MCU rewatch

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

My original review of Spider-Man: Homecoming from July 2017 is here.

After battling with (and against) the Avengers in Berlin, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) struggles to return to his everyday high school life as he continues to be a superhero. When Peter stumbles across a group of thieves with high-tech weaponry, he finds himself on the trail of the Vulture (Michael Keaton).

Spider-Man: Homecoming is an origin story without rehashing old ground we’ve seen before in the previous Spider-Man films featuring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. We know about Uncle Ben and the radioactive spider and don’t need to see that again, so instead this is an origin story in terms of Peter growing, learning and becoming the hero he can be.

Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and a great Spider-Man. He’s nerdy and funny while still being somewhat naïve when it comes to how unfair the world can be. Peter’s still learning how to be a hero, and he makes some pretty big mistakes along the way, but he’s so earnest in wanting to help people and do the right thing.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) does make a couple of appearances in Spider-Man: Homecoming but it’s in a mentor-role to Peter. Peter desperately wants to impress Tony and to be a part of the Avengers, while Tony wants Peter to be a better person than he is and not get caught up in anything too dangerous.

Michael Keaton’s the Vulture is a compelling and imitating villain. From his first scene, you get where this guy is coming from. He’s a working-class guy who wants to take care of his family but is knocked down by bureaucracy and people like Tony Stark. Michael Keaton is brilliant as Vulture, I’m pretty sure he never shouts, but that makes him all the more intimidating. Vulture’s goal isn’t to end or take over the world, it’s a much more personal goal which makes the conflict between him and Spider-Man compelling.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a coming of age story, with high school comedy moments, while still being a superhero movie. It blends these elements together really well and it’s a fun film with great characters. The relationship between Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the best and all the kids and teachers in Peter’s high school feel like the sort of people you’d meet in high school without being cliché.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is as charming and fun as it’s titular character and that makes it a great film, with a lot of heart. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)

You can read my original review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 from May 2017 here.

The Guardians are using their fame to make money, when Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father Ego (Kurt Russell) arrives in their lives. The Guardians struggle to keep their newfound family together as they attempt to unravel the mystery of Peter’s father.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bright, fast-paced adventure. The planets, characters and costumes are all vibrant and unique to where they are in the galaxy. This film really does show the scope of the universe these characters are travelling around in as you get a sense of distance between planets, and what it means to jump from one to another.

While there’s still a lot of jokes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, though not all of them hit the mark, the actual story and insights into these characters is quite sad. This team of unlikely heroes are slowly becoming attached to one another, and so many of them are unsure of how to deal with that. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) pushes people away, constantly having to compete with Peter and antagonising everyone in order to get a reaction. While you knew that Drax’s (Dave Bautista) family had been killed from the first film, through Mantis (Pom Klementieff) you get to see past his stoic appearance and see the pain and sadness he’s constantly carrying around inside him.

There’s so many moments between various characters where as they’re shouting at one another, they reveal how they’re really feeling, and how they in fact care about or understand the other person. These moments give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 layers as beneath all the colours, jokes and space battles, there’s these broken characters who are slowly becoming a family.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lot of fun with great action sequences, but perhaps because the first film was such an unexpected delight the sequel doesn’t quite hit the same levels of greatness. 3/5.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange (2016)

After an accident that permanently damages his hands, neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels the world in search of healing. He’s drawn into the world of the mystic arts and is taught the sorcery skills and the path to enlightenment by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) to protect the world.

Stephen Strange is a brilliant surgeon but an incredibly arrogant and rude man. His relationship with fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), is strained due to his superiority and it only get worse as he refuses to accept that his career as a leading neurosurgeon is over. Strange isn’t a likeable character and while he does go on a journey and changes, he’s still not a particularly pleasant guy.

Doctor Strange is an origin story, and an origin story that is very similar to that of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Iron Man. However, Cumberbatch lacks the humour and charisma of Downey Jr, which means that Strange feels like a very bland hero. Humour and Cumberbatch don’t really work together, in fact the only moments of humour that really land in Doctor Strange are when McAdam’s Christine is performing surgery while a magical battle is happening around her.

The bad guy in Doctor Strange is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a sorcerer who’s got dark plans. He seems like an interesting antagonist, especially when he has a dialogue with Strange, but unfortunately you don’t get to see him that much – he’s there for a fight scene and then disappears until the next one.

