Archive for comic book movie

Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The popularity of the Batman character, played by the excellently tongue-in-cheek Will Arnett, in The Lego Movie and the popularity of the character itself as well as the Lego games made the idea of a spin-off film a no-brainer.

Rather than being a spin-off however, The Lego Batman Movie is a stand-alone film that exists in its own universe. And what a joyous universe it is. The Lego version of Gotham is the brightest version of the fictional city since the 1960s TV series, the characters are all fun which sets it apart from the live action films of the past few years.

In fact, this movie spoofs virtually every Batman property that has existed in the characters nearly 80 year history. It even references the 1940s black and white series! One of the biggest criticisms that I have of this film is that the break-neck speed with which the cuts are made means that you probably miss around 70% of all the visual gags. It feels as if there are so many things going on that you just want the ability to pause it to find all the references and jokes going on around the frame.

The basic story is that Batman is super self-obsessed and narcissistic to mask a deep-rooted loneliness that he has repressed since his parents died. Through the course of the film the other characters get him to start working with others, including some of the most unlikely characters.

There are so many laughs in this film that it’s impossible to cover them all, but suffice to say that there are some really interesting character deviations from the norm that work so well, you wonder why they haven’t been done before. For example, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) becoming Batgirl virtually as an aside to her being such a kick-ass police officer. Also, every version of Alfred since Michael Caine has been touted as the most hands-on and handy in a fight, but Ralph Feinnes’ version takes this to new levels.

What’s truly wonderful about The Lego Batman Movie is, because it’s an animation, it can go anywhere. The roster of villains is ludicrous, not just the actual Batman rogues gallery that really exist but also the extra bad guys that crop up.

As with The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie has a deeper message hidden behind the jokes about the importance of working together and combatting loneliness, but it’s done in such a joyful way that you barely realise you’re being taught a lesson.

This film is supposed to be a children’s film, but it works so well as an adult – especially if you happen to be well versed in the lore of Batman. I would almost go so far as to say it’s the best Batman movie ever made… it’s even confident enough to take a pop at The Dark Knight, and survives!

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Review: Doctor Strange

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The second of the Marvel films for 2016 is the first new character’s origin story since Guardians of the Galaxy, the difference with Doctor Strange is that it goes back to introducing a single character.

Doctor Strange’s story reflects the, by now, familiar origin arc: Arrogant, wealthy surgeon, Stephen Strange gets into a car accident that damages his hands, effectively ending his career. On his quest to regain his former life he spends his vast wealth on all sorts of consultations, none of which work until he learns about a place in Nepal that helped a crippled man to walk again. He spends the last of his money to get there and is eventually taken in by what look like Buddhist monks where he is trained in magic.

It’s a very familiar arc to Tony Stark in Iron Man, except the Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is quite an unlikable character, shunning the help and support of a, frankly, marginalised Rachael McAdams as the long-suffering, on-again-off-again love interest. He is also dismissive of everyone, much like Stark is, except Stark still manages to keep you on side because he oozes charm. Strange is just a bit of a dick.

There are some amazing visuals in this film, which are based on the city bending visuals introduced in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The technology has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade, however, at the world-bending that happens in Doctor Strange is almost too much to focus on. But it’s really impressive.

Tilda Swinton is always a class act and largely silences critics of whitewashing with a brilliant performance as The Ancient One. Bennedict Wong’s character, … Wong, is Strange’s man-servant in the comics, thankfully he’s given a more rounded role here as the librarian and keeper of spells, although he is proven to be a little incompetent in this area. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen round off the main cast and lend real heft to both Strange’s mentor, Mordo and the villain of the piece, Kaecilius respectively.

As visually amazing and full of top-class actors as Doctor Strange is, it is let down by the formulaic origin story, too many quips from characters that don’t feel like they should be quipping and the treatment of its female characters, something Marvel really need to sort out after nearly a decade. Rachael McAdams is largely sidelined and Tilda Swinton’s character is killed off. The only strong female character Marvel has is Black Widow, it amazes me that they keep writing out virtually all their female characters. But that’s another blog altogether.

One of the things that does make Doctor Strange stand out from the rest of the superhero genre is that the final battle, for all it’s CG-ness isn’t a big laser battle where two big machines/monsters level a city, it’s more a battle of minds. Yet it certainly isn’t a thinking person’s film!

The inclusion of multi-dimensional travel will make the future films very interesting indeed and could be the way Marvel reboots after the contracts of the original actors expire. Though I’d still rather see Deadpool kill the Marvel Universe!

Review: Deadpool

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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First off: I thought I’d posted this over a month ago. Secondly: I’m a massive Deadpool fan, so this review could be heavily biased. (Aside: It will be.)

What is there to say about this film that either hasn’t already been said or could possibly spoil it. For once we’ve been given a film where the trailer gave away quite a lot of the plot and the set-pieces, but it didn’t matter.

