Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

We’ve had a couple of takes on the Spider-Man movies – first Toby Maguire, then Andrew Garfield – and then last year’s Captain America: Civil War introduced us to Tom Holland’s version, as the rights between Sony and Marvel got a bit (more?) less complicated and the web-slinger was allowed to join the Avengers.

Well, not quite join. In Homecoming, Peter Parker returns from helping Tony Stark aka Iron Man keen to get the call for another mission. However, Tony rightfully sees a 15 year old school kid as having no place out fighting real bad guys (as opposed to stopping misguided good guys!) and instead sets Peter the task of first mastering being a ‘friendly neighbourhood spider’. Of course, teenagers always think they know best…

Spider-Man has never been my favourite hero (and not just because I’m an arachnophobe!), and while I reasonably enjoyed the previous movie versions I wasn’t turned into that big a fan. However, I *am* a huge fan of the Marvel MCU (yes, including the bit where you have to see ALL the movies! 😉 ) so seeing where they could take the character was always going to be intriguing.

And so, yes, we get something that is much closer to being an Avengers movie – good. But we also have a John Hughes-influenced highschool story going on, which is… less good. Fine, but, well, y’know. I’m old now, okay?! 😉 And suddenly it makes a bit more sense why I was never the biggest fan of the character.

I did like the pick of Vulture (no, I’d never heard of him before either!) as the baddie: a working class guy bitter at the rich guys having all the luck and power, using salvaged alien technology to steal more. So, no radiation or experiments or innate superpowers. It’s actually quite a clever reflection of Tony Stark, one set either side of Spider-Man. And the character, played by Michael Keaton (surely something in there about Birdman, referencing Batman…!), gets both a hint of pantomime baddy but also a surprising underlying set of morals. One of the better villains, if a little less flashy.

I was very pleased that we skipped the whole origin story again – this Peter has been putting on the mask for quite a while before Stark finds him – but there’s still a feeling of setting things up a bit here (there’s a whole ‘thing’ near the end that you should google for after seeing the movie – it went right over my head, tbh) while at the same time expecting you to know a bit about the character already.

So overall we end up with a perfectly reasonable installment in one ongoing franchise, if a slightly less satisfying set up of a new branch of it, and actually no you probably don’t need to have seen many/any of the others. There are a few clips of the big Civil War fight to let you know that happened, but Spidey didn’t get so involved that it really matters too much. And while I’m not a huge fan of teenage crushes and school woes and all that, it was appropriate to the character, and nice to see him being played by an actual (just!) teenager instead of a 30-year-old 😉

Released: 5th July 2017
Viewed: 7th July 2017
Running time: 133 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

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Wonder Woman (2017)

The one shining light in the utter mess that was Batman vs Superman (2016) was the brief appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). And with this release, she not only gets her own backstory, but also makes a bit of history with the first female-led superhero movie.

Usually I’m all about the entertainment, the story, the visuals, but I think it’s really quite important to see this movie as a bit of a Big Deal. Female superhero lead, female director – and if you think that’s not important (I just don’t think that it should be) then you only have to scratch the surface very gently to see what a difference it actually makes.

You might come away from a viewing with a sense that it was a bit different from every other action pic – not in terms of story, which is fairly run of the mill and predictable, but when you stop to ponder (or, just read any of the numerous reviews) then there is a shocking “why is this still a big deal?” feeling. Yes, 21st century, and this is possibly the first movie where the woman gets to be the hero full stop – she’s not there to be a token, she doesn’t pose with her butt facing the camera. The other Amazons are amazingly kick ass – and oh, they might actually be over 30, shock horror. It was a AMAZING!!

Now, I must admit it’s taken me a while to understand this. I came out of the cinema thinking, “Well, yes, easily the best thing DC has managed, but that was a low bar.” The lack of a ‘new’ storyline left me a little ‘meh’, but it was still rolicking good fun.

