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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Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman

preludes and nocturnes cover

Graphic novels should, it feels, appeal to me a whole lot more than they do. As it is, I read so fast the artwork tends to get lost, and it’s tough to make myself slow down enough to savour it. It works, then, to go back for rereads – like this, of a series that I rather adore.

I love Neil Gaiman’s work anyway, but never more so than with his tales of the Endless: Death, Dream, Desire, et al. The first collected volume is wholly centred on Morpheus, the ‘Sandman’, the King of Dreams.

We start when a cult’s ritual to summon and bind Death (Dream’s big sister) goes awry, and it’s the dreamlord who ends up trapped in a bubble for decades. Meanwhile more than one world starts to fall apart. Fair enough to assume Morpheus will escape, but can he fix everything his absence has caused in the worlds?

And so we set off on an extremely dark and bloody tale that takes our hero to hell and worse. There’s no shortage of cameos, tying this into the wider DC universe: from Arkham Asylum and a few familiar inmates, to a certain John Constantine, and a character that would go on to spawn (pun intended) further comics and a whole TV series: Lucifer Morningstar (looking not very much like Tom Ellis, and a great deal like David Bowie, as it happens…!).

Talking of looks, the artwork… to be honest, doesn’t do a great deal for me here. It’s fine, but it’s not as special as my brain remembers or I think the series deserves. It does improve, but at this point in both the series and the decade, it’s all just a bit so-so.

The story, however, is where it’s at. Gaiman also draws heavily from myth, from Cain and Abel to the Fates, and much more. It makes a lot of sense that Dream is so key to story telling, and all stories are part of it. I love the interplay, the different strands, the way all these realities clash and combine.

Much as I adore the overreaching story (in 11 volumes or so) I’d have to agree with the author in his afterword that these opening chapters are him finding his feet. It’s only towards the end that I really felt we were starting to settle into the characters.

But, the best is very definitely still ahead, so well worth dipping a toe into the beginnings…!

Trade Paperback: 240 pages / 8 sections
First published: 1989
Series: Sandman book 1
Read from 31st March – 6th April 2019

My rating: 7/10 – and so much more love for the rest of the series

Bound – Mark Lawrence

bound cover

“‘So what, Nona Grey, is X?'”

This short story takes place between the events of Grey Sister and Holy Sister in the Book of the Ancestor trilogy. You don’t need to read it to enjoy the main series. Indeed, you’d need to be quite the fan to get this, as it’s quite costly for its brevity – I would have baulked totally if the rest of the series hadn’t come to me as review copies.

The aftermath of the events at the end of the former book aren’t described until flashbacks in book 3, but we pick up with the novices back in Sweet Mercy convent. Someone is poisoning the younger members of the Sis nobility, and Sister Kettle is determined to find out who. Who better than Ara to go undercover, back in the society role she left behind?

There’s nothing to dislike about this story. It deepens the bond between Nona and Ara that we’ve seen along the way, and explains a little more about ring fighter Regol’s place in the ongoing story.

That said, it’s a bit of an outtake in my opinion. You don’t need to read it for the rest of the series – and, that in itself detracts from the tale. Still, one for fans, and I am definitely that!

kindle: 49 pages
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2.5 (of 3)
Read from 17th-18th April 2019

My rating: 7/10

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

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

Iron Man 3 (2013)

iron man 3 poster

Following the events in The Avengers (2012)Tony Stark is battling with anxiety and possibly PTSD. He’s seen terrible things, almost died, and is left struggling to find his sense of balance again. It makes sense that he goes too far with the bravado, announcing his address (as if it wouldn’t be available online for minimal digging, really!) to the new terrorist threat on the block – but then, what is one man, even one as terrifying as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), compared with an entire fleet of alien invaders?

