The Wolverine

 
*Insert shit Japanese pun here*
 

The Wolverine (2013)

The X-Men franchise is one of the time-hoppyist series around. We’ve had prequels, even earlier prequels and a buttload of sequels. It’s all going to get more confusing with the forthcoming Days of Future Past which will mash the First Class lot together with the established cast of the first three films in a time-spanning Avengers style ensemble pic. I have to say though, they’ve done a good job keeping the timeline pretty coherent all things considered.

“I’ve been trying to find you for over a year. My employer’s dying, he wants to thank you for saving his life. It’s an honour to meet the Wolverine.”

The Wolverine unsurprisingly tells the story of Logan (Hugh Jackman). We catch up with him years after the events of The Last Stand. He’s exiled himself and is living rough in the mountains. He’s tracked down by Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who has been asked to bring him to Japan on behalf of the ailing magnate Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) who had his life saved by Logan decades before. Wolvie travels with her and soon discovers a plot to kidnap Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) to get in on some sweet ransom cash action. The Wolverine is loosely based on a popular and critically acclaimed ’80s miniseries dealing with Logan’s first solo adventure. For the most part, the story is solid, giving us a fish-out-of-water take on the now very familiar Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is always a pleasure to watch as Logan. He nailed the part long ago, but it never feels like he’s treading the same old ground or phoning it in. I get the feeling he likes playing the character as much as I enjoy seeing him in the role. The Wolverine is a more successful personal story than the widely hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As much as I liked Tao Okamoto, her only job seems to be standing around looking beautiful, so of course Logan falls for her instead of the kick-ass Rila Fukushima who manages to be both interesting and handy in fights. The only weak point was Famke Janssen reprising her role as Jean Grey. I don’t have a problem with Janssen at all, it’s just that the various dream sequences with her in are definitely movie low points. She just lies around in lingerie spouting all of Logan’s internal dialogue that they couldn’t be arsed to weave into the narrative. I never really bought the whole Jean/Logan relationship in the films anyway, but I soon learned to stop paying attention whenever Logan was sleeping as it meant another clunkily written chunk of fuck-all was going to happen.

Straight from the off, I felt the film was in good hands. It opens with a unnervingly quiet harbour view before showing some bombers coming in to fuck up Nagasaki nuclear style. It’s a well done sequence and the sheer spectacle of watching a nuclear blast totalling the lovely Japanese shoreside is both devastating and awesome at the same time. I like seeing Wolverine in wartime settings. More please. Whilst Wolvie’s Japanese trip seems to consist purely of things American audiences would expect from a film set in Asia, it’s not really a problem. There’s a genuinely funny and awkward moment where Logan and Mariko hide out at a love hotel which plays well. I feel the film could have done with more of these little moments as the only reason these characters fall in love is because he protects her all the time and they’re both attractive people. Mariko needed to be something pretty special for Logan to get over Jean and I just didn’t feel it. Yukio had more going on. Anyone have her number?

When I saw Hoborine living rough in the mountains, I had a thought hit me that sent an icy chill down to my stomach:  “Oh shit, I hope they haven’t gone all ‘gritty’ with this”. Thankfully, this turned out to not be the case. There’s dark stuff in it, but its not afraid to keep the tone out of the bleak doldrums other superhero films are finding themselves in. Plus, there’s a scene in a bar when Logan confronts some hunters that is classic Wolverine and made me smile broadly. In fact, all the action is well done. There’s a stunning sequence on top of a bullet train that’s the best train sequence I’ve seen since Spider-Man 2. Wolverine’s healing ability has been suppressed in this film, so most of the fight scenes have raised stakes as people can actually hurt and stop him. It’s the first time we’ve since Wolverine physically vulnerable to anyone other than Magneto and it works really well. My one qualm is that some of the fights felt pretty toothless, with people getting slashed and stabbed by Wolverine’s famous claws but there being very little resulting blood. I didn’t want it to turn into a gorefest or anything, but X2 managed to get away with quite a bit. A lot of it looked like blood and injury had been digitally removed. My guess is that when it comes down to releasing it on DVD/Blu-ray, they’ll pull a Hunger Games and include the slightly meatier cut.

My only other real problem was Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who ends up as a pretty weak villainess. She’s just not given that much to do and she reminded me quite a lot of Batman & Robin‘s Poison Ivy, with the penchant for sucking face with her victims and generally hamming it up. Anything that reminds me of that dungheap of a film is going to have points taken off. The impressive-looking Silver Samurai is also of little consequence, but you can’t win ’em all.

“I can do this all day, you twisted mutant bitch!”

The Wolverine is pretty decent. It’s not good enough to get excited about, but it’s an entertaining enough flick. Think of it like 2008’s Incredible Hulk, solid on its own, but mostly made to bring the story in line with forthcoming “event” pictures. Speaking of which, stay after the credits ya droolmonkeys.

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angsty: Why it’s time to stop copying from Batman’s notebook

Man of Feels

Like many thousands of other people, I went to see the new Superman flick Man of Steel the other day. Whilst I quite liked it, I had my problems with it. Chief of which was the fact it was the same type of joyless, po-faced, sullen comic book adap we’ve been seeing ever since Chris Nolan reinvigorated the Batman series. I know I can’t be the only one getting sick of how ridiculously seriously these films take themselves.

I’m not saying that I would prefer a Superman film that undermines the comic at every turn, pointing out how silly things are. Not at all. I love it when films have confidence in the comics and strive to make what worked on the page work on screen. Films used to take the attitude of  looking at comic series and seeing what they could salvage, but now they’re mostly interested in being faithful to the source material. I’m also not against dark and gritty adaptations. The Dark Knight trilogy is fantastic and I love stuff like Sin City, Road to Perdition and Dredd. Thing is, dark and gritty worked for Batman because Batman was all downbeat and moody to begin with. The washed-out palette and realistic approach worked because it suited the character and world that he inhabited.

Comic books are renowned for having a multitude of takes on their characters. Spider-Man alone has had so many different iterations ranging from a futuristic 2099 version to a cartoon pig known as “The Spectacular Spider-Ham” it’s hard to keep track of them all. Practically every time a new artist/writer is hired, the series is technically rebooted and some new blood gets a crack at taking on an established character. Whilst 1997’s  Batman & Robin can go drown in a bucket of piss, this is one of the reasons why I don’t mind Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever as much as most people do. As long as the core character traits are kept the same, you can remix the tone, characters and world as much as you want. It’s like Shakespeare- as long as the essence is kept the same, people don’t give a fuck what you do.

