Tag: Superhero

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

wonder woman 1984
Gal Gadot is delightful again in superior sequel Wonder Woman 1984

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Kristen Wiig (Dr Barbara Minerva), Pedro Pascal (Maxwell Lord), Robin Wright (Antiope), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), Kristogger Polaha (Handsome man), Lucian Perez (Alistair), Ravi Patel (Baba Jide), Oliver Cotton (Simon Stagg), Stuart Milligan (President of the United States)

Wonder Woman in 2017 received the sort of rave reviews superhero films dream of. It was refreshing to have an action flick with a woman as the driving force. But Wonder Woman was, aside from that, very much a conventional superhero origins movie, with little truly original about it. Perhaps memories of it as being more revolutionary than it in fact was, lie behind the more hesitant critical reaction to Wonder Woman 1984, in many ways a more entertaining and smarter film.

In 1984, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) works at the Smithsonian, and fights for justice in her spare time as Wonder Woman (it’s not clear how she this striking woman manages to keep her identity secret bar smashing a few CCTV cameras). However, she leads a private and lonely life, still mourning the death of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) during the First World War. Her confidence is admired by her ditzy and nervous (and clearly smitten!) colleague Dr Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), who longs to be like her. An exhibit arrives at the Smithsonian – a mysterious stone that legend has it will grant any wish that the person holding it asks. Diana, in a whimsical moment, wishes for the return of Steve – and is shocked when a man claiming to be Steve appears in her life. Dr Minerva meanwhile wishes to be like Diana in every way – little knowing her secret powers. But the stone has other people interested in it: it could be just the tool that ambitious, but failed, entrepreneur Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) needs to turn his life around. But is there a cost for all this gift giving? What will the stone take in return – and can humanity survive a world where the slightest wish could come true?

Wonder Woman 1984 has a clear theme: taking the easy path might help you to get what you want, but an unearned victory is never a true one. It’s a concept introduced from the start, in an opening flashback section where a child Diana takes a shortcut in an Olympics race, and is denied victory by her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright in a welcome cameo). Antiope, in the way of all mentors, reminds her we learn lessons from loss and defeat, and short-cutting around failure never pays off in the end. It’s a clear message that being granted your wishes without working for them is empty.

And of course there is a cost! The stone takes from you the thing you value most, in exchange for what you want the most. In Diana’s case – having made her wish unknowingly, in a single moment of whimsy – what she loses is her strength, the thing that makes possible the thing she values most: her ability to change the world for the better. In turn, when Barbara wishes to be like Diana, the stone takes from her the very humanity that made her such an endearing and sweet person.

These sort of exchanges are not new to anyone who has ever read a fairy tale. But they are told here with refreshing honesty, not to mention a certain level of charm. Above all, this simple morality tale works because we are invested in the characters. Even without the memory of their relationship from the first film, Gadot and Pine are so likeable and charming in this film (Pine in particular is a delight, his eyes filling with wonder at the modern era – from a childish glee at escalators to tear-filled awe at the space programme) that, even though you know from the start what they are doing is “wrong” (after all Steve is inhabiting another man’s body, and every audience eventually the hero needs to do the right thing and give that body back), you still feel their joy at being together and Diana’s anguish at the thought of giving up the only (selfish) thing she’s ever wanted.

The same is true for the other two characters affected by the stone. Although nominally villains, both Wiig and Pascal play characters who, if anything, are deeply-flawed anti-heroes. Wiig is absolutely endearing as the gentle and shy Barbara, so much so it’s heartbreaking to see her freeze up as the film progresses. Pascal is hilariously overblown as a wannabe Gordon Gekko, but his relationship with his son is nicely drawn and his character is tinged with an underlying insecurity. Wonder Woman 1984 is refreshing in that it doesn’t present heroes and villains, but ordinary people needing to find the courage to reject their dreams for reality. Some do, others don’t.

