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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Glass (2019)

glass poster

Back in 2000, M Night Shyamalan followed the huge hit that was Sixth Sense (1999) with a very understated ‘superhero’ film called Unbreakable. I vaguely recall not being very impressed at the time, although I would like to revisit it now. Then, I think it was just too slow and moody and perhaps a little bit odd for what I was expecting.

Fast forward to 2016, and I was much less critical of Split – a strange tale of multiple personality disorder that might have been more than it seemed. And, as a stinger, it was revealed at the end (not a spoiler, don’t worry!) that this was the same universe as Unbreakable… and, that we could expect a third instalment, bringing together Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), David Dunn (Bruce Willis), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Mr Glass.

The premise from the first movie – David being asked to believe he has superpowers – is picked up well, with a psychiatrist suggesting that everything is actually a delusion and can be explained rationally. But as Mr Glass plots, and the Beast returns, figuring out what’s real is the least of their problems…

I wasn’t sure how much to expect from this movie, to be honest, having had mixed views on the first two. In fact, the friend who was a huge fan of Unbreakable was a bit disappointed with this, whereas I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot is a bit so-so – a little stretching on plausibility of actions at times – but the performances are excellent. Bruce Willis only has to frown moodily through most of it, but Sam Jackson is chillingly cool, and James McAvoy is outstanding with his dozen or so personalities, switching rapidly at times and making each entirely recognisable and different. I wasn’t too impressed with the surrounding cast, but they were sufficient.

Overall, then, it wasn’t a bad way to bring the trilogy to a close, but nor did it have anything like the impact that it perhaps would have liked. It was… serviceable. Damned with faint praise, perhaps, but there ya go.

Released: 18th January 2019
Viewed: 18th January 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Aquaman (2018)

aquaman poster

If I say this is one of the best DC movies to date, to be honest that’s not necessarily high praise. Still, it is praise: this was daft fun, if a bit messy.

We’ve met Aquaman aka Arthur Curry (really? Hmm) aka Jason Momoa, in a slightly pointless role in  Justice League (2017). Here he gets centre stage, and we get a little bit of an origin story (mother = Queen of Atlantis, father = human) and a suspiciously Black Panther-reminiscent tale of sibling rivalry, hidden kingdoms, and lots of fighting.

We also get a lot of CGI. Well, duh – I don’t suppose giant seahorse mounts or trained war sharks are easy to find o_O But, there is a loss of something tangible when your sets are underwater green screen, however amazing some of them look, and a loss of dignity and gravatas when your cast are floating around with drifting hair. I think there’s a reason watery movies generally don’t do very well.

Still, Jason Momoa is refreshingly irreverent – a DC character/movie with a sense of humour, whatever next?! He’s thrust into a war to save ‘the surface’ from a ticked-off Atlantian empire, and to be fair I’m not sure they’re that wrong. Hmm.

The supporting cast, from Patrick Wilson (channeling Julian Sands with that hair!) to Amber Heard were all a little poe-faced and stilted for my liking, and to be honest I found it hard to care about any of them. And that is perhaps where DC fail to live up to Marvel’s success. So yes, one of the better DC offerings. Make of that what you will.

Released: 12th December 2018
Viewed: 29th December 2018
Running time: 143 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

into the spider verse poster

Spider-Man has never been my favourite super hero. In fact, it’s probably telling that I own all the Marvel movies except Homecoming. I dunno, maybe it’s the teenage thing, or my lack of love for arachnids, or – probably – that we’ve heard the same story again and again and again: poor Uncle Ben, with great power, yadda yadda.

One of the smartest moves this new movie makes is poking gentle fun at this repetition of the origin story. It also has a fabulous animation style that harks back to the comic books source, and looks amazing. Add in a ton of action, plenty of humour (Peter Porker?!), and plenty of emotion in the story line, and by jove this is the best Spider-Man movie ever! 🙂

When Wilson Fisk – aka the Kingpin – builds a dimensional portal, he plans to bring his dead family through. Of course, things don’t go to plan and instead we end up with multiple Spider-People. From Peter B Parker, a washed-up, older Spider-Man, to Spider-Gwen, a black and white retro Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicholas Cage)… and that pig. And an anime version! My only vague confusion was that we start out in a universe with two Spider-Men: Peter Parker, and the newcomer, Miles Margoles. Miles has issues in his life, sure, but he’s more interesting and less whiny than previous origin-story incarnations, and I liked him as the main character.

