Marvel-lous Endgame, but is the buzz gone?

I watched a YouTube video yesterday on John Campea’s channel where he discussed the potential that the excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe was drying up in a way. If you don’t know who he is, he is a movie & TV critic who used to run movie news shows and now does his own thing. His video is worth a watch if you’re interested in his take on it, but I won’t go into his video too much here. 

This will contain spoilers for all the MCU including Avengers Endgame & Spiderman Far from Home.

What I realised listening to the topic was that I agreed with the points being brought up about the future of the MCU. The recent announcements at D23 were interesting, but none of them really got me excited for the projects. Here is where the sporting analogies begin, it felt a lot like a fixture list being released for a football team. Each season fans eagerly wait for the fixtures to be announced before reading them and there is a universal acceptance that yep, we will all be watching them. That is what I felt watching the D23 Marvel panel. Yep, these are all films I will watch.

Contrast that with the Phase 3 announcements that unveiled all the films that led into Infinity War & Endgame. At the time it looked a little different to what we got, with Spiderman popping up and The Inhumans being bumped down to an Agents of Shield storyline, but the hype around it was incredible. I remember my jaw dropping when they revealed Civil War. I couldn’t believe that was happening so soon. In my mind back then, Civil War was the next big event to follow Infinity War. But there it was on screen, Captain America: Civil War.

That slate brought us to where we are right now, a Post-Endgame world. Endgame was an incredible experience, something never seen before and when we look back on the first 10 years of the MCU we will realise it is without doubt the greatest movie franchise ever. Sorry Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. If you combine all those movies, you have ten Star Wars films, three Lord of the Rings films, and eight Harry Potter films. That makes a total of twenty-one films which is still two less than the MCU has covered. Twenty-three connected films all combining in one epic finale which delivered on the years of set up.

Endgame was brilliant, but did it actually harm the future of the MCU? With the separation we now have from the film, I think it may well have. Endgame finished a few of our main characters stories, with Cap retiring as an old man and Tony Stark sacrificing himself. Those two were the pillars which the MCU stood upon. Civil War was a film about them two main pillars being divided, Endgame was them coming back together before leaving the MCU they had built to fend for itself.

In sports terms, Endgame for Marvel was like winning the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup in one season, or like winning the Superbowl. But in doing so they lost their best two players. What I think has been an unexpected and tough loss to take, is that their new star player they had to take over from the old guard has just left as well in contentious circumstances.

Regardless of what studio executives might say about “This was always a possibility” etcetera, I think it’s clear Spiderman was being positioned to be the new face of the MCU. They know exactly what they had with Tom Holland in the role, and they wanted to bring that front and centre with great supporting players like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Thor, Guardians and Doctor Strange. That stable of characters could carry the load while Spiderman becomes the leader of a new collection of characters. Now they are back where they were in 2008.

The current slate is full of characters I know very little about, but the MCU has proved prior knowledge means nothing and they can still make incredible films, for example let me present exhibit A, Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians came out at a time when we had the MCU stalwarts well in their stride, Cap and Iron Man were known around the world and any films connected to their MCU was a must see.  Shang-chi and Ms. Marvel aren’t doing that, they are coming out in the wake of what felt for a lot of people like the perfect end for the MCU. Spiderman Far from Home even felt like a perfect epilogue, showing the world in recovery and answering some of the questions.

Winning a Superbowl is hard. Losing your Key players before trying to do it again is even harder. Often, we see a team win a Superbowl and then struggle to reach the same level for a few years. In the Premier league, teams go in cycles, winning for a few years then rebuilding. But there are exceptions. The challenge for Marvel chief Kevin Feige is now to turn the MCU from a title winning team, into a dynasty. Think Tom Brady. Think Bill Belichick. Think Sir Alex Ferguson. They have built teams that win, and then keep winning.

I am not sure it’s even possible to do that in the entertainment industry, perhaps I didn’t sleep enough, and this makes no sense. But if it is possible to apply that analogy, I think the MCU may be the best position to do it. I wrote yesterday about DC, and how they are possibly able to take a shot at being the next big thing. I didn’t say that the reigning champion would give it up without a fight.

