Marvel Cinematic Universe

Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)

Spiderman: Homecoming marks the third incarnation of the character after Sony have finally allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have their wicked way. Another sign that the MCU is showing no signs of releasing the stranglehold it currently holds over Hollywood.

I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s imagining of Spiderman with Tobey Maguire at the helm and disliked Andrew Garfield’s take on the character in the rebooted follow-up. After his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland gets his own standalone adventure in the MCU canon.

Tom Holland’s casting does bring about the youth and innocence that the character of Spiderman was missing in the previous films, and the film itself accentuates this as he tries to harness his own powers for good. This is all but helped by his interactions with Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Tony Stark. (Robert Downey Jr.) (yes, Ironman makes yet another appearance in a Marvel film, bore)

But rather than having Ironman as the knight in red armour coming to save the day, he takes on the mantle of the father figure mentoring Peter Parker and goads him into becoming the neighbourhood friendly spider. And that is where we find Tom Holland as Spiderman, some time has passed since the events of Civil War took place and he’s vying for the next superhero call-up.

That is until he stumbles onto the weapons being harnessed from Alien technology by The Vulture (Michael Keaton playing a different kind of Birdman) and his cronies. And suddenly (and unsurprisingly) Spiderman: Homecoming falls into the framework that has been used time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fair bit lighter than the previous Marvel ventures due to the youth, innocence and amateur-hour display from Peter Parker, but its does follow the pattern that is expected.

What has also become a staple for the Marvel Universe is the use of comedy throughout the film, and that is channelled through Ned (Jacob Batalon). Again it is a very over-egged choice of comedy, but for some reason with Spiderman: Homecoming it worked. Ned channelled the Michael Pena-esque Luis from Ant-Man, continually talking and just being hilarious with his quips.

Michael Keaton’s hard done-by Vulture character was really intriguing, especially with his backstory and how neatly the narrative fits in together. But he does rip and tears through everything Spiderman throws at him, but ultimately as it’s a Marvel films you know what is going to happen. Jon Watts did do a masterful job of building tension though between Keaton and Holland during that scene.

Spiderman: Homecoming is a largely enjoyable film in the cinema, but afterwards it becomes largely forgettable one as I’m struggling now to find memorable areas within the film. (aside from that tense scene with Keaton) What it boils down to is a coming-of-age story, especially with the Tony Stark father figure shooting him down. But the believability of this coming-of-age story weighs on Tom Holland’s shoulders. Which does work as he does struggle to find the right way to go about stopping the baddies and does mess up but it’s all with the hope of doing the right thing.

Jon Watts’ reimagining of Spiderman for the Marvel Universe was a fun way to spend the best part of two hours plus, but don’t forget the film itself is less than memorable after you’ve left the cinema. That tense scene between Michael Keaton and Tom Holland was absolute genius but is that the only take away I got? Yes, yes it is. If you’re a big fan of the overconsumption that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll probably take more away than I did, but nonetheless, it’s decent enough for a Spiderman film, definitely better than the Andrew Garfield lot.

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Wonder Woman (2017)

As DC tries to combat the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, they have begun by building towards the Justice League film. In the meantime, we are treated to their standalone backstories. Wonder Woman is the latest film to get the treatment with Gal Gadot returning as the legendary Amazonian.

What I have recently disliked about the comic book movies is that they all seem to be using the same framework. (mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe) But what is more enjoyable about the DC Cinematic Universe is the darker and grittier undertones they have taken, which was present in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman even though the latter wasn’t as enjoyable.

Wonder Woman is continuing this trend, but referencing the picture that was seen in Batman vs Superman with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) herself stood with four men during World War One. Before Wonder Woman leaps into how Diana found herself there, they divulge in the backstory and the mysterious land of Themyscira, home of the Amazons.

What was great about Patty Jenkins’ interpretation of this story was that there was enough in the narrative to allow for the audience to interpret things themselves, something that has been missing in my recent cinema outings. And there was some gorgeous graphics in the opening sequence as Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) reveals the origin of the Amazon race and of the battle between Zeus and Ares.

Zeus cast out Ares, and hid the Amazons from the world until Ares rises again. The rest of the Amazons and Diana train on the beautifully landscaped island of Themyscira away from the worlds view. That is all until Steve Travers (Chris Pine) crash lands on their private island.

