They say that part of the journey is the end. And so, here we are folks. Eleven years in the making. Twenty-one films in the lead-up. And half a universe to save. Honestly, there are plenty of ways one can describe the epic concluding chapter that is Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame (2019). Astonishing. Heart-breaking. Mind-boggling. Emotional. A masterful moment in cinematic history. All of these are true. And yet none of them feel quite right. Because for fans of the series – the ones who cheered with glee as Tony Stark announced he was Iron Man back in 2008, and who felt their hearts sink as Steve Rogers dropped his shield almost a decade later – there aren’t really words to sum up a film like this. I mean, what do you say about a movie that is the perfect end to an era? So, sitting down to write this review, it’s hard not to feel a little like I’m delivering a eulogy at a close friend’s funeral (and don’t kid yourselves here people, you better prepare for this film like it is one). Because like most of us tasked with the impossible job of compiling something so grand into nothing more than a few snapshots and anecdotes, I’ll always be left wondering whether it will be enough. Or if there’s simply no way to describe how a series of fictional characters can become our family, and their story, ultimately, break our hearts.
It must be said, therefore, that there’s no playing by the rules when it comes to this critique. Those expecting a juicy, spoiler-filled breakdown will be sorely disappointed. You see, part of what makes Avengers: Endgame (2019) so powerful and moving, is going into it as blind as possible. Directing duo, Joe and Anthony Russo, have worked painstakingly hard to achieve this – releasing notes calling on fans not to ruin it for others and composing the trend-worthy hashtag #dontspoiltheendgame to nail the point home. But perhaps the biggest argument comes from the studio itself, with the behemoth having ensured that ninety per cent of the footage used in the marketing material and trailers is from just the first half-hour of the film. They want the surprises to fall thick and fast. And they want it to hurt when they do. So, all you can do is buckle in for the ride and try and stay content in the knowledge that it will be worth it in the end. Three-thousand times over.
Not that it will be a short trip, mind you, with the final cut of the film coming in at just over three hours. It’s a doozy, for sure, but one that manages to pace itself rather well. Unlike its predecessor – Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – this picture works off the theory of thirds, with the first hour delving into the aftermath of the decimation and the toll it takes on those left behind, the second focusing on formulating a plan to reverse it, and the last, and arguably best portion, seeing the team enact their strategy in one final blockbuster brawl. Unsurprisingly, time travel plays a significant role in this master design. However, its best not to look to deeply at it, lest you unravel the many plot-holes that abound. Simply enjoy it for the plot device it is, and the hilarious Back To The Future (1985) references it inspires.
Character-wise, there’s no denying this is the original six’s story, and it’s wonderfully fitting to see them finally come full-circle. Hawkeye, who has been MIA since Captain America: Civil War (2016), is at last given his dues as an integral member of the team, while his secret-spy counterpart and best-friend Black Widow is on top form, crushing fans hearts in even her smallest, peanut-butter-sandwich-eating moments. In contrast, Bruce Banner manages to somewhat reconcile his dual personality, as Thor (and his new look) delightfully settles into his niche as the comic relief. But who would the Avengers be without their leader, Captain America, and their founding father, Iron Man? So, if it’s anyone’s film, it’s theirs. The two play wonderfully off each other, as they have in every other outing, bringing truckloads of heart, humour and humanity to the piece. Sure, it’s a delight to see Captain Marvel in full heroic swing, and Ant-Man laying down quips left, right and centre. But you’ll never quite get another dynamic, like these six have shared, again.
As for the spectacle of the film, it’s hard to knock it, especially as the rousing final act begins. But there’s nothing really new about explosions and battles, regardless of their scale and ferocity. The true mark of Avengers: Endgame (2019) therefore is in reminding us that a hero isn’t made by defeating bad-guys, but from being willing to lose everything in the process. Captain America can say he can ‘do this all day’, but if he really did, there’d never be any stakes to fight for, right? And Iron Man can be a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, but what use are all those titles if he doesn’t do something good with them? Aren’t all heroes, somewhat human? And isn’t that the thing that connects them to us? The reason we keep coming back, time and time again? Not the action. And not the spectacle. Even if it the latter includes the most badass scene of women running into a blazing field to support each other, that’s ever been put to camera.
So, how do you do a film like this justice then? Pay dutiful homage to the hundreds of moving parts that went into it, while simultaneously safeguarding a ‘spoiler free’ experience for others? Honestly, no reviewer will. Because, quite simply, Avengers: Endgame (2019) is more than just a bunch of actors reciting lines as CGI battles blast across screens. It is an event. An experience. A feeling. One that rises from deep within and makes you wonder how you’ve never seen it before. All the eloquence in the world can’t explain that. It can’t describe why when we talk of the film’s fallen character’s we’ll call them our brothers in arms. Or why when we speak of its villain, he will be our mutual enemy. It can’t explain why the blood, sweat and tears that were poured into this franchise don’t seem to just belong to the cast and crew. And why the years of anticipation weren’t simply designed to bring in billions at the box office. It’s the long-goodbye you wish you didn’t have to say. But are so damn happy you got.
Rating: 6 Original Avengers out of 6
As soon as the MCU’s famed opening banner hits the screen, it’s easy to tell that Captain Marvel (2019) is an important film. It would be naive to say this feeling comes simply from the movie being the megalith’s first female-led flick. Or because its protagonist is widely considered to be the billion-dollar franchise’s most powerful character. No, it’s more than that. Because despite the labels, expectations and agendas at play behind the scenes here, there’s one thing Marvel couldn’t predict about this blockbuster. And that is the legacy this picture upholds, innately though that may be, as the studio’s first film shown following the passing of comic-book creator Stan Lee. It is important because of all the features that could have found themselves in this position, it wound up being this one. A movie about a young woman who gets knocked down, time and time again, and refuses to give up. A woman who’s resolve is to go higher, further and faster. A woman who represents exactly what Mr Lee’s motto Excelsior means – upward and onward to greater glory.
