Incredibles 2

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Helen Hunt, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Eli Fucile, and Sophia Bush.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since the first incredibles film was released back in 2004. Considered by many one of the best super hero movies ever made, the exploits of the Parr family were an instant classic, so it’s a surprise that in a world where we’ve had 3 Cars movies, 3 Toy Story movies, a sequel to Monsters Inc. and a sequel to Finding Nemo, that it’s taken this long. That’s mainly down to writer and director Brad Bird, who has been spending his time in live action, having directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland in the years between. He returns here, bringing his retro-futuristic style back to the big screen. A cynic would say that it’s a safe move after the box office failure of Tomorrowland, but I’d like to believe he felt he had a good enough idea to warrant going back.

Incredibles 2 starts exactly where the first film left off. With Underminer attacking the city, and the Parr family suiting up to stop him. It doesn’t go perfectly, and the Parrs’ get a wrap on the knuckles as they are reminded that superheroes are illegal. Dejected, the Parr family go back to motel living whilst Bob contemplates taking back his old job. This is when Winston and Evelyn Deavor show up. The brother and sister duo behind a huge tech company who want to help legalise heroes again. To do this they require Elastigirl to be the new face of supers. She wreaks the least amount of havoc during her heroics. So whilst Helen Parr is off fighting crime as Elastigirl, it’s up to Bob to look after the kids, including baby Jack-Jack whose powers are just starting to emerge.

Structurally, Incredibles 2 follows the same format as the first movie. The premise here though is the role reversal between Bob and Helen. This time it’s Bob left at home, and Helen is the one who gets to shine as a superhero. Bird deftly cuts between the two, finding a sweet balance between huge action sequences and domestic comedy. If the structure is familiar, it does allows for new avenues to be explored. In the first movie Helen’s domestic story revolved around believing Bob was having an affair, here though Bob has to learn to set aside his own pride to allow his wife to shine, and work out that sometimes a subtler approach to parenting is needed. Helen’s action beats could be considered as more of the same superhero antics, but Bird changes the tone here from the first film. Elastigirl is a different kind of hero from Mr Incredible, and the tone reflects that. She uses her brain as much as her powers, and her action beats have more of a Batman influence to them, especially a night time scene which combines the best of The Dark Knight and Batman: The Animated Series.

If the action sequences thrill, the thing that holds the film together is the comedy. The film really soars when the super heroics are combined with everyday family life. This is best summed up when Jack-Jack meets a raccoon. It’s action packed and hilarious, by far the stand out scene in the movie. In a way though it showcases the fact that Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite hit the very high watermark of the first film. Helen is on her own doing the super heroics, and Bob’s parenting, especially of Dash and Violet, is rarely informed by their powers. The scenes with Jack-Jack stand out so much because they flawlessly combine domestic life with super powers.

As we’ve come to expect from sequels the roster of heroes is expanded. We get to meet the new superheroes at a dinner party, which is reminiscent of Watchmen. The disappointment is that they don’t really add much to the film. The only one that stands out is Voyd, who seems to have been modelled on Kristen Stewart. It feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. The villain is suitably different enough from the first film, coming across as a mix between Bane and The Riddler, but is let down by a telegraphed end of second act twist, which is almost identical to the first film.

Incredibles 2 is a fantastic super hero movie. The action is fun, and the jokes are hilarious. It’s flaws are only exposed by the fact it has to measure up to The Incredibles, one of the best super hero movies ever made. If the structure feels slightly tired, it does add plenty of new ideas and tones, some work, and some don’t. It doesn’t plum the emotional depths that we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining ride.

7/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Ron Howard

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, and Jon Favreau

Solo: A Star Wars Story comes out to muted expectations, which is odd when you consider it’s a Star Wars movie. They’ve been a Christmas event movie since The Force Awakens. I’d drive an hour to see them every year on an IMAX screen, making a day of it with dinner at a restaurant afterwards. For Solo, I went to the local multiplex after work. It may have been rumours of the troubled production, or the fact that it’s not been long since The Last Jedi, but this one just didn’t feel as special going in. Star Wars has lost some of its shine. Which is a shame because Solo is a whole heap of fun.