ChAzJS

 

The State of DC

Yesterday I saw a poster released for the upcoming “Birds of Prey” movie and was reminded that the film is a thing, and that DC’s Joker film isn’t the only project they have in the pipeline. On top of Birds of Prey, they have Wonder Woman 1984 and a reboot of sorts to the Suicide Squad franchise, with a Batman reboot somewhere as well. 

They have previously dropped Man of Steel, where they gave us an awesome Superman in Henry Cavill. The fact there was no real structure around his film to build a wider universe on didn’t put off the executives from wanting to have their own Cinematic Universe based on it, and the leaderless DCEU was born. Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League followed to varying degrees of success, before Shazam and Aquaman sort of steadied the ship by being very okay.

Crucially, they botched Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad was a colourful mess. Fun to look at but no real substance to it, DC had fumbled the ball. This was all happening in a time when Marvel was building towards Infinity war and in the same year as Justice League, released Guardians 2, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok.

If done right in with the state of pop culture today, Justice League should be the biggest film in the world. It should be earning billions. It earned $657 million. That’s on a hefty budget for both production and marketing, meaning they earned very little on their biggest film. for context, all three of the marvel films earned around $200 million more than that, on smaller budgets.

This sent Warner Bros and DC into a panic of green lighting and then cancelling and delaying and re organising and just generally in a tizzy trying to figure out what went wrong. Well I could write forever on what went wrong, and I probably will one day, but I am wondering if they’re finally organised, or if they are still spinning out of control.

They have Joker releasing in a few weeks’ time, and it appears it is going to be a critical darling and a huge success in terms of quality, Box office will probably be decent if not spectacular. I have written about that film enough; I am excited and hopefully is a sign of DC allowing the film makers they hire to take their properties and make something they want with them rather than the designed by committee feel Justice League had.

Following that we have Birds of Prey coming out next February, starring Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn. She was one of the better parts of Suicide Squad, and I am glad they kept a talent like her, but I have no idea what this film is. Harley Quinn without the joker took years in the comics, and here we have her already out on her own, with Jared Leto’s Joker nowhere to be seen from what I can tell. I am guessing a trailer isn’t far off, so perhaps by the next time I write I will have some idea what this film’s going to be. The lead is talented, and Ewan McGregor is in it as the antagonist, so the tools are there for a solid movie, I just have no idea what to expect.

Next June is the most hopeful I am for DC, as Wonder Woman 1984 hits theatres. The first film was good. Gal Gadot has been the shining light for DC and it seems like they’re positioning her at the centre of their universe, if there is still a universe. The poster for this film is a piece of art, and if the film can build on the success of the first, we could be on for a great film.

Beyond that, we have a Batman reboot. The reign of Batfleck is over, and to be honest I was disappointed Ben Affleck never got to show what he could do with the character in a solo film. He has immense talent for directing and acting, and I can’t help but feel it was a wasted opportunity not utilising those while they had him there. Robert Pattinson has taken on the mantle, and Matt Reeves is directing. Reeves directed the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, which were both fun and serious action films. That style and tone could translate well to a Batman flick, so here’s hoping for a return to form for the character.

After that there is a myriad of films slated, James Gunn is making a Suicide Squad movie, which sounds incredible quite frankly. What he did with Guardians of the Galaxy means I will watch anything he touches now. Shazam and Aquaman are both set for sequels, The Flash movie has been in development for years, The Rock was announced as playing Black Adam years ago but so far there’s been no sign of that, and then we have a potential Batgirl film. Oh, and a horror film called The Trench, based on the trench Aquaman dives down in his solo film.

All these individual films sound fun, what’s missing is any obvious connecting tissue. I am assuming that the plan is still to build a Universe that can eventually lead to another Justice League film. Right now, there is no team up movie to connect everything together in the pipeline, and maybe that is intentional. Perhaps they want to focus on the current slate and get each individual character’s film right before trying to bring them together. It was rushed before, that much is obvious, and in their haste to catch up to Marvel they tripped and fell on their faces.

