Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Ross Bishop Ranks The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

So with the release of Spider-Man Homecoming and my absolute love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe I thought I’d try and rank the MCU films…

Image result for marvel cinematic universe

When I say rank, this is in terms of my favourites, so it’s just my opinion and it may not always be what is technically the best. For example Thor: The Dark World regularly gets cited as one of the worse MCU films, but I quite enjoy it – so will probably rank higher than other lists. Likewise most lists have Guardians of the Galaxy at the top, however I’m not a huge sci-fi fan so again this will be lower than expected.

That said, this is truly a difficult task, as the Marvel Studio movies all tend to range from good to great, with a few truly excellent films. There aren’t really any bad films (except Iron Man 2), and I genuinely like all of them. I think I can rank my top 5 in a definitive order, and my least favourite at the bottom, but the one’s inbetween will be hard and could arguably have an interchangeable order.

Anyway, let’s give this a go…

16) Iron Man 2
As mentioned previously this is the only MCU film I think you could consider bad. It’s definitely at a stage when Marvel Studios were finding their feet for how to tell an individual story, whilst also building a wider world and setting up future films. As a result this film is a bit of a mess with lots of clunky set-up included, however re-watching it now, some of this does eventually pay off in future films, but it’s still not great.

15) The Incredible Hulk
To be honest I think most people forget this is part of the MCU. There’s nothing technically wrong with the film but it does stand out from what we currently expect from the series. The tone is much more serious, the lead actor doesn’t carry over into The Avenger (Edward Norton being replaced by Mark Ruffalo) and there are very few ties into future films. That being said, it’s still enjoyable and the Hulk / Abomination showdown at the end is fun.

14) Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol2
I’ve got to say I was really disappointed with this, there are some great bits, but overall it was a let-down. Firstly it feels like the movie only has 2 acts, and the decision to separate the Guardians from one another hurts it, together with some odd character choices (Rocket becomes a complete jerk because...? Reasons). It’s ok, but is the only MCU movie (post Iron Man 2) I’ve come out of genuinely under-whelmed. Though the opening credits sequence is incredible!

13) Thor
I’m not a fan of “fish out of water” story-telling approach, it’s a conceit usually used for high fantasy films where the movie studios can’t afford to set the whole film in a fantastical realm. Hence the need to get our hero into the real world. Thor and Loki are both great and so is the opening section, however once Thor leaves (read: banished) from Asgard the film loses a bit of its charm for me.

12) Ant-Man
Who’d have thought this would have turned out genuinely great? It’s extremely funny and set around the much smaller scale of a high stakes heist, that makes it a much more personal tale. I’d love to be able to see the Edgar Wright version, but to be honest I feel this version probably fits into the MCU much more naturally.

11) Thor: The Dark World
This film gets a bad rap, but I genuinely enjoy it and think it’s better than the first. It’s funny, has some great action and the relationship between Thor and Loki is really fun to watch. It’s also set primarily in Asgard so we get to see the world of which the gods are born. 

10) Iron Man
Absolutely great film and without it the MCU would not exist. Should it be higher? Maybe, but then I’m in no way saying I think it’s bad, I just enjoy the next 9 films more. Robert Downey Jr owns the screen as Tony Stark and this is a superb origin story that not only sets up our lead hero, but sets the tone for the MCU in general.

9) Iron Man 3
If you can get over the “shock” Mandarin twist, I think this is a superior film to the first (just). A lot of this also depends on if you’re a fan of Writer / Director Shane Black, of which I very much am. I love the buddy cop nature of the film, the clever dialogue and taking Stark back to basics. As a result it’s extremely funny, yet still has some tense sequences that discuss the implication of PTSD and inventive action.

8) Captain America: The First Avenger
I really love the first Captain America movie, it’s a great origin story of who has now become my favourite MCU hero (I was definitely #TeamCap when it came around to Civil War). Although after a first viewing, I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying (it’s necessary to get Captain America to the present day for The Avengers). The journey we see Steve Rogers take from zero to hero is great and inspirational.

