‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Throwback Review: The One That’s Basically A Comedy

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

First off, it needs to be said, that as of writing this, I have just returned from seeing Avengers: Infinity War, and therefore, my thoughts are currently trying to decipher what I just saw, whilst also focus on writing this.

After the mixed receptions to Thor, and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, Marvel decided that a change was needed, and therefore, they hired Taika Watiti to direct the threequel, Thor: Ragnarok. Anyone familiar with his work on films such as What We Do in the Shadows, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, know that Watiti has a very distinct, humourous tone. His hiring drew ire from some fans, concerned that his style of filmmaking was unsuited for a Thor film, whilst others praised his appointment as bold and courageous on Marvel’s part. For me, I think there is a valid argument to be made that both were right.

Thor: Ragnarok continues the story of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who returns to Asgard, only to find his brother on the throne and his father missing. However, that proves to be the least of his concerns as the mysterious Hela (Cate Blanchett) arrives to claim the throne for herself.

Taika Watiti’s DNA is all over Thor: Ragnarok. The use of vibrant colours and excessive comedy is vintage Watiti. He clearly decided that the film needed to abandon its Shakespearean elements to focus on simply being a loud, hilariously fun adventure. This is where Ragnarok succeeds the most. It is ridiculously fun. No other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has put as much emphasis on fun as Ragnarok has, not even the Guardians of the Galaxy films. He handles the action elements well, with the sequences feeling like something straight out of an over-the-top 80’s action film, (possibly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger).

The cast is all brilliant and handles the change in tone with ease. Chris Hemsworth gives what is easily his greatest performance as the ‘God of Thunder’ in the MCU. It is obvious from watching his performance, and that of the entire cast, that everyone enjoyed the filming process. Mark Ruffalo also delivers a great dual performance as both Bruce Banner and the Hulk. However, its safe to say that the film is at its best when Ruffalo is the Hulk rather than Banner. As you’d expect, Tom Hiddleston has fantastic chemistry with Hemsworth, with the interactions between Thor and Loki remaining the highlights of the film. There are several new cast members that standout as scene stealers in a film with great performances all around. The first is director Taika Watiti, who did the motion capture and voice-work for Korg, and from the fan responses, it is clear that Korg is the fan favourite from Ragnarok. He perfectly reflects the overall tone of the film with his humourous, sarcastic nature and every scene he appears in is a joy to watch. The other standout newcomer is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. Badass, rude and with a devastating past, the character is the most interesting addition to the MCU in a while, and I can’t wait to see what Marvel does with the character in the future.

Hulk has never been better. Fans were shocked when it was revealed in the marketing that Hulk could talk in almost-full sentences, and were rightfully expecting many hilarious interactions between the big green monster and the God of Thunder. Thankfully, the film, with its emphasis on comedy and fun does not hold back in this regard. There is a real sense of a child-like innocence to Hulk, who throws tantrums and is chased around like a curious toddler throughout the film. As for the fight between Thor and Hulk, that the marketing was so reliant on, well it’s short but brilliant. Hopefully, we’ll get ‘Round 3’ in a future film.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film is hilarious. It is the funniest film in the MCU by miles, with every single joke landing with great effect. However, some have criticised that Ragnarok is too funny for its own good. Having rewatched the film several times, there is definitely an argument to be made for this. Considering that Ragnarok is an apocalyptic storyline, and the amount of death that occurs in the film, it’s disappointing that none of it feels important in the least. This is all down to the fact that the film barely goes two minutes without a joke that, despite landing well, still feels forced. Thor loses so much, including his friends but doesn’t even seem to care because he never stops cracking jokes. The film never takes a moment to linger on the ramifications of what happens. As the Asgardians watch Asgard be annihilated by Surtr (Clancy Brown), it should be a sombre moment, instead, it acts as the signal for more jokes. There are several supposedly major deaths in the film, but as a result of the film’s handling of them, the audience is left to question whether we were ever supposed to care about them. This is especially true for The Warriors Three: Fandrall (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). All three are eliminated in seconds and there is never any emotional reaction from anybody. Their deaths actually end up distracting, and it may have been better to completely remove the characters from the film.

