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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.

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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.

The Nightmare Before Christmas review and why it’s awesome

Well, if you can’t beat them, join them. After years trying to physically combat Halloween I thought- why not just join in the fun? Everyone spends this month gushing about their favourite horror movies and whilst I’m not a horror movie fan, I am a fan of the awesome, holiday blending classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. What better time than to look back on one of my favourite movies? December? Probably, but October is as good as time as any. I mean, it’s always a good time to watch the Nightmare Before Christmas, but October and December are the best. I know it’s only the 4th of October and we have a while before Halloween but that hasn’t stopped the shops so it won’t stop me (although it seems to me Halloween is dying a slow and painful death in this country, which is great. Perhaps we could focus on a non-stupid holiday). Anyway, let’s dive straight into this-

The main reason why I like this movie? The songs. Rather than use them randomly, The Nightmare Before Christmas uses the songs to build a unique world. One of the reasons I’m not a huge Disney fan (I am aware that this movie is technically a Disney movie but I digress) is that the songs just seem pointless and tacked onto pre-established stories that didn’t have singing in them. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an original universe telling an original story and it uses songs as part of that universe. That’s how to make a musical I like. And with brilliant songs such as This Is Halloween, Jack’s Lament and The Oogie Boogie Song, which is my favourite, the singing and music just makes this movie what it is.

The world is so well detailed. Halloweentown feels like a real place full of really fun and interesting characters such as the Mayor with the rotating happy/sad face, the trio of consecutively smaller people who hide in each other’s hats, the vampires, the ooze guy and my personal favourite, the big tree with skeletons on him. None of these characters are fleshed out or given backstories but they don’t need to be- this really is a movie where you just enjoy the ride rather than try and look too deeply into anything. The whole idea of multiple holidays co-existing is also too cool for words and I would love to see the other holidays team up with the residents of Halloweentown and battle Oogie Boogie, Krampus and other holiday villains. However, at the same time I’m glad there haven’t been any sequels to this movie and how it exits on its own. The attention to detail and minor details such as a spider being the Mayor’s tie is amazing.

Jack Skellington is a great protagonist and I love the simplicity of his story. He tries to do the best but messes up, so he moves on and learns from his mistakes to try and be a better person. Sometimes that’s all a character needs. He is also one of the coolest looking characters ever, and between him and Skulduggery Pleasant I think I really like skeletal characters. I will admit that the romance “arc” between Jack and Sally comes out of nowhere and the two characters barely know each other until the end. It’s a pretty out of nowhere ending. It’s almost like Disney forced Tim Burton (who didn’t direct it despite his name being on the movie) and Henry Sellick (who directed this movie and the equally awesome Coraline) to include a romance. Incidentally, despite producing the movie Disney found the movie too dark to release it under the mainstream Disney banner, instead releasing it under Touchstone Pictures. However, they have brought the film into their mainstream banner due to the popularity it has gotten. This now means Nightmare Before Christmas is officially a Disney movie, and not in a Marvel or Star Wars sense- I mean a proper sense. Well, I guess that’s two Disney movies I like (this and the first Pirates of the Caribbean).

The Christmas elements are so well integrated into the film. It shifts from a creepy Halloween movie to a full on Christmas film for a few scenes before merging the two brilliantly. I adore the use of colours in this film, with the Halloween scenes being lit in grey and blacks whilst the Christmas scenes are all about bright reds and greens, perfectly contrasting each other. Even the music switches, with the sombre violins and moody sounds switching to cheery bells and trumpets. Making Christmas perfectly combines the two worlds in one of the film’s best sequences-

The stop motion involved is nothing short of breathtaking. The movie was made over 20 years ago yet it still looks perfect, with the stop motion animation truly making the movie unique and fun to look at. The style is perfect for the offbeat tone that the movie is channeling and I honestly couldn’t imagine this movie working with conventional animation, 2D or 3D. The film took two years to animate but it was ultimately worth it as the movie still holds up even now. It makes me wonder why stop motion animation isn’t more popular when this movie essentially showed the world it could work. This film is also a reminder that just because the movie is half about a holiday I don’t like and is in a genre I don’t like doesn’t mean I won’t like it. A good movie can come from anywhere and be about anything, as long as it’s good.

Overall, I still love this movie after all these years. It really was the first movie I remember really liking and rewatching again and again on DVD, to the extent where I think I watched it every day at one point. Despite the fact it isn’t very deep or thought provoking, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a fantastic Halloween and Christmas movie that I recommend everbody watches no matter their age. It certainly made an impact on me. So this Halloween, watch The Nightmare Before Christmas and get immersed in the greatest non-Futurama musical ever.

Incidentally, this isn’t an endorsement of Halloween after my long war against it. I still think it’s highly pointless but if you have to do something for it, watching an awesome movie would be a pretty good way to spend an evening. Like I said though, any day’s a good day for The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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.

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.

Doctor Who Series 10: Thin Ice Review

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With it being slightly frosty this week, yesterday’s episode was very appropriate for the weather. Regardless of weather, this episode still continues the trend of fantastic stories from Series 10. I’m serious, if these early episodes are supposed to be the “weaker” ones, then I just can’t wait for the upcoming ones.

One of the best things about this episode is how it’s completely different from last week. We’ve gone from a sci-fi mystery with robots and lasers to a Regency-era costume drama with a big fish/snake thing. It’s this kind of juxtaposition that I love from Doctor Who, and this is probably the biggest contrast for consecutive episodes since Rings of Akhaten/Cold War.

The character work was superb this week, as both regulars got huge amounts of development. Sarah Dollard really knows how to write the Twelfth Doctor and he gets one of his best outings in a while, with his characteristic snarking, humour and cynicism mixed with humanity and warmth. The highlights are when he punched Sutcliffe for his treatment of Bill (I’ve seen people complain about this, but trust me, the Doctor is NOT a pacifist. Just watch any Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker story) and his speech about human progress.

Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s… what defines a species.

There’s also the continued development of Bill, and this episode once again shows what Moffat and co should have done with Clara in Series 7- show that travelling with the Doctor was not always fun. In this story, she sees a child die (pretty dark considering Doctor Who is a family show) and is understandably upset about it. There were hints of this in Cold War when Skaldak was killing the redshirts, but Clara never had a moment to reflect on what she saw. By having Bill realise the darker side of the Doctor and respond in a realistic way, it makes her more human and relatable. There are plenty of fantastic scenes between them and all three episodes so far have essentially been just her and the Doctor learning about each other. I feel like beginning from Knock Knock, the stories will get larger and more plot based.

I really liked the villain, Lord Sutcliffe, and he was basically exactly what I wanted after two weeks with no villains. I said I liked him when it’s really more “love to hate”, as in he’s so evil and careless that I just couldn’t help but like him and hate him at the same time. He’s essentially a villain from the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era, I appreciated the return the stingy, metaphorically moustache twirling, condescending, obnoxious figure of high power that just irritates the Doctor and the audience. He’s so evil that his death is immensely satisfying. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent human villain on Doctor Who, and Sutcliffe is probably the best since Solomon from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I’d have liked to see more of him though and have his plan expanded.

I’d love to see this guy spar with Edmund Blackadder, considering he was also in Regency London. I’d call the episode Fish and Finality. I reckon Sutcliffe would not be able to stand a chance against Blackadder.

There’s so much more to love about this story. One of the best aspects was how it handled the racism of 1814 and taught the children watching that it is never appropriate to be racist, regardless of what time period someone’s from (just because nearly everyone in 1814 was racist doesn’t excuse it). Whilst I love the Shakespeare Code, it didn’t really deal with the obvious issues that Martha would be dealing with in the 16th century. Thin Ice deals with the issue of Bill facing racism in the past a lot better, even if it was just by the Doctor knocking Sutcliffe unconscious in anger. Part of Doctor Who’s original goal was to educate the kids, and this was a good way to do it. Throwing in a real historical event and giving it a Doctor Who twist also makes the historical aspect of the show stand out more than just stories which happen to be in the past (what did the Vikings and Stuart settings add to the Ashildr stories last season?)

