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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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.

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.

NIN’s Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross Will Score HBO’s Watchmen

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So, I get it, we’re all pretty sceptical about HBO’s forthcoming Watchmen series. Showrunner Damon Lindelof has a somewhat mixed score card, plus it’s… well… it’s Watchmen.

Still, the cast has been shaping up nicely (including Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Adelaide Clemens) and now the series has added ace musos Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails (currently on tour with new album, The Perfect Drug) to provide the soundtrack.

The pair have scored several movies (together and separately, and nabbed an Academy Award for their work on David Fincher’s The Social Network.

Whatever happens with HBO’s Watchmen, at least now we’re sure it’ll sound good!

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

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 Aquaman Trailer Makes A Splash!

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The trailer for James Wan’s Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, has arrived and it looks, well… fun.

Take a look…

Fun, bright and seemingly going full comic book crazy with super-villains, underwater empires, giant sea creatures and, uh… turtles… could it be that between this and the equally fun-looking trailer for Shazam! DC/Warner have finally learned lessons from the grimdark Zack Snyder films (and, whisper it quietly… Suicide Squad)?

Aquaman opens on December 21st, and I guess we’ll all find out then.

DC’s Doom Patrol Comes To TV

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Just last week DC Comics’ nascent streaming service, DC Universe, announced they would produce a Superman prequel series, Metropolis, and a Swamp Thing live-action series as part of its initial programming. Now the channel has ordered a 13 episode run of Doom Patrol.

Originally created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani in 1963 (with several different incarnations over the years), the series is described as a re-imagining of one of DC’s more offbeat teams, featuring Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Crazy Jane, led by modern-day mad scientist Dr. Niles Caulder (The Chief).

The characters come together after suffering horrible accidents, and are mobilized into action by The Chief, who gives them new purpose as they investigate weird phenomena and protect Earth. The show will be a spin-off from DC’s previously announced Titans live-action series.

Berlanti Productions will produce in association with Warner Bros. Television. Greg Berlanti’s company already produces Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lighting, Legends of TomorrowRiverdale and Titans.

Doom Patrol will go into production later this year for a 2019 launch. That’s going to be a whole lot of DC related content by next year. Let’s hope the quality of the shows is as good as, or better than, The Flash and Supergirl, and that there’s a hunger from the public for so much super-hero TV…

Ant-Man And The Wasp Full Trailer

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Just as Disney/Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War walks away with with approximately half the universe’s hard-earned cash (see the movie, you’ll get it), the company shows that the best way to follow up something so huge is by going small.

The stakes in Ant-Man and the Wasp seem relatively more low key, with a villain who wants to “take over the world… or whatever” (according to the always entertaining Michael Peña in the trailer).

It will be interesting to see how this movie works in relation to, well… what was happening in the Avengers movie… but this certainly seems to be a generally lighter toned affair.

Ant Man and the Wasp opens on July 6th, bringing back most of the original movie’s cast while adding Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer and the wonderful Walton Goggins.

Personally, I c…ant… wait. #SorryNotSorry