Tag Archives: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Half A Decade In Film – 2014

So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.

Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.

Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…


Kundo: Age of the Rampant

kundoToday, those who serve the people, serve only their own interests, and neglect their sworn duty. Isn’t that shameful?

Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.

I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.

The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.

He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.

The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.

Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.

It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.

There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.

But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.

A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Pride

prideI’ve had a lot of new experiences during this strike. Speaking in public, standing on a picket line. And now I’m in a gay bar.

Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!

We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.

The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”

by Paul Field (@pafster)


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America The Winter SoldierBefore we get started, does anyone want to get out?

As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.

For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.

Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!

Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.

My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.

It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Nightcrawler

NIGHTCRAWLERYou can’t win the lottery unless you make the money to buy a ticket.

Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.

Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.

It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Guardians of the Galaxy

gotgHe said that he may be an… “a-hole”. But he’s not, and I quote, “100% a dick”.

Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.

James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.

The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.

Failed Critics Podcast: Eclectic Avenue

baftaCallum Petch, Callum Petch, does whatever Callum can – i.e. talking even more than James used to as he swings straight from last week’s episode to this week’s edition of the Failed Critics podcast. He joins your regular podcast host Steve Norman and hanger-on Owen Hughes to discuss the big film news over the past seven days.

Chiefly, Tuesday’s long-expected announcement that the rebooted Spider-Man will definitely be making his first appearance in an upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, on loan from Sony. We mull over potential ramifications for existing Marvel films, casting choices we’d make and if it’s actually that big a deal anyway.

Completely forgoing our regular “what we’ve been watching” segment, as there just wasn’t enough damn time, we instead take a detailed look over the weekend’s BAFTA award winners and losers, as well as the awards ceremony itself.

We also couldn’t have hand picked four different main release reviews if we tried, as the eclectic mix of space opera Jupiter Ascending, Aardman animation Shaun the Sheep: The Movie, controversial comedy The Interview and the Oscar nominated Selma all get discussed.

Join us again next week for a special Academy Award preview episode with more guests, probably more arguments and hopefully a shorter run time!

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The Week In Film – 16 October 2014: Four-Four-F***ing-Two

If there’s one thing that gets Steve more excited than football related news, it’s football related film news. And we’re not referring to the revelation this week that Michael Owen hates all movies.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

mike bassettFailed Critics: England Manager

One of my favourite, and most under-rated comedies, Mike Bassett: England Manager, has a sequel. Personally I’m worried it will not live up to the original although a title of Mike Bassett: Interim Manager hints that it may still take a witty, satirical look at the beautiful game.

For £5k I could have a speaking part. So come on, put your money where your mouth is and get me on the big screen.

The Viewing Dead

Zombie series The Walking Dead broke all US cable records this weekend with the premier of its fifth season. 17.3 million tuned in to see Rick, Daryl and their group of survivors fight back against their captors at Terminus.

This beat the previous record of 16.1 million set by the shows fourth season premier. The show’s popularity was further enhanced due to the fact that over 12 million illegal downloads were made worldwide within the 24 hours after it aired.

The action packed opener will hopefully set the tone for a good series. Most previous seasons have featured strong beginnings and ends but have sagged in the middle. With the story taking slight deviations from the comic book we may see some fresh and interesting ideas and characters.

Where’s the News?

A lot of the time when researching this weekly article websites pass off new trailers or posters as news.

Is that actually news? Not in my book. It’s advertising.

Why Are Pirates Called Pirates? Because They Javi-ARRGHHH

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tells No Tales looks set to be the fifth POTC movie and is due for a 2017 release. Former Bond villain Javier Bardem has been linked with playing the protagonist to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

Superhero Section

Big news coming out of Marvel this week with the announcement that Robert Downey Jr. will play Iron Man in Captain America 3.

No plot details have been revealed as of yet but the poster/artwork released may suggests, and will no doubt fuel the Twitter rumours that Steve Rodger’s third solo movie will take the Civil War storyline from the comic books to the big screen.

In Civil War Iron Man and Cap go head to head along with many other superheroes, good and bad, and has far reaching implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than Cap 2.

Of course this could all be bluff and double bluff and the film is comprised of completely original material.

Elsewhere in Marvel Ewan McGregor is the latest actor to be linked with the Doctor Strange role joining the likes of Keanu Reeves and Ethan Hawke as the frontrunners to play the sorcerer?superman batman

Outside of Marvel Michael Keaton has revealed that he would be up for playing Batman again. Hardly a huge revelation, I’m sure Adam West would be as well if you asked him.

