Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame – Film Review

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Synopsis: After half of the galaxy’s population is vanquished by the Mad Titan Thanos,  the Avengers still standing must take their final stand, and do whatever it takes to reverse the terrible damage that has been inflicted upon the universe…

This review will be 100% spoiler free…

Review: It is quite remarkable to think when a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist announced that he is Iron Man, audiences had absolutely no idea of the journey that they were about to go on. As the years went by, piece by piece, the Marvel Cinematic Universe assembled itself into this enormous cinematic juggernaut almost unlike anything we had seen in cinematic history. Now, eleven years since Tony Stark uttered those famous words, and the twenty one films that followed afterwards, this journey is now at its end.

Set directly after the events of Infinity War, The Avengers who survived Thanos’s snap are all left completely desolate and broken after failing to stop the Mad Titan succeeding in his aim to bring balance to the world by wiping out half of all life. It’s a completely bleak existence for them all, but when an opportunity to undo the catastrophic damage that Thanos has done to the Universe presents itself, the Avengers take their final stand for a mission that represents the biggest fight of their lives, with literally everything on the line.

Having pulled off a masterfully crafted piece of action cinema, full of stupendous action set pieces with Infinity War, the Russo brothers, and returning writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely go very much in the opposite direction for this sequel. The film, in all of its three hour run time, significantly dials back the action, in favour of more personal, more sombre moments of reflection. It bides its time, exploring the emotions, and the development of these characters. As we watch our heroes contemplating what might have been, whilst simultaneously licking their wounds and dealing with the enormous consequences of Thanos’s actions. It crucially allows the audience to watch these heroes that we have known and loved across this last decade of Marvel films, be in a such a traumatic place, the likes of which we haven’t really seen before in the MCU.

It is quite incredible that in this decade and almost two dozen MCU films that the cast that has been recruited for all these eclectic and colourful characters has been practically flawless across the board, with so many memorable characters that have undoubtedly charmed their way into the hearts of audiences around the world. There isn’t a false note in any of the performances, for this film and for its predecessor, but as the marketing for the film demonstrated, the MVPs here are the original gang of Avengers (Cap, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Thor.) It’s this group of heroes that first banded together to save the world in the first Avengers film. We as an audience owe so much to these guys for being the awesome bunch of characters that they have been across these movies, and for laying the foundations that this incredible universe has been built upon.

This isn’t to say that some of the newer crop don’t get their moment to shine, because they most certainly do. Furthermore, in these dire circumstances, the film finds its ways to be extremely humorous once again. Though the action is dialled back significantly, it wouldn’t be an Avengers film without some intense action. With that, as they have done for the last three films that were under their expert vision, the Russos continue on that trajectory to again deliver an absolutely jaw dropping sequence, one that hardcore fans of the MCU will undoubtedly enjoy every minute of it.

It is worth re-emphasising the sheer scale of what Marvel has achieved across these films. The work that all of the writers and film-makers, and all of the crews who have worked on these films have done, to make this cinematic universe so successful.  Three phases, twenty two movies, rich and well developed characters, laughter and gags aplenty, and plenty of insane and jaw dropping action sequences, it has all been a fantastic journey to have been on. While the MCU will undoubtedly carry on past this point, part of the journey is the end, and now this iteration has reached its Endgame, and that final outcome is a marvellous and unprecedented achievement that will go down in cinematic history.

A monumental cinematic achievement that delivers the conclusion the legions of MCU fans were hoping for. A triumphant conclusion to one of the most impactful franchises of modern cinema.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Avengers: Infinity War – Film Review

Cast: Spoilers!!

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Synopsis: Thanos, the Mad Titan, is seeking possession of the Infinity Stones that would give him unrivalled power, and it’s up to the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop him as the fate of the Universe hangs in the balance…

This review will have no spoilers…

Review: Ten years in the making, with eighteen previous entries in this incredible cinematic universe that we have watched grow over the past ten years. It has been quite the fun and enjoyable ride, but this is what it has all been building towards. After all the work that was put in to establish this world and its characters in the previous decade of Marvel goodness, it would be fair to say the weight of expectation on this film was enormous. Therefore, one must give kudos to the Russo brothers, who return to the directors chairs of the MCU for the third time, and complete their hat-trick in spectacular style.

