Hellboy (2004)

It’s time for Birthday Week to go to the movies! Continuing my obsessive look at all things Hellboy this week, I thought it high time I took a look at the movie that, for me, started it all. Of course, the comics pre-date the movie by more than a decade, but I wasn’t familiar with them before seeing Big Red in action here…

Hellboy (2004)

The movie is basically the origin story of Hellboy, picking out a lot of the threads that we see in the comics, and building on the Seed of Destruction storyline to give a satisfying main story overall.

We start with the Tarmagant Island incident in 1944, with Rasputin opening a portal and bringing forth Hellboy from another dimension, then we fast-forward to the modern day and the BPRD, with a new recruit John T Myers joining the team to work as Hellboy’s liaison. Very quickly, the action moves to a museum break-in where an ancient daemon known as Sammael has been awakened by Rasputin and his disciples, Ilsa and Kroenen. Sammael goes on a rampage, and while the Bureau believe it to have been killed, in actual fact two more have been birthed from its carcass, thanks to Rasputin’s curse of multiplicity.

Myers works to bring Liz back to the team, as she had previously left due to mistrusting her own powers of pyrokinesis. The team are sent into the sewers to attempt to destroy the Sammael eggs, and while most of the agents that accompany them are killed, they also manage to capture Kroenen. In reality, Kroenen had given himself up by feigning death and, once inside the Bureau, manages to kill Professor Bruttenholm. The Bureau is taken over by FBI agent Tom Manning, who directs a mission to Moscow to end the Sammael threat and, hopefully, that of Rasputin and his followers.

In Moscow, the team tracks down the nest in Rasputin’s mausoleum, and while Liz manages to incinerate the eggs, they are captured. Rasputin sucks out Liz’s soul from her body, and uses it to cause Hellboy to use his stone right hand to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad and bring about the apocalypse. Myers manages to reach out to Hellboy, however, reminding him that Bruttenholm raised him to defy his destiny and choose his own path. Hellboy stabs Rasputin, whose death throes release a tentacled monster that Hellboy manages to defeat by detonating a belt of grenades inside the beast.

Hellboy (2004)

For me, this movie really encapsulates the feeling of Hellboy from the comics. We’ve got the half-demon wandering about in graveyards and reanimating corpses, we’ve got him hunting disgusting daemon creatures – it’s really fantastic. While Ron Perlman does steal the show as the titular character, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, and Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, also have their parts to play – though due to going through the backstory, I think Liz is definitely the more short-changed of the two. John Hurt’s Professor Bruttenholm lends a dignified presence to the movie, though I think it’s really the villains that provide so much of the enjoyment here.

Hellboy (2004)

Rasputin is quite the character, and Karel Roden’s performance is quite chilling at times, especially when he’s in his suit doing his puppet-master routine. Ladislav Beran as Kroenen is a whole different kettle of fish, though – creepy doesn’t even begin to cover it. Beran has a fluid grace that really sets your teeth on edge, and when he’s gliding down those stairs in Bruttenholm’s office… urgh, gives me chills to just think about it!

Hellboy (2004)

Kroenen is definitely the character that benefits the most from his movie incarnation. Everybody comes over from the page to the screen fairly similarly, but for Rasputin’s lieutenant, we have a sort of amalgamation of a couple of the comic book characters. He’s part Nazi scientist, with his surgical compulsion and all, and an expert assassin – a less-mad Red Skull, I suppose. He’s the embodiment of almost the entire Nazi scientist enclave that exists within the comics, and I love how del Toro has managed to distill so much down into the character. Truly wonderful.

Something should also be said for the way the story is handled. It is often said that this movie takes Seed of Destruction as its starting point, but the Sammael threat is so far removed from that of the frog monsters that I don’t really think we can talk about them together. The story is an original one that nevertheless takes the essence of the comic book story and makes it work.

Hellboy (2004)

I’ve not seen the new movie, but while this one exists, I don’t think there’s a need for it. I’ve read the film was a flop, which is a shame, as I think the Hellboy universe really would benefit from a big screen showing, branching off into the BPRD proper and all, but part of me wonders if this failure might then allow for del Toro and Perlman to come back for the Hellboy 3 that we’ve heard teased over the years?