Deadpool isn’t a traditional super hero film and it has managed something Fox, Sony, Warner Brothers and even Marvel have failed to do; appeal broadly to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise go. The Warner Bros. films might be seen as too earnest, the Marvel films might seem too unwieldy what with all those characters and interlinking stories, The Fox films have messed about with time-travel and the Sony films have re-invented Spider-Man for the umpteenth time. Deadpool stars heart-throb Ryan Reynolds, it looks funny, and it’s not taking itself seriously at all.

This is why Deadpool has given Fox its highest opening weekend ever, even more than Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and the highest opening weekend for a 15 (R-Rated) movie ever. It’s different from anything people have seen in a super hero film. And this should worry you.

I could go on to describe how I started laughing about five seconds into the film and didn’t stop throughout, or the fact that Reynolds was born to play this role. I could also go into the two-dimensional supporting cast and how this isn’t necessarily a problem. I could even go on to explaining all the in-jokes and how much this is a film for the fans that, somehow, appeals to many more than the core Deadpool-reading audience. But there’s no reason as everyone is saying he same thing and by now you really should have seen it.

What I will say is that Hollywood regurgitates successes ad nauseam until it gets old, so expect to see a lot more gore and close-to-the-knuckle comedy in superhero films going forward. Already Warner Bros. have said there will be an R-Rated version of Batman v Superman;Dawn of Justice for the DVD/Blu-Ray release and Fox have stated their final Wolverine movie will be R-Rated too. The problem with this is that the gore and some of the language suits Deadpool, it may work for Wolverine, but it doesn’t really suit Batman and really isn’t needed in a Superman film.

Not everything needs to follow a successful formula to be a hit. Deadpool didn’t and look what happened there… oh, wait…

If you’ve not seen this film it’s too late, but it is well worth a watch. Could be a little annoying for those not familiar with ‘the Merc with the Mouth’, but that’s who he is and this film is unashamed of that, as it should be.

Review: Ant-Man

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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Paul Rudd is the latest comedic-actor-turned-superhero in Marvel’s latest cinematic outing, Ant-Man.

He plays Scott Lang, an ex-con trying to turn his life around so he can spend more time with his daughter who idolises him. This is a refreshing change from the recent Marvel films which deal with giant armies of murderous robots or legions of aliens or cosmic forces. The stakes in Ant-Man are very small (no pun intended).

Unfortunately the career choices for an ex-burglar are limited, and after getting fired from a milkshake bar he is tempted back for one last ‘job’. A rich man has gone out-of-town and has a safe, the contents of which could change his life.

Once the safe has been cracked all that it contains is a suit. Disappointed, Lang takes it anyway and decides to try it on. Thus starts a new chapter of his life as the Ant-Man.

He is mentored by former Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who, it turns out, had set up the robbery in the first place. Pym has been bought out of his own company by his protegé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who plans the weaponise the idea of the Ant-Man suit, calling it the Yellowjacket. Pym needs Lang to become Ant-Man to stop Cross before the technology falls into the wrong hands.

The casting is great, Paul Rudd is a great comedic presence, Michael Douglas provides a seasoned performance of a weaker, former hero who is out to protect the world, but also his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who gives a suitably waspish (pun intended) performance.

The supporting cast of Lang’s conspirators, Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian provide the comic relief when the plot gets a little tied up. The scenes where fast talking Peña is describing how he has heard about certain jobs through the grapevine are hilarious and reminds you of certain scenes from Spaced.

The fingerprints of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s original script are still there throughout the film and have a distinctness that Wright’s work often has. The problem is that the parts re-written but Rudd and Adam McKay stand out only inasmuch as they don’t ‘pop’ like the bits that seem to have been left in from the original script.

The plot is incredibly complex, with many sub-plots going on and reveals happening , but it doesn’t feel as constrained as the recent Age of Ultron script where everything is happening to set up the next phase of films, leaving very little space for Joss Whedon to tell a coherent story.

Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air in a franchise that is quickly becoming saturated with the same characters teaming up and competing for screen time. It’s nice to have a stand-alone(ish) film that introduces some great new ideas and characters.

Ant-Man may be a bit messy, but it has fun in the process. It’ll be interesting to see how the swathe of new characters slated to be introduced in the coming years will go down, hopefully Marvel will feel like it doesn’t have to rely on throwing in characters from other properties to sell what could be a self-contained movie.

Anywhere But Here, Episode 133 – Spoilercast: Ant-Man

Posted in Podcast with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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This is the latest in the spoilercasts, episodes where Ant and Tom talk in great detail about films they’ve seen at the cinema and are very excited about. This week’s film is the latest offering from Marvel/Disney, Ant-Man.

As usual (and as the title of the episode suggests), there will be massive amounts of spoiling in this episode. So, if you’ve not seen the film yet, and want to (you should have done by now!), it’s probably best that you go see the film first before listening.

You have been warned.


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Twitter – @abhpod

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Youtube – youtube.com/abhpodcast

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Age of Ultron

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to battle a foe of their own making in the latest Marvel behemoth to hit the big screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whirlwind of action from start to finish with a massive cast of characters from virtually all the previous films. So much so, that the story is propelled forwards at break-neck speed to cover the developments in everyone’s lives while also introducing new characters as well as set up the plot.

