Avengers: Infinity Snore

First of all I love superhero films. My earliest memory of seeing a comic book film adaptation was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) when it became the first 12A rated film (which I was so excited about because I was 8 when it came out). Since then seeing Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) was also incredible and in time I watched X-Men (2000) and this was during the time when Superhero films were finding their ground in terms of how audiences and critics respond to them, but then…Iron Man (2008) was released and changed the cinema landscape forever. 10 years later and it’s impossible to have a Summer release not feature a comic book film adaptation, which brings me to the point of this article…

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Iron Man (2008)

Phase One of Marvel (From Iron Man – 2008 until Avengers Assemble – 2012 ) is my favourite part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because each film gave complete focus and attention to the heroes taking centre stage and subtlety working in easter eggs to foreshadow a crossover between the heroes. Now I’m at a stage where I have a love/hate relationship with Marvel and superhero films in general (look at DCEU, Man of Steel – 2013 was released and then the next film features a crossover with Batman with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – 2016) it’s rare to have a superhero film that is JUST about that one character, it has to be a crossover of some sorts. Then arrives Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and it’s one of the most hyped films of the year and is meant to be a celebration of 10 years that Marvel have reigned over cinema…yet the only reason why I saw this film was out of obligation rather than from pure excitement…that excitement, awe and wonder of seeing heroes battle it out faded a while ago (apart from Thor: Ragnarok – 2017 and Black Panther – 2018). As someone who used to really love Marvel and who still has an interest in superhero films I have to say that Infinity War felt very underwhelming and not that celebration that these characters deserved.

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Avengers Assemble (2012)

Even though my love for Marvel isn’t fresh as it used to be I still went into the screening with an open mind hoping I would be blown away, however the pacing of this film was very slow and it was basically just to see certain characters interact with other characters and very quickly my interest faded. I always stick it out to the end with a film as you never know if there is that key scene that will save the film for you but very quickly I knew that wouldn’t be the case and I had to accept that this was the most overhyped film in a long time.

The frustrating thing about Infinity War was how the directors (Joe and Anthony Russo) originally planned this film to be part one and part two would be released next year, and then they stated they were two separate films when clearly Infinity War is still part one, though this film felt very much like a filler for the fourth Avengers film which will be released next year and that’s where I feel everything from the past 10 years will properly come together. I understand the themes that Infinity War tried to convey however I felt that it was diluted from the overpopulation of characters in the film which then took away the impact that the directors were trying to implement. You would have a scene with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) then catch up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Guardians of the Galaxy AND THEN catch up with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) so it felt very much like pocket storylines instead of having a more focused and concise narrative. Now I understand that stopping Thanos was the main narrative but because of the slow pacing of the film there was no sense of urgency and knowing there is a fourth Avengers film this film didn’t feel as final as it was meant to be.

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The ending is one for conversation…SPOILER ALERT….

When everyone “dies” it’s meant to be emotional, devastating and shocking. In all honesty, I was not affected by it in the slightest. That’s because I know that they’re nearly ready to film the sequel to Spider-Man Homecoming (2017) set to be released next year  Keven Fiege has stated there’s more Black Panther stories to tell , James Gunn has said the third Guardians of the Galaxy film will be the final film in a trilogy featuring the current members…so already I know some will return so why mourn for something that’s not final?  Now I know not everyone will br brought back to life; Evans, Hemsworth and Downey Jr. all have contracts expiring after Avengers 4 but I’m happy with that because that will usher in a new age of the MCU as some things have to come to end.

To conclude this article; when you think that Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) is a better film that Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that’s saying something…but whilst I was underwhelmed with Infinity War I do have high hopes for the fourth Avengers film that it will hit the ground running and will be the true celebration of the MCU that Infinity War was meant to be.

 

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Doctor Strange (2016) Film Review

3/5 stars

Marvel needs no introduction. Pioneering the whole cinematic universe concept they have managed to create one of the most successful franchises of all time. Now Marvel returns with its 14th cinematic outing with Doctor Strange feating Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous character. The premise of the film is that Doctor Stephen Strange is a highly talented yet arrogant neurosurgeon who learns the ways of a sorcerer after trying to find healing. Does Doctor Strange live up to the hype? no.

I really wanted to like this film as Marvel has an impressive track record with producing quality blockbusters (with some blemishes). However the film didn’t quite have the emotional punch it needed for the audience to root for Strange and to ultimately care what happens to him over the course of the film. Speaking of Strange we need to talk about Benedict Cumberbatch; overall he played the part well yet there were moments where it didn’t feel authentic and at times felt forced. However by the end of the film he comes into his own and despite some rough patches in the development of his character he emerges the hero Marvel were trying to create.

