Another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are left on their lonesome to review the week’s major new release. With no news to discuss nor quizzes to, er, quiz, it makes space for both a spoiler-free and a post-credits Spoiler Alert, all about Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Unfortunately there are no instructional videos presented by Captain America to teach us how to write a good wholesome film review of the latest attempt at repackaging Spider-Man. Alas, you’ll just have to make do with Owen Hughes’s thoughts on this Sony / Marvel concoction.
Another month into Andrew Brooker’s self-imposed challenge to watch 365 films in 365 days. See how he’s been getting on below.
Where does a pirate keep his buccaneers? Apparently on the bucking Failed Critics Podcast this week, as Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by both Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank for some jolly rogering – and to talk about Marvel’s latest space adventure movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!
Ooga-shaka, I’m hooked on a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise and it keeps getting better. Owen Hughes reviews James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Look at me, listeners! I love you! It’s all for you, Damian— I mean, whatever your name might be! Happy birthday to us.
Yes, backs are slapped and circled are jerks as we celebrate reaching the fifth year of the Failed Critics Podcast. Hip, hip…
Apologies for this week’s podcast being so late. It took us a little while to master the art of manipulating time and space, unlike a certain Marvel wizard who can montage his way through ancient texts on the topic. Steve Norman was closely guarding the FC library which meant Owen Hughes, Brian Plank and Andrew Brooker had to use all their cunning to get past him.
You know what, I’m just going to end that metaphor there. It’s possibly the worst one I’ve ever come up with and I’ll just tell you what’s on the podcast this week.
The big new release this week is – as you’ve probably ascertained – the new Marvel movie, Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Chiewetel Ejiofor amongst others. (Scott Adkins!)
In What We’ve Been Watching, Steve stays quiet as Brian declares Hot Fuzz the best of the Cornetto trilogy, Brooker quenches his appetite for all things gruesome and grotesque with The Woman, and Owen doesn’t watch anything at all, but reviews the BBC Radio4 horror The Stone Tape by Peter Strickland (of Berbarian Sound Studio fame).
As chaotic as ever, Owen Hughes and Paul Rutland stumble through another podcast edition of their Bucks101 Radio show, Front Row, replete with all the usual bumf.
There’s a very slight twist on the movie review, with Owen taking a leaf out of Paul’s sports round-up (which this week focuses primarily on Leicester City’s Premier League triumph) to live-review Marvel’s latest blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War. Also, prepare yourself for a full-on rant from Paul as they ‘roll the dice’ in the final section of the show.
Thanks to Andy Alcock for his suggestion for the musical theme on this week’s show, as Owen and Paul tried to pick songs that mention famous people. The songs were as eclectic a mix as ever – but you still don’t get the music on the podcast! You’ll need to tune in to Bucks101 Radio every Tuesday at 5pm to hear their selections or alternatively, listen to all the tracks from the show on the YouTube playlist below.
- Billy Joel – We Didn’t Star the Fire (Paul)
- Ash – Kung Fu (Owen)
- Queen – Bicycle Race (Paul)
- Stump – Charlton Heston (Owen)
- Gregory Porter – Puttin’ on the Ritz (Paul)
- Billy Bragg – Sexuality (Owen)
- Vance Joy -Riptide (Paul)
- John Grant – Sigourney Weaver (Owen)
Battle lines have been drawn. Treaties are being drafted. The U.N. were informed.
It’s Steve ‘Captain Anyway’ Norman on one side, using his sense of justice and principles to determine what’s right. Opposite is Owen ‘Irony Man’ Hughes, putting his logic and rational thinking to the test. Listeners, choose your side as Civil War erupts on this week’s Failed Critics Podcast!
Andrew Brooker and Brian Plank are caught in the crossfire, therefore rather than being referred to as “guests” this week, you can legitimately call them Failed Critics collateral damage.
If you haven’t guessed what the main review on the latest episode is yet, then go speak to your doctor. But just for clarification, it is indeed the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War – and boy do we talk, and talk, and talk about this one. We have our usual spoiler-free review later in the show, followed by a Spoiler Alert after the end credits, where the team go into more depth without worrying about ruining the plot, twists, characters… or anything else for that matter.
It’s not only Marvel on the pod this week, although the show does kick off with a chat about a potential Punisher solo-series on Netflix after a short hastily prepared quiz. Speaking of, Steve sinks his teeth into the latest Netflix movie Special Correspondents, starring Ricky Gervais. Owen and Brooker also review the latest James Cullen Bressack / Zack Ward indie-thriller Restoration (out today (3rd May!)), before Brooker also tackles video-game adaptation Ratchet & Clank and Brian has a look at cult classic Rollerball.
