Tag Archives: Marvel

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Writers and Directors

After a few gaming related updates, I felt like doing a more film/tv focused one, so without further ado, here’s my favourite 5 writers and directors from TV and film.

Top 5 Writers:

5: The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things): I have to give the Duffer Brothers credit. When new sci-fi shows are constantly failing to deliver (Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Chibnall’s version of Doctor Who) or failing to connect with audiences (Netflix’s Nightflyers and Another Life) Stranger Things has delivered 3 seasons running, and that’s largely due to their excellent writing producing great characters, engaging storylines and genuinely funny comedy. Stranger Things may not be all that original, but it is consistent in its quality and entertainment value, so the two of them have to make it onto this list, seeing as they have written the majority of episodes thus far.

4: Joel Fields and Joe Weisburg (The Americans): Given that the Americans is arguably the best and most consistently written show this decade, I had to put the two lead writers on this list. Between them Joel and Joe wrote all of the premieres, finales and a lot of other episodes in between, including some of the ones with the largest plot developments. If you’re yet to catch this remarkable (if very slow) TV spy thriller, then the writing is the main reason i’d recommend checking it out. Character development is consistent and nuanced, the plot doesn’t suddenly veer into left field for no reason, and of the 6 seasons, 5 are fantastic and the remaining 1 (season 5) is still good, if uneventful. Only the fact that these writers haven’t worked on much else yet prevents them going further up the list.

3: Robert Holmes (Classic Who, Blakes 7): I like sci-fi, even old sci-fi like Classic Who and Blakes 7 where the special effects are neither special nor that effective. Old sci-fi had to rely on writing and acting to keep people invested, and there was no better TV sci-fi writer in the 70’s and early than Robert Holmes. If you see classic Who episodes on Top 10 or Top 20 lists in Doctor Who Magazine or online websites, odds are there are Holmes’ ones. He didn’t write all the best episodes, but he wrote an awful lot of them. Who’s debt to him is enormous, and that doesn’t just stem from him being the scriptwriter during the shows most popular classic period (1974-1976, i.e. Tom Baker’s first three seasons). He created the Autons and the Sontarans, introduced the Third Doctor and the Master and wrote Peter Davison’s fantastic regeneration story: The Caves of Androzani. His work on other sci-fi shows like Blakes 7 (where his story Orbit ranks as one of the darkest and best) shows he wasn’t a one trick pony. Russell T. Davies has often highlighted Holmes as one of his favourite Who writers, and for once I must agree with RTD. The man was a legend in all things Who, and the show was all the poorer for it after Holmes tragically passed away in 1986.

2: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve): Anyone responsible for two of the best new shows in the past few years has to be a great writer. Waller-Bridge’s trademark dark humour and quirky yet believable characters has proved an award winning mix twice now, first with Fleabag and then with Killing Eve’s first season. The news that Waller-Bridge has been drafted into to work on the final Daniel Craig Bond film has got me far more interested in what the eventual film can deliver. Both as an actress and a writer, Waller-Bridge is a hit right now, and anything she writes is going to be something people take note of. Her status as a rising star wins her the second spot on this list, but who knows? If I rewrite this in 5 years, she may top it the rate she’s shooting to stardom.

1: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling, Sherlock, Jekyll): It’s was always going to be Moffat. Being head writer for one of my favourite shows was one thing, being lead writer for four of them is another. Moffat’s ability to write complex, engaging stories with high quality comedy, horror, suspense and drama makes him easily my favourite writer for television. He has the odd weakness as a showrunner, but his writing is very hard to fault. Just look at the episodes he’s written for Doctor Who: The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Eleventh Hour, The Day of the Doctor, Listen, Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time… they are all masterpieces. His hit rate is astonishing (and all the more impressive given the clusterfuck the shows been since he left). Sherlock and Jekyll are great shows in genres I don’t normally follow, and Coupling still ranks as one of my favourite comedies. So Moffat has to take the top spot. Other writers like Waller-Bridge may eventually surpass him, but Moffat’s consistency and great run of hits mean he’ll be my favourite for a while yet.

