Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Movie Review

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The original line-up of the Avengers are back for another go: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow and a whole bunch of new heroes in Joss Whedon’s final turn in the director’s chair for Marvel’s ensemble franchise.

What’s the story about? Well it’s pretty simple, in the wake of Loki’s attempted invasion of New York City, Tony Stark attempts to create an artificial intelligence whose sole task is to protect Earth against future threats. Of course, this backfires and the Avengers end up creating their deadly enemy, Ultron. The rumors are true: one Avenger will die and it might not be who you expect.

Is it worth watching? Well, first the good stuff: the battle between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in an unnamed African city is the highlight of the movie and it happens around the midpoint. Supporting characters in the first film like Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk finally get center stage though at the expense of old stalwarts like Thor (who becomes an inadvertent comic relief throughout most of the movie) and Captain America (who turns into a one-dimensional boy scout). Iron Man is the Jimmy Neutron of the team- a tortured genius who tries to create a solution to a problem that has yet to exist and ends up creating a Frankenstein monster of sorts- it’s not that Tony Stark is the villain but this does tie in nicely with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.

This brings into focus the central weakness of the movie: namely too many characters and not enough screen time for each one to be fleshed out. The movie not only serves as an origin story for Ultron as well as new Avengers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision but it ends up making the story a paper thin pastiche of short character building vignettes around huge swirling chaotic battle scenes- many of them too enamored with fast editing to the point that they are almost too quick to follow with the mind’s eye. Additional cameos by the Falcon, War Machine and Nick Fury only adds to its ad-hoc nature and myriad narrative.

In the end, Avengers Age of Ultron is ultimately satisfying but if you look closer, it seems to be nothing more than a placeholder for future plot lines in the upcoming Marvel Universe movie franchises.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The Avengers (2012) – Movie Review

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A colossal wave of fevered anticipation preceded the arrival of ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’, the culmination of five incredibly successful standalone films. Not only has helmer Joss Whedon weathered the immense scrutiny, he has amazingly managed to surpass the loftiest expectations with a movie that towers over the rest that have come before it, combining jaw-dropping action, tongue-in-cheek humour and poignant drama into a dazzling piece of summer blockbuster entertainment.

Proving that the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts, Wheedon has distilled the best elements of each of the preceding movies into this assembly of Marvel superheroes- Iron Man is wiry and snarky as ever; Thor is just as Godly in his might but human in his compassion; and Captain America is still appealingly old-school. The Hulk, or Bruce Banner in his human form, is quite something else altogether though (being the only character to have a change of actor from the previous films) and all the better for it.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the one movie which ‘Avengers’ is most intimately associated with is ‘Thor’, given that both share the same villain- Thor’s adopted brother and fellow Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston)- and that Wheedon did shoot the post-credits scene with Loki and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Opening with a recurring character from that movie, Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is now assisting with experiments on the Tessaract which has quite unexpectedly displayed a life of its own.

Turns out that the fallen Loki has been drafted by an alien race to lead its invasion of Earth, using the same Tessaract as a portal to cross over from their universe to ours- and his arrival not only leads to the decimation of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, but also the takeover of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr Selvig to do his bidding. With the fate of the world in the balance, Fury activates his ‘Avengers’ initiative to gather this group of heroes, including two S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives – the Black Widow and Hawkeye.

From the outset it’s clear that there is relative poetry in Wheedon’s storytelling as he expertly weaves together the recruiting exercise by Fury and his trusted agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). The best he saves for last, so even though Thor only first appears half an hour into the movie, his is a spectacular entrance befitting a God, crossing paths with Iron Man for a thunderous one-on-one clash in the middle of the woods.

True to the spirit of the books, the assembly of these superheroes begins on a fractious note- chiefly due to Stark’s distrust of Fury and disdain for the star-and-stripes outfitted Captain America. Instead, Stark teams up with the only person he deigns as his intellectual equal- Bruce Banner- to locate the Tessaract and uncover what dirty secrets Fury has been keeping from the rest of them. The answer to the latter isn’t all too unexpected, but kudos to Wheedon for tying this little detail nicely with the events in ‘Thor’.

It will take a colossal event to bring these disparate heroes together, resulting in the first of two action set pieces in the movie that will undoubtedly qualify amongst some of the most spectacularly thrilling stuff you’ll ever see on the big screen. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, Wheedon tops it with an even grander and absolutely breathtaking climax set in the heart of New York City.