That being said, a lot of what Captain Marvel (2019) delivers isn’t exactly original. Plot-wise we have a soldier sacrificing themselves. An underdog obtaining special powers. A superhero losing their memory. And a classic good-guy, bad-guy twist dominating the entirety of act three. Repetition is an unfortunate by-product of comic books (Carol Danvers has been appearing in issues since the 1960s, after all) but that doesn’t mean cinemagoers are willing to accept the same thing. I mean, there’s a reason Rotten Tomatoes makes it’s living off what’s considered “fresh”. Furthermore, it’s hard to get past the fact that the entire first half of the film meanders through unnecessary exposition and chase scenes, all-the-while stumbling over what little humour it does bother delivering. However, when the movie finally does takes off in part three, boy does it fly. There’s explosions and quick-witted quips aplenty, giving the filmmakers some sort of attempt at redemption before the credits roll. And in a praise-worthy move that is rarely seen in blockbuster’s these days, there’s no love story being shoved down audiences’ throats. Not even a hint of one.
It also needs to be noted that while Marvel are great at taking chances with their properties and filmmakers, such as with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), it is painful to see them turn down an opportunity to make this – such a prominent piece in their portfolio – less than the kick-ass, all-female-driven production it could have been. Yes, the writer’s team is largely made up of women. And yes, Anna Boden is one half of the team in the director’s chair. But part of what made DC’s first female film, Wonder Woman (2017), so exquisitely good was that it was helmed solely by Patty Jenkins. There’s power in a decision like that, whether you admit it or not. And, perhaps if Marvel had stuck with a single director their latest offering would have wound up less disjointed too, with everything from its humour to its timing always coming across just a little off. Because while its script may be dotted with Easter eggs for the fans, there’s little fun to be had from it.
As for the casting, Brie Larson’s selection has been a contentious one ever since the early days of production, with concerns she lacks the emotional depth needed to make Danvers superhero sympathetic. And despite her Academy Award-winning talent it’s a fair assessment, with the actress struggling throughout the film’s first hour before finally finding her footing just the curtain’s about to fall. It’s telling, though, that Marvel don’t seem too concerned about her ability to carry the Avengers films moving forward, with the studio going so far as to provide their own tongue-in-cheek reference to those who asked why she was “not smiling” enough, in a sardonic moment at around the thirty-minute mark. As for the others, Samuel L. Jackson gives a dynamic performance as a young Nick Fury, but after nine appearances in the role you’d expect nothing less. And Ben Mendelsohn is equally as fantastic in his part as antagonist Talos, providing one of the best additions to the series in years. There’s great humanity and humour to be found under his colossal make-up and costuming. As far as scene-stealer’s go though, there’s no passing Goose, a cat whose powers extend well-beyond simply being the cutest of the cast members.
The retro-stylings of the film are something critics have also been hotly debating and interestingly on this issue it’s harder to come down on one side or the other. Marvel pitched the movie as a nineties-centric piece and it’s certainly that, with pointed references to the horrendously slow systems of Windows 95 computers and the dead artform that was VHS. But it almost feels like we’re always on the periphery of what that era was. There’s dribs-and-drabs of pop culture littered throughout, from mentions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) to classic grunge fashion (leather and plaid anyone…) But there’s not a lot of emphasis on other, bigger issues, like woman taking their first-steps forward in male-centric fields. And don’t even get me started on the lack of slang from that time (where’s the hey dude’s and the that’s so fly’s?) Fans can take solace in the musical choices, however, because there’s plenty of top nineties tracks to go around. Nirvana’s Come As You Are makes its mark, as does a well-timed dose of Just A Girl from No Doubt.
While it may be a boring production for the first 60 minutes and a busy one for the second, it would be amiss to label Captain Marvel (2019) flat or a failure. It’s simply a superhero film that is a little off kilter. Unlike the origin flicks that have come before, the filmmakers are beginning to be wary of showing us all the insecurities and personal problems of our protagonists, less they give away too much for future instalments. And while we would love to know more about why Carol hated her father or what the full extent of her powers are, this is not and never was going to be the film for those questions. Instead, this picture is the one designed to tell girls to believe in themselves. To remind them it’s okay to stop looking for approval. To push themselves onwards and upwards to greater glory, regardless of the damn naysayers. And we think Stan would be proud.
Rating: 3.5 Gooses out of 5
Ant-Man And The Wasp Review - Marvel's tiniest heroes pack a punch in this struggling scientific sequel
There’s a line in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster where leading man Scott Lang states, ‘Do you just add the word quantum in front of everything?’ It’s a tongue-in-cheek moment, of course, because that’s basically what watching Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018) feels like to those among us who don’t possess fancy science degrees. Following up his quirky MCU debut – full of miniaturised men, giant ants and a physics-for-dummies approach – was always going to be tricky for director Peyton Reed. I mean, his sequel is the first one fans have been delivered following the apocalyptic events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But instead of delivering another character-driven heist film full of heart, this time around we are given two-hours of technical jargon about quantum tunnels, tardigrades and molecular displacement. And while it’s never quite enough to dissuade a viewer from watching, it’s hard to argue that it’s the sort of movie the MCU needs right now.
Set in a post Captain America: Civil War (2016) but pre-Avengers: Infinity War (2018) world, Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) follows our pint-sized hero and his former friends Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym, as the trio attempt to bring back a long-lost family member from the quantum realm. Scott is just days away from the end of a two-year house arrest, imposed for his violation of the Sokovia Accords, when he receives a strange message from Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife, Janet van Dyne. Reconnecting with his former associates he finds out that despite her disappearance into the quantum realm 30 years ago, there may be a way to bring Janet back – thanks to the invention of a quantum tunnel. After powering the device up, the team hope to use Scott’s connection to find Janet’s coordinates and mount a rescue mission. But with their revolutionary work highly sought-after, there are plenty of people ready to sabotage our protagonist’s efforts, including a phasing woman known only as ‘ghost’, and a black-market technology dealer. And with the FBI keeping tabs on him, Scott is forced to make the hard decision whether to help his friends or protect his new life.
Having stolen the show in his previous MCU outing, Paul Rudd seems to relish his return here, effortlessly stepping between the comedy, action and familial drama inherent to his character. Meanwhile, Evangeline Lily is finally given a meatier role, transforming into not just ‘the wasp’, but Marvel’s first co-billed leading lady. She is as tough and smart as the boys (sometimes more so) and it’s empowering to see that it is her emotional storyline that holds the picture together. The heroes are joined by veteran actor Michael Douglas, who provides a somewhat softer grumpy old man performance for the sequel, as well as a more grown-up Abby Ryder Fortson, melting hearts once again as the adorable and precocious Cassie Lang. But as with Ant-Man’s first outing it is Michael Pena’s Luis that steals the show with a hilarious expansion on his ‘storytelling scenes’ lending some much needed charm and charisma to the film. Similarly, Tip T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian return as the fellow ‘Ex-Con’ workers Dave and Kurt, with the latter’s Baba Yaga moments a true masterpiece despite their fleeting nature.
