Tag Archives: superheroes

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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The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie posterWhile the initial idea of The Lego Movie was, at first, somewhat of an odd one, the final product was one of the highlights of recent family cinema so it wasn’t surprising when a sequel was announced fairly swiftly.

The fact that this sequel would be The Lego Batman Movie, focussing on the Lego version of the DC superhero, a highlight of The Lego Movie but ultimately a bit part, just added to the surprises around the franchise.

Opening with Batman foiling one of The Joker’s schemes to destroy Gotham, all the tropes of Batman are quickly established, but added to this is the knowing, post-modern humour that made this Batman such a highlight of the previous film.

The first chunk of the film relies heavily on this and, while the action, animation and characters are well done it’s the reference heavy humour that is its strong suit.

Lego Batman and Robin

Lego Batman and Robin

After this of course a plot is required to fill out the rest of the movie and really this is the film’s weakest element. It tries to balance a further nefarious plan from The Joker with a focus on Batman’s ever-present loneliness including the introduction of a new cinematic Robin, but all with a suitably lighthearted tone (this certainly isn’t Ben Affleck’s dark and brooding version of the character from Batman Vs Superman).

While it’s still fun the slightly forced plot causes the middle section to drag a bit and it is more predictable, both in terms of story and jokes, than it could have been.

The final act brings the same feel as the first back, closing things on a high point with nods to all the previous screen versions of Batman, including the often overlooked 1960s Adam West incarnation, along with guest appearances from pretty much every villainous character Lego have licence to use from Daleks to Voldemort and way beyond.

The Lego Joker

The Lego Joker

As a whole the voice cast are very good with Will Arnett’s Batman being an excellent standout. However, while Zach Galifianakis does a good turn as Joker, it’s hard to escape the fact he simply isn’t Mark Hamill who has been the most consistently effective versions of the character, vocally at least.

While it doesn’t quite live up to The Lego Movie, I’m not sure how it could as that film’s inventiveness is of course being replicated here to some degree, The Lego Batman Movie is none-the-less great fun with enough to appeal to all the family on various levels and with enough surprises to, mostly, keep it going along very well if not quite being the standout many had hoped for.

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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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The Shadow – Need To Consume

For my first review of pop-culture website Need To Consume I took a look at the new Blu-ray edition of the 1994, pulp fiction, superhero movie The Shadow.

Being a film I remembered both from its huge publicity campaign (at least that’s how I remember it (it was the centre piece display at a big video games and movie event I attended at Earls Court London at around the same time) and from it being hugely enjoyable in a somewhat knowing way it was a cornerstone of my youthful movie watching along with the likes of Batman Forever.

To read my full review click on the image below:

The Shadow - Need To Consume grab

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Watchmen: Director’s Cut

Watchmen PosterHaving seen the theatrical cut of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen several times I thought it time I investigate the Director’s Cut version of the movie – not the Ultimate Cut which adds another 26 minutes on top of the 186 minute version I’m discussing here.

As the film that must have been a major contributory factor in Snyder landing the job of directing Man of Steel it is odd quite how different the two films are, for films based on comic book origins.

While Man of Steel predominantly tries to place its super-characters in a ‘real’ world, from the start Watchmen, taking its cue from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons tour-de-force comic, is very much set in a stylised world of mid-80s America where Nixon is still president and super heroes are real, and it is here that the film finds one of its major triumphs.

watchmen on setIn both the plot of the film and the visual style we are one step away from reality and it is this that makes the film work quite so well so that, as well as being a great action movie, it is also able to do the thing that sci-fi does best of reflecting our reality back at us and commenting on it. Ok, so the comic was better placed and poised to include social and political commentary, but, considering when the film was originally released, in 2009 as tensions surrounding Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism were still major issues, it still has something to say on this, albeit through a slight extra prism, but I am glad they didn’t try and bring the film up to modern-day and stuck with the mid-80s.

Watchmen - ComedianVisually the film does a lot to mirror the comics and, while in some movies this seems to lumber them with static moments, Snyder seems to have the feel for this just right so we get the feel of the same New York created by Moore and Gibbons, but with a few updates in terms of costume and such that make it a modern motion picture.

The action too reflects this and gives some great, if occasionally extreme, fight scenes and larger set pieces that really satisfy like very few in modern cinema, particularly in the comic book movie genre which has become somewhat stale over the past year or so.

Watchmen - Night Owl and Silk SpectreIn terms of the director’s cut element here what we get is largely extended scenes and extra character moments that just fill in a few blanks from the original that you wouldn’t notice unless you saw this version, so in that regard it is unessential.

However, we also get a few extra moments of world building and mystery building (particularly regarding one of the ‘heroes’) that do add a little extra, particularly for fans of the comic. The Ultimate Edition combines the Tales of the Black Freighter animation with the film (like the comic book comes into the original source) but I find it hard to see how it would work in such an effective way in the film as it does in the comic so, in a way, I am glad that wasn’t included here.

The WatchmenWhile Watchmen seems to have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of Batmen, Avengers and Supermen, on reflection, it stands above all of them as a film that really does get what it’s doing and combines the aesthetic of its source material with being a movie and while Snyder’s Superman may have missed the mark, here he more than shows that he gets this genre, possibly more than the producers behind the scenes.

And simply beacuse I love them and love this song, here’s My Chemical Romance’s version of Desolation Row from the movie’s soundtrack:

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Chronicle

An interesting idea for a movie that doesn’t quite live up to its concept but still does something a bit different within the current superhero cycle.

I was advised to check out Chronicle shortly after posting my review of The Dark Knight Rises, and along with the recommendation I was told that Chronicle was “the best superhero movie of 2012”.