Most of all, though, I loved the animation style. It takes a moment to realise that the blurry backgrounds are aping the comic books, but it’s a nicely fresh thing to see on the big screen. It also matches the multi-dimensional madness that the story lands up in.

I might be converted to not being so meh about Spider-Man!

Released: 12th December 2018
Viewed: 28th December 2018
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8.5/10

Incredibles 2 (2018)

incredibles 2 poster

Fourteen years after the first movie – beloved by many, although I was just “Yeah, that was fun” (and as such am a bit hazy on the details!) – the Parr family are back. Even more in hiding than the first film, things are not going so well for them, until a billionaire tycoon throws his money behind a scheme to bring Supers back into legality. The only thing is, he wants Elastigirl aka mom Helen to be the face of the campaign, leaving Mr Incredible aka dad Bob, literally holding the baby.

The gender-switch roles is probably what brings this movie into reasonable modern times, and it’s pretty funny to watch Bob struggle and pretty ace to see the mother rekindling her sense of worth outside that role. From a cartoon. However, the real joy – for me, at least – was the scenes of baby Jack-Jack finally finding his powers, as teased in the post-credit scene from the original movie.

I also think Edna Mode is one of my all-time favourite animated characters, so was a little disappointed that she’s in this so briefly – with some fabulous scenes with Jack-Jack, though, so all is forgiven 🙂 Likewise, the Samuel L Jackson voiced Frozone could have been in it more for my liking.

Since the release of The Incredibles back in 2004, there has been an absolute explosion of superheroes at the cinema, in live action format. So, does Incredibles 2 still have a place? Well, yes: it was a lot of fun, and makes some relevant points without trying too hard. That said, there’s nothing desperately new or fresh about the story line, which doesn’t stray too far from the original overall. It must be impossible to come up with novel ideas for superpowers these days, too.

Overall this is a decent movie with plenty of fun to be had. The kids can love it, the grown ups can too, and it both stands alone and makes for a sequel that was actually worth making. Recommended.

Released: 13th July 2018
Viewed: 13th July 2018
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Low Chicago – George RR Martin (ed)

low chicago cover

“It had been one hundred and forty-two years since John Nighthawk had been inside the Palmer House, and then it had been the earlier incarnation of the luxurious Chicago hotel, known simply as the Palmer.”

It seems very odd to jump into a series at book 25, but this isn’t the kind of story where that matters too much. Sure, I had to do a quick google for the underlying premise: an alien virus hits the Earth, and while most of the infected die, those that survive are altered. Known as the Wild Card event, most of those whose ‘cards turned’ become ‘jokers’ – cursed with some kind of abnormality, like the woman with rabbit ears. Some are ‘deuces’, granted low-level, party-trick kind of powers. But a very few are the ‘aces’, those with real superpowers.

The whole series has been collections of short stories, and this latest volume is no different. We start with a framing tale – very Canterbury Tales 😉 – of a high stakes poker game. Each player is allowed to take two bodyguards in with them, be that physical muscle or ace-skills, or both!

The human mutation premise isn’t exactly novel, but I think it’s a nice take on things here, feeling different enough from, say, X-Men.

When something goes awry during the card game, it turns out that one of the superpowers in the room is the ability to send people to different time periods. So, with regular interludes back to our framing tale, we then get a series of stories written by different authors detailing the ‘adventures’ of one or more of the party, flung into the distant or recent past.

I’m not sure I would have noticed the different authors if it hadn’t been made clear at the start, but once pointed out then yes, I caught a few differences in writing styles. That works well, though, given the range of eras the stories are set in: Jurassic to 1980s, with stops at several quite famous events – and with a few famous faces, to boot!

I really enjoyed both the premise of the stories here, and the individual time travel tales. There were a few times when I thought, “This is probably a reference to a previous story”, but nothing to detract too much. If I did have a complaint, it’s that this book gives a bit of a glimpse at a clearly well-established universe, but we don’t get to spend a great deal of time with character development or deeper explanations.

Still, that just gives me an even bigger reason to check out the rest of the series!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 7 short stories plus framing tale
First published: 2018
Series: Wild Cards book 25
Read from 3rd-10th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

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