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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile Review

The Ted Bundy story is a horrifying and disturbing one. I have listened through a lot of crime podcasts about the story, and the fast someone so charming was capable of the crimes he performed is borderline unthinkable. This film, with Zac Efron in the role of Bundy, goes through the events of his crime spree and the events that led to his eventually conviction. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured it would play out like a normal crime drama. 

The film took a different path to the one I expected. Coming from the director of the Ted Bundy tapes on Netflix, I figured it would go relatively straight through the events. However director Joe Berlinger decided to show us a different angle for the first act of the film, deciding to show Bundy as a handsome, charming man who falls in love with a woman called Elizabeth.

This choice I found very odd at first. Knowing so much about the story I felt it to be painting a horrific man in a positive way. As the movie went on, I realised the reason behind showing this side of him is to show the audience that Ted Bundy seemed like a very unlikely suspect. Zac Efron’s charismatic performance is perfect for this part of the film. He oozes confidence of a man who knows he is attractive, and knows how to use it.

I can imagine if you did not know the story going in, it may add an element of “Did he, didn’t he” to the film. In the real world, there is not any doubt about whether Bundy committed the crimes. At times the film makes you question if he is a potentially innocent man, which had the effect of making me feel very uncomfortable. By the finale, we are given the answers but the journey there makes for some really interesting moments.

Zac Efron is excellent, but his equal in the film for me is Lily Collins as Elizabeth. There is a scene towards the end where you can see her character beginning to buckle under the weight of what’s happened, and she carries it perfectly before the pay off in that scene. Her back and forth with Efron in that moment makes it one of my favourite dramatic scenes so far this year. The rest of the cast are solid, but the focus is very clearly on Efron and Collins, with only Kara Scodelario being given a moment to shine. She plays Carol Anne Boone, the woman who refused to believe Bundy was guilty and mothering his child while he was on death row. Proving just how charming of a man the murderer was.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a movie I wish I had watched before I knew about the Bundy case. I can imagine the shocking revelations in the third act would have real impact on someone without the prior knowledge. As it is, I found it to be a very interesting way to tell this story, and I was captivated throughout, but mainly because of the angle the story was being told from. At no point did I really get a feeling that he was a really evil man, and that makes me a feel a little uncomfortable. At times it almost seems to be sympathetic towards Bundy, and that made me feel quite uncomfortable with it.

Good: Great performances and a really captivating subject with a different take on the story.

Bad: Left me feeling very uncomfortable with the way it portrays Ted Bundy, as I don’t think there is room for any sympathy for the man, and that leads to a confused tone.

7/10 – Ted Bundy was a horrific person, This depicts him a little too nicely. 

 

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Avengers Endgame – SPOILER TALK

Avengers Endgame is an incredible achievement. Movies have never even attempted this, and this review will ruin the film for you. Do not read on if you have not seen the film, unless you just really don’t care about spoilers I guess. I am going to talk through my favourite moments from the film, basically recapping it and how I felt when it happened. I am sure this is going to descend into me just gushing about what happened, but here goes;

Starting out with Hawkeye is something I had actually read speculation on just a week before, and the way it plays out is a really gut-wrenching moment. Having been set up in Age of Ultron as a family man, he is spending time with his family, helping his daughter practice with a bow and arrow. Then he loses them all. His wife, daughter and two sons are dusted with him completely clueless as to what is happening. Answering any questions we had about what transformed Clint into the brutal ninja Ronin, who is carving up thugs in Tokyo when we catch up to him next.

There are easy questions you can ask throughout this film, but honestly you can make up your own answers in your head for the majority, like “How did Captain Marvel know where Tony Stark and Nebula were stranded?” They sent out a distress beacon, there. I don’t know, the film doesn’t attempt to explain it and it doesn’t need to because the point is to get Tony Stark and Cap back together, to try and figure out what they can do. There are shades of Iron Man 3 here, with Tony a withered, angry, defeated man who is all out of ideas. Robert Downey Jr really does deliver some of the best acting in the whole film in these scenes and you really feel his frustration and the weight of what they have lost.

This is when the movie decides to deliver its first real surprise blow, by straight up beheading Thanos in the opening 20 minutes of the film. It’s a bold choice, and executed brilliantly. It essentially means 99% of the trailers we saw are from this opening salvo, leaving us two and a half hours of movie with very little ideas about what is going to happen. Thanos’ destroying the stones is a great twist, something I hadn’t expected. Captain Marvel shows off her power, and Thor aiming for the head at last really got a pop of shock from the audience. It’s a brutally violent moment, but it’s justified when you think about the events that took place at the end of Infinity War.

The “How” of Antman’s return from the quantum realm is a little bit silly, but I think in a movie with a 3 hour run time its easy enough to forgive and forget that. Once he is back and learns of the dusting, after an emotional reuniting with his daughter that is the first sign of sniffles in most theatres, he goes straight to the avengers and this is the first time when you have to have done your homework and watched Antman and the Wasp. That film sets up, with a single line from Michelle Pfeiffer, that time works differently in the quantum realm and Scott confirming that to Steve Rogers and the rest of the avengers. The first reference to a Time Machine made me smile, because I was not convinced they would actually do it. But wow did they.