DC have also said that Wonder Woman’s origins will be revealed in Batman vs Superman but rather than an Amazonian she will be the daughter of Zeus, according to producer Charles Roven anyway.

Quite why the origin of a popular and well established character needs to be changed is beyond me, and most people and it just gives another reason for people to doubt the movie.

Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.

The Week in Film – 5 October 2014: I Am Legend, Pilgrim

Plenty of news has happened in the past week. Today’s article is brought to you by the words ‘franchise’ and ‘retrofit’.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

I Am, Wait for It, Legend

the searchersWe often speak of reboots in this column but this week we are talking about a retrofit.

After deciding that there is no real sensible way to do a prequel or sequel to Will Smith’s I Am Legend Warner Bros have just decided to release another version by converting a screenplay known as The Garden at the End of the World which was meant to be an adaptation of  the John Wayne flick The Searchers?

With me? No? Well I am not with me either.

The last I Am Legend, starring Smith, was a good effort, except for the ending which a) wasn’t the original one and b) nothing like the book ending. Smith put in a very good performance in what was an average yet watchable movie.

That thought, and this new effort, will not top Charlton Heston’s Omega Man. Nor Vincent Price’s The Last Man On Earth for that matter!

Tetris

I often claim that Hollywood has run out of original ideas with sequels, prequels, retrofits and reboots being the order of the day. However with the news that Tetris is set to be made into a movie I have changed my mind. Maybe original ideas should be banned if this is what is being considered.

Many video games and toys have been turned into movies, including Lego, Super Mario and Tomb Raider and Battleship, but a film about different shaped, different coloured blocks, falling into the correct gaps and holes with no characters, plot or story is pathetic.

Really?

So a Baywatch movie with Dwayne Johnson in the lead role, sans a Hasselhoff cameo, is in the pipeline?

A Baywatch movie appears to be an original idea but yet another bad one.

The Doctor is Out

Marvel’s desire to introduce more and more new characters in their ever expanding universe hit a bit of a snag after Joaquin Phoenix dropped out of talks to play comic book hero Doctor Strange.

The film is pencilled in for a summer release in 2016, under two years away so the Marvel team need to get a shuffle on casting their leading man with Tom Hardy, Ethan Hawke and Jared Leto linked to the role.star wars rebels

Rebel Rebel

Before the first episode was even aired animation Star Wars: Rebels was granted a second series.

Although clearly aimed at kids, the show will be broadcast on DisneyXD, it will clearly have a wide audience and is the first thing Disney have put out since acquiring LucasFilm. It will bridge the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and will apparently tease a few things about Episode VII.

The Bourne Confusion

A couple of weeks we spoke about Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass returning to the Bourne franchise and the sequel to the Jeremey Renner outing becoming the fourth Damon Bourne movie with Renner’s one being pushed back.

Now Renner is chatting about a crossover. Jeremy, I bet you end up annoyed at being sidelined as you did in the Avengers.

Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.

The Week in Film – 6 August 2014: Ooga Chaka Ooga Ooga

Join us in a new weekly article taking a peek the week in film. Steve, the beloved host of our weekly shambolic film podcast, gives his opinion on some of the top stories this week.

by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)

gotgHooked on a Feeling

And that feeling is one of happiness after seeing the fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy this week. The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been met with universal acclaim and huge box office takings.

I have seen some great films in the last 12 months from Oscar nominated The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave to inspirational sports documentary Next Goal Wins and none of them made me want to sit down and watch them again the same day. With Guardians I would have happily gone back to the cinema in the evening to view it a second time.

James Gunn was let loose with the studio’s riskiest film considering the characters are not that well known among the general population and perhaps lack the same draw as Iron Man or Captain America.

But a fun trailer, five star reviews, great performances, hilarious jokes, a banging soundtrack and stunning visuals have turned this into a contender for Marvel’s best film yet.

Inbetweeners a Rock and a Hard Place

It is always a worrying sign when movies forgo press screenings or advance screenings but hopefully this will not be the case with the imaginatively titled ‘The Inbetweeners Movie 2’.

The first film, set during Simon, Will, Neil and Jay’s first lads’ holiday, was a surprising success, raking in £45m at the box office and managed to bridge the gap between sitcom and feature film that many comedies fail to do.

