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: Wonder Woman

So far the DC extended universe (DCEU) has been playing catch up with Marvel who have built up their shared universe since 2008’s Iron Man. It’s easy to see why DC want to get in on the same kind of thing but unfortunately it’s all felt rather rushed. The first film worked on it’s own, but Man of Steel still had some flaws and the follow up, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was hit and miss, and saw Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman thrown in the mix in a way which seemed a bit rushed. The less said about  Suicide Squad the better. 

So, having already met Wonder Woman what we have here is a flashback, an origin movie which takes us back to the First World War. Not that the war has had any impact on Themyscria, the idyllic, hidden island of the Amazons. Here, Princess Diana learns of the Amazons’ purpose, to guide mankind to peace and oppose the corrupting force of Ares, the God of War.

Diana wants to learn to fight, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) opposes this, as Ares is seemingly defeated and she has fears that Diana’s training and increasing strength will draw the attention of the war god if he is still out there. But Diana’s aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) is more cautious and secretly trains her niece, who becomes a skilled fighter but appears to have odd powers and enhanced strength.

After years of isolation the first man visits the island as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands in the sea off the island attempting to flee with stolen plans of a new deadly German weapon. Diana rescues him but the Germans arrive and there is a short battle which leaves all the Germans and a few of the Amazons dead. Steve is taken prisoner and bound with the lasso of truth reveals his misssion, Diana believing that the villainous General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is Ares in an attempt to continue the war.

In defiance of her mother’s wishes, Diana steals the godkiller sword and she leaves with Steve to the world of man. There they deliver the plans and are forbidden to attack Ludendorff as it may damage the delicate armistice talks. 

Diana is outraged when Steve agrees not to get involved, accusing him of lying to her, but he reveals he plans a secret mission, gathering old allies and receiving assistance from Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a politician attempting to sort out a peace but determined not to lose more lives or allow Ludendorff to find a weapon to extend the war.

Can Diana stop Ludendorff? Is he actually Ares? What will she think of man’s world and is she ready for the horrors of the front?

This movie’s major strength is Gadot, who not only looks the part as a strong warrior woman but who also captures the character’s journey very well. She excels in the action sequences and shows Diana’s steely determination throughout, while also doing well with the script’s more humourous aspects. She also shows Diana’s confusion and wonder at the things she encounters and the “fish out of water” vibe works well.

As Diana progresses she becomes disillusioned with mankind and the war, and the film is clever in avoiding merely blaming Ares for mankind’s conflict. When Ares faces Diana he talks about how the darkness was inside man and he just guides them to better weapons, hoping to destroy them and have the world return to the paradise it once was. 

The war is hell aspect of the film is decent and a good angle, but the handling is poor. The horrors of war are shown in an oddly bloodless way, and while there are hints that both sides do wrong this does paint the Germans as the bad guys in a way which simplifies the complex reasons for WWI and the fact that neither side really held a moral highground.

Also, it’s hard to say that war is bad when the film delights in the Amazons’ fighting. The battle on the beach between Amazons and Germans is filled with slow motion, which is overused throughout. The Amazons’ skills are presented as cool and admirable, but it’s still basically war. And it feels odd that we get a sombre moment of a dying Amazon as though this is some great tragedy, when they have literally just killed half a dozen soldiers with arrows. It feels fumbled and half done.

That being said, the action sequences are, slow mo aside, quite well done, especially a sequence where Diana charges across no man’s land under heavy fire to save civilians. It’s a solid sequence and visually striking.

But in a way the problem here is that Diana is too strong, too powerful. There are only one and a half characters who can really go toe-to-toe with her and aside from these fights the rest of the battles feel one sided and lacking peril. It’s a similar issue that DC face with Superman, their heroes being too pumped up and often without decent foes.

But for the most part the movie works, landing more hits than misses and entertaining throughout. It’s definitely the funniest of the DCEU movies and a good background for the charcter, even if it doesn’t move anything forward. In fact it adds more questions, like what the hell has Diana been doing between 1918 and throwing down in BvS: DoJ?

Special mention should also go to Chris Pine who does good work here. He shares good chemistry with Gadot, and his Steve Trevor is a likeable character. Heroic without being too clean cut, Steve is a good counterpoint to Diana. Both see the horrors but Diana’s fresh eyes make her willing to deviate from their mission in a way his more jaded view is less inclined to do. And he acknowledges that people can be bad, whereas it takes a while for Diana to dismiss the idea that it is all down to Ares.

I’m definitely interested in seeing more of the character and it bodes well for the DCEU going forward as this is definitely the strongest entry since Man of Steel and left me excited for Justice League.

Verdict: Has it’s flaws but generally works quite well. Gadot is good as the lead and the script manages a decent balance in tone. Stumbles in places but manages to stride out with pride. 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Disclaimer: I have tried but there are a few spoilers ahead, so be warned.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a surprising gem of a movie, with James Gunn bringing a smaller, more obscure Marvel team to the big screen and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos. It’s among my favourites of the Marvel movies and so this follow up arrives with additional pressure the first didn’t.

Luckily it never allows this pressure to effect it’s performance and while a couple of gags are revisited, this strikes out into fresh territory.

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Having saved the universe Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovered his father was not of Earth. This mystery continues to bug him, but he pushes it awau as he leads the Guardians. We find them defeating a gigantic space beast to the backing of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, the action largely in the background as Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the child reincarnation of the team’s living tree, dances about happily.

The team has been hired to stop the monster by the Sovereign, led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). The Sovereign, a gold skinned race have bred their people to be the best they can be, and so view their citizens as too precious to risk. Their fee is the handover of Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) villainous adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who they plan to hand over to the Nova Corps.