But then I started reading some of the opinion pieces. And my view changed from, “C’mon, it’s just a superhero movie!” to “Oh my god, why did I not see how much we needed this take on this flipped version of this story!?”. A woman being strong but real. Why the hell is that still such a big deal to see on screen?

Anyway. You don’t have to feel or think about any of this to enjoy the movie. It’s about an Amazon princess, Diana, getting her first glimpse of the outside world and refusing to let the injustice continue without trying to fix things. There are some brilliant action scenes. The opening location of Themyscira is something very different to what we’ve been given in these kind of movies before, which is ace.

You also don’t need to wade through the dull Superman, BvS, or Suicide Squad to see this one – a huge plus. The only link is the photo Diana is sent right at the beginning, which was used in BvS to show Bruce Wayne that Wonder Woman had been around, kicking butt, for longer than he had. The tone here is much lighter, if still not Marvel-funny, but all in all a very very welcome change, in so many respects. Absolutely recommended.

Released: 1st June 2017
Viewed: 3rd June 2017
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – I can’t rave all of that above and not give it an extra point for cultural significance. From a freakin’ comic book movie o_O

Doctor Strange (2016)

Brilliant-but-arrogant neurosurgeon, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), loses the fine motor control in his hands and thus his career in a car accident. Exhausting even experimental western medicine, a tip off about a ‘miraculous’ cure sends him to Kathmandu. Even as desperate as he is, can this logical, conceited doctor get his mind around the mystical?

Well, obviously he does or the poster doesn’t make much sense! As he immerses himself in training – and turns out to be as precocious and almost as hubristic as ever – he soon finds that there is a bigger purpose for these centres of magic than just teaching spells, and when they are threatened so too is the whole world.

There’s a similarity in this set up, I think, to that of Iron Man (2008), which of course kicked off the modern ‘MCU’ all those years ago: rich, arrogant man is humbled before learning to be brilliant at something else which can save the world. However, unlike Tony Stark, this is magic not technology – I almost said ‘something new’ for the universe, but of course we’ve already met the likes of the Scarlet Witch (Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)).

So, does it work? Better than Bandwidth Cumberbunny’s American accent, which barely managed to stay on the right side of movie-killing distracting. He is a good fit for the role, otherwise, which is just as well as I’m not really sure any of the other characters are given enough screen presence to make that much of an impact. That role falls to the visuals – which are stunning, it’s just a shame that Inception got there first, albeit not to this scale.

One big plus is the humour, which is rife throughout the movie – I can see the lessons being learned from both previous Marvel and DC movies on this being a necessity. Alas, while I was chuckling a lot, there were more than a few times that it all felt very forced in, which was more than a little jarring.

Still, I have a lot of love for the MCU movies, and will forgive a lot in the name of sheer entertainment value. However, I can understand that ‘superhero fatigue’ has beyond set in for a lot of people, and I’m not sure this is the movie to turn that around. For the rest of us, though: it’s a lot of fun!

Released: 25th October 2016 (UK)
Viewed: 28th October 2016
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Suicide Squad (2016)

The trailer looked good. The critics disagreed. The question became: how bad is Suicide Squad?

Not bad at all, in my opinion! It’s definitely flawed, but going in with such low expectations (and ice cream! Improves any movie! ;)) there was a lot of fun to be had here.

The premise: following the events in Batman v Superman (2016), the powers that be are worried that they cannot hope to survive against a meta-human (not that they have really been identified in the DCEU (expanded universe) yet, I believe?) who decides to be ‘foe’ rather than Superman friendly. Step forward shadowy government agency, Argos, and its morally dubious head, Amanda Waller, with a plan so bad it might just be good: put together a team of the worst criminals, and let them fight the battles the army can’t. Besides, if it all goes wrong, they can just “throw them under the bus.” Charming.

