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Avengers Endgame Review

Starring Paul Rudd, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johanson, Karen Gillian, Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana and Robert Downey Jr. (i’m not listing the whole cast, it’ll take forever).

Warning: Major Spoilers for Infinity War and Endgame! But then again, you’ve all seen them by now.

Infinity War was my favourite of the three avengers films, primarily because Thanos was the first Marvel villain to seriously impress me, but also because of the sheer entertainment factor of seeing all these disparate characters and groups interacting with each other (in many cases for the first time). However, I couldn’t give it more than 4/5 because of a couple of big flaws in its third act – namely the mishandled ending and the pointless Wakanda battle. Up until that point the only minus had been Alan Silvestri’s lacklustre soundtrack, but a familiar grievance I have with Marvel then reared its unwelcome head once more: no believable stakes. The battle on Titan between the Guardians, Spiderman, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Thanos was immense because there was real tension involved – Thanos was clearly more powerful than them, and it always felt like the heroes were at their limits fighting him – and predictably, they all lost after Star-lord’s stupid blunder. Wakanda on the other hand, was back to the worst of marvels previous efforts: too much quipping mid-battle, no main character deaths despite ridiculous odds and a CGI army of forgettable villains who don’t make any significant impact. Only when Thanos finally shows did it have any real tension.

He wins, and then the snap happened. This could (and should) have been one of the best cliffhangers in movie history. Two things utterly scuppered its effectiveness: first, the lack of music/shit music when it finally came in. Compare the snap, which should have been one of the most devastating events in any superhero movie, to Superman’s death in Dawn of Justice, or Wolverine’s in Logan. It doesn’t work anywhere near as well, because the music, which always adds to the emotion of such deaths, isn’t there or isn’t effective. If you cried at the snap I’d be a bit confused, whereas if you cried at deaths in DC films or X-Men films, I wouldn’t, because Hans Zimmer and John Ottman know what they’re bloody doing. They always consolidate big moments with heartwrenching soundtracks, and their films are always better for it. That said, you don’t necessarily need music to make character deaths impactful/emotional, there is one other way: shock value. Infinity War bungled that as well, because the lack of significant character deaths in Wakanda or Titan, along with the bad choices the heroes had made throughout the film, made it inevitable (and bloody obvious) that Thanos would win. Hence the snap is no surprise. The best cliffhangers are always the ones you don’t see coming, and if you didn’t see that coming, you weren’t paying enough attention. The fact that everyone who was snapped was guaranteed to be in a future movie also kinda undermined the whole thing. Only Vision’s death had meaning, because you suspected he couldn’t be resurrected as easily.

So we come to Avengers Endgame. I really hoped it would avoid the (few, but significant) mistakes that Infinity War made. And believe it or not… it did.

The humour is noticeably dialled down here – there’s far less of the annoying mid-battle quipping, and what humour there is far better than usual (fat-thor threatening an online troll in a video game has to be an unexpected highlight). There’s plenty of fan-service, but seeing as this is the culmination of 11 YEARS of build up, its entirely justified. You won’t get the full experience here unless you’ve seen every single MCU film before it (okay, except the Incredible Hulk). Seeing Thor talk with his dead mother or Stark have a heart to heart with his oblivious father tugged at the heartstrings for long term fans, and rightly so. The film also delivers on several things we’ve waited years to see (a final battle with every single surviving hero and Captain America lifting Thor’s Hammer!!!). It also doesn’t completely undo the events of its predecessor, which was my main concern. Heimdall and Vision stay dead, Gamora is resurrected but only the younger, harder, less likeable version of her. Loki is ‘probably’ still dead in this timeline, despite escaping with the Tesseract in 2012.

The direction and special effects, like in Infinity War, are flawless. The final battle is amazing in terms of scope and a feast for the eyes the whole way through. The segment on Vormir alone shows how far Marvel’s ability to create convincing alien worlds has come. The acting is again, top notch, particularly from Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd and Robert Downey Jr., who do much of the emotional heavy lifting here. Renner in particular gets better material than he’s had as Hawkeye in the entire series so far, while Hemsworth’s arc as Thor is becoming one of the best character development arcs I’ve seen in a superhero series on screen. Johanson also takes the lead for the first half of the film and excels at it, which leaves me very optimistic that she’ll ace the upcoming Black Widow movie. But ultimately, the movie belongs to Downey Jr., who has in many ways been the heart and soul of the main Avengers films since the first one, which makes his (inevitable) sacrifice here all the more hard hitting.