7) Doctor Strange
Okay, so this is basically Iron Man 1 with Stephen Strange sat in for Tony Stark, beat for beat. However for me it ranks higher primarily due to the insanely inventive visuals and action sequences. It genuinely delivers something we haven’t seen before, it is quite literally mind-blowing.

6) Avengers: Age of Ultron
I love this film, however I have 2 issues that prevent it from cracking the top 5. One, Thor’s dream side-story is a needless inclusion and doesn’t go anywhere (yet anyway). Two, the section on the farm really grinds the film to a halt and apart from some “nice” character interactions doesn’t move the plot forward. That being said, everything else is golden, my highlights include the opening action sequence, the Hulk v Hulk-Buster and of course, the drinking / lift Mjonir scene in Avengers Tower.

5) Guardians of the Galaxy
Technically the most perfect film Marvel Studios has ever produced. A self-contained origin story that introduces a completely new universe, at least 5(!) protagonists and makes it seem effortless and stays completely entertaining. This is a genuinely excellent film and without a doubt one of the best in the MCU. Also, what a soundtrack!

4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A superior film in every way to the original and one of the best solo superhero movies of all time. The Winter Soldier is a genuinely scary adversary, and the tale of espionage with Cap questioning the morals of the 21st Century government is genuinely thought-provoking.

3) Spider-Man Homecoming
My favourite Marvel super-hero, and he’s finally  a part of the MCU. This is the most definitive version of Spider-Man on the big screen (you can read my full thoughts here). A great coming of age story, funny, action packed with subtle links to the wider MCU.

2) Captain America: Civil War
Basically Avengers 2.5 (but that’s no bad thing), Civil War not only has the most ambitious super-hero action sequence put on screen in the form of the team-up airport fight, it also has the most emotional climax any MCU film has ever had. By pitting Captain America against Iron Man the audience is completely emotionally invested from start to finish. Love, love, love this film.

Oh and the fact it introduces the most definitive version of Spider-Man is a huge bonus.

1) Avengers
The final act of this film is absolutely spectacular. It is by far the most fun and joyous experience I have ever had as a cinema-goer. It’s magnificent. The opening 10-15 minutes are a bit cumbersome, but once we have the Avengers in play this film is truly great. My only criticism with this film is Captain America’s outfit, it just looks so “comical” for lack of better term. But everything else is awesome, the character interactions, the action sequences, Loki as the villain, etc. I absolutely love it.


Well that's my list for ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, let me know if you agree or not?

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @RossBishop.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Spider-Man Homecoming - My Thoughts

Well, this is how you make a Spider-Man movie.
The short review - Spider-Man: Homecoming is great, definitely the best Spidey movie overall and it sits comfortably within the top 5 MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movies. This is due to the film delivering the truest version of the character on the big screen we’ve seen, together with a truly great coming of age story.

Before I go in to more detail I’d like to give a bit of context to my Spider-Man fandom… Spider-Man is my joint favourite superhero (Batman being the other). I’ve read a lot of the comics but primarily my love started with the 90s animation, which I watched religiously as a child. In terms of the films, I really enjoyed the previous incarnations, however both have issues.

The first two Raimi Spider-Man films had great stories, but the main problem I had with these films is that I never really warmed to Tobey Maguire’s version of Peter Parker or Kirsten Dunst’s version of Mary-Jane. The less we say about Spider-Man 3 the better…

The rebooted “Amazing” films were almost the exact opposite, they had a great central relationship with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey (played by the very likeable Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone). Yet the stories were all over the place, with gapping plot holes and inconsistencies. If it wasn’t for the great performances and chemistry between Garfield and Stone these films (especially the second) would be almost unwatchable.

So this brings us on to Spider-Man: Homecoming, which has the best of both; a great story and interesting likeable characters.