The first act is a lot of talking and set up, but after 21 other films we are so into these characters it all works. Imagine this being the first avengers film, it would feel way too slow, and the conversations wouldn’t hold any weight. The next huge pop in the cinema was for Hulk, who is now a combination of Hulk and Bruce banner. Huge and green, but with the intellect and voice of Bruce. It’s an awesome reference to the comics and the old animated show I used to love and the idea that he is now a kind of celebrity that poses for selfies is brilliant.

And then we go to New Asgard, and one of my favourite scenes in the whole film. Thor, despondent from what he perceives as his mistake that cost the lives of half a universe, has gotten fat. He hangs out with Ragnarok favourites Korg and Meek playing Fortnite. It’s hilarious and the fact they committed to him being Fat Thor (Fhor from this point on) for the entire film is just genius. I thought when he goes into battle and has both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker he would become Buff Hemsworth but no, I can finally say, after years of hard work, I have the same body as Thor.

The time-heist portion of the film is some of the most self-congratulatory victory lap stuff imaginable, and I lapped up every second with a huge grin on my face. Not only do the run us through the events of previous films, even Thor The Dark World, but they play with the scenes we know and love and deliver even more awesome moments. Everything in the 2012 New York is brilliant, from future Banners encounter with Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One from Dr Strange, to 2012 hulks anger at having to take the stairs. Iron Man and Antman fail after Scott defends Steve Rogers’ tight buns, Loki gets away with the Tesseract, setting up his new TV series, and Captain America gets the first of his numerous brilliant moments.

Stepping into a lift filled with hydra agents exactly like he did in The Winter Soldier. In that scene from a few years ago, he kicks everyone ass in a breathtakingly cool action scene. I fully expected them to repeat that, but no. He announces he is taking point on this one. Then when everyone is uncomfortably shifting and getting ready to throw down, he leans over to whisper “Hail Hydra”. This moment is an incredible pay off for the entire Winter Soldier film, and a brilliant reference to a very controversial comic line. To follow this up with him walking straight into 2012 Captain America is a stroke of absolute genius, and the fight ends with Steve confirming that it is indeed America’s ass.

Clint and Natasha’s trip to Volmir is a part of the movie I didn’t think I would really enjoy. If I’d have known it existed before viewing the film, I’d have picked this as prime toilet break territory. In actual fact, it’s a brilliant acted and choreographed scene that results in a shock, as Natasha sacrifices herself to save her best friend and let him see his family again. The fact that I and everyone in the cinema gave a crap about Hawkeye and Black Widow is testament to the brilliant world Marvel has built.

After a detour to the 1970’s for a few cameos from a young Howard Stark, Caps love Peggy Carter, a de-aged Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and of course the man who created these characters, Stan Lee, they have all the stones. Another bit of plot convenience when Tony’s iron man technology can handle the power of the stones has to be ignored again here, considering Thanos had to get dwarves to make the gauntlet from the heart of a dying star. That minor point aside, Hulk takes the gauntlet, being the only one close to Thanos’ power and therefore able to use the stones without dying, and snaps to try and bring back everyone who got dusted at the end of the last film.

Job Done. Let’s all go home.

Actually no, let’s have the most incredible hour of cinema I have ever witnessed.

Nebula, whose robotic parts meant Thanos in 2014 found out about the plan, has been replaced by the evil Nebula from that time period. She brings Thanos and his entire giant ship through time from 2014 to the future. Just after the avengers realise the Hulk snap worked as Clint is on the phone to his previously dead wife, Thanos’ absolutely fucks their day up with artillery fire all over the base. It is carpet bombed into a devastated mess. Conveniently again, nobody is fatally wounded, but everyone is in different levels of peril.

The avengers are scattered about, Rocket Rhodey and Hulk are pinned under a load of rubble with water rising. Hawkeye awakes with Gauntlet, stones and all, just feet away, and a load of enemies on his tail. Iron man, Cap and Fhor find each other, and all three of them confront Thanos, who has been sitting, thinking about the victory his future self achieved, and planning how to improve on that. He settles on the idea that the balancing of the universe can never work whilst there are still those who remember what there was before. He wants to snap everyone out of existence, and create a new universe that doesn’t know any different.

Of course, we can’t be having that, and the three heroes charge at Thanos. This fight is epic, and it just consistently builds. Thanos, without any stones backing him up, is comfortable fighting 3 very powerful avengers. He knocks out Iron Man, throws Cap aside, and goes toe to toe with Fhor, armed with both Stormbreaker and Mjolnir. Thanos manages to make him drop Mjolnir in the dirt, and gets hold of Stormbreaker, pushing it into Fhor’s chest.

