This Is The End! Avengers: Endgame* *spoiler-free review

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This is, without a doubt, the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, because in order to keep it spoiler-free, there’s really very little I can tell you.

Certainly, in terms of specifics I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing, because the film will work even more effectively if you go in cold. Suffice to say if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know nothing, Jon Snow!

So, let’s keep this general: directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, left the universe in a much-reduced place this time last year – cosmic villain Thanos (father of Gamora and Nebula, from the Guardians of the Galaxy films) achieved his aim to place the Infinity Stones in his gauntlet, snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population of the universe in an instant. The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, lost.

Avengers: Endgame picks up some twenty-plus days later, the remaining heroes split asunder in different corners of the galaxy, in bad places both geographically and emotionally.

What happens next is, quite simply, astonishing. The structure of the (three hour long and not a dull moment) film is continually surprising: the first thirty incredibly intense minutes arguably take the story where you might have expected the entire film to go, and then you’re left with two and a half hours of some of the most bravura narrative you’re likely to see in a franchise movie for a long time.

That the film acts as a total summation of Marvel Studios’ bold and innovative, ten year, interconnected, multi-franchise, long form storytelling is perhaps no surprise: this is where we, and the characters, have been heading all along. But the sheer level of smarts on display is something to be admired.

Because the story is concluded so satisfyingly should not however, lull you into thinking this is an easy ride. The fact we’ve had so long to become attached to these characters means that Marvel pull out all the stops to put the audience through an emotional wringer: I can honestly say I lost count of the amount of times I cried, but I can tell you there were tears of both sadness and joy.

I sat with a goofy grin on my face, with tears of pure happiness streaming down my face, at the audaciousness of the penultimate forty-five minutes. And in the last fifteen minutes the real tears began. To be clear, the film left me a total wreck.

This unrestrained emotional response is a testimony to the genuine skill not only of the storytellers, but also of the actors. I’m sure it would be so very easy to coast through roles like these, but there isn’t a single moment where the cast aren’t completely in the moment.

There is a strand, an emotional arc involving Thor, where the balance between comedy and pathos strains to tip too far in one direction, but Chris Hemsworth manages to keep things just in check.

There might also be an argument to be made that some of the solutions (and yes, I’ll avoid details) lead to a little head-scratching which will no doubt fuel fan arguments for months to come.

It’s also fair to say that while all previous Marvel films have strived to pay-off for both casual viewers and fans, Avengers: Endgame, rightly, is full-on about resolution, and therefore will probably leave newbies wondering what the heck is going on. But after ten years, that’s perfectly right and fair. And earned.

But these are very minor negative points in what can only really be considered as Marvel’s crowning achievement.

Avengers: Endgame not only gives you everything you could possibly have wanted from this finale, but also gives you so much more in terms of narrative twists and turns, satisfying emotional arcs, thematic pay-offs for threads linking almost every single Marvel film and genuine surprises, particularly for those of us who’ve been along for the ride for the past decade.

And while there are plenty of seeds for the next Phases of Marvel movies (interestingly, Phase 3 officially ends with Spider-Man: Far From Home, in July), you’d better believe this is the end, beautiful friend.

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The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Is Here!

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If ever there was an instance of me not needing to write a single thing for a piece, I guess this is it – the teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker…

Just launched at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, this teaser will be sure to have us all speculating like crazy, I know I already am.

We’ll discuss the film in more detail when a fuller trailer hits, but for now let’s just gear ourselves up for December and the end of the nine film Skywalker saga.  But hey, BILLY DEE WILLIAMS AS LANDO CALRISSIAN, EVERYBODY!

Star Wars opens on December 19th.

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Films: 2018 Edition

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Okay, because many folks have asked… here are my favourite nine films from 2018.

Notice I said favourite and not best. I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece where the reporter asked my favourite three movies. This felt like a refreshing change as I didn’t feel a need to spend time over-intellectualising my responses as I might have done if she’d asked what I thought were the best three films ever.

Before I launch into my list, it’s worth pointing out I still have some catching up to do, hence no possible entries for films such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, You Were Never Really Here or Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, with that caveat clear and without further ado, let’s head to my favourite nine (…nine, because, why not!?) films of the past twelve months…

9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

I have to admit the M:I films were mostly sort of washing over me, enjoyable in the moment but somewhat unmemorable bar their set-pieces. But then Fallout appeared, not only leaving me with a bill from my local cinema for having left fingernail holes in my seat, but also with a much greater enthusiasm for the previous entries. I’m gearing up for a run-through of the series at home in readiness for a second viewing of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s remarkable piece of breathless skullduggery. Also, finishing off a series with two films featuring Sean Harris is always a bonus.