Let’s dig into the details…

Peter Parker is the soul of any Spider-Man film, and in my opinion Tom Holland is the definitive version that most closely resembles the character from the source material. He balances the socially awkward / geeky personality traits, whilst still being charismatic and likeable. He’s great to watch, owns every scene he’s in and never gets upstaged by the more experienced actors around him.

The fact this movie is mostly set in or around High School also means Peter finds himself in situations much more in keeping with the original stories, i.e. being late to class, having to leave a party early, fighting petty crime after a day at school, etc. It really is the Spider-Man you read in the comics come to life, balancing academics, friendships and his superhero alter-ego antics. But would you expect anything less from a film made by Marvel Studios?

You could argue that the other characters are less faithful to the comics, Vulture / Adrian Toomes being a prime example; No longer a frail and old billionaire, here we have the everyman just trying to get by. Flash Thompson is no longer the jock, but a rich arrogant nerd. Aunt May is now young and feisty, etc. Yet, it all just works and services the story.

Although the film doesn’t tell the traditional origin story, we are still early in Spidey’s career. To compare it to a famous Batman story, this is very much Spider-Man: Year One. Peter is still learning his way around his powers, how and when to do the right thing, and all whilst trying to balance his personal life.

The action scenes are also great, but very different to how we’ve seen Spidey before. There are no huge swinging by sky-scrapper type sequence (which I missed a little as I loved them), they are grounded in (some form) of reality, with Peter being forced to run when he can’t get a decent height to swing. However this works, as this is a new hero, he’s learning the ropes (literally).

Disappointingly, the two stand out sequence have mostly been revealed in the trailers (Washington Monument and the Stanton Ferry). That being said there was a lot more Spider-Man going about town tackling petty crime, which was great. I loved this type of stuff in the comics and the previous films always skimmed over it. I was surprised that the climax didn’t feature the proper Spidey suit, but this does fit with the overall themes of the movie so it works well.

There’s great comedy throughout, with a mix of witty dialogue, character interaction and physical / slapstick humour. I particularly enjoyed when Spider-Man sneaks up on a few bank robbers yet takes time to consider what pose he should be in before he alerts them. These few seconds build so much character and understanding of our hero’s motivation, it’s fantastic. The film is filled with stuff like this.

I really liked how the villains fit into the story. The Vulture’s motivations were developed effectively and the fact he was fully formed within the opening minutes work well for the film – it meant no time was wasted setting up his origin so we could focus of Peter. Likewise the side villains of the Shocker and the Tinkerer also worked well by having them all be part of the same group from the start.

The links with the MCU (of which there are quite a few) feel very organic to the story, and never feel shoe-horned in.

The fact I’ve yet to mention Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, really says it all. Despite what the marketing would have you believe, this is truly a Spider-Man film. It just happens to have an Iron Man cameo – in no way is it a team up movie. The relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark is a main part of the story and drives many of Peter’s decisions, however it’s minimal in terms of actual screen-time between the two. All of Tony Stark’s scenes (apart from one) are in the trailer. Happy Hogan actually gets the most of the screen time and acts as a liaison between the two.

I could write more, but I think that’s the main points covered.

In summary – I loved it.


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Is No Fun Really The Problem With The DCEU Movies? And Are Warner Bros Learning The Right Lessons From The Batman v Superman Backlash?

This week saw the release of trailers for two high profile super-hero movies due for release later this year, namely Justice League and Spider-Man: Homecoming. However it really highlighted to me the difference in how Marvel and DC are approaching the tone of their films, and also how confident they are in marketing them.

Spider-Man: Homecoming looks incredible, the trailer balances humour, action and drama just right. If the final film follows suit, it could easily be the best Spider-Man movie since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Tone = perfect.

However Justice League looks like a film struggling to find its own identity (or a marketing department struggling how to sell it). Visually it looks very similar to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman; sombre and desaturated colours with a heavy emphasis on slate/grey CGI environments. Yet then there’s a few quirky one-liners and some upbeat rock music which seems out of place (or at least inconsistent with the existing DCEU tone set in the previous films).