And this is where the film really picks up the pace as Gal Gadot and Chris Pine come into their own as characters. Gal Gadot becomes the focal point of her scenes as Diana believes that the atrocities of war are at the hand of Ares, the God of war. Although he has found a new form in the body of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as his sidekick Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) concocts a poisonous gas capable of killing everyone. Diana forces Travers hand in taking her to front line to help the war effort and she just looks fantastic whilst doing it.

It has to be said though that she isn’t objectified in anyway, she rather manifests Wonder Woman as a character in such a way that she is incredibly strong and rather independent, especially as she continually defies her mother and Steve. With Batman v Superman the film felt long, Wonder Woman on the other hand doesn’t. This could down to the enjoyment of the characters and the narrative actually being enjoyable instead of the usual cut and paste method Marvel and DC films are currently using.

As I mentioned, the DC Universe films like to be grittier and Wonder Woman has majority of the film centred around World War One. Patty Jenkins effectively manages to instil the atrocities of war and it really works from the dirt of the Belgian trenches to the empty celebrations of a victory for one evening.

My only grief is the overbearing music that is used. The musical cues aren’t established very well, as it clearly tries to evoke emotions at the correct times and at times this took me out of the picture and made the enjoyment considerably less-so.

Gal Gadot is truly a wonder as the titular character as the film progresses into it’s climax. The final third of the film looks as though it is going to enter the realms of similarity as with previous comic book films, it still tiptoes on those, but doesn’t dive head first into it. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is electric, especially as Jenkins’ captures Steve Travers occasionally glancing at Diana with astonishment at her beauty, but not in that objectifying way that I mentioned earlier.

Just as I thought I was losing patience with comic book adaptations, Wonder Woman comes along and manages to give some life into a merciless machine. I realised after coming out of the cinema that Wonder Woman tried something new, it left the comedy (that has become a staple point for comic book films now) to a minimum and perfectly integrated it into the film. This worked and garnered appropriate laughs when needed, but on a whole, Wonder Woman was an enjoyable and terrific watch and this has to be down to the enjoyable narrative and brilliant characters that can be connected with.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

One of the biggest surprises of cinema happened in 2014 with Guardians of the Galaxy. No one anticipated the buzz that happened and it was the marvel film on everybody’s list. Fast forward three years and we have the sequel to the very popular first instalment, with the promise of being bigger and better.

Chris Pratt and the gang ignited the screen with the hapless group saving the galaxy from the ferocious Ronan in the first instalment. This time they are back, some months down the line acting as mercenaries. One of the biggest enjoyments of the first instalment was the soundtrack of 80s forgotten tracks, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is no different opening the screen with Mr. Blue Sky and Baby Groot (Still voiced by Vin Diesel) dancing round whilst chaos is happening behind him.

It’s unsurprising that after the success and enjoyment of the first instalment that the director and writer James Gunn returned to direct the sequel. And it quickly falls into the similar sort of framework that has become synonymous with Marvel films.

It is also unsurprising that the film goes full swing with the comedy, with Baby Groot, Drax’s (Dave Bautista) forwardness and the awkwardness of Peter’s (Chris Pratt) mannerisms to Gamora. (Zoe Saldana) The trouble here is that because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is trying ridiculously hard to replicate the success that the first one had, the jokes begin missing rather than landing.

And unfortunately the problems continued. It did not seem to know which direction it wanted to head for the narrative and was pulled in four or five different directions. Between the mashing of the multitude of stories in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 there was the clear theme of family, but I felt as though this was lost between the constant chopping and changing between the narrative.

Not to mention that some of the stories are more intriguing than the others, including the relationship that blossoms between Yondue and Peter throughout the + two hour runtime but also former antagonists joining the ranks of the Guardians made for an intriguing change of pace, but something that was quickly cast aside.

One of the biggest things that was going to be anticipated in this film was the soundtrack. After the roaring success of the previous one, this one had to live up to the expectation. And it did to a large degree, as it included some forgotten hits, including Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, which was brilliant, but wasn’t as toe-tappingly infectious as the first soundtrack. Alas, this could be down to the huge expectation on its shoulders.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 quickly fell into that feel the first one had, as the actors are reprising their roles but as the emphasis seemed to be on the gags rather than the story. It was missing that chemistry I felt was present in the first instalment. I did welcome Kurt Russell’s Ego, though as he was the most charismatic of all during his screen time.

