Monthly Archives: August 2015

Series Review: Gotham Season 1

Gotham starring Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Donal Logue (Harvey Bullock) and Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot)

I was always skeptical about Gotham. A Batman prequel? Batman without the Bat himself? Sure, Jim Gordon is an important character, but could he really hold a show by himself? But as it’s the final third of summer and Gotham has just been added to Netflix, i thought I’d give it a shot.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for season plotlines – no main character deaths will be mentioned.

Gotham has a threefold focus: Jim Gordon’s struggle to improve the largely corrupt and mob-controlled Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), Bruce Wayne’s journey after the loss of his parents and the origin stories of various villains (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Ivy, Scarecrow, Joker, The Dollmaker, Zsasz, Harvey Dent and Red Hood are all teased or part of season one). The opening episodes are important (the Waynes are gunned down within the first ten minutes of episode 1 – we knew it had to happen soon but i didn’t expect it that fast!) but the series only really gets going by episode 4 (which is good, as i usually give up by episode 5 of a series if there’s nothing to merit continuing – coincidentally Breaking Bad has 1 episode left to convince me after a disappointing opening 4…). If you’re still unsure by this point, watch episode 7 (Penguin’s Umbrella) because it’s the first great episode Gotham delivers – and if you still don’t like it by then it’s probably not for you.

Ben McKenzie doesn’t put in a bad performance as Gordon, though playing the out and out hero doesn’t always give him a lot to do. His interactions with Harvey Bullock and Captain Essen (the two who he works with at the corrupt police department, who slowly show signs of redemption by helping him more as the season progresses) are well written, but it’s his scenes with Penguin that really shine. Barbara, Gordon’s supposed love interest, wasn’t all that good (hence their break up mid-season) but her pairing as a mentor to Selina Kyle works better, and Morena Baccarin is much better as Leslie Thompkins, who Gordon grows close to in the second half of the season. David Mazouz is excellent as the young Bruce Wayne – inquisitive, intelligent, arrogant and isolated, you can see shades of the Batman slowly forming. He’s helped by Sean Pertwee as a younger, more active Alfred than we’re used to, but really shines when he’s paired off with Selina Kyle (who’s both enigmatic and far more morally grey than Bruce – but the early signs of an attraction between them is obvious).

This is the one of the few Batman adaptions to do one thing: have someone other than Joker as the main villain. After the Nolan trilogy, the Arkham games and virtually every animated series used him as the centerpiece, Gotham broke the mold (at least for it’s first season) and went with Penguin instead. Sure Joker may crop up at some point (and he may have already – we’ve had a couple of possible Joker candidates appear so far) but i applaud Gotham for not using him straight away. Joker works so well against Batman i believe they should really save him for later seasons when Bruce gets closer to becoming the Bat anyway – having him opposite Gordon probably wouldn’t be as effective. Season 2 will have him in some way – but i hope he doesn’t steal too much of the spotlight from Penguin and Riddler – who have been built up so effectively in season 1. Robin Lord Taylor is the highlight of the series as Penguin, who is caught in the middle of a brewing Gang War between the Falcone and Maroni crime bosses, as well as the ambitious Fish Mooney, who is plotting to usurp Falcone. Watching him squirm, weasel, murder and plot his way up through the ranks of Maroni and Falcone’s organisations (switching sides more than once) is a highlight. Corey Michael Smith has a slower plot arc as Edward Nygma, who as a social misfit working as a forensic analyst for GCPD, is constantly put down by the cops (save Gordon) while harbouring an unrequitted crush on a colleague which eventually drives him to commit his first murder. He really comes into his own late season, and will doubtless fall further into villainy in series two.

It’s easy for a TV series to have a lot of episodes I’d rate as 3.5/5 (above average) or 4/5 (good). Agents of Shield had plenty that good. I stopped watching it because it failed to have any classic episodes (5/5) and only a couple that were near-greatness (4.5/5) – and because it wasn’t improving (and because the season as a whole was disappointing, even if the individual episodes were generally fine to watch). In a 22/23/24 episode season you expect better – i mean in general half of the episodes per season that Flash or Arrow produce are of very high quality – impressive for a series that long. So how did Gotham fare? Well i gave 6 episodes 4.5/5 – these were generally episodes that were part of the main season arc and had a compelling main villain. The season as a whole felt a bit disjointed (mainly because the network extended the season several times) – two recurring characters basically disappear without comment after episode 10. A few mid-late season episodes feel like they are just killing time to the finale (especially Fish Mooney’s plotline). But it still fits together better than Agents of Shield (because it’s main storyline was more compelling) and Arrow Season 3 (which was too drawn out even if it had some great episodes).