My initial impression after watching the JL trailer was Warner Bros are begging audience to think this will be a fun film. But here lies the questions - has lack of fun really been the problem with the DCEU movies so far? And will blindly focusing on “increasing the fun” ultimately hurt the final version of Justice League overall?

It’s no secret that since the negative backlash against BvS, Warner Bros / DC has been pro-actively making changes to rectify it’s future movies specifically based on this feedback. The perception is that the main reason Batman V Superman didn’t succeed (critically and some-what commercially) was because it wasn’t fun, and Warner Bros seems to be squarely aiming all of their course correction on this one area. This is apparent in the marketing for JL so far, with emphasis on the aforementioned one-liners and upbeat rock music over the trailers.

However, I’ve never believed the lack of “fun” in BvS was the problem, and I’m concerned that purely addressing this one issue isn’t the right (or only) thing that needs to be fixed.

Suicide Squad is a prime example of how this knee-jerk reaction can seriously hurt a film, as soon as BvS started getting hit for not being fun. The marketing for SS changed (as did the post-production of the film), there was a heavy emphasis on fast-cuts, bright colours and including multiple pops songs. A lot of this didn’t fit together and we ended up with one of the worst comic book movies in recent year (imho). 

Yes, BvS was a dark, brooding, gritty movie that takes itself very seriously, but that wouldn’t really have been a problem if it got a lot of other things right. Audience have shown with the success of LOGAN that they’re willing and want to see more adult takes on superheroes, so to say the lack of fun was the issue isn’t really accurate. There are major issues with BvS that JL needs to be addressed, which I’ve summarised below…

1) The story structure and editing is poor 
There are multiple plot holes, leaps in logic and lack of character development/motivation that make it difficult for audiences to get invested in the movie. It has scenes that are just spliced into the narrative that throw off the momentum of the film (i.e the Knightmare sequence, cutting to Wonder Woman looking at computer files, etc) that damage more than contribute, and the opening act is genuinely hard to follow with it’s sporadic editing. This was somewhat rectified with the Ultimate (extended) Cut of the movie, but the majority of audiences saw the theatrical version and this was when the negativity began

2) It’s too long and uses it’s running time inefficiently 
No one should be coming out of a film almost 3 hours long, saying it needed more time to develop characters or story points. Yet this was the case with BvS, the over-arching story is relatively simple, yet it is told in such a convoluted and meaningless way it takes almost 3 hours to complete. Much of Lex’s masterplan (that the film spends almost 2 hours setting up), is under-mined when Lex eventually just kidnaps Superman’s mum and says he’ll kill her unless Superman fights Batman. The resolution of this fight also serves to undermine all the set-up with a simple “our mums have the same name” conclusion. To spend 2 hours getting to a point you simultaneous render mostly pointless is a complete waste of a movies (and the audiences) time.

3) The action is underwhelming
Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but the guy knows how to direct spectacle and visually exciting action sequences (see 300, Sucker Punch, Watchman and even Man of Steel), but you’d be hard pressed to see much of that in BvS (with the exception of the Batman warehouse fight). For me the most underwhelming aspect is the titular fight itself. More of a rough and ready bar fight, of which Superman is pretty much just thrown around whilst unconscious is pretty boring and not the ultimate battle between two iconic characters years in the making you'd expect.  

So in summary to learn from the mistake of BvS, Justice League needs to tell a concise story with interesting characters, efficiently and effectively whilst delivering some exhilarating action. Seems pretty obvious right? However so far it looks like Warner Bros are just tweaking the script to add some one-liners and adding some pop/rock music.

If that’s the case, then JL is in danger of also being just as poorly received as BvS, even if it is “more fun”.


Friday, 6 January 2017

Ross Bishop’s Most Anticipated Films of 2017

As with previous years I’ve pulled together a list of my most anticipated films for the upcoming year.