It’s not a perfect film by a long stretch. As with the previous film, a final act fight scene lacks humanity and is dull. The film is probably fifteen minutes overlong. The various action scenes are well staged, but lack freshness. Some of the humour doesn’t always land. It’s hard not to snigger at a late act revelation of a new power for Wonder Woman. And while the film thankfully avoids the crassness of the first and its trenches setting, a photo of Wonder Woman helping to liberate concentration camps feels horrendously out of place (it’s meant to show her goodness, but I just wondered why on earth did she wait so long to do anything about the Holocaust?).

But the bad is outweighed by the good in a genuinely entertaining and charming movie whose freshness and lightness exceeds the original. Gal Gadot is still wonderful in the lead role – determined but sweet – Chris Pine does some of his best work and Wiig and Pascal are very good. I’d confidently say this is a better film than the first, a richer character study inspired by fairy tales, that really gets to the emotional heart of its lead character. I may be alone in that, but that’s what I think.

Batman Begins (2005)

Christian Bale redeems the Batman in Batman Begins

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (Lt James Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Cillian Murphy (Dr Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone), Rutger Hauer (William Earle), Ken Watanabe (Ra’s al Ghul), Mark Boone Jnr (Detective Arnold Flass), Linus Roache (Thomas Wayne), Colin McFarlane (Commissioner Loeb)

In the mid-2000s, Batman on film was a joke. A series that started with the Gothic darkness of Tim Burton had collapsed into the pantomime campness of Joel Schumacher. The franchise was functionally dead, so why hot burn it all down and start again from scratch. It was a radical idea – one of the first big “reboots” of a comic book saga. It was a triumphant success, changing the rule book for a host of film series and one of the most influential movies from the last 15 years. 

After the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) life drifts as he is unable to get over his own guilt at believing he was partly responsible for getting his parents into a situation where they were killed. In a Gotham run by organised crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), Bruce exiles himself for years to try and learn the skills he will need to return and try and find some peace and deal with his fears by tackling crime head on. Recruited by his mentor Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) into the League of Shadows – a dark group of ninja inspired vigilantes – Wayne eventually rejects the group’s ruthlessness and returns to Gotham. There, working with his old guardian and family butler Alfred (Michael Caine), he starts to build a new identity: by day shallow playboy Bruce Wayne, by night The Bat Man ruthless vigilante, fighting crime. 

Why did it work so well? Because Christopher Nolan understood that the key to making a film that will kickstart a series and win the love of both the casual viewer and the fan is ‘simple’ – just make the film good. Make it a film powered by ideas, characters, a deliberate story and intriguing beats and audiences will love it. Make it a lowest common denominator film offering only bangs and crashes and ‘fan service’ and audiences will reject it. Because at the end of the day we know when we are being manipulated, and the assumption too many people behind making films like that is that people don’t really want intelligent films. They do.

Batman Begins works so well because it places character front-and-centre in a way no other Batman film – and very few superhero films – had before. Unlike all the other Batman films, here Bruce Wayne (and it is definitely Bruce Wayne) was the lead character, not a staid stick-in-the-mud around whom more colourful villains danced. Combine that with Nolan’s inspired idea to return Batman to something resembling a real-world, a more grounded, recognisable version of Gotham which has problems with organised crime that we could recognise from the real world. This are intelligent, inspired decisions that instantly allowed the film to take on a thematic and narrative depth the other Batman films had lacked. 

It’s Bruce Wayne’s psyche at the centre of the film – in an excellent performance of emotional honesty and physical commitment by Christian Bale – and his attempts to find solace in a sense of duty from his fears and his loss of a father figure. It’s Fear that is possibly one of the central themes of Batman Begins and the power it has over us. Fear is what Bruce must master – on a visceral level his fear of bats, on a deeper level his fear that he has failed his parents by failing the city they loved – and fear is the weapon all the villains use. Fear is the petrol for Falcone and his gangsters. Fear is the weapon Batman utilises. Fear is the study of choice of disturbed psychologist Joanthan Crane (a smarmily unsettling Cillian Murphy). A weaponised Fear gas is the WMD that the film’s villains intend to introduce into Gotham.