Although there was the ‘main’ overarching story that guided the film to it’s natural climax, I felt myself waiting for it to end. Alas, I felt largely underwhelmed when it came to the credits and post-credits stings laced throughout the names. I knew it would be difficult to live up to the expectation, as the first instalment was such a surprise, whereas this one had the buzz leading up to it’s release. If the film had garnered a relatively straightforward story without the intermittent blasts of other stories, it could’ve been a whole lot shorter, and probably a whole lot more enjoyable.

For me, it seemed as though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was trying to live up to the expectations that had been set by it’s cooler and better older brother. It worked largely as a film, but I could not help the underwhelming feeling I had. The action sequences were great and exciting, but laced with needless comedy. James Gunn seemed to have overindulged us with the comedy, which is just carrying on the now-unsurprising framework that has been set by the previous Marvel films.

Logan (2017)

Wolverine has been the character from the X-Men to receive the most action, from his early days in X-Men to his own trio of spinoffs and of course Hugh Jackman returns to the character we are all so familiar with. However Logan takes on a different task, as it is seemingly set in a not so mutant-friendly world.

What is different to the Wolverine we all know and enjoy, is that he looks incredibly dishevelled, covered with cards and to some extent, broken. But it’s still the same old character as he gets locked into a battle with some Mexicans trying to steal the lug nuts of his car. Thinking we would be treading familiar ground with this battle, I was shocked as Wolverine’s claws slash through one of the unsuspecting Mexican arms, and before one can even process this, someone else’s head is pierced with the same claws.

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My favourite superhero franchise has always been the X-Men Universe and this still holds true with the never-ending onslaughts of films by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ugh). The X-Men Universe housed some of the better heroes and villains during its seventeen-year franchise, but never exhibited this grotesque violence that was appearing on the screen.

But it was just so great.

You can almost feel the weariness of Hugh Jackman’s new-look Wolverine, as he cannot keep up with the speed of battle like he used to. But what becomes clear is that he also taking longer to heal as he pops out shell casings in a truck stop bathroom and wipes the pus from his knuckles. Part of this comes down to Jackman giving one of his better performances. We all know him as The Wolverine, but Logan is the first film since X2 that I’ve been impressed by the character.

As I mentioned previously, my thoughts are that the X-Men Universe has always housed the greatest villains, like Magneto and Brian Cox’s William Stryker. Logan keeps up this trend, as the antagonist is one of the most intriguing, hate-inducing and cocky characters I’ve seen recently. Boyd Holbrook is definitely in his element as Donald Peirce, the man intent on catching X23, or better known as Laura (Dafne Keen).

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The trailers seemed to ruin the big reveal of Laura and her use in the story, which was a shame, as I would have preferred the surprise that would’ve come with it. Her character is really enjoyable and the chemistry that she has with Wolverine/Hugh Jackman is just fantastic, as they become enjoyable to watch interact with each other.

James Mangold managed to take the film in a very different and intriguing direction over the two hours or so that the film was running for. Aside from the upping in the ratings of the film, it is a visceral and haunting look into our beloved hero Wolverine slowly dying before our very eyes. The method that he took the narrative in was not ground breaking, but the characters that he filled the story with were the perfect, without shoving anyone’s character into too much exposure.

Although the basis of the narrative was not very inventive, it was still laced with a couple of well-crafted twists including ones that were ruined by the trailers and ones that were not. Mangold managed to take this film and place it in this surreal future (as it was set in 2029) but leave you with enough intrigue about the past events. I wouldn’t say Logan needs required viewing of the previous instalments of his spinoffs, but it would help as it gives you more of a feel of the characters in terms of Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X.

In amongst the rip-roaring action that unfolds in Logan (which is just superb) Mangold managed to create this surreal future with some beautiful shots of Mexico, making the world seem as though it has become a barren wasteland, echoing the word from Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not often an out-and-out action has the ability to use stunning visuals and create an intriguing storyline that in some instances you really can become wrapped up in.

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Logan is a really enjoyable film, which doesn’t lean too heavily on the comics I felt (but then I don’t actually read them) but rather embraces the violent nature of Wolverine, especially in that first scene. In parts I thought it began to drag it’s feet through the two-hour viewing time, but the enjoyment of the characters mixed in with a few plot twists made me forget those parts quickly.

