Sunday, 29 April 2018

Avengers Infinity War - On Location in Edinburgh

Avengers Infinity War is the culmination of ten years and eighteen films of the Marvel Studios and you can read my full 5 star review here that is more glowing than a fistful of infinity stones.
The film's release this weekend is a cinematic event of monumental scale and looks set to have box office records falling before it faster than War Machine out of the sky after being blasted by Vision.
Wind the clock back a year to a cold, dark night in Edinburgh in early April, where hundreds of Marvel fans were patiently camped out on the Royal Mile for a glimpse of some action.

Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had come to Scotland.
Edinburgh was chosen by directors the Russo Brothers as the only location outside of their Atlanta base for filming Infinity War and Marvel Studios spent six weeks in the Capital doing night shoots for a major sequence involving Scarlet Witch and Vision.
Not only was there a night shoot taking place on the Royal Mile and inside Waverley Station but the team took over a hanger at Leith harbour and turned it into a makeshift sound studio for filming.
Reports estimate that the shoot brought in around £10 million to the local economy and furthers the argument for Scotland to have its own proper film studio.
During April, Twitter was alive with rumoured sightings around town of Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Chris Evans. Anthony Mackie's Falcon had flown the coop to St. Andrews for a round of golf and Team Thor (Hemsworth, Ruffalo and Tessa Thompson) were spotted at the Waldorf Astoria.
So enamoured with the city was co-director Joe Russo, he returned during the world press tour to screen 20 minutes of footage to a hugely appreciative crowd of fans. Full report here.
With the plot kept a complete secret until the film was released, fans were left to wildly theorise and speculate as to the plot of the sequence shot in Edinburgh.
Based on what was seen, it appeared as though Scarlet Witch and Vision were hiding out in Edinburgh following the events of Captain America: Civil War. They seek to fan the flames of their burgeoning  relationship when they are attacked by Thanos's Black Order, looking to reclaim the Mind Stone.

*Mild spoiler warning - the plot of Avengers: Infinity War will be briefly discussed from this point but nothing that is not already featured in the trailers*

Upon seeing the film, this is pretty much how this storyline plays out but with the addition of Steve Rogers, Black Widow and Falcon arriving to save the day.

What is immediately noticeable to anyone from Edinburgh, is how geographically accurate the sequence is. The action flows from Cockburn Street up to the Royal Mile before heading back down the road to Waverley Station. This level of accuracy is something that T2 Trainspotting could not even achieve!

So if you want to visit the "set" of Avengers Infinity War, here are the spots to go:

Miss Katie Cupcake, 52 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh

Don’t worry if you don’t immediately recognise the location because Miss Katie Cupcake, a vintage inspired store, was transformed into Hüsnü Kebab House for the purposes of filming.

This is where Vision and Scarlet Witch stop to discuss their relationship. Probably before sampling some of that Avengers-favourite schwarma or the Scottish twist on the delicacy - the deep fried kebab - pay attention for the sign in the window.

Laila's Bistro, 63 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh

Scarlet Witch is sent flying through the window of this Mediterranean bistro by Proxima Midnight before returning to save Vision as Glaive attempts to remove the Mind Stone rather forcibly.

St. Giles' Cathedral, High Street, Edinburgh

Located on the High Street on the Royal Mile, St. Giles' is the historic city church of Edinburgh. Some of the fight scene between Vision, Corvus Glaive and Scarlet Witch takes place upon the top of the Cathedral.

City Chambers, High Street, Edinburgh

Down on the street below the Cathedral, Proxima Midnight and Scarlet Witch go one on one outside the City Chambers, resulting in the spectacular explosion that featured in the above video.

Waverley Rail Station, Edinburgh

The site of the biggest night shoot for filming, the attempt to retrieve the Mind Stone from Vision's head climaxes inside Edinburgh's main railway station and sees the appearance of Captain America's beard (no, not Sharon Carter!), Black Widow and Falcon to turn the tide and save the day.

An area towards the rear of the station next to Platform 20 was cordoned off for the duration of filming. A green screen was installed along with a fake coffee shop that could and would be destroyed in the fight.


For those wanting to recreate the moment Steve Rogers emerges from the shadows, you will need to hop over to Platform 1 and look for the third alcove which has some graffiti and a mark on a brick that makes it easier to identify.

The station has installed a couple of standing screens displaying photographs from the filming plus video and still images from the final film to allow fans to check out exactly where the shots were taken. That way you can recreate the scenes from the movie using cosplay, LEGO figures or just yourself.

