Tag Archives: movies

Doctor Strange (MCU 15)

(We chose to skip Spiderman; I don’t think it adds much to the MCU.)

This film is very, very silly.

Firstly, Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent. Very silly.

Secondly, the CG. It’s a bit too in love with some of the effects. And they just get a bit… kiddy-kaleidoscopic.

Mostly, I think it feels uncomfortable with the mystical nature of what it’s trying to do. With the exception of the Thor movies, the MCU is resolutely science fiction – it’s drugs or radiation or tech. Even the Thor movies kind of try to skip over the fantastical elements of being gods – I know they use the Bifrost and so on, but Thor himself tells Jane that what she’s talking about (Einstein-Rosen bridges etc) is just another word for… . What Thor can do is just an ability, not so much being a god. Here… while, yes, there’s a bit of vague handwaving about the multiverse, this is trying to be all mystical while simultaneously (it seems to me) being a bit embarrassed about that.

The movie isn’t a complete loss. It has Chiwetel Ejiofor. And Benedict Wong. And Mads Mikkelsen as an entirely acceptable villain.

I do not, though, like Steven Strange. He’s an arrogant twat without Tony Stark’s redeeming features of a) a good line in snark, b) attempts to genuinely do better, c) Pepper, d) Mickey Rourke (ok, that might be rectified in the sequel), and e) tin suits rather than an uppity cloak. Also, his facial hair is ridiculous.

The cloak is actually another thing that’s ok about the film. But there’s a bit too much playing up its ?sentience, which as a result got old faster than it should have.

I don’t mind Tilda Swinton in the role as the Ancient One, considering the position in isolation. I do have a problem with the fact that the film made the character “Celtic” (whatever that means) rather than from [somewhere in the Himalayas], as the comics portray her (him) – given the initiate school is actually in Kathmandu, that seems a bit off.

The film is necessary within the context of the “Infinity Saga” – we need to know what the Time Stone can do, and that it’s protected. I feel like it could have had a better vehicle than this.

Captain America: Civil War (MCU 14)

Weirds me out every time that this is a Captain America film, rather than an Avengers one. Clearly the focus is on Steve and what he will do in order to save Bucky… but there’s so much of everyone else that this is definitely more of an ensemble film.

And I know the character has to be introduced – but did there have to be quite so much Tony-meeting-Peter Parker?

Overall I do really like this film. It’s a bridging film, like Age of Ultron, but it’s less annoying because it fits better into the ongoing narrative: while it might have been logical for Tony to want to create AI, it hadn’t really been flagged before Ultron; but finding and saving Bucky has been driving Steve for ages. Also, as with most of the other films, the fight scenes are Just. Too. Long.

Except for the airport fight. That one is awesome: displaying the different skills of each of the fighters, pointing out the seriousness of the split in the Avengers, and some nice snark too. I really like Spiderman here, and Scott Lang makes so much more sense having seen Ant-Man. Of course, this fight is also heartbreaking, to see friends and allies against each other – pitting their knowledge against each other, as well as their skills. I think especially pitting Wanda against Vision; that’s the worst.

Another favourite part of this film is Sam and Bucky together. They are so jealous of each other’s friendship with Steve. I can’t wait for the tv show. It’s going to be hilarious.

I also really like the fact that all of the events here are a direct result of Age of Ultron. That the Avengers do actually face consequences for the events of Sokovia is both dreadful and necessary. I’m thinking mostly of Zemo, here, and his compulsive need for revenge. His brilliant ability to manipulate people and to organise all the parts of his plan would be less impressive if it were for a lesser motive.

On the other hand, I am… troubled by the Sokovia Accords. I think they make sense, yes, and I can understand wanting to have some sort of control over ‘enhanced individuals’. Trying to actually make that work is a completely different thing (witness SHIELD), and I agree with a lot of Steve’s arguments. But that’s not even addressing one of the big issues: we all know that Tony, and Rhodes, and Natasha, and Clint, and Scott, and Sam, all have no need to sign the Accords, right? They are not enhanced. They just have access to tech. Otherwise… are they getting all graduates of the Red Room to sign? All assassins?

Anyway, there’s a lot more to this film, of course. It puts some of our heroes underground, and splits up beautiful friendships, and makes a lot of people suspicious about superheroes. One thing that’s not ok is Steve kissing Sharon Carter. Just no.

Finally, perhaps the greatest things this film does is introduce Black Panther. T’Challa is one of the very greatest characters in the entire MCU canon. I will entertain no arguments at this time.

