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Avengers: Infinity War review- The most ambitious film since Return of the King

After 10 years, 18 films, 15 directors and countless heroes, Avengers: Infinity War is finally here. The amount of hype for this film is huge, as we have the culmination of the most ambitious film endeavour since the Lord of the Rings, if not even more ambitious. Does it live up to the hype? In short, with as little spoilers as possible, no.

Oh who am I kidding, yes, yes it does.

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Why I want the DCEU to succeed – and how it can

Yes, I’m doing this a week before Infinity War comes out. Because why not? In all honesty, I think this is a good time to look at the other massive comic book company (I won’t say “rival”, as Marvel and DC love the existence of each other, frequently sharing writers, artists and ideas). DC is the older, prestigious and more interesting neighbour to Marvel, yet for some reason their films have fallen behind the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? Warner Bros have all the characters, over 70 years of backstory and some of the most iconic characters in pop culture. How have they messed this up to the point Black Panther outgrossed the Justice League?

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What are Black Panther’s Oscar chances?

Black Panther is a phenomenon. This isn’t just a superhero film, this is a cultural statement, a message to the world, and easily one of Marvel’s best and most successful films. In just over a month, Infinity War comes out, and it’s a testament to Black Panther that the epic culmination of ten years that involves the Avengers battling Thanos is the one that must be better than the King of Wakanda. Ten years ago, Marvel probably wouldn’t dream of even getting nominated, but Black Panther’s unprecedented success has many people wondering if this is the year the barriers are truly shattered and Black Panther gets recognition from the Oscars. I’m not just talking technical, I’m talking Best Picture here. Could it happen? It’s actually more likely than usual. Let’s look at the case for-

What’s different this time?

The Academy has changed. When Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight failed to get a Best Picture nomination despite being hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture slot to ten. This has helped films such as District 9, Up, Toy Story 3, Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, Arrival and Get Out to get nominated (all very worthy nominations for great films, may I add.) Whilst there were only nine films this year up for nominations (seriously, couldn’t they have nominated Logan or Blade Runner 2049?) the field is open for a superhero film. So why wasn’t The Winter Soldier, another acclaimed Marvel film, or Wonder Woman, another cultural milestone, or Logan, held up as the best superhero film since 2008, up for grabs? Let’s take a look at those in order-

Fellow MCU film The Winter Soldier has similarities to Black Panther- a more serious tone, relevant themes and a great and engaging plot. However, the issue lies with the franchising. In order to appreciate The Winter Soldier, you have to be aware of Captain America as a character and his arc in both his first film and The Avengers. The film has many supporting characters from the MCU film such as Nick Fury and Black Widow and the plot of the film revolves around events that tie into the wider universe. The film is unquestionably a franchise film, and the Academy don’t tend to go for sequels anyway. Black Panther on the other hand is a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the other Marvel films. Wakanda is a detailed world in and of itself and the film more than holds up as a singular superhero film. This is a key reason why I think it’ll be nominated.

OK, so what about the crown jewel of non-Nolan DC films? Why do I think Black Panther will get nominated over Wonder Woman? Make no mistake, Wonder Woman was a phenomenon as well and has just as much to say as Black Panther does about society both then and now, however there are two factors that Black Panther has over Wonder Woman. Firstly, as much as Wonder Woman is acclaimed, nearly everyone, myself included, agree that the third act where Ares reveals himself and the explosions begin is weaker than the outstanding first two acts. It’s not bad, but kinda cliche, especially when he starts to turn himself into a CGI demon. In contrast, Erik Killmonger is held up as the best part of Black Panther, and the third act does not stumble in the way Wonder Woman’s does. Another factor is the release of Justice League, which had Wonder Woman as a central character. I enjoyed the film, but it was hated by critics and failed at the box office, all the while Academy voters were preparing themselves to vote. Could the failure of Justice League have contributed to Wonder Woman’s Oscar snubs? More than likely. Infinity War  is set to smash all box office records and will almost certainly receive acclaim, and even if Ant-Man 2 isn’t good (which I doubt it will be), that won’t affect Black Panther’s Oscar chances. I think fate is on Wakanda’s side.

This brings us to Logan, the only superhero film to ever be nominated for a screenplay award and one of this year’s major snubs. Yes, a writing award is great but the acting deserved recognition, especially from Patrick Stewart. With that aside, people have been saying that Logan’s inability to get a Best Picture award means Black Panther cannot get one. It’s true that Logan’s wildly different tone and themes from most superhero films made it a prime award nominee, and Black Panther is more in line with the Marvel films and is ostensibly a superhero film, whereas Logan is more of a character driven western, but Black Panther has one thing Logan doesn’t- it has the cultural impact. Logan was widely praised and adored but Black Panther is a phenomenon and has taken the world by storm. It is a hugely important films for many reasons and has something to say about the current state of world politics. It has outgrossed most Best Picture winners combined and has made a massive cultural and social impact. What do The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET and Return of the King have in common aside from being blockbusters? They were all massively successful films that became events, which were rewarded with Best Picture nominations. Do the Academy really want to miss out on what is likely to be the biggest cultural event of the year that is causing Infinity War to look small by comparison? It’ll certainly boost the viewing figures.

Hey, if this can be nominated for an Oscar over LEGO BATMAN (!), then anything can.

There’s precedent for films like Black Panther being nominated. It’s obviously political so there’s that going for it (although I would like to think it got nominated for its own merits and not just to score points) and has a lot to say about the world currently. The release date isn’t really an issue, as Oscar-bait is slowly dying and more interesting films are taking over. Just this year Get Out, a satirical horror film about race relations released in February won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for three more including Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is a love story between a fish man and a mute woman and is ostensibly a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who specialises in speculative fiction. There is a high chance that Black Panther can not only be nominated, but win. It all depends on what else comes out though, although I guarantee that none will have the cultural impact of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige have a winner here- and it’s here to stay. Logan broke the screenplay barrier, now it’s time for the King of Wakanda to take one for the team and ride the Oscar glory.