The plot, without straying into spoiler territory, focuses on the maniacal Thanos and his quest to obtain the infinity stones with the help of some underling servants known as the Black Order, to wreak unprecedented destruction on the universe, which understandably captures the attention of just about every MCU hero we have met thus far. Given the sheer number of heroes we have met thus far, there was understandable concern from certain quarters as to would they be able to balance the story with so many larger than life heroes? Well as they proved with Civil War, the Russos and returning screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, do just that.

Each hero that we meet is given their chance to shine and there’s no one that feels out of place. They are all relevant pieces in this battle, and as such , everyone has ample screen time in this battle that simply put, has unprecedented stakes for all of our heroes. Yet despite these threatening stakes, as Marvel so often does, the film is peppered with plenty of humorous moments. But these never negate the moments of drama or danger that these heroes find themselves up against, as you feel that no one, no matter how big or how long they have been a part of the MCU, is in very serious peril.

Speaking of, it has been no secret that the MCU has had some trouble with crafting compelling villains. With a few exceptions, many of them have been very bland and forgettable. Thankfully, that is not applicable with Thanos. It is hard to humanise a villain who wants to kill at will, but he is given the crucial depth that a good villain needs to get in order to make them memorable. Furthermore, they need to be given a presence that our heroes feel, and they certainly feel Thanos’s presence alright, the much needed villain to truly break the villain curse that has plagued so many MCU movies.

As they demonstrated with both of their previous MCU entries, the Russos are once again right on the top of their game when it comes to delivering the compelling action scenes that were used so effectively in their previous MCU films. There are plenty of these throw-downs scattered throughout the film, you really feel the scale of the events that are taking place within this world that we as an audience have grown with over these past ten years. It is some heavy stuff and with this latest entry, again without straying into spoiler territory, it is a film that will have a major impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we have known it.

With only a handful of films left in what has been the third phase of their cinematic universe, it is hard to not feel that all of this is all coming to a close. In a film like this, you need to just give the audience a complete and emotional sucker punch that leaves them reeling, and by the end of this movie, said sucker punch will have been delivered. Though there is still a second part in this story, and a few other films in Phase 3 to come, there is no escaping the fact that with this film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been shaken to its core.

It has all been building towards this, and it brought home the goods. So many heroes could have been problematic, but it is all weaved together tremendously well, and a truly memorable villain in Thanos sets things up perfectly for Avengers 4.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Thor: Ragnarok – Film Review

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba

Director: Taika Waititi

Synopsis: Having come out of hiding to claim the throne of Asgard, Hela the Goddess of Death seeks to rule Asgard. Having been cast aside on a distant planet, Thor must use his strength and an old friend to help him reclaim Asgard’s throne, and prevent Ragnarok, the end of all things, from occurring.

Review: Of all the directors Marvel could have hired to take on a film that studio head honcho Kevin Feige described as “very important movie in our timeline”, one of the most out of the blue choices you could suggest would be New Zealand native Taika Waititi. Having made his name with the very quirky comedies such as What We Do in The Shadows, and last year’s hilarious Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Yet, having seen humour become an important aspect of their films, Waititi seems to be the perfect match for Marvel, and as it turns out, it is absolutely a match made in Valhalla.

For a film subtitled Ragnarok, meaning the end of everything, to be pitched as a quirky comedy masquerading as a big budget superhero blockbuster, could have been a spectacular misfire, but in the hands of Waititi it is all just blends together beautifully. On a quest to find out some information is where we meet the God of Thunder, and he quickly learns that The Goddess of Death Hela has come back to Asgard to take her place on the throne, setting off a chain of events that sees Thor trying to unseat the Usurper whilst preventing Ragnarok from occurring. Though not written by him, the script has that Waititi stamp written all over it. There are gags aplenty, and they’re almost always hilarious. It’s a bold claim, but this might just be the funniest Marvel film to date.

Old friends reunited…

Hemsworth and Hiddleston are once again just delightful to watch in these roles that they have made their own, with it also being great to see Mark Ruffalo and the Hulk in all of his green, raging glory back in the MCU once more. There are quite a few new faces here, the absolute standouts being Tessa Thompson’s badass Valkyrie and an absolutely uproarious star turn from Waititi himself in a role that will have you almost crying tears of laughter. It is absolute comic gold and a character one would hope gets his own movie somewhere down the line. Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum is inevitably always a pleasure to watch, and as the Grandmaster, it feels like a role that was just written for the Goldblum and he like the Odinson brothers, he bosses it.