Anyone who has read or listened to my earlier blogs on the aforementioned Batman movie or The Avengers will be aware I enjoyed both of those a great deal, and I have to admit I didn’t expect Chronicle to live up to either, so I wasn’t really disappointed that it didn’t, but I was a bit disappointed with what the film did have to offer.

It started off promisingly with a very real world high school setting, dealing with a slightly more real world version of Peter Parker, struggling at home, bullied at school, the usual troubled geeky teen thing (though with a slightly darker edge) and the origin story of him and some friends getting superpowers.

From the start it has a similar vibe to Monsters, which did a similar thing for alien invasion films as this wants to do for superheroes, and this actually works surprisingly well, with the found footage motif actually not being too distracting (although a few moments of, ‘why does he/she have a camera?’ did take me out of the realism a little bit), but, as the film goes on, I did find it seemed to lose its sense of originality and become something of a ‘best bits’ of other superhero movies just done via found footage.

As the characters develop their powers (they don’t really develop much beyond that, save for Andrew, however his development is very obvious) they become very much types we’ve seen before and it brings to mind, variously, Kickass, X-Men: First Class and Akira and doesn’t really seem to make much point with what it does beyond “superpowers in the real world may not be great” and then pretty much becomes any other superhero movie with a big fight scene with characters flying around an inner city setting.

This was a shame as I thought continuing its basis in reality would have led the film to a more interesting and convincing conclusion, rather than the somewhat cheesy point it ends on.

All this said for a film that clearly was much lower on budget than many of the films it apes it does look very good with some excellent special effects and, the first big flight sequence in particular is stunning.

But it did just seem to cop-out too much with its ending and, while there seems to be talk of a sequel, I don’t see how it could become anything but a cheaper rip off of the films it’s trying to comment on as it had already pretty much become this by the end of its 85 minute running time.

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Captain America (1990)

One of Marvel’s earlier attempts to bring their heroes to the big screen fails on pretty much all counts and shows why it took another 20 years to make its way back.

In the late 1970s, through the 80s and into the early 90s, while DC Comics were turning their big superhero characters into multimillion-dollar movie franchises and TV series, Marvel were scratching and clawing their way onto the screen with a string of misjudged (and almost inevitably straight to video or TV) efforts.

Captain America was one of the bigger of these films following on from the successful Incredible Hulk TV show and TV movies and less successful Spiderman outing, it was released on video in 1990 and, in doing so, became something of a cornerstone of my childhood viewing (or so my memory tells me).

So it was with some sense of nostalgia that I came to re-watch the film as I had found a copy on DVD, though I will admit that my expectations weren’t high.

Well it turns out my expectations really should have been lower and to be honest I’m amazed this even made it to video back in 1990 and wasn’t relegated to the unreleased status of the Fantastic Four movie that was made a couple of years later.

Sticking loosely to the plot of the comics (Cap is a sickly kid who volunteers, gets super powers, fights his Nazi nemesis the Red Skull, ends up trapped in ice and is woken up to get confused in the modern day still fighting Red Skull), the delivery of this is done in such a shambolic way that at no point is it particularly clear what the Red Skull wants as his aim veers from world domination via the Nazis to brainwashing the President of the US to destroying the entirety of southern Europe with a previously unmentioned atomic bomb.

While Skull is up to his diabolical ways Cap is left defying geography trying to find out what’s going on in the world as he walks from Alaska to Vancouver in a few hours and then drives down to California before realizing what’s going on and seemingly forgetting any confusion to fly to Italy with his ex-girlfriend’s daughter for the climactic scrap.

Throughout the film there are three major action scenes, all of which take place with no sense of threat to anyone involved, including when Skull hacks off his own hand, and the confused motivations of pretty much everyone leave the whole film feeling like it doesn’t know where its going until it happens – almost as if the script were an unedited stream of consciousness project.

As well as having no threat the action scenes are remarkably short and illogical with Cap always winning, of course, generally by remembering he has a shield and throwing it at someone.

Away from them there is the genuinely pointlessly upsetting and odd moment when Cap’s ex from the 1940s gets killed along with her husband in a pretty graphic way, for what is clearly meant to be a kid’s film.

This leaves the whole film feeling tonally imbalanced throughout.

Production value-wise the film is pretty shoddy with the general air of being a superhero movie set in the world of a cheap soap opera like Crossroads with flimsy clichéd set designs and music provided by what sounds like a battery powered 80s Casio keyboard.

The best (or worst) moment in this area is Cap’s costume which seems to have a built-in six-pack as evidently simply spandex and Matt Salinger didn’t quite do Cap’s physique justice.

On the other hand, and one of the few good things that could be said about the film, is that Red Skull’s make up in the post war scenes is, while clearly rubbery and fake, not as distracting as it could be and even his actual Red Skull make up is half decent considering the film’s budget (maybe that’s where all the money went).

Cap gives us the thumbs up mid-fight!

Acting wise there isn’t really much to say that you couldn’t work out from the rest of my comments, but, a particular low is Matt Salinger’s attempt at playing “a frail boy with polio” by limping inconsistently while still looking like a relatively beefy chap.

Thankfully the late 1990s saw Marvel find the right formula for their movies, with Blade and the X-Men leading the way, and they have clearly since made amends for this with Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011 and The Avengers in 2012.

That said this is the sort of film that if you like bad movies (which I admit to having a soft spot for) is worth a watch, just don’t expect much from it (though any film where the main character gives a thumbs up direct to camera can’t be all bad right… well ok).

Trailer:

The whole film also seems to be up on YouTube if you are foolish, brave or interested enough to want to check it out and don’t want to fork out a couple of quid for the shoddily transferred DVD version:

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