Spider-Man: Homecoming

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr.

Director: Jon Watts

Writers: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers


This movie is a big deal for Marvel. For decades Spider-Man has been the comic book company’s flagship character; he is to Marvel what Superman is to DC. After two movie franchises in a little over a decade, one that became too silly for its own good and one that crashed under the weight of all the characters and stories it was trying to juggle, Sony has finally made a deal with Marvel to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. After a wonderfully received debut by Tom Holland in Civil War, Homecoming now marks the character’s third cinematic introduction a mere fifteen years after his first. It’s a bit different this time because Peter Parker is now a part of a larger world, one where the idea of the superhero has already been well established and where the world has already been threatened by gods, aliens, an artificial intelligence, sorcerers, and a guy with energy whips. Thus, to focus more on the themes of growing up and taking responsibility, Homecoming scales back on the epic fantasy and instead gives us a high school movie with superheroes.

After being drafted by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to fight for the Avengers, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is told that he’s not ready yet to join the superhero team and is sent back to school to focus on his studies. In the meantime Stark encourages Peter to be more of “a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” and assigns Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to look after him. Peter however struggles to balance his school life with his crime-fighting life. His best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) keeps pestering him about his ‘Stark Internship’, his decathlon team, led by Peter’s crush Liz (Laura Harrier), is getting frustrated with his inability to commit to the upcoming championship, and even his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) must be kept in the dark about his alter-ego. Meanwhile Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a salvager who was driven out of business years ago by Stark Industries, has gone into the arms trafficking business, dealing weapons based on Chitauri technology recovered from the Battle of New York in The Avengers. When he learns of Toomes’ activities, it falls onto Spider-Man to stop whatever it is he has planned.

Holland plays a much younger Peter Parker than either Maguire of Garfield ever played and his youth plays a prominent role. Spider-Man’s arc as a character has always been that he’s a young man learning to grow up and take responsibility, which is exactly what makes him so identifiable and relatable, especially to teenagers. In Homecoming his youth is emphasised in order to set him apart from the Avengers, most notably Tony Stark, who are pros at being superheroes and who understand the dangers and responsibilities of the job far better than Peter does. Although Peter is smart, talented and well intentioned, he’s also just a kid and he possesses all of the liabilities of youth. He is cocky, naïve and is in way over his head. Spider-Man has never just been a superhero fantasy, it is at its core a coming of age story and this movie embraces that by drawing inspiration from the filmography of John Hughes (which is good, but a little on the nose in one scene referencing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Angst, awkwardness and adolescence all come in abundance and the movie does a great job of showcasing those sides of Peter Parker.

The superhero side is also very good, but there is a slight disconnection there. The one thing I never really got from this incarnation of Spider-Man was a sense of what was driving him, a motivation. It’s hinted at in his first scene in Civil War but in this movie it is never elaborated in any meaningful way. Now, I’ve seen the other movies, I’ve read the comics, and I’ve watched some of the cartoon. I know full well what Spider-Man’s motivation is. The problem is that this movie throws us straight in without giving us some kind of foundation on which we can plant our feet. Uncle Ben, the lessons he taught Peter, and the role Peter may or may not have played in his death, we have no idea how relevant these are to this version of Spider-Man because they are never addressed. There is something of a stigma these days against superhero origin stories and not for no reason (we have after all seen two Spider-Man origin movies within ten years of each). I’m not saying that Homecoming had to be origin movie, but the crucial details of the backstory that fundamentally make Peter who he is do have to be addressed, even if it’s only in a couple of sentences. Leaving that out is bad storytelling.

Homecoming however is far from a bad movie. It is engaging, funny, thrilling and just delightful. Not only is Holland terrific as Spider-Man, he is hands down the best Peter Parker in any of the movies. His Peter is nerdy and awkward enough to make him a believable social outcast but also charming and eccentric enough to be likeable. Keaton as the Vulture is spot on and for me is easily the second best villain in the whole MCU after Loki. He is menacing, but also entertaining; villainous, but understandable. In addition, there is a twist with the villain (because there always are these days) that works incredibly well, bringing the conflict between him and Spider-Man to an entirely higher level. There are a couple of action scenes that don’t quite work, such as the climatic fight that takes place almost completely in the dark, but the ones that do work really well. As well as being his usual acrobatic self, this Spider-Man also makes effective use of the gadgets at his disposal such as his iconic web-slingers and a ton of other goodies provided by Stark’s suit. It’s not the best Spider-Man movie ever made but there is a lot to enjoy and a lot to be excited about going forward.

★★★★

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Writer: James Gunn


The original Guardians of the Galaxy has become such a monster hit in the years since its release that it’s easy to forget how little audiences were expecting from it at the time. Even though it was a Marvel property, the vast majority of viewers knew nothing about who these characters were or about the universe they lived in. All they really knew going in was that it starred the chubby guy from Parks & Rec and had a talking raccoon and a tree man fighting bad guys in space. People were so convinced that this movie with its strange premise was going to be Marvel’s first flop that they were taken completely by surprise when it turned out to be one of the funniest, most entertaining and awesome films of the year. Now that Guardians has lost that element of surprise, its sequel must somehow inspire that same reaction again while also managing the audience’s now eager expectations. Few films can live up to that kind of expectation, and I suspect that some will be inevitably disappointed when they find that this movie isn’t quite the gamechanger that the first film was. For me though, Vol. 2 is exactly the kind of sequel I hoped it would be.