The first big flaw of the movie comes from the introductions to this Task Force X. It’s a looong line of intros. And the importance of the characters is spelled out by the time they get, speeding up as we go through the list. So, Will Smith’s Deadshot gets a lot of time – and the character gets a backstory and some motivation and roundness. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn also gets a lot of time, and I’d argue is the most interesting character – perhaps too interesting, as this intro barely scratches the surface of her background. And then it starts to get a little blurrier, until a couple of members just turn up, no intros at all. Hmm.

Such is the length of these introductions that the move into ‘actual plot’ is rather badly handled. I’m sure it was at least an hour of movie before I got past that feeling of still being in pre-story mode, even though the main mission had begun. Once we’re past that blip, though, SS manages to be a rather fun action movie. It’s not as dark as previous DC offerings, although much grimier than anything from Marvel. I’d read of reshoots to put more humour in, and if there was originally less than there is here (a bare minimum to lift the story and easily the highlights), I’m really glad they did!

Best character of the movie for me was easily the utterly deranged Harley Quinn. Alas, the handling of the Joker subplot is also the worst thing in the movie – this is SO iconic, a story that would easily be a whole movie, that relegating it to a background thing feels just way off. You should never feel you’ve seen a less interesting part of the story than the one dangled just offscreen.

Overall: go in with low expectations (and snacks!) and this can be a fun bit of entertainment. Be prepared, though, for grumbling about how it could have been quite a bit better handled! Still, I liked it more than the Superman and Batman movies that have preceded it, and perhaps have some extra hope for the DCEU.

Released: 5th August 2016
Viewed: 13th August 2016
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10 – I’m feeling generous!

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

First Class brought the mutants together, Days of Future Past rewrote history and exposed them to the world. Now in Apocalypse, we discover that mutants have been around far, far longer than anyone thought – and when the ‘first’ is reawoken, his ancient world view is as old testament as it gets: by fire or flood, wipe clean the slate and let the strongest inherit the remains of the earth.

The X-Men franchise is an odd one. We’ve had other superhero reboots – well, okay, we’ve had Batman twice and Spider-man twice (F4 still does not exist, alright?!) – but with the X-Men we don’t really start over: old characters meet their new younger counterparts, and the same Wolverine threads through every single movie. Time travel, eh?!

However, there is something of an end of an era approaching. Apocalypse is the last of the ‘new’ trilogy, we are told, with both Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) announcing their departures from the franchise. What better story to tell, then, than the scourging of the earth?

And despite horrendous reviews/ratings, I’m happy to report that I enjoyed Apocalypse just fine! Sure, it’s silly – really, just ‘cos superhero movies have taken over the cinema doesn’t mean we have to take them seriously!

Which isn’t to say the film is perfect. There are a lot of characters, not all of whom are well used. The new baddies – the four ‘horsemen’ – are criminally under utilised, appearing pouty and not much more. I didn’t even realise one of them was a well-known future X-Man – I’m not sure if a name is mentioned before the credits. The main baddie (Oscar Isaac plus much latex), too, is a little… hmm. He seems to have vast and incredible powers, and yet needs (?) others to help out with the little destruction plan. On the other hand, his lack of discrimination between humans and (weak) mutants is somewhat refreshing, changing the MO from nearly all the other movies.

Fortunately, the central cast do get a better deal. Professor X and Magneto, and Mystique, have had strong character arcs since First Class, and that continues here. Michael Fassbender is outstanding, if a little squashed into the whole jumble. There is some effort, too, to start rebuilding previously disrupted timelines, such as the first meeting of Cyclops and Jean Gray, or the events at Alkali Lake. It does, perhaps, tip over into too much going on, and as a result a lot of plot threads are left rather weakly, and a lot of characters pushed into the background. Even the wonderful Quicksilver slo-mo scene starts to feel a little gratuitously over-long, the humour shoe-horned in just a tad.

Overall, though… well, there’s a lot to enjoy if you switch your brain off, but this is still the weakest of the new trilogy – however, no where near as awful as the previous third installment (Last Stand), which I think this tries – a little too hard – to make up for.