Doctor Strange has some incredible visuals. While there’s a fair bit of exposition to introduce the concept of multiple dimensions and the astral plane to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when you get to see characters interact with and move between these dimensions, it’s stunning. Characters can bend reality to their will, leading to mind-bending visuals. It’s like a city is inside a kaleidoscope, and as the city folds into itself, characters are fighting with magic while contending with the constantly moving environment.

The performances are generally decent but not great unlike the spectacular visuals – but a great-looking film doesn’t make a great film. There are moments of wonder and excitement in Doctor Strange, but otherwise it’s not that memorable. 2/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

My original review of Captain America: Civil War from May 2016 is here, and my spoiler-filled rambling review is here.

After a series of a mission that put the public in danger, the Avengers are told they need to be regulated by the U.N. While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes their actions need guidance, Steven Rogers (Chris Evans) doesn’t trust politician’s involvement. The rift between them causes a divide in the team that’s only furthered when Steve’s friend and former assassin Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) reappears.

Captain America: Civil War does a great job at showing both sides of this conflict over the Sokovia Accords – the agreement that will put the Avengers in check. You not only get to see both Steve and Tony’s opinions on it, but also why various other characters ultimately end up on a certain side. The film shows how there’s shades of grey in these opposing views and that’s where some characters end up, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is the notable example of this.

For a film jam-packed with superheroes Captain America: Civil War never feels overcrowded. This is due to the script and how the story is continuously moving on from one conflict or reveal to another. Each character has their moment to shine, though for some that may last longer than others, and it’s a thrill to see these character’s we’ve seen over the course of multiple films fight together and against one another. You feel for these characters and their strained relationships because you’ve grown attached to them over the years, and because all the actors involved give brilliant performances – Downey Jr. and Stan especially.

There are some characters making their first appearance in Civil War, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and both of them make a big impression and leave you wanting more from their individual films.

The action sequences are exciting and are on the whole well-shot and easy to follow. The humour that runs through the film never detracts from the seriousness of the situations the heroes finds themselves in, instead it gives you a brief moment to breathe before the tension builds once again.

At Civil War’s heart it’s a story of friendship. The friendship between Steve and Bucky that’s spanned decades and the new one between Steve and Tony which has never really found its footing. Captain America: Civil War has it all, great action sequences, humour and drama but it never forgets about what is important – the characters, their motivations and their relationships. There are some minor quibbles like the tonal palette of the film is decidedly grey and it could be argued it’s more Avengers 2.5 than Captain America 3, but all in all it’s a fantastic film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Ant-Man (2015)

I didn’t write a review for Ant-Man when it was first released but it did make my Top Ten Films of 2015.

Recently released from prison, former-thief Scot Lang (Paul Rudd) wants to go straight so he can see his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) but those plans go awry when he meets Dr. Hany Pym (Michael Douglas) who needs Scott to pull off a heist to stop scientist Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from endangering the world.

Ant-Man is a great heist film. It follows a lot of the usual tropes seen in heist stories, training montage, a crew, plans going wrong, but it also has a super-suit that can shrink the wearer and give them a disproportionate amount of strength compared to their size. The special effects and sequences when Scott is the size of an insect are innovative and a lot of fun. The scenes where Scott’s going from big to small in a blink of an eye while fighting bad guys are well-shot and exciting.

While Ant-Man’s villain isn’t particularly menacing nor memorable, it’s nice to have a superhero film where the story is on the smaller scale and the climax of the film isn’t a potential world-ending catastrophe. At this films core are a group of characters who are trying to do the right thing, even if a lot of them are former criminals.

Speaking of former-criminals Luis played by Michael Peña is a great character. His stories are hilarious and every time he’s on screen he steals the spotlight because you can’t help but smile at his antics and mannerisms. Scott’s other friends are computer-hacker Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and wheelman Dave (T.I.) while these two have less to do than Luis, they still get their odd moments and are both fun characters.

A core theme of Ant-Man is the relationship between fathers and daughters. There’s Scott wanting to be the hero his young daughter Cassie already sees in him, and there’s Hank and his strained relationship with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). How Hank and Hope’s relationship evolves over the course of the film is great because they are forced to begin to understand one another.

Ant-Man is a funny, clever heist film with superhero elements. Scott’s a great down to earth lead and the way the story uses a miniaturised hero and a lot of ants makes for a very enjoyable film. 4/5.

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.