Tag Archives: Marvel

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.

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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.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff and Kurt Russell.

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS! (I mean it’s been out for a month guys, you really should have seen it by now)

I honestly think I prefer the Guardians to the Avengers as an ensemble. No avengers film has ever serviced all its characters well in the same film (Hawkeye is badly sidelined in the first one, Thor in the Second). Guardians films never have to waste time setting up  future standalone films, and the relationships and banter between them always feels natural. Vol. 2 splits the Guardians team up for much of the middle of the film, yet the individuals and double-acts are still as compelling as when they unite as a whole team at the start and end of the movie.

Chris Pratt is arguably the biggest rising star in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) right now – he’s headlined Jurassic World and Passengers in between films and is certainly a more memorable lead actor than say, Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth (i’ll grant its a given that none of them get close to Robert Downey Jr., but that almost goes without saying at this point). While Vol. 2 retains the ensemble feel from the first film, Pratt gets a greater share of the limelight, and proves he can handle the emotional stuff just as well as the comedy. Baby Groot is adorable, but to be honest I felt like they could have done more with him in this film (i.e. in the first film Groot was undoubtedly my favourite of the Guardians, this time around it was probably Quill with Drax a close second). The film does do a good job of fleshing out Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan) who were arguably two of the least well-utilized (and least interesting) characters in the first film. Nebula in particular is a far more sympathetic character, and Gillan flexes her acting muscles far more this time around. Michael Rooker’s Yondu, another supporting player from the 1st film, also really comes into his own here and his comradery with Rocket is one of the strong points in the middle part of the film. Newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is a sweet and welcome addition and gets plenty of amusing banter with Drax, who like last time gets most of the best lines. But the film’s real strength comes from Kurt Russell’s Ego, a celestial (a living planet with a human form of himself) and Quill’s father.

Ego is the best villain Marvel has given us since Loki. He’s better than Ultron, Zemo, Yellowjacket and Winter Soldier (the only ones other than Loki to leave a good impression). Kurt Russell kills it with his sweet, manipulative and largely convincing act as Quill’s remorseful dad, and then excels at portraying Ego’s true superiority complex and universe conquering delusions. CRUCIALLY, Marvel finally give this villain enough screen time to have a real impact, something which hamstrung Lee Pace’s Ronan (as it has with so many other MCU villains) in the last Guardians adventure. The final fight between him and Quill is quite possibly the best hero/villain fight in the MCU (only the hilarious Ant-man/Yellowjacket battle or Captain America/Winter Soldier confrontations spring to mind as equally memorable). Ego also allows Chris Pratt to show different sides to Quill, as his barely contained rage at Ego’s murder of his mother takes the film to a far darker place than most Marvel movies ever reach.

All this is very welcome, because the early part of the film (particularly the first half hour) feels like a less interesting re-tread of the first films antics and jokes, while not offering anything particularly new. The soundtrack is still good, but isn’t quite the knockout Vol. 1’s was, while not all of the jokes in the first hour land as well as they could have. Nevertheless the special effects seem to have got an upgrade since the first film (which still looked bloody good!) and now everything looks even more awesome than before (something helped by the fact that James Gunn is one of the better directors working for Marvel atm). The plot is a great deal more involving than the ‘infinity stone’ quest in its predecessor ever was, and the film manages to set the stage for a third entry without dragging this instalment of the series down with endless set-up (looking at you, Dawn of Justice). To summarise, some things are an improvement, some are a slight step back, and thus Vol. 2 comes out about equal to its predecessor.

The five (FIVE!) mid and post credits scenes are generally an absolute hoot, the two highlights hinting at a major comic-book character’s arrival in guardians 3 (Adam Warlock if I had to guess) and a comedy cut-away showing a teenage Groot with some serious attitude. Pity about the Stan Lee cameo. That guy needs to fuck off and stop shoehorning himself into films which really have no time for him (the one here is especially jarring).

Overall a terrific second half and a formidable villain overcomes an uninspired first half to deliver a good, if imperfect Marvel movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Coming Soon: My review of Wonder Woman, a film that signals a welcome return to form for DC…

Doctor Strange Review

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong and Mads Mikkelsen

Warning: Major Spoilers (but this has been out for several weeks so I’m assuming most of you will have seen it!)