Black panther review- You’ve never seen a superhero film like this

It’s only February, but Marvel have wasted no time in giving the world the first superhero film of the year, and it’s set a huge bar for the rest of the year. Considering Infinity War is next, you’d think Black Panther would mainly act as an excuse to set it up, but I was surprised at just how different and standalone this film was in relation to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the awesome intro is there, Stan Lee has his usual hilarious one-liner and there are after credits scenes but for the most part Black Panther is the most unique and out there Marvel film. You’ll never see a blockbuster or superhero film like it. This movie serves as a massive statement to critics who complain about all superhero films being the same- I dare the superhero cynics to find another mainstream blockbuster film that features a mainly black cast which serves as a celebration of African culture whilst also dealing with Shakespearean ideals about loyalty, disillusionment, identity and colonialism, tackles modern day issues such as immigration and inequality, has an utterly unique, Oscar-worthy visual design and world building that presents a fully detailed country with its own laws and customs which also happens to be plain fun (Black Panther 2 won’t count). Until there’s another one, I’m going to assume those critics have no idea what they’re talking about.

 

As the film’s been out in most countries for about a week and it’s been released in America now, I will be spoiling the film, although not massively.

Continuing on from his awesome introduction and arc in Civil War, T’Challa/Black Panther/The coolest character in the MCU returns home to Wakanda to be crowed king. Things are not so easy though, as he soon gets involved in a global plot which revolves around vibranium smuggling, the return of Ulysses Klaw and a threat to the throne of Wakanda. Already the film sets itself apart from the rest of Marvel by having a relativity contained plot- after the awesome action scene in South Korea (Marvel really loves filming there) the rest of the film is set entirely in Wakanda and has very personal stakes. But the uniqueness doesn’t end there, as this is a very thematic and dramatic film a world away from the buddy comedy of Thor: Ragnarok. Through the different tribes of Wakanda, incredibly topical issues are raised that are very relevant for today’s world. T’Challa believes in Wakanda’s isolation as he does not want the resources of his country being taken away by foreign powers like the rest of Africa, but at the same time he rules the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and believes this to be the right way, leaving the rest of the world behind to face their own problems. W’Kabi fears that Wakanda’s involvement in world affairs will bring unneeded immigration and integration, which risks Wakanda being just another country and Killmonger believes that Wakanda should be the leaders of the world and that it is justified, seeing how Western cultures took over Africa during the 19th century and how black people have been treated even now. His motivations make absolute sense. I was very surprised as to how political this movie was, but it wasn’t done in a hamfisted or preachy manner. It enhanced the film and made it a lot more complex than the usual blockbuster.

Speaking of Killmonger, he’s probably the best villain Marvel has ever done. Like Loki, he is a very complex and interesting character who opposes the hero in a far more interesting manner than just being evil. His motivations make total sense, his actions are justified and he gets a complete character arc which is immensely satisfying to watch. There’s also the return of Ulyssess Klaw, who is great fun to watch. The film’s villains are all great and Marvel have definitely improved on this front. This bodes well for Thanos. A great villain is nothing without a great hero, but fortunately Black Panther is an awesome character. He commands the screen every second he is on screen and in his solo film he is perhaps even more well thought out than his amazing introduction in Civil War. He is a hero who doesn’t see himself as one and definetly doesn’t see himself as a superhero, yet his actions and character are all heroic. He’s become one of my favourite Marvel heroes as he isn’t afraid to make mistakes and even do things that antagonise others, as long as it’s in the service of his goals.

The world of Wakanda and the highly unique style this film has is simply amazing. The film combines futuristic technology with African culture, and it’s so interesting to watch. Marvel have successfully made politics interesting- albeit the politics of a fictional nation which seems a lot cooler and a lot more well run than most countries today. That’s kind of the point though, as fear of expanding and helping others is one of the main conflicts of the film. For all the wider themes at play, this is still a comic book film, and the action is amazing. The fighting is very intense and quite different from the usual Marvel action and it reminded me in places of a 12-rated Logan. The final battle is also awesome and the film is never boring, always offering up something new and interesting. The links to the wider MCU are very thin, with only Klaw, minor references to Civil War and a hilarious Martin Freeman as Everett Ross offering wider links to the universe. I appreciate this though, as being bogged down in references would have alienated casual audiences. The standalone nature gives Ryan Coogler to tell his own story and put a unique stamp on Marvel, which he has done immensely well. As much as I am looking forward to Infinity War, I am desperate for a Black Panther sequel to return to this unique world.

In conclusion, I highly reccomend Black Panther, even if you are not a huge superhero fan. It’s different enough to stand on its own and it has a lot to say about race, diversity and building relationships, very relevant in today’s world. It’s one of Marvel’s best films and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a bit of recognition from next year’s Oscars for this film. Next up, it’s a film ten years in the making- Infinity War. April can’t come soon enough.

The superhero films of the year- A look back

With the release of Justice League this past week, the annual bunch of superhero films has come to an end. And what a year it has been for Marvel and DC! Two Batmen, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, Wolverine, Baby Groot and more. To me, this has been an outstanding year for comic book movies, so let’s go through one of the craziest, most insane years in superhero film history. We’ll start from the beginning, and there will be spoilers for all movies apart from Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok-

Way back in February, we had the hilarious LEGO Batman Movie. I haven’t seen the LEGO Movie, although I’ve heard it’s good and based on this movie, I will be first in line to the sequel (I’m also hoping for the Doctor to appear in that film). This is a great, fun film for fans of LEGO, DC and good movies. I honestly didn’t expect to love the movie as much as I did.