Join us again next week as we pray that our cinemas show something, anything, other than just Civil War for the next three months.
“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.
Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?
Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.
Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.
Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.
Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for
General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.
Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.
Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.
Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.
For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.
It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.
Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable
- Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
- Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
- Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
- Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
- Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
- Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.
Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind
- Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
- War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
- Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
- Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
- Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
- Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.
Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?
It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.
It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.
The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.
However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?
Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.
Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.
Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.
Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every
Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.
Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.
Welcome to this week’s episode of the Failed Critics Podcast. You know how we sometimes swear a lot and are rather crass? Yet, occasionally, we have to add an extra warning that the levels of explicit language and vulgar comments exceed our usually-already-fairly-high volume..? Well, this is one of those weeks.
Just as he was last week, Paul Field is back on the podcast along with hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes, and was once again given license to take over the quiz. The theme he went for is very tangibly linked to the first-person extremely graphic violent action movie Hardcore Henry, our main review this week.
We also have two other new releases to review this week as Owen looks at Jeff Nichols’ latest offering, the foreboding sci-fi drama Midnight Special, whilst Paul reviews Danish-noir sequel The Absent One. Never heard of it? Fear not! Paul also reviews the previous film, Keeper of the Lost Causes, in ‘What We’ve Been Watching’, where Owen lavishes praise on the documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD and Steve ponders the point of Pegg with Absolutely Anything.
Join us again next week for presumably less potty-mouthed frivolities as we review The Jungle Book.
“I’m not here to threaten you, I’m here to kill you.”
Over the last couple of days, the world (and the heads of quite a few fanboys) have exploded with this Batman v Superman lark. As everyone tries to shout their theory about who would win and why, I want to bring up a slightly quieter little fight that’s been going on in our homes; less a one-on-one versus match, and more a battle royal for the ages. I’m talking, of course, about the DC and Marvel television universes.
Kicking off some 15 years ago, Warner Brothers fired the first shots when it brought probably the most successful comic book to TV adaptation to date to the small screen. Smallville was the story of young Clark Kent growing up in a little town in Kansas trying to – literally – find his place in the world. We spent ten years with young master Kent from high school to his time at the Daily Planet. Even as the ratings started to drop, it was much more successful for Warner than that bloody awful Superman Returns was.
With the rise of Smallville, everyone wanted a piece of the pie and it meant we, the viewing public, were subjected to some of the most awful cash-in TV that we’ve ever had to suffer with. Do we remember the terrible Gotham City set Birds of Prey? Or the ghastly Human Target? Warner and DC seemed to be happy to hope that some of the shit they threw at the wall would stick.
It didn’t. But they weren’t alone; Marvel tried to bring a film property they’d just screwed royally back to TV and make a few quid. Oh Blade, how I tried to love you. But you were so, so bad. Sticky Fingaz – yes, that’s his name – is an okay actor, he was great in The Shield, but as the vampire hunting day walker, man he was bad.
Fast forward a few years and we have found ourselves in an amazing little time in television. Hiding behind the super-high budget HBO style TV that gets accolade after accolade, is a slew of cool TV based on comic book properties both famous and not-so famous and what I’m going to do is put them head-to-head, Dawn of Justice style. Ok, I’m going to put some of them head-to-head – mainly because I’ve not watched iZombie and can’t really see myself doing so anytime soon.
Gotham (DC – 2014) vs. Powers (Marvel – 2015)
Let’s kick things off with the two shows that, while they are based on DC and Marvel properties, don’t really have much in the way of backing from those companies. Produced by Fox and Sony respectively, with the latter being available exclusively to American PlayStation Network customers, these are the two biggest risks, in my opinion, to their production companies.
Bat-baby vs a weird anti-Heroes/Alien Nation thing that never did quite get off the ground for me. Gotham‘s focus on a young Detective Gordon as the scum of the Batman comics rise from the dirt and make themselves known is brilliantly compelling TV that still keeps me glued week in, week out. Powers, on the other hand, was a flat attempt at getting a foot in the door of an already saturated film and television market. I could only bring myself to waste a couple of hours of my life with it before I had to give up.
