Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba
With the incredible success of Black Panther, which is the year’s top grossing film by some margin and Marvel’s third highest grossing film ever, 2018 was already a winner for Marvel Studios before they had even played their trump card. Avengers: Infinity Wars is, by most any measure, one of the biggest movies in history. The film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to for a decade now, it is a crossover epic 18 films in the making, and promises to be the blockbuster movie event of the year.
When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing from Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, comes crashing down into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum he brings with him an ominous warning. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is gathering the infinity stones. These six gems forged in the big bang each control an elemental power and if he gets his hand on all six, and he already has three, he will become all powerful. His ultimate goal? Genocide on an unimaginable scale. Continue reading
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd
Eight years and thirteen films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War suggests that rather than growing stale, the MCU is maturing and starting to really explore the possibilities afforded to it by this interwoven, serialised form of cinematic storytelling.
When a mission in Wakanda goes awry and innocent lives are lost, questions are again asked of the culpability of the Avengers. Coming after even grander scale destruction in New York, Washington DC and Sokovia, this is final straw. “Victory at the expense of innocents is no victory at all,” declares the Wakandan King. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, reprising his role from the forgotten MCU film, The Incredible Hulk) presents the Avengers with the Sokovian Accord, signed by 117 nations, which seeks to place them under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. Continue reading
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L Jackson
The 2012 superhero team up movie The Avengers, the culmination of Phase One of Marvel Studios plan for blockbuster world domination, was an enormous success taking $1.5 billion worldwide and becoming the third highest grossing film of all time. So naturally expectation is sky high for their next gathering, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is still haunted by the events of New York which concluded The Avengers. Knowing what forces exist in the universe he is acutely aware of the limitations of the Avengers. They can only protect the world from so much. With the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he has been secretly working at a plan he calls Ultron, which he imagines as “a suit of armour around the world.” After the Avengers reclaim Loki’s sceptre from a Hydra bunker, Stark and Banner try and harness its artificial intelligence and plant it in Ultron. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so sure enough this plan backfires. Designed to keep the peace, the sentient Ultron (James Spader) sees allowing the Earth to evolve through the elimination of the human race as key to achieving that peace. Continue reading
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
Do you want to know just how hot a streak Marvel Studios are on at the moment? They have taken a minor comic book series about a motley crew of space adventurers that includes, among others, a green woman, a talking raccoon and a walking tree and they’ve turned it into possibly the best sci-fi adventure movie in decades.
Having been abducted from Earth as a child, Peter ‘Star Lord’ Quill travels the galaxy as a treasure hunter (read thief). Quill steals a mysterious orb, which turns out to be significantly more valuable, and dangerous, than he imagined. So he teams up with an assassin, Gamora, a pair of bounty hunters, Rocket and Groot, and the physically imposing Drax the Destroyer to sell it to the highest bidder. However, it just so happens that the orb contains one of the powerful Infinity Stones, and when it falls into the hands of the evil Ronan who plans to use it to destroy the galaxy, it falls to Quill and his rag tag bunch of misfits to save the day.
Despite being around since 1969, the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series is not exactly a household name. This means there are a lot of new characters, places and concepts that need to be introduced to the viewer in the first act of the movie. Amazingly, though, it doesn’t become exposition heavy. Refreshingly, the film doesn’t bother giving us complete backstories and origins for all of the characters. It doesn’t seek to answer all of our questions, but rather just to give us as much information as we need. As a result, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t take a while to warm up; it gets rolling at the beginning and keeps going until the end.
Director James Gunn and his team have succeeded in making Guardians of the Galaxy completely different to The Avengers. After that first franchise was so successful, the temptation would have been there to copy that blueprint and import new characters and stories. But while there are minor narrative elements which connect Guardians of the Galaxy to the Avengers universe, and we will no doubt see a crossover film at some point in the future, Guardians of the Galaxy has a completely different style and tone.
For starters, it is not a superhero movie. It is a 1980s-style science-fiction adventure movie much more akin to Star Wars. This eighties resonance comes from within the narrative. Quill was abducted from Earth as a child in 1988, and as such all his points of reference are from the eighties. Similarly, the film cleverly uses music from that era to set the tone. The only memento Quill has from his life on Earth is a Walkman with a mix-tape of seventies hits his mother made for him. That mix-tape – including tracks from 10CC, Blue Swede and David Bowie – serves as the soundtrack to the movie, and from the outset of the film it is really successful in creating a very different, fun vibe.
