STELLAR EFFORT?

SPOILER WARNING

2014 has already seen three Marvel movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Amazing Spider-man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. To this we can now add Guardians of The Galaxy. When it was announced a few years ago, it did seem a very strange choice to transfer onto the big screen. An obscure series featuring earth man Peter Quill (Starlord) and his team of aliens including talking animal Rocket Raccoon and sentient tree Groot, character recognition was pretty nonexistent. But it has been promoted as a comedy and so GoTG (as it shall be known from now on to save on characters) was never going to be quite the same beast as many of its Marvel stablemates. Basically, Quill (Chris Pratt) is kidnapped by alien buccaneers led by Yondu (Michael (The Walking Dead) Rooker) as a kid. We jump forward to Quill as a young man, calling himself Star Lord, who has become an intergalactic ne’er do well and he finds himself up against scary Kree warrior Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Pushing Daisies), the son of huge chinned Thanos (voiced by John Brolin) when he manages to acquire a globe of incredible power. Quill is assisted by by the gorgeous Gamora (Zoe (Star Trek) Saldana), psychopath Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista), walking tree Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper).GoTG is obviously aimed at a younger audience than something like The Winter Soldier or Days of Future Past which explains the presence of Rocket Raccoon but the eighties nostalgia here (explained by a mix tape from Quill’s late mother) will strike no chords with younger viewers and the visage of Ronan may even terrify a younger audience. The film is fun, looks fantastic and Pratt is very good as Quill but the script is fairly forgettable and Rocket Raccoon, while no Jar Jar Binks, doesn’t really work for an adult audience. The inevitable 3D lends little to proceedings. It has been compared with Star Wars and perhaps that is a valid comparison. Director James Gunn has made a decent job here. It doesn’t matter what I say here because a sequel for the film has apparently been greenlit. Guardians of The Galaxy is a very enjoyable but fairly unmemorable summer blockbuster with some impressive effects. Fun while you’re watching it but you are hard-pressed to remember what you even saw a few days later. It is still better than Amazing Spider-man 2…

 

Mutant Equality?

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SPOILER WARNINGMarvel’s X-Men was one of the first of the recent big-screen superhero franchise movies. X-Men and X2 were very good, but The Last Stand was pretty weak. So the decision was made to reboot it and X-Men: First Class in 2011 made a pretty good fist of things, recasting James McAvoy and the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender respectively as Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Now it’s 2014 and we have X-Men: Days of Future Past. Original X-Men director Bryan Singer has returned, directing the characters for the first time since 2003. Days of Future Past is loosely based on the Claremont/ Paul Smith story published back in 1981 and it is set in a dystopian future where the surviving X-Men are forced to hide out and in the 1970s, where a young Professor X and Magneto have the opportunity to prevent that nightmarish future from ever happening. Basically, it all hinges on Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and his robotic creations, the Sentinels. So where First Class tried to mimic James Bond and that iconic Sixties feel, here we have jumped head to the Seventies with Singer going for that decade’s atmosphere and ambience. Thanks to the split time periods, for the first time, we are able to see Stewart and McKellen and McAvoy and Fassbender in the same film. Singer also does some very clever things with the visuals, and a scene with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) that turns the whole bullet time thing on its head. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) holds both periods together as they decide he is the only X-Men physically strong enough to survive being sent back to the 1970s. The film does manage to channel that classic comic feel without coming across as patronising and remaining faithful to the source without feeling slavish. Fassbender is very good again as Magneto as is McAvoy as Professor X but Stewart and McKellen feel a little bit like bit players in their own story and Dinklage feels wasted here, as Trask is just a plot device at the end of the day. Jennifer Lawrence reprising her role as Mystique has an onscreen magnetism that is hard to argue with. It has been released in 3D but apart from the Quicksilver scene, it doesn’t lend a great deal to the overall experience. The post-credits stinger, pointing to what’s next in the rebooted X-Men franchise, is short and feels a little bit pointless. X-Men: Days of Future Past isn’t perfect by any means (its end feels a little rushed and counter to the film’s own internal logic) but it is an ambitious summer superhero film with some nice flourishes. It is good to see Singer back on X-Men. It will be dominating the box office on both sides of the Atlantic as you read this…