Now renowned as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie opens with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) protecting some valuable batteries for the Sovereign race in exchange for Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). When Rocket steals some of the batteries for himself the Guardians must go on the run and end up crash landing on a planet where they are met by Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself to be Peter’s father. He invites Peter, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Groot fix the ship and guard Nebula. Meanwhile Yondu (Michael Rooker), now outcast by the Ravagers for child trafficking, is hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the leader of the Sovereigns, to track down the Guardians and capture them, a task he accepts but is reluctant to carry out.

The opening sequence sets the tone perfectly for this sequel. The Guardians are gearing up for a big fight with a giant CGI tentacle monster only for the battle to occur in the background as we instead follow Baby Groot around as he dances along to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’. Not only is it a clever and funny twist on a trope we’ve seen in countless other blockbusters, it reminds us at the outset that Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t and has no interest in being a generic, interchangeable action-driven movie void of character and plot. Guardians has character, whimsy and heart and wants to showcase them to its audience. There are certainly great moments of action that occur from Yondu taking over a ship with his whistling arrow to Gamora’s ultimate showdown with her sister. However, much like how the best scene in Age of Ultron was when the Avengers were just hanging out in Tony Stark’s apartment, Guardians is at its best when it allows its characters to just be themselves.

At its core Guardians of the Galaxy is about family and that theme becomes most prominent when Star Lord finally meets his estranged alien father (who, of course, is played by an 80s icon). Thus, with the revelation of who he really is and where he comes from, it isn’t long before Quill finds himself torn between his biological family and his makeshift one. The movie however expands on the same theme with its other characters, bringing equal attention to the combative sisterhood shared by Gamora and Nebula and the surrogate father-son bond Quill shares with Yondu. Rooker in fact was the biggest surprise for me as he gives this movie, and perhaps the whole MCU, its most touching and heartfelt performance. Although there may not be any real question about what the film’s resolution will be, which is that family is who you’re with and not where you’re from, the way that it gets there is still compelling and, in the end, moving.

When a property is as big and as successful as Guardians has become in the last few years, it becomes so easy for studios to decide that all they want to do is ride on that success and phone it in. This is why the movie’s best quality is how earnest and sincere it all feels. The effort that Gunn and his team put into this movie is evident not just in the attention and care they put into the story and its characters but in the visuals as well. The movie is teeming with radiant colours that movies like those in the DCEU don’t think exist, the set-pieces such as Ego’s home planet are wonderfully designed and the film is rife with striking visuals such as those in the space jumping scene. The movie does become cluttered and even a little by-the-numbers in the third act but Gunn does such a great job of keeping the focus on the characters and all of their motivations that it doesn’t really slow down the film for me. Even though Vol. 2 doesn’t have the surprise factor that made the first movie such a mind-blowing revelation, I actually enjoyed it even more. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy a great work of pure entertainment, but Vol. 2 is also one of those rare sequels that took everything that was good about the original and made them even better.

★★★★★

Doctor Strange

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stulhbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill


2016 saw a continuation of the superhero trend that is dominating Hollywood right now with at least five major movies being released prior to Doctor Strange. In this kind of climate it’d be difficult for any one of these films to distinguish themselves from all the others. On one hand we did get Deadpool which won audiences over with its R-rated content and rule breaking but we also got X-Men: Apocalypse, a half-hearted, generic rehash of its previous instalments. Although Marvel is certainly guilty of following formulas that can get tiring at times, their films have mostly succeeded in this regard due to the different elements and genres they’ve been able to bring to their cinematic universe. Over the last couple of years for example they’ve made an espionage thriller in The Winter Soldier, a space opera in Guardians of the Galaxy and a heist movie in Ant-Man. In keeping with this tradition Doctor Strange depicts a genre unlike any other seen in the Marvel franchise: the mind-trip movie.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a highly successful and arrogant surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. His former girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), also a surgeon, tries to help him move on but Strange is determined to restore his hands through risky and experimental procedures. His obsession soon leads him to Kamar-Taj in Nepal where he is taken in by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a Celtic sorceress. There Strange discovers the existence of astral planes and other dimensions and is taught the teachings of the mystic arts. However Strange is quickly forced into action when a rogue sorcerer called Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) threatens the Sanctums that the Ancient One’s order is sworn to protect. With the help of friend and mentor Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange must master his abilities and defeat Kaecilius before he can complete a ritual that threatens their very existence.

When viewing Doctor Strange as a mind-trip action movie, the most obvious comparison to be drawn is Inception. Like the Nolan movie, Doctor Strange contains many action set pieces that bend and distort reality in spectacular ways. When the sorcerers enter the Sanctum, all bets are off as they freely defy the laws of nature in their mystic battles. Gravity becomes subjective, perception is skewed and time is not absolute. The film also undertakes a slightly more philosophical approach than the typical Marvel movie as Strange must learn to master his own failings before he can master the art of sorcery. He never does lose his arrogance, on the contrary he learns that arrogance is part of what makes him a great sorcerer, but rather learns to live and fight for a cause that is greater than himself. This arc is not unlike that of Tony Stark in the earlier Marvel films, but Strange has enough of its own identity both in its protagonist and as a film that it doesn’t feel like a simple retread.