Guardians of the Galaxy is also far and away Marvel’s funniest film. The Avengers, and in particular Iron Man, have always had that wise-cracking element of humour, but this film takes it to the next level and is legitimately comedic. Gunn and Nicole Pearlman’s screenplay is so sharp. They have given each of the characters a unique voice and can therefore draw different types of humour from each of them.
Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as Quill, bringing an irreverence to this mash up of Han Solo and Indiana Jones. It has potential to be a real star-making performance for Pratt, which could propel him from TV star to legit movie leading man. The CGI pairing of Rocket Raccoon and Groot, voiced by Cooper and Diesel respectively, were among the movie’s biggest question marks. But Rocket turns out to be a scene stealer and Groot, despite only being able to say “I am Groot” in different inflections, is used well to both comic and emotional effect.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios have given us the most exciting, fun and fresh blockbuster movie in years, maybe even decades. For those of us not old enough to have been there, this could be as close as we will get to knowing what it felt like to experience Star Wars for the first time back in 1977.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan
Captain America: The First Avenger was the most divisive of the first phase of Marvel’s Avengers movies. While some people really liked its war-time narrative and the old-fashioned heroism the character represented, others, more drawn to the charismatic egotism of Favreau’s Iron Man or the brooding menace of Nolan’s The Dark Knight,struggled to get behind it.
After being frozen for half a century, thawed out in the modern day, and having played a key role in The Avengers, Cap is back for his second solo outing. Still trying to get his head around the changed world he now finds himself in, Steve Rogers carries around a notebook in which he lists things he needs to catch up on. This list is different for different cinematic markets, with Australian audiences seeing a list that includes ACDC, Tim Tams and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. With no family and few friends, he immerses himself in his work, protecting his country as SHIELD’s most devastating soldier. But when it becomes apparent that SHIELD has been compromised, and it looks like Nick Fury is involved, Rogers finds himself on the outer, not knowing who he can trust. Alexander Pierce, the Secretary of SHIELD, employs the full force of the organisation to try and bring Captain America in. This includes the mysterious Winter Soldier, a super-soldier who for decades has been believed to be the stuff of legend.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an interesting blend of the new and the old. It is very much a film for the post-9/11, war on terror world. Its central thematic discussion concerns the appropriateness of forfeiting freedom in the name of security, and the morality of pre-emptive strike justice, eliminating threats before they become threats. Yet while dealing with these quite current themes, the movie has the feel of a 1970s paranoid conspiracy thriller like Three Days of the Condor (which also starred Robert Redford) thanks to its narrative about the criminal infiltration of government institutions.
This blend of the new and the old is also evident in the characters. Steve Rogers is a man of the 1940s, confronted by a world which is more complex than the one into which he was born. It is not just culture and technology which he has to catch up with. His sense of morality is also challenged. Rogers is a moral absolutist. For him there is a clear right and wrong, and this causes him to butt heads with moral relativists like Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff, for whom the ends tend to justify the means.
Where this film really stands out compared to some of the others in the franchise is in the chemistry between its stars. Evans, Johansson, Jackson and newcomer Anthony Mackie all play off each other quite well. The film also continues to develop those characters returning from previous adventures. In particular Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha ‘the Black Widow’ Romanoff, who has been a supporting character in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, is really made a focus of the film and is fleshed out into quite an interesting character and a great foil for Captain America.
As is to be expected from these movies, the action sequences are top notch. Evenly scattered through the film, they never drag and are different enough from each other that they capture your interest. The film contains the expected nods to the other characters from the Avengers franchise, but where once these moments were cause for excitement, since The Avengers they only serve to make you wonder why it is those heroes being alluded to are not choosing to get involved in this particular international disaster. More interesting are a couple of nods to other films. In particular there is a little something in there for the observant Pulp Fiction fan which is really top notch.
In all though, the combination of good action, strong characters and a decent storyline makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier one of the better Marvel movies and ensures the franchise will continue to motor along.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.