Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffallo, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Gwyneth Paltrow
“Part of the journey is the end,” says Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) into a recording for his wife as he floats through space in a powerless ship with food and water supplies depleted and oxygen not far behind. While Avengers: Endgame by no means marks the closing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Disney is not walking away from that cash cow any time soon – there is a sense in which it marks the end of something. Endgame is not a movie. This cinematic event is the culmination of the boldest experiment in big screen, long-form narrative the cinema has ever seen. That claim may sound hyperbolic, but we are talking about twenty-two interwoven films released over an eleven year period. Episodes in an ongoing narrative featuring upwards of ninety recurring characters, which have grossed a combined US$20.9 billion dollars and counting. As such, any attempt to critique Endgame in isolation, as a singular text, is almost as pointless as it is futile. The success or failure of this film is determined entirely by its ability to pay off that eleven year journey that invested fans have been on. In that regard, Anthony and Joe Russo’s film is an unqualified success. Continue reading
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott, Scott Haze
The tagline that adorns the marketing materials for Ruben Fleischer’s Venom reads: “The world has enough superheroes.” This is because Sony’s latest comic book blockbuster is built around… a villain (gasp). Venom has been a fan-favourite since the mid-1980s when he was introduced into the Spider-Man comics (making him one of the collection of Marvel characters that Sony retains the screen rights to thanks to their Spider-Man deal). However, by telling the story of a villain without their corresponding hero, Venom has little narrative choice but to try and transform this villain into a hero, albeit one of the anti- variety. Continue reading
Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
After 18 years and eight appearances, Hugh Jackman has decided the time has come to say goodbye to the role that made him a star, and for his final outing as Wolverine he is going out with a bang. Logan is tonally, visually and thematically unlike any of the previous films in the X-Men franchise – it is arguably unlike any previous film in the superhero genre – and proves to be a fitting ending for this iconic iteration of the character.
The year is 2029 and mutants are a dying breed, with no new mutants having been born for decades. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a shadow of his former self. With grey hair and a scraggly beard he is covered in wounds and scars and walks with a pronounced limp. His regenerative powers are slowing and he is being poisoned from the inside by his adamantium skeleton. Above all though, he is exhausted. Continue reading
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
The fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange, is a peculiar beast. It is simultaneously the boldest and most conservative Marvel film in some time, taking the franchise in an exciting new visual direction, while taking enormous steps back from the character and relationship complexity of some of Marvel’s more recent films in order to tell a routine origin story.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, wealthy and arrogant neurosurgeon from New York whose life is turned upside down when a serious car accident leaves him with severe nerve damage in his hands, effectively ending his medical career. After exhausting all the options of western medicine, in desperation he heads to Kathmandu in search of a holy teacher who he has learned healed a man with a serious spinal injury. There he is met by the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who takes him to Kamar-Taj, an ancient community of sorcerers under the leadership of the Supreme Sorcerer, known only as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Continue reading
Director: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, Gina Carano, Karan Soni
It is not often in Hollywood that you get a second shot at something, a chance to right a wrong. Ryan Reynolds’ first appearance as Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, was a supporting role in 2009’s disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That incarnation of the character infuriated diehard fans by deviating significantly from the source material. Nothing more perfectly encapsulated that movie’s failure to grasp the essence of the character than the decision to take “the merc with a mouth” and literally sew his lips shut. Since then, Reynolds has worked tirelessly to get another shot at playing Deadpool in a film that got it right. Seven years later, that film has arrived and Reynolds has found the role for which he will be remembered.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a wise-cracking mercenary, a bad guy who makes a living roughing up worse guys. He meets prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a kindred spirit who is compatibly messed up, and the two fall hopelessly in love. But no sooner have things started to look rosy for Wade he is diagnosed with late stage cancer. When all appears lost, a mysterious man offers him the chance to undergo an experimental procedure designed to accelerate any dormant mutations in his genes. If successful it will not only cure his cancer, it will turn him into a superhero. Continue reading
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Abbie Rider Fortson, Judy Greer
You just can’t bet against Marvel Studios at the moment. Every time they announce a new project based on some obscure comic that raises your eyebrows and makes you think, “Surely this is the one that they makes them stumble,” they find a way to make it work. Boy did it work with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy last year and it has worked again, albeit not to quite as drastic an extent, with Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, a light, funny and surprisingly heartfelt superhero movie.