Benedict Cumberbatch (in keeping with the law which holds that he must be in everything) plays the newest hero in the MCU canon proficiently with both humour and gravitas. As he portrays Strange in his narcissism, cockiness and resoluteness, it is near impossible to imagine any other actor in the role. The whitewashing that took place with the Ancient One is rather glaring (especially in a movie about a white man adopting and mastering an Eastern discipline and surpassing all of his ethnically variant peers in the process) but to Swinton’s credit nobody can play otherworldly quite like her. Although this film continues the Marvel tradition of underwriting its generic non-Loki antagonists, I found Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius to be one of the least generic ones to date. I cannot for the life of me remember what his motivation was but I do remember him being intimidating and clashing well with Strange in their scenes together. There’s also quite a fun character to be found in Strange’s cloak, very much in the vein of the magic carpet in Aladdin.

I can understand that someone with superhero fatigue might find the whole ‘origin story’ aspect of this film tiring, but for me Doctor Strange has a lot going for it. I like that the climax for instance did not boil down to a punching and kicking contest. Strange’s triumph is instead a result of his ingenuity and occurs in quite a clever and creative way. I also like Strange as a character, I liked the new dimension that this film added to the Marvel universe and, above all, I enjoyed the movie’s superb, psychedelic visuals (which pay off especially well when seen in 3D). Those who watch this film looking for weaknesses are certainly going to find them. The whitewashing is evident, McAdams’ role is little more than a token love interest and the typical Marvel formulas and tie-ins can be obtrusive. Still there is a lot to enjoy and a lot that is different from all the other blockbusters we’ve seen in recent years. Doctor Strange is a feast for the eyes that contains all the thrills and humour that Marvel is known for and was a relief to watch after a summer of disappointing blockbusters.

★★★★

X-Men: Apocalypse

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Oliva Munn, Lucas Till

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg


As much as I’ve enjoyed some of the movies in the X-Men franchise (First Class being my personal favourite), I don’t think the film series has been realised as fully as it could be. When watching the cartoon and reading the comics what appealed to me about the X-Men was how they worked as a collective. The best parts were always when they’d charge into a situation together as a team and would then display their diverse powers, working with and off each other. So far there hasn’t really been a movie where we’ve had the X-Men charge together into a skirmish and then just had them be the X-Men. In ­X-Men the team is pretty much just there to back up Wolverine. In X2 the characters are separated and a couple of them get knocked out. Days of Future Past was a lot of fun because we actually got to see some of the minor characters like Quicksilver, Iceman and Colossus show off their powers in new and creative ways. Therefore, with Apocalypse bringing back some familiar characters from the earlier films, it was my hope that this might be the ­X-Men movie that I’d been waiting for.

Taking place 10 years after Days of Future Past (in a universe where every mutant presumably possesses the Wolverine gene that stops them from aging) Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is now the headmaster of a flourishing academy for young mutants. His newest student Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) arrives to learn how to control his heat vision and there meets the telepathic and telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) meanwhile is working covertly to save mutants but refuses to become the heroic symbol that the young mutants proclaim her to be. Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) has gone into hiding in Poland where he lives with his wife and daughter. His peaceful and contented life is tragically destroyed, leading him to seek vengeance once again. He finds his chance for revenge in Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an ancient and powerful mutant who has recently woken up after centuries of hibernation. He recruits Magneto as one of his four horsemen in his mission to scourge the Earth of the plague that is humanity.

The biggest problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is simple: it’s more of the same. We learn about Magneto’s tragic backstory again. Professor X gets kidnapped again. The X-Men travel to Alkali Lake again. On top of that we have a generic bad guy with an apocalyptic plan backed by a vague motivation, some forced fan service and a failure to use some of these characters the way they should be used. While watching the climatic battle I found myself comparing it to the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War. Those characters all had their reasons for being there that the film took the time to establish and the scene actually had some fun with their differing abilities, playing them with and against each other. Here the film sort of pushes its characters into the climatic setting and then has them use their powers in the most straightforward, routine way possible. There are some great moments in there like the Quicksilver scene and the Wolverine cameo (which isn’t the spoiler that it should be thanks to the trailer) but even they are little more than recreations of scenes we’ve already watched.

McAvoy and Fassbender continue to be excellent in their roles as Professor X and Magneto, more so than the film deserves. When Erik’s peaceful family life is inevitably taken away from him, it’s a predictable and derivative moment that we can see coming from a hundred miles away, but damned if Fassbender doesn’t sell it. Jennifer Lawrence however doesn’t bring half the life into her role that she did in First Class. Here she gives exactly the kind of performance that Hollywood stars give when they are only in the movie to fulfil their contractual obligations. Some of the new(ish) mutants that are brought into the trilogy like Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler do well enough with what they are given but others like Storm and Angel are barely given enough to justify their presence in the story. Oscar Isaac meanwhile is completely wasted as Apocalypse, one of the blandest and least memorable villains that the films have come up with.

Apocalypse isn’t exactly a bad movie, especially not when compared to The Last Stand and Wolverine. It’s just generic and formulaic. It brings very little to the table that we haven’t seen before in the previous movies. Anyone who is familiar with the comics or the cartoon knows that there is a treasure trove of potential in this concept and these characters, but it is almost entirely wasted here. Perhaps this movie was following the example of Star Wars: The Force Awakens where more of the same meant a return to basics but did so without either the inspiration or the imagination that made it a success. I do hope that, at the very least, the groundwork this film has laid for future sequels will lead to greater things, especially now that some of the original characters have returned to the universe, but the film itself doesn’t stand on its own. Although it has the same characters that we’ve enjoyed watching in the previous films, this time they’re trapped in a movie that doesn’t know what to do with them.

