Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming 

Tobey Maguire was a good Peter Parker. Andrew Garfield was a good Spider-Man. Tom Holland is the guy who nails both halves of the character.

For starters, Holland looks closer to an awkward teenager and is just wonderfully charming as he stumbles and bumbles his way through his teenage life. This charm and awkwardness transfers across when he dons the mask, the body language still capturing the gawky youth and attempts to be cool. Also the voice work captures the enthusiastic way Spidey goes into action.

This movie gets one of the things I loved about the character of Spider-Man. He enjoyed being a hero. Sure, there was drama and tension, but when he got up there swinging, he was having a ball. The same is true for large parts of this film, Spider-Man throws himself into crime fighting, even for minor offences with boundless enthusiasm. Even when things get tough there’s still a sense that he wants to be a hero, and that he likes being in the tights. It messes with his day-to-day life, but there’s no stopping him, and there’s no brooding.

There is frustration, having helped out in Civil War Peter hopes to become an Avenger and work closely with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), but finds himself sidelined. Stark tells him to stay close to the ground, and that he’s not ready.

Tony and Peter, with a flawed mentor-student relationship

Some criticised the movie for including Stark, but I like it. It makes sense that after recruiting Peter he would keep tabs on him, and Tony’s attempts to mentor him show how the character continues to evolve from the playboy at the start of the first Iron Man movie. RDJ is excellent as ever, and his affection and concern for Peter is pitched just right. There’s a sense that he respects Peter despite his youth and sees his potential to be great, evidenced when he tells Peter that he wants the young hero to be better than him.

Eager to prove himself Peter decides to go it alone aftee discovering someone is selling hi-tech weapons. This leads him against Adrian Toomes AKA the Vulture (Michael Keaton), who turned to crime having been thrown off the salvage contract after the events of The Avengers leaving him in financial difficulties. He and his crew use the alien tech they grabbed to make weapons and to steal more, leading them to cross paths with Spidey, who persists after Iron Man warns him off.

Michael Keaton’s performance and the changes to Vulture’s backstory are fantastic and make what I’ve always viewed as a lacklustre villain more interesting. Not only does his origin tie in with the rest of the MCU and show the fallout of previous events, it makes him a more relatable and believable character. All his crime is driven by his need to provide for his family, and Keaton captures a sense of a man driven to extremes to keep his head above water. Not that he isn’t great at the basic villain stuff, with him giving the character an intimidating steeliness which as the film continues to impress and increase. Not an utter villain, but with a ruthlessness that makes him a decent threat.

Keaton in great form

The plot unfolds at a cracking pace, the film fizzing along so that the action and laughs flow constantly, but with enough character stuff to mean you genuinely care, largely due to Holland’s work.

While there are some MCU similarities this film has its own tone, being closer in tone to a teen comedy at times, just with superheroics thrown in, there’s a nod to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and that’s kind of the vibe here. It helps that the dialogue is genuinely funny and some of Peter’s schoolmates are wonderful.

Best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is a scene stealing character, a geeky fanboy who is overjoyed at discovering his best friend is a superhero and who pesters Peter with questions. It’s a charming and funny performance, and Ned provides a lot of humour as well as providing Peter with a confidante. 

Ned and Peter, geeky buds

Also worth mentions are Jon Favreau returning as Happy Hogan, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May and a delightful performance from Zendaya as Michelle, Peter’s sarcastic, offbeat classmate.

The whole movie clicked for me, managing to balance peril and humour. It felt like the closest to the Spider-Man from the books and fits well with the MCU by adding a slightly smaller scale. Peter is the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and the bigger more cosmic threats can be left to the other characters.

I was won over by Holland in his brief appearance in Civil War and this builds on this. For me this is up there with the best of the MCU movies and I hope Sony continue their deal with Marvel because this is how to do Spidey. 

Verdict: An entertaining ride from start to finish this has bags of charm and action. Simply magnificent. Holland IS the character. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Captain America: Civil War

WARNING! A few spoilers ahead.

First things first, not sure this should be classed as a Captain America movie as it feels more like an Avengers thing, and MWF agrees with me on this. But as the MCU continues to grow they knock this one out of the park with an epic movie which will have lasting impact on the characters.

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The plot deals with a rift forming between the Avengers. After Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a mission in Nigeria that results in the death of several civilians the Avengers have to deal with the question of accountability. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), struggling with guilt and the responsibility of being Iron Man, agrees to a UN charter which would see the Avengers being under stricter rules.