Top 5 Directors:

5: Antony and Joe Russo: (The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, Endgame) The Russo brothers are responsible for pretty much all of the best MCU films, and were a step up from Joss Whedon as the showrunners for the main avengers films. Direction in the MCU is very haphazard – especially during fight scenes – Black Panther looked downright terrible at points in its third act because of bad direction coupled with weak CGI (those stupid rhinos), while Spiderman Homecoming’s major flaw had to be its fight scenes. You don’t get those problems with the Russo brothers – The Winter Soldier is arguably the most grown-up and best put together film in the series, while Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame were all exceptional Blockbuster epics, and I can’t remember any scenes where I’d change one thing about the direction. A very safe pair of hands – and ones who consistently deliver.

4: Ron Howard (Rush, Angels and Demons, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon) Howard’s not the best director in the world, but he’s up there. Just look at the types of films he’s been responsible for – historical biopics like Rush and Frost/Nixon, thrillers like Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code and big budget space heist movies (Solo: A Star Wars Story). He’s a versatile director who doesn’t just stick to one genre. He’s been responsible for some of my favourite movies and while he’s had the occasional misstep (his adaptation of Inferno for example) he knows how to make entertaining films and is very consistent at doing so. It helps that he seems to have Hans Zimmer on speed-dial – the two have collaborated a lot, and its a pairing that works – as is Howard and Tom Hanks, who’ve worked together frequently many times to great effect.

3: Rachel Talalay: (Doctor Who – Heaven Sent, Dark Water, Twice Upon a Time, World Enough and Time). Doctor Who’s directors have always been a mixed bag – particularly towards the end of the Moffat era and the transition to the garbage that is Chibnall’s current reign. One who always shined regardless of the material she was given was Rachel Talalay. Just look at the episodes she directed – there’s a reason Moffat kept trusting her with his series finales and Capaldi’s final episode. She excels at delivering the darker, weightier, scarier instalments of Who. So many great scenes (such as the Missy Reveal, Breaking the Wall and The Master’s return) owe a lot to her standard of direction. In a way its a pity she only came in at series 8 – the 50th anniversary in her hands might have been even better than it already was. That’s how good she is!

2: Miguel Saponchik: (Game of Thrones – Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter, The Bells) Game of Thrones had some excellent directors during its run, whatever you think of the writing. But the most amount of credit has to go to Saponchik, who directed some of the shows most ambitious and memorable battle sequences. The White Walkers’ attack on Hardhome, Jon Snow’s battle with Ramsay, Cersei blowing up the Sept of Baelor, The Night King’s assault on Winterfell and Daenerys’ destruction of King’s Landing – all were brought from script to screen by this guy, who managed to produce battles worthy of cinema on a fraction of the budget a blockbuster film would have. Can’t wait to see what he works on next.

1: Christopher Nolan: (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception) It had to be really. Nolan is renowned as a director and filmmaker and there’s a reason fans are constantly badgering him to have a crack at a Bond Film. He’s one of the few director you can honestly say has never made a bad film, and might even be the only one who has ALWAYS made great or amazing ones. The Dark Knight trilogy is what he’s most known for, and rightly so, but his other films like Dunkirk, Inception and Interstellar have all got warm receptions from critics and audiences. If he has a weakness its shooting hand-to-hand fight scenes (this is the sole weak point in Batman Begins), but his grasp of action scenes in general is amazing. Ultimately, this is the man who made Batman cool again after Joel Schumacher nearly killed the character’s status off for good in 1995. Nolan’s amazing track record coupled with the fact he’s responsible for 3 of my favourite films means he was always going to come top of this category, and I doubt many people will disagree with that.

Captain Marvel Review

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg and Jude Law

Warning: Minor Spoilers

Marvel has done a lot of origin stories by this point. Some have shone (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Ant-Man) and some have been solid fun but very by-the-numbers (Doctor Strange, Captain America) while some have been unique but rather overrated by critics (Black Panther, Iron Man). There’s only so many times you can tell the same kind of story before it gets dull – the best origin stories have always had something a little different to hook audiences (Thor had a standout villain in Loki, Guardians had a team dynamic we hadn’t seen before, Ant-man had a unique heist movie feel and some very cool powers to wow people with). Black Panther got plaudits for its fresh tone and groundbreaking diversity (which helped distract from the terrible CGI and lacklustre plot). Spider-man ducked the issue entirely by skipping over the origin story which audiences have already seen twice. Captain Marvel had two things to draw audiences in: introducing the most powerful hero in the MCU, and more importantly, introducing Marvel’s first standalone movie about a female superhero.

