Rampage

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacey, Joe Manganiello, and P.J. Byrne

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a bonafide movie star. If you look at his CV, it’s pretty much standard action-adventure fare, with the odd dip into action-comedy. The roles that he plays don’t vary much, but still people flock to see the next movie from The Rock. It’s easy to see why, the man oozes charisma. You don’t go to see a Dwayne Johnson movie to see him get stuck into a character, you go to see him kicking ass whilst quipping witticisms. Rampage sees him teaming up with Brad Peyton, the pair having previously worked together on Journey 2 and San Andreas. The film doesn’t deal in subtleties, it knows it has two main attractions, and puts them both front and centre. Ones a giant albino gorilla, the other is a giant bald man.

Rampage is the story of Davis Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson. A primatologist who works at a sanctuary. It’s here that he has formed a close bond with an albino gorilla named George. When a container falls out of a space shuttle and crash lands on earth, a pathogen inside infects George. The pathogen is a form of genetic editing, and George soon starts growing at an alarming rate, whilst his aggression levels shoot through the roof. He’s not the only animal to be infected though, there’s also a giant flying wolf, and a giant alligator. Throw into the mix a shady government agency which wants to take George for study, and a shady corporation who want to weaponise the pathogen, Davis will have his work cut out as he tries to return George to normal.

Big. Dumb. Fun. That’s exactly what this movie sets out to be, and boy, does it achieve it. It whips by at a frantic pace, barely leaving you time to catch your breath or think too much about it. Which is good because the plot would not stand up to any scrutiny, but there is enough charm here for you to not really care. It’s a bit of a mish mash of different movies, but they sorta work together. It’s bonkers in all the right ways. The prologue is a blend of Gravity and Alien, but instead of an alien it’s a giant rodent killing people off. It then morphs into Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, before settling on Godzilla. The action is fun, but it’s all held together by another charismatic performance from Dwayne Johnson.

It’s a proper popcorn movie, but does still have the marks of a film which has had major rewrites. It’s a plot where things just happen one after the other without much rhyme or reason. Any excuse to just move onto the next set piece. You’re also introduced to a group of colleagues who work with Davis for the first third of the movie, only to completely disappear and be replaced with characters which fit the plot better. A lot of these characters are given short shrift, although Jeffrey Dean Morgan is good fun. There are also duller moments, the whole sub plot of corporate espionage bores, and the brief introduction to a team of mercenaries which isn’t needed. The film excels when The Rock is on screen doing his thing. The film just needed to keep a tighter focus on his story.

Overall, this is hugely enjoyable romp. It’s pure fluff, but there is enough charm and charisma here to put it a step above similar movies. Gladly this is no Transformers, it’s a fun film which knows where it’s strengths lie.

7/10

Truth Or Dare

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Sam Lerner.

2018 has been a fantastic year for horror movies. In the last month we’ve seen both A Quiet Place, and Ghost Stories released. Two incredibly different movies, both of which pushed the genre in exciting directions. Arriving hot on their heels is Truth Or Dare, the latest from Blumhouse Pictures, Jason Blum’s production house which specialises in making low budget horror movies which return huge box office, whilst also pushing the envelope with Whiplash and Get Out. Here he invests in director Jeff Wadlow, best known for directing the middling Kick-Ass sequel. If 2018 has been a great year for horror, Truth Or Dare feels like it should have come out in 2000.

Truth Or Dare follows Lucy Hale’s Amelia, a college student dragged along to Mexico by her friends for Spring Break. On their last night in Mexico she meets a guy called Carter at a bar. Carter invites Olivia and her friends to an abandoned Mission, where they start to play Truth Or Dare. When asked to tell a truth, Carter tells them that he tricked them to come up to the Mission so they would play the game. He tells them that the game is real, and if they don’t play they will die, if they don’t do the dare they will die, and if they don’t tell the truth they will die. They brush it off, but after one of their friends dies when chickening out on a dare, they realise Carter was telling the truth and that they will have to play.

Let’s make one thing clear. I’m probably not the target audience for this movie. This is a film which has got its sights set on 15-18 year olds. The casting alone makes this painfully obvious. Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars, Tyler Posey from Teen Wolf, these are some of the hottest stars in American television, all from shows aimed at an audience younger than me. If these are the kind of shows you enjoy, you might have some fun with this movie. If you’re a hardened horror fan, there’s nothing here for you. It moves at a good pace, and the cast do well, but at the end of the day it’s a stupid premise, and the execution is too sincere to have fun with it.