Endgame’s climatic battle packs a real punch and is full of tension. Even though the heroes have the edge this time round, Thanos still makes them really work for the victory. Seeing Thanos go toe-to-toe with Iron Man, Thor and Cap at once was epic, and him going one v. one with Captain Marvel was up there as well. Thanos was pushed to his limit this time, but fighting without a gauntlet or any stones, he still pushed everyone else beyond their limits. That cemented his place as Marvel’s all-time best villain. The CGI armies aren’t as annoying, because the Black Order and Thanos are there to pose an actual threat, and we don’t focus on the more one-sided larger battle. Plus, seeing the entire Marvelverse come together to fight Thanos… I don’t see how Marvel (or anyone else) can top that anytime soon.

Any minuses? Well I would’ve liked to see a bit more Thanos and a bit more Captain Marvel, but I understand why they were both sidelined in the middle of the film. Captain Marvel is like superman. She’s too OP – there’s no threat of the heroes losing fights with shield agents or past-timeline heroes with her around. As for Thanos, the film was already pushing 3 hours, so I can understand why he was kept in the background until the final showdown. I did feel he got better material in Infinity War though. However… I’m nitpicking. There’s no major flaws in this film and precious few minor ones. Even Silvestri’s soundtrack is an improvement on Infinity War (though someone like Zimmer would’ve still done a lot better).

Overall, Marvel delivers with a well-directed, fearsomely entertaining tour-de-force of a finale to their Phase Three. The actors are on top form, the action sequences are breathtaking, the plot accessible and the humour well-judged. I’d have preferred a bit more screentime for Thanos, but that’s a minor quibble, not a huge flaw. So now the question of what score to give it…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Endgame finally does the impossible: getting a Marvel movie a perfect score from me. It took a lot longer for the MCU than for DC or the X-Men films, but hey, I honestly wasn’t sure they were ever going to do it. I’m glad they proved me wrong.

It becomes only the fifth superhero film I’d give 5 stars to, after Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel and Logan. That’s a pretty exclusive club right there.

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Avengers: Infinity War Review

Starring Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Chris Hemsworth. (I’m not listing all of them or we’d be here all day).

Warning: Full Spoilers. Only read if you’ve already watched the film or don’t care about spoilers.

Infinity War had a LOT of expectation riding on it. How could it not? It’s the centrepiece of Marvel’s ‘phase 3′. It’s made by the Russo Brothers, who produced Winter Soldier and Civil War, two of the best Marvel films to date. It has the largest cast of any superhero film to date. It finally, FINALLY had a villain who might just be an opponent deserving of the Avengers’ attention. It’s predictably braking all sorts of box office records. But does it live up to the hype? Answer: mostly.

Is it a fun, really entertaining film? Yes.

Is Thanos a great villain? Hell yes!

Will it surprise you in any way? I doubt it.

Is it the best ever Marvel film? No.

Let me go into a bit more detail. The film looks great, and the vast number of different locations, some new (like Titan, Thanos’ homeworld), some familiar (like Knowhere from Guardians 1), are all brilliantly created and all have a suitably different feel from each other. It is refreshing to see a superhero film that only spends 10 minutes in New York, not the whole bloody runtime. The direction is pretty flawless, and the fight scenes are all very well choreographed (a refreshing change, as the fight scenes in Spider-man and to a lesser extent Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther were not particularly great). The script is full of witty lines and seems to know when to dial down the humour (though there’s still a few too many quips mid-fight scene) and the plot is straightforward enough that you can probably follow it as long as you’ve seen at least half the previous avengers films. The only letdown on the production side is the soundtrack, but that’s what happens when you hire Alan Silvestri. Given the number of good composers Marvel has used for its 19 films, why they picked him is beyond me. The score is very generic, and not remotely memorable. It serves its purpose during the action scenes, but does nothing to heighten the tension and really fails to hammer home the impact of the various death scenes or the ending sequence.