Final note: there is a post-credit scene, after the ~13 billion names of people who worked on this movie, and I’d suggest that unless you are a proper comic nerd you’re going to have to look it up online anyway and might as well save yourself the additional bladder strain! 😉

Released: 20th May 2016
Viewed: 20th May 2016
Running time: 144 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of superhero movies, especially Marvel’s. Still, I went into Captain America 3 wondering if this’d be the one that broke the streak – there seemed to be an awful lot of characters to handle, including several new ones, like Black Panther, and – shock horror! – Spiderman! With the inclusion of most of the team, this does feel a bit more like the new Avengers movie than a solo outing for the star-spangled Captain. Again, I wasn’t sure if that was a bad sign.

Well, I was more than happy to be proved wrong in my doubts! The focus does favour Steve Rogers, while allowing for the other characters to appear but not require equal screen time. The main exception is Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, who is – as the title suggests – set up on an opposing side to his former friend.

There is an obvious comparison between the plot here and that of Batman vs Superman – I’m sure the two being released so close together gave a few execs kittens! Both see two good guys squaring off, neither side right or wrong, but expressing different views on difficult topic. In Marvel’s take, however, we get the other Avengers (and friends) taking sides, their skills balancing off into a far more even fight – and a fight it is! Just because these guys are friends doesn’t stop them taking the ‘civil war’ very seriously. The escalation from debate to argument to out and out violence is done well, balanced against the themes of loyalty and doing what you know is right, however difficult.

With most of the conflicts being internal – personally, or to the group – there’s less of a need for a ‘big bad’ villain to the piece. I rather liked this (especially compared to the giant blob monster thing in BvS!), but your mileage may vary, as they say.

I’d suggest this is perhaps the darkest tone to date for one of the MCU movies – so, about a quarter of the darkness of BvS 😉 The laughs aren’t quite as forthcoming, although there are lighter moments, particularly from the inclusion of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man (it seems everyone meeting Cap for the first time has that urge to reach out and touch 😉 ) and a new, younger take on Spiderman. Personally, I’m glad the latter wasn’t given a big role, as I think the movie was busy enough, but as an introduction to the Avengers join up it was nicely handled.

As it is, the whole thing barely lets up on the action. At one point I did think I might actually have to list this as a negative – as it is, I think it was a close call on being just a little hectic.

Overall, this couldn’t quite match the fun of the Avengers for me, but I liked it a lot more than Age of Ultron.

Released: 29th April 2016
Viewed: 3rd May 2016
Running time: 146 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Fantastic Four (2015)

Well, it’s finally happened: the Marvel logo at the start of the film is no longer a guarantee of fun. This movie was pretty darn dreadful – I think they should have let Fox keep all the ‘credit’ and distanced themselves as much as possible from this po-faced, misjudged, badly edited, sorry excuse for a super hero dirge.

Rumours are that the studio are to blame for interfering with the director’s cut of the movie. It makes sense. The opening half isn’t so dreadful, with introductions to the characters before the ‘accident’. That the momentous events are caused by so much utterly unlikely shambolic behaviour from a bunch of supposedly bright scientists is perhaps excusable – IF the movie were any fun. Sadly, it isn’t.

The one saving grace, for me, is the explanation of why the four characters get different abilities from the one accident. That is it. Oh, okay – some of the special effects and sets look good (sadly, Kate Mara’s wig looks dreadful – how hard would that have been to get right, instead of distractingly dire?). And, alright: the characterisations are an improvement from the previous adaptation (especially the Invisible Girl) – but I still didn’t like a single one of them, and quite frankly they were given about as much to do as the scenery.

My advice is: when you see the ‘one year later’ card flashed across the screen, leave. My cinema-buddies seemed to enjoy it enough, but I couldn’t stand the blandness, the terrible (lack of) storytelling, the inconsistencies, and most of all the utterly humourless way it’s all done. Everything is finished off with the obvious setting up for a sequel I can only hope never sees the light of day!

Released: 6th August 2015
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 3/10