The trailer for the second film has not exactly been packed full of laughs but hopefully this is down to the fact that a trailer played on TV or before a 12A film has to err on the side of caution.brent1

Milligan, Cleese, Everett…Brent?

Ricky Gervais has announced plans to bring his most iconic creation (no, not Karl Pilkington) David Brent to the big screen.

Brent first appeared in mockumentary sitcom ‘The Office’, written by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and became one of the funniest characters in British TV history and even breaking America leading to a US spinoff version.

Brent came back for Comic Relief and a few Youtube videos and despite fears of a dead horse being flogged Gervais retained the humour of Wernham Hogg’s finest.

Gervais on the big screen has generally not been a success and it remains to be seen if Merchant will be back to co-write but hopefully this will be more Alpha Papa and less Mr Bean’s Holiday.

Who You Gunna Call? Paul Feig!

The director of Bridesmaids and The Heat has been linked with taking the reins of the third Ghostbusters film which could star an all-female lead cast (no immature ectoplasm jokes from me).

Why we quite need a third Ghosbusters film I don’t know.

Next week, Steve will return to give us another round up of the latest in film news. 

Failed Critics Podcast: Guarding the Galaxy from Sharknadoes

sharknadoNothing goes over the head of these podcasters. Not even humongous man-eating fish being hurled at them by a terrible sharkrnado. Our reflexes are too fast, plus we have chainsaws for hands.

James is absent, but not yet retired. Just lazy. Steve warns against watching the latest b-movie from The Asylum, Sharknado 2: The Second One. Meanwhile, Carole tries to hold it together after the announcement that Studio Ghibli may be closing to give us the low-down on a slightly more up-market Boyhood and Chef, whilst Owen reviews a hundred year old documentary, The Great White Silence, in light of the Sight & Sound’s recent awards.

Oh, and there’s some film about people saving the galaxy that’s out that you may have heard of? Guardians of the Galaxy? Oooh. Yeeeaaaah. It’s a doozy.

Join us next week for what will likely be a sentimental farewell as James makes his final regular appearance on the podcast.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Guardians of the Galaxy

“Undeniably an origin story but it works so well I would have been happy to sit through a sequel there and then.”

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

gotg2I must admit to being slightly apprehensive about this film. Even Marvel Studios, the behemoth responsible for most of the box office take since 2008, seem to have got ants in their pants about this film – we’ve had a more formulaic trailer, a tagline change (from the smart-arse “You’re Welcome” to the schmaltzy “All Heroes Start Somewhere”) and tonight I’m sitting in Crawley, as part of a nationwide premiere event presumably designed to get social media buzz a-going.

They needn’t have worried. From the credits sequence (Marvel’s only to date, and therefore the best by default), it’s clear this is going to be a winner.

The film is essentially the origin story of the titular band of misfits; a thief (Chris Pratt), an Ent (voiced by Vin Diesel), a creature who looks an awful lot like a raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a green-skinned living weapon (Zoe Saldana), and a chap who wouldn’t look out of place in a wrestling match watched by Doctor Who (Dave Bautista). They are thrown together in the pursuit of a mysterious MacGuffin which could make them all rich. Problem is, others also want said object for nefarious reasons of their own, and the stage is set for an interstellar jousting match between good and evil.

Guardians is immediately up against it because the group are, to be frank, not Marvel’s best known commodities. It’s difficult to remember a time when the cinema-going public at large didn’t know much about Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, but they did at least have a large following devoted to their source material before laying waste to multiplexes. Guardians doesn’t really have that luxury, and also has to introduce (and make us care about) five whole characters in one film. As a result we are given crib notes on each character’s past – Peter Quill’s tenure on Earth lasts mere minutes in the film before he’s abducted, most of the other back stories are explained in a few sentences, but you still end up caring about them. (This can be said less about the antagonists of the film – we are introduced to the baddies and told they want to destroy stuff without ever really being told why.)