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8. The Rider.

Yeah, yeah, I know that it premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, but those of us in the real world didn’t see it until its official release in 2018. Hopefully that doesn’t trigger anyone too badly.  Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama concerning rodeo riders feels like a top contender for the ‘film more people should see‘ award, 2018. Both painfully intimate and sweepingly widescreen, Zhao paints a portrait of a contained community with universal problems. You can read my full review here.

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7. Eighth Grade.

In many ways this shares some DNA with The Rider, taking me to a world I knew nothing about. This time, the unknown is the life of an adolescent girl in a time of social media, and this smart, sensitive, occasionally excruciating and ultimately uplifting film, from director Bo Burnham, features a hugely engaging central performance by newcomer, Elsie Fisher.

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6. A Quiet Place.

The first of two horror films in a strong year for the genre (see also Apostle, Mandy, Halloween, etc). Unfair on my behalf, but I was absolutely not expecting this from Jim Halpert from The Office. Directed and co-written (along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) by John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic monster movie hits all the right beats, gradually unveiling a world of silent terror using a personable family, headed up by Krasinski and the always-excellent Emily Blunt. Understated until it doesn’t have to be, this is great, old-school horror that could easily have worked as an old Twilight Zone episode.

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5. Ant-Man & The Wasp.

Tricky one, this. I didn’t want to fill my list with Marvel movies (seeing as we had three releases from them in 2018) and I really struggled between this and Black Panther, but in the end I had (slightly) more fun with Peyton Reed’s delightfully light-touched sequel, especially since I’m the type of Marvel Geek who believes this film will pay off more once we see Avengers: Endgame.

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4. Hereditary.

Ari Aster’s uneven but striking mix of family grief and the supernatural is a divisive film, very much a case of go-with-it-or-don’t. The first three-quarters of the movie is mostly all slow-burn intensity until the final twenty minutes or so go off into full-blown hysteria (which is where many viewers seem to check out). I went with it the whole way on my viewing, but will be curious to see how it holds up next time. Worth pointing out that regardless of any future reaction, I’ll still laud it for probably the most outrageous WTF moment in cinema this year.  Review here.

3. The Meg (just kidding).

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3. The Other Side of the Wind.

Freewheeling and meticulous, Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece (never a more fitting appellation) first started production in 1970 and was only completed after Welles’ death by a team headed up by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall. Released onto Netflix at the end of the year, Welles’ mesmerising film is both a celebration and a satire of Classic Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking. Review here.

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2. Roma.

The only disappointing thing about multihyphenate Alfonso Cuarón’s almost tone poem telling of a tumultuous period in the life of his childhood home-help is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it on a cinema screen, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid my eyes on in a long time (to avoid a lynching by my significant other, I mean cinematically, of course). Review here.

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1. Avengers: Infinity War.

Marvel Geek nirvana. The Russo brothers and co. pulled off a remarkable, if overpacked, feat in bringing to a head ten years of films across multiple franchises while still managing to create a cultural zeitgeist moment with a single finger click. Of course, we know most of the galaxy’s missing half will be restored (…don’t we!?), but the joy, as with many comic books of the source material, is in seeing how our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And now we don’t have much longer to wait. Review here.

Dishonourable mention: Suspiria (don’t @ me).

See you all in 2019. Feel free to leave me your favourites from 2018 in the comments below.

Let Them Fight! Godzilla: King Of The Monsters Promises Monster Mash-Up!

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Alongside the reveal of the awesome new poster, “Let them fight!” seems to be the message from the brand second trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters as it promises one almighty monster mash-up.

The film has quite the impressive cast on new and returning actors, including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ken Watanabe, and Zhang Ziyi.

Several of these good people will obviously survive their encounter with the big guy this time and will be returning for the already-in-production Godzilla vs Kong, which is due to stomp everything in its path on on May 22, 2020.

Meanwhile, the King of the Monsters gets ready to do battle with Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah on May 31, 2019. Get ready to rumble…

Marvel Launch New Captain Marvel Trailer

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Marvel Studios have given us an early Christmas-gift with a brand new trailer for Captain Marvel.