The direction is lacklustre at best. The look and feel of the film is far from cinematic. It’s like binge watching a whole season of The Vampire Diaries, although that comparison is unfair to The Vampire Diaries. There is next to no tension. There are no actual scares; Wadlow is more interested in framing and lighting his good looking cast than actually making the horror in this movie work. It’s laughable at times, but not intentionally. When the kids visit the police station for the third time in a day, you know the movie has no internal logic. I just used the word kids, which is ridiculous, because these actors are clearly much older than the parts they are playing. It’s like all of the bad horror tropes from the 90’s and early 00’s blended into one awful movie.

The biggest disappointment though, is that the film doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness of its premise. The easiest comparison for this movie is Final Destination, which had fun with the way in which it disposed of its cast in increasingly ingenious ways. The deaths in Truth Or Dare are terrible. It’s a strangely bloodless movies, and the deaths are staged so simply, you wish more thought had gone into them, that they’d been smarter. These aren’t characters you are supposed to care about. Most of them you don’t spend enough time with, and the ones you do are pretty terrible people, so their deaths aren’t supposed to hit on an emotional level. Which is fine, but they could have at least made the deaths fun. Alternatively, they could have approached it with a more knowing tone. Used the 90’s horror tropes in a way to make a pastiche of movies like Final Destination.

This film fails pretty much on every level. It’s not scary, it’s not smart, and it’s not funny, at least not intentionally. Save yourself the cost of a cinema ticket, and binge watch a young adult box set, you will get a lot more out of it. Alternatively shove a pen in your eye socket, it will be more fun.

 

3/10

Ghost Stories

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Starring: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehorse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman.

Based on their own stage play, directors and writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman bring their creation to the big screen. I’ve never seen the aforementioned play, in fact before the movie came out I hadn’t even heard of it. Dyson is best known for The League Of Gentlemen, whilst Nyman is best known for his work with Derren Brown. The influence of both is apparent on the screen. This is classic horror, with its roots in psychology.

Andy Nyman plays Professor Goodman, a tv personality who hosts a documentary series exposing psychic frauds. When his hero, Professor Charles Cameron, an older tv host who debunked the supernatural, invites him to look at three cases which have evaded explanation, Goldman sets out to find the logical explanation. What follows is an anthology of three different stories told through interview and flash back. Paul Whitehouse, and his tale of an abandoned asylum. Alex Lawther, and his late night drive through the woods; and Martin Freeman, and his experience with a poltergeist.

Ghost Stories is a genuinely scary movie. Scary in a way rarely seen these days. It’s creepy, it’s weird, and it’s superbly done. It’s very easy to describe this as a rollercoaster of a movie. It eases you into it, and then the tension starts to build, ratcheting up until the big scare, and then it sends you hurtling into the abyss, making you both grip the arm of your seat, and giving you a huge smile at the same time. There’s a pattern to it as well, with each story ending at its most horrific for a quick reset before we hurtle into the next story. There is an over arcing plot to the anthology style, clues which keen eyed viewers will pick up on early. It helps hold the film together, and allows for some genuine twists and turns, which are satisfyingly tied up.

The cast are superb. Alex Lawther is a rising British talent, after starring in an episode of Black Mirror, and The End Of The F**king World. He may be in danger of being type cast, but boy does he do creepy well. The whole of his segment is pretty much shown through close ups, and he sells the terror particularly well. Paul Whitehouse is great in more dramatic role for him, and Martin Freeman is reliably solid. It’s perhaps telling that all these actors can do comedy well, and though this film is certainly not a comedy, laughs are used in the same way as a jump scare, it’s a release of the tension the film has built up, and adds to the enjoyment of the experience. Director, writer, and star Andy Nyman more than holds his own against these better known names.

If the film does have any flaws it’s in the way it can’t quite escape it’s stage show origin. It’s a good looking film, but was obviously shot for a modest budget. Stylistically it reminded me of BBC’s Sherlock, but that may have been the Martin Freeman connection. The three story structure also felt designed for the stage, I haven’t seen the play, but I can imagine that where the film cuts out of the flashbacks is where there is a black out on stage. The resets also meant that there was no sense of escalation. I wanted each story to get scarier and scarier. Instead it built to the same crescendo and cut at the same volume at almost every story. I enjoyed the ending, I had clocked on to some of the stuff going on quite early, but was left satisfied with the explanation, even if it was slightly spoon fed.

