Ant-Man and the Wasp: it’s quantum baby!

The first Ant-Man was a welcome surprise – funny, inventive, and it had a lot of heart. What would the sequel offer, more of the same? Go bigger? Go smaller?

It’s worth mentioning that in the first film the story touches on the quantum realm, the place where Ant-Man can go if he shrinks to sub-atomic levels. Well, for Ant-Man and the Wasp the story picks up after events from Captain America: Civil War, where Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), after siding with Captain America by getting in an almighty fight with the rest of the Avengers in an airport in Germany, finds himself under house arrest for two years, under the watchful eye of the FBI, led by the surprisingly amusing Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) – who clearly admires Scott as a hero, but has a job to do keeping him contained.

The first film mentions Hank’s wife Janet, lost in quantum realm for decades. Hank and Hope begin to suspect she might still be alive, so set about building a device to bring her back.

They learn that, after his brief journey into the quantum realm, Scott may now have a connection to Janet, so they need his help. The issue is, a strange, shadowy figure named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) also has an interest in their quantum technology, as does dodgy technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins).

And thus we have chase after chase (putting to use size in inspired ways, giant Pez dispenser anyone?) around the picturesque streets of San Francisco as Ghost and Sonny try and steal Hank’s lab and technology, as Hank and Hope try aim to evade them. And Scott sort of gets in the way a bit.

So, plot wise, it gets a little bit samey and bogged down with all the characters running around in circles a little. However, it does make for some nice set pieces, in particular one where Scott’s suit malfunctions in a school with hilarious results – in a scene that wouldn’t have felt out of place in a Deadpool movie.

That said, it’s full of jokes, probably funnier than the first film, with bigger set pieces, more action and higher stakes. Hope as Wasp, in particular, gets a lot more screen time and is an exciting hero. Different enough to Scott’s Ant-Man (she has wings and blasters, and also a much more fluid fighting style), so as a duo they’re a ton of fun to watch on screen, throwing bad guys left and right.

In general, as far as sequels go, it’s a big thumbs up. Some critics have said the stakes aren’t high enough and it doesn’t reach the heights of Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War or Black Panther, but those are basically three of Marvel’s most successful films out the 18 or so they’ve produced, so I think this comparison is unfair to make. More accurately, how does it compare to say, Thor: The Dark World or Guardians of the Galaxy 2? In my book, it’s up there, better than both possibly, sitting comfortably middle of the pack. Which is no bad thing at all.

It also has, for my money, one of the best stings from Marvel in some time. That’s all I’ll say on that, but watch to the end to see if you agree.

Infinity War: the pathos of Thanos

So, Avengers: Infinity War from Marvel Studios. The biggest of epic battles to end all epic battles (although not quite, as there’ll be an Avengers 4 in 2019, but more on that later). So, yes, there’s Thanos (Josh Brolin), a really bad guy. The worst. He’s purple, with a big chin from the planet Titan. He’s from Titan, not just his chin. That would be weird.

Yes, so Thanos. He wants to acquire some powerful trippy stones, so he can kill half the universe (that old chestnut). But… he has obstacles in his way, heroes! Earth’s mightiest ones, in fact. There’s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) aka Iron Man, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) aka Spider-Man, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) aka, er, Thor, plus precisely 57 others I cannot be bothered to name.

But rest assured, they’re all great. Many have capes, for example.

And because there’s so many of them (and imax screens are only so big), the directors (the Russo brothers) have opted to split them up. Have them fighting battles in different locations. Some earth, some in space.

This is a nice idea and provides a change of scenery, so it’s not just one giant battle on earth. It also means we get some sexy pairings we’ve not seen before (Tony Stark, Steven Strange and Peter Parker, Rocket and Thor, that sort of thing). And from these odd couplings banter springs forth, classic Marvel. Keep the jokes coming. They’re sorely needed in an epic film such as this, lest we stray into dour DC territory.

But we don’t. It’s all good. The filmmakers know what they’re doing. They also, wisely, keep the focus on Thanos. This is his story. Nay, no longer will we have bad guys with questionable motivation, for Thanos has a decent reason. It’s just his execution (pun intended) that is perhaps somewhat suspect. Brolin sells it though, humanising the purple-chinned one. We connect, even if we don’t agree with him.

