Archive for comic book film

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be the sleeper hit of Marvel Studios’ prolific output from the last 12 years because it came completely out of left field, with no huge stars (on-screen at least) and about characters very few had ever heard of. However, the mix of a hilarious script, irreverent soundtrack and the chemistry of the cast came together to blow audiences and critics away.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t have that same luxury, people know what to expect from it. So, how does Vol. 2 go about replicating, if not building of the success of Vol. 1? As with so many sequels – especially in the comic-book genre – Vol. 2 goes bigger right from the jump.

The opening five to 10 minutes looks like it cost more money than any opening scene ever. But what the film does is focus on a very small, cute detail rather than the massive action set-piece happening in the background. And, in a way, that’s kind of the point of this particular franchise: the first film was about finding family, this film is about being a family – while also being a team that saves the galaxy.

Almost all the characters in Vol. 2 have been fleshed out and given more depth, rather than sticking with the templates that were sketched out in the fist film. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Yondu (Michael Drucker) have been given deeper issues to work through, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is more playful, the relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) has been deepened with Nebula giving the real reason for her hatred of her stronger sister. Drax (Dave Bautista) continues to be a scene stealer with all the best lines, but his character has even been given more depth. Instead of being a character that takes things completely literally, he is now trying to use sarcasm, though he still doesn’t understand it.

The only character that doesn’t seem to have been given more is Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), despite the fact he has become the leader of the group and is the lead human character that we’re supposed to empathise with. He’s found his biological father in Ego (Kurt Russell), a god of sorts that offers Quill the chance to become a god too. For some reason though, this his character doesn’t seem to have the spark or charisma that he did in the first film.

There are some decent, if not well-telegrahed, plot twists along the way and some great visuals. Some of the action sequences, especially towards the end of the film, can be a little hard to focus on because of the quick cutting and the fact that there is so much going on.

There are some interesting cameos including Sylvester Stallone (who is difficult to understand), Ving Rhames (fleetingly), the Hulk (possibly), Jeff Goldblum (buried in the credits) and David Hasselhoff (bizarrely)! But my personal favourite was Stan Lee’s double cameo that goes some way to addressing a fan theory about his cameos. In it he is communing with the Watchers, a race of aliens who oversee the Marvel universe, telling them about his various entanglements with superheros on Earth. It would have been truly mind-blowing had he referenced a cameo in one of the Fox or Sony films… but that’s me getting super-geeky about things. Is he a Watcher in human form, or just a human go-between, keeping them abreast of goings on they may have missed?

If anything, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a funnier film than it’s predecessor and has been given more substance. The few criticisms levelled at it are the abundance of characters muddying things, the lack of development of the central character and the fact that a lot of what happens in the film relies on your knowledge of the previous film, even more so than most of the other films Marvel puts out. But if you’re seeing a film with Vol. 2 in the title before seeing the first, you’re doing something wrong.

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Review: Logan

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

logan-poster

This is the ninth time Hugh Jackman has donned the claws of the character that he is arguably best known for. This time the title of the film doesn’t contain the words ‘X-Men’ or ‘Wolverine’, which should give you a clue as to the tone of the movie, even if you haven’t seen the trailers which gave a downbeat, western vibe along with that Johnny Cash song.

 The film itself really is a completely different beast than any of Fox’s forays into the X-Men universe. For a start,all mutants seem to have been wiped out with the exception of Logan, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Caliban – an albino mutant played by Stephen Merchant looking like a very gaunt Richard O’Brien. Instead of fighting back against the people responsible for this perceived cull, they are in hiding, with Logan working as a chauffeur to make enough money to get the drugs Charles needs as he is going senile.

Logan plays more like a drama with some action elements. But even these action scenes work on a much more intimate level than your standard comic book movie where typically, entire cities are being levelled by giant robots or orc-like creatures from space/another dimension. In this film Logan is pitted against gangs and paramilitary bounty-hunters. And, unlike any previous films, you’re aware that Jackman has said this is the final Wolverine movie, plus something is wrong with him, he isn’t healing like he used to and he also seems to have something of a death-wish, so there is real jeopardy when he gets into a fight.

In fact, this movie is like a dysfunctional family drama with the put upon father (Logan) looking after an increasingly frail and mentally deteriorating grandfather (Charles) while looking after a tear away daughter. And what a performance from the young Dafne Keen who plays Laura, or X-23. Although she is mute for the majority of the film, her intensity is palpable an herd physical ability is impressive. As soon as she is forced into Logan’s life and he realises what she is, it gives him a reason to carry on.