Ant-Man (MCU 13)

And now we get to the first MCU movie we haven’t seen! I am, clearly, a pretty big fan of superhero movies, but… we didn’t even think about seeing this one at the cinema.

I mean. Ant. Man. Really?

Even when I saw it was Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd!

I mean. Ant-Man. Just… nah.

However! How wrong I was!

Yes, Ant-Man is indeed in some ways very silly. The name is definitely silly. But within the MCUverse, shrinking in entirely logical as a concept, and that’s something you just have to go with.

Interesting thing I was considering while watching: Tony chooses to be Iron Man; Thor is born as Thor; Steve chooses to be Captain America. Bruce, Natasha, and Scott all to some extent have their identities thrust on them – in very different ways, of course, and I’m not suggesting there’s an equality in their experiences. But it is interesting to consider how they come to their positions (which gets even more interesting when you consider Sam Wilson vs Bucky).

Anyway. Michael Douglas is wonderful as Hank. Really every minute he’s on screen is just cool. Paul Rudd is delightful as Scott Lang, and I should never have expected anything else. I knew nothing except what I gleaned from the Avengers films about Scott before this; the film made him entirely relatable and entirely appropriate to the position of Ant-Man. Evangeline Lily is great as Hope and since I didn’t even realise she was in this film, everything she did was unexpected and wonderful.

I was fascinated to see that this does slot into the larger Avengers ‘verse – and I hadn’t expected it: a newspaper about Sokovia, breaking into Avengers HQ, selling tech to Hydra… it kinda required Avengers background knowledge, which I think is interesting for a theoretically standalone movie, but I suppose there’s an expectation that no one will go see this who isn’t invested in Avengers in either film or comic incarnation.

This definitely does have its silly elements, but they’re ones I enjoyed, overall. Michael Pena is fabulous as Luis – I love him in The Martian and he’s very different here but still has that superb timing that makes all of his lines a joy to watch. The other numbskull crims are very silly but play their part. “Yellowjacket” is actually a pretty ordinary villain; the real opponent in the film is time, and Lang learning to trust himself and Hank and Hope. It’s not exactly an original narrative – not-really-a-criminal has chance to redeem himself largely for the sake of child – but it was played well enough I was happy to go along. I was very glad it didn’t dwell overlong on how Lang got to the point of burglary; nor that there was any suggestion of his getting back together with Maggie. Instead, the suggestion is Maggie and Paxton will give him room in Cassie’s life, without giving up their own space, which is entirely appropriate. Also, Hank’s reaction to Hope and Scott kissing is entirely appropriate.

This was way more enjoyable than I had expected and makes me happily anticipate Ant-Man and the Wasp. I’m still not sorry I didn’t spend the money on cinema tickets, though.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (MCU 12)

This is a weird movie. Not that the narrative is odd, or that the characters are out of character, or anything like that. No; it just feels… like a bridge.

It’s a far-too-long prologue for everything else that’s to come.

It took me a while to figure that out, and now I’ve got it in words it makes complete sense of my feelings.

I’m not saying it’s all bad. Not at all. The good things:

  • I love James Spader. Have done ever since Stargate. No, I haven’t seen Boston Legal, but I have seen The Blacklist. I think he was a great choice for Ultron: he doesn’t have a booming megalomaniac voice (well, not naturally) – which is kind of the point.
  • Hawkeye has been a bit of weird character for several movies and we finally get some context for him and some nice character moments, especially with Wanda.
  • I like Paul Bettany, although I’m kinda unconvinced by Vision at this early stage.
  • In the context of the later films, the fact that pre-existing rifts just get worse here is interesting – and also shows that they are fundamental issues which apparently none of them were adult enough to have a proper discussion about?
  • Fury.
  • Every moment involving Thor’s hammer.

However.

  • The Hulk / Iron Man fight is Just. Too. Long. Get on with it already. We get the idea! Move the narrative along!
  • I understand the point in the narrative but I find Wanda’s manipulation of people’s minds deeply, deeply unsettling. This isn’t a negative of the narrative, but it’s not something I enjoy watching.
  • Thor’s whole dip in the pond thing. It seems so completely outside of the narrative. Its sole purpose is to set up Thanos, and have Thor be the catalyst of Vision’s creation. But it really doesn’t fit.
  • I hate, I hate, everything about Natasha’s discussion with Banner about whether they can run away together. I hate it. I hate Banner’s assumption that Nat’s only reason to run away with him is to have a cosy house with kids. I hate the suggestion that not being able to bear children somehow makes Natasha monstrous. This scene infuriates me.
  • And finally, I am unconvinced by Ultron himself, which is completely devastating for the film. The idea that someone moves from ‘save the world’ to ‘destroying the world is the only way to save it’ isn’t a new one, and thorough villains can even make a pseudo-logical explanation for why that’s true. But Ultron’s leap from saviour to destroyer is too fast, largely unexplained, and… just frustrating. It’s relying on the notion that AI must automatically be evil (otherwise why destroy Jarvis at the outset?) rather than properly demonstrating how a baby AI gets to that point (because let’s be honest, if you were an AI, wouldn’t you be tempted to destroy humanity and start over?).

