Tag Archive: Marvel

My Top 20 Films of 2017

Good Lord, has it been a year already!? Greetings fellow movie-goers, and welcome back to another re-cap of 2017 at the movies! I hope this post find you well and in the midst of excitement for the New Year and not too full from the Christmas period. Hopefully you have room to digest just one more ‘best of’ list before we see in 2018 (it’s good, but I would say that, it is a list of my personal preferences after all). 2017 has had its low points, but I am sure many will agree that this year in cinema was a fruitful one, providing us with a number of both great original and franchise hits that worked to surprise, enlighten and entertain. This year has been a particularly hard one to rank, so do keep that in mind as you look over this list of films (*insert lists are arbitrary argument here*), as I do love every single one of the movies that you are about to discover below! I hope you enjoyed your year at the cinema as much as I did and have kept up with my writing over at The Hollywood News and The Scruffy Nerf Herder.  Without further ado, let’s get into it. (All the films featured and considered for this list were released in UK cinemas and/or available on platforms between January 1st and December 31st 2017).

Honourable mentions 

Elle (Dir: Paul Verhoeven, SBS Distribution)
The Big Sick (Dir: Michael Showalter, Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
Thor Ragnarok (Dir: Taika Waititi, Marvel Studios)
Mudbound (Dir: Dee Rees, Netflix)
Loving (Dir: Jeff Nichols, Focus Features)

20. War for the Planet of the Apes (Dir: Matt Reeves, 20th Century Fox)

Sure to be remembered as one of the finest blockbuster trilogies of this early century, let alone as one of the finest examples as to how to reboot a franchise, Matt Reeves’ trilogy closer matches the quality of its predecessors Rise and Dawn and then some to deliver a conclusion that is as emotionally satisfying as it is visually astounding. The achievements made by the visual effects department cannot be emphasised enough. The confidence of their application is nothing short of spectacular, with incredibly detailed close-ups of numerous apes often occupying the frame allowing you to bask in the pixelated glory of the motion capture techniques that have been put to use. The fact that you often forget you are watching a special effect is a testament to just how seamless the technology is here, led by a highly emotive performance by Andy Serkis as Ape leader Caesar. Reeves applies old school techniques of David Lean and John Ford to mount the cutting-edge techniques, delivering a story that is part Western, part POW flick and part biblical epic, amounting in an emotionally engaging and rousing blockbuster spectacle.

19. Good Time (Dir: Ben & Josh Safdie, A24)

If you ever find yourself in an argument over whether or not Robert Pattinson is a good actor (frankly, whoever is arguing against him clearly hasn’t seen enough of his films), make that person sit down in front of the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. Largely taking place over the course of one night as Pattinson’s Connie attempts to make up for a bank heist gone wrong, Good Time is an exercise in escalation and desperation, as Connie goes from one situation to the next without giving much thought as to the consequences of his actions; he just wants to keep moving and make some money any way he can. The Safdie’s create a volatile and dangerous landscape across the streets of New York, aided by up-close and personal cinematography, a Tangerine Dream-esque score from Oneohtrix Point Never and a Pattinson performance which evokes the wide-eyed frantic-ness of a young Dog Day Afternoon-era Pacino (seriously, he’s that good). An unpredictable and wild ride that marks the Safdie brothers as a directing duo to look out for.

18. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir: Rian Johnson, Lucasfilm)

The reaction  to The Last Jedi, Episode 8 of the Skywalker saga, has been nothing short of divisive. Those that were angered by the safe approach of The Force Awakens, seem equally (if not more so) irked by some of the unexpected directions Rian Johnson takes in this superior entry. It just goes to show that there is no pleasing some people when it comes to properties such as Star Wars. For me and many others, The Last Jedi has come to represent the type of Star Wars film that we have been waiting for since it was announced that more adventures in a galaxy far, far away were going to be made. Johnson plays with ideas of the mythology and expectations of character in surprising and bold ways, crafting the most thematically engaging Star Wars film to date. It is also probably the most cine-literate Star Wars film awe well, as I can’t think of any Star Wars film that would even bother referencing shots from Wings to Hitchcock and cues from The Last Goodbye as fluidly as this does. It is a franchise film which takes unexpected turns and valiant moves in changing the course, taking our expectations of the franchise and bending them in a manner which sets up a future for these characters that feels unpredictable, fresh and exciting.

17. David Lynch: The Art Life (Dir: Jon Nguyen, Soda Pictures)

Have I just included this documentary to talk about Twin Peaks? No, not entirely, but it is probably a good point in which to say that Twin Peaks: The Return is without a doubt the best thing I watched this year, but it won’t make this list as it was released episodically on television. It has been a good year for Lynch fans, what with the return of Peaks and this utterly captivating documentary. Lynch is notoriously allusive when it comes to providing meaning to his work, be it his films, TV shows, or his paintings. This documentary very much proceeds in this vein as it follows Lynch (having a cigarette at pretty much every opportunity) in his workshop creating paintings all the while divulging tales about his upbringing and early career, with the film and his recollections ending just before the release of Eraserhead. It is a unique visual memoir, dropping pieces of information willingly but never out-right stating what effect certain experiences have had on the man himself or his work: any associations you make are entirely your own. The Art Life is utterly fascinating and an essential for any Lynch fan that feels enlightening even though it maintains the enigma of the great man himself.

16. The Florida Project (Dir: Sean Baker, A24)

It was always going to be interesting to see what Sean Baker would follow up his dynamic debut Tangerine with, and he certainly has not disappointed with The Florida Project. The film follows six-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her mother in the Magic Castle motel in Florida which rests just outside of the Walt Disney World Resort. The film largely follows Moonee’s point-of-view across one summer as her and her mother (Bria Vinaite) try to make ends meet in their pocket of American life. The Florida Project takes a a pastel-coloured look at an under-represented area of the American population, a life of struggle and poverty that still manages to be be a playground for fun and mischief when viewed through the eyes of a child. Largely shot on 35mm, Baker provides a unique and vibrant view of the world, one where harsh realities lay just on the outside of the frame, threatening to take over at any point but often kept at bay by the care-free attitude courtesy of the outstanding performances of the children at the centre of the film.

15. Jackie (Dir: Pablo Larrain, eOne Films/Wild Bunch)

There have been many images that have stayed with me throughout the year, and one that has been playing on my mind since January is that is of Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy getting drunk in the White House listening to ‘Camelot’ in the wake of her husband’s assassination. There are countless more images that I could list from this film alone that have stayed with me (the aerial shot from the ceiling during JFK’s funeral being chief amongst them), a testament to the searing effect that many of Larrain’s images invoke throughout the course of this examination of Jackie Kennedy, one of the most looked upon figures of the mid to late 20th Century. Portman’s pitch-perfect performance drives this intimate and often unsettling look at the defining moment of
Jackie’s life as she attempts to navigate the tumultuous aftermath of her husband’s assassination. It is a captivating, frightening, unforgettable and deeply intimate account of one individual’s battle with grief on the world stage for all to see.

14. A Ghost Story (Dir: David Lowery, A24)

A film in which its lead actor spends most of the time hidden behind a white sheet as he plays a ghost may sound absurd, and that is because it is. It is also quietly powerful, perplexing, meditative and bizarrely engrossing. Taking such a crude supernatural image and putting it front and centre of a film which explores themes of life, death and what lies beyond gives A Ghost Story  a sense of whimsy and humour that you may not expect alongside its art-house sensibilities. Shot in a ratio of 1.33:1, the film boxes in its subjects as we join Casey Affleck’s blanketed spectral form as he moves untethered through time, observing the coming’s and going’s of those who inhabit the house he once shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). Lowery shoots with a hazy poetic grace, allowing you to ruminate in the often beautiful imagery that he conjures, be it mist rolling over the neighbourhood or Rooney Mara eating a whole pie in one sitting. It is a strange and beautiful journey if you are willing to allow yourself to be open to its contemplative and quite literally spiritual journey.

13. Get Out (Dir: Jordan Peele, Universal Pictures)

One of the most profitable and critically praised films of the year, Jordan Peele’s Get Out has featured at the top spot of many lists, and for good reason. Boasting the most thematically rich screenplay of the year, Peele has crafted not just an exceptional genre movie but also a searing and bitingly prescient satire on the attitudes of white liberals in both America and beyond. Those familiar with Peele’s comedic background shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that he is a deft hand at satire, but they may be surprised to hear just how commanding he is as a filmmaker, crafting startlingly visuals that burn deep on the psyche, as well as drawing out exceedingly creepy thrills across the film’s tightly controlled run-time.  It is a ferocious directorial debut and a film which demands repeat viewings, be you looking out for more of its subtleties, techniques, thrills or simply looking for a film that both entertains and makes you stop and take a long hard look in the mirror.

12. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (Dir: Chris Smith, Vice/Netflix)

Jim Carrey is an actor who I am very fond of, having grown up with most of his big studio comedies as well as being a big fan of his more dramatic roles in the likes of The Truman Show and Man on the Moon. The latter film is the one that takes the focus of this documentary, charting Carrey’s method approach to his portrayal of comedian Andy Kaufman for Milos Foreman’s 1999 film. There has been many stories concerning Carrey’s bizarre level of commitment, and as it turns out, much of the behind-the-scenes experience was captured on film, presented for all to see in this warts-and-all documentary, inter-cut with a new interview featuring Carrey reflecting on the experience. Not only does the film give you full access to the often startlingly and down-right outrageous extremes Carrey went to on the set of Man on the Moon, but it also paints a very melancholic portrait of both Carrey himself and the figure of Kaufman. Carrey’s own testimony of the experience dovetails between humorous anecdotes and moments of very raw and touching segments of soul-bearing that are both emotional and illuminating. A must for any Carrey fan and those interested in the process of performing, with Jim & Andy proving to be a fascinating examination of both.

11. Moonlight (Dir: Barry Jenkins, A24)

It is a shame that Moonlight‘s Oscar-glory will always be associated with the now infamous envelope mix-up as it should not over-shadow the fact that this is the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win Best Picture. Not only is it one of the most significant films of recent history, it is also boasts one of the most finely tuned structures of the years’ following the character of Chiron over three periods of his life; as a small boy, a teenager and as a man. It offers the chance for three actors to contribute to this sprawling yet intimate narrative, and the work of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes in their respective segments is nothing short of spellbinding. They are also supported by exceptional work from the likes of Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae and an Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali. It is a beautifully performed, poetically structured character study that also boasts gorgeous cinematography and the one of the most memorable posters of the past decade.

10. The Death of Stalin (Dir: Armando Iannucci, eOne Films)

Armando Iannucci has been responsible for some of the finest political satires of our time. From The Thick of It to In the Loop and his tenure on Veep, Iannucci has a knack for spotlighting the ridiculousness of bureaucracy and Western politics, all the while staying keenly aware of the harsh realities of our political systems. All of his talent for wit and satire is on full display in The Death of Stalin as Iannucci casts his eye to the past of the East to deliver a riotously funny and anarchic account of the events following the sudden death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 Soviet-era Russia. With a gallery of exceptional character actors  at his disposal including Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Rupert Friend, a scene-stealing Jason Isaacs and a never-better Simon Russell Beale, Iannucci displays the increasing madness as the Committee members all vie for a position of power in the wake of Stalin’s death.  It is rib-ticklingly funny but also never forgets that this regime was one built on intimidation, violence and persecution. Quite possibly Iannucci’s finest work to date.

9. Logan (Dir: James Mangold, 20th Century Fox)

Not many actors can go 17 years playing the same character, but that is the case when it comes to Hugh Jackman and the role of X-Men‘s Wolverine. After first ‘snikitting’ onto our screens with 2000’s X-Men, Jackman finally hangs up the claws with the brutal, bloody and great Logan. With director James Mangold by his side, Jackman makes his last outing his best with a comic-book movie deeply drenched in the roots of Western cinema, giving Wolverine his Unforgiven and going out on a sombre yet blood-splattered note. Standing very much apart from much of what has come before, Logan gives Jackman and Mangold the freedom to do all that they have wanted to do with this character, and that includes lashings of blood and the odd expletive here and there, crafting a genre film that is devoted more to character than it is blockbuster spectacle. They have ensured that they have left this character with no sense of regret or missed opportunity, putting their all into a tale of last gasp redemption that proves to be thrilling, heartfelt and shocking in equal measure. Not just the best Wolverine movie, not just the best X-Men movie, but one of the finest comic-book movies ever made. Who says the genre has run out of steam?

8. Baby Driver (Dir: Edgar Wright, TriStar Pictures) 

 ‘All you need is one killer track.’ Well, if you’re Baby Driver, you have about 20. With one of the best soundtracks of the year coursing through its veins, Baby Driver delivered on the promise of a fast-paced gloriously entertaining thrill-ride from one of the most energetic directors working today in the form of Edgar Wright. Cutting his action scenes to the beat of a number of toe-tapping numbers such as ‘Bellbottoms’, ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’, Baby Driver drifts its way on to its list on the sheer cool-ness of the film-making techniques that it employs. From its meticulous editing to the joy of seeing real tyres screech and squeal on the streets of Atlanta, Baby Driver 70’s-esque approach to action film-making, driven by Wright’s infectious behind-the-camera glee, helps gives Wright’s most successful film to date a unique energy that other films can only dream of matching. It is a ride I’ve taken numerous times this year and one which never fails to entertain!

7. Call Me By Your Name (Dir: Luca Guadagnino, Sony Pictures Classics)

Largely taking place over the course of one summer in 1983, Northern Italy, Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous tale of young love is a triumph of coming of age cinema. We follow Timothy Chalamet’s Elio who begins to fall for his father’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) student, the dashing and charming Oliver (Armie Hammer). Northern Italy cries out to be shot on 35mm, and Guadagnino, with his cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, make sure that every frame looks like the most sumptuous postcard you have ever seen, a sun-drenched canvas for which this 17-year old’s sexual awakening can take place. Call Me By Your Name is an incredibly sensual experience, taking pleasure in everything from touch to taste to the human body, be it in the flesh or ancient sculptures. It is intellectual without being pretentious, lyrical and gorgeous to bathe in, beautifully scored and performed by Chalamet and Hammer, while Sthulbarg’s character makes a strong case for being the most forward thinking parent in cinematic history. Call Me By Your Name is a pleasure to get lost in, delivering a story of passionate summer love that we can all relate to in one way or another.

6. God’s Own Country (Dir: Francis Lee, Picturehouse Entertainment)

2017 has proven to be quite the year for queer cinema thanks to the likes of Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name and Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. All three have presented stories that are to be cherished in their own way, with God’s Own Country proving to be (at least for me) the most emotional, the bravest and most relate-able of the three. Set in the hills of Yorkshire, God’s Own Country follows twenty-something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) who works and lives on his family farm, spending most of his downtime engaging in random sexual encounters and getting drunk his local pub. When Johnny’s father hires a new farmhand in the form of Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), the two soon form a relationship that finally gives Johnny something in his life that gives him meaning and something to truly hold on to and rely upon. O’Connor and Secareanu give two of the most achingly beautiful performances that I have seen put to screen, concocting palpable chemistry and forging an endearing love story that you crave to see end happily. A beautiful piece of home-grown cinema that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.

5. Manchester by the Sea (Dir: Kenneth Lonergan, Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

No one film in memory has quite captured the stages of grief in as affecting, heart-breaking, or as human a fashion as Kenneth Lonergan has in his strikingly raw drama Manchester by the Sea. When Casey Affleck’s handyman is brought back home to Manchester, Massachusetts in the wake of his brother’s death, he is forced to address not only the notion of having to care for his brother’s son (a brilliant Lucas Hegdes), but also the terrible tragedy which forced him to leave home in the first place. Lonergan has a knack for writing dialogue that feels natural and believable, crafting situations which are often alleviated with moments of wit or deepened by awkward encounters and revelations that are truly devastating. All the performances deliver Lonergan’s words in an effortless fashion marking Manchester by the Sea as one of the most elegant, melancholic, touching and surprisingly funny dramas of the year.

4. Raw (Dir: Julia Ducournau, Wild Bunch/Focus World)

Easily the most fun I’ve had with an audience in a cinema this year, Raw elicited such an incredibly colourful response from the crowd that I urge you to see it with as many people as you can possibly muster. People will gasp! People with laugh! People may well gag, all as a result of watching the most ferociously original coming-of-age film of the year. Raw follows young life-long vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) as she begins her new life at University. After a hazing ritual forces her to eat meat, Justine soon quickly develops a taste not just for raw meat but for human flesh! Raw‘s absurd premise is all in aid of a devilishly clever allegory on everything from blossoming womanhood, to sexual curiosity to the pressures of academic study and parental expectation, with all of it being conducted with a glint of knowing mischief throughout the increasingly grisly proceedings. Some of the body horror elements may prove a little too much for some (some of the truly testing scenes involve the relatively mundane act of scratching a rash), but if you can stomach it you are in for a treat. Marillier is astoundingly game as the lead with Ducournau’s sure-handed direction leading her through the increasingly gruesome and extreme situations with confidence and bravery. A wickedly fun film, if you’re brave enough to take a bite.

3. Paddington 2 (Dir: Paul King, StudioCanal)

While Paddington 2 may not seem as important a film as some of the other’s listed above, it perhaps offers the greatest service of all – it provides an adventure of unpretentious, un-cynical and incredibly heartwarming fun, that makes you forget about all your worries for at least a couple of hours. If you thought the first Paddington film was near-perfect, you won’t have any complaints about this sequel which takes everything that worked so well the first time around and plays them to the tune of a new engaging adventure for Michael Bond’s marmalade loving Peruvian bear. Utterly charming without being sickly sweet, with visual inventiveness that gives the character the finesse of the finest silent movie stars, Paddington 2 is a celebration of just how much joy a piece of film-making can give to an audience of all ages, proving to be very funny, often stunning to look at and heartfelt to the cuddly extreme. If the ending doesn’t have you wiping away at least a little bit of moisture from your eyes then I’m not sure I can trust you. A pure unbridled delight from start to finish.

