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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.

The Harry Potter question: Can too much of a franchise be bad?

Hey there fellow Britishfolk (or is it Britons?) Did you know it’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published?

If you didn’t, I don’t know how you’ve managed to avoid every bookshop in the country showing massive signs with another brand new version of Philosopher’s Stone and the signs saying something like “20 years of Harry Potter!”

Now, on the surface this isn’t too bad. It’s a famous franchise which is celebrating a milestone. Here in Hampshire there’s a lot of promotion about it 200 years since Jane Austen died in Winchester. Star Wars recently celebrated 40 years this May and Doctor Who and James Bond had their half century celebrations in 2013 and 2012. So, why I am singling out Harry Potter, which keep in mind I do like a lot?

Why? Because we literally went through this “Pottermania” last year. Thanks to The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2016 saw a massive Potter resurgence (well, bigger than usual. Pottermania never really dies in Britain). So, we’re doing it again this year? I know it’s 20 years and that’s worth celebrating, but wouldn’t this year be a better year to release the script/play/book/whatever Cursed Child is and also release the first in what Warner Brothers are saying will be the first of five (FIVE!?) movies only tangentially linked with Harry Potter? Ah, but then we wouldn’t get two years worth of merchandising. How much merchandising is there? Well, not only can you buy the original Fantastic Beasts book (which isn’t actually a story), you can also buy the movie, the screenplay of the movie and the reprinted version of the original book.

Voldemort has just learnt his three year old edition of Philosopher’s Stone is now outdated and he has to buy another one.

It would be hypocritical of me to complain about new editions of Harry Potter without acknowledging that yes, there have been new editions of Skulduggery Pleasant released this year due to the release of Resurrection (which was awesome). My editions are mostly second edition. However, compare the amount of editions Skulduggery Pleasant has to the amount of editions Harry Potter has. Obviously Harry Potter is a much bigger franchise and is older, but there isn’t a picture book version of the first two Skulduggery books is there? Or a play made for money which was published as a book for further money which was released nine years after the story ended? Resurrection was released three years after The Dying of the Light with Derek Landy stating he had clear plans for Phase Two, which makes sense if you’ve read the books. I don’t think JK Rowling had plans for a Harry Potter Phase Two, hence why the “untold eighth story” came nine years after Deathly Hallows was published in the same year a spin off movie was released. Do you know why I don’t think she had plans for a Phase Two? Because Harry Potter is about a boy wizard who goes to school and stays there for seven years whilst stopping the rise of Voldemort. Seven years, seven books. You make another book not about Harry Potter at school or stopping Voldemort, I’m sorry, it’s not Harry Potter.

Incidentally, I’d like to know if there’s any Skulduggerymania in Ireland the same way there’s Pottermania here. You know, giant banners and a section of a bookshop dedicated to nothing but it?

I understand a multi billion pound franchise needs merchandise. Trust me, I think the same thing about some of the Star Wars merchandise as I do Harry Potter merchandise. But even then, George Lucas always had a nine movie plan, hence the new trilogy. Trust me, I will start saying what I’m saying here about Star Wars if there’s movies made after Episode 9. Are Rogue One and the upcoming Anthology movies ways to make more money of a recognisable franchise? Yes, they are. However, Rogue One bridged the gap between Episode III and IV, adding to both movies and was clearly linked to Star Wars by having the plot be about how the Rebel Alliance got the plans to the Death Star. In short, it’s made to make the other films better.

Fantastic Beasts is set a hundred years before the events of Harry Potter and has characters not even mentioned in the movies with a plot that has nothing to do with the movies. It’s like if Disney made a movie about Qui-Gon Jinn’s aunt and her adventures fighting a wampa, who hasn’t got anything to do with Star Wars. Guess what? Neither does Newt Scamander to Harry Potter. I know the movies will link with the Harry Potter movies eventually, but do we need FIVE movies to do it? Again, if Disney make five movies about Qui-Gon’s aunt, I’ll start saying the same things I’m saying here.