What I do have a problem with is when filmmakers artificially grit up a franchise to appeal to the emotionally stunted moody teen demographic out there. It happened with The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s happened again with Man of Steel. Both films were tasked with rebooting a franchise and making the hero relevant and cool again (the necessity of which is debatable). Both films took the “darker” route and I would argue they both sold out their characters to do it.

I’m not the biggest Superman fan ever, but I like the character a lot and have enjoyed my fair share of the comics,  films and TV shows. I even played the craptacular Superman 64 back in the day. When I bought my ticket for MoS, I expected a grittier take on the franchise, but for the basic character to remain the same altruistic saviour figure he always has been. What I got was a mopey, brooding bellend in a skintight suit. Superman’s sincerity and earnestness doesn’t have to be cheesy. They could have made it work. But no, they washed out the colours and sucked out the joy.  Where’s all the protecting and inspiring good in people? Abandoned in his own selfish quest to get to know just who he really is.

This grittification reminds me of comics in the ’80s when many heroes were like huge steroid-abusing bears, muscling their way around swearing, killing and being “mature”. Looking back on them now, it’s funny how juvenile they are. Comics have thankfully got through that awkward phase and are now more diverse and legitimately adult than ever. The film adaptations need to do this too. At this rate, the much-talked about Justice League film will be Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman et al sitting in a room chain smoking, cutting themselves and looking for “deep” pictures to put on their Tumblrs.

I think the reason that people are supposedly connecting with the Nolanised breed of films is an overall weakening of audiences’ imaginations. People just can’t suspend disbelief like they used to. Nowadays you have to explain the fuck out of everything and meet audiences three-quarters of the way. People like to think they’re too cynical and clever for the older, cheesier superhero flicks, but they really aren’t. They’re too fucking stupid to get caught up in the escapism of it all. The Nolan Bat-films worked because Batman isn’t superpowered. All his tech is plausible and only slightly science-fictiony. When you present a realistic take on Superman who, may I remind you, can fly and has laser vision, you’re forced to really think just how he can achieve flight, rather than just buy the concept. I want to believe a man can fly, not just be told it. Same problem with The Amazing Spider-Man. Using the film’s own logic, explain to me how a teenager with no income can afford to bulk-buy crates of a commercially available web-like fluid and isn’t tracked down by any competent law enforcement agency once they find out there’s an outlaw swinging around using the stuff. Over-explanation is a killer. Think of Toy Story. Did you need an explanation as to how the toys could talk and became self-aware to enjoy the film? Would it have been better if you were told that an accident at a toy factory had caused all the voice chips in the toys to work at 40,000% capacity, granting motor skills and AI? Fuck no. The toys talk when people aren’t around. Boom. Done. Let’s get on with the story.

Some people are grumbling about reaching a saturation point when it comes to superhero films. I tell you what, I’m nowhere near. However, I’m not sure if I can take another dour, shoe-gazing version of a favourite hero of mine. Films need to be confident enough in the unique charms of their chosen properties and not paint over everything with the angsty “mature” brush. Basically, they need to be adult enough to have a little fun and not do something because it worked for Batman.

Iron Man 3

It’s been a while since I’ve done an honest-to-goodness film review and what better way to break that lazy streak than to weigh in on Iron Man 3, arguably the start of 2013’s summer blockbuster season.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Circa 2008, the first Iron Man film found itself in a similar position to this year’s Man of Steel, having the weight of not only a franchise, but an entire interconnecting universe on its shoulders. It’s not entirely the same though, as Iron Man was and still is nowhere near the cultural icon that Superman is. As you know, Iron Man did ridiculously well at the box office thanks in part to its snappy dialogue and being a fantastic showcase for Robert Downey Jr., all of which kicked off Marvel’s Phase One (which would eventually culminate in The Avengers four years later) with a bang. Iron Man 3 on the other hand, has Phase Two to launch- a move that will end in The Avengers 2. It’s all go at chez Marvel, I tell thee.

You’re nothing more than a maniac. I’m not afraid of you. No politics here: just good old fashioned revenge!”

After his traumatic experiences in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) can’t sleep and has anxiety issues. Live-in girlfriend and Stark CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) tries to help Tony with his mental health but is finding herself pushed away by Stark’s suit-building obsession and constant technological tinkerings. Same goes for pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle) who finds himself donning a more jingoistic, red, white and blue version of the War Machine armour dubbed the “Iron Patriot”. Soon, a couple of people from Stark’s past show up, including sleazy businessman Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and brilliant scientist and one night fling Maya (Rebecca Hall). This is all capped off with the terrifying presence of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist leader who threatens the U.S. over video broadcasts and carries out seemingly unpredictable bombings with no trace of any device used. When one of these bombings puts long time bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital, Stark takes it personally and issues a challenge to the Mandarin. The story is great. It takes Stark back to a state similar to where he was in the first film, alone and forced to rely on his own wits and ingenuity to survive. Tony is genuinely vulnerable in this film, rather than Iron Man 2‘s Stark who was a smug, wackier-than-thou dick who then had a woe-is-me poisoning thing going on which didn’t work. Everyone here puts in a killer performance, especially Downey Jr. who reminds us exactly why he’s an A-Lister. Of the new recruits, Guy Pearce is bloody brilliant. Rebecca Hall is underused in the interesting role of Maya, but she does a lot with what she’s given. It’ll be Ben Kingsley who will set most tongues wagging though. He absolutely walks away with the film tucked under one arm. It’s an interesting take on the Mandarin and I wonder what hardcore comic book fans will make of it.

I had two fears when it came to this film. One, Black wouldn’t be allowed to do his own thing and would be shackled to established canon and genre conventions and two, it was going to end in the same way the first two films did with an uninspired metal-on-metal thumpfest. Thankfully, Iron Man 3 allays those concerns. From the very beginning, the film sets out its stall. It’s clear that this is very much a Shane Black film. The film opens on a very Kiss Kiss Bang Bang note with some unreliable RDJ narration over slow footage of Iron Man suits being torched. Then, the film completely wrong-footed me by scoring the opening credits with one hit wonders Eiffel 65’s  one hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”, a song I haven’t thought about in around 15 years. The incredulous, confused reaction this got in the cinema was delicious. This is one of many rug-pulls the film contains and in a genre plagued by predictability and cliche, it’s very welcome. If you pop open the film’s hood you’ll find more evidence of the film’s Black-ness beyond these superficial elements. The dialogue is fast, sharp and packed full of one-liners. The whole film is like a spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with the film unspooling like a Johnny Gossamer-esque tale, complete with bombastic and kick-ass end credits (which you should know by now you have to stay to the end of, you douchetools.)

