comic book movies

REVIEW: Black Panther (2018)

Still reeling after his father’s death, T’Challa (Chadwicke Boseman) returns to the secretive country of Wakanda to take up the mantle of King. Soon his judgement and resolve are tested when old enemy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) resurfaces and brings with him a perhaps even deadly foe – Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Black Panther is a lot of firsts – first film in the MCU with a black superhero as the titular character, first film in the MCU not directed by a white guy, and first big budget superhero film in general that brings this many talented black actors into a place in our world that’s never been colonised nor had any outside influence throughout its history.

Wakanda is a vivid and fleshed-out country – so much so it’s like it’s its own character. The buildings, the vehicles, the technology and the clothes are all a mixture of the future and the traditional. Merging the real and the imaginary helps make Wakanda feel like a real, lived-in place and overall special effects in Black Panther are incredibly well-done. Subsequently when there are those moments where the CGI isn’t to the same level as the rest of the film, it’s more jarring which is unfortunate. Wakanda is a place that has been left to thrive by the rest of the world and thanks to its many scientists and inventors, including T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Shuri is a character who steals just about every scene she’s in with her humour and relatability. She and T’Challa feel like proper siblings, and with their mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) are a strong family unit.

In some ways Black Panther feels like more of an ensemble film because there are so many great, fleshed-out characters surrounding T’Challa. There’s Okoye (Danai Guria) the head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all female security force, who is such a badass, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) a spy for Wakanda, and M’Baku (Winston Duke) leader of the Jabari Tribe who is a surprisingly layered character. Every single one of them have their moments to shine but T’Challa is rarely upstaged thanks to Boseman’s stoic yet compelling performance as a man trying to be both a king and a superhero. Killmonger is a great villain and a worthy adversary for T’Challa. He’s a fascinating villain because while it’s clear he’s the bad guy, the way he states his reasoning makes you get where he’s coming from. His actions are in no way condonable but the reasons for his actions are understandable.

The pacing in Black Panther is a little uneven at times. There is a lot to set up in showing Wakanda and introducing this society and its people which is great and very enjoyable, but there’s something’s that could either have had more detail or have been briefer and have still gotten across the same information.

Black Panther is a great film. It’s exciting and surprisingly funny – it perfectly balances the humour, which is mostly character-driven, and its serious moments. Black Panther covers a lot of genres, it’s political, it’s like an espionage thriller in some ways, it’s about family and legacy, as well as being an action-packed superhero movie. 4/5.

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My Marvel Cinematic Universe Rewatch Plans

Before I got a new job and moved out of the family home, me and my mum planned to rewatch one MCU film a week on the run up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War at the end of April (it’s released on 27th April in the UK). That plan has had to change due to us no longer living together, so now the idea is for me to come home for the odd weekend and binge watch at least four MCU films each weekend in time for Avengers: Infinity War.

While we’re doing this binge watching I’ve decided I’m going to “review” each MCU film. I put review in quotation marks as some of the earlier MCU films, definitely Phase One (Iron ManThe Avengers) and potentially Phase Two (Iron Man 3Ant-Man) may be more of a discussion post or have a few spoilers in them. This isn’t definitely how I’m going to write those ones – I mean, I haven’t started writing any of them yet so who knows! – but I thought I should preface this project with a potential spoiler warning.

If I’ve reviewed any of the films already when they were first released, I’ll start my rewatch review with a link to my original review so if you’re interested you can see how my thoughts on the film may or may not have changed over time.

My plan is to post one of these MCU reviews a week, as that will coincide almost perfectly with the release of Avengers: Infinity War, but that will only work if I do manage to get home and watch about four films each weekend. It’s doable, but it’ll just need a bit of forward planning. I’ll still have at least one new-to-me film review posted each week so it won’t be a Marvel overload.

I hope you enjoy me revisiting the MCU. These films mean a lot to me as they and their characters have made up a lot of my formative years. Starting this off I’ll say my favourite MCU films are Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Solider – it’s been a while since I’ve watched them and the rest of the MCU so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s changed over time.

What’s your favourite MCU film?

REVIEW: Justice League (2017)

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) team up to bring together a group of heroes to stand against a threat like none of them have seen before.

There are many things that are not great in Justice League, but the characters and their interactions are what makes this film a lot more fun and enjoyable that Batman v Superman.

The main problem with Justice League is it spends the first third of the film having to set up three new heroes we’ve not met before, Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), along with a villain in Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who has a whole backstory as well. There’s a lot of exposition to get through, some of which is heavy-handed, and it slows down the pace of the film as it makes you to wait for any of the action scenes and the main plot to start proper.