So there you have it. complete guide to the Edinburgh locations featured in Avengers Infinity War. We'll just all have to wait and see if there is a deleted post-credit scene where Thanos goes for a deep fried kebab to celebrate a job well done!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Kodachrome - review

Kodachrome is a film about nostalgia. Nostalgia for an older, simpler time. Where photographs were taken on a camera and not a phone. Photos of other people and not selfies.
Nostalgia is always better when it has a basis in truth, and this film is actually based on a true story article about the last few days of the Kodachrome development system in America.
Jason Sudekis plays Matt, a music executive who is about to be fired because the music industry is changing the same way as film. Moving from the physical media to digital.
He is the estranged son of Ben Ryder, a famous photographer suffering from cancer, who wants to drive across America to get four rolls of film developed before they stop developing them. Only he needs Matt's help and the two of them take an Elizabethtown/As Good As It Gets-style road trip with Ben's nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) to help administer Ben's medication and keep the peace.
Olsen delivers her usual brand of warmth, charm and compassion just as she did in Liberal Arts. Sudekis proved in Colossal that he can deliver on the dramatic side just as well as the comedic and sparks off the cranky, curmudgeonly Ed Harris.
In a movie like this, it is the journey not the destination that is important and the story takes the predictable route to its destination with the character moments and plot points signposted a mile off and you are left always wishing that something truly special develops from the material but sadly the end result is slightly out of focus.

3 stars

Avengers: Infinity War - review

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear right off the bat. Avengers Infinity War is not just a movie. This is an event. This is the season finale of a ten year, nineteen episode comic book series that was merely the twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye back in 2008.
Disregard what the internet memes say. This *IS* the most ambitious film event of all-time. Nothing else even comes close.
Expectations are higher than they were for another fandom 19 years ago for The Phantom Menace. But can they possibly be met? 
Will it work as a film in its own right and will it work as the culmination of everything that has come before it.
The answer, Marvel fans will be happy to here... is YES.
As for the “story so far”, or “previously on Avengers Infinity War”, it would take Luis from Ant-Man’s motor mouth to take the audience on a abridged history of the MCU in five minutes to get everyone up to speed so let’s just get down to brass tacks.
Thanos, the big purple dude who has been sitting on his giant space toilet (Empire magazine’s words, not mine) since The Avengers has finally decided to claim the six Infinity Stones required to complete his Infinity Gauntlet (3 years after first claiming he would “do it myself” back at the end of Age Of Ultron). This puts him on a collision course with the Asgardians (The Tesseract), the Guardians of the Galaxy (who know where the Power and Reality stones are) and Earth’s mightiest heroes with whom the Mind and Time stones currently reside.
Straight away, from the first scene and his introduction, it is clear that this is Thanos's movie. Immediately establishing as a credible threat and the toughest challenge the Avengers have ever faced. Trust me, there will no longer be jokes about him sitting on his space toilet after this. He is built like a brick space sh*t house and knows how to throw a punch and he certainly has the stones (if you'll pardon the pun) to lay the preverbial smackdown on our beloved heroes.
Josh Brolin, pulling double comic book duty this Summer, proves the perfect choice for the Titan-ic villain. Enhanced by some stunning CGI work, he is simulataneously physically imposing, viciously cruel but also singular in his vision. As all zealots, he believes that his course of action is the correct one, no matter the cost to himself, his family or the universe.
The movie's central narrative thrust follows Thanos on his quest and it turns out to be the correct move on the part of the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. By making Thanos the main protagonist of the story, it allows the filmmakers to delicately keep all the different plates spinning around him. And boy are there a lot of plates. There are 14 main characters who have had their name in the title of a movie, along with dozens more who make up various iterations of the Avenger rosters.
The Russo's split their cast into teams, each with a plot thread relating to a different Infinity Stone, providing some unexpected pairings that the audience wouldn't have realised they needed until now.
Following the events of Civil War, Steve Rogers (no longer Captain America) has stuck close to fellow fugitives Black Widow and Falcon who take a jaunt to Edinburgh, Scotland to rescue Scarlet Witch and Vision, who has a literal target on his forehead.
Thor, who has shown in Ragnarok that he can mine chemistry and comedy out of any pairing, teams up with Rocket Raccoon and Groot while the rest of the Guardians travel to Knowhere as Gamora's relationship to her "father" comes to the fore.
Finally back on Earth, Doctor Strange and Tony Stark battle for the position of Alpha Male with a goatee, and constantly chastise Peter Parker for his "really old" pop culture references.
Despite the over abundance of characters, every single one gets a moment to shine either with a quip or action beat. Although given the runtime, it leaves you wanting more from them all and some plot threads are left dangling, and maybe will still exist in the form of deleted scenes on the DVD i.e. Natasha and Bruce's relationship now he's returned.
The narrative switches back and forth between the groups organically so that the audience are always aware of who is where and how Thanos's plan is advancing before the various roads to Infinity War converge on Titan (Thanos's home planet) and Wakanda for the final showdown(s).
The trailers have thankfully given away very little of the main action sequences and they definitely deliver on an epic scale unlike anything seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before.
It is a cliche in superhero movies that no one ever really dies or stays dead but right from the off, the Russo's put all their chips on the table and tell the audience that all bets are off in terms of who is walking (or flying) out alive of this battle. There is a palpable level of fear and danger every time a hero goes one-on-one with Brolin's Titan, who towers over them in the same way Dwayne The Rock Johnson towers over Kevin Hart.
No more plot details will be discussed because despite all the theorising and speculating, it goes places you simply could not have predicted and thus is best enjoyed spoiler-free.
Avengers Infinity War is the event movie to end all event movies and where possible should be seen with an audience of hardcore fans. The ones at the midnight screening were invested in every single second. Resulting in bouts of laughter, squeals of joy, shocked gasps, shedded tears and moments of pure, stunned silence... and in Scotland, cheers for a sign in a window that read "We will deep fry your kebab"!
Just like someone holding a complete Infinity Gauntlet, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is virtually unstoppable at this point and Avengers Infinity War is their finest hour so far... but one expects as a time stone would tell, the best is yet to come.