The villains are far less impressive however, with Randall Park’s FBI Agent Jimmy Woo largely providing little more than a chuckle here and there, and Walter Goggins’ Sonny Burch unmemorable, annoying and unnecessary. The true depth comes in relative unknown Hannah John-Kamen’s Ava, a.k.a. Ghost. Desperate for a way to make her pain stop, she has real drive but remains human enough to know there are lines you cannot cross. She’s redeemable in her quest, if not a little misguided, but in a film chock-a-block full of characters, even she gets a little lost in the mix. One character that doesn’t though is the city of San Francisco, with its presence permeating throughout the movie. One chase sequence craftily utilises the city’s most famous street, while another shows the murderous nature of the seagulls from Fisherman’s Wharf. And who could forget how cool it is to see an 85-foot man swimming through the bay and emerging near a ferry in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sadly, there’s a tonal shift of sorts from our last outing, with the movie leaning more towards the ‘lacklustre’ than the ‘inspiring’. You see, what made Ant-Man (2015) such a great Saturday night flick was that it built itself up as a comedy crime caper. The heist elements were fun, as were the brilliantly crafted action sequences, including the now iconic train scene, full of tiny crashes and a giant Thomas the Tank Engine. The joy was in the juxtaposition of the miniaturised world and the normal, not simply the dazzle of special effects. And perhaps that’s why Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) feels so flat. The action is great, with Hot Wheels cars zooming down streets and a giant Hello Kitty Pez being flung through the air. But there’s fewer cuts to remind us of the extraordinary difference in statures. And for all the fun it delivers, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the scale and scope is simply lacking.
At its heart Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) is a solid sequel, providing plenty of laughs, action and gorgeous CGI effects. But having to follow on from the events of Marvel’s previous summer blockbuster outing, which broke new ground and plenty of hearts thanks to its cut-throat mentality, means it just does not rise to the MCU’s high standards. It’s a shame too, because it’s easy to see how well-received the film could have been prior to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But in a post Thanos-snap world, it’s hard to care about anything that isn’t explosive, ground-breaking or 2019’s as-yet-untitled resolution. And while the mid-credits scene sets up the potential importance of the quantum realm for the upcoming instalment, the film itself is little more than a two-hour distraction while fans eagerly await new information.
Rating: 3.5 Drumming Ants out of 5
Deadpool 2 Review - Ready your chimichangas and dubstep because you're in for a rollicking round two
After unleashing the first R-Rated anti-hero picture to rave reviews and an unexpectedly large box-office, the idea of a sequel to Deadpool (2016) was less of a question and more of an obvious answer. Because while it would undoubtedly be a cash-grab for the studio, it would also satiate fans of what has come to be a rather unique genre. DC is dark, the MCU is friendly fun, and the X-Men are somewhere between. But until two years ago we were yet to see a foul-mouthed caped crusader ready and willing to push the boundaries in the name of comedy and action. And thank God they did, because audiences were delivered a rip-roaring time and some of the best meta fourth-wall breaks on film. But could a second coming really live up to the hype and the grandeur of the original? Well, for the most part yes, taking down as many other superhero movies and their clichés as it can in the process.
Where part one was billed as a violent, irreverent and unexpectedly romantic comedy, Deadpool 2 (2018) instead serves itself up as a ‘family’ film. Provided your idea of a Friday night kid-flick includes characters dropping the c-bomb, action sequences with severed body parts and multiple, tragic on-screen deaths. To be fair, it’s quite heart-warming too, as our anti-hero Wade Wilson is forced to come to terms with a personal tragedy. After wallowing in self-pity (and indulging in some of the coke he had previously hidden around Blind Al’s place), the Merc with the Mouth is hoping to get out of the game, and life, completely. Cue everyone’s favourite silver giant Colossus, waiting in the wings to convince our protagonist he could be a useful (trainee) member of the X-Men. And when a young mutant with pyrotechnic abilities gets a bit out of control it’s the perfect opportunity for Deadpool to try his hand being a good guy. As you’d expect things don’t quite go to plan, with Josh Brolin’s Cable entering the scene and the rest of the narrative including jail-breaks, truck-convoy chases and even a bit of time travel.
Amid the ‘lazy-writing’ of what is a largely predictive plotline, we are also introduced to the looming X-Force, a bunch of new characters tipped to take over from Deadpool in Sony’s superhero future. Just hold off on getting too attached though, it is still Deadpool’s movie and I wasn’t joking – the body count here is huge. Among the standouts is Domino, whose abilities revolve around being lucky. Think Final Destination (2000) style stuff but in a good way – like a handy get out of death free card. Everyone’s average dad Peter, who became a fan favourite from his appearance in the trailers, also gets his moment to shine despite having no superpowers whatsoever, proving that Deadpool 2 (2018) really does just play by its own rules. Oh, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead is as awesome as ever, generating atomic blasts and finding her first love. As is the wildly imaginative and glorious soundtrack including Celine Dion, Cher and Dolly Parton.
The humour is strong with the sequel, tapping into the meta and finding fresh ways to reinvent what made the first film so entertaining. But don’t be fooled – writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds know their niche and play hard to it. It’s a shame too, because despite the sarcastic comedy and laugh-out-loud lines littered throughout, it constantly feels like they are playing it safe (the one exception being an early scene that sets the tone for the flick). Deadpool 2 (2018) is still a superhero showdown and one that perhaps requires more homework than all the others combined, with quips about parents named Martha and mutant related cameos that only those with a litany of prior knowledge could get. Then again, like the MCU, audiences know going in that this isn’t a standalone piece, so brush up or suck it up. Creating depth past the jokes is something the film strangely succeeds in too though, placing the emphasis on heart as much as humour. Overwhelmed by grief, Deadpool is no mere one-directional character, and neither are his foes and friends.
Reynolds, in a role he was clearly born to play, relishes his return to the title character, zinging one-liners left, right and centre. But under the suit there is a vulnerability that’s a step-up from the last film, with the audience never truly certain of his intentions. Meanwhile, scene-stealers Karan Soni and Leslie Uggams, who play Dopinder and Blind Al respectively, are given meatier roles here, gloriously holding their own against ‘God’s perfect idiot’. The same goes for new additions Zazie Beetz as lucky-lady Domino and Julian Dennison as Russell a.k.a. Firefist, who add flair and fun to the controlled chaos. As for Cable himself, Brolin appears much more relaxed and energised here than his recent turn as Thanos in Marvel’s other cinematic universe, something the Merc with a Mouth is happy to remind us of. And thankfully he is given a deeper backstory (or perhaps, just a more redeemable one), not quite villain or hero, but sitting comfortably in the middle alongside Deadpool. It’s a relief to see characters that aren’t perfect and are just happy to be along for the ride, however cliched it can get at times.
