Robert Downey Jr.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors (2019 Edition)

Back in October 2017 I posted about which actors I’ve watched the most films from. Two years later, I thought it’d be fun to revisit that and see what might have changed. I get these stats from Letterboxd where I have a pro account. I love the stats Letterboxd can give you as it’s not just your yearly film-watching stats, but also there’s stats that take into account every film you’ve ever watched.

First thing I noticed that’s changed over the past two years is the amount of films I must’ve watched in general and it’s made getting a spot on my top 20 list quite competitive. In 2017 my most watched actor (Samuel L. Jackson) had 35 film to his name and the least watched actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rachel Weisz) each had 19 films to their name. That’s changed a lot in just over two years and now my most watched actor (still Samuel L. Jackson) has 43 films to his name, while my least watched actors (Rachel Weisz, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith) each have 24 to their name. I think this is partly down to how last year I watched 365 different films – don’t ask me how I did it, I’m not sure but I’m definitely not putting that kind of pressure on myself again – plus, you know two years going by means there’s a lot of time to watch films from a variety of actors.

I’m happy to see over the past couple of years that there’s more female actors making into my top twenty most watched actors list. Keira Knightley (whose films I’ve watched a lot of this year) and Maggie Smith have joined Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Also got two more black actors here with Idris Elba (who has actually made my most watched actors list two out of the past three years I’ve had Letterboxd and he’s comfortably going to be on it again this year) and Denzel Washington.

It would obviously be nice if more women and people of couple made my top twenty most watched actors of all time but baby steps. I know for a fact there’s some actors like Anna Kendrick, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Emma Thompson that are just missing out on a spot. Still, based on a quick scan of Letterboxd, at the moment it’s more likely that a white woman will get a spot on my most watched actors list than any other person. This is obviously down to my taste in films, and what films are available to me in the cinema or via Netflix of similar, but it reinforces the fact I still want to broaden my film watching horizons.

Though saying that, I do watch more films not in the English language and more independent films and more films made by women each year. I think the problem is that historically I didn’t have the statistics to look at (I got Letterboxd in 2016) so there was over 20 years of film watching where I watched what I wanted without any real thought about who was in it bar whether or not I liked the actors. And that’s fine because for most of those 20 years I was a child/teenager where I just watched what I liked and what was available without a care in the world.

I know making my film viewing more diverse will take time and that’s OK. I still watch what I want to watch, whether that’s because it’s got a certain actor in it I like, or the trailer looks good, or it’s a genre I like, without feeling pressured that I should be watching highbrow films that are from a certain niche area.

In short – watching diverse films with diverse talent is a good thing that I want to continue doing, but this revisit to these stats two years on shows me that making a big dent in this will take time. But I have my whole life to watch as many films as I like with many different people starring in them, so while I will probably continue to check in on these stats every couple of years to see how things stand, I won’t stress about it too much.

My final thought about looking at my top twenty most watched actors list today is; it does make me smile that in two years I’ve only watched one more Bruce Willis film since 2017 (I told you I wasn’t a fan of his) but he’s still got quite a comfortable spot there.

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.

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: 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: 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: 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.

REVIEW: Iron Man 2 (2010)

With the whole world knowing he’s Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has to deal with problems from all sides – his rapidly declining health, the US Government wanting to take his suit away from him, and vengeful Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who has connections to his father.

Iron Man 2 is action-packed and a lot of fun. The sequence in Monte Carlo where the suitcase armour is introduced is one of the best moments in the whole film. The fact it speeds along with an action-packed plot means that it’s sometimes easy to miss why Tony is acting the way he is and making some unconventional decisions, until characters explicitly point it out.

Tony is dying and he, in his own chaotic way, is trying to make sure his affairs are in order. That his company will be taken care of if the form of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and that his legacy of the Iron Man suits will continue thanks to his friend Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Tony is his usual narcissist-self but cranked up to eleven – it’s as if his thought process is, he must protect his company and friends, but if he makes sure no one likes him, they won’t miss him when he’s gone.

Ivan Vanko is not much of a villain, or at least you don’t get to see him that much to become engaged with him. He’s smart like Tony but never really feels like a big threat when they come face to face, especially in the final showdown. Rival businessman, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) on the other hand, is cringey and offers a different kind of threat to Tony. While he may not have the brains of Tony Stark, he has just as many resources and seeing him team up with Vanko offers unexpected though often funny results. Got to give a special mention to Rockwell’s performance as Hammer, he looks like he’s having loads of fun being a weaselly and almost incompetent businessman.

While Iron Man 2 is a fun film, it does feel like a stepping stone to when this universe comes together for the Avengers. There’s more from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and there’s the introduction of Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) who, you’ll know if you’re savvy with your comic book knowledge.

Iron Man 2 might not be the best of the MCU, but it’s got some of the most interesting moments when it comes to Tony Stark and the people he cares about. 3/5.

REVIEW: Iron Man (2008)

After escaping from being held captive in Afghanistan, billionaire engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) attempts to right his wrongs by building a high-tech suit of armour.

Iron Man is a fast-paced film that’s a lot of fun, but has its characters at its heart. After quickly showing Tony’s convoy being attacked, it jumps back a few days to show you not only how Tony got into this situation, but gain an insight into his character before he goes through this traumatic event. This snapshot of life gives you brief introductions to his friend Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Seeing Tony’s life before, and after, he’s kidnapped gives you the chance to see not only how much he grows as a person during the course of the film, but also how his relationships may change.

Downey Jr. is so charismatic as Tony Stark that you do don’t mind spending the majority of this film with him out of the suit. Downey Jr. balances Stark’s narcissistic tendencies with his vulnerabilities, making him an unusual and surprisingly layered hero.

The action sequences in Iron Man are great. The film makes you wait a while to see the proper Iron Man suit in action, but it’s worth it. The CGI is top-notch, as are the pyrotechnics which are used in abundance.

Iron Man does offer a commentary on the War on Terror and America’s involvement in the Middle East, but it never delves too deeply into the issue. Instead, it packages into a story that will reach a wider audience and let them make their own opinions if they want to consider it for longer. One of the big themes of Iron Man is accountability. It’s something that Tony Stark struggles with and, knowing what happens in future films in the MCU, is an important part of his character.

Iron Man is a pretty perfect superhero film. It has a good script, that has witty lines but also does a good job at pacing itself with the big reveals, has a great cast, and blends action with suspense. Iron Man is the foundations the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built on, and those foundations are strong. 5/5.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors

I have a Letterboxd account and it’s pretty great. Letterboxd is the movie version of Goodreads so you can log what you watch, write reviews, make lists and follow different users. If you get a Pro account (which is only $19 a year which is about £15 and I think that’s pretty good value to be honest) you get to see what your various movie-related stats are each year you log films and overall on all the films you’ve ever marked as watched.

I’ve been looking at which actors I’ve watched the most overall and there’s some interesting things there but it does make me want to try and change some of my viewing habits.

Out of my top twenty most watched actors, just two of them are women – Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett Johansson was someone I was surprised to be there as she’s not one of my favourite actors nor someone who I’d go to see a film just because they’re in it. Her being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly helped give her a boost and for a younger actor (she’s 32) she’s been in the business for a while and has an eclectic filmography. Rachel Weisz is a new addition because I have been watching more of her filmography recently, trying to get her (and more women in general) into my top twenty. In comparison to Johansson, Weisz is an actor who I love and will seek out films just because she’s in them but she usually stars in dramas or films that aren’t so mainstream hence while she is someone I do really like, her filmography isn’t always to my taste. (more…)

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.