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.

Captain Marvel: Further. Higher. Faster. Mostly.

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On the surface Captain Marvel might be one of the more straightforward of Marvel Studios’ films, but there’s some intriguing stuff at play underneath.

Carol Danvers has been around in the comic books since 1968, though it wasn’t until 1977 that the character adopted her first superheroic alter-ego, that of Ms. Marvel, taking on the legacy mantle of Captain Marvel (after a previous, separate character sharing that name) in 2012.

So while Danvers and the Captain haven’t been around as long as or share the general public awareness as Wonder Woman, the character has paid her dues.

Mention of Wonder Woman here is interesting, as while DC and Warner Bros made her gender a prominent part of the character’s journey in 2017’s film, here Marvel almost wilfully subvert expectations of such considerations to take a more subtle route in unleashing their first female-fronted franchise.

When alien Kree warrior Vers (Brie Larson) goes on a mission against the shape-shifting Skrull race with her mentor, Yon-Rogg (played by welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jude Law), which quickly not only goes pear-shaped but also sees Vers begun to unlock a sequence of events which will lead her to unravel a series of recurring nightmare flashbacks.

Ver’s journey leads her to Earth in 1995, and encounters with (amazingly CGI de-aged) younger versions of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and revelations which will change both her life and the future of Marvel history.

That the film presents all this as an unfolding mystery is one of the stronger points of the standard origin story, and as per usual this is entertainment of the highest caliber from Marvel: superb casting (including a star-making turn from Larson, who rises above some deficiencies in the script to make a hugely appealing central character and another fantastic turn from Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the Skrull, who is obviously having a blast), snappy dialogue and fun action sequences. But it’s somewhat disappointing to report that despite all this, Captain Marvel still feels like one of the studio’s more workmanlike (excuse the gender conflation here) efforts.

While it’s highly admirable (and enjoyable) that it’s never even really made an issue that Vers and Marvel are presented as the equal (and indeed, superior) to any males in her orbit, making the film rather an important step in its own way, it’s a shame that some of this is presented in a less than inspired manner. I found the direction by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck to be lacking a certain vision, and it’s the first Marvel film where I’ve actually felt the hand of a committee in the course of viewing.

It’s not difficult to imagine that the firing of James Gunn, who had been acting as a kind of creative guru to the studio until a small group of internet nazis dug up some poor taste jokes Gunn had made on Twitter and used those to successfully blackmail Disney into letting him go, had some kind of reverb effect on Marvel (and Captain Marvel). There are choices made in the film which feel distinctly Gunn-ian (is that a thing? It is now), but executed without his very particular flair.

A perfect example of this is the decision to play out a third act fight scene, between Marvel and some of the bad guys, with No Doubt’s Just A Girl playing over the soundtrack. Given the possibility of this particular song to comment on the action, this might seem like a good idea, but on reflection I found myself wondering what the song really had to do with I was seeing onscreen. In hindsight it feels like a choice that Gunn might have considered then rejected as being simply too on the nose.

It might seem unfair to be laying the film with a “what would James Gunn have done?” vibe, but it’s impossible to separate a studio film like this from the events that surrounded its creation.

But don’t let these caveats put you off from seeing Captain Marvel (in 3D if you can, and if you have a cinema that knows how to project the format properly – because the post-converted 3D is really superb), as even Marvel’s most simply efficient is the equal of or better than many other studios’ efforts.

You’ll definitely have a good time (and if you’re a Stan Lee fan, like me, the film may even make you cry in its opening seconds, as I did), and without a doubt it’s a strong introduction to a character who is tipped to become an important lynchpin in Marvel’s future movies (not least of which in next month’s much-anticipated Avengers: Endgame).

And to answer a question I know many of you have (without spoiling anything) Thanos should be very, very worried right now.

Captain Marvel definitely goes further, higher, faster, to use both the character’s and the film’s tag-line, but could have gone even higher, even further and even faster.

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…

Higher. Further. Faster. Now We Have A Captain Marvel Poster Too!

