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.

Iron Man 2

Ah, Summer blockbusters, I’ve missed your ridiculous budgets and ginormagantuan explosions. Welcome back, you dumb, loveable bastards.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

 


Iron Man 2 was probably one of my most anticipated films of the year. After 2008’s fantastic first instalment, I was pumped for the sequel. After all, superhero sequels don’t have to deal with the obligatory origin story, so are usually freer in terms of narrative and characters than the originals.

“I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.”

After his admission that he is Iron Man, billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is enjoying the global celebrity the popularity of his high-tech suit has allowed. However, angry Russian bruiser Ivan Venko (Mickey Rourke) is out to take revenge on Stark under the guise of supervillain Whiplash and with the aid of crackling, fuckingmegahuge-voltage electric whips . In addition to all this, Stark’s business rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is trying to sabotage him at every turn. The story is great, with some fantastic dialogue and action beats throughout. I did feel that the inclusion of fan-favourite character War Machine was a little unnecessary, but passable on the fact that he’s a metal-plated arse kicking machine. Downey Jr. was on form as Tony Stark, although I did get the feeling that he may have upped the “wackiness factor” on the character, which spoiled the well-balanced personality set up in the original film. Mickey Rourke was good as Ivan Vanko, giving us a villain who’s not entirely two-dimensional, sadly still a rarity in superhero films.

With an A-List cast and huge production budget, it’s no wonder that Iron Man 2 feels a little bloated at times. Not enough time is spent with Vanko to make him a tangible threat and the film focuses instead on whiny Stark-wannabe Justin Hammer (Rockwell gives a great turn as the Stark rival and makes Hammer into a character you just want to reach through the screen and throttle). Whilst he is well played, he’s clearly less interesting than the crazy Russian. War Machine isn’t really given the attention the character deserves either, but this isn’t a Venom/Spider-Man 3 type disaster. If you don’t get that reference, congratulations- you have a life.

The action and set-pieces are brilliant. It’s hard not to smile at Iron Man’s intro as he rockets onto a stage of scantily-clad dancers to the gently lilting strains of AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill. Well, unless you’re some kind of feminist who likes intelligent films or something. The standout sequence for me was Vanko’s appearance at the Monaco Grand Prix, cleaving Formula 1 cars into fine slices with his whips. It is here that Tony- suitless and scared, properly faces his enemy. It’s a fantastic, down-and-dirty fight. It’s a shame that the other action sequences fail to match up to it, with a lacklustre final showdown to round things off. In fact, Iron Man 2 repeats the mistake of its predecessor by ending in an uninspired thump-fest between hunks of metal. Still, as unoriginal as it is, it’s still entertaining and doesn’t sour things too much.

If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him.”

 

Overall, Iron Man 2 is a worthy sequel, but only just. There is plenty to enjoy here (the sight of Scarlett Johansson in a catsuit is arguably worth several times the admission price alone) but it just doesn’t quite live up to the promises 2008’s Iron Man made.