Review: Captain America: Civil War

As a big comic book fan, and especially Marvel, I’ve been hotly anticipating this film ever since it was announced.  Whilst I knew from the offset that it would only be ‘inspired by’ the comic series, and wouldn’t be a direct adaptation (after all, none of the Marvel films have been completely accurate versions of comic book events – and why should they?  Don’t you want some surprises?), I was still enthused at the idea of the film, especially as the Russo Brothers would be sticking around to direct.  They had already shown, in Winter Soldier, their adeptness in crafting a multi-character film without it being bogged down at any point, so I was excited to see how they handled a film which would bring so many characters, old and new, to the screen.

Obviously there was a bit of trepidation.  Last year’s Age of Ultron highlighted how the ‘perfect Marvel scorecard’ is far from that, and was a bit of a damp squib, seeking to replicate things we have already seen rather than delivering something genuinely spectacular.  But the trailers looked strong, and that Spider-Man reveal made me giddy with joy – at last a version that doesn’t seem to be wearing moulded plastic, and who looks like he swung straight out the pages of the comics.

Anyone moaning about the eyes moving clearly hasn't ever read a comic.

Anyone moaning about the eyes moving clearly hasn’t ever read a comic.

Now, before I continue, I’ve seen a load of reviews which felt the need to compare this film with Batman v Superman, often as an excuse to further bash that film.  Whilst I can see the tenuous links (both comics…both see one hero fight another), it would only be akin to spending half a review for Star Wars Force Awakens comparing it to Star Trek Into Darkness – they have similarities, but are different entities.  So I won’t be doing any of that.  My thoughts on BvS can be read elsewhere on this site, let’s just leave it at that shall we.

For those who have been living under a multitude of rocks, Civil War sees the ideologies of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) pitted against each other when reactions the destruction The Avengers leave in their wake prompts the nations of the world to introduce the Sokovia Accords, restricting the use of abilities and powers without authorisation.  Cap sees it as a hindrance to the team being able to help, and also worries about the potential abuse of the team on missions for the wrong reasons, whilst Tony believes it is the best solution, seeing himself personally responsible for some of the innocent deaths caused by their antics.  Events occur which bring The Winter Soldier, Buck Barnes, into the news, and this ignites the feud between the pair to higher levels.  As we know from the trailers this leads to a forming of sides between the pair, and the inevitable fight.

However….that isn’t the whole story, and there is a lot more bubbling under the surface in this film that we haven’t been told during the bombardment of marketing.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop casual spoilers here (you know my philosophy – if it ain’t in a trailer, it ain’t in my review), all I will say is that the plot is craftily woven around the action spectacle, and will surprise, shock, and manipulate your loyalties to Team Cap or Team Stark throughout.

A genuinely great character. His solo outing can't come soon enough!

A genuinely great character. His solo outing can’t come soon enough!

So, if I can’t delve into the spoilerific story, let’s look at the handling of such a large cast.  Writers Markus and McFeely definitely have a handle on Cap himself, having been the guys behind the previous two films, and as they showed with Winter Soldier they can craft a plot that draws other characters in without any of them feeling shoehorned into proceedings.   There is a natural placement feel to all the old faces who return, and the new faces slide into the plot gracefully, especially Black Panther (played by the excellent Chadwick Boseman) who is introduced and progressed to ‘costumed hero’ quite rapidly, but quite naturally in the circumstances of the film.  No slow origin needed, just straight to it.  Same goes for Spider-Man, after all, does anyone not know who he is?  Whilst the inclusion of Spider-Man seems a slight unnecessary (as I mentioned, this isn’t a direct copy of the comic, so Spidey was never needed), it does fit well and introduces a new take on the character in such a great way that it fits.  Ant-Man being included is perhaps the only element that feels a little forced, but when it comes to iconic moments on screen during the big fight, you can’t help but love that he was brought in.  The Russo Brothers, handling their second Marvel film, had to ensure they played it all well, and made the story flow, and they do an excellent job, delivering a film that even at 2 hours 27 mins feels like it rattled along at a strong pace.  Never a dull moment, there is always something driving the plot forward, and the interspersed moments of hard action are as thrilling as you would expect from the guys who gave us Winter Soldier.  Their manner in controlling so many characters on screen in an effective way – and it is worth pointing out that the characters fight as teams in the big moments, using each other’s abilities to great effect, showing that they aren’t just all having individual fights in the same place – bodes well for their next Marvel project, Infinity War Parts 1 and 2, which will see pretty much everyone from the films to date come together to take on Thanos.