I genuinely hope that all these upcoming films shock me and are brilliant, my fear is that so far, they haven’t made a single film that’s been there for me. They do have a chance now though, especially with Marvel having essentially capped off their MCU for the time being and will be focusing on new characters and ones we haven’t quite got the same connection to like Dr Strange. They’ve lost Iron Man and Cap, the heads of the MCU, and Spiderman is unlikely to be returning.

DC have all their toys, they have time, and they could step up and be the next big franchise. Here’s hoping they can get it right this time.

ChAzJS

 

Rocketman Review

Last year we got Queen, this year we get Elton John. Taron Egerton takes on the role, allegedly handpicked by Elton John himself. Could he follow in the footsteps of Remi Malek and smash this out of the park. Dexter Fletcher, the uncredited director of parts of Bohemian Rhapsody, and after what he did with that film, I was excited to see what he could do with this story. 

That is the end of the Bo-Rap comparisons for now, as I don’t want to discredit the film by just comparing it to another movie. Elton John’s story is one I knew of vaguely, but none of the details were clear to me. The film shows the pure talent of the musician, but also dives in deep to the core of the man. We see the highs and the lows, and it doesn’t pull any punches.

Getting the right actor to be Elton was always going to be the element that would make or break this film, and I have to say that Taron Egerton absolutely smashes this role. He becomes Elton for the duration of the film, and he shows he can carry a film and deliver on the emotional moments that are scattered through the film. On top of that, he has the voice and physical ability to carry off all the singing and dancing this film throws at him.

That brings me to the most fun element of Rocketman, the music. I went in expecting some of the biggest hits and a few concert recreations, but that is not what Rocketman delivers. This is a full-on musical, just with world famous songs that are positioned at the perfect times to fit the story. If you watched the film with no idea of Elton John or his music, you could easily think the music was created originally for this film. “Saturday Night Alright for Fighting” to “Your Song”, a big handful of Elton’s best-known music is served up.

The music punctuates key scenes, and for me worked at its best when it functioned as the exclamation point on key scenes. The other interesting use that may not work for everyone, is the use of his songs to stop the audience dwelling on any of the lower moments. We see Elton hit rock bottom, the lowest he could go, and it leads into a rendition of the title song. The way the song is filmed and performed, it worked perfectly for me and kept the movie from feeling too heavy at any time.

So far, it’s all been about Elton in this review, but whilst he is of course the main character, we do get some really good work from the supporting cast. His mum played by Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent as is his co-writer and best friend Bernie, played by Jamie Bell. Both have key roles in the film and share the stage with Egerton without ever outshining him, although I am not sure that would have been possible in this film.

The other major character in the film is John Reid, Elton’s manager and lover. He is played by Richard Madden, who does well in the role but the character itself is the main flaw in the film for me. Whilst the music numbers are fantastical and dreamlike, all the character moments between them felt real. As the film progresses John Reid goes from slightly manipulative to being full on moustache twirling evil. I felt he became a bit too cartoonish by the end of the film and that is a real shame as that is pretty much the only element of this film I didn’t enjoy.

Rocketman delivers on the potential the story has and is an incredibly fun time in the cinema. A brilliant performance by Egerton, that for me outdoes even Remi Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, is one of many reasons to go and see this film. Unless you hate Elton John’s music, you will have a great time watching this.

Good:  Taron Egerton’s performance may be the best in 2019, Musical numbers that will have your feet tapping and a smile on your face and will leave you with a new appreciation for Elton John.

Bad: I found one character a bit too over the top evil, and that is the only real knock I can have. Oh and no Circle of Life. Come on.

9.5/10 – Leaves you feeling like a little kid. 

 

 

Aladdin (2019) Review

I am back after a few weeks off writing other things (maybe one day you will see what) and to get me back in the saddle I had a choice of John Wick 3, Rocketman, Brightburn or Aladdin. As you can tell from the title of this post, I went for the re-imagined Disney classic. My memories of the original Animated Aladdin are a little hazy, but A Whole New World is a certified banger and you all know the words, and that alone puts it high on the list of all time Disney movies. 

Of course a huge part of the animated film was the Genie, brought to life by great animation and arguably the greatest comedic voice acting performance ever given by Robin Williams. I think a major concern everyone has with the new Aladdin is that Will Smith, even with all his charisma, couldn’t possibly be up to that historic performance. I am so glad to report that he gives a brilliant performance as the Genie, and does it completely in his own way. Much like the 1992 Genie was a vehicle for Robin Williams’ improvisational personality, this 2019 Genie is gives Will Smith the same platform for letting his own brand of entertainment ensue.

