Legion (season 1)

We meet David Haller as a patient in Clockworks mental institution, where he’s been for the past several years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. But what if the voices he hears aren’t mental illness at all – what if he’s actually one of the most powerful mutants on the planet?

Legion is part of the X-Men universe (and similar but not quite to Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, at least in theme), based on the Marvel Comics (which I’ve never read, so no views on the adaptation). However, this bears little resemblance to the movies, and is all the better for it, in my opinion. The look is oddly old-fashioned – fashion, old-school tech – maybe 60s or 70s, but it’s not a period piece. It’s not about saving the world, or acting like superheros, but the far more personal story of one man fighting for a life worth living.

Story-wise, this needs a little attentioned paid. David’s life goes from boring routine to terrifying flight; the amazement of learning about his new abilities and the horror of his past. Things jump back and forth between the different times and memories, really brilliantly mirroring some of the confusion of David’s illness.

As things progress, everything gets that bit weirder. There are other mutants, and a shadowy quasi-government department. There is a lot of mystery around David’s abilities and ‘illness’ – who or what is the yellow-eyed demon, for instance?

I absolutely loved this first series. It makes so much sense that mutant abilities could be mistaken for mental illness, and being told it’s actually super-power is still greeted with so much doubt. But then – oh! Yeah, no spoilers 😉 I particularly liked the performances of Dan Stevens as David, on his journey from meek to figuring himself out, and Aubrey Plaza as Lenny who gets to run the gamut of unhinged, sexy, predatory and just out there.

If you can, it really works as a binge-watch, one episode flowing into the next, helping you as best as you can to keep hold of the twisty thread of things. Everything is very weird, from the deep sea diver in an ice cube to the various powers, and the style is very reflective of this: tilt-shift camera shots, a bollywood number, odd mental tricks and traps. But if you’re willing to go for the ride, I absolutely think it’s worth it!

First broadcast: 2017 – rewatched ahead of final season
Series: 1 of 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 9/10

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

dark phoenix poster

It’s been almost a decade (movie time) since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and the mutants appear to be in a new phase of peace and understanding. Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has set up a sort of hippy commune for those who, like him, want to get away from the world, while Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) X-Men have new matching uniforms, a hotline to/from the President, and are ‘winning hearts and minds’ with risky rescue missions.

It’s interesting to see the trend of every other X-Men movie bucked, with the human world seemingly accepting of the super-powered. But to juxtapose that, we see increasing tensions within the group. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in particular is questioning Xavier’s MO, turning into quite the mother hen for the gang while he seems more obsessed with opinions.

When Charles pushes the group to risk themselves to save an astronaut, the ‘solar flare’ that obviously isn’t ends up being absorbed by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). The already powerful psychic and telekinetic power she possesses is turned up way past 11, and the results are devastating.

So… the last outing for the newest group to play the X-Men, and we’re back with the story that got butchered at the end of the last lot’s run. Surely to goodness the filmmakers have lots of lessons learned?!

Ah… not so much. The ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline is handled a bit better, yes, but overall the movie is just a bit too meh. The rift between Xavier and the others, the need to prove themselves again and again versus a wish to just live – all is touched on, but not really brought to much. Peace turns to rage in a heartbeat, not without reason, but just without the backdrop to wholly care.

Worst element is probably the new alien threat, led by Jessica Chastain, egging Jean Grey to embrace her worst side. I feel like we’ve missed a movie, or at least a huge chuck of backstory, as they just appear and do stuff to further the plot. And worse is the whole “They aren’t mutants” – urm, pretty sure they’d be lumped in with the rest, rather than humankind instantly recognising alien v mutant. Hmm.

Everything (except Mystique’s makeup, for some reason?) looks pretty cool, it’s not a bad movie, but to be honest it was just a bit disappointingly meh, story-wise. Not the triumphant bow-out that anyone would have wished for, by any means.

Released: 5th June 2019
Viewed: 15th June 2019
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

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

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

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

Shazam! (2019)

shazam poster

Once upon a time, Chuck Bartowski had the intercept downloaded into his brain and became a super-spy ninja fighting machine. Now, imagine instead that a 14-year-old boy gets upgraded to a cross between Chuck and Superman…!

We live in strange times: Marvel is getting darker by the second (looking at you, Infinity War) and with Shazam! DC is… funny? Lighthearted and actually fun? Yup. Oh boy, yup!

I came out of the cinema last night thoroughly entertained. I think most of that is down to Zach Levi, who adds that Chuck-like sense of wonder to discovering new powers, channeling less his inner geek and more his inner teenager. His performance made me smile a lot; it oozes charm and energy.

If I’m being honest, though, the rest of the movie could have been a little better. The build up is what makes the pay-off worthwhile, but it still feels like it goes on for quite a while before we get to the really fun stuff. I think the story could have been a little tighter overall – the learning the superpowers bit works great, especially with a nod to being set now and social media, but the aimless not knowing what to do with them did start to stray into… well, aimlessness. Various beats reminded me a little too much of other movies, too – they do at least acknowledge Big 🙂

Overall this was just such a lot of fun and I’m not going to take anything away from that, really. I am really really hoping that we’re going to see much more of the other Captain Sparklefingers – urm, I mean, Marvel 😉

Released: 5th April 2019
Viewed: 5th April 2019
Running time: 132 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

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