Along the way there are some touching moments between all the central characters, especially when they help out and are taken in by a farmer’s family. But there are also some big surprises that really pull the rug from under you with one scene in particular playing with your expectations of how these kind of scenes usually play out.

As previously stated, while Logan is trying to get Laura from Mexico to ‘Eden’ in the North of America, he is pitted against paramilitary-style bounty hunters who are in the employ of Dr Rice (Richard E. Grant) the man in charge of creating a new generation of mutants who wants her back. His character reveals himself to be the son of the man in charge of the original Weapon X programme that created Wolverine. This is a nice nod to the previous films, and there are a couple of these sprinkled throughout the film, but not enough to distract.

Actually, Logan is probably the only film in the entire franchise that isn’t bogged down by being closely tied to the franchise. It’s a true stand-alone where you wouldn’t need to have seen a single X-Men film before. It also stands apart because of its 15 rating. The fact that we finally get to see the violence this character is capable of made a refreshing change and wasn’t used too gratuitously like it was in Deadpool.

One of the main criticisms of the film is its overuse of swearing, especially at the beginning, where it seemed like the script writers were let loose after not being able to use them. But again, rather than the cartoony, gross-out use of violence and language in Deadpool, at least the swearing was used in ‘real’ ways, even if it did feel gratuitous in places.

This is the best X-Men film in the 17 year history of the franchise, and this is mainly to do with the more intimate feel of the film as well as the fact the filmmakers were able to play with different genres. It’s more like a drama or a western, similar in tone and even colour palette to Unforgiven. If you’ve never watched an X-Men film before it won’t matter, the story is that good that it can be watched in isolation. Go see it.

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Captain America Civil War poster

This is the second film this year where the good guys are punching each other in the face because of disagreements over how to deal with collateral damage caused during previous films in the franchise. Though instead of two heroes we have about six on each side in this film. Is it too much?

Before I answer this question there’s another, more pressing question at hand: How long can Hollywood keep pumping out superhero films before they reach a critical mass and people get bored? How long can they keep making enough money to continue their franchises into the 2020s and beyond like they’re planned for?

The last few films about costumed crimefighters have left me feeling a bit nonplussed leading me to question whether they’re working any more. Avengers: Age of Ultron was underwhelming with some great bits, Ant Man was fun but not great and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had some great moments but was a complete mess.

Fortunately, for me, Captain America: Civil War raises the bar back up again for this tired genre. It is unfair to compare CA: CW and BvS: DoJ, but it’s inevitable. Where the DC/Warner Brothers film felt like something to endure, despite rattling along, Marvel know how to invite the audience in and have fun. Even when everything is going wrong, it’s still colourful and interesting to look at, except for a certain scene near the end which is heart-wrenching to watch. This can only be achieved after experiencing these characters’ stories over the last eight years and got to know them as (almost) fully rounded characters through multiple movies, something the darker DC/WB films failed at as we don’t know much about any of their current clutch of characters.

It would be fairer to compare CA: CW to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron was potentially a great villain, but the film was mishandled and felt like a film made by committee rather than by an auteur. Once again though, Marvel killed off a great villain, which is what is so refreshing about CA: CW. It is cleverly written by the Russo brother, just like CA: Winter Soldier was and, although Crossbones was killed off in the first scene (bad Marvel!), they have introduced the most calculating villain since Loki in Zemo. And he didn’t even wear a costume or even a uniform.

If you’re a fan of the Marvel oeuvre, you’ll really enjoy this, it has all the colour, panache and witty dialogue you’ve come to expect. But there is also real heartbreak in the fallout from Zemo’s plan and the conclusion of the film has an ellipsis that really makes you wonder where the characters are going to go from here.

CA: CW is the Avengers film we deserved from A: AoU and expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe further, amazingly giving each of the myriad characters enough time to shine in their own right. The film  is stolen by stand out performances from Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. Ant Man does something you may not expect and there’s a really great bit of misdirection involving Zemo’s plan the Winter Soldier(s).

There’s a heck of a lot going on in this movie, but even so there were two or three moments where the film sags, unlike BvS: DoJ you are acutely aware of how long you’ve been in the cinema during these scenes. But even so you always know what’s going on and each character’s motivation is crystal clear and that’s a testament to the writing and the storytelling that has come before this.

Put simply, I’m really looking forward to the Spider-Man and Black Panther movies, but CA: CW has rejuvenated my interest in the superhero genre, for the time being.