Category Archives: Avengers

What I’ve Been Watching: Thor: The Dark World

Thor2-Poster_1280x1024

Thor: The Dark World is the sequel to Thor, or more accurately the latest film set in the Marvel universe, which like Iron Man 3 continues its story following on from the events of Avengers Assemble.

It’s hard to think of another film series like that which Marvel has tried to create in recent years. Arguably the X-Men universe comes close with Wolverine and X-Men:First Class spinning off from the original trilogy of films, however, there’s something more purposeful and sure-footed about everything Marvel is doing.

It probably says something that financially the least successful character of the series, The Hulk, is also the most well known. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were not household names prior to their big screen outings, and certainly far less popular than A-Listers like Batman, Superman or Spiderman. However, Marvel has made us think of them as big players now, and this is the context in which Thor comes bounding onto our screen.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Iron Man 3

Iron man 3 poster

Tony Stark is back! Kind of. You see he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whether this is a smart thing or a ridiculous notion is up for debate. However, after the events of The Avengers, Stark is feeling nervous. If someone mentions the word “wormhole” he freaks out.

It is fun to imagine trying a similar trick on other superheroes. “Bus full of kids” to Spiderman, “Kryptonite” to Superman, “Robin” to Batman.

It seems like an appropriate opening to The Avengers 2 would be the “super-friends” attending a self-help group as they unpack their emotions after their harrowing ordeals in each of their stand-alone films.

This is simply a long way of saying I am surprised this idea has never been explored before. And actually, it does make sense that the confident yet fragile Tony Stark would suffer from anxiety. The films thus far have shown us how his over-confidence has gotten him into and out of a whole heap of trouble.

In Iron Man 3 the trouble comes in the form of terrorist Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). A man with a vendetta against America who is capable of taking over the televisual airwaves to get his frightening message across. Apparently he’s never heard of the internet.

Meanwhile, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) has come to Stark Industries with a formula capable of repairing human DNA. Potts rejects the serum, fearing it could be used to on soldiers in warfare with unforeseen consequences.

Iron Man 3 is an enjoyable superhero movie pretty much from beginning to end. Downey was pretty much born to play Tony Stark and does so once again with the perfect blend of humour, arrogance and vulnerability.

Director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) once again shows how well he can balance action and comedy. One compliments the other with such an ease one cannot help but wonder why this is only his second directorial credit.

He even manages to pull-off the lame child sidekick trope without annoying the hell out of the audience in the process. “Can’t I come up with” child sidekick asks at the end of this sequence. “No.” Stark flatly replies and drives off.

That’s not to say the film is perfect, it’s not without its faults. In particular a deus ex machina so big and obvious I’m surprised Thor himself did not appear out of Tony Stark’s iron man suit to help save the day.

However, the fact I am willing to forgive “House Party Protocol” shows just how enjoyable the rest of the film is. The thrust of the narrative attempts to answer the question “Who is Tony Stark?” Surely the answer has to be more than “I am Iron Man.” It is telling that Stark stays out of his iron suit for much of the film, a wise choice that allows it to largely steer clear of comparisons to Transformers.

Iron Man 3 is another solid edition to the Marvel universe which reflects a studio at the top of its game in terms of producing highly entertaining superhero films. Now does anyone hear the sound of thunder?

What I’ve Been Watching: Marvel Avengers Assemble

AvengersPosterIt is probably fair to say there’s never been a movie like Avengers Assemble before. A ‘sequel’ or continuation of four different series of films (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk).

It’s a film whose marketing machine started way back in 2008 when Samuel L. Jackson popped up as Nick Fury to ‘assemble’ Tony Stark as the first member of his Avengers Initiative.

Ever since then, each of the films in the series has made reference to the fact this film has coming creating the kind of hype fanboys love, but could surely only end in disaster.

Then came the hiring of Joss Whedon, a man whose last two TV series (Firefly and Dollhouse) had fairly terrible ratings, and resulted in them both being cancelled within a year of their respective pilots. A cult favourite no doubt, but hardly a director of the type mainstream appeal necessary for such a mammoth project.

The film opens, as so many films do, in a secret military base. Fury and Agent Coulson are trying to harness the power of a mysterious blue substance fans of Captain America will recognise as the Macguffin for that film.

Just as they’re testing it out, Loki (brother of Thor) appears from another dimension to steal it. He turns some of the good guys into his unquestioning minions before escaping and starting a project to take over the world.

So far, so every superhero movie ever. Then Fury says (or at least in my head he says:) “AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!” and the real fun begins.

The first act sees the Avengers getting together, the second them falling out, and the third them working together for the good of mankind. In theory none of this should work. In theory, the plot of the film is tired; in theory, there’s too many characters on screen to start forming any sort of emotional connection; in theory there’s too many set pieces and noise to let the film breathe; in theory‚Ķ

Thankfully this film is more than just a theory, and I think the real reason it works is, like all of Whedon’s work (Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, Cabin in the Woods) the characters and world he creates are so enjoyable you’d probably have just as much fun watching them collect stamps together as you would watching them save the world from an alien overlord.