Whaddya mean there’s FOUR more on the way!?

I honestly feel like the franchise is being milked. It’s been six years since the last movie and ten since the last book. Suddenly there’s a mass resurgence of merchandise and new material after it’s stopped being relevant. Again, Star Wars was planned as nine movies and designed as an anthology series, and Skulduggery Pleasant only ended three years ago, meaning the new book this year just felt like a delayed sequel. Other great franchises such as Doctor Who, James Bond and comic book universes can constantly get renewed and changed. Harry Potter is one franchise with one story. I don’t care about what happens before or after- Harry Potter is about Harry Potter.

I just feel like enough is enough. I love the books, I love the movies. I didn’t grow up with them since 1997 for obvious reasons that I wasn’t born but they’ve been a constant part of my childhood since around 2006 and I have fond memories of them. I’m just getting annoyed at the constant new material and attempts to make more out of seven books and eight movies. I mean, JK Rowling’s richer than the Queen, I don’t think she needs more money and I feel like she’s stuck on what made her famous. If this doesn’t stop, Harry Potter will just become another franchise people will grow tired of. I’m getting tired of it, and I’m British, so if I say I’m tired of Harry Potter I’ll be exiled. Indeed, it’s the law to have at least one copy of a Harry Potter book in every house in Britain, next to the tea set and the complete Monty Python, as decreed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Only joking about all that, our laws aren’t that dumb.

It has to be at least two copies.

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.

Let’s talk about the Oscars

As many of you probably know, the Academy Awards (otherwise known as Oscars) took place on Sunday. Whilst the whole ceremony has been overshadowed by the “wrong Best Picture” debacle, there is another debate that is worth discussing, and that’s the fact that the ratings were the lowest in a long time. I know why: general audiences aren’t interested in the Oscars.

What do I mean? I mean that the movies that the Oscars choose to celebrate and the movies that general audiences choose to celebrate are very different. Of course there’s some overlap but let’s be honest here; most people care more about Civil War and Rogue One far more than La La Land. I’m not saying that you can’t care about all three, but ask someone on the street what they watched and they’ll probably say Star Wars. This isn’t just me saying I prefer superhero movies and other sci fi/fantasy blockbusters, which I do, but it’s just a general statement on how the shape of the movie industry is. Hollywood today is built on blockbusters, some are good, some are bad, but the 21st century is built on franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter and Star Wars.

When the Oscars first started in 1929, movies were still a relatively new deal. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, with the arrival of Jaws, A New Hope and Superman, that the “blockbuster” first started to emerge and audiences gravitated more towards killer sharks, space battles and men who can fly over the heavy dramas of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. This trend continued into the 80’s with Indiana Jones, ET and Batman before the 90’s became dominated by blockbusters such as Jurassic Park. Today we have a strong balance, but the Oscars still seems to think they are stuck in the Golden Age of the 30’s-60’s, and as a result are ignoring the biggest movies which people know.

Here’s a challenge- without using the Internet, how many Best Picture winners in the last 15 years can you name? With the exception of Return of the King, chances are it’s not much, if at all. The simple fact is that Best Pictures are not the most interesting. I’m not saying they’re bad, not at all. I really like the King’s Speech, which won the 2010 Best Picture. But Inception and Toy Story 3, both of which were also surprisingly nominated, are much more remembered and equally good. If the “Best movies of the year” consist of movies with limited releases that people haven’t heard of, they’re not going to care about the outcome. It’s even worse when the vast majority are only released towards the end of the year, basically defeating the whole “of the year” aspect of the Oscars, and even worse than that when the movies aren’t even released in other countries until after the ceremony, meaning people in the UK (we get Oscar movies in January and February) may be watching a movie win “Best Picture” that they can’t even see yet. No wonder people aren’t watching the Oscars, they don’t even know the movies being nominated.