Understanding fear, working with it, finding its strengths and using these for good is at the core of the film. It’s there from the first beat – a traumatised young Bruce attacked by bats after falling into an abandoned well they nest in – and it’s there at the very end. Bruce’s training with mentor Ducard is as much about understanding and living with these terrors as it is physical prowess. His impact as Batman on the city is central towards channelling his own fears – bats, the dark, violence on an empty street – into universal fears he can use to terrorise criminals. 

It’s all part of the film’s quest to work out who Bruce Wayne is. With Bale superb at the centre, the film throws a host of potential father characters at Bruce, all offering different influences. He has no less than three father figures, in his father (a fine performance of decency by Linus Roache), the austere and understanding Ducard (Neeson channelling and inverting brilliantly his natural gravitas and calm) and the firm but fair and caring Alfred (Michael Caine quite brilliantly opening up a whole new career chapter). 

The influences are all there for Bruce to work out. Should he follow a path of compassionate justice as his father would do? How much muscular firmness and earnest duty, such as Alfred represents, should this be spiced with? How does Ducard’s increasingly extreme views of justice, combat and social order play into this? Which influence will win out over Bruce – or rather how will he combine all this into his own rules? It’s telling that the film’s villain turns out to be a dark false-father figure – the entire film is Bruce’s quest to come to turn with his own legacy and allow himself to accept his father and forgive himself.

It’s also telling that both hero and villain are driven by similar (but strikingly different) agendas. Both are looking to impose justice on the world. But where Bruce sees this as compassion with a punch – a necessary evil, protecting the good in the world while bringing down the evil – the League of Shadows see their mission as one of imposing Justice through chaos, of letting a world destroy itself so that a better one can rise from the ashes. 

Its ideas like this that pepper Christopher Nolan’s film. Throw in his superb film-making abilities and you have an absolute treat. Nolan’s direction is spot-on, superbly assembled with a mastery over character and story-telling. Beautifully designed, shot and edited it’s a perfect mixture of comic book rules and logic – the very idea of the League of Shadows – with the real world perils of crime, vigilanteeism and violence. With a superb cast led by Bale – and Gary Oldman also deserves mention, Nolan finally unleashing the decency, honesty and kindness in the actor that revitalised his career – Batman Begins relaunched Batman as a serious and intelligent series, that matched spectacle and excitement (and there is tonnes of it) with weighty themes, fine acting and superb film making. There is a reason why it’s been a touchstone for every reboot of a series made since.

The Wolverine (2013)

Hugh Jackman brings out the claws once more for The Wolverine

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Hiroyuki Sanada (Shingen Yashida), Tak Okamoto (Mariko Yashida), Rila Fukushima (Yukio), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), Will Yun Lee (Kenuichio Harada), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Dr Green/Viper), Haruhiko Yamanouchi (Ichiro Yashida), Brian Tee (Noburo Mori), Ken Yamamura (Young Ichiro Yashida)

Before James Mangold and Hugh Jackman teamed up for their triumphant 2017 Wolverine capper Logan, they first made The Wolverine. Adapting one of the most popular comic books to feature the clawed superhero, The Wolverine is set in Japan where Logan’s Ronin-like personality comes into contact with a culture he has more than a little sympathy for. 

Opening with the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, Logan saves the life of young soldier Ichiro Yashida. Over 60 years later, the ageing Ichiro (Hauhiko Yamanouchi), now a tech billionaire, asks Logan to see him before he dies. He offers Logan the chance to give up his regenerative powers and live a “normal” life. Logan is unsure – but when Yashida dies, he suddenly finds his power gone and that he is embroiled in an inheritance war between Ichiro’s son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada) and granddaughter Mariko (Tak Okamoto), with uncertain aid/opposition from Yashida retainers Yukio (Rila Fukushima) and Harada (Will Yun Lee).