The deal is proposed to the team by Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), last seen in The Incredible Hulk. And the rift forms, with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) agreeing to sign while Cap expresses concerns and doubts, echoed by Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

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Tony and Steve debate.

During a signing of the accord attended by Black Widow, a bomb is detonated killing the King of Wakanda, the African nation where Vibranium is produced (what Cap’s shield and Ultron were made of). The bomb is believed to be the work of the Winter Soldier AKA Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap’s old friend who was frozen and brainwashed as an assassin.

Cap and Falcon go after Bucky, to safely bring him in and work out what’s going on. But they encounter resistance from the new Wakandan king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is the current untry’s protector under the name Black Panther. After a fight and chase all four are arrested by local forces and War Machine.

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The Black Panther arrives

Meanwhile, a shady figure known as Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) has been looking into the details of the Winter Soldier and arrives at the facility holding Bucky and conducts an interview as a psychologist. He then triggers Bucky and stages an escape, which sees Bucky fight Tony, Black Widow and the Panther.

Bucky reveals some of his memories of other, more volatile subjects of the Winter Soldier programme and that he was framed for the bombing. Captain America plans to investigate these and clear Bucky’s name, but expecting problems from Tony and the others, calls for back up.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) comes out of retirement to rescue Wanda who has been under house arrest and who defeats Vision in their escape. They also recruit Ant Man (Paul Rudd) to join them against Stark’s team, which now includes the Panther. Stark returns to the US to recruit Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a teenager who has gained superpowers and become a vigilante in New York.

After a tense stand off between Stark, Widow and Captain America the two teams fight. Cap and Bucky manage to escape but their allies are captured and War Machine is severely injured.

Following this Stark begins to wonder if there is something to Cap’s story about Bucky being framed and he follows the duo who are on Zemo’s trail. Zemo arrives at the Winter Soldier facility but what is his endgame? And can the heroes overcome their differences or are the Avengers done for?

Long synopsis, right? Thankfully the film never feels overlong or drawn out and it moves along at a great pace. It also benefits from being one of the best Marvel movies thus far and having a good sense of the characters at play and their relationships. New characters are introduced and done so in a decent manner, but the real strength is the time taken by Marvel to build the world over several films.

At the heart of the movie is the clash between Captain America and Iron Man and it’s to the film’s credit that at the beginning both sides make sense and it is a genuine debate. Neither side is judged and as a viewer you feel torn by the decision they face.

Both Evans and RDJ are now comfortable in their roles and despite their differences their characters are shown to have some affection and respect for the other. It’s important as it means the rift that follows means more and is tougher on the characters and the audience.

RDJ has really done great work as Tony Stark, developing the character immensely from the slick playboy of the first Iron Man movie and yet keeping the essence of the character intact. Tony is driven by ego, he is sarky and smug at times, but he’s grown into a more world weary figure, and one more driven by doing what is right.

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RDJ as Tony Stark, one of the MCU's major strengths

Captain America has similarly developed, but maintains the core nobility that makes the character the leader he is. However, there are a few shades of grey thrown in. How much of Cap’s actions are down to his almost blind loyalty to Bucky, the last remaining connection to his past?

While Cap’s reservations about the accord are understandable, as the film progresses I found myself leaning more towards Team Iron Man, as Cap repeatedly makes decisions driven by his need to protect Bucky. The conclusion, where Zemo’s plan is revealed and the Tony-Steve relationship utterly fractures is a real gut punch and the aftermath is genuinely moving, but includes one revelation which upsets the Captain’s position on the moral high ground.

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Cap and Bucky

While this clash is at the centre there’s plenty else on offer here, with the new characters being interesting. The Black Panther is a badass and Boseman gives the character liability and dignity.

Really making his mark is Tom Holland as Spider-man. He manages to perfectly capture the enthusiastic geek side of Peter Parker and his constant chatter during the major fight sequence is entertaining and in keeping with the character from the books.

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Spidey!!!!

In returning roles Mackie, Stan, Olsen, Renner and Bettany all do their jobs well enough, and I particularly liked the quiet moments between Vision and Wanda, with the synthetic Avenger showing faltering attempts at kindness and friendship. Hopefully this will be developed in further movies.

Scarlett Johansson is strong as Black Widow, who is probably the most conflicted of the Avengers. Closer to Cap she nonetheless sees the logic in Tony’s arguments, and her loyalties are tested throughout. It’s be nice for Widow to get a solo adventure, as Johansson is consistently impressive yet too often a secondary character.

The movie succeeds because it follows the Marvel formula, but it also tests new ground- fresh characters and a more complicated narrative with the major clash being between two sets of good guys. The action sequences are well done and the variety of heroes on show means there are plenty of quality moments, and it’s a marked improvement in the repetitive robot smashing of Age of Ultron.

It manages to pack an emotional punch while retaining it’s sense of humour and the script is full of great lines and moments. The film works as a continuation of the MCU and as a stand alone and the consequences which will follow in the forthcoming adventures should make for entertaining viewing. The Marvel Universe goes from strength to strength and this is one of the best entries, a blockbuster with spectacle, great characters and genuine emotion.

Verdict: Another belter from Marvel which hinges on the solid performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr, who capture the disintegrating relationship at the heart. The movie cleverly avoids choosing a side and allowing both sides decent arguments, and it has some big moments which should have long reaching consequences for the MCU. The supporting cast are great across the board and this is a hugely entertaining movie. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Justice League Birmingham

You don’t need special powers or a fancy costume to be a hero. You just have to be a good person and help other folks out.

Of course, if you do have a cool costume, that’s a definite plus.

Take for instance the case of this dude up in Birmingham who goes around the city giving out food to homeless people. The guy buys the food himself before going out at night to hand it out, making sure that these homeless folks get something to eat, which makes a big difference to them and is, I think we’ll all agree, is a pretty cool thing to do.

The dude is already well on his way to everyday hero status, and I probably would have been warmed by the story but what gets this guy even more over with me is the fact that he does this dressed as Spider-man. The Birmingham Spider-man is out there helping folks and the costume makes it more noteworthy which will hopefully encourage others to do similar things. He’s stated that he doesn’t want donations and would rather folks just found their own way to help those less fortunate, which is pretty cool and means we may see costumed do-gooders taking to the streets of other cities.

Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man

Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man

If Birmingham Spider-man ever wants to do a titanic team up, as is customary for costumed heroes, he could team up with a fellow Brummie, 12 year old Josh Brown.

Like BS-m, Brown did something extremely nice recently and encouraged others to follow his lead. Brown was on train when he found an iPhone, which had been left behind by another passenger, Shaunnah Hickinbottom, 16.

When the mother of the phone’s owner called it Josh said he’d drop it off at the Selly Oak ticket office, and she asked him to leave his address so she could send him a reward. However, when she got there all that had been left was a note saying not to worry about the reward and to just do something nice for someone else.

 

Josh's note

Josh’s note

Shaunnah’s mother, Michelle, decided to go online to find the good Samaritan and when it went viral, Josh was tracked down. In true hero style, he was modest and humble about his good deed:

“My dad always says ‘What goes around comes around’ and if I lost my phone I would like to think someone would do the same to me.”

Josh and Shaunnah

Josh and Shaunnah

Of course, the “pay it forward” model of good turns isn’t anything new, it inspired an awful movie a few years back, but I think it’s a wonderful way to go through life. You have something nice done for you and then you do the same for someone else, meaning that someone else benefits and you get the satisfaction of doing the right thing. That’s an incredibly positive result for everyone and will continue a chain of good deeds to build.

So well done to Josh Brown and the Birmingham Spider-man, you guys are pretty awesome.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Favourite Children and Young Adult Books

Monday was International Literacy Day, so I decided I’d do a list of books that I loved as a kid, or as an adult but feel will work for kids.

It’s not an “all kids should read” list because I hate those things, as on the adult lists there are always books that I’ve never read or heard of, and some I’ve hated (hello Charles Dickens and James Joyce), so these are just my personal recommendations, and what, I might try and guide little Shane to check out.

I’ve done my top ten in vague order, and they’re a mixed bag, all are probably suitable for 7-8 years plus, but some are probably better off being left until they’re in their teens.

10. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series are incredibly well crafted adventure stories for kids and the first three in particular are fantastic reads. The later installments bloat a little but by then you’re hooked and Rowling crafts characters you really care about and a fantastic magical world. She should also be commended for making reading cool for a generation of kids and hopefully creating a lifelong love of books.

harry potter books

9. The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot

A teenage girl in the States is actually a Princess in Cabot’s series which are cringe inducingly hilarious. Princess Mia is a relatable, believable heroine and they’re incredibly entertaining quick reads.

8. The Diary of Anne Frank

Confession time. I haven’t read all of this book. I started to read it when I was probably at the wrong age, and Frank’s pre-hiding entries annoyed me. I suspect that this is more due to my own immaturity at the time, as opposed to any failing on her part. I think this book is important because seeing it through the eyes of a young girl is a good way to teach kids about history and ensure that the holocaust doesn’t fade with each passing generation.

