Deadpool (2016)

deadpool

Fittingly, Deadpool has had an unconventional journey to the big screen. A Deadpool film has been talked about since 2000 when its rights, along with Captain America, Ant-Man and others, were sold to Artisan Entertainment. Artisan were taken over in 2003 and New Line Cinema stepped in, hiring David S. Goyer to write and direct in 2004 with Ryan Reynolds attached to star. As these things often do, shit fell apart and the project stagnated. The rights then went to 20th Century Fox. Cut to 2009 and “Deadpool” showed up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, giving Reynolds the opportunity to finally wisecrack as Wade Wilson. Well, for about five minutes before he showed up at the end, his mouth sewn shut and the fun character arbitrarily changed into an angry, silent mutant with laser vision and swords in his arms. Fans were pissed. In the following years, a script for a solo Deadpool adventure leaked online, which garnered enough attention for Fox to stump up some money to film some test footage, which also leaked online. The reaction to what was leaked was incredibly positive. Fox took note and here we are. I don’t normally start reviews with film development talk, but I think it’s important to understand a) how long Ryan Reynolds has been attached to the project and b) how satisfying it must be for fans to have a nice, spurty release after over a decade of cinematic blue balls.

Mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He undergoes an experimental treatment to rid him of the disease. The treatment turns out to be a sinister plot to turn people into superpowered slaves. A man named Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his partner in crime Angel Dust (Gina Carano) inject Wilson with a serum that cures the cancer, gives him superhuman abilities, but leave him horribly scarred and disfigured. Not wanting to face his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wilson fashions himself a red suit and goes on a personal rampage, determined to find those responsible and make them fix what was done to him.

Straight from the meta and genuinely amusing opening titles (including credits for “A British Villain” and being produced by “Some Asshats”) it’s clear that this is the Deadpool people have been waiting for. From there, the film is fast and funny with a furious gag rate. It’s bawdy, gross and sweary as anything, which is fucking refreshing. In complete contrast to the Origins version, nothing about this incarnation feels compromised. The trademark hyper-violence is also present and correct. Want to see someone slice off a man’s head and kick it like a football at someone else? This is your film, you weirdo.

Ryan Reynolds was born to play this character. The film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with another person in the suit. Reynolds has always been well known, but aside from his early turn as Van Wilder, he’s not had a defining role that connected with audiences. Green Lantern was meant to change that, but we all know what happened there. Deadpool is that defining character for him. I’ve always liked the guy, even sat through dross like Blade: Trinity and R.I.P.D. purely because of him, but to see him throw himself into a role so completely is awesome. Now it’s officially a big hit, breaking all kinds of R-rated box office records, maybe this’ll exorcise a few of the demons. Shit, the film itself feels like it’s doing that at times, with digs at both Green Lantern and the Origins version of the character. Reynolds fucking crushes it as DP and it’s genuinely heartening to see him get a hit with a passion project 10+ years in the making.

The supporting cast are great too. Morena Baccarin does stellar work in the usually thankless girlfriend role. She gets some fun moments and gets to play a lovably mucky role. Despite some of the more outlandish elements, Wade and Vanessa’s relationship feels rather genuine and touching. They’re together because they’re both as fucked up as each other and it makes sense. Their “Four Yorkshiremen” inspired meet cute works a treat.TJ Miller is also a lot of fun as Wade’s confidante, getting nearly all the best lines. Karan Soni is affable as cab driver Dopinder and I loved the little back and forth between him and Mr. Pool. Ed Skrein and Gina Carano are decent enough presences, but neither get much to actually do.X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the eyebrow-raising, eye-rolling Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are also welcome additions.

Deadpool’s story is told in flashback, which thankfully negates that problem origin stories usually have of audience impatience for the lead to snap on the spandex and dole out street justice. It does make the thing slightly wonky though. You’ll feel some of the pre-mask stuff drag because it’s clear that’s not where the writing effort went. Obviously, the movie doesn’t want you to laugh at Wade’s diagnosis or anything, but a lot of the flashback scenes are rather inelegant tonal shifts and it leads to the feeling that the film’s pumping the fun brakes a little too hard. When the film is underway, it flies. The gags come thick and fast. It reminded me of something like Airplane! in a few bits. The jokes aren’t all great though. A good 40% didn’t hit their target, or at least didn’t for me. It’s a scattershot approach. Still, the subjective nature of comedy meant that different people in the audience were laughing at different moments. The only moments of silence when funnies were meant to be happening was during some of the more obscure U.S. pop culture gags. Considering its target audience, I’m not sure American audiences will get them either. I laughed, snorted and guffawed way more than I was expecting to and certainly more than I do at most pure modern “comedies”. The action was on point too. I especially loved ‘Pool getting the audience to mentally count down the rounds in his last clip.

With something as tongue-in-cheek and audience winking as Deadpool, it’s hard to determine what is parody and what’s not. Is the thinly-sketched plot a commentary on current movie trends? Is the fact that we only have action sequences in generic locations like a highway, a warehouse and a junkyard part of the joke? Who knows. The plot is an excuse to showcase Deadpool’s character anyway, but it would have been nice to have some stronger villains or some more interesting locations.