Another interesting element was the lack of aliens (again). It’s never really confirmed whether the sea serpent is from Earth or not and I like it that way. Whilst it is yet another misunderstood creature, the presence of Sutcliffe means there was an actual villain, although I really want the monsters this week to be the “we will kill you all” kind. Comparisons to The Beast Below are obvious as well as the Torchwood episode Meat (I’ve only recently gotten into Torchwood and I’ve been watching the good ones with my dad). There were also elements of Kill the Moon (companion makes a choice that revolves around a moral dilemma) but it’s handled better here because there weren’t any one sided dilemmas and no giant flying moon babies.

Ice to meet you (I know, I know, puns are terrible. Eye won’t make any more)

Overall, we have yet another strong episode. I feel like I’m in the minority when I say Smile is my favourite of this opening trilogy (its sci-fi aspects, clever twists and great dialogue sell it for me) but Thin Ice comes a very close second. As one of my most anticipated episodes pre broadcast it didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t much about the story arc, but we got a hint towards what’s in the vault (my Master theory is getting stronger) and it appears that Nardole will become a regular from next week.

Speaking of next week, we have a mysterious landlord, a haunted house, tree dudes and things in the wall. It feels like Ghost Light and the SJA story The Eternity Trap combined. Before that though, I’ll be reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.

The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part 3

It’s finally time to finish off the guide to my all time favourite book series before the Resurrection on the first of June. The final three books of the series are the longest and most complex in the series, but they never forget to be fun, witty and all kinds of awesome. Let’s start off with my favourite book in the series-

  • Kingdom of the Wicked

This is it. I’ve teased about my favourite Skulduggery Pleasant for a while but now I can finally discuss this epic story in as much detail as I can without spoiling much. First of all- that title. Secondly- that cover (actually all the covers are epic). This is the longest book in the series but it’s also the most fast paced and plot heavy. The mere premise of the book just grips you, and the opening prologue (it’s so epic it deserves a prologue) will raise so many questions that you will want answered immediately. I’m not going to reveal the plot as going into too much detail will ruin it, but the characters are fantastic, with an amazing “villain”(he doesn’t really count as one in my eyes), brilliant action sequences (remember how I said Death Bringer’s ending was nuts? This ending is even more nuts), and a captivating plot with twist after twist after twist. Try reading that final chapter and not want to read the next book straight away. I really wish one day to truly delve into this awesome book spoilers and all, but for now, I’ll just say it’s the definitive Skulduggery book in my eyes.

  • Last Stand of Dead Men

I’m using the hardback cover image for this one as it’s the one I have, but both the original covers and reprinted covers I’ve been using for the rest of them are brilliant. War has come to the world of Skulduggery Pleasant, and things get really big really quickly. Whilst this book is the one that strays the most from the detective premise of the series (it’s essentially Sherlock Series 4 in that regard) it is still an incredible read, with a realistic depiction of war (I won’t spoil the details but the seeds are sown from Dark Days), powerful character moments and, as expected by this point, a massive, massive revelation which changes everything, and I do mean everything. This is probably the most serious book, and it does get very dark at points, but it’s never too dark. The ending of the book is a direct lead in to the next. Which brings me to…

  • The Dying of the Light

The ninth, and until June 1st the final book in the series, this book takes aspects and elements of every single book and combines them into one glorious whole. It’s hard to reveal much without spoilers, but this book is truly epic, capturing everything great about the series. It’s the first book since Death Bringer to be laugh out loud hilarious and the action scenes are as usual fantastic. After nine books, the characters had grown and changed and reading what seemed like the permanent end to the series was just mesmerising. Everything the series is great at is here: characters, action, humour and a great Doctor Who reference near the end. All in all, a fantastic end.