2. La La Land (Dir: Damien Chazelle, Summit Entertainment)

The film that I have perhaps had to defend my opinion of the most this year (just let me have it guys), La La Land suffered from the annual case of ‘awards-favourite backlash’ that seems to befall at least one film a year as a result of awards-season hype. For me, every time I have returned to La La Land expecting the air to sputter out of the balloon I have only loved it more and more. An affectionate letter to musicals and a vast array of cinema from both Hollywood and European cinema, La La Land is crowd-pleaser that is technically and visually dazzling with all involved coming together to make something with love, care and passion. Its musical numbers have been playing on my mind all year, its colour palette a constant feast for the eyes, and the performances always coming across as palpable, charming and affecting. La La Land also isn’t all tap-dancing and toothy smiles, as an air of melancholy runs through the proceedings, giving this musical more weight than most modern musicals, giving this example of the genre a contemporary twist all the while indulging in the techniques of the old school. La La Land never fails to put a spring in my step or a smile on my face and for that reason alone I adore it!

1. Dunkirk (Dir: Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros.)

My number one spot goes to the film which I found to be the most immersive experience of the year: Christoper Nolan’s Dunkirk. Not only is Nolan’s latest a technical marvel, but it manages to breathe a sense of vitality into one of film-making’s oldest and most tried and tested genres; the War epic. With a daring structure that plays with time and perspective on land, in the air and on the sea, Dunkirk had me gripped from the first rattling gunshot. Witnessing Nolan’s epic in I-MAX was a soul-shaking experience with the intense sound design thrusting you into the middle of the action, alerting your senses and doing everything it can to make the experience feel genuine and terrifying. My jaw dropped as spitfires roared through the sky, my heart was in my throat at every attempt to leave the beach and my nerves were shredded at every hairy moment on the open water. There is a level of authenticity to the proceedings that has an undeniable impact, with the audacious score and narrative structure allowing the film to feel like a sensory experiment, testing the limits of the film form to dramatise one of the most tentative events of World War Two. Dunkirk is Nolan’s finest work to date,  a director working at the top of his craft to deliver a purely cinematic experience that is quite simply a triumph.

So there you have it, another year over and a new line of films to enjoy for years to come. I managed to hit a personal best by seeing 100 of 2017’s releases, so if you didn’t see your favourite of the year anywhere in this list (or want to tell me what I missed and should’ve seen instead of Geostorm), you can check out my full ranking of the 100 films I saw by clicking here. As always, I will leave you with a super-cut of this year’s releases, courtesy once again of Nikita Malko. May 2018 bring you all you wish for, both on the screen and off. See you at the movies!






F4-1Right, where do we start? The reboot of Fantastic Four has already secured its place in comic-book movie history for all the wrong reasons. Going back as far as a year ago, rumblings arose from the set that all was not well, and that second time feature director Josh Trank was not cooperating well on a big 20th Century Fox studio production. While no one has given a clear account as to what occurred, it is obvious that major re-shoots occurred which have resulted in this film, a film which has suffered under the weight of its own negative buzz. It stands as the worst reviewed Marvel film of all-time and Fox looks set to lose $60 million from the project. But, is it really the worst film of every Marvel movie ever produced? Does it deserve 9% on the old RT metre? Well, my answer is no. In fact, believe me or not, there is actually a fair few things to enjoy about this new interpretation of Marvel’s first superhero family.

Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a young man with bright ideas, ideas which people in his life have never taken seriously, aside from his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). That all changes however when he exhibits his teleportation device at a Science Fair and is scouted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara). They believe Reed has found the means to make a return trip to a new dimension, opening the door to a world of limitless possibilities. Reed, along with Sue, her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) develops a machine to transport a team to this new world. However, when a trip to the new dimension goes horribly wrong, Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are transformed, with Victor presumed dead. While they attempt to cope with their new super-human abilities and face government interest, they must learn to stand together when a threat rises from the other dimension.F4-2

A great deal of the first act of Fantastic Four is perfectly fine and actually pretty darn entertaining. If you are one of the few who makes the trip to the cinema to see this flick (I do urge you to, if only to have an opinion on the thing), I guarantee you will find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. Sure, there is nothing within the first act to particularly suggest you’re watching a great piece of work, but it is involving, establishes character well, and gains a steady sense of momentum. There’s a nice Amblin-esque tone to the opening which sees a much younger Reed and Ben forging a friendship over a shared fascination in discovering something beyond the norm. The script is clunky in places but Reed and Ben’s relationship is convincing, particularly when Teller and Bell enter the frame. Teller portrays Reed with a young energy, a nerd who gets excited about the tiniest thing, while Bell works as a strong emotional core for the film.

Cracks do begin to show once the machine is developed. Ben disappears from the film for a strange amount of time, but there is still some nice work in regards to the dynamic between Reed, Sue, Johnny and Victor. This cast all seem to get along rather well and you enjoy their company. When Reed, Johnny, Victor and Ben make the decision to enter the new dimension (named Planet Zero) we begin to see where elements of this flick have been rushed. A great deal of the detail of the landscape of Planet Zero looks cheap, particularly its energy source, which seems to resemble a gloopy type of kryptonite. However, entering Planet Zero does lead to the most interesting, and most successful element of the film, an element which one feels definitely should have taken up more of a focus, though the studio seems to have gotten cold feet about it.

Once the quartet are changed, the film takes an interesting turn as Trank evokes David Cronenberg body horror by exploring the distressing nature of  what it would be like to wake up to find yourself as a rock creature, in flames, invisible, or stretching beyond control. These moments particularly focus on Teller and Bell, which allows for the horror to be that much more effective, as these F4-3close friends find themselves in scary unexplored territory. But these moments are frustratingly very brief and it is not long until the momentum of this effective build up and well crafted sense of unnerving horror are undermined by one damned title card: ‘One Year Later.’ This is where things take a turn.

The film rather inexplicably jumps one year ahead, robbing us of moments in which these characters have to grapple with their powers (imagine there would have been more body horror elements at play). It is from this point that the film truly does feel as though someone else entirely different is calling the shots. Despite being the best effect in the film, Bell’s performance is lost under the mo-cap rendering of ‘The Thing’, while the film suddenly seems in a hurry to end after a well crafted build up.

It is not that these moments are un-watchable, it is still sometimes adequately enjoyable, with the odd moment evoking the interesting tone established by the first third. When Victor eventually reappears in his villainous form, the film takes a wild and incredibly dark turn, as Doom unleashes his power on an army base. It is an effective moment which truly shocks, with the level of violence truly astounding for a 12A flick. Unfortunately it all leads to a very rushed climatic battle which feels as though a 10 year-old wrote it, delivering lazy fan service, un-imaginative action, and some incredibly clunky dialogue (even clunkier than what has come before). Again, it isn’t un-watchable, but the final act is over pretty much over as soon as it has began, with it only acting as a massive flashing light stating ‘THIS FILM HAD PRODUCTION PROBLEMS.’

The final third of this movie is unequivocally a mess which nearly undermines everything that this film had going for F4-4it. It is hard to say who is to blame. but due to the obvious re-shoot nature of it, it is hard not to blame the studio for taking it in a different direction. Yet, it is still hard not to be somewhat fascinated by what you’re watching. It is unclear whether we’ll ever know what truly happened or if we’ll ever see the version Trank prefers, but as it stands I do think this is fascinating to watch. The below rating has been given a extra point for this fact entirely; yes, it does descend into a mess, but it is not entirely a mess and there is still plenty to recommend it. I like most of the performances. I admire some of the attempts to ‘Nolan-ise’ this property. I adore the body horror elements. I like that it plucks from the Ultimate comic series. I like the way Doom looks and the moments in which he unleashes his violent fury. I dig the eerie and fantastical score from Marco Beltrami & Philip Glass. I like how earthy the whole thing looks. I understand why it has come under attack, much of it brought on by those involved, but don’t be so quick as to write off this Fantastic Four just yet, you may just find something to enjoy.

3/5- The final act is a rushed generic mess, but there are glimmers of a truly engaging comic-book flick, and it is hard not to admit that this is kind of a fascinating watch, for better or worse.

AntMan-1Marvel’s Ant-Man has had one of the more troublesome productions in Marvel Studio’s early history. Developed for 8 years by Edgar Wright, things took a strange turn last year when Wright left the project mere weeks before shooting was due to begin, due to that forever vague reasoning of ‘creative differences.’ In stepped Peyton Reed, the seasoned director of comedies such as Bring it On and Yes Man. He is not a director with a distinct style like Wright, but he is a man who knows how to make a film with his hands tied behind back due to his many years of experience (he worked behind the scenes on Back to the Future). The choice of Reed seemed to suggest Marvel were playing it safe with Ant-Man, avoiding anything too radical that would make this title even more of a risk than it already is. While Ant-Man could make a case for being the oddest Marvel movie thus far, it is hard to shake the feeling that this is not the best version of this film that we could have seen. But hey, at least it is still fun.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar recently out of jail and desperate to forge a relationship with his young daughter. Struggling to make ends meet, Scott decides to embark on one last job in the hope of a big payday. The target, however, is expecting him. That target is elderly scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who once held the mantle of the ‘Ant-Man’, a hero with the power to shrink on command via a special suit powered by Pym’s formula known as the Pym Particle. Hank enlists Scott to help him thwart the plans of his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) an ambitious but narrow-minded inventor who has come close to replicating the Pym Particle, with nefarious intentions. Hank and Scott, along with Hank’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) plan a heist of epic proportions in AntMan-order to ensure that Hank’s technology does not fall in to the wrong hands.