Last year I had a pretty small list in that I’d only had 3 films I really wanted to see, and two of those ended up being underwhelming to out-right terrible (Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad respectively).

Now 2017 promises a return to form with lots of big blockbusters that I can’t wait to see, just writing this list made me realise how many huge franchise films are out this year. It really puts 2016 to shame.

So here we go…

FYI - with the exception of the top 3, the rest aren't in any particular order.

1) Star Wars: Episode VIII
I was never a huge Star Wars fan, I’ve seen all of them several times and I like them (I’ve just never loved them like so many people do), however I ABSOLUTELY LOVED “The Force Awakens” and therefore I’m very excited to see where Episode VIII takes us.

2) Spider-Man: Homecoming
My (joint) favourite super-hero (Batman is the other one), back in the hands of a Marvel Studio’s led movie. Good times. I’m really hoping for great things here, however this will be the sixth Spider-Man film within 15 years, so hoping it brings something new to the table rather than just more of the same.

3) War For The Planet Of The Apes
Absolutely loved the first two films, they're easily some of the best blockbusters in recent memory. So a new entry that potentially closes off the trilogy(?) has me very excited!

4) Thor: Ragnorok
I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Thor, but really enjoyed the 2nd film and the dynamic between Thor and Loki. That topped with the confirmation that Hulk and Doctor Strange are both in the movie, and Marvel saying this is the equivalent of Phase 3’s “Winter Solider” – I can’t wait!

5) Guardians of the Galaxy 2
The original is undeniably one of the strongest Marvel movies in terms of quality story-telling, and the sequel seems to be in keeping with what made the first one great. Count me in on day one!

6) John Wick 2
More Keanu Reeves being bad-ass.
More Gun-Fu.
Take my money.

7) Logan
A gritty R-Rated take on the Old Man Logan story. Yes please.

8) The LEGO Batman Movie
Need I say anymore? It's Batman. It's LEGO.

9) Fast and Furious 8 (Fate of the Furious)
I’ve always enjoyed the Fast & Furious movies, but they really came into their own after Fast Five. They’re the biggest budget pure action blockbuster’s we get these days, so I’m all for it. However this film does have to overcome the lack of Paul Walker, so hoping it doesn’t just become the Vin Diesel show, and that the remaining team are all included equally.

10) Dunkirk
The masterful film-maker Christopher Nolan returns with his take on a WWII epic. This should be very special indeed. 

There’s a few more films I really want to watch, however these are more wait and see…

Justice League / Wonder Woman
Look... Justice League should be on my most anticipated list and if you asked me a few years ago, it would have been. However, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were so disappointing, I’m stopping myself getting excited for these 2 new DC films. I’d love for them both to be absolutely amazing, but I’m not overly confident at this stage.

Alien: Covenant
Again, not sure here. Ridely Scott films has been pretty touch and go in terms of quality in recent years, Prometheus was terrible and the recent teaser trailer makes it look like a remake of the original Alien film.

Blade Runner: 2049
Same reason as above really, Ridely Scott isn’t directing but heavily involved as producer and not sure if picking up on such a cult classic 40 years later will be good or bad. Saying that, the first teaser trailer looks promising…

Ghost in the Shell
It’s rare that a live-action version of anime ends up being any good, but again the first teaser trailer looks very good, so fingers crossed.

Finally we have two big franchise films that of course I’m going to see, but whether I’m really excited for them is debatable….

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales
I quite enjoyed the original trilogy of Pirates film (even if they got consecutively worse), but wasn’t a fan of the fourth outing. It seems like the fifth film is going to link more directly to the trilogy and continue from where they left off, so here’s hoping a good fun summer movie.

Transformers: The Last Knight
I’m sure the special FX and action will be incredible, but in terms of an overall quality film, well…

And that's it! I'm sure I've forgotten something, but here’s hoping the majority of the above films deliver.