Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Film Review

Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After living many years living a normal life in the USA, martial artist Shang-Chi (Liu) is forced to confront his past and his father’s organisation, The Ten Rings…

Review: In the years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over Hollywood, producing a remarkable interconnected universe, and smashing records here, there and everywhere, there has been no shortage of remarkable accomplishments and awards. Yet, there have also been historic and ground-breaking moments in terms of representation along the way. First there was Black Panther that was the first MCU film to feature a predominantly Black cast that celebrated Black culture. Then came Captain Marvel, which marked the first female-directed and driven film in the franchise. And now, the all-conquering juggernaut that is the MCU, has now provided us with its first Asian lead superhero film, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast.

Shang-Chi is a skilled martial arts warrior who spent his early life growing up in the shadow of his father Wenwu (Leung)’s organisation The Ten Rings. Wenwu is in possession of ten mystical and magical rings that grant him incredible power and immortality. With this incredible power in his possession, he has conquered pretty much anything and everything in his path over a great period of time. Also, in that time he raised a family, and put his children through rigorous and intense training. However, his son Shang-Chi has been for many years on a different path. Namely, the path of a normal life in the USA, working as a valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Until one day, his past catches up with him and he realises he can no longer escape his father’s shadow, coming face to face with his father once again.

To be tasked with the leading role in the first Asian led MCU film is a massive responsibility to have on the shoulders of the actor in question, especially if this is your first leading role in one of the biggest franchises in the world currently, such as the MCU. Fortunately, Simu Liu proves to be a perfect choice to play the titular role, as he has the charisma needed to carry the film on his shoulders. While Shang-Chi is unquestionably an extremely skilled warrior and martial arts expert, unlike say, a Tony Stark, there’s no arrogance or cockiness to him, he’s very humble and grounded. Alongside Shang-Chi is his best friend Katy, who is initially completely unaware of her friend’s past as a fierce warrior. Any MCU film is guaranteed to have a substantial amount of comedy, and a lot of this comes through Katy. The role of a comedy sidekick is one that Awkwafina has played before, and once again she’s perfect at it.

In a similar vein to Black Panther, there is a core of badass and powerful women alongside Shang-Chi. As well as Katy, Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing threatens to steal the show from her brother. A feat that is all the more impressive when you consider that this is her first foray into the world of acting. Fala Chen and Michelle Yeoh may not have the most screen time, but both use the short amount of screen time they do have to wonderful effect. Marvel villains can often fall short of being memorable, or indeed not very threatening. This is most assuredly not the case with Tony Leung’s Wenwu. Right from the moment he’s on screen, armed with these powerful rings, he’s a very formidable foe who makes his presence known. However, there’s a lot more to his character than just being a skilled warrior in possession of ten magical rings. At the core of his character, is a desire to reconnect with his long lost children, and it represents the crucial emotional core that’s central to the story.

It is crystal clear that the iconic martial arts films of the past serve as an inspiration for the action scenes. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and the stunt teams here are paying the utmost respect to the Martial arts films of the past that inspired them. Consequently, there is a unique flair to some of the action scenes that’s never been captured in previous MCU films. While this is consistently maintained throughout, it does get to a point where the action becomes an abundance of CGI, particularly in the third act. This is not a bad thing by any means, due to the fact that emotional investment in the journey of these characters is strong. Yet, given how common it has become in superhero films, it is something that like to see superhero films move away from. Nevertheless, in the same way that Black Panther irrevocably changed the MCU forever, Shang-Chi is poised to follow suit by being a massive step forward for wider representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the unique visual flair and choreography of its action sequences, and the committed performances of its cast, especially Liu, Zhang, and Yeung, all these factors combine to make Shang-Chi another superb MCU origin story. A new hero is born.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Black Widow (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Black Widow  – Film Review

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz

Directors: Cate Shortland

Synopsis: Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, something from Natasha Romanoff’s past draws her back to her early days as a KGB assassin and her training in the ominous Red Room…

Review: Since making her MCU debut back in 2010, it didn’t take long for Natasha Romanoff to establish herself as an integral part of the MCU and its core group of badass superheroes who will stop at nothing to save the world. Even if it comes at great personal cost for the hero, as Natasha’s MCU journey brought was brought to a devastating conclusion where in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, she heroically sacrificed herself to ensure that all those who were snapped away, were eventually able to come back. Given that tragic fate in Endgame, it does seem a bit odd to have a Black Widow solo film be released now. However, even though it has definitely come a few years too late, it is joyous to see this beloved character finally get her own moment in the spotlight.

