Marvel Cinematic Universe

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.

REVIEW: Black Widow (2021)

After the events of Captain America: Civil War Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run but soon her past catches up with her as she’s reunited with her sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and learns that the Red Room she thought she’d long destroyed is still active.

After all this time Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow finally gets her own movie. While I’m certainly pleased that the character, and Scarlett Johansson who has more than a decade with this character, has finally gotten their time to shine, as a film it also feels a bit redundant. Having it set between the events of Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War means that there’s no real stakes for Natasha as we know we see her again. However, while her physical safety may be assured, Black Widow does allow more time to examine her psyche and she a few other characters certainly go through the emotional ringer – whether all those emotional beats land is another matter.

The fight sequences are great and having so many aerial shots make the movements seem fluid and helps these scenes standout more compared to other fight sequences in the MCU. The initial confrontation between Natasha and Yelena who haven’t seen each other for decades is a highlight. There’s the usual big explosions and car chases but it’s the one-on-one fight sequences which are the best and highlight how Natasha differs to her fellow superheroes.

With Natasha unable to turn to her Avenger family, she is forced to reconnect with a family from her past. Her dynamic with Yelena is interesting as while Yelena is clearly a more than capable spy and combatant, Natasha quickly falls back into the older sister role. Alexei (David Harbour) is the only Russian super soldier and Melina (Rachel Weisz) round out this family unit as the slippery scientist who you’re never quite sure where her allegiance lies. There’s an easy chemistry between the four actors but Florence Pugh steals just about every scene she’s in. Her Yelena is sarcastic and funny but she’s also hurting from her own experience in the Red Room. She’s also struggling to compartmentalise what this family unit means as she was so young when they were last together and to her, while it was a family of spies and double agents, it felt real.

Black Widow is a simpler MCU film. It’s Natasha facing her past and while the hundreds of Black Widows out there can certainly cause a lot of damage, it’s not framed as the end of the world type scenario. Instead, it’s about saving these young women from a life of trauma and control. However, the idea of the Red Room and these young girls being trained, and even brainwashed, to become master spies and assassins is a dark one and Black Widow never really goes into it more than at the surface level. Natasha’s past is dark and while Johansson does a good job at slowly revealing the layers of Natasha’s guilt and pain and love that’s all mixed together with her feelings for the Red Room and this unconventional family of hers, it often feels like something is missing.

Black Widow is an enjoyable action/spy thriller and there’s some good character work for Natasha and Yelena. While characters like Alexei are fun when they’re on screen (he’s much of the films comedic relief) they’re not particularly memorable afterwards. 3/5.

B is for Kate Bishop

I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is one of my favourite characters of all time, but in the comics Kate Bishop aka Hawkeye is also a much-loved character of mine.

I first learnt about her in the Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction and David Aja and then I read Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’ Young Avengers series where she was also a part of the team and in both series – plus other comics I’ve now read – I thought she was excellent.

Kate is the daughter of a rich and powerful businessman so the fact this heiress decides to become a crime-fighting hero is an interesting premise. Like her namesake she’s a highly skilled archer and martial artist but she has a bit more common sense than Barton does. Kate is tough but also very approachable and friendly. How she makes friends and connections is one of her best skills and when she was on her own in LA with just Lucky the dog for company she soon had met (and saved) enough people to form her own support system.

I really love Kate’s sense of humour and though she can be quite self-depreciating, she’s actually pretty smart and a very capable leader. She can do the crime-fighting thing and be a private investigator and a decent friend all at the same time.

I’m really looking forward to Kate Bishop joining the MCU. Hailee Steinfeld is going to play her in the Hawkeye Disney+ series and I think she’s going to be great. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Young Avengers movie or show in a few years time as it looks like Marvel’s already planting those seeds.

Mid-year Film Update 2020

Last year was the first time I did a mid-year check in on my film-related goals and I thought I’d do the same again this year – mainly because I like to see how much my most watched actors change over the course of a year.

My film-related goals are pretty chill. They are:

And I have to say, I’m on the right track with both of those so far. I have watched 28 films directed women so over half way there and I’ve watched 40 films written by women which is over three quarters of the way to 52. I’ll definitely hit 52 films for both directors and screenwriters by the end of the year, the question is what will my final total be. My favourite films made by women I’ve seen so far this year are Miss Americana, Little Women and Misbehaviour. I also rewatched Mamma Mia! which was a delight as always.