Solo follows Alden Ehrenreich’s young Han Solo, before we knew him as the smuggling scoundrel in the first Star Wars movie. He starts off as a street rat, doing cons for a small crime ring. He finally finds a way out, but leaves behind the woman he loves. He vows to return to rescue her. That journey takes him from being a troop for the empire to falling into organised crime when he meets Woody Harelson’s Beckett. Along the way we meet familiar faces from the Star Wars universe, such as Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian.

I probably had the lowest expectations I’ve ever had for a Star Wars movie going into Solo. The rumours of on-set dysfunction, with Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired, and Ron Howard being bought into replace them near the end of initial production. Howard gets the directing credit here, and whilst it’s rumoured that they re-shot 70% of the movie, it’s almost impossible to tell which bits were directed by Lord and Miller. It’s a film that, against the odds, works. I found it a fun, action packed adventure movie. Removed from everything that surrounds it, it’s just a pure, good time at the movie. Which is what you want from Star Wars, right?

Howard does well at creating a tone that blends different genres. Mixing elements of Westerns, heist movies, and film noir together to create an engaging look at the underbelly of the Star Wars universe. It also gives us our best look, away from the animated shows, of how the Empire operates in the galaxy. The action is all well done, but it’s the smaller moments that Howard excels at. Han’s first meeting with Chewie is tense, funny, and a little scary. It’s incredibly well directed. Howard was seen as a safe pair of hands when he came aboard, but I think that does him a disservice. He’s a director who knows how to make a film, and story work. He knows how to hit all the right beats, at the right time, in the right way. It’s a skill that’s often overlooked, but is essential in creating a satisfying time at the movies.

The other point of conversation going in was the casting. Could anybody replace Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich bares slight resemblance to Ford, and sounds nothing like him. It doesn’t matter. He smashes this performance. In a smart move by him and the writers, this isn’t the Han Solo from Star Wars. This is the story of how he becomes that Han Solo. There are fan service moments like seeing him get his gun, and finding out, maybe a little too on the nose, how he got his name, but these moments are few and far between, they aren’t really the point of the movie. Ehrenreich plays Solo with the same swagger and cockiness as Ford, but undercuts it with an unsureness. He has the charm, but lacks the cynicism of Ford. He’s naive, and enthusiastic. The fun is in finding out what made him the pessimist. The iconic Star Wars line “I have a bad feeling about this” is turned on its head when Han says “I have a good feeling about this” and that is the key to this Han Solo.

The rest of the cast all do fantastic work too. Woody Harrelson is great. Donald Glover is terrific, and Emilia Clarke shines in a role reminiscent of 40s/50s femme fatales. Paul Bettany’s villain was the only role which felt like it was under-written. Bettany does his best to imbue him with a manic menace, but the villain here is the biggest disappointment. It stems from the biggest problem with the film, and that’s the fact that the stakes never feel high enough. We know how it’s going to end. We know what happens next. The momentum of the film carries it swiftly to the finale, but it’s a subdued, anti-climax to what has come before. The film comes to a halt right when it should be going into hyperspace. It does have a last act reveal, but rather than being a shocking revelation, it felt like fan pandering. Similar to Rouge One, it’s as if the studio are too scared to branch out into the unknown, and are keeping their anthology movies as close to the main saga as possible.

Solo is just a great time at the cinema. A refreshing side adventure to the main Star Wars story, which is filled with fun action, iconic characters, and a fantastic cast. It’s a space craft that has been deftly steered away from the asteroid field by Howard, and is thrown into hyper speed by Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. It stumbles at the finish line, but what has come before is more than worth the trip.

7/10

 

Avengers: Infinity War

2018, Uncategorized

*I have tried my best to avoid spoilers In is review, but would recommend seeing the film first before reading if you want to go in knowing nothing*

Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Benedict Wong, Anthony Mackie, Karen Gillan, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, and Pom Klementief.