Picking up just after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha is on the run from the authorities having violated the Sokovia Accords. She is laying low in some picturesque terrain, in the middle of nowhere, planning her next move. When she receives a package from someone in her past that connects to her training in the mysterious Red Room and the Black Widow programme, she heads to Budapest. Whilst there, she reunites with her “sister”, and fellow Black Widow recruit, Yelena Belova (Pugh). When deadly forces come after them, they resolve to find the Red Room, and bring down the man behind it, the villainous Dreykov (Winstone).

Given that she has played this role for over a decade, Scarlett Johansson once again shines as Natasha/Black Widow, in what is in all likelihood, her last ever appearance in this role. Though given we know what ultimately happens to her character, the journey that screenwriter Eric Pearson takes her on for this film gives the audience an understanding of certain events in Natasha’s past that previous MCU films had only given the most brief of references to. While Johansson has plenty of moments to shine, Florence Pugh as Yelena is the one who ends up stealing the show. Given the MCU’s use of humour, a lot of these moments come about in interactions between Yelena and Natasha, as well as their adoptive parents Alexei (Harbour) and Melina (Weisz), the former of whom is clearly having a lot of fun in this role as Red Guardian, the Russian equivalent to Captain America.

With so many MCU films having come before it, it’s almost an expectation at this point that the film will be accompanied by exhilarating action scenes, which this film has. While they are unquestionably exciting to watch and competently directed, action scenes like this have become so commonplace that you have to make something special to stand out, and unfortunately, the action scenes here are very much run-of-the-mill for the MCU. While the performances of all the main cast shine, what is often a big problem for MCU films is their villains are disappointing, and sadly the film’s antagonists very much fall into that bracket. While Winstone is menacing as Dreykov, his iffy Russian accent leaves a lot to be desired. Likewise, for the film’s secondary villain Taskmaster. Those who have played the PS4 Spider-Man game will know what this character can be like, and unfortunately, this on screen iteration of Taskmaster feels but a poor imitation of what had the potential to be a very intriguing antagonist.

While the second and third acts are thrilling to watch due to its strong themes of female empowerment, and the Captain America: Winter Soldier-esque espionage thriller elements that are at play, there’s unfortunately one inescapable fact that this film cannot shake off. Namely that, as this new phase of Marvel kicks off, the films and TV shows becoming inter-twined, the potential impact that a Black Widow solo film could have had on this franchise has been lost due to the time in which it has taken for it to come to fruition.  Due to the knowledge that we have as to where this character’s arc ultimately concludes, releasing it as the first film to launch Phase 4 means that the lack of stakes present here really hamper the potential that it had to become a top-tier, game-changing MCU film. What might have been had the film been released during Phase 3 instead?

The wait for a solo Black Widow film limits its overall impact on the MCU in general. However, thanks to its strong story and the introduction of some exciting new characters, Johansson’s swansong in this role does justice to this beloved character that played such an integral role in the MCU over many years.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Image is property of Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Far from Home – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smoulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: Following on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker is preparing to go on a school trip with his friends around Europe. However, in a world that will never be the same again, a new threat is lurking in the form of the mysterious Elementals…

Review: After twenty-two films and an utterly incredible journey, the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminated in Avengers: Endgame, a film that has changed the MCU forever more. However, even after all that drama and heartbreak, the MCU is not slowing down. Previously, after their flagship Avengers ensemble showdowns, Marvel turned to the smallest hero in their roster, namely Ant-Man. Now though,  it’s up to everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to pick up the pieces in the wake of the earth-shattering events of that climatic battle with the Mad Titan Thanos.