Like all good superhero films though, you must wait until the end for the most important moments. And here, that also mean the funniest, with the after-credits scenes tackling Reynolds own history of bad decisions – ala Green Lantern (2011) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). And for a film featuring the most outrageous Basic Instinct (1992) reference ever that’s saying something. Ultimately, if you are up for an entertaining, self-aware, comical and yet excruciatingly violent movie then you will probably walk away with a smile on your face. If not, you need to ask yourself why you are watching this film in the first place? As for future instalments, there’s certainly plenty of potential and more than a little ‘foreshadowing’ going on to make us think Deadpool: The Franchise may never really die, just like it’s hero.
Rating: 4 moments out of 5 (to be a superhero)
Avengers: Infinity War Review - It's all about the end in Marvel's most ambitious and affecting film yet
Ten years. Eighteen films. Billions of dollars at the box office. And it’s all been leading to this – the megalithic Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – a.k.a. rumble in the jungle (universe style). My god were we unprepared. What started as an idea – a bid for global domination of superhero films – has finally come full circle, with Marvel Studios bringing together their best and brightest for one cataclysmic showdown. And whether you call it a gamble, an obsession, or just downright crazy, at the end of the day it’s a damn masterpiece. Something well, well worth the wait. Back for their third outing, the dynamic directing duo of Joe and Anthony Russo have, in the simplest terms, become the heroes they’ve put on screen – people pushed to their limits, heartbroken and ready to lose everything. And boy, in hindsight, how we wish we could go back to simpler times, when the problems were little more than a Chitauri invasion and homicidal robots.
It’s hard to provide an overview of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that would do it justice, especially when so much of what makes it great is being able to go in it with as little information (and spoilers) as possible. But I’ll give it a shot. Picking up in the aftermath of Thanos vs. The Asgardians, just moments into the blockbuster we are finally given our first proper glimpse into the power and brutality of the MCU’s biggest baddie. The stakes have never been higher, the dread in full force. And once the ball starts rolling there’s barely a chance to breathe, as the Russo brothers toss us back and forth between multiple storylines and planets (Earth, Knowhere, Titan, to name just a few). On home turf, The Black Order (i.e. Thanos’ supervillain entourage, including Ebony Maw, Cull Obsidian, Corvus Glaive and Midnight Proxima) are on a mission to secure the time and mind stones, leading to the slow - but sure - reunion of our favourite outcast Avengers. Meanwhile, out in space the Guardians and their new-found refugee Thor, are tasked with tracking down the purple antagonist and forging a weapon to destroy him. When everything fails to go to plan though (as these things often do), we’re left with not just an all-out confrontation, but a biblical and unforgiving final act.
With approximately (I say that because it’s difficult to keep track) 38 characters to fit into one film, it’s tough to imagine a picture where no-one is overlooked. But despite the cramped roll-call, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) succeeds where few films have before – carefully crafting a chance for everyone to shine. And the actors jump at the chance, bringing A-game performances full of energy, charisma and laugh-out-loud one-liners. The key, perhaps, is splitting the group into smaller factions, with their stories maintaining the picture’s frenetic pace and drive. It’s such a steady crew though that stand-outs are few and far between. Some would point to Thor, who follows on from a rollicking third outing by stepping up to the plate with both muscle and might. While others may favour Iron Man, who has upgraded to some of the coolest tech since the Hulkbuster suit and shared it with his Spidey-protégé. Eager to match wits with Downey Junior, Doctor Strange is as sarcastic as ever too, while in a pleasant change of pace Bruce Banner finally gets a foot over his green alter ego, who hilariously spends most of the film refusing to come out and play.
But for all their efforts, this isn’t really our heroes’ film, instead playing like an origin tale to Thanos’ crusade. Part logically-driven dictator and part towering destructive force, the purple monster is driven by the desire to rid the universe of half its inhabitants. To him, it’s a simple equation of resources, like a parent choosing between having one child whose belly was always full, and two who were always half-hungry. Mad, undoubtedly, but a plan entrenched in warped humanitarian ideals and his own twisted sense of a saviour-complex. Big and brash, Thanos is the adversary we’ve been waiting for, providing the first real challenge the universe has come up against. It’s hard not to feel every swipe, blast and pummel from his gargantuan form, and behind the mask, Josh Brolin appears to relish the motion-capture role, bringing swagger and relentless authority every time a stone is acquired, or a hero ousted.
While the characters are fully fleshed out, answers seem to be something less nuanced in the MCU. And for those of you wondering about the film’s two biggest mysteries you may be left feeling a little deflated. See, it’s hard not to class them among the worst parts of the film. Number one is the absence of our favourite, quippy bird-man, Hawkeye, (as well as the lovable Ant-Man) whose MIA statuses are answered with little more than a throwaway line. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially given Clint’s loyalty, and even more so when you remember we will have to wait months for any true hints. Meanwhile, although the secret of the missing soul stone’s location is finally disclosed in the film’s bold two-and-a-half-hour run-time, it will likely leave few fans appeased. The big reveal feels lacklustre and rushed, relying heavily on emotion that hasn’t had the time to build.
But the greatest dilemma is in splitting such a movie in two, with the overhanging arc here feeling a lot like a guillotine over our heads. You’ve never seen a cliff-hanger like this, and probably never left a theatre in quite so dismal a mood. But while it’s a staggering blow to the gut (especially with a full year to wait until the next instalment), there’s an incredible power in how Marvel can take an unfinished story and still make it poignant and profound. In how they have crafted a cherished and adored universe over the course of more than a decade, to simply blow the hell out of it. The tag-line that no-one is safe is painfully accurate, and the studio has gone to great lengths to make sure we know it. So, what does this mean for the future of our intrepid caped crusaders? Well, maybe if you’ve been looking for hints like I have, it may lie in Doctor Strange’s words and the notion that time will tell.