The reason why the finale works so brilliantly is that Wheedon loves and respects each and every superhero character just as much. Wheedon gets the action pitch-perfect through reinforcing the individual powers of each one of the superheroes before uniting their strengths to form an even mightier coalition. It is nothing less than pure ecstasy when they join forces as a team, and you’ll find it difficult to resist getting up from your seat and cheering for them at various points throughout the remarkable finish.

This review however won’t be complete without a special shout-out for the Hulk, many fans of whom have been disappointed by both the Lee Ang and the later Louis Leterrier iteration of it. Here, Wheedon has finally gotten it right, blending both the character’s brains and brawn to crowd pleasing effect- even more so through some clever plotting that ensures Banner’s eventual transformation from man to beast is as rewarding as it should be.

Calling it the perfect summer blockbuster is probably not enough to do justice to just how brilliant it is, and it certainly ranks as one of the most- if not the most- entertaining and exhilarating experiences you’ll have at the movies.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Movie Review

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The ultimate cinematic dilemma is how to make the next comic book movie stand out from the (many, many) others? The brilliant answer comes from director Taika Waititi and co-writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – a screwball superhero action film that delivers not only intense action scenes, but also a compelling villain for the ages in a movie that may be the funniest of 2017.

For those who prefer their superheroes dark and brooding, you’ll be in for a shock. Prepare for Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster – the most polite villain we’ve seen in awhile, and one who looks to be straight out of the 1960’s “Batman” series. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is one of many returning actors/characters, only this time he really gets to flex his comedic timing on top of his Thunder God biceps. His love- hate, trust-no trust, see-saw relationship with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in full force, as is the rivalry and banter with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s certainly more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Avengers installments.

As much fun as Goldblum brings to the party, this is really Cate Blanchett’s show. She is the frightening Goddess of Death, long-lost sister of Thor and Loki, and daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). With a costume which is very faithful to the comics (and we get a few versions throughout the movie), Hela’s enormous powers are powerful enough to destroy Mjolnir with little effort, not to mention much of Asgard and key players within.

Of course, with that title, we know that the story revolves around what could be the end of Asgard. Joining in the fun are: Idris Elba who is back as Heimdall, Tessa Thompson as a master of one-liners Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge – rewarded with a wonderful exit scene, Ray Stevenson returns as Volstagg, and rocky alien Korg who is voiced by director Waititi. Fans of the series will be happy to know other familiar faces pop up periodically – one especially magical sequence teaches Loki a quick lesson.

In addition to the main rescue story line, the powerful villains, and crazy aliens, there are numerous nods and tributes to well known storylines from the comic books (notably Planet Hulk, and Fantastic Four), and a hilarious early stage play with three cameos that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Special acknowledgment goes to director Taika Waititi for adeptly taking the comic book film world down a different path. While he’s mostly known for his comedic projects like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, and his work on the brilliant but short-lived “Flight of the Conchords”, this is still very much a Marvel movie, with the visible fingerprints of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It’s also a fantastic adventure film that sets the stage for 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, while also featuring the best use ever of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. This is without a doubt a great addition to the MCU.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Thor (2011) – Movie Review

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Thor is exactly what a comic-book movie ought to be – it’s packed with action and great effects, it’s true to its source material, it gives us characters we actually care about, and it’s a tense melodrama with connections to Shakespeare.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an Asgardian prince, son of King Odin (check your Norse mythology). Hot-headed, impetuous, prone to violence, and quite full of himself, he is nonetheless next in line for the throne. Just before his coronation is complete, however, intruders from Jotunheimm infiltrate Asgard; although they’re quickly dispatched, Thor demands revenge, and against his father’s explicit orders, he and his friends (including his brother, Loki) travel to Jotunheim to seek answers – and kick butt, if necessary and possible. Odin finds out and saves them, but he strips Thor of his powers – including his great hammer, Mjolnir, and banishes him to Earth to teach him a lesson in humility.

This banishment serves to open the door for treachery in Asgard, allowing the Frost Giants of Jotunheim to wage war against the Asgardians. Meanwhile, some of that trouble is spilled out onto the Earth, where Thor has fallen under the romantic spell of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Suffice to say that bad things come to a small town in New Mexico, with only a now-mortal Thor able to help them.

But this movie is about more than just bad guys plotting to take over the universe; it’s about father-son relationships and the rivalry between a favored son and “the other brother.” There’s a lot of Henry V and King Lear present, and this is due in no small part to the movie’s director, the great Kenneth Branagh. Branagh is not the first person you’d think of to direct a movie based on a comic book, but he skillfully manages to not only keep the expected characterizations and plot fresh but also to instill a sense of classicism and wonderment.