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As if the arrival of the Captain Marvel trailer wasn’t enough excitement for today, Marvel has just released the first official poster for the film.

Taking the now familiar phrase from the Captain Marvel comic books (Higher. Further. Faster) as its tag-line, the imagery has the good Captain very much arriving (through an imposing set of aircraft hangar doors).

And really, there’s not too much more to say here, except that it’s very pretty and March 8th, 2019 looks like it’s going to be a whole heap of fun! It’s time to get excited, Carol Corps!

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.

The Star Wars TV Series Will Cost Big Bucks (And Other News)!

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Details have been thin on the ground since the announcement late last year that Disney’s new streaming service will feature a live action Star Wars TV series.

But a new report by the New York Times has revealed a couple of interesting titbits about the show, currently being developed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau.

First up is the news that the show, running to ten episodes, will cost around 100 million dollars. That’s, um… about ten million dollars an episode, according to my trusty financial advisor, which might sound like a lot of moolah to you and me, but actually comes across as kind of cheap when you consider the final six episodes of Game of Thrones will cost a staggering $15 million apiece.

Secondly, Favreau has confirmed that the series will take place after the events of Return of the Jedi, (also the timeframe for the upcoming animated series Star Wars Resistance – why, it’s almost like there’s such a thing as corporate synergy in the world). According to a comment made by Favreau back in May, his series will take place seven years after the fall of the Empire, while Resistance will cross the bridge in the timeline and depict the rise of the First Order, which leads towards The Force Awakens.

It’s entirely possible we’ll be hearing more about the Star Wars live-action TV series and I’ll bring you more news as it lands.

Make It So: Patrick Stewart Returns To Trek With New TV Series

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Confirming rumours that have been circulating for some time, Star Trek: Discovery co-creator and showrunner, Alex Kurtzman today announced the return of Patrick Stewart to the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in a brand new Trek TV series.

Taking the stage at the Star Trek Las Vegas show, Kurtzman brought out Stewart to a wild reception from the crowd, and the veteran actor told them “he may not be the Jean-Luc you know.”

“With overwhelming joy, it’s a privilege to welcome Sir Patrick Stewart back to the Star Trek fold,” Kurtzman said. “For over 20 years, fans have hoped for the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and that day is finally here. We can’t wait to forge new ground, surprise people, and honor generations both new and old.”

A report at the news site, Deadline, states that the new series is not a Star Trek: Next Generation reboot but will tell the story of the next chapter of Picard’s life. It will be overseen by Kurtzman who signed a deal with CBS TV Studios to develop new Star Trek content.

Stewart also announced the news via Twitter, saying:

“I will always be very proud to have been a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but when we wrapped that final movie in the spring of 2002, I truly felt my time with Star Trek had run its natural course,” Stewart said. “It is, therefore, an unexpected but delightful surprise to find myself excited and invigorated to be returning to Jean-Luc Picard and to explore new dimensions within him. Seeking out new life for him, when I thought that life was over.”

“During these past years, it has been humbling to hear many stories about how The Next Generation brought people comfort, saw them through difficult periods in their lives or how the example of Jean-Luc inspired so many to follow in his footsteps, pursuing science, exploration and leadership,” Stewart continued. “I feel I’m ready to return to him for the same reason – to research and experience what comforting and reforming light he might shine on these often very dark times. I look forward to working with our brilliant creative team as we endeavor to bring a fresh, unexpected and pertinent story to life once more.”

The creative team for the new series will include James Duff, a recent addition to Discovery as an executive producer, former Discovery executive producer Akiva Goldsman, Discovery writer, and Star Trek novelist, Kirsten Beyer, and Pulitzer prize-winning Author Michael Chabon.

The new (as yet untitled) Picard series will join Star Trek: Discovery, which is about to launch its second season, and the upcoming Star Trek: Short Treks four-part limited series, so if you’re not a Star Trek fan now might be a good time to take that long vacation you’ve been thinking about. The rest of us will put on our rubber Spock ears and stock up with snacks and Romulan ale to celebrate this very welcome news.