Now there’s two ways to make a statement about gender equality. One is to shout about it in a nauseatingly patronising way and make incredibly on-the-nose statements that only particularly fanatical feminists will nod their heads at (rather like we saw in Doctor Who series 11…). The other way is to simply show a female character who’s every bit as competent and engaging as her male counterparts and let her successes speak for themselves in a way the audience will find inspiring rather than jarring (which is what Wonder Woman did to great effect). Ignore the online trolls bashing this film, it opts for the later approach, and thus makes its point in a subtle yet entertaining way. Carol struggles with sexism and corrupt male authority figures a few times in the film, but as she so powerfully tells one of them ‘I have nothing to prove to you’. She simply dismisses them as the idiots they are rather than resorting to histrionics or a Jodie Whittaker-esque tirade of male-bashing abuse. Ultimately, this film may not make its point as overtly as say, Black Panther, but that’s only because its being far smarter in the way it does so.

Moving past that, the film itself is a good one. The direction and special effects are solid (no dumb CGI rhinos here) and the de-aged Samuel L. Jackson is flawless. The soundtrack (both in song choice and OST) is the best Marvel’s had since the Guardians (if not quite as good as Guardians). The second half is very funny in places and the action scenes are generally engaging (with a welcome lack of quipping for the most part). Brie Larson is an assured lead as Carol Danvers/Vers, while Samuel L. Jackson has a riot playing a more cheeky, non-serious version of Nick Fury. Lashana Lynch is a standout as Carol’s best friend, while Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is one of the most layered characters in any MCU film that I can remember.

There are a few drawbacks. Jude Law does a good job with what he’s given but the rest of the Kree are VERY 2D characters. There’s little character development for any of the main cast. The first segment of the film on alien worlds isn’t that engaging and its a relatively slow start. The dialogue isn’t always as funny as it thinks it is either – especially in the first hour. But overall, these issues won’t stop you having fun and are lesser problems that we’ve seen in other marvel films. And make sure you stay for the mid-credits scene.

There’s an obvious marker to compare this film to: Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is one of DC’s best films, and showed that a female superhero movie can be really, really good (which was a relief after several terrible efforts in the past such as Supergirl and Catwoman). Captain Marvel probably has a better plotline than Wonder Woman, and has more nuanced characters (particularly Talos), but lacks anything as epic as the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman. The two have different strengths everywhere – Captain Marvel is funnier, Wonder Woman gives its lead actress far more character development to work with. Captain Marvel starts very slowly, but has a better final showdown. Ultimately, there’s not much to separate them, and both are undoubtedly good films. I’d say Wonder Woman is slightly better overall, but more crucially, both films demonstrate that more female superhero films can only be a good thing.

Overall Captain Marvel is a fun entry to the MCU, if not a game-changing one. But the special effects are good, the main cast gel nicely together and it has some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Its the perfect light starter before the heavier main course of Avengers Endgame.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My next film review will probably be Shazam! (aka the other Captain Marvel!) followed soon after by Avengers Endgame.

But before any of that, there’s the small matter of Game of Thrones to look forward to…

10 Things to watch out for in 2019

Before I get to my traditional ‘Best of Year’ articles, I thought i’d take some time to do a preview of the likely hits that 2019 might give us. While this type of article is pretty common for this time of year, I’ve never done one before, but I thought I’d try my hand at it. So without further ado, here’s my pick of what films, TV and gaming to watch out for in 2019.

1.Game of Thrones, Final Season: Season 7 really upped the scale of events in Thrones and gave us cinematic battle sequences and long-awaited character interactions into the bargain. Now Season 8 has 6 hour-plus long episodes to wrap everything up. With the White Walkers finally past the wall, expect huge scale battles and significant character deaths. However it ends, its sure to be unmissable television.

2. Avengers: Endgame: Infinity War broke all kinds of records and finally, FINALLY delivered a truly great villain for the MCU. That said, it wasn’t a flawless film, even if it was extremely entertaining. But it set the stage for this: the final Avengers film (at least for this group of Avengers). With a high probably that Iron Man and Captain America will either die or bow out at the conclusion, this might finally be the Marvel film where there are actual consequences. But whatever the fate of the heroes, its another 3 hours (supposedly) of Thanos, and that alone makes it worth seeing.