All goes well and they leave. Aboard the ship Peter apologises to Gamora for having flirted with Ayesha, but she brushes this off. Drax (Dave Bautista) advises Peter that he has no chance with Gamora and should instead find someone “pathetic” like he is. Shortly after the Sovereign chase them as on their way out the gruff, gun toting raccoon Rocket  (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole valuable and powerful batteries from them.

Rocket and Peter argue about who is the better pilot and their struggle for control damages the ship. Luckily, the remote controlled pursuers are destroyed by a mysterious figure who arrives astride his own ship. The Guardians escape but crash land, their ship severely damaged.

Ayesha’s next move is to recruit Yondu (Michael Rooker), the alien who abducted Peter as a child to capture the Guardians. We learn that some of the crew think Yondu is going soft and that his team of Ravagers are outsiders to the other clans, with his old friend Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who says he is an exile because he broke the code, and traded in children.

The Guardians meet Ego (Kurt Russell), who is Peter’s father and a Celestial, beings with great power who live for millions of years. Ego takes Peter, Gamora and the musclebound Drax to teach Peter more of his past.

Rocket and Baby Groot remain to fix the ship and keep an eye on Nebula. Unfortunately, the Ravagers arrive. Yondu announces he has no intention of handing over the Guardians, as there is more money to be made from taking the batteries and selling them on. The crew view this as proof he is too soft on Peter, and they mutiny. Nebula, released by Baby Groot, intervenes and Yondu and Rocket are imprisoned.

Nebula heads after Gamora for revenge, and Yondu and Rocket learn they will be sold to former enemies. Yondu is also not happy to learn that Peter has gone to Ego’s home world.

Ego’s planet is an idyll where he lives almost alone aside from Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who he treats almost as a pet and who has no social skills due to being alone for so long. Ego reveals he is the planet and that Peter shares his ability to create things, and Ego wants to teach him about his powers and his purpose.

Gamora, however, is suspicious which causes friction between her and Peter. After an argument she storms off alone where Nebula attacks, they fight and then discover something Ego has hidden from them.

Can they trust Ego? Can Yondu and Rocket escape? Will the Sovereign ever stop hunting them?

I loved this movie, which captures the same vibe of the original, with solid action sequences, likeable characters and a funny, clever script. The plot hooks you in because early on the characters win you over, particularly Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, who’s cocky swagger is still in place but mention of his father in an early scene obviously hits close to home. It’s a great performance with Pratt managing to make the character cool despite his buffoonery and the fact that he often trips himself up.

The rest of the Guardians are solid throughout, and it’s a nice touch bringing Nebula back as her relationship with Gamora is fleshed out slightly. Also, the “unspoken thing” between Star-Lord and Gamora develops nicely, and a lot is gained by underplaying it.

A lot of the publicity for the movie has focused on Baby Groot, and it’s easy to see why as he is straight up adorable and centre stage for some of the funniest moments of the film.

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For me, however, the film’s strongest asset is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker is consistently dependable on screen (Cliffhanger, Mallrats, The Replacement Killers, The Walking Dead, Tombstone), and has far more to do this time round, which is good as he impressed me in the original. Here we learn more of Yondu’s past and it adds to the character, as does the development of his relationship with Star-Lord and Ego. The plot that sees him in exile from the other Ravagers gives him a certain vulnerability, and he’s brought low early on.

His comeback is impressive and one of the strongest parts of the film, and the sequence where he and Rocket escape, and he gets revenge on the crew who mutinied is a masterpiece, one of the most visually impressive, inventive and darkly funny action sequences I’ve seen in years, and worth the ticket price alone. And his “magic arrow” weapon is just badass.

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Rooker’s softening of the character doesn’t mean that Yondu loses anything, and in fact, the character’s slow acceptance of his softer side coincides with the film’s major theme, which is about creating our own families. Yondu and Star-Lord’s father and son vibe, is well handled and Yondu is thereby placed opposite Ego, who slowly reveals a more sinister, cynical nature.

Ego is brilliantly played by the legendary Kurt Russell, who brings an easy charm to his early scenes. His laidback, jokey manner is similar to Star-Lord’s character and their bonding over the music Peter’s late mother loved is gentle and sweet.

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Kurt Russell, legend

Of course, all is not as it seems. Having won over Peter, his facade slips and the invented history he has created is shown to have been romanticised, but the film holds back one more revelation which delivers a gut punch to Peter and the audience, and serves as the turning point for the film.

The action, set on strange new worlds is glorious, the fights have energy and verve, with moments of humour dotted between the blows. The visuals are striking, and there are some nice nods to other Marvel worlds throughout.

But more than just looking great and keeping the laughs flowing, this movie has a strong emotional core. Ego’s shocking statement leaves the audience reeling, but come the end of the movie the other characters and how they work together has you emotionally invested, and breaks your heart. I’m not ashamed to say that during a sequence soundtracked by Cat Stevens I found myself welling up.

Thanos, the villain Marvel have been hyping since the first Avengers movie still lurks in the background, but this serves less as a movie to move the MCU forward, and more a film to move the characters forward. The films pulls the team closer together and the promise at the end that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return” is one I’m very happy about.

A strong contender for the best Marvel film yet, and current frontrunner for film of the year.

Verdict: Builds well on the first movie, adding more to the characters and their relationships. It’s entertaining from start to finish, with superb action, humour and a decent plot. An utter gem. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Logan

The cinematic X-Men universe has been a mixed bag, with some of the movies doing quite well (see Deadpool and Days of Future Past), while others were plain awful (X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand). The movies have struggled to get the tone right and have also created a convoluted and contradictory timeline, it’s time for a reboot and where better to end it than with the driving force and most consistent part of the series- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

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Since the first X-movie only Jackman has popped the claws as the Canadian mutant and while he’s often been in lacklustre movies he’s managed to do the character justice. Now, he is finally given the kind of swansong the character, and his efforts, deserve.

