Archives For Marvel

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.

This memorial day weekend, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was compelled to defend himself after receiving several abusive messages on his Facebook page – ranging from being called a Nazi to threats to his cat. What were the reasons for this outpouring of anger?

In the cold embrace of the night, had Mr Gunn entered everybody’s home to leave something unsanitary in front of their fireplaces like a perverted Santa?

Perhaps the outpouring of such vitriol was decided as the best course of action because James Gunn, the director of Super, was in actuality a war criminal who slept upon the corpses of his enemies and used child slave labour.

Perhaps, on a lesser level, upon being asked for the time, Mr Gunn instinctively gave the wrong time ensuring hundreds, if not thousands of people were late for meetings, parties or trysts.

No, it was none these options. What happened, dear reader, was James Gunn had something to say about this whole Captain America business, wherein Marvel recently announced the 75-year-old superhero had been working for the bad guys all along.

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There are numerous opinion pieces out there about this, you don’t need me to hold your hand to find them. A lot of people are angry. That’s fine. Everyone is allowed to be angry about something. I myself feel the whole thing is a bit of a cheap gimmick. However, Gunn was suggesting that perhaps the histrionics were unnecessary.

‘If you’re a forty-year-old dude claiming a comics company ruined your childhood because of a plot twist,’ the director wrote. ‘You might consider that your childhood really wasn’t that great to begin with.’

And lo his call was heard across the globe and people decided they weren’t happy about being told to calm down. They cried, they hollered, they threatened to chop up his cat.

Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy commented that those people who feel the new Ghostbusters was ruining their childhood were blowing things out of proportion. She was immediately put in her place by people one can only assume were keeping one eye on their GB Blu-ray lest it should burst into flames.

These are not isolated incidents and if you’re feeling brave enough, you could Google the response belched out into the world when Michael Bay announced the first Transformers film. The cries of ‘Michael Bay Raped My Childhood’ were both alarming and odious.

Now, let’s get some perspective here. Imagine the internet as a large lake. The fan vitriol regarding any franchise is the equivalent of a fish’s fart bubbling to the surface when stacked up against truly important matters. But for those people who dare to suggest that it’s anything other than that are being met with the intensity usually reserved for countries that commit genocide. Hell, people will use Change.org to create petitions to twist their childhood passion into something they alone want. See the one created earlier this year to get George Lucas back in the director’s chair because apparently the critically acclaimed Force Awakens wasn’t that good. Yeah, Force Awakens needs George ‘Revenge of the Sith’ Lucas to bring back some glory.

In 2013, The Guardian published an article, Rise of the New Geeks, that highlighted how things like comic books, superheroes and fantasy were now mainstream. Film companies were now interested in getting ‘geeks’ on their side as it meant more bums on seats. Shops from both ends of the financial spectrum offer goods emblazoned with Batman, Gandalf and Spider-man. Three years later and it’s hard to not think that ‘geeks’ rule the roost.

I remember the days before all that happened. When I was in high school, Doctor Who was still on permanent hiatus, I was laughed at for enjoying The Goon Show and the pinnacle of being cool was wearing Naf Naf jackets and watching Byker Grove. I love the fact that some of my favourite things are popular in the mainstream now, but the level of entitlement that has come with it is bordering on sickening.

Full disclosure, I hated the idea of Batman Vs Superman and the Evil Dead remake. However, I at least went out of my way to see both films and although I’ve changed my mind about one, I still think the other is a terrible idea. However, whilst I’m prone to a drunken argument with increasingly disinterested friends about the lack of virtues in that film, I would never dream of sending death threats to those who made it, or worst still those who loved it. The film didn’t work for me, but good on you for liking it.

However, a number of those who did like a certain film about an angry mummy’s boy fighting another mummy’s boy who could fly felt that they were entitled to lynch those who hated it. Namely: the critics. In what could only have a been a monumental act mental gymnastics, some felt that the film’s lukewarm reception was down to Disney paying for good reviews. Once that seed was planted, it spread across the internet and right now, you can go on social media and find numerous unsubstantiated ‘facts’ that Disney is bribing people to not like a film. Because, sure, that’s how big business works. My review of Batman Vs Superman can be found here. If you ask nicely, I’ll show you pictures of my house in Malibu bought with my ill-gotten gains.

