Spider-Man-Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Spoiler-Free Review

As the old adage goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  Not quite ready to relinquish the powerful we b of Marvel’s most recognisable hero from the comic racks, Sony are responsible enough to embrace everything Marvel’s Cinematic Universe can offer to make Spider-Man: Homecoming a hero that leans on its comrades as much as it stands tall when it needs to.

Weaving itself into the now rich tapestry of the MCU allows for some brilliantly original stitching.  The Marvel Studios output, while clever, slots its instalments side-by-side one another.  Apart from the odd cameo here and mention there, it’s really the culmination of Avengers or Civil Warthat the MCU entire coalesced.  Sony are smart enough the take the, quite literal, Marvel Team-Up for all it’s worth and tie in moments from its history.  Our story starts shortly after the finale of Avengers (Assemble), where the devastation is amassed and we’re introduced to Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes.  A blue collar contractor employed by the city to clean up the twisted metal of the Chitauri defeat.  Pleasingly, the webbing that binds Spider-Man: Homecoming to its more established partner in heroism often plays more like well-considered ideas than tedious ham-fisting.  There’s a case full of arc reactors, an Ultron head and even the subtlest reference to the Howling Commandos you’ll see this side of Agents of SHIELD.  It establishes Spider-Man as part of the world he only cameoed in previously.  Even the introduction of Peter Parker set to the back drop of Captain America: Civil War, is a smart welcome of the over-excited teenager and still manages to set up the conflict that he needs to grow out of.

Much like the movies main theme, ol’ web-head is going to have to stand on his own two feet, and it’s here that Spider-Man: Homecoming really comes to life.  After leaving the world of super heroes (and adults) Peter is dumped back into his life in queens and while it doesn’t waste much time before we see the misfortunes of our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, we do appreciate just how disappointing it is to be relegated from would-be Avenger to street-level do-gooder.  Director, Jon Watts, is shrewd enough to not drag this out before shooting a good helping of webbed fun our way.  Just in the first moments of Spidey suiting up, we see him showing off, mid-swing posing and somersaulting on command just to earn some status around the ‘hood.  So it’s all the more fun to see him when he pushes his luck too far.  With all this fun being had, it’s a rude awakening when things go wrong despite Spider-Man’s best efforts.  The underlining of a heroes responsibility is clear to us watching Parker learn his heroic trade, but to Holland’s credit his enthusiasm is so infectious that it’s impossible to damn his ill-conceived actions.

In the busy jostling of superhero movies at the multiplex, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the first in a long time that that actually feels like a comic.  There are obvious nods, like the clone saga costume and the now iconic rubble lifting moment, lifted from Ditko’s original panels (issue #33, true believers), and while it doesn’t shy away from the more mature themes, there’s a lighter and breezy element that comes from embracing the source material and not overly laden with edgier concepts.  Even the set piece before Peter learns his hardest lesson is just the right mix of perilous and wish fulfilment.  Watts is also smart enough to walk the web between homage and not being beholden.  Vulture’s costume is inventively redesigned to be reminiscent of its namesake and practical.  Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is kookier than previous incarnations, but tenderly maternal.  We also have the obligatory knock-down-drag-out finale, but instead of a city/world threatening sky laser, Vulture’s just after the score of a lifetime.  It may not be revolutionary, but it’s refreshingly neat.

If you had to play J Jonah Jameson and level some criticism at Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s that it feels like it’s in a rush to bundle everything in.  While it doesn’t cut the narrative web it swings by, no sooner has a point been made or beat paid off that we move on to the next.  Somehow the comedic punchlines survive the pace, but some of the more tender moments have to suffer as a result.  That being said, when you can have this much fun swinging through the streets at speed, who cares if some detail is a little blurred?