Mangold has managed to create something that hasn’t previously been attempted in the X-Men Universe and for my money it worked every step of the way. It’s grotesque use of violence was perfect and fitting for this aging veteran, but the antagonists worked perfectly as well. If you’re a fan of Wolverine films and X-Men in general, then this is the perfect film as you see Wolverine is all his glory, but also not so much in all his glory. It’s almost as if he’s human. Almost.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Due to the overconsumption of films from the war waged between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe, I wasn’t that bothered when Suicide Squad was first announced. Less bothered when Will Smith was heading the charge. Then the temptation grew with cast photos of Jared Leto’s Joker and Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress.

Villainous characters have always been my favourite when it comes to cinema, as they have to more interesting story rather then the standard framework of the typical ‘hero’. A film about Anti-Heroes banding together to save the day? Fantastic. Sounds right up my street. What could possibly go wrong?

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Suicide Squad plot takes place shortly after the events of the Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) begins to formulate her plan to bring together the baddest of the bad in the war against the ‘metahumans’. Each character is then introduced including their rap sheets with little background, other than Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. 

It’s clear who the studio wanted to run with.

Deadshot and Harley Quinn are made to team up with Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewake Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) as an expendable task-force. Although it’s not that basic, there is an intertwined hatred of The Batman (Ben Affleck cameos) and the Harley Quinn/Joker love story happening. Amanda Waller’s grand scheme goes a bit pear shaped when the Enchantress (Dr. June Moore played by Cara Delevingne) escapes from the clutches of the watchful bodyguard and lover Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and starts to reek havoc on Midway City. Hence the expendable crew.

Jared Leto’s Joker was probably the most intriguing character throughout the film. Decked head to toe in the finest clothes and flashiest jewellery, his shrill laughter striking the very soul. His relationship with Harley ventured on an intriguing backstory and teased just enough of it to keep the hope alive that Suicide Squad’s narrative may get interestingbut unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

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For me, the problems really lay with the narrative and the characters trying to band together, only witnessing chemistry from the very dysfunctional relationship between Robbie and Leto. (I would really enjoy a spin-off exploring this) Suicide Squad’s narrative seemed to have an abundance of anticipation and build up, for a very meagre finale. Played out correctly, this could’ve been the best finale to date as it had the flashy sequence to go with it, just not the narrative, as the villains plan is only brief shown and discussed for a matter of seconds.

One noticeable difference between the two franchises (Marvel & DC) is the comedic value that is taken away from the two films. Marvel is miles ahead in the comic relief, but DC makes up for the lack of comedy with the grittiness shown in it’s film, most noticeably as the grizzled Batfleck is very rough around the edges. However, Jai Courtney provides that comic relief as he doesn’t offer much else than a boomerang, a pink unicorn and a drinking problem.

Careful now, there may be spoilers up ahead. 

Although it sounds like I’m slating the narrative, parts of it worked for me. The Witch or Enchantress worked for me as a character, including her background and her relationship with Dr. June Moore, but I feel it wasn’t used to it’s full potential, much like the rest of Suicide Squad. El Diablo didn’t have nearly enough hype surrounding his character considering he probably was more impactful than the rest of the team. I really would’ve being interested in a narrative involving his character more.

As the film ran it’s course, it occurred to me that I did not care for any of these characters and their fates. Whether this was due to how the narrative played out and how the Anti-Heroes fitted in, I couldn’t tell you, but I simply could not care less regarding their outcomes. (Maybe except for the Joker)

End of spoilers.

I was left feeling largely underwhelmed by Suicide Squad. The direction the film was poorly thought out and seemed a jumble of narratives happening at once. There are enjoyable parts to the film, including the adrenaline-fuelled action sequences which are entertaining and Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley. However, Will Smith’s ‘Poor Old Me’ routine became really tiring, very quickly. The characterisations were interesting from afar, but for me, it seemed as though Deadshot and Harley Quinn led the charge leaving the rest in the dust.

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There are some enjoyable parts to Suicide Squad but unfortunately the joyous sections are vastly outweighed by the frustrating narrative, annoying characters and confusing message the squad are trying to convey.

Unfortunately for Suicide Squad, I feel that films of this calibre and containing an ensemble of heroes (anti or super, whichever) are always going to be compared with Guardians of the Galaxy due to the how enjoyable the Chris Pratt-led Marvel film turned out to be after little expectations.