A major issue with the film is that despite being marketed as the main villain, Hela is barely in the film. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is the real villain of Thor: Ragnarok. I have been trying to figure out just what went through the heads of those in the writers’ room to actually think this was a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeff Goldblum as much as the next guy. That being said, there is no acceptable excuse for the Grandmaster being in the film more than Hela. He imposes no threat to the characters, whilst Hela was beginning to shape up into a genuinely great villain. Cate Blanchett gives a good performance and it’s just frustrating that she is relegated to the sidelines for the majority of the film. Can you imagine if, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan (Lee Pace) was still the main villain, but The Collector (Benicio del Toro) had more screentime than Ronan? It’s a pretty ridiculous idea, and yet Thor: Ragnarok does this with the Grandmaster and Hela. If I had the opportunity to ask Taika Watiti one question, it would be: “Why on Earth was the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok more than Hela”. I’d love to get an answer to that because it is really boggling my mind.

The actual script is all over the place. The film spends mere minutes with Hela and the underused new character, Skurge (Karl Urban), before returning the focus to Thor for a significant amount of time, before returning to Hela briefly, seemingly picking up moments after the last time we saw her. It is so disjointed that I found myself getting worked up over the convoluted storytelling technique that Watiti chose to follow.

Unfortunately, Thor: Ragnarok falls victim to the mixed visual effects of the MCU. Granted, some shots are stunning, with the city of Sakaar looking especially spectacular. However, there are far too many effects, that despite the film being less than a year old, already look dated. The excessive green screen backgrounds are incredibly distracting and disappointing, considering the film’s $180 million budget. The film is too reliant on CGI which will make the film look pretty pathetic, from a visual standpoint, in years to come.

In the end, Thor: Ragnarok is an extremely fun, hilarious film in the MCU. The film could easily be considered as too unique with its overuse of comedy and disregard for the past, however, that does not stop it from being a complete blast.

Rating: 8.6/10

‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Throwback Review: The One That Did Spidey Right

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the film that many fans dreamed of but were confident that they would never get. Why on Earth would Sony let a moneymaker like Spider-Man out of their hands? Well as it turns out they didn’t have to for the fans to finally see the web-slinger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Spider-Man: Homecoming sees Peter Parker (Tom Holland) return to his normal life following the events of Captain America: Civil War. After receiving a suit from Tony Stark, Peter becomes desperate to prove himself and finds himself in the crosshairs with the Vulture (Michael Keaton).

After making his introduction in Civil War, the general consensus appeared to agree that Tom Holland’s performance as Peter Parker was the best incarnation of the web-slinger ever to appear on the screen. He perfectly captured the enthusiastic nature of the character but also the more dramatic, emotional character moments. Despite his youthful age, Holland proves himself more than capable of leading a Hollywood blockbuster.

The rest of the cast is great, even though it is overloaded with talent. Jacob Batalon steals the show as Peter’s best friend, Ned. His childish enthusiasm after learning of Peter’s alter ego makes for a truly joyful viewing experience.  The romance between Peter and Liz (Laura Harrier) is sweet and feels natural, something which the majority of MCU romances don’t. There are also fun performances from the likes of Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei, and a particularly hilarious cameo from Chris Evans as Captain America. However, although Zendaya delivers a great performance as Michelle (or MJ) she is ridiculously underused, even though she will clearly have a larger role in the sequel.

When it was confirmed that both Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau would be reprising their roles as Tony Stark and Happy Hogan, respectively, fans cheered like crazy. Seeing Iron Man interact with Spider-Man was something fans never thought they would see and yet they did. That being said, there were concerns that both, mostly Iron Man, would be overused, and the film would end up feeling like Iron Man 4. Thankfully, director Jon Watts keeps their roles to a bare minimum, allowing the characters to have great individual moments but never stealing the spotlight away from Peter Parker. After all, this is his story.

Marvel has always had a villain problem, but recently, with films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the villain problem is apparently becoming less of an issue. The Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton, is easily one of the strongest villains of the MCU. He is intimidating and the twist involving his family is still, after multiple viewings, shocking.

Jon Watts absolutely nailed the tone. Spider-Man: Homecoming echoes the classic John Hughes films of the 80s with its themes. There’s even a clip of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the film. The film just oozes fun, similar to how Guardians of the Galaxy embraces the fun nature of comic books.

