Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015)

age of ultron poster

One question that was frequently asked after the first Avengers movie was “why is this character fighting alone? Where are the other Avengers?” Here, we kick off with just that: the gang back together, kicking Hydra butt.

There’s little love for this middle-est of movies, but I enjoyed it fine at the time and more than that now. Now, it’s clear to see what this movie sets up for the future: Wakanda, vibranium, Ulysses Klaue? Ah, Black PantherThanos and the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet = Infinity War / Endgame. How Hulk ends up in RagnorokAnd the bickering between team members is going to walk us straight to Civil War.

But, we still need a movie now, and while this serves well as a bridging between Avengers and future outings, it still has plenty of character development and action.

I’d argue, as ever, Tony Stark is at the heart of this. He’s still traumatised from going through the wormhole in New York, and when new character Scarlet Witch shows him his worst fear – and ooh, is that scene going to be important come Endgame?! – his reactions are both too much, but understandable. Attempting to create a future that does away with the need for the Avengers, his creation, Ultron (wonderfully voiced by James Spader), goes a bit Skynet, seeing the ultimate goal of peace needing a bit of destruction first. Oops.

We also get to see Steve Rogers accepting that ‘the man who went into the ice’ isn’t necessarily who he is now. There is a brief mention of the ‘quest’ from the end of Winter Soldier, making it feel like we’ve not forgotten everyone’s in the middle of something, although events are now more pressing elsewhere.

Perhaps the lack of love for this stems from how tied in it is to everything else. You kind of need to have seen Winter Soldier to understand why SHIELD is in disarray, and the Avengers are now a thing by themselves. The character stuff only makes as much sense when you’ve followed their stories so far.

Of course, not everything is spot on. Personally, I only ‘got’ the whole Nat/Bruce thing when she explicitly explains her interest. And I still hate hate hate the way she talks about being unable to have children and being a ‘monster’ for it – huge misstep in tone. Other revelations are a bit cliched, and there are several scenes that really needed a lot more time to make sense (e.g. Thor’s vision) but which were trimmed for an already over-long movie.

Still. I do love the series, and this is a core slice of that. We also get great scenes like everyone trying to lift Mjolnir (‘mew mew’ forever!) during a party, and a baddie I really like, actually 😉

Released: 23rd April 2015
Viewed: 22nd April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

winter soldier poster

I’ve said that I think Tony Stark is, in many ways, the ‘main character’ (arc) of the MCU, but running a close second is Steve Rogers aka Captain America. We met him in Phase 1, back in the 1940s, as he transformed from plucky kid to super-serum enhanced soldier. And we saw his shock at waking up in the 21st Century, after decades on ice, both at the end of that first outing, and again in Avengers.

CA:WS starts with Steve throwing himself into a new life as a soldier, albeit a very different kind than he started out as. His disdain for spywork and covert operations is clear. In fact, he seems to be having doubts that he can continue with what he sees as a dishonest occupation. But then a new threat rises: a ghost of an assassin, the mysterious Winter Soldier.

I do like the Captain America trilogy in the MCU, and this is quite possibly the strongest of the three (fitting, as Iron Man’s best is his first, and Thor’s third). Steve’s struggles to fit in give the piece its emotion, especially when you sense he’s just coming ’round to everyone’s urgings to move forward in life – right as the past catches him up.

The CA movies are about wars and spies, fighting and intrigue, and this movie has plenty of both. Cap is joined by Black Widow, Nick Fury, and newcomer Sam Wilson aka Falcon, and all are given their moments to kick ass. There are passing mentions of other Avengers, too, although not so much the events in New York – Iron Man 3 was set heavily against that, while Thor 2 and this seemed to pull away again. That, of course, will change with the next Avengers team up…!

This one is… better than I tend to remember. It feels a little buried in middle-film syndrome, but it’s actually a spot-on action movie with twists and turns that you forget how surprising they might have seemed at the time. It still stands up for repeat viewings, though, mainly for well-choreographed fights and excellent visuals.

Released: 26th March 2014
Viewed: 29th March 2014 / 20th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

guardians of the galaxy 2 poster

Unlike most of the MCU, the characters from Guardians of the Galaxy haven’t shown up in the other movies. So, we had to wait three years – or, one day this time ’round 😉 – for our next chance to see them. Was it worth the wait?

(Obviously, spoilers for the first movie just by mentioning e.g. people that survived to be in this one.)

Banded together after the events of GotG1, our ragtag crew are now ‘heroes’ across the quadrant, taking jobs such as the one we (bar a ‘prologue’) open with. But, as the main crew are doing life-threatening battle in the background, the camera instead focuses on the most adorable Baby Groot, dancing away to Mr Blue Sky. Can I just say how much I LOVE this scene?!