7. Ultimate Spider-Man by various

In my early teens I discovered comics and while I’ve always been a reader I think they definitely helped cement reading as one of my major passions. Picking a comic for a young audience is tough, and with many having back stories that span decades and can be rather convoluted it’s hard to find an easy jumping on point.

However, Marvel’s Ultimate universe, which rebooted several heroes in a more contemporary, realistic (as realistic as heroes can get) world is probably the best place to start. It’s scrapped a lot of the back story and started afresh. For younger readers the best intro is Peter Parker as Spider-Man, because he’s close to their age and one of the more fun heroes.

The series has great moments and if it grabs them there’s always the other Ultimate titles and the original Marvel universe. And DC. Basically this is the gateway drug into comic book geekdom.

Wall crawling

Wall crawling

6. Anything by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is genius. Pick any of his novels and go for it, his magical, clever fantasy novels are gems. My personal favourite is probably American Gods.

american gods

5. Anything by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett’s hilarious fantasy novels are amazingly complex and loaded with daft humour and sardonic asides. Some function better with older audiences who will get more of the references and allusions, but all are entertaining enough that even if some pass you by you’re still entertained. Start with the Truckers books before going on to the fantastic Discworld series.

4. Matilda/The Witches/Boy by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was a genius. His kids books are filled with grizzly detail and his greatest skill is that he never talks down to his audience. There are dark moments shot through but plenty of laughs too. I’ve narrowed it down to three- Matilda is Dahl at his most charming, while The Witches is full of creepy invention and suspense. His autobiography of his childhood, Boy, is also blessed with the same mix of charm and glee in the disgusting, and features some wonderful anecdotes.

3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

In a dystopian future a young girl is forced into taking part in a violent gladiatorial contest against other teens. Through this she becomes a folk hero and rebellion figurehead. It’s high-tempo, action heavy stuff with a fantastic heroine in Katniss Everdeen and the third installment, which some have slated worked for me as it shows the murky, harsh reality of war. Fantastic stuff and all three parts have been reviewed on the blog before- 1, 2 and 3.

2. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

I wrote an in depth review here, but in summary, Green’s story of two teenage cancer patients who fall in love is heartbreaking and affecting, but still has enough bite and wit to avoid being excessively maudlin. But have some tissues ready.

the fault in our stars

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I studied this at GCSE level and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. Narrated through the eyes of a child who doesn’t always understand what’s going on, Lee’s only novel focuses on the simmering racial tensions in the Deep South in the 1930s, centred around the trial of a black man accused of rape. It’s dramatic, intense stuff at times but there is plenty of humour and in Atticus Finch, Lee creates one of 20th century literature’s greatest heroes- honest, fair and a fantastic father, it’s the kind of character everyone should be exposed to.

Peck as Atticus in the movie version

Peck as Atticus in the movie version

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Favourite Films of 2012

So here are my top 10 films of the year, you can read my full reviews underneath the Films 2012 tag along with the flicks that didn’t make the list.

10. Ted

Seth MacFarlane’s first movie uses tricks borrowed from his TV work in being filled with pop culture references and close-to-the-knuckle gags. The central conceit of a teddy bear brought to life by a child’s wish is handled well, and it’s a fun examination of what happens when the boy and the bear grow up. MacFarlane voices the bear himself and does a good job as the foulmouthed toy, but the real stars are Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis who have great chemistry as the couple having to deal with his immaturity and it’s rather sweet at times.

9. The Raid

Welshman Gareth Edwards’ Indonesian action movie keeps things simple and tight with it’s tale of a squad of cops storming a tower block riddled with criminals to create a gripping action movies which is loaded with some of the most impressive, bone-crunching martial arts fights I’ve seen in years. Intense and entertaining it’s a real joy to watch and marks Edwards as one to watch in the future.

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8. Frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s latest is a callback to one of his early short films and the passion he has for the project is evident as he crafts one of his most enjoyable and emotionally resonant films in years. A return to form which reminds audiences of how good Burton can be.

7. The Hunger Games

A gripping youth movie that in Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss boasted a brilliantly strong, resourceful female hero. The premise is simple, but its executed well and the violence is handled in a way that manages to be restrained yet still tough to watch. Lawrence is superb and I’m eagerly awaiting part 2.

A great heroine- Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss.

A great heroine- Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss.

6. The Amazing Spider-Man

Sam Raimi’s Spidey flicks stumbled after an impressive opening but the reboot (despite the mercenary reasons for it’s production) nails the tone superbly, capturing the character’s odd mix of joy and strife. Unlike most costumed heroes, Peter Parker was always a character who seemed to get massive enjoyment from his exploits. Andrew Garfield does well as the nerdy, wisecracking webslinger and shares real chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. It’s highly enjoyable, despite the villainous Lizard being a bit weak in places. But great fun and I look forward to more of Garfield in the role.