Set in 2029 we find Logan in dark times, working as a chauffeur and living out in the Mexican desert looking after Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has destructive seizures and seems to be in the early stages of dementia as he enters his nineties. Logan and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who burns easily in sunlight, keep Xavier drugged to dampen his powers. Logan’s healing powers have slowed, meaning he limps and carries severals scars. He hopes to save money to buy a boat and sail away with Charles so that his seizures can’t hurt anyone.

The other X-Men are revealed to be dead and mutant kind has died out, with no new mutants having been born in decades. While on a job Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who asks for his help as she is being chased by shady figures. Logan refuses to engage with her and leaves. One of these, the cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for the Transigen corporation. Logan denies all knowledge and Pierce tells him to call him if he hears anything.

Logan is called to another job but it turns out to be Gabriella who has arranged it, she offers him $50,000 to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota and a safe place known as Eden. The money will be enough for the boat and Logan reluctantly agrees, however when he returns he finds Gabriella murdered. Returning to Mexico he discovers that Laura has stowed away in the boot of his limo and Pierce arrives shortly after. Xavier claims to communicate with her and says they must keep her safe.

Logan is subdued by Pierce’s men, but Laura then reveals that she too has adamantium claws, similar to him and kills many of the men. Logan, Laura and Charles escape and head for North Dakota with Pierce in pursuit, using Caliban and his mutant tracking powers to continue the hunt.

A message left by Gabriella reveals that Transigen bred new mutants, using DNA they had on file in order to develop super soldiers, of which Laura is one of the X-23 programme. However, upon discovering that Transigen had decided to abandon the project due to the fact the kids were hard to control she and several other nurses helped the kids escape before they were “put down”.

Will the jaded Logan be able to form a bond with Laura? Can they make it to North Dakota, and if they do will the promised safety exist or merely be revealed as a dream? And what have Transigen created to replace Laura and her peers, and will Logan be able to defeat this new threat in his weakened state?

I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, which felt like a solid conclusion to the series and a good place to leave this version of Logan. However, I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone and the downbeat, bleak future wasn’t appreciated by MWF and the friend we saw it with. For me, it worked and I liked the way it slowly revealed the fate of the other mutants and the reasons for their extinction.

Rated 15 here in the UK this is by far the darkest and most brutal film in the series, and the first time that Wolverine’s berserker side has really been shown. Previous fights have always been rather bloodless and tame, but this kicks off with a brawl where Logan takes on a gang of criminals in a fast, vicious encounter. It’s good that after suggestions of his dark side we finally get to see it on show here. Otherwise it’s all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as is the case in Doctor Who where they repeatedly tease that he was a badass during the Time War only to never deliver on this.

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Logan in action

It is hard work in places and Logan is a lot more bitter and jaded than his last outing which makes sense, we left him during the cheerful altered present of Days of Future Past, surrounded by friends at the Xavier School, so it stands to reason that years down the line, with his friends gone he would have reverted to his angry, cynical ways. There’s a suggestion that the X-Men didn’t go out in glory and there’s definite tension between Logan and Xavier, and when it’s finally revealed what happened it’s a gut punch of a twist.

The whole road trip is a tough journey, with tragedy and violence dogging the trio across the US, and the stakes feel higher than in any previous movie.

It’s here I have to give a lot of praise to Patrick Stewart, who does a sensational job as the ageing, shattered Xavier. His performance is genuinely moving, almost heart breaking as he captures the sense of a man long dependent on his mind who is now losing it slowly. His crankiness and vitriol is a world away from the dignified, compassionate leader of the past, but there are glimpses of this throughout, especially when Laura arrives and he sees the opportunity to aid her and do the right thing. It’s quite nice to see that the relationship between the two has changed and shifted, and that there’s some closure between then.

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Charles Xavier, a broken man

But this is Jackman’s movie and he excels again as Logan, capturing all the different aspects of the character- the brooding loner, the reluctant hero, the savage and even the man trying to do better. Coughing, limping and stiff it’s a shock to see the most robust of the X-Men in such a state, and yet it works.

The rest of the cast do their jobs extremely well, with props going to newcomer Keen who captures the almost feral detachment of Laura and who slowly gets the audience to feel for her while avoiding any child actor cliches or excesses. Her relationship with Logan develops slowly and at times unsentimentally, and it’s interesting to watch as she slowly tries to form a bond with someone for the first time while he tries to pull away due to the fact that he’s lost so many people.

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Laura and Logan, both put through the wringer

The villains are well done, especially Richard E. Grant as a slimy, manipulative scientist behind the experiments.

The bleak future world is wonderfully executed, with machines replacing human workers, a gigantic wall at the Mexican-US border and a sense that corporations are running the show now. The reason for the absence of mutants is revealed in quite a clever way, and the quest to safety is tense as throughout it’s never certain what awaits the group when I get there.

The final sequence, a mad dash for safety and Logan unleashing his berserker side against Pierce’s men and the latest Transigen experiment X-24 is bruising, vicious and intense. The ending is emotionally raw and well played, and a fitting finale for the series.

As a series the X-movies have often stumbled, but it’s good to see that they stride out on a high, a well executed and solid movie. It’s the most grown up of the series, and not just because of the blood and swearing, it feels like the story of a grown man still struggling with who he is and what his purpose in the world is. Jackman shows again why he was brilliantly cast as Wolverine and leaves big shoes to fill in the inevitable reboot.

Although it is a shame we won’t get to see Jackman’s Wolverine team up/fight Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool.

Verdict: Dark, brooding and bleak this is the most grown up and emotional of the franchise. Jackman and Stewart excel playing aging, failing versions of their characters dealing with loss and change. The plot is solid and moves along well with a few nice twists along the way. Finally a film that delivers after a series which often botched its potential. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Suicide Squad

Arriving on a wave of hyperactive marketing and talk of reshoots and extensive cuts comes the third film in DC’s Expanded Universe (DCEU) after Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but this time the focus is on the villains. It’s basically a Dirty Dozen for the world of DC with a disparate group of criminals brought together by Viola Davis’ shady government agent Amanda Waller.