In the months since that intense battle, Peter is in an extremely tough spot, having lost his friend and mentor Tony Stark. On top of that he is trying to balance school life with his superhero web-slinging duties. With an upcoming school trip to Europe, Peter hopes that will take his mind off things and allow him to live a normal life. However, whilst he is off seeing the sights of Europe and trying to tell his crush MJ (Zendaya) how he really feels about her, a terrifying new threat emerges in the form of the Elementals. Whilst simultaneously, a mysterious new force in the form of Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) emerges, who claims to be from an alternate dimension.

“Karen, activate stealth mode….”

This is his fifth outing as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and Tom Holland proves once again that this is the perfect role for him, as he turns in another excellent performance . He’s got the bravado that a hero should have, but he’s still a lovable, if slightly awkward, dork. Though she had a relatively minor role in Homecoming, Zendaya’s MJ has a lot more screen time, given that she is now the subject of Peter’s affections, and the duo have solid chemistry. Similarly, the bromance between Peter and Ned is as strong as ever. Indeed, all of the class from Angourie Rice’s Betty to Tony Revelori’s Flash Thompson, have a lot more to do, likewise for the ever-reliable Happy Hogan.

Given how many Spider-Man films that have graced the big screen, it’s clear that director Jon Watts is aiming to broaden the horizons of Spider-Man. We have almost never seen him venture outside of the Big Apple, so to see him spin his webs around the globe is an extremely refreshing change. As these ominous Elementals threaten to wreak havoc on our world, which is where Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio comes into the picture. Mysterio by name, mysterious by nature as on first glance he seems like the kind of hero to fill the void that was left by Tony Stark, but that is just scratching the surface. When you get an actor of Gyllenhaal’s talents, it can only be a positive, and Gyllenhaal excels in this very intriguing role.

The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, carries over the John Hughes esque high school comedy vibe from Homecoming, and the jokes remain witty and hilarious. With each movie that Marvel has made since they were able to incorporate him into the MCU, they have taken the character in directions that haven’t been attempted before, especially with a truly mind-bending, and awesome, third act. In a post Iron Man/Captain America MCU, Marvel will need heroes to step to fill that void as we move into Phase 4, and in everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, you have a hero who is more than capable of taking on that mantle.

Closing out Phase Three of the MCU, Far From Home is another fast paced, entertaining, globe trotting adventure that cements Tom Holland’s status as the best live action Spider-Man we’ve had to date.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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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.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Captain Marvel (2019)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Captain MarvelFilm Review

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law

Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Synopsis: Whilst training on the alien homeworld of the Kree, a soldier has flashbacks of what she believes was her past life on Earth. With the threat of an alien invasion, she tries to piece together her memories whilst stopping the incoming attack…

Review: For all the might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its powerful array of characters, there has been one thing really missing from its roster. While the universe has seen plenty of powerful and inspiring women, it never had a female led film. This has all changed with the introduction of Captain Marvel, and though it has been a long time coming, this heroine makes quite the entrance, and she might just be the most powerful of them all.

Our titular hero is training on an alien planet belonging to the Kree (the race of Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy) with no knowledge of her past. Whilst on a mission, led by Jude Law’s Kree general to retrieve something of critical importance, she becomes caught in the crossfire of a war being waged by two alien species. Through a sequence of events, she arrives on Earth in the 90s, which coincides with one of those hostile alien races infiltrating the planet.

Look into my eyes….

One thing that any superhero film has got to get right is the casting for its main hero, and with an actress of Brie Larson’s immense talents, Marvel once again got their casting spot on. Larson gives Captain Marvel personality and depth, and she is a hero you definitely want to root for. As with any hero, she has moments of vulnerability but, she takes those head on and become the hero, which is just so satisfying. Though he might be de-aged Samuel L Jackson is once again extremely entertaining as Nick Fury. With the film being set before he became the gruff eye-patched badass we know and love, he is able to get out and about and not glare menacingly at people. Also, yes that little ball of fur AKA Goose the Cat is the purrrrrfect (sorry) little companion.