Superhero team-ups always get a LOT of mileage from seeing the various heroes or hero groups interact. Seeing Iron Man, Thor and Cap meet up and lock horns for the first time was one of the best things about the original Avengers, and its the same story here, as the two factions from civil war regroup and meet Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. Watching Star-Lord and Tony Stark bicker or Thor bonding with Rocket Raccoon was fantastic, as was seeing the developing relationships between Quill and Gamora and Vision and Scarlet Witch. Not all the characters got a huge chance to shine (the ones who miss out are mostly those who survive the ending, which is understandable as you’d expect them to have a large role in Avengers 4) but it was very nice to see some of the supporting characters come to the fore. War Machine and Falcon had some particularly epic fight scenes, while Beneditch Cumberbatch was stealing every scene he was in as Doctor Strange (who came off much better here, interacting with others, than he did in his own movie) helped by some spectacular magical moves done by him and Wong.

So the fun’s still there. Let’s move on to Thanos and the Black Order. The problem both previous avengers films (and most marvel films in general) have had is that the villains haven’t been that engaging, and the heroes have all too often found themselves facing easily defeatable CGI armies (let’s be honest, the Chitauri sucked and Ultron’s minions were weak as hell). This film finally broke the mold. Thanos’ minions actually provided some genuine challenge to the Avengers (though predictably still couldn’t kill any of them). That said, Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive (none of which are referred to by name in the movie) were suitably menacing and physically imposing enough to provide a challenge that the avengers needed before Thanos shows up.

Moving on to Thanos himself, Josh Brolin gives a powerhouse of a performance to establish Thanos as one of the all-time great supervillains of cinema. Thanos is multi-faceted, layered and has the depth that so many Marvel villains have lacked. He isn’t entirely unsympathetic either, despite the devastation he causes in this film, and his motives are actually well explained and understandable, which was always my biggest worry about him. He needed a better reason than lust-for-power or petty vengeance, which have been done to death at this point, and the writers delivered. The infinity stones gave him some pretty cool abilities too, which helped the fight scenes immeasurably. Thanos beating down Hulk and holding his own against entire groups of heroes at a time really helped establish him as a credible, juggernaut of a threat. The visible increase in his power with each additional infinity stone was equally well done. It was particularly nice to see his relationship with Gamora fully explored, which gave Brolin and Saldana some great material to work with. While Guardians had delved into this to an extent, it helps explain the edge Gamora’s character had at the beginning and gives Thanos some extra depth as a character.

So we have a great, well developed, villain with actual depth. So why doesn’t this film work perfectly? Because of the way the MCU works. There’s little to no point killing characters we know have to return for Guardians 3 or the Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Spider-Man sequels. Notice how every character who dies in the final sequence is one almost certain to be resurrected in the sequel. That makes it kind of hard to feel anything about the film’s cliffhanger. Aside from Vision, Loki and Heimdall, I doubt anyone who died in this film will stay dead. If say, Stark, Thor or Cap had disintegrated i’d feel a lot more sad and concerned (because their contracts are all up after Avengers 4 so there’s no gurantees they’d be back). Equally, you can’t really have the MCU carry on as normal with half the universe wiped out – humour based flicks like Ant-Man, Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok won’t really work with that as a backdrop. So it seems nigh inevitable this movie’s ending will be completely undone in the sequel, which, to me anyway, makes it feel a lot less impactful.

Another problem the film has is it’s predictability. All the major deaths are signposted well in advance or were generally predictable (i.e. Heimdall’s an expendable character, Loki’s run his course, Vision has an Infinity Stone in his head etc.). That said, Gamora and Vision’s deaths were pretty impactful, mainly because of the performances of Saldana, Brolin, Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen. The largest problem, however, is that Thanos’ victory seems inevitable throughout (both because of the way the film plays out and the fact we know there’s a directly linked sequel). The fact no avengers die during the battles in New York or Wakanda just signposts the fact that things are going to go very, VERY wrong at the end, which undermines any uncertainty the audience may have had about how things are going to play out. The Wakanda battle does work better than the equivalent ones in New York or Sokovia in previous films, mainly because the CGI is more convincing and the fight scenes are larger and better choreographed, but it was stretching the limits of believability that no main cast members fell during it due to the sheer amount of chaos.