Many are inmates of a black site prison in Louisiana including the incredibly accurate hit man Deadshot aka Floyd Lawton (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a psychiatrist turned psycho, lover and associate of the Joker (Jared Leto), both having been brought down by Batman (Ben Affleck).

Joining them is the beast like Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), pyrokinetic gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) known unimpressively as “the man who can climb anything”. Rounding off the team are Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who is seen being apprehended by the Flash (Ezra Miller).

The team is under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) a decorated soldier who has fallen for June Moone (Cara Delevigne) an archaeologist who has been possessed by the malevolent Enchantress, who is kept in line as Waller owns her heart, her only vulnerability. To keep them every member has an explosive chip in their neck and Flag is backed up by samurai sword wielding vigilante Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and some anonymous Navy SEALs.

The Enchantress betrays Waller and unleashes her brother, a towering powerhouse with whom she lays waste to Midway City. The Squad are airlifted into the city in order to retrieve a VIP, but their individual weaknesses and inability to function threaten their effectiveness. Can Flag get the job done with his ragtag team? Can he trust them? Can they trust him and Waller?

I enjoyed this movie but it has plenty of flaws and is definitely a case of style over substance. The major weakness that having a team thrown together so quickly many are underdeveloped and here Katana, Killer Croc, Slipknot and Captain Boomerang are all slightly underwritten. My feeling was that several scenes must have hit the cutting room floor as the team go from disparate strangers to what El Diablo calls “a family” rather too quickly.

But there are moments that work. Kinnaman and Smith do a good job of capturing their characters differing views and distrust, with a slowly developing respect as the film progresses. They are both good actors and Kinnaman does enough to suggest that Flag isn’t the clean cut All-American hero he’d introduced as. He nails the character’s toughness while letting the cracks of vulnerability show.

Deadshot (Smith) and Flag (Kinnaman)

Will Smith is always reliable and likeable but his Deadshot feels like a missed opportunity, with too much heroism thrown in the mix which throws off his anti-hero status. As the biggest star Smith is the centre for the team in many ways and while he is a good anchor it unsettles the balance and he never fully convinces as the cold killer he thinks he is. There are a couple of moments where he is quite badass but it doesn’t quite come off for me. Also he takes the mask off far too early and far too long.
The only character who gets the same kind of background and focus is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The manic energy is oddly charming and quite fun, but the character is emblematic of the film’s inconsistent tone. There is a brief glimmer of vulnerability and moments where the cheery mask drops, but then the film reverts back to having her quipping and messing about. I have to admit my view was harder than MWF’s who found Robbie’s performance the major strength of the film and the best member of the team.

Before becoming Harley (Robbie) she was the Joker’s (Leto) psychiatrist

The worst part of the treatment of Harley is that the film botches the relationship between her and the Joker. In the cartoon and comics the Joker is extremely manipulative and cruel to Harley, the emotional clearly abusive and sadistic but the film bottles it softening these aspects and making the Joker seem to care for her in a way that undermines his psychopathic nature.
Leto’s Joker has limited screentime and it may be too early to judge but for me it doesn’t quite work, it feels like it’s trying too hard to be edgy and the actual jokes are thin on the ground. He might impress more in later Batman movies but here he disappointed me.

Of the rest of the Squad the only one with any development is El Diablo, who is introduced as a seemingly reformed character who no longer uses his powers. His tragic back story is a bit obvious, but Hernandez does a good job in making him human and at least he gets some kind of storyline, which is more than many of his teammates.

El Diablo (Hernandez) in his cell

On the whole the movie has more misses than hits, with inconsistencies in tone, underwritten characters and an annoying habit of quick pop music blasts over scenes. But the action sequences are fast and furious and the script delivers a few laughs along the way.
The plot is predictable in places, and as with BvS I got the feeling that DC are rushing the DCEU and a few of these characters could have done with being introduced elsewhere first before being thrown into the mix here. 

One of the aspects I liked most was Viola Davis as Waller. She gives a commanding performance as the hardened, calculating character with whom you don’t want to mess with and her moral ambiguity means her motives are never fully clear and it will be interesting how she works with the forthcoming Justice League, teased in a solid credits sting where she sits down with Affleck’s Bruce Wayne.

She makes a ruthless and cold antagonist for the anti-heroes, and Davis carries it off with a ruthless badassness which makes her utterly convincing as a no-nonsense woman used to getting her way no matter who opposes her.

The ruthless and badass Waller (Davis)

On the whole it’s a fun enough action movie, but there’s very little beneath the surface and it struggles from having to introduce so many characters so quickly but if there’s a Suicide Squad 2 I’ll probably go see it as there they can just get right to the action. And I so look forward to seeing more about the Joker’s history with Batman, even if Leto’s clown prince of crime is my least favourite incarnation of the character.
Verdict: Riddled with flaws and underwritten in places the film looks good but lacks depth. Davis, Smith, Robbie, Hernandez and Kinnaman do their best but many if the actors have little to sink their teeth into. A decent introduction but you hope further adventures are stronger. The DCEU seems to lack the patience of Marvel’s universe building process. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

The X-Men series has always been a mixed bag, with the movies getting some things right (the casting of two generations of Xavier and Magneto, the Deadpool movie, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine) and some things rather wrong (pretty much everything in X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, Emma Frost). This continues to be the case here, with the movie succeeding but in a frustrating manner.

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Picking up a few years after Days of Future Past in the early 80s, it finds a world where human and mutant relations are still tense but improving. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to run with his school, isolated from the world and helping his students master their powers.

Former friend turned enemy Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is in hiding in Poland, where he lives a quiet life with his wife and daughter. But when he uses his powers to save a co-worker’s life he is exposed and tragedy follows.