Action and effects are skilfully handled, although we have another instance of ‘creeping de-aging effect’ much like we saw done to Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, which is almost a good effect but then looks bizarrely ‘body-snatcher-esque’, breaking you from the film to stop being creeped out (you’ll know the scene when you see it).  Admittedly it is better than casting a younger actor who looks nothing like the main star in order to do a flashback, but the technology isn’t quite there yet.  The rest is as stunning to watch as Winter Soldier was, with that same texture and colour palette.  The airport smackdown glimpsed in the trailers is a brilliant action thrill, with some defining moments throughout, but it is not the main focus, nor (in my opinion) the best moment on screen.  There are so many stand-out moments (mostly spoilerific…so no clues here) that you would have to be truly cynical to walk away from the film disappointed.

No matter what film, the Iron Man suit still looks awesome!

No matter what film, the Iron Man suit still looks awesome!

A final nod to the musical score by Henry Jackman, which never overpowers the film, but as good scores should sits in the background, rising to a crescendo at key times, and aiding the overall story emotionally.  There are a few moments where it seemed to be inspired by Blade Runner’s theme for some reason (seriously, I heard a slow play of notes that it took me a few minutes to identify, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Vangelis inspired), but why not be inspired by greatness?

All in all, Civil War is the big event film that Avengers 2 should have been.  A thrill from start to finish that never outstays its welcome, and proof that Marvel have still got it (and maybe evidence that the reshuffle that took place behind the scenes last year is paying off).  Not copying previous films, not echoing similar beats, it simply delivers.

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Release Schedule Fever

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Over the past week Marvel released their updated slate for the next five years, and whilst there were no real surprises at a sequel to Ant-Man and a new Spider-Man film, the internet has gone crazy at the news of 3 unnamed films in 2020.  Pretty much every news source have crafted long winded articles speculating on what three films they will be, ranging from a third Guardians of the Galaxy film, to a third part for Infinity War, and even (oh I wish) a Howard the Duck film.  That’s not forgetting the debunked Fantastic Four theory – although some people still believe a deal was made with Fox as similar debunking was done regarding Spider-Man.  But, with so much page space taken up this week with articles about the three new films, what do we actually know?

Well, simply put, we know nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  Zilch.  All we know is Marvel are releasing 3 films in 2020.  How the heck is that considered news?  They are releasing 2 or 3 films each year over the next 4 years anyway, so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine 3 films in 2020.  Heck, why didn’t they go the whole hog and outline plans for 3 unnamed films in 2021, another 3 in 2022, and then go crazy with 4 in 2023 (after all, they can drop some later if they wish…nobody will miss a film they don’t even know the name of)?

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Look, I'm serious. Just give us a proper Howard film already!

I love Marvel films as much as any other member of Stan’s Merry Marvel Marching Society, but this rush to release ‘plans’ for the next half decade of film slate is getting a tad ridiculous.  If there isn’t any actual news to release, then just don’t release it.  Marvel aren’t the only ones at fault here.  Look at DC/Warner and their ever shifting schedule.  In a race to show they can match Marvel, DC announced a slate of films a couple of years back which included standalone sequels to Man of Steel.  This year the slate was updated, and along with a variety of films moving release dates from one year to the next, now MoS 2 has vanished, and Batman is added to the mix.  In fact the DC slate changes so often that the only definite thing so far is Suicide Squad and BvS next year.