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As I mentioned earlier, the cast is overloaded with talent. There are far too many cast members in the film. Abraham Attah, Angourie Rice, Donald Glover, Hannibal Buress,  Logan-Marshall Green, Martin Star, Michael Chernus, Michael Mando and Selenis Leyva all appear in minimal roles which could have been filled by anyone. It just ends up distracting seeing so many recognisable actors with roles which average out to around thirty seconds of screentime.

I am not going to go too in-depth about the continuity issue that Spider-Man: Homecoming has created for the MCU, but it is frustrating that something as major as a timeline error that contradicts every other MCU film failed to set alarm bells off among the executives at Marvel, especially Kevin Feige.

In the end, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fantastic return home for the web-slinger. Tom Holland is easily the best incarnation of the iconic hero in a film which also boasts one of the best villains in the MCU.

Rating: 8.6/10

 

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Throwback Review: The One That Made Everyone Cry

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Guardians of the Galaxy was successful beyond anything even Marvel head Kevin Feige imagined.What director, James Gunn, accomplished with the film was outstanding and thus, Feige immediately ensured that Gunn would return for the sequel. Anticipation for the sequel was sky-high, with many fearing that it would not be able to live up to expectations.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who finally meets his father but realises that he may be hiding something.

What made the first film such a hit was that it fully embraced the wacky nature of the characters and put an emphasis on fun. Naturally, the sequel continues this style whilst also telling a more mature story. Right from the opening scene, featuring a brilliant tracking shot of Baby Groot dancing to Mr. Blue Sky as the rest of the Guardians take on an impressive GCI creature. This sequence, whilst thoroughly entertaining, has been criticised for being too self-indulgent, apparently desperate to better the iconic dancing Groot mid-credits scene from the first film. However, the sequence works perfectly to reinforce the tone that the audience can expect whilst also firmly establishing the Guardians’ personalities as they each react differently to the situation at hand.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has superb visuals that truly showcase the sense of epic grandeur that the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) presents. The film is stunningly beautiful and features several of my favourite shots within the MCU. The characters of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) look exceptional, although nowhere near the magnificent quality of the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy.

The cast remains the most entertaining ensemble of the MCU. Chris Pratt continues to prove that Gunn and Marvel landed the perfect actor to portray their charming hero, despite the initial fan concerns over Pratt’s casting back in 2013. Pratt has fantastic chemistry with Zoe Saldana, as the relationship between Quill and Gamora resembles something out of a sitcom, with Cheers getting a great reference itself. Dave Bautista was the surprise package of the first film, crafting the character of Drax to be a complex but lovable family man overwrought with anger. His delivery of comedic lines proved to be very effective and, therefore, he is promoted to the primary source of comedy in Vol. 2. The rest of the cast all get moments to shine, however, the real standout of Vol. 2 is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker’s role in the first film was disappointingly small but regardless the character proved to be a fan favourite and as a result, James Gunn gifted Rooker with a much more significant role in the sequel. Yondu is very much the heart and soul of Vol. 2, serving as the emotional core of the film. Rooker’s performance in Vol. 2 remains one of the standout performances among the supporting players of the MCU. Another character that receives a more significant role is Kraglin played by James Gunn’s brother, Sean (who also does the motion capture for Rocket). In the first film, Kraglin was nothing more than Yondu’s sidekick, however, the sequel further explores their relationship, showcasing that whilst Yondu is Peter’s surrogate father, Kraglin and Yondu are like brothers.

Among the newer cast, there are two standout performances from Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Kurt Russel as Ego. Mantis’ interactions with Drax are utilised as the primary source of comic relief, and Klementieff blends in with the rest of the Guardians with ease. The casting of Kurt Russel as Ego, brought cries of joy for almost everyone, regardless of whether or not they were fans of the comics. He is easily one of the best villains of the MCU, largely thanks to Russel’s fun performance. The revelation that Ego is Peter’s father should have been saved for the film, but unfortunately, Marvel revealed this during Russel’s casting announcement.