Overall, Gotham has given us some great versions of Batman villains (i can’t think of better versions of Penguin, Riddler or Victor Zsasz), some colourful mob bosses, and a main character who is easy to root for. Yes, it’s pacing isn’t always spot on, the season wasn’t a cohesive whole (mainly because it kept getting extended) and i hope we’ve seen the last of OTT Fish Mooney, but overall i was pleasantly surprised by Gotham’s first season.

Series Rating: 4 out of 5

Much better than Agents of Shield, but still not quite up there with Flash and Arrow. Still a must see for DC/Batman fans. Can’t wait for season 2.

Article: Which is the best Avengers film?

The MCU faced it’s biggest test when Ant-Man appeared in cinemas – the skepticism was high and the anticipation low. It wasn’t the disaster many expected – but how does it stack up to the other Avengers outings so far? Here’s my list of Avengers films ranked in order of quality – with a few surprises…

Warning: Spoilers! And definite controversy.

I’m ignoring the 2003 Hulk film – because 1. I haven’t seen it. 2. It’s reputation isn’t great. 3. It isn’t technically part of Marvel’s phase one even if the Incredible Hulk is a sort of follow-up to it.

12. Iron Man 2: No surprises here. Iron Man 2’s reputation has never been good. It’s villains are notoriously weak (the OTT Whiplash and the dull/unthreatening Justin Hammer), the plot isn’t much different from Iron Man (someone trying to steal/reproduce Stark’s technology and use it for their own purposes) Gwyneth Paltrow is irritating throughout and the action sequences are generally by-the-numbers. The one exception is the thrilling Monaco Grand Prix sequence where Whiplash attacks Stark. Other plus points? Robert Downey Jr. is as good as ever, and Scarlet Johannson as Black Widow livens things up considerably. Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

11. Iron Man Probably the most overrated Marvel film, the initial Iron Man outing might have seemed a breath of fresh air back in 2008, but looking back on it’s shortfalls are obvious: its by the numbers villain isn’t very memorable, Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t get an awful lot to do as Tony’s love interest (though as its Gwyneth Paltrow maybe that’s a good thing!) and barring the sequence where Stark battles a couple of American fighter planes in his Iron Man suit, the action sequences aren’t anything special. All that said, there’s nothing terrible here and Downey Jr… (you get the point, the guy is easily the best thing about any of the Iron Man films so i don’t need to praise his performance again). Fun to watch but a very average superhero film. Rating: 3 out of 5

10. Iron Man 3: This should have been so much higher up the list. The first hour was pretty brilliant. And then one plot twist ruined everything. Way to go Marvel, the Mandarin-is-actually-an-actor plot twist is still the worst fuck-up you’ve ever made. The film itself is actually decent enough despite this, especially Downey Jr., but Guy Pearce is not in Ben Kingsley’s league as the replacement villain. Had Kingsley been the real Mandarin, and had they killed off Gwyneth Paltrow at the end rather than copping-out, this could have got 5 stars. A monumental missed opportunity! Rating: 3.5 out of 5

9. Thor: The Dark World: A very entertaining film. Just not a great one. The most undeveloped villain of the series (a criminally wasted Christopher Eccleston as Malekith) is pushed to the sides by Loki (though I’d argue this film makes best use of Loki of the three appearances he’s had). Chris Hemsworth is far more likeable as Thor this time around, and the supporting characters are all a joy to watch. Good soundtrack too. But it’s all too familiar to get a high rating – hopefully Thor: Ragnarok will take a few more risks and have a better villain alongside Loki. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