Overall, this film is a great deal of fun. It’s a ride of a movie which will both scare and exhilarate in equal measure. Hopefully it will be bring about a new dawn of British horror nmovies. It does have a uniquely British sensibility to it. It’s not afraid to take risks, it’s got weird moments, the fact that these moments work is due to fantastic direction and a great cast. It perhaps wraps things up a bit to neatly though, which whilst satisfying from a story point of view, does mean that not many of the scares linger once the film has finished.

7/10

Isle Of Dogs

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, and Scarlett Johansson.

It seems almost trite these days to describe yourself as a Wes Anderson fan. The director moved from cult hero into the mainstream with his last movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. The director is almost a genre unto himself now, his films defined by their unique visual style, dead pan delivery of dialogue, and Anderson’s ever expanding troupe of actors. Isle Of Dogs isn’t the first stop-motion animation Anderson has made either, his last one being Fantastic Mr. Fox. For any other director these films would be experiments, or oddities in their CV, but Anderson’s sensibilities lend themselves to the format.

Isle Of Dogs is set in a futuristic, fictionalised version of Japan. An outbreak of dog flu, which is threatening the human population, forces Mayor Kobayashi to exile all the dogs to Trash Island. The place where all the cities garbage goes. The first dog to head over is Spot, the Mayor’s Nephew’s Dog. His Nephew, Atari then steals a plane to fly to Trash Island to rescue his dog, being helped along the way by a pack of alpha dogs.

This movie is a complete joy. I was slightly sceptical going in, I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of the format, or if Anderson would skew too young to hold my attention. I shouldn’t have worried, I was in a safe pair of hands, and the film is captivating and engaging throughout. It feels odd to say, but I believe that this is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. The level of detail gone into creating this world is stunning, and the film looks gorgeous. Wes Anderson directs his live action films as if they exist in a dolls house, and this style with way in which depth is used, and the way the camera moves in his film, is an ideal match for stop-motion. If anything it expands Anderson’s vision, allowing him to make a film more epic in scope.

It’s primarily a kids film, but there is a deeper, darker heart to it. It has an emotional core that you’d expect from a film about a boy looking for his lost dog, and whilst the dead pan delivery of Anderson’s cast doesn’t immediately lend itself to cutting straight to the heart, Anderson has crafted a deeply moving film about love, belonging and loyalty. There is darkness here though, which is far from cookie cutter. There are themes of genocide, conformity, and political manipulation, which when paired with the history of Japan brings out a deeper meaning. The kids might not understand it, but there is more going on under the surface of this film than it first appears. It’s this darkness which robs the film of its charm in the final act of the movie. The jokes and humour give way to something more serious, slowing down the pace, and ultimately causing it to drag.

There has been some debate about the film regarding Orientalism. It didn’t bother me at the time of watching, but the more I think about it, there is something there . There is a lot of affectionate homage, and this is a fictionalised Japan which does mean liberties are taken. If there are controversial moments, they hold no intent. There are two creative decisions which grate the most. The first is the fact that unless someone is there to translate, the Japanese language goes unheard and ignored. If they could put subtitles down for signs, they could have put subtitles for the Japanese, it’s a cute creative decision to have other characters translate the news segments, but it turns the other moments the language is used into meaningless nothing. Making it a secondary language. The other element which grated was Greta Gerwig’s foreign exchange student. In a film full of Japanese figures, having the only white one become the leader of the resistance is a bit of a problem.

Isle Of Dog’s is another great movie from Wes Anderson. It’s lovingly made, and looks fantastic. It manages to be both funny and moving, whilst riffing on some more adult themes. The politics might be a bit off, but I don’t believe there was any intent to offend. It’s just a bit blinkered. If you’d like to know more about this check out this article https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/isle-of-dogs-jared-leto-orientalism?utm_term=.uf19MBb7O#.tvvplm36j

7/10

A Quiet Place

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. John Krasinski

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds.