Then the Hammer lifts off the dirt, and smacks Thanos onto his (Antman free) Anus. Mjolnir then returns to the right hand of none of than Captain fucking America. This moment for the loudest cheer I have ever witnessed in a UK cinema. This moment put a huge smile on my face, as it confirms to me my theory that Cap could have picked it up in Age of Ultron, but chose not to, because he didn’t want to take it away from Thor. Cap then proceeds to deliver an ass whooping to Thanos with his shield and Mjolnir, only to be disarmed of the hammer. He then battles Thanos, a man who beat the hulk in a one on one fight, and his shield gets smashed again and again, eventually being shattered down to just half of the shield we recognise before he is hit back 30 feet and he lies there.

Thanos starts monologuing, like any good villain, but of course a beaten down Cap just pulls himself back up to his feet, tightens the half a shield around his arm, and stands to face Thanos and his entire army. This is when I come the closest I ever have to crying tears of happiness. That crackle of a radio and Sam Wilson’s voice bursts through. “On Your Left”, right on cue we see the familiar fizzle of sparks from a certain sorcerer’s portal. Remember just before this fight, when Hulk snapped and brought back all our dusted heroes? Well here they are. More and more portals open up, more and more familiar characters; every one of them gets a cheer from the audience. Cap stands at the front, and for the final time in the MCU, he says “Avengers Assemble”.

It’s ridiculous, cheesy, and incredibly geeky. But this whole fight scene is just so perfect. We get characters we have never seen interact fighting side by side. Everyone gets a moment, and then as Scarlet Witch is about to pull Thanos into bite size chunks, he calls for another carpet bombing of the area, showing again his ruthlessness to achieve his goals as he kills half his own army by doing this.

The guns turning up to fire at something else threw me off I have to be honest. I was worried/excited for a second something like the Silver Surfer was going to turn up, but no, it’s the newest member of the MCU, and by far the most over powered, Captain Marvel. She takes out the giant ship with ease. After more fighting, Thanos eventually gets the gauntlet back on his hand, and as he is about to snap, Carol is there again to stop him. There is an awesome moment when he head butts her, a tried and tested technique for dealing with avengers, but she doesn’t move an inch.

There’s another moment here when I was worried they was going to have her beat Thanos with ease, and that would have been a bit of an cheap victory for me. As it is, he grabs the power stone and punches her miles away. It isn’t going to be her. He puts the stone back in the glove, but Tony Stark is right there to try and stop him, grabbing onto the gauntlet seemingly trying to take it off. He doesn’t do it. Thanos throws him aside, says “I am Inevitable”, before snapping his fingers.

Thanos snapped, but he didn’t have the infinity stones, ya boy Tony Stark has them. He looks Thanos dead in the eye, and the final line we see Tony say in the MCU whilst alive is “I. Am. Iron Man.”. This moment is stupid. It’s about as subtle as a brick in the face. Its fan service at its most obvious. And it works completely perfectly because Marvel earned it. Eleven years ago Iron Man launched this franchise, a series of films that all led to this moment. To Tony Stark sacrificing his life to save everyone.

That sacrifice would be a fitting end, but the film then goes onto give another MCU stalwart a fitting send of in another way. Chris Evans made Captain America an interesting character, and as I said he has some incredible moments in this film. The end of this whole 11 year saga isn’t the death of Tony Stark, as emotionally fulfilling as that is. It’s the passing of the torch, or should I say Shield. The character of Steve Rogers has always been a man out of time, a man who doesn’t fit in the world. So once he has returned the Infinity stones to the times they got them back from, he doesn’t come back to the modern day. He goes back and gets that dance with Peggy, a call back to the final line of his own debut film.

None of this film really works without the other 21 films before it. 11 years ago Marvel stopped treating comic book movies like kids films, and decided to play the long game. The Dark Knight might be the greatest individual Superhero based film, but even that masterpiece can’t compete with the MCU anymore. This saga has surpassed anything in cinematic history. Last year it delivered the Empire Strikes Back for a new generation, with Thanos Winning. This year, it went beyond “Return of the Jedi” or even “Return of the King” and delivered the most satisfying end to a franchise ever.

What is even more incredible is that while this is a definite end to one story, it leaves the door wide open for countless more. It shouldn’t have been possible, but Marvel did it.

And they could do this all day.

Think that last line is too much? Yeah it felt like too much to me too.

SPOILER FREE – Avengers Endgame Review

10 years, 21 films, over 38 hours of cinema. All of that in an effort to set up one film. That film is Avengers Endgame and the fact this even exists is enough to put a smile on my face. Did Marvel actually manage to land this incredible, decade long journey?

It kind of goes without saying at this point, but you should not watch this film without doing your homework. Without the supporting 21 films, this really doesn’t work at all. However this film does have the 21 supporting films it needs to be able to tell the finale of a story its audience is completely invested in. Characters we have loved for 10 years, with nearly all the same actors in the roles (Terrence Howard must be kicking himself) allow this movie to forego with setting up the protagonists. Last year’s epic Infinity War set up Thanos, and paid off on the promise of his looming presence over 10 years with a simple snap of the fingers.

