Book Review: Ex-Isle by Peter Clines 

Clines’ hugely entertaining superheroes vs zombies series continues here. The superheroes of Los Angeles continue to protect their survivors and Zzap is checking in on survivors when he finds a collection of ships forming into a man made island in the Pacific.

St. George, Zzap and Corpse Girl head off to investigate and extend the hand of friendship, but discover a highly paranoid, insular group which is very different from the world they are trying to build.

Meanwhile, in the city Cerberus and several of the super soldiers oversee the new garden which will feed the survivors. But there is growing unease between the different factions and Cerberus must deal with her own fears.

This is a series that gets better as it goes on, and this is a cracking addition, which expands the world and introduces new players. It also benefits from dividing focus between two fronts with both being involving stories. Clines’ characterisation and dialogue is solid, with likeable heroes and hateable villains. One of the villain’s flashback is the darkest part of the series so far, and shows an ability to change tone which suits Clines’ style of switching between the past and present , and different characters’ perspectives.

What makes it the strongest installment is that there is plenty of good ideas and there are some nice twists along the way.

Verdict: A very entertaining yarn which grips throughout and shows that Clines continues to develop. The story unfolds at a good pace and there are enough twists to keep you guessing. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Siege of the Supers by Logan Rutherford

Having quite enjoyed the first book in Rutherford’s “first superhero” series I thought I’d check out the sequel. It picks up after Tempest, our young hero was left injured and stranded on the moon having fought the villainous Richter.

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Recovered by the government Tempest discovers he has been absent for quite some time and that in his absence several more supers have appeared, with many vanishing thanks to shady government types.

Can he return to his normal life or will being a super mean constantly fighting and looking over his shoulder? Meeting other supers allows him to start piecing together what’s happening but with a new enemy appearing on the scene how can he fight on two fronts?

This book moves along at quite a clip and it took me a day to read, and there are some nice touches, but it gets creaky in places and scenes in the future rob the story of some of it’s tension (we know which characters are going to survive).

Also the motivations for the villains feels poorly developed and our hero is occasionally annoying. It’s a decent enough read, but it feels like familiar territory and Rutherford fails to bring anything massively new to the table.

Verdict: A quick and entertaining read, but it doesn’t deliver many surprises and the interesting strands from the first aren’t developed fully. Good for a quick read, but doesn’t offer much beyond that. 5/10.

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.


Book Review: Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines

Peter Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series goes from strength to strength, with this, the fourth installment seeing him go in an interesting and clever new direction.

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George Bailey is a janitor at a university who leads a dull life. At night he is plagued by dreams of a different world, a world filled with the undead, where he fights as a flying hero. When a mysterious girl approaches him warning that something is wrong and things are not what they seem he attempts to brush it off, but soon he begins seeing visions of the dead, ruined world intruding on his life.

And there are people who seem oddly familiar to him appearing in real life.

Is George cracking up or is more going on? If this isn’t the real world how does he remember what’s true? How does he get back to his real life? And how was he expelled in the first place?

I really dug this book. As the premise is a big change in tone and his creation of the alternate reality is inspired, with clever little nods and hints of the real world bleeding through. These are drip fed throughout and there’s also a clever angle of them having blocks in place. They blank on the name “zombie” in the dream world, and George’s subconscious keeps trying to give him hints towards the truth.

Of course, we know he’s really a superhero, but Clines does a great job I’m capturing the unease as doubt of the character. It’s a bar more complicated look inside the head of George than in the earlier books and shows that Clines’ series is developing.

The revelation of what’s really happening is handled deftly and there’s some cracking action sequences. All in all this is a clever, fun and gripping read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Verdict: Full of invention and fun the series keeps getting better and this is hugely entertaining geeky gem. 9/10.

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.


Book Review: The Second Super by Logan Rutherford

I stumbled across this book by chance and it appealed to me because of the superhero theme. It starts with an interesting idea, what if the first person to have superpowers was a villain.

The novel starts as Richter holds the world hostage, levelling cities and doing whatever he pleases, the world’s armies powerless to stop him. Then suddenly another person, teenager Kane Andrews develops powers and makes a vow to try to stop Richter.

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It’s a nice idea and Rutherford also uses a nice framing device which gives us a glimpse of the characters’ future and also sets up an intriguing mystery at the end. In fact it’s the ending that really saves this as until then it’s a rather formulaic affair, entertaining enough but nothing special. But the ending suggests that Rutherford has some more ideas and hopefully it will develop.