So the film creates Vision, shows us Thanos, properly flags “infinity stones”, solidifies serious rifts within the Avengers, and gets Wanda on their side.

Like I said. It’s a 2.5-hour prologue.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (MCU 11)

This film is way better than the first one.

I am prepared to accept that I am a sap (ha), because: baby Groot is the best thing about this film. And Yondu is a close second. Also Kurt Russell. Fight me.

Baby Groot: yes, I find the dancing adorable. It’s fabulous CG – and mostly the emotion is in the eyes, I guess – and I don’t care how manipulative it is. He’s hilarious. Utterly predicable but the bring-me-my-fin scene is fantastic. The opening credits are some of the best I’ve seen; and the way every other character loves him is adorable.

Yondu: probably one of the most compelling side-characters of the series. He gets a genuinely epic arc in this film and I love it.

Kurt Russell: finally an antagonist who makes GotG worthwhile. And, please note, another actor playing (mostly) against type. Although when you hear that a character’s name is Ego there should be very little surprise when he turns out to be a galactic-sized douche. I love everything about Russell’s performance here. I love that he starts out as the heart throb, and that he morphs into the elder statesman who is still approachable and then turns out to be a magnificent megalomaniac.

This film was a lot of fun to watch the first time – and unlike the first one, still completely holds up. Quill is still an arrogant, self-righteous ass with few redeeming features except for his love of his mother. But Gamora is awesome (again/still), I love Mantis, and Nebula has a much bigger and more interesting role here. The soundtrack isn’t quite as epic – or maybe it just isn’t such an extravagant gesture as it was in the first film – but the use of “Tusk” was magnificent.

Maybe this works better for me because the narrative is more … contained, I think. More personal. In the first one the Guardians all fall into it, and – except for Gamora – none of them really have any skin in the game. They just fight because they basically have to. Here, it’s personal, and I think that makes the characters work better; more believably, perhaps; it makes me care more. (Also, see previous comment about a better antagonist.)

Also, the cameos. Sylvester? Ving? MICHELLE YEOH?! (And Ben Browder, who… actually with this audience maybe people will know him, thanks to both FarScape and Stargate SG:1.) Plus THE HOFF.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (MCU 9)

From here, a lot of these films start to… blur together a bit. Not that they are indistinguishable, as such, but I forget which aspects of the overarching Avengers narrative happens when. Because in some ways this film seems more like an Avengers than a standalone Captain America film.

You can watch the Iron Man films almost independently of the franchise. Yes, the third one has some reliance on the audience knowing what happened in New York… but it does have flashback that give you some sense of what happened. The first two Thor movies don’t require knowledge of the rest of the franchise, really; again, really only in understanding Selvig, I would argue. And you also don’t need to know about Thor or Iron Man to understand the first Avengers film.

But here… without a sense of what SHIELD is, without a sense of the role Fury plays and how disillusioned Steve started to be in the first Avengers… you’re a bit lost. And going forward: without a knowledge of who Bucky is, and the world-shaking events of this film, the rest of the Avengers movies don’t really make sense.

None of which is necessarily a problem. It’s just interesting to note.

Additionally, this feels a bit less of a standalone Captain America and more… well, not quite an ensemble; but certainly Natasha is significant, as is Sam Wilson (YAY SAM). Maybe Rhodey manages this in the third Iron Man, but not before; and there’s no equivalent in the first two Thor flicks.

This is also the film where things start to get grittier. Yes Coulson was sad; yes the first Captain America is a war movie – but while it’s not quite a full-on WW2 movie in the classic style, it’s pretty close. This, though: it’s starting to feel like a grim, gritted teeth, relentless punch-em-up film that I don’t really like. It doesn’t quite get there; there are redeeming features that lighten the atmosphere a bit, and demonstrate alternatives to just straight-up fistfights. But not that many. This film feels too long not because of the narrative but because the fights Just. Go. On. Yes, they’re well choreographed; yes, they signal just how serious all of this is; yes, to see Steve equally or over-matched is distressing. But really. Cut a few minutes from every fight and it would be a tighter film.