I had a blast with Deadpool. It’s a lot of fun and whilst many jokes didn’t hit, the ones that did hit big time. I felt good supporting it too. Whilst it is a big studio release with a very strong marketing arm, it’s still a moderately budgeted R-rated flick, something which is still a rarity in the current movie climate. More please.

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Avengers : Age of Ultron

It’s what NASA uses.

Avengers : Age of Ultron (2015)

All of Marvel’s movies are treated as big event movies, but Age of Ultron is a special case. Perhaps it’s the wrong way of thinking, but people automatically want to know if Age of Ultron is better than the first Avengers. My answer is an annoying “kind of”.

Born out of Stark A.I. meddling, the Avengers have to face a new threat to global safety, a rogue program calling itself “Ultron” (voiced by James Spader) that has concluded that humanity’s extinction is the only logical outcome. He recruits two superhuman experiments in the form of the Maximoff twins, Pietro and Wanda (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), better known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, to aid him in stopping Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. As is often the case with sequels, Age of Ultron is darker than the first. It explores the personal fears of each Avenger and leaves them broken and scarred. That’s not to say it tips the balance into all-out ludicrous grimmery. At its core, the film is still a fun, comic-book adventure with plenty of gags and moments of levity.

Age of Ultron certainly starts better than the original Avengers did. We open in medias res, with the team waging an assault on a Hydra castle deathbase to retrieve Loki’s series-important mind-control sceptre. It was so comic-booky and fun, it immediately brought a smile to my face. Loathe as I am to use the word, the banter between the team was like putting on a comfy pair of slippers. I genuinely love these characters and it’s great to hear them bounce off each other. As someone who has sunk many hours of the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games, the little team-up attacks will always delight me on a level I can’t quite explain. In comparison, Avengers 1 took a while to get up to speed. The first 20 minutes or so feel weirdly low-rent and out of place when held up against the rest of the film. Lessons have been learned with Age of Ultron and it shows.

After being shoved to the sidelines in the first film, Age of Ultron finally spares some focus for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Joss Whedon delves into the character’s personal life and he becomes the heart of the film. What I love about this is that he’s used as the necessary humanity in a team full of overpowered supermen. You can have your big personalities doing loud and awesome things, but you still need something to ground it. There’s a surprising budding relationship between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. It’s a strange pairing but it makes total sense. I found it all to be rather sweet. There’s one scene at the Avengers HQ bar where Romanoff flirts shamelessly with the awkward Banner that completely sold their relationship to me. It’s like a film noir exchange and the Whedonness of the writing came through strongly. He loves damaged characters and putting unlikely couples together and having you root for them is kinda his thing. I have to say, I’m liking Tony Stark less. It’s completely intentional too. Stark sees the Avengers as a stopgap solution to Earth’s problems and is working on an endgame. He’s trying to cut the barbed wire again. His shortsightedness leads to Ultron. Although it isn’t directly his fault, he definitely has to shoulder some of the blame. His talk with Cap whilst chopping wood definitely shows the fissures appearing in their ideologies that will lead to Civil War. I can’t wait.

Ultron is a fascinating villain. He has Stark’s wit hardcoded into his programming and so he ends up with just as many one-liners and witticisms as our heroes. His monologues are perfect for James Spader’s amazing voice and as a result Ultron is utterly compelling. The film has a running theme of evolution and Ultron embodies that. There’s one scene where Ultron destroys his body mid-speech with a newer, more powerful form without pause that is just a fantastic moment. This is an odd sentence, but despite Ultron’s desire to wipe out humanity, he didn’t seem that evil to me. Part of it is his cold, robot logic. He’s not evil because he enjoys it, but because it makes sense to him. Part of it is the fact that he’s so damn entertaining. It all adds up to him being insanely misguided rather than straight-up evil. I can appreciate that it’s a more interesting take on villainy, but it didn’t have the immediate, visceral appeal of someone who is an out-and-out bastard. However, I expect this to become less of a problem on repeat viewings.

Whedon is a master of the ensemble piece. He manages to accommodate a whole bunch of new faces whilst keeping things balanced with more familiar ones. Nearly all the characters are well served by the script and they all get moments to shine. Reviews have already levelled their few criticisms of the film at there being too many characters, but I think it’s a lazy criticism. It’s like the similar “too many villains” problem that is often brought up. For me it doesn’t get to the root of the issue. Game of Thrones manages to balance a crazy amount of characters and plotlines each week. The execution is the problem, not the idea.  Age of Ultron does incredibly well with sharing focus. The only real casualty (and there’s bound to be one in a film like this) is that the film has to set up more universe building things with teases for Black Panther and future Avengers films. Thor gets a largely pointless subplot to find out about the Infinity Gems and to me it took away from the main narrative. It fucks with the pacing sightly and makes the film baggier. Having said that, I liked Andy Serkis turning up as Ulysses Klaw, an arms dealer with a deep fear of cuttlefish.

I’m going to spend a paragraph talking about The Vision because I can. The stakes feel higher when Paul Bettany steps up. He’s such a great character. He’s the opposite side of the coin to Ultron. He’s got the robot logic, but he also sees the value of humanity. Bettany plays him as a gentle, ethereal being and it completely works. As I watched the caped Vision float in mid-air, delivering beautiful monologues, I came to a bit of a realisation. Vision is a better Superman than the current version of Superman. That’s not a tough feat, but Vision embodies everything I like about a God-like figure trying to teach humanity rather than destroy it. His final dialogue with Ultron is also incredibly well-written and it shows you can have your huge, destructive setpieces as well as have time for simple conversation about differing ideologies.

Those destructive setpieces I mentioned? Age of Ultron has bucketloads of them too. My favourite was the scrap between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in his purpose-built Hulkbuster suit. The finale is the single most comic-booky thing I’ve seen on screen to date and I loved it.

Age of Ultron falls just shy of The Avengers’ greatness for me. It’s a better made and certainly a better realised film than the first, but I didn’t experience as many air-punchingly great moments as I did with the original. However, that’s not to say the film fails because it doesn’t. It’s another excellent Marvel film. The cast are great, the film is visually spectacular and it’s very well-written. It’s funny, but when I’ve discussed Age of Ultron with people, it’s the little character beats that I talk about rather than the impressive action sequences. More films should be made like that. Character resonates for so much longer than explosions do. I’ll give it four stars, but will qualify it’s a very high four. As I feel that half the country has already seen it, it seems moot, but the film gets a huge recommendation from me.

Guardians of the Galaxy (Redux)

 
Ain’t no thing like mecept me”
 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) (Redux)

Something’s been eating away at me since I first reviewed Guardians a few months ago. Whilst I stick by a lot of what I said in that review, I’ve seen it twice since then and I felt my original thoughts needed tightening up. Y’see, I’ve been nigh-on obsessed with the film since seeing it. The downtime between the second cinema trip and the DVD/Blu-ray release have been filled with conversations about it of both the I-can’t-believe-you-haven’t-seen-it and the wasn’t-that-bit-so-awesome-when? varieties. The super-popular soundtrack has also been in heavy rotation on my iPod to the point where I swear it tries to sneak in other tracks for variation’s sake. Not many films these days manage to stick in my brain as indelibly as Guardians has managed. A third viewing on shiny disc has confirmed one thing- it’s not only my favourite film of the year, but it’s moved up to being one of my favourite films of all time and as such, certain points need to be addressed. Oh- if you haven’t seen it yet, thar be spoilers, so just go and see the damn thing and come back.

“I know who you are, Peter Quill, and I am not some starry-eyed waif here to succumb to your… your pelvic sorcery!”

I’m going to skip the plot summary and just dive straight in, because the chances are you’ve seen it multiple times like I have. All my casting notes are the same as well as my assessment of the action beats etc. I want to focus on the meaty script and several problems I had with it on the first viewing.  Story-wise, Guardians relies on familiar tropes, including the standard MacGuffin plot of having an object driving the narrative and where characters go. You could also say that the characters are pretty broad. Of the few negative reviews that exist of this film, those seem to be the main points of contention, including criticising the now-commonplace big Marvel ending that is a gigantic aerial battle. All fair points, but I would argue that picking the film up on these things is kinda missing the whole point. To me, Guardians is like the Indiana Jones films or even the mighty Star Wars. Its very aware of these clichés and uses them to give us something new or sell us on something a bit “out there”. This is blockbuster filmmaking as it should be. It has a smart script packed with fully realised characters and quotable lines, a great sense of wonder when it comes to the deep space locations, decent action and a cracking soundtrack. What I love about it all as well is like all the best Marvel films, it still has the specific director’s stamp on it. Guardians is very much a James Gunn film with his love of wildly swinging tonal shifts, regular casting pool and a real passion for the absurd.

The thing about Guardians is that the character focus is very strong, so much so, the story almost takes a backseat. We get to know these people/animals/tree monsters/aliens over the course of the film. The writers James Gunn and Nicola Perlman ensure that each character has a strong motivation and a real driving purpose. Take Rocket Raccoon for example- from the trailers, it looked like he was just another CGI creation with one-liners, destined to pratfall and do “human” things to get a yuk out of brainless twats. However, in the film, he’s a fully formed creation. He resents humanity and constantly struggles to find his place in the world, always dealing with the fact that he shouldn’t exist.  He’s full of bluff and bravado because they’re his coping mechanisms. There’s one scene where Rocket’s been drinking and is drunkenly waving his gun at the crew, choking back rage and sadness at the fact that nobody takes him seriously and he feels people are laughing at him. In a lesser film, this would have been a gag, but as it appears here it’s heartbreaking. This attention to detail expands to not only our main Guardians, but side characters like John C. Reilly’s Dey. It’s so fucking refreshing to feel like proper storytelling isn’t dead and that even with a megabudget, the little things (Rocket included) aren’t forgotten about.