Overall, the cast are great, the fight scenes are the best Marvel’s had in a long time and Thanos is a marvellous villain. But the whole thing’s undermined by a lack of unpredictability – the Red Skull cameo is a nice touch but its the only time the film surprised me. Alan Silvestri’s rather generic soundtrack really isn’t up to much either. Why they picked him over Tyler Bates (Guardians) or Brian Tyler (Thor) is beyond me. I’d still say its the best of the three Avengers films – its got more gravitas than Age of Ultron and the plot and script are more interesting than Avengers Assemble. But it falls short of Marvel’s best efforts, and is a very good film rather than the great one I hoped it would be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

P.S. for anyone wondering about the significance of the post-credit scene, Nick Fury’s S.O.S. is supposedly being sent to Captain Marvel, the star of one of the two marvel films before Avengers 4, suggesting that she might have a large role in saving the Avengers and Guardians.

 

 

Article: Which is the best Avengers film?

I originally wrote this article back in 2015, but I tend to update it every few films to include the Marvel entries that have been released in the interim. Marvel has generally got stronger over the years, so the weaker part of this list is mostly unchanged as most of the new films have slotted into the middle or top tiers. So without further ado, here’s my ‘updated’ list of Avengers films ranked last-to-first in order of quality – expect a few surprises…

Warning: Some spoilers! And definite controversy.

Note: 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.

22. 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.

21. 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

20. 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

19. 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 – I left the cinema hoping Thor: Ragnarok would take a few more risks and have a better villain alongside Loki. It did, but as you will see next, things don’t always change for the better… Rating: 3.5 out of 5

18. Thor: Ragnarok: Like Iron Man 3, this was such a missed opportunity. If there’s one storyline that should be played straight, and not for laughs, its Ragnarok. But Marvel screwed up again and played this film ENTIRELY for laughs which robs it of almost any tension. Odin dies, Mjolnir is broken and Asgard is destroyed but none of them have any impact (because one was shown in a trailer, one is done in a very underwhelming way and one is undercut by a crap joke straight afterwards). The film still works because of the likeable cast, the creative way Hulk is used and some entertaining action sequences but tbh I would have much preferred it if they just played it straight for the last hour at least. Cate Blanchett steals every scene she’s in as Hela but the tone of the film prevents her from being truly menacing. To sum up, entertaining but dumb, this would have been a perfect fit for Marvel’s phase one, but I expect better from them now. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

17: 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 lets things down and theres too much goddamn 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

16. Doctor Strange: A visually stunning film, but every single marvel fan has seen this kind of Origin story before. Apart from the way the final confrontation is resolved, there isn’t anything new or innovative about the plot here. It’s very much Marvel by the numbers, but a great cast, including a sublime Cumberbatch and a rather underused Mads Mikkelsen, keep things engaging. The direction are design are a standout but the characters are familiar and the plot predictable as hell. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

15: Black Panther: Chad Boseman is great as Black Panther. Wakanda is vividly and believably brought to life. Martin Freeman and Letitia Wright are great supporting actors. But there’s still a sense that this could have been a lot better. Like Doctor Strange, its rather too predictable and there’s so many clichés in the plot that it just gets annoying. It’s certainly entertaining, with a car chase sequence that’s up there with the best action sequences in the MCU, but Andy Serkis is terrible as the first villain and Michael B. Jordan is unremarkable as the second. The film looks great, but lacks depth in places. There’s a lot of potential for any sequels though. Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

14: The Avengers/Avengers Assemble: Yep. Seriously. The second-most overrated Marvel film comes in at tenth. 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

13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Guardians Vol. 2 suffers from ‘difficult second album’ syndrome in the first half but pulls it together in the second. The soundtrack simply isn’t the knockout hit that accompanied the first film, and too many gags fall flat early on. Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, its the plot and story which rescues things, as the film gives us the second-best villain in the Marvel Franchise with Ego, Quill’s malevolent father, brilliantly played by Kurt Russell. The cast are as good as always – Nebula (Gillian), Yondu (Rooker) and Gamora (Saldana) are all made much better use of this time round, while Mantis is a great new addition to the team. Sure, I expected Baby Groot to be funnier, but you can’t have everything. Rating: 4 out of 5

12: 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. A fun, uncomplicated film which lacks depth but is the best origin story from Marvel’s phase one. Rating: 4 out of 5