Swinging Low

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SPOILER WARNING

When Marvel decided to reboot the Spider-man films after the disastrous Spider-man 3 back in 2007, the choice of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-man was met with some skepticism. The 2012 film wasn’t perfect by any means: its running time was too long and some of the CGI looked decidedly ropey. But Emma Stone was an inspired choice as Gwen Stacy and there was an interesting vulnerability to Garfield’s Peter Parker. Fast-forward to 2014 and we have Amazing Spider-man 2. Webb’s second Spider-man outing suffers from many of the same problems as the first film (it outstays its welcome by about forty minutes and Jamie Foxx’s Electro has a very poorly designed costume) but it is actually a far weaker film than its predecessor. Garfield’s Peter Parker has become cocky and rather arrogant and the inclusion of a second villain with a conclusion that foreshadows the inevitable introduction of the Sinister Six in a second sequel means that the film feels cluttered and dramatically all over the place. There are some nice touches when it comes to exploring Peter’s father’s scientist past but overall you are left shrugging your shoulders. Marvel’s decision to press the restart button on Spider-man was criticised as a pointless exercise and Amazing Spider-man 2 really makes you miss Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. The sad thing is that with another sequel packed full of even more villains than you have here, the omens aren’t looking good that they’ll be able to reverse the drop in quality. In fact, it is becoming reminiscent of what Warners did with Batman when Joel Schumacher came on board. Amazing Spider-man 2 is bloated, uneven and mostly unengaging…

Army Intelligence?

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WARNING: SPOILERS 

It’s been three years since Captain America: The First Avenger and we’ve had a number of other huge Marvel movies since (Avengers (Assemble), Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine and Iron Man 3). So audiences have been trained to expect bigger and more bombastic Marvel studio efforts. The first Captain America film was enjoyable, albeit a little cheesy in places and felt like an extended trailer for the Avengers (Assemble). Fast-forward three years and the film-makers can jump right in. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pits Steve Rogers, Nick Fury and the Scarlet Widow against a threat that seems to have come straight out of the Cold War: Russian assassin the Winter Soldier, who may or may not be Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes. In a nod to Seventies classics like Three Days Of The Condor and All The President’s Men, the film introduces Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Winter Soldier also brings in Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka The Falcon. They do manage to introduce a feeling of paranoia straight out of the Cold War, upsetting the status quo and questioning who the audience can really trust. Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow and her role here is much more satisfying than her previous appearance and Samuel Jackson’s Fury has far more to do here than in any other Marvel film to date. There are some nice touches, with Redford adding a little bit of gravitas and Johansson is less wooden and more likeable here. But it does outstay its welcome with a running time of two and a quarter hours, the 3D is totally pointless, The Falcon just doesn’t work here and the plot isn’t as ingenious or well-conceived as the films it nods to. The obligatory sting at the end feels short and a little bit pointless. However, for fans of Marvel movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers an entertaining cinematic ride, channelling the comics with no little aplomb and panache. Even former Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker gets a small, blink-and- you’ll-miss-it cameo, which adds a little fun to the mix.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is guaranteed to have a steel grip on the box office when it opens both in the UK (out now) and US (4th April) and while it’s not perfect by any means, it is a film with its heart in the right place…

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A NEW SPIN?
It’s been five years since the disaster that was Spider-man 3 and so much has changed in the cinematic landscape that it was inevitable that Marvel would want to offer the world a different Spider-man to the one that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire created in the three films last decade. It has been ten years since Raimi’s first Spider-man film and we’ve seen the successful big-screen transfer of Marvel creations like Thor, The Avengers and Captain America. The Amazing Spider-man, directed by Marc (500 Days of Summer) Webb has a different approach to Raimi: this film has a lighter and younger feel than Raimi’s efforts. Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker feels younger than Maguire’s portrayal and he even looks a little younger, even though in reality the actor is actually 28 years old. The story is the familiar one: Parker, losing his parents at a young age, he goes to live with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen, respectively). Parker is a science geek and finds himself in the offices of Oscorp, whose chief scientist Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is searching for a way to regrow his lost arm via experiments with other species. Parker finds himself in one of their secret labs and unwittingly ends up being bitten by a radioactive spider. When his Uncle is cruelly murdered in a street robbery, Parker makes it his mission to use his newfound powers for good. Meanwhile, the desperate Connors turns his own experiments on himself with disastrous consequences. Director Webb has a lightness of touch here and Garfield plays the gawky Parker with style and panache. The supporting cast are also pretty decent including the gorgeous Emma Stone as police captain Stacy’s daughter Gwen and Dennis Leary as her father. Ifans was an intriguing choice to play Connors and he mostly carries it off. The action sequences are well-handled but the running time is about forty minutes too long and shaving a chunk off would have made it a stronger film and occasionally some of the swinging scenes look a little too artificial but these are minor quibbles. Feeling like a Saturday morning cartoon, The Amazing Spider-man has mostly removed the bad taste that Spider-man 3 left and set things up nicely for future cinema adventures with Parker. The 3D is pretty pointless however and cinemagoers should see it in 2D as the 3D lends nothing to the experience. It is slightly less sophisticated than Thor and Avengers (Assemble) but still worth seeing. Marvel have done what they needed to do to make Spider-man a viable Hollywood franchise again…