You may argue that these long term announcements with no real detail creates a buzz, and generates excitement, but does it really?  Seriously,  you know something is coming out in 5 years but don’t know what.  Speculate all you like about it being a New Universe spin off, or Secret Wars 1, 2 and 3 filmed back to back, but all that will happen is that when it is revealed to be Iron Man Armour Wars, Planet Hulk, and another Thor film, you will just feel a bit daft for having gotten giddy about wild speculation.

Let’s focus on the actual films in production, not the flights of fancy from an undetermined future.

Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

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Given the much maligned production from day one on this project, with the collective Internet and press moaning about pretty much every aspect of the production from casting, director, and stories of on set troubles, it is no shock at the response to it. The knives were out even before any screening of the film was run, and it’s pretty safe to say a few critics at least went in with the desire to tear the film to shreds. However, even within the wave of bad reviews, some of the poor reviews did touch on some glimmers of hope within the film, rather than just ripping the whole film to shreds in an attempt to gain some clicks and likes.

But is the film really as bad as the low score of Rotten Tomatoes suggests?  Well, let me set off by mentioning tat I have been a fan of the Fantastic Four since childhood – it was the first Marvel comic book I read, and I have collected it ever since I was 7.  The cosmic adventures of the team have thrilled me and excited me through the decades.  I have laughed, cried, and had my heart broken at their personal lives, whilst embraced the dimension hopping, time travelling, micro-verse exploring elements of even their most crazy of stories.  The love I have for the Four left me with mixed emotions on the Tim Story directed films – the banter and playful nature was there, but the film lacked something to make it really work.  I have been intrigued about the new film, having enjoyed Chronicle, and am accepting of the ‘Ultimate’ approach the film is taking.  So, as a fan, did it pay off?

The answer is no, it didn’t. But not to the negative degree that the consensus would suggest.

First things first, this is the Ultimate Fantastic Four version, with a young team building a dimension gate, and their experiences through it result in changes to their genetics to grant them powers. In addition Victor Von Doom, a young scientist from Latveria (not Domishev the hacker as was erroneously reported early into production) works with the team on the project and undergoes changes himself. We’ve seen this origin before, only last time it was a bit more fun, and had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. In this new version it is all a lot more serious toned, with some po faced lines of dialogue being recited with utter seriousness, and lots of frowns and serious stares. Much like the manner in which Man of Steel took the super away from Superman, here the four are less than fantastic.
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Getting the bad out the way first, the middle act is a sombre mess of body horror (which really doesn’t belong in a Fantastic Four movie, even if it looks good) followed by a swift jump ahead in time as though the writers didn’t really know how to handle the team adjusting to their new powers, and so just skipped ahead to avoid tackling it. It feel like a huge, interesting chunk of story was just dropped in order to speed toward a climactic resolution against Doom. That, itself, is such a poor mess of a fight that is over pretty much as soon as it begins, with no build-up or any sense of threat.

But it’s not a total disaster. The start of the film is really well presented. A look at how Reed and Ben became friends as kids gives some heart to the start of the film, and the introduction of the cast to each other works well, even though they don’t quite gel at that point. As a fan of the comics I loved these earlier moments of getting to know the personalities of the characters. Miles Teller is an adequate Reed, Michael B Jordan has the cocky attitude of Johnny Storm just right, Kate Mara is pretty much spot on as Sue Storm in both looks and her scientific nature, whilst Jamie Bell is perfectly affable as Ben Grimm. Toby Kebbell’s introduction as Doom is a little weak, but his interplay with Reed as they work on the dimensional travel machine is lifted straight from the comics. Josh Trank (director) plays these earlier moments of the film well, and has a good eye for the right shot. Gone is his amateur camera style of Chronicle, and here is a more confident manner on which to follow characters as they grow on screen. However, it is once the machine is activated that the film goes dreadfully wrong. The initial character relationships are dropped, and there is barely any chemistry between any of the team from that point onward. The direction becomes drab, and the focus on the horrific aspects of the powers is uncomfortable and unnecessary.