Stone and Garfield- fantastic chemistry

Stone and Garfield- fantastic chemistry

5. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan wraps up his Bat-movies in great style, with a dark epic which sees Bale’s caped crusader having to return to action to face a terrifying threat in the form of Bane, played with intense menace by Tom Hardy. There’s a real sense of danger and it manages to wrap up the series in a satisfying way that doesn’t let down the great work that Nolan and co. did on the first two films. It also boasts an incredibly impressive cast, all of whom do their jobs with great skill.

4. Skyfall

Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond is probably his best, with a movie that manages to balance dramatic integrity while returning a sense of fun to the franchise. The action sequences are superb and the plot has more heft than usual, exploring Bond’s past and the nature of his relationship with his bosses, in particular M played by Judi Dench, who is superb as she’s finally given more to do with the role. A real treat and among the best of the Bond series.

skyfall

3. The Artist

Arriving on a wave of hype and critical hyperbole this flick was burdened by the weight of expectation but shouldered it well, delivering a film which is a heartwarming tribute to the early years of Hollywood while also being a wonderfully endearing romance loaded with funny moments and a few clever gags. The silence is more than a gimmick and it nails it’s tone perfectly throughout.

2. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

Joss Whedon brings Earth’s mightiest heroes to the big screen and succeeds in uniting all of Marvel’s good work into one hugely entertaining blockbuster loaded with great lines and brilliant performances, the ensemble cast all work well together and it manages to build on the previous movies while also standing on it’s own as one of the best superhero movies ever made.

The Avengers get ready for the big fight.

The Avengers get ready for the big fight.

1. Looper

A mind blowing sci-fi action film based on the concept of hitmen being used to take care of targets sent back in time from the future. It manages to deal with themes like destiny, choice and identity while still also being extremely fun. Benefits from Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis both being at the top of their game as the older and younger versions of the protagonist. Chock full of great moments and interesting ideas, and packs a powerful emotional punch, stayed with me for days.

looperposter

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Top 10 Best Comic Characters to Screen Transfers

Following yesterday’s post here’s the other side of the coin, which I’m writing on Wednesday evening. Again, they’re in no real order.

1. Iron Man

As seen in: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Avengers Assemble (2008-12)
Played by: Robert Downey Jr

I know I said I wasn’t doing these in order, but I’m kicking off with my personal favourite. RDJ is Tony Stark, he perfectly captures Tony Stark’s swaggering bravado, as well as conveying the conscious that drives him to become a hero. Its an effortlessly cool performance and RDJ drips charisma, and almost steals the Avengers movie too. I’m eagerly awaiting seeing more of RDJ’s Stark in Iron Man 3 and the Avengers sequels.

RDJ as Tony Stark- effortlessly cool,

2. Magneto

As seen in: X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class (2000-11)
Played by: Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender

Two great actors give great performances as the X-Men’s major nemesis. McKellen plays the older Magneto, zealously pursuing his plans to place mutants on top, the anger and bitterness he carries from his experiences in the concentration camp the driving force as he refuses to be oppressed again, yet his actions force him down a dark path, and its implied he’s not entirely comfortable with what he may be becoming. He’s a charismatic leader, oddly charming with an eye for recruiting alienated mutants for his team.

McKellen and Fassbender as the master of magnetism.

As the younger Magneto in the prequel Michael Fassbender steals the show, his Eric is all tightly wound rage as he doles out vengeance on the Nazis who robbed him of his childhood and experimented on him. He’s given a chance of redemption through his friendship with Charles Xavier, but believing that humans will never accept mutants they go their separate ways.

Both actors convey the intense anger that burns within the character and their motivations and methods, while extreme always seem in keeping with the character and they never completely lose the audience’s sympathy.

3. Superman

As seen in: Superman, Superman 2, Superman 3 and Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (1978-87)
Played by: Christopher Reeve

Reeve is the definitive Superman, utterly iconic in the role. He captures the Man of Steel’s simple, noble heroism and does a fantastic dual performance playing the bumbling awkward Clark Kent so effectively that despite the weak disguise you wouldn’t instantly connect the two.

The late, great Christopher Reeve. The best Superman.

