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

Advertisements

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

Captain Marvel (2019)

captain marvel poster

It was highly appropriate that Captain Marvel was released on International Women’s Day, as one thing you can’t deny about this movie is that the girls are running the show. It’s high time that a female character got to headline a Marvel movie (previously only managing the co-lead of Ant-Man and the Wasp) – I mean, they had three attempts with Hulk getting rather dire solo outings already!! o_O

Anyway. Vers (pronounced ‘veers’) is a Kree warrior, a heroic species tasked with stopping the evil Skruls from taking over the universe. Vers (Brie Larson) is powerful, gifted with a photon blast ability from her hands, but still being schooled by her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), to overcome her emotions – love, hate, fear; none will serve in battle. But she’s tormented by the fact that she has no memory of her early life, of who she really is.

Events conspire to crash Vers through the roof of a Blockbuster video store on 1990s ‘C 53’ aka Earth. She’s still on a mission to track down the Skruls that landed with her, hindered by the fact that they are perfect shape-shifters. Oh, and a certain Agent Fury of SHIELD needs to be convinced that she’s one of the good guys…

I have mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, I do love Marvel and this fits in well with the upcoming ‘Endgame’ – tying everything together story-wise and the different strands of previous films (worlds of Avengers v. Guardians, for example), nods to the history of some characters we already know, certain naming choices, etc etc. I was amazed by how well the de-aging technology has progressed, with Samuel L Jackson looking like his younger self without any hint of that ‘wtf’ from back in Tron: Legacy (2010) for instance.

Brie Larson is pretty fantastic in the role, kicking ass and displaying grit and vulnerability that we’ve come to expect from the best of Marvel. However, the humour is… strained? I found her smart mouth less amusing – or convincing – than, say, Ant-Man’s version, and there was one scene where I just couldn’t tell if it was meant to be funny or if the stoney glare was just… well, funny. Mostly it felt like she was playing it straight then giving a dopey grin now and then. Was this a character choice? I just wasn’t sure.

Marvel’s sense of humour has always been a strength, but I’m not sure they got the balance right here. Fury’s softer side, cooing over a cat (Goose is a highlight of the film, btw!), does work nicely as a ‘before he got more cynical’ but does it sit with the ‘war makes good people do bad things’ message? Or the slightly heavy-handed ‘women aren’t treated well’, girl-power, stuff? The humour derived from the ‘period’ (ow, I feel old!) could have set a tone that it didn’t, as if it was an afterthought to ‘how do we make this fit in with 20 other movies’ – fair enough, but still… it all felt a bit ‘right ingredients, something worthwhile to say’, but not quite hitting enough high points using everything they had.

Captain Marvel is a mid-stack Marvel movie for me, alas. It was entertaining but it didn’t live up to the heights of Black Panther, Infinity Waror even Iron ManSo yeah, it’s fab to see a tough woman kicking ass, but I dunno. Maybe my expectations were too high. Still, I’m more than happy to see if a second viewing makes it work better for me – focusing on what works more than the beats that weren’t hit – as I’m jealous of everyone who’s come out raving about it.

Released: 8th March 2019
Viewed: 9th March 2019
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

The Umbrella Academy (season 1)

umbrella academy poster

If you’re thinking “I need another superhero show in my life like a hole in my umbrella” then I can tell you, I was too. And then curiosity got the better of me and I have never binged anything so hard! They might be superheroes – super strong, able to talk to the dead, bend minds, or teleport – but they are also a dysfunctional family that’d put the Osbournes to shame!

On the same day in 1989, 43 women across the world give birth at the same time – only, none of them had even been pregnant the day before. Sensing the likelihood that these kids will be special, eccentric billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) manages to adopt seven of them. Thirty years later, his death brings them back together for the first time in years, and through flashbacks we discover how their young lives turned out, and what ultimately drove them so far apart.

And, of course, there’s the small matter of literally saving the world from total destruction.

Okay, so upshot is: I loved it 🙂 It’s quirky as heck, even though everyone is playing it straight. It’s pretty dark – lots of blood and deaths and violence – but there are moments of such humour. Top billing goes to Vanya (Ellen Page), the only sibling without a super-power, but my favourite was easily Klaus (Robert Sheehan), whose ability to see the dead drives him to a life of drug addiction and pure hedonism – and he’s a hoot. His character definitely brightens all the angst from a group who shared a harsh upbringing, and who have seen their potential dwindle into most variations of failed lives.

There was something here that reminded me as much of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (which is weirder, a bit more niche, but worth a viewing) as the Avengers. The time travelling probably added to that, and the mysterious suited assassins. And what is the significance of the glass eye?

This is definitely a binge-worthy show. There are no recaps, just ten episodes of single story. And what a story!! It does have an ending, of sorts, but at the same time – please please please let there be a season 2! 🙂

First broadcast: February 2019
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~45-57 mins each

My rating: 9/10