In a Q&A this evening, James Gunn said that Guardians of the Galaxy may be “the most James Gunn film ever”. The fact that he’s accomplished this on a major studio’s tentpole release, rather than the low-budget fare he has made his name with, is nothing short of amazing. The film looks wonderful, bringing to life alien otherworlds and star systems with the visual flair of a much more accomplished director at this level. The script zips along with Gunn’s trademark vim and vigour, albeit slightly sanitised for his newly-found PG-13 audience. Everyone involved is clearly having a lot of fun; Pratt brings his likeable everyman persona to a leading role for the first time and succeeds hugely, Saldana is quiet but pulls out some excellent fighting technique when required; Cooper channels the most smart-arse New York cab driver you could ever meet, and hits the emotional mark more frequently than you’d expect from a talking rodent. Even Diesel brings the vocal pathos he first displayed in The Iron Giant to Groot, infusing a talking tree with warmth and humour. The real revelation, however, is wrestler Bautista as Drax, a man with a sad story to tell. He takes his time but eventually becomes the source of some rich comedy (standing up to accomplished laugh merchant Pratt with ease), as well as some surprisingly emotional moments. It’s the interplay between the five characters which makes this such a fun watch. It does mean that other characters are under-served as a result of developing this chemistry – Benicio del Toro and Glenn Close are woefully underused in their roles, and Ronan the Accuser probably has a good reason for his scheme, but we never find out what it is. The biggest disappointment is probably Thanos – who seems to have been rendered with the leftover CG money that wasn’t used to make Rocket and Groot look amazing. It’s an incongruous appearance from one of the great all-time Marvel baddies and doesn’t really serve the story at all.

This is very much an origin story. I got the same feeling walking out of this film as I did walking out of X-Men – that of the start of the story being told very well, but also feeling that there were greater things to come. And despite being slightly rushed at times, this is a great origin story, setting up the group of misfits as an entity currently separate from the rest of the Marvel Universe (save a couple of Easter eggs thrown in for those who are paying attention) and thoroughly deserving of their own adventures. I would have happily sat through a sequel right then and there, I had so much fun in the universe that Gunn has created. And I can’t wait to go back.

Guardians of the Galaxy is out in cinemas nationwide on Thursday 31st July 2014.

Carole is the latest permanent edition to the Failed Critics Podcast team and can usually be found roaming the streets of London on the look out for unwanted Nic Cage DVD’s. Or on twitter.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Amazing-Spider-Man-2-Peter-Parker-Harry-OsbornSecond verse same as the first, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes all of the exact same mistakes the original did, burying the nugget of a great film deeper and deeper the longer it goes on for.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Did you see The Amazing Spider-Man from 2012?  Congratulations, you don’t need to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2!  You know, the lazier of us film critics like to snarkily dismiss sequels with the phrase “more of the same” as if that is inherently a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s very much a good thing, something that works happily repeating its formula in a “if it ain’t broke” manner.  Sometimes, though, it is a bad thing, the observation that the sequel hasn’t learnt from the previous film’s failings and the growing loss of patience on the reviewer’s behalf.  This film is one of that kind.  The second one.  I am not kidding, this film makes the exact same mistakes as the first one did with the exact same potential of a great movie permanently bubbling underneath the near-endless mess of bad ideas or poor executions or bad ideas with poor executions.

Ladies, gentlemen and others, this was maddening to sit through.  In fact, in lieu of a traditional review, I am going to dedicate my time and your time to a couple of case study examples as to how this film fails, in order to fully impress upon you, the reader, the way in which The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spends upwards of two hours taking a giant extended piss on its potential.  No, there will be no spoilers, nothing more than the trailers have shown off, but I feel that this is a far more productive usage of our time.  This film and its predecessor will be used by future, more intelligent generations who are less distracted by flashy and actually rather OK, all things considered, filmmaking as the basis of an entire class in film school on what not to do.  I’m just getting in on the ground floor.

First, let’s talk about the Tragic Villain plotline.  This is something that both this film and the original use as the basis for their villains, in an attempt to give them depth and something to do besides instructing the audience to comically boo their every appearance like we’re at a panto.  I am all for this, it adds a nice measure of moral ambiguity to proceedings and a level of depth and maturity to the superhero medium in general; not every villain is evil for the sake of being evil, after all.  The problem is not the fact that the franchise has used this idea for every single one of its villains so far and, in ASM2’s case, twice in one movie with Max Dillon a.k.a. Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan).  You can find enough spins on that formula.  The problem is that the films never ever follow through with it.