From starring in the US version of The Office, to action star, to first time director, it’s seems there’s nothing that John Krasinski can’t do, as he makes directing one of the scariest movies in years look easy. It helps that he can enlist the help of his superstar wife, Emily Blunt to join his cast, but the credit for what has been crafted here should all go to Krasinski. In a character driven horror story with a sci-fi premise. There were rumours before it came out that it might be another surprise Cloverfield movie, it’s not. Cloverfield Paradox could only dream of being this good.

The film is set in a near, post-apocalyptic future. Most of the human race has seemingly been wiped out by what you assume is an alien species, but we’re never told where these monsters have come from. The catch is that the creatures are blind, but have super sensitive hearing which they use to hunt down the humans. John Krasinski plays Lee, a man trying to keep his family safe whilst preparing for the birth of another child with his wife Evelyn, played by Emily Blunt. The only way to stay truly safe though is by staying silent.

A Quiet Place is the most affecting horror movie in years. I have to admit, horror isn’t my favourite genre. I don’t get scared by films, and the modern day horror film is all about long periods of quiet leading to jump scares that I find myself bored. This was not the case with A Quiet Place. Tense, and taught throughout, it functions as a completely engaging thriller that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The sci-fi setting gave the film a level of intrigue, and the story itself had an emotional edge which helped elevate the movie above its horror trappings.

There’s a lot to be applauded within this movie, but the element that really makes it work is the sound design. It’s no surprise that a film which is about being as quiet as possible hinges on how well the sound works on the film. The diegetic sound, and its use is incredible. The score is non-intrusive, and Krasinski uses both as a tool to ratchet up the tension. An early scene between Millicent Simmonds Regan and her brother is a great example. Regan is deaf, and uses a hearing aid. During the sign language conversation, Krasinski Cuts between close ups of the two of them, the sound transitioning between what the two of them are hearing with the cuts. There’s a rhythm to this, starting slow, and getting faster, and as the rhythm builds so does the tension. It’s impressive stuff.

The film also works because of the emotional core. The film is crafted around an emotional story about a Dad and his little girl. It’s this story that is the real focus of the film. The investment I had in these characters meant that the more visceral moments really hit home. I physically winced and jumped during moments in this film, not something I normally do. This investment is down to both great story telling, and great acting. John Krasinski does well as the stoic father, and there’s a great soulfulness to his performance, his puppy dog eyes exuding pain and torment, but it’s the two females in the film who really wow. Emily Blunt is fantastic, and is given some of the meatier stuff, and Millicent Simmonds all but steals the film as Regan. It’s a performance which announces the introduction of a future star.

A Quiet Place is one of the best horror movies in recent times. It’s a thrill ride of a film, that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time. It’s tight and taught, but every moment of the film counts. John Krasinski has hit a home run on his first try, with an intelligent and economic use of cinematic tools. There’s also a nice little message of female empowerment. It starts with Krasinski only taking his son to go get supplies and food, with the two women left at home to do the laundry, this is nicely switched at the end of the film. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I loved this.

9/10

The Road To Infinity War – Ranking The MCU

2018

Its almost here. Avengers: Infinity War is released in the U.K. on Wednesday 25th April. I’ve already got my IMAX ticket booked. I generally only see two films a year in IMAX, and try to save it for big event movies, and Infinity War is as big as it gets. It’s also the first Marvel movie to be shot entirely on IMAX. Originally billed as a two parter, the second movie is now only known as Untitled Avengers Movie. The two movies are still connected, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo have stressed that they will both feel like their own complete movie, whilst the title is under wraps to not spoil any of Infinity War’s surprises. Although only marking the end of Marvel’s Phase Three of their cinematic universe, these movies represent the end of an era. There’s a sense that the previous 18 movies, all sheperded to the screen by producer Kevin Feige, have been leading up to this, and that afterwards it will be a fresh start, with many of the main actors contracts coming to an end. Marvel will carry on afterwards, but it’s unlikely we will be seeing Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, or Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man again. Of course this is partly speculation, and when Disney rock up to each stars repspective mansions with a garbage truck full of cash, they might all sign another 6 picture deal. For now though, this seems as close to an ending as we are going to get in Kevin Feige’s 18 movie story. It’s been an unprecedented run, and one which has seen every other studio attempt to create their own cinematic universe to varying degrees of success, but none have come close to Marvel. So, on the eve of Infinity War I thought I would rank the previous 18 movies from worst to best. As always, this list is highly subjective, and only represents my opinions at this moment in time. If you do have differing opinions be sure to let me know by commenting. Enjoy.