Rating: 5 Infinity Stones out of 6
It is a rare thing for a Marvel origin movie to be a resounding success. I mean, out of our introductions to current titular superheroes Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Ant-Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and even the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) very few have left audiences both impassioned and awe-inspired. You see, it’s a hard combination to create, at least the first time around, with the studio usually more interested in carefully crafting the characters for their star-studded team-up flicks. Perhaps this is why Black Panther (2018) works so well, with director Ryan Coogler spending less time introducing us to his restrained and dignified main man following his launch in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and instead focusing his energy and expertise into bringing one of Marvel’s most beautiful realms to life. Here, he breathes life into a myth, building a groovy world worthy of the big screen and the landmark acclaim it is gaining.
We start in the aftermath of King T’Chaka’s death, as royal heir T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his technologically advanced homeland to take up the mantle of its monarch. Following a primordial challenge from the land’s four other tribes, the Prince emerges as Wakanda’s rightful leader and warrior. But just days into his reign he is forced to bring the nation’s greatest villain Ulysses Klaue to justice – a feat his father was unable to achieve for more than 30 years. It’s no wonder then that blood and betrayal run deep in the movie as it shifts to South Korea for its stylish and slick second half. Here our protagonist, his protector Okoye (Danai Gurira) and his feisty ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) take on their foes in a polished casino-heist style scene. No Marvel movie would be complete though without an all-out car race, this time sweeping through neon-streaked streets and providing the perfect opportunity for the Prince’s tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) to shine. But it’s mercenary Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who takes centre stage come part three, putting a dampener on the ruler’s plans by challenging his right to sit upon the throne and causing the series second civil war to break out.
Visually the film is stunning. Gorgeous cosmic colours swirl through ancestral worlds and bleed into the gorgeous country of Wakanda. There’s a similar vibe in the music too, with an original soundtrack from Kendrick Lamar combining wild drumbeats with flourishes of frenetic hip-hop. It makes you want to get up and move, pulling viewers into the film and transforming them into more than just oblivious observers. Part of what makes the film great though is how seamlessly it blends the traditions of old with the technology of new. This is a country that exists with the greatest advancements in life - from hover trains to metal-balls that can save people’s spines - yet continues to conduct ritual bloodfights for its governance. Culture is important and no matter how far its people may progress, the sanctity of their customs and their desire to prove you can have it all sets them apart.
The star-studded cast are a step-above, but one wouldn’t expect any less from those who have mastered funk legends, slayed zombies and won Oscars. Boseman brings a serene presence to his King, funnier than we have seen him before, but still duty and honour bound. He is the wise leader, forced to understand how failure is crucial to making a great leader. In opposition, Jordan brings a reckless, snarky-ness to his scarred villain Killmonger. Yet despite his flaws, he is one of the most well-rounded and empathetic antagonists the Marvel universe has produced - his unwillingness to give-up on his beliefs demanding credit. Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker and Winston Duke all provide solid support in roles that could easily have been extended, but it is hard not to see how it is their actress counterparts that really make a mark in the film’s two-hour run.
Women are incredibly powerful in Coogler’s world, with their representation here among the best in Marvel’s history. While T’Challa may serve as King and hero, females form the brunt of those closest to him. His mother Queen Ramonda is a guiding force in who he becomes. His sister Princess Shuri provides the smarts behind his advantage over foes. And former flame and spirited badass Nakia is not afraid to challenge and push to be a better person. Then there is the King’s guard – the Dora Milaje - an all-female group of shaven-haired warrior women led by General Okoye. Little girls have long waited for Marvel to get their act together and give them someone more than just Black Widow and Scarlet Witch to aspire to, and here Coogler cocks his head and says screw waiting until Captain Marvel (2019). You want to be a cool scientist? Then study hard and do it. You want to be an activist and stand up for what you believe in? Make people hear your voice. You want to be someone other than the damsel-in-distress? No-one is stopping you. Not anymore.
Above all, race is the most crucial element here, there’s no denying it. Never before has there been a superhero movie with such a triumphant African-American cast, directed by an African-American visionary and with a budget this big to throw around. And Coogler makes it clear from the get-go that identity is at the heart of his blockbuster, whether that be a hesitant son trying to live up to his father’s name or a beefed-up outcast hitting back at the home he was never invited into. Our movie-maestro has been commenting on these themes for a while now, from his incredible introduction Fruitvale Station (2013) to his powerful follow-up Creed (2015). But everything about Black Panther (2018) makes it feel like he has simply been gearing up for an ultimate chance to comment on the politics that so deeply divide us. So, it’s no surprise he is keen to finish on a note of unity rather than division. It’s a representation that will make generations sit up and pay attention. And maybe one day, we’ll realise that difference isn’t something to be afraid of, but something to embrace.
Rating: 4 Wakandan Warriors out of 5
Thor: Ragnarok Review - Brash, bold and downright hilarious, this time the God of Thunder is finally a champion
It’s funny, but when Marvel first started on the giant conglomerate that is their cinematic universe, people were eager to jump aboard the train. Good film after great film kept falling in our laps, from Iron Man (2008) to The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). And then the sequels, dark and juicy, just like Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), each providing yet more opportunities to be blown away. But the whole time, one of the quintessential characters of that universe – the mighty Thor - was resigned to little more than a muscle-man stereotype: a guy who talked funny, liked to hit things and was frankly just a little bit dim. Well, it’s so, so, nice to say that has finally changed. Okay, mostly. He does still talk funny and look hot. But in the God of Thunder’s third outing, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) we patient fans are finally introduced to the comic gold we’ve been waiting for. All wrapped up in a fresh, fun and fancy-free bow. Not quite bottled lightning, but pretty damn close. This threequel is a disorienting, dream-like feast. It’s a god damn rebel without a cause. And frankly it’s about damn time.
Ragnarok kicks things up a notch from previous Marvel-verse movies in both style and scale. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have to spend half the film explaining things or carefully crafting back stories. Or perhaps it’s because under Taika Waititi’s control a linear plot gives way to pure, unadulterated fun. But regardless, the film zips along at breakneck pace, bouncing between planets, puns and incredible cameos. It picks up with Thor in a precarious position as he learns of Asgaard’s end of days. Not long after he’s back on his shiny home world discovering his mischievous ‘adopted’ brother Loki is not just alive and well, but has being playing dress-up in his absence. From there the Marvel machine takes hold, as the mythical Hela arrives on the scene plotting – yawn – yet another global annihilation. We get it, okay. But really isn't there a better superhero movie schtick yet? Thankfully, Waititi holds his ground, giving us a reunion between Avenger’s outcasts Thor and Hulk to bring back the human element and take what could otherwise be a banal series of scenes into full-on Gladiator territory. Without spoiling things too much, the remainder of the movie comfortably settles into a cross between psychedelic roller-coaster ride and hilarious buddy-movie flick, as the ‘Revengers’ do battle for heart and home.