Except it’s not. As we all learnt, Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection is coming out on the 1st of June this year, hence these posts. I don’t think I need to explain how excited I am for this book, and along with Doctor Who Series 10, The Last Jedi and Thor: Ragnarok it is one of my most anticipated nerd events happening this year. I did also really like Derek Landy’s other series, Demon Road, and his awesome Tenth Doctor short story, and I hope he writes a full Doctor Who story some day, whether it’s on TV or a book.

Now for the big question: do I want a film? If done right, of course. It all depends on getting the right people (David Tennant as Skulduggery and Guillermo del Toro directing for me) and making sure Derek Landy has as much creative involvement as possible. Honestly, I feel like if an adaptation has to be done, then go for the Sherlock approach- three 90 minute movies for three weeks on TV, with each trilogy forming a season. It would be less bloated than a full blown film franchise and honestly the best way I’d want to experience Skulduggery Pleasant outside of the books. But until the inevitable adaptation comes, we’ve always got the books.

The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part One

On July 29th 2016, I was in Iceland, tired from a plane flight that was only five hours but felt a lot longer. My tiredness subsided the instant I read the news- a tenth Skulduggery Pleasant book was coming in 2017. My favourite book series was back with a bang.

skulduggery-shrine

My “Skulduggery Shrine” on my shelf. I don’t actually have the first one as I read that at junior school and fell in love with the series.

So, with a new book on the horizon, naturally the nine previous books are going to be republished with new covers which look awesome. Unfortunately/fortunately, I have the equally awesome older editions with one hardback. The first three books, otherwise known as the Faceless Ones trilogy, were re-released a few days ago, so I felt like it was time to discuss them this month, with the next two months covering the other two trilogies, At the end of my third post, I’ll sum up why I love this series and my hopes for a movie adaptation. These posts are designed to persuade anyone who hasn’t read these books yet to try them, as this year is a pretty good year to start.

  • Book One: Skulduggery Pleasant

skull dude

Much like Harry Potter, the books start off simple. This is an incredibly fun read that pulls the reader into a gripping mystery from the first page. Here’s the first paragraph:

“Gordon Edgley’s death came as a shock to everyone -not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his new book, And the Darkness Rained Upon Them, and the next he was dead. A tragic loss, his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away.”

What a hilarious, dark and clever way to start. Gordon Edgley’s death fuels the mystery of the first book. Through this simple hook the rest of the characters are introduced. The main character of the series is Stephanie Edgley, Gordon’s niece who inherits his house and who gets embroiled into the mysterious world of magic. There are major revelations regarding her character that I will not spoil. The other main character is of course the Skeleton Detective himself, Skulduggery Pleasant. He’s a fedora wearing, gun toting, trench coat donning, snarky, magic using detective who just happens to be dead and a walking skeleton. He is one of my all time favourite characters in the whole of fiction. Everything I love about a character gets thrown into Skulduggery Pleasant; the cool clothes, the snarky nature and the antihero aspect.

There are other characters, but I won’t go too in depth into them as it’s best to discover for yourselves the great characters. The plot is fast paced and exciting, with twists and turns. I mentioned in a previous post how Derek Landy’s writing appeals to me, as it’s very cinematic and reading it really feels like a movie is playing in your head. Which kind of makes a movie adaptation pointless, but it won’t stop Hollywood trying. I don’t to reveal everything about the book, but I can assure you it is a thrill from start to finish.

  • Book Two: Playing with Fire

playing-with-fire

This is the book where all the elements of the series really start coming together. We get more characters, such as the awesome Billy Ray Sanguine, and many aspects of this book are continued through to the ninth (it makes me so happy not saying “last book”). This time around, the stakes are not just doubled, but tripled, as the heroes have to battle three villains. Somehow, it’s even more bonkers, fun and carefully plotted than the last. It’s my favourite of the original trilogy, and probably my second favourite of the lot (I shall reveal my favourite in due course).