The Wolverine wants to be a dark character study, an attempt to drill down into the psyche of its hero. It doesn’t really succeed in doing this. Following on directly from the little-loved X-Men: The Last Stand, the present day section of the film opens with Logan still consumed with guilt over his euthanasia of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), haunted by dreams of her. Living rough – and of course with the beard of tragedy looming large – the film aims to use the Japanese setting to bring Logan into a greater understanding of himself. In other words to accept the two halves of his personality: Logan and Wolverine. It’s no surprise to say this is what happens, but it fails to really get a sense of the clash between the two halves, or a sense of internal struggle of Logan wanting to reject the Wolverine personae.

Put simply, the film doesn’t manage to give us an idea of the internal war in Logan. He talks of wanting to leave violence behind him, but the sort of existential torment this requires would get in the way too much of the sort of claw-slashing action the fans are handing over their ticket money to see. On top of this, the sort of Samurai-inspired, still semi-feudal Japanese setting (with established families and loyal retainers) doesn’t really end up relating too much to the action. The sort of “masterless samurai” story the film is trying to tell requires a sense of deep honour and duty – themes which are there but don’t really come together into something really coherent. 

Basically, Japanese culture is, by and large, pretty irrelevant to the actual setting. Samurai culture is trivialised down to something that lacks any real thematic depth – the only thing that really matters is Logan learning a Japanese sword is a two-handed weapon – and the clash between Western greed and old-fashioned values of duty, honour and service is barely more than inferred. Effectively, for all the locations, the film could basically have been set anywhere at all, the entire cast replaced with Russians or Ghanaians or French and barely a word of the script would have needed to change.

Alongside this, the action, when we see it, has been watered down to the safest, PG-rated level you can imagine. There is barely any blood seen on the screen. Characters are hacked and slashed but all of it with smooth cleanliness. Action scenes switch between being shot far too closely, and with too much of an admiring air for choreography, or with a super-shiny gloss of special effects. There is a pretty good sequence on top of a bullet train, with Logan and his opponents tumbling and buffeted in the wind, but even this feels a little over produced. By the time the film hits its final battle, it’s hard not to be a little bit bored as Logan takes on a massive special effect, in a battle where the stakes are not altogether clear.

But then that’s the problem of this film, a sort of overly-complex Diet Coke of a film. The film has no fewer than three potential villains, none of whom end up being particularly interesting. It heads towards a final resolution that doesn’t feel like it helps us – or Logan – learn anything new about themselves. “I am the Wolverine” Logan growls at one point – but this claiming of his identity never really feels that earned. It’s a statement, a suggestion of depth, rather than depth itself.

This is hard on the film, and really there is nothing that wrong with it. It’s perfectly entertaining and passes the time. But it leaves the viewer with nothing after it finishes. It happens and then it is not happening and to be honest you won’t really notice the difference. It lands fairly in the middle of the franchise, a bland but not offensive effort that had the potential to be something greater but ends up firmly safe and middle-brow, avoiding diving too far down into its lead character’s psyche or showing us real action. Jackman is still good, much of the cast are fine, and Mangold is a solid director – but it never sets alight. Perhaps the sense of missed opportunity here is what ended up powering a much darker, grittier and engrossing film in Logan?

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Sophie Turner does her best with a franchise that has finally seen better days in Dark Phoenix

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lensherr/Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven Darkholme/Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy/Beast), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers/Cyclops), Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Monroe/Storm), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver), Jessica Chastain (Vuk), Ato Essandoh (Jones)

As Dark Phoenix limps out of a cinema near you, losing the studio almost $100 million and finally consigning to oblivion for evermore an X-Men franchise that has lasted almost twenty years, it would be easy to think this must be one of the worst films in comic book history. It’s not. But then again it’s not the best. Dark Phoenix’s main problem is not really that it’s bad, more that it’s a bit meh. After umpteen films, I’m not sure there was anything new to show or tell about these mutant superheroes – and this film certainly failed to find it.

It’s 1992 and the X-Men are international heroes – something that may be going to the head of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who gets feted at major events and has a direct hotline to the President. On a mission into space to save a stranded space shuttle crew, powerful telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit by a strange cloud of glowing space power – and when she returns to Earth she finds herself struggling with a split personality, with a dangerous darker side of her personality taking control of her actions. It’s encouraged by a mysterious alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain) who wants the power in Jean Grey for her own ends. Can the X-men overcome conflict and tragedy to come together once again and save the world and Jean Grey herself from her demons?