It’s not all Thanos Thanos Thanos though. Each hero (yes, all 57 of them) gets a little moment to shine, at least once, even if it’s a tiny line. Some get more than a line of course, it’s all about whose agent negotiated for what screen time. Isn’t it? I mean, let’s take the credits. Chris Pratt gets ‘with Chris Pratt’. His agent has to get a bonus for that one surely?

Anyway. The war. Yes. Each hero gets a moment and some get really cool ones too. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for example, finally, shows levels of badassery we’ve not seen. And it’s joyous. Thor gets a moment that rivals a couple of the best bits of Ragnarok (this other film he was in) and Tony has upgraded his suit to repair quicker than Wolverine (sorry, other franchise). Drax quietly steals most scenes he’s in and Star-Lord questions his masculinity when confronted with a pirate-angel (this will make sense when you see the film).

Basically, the film’s really good, albeit exhausting. Must be all the grizzled heroes and big-chinned bad’uns spouting worthy dialogue all over the place. Anyway, if you love Marvel films, you’ll get all as giddy as a cosplayer as comic con. You’ll be thrilled, shocked, scared, entertained and, perhaps saddened a little in places. But don’t worry, the conclusion of this story, a bit like Game of Thrones and winter, is coming (right after Deadpool 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp this year and Captain Marvel next year).

May the force be with you.
Sorry, wrong franchise. Um, how can I make this better?

Hail Hydra.
#teamthanos

Thor: Ragnarok – he’s come a long way, baby

The first Thor came out back in 2011, if you can believe that. And at the time it was a bit of a punt by Marvel who, until this point, had only really – successfully – thrust a decent Iron Man upon the world. Because Captain America: The First Avenger was to come later in 2011; but first the studio had some Aussie beefcake most people hadn’t heard of as the lead, along with a luvvie director (Kenneth Branagh) at the helm, putting together a flick about the God of Thunder.

What could go wrong?
Well, more importantly, what could go right?

Because Hemsworth shocked a lot of us by utterly owning the role and Branagh, considering his lack of experience in the genre, got the tone spot on, delivering action and comedy with verve and dynamism. Plus, the film was a commercial hit, which allowed Marvel to start making bigger plans to introduce a host of other characters and expand the MCU at a more rapid rate. So Thor, along with Iron Man, kinda led the way.

Moreover, if we take the team-up films, aka Avengers and Civil War off the table for a second, standalone films are probably the true measure of the strength of a character, and Thor’s sequel, The Dark World (2013), was solid enough, but perhaps suffered from ‘difficult second album’ syndrome.

Yet even an average Marvel film such as this was still a helluva lot better than most blockbusters.

So our God of Thunder weathered the storm and Marvel, as a studio, continued to read from a blueprint that the rest of us, quite frankly (wait for it), marvelled at. Because their quality with every release just kept improving, even with the odd dip, they kept upping their game and pushing the formula, lest it get stale.

This, in turn, has given us wonderful oddities such as Ant-Man and Dr Strange, and the mad, unexpected crowd-pleaser that was Guardians of the Galaxy.

And other directors have seen this, and no doubt become attracted by the prospect of a big budget and the chance to put their own stamp on a Marvel superhero.

Granted, some filmmakers with too singular a vision just couldn’t manage to adhere to the studio’s rules (Edgar Wright), but for those that did (James Gunn, Scott Derrickson) the rewards were that they produced a film audiences and critics loved, which was also a huge hit.

Which leads us to Taika Waititi.

Now for those of that haven’t seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople, get thee to your nearest TV or streaming device and watch it. For it be very funny. And most strange.

Set in New Zealand, it stars Sam Neill and some kid that’s barely acted before, and it’s offbeat and hilarious. Think Flight of the Concords/Mighty Boosh territory with a bit of Thelma and Louise thrown in and you’re halfway there.

This is what Taika brings to Marvel.

Well, that, and a large slice of Flash Gordon with lashings of retro ’80s aesthetic. I mean, the film is pretty darn cool. But in case you were worried it wasn’t cool (or weird) enough, just add more Jeff Goldblum. Or any amount of Jeff Goldblum really.

Because the man has always been about five miles left of normal, and these days he’s ripening as the years go by, like an old fruit left out in the sun. Which is actually rather delightful, as he pretty much steals most scenes.

But I digress. As usual, off topic. Rambling and setting the scene.