3. Captain Marvel: Marvel finally gives us a female-superhero movie. Brie Larson certainly looks the part, and the trailer really gives you a sense that there’s some ambition in this one. Expect it to lead straight into Avengers: Endgame too. Throw in a significant role for Samuel L. Jackson, and this could be Marvel’s best origin story since X-Men: First Class. Its only real hurdle is it has to live up to Wonder Woman. Speaking of which…

4. Wonder Woman 1984: One of the two good Worlds of DC films (aside from Man of Steel) finally gets a sequel. With iconic Wonder Woman foe cheetah and a no-doubt rousing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, this might finally be the film where DC turns the tide. Or it could be the final nail in its coffin if DC screw it up. Either way, its Wonder Woman, so you know its worth a shot.

5. The Last of Us, Part 2: After the first Last of Us and the Uncharted Games, expectations are sky-high for this PS4 exclusive next year. Not only does Naughty Dog have a great track record, but the first game is still one of the best we’ve had this decade. With the same mix of epic storytelling and zombie survival horror, I’ve got very high hopes for this one.

6. The Outer Worlds: Made by Obsidian, this looks like it could be the Dark Horse of gaming releases in 2019. Not only is it the product of the brains behind Fallout: New Vegas (AKA one of the best Fallout games) but it looks like a mash-up between Borderlands and Fallout. That can only be a good thing. We haven’t have a good sci-fi RPG since Mass Effect 3 came out.

7. Stranger Things, Season 3: With House of Cards finished, most Marvel shows cancelled and Orange is the New Black drawing to a close, Stranger Things is kind of Netflix’s last standout show. Its also the best Sci-Fi show on television right now (admittedly not hard when its up against Star Trek: Discovery and Chibnall’s bastard version of Who) with one of the best young casts in television and superb support from Veteran actors such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. With an incredibly catchy theme, a great soundtrack and brilliant special effects, you’d be mad to miss it.

8. Metro: Exodus: Since there is suddenly an unexpected market for a decent post-apocalyptic RPG game, Metro: Exodus seems likely to do very well next year. The Metro series has always had an interesting story, set in the tunnels underneath a nuclear devastated Russia, it had a pretty unique tone and feel. With Exodus its third and easily most ambitious entry, this not only looks set to pick up many disaffected Fallout fans, but also has little competition in the February release window. I’d put money on it doing quite well so long as they don’t botch the release (looking at you Bethesda).

9. Orange is the New Black, Final Season: Netflix’s longest running hit finally comes to a close in 2019. While the last few seasons have been divisive, I’ve loved them, and I’ll be sad to see it go. With several characters fates up in the air after S6, it’ll be interesting to see how they wrap it all up. With the usual mix of comedy, drama and heartache, i’m sure it’ll be a memorable ride.

10. Star Wars, Episode IX: After the critically successful but audience divisive Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Disney has a fight on its hands to bring the Star Wars fanbase back into balance. With yet another film which had to change director halfway through (this time bringing back J.J. Abrams to replace Colin Trevorrow) we know very little about how this will go. Will it be a Rogue-One-esque triumph? A Force-Awakens style remake of Return of the Jedi with plenty of style but no substance? An innovative yet divisive entry that keeps fans guessing like Last Jedi? (yeah right, this is Abrams. The guy hasn’t had an original idea ever aside from how to overuse lens-flares). Or will it be irrelevant and will audiences just stay home like they did for Solo? Wherever it ends up, it will either be the end of an era or the moment the Star Wars franchise goes back on hiatus. So either way, its going to be an unmissable end to 2019!

The three things I’m most hyped for at this point have to be The Last of Us Part 2, Avengers: Endgame and Stranger Things S3, but who knows – one of the others may pleasantly surprise me and outdo all my expectations. Either way – 2019 is definitely looking good in the entertainment industry (which is reassuring, since the outlook is dire everywhere else!).

Next Up: My look at the best and worst films that have released in 2018, with TV and Video Game articles close behind…

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Hannah Jon-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas.

Minor Spoilers Only. But this is Ant-Man – you’re here to be entertained, not to be surprised by the plot!

The first Ant-Man was a surprise highlight of Marvel’s Phase Two. It was the least known and one of the least financially successful Marvel films, but its unique blend of humour, zany powers and Paul Rudd’s sublime turn as likeable lead Scott Lang meant it was very well received by critics (noticeably better than Age of Ultron, which came out the same year). It’s also my favourite Marvel film for a variety of reasons, as it succeeds on virtually every level (its funny, the story’s good, the characters are likeable and the fight scenes are actually memorable). So I had high hopes for the sequel.