Sounds like a bit of a mess? It is a bit. Unless you’re a comic book aficionado it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with who everyone is. Especially as there are so many cast members that enough time cannot be afforded to build them up enough to make them 3D.

The most obvious examples of this are ‘the Maximoff twins’, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (though only known by the names Wanda and Pietro – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). They are new characters, but their origins were actually revealed at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Also, James Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie), although big characters in the Iron Man films and Winter Soldier, are marginalised to the point where The Falcon isn’t even referred to by name.

Credit where credit’s due, though, director Joss Whedon does a stellar job with the over-stuffed hand he has been dealt by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He starts the film in the middle of a big action set-piece where we get to see all the Avengers from the first movie doing their thing side-by-side, evoking the big splash pages from the comics.

He then does a balancing act of slowing down to find some human interaction between certain characters, fleshing them out more, namely the scientist bromance between Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the burgeoning relationship between Banner and Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a massive expansion of character in Age of Ultron, he’s always been a B-list Avenger but finally gets a chance to shine here.

There are some stunning visual effects in this film, as we’ve come to expect, but the slower moments between the characters are needed, not just for a chance to breathe, but to showcase Whedon’s knack for writing great, naturalistic and witty dialogue. Some of the standout lines include Hawkeye proclaiming that his role in these apocalyptic battles is ludicrous, bearing in mind his weapon is a bow and arrow. His wife (yep, he’s a secret family man) saying “I totally support your avenging” and The Vision (Paul Bettany – who is a welcome return to the screen in physical form) riffing with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about the balance of Mjolnir (yes, The Vision can weald Thor’s hammer).

James Spader voices the titular villain, Ultron, with real menace but, as with most Marvel villains, is a bit two-dimensional and is easily dealt with in the end. There is a cameo from Andy Serkis as a South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, who will eventually link Black Panther to the Avengers’ roster, as well as the mention of Wakanda. But this is a digression.

It is clear that Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to these films. He knows what the fans want to see and how to write snappy dialogue as well as handle massive effects shots. The problem is, that there are almost too many characters to fit into one movie and after the addition of move characters in the coming years before the next Avengers film, Infinity War in 2018-9, has been split into two parts. However, the end of Age of Ultron introduces the idea that certain characters can be written in and out to solve this problem, something Marvel will, surely, have to think about. Bearing in mind that people coming out of the cinema today couldn’t remember the red bloke’s (The Vision) name or who that purple guy at the end is.

It’s a bit of a mess, but Whedon is the only man who could have made sense of it all, despite the fact it felt like Marvel’s marketing department were insisting on certain shots or the inclusion of certain scenes. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films you won’t have a clue what’s going on. The Marvel films are starting to get further away from stand-alone as they go. But, if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. Can too much of a good thing be bad for you?

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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Review is not quite the word for this article. Advertisement might be a better description of what will follow. Because, simply, you have to see Guardians of the Galaxy.

Marvel Studios’ latest offering is as far removed from anything put out from their universe so far. Even though Avengers Assemble had alien invasion and Thor is from another part of the universe that watches over the rest, Guardians of the Galaxy is the first film set in Deep Space, far away from Earth.

Instead of being a superhero team movie the beings that make up GOTG are aliens from all across the universe who, through circumstance, are forced to work together against an almighty enemy. Each of the characters have their own personal problems and distinctive traits, let alone looks; they band together for the good of the universe.

Chris Pratt plays the human among them, Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana plays Zamora, the ‘daughter’ of Thanos (the big evil guy who is bent of galactic domination – Josh Brolin), Dave Bautista is Drax the Destroyer, and the voice talents of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel bring to like Rocket, a cybernetically modified racoon with a penchant for explosives and Groot, a living tree who only knows the words “I am Groot”.

The premise and character descriptions sound ridiculous enough, so I’m not even going to get into the plot, which would take too long to describe to make it sound good. Suffice to say the film is visually stunning with jaw-dropping special effects and action set-pieces.

Marvel took a real punt on making a film about a group of characters virtually no one in the mainstream cinema audience had heard of and putting it out there among the more established comic book movies. But they are so happy with what the director, James Gunn, has served up that they have already green lit a second film… before the release of this one!

The unknown element of this property is what really makes the film, with the bonding process and the excellently written and acted characters who are grounded and truly likeable enough to make you give a damn about such a ridiculous story. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously; in fact, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a very long time.

Gunn (or Marvel) haven’t tied it at all closely to the going on of The Avengers films on Earth which is another plus point, because it works completely on its own and that’s another reason it works so well – it stands out in a sea of sequels and re-boots being churned out by Hollywood at the moment and audience make-up and box office figures point towards this film bringing in a massive and, most importantly, mixed audience across all age ranges and sexes. Marvel have bucked a trend. Let’s see what other minor properties get their own feature film now. I’m secretly hoping for a spin-off from the last post-credits scene!