A real consistent Achilles Heel for the MCU has been their villains, as the last Thor film testified. Thankfully, Cate Blanchett as Hela is able to avoid falling into the realm of bland and generic villains that have troubled MCU films gone by. She is well fleshed out as a character and it makes her story so much more compelling to watch. The same unfortunately cannot be said for Karl Urban’s character who does sadly fall into that category of villains that are just kind of forgettable.

Whilst also perhaps boasting the most vivid colour palette that the MCU has seen to date, when the action goes down Waititi’s direction is confident and assured.  The battle between Hulk and Thor that we saw a glimpse of in the trailer is just spectacular stuff, you cannot beat a bit of intergalactic gladiatorial duelling can you? With the help of some Led Zepplin, the final showdown is also breathless to watch. The whole thing might seem absolutely bonkers and absurd, but it all blends together into some delightfully, colourful and exhilarating entertainment.

With complaints of superhero fatigue coming from some audiences, this is the shot in the arm that the genre needed to help keep things fresh. It’s so different in terms of style and everything that it is certainly a most welcome breath of fresh air for the genre. With them now a staggering 17 films deep into their universe, Marvel are showing no signs of slowing down, and when they’re continuing to produce such glorious excitement, who in their right mind would want them to stop?

Fusing a deeply personal story with some absolutely first class humour that will have your sides hurting, Waititi brings his vibrant style of quirky comedy to the MCU, and it pays off big time. The best MCU film of the year.

 

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spotlight (2015)

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Image rights belong to Anonymous Content, First Look Media, Participant Media, Rocklin/Faust and Open Road Films

Spotlight – Film Review

Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Brian D’Arcy James

Director: Tom McCarthy

Synopsis:  Telling the true story of a group of journalists working for the Boston Globe newspaper who uncover the horrific details of child molestation at the hands of Catholic priests and the subsequent attempts to hush everything up.

Review: Every so often in the world of news and current affairs, along comes a story that is so shocking and galling for a number of reasons, it would cause you to read your newspaper, watch your television, or listen to the radio with just disbelief and horror that such an event came to pass. Many stories revealing such wickedness often slip under the radar, and do not see the light of day, and that may have been the case for the subject of this powerful drama of the scandal that rocked not only the Catholic Church, but the entire world to its core. It may well have not reached the public’s attention, if it wasn’t for the grit and graft of some brave journalists.

The screenplay, penned by McCarthy and Josh Singer, which was on the 2013 Black List of unproduced screenplays pulls no punches whatsoever. The story is gripping, and disturbing at the same time. When nudged by an incoming new editor in the direction of the scandal, the team of journalists quickly begin to find something deeply disturbing, and as the film goes on, interview after interview, the full extent of the scandal emerges on the team and the full realisation of the crimes that have been committed come into view.  The dialogue scene to scene keeps the attention of the viewer transfixed on the screen. With each conversation, whether with a lawyer, some victims, some people within the church, or whoever it may be, the team show great tenacity to dig deeper and deeper scratching every surface they can until there’s a story for them to run. It’s a dialogue driven film, but when it’s written this well, it’s riveting to watch.

The ensemble cast each deliver truly excellent performances, but it’s the performances of the Spotlight team in particular that shine the brightest. After his Oscar nominated turn as a washed up superhero in Birdman, Michael Keaton delivers another excellent performance as the editor of the team that comprises of Rachel McAdams’s Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes and Brian D’Arcy James’s Matt Carroll with John Slattery’s Ben Bradlee Jr. and Liev Schreiber’s newly appointed editor Marty Baron keeping a watchful eye over things. All excel but the standout performances are that of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, who have both gained well earned Oscar nominations for the Best Supporting Actor and Actress respectively. Ruffalo in particular has an almost Hulk-esque moment at one point when the full depravity of the scandal comes becomes very crystal clear.

With such a delicate and controversial subject matter, approaching this film cannot have been easy for McCarthy and Singer, yet it is handled tremendously well. The direction is subtle but it emphasises is firmly on the need for justice for the victims. The reporters are not patting themselves on the back and having a drink celebrating at such a big scoop, instead they’re just aghast at what they have observed during their investigation. It is uncompromisingly brutal when the penny drops and there is a need and a desire to print their story and bring the perpetrators to full justice. In this day and age when the internet is taking over the journalism and publishing industry, it just goes to show that through real grit, determination and hard work, shocking truths such as these, can be brought to the attention of the public, and full credit to the brave journalists who did so.