★★

Captain America: Civil War

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely


In order to talk about Civil War, I feel like I first need to talk briefly about Batman v Superman as both films have virtually the same concept. Although I enjoyed Dawn of Justice I felt that the movie suffered from a lack of focus and direction. Snyder, being the great visual director that he is, delivered spectacularly on the action but where he fell short was in the characters’ motivations and the thematic conflict. These elements might have been allowed to flourish had the movie not been so cluttered with subplots, tie-ins and cameos that were immaterial to the central conflict but, alas, it wasn’t the case. This is something that the Russo Brothers clearly understood when they directed Civil War. They understood that character is more important than spectacle; that conflict depends more on motivation than it does on combat; and that a movie can be cluttered with subplots, tie-ins and cameos as long as they exist to serve the central conflict. This is why it is not an exaggeration to say that Civil War is Dawn of Justice done right.

After a mission in Lagos goes badly and results in civilian casualties the government decides to push for a Hero Registration Act to keep the Avengers in check. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), feeling guilty for the part he played in Ultron’s creation and Sokovia’s destruction, supports this bill. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) however believes that government supervision would hinder or even compromise his ability to save lives. This disagreement causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man that is made all the worse when Bucky (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces and commits a terrorist act in Vienna. Determined to bring Bucky in himself and to protect him, Captain America has to work against the government and enlists Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to his cause. It is up to Iron Man to stop him with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Vision (Paul Bettany). This conflict escalates into an all-out war between the two sides with the mysterious Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) at the centre of it all.

As the summary has probably shown there are a lot of characters in this movie, something that I found to be an issue with Age of Ultron. What makes it work however is that the Russo Brothers, drawing from their experience with such shows as Community, approach this film as an ensemble piece. As the film builds up to its climatic battle between the opposing sides, it masterfully shifts enough of the focus onto each character so that they all have a reason to actually be there. It helps that many of these characters are already familiar to us from the previous films and therefore don’t need any introduction, but still each one is given a motivation that is made clear to us without drawing the focus away from the central conflict. And yet this is a Captain America movie and not an Avengers movie. Although the film makes terrific work of the ensemble at its disposal, the movie belongs to Cap above all others and allows his part in the story to take precedence above all others without making it all about him. The film demonstrates a superb balance in its focus that should make movies like Dawn of Justice blush with shame.

While Civil War is a movie that is very much built on conflict and character, it also boasts of some of the best action that Marvel has ever put on screen. The tunnel chase scene alone is a stunning sequence of intense running, flying, driving, punching, kicking and clawing but it is the airport fight where the film truly shines. Bringing all of these heroes (including Spider-man) together into a single arena and pitting them against each other is epic enough, but the way the film played their different abilities against each other and allowed each character their own moment in the spotlight raised it to a whole new level. The film is full jam-packed with strong action and compelling conflicts but, being a Marvel movie, it also makes room for much humour and light-heartedness. Even when the conflict between Cap and Iron Man escalates in seriousness, watching them fight each other never ceases to be fun.

As far as superhero blockbusters go there is very little to fault. I suppose I could have used a little more focus on the villainous Zemo and perhaps a slightly stronger motivation from him but that’s just a nit-pick. This is as magnificent as a superhero movie can get. When Civil War is compared with Dawn of Justice the contrasts between them are incredibly revealing. Dawn of Justice is what you get when your movie contains little more than impressive action. Civil War succeeds where the Batman v Superman failed by placing its emphases on its characters and employing them to serve the central conflict above all else. Civil War is captivating, immersive, hilarious, action-packed, thrilling, emotional and fun. It is the pinnacle of everything that Marvel does well and is without question one of their finest cinematic offering to date.

★★★★★

Deadpool

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić

Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick


In this day and age when every second blockbuster coming out at any given time is yet another superhero movie, it isn’t hard to understand why some audiences are becoming wearied with superhero fatigue. This is why Deadpool feels like such an invigorating breath of fresh air. There isn’t a single superhero movie out there quite like it. It took a character that most audiences were unfamiliar with and portrayed him using a style that defied the family-friendly thrills of the Marvel movies and the dark, gritty action of the DC movies. This is a film that was uninterested in forced tie-ins to other movies, studio-mandated content and PG-13 audience appeal. The Deadpool crew was focused above all on making a good movie that was true to the source material and that is exactly what they made. It is not kid-friendly and it is not inoffensive; it is the gory, sweary, indecent movie that Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller set out to make.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary with a relentlessly twisted sense of humour who finds his perfect match in the equally depraved Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin). Shortly after proposing to her however, Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides he doesn’t want to put her through the ordeal of watching him die. Upon leaving Vanessa, Wade is approached by a mysterious figure who claims that his employer can cure him. This employer turns out to be Ajax (Ed Skrein), a scientist and weapons expert whose experiments subject Wade to an agonising and prolonged period of torture. Wade eventually escapes and discovers that he has acquired enhanced strength and reflexes as well as a healing factor but has also been left horribly disfigured. Adopting an alias as the masked vigilante Deadpool, Wade embarks on a campaign of revenge to track down Ajax and have his disfigurement cured.