Thanks to COVID-19 and lockdown, naturally I haven’t been to the cinema since March (and I’m not sure when I’ll be going back even though they being to open here in a couple of weeks), and a lot of the big films directed by women – Black Widow, Mulan, Wonder Woman 1984 – have been pushed back. So, if it hadn’t have been for COVID, I’ll have probably seen more films directed by women by now but there we go.

Thanks to the A-Z in April Challenge this year, I have knocked 20 films off my unwatched DVD/Blu-rays list so now I have 64 left to watch. I do hope to watch more of them over the next six months, especially the Hitchcock and Clint Eastwood films.

I love my Letterboxd stats. Here’s my most watched actors of 2020 so far:

I have done a lot of rewatching of some of my favourite franchises so far this year which pretty much explains everyone here. So far in 2020 I have rewatched; the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (normally a Christmas rewatch for me but I needed the extra comfort that those films bring me), and The Chronicles of Narnia films. Last month I decided to watch all of Anton Yelchin’s films that I hadn’t seen before that were available on Netflix/Prime so that’s how he made it on the list. I’m interested to see how many of the MCU actors especially manage to stay in my most watched actors list by the end of the year.

My most watched directors of 2020 so far:

Again, my director list isn’t that surprising based on the franchises I’ve rewatched so far this year. The Russo’s, James Gunn, Peyton Reed, Joss Whedon, Jon Watts and Jon Favreau all directed multiple films in the MCU, while Steven Soderbergh, Gore Verbinski and Peter Jackson directed the Ocean’s trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and Lord of the Rings trilogy respectively. It’d be nice if I could have a more diverse range of filmmakers in this list by the end of the year (at least Bong Joon-ho is there!) but we’ll see how that goes. While I often at least watch 52 films directed by women each year for example, they are often from 52 different women so female directors don’t often make this list.

In the first half of 2020 I have seen 144 different films with 13 being at the cinema, and as I said while I miss spending a Saturday watching three films in the cinema back to back, I’m not sure when I’ll be doing that again.

What are some of your favourite films you’ve watched so far in 2020? Are you missing the cinema at all? Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, some of my favourite films have been Dark Waters, Da 5 Bloods and Love, Antosha. Each month on Twitter I share my Top 5 First Views if you ever want to see my monthly film highlights.

TRAILER REACTION: Black Widow

The first trailer for the long-awaited Black Widow movie was released yesterday and I liked what I saw.

Now let’s get what will obviously be big talking points about this movie out of the way – the fact that this movie exists after certain events and that it probably should’ve happened a lot sooner. Also, that’s a spoiler warning for Avengers: Endgame.

Yes, Black Widow is a film that probably should’ve happened a long time ago, when Natasha Romanoff was the only female hero we had in the MCU and really had space to shine in amongst all the male heroes. Post-The Avengers was probably when it was the height of her popularity and would’ve made sense to have a solo movie. Nowadays it’s a bit odd we’re getting a Black Widow movie considering the fact Natasha dies during the events of Endgame but, it is a prequel. When it’s exactly set I’m not sure (because you know me, I don’t like to know too much about MCU films going into them) but it would make sense if it was post-Captain America: Civil War as that’s when the Avengers broke up, Natasha made her escape before the rest of Team Cap were arrested and we don’t really know what she was up to in the years between Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

So in short, it kinda sucks we’ve had to wait this long for a Black Widow movie, and for a film that may not have lasting consequences for the overarching MCU and its characters as it’s a prequel, but it’s here now so let’s sit back and enjoy it.

Though Natasha’s voiceover quote is from Endgame and can obviously be applied to the whole Avengers team, I’m happy that Clint and Fury are the one’s singled out when it comes to her family. Clint was sent to kill her but made a different call and it was probably down to Fury (and maybe Coulson) that Natasha was allowed to prove herself and be a part of SHIELD. I’m a big fan of the OG SHIELD squad being a family.

Speaking of family, it looks like the family of choice trope is going to be alive and well here which I’m always happy to see. I won’t lie, I know very little about the characters who are in this movie. I know Florence Pugh plays Yelena Belova and I’m pretty sure I’ve read some Black Widow comics where she’s featured so I have a rough idea of who she is, but who Rachel Weisz and David Harbour play? I have no idea and even just seeing their characters names on IMDb doesn’t jog my memory at all but I’m OK with that. I’m liking the very brief look into what the dynamic between these four characters/actors could be like because as I said, the found family/family of choice trope is my jam.