So, all the characters are people we know and love, allowing Endgame to just be all action three hour romp right? Well, no it doesn’t. Endgame starts quick, and then kind of slows down to a brisk walk as it sets up the events of the film. I am being as vague as I can, as there is so much that could be spoiled. The first two acts are a slow build, very much like a piece of music. It puts into place all the elements needed before breaking out into a breathtaking crescendo that lasts an hour and will make nerds happier than when they have their first child.

The actors we have watched for 10 years are all excellent. Chris Evans consistently portrays Steve Rogers perfectly, and believably, although he shouldn’t have shaved that beard. Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson are all great and all get their moments to shine in ways we haven’t necessarily seen before. Top of the performances for me though are split between 4 people. Robert Downey Jr is of course amazing as Tony Stark, he started all this and is maybe the most accurate casting in history.

Less expected, at least to me, was Paul Rudd as Ant Man, he is genuinely funny, and also seems to have that giddy excitement about being an Avenger. Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, and he is given more to do and a better arc than any of his previous outings. The biggest surprise of all though is Karen Gillan, as daughter of Thanos, Nebula. She has been an odd, very one note character throughout, but for some reason in this film I got it. The character makes sense more than she ever has during this film and she is slowly becoming more human the more time she spends around the heroes.

There isn’t much I can talk about in this spoiler free review, except to say that I was hooked for 3 hours, and I felt incredibly satisfied with the ending. This is much less like a film, and more like the finale of an epic TV series. One with 22 feature length episodes, and more characters that you care about than most TV shows. If you are a Marvel fan, you are in for a great end to the “Infinity Saga” that started 10 years ago. This is an impossible film that works, and pays off a decade of hype in a satisfying way.

Good: Marvel fans will adore this film, and it will bring some nerds to tears, whether that Joyous or Sad tears I will let you decide.

Bad: As a standalone movie watched on its own, it makes very little sense, but nobody should go into any franchise at episode 22.

9/10 – They did it. Again. 

 

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe – 5 – 1

With the culmination of 11 years of films coming next month in Avengers Endgame, I have decided to go through and really think about the films that got us here. I am going rank them in order of how much I enjoyed them all. This is the final 5, the top dogs, the MCU films I love the most. And later tonight, at midnight (the 24th at the time of posting this) I will be seeing the culmination of all of these films. So without further delay, here goes:

5 – Spiderman Homecoming

Spiderman coming back to Marvel felt like a big moment for the franchise. Civil War showed us him for the first time, and this film cemented his place in the MCU. Considering we had seen multiple Spiderman movies just a few years before his MCU introduction it’s amazing that this film doesn’t suffer from Spiderman fatigue. A big part of that is down to the change in tone,  Spidey’s age and the introduction of Iron Man into the film makes things feel fresh compared to the previous attempts.

Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 is considered by many to be the best Spiderman film we have seen. In my opinion, Homecoming is better than any Spiderman film we have ever had. Tom Holland as Peter Parker is perfect as a teenage spiderman, and one of my favourite part of the film is the interactions between Peter and his classmates, particularly Ned. Ned and Peters moments remind me of being a teenager with my mate.

The best part of this film, and why it’s so high on the list, is Michael Keaton. From Batman, to Birdman, to  Vulture, Keaton is excellent in this film. He delivers the best villain in the Marvel franchise since Loki in The Avengers. The reveal of the film is one of the few truly shocking moments I have experienced, and I remember hearing people genuinely gasp when Keaton opens the door to Peter.

4 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If i had to show someone completely new to the MCU one film as an example of how great their films can be, it would be The Winter Soldier. In my opinion it is the best standalone film in the entire franchise, and one of the best spy movies ever. It’s the MCU debut of the Russo Brothers, who went on to do Civil War, then Infinity War, and then Endgame. All of that is off the back of what they did in this film.

The film challenges the ideals that Captain America has always stood for. Everything he trusts is shattered and the reveals in this have huge ramifications in the wider MCU. All the espionage and twists are punctuated by some of the best action scenes in the MCU, starting with the opening scene on the boat. The Russo’s gave Cap a real sense of power over normal people, and the only equal in the film is The Winter Soldier himself.

Winter Soldier is a perfect example of the MCU diversifying the genres within the Marvel franchise. It compares with films like Skyfall and Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, and that in itself is a huge compliment. If I was being purely critical of every film in the MCU this is No.1, but im not, and this is my favourite list, so here we go into the top 3.

3 – Captain America: Civil War

This film is brilliant. It’s an avengers film wrapped up in a captain america bow, and it proved that the Russo’s could handle a huge cast and make it work, paving the way for infinity war. It’s also an incredibly fun movie, like a child smashing all of their favourite figures together. That being said, it felt like there was real weight behind the action, especially that final Iron Man V Cap & Bucky fight that is one of the best moments of the MCU as a whole.