First up, the positives: visually, the film is stunning and has the most memorable special effects I’ve ever seen in a Marvel film. The direction was superb, particularly in the mind-bending Mirror-realm segments. The acting was excellent as well, with Benedict Cumberbatch nailing both the arrogant, slightly unlikeable Doctor and the hero you end up rooting for in the second half (the transition in Strange’s personality is both believable and well executed). Rachel McAdams was one of the better love interests Marvel has given us (putting both Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman’s bland attempts to shame) being both believable, likeable and a important character in her own right. Chiwetel Ejiofor shines as Mordo, Strange’s mentor/friend/ally destined to become his nemesis (as comic-book fans well know), Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton are excellent supporting characters and Mads Mikkelsen makes the most of his thankless role as yet another forgettable Marvel villain in Sorcerer Caecilius. The only major downside of the production was the soundtrack, which is very workmanlike and forgettable when it really should be complementing the sense of wonder the visuals are providing – especially disappointing from Michael Giacchino (who scored the Incredibles, which has a great soundtrack, so we know he could have done better).

I won’t go into detail about the film’s plot (mainly because AGAIN its something we’ve seen before in Marvel’s origin stories – Guy struggles with adverse circumstances, guy becomes a hero, underdeveloped villain has seemingly overcomeable advantage, hero’s mentor/parent dies/hero defeats villain rather easily/hero gets girl – seriously – get some new fucking ideas Marvel! At the very least give us a decent villain who doesn’t lose the final confrontation in 2 mins for once!!!!) Caecilius was the latest in a line of one-note villains played by talented actors who don’t get enough screen time (seriously, aside from , Magneto, Loki and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy’s villains when have any Marvel villains ever gotten a decent amount of screen-time and good writing backing them up???)

Fortunately Dormammu was a step-up as a villain, despite his 5 mins of screen time, Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the villainous entity lent him a feeling of sheer power and malovence that Marvel villains almost always fail to achieve. Hopefully he will return in the sequel (or maybe be a more prominent villain in phase 4 once Thanos is dealt with? He was dealt with rather easily – but it was refreshing that the hero had to bargain for Earth’s safety rather than fight because Dormammu was too powerful to defeat outright – and only lost because of Strange’s infinity stone.

As yes, the Eye of Agamotto is officially the Time Stone. Five down, one to go, and if the comics are an indicator, the Soul Stone will show up in Guardians 2. I’ll say this for Marvel, they are building up Infinity War remarkably well… don’t blow it now guys. Also shown were two post-credit scenes, one with Strange and Thor joining forces (presumably setting up the events of Thor:Ragnarok) and the other revealing the villain for the second film (surprise! Not really. Its Mordo, whose shift from hero to villain seemed a bit abrupt to me – i’d rather see him slowly be corrupted in film 2 and then be the villain in a third film, but I doubt that’s what Marvel has planned). The Thor scene was brilliant, fortunately featuring a return to the lightness that makes Thor such a fun character to watch.

Overall, a very fun and enjoyable Marvel film with dazzling visuals and a winning turn from Cumberbatch, plus the best post-credits scene Marvel’s given us in years. Unfortunately plot-wise, we’ve seen it all before, and Mads Mikkelsen is the latest great actor to be wasted in a thankless role as an under-used villain (following Ben Kingsley, Christopher Eccleston, Lee Pace etc.) hopefully Mordo will avoid that fate in the inevitable sequel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

So for those interested on my list of Superhero films in 2016 this would come fourth, behind Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse but ahead of Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Marvel has officially won 4-0 in 2016 (thank god DC has a far better run on TV – its getting creamed at the cinema – hopefully Wonder Woman and Justice league can save them!) Despite their success, my patience with Marvel playing it safe is running low – if Black Panther ends up being another bloody origin story with the same plot and a forgettable villain I’m going to explode.

Article: Which is the best Avengers film?

I originally wrote this article back in 2015, but post-Infinity War, it seemed a good moment to update it and include the Marvel films 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.

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.

19. 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.

18. 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

17. 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

16. 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

15. 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

14: 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

13. 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

12: 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.

11: 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

10. 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

9: 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

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

7. 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

6. 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

5. 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 lackluster 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

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

3. 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

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

1.  Ant-Man: The real shock on this list. 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 unspectular 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. You might not and I’d understand why but for me, this is the best Marvel has ever done. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Will a marvel film ever get 5 out of 5 from me? I thought Infinity War could, but now i’m not sure it will happen. Marvel is undoubtedly more consistent than DC, but I just can’t shake the feeling that while DC is a LOT more hit-and-miss, it can occasionally reach heights with its films (and TV) that Marvel struggles to reach. But I’ll be very happy if Marvel’s phase 4 can prove me wrong!