4* – Spider-Man Some More

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Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

By the time DC released the first installment of their cinematic shared universe with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Marvel had already released the 6 films that would make up it’s Phase 1. 6 superhero victories by blowing a hole in the sky over Los Angeles (Iron Man), in Banner’s words “Broke Harlem” (The Incredible Hulk), Blew up the New York’s World’s Fare (Iron Man 2), decimated a town in New Mexico (Thor) and by proxy reduced much of Manhattan to rubble (Avengers). Yet it wasn’t until the climax of Man of Steel when people really started to take stock of the devastation amassed by Superhero Smackdowns. Yes, by the third act streets of Metropolis are crushed by the Kryptonian World Engine and an alien ship crashed into it’s financial district. If that wasn’t enough, Superman and Zod go toe-to-toe. They punch, throw and dissect buildings with laser-vision. However, surely the dollar value on the construction costs from Marvel’s victories must be enough to cripple Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises together! There’s a very strange irony about the dizzying culmination of our super-powered movies, whereby the audience’s demand for superhero movies ultimately wracks up more devastation. Yet we rarely consider the impact and longer effects on the citizens where they take place.

Captain America: Civil War addresses the concern for anyone that’s spent time to consider it. While the fuse is lit when Captain America’s New Avengers kill a whole office floor of Wakandan Diplomats, it’s not until General Ross addresses the Avengers of the compound and shows a street-level view of their victories; including Age of Ultron and Captain America: Winter Soldier. He also puts their misadventures in a global political perspective, “What would you call a group of U.S.-based, enhanced individuals, who routinely ignores sovereign borders and inflict their will wherever they choose and who, frankly, seem unconcerned about what they leave behind them?” It’s a sobering thought that works effectively on it’s characters, particularly Tony and Wanda. Yet when it’s time to thrill the audience, you may feel like the conflict any characters feel is quickly discarded. While the attack on the UN is carried out by the antagonist and pushes the story along, the Airport knock-down-drag out is executed without prejudice. Airplanes and gantries are crashed into, torn apart and blown to bits, while Air Traffic Control towers are sheared in half just to stop escaping comrades. Seems like “Thunderbolt” Ross was right! That being said, the Russo Bros took the watershed improvements on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and upped the ante. While it’s fun to play with nearly every character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe toy box, they’re still careful to continue the special ops execution of the missions…at least to start with.

While the inclusion of the rest of the MCU characters could have Cap’s third installment stall, a la Age of Ultron, the Russo’s manage to keep events hurtling along to the conclusion. Even if plot points are lost in the melee, there’s still plenty to keep you entertained. Some of the more enjoyable scrapes may go on for longer than they need, but they’re still an absolute blast. Whenever you watch your hero go up against a villain there’s almost always the inevitable feeling that they’ll beat the bad guy. Yet seeing brother against brother (and sister!) is bitter/sweet. You know what each are capable of making it a photo-real top trumps, but you won’t feel good about either emerging victorious. The consequences of defeat are a little too high.

Thankfully, amidst the Avengers affray, we still stop to consider Captain America – his name is on the title after all! Not only that, but if you do have time to stop and think amongst the set-pieces, the threads from Cap’s journey are picked up and examined. Although her name isn’t mentioned, the text message to inform Steve of Peggy’s death is a heartbreaking realisation that he only has one person left from his old life. While this only serves to reinforce the Steve’s self destructive compulsion to protect Bucky, there’s still a peak under the bonnet of his true blue nature:

“I don’t mean to make things difficult.” Steve says earnestly to Tony
“I know. Because you’re a very polite person.”
“If I see a situation pointed south, I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could.”
“No, you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.” Steve confesses.

It’s not that one of the powers bestowed from the Super Soldier Serum is being contrary, but it does speak to the cost of integrity being compromise. As stoic and inspiring “planting yourself like a tree” may be, is it worth it when the result isn’t heroic sacrifice but in fact the suffering of others and loss of true friendship? The exchange also suggests a true understanding between the two. They may never be explicit about it, but it’s a deep running compassion that only a deep friendship can grant. Why else would Tony put himself on the line to bring Cap in after he escapes with The Winter Soldier?

It’s with this in mind that makes the personal price infinitely more crushing.

Captain America: He’s my friend.

Iron Man: So was I.