It also boasts my personal favourite action scene in any film ever, the now famous Airplane fight. All of our heroes, bar Hulk and Thor but more on that duo in a minute, battling it out in a giant playground. Somehow every character has their moment, from titular hero Cap to newbie Black Panther. Ant-Man goes Gi-Ant, Vision nearly kills War Machine, and worlds collide when Spiderman makes a Star Wars reference.

Civil War felt like the MCU taking a step onto another level, and it’s up there with the best experiences I have had in a cinema. It is also the first time i felt you really had to have done your homework to enjoy a MCU film, with a lot of the previous films playing a heavy part on the events, with the Sokovia accords being a key plot point making Age of Ultron required viewing before you see it.

2 – Thor Ragnarok

This might just be the most rewatchable film in the MCU bar from number one on this list. Taika Waititi took a character I had grown bored of, and made him one of my favourite in the whole series of MCU films. Thor was a pretty one note guy, only for this film to give him a whole new dimension and an awesome new look. Chris Hemsworth looked good as long haired Thor, but short-haired Thor could steal the love of my life and I’d drive them round as a chauffeur.

On top of the transformation of Thor, Ragnarok also delivers the best Hulk movie to date. Having seen this film it seems obvious to pair up Hulk and Thor, but it wasn’t really something I was too excited for before the trailers. Once I had a glimpse of Ragnarok with the first trailer I was sure it would be decent at the very least. What we got was much more than that.

Ragnarok is a hilarious, action packed, exciting movie that keeps a smile on my face the entire time every time I watch it. That makes this one of my favourite films of all time, a mad claim for a film about Thor, especially off the other two films in Thor’s solo movie catalogue.

1 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1

Guardians of the Galaxy should not have worked. It is a movie set in space about a kidnapped human, a green woman who isn’t She-hulk, a clumsy brutish grey man, a talking racoon and a sentient tree. That alone is a ridiculous premise, before you add in a few blue aliens, one is part robot, one wears too much guy-liner, and one whistles to control a golden flying arrow.

It’s all a bit ridiculous, and somehow it works absolutely brilliantly. Right from the off, we are given a taste of exactly what to expect with Peter Quill dancing around to Redbones “Come and Get Your Love”. That scene is the first of several iconic moments. I saw this film 5 times in the cinema, a record matched only by Episode 7, a film that had over a decade of hype behind it. I saw this film repeatedly because it is so, so, SO entertaining.

Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t have characters I have known and loved for years. It is a completely new story to me, brilliantly written and cast perfectly. It turned Chris Pratt into the household name he is today, and brought Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling to a whole new generation. Guardians is the most fun I have ever had watching a movie multiple times. It doesn’t have the ramifications of Civil War or Winter Soldier, and it’s not got the iconic hero moments of the first Avengers, but out of the 20 films we have to date aside from Infinity War, it’s the MCU film I am most likely to watch at any given time.

So there it is,  I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoy most of the films on this list and ranking them was actually a lot of fun, and something I might do for Star Wars, Harry Potter and some other franchises in the future. Comment with your top 5 and see how we compare! Thanks for reading, Here is the full list.

20 – Thor: The Dark World

19 – Thor

18 – Iron Man 2

17 – Antman and the Wasp

16 – Captain America: First Avenger

15 – The Incredible Hulk

14 – Antman

13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

12 – Iron Man 3

11 – Black Panther

10 – Captain Marvel

9 – Doctor Strange

8 – Iron Man

7 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

6 – Avengers

5 – Spiderman Homecoming

4 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

3 – Captain America: Civil War

2 – Thor Ragnarok

1 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe – 10-6

With the culmination of 11 years of films coming next month in Avengers Endgame, I have decided to go through and really think about the films that got us here. I am going rank them in order of how much I enjoyed them all. This week we enter the top 10, down to number 6 on my list. So here goes…

10 – Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is a film you could show someone as a great example of an MCU film. It hits every beat you would want from a new character origin film, it has some really cool visual flair, some kick ass action and a fun character. It also has some great comedic moments, a clever plot twist that subverted my expectations, and it’s the first time we see a woman lead one of these films. I won’t go into the societal impact of the film, as that doesn’t play into my enjoyment, but it has all of that to it as well.

It’s not a perfect film, as I mentioned in my review a month ago, but that’s me reviewing the film completely critically and trying to tone down the fanboy side of me a little bit. When I watched Captain Marvel, I really enjoyed it from start to finish. The Skrulls are some of the best characters we have had so far, and Carol Danvers’ skill set takes the MCU into a whole new world of cosmically powered heroes.

This is a film that begins to set up the future of the Marvel Universe, and Brie Larson is going to be a big part of it. This film is a the best of the origin stories in this list so far, and it feels like the lessons Marvel Studios have learnt over the last 10 years were taken into account when making this film. That is why it just scrapes into the top ten over Black Panther, but they are really quite close in quality to me.