Supergirl (DC – 2015) vs. Jessica Jones (Marvel – 2015)
Yes, I’m pitching the girls against each other. No, it’s not out of any kind of agenda outside of I couldn’t decide who to put up against who. Anyways…
Supergirl is probably the closest we’ve gotten to having the success that Smallville saw replicated and forced upon us. The story of Superman’s long lost cousin, Kara Zor-El, a girl sent to protect a young Kal-El who, after a twist of fate arrives on Earth long after he has become the Man of Steel is a sadly boring one. We tried, we honestly did. We broke our “three episodes and out” rule trying to find good TV but the show came up short. I couldn’t care less about the characters on screen, the story they are telling or anything else to do with that show, frankly.
On the other hand, Marvel’s Jessica Jones is the dark and twisted tale of a woman struggling to get out of an abusive relationship with a person who uses their powers for nothing but evil. Essentially an investigative journalism drama with super strength and some pretty hilarious sex scenes. Jones divided audiences when she hit Netflix last year, but she’s definitely the stronger of the two here.
Winner : Jessica Jones
Legends of Tomorrow (DC – 2016) vs. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (Marvel – 2013)
DC’s ensemble spin-off, rolling in a few characters from its big sister shows (and a really crap Iron Man wannabe) isn’t really far enough in to make a judgement yet, but the episodes I watched have just been uninspired dross, playing off of the success of the shows that spawned it and not really living up to them, yet. I admit, I will probably let it go on a little longer before I give up, but it definitely needs to up its game.
Marvel’s offering isn’t doing itself any favours either. Basically doing the same thing as Legends of Tomorrow, it’s a massive ensemble piece loading in all those lesser known superheroes from the Marvel universe into a little sardine tin of X-Files style monster of the week episodes and Cinematic Universe Easter eggs. I gave up on this before the first season was done.
Winner: Neither of them. They’re both as pants as each other.
The Flash (DC – 2014) vs. Agent Carter (Marvel – 2015)
DC’s ultimate marathon runner didn’t grab me at first. I thought the show was a bit too Saturday morning cartoon-ish and honestly, I only continued to watch it because it shared a universe with Arrow. I’ll give The Flash its due, it’s a fun little show and it’s decent TV. But seasons seem to sag in the middle with writers seemingly not able to keep the pace up with 22 episode seasons. I don’t hate it, I just wish it was more engaging, more of the time.
Peggy Carter, on the other hand, and her fun little slice of World War II espionage drama, aside from keeping seasons to a brisk 8 and 10 episodes, never failed to be interesting. The story of her double life of secretary by day and investigator by night is woefully underrated. While a third season seems unlikely, the show’s first two seasons are well worth your time.
Winner: Agent Carter – and it has nothing, whatsoever, to do with me loving Hayley Atwell a little bit.
Arrow (DC – 2012) vs. Daredevil (Marvel – 2015)
Here we are ladies and gentlemen. The main event of the evening.
I knew absolutely nothing about The Green Arrow when this series first started, but seeing as it was the first of these shows I gave it a shot. And I really enjoyed it, for a year and a half! I gave up not far into season two and had to be convinced to try it again and stick it out because it improves (and plays as a soft-pilot for The Flash) and so I did. And I loved it. One of the few shows that we watch every week religiously and getting towards the end of season four, it’s still decent. Dodgy mate wearing cheap knock-off Judge Dredd helmet aside.
Now, Daredevil, man. Didn’t we all think this would be dog shit? Yeah, we did. Netflix’s first attempt at getting into Marvel’s universe was dark, brooding, violent; everything the MCU isn’t. And we loved it. With one of the greatest and most terrifying bad guys ever put to screen in Wilson Fisk in season one, Daredevil instantly solidified itself as one of the best TV shows to date, and may that stay true for years to come.
Winner: A solid draw. Both are great TV shows.
Preacher (DC – 2016) vs. Luke Cage (Marvel -2016)
Battle of the upcoming shows? Preacher is the dark and violent DC comic book that AMC are producing. Due in a couple of months, DC seem to be trying their hand at the dark and twisted stuff, while giving it to the Breaking Bad producing AMC to show distance if it fails. I’m certainly intrigued and going in open minded. We can but hope.
Luke Cage, on the other hand, the super strong and indestructible bar owner first introduced in last year’s Jessica Jones looks like it might be the most “fun” of all the Netflix adaptations. Roll on September, this is gonna be a hell of a fight.
Winner: Only time will tell.
No list like this would be complete without a few “also rans” that either didn’t fit, didn’t make the cut or no-one has heard of. DC’s spin-off of a spin-off Lucifer doesn’t seem to be getting much traction. Which is a crying shame, it’s great television, with a Constantine type feel to it, I fear it’ll suffer the same fate as the Hellblazer adaptation.