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

I went to see the new Wonder Woman movie on Friday night, and had an absolute blast! It was such a good movie, I can highly recommend it to you all!

The story is basically a very extended flashback, which begins with Diana Prince receiving a briefcase from Wayne Enterprises – inside is the photograph that is shown in Batman vs Superman of Wonder Woman during the First World War. Diana then basically goes on a reminiscence that lasts a little over two hours, of how she grew up on the paradise island of Themyscira, and shows us the Amazons in all their fighting glory. Paradise is shattered when Steve Trevor crash-lands a plane on the shores, leading to a group of German soldiers breaking through the magical barrier and battle the Amazons on the beach. While the warrior women are victorious, Diana’s aunt General Antiope is killed. Questioning Trevor, the Amazons refuse to aid in the war, fearing the involvement of Ares, the god of war. Diana, nevertheless, sails with Trevor back to the modern world of 1918, and arrives in London keen to get to the Front.

It turns out that Steve Trevor is working as a spy for GCHQ, and had managed to steal a notebook from the mad scientist Isabel Maru, known as Doctor Poison. While the British government fear it useless, Diana translates the text and discovers that Maru is working on a variant of mustard gas that uses hydrogen, meaning that gas masks would be futile against it. GCHQ refuses to sanction any further intervention, but Steve gathers a group of rogues to help him get Diana to the Western Front, and expedition that is granted an unexpected boon when Sir Patrick Morgan, a man propounding the need for an armistice to the War Cabinet, lends his covert support.

Trevor, Diana and their small band makes it across to Belgium, where the suffering of the common people affects Diana quite significantly. Refusing to wait any longer, she leaps over the top of the trenches in full Wonder Woman regalia and basically takes the German lines single-handed. Discovering that General Erich Ludendorff (who was actually a real-life figure during this time – the more you know!) is holding a gala reception nearby, and convinced that Ludendorff is Ares, Diana and the team infiltrate the party but Steve stops her from killing him. At the height of the gala, a gas canister is launched at the nearby village they had just liberated, and Diana rages at Steve for allowing it to happen. She rushes off to pursue Ludendorff, who has arrived at a military installation to oversee Maru’s new poison gas loaded onto an airplane to attack London. Diana kills Ludendorff, but is shocked to see that the soldiers have not stopped their work.

Ares now makes his appearance, he turns out to be none other than Sir Patrick! He and Diana fight among the compound, causing ridiculous amounts of damage, but Diana is still holding back. Steve manages to hijack the plane loaded with the poison gas, and flies it up into the atmosphere before blowing it up, sacrificing himself to prevent the attack. This sacrifice spurs Diana into resolving to protect humanity, and she finally destroys Ares.

Wonder Woman

This is a really great film! I’m not a big fan of period war movies like this, but it nevertheless managed to sweep me up for the ride! There were a lot of light touches peppered throughout, mainly through the comedy of manners style of juxtaposition with Diana and the rest of the world. Batman vs Superman came under such intense criticism for being so moody of course, so it seemed to be a big thing for the studio to attempt to recapture a lightness from the comics. Reports earlier in the year came in that predicted the movie would be a mess, but I think these are just symptomatic of the current trend to hate on anything that isn’t the MCU.

Wonder Woman does a great job of introducing us to a character that we’ve already met within the franchise of the DC extended universe, but also raises a fair few questions – like, what was she doing between this movie and her appearance in BvS? Gal Gadot is currently signed on for three movies, and this is her second. Will there be more Wonder Woman after the Justice League film? Should we get to see what Diana’s up to during the Cold War? The character could easily be taken for a trawl through time like the recent spate of X-Men movies, and if a sequel is anything like this first installment, I’m sold already!

Batman vs Superman

Almost a year since its release, I’ve finally gotten round to watching one of the controversial movies of 2016, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. My short review is, I liked it! True, it’s not a masterpiece of cinema, but it’s not the dog’s dinner that I’d been led to believe, I feel!