I’ve started with the Genie because he is a huge part of the film, and every scene with him in he owns the screen and you could watch him having fun with his unlimited powers all day. Smith shows that the Genie isn’t a character who can only be played by Robin Williams, just that it’s a character that needs to be played by someone with a huge personality and Will Smith certainly brings that in spades. As entertaining as he is, he is by no means the only star in the show.

As a complete newcomer to my eyes, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Mena Massoud in the title role. He is great casting for Aladdin, and he plays the role with the right amount of cheek and wit. Him and his monkey Abu have a somewhat believable bond, even if the monkey does seem a little too smart at times. I found it hard to have any real problems with him though and there was enough chemistry for me to buy into the budding romance between him and Jasmine.

Power Rangers star Naomi Scott plays Princess Jasmine, and I personally liked a few of the new choices they made with the character this time round. Her desire to be a good ruler for the people is a little bit heavy handed at times but I liked the idea they were going for. The new solo song “Speechless” is heavy handed in a lot of ways but again, I appreciated the message even if it was hammered home a bit too much. Outside of the singing, I think she did a great job playing the princess as a strong character, with her own ambitions beyond just the love of a prince.

I like all of the protagonists a lot, and I wish I could say the same for antagonist Jafar. Marwan Kenzari is fine in the role, but he did become a bit too over the top at times, and he didn’t bring that menacing presence I was hoping for from the character. This kind of makes some parts of the film, mainly the scenes involving Jafar being intimidating, fell a bit flat for me. His sidekick Iago always felt like an evil version of Zazu in Lion King in the animated version, but here he is a relegated to just being a super intelligent parrot, similar to the role Abu plays for Aladdin.

Aladdin doesn’t break any new ground beyond a few lines of Jasmine’s dialogue, and in terms of the plot there is nothing new. If you have seen the ’92 film, you know what is going to happen. The enjoyment I derived from this was seeing a new vision of that story, with a new genie and for me it was a really entertaining film. To some, this film could feel like nothing more than a well funded tribute act, but for me it was like a great band did an awesome cover. This is the movie equivalent of the Fall Out Boy cover of Michael Jackson’s hit Beat It. It’s not the original, but it’s pretty damn good, and you can sing along to every word.

Good: Will Smith crushes it as the Genie, Great breakout performances from the two leads, and the songs are brilliant.

Bad: Jafar underwhelmed me, and if you have recently watched the ’92 Aladdin, it may well give you Déjà Vu.

8/10 – Not a whole new world, but an entertaining one. 

Us Review

After flirting for a couple of months now I think it’s time to talk about Us. I just feel like our relationship is ready to go to the next level and if that is something you’re interested in lets talk. If not, here is a review of the new movie from Get Out director Jordan Peele. 

My apologies for that terrible joke of an intro.

So Us’ looks like a really interesting film with several elements that intrigue me. I am not really a horror guy, and I will go into why as I review this. Jordan Peele’s first effort with Get Out is one of my top rated horror/thrillers I have ever seen. Therefore going into this I was excited to see how Peele followed up his breakout success.

From the trailers Us looks like a straight up horror, but in reality it’s a lot more of an amalgamation of different types of films. Primarily it is a horror film and those beats are the parts that I don’t particularly think did much for the film. The horror genre frustrates me when it relies on the protagonists making nonsensical decisions, and there was several moments in Get Out that really had me asking “Why on earth would anyone do this?”. That is my biggest gripe with Horror as a genre, as it takes me out of the film when you know the only motivation the character had for their actions is because it had to happen to serve the story.

For me the actions of the characters should inform the story, not the other way round. Of course the film would have been a lot shorter and much less dramatic had the characters just driven off, but I think that is down to the writers to come up with a more compelling, realistic version that feels natural for why characters choose to do things.