9 – Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is the only MCU film to date that I have seen at the BFI IMAX screen in london, and that experience really showed off this film’s spectacular effects and the range of colours. That visual style, with the introduction of the mystic arts to the MCU, makes Doctor Strange one of the most unusual looking films and characters in the entire franchise. Even in Infinity War and Ragnarok, the character is clearly a little different from the rest of the characters we have seen.

A big part of what makes this film work is the committed performance of lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch. The world of Doctor Strange is ridiculous, more so than any of the other parts of the Marvel Comics world. The phrases he has to utter, the hand movements, the names, everything is crazy. Cumberbatch initially reacts in a similar way to the audience, that all of this is madness. But as he begins to uncover the abilities he can possess the character dives into the world. This commitment to being this character and embracing this world makes the character of Doctor Strange compelling. I found myself invested in the film because of this performance.

The film appears as if it is going for the standard Marvel origin story, but the twist at the end is a surprise and thoroughly entertaining to watch. The villain is as good as you’d expect for a MCU origin film, but the twist takes it up a level for me. Doctor Strange is an example of the MCU in its stride, producing a very entertaining film.

8 – Iron Man

Here it is. The original. The starting point of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The introduction of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark is an important moment in cinema history, not just in super hero movies. This was the beginning of a series that has changed how we view franchise films now, and everyone is trying to build their own cinematic universe. Taking a B, arguably C list character in Iron Man and making him the first movie out of the gate is a very brave move, and one Marvel were forced into by the licensing issues with Xmen and Spiderman.

Honestly it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how they got right, and when you watch it now the villain is funny in ways he isn’t meant to be, and the combat is nothing on the current movies. But the current movies didn’t release in 2008, at the time this was mind-blowing. It was a believable, funny, good-hearted action movie with a charismatic, now iconic lead.

The decision to cast Downey Jr seems like a no brainer now, as we can’t imagine anyone else as Tony Stark. But at the time, he was not in Hollywood’s good books, and was slowly making his comeback. He absolutely nails the role, as he has continued to ever since, and the film that launched it all has a special place in every Marvel fans heart, including mine.

7 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

The first Guardians set up some excellent characters and a really cool world that everyone wanted to get back into that world. Guardians 2 gets us back in straight away, with a perfect opening action scene happening in the background of Baby Groot dancing to Mr Blue Sky. That sets the tone sets up the rest of the film. From there we just get more and more of the team together interacting and having fun on their adventures.

If it’s just more of the same then shouldn’t this be higher up on the list above its predecessor? Not for me, because it has a few more problems for me. There is a bit of a lull in the film when we get some very heavy exposition explained to us, and whilst all the talking in the guardians films is fun in its own way, this just puts it below the first one.

Guardians of the Galaxy are a special group in the MCU, as they are something completely different and are an example of how diverse the universe can be. We learn a lot about the origins of Star Lord and the emotional pay off at the end of the film is excellent and one of the few times in the MCU that we get a really emotional moment for the audience and the heroes.

6 –  Avengers

There was a long time when The Avengers was considered the gold standard in the MCU. It is the first time in history that four movies have crossed over in one epic event. Watching The Avengers blew my mind, I genuinely couldn’t believe they actually managed to make this work. We see six superhero characters team up, brought together by Nick Fury and we get more than our fair share of epic comic book moments, from the Hammer Vs Shield moment to the Hulk / Thor fight.

For many this still ranks as the top of the MCU, especially in a list without Infinity War. I have it at Number 6 but that is a reflection on the quality of the MCU, not the quality of Avengers.

This film took a bunch of B and C list characters, even the villain as Loki was an odd choice before we saw the film. Loki is of course excellent, and the interactions between the Avengers give us a glimpse of what is to come later in the MCU. Joss Whedon’s masterpiece is one of the most important films in history and has shown the world that the interlinked movie franchises can work very well.

Next week we have the top five, right in time for Avengers Endgame to hit cinemas next thursday.

20 – Thor: The Dark World

19 – Thor

18 – Iron Man 2

17 – Antman and the Wasp

16 – Captain America: First Avenger

15 – The Incredible Hulk

14 – Antman

13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

12 – Iron Man 3

11 – Black Panther

10 – Captain Marvel

9 – Doctor Strange

8 – Iron Man

7 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

6 – Avengers

Shazam! Review

DC step up to the plate just weeks before the next Avengers movie to try to remind the world they exist with Shazam!. He is a character i have a cursory knowledge of, but I don’t know his back story too well aside from the “Say Shazam! turn into a superhero” part of it. This films real attraction for me is Shazam himself, Zachary Levi. My all time favourite TV show is Chuck, the show he starred in as the title character. He is also Flynn Rider in my favourite new style Disney animated film, Tangled. Needless to say, I watched every trailer with slightly rose-tinted glasses, but once in the cinema, I put aside that love of his previous work to judge this film on its own merits. 

First of all, I have to say I am shocked at how much I enjoyed the teen actors in this film. All of them are great, and it follows on from my review last week of “Us” when I mentioned the rise of really great child and teen actors. The two main boys we follow, Billy Batson and Freddy, are funny, believable and as a result really entertaining throughout the film. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer should both be marked as talents to watch after their performances in those roles.