The CGI is pretty well utilized and what’s more important it doesn’t distract from the plot. In some movies, effects serve as noise to prevent the audience from discovering that the story doesn’t make much sense. Branagh isn’t subtle in his use of technology, but this isn’t a movie that really should be subtle. Thor himself certainly isn’t.

Hemsworth is perfectly cast in the title role. Sturdy and ripped, he fits Thor’s physical description, but also infuses the character with depth and likability. Portman, an Oscar winner, fills a role similar to Liv Tyler’s and Jennifer Connelly’s in the two Hulk films. Her character reminded me quite a bit of Jodie Foster’s character in Contact – a determined, resolved, super-smart researcher determined to uncover the truth behind the mystery being presented.

Anthony Hopkins plays Odin as you’d expect Anthony Hopkins to play a king: regally, with a weary toughness. Idris Elba, Kat Denning, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hiddleston, Ray Stevenson, and a couple of uncredited supporting characters are also well cast.

Thor is every bit as entertaining as I thought it’d be. It’s classy without being out of reach for the rest of us; it’s not a Royal Theater production, but neither is it a simple slam-bang cacophony of senseless violence.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Movie Review

There’s nothing more disappointing than a sequel that does not live up to the original film it came from, therefore, my cinematic experiences over the years dealing with such efforts have certainly been tragic.

Yes, there have been second films that have equaled or surpassed the original (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Superman 2,” “The Godfather: Part 2,” just to name a very few), but these are as rare as Academy Award nominations from “Weird Al” Yankovic.

So, die-hard Marvel Studios fans may want to exit this website now and forgo any bitterness they may feel when they realize this review — while not a whole dismissal of the newest superhero epic, “Thor: The Dark World” — may not exactly be what they want to read at this moment.

True to my nature as an optimist, however, I will highlight the positive points of the new production. First, Chris Hemsworth is the perfect choice to play the stoic, unemotional, dispassionate, apathetic, unmoved Nordic leading deity to a tee (actually, I’m not sure these are good points).

It does not require a whole lot of animation to jump from the sky, punch someone out or throw a hammer. Hemsworth does a very good job in his portrayal of such a character and, as long as he does not try to break the acting ceiling like he did in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” I think we’ll be all right.

The other good thing about this movie (and it’s probably the best) is Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “Midnight in Paris”), the deeply troubled younger (and let’s not forget ADOPTED) brother of the first prince of Asgard. It’s his third appearance in the role and he has grown quite comfortable as the smirking, conniving schemer.

Here, he makes every scene he’s in delectable. It’s too bad he is not in more. Plus, the sequences where he appears with Hemsworth are not only the best in the picture, but they elevate the latter’s status and acting credentials even higher than they should be.

Okay, we have discussed the positive, now let’s look at the concerns. Replacing first installment director Kenneth Branagh (who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director — and lead actor — for 1989′s “Henry V”) eliminated the whole Shakespearian angle with the fallen brother, the troubled prince and world-weary king, which punctuated the action scenes and made for much more intelligent viewing than your average superhero narrative.

Alan Taylor, while adept at television drama (several installments of “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones” and a host of others), has not helmed a feature film since “Kill the Poor” in 2003. His contribution to this feature — at least as far as the Bard connection goes — is negligible and thus much of the drama of “Thor” is replaced with the mediocre of standard fights, screaming and explosions.

Yes, “Thor: The Dark World” looks good, but there is a troubling blandness and sameness to the enterprise.

Sadly underused (or misused in some cases) are Anthony Hopkins (“Red 2”) as King Odin, Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Stellan Skarsgård (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as Dr. Erik Selvig and Christopher Eccleston (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) as the main villain — that’s right, Loki isn’t even the top bad guy here — Malekith.

Hopkins is given even less screen time than in the first film, while Portman bitches and moans and nags so much about Thor being away one understands his reasoning completely. She is both bland and annoying, a difficult tightrope to walk (see “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” for a perfect example).

Meanwhile, Skarsgård has been reduced to a comic relief buffoon and Eccleston, who began his career in 1991 in a great little British film, “Let Him Have It,” is easily one of the worst Marvel villains of all-time, sort of a lightweight Bane, but without the menacing demeanor. Heavily made-up and CGIed to the point of complete obscurity, he comes back (after failing numerous time in the past) to use the all-powerful Aether to blow all of the realms to pieces, for whatever that’s worth.