The good news: not only is it great fun, but it surpasses Black Panther and Infinity War.

Ant-Man and the Wasp has perhaps the lowest stakes of any Marvel film – there’s no world or universe ending threat here. The main villain is simply trying to survive at any cost, and the secondary villain is a glorified thief/gangster who’s merely after Pym’s technology for its value. While this does mean neither villain is particularly memorable, it’s a very smart direction for the film to take, as any antagonists and their plan were going to be anticlimactic after Thanos’ Infinity Snap, so telling a small scale, more personal story is a wise choice. Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is set before Infinity War, not after, so don’t expect any fallout from that film here.

That’s not to say the film lacks ambition. The set pieces are very high quality (an extended car chase is arguably the highlight) and the sequences in the quantum realm are memorably rendered. Ghost’s phase-shifting abilities coupled with Ant-Man and Wasps size-changing antics make for some very inventive fight scenes. There’s none of the shaky CGI that blighted Black Panther’s third act either. The simple plot allows for a much-more character-driven entry in the franchise, and Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are easily the best pair of leads in the MCU (maybe only matched by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana), so you won’t complain. The acting in general is of a high standard, and its nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in a superhero film after her winning turn as Catwoman in the Tim Burton Batman films.

There aren’t really any massive drawbacks here. The soundtrack isn’t memorable, but it serves its purpose well enough (like every bloody Marvel film score except Guardians). Hannah Jon-Kamen’s Ghost is well acted and somewhat sympathetic, even if her impact is lessened by a lack of real menace or screentime. Her fights with Ant-Man and Wasp are engaging though, and her powers are something we haven’t really seen before, so I’ll give Ghost some points for that and being one of the few female villains in Superhero films. Some of the dialogue feels a bit by the numbers and could be funnier, but the visual gags and the big jokes all land, so I’ll not criticise. Like the first Ant-Man, it takes 40 minutes to really get going, but once it hits its stride, its consistently great fun.

As to whether it beats the first movie… I’m unsure – the effects are better, but the villain is a bit weaker. The script and the acting are pretty much equal, and both films have great (and hilarious) action scenes. Overall, I think the jokes worked slightly better in the first one, so I wouldn’t put this above the original, but its still easily in the MCU’s top 3 or 4 films.

Overall Ant-Man and the Wasp is a funny, charming, touching film that brings a refreshing levity after the bombastic, shocking epicness of Infinity War. Not every punchline lands, but its still easily the best Marvel film since Civil War.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oh, and without going into spoilers, stay for the mid-credits scene. Its gonna have an impact on Avengers 4. Equally, the 2nd is not really worth staying for – just catch it on youtube in a couple of months.

If you’d told me in 2012 that the four best Marvel movies would be 2 Captain America sequels and 2 Ant-Man films I would have laughed. What a thing hindsight is eh? Marvel’s sheer variety of offerings is what makes success stories like this possible. I hope audiences turn out for this one. It really deserves more recognition that its predecessor got.

Final thought: can we get the guy who directed this to take over Guardians of the Galaxy 3? He might be the only person who could replace Gunn and still deliver a great film.

Luke Cage: Season 2 Review

Starring Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mustafa Shakir, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Reg. E. Cathey, Simone Missick and Finn Jones.

Spoilers for Season 1. Minor Spoilers only for Season 2.

I really wasn’t a fan of Luke Cage after season one. By which I mean the show, not Mike Colter’s character. Colter has always convinced in the role ever since he first appeared on Jessica Jones’ first season. But aside from several good acting performances (by Colter, Mahershala Ali etc.) Season 1 was very, very disappointing, and in my opinion, was one of the most critically overrated TV series (I’d give it a 2.5/5). Sure, it was a landmark event in that it was the first Superhero TV show centred around a Black Superhero and a majority Black Cast. But this doesn’t automatically make it good television, no matter how powerful its message is. It had a unique feel, sure, with a soulful soundtrack that worked wonderfully, but I wouldn’t have recommended it to anyone.