The Story
Following the events of Man of Steel, the world is beginning to question Superman and his motivations. Should one man have all that power and be allowed to run around unchecked? Highly controversial stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree! The government decides to step in and call him to account. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is looking into a Russian weapons trafficker and discovers a link with LexCorp, so infiltrates their computers to get some intel. At a party there, he meets antiquities dealer Diana Prince, and once he manages to decrypt the data he steals from the corporation’s mainframe, discovers she is actually a metahuman warrior. Lex Luthor has been investigating a couple of these folks, and alongside this research has also been attempting to import some kryptonite found in the Indian Ocean to act as a deterrent against Superman and his ilk.

It turns out that Luthor is genuinely against these super-human types running around the planet, and determined to check them. Unfortunately, he’s also kinda crazy, and attempts to turn the world against Superman by blowing up the Congressional hearing, where only Superman survives the blast. Berating himself for not seeing the duplicity, Superman goes into exile. Meanwhile, Batman steals the kryptonite from LexCorp and turns it into a weapon to defeat Superman, and Lex obtains the corpse of General Zod and access to the Kryptonian scout ship held in isolation in Metropolis. He also kidnaps Martha Kent in order to bring Superman out of exile.

Superman returns to Metropolis, and Lex explains he wants the world to see that the alien is not all good; he must kill Batman in order to save his mother. Lois Lane, learning of the plan, follows Superman to Gotham. Batman and Superman start fighting, and the weaponised kryptonite gives Batman the upper hand. Just as he’s about to plunge a kryptonite spear into Superman, Superman gasps out that he needs to “save Martha” – which was also the name of Bruce Wayne’s mother. Lois arrives to explain, and Bruce promises to save her.

Batman manages to defeat Lex’s Russian terrorist allies and save Superman’s mum, while Superman confronts Lex at the scout ship. Lex has also been busy, however, and has created an abomination from both Zod’s body and his own blood: Doomsday. Superman and this abomination battle it out in Metropolis, but each time Superman defeats it with his heat-ray eyes, the mutant grows stronger. Superman flies it up into space, where the military decide it can safely be nuked with no collateral damage, and launch their missiles. Unfortunately, that just gives it more energy to grow stronger still.

Diana, about to leave Metropolis, sees the battle on the news and decides she needs to stay – when Batman manages to lure Doomsday to Gotham’s abandoned docks, he is almost killed before Diana, now in her Wonder Woman get-up, deflects the energy blast on her bullet-proof bracers. Superman recovers from the nuclear blast and also joins the fray, while Lois attempts to recover the kryptonite spear as the only way of killing the monster. Superman leaves the fight to go help her, though being in close proximity to the spear weakens him all the same. Wonder Woman manages to contain it with her lasso of truth, and Batman manages to use his last kryptonite gas canister to weaken Doomsday enough that Superman can fly in close enough to thrust the spear into the abomination, though as it dies it manages to stab him with a bone, causing a fatal wound.

At the memorial service for Superman, Bruce tells Diana that he plans to form a team of metahumans to help protect the world in Superman’s absence, starting with those he found in the LexCorp computer system…

Batman vs Superman

I really enjoyed this!
There’s a lot of story here, as you can see! There are elements from the comics brought in to support an otherwise original storyline, and I think it actually works out really great. I’m not about to write up some kind of apology for the movie, don’t get me wrong, but I thought overall it was a really good movie. There are some things that I kinda wish had been done differently, or could have been explained better, or whatever, but overall, I really don’t think this film deserves the amount of negativity it has gained.

First of all, Ben Affleck is a fantastic Batman, and I just loved Jeremy Irons as such a bitchy Alfred. There is definitely a movie in there that I want to see! Henry Cavill as Superman is perhaps a bit odd, he certainly seemed a lot more serious than I’d expected for Superman. But it’s a very serious movie, and I think he did as good a job as could be expected. A lot of folks have talked about how Superman is supposed to be such a bright character, but I think Cavill had a sense of bemusement as to why the world seemed to be so against him, when all he’s trying to do is help, and I thought it came across quite well. Wonder Woman was terribly under-used, unfortunately, but I suppose it’s just made me more excited for the upcoming movie this summer! Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was simply annoying – a lot of people have complained about the fact that he has hair, but personally I don’t really mind the fact that he looks different. It was more the fact that he came across almost as a caricature of the cackling evil madman, and it just annoyed the hell out of me.

