The Boys (season 1)

The Boys poster

If there’s one thing I love more than a good superhero tale, it’s all the attempts these days to do something a bit different for the modern age, to find a new angle, or a more believable take. Step forward The Boys, which asks: what if the world had real superheros, celebrities with sponsorship deals – but behind the corporate facade, they’re actually a£$eholes? I mean, great powers doesn’t necessarily come with niceness or the goody-two-shoes-ness that makes some of the stalwarts a bit dull. So what if they were self-serving, totally devoid of moral codes?

The most famous of the ‘supes’ are The Seven, a handpicked group managed by the Vought Corporation. Superheroes are of course big business!

And so we have a superman (Homelander) with a “I get to do whatever the f- I want” attitude. An invisible man (Translucent) who’s unsurprisingly a peeping tom, and a speedster (A-Train) who is far, far more interested in his celebrity endorsements and staying at the top of the pack than anything as mundane as regular people and their woes.

Ooh, it’s dark. And twisted and sweary and *drenched* in blood. And I loved it!

We start proceedings as we mean to go on, with a shocking and quite frankly rather disgusting death. This sets our ‘hero’, Hughie, into the path of Billy Butcher (Karl Urban, mangling a British/Kiwi mashup of an accent, but otherwise on form). Butcher has a grudge with the supes, which we will get the full details of as the series progresses.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, which sets its world and characters up perfectly and then teases out the various mysteries over the course of 8 episodes. What’s Vought’s real agenda? Will these self-centred supes turn, or implode? Will Butcher get his revenge on an impervious man? Will Hughie ever recover from watching… yeah, no, I’ll leave that one as an early viewer surprise 😉

It didn’t quite hit the same levels of joy that I found in The Umbrella Academy, but it was still a lot of gory fun. Looking forward to the next season in a few months, and more to follow!

First broadcast: July 2019
Series: 1 broadcast so far, second due soon, and a third already announced
Episodes: 8 @ ~55 mins each

My rating: 8.5/10

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

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

spiderman ffh poster

Following the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Peter Parker is unsurprisingly a little burned out and looking forward to the chance to be just a teenager, rather than a superhero, during a school science trip to Europe. However, Nick Fury has other ideas – and when a series of ‘Elementals’, creatures seemingly formed of water, air, fire, etc, start attacking, Parker is called in to the fray. Fortunately, a new hero has appeared. Mysterio will save the day – right?

It turns out that the MCU’s Phase 3 has one more movie to offer. I hadn’t really been looking for more of the story post-Endgame, but as it happens this makes a nice coda to the whole Infinity Saga, giving us a glimpse of the post-snap/return (aka ‘blip’) world and a lead into Phase 4.

Spider-Man has never been my favourite of the superheroes, but this MCU take with Tom Holland has started to convert me. This is definitely an ‘Avengers’ movie, not just Spider-Man, and the teen angst is played well as a motivating factor rather than the main gist of everything. We get the usual dose of humour, plenty of nods to the rest of the series, and overall it just works.

As with Homecoming, I thought the motivations of the baddy were done well, even if the tech achievements are utterly far-fetched. Visually it’s all quite stunning, and the European locations – Venice, Prague, etc – are pretty, too.

Surprised me how much I enjoyed this, but little to nothing to complain about. It was fun! It was daft. It was a decent bridge between old stories and new. It’s not the best of the MCU by any stretch, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn flick.

Released: 2nd July 2019
Viewed: 13th July 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

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

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Endgame poster

So… here we are. Twenty-two movies over eleven years, and one way or another we are in the Endgame. The Infinity Saga ends here.

Last year’s Infinity War ended on something of a cliffhanger, and we pick up with the aftermath of those devastating events. The 3-hour run time allows the story to flow at a less than break-neck event, such as the previous movie, which is essential for this finale. As well as tying up the plot lines, we need to have an emotional connection with all of these characters, and to watch their emotional journeys – and that takes a little time.

As well as finding out what happens, and how, what I loved about this was the way it pays homage to all 11 years that have gone before. There are so many little nods back to the characters’ previous top moments, without becoming overly saccharine or just about patting themselves (ie the filmmakers) on the back. Sure, a few characters could have done with a little more screen time, but overall the fierce pride and joy at the whole series is brought to the screen.

IW was dark, and this is also pretty bleak at times especially – and appropriately – as it opens, but there is a large amount of humour sprinkled throughout. America’s ass might be my favourite… (or at least the least spoilery one!)! 😉 Given how joyful the series has been, it makes a lot of sense to remind everyone of the humour, especially as the series’ tone has darkened, plot-wise.

There’s not a lot to talk about while avoiding any spoilers at all, but I do think it’s worth going in ‘blind’. There are so many bits – major and very minor – that work perfectly for not seeing them coming. Indeed, the whole movie managed to be less predictable than I might have assumed, which is quite a feat after 21 movies of build up. Are there flaws – logically, in particular? Sure, but the action is high, the fan-nods are amazing, and overall it’s so, so easy to just let the imperfections go in favour of just how well they’ve pulled the nigh-on impossible together.