4* – Saving Private Barnes

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Ant-Man

Ant-Man: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

Marvel’s Ant-Man is something of a peculiarity. While the other Marvel Cinematic Universe installments may have centered around their title characters and their stories, were similar as far as the narrative beats went. It may have something to do with the obligatory origin story, but they could all wore the fitted genre of superhero snuggly enough. That is until 2014 when Marvel released both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. While Guardians could play fast and loose in it’s sci-fi spaceship – free from setting up a lone superhero – Captain America stretched to espionage thriller. Following on from their success Ant-Man confidently owns it’s peculiarity and leans heavily on the tropes of a crime-caper. Who’s never wanted to see a metahuman heist?

While the likes of Tony Stark, Peter Quill and even Thor tread the fine line of charismatic douchery to give them something to rise from, they eventually display the self-sacrifice that comes with altruism. After all, ever since the comics, the hallmark of a Marvel character is their flaws just like you and me. Then there’s Captain America, in his own league, the measure all characters are to be compared. Enter Ant-Man, or rather Scott Lang. As far as heroic title characters go, he’s probably the most identifiable. Sure, you may not have been to prison, but it’s closer to an every-man comparison than billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Like us, Scott has made mistakes, paid for them and forever trying to break even. It’s a refreshing change from stoic thunder god or infallible father-figure which everything comes that little bit easier. How many people in the MCU thus far saved the world and struggled to make alimony payments?

Thankfully, director Peyton Reed is careful to use Lang’s misadventures to flesh him out and not handcuff him emotionally. While the effort is made to bring us something a little different, both in terms of character and tone, there’s a lot of care to remind us we’re still in the MCU. Not only will the opening shot of a half-constructed Triskellion keep the Cap fans happy, but the following exchange involving Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and Hank Pym provides a gratifying insight to the inner workings of early SHIELD. Later, not only does Hank Pym disparage the Iron Man Armour, but the New Avengers Facility set up in Avengers: Age of Ultron sets the stage in setting up the final act. It’s dutiful recognition to the sandbox Ant-Man plays in, but not one it relies on to provide superhero legitimacy.

Despite references, viewing Ant-Man as a standalone movie, rather than a chapter of the MCU, proves more rewarding. Lang’s journey from zero to hero is cemented with sympathy. Hank Pym has been watching Lang for a long time and when he mentions that Lang turns to crime whenever things get tough may force a defensive rise out of the more invested audience member. Hank may be right, but who wouldn’t want to use their gifts to make their situation better? Sounds like other heroes we know!

Without all the bells and whistles that come with bring a Marvel hero, Ant-Man is a pretty successful heist movie. The first caper, to unwittingly steal the Ant-Man suit, not only the establishes Scott as a science-bro, but also sets the foundation for the escalating heists. By the time the final heist on Pym Technologies take place, the wizened sage has passed on his knowledge to Scott and also his failings. The surprisingly heartbreaking scene when Hank explains his wife’s demise to his daughter, Hope, blindsides you. In amongst the tomfoolery of Scott’s gang and a training montage, this emotional beat packs quite the punch without putting the movie’s tone off-kilter and yet still wraps up the character arcs to free them for the final act. Speaking of which; when the team break into Pym Technologies to stop the bad guy selling the Yellow Jacket to Hydra, the film has built up so much joyus good will, they could of marched in through the front door. Instead it stretches your suspension of disbelief to the point of accepting frying servers with an army of wild ants. There’s more moments to point a questionable finger at, but you’ll just be having too much fun.

4* – Big Trouble in Little ‘Frisco

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Avengers Age of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

“A camel is a horse made by committee,” as the saying goes. Much like the villainous robot’s birth, Avengers: Age of Ultron was created with the best of intentions and while the undertaking of producing a sequel to the jewel in Marvel Studios’ crown wasn’t taken lightly, too much was asked of it.