Decades ago, when working with SHIELD, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) invented the Pym Particle, a formula that alters atomic relative distance, reducing the space between atoms while increasing their strength. Using his discovery he became the original Ant-Man. However, after a terrible accident he gave up the superhero life and, concerned by the potential weaponisation of his technology, vowed to keep his formula secret. But now his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who took over his company Pym Technologies and voted him out, is on the verge of unlocking the secret of the Pym Particle, Continue reading
Directors: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk
Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada is a robotics genius who, having lost his parents when he was very young, is wasting his prodigious talent hustling people at underground bot-fights. After an inspiring visit to the laboratory of his equally brilliant brother Tadashi at San Fransokyo Tech, Hiro is determined to gain entry to the university and study under the legendary Prof. Callaghan. But there is an accident at the university expo, with a fire taking the lives of both Tadashi and Callaghan. However, despite losing his brother Hiro is not alone. Tadashi has left behind Baymax, a giant, inflatable, robotic Personal Healthcare Companion he designed, and Baymax becomes Hiro’s carer and friend. When Hiro spots a mysterious man in a Kabuki mask using microbots, the very invention Hiro had been displaying at the expo on that fateful night, he starts to suspect that foul play may have been involved in the fire. After a few strategic upgrades to Baymax, Hiro and Tadashi’s friends set out to get to the bottom of what really happened. Continue reading
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page
Five years ago, the X-Men franchise was looking like it might have run its course. X-Men: Last Stand had disappointed and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was widely panned. But Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class breathed new life into the series in 2011, and now Bryan Singer, the director who helped launch the franchise, is back at the helm for the much anticipated, and confusingly titled, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
We begin at the end. It is the year 2023 and we are in the final stages of a war between the mutants and giant robots known as Sentinels. But it is not so much a war as an extermination. Knowing they have nowhere left to hide, a small band of mutants – including among others, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto, by this point an ally – devise a last ditch plan. Kitty Pryde uses her telepathic powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time. Awaking in his 1973 body, Wolverine must seek out the young Professor X and Magneto, at this point sworn enemies, and with their help change the past in order to prevent this war from ever beginning.
X-Men: Days of Future Past feels like the continuation of a story. It feels like we are picking up where a previous film left off, but we are not. As a result the first half of the movie is chock full of exposition because there is a whole story that we have not seen which needs to be explained to us in order to understand what we are now seeing. We learn how in 1973 Mystique murders scientist Boliver Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, and that act cements the general public’s fear of the mutants and leads to the green-lighting of the Sentinel project. We learn how after being captured, Mystique’s shape-shifting DNA is incorporated into the design of the Sentinels making them highly adaptable and near impossible to defeat. We learn how the machines started out targeting mutants, but soon moved on to targeting mutant-sympathising humans and eventually all humans. We start the film at the culmination of this narrative and then return to the very beginning to try and stop it ever happening, but the result is the feeling that we’ve actually missed out on quite a good story.
X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the strongly allegorical nature of the series, exploring themes of intolerance, prejudice and the fear of the other. In Professor X and Magneto we are shown two different forms of leadership and two different approaches to combatting prejudice. Professor X is the Martin Luther King figure, preaching cooperation, unity and understanding, while Magneto is more Malcolm X, calling for a more militant, fight-the-power response. These important themes are explored effectively, but still in an entertaining package. There are some impressive action sequences and visual effects, and this film contains more fun and humour than we have seen in some of the previous installments in the series. That we experience the 1970s through the eyes of a character from the future means that the sights and sounds of that era – clothes, music, hair styles, lava lamps and waterbeds – can all be played up for comic effect.
X-Men: Days of Future Past does suffer a bit from character overload, with many being very thinly sketched. The X-Men universe contains so many characters and the temptation is always there to introduce new ones each film. In this film, the dual time period means that we have two casts of characters. There are just too many characters here for them all to be meaningfully represented. Of the new characters introduced, the teenage Quicksilver is a highlight. He is responsible for probably the film’s best scene, helping spring Magneto from a maximum security prison, but despite proving himself incredibly useful he is then inexplicably left behind.
The plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past provided an excellent opportunity to wrap up the series, but, unsurprisingly, that option was not taken and the film is clearly setting itself up for a sequel (talk is that X-Men: Apocalypse will be hitting screens in 2016). With this film’s rewriting of the past essentially throwing away the events and chronology of the previous four films in the franchise, it will be interesting to see what they choose to move forward with in the sequel.
There is plenty in X-Men: Days of Future Past to please returning fans of the series, but newcomers will find this a very difficult film to get up to speed with. While it has some quite strong moments, it is very messy in terms of its screenplay and narrative and doesn’t really live up to the high expectations that preceded it.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen X-Men: Days of Future Past? 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.
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