Let’s focus on Ragnarok.
Story and timeline wise, this film picks up two years after events in Avengers: Age of Ultron (and around the same time as Civil War and Spider-Man:Homecoming) where Thor has gone off to hunt for infinity stones. He’s introduced in a bravura first sequence involving a fire demon, a scene which rivals that of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2′s opener.

It’s kick ass, stirring stuff.

And through events involving Odin (Anthony Hopkins) Thor’s sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, having a whale of a time), the Goddess of Death, is freed after a long imprisonment.

She immediately sets out to rule Asgard and lay waste to anyone in her path – and it’s up to her baby brother to stop her.

Only problem is, he’s been waylaid on junk planet Sakaar which is ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There he’s forced into combat with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – whom we last saw hightailing it away from earth in a spaceship for reasons only Hulk can answer.

So this predicament means Thor needs help to get off the planet and save his people. Luckily, this comes in the form of a Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) whom he finds in self-imposed exile, and, of course, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Plus Hulk. So they form a team (of sorts) to take Hella on.

Basically they’re following Top Gear’s mantra of ‘ambitious but rubbish.’

Now, Marvel films are known for their in-film banter during fight scenes but this is, by some margin, the funniest the studio have put out so far. Yes, more so than Ant-Man, Guardians and any others you care to name. Again, the Taika influence is strongly felt, as he reportedly added a lot of the humour to the script once he came on board.

Hemsworth, too, wanted the tone to be lighter, and he’s clearly demonstrated why being let loose has been a blessing. Yes, the God of Thunder with his hammer and cape is all a bit silly. So why not double down on how mad it is? Additionally, if you were looking for a companion piece in the MCU, Guardian of the Galaxy wouldn’t be a bad bet.

Basically, when things get too serious or preposterous, burst the bubble with a joke.

Works every time.
This is something that DC, for all their progress (by the looks of the Justice League trailers) just don’t get. Superheroes are ridiculous, so let them be.

By and large, this will be the best time you’ll have seeing a Marvel film. Even if you’re not the biggest superhero nerd and have no idea the difference between DC and Marvel or who the Avengers are or anything like that, you’ll still have fun.

It kind of sets the bar pretty high for the forthcoming Black Panther if I’m honest. And though it’s likely that film won’t compete on humour (how can it?) it will probably take the title as the coolest Marvel film so far. From Run the Jewels on the trailer to Black Panther as a character and his homeland of Wakanda, it remains something of an exciting prospect to see how it comes together on screen.

So even without seeing it, I feel confident saying this is going to be a pretty strong year for Marvel.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – review

So Spidey is back – and now with added baby-faced Tom Holland. Back in the day Tobey Maguire had three goes at the role with Sam Raimi directing: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). Then Andrew Garfield had a crack with Marc Webb in charge: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014).

And each, arguably, suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Spidey wasn’t dead but he had been battered pretty thoroughly. Then he popped up, teasingly, in Captain America: Civil War (2016)played by a young Tom Holland. And everyone loved his – albeit short – take on the character. Seems Spidey had returned and this time he was part of the MCU.

Hooray, this felt fresh and well-timed.

So we get Spider-Man: Homecoming a year later. Now some say this version of our arachnid hero is the best yet. Not just because having a younger actor play the role REALLY works and makes more sense (he’s supposed to be a schoolkid), but also because Tom Holland just seems a better fit as an actor than Maguire, and certainly Garfield.

Because, frankly, Holland plays to his strengths, making him cocky and intelligent yet vulnerable and with a big heart, which, naturally, brings him to Tony Stark’s attention. For you see, with Homecoming, he’s very much Tony’s protégé, with Tony a sort of tough love father figure towards Peter.

And as part of that tough love, after helping Stark out in Civil War he gets cuts loose, and told to basically stay out of trouble until he’s called upon, with Happy (Jon Favreau) his reluctant minder.

During which time hard-as-nails salvage guy Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is nicking alien artifacts found during the aftermath of the chitauri attack on New York and turning them into weapons – and in doing so becomes the Vulture.

So little Peter has to prove he’s got what it takes to bring Toomes down, change from boy to man, and prove his hero status to become a fully fledged Avenger.