This movie homages and references all eras of Batman, from the 30’s to Batman V Superman. This Batman is absolutely hilarious, less of a Dark Knight and more of a spoilt rich kid who happens to be a superhero. In the first case of “superhero father problems” this year, Batman has to learn to raise the orphan Dick Grayson as his own son whilst also having to fight off the Joker, whose attempts to get Batman to notice him causes him to ally himself with every villain from every franchise Warner Bros can get their hands on. Behold, as we see Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong, Daleks and more team up with the Joker to invade Gotham City. The results are glorious-

This movie is just awesome. It contains so many references and in-jokes to over 75 years of Batman that I just couldn’t help but love every second of it. This is the first Batman film to have the Bat Family, the first to have Condiment King and the first (and only I think) to have the shark from Jaws defeated by Bat Spray. A great start to a great year of comic book movies.

And now for something completely different in the best comic book film of the year, Logan.

I saw this movie and the LEGO Batman movie less than a month apart. The difference could not be bigger and it’s a testament to the diversity of comic book films that these two movies exist in the same year, let alone a month apart from each other. I’ve gone on about how this movie deserves serious consideration at this year’s Oscars and I still haven’t thought of a single legitimate reason why it wouldn’t. In terms of final bows, I can think of nothing better than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine for one last time. Please Fox, don’t recast him, just leave this chapter of comic book history alone.

In part two of “superhero father problems” (yes I did just link the LEGO Batman Movie and Logan), an ageing Logan has to care for a dying Professor X in the near future, in the same way Xavier used to care for him. The daddy issues truly come to ahead when Logan ends up on the run with Laura, a young girl who happens to be a genetic clone of Wolverine. Logan now has to care for his “father” and make his “daughter” a better person than him, all the while escaping from the Ravagers. This is easily the darkest and least comic book like superhero film since The Dark Knight and is more like a western character study which happens to have a clawed mutant. This movie delves deep into themes such as redemption and what it means to have a family, and juxtaposes some of the best action scenes I’ve ever seen with complex character dynamics and moments of quiet.

Give. Patrick Stewart. An Oscar. Comic book films honestly don’t get better than this, and I honestly think this should be the last X-Men film (barring Deadpool films, but they’re allowed to exist because they’re Deadpool films). To end one of the oldest ongoing comic book franchises on this note will be so much better than the next continuity confusing X-Men movie. Seriously, the timeline is so confusing and whilst it’s not clear what timeline Logan is set it, I don’t really care seeing how this is a standalone film. The best comic book film this year, no question, and I expect to see this movie reap in many nominations come Oscars season.

Moving on to the giants of superhero movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe-

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the third part of the unofficial quadrilogy of 2017 superhero films about problematic fathers, and it’s the movie most obviously about the issue. The second Guardians film is a joy to watch, filled with fantastic comedy and great character growth. I’ve touched upon why I love this film previously, but since May I’ve grown to love the film even more, to the point where I love it more than the first film and it’s now one of my favourite MCU films.

This movie has one of the most emotional and powerful stories in the whole MCU, with Star Lord coming to terms with his father and completing his emotional journey across two films. The Guardians go through a lot in this film and whilst they come out on top, their world will never be the same again. Seeing all the arcs and subplots come together in the final act is immensely satisfying. This film is about belonging somewhere and embracing family. Ego is one of Marvel’s best villains, brilliantly playing off Star Lord and giving the movie a sense of real menace. The plot with Rocket and Yondu is my favourite part of the film, as they bond over their reluctance and then acceptance of fatherhood (Rocket with Baby Groot and Yondu with Star Lord).

This is a truly well written and complex movie with every character’s arcs tying into some way about the idea of family, friendship and trust. However, this is still a movie with a talking raccoon, a tiny dancing tree and Taserface, so it’s not all doom and gloom. But it’s the way the hilarious comedy is weaved together with this brilliant story that makes this one of Marvel’s absolute best. I do love the first film, but I honestly believe this film surpasses it in every way. A triumph.

And with that, we move onto the movie I’m so happy ended up being so good, Wonder Woman-

Oh DC, DC, where do we start with DC? I’ll go into their current predicament later, but for now let’s cast our minds back to June, when DC made a movie everyone could agree was good. I honestly prefer DC to Marvel overall (I’ll happily read a Green Lantern comic over any Avengers comic) and I only really like the Marvel characters in movie form. DC on the characters have characters I unreservedly love, especially the Justice League. So I was happy when Wonder Woman was great, as it was such a breath of fresh air for the DCEU movies. I didn’t hate the other films, but this movie was clearly superior to the others.

What this movie nails most of all is how to embrace the silly comic book roots whilst also dealing with incredibly dark themes and ideas. This movie is all about war and it doesn’t sugarcoat it in any way- Diana sees first-hand the horrors of the First World War and has her optimistic view of the world of man shattered. The movie also deals with the idea that humanity is flawed, which is something that Diana fails to grasp, as she sees defeating Ares as the key to ending the war, only to realise it is the humans causing the war with Ares merely guiding them. A lesser movie would have painted the conflict in black and white but Wonder Woman is all about what war really is, as anyone who knows history knows the First World War was far more complex than just good vs evil. It’s a really mature story but at the same time it embraces the comic book roots and has delightfully over the top action and effects. The No Man’s Land scene is, in my opinion, the absolute best scene in any comic book movie this year-

What a scene. I hope future movies write female characters in this way- make them strong because of who they are, not based on their gender (this applies to male characters too). This film could have easily been about how Wonder Woman is awesome because she’s a woman, but instead she’s awesome because of who she is and what she values. Ares is a great villain and I love how the film misdirects the audience into thinking it’s Luddendorf (who was actually a real person whadyya know?) before revealing the much more satisfying and thematically profound answer. This movie embodies who Wonder Woman is and why DC has endured for so long. If it wasn’t for Logan, this would be my favourite film of the year.