Iron Man 2 isn’t the worst film ever, but it serves as a handy comparison point. Practically everything that IM2 did wrong, IM3 gets right. Where the War Machine angle didn’t really convince in IM2, Iron Patriot works beautifully in IM3. Black and Drew Pearce have managed to finally do something with Rhodey and convinced me to join Team Cheadle after being unimpressed by his performance in Iron Man 2. The Patriot side story runs parallel with Tony’s and is completely compelling in its own right. When the two storylines finally cross, Iron Man 3 becomes the best buddy picture around, with shades of Riggs and Murtaugh coupled with Harry Lockhart and Gay Perry. I loved the third act of this film. It was slightly sloppily executed at times, as most of the suits were red and gold blurs rocketing around, but by gum, is it fun. It’s kinetic with being disorientating and epic without being nonsensical. Basically the exact opposite of a Transformers finale. Plus, most importantly, it’s not a yawnsome suit-on-suit scrap. In fact, a lot of the action is incredible inventive. My personal favourite fight is when Tony has to defeat a large number of hired goons using only one glove and one boot from the Iron Man suit. Also, the falling-out-of-a-plane, “barrel of monkeys” sequence glimpsed in the trailer is truly astounding.

Despite having spunked out all the glistening praise above, Iron Man 3, like so many things in life, is not perfect. I really liked this take on the Mandarin, but I can’t help but wonder what a slightly more faithful interpretation would have been like. Maybe I’m just a massive hypocritical meathead who likes seeing the same things over and over again, but I suppose this isn’t a big concern. I have a feeling both Pearce and Black don’t really rate comics much. The film is based on the fantastic Extremis run of comics (a storyline that both previous Iron Mans borrowed from) but deviates pretty heavily from them. The film does well with it as a framework and maybe it wouldn’t have worked on the screen, but I would have loved to have seen Extremis done justice. Also, I wanted to see more of the Hulkbuster suit.

“Nothing’s been the same since New York.”

Iron Man 3 rocks the shit. It’s the best one of the trilogy and puts part 2 to shame.  It’s funny, the actual act of writing really gets to the bottom of how I feel about a film. Say I saw an underwhelming film. I’ll start off with an idea of a few points I want to make and the final star rating and during the process start feeling incredibly annoyed and revise my writing accordingly like in my Burt Wonderstone review. Here, it’s the exact opposite. I enjoyed the film hugely but was happy seeing it just the once. However, all this talk of snappy dialogue, daring story decisions and cracking action has made me start planning a second visit to the cinema to see it again. If that isn’t a sound endorsement I don’t know what is. Much like nearly all of Shane Black’s back catalogue (especially Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) this is highly recommended.

The Amazing Spider-Man

God, my output has been patchy of late. I have been doing stuff elsewhere (which you can find here,) with the result that this blog has been overlooked somewhat. Still, I’ve got some bloody plans for this place, so hold on to your goddamn hats. Anyway, did somebody say Spider-Man?

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

And yes, it is written as “Spider-Man”. Fucking sick of not seeing the hyphen in there when people talk about it. Am I being a pedantic wanker? There’s always a good chance, but say I was to write about BatMan or Super-Man. People would have a problem with it. As a Spider-fan, it greens my goblins. So, it’s 2012 and we have a reboot of a franchise barely a decade old webslinging its way in fuckmothering 3D to a screen near you. I’ve heard many people decrying the film for being a perfect example of the fact that Hollywood is officially out of ideas. Whilst that isn’t entirely false, you must understand that The Amazing Spider-Man is purely a business decision. Y’see, Sony own the rights to the Spider-Man franchise. They contractually have to do something with the license or the rights revert back to Marvel/Disney. Sony aren’t stupid. The Spidey franchise has made them billions of dollars and they’re not just going to roll over and let Marvel take their money-shitting machine home. Plus, after Spider-Man 3 thoroughly salted the earth with the tears of fanboys and moviegoers alike, it was time for a change.

“I am issuing an arrest warrant for the masked vigilante known as Spider-Man!”

The Amazing Spider-Man retells the famous origin story of everyone’s favourite nerd fantasy projection, Spider-Man. Abandoned by his parents and left to live with his aunt and uncle, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a typical nerdy high-schooler. He gets beaten up and has a hard time talking to girls, especially beautiful blonde Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). However, when he decides to investigate his parents’ disappearance, starting with his father’s close friend and colleague, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Peter unwittingly signs himself up for a date with eight-legged destiny. All the marketing for this film has been focused on telling “the untold story” of Peter’s parents. Much like the best marketing, it’s what they don’t tell you that’s key. This is basically a retread of what we’ve seen before in a slightly different wrapper. My main problem is this: did we really have to see Peter get bitten by a spider again? As a webhead of many years I have seen the origin story played out a thousand times, with various versions present in the comics, the many different animated series, the video games and the Raimi film. Why the film didn’t take a leaf out of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk’s book, where the opening sequence alludes to the gamma accident and doesn’t take up half the goddamn film treading old ground, I’ll never know. At the end of it all, Peter’s still bitten and Uncle Ben’s still six feet under (more on that in a minute). It’s probably the most famous superhero origin story out there. We didn’t need this retelling/reimagining/re-whatever.

As for the actors, Andrew Garfield makes a fantastic Parker/Spider-Man. He’s just the right side of shy and dorky and has the acting chops to really sell those emotional scenes (something which I never really got from Tobey Maguire’s performance). Emma Stone is probably the stand-out as Gwen Stacy as she shares some fantastic chemistry with Garfield, completely charms and manages to turn what could have been a forgettable gal pal role into a memorable and likeable performance. Also great is Rhys Ifans, who was already fairly reptilian before all those expensive effects. He’s tasked with really selling the Jekyll side to his dual role and does well with it. I also loved Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. They were so wise and caring. I want to stay at their house and eat May’s apparently terrible meatloaf (not a euphemism). The film really humanises its characters, rather than them being one note or two dimensional. It gives me great hope for future franchise entries as it looks like this take on Spidey is a lot more emotional than we’ve seen before. I really felt Peter’s pain after Uncle Ben’s death, especially when he snaps and slams Flash into a locker. It’s realistic and affecting.

