Marvel Cinematic Universe

REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

My original review of Avengers: Age of Ultron from April 2015 is here and my spoiler-filled rambling thoughts on the film from May 2015 are here. I only reread both these posts after I wrote my MCU rewatch review.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to make a peacekeeping AI named Ultron, but Ultron (James Spader) has its own ideas of what peace on Earth should look like and the Avengers must stop him before he can enact his deadly plan.

Age of Ultron has a lot going on and not all of it is cohesive. It feels like a lot of things crammed into one move. There’s the introduction of the twins, Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), two characters that present interesting powers, but you never learn more than what’s on the surface with them, especially Pietro. There’s also a lot on infighting in the Avengers team, while some events in the film certainly cause this, there’s also the sense that a lot of them don’t feel like a solid team or even a group of people that like each other. Side by side with the infighting is a surprising romance that is painful to watch – it feels like once the powers that be gave Clint (Jeremy Renner) his secret family, that Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) couldn’t possibly not have a romantic subplot and paired her up with the only other Avenger who didn’t have someone they loved. Then there’s Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who’s pretty redundant to the main plot of the movie and has his own sub-plot which is basically to give the audience a crash course in the Infinity Stones.

Age of Ultron is written and directed by Joss Whedon, the guy who did such a great job with The Avengers and had a decent take on each of the characters in that film. However, a lot of the characters development we’ve seen in various films between these two Avengers movies is just forgotten. Some elements make sense like Tony’s paranoia about aliens and protecting those who he cares about, but straightaway in Age of Ultron you see he’s built a load of robots when he’d partly dealt with his trauma by blowing all his suits up. Also, Steve (Chris Evans) often feels like a caricature of Captain America which is frustrating as we’ve previously seen the man behind the title so well in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The same can be said for Natasha, the version of her you see in Age of Ultron is a massive step backwards from the one in The Winter Solider. She’s still a badass, and while you can obviously have a female character who can fight and fall in love at the same time, the way it’s executed feels rushed and not in-line with what we’ve seen of Natasha’s character previously.

The action sequences are great, and the special effects are still top-notch. The humour that’s throughout the film doesn’t always land and sometimes feels like characters are saying a witty one-liner for the sake of it. The stakes in the final battle do feel high and you want both civilians to be safe and the heroes to succeed and survive, though I feel like a lot of that’s thanks to typical genre conventions and pre-existing affection for the characters rather than because of the characters as they’re shown in this film.

The stuff I really like in Age of Ultron are pretty much anything to do with Clint, surprise family and all, and Wanda. The way the film sets up their relationship is fascinating to me and I’m pleased that so far, those in charge of the MCU have continued to work with their dynamic. When it comes to pretty much anything else in this film, I’m either ambivalent towards it or actively dislike it.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is such a mismatch of themes and story ideas, and it’s a let-down after watching previous MCU movies in quick succession. A lot of characters seem to either take a step back in their development or receive none at all – a potential pitfall with an ensemble cast such as this that Age of Ultron fall right into. 2/5.


REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

My original review of Guardians of the Galaxy, written and posted in August 2014 can be found here.

When intergalactic terrorist Ronan (Lee Pace) threatens the galaxy, an unlikely group of heroes – all criminals of some kind – are forced to work together to stop him.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first proper foray into space and beyond for the MCU. Each world our dubious heroes visit is its own unique place. The design of each of these worlds and their cities have so much personality and all look like real-lived in places. The special effects make space look beautiful and the whole film is full of colourful worlds, costumes and characters.

The so-called Guardians of the Galaxy are formed of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) a man who was kidnapped from Earth when he was a child and has grown up to be a thief, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) an assassin, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who takes everything literally, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) a genetically engineered racoon and Groot (Vin Diesel) a large talking tree. They are an odd mix of characters who certainly don’t get along all the time, but their dynamics are often both compelling and hilarious.

I can’t not mention the soundtrack. Music makes up a huge part of Guardians of the Galaxy and all the songs add something to the action on screen, whether it adds to the humour or to the emotion these characters are feeling. The soundtrack is just as fun as the film is.

