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.
Produced by: Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Amy Pascal, Marvel Entertainment
Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott
Music by: Ludwig Goransson
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
As with the failed franchise blockbuster The Mummy (2017) I have once again been to the cinema and watched, not a great film or work of art, but rather a decent bit of popcorn entertainment that has seemingly been critically mauled, not necessarily unfairly, but out of context from the kind of film it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of Venom (2018) which doesn’t work and the film has a couple of serious plot holes, however, if you watch it as the darkly, comedic action film it is intended to be then it has a lot to offer.
I mean, superhero films, over the years, have got – Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Marvel’s generally witty one-liner littered scripts aside – very serious at times. Most recently, Black Panther (2018) was rooted in familial revenge and of course, Marvel’s Infinity War (2018), ended with an apocalyptic disaster for the Avengers and Earth. While there are serious themes in Venom, the director Ruben Fleischer has gone for more crazed humour rather than serious analysis of the psyche. As such for all its faults Venom actually felt more like an actual comic book or cartoon on screen. So, I get that people may not like the movie for being a bit lacking I think they need to lighten up. Thus, in my second instalment of my occasional series In Defence of:, I’d like to say why I actually found it very watchable genre entertainment.
Standing alone, at the time of the action, from the Marvel ‘Universe’ and the recent Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) movie, Venom features the stupendously committed performance of Tom Hardy as crime reporter Eddie Brock. Eddie’s latest case is to delve deeper into uncovering the interplanetary research of Elon Musk-type uber-scientist and corporate mogul, Carlton Drake. Of course, he goes too deep trying to uncover the deadly experimentation and finds himself infected with a space being that Drake has brought back. Drake, compared to the delirious character rendered by Hardy, is a bit flat and another long line of corporate bad guys which Marvel employs and he deserved some better dialogue to justify his megalomaniacal plans. But Riz Ahmed is a great actor and does his best with an under-written role.
What works more though is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. Perhaps, given this is a Jekyll and Hyde story it should have been a lot more intense. The psychological horror of being absorbed by another being is something David Cronenberg, would have knocked out of the park. Yet here it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off bad guys in between the insane banter. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his ‘other-half’ are very funny and reminded of another recent film called Upgrade (2018), which combined even more bloody violence within a hosted protagonist narrative.
With the cool persona of Michelle Williams, an actor of high artistry, clearly enjoying playing for laughs within the straight romantic lead, there is at least some level-headedness to counter Hardy’s facials ticks and roars. Moreover, despite glaring holes in the narrative including: the very generic alien invasion plot; clichéd corporate mercenaries providing body fodder and a severe lack of legal consequences to Brock’s ‘Venomous’ attacks, the smart comedy, pacey action, the monster-effects of Venom itself and fighting scenes, keep entertainment stakes high.
Ultimately, while much more could have been done to explore the dark side of their symbiotic relationship it was unlikely with this director. Indeed, as Fleischer showed with Zombieland (2009) and direction of suburban zombie show Santa Clarita Diet (2017), he favours mixing dark matter with black humour. Lastly, with Tom Hardy as a more than willing ally Fleischer and his army of writers have delivered an admittedly flawed comic-book narrative that remains full of parasitic punch and energy.
Having a little blog break for a few weeks or so, thus here are some quick catch-up reviews of films I saw recently at the cinema, with the usual marks out of eleven.
ANT-MAN AND WASP (2018) – ODEON CINEMA
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas return in this simultaneously microscopic and gigantic work of Marvel entertainment. The story follows after the events of Civil War (2016) with Scott Lang under FBI house arrest due to breaking the Sokovia Accords. Thus, he must, alongside new crime-fighting partner, The Wasp, battle criminals, freaky super-villains and the FBI without leaving his home. While the original Ant-Man (2015) was anchored within the heist genre, this energetic sequel follows an action meets romantic-comedy plot and on the whole really works thanks to great chemistry between Rudd and Lilly. Throw in some mind-bending shenanigans involving the quantum realm and a memorable car chase set-piece, you get another fun-packed and witty Marvel film.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE MEG (2018) – ODEON CINEMA
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cinema a gigantic budgeted shark movie comes at you. Derivative and overly serious The Meg is nonetheless, at times, a spectacularly decent guilty pleasure with some wonderful shark action. The ensemble cast led by the compact but powerful Jason Statham try their best with a functional script while director, John Turteltaub, hacks his way through a seen-it-done-better narrative. The best bits belong to Statham and the sharks but it should’ve been funnier and bloodier! I mean look at the size of the Megaladon and its bite radius. There should have been more gore and bloody death in this entertaining, if over-inflated monster movie.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
SEARCHING (2018) – ODEON CINEMA
You wait ages for a smartly scripted genre film and two come along at the same time with Upgrade (2018), and now, Searching (2018). I’m not usually a fan of “found/live footage” films but this format absolutely worked for this film. The thriller plot finds John Cho’s computer programmer hunting down his missing daughter. As the images and sound derive from news footage, social media sources, YouTube, Facetime, and Live online chat sites it could get boring but it never does. This is because the script is so well written with a twisty plot which creates superb drama and tension throughout. John Cho is excellent too in a very entertaining genre movie that raises the pulse and tugs at the heartstrings too.