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And it doesn’t stop there. Look at the reviews for the new Ghostbusters toys on Amazon. One man is deliberately buying them so that he can give them one star reviews and cement his legacy as an utter self-opinionated idiot. When a nine-year-old child’s review for Age of Ultron ended up online, grown men tore him down, saying the film wasn’t made for him. That’s right, a film about adults in spandex punching robots wasn’t made with children in mind.

We have become so obsessed with our own childhoods, we are denying the right for anyone else to have their own unless it aligns with our expectations. Maybe in a sense, people are afraid of growing up, so cling desperately to their youthful obsessions because the world is a big and scary place. And in a way, that’s fine. I write as a 35-year-old man wearing Captain America pyjama pants. However, what I see happening time and time again, is this idea that childhood things should grow up with us. When the Doctor Who episode Let’s Kill Hitler was announced many moons ago, I stumbled across numerous requests from fans saying that Doctor Who was too childish and what was needed was an episode where The Doctor visits a concentration camp. Just let that settle in. How adult. How grown up. How paradoxically childish.

Our childhood is gone; it’s never coming back.It’s something we have to deal with. However, the spoilt entitlement we had as children appears to still be the main driving force behind the thinking of others. So what if Ghostbusters turns out to be a dud? So what if there’s four women in the lead? You know the worst thing that’s going to happen? A little girl is going to want to see a film that has characters she can relate to. They may even come out of the film that ‘ruined your childhood’ and want a proton pack, or – whisper it – may even want to watch YOUR Ghostbusters. Imagine that!

Your childhood isn’t being ruined. You’re doing fine. You will get through this. Now, get out of the  playhouse and let the other kids have a turn.

Let’s pretend we’re in the Marvel universe. New York has been attacked by aliens, London has been a substitute wrestling ring for Gods, a World War Two veteran is looking pretty good for his age and out there in deep space, a group of ne’er do wells have bandied together to chase a McGuffin to make a hell of a lot money and potentially save their galaxy. Whichever comes first. Though hopefully the former.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not just a great Marvel film. It’s a great film period. A bulging sack of fine storytelling and rich imagination. And talking raccoons, never forget the talking raccoons. Directed by James Gunn (Super and Tromeo and Juliet) with a script co-written by Nicole Perlman and himself, Guardians has so much going for it, it’s amazing to think the less than mainstream comic hadn’t been picked up before.

What makes the film so enjoyable – aside from the soundtrack, the acting, the characters, the set pieces, the humour, the pace, the smile the whole thing staple guns to your face – is how well it stands up on its own. As great as the last few Marvel films have been, they’re in danger of alienating the casual viewer with their throwbacks and references (Did anyone really watch Agents of SHIELD?). Guardians feels liberated and fresh. Hell, the film isn’t even bogged down by pop culture references since Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, the human of our band of miscreants, left earth as a child in the 80s. A nod to the Ninja Turtles is about all you’re going to get.

The eclectic cast is superb, with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Vin Diesel’s Groot clearly, and probably deliberately, stealing the show. Though special attention must be given to emerald-tinged assassin Gamora played by Zoe Saldana, who manages to have a life of her own not dependent on Quill. In fact, another of the film’s strengths is how tangible everybody is without having to go down the usual route of comic book movies of 45 minutes of exposition before the cape or mask is donned.

If it isn’t coming across clearly enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is ball-bouncingly brilliant. It’s a triumphant return to the days of the 80s blockbuster before everything became homogenized. Again, something even the latest Marvel movies veer towards. Hopefully, Guardians will spark a renaissance not just at its parent company but across the board. Let’s pretend we’re in a universe where summer blockbusters start taking more risks. Let’s pretend.

About The Author
My name is John Noonan. I’m a freelance writer that specialises in arts and entertainment. From genre flicks to chick flicks, I love the stuff. So much so, I started a film review blog at earlybirdfilm.wordpress.com. I also contribute to online and hard copy press, including FilmInk magazine.

If you like what you see, I am available for hire. You can contact me via the social media channels above or the form on my home page.