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Now, I know blockbuster movies have been nominated and even won. Return of the King famously won 11 Academy Awards, and as much as it deserved every award (the Lord of the Rings trilogy is as a whole my favourite film), the cynic in me believes it only won because if it didn’t, there would have been riots on the street. It was the same reason Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated in 2015; it was so acclaimed by critics and general audiences there would have been a public outcry if it didn’t at least get nominated. In fact, the current Academy rules of a maximum of 10 movies are in place due to the huge uproar over the fact that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in 2008. Despite this, the situation is still the same, as the Academy are making the same mistakes, and they literally have no excuse. They nominated 9 this year, so why couldn’t they have used the final slot for Civil War? Last year there were two slots left empty: surely The Force Awakens and Inside Out could have been considered, and in 2014 The Winter Soldier, which is definitely Oscar-worthy, was left out (on the subject of the 2014 nominees, while it didn’t win, I did really enjoy The Imitation Game). I’m not saying these movies have to win, I’m just saying that the nominees need more diversity to get more people interested.

So how to avoid this issue? Simple. Have a new category for Best Blockbuster. I’ve suggested this in the past but I think it bares repeating, as even I have to admit something like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok isn’t going to be Oscar-worthy. So in order to honour all kinds of movie, have an award where superhero movies and other non-Oscar movies can compete. Have Civil War battle Rogue One and Doctor Strange and let the fans decide which is the winner. The BAFTAS (which I have watched every year since 2015, mainly because Stephen Fry is all kinds of awesome) have an award which is decided by the public (the Rising Star Award) so by having the Oscars let the public decide which blockbuster they enjoyed the most that year would be a great way of respecting the movies that the general public like watching. The box office says it all: with the exception of Return of the King (again) and Titanic, Best Picture winners never make as much money as the big movies, mainly because they’re lower budget so don’t need as much but because most people would rather watch LEGO Batman than the movies nominated this year. I know I did. I do want to watch Arrival though, which is a sci fi movie that got nominated this year, and sci fi is my favourite genre.

So that is how and why I believe the Academy Awards should evolve to adapt to the current movie industry. Well that and getting the right envelope to announce Best Picture. They’re never going to live that down.

The Harry Potter read-athon

At the beginning of this year, I compared two of my favourite movie franchises- Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I then said I hadn’t read either book series in full. Well, as of last week that has changed completely. While my reaction to the Lord of the Rings books was… interesting, I looked forward to reading the Harry Potter books. Having tackled a massive thousand page book with about half its pages dedicated to landscape, I could easily handle seven Harry Potter books. So, I slowly and patiently made my way through every book in the series (excluding Cursed Child, because from what I’ve heard… eek) and finally finished Deathly Hallows last week. My Harry Potter experience is now complete. I don’t need any stage plays or prequel films to satisfy me, although I want to watch Fantastic Beasts purely because the reviews have said Eddie Redmayne would make a good Doctor, so I want to see if I agree.

Anyway, onto the books. While I adore the movies and always will, having actually read the books in full now, I can totally see where people are coming from when they say they prefer the books. Starting from Goblet of Fire, the books cram so much detail and information in to the point where the movies have to cut out whole chapters and subplots.

I’m now going to go through each book and their respective movie, offering my thoughts on both-

  • Philosopher’s Stone

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The first movie is a childhood favourite and one of the few books I originally read in full. Reading it as a fifteen year old made the kid friendly writing stand out, but at the same time the writing is quite sophisticated. No wonder everyone fell in love with the Harry Potter world. Nothing is really left out except for a Potions challenge near the end of the book which Hermione solves while finding the Philosopher’s Stone. Not much to say about the first story really: it’s a simple plot that is enhanced by the later ones.