Which is all well and good. But the nice touches for me in this film come from things we’ve not seen before. THANK GOD the filmmakers didn’t show us how Peter got his powers and came to live with Aunt May. We’ve seen it so many times. Save for a quick line about being bitten by spider and how his aunt has been through a lot, that’s it. Great, let’s move on.

More thought along similar lines has also gone into Peter’s suit. As it’s made by Stark it comes complete with gadgets galore and a PA, but with a little twist to contrast Iron Man’s JARVIS. So from the types of web he can use (grenade, taser) to the suit’s modes (kill, surveillance), it adds a lot more to Spider-Man in terms of his capabilities as a hero and how he can fight.

Yet, as Tony points out, he needs to be a hero without the suit (much like Tony’s own journey in Iron Man). So there’s a couple of pivotal – and fairly emotionally weighty – scenes where we get to see what Peter is really made of. And it helps, of course, to have a worthy foe, because in Michael Keaton we get both comic book pedigree (Batman, Birdman) and oodles of charisma, where he can flip from charm to menace at the drop of a hat (he should really play baddies more often, it suits him).

Ultimately, it’s great that Spider-Man is with Marvel now. Sony, for all their efforts, never really found their groove with this character. And given the fact that Marvel just continue to go from strength to strength as they expand their universe, it’s encouraging that Spider-Man is now a part of that. Roll on Thor: Ragnarok.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – review

If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain… then you’ll have liked the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Which came out of leftfield at the time and was (yet another) risk for Marvel studios, banking on unknown characters that were not hugely connected to the existing Avengers universe.

And Chris Pratt, as a leading man, was also a gamble. A mostly funny, slightly tubby guy, not known as a big hunky heartthrob, suddenly turns up in an action film as… a big hunky heartthrob. Who would have thought? But, to be fair, Pratt was easy casting when you look at the other leaps of faith Marvel took. With characters that included a foul-mouthed raccoon, a tree that only says three words, a tough guy played by an ex-wrestler, and a purple bad guy that seemed to sit on a throne in space doing very little. (That’s Thanos by the way).

Anyway, the completely laboured point I’m trying to make is that, after Guardians became a huge – albeit unexpected – hit, a sequel was inevitable. It also turned out to be one of the funniest the studio had put out too, which gave the follow-up more license to play in the comedy sandpit.

Which, in a pleasing way, it really embraces. And in the same vein as Doctor Strange, this set of characters really helps expand the Marvel universe, adding more background to the Infinity Stones storyline and getting us, as an audience, thinking about space as a viable addition to the Marvel storytelling canvas. (Thor: Ragnarok, we’re looking at you.)

But that’s all strategic stuff.

In terms of Guardians alone and this film as a sequel, it picks up fairly soon after the first one, where the team have become somewhat of a unit for hire. We start with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) fighting a giant monster, whilst Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) dances joyfully front and centre. It’s fun, playful, ridiculous and will put a silly smile on your face. Ok, we can rest easy. This sequel will be good.

Story wise, first time round the plot touched on Peter Quill’s heritage. But here it’s expanded as the main arc and centres around Kurt Russell’s character (yes, you read that right, Kurt Russell is in this) and his link to Quill.

However, this tale also gives more moments to the rest of the gang as well. And whilst they play much the same beats they did first time round, each becomes more well-rounded. We see Drax’s sensitive side and a sort of bonding between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) get some rather unexpected scenes.

And then there’s Baby Groot.

Possibly the cutest thing in cinema since Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon. And the sheer inventiveness in terms of the ways they use this tinier, child-like version of Groot will warm your cockles. From his impossibly huge eyes – looking at you with wonder – to his infectious spirit, he lights up every scene he’s in. He’ll have you at the first ‘I am Groot.’

It’s also worth noting that most sequels cannot hold a candle to the original. This, however, might just be better. There, I said it. It’s funnier. It gives more of the characters more to do. The stakes are higher. It has Kurt Russell. It also has another famous movie star (don’t ruin it by looking it up if you don’t know, just go see it). And it’s really just a blast from start to finish.

Where it sits, in terms of the Marvel filmography, is hard to say. It has to be top five, definitely. Although, with the Thor: Ragnorok trailer looking pretty special, perhaps Marvel have found even more ways to delight us with their characters and their universe. By golly, DC have some catching up to do.

