Robert Downey Jr.

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: 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.