Baby Groot is indeed one of the highlights for me, and the film isn’t short of them. But I have to get the squeeing out of the way first 🙂

Finding out at the end of the first movie that his father was indeed a ‘being of pure light’, as his ill mother told him, Peter is about to discover his daddy. What can possibly go wrong? We also have the sibling dynamics of Nebula and Gamora, everyone caring for little Baby Groot, and a few new faces.

So. GotG2 is a movie about families. The ones we’re born into, the ones we make for ourselves, the people who become family one way or another. That theme runs deep through the piece, holding together an otherwise slightly manic mix of new and dealing with the evolving group dynamic.

I skipped reviewing this when I first saw it, and I think it’s because it’s such a tough movie to do justice to. I gave it a 9 on my first viewing: the ending almost made me cry, so… y’know. From a comedy o.O However, I was struck by how much I’d forgotten: the civilisation of golden snobs, for instance, or all of the Ravager stuff. So, maybe a mark off for not being as memorable, or just putting too much in?

And yet, it does all work. The new characters – including the wonderfully dippy Mantis (although Drax’s attitudes to her are somewhat abusive while being played for laughs, which is a bit off) – fit in well enough without overshadowing the main group’s interactions with each other. The baddies are done well, feeling like quite natural flow of story.

It’s very fun, very well done, and only very slightly not hitting quite the same joie de vivre I felt for the first – much the same as the wonderful soundtrack, which doesn’t quite stick in the head as much. Still, I think I could stand to rewatch this a few more times…!

And did I mention enough: Baby Groot?!?! 🙂

Released: 28th April 2017
Viewed: 3rd May 2017 / 19th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians of the galaxy poster

You’d think by the 10th movie in the MCU I’d’ve learned to trust them. But this was yet another brave-or-stupid move I was so wary of: welcome to ‘Marvel Cosmic’, where we leave behind the thin veneer of ‘reality’ and plunge headlong into a galaxy of talking racoons, walking trees, and aliens with brightly hued skin tones.

On the day his mother dies, Peter Quill is picked up by alien Ravagers, miscreants who loot across the galaxy. However, the tone of the piece is yet to be revealed. We catch up with Peter – aka Star-Lord – 20-odd years later, as he lands on a desolated planet. Where he proceeds to put on headphones, filling the cinema with a tap-along 70s classic, and we watch in disbelieving amusement as he dances along, kicking alien reptiles out of the way and even uses one as a fake microphone. What?!

Knowing nothing about the comics or the characters going in to this – and I had won early preview tickets, so there was no word of mouth either – this one just utterly surprised and delighted me. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and the laughs come thick and fast. There’s still a bucket load of action, and omg but it all looks so spectacular. It even manages to pull on a few heartstrings.

It’s also both a completely different feel from the MCU to date, but important in that overreaching mythology that’s only growing as the series progresses. It’s here that we get the first real explanation of the Infinity Stones, after Thor 2‘s post-credit scene confirmed that both the Aether and Tesseract are two of those. We see more of Thanos after his few previous cameos, so this, I feel, is where the whole Infinity Arc is really getting going, and where so much is set up for Infinity War and Endgame.

But most of all it’s just fun. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors. The snark of Rocket – so so good when we all thought a talking, CGI racoon was never going to work. And a walking tree creature with a three word vocabulary? Melted the heart, utterly.

I’ve heard someone suggest the Avengers are the Beatles, and the Guardians more the Stones (no pun intended?) – but they’re as much the Monkees, tbh. And with the soundtrack kicking ass, this movie just rocks 🙂

Released: 31st July 2014
Viewed: 24th July 2014 (prize!) / 18th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – pure joy, and so unexpected at the time – and completely rewatchable again and again!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

thor 2 poster

Ah, don’t say I’m not good to you… this isn’t the worst chapter of the MCU, but it’s certainly not a high point. I’ve put off watching it so long I have 9 days and 13 movies left in my rewatch ‘Road to Endgame’. Well. Let’s see what we can do!

At the end of the first Thor (2011) (spoiler warning!) Thor and Jane Foster are separated by the destruction of the Bifrost. We pick up with both pining for the other. We also pick up Loki’s story, as the end of Avengers (2012) sees him returned to Asgard in chains.

But first, we get a little history and a voice over, about the Dark Elves and their desire to use an ancient, all-powerful substance called the Aether. Stopped by Bor, Odin’s father, the Aether is too powerful to destroy and is buried somewhere it will never be found… well…!

