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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry

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What are Black Panther’s Oscar chances?

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

What’s different this time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

My favourite Marvel characters

Today I will finally watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. With this, plus the fact that on Wednesday it was National Superhero Day, means I think it is time I stated which characters from Marvel comics I like the most. But, since I don’t want to leave out DC, I’ll quickly list my favourites from it-

  • Batman
  • Martian Manhunter
  • Aquaman
  • The Joker
  • Deadman
  • Mr Freeze

So now, let’s dive into the world of Marvel, starting with the God of Thunder…

  • Thor
Thor by xploitme via Flickr.

Thor by xploitme via Flickr.

My favourite Avenger, Thor appeals to me because he is so alien and yet so human. Not only does he possess great strength, he is also a hero through and through. He is one of the most heroic superheroes I have seen, willing to follow orders from lesser beings like Captain America and Iron Man and putting his life at risk for the safety of his friends. Despite this, he is still incredibly funny and has awesome powers, with a giant hammer called Mjolnir and the ability of summon lightning. He started out as a brash and immature god who used his powers to his gain, but thanks to Odin and the Avengers he learns to be a person who helps others. It also helps that I know bits of Thor’s mythology and the Norse gods, so he automatically appeals to me.

Let’s not forget he says one of the coolest lines in comic book history…

“Ultron. We would have words with thee.”

  • Captain America
Captain America punching Hitler. Image by Rick Marshall via Flickr.

Captain America punching Hitler. Image by Rick Marshall via Flickr.

Before The Winter Solider I didn’t think much of Captain America. Afterwards, I loved him. Captain America is the true leader of the Avengers, and it also helps that he is completely awesome. Whether he is a soldier, an Avenger or a spy, Captain America is a great character. He is stuck in a time which he is unfamiliar with and has grown and evolved in the 70 years since World War II. This would drive a normal person insane and upset, but Captain America chooses to push his emotions aside and fight the evils which still threaten the world. He is a strong person and it is easy to see why the Avengers choose to follow him. The true development for me though was in The Winter Soldier, when he uncovers a government conspiracy and discovers that he is truly out of time and that he is irrelevant as the world has moved on. It’s this, plus him being completely amazing at fighting which made him one of my favourites.

  • Magneto
Magneto by Bill Toenjes via Flickr.

Magneto by Bill Toenjes via Flickr.

My favourite comic book villain is the Master of Magnetism himself. What is fascinating about him for me is his motivations and goals. He wants to allow mutant kind to live in peace, but to him that means destroying humanity. This makes his rivalry with Professor X incredibly interesting. They don’t hate each other and they want to achieve the same goal in the end, but they each have different ways of getting about to that goal. His backstory of being a Holocaust survivor means he is perfectly justified in his reasoning as he is tired of persecution and hate. His powers are amazing, as he can turn a paper clip into a deadly weapon or the metal inside a person into floating balls, which he can then turn into a disk. He is my absolute favourite villain in any medium.

  • Ultron
Ultron by sly_3 via Flickr.

Ultron by sly_3 via Flickr.

I only really became aware of Ultron when the movie was announced, and upon some research and reading I discovered my second favourite Marvel villain. Like Magneto, his aims and reasoning for his actions make sense because of who he is. He was designed by Hank Pym (Tony Stark in the movie) as a peace keeping force, yet was not programmed to have human logic. As a result, he believes the only way to ensure world peace is to destroy all life. It’s flawed logic but it is justifiable. He also has a massive God complex, believing himself to be indestructible and above all life, leading him to create the Vision as a weapon and as a way to prove his might.

So they are my four favourite Marvel characters. I also like Spider-Man but he isn’t in my absolute favourite characters list, despite Spider-Man 2 being an amazing film. I also love the X-Men, but they are a group and I wanted to focus on individual characters for now.