The main success of the film is the central romance between Peter and Gwen. Director Marc Webb (no, really) knows his way around romance as seen in his previous work (500) Days of Summer. It’s believable and surprisingly sweet. I was pulling for the relationship to work. I actually cared. There are little character moments, like a bit where Peter gets shy and his voice cracks more than normal because he realises he’s in his girlfriend’s bedroom, that sell the relationship. It’s cute, but not in a retch-inducing way. The action and all-important webslinging are well handled too. The school fight with the Lizard is fantastic and also features the best Stan Lee cameo yet. I like the fact that Spidey invents comic accurate web-shooters as opposed to the organic ones Maguire-Man had. What I found confusing was the fact that the web is apparently a commercially available Oscorp product. I may have missed something, but he either bought or stole the “bio-cable” or whatever the hell is was called. Parker’s smart enough to have invented some shooters, it wouldn’t have been that much of a stretch to say he came up with the webbing as well.

What’s less of a success is the rest of it. I walked out feeling quite underwhelmed by the whole experience. There were just too many things that were off about it. Firstly, they tweak the Uncle Ben incident. which is fine, but it messes with Spidey’s motivations somewhat. Uncle Ben dies due to his own stupidity, rather than it being Peter’s fault. Having said that, I liked the manhunt Peter goes on to find his uncle’s killer. I wasn’t a huge fan of how the Lizard turned out. Whilst I thought Ifans did well with what he was given, the things that were interesting about the character was largely ignored. All Dr. Stumpy did was bang on about his missing arm. Yeah, I get that losing a limb sucks, but still, the guy needed more motivation than that. Plus, the Lizard’s design was rubbish, as were some of the effects used to bring him to life. Also, that lizard/mouse thing was RETARDED. As with most lazily written things, coincidence seems to be the driving force behind most happenings. At once point, Peter falls through a roof, into a wrestling ring, where he sees a poster for a luchador which gives him the idea for the iconic Spidey mask. A lot of things just struck me as a bit too convenient.

I was looking forward to this film correcting one of the greatest oversights in the Raimi films- the fact that Spider-Man is a witty, sarcastic kind of guy. This film makes attempts at this, but some of the “comedy” lines and sequences are about as funny as a mass puppy drowning. Dear Lord, it isn’t that hard to crack wise, but the film makes it seem like a Herculean effort. A lot of the humour is misjudged. That’s not to say it’s entirely unsuccessful, as the occasional one-liner or neat little gag made me chuckle, but I expected more. It shouldn’t be a thigh-slapping fest, but if you’re going to attempt humour, make sure your jokes work. Very few people were laughing in the packed screening I went to. C’mon Sony, Joss Whedon can’t be the only person who can illicit superhero-sized belly laughs. In fact, most of the dialogue is pretty god-awful.

Also (BIG SPOILERS AHEAD, highlight to read or skip to the final paragraph) is it me or were there plot holes a-go-go? I don’t normally pick a film up on this type of thing, but sometimes it’d feel like I missed a scene or two. Where did all the lizards in the sewer come from? What happened to the evil Dr. Ratha (Irrfan Khan)? He was on his way to test the serum on orphan kittens or something equally ridiculous, has his car chucked off the bridge by the Lizard and is then saved by Spidey. We don’t see him again. I expected a conclusion to his arc. Why was Flash all pally at the end? I know he showed understanding about Uncle Ben’s death, but still, it’s a big leap. Plus, I can’t tell you how much my heart sank at the beginning of the crane scene, which thankfully managed to be slightly more tolerable than the arse-puckering scene in Raimi’s original where Spidey gets protected by the New York public: “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” Urgh. Nice to see a gratuitous shot of the American flag though. Not fucking sick of those in this franchise. Also, Peter struck me as a bit of a dick at the end. He doesn’t show up for Captain Stacy’s funeral, supposedly honouring his promise to stay away from Gwen. He then breaks up with her on the day she buries her father, then he fucking breaks the promise later anyway. What a douche!

“Thirty-eight of New York’s finest, versus one guy in a unitard!”

Reading it back, I realise I actually sound quite bitter and angry. I’m not. To tell you the truth, I was pretty disappointed with the whole thing. My real problem was the fact the film felt it didn’t have any real soul- it felt very mechanical at times, ticking off boxes until it was sufficiently different from the 2002 film . Maybe I’m just a nitpicky fanboy, but some of these issues are basic movie failings, rather than spider-inaccuracies. There are many elements they got right, it just didn’t come together as a whole for me. It’s got a great cast, some really decent effects work and a believable romance that has the potential for amazing sequel fodder. Here’s what I want from the sequel: a non-shit villain, a better director and writers and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. To me, it felt like a pilot for a TV show, lots of interesting ideas and potential coming out of its ears, but not a fully-formed piece of entertainment. Fret ye not, this isn’t a Spider-Man 3 type disaster. I just wish this new series had kicked off with a bit more oomph.

The Avengers

So finally we have the culmination of 4 years of foreshadowing from 5 blockbusters and the pay-off to Marvel Studios’ carefully constructed shared universe- The Avengers.Whilst I’m here, safely in the confines of the preamble bit before I get down to the serious reviewin’ stuff. The title.

Here in the dull ol’ UK, it’s been renamed Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, which being the cool and rebellious guy that I am, I point blank refuse to call it by its new title. It just reeks of a last-minute bullshit marketing decision that doesn’t make any sense anyway. Did they really think that renaming the film to avoid confusion with the ’60s TV show (and the ’90s warcrime of a film) would boost sales at all? The target demographic for this film is far too young to know of  the ’60s Avengers and I’m sure “the oldies” out there will realise this isn’t another big-screen adaptation of Steed and Peel’s eccentric adventures when they see a socking great photo of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man on the huge billboards that are literally everywhere. Seriously, look out of your window right now. There’s probably about seven of them in viewable distance by my calculations. Plus, it’s hardly like the latest batch of Marvel films were only seen and appreciated by mouth-breathing greasy teens, considering their seriously healthy box-office numbers. Fuck that weak-ass title and more importantly, fuck the bullshit pie-in-the-sky marketing tossdrivel that forces awful decisions like this. Am I overreacting? I really don’t think so. If you think “Who cares? It’s only a stupid name.” or something similar, let’s change the name of The Godfather to The Fartspunk then, since titles don’t matter. Art, no matter how populist, should never be compromised by the clammy, inhuman hand of marketing- exactly why I went to see Avengers Assemble in retrofitted IMAX 3D.