Iron Man both started the current MCU and in many ways is (made) the spine of the whole thing, I feel. Certainly the character has had more screen time over the whole run: almost 5 hours in total, compared to less than 3½ for next-highest, Captain America (as of 2017, at any rate). Tony Stark’s story is possibly the most rounded, most delved into. He’s suffered trauma that turned him from a playboy weapons manufacturer into a self-sacrificing superhero (Iron Man 2008), then lost the plot almost entirely (Iron Man 2 – possibly not working so well because the big traumas happen far more in IM1 or Av1), before figuring out how to grow as a human being and a hero (Avengers).

So, what’s next? The same question is being asked at this point of the MCU. We’ve finished Phase 1 with the big team up – now what?

Now we once more start with Tony Stark, facing his demons. One of the plot threads of the movie is his past coming back to haunt him, in the form of fellow scientists he didn’t treat so well back in the day. He then gets to refind himself, by going all the way back to basics. Worth remembering that he created Iron Man out of spare parts in a cave.

IM3 wasn’t overly well received at time of release, not least because of the way the Mandarin character is treated. Not being familiar with the comics, I actually rather enjoyed some of the lighter moments, but apparently the long-term fans were a little irked. The tone shifts a little, too, being rather obviously a Shane Black (director) movie: from the Christmas setting, to the voice over (given a perfect nod in the now ubiquitous mid-credit scene) – this is practically Kiss Kiss Bang Bang vol 2 with added Arc reactors!

It also perhaps feels a little odd to have had the aliens and the big team up, and then to go back to a solo hero dealing with very earthly scenarios. But that’s not the point, I reckon: the entire Infinity run (Iron Man through to Endgame – getting close now!) is also the story of Tony Stark, and this movie is entirely Tony Stark dealing with his demons and once again having to figure out who he is. That’s both its strength and weakness, and whether you as a viewer are up for that will colour how you see the movie.

Personally? I think it works a lot better than IM2, but it’s still a little on the forgettable side in the whole run – except, perhaps, for that ‘twist’ that angered so many. Oops! 😉 But it’s part of the strongest, most-developed thread in the MCU to date. There are other important steps in Stark’s tale coming in Ultron and Civil War, and – I’d put money on it – undoubted ahead in Endgame, too.

Released: 25th April 2013
Viewed: 25th April 2013 / 4th April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

The Lego Movie 2 (2019)

lego movie 2 poster

Five years have passed since the events of the first Lego Movie. But, the arrival of the Duplons from the Sis-tar system (geddit?) have left the formerly awesome world a wreck. Instead of a neat orderly town, we’re into Apocalyse-ville, and what can only be Mad Max Fury Road minifigs, I reckon!

With ‘Armomageddon’ looming, can Emmet save Lucy and the others from the Queen of the Sis-tar system? Can Emmet ever be as cool as new friend, Rex Dangervest? Will everything ever be awesome again?!?!?!

For the first five or so minutes of this, I thought “Oh no, I have made a terrible mistake!” So a lot of my review has to be coloured by sheer relief that it got a fair bit better! 😉

There is actually a solid moral to this story, which I won’t spoil, but along the way the in-jokes aren’t half bad. I – and the two other adults in the screening, I reckon! – laughed out loud at a Radiohead joke. Showing our age 😉 Other swipes include the fact that Disney/Marvel wouldn’t get involved this time, so we’re missing a host of characters that cameo’d in the first. Many of the jokes are at Chris Pratt’s other roles. It’s even self aware enough to poke fun at the fact that Emmet was the ‘hero’ of the first movie, despite Wyldstyle doing all the actual heroics…!

I rather liked the songs here – a good part of the movie’s humour from the lyrics – although ironically “This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head” didn’t manage to oust the remix of Everything is Awesome – or, not awesome, now, which is quite frankly a bit more valid to life than I was expecting from a movie like this!

It’s not a must-see, in my view, but a better sequel to a daft yet cult movie than I was expecting – especially in those opening few minutes 😉

Released: 8th February 2019
Viewed: 23rd March 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10