Where Ant-Man succeeds is in its decision to construct the film like a heist movie. Marvel does tend to do well when it plays with genres, putting their heroes into different scenarios and seeing how they react. The film finds its footing when it engages in the conventions of the heist genre, with scenes popping with a certain zany-ness that you cannot deny has an air of Wright about it. The film pops with an energy that is infectious mainly because the film is simply concerned with telling its own narrative, with only the odd reference to the wider Marvel universe coming in to play in ways which feel far more organic than Avengers: Age of Ultron. 

Ant-Man is a property that carries with it a similar risk factor to that of Guardians of the Galaxy last year. They both boast a comedy star turned into action hero, and both deal with comic-book characters who are not the easiest to sell. Guardians succeeded by producing a film which embraced the weirdness of its source material and allowed Gunn to pour his heart out into the script (all the while sticking to the Marvel formula). Ant-Man never quite gets as funky as it should. Yes, it is breezy and fun, but in a very safe and conventional manner. It manages to provide something a bit different to the Marvel formula, but the heist plotline never seems quite enough to carry the film through, particularly once we end up in a finale which just jumps locations to have two climactic, and somewhat generic, bust-ups (aside from that truly excellent Thomas the Tank Engine gag, the fights simply amount to a lot of explosions and shrinking and re-sizing back and forth).

AntMan-2The micro scenes of Ant-Man are visually impressive, with Reed ensuring that everything has a sense of reality to it, with nothing appearing too much like a cartoon, despite the numerous and long effects shots. The issue with these scenes is that they never really stretch beyond the conventions of the shrinking movie. Scott encounters water, associates himself with bugs and walks among carpet fibres, but all this can be experienced in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The scenes are visually arresting, and the extent of the abilities that the suit affords Scott are articulated well enough,  but it never feels particularly all that inventive, and when it does start to get into some psychedelic funk as it dabbles in the Quantum Realm, it runs away from it just as it gets interesting.

The DNA of Edgar Wright can be felt through a few sequences within the movie, while Adam McKay and Paul Rudd’s re-write seems to have fleshed out some of the broader humour, and ultimately allows Rudd to have a lot of fun in the role. He provides a stable and affable point of focus for the film, doing his best to sell his clichéd back-story and to work with the rest of the cast. While he has good rapport with Michael Pena, elsewhere some performances struggle to really make an impact. The mentor/men-tee relationship between Rudd and Douglas has some nice beats AntMan-4but never fully convinces, while Evangeline Lilly’s Hope offers very little other than to tease the future appearance of The Wasp.

Ant-Man feels like an early Phase One Marvel movie, one which seems simply content with having fun without pushing the envelope too much. My reaction to this particular movie feels very similar to the first Thor, a movie I enjoyed well enough but one which didn’t truly excite or prove all that thrilling. It almost feels limited by its heist premise, despite the fact that working in such a sub-plot signals it out from the MCU. It never quite feels as original as it wants to be, and Edgar Wright casts a long shadow over the proceedings. We do not have another Guardians on our hands, but what we do have is a perfectly fine and light summer blockbuster.

3/5- Light, fun and distracting, but not as inventive as it could be, Ant-Man rides on the charm of its lead and top-notch visual effects.

Avengers-1Phase Two of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has been a bit of a mixed bag. Proceedings kicked off well enough with some trademark subversive Shane Black wit with Iron Man 3 (which doesn’t quite hold up on repeat viewing), but that was quickly followed by Thor: The Dark World, which proved to be (for me, anyway) the weakest Marvel entry to date. Those woes were soon put to rest with the one-two release of Captain America: The Winter Solider and Guardians of the Galaxy, two of the studio’s smarter and more unique entries. Of course, all of this was working up to yet another end game, an Avengers 2.0. While there has been a great degree of anticipation, it would be far to say that the mood surrounding this one hasn’t been quite as giddy as it was back in 2012. Would writer/director Joss Whedon be able to pull off such an intimidating project yet again? It would seem he has struggled. What we have here is a film in which its director seems to be struggling to reconcile his own creative desires with the desires of the powers that be in the MCU, a tension which is more prevalent than you may expect.

With the HYDRA clean-up going smoothly following the disintegration of SHIELD, the members of The Avengers seem to be facing a time in which they may not have to be called upon quite as much. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) seems adamant to fast-forward this process, and feels he may have found the answer hidden within Loki’s Sceptre, which conceals the secret to unlocking Artificial Intelligence. However, Tony’s meddling soon presents The Avengers with their biggest threat yet, as he unwittingly creates Ultron (James Spader) a malevolent A.I. who soon comes to the conclusion that the human race would be better served if they were all extinct. Teaming with two super power twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) Maximoff, Ultron leads The Avengers in to a fight that puts the fate of the world, and their friendships, on the line.Avengers-2

Maintaining a Cinematic Universe can hardly be an easy task. With a number of different filmmakers being involved in both directing and writing capacities, it is the producer who holds the most significant creative power when it comes to what each individual feature should and should not contain. That figure for Marvel is Kevin Feige, a man who has done very well in regards to selecting his film-making talents, pleasing many fanboys when he managed to sign Whedon on for the first movie. But Age of Ultron marks the first time in which it is clearly noticeable that a creative voice as unique as Whedon’s has struggled against the weight of serving the movie universe as a whole.

Whedon has many plates to spin, even more so than last time, as he has to introduce his new antagonist, as well as firmly establish three new super-powered beings, all the while keeping the focus on the team that audiences fell in love with to the tune of $1.5 billion three years ago. Whedon’s strength, as was the case in the first one, lies within the quieter moments between the bombastic action scenes, moments which allow him to have the characters interact and test each other. These strengths are demonstrated in the early party scene in the Avengers Tower (I would quite happily have a whole movie of these characters mingling at a party) and in the scenes in which our heroes are forced to confront or reveal fears and facts about their lives (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye benefits greatly from this). The visions invoked by Olsen’s Scarlett Witch also provide the film with strong character-driven moments, as well as allowing for a much more sinister tone.Not all of it pays off; the romance between Mark Ruffalo’s Banner and Scarlett Johannson’s Natasha is unconvincing, while more could be made of the friction between Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans). However, the Whedon wit remains, with most (if not all) of the one-liners landing very well, delivered by probably the most charismatic cast that Hollywood has to offer.

Avengers-3While Whedon clearly relishes the chance to write for these characters again, he demonstrates a great deal of affection for Ultron, giving James Spader plenty of opportunities to purr with charming malice. However, despite some brilliant lines of villainous dialogue and impressive performance capture, Ultron himself feels a little inconsequential, coming to stand as more a means of introducing Paul Bettany’s Vision than with providing The Avengers with an iconic antagonist. Bettany as Vision, though, is another success, exuding wisdom and grace, as well as delivering some of the best Whedon-isms that the script has to offer.

The action sequences on display benefit from the best effects that money can buy, but Whedon seems to have revealed all of his action tricks in the first instalment, as he once again relies on an unchained camera and whip pans to follow the action. Some of it becomes a bit incoherent as we become over-whelmed in rubble, and it does all just yet again amount to fighting a hoards of disposable henchmen sent out by the main villain, which our heroes have to contend with whilst ensuring the safety of a city. It does remain a joy, however, to see these characters fighting together in a much more fluid style, now that they have had time to coordinate each others strengths in to a strategy. It is also very refreshing to see these moments of spectacle taking place on a more international stage rather than on the avenues and corners of New York City.

I enjoyed Age of Ultron a great deal, it is a fun blockbuster which does hold character work in high regard, but there was something just a little off about the whole proceedings that can’t allow me to praise the film as highly as I would like to. The problem lies in the inconsistencies both within itself and in regards to its position within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whedon does very little to convey much of an awareness of the preceding films which make up Phase Two of the MCU, the biggest issue being the fact that there is no acknowledgement of Tony’s apparent Avengers-4retirement at the end of Iron Man 3. It is also very clear that Whedon becomes frustrated when he has to sew in seeds for the future. A sub-plot involving Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and a search of a pool of visions feels rushed and tailored only to tease Thor: Ragnorok, while there seems to be a great deal of reluctance to address the upcoming Civil War. Whedon also doesn’t seem all that concerned about the future he is sending his characters into, and this may be because he doesn’t like the future that Marvel has planned for them (think about it, he does seem to be wanting to run away from MCU as soon as the Press Junket is complete).