Luke Cage had three major issues in S1: its pacing, its villains and a failure to use its hero in an interesting way. Luke was often too sidelined in favour of the supporting characters throughout the first season, and his whole ‘reluctant hero’ schtick really wasn’t that interesting a character arc – it just made him seem selfish and jaded and didn’t let Colter’s natural charisma show the way it did in Jessica Jones and the Defenders. Worse, the nature of Luke’s powers meant he was completely invulnerable for the first 6 episodes, but then once a weapon that hurt him was introduced in episode 7, he kept going down far too easily (i.e. the familiar Superman/Supergirl problem). The shows pacing was all out of whack, as is usual with Marvel’s Netflix shows, and was definitely 3 episodes too long. The biggest problem, however, was the villains. S1 had 4: Cottonmouth, Diamondback, Shades and Mariah. Although the actors did their best with each of them, we never got any reason to care about Shades or Mariah, who were really bland throughout, Diamondback was very OTT and had a really hackneyed origin story (Luke’s resentful brother, I mean seriously??! talk about cliched) and Cottonmouth (the only decent one) was killed off halfway through.

I gave S2 another chance because, as I said, I like Colter’s performance and figured the show could do a lot better. Has it?

Yes it has. Thank God!

Luke is a much, much more interesting lead this season. He grapples with more compelling themes, struggling with anger issues, his newfound celebrity status, and his desire to do what’s right even when he knows he could solve Harlem’s problems more quickly by just killing Mariah or working outside the law. While he still feels a bit too sidelined at times, the screentime Luke does get is put to much better use. Colter clearly relishes the role he’s playing this time, whether its sparring with Claire and Misty over his methods or trying to reconnect with his estranged father (marvellously played by the terrific late Reg. E. Cathey, who the series is dedicated to).

The writing has also improved a lot, mainly because it focuses a lot more on character work, so that even when the plot slows up we still get some compelling scenes. The racial politics and progressive messages are still there, but are included with far more nuance, and aren’t so jarringly on the nose as they were in season one. As Black Lightning proved, these things work far better when they are simply shown, rather than being patronisingly spelt out for the audience. In other good news, the supporting characters this season (Sugar, D.W. Piranha, Comanche, Tilda, Anansi) are all much more interesting than Misty, Scarfe or Shades were last season. Thankfully, Misty is a much easier character to like this time round, simply because she’s clued in and on Luke’s side from the start. Even more surprisingly, Shades becomes one of the shows most intriguing characters this season, as Theo Rossi gets much better material to work with and gets the chance to really show his talent as an actor. Alfre Woodard gets a better storyline as Mariah as well, as the show does a better job of transforming her into a main villain, though arguably it gets too focused on her in the latter episodes of the season.

The show’s biggest strength, however, has to be new villain Bushmaster. Not only is this villain capable of going hand-to-hand with Cage (something which Mariah, Shades and Cottomouth were handicapped by their inability to do), but he’s also played with great charisma by Mustafa Shakir, who turns Bushmaster into one of the most memorable villains in Marvel TV (he’s virtually Tennant as Kilgrave good, and that’s the highest praise I can give). His fights with Luke are highlights of the season, and the fight choreography in general seems to have taken a massive step up this year – you’ll never get bored of Luke smacking down thugs or going toe-to-toe with Bushmaster, who is the first character to ever pose a genuine physical threat to Luke. It’s just a pity that Bushmaster gets sidelined in favour of Mariah in the last few episodes of the series, as he was definitely the stronger adversary of the two.

The series still isn’t perfect however. While it feels like you could get 13 episodes of story from the plot, each episode weighs in at 50-65 minutes, so the episodes do feel stretched out in places, normally because police incompetence or Luke’s reluctance to kill keeps some villains in play longer than they need to be. If you fancy a drinking game, have one everytime there’s an interlude mid-episode for a musical performance at Harlem’s paradise – it happens like every bloody episode and probably adds at least a good half-hour of runtime over the season. There’s also an Iron Fist crossover episode, which has its moments, but feels more like fan-service than actually adding anything to the plot (though I’m happy to say Finn Jones is much more likeable as Danny Rand now).

Overall, the shows character-driven scripts and cool fight scenes, in addition to a more subtle and nuanced approach to its political message, make this a huge improvement over season 1. However, it still feels stretched out and arguably focuses on the wrong villain in the final few episodes. Despite this, its probably up there with Jessica Jones’ second season in terms of quality, so I’ll give it the same rating.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Final Thought: Make sure you watch S1 of the Defenders before you watch this, because there’s a lot of references to the events of that crossover series here, particularly regarding Misty and Danny Rand’s role in events.

