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)

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Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

ant man and wasp poster

Ant-Man (2015) was a bit of an oddity in the Marvel ‘MCU’ juggernaut. Following the very well-received Winter Soldier and the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, and as we were waiting for Civil War, Marvel had a bit of a bum note with the less-than-excellent Age of Ultron. For the next release to be the new, largely unknown character of Ant-Man was something of a risk, and the film’s lighthearted tone and apparent disconnect from the rest of the series made it a little hard to love.

Looking back, however, Ant-Man is a fun movie that benefits from being rather stand-alone. The sequel picks up after the closing sting, where Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne character announces “It’s about damn time!” to her Wasp outfit – and, indeed, about damn time for a female character to be named in the title of a Marvel movie! o_O

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I think one of the reasons Ant-Man doesn’t quite work is that the story being told isn’t wholly that of the main character, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), but of the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) – certainly, as pointed out in this excellent article for writers, the protagonist is set against Pym, leaving Lang as a bit of a hanger on in his own movie. With this sequel, that dynamic doesn’t really change, and once again we get a movie where the narrative is a collection of things that sort of happen around the main character, that he gets involved with, but overall aren’t really about him.

That said, there are some really good bits here: Paul Rudd is cute and funny. Evangeline Lilly is fantastically kick-ass. The supporting cast are all excellent. The sense of humour is strong, particularly with the shrinking/expanding technology and Michael Peña’s fantastic Luis.

Overall this is a lot of fun in different bits, but never going to be all that memorable.

Released: 2nd August 2018
Viewed: 11th August 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avenger Infinity War poster

Well. Here we are. Ten years of Marvel ‘MCU’ movies, ten years since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) told the world “I am Iron Man” and turned the comic book to screen adaptation from a bit of a hit-and-miss affair to a roaring juggernaut of fan favourites.

The word ‘fan’ is kind of important there. While there have been movies in that last decade of output that non-fans could enjoy, or take or leave, this is one that absolutely requires you to be fully along for the whole ride and most if not all of the 18 (!) movies that lead up to this point. Or, as I put it leaving the cinema: “I loved that, but it’s not one for non-fans.”

Infinity War ties together plot threads from several of the movies. The big baddy, Thanos, has shown up in several previous installments, but finally steps fully forward here. He’s on the hunt for all six of the Infinity Stones, elemental gems that were (so it goes) created in the Big Bang and control fundamental aspects of the universe. We’ve met five of them in previous movies, from the Tesseract (housing the Space Stone) in Thor to the Time Stone wielded in Doctor Strange. Combining all six will give Thanos the power to… well. Anything, quite frankly!

So, grab your popcorn and settle in for a fast-paced 2½ hours of action with the usual bit of Marvel humour, but also a lot of darkness – and, about three quarters of a plot. Because yes, there is a second part of this story coming next year!

There’s no gentle intro to anything here – as stated, there are 18 other movies of ‘introduction’ – which is obviously a massive downside for some. I didn’t mind: this isn’t a stand-alone by any stretch, it’s the culmination (or the start of it, at least!) of a lot of other strands, a bit of a season finale kind of piece.

There are also a LOT of characters to jam in here, and you could suggest that none of them get a great deal of time or development – see previous comments, though. For me, the best bit was the interactions between characters from some very tonally different MCU movies: Thor meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy, Stark meeting Strange, and so forth. True to form, some of the best laugh out loud moments happen with these culture clashes.

It’s not perfect. It’s absolutely frantic in pace. But, as a fan (can I say that enough?!), that just makes me want to see it again and again, to fully absorb some of what’s flashing past on the screen – if my nerves can stand it! And, of course, to get the answers to a rather cliff-hanger-y ending o_O

Released: 26th April 2018
Viewed: 28th April 2018
Running time: 149 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

Black Panther (2018)

black panther poster

Superhero movies. Dumb and overdone, right? And yet, I’m growing increasingly convinced that it’s through these ‘silly’ movies that we’re seeing a shift in all sorts of cultural norms. Wonder Woman gave us our first female-led superhero movie, and now Black Panther is the first set in Africa, with an overwhelmingly black cast. Both show us (futuristic ideals based on) cultures not usually put on the big screen in movies like this, and both are massively better for it. Oh, and Black Panther is just a really very good blockbuster!

Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is about to be crowned King of Wakanda. Any opponent who might step forward is less of a challenge than the pressures to review Wakanda’s self-protectionist policy of hiding itself and its vastly superior technology away, disguised as a stereotypical third world farming culture. Is it time to show a better face to the world? And what if parts of that world are intent on breaking in?

One of the criticisms of Marvel movies has been the relatively weak villains and/or their motivations. This bucks that massively: the bad guys are nuanced, and not entirely wrong. The good guys sometimes do bad things. Choosing between a good leader and policies you believe in isn’t black and white (no pun intended). There’s actually a ton to come away and think about after you enjoy the battle rhino’s charge!!

BP balances well interpersonal and familial tensions with the expected OTT ass-kicking expected from a movie like this. The sci-fi elements are a ‘wow’, the cinematography is lush, and there’s enough snippets of humour that a movie like this needs. If I had any complaints it’s possibly over some of the accents, and a slight ‘hmm’ over the idea that a futuristic society is still doing challenge-by-combat – but hey, the Dora Milaje (female bodyguard squad) is utterly, utterly badass! 🙂

I sort of regret giving Wonder Woman as high a mark as I did – it’s culturally important, and blew me away for reasons other than a rather so-so storyline. BP on the other hand, has both: it’s culturally important AND well made AND a lot of fun. But hey: there’s plenty room for both, and here’s to all sorts of diversity showing up in future superhero – and other! – movies!

Released: 13th February 2018
Viewed: 21st February 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor Ragnarok poster

There’s a growing concern with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that you have to have seen all of them – and that’s 16 movies before this point, and let’s not even talk about the TV shows o_O But, fear not, as Ragnarok opens with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) giving you the only few points you really need to know: that he’s a bit of a big deal on Midgard these days, having saved the planet a few times… 😀

The tongue in cheek humour starts at the beginning and does not let up through the entire movie. It’s easily the funniest thing the comic book craze has spat out through the last decade, and just an utter joy to chuckle my way through. Tonally (and in colour palette) this is a lot closer to Guardians of the Galaxy (with a bit of Lord of the Rings thrown in) than either of the two previous Thor/Dark World movies or even the recent MCU e.g. Civil War, and I for one think that’s a good thing – certainly, it beats the po-faced DC efforts hands down.

Quick recap: during Age of Ultron Thor started having visions of Ragnarok, the prophesied end of Asgard and death of the gods. He was thus absent from Civil War, as was Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), last seen in his Hulk form flying off in a quinjet in an attempt to avoid causing more damage around himself.

From the trailers, we know that the two are going to met again in a Roman-esque arena fight presided over by the hugely OTT Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) – who happens to be the brother of the Collector character (Benicio del Toro) from Guardians, providing another link between the two halves of the MCU.

Meanwhile, Asgard’s inhabitants are under threat from their new would-be ruler, Hela Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett, looking stunning, btw!), who is less concerned about having subjects to rule than she is about being worshipped. I have since read a few less than great comments about the character, but I thought she was great: very sarcastic and irreverent, in keeping with the tone of the rest of the movie, and Blanchett is clearly loving camping it up to the nines. Conversely, I was less impressed than other reviewers with the Valkyrie character, who I thought could/should have been a little more physically imposing, or as with the Amazonians in Wonder Woman, given a little more presence by being cast older?

While these two plot lines are hurtling towards a collision, buried beneath the thick layer of gags is a surprising amount of heart to the movie. While it’s unlikely to have you in tears (come on – it can’t just have been me with Guardians 2!!), there are a few beats that give a little substance to characters we’ve been following through quite a number of years now.

Overall, then, this is a wild and fun ride, with a more satisfying plot and character arc than the previous installment, although you might have to look past the froth to see it. I realise that I’m about to give this a higher rating than Blade Runner 2049. Is it a ‘better’ film? No, it’s not really – but as a cinema viewing experience, it was a bit more satisfying and while I’d like to see both again, it’s this one that makes me really smile at the thought 🙂

As usual, there are 2 mid/post credit scenes, the first teasing the next Avengers movie, and the latter with the Grandmaster.

Released: 24th October 2017
Viewed: 24th October 2017
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – just, so much fun!

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

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