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  • Chamber of Secrets

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My favourite Harry Potter film for numerous reasons: it was my first one, there’s a giant spider, there’s a giant snake and I love the whole mystery and heightened sense of peril that it has. People say it’s the least important part of the whole saga, but I disagree. It establishes wizard racism, introduces Dobby, sets up the Horcruxes and Griffinndor’s sword and the fact that Harry is a Parselmouth. This is more so in the book, where Dobby is in every book after aside from Prisoner of Azkaban. The book is practically identical to the movie, with the only major event cut being a Deathday Party for Nearly Headless Nick. This is still my favourite film, but my favourite book is coming soon…

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  •  Prisoner of Azkaban

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Ah yes, the one with the completely terrifying Dementors. My second favourite film in the franchise, and the point where the films got darker, both literally and metaphorically. The book however, is much more in tone with the first two. As a result, I feel like I slightly prefer the darker tone the film took. There’s the introduction of two of the best characters in the series, Sirius and Lupin, and my favourite monsters from Harry Potter, the Dementors. Everything about these creatures is fantastic and the way the book describes them is just eerie. There’s once again not much difference between the two versions, except for a subplot revolving around Harry’s Firebolt which was left out.

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  • Goblet of Fire

 

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This is my favourite book in the series, and the point where the movies and books really started to shift. Some awesome stuff left out of the film include: a subplot with Hermione’s attempts to campaign for house elf rights, a giant sphinx in the third task, Blast Ended Skrewts, a subplot with Rita Skeeter and a whole new character called Ludo Bagman who was a judge at the Triwizard Tournament and really really should have been played by Steven Fry if the character was in the movie.

The whole plot revolving Voldemort’s return was also covered in more detail, with a massive conspiracy revolving around Barty Crouch. The reveal that Barty Crouch Jr was in fact alive and orchestrating the whole thing was a huge twist in the book, with a whole chapter dedicated to his plan. Keeping this in would have meant more David Tennant, and that’s never a bad thing. While I still enjoy the movie, I can see why many people feel that this is where the movies began to fall apart.

  • Order of the Phoenix

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Funnily enough this book was actually the one it took me the quickest to read, as I read it while helping a local theatre backstage as well as a train trip to London. It’s because of this that I didn’t actually feel like the book was too slow as I originally thought. However, I still feel a lot of the book could have been trimmed down, and the movie did a very good job of condensing it down. Umbridge is easily the most punchable and hateable character in the whole of fiction. Voldemort, Davros, Darth Vader, Sauron and the Joker combined are still less evil. There’s a lot of great themes in the story, with the Ministry of Magic determined to not accept Voldemort’s return and Harry’s struggle to spread the truth.

The movie used to be my least favourite, however I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a lot of good in it. All the padding from the book (endless house cleaning, teen angst, lots of exposition and more angst) is trimmed down considerably, with all the cool stuff left in. If there’s one major gripe I still have it’s that I wished the final battle between Dunbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters was as awesome as it was in the book.

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  • Half-Blood Prince

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Easily the biggest shift between the book and the movie to me. The movie is very dark both literally and metaphorically and acts more like a prequel to the Deathly Hallows movies. The book however, feels more self contained because of the details the movie left out. The major cuts all involved Voldemort’s past and the revelations about the Horcruxes, which were explained in more detail. There was also a massive battle at the end of the book, but that was cut because of the similarity with the climax of Deathly Hallows.

Everything the movie kept in was still great though. The final third in particular is great, with the shocking event that you probably know. Despite this, the title itself is left ambiguous. In the book it was revealed that Snape’s mother had the surname Prince, which explains the name he gave himself. This still wasn’t the best reveal though, as the Half Blood Prince plot seemed sidelined in favour of the Slughorn, Voldemort and Draco storylines. Harry Potter and the Room of Requirements would have been more appropriate.

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  • Deathly Hallows 1 & 2

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One book, two movies. The final Harry Potter story is spellbinding (tee hee) and ties up all the loose ends. The book and first movie is very slow, but as soon as the first Horcrux is destroyed, things get bonkers and awesome. The final chapters of the book are fantastic, with the Battle of Hogwarts, Snape’s story and the final battle being some of the best moments of the franchise. There is so much detail in the book that the movies had to leave out.