 

18. The Incredible Hulk

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There is no doubt in my mind that this is the worst movie in the MCU. It’s not that the movie is completely terrible, actually I think it has a lot of redeemable features, it’s that it feels so inconsequential. When I first introduced my other, and frankly better half to the Marvel universe, I actually left this movie out. You just have to give a brief synopsis of what The Hulk is, and that’s it, they’re set for the rest of the 16 movie run. I did enjoy the first 30 minutes of the movie, and Edward Norton does a good job, but Mark Ruffalo has nailed it since. The rest of the film is just forgettable, middling blockbuster rubbish. The post-credits sequence is worth watching though, as it’s the first crossover between movies in the MCU with Robert Downey Jr. talking to William Hurt’s General Ross at a bar. Hurt’s General Ross was also bought back for Civil War, so there is hope that some of the better elements of this film could be cherry picked and enfolded into the rest of the MCU.

 

17. Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: The Dark World is arguably Marvel showing all their bad habits. After the runaway success of the first Avengers movie, this one feels more like a stop gap until Age Of Ultron. Gone was the fish out of water comedy from the first movie in favour of something darker, and all together more boring. It did nothing to develop Thor as a character or to expand the world he inhabits. It also featured one of the blandest villains the MCU has ever produced. Worth a watch because of the introduction of The Aerher, or the reality stone, but for little else. They also squandered Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki, a breakout from Avengers, and was the first time I started to question whether Marvel did have a plan for this universe.

 

16. Iron Man 2

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Iron Man 2 is a tough one to place. It does a lot of groundwork for what is to come, but also shows that in the early days Marvel didn’t get everything right, and have thankfully learnt from their mistakes. Jon Favreau returned to direct, and it had, surprisingly, Justin Theroux on Screenplay duties. There are great elements in the movie, the Monaco Grand Prix sequence being one of them, but it just didn’t hang together as a whole. Sam Rockwell is also fantastic, but given little screen time as Marvel had other things on their mind. Those other things were laying the foundation for Avengers, this meant that plot threads which seemed to go nowhere were introduced, like Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, and S.H.I.E.L.D. These are all important bits of exposition for the MCU, but left Iron Man 2 unsatisfactory as a standalone movie.

 

15. Doctor Strange

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Part of me feels a little bad putting Doctor Strange so far down on this list, but it’s the only Marvel film I haven’t been drawn back to re-watching. I own all the currently released Blu-Rays, and this one is still in its wrapping. It’s not a bad film by any means. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast, the visuals are fantastic, and director Scott Derrickson creates an interesting finale by cleverly subverting expectations. The problem is the story, it’s a generic origin story that came at a time when audiences had already seen so many. It’s a well made film, but it’s a film that’s hard to love. Of course, if in the future Marvel go down the route of a multiverse, than this film has paved the way for those stories, and it also introduced us to both magic, and the time stone.

 

14. Avengers: Age Of Ultron

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Age Of Ultron is a mix bag of Marvel at their best, and at their worst. It can’t be understated how much expectation was on this movie either. When the first Avengers movie came out, nobody knew what to expect. It was a gamble. Iron Man had set the box office alight, but Captain America and Thor weren’t runaway hits, so when Avengers broke the $1 billion dollar mark, the anticipation for the next team up was at fever pitch. There ar elements of this film that I love. The opening sequence is pure comic book joy, and it’s always fun to watch the character interactions. The problem was that it was supposed to be the big event but felt too much like treading water. Joss Whedon had his hands tied with trying to set up too much for future movies. Marvel have since loosened the reigns with their directors, but this felt like a movie where nothing really happened. Ultron was a disappointment as well, James Spader did good voice work, which helped elevate an otherwise forgettable villain.

 

13. Thor

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Thor comes from an era where Marvel were still finding their feet. I would argue that it’s not until recently that Marvel have really nailed the tone of a Thor movie, not to say that this movie isn’t enjoyable. Kenneth Branagh does great work in the directors chair, bringing a Shakespearean tone to comic book genre. There’s great world building in th  creation of Asgard, and the cast are universally fantastic. It’s probably the most laughable of all the Marvel premises, but they pull it off well. By placing the action on Earth, and introducing Thor in a fish out of water story, it enabled Chris Hemsworth to be able to play it completely straight, whilst mining the ridiculousness of the situation for laughs, and not coming across as too po-faced.