The tragedy makes him vulnerable to the influence of a new threat. Having lain dormant since Ancient Egypt, the world’s first mutant En Subah Nur (Oscar Isaac), has returned. He plans to cleanse the weak from the Earth and rule, and to aid him he gathers four followers, mutants whose powers he enhances. This earns him the nickname Apocalypse.

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Apocalypse

He recruits Magneto along with a winged cage fighter Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) a violent psychic who can create weapons from psychic energy and a young thief with powers over the weather, Storm (Alexandra Shipp).

Apocalypse’s return is felt around the world, including by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a powerful telepath at the school, who has nightmarish dreams of what he plans.

Fearing for Erik, shape changer Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to the school along with the teleporting Nightcrawler (Jodi Smit-McPhee) who she rescued from a mutant fighting ring. She wants Xavier’s help, and is reunited with Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult), her former lover with whom things remain tense.

Charles’ power draws the attention of Apocalypse who kidnaps him, and the mansion is destroyed in the process. The US military then captures Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver (Evan Peters).

Nightcrawler joins Jean and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and they attempt to rescue their friends and work out how they can stop Apocalypse, if they can. What are his plans for Xavier? Can the inexperienced heroes save the day? And is Charles’ faith in Erik’s goodness misplaced?

Quite complicated stuff, right? And that’s one of the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. The plot is quite involving and there are quite a few interesting subplots and character arcs, but because of this a few are a little undercooked, even with the movie clocking in at over two hours (it doesn’t feel that long to be fair), it’s hard for all the aspects to get a fair crack.

This means that while some parts work perfectly, others are frustratingly underdeveloped and some just flat out fail. I’ll focus on what works first.

The casting is solid across the board and the returning players like Lawrence, Hoult, Peters, McAvoy and Fassbender all know what they’re doing and have a good feel for their roles, with Lawrence in particular impressing as a conflicted, lost Mystique who struggles with being regarded as a mutant hero.

It’s a strong performance, with Lawrence managing to capture the character’s fears and inner turmoil well without lurching into moping and she also shows the character developing into a badass leader, her own experiences helping her rally the younger mutants she finds herself in charge of.

The character of Quicksilver is vastly different from his comic book counterpart, but works well with Evan Peters making him a likeable slacker who gets one of the film’s best action sequences and who exudes an easy charm.

Hoult is good in the role of Hank McCoy, even though as a fan of the comics I hate that they’ve made the Beast a bit of a wet blanket and moper. If they reboot the series, could we please have the chatty, happy beast from the comics?

Several of the newcomers do well, particularly Tye Sheridan who gets to play a relaxed, impulsive Cyclops although the movie shows him starting on the road to being the serious leader he becomes. He shares decent chemistry with Sophie Turner, who is very good as the confident Jean Grey.

While his performance as Magneto is great, capturing the rage and power of the character, Michael Fassbender is let down by the storyline he gets. While his anger and decision to join Apocalypse is understandable, it doesn’t feel completely convincing especially as the plan unfolds. Apocalypse’s plan is so awful it’s hard to imagine that Magneto would sign up so easily.

Similarly dealt a poor hand is the character of Storm who has been criminally misused in all the X-films. While Alexandra Shipp looks the part more and carries herself with more badass flair than Halle Berry ever managed her storyline is woefully executed. A neat trick is used to have Apocalypse use their language barrier to trick her as to her intentions, but it takes her far too long to realise that he’s a wrong ‘un. And her decision to come good is late in coming and inspired by one minor act rather than the mass destruction that proceeds it.

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Shipp looks the part at least

The character is horribly underwriiten, and while an improvement, it’s annoying to see a strong, leading lady of the team relegated to the sidelines once more.

Storm becoming a good guy isn’t a spoiler is it?

Now the villain, Apocalypse has serious powers and his “strong survive” attitude is a good motivation but he feels like a watered down version of the books character and the look doesn’t quite work for me. His posturing and view of himself as a godlike figure makes him a good villain, as does his callous streak. But it felt like something was missing, particularly how quickly he wins over his horsemen.

All in all it’s a frustrating watch, with some massively entertaining sequences and a crowd pleasing cameo (which only confuses the timeline more) and some good performances, but the missteps jar you out of it and the timeline of the films is now so muddled none really work, although they seem to have decided to pretty much erase X-Men: Origins: Wolverine from the continuity, which is a good thing.

The formation of a new team is bound to make fanboys happy and it just about works, but after the excellent Days of Future Past this is a step backwards. Entertaining, but it feels rushed and underdeveloped. It might actually have been worth making this a two partner, to fully explore the characters and maybe have the changes have more weight and reason behind them.

It keeps you hooked, and there are great fights, a few laughs and some nice moments, but those problems gnaw at you and stop you fully going with it.

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Verdict: Hit and miss heroics. Some nice touches and solid performances carry it through, but there are quite a few flaws and the characters are underdeveloped. On the whole it just about wins out. 7/10.

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.


Film Review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

I finally got around to seeing this with MWF today and I’m kinda glad I did, having allowed the fanboy hype and critical mauling fade into the background. So, does the big screen meeting of the World’s Finest work or not?

The answer is partially.

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The plot works decently, even if it does feel like a whole lot is going on. It uses the destruction of the Zod vs Superman (Henry Cavill) smackdown of Man of Steel as a jumping off point for much of the drama, this is good as the smashing of Metropolis was distinctly unlike Superman, so it’s good it had some kind of point.

Debate rages over what Superman should and shouldn’t do and whether he is helping or a threat. He rescues Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from African rebels, but the hired guards kill many and he takes the fall for this and the reprisals, leading the US government to question how he acts.

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Superman's motives and actions are questioned

While some embrace him as a saviour others are skeptical especially Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who talks to the government about using Kryptonite as a “silver bullet” in case they need to put the Man of Steel down.