However, despite all this, the movies were still very good in my opinion. They’re action packed, emotional and ties the story up well. Most of the best aspects of the book were kept in and the escalation was magnificant. A fitting end to one of my favourite movie franchises.

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So that was my Harry Potter experience. Having now read all the books I can see why some people would prefer them, and I did really enjoy them. Unlike Lord of the Rings where I prefer one version over the other, I enjoy both versions of Harry Potter equally. I just wish JK Rowling would stop doing extra additions to the universe (FIVE Fantastic Beasts films?) and leave the story where it is, as it is amazing.

Doctor Strange movie review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a lot of strange stuff. From Norse gods to talking raccoons, synthetic androids and shrinking guys that can talk to ants, the MCU has done plenty of bizarre things in their movies, lifted straight from the comics of course. Their most recent movie, Doctor Strange, sees Sherlock Holmes become a sorcerer to defend Earth against threats from across the multiverse. Totally weird and bonkers, and totally Marvel.

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This movie is about Doctor Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who gets involved in a near fatal car accident and loses the ability to move his fingers properly. As a result, he goes to Nepal to find a new way of life, and ends up working with a secret group of sorcerers to battle a bunch of radical sorcerers who aim to bring chaos to the world. Most of this is his backstory in the comics, so revealing this isn’t spoiling much.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, mostly the visual effects. It is one of the most unique Marvel movies and the visual effects help add to this unique nature. Think the ending of Ant-Man was really weird and awesome? Well it gets tripled here, and Doctor Strange’s initial trip into the multiverse is truly breathtaking. I don’t watch movies in 3D but I think this movie would look great in 3d due to the great imagery. The action sequences are also great, with stunning choreography and incredibly interesting and dynamic sequences. I won’t spoil much, but the final fight is so bizarre and brilliant that it has to be seen to be believed. The best fight however, has to be the battle in New York (no you won’t get Avengers flashbacks). I won’t say much, but just-wow.

Another highlight is Doctor Strange himself. At first it was very weird hearing Benedict Cumberbatch in an American accent, but you’ll get used to it. Doctor Strange represents everything I love in a character- he’s snarky (this is Marvel), wears a cape, uses magic and has a strong arc through the film. At the beginning, he is arrogant and takes his job for granted, not really caring for anyone and believing himself superior to everybody else. Just like Sherlock really, so it’s perfect casting. When he loses his job due to his injuries he loses faith in everything and risks everything to reach Nepal and find a way to fix his hands. He shuns his new job at first, wanting only to heal himself, but events in the movie forces him to become Doctor Strange and battle evil.

A common criticism of Marvel movies is the climax always being “things in the sky trying to hit things on the ground”. Marvel have fixed this in recent movies, from Ant-Man’s hilarious subversion of the city battles of the Avengers movies to Civil War’s emotional and character driven final brawl, and Doctor Strange continues this trend. The climax seems like any other Marvel movie- then things get really clever and really fun to watch. I won’t spoil it, but it remained me a lot of the Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent. I guess good Doctors think alike.

Just like any comic book movie, there’s Easter Eggs and fun references to the comic books, but casual viewers should be able to get into it due to the standalone nature of the movie. There are references to the rest of the MCU, but as with Guardians of the Galaxy it is very accessible to anybody who has an interest in it. As per usual with the MCU, Stan Lee gets a great cameo and stay after the credits for an AMAZING tease. The opening Marvel logo has also changed, and it is glorious.

Overall, Doctor Strange is another fantastic entry into the MCU. Not only am I pumped for the sequel, but I desperately want to see Doctor Strange with the rest of the Avengers in Infinity War. I highly recommend this movie even to people who have not heard of the character or don’t enjoy superhero movies. It is a lot more character driven and clever than a standard Marvel movie and is more akin to Inception or Harry Potter.