What this all means for the future of these heroes remains to be seen, but Age of Ultron ultimately fails where the first film succeeded, and that was in creating a sense of palpable excitement for the future adventures of these characters. We are introduced to a new roaster of Avengers come the final moments, but the abrupt cut of the ending (as well as the lazy post-credits scene) seems to suggest that Whedon doesn’t care as much as he did at the beginning. He has made a perfectly enjoyable film, but it only stands as a fairly middling Marvel entry, a step back from the studio heights of Winter Soldier and Guardians. Thank you, though, Joss, it was fun while it lasted.

3/5- While perfectly enjoyable, Age of Ultron represents the work of a creative voice fighting against a pre-determined Cinematic Universe, something which invades the tone despite moments of excellent character work and comic-book excitement.

Animation is a craft, no matter what form it is in. Be it 2-D drawings (my personal favourite), stop-motion, puppetry, or computer generated, the work of a group of talented animators can be felt (well, if it’s well made that is). The dominate form of animation these days is the computer animated form, with Disney abandoning the form that made their Studio fortune. None the less, the studio has recently had a string of quite brilliant hits, from Tangled, to Frozen, and most recently with Big Hero 6. The second most prevalent form of animation is arguably stop-motion. The time-consuming process does herald a great deal of respect, with Laika leading the way in recent cinematic stop-motion endeavours. With two examples of these forms currently playing in cinema, I thought I would take out two birds with one stone to express my views on two examples of these different, yet no less creative forms of animation, Big Hero 6 and Shaun the Sheep: The Movie.  


Big Hero 6 (Dir: Don Hall & Chris Williams) 

Disney’s first dip into the Marvel pool that is separate from the MCU mines material from a comic-book which began in the late 90’s. Although it bears little similarity, the central basis of the team allows for the Disney gurus to produce something that feels very distinctly Disney, and very distinctly Marvel at the same time. The film follows young teenaged genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), who is left grief stricken following the death of his brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney). When he begins to stumble on a conspiracy surrounding his brother’s death, Hiro is aided by his brother’s robotic health-care invention, Baymax (Scott Adsit), in finding out the truth. When they stumble across what appears to be super-villain, Hiro sets about forming a super-hero team with Tadashi’s old class-mates in order to save the city of San Fransokyo, and reconcile his own grief.

The design and execution of Big Hero 6 is nothing short of spectacular. The futuristic city of San Fransokyo is a hive of colour, energy and creativity. The opening act, which does a highly efficient job of introducing all the main characters, buzzes with invention, with every character coming across as very rounded and clearly defined individuals. The infectious momentum of the opening allows for the devastating emotional beats to truly hit hard, allowing for Big Hero 6 to navigate more complex emotions than your normal kiddy-fair.

This momentum doesn’t quite sustain, as the film loses much of its originality as it becomes more and more of a superhero movie. The initial team-up remains visually unique, as the team discover and come to terms with their powers and what they are capable of. The film veers towards being more action-orientated in the final moments, yet what is impressive is the individual sense of character that remains within the more heroic moments. It is not afraid to continue to delve in to more mature themes, particularly when Hiro is faced with the identity of the man responsible for his brother’s death. It deftly balances the conventional super-heroics with its thematic concerns in a very sophisticated manner. BigHero6

Much of the charm of the film comes from its characters, and in the team we have a great bunch in which to spend time with. The true stand-out is Baymax, the huggable robot re-fitted for heroism is both a hilarious and touching creation, thoughtfully designed and well performed. The relationship between Baymax and Hiro brings welcome comparisons to The Iron Giant, with the films conveying similar sensibilities in regards to how they approach their audience; rarely pandering, and not afraid to explore mature themes, and most importantly, offering important advice for those themes. A fine addition to the Disney pantheon. 4/5  


Shaun the Sheep Movie (Dir: Richard Starzak & Mark Burton)

Aardman have well and truly established themselves as masters of the stop-motion technique. While their feature films only come around once in a blue moon, they are often works of brilliance (Flushed Away not withstanding). Their latest, a big screen adventure for Shaun the Sheep, may not be up there with the likes of Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit, is still a lovingly made piece of entertainment that anyone can enjoy.

Hoping for a bit of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off kind of fun, Shaun leads a scheme which will see the farmer incapacitated for a day so that the flock can take a break from the daily routine. When the plan goes awry and leaves the Farmer with memory loss lost in the city, it is up to Shaun to lead a rescue team. However, they soon attract the attention of a tenacious animal catcher, who will stop at nothing to see Shaun and his friends impounded.

Shaun is a character that I have a great fondness of, due to growing up in the company of Wallace & Gromit, with Shaun’s début in A Close Shave standing as a personal favourite of the W&G shorts. I am slightly too beyond the target audience for his TV series (even if I have dabbled), but he has continued to prove to be a popular character for Aardman to explore. The show plays like silent comedy, and the film-makers have been rather brave in keeping with that style for his cinematic venture. It allows for the format to develop more into the physical slapstick quality that Aardman are deft hands at.

Aardman have always proven capable of providing personality in characters who say very little. Gromit remains one of the most engaging animated characters of our time, and while the characters in Shaun the Sheep are not as endearing, they still have a remarkable amount of individuality for characters who only communicate through gestures and bleats.

The visual puns and background quirks that audiences have come to expect from Aardman are present and correct, but there is the sense that this particular property has not be made with adults in mind quite as much as their previous efforts. The sets are a bit cruder than some of their other work, while some of the jokes simply do not have the sophistication that the likes of Chicken Run exude. Shaun

Nonetheless, the dedication is, as always, clearly evident. No other form of animation exhibits the labour of the craft in the same way as stop-motion. The clear indents of finger-prints add to the charm rather than distract. They demonstrate that what you are seeing is a product of collective talents, working pain-stakingly around the clock to capture a single frame of film. It is for this reason that well-made stop-motion, with charming characters, is rather full proof when it comes to criticism. It is hard to critique something which has quite clearly been nurtured and cared for across every step of production. Shaun the Sheep Movie stands as yet another testament of the vibrant energy that the format can, and always does, provide. 4/5

I would be the first to admit that I was one of those individuals who was groaning at every image and every piece of footage that was released to us during the marketing campaign of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the second installment in Marc Webb’s reboot of everybody’s favourite web-slinger. The action looked far too akin to a video-game aesthetic, only made worse by the fact that the Marketing Executives at Sony seemed to want to emphasise the presence of three villains within one Spider-Man movie. It begged the question as to whether or not the studio learned anything from the over-crowded, fan despised affair that was (and always shall be) Spider-Man 3. I didn’t want to be cynical about a Spider-Man movie, as the character was without a doubt my favourite superhero growing up, but Sony seemed committed to making me so. It is with a happy heart then, that I can declare that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a disaster by any means. It is a film worthy of its character that, while bearing glaring flaws, should not be quickly dismissed.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is enjoying life as Spider-Man, but is finding other aspects of his life hard to keep control of. Along with graduating from High School, Peter is tormented by the secrets left behind in the wake of his parent’s disappearance years ago. On atop of that he feels an insurmountable amount of guilt for the love that he has for his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), after promising her dying father to leave her out of his life to ensure her safety. Ensuring her safety proves even more difficult with the arrival of Electro (Jamie Foxx), an electrified former employee of Oscorp whom, after an accident involving super-powered electric eels, gains the abilities to manipulate electrical energy. The arrival of this new threat arrives hand in hand with the re-appearance of Peter’s old childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), his own arrival prompting dark secrets involving their respective father’s to be revealed. the-amazing-spider-man-2-2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a crowded affair, make no mistake. There is a great deal happening at once that the film sometimes does stumble under the pressure of spinning too many plates. But Webb makes the right decision when it comes to deciding which plates are worth saving. Webb’s second outing builds upon the strengths of the first installment, namely the relationship between Peter and Gwen. The film devotes more time to focusing on their difficult and complicated relationship, a relationship that both of them cannot help but indulge in, despite the many risks it holds, simply because they love each other so damned much. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is nothing short of wonderful, leading to touching moments of affection and care amongst the superhero hijinks (in fact, scenes between the two may even out-weigh the action set pieces). The pair lend a great deal of emotional weight to a script that perhaps doesn’t deserve it, marking Garfield and Stone as incredibly important assets to the success of the film and its pivotal emotional beats.

The problem with the film lies in its antagonists, namely that it chooses to devote more time to the weakest one. Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro is, in a word, disposable. His pre-transformation as the Spidey-obssessed loner Max doesn’t convince and brings about un-welcome comparisons to Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. His eventual appearance as Electro is a strange CGI creation devoid of personality, coming across as the bastard love child of Dr. Manhatten and Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. When your chief antagonist recalls memories of Joel Schumacher Batman villains (twice), then you know you have a problem. He throws the film off both tonally and narratively whenever he appears. Hans Zimmer’s theme attributed to him only emphasizes the tonal confusion of the character, mixing together numbing dub-step, bizarre chanting, and Disney-fied clarinet flurries, which implore some menace but also confound. All of this could have been the-amazing-spider-man-2-3somewhat forgivable if the character had a great stake in the narrative, but Electro proves to be so inconsequential that he is more damaging to the film than he is to its benefit. All he amounts to is as a piece of leverage to the Harry Osborn character, by no means enough to justify his dominance in the early half of the  film (despite a visually impressive early showdown in Times Square). If only it was Harry’s show.