8: Captain America: The First Avenger: The first one on this list I’ve done a full review of, so I’ll keep this brief. Decent plot, decent villain and a good supporting cast, but a weak ending fight between Cap and Red Skull and too much patriotism for any non-American viewers. Peggy Carter is still one of the best love interests the series has produced. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

7: Thor: The first of the really good Marvel films, Thor’s origin story surpasses that of Cap and Iron Man with ease. The supporting cast are all excellent, particularly Odin and Loki. Problems? The destroyer, one of the toughest foes in the comics, is defeated rather easily, and Thor isn’t particularly likeable for the first 1/2 of the film but it’s good value nonetheless. Rating: 4 out of 5

Wondering why Ant-Man hasn’t cropped up yet? I warned you this list had surprises, and the next film is another one…

6: The Avengers/Avengers Assemble: Yep. Seriously. The second-most overrated Marvel film comes in at sixth. Hell i almost put Thor higher. Yes it was what we’d all been waiting for. The biggest team up in superhero history. But that doesn’t make it an automatic classic. The final hour is undeniably great (but with two major plot contrivances – Hulk’s sudden ability to control his anger and the way the Chitauri all die when the wormhole closes – er why exactly?). The first half of the film isn’t anything special, seeing the heroes meet and interact is fun, but barring the fight between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, nothing is particularly memorable. Black Widow and Hawkeye also don’t get much to do. It is a very entertaining film. But Nolan trilogy quality? Not even close, so… Rating: 4 out of 5

5. The Incredible Hulk: If you missed this one i don’t blame you, i only saw it this summer on TV. Barring a Tony Stark cameo it hasn’t much of an impact on the series (though antagonist General Ross is set to appear in Civil War). However it’s actually a remarkably good film. It’s also by far the darkest and deepest of any of the Marvel films. Edward Norton is good as Bruce Banner/Hulk (but I’m still glad they went with Ruffalo for the Avengers because he has such good chemistry with Stark and Black Widow) and Liv Tyler is great as love interest Betty Ross. General Ross (her father) and Emil Blonsky/the Abomination (Tim Roth) are a decent pair of villains. Barring the first ten minutes or so, the film throws you into events remarkably quickly and the four sequences where Banner Hulks out are great (the effects haven’t dated too badly – unlike the 2003 Hulk film). It’s not the standard Marvel film, but it’s nonetheless worth a look. Rating: 4 out of 5.

As you may now have guessed, my top four films are the last four Marvel has released, but I’d be surprised if you can guess what order they are in (unless you’ve read all my reviews of them)…

4. Guardians of the Galaxy:  Marvel could have stumbled with this. But they didn’t and created one of the most popular superhero ensembles from characters virtually no-one knew about. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper are great as the voices of Groot and Rocket, and Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt have shot to fame (now starring in Spectre and Jurassic World respectively) after their winning turns as Drax the Destroyer and Peter Quill (Star-Lord). The soundtrack is awesome, the action sequences engaging and the script is pretty funny. Only weak villains and a lack of complexity stop it going higher up the list. Rating: 4 out of 5

3. Age of Ultron: The biggest blockbuster in the bunch kicks into gear a hell of a lot faster than it’s predecessor, and the character interaction is just as fun second time around. Black Widow and Hawkeye really come to the fore here, and the Hulk vs. Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armour) fight is one of the best sequences in the Marvel universe. Ultron is a good villain, but still not as menacing as I’d have liked, and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver don’t get all that much to do. It tries to pack too much in, but 80% of it works brilliantly regardless. Great ending though, and a promising mid-credits tease for Infinity War. Rating: 4 out of 5

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The first outright classic Marvel made, Cap 2 has everything, great villains, one great plot twist involving Shield and HYDRA, engaging action scenes, a good final fight between Cap and the Winter Soldier, and a great supporting cast, particularly newcomer Falcon and a more playful yet still bad-ass Black Widow. Not quite perfect – the Nick Fury plot twist is so obvious I’m knocking half a mark off out of annoyance – but it came very close. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This means the Winner is… no wait surely not… oh yes it is… it’s Ant-Man!