At the closing moments of the film, we get a glimmer of hope of what we could see should a sequel be greenlit, as the banter starts to come into play. But why should it take this long to get the fun banter into play? If the film didn’t take itself so serious throughout, and delivered the same lines of dialogue with a wry smile instead of sombre expression it would have worked a lot better. Yes, editing faults would still hinder it, but at least it would be a lot more fun to sit through.

The film has been compared to a pilot episode of a TV series, and that comparison is spot on. The effects vary from great (Ben Grimm in rock form as The Thing) to ropey (Doctor Doom’s altered form looks like it was ripped straight from 80s era Doctor Who). The characters don’t quite work, but show promise for further episodes. The whole endeavour feels like a forced way to get the origin out the way before the fun can be had. If this was a TV pilot I’d be intrigued enough to see a second episode, to see if the bad would be dropped and the potential would come out (much as I did with the TV series of Constantine). But as film, it’s an unbalanced mess, and you can see the production problems and behind the scenes disagreements in ever scene from the mid point onward.

Tim Story’s films may not have been great, but they at least we’re as bright, colourful, and infused with a sense of fun as the FF deserve. This new FF, whilst not a total disaster, is just an unnecessary retread of a story we already know when they could have just jumped right in to the FF as a team.

Review: Ant-Man

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Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly

The Marvel Cinematic machine rolls into its third phase with another new character, and a film which has seen much discussion and speculation over the troubled production.

Ant-Man sees Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a skilled thief who has just been released from prison.  Reuniting with his daughter, he wants to prove himself a positive role model and leave his life of crime behind.  However, he swiftly finds that it is hard to get gainful employment when you have a criminal record, and soon reunites with his old partner in crime, Luis (Michael Pena), on one last job that has landed on their laps.  Breaking into a secure vault of a wealthy industrialist, the score turns out to be a costume of some kind.  When he tries on the outfit, and triggers a switch on one of the gloves, he is suddenly reduced in size to that of an ant, and discovers that the chemicals released by the suit have granted him extraordinary abilities, with enhanced strength, agility, and speed being part of them.  He also discovers that the heist was all set up by the industrialist, Henry Pym (Michael Douglas), who wants to recruit Lang to help him stop the technology being sold for militaristic use.  Pym, and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), begin training Lang to be the Ant-Man.
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In the early stages of production, the film was in the control of Edgar Wright, writer and director of films such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim.  However, much was reported about some creative disagreements between Wright and the studio, which resulted in Wright exiting the process and the hiring of Peyton Reed in his place.  Naturally, as this was the first Marvel film where such disagreements and changes were reported, the knives were out and many anticipated it to be the first core Marvel film failure.  However, whilst it is early to report on the box office performance of the film, cinematically it is one of the strongest outings for the studio, and stands as one of the best origin tales to date.

The tightly paced script still has Wright’s name attached, and it is easy to see why.  Many sequences and moments echo the style that Wright brought to his previous comic book adaptation, Scott Pilgrim, along with the humoured tone.  Reed has picked up on the initial draft, and added a few extra elements of his own, then presented it in a snappy, fun, and vibrant fashion.  Running at just under 2 hours, the film never out stays it’s welcome, and uses the shrinking gimmick, and control of the legions of ants, in clever, witty, and visually striking ways to ensure that, whilst the overall film is predictable and generic, you can certainly say that you haven’t seen action like this before.
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I am going to say something now that is rare for me to say, but if you get action chance to see this film in 3D, I urge you to do so!  Yes, despite my usual hatred of the format for comic book movies (it is pointless, and action sequences are a resultant mess because of it), with Ant-Man we actually have some creative use of the format.  Additionally the film has been tailored for the IMAX screen, and it is in this format that the visuals will truly impress.  When shrinking into miniature form, the 3D bends the world around him, and adds a vertigo inducing aspect to the world.  The action is handled well to not confuse with too much happening, and some standout miniature action (including a fight in a briefcase) are well planned and executed in the 3D format, making this the first Marvel film to have genuinely utilised it as more than a gimmick.