4. The Joker

As seen in: The Dark Knight (2008)
Played by: Heath Ledger

Proof that you can tweak a character without ruining them. The comic book version of the clown prince of crime is one of the best villains in comics, but wouldn’t work in the more realistic world of Nolan’s bat-movies, and so they give a refreshing new spin on the character. Heath Ledger is phenomenal as the utterly demented Joker, portrayed here as a deranged, highly intelligent villain who’s only motivation is a love of chaos and panic. Ledger adds some nice flourishes and a manic energy throughout. Best of all when he tells the story of how he gained the scars on his face he later tells a different version, meaning he remains shrouded in mystery and keeps the audience guessing.

5. The Punisher

As seen in: Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Played by: Ray Stevenson

I really dug this version of the Punisher, and for my money its the best cinematic version, keeping with the darkly comic, violent vision that Garth Ennis brought to the character during his run as writer on the books. Stevenson has immense physical presence and looks like he can handle himself. He’s silent for much of the film but Castle’s never been a chatterbox and its nowhere near as cheesy as some of the Thomas Jane version was.

6. Spider-man

As seen in: The Amazing Spider-man (2012)
Played by: Andrew Garfield

Garfield brings the perfect mix to Peter Parker of the awkward geekiness and the cocky, gleeful side he’s allowed to unleash when he gets powers and pulls on the suit. You can see more of why I thought it was ace in my review of the movie a while back.

7. The Comedian

As seen in: Watchmen (2009)
Played by: Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Watchmen is loaded with interesting, complicated characters, and in the movie the cast all do great work bringing them to life, but for my money its JDM who does the best job.

JDM as the Comedian

The Comedian is an odd character, he does some truly heinous acts and should be utterly reprehensible, but somehow he’s also an oddly sympathetic. Warped by his experiences and plagued by inner demons, its apparent that despite beginning as a Robin-like teenage hero the dark side was always there, and JDM perfectly conveys the bitterness and cynicism that infects the character as well as the remorse he seems to feel and the horror he feels when he uncovers the central plot shows that at some level that he’s retained what drove him to become a costumed crimefighter.

8. Nick Fury

As seen in: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble (2008-12)
Played by: Samuel L Jackson

For me, Nick Fury will always be a grizzled Second World War vet chewing on a cigar, but the Ultimate universe reboot of the character is undeniably cool. They revamped him as a badass black guy clearly based on SLJ, so who else were they going to tag in when it came time to putting him on the big screen?

SLJ in action as the badass Nick Fury.

SLJ brings gravitas to the role and makes Fury totally badass, a good guy who’s not adverse to manipulating others to get what he needs. Despite being just a soldier he maintains authority among his super powered associates and it never phases him. He’s cool, in charge and gives a vibe that he’s not to be underestimated.

9. Batman

As seen in: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (2005-08)
Played by: Christian Bale

Nolan’s revamping needed a strong Batman, and Bale is probably the best live action Bat (the cartoon Bat is still the best). Bale’s good playing all aspects of the character- the smooth, frivolous public persona he adopts as Bruce Wayne is perfectly realized and he makes a far more convincing playboy than say Keaton did.

Bale brings real intensity to the character, and a steely edge. He manages to convincingly show us Batman’s obsession and devotion to his cause. And when he fights Bale convinces as a proper hard case, and he has the look about him of someone who could be extremely vicious, which is a good vibe to have when you’re playing Batman, and which no previous screen-Bat has ever really nailed.

But they keep him human when we see that part of him longs to hang up the cowl and make a life with Rachel, believing that Harvey Dent can save the city. When Bruce talks to Alfred after her death its a really heartbreaking tender moment as he says they can’t tell Harvey that Rachel was going to chose Bruce, made even sadder by the fact he’s mistaken.

There’s also a sly humour to Bale’s bat, especially in his scenes with Alfred, which I like as it matches the tone of the comics, and doesn’t tip over into goofy banter and quipping.

The Dark Knight Rises will be Bale’s last outing as the caped crusader, and you gotta feel bad for whoever they tag in for the next reboot, they’ve got some big Bat-shoes to fill.

10. Captain America

As seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012)
Played by: Chris Evans

Like with Superman, Captain America is a character who could all to easily have been extremely cheesy, a kind of outdated concept of a star-spangled, all American hero, but Evans does a good job of showing the simple decency that drives Rogers to volunteer for the super soldier program. Evans plays Cap as still being deep down the small, awkward guy and means that he retains his noble decency and seems an obvious choice to lead the Avengers. I’m interested to see what they do with Cap adjusting to the modern day in the sequels.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man

Sam Raimi did a pretty good job on the first two Spider-man movies he made. Sure, there were many flaws- not enough quipping, the rubbish Green Goblin suit (seriously, you hire an actor like Willem Dafoe then give him a costume that allows him no facial expressions? Why not do a CGI-Gollum kinda thing?). And then there’s the third film, which manages to totally mess up Venom, turns Peter Parker into a whiny little em0-douche and remains one of the worst cinema experiences I’ve ever had. The only part I remember fondly is the Bruce Campbell cameo.