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BITING THE BIG APPLE
I’ve not been to a New York Comic Con since 2008, when they were in the beginning of the year. So I decided that 2010 would be the year I would go back. October is a nicer time of the year than February so the weather was bound to be better. Unfortunately we left this rather late and because hotels were seemingly too expensive, we decided to book a flat. We searched online and found a place called feelnyc.com which looked quite decent. We booked a place in the East Village, which was cheaper than a hotel but we booked it with the understanding that it would have two beds. But when we got there, it turned out that it only had one bed and didn’t really match the photograph that was on their website. So we were forced to book a hotel at very short notice. To top that, they have refused to return my deposit. So that cast a shadow over the trip. I won’t be using anybody like them in the future and I would hope that people reading this blog would bear this in mind if they were to use them in the future. We found a hotel up near the park which was pretty nice but cost more than we were planning to spend. I felt a little bit stupid considering that I have been to New York countless times. But the days after were a lot better: we got to catch up with my friend Mark Chiarello at DC for lunch, we visited animator Bill Plympton in his studio and also we visited Mike Kaulta’s studio on the Upper West Side. So the precursor to the show was pretty enjoyable. The weather started as rainy but it became very nice and it actually felt like it was summer rather than autumn. The show was very impressive: from the Thursday afternoon icv2 Digital Comics Conference, it was obvious that it had already grown since I was last there. Icv2 brought together important figures like Boom’s Mark Waid, comicsbeat.com’s Heidi MacDonald and Marvel’s David Gabriel to discuss how digital does and should fit into the current market. We even got to catch up with Bill Baker, who I’ve not seen in over two years, for dinner which was very enjoyable. When we got there on Friday, the queue to get in was crazy but luckily because I was registered as press, I was able to circumvent this. New York Comic Con 2010 had an amazing guest list of the biggest and best comic creators working in American comics today including Brian Bendis, Joe Kubert, Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and many more. Unlike San Diego Comic Con, even though film and TV was represented through the Walking Dead‘s Frank Darabont and a preview of Marvel’s Thor movie and DC’s Green Lantern film, comics were still the main thing on the menu. I have heard that it may have hit 100,000 people this year and this is phenomenal. Considering that it has only been going for five years, this is even more staggering. New York has been the home of the American comic for decades but at last it has a show that reflects that. We did visit Brooklyn on one of the days after the show but I’m going to save that for another post. Here are some photos I took at the show to give you a flavour of what it was like…

A NEW FREQUENCY
So Happy New Year everyone. My first post of 2008 is the other radio interview I did last Friday for the BBC’s The World programme. I’m not that keen on listening to my own voice, so it still feels a little bit strange but hopefully I’ll get better at this radio lark. My friend Steve Colgan was kind enough to extract the file and turn it into something that can be played (http://stevecolgan.blogspot.com/)…

Next post will be a review of Sweeney Todd which I’m seeing on Friday, and I’ll be outlining feature rundown for this year’s TRIPWIRE Annual

RADIO,RADIO

It’s happened to me a couple of times in the past but I got a call out of the blue yesterday from BBC World Service. They wanted me to come in and talk about the fact that the UN have joined forces with Marvel to produce an ‘educational’ comic to give away. Now I have done quite a few panels over the last few years but not done so much radio so I did feel a little bit self-conscious. But it seemed to go well and in fact I am on BBC radio again, this time for The World, a BBC programme from Boston in the States.
And here is the World Service interview for you…

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My friend Steve Colgan was also kind enough to put it up here:
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The other interview for The World is available here:
http://www.theworld.org/