It’s also side-splittingly funny. One of the best aspects of the series is the constant witty banter and funny lines. Even as the books get longer and darker, Derek Landy never forgets to add humour, but knows how to restrain it for character and emotion when necessary. Playing With Fire is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, with this legendary exchange between Skulduggery and the villain, Vengous, being only one of the hilarious moments in the book. And it’s still not the funniest scene in the series:

‘”Are you going to shoot me?” Vengeous sneered. “I wouldn’t be surprised. What would a thing like you know about honor? Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight.”

“And only a moron would bring a sword to a gunfight.”

This book remains one of the highpoints of the series for me. The characters, humour, action, plot and thrills all combined together to make this book the one that convinced me to keep reading the rest.

  • Book Three: The Faceless Ones

the-faceless-ones

Not to be confused with the Doctor Who story of the same name (Derek Landy is a Whovian and I’m hoping that one day he will write an episode. Or two. Or three.) The third book brings the plot elements of the previous two together to create another great story. This time, a massive conspiracy causes Skulduggery to come into blows with a criminal gang determined to destroy the world. This, along with Death Bringer and The Dying of the Light, are the trilogy closers and they are all great, but we’ll get to those later.

The trilogies are organised very well. The first book introduces the new elements of the world and the story arc, the second one ups the stakes while the third closes it with a big explosive finale. The Faceless Ones is one of the more serious books, with it being the finale to the initial arc, but there are still fantastic moments of humour like this-

“Then I reckon we got ourselves a good old-fashioned standoff.”
Nobody moved, or said anything, for the next few moments.
“Old-fashioned standoffs are mighty borin”

This book changed the series. No longer were the stories standalone action/detective plots but they were now part of a much larger narrative. Once you finish this book you will immediately want to move onto the next, where the Necromancers rise…

But that’s for next month, where the next batch of new covers will be released. I hope these posts will help people to discover these awesome, awesome books. I feel like they’re the perfect blend of young adult (a genre I usually avoid completely) and younger children, although like Harry Potter they do get darker and more mature as they go on.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio review

After a whole year without Doctor Who, this Christmas saw the return of everybody’s favourite time travelling Scotsman. This year combined the world of Doctor Who with superheroes, another one of my favourite genres. With tough competition from other Christmas specials such as A Christmas Carol, The Snowmen and The Christmas Invasion, The Return of Doctor Mysterio thankfully maintained the (mostly) strong quality of the Christmas specials. Although let’s be honest, all this special had to be was not be The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe to be better than that one.

An interesting note I made straight after the episode finished. In the show’s entire 53 year run, the only story where the Doctor travelled with a male companion throughout was The Keeper of Traken, where the Fourth Doctor and Adric were the TARDIS team, with Nyssa not becoming a companion until the next story Logopolis. If we exclude The Next Doctor, End of Time and Closing Time, where the Doctor was travelling alone and had a temporary companion, as well as the Massacre, where Dodo joins right at the end of the story, then The Return of Doctor Mysterio is the only other story in the whole show’s history to have that distinction.

doctor-and-nardole

For all the naysayers, let me assure you that the Twelfth Doctor and Nardole still isn’t as odd as the Sixth Doctor and Frobisher the shape shifting penguin.

Incidentally, I really like Nardole. He didn’t have much to do in Husbands of River Song, but this year he fits into the companion role well. I love his interactions with the Doctor and he had plenty of funny lines (I love his exclamation of “Oo, elephant”. I dunno why.) I’m also glad he’s returning for Series 10. Bill may be the main companion, but having a second companion is great. Just look at Two/Jamie/Zoe, Four/Sarah/Harry, Nine/Rose/Jack and Eleven/Amy/Rory. I also like any companion who breaks the “girl from modern Earth” trope.