One of the main things people have taken away from Guardians is how funny the film is. The film is witty throughout and some bits are downright hilarious. What I love about Guardians is how it uses the humour. A lot of the running gags have a huge emotional payoff. Take Peter Quill’s need to be known as “Star-Lord”. He gets frustrated multiple times that people don’t know his supposedly badass outlaw name. It’s a neat little touch, but nothing we haven’t seen before and it smacks of handing out a trait arbitrarily. That is until we learn that “Star-Lord” was his dead mother’s pet name for him and I can barely read what I’m writing right now as the screen has gone all blurry. It’s such a nice moment I get choked up even talking about it. We finally understand why the name was important to him. Very few films can actually make me tear up, but Guardians is definitely one of them. Another example of this is Groot’s repeated “I am Groot”s. Who knew that the repetition of that one line was just lifting our chins up to ensure we get the full force of the “We are Groot” sucker punch? It’s this sort of layering and narrative domino setting that makes me love films all the more.

If you read my original review, you’ll know that I had a problem with three characters- Ronan the Accuser, Nebula and Gamora. My opinion has changed on each. I originally thought that Ronan was a bit of a weaksauce bad guy, but the more I’ve watched the film, the more I realise that’s sort of the point. He’s meant to be out of his depth. He’s a petulant teenager playing with big-boy toys. Thanos is the main dude, but as Drax notes, Ronan is a puppet. He does pose a legitimate threat, but he’s no Loki. Plus, the film is more about the Guardians coming together, rather than taking down an ultra-badass. Chances are the Guardians won’t be able to distract the next big bad with dance moves. Let’s talk Karen Gillan’s Nebula. Nebula is fascinating and has a very odd sisterly relationship with Gamora. She’s really compelling and I’m still a little disappointed we don’t see more of her. Her exit from the film is a bit clunky too, with “sequel” written all over it. Not bad by any means though. Which brings us to Gamora. I initially stated that Gamora is the one with the least focus, but I realise that it’s because her character hasn’t really completed her arc by the time the film is over. Whilst Quill, Rocket, Drax and Groot are all fully on board, Gamora still has a bit to go. She’s almost there, as the little head bobs to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” demonstrate, but she’s still got issues to work through. It’s more of a promise of things to come than anything else and the fact that she doesn’t seem as well-sketched as the others is entirely intentional. My guess is that Guardians 2 will be more about her as well as the mystery of Quill’s father.

“What should we do next? Something good? Something bad? Bit of both?”

So,  on to the main reason I wanted to do a redux review. Guardians of the Galaxy has been one of my most read reviews on this site and instead of being happy that so many people stopped e-shopping or watching naked people do naked-er things to read my nonsense, I cringed slightly because of the four star rating I ended up giving it. For a film that has dominated my thoughts since it came out and has been proven to make me laugh and cry every time, that’s a bit of a slap. I mean, if I can’t give Guardians of the Galaxy a full 5 stars, what the hell can I give it to? It’s an injustice, I tells ya! Anyway- Guardians gets the rating it deserves and I get to sleep soundly at night. Fair deal.

Guardians of the Galaxy

 
I am Groot.
 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t get any less true: it’s crazy to think that back in 2011, Thor was considered a “risk” for Marvel. Two solo films and a billion dollar team up later and the God of Thunder is right at home alongside more “classical” heroes like Iron Man and Captain America. Anyway, the point of all this is that in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy really feels like a proper gamble: a bold step into the whole “cosmic” element to the Marvel universe and a departure from the costumed heroics we’re used to seeing by now. Whilst I have a working knowledge of Marvel stuff, having read Spider-Man comics for years, I must admit I wasn’t too familiar with the Guardians, only having heard of Rocket Raccoon before, so this “going in blind” to a Marvel movie is a new experience for me and one I relished. Anyway, blah blah blah- point being is that the film is awesome and, if you’ll allow me, I’ll endeavour to tell you why.

“Why would you want to save the galaxy?”

“Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth by aliens at a young age and now lives life as a Ravager, a kind of space pirate. Quill finds a mysterious orb and steals it, unaware that he’s setting wheels in motion that may have huge, and possibly genocidal, consequences. Kree terrorist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) sends a green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after him to retrieve the orb. Unbeknownst to Quill, his boss Yandu (Michael Rooker) has also put a sizeable bounty on his head, leading two bounty hunters, a talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a humanoid tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to pursue him. By chance, we also meet Drax (Dave Bautista) a muscled madman with only vengeance against Ronan on his mind. After the group are captured and thrown together, they soon decide to put aside their differences and put a stop to Ronan’s nefarious plans. Sound complicated? It isn’t really. I just wanted to fit in as many of the principal cast as I could and I still missed out Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly!. It’s mostly a fast-paced chase for the all-important orb and that’s fine. All the cast are fantastic. Chris Pratt is just teetering on the edge of serious superstardom and watching this, you can tell it’s well deserved. The guy is likeable and charming but can bring the emotional heft when needed. Peter Quill (or Star-Lord) is an interesting concept. Being a product of the ’80s, it’s like he’s emulating Han Solo, but not quite pulling it off. Both Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel do stellar voice work as Rocket and Groot, especially Diesel, who does a lot with very few words. Pleasant surprise of the film is pro-wrestler Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. He gets most of the film’s biggest laughs, usually involving his race’s inability to understand metaphors and his propensity to take everything literally. Bautista plays it perfectly and is a joy to watch. The film does a great job of balancing these big personalities, but some do slip through the net. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems to not be given as much attention as the rest of the Guardians. She’s still a solid presence, but I get the feeling a lot of her stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. Big baddie Ronan wasn’t quite as menacing as I’d have liked him to be. He’s no Loki, but he’s no Malekith (the elf guy from Thor: The Dark World who was fucking rubbish) either. He’s more of a Vader to Thanos’ Emperor. Karen Gillan’s Nebula also gets slightly lost in the mix. Let’s hope the sequel does Gillan’s performance justice.