Well, this is it. The beginning of the end. It’s a journey that started 10 years ago with Iron Man, and has since grown into the box office behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve seen Earth’s mightiest heroes team up in Avengers, we’ve been to space for some cosmic adventures in Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor, and most recently we’ve been invited into the amazing world of Wakanda in Black Panther. Here, they all combine to take on their biggest foe to date, Thanos. The big bad that has been drip fed through the whole series. We know that we still have Ant-Man and The Wasp, and Captain Marvel to come before Avengers 4 brings phase three of the MCU to a close, but this feels monumental nonetheless. Going into the movie it felt like the stakes had never been higher, as there was a real sense that anything could happen. We had entered the end game.

Infinity War follows Thanos. An 8ft, ripped, purple alien born on Titan. Thanos is hell bent on balancing the universe. To him, this means invading planets and killing half of the population residing on them. His ultimate goal is to kill half the universe, and to do this he needs to collect together the infinity stones. 6 stones from the beginning of the universe which when united together give the holder unlimited power. Two of these Infinity stones are on Earth. One is the time stone which is in the possession of a Doctor Strange, and the other is the mind stone which is nestled in Vision’s forehead. Thanos sends his most trusted minions to Earth to retrieve these two stones, whilst he sets out in the universe to find the others. Standing in Thanos’ way are the Avengers, last seen fighting each other in Captain America: Civil War, the Guardians of The Galaxy, Spider-man, Doctor Strange, and the people of Wakanda.

The scale of this movie is huge. It’s ambition is unmatched in the modern day blockbuster. Just looking at the cast list alone is enough to make the jaw drop. Fittingly the Russo brothers decided to film Infinity War entirely on IMAX cameras, and I was lucky enough to see it on an IMAX screen. It truly is mesmerising. Thanos looks huge on screen, and the size adds an extra bit of weight to the action unfolding in front of you. This is event cinema, and considering we get about three MCU movies a year, that is quite a feat. For the film to work, the stakes had to feel real, and for the stakes to feel real the audience had to believe in Thanos. We’ve seen glimpses of him before in Post-credit scenes and GOTG, but these fleeting appearances never gave across the sense that this was a villain to be reckoned with, so it was a bold move when writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely declared that he was to be the main character for Infinity War, even bolder considering that he is entirely CGI. The character is so richly written though, and Josh Brolin plays him so brilliantly, he easily owns the movie. From the opening sequence he is imbued with a sense of weight and gravitas which has previously been lacking, setting up the darkest MCU movie thus far.

Infinity War could have ended up as a complete mess, or just a collection of five minute scenes that give each character their due, but doesn’t hold together as a film. The fact that the fine balance has been expertly walked between story and character is testament to the skills of both the writers and directors. It’s a far from simple plot, with many strands, but it all works, and every character is given their moment to shine. The character interaction is spot on too. It’s rumoured that James Gunn came on to write all the dialogue for the Guardians, and if that’s true, it’s a smart decision and works fantastically. These characters feel like the characters you know and love from their separate movies, and finds joy in watching them interact. If this is the darkest MCU movie, it still remains laugh out loud funny. It’s smart as well that the original avengers get their own little teams to lead, without spoiling it, Thor, Cap, and Iron Man are mostly kept separate, each leading their own story thread. It means that we aren’t watching a rerun of what’s come before, they are mostly with characters they’ve not met before which keeps it fresh. Best is watching Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, trying to macho it up against Thor.

If this is the biggest MCU movie in terms of characters, it’s all the biggest I terms of spectacle. The action is stunning. It’s worth the extra to see it in IMAX, or the biggest screen you can find. The Russo’s continue to manage to make the action dynamic, funny, and ingenious whilst including some great character beats. They get the escalation right too, for a film which breaks into fights almost every 20 minutes, by the time you get to the climatic battle, it still feels big, and manages to hit the emotional beats hard. I felt like the climax of Black Panther was a little underwhelming, and it seems they may have been holding it back a little for the climax of this film. If the film does go in directions that you don’t always expect, and it’s a long watch, it is also completely satisfying. I walked out of the screening numb, I’m going to have to see it again just to completely absorb it.