We get some tantalising glimpses of Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman in the movie, who are all set to be in the upcoming Justice League movie that is also due out later this year.

There is a lot of story here, and the movie does seem to jump around with a lot of exposition before we really know where we are. Part of me wonders whether that might be part of the problem with the film: it demands too much of our attention. You have to actually watch it to follow it, rather than just browsing your phone while it’s on in the background, and looking up whenever there’s a fight or whatever. Maybe I’m just being a snob when I say that, though. As I said before, it’s not like I’m trying to be an apologist for it, I just think it’s a lot better than people seem to want you to believe.

Sometimes, of course, the film does sag under its own weight of story, and I have to say, it was a little confusing at times as to why some characters were doing what they were doing. Why do Batman and Superman even fight? Sure, Lex explains he wants the world to see Superman kill Batman, but why is Batman so up for it? I get the impression we’re supposed to believe he thinks Superman is no better than the criminals he’s been fighting in Gotham all these years. But it’s never adequately explained, for my liking. There is actually a DC comics series of Batman vs Superman, and I never really managed to get into that either. To me, while Batman is usually the one to distrust everyone, I don’t ever see him actually fighting Superman, who should so clearly be a force for good in the world.

The film runs to a little over 2 hours 10 minutes, but I feel it could have done with perhaps an extra half hour of material to really flesh things out. We’re still in that tenuous sort of era where movies can’t always go much over 2 hours without being really tremendous, but I’d happily watch a longer feature if it meant a proper story. And I think this is a perfect example of a movie that needs that – we’ve got two absolute titans of the comic book world! They need to be fleshed out properly!

Anyway.

Comparisons with Marvel I suppose must be made, though I haven’t yet seen Civil War so can’t comment on that whole thing. While I would say that Marvel’s movies do tend to be much brighter and whatnot, and a lot of people have heavily criticised this film for taking such a dark stand, I think it fits with the story perfectly, and would say again that such reviews have been too harsh. It’s not a Marvel movie, correct – it was never meant to be, after all! DC are clearly doing their own thing, and lightness of tone are probably better kept for Flash and Green Lantern. I don’t think a comic book movie has to be comical, after all.

This is a movie that is definitely worth watching. I let other people put me off going to see it for far too long, now, and I think the lesson I’ve learnt here is, don’t listen to the popular opinion of DC movies! It’s worth watching to make up your own mind, and even if you don’t agree with me, I still think that’s a valuable lesson to take from all this.

X-Men: the prequels

This past weekend, I had a bit of an X-Men-fest, as I watched the new X-Men trilogy, having finally picked up Apocalypse on DVD. So thought I’d come here and ramble on a bit about my thoughts on the trilogy, because why not!

X-Men First Class

First Class kicked off the new trilogy in 2011, and was classed more as a prequel than a reboot of the film series that had begun back in 2000. I’ll get to that series in due course, as some of those films are just awesome! First Class is, without a doubt, an amazing movie. It’s set during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and absolutely nails the 1960s setting no end. The backdrop of fear of a possible third world war is particularly apt for the fear of mutants in the real world, and some really interesting moments come out in these themes.

We essentially get the origin story of Professor X and Magneto, as we see the supervillain Sebastian Shaw and his attempts to incite the nuclear war. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto here deserves particular note as, of all the mutants, I find his to be the most compelling performance. Whether it’s because he has the most grueling of the character arcs here, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just think his commitment to the role is fantastic.

Indeed, there’s a certain commitment to the storyline that really makes this movie something special so far as superhero films are concerned. Of course, there’s the usual plot of a supervillain trying to destroy the world – in this case, Shaw wants to bring about the nuclear apocalypse to rid the world of humans, leaving only mutants behind. But the way in which the Cuban Missile Crisis is woven into the storyline makes you feel like this is a much more serious film than folks in fancy costumes doing crazy stunts. It has that, don’t get me wrong, but it really does stand apart from a lot of the other things on offer.