11. The Incredible Hulk: If you missed this one I don’t blame you, I only saw it on TV years later. Barring a Tony Stark cameo it hasn’t much of an impact on the series (though antagonist General Ross appears 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.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming: Homecoming gives us something new from a Spider-man film, avoiding another boring origin story and doing a coming-of-age comedy/action flick instead. It’s a gamble, but it mostly pays off – the film is downright hilarious in places. Sure, some of the action sequences could have been directed a lot better, the script is generally very predictable and Jon Favreau is the same waste of space he was in the Iron Man trilogy, but for the most part you won’t care about these issues. Tom Holland is great as Spider-man, Robert Downey Jr. gets to play a very different side to Stark and Michael Keaton brings a sense of gravitas to proceedings as Adrian Toombes/Vulture, a nicely understated yet intense and somewhat sympathetic villain. How many of those have we seen in Marvel films, eh? A clue: just one. Rating: 4 out of 5

9. 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. Rating: 4 out of 5

8. Captain Marvel: Rating: 4 out of 5

7. Infinity War: The best of the three Avengers films finally brings together all the disparate characters in the MCU. It’s a rollicking, fun ride backed up by the toughest foe the Avengers have ever faced: Thanos. Josh Brolin’s performance is stunning and makes Thanos one of the most memorable supervillains of all-time. Only a lacklustre soundtrack from Alan Silvestri and a predictable and ineffective final twist lets this down. It’s very good, but it should have been perfect. Rating: 4 out of 5

6. 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

5. Ant-man and the Wasp: Rating: 4.5 out of 5

4. Captain America: Civil War: A hugely entertaining film, but one which showcases Marvel’s refusal to take any risks which might upset the audience. I’m not a comic-book fan, but I knew the civil war plotline is where Captain America dies, and while I doubted Marvel would kill him off, someone needed to die for this film to have lasting consequences and a strong ending. I’d have settled for Stark killing Bucky, but they wouldn’t even do that. The lack of any real consequences to the whole ‘war’ prevents this from getting a perfect rating. The film is still pretty great though, with the Airport Battle making for one of the best sequences in the Marvel series, and some fabulous performances, particularly from Downey Jr. and Daniel Bruhl, keeping things relatively grounded. Bruhl’s Zemo is also one of the better Marvel villains. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. 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

2.  Ant-Man: I wasn’t sold for the first 30 minutes but once this hits its stride it never lets up. It was one of the funniest films of the MCU – 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 if unspectacular villain from Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket, a strong 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. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1. Avengers: Endgame: Rating: 5 out of 5!

 

 

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron starring Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson and Jeremy Renner

Warning: Spoilers!

Why did i mention those three actors/actresses? Surely Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans are the stars of the show? Not this time they aren’t. Hulk and Black Widow are at the heart of this movie (and Ruffalo and Johnasson have a very believable chemistry), and Renner’s Hawkeye is a revelation and (surprisingly) one of the best things in it, given he was the least notable Avenger in the first film. Thor gets sidelined for the majority of the film, although the moments he has are worth waiting for, while Captain America and Iron Man show some of the tension between them that will doubtless boil over in Captain America: Civil War next year. Nick Fury, War Machine and Falcon all make welcome return appearances as well.

As for the newcomers? James Spader brings Ultron to life with consummate ease, making him the most memorable villain since Loki. Elizabeth Olsen does sterling work as Scarlet Witch, who is far more prominent than her brother Quicksilver (sorry MCU, but X-men did him better) but is was good to see the Avengers face off with three foes who were a genuine threat to them (the Hydra soldiers and Ultron’s robots didn’t really cut it any more than the Chitauri did in the first film). Paul Bettany (the voice of Jarvis in previous films) makes a good impression here as Vision (who has arguably the best scene in the movie when he gains the heroes trust by being worthy to lift Thor’s Hammer).