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.

 

 

Black Panther Review

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita N’yongo, Letitia Wright, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis

Warning: Contains Spoilers (it’s been out two months so why not)

It’s difficult for superhero films to stand-out at the moment. There’s an average of 6 or 7 of them a year currently, and while my enthusiasm remains high for Infinity War, the showpiece of Marvel’s phase 3, I’m getting slightly fatigued by all the others. After the twin disappointments of Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok, which both wasted a lot of potential, I was hoping the generally positive reaction to Black Panther was justified.

It was. It’s entertaining and stands out from the crowd. But it’s far from the classic some people have made it out to be. First off, the good stuff. Chadwick Boseman gives other sublime, confident performance as T’Challa (he’s definitely a character with enough potential to lead the Avengers once Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans bow out as Iron Man and Captain America). The other cast members are equally good: Letitia Wright is a stand-out as T’Challa’s adorably kick-ass younger sister, while Martin Freeman makes the most of his expanded role as Everett Ross, one of only two white characters to have a significant role in this role. It is refreshing to have a superhero film NOT set in America, and the African setting and the majority-Black ensemble cast give this film a unique feel. It is definitely ground-breaking for a superhero film, and Wakanda’s culture and technological superiority is well-conveyed without the film getting too bogged down in world-building or info-dumps.

Unfortunately, it all never feels quite real. Between the overly CGI Wakandan city and the fact all of the main characters are tribal leaders rather than ordinary-people, you can’t quite fully immerse yourself in the setting. It also kind of lessens T’Challa’s turmoil about the film’s central issue (should Wakanda keep itself hidden away or try and help those in need) that we never see what ordinary Wakandans think about the issue. T’Challa’s decision at the end of the film never really seems in doubt, so there’s no real tension anywhere. This, arguably, is the film’s biggest weakness: its predictability. Oh look, no one dies here except the villains and the hero’s mentor. Where have we seen that before… Honestly, for 17 films out of 17, Marvel has utterly failed to EVER make me think a significant character might actually be in jeopardy (okay, the Infinity War trailers confirmed at least 3 of the main cast survive, but even supporting character’s like Ross and the tribal leaders are never really under much threat).  Other typical Marvel clichés are rife here: the good guys are saved by a convenient change of heart late on that EVERYONE could see coming! T’Challa’s fake death halfway through is irritating through its sheer pointlessness (we know he isn’t actually dead so why hide him off screen for 20 minutes?). Ulysses Klaw is ANOTHER weak marvel villain (not helped by Andy Serkis, who for the first time that I can ever remember isn’t an asset to the film, mainly because his OTT arms dealer feels like a caricature rather than a genuine character). Although Michael B. Jordan’s Kilmonger is much better as the other villain, the film doesn’t really do anything interesting with him. Yes, his backstory is sympathetic and he gets more screentime than most Marvel villains, but he’s still no Ego or Loki.

Back on the positive side of things, the production is nevertheless strong. The dialogue is never clunky or convoluted and the film isn’t hamstrung by an over-emphasis on humour like Thor: Ragnarok was. The action scenes are generally better directed than they were in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ragnarok (a car chase in South Korea and a ritual combat atop a waterfall being the standout set-pieces), even if the final battle isn’t as emotionally charged or thrilling as you might hope. The music fits the film well even if it isn’t particularly memorable. The film looks great for the most part (the sequences where T’Challa communes with his dead father on the ancestral plain are visually stunning). Ultimately, your enjoyment of this film is probably down to how sick you are of repetitiveness in Marvel films. What we get here is good, but we’ve seen too much of it before, which like Doctor Strange in 2016 limits the score I can give it.

Overall, Black Panther is an entertaining, well-acted film that breaks plenty of ground, but one that remains hamstrung by the traditional Marvel clichés. There’s a lot of potential for future adventures in Wakanda, but this one doesn’t quite hit the heights it could have. It’s a step up from Thor: Ragnarok though, which bodes well for Infinity War.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ll do a couple more Marvel related updates in the run-up to Infinity War – which hopefully will be the perfect knockout hit we all want it to be. But there really needs to be some genuine fucking consequences in that film, or my interest in the MCU will be permanently broken, no matter how entertaining it is.