A common criticism of the MCU is that deaths seemingly never stuck. There was always a loophole that allowed the character to be resurrected. It happened with Coulson (Clark Cregg). It happened with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). It happened with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). It has happened so often that death has lost all emotional impact…or so we thought. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has without a doubt the most heartbreaking death in the MCU, even if that’s not saying much. The death of Yondu brings a real sense of poignancy to a film that constantly feels like a film where the characters are never really in any danger. It’s a deeply emotional end for a brilliant character and Michael Rooker is a presence that the MCU will really miss, provided he stays dead of course.

Romance is another factor where the MCU is often considered to be failing at. However, the relationship between Quill and Gamora continues to be a tender, often beautiful romance that remains unique as, despite being two films in, the pair are yet to act on their feelings. Their relationship feels real because both films take the time to explore their characters and let the relationship blossom naturally, instead of forcing the duo together and expecting the audience to believe in their relationship.

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That being said, the film has a major issue with its secondary villains: the Sovereign. They are simply, too cheesy and despite the wacky nature of the film, feel totally out-of-place in Vol. 2. They offer nothing to the overall plot and instead end up being a distraction more than anything. This wouldn’t be a major problem if the film didn’t feature them as much as it does.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is extremely limited in its scope. It makes sense that this decision was made, considering the personal nature of the film, however, the overall structure of the film feels wrong. The pacing is all over the place and often makes it hard to be invested in the overall narrative.

The first film managed to not only top box office sales, but also the music sales thanks to its incredible soundtrack. Unfortunately, while the soundtrack of Vol. 2 is good, it is totally unmemorable compared to the first’s. Some of the songs feel a little on the nose in terms of their placement in the film.

In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an extremely fun but an ultimately subpar sequel that despite offering interesting new characters, is a little too self-indulgent, with many of its standout moments feeling like sequences out of a “greatest hits” showreel.

Rating: 7.7/10

‘Doctor Strange’ Throwback Review: The One That Really Wastes It’s Talented Cast

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

Prior to release, out of all the characters in Marvel comics, very few were as popular as Doctor Strange, that still had not received their own film. As the years have gone by, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has continued to evolve, with the introduction of the cosmos in Guardians of the Galaxy and the introduction of magic with Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a renowned surgeon who, after a brutal car accident, is left unable to operate. Desperate to regain the use of his hands, he travels to Nepal to learn the mystic arts, where he becomes entangled in a fight to save the universe.

Firstly, the films boasts arguably the most stunning visual effects in the MCU. The scenes featuring the astral plane and the alternate dimensions are well crafted, with the opening sequence, in particular, looking extraordinary. The action that takes place within the astral plane and alternate dimensions are inventive and director Scott Derrickson proves himself more than capable of helming exciting action sequences despite his background largely revolving around the horror genre.

Another aspect of the film that succeeds with is its humour. Although it follows Marvel’s typical approach to comedy, it is arguably more successful than the majority of other MCU films as none of the jokes fall flat, something which happens frequently when watching other MCU films. What is really surprising, is that the best of the comedy on offer revolves around the Cloak of Levitation and its interactions with Strange.

There are four standout performances in Doctor Strange that elevate the film, adding a real sense of humanity to the film. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as the Ancient One. She steals the show, remaining the most interesting character in the film. There was some controversy of white-washing with her casting, as the character in the comics is traditionally, of Asian descent. Fortunately, Swinton’s performance as the sorcerer has been considered good enough, by comic book fans, to ignore the issues around her casting. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Mordo, a complex man who, by the end of the film, begins his journey towards a darker path. His performance is, like the character, complex and I cannot wait to see what Marvel do with the character in the future. The Benedict duo (Cumberbatch and Wong) also fit in perfectly within the MCU, with Cumberbatch’s Strange seemingly destined to be the next leader of the MCU, similar to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. That being said, Cumberbatch’s attempt at an American accent leaves a lot to be desired.

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Doctor Strange, like the majority of MCU films, has a serious villain problem. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is about as forgettable a villain as you can get. He offers nothing to set himself apart from other MCU villains which have themselves been labelled forgettable such as Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Malakith (Christopher Eccleston). There really is nothing to say about him other than he is incredibly forgettable, and was a complete waste of Mads Mikkelsen’s talents and time.