There’s a lot of fun new stuff in there, including a better look at the shape-shifting Skrulls, our first glimpse of Annette Bening and even an introduction to Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers’ pet cat, Chewie. It also leaves us in doubt just how much Marvel are going to be leaning into the cosmic side of their universe, with Captain Marvel roaring through space zapping spaceships.

As well as this latest trailer for the good Captain, there are plenty of rumblings that Marvel will drop a new trailer tomorrow for the still untitled Avengers 4, which at this rate will likely have the title card blacked out at the end. I’m kidding, of course, but only just.

And if that isn’t enough to fry your geek brain, there are even more rumours suggesting the trailer for Peter Parker’s adventures in Europe, a little film called Spider-Man: Far From Home may land on Thursday or Friday (possibly giving us our first glimpse of Jake Gyllenhaal’s villainous Mysterio).

Captain Marvel is released on March 8th, 2019, Avengers 4: Whatever It’s Called will follow two months later on May 3rd and Spider-Man: Far From Home lands July 5th.

What a time to be a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feel free to let me have your thoughts on all of this, below…

Doctor Who – New Doctor, Same As The Old Doctor

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Spoiler-free review of The Woman Who Fell To Earth.

So, the bit you really want to know first about tonight’s Doctor Who (the first for Thirteenth Doctor, Jodi Whittaker): it wasn’t the end of the world.

That is, the opening episode of (New Who) season eleven wasn’t really about the end of the world, I’ll come back to that, but what’s really important is that OUR world didn’t end because the Doctor has regenerated into… gasp… a woman.

When the first teaser trailer dropped on BBC revealing Whittaker, a very vocal number of fans lost their collective minds that their favourite, alien shape-shifter was going to change gender after more than fifty years as a variety of men.

The precise reasoning behind this anger felt rather nebulous, and certainly doesn’t bear up to scrutiny, especially given that from the moment Whittaker makes her entrance by falling through the roof of a train she literally (and figuratively) fully inhabits the frock coat of her predecessor(s).

The plot, which I’ll skip over to avoid spoilers (but there are aliens and lots of running around), is fairly light (actually, too light) and really simply serves as a mechanism to introduce the new Doctor and her team of companions. And it achieves this very well: new showrunner Chris Chibnall (along with a fabulous production team), moves everything along at a rate of knots and each of the characters are gifted with vulnerability, warmth and humanity (and I’m including The Doctor in that, of course, the most human of aliens) so that the we don’t notice the slight story.

It’s of note that the show is shorn of the self-reference that seems to have been weighing it down for the past few seasons. As a fan since the mid-1960s, it’s fun to see old stories and the show’s vast mythology used, but I also recognise that can be an unnecessary ball and chain to storytelling, particularly when it comes to keeping things light enough for casual viewers. Here’s hoping this continues across the season, as it all felt nicely fresh in this episode.

Of course, as this is a regeneration episode, we haven’t really seen The Doctor’s full, new persona yet, but all the important stuff is there: she’s quirky, brave, resourceful and stands up for what’s right. So, pretty much exactly the same as her previous selves. Whittaker hits all the right notes of humour and heroism and is The Doctor. Just like that. Really, strange, stuck-in-the-mud fans, what were you worried about!?

On the technical side, the show, shot with Cooke and Angenieux anamorphic widescreen lenses for the first time, looks an absolute treat, managing to make Sheffield look wonderful, which is no mean feat (sorry, Sheffield-dwellers).

So, we have a new Doctor – yes, a woman – starring in a new series of Doctor Who (albeit now on Sunday nights) and the world is still turning.

Next thing you know we’ll be getting a black James Bond. Then the world really will end, you wait and see…

Marvel To Go Full Kosmic Kirby With The Eternals

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The long-rumoured Marvel Studios production of Jack Kirby’s The Eternals took a mighty leap forward today with the announcement that The Rider director Chloe Zhao will helm the picture from a script by Matthew and Ryan Firpo, with Kevin Feige producing.

Created during Jack Kirby’s second run at Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s, The Eternals tells a star-spanning tale of cosmic beings known as the Celestials (already mentioned in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies), who perform genetic experiments on humans in the distant past, creating the super-powered Eternals, as well as the villainous race called the Deviants.

This would seem to fit nicely with the cosmic path Marvel has begun with the (now-shockingly James Gunn-less) Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel.

The Eternals were arguably one of Kirby’s last great creations (although I’ll gladly engage you in fisticuffs if you diss my boy, Devil Dinosaur) and provides a truly spectacular blueprint for a franchise movie.