Simon Kinberg finally takes the helm after producing and writing several other films in the series – although his promotion feels more like a failure to find anyone else interested in doing the job. General lack of real interest permeates the film, as if most of the stars only came on board because they felt an obligation to put a cap on the series. Jennifer Lawrence presumably came back in order to be killed off (no spoilers, it’s in all the trailers) while Michael Fassbender gives off the air of a man who’d rather be anywhere else. 

It’s not a huge surprise since the script goes through the motions, retelling a comic book storyline around Jean Grey’s “Dark Phoenix” personae that had already been done once (disastrously) already in X-Men: The Last Stand. Retreading the action here, this is certainly a better film (at least Simon Kinberg understands the characters and what makes them tick in a way Brett Ratner on that film didn’t) but it’s still a lot of the same story beats, similar types of location and brings it all together into a series of set pieces and moral conundrums that quite frankly we’ve seen before.

On top of which, Kinberg is not an imaginative enough visual stylist to make any of it look new. He’s not a bad director by any shot, but he’s a thoroughly middle brow one and he puts together a film that echoes and repeats stuff from the previous films in a way that never really feels fresh. Instead every single action beat or emotional moment feels like a quote from a previous film in the series, and never does the film really take fire and become its own thing.

This needed something special or new to bring the franchise roaring out in a blaze of glory. Instead it sort of meanders towards a resolution most people watching can probably already guess. Kinberg’s version of the story here also throws in several mistreads, most notably a plot line involving aliens and mystical clouds from space. Now I’m reliably told this fits with comic book lore. But much like in Spider Man 3 (remember that?!) when a blob of black alien space goo infected Peter Parker, introducing aliens into this series that has always seem grounded on Earth seems a bit – well – silly if I’m honest. Again it reminds you how slowly and carefully Marvel built up its universe stretching sand box. This ham-fistedly throws aliens of uncertain provenance into its world and somehow, despite this film featuring a hero who can shoot lasers out of his eyes, it feels a bit silly. 

It’s not helped that the aliens plot line is confused and their aims unclear or that Jessica Chastain looks non-plussed to be in the thing at all, as if she lost a bet or something. It does mean that we get a (reasonably) happy ending of our heroes coming together to fight an external threat – but even this feels like a tacked on reason to throw into the mix a clear antagonist, instead of dealing with the sort of shade-of-grey (no pun intended) antagonist who is also still sort of one of the good guys.

It’s telling that the film works best when it focuses more on character. Sophie Turner does a pretty decent job as Jean Grey, despite not being given masses to work with. James McAvoy enjoys the best storyline, of a Charles who has lost his way slightly and been seduced by fame – but deep down is still the humane, caring and loving character he has always been. It’s a new light to see the character in.

I think the main problem with this film is its lack of anything really original other than the odd beat like that. Everything as been seen before and, like X-Men Apocalypse despite the world-shaking events everything feels a bit rushed and lacking impact. Dark Phoenix is a decent enough entry into a long-running franchise and doesn’t short change you of the sort of thing you’d expect from an X-Men film. But that’s really it’s a problem. It’s a solid, average, okay entry into a long-running franchise but not the final hurrah the series needed to go out on an earth-shattering high.

Captain Marvel (2019)

Brie Larsen is Captain Marvel – yah boo sucks Trolls!

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Cast: Brie Larson (Carol Danvers/Veers), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury), Jude Law (Yon-Rogg), Ben Mendelsohn (Talos/Keller), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau), Gemma Chan (Minn-Evra), Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence/Mar-Vell/Dr Wendy Lawson), Clark Gregg (Phil Coulsen)

After almost 11 years, the big criticism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been that it had never made a film with a woman as the lead. Sure, we’d had various strong female characters, but never had one been trusted with headlining a movie. Well the studio has put that right with Captain Marvel, a hugely enjoyable, if not exactly groundbreaking, superhero origins story that can stand up with some of the best origin movies the studio has produced.