In the original super-outing of Avengers, audiences got to see the culmination of all their heroes, if not the franchises, of Marvel’s best and brightest. Never before had we felt so trusted as audiences to follow the detail and combined narrative of an entire shared universe. We were rewarded too. Joss Whedon rewarded geeks, nerds, regular cinema-goers and Friday night visitors to a healthy dose of super-human spectacle. Even the most casual Whedon fan is familiar with his ability to throw together a group of dysfunctional people, put them through the mill and still emerge triumphant. However, Whedon’s ability to have the moments and exchanges inform both characters and story always takes him to first place (as reflected in the Avengers record breaking box office returns). This wasn’t Mojlnir-sourced lightening in a bottle. So what could go wrong?

Well, you seemingly overload the movie with the responsibility of ending “Phase 2” and starting “Phase 3”. If that wasn’t enough, how about introducing characters and set ups to serve other individual outings. It all seems a little messy even before the death-from-above climax we’ve come to expect. While the whole endeavor has the burnt whiff of studio interference, Whedon still makes a heroic effort in keeping the wiring complete enough to power the creation. Although, no one’s looking for a template of the first Avengers, audiences still want another helping of their favorite flavors. As such Avengers: Age of Ultron hits many of the same beats as it’s predecessor. Although the movie opens with the Avengers as an cohesive team to begin Ultron still blindsides them (a la Loki being arrested and imprisoned on the hellicarrier). They have a heated disagreement after Ultron introduces himself (a la the lab argument under the scepter’s influence). Even Scarlet Witches hellishly introspective nightmares that pulls the team apart has the same results as when Loki left the hellicarrier after killing Coulson and letting the Hulk loose. While the comparisons are easily drawn, there’s a lot that’s fresh here. The Hulkbuster sequence is inspired wish fulfillment and while a bit messy the chase in Korea still manages to imbue the action with the heavy stakes.

Oddly, it’s not the familiar beats that make Age of Ultron feel like a facsimile of it’s progenitor. With everything that’s packed in to Age of Ultron the highlights aren’t quite able to escape the overall dirge. You’d be hard-pushed to find another superhero flick that achieves the heights in pace, action and whit, but with the bar now raised so high by Avengers and even Captain America: The Winter Soldier everything packed in by studio execs only serve the tip the balance of what would otherwise be a finely tuned superhero movie.

As such, Age of Ultron is a reflection of it’s villain. A twisted machine of it’s well-intentioned creator.

3* – No Country For Bold Men

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

There’s one moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that perfectly instills what Steve Rogers is about. He’s not throwing his star-spangled shield. He’s not sacrificing himself or delivering a rousing speech. Instead, he’s driving a stolen truck. Black Widow rides in the passenger seat and tries toying with The First Avenger.

“Where did Captain America learn to steal a car?” She tries drawing him out

“Nazi Germany. And we’re borrowing – Get your feet off the dash.” He replies unfazed.

It’s true, too. She knows it. The audience know it. If not for their destination being reduced to fiery rubble Steve would not only return the truck, but he’d probably explain himself to the owner. In the meantime, they’re going to treat someone else’s property with respect. It may seem like a small moment when you consider the dizzying finale, but one that boils down the man who’s ability is just as much contagious integrity as it is super-strength.

In his original outing, the earnest attitude sits quite comfortably in the setting of World War II. Not only are the Russo Brothers careful to contrast Captain America’s values In the espionage-tinged present day, but they work better than ever. “With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned,” says Coulson to Cap in Avengers, and he’s right; Rogers is the bastion of righteousness, like the family member you look up to. When Cap’s Stealth-Team take the Lemurian Star, Cap finds Black Widow has a mission of her own which almost leads them to getting blown up. “That one’s on me,” Widow quips, hoping to avoid confrontaion. “Damn right, it is,” Cap fires back. She looks down crestfallen; the last thing anyone wants to do is disappoint Captain America. And yet, while the motif is honorably carried on from his origin film, and to a lesser extent Avengers, it doesn’t undermine the different direction that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is committed to taking.

Taking their cues from Ed Brubaker’s acclaimed run on the Captain America comic, the Russo Brothers were steadfast in bringing something that had the hardened edge of Cap’s shield. Although they’re careful not to lose his spirit. It’s no accident that he dons his original WWII suit for the final act. While you can’t go so far in tone as to remove the film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s as much a spy thriller as Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera. The color palette is muted compared to the first installment, loyalties of allies are questioned and our protagonists end up on the run as enemies of the state. Even though Fury put the Avengers team together, Steve is just as mistrusting of him.

“Anyone else know about this?” Cap asks the injured Fury.

“Just my friends.” Fury confidently replies

“Is that what we are?”

It may have been set up earlier following Cap’s annoyance at Fury compartmentalising mission objectives, but it says just as much about Cap. After waking up he’s done everything to adapt to the new age. He’s learned new combat styles, clearly brought himself up to speed with technology, but the spy trade has made him guarded and kept him distanced from those that surround him. It’s a somber idea that Cap has no one since spending time as a Capsicle. Not only does this make the visit with Peggy Carter all the more heartbreaking – his last link to the life he knows lost in the turmoil of dementia – but it legitimises Steve’s unshakable pursuit of Bucky. He has to bring him back…what else has he got?

Let’s not forget that this is still comic book movie and we still want heart-thumping action in amongst our character development. You’d think with all the effort put into the storytelling that the flick would be spent come the time to inject adrenaline, but it has car chases that rival Frankenheimer’s Ronin and a hellicarrier-hoping climax that could stand toe-to-toe with Avengers’ Manhatten-saving climax. Just like the boy from Brooklyn, there’s a lot more to Captain America: The Winter Soldier than meets the eye.

4* – All The Commander’s Men

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GotG

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

“When I look around, you know what I see? Losers..” offers Star Lord to the rest of Guardians of the Galaxy, just before the climax. So too could have the ninth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic cannon. By this point most of the established Marvel heroes already had sequels. Tony Stark had 3 chalked up and Captain America had the second in the chamber. Audiences were more than comfortable with their heroes battling ne’er-do-wells to save their Tera firma. Although Thor may have come from Asgard, Midgard was very much his battlefield of choice, particularly as his earth-bound squeeze lived here. Why then did we need to strap in, blast off and spend time with a bunch of Star Wars rejects that were, by their own admission, losers?

The answer is exactly that. All the Guardians are literal aliens – even if Peter Quill is half human and half something else entirely. Yet there’s so much we have in common with these space truckers. Peter corrects his offering when the rag-tag group look at him: “I mean like, folks who have lost stuff.” Although this is actually one of the emotional linchpins of Guradians of the Galaxy and galvanises what we already knew (That this unlikely group had become an unlikely family) it embues the film with a real heart lacking in even the Avengers. It’s no accident that the film starts with Peter’s mom dying moments before he’s sucked into a ravagers blinding tractor beam. Gamora too has her family violently taken from her and “fostered” into the most abusive environment imaginable. Rocket never has one, while Groot only has the wise-crackin’ rodent as anything close to a sibling. While dysfunctional they have all moved on to some semblance of interstellar life they could cling to. Drax however is still very much in the anger phase of mourning. As an audience, we may not have all experienced these things, but it’s very much something that has touched us. Quill continues “And we have, man, we have, all of us. Homes, and our families, normal lives. And you think life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it’s giving us something. It is giving us a chance.”

With this in mind it’s a wonder that Guardians of the Galaxy is such a rawkus ride. While Iron Man had been quick witted and Thor had the fish-out-of-water follies for comic relief, Guardians is genuinely funny. From Quill’s disappointment to not having his code name recognised by his pursuers, to Drax’s literal interpretation of the idioms we all take for granted, the laughs are plenty. Even the secondary characters have moments usually saved for the title characters of lesser movies. Each one is an earned character-driven reward that hits it’s target rather than just impacting on the surface. However without the charm that Guardians seems to effortlessly plume from its thrusters, it would be a jumble of set-ups and punch lines like Spaceballs.

