Archives For Marvel Cinematic Universe

When it was first announced that Tony Stark would be making a cameo in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, minds were blown. Characters crossing over into each other’s movies was nothing new – Hello, House of Frankenstein! – but still, it led to many a fan and moviegoer speculating on the possibilities lying at Marvel’s feet.

In some ways, Avengers: Infinity War is exactly what many a fan conjured up their heads ten years  ago. Sounding like Patton Oswalt’s improvised pitch from Parks and Recreation, the film is the equivalent of throwing all your action figures at each other. Galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) is making good on his promise in Age of Ultron and finally setting about collecting the infinity stones that have long played a McGuffin in some way or another in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After an opening that utterly decimates the happy ending of a recent release, Thanos’ destruction ripples through to our heroes both on earth and in space. And due to numerous reasons, everyone is brought together only to be syphoned off into various groups. Through a mix and very little match effect, these team-ups allow Infinity War to play around with established cannon, whilst building upon it. The highly scientific Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) is immediately at odds with the philosophical and mystical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whilst Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continues to flex his comedic muscle when teamed up with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Walsh) and a teenage Groot (Vin Diesel, sort of). Elsewhere look out for a bearded Captain America (Chris Evans), a hardened Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a stoic Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a shell-shocked Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) struggling to control his inner Hulk, but not in the way you’d imagine.

Unrestrained from having to explain who everyone is – you don’t need to have seen every film, but some cameos may make you scratch your head if you haven’t – directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are allowed to turn their attentions elsewhere. As our heroes bicker and/or make new alliances, Infinity War takes time to flesh out the destructive force/purple Homer Simpson that is Thanos. Whilst not as morally grey as Black Panther’s multi-layered Killmonger (Michel B. Jordan), the exploration of Thanos’ motives, and his connections to other characters in the franchise, show an attempt to mould him into something more than an unstoppable force of destruction. He’s contemplative, a man who craves peace through destroying others. He appears to show empathy to those he crushes under foot. In a series of flashbacks, we’re even presented with a more compassionate side that never feels trite or overplayed. Am I saying there’s a potential for tears when Thanos is asked to make the ultimate sacrifice? Yes, I am. Will I admit that I cried? No, I will not.

With all this stirring up of the back catalogue, a large part of Infinity War, to be fair, feels patchy. Even whilst pushing the 2hr 30 mark, the film feels rushed as it puts everybody in their place ready for a colossal showdown. When it finally settles down, it manages to be a joyful experience. A lot of this joy is found in the cosmos, as the film’s more earth-bound sub plots are little bit dull. Marvel’s Phase One characters are beginning to show their stagnation, and the threat of Thanos doesn’t appear to breathe any new life into them.

Maybe this will be resolved in Avengers 4, the film that will be basically Part 2 to Infinity War. Yes, kept hidden from most, and arguably rightly so, Infinity War goes the route of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and The Deathly Hallows, ending with a cliff-hanger not to be resolved till 2019. Is this a bad thing? Well, hard to say at the moment. Part 2 of Mockingjay highlighted the pacing issues of its first part, whilst the only thing anyone really remembers of Deathly Hollows Part 1 when the dust settled was that insufferable dance scene set to Nick Cave.

Infinity War is one of the better superhero movies out there, and a perfect reminder of why Marvel’s long game approach outshines DC’s reactionary filmmaking –  but it is really only half a film. Whatever occurs next year will show it up in new light.

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Black Panther (2018)

February 20, 2018 — Leave a comment

Even if you’re a die-hard Marvel fan, you may have found yourself wavering during the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ten-year run. Now entering what they call their ‘Third Phase’, most of the films have become synonymous with a certain aesthetic which has seen directors having to fit their vision of a project into Marvel’s more restrictive one; all in the name of establishing one coherent universe to sell this year’s Avengers: Infinity. Sometimes though, sometimes Marvel Studios allows itself to a take a back seat and trust that the people they’re hiring know what they’re doing. See Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok and now, Black Panther.

Directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed), Black Panther is the 18th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’d be amiss not to mention the weight that hung heavy to the project before its release. Let’s be clear, representation matters and black superhero movies are few and far between, with Hancock being the last one that comes to mind. (And even then, the tale of an alcoholic, swearing ex-hero was hardly one you could bring the kids too.) Yes, there were a lot of hopes pinned to Black Panther, which makes it even more satisfying to know now how great the film actually is.

The plot in summary: Appearing as a third world country to the rest of the world, the nation of Wakanda has, due to the arrival of a meteor centuries ago, been making leaps and bounds in technological advancements. It’s a utopia of free thinking and respect. After the passing of his father, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has been crowned the King of Wakanda, which includes taking on an on-the-ground role as the super-powered Black Panther. When a Wakandan artefact is stolen from a museum by arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), it sparks off a series of events that ultimately brings a man by the name of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) knocking at the door of T’Challa’s kingdom.

Ostensibly an origin story, Black Panther bucks convention by skipping the first and second act to dive straight into the final act and beyond. There is no will-he-won’t-he when it comes to T’Challa taking up the mantle of Black Panther, it’s one that goes back generations. In a 90’s flashback, we’re treated to T’Challa’s father donning the mask himself on the streets of LA. No, the real question is how T’Challa will use his power as King and as the Black Panther to rule wisely. This is reflected through a struggle that we don’t ordinarily see within the usual superhero fare.

It’s made explicit that Wakanda, although advanced, refuses to get involved in the politics of the outside world. Equally, it doesn’t allow ‘outsiders’ to come in and sully their Utopia. It’s a diplomatic tradition that T’Challa seems content to uphold, which is what makes his character so interesting. In some ways, you could argue that, like The Punisher, T’Challa is an anti-hero. Yes, he comes to the aid of his people, but every now and then you’re reminded of who those he turns his back on.

Which is where Killmonger comes in. Marvel movies have come under fire for their lacklustre bad guys, but with Jordan’s Killmonger, we have someone who leaves an indelible mark on the canon. An ex-marine who believes Wakanda should be doing more to help racial injustice in America and beyond, Killmonger’s anger at T’Challa and Wakanda is justified. Killmonger has been dragged up on the streets and finding out someone could have been doing something to help his brothers and sisters fails to mitigate his fury. Of course, being the antagonist, Killmonger’s methods to get Wakanda to share its resources are above questionable. However, that’s what’s impressive in Black Panther’s approach to characters. It gives us a hero and a villain whose motives aren’t just black and white, there are moral greys to be navigated.

Not that Black Panther is simply a film of two men beating their chests and pointing fingers at each other. Through the likes of scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright), Wakanda special forces leader Okoye (Danai Gurira), Queen Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Wakanda spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Black Panther has a feast of female characters, who are just as equal to the men. It’s a breath of fresh air how often the aforementioned are involved in determining the course of the events, instead of being simply defined as ‘strong women’ because they wear a tight leather jumpsuit and can strangle men with their thighs. (Black Widow, I love you but you deserve better from Kevin Feige).

In fact, with some much to recommend it, the only issues that truly stand out in Black Panther are some ropy CGI, which appears to be part and parcel of the modern blockbuster, and another godawful Stan Lee cameo. Yes, it’s sacrilege, but the last truly good Stan Lee was Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. There I said it!

Like Winter Soldier, Black Panther is more than just a superhero film. It wrestles with modern day politics, issues of identity and race, and does so in the most accessible fashion it possibly can. Even taking the film at face value will you have you leaving the cinema dismantling the things it has to say. If only every Marvel film could be like this.