In the Kree civilisation, Veers (Brie Larson) is in training to take her proper place in the Star Force, under the tutelage of her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). But she’s struggling to control her immense powers, with her dreams plagued by strange visions and half memories of a planet that looks to us viewers a lot like Earth. After a Star Force mission goes wrong, Veers is captured by the shape-shifting Skrulls and their leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), her memory being searched for a time on Earth that she doesn’t remember. Escaping, she finds herself on Earth in 1995, and quickly allies with SHIELD operative Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, impressively digitally de-aged) to find out what the Skrulls want. But is everything as it appears? And what will happen as Veers starts to remember her true identity, as long-missing air-force test pilot Carol Danvers?

Captain Marvel I guess you could say is not an ambitious film. It largely sits pretty close to the well-established Marvel formula for introducing a new character, and it presents a series of visuals, fights and general tone mixing light-jokes with action beats extremely well. It’s a very professionally assembled product. However, what makes it work is the strain of emotional truth, and an interest in character as the driving force for events, that runs right through the centre of the film. It’s a testament to the imaginative and original direction from Boden and Fleck that at the centre of each clash we see, not the action and the pyrotechnics, but the emotion and character that give these things meaning.

They are also helped by an interesting plot, with some very decent twists, that throws the viewers into the deep end and carefully drip-feeds us information at the same pace as Carol picks it up. This also helps hugely for investing in Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, a character who doesn’t know who she is and where she came from. Brie Larson does a terrific job, crafting a character “strong and determined”, but also witty, impulsive, brave, caring, decent and rather sweet with a strong moral compass that clearly, from the start, governs all her actions. It’s a fine performance and Larson is equally convincing in the film’s lighter, funnier moments as she is when banging heads together.

That helps keep the tone of the film pretty consistent as it heads through various twists and turns and rugpulls. Now I am sure some of these twists would be seen coming by anyone immersed in Marvel comicbook lore, but for us Muggles I appreciated the reveals about several characters defying expectations. The film also avoids false tension – a character is so obviously a shape-shifted replacement, it’s a relief that the film confirms this in minutes and the characters work it out shortly after. It’s a smart way for the film to fool you into thinking where it is going, while building towards more interesting reveals later on – particularly as it throws our expectations for several characters into the air.

And the action when it takes place is great fun, primary-coloured and accompanied by a great selection of 90s tracks. Because Boden and Fleck have spent so much time carefully developing the characters at its heart, these become action moments you can genuinely invest in, where people you care about are in peril, rather than the bangs and crashes without consequence that plague other films.

It’s also mixed extremely well with comedy. Samuel L Jackson in particular gets some great comic mileage out of a young Nick Fury, a man on his way to becoming the hard-as-nails guy we’ve seen in countless movies, but here still young, playful and (hilariously) besotted with a cat rather wittily called “Goose”. Ben Mendelsohn also gets some good moments from his mysterious shape shifter and Jude Law has a sort of put-upon charm as Carol’s mentor. There are also some lovely moments as Carol rediscovers her memories and rebuilds a relationship with her former best friend and fellow test pilot Maria Rambeau, well played by Lashana Lynch.

Captain Marvel is such good fun, such good old fashioned entertainment, that it seems to have defeated the efforts of the internet trolls to consign it to oblivion. It’s sad to say that, following in the footsteps of Black Panther, The Last Jedi, Star Trek: Discovery and Doctor Who, another “fan boy” franchise entry has seen its opening overshadowed by a bunch of sad wankers with key boards hammering into the internet (and whining into YouTube) about Disney and “the suits” forcing fans to watch stories about people who aren’t white males. Larsen and Captain Marvel got it in the neck for being sexist (it’s not about a man and Larsen dared to say she thought film critics were overwhelmingly white and male – guilty in this case), pushing a feminist agenda (because, like, it had a woman in it that wasn’t a damsel-in-distress or hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold) and not representing what the fans wanted to see in comic films (muscular men saving ladies and hitting things basically). Never mind that social commentary in the old days used to be what these fans bragged about their passions being so full of. Now any character who doesn’t fit a narrow set of racial and sexual criteria is an attempt by the PC brigade to push these pricks out of the fandom. Well to be honest we are better off without this turgid slime polluting fandom with their putrid stench. Put frankly, if films like Captain Marvel make some idiots decide they are going to boycott Marvel for ever more, well good – please fuck off and let the door slam you on your arse on the way out.