He has such a good ear for dialogue that the best scenes in the film contain the kind of screwball comedy cinephiles associate with rom-coms of the fifties and sixties. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts; The Black Widow and Loki; Thor and Iron Man; Bruce Banner and The Black Widow. If you’ve seen seen the film, you’ll know exactly the scenes I’m talking about, and probably remember lines like “Shakespeare in the Park”; “Just you and me?” and “Phil? Uh, his first name is Agent.”

Fanboys have long been asking the question “Who would win in a fight between Iron Man and Thor?” but Whedon shows us there’s so much more possibility in seeing them argue, tease, and outwit each other than there ever will be in a simple clash of shields, hammers and green muscles.

I think it’s fair to say that literally every classic visual moment in the film is followed up with an equally memorable line. And that, more than anything, makes it a film more than a sum of its individual parts.

The Avengers is not a perfect movie. It’s not a perfect movie because I think (especially in comparison to the rest of Whedon’s work) it does not challenge the viewer to think much beyond the world we are presented with on screen. There’s no underlying challenge or problematic we’re left with as a viewer, beyond the obvious “we work better together than we do apart”.

However, it is a great example of a film which, given exactly the same story and plot elements, could have been completely disposable and even a little mundane. However, the fact the characters all feel so vibrant, fresh, and grounded is testament to a writer who knows how to give audiences both what they want in terms of spectacle and what they need in terms of a team they can truly root for.

Best of all, its spectacular success at the box office means fans of Whedon, like myself, can look forward to plenty of his ideas getting funded for at least the next five years.

What I’ve Been Watching: Thor

Thor poster olly mossThose of you who have been regularly reading the blog over the last few months may have noticed a lack of big box-office hits being reviewed here. In fact the last five films I reviewed were Pina, Meek’s Cutoff, Norwegian Wood, Route Irish and Fair Game. All of whom probably made less than the budget of Thor between them.

As this year’s big films go, they don’t get much bigger than Thor. Marvel has become adept at making huge summer blockbusters like Spiderman, Iron Man, and X-Men, and they are hoping Thor, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class will continue the trend this year.

Thor is Marvel’s latest film in The Avengers Series. Unlike fellow-avengers Iron Man or Hulk, Thor is not a human who gained his powers from some strange series of coincidences, but rather because he is an alien. Like Superman. But with a hammer.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Cemetery Junction & Iron Man 2

E4E92DB8-3F77-440D-8292-D1D838045F58.jpgCemetery Junction
A.K.A. Dead End

Mark Kermode, on his blog, posted a piece about whether a comedy needed to be funny to be described as such. He argued that despite Cemetery Junction’s lack of laughs, it was still a good comedy because it was a good film. I would disagree with this argument. Cemetery Junction is simply not a comedy.

Given the involvement of Gervais and Merchant (The Office, Extras, The Invention of Lying) I can understand some critics’ need to classify it as such. However, trying to cram it into that genre by redefining what a comedy is, seems to be completely missing the point.

Anyone who’s seen the final episodes of The Office or Extras will know that these two writers know, not only how bring comedy out of the most excruciating of circumstances, but also how to build to great character moments. For example, when Dawn finds Tim’s picture on her way to the airport in The Office or in Extras, when Andy launches a tirade on reality TV, while at the same time making a heartfelt apology to Maggie live from the Big Brother house.

15C763EE-68CE-4E74-BB63-9D5D78BA2874.jpgCemetery Junction essentially turns the comedy vs drama tables on us: being primarily concerned with these the latter, and only giving us little nuggets of funny in between. This was always going to be a risky move for these two writers, however, I think it’s paid off pretty well.

Instead of the story moving in a direction that creates the most awkward, cringeworthy moments possible, we instead get a very tight, well-constructed plot about four people in the twenties trying to make something of their lives.

The characters, whether major or minor, are all incredibly well written and cast, with nearly all of them having moments that make you believe in their real, three-dimensional personas.

One other thing to look at is the significance of gifts in the movie, in particular, the manner in which they are given and received. Nearly all the important moments in the movie are when one character gives another things like a cup of tea, a beer, or a crystal bowl. Perhaps this best sums up the style of writing in the movie, where big things are said through little gestures.

Cemetery Junction then succeeds as a coming-of-age drama with a great heart and well developed character arts. If, however, you’re expecting something with the comedic tone of Gervais’ earlier works, I’d recommend re-watching your Office/Extras boxsets.

08572EC8-4D8F-43E3-B4F9-F7D5A074300F.jpgIron Man 2
He Came. He Saw. He Ironed.