The Avengers (2012)

Having been an unashamed Marvel fanboy since I got my first taste of comics when I was a tiny, annoying child, it’s no exaggeration to say that I have dreamed of an Avengers movie ever since I can remember. A shared universe was an incredibly exciting concept and I loved it when my personal favourite, Spider-Man would be visited by the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. Once X-Men kicked off the superhero adaptation trend back in 2000 and Spider-Man cemented it in 2002 by becoming a fucking megahit (technical term), I must admit that my excitement that all my printed pals were being brought to life was tinged slightly when I realised that all the properties were being snatched up by rival movie studios with all the speed and aggression of a particularly heated game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Studios aren’t exactly known for sharing their IPs and my hopes of seeing Cap popping up in Daredevil’s part of New York, let alone a massive superhero team-up seemed upsettingly unlikely. Still, once Marvel created Marvel Studios and started treating their properties their way, starting with 2008’s stellar Iron Man I could start to dream again. What I’m saying by this wanky, smack-in-the-face obvious paragraph is that I personally had a lot riding on this film, in the same way I’m sure millions of others had too. I’m not only relieved, but fucking ecstatic to tell you that (at least for me) The Avengers somehow met my unreasonably high expectations and then some. It’s truly amazing.

“Let’s do a headcount: Your brother- the demigod; a super-soldier, a living legend who actually lives up to the legend; a man with breathtaking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins; and you’ve managed to piss off every single one of us.”

 The Avengers focuses on the delivery of Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) much teased “Avengers Initiative”- a plan to bring Earth’s mightiest heroes together, (deep breath) Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Capt. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) or more accurately, their superhero alter-egos (Iron Man, Captain America, er… Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow) to answer a threat to the planet’s freedom, namely Thor’s adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army of alien invaders. I had initially feared that The Avengers would turn into The Tony Stark Show, but co-writer and director Joss Whedon manages to equally balance all the competing egos without letting characters fade into the background, something he’s already proved time and time again with his work on his various projects including the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly TV shows and his highly regarded run on The Astonishing X-Men comic series. Typical of Whedon, the script is damn funny and the dialogue is slick and snappy. Thankfully, there’s no significant disconnect between the heroes’ solo efforts and their presentation here. The Avengers‘ Iron Man is just as sarcastic and egomaniacal as you’d expect from his two previous cinematic outings. This also means I get to save space by telling you to read my reviews of the preceding 5 films for specific actor comments. Of the new blood, Jeremy Renner is pretty decent as Hawkeye, giving us a solid, Daniel Craig-as-Bond type badass, Cobie Smulders is fine (in all sense of the word) as Maria Hill,  but the talking point will be Ruffalo’s Banner who gives us the most endearing take on the character yet. I’m praying for a Ruffalo Hulk solo film after his performance here. Hiddleston’s Loki is undeniably nastier this time round and makes for a genuinely loathsome bastard for the Avengers to rally against.

The film The Avengers reminded me of most was actually the third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon. Before you run screaming, let me explain. The epic scale is similar, the astounding special effects have a Bay-esque tinge to them and even the third act is very Dark of the Moon. However- and here’s the crucial part, dearies- I actually gave enough of a shit about the characters involved to be impressed and involved by the sheer spectacle of it. The Avengers earns its epic finale with all the fantastic characterisation, witty dialogue and thrilling action sequences beforehand. Dark of the Moon simply couldn’t wait to shove its expensive pixels in your face and was perfectly happy to chuck lowest common denominator humour and bargain bin writing at you until it could justify another expensive set piece. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there are certain confrontations and team-ups between the various super-powereds that just make this movie. There’s a fantastic shot in the final act of the film that shows all of the heroes teaming up in awesome ways that nearly made me whoop with joy. If I wasn’t laughing at the choice lines, I was smiling at the sheer cathartic awesomeness of Cap and Ol’ Shellhead taking on Loki, for example. Suffice to say my face hurt coming out of the film.

I honestly can’t think of many negative things to say about the film. I would say the opening isn’t the best, with an uninspired car chase and some forced dialogue betraying the rest of the film. The 3D is (predictably) not needed in the slightest, but I would urge you to see The Avengers on the biggest screen possible. Preferably with the loudest speakers too. Story-wise, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way they merely skirted around Thor’s ability to return to Earth (people who have seen Thor will recall he was trapped on his homeworld) and I guess Black Widow and Hawkeye aren’t given as much to do as the superstar celebrity Avengers are, but these are minor, minor complaints. Also, whilst The Avengers works as a stand-alone film, I do feel you’ll get more out of it if you’ve seen (and more importantly, liked) the previous Marvel Studios titles. The film does a good job of characterising the superhero squad, but you’ll simply be more invested if you’re that much more familiar with the characters.

“If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.”

The Avengers makes all that teasing, foreshadowing and promising worthwhile. The big question I suppose is whether or not it dethrones the mighty Dark Knight in the “best superhero film ever” stakes. I’d prefer to sidestep that. It’s just as awesome, but in a different way. It’s part of a completely different spectrum of superhero adaptations. It’s certainly the purest superhero film out there, but I can’t see them using that on the poster anytime soon. It’s been a long time since I left the cinema with my mind blown, a seemingly permanent smile on my face and my faith fully restored in the film-viewing experience. It’s just so rare to see a blockbuster that works this well and for it to be such an unmitigated success. Go and see this film. Multiple times. And take me with you.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Prompt review time. Here are my thoughts on the third and final Marvel movie of 2011: Captain America: The First Avenger. I apologise for the bland, generic opening but I couldn’t think of a decent way to kick things off. If you were offended by the cookie-cutter intro there are two things you can do. Firstly- get a fucking life and secondly, let me know your name, address and bank details and I will endeavour to pay five (5) pounds sterling into your account within three working days.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Where would Chris Evans be without comic book adaptations? Apart from a couple of indie, character-driven pieces, the guy’s IMDB page reads like a shelf at Forbidden Planet. Of these though, Captain America is undeniably his step-up to the big leagues. I was concerned that the antiquated character of Cap (originally war propaganda, but revived by Stan Lee in the ’60s) would be hard to adapt. The man’s a walking flag for a country that isn’t exactly topping World popularity polls at the moment and whilst risky Marvel property Thor had been done well, I wasn’t entirely sure Cap would have the same success. On the other hand, I reminded myself that Marvel have been on a winning streak of late and I shouldn’t be so sceptical. I’m pleased to say that Captain America continues that streak and has me looking forward to The Avengers all the more (if that was even possible at this point).