Anyway, rant over. Captain Marvel is great fun, Brie Larsen is great, the action is well done, the jokes are funny, the story is engaging and it’s all done and dusted in two hours. Go and see it.

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

The family are back together, in belated but brilliant sequel The Incredibles 2

Director: Brad Bird

Cast: Craig T Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), Huck Milner (Dash Parr), Samuel L Jackson (Lucius Best/Frozone), Bob Odenkirk (Winston Deavor), Catherine Keener (Evelyn Deavor), Brad Bird (Edna Moda), Sophia Bush (Voyd)

Fourteen years? In Hollywood that is nearly an eternity. Can you even imagine a film released today getting its first sequel over a dozen years later? But that is how long we’ve had to wait for a sequel to The Incredibles

Picking up immediately after the first film finished, the efforts of the Parrs, Bob/Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), their children Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Huck (Dash Parr) and their friend Frozone (Samuel L Jackson) to stop the Underminer only lead to destruction. Superheroes are once again anathema to the authorities, but tech millionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) are determined to change their reputation. Their plan? Use Elastigirl as the new “face” of responsible superhero-ing. Elastigirl takes on a new threat: the villainous Screenslaver who uses screens to hypnotise people and control them. Meanwhile, Bob has to cope with the pressures of being a stay-at-home dad, dealing with with teenage crushes, homework challenges and controlling super-powered baby Jack-Jack, who can barely control his never-ending series of powers.

And the world of Hollywood has changed so much since the first Incredibles film came out. Back then, comic book films were only just starting to come into fashion, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t even exist. So can The Incredibles forge its way in a cinematic landscape now overstuffed with superhero derring-do?  Well yes it does, because the film hasn’t lost the sense of what was so enjoyable about the first film. We still get all the action-packed excitement of some damn fine adventure sequences, choreographed with skill and wit. Playing alongside that we get all the homespun domestic turmoil of modern family life, right down to a dad struggling to help his son with his homework (“How can they change math?!”) and trying not to mess up his kids’ lives. 

The film resets the table to get us back to the situation of the first film – superheroes are illegal and unwanted and anything the Parrs do is going to have to be under the wire. And then it spins out a twist on the first film – this time it’s the super-competent and intelligent Elastigirl who will be the hero, while the more old-school Mr Incredible stays at home and looks after the kids. This combination works perfectly – Elastigirl is a brilliantly conceived character, cool, calm, collected, super smart, ultra-determined and ridiculously good at what she does. Holly Hunter’s southern tones are smoothly perfect for this part, investing it with just the right level of humanitarianism.

Really I should be annoyed about the end of the last movie being so completely reset in the opening minutes of this one, but truthfully the idea of superheroes struggling to balance everyday problems with illegal super-heroing is such a totally brilliant idea you are really happy to see it play out again, this time adding the dilemmas of Mr Incredible suddenly being thrown into a situation he can’t handle – having to be a regular dad – and collapsing in an unshaven, exhausted mess. 

Seeing someone struggle with such everyday problems is hilarious enough, but the film has a USP in the challenges of looking after cute little ball-of-trouble baby Jack-Jack: a sweet, blubbering little kid with a regular smorgasbord of powers, none of which he is able to control. Bob’s struggles to deal with this explosion of wildness (everything from laser rays to moving in the fourth dimension) throw up endless hilarious moments and sight gags that had me laughing out loud (probably too loud) in the cinema.