Were we spoiled for the Winter Soldier’s identity from the trailers? Probably; I can imagine those who make decisions wanting the presumed emotional drawcard. That moment you first see his face properly, shadowed, in Pierce’s kitchen, is splendidly dramatic. And I do like Sebastian Stan. I also really like Robert Redford – like Ben Mendelsohn, playing against type brilliantly. I remember being deeply shocked when I realised what was going on.

The first Avengers changes the world by making aliens and superheroes something everyone knows about. Winter Soldier changes the world by removing the SHIELD security blanket, and threatening the integrity of that patriotic rock, Steve Rogers. No film in the franchise chronologically after this can ignore that.

Thor: The Dark World (MCU 8)

Some thoughts:

Any movie that requires such an extensive prologue to set up the premise of the film is… already heading into dubious territory. It’s barely even framed as “dad telling a story” which would have been better – the first one has Thor and Loki as kids, so why couldn’t this have been a bedtime story for them growing up? This would also have given a little more context to Odin and/or Frigga as parents, which would have been good, too.

Slapping is never ok. Ever. Not even if it’s a wee lady slapping a large gentleman. It’s not funny and it’s not ok.

Darcy, though, does continue to be both funny and ok. Happily, we also get more Rene Russo as Frigga in this one than the first, and she was great! with a sword and all! Christopher Eccleston, however, was utterly wasted. It could have been anyone in that makeup and with the dialogue. What an utterly lacklustre villain.

And speaking of lacklustre: Natalie Portman was fine, but Jane was… well, basically a sexy lampshade. For a film that purports to revolve around her, she has essentially no agency; she is an object, not a subject. The ether infects her; Thor takes her to Asgard; Odin dismisses her; Frigga protects, Sif steals, and Thor and Loki con Malekith into taking it out of her. What does she do? Um… freak out at a lunch date… actually she does do some Science Stuff at the end. But not much else. Which is disappointing.

As with the first Thor, I was interested to see how much more of a fantasy this feels, rather than SF which the other films do. Basically it’s a portal fantasy, with the Bifrost – and then Consequences of the Amazing Convergence – as the portals. For all it’s designed on a more epic scale, the narrative itself somehow… doesn’t feel it. I think I just don’t care that much about the nine worlds, because although we are introduced to them in the film, I have no emotional connection. I barely care about Asgard.

Two final things that are good about this film: it begins a commentary on genocide that is continued in the third Thor, and I had forgotten it was already here. Honestly, you could blink and miss it… but it is there. And certainly Odin isn’t a great and magnanimous ruler, here, which I think the first one tried to convince viewers of.

And then there’s Selvig. Whose running around in the nudes is played for laughs, basically, right up until he points out that he had a god in his head, and maybe it’s not so unreasonable that he’s having trouble adjusting to ordinary society.

Iron Man 3 (MCU 7)

… is also pretty good, you know? More problematic in some respects than previous films; possibly including some aspects that just make this a solid no for some viewers (completely fair).

The main problem with this film is the depiction of disability as something that needs to be fixed. Don’t get me wrong – I can get behind someone with an amputated limb having power fantasies of it growing back and being stronger than ever, etc. But this doesn’t come across like that to me (she says as an able-bodied person; please, feel free to disabuse me). But the VP seems to be on Aldridge’s side precisely because he wants to ‘cure’ his granddaughter(?) – because, the implication is, she’s not ok in a wheelchair. And that’s all really problematic.

For me, though, the good includes:

Guy Pearce. Just that. That’s most of what I have to say. The man’s kind of an Australian Gary Oldman: a chameleon. And he’s great.

More Don Cheadle is always good.

Ben Kingsley and what they did with the Mandarin: I was so worried about the name of the character, and had nightmarish visions of what it might be like in a modern film. But what they did! Making it an examination of the manipulation of media (which is only more relevant now) was brilliant.

Actually addressing the issue of PTS. It’s focal but dealing with it isn’t – which is a bit problematic since it seems on one level to suggest that you just ‘work it out’ (literally, as a mechanic); however, the suggestion that The Great Tony Stark would have anxiety attacks after New York is wonderful – and probably a brave choice, given that I feel like American films still make ‘Vietnam War veteran with PTS’ a pitiable and/or criminal figure.

The child. As a rule, I loathe when films insert children into narratives like this, because they are almost universally corny and awful. My touchstone for when it works is Lex and Tim in Jurassic Park: they are actually a part of the narrative, they interact with the narrative but don’t overwhelm it, they are not overwhelmingly cheesy, and the actors are fine. Harley, too, fits this bill – and of course, the film seems to be quite consciously flipping the stereotype I loathe (“but I’m cold…”). What makes me weep is that the actor who plays Harley went on to play the example I use at the other end, for where children are just awful in a film: Jurassic World.