Moving on to the most iconic Marvel character, Spider-Man-

Remember how I said I mostly prefer Marvel characters in film form? That’s not the case for Spider-Man. I’m a huge fan of the comic book character, especially the original Stan Lee run. They’re incredibly cheesy but heartfelt and genuine, which is something this movie captures well. One of the highlights of Civil War, it was great to see a fully established Spider-Man and not having to go through the origin again. In Uncle Ben’s place we have Iron Man, whose role as a surrogate father figure and his clashes with Peter make this part four of superhero dads. This Spider-Man is just a normal kid, which I really appreciate, as it’s how the character started.

What works about this movie is how small scale it is. The world is not at stake and it’s not a part of the ongoing Thanos saga- it’s just a standalone film about a kid who wants to be a hero. The small stakes allow the villain to work- and I mean really work. The Vulture looks awesome, is awesome and is the best comic book villain of the year. You understand where he is coming from and why he’s doing what he’s doing, which is not something I can say for a lot of Marvel villains. In terms of characterisation, this Spider-Man is probably the closest we have to Stan Lee’s original vision and it’s great to see the MCU stripped down to Earth. In terms of past Spider-Man films this is very unique as it deals with issues not faced by the other ones, especially seeing how the MCU’s desperately wants to join the Avengers.

This is probably my second favourite Spider-Man film after Spider-Man 2 (which to be fair is a very high bar to reach) and it captures the care free nature of the comic so well. I particularly like the action scenes, as they feel really cartoony and ridiculous, which is what a Spider-Man film should be. I also love how Spider-Man leaves the Vulture alive, setting up not only a possible reunion but also a possible Sinister Six film. It’s also a really funny film, with lots of great laughs. And it’s not even the funniest Marvel film this year! But most importantly, much like Wonder Woman it captures who the main character is perfectly. I still love the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man films more (well, the first two), but this Spider-Man is my favourite. If that makes any sense.

And now to my favourite Marvel character, Thor-

I’ve written a review for this as my last post so I’ll keep it brief- this was my most anticipated movie of the year and it did not disappoint. Everything I want from a Thor movie is here and more. Every character is awesome, with the highlights being Korg (spin-off please!), Valkyrie and the Grandmaster. Thor is as funny as he always is, Hulk is great in a movie that shouldn’t really have him in it, and Loki is just Loki. Even Doctor Strange is awesome for the brief time he’s on screen. Incidentally, both Thor and Doctor Strange are Marvel characters who, like Spider-Man, I love the comics for as well. It’s also so, so funny- as in laugh a minute. It has amazing action, great character development and is the ultimate comic book blast. I can’t really dive into this one seeing how it’s still fairly recent but if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s still time. In short- watch it. Can’t wait for Black Panther and then… Infinity War.

And now for the elephant in the room, Justice League. This movie is causing quite a stir so let’s dive straight into this-

OK, this will be less about the film itself and more to do with the fallout after this movie’s poor box office. Firstly, I’m going to come out and say that I actually like this film. Admittedly it’s mainly because Wonder Woman’s in it and I really like this universe’s Batman now that he doesn’t kill people. Seeing the Justice League together was really cool and I’m glad Superman is actually Superman. The only character I wasn’t too keen on was Aquaman, as I think he was too similar to Thor in terms of personality and didn’t really resemble the comic book character. He could have been any hero. The villain wasn’t too great but overall I still enjoyed watching it. That said…

Let’s talk about the future of the DCEU and how they can improve. At this point the movie is severely under performing at the box office, causing mass panic for Warner Bros. It isn’t superhero fatigue (a term coined by cynical art-house critics; the other six films this year have all performed brilliantly) but mostly due to a lack of faith in DC properties and the mixed reviews. Whilst I basically ignore reviews for superhero films, a lot of people don’t and that has clearly affected Justice League- Wonder Woman was a success due to the positive reviews and its standalone nature, whilst Justice League has the highly divisive Batman V Superman in its shadow.

So what’s the future for DC? I don’t see Wonder Woman 2 being affected seeing how that’s the only successful franchise they have right now. Aquaman is still being released and depending on how successful that is we may have another hit franchise. As for the rest, I think Warner Bros honestly need to step back and think about this carefully. Personally, I would use Flashpoint to restart the universe, keeping everything that works (Wonder Woman) and changing everything else. Start the universe with a Wonder Woman film with the same continuity as her previous films, then do solo films for each Justice League member with the team up film simply called Trinity. I mean, they could make do with the current universe, but the fans have spoken and as a DC fan, I think a fresh start is in order. That said I still enjoyed this version of the Justice League, but I can’t see the current DCEU surviving outside of Wonder Woman.

So after this great year of comic book movies, I honestly think this has been the best year for fandom in ages. Marvel and DC were both on their best and I watched and enjoyed all the films. Next year is set to be even more nuts and if the quality of superhero films can keep up then we’re in for a good year. All we need is The Last Jedi and a good Doctor Who Christmas special to cap this year off in style.

Thor: Ragnarok review

Of all the comic book movies coming out this year, Thor: Ragnarok was easily the one I was anticipating the most. Yes, a LEGO Batman movie, Hugh Jackman’s last performance as Wolverine, the return of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie about Wonder Woman, Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Justice League on screen was all very exciting (and good, although we don’t know about Justice League. Hope it’s good seeing how awesome Wonder Woman was) but honestly, having my favourite Avenger return after eight movies since The Dark World and a minimal role in Age of Ultron was enough for me to count down the days until October 24th. My hype for this movie even overshadowed my hype for The Last Jedi and equal only to that of Doctor Who and Skulduggery Pleasant. Long story short, this movie was already in my good books from the second it was announced.

And then the Hulk was going to appear. In a loose adaptation of Planet Hulk. Then Doctor Strange was going to appear. Then the trailers came out.

OK, I wanted this movie now.

So, did the movie live up to my Hulk-sized expectations? Yes, yes and yes. Thor: Ragnarok is easily one of the MCU’s best movies, purely because it embraces the comics in such a firm way that it literally is a 60’s comic book brought to life. The last time I had this much fun at a cinema was the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and I consider this movie to be even better than that one, which is already one of Marvel’s best.

Without spoiling too much (the movie still isn’t out in America), the plot, as you probably gathered from the trailers, revolves around Thor having to reclaim Asgard from the clutches of Hela, the goddess of death. His travels lead him to re encountering the Hulk, now a gladiator on a distant planet following his departure from Earth. Together, and with the help of a bounty hunter known as Valkyrie as well as Loki, Thor and Hulk build a team to take back Asgard. It’s a really simple plot and very easy to follow, however it’s still compelling thanks to the characters and action throughout. This movie is not bound by the other movies in the series and can be enjoyed as a standalone. It’s very different from the first two Thor movies yet still finishes his franchise in an incredibly satisfying manner.

The best (and funniest) aspect of the movie is Thor and the various dynamics he has with various characters. His interactions with Loki (I won’t reveal how the ending of The Dark World is resolved) are just as hilarious and complex as ever and despite the constant humour there is still room for some heartfelt conversations. Their relationship really is one of the best in the whole MCU. Loki is just as delightfully wicked and sarcastic as ever and he remains one of the highlights of any movie he’s in.

Then there’s the dynamic with the Hulk which builds upon the character’s previous appearances. I can’t discuss his arc too much without delving into spoilers but I honestly think that this is the best portrayal of the Hulk yet. His appearance makes this movie so much more fun as superheroes working together will never not be cool. I love the juxtaposition of Thor and Hulk’s roles in the first Thor movie and this one- in Thor, Thor was a fish out of water adjusting to Earth. In this film Hulk, or rather Bruce Banner, serves as the fish out of water in Thor’s very alien world. I can’t wait to see these two again in Infinity War.

There are a whole load of new characters and they’re all great. The standout character to me was Korg, an enslaved gladiator who looks like a giant rock monster yet sounds like a soft spoken New Zealander (in fact he’s played by the film’s director, Taika Waititi.) The contrast between his appearance and his voice is hilarious and his personality is incredibly upbeat and fun. I hope he returns for future movies. The other standout character was Valkyrie, who steals every scene she’s in. It’s hard to discuss her arc without spoilers but suffice to say it’s very satisfying. Another character who ended up being surprisingly great was Skurge the Executioner. You wouldn’t think a minor character would have a well rounded arc, but he does and it’s great. Doctor Strange’s appearance in the film is great, but he has a very minor role to play. It is great how the characters can just cross over and this bodes well for the future.

The final main character is the villain, Hela. Marvel have been on a good track record with villains recently with Ego and Vulture both being fantastic. Hela is certainly better than Malekith but at the same time is a step down from the two recent ones. The main problem is that she is off screen for vast amounts of the movie as the story unfolds elsewhere and whilst her backstory is compelling there isn’t much done with it. That said, she’s still a great villain who poses a genuine threat to the heroes. In a movie this entertaining, the villain honestly isn’t the most important aspect. A minor villain who steals the show is the hilariously camp Grandmaster, who runs the gladiator arena Thor finds himself in. Every second he is on screen is utter hilarity. Just watch and see for yourself as he is one of the funniest characters.

The action in this movie is incredible and honestly feels like a comic book come to life. The colour pallate is completely insane and is very unique. Not even the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are this insane. The jokes come thick and fast and this is easily one of the funniest Marvel movies. As a result it may not be for everyone but for anyone who is concerned about how serious this movie is I can say without spoiling that the MCU has been changed in a major way and that the path for Infinity War has been set. I cannot wait.

All in all, I highly recommend Thor: Ragnarok. It’s easy to get into without needing context for the other Marvel movies, although it does help. It’s a non stop thrill ride that never stops having fun whilst continuing both the stories of Thor and the wider Marvel universe. For a Marvel and Thor fan, this movie was an absolute blast and anyone who loves Marvel will almost certainly have a good time.

Preparing for Ragnarok: The Thor-athon

Thor: Ragnarok is almost here (in the UK anyway) and to say I’m excited is putting it mildly. My favourite Avenger teaming up with the Hulk and Doctor Strange? Sign me up! Add on top of that the amazing trailers and great reviews and my excitement levels for this movie has hit peak levels. What better time than to reflect on the God of Thunder’s previous movie outings?

Let’s start by discussing one of my favourite Marvel movies, the first Thor. I feel like I’m in a minority here but I still consider this to be an outstanding movie and easily the best origin movie for Marvel. The best part about this movie is the intense character work at play- it almost feels like a Shakespeare story (although given the fact that Kenneth Branagh directed this movie I think that was intentional).

Thor goes through major character development. He starts the movie off as an arrogant prince who believes himself to be superior to others and acts rashly to impress Odin. Then, when he is banished he believes all he needs to do to get back to Asgard is to reclaim his hammer. This is not what needs to happen however, as he realises he needs to learn humility and defeat in order to return. It is so satisfying seeing this character development, which turns Thor into the more well rounded and fun character present in the Avengers movies.