Logan: sad, beautiful and final

James Mangold is a compelling director; in that a lot of his work has real emotional depth and nuance, and often benefits from repeat viewing. And he’s kind of underappreciated. I mean, Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma and Walk The Line all had him at the helm.

And yes, granted, he’s also got The Wolverine on his filmography, but we’re all allowed a little stumble now and then, right?

And I have to say, with Logan – almost certainly Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s last portrayal of the characters – Mangold has finished with superheroes on a high (assuming he’s not coming back to direct again). Because, simply put, this film is poles apart from almost ALL superhero movies (even Deadpool), in that it’s a melancholy love letter to Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), as the two that are heart and soul – and indeed spine – of the X-Men franchise.

Theirs is the father-son dynamic that’s touched on consistently throughout prior films, but is really brought front and centre here. And, structure wise, we’re in somewhat different territory. Because whilst superhero films (these days) are often Westerns half in disguise, Logan wears this badge proudly, with Mangold really playing to his strengths as a director.

In that it’s a muscular, visceral, downtrodden and wistful story. One that’s gritty, painfully real, and lacks any semblance of a Hollywood shine. (I mean, within one scene more F bombs get dropped than the rest of the franchise put together.)

Indeed, Mangold has previously stated his touchpoints were Shane, The Cowboys, Paper Moon, Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler. And, for me, the latter two cited really shine through. Whether it’s the road trip structure or the fact Logan shares a lot of common ground with Mickey Rourke’s wrestler, in that he’s a ‘broken down old piece of meat’, you sense these influences keenly.

And, story wise, it also takes its cues from the Old Man Logan series of graphic novels. So within the opening scenes where we meet Logan, he’s a grey-haired, shabby limo driver. He drinks, he’s bleary-eyed, bent, broken and walks with a limp. So he’s oceans away from his body being the temple of earlier films. Now it’s more a urinal. In short, he’s a right mess and borderline suicidal.

Plus the fact he’s got a half-senile Charles to look after; shacked up in a metal bunker in Mexico (described in one scene as a man with the world’s most dangerous brain and a degenerative brain disorder to match. A lethal combination). So gone are the days of the mansion and gone are the days of mutants and the X-Men. Logan and Charles are practically all that’s left. And they’re barely clinging to life as it is.

But… they’re given purpose by the arrival of a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has certain familiar abilities. And so Logan is tasked – with Charles in tow – to attempt to evade bad guys and get her to the safety of Canada. So we end up with a sort of mismatched family road movie – with Logan as the cantankerous yet caring father, Charles as the doddering yet insightful grandfather, and Laura as the wild, precocious daughter looking for a family and sense of belonging.

And, whilst the whole film has many sweet notes, it’s also immensely sad and surprisingly violent (every Wolverine kill is far bloodier and more gory than ever before).

This is also, without a shadow of a doubt, both Jackman and Stewart’s best performances as these characters. The studio has clearly given Mangold license to do things a bit differently, and it’s really paid off.

The world feels more real. It’s the most emotional ‘superhero’ film yet (in any franchise) and it’s focused in its use of a handful of characters tops, which is really refreshing (the swollen cast of recent X-Men outings was beginning to bore me a bit).

So ultimately, this is a strong contender for the best X-Men movie to date, or at least a firm second place. And you could argue that without all the prior films the weight of emotion wouldn’t ring true here, and that this movie needs to stand fully alone to be considered the best. And that’s valid.

But it’s also worth noting that this movie does FAR more right than it does wrong. Coupled with the fact that more than a handful of scenes are truly heartbreaking.

Now how many X-Men films could you say that about?

Luke Cage: season one review

Take Captain America and add a dash of Superman and thread Harlem throughout his core and what do you get? Luke Cage. A badass bulletproof hero in a hoodie. Originally a character that turns up in Jessica Jones but now has his own show. And one that feels pretty different from others out there, and indeed, different from other Marvel ones too. From the opening yellow-washed, funk-inflected theme song – that’s simultaneously retro and contemporary – you get a sense that a lot of love has gone into its creation and how important the Harlem setting is to its fabric and structure.

For example, music is vitally important. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Mohammad put it together and said they were influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Ennio Morricone and Mohammad’s group A Tribe Called Quest. So we’ve got Western meets ’90s hip hop, with an original track by Method Man too (video below). All of which adds to its identity.