5 stars

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Marvel Cinematic Universe - RANKED!

With the Road to Infinity War complete, the time has come to rank the eighteen films that currently make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe... only for that ranking to change tomorrow with the release of Avengers Infinity War!

So in reverse order, here we go...

18. Thor The Dark World
Would have bottom for the Greenwich tube stop gaff alone but it is also the dullest and most dour entry in the MCU with the saga's most non-descript villain of all-time in Malekith.
Full review here.

Whilst it is an improvement on Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk, this film always seems out of place with the rest of the MCU & feels like the weird family member nobody talks about anymore.
Full review here.

16.  Iron Man 2
Suffered from being a movie setting up the Avengers and wider MCU than a true Iron Man sequel. Bonus points for Sam Rockwell.
Full review here.

15. Thor
Kenneth Branagh turned a potential Flash Gordon misfire into a thundering Shakespearean family drama boosted by the performances of Hopkins and Hiddleston. Loses points for dyeing Hemsworth's eyebrows.
Full review here.

14. Captain America: The First Avenger
Any film with The Star Spangled Man With A Plan musical number should really chart higher but Steve Rogers became a much more interesting character once he came out of the ice!
Full review here.

13. Doctor Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch goes full Hugh Laurie doing House M.D. in a straightforward but visually stunning origin story for the Sorcerer Supreme. Nice twist on solving Marvel's third act problem.
Full review here.

12. Black Panther
The biggest movie in the world at the moment until Infinity War comes out at least is a huge leap forward for Hollywood. Part Black Bond film, part Lion King. This film starts with a roar but loses its teeth during the CG heavy finale.
Full review here.

11. Ant-Man
Rudd-y hilarious and the perfect palette cleansing sorbet between the all-you-can-eat Avengers Age of Ultron buffet and the indulgent dessert of Civil War.
Full review here.

10.  Guardians Of The Galaxy
The moment that we realised Marvel Studios could do anything they wanted and succeed. A space adventure soundtracked to the Seventies featuring Andy Dwyer from Parks & Rec and a talking raccoon? More please!
Full review here.

9.  Iron Man 3
Shane Black stripped away the suit, leaving Tony Stark to rely on his skill and wit (ably assisted by Black's razor sharp dialogue) in the first film of Phase 2 that showed Marvel were willing to push the boat out and not rely on a tried and tested formula.
Full review here.

A better film than many give it credit for, it improves on a rewatch now seeing how it fits in to the wider MCU universe following Phase 3.
Full review here.

The version of Spidey we didn't know we wanted or needed until Civil War, Tom Holland is perfect in his first solo movie as part of the MCU.
Full review here.

6. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Better than the original and focused on building character than action, resulting in the most emotional instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Challenge anyone not to well up at "He may of been your father boy, but he wasn't your daddy"
Full review here.

5. Iron Man
The film that started it all and still one of the highlights of the MCU. Not only did it offer redemption to Tony Stark, it gave it to Robert Downey Jr. as well.
Full review here.

Taika Waititi reinvents Thor as the Lord of Thunder with lightning fast comic timing, bringing the Ragnarok n roll to the franchise.
Full review here.

At the time it seemed impossible but Joss Whedon delivered a movie that perfectly balanced an ensemble cast of Earth's mightiest heroes, caused a billion geekgasms and showed that anything was possible in the MCU.
Full review here.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first film to feel like a legitimately great film that broke free of the comic book genre. Also contained the MCU's best action scenes until the next film...
Full review here.

1. Captain America: Civil War
Liable to have nabbed the top spot for the airport sequence alone but this adaptation of Civil War perfectly fits into the MCU and provided an incredible story that came from the characters and not the action.
Full review here.

Road to Infinity War - Phase 3 - Black Panther (2018)

First thing's first. No Soul Stone here in Wakanda. Just a ton of Vibranium waiting to be turned into a shield or thousands of murder bots. All the Marvel fans were wrong. It isn't there. The teaser for Infinity War showing the massive battle in Wakanda wrong footed us all. It's not the Soul Stone they are protecting but Vision and his Mind Stone.
So where is the Soul Stone? Who cares, for now it is time to discuss the highest grossing superhero film in US history, Black Panther.
For a film that comes directly before Avengers Infinity War, it is surprisingly self-contained and features very few references to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the return of the two "Tolkein" white guys Everett Ross and Ulysses Klaue (Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis).
I was slightly indifferent to the film first time round, and you can read that full review here.
Rewatching on the Road to Infinity War, it has improved in some areas but there remain some rather large flaws. Particularly in the final act.
The first half of the film remains very strong as it plays out like a Bond movie with T'Challa as Bond, sister Shuri as Q, with Okoye and Nakia as anything but Bond girls. The entire Busan sequence is the standout highlight of the movie.
Once the action returns to Wakanda and Killmonger has made his play for the throne, that's where things get a little bit... The Lion King.
Think about it. A son mourning the death of his father is usurped to the throne by a treacherous, vindictive relative who believes they should be King. Following a period of self-discovery that involves speaking with his dead dad, returns to fight and claim the throne that is rightfully his. Accompanied by M'Bakku and Ross aka Timon and Pumba.
Joking aside, the final battle is where the film lets itself down. The CGI is not as sharp as other MCU films and the face off between T'Challa and Erik in their Panther suits on a rail track looks like a deleted scene out of Tron Legacy.
There is also the bizarre moment that a war rhino stops charging when Okoye steps in front of it. This plot point was not mentioned previously but it also is exactly the same as a moment involving Elton John of all people in Kingsman 2.
It is a shame that it doesn't nail the landing because the relationship between the once and future kings is fascinating and has parallels to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (and also Professor X and Magneto). They both ultimately have the same goal but want to achieve it in very different ways.
Still, the performances are fantastic and while Jordan's charisma and swagger threatens to overshadow Boseman, there is purpose to it in uniting some of the Wakandan tribes to his cause, and leads to his powerful speech about how death is better than bondage.
While certainly not a perfect film, the foundations for the Black Panther franchise and place within the MCU are as strong as vibranium.