The other fantastic character is Loki, who is still the best MCU villain by far. He is such a complex character who despite his selfish actions is easy to sympathise with and relate to. All he wanted was the same level of respect as Thor, however the way he sought that attention was wrong. He’s the kind of character we don’t get enough of in comic book movies- villains who don’t want world domination or the destruction of the universe. Personal stakes are sometimes so much more compelling than huge stakes, and that’s ultimately what Thor is about. The story is a simple story of brotherhood and family drama yet it’s shrouded in a familiar comic book tone, meaning this movie can appeal to anyone.

What an amazing scene this is. Tom Hiddleston is a fantastic actor and I think he’d be a great Bond.

Are there flaws with the first Thor film? I suppose the Earth characters are not as fleshed out or interesting as the Asgardians, despite there being really funny scenes on Earth, such as this-

The problem is that the romance between Thor and Jane isn’t the greatest subplot in the world and the portions on Earth tend to drag more than the Asgard scenes. It’s all worth it however for when the two stories combine and Thor returns to Asgard to battle Loki. In a fantastic final scene, Thor breaks the rainbow bridge to save Jotunheim but he is unable to return to Earth and reunite with Jane. He makes the sacrifice for the greater good of Asgard, becoming the hero he always wanted to be. The stage is set brilliantly for The Avengers.

Our next trip to Asgard is often called the weakest Marvel movie and I both agree and disagree. On the one hand, Thor: The Dark World is one of the simpler Marvel movies with many flaws that I’ll go into and it lacks the emotion and character of the first film. That said, it’s still very entertaining and a great popcorn film that acts as a very good refresher between the character driven Iron Man 3 and the game changing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, if you’re watching the MCU in order.

Let’s start with the biggest negative here- Malekith. Marvel had Christopher Eccleston, an actual Doctor, playing the main villain and he’s completely wasted. He has no motivation, hardly speaks, is barely in the movie and is generally a wasted villain. This is a problem with other villains such as Ronan the Accuser but he had a very strong screen presence and was a genuine threat even if his character was a bit thin. Malekith on the other hand is just dull, especially compared to his charismatic comic book version. If Christopher Eccleston’s commitments to this film was the main reason he couldn’t do the Doctor Who 50th anniversary, then it’s a real shame that his role in Thor was so lacklustre (at least we got John Hurt in Doctor Who, so it’s really a two sided coin).

OK, onto the good stuff, as I do think there’s a lot of good in this movie that makes me ultimately enjoy it. The best thing about this movie is the humorous yet complex dynamic between Thor and Loki. Loki is a very interesting character in this movie as he isn’t the villain yet still does not have the best intentions, as the ending shows. He is forced to work with Thor and despite their antagonism he clearly still respects Thor. Their Asgard escape is my favourite part of the film, as it has both of them working together and frequently butting heads in hilarious ways-

The plot is actually very clever and despite Malekith being a weak villain, the Dark Elves as a collective are very cool. The siege of Asgard is very fun, being kicked off by an awesome scene of Heimdall taking down a Dark Elf ship and ending with the death of Frigga. This portion of the film truly embraces the comic book nonsense of Marvel and is a joy to behold. One thing I love about this movie is how quick paced and action packed it is yet it still has time for quiet character moments such as the conversation between Thor and Loki after their mum’s death-

The third act of the movie is fantastic. After escaping Asgard, Thor, Loki and Jane arrive in Iceland- sorry, The Dark World- and Loki seemingly dies. This was a great misdirection and a genius way to up the stakes of the movie. The battle for the Aether then reaches London and the Dark Elves invade Greenwich, forcing Thor to take the Tube-

He should just be glad it wasn’t rush hour. Trust me, that is not something you want to be stuck in. I don’t live in London but I have been caught in Tube rush hour a few times when I’ve been there and I fully sympathise with the people who have to commute every day.

After a great duel across dimensions, taking in Jotunheim, the Gherkin and the Dark World, the MCU’s weakest villain is defeated and regenerates into David Tennant (not really). There isn’t really much to discuss in terms of themes when it comes to this film as it is just a bit of fun, so I can see why people dislike it, but I still really enjoy it. It is one of the weaker MCU films, but considering how good they usually are that’s still an indication of a fun film.

Overall, whilst I do understand why some people find the Thor movies to be among the weaker movies made by Marvel Studios, I don’t really agree. The first movie is in my top five favourite MCU movies and the second is still very fun. I cannot wait for Ragnarok (I’m watching it on opening day, so I expect a full cinema) and given that it is currently critically acclaimed I can assume that the Thor franchise will end on a high.

3 reasons why Logan deserves Oscar consideration

It’s September, so the agonisingly painful Oscar season begins. This is the time of the year when movies which no-one has seen suddenly get called the “best movie of the year” and the past 8 months of movies get ignored. Although let’s be honest, this year has been pretty poor for blockbuster movies so I can actually sympathise with Acadamy voters getting fatigued by endless remakes, sequels and reboots no one asked for. That said, there is one movie, released just before the summer, that really does deserve Oscar consideration- Logan.

And I’m not alone in this, as 20th Century Fox have already sent the DVD out for consideration to Acadamy Award voters. Does it deserve award recognition? Definitely. Here’s three reasons why-

  1. People will pay attention to the Oscars

I’ve said this before, but the truth is no one cares about the Oscars anymore unless they’re directly linked with them or film buffs, like me. The general public don’t care what film wins due to the films being mostly inaccessible and unappealing to a general public. Here in the UK we don’t get the majority of Oscar movies until January/February the following year! How is that supposed to represent the best in film in the 21st century? The only times people pay attention is when something like Return of the King, Mad Max or Inception get recognised. The absolute best way for the Academy to make up for this year’s disastrous Oscars is to finally recognise the genre that’s been dominating cinemas- the superhero/comic book genre. What comic book movie more than any other deserves award recognition this year? I think you know the answer, and it’s not Captain Underpants. Nominating Logan, a movie that has been adored by both critics and fans (a rarity for Oscar winning movies) will make people go “Oh, there’s that movie I really liked- I’m going to watch the Academy Awards to see if it wins”.