And on the character front, our main man Luke is interesting. Not immediately likeable and some may say stoic and unreadable, but there’s a fire under his surface. He’s a quiet hero, fierce, intelligent, troubled. There’s no spandex or cape and he half shuns the limelight for the most part. In reality, he’s an ex-convict trying to lay low and live his life in peace. But he’s too special to do that for long. He’s bulletproof for one thing, but it’s more than that. He has a strong sense of injustice and the people of Harlem need him to step up and protect them. So far so very Western, right?

Marvel's Luke Cage

And whilst it’s easy enough for him to hurl gangsters about (he’s bulletproof and can heal incredibly fast and has superhuman strength) he does have weaknesses. Namely loved ones, the people that he cares about. Which you’d expect. If you can’t hurt a bulletproof man, hurt those around him. Which is the approach our bad guy Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali) takes for the first half of the season.

And I very much think this is a season of two halves. First is set-up and a bit slow burn, then the second gets more gung-ho, with Luke half on the run from the law and the bad guys at the same time. So an educated outlaw and vigilante with the common people on his side? May as well call him Robin Hood.

Whatever we call him, it’s a good first season for a show and gets better as it goes on. And it’s nice to see Marvel trying new things, but all the while building the MCU on the small screen. We’ve had Agents of SHIELD (decent and still going) and Agent Carter (had its moments but cancelled after two seasons), Jessica Jones and Daredevil (heard both fairly good but haven’t caught them) and now we have Luke Cage. It’ll be most interesting to see what happens in season two.

Suicide Squad: The Harley Quinn show

We all knew it would work, didn’t we? Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Arguably, there’s never been a better match of actor and character in a superhero movie (except maybe Jack Nicholson as The Joker, but that was decades ago).

And with the addition of Will Smith – reuniting them after their pairing in con film Focus – you know the lion’s share of scenes will have gone to those two. Not that that’s a bad thing. But when watching David Ayer’s Suicide Squad I did wonder – more than once – what the rest of the cast were actually doing there, other than to make up the numbers.

It’s a bit like the XMen films. You have so many characters that giving them all something interesting to do is a tall order. Although maybe that’s just an excuse and the filmmakers should really just try that bit harder. (After all, we’ve had a few great XMen films in the past.)

suicide-squad-trailer-deadshot-gun

But to backtrack, in case you’ve not seen the trailer or know anything about superhero films or have any idea what the Suicide Squad is, let’s recap.

‘They’re bad guys. The worst of the worst’, says Viola Davis’ shady Government official Amanda Waller. For it is she that pulls the strings of the squad, getting them to do her evil bidding. And she’s as cold as ice with it, sending them into situations where you wouldn’t want to risk your precious heroes like Batman and The Flash.

Essentially, they’re canaries down the coal mine and very much on the expendable side. Bad guys forced to do good. For example there’s a Hispanic gangster fire guy (Jay Hernandez), a crocodile (Addiwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an Aussie boomerang-throwing burglar (Jai Courtney), a master assassin with funky dress sense (Will Smith) and everyone’s favourite deranged-by-the-Joker psychiatrist (Margot Robbie). Plus some other walking clichés but I’ve given up listing them, you’ll just have to check IMDb.

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They’re tasked with rescuing someone from the remnants of a city that an ancient – and rather pissed off – witch called Enchantress (Cara Delivigne) has torn to shreds in a sort of Viggo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters kind of way. Plot wise, that’s kind of it. So somehow we have a film in which lots happens, but also, bafflingly, very little at all.

Furthermore, there’s been talk online of how the film starts about three times. Or that it takes maybe 20 minutes to get into the actual story. Either way, you could argue that – if you’re going to be tough to please like me – it never really does get going. Robbie does her best to lighten things up but it often feels like she’s in a different movie to everyone else.

Particularly Joel Kinnaman’s dour Colonel Rick Flag; who leads the group in such a gruff manner it’s as if he sucks the life out of scenes simply by turning up; like some sort of Dementor in army fatigues.

SUICIDE SQUAD

Then there’s the Joker. One of the best comic book villians ever to grace the screen and first made famous by Jack Nicolson, then updated for the modern age by the genius of Heath Ledger (the latter gaining a posthumous Oscar in the wake of his death).