I really liked the fight between Natasha and Yelena. I thought that was a great way to introduce this new character and set up her relationship with Natasha and show she’s just as good (if not better) as Nat. I also like the general vibe of the trailer. It feels like an espionage thriller but with added superpowers in the same way Captain America: The Winter Soldier did and as The Winter Soldier is one of my favourite MCU films, that works for me!

Black Widow is going to be the first film in Phase 4 of the MCU so even though it’s a prequel, the world is kind of its oyster. We have no idea who or what could be the overarching Big Bad for this phase of the MCU, or even if they’ll start dropping heavy-handed hints for it yet. Plus, with Florence Pugh becoming a bit of a rising star this year with Midsommar, Fighting with My Family and Little Women, the powers that be may be setting her up to return in future MCU movies as the new Black Widow or have her own new superhero name. I’m just guessing here.

Have you seen the Black Widow trailer? What did you think of it? I’m sure May 2020 is going to come around much faster than we expect.

A to Z in April Blogging Challenge 2019 Masterpost

Well this is being posted later than expected – what can I say! Time got away from me. That’s another April gone and with it another A-Z in April Challenge successfully completed. This year it was all about my favourite characters in the MCU. It was certainly hard to narrow it down for some days/letters, but I’m happy with the characters I got to talk about.

Sign Up Post
A – Ava Starr
B – James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes
C – Cassie Lang
D – Carol Danvers
E – Erik “Killmonger” Stevens
F – Frigga
G – Goose
H – Happy Hogan
I – Ivan Vanko
J – Jim Paxton
K – Harley Keener
L – Luis
M – Maria Rambeau
N – Nebula
O – Okoye
P – Pepper Potts
Q – Peter Quill
R – James “Rhodey” Rhodes
S – Shuri
T – Tony Stark
U – Ulysses Klaue
V – Valkyrie
W – Wanda Maximoff
X – X-tras (Clint Barton, Michelle “MJ” Jones, Nick Fury, Hela and Rocket Racoon)
Y – Ho Yinsen
Z – Hemlut Zemo
Reflections Post

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame Peter Parker (Tom Holland) just wants to put aside being Spider-Man for a bit and have fun with his friends on a school trip across Europe. But when elemental creatures appear, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to Peter for help and introduces him to new superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Spider-Man: Far from Home is so much fun, but it also manages to handle some emotional beats while adding a whole new dimension to the MCU. Following on from Endgame, Far from Home touches on some of the logistical issues that would come with half of the world’s population returning after five years. People’s homes have been sold to someone else, people’s younger siblings are now older than them, and naturally people have missed a good chunk of what’s happened with their friends and families while they’ve been gone.

It’s the emotional fallout though for Peter Parker that really adds to the pressure he’s feeling. He lost is father-figure and mentor and feels like he has huge shoes to fill while still wanting to live a normal life. A scene where Peter and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) reminisce about Tony Stark and how they are, or are not, coping without him is a wonderful scene that highlights how Far from Home balances the fantastic with the personal.

Far from Home, like Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a teen high school comedy with all the good and bad things that can come with that. There are some cheesy jokes that don’t land or carry on too long, but then there’s also some hilarious moments as the young cast really do feel like a bunch of friends. MJ (Zendaya) has a larger role in this film as she’s sarcastic and funny but thoughtful as she tries to learn to let people be close to her. The teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) is a standout though and just about everything out of his mouth is hilarious.

Mysterio is an enigma and a character that is very difficult to talk about without going into spoiler territory. Gyllenhaal does a great job of playing the different layers of the character though, and midway through the film there’s a scene where he goes all out with a monologue and it’s magnificent.

The special effects are great too but there’s one sequence that will be talked about as a standout in the MCU for years as all of Peter Parker’s fears come to life. That whole sequence is awe-inspiring as it is so well put together and fits into both the story of the film and Peter’s emotional journey perfectly.

Spider-Man: Far from Home is funny, thrilling and spectacular. The first act isn’t as solid as the latter two as it retreads old ground seen in the previous Spider-Man film, but when the story shifts and certain things are revealed, it becomes something completely thrilling and innovative. Both post-credit scenes are some of the most important and game-changing in the MCU. Spider-Man: Far from Home is a satisfying end to Phase Three of the MCU, and where Phase Four is heading is anyone’s guess. 4/5.

Reflections on the A-Z Challenge 2019 Edition

Slightly later than planned, but here’s my reflections on this years A-Z in April Challenge.

This was my sixth year taking part and it was my easiest A-Z in April in years. I think that was down to the topic. I love the MCU and its characters, so I found it really easy to write about them. In fact, I found it so easy that I got all my posts written and scheduled before the end of the second week of April! I haven’t been that organised during this challenge for years.

My favourite posts to write were all the ones in the Iron Man fam; Pepper Potts, Rhodey, Happy Hogan, Harley Keener and, of course, Tony Stark. I had so much fun pouring all my thoughts and feelings about Tony Stark into that post and it’s a piece of writing that I’m proud of. I wrote and scheduled all my posts before seeing Avengers: Endgame so I feel like writing about my favourite characters was almost therapeutic as I was so anxious about what would happen to them in that film.

My post popular A-Z posts were the ones for Carol Danvers, Okoye and Goose. I guess people like strong women and an awesome cat!

I replied to all comments pretty quickly (for me anyway) though unfortunately I didn’t visit that many blogs at all. While I got all my posts scheduled ahead of time, day to day life stopped me finding the time to look around other people’s blogs. I’m even more grateful for the people who stopped by my blog, liked or commented on posts, and even hit that follow button as I did little to return the favour last month.

I feel like the last few years when I’ve written these reflection posts I’ve said, “I’m not sure if I’ll take part again next year” and I feel the same way once again. It’s just that as I take part in the A-Z Challenge again and again, I feel like I’m running out of themes of things I could write about – and enjoy writing about too. I think I enjoyed this years A-Z Challenge more than the last couple because my topic was something I am so enthusiastic about and get so much joy from. If I hadn’t written about my favourite characters from the MCU, I don’t know what I would’ve chosen to write about and if I had thought of something I doubt I’d have had as much fun writing it as I did with this theme.

I hope all of you who took part in the challenge had fun and a successful A-Z in April. Thanks to those who stopped by my blog and liked or commented – it always means a lot. For more information on the A-Z in April Challenge visit the website.

SPOILER REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Right. Here are all my spoilery thought about Avengers: Endgame, I highly recommend not reading this if you haven’t seen the film. My spoiler-free review is here.

I probably haven’t mentioned everything I noticed or wanted to say because there was so much and I see new things every time I see it. I’ve seen Endgame three times now and still think it’s an incredible end to a series of 22 films. My comments are a mixture of stuff that happened in order, and character focussed stuff. This post is probably a mess so you’ve been warned. (more…)

Z is for Helmut Zemo

It’s the last day of the A-Z in April Challenge and I’m going to end it with a villain that arguably damaged the Avengers the most. Pre-Thanos that is.

Helmut Zemo is a former soldier from Sokovia, who wanted to avenge his family’s death during the Sokovia incident. He wanted to do this by destroying the Avengers, but knowing he was just a man going up against superpowered people, he had to be smart about it.

And that’s the thing, Zemo is really very smart and a brilliant strategist and manipulator. He’s patient, knows how to put a plan together and stick to it, while using the latest developments in the world e.g. the Sokovia Accords, to his advantage.

You could say that Zemo’s plan wouldn’t have been as affective if Steve had told Tony about his parents’ death before being forced to watch the footage of it. if Tony had known there’s probably less chance of him flying off the handle. But Steve didn’t tell Tony, and Zemo’s plan to destroy the Avengers worked.

I think Zemo was a brilliant villain and he’s one that actually achieved what he set out to do. He destroyed the Avengers by turning the two main leaders of the team against one another. He broke the Avenger a part. Friendships were destroyed, some members of the Avengers were on the run and wanted by the UN, and the rest were just hurt and alone.

I think he’s a fascinating villain and I’m pleased that he’s still alive. I think he’d be a great villain to make an appearance again at some point in the future. Although, he’s played his best hand with the secrets about Tony’s parents’ death. Unless he’s managed to dig up something else on various members of the Avengers, I’m not sure he would have the same impact. Maybe it’s because I like Daniel Brühl so much so would like to see more of him in the MCU.