A lot has been made of the more comedic tone of Guardians in comparison to the more straight-faced Marvel stablemates. When the lights went down in the cinema, I plastered a pre-emptive smile on my face, just to save time for when the laughs started. The film then cold opens on a young Quill, in a hospital at his mother’s deathbed. My face fell. It’s a genuinely moving scene and I soon realised that Guardians may not quite be the lark-about space opera I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, when the film gets going, it’s a blast, but it has the balls to strive for something deeper than that. Now, I have reservations in telling you this, for fear of some bigger boys coming to my house and beating me up for being a wuss, but I teared up at several points during the film which was unexpected to say the least. Guardians is brave as hell in the way that despite having a CGI raccoon and tree monster as part of the main cast, it never once treats them as two dimensional cartoon characters.They all feel like real people, not just caricatures spouting witty one-liners. It should come as no surprise to fans of The Iron Giant, but the combination of Vin Diesel and some seriously impressive animation manages to make Groot a hugely sympathetic character, despite being limited to three simple words.

The rest of the film is fast, fun and furious. The action is varied and exciting, the attention to detail is awesome and it all adds up to a hugely enjoyable experience. There’s a brilliant prison breakout sequence and some thrilling aerial dogfights that are just delights. I’m trying hard to not spoil specifics, but this is one of the most visually inventive films I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a goddamn planet that is the severed head of a humongous ancient beast, just floating through space. The Collector’s huge collection has some great visual gags and brilliant attention to detail. Every dollar of the budget seems to have been put up on the screen and that’s to be commended. Marvel Studios has learned the lesson that Hollywood in general consistently fails to take on board: if you’re going to hire a talent like James Gunn, Shane Black or Joss Whedon, for fuck’s sake step back at let them do their thing. In the same way Iron Man 3 was undeniably a Shane Black film, Guardians is definitely a Gunn production, complete with his trademark dark humour. The screenplay, co-written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, is smart as anything and doesn’t feel meddled with. It’s not perfect, as there are some clunky attempts at theming etc, but the very fact that a film with a budget this big, based on characters even the hardcore nerds are only vaguely aware of, has such an uncompromising script is nothing short of miraculous. Also, the soundtrack is amazing.

“Metaphors go over his head”

“NOTHING goes over my head!… My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”

People who complain of superhero fatigue (dumb people, but entitled to their opinions nonetheless) just won’t have a leg to stand on with this one. It’s a fun space opera that is more sci-fi than anything else. It’s exactly what blockbuster entertainment should be- a fun adventure with characters you can (G)root for. I can’t express this enough- I am now a huge fan of these characters and can’t wait to see where they take them next. The already confirmed eventual meeting of the Avengers and the Guardians has me positively salivating at the prospect. This may just be my new favourite Marvel film. I will have to watch it at least 7 more times before I can be sure. Highly recommended.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

Singer of praises

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I loved First Class and whilst The Wolverine had its charms, it’s been many long years since we’ve had a “proper” X-Men film. I was cautiously optimistic, but the whole “team-up” aspect of it, meshing the old cast with the younger versions of themselves had me worried that the only reason it was being made was a knee-jerk reaction to The Avengers and Marvel Studios’ universe building, with Fox desperate to put out their own branded version of a Marvel universe to grab several slices of the ridiculous money pie that’s rapidly cooling.

“The future: a bleak desolate, place. Mutants and the humans who helped them, united in defeat by an enemy we could not stop. Is this the fate we have set for ourselves? Could we have done nothing to stop it?”

The Future. Giant, nigh-on unstoppable robots called Sentinels, specifically designed to eradicate mutants, roam the Earth and have brought on an apocalypse, full of ash, rubble and rapidly declining pockets of survivors. Tracing the devastation back to a single moment in the 1970’s involving the assassination of Sentinel inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by blue shape-shifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the current remnants of the X-Men, including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) engineer a way to send a mutant’s consciousness back in time and the ageless Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the perfect candidate. Logan’s troubles don’t just extend to preventing a murder, however, as whilst their present selves (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) have put aside their differences, ’70s Prof. X and Magento (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) are at loggerheads, meaning Logan will have to convince them to sing from the same hymn book as well.

So, the cast. They’re all brilliant. It’s a genuine thrill to see old and new faces thrown into the mix together.Both versions of Prof. X and Magneto are a joy to watch. DoFP can have its cake and eat it, cutting from the future versions talking to each other with mutual respect and Shakespearian gravitas to the young, angry versions, played fantastically by McAvoy and Fassbender. McAvoy gets a special shoutout as he gives a great performance as a jaded junkie Xavier, complete with a thousand yard stare and addiction to painkillers. Hugh Jackman is always fun to watch as Wolverine and nailed it fucking yonks ago, but still manages to be just as entertaining as he always was. Jennifer Lawrence also gives a nicely nuanced turn as Mystique. Of the new blood, Peter Dinklage is great as Trask and the new mutants are a blast, especially Evan Peters’ Quicksilver. Fans of the series like myself will be delighted with the various character cameos and references.