It is extremely positive to see, at long last, a MCU film directed by a woman. Furthermore, Boden and Geneva Robertson-Dworet become only the second and third women to receive writing credits. The screenplay wastes no time putting the audience right in the picture from the word go, but its not without its problems. It does wobble in one or two places, most notably the second act. The pace comes to a sharp halt, as it strives to weave some extremely relevant political subtext into the story. Admirable as this may be, it doesn’t quite flow as seamlessly as it could do. With this being the 21st film in this universe, it is difficult for the filmmakers to make something that really stands out from the rest. There’s nothing on the magnitude of say one Mad Titan snapping his fingers and half the population turning to dust.

However, this isn’t to say that the action Boden and Fleck give us isn’t extremely entertaining. It is exhilarating, especially once we hit the third act and Captain Marvel has acquired her stripes, accompanied by a glorious 90s soundtrack. The arrival of Captain Marvel brings a new dimension to the MCU that opens up an array of possibilities for the future of the franchise, that will hopefully have more female heroes front and centre.

 The familiar formula of MCU films of the past is very much present, but with a terrific lead performance by Larson, Captain Marvel is a very welcome addition to the Marvel roster.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

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Ant-Man and the Wasp – Film Review

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Hannah John-Kamen, Judy Greer, Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer

Director: Peyton Reed

Synopsis: With Scott Lang (Rudd) still under house arrest, Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Douglas) believe that they may have uncovered a clue as to how retrieve Hope’s mother from the Quantum realm…

Review: Sometimes you have to wonder, is Marvel intentionally picking on the smallest hero they have to follow and pick up the pieces in the wake of a cinematic juggernaut? It was 2015, when we were first introduced to Scott Lang, and his chance encounter that led him to becoming the titular hero, all while following in the wake of Age of Ultron. Now three years later, and the torch is once again passed to Ant-Man once again who must step up, in the aftermath of the earth-shattering events of Infinity War.

However, as was the case in 2015, turning attentions on its smallest (and sometimes biggest) hero provides a much welcome comic relief that helps lighten the mood. We find Scott, after running away to join Cap in Civil War has consequently been put under house arrest. However, his quantum realm foray in the last film triggers a potential lead to Hope’s mother, long since believed to be lost there several decades ago. Scott finds himself teaming up with Hank and Hope once again in a bid to find her. All the while, new threats emerge hoping to steal some of Pym’s rather fantastic tech for their own mischievous purposes.

You all look like insects from this height…

The film does follow its predecessor in a lot of ways, not least of which is how zany it is. Same universe though it may be, it feels like it is another world away from the likes of Black Panther. The story is also similar, lots of chit-chat about ants, as well as some science-y lingo and of course, as you would expect at this point from Marvel, lots of humour. When you have an actor well known for his comedic chops like Paul Rudd as your leading man, you know that you’re going to get a charismatic and funny performance, and once again Rudd delivers exactly that.

Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas are also on excellent form once more, with the former finally able to get her wings as the new Wasp and take some bad guys down. Though not all of the humour works unfortunately, Michael Pena’s very funny flashbacks from the first film are once again called upon, but this time it feels a bit forced for the sake of an extra laugh or two.

What Edgar Wright would have brought to this franchise, we will almost certainly never know. Nevertheless, Peyton Reed proved he was an assured choice to direct the first film and once again, he directs the action sequences with a zippy energy that keeps the plot moving along at a steady pace. However while it should keep the attention throughout, there is nothing here that will likely stick in the mind of the audiences once we hit the credits. The story does try to have a more personal edge to it, but this again is a bit hit-or-miss. And while there is an attempt to flesh out chief villain Ghost (John-Kramen), she does unfortunately fall into the category of somewhat disposable MCU villains, likewise for Walton Goggin’s smarmy businessman.