That element aside though, I think Us does a lot right. The slasher/action elements are fun, and we don’t ever get to the torture porn realm I was kind of nervous we might get to when scissors are being brought out left right and centre. The tension is palpable when the action kicks in, even if the slightly comedic tone that kicks in halfway through the movie does destroy some of that. That comedic note is supplied by Winston Duke, who plays an upbeat dad, and one who somehow doesn’t get too flustered by any of the events happening. He sees some horrific stuff, and kind of takes it in his stride, much easier than the rest of the family.

The two kids are played by two talented child actors. I don’t know what has sparked the recent trend of child actors being really good, but these follow in the footsteps of the Stranger Things cast in being endearing, whilst also playing their twisted doppelgänger counterparts just as well. To take on the dual sided roles they are given here is a real show of talent and I hope these kids stick in the industry and continue to grow.

The family is all good in their roles but head and shoulders above everyone is Lupita Nyong’o. She has been excellent in all of her work to date, and continues to shine here. Easily portraying the creepiest member of the doppelgänger family, she also hits it out of the park as the haunted mother whose traumatic childhood weighs heavy on the film’s plot. Seeing her as the villain really made me wish Star Wars didn’t waste her as the orange Maz Kanata, as she’d have been an incredible Sith. Although I guess that could still happen… Please do it Disney CEO Bob Iger, I know you’re reading this.

As I mentioned earlier with the comedic shift, the tone doesn’t shift and stay there. Throughout the film the tone evolves, and this is where director Jordan Peele shows his skill. The film doesn’t feel out-of-place as a horror, a slasher, a horror comedy, or a thrilling chase film. Everything is blended well and that takes a lot of filmmaking skill, it’s a trick that Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw didn’t manage to pull off as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

Us is a pretty entertaining, very well acted movie that, for me, was let down by the horror elements. Each character has a moment where they fall into a horror cliché which to me just doesn’t work. I think big fans of the Horror genre will get a real kick out of this, but those choices kind of wasted what I think is a very intriguing premise. The Doppelganger’s origin is something I would have loved to have been shown more of, but that would have changed the film into a thriller/mystery and probably led to the horror elements melting away. Us is decent, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Good: Excellent performances all round, intriguing premise and some good characters that could withstand the tonal shifts.

Bad: Horror elements just fell completely flat for me, and characters make choices that nobody would ever make.

6/10 – Horror fans will love it a lot, I am not a horror fan.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review

What We Do In The Shadows is a 2014 mockumentary directed and starring Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi.  It was mentioned a lot during the press events for Thor Ragnarok and touted as a big reason he got given the Thor Ragnarok chair. I went back and watched to see if the film holds up. 

Shadows is essentially Taika Waititi’s sense of humour put onto film. The comedic style of Thor Ragnarok is clear to see, with the documentary style serving as a great framing device for the New Zealand native’s excellent writing. Him and co-writer Jemaine Clement also star in the film, and whilst the acting is nothing special, their comedic sense gets them by and their timing is great throughout.

The film is unabashedly weird, and it may be a little too odd for some audience members. The weirdness is contrasted by the realistic lens that Shadows is shot with, the camera work and effects complimenting each other to keep you engaged with the film. Some of the camera work is really clever, and shows how a lack of budget can be worked with to create some really great moments that a larger budget would have solved with throwing money at a special effects team. I like seeing films do this stuff, and really appreciate the ingenuity required to make a low-budget film look this good.

The jokes have a pretty high success rate, although there were a few duds for me. Sometimes the jokes are a little forced, but that’s really in the minority. For the most part I at least smiled to myself and a couple of times I laughed out loud. This is Waititi’s humour at its raw,  unfiltered. Ragnarok showed us his refined, sharpened wit and his writing has only improved over the last few years. What We Do In The Shadows has some really well written jokes and set ups that pay off in entertaining ways, and that ability to find something entertaining in nearly all situations is one of the reasons Marvel went after the filmmaker.

Mock documentary films rarely move the needle for me, as I find it hard to connect with the characters and the jokes sometimes feel a bit forced. However, as I learnt shows like The US Office and Parks and Recreation, when they’re executed well, they’re brilliant. What we do in the shadows is the first film I have watched that really got me invested since the uniquely flavoured Borat in 2006. This film isn’t nearly as politically incorrect (nothing really is compared to Borat) but it does the same job of introducing outlandish characters and putting them in funny situations.