What sets this movie apart from every other superhero movie is its wicked sense of humour. From the very beginning all the way to the end, Deadpool is packed with dark humour, fourth wall breaks, over-the-top violence, excessive profanity and visual gags that puts most American comedies out there to shame. At the centre of it all is Ryan Reynolds killing it as the character he has been waiting his whole life to play. He is energetic, charismatic and hilarious as this character and is wholly committed to representing him. Reynolds is an actor I’ve often struggled to go along with, so I’m happy to see that he’s finally found a role that allows him to truly flourish. Deadpool is a supremely entertaining character who perfectly matches the film’s excessive, sporadic, almost cartoonish tone who is at his best when he jumps all over the place dropping F-bombs, slicing heads off and making the most hysterically inappropriate comments possible. I also greatly enjoyed the romance between Wade and Vanessa who share a vibrant chemistry. Their relationship is weird, crazy and unconventional, but it works for them and proves to be quite touching.

Even though Deadpool is identified above all as being a superhero movie, the superhero parts were actually the ones I enjoyed the least. More than anything else it was the humour that made this movie for me. Therefore whenever the film chose to be serious and advance the whole revenge storyline that was taking place, I became less interested. I got that the film needed a villain and conflict in order to progress, but it still felt a little stale to me. Whenever a serious scene came along, it felt to me like a 5-10 minute expository segment I had to sit through in order to get to the good part. It didn’t help that the main villain Ajax was utterly bland and forgettable. The action itself was a lot of fun to watch as it fully embraced its R rating and allowed room for much humour, but I think the comedy may have somewhat overshadowed the excitement.

Deadpool is the exact kind of movie that needed to be made with the blockbuster climate the way that it is. Made with a minimal budget and a surplus of creative freedom, this film has shown definitively that superhero movies do not need to be huge in order to be good and do not need to be all-inclusive in order to be successful. Deadpool is coarse, uncouth, unrefined and unapologetic. It is exactly the movie that it wants to be and is a great pleasure to watch for any viewer not put off by its dark, gimmicky humour or its comically extreme use of violence. My only big issue with the movie is that I found it to be more humourous than I found it to be thrilling. Still, the humour is more than enough to make this an enjoyable movie as it takes just as much pleasure in laughing at itself as it does in laughing at the dozens of other superhero movies that have taken over Hollywood. At the very least, it is certainly a step up from X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

★★★★

Fantastic Four

Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson

Director: Josh Trank

Writers: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank


People really don’t want to like this film. In the few days since it came out I was struck by how badly everyone was panning it. Most of the comments that I’ve seen have denounced this film as a travesty that ranks amongst the worst comic book films of recent memory. It’s one thing for a film to receive widespread negative criticism, but what really struck me was the aggressiveness of that criticism. People really hate this film. I’ll confess that I’ve never really been a fan of the Fantastic Four and that I’d be lying if I said I was optimistic about this film, but I was determined to give it a fair chance. A part of me did keep thinking that if a film receives this amount of backlash there probably is a reason, but at the very least I felt that it deserved the benefit of the doubt. Having now seen this film I must admit that I thought it was pretty weak. However, looking back at it now, I’m not convinced that Fantastic Four deserves all the hate it has thus far received.

The story follows Reed Richards (Miles Teller) whose greatest ambition is to uncover the secrets to teleportation. His brilliant mind and groundbreaking discoveries catch the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the director of the Baxter Foundation, a research institute for young and brilliant minds. With the aid of Franklin’s smart and capable children Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and the furtive but equally intelligent Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Reed uses the considerable resources now at his disposal to complete the Quantum Gate. Upon its completion the group, along with Reed’s childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) venture into a mysterious, parallel dimension where they get caught in a freak accident. In the aftermath Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben all discover that they have acquired special powers and must use them to deal with the consequences of their mishap.

Although I’m still kind of struggling to understand why people might be angered by this film, I can certainly understand why they’d be disappointed by it. Anyone who goes to see a superhero film does so for one very simple reason: to see awesome superheroes doing awesome superhero things. Yet by the time the titular superheroes actually acquire their powers, over half of the film’s runtime has already gone by. Thus the phase in which they learn to control their powers is almost completely glossed over and the climax is unceremoniously rushed. I think this film is more of a shame than anything because the first hour is actually quite promising and even kind of decent (with a few problems here and there). It’s only after the heroes gain their powers that the film falls apart completely. Based on what I’ve heard about the film’s turbulent production this can be probably be explained by the studio interference and the reshoots that led the film’s own director Josh Trank to denounce the film upon its release.

It really is a shame that Fantastic Four turned out the way it did because it did have the makings of a pretty decent flick. The first hour does an adequate job of establishing the main characters complete with personalities and motivations and was even able to include some clever ideas in the story. I liked how they worked in The Thing’s obligatory yet painfully childish catchphrase, I liked the idea that Reed and Victor essentially came up with the same ideas and theories independent of each other and I liked the little touches during the accident that determined each character’s individual superpower. I thought that the actors did well with what they were given and that the film did a reasonably good job of modernising the overall concept of the Fantastic Four. It was only the last 40 minutes after the characters gained their powers that the film lost me.

There were some problems prior to the film’s breaking point. The idea of Reed being discovered at a science fair was pretty weak, the motivation that drove the characters to venture into the parallel dimension was one of profound stupidity and Sue Storm, despite being quite a well-established character, is given little to nothing to do throughout the film. However as soon as the film reaches its bewildering time jump, it completely loses the plot. What follows is a messy sequence of flimsy and apathetic scenes that lead into an incredibly poor third act. The conflict between the heroes and the main villain doesn’t make any sense, the action is underwhelming and tedious and the film practically gallops through the climax without taking the time to build any tension or excitement. If the reshoots were the cause of this haphazard change in quality, it might explain why the actors are suddenly so lacking in life and energy. It’s as if the entire cast and crew gave up on this film halfway through.

All in all Fantastic Four is a poor film with conflicting visions and wasted potential, but I’m still not sure I understand why people are so unforgivingly contemptuous towards it. Maybe it’s because this film took itself more seriously than the previous ones and people were therefore expecting more from it, maybe it’s because the Marvel fatigue is starting to set in with the audience, or maybe there really is something truly terrible about this film that I’m just not seeing. Since I wasn’t a fan of the Fantastic Four in the first place it is possible that I’m simply more forgiving of this film’s missteps than the fans of the comic books are. For what it’s worth I think that Fantastic Four is better than the Tim Story films but I realise that’s not saying much. I don’t think it deserves the backlash it has received but at the end of the day it doesn’t have a lot going for it. It isn’t a film I would urge anyone to see; I’d only urge them not to dismiss it outright.

★★

Ant-Man

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Wood Harris, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Director: Peyton Reed,

Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd


As big a fan as I am of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I wasn’t expecting much from Ant-Man. Even after watching the trailer I still wasn’t convinced by the idea of a superhero whose power was shrinking to the size of an ant. I had faith in Marvel’s ability to turn this film into a decent flick but I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. I think the filmmakers must have realised that Ant-Man was quite a silly concept for a film and so they wisely embraced that by making it one of their funnier, more unconventional films. This is both a strength and a weakness in this instance as Ant-Man proves to be an enjoyable if otherwise unexceptional film. It stands as something of an oddity in the MCU (in a good way) as it provides a hero and a concept unlike anything we’ve seen in this franchise. I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, but I still don’t think it left that much of an impression on me. It is a decent film, but not one of Marvel’s best.

Upon being released from prison Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a well-intentioned thief, is determined to turn his life around so that he might be allowed to see more of his daughter. He tries to build a legitimate life for himself with the help of his fried Luis (Michael Peña) but finds that few people, least of all his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her cop husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), are willing to give him a second chance. He is presently approached by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who wants to recruit him for a special job. Pym reveals that he has unlocked the secrets to shrinking people and objects and has harnessed that technology into a special suit. This is the suit that will allow Scott the power he needs to become the Ant-Man. Under the training of Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Scott prepares for a heist that will prevent Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from unlocking the secrets to the shrinking technology, a development that Pym feels would have disastrous consequences for the world.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this film and one of them was the main character. Casting Paul Rudd as Scott Lang was a stroke of genius. As well as bringing much charm and humour to the role, I like how down-to-earth and relatable he turned out to be. Of all the superheroes in the MCU, Scott is probably the closest they have to an everyman (except perhaps Hawkeye) and so I’m glad that they chose a normal guy to play the role as opposed to a buff, handsome Hollywood superstar. The film also had some great comic moments as it decided to have fun with the aspects of its story that would otherwise have been difficult to take seriously. Some of its funniest moments were provided by Michael Peña as the blissfully incoherent Luis. Scott’s training as Ant-Man was well done, in large part due to Michael Douglas who did an expert job of selling Ant-Man as a concept. Watching Scott master the shrinking technology and learning to command the different types of ants to serve their differing functions turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the film for me.

The two main characters who simply didn’t register with me were Hope van Dyne and Darren Cross. The former is a typically underwritten female love-interest who sometimes throws a few punches and the latter is a pretty forgettable villain. Both of their actors brought what they could to the roles but there simply wasn’t much for them to work with. While the comedy may have provided the film with many entertaining highlights, there is a significant downside as well. The comical tone the film decided to go with meant that I sometimes had a hard time taking it seriously when it was actually called for. With the exception of one scene at the end, I never really felt like there was a clear and present danger in this film nor did I ever really feel the stakes of what was happening. At times when an action scene was taking place, it would suddenly be interrupted by some sort of gag that, while funny, felt a bit disjointed. It may not have been out of place with the film’s tone but I did think that it stole from the excitement and thrills that the film was trying to provide.

Ant-Man may not be Marvel’s best film but it isn’t the worst either. The dispute that resulted in Edgar Wright leaving the project might explain why the film felt a bit disjointed but I still think Peyton Reed did a decent job of pulling it together. The film may not be as exciting as Marvel’s other offerings but it is never boring either. What the film lacks in thrills it makes up for in fun and humour. It is lacking in character and doesn’t have the best executed story but is still very enjoyable for all that it does offer. It took an idea that could have very easily been done terribly or ridiculously and instead pulls it off quite admirably. Ant-Man is a creative, funny and entertaining film that should please any Marvel fan or simply any moviegoer looking for a fun action film.