The ever-groovy Bruce Campbell- the only part of Spider-man 3 I enjoyed

With that movie killing off the franchise Sony decided to reboot the whole thing, and that brings us to The Amazing Spider-Man. I also think its a legal thing, Sony own the rights to the X-Men and Spidey, but only if they keep using them. If they don’t it falls back to Marvel, I think that’s how it works. Which kinda sucks as it means there won’t be any Wolverine, Spidey, Quicksilver, Beast or Scarlet Witch in the Avengers movies.

For legal reasons this line-up will never see the big screen.

Anyway, what does the new movie do differently?

Well, for a start it shows us more about Peter Parker’s parents, his dad’s a scientist working in the field of genetics and after a break in gathers his files and flees into the night with his wife, dropping off Peter with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).

Peter (Andrew Garfield) grows up with him, and its the traditional Spidey deal- geeky, clever, photographer who’s picked on by Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka). Peter’s smitten with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and shyly flirts with her, developing a relationship with her.

Curious about his parents’ leaving and subsequent death, Peter goes to the Oscorp building to meet Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) a former colleague of his dad. Connors reveals that they were working on merging human and animal DNA to cure various illnesses, Connors hoping to also discover a way of using lizard DNA to restore limbs as he has lost an arm.

While snooping around Peter is bitten by a souped up spider and quickly gains superpowers. Initially he uses these for messing about, but becomes a masked avenger after Uncle Ben is whacked by a criminal he allowed to escape. (If anyone complains can I just ask how the hell is that a spoiler? Its part of every Spidey story, ever. It’d be like saying revealing Krypton gets blown up is a spoiler)

Meanwhile, with Peter’s help, Connors makes a break through with his research, and like all good movie scientists tries it out on himself, transforming into a giant monstrous lizard, and severely screws him up mentally.

Also, Spider-man is exposed to the public and the NYPD are after him, the task force being led by Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen’s father.

Can Spider-man prove he’s a good guy? Can he stop the Lizard? When’s Stan Lee going to turn up?

I really enjoyed this movie, I had high hopes, and thankfully, for the most part it met them.

First of all, I have to say that Andrew Garfield is wonderful as Peter/Spidey. Despite being older than me, he’s somehow entirely convincing as an awkward, nerdy teenage boy. Peter here is shown to be witty, clever and perfectly endearing, just as the character is in the comics. He captures the mix of smarts and heart that makes Peter become a hero and also does a great job conveying Peter’s conflicting emotions, I totally bought into his performance and it is possibly, after RDJ as Tony Stark, the best superhero casting ever.

Wonderful- Garfield as Peter Parker

The thing that I love most about his performance is that he totally nails the contradiction in Peter Parker. Yes, he’s shy and awkward around Gwen Stacy and a bit of a nerd, but even before the spider bite he shows some of the confidence and swagger he’ll have when he dons the suit. He intervenes to stop Flash tormenting another student, does a fairly good job charming Gwen and has a nice line in quips.

This kicks into high gear when he becomes Spider-man, I always thought that one of the things the Maguire version lacked was the fast talking, wise cracking that Spidey has in the books. Luckily here it stays in place, with Garfield’s Spider-man making gags, trash-talking criminals and conveying the fact that despite the angst in his origins, Peter enjoys being Spidey, especially in the early days. He’s a teenage boy who gets to swing through the streets and fight crime, of course he’s going to have fun with it, and I love how Garfield and the scriptwriters make that clear here.

Speaking of swinging through the streets, the effects in this movie are fantastic. Following Peter as he thwips from building to building is a joy and there are times when you feel totally into the action, also, despite the heavy use of CG there’s a kind of realism to it. Everything feels like it has some heft, it doesn’t look light or false, there’s a real texture and weight to everything. The fights are done really well, with Spidey’s twirling, flipping and swinging making them visually engaging and dynamic. They capture the same high-octane, sprawling scope of comic book fights.

The rest of the cast are pretty good too. As Gwen, Emma Stone is a delight. I can’t remember much of the character in the comics or cartoon, but she never really made an impact on me, but here Gwen is better defined. She’s shown to be intelligent, brave and compassionate. You totally understand why Peter is smitten with her and also why she’s attracted to him. Apparently Stone and Garfield are dating in real life, which explains the fantastic chemistry they have on screen. They bounce off one another very well and their flirting is done in a really light, realistic way.