The only thing that really lets down Guardians of the Galaxy is its villain. Ronan is your typical bad guy and forgettable one really. It’s other antagonistic characters like Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) who are more convincing adversaries as they both have history with our heroes. Also the plot itself is quite cliché but the way its executed makes it more unusual and entertaining.

Guardians of the Galaxy is so much fun. It’s really a near-perfect mix of humour, action and larger than life characters who each get their moment to shine and who forge a surprising connection. 4/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My original Captain America: The Winter Soldier review from April 2014 is here.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to make a life for himself, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD when an assassin from history known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. It combines spy thriller with superheroes who are really down to earth characters, so well that it almost goes beyond being a “simple” comic book movie. The superheroes here are all very human, and besides Steve Rogers himself who’s pretty strong but still human, they are all people who get hurt and bleed.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a spy who’s used to showing people what they want to see, so her developing friendship with Steve is quite special. They are almost moral opposites in how they see the world, but they find a common ground and seeing them work together is great. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant character, he’s a soldier like Steve but he’s never been a part of SHIELD so is someone Steve can talk to and trust. Because that’s the thing with SHIELD, it’s a super-secret organisation where everyone has their own agendas, you can never be sure who to trust.

Secretary to the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is new character who personifies SHEILD’s shady agenda. He’s an old friend of Fury’s but being at the top of the SHIELD hierarchy means he definitely knows more than he lets on. Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents the idea of an organisation with almost limitless control thanks to its surveillance and ability to act outside of the law – this is political thriller territory and it handles it all incredibly well.

The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrilling and generally well-shot. There’s a lot of hand to hand combat sequences and while there is quick editing and a variety of shot types, there’s moments where the camera tracks whoever’s fighting or there’s a wide-shot, so you can actually see the actors go at it and it makes the whole thing feel more real and tense.

There’s so many stand-out scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but one of my favourites is the attack on Nick Fury’s car and subsequent car chase. Not only does it show off SHIELD’s technology and what a badass Fury is, but it’s tense and exciting and you get worried because Nick Fury is not a man who’s supposed to be able to get hurt.

I can’t not talk about the Winter Soldier. He’s one of the most ruthless yet interesting villains in the MCU. The music when he’s on screen, ‘The Winter Soldier’ composed by Henry Jackman, is haunting as well. It has this low bass rumble and these mechanical sounds that are almost like screams, you can imagine this is what the Winter Soldier hears in his head. It’s a great piece of music and the whole score is one of the most memorable from the MCU.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is magnificent. It’s got the usual spectacle but with its characters who are so relatable and human, it makes it a superhero film for the ages. 5/5.


REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

When Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) becomes possessed by an ancient and powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must team up with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to protect her from the genocidal Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wants the Aether to throw the Nine Realms into darkness.

Thor: The Dark World finds Loki in prison for his crimes against Earth and his relationship with Thor is put to the test when he is the only one who can get them off Asgard undetected. Loki continues to be one of the most interesting and complex characters in the MCU. The one thing you can guarantee Loki to be is untrustworthy but the way that presents itself is still surprising.

While the Dark Elves do look aesthetically cool and somewhat intimidating, that doesn’t make them good or compelling villains. Malekith has no motivation besides turning the universe into darkness because that’s what he and his people thrive on, not matter the effects on different people. A lack of a decent villain makes this a typical end of the world type story. Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Malekith’s second in command, is reduced to a henchman and offers little opportunity for Akinnuoye-Agbaje to show how good an actor he is.

A nice call-back to the events in The Avengers is, like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, the fact that Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is suffering from having a God in his head. This reminds us that while the main heroes and villains of this story are Gods and monsters, there are humans here that have very human reactions to the fantastical things they face.

Thor is almost second fiddle to most of the characters in Thor: The Dark World despite being the titular character. Loki proves to be the more interesting and funny brother while Jane Foster saves the day with science. Still, Thor is suitably heroic and the final battle between him and Malekith is both funny and thrilling, thanks to the laws of physics being turned onto their head.