2. It will act as a consolidation for the failure to acknowledge superhero movies in the past

If Logan is nominated for Best Picture, or (wishful thinking) win, then the Academy will gain serious credentials for actually remembering good movies do exist outside of their incredibly limited bubble of biopics and three hour long Swedish black and white movies with Greek subtitles. The superhero genre has been majorly snubbed by the Oscars. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor for the Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 won Best Visual Effects and Suicide Squad (surprisingly) won Best Makeup this year. That’s the only three I can think of, and only one was for a major award. The Dark Knight wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which led to a massive backlash and made the Academy double the movies eligible for Best Picture from 5 to 10, something they have conveniently forgotten every year since. I’m not saying the Avengers or Wonder Woman is the kind of movie that wins Best Picture but Logan is, and ignoring yet another mature, critically acclaimed comic book property when they quite literally have no excuse considering how many they can nominate will prove once and for all that the Academy Award voters are out of touch with modern viewers and unable to look past the source material of a property. A comic book movie (I’m not saying superhero because the movie really isn’t a typical superhero movie) getting major credentials could be seen as the Academy acknowledging the genre as a whole, and the strengths it has. Think of a hypothetical Logan win as a win for all comic book movies, Marvel or DC. One of the finest examples of the genre, scooping the most prestigious award in the film industry and flying the flag high for the future of the genre.

3. It’s a great movie and isn’t that what the Oscars are supposed to be honouring?

Keep in mind that I’m not just doing this post because I want to see a comic book movie win Best Picture. I understand that most movies like Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t going to win Oscars- I would like a separate blockbuster category for the typical superhero blockbuster. Logan however has been genuinely hyped as the first superhero (again, that term is used loosely) movie that could sweep the board in terms of major awards, and it deserves it. It’s not just a great comic book movie, it’s just a great movie. The story is incredibly engaging and well told, the themes addressed are very dark and compelling and it’s a brilliant ending to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. This is a fantastic movie even without the comic book label. The Oscars are supposed to be honouring the best movies of the year regardless of genre. Now’s the time to actually uphold what the award is for. A comic book movie like Logan doesn’t happen every year, and this is the closest movie since the Dark Knight to break the mold of “superhero movies are dumb” mentality (a dumb, dumb mentality in itself). I cannot wait to see if this movie does smash through all the awards and breaks that mentality once and for all.

Is this all wishful thinking? I hope not, as Fox clearly think the Academy will consider it. At the very least I expect a Best Actor nomination for Hugh Jackman, who has been playing Wolverine in various movies across 17 years. That’s dedication. We’ll find out if the Academy have changed their mind on comic book movies early next year.

Update 23rd January 2018: Well, the nominations were announced and I was close. The Adapted Screenplay nod is pretty major for a comic book film but I’m disappointed there weren’t any Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor or Supporting Actress nods. Still, the screenplay award is a great achievement for a comic book film though and let’s hope it wins. That said, there were 9 nominees and there’s room for one more, so why wasn’t it given Best Picture? Oh well.

Spider-Man 2 review

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It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks in the world of fandom, in particular the latest Marvel movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. My expectations are sky high, and I hope the movie can live up to the great run of previous MCU movies as well as live up to the fantastic standards set by comic book movies this year, with all of them being brilliant.

So, to honour the third incarnation of Spider-Man on the big screen, I’m looking back at not only my favourite comic book movie, but one of my favourite movies in general: Spider-Man 2. In my opinion, this is also the finest sequel ever made.

What’s so brilliant about it? Simply put, it’s the story. The story of Spider-Man is simple: a cocky teenager is given powers through chance and through events such as the death of his uncle he learns to use his powers for good. This is all set up in the first film just fine, but it’s in this movie where the themes of the character come into play. In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker is struggling between his superhero identity and his normal life. He fights crime at night but loses focus on the things that he cares about such as Aunt May and Mary Jane. It’s a simple but captivating dilemma: should Peter give up his responsibility as a superhero to be happy or should he continue his superhero life because it’s the right thing to do even if he can’t be truly happy? This dilemma is at the heart of the film and is the main reason why this movie is amazing.

It’s all in the subtlety of how the story is told. While I love The Dark Knight, I feel the themes are a bit “in your face”. The characters often break the flow of the movie to discuss the themes at play, which is fine, but Spider-Man 2 addresses its themes in a more subtle manner and maintain a strong pace throughout. This is helped by the humour (especially J Jonah Jameson), the comic book esque direction and colour pallette (one of my few flaws with the MCU is how the colour palette is the same greyish tone throughout, except for Guardians of the Galaxy) and the camp factor. It’s an inherently cheesy movie but I feel like it has to be: it’s a movie about a guy dressed in red latex fighting a guy with giant mechanical arms. I feel like comic book movies have to be cheesy, which is why I’m glad DC is embracing the inherent silliness of their comics in Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad after the grim tone of their previous movies. The key to avoiding a completely camp disaster is to have heart and a sense of direction, which is what Spider-Man 2 has.

J Jonah Jameson is the. Best. Character. Ever.

There are so many standout scenes, most of them not action scenes. Even a simple scene like Peter admitting to Aunt May what really happened the night Uncle Ben died have so much impact due to the background behind the characters. My favourite scene is Peter’s vision of Uncle Ben convincing him to keep being Spider-Man, which Peter refuses to do and throws the costume away. It’s a marvellous scene because it perfectly captures the themes of the film, which is Peter abandoning his promise after Ben’s death to ensure no one else has to suffer the same way he did. By abandoning his powers, Peter is also throwing away what Spider-Man stands for.

