Director: John Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, John Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Laura Harrier, Donald Glover, Tony Revolori, Jennifer Connelly
For almost a decade now Marvel has been the dominant player in the superhero movie market. Bet thanks to a pre-existing licensing agreement with Sony, they have done so without the use of their most iconic character, Spider-Man. While Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films were instrumental in launching Hollywood’s present fascination with superhero movies, Sony’s more recent efforts have paled in comparison to what Marvel has been achieving and left many fans wondering ‘what if.’ However, a recent license sharing agreement between Disney and Sony has seen everyone’s favourite web-slinger enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold, and after a scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War, we now get his first solo outing, the appropriately titled Spider-Man: Homecoming. From the opening moments of the film, in which an orchestral version of the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme song plays over the Marvel Studios title card, there is a palpable sense of glee at having their trump card back in their hand. 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.
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kinsley, Jon Favreau
Iron Man 3 provides our first look at ‘Phase Two’ of Marvel’s Avengers plan – that is, the movies that come between The Avengers and its sequel – and our first insight into how that process is going to work.
For starters, there is continuity from the events of The Avengers into this next Tony Stark adventure. However, these events have resulted in a logical shift within realism of the ‘Iron Man universe.’ For the first two films in the trilogy, Stark existed in a world that was more or less realistic. Our heroes and villains may have been ultra-rich and incredibly smart, but they were always basically human beings transformed into superheroes and villains through the use of technology. But The Avengers broke this realism by introducing aliens and gods, alternate dimensions and portals. Iron Man 3 acknowledges this shift in reality, giving a prominent narrative place to Tony Stark and other characters coming to terms with what they experienced in New York (“In New York” becomes code for the things that happened in The Avengers). Stark himself is traumatised by the events to the point that he suffers from anxiety attacks.
This shift in reality also allows for a scaling up of the threat in Iron Man 3. Our villain this time is the mysterious terrorist, the Mandarin, played menacingly by Ben Kingsley with a voice that is some combination of Richard Nixon and Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Mandarin is resourced by jaded scientist Aldrich Killian, continuing the tradition from the first two films of it being a battle of the brains. However rather than resourcing him with weapons or super-suits, Killian resources him with an army of genetically modified super soldiers. Therein lays the break in realism which would not have been acceptable without The Avengers.
Of course, not all our questions are answered. The primary one being, when the world comes under threat again, why does Tony Stark have to face this particular challenge on his own? At what point does a catastrophe become significant enough to warrant getting the band back together?
For this third instalment in the Iron Man trilogy, Jon Favreau has handed over directorial duties to Shane Black. Black’s only previous directorial experience was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a brilliant if under-appreciated film which represented a very important step the comeback of Robert Downey Jr. which ultimately culminated in Iron Man. Black had made his name as a screenwriter of action-comedies, most notably the Lethal Weapon series, making him a pretty good fit for Iron Man 3. And Black does what he does best in this film, ramping up the laughs and the sense of fun in the film without undermining its drama and tension. Black taking over as director has also enabled Jon Favreau’s character, Stark’s body guard Happy Hogan, to take on a much larger role than he did in the first two films.
For a film about a superhero who wears a mechanical suit, Drew Pearce and Shane Black’s screenplay surprisingly sees Tony Stark spending the vast majority of the film, including a number of the action sequences, not suited up. That they felt the freedom to do this is indicative of the fact that over the span of this franchise the writers have successfully achieved what all superhero scribes wish for; they have got the audience invested in Tony Stark as a person, not just as Iron Man. When Christopher Nolan and David Goyer set about writing Batman Begins, one of their primary goals was to get the audience to care about Bruce Wayne as a person so that they weren’t just killing time until he put on the suit. In the case of the Iron Man franchise, you could almost go so far as to argue that audiences have a greater investment in the character of Tony Stark, and the charisma of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him, than they do in the figure of Iron Man. Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is the trump card this franchise has to play, so it makes sense that Black set out to give him as much screen time as possible. This is further assisted from within the unfolding narrative of the series, with the constant evolution of the suit now seeing it as a piecemeal set of armour, which enables him to have any combination of his arms, legs and torso suited up without necessarily having to have his face covered.
Amazingly, Iron Man 3 represents Downey Jr.’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark – the Iron Man trilogy, The Avengers and a brief cameo The Incredible Hulk. This is staggering considering that the first Iron Man film was only released in 2008. It took Bruce Willis 25 years to appear five times as John McClane. Stark is now without a doubt the role with which Robert Downey Jr. will be forever associated. The way in which he has brought this character to life could also be arguably his greatest acting achievement, although he is excellent in Chaplin. It does not necessarily go hand in hand that the role for which an actor is remembered is also their best work, so he is quite fortunate there.
Iron Man 3 also contains a very brave plot twist, which I’ve been careful not to give away here. Brave in the sense that it is in equal parts fantastic and disappointing, and has thus far left audiences very divided.
Where Iron Man goes from here is anyone’s guess. We know there is going to be a sequel to The Avengers, there is no way that Marvel will let that not happen, and Iron Man 3 finishes with a Bond-esque “Tony Stark Will Return,” but it also has a sense of wrapping up which makes gives the impression that this may be the last solo Iron Man adventure. If that ends up being the case, Iron Man 3 is a fitting completion to a rollickingly fun trilogy.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean