some miss the mark and it starts to feel like Gunn is feeling the need to live up what was most notable about the first film (something that looks to have spread to not only the new Thor film Ragnarok but also the upcoming DC superhero mash-up Justice League, judging by the trailers).

Because of this the first half of the film does drag somewhat, despite a few perfectly serviceable action sequences, as it takes a while for the story to really get going as we are reintroduced to the Guardians and their particular corner of the galaxy, along with a vague maguffin about stolen batteries.

Once Ego arrives though things do pick up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell - Ego 2

Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell)

Played by Kurt Russell in a way that is at once one of the film’s biggest 80s nostalgia trips and a genuinely effective character, Ego is something of a rare thing in Marvel’s films of feeling like something a bit different.

Known as ‘The Living Planet’ he expands on the more sci-fi end of the MCU in both visual and character terms and there are some genuinely impressive moments focussing on him that do a great job of translating comic book ‘splash page’ style imagery onto the big screen.

While this leads to a big smash bang action sequence as is the Marvel standard, the connections between the characters, old and new, give this something a little different to keep it interesting enough, if not truly ground breaking.

Much like the first film one of its strong points is in the design of the MCU extraterrestrial world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - Chris Pratt

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt)

With ships clearly strongly influenced by artist Chris Foss and a somewhat psychedelic sense to its space-scapes it builds in what was set up first time round as well as in the Thor and Doctor Strange films and suggests the upcoming Avengers films that it would seem will focus on Thanos have the chance of some epic visuals.

Laced through with cameos and a strong sense of 1980s nostalgia Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be not feel as fresh as its predecessor and be hampered by trying to live up to its own hype, but is entertaining and really picks up in the second half to be one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this is helped by still being totally separate to the ongoing Avengers saga it seems destined to collide with sooner rather than later and having a solid directorial vision from Gunn (who has already been announced as directing the third Guardians film) rather than the often slightly too homogenised feel of the rest of the series.

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Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War posterThirteen films in to the series, how much more is there really to be said about Marvel’s ongoing output?

Well, looking at Captain America: Civil War (the third Captain America film, thirteenth MCU film and arguably, third Avengers movie) there are two sides to this; one is that its very much more of the same, the other that it’s a genuine attempt to put a twist on the now fairly well-worn formula. In honesty the final result lies somewhere between.

The story is two-fold as well, being the next in the direct Captain America series (after The First Avenger and Winter Soldier) it continues the story of The Winter Soldier and Hydra that was left off at the end of the preceding film.

The other side deals with the aftermath of the Avengers films, in particular the collateral damage caused in Manhattan and Sokovia.

All of this considered it certainly seems that Marvel have almost entirely given up on the idea that people would come to these films cold as there is a lot going on relating back to previous films – while this was fine for me, it certainly could be a problematic way of making movies going forward.

Winter Solider, Iron Man and Captain America

Winter Solider, Iron Man and Captain America

With all of this combined and the arrival of at least two brand new superheroes (Black Panther and Spider-Man) there is a lot going on, which explains the films two and a half hour running time.

While certainly on the long side at no point did I find Captain America: Civil War drag with a good balance between fairly earnest talky scenes and the kind of big action set pieces that are Marvel’s stock in trade.

With Joss Whedon having moved on from Marvel it seems this is, in a way, Anthony and Joe Russo’s dry run for the next Avengers films they will be directing and, if I’m honest I preferred their take on the relationships between the main characters.

Whedon’s banter-like dialogue was lightly amusing but generally ultimately empty, while here Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) felt more natural… well as natural as comic book movie dialogue is ever going to be.

Team Cap

‘Team Cap’

On top of this the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) provided the film’s light relief in a genuinely satisfying way and in the manner the comic book version of the character is known for that has previously never quite been demonstrated on-screen.

The highlight of the film comes in the middle with the ‘Civil War’ set piece of Cap’s group of heroes facing off with Iron Man’s. While it’s certainly a lot CGI characters hitting each other, it contains some inventive new twists on the old formula.

After this we are very much more in Hydra/Winter Solider territory again and really the two stories rarely properly join together, but as a ride it all slots together enough to make it watchable as long as you don’t think too hard.

The marketing for the film hinted that the Civil War side of the story might deal with some political ideas to some degree but this isn’t really the case with it all apparently boiling down to personal issues between the characters.

Iron Man's team

Iron Man’s team

This being a US election year though it could be argued that, in general terms, Tony Stark represents the Democrat view of gun control, while Steve Rogers is on the Republican end, but this would probably give too much credence to the film’s political ambitions.

In the end Captain America: Civil War was more entertaining that I had anticipated, while still being essentially more of the same from the MCU and, while all painted in very broad strokes, it seems Anthony and Joe Russo have at least found a tone that works; somewhere between flippant and melodramatic with just enough weight to make the story worth investing in (even if you do know who’s going to come out on top even before the lights go down).

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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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