X-Men Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past followed in 2014, and is a sequel to both First Class and the original trilogy’s The Last Stand, as we see the terrifying future of the Sentinel programme unleashed on mutants across the globe. The original cast is back to reprise their roles, right down to the tiny cameo of Anna Paquin’s Rogue, and we even get Rebecca Romijn as Mystique briefly.

Days of Future Past is, of course, one of the iconic X-Men comic book stories. Published in 1981, it deals with Kitty Pryde being sent back in time (to 1981, from the dystopian future of 2013) to prevent Mystique’s assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, which has caused that future. In the movie, Wolverine takes that central role, and is tasked with preventing the assassination of Dr Bolivar Trask, who originally created the mutant-hunting Sentinel robots in the comics. Following on from First Class, Days of Future Past is set in 1973, and the pivotal moment around the assassination takes place at the Paris Peace Accords. However, unlike its predecessor, the time period in this movie really feels pasted-on, and there’s no real reason for the movie to be set here. I mean, it could have just as easily been set in the 1960s like the first, or the 1980s like its source material. At any rate, there are some interesting twists of time along the way as Magneto, learning from Wolverine that Mystique dooms mutant-kind to pursuit by the Sentinels, decides to kill his erstwhile Brotherhood of Mutants colleague before she can kill Trask. It is then Magneto that almost turns the world against mutants, but Mystique, by saving President Nixon from Magneto, brings about some degree of mutant toleration. Wolverine is captured in 1973 by Colonel Stryker, who takes him for his infamous Weapon X project, while miraculously Wolverine manages to return to a present-day that has managed to avert the crisis of X3, and both Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey and James Marsden’s Scott Summers are alive and well.

For me, while this is still an enjoyable-enough movie, I thought the time period issue was a little unnecessary – although I did love the fact that Magneto was held responsible for the JFK assassination. I found the more interesting parts to be the “present day” Sentinels storyline, and thought it was really cool to see the X-Men band together for survival. Of course, anytime we get Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in a story together is to be cherished! Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask was a surprise to me, but he played the part so well, I have to mention it.

Annoyingly, we only learn that some of the mutants from First Class, such as Azazel and Angel, were evidently captured by Trask and experimented upon in order to create his Sentinels project, but we don’t hear anything about folks such as Emma Frost, who had a significant role in the earlier film. It’s probably too much to hope that we’ll get another movie, too, so, um… yeah…

X-Men Apocalypse

Last summer, we had the third movie in the prequel trilogy, Apocalypse. Following the brief post-credits scene in Days of Future Past, we start in ancient Egypt with the first mutant, En Sabah Nur, as he attempts to transfer his consciousness into another victim in order to stay alive, but the ritual is interrupted and he is entombed for centuries. Cults around the world have been dedicated to him, however, and in 1983, he reawakens, and determines to rule the world. As one does.

He first begins to gather followers to him – his four lieutenants. First to be gifted with power from him is the Cairo pickpocket Ororo Munroe, followed by Psylocke, who is working for the black marketeer Caliban, and finally Angel, who is an underground brawler in East Berlin. Mystique, having rescued Nightcrawler from a fight with Angel, learns of what’s happening and decides to go to Professor X for help. Recently arrived at the mansion is Scott Summers, who has manifested his powers of shooting lasers from his eyes and needs help to control it. There, he gets off to an initially frosty start with the telepath Jean Grey…

Meanwhile in Poland, Magneto has been working in some kind of generic industrial environment, and exposes his powers to save a coworker from harm. The local law enforcement catches up to him, and kills his family by accident. In Magneto’s devastation, En Sabah Nur comes to him and offers him untold power at his side. With his four horsemen around him, En Sabah Nur learns of Cerebro as a way of tracking mutants, and infiltrates the Xavier Mansion to capture Professor X. Attempting to fight them off, Havok causes a massive explosion that implodes the mansion, though the arrival of Quicksilver means that everyone is saved unharmed – everyone, that is, apart from Havok himself.