Infinity Stone counter = 5

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Road to Infinity War - Phase 3 - Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Coming off the back of Phase 2, the one main Avenger that people were not probably crying out for a threequel for, it was Thor.
He had made a promising debut in the original film in 2011 but lost his way in The Dark World, becoming rather dour and dull.
He had more success as part of the ensemble in the Avengers films, provided some excellent moments by Whedon who knew how to use him effectively e.g. "He's of Asgard and my brother.", "He killed 90 people", "He's adopted".
What Thor Ragnarok does so well is reinvent the character of Thor and take him in new directions but also remain grounded in the history of the MCU. For example, the moment that Loki leaps up in delight when Hulk grabs Thor and tosses him around, harking back to The Avengers.
Hemsworth had proved his comedic chops with a scene-stealing turn in the Ghostbusters remake/reboot/reimagining/sequel/whatever it technically was, so it was great to see Waititi harness this superpower for the purposes of good and Hemsworth delivered.
Not only is the character different but the entire film feels worlds (or realms) away from where Thor started his journey. When the first film was announced, there was a danger it could have been a bit too Flash Gordon-y but Kenneth Branagh gave the story a Shakespearean feel by focusing on the family drama side of things.
Director Taika Waititi captures the Eighties, fun, funky space adventure vibe perfectly and delivers Marvel first out-and-out comedy. Avengers has many funny, quotable lines, Ant-Man is very funny but this is a comic adventure through and through.
As already discussed, Hemsworth delivers on his comic promise and he is backed up by Waititi's hilarious revolutionary rock Korg, Mark Ruffalo is a great straight man and comic foil to Thor and then there is the cinematic treasure that is Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster, uh, Jeff Goldblum going full Goldblum.
Similar to What We Do In The Shadows, there was a lot of improvisation on set but the final film flows beautifully and there is never a sense of there were lots of scenes left on the cutting room floor.
While the comedy is at the forefront, it would not be a Thor movie without a family squabble for the throne and after a brief reconciliation with their father Odin, Thor and Loki are faced with a psychotic sister they did not know they had played with camp, crazy relish by Cate Blanchett. *Sounds very similar to the plot of the finale of Sherlock season 4*
In terms of the continuing build to Infinity War, it cleverly retcons a moment from the earlier Thor films which featured the Infinity Gauntlet, now in Thanos's possession, by having Hela knock it over and call it a "fake". It is also hinted that Loki, picks up the Tesseract before escaping Asgard which is what leads Thanos to their ship in the post-credit sting.
One suspects that things might not work out so well for the remaining Asgardians and we may have to say goodbye to some well-loved characters but only time will tell.
Until then, we still have a Hulking great slice of Ragnarok and Roll to enjoy.

Infinity Stone counter = 5

Monday, 23 April 2018

Road to Infinity War - Phase 3 - Spider-Man Homecoming (2017)

Looking at that poster, you would be forgiven for thinking that Spider-Man Homecoming was actually Iron Man 3.5. In the same way that Civil War was potentially Avengers 2.5.
Thankfully, this was purely marketing and the focus is aimed straight at Peter Parker with Tony Stark appearing in a strictly advisorly capacity (either remotely or in person).
While there was a huge amount of excitement when it was announced that Sony and Marvel Studios had made a deal to have the character appear in the MCU, fans questioned whether we needed to see *another* version of Spider-Man so soon after Andrew Garfield's (less than) Amazing Spider-Man.
Within 30 seconds of Civil War, Tom Holland proved that he was the Peter Parker/Spider-Man we didn't realise we needed until that moment. What a difference it made to see an actual teenager play the character who is an awkward, excitable teenager rather than an (admittedly talented) guy in his late-twenties/early thirties.
Homecoming builds on those solid foundations and continues to focus on Peter coming to term with his powers and desire to join the Avengers, all while trying to balance the pressures of high school. Although the Homecoming title can refer to high school and Spidey returning to where he belongs in the MCU.
We can gloss over the fact that Peter and May's apartment seems to change layout and decoration in the week between Civil War and the start of Homecoming because it is so assured in the rest of its storytelling.
Kevin Feige and director Jon Waits know that those watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe have probably already seen the five previous Spider-Man films. (On a side note, let's not forget that in the 16 years we have had three different actors play Spidey over seven films, we only had Hugh Jackman as Wolverine across nine films!)
So they wisely decided that we don't need to see another origin story of how Peter got his powers (indeed it was brushed off by Tony in Civil War as something he didn't need to hear) and we don't need to see the death of Uncle Ben again...