When the heroes are together it’s nice to see them getting to know one another as they work together, but unless you know these characters from comics or TV shows, you don’t know enough about them to really care about them or become attached. Still, there’s some funny moments between the team of heroes as you start to see their personalities come through.

Justice League features an end-of-the-world-plot, but you don’t really feel those stakes due to this world seemingly not be populated by anyone but the heroes and people they know. Even when clashes between heroes and villains happen in a major city, there’s no one but the heroes around – it’s quite jarring and makes the threat not feel threatening.

Justice League is watchable, the characters are fun and the action (when it happens) is mostly exciting and engaging. However, the editing in fight scenes don’t always make everything clear and the plot itself has neither high stakes nor is always coherent. It’s the step in the right direction for the DCEU but it is a step down from Wonder Woman. 3/5.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is living his everyday life as a high school kid and as the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man but after fighting with (and against) the Avengers, Peter wants more than that. When Peter discovers alien weapons are being sold, he comes up against the Vulture (Michael Keaton) a threat bigger than he’s faced before.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun film. It very much feels like a teen comedy that just happens to have superheroes and that’s no bad thing. Seeing Peter in school, going to class, having to deal with annoying kids like Flash (Tony Revolori) and having a crush on popular girl Liz (Laura Harrier) was all great and Tom Holland played Peter Parker so well. I loved Peter’s friendship with Ned (Jacob Batalon), they felt like proper besties and it was great having someone knowing Peter’s secret identity from pretty early on in the film.

The story is a lot more small-scale than the threat-to-the-entire-world type plots we’ve seen in superhero films over the past few years. This was a good move as it gave more time for the characters and when there were stakes you felt them. That being said, the villain is an intimidating one and one of the best the MCU has had in a long time. Keaton nails the role, bringing menace and a certain affable charm to a character that could have been a pantomime villain.

I also liked how Spider-Man: Homecoming fitted into the MCU. Yes, there’s appearances from Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) but they don’t overshadow Peter and his story. If anything, Peter conversations with Tony are equal parts funny and sincere.

The humour didn’t always work for me. Peter is a kid who’s a hero so he sometimes makes stupid jokes and doesn’t think things through, and while that’s so perfectly Spider-Man, it just didn’t always hit the mark with me.

I liked Spider-Man: Homecoming but I didn’t love it. Breaking the film down like this there were a lot of elements I liked but for some reason together they didn’t give me the wow factor. Still, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an enjoyable film that will at least make you smile. 3/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman (2017)

When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands onto the home of the Amazons, bringing news of a war to end all wars, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home and all she knows to go fight to save those who can’t protect themselves.

Diana is a brilliant hero. She’s confident in her powers and her beliefs so there is none of the “oh the pains of being a superhero” that you often see in superhero movies. She is strong and compassionate, and while she doesn’t always understand the world of Man, the film never makes it into a big deal or is condescending about her lack of experience.

There’s humour to be found in her bewilderment and it’s all very charming but never patronising. I think that’s one of the great things about Wonder Woman, it’s never defensive about its titular character nor its story, it’s sincere in the way Diana and the film itself, celebrates inner strength and the power of love and compassion.

In many ways, the film makes you wait for the action sequences, instead spending time allowing the characters to talk and learn from one another. These quieter moments are never boring and are often funny. That said when the action and fights do happen, they’re brilliant. The way you see Diana, and the rest of the women of Themyscira, fight is magnificent. They are all powerful and skilled and the way the camera shows off their skills is captivating. There is so slo-mo used, which does make sense as Diana can move super-fast, so you can really see how she avoids gunshots and bayonets.

Diana is an amazing character and the shots of her fighting side by side with Steve, and leading him and Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) into battle gave me chills. Gal Gadot gives a great performance, showing both Diana’s power and sensitivity in the face of war, and the quieter moments between her and the other characters are a delight. While there is sometimes a joke made about a woman in battle, none of the men who fight by Diana’s side ever doubt her or her abilities.

The villains in Wonder Woman aren’t the most well-developed but as that is something that could be said of a lot of superhero films, it’s not a huge complaint. I would much rather have a film with a fantastic hero and a mediocre villain, than a great villain and a dull hero. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is an army General with grand plans and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a master at making poisons, she was an interesting character and it’d be cool to have learnt more about her.