Shazam! tells the origin story of the character, and it does a really does a good job of setting up the world, giving us the rules of the world, and then letting the hero have fun within those rules. We see him gleefully testing out his powers and can see the visible childish excitement in his face when he learns of a new ability. This is all performed well by Zach Levi, whose childish side has always been a part of his work. Whether it’s entirely in line with the comics I’m not sure, as I know in the Injustice fighting video game he goes from 15 year old boy and transforms into a hero who is essentially a different person. Here it’s treated as if this is a straight body swap, and he still has the mind of a 15 year old boy.

This all leads to some really wholesome, friendly fun with him and Freddy. The chemistry between him and Billy/Shazam is the driving force of the movie, and that bond that is created between them as the film progresses is heartwarming to watch unfold. The bond he has by the end with the rest of his foster family is a little odd, as there aren’t many scenes with some of them, but I think that’s actually to the betterment of the film as a whole as I think Shazam! gets its runtime just about right. A few more scenes of interacting with the siblings might have made me check my watch a few times.

Changing focus from the good guys, Mark Strong plays antagonist Dr Sivana. A cool name, a typically evil villain, and one that Mark Strong commits to and is as good as the role allows him to be. I saw a clip of Dwayne Johnson talking about how this film was developed with Black Adam as the villain but he felt telling two origins in one movie was a bit too much and would end up being a disservice to one of the characters, so they decided to take Black Adam out and make their own movie starring The Rock. It turns out he was right, as I found myself disinterested by the origins of Sivana and despite Strong’s solid performance, I just didn’t find him particularly engaging.

In a weird way, Shazam reminded me of a Phase 1 Marvel movie. The hero is nailed perfectly, and the villain is a generic guy who ends up with very similar powers to the hero. Applying that Marvel template is no bad thing though, as it means Shazam feels like a really fun time and actually has some really fun actions scenes that beat anything we saw back in Phase 1 of the MCU. Whether Shazam! is a match for Aquaman or Wonder Woman is another question of course.

My answer to that question, is Yes. Shazam feels like the final part of a tonal shift in DC’s universe of films. This is a funny film, I genuinely laughed out loud at some parts, and that is a far cry from the shocked outrage I felt watching Batman V Superman in the cinema. DC are on a good run now, with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and now Shazam! all delivering really fun movies. If next years Affleck-free Batman movie can live up to these last few films, I think we might just have the makings of something really good for DC here.

Good: Teens are all great, Zach Levi is perfect for this kind of role, Some good laughs sprinkled throughout. One of the coolest moments in any film when he jumps off a roof and transforms.

Bad: Despite good acting, the villain was just a bit too unsubtle for me, and Shazam’s suit, whilst comic book accurate, just reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Turbo Man in Jingle All The Way.

7/10 I’m off to find out where I can re-watch Chuck for the 4th time. 

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe – 15 – 11

With the culmination of 11 years of films coming next month in Avengers Endgame, I have decided to go through and really think about the films that got us here. I am going rank them in order of how much I enjoyed them all. Doing all 20 films at once is madness, so this week I’m doing the films from 15 down to 11. So here goes…

15 – The Incredible Hulk

I think an Incredible Hulk film is one of the hardest characters to make a film about, let alone one that’s actually fun to watch. Louis Leterrier, someone who’s rather hot and cold when you look through his IMDB page, directed this film at a time when nobody it was linked in any way to Iron Man. A shared universe wasn’t something that even made sense to people outside of the comic book reading portion of the public. So to make a decent Hulk film and connect it to a wider universe is actually a very hard thing to do.

Incredible Hulk is by no means perfect, but I am not really sure it would have been possible to make a better Hulk movie in 2008. I actually think Eric Bana is really good in the role of Bruce Banner, and he gives it his all and takes it as seriously as Robert Downey Jr did in Iron Man that same year. The action, when it comes, is also quite well done. Now of course the action struggles to compare to the later films, and the next time we see the hulk is when Mark Ruffalo takes over in the first Avengers movie, so I think a lot of people have a somewhat low opinion of this film just because of time.

Tim Roth is arguably the only compelling villain in the opening phase of the MCU until Loki’s turn in The Avengers. His “Emil Blonsky” hs decent motivations, and is very entertaining when he’s on-screen. In the third act it falls into the trope marvel has set up of “Hero fights mirror of themselves in their first solo film” which we have seen countless times now, but this is actually a pretty fun fight. It’s like watching a fight on a video game, as the two hulking brutes smash-up the area around them. It’s an odd MCU film, in that it almost stands on its own separate from the MCU, and perhaps that different flavour is one reason I enjoy the film.