Third time round Hemsworth finally gets the chance to flex his comedic chops, whether that be in his joyous interactions with the Hulk or screaming like a little girl when confronted with The Grandmaster. But he also manages to bring a depth and brevity to the role that hadn’t existed before. Thor has grown up a lot since his introduction and there’s plenty of visual reminders too. From shaved locks, to his bond with his brother, and even his trandsformation when having to deal with the destruction of his beloved Mjolnir. Odin’s son is finally living up to his name, in more ways than one. In comparison, everyone’s favourite bad boy villain Loki has had a somewhat slower maturity, creating monuments in his honour after being left to his own devices. It’s clear Hiddleston still relishes the role, part Shakespearean part slapstick and a whole lot of mischievous charisma. It’s no wonder he’s won fans the world over. Hulk meanwhile is sassier than ever, speaking his mind rather than just smashing things aimlessly (although a lot of that happens too). If any of the repeat players fall flat, it’s Anthony Hopkins’ wise leader, who seems like he’s sleepwalking his way to a paycheck rather than handing out sage advice.
The newcomers provide plenty of energy to keep things going though, with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie both an original and badass addition. Declared the first bisexual character in the Marvel universe, that seems to be the last thing on her mind, with the warrior-woman spending most of her screen time drinking, throwing sarcastic comments her co-stars way and giving off a strong ‘don’t fuck with me vibe’. What more could you ask for in an individual, right? Then there’s Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, who is a throwback to the eighties if I ever saw one. Not only does he own a spaceship specifically used for orgies, but he also wears blue eyeliner and uses so much hair product global warming should be a problem on his planet. It’s safe to say he’s almost more Goldblum than Goldblum is, and that man played Ian freaking Malcolm. Meanwhile, Karl Urban’s Skurge is much like you’d expect, taking on the traditional villain’s assistant role while maintaining some ‘redeemable’ characteristics. Best of all is Waititi’s own motion capture creature, Korg, a stone alien whose kiwi tongue and soft spoken logic has been sorely lacking from these blockbuster affairs.
When it comes to cinematography it’s a cacophony of colour here, dragging us out of the cold shadows of Captain America: Civil War (2016). But visual aspects play little part in determining the best scene in the film, because while most woman will likely judge it as the moment they can swoon over Hemsworth’s *cough* it’s-probably-in-his-contract *cough* shirtless scene, the hands down standout is Loki’s Tony-Award winning theatrical production. To say anymore would be to spoil the best moment of your year. But suffice to say, the cameos are everything. So what about the worst element then? Well, that must go to the overused, overblown and seriously-can-we-just-do-away-with-this-trope-now plot for Hela to try and take over the universe. Frankly it is really hard to care when Thanos’ master plan is lurking just around the corner. With Infinity War (2018) looming large, the stakes here just can't ever be big enough, meaning we remain almost ambivalent to the villainess (who clearly took her goth phase too seriously). Even the devastating finale piece, full of astounding visual effects, falls somewhat flat as a result.
Coming in as a relatively small-scale director, it’s incredibly empowering to see Taika Waititi bringing his trademark charm, wit and down-to-earth fun to this piece. Unlike the James Gunn’s and the Jon Watts of the Marvel-verse (who have done incredible work, don’t get me wrong), Waititi stands just slightly above the crowd. Because while he brings the same genuine heart and humour like those before him, he also brings a breakaway from the formulaic style Marvel is renowned for delivering. He smashes the idea that the tone, characters and secrets must be carefully formulated because Marvel are watching. He knows but just doesn’t care. Because Waititi is the revolution maker (in both the literal and figurative sense), finding a compromise that fits everyone. It’s an eye for an eye after all.
Rating: 4 Shirtless Hemsworth's out of 5
Spider-Man: Homecoming Review - Peter Parker finds his feet and some fun as he swings into the Marvel universe
I’m going to get it out there right now. Transparency is important after all. I have never been a fan of Spider-Man. Yes, when I first fell into the land of superheroes and comics, I guess you could say I was indifferent to the idea of a guy in tights swinging across New York City and taking up the name of an insect that thousands of people around the world fear. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that spiders in Australia aren’t something to be proud of – they're gigantic, pains in the ass, which scare the crap out of you by their size and deadliness. Or perhaps it stems from the god-awful original movies starring Tobey Maguire, you know – the ones where he dances and you find yourself staring into a void you feel you’ll never get out of. But when Sony and Marvel announced they had got their act together to share rights to the character, something started to change. I found myself following the film’s updates and poring over its recent developments. I was there championing Tom Holland on behind a computer screen when he was announced on the shortlist, and I was there scrunching my face up in trepidation when they announced Jon Watts as the director. And somehow, along the way and without my knowledge, I had become a fan of the character. And can I just say, after watching this film, I am really glad I did.
Despite having one of the most convoluted posters in recent history, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s (2017) plot – mercifully – is far easier to follow. After his scene-stealing introduction in Captain America: Civil War (2016), 15-year-old Peter Parker is back in Queens and hankering for some action. Unfortunately for him, Team Stark is just as eager to keep the training wheels on – quite literally at times – suggesting he instead remain a “friendly, neighbourhood Spider-Man”. You know, the kind that steers old ladies in the right direction and foils dastardly bike thieves, all before enjoying a well-deserved churro. But what would a Spider-Man movie be without a little action right? So, it’s not long before Peter's Spidey-senses start tingling and he lands right in the middle of some Vulture-sized trouble. After being laid-off his job collecting alien-tech in the aftermath of the battle of New York, the bird in question – Mr Adrien Toombes – has decided to take things into his own hands. Stealing and refurbishing powerful weapons he then sells them on to the highest buyer in back alleys and bushes. But when Peter gets in the way of his ability to do that – and thus provide for his family – great power and great responsibility is the last thing on everyone’s minds.
Now, if there is one fault to Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe, it is their reliance on the age-old formula of a troubled protagonist who can too easily prove himself the hero. Life is hard, and pretty crappy at times, so most people escaping to the cinema want to see their hero’s struggle a bit before they come out on top. Refreshingly, that is where Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds, as Holland’s incarnation falls flat on his face just as many times as he triumphs. This time around he’s the dorky kid who must run across a golf course because there’s nowhere to shoot his webbing. He’s the guy who swings in to save the day but doesn’t quite know how to announce his presence to the villains. And he’s the guy that reduces a ferry to scrap metal instead of saving the day. He’s relatable and – God bless him – so very redeemable. Just like the audiences sitting in darkened theatres, he gets scared occasionally.