Throw in a support cast that are generally strong, although Corey Stoll as chief bad guy Darren Cross is given woefully little to work with and is instantly forgettable, and you have one of the highlights of the summer season.  Evangeline Lilly plays well alongside and against Douglas in a troubled father/daughter relationship, whilst Pena steals every scene as Luis.  Mix in an all too brief cameo by one of the Avengers, and some scattered references to cities being dropped, wall crawling heroes, and Tales to Astonish, and Ant-Man, whilst not a perfect film, is definitely one of the best films of the summer period, with the fun factor compensating well for any shortcomings.

A final note to be made about the score by Christophe Beck.  The theme and style of soundtrack has a very retro feel to it, harking back to heist movies and spy thrillers of yesteryear, which, in the end, is what Ant-Man is at its heart.

Phase 3 is off to a strong start, and two credits scenes signpost a little of what is to come, so be sure to stick around.

The Sting in the Tail (or credits)

**The original version of this post was made over at World of Superheroes last summer, but with the release of Age of Ultron, it seemed an opportune moment to re – draft it.**

The post credit sting has become something synonymous with comic-book movies over the past decade, and I find myself spending a lot of time explaining them to others. But why do we have these stings, and indeed are they needed at all?

The sting is a reasonably recent phenomenon – and by ‘recent’ I mean’ within my lifetime, which admittedly may not be classed as recent to others. The first noted use of the sting was in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, and from that point onward it became a common occurrence in comedies. Most of the time it was in order to throw out one last throwback gag, such as at the end of Airplane! (1980) with the passenger in the taxi, still sat waiting for Striker to return (this scene also followed some amusing end credits, which was a particular shtick Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams loved). When Ferris Bueller told people to, “Go home,” at the end of his 1986 film, he was merely retreading what Animal had told us back in 1979.

It was in 1980 that the first occurrence in a comic-book movie was used when Flash Gordon finished with a tease that Alex Raymond’s hero would be back to fight Ming again (sadly, he didn’t – disappointing box office put the stop to that). However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the post credit sting made its way to comic book movies again, and it wasn’t a ‘superhero’ film either. The excellent Ghost World, adapted from the Daniel Clownes comic book, rewarded loyal credit watchers with a fourth wall breaking extra, offering an alternate take on an earlier scene. By this point the sting had become prevalent in comedy and horror films, and had begun branching out into other genres (there were 18 general releases with an end credit sting in 2001). Since then we have seen films such as Daredevil (2003), Hellboy (2004), Blade: Trinity (2004), Constantine (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Transformers (2007), and more throw tags on the end of their films, to hint at the future of the franchise – and how we smirk at those which never see a continuation.
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In 2008, something changed. Iron Man flew in and thrilled audiences as Marvel set the stage for their grand ideas. Their plans were revealed in a post credit sting that had fanboys and geeks around the world fist-pumping the air in excitement, as Col. Nick Fury (played, of course, by Sam Jackson – him having been the inspiration for the Ultimate version of the character) told Tony Stark about something called ‘the Avengers Initiative’. From that point onward, audiences to Marvel films expected something extra on all their films. Iron Man 2 teased out Thor, which led to Captain America, and then tumbled into The Avengers. The small extra scenes sowing the seeds of the arc, and Avengers itself gave a mid-credit scene showcasing a future villain in the form of Thanos.

But how important are these scenes? Well, to the casual audience member, not very. They usually leave those who don’t know the comic books baffled as to why they just sat through 12 minutes of end credits just to see a hammer/glowing cube in a suitcase/etc. Those are the folk who usually end up asking people like me what it means, and then regretting asking ten minutes later as I am around a quarter of the way through explaining the Infinity Gems (and don’t get me started on those who thought Thanos was Hellboy!) But to us fans, these are juicy nuggets of information. A five second glimpse of a hammer told us that Thor was coming, and things were going to be epic. We knew that one would come to take the hammer, and all manner of Asgardian wonder would ensue. Generally I suggest that if you are a fan, stick around, if not then don’t bother – you can catch it on the DVD release later.