1.  Ant-Man: The real shock. I wasn’t sold for the first 30 minutes but once this hits its stride it never lets up. It’s one of the funniest films of the year – a wise move, as playing this as a serious film would never have worked. It takes the Guardians formula and makes everything sillier but at the same time, more successful. Paul Rudd is a charismatic, Chris Pratt-esque leading man who it’s impossible not to root for. It has a good villain from Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket, a good supporting cast, a great cameo/fight scene with Falcon, a comedy heist crew with a ton of great one liners and its fair share of heartfelt moments between fathers and daughters. Loved it. You might not and I’d understand why but for me, this is the best Marvel has ever done. Rating: 5 out of 5!

I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with this order. You’re free to. It’s only my opinion. Coming soon though, I’ll do similar lists for Batman and Superman as we build up to Dawn of Justice…

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell

Warning: Spoilers!

The original two Fantastic Four movies were not well received. Personally i enjoyed Silver Surfer, but it still wasn’t a good enough improvement on the first film to merit a third. So now we have the reboot, which has gone in an entirely different direction with tone and style. So what worked? The casting for a start, was spot on. Miles Teller is spot-on as the nerdy outcast yet ambitious scientist Reed Richards and Sue (Kate Mara) and he bond far more believably than the previous origin story managed. Michael B. Jordan is fun as the wise-cracking Johnny and Reg. E. Cathey lends some gravitas as their father Franklin Storm. Aside from the casting the darker tone meant this didn’t feel like a total rehash of the original (which was the main problem with the Amazing Spiderman – it was too similar to Spiderman 1 to win audiences over completely – though i do like it). Given the low budget compared to some superhero films the special effects hold up pretty well, and the soundtrack is unremarkable but effective.

The best thing in the film? Without a doubt, it’s Doom. Victor himself is a far more believable, less OTT version of the character, but it’s after his transformation that Doom really shines. In the original films, you could believe that any of the Four could hold their own against Dr. Doom. In this one, you can’t. He’s far more powerful, menacing and scary (mainly down to his new ability to implode people’s heads – which was depicted far more graphically than i expected in a 12A film) In general this is the one thing this film got right compared to the previous attempts – it’s depiction of the heroes and Doom’s powers is much better.

Unfortunately, i just ran out of good things to say about the movie. The friend who i saw this with wouldn’t have even had that many positives – she totally hated it. Most other reviews I’ve seen were mixed to negative as well. This one is mixed – but if the sequel doesn’t improve things then they should scrap it again. For a relatively short film (just over 1h 40) it’s spends an awful lot of time on build up (which would be fine if it had been 2h 30, but as it is half the film feels like set-up, which is never good). To put this in perspective, it takes nearly 50 minutes before they acquire their powers and another 35 before Doom comes face to face with them – the last 15 minutes are pretty epic, but come far too late and for far too little time.

Other reviews criticised the four’s lack of chemistry, but I’d argue that’s down to the limited amount of screen time they share rather than the actors. I suspect yet again the studio is to blame for this (it is Fox after all) because the final 30 minutes feel very rushed (like a lot was cut perhaps) and the heroes only get one real confrontation with Doom . Can studio execs f*** off and let directors do their jobs please (after all X:Men The Last Stand, Spiderman 3 and Amazing Spiderman 2 have all been worse than they should have been for this reason – and this film is another case in point). The pacing is the film’s biggest problem by a long way. Overall there are some good ideas and casting here. But the script, pacing and plot are so weak it’s hard to notice them. I was going to give this film 3 out of 5, but because it was so much weaker than it should have been I’ll have to knock that down to…

Rating: 2.5 of 5. It’s officially as bad as Iron Man 2 and as much of a wasted opportunity as The Last Stand. Well done Fox…

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Corey Stoll.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog will know, I’m more of a DC fan than Marvel. DC won the war on TV with the superb Arrow and Flash combination, and Marvel’s films have never (in my opinion) reached the highs of the Dark Knight Trilogy or Man of Steel. Marvel films are always entertaining. They rarely make serious errors (Iron Man 2 and 3 are still the only major letdowns) but never quite achieve true greatness. But with their best known superheroes already used they’ve had to take some massive gambles. Guardians of the Galaxy shocked everyone by how good it was. But surely Marvel couldn’t pull the same trick twice? I mean Ant-Man? A superhero with the power to shrink? Basically the same power as seen on kid’s show Ben 10? Who is taken even less seriously by the average fan than Aquaman is for DC? A movie that had several script rewrites, changed director and composer during production – surely Marvel had to finally stumble?