14 – Antman

Somehow Antman isn’t a joke of a film. It is the first time a Marvel film has gone for being a straight up comedy, with the action truly being a backseat. Antman plays out like a heist comedy, with a cast of characters who are all eccentric and entertaining revolving around the excellent and age defying Paul Rudd. He plays the straight man here, with the rest of the cast given license to lean into their characters oddities and it all comes together in a genuinely funny film.

Michael Douglas playing the mentor role is perfect, and the fact that an actor as lauded as Michael Douglas is in this film really adds some legitimacy to the Comic Book movie genre. He commits 100% to the role, and has done in every showing since. His chemistry with Paul Rudd is great, as is Rudd’s with Evangeline Lilly. The two have actual chemistry, something Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman simply did have not in their films which alone puts it above those on the list.

My favourite element of this whole film is the final fight, and that is why it’s at this spot above the films it’s above. Without the finale this is a decent film, with the same problems as any marvel origin film. The villain is ably acted by Corey Stoll but never particularly engaging, but the fight between him and our hero at the end is simply brilliant. The whole fight feels epic and huge, but it’s all taking place in a child’s bedroom. The creative ways they use this situation are hilarious and genius in equal measure.

13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Following the first Avengers film was always going to be difficult. What Joss Whedon did with this film I actually really enjoyed, but I think the expectations of fans to see something that surpassed that first film was too much. When you watch it now, in context of the MCU as we know it like one long TV series, and not as the sequel to the first Avengers, I think it’s a really solid entry.

Casting James Spader to voice Ultron is so perfect, and every scene with him in I really enjoy. I also think it gives us some great moments with the avengers all gathered around talking, relaxing with each other. That first confrontation with Ultron always sticks in my mind when I think of the great moments of the MCU. The third act and the use of quicksilver are a little odd in terms of story choice, but once you get over the ridiculousness of a super intelligent robots version of extinction being “Drop a big rock on earth”, it’s actually got some awesome hero moments.

I do think Joss Whedon struggled for too long trying to top the previous film, without focusing on just making this one its own story. The circling shot of all the original Avengers was the iconic moment of the MCU for a long time, and trying to recreate that as they did in this film felt a bit cheap to me. Those kind of moments are what make this film the lowest ranked “Team-up” movie on my list, but I still think Age of Ultron is a fun film to watch.

12 Iron Man 3

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an awesome movie. The Nice Guys is an awesome movie. Giving the man behind those films the wheel for an Iron Man film is a bold, but I think great move. Shane Black’s films all have his style on them, and Iron Man 3 is no different. This is the first time we see Tony Stark struggle, it’s the first time we see that the man inside the suit is affected by the events we see him fly, punch and blast his way through.

Iron Man 3 showing us Tony in a different light is brave, and so is having him blow up all of his suits. What I think treads right on the line of where brave storytelling becomes stupid decision is the whole Mandarin switch that they went with here. Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, is actually a good villain in this film, just he was not the one we was promised in the trailers. Going in we all expected to see the arrival of The Mandarin, Iron Man’s traditional foe. Instead Sir Ben Kingsley is used to portray an actor who is playing the role of the Mandarin for Aldrich Killian’s company.

I completely understand all the criticisms people have of this film, but for some reason I enjoy this film a lot, almost in spite of itself. I enjoy all of the action, I like the dynamic between Tony and the kid, and seeing our heroes struggling with the after effects of their heroics is a refreshing change from the norm. I know some people like their Tony Stark cocky, confident and in his Iron suit for most of the film. This is not that film, and I really like it for that reason.

11 – Black Panther

I have had to check several times over to make sure I have this right. Black Panther is an absolutely brilliant film. and it didn’t crack my top ten. I am sure it ranks higher for some people, but I ranked this list on which films I found the most enjoyable, memorable and told the best stories. For me, Black Panther tells a nice story about the origins of an insanely cool character, but it came after Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Those 3 films had a real feeling of fun, and I felt the MCU had struck an even tone in its films. Black Panther differs from that tone.

Chadwick Boseman is excellent as T’challa, playing it exactly how he should. The problem I have is that I don’t find him to be a particularly entertaining character. The supporting cast is all more interesting to me than the title character itself, including antagonist Killmonger. That antagonist plays a key role in making this essentially the perfect blueprint for a MCU origin movie. The key difference this film has is that I actually found myself agreeing with the villains ideals, just not his methods.

By the end of this film, so does T’challa, and he ends up doing that thing that Michael B Jordan’s character has been saying all along with his crusade. That different twist is very compelling and one of the better twists in the MCU. This all adds up to be one of the best MCU films from a technical perspective, and if I had brought in cultural impact into the equation I think this might be in the top 2 or 3. I am ranking on my own personal enjoyment, and for me the action didn’t quite hit and I didn’t laugh enough, and those two facets are what I love about the Marvel films.

So there we have it, the bottom 10 is complete, and goes as follows:

20 – Thor: The Dark World

19 – Thor

18 – Iron Man 2

17 – Antman and the Wasp

16 – Captain America: First Avenger

15 – The Incredible Hulk

14 – Antman

13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

12 – Iron Man 3

11 – Black Panther