“To do what?” Rocket returns to Quill. If anything pulls Guardians into the gravitational pull of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s the McGuffin. While it’s probably the most obvious infinity stone, it spends the first half of the movie encased in a patterned, chrome orb. Guardians establishes itself in it’s own universe (no pun intended) with little help from the earth-bound Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all the intergalactic shenanigans it’s very easy to miss the real craft of James Gunn’s storytelling. If Suicide Squad demonstrated any lessons it’s how easily an ensemble of main characters can quickly sputter the engines of the narrative and reach a terminal velocity of non-investment. In Guardians, not only do you care about each of the 5 character’s arcs, but there’s interesting secondary characters. Yondu’s ravagers are lovable rogues, the Nova Corps inner workings are clear and even Nebula’s motivations are understandable.

Quill finally responds to Rocket, but he’s talking to all of the Guardians: “To give a shit. And I am not gonna stand by and watch as billions of lives are being wiped out.” It’s not only a triumph of storytelling, but come the end of the movie you’re hard pushed to find a better feeling. Avengers may make you punch the air, but the conclusion of Guardians makes you want to take everyone dancing!

5* – Footloose and Fancy Ships

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Thor The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

There was probably less pressure on Marvel when it delivered Thor: The Dark world than any of it’s other flicks up to that time. The burden of convincingly introducing a character steeped firmly in magic and Norse mythology had already been achieved. Kenneth Brannagh may have stepped aside after helming the original for Game of Thrones alumni Alan Taylor, Thor wasn’t as quirky or familiar as Tony stark and not quite so precious. While It certainly performed at the box office and improved on the returns of it’s predecessor, subsequent viewings are not quite so flattering.

The set up is simple enough; big bad has an opportunity to kill everything, turning light to darkness. This is a superhero movie after all. We didn’t come here for metahuman intrigue, especially when your main character has a hammer forged in a dying star. Somehow Thor: The Dark World only succeeds in moving along the combined Marvel Cinematic Universe’s subplot of bringing the infinity gems together. While a really good sequel should move things along, come it’s credit roll the baddie has been bested and there’s nothing left that SHIELD’s Clean Up crew can’t deal with and thus reset.

The film opens in much the same way as the first installment. Odin wraps exposition up as a tale of yore. Asgard’s finest go up against a new enemy, the Dark Elves, led by antagonist Malekith because he’s using the Aether ( or red infinity gem ) to turn the universe into galactic sludge…or something. It’s bad anyway. Then we slam on the narrative hand break so we can join Thor and his friends battle against a faceless army that look like a mix between Game of Thrones and Call of duty. It’s an odd pairing to see the clashing of swords and shields while other enemies fire roughed up bazookas and laser guns. Things explode, mud spatters into people’s faces as the fight and someone still has a crossbow apparently. It’s more an intimated idea of a battle than anything coherent to get behind, even when Thor and his Warriors (good band name) quip and chortle against the odds. If they aren’t worried, why would we be? From this point we need to get Thor back to Midgard (Earth) , return him to the arms of love interest, Jane Foster, bring the bad guy out of deep-space-hibernation, almost have him turn the lights out on existence and then vanquish him. Roll post-credit sequence!

For all intents and purposes that’s pretty much what happens. It’s not that “2hor” is awful, it’s just more of a narrative checklist or worse an MCU place-holder. While audiences are used to “filler” episodes of their favorite TV series, movie scenes should inform and propel the story or characters. “2hor” falls foul to taking it’s audience for granted so it can get to the highlights it feels are more important. The culmination of The Dark World should be Thor’s epiphany that his narcissistic goal to be king in the original doesn’t actually suit his altruism. Instead his concluding summation to Odin seems more like obligation than the conclusion of a character arc.

Thankfully the combined charisma and acting chops of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Hopkins bring a real gravitas the Asgardian family dynamic. Loki’s faux nonchelance at his father’s dressing down comes across as nuanced petulance for his actions at the end of Avengers. He’d prefer forgiveness, but has to save face. Similarly his interaction with his mother, Frigga, is loaded with the distance that Loki creates between them. It’s a masterclass in subtlety.