“I asked for an army. All I got is you.”

The film takes place during World War II and follows skinny weakling Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who longs to fight for his country, but is repeatedly turned away because of his health problems and general shrimpiness. However, Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) sees a spark in Rogers that makes him the perfect candidate for his secret military experiment. With the help of Iron Man’s dad, Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and under the supervision of Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Rogers is transformed into a muscle-bound super-soldier and becomes Captain America. Good thing too, as the leader of specialist Nazi group Hydra, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is after a little artifact familiar to the people who saw Thor, which will grant him the power to change the outcome of the war. The plot is decent and cleverly updates the character of Cap without straying too far away from his inked origins. Chris Evans is fantastic as Rogers/Cap adding some believability and vulnerability to what could have been an embarrassing “golly gee whiz!” portrayal. Hayley Atwell was great as the tough, but sensitive Peggy Carter and reminded me a bit of Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a great compliment to her. Tommy Lee Jones also does what he’s best at- playing a grizzled, authoritarian figure who gets to say all the best lines. Weaving’s Red Skull was a slight disappointment, but not because of Weaving himself, who can play solid baddies in his sleep but more down to the writing. I wanted more for the man who brought us Agent Smith.

The thing I loved about the film above everything else was the retro setting and style. It’s set in the ’40s and has a real Indiana Jones / The Rocketeer feel to it. It’s sepia-toned Americana but done so you don’t feel like rolling your eyes, vomiting or doing a terrifying combination of both. Whilst we’re on the subject (of Americana, not vomit), the character of Captain America isn’t as nauseatingly jingoistic as one might expect from the name. He’s a morale boosting mascot for the first half or so, encouraging cheering crowds to buy war bonds and such. The name “Captain America” and the ridiculous spandex costume he initially has to wear both make perfect sense in this context. I know I bang on and on about superhero films trying to be brooding and dark like the Nolan Bat films, but I can’t think of a better contrast to Batman than Captain America. It’s refreshing to see a character this good and morally upstanding without layers of snark or reluctance to sweeten the pill for today’s cynical audiences. I expected Chris Evans to give Cap a jokey, sarcastic edge similar to his Human Torch portrayal in the Fantastic Four films, but he plays it straight-faced and earnestly. A decision that really pays off. I also must mention the impressive CGI that went into turning the normally brick shithouse sized Evans into a puny girly-man. People have been saying that his head looks too big for his body, but I can’t see it. Genuinely amazing work.

The first half of the film is a hell of a lot of fun. Whilst it takes a long time to get Cap into his ridiculously patriotic gear, it’s enjoyable enough to be spending time with skinny ol’ Steve. The USO show stuff is great too, with a catchy-as-fuck Menken track called “Star Spangled Man” scoring an insanely entertaining montage. When Rogers finally starts kicking arse, the film’s quality wavers slightly. The action is very well done and shot, it starts feeling more generic than it should do after such a strong opening. The hand-to-hand, shield-to-face stuff is brilliant though. Not once did I get tired of Cap hitting people. As I mentioned before, the Red Skull isn’t as menacing as I wanted him to be. For a man who is supposedly too evil for the Nazis (think of that!), he doesn’t seem to have a coherent evil plan. His target is apparently “everything”, which is pretty fucking lazy writing. He has some vague notion to blow up major U.S. cities, but I can’t for the life of me remember the details. (Invisotext) He does get a decent climactic scrap with Rogers though. It’s a shame that his demise is so unsatisfying. Whilst on the subject of spoilers, I really liked the final conversation between Peggy and Cap- it was really quite sweet. Steve’s “…but I have a date.” when confronted by Nick Muthafuckin’ Fury was surprisingly touching. I think my problem with Red Skull is we don’t get to see him do that much. His dialogue is well-written, it’s just his actions aren’t.

(On the subject of killing Nazis) “I don’t want to kill anyone. I just don’t like bullies.”

So, Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s great. On reflection, (I initially thought it was simply on par with Thor), it’s the best Marvel movie this year. It has a real boy’s own, old-style adventure film to it which bypasses any feeling of superheroic saturation you may feel. I had some minor quibbles with it, but I was too entertained by it all to get hung up on them. As usual, stay after the end credits for an exciting teaser.

X-Men: First Class

So, without any waffling nonsense, here’s my review of the new X-Men flick. Snikt! Bamf! Oh wait- they’re not in this one. Er…whatever noise Professor X makes. Squeak, probably, if his wheelchair hasn’t been cared for properly. That’s right, not even a paragraph in and I’m being irreverent about cripples. It can only get better from here.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Since the Wolverine film was badly recieved by everyone bar a crazy few (ahem), Fox decided to nix the planned X-Men: Origins series and go with a prequel set in the swingin’ ’60s. Fox are to be commended here as they’ve actually listened to the whinier fans and not only involved Bryan Singer (director of the widely acclaimed first two films) but also ignored the shit out of the continuity of The Last Stand and Wolverine.

Who the hell are you?”
Let’s just say I’m Frankenstein’s monster and I’m looking for my creator.”

The basic story of First Class is thus. 1962. We see a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) before they became nemeses, team up with other mutants and a secret government organisation to stop mutant supremacist and mad bastard Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his team of superfreaks from plunging the World into nuclear war. The story’s solid, giving us a Watchmen-esque parallel history of the 1960’s and, more specifically, the Cuban Missile Crisis. As I mentioned, continuity between this film and X-Mens 1& 2 seems of paramount importance with the opening being the same powerful, rain-soaked Holocaust flashback from the first film. The acting’s damn good and it really was a masterstroke casting McAvoy and Fassbender. I genuinely couldn’t think of any better to fill the shoes of Stewart and McKellen. Fassbender is easily the best thing in this, although I was really impressed with Jennifer Lawrence as a younger Mystique.

For me, the film was always going to be made or broken on exploring Xavier and Magneto’s relationship from best friends to mortal enemies. I’m happy to say this is done well in First Class. Xavier is fresh from education with a vision of a mutant utopia and everyone holding hands and singing songs. Magneto is a man of action. He’s seen the dirty underbelly of society and has very little time for naive ideology. The seeds for their rivalry are there, but they also make convincing comrades, with one scene involving a huge radar dish (it’ll make sense when you see it) being the pinnacle of this.

