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

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

hulk poster

I thought I was going to skip this – everyone’s least favourite Marvel installment – in my rewatch of ’em all in prep for Endgame. But… meh. It was on the telly.

I say everyone’s least favourite, and the box office figures back that up. But I also think there’s an element of confusing it a little with the earlier Hulk (2003) which was also not-great. Marvel got the rights back and did a little better with this – in other words, it’s not actually as bad as I half-remembered!

IH does follow on from the earlier movie, surprisingly, giving a potted flashback history (with the new cast) during the opening credits. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is now in hiding in South America, trying to find a cure for what ails him. But the military, led by General Ross (William Hurt, who reprises this role in later MCU movies), are determined to capture Banner – and the ‘weapon’ he transforms in to.

In an attempt to track him down, another soldier signs up for some ‘Super Soldier’ experimentation. I actually liked Blonsky’s (Tim Roth) motivation (and the fact that a scrawny little British scrapper gets cast here!), which isn’t always the case with the baddies in superhero movies. He’s getting old and his body is letting him down, and what else is a life-long fighter going to do with himself? So of course he’s game for regaining youthful strength. He sees power, and he wants.

Banner, on the other hand, just wants to be normal. I think Mark Ruffalo is my favourite of the three actors to have portrayed the Hulk recently, but I think all three (including Eric Bana) did quite well. Norton brings an intensity to the role, and is pretty great at the torment and desperation. Apparently the desire was to go back more towards the feel of the 1970s TV show, which I think they succeed at – although whether it was a good idea, I’m not sure. Certainly, the Hulk has never grabbed my interest as a character. All shouty rage and smashing? Yawn. I will finally warm to the character a little in future movies, but for now that joyful Marvel humour is largely missing, aside from a small translation issue in the famous “You won’t like me when I’m… hungry?”

Don’t regret the rewatch, and it was better than expected, but it’ll probably languish in the box for another long span.

Released: 13th June 2008
Viewed: 14th March 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

captain america poster

The path to Endgame i.e. my rewatch of the Marvel movies continues with the fifth in the series, and – ironically for the ‘first Avenger’ – the last of the Phase 1 main characters to be introduced before the big team up. We’ve had science, aliens, and mythology, and now we’re getting some history…

1940s, World War II. A weedy kid from Brooklyn, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is desperate to sign up – like his best friend, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan). He finally gets his chance when the lead scientist in a new Super Soldier programme sees the advantages to enlisting for heart and goodness, not just brawn and no-brains.

I remember the transformation scene, sitting in the cinema whispering, “It must be nice for Chris Evans to be the ‘after’ shot in real life!” The effects in the early part of the movie, turning him scrawny, were impressive but not perfect – still, you get the jist.

The rest of the movie sees Steve fight to become the hero we know he is, joining up with his ‘Howling Commandos’ to fight Nazis and the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). The latter has harnessed the power of a certain Tesseract, a ‘mcguffin’ that continues to have importance through not just the next movie, but right into Infinity War and Captain Marvel.

Talking of Captain Marvel, there are a lot of parallels between the two – and not just the name. Both are underdogs – skinny boy vs. girl in a man’s world – and both show heart, grit, and keep getting up every time they’re knocked down. I wonder if I would have warmed more to Marvel had those scenes not been relegated to brief flashbacks; certainly, the hand grenade scene almost brings a tear to my eye – if I’m feeling a bit weepy, anyway.

I’ve probably seen CA:FA at least as many times as any other Marvel movie, so I’d have to suggest it’s very watchable. Of course, the eye candy doesn’t hurt 😉 Still, Cap is quite a serious character in a serious kind of film – the WW2 setting is too real not to add a darkness to the tone, so this is fitting. Like Thor, his subsequent movies are stronger (imo), but this sets up several important threads in the MCU: Cap himself, the origins of another couple of baddies, introduces us to Howard Stark (Tony’s father), and that glowing blue cube…

Released: 29th July 2011
Viewed: 12th March 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Thor (2011)

thor poster

My rewatching of the Marvel movies ahead of Avengers: Endgame has slowed a little, and I was questioning which movies I might skip. Thor and Captain America are the next two on the list, but also felt like ones I’d seen quite a lot (by dint of being older, and not ‘rubbish’) – and sure enough, Thor has been on the telly (twice!) in the past week – I guess I’m not the only one thinking of a rewatch. Well, in that case, might as well…

Following a couple of Iron Mans and another attempt at a Hulk movie (the Edward Norton one, still least-favourite of the entire MCU, alas), Marvel took another gamble by taking the series to another planet. Asgard, to be precise – home of Odin and the Norse pantheon. It also marked a shift from the science-based (however out there!) storylines of the previous films to a realm of ‘magic’ and fantasy.