But, there is also confusion. So synonymous with Marvel films the end stings have become, that audiences expect them on films which are Marvel, but not ‘Marvel’ – i.e. X-Men, Spider-Man, and other properties owned by Fox, Sony and the like. Some even expect them on DC films, which results in quite accusatory questions being levied at cinema staff when one doesn’t appear (“Why isn’t there a bit at the end?” “Because the film makers didn’t put one there!” “Really? I find that hard to believe!” – seriously, this happens more often than you would think!) Additional confusion came last year with Amazing Spider-Man 2, which shoehorned in a tease for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which had nothing to do with Spider-Man, but left general audiences expecting a crossover between the two franchises (it was a deal in order for Sony to keep Webb directing the second Spidey outing despite still being under obligation to Fox).
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But, confusing or pointless, end credit stings are a big thing now. Recent early viewers of Guardians of the Galaxy at worldwide premiere screenings last year were kept from seeing the sting for that film, Disney/Marvel wanting the secret of the sting to be kept for the opening weekend. Was it worth waiting for? As a fan of Howard the Duck, I thought it was (and I mean the comic book, not that dreadful film from the 80s – seriously, if you’ve never read Howard, give it a shot.   Heck there’s a new comic series out now which is hilarious.)  However many people hated it, and I mean really hated it.  Avengers: Age of Ultron has a small mid-season scene (and it isn’t that fake Spider-Man one that’s been going around), which I look forward to having to explain over the coming weeks (thankfully this time the groundwork has already been laid in explanations of past stings).

Like them or hate them, the sting is here to stay.

Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

**Warning – minor spoilers**

As strange as it may seem to those who know me, I wasn’t overly excited going into this second team-up of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe characters. Yes, despite being a qualified member of Stan’s Merry Marvel Marching Society, and being somewhat obsessive about the Marvel comics and films, I genuinely lost my excitement over the past month. Don’t be mistaken, I expected it to be as thrilling and action packed as previous outings, but there just wasn’t that high level of anticipation anymore. After all, we’ve come to accept that Marvel can do no wrong, so there is nothing left to hope for as we now have complete trust that they will deliver. Add into that the fact that the recent Netflix Daredevil series has shown what Marvel can genuinely achieve without any studio interference, and Avengers just seems another chapter in the ongoing film franchise. Suffice to say, the film delivered exactly as expected and whilst it was yet another great entry into the series, it was nothing more than that. Maybe Marvel have already peaked with the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, and to expect them to deliver more than those films is crazy. Maybe so, but it is safe to say Age of Ultron is a crowd-pleasing, action packed adventure, and nothing more.

The film kicks off right into the thick of action as the team are on a mission to take out a HYDRA base (yes, there are still HYDRA bases around, as anyone keeping up with Agents of SHIELD will already know) and retrieve Loki’s staff. We get to quickly see how the team have learned to use each other’s abilities in unison to function as a whole, and we also get to see how Hulk is tamed by Natasha. Post mission analysis on Loki’s staff reveals that the core of the gem could provide the solution to an AI problem that Stark has – how to activate the Ultron plan for an automated peacekeeping force. However, activation of the AI leads to unfortunate results as Ultron determines that humankind must evolve or die, and thus declares war on the planet. Added to the mix are the twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, one with the power of super-speed, and one with telekinesis and mind control/manipulation powers. Together they will confuse and manipulate the Avengers, turning them against each other.