When Iron Man was released in 2008 it was almost greeted as the second coming by some movie geeks. Its combination of snappy dialogue, a well constructed world, and a perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr leading some to question whether The Dark Knight, released a few months later, could surpass it for entertainment value. Needless to say, Nolan’s Batman movie, is now considered the pinnacle of the genre. However, perhaps it’s a little unfair to put the original on that high a pedestal.

You see, Iron Man is a film much like its main character: loud, brash, and cocky while at the same time wanting to do something worthwhile.

At the end of the first movie, it was incredibly refreshing to see a superhero finally ‘come out’ and admit to his secret identity. This dynamic is nicely used through out the sequel, as people are forced to believe in the man Tony Stark, as oppose to his alter-ego Iron Man.

Compare this to every other superhero movie, where the main character must decide what it is they stand for when they’re dressed in their capes and cowls, and the impact this has on the normal people around them.

At the end of the first act of the movie Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) targets Stark, and declares he has won because he made him bleed, he made him fallible. Arguably this resulting conversation is the high point of the movie. With the nature of Stark’s new role in “privatising world peace” rightly questioned by this new enemy.

5A311444-B0D9-444F-BB33-DDC3E5113167.jpgUnfortunately, like the first it quickly descends into action movie territory in the final third, with all the interesting stuff put to one side in favour of more robots hitting each other. And we all know Transformers has cornered the market on that.

My only other complaint is the inclusion of The Avengers which will only really make sense to fans of Marvel comics. It still hasn’t been clearly established why Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation is so important, or what the threat it is they’re dealing with. As such, the inclusion of these scenes in the middle of the movie made little sense in terms of the story of Iron Man 2. As well as causing it to suffer from Spiderman 3 syndrome as we were introduced to yet more characters.

Don’t get me wrong I’m as excited as anyone at seeing Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, et al on the screen together in one movie, but I feel like more justification needs to be given to seeing Samuel L. Jackson pop up in the middle of each of Marvel’s flagship titles.

Iron Man 2 is a movie that brought me with it for the first third, but seemed to run out of things to say by about half way. I never felt any real threat towards the characters, what it was Tony Stark was really fighting for, or what his dilemma in the movie was. As such, while entertaining, I don’t think it holds up well when compared to the emotional heart of similar sequels like Spiderman 2, X-Men 2 or indeed The Dark Knight.

Reviews of Date Night and The Disappearance of Alice Creed will be published later this week.

Joss Whedon’s Avengers – 5 Reasons To Get Excited

9524BEDF-7AA5-456F-A40F-14964C79D987.jpgThis week came the news that Joss Whedon is in final negotiations to direct The Avengers movie. For those of you who don’t know, The Avengers is the name given to Marvel’s flagship team. Originally this was Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Wasp and Thor. Although part of the success of the series has been its ever-changing roster, so characters like Spiderman and Wolverine have also been Avengers at various points in time.

For those of you who don’t know who Joss Whedon is, he’s the creator of the TV series Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse as well as the internet musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog.

Excited yet?

5CC3D523-A91F-4447-8B1C-453CB64BA650.jpgHere’s Five Reasons I think you should be:

1) Dialogue.

Possibly what fans will most closely associate him with. Whedon is the master at one liners and pop culture references. Expect both of these, as the superheroes make fun of one another abilities and try to balance the importance of what they’re doing (inevitably, saving the world) with the ludicrously of having characters called “Captain America” and “Ant-Man”.

2) It’s an ensemble piece

What do Firefly, Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse all have in common? People with various skills joining up to keep evil at bay. Well, that’s a coincidence, because that’s exactly who the Avengers are. The joy of his shows for me has always been spending time with characters that get on so well and feel like a family. Hopefully he’ll be able to create that sense of community in the two hours he’ll have for this movie.

3) It’ll be camp one minute then break your heart the next.

If we know anything about Joss Whedon’s stories, it’s that:

a) They can be quite camp: For example, characters breaking into song, characters with names like Buffy, and characters with incredibly tight pants.

b) They’ll break your heart: Whedon shows never end well. I won’t list the characters that have died, but those of us who’ve seen the finales to his shows know that the relationships and characters we treasure most are inevitably the ones he chooses to take away.

For an example of something that does both, look no further than Dr Horrible, although be warned: You may laugh and cry uncontrollably as a result.

So don’t be at all surprised if one of the more minor characters in the Marvel world is dead by the end of the Avengers movie.

4) Joss Whedon knows his comics.

He did a run on Astonishing X-Men which is considered among fans to be one of the best written stories in its forty year history. He’s also a self-confessed comic geek, who has been linked to movies like X-Men and Wonder Woman in the past. This is the chance he’s been waiting his whole career for.

5) It’ll be epic.

This is the first time a movie like this has ever happened on this scale. We’re going to get up to five movies which introduce us to all these characters, then one big one where they join forces to kick ass together. What’s not to love?