Most MCU films, with the exception of a couple (The Incredible Hulk and Thor), have third acts that are, at the very least, entertaining. The same cannot be said for Doctor Strange. The third act is quite frankly, terrible. Strange creates a time loop and essentially holds Kaeciliu’s boss, Dormammu, hostage until he agrees to simply pack up and go away. It was a good idea from the writers to try something different with the third act, however, it simply did not work and ends up being anti-climatic.

Lastly, the major problem with Doctor Strange is that it totally wastes its talented cast. Despite having the talents of Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt, none of them are given anything of significance to do. McAdams is stuck being a nurse that helps Strange out and although it is implied that there is history between her and Strange, it is never expanded on and therefore, her character feels entirely unnecessary. As for Stuhlbarg, it is disgraceful that an actor of his calibre is nothing more than the butt of jokes from Strange. The only acceptable excuse for casting Stuhlbarg in the role is that Stuhlbarg himself refused a major role in the film. I’m still not sure why Derrickson even bothered casting Stuhlbarg as his character remains one of the most insignificant not just in Doctor Strange, but in the entire MCU. The same could be said for Benjamin Bratt’s character, who ends up being nothing more than an exposition machine.

In the end, Doctor Strange is a fun but ultimately forgettable entry in the MCU. Propelled by stunning visuals, the film serves as a fine introduction to magic within the MCU but leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: 6.7/10

 

 

‘Captain America: Civil War’ Throwback Review: The One Everyone Loves

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

After The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier, it was clear that the Captain America films were the most popular solo series within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This was largely due to Chris Evans’ career-making performance as shield-wielding super-soldier from Brooklyn. Several months after The Winter Soldier‘s release, Marvel shocked the world with the subtitle of the threequel: Civil War. Around the world, fans of the Marvel comics rejoiced, knowing that one of the most popular arcs in the history of superhero comics was going to be brought to the screen. Unfortunately, the film shares very few similarities to the comic, with the storyline taking a drastically different path than the pages did. Fortunately, that doesn’t prevent the film from being among the best of the MCU.

In Captain America: Civil War, after one tragedy too many, the governments of the world decide that The Avengers need to be controlled, working under the authority of governments. However, the team becomes divided and following the re-emergence of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), friendships are tested as the division explodes into all-out war.

One thing that has made the Captain America films stand out is the darker tone that is not typically seen in MCU films. Captain America: Civil War is arguably the darkest MCU film to date, with a much-decreased emphasis on comedy and more emphasis on drama. Considering the foundation of the conflict between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) revolves around Tony’s unresolved anger over his parent’s deaths, it’s not surprising that the Russo brothers chose to dial down the comedy.  There are, of course, still the typical humour you’d expect to find in the MCU, but it never feels overdone or forced.

Another aspect that the Captain America films have always done better than the other solo films was the action. This is largely due to the hands-on nature of the character compared to the technological prowess of Iron Man or the mythical powers of Thor. Civil War is filled with memorable action sequences but as I’m sure you expect, the standout remains the iconic airport sequence. There’s not a lot to be said about it that hasn’t been said before. It’s inventive, enthralling and quite simply, spectacular. It is without a doubt, the best action sequence in the entire MCU and one of the greatest, if not the greatest action sequence in comic book film history.

At the heart of Civil War is a story of friendship and loss. The events of the film test Steve’s loyalty to his friend Bucky, most significantly when it is revealed that Bucky was responsible for the deaths of Tony’s parents. This conflict it sets up, forever alters the dynamics of the MCU and has me extremely intrigued about how Avengers: Infinity War will handle the aftermath of Civil War. The film does something truly spectacular as it makes Tony Stark a human being. Previously, he had come across as untouchable. The hero that while often a drunk idiot, would always do the right thing. However, Civil War destroys that perception in the third act, turning him into a vengeful son, determined to kill his parents’ killer. The film does a great job of balancing its representations of the characters, making the audience question which character is morally right in their actions. Watching Cap and Iron Man engage in a brutal fight is heartbreaking but greatly rewarding given the difference of ideologies that had been presented right from their first interaction in The Avengers.

Civil War also marks the debuts of Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. Both immediately make their presence in the MCU known with performances that not only feel totally in-sync with the veterans of the franchise but actually outshine them. Having seen their own solo films, its safe to say that Marvel has two more cases of perfect castings.