 

12. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2

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Guardians Of The Galaxy have so far been the most self-contained movies in the MCU. That’s all about to change though, as Infinity War is promising the team up of The Guardians with The Avenegrs. It’s not all been smooth sailing though, as this film shows. At times it felt like too much of a re-tread of the first films greatest hits, whilst  the excursion to Ego almost derailed the entire film, becoming too meandering and venturing into boring territory. It still had plenty of laughs though, and the soundtrack was still great. It also operates on a much more emotional level than the rest of the MCU, and the emotional whollop that this film packs will guarantee that there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

 

11. Ant-Man

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I feel like this is the point in the list where my focus starts to shift, it gets harder from  here as I’m now choosing which film I like more, rather than which film I like less. The last seven movies all have things I dislike, whereas from here I generally really enjoyed the films without reservations. Ant-Man follows on from The Winter Soldier where Marvel started crafting indiviual identities for their movies, and moved away from Comic Book Movie as a genre, and made genre movies with comic book characters. Ant-Man is a heist movie, just where the heist revolves around the protagonist having a suit that can shrink him to the size of an ant. Rumoured as a troubled production, it showed no signs of this on the screen. Paul Rudd was great, and there were some ingenious uses of the shrinking technology. Ant-Man fighting Yellow Jacket to The Cure’s Plainsong is still one of my favourite moments in the MCU.

 

10. Iron Man 3

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Iron Man 3 marks the point where Marvel started to take over the cinematic landscape. After the runaway success of Avengers, it was only fitting that the man who started it all would be the one to kick off Phase Two. By bringing in writer/director Shane Black, we were given a more complex Tony Stark, and some great buddy comedy moments with Downey Jr. and Cheadle playing excellently off each other. Some people hated the Mandarin twist, but I loved it and thought it worked well in the universe that the Iron Man films had established. It’s a hard line to walk, balancing what makes an Avengers film, and what makes an Iron Man film. Whilst it does take some time for Iron Man to actually appear, it did allow for a deeper exploration of character, which gives Stark’s actions in films like Civil War more resonance.

 

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

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It’s funny how some films get better with age. Captain America: The First Avenger is definitely one. At the time some felt it was too camp, but I’ve always really enjoyed it.  The way in which director Joe Johnson subverts the iconography which could have made Captain America cheesy into a parody of propaganda is great. The casting of Chris a Evans is only matched by RDJ as Iron Man, in the way the actor seems to have inhabited the character, and made him his own. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time Cap’s first outing has become the lynchpin of the MCU; the introduction of the Tesseract leading straight into Avengers, and with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely being the most consistent MCU writers. They went on to write Winter Soldier, Civil War, and are on screenwriting duties for Infinity War and Avengers 4. This consistency enabled them to build Cap a proper story arc, and provides the truest throughline for the MCU. The call back in Civil War of the line “I can do this all day” only happens with the same writers, and if Captaim America is going to die, I bet it will be in a self sacrifice along the lines of Steve Rogers jumping on a dud grenade.

 

8. Thor: Ragnarok

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If you had told me this time last year that I would be putting a Thor movie in my top ten, I would have laughed at you, but such is the magic of the work Taika Waititi has done on this movie. It’s the first time we’ve seen Marvel hand over the reigns completely to one directors vision, and we get an acid-tinged comedic trip of a movie. The visuals are stunning, the jokes are hilarious, and Chris Hemsworth finally owns the role, proving his ability as a comedic actor. Not everything lands; Cate Blanchett looks fantastic and does her best, but her villain Hela is underused. The comedy does also hamper some other scenes By undercutting their importance. If you’re a fan of the previous Thor movies there are some key elements which are perhaps discarded too casually.

 

7. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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If his cameo in Civil War got you excited, Homecoming was the Spider-Man movie you had been waiting for. Tom Holland did something that no other actor had previously achieved, which was to nail both the role of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. His performance elevates this movie above what had come before. It also used the MCU as a smart way to avoid telling another origin story, we all know how Spider-Man got his powers, but by inserting Tony Stark we still got the father figure which is key to Peter Parker’s motivations. Director Jon Watts used the John Hughes formula to create a fun and enjoyable diversion from the main MCU story, capitalising on all the elements which make Spider-Man a fan favourite.