What they do manage to do is subvert certain aspects of what we expect to see. For example, "hot" Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei; no "with great power comes great responsibility" speech from surrogate father figure Tony Stark; training sequences not with his natural abilities but with Stark tech instead such as the "training wheels" program.
The film provides its great share of action sequences, including that incredible vertigo-inducing shot of Spidey standing atop the Washington monument. *Notice how MCU Spidey is not afraid to step outside of New York if duty calls? Makes him more than just your "friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man"*
There is also the Staten Island Ferry set piece that simultaneously harks back to Spider-Man 2's train rescue and betters it (possibly because it doesn't feature Tobey Maguire's constipated face).
Where this film, and the other previous sixteen films by Marvel Studios, raise the bar for the genre and connect with audiences is in character. It is the performances, the writing and development over the ten years that causing such a deep connection that will pay off in Infinity War.
It is nice to see a vulnerable side to a superhero and the moment when Peter cries out when being crushed by rubble gets you, what is the phrase the kids use, "right in the feels". He also has conflicted emotions regarding the villain of the piece, Michael Keaton's Vulture.
It was a surprise to see Keaton in a Marvel movie given his past as Batman but he is one of the MCU's best villains... even if it does conjure up comparisons to his other "superhero" outing Birdman.
Adrian Toomes, screwed over by the system, justifies what he is doing because it helps him provide for his family. Plus Robin Hood-style, he is only stealing from the rich and powerful. He has had no issues with the Avengers as they have bigger fish to fry but then some kid in a onesie starts messing with his business. Spider-Man and the Vulture are put on a collision course that comes to a head in one of the most surprising, jaw-dropping moments in the MCU and 2017 when Peter knocks on the door of his date Liz's house only for him (and the audience) to find out that Toomes is her father.
The following scene in the car where Keaton figures out Parker's secret and proceeds to thank him for saving his daughter's life but threaten to kill him if he gets in his way again is perfectly suited to Keaton who can switch from charming to chilling in an instant.
Thankfully unlike the original Spider-Man and other MCU movies, this iteration of the character does not see the villain killed off at the end of the film which should hopefully allow for a more organic development of the Sinister Six and a welcome return for Vulture.
As for how Sony's Venom starring Tom Hardy will fit into all this? That's anyone's guess!
The future for Spider-Man and Tom Holland is very bright with a nice allusion at the end of the film to the Civil War comic storyline where Iron Man introduces Spidey to the world as the Iron Spider. Something we definitely will see very soon in Infinity War. Although one does worry for Peter. If Tony Stark does die at the hands of Thanos, how will Parker cope losing a third father figure in his lifetime?!

Infinity Stone counter = 5

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Road to Infinity War - Phase 3 - Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Controversial opinion it may be but you know what? I'll just come out and say it.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is better than Guardians Of The Galaxy.
While it might not have the shock and surprise factor of the original (in that "Wow, this is actually really good"), Vol. 2 is a much richer, deeper, more emotional film that's true focus is not some scheme to wipe out all life in the universe (well it slightly is).
The film begins the most enjoyable title sequence of any Marvel movie as Baby Groot dances to ELO's Mr Blue Sky and the Guardians battle a giant space monster behind him. Actually come to think about, it, is it the only Marvel title sequence? They don't usually have any credits until the end of the film do they?
Anyway, the fight to protect some Anthrax batteries for the Sovereign race is merely a Macguffin to lead to the real story. Similar to an episode of Family Guy where the first ten minutes of the episode are just set up for another story.
And that story is, as Vin Diesel mentions every ten minutes or so in all of the Fast & Furious movies, "Family".
It is about the relationships between a father and a son, a surrogate father and a son and between two "sisters".
Following on from the events of Vol. 1 where Star Lord Peter Quill discovered that his father was not of Earth, his father Ego The Living Planet comes looking for his son after hearing of a human who "held an infinity stone in his hand and didn't die".
The face of the Living Planet takes the form of the "rugged good looks" of Kurt Russell which harks back to the Eighties as he was one of the decades most iconic heroes in the likes of The Thing, Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China and he brings all of that swagger and charisma to the role and is a perfect fit for Peter's father.
Having found him, Ego wants to show Peter his true potential as part-Celestial being. He takes Peter, Gamora and Drax off to his planet, leaving Rocket to repair their ship and babysit Groot and Nebula. But he'll have problems of his own when the Ravagers return with Yondu looking for payback.
Vol. 2 plays out a bit like a Greatest Hits mix tape compiled by Peter's Mom.
On the A side, if you liked the 80s references from the first film, don't worry there are plenty more here. Enjoy the surprise MVP of Vol. 1 Drax the Destroyer? He gets more time to shine and develop in this one. And once again, Gunn has picked the perfect song list to go with the story. Who doesn't spend the next two days after seeing this singing Brandy?
Flip the tape over to the B side however and as expressed earlier, the film is a very deep, emotional family tale.
Gamora and Nebula attempt to work through their issues by doing what any sisters would do. Try to kill each other of course! This manifests in an unexpected but wonderful North by Northwest homage that leads into a proper scrap with some excellent work from Karen Gillan, relishing the increased screen time.
Of course, the main plot is Chris Pratt working through his daddy issues. Early on he tells Gamora he wished he could have played catch with his dad and told the kids at school his real father was David Hasselhoff and both of these references come back later on in surprising ways. When Ego's ultimate plan for Peter is unveiled, it is up to Yondu to float in Mary Poppins style to help save the day.
If Batista was Vol. 1's MVP, then Michael Rooker is certainly the MVP of Vol. 2. He has worked with James Gunn on a number of projects but he delivers his finest work with this performance.
I was not expecting the climax of the film to have the emotional sucker punch that it did.
*Spoilers ahead*
From the moment Yondu sacrifices himself to save Peter with the line "He may of been your father boy, but he wasn't your daddy", to Peter's realisation that he has lost two father figures, to the Ravager funeral...