Colonel Stryker arrives at the mansion and captures Beast, Quicksilver, Mystique and Moira, with Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler managing to smuggle themselves along for the ride to Alkali Lake. Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler manage to free Mystique and co, after a gratuitous Wolverine cameo, and they head off to stop En Sabah Nur from destroying the world. Nur is using Magneto’s power to basically rip apart the world from its metallic core, and he plans to transfer his consciousness into Professor X’s body in order to gain his mind control powers and thus enslave the human race. As one does. Mystique and the others show up, and after a climactic battle that involves all of the X-Men coming together, including turning both Magneto and Storm from Nur’s side, they manage to destroy him and end the threat.

I don’t know what it is about the third movie of an X-Men film trilogy, but they always attempt to go huge, and they always seem to fall flat. I say “always” like we’ve got trilogies coming out of our ears, but hopefully you know what I mean. Again, the 80s style is just “there”, and we get an almost-totally pointless scene where Jean, Scott, Jubilee and Nightcrawler (somehow) go to see Return of the Jedi, where Jean makes a comment about the third movie always being bad – an apparent dig at The Last Stand, but I think it could be equally true of this movie, as well.

Quicksilver is back, and while he says he knows Magneto is his father, there isn’t any on-screen connection between the two, which kinda made me mad when I watched it. I mean, we can’t get Magneto in an Avengers movie because of this? The character was vaguely annoying in Days of Future Past, but didn’t really have a significant part to cause me much angst. Here, however, he’s pushed forward in a manner that almost seems overly-deliberate. I’d read something a couple of years ago that said Fox deliberately used him in order to cause Marvel/Disney problems with the Avengers and, honestly, it feels about that level of spite. Hopefully someone will do a House of M movie and just wipe the slate clean…

While I’m on the subject of annoying characters, Nightcrawler was similarly a let-down. The son of Azazel and Mystique in the comics, I’d hoped we’d see something of this broached in the movie when Mystique rescues him early on, but nothing. He turns out to be some kind of attempt at comic relief, but again, it’s pie-in-face level of annoying and I’d rather not have him in the movie if this is what we’re getting. Which is a shame, because Alan Cumming did such a good job with the character in X2.

I really liked Magneto’s character arc in First Class, and while it confused me a little in Days of Future Past, I could still kinda see where he was coming from. In Apocalypse, however, it was kinda sad to see him function merely as a henchman of the big bad guy. His storyline was also a little silly, though more because the film‘s storyline is silly. I mean, sure, I get that En Sabah Nur wants to rule the world because he has a massive ego or whatever, and I get that he thinks humanity relies too much on technology and so forth, but why does that need Magneto to literally destroy the earth? Doesn’t he think that might lead to him having no humanity to rule? Hm. As with a lot of these things, the villain plot just seems kinda stupid and not very well thought-out. At least Shaw’s plan for nuclear apocalypse had some sense to it…


For me, then, the prequel trilogy of X-Men just seems to get progressively worse, starting with a really strong movie that was a credit to its genre, and moving to just some mindless action-movie stuff that has some good and interesting moments, but otherwise just falls flat. I mean, the third movie has the core of something resembling Fall of the Mutants, but that storyline feels grafted on to the pre-existing characters from the film’s own universe, which has its own agenda with the Magneto-Mystique-Professor X triad, that we end up with this weird issue of the movie’s plot somehow taking a back seat. It’s this problem of constantly wanting to go bigger, without realising that the first movie was so good because it was pretty well-contained. The second movie went wider but, because it featured mutants in two pretty self-contained time periods, managed to keep things under some degree of control. The third, however, just feels like a mess, ironically similar to The Last Stand, which tried to bring in so much more of the lore of the comics and so many more characters, and ended up with a bit of a hash. Seems that any X-Men movie that features both Angel and Pyslocke together is doomed…

Recent reports seem to indicate that the X-Men series is due for another relaunch in the future, so who knows where we’ll be headed next!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron

I missed this at the cinema back in May, as I took too long trying to convince people to go see it with me. So as soon as I saw the DVD released on Monday, I snapped it up like a snappy thing, and this afternoon finally sat down to see what I missed five months ago.