The Marvel side of things only has one thing worth mentioning, as far as I am concerned. The rumoured Netflix show that’ll give Daredevil season two’s Frank Castle the spotlight he deserves. Another Punisher movie would certainly be welcome, but the Punisher by Netflix? That would be all my dreams come true.
Us. The TV watching audience. Because for the most part, this is some damn good television. Competition breeds excellence. Long may it continue.
As today is the last opportunity for people to submit votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2015, I thought I might share a few of the movies that I won’t be voting for before midnight tonight.
Specifically, rather than just make a list of terrible releases from across the year (such as The Ridiculous 6, Transporter Refueled, Lost River etc), I’m going to pick those films that flattered to deceive. If you’d have asked me in January, I probably would have sworn blind that the following were guaranteed to make my final top 10 list. Unfortunately, as it happens, none of the following will be included because in their own different ways, they were either not actually that good, disappointingly average, or regrettably just plain bad.
Going into Foxcatcher, it was hard not to be caught up in the Oscar-buzz for Steve Carell’s performance. In fact, on last year’s Awards podcast, James asked us all which films we were most looking forward to in 2015 and I actually picked Bennett Miller’s movie based on a true story about wealthy wrestling coach John E. du Pont (Carell) and his Olympic competitor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Now, I haven’t chosen it for this list because I didn’t enjoy the film. I did! It’s just that the momentum it had built up for the performances was perhaps a little bit unrealistic. If anything, Mark Ruffalo – who I hadn’t heard anything about before going to see Foxcatcher in January – was the standout actor of the three. Mainly because he was so good, as I’ve come to expect from Ruffalo, but the other two just weren’t all they were hyped up to be. Similarly, although I did find the story interesting, it was rather disappointingly told in a somewhat sluggish manner. Lingering on scenes for longer than is necessary far too often slowed the pace down to a crawl and meant that overall, even away from the performances, it just wasn’t quite good enough to break my top 10. Probably not even my top 15 of the year, either.
Andrew Brooker and I had talked to each other quite extensively about what we were hoping for from the latest glorified re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters the Kray twins. Perhaps it’s fair to say that even though I do like Tom Hardy, Brooker is an even bigger fan. Getting to see two Hardy’s for the price of one seemed like reason enough to cross my fingers in hope that this British crime drama would deliver a high quality, gritty, colourful story. Alas, it transpires that no amount of Hardy’s can make a tepid script with woeful narration into a good film.
Such was the disturbingly low amount of hype for Joss Whedon’s follow up to the spectacular Avengers Assemble that we decided to spin some of our own by creating 10 Avengers Minisode podcasts earlier this year, reevaluating all of the MCU movies to date. Despite some nervous anticipation, I still expected big things from Age of Ultron but it failed to deliver on virtually every level. Firstly, it was far too long and bloated. The cast for the previous outing of our Marvel superheroes was already pretty large, but they balanced enough screen time and dialogue for each to have an integral part to play in developing the story. In this follow up, there are far too many characters who do absolutely nothing except bash each other about the head occasionally. Hardly any two characters have a conversation in this movie without eventually a bout of fisticuffs, or reminiscing about that time they had a fight. I hated the Hulk & Black Widow storyline. The apologetic attempt to give Hawkeye more screen time by shoe-horning in a half-arsed story about his secret family-man life was underwhelming and shallow – and to top it all off, the villain was barely used except for a three-hour long explosion and fight sequence in the final act. Maybe I’ll re-watch it in a year or two and find that it’s decent really and I had just been expecting too much? But right now, it comes across as a badly written set up film for the rest of the MCU yet to come and is one of the biggest let downs of the whole year.
I’ve already summed up my opinion back in August on Antoine Fuqua’s drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who has a spectacular fall from grace. From the trailer alone, I thought Southpaw would be one of the standout films for 2015, with Jake Gyllenhaal still riding high on the crest of his incredible performance in Nightcrawler last year. And just like I mentioned when discussing Foxcatcher further up the page, it was a film that in the end was just “all right”. It was a good performance, it had a good story, it was well directed and well paced, but it lacked a certain element to propel it into greatness. Rather than feeling happy to have seen a good film, instead I left the cinema not ruing the fact I’d spent over two hours watching it, which itself is an indicator that something wasn’t quite right. A big part of the problem is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting. It felt like I’d seen it all done perfectly well before. Gyllenhaal put on a lot of muscle, his character has a fall and then a rise, there’s a strained home life, he’s a father and a champion etc. Regardless of how well structured it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking material. In the end, it was just another mildly entertaining sports drama.
This might be considered something of a spoiler for the results of the Failed Critics Awards that will be announced early this week (or maybe we should think of it as an exclusive instead) but only one person has voted SPECTRE into their top 10 of the year. One person. To you and I, who have seen 007’s latest outing, it probably isn’t a surprise, given how by-the-numbers it was. However, compared to Skyfall (Eon’s 23rd Bond film that celebrated 50 years of Britain’s worst-kept secret spy) which only narrowly missed out on winning top spot in our awards back in 2012, that’s pretty shocking. Admittedly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Bond movies, as I discussed with Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank on our podcast back in October, but even I loved Skyfall. Sam Mendes was the perfect director to blend his visual flair with some good old-fashioned and exciting story-telling. It was for that reason alone that I was really looking forward to SPECTRE, despite being put off by the fact that it was to be the longest Bond film ever at 2 hours 28 minutes. “Starring Christoph Waltz” is as good a reason as any to get me interested in any movie. With the Day of the Dead opening scene in Mexico, the film started off already in about third gear and just plateaued from there. I don’t remember it really ramping up tension or suspense, or taking its foot off the peddle at any point. It just drifted along at an even and enjoyable pace, never feeling like it was dragging at all, but without building to something bigger. It tootled along from point A to point B, to point C, to point D and so on until reaching its destination calmly … and then blowing up £20m worth of Aston Martin. A bit like Age of Ultron, it does suffer from the hangover of its predecessor and will no doubt improve on a rewatch, but to be quite honest about it, I just can’t be bothered with it. I can see why for that one person it might have been in their top 10, but it definitely won’t be in mine.
“Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I’m a hero.”
Netflix have quickly become the kings of event TV. The marketing genius behind throwing all episodes of their latest show up at 8am on release day for us to binge over a couple of days is just amazing. It gives us, the audience, the opportunity to watch the shows at our own pace. It gives the creators a chance to stretch their muscles when they aren’t relying on artificially hyping up week-by-week viewings with cliffhangers and – most importantly for me – it means I can watch and review these shows as the 13 hour movies they are created as.
Jessica Jones is the second of three original series’ in conjunction with Marvel and ABC studios after the surprise hit that was Daredevil. It stays within that same universe, but plays it a little differently than our new favourite blind superhero.
But, the same as everything in the combined Marvel and DC universes, I get to go in as the anti-comic book nerd. I know next to nothing about these worlds unless a film or something has mentioned them first. My comic book/graphic novel history begins and ends with The Mask, one volume of Hellblazer and a volume one compilation of Fables. While I may not always be the target audience for these, I admire the commitment of the production companies involved in keeping me, a non-believer, in their thoughts when they make them.
Meeting Jones (Krysten Ritter) as a New York private eye, we are instantly given a showing of her powers; an insane strength, as she overpowers a client that refuses to believe what she’s dug up about God knows who and tries to take it out on our new hero. That, as she tells us, rarely goes well for them as the client’s head appears through a pane glass window. Little is revealed about the mysterious woman outside of the stereotypes she brings to the table; loner, alcoholic, you name it. Fitting more with an old pulpy noir novel than the bright lights of New York, Jessica Jones clearly spends her life in the wrong place and the wrong time.
A woman who seems to be nothing short of a walking cliché, Jessica is damaged; terrorised by haunting visions of her past and fearful of her future. Still running from a lifetime’s worth of abuse, Jones must break free from a man whose control over her is more than just theoretical. It’s very real and extremely dangerous.
This man, Kilgrave, a monster in more ways than one, has the power to manipulate people and bend them to his will. His “gift” leaves a lasting impression on his victims, affecting them long after he has seemingly left them be. Thinking she has been free of Kilgrave for long enough to finally move on, Jessica feels his presence returning to New York and starts to see his influences all across her city. Enlisting help from her best friend, Trish (Rachael Taylor – of See No Evil fame) a radio personality who seems to have the magical ability to talk sense into Jones when no one else can; and Luke Cage (Mike Coulter – an almost full-time TV actor who is a regular voice actor for the Halo series) an indestructible bar owner who’s only connection to Jessica is also being gifted; the private eye must take the evil mentalist head-on in a game of wits that puts the lives of dozens of people on the line. Success will mean freedom for the tortured superhero. But failure will mean an eternity of suffering for her, and those close to her.