Dane DaHaan has proved that he is more than capable of supplying menace in 2011’s Chronicle and devotes much of that natural charisma to his performance of Harry Osborn. His transformation into the Green Goblin (wisely skipping out Norman’s tenure to avoid similarities with Raimi’s run) takes up much of his arc in this film, with his Harry facing death and desperately seeking a cure to a disease which has dominated his blood-line for generations. DeHaan convincingly tracks this movement from desperation to near-insanity with ease, and even manages to construct some pivotal chemistry with Garfield to allow the pair to convince as old friends, despite the little screen time the two actually have together. It is just a shame he couldn’t let loose more as the Goblin in the film’s final third, something which may have been allowed if the film had solely focused on him as the big bad. He proves more important to the dramatic beats of the film and is a much more intimidating threat come the highly emotional final act.

Webb was quite clearly chosen to lead this franchise on the basis of his indie background, namely his knack for allowing his actors to construct believable chemistry, demonstrating that he is an apt hand at character drama and relationships. He still doesn’t quite convince when it comes to the action set pieces. Webb over-relies on CGI wizardry and the slow-mo button to the point where it becomes monotonous and unimaginative. However, praise must be given to his use of 3-D, namely in the web-swinging sequences of the film, producing the most convincing moments of web-slinging we have so far seen in a Spider-Man movie. the-amazing-spider-man-2-4And his decision to focus more on character cannot be under-valued. His decision to focus on complicated relationships rather than explosions and destruction is a welcome and refreshing change to a superhero movie. The destruction here is what is at stake on an emotional level, propping The Amazing Spider-Man 2 above certain other recent superhero movies (*cough*Man of Steel*cough*).

The Amazing Spider-Man suffered from retreading old ground, while its sequel seems to suffer from a case of trying to do too much to differentiate itself from Spidey movies that have come before it (Sod’s Law it would seem). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a flawed film, and is by no means as good as Marvel’s greatest successes. But it could have been a lot worse. What we have here is a Spider-Man movie that has perhaps the most faithful page to screen Spidey we’ve seen so far, hits important emotional beats with near-perfection, and contains three top-class performances. It is a shame Electro is as much as a problem as he is, because without him this could have given the first two Sam Raimi Spidey-movies a run for their money. As it stands, we have a film with glaring issues, but one that none the less proves to be a pleasant surprise.

3/5- A crowded affair, but one that is much more character driven than the marketing would lead you to believe; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers a flawed but surprisingly emotional superhero tale that rides on the exceptional talents of Garfield, Stone, and DeHaan.


Fury was eyeing up Black Widow's wind machine. If only he has the locks to flow.This weekend, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the highest grossing film franchise in domestic U.S. history. This was helped in no small way by the $96 million opening weekend of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The latest adventure for Cap was by no means guaranteed that level of success. While Avengers Assemble hit the huge numbers, the first outing for Cap (Captain America: The First Avenger) was only a modest success, with very few people admitting to liking both the film and the character all that much. I, personally, found Joe Johnston’s film to be the strongest in Marvel’s Phase One, establishing my favourite Avenger (yeah, I said it) with style, warmth, and old-fashioned Hollywood charm. Cap’s next solo outing simply had to show the versatility of his character, in regards to the multitudes of genre’s he can work in, and what an interesting individual he truly is. I am happy to report that  The Winter Soldier is up to the challenge, rising to and beyond the call of duty.

Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is busy adjusting to his new found life in the 21st Century. Working as a SHIELD operative, the Captain soon begins to become somewhat unsatisfied with the work that he is being asked to do, believing that this arm of Global Security and Intelligence cares little for the values he fought for during World War Two. He is soon forced to question his loyalties even further with the arrival of the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), an assassin of unknown origin and motive. With it becoming clear that no one can be trusted, Cap goes AWOL in order to discover who is pulling the strings and simply do what he has always done; fight for what is right.

Foreshadowing much?

The Winter Soldier takes aspects of the much-beloved Ed Brubaker material and origins of character who is ‘The Winter Solider’, while also managing to construct a superhero movie that is very much coloured in the shades of a 1970’s conspiracy thriller. Further enforced by the presence of one Robert Redford in the cast, the script laces mysterious characters, issues of loyalty and government corruption into the superhero hijinks, positioning Cap in a genre well known but rarely seen in this current climate of cinema. Focusing its concern on the involvement of government agencies in surveillance and the private lives of normal everyday citizens, the film also carries with it an acute social awareness that has been lacking somewhat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the ‘war on terror’ heavy Iron Man. It amounts to a film that feels intelligent, well conceived, and thoroughly thought out through every step of production, a quality lacking in the last Marvel effort, Thor: The Dark World.

Cap 2, then, is an entirely different beast in regards to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, above all else, a genre picture that just so happens to have a character called Captain America in it. But with the inclusion of The Winter Solider subplot, the film manages to provide both comic-book fans and casual film-goers with enough thrills to satisfy both comic and action cinema needs. The Winter Soldier himself may not have much to do with the proceedings come the twist in the third act, but he supplies dramatic heft to the story of Captain Steve Rogers, allowing for more emotional investment and a vast sense of jeopardy within the action. What is also exciting is that the writer’s do not try to bloat the movie by exploring too much about the character of The Winter Soldier, avoiding the pratfalls of a two-dimensional comic-book villain. There is enough here to make him intriguing, but it is the teasing of what the character’s future in this franchise could be that makes him and his potential truly exciting.

CAPTAIN-AMERICA-75Directing duo Anthony & Joe Russo are most famous for directing a great many episodes of Community, as well as the Owen Wilson comedy You, Me, and Dupree. Perhaps not the first people you’d expect to be called up for a socially aware superhero flick. But Marvel have always enjoyed taking risks with their directors, and you can mark the Russo Brothers as another success. Much of the humour you feel is as a result of their contribution, but it is their surprising skill at mounting action that truly astounds. The fights and action sequences within The Winter Soldier stand as some of the best seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cap’s combat is slick, brutal, and fist-pumpingly awesome, while their more grandiose set-pieces feature excellent visual effects, with some of their key action scenes refreshingly opting for the use of practical effects over the convenience of CGI. Their action scenes are tense, well-paced, thoughtfully placed, and high in terms of the emotional and narrative stakes.

The impressive cast are also a great deal of fun, with both new and old characters proving themselves able to craft memorable characters amongst the sensational action. Chris Evans is impeccable as Cap; earnest, dependable, and emotionally complex, as well as thriving in the opportunity to engage in kick-ass combat. Scarlett Johansson proves easy on the eyes once more, but also emerges to be one of the film’s funniest characters in her third turn as super assassin Black Widow. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is given much more to do this time around, even having an action scene to call all his own. New additions to the cast include Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon (famous in comic history as being the first African-American superhero), who is simply spot on as Cap’s new ally and friend, while Redford provides gravitas and an old-school vibe as SHIELD Senior Leader Alexander Pierce. captain-america-winter-soldier-scarlett-johansson-2

The Winter Soldier is a five-star superhero movie. This does not mean I think it is as good as the like of 12 Years a Slave. It simply means, as a genre picture, I find it to be near-perfect. It manages to succeed where many superhero movies fail. It provides enough to satisfy fans of both comics and cinema, while sporting the smartest screenplay yet seen in the MCU. Marvel have proven here that they are still capable of surprising their audience, as the climax of this movie is bound to have huge ramifications as to the very fabric of their expertly conceived universe. At a time where some doubt may have been beginning to seep into our minds, The Winter Soldier has come to re-install faith in a franchise that has quite literally no end in sight. It is the way it needed to be, and trust Captain America to be the one to do it.

5/5- The best Solo-Marvel outing to date, The Winter Soldier boasts a smart screenplay, exhilarating action, a charming cast, and plenty of surprises to boot. If any other blockbuster can match these heights this Summer then, boy, are we in for one hell of a season.

Thor-1Thor was by far the hardest Avenger to establish. A cosmic, God, alien, immortal being was always going a hard one to make relate-able to audience’s. Despite some weak points concerning style, Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 outing for the Asgardian Avenger proved successful, with a spot-on Chris Hemsworth and a eye-catching Tom Hiddleston proving to be chief amongst the films’ strengths. Since the release of that first outing, a huge fandom has formed around both Hemsworth and Hiddleston, down to their charm, good looks, and genuine talent. It’s amazing the amount that that fandom has grown to, over the course of only two movies. Now the time has come for the opportunity to focus more on this pairing, and truly have fun within this world that has already been established. Why then, does The Dark World seem to stumble at nearly every turn?