6. Iron Man

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The film that launched a cinematic universe. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2008 Iron Man was considered a b-list title. It was Marvel’s first movie as a studios, and they hadn’t been bought by Disney yet. Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t the star that Iron Man would make him, and it was considered a risk hiring him for the role. It came out the same year as The Dark Knight, but it was by taking these risks, and a more colourful approach which made it a run-away success. It still sets the high watermark for making a great origin story. It’s rumoured that the end tag which introduces the idea of The Avengers was only added after successful test screenings. Which is perhaps a note other studios need to take, you create a successful universe one good movie at a time, not by assuming that people will turn up. Jon Favreau also came of age as a blockbuster movie director with this film, and some of he choices he made were truly inspired and still echo through the MCU.

 

5. Avengers

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To think that in the U.K. This was titled Avenger Assemble to avoid confusion with the long running TV show of the same name is almost laughable now, and is just evidence to how far this franchise has come. People forget how risky this movie was, how much of a feat it was to pull off a movie this ambitious, you only have to watch Age Of Ultron or Justice League to appreciate how well Joss Whedon captured lightning in a bottle. The logistics of this movie, and balancing characters who had never met before, all with their own mythology and back story must have been a nightmare, but Whedon pulled it off with a lightness of touch. Blending character moments with some stunning spectacle, and arming his characters with the best quips since Buffy, Avengers sent the MCU into the stratosphere, turning it into a true pop culture phenomenon.

 

4. Captain America: Civil War

Film Review Captain America Civil War

If you felt that Age Of Ultron felt a little to meandering, a lot of action but not a lot of forward momentum in terms of character arcs, Civil War was the film to reignite your faith in Marvel. The subtle cracks that appeared between the team in Age Of Ultron exploded open here. Some billed it as Avengers 2.5, but what makes this film really work is that it remains all the way through a Captain America film. It’s his relationships with Bucky and Tony that become the driving force and emotional centre for the movie, and the way that the themes of Winter a Soldier are carried forward here makes it the finest sequel to a marvel film so far. It also proved that the Russo brothers could handle juggling this many characters, whilst fantastically introducing audiences to Spider-Man and Black Panther. It’s a skill that will have come in handy when they directed Infinity War.

 

3. Black Panther

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If Avengers was a pop culture phenomenon, then Black Panther is nothing short of a cultural movement. Already having grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, this film became a juggernaut. Marvel let director Ryan Coogler tell the story that he wanted to tell, and the result is the first Marvel movie which actually has something to say. It’s also the first movie in the MCU to have a black lead, shattering the notion that only white actors can sell movies. It works as both excellent popcorn entertainment, whilst still being socially relevant. Filled with instantly iconic moments, and characters, Black Panther is one of Marvel’s best standalone movies, and finds them pushing the MCU into a higher gear. It’s the last movie before Infinity War, and I couldn’t think of a better lead in.

 

2. Guardians Of The Galaxy

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In terms of purely standalone Marvel movies, Guarians Of The Galaxy is the best. There are no ties to any of the past movies, and besides the inclusion of Thanos and the Infinity Stones, has no relation to other events in the MCU. If Iron Man and Avengers seemed like a risk, Guardians was a property that even comic book fans were surprised by. Add to the mix a director best known for b-movie schlock, the schlubby boyfriend from Parks and Recs as the male lead, a talking tree that only says ” I Am Groot”, and a wise cracking talking Racoon. Everyone was fully expecting Marvel to have their first flop. James Gunn had other plans though, injecting the film with the giddy excitement you had when first watching Star Wars, and matching it with one of the best soundtracks ever compiled. Chris Pratt buffed up, and cinema found its new Harrison Ford. It was simultaneously Marvels best adventure film, and its funniest. Gunn grounded it all with a whole load of heart, making it thee most emotionally engaging movie in the MCU.

 

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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My number one choice, after a lot of deliberation is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There are so many Marvel films that I love, but this is the one I keep coming back to. The first MCU movie to really break the comic book genre mouldy by staging the film as a modern day political thriller. It was the introduction of Anthony and Joe Russo as directors, and has been the key to everything Marvel have done since. It perfectly carried on the thread from Avengers, and built towards Civil War. The genius move here was to pair Steve Rogers with Black Widow, and watch these two characters with differing ideologies bounce off each other, and become friends. This is Marvel at the top of their game, creating character driven spectacle. The Russo’s also gave weight to the action, and for the first time you actually felt the hits, in both a physical sense, and an emotional one. They also made Captain America cool, which is the films crowning achievement.