Zhao’s film has been winning plaudits left, right and centre and she stands as an utterly intriguing choice to bring Kirby’s wild creations to the screen.

Captain Marvel Trailer Takes Flight

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Regular readers of this site will know Captain Marvel is high up on our movie-excitement radar, and the long-awaited trailer has arrived:

I’ve gotta say I gave a little geek squeal of excitement at that final shot of our hero in action.

Carol Danvers was created in the comic books (by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan) in 1968 and went on to star in his first solo series (as Ms. Marvel) in 1977. Since then, she has gone on to become a central part of the Marvel Universe, and one of its more powerful and interesting characters, with a fervent following (known as the Carol Corps). Anticipation is running high for Marvel’s first (overdue) female-fronted franchise. 

Captain Marvel is an intriguing turn for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, set in the 1990s (oh look, it’s a Blockbuster video store) and acting as a prequel to everything we’ve seen so far.

As you can see above and here in our earlier photo preview, the film stars Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Rune Temte, Mckenna Grace, Clark Gregg, and Jude Law, and follows Carol Danvers (Larson) as she becomes Captain Marvel after the Earth is caught in the center of an intergalactic conflict between two alien worlds.

As an extra treat for comics fans, the story also features the first onscreen appearance for the villainous, shape-shifting alien race, the Skrulls.

Captain Marvel is written (with Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Liz Flahive, and Carly Mensch) and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and the film arrives on March 8, 2019

Who Stars In Star Wars

24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 21 Jan 2018
Photo credit: Billy Farrell/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock

Variety have just revealed an intriguing exclusive: Eleventh Doctor (and star of The Crown) Matt Smith has been signed for a role in the fortchcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.

There’s literally no other news at this point, beyond pointless speculation as to who (sorry) Smith will play. I’m sure a hundred thousand fan-boys are hoping for him to be Rey’s father, while the likelihood is that he’ll be an Imperial nasty of some kind (they do have a long history of being British, after all).

Smith will join returning regulars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver, alongside newbies Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Dominic Monaghan, and Naomi Ackie. Billy Dee Williams will reprise his iconic role as space gambler, Lando Calrissian, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels will reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, and the late Carrie Fisher will be featured as Leia Organa, using previously unseen footage shot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The currently subtitle-less Star Wars: Episode IX opens on December 19, 2019.

Your Dream Or Nightmare Just Came True: HBO Make Watchmen TV Series

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Prepare to scream with delight or grind your teeth in furious indignation: HBO announced today that their Watchmen TV series is a go, following recent production of a pilot episode.

To further find your bliss/fuel your anger, writer/producer Damon Lindelof has warned not to expect another direct adaptation likeZack Snyder’s incredibly faithful 2009 movie. Lindelof wrote on Instagram that his version is the “New Testament” to the original’s “Old Testament”. HBO also released the following logline via Indiewire:

“Set in an alternate history where “superheroes” are treated as outlaws, “Watchmen” embraces the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel while attempting to break new ground of its own.”

Lindelof has also said of the show:

“This story will be set in the world its creators painstakingly built…but in the tradition of the work that inspired it, this new story must be original. It has to vibrate with the seismic unpredictability of its own tectonic plates. It must ask new questions and explore the world through a fresh lens. Most importantly, it must be contemporary. The Old Testament was specific to the Eighties of Reagan and Thatcher and Gorbachev. Ours needs to resonate with the frequency of Trump and May and Putin and the horse that he rides around on, shirtless. And speaking of Horsemen, The End of the World is off the table…which means the heroes and villains–as if the two are distinguishable–are playing for different stakes entirely. Some of the characters will be unknown. New faces. New masks to cover them. We also intend to revisit the past century of Costumed Adventuring through a surprising yet familiar set of eyes…and it is here we will be taking our greatest risks.”

The show is sure to raise the ire of many fans of Watchmen, who think the Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ story should not be continued (both for moral reasons – as Moore notoriously has disowned anything produced by DC or Warner Bros beyond their original work – and creative reasons – seeing the graphic novel’s story as sacrosanct), and Lindelof’s CV is also filled with divisive productions (Prometheus and Lost among them).

Personally I’m cautiously intrigued by this and with a cast headed up by Tom Mison, Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Dylan Schombing, Lily Rose Smith, Adelynn Spoon, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Louis Gossett Jr., Adelaide Clemens, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent and Andrew Howard, this promises to be, if nothing else, a major talking point when it hits HBO in 2019.