There are nice touches and he manages to make his teenage protagonist likeable and realistic, and he writes quick, short chapters that make it an enjoyable quick read.

It’s by the numbers in paces, but shows promise and is fun enough.

Verdict: A fun superhero tale which doesn’t break much new ground but is engaging enough and Rutherford has some nice ideas and keeps it moving at a good pace. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

This is the third part of Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series (I’ve already reviewed parts one and two) and I am really loving the series. This third installment sees the besieged heroes under threat from the undead once more and also introduces fresh threats for them to deal with.

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Clines has established the world of his stories and he develops them further here, adding subplots about the nature of death and the characters’ differing views on the zombies. When a hero returns from the dead, but not as a zombie, it ruffles feathers as some view it as a sign that the souls linger and their loved ones can come back. This tension doesn’t help as fresh threats emerge and more players enter the frame.

Can St. George, Captain Freedom, Stealth, Cerberus and Zzap remain a united front and work out what is going on? Can they trust their former ally? And will they be forced to accept that magic is real and there are worse things than zombies?

I dug this book even though I think it doesn’t match the second part. It’s still a solid story with some decent dialogue and a couple of twists. It also helps that Clines investigates fresh themes and merges different genre trappings to make a zombie world that feels new and different.

He builds it slowly, drawing together all the different strands before an incredibly exciting finale which had me utterly hooked. I devoured it in large chunks and got totally lost in the book, which is always a good thing.

The writing is a little formulaic in places and some characters still feel two dimensional but these flaws are made up for by Clines’ strengths in other areas and a few of the characters are really coming together. St George in particular impresses but a few of the others are distinct and engaging too.

I know there’s a fourth book and I look forward to getting into it soon.

Verdict: Clines continues to create an interesting world and develops his characters. He’s not the flashiest writer but it works and this is engrossing and fun. 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.

avengers ultron charge

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.


The 11 Best Books I Read in 2014

Okay, so these are my favourites of the books I’ve read this year, and as I normally do I’ve split it into two separate top 5s, one fiction and one non-fiction, however this year there’s a special consideration for a book which fits across both categories.

This book is Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, which while based on real events is written with the style and flair of a novel, to gripping effect. Keneally uses his skill as a writer to investigate the motivations behind the key players in a fascinating and inspiring true story. He doesn’t shy away from Oskar Schindler’s flaws, portraying him as a realistic human and hero.

The book is intensely moving in places and could easily have topped both categories, but as I said, it blurs the lines and I feel warrants it’s own special mention.

schindlers ark

Anyway, on with the rest.

Fiction

5. Tarzan of the Apes/The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The first two parts of the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs are fun, fast paced and pulpy yarns which while a little dated in places still manage to work as entertaining adventures and I’ll probably check out a couple more of the ape-man’s escapades. Reviews here and here.

4. Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Superheroes vs zombies in a fun, exciting zombie apocalypse story. Clines still has room to improve as a writer, but does show some skill for character and inventiveness. The first part in a series, I will be checking out more to see where Clines takes the story. Review.

3. The Mugger by Ed McBain

McBain writes a tough, hard bitten pulp thriller revolving around the cops of the 87th precinct as they investigate a mugger with a unique MO who may have graduated to killing. A fantastic page-turner. Review.

the mugger

2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

A little predictable in places, and nowhere near as good as The Fault In Our Stars, but Green’s writing is still sharp, clever and witty. The story of an unlucky in love nerd trying to find meaning in his failures is filled with bizarre tangents and teenage awkwardness. Proof that Green is one of the best writers working in the young adult genre. Review.

1. Hannibal by Thomas Harris

The ending disappoints but until then this is a masterpiece of thriller writing, with Harris putting his charming, cultured cannibal at the centre and unfolding a grim, dark story of revenge and obsession. The tension builds beautifully and there are genuine chills along the way. Utterly gripping and the kind of book you blaze through in a few obsessive sessions. Review.

Hannibal

Non-Fiction

5. Hitman by Bret Hart

The wrestler’s autobiography is a fantastic, compelling read that lifts the lid on the backstage politics of the business and the backstabbing and jealousy that engulfs his family. Hart tells his life story in an open, heartfelt way, and is honest about his own failings. For wrestling fans it’s a must, and for non-fans it would still make a damn interesting read. Review.

hitman

4. Them by Jon Ronson

Ronson investigates various conspiracy theorists and nutjobs as he examines why the idea of a powerful “them” pulling the strings is so appealing to some, and who exactly these shadowy figures may be. Ronson’s writing is funny and clever, especially as he finds himself actually being sucked into the paranoia of those he meets. Review.

3. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Proving that economics is more than just money, this fascinating book tackles different subjects like cheating sumo wrestlers, the crack cocaine market and why crime in the 90s was so much lower than experts predicted. Written in easy, sardonic language it shows how motivation drives humans and the weird way things can be connected. Marvelous and manages to make economics fun and interesting. Review.

freakonomics

2. Stiff by Mary Roach

In a gleefully gory and captivating read, Roach examines what happens to human bodies after death. Taking in organ harvesting, scientific learning and even cannibalism this is an utterly engrossing book which benefits from Roach’s informal, relaxed approach and is the kind of book that has you sharing bizarre, grim facts with everyone you know. Review.

1. Generation Kill by Evan Wright

Wright accompanies a group of Marines during the Iraq war, capturing the chaos of war and the way it effects the young men who fight. Having spent lots of time with the unit Wright gets to know his subjects, they share their thoughts and he captures their quirks. What’s interesting is the way the men view combat and their enemies, in a decidedly less gung-ho way than you’d expect. Also captures the way the higher ups can make disastrous and inexplicable decisions, and how it’s the men on the grounds who have to adapt to these new strategies and do their best to survive. Review.

generation kill

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

I’m a geek so I follow people like Nathan Fillion on Twitter, as I have a man crush on him and he’s appeared in four TV shows I’ve really dug. During a Q&A he was asked about books, either what he was reading at the time or had liked recently and he mentioned this book. Now, a recommendation from Fillion probably would have added it to my extensive “To Read List” (I currently have a full shelf, two growing Amazon wishlists and a rapidly filling Kindle full of books I haven’t got around to yet), but what sent it right up to the top was the premise- Superheroes vs zombies.

Like I said I’m a geek, and caped crusaders and the living dead are two of the things I’m slightly obsessed with, and I’m always amazed that they’ve never really been done properly. I don’t count the Marvel Zombies series because it seemed like a cheap stunt by artists who wanted to draw zombie versions of heroes rather than actually dealing with the familiar characters battling the walking dead and upping the tension. I always thought DC would be more suited to a zombie tale, especially if it focused on Gotham and had Batman and co. besieged and having a few major characters turn. But that’s just my opinion.

Whatever, back to the book.

ex-heroes

The novel jumps between the run up to and aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, and focuses on the last stand in LA. Within the reinforced walls of a film studio a group of survivors try to survive, protected by the last of the superheroes. They’re under pressure and a few of their comrades have been turned over the months.

The flashbacks chapters are told from the perspectives of different heroes. shading in their backstories and dealing with different stages of the outbreak, from the first early rumours to the last ditch fights and serves to give us further info on the different players in the story.

The major hero is St George, a flying and seemingly invulnerable hero who formerly went by the Mighty Dragon. He’s a symbol to the normal survivors and the most idealistic of the heroes, putting him at odds with the more cynical/rational leader Stealth. St George helps on scavenging missions and defending the walls, and on one of these runs discovers something new and dangerous about the dead (called ex-humans throughout).

I really dug this book, the idea is solid and there are some nice touches throughout. The flashbacks work well, not just showing us St George and the major players, but some of the minor heroes we see along the way, some of whom are already “exes” when they turn up. Clines switches tone and narrative voice fairly well, and the heroes are interesting enough.

Clines’ geek credentials are front and centre, St George is rather nerdy, excited by his powers and living the comic book dream, making reference to comics and sci-fi throughout and being asked by another character whether he reckons he could take Spider-Man in a fight. Another nice touch is the supporting characters’ competition to bag the most impressive celebrity kills. This being LA several characters discuss taking out stars of the screen along the way and there’s a lot of dark humour to it.

It’s not perfect, Clines’ writing gets a little repetitive in places and he could be better at building at tension at points, but it’s a hugely enjoyable novel and goes beyond the high concept premise. The characters are interesting and engaging, and there are some nice touches to the traditional zombie lore.

Some of the action sequences are well handled and there are a couple of twists which are well handled, and it definitely entertained me enough that the rest of the series have already been added to that list.

Verdict: Clines still has room to develop as a writer, but this is still an engaging and entertaining novel. The heroes are interesting enough and the world he’s created is well done. I look forward to more from this series. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.