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From the offset, there is a bit of a flaw with this new entry into the Marvel Cinematic timeline, as it appears that all the events of Iron Man 3 have been forgotten, and Tony’s arc in that film (traumatised after seeing an alien fleet, clamouring to build lots of defence drones to combat any menace, but to then realise that none of it matters as the man inside the suit is more important) seems pointless as we start to repeat his paranoia again, thus leading to the creation of Ultron. It does beg the question, why did they not actually introduce the Ultron program in Iron Man 3, and then springboard it to life in this film (much as Loki was introduced in Thor, then made sense as a villain in Avengers). The result is a sudden burst of exposition to pluck the Ultron concept out of thin air, as well as another project that suddenly pops up that came from no-where, and a film that is a series of action set pieces held together by a ropey plot. Now, I’m aware that Marvel films have always been scant on plot (heck, there are articles online that highlight how Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly the same film as Avengers), and what matters most is the action and the wit, but is this right and should we accept it? Surely if the films are just going to progress to be a series of bigger, more spectacular explosions, then it is weakening what is so important about Marvel’s comic stories. Maybe it is more the fact that this current team of Avengers are far too familiar now, and it just seems there isn’t anything new to claw at. Phase 3 will hopefully inject that aura of anticipated excitement again as new characters and histories come to the franchise in Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange. With the next team up (Infinity War) being a two-parter, I only hope that it does take time to grow a story rather than just throw lots of things into the mix and hope the action distracts the audience from the weak exposition.

Reading back through that paragraph I’m aware that it may seem that I didn’t enjoy the film, but far from it, I was caught up in the moment and loved the banter between the team, and there were some excellent sub-elements that worked really well. Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton, for example, who was extremely short-changed on the last film, here gets possibly the best role in the film. Close behind is Natasha ‘Black Widow’ Romanoff, whose past we explore a bit more, and her relationship with Banner in and out of Hulk mode too. The Maximoff twins are superb additions, as is Vision (who comes into play in the latter half of the film), and I look forward to seeing more of those characters in future films. But the general story feels like an afterthought, and doesn’t end the second phase in the same manner the first Avengers film did. In fact it feel more like a set-up for Phase 3, with hints and nods toward what is to come, which unfortunately means that Ultron feels short-changed in his villain role. The menace we saw in the trailer seems somewhat subdued in the end product, and whilst the safety of the world is still in jeapordy, it feels like ‘just another day at the office’ for the team. Even the attempt to divide the group and turn them on each other doesn’t really have the impact it promised, although maybe Civil War will work that one better.

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All in all, the film just feels like it was made just because the fans wanted another team up, yet it delivers much less than Iron Man 3 or Winter Soldier did, and fails to feel like it is pushing the overall story forward any further. For fans of comics there are a smattering of nods and references to keep a keen eye out for, some subtle (Jocasta), some blatant (Klaw), and there is a mid credit sequence that comic book fans will hate simply because they now have to spend the next year or so explaining it to the non fans (seriously, why do non fans stick around for these sequences? They won’t understand the reference, and will just be confused!)

If I was to score the film, I’d give it a firm 7 or 8 out of 10, with the action, excitement, and characters all working, even if the overall story doesn’t quite make it.

Review: Marvel’s Daredevil (TV Series)

Anticipation for this series, the first of Netflix’s Marvel productions, has been high.  Even staunch defenders of the Ben Affleck starring film from 2003 have been willing to admit that film didn’t quite have the right tone, and the promise by Netflix that the series would be dark, gritty, and more adult toned than other current Marvel films or shows was embraced well by the fan community.  Early news on casting and those first publicity shots confirmed that the show was going to be inspired by Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear run on the character, which led to confusion from those who only knew the classic red devil costume, but excitement from those wanting a fitting origin tale.  The closer and closer the show got to release, the greater the anticipation, which built to such a level that it was highly possible the show wouldn’t live up to expectations.  The good news is that it not only lives up to the promises, but it actually exceeds them.