On the plus side, this movie gives us those ongoing stories, and a lot of very lovely visuals – including more of Asgard – and another of those Infinity Stones backstories (there is mention of stones, even if this one is a liquid-like substance). However, in also giving us more of fan-fav Loki (who apparently wasn’t meant to be in this movie, at least not so much) it dilutes the use of the new enemy, the Dark Elves, led by a very awkward-looking Chris Eccleston, so fresh from regenerating the entire series of Dr Who. Loki and his story are very good and very well done, but the film suffers majorly from the meh of the new race and its powerful weapon.

That said, as with so much of this series, it does benefit from being seen as part of the bigger whole, especially the character development of Thor and Loki, and even Odin. We get glimmers of humour that made Ragnarok (2017) my probably-favourite of the MCU when it’s allowed to come to the fore.

Able to view it like that it’s not as bad as all that, even though it was a bit disappointing at the time. In hindsight, though, there are a lot of little moments that will echo in future movies, so I’m glad of the rewatch.

Released: 30th October 2013
Viewed: 9th November 2013 / 16th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Hellboy (2019)

hellboy poster

When the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), first tried to usher in an Age of Monsters, it was King Arthur (yes, that King Arthur, as the voice over tells us!) and Merlin who stopped her. Unable to end her unnatural life, they settle for dismembering her and sending the caskets of her pieces (arms, head, etc) to be buried at the four corners of the world.

Rescued as a spawnling at the end of World War II and raised by Professor Broom (Ian McShane), Hellboy (David Harbour) is about to have his ‘teenage’ angst moment, wondering why he helps the humans kill the ‘monsters’, when he himself is so obviously part of the latter group. And of course, a sorcerous little voices isn’t shy of pushing that thought into his head…

This is a reboot of the Hellboy series, following two films starring Ron Perlman in the titular role. He was so good, even if the movies were a bit mixed, it was a tricky prospect thinking of anyone else stepping into those boots. In fact, I’d say David Harbour (previously the sheriff in Stranger Things) is one of the best things about this adaptation, capturing the look, the snark, the entire attitude.

Alas, reviews were not promising going in to this – but it does help having low expectations. It’s not actually bad, just a bit overly-busy and slightly odd in tone. It is, however, very comic-book-esque, which fits rather well with the source. I think that sways how people find the whole thing.

Still, it was far from perfect. It loses points from me because it rehashes the story I’ve already seen. I was going to say the fantasy-leanings were a bit fresher, but no, we’ve had faeries and goblins and that kind of thing in both of the previous attempts. Ho-hum.

Harbour was good, but the rest of the cast did very little for me except hurt my ears with atrocious, plummy and fake English accents. Why?! Although of course it’s tough not to like Ian McShane being very himself. His voice-over at the beginning is a high point, detailing daft fantasy things with a lot of swearing and a very non-fantastically sensibility (“They were call the dark ages for a f-‘ing good reason”).

Ah yes, the swearing. This is a 15 and they do seem to be going to town on the blood splatter and cursing to try and make the most of it. There were a few points that did make me wonder just how awful you’d have to get for an 18 rating.

So… yeah, and no. It wasn’t awful, by any stretch. I was plenty entertained. But I couldn’t say it was a good movie, or even the best they could have made. Disappointing? A little. But no regrets on having seen it.

Released: 11th April 2019
Viewed: 14th April 2019
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

John Wick 2 (2017)

john wick 2 poster

I was quite late to the party with John Wick, skipping seeing this sequel in the cinema as I still hadn’t seen the first part (released in 2014) by then. On paper, it’s got little enough to make it stand out: retired hitman goes after the gang that killed his (spoiler?), delivering a couple of hours of brutally efficient violence. However, word of mouth did wonders, spawning not just this but a second sequel due out next month. Time to catch up!

Following the events of the first movie, John Wick (Keanu Reeves), is once again trying to hang up his guns. He has a new puppy and everything! But Italian crime lord, Santino D’Antonio, takes the events of the previous film as a sign that Wick is out of retirement and therefore due to make good on a years-old debt. When saying no turns out not to be an option, Wick is set a nigh-impossible task. Failure is not an option – but success isn’t going to be a walk in the part either.

If you liked the first movie then chances are this one is going to hit the same buttons. Reeves is excellent as the taciturn ‘Bogeyman’ of assassins, kicking ass and not bothering to take names. He’s an actor that’s had a lot of stick over the years, but his quiet style suits this very well.

If you’re looking for more than just raw action, there is a little bit more hinted at about the ‘rules’ and who enforces them, such as no business on the Continental property, or why a blood debt can’t be turned down. At first I wasn’t sure this didn’t just feel like added hokum, but actually it builds the plot well and is clearly where part 3 is headed.

It’s not going to win Oscars, but it does what it does as well as you could want, I guess!

Released: 17th February 2017
Viewed: 7th April 2019
Running time: 122 minutes
Rated: 15/18 (cut and uncut versions)

My rating: 7/10