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

Agents of SHIELD (season 3)

Arguably the most mainstream of the MCU television series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has reached its third season with a continuing fall in viewers but increase in ratings. Thankfully, this has translated into a fourth season – I say thankfully, because the show still feels like it’s – no pun intended – evolving and growing.

We start series 3 exactly where series 2 left off, which is to say (without too many spoilers!) with Fitz mourning the loss of Simmons, and Coulson and Daisy (characters changing names mid-show is still weird!) heading up a campaign to recruit more ‘inhumans’. However, they’re not the only ones hunting down the enhanced beings…

We’ve got a new big bad in this series, and I have to say I rather liked – suitably menacing and unstoppable without feeling too ridiculous, tying quite nicely to the backstory, and expanding the mythos of Hydra. Really, the only downside is no one in this show ever really thinking about calling in the Avengers, even when things are at their grimmest!

Relationships develop and change between different sets of characters, too, and the few new ones are used well enough without being forced to the fore. We’re going to lose some familiar faces, too. This focus on the people – human, all, even when they’re aren’t, exactly – is I think what gives the show such strength, leaving the battling of monsters slightly in second place. Would we expect less from Mr Whedon, though? 🙂 My one complaint here would be the focus still being quite fixed on Daisy, who is boring me a little; I think the show could do with another really interesting, quirky character, as currently we’ve really only got Coulson standing out for me (the Cavalry being a little subdued this season, and FitzSimmons… well). YMMV.

Mention to the stand out cameos including Peter MacNicol as a rather unlikely Asgardian (given they’ve previously all looked like Chris Hemsworth or Idris Elba!), and John Hannah as something of a mad scientist. We’ve also got the ‘cameo’ mention of events from Captain America: Civil War, in the antepenultimate (come on – fabulous word!) episode, making the fans smile.

The whole series ends with a ‘flash forward’ that asks more than enough questions to make the announcement of a new season very welcome!

First broadcast: January 2016 (UK)
Series: 3
Episodes: 22 @ ~45 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10

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

Agent Carter (season 2)

In a schedule already overcrowded with superhero shows, Agent Carter stood out a little for me: she’s a woman with no superpowers herself, and we’re in the 1940s. Season 1 was full of the frustrations of a very capable woman facing horrendous sexism, eventually using this underestimation to accomplish a great deal.

Season 2 changes location, sending Peggy (Hayley Atwell) to the sunshine of Los Angeles and away from a few of the ‘hiccups’ at the end of the previous series – although many of these seem to follow her.

Still feeling slightly unusual on tv, there is a single plot line through the ten episodes – which can be a problem if it’s not strong. Here, it’s a mysterious ‘zero matter’ substance, and an aging actress finally grasping some power into her life. Throw in a mysterious cabal pulling the strings behind the scenes, a scientist badly affecting by the zero matter, a bit of a love triangle, and… well, meh, a bit.

Despite not being overly enthralled with much of this – the villain was a bit weak, the macguffin and danger under-explained – I still found the show entertaining. Most of this comes from the character of Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), Howard Stark’s stiff upper-lipped English butler, and from Carter herself as a kick-ass, do as she pleases, modern woman. The twisted psyche of the Russian sleeper agent is also hugely fun, especially compared to whiny villain Whitney Frost, so it was a shame she sort of disappeared rather abruptly.

Overall, it’s a shame these characters weren’t given a stronger story line – this ‘filler’-feeling season puts renewal in serious doubt. If by some chance it does come back, I’d also like to see it start to tie back in to the MCU a little more – we know this is history to the movies and other shows (a direct ancestor of SHIELD, of course!), so a little glimmer of the bridge would be great.

First broadcast: January 2016
Series: 2
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 6/10 – I preferred season 1

Ant-Man (2015)

The Marvel Movie steamroller pushes on, and while I don’t expect Ant-Man to be considered one of the classics of the box set, it’s a whole lotta fun and nice to see the movie makers try for something a little different.

By different, I think I mean in tone. Ant-Man seems a little less polished and a lot more jokey. Much like the ‘hero’: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, and really, who doesn’t love Paul Rudd) is a freshly released criminal (but a non-violent burglar of the over-privileged, so nothing we can’t forgive, right?) trying to go straight but ultimately frustrated by the lack of forgiveness from society.

He’s soon caught up in a scheme involving Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who once secretly created a ‘shrink’ formula and used it to become the eponymous hero. Pym is now retired from both SHIELD and his public persona as technologist, but is dismayed to see his once-protégé trying to replicate the formula, and unleash it to possible chaos. Can he and sometime-estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), convince Scott to be the not-so-huge hero they need?

Much as I enjoyed the movie, it’s easy to pick out the flaws. For one, it’s got a LOT to pack into two hours, including a lot of humour, a lot of training montage-ery, and as much action as it can squeeze in to what’s left. Oh, and a great deal of father-daughter and other relationship squidgy-feel-y-ness. All of which makes for a rather busy combo, pushing the main set up into a rather small and sadly unoriginal space.

That said, I did find it hugely interesting to see the Marvel Universe allowing for a large amount of mostly untold back story – that of Hank and Janet Pym, familiar to long-time readers but not to the average audience. We also get a few cameos, and a nice dose of humour from seeing Ant-Man tackle Antony Mackie’s Falcon – I’m looking forward to seeing the dynamic continue with the pair in Captain America: Civil War.

Overall, it’s always good to get more humour into the Marvel movies, and see them play against formula however slightly.

Keep your eyes peeled for TWO mid/post credit scenes!

Released: 17th July 2015
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 12A – odd, as it almost felt like ‘Marvel Kids’, but there was a fair amount of light swearing and violence.

My rating: 7/10 – slightly generously, but overall it was fun. And, Paul Rudd 🙂