Meanwhile, in Gotham Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed the destruction and saw many if his employees die, returns to his life as Batman after a break and starts his war on crime. He is highly suspicious of Superman, and plagued by a nightmarish dream of a desolate world where Superman reigns.

For his part, Clark is not keen on the violent justice the Bat is dishing out. He wants to write about it in the Planet, but Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) kills the story.

Wayne’s investigations lead him to Luthor, who is shipping in Kryptonite which Batman wants. Also looking into Luthor is a mysterious woman, who wants a file that Lex has on her. She is unable to crack it and gives it to Bruce, who finds out she is Wonder Woman, another superhuman who fought in WWI.

It turns out Luthor has used his government connections to access Zod’s body and ship and is breeding something there, and is also aware of Batman’s identity and orchestrates a showdown. Who will triumph or will they be able to realise what’s going on and unite?

First the good. The questioning of Superman’s role on earth is handled well with fake news broadcasts and rival factions. Given the sheer havoc that rained down in the last movie it makes sense that not everyone is too keen on the Last Son of Krypton, and the way Luthor conspires to smear him is well done and paints Luthor as a genuine threat.

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Good start, poor ending: Eisenberg as Luthor

The problem is that this ball is dropped as despite Eisenberg’s early success as the slick, egotistical billionaire he lapses into raving look territory halfway through, which is a shame as it would be nice to have a Luthor who manages to be evil while remaining clean on the surface.

Eisenberg’s casting drew some heat, and it’s a flawed portrayal that justifies some of the doubts. Doubts about Ben Affleck’s ability to be the Bat are blown away thanks to a fantastic performance which portrays a darker, more morally ambiguous Batman than we’ve seen before. It owes a debt to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in particular but this is a Batman who doesn’t shy from killing and is coldly ruthless.

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Star of the show: Affleck as Batman

There’s a sense if an older, jaded man behind the cowl and a scene where Batman and Alfred (played with a long suffering, dry charm by Jeremy Irons) talk about how all the good guys are gone, and many didn’t stay good. It teases more to come and a murky past, some of which we’ll probably see in Suicide Squad, and Affleck carries it well.

His fear is understandable and his rage utterly human, and he’s a total badass in the role, both as the Bat and Wayne. Those who criticised him will be feeling rather embarrassed now as he owns the film.

That’s not to do Cavill a disservice, he continues to impress as Superman but the character isn’t developed much and others steal the focus. That being said he captures a human side to the Man of Steel and works well with Adams again. The contrast between the two heroes is good and Cavill succeeds with what he’s given.

The third hero involved, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is given a great introduction as she’s shown to be smart, resourceful and strong and her bantering with Affleck is well handled. MWF liked that she was shown in a costume that looked badass without being too slutty. I always worried that Wonder Woman, like Thor, wouldn’t translate to the big screen but Gadot is solid and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in action.

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I like that they introduced her but there are a couple of things that make you aware that this movie made in the shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly The Avengers, and clearly DC and Warner Bros. Want their own franchise, but it feels that this is a bit of a rush to get there. Marvel built up over a few movies, this is the second for DC.

Cameos from other Justice League members are fan pleasers, but this feels in places like a stepping stone to get to a bigger movie.

The other thing that’s rushed is Doomsday, a major villain in the comics, who rocks up here. While he’s a real threat here, he’s dispatched with relative ease and it’s a shame they couldn’t have done The Death of Superman as the second or third Justice League movie. It’s a major villain used against three of the team, which is a shame although there are hints of a bigger villain on the way.

Another misstep is the visions Batman has. They’re never explained, apart from a brief glimpse of the future Flash talking to him and it’s not clear if this is a dream or meant to be real. It’s messy and feels needless, why is he having them?

It feels in places like it would have been improved by being stripped back and with Luthor having a better ending.

So while it’s far from perfect it’s not an utter failure, it just feels like they’re trying to fit way too much into one movie and there are lots of gaps and questions left. But for the most part it works as a superhero epic and there are some good performances and it sets up further movies well.

Verdict: A little messy and with a few mistakes, this just about works and is helped by Ben Affleck’s sensational work as Batman and some good action sequences. The conflict is set up well and the conclusion satisfying, but in places it feels less like it’s own film, and more like a means to set up other movies. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The first Avengers movie was such a success that you suspect afterwards Joss Whedon and Marvel might have been a bit scared, having built up their cinematic universe they delivered a grand slam which united several of their key characters for a team up and it won great reviews and took a bunch of cash. The movie was pretty much a flawless blockbuster which managed to include crowd pleasing action sequences with some great dialogue and characterization.

They’d raised the bar so high that a sequel was always going to be even more challenging.

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The bad news is that Age of Ultron isn’t as good as Earth’s mightiest heroes’ first outing, it’s still a hugely entertaining superhero flick, in fact, leaving the cinema MWG asked me what I intended to score it today and agreed with me on it being worth a “solid eight”.

But the script doesn’t have the same zing and some of the plot is a little convoluted. But these flaws aside it still manages to deliver action, laughs and jaw dropping spectacle while also succeeding in moving the Marvel cinematic universe onto it’s third stage.

The movie kicks off in some style with the Avengers in action against Hydra forces. It transpires that they’ve been chasing and dismantling Captain America’s (Chris Evans) old foes and are trying to reclaim the mind controlling sceptre previously wielded by Loki, brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the God of Thunder. During the mission the whole team represents, including a fantastic shot which seems like a comic book splash page come alive.

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During the attack two new superpowered enemies enter the fray, Hydra operatives referred to as “the Twins” Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). Pietro is gifted with extreme speed while Wanda has telekinetic powers and also the ability to mess with people’s minds, which she puts to good effect conjuring a nightmare scenario for Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) as he sees a world at the mercy of alien invasion and his teammates dead.