Wonder Woman is a wonderful film. It’s very much a traditional superhero origin story but is a lot more charming and sincere with it. Diana is a brilliant hero who brings a sense of hope to the world. 4/5.

X is for X-Men

I always say X-Men was my gateway to everything superhero. I watched the 90’s cartoon (the video below is of the iconic theme song) and then the X-Men: Evolution cartoon was on TV on a Saturday morning (forget about X-Men: Apocalypse, if you want to see the Apocalypse story-line, watch X-Men: Evolution, that show did it amazingly) and then of course are the films.

Now the films are a huge rolled up mess of continuity if you think about it too hard. The best way to not give yourself a headache in my opinion is think of it as; the original trilogy (X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand), the First Class trilogy (X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse) and then the various Wolverine movies are their own little trilogy. It still doesn’t really make sense as the characters in X-Men: Apocalypse are twenty years older than they were in First Class but the actors all look exactly the same, and Wolverine keeps popping up everywhere so his backstory is a huge mess if you want a straight timeline – but that’s the X-Men movies for you!

My favourite X-Men films are X-Men, X2 and Logan. I adore the attack on the school scene in X2, it shows off so many different characters’ powers and you get to see some of Wolverine’s berserker rage that you don’t really get to see that much – until Logan that is when there’s no holding back.

I’ve tried reading the X-Men comics but there’s so many timelines and so much history that I’ve found it pretty difficult so far. I’ve read and loved Old Man Logan and I read the iconic Days of Future Past story before the film came out so I think self-contained stories are the way forward for me and X-Men comics.

Still, I love everything to do with X-Men – weird, convoluted timelines and all.

REVIEW: Logan (2017)

logan-movie-posterIn the near future, an older and weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) is caring for and hiding an ailing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on the Mexican border. But their isolation is disturbed when a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives, bring dangerous forces with her.

Logan is a magnificent film quite unlike anything in the superhero movie genre we’ve seen before. It’s set in a near dystopian future, most mutants are gone and those who are left are in hiding, and the imagery and setting often feel more like a Western than a superhero film. This almost change of genre makes Logan a much smaller, character driven film. While there are other characters, both good and bad, throughout the film it really is all about Logan, Charles and Laura, their relationships and their journeys.

Also with Logan being a more personal film, there appears to be less CGI. While it’s naïve to think there’s not a lot (every time Logan unsheathes his claws there’s computer work there) it feels more real and there’s not the usual explosions and over the top superhero fight scenes. That being said, there is definitely a lot of violence in Logan (it is a 15 after all) but while it is brutal it isn’t gratuitous. There is also more swearing which, like the violence and both Logan’s and Laura’s rage, fits the characters and film perfectly. Logan never goes over the top with what it’s “allowed” to do with a 15 certificate, every choice is true to the characters and to the story.

In Logan you get to see a different side to the titular character. He’s older, a drinker, his body doesn’t heal like it used to, he’s not a happy man but he’s trying to make a living and keep those he cares about safe. It’s incredible to think that Hugh Jackman has been playing this character for 17 years and in Logan he gives his best performance, mainly because we get to see Logan a completely different man compared to the previous films. Life has gotten Logan down and it takes a lot for him to care for anyone or anything and he definitely doesn’t care about himself. Patrick Stewart also gives a great and very different performance as Professor X – he’s forgetful, he’s cranky and is very much an old man in need of help. Then there’s Dafne Keen as Laura. She is a captivating presence, feral but also has this innocence making Laura someone you’re wary of but also someone you want to protect. She holds her own against Stewart and Jackman and when it comes to the fight scenes she manages to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Dafne Keen is an actress to watch.

Logan is the perfect swansong for Stewart and Jackman as well as being a brilliant and unique addition to the X-Men franchise. Though Logan is a part of the X-Men universe (a universe where the continuity is pretty wonky to say the least) you don’t need to have seen every single X-Men film to understand and enjoy it.

Logan is tense, exciting and thrilling. It has moments of humour that never lessens the stakes and it has moments of heartbreak as you watch these characters’ struggle to achieve what the set out to do. Not to speak too soon but I feel Logan is (hopefully) a game-changer in the superhero genre, showing not everything has to be connected to a wider universe and character driven stories work just as well – in fact good stories full stop are what the superhero genre needs. Simple, character focused stories with a good plot automatically make a good film, while I enjoy pretty much all superhero fare it would be nice for the studios and filmmakers to remember that. Hopefully Logan will join the likes of Spider-Man 2 (2004) and The Dark Knight (2008) as one of The Best Superhero Movies ever made. 5/5.