I’m so glad this didn’t turn out to be the clusterfuck it could have so easily been. When I sat down and the classic X-Men theme started playing, I smiled. I realised that I’d genuinely missed the franchise and was struck by a sudden need for the film to be awesome. Luckily, it is. It’s a well balanced film with just the right amounts of humour, action, suspense and all that good shit. It’s basically a First Class sequel with the “classic” cast serving as a framing device. It just works. Part of the reason for this is Bryan Singer’s direction. The guy gets characters and narrative arcs. All of his films have shown a great understanding of the basics and an insane amount of talent and skill when it comes to throwing it up on a big screen. Thankfully, he’s on form here and keeps the pace quick, but not at the expense of quieter moments. The script is also solid as hell, with the normally shitty Simon Kinberg doing his best work since ever. The story actually has weight and stakes to it. The finale, cutting between the future and past is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen this year. Funnily enough, the film is fairly light on action, but when it hits, it hits solidly. The best sequence in the film by far is a bit at the Pentagon where the super-fast and funny Quicksilver really comes into his own.

My only real problems with the film are more niggles than anything else. My major qualm is with the decision to basically make the film another Wolverine-centric story. Singer does his best to juggle focus, but at its heart it’s still episode #7353 of The Wolverine Show. All of the X-Men films so far have been Wolverine stories, with the exception of First Class, which still includes a small cameo by the Clawed One. I like the character and Jackman, but one of my favourite things about the X-Men is how diverse they are. There are any number of characters that could carry the main narrative successfully. The original comic is told from Kitty Pryde’s point of view and I could see that working. My other problem is with a minor plot point. I’m not a big “movie logic” guy and inevitably problematic time travel stuff didn’t bother me. So, the Sentinels are basically unstoppable thanks to adaptive technology, being able to use a mutant’s weakness against them. So, for instance, one ends up using fire powers against Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). They’re like the ultimate Pokemon. However, the film tells us they got these powers thanks to Mystique. Thing is, she only shapeshifts. She doesn’t gain any powers by turning into someone. Series regular Rogue has that power- surely she would be more fitting? Fuck- there was even that Darwin guy in First Class who could do exactly that. Why not him? My guess is is that they needed to give Lawrence a meatier part,with her having become a megastar inbetween First Class and this one. Funny, as the same thing happened with Halle Berry between the first and second films of the X trilogy.

“All those years wasted fighting each other, Charles.”

Days of Future Past is one of the most satisfying films I’ve seen in a while. It just does everything it needs to with wit, intelligence and style. It’s a fantastic blockbuster that doesn’t forget to tell a good story in amongst the big action setpieces and CGI- something which I’m still incredulous is a real issue in this day and age. It’s also a bold step into the future of the franchise, with various happenings in the film rendering events and entire previous films uncanonical. If the quality is maintained, I’m unbelievably excited about the both the sequel, Age of Apocalypse, and their wider plans for a franchise spanning universe.. It’s going to be a long two years.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

 

 The Raging Spider-Fan 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

 
 

Nothing in recent cinematic memory has incensed me more than 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, a film that not only turned my favourite character of all time into a self-centred, jumped-up little prick and gave us a weak rehashing of a great origin story but also had the gall to not even properly tell a story, period. I have talked the ears off of anyone who would listen about how it’s a complete failure of a film and how Marc Webb is a gormless guffbag, but eventually even I got sick of hearing myself talk about it. So why can’t I just ignore it? I don’t know. I’m a glutton for punishment. Despite having had my fingers burned, I was compelled to see how bad the sequel would be. It’s messed up, I know.

“Nothing is what I thought it was.”

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is still trying to find a balance between his personal life and his spandexed hero one. Things are ramping up as he’s graduating high school and college beckons. Parker is also struggling with his promise to Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) about staying away from Gwen (Emma Stone). Things get kicked up several notches when nobody electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) has a terrible industrial accident and becomes a purely electrical malevolent being known as “Electro”.  To make things more complicated, Peter’s old BFF Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns from his travels abroad, literally after Spider-Man’s blood. OK, here’s where it’s tough. As with the first film, the actors are all great, but either given fuck all to do or insanely miscast. Garfield is still OK as Parker, although I swear to Christ he’s playing the guy as autistic. Emma Stone is also fine as Gwen and the banter between the two is still one of the film’s only charms. Jamie Foxx does good work, but is let down by the shoddy script. Sally Field is again the film’s MVP as Aunt May and Dane DeHaan is a fantastic Harry, although the less said about his “transformation”, the better.