For the uninitiated, this series is a part of the core Marvel Cinematic Universe output, which , means it is set within the same timeline as Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Avengers, Agents of SHIELD, and any future films or shows created by the core Marvel brand (films such as X-Men and Fantastic Four are not a part of this universe being currently under creative control of 20th Century Fox). Whilst set within the same world and time as those fantastical films, Daredevil turns it’s eye on the seedy underbelly of criminal society, and aside from subtle references (newspaper clippings about events on the wall of journalist Ben Urich, or throwaway lines about the incident which caused property damage) the series doesn’t venture into the same territory, and thus doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the films in order to watch. In addition, the show is a lot more brutal than Marvel’s other output, and in the UK it warrants a 15 rating due to the graphic nature of the violence, so it is definitely not for kids.

The whole series is set over a short period of time, the thirteen episodes feeling less like a TV series and more like a 13 hour movie.  The origin of the character is explored via occasional flashbacks, and unlike the film we don’t jump in with a fully trained and skilled vigilante, but a rough edged masked man who is still ironing out his skills. As the series progresses we discover more about his abilities, and also meet a plethora of characters who will have importance in defining the hero that he will eventually become (because, after all, we know that he will become Daredevil, crimson mask and all, by the end of it).

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The core cast of Daredevil

A good story needs strong characters, and when it comes to film and television a strong character needs good casting. It is a rare occasion when fault cannot be found in even one member of a cast line-up, there is usually at least one person who you feel could have been better selected. However each and every member of the cast for this series, from the lead roles to the support characters, excels at their duty and truly embodies the characters from the comic series. In the lead role as Matt Murdock is Charlie Cox, who has a charm befitting of the lawyer role, and also convinces as the man in the mask. Thankfully the decision was also made not to add a gruff voice when garbed as the costumed vigilant, unlike the Affleck version (and, indeed, other costumed crusaders on screen). Thus we don’t find ourselves chuckling at strained dialogue delivery, instead Cox gets to really project into the role. In addition, the delivery of his whole role as a blind character is well researched and rehearsed. No strange cross-eyed looks or random staring at ceilings (sorry Affleck, but that was a tad amusing), instead it all seems natural staring ahead into space, never distracting or forced. Around him his close support comes from Deborah Woll as Karen Page, a client with a secret past who Matt helps and then hires, and Eldon Henson as Foggy Nelson, Matt’s close friend and law partner. The trio play well on screen together, and the relationship between Matt and Foggy in particular feels genuine and convincing.

However, the true gem in the core roles of the series comes from Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a role who could have been played as purely menacing and gruff, but instead is depicted in such a soft spoken and sometimes empathetic manner that you occasionally find yourself rooting for him. Taking this approach works well to help the audience understand how so many people could be taken in by his charm, and how he manages to convince people he is a well intentioned philanthropist and not one of the top men in the criminal underworld. His history is explored in one episode, offering some insight into what drives a man to become such a force, and in addition the burgeoning relationship with an art gallery worker named Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer) helps humanise the character. We are gradually introduced to Fisk by name only until the third episode, but when we meet him we see the charming man he could be, and the brutal machine he is.
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The rest of the cast, from Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple, to Matt Gerald as Melvyn Potter or Scott Glenn as Stick all help round out the proceedings, and fans of the comics will find no fault in the representations of any of the array of characters brought into the very tightly woven series.

The production as a whole is ominously dark not only in tone but in looks, with lens filters casting shadow on scenes, lending well to ensure the show makes clear that this is the gritty underbelly of Marvel society. But there are light moments, and small moments of wit and relief to break the tension. A quick mention must be made of the opening titles. As some folk know I am a fan of a strong opening title sequence, and in recent years shows such as Game of Thrones, Dexter, Hannibal, and the pilot for Man in the High Castle have been amongst the finest examples of title sequences that, regardless of how many times you have already watched them, you always feel you should sit and watch again. Daredevil, with its crimson liquid moulding out a segment of city, with blind justice and Daredevil bookending the piece is a majestic sequence to watch.

All in all, Daredevil is an example of how strong Marvel shows can be without the restrictions that network TV places on episodes and content. Using the Netflix model allows them to delve into darker areas that commercial stations would struggle with, and as a result the show has laid the groundwork for what should prove to be an excellent future in the ‘Defenders’ project.