The Twins

The Twins

The Twins flee as the Avengers win the day, although Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is injured. We also see that Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) have formed a bond and it is her responsibility to calm him down after missions, returning him to Bruce Banner. Their bond is also shown to go beyond this and there’s a mutual attraction between the two.

Widow calms the Hulk

Widow calms the Hulk

Back at the Avengers HQ and in possesion of the sceptre, Stark talks to Banner about using its power and the Hydra tech to create an artificial intelligence that will govern Tony’s robotic legion and protect the world from future alien threats.

Before you can say “Terrible idea”, it’s all gone a bit wrong and the artificial intelligence Ultron (voiced by James Spade) has gone rogue, identifying the Avengers themselves as a threat and escaping online. Ultron begins building an army of robots, all of which are him in essence and teams up with the Twins, who have beef with Stark after his weapons killed their family, and they set about trying to eliminate the Avengers.

The first encounter in Africa goes wrong, with Thor, Black Widow and Captain America having their brain scrambled by Wanda. Ultron escapes with the rare metal he requires to “evolve” and Iron Man has to intervene against the Hulk, who has been sent into a rage by Wanda. They square off as Iron Man initiates his Hulkbuster suit and they smash about for a bit before the Hulk is subdued.

avengers ultron hulkbuster

On the run they have to work out what Ultron’s next move is and how they can hope to stop him. They also have to deal with the issues raised by the hallucinations Wanda gave them and also rebuild the trust which has been shattered by Stark’s secretive movements in creating Ultron.

Meanwhile, Ultron himself creates an android form, using the gem from the sceptre, which will grant him greater power, although Wanda begins to question his motives. When he tries to link with the android form she sees his true plan and the twins flee.

The Avengers head to South Korea get the android body, but Black Widow is taken prisoner. Returning to New York, Tony wants to implant Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany), his computer butler/assistant into the android to give them an extra weapon against Ultron, although Captain America opposes this and tensions flare.

Can the Avengers overcome their differences and stop Ultron? What is his plan? With the android in their possesion are they right to create another AI to attempt to stop Ultron, or is this a bad idea? What role will the twins play in the final showdown?

As you can tell the story jumps around the place quite a lot and there’s a fair amount going on. For the most part it’s easy to follow, but there are a few times when I had to take a beat to remind myself of what was going on and where. That being said, it is engaging once you remember where you are and the film has many strengths, most notably the cast.

Everyone seems more comfortable in their roles and it’s nice that the film takes the time to expand on certain things, and the relationship between Banner and Natasha is handled wonderfully and quite touching. Johansson does a great job of making the Black Widow believable and real, meaning that we understand why Banner appeals to her and their similarities, both haunted by their past and fearful of putting others in danger. Ruffalo is, as ever, extremely likable as the awkward, geeky Banner, haunted by having to unleash the beast within, even when it’s in a good cause and a scene where the human Banner threatens Wanda feels totally in keeping with the character. His rage at Wanda for causing his rampage reflecting his issues with the Hulk being used by others.

Best of all, for me, was the fact that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye has a lot more to do this time around. Aware of his limitations compared to his superpowered teammates, Hawkeye’s background is fleshed out and we see his driving force- professionalism. He’s there to do a job, and he’s dedicated to it, almost fearless when confronted with danger and, barring Black Widow, the most vulnerable, he nevertheless joins the charge. It’s nice that they’ve expanded on the character, although I still doubt we’re going to get a Hawkeye movie, or even a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie.

Hawkeye in action

Hawkeye in action

Evans, Hemsworth and RDJ are all on top form, particularly RDJ, who continues to make Stark the most engaging character. The superficial suave air from the first Iron Man movie has been stripped away, and we see more of the man inside the suit, scared and worried for the future, even if he does still hide behind the quips (needless to say, he gets many of the best lines in the movie).

As for the newcomers, they do pretty well. The twins are pretty cool in the power stakes, and it’s a credit to Olsen and AT-J that they convince as being close, loving siblings. ATJ, after boring me senseless in Godzilla, is back on fine form here, conveying both sides of Pietro’s personality- the angry, vengeance seeking young man and also the big kid who revels and enjoys his powers.

Olsen is wonderfully cold as Wanda, single minded in her quest for revenge and remorseless in messing with the minds of others, although she does show flashes of decency and even at the start she and her brother believe themselves to be the good guys against the imperialist Americans.

Doing a wonderful job at the mic for Ultron, James Spade is a delight. The product of Tony Stark he has much the same sarky manner as his creator, and an even less secure grip on his ego. One of the things the movie does is have clear similarities between the two, they deliver the same quotes and make the same jokes. It’s all rather well done and Ultron is quite a menacing presence, especially given his unpredictability and rages.

Ultron

Ultron

The one downside with Ultron as a villain is that he’s made an army of Ultrons, meaning that some of the fight scenes, particularly with Iron Man, are a bit confusing and it almost tips into Transformers territory of metal hitting metal with no idea what’s what. The other problem is that despite their numerical advantage we see far too many Ultrons go down easily- if Thor or the Hulk smashes one, we’re impressed, but if they can also be taken down by a single arrow or shield throw they’re not massively intimidating.

It would help if the Ultron Prime was even more impressive, stronger and evolved than his minions, but the difference isn’t great enough and so his threat isn’t quite as pronounced. Still, his plan is fabulously OTT and the fight scenes do succeed in capturing that comic book feel, where everything is going on at once. Rather than cutting from one throwdown to another Whedon uses camera moves and flying debris to weave between the battle, picking out individual moments in the melee.

All in all, Whedon succeeds in making a sensational blockbuster and superhero movie, and the MCU continues to grow and impress (the final Avengers line-up looks pretty boss, and it’s nice to see some of the smaller characters get screen time). It doesn’t match the first, but that was always unlikely, but it’s still a solid movie and puts more pressure on DC’s Justice League reveal.