With the nine realms in chaos following the actions of Loki (Hiddleston) on Earth, Thor (Hemsworth) has been kept busy restoring order to the world’s he protects. All the while, physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has been searching for the means to reconnect with the Asgardian following their romantic encounter in New Mexico. However, her investigation leads her to unwittingly awaken a dark evil long thought gone in the form of Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston) and his army of Dark Elves. Malekith, fueled with revenge from defeat thousands of years ago, will stop at nothing to throw all of the realms into darkness through the power of an ancient force known as the Aether. With destruction inevitable, Thor turns to help in the most unlikely of forms, his incarcerated and embittered step-brother Loki. Thor-2

The problem with The Dark World is its inability to carry through with narrative promise, or to build a significant amount of tension towards a satisfying finale. There is great potential here, yet most of the interesting developments that could take place are never fully exploited. A love triangle between Thor, Jane, and Sif is drifted over as quickly as it is suggested, while Malekith never feels like a true threat due to so little time dedicated to clarifying his motives and letting the extremely talented Eccleston craft a character. Too much time is given to characters who are undeserving of it, such as Kat Denning’s Darcy and her intern Ian. Designed as ‘comic relief’ the pair are responsible for some of the most cringe-worthy moments in the movie, and simply aggravate whenever they are on the screen.

Director Alan Taylor, a regular on the likes of Game of Thrones and Mad Men, clearly revels in the darker corners of the material, relishing in the design of Malekith and his forces, as well as establishing a much more gritty and Earthy aesthetic to what Kenneth Branagh delivered back in 2011. The action feels much more real, while the weaponry design is much more organic and less sci-fi than one would expect. Yet, he seems to struggle in making everything seem cinematic. This film feels like the work of a TV director. There is an air of cheapness to the proceedings, from the rushed visual effects to the general tone, particularly in the first half hour (which feels more like an episode of Doctor Who than it does a multi-million dollar Marvel movie).

Taylor does manage to impress in a number of sequences around the middle section of the movie when the action does kick into gear and the pacing begins to charge full gallop. Basically when shit goes down. An aerial assault on Asgard hits the action beats with efficiency, and the resulting memorial scene is handled with delicacy and is Thor-3surprisingly very moving, in large part thanks to Brina Taylor’s spine-chilling score. The film also grows in strength once Thor and Loki eventually team up. The script is up to par in these moments, as the verbal sparring between the two Gods remains witty, sharp, and wholly entertaining. It is a shame then that these moments don’t last longer, as the climax stumbles over its own feet and replaces the opportunity to establish credible threat with the chance to throw in a gag or a cheesy one-liner. The horribly convenient plot developments, goofy tone and gaping plot holes destroy all sense of tension and completely negates the work done by Eccleston in at least trying to make his villain memorable.

The performances range from confident to lazy. Hemsworth proves himself worthy once again, ably carrying the film on his well formed charismatic shoulders. Likewise, Hiddleston earns his paycheck with another trickster performance, managing to captivate even when he spends most of his screen-time stuck in a prison cell. Natalie Portman seems frustrated within her role as Jane Foster, who is reverted to a mere damsel in distress. But she’s intelligent. So that makes it ok? Elsewhere, Anthony Hopkins seems incredibly bored as Odin, while it’s great to see Rene Russo given much more to do this time around as Thor’s mother, and a good does of gravitas is supplied by the man mountain that is Idris Elba.

This is the first time since Disney’s acquisition of Marvel that a film from under the Marvel Studio’s banner has been felt like it has been significantly tampered with. It is no secret that this film had a troubled production, with Thor-4re-shoots taking place as late as August, the ending in particularly feels incredibly slapped on at the last minute. Hopefully this will not be the case when The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes around in 2015. This film was directed by a man that the studio very much felt they could over-rule at any turn, Joss Whedon is the man who just made them $1.4 billion, he is in a position of power. Likewise, Iron Man 3 felt like a Shane Black movie because he is a film-maker with a distinct talent and voice, and one who would not let anyone compromise his vision. Stubbornness works wonders in the film industry. Taylor unfortunately is a director yet to establish a voice, and this film lacks a creative personality. Simply because there was no one vision. Thor: The Dark World marks the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has felt like a brand and nothing more. And it also marks the first time that I have been genuinely worried about the future of this franchise.

2/5- Inconsistent and only occasionally exciting, The Dark World is a worrying disappointment that lacks the personality and screenwriting smarts of previous Marvel outings. Unworthy to say the least.

IronMan3-1Where do you go after The Avengers? Last summer, Joss Whedon delivered a thrill-ride of geek nirvana, pleasing both comic-book and film fans alike. With Phase One successfully complete, Marvel has wasted no time in kicking off with Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and first out of the gate; rather fittingly, it’s the man who kicked it all off, Tony Stark. The first Iron Man was incredibly successful at establishing Robert Downey Jnr. in arguably his career defining role, as well as planting the seeds for what was to come. Iron Man 2 remains a missed opportunity and a wholly empty experience, weighed down but the obligatory responsibility of introducing more elements for The Avengers, being the only hero in the phase who already had his origins taken care of. Iron Man 3 has been presented with the chance to work as a strong stand alone installment whilst also remaining fully ingrained within the Marvel Universe. With Shane Black replacing Jon Favreau at the helm, and the trailers promising to bring Stark to his knees, Iron Man 3 was shaping up to be a darker, more character driven approach to the character. And while there are elements of that promise, Iron Man 3 is a film packed full of surprises, and is not quite the film the trailers would have you believe.

Tony is dealing with some anxiety issues following his near death experience and battles with extra-terrestrial beings in New York, which has led to him becoming absolutely work obsessed, putting a strain on his relationship with Pepper (Gweneth Paltrow). To make matters worse, the US comes under attack by a mysterious terrorist known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who has been behind numerous bombings across the country. When one attack places Tony’s bodyguard Happy (Favreau) in the hospital, Tony challenges The Mandarin to a showdown. When his bluff is called, Tony is left alone, suit-less and desperate to discover the truth behind the bombings and The Mandarin in a hope to put to rest his anxieties and come to terms with who he truly is. His investigations lead him to suspect the involvement of one Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a man from his past who has developed a new experimental treatment called Extremis, which has some lethal and dangerous side-effects.





Right. Now that you’re here, lets continue…

Iron Man 3 is a much different beast to its previous first two installments. The first two did strive for a more grounded tone, but now that The Avengers has opened the door to a much wider universe, it would seem Shane Black has used this excuse to make Iron Man 3 a much more elaborate and simply ridiculous installment. The story takes many twist and turns along its way, and certainly makes good on the promise of bringing Stark down to his knees. Much of the film barely has Stark in his suit, but it is all the better for it. Downey Jnr. has always been entertaining in this role, and armed with Black’s and Drew Pearce’s sharp and supremely witty script, he has never been better in the role. The character’s ingenuity and resourcefulness are on full display here, with the clever script making full use of the self-proclaimed genius, billionaire,  playboy, philanthropists skills, as he must come to terms with being in isolation; back in the cave if you will.

What has been a problem with the previous two Iron Man movies has been its lack of a strong central villain. The third one was certainly showing promise by having arguably the metal-heads greatest foe in his comic book history present in the form of The Mandarin. And with Sir Ben Kingsley playing the role, all was shaping up to see the character brought to the screen in great fashion. Well, not quite. Shane Black turns in a very trademark script; an action superhero spectacle that is very aware of what genre it is operating in. It adheres to genre expectations, whilst almost subverting them to provide its audience with a superhero movie that isn’t afraid to give its well tested formula a shake. It arguably does that with The Mandarin, as The Mandarin does not turn out to be the feared terrorist leader that the news has painted him to be. He is in fact a drugged up, booze fueled character actor by the name of Trevor, who believes he is merely being paid a lot of money to turn in a performance; an accessory to a much larger plot. The twist is incredibly unexpected (kudos to the marketing team), as the reveal builds as a sequence in which we’d expect the first confrontation to take place between hero and villain, but instead we are have such a curve-ball thrown at us that we begin lose a sense of security in the genre conventions. Which allows for a thrilling build up to the final act.

What Black has done with such a fan favourite has my film fan and comic-book fan tastes at battle with each other. It is undoubtedly a clever piece of genre writing, completely playing with fan expectation and delivering something entirely unexpected and in keeping IronMan3-3with the more grounded tone of the first one installment. But at the same time, The Mandarin is a character who deserves much, much more. He is by far Iron Man’s greatest adversary, and his filmic translation turns him into a pantomime. It is somewhat disrespectful to the material and the fans to not give such a major villain the cinematic glory that he deserves. But due to the clever writing and the wonderful performance from Kingsley, it almost feels right, and does mark a significant change in the superhero genre. This is a superhero movie, part of a branded universe, that is not afraid to twist what fans are expecting from it. At the end of the day, it is an adaptation and does have the freedom to reinterpret characters to serve the story as it so wishes. Then there s the inclusion of Extremis. The Extremis soldiers were always going to be hard to portray convincingly on screen, and while they are certainly creepy; the technology behind the program and the bright orange style is somewhat over-the-top. Mind you, this is hardly a genre known for its subtlety. Thankfully Guy Pearce is suitably sniveling as Aldrich Killian, the real evil mastermind of the piece, despite being landed with a clunky demise.