Ohmygod, it was just so awesome! While I was a little confused at the start, it nevertheless turned out to be a really great action movie, and definitely worthy of its place on the shelf alongside the, what, ten other movies in the MCU now? Yeah, it was a really good ride. As to its relationship to its predecessor – man, that’s like asking a parent which of their children they prefer. There are reasons to like both films, you can’t say one was better than the other. Sure, the first Avengers movie felt a lot more polished, but I feel most of its appeal comes from the continued bafflement that arises out of the fact that Marvel actually managed to pull an Avengers movie off.

We start with some great action as the gang storm a secret HYDRA base, where experiments are being done on the two “miracles”, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. Yes, they’re actually mutants, and no, nothing is made of the fact Magneto is their father – the ongoing studio spat between Marvel and Fox seems to be causing some serious issues in the source material, but anyway. The Avengers escape with Loki’s staff (unfortunately, Loki himself doesn’t make an appearance), and Iron Man begins to use the power within to create a legion of soldiers that can help protect the world. Something goes wrong, and he winds up creating the villain hell-bent on destroying the world instead – he creates Ultron. The big robot escapes to eastern Europe, where he finds Pietro and Wanda, and all sorts of crazy starts going down when they realise he’s after the huge deposits of vibranium (the metal from whence Captain America’s shield is made) in Wakanda (sadly, no Black Panther, either), and when they attempt to stop him, Wanda/Scarlet Witch messes with everybody’s mind, and the mission is an unmitigated failure – particularly when Hulk basically goes on a rampage that not even Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armour can contain.

When everything looks shot to hell, Hawkeye steps up by taking them all to his home in the country (who knew?), where Nick Fury reappears. He manages to reunite the gang in their darkest hour, and they head off to Seoul to stop Ultron attempting to create a human body for himself. As Ultron begins to upload his consciousness into this body, Scarlet Witch reads his mind and discovers his plans for world destruction, which prompts the twins to turn on him. As the Avengers arrive, they all band together to stop him, and manage to gain the synthetic body, though Ultron captures Black Widow.

Iron Man threatens the unity of the group once again when he uploads JARVIS into this synthetic body, but while both Quicksilver and Captain America attempt to stop him, Thor intervenes and manages to awaken the android – it’s Vision! Turns out he has been empowered with one of the infinity stones, and the fact that Vision can lift Thor’s hammer seems to settle the argument as to who’s side he’s on. The team then head back to eastern Europe to confront Ultron and rescue Black Widow, but all hell breaks loose when Ultron uses the vibranium to make a machine that tears most of the city from the earth: the idea being, he’ll raise it high enough that, when it crashes back down to earth, the shockwave will destroy everything across the planet.

A massive set-piece battle ensues, and while the good guys manage to evacuate the people from the city with the arrival of Nick Fury in the helicarrier, Quicksilver is apparently killed in the process. This makes Scarlet Witch mad, and she annihilates Ultron’s army of copies, before tearing the heart out of his main body. Unfortunately, one of the drones manages to drop the city, and it takes Iron Man and Thor to basically overload the system and make it detonate while still in the air. Scarlet Witch is saved by Vision, and apart from Quicksilver’s death, it seems all ends reasonably well. The film ends with Captain America and Black Widow addressing Falcon, War Machine, Vision and Scarlet Witch as a new team. Interesting!

The fact that I’d intended that summary to be a paragraph, and it turned into four, kinda shows just how much is going on in this movie. There is a lot of action, but there’s also a lot of character development, as we see strands from each other movie pulled together in new and interesting ways that was as much of a pleasure to see as lots of stuff blowing up. We get a particularly interesting insight into Black Widow’s past and training, which almost makes me think there’ll be no Black Widow standalone movie, though of course, having appeared in about half of the Marvel movies, an origin story would kinda be awkward. Unless there was so much background here to make us want to explore it more? Who knows. She’s a really awesome character though, and while there are some awkward moments with Bruce Banner (I feel a bit like the romance there is a bit too forces), she’s generally pretty amazing.

