With Avengers: Endgame gloriously bringing to a close the twenty-two film interconnected multiverse, I thought it may be fun to pick my favourite films of the superhero releases. Of course, that won’t be the end of the Marvel/Disney money-making behemoth but we can take a breath for a moment.
In keeping with Thanos’ modus operandi I have chosen half of the films in release date order. At the end I pick — under pain of death — my favourite THREE! My favourite three are based on impact on release, entertainment value, quality of story, direction and writing etc. Plus, they are films I could watch again and again. Although, to be honest I can watch most of them again as they are all such fun and easy viewing.
If you would like to read my review of Avengers: Endgame – then you can find it HERE.
MY TOP ELEVEN MARVEL UNIVERSE FILMS (IN ORDER OF RELEASE)
IRON MAN (2008)
AVENGERS: ASSEMBLE (2012)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
MY TOP THREE MARVEL UNIVERSE FILMS (BY PAIN OF DEATH)
Screenplay: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Based on The Avengers by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin and many, many more.
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt
Production Company: Marvel Studios
**RELATIVELY SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
So, we are finally here; assembled and ready to experience the last battle in this particular phase of Marvel films. Twenty-two movies released over an eleven year period now culminate in the adroitly named: Avengers: Endgame. While they may have all the money in the multiverse backing their superhero endeavours, Marvel deserve much credit for releasing so many great films within the eleven year cycle. Yes, of course many have followed a tried and tested genre formula, however, their legion of production staff, producers, directors, writers and actors did whatever it took to entertain the public.
This final film was set up perfectly by what preceded. I mean, the dust had not even settled at the end of Infinity War, and I, along with many others, were agog at the crushing defeat suffered by our heroes and Earth, at the click of Thanos’ finger and thumb. Thanos had achieved the impossible and obtained the six soul stones and eradicated fifty per cent of the population. This tragic genocide included many of the Avengers we had grown to root for and Endgame begins where its predecessor finished. Here we find a depleted and dejected Avengers team on Earth and a barely surviving Tony Stark in space facing the abyss. Collectively they are hurting, grieving and feeling vengeful.
The sombre and angry tone to the opening of the film was something I was drawn to. Emotionally it made sense to, within the first hour, colour the film with a slower, mournful pace and darker mood. This is encapsulated in the character of Hawkeye, who is using his special set of skills for destructive and nihilistic purposes. Similarly, Thor is twisted into a self-pitying anti-god; and this plays out with both surprise and humour. Of course, the remaining Avengers are not going to lie down for three hours in a reflective study of sorrow. Because, they want their friends and the population of Earth back; and they will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.
The middle part of the film is where the narrative really gathers pace. Once Stark, Bruce Banner and Scott Lang/Ant Man discover a means with which to somehow alter the tragic events, we are thrown into many imaginative and entertaining set-pieces. I was so pleased Paul Rudd was back as Ant-Man in a key role. He is such a likeable and funny actor who always brings sharp comedy timing and warmth to his roles. Further, like Lang, Karen Gillen as Nebula, while seemingly a secondary character, plays an important role in Endgame. In more ways than one Nebula becomes a vital cog in the intricate and multi-stranded plotting.
The various Avengers including the aforementioned and: Black Widow, Captain America, War Machine and Rocket etc. all splinter to different places in order to achieve their mission. Here the film really finds a perfect pace and stride, delivering a series of brilliant action scenes. Indeed, Endgame is full of brilliant cross-cutting call-backs to the previous Marvel films; presenting a multitude of ‘Easter Egg’ or inter-textual moments.
Safe to say the action unfurls rapidly but the writers also have the confidence to slow the pace and allow several key emotional moments for certain characters. But, mostly there is action and fighting and humour and just so many memorable moments of a light and dark tone. My personal favourite was during Captain America’s mission; this plot strand just sang and hit so many high notes.
I am striving hard to avoid spoilers here, so all I can add is that the Marvel production team deserve so much credit for bringing this multi-stranded story home in such a thrilling fashion. I just loved the direction they took it in regard to the temporal, spatial and universal narrative choices. They assembled, pushed and pulled the formula in certain ways which surprised and kept the characters vibrant and fresh. The tonal balance was positive and only ever slightly threatened to slip into parody; mostly with Chris Hemsworth’s depressed rendition of Thor. My only gripe was I felt Brie Larson’s effervescent Captain Marvel was sadly under-used.
Unsurprisingly, the final gigantic battle sequences were expected but still delivered on a massive scale. Thanos is, and was, a mighty enemy and the last war against him and his hordes were full of epic surprise, pulsating action and heartfelt emotion. Undeniably, it was a most spectacular and moving climax. Thus, overall, I am actually shocked at how much I enjoyed a bunch of superheroes made of computer pixels larking about on a big screen. Maybe, however, given the time, money and energy spent over the last eleven years by the filmmakers and audience alike, it was, like Thanos, inevitable!
Screenplay by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet
Based on: Captain Marvel by Stan Lee, Gene Colan
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Not only am I getting comic-book movie fatigue, but I’m also getting comic-book movie reviewing fatigue too. I mean, what else can be said about said collection of films mostly delivered by Marvel and DC over the last decade? Plus, don’t forget the cavalcade of Marvel TV adaptations too on Netflix and other channels.
On the whole I have enjoyed the journey into the Marvel universe and the studio does deliver mostly cracking entertainment within a very solid genre formula. Of course, I can choose NOT to watch them due to being jaded, but I feel invested enough to complete the superhero cycle, especially where the Marvel films are concerned. Thus, with one eye on the Avengers: Endgame (2019) epic that is due for release very soon, I approached Captain Marvel (2019) with relaxed expectations, just out for a bit of a blast before the final Avenger chess pieces all meet to save the world – AGAIN!