The issues with the villains would have bothered me much more, as would have Pepper’s more intense involvement, if the film did not have enough redeemable factors. Thankfully, it has them by the bucket load. The action is exceptional. Set piece after set piece comes rolling at you, with Black proving a deft hand at effects heavy spectacle. The attack on Tony’s house is exhilarating, the free-fall from an exploding Air Force One is breathtaking, and the final act is all kinds of bad-ass, with plenty of punch your fist in the air moments. Black also allows for the detective work to flow and his unique voice to sing through the characters and action. Tony’s team-up with a 10 year-old boy could have been utterly cringe-worthy in other hands, but Black’s dry sarcastic wit keeps it from ever becoming too cutesy and makes for some of the more memorable scenes in the film.  Stark and Rhodey’s (a very comfortable Don Cheadle) camaraderie evokes memories of Riggs and Murtaugh, while many of the snappy exchanges between henchmen would fit very nicely in the world of The Last Boy Scout. Many scenes and sequences evoke memories of fun and spirited 80’s action movies (Tony sneaking in to theIronMan3-4 villain’s mansion being a particular example), and it is refreshing to see a big Hollywood superhero movie take this more old-fashioned and laid back attitude to the proceedings.

Much of this installment feels as though it is the swansong of Tony Stark. We have a more personal storyline, a voice-over framework, and a symbolic ending, which very much seems to see the character coming somewhat full circle. There is no doubt that we shall see RDJ return for The Avengers 2, but whether we shall see an Iron Man 4 is a question that I don’t think even Marvel has the answer to right now. If this is indeed the last solo outing for the Invincible Iron Man, then there are certainly worse ways to say farewell. Iron Man 3 certainly redeems Iron Man 2, and in some respects it is better than the first. Funnier, faster and with more style and panache, it is an incredibly exciting and promising start to a summer that is filled with highly anticipated titles. And while I am sure there are going to be better films this summer season, Iron Man 3 sets a considerably high benchmark in terms of action movie spectacle this summer. To think it all started in a cave. With a box of scraps.

4/5- Die-hard fans of the material may have some grumblings, but Shane Black’s undeniable trademarks and outstanding action sequences make Iron Man 3 a thrilling, clever, funny as hell roller-coaster filled with surprises and charm. Phase Two has well and truly begun.

If you remember back to the days of late June/ early July, you may recall that I wrote a Gaudion Spotlight on the Sam Raimi-run of Spider-Man movies in anticipation of the release of the franchise reboot; The Amazing Spider-Man. After a good two months, the film made its way to Alderney (actually rather quick for over here) and now I can finally present my views on the reboot that we probably didn’t need. Spider-Man 3 is much maligned, but is by no means terrible, and I still attest that a fourth film would have redeemed its short-comings. Now we’ll never know, so I guess we’ll have to make do with a new franchise. I have to say, I was perhaps more welcome to this than most; as a comic-book fan, I was with the opinion that comic-books reboot their characters all the time, so why can’t their film counter-parts do the same? But as a film fan and student, it did not make a great deal of sense, as Spider-Man 3 was far from a failure commercially, and there seemed to be plenty to mine within their universe. With that in mind, The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot to prove, and God bless him, Marc Webb tries his best, and thankfully it does impress more often than not. You just can’t shake the feeling that we have been here before.

In an attempt to present a new take on the origins tale, The Amazing Spider-Man initially involves the mystery behind the disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents, leaving him orphaned with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). This abandonment has led Peter (Andrew Garfield) to grow up into a socially awkward, yet brilliantly smart, teenager (despite having super-stylish hair and being totally rad on a skateboard). Soon enough, he discovers a briefcase that used to belong to his father, which leads him to seek out his father’s old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), in the hope of finding some answers. However, once he goes to Oscorp Industries, he gets more than he bargained for, as an encounter with a radioactive spider leaves him with arachnid-like abilities.  All the while, Peter begins to strike a relationship with the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as he soon develops his powers to become a vigilante crime-fighter. With the police on his tail, Peter must also contend with the danger of a monster he unwittingly created in the form of The Lizard, who once used to be a certain Dr. Connors. 

Spoilers ahead. But lets face it, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen it. As much as the film may try, it cannot escape certain familiarities with its 2001 counter-part. The introduction of the mystery concerning Peter’s parents, although not taken from any comic-book narrative, is an intriguing enough premise, but one that seems to disappear come around the latter part of the second act. We can safely assume that it will continue to play a part in the inevitable sequel, but it is rather strange that it seems to serve quite a large purpose to begin with, but then rather suddenly doesn’t seem to play into proceedings at all. The death of Uncle Ben is very much a point of concern; it happens rather hastily and is forgotten about just as quickly. It has similar beats to the 2001 incarnation, but Raimi’s movie certainly dealt more with the repercussions and guilt that fell onto Peter (a theme which lasted throughout the trilogy in fact). It is a waste of a very pivotal moment in the Spider-Man mythology and of Martin Sheen. Aside from that, narrative-wise, Peter discovering his powers is displayed in a much more progressive fashion, as it does seem to have a conscious sense of not repeating the same discoveries as the first movie.

Another weaker area of the movie, before I delve into the positives, is the villain. The Lizard is a very famous and well-known character within the comic-books, and I was very disappointed that we never got to see what Raimi would have done with the character, as Curt Connors did feature rather significantly in the last two installments (poor Dylan Baker). Rhys Ifans is perfectly fine in the role, it is just that the way the character is written is nowhere near as satisfying as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2. Connors himself seems to change from a very reasoned scientist, to a power-mad monster determined to rid the human race of imperfection. The CGI work on The Lizard is impressive enough, but the Jykell and Hyde aspect is too shoe-horned in and fails to make an impact within the running time, and reflects Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin far too much. A much better interpretation of The Lizard can be found in the Spider-Man Animated Series from the 90’s. This film certainly borrowed a lot of imagery from that incarnation, namely the base within the sewers, which evoked a certain degree of nostalgia, but ultimately reminded me of a better version of the character.

Now on to the positive remarks. Despite taking liberties with the mythology in some areas (namely the tip-toeing around the immortal line of ‘With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility’, they should have just bloody said it), the film is clearly made by a director and written by a group of people who do love the source material. The film seems to blend elements from the Original Ditko/Lee run (mechanical web-shooters) and the most recent Ultimate series (which I read religiously as a kid), with certain moments and touches putting a smile on my face. This can be put down to the portrayal of Peter Parker. He isn’t perhaps as much as an outcast as he should be, but Garfield evokes a genuinely awkward teenage spirit that reflects the Ultimate series, especially in terms of his cockiness and wise-cracking. Garfield makes for a much more convincing Parker, both out of and in the tights. You full-heartedly believe that he is in the costume, thanks in due part to more practical web-swinging effects. He brings a believable athleticism and poise to the role, as well as inhabiting his Parker with a strong sense of intelligence. And he has some great support. Webb evidently uses his skills with actors that he employed so well in (500) Days of Summer when it comes to the relationship between Peter and Gwen. It also helps that Garfield and Stone have absolutely perfect chemistry. Their flirting and playfulness feel entirely genuine (it probably was, considering that the two are in fact a couple), and the film is at its strongest when the two are together. The film as a whole is much better when dealing with character then it is action. This Parker is given much more of a chance to show how much of a genius he is, and the corny dialogue this time is replaced by much more natural conversation.

Raimi’s movies had a very definite style; cartoon-esque, energetic and quite deliberately corny. It worked, particularly for capturing the atmosphere of the 1960’s comic books. Webb isn’t as energetic, nor is he quite as inventive in the action sequences (to give him his due, this is his first action picture). The P.O.V. shots are well conceived and his sense of movement manages to stand out from the Raimi crowd. Spidey’s movements have a more gymnastic sense of energy to them, a movement all their own, and great it would seem that a great deal of attention has gone in to recreating poses from the comic-books. Webb does display a deft hand with the action, but it is his deftness with character that shines through in the scenes between Garfield and Stone, which makes it shame that most of these scenes are interrupted by the action sequences. I’d never thought I’d say that about a comic-book movie. Webb has to be commended for making the atmosphere of the film feel somewhat different to the Raimi run, despite the glaring similarities. Webb evokes a similar spirit to the animated series and Ultimate comic-book series, which provoked a wonderful sense of nostalgia within me, and has the courage to give the film somewhat more of an edge where needed. It remains fun, largely thanks to the cast and enthusiastic direction. It does fill me with hope for this new franchise, now that the origins is out-of-the-way, it paves the way for this new interpretation to further evolve into its own identity. Spider-Man 2 remains the best Spider-Man movie, and Raimi’s first installment wins points for having done everything first. But it is easily an improvement on number 3. I hope that Webb continues to make this franchise his own; as with a great property, comes great responsibility. I more than look forward to the next spin.

3/5- It suffers greatly from re-visiting plot points from the original movie, particularly when those points were done better the first time round. But it shows great promise for the future of the franchise, thanks in large part to the spot-on casting and fresh direction. The wall-crawler is back, so we might as well enjoy it!