The new line up of the Guardians confirmed at the end of the film, adding Mantis and a now surly, teenage Groot, there is nothing but excitement to see how they interact with "Earth's mightiest heroes" as all the different plot threads come together for Infinity War.

Infinity Stone counter = 5

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Road to Infinity War - Phase 3 - Doctor Strange (2016)

Things to take quantum leap forward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to Doctor Strange. We had previously seen travels into the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and this film would take that to the max with multiple mystical dimensions along with a hint of magic. Or is it science? As Thor would say "I come from a world where they are one and the same."
Strange was mentioned in passing during The Winter Soldier but it took another four films before he would make an appearance. Why? It could be argued that his powers were too great to be involved in the Civil War fight as he could have easily influenced the final outcome with a quick spin on the Eye of Agamotto.
Instead, Mister Doctor is given an origin story set some time during the increasingly confused MCU timeline (but one that ends synced up to the events in Thor Ragnarok).
In terms of plot, this is the most straightforward origin tale that Marvel has done since the original Iron Man.
Benedict Cumberbatch is well cast as the pompous, over-opinionated surgeon and he plays it as though he is doing an impression of Hugh Laurie doing his House accent. Following an accident in which he loses the use of his hands, he travels to Nepal in search of answers on how to heal himself and that is where he finds Kamar-Taj and the Ancient One (Oscar winner Tilda Swinton).
One of the first things that is noticeable about the film is the cast list. Cumberbatch, Swinton, Ejifor, Mikkelsen, McAdams. It reads more like an Oscar contender than a superhero blockbuster and it is to Marvel's credit that they are now in a position to attract this calibre of talent for lead and supporting roles.
So while the plot might be straightforward, the visuals are anything but. Twisty, turny and dizzying to the point that it feels like if Inception had labyrinthitis, they are unique within the MCU and make for a welcome (and by this point needed) change to the formula). Beyond Strange's first trippy, er, trip into the Quantum realm that borders on the horrific, it is the Manhattan sequence that is the stand out.
Thankfully, the mirror realm allows the wizards to fight without causing any destruction or death to the people of New York (goodness knows they've been through enough!).
And it was nice to see a novel twist on the third act climax with having Strange stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop being killed over and over again by the big bad Dormmamu until he agrees to bargain. Was a nice change to having the hero solve the problem with their fists.

Infinity Stone counter = 5 (Time Stone)