The best spy, war and superhero movies have one thing in common — great and terrifying bad guys (Goldfinger, Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, Loki). Malekith is certainly a name few will remember in the annals of filmdom’s evil malefactors.

Few will remember the plot of “Thor: The Dark World,” as well. Basically Asgard is under assault from Malekith and Thor is forced to release Loki from prison (where he has been since the end of “The Avengers”) to aid in the protection of the realms. The real drama is whether the kid brother can be trusted. Seems a logical concern to me. There are trips to other planets and Earth gets a few location shots.

Monsters are destroyed, good guys are pounded and, for a while, we wonder if anyone can survive the onslaught of out-of-control special effects. One funny sequence involves Thor and Malekith bouncing around the universe while the mighty hammer of the Norse god struggles vainly just to keep up with the action.

“Thor: The Dark World” is nowhere near enough to surpass the first experience, and while not a bad movie at all, it just seems like a temporary diversion until a part three (or “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”) comes out. Sadly, that’s just not enough for a studio with a much better track record than this.

5 out of 10 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 2: The Godbomb (collecting issues 6 to 11) – 2013

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This review contains spoilers, so if you are planning on reading the book please be mindful of that. On that note, I highly recommending reading it and circling back to the review. It’s a beautifully written and drawn book, and well worth adding to anyone’s collection.

The heart of the story is about how revenge corrupts, plain and simple. Here we see Gorr’s origin story………..

I’m sitting in the library trying to think of how/what to write on this comic book which I enjoyed tremendously. The atmosphere generated by the artist, the movement of the characters and their expressiveness as they emote supports the story perfectly.

That’s how it was flowing until my personal space was invaded by this dude who sat right next to me on the communal bench. Ok, it’s a communal bench, I get it, but I’ll know not to sit here next time. And, I appreciate it’s a Saturday which is the busiest day of the week, but seriously chief, you’re sitting so close it looks like we’re a couple. This is, of course, the best time for you to start reading over my shoulder – not literally given you are sitting so close, you’re almost looking at the laptop screen head-on. This guy has no concept of personal space.

Ok, so It’s a cautionary tale about becoming the thing we hate the most. Gorr starts off hating the Gods who abandoned him, who wouldn’t help as he suffered and then were directly responsible for the loss of his loved ones. He takes a chance opportunity at acquiring power to seek justice at first, but as time progresses he becomes bitter, twisted and cruel as revenge totally consumes him. His final act, a bomb to destroy all Gods throughout all time, sees Gorr become the God of all Gods who destroys lives around him as he focuses solely on his ultimate goal. Collateral damage; they’re not important.

Ok, chief, let’s take this a step further. You’ve just pulled out the Most Feminine Hand Cream of All Time and are applying it while looking at me out of the corner of your eye. I see your game, dude. Now I know why you sat next to me. Unfortunately for me, my sinuses have become sensitive to perfume/cologne over the years, to the point that I can no longer wear the stuff myself. The hand cream this guy is using is perfumed and is assaulting my senses. Fuck, could you be any more annoying? No wait, please don’t answer that.

I’ve always been a big fan of character driven stories which show their journey, decisions they make and the consequences thereof. Jason takes a unique and inventive approach by showing us three versions of Thor; a young, brash and inexperienced God, a “middle-aged” superhero and Avenger, and then finally King Thor, someone who is feeling the weight of hard decisions he has had to make as a King of Asgard, and then has them team up in the same story. One thing of note is the foreshadowing that Jason does with King Thor. In later stories, Thor loses his arm and we see this with King Thor and his use of the Destroyer’s arm in place of the one he lost in his younger years.

Ok, he answered that question. Now this dude is giving me furtive glances, sending me the signal that he wants to talk to me, i.e. hit on me. Fuck, chief, I couldn’t be any less interested, not to mention that you’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t swing that way. So, okay, lesson learned. I’ll need to sit elsewhere in the library – I’m not going to stop coming here because it’s a good space for writing. Next time I’ll just vacate the area and find another spot. The library has five floors. Plenty of options are available.

I appreciate that this is a comic book and a stylised, embellished version of the Norse myth, however I would have preferred to see Thor’s sons instead of the three daughters that appeared in the story. I guess I’m just a purest in that regard, but that’s really my only complaint about the story. In any case, I enjoyed the first eleven issues of the series so much, I bought the entire run. This is, of course, what good stories do: you can’t wait to see what happens next.

4 stars out of 5.

 

 

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