What worked: casting Chris Hemsworth as a very buff Thor, and Tom Hiddleston as new fan-favourite Loki. Also, getting Shakespearean luvvie Kenneth Branagh to direct, as the story fit very well with the Bard’s kind of tales: king’s two sons vying for the throne, mischief and treachery abound, and the heir apparent being stripped of his powers for being an arrogant hot-head.

Sent to Earth, Thor must of course learn humility blah blah in order to be worthy blah more blah. Y’know what? It’s not a bad film. It’s perfectly enjoyable with enough daftness to get through the slightly unoriginal story. Everyone is taking it seriously enough that you’re not rolling your eyes at some of the less believable stuff, and it is easy to get caught up.

Still, Thor is an odd tone in the MCU. The sequel stands as another low point in the series, but then along came Ragnarok and it made even this perfectly enjoyable one less so in comparison.

However, in terms of the 20-movie-‘arc’, and even in the original 6 ‘Phase 1’, Thor is actually quite essential viewing. Mainly because it introduces us to Loki, who not only drives the first Avengers team up, but was such a favourite with the fans that he’s (spoiler, I suppose?) shoehorned into the sequel. It also brings SHIELD and Agent Coulson more into the light, and introduces another new character, Hawkeye (although I’ll admit when I first saw the movie I could sense the ‘importance’ of the intro, while making utterly no sense of it at the time).

The post-credit scene leads into Avengers (Assemble), but also needs a little more explanation – perhaps from Captain America

Released: 27th April 2011 (UK)
Viewed: 17th February 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Iron Man (2008)

iron man poster

I don’t often go back and review older movies, but with the upcoming release of Avengers: Endgame (squeeeee!) it seemed like an excellent excuse time for a rewatch of my beloved Marvel movies. And, since many of them predate this blog by a number of years, it’s also a good excuse to see how well they hold up.

It’s hard to imagine a time now when the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) wasn’t the juggernaut that it is today: 20 films already released and box office gold, another three due this year and oh yeah, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year with the aforementioned A:E.

Back in 2008, however, Marvel was not exactly swamped with success or cash. They made a relative pittance licensing their comic book properties such as X-Men and Spider-Man to other film studios. The real money would be in making their own. It was a gamble and a half – if their first attempt failed, they’d probably go bust, never mind getting a second chance. So, which world-famous superhero would they bring to the big screen? Iron Man!

*tumbleweed*

Hah, yes: back in 2008 no one had ever heard of ‘Iron Man’ (well, the comic book fans, but much as I love the MCU I was never one of those). I can’t imagine how the pre-production conversions went, from ‘who’ on the character, to ‘you must be kidding – you want to cast a former drug addict and convict as a superhero in a kids movie?!’

And there’s one thing I think worked so well: Marvel was *not* making movies for kids. We had plenty of those, doing so-so business, but some bright spark twigged that adults – many of whom had grown up with these characters – might not want to sit through more teen angst dressed up as burgeoning superpowers (Spider-Man). More, how about we buck the trend for dark, troubled superheros (Batman) or literal god-like aliens desperately trying to hide their real identity (Superman) and go with a ‘real’ person, albeit a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Tony Stark?

It worked – duh – and on a repeat viewing it *still* works. I remember sitting in the cinema blown away with how different this movie was from the Batmans and Supermans I’d grown up with. It was taking itself seriously, but it was chock-full of humour (Dummy the fire extinguishing robot had me in stitches). Robert Downey Jr just *was* Tony Stark – still is! – perfectly suave yet damaged, and omg was he actually *happy* to figure out how to be a superhero? Yup – you could see the glee in his first flight, getting to swat bad guys, and that announcement: “I am Iron Man.”

Iron Man was a joy of a movie, and I still loved it this time ’round – not my second or even fourth viewing, I’m sure 😉 It’s not perfect – what is? – but it is very watchable, and quite frankly hasn’t dated at all. Are we sure this was 11 years ago?! o_O

For kicking off a beloved franchise – although Marvel stumbled a bit with the next few *cough* Hulk *cough* – I was always going to be fond of this. To remind myself that it’s still a very fun, watchable movie is even better.

Released: 2nd May 2008
Viewed: 8th February 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 126 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

“Perhaps, if you intend to visit other planets, we should improve the exosystems.” (Jarvis to Tony Stark during the first Iron Man suit test run)