However, the real coup in Thor: The Dark World is when Thor springs Loki from jail to confront Malekith. The brotherly taunts, quibbles and in-fighting is the best part of this flick. If only this story was about the Odinsons. It still could have worked with Jane in-tow and resolve any questions from Avengers and even have Jane mirror Thor’s fish-out-of-water antics from the first installment.

2* – Midsummer Night’s run

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Doctor Strange Benedict Cumberbatch

Doctor Strange – Spoiler Free Review

With Doctor Strange being the 14th movie to be substantiated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’d be forgiven for wondering if there was anything new really left to offer. Although all our heroes need to start somewhere, much like their comic-reading counterparts, audiences are enjoying the continued tales of the established universe Marvel has cleverly woven. Guardians of the Galaxy has probably been the biggest gamble Marvel Studios has taken as far as being otherworldly and less established characters.

While Doctor Strange summons something new into our familiar MCU; mysticism, there’s also the familiar incantation of the origin story. The unavoidable routine of the main character’s overbearing arrogance keeps them at a distance from those around them, but enough charisma and charm to avoid our disdain is here. Tony went through it, Thor did, so we know that it may only be a matter of time before Stephen Strange realises the error of his ways and turns into the guy on the poster. However, Scott Derrickson is canny enough to get casting this particular spell early on and drape over it a cloak of inventiveness that it feels just as fresh as Tony’s first foray into Afghanistan or Thor taking on the Destroyer in New Mexico.

Strange opens with intrigue and brutality, but it’s not long before you get a taste of the detailed delights to come. With a deliberate wave of the arms a London side road transforms, brick by brick, into a kaleidoscope of Tibetan detail. Prayer wheels slot over columns and begin to turn as the entire street begins to shift and tilt. While the looting conjurers we follow seem familiar with the world shifting it’s something beguiling to see for the first time. It’s a neat trick in that albeit swift, you want to revisit that wonder. As a result any tedium of the arrogant man soon to become a hero is expelled. That being said, they needn’t have worried. Benedict Cumberbatch deftly handles the elevated ego of Strange without ever derailing him into apathy.

Sadly, the rest of the cast don’t get quite as much to do. Although they aren’t sinfully underused the story rattles along at such a pace any fleshing out is lost. Mads Mikkelsen exudes the single minded zealot, unflinching in his goals, but Kaecilius may have benefited from a little more back story to flesh him out. Chiwetel Ejiofor does a lot with what would have beeen very little on the page as Karl Mordo, but while you understand his views come the climax, you may not sympathise. Tilda Swinton, however, lifts the role of The Ancient One from Obi Wan Kenobi template to provocative tutor and guide through the mystic world.

Although it may not share the same japey tone, Doctor Strange has more in common with Ant-Man that it does any of the other Marvel franchises so far. Not only does it steer clear of the tired city-wide devastation we’ve seen before for it’s climax and use it’s wheel house to try and overcome the odds, but it’s also not afraid to have a little fun. The Cloak of Levitation could be interchangeable with Ant-thony, but it makes fun of it’s incredible premise without making excuses for itself. The humor is self aware enough to not undermine it’s basis without getting too broad in the way that Thor: The Dark World had.

If you found the visuals in the trailer enticing, they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are set pieces in Doctor Strange that go beyond mind bending. Not only do cityscapes fold in themselves, but there’s Escher-infused chase scenes and slotting buildings facasdes used as weapons. That’s all before we get to the introduction of a convincing type of conjuring-kung-fu, runes that manifest as swords and shields and a geographic thermostat – you’ll know it when you see it!

The reason Doctor Strange triumphs against the odds, much like the Sorcerer Supreme himself, is because while it embraces the ground it has to recover it never lacks imagination.

4* – Dr Estrangedlove

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Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 – Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective

Back in 2008 Marvel’s Cinematic Universe repulsor-blasted it’s way to box office and the cinema-going zeitgeist. With Avengers book-ending Marvel’s Phase 1 your common-or-garden popcorn chomper was now able to navigate the impressive cannon of stories and characters that populated the primary colored milieu.