To avoid major spoilers i won’t go to in detail about the plot, suffice to say it’s the usual blend of sci-fi, action and fantasy that you expect in a superhero film. The stand out moments include the opening assault by the Avengers on a Hydra castle, the final battle with Ultron and the battle between Hulk and Tony Stark’s ‘Hulkbuster’ Armour (i honestly didn’t call how that fight concluded – i never expected to see Hulk lose!). There is also a surprise death scene, and i hope the character in question isn’t resurrected – the stakes in these films need to feel real! Several scenes will have all fanboys (and fangirls) smiling, the heroes trying and failing to lift Thor’s Hammer, a new Avengers line up being revealed at the end and Thanos getting an awesome mid-credits scene to set up Infinity War…

So the big question: is it better than the highly acclaimed first one? Well I’d give the first film 4 out of 5 – it’s great popcorn cinema but doesn’t reach the highs of DC’s best offerings or the clever plotting of Captain America 2 or X-Men: First Class. This one is similar, but has a darker vein and is also trying to set up phase 3 of the MCU (hints for Black Panther, Civil War, Thor 3 and Infinity War all occur here). The result is the film isn’t as good as it could have been (and some characters don’t get the development they deserved) but it is still rollicking good fun. I think the result is comic book/superhero film fans will prefer it to the first one, but casual viewers might not. Personally i think it is the second best Avengers film (after Cap 2) and my third favourite (after Cap 2 and Guardians) but that it is an improvement over the first film (which sets up phase 3 remarkably well – can’t wait for infinity war now!).

Overall a darker, more ambitious offering than the first film, it doesn’t hit everything perfectly, but it comes remarkably close.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Article: Can Marvel fix their villain issues?

Warning: Spoilers for MCU films, Agents of Shield etc. I’ve said repeatedly that Marvel makes consistently good films but that they have one recurring weakness: a lack of good villains. DC has another (a lack of good love-interests) but i’ll do a different article on that. How many of you just went ‘hold on, what about Loki?’. Well Loki fangirls/fanboys don’t worry. He is a good villain, i agree wholeheartedly. But i would argue he’s the exception to the rule. Name one other great Avengers villain? Malekith, Ronan, The Destroyer etc. were all physical threats which lacked Loki’s charisma or moral greyness. The villains in the Iron Man trilogy were pathetic on every level – i don’t care about Stark’s business rivals!!! Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME! The ruination of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 (who up till that point was a great villain) for a plot twist that wasn’t even worth it was the low point of the Avengers for me.

This isn’t just a problem with the Avengers films either. The two much-maligned Fantastic Four films had Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom. But neither worked (because of a lack of depth and too much predictability with the surfer’s storyline and far too much OTT posturing with Doom – he was simply laughable as a villain). Even the TV spin-off Agents of Shield had the same issue in it’s debut season – no big name villains ever appeared and the villains of the week were continually either underpowered, uninteresting or unthreatening. Only the Shield/Hydra twist brought that show a couple of decently traitorous villains – but it could have been so much better. Even in the X-Men films – the studio has a real lack of confidence that leads them to re-use Magneto and Mystique constantly (while both are great villains, they have PLENTY of others they could try! Not that i mind seeing more of Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique or Fassbender as Magneto – but it’s getting repetive now).

I am more of a DC fan than a Marvel one. After the Christopher Nolan trilogy, the Tim Burton Batman films, the 2 original Superman films and even Man of Steel (which i’m not afraid to admit i really like) very little can break my faith in DC. But i will admit, they’re losing the battle on the big screen to Marvel – the Avengers Universe has been so well structured and is coming together far more smoothly than the rush to create a Justice League that DC is attempting. DC has one advantage though that could swing things back in it’s favour – it’s Pantheon of good villains. Take even a third tier Batman villain (not famous names like Joker or supporting villains like Poison Ivy), someone like Deathstroke or Deadshot. Haven’t heard of them? You will soon. Deadshot is starring opposite Joker in the Suicide Squad movie, being played by none other than Will Smith and with any luck a Deathstroke film won’t be far behind. Both characters have appeared on the TV show Arrow – Deathstroke even being the main villain of Series 2 (played by Manu Bennett of Spartacus fame) – and both are two of the shows most popular villains. They don’t need name recognition – as a couple of master assassins (one renowned sniper, one combat expert) they’re suitably cool, threatening and neither are entirely unsympathetic villains. You know their motivations, their flaws etc. they’re in the same area of moral greyness as Loki.