Captain Marvel is a 1990s set action-drama prequel which presents a fast-paced couple of hours set in space and on Earth. It comes at a weird release time in the franchise as this kind of origins story has been done ad infinitum, plus the time it is set means much of what occurs could be deemed dramatically redundant. Nonetheless, it begins with a galactic soldier named Vers (Brie Larson), training with Jude Law’s battle-hardened mentor, Yon Rogg. They are part of a crack team of Kree fighting a shape-shifting enemy called Skrulls. These terrorists threaten the Kree civilisation and must be stopped at all costs. Allied to the main conflict, Vers is suffering post-traumatic stress via flash memories which cause her to question her past and identity. Following a planetary raid which goes awry, Vers is conveniently stranded on Earth, with the villains in pursuit. Here she joins forces with, whom else, Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and then her literal journey of discovery really gathers pace.
Putting aside Marvel narrative fatigue I still managed to enjoy the movie immensely. Despite the story and plot weaknesses the final hour of action and battles sequences are very impressive. The first hour though finds the screenplay broken and confused. Indeed, like the character, the film is caught between two identities and also has tonal issues. It’s somehow trapped between the character driven, indie style of directors, Boden & Fleck, and the usual Marvel gags, pop music, alien artefacts and explosions shtick.
I loved that Danvers’ character and Brie Larson were given the chance to show depth of emotion; however, by presenting the story in a flashback-non-linear-amnesiac-plot-style, all emotional resonance was lost in the mix. Thus, the story became broken-backed trying to cover too many bases in the wrong order. For example, the empowerment montage, near the end, of Danvers’ character finding strength from overcoming past failures is terrifically planned and shot. It’s a shame though that it does not carry the dramatic weight it could have.
Having said that, there’s loads of stuff to enjoy, notably: some clever plot twists; a committed cast including the effervescent Larson and Jackson double-act; Ben Mendelsohn as the head shape-shifter, Talos; the Gwen Stefani-driven-pop-kick-ass-action in the final act; loads of great gags, especially the cat ones; plus, a bundle of Marvel in-jokes, call-backs and inter-textual references. Ultimately, Captain Marvel, is a very solid work of entertainment which, while opening up the whole “where was Captain Marvel until now?” plot hole, manages to fill the gap enjoyably before the whole game finally comes to an end.
DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon
WRITER(S): Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz
CAST: Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin
**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.
Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.
It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.
The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.
The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.
This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.
Films based on “true” stories are interesting to review as they will inevitably distort situations in the name of drama. I personally do not mind if a film compresses times, characters and incidents as I am interested firstly in my emotional response to the story and characters more than historical authenticity. If I want accuracy I’ll rely on Wikipedia.
Yet, as films based on ‘real’ events go The Imitation Game (2014) is a creditable distillation of the WWII code-breaking heroics as well as being a high class theatrical tragedy in cinematic form. Having said that while the film acts as an excellent tribute to the genius of Alan Turing (phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch), the work of others in the field such as the Polish code-breakers, Tommy Flowers and many others must also be recognised. But perhaps that is for another film altogether.
I didn’t know much about main protagonist Alan Turing prior to seeing this movie but having done some basic research one soon realises what a great British hero he was in terms of cracking the Nazi Enigma codes. Moreover, his incredible mind also contributed in some way to the invention of what you are reading this very review on right now. No, not http://www.wordpress.com but the actual computer itself.
The fact that one of humanity’s greatest minds was treated so badly because of his homosexuality is a genuine war crime. It’s also a massive indictment AGAINST the Government and the Official Secrets Act that Turing is only just being truly recognised for his outstanding work in the last few years. Indeed, one of the films main strengths — not forgetting Andrew Hodges’ book on which it is based — in bringing Turing’s story to the screen is it acts as a thrilling monument to a man so cruelly destroyed by an intolerant 1950s society.
The narrative switches between Turing’s life pre-war, post-war and in-between. Graham Moore’s screenplay is deftly written and well-paced; both personable and witty. In terms of genre we are in biography and war film territories with a sprinkling of espionage and suspense thrown in. The code-cracking team at Bletchley Park are a kind of super-intelligent version of Marvel’s Avengers and include a handsome cast supporting Cumberbatch including: Matthew Goode (the next James Bond I reckon), always reliable Mark Strong and a commendable turn from Keira Knightley.
Firstly the team clashes with the prickly and arrogant Turing. Then, of course, over time they come to respect him. Meanwhile, idiosyncratic Turing finds his main ally in Joan Clarke (Knightley) as their “romance” becomes the heartbeat of the piece amidst the manipulation of machines. Both hearts and minds are drawn to each other and the two get engaged. But Turing’s sexuality proves an obstacle to the marriage and there’s a wonderful scene which reflects this; beautifully played by Cumberbatch and Knightley and echoes — albeit more seriously — the classic “No one’s perfect” end-scene from Some Like It Hot (1959).
There is so much heartache in the character of Turing. The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism. And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.
This is a tremendous drama directed by Morten Tyldum which is arguably more televisual than filmic. Indeed, it reminded of those amazing BBC Play For Today productions I grew up watching when a young boy. It works mainly as a fine biopic of an incredible man so cruelly persecuted for just being born slightly different. Yet it is also has touching romance and high drama as shown when having cracked the Enigma the team face the agony of having to hide the fact as a strategy to win the war. Ultimately, I left the cinema uplifted by the work these amazing code-breakers did and but also with anger in my heart; anger at the damned British Government for not rewarding Alan Turing for his miraculous contribution to the war effort. He deserved so much more.