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur. Simon Emanuel
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Based on Characters: by George Lucas
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Anyone for another round of Star Wars bingo?
In a particularly biting satirical swipe at George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the South Park episodes Free Hat (Season 6) and the latter episode The China Probrem (Season 12), criticized the filmmakers for digitally altering their beloved Indiana Jones films on re-re-re-re-release. The China Probrem took the barbs even further (too far one could argue) by showing a lascivious Lucas/Spielberg raping Indiana Jones. I mean, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls (2008) wasn’t great but to suggest its sexual assault on one’s childhood memories and a beloved character did have me spewing out my metaphorical popcorn in shock.
Moreover, South Park further lambasted the avarice of corporate culture, specifically Disney, and their purchase of Lucasfilm in the excellent episode from Season 16 Obama Wins! All this proves is that controversial and offensive satire cannot and will not change the Panzer-like “progress” of the Mickey Mouse machine. They own many of the biggest film franchises and absolutely will not stop until they have our money. What can you do? Do you rebel against the Disney Death Star or do you join the dark side? After all, it could be fun.
Indeed, after all the apparent production shenanigans reported on the set of Solo (2018) – notably the “sacking” of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – I can advise that this latest Star Wars prequel is a lot of fun. That darned elephant in the room still haunts the film though and that is the nature of prequels. Whatever danger you put your protagonists in you know they are going to survive; thus, tension is very often lost within the action and drama. Having said that Star Wars fans will have a lot of joy ticking off HOW Han Solo’s early life began and how he originated into one of the best characters of the whole science-fantasy series.
Characterisation is in fact one of the strengths of the film in my view. Solo comes from sewers of a guttural world and chances and gambles his way through the story but with strong motivation. His devotion to Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a powerful spine with which to hang the excellent action set-pieces on. Their romance and the chemistry between Clarke and Ehrenreich is palpable throughout and drives the story into interesting areas. Alden Ehrenreich, I think, is a bona fide movie star. He shone in Hail Caesar (2016) and does so as Han Solo. Whatever the difficulties were on-set I think his likeability and acting style brings handsome energy and humour to the role. I especially loved the gambling-fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants nature of Solo’s character which owes much to Lucas’ original scripts.
Overall, Solo is a very entertaining join-the-dots prequel that ticks off all the by-the-numbers Star Wars scenes, tropes and characters including: the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca, the Empire, Lando, the Kessel Run, plus many more to keep the fans happy. Lastly, Solo works very well as both an origins story and a fantastic fusion of heist and Western films. The supporting cast all deliver in a positive way, notably the charismatic Donald Glover and always reliable Woody Harrelson. While you can often see an element of chaos in certain scenes I think the steady directing hand of Ron Howard has delivered a franchise film which will safely keep Disney’s gravy train on track. In fact, both prequels have been, in my humble opinion, better than The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), because Solo (2018) and Rogue One (2016), actually have narratives which made some emotional sense.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – “THE ELEVATOR SCENE”
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America: by Joe Simon , Jack Kirby
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
In my original review of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – which can be found here – I described the film as: “. . . neat socio-political commentary – full of the rip-roaring action.” In fact I think it is still my favourite Marvel film of the lot due to the fantastic conspiracy driven plot allied with some incredible stunts and action. Moreover, Steve Rogers’ relationship with Bucky Barnes is also further developed and thoroughly tested in an emotionally effective fraternal friendship breakdown.
The film has many standout scenes but one is more memorable than others in my view. It’s the scene in the elevator where Rogers finds himself being turned on by those he believed he could trust at Shield. It doesn’t intrinsically, until the culmination of the set-piece, involve massive explosions and CGI-driven action. Indeed, the “elevator/lift scene” is a wonderfully executed fight scene which makes use of its limited space to place our protagonist in an almighty bind.
Rogers enters the lift and immediately begins to feel something could be afoot. As more and more – what we eventually learn to be – Hydra henchmen enter the lift the editing builds fantastic suspense. Various shots build anticipation: looks from Rogers; a bead of sweat running down a man-in-black’s back; plus hushed conversation from an “office worker” in the lift. Then just before the fight ensues Rogers utters a great one-liner to set it all up: “Before we get started – does anyone want to get out!”
It’s already a classic scene before the brutal hand-to-hand combat kicks off and encapsulates the mix of paranoia and adrenalized action present within the whole movie. Watch it here: