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By midlandsmovies, Apr 28 2019 07:29AM



Avengers: Endgame (2019) Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo


What I’ve enjoyed in the MCU (more so than the current rebooted Star Wars) is the actual inclusion of loving relationships. Be it between father-son figures (Guardians, Spider-Man), brothers (Thor) or partners (Iron Man & Pepper Potts, Captain America and Peggy Carter) an aspect so often overlooked is how these “superficial” Hollywood blockbusters – they’re anything but in most cases – deal with human’s love/hate for one another.


So for all their bombast and CGI battles, Avengers: Infinity War was the first part of the end of an EMOTIONAL journey that both the characters, and audiences, have experienced over the last 10 years and it's what underpins Endgame throughout.


So story wise, where are we? Well, after Thanos’ success in gaining the infinitely gauntlet and ‘clicking’ half the universe’s living life away, the surviving members of the Avengers attempt to reverse the loss of their loved ones. Again, the driving factor is love, longing and personal connections and it is why Endgame is ultimately a huge success.


5 years after the event, Scott Lang returns from the quantum realm (seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp) to suggest they can reverse the horrors caused to earth by travelling back in time to snatch the infinity stones before Thanos can collect them himself. Whilst taking pot shots at time-travel paradoxes (Back to the Future is called “bullshit”) the remaining group successfully pull together and, in a nod to Back to the Future 2, head back in time to some of the most important parts of the MCU already.


One group heads to New York (essentially re-inserting themselves into Avengers: Assemble) to get the time stone, mind stone and the space stone. The film brilliantly balances a complex time-jumping narrative with a fun fan-loving re-imagining of the MCU’s greatest hits. It’s like re-discovering your favourite album with the old hits given a fresh new spin.


Rocket Raccoon and Thor travel back in time to Asgard and although their task is to get the reality stone from Jane Foster (referencing Thor: Dark World), the film focuses on Thor’s emotional reunion with his mother whom he knows will soon die.

The film is therefore a superb culmination of the 22-film story but a loving book of remembrance for them as well. Every character is given their moment to shine and as Thanos begins to uncover their plot and re-adjust time himself, the movie builds to a, somewhat inevitable, crescendo of spectacular battles for the fate of the universe.


At three hours, the film IS long. But other than a rather slow first 45 minutes – which to be fair gets the numerous plates-a-spinning and does some much needed reflection and character development – the main story moves at pace and by the end I was itching for more. An extended but poignant ending is Return-of-the-King long but in this case it feels more than totally justified.


Comedy and drama are expertly balanced and the narrative uses time to circularly return us back to the focus on Iron Man and how this blockbuster behemoth began. And like my thoughts on Civil War, I reiterate how Chris Evans is the unsung hero of the MCU. In a world of cynicism, snarks and quips, both in real-life and in their movie universe, his excellent portrayal of pure honesty, innocence and heroism is such a needed antidote that it’s no wonder why his story finale is so satisfying.


The film also focuses on the core ‘original’ Avengers – much to its credit – but the combo of Banner/Hulk was a bit strange and although Hemsworth is now essentially a ‘comedy’ Thor, I would love to see more of his adventures with Rocket. We also return to Scarlett Johansson’s history with Jeremy Renner and they get one of the most affecting scenes in the movie.


Are there any negatives? Well aside from the aforementioned slow start, I unfortunately felt the use of Captain Marvel as an all-powerful being that can change the course of the story on her own a little bit redundant. With only one film under her belt, the character here is a blunt demi-god that feels more part of Marvel’s next stage than someone who has a real history with the (movie) fans.


But speaking of fans, we do get lovely cameos from previous stars Rene Russo as Frigga, John Slattery as Howard Stark, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and most welcoming of all for me, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. Plus many others are included and Stan Lee’s sad posthumous cameo reminds us all where everything started.


At the conclusion, the Russos have delivered exactly what was needed by assembling a perfect narrative, cast and, more difficultly, a rewarding ending to the most epic of stories. Endgame works as a great sequel to Infinity War but it’s so much more than that. Their expert construction of so many puzzle pieces, a global shared audience pop-culture experience and, without understatement, a cinema-changing franchise, everything in Endgame is not just perfect comic-book fare, but the pure pinnacle of movie entertainment and was a gargantuan and gratifying game I never wanted to end.


★★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 28 2018 10:06AM



Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo


17 films and 10 years later, here we go with the big enchilada coming to town in Disney’s Marvel’s Kevin Feige's The Avengers: Infinity War MCU franchise behemoth. As large as that sounds, the film is even larger and with a huge number of characters that we’ve grown with every step of the way the film had a very difficult balancing act but thankfully, mostly gets it spot on.


So what’s the deal here with this new $350 million gargantuan? As most fans would already know, but as a recap for the uninitiated, there have been hints of the Infinity Gems throughout the Marvel films and in this culmination of their story arc, a giant world-conquering warlord known as Thanos (a CGI Josh Brolin) wants to get his hands on all 6 of them in order to rule the galaxy. It may sound simple but the Russos do a great job in giving Thanos an understandable and subtle backstory, faults and all, and Brolin’s performance comes through much more than the purple Bruce Willis version of the trailer.


The film then follows various groups trying to prevent his life-ending goal throughout the universe – Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a lift on a ship and jet off into space with Dr. Strange, whilst Thor crosses paths with the Guardians and Captain America and friends seek sanctuary in Wakanda.


The film is overstuffed, and slightly overlong, but that was always going to be an issue with trying to give so many characters some screen time but the Russos fast-paced editing jumps from one place to another making the disparate superhero gangs and their individual goals easy to understand. Tonally, it holds up too although it heavily relies on the serious scene/funny comment schtick that has subsequently got really stale since the first Guardians introduced it.


In the negative column there’s a few absences but I understand the need to trim here and there and audiences are always going to want to see more of their favourites. Hawkeye and Ant-Man are completely jettisoned whilst Black Widow is STILL being underused despite being present since Marvel’s third film. C’mon Feige – give the excellent Johansson her own film for once!


Steve Rogers appears an hour in and his emergence from the shadows was a huge moment of cheer. I have to mention again how Chris Evans’ steely and righteous performances as Cap has turned into one of the defining roles in the whole series (see Civil War review) and anchors the film(s) much more than I think most realise.


Infinity War also dips its toe into everything established before – Thor’s ancestry, Guardians’ 70s music, Wakanda’s glorious savannahs and Stark’s battle with technology and so the film feels a bit like a Greatest Hits album. All the boxes are ticked and at times it feels a little bit too familiar. It certainly didn’t have the wow factor of Wheedon’s inaugural Avengers film when the superheroes met for the first time.


That said, Greatest Hits albums are no bad thing. Classic character after classic character appears on screen and if you’re not too bothered about one particular superhero, its fast pace means another will be along soon. Here the film suffers slightly as I mentioned before, with no-one given that much room to breathe owing to the volume of characters. The one exception strangely is probably Thanos himself. His story is fleshed out in flashback with his daughters Gamora (sci-fi legend Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) in an emotional intensity rarely seen in the MCU.


Speaking of relationships, the Russos have dug deep to give these characters finally some romantic interest – a part of human nature that has been sorely lacking over the years. The films have already established fierce confident and adaptable females (Lady Sif, Hope Van Dyne, Okoye, Frigga) but a lack of real personal relations always seemed odd to me.


Here however, the Russos put relationships at the forefront. It’s what connects these characters and what makes us connect to them. Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) get the bulk of these developments whilst Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora additionally are involved in some truly touching scenes. Previous hints between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff was one of the best parts of the disappointing Age of Ultron but unfortunately, like their Hulk and Black Widow alter-egos, they sadly don’t get the full treatment here in Infinity War.


And it’s not just romance. Friendship, support, family are all strong themes and Tony Stark’s surrogate father figure to Peter Parker’s Spider-Man led to one of the most emotional moments of the entire film. And despite being guilty of a ‘Rogue One’ with some trailer shots blatantly absent from the movie, the film’s action sequences are as large as you expect and aside from some ropey alien hordes, sit more comfortable in real locations than either Ragnarok or Black Panther.


A film in which no one feels safe and a few fan-pleasing cameos from films past, Infinity War is as huge as anyone could have asked for. Personally I don’t feel it hit the heights of that initial buzz from Iron Man – heck, I was 28 when that came out – or the first team-up of The Avengers. Additionally it didn’t feel like the genre game-changers that were the highly praised Winter Soldier or James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. But, and it’s a huge but, this is explosive summer blockbuster cinema of the highest order without question.


A greatest hits album in all senses of the word, Infinity War is a compilation of scenes containing previously established crowd-pleasers with a high degree of already agreed notability. However, like those albums it is common to include remixes of the popular tropes and the Russos add enough new material, depth and high stakes to lay down the gauntlet to other filmmakers resulting in this absolute gem of a movie.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Nov 3 2016 04:12PM

Dr. Strange (2016) DIr. Scott Derrickson


A former neurosurgeon embarks upon a journey of self-healing only to find himself drawn into a world of mysterious arts.


Successful neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) falls apart after a tragic car accident leaves him unable to continue with his work. In denial, he pushes for a number of pioneering treatments in order to regain full use of his hands, however when reality hits him that he will never operate again, he begins to look at somewhat alternative methods. After arriving at a location in Nepal, he is introduced to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who informs him that he must set aside all ego and learn the secrets of a mystic world and alternative dimensions. However, before long, Strange finds himself as an intermediary between the real world and everything beyond this - something that is slightly more than he bargained for...


So, my birthday present from my best friend came in the form of a cinema trip to see the latest edition to Marvel's Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange. Quite a good birthday present I must say, even if it wasn't quite in line with what we had expected.


Straight off the bat, it has to be said that Benedict Cumberbatch's performance was rather wonderful. He, of course, played the film's title character, and was every bit as impressive as some of the dimension-defying abilities Strange eventually possessed. Despite not being the most instantly likeable character, Cumberbatch did provide him with a certain charm that did well to win the viewer round.


With every hero, there must come a villain, and that villain came in the form of Mads Mikkelsen's Kaecilius. If I'm completely honest with you, I have to say that I was left slightly disappointed by Mikkelsen's performance, or perhaps the amount of it that we saw. He wasn't in the film for nearly as long as I had hoped he would be, and I feel like he was kind of wasted in the role for how little we actually saw of him. Yes, this was the first Doctor Strange film, so I understand that it is a introductory film of some sort, however, there really wasn't enough of him here, and from what I saw, it doesn't look as though we're going to be seeing much more of him any time soon.


The film's cast was made up by quite a few serious names. Alongside Cumberbatch and Mikklesen were the likes of Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams, and this was something else that worked in favour of the film.


I stated at the beginning that I didn't feel the film was as good as I had been expecting it to be. Despite this, it was still up there as one of 2016's better films, but not among the best. However, there is part of me that thinks that the only reason it was still above average for the first time of viewing is because of the brilliant visual effects. There was a hint of Inception with the bending of matter and dimensions and this was very good to see, however if it wasn't for this, I may have very likely felt considerably more let down by the film, and it is for this reason that I probably won't be able to watch the film for a second time in the near future.


All in all, Doctor Strange is a half-decent popcorn film that most cinema goers will enjoy, however will most probably not be blown away by. the cast and the acting were superb, even if perhaps screen time was not distributed as I'd have liked it to be. The storyline is something we have seen before, but is held up by the visual effects that are something quite special, but might have lost some of their wonder when it comes to a second viewing of the film.


7/10


Kira Comerford

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