I haven’t watch Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani parody for a long time, but I can’t imagine it holds up terribly well today. What We Do In The Shadows does hold up from 5 years ago, and I think it has the right ingredients to stand the test of time. What is certain is that Taika Waititi is on the up, with clear improvements in his directorial skills as well as his writing from this to Thor Ragnarok. All that means I can’t wait to see what comes next from the Kiwi, and I hope he can stay on this trajectory.

Good: Brilliant writing, outlandish and fun characters, Stu is a great guy, and the filmmaking skills used to get the most out of the budget are great.

Bad: The acting isn’t the best, and there are a few flat jokes. May be a bit weird for some audiences.

8/10 – What Will Taika Do Next?

Fighting With My Family Review

The world of wrestling was a source of much entertainment for me as a child during the early 2000s. I had the likes of the Rock, Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels and Triple H in their prime and I was absorbed by the stories they were telling. Towards the end of my time following the WWE, I enjoyed the rise of John Cena, Kurt Angle was a big star and Batista was an absolute animal. What’s missing from this troop of names? The females of the WWE. I do not follow it much now except for an annual WrestleMania viewing, but I have heard over the last few years that the Women’s division is the new hot thing in the industry, and not just because of Scantily clad women.

Fighting With My Family tells the true story of WWE Star Paige, delving into the trials she endured on her journey from her English wrestling family to the top of the WWE world. Starring a few unknown actors alongside a couple of familiar faces, this is a film focused very much on Paige’s journey, with the subplot of her families various struggles along the way. Writer and first time Director Stephen Merchant is behind the camera, and as a fan of his work, particularly The Office, so I was looking forward to a witty, cleverly funny script and intrigued by the storytelling ability of Merchant as a director.

Merchant’s first effort behind the camera is excellent, directing the actors brilliant and getting some great performances out of the main cast. Florence Pugh stars as Paige, real name Saraya Knight, giving a performance full of heart and embodies the character well. She’s likable enough to get us on side at the same time as being clearly a bit of a social outcast. You feel like part of her journey and that goes down to both the actress and the direction of Stephen Merchant to get the audience invested in the film.

The other stand out for me is Jack Lowden as Saraya’s brother Zak. His journey is arguably even tougher for him to deal with than his sister’s, and again I felt invested and connected with the struggles he was going through. These two characters act as the heart and soul of the movie, both sharing the first act equally before the movie focuses on Saraya’s journey. Lowden shows a wide range in this performance, with highs and lows being engaging moments.

The side characters of the film include the parents and the WWE coach. First off Nick Frost is funny in his role as the father of the siblings, but I felt he struggled a little to live up to the performances around him in the more emotional scenes. Lena Headey is transformed in the role, with her unrecognisable when compared with the sinister Cercei she plays in Game of Thrones. She is almost the opposite of Frost, thriving in the dramatic scenes and none of her funnier lines really hit me how they should have. Vince Vaughan is the best of the three for me, displaying a blend of the serious acting with his comedic timing that I felt matched the tone of the film just right.

The rise to stardom of Paige is an interesting story to have picked, as even in the film its established as being a reasonably common path. Dwayne Johnson, the biggest star the WWE has produced when it comes to branching outside of the ring, hints at having a similar story himself in this very movie. Whilst it’s easy to appreciate the look at the journey, I don’t necessarily think there is anything shocking or unusual about this story, making it a little bit predictable even if you didn’t know the details beforehand. This wrestlers life after the end of this movie has more drama and twists than the story this film tells, both in the ring and outside of it.

Fighting With My Family delivers a thoroughly entertaining insight into the world of professional wrestling and the hard work required to make it to the top of the chain. The comedic touches of Stephen Merchant really bring the film together. Without those it would have been a solid film, but with them it’s a really good one. Boasting some top performances and a healthy side dish of Dwayne Johnson being himself, Fighting With My Family is a great time.

Good: Excellent performances, well-directed, and some good laughs make this an all rounder of a film.

Bad: Has a predictable and not particularly remarkable story for the wrestling world.

8/10 – Fun for the whole family.