Is it perfect? No. But as a culmination of over a decade of genre-busting success, I don’t think they could have wrapped up this first chapter any better, with any more love to or from the fans on both sides of the camera. And so, my first 10/10 movie review on sheer satisfaction factor.

Released: 25th April 2019
Viewed: 25th April 2019 (in a Captain America t-shirt, natch ;))
Running time: 181 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 10/10 – no, it’s not ‘perfect’, but near as dammit and can’t imagine they could have done much better!

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 America: The First Avenger (2011)

captain america poster

The path to Endgame i.e. my rewatch of the Marvel movies continues with the fifth in the series, and – ironically for the ‘first Avenger’ – the last of the Phase 1 main characters to be introduced before the big team up. We’ve had science, aliens, and mythology, and now we’re getting some history…

1940s, World War II. A weedy kid from Brooklyn, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is desperate to sign up – like his best friend, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan). He finally gets his chance when the lead scientist in a new Super Soldier programme sees the advantages to enlisting for heart and goodness, not just brawn and no-brains.

I remember the transformation scene, sitting in the cinema whispering, “It must be nice for Chris Evans to be the ‘after’ shot in real life!” The effects in the early part of the movie, turning him scrawny, were impressive but not perfect – still, you get the jist.

The rest of the movie sees Steve fight to become the hero we know he is, joining up with his ‘Howling Commandos’ to fight Nazis and the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). The latter has harnessed the power of a certain Tesseract, a ‘mcguffin’ that continues to have importance through not just the next movie, but right into Infinity War and Captain Marvel.

Talking of Captain Marvel, there are a lot of parallels between the two – and not just the name. Both are underdogs – skinny boy vs. girl in a man’s world – and both show heart, grit, and keep getting up every time they’re knocked down. I wonder if I would have warmed more to Marvel had those scenes not been relegated to brief flashbacks; certainly, the hand grenade scene almost brings a tear to my eye – if I’m feeling a bit weepy, anyway.

I’ve probably seen CA:FA at least as many times as any other Marvel movie, so I’d have to suggest it’s very watchable. Of course, the eye candy doesn’t hurt 😉 Still, Cap is quite a serious character in a serious kind of film – the WW2 setting is too real not to add a darkness to the tone, so this is fitting. Like Thor, his subsequent movies are stronger (imo), but this sets up several important threads in the MCU: Cap himself, the origins of another couple of baddies, introduces us to Howard Stark (Tony’s father), and that glowing blue cube…

Released: 29th July 2011
Viewed: 12th March 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10

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

Thor (2011)

thor poster

My rewatching of the Marvel movies ahead of Avengers: Endgame has slowed a little, and I was questioning which movies I might skip. Thor and Captain America are the next two on the list, but also felt like ones I’d seen quite a lot (by dint of being older, and not ‘rubbish’) – and sure enough, Thor has been on the telly (twice!) in the past week – I guess I’m not the only one thinking of a rewatch. Well, in that case, might as well…

Following a couple of Iron Mans and another attempt at a Hulk movie (the Edward Norton one, still least-favourite of the entire MCU, alas), Marvel took another gamble by taking the series to another planet. Asgard, to be precise – home of Odin and the Norse pantheon. It also marked a shift from the science-based (however out there!) storylines of the previous films to a realm of ‘magic’ and fantasy.

What worked: casting Chris Hemsworth as a very buff Thor, and Tom Hiddleston as new fan-favourite Loki. Also, getting Shakespearean luvvie Kenneth Branagh to direct, as the story fit very well with the Bard’s kind of tales: king’s two sons vying for the throne, mischief and treachery abound, and the heir apparent being stripped of his powers for being an arrogant hot-head.

Sent to Earth, Thor must of course learn humility blah blah in order to be worthy blah more blah. Y’know what? It’s not a bad film. It’s perfectly enjoyable with enough daftness to get through the slightly unoriginal story. Everyone is taking it seriously enough that you’re not rolling your eyes at some of the less believable stuff, and it is easy to get caught up.

Still, Thor is an odd tone in the MCU. The sequel stands as another low point in the series, but then along came Ragnarok and it made even this perfectly enjoyable one less so in comparison.

However, in terms of the 20-movie-‘arc’, and even in the original 6 ‘Phase 1’, Thor is actually quite essential viewing. Mainly because it introduces us to Loki, who not only drives the first Avengers team up, but was such a favourite with the fans that he’s (spoiler, I suppose?) shoehorned into the sequel. It also brings SHIELD and Agent Coulson more into the light, and introduces another new character, Hawkeye (although I’ll admit when I first saw the movie I could sense the ‘importance’ of the intro, while making utterly no sense of it at the time).

The post-credit scene leads into Avengers (Assemble), but also needs a little more explanation – perhaps from Captain America

Released: 27th April 2011 (UK)
Viewed: 17th February 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10