DC has used the sheer number of great Batman (and other) villains to overwhelm Marvel in both TV and Gaming – nothing Marvel can do can overcome the Batman: Arkham series of games, and i can’t see any of their TV ventures overcoming the DC powerhouse of Arrow, The Flash or even it’s less succcessful shows like Batman prequel Gotham. Not until it sorts out it’s villains. Arrow has Ra’s Al-Ghul, Deathstroke, Malcolm Merlyn (played superbly by John Barrowman), Flash has a whole host of super-powered villains. Gotham has a marvellous version of Penguin. Agents of Shield or Agent Carter? Nothing comparable. So what can Marvel do? It can turn to the one franchise in the Marvel Universe that has almost as many good villains for Marvel as Batman has for DC. Spiderman. Green Goblin, Electro, Sandman Lizard, Doctor Octopus etc. – Spiderman is very good at making sympathetic villains that neither set of films has fully done justice too. Now Sony and Marvel Studios are collaborating it might be time to bring in a few villains – lesser ones like Rhino in Agents of Shield maybe? It also has two villains good enough to be the lead villain in an Avengers film – Venom and Carnage. Venom got a lot of bad press due to spiderman 3’s poor handling of him but deserves a second chance. A group of villains together (the Sinister Six) led by Green Goblin or Doc Ock facing off against the Avengers might also be really cool. You never know: the Fantastic Four reboot might even give us a Doctor Doom or Galactus good enough to pose a threat to the Avengers in Phase 4 or 5 of the MCU.

If Marvel needs inspiration they should also look at the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance videogame – which combines the villains from Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-men together in an alliance headed by Doctor Doom – the kind of storyline that could be an ideal end to the franchise. But until Marvel either starts placing more focus and screentime on the villains or using more big name ones from other franchises, DC has a trump card it can play again and again. Fingers crossed Ultron in Avengers 2 or Thanos in Infinity War might finally be a match for Loki!

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.

Warning: Spoilers!

Guardians was the biggest risk Marvel studios made since Iron Man – (which before the Downey Jr. films wasn’t the most well known character). But while I’d heard of Iron Man and his nemesis the Mandarin, I’d never even heard of Guardians of the Galaxy. So it was hence slightly surprising that Guardians surpassed all but Iron Man 3 and The Avengers in box office revenue. It’s also unusual in the way it’s got far more comedy than other superhero films – only the Incredibles springs to mind as a superhero film which went down that route. The humour is mainly derived from how the 5 main characters interact with each other – and as it’s the best ensemble since the Avengers teamed up, it works really, really well.

Chris Pratt takes on the role of the leading man, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, a roguish adventurer who was abducted from Earth after his mother’s death by Yondou, leader of the Ravagers, a group of space pirates/rogues/thieves. His introduction as an adult is unlike anything else you will see in a hero (dancing to 80’s music in a cavern while kicking and terrorizing some space rat creatures – no you did read that correctly – it’s surreal, it’s weird or hilarious depending on your point of view). Also – was this the quickest superhero parent death ever? – i know it’s a cliche but his mum died in the first scene! A scene far darker than the rest of the film’s tone. One of the best things about the film though is it’s soundtrack – I’m not talking about the score by Tyler Bates, good though that is, but the 80’s songs in Quill’s ‘awesome mix’ which play throughout – Hooked on a Feeling, Cherry Bomb, The Pina Colada Song etc. – they’re all great and fit surprisingly well in the film.

As for the rest of the ensemble – you have Thanos’ adopted daughter Gamora (Saldana) who is trying to escape her past and start afresh, Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) a murderous brute seeking revenge for the death of his family, Groot (Voiced by Diesel) a tree-like life form only capable of saying the words ‘I am Groot’ and Rocket (Voiced by Cooper) – a genetically engineered raccoon with a taste for destruction and as many credits as he can get his paws on. Which is your favourite is normally difficult to decide (i rarely hear Gamora’s name mentioned – though she is undeniably bad-ass, and Quill actually gets outshined by how brilliant Drax, Rocket and Groot are – so it’ll probably be one of those three you love most). For anyone wondering: I am Groot!

The group are thrown together after Quill steals an orb from Ronan, a Kree fanatic intent on destroying the planet Xandar. After a confrontation for the orb (and the bounty on Quill’s head) they end up thrown in prison and have to work together to escape. They eventually discover the orb contains an ‘infinity stone’ (The Tesseract, The Aether and Loki’s staff all are or contain similar stones – which play a major part in Avenger’s 3: Infinity War) which Ronan recaptures, intending to use it to destroy Xandar and make himself the most powerful man in the galaxy. The plot is pretty similar to Malekith’s attempt to seize the Aether in Thor 2.