So now we have Jared Leto giving us his take, going all method during the shoot; with stories of him sending dead rats to cast members there’s no doubt he got into character for the role. And really, this just added fuel to the fire getting us all revved up. His Joker would be something special. Even perhaps, whisper it, the best yet?

And then… what did we get? A couple of scenes here and there but largely diddly squat. Nada. Zip. Zilch. David Ayer took this great character and frittered him away on some meaningless encounters, giving Leto precious little to work with. But perhaps I am missing the point? Was this not a Joker movie? Is he not the biggest bad guy in the film? If not, then why bother to hype him up at all?

suicidesquad

If you’re going to focus on Smith and Robbie’s characters then why not give them some sort of combined backstory and shared history the actors can sink their teeth into? Play up to their chemistry. Or if you’re going to do a Joker and Harley Quinn film, do that. With the rest of the squad as peripheral characters. Maybe Deadshot could have taken it upon himself to free Harley from the Joker’s influence?

I get that screenwriting is a monumentally challenging thing to get into any semblance of something coherent that’ll engage audiences. But surely if in doubt, KISS right? Keep it simple, stupid.

So structurally this film is somewhat all over the place and feels thrown together in a way which slightly vexes me. And it gives the audience very little with which to identify in terms of characters. Granted, ensemble movies are a tricky beast at the best of times and, whilst I’m loathe to use Marvel as a blueprint, they just do it so much better.

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Whether bringing together established characters (Avengers) or introducing entirely new ones (Guardians of the Galaxy) they make it seem much more seamless and, crucially, make us care about the characters involved.

So, anywho. Before it seems like I’m too down on this whole movie, let’s put things in perspective. There were some good performances to be had (Robbie, Smith, Davis, Leto) and David Ayer did a passable job of setting up the squad and it’s a reasonable enough Friday night popcorn type of watch. So there’s that. And it also seems to have done well enough to suggest a sequel isn’t going to be a big ask of the studio.

So for the second one I really hope they come up with a better structure and more credible story for the squad. Stick Smith and Robbie front and centre and, for God’s sake, keep the tone as far away from dark and gritty as possible. DC has more than enough of that going around and superhero films are supposed to be fun. Aren’t they?

Captain America: Civil War – review

Let’s make something perfectly clear – or at least less muddy. This film is not an Avengers movie, it’s a Captain America one… inasmuch as he’s the focus and both antagonist and protagonist. But then, so is Tony Stark. So maybe it’s a Captain America versus Iron Man movie, with their respective teams in tow?

In any case, it’s all gotten a bit more serious…. more DC maybe, less Marvel. Perhaps this is right in this instance, for here the plot picks up strands from Steve Rodgers’ prior outings, as well as further mining the depths of Tony Stark’s inner torment, following everything he’s been through; including accidently creating Ultron as force for bad rather than good.

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And so we have a bit of playing against type – or role reversal – in that rebellious playboy Stark supports legislation to make our heroes accountable to the U. N., but Rodgers – a man who you’d safely bet would be on the side of the establishment – is firmly in the opposite camp. Mostly because he wants to protect his friend Bucky – the Winter Soldier who keeps getting into trouble – but also because he feels legislation clips the wings of the Avengers, stopping them from doing what they do best without the need for red tape.

So we have some nice, meaty motivation for our two main dudes, pitting them against each other. Each a titan with his own loyal followers, and so with Civil War we get some old names (Black Widow, Hawkeye), some newer but fairly established ones (War Machine, Falcon, Ant-Man, The Vision, Scarlett Witch) and some fresh blood (Spider-Man, Black Panther).

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They fly, they swoop, they shrink, they grow and they scrap their little heart’s out.

And it’s a blast.

Then, on the periphery of all the infighting we have an actual bad guy (Daniel Bruhl) who goes rather unnoticed for the most part. But he’s not the main focus, so it’s ok. He does the job he needs to do at the times upon which he’s called, but it’s Cap v Iron Man we’ve come to see really… that and the interplay between almost all of Marvel’s superheroes (except Thor and Hulk who’ve gone AWOL and the Guardians of the Galaxy lot) in one giant dust-up, plus a few other skirmishes along the way.

To do this and not give the audience a headache is really quite masterful on the part of the Russo brothers; who are really getting into their stride directing these days.

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That said, there’s a point where the movie is in danger of becoming too po-faced and serious for its own good. Thank God that, at that point, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man turn up to take the edge off most pleasingly.