Stone and Garfield- fantastic chemistry

One of the decisions I really liked in the film was having Gwen find out early on that Peter is Spidey, which is done in this really brilliant scene between the two of them and has real sweetness. I think this’ll mean they can avoid any of the comedic hiding identity stuff in the sequels which is kind of old hat now. It also sets up a really touching scene where Gwen talks about how she’s grown up worrying about her dad’s safety in his job and now has to worry about Peter as well.

As Captain Stacy Denis Leary is on fine form, he manages to convey this real no-nonsense toughness, while also hinting at being a decent bloke. He’s also exactly right for the part as he looks pretty tough and the kind of girl’s dad who’d make a teenage boy uncomfortable.

In the villain role Rhys Ifans does fairly well although for the second half of the film he is in full lizard mode. He manages to show that Connors is essentially an alright guy, but manages to show the darker side once Connors flips out. In his scenes with Peter there’s a genuine warmth to the boy and it hints that its because of Connors’ affection for Peter’s dad. It teeters close to hamminess at times, but he is playing a man-lizard who’s gone crazy, so its to be expected.

The lizard’s an odd choice for a major villain, and they beef up the character by having Connors still being in control and also giving him a definite plan, which is kind of anchored in Connors’ desire to build a better world. It kind of works having this be Peter’s first foe as its a real physical threat while not being overly evil, meaning Peter will emerge from this still enjoying being Spider-man with the darker opponents still to come.

There are other nice touches- I like how Flash Thompson isn’t portrayed as a complete douchebag, and actually has a few decent moments, as well as being a Spider-man fan himself.

Martin Sheen oozes respectability and decency as Uncle Ben, and Sally Field is as charming as ever as Aunt May, and its nice to see them step away from having May being some frail old dear, Field seems full of life and sass and I’m hoping she gets more to do in the follow ups.

There will be follow ups, and I’m eagerly awaiting them, because this one knocks it out of the park. Yes there are questions unanswered and being an origin story it treads familiar ground, but it does so with some nice new touches and a real deftness of touch. It handles the switches in tone really well, has a brilliant leading performance and is an improvement on the Raimi movie. Reboot successful.

Oh, and the Stan Lee cameo? Its totally class.

Verdict: A great superhero flick that really gets you invested in the characters and plot. Garfield seems born to play Peter Parker and they get the tone right, with Spidey retaining the enthusiasm and joy that make him such a likable character. The supporting cast do a good job and it leaves you wanting more. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO


Superhero Commuting

Next time you’re stuck in traffic on a bus, or even in your own car, here’s a tip for how to pass the time.

Think about how you’d make the journey if you were a superhero.

I regularly do this, space out and imagine how much easier my life would be if I’d been born a mutant or exposed to cosmic rays.

The trick is you have to think about the ones that take a little bit of effort, so flying is pretty much out, its just too easy. You want one that’d be cool, quicker and gives you something to plan about. Here are the top 5 superhero traveling methods I’d use to get about if I could:

5. Rooftop Gymnastics

As used by: Several heroes, most notably Batman and Daredevil.

Running across rooftops, leaping between buildings, swinging across the streets and using your surroundings to get about. Ideal for the mean streets of Gotham or Hell’s Kitchen, but Swansea’s short on the tall buildings and the streets are quite wide so this probably wouldn’t work.

4. Leaping

As used by: The Hulk

Big, bounding leaps to get where you need to go, with the advantage of squishing things on your way.

3. Spot

As used by: Second string Spidey villain The Spot

The spot can make wormholes and pass through them. This is quite fun and means you can give his fights with Spidey oddly surrealistic moments.

Why are you hitting yourself? gets a new twist

It’d also be a cool way to cross town, popping up here and there, to grab something and then moving on.

2. BAMF-ing

As used by: Nightcrawler

Similar to the Spot’s way of getting about, but cooler as you get to leave massive clouds of smoke everywhere.

Not included here, but the sound effect when he teleports is "Bamf!"

Also, you get to bounce around everywhere and works as a bus distraction as you can think about where you’d jump to next.

1. Web-slinging and Wall-crawling

As used by: Spiderman

Webslinging

Similar to the rooftop gymnastics, but cooler because you can also stick to walls. You could hitch rides on vehicles as well as swinging, jumping and somersaulting your way across town.

Wall crawling

Hmm, I really need to learn to drive. Or get some new headphones.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. LLAP