★★★★

Top 10 Superhero Films

After watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and three episodes of Daredevil I’ve found myself in a superhero mood and thought I’d compile this list. The superhero genre has scaled to such incredible heights over the last decade and a half that it is almost hard to believe there was once a time when these kinds of films were not held in high regard. There was actually a time when any film with a superhero was considered a joke and box-office poison. Now superhero films are everywhere. Today the superhero genre is one that audiences are taking seriously and that has seen a lot of success and praise. These films are now being made by talented filmmakers who actually care about the source material and who put in the work and the effort to ensure that the result does them justice. What follows is a list of my 10 personal favourite films within this genre.

 

 10. Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen film

A vastly underrated film in my opinion, I think that the main trouble with Watchmen is that it didn’t really find its audience. Those who had read Alan Moore’s seminal book about an alternate history where superheroes are a driving force in the Cold War were unsure whether it could even be translated to film while those who hadn’t were perhaps put off by their unfamiliarity with the story and the lack of star-power. As someone who has read the book, I think that the film Snyder gave us is the best that any of us could have ever hoped for. I’m scratching my head trying to work out what he could possibly have done differently. His faithfulness to the source material is unquestionable as can be seen in his painstaking recreations of Gibbons’ visuals, the film is in keeping with Moore’s dark and gritty tone and the translation of the story and characters to the big screen is simply astonishing.

 9. X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men First Class film

This was a tough call and I’m sure there are a lot of people who prefer X2 or Days of Future Past to this one, but I had to go with First Class. It actually kind of annoys me that this is my favourite of the X-Men films because it barely has any of my favourite X-Men in it. However I had to go with it because it is such a good film. McAvoy and Fassbender are perfectly cast as the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto and the story of their shared past is such a compelling one. In addition it has a great story, the characters who are in it are well-used and the 1960s setting is fantastic. At a time when the X-Men series was struggling, following its two prior failures, Vaughn’s decision to reinvent the franchise by going right back to the beginning was a bold one and it worked out brilliantly. It was smart, it was fun and it saved the franchise. It also has one of the best cameos in any film ever.

8. Batman (1989)

Batman film

This one is a classic. Breaking away from the campy tone that defined the Adam West era, this film was a dark and serious take on the Caped Crusader that depicted him as a conflicted, unhinged vigilante. Michael Keaton’s excellent portrayal of Batman is overshadowed only by Jack Nicholson’s crazed performance as the Joker, by the marvellous production design and by the dark, brooding atmosphere that only Tim Burton could bring. This is the film that transcended superhero films beyond the action genre by providing a psychological insight into one of pop culture’s most famous characters.

7. Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable film

The only film on this list not based on a comic book or a graphic novel. Made back before Shyamalan became, well… Shyamalan, Unbreakable is a dark, enthralling film that provides an insightful commentary into this genre. It brought a philosophical element into the discussion on the superhero mythology by asking whether becoming a superhero is a matter of choice or of destiny. It questions what it really means to be a superhero and the sort of implications and ramifications that come with such an idea. Unbreakable provides an intelligent deconstruction of the superhero genre and shows that superheroes films aren’t all about action and thrills.

6. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta film

I was surprised to find that this isn’t a film often featured on lists of superhero films. Maybe this is because a lot of people don’t consider V to be a superhero (although if Batman and Daredevil count, surely he counts as well). In any case V for Vendetta is an awesome film about a vigilante who, rather than fighting against a bad guy, chooses to fight against an idea as he takes a stance against an Orwellian totalitarian regime in the name of freedom. Hugo Weaving is impeccably cast as the theatrical, morally ambiguous V in a film that provides a unique portrayal of a superhero whose real power is that of an idea. It is well worth watching, even if it does take a lot of divergences from the original graphic novel.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy film

More of a sci-fi film than a superhero film but still counts regardless. Guardians of the Galaxy was a risky move on Marvel’s part, considering that only devoted comic book fans were at all familiar with these heroes or the world that they inhabit, and so its monumental success is a testament to the characters that made this film as great as it was. There is not a single weak link amongst the five leads as we see them working with and off each other to make what is an incredibly fun and entertaining film. Groot alone makes this film worth watching. (Incidentally it is now my dream to one day see Rocket Raccoon and Tony Stark meet).

4. Superman (1978)

Superman film

Even though I actually like Man of Steel, this film remains far and away my favourite Superman film and Christopher Reeve remains the quintessential Superman. Back before superhero films showed that they could be intelligent, dark, complex and thought provoking, Superman was a fun, uplifting and exciting film that made us all believe that a man could really fly. This film didn’t need to be dark or gritty to be effective, all it needed was spirit and imagination. The iconic hero, the inspirational John Williams score and the thrilling action have ensured that this film remains a classic that still holds up today.

3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 film

Back when films like Spider-Man, ­X-Men and Blade were bringing the superhero genre back to the big screen and were still experimenting with the format, this was the film that finally perfected it. It has everything that a fun, exciting superhero film needs. It has an iconic hero, an entertaining villain, excellent action, a great sense of humour, and groundbreaking visual effects. Even though I preferred Marc Webb’s take on Spider-Man to Sam Raimi’s and felt that Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, this film nevertheless remains the best Spider-Man film to date and without question one of the best superhero films ever made.

2. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers film

This was the film that changed everything. After five films over the course of four years building up to this momentous occasion, The Avengers was the film that finally brought these heroes from their different franchises together for the first time. It marked an important step in the evolution of the superhero genre and it was executed to perfection. Not only did these characters work together incredibly well and complement each other perfectly, but The Avengers is also an excellently scripted, well-directed, action-packed film that pitted the Avengers against a villain who remains the best baddie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever doubts the audience may have had about the idea of a shared universe, this was the film that put an end to them once and for all.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight film

I know that picking this film for the number 1 spot may be a bit of a cliché, but that’s how amazing this film really is. Batman is hands-down my favourite superhero and Christian Bale remains my favourite portrayal of him. Heath Ledger’s Joker is not only the best incarnation of that character, he is one of the greatest film villains of all time. Under Nolan’s direction, The Dark Knight is an intelligent film that explores the nature of chaos and provides an insight into the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker. It is a thrilling film that gets the blood pumping with its intense action and its dark tone. The Dark Knight is one of those rare films that actually lived up to every single expectation that the audience had and is still just as exhilarating to watch today.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Andy Serkis, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon


Usually when I review a film from a series I like to briefly discuss my thoughts on the films that came before to provide context. However a discussion on the Marvel franchise could take up an entire article so instead I’ll settle on just discussing the first Avengers film. For me The Avengers is the perfect superhero film. While earlier films like Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight had already perfected the superhero formula, The Avengers took the genre onto a whole new level. It was the first film to ever bring together an ensemble of heroes who had already been introduced and developed in their own films and it pulled it off beautifully. It brought together all of these brilliant characters and, by allowing them to interact and work off each other, created a dynamic quality that no film had ever really done before. It was an incredibly well executed film that had the perfect amount of action, the perfect amount of humour and the perfect amount of character. I couldn’t wait to see the Avengers’ second outing together.

The film opens with the Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), leading an assault on a Hydra base to recover Loki’s sceptre. There they encounter the orphaned twins who were subjected to Hydra’s experiments, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has superhuman speed, and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), who has the power to manipulate minds. Wanda infects Tony Stark’s mind and gives him a vision of his worst fear come true. Stark sees a dark, forlorn future; one where he stands alone surrounded by the corpses of his fallen comrades as the Earth falls to the alien threat they failed to stop. Stark is deeply affected by this vision and resolves to prevent it from ever happening.

Upon studying the sceptre’s gem, Stark and Banner discover an artificial intelligence that Stark believes could be the final piece they need to create the Ultron program. Stark envisions Ultron as a global defence program designed to protect the Earth from the alien threats that the Avengers would be unable to fight themselves and convinces Banner to help him complete it. Ultron (James Spader) becomes sentient and turns on his creators. Ultron sees himself as the next evolutionary step and thus believes that the only way for world peace to be achieved is for humanity to be annihilated. The Avengers band together to stop him but are then overcome with fears and doubts that threaten to divide and destroy them.

Like its predecessor, Avengers: Age of Ultron delivers on the action, the humour and the character. However the inherent weaknesses of the Marvel franchise become more noticeable in this film as they become more difficult to manage. After the way The Avengers developed the Marvel franchise and set it up for further growth, the success, acclaim and demand that followed meant that the sequel was inevitably going to try and go even bigger and further still. This means more characters to juggle and more interactions with the other Marvel films. So, with a gigantic line-up of future films already in development and a large ensemble of major characters played by actors who are contracted to appear in them, Whedon thus doesn’t have the creative freedom to take the risks and tell the story that he might otherwise have done in a perfect world. In addition to this we the audience are becoming so accustomed to these massive blockbusters that they’re almost starting to feel a little generic and the action is starting to look a little familiar. Still, with all of that weight and pressure bearing down on this film, Whedon, being the master craftsman that he is, just manages to create a worthy sequel that is entertaining and exciting to watch even if it didn’t amaze us in the same way that The Avengers did.

With such a gargantuan number of characters to feature and develop, the film is able to provide a balance between them and allows each major character a moment or two to shine. While Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk remain the stars of the show characters like Black Widow and Hawkeye (who many felt were underused in the first film) are given extensive roles and compelling arcs this time around. The film also has a number of new characters to deal with, most notably Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Despite a limited amount of development and screen time these two characters are nevertheless able to create a memorable impression complete with motivations and distinctive personalities, if little else. There is also the titular villain to consider who (thankfully) is one of the Marvel franchise’s more entertaining and memorable villains. Ultron is strangely emotive for a sentient being and shows an indignation and a fallaciousness that is very… human. Spader’s voice is both menacing and sardonic and complements the character perfectly.

I liked this film a lot but I didn’t love it. As good as it was, it was missing that little bit of magic that was present in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Maybe this is because the film had so many different characters and arcs to balance that it was never really able to find a clear and distinct focus. Maybe it’s because my expectations were overly amplified by the incredible quality and success of this franchise. Maybe (hopefully not) it’s because the Marvel franchise is starting to collapse on itself and that this film marks the beginning of the end. Whatever the reason, Age of Ultron is nevertheless a good, entertaining film that offers plenty of thrills and plenty of heart. There is some great action, there is a good amount of humour, and the characters are as enjoyable as ever whilst delivering a decent amount of development and emotional moments. The challenge of running the Marvel franchise is only going to get more difficult from here and so I hope that the Russo brothers are up to the challenge.

★★★★