 

So, there you have it. My ranking of the MCU thus far. Of course, it’s not definitive, as I want to leave myself room to change my mind, but on the eve of Infinity War, this is how I feel the journey has gone. Disagree with me? Great. Leave a comment and let me know what your favourite movie in the MCU is, the only condition is that you have to tell me why. I’m hoping to re-assess this list before Avengers 4, but until then enjoy Infinity War.

A Wrinkle In Time

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ava DuVernay

Starring: Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Ava DuVernay is one of the leading lights in American film making. Blazing a trail for both people of colour and for female filmmakers. Her output is usually politically charged, having directed both Selma, and the documentary feature 13th. The later of which won the academy award for best documentary with its exploration of the incarceration of African-American men in America. It’s somewhat of a surprise then that her next feature is a Disney movie primarily aimed at kids. It’s clear though that Ava had a vision for this movie, and that there was a story here that she wanted to tell. She turned down countless other big budget movies, including Black Panther, but with A Wrinkle In Time she became the first African-American woman to helm a film with a budget over $100 million.

A Wrinkle In Time follows the story of Meg, a brilliant Storm Reid, who has become despondent ever since the disappearance of her father, Chris Pine, four years ago. She lives with her Mum and younger adopted brother Charles Wallace. She gets into fights at school, and her grades are starting to slip. We’re told that she used to be a top student, and her brother tells her she’s got more potential than anybody. When her brother introduces her to Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit, she finds out that her father had managed to wrinkle space time, allowing him to travel through the universe instantaneously. He’s now been captured by a terrible evil, and it’ll be up to Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin to rescue him.

The buzz going into this film was mixed. I don’t understand that, I loved this movie. Disney release one of these every year, a big budget movie which isn’t based on an existing franchise, we’ve had The Lone Ranger, and Tomorrowland, and now we’ve got A Wrinkle In Time. They struggle to find their audience, but are some of the most interesting films Disney release. There’s a part in the film where Chris Pine talks about finding the right frequency to wrinkle space time, maybe you had to find the right frequency to really appreciate this movie, because for me it resonates loudly. If you thought that Ava was leaving the politics at the child friendly door, don’t worry, she doesn’t hit you over the head with it, but there’s a message which runs throughout the movie.

The casting alone sends a clear message, Ava is about diversity, and giving opportunities both in front of and behind the camera. The choice of a bi-racial lead isn’t just a token gesture, it becomes the crux of the movie. This is a film about a young girl who doesn’t love herself, doesn’t believe in herself, and that message is reinforced by everyone around her. When Calvin tells her he likes her hair and she says that he doesn’t, it means something. It’s backed up later when she faces the version of herself she wishes she was, and that version has straightened hair. The film is about fighting conformity, and Ava makes it clear that this is of upmost importance to those who are told that the way they naturally look isn’t right, or isn’t beautiful.

The film looks fantastic as well. It’s clear that this is a singular vision of this story. The vistas of the alien planets are gorgeous to behold, and the way the world is built is ingenious. It’s unlike anything DuVernay has done before and she proves herself equal to the task. The rush you get when seeing this world is something I haven’t felt since Avatar. It’s also an incredibly emotional movie. There’s an emotional note which is hit from the very first scene, and it sounds throughout the whole film, getting louder and louder until you can’t hold back the tears. It delivers the most emotionally satisfying climax to a film this year. The cast are all brilliant, especially the three young leads. Storm Reid is a future superstar, and Deric McCabe is immensely enjoyable.

If there’s any faults with the film, it may be in the structure of the story. The first two acts are spent being transported from place to place, with a lot of exposition. It isn’t until the third act that Meg is afforded any agency, which might be a problem for some, but is kind of the point of the film. It’s about a young girl finding her agency. The messages in this film are all beautifully delivered, about loving yourself, your faults, your differences, and building up those around you. It’s about love in the purest form, which may sound saccharine but it’s anything but.

Overall, A Wrinkle In Time is a film not to be missed. If you have a young child, I implore you to take them to see it. They’ll be awed at the world created, but they’ll also learn some important lessons along the way. Ava DuVernay continues to blaze a trail, and I can’t wait to see what she does next, and to see what those who follow her come up with.

9/10