Verdict: Not as solid as the first, but still hugely entertaining and fun. The film expands on it’s characters and as with previous Marvel flicks leaves you eager for more. Roll on phase three! 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Big Hero 6

It was a no-brainer that I’d go and see this movie in the cinema, as it’s the kind of movie that appeals to both me and MWG. MWG is a Disney obsessive, so the latest Disney flick would always be high on her cinema wish list, and we both like superhero stuff, so this one ticked a lot of boxes.

MWG got even more excited as she declared that the character of Baymax was her. This stemmed from his line “I am not fast” but the major similarity was the clip in the trailer of his stroking a cat and calling it “Hairy baby”. MWG is definitely a cat person and will stop to stroke any cat we pass, so she related to Baymax.

Of course, the difficulty of going into a film all excited and expectant is that you can set yourself up for disappointment, thankfully, however, Disney knocked this one out of the park.

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The movie is set in a futuristic city called San Fransokyo, which as you can guess feels like a mash up of Tokyo and San Franciscio. Our hero is Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), a 14 year old genius who’s squandering his potential by filling his time with bot fighting, where his homemade robots make short work of his opponents. His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney), wants more and after they both get in trouble over the bot fights takes Hiro to his university laboratory, which his younger brother dismisses as “the nerd lab”.

However, Hiro is impressed by Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) and the work of the other students at the lab. He also meets Baymax (Scott Adsit), the care giving robot Tadashi has designed. The robot is deliberately non-threatening and programmed to scan and treat any ailment, and Tadashi hopes it will help a lot of people.

Hiro decides to attend the university and in order to impress Callaghan and win a place he creates micro-bots, which alone can’t do much but can work together to achieve whatever their controller wishes. Hiro wins the fair, and turns down an offer from industrialist Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), whom Callaghan accuses of cutting corners.

All seems well, but after the science fair the building catches fire, and Tadashi rushes in to rescue Callaghan, only for the building to explode. Hiro plunges into despair and inadvertently activates Baymax, who asses him and finds signs of emotional distress. A lone micro-bot is also discovered and following it Hiro discovers that someone has mass produced the micro-bots. He and Baymax are attacked and chased by a masked figure who uses an army of micro-bots.

big hero 6 villain

Hiro decides to use Baymax’s strength and durability and designs armour for the robot, setting out to bring down the man in the mask, who he believes is responsible for the death of his brother. Baymax, now programmed to fight, is defeated and Tadashi’s friends from the nerd lab arrive, having been contacted by Baymax to help Hiro’s emotional state.

They flee to the home of slacker Fred (TJ Miller), who’s superhero obsession makes Hiro suggest they become heroes and stop the masked man. Cautious, obsessive Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr) equips himself with laser claws, while geeky chemist Honey Lemon (Genseis Rodriguez) uses a specially designed purse to create chemical formulas to be used as traps and weapons, while tough adrenaline junkie GoGo (Jamie Chung) becomes a speedster equipped with throwing discs.

Fred, meanwhile achieves his dream of being a fire breathing monster courtesy of his new costume.

Our heroes

Our heroes

Together they unite to take down the masked man. Can they succeed in their mission? Who is the man behind the mask? And is Hiro’s lust for revenge going to go too far?

I freaking loved this movie, which is just the right mix of action and comedy,`and continues the recent run of form at Disney. The storyline is strong, easy to follow and touches on issues like family, loss and doing the right thing, which is standard Disney fare.

It also works remarkably well because of the interaction between the characters, Hiro is wonderfully realized, on the edge of his teens and starting to deal with being somewhere between man and boy. His struggles with this feel realistic, as do his mood swings and the film does a decent job of accurately capturing what loss can do to someone, with Hiro becoming depressed following the death of his brother.

This is where Baymax comes in, serving as both a link to Tadashi for Hiro and also as a surrogate brother/father figure, caring for our young hero. Baymax also gets most of the movies laughs, and the design of the robot should be applauded for being extremely cute, and I imagine will be a big hit with the kids. With very little in the way of expressions, Baymax still manages to convey sensitivity and confusion when needed, and his slow moving interactions with the world are rather sweet and he’s an extremely charming creation (Sweet? Charming? Slow moving? MWG is like him after all!).

Baymax comforts Hiro

Baymax comforts Hiro

The rest of the characters all do rather well, and there’s a nice touch in linking Hiro’s storyline with the villains, which further serves to deliver the message that revenge is not healthy for anyone.

I laughed consistently throughout, especially at the wonderful work that TJ Miller does as the superhero, obsessed slacker Fred, who has a few “for the parents” gags and also sets up a fantastic end credits sequence featuring a wonderful Stan Lee cameo (Big Hero 6 being inspired by a Marvel comic series after all). Fred’s excitement and enthusiasm is extremely entertaining, and he was probably my favourite character.

big hero 6 fred

The plot works, and manages to keep the balance right, never becoming overly sentimental. Towards the end it’s genuinely moving and I can imagine there will be lots of upset children during one scene, heck MWG was crying and I admit I had a little something in my eye.

All in all a marvelous family film adventure, which manages to deliver laughs and thrills, along with some wonderful character work, my only slight reservation is the Japanese inspired world of the film. This isn’t in itself a problem, and the design of San Fransokyo is wonderful, it’s just weird that a character called Hiro Hamada living in this place should appear so western and American. It feels as though the filmmakers wanted to have a kind of manga/anime inflected feel but couldn’t go all out and have a Japanese protagonist, which feels like a cop out.

But this minor concern aside, it’s a belter of a movie.

Verdict: A fantastic family adventure movie with plenty of laughs, strong plot and some stunning visuals this is sure to keep kids entertained but is smart enough for adults too. Disney continue their streak of impressive movies with this. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.