Finally, I loved the end credits, too – they so clearly signal that this is the end of the focus on Iron Man (which actually isn’t true, given later films, but at least puts to rest the possibility of further Iron Man films).

Avengers (MCU 6)

And so, in six movies (chronologically), we get three of my top 5 MCU films. Not a bad hit rate.

Ah, this film. There is definitely a level of nostalgia… which is stupid because 8 years is not enough for nostalgia – you would think – but maybe because, despite all the bad things the team deals with, this feels like such an upbeat film overall? with the snappy dialogue especially. And things just get so gloomy and sad for all of them, later on. Yes, of course Coulson’s death is hard; but I also know that Tahiti is a magical place… and it’s about the whole vibe of the film. It’s such a joy to see this core of the team all together, even knowing where it’s all heading. To see them butting heads (literally and figuratively), but also figuring out how to work together. To see aspects that will be picked up throughout the franchise – Thor’s hammer/ Capt’s shield/ Tony’s power pack, for instance.

I have Issues with Joss Whedon these days, but it must be said that he knows how to write witty repartee. And I really like that aspect!

This is our intro proper to Hawkeye – and I both like him more, in this, than I did initially… and also got angry all over again at the way his turn to Ronin was treated – and our absolute first intro to Mark Ruffalo as Banner/Hulk. Apparently the Edward Norton Hulk should be considered canon? I just cannot. I watched Eric Bana’s turn as Bruce many years ago, and I thought he was good – Bana has a wonderful way of being both heroic and human (why yes, he is Hektor for me now and always, thanks for asking). Norton… just no. Does not work in my head at all. Cannot. Ruffalo, though: inspired. Gentle and science geek, and doesn’t look ridiculous as a green ragemonster.

One thing I really noticed is that this is beginning of Steve Rogers breaking. Yes, he ignored Tommy Lee Jones in the first film, that was knowing that he wouldn’t be putting anyone else in harm’s way, and it was for Bucky, which is always a driving factor. Here, though… he explicitly distrusts a commanding officer, and that distrust is proved appropriate, which is new. And ends up leading to a lot of later consequences. Poor Steve.

The other thing I noticed is just how ill Loki appears at the start of the film. He looks haggard – terrible bruising around his eyes – he looks so tired and worn. And much older. Which speaks to the presumably difficult months he’s had since letting himself fall off the Bifrost. And almost makes me feel sorry for him.

I love this film. It’s not perfect, but gosh it’s good.

Thor (MCU 5)

This is one of the films that I wasn’t sure of, going back. It’s been a while since I saw it, and I just wondered…

Everything about this film is fine. Hemsworth is pretty good (although gosh a decade is a long time); Portman is great, actually; Hiddleston is fine. Idris Elba is always wonderful, as is Jamie Alexander. And Kat Dennings as Darcy and Stellan Skarsgaard can help me with my research any time. Also the criminally underused Rene Russo.

There’s just something about the film that feels … odd. Or off. Especially coming on the heels of Iron Man.

I think that, compared to those (internally) earlier movies, Thor – and Thor – feel… naive, somehow. Matched against the cynical, world-weary but still philanthropic Stark, Thor feels… young. Arrogant – or proud? – although at least theoretically committed to doing what’s right; and naive, even innocent. And still so much in his father’s shadow (which, actually, is very much a Tony thing too. OMG how much of the MCU is actually about fathers?? Wait, I don’t want to think about that too much or I might get really sad). The film itself is an example of how the MCU films are allowed to have their own aesthetic, matching the different aesthetics of the comics (I assume); and I think this more fantasy-oriented feel does feel jarring, coming after the very-high-tech, very modern, Iron Man – and even Captain Marvel.

The plot is nothing exceptional; it’s fine as an introduction to Thor and his world. I had forgotten what we learn about Loki and his relationship with Thor; it felt simultaneously like a lot and too little. The one thing I did notice and appreciate greatly is that right from the start, it’s unclear whether Loki is being devious for the sake of evil, or because it’s his nature to be a trickster. Does he know that he’s revving Thor up about their father, and is he doing it for nefarious purposes, or… not? There’s so much about Loki that is vital to however many films, and I think some aspects of him remain unknowable. At the same time: it is clear he loved Odin and Frigga, and that his world being shown to be a lie is the catalyst for most of his later actions.