For the most part, the film stands on its own two feet (or should that be wings). It is an undeniable blast of colourful and fun insect sized entertainment, there is nothing here to leave a lasting impression. As for where it stands in relation to the seismic events of Infinity War, make sure you stick around for the mid credit scene, as that is one that is likely to have a very significant impact for MCU films to come.

Retaining the eccentric humour of the first film, competently acted and directed by all concerned, but ultimately, there is not enough sting in this one to rank it up there with the very best film to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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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

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shuri. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Fruitvale Station, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!

 

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

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Thor: The Dark World – Film Review

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Jaime Alexander Christopher Eccleston

Director: Alan Taylor

Synopsis: As Thor works to restore the peace to the Nine Realms in the wake of the events of The Avengersa new threat emerges in the form of the Dark Elves who are after something called the Aether…

Review: Life certainly isn’t easy for a God, especially not for the ones of the red cape wearing variety. In the same year that saw one red caped wearing God struggle to find his place in the world, and fight a battle that saw an entire city suffer some horrific destruction. We had another one trying to clean up the catastrophic damage that was made by his pesky little brother. But for the latter, namely the God of Thunder, there’s an even bigger problem on the horizon that needs his attention, and above all else, his hammer.

As the climax of Phase One of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe drew to a close, the Avengers had banded together when all seemed lost to help stop Loki and his extra-terrestrial army from subjugating Earth.  Following on from all that wanton mayhem and destruction, and the aftermath of it all is where we find Thor who is now seeking to restore order and peace to the Nine Realms. Yet a new threat is emerging in the form of the Dark Elves led by Malekith who is seeking possession of a powerful artefact known only as the Aether.

Having capped off their first Phase in tremendous style, there was an obvious need to do things a little bit differently to keep interest in the universe alive and to prevent it from becoming stale. By consequence, with the the loss of his powers and how me must learn what it means to be worthy to wield Mjolnir or “Miew Miew” as one character so eloquently puts it, being central to the story. As such the studio clearly decided to change that up a bit and this time there’s no big life lesson Thor has to learn while not being as mighty as he used to be.

thor tdw
The man with the mighty mallet…

He’s the all powerful God of Thunder throughout and well it’s a good thing he is since Asgard comes under attack from the Dark Elves who have a history with the Asgardians, none more so than their leader Malekith, who has a very personal score to settle. The story while it is interesting and fun to watch, it doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of what the MCU had seen up to this point. there’s nothing here that feels fresh. It all feels a bit by the numbers in terms of the direction. No disrespect to director Alan Taylor, who up to this point had overseen some terrific Game of Thrones episodes.  For instance the Avengers just had Joss Whedon’s stamp all over it. Here, while the action is well handled, it does feel like there’s nothing that feels truly special in terms of giving audiences something that they had not seen before.

Given that these films are centered on the titular God of Thunder, the right man was needed for the job, and once again Chris Hemsworth showed he was absolutely the right man to wear the cape and wield the hammer. Equally important to the equation, and another excellent casting choice is of course Tom Hiddleston as Loki who despite committing those terrible atrocities in New York is a character whom you just can’t help but like, even though he’s perhaps the most untrustworthy character in the entire MCU, but you know that as a character he’s someone you almost find yourself rooting for due to his roguish personality.

However, as with the first film, the villain here is a real let down and perhaps maybe the poorest MCU villain to date. Christopher Eccleston is certainly a very fine actor, but as Malekith the script really doesn’t flesh him out to the point where you understand where he’s coming from and he comes across as just extremely generic and not in the least bit memorable. Ultimately, despite for the most part being enjoyable to watch, even at this point in the MCU, it slots in nicely as a sequel to both the first Thor film and The Avengers, but certainly doesn’t stand out from the crowd in the ever expanding world of comic book movies, which is something that even an object as powerful as Thor’s magic hammer cannot fix.

There’s more than enough here to enjoy, but a pretty by the numbers story and direction mean that The Dark World is not mighty enough to ensure it lands a place among the plethora of truly memorable superhero flicks.