Whilst the new mutants are a mixed bag ranging from “interesting” to “dire”, it’s nice to see Fox have been reading my blog and took my suggestion made in my Last Stand review and made Beast a (partly) CGI creation. In any case, the make-up is a hell of a lot better than whatever poor Kelsey Grammer was lumbered with. Shouty Lad, Wingarella and Totally Not Going To Die Black Guy were probably the least involving, but I quite liked Havok (Cyclops’ older brother). It’s nice to see a true to the comics Emma Frost as well. Also look out for several cameos, that’s all I’m saying. I was disappointed when they announced that they weren’t going to do a second Origins film focusing on Magneto and instead opted to reboot the franchise. However, it seems like the Magneto film may have already been half-written and was incorporated into this one. This works really well in the earlier parts of the film as we’ll have some talky Xavier stuff and then cut to Magneto, in full-on Bond mode, kicking arse and not even caring about the names. I love this incarnation of the character and this love was solidified in a bar scene involving a knife. It was so awesome that the following scene was blurry as I had welled up with joyful tears. Whilst I’m talking about action and stuff, the big sequences are genuinely impressive and surprisingly graphic for a 12A. The big ending actually manages to be epic and involving in a way that so few superhero films manage. It’s a really satisfying conclusion.

There are certain things that dragged the film down for me though. I thought the young mutants “codenames” scene was fucking cringeworthy. I realise that at some point we as an audience needed to find out their X-names, but Christ. Let it never be said that I don’t hand out constructive criticism though, so here’s my idea. Y’know that scene in Reservoir Dogs where Laurence Tierney is gruffly handing out their heist names? Like that. Since their names are pretty unimaginative, it would make sense for a CIA agent to just dish them out and save me rolling my eyes. Also, in the aforementioned amazing end sequence, for some reason, Magneto turns Oirish. Don’t believe me? Check this clip out. It’s a great performance from ol’ Fass, but I found it to be quite distracting. Also, at times the film seems too focused on tying in to the Singer films or foreshadowing future events (Xavier makes a crack about going bald, for instance) and since we now know where Magneto got that iconic helmet from (invisotexted) did he really have to spray it a garish red and purple and have a matching cape? I really wouldn’t have minded if they’d tweaked the costume design to be more in-keeping with Fassneto.

“You want society to accept you, but you can’t even accept yourself.”

Still, X-Men: First Class is a real return to form for the series. I enjoyed the hell out of it. The performances are great, the dialogue is really well-written (apart from a few hiccups) and the action sequences are truly special. If Captain America keeps up this standard, 2011 will be owned by Marvel, despite what certain viridian lamps have to say.

Thor

Still catching up, still got to post my reviews of Arthur, Rio, Sucker Punch and Hanna– but again- Thor‘s in cinemas at the very moment. You should go and see it if you haven’t. Fuck Rio, but especially fuck Sucker Punch.

Thor (2011)

Confession time. I didn’t know much about Thor beforehand. I knew the traditional Norse myth but wasn’t familiar with the Marvel incarnation, which as it turns out, is basically the same. 2011, despite what D.C. would like you to think with the release of Green Lantern, is the year of Marvel with this, Captain America and X-Men: First Class all out this Summer. Of the three, Thor was the one I had the most reservations about. It seemed like just a live action feature they had to get out of the way to justify his appearance in Joss Whedon’s 2012 superhero clusterfuck The Avengers. I’m happy to say I was proved wrong. Thor is a lot of fun. See below for details and attractive people naked.

“He has disobeyed his king… his fate is in his own hands now.”

The story goes thusly: Thor, God of Thunder (played by Star Trek‘s Chris “Tiberius?… That’s the worst!” Hemsworth) is banished from glittery, stellar megacity Asgard by his father, the Norse head honcho Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and ends up on Earth, stripped of his powers and his trusty hammer Mjolnir, where he is rightfully dismissed as a babbling mentalist by all apart from cosmic scientist Jane (Natalie Portman) and her team (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings). Meanwhile, back at Asgard, Thor’s snidey little brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) takes advantage of his father’s weakened state and seizes control. I thought Chris Hemsworth was great as Thor, spouting some genuinely funny lines and approaching the role with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek. Tom Hiddleston was excellent as Loki and reminded me a lot of Brad Dourif’s turn as Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings films. I’m also feckin’ excited that he’s confirmed to appear in The Avengers. The guy’s great and I can’t wait to see more of him. Fans of The Wire can also look forward to the sight of Idris Elba in spangly gold disco armour. Character wise, my main gripes were with the two female leads, who, whilst played perfectly well by Portman and Dennings, were underdeveloped. Dennings’ character Darcy especially seems to only exist to say unfunny, sarcastic things and appeal to da yout’ by mentioning things like Facebook.

The thing I really liked about Thor was the fact it makes no concessions about its comic origins. It’s unapologetically fantastical. Everyone talks in deep Shakespearian tones and wears armour that looks like it weighs about the same as a Fiat Punto with heavy shopping in the boot. It’s also interesting to note that Thor is a God and has therefore not been bitten by a radioactive Viking or anything like that. Magic, rather than pseudo science is the basis in this flick.

The initially baffling choice of Kenneth Branagh to direct really pays off and no matter how space opera everything gets, Branagh keeps it on the straight and narrow and focuses on the main story of redemption and lesson-learning. That’s not to say things don’t go boom though. Thor has some really impressive, fun action sequences too. All the nerds who stayed after the credits for Iron Man 2 will recall that SHIELD have custody of the hammer Mjolnir and the stripped down, fists to faces sequence that takes place in the SHIELD compound is really good. There’s a nerd bonus in the form of a Hawkeye cameo too. I’ve said it elsewhere on this blog, but I fucking love how all these films are linking together. OK, Iron Man 2 went overboard with the Avengers foreshadowing, but it was a genuine thrill to see Agent Coulson from the Iron Man films show up. The climactic action on Earth is also amazing- fighting a space Viking robot flamethrower thing powered by magic? FUCK YES.

“Do you want me to take him down or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up?”

It’s nice that in a time when superhero movies feel the need to be dark and gritty to be taken seriously, a slice of escapist fun like Thor can exist. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Drop your cynicism (or should that be “Don’t be Asgarded”?) and you might too. Also, as always, stay after the credits- the little post credits scene is really worth staying for.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Yep, changing up the ol’ formula by reviewing a sequel just after reviewing the original. I swear to God, these ideas just come to me…

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

 

Well, despite what the large text above the poster and the small text actually on the poster say, the film is officially called 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This may have been to prevent the inevitable “not-so-fantastic four” jokes after the slice of average that was the first one, but whatever, it’s stupid. So, in a stunning act of internet vigilantism, I have called the film by what it should have been called. It may sound silly to you, but fuck it- it’s not actually going to make the film better or anything…

“All that you know is at an end.”