Infinity War delivers in spades. If this is part one of the end. I can’t wait for Part Two. There are so many ways in which this film could have been rubbish, but it’s just not. If you don’t like previous MCU movies this isn’t for you, if you like the MCU you’re going to love it. There are more spoilerific discussions to come, but for now, it’s a towering achievement. I loved it.

10/10

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

The Incredible Hulk (2008) Hulk

 

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

IMG_0450

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

IMG_0451

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

IMG_0452

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

IMG_0453

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

IMG_0456

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

null

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

IMG_0458

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

IMG_0461

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

IMG_0462

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

IMG_0463

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

IMG_0464

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

IMG_0465

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

IMG_0466

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

IMG_0345

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

IMG_0468

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

 IMG_0469

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.

Coco

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach.

Pixar are pretty much unmatched in the field of animation. Their back catalogue is filled with certified classics. In recent years there have been complaints that the studio has suffered a dip in quality, with the amount of sequels being singled out as the problem, but even when Pixar are below their usual high standards, they are still head and shoulders above their peers. For every Monsters University there is a Toy Story 3, and for every Good Dinosaur there is a Inside Out. Going into Coco, you can only hope that this measures up against those gems.

Coco is the story of Miguel, a Mexican boy who feels that he is cursed as his family has banned music, and he loves music. When they thwart his plans to play a talent show during the Day Of The Dead, he attempts to steal his deceased hero’s guitar. He believes his hero, Ernesto de la Cruz, is his great great grandad, the man who left his wife and baby, and set off the families hatred of music. The Day Of The Dead is a festival in which the deceased can pass back into the land of the living, but when Miguel steals the guitar he enters into the Land Of The Dead. He will be trapped there permanently unless he gets the blessing of his dead relatives, but they won’t give it to him unless he refuses to play music ever again. This leads Miguel to enlist the help of Hector, a man who is being forgotten by his last relative which will lead to his second death, to get him to Ernesto so he can get a blessing and still play music.

Coco is a gorgeous movie. The world building, the use of green, purple and orange hues creating a vibrant colour palette, and the look of the characters. It’s astonishing that 18 years on from Toy Story, animation has progressed this much. It’s jaw-dropping what Pixar have managed to achieve in this movie. Other animation houses don’t even come close. There are times when you question if what you are seeing is completely computer generated or not, it is that photo-realistic. There is so much fun to be had in exploring the Land Of The Dead as well. The way the world is built is fantastic, it’s intriguing, innovative, and intricate.

Music is an integral part of the film. There was remit for this to go so wrong. The mariachi Disney fan fare at the beginning is as close as this film gets to pastiche, and the rest of the musical sequences are so heartfelt, honest, and true, the songs become the emotional back bone of the movie, and this is an emotional movie. The same can be said about the way the Mexican culture is used, the obvious affection shining through in every frame.

Pixar have dealt with death before, but here it is a central theme, along with legacy, family, and the old chestnut of being yourself. If you’re not crying by the end of the movie you’re a colder person than me. Unkrich and Molina also have fun in subverting some of your expectations. Ernesto’s message of seizing your moment, which Miguel puts so much stock in, turning sinister by the end, adding another dimension to a film that could have been very by the numbers. The set-up, whilst complicated, leads to a very simple plot, but this is a kids movie, and yes, Pixar have used this outline before, but who cares when it looks as good as this, and still resonates hard on every level.

Coco is another classic in the Pixar library. A film about family, and the memories you leave behind. This take its place next to Inside Out, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story Trilogy as some of the finest modern day animations. It will thrill the kids and delight the parents. Sitting through the trailers for other animated movies that are being aimed at young audiences, and it’s almost laughable how far ahead Pixar are. They treat all their audience members with respect and intelligence, and fill their movies with genuine love and affection. Looking at the OSCAR nominations for Best Animated Picture, and seeing Coco sitting next to The Boss Baby really highlights how far behind everyone else is.

9/10