Friday, 20 April 2018

Road to Infinity War - Phase 3 - Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Phase 3 kicked off in style with the stealth Avengers film Captain America: Civil War aka Avengers 2.5.
Admittedly there were a few worries going into the film that this was simply going to be an Avengers ensemble film rather than a Captain America film. The Russo brothers however managed to find a way to distil the story about the breakdown of the Avengers to actually further Steve Rogers' story by making the Jenga piece that threatens to topple the whole be James Sebastian Barnes aka The Winter Soldier.
Inspired by Mark Millar's game-changing comic series that crossed over many of Marvel's titles at the time, heavily influencing future storylines, it focused on the issue of a Superhero registration act that would force heroes to reveal their secret identities and become government employees.
As this was not an issue in the MCU due to the fact that most of the heroes were not hiding their identities, the storyline had to be adapted to fit in with the movie universe.
Following the events of Age of Ultron, the Avengers find themselves subjected to legislation called the Sokovia Accords. This would make them answerable to the United Nations, something that Tony agrees with but Steve refuses to sign. The battle lines are drawn between the Avengers as everyone has a different opinion on whether or not it is a good thing. Something which in particular affects Scarlet Witch and Vision's relationship which sets things up nicely for further exploration in Infinity War.
Just as the Accords are due to be passed, Bucky Barnes bombs the UN causing the death of Wakanda's King T'Chakka. This introduces audiences to the character of Black Panther in the form of his son Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman). He desires revenge and goes after Barnes but Rogers sets out to protect his friend, unwilling to believe he was behind the bombing.
Upon his capture, which sees the reintroduction of Steve Rogers' beard... no, not the one in Infinity War, Sharon Carter of course, the Winter Soldier is released by a man called Zemo (Bruhl) using a HYDRA mind control technique.
In order to solve the mystery and bring his friend back, Captain America cuts ties with the Avengers, putting him on a collision course with Stark. Something that will cause all the heroes to pick a side and lead to the MCU's most iconic and fantastic scene: the Superhero Smackdown.
This was the scene that Marvel fans had dreamed of ever since Nick Fury turned up at the end of Iron Man. The chance to find out the answers to the geeky questions like "who would win in a fight? Falcon or War Machine? Ant-Man or Spider-Man?
Yes, just one of the reasons that Civil War is so good is that it is the film that brought Spider-Man into the MCU and boy does he make a great first impression. Tom Holland is perfect as the young teenage Peter Parker and he gets some wonderful moments, particularly with Cap, Falcon and Bucky.
Every character gets their moment to shine but it is Paul Rudd's Ant-Man who steals the show here with his transformation into Giant Man. When Ant-Man was first released I thought that he would transform when returning from the Quantum Realm and burst through the house but they wisely saved it for this and it was completely worth it.
It isn't just the fight at the airport but every action sequence that cemented the Russo brothers as the kings of the Marvel castle. Even going so far as to take a page out of the Marvel TV series playbook and include a fight in a corridor and stairwell.
Ultimately, the film comes down to Cap vs Iron Man as the scheme that Zemo has been plotting turns out to be a more twisted revenge tale than Oldboy as it is revealed that Barnes was the one responsible for killing Stark's parents. This results in the most emotional fight so far (even more so than Thor vs Loki) and one that puts the final nail in the coffin of the Avengers as Steve chooses Bucky over Tony "I'm sorry, Tony but he's my friend", "So was I".
Will we see the old team back together in Infinity War, only time will tell.

Fun fact: Hawkeye calls Tony "The Futurist" which is the name of the album that Robert Downey Jr released in 2004.

Infinity Stone counter = 4

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Road to Infinity War - Phase 2 - Ant-Man (2015)

The greatest "What If?" in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Out there in the Quantum Realm somewhere there is a version of the MCU that still features an Ant-Man that was directed by Edgar Wright.
Fans of the Cornetto Trilogy were feeling rather negative towards the film before it came out, saying that this was finally going to be Marvel's first genuine misstep and flop but...
Trust in Feige and the MCU because in spite of all the troubles and issues going into the production, the final result is actually a very fun and enjoyable Marvel film, albeit it on a smaller scale than Age of Ultron (pun intended) and the perfect palette cleanser.
Paul Rudd is a fantastic choice for Scott Lang, who is drawn into a scheme to stop the original Ant-Man Hank Pym's protege from recreating the technology. He perfectly captures the wide-eyed cynicism to the ridiculousness of the entire situation and it helps draw the audience into this world.
It certainly plays to Rudd's strengths, playing up the humour "Baskin Robbins always find out" and he is given a terrific sidekick to spark off in Michael Pena's Luis with his fantastic flashback explanations.
NB: Marvel, please release the Comic-Con video of Pena explaining the entire MCU history to Michelle Pfieffer before Infinity War comes out!
While Pym has handpicked Scott Lang to be the one to take on the mantle (or should that be Antle) of Ant-Man, this puts Scott at loggerheads with Hank's daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) who believes she is the worthy successor but at odds with her father because of a past family tragedy that will drive the narrative forward in the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp.
With Marvel keen to put a different spin on each of their movies, this one can definitely be described as a heist movie with a lot of time spent on Lang training for the job (including the contractual Marvel shot of Rudd with his top off to prove that he has worked out enough to have a six-pack) and putting the plan into action.
Peyton Reed does a good job of delivering the action but there are still moments in the film that still feel like Wright (he retained a screenplay credit) such as the train fight sequence at the end with a cameo from Thomas The Tank Engine.
However if there is one person who deserves a huge amount of credit for the success of Phase 2 and 3 in the MCU, it is the person responsible for the visual effects that de-aged Michael Douglas in the opening scene as the result is astonishing (and would be repeated in Civil War and Guardians Vol. 2). It is creepily realistic and they deserve a pay rise!

Also, it doesn't get mentioned a lot but one would argue that Ant-Man features that saddest death in the MCU outside of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!

Infinity Stone counter = 4