The underlying premise for Jessica Jones is a simple one; a woman who has spent years in an abusive relationship must find the strength within herself to escape her abuser. The draw to go back to a bad relationship and try again, believing an abuser can be changed or they really aren’t that bad is one that many abused people find themselves repeating time and time again with a form of Stockholm syndrome that makes them believe they need to stay and this is an amazingly strong theme across Jessica Jones‘ 13 episodes, followed closely by the belief that what is happening is their fault and to watch Jones fight her way through her own personal hell is to root for every mentally and physically beaten woman that can relate to her situation.
As with everything that comes out of the Netflix TV studios, Jessica Jones has the quality and style to keep almost everyone entertained and invested for not just the first season, but for the entire run of the show. It’s why I’ll be going back to House of Cards in March even though the previous season didn’t quite hit expectations. Jessica Jones‘ first season lets us spend a little over ten hours with this tortured soul and while it doesn’t necessarily hit the highs that Daredevil did earlier in the year, it’s certainly well worthy of your time.
In the titular role, Krysten Ritter is amazing. Having only ever seen her in Breaking Bad before now, I wasn’t too familiar with her and as such I was quite open minded going in and had no expectations. Sadly, I can’t say the same for David Tennant. A man I only really know from Dr. Who, a show I loathe and despise. Everything I’ve seen him in since (maybe excluding the Fright Night remake) has just irked me, so I went in ready to have him be the worst bit of a show I was quite excited about. But no, he steals every scene from his co-stars and his portrayal of Kilgrave comes with a terrifying air and a maniacal look in every frame. Every scene has a flash of purple – a nod to his “Purple Man” moniker from the source comic books – that feels like a nice, sometimes not too subtle, alternative to having a really sinister soundtrack play with every scene he arrives in. And once you spot it, the influence bleeds into scenes Kilgrave isn’t even in, but his presence is most definitely a part of; a beautiful little bit of direction that sits as an example of how and why Netflix as a production company are becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
But Jessica Jones isn’t perfect. And when its holes appear, they seem to be much more obvious because of the quality of show that they are making look bad. For example, the show works very hard to remind you that it’s part of the Avengers universe, to quite a jarring level. We know it’s set in a post-alien invasion New York – and for those that don’t, a quick mention of it will be fine to set the scene for us all. Mentioning it more than once felt unnecessary and as if the show is treating us like morons who may have forgotten after a couple of hours.
Directors and editors do a fantastic job of making Jones’s gifts seem realistic. I suspect this is to save spending a fortune on effects that will date the show and ruin the tone they are going for. “Flying” looks awkward and uncomfortable because it would be, wouldn’t it? Jessica’s feats of strength don’t look unrealistic because to keep herself inconspicuous, she has to limit herself and as such, she isn’t lobbing sweaty fat guys into the sun and just using what she needs to get the job done – dishonourable mention to one awful effect that is so bad, and so jarring, that the fact it happened in the last episode almost ruined my whole experience – but for the most part, everything looks and feels great.
But overall, Jessica Jones is an excellent show. The only thing that stops it being up there with Daredevil, in my opinion, is the simple fact that miss Jones didn’t have an awful, awful film overshadowing it before the show premiered that it managed to blow away in the first 15 minutes. Daredevil has the beautiful, visceral combat that I covet so much. But Jessica Jones is a gorgeously dark noir thriller that, just because I say isn’t as good as its predecessor, doesn’t mean for a second that you shouldn’t be watching it.
These Netflix/Marvel productions are putting a premium on quality and characterisation and as such, have become a name that can easily be mentioned in the same conversation as HBO, FX and Showtime.
Welcome one and all to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are this week joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne to review big-budget pint-sized Marvel superhero movie Ant-Man! There’s both a spoiler-free discussion on the film and a return of our ‘spoiler alert’ right after the end credits where we go into more specific details.
Also featured on this week’s podcast: Owen discusses the 1970’s Werner Herzog movie Stroszek; Brooker finally manages to get his hands on The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds; Matt is back to say a few things to say about Terminator Genisys; and Steve puts him through the Danny Dyer film The Other Half ….with very good reason!
There’s even time for the group to mull over the Attack On Titan trailer, talk about our latest celeb Twitter follower after the very first Failed Critics meet up and we “react” to the as yet unreleased Spectre trailer.
Join us again next week for the return of our TV Special in honour of the biggest new release this week. No, not Southpaw. No, not Inside Out either. No, not even Maggie.
“Oh no. Oh Hell no! Surely you don’t mean… it’s not….. it can’t be… no way….??”
Yes way. It’s the eagerly anticipated release of Sharknado 3!