As for the rest of the cast, there is not a single poor performance. Everyone gets their moment to shine, including minor characters such as Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and the returning Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt). Robert Downey Jr. is given an opportunity to play an emotionally damaged Tony Stark, something that he was never given during his own trilogy or the first two Avengers films.

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That being said, the villain, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is underused. Having lost his entire family during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, he plots to tear the Avengers apart from the inside, enacting his plan from the sidelines. This, unfortunately, means that the audience hardly sees any of him. As his motivations are understandable and relatable the character ends up being sympathetic, immediately making him a standout, if underused villain within the MCU. What’s frustrating is that the character had real potential and it’s just a shame that he is given such a small role in the film. That being said, the final scene with between Zemo and Black Panther is outstanding, as the King lets go of the rage that had plagued him after his father’s death when confronted with a man who had let his own rage consume him.

Superhero films can’t seem to function without a romance, and Captain America: Civil War is apparently no different. It’s just a shame that the romance introduced in the film is so creepy. Following the funeral of his love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Steve gives into his feelings and kisses none other than Peggy’s great-niece, Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). It’s a romance that has disgusted comic fans for years and considering that there had been very little interaction between the characters prior in The Winter Soldier, it ends up not only being creepy, but rather random.

In the end, Captain America: Civil War is an exceptional film within the MCU. The film benefits from having a more serious tone and showing the darker aspects of Tony Stark. It’s not surprising that the film is so beloved by fans, even though it is almost unrecognisable with its source material.

Rating: 9.4/10

‘Ant-Man’ Throwback Review: The One That Is Overrated

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Originally scheduled to be directed by Edgar Wright, (who had spent ten years developing the film), before he stepped away from the project over good old “creative differences” with Marvel and was subsequently replaced by Peyton Reed. The film seemed to have a lot of issues right from the start with the directorial chang-up pushing production back drastically, giving the crew an undesirable small window to shoot and edit the entire film. This on top of the fact that veteran comedic actor Paul Rudd’s casting as the protagonist had drawn some ire from fans, all pointed to the very real potential that Ant-Man would be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first flop.

Ant-Man tells the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a middle-aged professional criminal who is recruited by renowned scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to assist in a heist.

It’s not surprising that Rudd’s casting drew so much ire from fans as they just couldn’t picture the Anchorman star with a six-pack. Rudd has made a career through the genre of comedy and the idea of him playing a superhero was (and on some level still is) ridiculous. However, he proves to be a great piece of casting, utilising his traditional comedic talents and buffed up physique to craft a believable and fun hero. He doesn’t feel out-of-place in a cinematic universe filled with stars that were seemingly born to play their roles. Also, Michael Douglas gives an extremely fun performance as the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. The standout performance is arguably Michael Peña as lowlife thief Luis. He is the primary source of comedic relief and steals every scene he is in.

It should come as no surprise that a film based on a character who shrinks down to the size of an ant is heavily reliant on CGI. Many MCU films are criticised for their uneven CGI, however, Ant-Man remains one of the most technically brilliant films within the MCU, as it’s CGI is consistently impressive.

As for the humour, the reception to it really ends up being based on personal definitions of comedy. Although Peña’s Luis is often praised as the highlight of the film, he will also irritate some viewers who simply do not appreciate the style of humour that he represents. For me, however, he is quite possibly the funniest character within the MCU and it’s just a shame he wasn’t in the film more.

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Ant-Man is no different from the majority of MCU films in the villains’ department as the antagonist, Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) is pathetically weak. He might just be the most forgettable MCU villain. His portrayal as a psychopath is unbelievable and it doesn’t help the character’s longevity that Stoll’s hammy performance makes Cross come across as embarrassing rather than intimidating. Despite the fact that many fans are frustrated with Marvel’s standard of killing off villains at the end of each film, it’s probably a good thing that Cross bites it at the end of the film.

The film follows the typical Marvel formula making it a predictable, clichéd and rather hollow experience. There’s nothing particularly memorable about the film except the production issues it faced.