Lest we forget that Marvel’s strength tends to be in light-hearted banter amid the mayhem, so it’s good that they didn’t go too far down the DC path, past the point of no return at least.

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At the end of the day we all know people in costumes are somewhat ridiculous, so it’s important to burst the bubble at regular intervals – and the final third of the movie moves into much more welcome territory. Overall, it may actually be the best Marvel film yet (I’ve yet to see Ant-Man, but from the scenes in this film it has to be on my ‘to watch’ list in the near future).

And as a final thought, props to the filmmakers for how they’ve portrayed Black Panther. With his cat-like reflexes, sharp claws and black suit he’s got to be up there as one of the coolest superheroes we’ve seen in a while. A solo film following this character would be a pretty savvy choice bet I’d say.

Roll on the next one…

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Deadpool: Never a hero

It’s taken a while but Ryan Reynolds has finally been allowed to do what he wants on screen. More or less. And Deadpool is pretty much the perfect character for him. He IS Ryan Reynolds. Kind of. For his version is complete with pegging, teabagging and masturbation jokes, which all come thick and fast (pun intended) and half of which you’ll probably miss first time round but that’s OK, just see it again.

It’s not just the Reynolds show though, all films are a team effort and the more the filmmakers have pushed the envelope here, the better the results. And it’s clear, from the marketing materials pre-release to Reynolds’ take on the character, everyone was pulling towards the same goal. And, let’s face it, antiheroes are far more fun to watch than straight up heroes anyway. As Deadpool says time and again, he’s no hero and continually resists the call, but that’s kind of the point.

He also pokes fun at the whole superhero concept, regularly breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly on how absurd everything seems to be. Meta and meta and meta some more.

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reacts to Colossus’ (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) threats.

One slight negative to note is that – despite this being very funny for large parts – plot wise it’s thin to say the least. And that’s as good a place as any to start, in terms of a review.

So we kick off with a scene on a freeway (seen in the trailer) where Deadpool lays into a host of bad guys, then flip to his backstory where, as former special forces chap turned mercenary Wade Wilson, he spends his time roughing up puny geeks. Clearly he’s coasting and rather aimless.

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Then he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), falls in (kinky) love and, before he can enjoy it all, gets well and truly floored by cancer. So he opts for an experimental treatment conducted by unhinged (obviously British) evil scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) who – in an effort to release his mutant genes – tortures and deforms him and leaves him for dead.

It works, giving him extraordinary regenerative powers but leaves him horribly disfigured. And there we have our main character’s motivation: get his grotesque body fixed (only evil Ajax can fix him), win back his girl (somehow) and get revenge. Simples.

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And that’s about it… revenge tale 101. We jump back and forth in time a lot in the first third, mostly so Reynolds can lay on the jokes as if they’re going out of fashion (although most of them do land well), and we also get to meet a couple of lesser X-Men (Collosus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead) who he recruits to help him out, but ultimately there’s not much more to it.

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Plus, as usual – and as is often the case – bad guys in Marvel movies get a rather short shrift and Ajax (Ed Skrein) is no exception. His character is so thin you feel nothing for him (and you should, because all the best baddies make you care; in that you want them to die/lose but you’re having too much fun watching how they go about achieving their evil goals).

It’s probably not Ed’s fault. He gave it a go but had little to work with and ultimately Reynolds’ Deadpool occupied the space of both hero and villain, leaving little room for anyone else of real substance. How Deadpool would fit into a larger ensemble movie is a bigger (more difficult) question, but if they can make it work with the Avengers a la Tony Stark then there’s a way.

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I’m torn on whether Deadpool 2 is a good idea. It feels fresh now and, if anything, they could have pushed the adult nature of it further. But maybe, MAYBE, he’s better in small doses – unless there’s a cracking story to be told. (Although I have heard that a sequel is all but confirmed now.)

In 2010 Kick-Ass shook up the superhero format emphatically and felt needed, then in 2014 Kingsman: The Secret Service did a similar thing for spy-type superhero movies. And now, in 2016, Deadpool has given superheroes yet another kick up the spandex-clad backside. Where the genre goes from now is anyone’s guess, but please Hollywood (another warning), don’t roll out a host of copycats, it won’t work and it’ll bore us all to death.