As for the Doctor, well, he’s brilliant as always. It’s funny how I think the Twelfth Doctor is so much more enjoyable when not partnered with Clara. He works so much better with Perkins, Ashildr, Osgood, River Song and Nardole, not to mention his appearance in Class. He even worked better with Davros, that’s how much I didn’t enjoy Clara. In this special we once again see the funny side of Twelve. I’ve heard people complain that he got sidelined, but I honestly don’t see that. He goes through the episode eating sushi, making puns and pressing buttons randomly. That’s the Doctor I love.

The plot is very cliche, but that’s OK for a Christmas special. The main villains, Harmony Shoal, were a great link to last year’s Christmas special (looks like they’ve been taking notes from the Master in “quick reappearances”). I love the way the brains have eyes and how their faces rip open to hide guns. Their plan was reminiscent of Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Zygons and Aliens of London, and while it doesn’t make much sense (it didn’t make much sense in any of those stories either), I’m willing to forgive plot holes when the story is entertaining.

squick

This special means that the Shoal of the Winter Harmony has appeared in the show as much as the Mara, the Macra, Omega, Peladon, the Monk, the Rani and Sil the Mentor and almost as much as the Zygons. Huh.

This is an absolute laugh riot from beginning to end, and it’s right up there with The Romans, City of Death, The Unicorn and the Wasp and Robot of Sherwood as one of the funniest stories in the show’s history. The highlight of the whole episode for me was Lucy’s interrogation of the Doctor using Mr Huffles. I honestly do not think any scene in Doctor Who history is quite as ridiculous or completely hilarious. My favourite aspect of the scene is the Doctor’s pained expression when hearing Mr Huffle’s “screams”. It’s as if he doesn’t know whether the toy is actually in pain or if he just doesn’t like the noise.

The superhero aspect was also handled really well. Superhero movies are popular so it makes sense for Doctor Who to tackle it (and it is NOT the silliest thing the show has ever done, as I’ve stated here). Just like the Jon Pertwee era homaged James Bond and the Tom Baker era homaged Hammer Horror and later Star Wars, Return of Doctor Mysterio homages the superhero genre while also fitting into the Whoniverse nicely. I am slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a Karkus reference, as any mention of The Mind Robber is a plus for me, but that’s a personal gripe.

karkus

Much like last year, in amongst the silliness there is a simple story that’s built on character. Not only does the plot stand on its own but it links in with the Doctor’s grief over River, thus explaining Nardole’s presence, and potentially sets up the Doctor’s mindset in Series 10. All the characters felt relatable and real, and it gives me real hope that Bill will be great in the way Donna, Ace and Sarah Jane were.

All in all, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was a great episode that helped me ease back into the show. Between this and Husbands of River Song, which I also immensely enjoyed, not to mention the pretty great spin off Class, the sour taste of Hell Bent has been almost completely wiped from my memory (I may enjoy most of Steven Moffat’s stories but I certainly did not enjoy the finale). This year has lacked Doctor Who, but for me personally it’s allowed me to get even more into it. I’ve met two Doctors in London Comic Con, enjoyed countless Big Finish, almost finished Classic Who and immersed myself in the Doctor Who graphic novels. This Christmas special was just the icing on the cake for my Doctor Who experience this year, and while it’s no Christmas Carol (which is one of my favourite stories), it’s a dumb, silly and highly enjoyable romp in the vein of The Runaway Bride and The Next Doctor. That’s pretty much all I need for Christmas specials.

And that’s all.

Oh wait, I forgot something…

Oh yeah, Series 10 trailer-

Well, this almost overshadowed the whole special didn’t it? What can I say other than I’m looking forward to this a lot, and in a year which will also see more Star Wars, Skulduggery Pleasant, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man, Doctor Who will unsurprisingly take priority. Bill seems like a very down to Earth and fun character and the relationship between the Doctor and Bill from this trailer indicates a similar relationship to the Third Doctor and Jo or the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Bill seems like a combination of Ace and Donna, and with Nardole thrown in too, this TARDIS team seems like it’s going to be great. Not much to say really other than the Doctor is back.