Captain America: Civil War is the next movie slated for the MCU timeline, which seems a little weird as Iron Man and Captain America, while having their disagreements as per, end this movie on pretty strong ground once more. So it’ll be interesting to see how the animosity builds between the two – unless that was why they ended on such strong ground here? Hm.

At any rate, this was a really great film that I enjoyed immensely. Ultron was hilarious, it’s great to see the gang back together of course, and I’m definitely excited to see where they go next.

Ant Man – a movie review

It’s my second movie review in as many weeks! Don’t get excited, now!

Today, I went to see the new MCU offering, Ant Man. I went into this blind, knowing very little about the character, but purposefully having not paid attention to any trailers or hype for it. I must admit, I was really pleased with how much I enjoyed it as a result, and I think I’m going to try my hardest to continue this – unless the words “Star Wars” appear in the title.

here be spoilers!

Of course, Ant Man is the Marvel superhero who can shrink to the size of – spoiler alert – an ant. Rather than being some mutation, it’s caused by that other stalwart of comic book storylines, some advanced tech. We don’t really get much of an explanation of the mysterious Pym Particle, other than it was discovered by Dr Hank Pym as a way to move through molecules or something. He has vials of the stuff that somehow power a suit that shrinks its wearer to insect-size, and that’s really all we need to know to enjoy the ride.

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) used the suit during the Cold War until his wife, Janet, died. He was forged out of his company by his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stall) and estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) – though what the company does is a mystery, as the Particle is strictly off-limits while Hank is at its head. At any rate, Cross has been working on molecule manipulation ever since, and as the film begins, he’s ready to show off his own version of the suit, the Yellowjacket.

It sounds a little like Iron Man, with the massive corporation and the like, but into this mix is thrown the ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his ex-inmates. Lang is manoeuvered into contact with Hank in an attempt to steal the Yellowjacket prototype before it can be sold to HYDRA. The majority of the second act is taken up with Lang learning how to use the suit, being trained by both Hank and Hope. See, it turns out Hope is sort of playing the middle ground here, and I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure why. The film seems to want us to believe she’s working herself into Cross’ confidence as Hank’s mole, but I kinda ended with the impression that she has her own agenda, and the mid-credits sequence basically seems to affirm that.

The heist goes off wonderfully badly, and involves a massive chase sequence where Darren Cross dons the Yellowjacket, leading to some really excellent action scenes. It all ends happily, anyway, and the end result is something akin to the first Iron Man, though perhaps with more whimsy. It’s a pretty great origin movie, and takes its place well in the MCU.

Ant Man movie

Two things are worth mentioning. First, we have some great anchorage to previous Avengers stuff through the inclusion of Howard Stark and Peggy Carson in the introductory scene that shows Hank leaving SHIELD. We also get what turns out to be a very cool cameo from Anthony Mackie’s Falcon – having kept myself free from the spoilers, I was not expecting that one bit, so that was really great to see. The actual end-credits scene with Falcon and Cap, which I take to be setting up the Civil War movie, fell a little flat, I felt.

The mid-credits scene, however, more than makes up for that. We basically see Hank introduce his daughter to a prototype of the Wasp suit used by her mother, and her reaction has got me so damn well intrigued as to what will happen next! In case you don’t know, Hope van Dyne is a relatively new creation in Marvel comics, from the late 90s. She actually turns out to be an Avengers villain, going by the name of Red Queen, and at one point attempts to destroy the Avengers Mansion. That her brother isn’t introduced in this film – indeed, she appears to be an only child – leads me to think they probably won’t stick to the established storyline, but the possibilities are really pretty exciting here. Evangeline Lilly played the character wonderfully grey, and all those subtle flashes could be construed to be misplaced anger at her father for shutting her out of his life, or they could just be explained by her place at the company as a corporate-bitch-type, or they could actually be setting her up to become a villain. That would be something worth watching…

Anyway, I thought I’d present you all with some garbled thoughts on this movie, though I’m sure manofyesterday will have a much better review up in the next couple of days, so make sure you keep an eye on his blog!