Problems? The villains don’t get enough screen time (but then the film isn’t really about them) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) while a believable physical threat and galactic terrorist, isn’t really very interesting – he’s no Loki and like most of the Marvel villains is very 1-dimensional. It’s the one thing they really struggle with (Iron Monger, Whiplash, Red Skull, Malekith, Ronan – none have been that memorable have they?) and it’s the one area where DC always beats them. Hopefully his sidekick Nebula (Karen Gillian) and her father Thanos (Josh Brolin) will get a bit more fleshed out in the sequel as well. The other problem? Don’t lose concentration or have conversations during the dialogue scenes – as some people i watched it with proved – if you haven’t read the comics you will get totally lost if you don’t pay attention to the plot. It is good ‘popcorn cinema’ and you can watch it casually, but if you want to get the full experience, watch on a widescreen with the volume up.

Overall a brilliant mesh of characters, some engaging battle scenes and great one-liners make this a cut above most of the Marvel films. For those of you longing for another Loki though, you might have to wait for Age of Ultron.

Rating:4 out of 5

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger starring Chris Evans

Warning: Major Spoilers!

This film is very important overall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because it introduces two recurring elements: Captain America (one of the key Avengers) and the Tesseract, one of the six ‘Infinity Stones/Gems’ that will play a major role in Avengers 3: Infinity War…

The main problem in Marvel’s phase one is a lack of good villains. Only Loki in Thor had been memorable, with both Iron Man films and The Incredible Hulk failing to provide interesting villains. The First Avenger makes a decent attempt with the Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving, who is always good value as a villain even if he doesn’t match Loki) leader of the Nazi organisation HYDRA, to provide a more threatening/interesting threat. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) is also a good supporting villain as an immoral scientist recruited by the Red Skull to harness the power of the Tesseract. The problem is while they make a physical/creepy threat, they are a very black and white one, unlike Loki, who is more morally grey and possibly misguided – a more multi-layered villain.

We also have a very black and white hero – Captain America is probably the most moral of all the Avengers, and Steve Rogers is a likeable hero (much more likeable than Chris Evans was in Fantastic Four as the Human Torch!!) who isn’t afraid to question his orders if he disagrees with them and sees it as his duty to help out in the war. Initially rejected by the military due to his small stature and multiple health problems, Rogers enters a program to create super-soldiers where he gets chosen to test the serum because it amplifies the physical AND mental qualities of the user – so only a soldier as moral as Rogers is suitable. After the testing he becomes a muscular hero named ‘Captain America’ who becomes dissatisfied with the propaganda role the US government is using him for and decides to take the fight to the Red Skull, who had taken an earlier version of the serum and is leading a HYDRA using weapons powered by the Tesseract.

The action scenes are all good (especially with HYDRA’s Tesseract powered weaponry), but as its an origin story there’s little sense of any threat to the main character – you know Captain America will survive! His squad of ‘howling commandos’ are afforded so little screen time or development you don’t really care about them. Only four supporting characters make an impression, Steve’s best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), his love interest Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), his commanding officer Colonel Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and scientist friend Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) who provides him with his iconic shield made of Vibranium. All give good performances, though Howard doesn’t get much screen time and Colonel Philips’ disapproval of Steve seems mainly to be to pad out the film’s running time a bit. While Bucky and Steve’s friendship is believable, it’s Atwell’s Agent Carter who makes the best impression (probably why she’s getting a TV spin-off series) as a feisty, modern woman who finds something of a kindred spirit in Steve and is impressed by his natural heroism.

The film’s climax sets up several factors for the sequel and the Avengers with Zola’s capture, Bucky’s apparent death and the ending where the Captain heroically sacrifices himself to destroy HYDRA’s supply of Weapons of Mass Destruction by crashing their transport plane into the arctic, only to be unfrozen 70 years later by SHIELD and greeted by Nick Fury. The final fight between him and the Red Skull isn’t as good as i was hoping, with the Red Skull’s apparent vaporisation by the Tesseract cutting the fight unfortunately short – just so the Tesseract’s power is evident before the Avengers?

Overall a promising film but one that lacks the spark of greatness – but still one of the better efforts in Marvel’s phase one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Coming Soon: Review of the sequel, The Winter Soldier