But Peter is also the sort of guy who knows how wrong it is to bring out his suit just to impress a girl at a party. Who understands how important it is to surround yourself with friends who truly care – trust me when I say, everyone needs a “guy in the chair”. And it’s this morality that is interwoven not just into Holland’s take on the character, but into the very fabric of the film. It’s there every time his AI assistant Karen – voiced by the wonderful new addition Jennifer Connelly – asks whether he would like to turn on ‘instant kill’. Or every time he realises that just because Aunt May is a strong independent women doesn’t mean she worries any less. That being said, the movie also finds a good balance by laying on the laughs. Whether it’s Peter’s disillusioned teachers or his lack of patience at being locked in a room. Maybe he can learn a thing or two from his Avenging idols after all…
Casting for this film was a great accomplishment by Marvel. Holland is hands down the best pick, and he’s been proving it ever since his masterful turn in The Impossible (2012). Then there’s Peter’s best friend Ned, to which Jacob Batalon brings perfect comedic timing. In just his second feature film he is already garnering fans and making you wonder where his star will reach. For all the mentions of Zendaya in the film’s marketing her character Michelle is downplayed heavily, but a casual reference come the films end ensures she will be back in future instalments and hopefully with a meatier role. Villain-wise Michael Keaton is cutting and interesting in his portrayal of Vulture, while Tony Revolori adds nuance to school bully Flash. Then there are the familiar faces, with Robert Downey Jr – slash – Iron Man (let’s face it they’re practically the same person now) phoning it in for most of the movie – believe me when I say that actually adds something to the piece though. Stan Lee gets a good run too, as does a mystery cameo, which will bring a smile to your face and have you digging through the DVD’s special features to see more.
One of the most interesting dynamics I enjoyed about Spider-Man: Homecoming is how heavily it leaned on the idea of Peter becoming the next Tony Stark. Not like Doctor Strange (2016), which delivered a blow-by-blow recreation of Iron Man’s first solo outing (i.e. Rich and entitled bad boy gets injured, learns heroic ways and returns to save the day). But more in a passing of the torch sort of way. He’s there to save Peter when he gets in over his head and to lecture him into realising he shouldn’t want to be ‘like him’ but be a ‘better him’. There is even the Artificial Intelligence who provides him snarky comments and helpful support. Above all though, there is the closing moments of the film, which while not as grand as Tony’s ‘I am Iron Man’ speech, certainly bring up something reminiscent. Not everyone may know Peter Parker’s secret-identity, but the wonderful thing about the Marvel Universe is that it really makes it a family affair.
Rating: 4 Spidey-Jumps out of 5
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review - Where a twig saves the day and the Guardians finally find family
When Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) debuted three years ago it was Marvel’s biggest gamble to date. Assembling a rag-tag team of misfits may have worked for The Avengers (2012), but the studio had six solo films to get to that point. And convincing people that an anthropomorphic raccoon, green ninja woman, scarred alien, self-confessed ‘Star-Lord’ and sentient tree would make the ideal protagonists, was another thing entirely. But convince they did, as then relatively unknown director James Gunn wowed viewers and critics alike with his incredible style and outstanding eighties soundtrack. Offbeat, funny and fresh, the movie surprised all who watched it, resulting in almost universal praise. But it did leave a real dilemma. How does one follows up a film that good? How do you create a sequel that outdoes the best? Well, the simple answer is you don’t. Instead you focus on making a movie that is exciting, humorous and just damn cute. You focus on doing well, instead of constantly trying to one-up yourself. And that’s exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) delivers.
The film follows a pretty straight-up storyline, whereby Peter finally discovers his origins and realises family doesn’t finish with blood. Since saving the galaxy the group have been settling into their role as protectors, with their latest venture taking them to the Sovereign’s home world to guard their batteries. But when one of the clan live up to their roguish background, golden ruler Ayesha sends her forces after them, driving the group to crash land on a foreign world. Saved by the mysterious Ego, Quill learns that the aptly-titled figure is his father and agrees to go to visit his planet alongside Drax and Gamora to discover more. Meanwhile, Yondu finds himself getting a bigger side-plot this time around, after being exiled by the ravaging community, caught up in a mutiny, and working with Rocket and Groot to try and right his wrongs. And then there comes the third act set piece, full of explosions, heart, cool cameos and enough guitar chords to keep fans happy.
But before delving into the nitty gritty technical elements, one thing I must do is take a moment to acknowledge the incredible opening sequence of the film. Without giving too much away, the equal parts cute and action-fuelled moment is perhaps the best introduction in Marvel filmic history. Not only does it give us the first look at the adorable Baby Groot and his fondness for dancing, but it proves why fight scenes become something else in Gunn’s hands. Slow-motion shots, sounds from Electric Light Orchestra and all filmed from the smallest team member’s point of view. It’s a lot, an overwhelming array of a scene that makes you wonder if your brain will be able to handle the next two hours. But it’s the kind of intense, colourful and enjoyable moment that makes Guardians stand apart from a crowd. And visually, the rest of the film delivers the same dynamic, as every tint and tone pops off the screen like a kaleidoscope of colour. Forget the stone wash of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), or the sombre hues of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Guardians is about the fun and what’s more fun than bringing things back to a classic comic book-style?
As far as the jokes go, for the most part they fall on Dave Bautista’s Drax and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, who channel the sarcasm and sass with ease. Pom Klementieff’s newcomer Mantis also steps in for support, with Gunn using her innocence as a fantastic front for humour. Sadly, while most of the jokes stick their landing a lot manage to mess up in the process. The toilet humour is strong in this sequel and will leave you wondering why the film felt it had to sink so low. Similarly, a long-running gag about a ravager named Taserface lasts a little too long and falls a little too flat for diehard fans. But the pop culture references are what have always won over viewers and there’s plenty to go around, from Knight Rider moments to mentions of Mary Poppins. And with young Groot learning his way in the new world, there’s just as many ‘awww’ instances as there our laugh out loud moments. Peter’s story may be the heart of the flick, but the young sapling’s is undoubtedly its spirit. I mean, come on, we’d pay the ticket price just to watch two hours of him sitting around, he’s that damn adorable.