Here’s the thing. This rebooted series has no backbone whatsoever. It has no goddamn dignity. It’d bend over and spread its arsecheeks whilst singing a medley of the current top 40 if it thought it could make an extra ticket sale. I may have hated the ridiculous Dark Knight lite aesthetic of the first film, but fuck me if they haven’t slammed the tonal lever in the opposite direction and given us a goofy-as-fuck Spidey with primary colours and dumb-as-hell happenings. This may as well be another reboot. Sequels are often overreactions to criticisms of the preceding films- we know this to be true, but this is beyond the pail. Why can’t we have a happy medium? Why does it always have to be absolutes? Sam Raimi’s films are strangely timeless because they took place in a weird ’60s/modern day hybrid world. TASM 2 is doing all it can to pander to today’s youth and will be dated by the time it hits DVD shelves.

For a while, I thought I may have to choke down some hefty helpings of humble pie when it started trying to make sense of the tangled mess of story the first film left on. It was almost like it was taking my personal niggles and checking them off one by one. Stupid suit? Replaced with a much better one. That shit about Peter going back on his promise to Captain Stacy? Carries over and is being dealt with. The mystery of Parker’s parents that was dropped unceremoniously halfway through the first film? Also carries over. Peter used Bing to search the Net? He now uses Google like a normal person. It was uncanny. However, I realised that just because they were addressing these things, it didn’t mean they knew where to go from there. There is still no understanding of who the Spider-Man character is and why he and some of his iconic villains have stuck around for so long.

This whole situation reminds me of where Warner Bros. were in 1995 when Batman Forever came out. After the huge success of Batman in ’89, Tim Burton was given free rein for the sequel, Batman Returns. The film ended up being too damn weird and dark for its own good and caused many a furrowed brow,  basically boiling down to not being marketable enough for the suits. Joel Schumacher was brought in for Forever and turned the colour saturation and the camp factor up to 11 and changed it from a dark, moody piece to a screaming neon toy advert. Same basic thing here. Sony were reportedly unhappy with the final version of TASM and so it makes sense they would want to change writers and flip the tone. They’ve got a whole contrived universe to build after all.

I’m reminded of Batman Forever in another way when it comes to Electro. If you remember, Batman Forever featured Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma, a deranged superfan of Bruce Wayne’s who decides to become his mortal enemy in the form of The Riddler after an imagined slight. Guess what Max Dillon’s story is. At the base of it, I could see it working. Max is an invisible nobody- a loser so kicked down and pushed around, he’s taken aback when somebody remembers his name. He’s a sympathetic character. Thing is, this is waay too broad and they squander any dramatic potential. He sports a greasy combover and is bespectacled. He’s turned his home into a Spidey shrine. He has imaginary discussions with Spider-Man. He’s a Hollywood nerd from a frathouse comedy. It’s honestly like he’s stepped straight out of an ’80s cartoon. Fuck me. It was embarrassing to watch. We’ve had over a decade of proper superhero films now. We’ve had The Avengers. We’ve moved past this shit now.

As with the first film, the main problem is the script. Having booted James Vanderbilt, Sony made the questionable decision of hiring the dumblefuck Transformers scribes to write this one. The tone flits from one thing to another, killing any resonance the scenes on screen could have had completely dead. Yeah, there’ll be stupids laughing and crying, but for the rest of us thinkrights, it’s a confusing affair. Don’t understand where I’m coming from? You try telling a joke immediately after a mass kitten burial and see how well you get on. Try giving directions to a stranger after slapping your bum and blowing raspberries at them and see how long they stick around.  A lot of emphasis has gone into making Spider-Man “funny”, but dear Lord is it painful. Humour is part of the Spider-Man character, sure. However, I must have missed the run of issues where he trots out rapid-fire unfunny quips until your knuckles are white and your teeth are cracked and bloody. It was fucking agonising. Apart from the “humour”, the film struggles with basic storytelling. Characters have no arcs, basic motivations are fucked and it’s all just a noisy light show of a spectacle inbetween. Baffling changes are made. Stuff from the comics that I figured would have been too cheesy or ridiculous for the big screen are replaced by even wackier things.

I honestly tried to like this film. I’m the forgiving sort. It took the Fast and Furious series five films to start actually being good. The sticking point for me is that (to my mind at least) they’re completely fucking up my favourite superhero. They’re mucking up opportunities left, right and centre. What’s worse is that they’ve got no plans to give the franchise back to Marvel. They’re too busy setting release dates for future films and writing spin-offs. What pisses me off is that I could have written both this review and the basic plot on a napkin just after the first trailer was released and barely had to change anything. It’s that lazy. Also, despite having talented people like Johnny Marr and Pharrell contributing, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack sucks a fat one. Just listen to the main theme and tell me it doesn’t sound like the farted out music for the bonus features on a Superman DVD.

“I once told you that secrets have a cost. The truth does too.”