The reason why The Dark Knight gets this right whilst The Amazing Spider-Man series doesn’t boils down simply to the fact that the former commits to the tragedy inherent to the plotline.  In fact, sod it, this paragraph is going to spoil The Dark Knight.  So, if you haven’t seen it and still want to, just jump on down to the next paragraph, you shouldn’t be missing too much if you do so (and if I’m doing my job right).  See, Harvey Dent’s slide into the man known as Two-Face works because his motives remain understandable and relatable.  He still has the same goal, to clean up the streets of Gotham and wipe out corruption in the GCPD, but his methods are now harsher.  The point is that he has snapped mentally and now no longer cares about working within the law to get his goals.  He’s not evil for the sake of evil, he’s just had his hope crushed and now he’s willing to do anything to reach his otherwise noble end goals and it’s the way the film commits to that falling that the plotline works.

Contrast this with Max Dillon.  When he starts the film, he is a weak loner.  He has an important job at Oscorp but he is constantly pushed around and harassed and put-upon by the world because he basically lets it.  He has no backbone, no social skills and no life outside of his work and this makes him miserable, even emotionally disturbed.  He just wants someone to notice him.  Then, out of the blue, Spider-Man saves him from an oncoming truck and gives him the usual Spider-Man speech of “you are a somebody because you’re somebody to me”.  This gives Max a reason to live and a reason for us to care about him, even if he becomes hopelessly obsessed with the man.  It’s what’s supposed to make his fall into the electro-chamber sad and painful because it’s the world’s fault, not his.  It’s why the public triggering of his powers is supposed to carry real emotional resonance as he finally gets the attention he craves from the public at large and his obsession, Spider-Man.

Pity the film is only an hour in by this point.  So, because the film is only an hour in, the emotional arc of Max is very quickly wrapped up and the tragic side of his schtick is almost immediately dropped in favour of “I will do evil things because I am evil”.  This would have been majorly disappointing… had the film actually handled any of this well to begin with, because they play pre-accident Max for laughs.  Jamie Foxx pitches his pre-accident performance to absurd wet-doormat extremes and his every scene is backed by bouncy silly music so you know that you’re supposed to find events on screen funny instead of saddening.  It undercuts the emotional groundwork and comes off as mean-spirited, overall.

In fact, before I move on, I want the name of whoever decided on the music that should back Electro’s action sequences and I want to make sure they never work in this field again.  Why?  Because his theme is dubstep.  Nearly every shot of electricity is accompanied by dubstep wubs that are severely out of place with the rest of the film’s score.  But that’s not why I am calling attention to this.  No, there’s also the fact that his music contains whispers buried in the background.  Whispers that go something like “Hate… destruction… kill… I hate him…. I hate him…”  This kind of crap might have been cool to a teenager in 2001, but to me in 2014 it’s the equivalent of backing his action scenes with “Batman’s Untitled Self Portrait” from The Lego Movie.  It’s embarrassing is what it is.

Harry Osborn gets a better treatment on the whole Tragic Villain angle but the film falls down by again just not committing to keeping his goals sympathetic and relatable to the end.  Him and Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, still deserving of so much better) used to be childhood friends (because everybody is connected to everyone for cheap and easy drama in amateurishly written scripts).  He’s dying of the same disease that’s killing his father and, therefore, desperate for a cure.  His cure may involve Spider-Man and, when things don’t go his way, he goes a bit off the deep end.  That last part would be fine… except that it involves him turning straight crazy evil so that we can have a two-part action finale.

The failure of the Tragic Villain plotlines, the same reason it failed in the first film with Curt Connors and his sudden obsession with creating an army of lizard men, is twofold.  The first is the lack of faith from the screenplay that the audience will be completely behind and invested in the proceedings if they don’t know who to cheer and root for.  And since Peter is still kind of a huge boring dick in this one (more on that in a bit), the film cops out on its moral ambiguity and emotionally heavy stakes by reverting to “these bad guys are evil because they’re eeevilll!!” which squanders the depth previously built up and the groundwork laid beforehand.  The second is the fact that this is just a bad screenplay, in general, with both villains’ switches to straight-up evil-doing boiling down to the switch on the back of a Krusty doll.  I guess you could salvage such a behavioural switch but it requires far better writing and handling than what’s on display here.  It’s amateur work.

Now let’s move onto the issue of serialisation.  Do you want to know why the Marvel Cinematic Universe get away with doing things the way they do?  It’s because when their films end, they feel like they’ve ended.  They’ve told a complete story, all of the plot threads are wrapped up and the character arcs are completed.  They may leave an uncertain future or a sequel tease but they can do that because it doesn’t feel like story is being held back for future instalments.  I could hop off after pretty much any of MCU entries with the sense of completion.  That is why Iron Man is allowed to end the way it did, that is why The Avengers was allowed to end the way it did, that is why Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are allowed to end the way they do.  Some had some plot threads hanging, others blatant sequel teases but all felt complete because everything important is wrapped up and all character arcs have concluded.