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Doctor Strange boats an impressive cast: Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams as well as Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen. There was controversy with the casting of Tilda Swinton with many accusing Marvel of whitewashing the character, whilst this is a problem with Hollywood at the moment I think the decision to make The Ancient One a woman was a great move. It’s refreshing to see a prominent female led character be treated equally alongside the rest of the male cast members (we’re waiting for that Black Widow movie Marvel) and of course Tilda Swinton was incredible.

Speaking of female representation in Marvel films we have to look at Rachel McAdams who was sorely underused in the role of Christine Palmer. Fresh from her Oscar nominated role in Spotlight (2015) and with more of a decade of acting under her belt she was resorted to a forgettable role which could have been played by anyone. It was also frustrating to see her portrayed as quite a weak doctor and being told what to do all the time, Rachel McAdams is capable of so much more which is why it was frustrating to see her in this role.

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The one thing I have to applaud Marvel with is making one of the most “standalone” films in quite a while, rarely relying on numerous mentions of the Avengers to keep audiences interested. Many people complain about origin stories yet I have no issue with them, however Doctor Strange at times felt rushed. We’re first introduced to Strange in the operating theatre and in all honesty he wasn’t as arrogant as other characters tried to highlight, and then in what felt like minutes later he is involved in a fatal car accident changing his destiny forever. It didn’t have the impact it should have had because it just felt like a sequence of events; then after an outburst of not getting his way he logically heads to the mountains in Nepal only to mock the concept of healing and spirit when he arrives. I won’t go on as I don’t want to spoil the film but in short, it felt very underwhelming for what it should have been.

Marvel do have their own “comedic” style which people seem to enjoy yet in this setting it felt out of place. This is a man who has had everything wrenched from him and is at the lowest point in his life so when he arrives Kamar-Taj you’d think he’d be a bit more desperate. At times it felt that the film sacrificed emotional and deep moments in favour of “comedic” efforts, preventing it having that emotional punch. However there is one scene between The Ancient One and Doctor Strange which was my favourite scene later on during the film which showcased what the whole film could have been.

There were some standout moments which were exciting: when Doctor Strange faces off against Kaecilus (Mads Mikkelsen) for the first time and when The Ancient One showed everyone up for example. The action and spectacle was present and great to look at which made the film enjoyable, yet as much as the visual effects were impressive please stop comparing it to Inception (2010) Doctor Strange is no Inception.

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It’s no secret that despite my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe I have issues with the interweaving nature of it’s story lines and the film’s dependancy on each other. Yet Captain America: Civil War (2016) had impact in character development and narrative, so from that film to Doctor Strange was very much of a let down.

Overall whilst Doctor Strange had some flash and exciting moments with some good performances from its cast members; it didn’t delve deep enough in order for the audience to care for Doctor Strange and it felt very underwhelming in how it used some its characters and where it took the story.

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AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

Following up the $1.5 billion smash hit of Avengers Assemble (2012) was never going to be an easy task. This is the moment all comic book and movie fans had been waiting for, the uniting forces of these iconic superheroes that Marvel had been teasing about since 2008’s Iron Man. It may be the sequel to Avengers Assemble, but really it’s the sequel to all the Marvel films. It’s no secret that Marvel plant easter eggs throughout the film universe and the plots all link together. Age of Ultron is a worthy entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however it does have its flaws.

For once Loki isn’t the villain, which makes way for James Spader’s Ultron created by Tony Stark to prevent cosmic attacks. Ultron is a great villain and a worthy advisory to the Avengers, however his motives for the destruction of mankind felt fast tracked. Literally two seconds after he is created he goes on a rant about how he has to extinct the Avengers and mankind, it didn’t feel like a natural conclusion to the characters reasoning to cause havoc. That being said, James Spader really breathes life into the character with his distinctive voice and with such authority.

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Avengers Assemble was about….assembling the Avengers. This time we see the cracks starting to form within their team which is primarily thanks to Ultron. Themes which are no stranger to science fiction are explored here, about just because we can do something doesn’t make it right in most cases. Tony Stark has to deal with the consequences of building an artificial intelligence which is threatening the world with impending doom.

New entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe come from Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Both great editions to the Avengers, though they prove more of a threat to the Avengers at the beginning of the film. The stronger of the pair is Scarlet Witch, Elizabeth Olsen creates her own version of the character making her complex and allowing her to go on a journey to overcome her rocky upbringing. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a good job with Quicksilver, but Evan Peters is a more exciting version of the comic book character.

One of Scarlet Witch’s abilities is being able to manipulate minds which allows us to go deeper into the psyche of the Avengers, seeing their past, fears and potential futures. This allows time for character exploration and that is a gift especially in a film with multiple leading roles.

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If there is a standout character in Age of Ultron it has to be Black Widow. It is criminal that she hasn’t been gifted with a solo film, however in this film we go deeper into her character than we’ve ever seen before. There is one moment where she shares something of her past to Bruce Banner, and it is the most heartfelt moment of the film. Scarlett Johansson really fleshes out her character and adds more depth so we can understand her character more. Please can we have a solo Black Widow film so all can be revealed! The first Avengers film was more fun, classic and exciting.

Age of Ultron is still a great superhero film, however the spark from the first film has fizzled away. The excitement of bringing all the heroes on screen for the first time is impossible to compete with, so with that in mind this is a great follow up. However, it felt like Marvel didn’t exactly deliver in what was promised through the marketing of the film. Yes there is impending doom and there is a darker tone, but it still felt like they were holding back and it could have been a lot more dramatic and impactful.

With Captain America: Civil War due out next year and is basically Avengers 2.5, there is still a lot more that Marvel wants to explore with these characters and this universe.

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BLOCKBUSTER V INDEPENDENT FILM: DAWN OF THE SNOB

It’s not old news for blockbusters to be snubbed or passed off in favour of more “compelling” independent dramas. It can be said that blockbusters lack originality and only rely upon setting up or continuing franchises, as opposed to creating original works. Personally, the size of the film is irrelevant, as long as the film has convincing characters and allows the audience to invest in the film. There’s two sides of the coin and there’s no right answer, but I do believe blockbusters should be given more credit.

In recent times, franchises are becoming a stronger concept and a studio can’t make a film without thinking of a follow up. An obvious example is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, originating back with 2008’s Iron Man. Gradually creating its own thing, it was like a cosmic explosion occurred with 2012’s Avengers Assemble and now the Marvel brand is stronger than ever.

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There’s at least a few Marvel films per year as opposed to times when there was only once a year. The films are becoming so interlinked, it’s hard to focus on one without considering the others. Let me state that I am a huge fan of superhero films, but I wonder what the end goal of Marvel is and how much bigger it can get. I miss the days when a film was a film within itself, without having to rely on other films.

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Recently, Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy blasted the “tsunami of superhero films” and told other indie filmmakers they were survivors of the attack. Gilroy further stated, “We have survived and we have thrived and I think that’s true spirit.To some degree, I understand what Gilroy means and it would be refreshing to see more original work. However, Gilroy should focus on his “true spirit” in filmmaking instead of wasting his energy blasting commercially and critically successful blockbusters.

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“…if you, as an independent filmmaker or a ‘serious’ filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.” 

James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, rightly defended blockbusters (superhero films specifically). Just because a films budget is bigger doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of investing all of their energy to create a great story with great characters.

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“It’s something different. It was great because Christopher Nolan is an independent film-maker who happens to work at a studio. Yes, Interstellar is a big budget film, but it’s his voice, you feel completely like it’s his movie all the way.”

Jessica Chastian, who collaborated with Nolan on Interstellar, raises an interesting point. That in some cases, blockbusters can have their own unique style and that they don’t have to adhere to the latest trend. Christopher Nolan is a director I highly respect for creating intelligent blockbusters that have depth (and the fact he uses 2D). As stated before, he creates original epic blockbusters that allow actors to go deeper with their characters and to feature a thought provoking narrative.

That’s what I love about films, that you can watch an exciting action adventure and be thrilled or watch an independent film that tells a story in a raw and emotional way, you can get different things from different types of films. There shouldn’t be a prejudice against blockbusters. Film is film, enjoy it!

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Basically, don’t be a snob and enjoy great films that create solid characters and have a great narrative, no matter what the size of the budget. I know not all blockbusters aren’t perfect and I’m sure there are some bad indie films out there, but blockbusters should be given more credit in some cases. Peter Jackson created an epic blockbuster full of great themes and deep emotion and also received great reviews. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King became the first fantasy film to win an Oscar for Best Film in 2004, I rest my case.