So yeah, I didn’t care for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Fucked up fact of the matter is, it doesn’t care for anyone. It didn’t want to tell a good Spider-Man story or bring an iconic villain to life. All it is interested in is wringing out as much cash as it can from suckers before the superhero bubble bursts. Whilst there has been more effort this time round, it’s still a fucking car crash of a film. It’s a whole different kind of awful. It’s just scraping a two star rating because I know, deep down, it isn’t the worst thing ever. It’s at the very least competent in some areas, but boy did I struggle with the whole “personal bias” thing.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

Signed, Shield, Delivered.
 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Vaguely controversial opinion time. Captain America is my favourite Avenger. The first Captain America film is also my personal favourite of Marvel’s Phase One. It spent more time and energy building its characters than any of the others in the Marvel stable. It’s proper structured storytelling with an understanding of motivation, theming and all of that other nerdy jazz than I can’t seem to stop banging on about. It’s hardly perfect though. Unfortunately, it proceeds to shite itself inside out in the last third of the film, not quite knowing what to do after skinny Steve becomes Cap in action as well as physique. However, I’d rather have two thirds of solid experience than an entirety of generic one (cough)IronMan2(cough). That being said, I had my reservations about The Winter Soldier. It’s based on a great story, but written by the people responsible for the underwhelming Thor: The Dark World and directed by some TV directors who happen to have directed the chore of the film that was You, Me and Dupree. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.

“Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists. The ones that do call him the Winter Soldier. He’s a ghost, you’ll never find him.

The Winter Soldier focuses on Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans). He’s joined by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the pair, under the direction of the cycloptic Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), are protecting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s interests home and abroad. Rogers, however, finds little fulfilment in being used as Fury’s personal attack dog and is still trying to figure out the modern world and his place within it. He meets up with war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who has undergone a similar state of mind, not quite knowing how to adapt when the orders stop coming. We’re also introduced to Fury’s boss, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) who is right behind S.H.I.E.L.D.’s controversial plans to monitor the global population and take out potential threats. Concerned that something may be rotten at S.H.I.E.L.D. after an attempt on Fury’s life, Cap investigates with Fury’s warning not to trust anyone ringing in his ears. On top of all this, there’s a mysterious metal-armed super badass roaming about known only as The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) causing all kinds of death and destruction. Phew. Longest plot recap ever. The story’s solid, giving us a spy thriller mixed with the standard superheroics we’re all used to seeing by now. I think the Captain America series is probably Marvel’s most experimental franchise as the first one was unapologetically a sepia-toned period piece whereas this one feels like a gritty ’70s spy epic, with the casting of Robert Redford a major clue as to what they’re shooting for. Whereas The Dark World may have left people questioning whether the superhero bubble had burst and feeling comic book fatigue, The Winter Soldier proves that if you’re smart about it, you can take on any genre and run it through the superhero filter and it’ll work. There are nice character moments and the clash of Cap’s yesteryear idealism with Fury’s post Edward Snowden/Wikileaks attitude is interesting.

The whole cast are good. Evans has refined his Steve Rogers schtick. He’s not as wide-eyed and innocent as he once was, but at the core, he’s still the same old idealistic Steve. Scarlett Johansson gets to go deeper into exactly who Romanoff is and relishes the opportunity. I have to say that I felt she was a little flat not really selling the character’s quippy nature, but that could just be her decision to make Natasha a disconnected, jaded type. Anthony Mackie is all sorts of fun as Falcon, giving Cap a proper verbal sparring partner as well as a brother in arms. Robert Redford also allows the film a sense of gravitas that it would have missed otherwise. Samuel L. Jackson. That’s all I need to say about him. Sebastian Stan gives us a good brooding Winter Soldier, but I could have done with a little more time with the character.

OK, the good stuff. There’s a lot of it. It whips along at a decent pace and has just as much time for the smaller interactions as it does for the expensive set pieces. Instead of vague “save the world” stakes (although there is some of that in there), it feels like a personal Cap story. I still love these characters and the new additions are perfectly fine in my book. I certainly hope we get to see more of Falcon and Steve’s flirty relationship with his neighbour. The action scenes are a lot of fun too. There’s an elevator fight and a very Heat inspired daylight shootout that are definitely big highlights. The writing’s more on point that it was in The Dark World and there are some really fantastic concepts being played with coupled with quotable quips and gags. Steve has lost his faith in government and authority and is questioning his orders for the first time. You know something’s up when the walking posterboy for following the rules and eating your greens starts becoming disaffected. It actually has something to say about the modern world and takes more of a stance on the military secrets/ constant surveillance issue than the wishy-washy wank that was The Fifth Estate, a film purportedly solely about all of that stuff. Add all of this up and it’s exactly the sort of thing I want from a Captain America film. Plus, at no point do the wheels fall off and they forget to tell a story, like in the first one. Big bonus points there.

My only criticism is that I wanted to see more of The Winter Soldier. Although it’s not exactly the best-kept secret out there, I will invisotext this next bit as it concerns the Winter Soldier’s identity an’ shit. (Highlight to read) So, Ol’ Winty is Cap’s thought-dead best pal Bucky Barnes (the one that fell off a speeding train in the first one?), brainwashed, mechanised and working for the Russians. I felt that there was so much going on, it didn’t really give the whole Steve/Bucky drama enough room to breathe. It felt a bit rushed to me and despite the long running time, I would have welcomed a few more scenes dealing with the whole thing.

“S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like to be!”

So, The Winter Soldier is a damn good film and I’m so pleased to be able to say that. It’s a solid film that I think will only improve on repeated viewings. Bear in mind that there are not one, but two, post-credits scenes to look out for, so bring a catheter and a pissbag if you’re planning on downing your usual vat of soda like I usually do.