Uncompromisingly brutal when it comes to the subject matter, with terrific performances and excellent well written dialogue, Spotlight will shake you to your core.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Image rights belong to Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Image rights belong to Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Film Review 

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, James Spader

Director:  Joss Whedon

Synopsis: When Tony Stark seeks to create a peacekeeping program around the world, he mistakenly creates the villainous Ultron who then seeks to bring humanity’s destruction, forcing the Avengers to suit up once more…

Review: How do you top the biggest superhero movie ever made? This was the challenge that faced Joss Whedon when it was announced that a sequel to 2012’s The Avengers was in the works. The first film smashed box office records and became the third highest grossing film of all time. It may have looked a daunting task for the man behind such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. As with The Avengers, Age of Ultron is the culmination of all the second phase of Marvel’s ever expanding universe, the phase that brought us a gun wielding raccoon and a talking tree let us not forget. and yet again, Marvel and Whedon have hit it right out of the park with this highly anticipated sequel that will set events in motion for Marvel’s upcoming phase three.  

As with a handful of Marvel’s Phase 2 movies, the tone of this sequel turns very dark almost right of the gate as the team are gunning for HYDRA and Loki’s sceptre from the first film, believing it may have something of significant value. Providing some sweet action scenes right out of the gate that are almost as good as anything that we saw in the first film. Super powerful shields are combined with almighty hammers that were forged in the heart of a dying star, is it little wonder that DC is struggling to compete, who needs Batman V Superman(!)

Through some discoveries, Tony Stark seeks to create a peace keeping programme ” a suit of armour around the world” as he calls it. Yet his plan goes awry as the being he creates is the villainous Ultron who seeks to obliterate the Avengers and mankind both. Thus drawing the team together once more to prevent Ultron from carrying out his evil intentions, and this time instead of one battle in New York City, the fight goes global and the ante and the stakes are upped considerably.

When the team met in the first movie, it certainly wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, they bickered and squabbled on almost anything they could, until they were forced to unite to save the world. Again the team has some internal conflict to deal, largely down to the addition of Scarlet Witch. Through her manipulative mind bending powers, she troubles each of the team with some less than pleasant visions of the future that create disharmony among the team. On top of this disharmony, the team have to take down Ultron, voiced excellently by James Spader. While Marvel has enjoyed dominance over DC for a number of years, the villains in the MCU, with the exceptions of Loki and The Winter Soldier, have on the whole been weak links. However this does not apply to Ultron. Through Spader’s excellent work, through every word he speaks he displays his utter contempt for humanity and desire to see us wiped off the map.

With a lot happening in the film, it would be very easy to get lost in the world and all of the action, because there is a lot of it on show. Yet Whedon, as the master of character, shines through once again. When a character is on the screen, they get their moment and chance to shine and through the excellent writing and performances you see certain characters share sympathies with the others. The returning team are all once again superb in their roles and the ensemble has grown this time around including new additions Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. They are initially are hostile towards the team but are eventually coerced into siding with the Avengers.

Their Eastern European accents are quite noticeable and there are times when they lapse a little bit, but they are solid additions to the great plethora of superheroes of the MCU, especially in the case of Scarlet Witch who adds another strong female lead, something that is lacking in the world of Marvel and comic book movies in general, while this addition of Quicksilver, while solid, does not quite match Evan Peters’ portrayal of the character in last summer’s Days of Future Past.

Yet again, Whedon has hit it out of the park and delivered what every single Marvel fan wanted. Flawless visual effects are combined with  a strong story, some great performances, and excellent direction. The story does lag a little in places, but overall Whedon delivers. As events in the Avengers set the wheels of phase 2 in motion, the same is almost certainly applicable here with the likes of Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 all in the Marvel pipeline. With Ant Man set to see out Phase Two, before next year’s Captain America: Civil War arrives to kick off Phase Three, this current phase of Marvel-ous domination is preceding as planned.

Bolder, darker, and just as amusing as the first Avengers outing with a terrific and growing ensemble of some truly great characters, the all powerful Marvel machine is in full throttle, and there may be no stopping it.  

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