So then it seems fitting that Tony Stark draws up the blueprint of Phase 2 of the superhero shenanigans. Not wanting to continue directing the universe he created once someone else had their hands on it in Avengers, Favreau steps aside for sometime collaborator Shane Black to direct for this installment. Having given input into the previous chapters and directed Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, no one seemed particularly worried about Iron Man 3. However, Black and fellow screenwriter Drew Pearce had to straddle a fine line of developing the character further after saving the whole planet at the end of Avengers and still find a compelling way to close a trilogy. It’s quite a feet of storytelling engineering – one that will buckle if the wrong tools are used.

At this point Tony Stark has re-evaluated and redefined himself after emerging from that Afghanistan cave in his MK 1, by rebuilding his company, establishing his relationship with Pepper, rebuilt the one with Rhodey and flown a nuke into a worm hole created by the most powerful being in the Marvel universe. Where else is there to take him?

For all intents and purposes our Man-In-The-Can goes back to a cave, albeit a post traumatic one. However, not content with emotionally tearing down Tony and seeing how he deals with those that wish him harm, he also has that which makes him Iron Man stripped away…the amours.

“Alright, I admit it! I’m a pipping-hot mess,” Stark finally admits to the persevering Potts. However, the circuits of Tony’s problem are soldered early on with JARVIS exclaiming that Tony has been up for nearly 3 days. Then, just before Stark’s admission, Pepper asks if the current armor is MK15. Tony vaguely confirms while the MK42 glints on the metal glove. Tinkering may be Tony’s way of ignoring his problem, but insulating himself from it by wearing the suits is how he’s come to deal with it. It’s easy to miss amongst the pyrotechnics and effects, but the suit is where Tony goes to shelter the storm. When two children remind him of the wormhole Tony charges outside to the weathered Iron Man suit to protect and gather himself. During the Mandarin’s attack on his home, Tony may be quick enough to protect Pepper with the suit, but once he returns it to himself and the HUD boots up there’s a gasping draw of breath, like someone just coming back to life. More subtly, Tony sends in the MK42 as a decoy to avoid the discomfort of asking Pepper about Aldrich Killian. It’s a satisfyingly covert framing device before Stark lands battered and bruised with a defunct Iron Man suit. However, despite his triumphs in Tennesse, the mere thought that his armor won’t charge is enough to send the eternal egoist into a paralysing anxiety attack, forcing him to pull off the road.

Despite the title being Iron Man, it’s surprisingly exhilarating watching Tony MK 0 mix it up with the bad guys. Using his brain pan to out maneuver the extremis soldiers and still squeeze in a “cheap trick and a cheesy on-liner” is one thing, but storming the Mandarin stronghold like a secret agent armed with a tool kit to put MacGyver to shame is something else entirely. It’s a great way to dismantle your character and build him up while keeping the viewer entertained. Black and Co. also do well to make sure that while it’s a rough ride for Tony, his unrelenting hyper-verbia remains intact.

Since Stan “The Man” Lee committed these characters to paper Marvel has always been a band apart by deconstructing the person under the costume/power/armor, and while Iron Man 3 follows that tradition with aplomb, they don’t forget that we still want to see the Shellhead go heavy metal. While the melee in Malibu serves the story and is still plenty exciting, the sequence in which our Golden Avenger saves 13 Air Force 1 staffers from decorating the Miami coastline is overwhelmingly air-punching. Amidst the explosive climax the movie still manages manages to bring together the catharsis of 42 JARVIS-controlled Iron Men, while still giving credit to those involved in Stark’s very human journey to overcome his own demons and not just the bad guy.

4* – How Tony Got His Groove Back

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First Trailer for Logan, Hugh Jackman’s Final Wolverine Movie

There’s been a lot of talk about Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine movie, Logan, being based on Mark Millar’s Wolverine story Old Man Logan. Well if this trailer is anything to go by, although the original concept may take it’s inspiration from the pivotal Wolverine comic run, the film is quite some way from being a direct adaptation…and probably works within the canon of Fox’s X-Men movies much better for that very reason.

BTW loving the use of Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt in this. Perfect.

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