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: 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
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Alex Denisof, Amy Acker, Jillian Morgese, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamong, Nathan Fillion
From comic books to Elizabethan comedy. From Marvel to Shakespeare. It’s quite a jump. Not since 1992, when Steven Spielberg immediately followed Jurassic Park with Schindler’s List has a director made two more disparate films back to back. But this is exactly what Joss Whedon has done in deciding to follow up the incredible blockbuster success of The Avengers with a small, independent, black and white adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.
In fact, Much Ado About Nothing couldn’t be futher from The Avengers if it tried. Gone is the enormous sense of scale, the digital effects, the 3D, the cast of superstars and the budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, this film was shot at Whedon’s house in 12 days using a cast compiled mainly of regulars from his television days. A long held passion project, Whedon adapted the screenplay, produced, directed, edited, and wrote the music himself. Yet while it is on completely the opposite end of the scale to The Avengers, it is every bit as effective.
Americans don’t have a great track record when it comes to Shakespeare (Al Pacino actually made a very interesting film, Looking for Richard, which sought to determine what it was that caused Americans to struggle so much with the Bard), but this confident, sleek and sexy film will surely find itself resting near the top of the pile. Whedon opts for a contemporary reimagining of this famous story of two pairs of lovers, one brought together by the sport of their friends, the other almost torn apart by a more devious form of trickery. So Italian governors with guards become American politicians with security details, and the Italian villa becomes a Californian mansion.
Much Ado About Nothing is beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Jay Hunter, with an aesthetic that feels very akin to Indie movies of the 1990s. But despite its very stylish appearance, this film plays up the bawdiness of Shakespearean comedy to perfection. The dialogue in this farce, packed with double entendre, is delivered with a cheeky wink and a nudge, and there is more than a sprinkling of slapstick humour.
Rather than putting on fake British accents the actors retain their American twangs and it actually works. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker bounce off each other brilliantly as Benedick and Beatrice, finding the right balance between admiration and distain that is required for this love-hate relationship between two people with sharp minds and tongues. Clark Gregg sits comfortably as a much younger Leonato than you usually get. But the films real scene stealer is Nathan Fillion, who is a scream as the bumbling detective Dogberry.
It has been 20 years since Kenneth Branagh’s all-star adaptation of this play hit the screen and Whedon succeeds in doing something different enough that the play gets a new burst of life. The material feels so fresh. It is a sharp, vibrant and very funny film that demonstrates Whedon’s versatility as a filmmaker.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
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