Much like its predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does not do that.  In fact, despite running over two hours and even having a clear stopping point ten minutes before the end (even if, yes, it still would have failed to wrap up several big plot threads and character arcs so I would still be having this rant anyway), it actually has the gall to not have an ending.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 stops.  It just stops.  At roughly two hours and nine minutes it goes “OK, that’s all the time we have!  Come on back in two years and we’ll pick this up again!”  So, no, the conspiracy stuff with Peter’s dad Richard Parker (Campbell Scott who plays the role like a gruff William Shatner and is awful here) again does not get a payoff, Peter still doesn’t seem to learn anything from the events of the film (and the incredibly rushed final five minutes do not serve to fix this problem) and Harry Osborn remains a threat who even starts up his latest scheme as the film wraps up (and, no, not in the sense of “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!”).

There’s no resolution here.  I don’t feel like I’ve been told a full story.  I feel like I’ve been told half of a story, at best.  There’s no payoff.  Just a whole bunch of clumsily handled foreshadowing and set-up work for the endless sequel parade to possibly payoff down the line in the future maybe who knows?  The Man In The Shadows from the mid-credits stinger of the first film makes a reappearance at the end because reasons, Harry’s assistant is called Felicia (as in Felicia Hardy because that’s just how subtle this film is in regards to going “THIS CHARACTER WILL DO SOMETHING IN A FUTURE INSTALMENT”) but she doesn’t do anything and, surprise sur-f*cking-prise, there’s a conspiracy at Oscorp that is left totally unresolved at the end because of-f*cking-course it is.  The point of a film ending is that it is supposed to have told all of the story it needed and wanted to tell but such a thing is clearly not the case for ASM2.

Speaking of, Peter Parker is a boring dick.  Andrew Garfield is trying so very, very hard to make this character work (he has a lot of natural, easy-going charisma and he is great at the better parts of Spidey’s mid-combat snark) but his character spends most of the film in the background and, when he does actually get to wrestle control of his own film back to him, he’s actively dislikeable.  He’s a dick to everybody almost all the time, primarily because his character arc is almost permanently stuck on the cusp of the transitional period from “dickwad hero” to “noble figure for hope and justice” and he doesn’t actually start that transitional phase and learning lessons until ten minutes before the end of the GODS.  DAMN.  MOVIE.

And the stuff with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone, deserves better).  Oh, Maker, how I hate all of the material with him and Gwen Stacey.  It’s predicated around the fact that Peter loves Gwen but the promise he made to her dying father to stay away from her is causing him to feel guilty about that love.  Good, fine, you can do stuff with this.  You can do good, non-crappy stuff with this.  Except this manifests as Peter being a dick to her at all times but his love for her leads to him stalking her (again), putting her in danger (again) and begging her to give up her own wants so that they can be together happily (again).  Hell, a better movie would make parallels between his obsession with Gwen and Electro’s with Spider-Man, but that movie wouldn’t allow a big loud action sequence with a hint of tragedy, apparently, so it’s nowhere to be found and their romance is played as true love that’s futile to deny.  Credit to Stone and Garfield, they have excellent chemistry, but the material is awful.

Those are just a few of the major problems with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that were also present in the original (well, admittedly, the original at least had the decency to attempt to come up with an ending).  I’d go on for more, but I’m running out of time here and I need to wrap up.  This a bad film.  It is a bad, bad film.  But it is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars and we are going to be up to our eyeballs in sequels for however long the shared-universe superhero bubble manages to avoid bursting.  And it will do so because it is not a badly made film.  The surface level sheen is great.  The performances are mostly great (Dane DeHaan still makes time to put in excellent work even as he seems to be voluntarily flushing his career down the toilet between this and Metallica: Through The Never), the film is nice and pacey which at least didn’t make me feel like I had been dragged through a sloggy bog watching the damn thing (*coughcoughDivergentcough*), the effects are great and the fluidity of them fits the hyper-reality of the film’s universe, and action scenes are shot like every action scene in every Western action movie ever (shakily, busily, nearly incoherently at points) but may at least seem exciting to less jaded viewers.