Interestingly while Groot’s representation has been stepped up in this flick, perhaps the producers were leaning a little too hard on it. Because while Chris Pratt delivered one of the best Marvel representations in the first film, here he has been reduced to little more than a chess piece in a bigger game, torn between two fathers and two families. It’s every bit the cliché you think it is and leaves him faltering throughout a large part of the film. Thankfully he regains his star status by the final showdown, and it’s almost entirely thanks to Michael Rooker’s surprisingly earnest performance. If anyone deserves praise for the film, it is him. Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Karen Gillan all put on a solid show, while Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper again provide fantastic voiceover work. The real drawback though is Kurt Russell’s Ego. Perhaps the character brief was simply one-dimensional, or maybe he felt the need to draw too much on the stereotyped villains of old, but all it adds up to is the weakest link in the chain.
I expected a lot of things from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 going in. And perhaps that’s why I left a little less fulfilled and a lot more disappointed than I was after round one. But that’s my fault and not something I can lump on the film. Critics are, after all, known to become jaded every now and then. But there’s a lot of heart in the second instalment and its powerful focus on family is hard to ignore, especially as we make our way towards the Phase three climax that is Avengers: Infinity War (2018). The series is more personal, more poignant and more imperative than ever. So, it’s important to have some good old fashioned fun before we get there. Guardians style.
Rating: 4 Baby Groots out of 5
Let’s get one thing straight about Marvel’s latest superhero. It’s not Mister, it’s not Master, it’s Doctor. PhD and MD, at that. With such an arrogant statement there is more than a hint of Déjà vu about the studio’s latest caped crusader and his rather Stark-esque characteristics. So much so, in the coming months there is bound to be numerous similarities drawn between Doctor Strange (2016) and the studio’s first big hit Iron Man (2008). I mean, not only do we have a genius, millionaire, flirtatious, sort-of philanthropist, but Stephen Strange is also one to find his groove from pain and suffering, transformed from a self-centred coward, full of arrogance and ego, into a saviour. Thankfully, he also holds the same loveable and charming disposition to ensure audiences eat the film up. And that they should, with director Scott Derrickson weaving a magical and mind-bending work that makes a beautiful and important addition to the ongoing saga.
The fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange begins with the talented and titular neurosurgeon proving his merit in the operating room, pulling bullets from brains as easily as he can recite the year obscure songs were released. On top of the world with an intellect matched only by his enormous ego, Strange is somewhat untouchable, charming his former flame and choosing only the cases that truly challenge him. That is until his life is up-ended, quite literally, when a horrendous car crash leaves his miracle-wielding hands torn up, bolted back together and with irreparable nerve damage. When Western medicine fails him, he takes the advice of a former physical therapy patient and heads to Nepal in search of the mysterious Kamar-Taj. From there things get mystical, as our protagonist is trained in everything from astral projection to gateway travel, thanks to a being known only as The Ancient One. When former sect student Kaecillius threatens reality with the dark realm of Dormammu though, it will take everything the newly transformed Strange has to turn time itself on its head.
It’s a different direction for the mad and masterful Marvel studios, venturing into worlds further afield than even those of James Gunn’s cosmic breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2012). Here, magic and sorcery reign supreme, as we tread the fine line between unquantifiable science and pure faith. Psychedelic just doesn’t quite do it justice, the visuals taking us to numerous other dimensions and realities and opening up fantastic future film possibilities. The Ancient One describes it as spending your whole life looking through a keyhole and then having that keyhole widen. What they should have said though is it is like looking through a keyhole only to have the door swing open. Like an optical orgy, the special effects denote an exceptional attention to detail, building towards the final climactic moments. Interestingly, the denouement, while cumbersome, plays out in complete contrast to the destruction fuelled nightmares of the rest of 2016’s superhero films. It is hard to say whether it was intentional or coincidence, but either way it is both refreshing and optimistic for the future of the genre.
With one Academy Award winner and three more nominees among the cast, it is safe to say the acting hits the mark. Cumberbatch is of course the charismatic standout, with his New York accent, slick style and penchant for dry humour. His take on the character is as effortless a Downey Junior’s was with Iron Man, as if the role had been written specifically for him. For all the cries of whitewashing, Tilda Swinton also delivers a profound and solid turn as the wise old teacher, while Mads Mikkelsen once again channels his inner Hannibal Lecter as the main antagonist. Rachel McAdams is a wonderful addition too, walking the line between stereotypical and strong female representations. A qualified doctor who is able to hold power over our central protagonist, majority of her scenes involve hilarious jump scares that ground the film in reality. However it is the cloak of levitation that steals the show from everyone, garnering the most laughs in the film’s two-hour run. An inanimate object in the comics designed to help Doctor Strange fly, it takes on a sentient life here, pummelling baddies and looking cool, calm and collected as it goes.
If there is one flaw about the film, it is that is suffers from the pains of future constraints. With Strange destined to appear in the upcoming Avengers films, he is never put in any true amount of peril and as such, is never tested to his limits. We are constantly left with the idea of more, but never the satisfaction of it. Bigger and better is the promise as we head into Phase 3 and in Marvel’s rush to get there the studio has forgotten to give it their all in their introductory pictures. Similarly weak is the lack of humour, which paints the picture of just how depressing bleak the screenplay must have been before the addition of Dan Harmon’s re-writes. The funny offbeat moments we are given have a way of twisting and pulling at the characters’ development, making the moments feel needy and desperate instead of smooth and slick. For all his trying, Cumberbatch is never quite as quippy as Stark is and after seeing him deliver in everything from Sherlock (2010) to The Imitation Game (2014) it’s safe to say it’s not thanks to his acting ability.
It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie though without some tie-ins to the greater shared universe, with names like the Avengers sprinkled about here and there and the classic cameo from Stan Lee hitting the mark if not blowing it out of the water excelsior style. There’s even a big nod to the Infinity Stone storyline, if only for a minute. For anything bigger though, viewers will have to wait until the post-credit scenes, once again teasing future instalments and reminding us that as much as we may love any one character, this is, in fact, a shared universe. The real question for the studio now though is exactly how they will get to their big Avenging moment, throwing together the old and the new and letting them hand off their respective batons. So open your mind to the film, surrender control and let the film shape a new reality around you. Because while not everything in Doctor Strange and the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe will make sense, then again, not everything has to.
Rating: 4 Mind-Bending Universes out of 5
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