The story is as follows: Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) are struggling to balance their new-found celebrity status and their personal life, trying to tie the knot for the fourth time without any interruptions. Ben Grimm aka The Thing (Michael Chiklis) is still with his blind girlfriend Alicia and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) is still living the life of a playboy. However, when a strange cosmic being nicknamed The Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne) starts fucking up the weather and heralding the end of the World, the Four step in to prove that they deserve their “fantastic” prefix. To be honest, the plot isn’t great. Instead of focusing on a new baddie for the Four to square off against, they have a sort-of baddie in the form of The Silver Surfer, a huge destructive force in the form of the (thankfully not pink) transplanetary ponce Galactus and (sigh) Dr. Doom from the first one. It’s just needlessly clogged. The whole wedding drama element proved that I can find even superpowered nuptials boring. My notes on the casting still ring true, although this time round they somehow managed to make Jessica Alba look like she belongs in White Chicks. The only notable addition is the Silver Surfer himself, who is brilliantly realised by Doug Jones’s physicality and Laurence Fishburne’s booming voice.

There’s something about Rise of the Silver Surfer I just don’t like. I think it’s mainly to do with the fact it isn’t as fun as the first. The few things they got right in Fantastic Four are changed for the sequel. This is particularly true in the case of Johnny Storm, whose lines are nowhere near as good as in the first one and veers into annoying comic relief territory. They also tack on some bullshit “settling down” notion for Johnny to deal with which makes things needlessly stodgy. The power switching thing is also rubbish and you’d have to be thicker than a walrus casserole to not guess how it’s all resolved.

Another thing that shreds my petunias is the fact that they make Sue the “emotional heart” of the film, with the majority of scenes not containing shit blowing up dedicated to Alba doing her best acting face whilst interacting with the Silver Surfer. It’s the same thing X-Men: The Last Stand did, and we all know how that turned out. It’s very patronising to make the only female in a group deal with all the emotional stuff. You’d have thought both Marvel and Fox would have wanted to stay as far away from the piece of X-Shite as possible.

“You know, you don’t look completely ridiculous in that dress.”

Rise of the Silver Surfer isn’t all bad. The action is alright and there are snatches of enjoyment to be had here and there (The London Eye sequence is entertaining despite some ropey CGI) but there’s a feeling of wasted potential that brought the whole thing down for me. A sequel was a chance to fix the faults of the first and capitalise on its successes, but all it does is make new mistakes in addition to the old ones. In summary, if the first film was an average, but perfectly nice cheese sandwich, Rise of the Silver Surfer’s sandwich looks very much like the first but when you take a bite, you realise the cheese has been replaced by your own hand.

Fantastic Four

I was genuinely surprised to find that I hadn’t reviewed the Fantastic Four films. Here was me thinking I had the Marvelverse covered and I haven’t even reviewed the lesser known Marvel properties like Daredevil. Still, this changes now with a review of 2005’s Fantastic Four (the less said about 1994’s The Fantastic Four the better). I never want to see the words “fantastic” and “four” ever again.

Fantastic Four (2005)

The early 2000s were pretty good to a nerd like me. After X-Men came out and Spider-Man made huge money at the box office, comic book rights were hastily bought and shoved into production with varying degrees of success. At the time, Fantastic Four was the latest in a long line of superflicks trying to get a sneaky piece of the ludicrous money pie cooling on the windowsill of Hollywood…

…That’s the first time I’ve made myself vomit from my own metaphorical shittery.

“You don’t want to walk around on fire for the rest of your life, do you?”

After a space mission goes awry, scientists Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) are hit by radiation causing them to gain superhuman abilities. However, the stupidly named Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) has super-beef with Richards and will stop at nothing to end the Four. The plot is that superhero plot. Average people encounter some kind of radiation and it enables them to so impossible things. It’s like Spider-Man in space with a vague “space storm” taking the part of the spider*.

Rarely does a film get the casting this wrong. Ioan Gruffudd is a baffling choice for Reed Richards. He’s a good actor, but hardly suited to the role of a middle-aged, all-American genius scientist. In a similar vein, why the hell cast the naturally dark haired, dark complexioned Jessica Alba as blonde haired, blue eyed Sue Storm? It is certainly not due to her acting abilities, so if we’re going purely on looks and how good the actress looks in a skintight jumpsuit, surely someone like Scarlett Johansson would have been a better bet? Michael Chiklis is pretty good as The Thing, but all that’s really required in the role is a gruff voice and a tolerance for sitting in the make-up chair for hours on end. Chris Evans is really entertaining as The Human Torch, sticking fairly close to the comics in terms of Johnny Storm’s personality. Oh- Julian McMahon is also fucking terrible as Dr. Doom- I’ve seen scarier bowls of cereal.

As I said way back when in my Push review, I’m sick of people gaining powers and not enjoying them. It’s refreshing to see the Johnny Storm character actually have fun with his burgeoning fire powers. It could be said that the film itself tries to have more fun with the notion of superpowers than your average superhuman whinge-’em-up. OK, three of the Four treat the powers as a burden, but in no other superhero film would you get a musical montage halfway through where a character uses his powers to remedy the dreaded “no bog roll” situation whilst in lavatorium (Yes, I know that’s not a) a common euphemisim or b) real Latin- so shut up.) Fantastic Four is all about the lighter side of the superhero spectrum in which it has little company- well, excluding the sequel anyway. It’s nice to see a comic based film without cripplingly depressing stretches. The post extreme biking scene where the Four clash publicly over Johnny’s childish attention-seeking is particularly great and contains the brilliant Thing-directed line below:

“You think that’s funny, Pebbles?”

Fantastic Four is a fun but flawed film. There’s some decent action and enjoyment to be found in the interactions between the Thing and Johnny Storm, but it’s just too average as a whole to be anything more than a throwaway popcorn flick. As I said, I like it for its levity in a genre swamped with gritty hyper-reality, but is by no means an essential watch.


*Speaking of Spider-Man, keep it in mind whilst watching this. The boardroom scenes completely rip off the first Spidey film. Shameless thievery.