More importantly, there is still the spark of a great movie and a great franchise in here.  No matter how badly the series so far has tried to snuff them out, there are still nuggets of potential littering The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  This could be a fantastic superhero movie in a fantastic superhero franchise but it, like its predecessor, keeps making all the wrong moves at the worst times and in the crappiest possible manner whilst, all the while, never openly sucking.  This is not an outwardly and plainly bad movie; its badness simmers underneath beneath a protective sheen of great performances and well-made filmmaking, but still ruining everything.  It’s why I cannot tear this film to shreds.  I should do, it is terrible, but that potential is still there and I am adamant that if people who actually knew what they were doing were given creative control, this series would learn from its mistakes and subsequently realise that potential.

Consider this a staying of execution, then.  I am prepared to give The Amazing Spider-Man franchise one more chance to realise that potential and learn from its mistakes.  If I come back here in two years’ time to find a sequel that again wastes that potential and makes the same mistakes, I will consider this series officially devoid of all hope and the resulting review will be merciless.  In the meantime and nevertheless, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a bad film.  You should not go and see it.

Callum Petch run on the track like Jesse Owens, broke the record flowing without any knowing.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

By Carole Petts

 

I liked the first Captain America. I mean, I really liked it. The attempt at welding a war film onto a modern superhero popcorn flick was appreciated because they got so much right – capturing the essence of Steve Rogers and summoning memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark into the bargain. But I fully appreciate that this isn’t a view shared by everyone. If you’re one of those people, the good news is that we’ve got the obligatory origin story out of the way now. The better news is that this film replaces the war component with an espionage thriller, with largely successful results. The even better news is it may well be the most important Marvel film to date.

Captain America was a little underused in Avengers if I’m honest. Maybe that was because he was the last Avenger to get his own standalone film, but I felt he was often relegated to comic relief for not understanding present day references. If you’ve seen the deleted scenes you’ll know that there was originally a lot more focus on him having to adjust to modern life, and that these were cut for pacing but with a promise that the theme would be expanded in Winter Soldier. The problem with that is, he’s been in the modern world for a while now – long enough that he greets every new popular culture recommendation with a weary smile and a fresh entry in his notepad.

Not long enough, however, to fathom the extent to which liberty itself has been devalued. The film wastes little time in getting to the crux of the story – freedom has a high price, and S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t prepared to pay it in the present climate. Of course, this directly conflicts with the very notion of what Cap was created for, and it makes for an effective analogy in these NSA-monitored times. But this is nothing compared to what happens next – a betrayal of enormous proportions rips the organisation apart, and Cap must decide who of his new-found compatriots he can trust.

The main issue facing anyone writing a Captain America film is the same as that facing a Superman writer – the character is cinematically boring, someone who will never have a moral dilemma because you know he will always choose the right path. Winter Soldier sensibly averts this problem by pairing Rogers with a strong ensemble cast who bring a moral flexibility – and therefore a welcome uncertainty – to proceedings. Even if we know he will always do the right thing, the same can’t be said of Black Widow or Nick Fury. Alongside the regulars is Falcon, a character familiar to Captain America readers and one who, I must confess, I wasn’t sure would work in this setting but absolutely does. This is due in large part to a winning performance by Anthony Mackie who brings a healthy dose of humour and sarcasm to proceedings.

There’s no getting around the fact that the less you know about the film, the more you will enjoy it. There are certain items that stuck in the craw a bit – the villain reveal was a bit silly to my mind, and its daftness will almost certainly be chalked up to being in the original comic storyline (it isn’t). Happily the ramifications are much, much greater than the mechanism itself, and this is swiftly forgotten in the ensuing political melee. There is a box-ticking final 20 minutes of fighting. Cap’s new helmet makes his ears stick out and he looks stupid. And his discovery of the Winter Soldier’s identity is dragged out a little long for my liking, despite the actor and character being prominently displayed in advertising up to this point and also the fact that this is a faithful translation of the story arc (I should point out that my non-comic reading partner thought this was well-paced though, so this may have been impatience on my part).

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this film. That’s not the case. I loved it. But I can’t tell you why, because it would spoil the myriad twists and surprises that Winter Soldier has in store. If you’re not a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might enjoy it anyway for the mix of action and espionage. If you are a fan, you can’t afford to miss it because the reverberations from this film will echo around the MCU for a good while…and you should definitely not leave before the lights go up.

 
Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced.  She hates Grease.