There’s also Aunt May’s speech about ordinary people having the strength to do extraordinary things as well as the scene where Harry Osborne learns of Peter’s secret identity. Harry is another strong character in the film and his journey builds brilliantly on the ending on the first film and sets up the third. Even though he isn’t the focus of the film, he still gets an arc, which is another strength of the film-making every character feel real.

The best character next to Peter (Spider-Man isn’t in the film much, but when he is it’s brilliant) is Doctor Octopus. An incredibly one dimensional character in the comics (he’s a mad scientist and that’s about it) is turned into a very complex, fleshed out villain. I wouldn’t even call him a villain, as he’s just misguided. He just wants to continue his experiments and the death of his wife drives him to madness and he turns to crime to help continue his research. This is why his sacrifice at the end of the film is important, as he realises the error of his ways. A fantastic villain who complements the themes of the movie perfectly, as whilst Peter is struggling with his double life, Doc Oc has embraced it. This is another aspect of older comic book movies I wish more recent ones would embrace, and actually have a compelling antagonist.

I haven’t even talked about the action yet. As I’ve mentioned, the action in the movie is not the main focus, with the action scenes being there to further the story forward. That doesn’t stop them from being fantastic though. Spidey and Doc Oc’s brawl at the bank is fantastic but the ultimate action sequence is the train battle near the end of the second act. After powerful character moments, compelling dialogue and a brilliant story which details Peter’s struggle to return to normal life, Peter Parker dons the suit once again to battle Doc Oc for a second time. The experience of watching the scene is nothing short of breathtaking, as it’s literally a comic book battle brought to life. I can’t describe the brilliance of this scene, so I’m just going to put the scene here and you will see for yourself. It’s the best action sequence ever put in a comic book movie and it’s so awesome the final fight in the old clocktower feels underwhelming in comparison, even thought it’s still good. The only other times I’ve felt this giddy whilst watching a comic book movie is the Avengers fighting each other in Civil War, and the only other action scene that gives me this amount of satisfaction is the Battle of Minas Tirith in Return of the King.

Overall, Spider-Man 2 is what I would call a perfect movie. It sits comfortably in my Top 10 favourite movies of all time and is the finest comic book movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard that Homecoming is the best Spider-Man film, and while I’m sure it’ll be awesome, I don’t feel like anything can top the genius of this movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 review

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Yes folks. Two posts in a week. And a post that isn’t a Doctor Who review!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how much I love Red Dwarf. I LOVE Red Dwarf.

And speaking of awesome sci-fi comedies (how’s that for a segway?), we have the latest Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. After the emotional highs of Civil War and the uniqueness of Doctor Strange, this movie was a return to the goofy banter and silliness of the earlier Marvel movies. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as the first Guardians movie is one of my favourite Marvel movies, and this movie is even funnier. The funniest characters are Drax and Baby Groot, who steals the show every time he’s on screen. I won’t spoil the jokes as this will be a spoiler free review, but the high level of comedy is maintained throughout the movie.

Much like Age of Ultron, this movie is a bit more complex and character based than the first movie. The team is split up and there are two stories going on: Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax get caught up with a mysterious figure claiming to be Star-Lord’s father whilst Rocket and Groot are being pursued by Ravagers. That’s the basic plot and I won’t give too much away, but it takes the Two Towers/Empire Strikes Back approach and takes time developing each character by splitting them up and focusing on the different dynamics. It really works and when the team unite at the end, it’s immensely satisfying.

My favourite character in the movie is Rocket Raccoon and he’s basically everything I love in a character: snarky, funny, complex and an anti-hero. He gets some awesome development in this movie and while the story doesn’t focus on him, he’s still my favourite character overall. His interaction with Groot are as hilarious as ever and the dynamic he shares with Yondu is great. Star-Lord gets the most focus and he goes through a lot in the film, and the film itself is a lot more emotional than the first, with darker themes and a major, major event that addresses one of the biggest issues in the MCU.

The villain of the piece is one of my favourite in the MCU.  Without giving anything away, they’re a lot better than most villains in the franchise and gets a lot of development. They are probably my favourite MCU villain along with Loki, Ultron and Alexander Pierce (I’m seriously trying to not spoil anything here- I’ve seen so-called “spoiler free” reviews that reveal plot points and characters. Kind of defeats the purpose of spoiler-free.) There are a lot of new characters, and I’ll admit not all of them are that memorable and there’s a character whose sole purpose is to be a punchline. It’s not too bad as it’s a funny joke, but some characters are pretty one dimensional.

The action is fantastic throughout, though not as innovative as Ant-Man or Doctor Strange. The climax is quite similar to other endings in the MCU but the emotional weight makes up for it. In an age where there are new Star Wars movies it’s hard for space battles to be particularly unique but there’s a still a distinct Marvel feel to the action and there’s a strong amount of variety in the action and plenty of quiet moments. The movie has really good escalation, with a big mystery and gradual character growth until the absolutely bonkers third act where the story gets genuinely fantastic. Despite this, the overall tone of the film is still optimistic, which is needed in movies at the moment and particularly due to the MCU getting darker. Much like the first movie, it’s standalone, so all you need to watch is the first Guardians of the Galaxy without having to know anything else about the MCU. It does help to have knowledge of the Marvel universe though, as many Easter Eggs and references are linked to the comics. Stan Lee gets one of his best cameos and the five (yes five) after credits scenes are a mixture of fun scenes and one very important one, so keep watching when the credits roll.

Overall, Volume 2 is another fantastic Marvel movie. Whilst it’s not as good as the first film or even the two MCU movies of 2016, it’s still a great time at the cinema and offers heart and emotion along with awesome action, humour and Baby Groot. Next up for the MCU it’s Spider-Man and then Thor, Hulk and Doctor Strange teaming up. I can’t wait.