Lastly, as a huge fan of LOST, I was disappointed to see Evangeline Lilly’s role as Hope van Dyne is surprisingly restricted. She is the typical female character that helps the male characters but does nothing significant herself. She doesn’t exactly give a strong performance either and her chemistry with Paul Rudd is almost non-existent which makes the relationship that is suddenly revealed at the end of the film that much more frustrating, as it is totally unearned. It is clear from both the title of the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the marketing so far that she will have a more prominent role, and I remain hopeful that she will deliver a performance that is on par with the performances she gave week in and week out on LOST.

Ultimately, Ant-Man is a mixed-bag within the MCU. Paul Rudd proves that the fans are not always right, as he doesn’t feel out-of-place within the blockbuster franchise. It shocks me that the film boasts a solid 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, beating other MCU films such as Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers: Age of Ultron. For me, Ant-Man is a fun yet vastly overrated piece of popcorn entertainment, which was clearly rushed following a troubled production.

Rating: 6.4/10

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Throwback Review: The One That is Underrated

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

After the incredible success of The Avengers (I’m still refusing to call it Avengers Assemble), Joss Whedon was hired to write and direct the follow-up. The film, titled Avengers: Age of Ultron, had a lot to live up to considering the overwhelmingly positive reaction to The Avengers, so it’s not surprising that for some, the film was a massive disappointment. It is fair to say that Age of Ultron is not as good as the first film, however, to say that it is a massive disappointment is a totally undeserving criticism of an extremely enjoyable film.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the team are forced to reunite to fight Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence, created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who believes the only way to save humanity is to destroy it.

The most important factor that The Avengers had to get right was the character dynamics. It’s safe to say that Joss Whedon absolutely nailed it, in both The Avengers and its sequel. The interactions between the heroes felt natural considering the personalities of the heroes. However, Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) role was criticised by audiences and Renner himself, as he was relegated to a brainwashed slave for the majority of the runtime. Fortunately, Hawkeye is given much more to do in Age of Ultron, with what is easily his most significant contribution to an MCU film so far. There is a fun rivalry between Hawkeye and “enhanced” Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). It could be said that Hawkeye is the most important Avenger in the film, with the introduction of his family, giving the character a sense of purpose and an emotional conflict throughout the film.

Age of Ultron attempts to make the action more gritty and realistic, and it is safe to say that it accomplishes this. Right from the fantastic opening tracking shot, which showcases all of our heroes taking on Hydra agents in impressive fashion. As the film plays out, the action never feels overdone.

The film also looks brilliant. A common criticism of the first film was that it looked very cheap, whether it was the costumes, production design, CGI or cinematography. The film looked more like an expensive made-for-TV film rather than a Hollywood blockbuster. However, for Age of Ultron, there is a change of cinematographer with Ben Davis replacing Seamus McGarvey, and this results in an at-times stunning film.

Although the MCU is often criticised for having a problem with creating compelling villains, Ultron is an exception to this. Thanks to James Spader’s excellent voice work, and the sheer brilliance of Joss Whedon’s writing, Ultron ends up being a memorable villain, whose motivations are easily understandable. There is a sense of a child-like innocence with Ultron that makes him a rare sympathetic villain compared to the murdering psychopaths that we constantly see in Marvel films.

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Due to the ever-growing plans for future films in the MCU, it is not surprising that these future films are set up earlier on. Age of Ultron, however, is guilty of including scenes which exist in the film solely to tease whats coming next. The likes of Thor’s trip with Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) to a pool and the mention of the Infinity Stones feel totally unnecessary and had no purpose being in the film.

Another factor of the film that feels out-of-place is the romance between Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). It feels far too random as there had been absolutely no establishment of their relationship for this in any of the earlier films and ultimately feels too forced.

Lastly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson on paper is a great casting for a role which had been made famous by Evan Peters in Fox’s X-Men films. Although it’s not surprising that he did not manage to live up to performance that made Peters’ version so popular. Taylor-Johnson delivers a surprisingly below-par performance as the speedster with an atrocious attempt at a Russian accent.

In the end, Avengers: Age of Ultron is not as good as the first film, however, it is nowhere near as bad as some fans will claim. Benefiting from a larger budget and a different cinematographer, Avengers: Age of Ultron is an incredibly underrated film that succeeds as a piece of blockbuster entertainment.

Rating: 7.9/10