They haven’t. Ironically the film i half expected to break Marvel’s run of quality films in phase two might just be the best of the lot. Yeah you read that right – but surely i don’t prefer Ant-Man to The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron or Guardians of the Galaxy? Actually… i think i might. It’s certainly the funniest of the lot – it uses the Guardians formula of putting a bunch of misfits together in a superhero film that doubles as a comedy with the occasional moment of heartful emotion. But the humour outdoes Guardians – and crucially the film has a better villain and a more complex plot. The villain in question is Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (played by Corey Stoll off House of Cards) who is both a credible threat to Ant-Man (the Yellowjacket being a militarised version of the Ant-Man suit) and more interesting than the usual human villain (he’s a kind of cross between Alexander Pierce from Cap 2 and Arnim Zola from The First Avenger) as a misguided scientist who becomes obsessed with developing the Ant-Man technology that his former mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, tried to conceal from him and SHIELD because he feared it’s potential as a weapon.

Apart from Cross, the main cast includes Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief seeking redemption, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man who chooses Scott to be the new Ant-Man and stop Cross, and Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Pym’s estranged daughter who helps train Scott to master the Ant-Man suit. The interplay between the three is brilliant, with Douglas ideally cast in the role of mentor, and Rudd giving Chris Pratt a run for his money as a wise-cracking charismatic lead. Not to say Scott Lang is a carbon-copy of Star-Lord, the two have their differences and Scott is definitely more moral, trying desperately to redeem himself and (in his divorced wife’s words) ‘make himself into the hero his young daughter already believes him to be’. Hope is a love-interest Marvel fans will be familiar with: the badass (i.e. Black Widow/Gamora)/business-like lady (Pepper Potts/Agent Carter) who initially isn’t interested in the hero only to eventually be won over by his heroism. However Lilly takes what could be an all too familiar role and stamps her own mark on it.

In a way, the film has only two problems: predictability and suspension of disbelief. There weren’t too many moments you don’t see coming (mind you, The Winter Soldier is the only Marvel film with a truly great plot twist so i won’t penalise this film for that), whether this is a problem is down to the viewer. The second problem is whether things get far too silly for you. Don’t go in expecting a serious superhero film, go in expecting a comedy, cause that’s what you’re going to get. I won’t spoil any of the laugh out loud moments but lets just say some discs Scott has which can shrink or grow anything they touch lead to some hilarious moments in the midst of the action scenes. As for the science involved i wouldn’t try to think too hard about it (given we have quantum realms, shrinking and growing and mind controlled ants – yes you read that right – its best just to go with the flow in this film). Scott’s heist crew are also brilliant comedy value, with the over-excitable Luis (Michael Pena), the smooth talking Dave (Tip Harris) and Russian Hacker Kurt (who is a bit like Drax as he gets most of the punchlines) and the banter between the four is brilliant. Scott’s daughter Cassie also gets her share of punchlines, managing to be adorable and hilarious in equal measure without becoming irritating like some child actors can.

Does the film link into the avengers films much? Yes, Peggy Carter and Howard Stark get cameos, Hydra make another appearance (they really are a persistent bunch) and there’s a great battle between Sam Wilson (Falcon from Cap 2) and Ant-Man as Scott attempts to steal some tech from the Avengers base. It also looks like Ant-Man might be back in a future film a bit sooner than i expected he would… There are also TWO post-credits scenes, so don’t leave after the mid-credits one, as the post credit scene has a brief teaser for Civil War…

Overall its ludricous, far too silly and hilarious all at the same time. But it was so entertaining i didn’t care. Comedy of the year? It’s got my vote! DC would never make a movie like this – only Marvel would have taken such a risk – and for that reason if nothing else…

Rating: 5 out of 5! They’ve finally done it. Got a perfect score off me. Well Done Marvel!

Later in the week I’ll publish my list of Marvel films, ranking them in order of quality – you can all guess which one is coming first after this review, and everyone knows what’s coming last, but there might be a few surprises in the rest of the order…