Thor: The Dark World is a more serious film, it even has a darker palette and it definitely likes that mouldy green colour that’s almost ever-present. It still has sprinkles of humour throughout and some good action sequences but it’s an average outing for Thor. 3/5.


REVIEW: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Suffering from a series of panic attacks after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) also must deal with the threat of the terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

Shane Black takes over as director in Iron Man 3, and as cowriter as well, his influence is all over this film and that’s not a bad thing. It is funny while still pushing its characters to the edge. It introduces some interesting new characters such as Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who you’re never really sure if you can trust, and Harley (Ty Simpkins) a boy who helps Tony out in his time of need and there’s some great dialogue between the two of them and JARVIS (Paul Bettany).

One of the great things about Iron Man 3, is that it allows its hero to suffer. Tony is not the same man after what he experienced in New York, he has nightmares and can’t stop making more and more of his suits of armour. He’s frightened of losing those he cares about, namely his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his friends Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Most of the time we spend with Tony during this film, he’s out of the suit and has to rely on his own wits and mechanical ability to save himself, never mind the rest of the world. The scenes of Tony making gadgets to take on the bad guys really reminds the audience just how smart and capable this guy is – after all, he’s the guy who built a miniaturised arc reactor in a cave with a box of scraps.

While Iron Man 3 is more of a serious film compared to Tony Stark’s previous outings, it’s not dark and gritty, instead it’s fun and witty while still showing a different side to these characters. The film speeds along with action sequences that use the Iron Man suits like we’ve not seen before and has some surprises too.

Ben Kingsley is brilliant in this as the villain of the piece. It’s not faithful to the comic books, and some people probably don’t like that, but personally I think this version of the Mandarin is genius. It turns the character on its head and puts a different face to terrorism to that we usually see in big Hollywood films.

Iron Man 3 is an entertaining adventure with some impressive action sequences and a whole lot of heart. If you weren’t a Tony Stark fan before this film, then I’m sure you will be by the time this film is finished. 4/5.


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.


REVIEW: The Avengers (2012)

When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth with plans to enslave humanity, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to bring together a team of volatile people, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who have the potential to be heroes.

The Avengers is a payoff for forward planning and investing in your characters. It’s hard to believe it now but The Avengers was a bit of a risky move. Yes, there were five films setting up these characters and all previous films were generally well-received and made a lot of money, but that was no guarantee that The Avengers would be a good movie that could balance its large cast of characters, each with their own extensive backstory and big personalities. Luckily, The Avengers managed to do just that.

The Avengers has spectacular set pieces with each action or fight sequence almost better than the last. There is a lot of conflict in this film, whether it’s the heroes against the villains or even the heroes amongst themselves. These are larger than life characters and they do clash, but that makes the moments when they come together as a team all that more satisfying.

The Avengers could have very easily been the Tony Stark Show thanks to him not only being a character we’ve seen the most but also because of Downey Jr’s natural charisma. However, thanks to a clever script that’s not the case. Each character gets their moment in the spotlight, secondary characters like Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) even get a moment of badassery. The script also allows time for these characters to grow while still having a firm understanding each of their motivations.

One of the highest compliments I can give The Avengers is that it feels like a comic book brought to life. The witty one-liners characters have, the way the script drops titbits of characters history or motivations with ease, and how vibrant and exciting it is. There’s a tracking shot, in the final battle, that’s almost lifted from the pages of a comic book with the way the camera moves from one character to another as they fight as a unit.

The Avengers is great because no matter the number of explosions and fights, it never forgets the characters humanity. There’s a real threat from Loki’s actions, as well as from the fact both the heroes and the audience are not sure they can trust Nick Fury and SHIELD. The Avengers is fast-paced, thrilling and funny. Seeing these characters together on screen is a joy, especially as the whole cast give great performances and all have brilliant chemistry with one another. It is one of the best superhero films, and Marvel Studios should be admired for successfully creating a cinematic universe, that so many other studios have been attempting to emulate ever since. 5/5.