Sitting alongside this, Brad Bird hasn’t forgotten how to shoot and cut an action sequence – whether it’s animated or not. A chase where Elastigirl has to stop an out-of-control train is not only hugely exciting, but also tense and witty. Elastigirl is also such a relatable character that she adds huge amounts of human interest to every one of these action bits, and her determination to save lives – even of her enemies in exploding buildings – is really rather touching. The final action sequence doesn’t quite match the highlights of the first film, but it does excellent work.

Of course the villain is in fact using these strengths against her. If the film has one weak point, it’s that the identity of the villain is really rather obvious from the start. I pretty much guessed immediately who the villain was going to be. I can’t see anyone of any age being fooled, and the motivations of this villain seem a lot more rushed and less interesting than those of Syndrome in the first film. 

But that feels like a minor blemish on what is an excellent sequel, a real gem in the Pixar cannon. It’s still got the brilliantly retro-cool design that mixes the modern world with the 1950s and 60s. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is cracking. Brad Bird brings himself back as scene-stealing superhero costume designer Edna Mode. What’s not to like? I wouldn’t mind waiting another 14 years if they produce a third film as good as this one.

Deadpool (2016)

Ryan Reynold swings into action in slightly-pleased-with-itself comicbook satire Deadpool

Director: Tim Miller

Cast: Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson/Deadpool), Morena Baccarin (Vanessa), Ed Skrein (Francis Freeman/Ajax), TJ Miller (Weasel), Gina Carano (Angel Dust), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenager Warhead), Stefan Kapičić (Colossus), Leslie Uggams (Blind Al)

One day (soon?) we’ll reach critical mass with comic book films. Eventually, when every single character who’s ever appeared in a frame of a DC or Marvel comic has appeared on the screen, we’ll surely wonder if we will ever see anything new again. Some may already feel this, so perhaps that explains why Deadpool, which, for all its faults, is a comic book film doing something different, made such a big impact.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary who meets and falls in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Discovering he has terminal cancer, he leaves her so she does not have to watch him die, and signs up to a gruesome medical procedure designed to bring out dormant mutant genes that may cure him. It works but leaves him hideously deformed. Wanting revenge, he names himself Deadpool and hunts for a cure to his deformity – scared Vanessa would reject him without it.

What Deadpool does well is wittily flag up the familiar tropes of comic book movies. The film in fact follows each trope to the letter – but at least it has a foul-mouthed cheeky commentary. The big question you have to ask is, can a film really be that smart and different if it basically does something very traditional? If I tell you I’m going to perform a tired magic trick you’ve seen before, but I’ll do it while pointing up every single cliché of delivery, with panache, does it matter the magic trick is still as tired as I said it was at the start?

That’s what Deadpool is – the same old ideas, re-packaged in a different way, so juvenile and cheeky that for a beat or two it feels like something new, which it manifestly isn’t. It might not take itself seriously, but it also doesn’t really develop into something unique. The film opens with a neat comic riff on credits, listing not the actors but their generic character traits (“Love Interest”, “Brit Baddie”, “Comic relief” etc. etc.) – sure this is funny and smart, but doesn’t change the fact that the characters themselves are exactly that. 

Deadpool is a faux-clever film. It’s a cheeky piece of college humour: an X-Men film with swearing, sex, fourth wall breaking and gags about other films. There is a sort of witty enjoyment from Deadpool reminding us he knows he is in a movie. But most of the time, he basically behaves exactly like dozens of other lead characters in dozens of other films: he has an emotional arc of fear of rejection and embracing who he is that you’ve seen so many times before.

But the market is so saturated with films like this that the difference of presentation makes you feel for a moment you are seeing something new or clever – rather than essentially a very high budget, end-of-the-pier routine full of cheeky humour. Much of this is pretty funny by the way, but don’t kid yourself that it’s anything clever. And I don’t really think many of the gags here would stand up to repeated viewing – it’s basically just swearing and shocks. The writing is not great, its punchlines and shock beats giving the illusion of intelligent scripting.

Most of its success (in more ways than one) comes down to Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds campaigned for the film to be made for nearly a decade, and he totally nails the character. He thought up many of the best gags, and delivers the entire thing with whipper-snapper quickness and likeability. He gets the balance generally just right, and lands all the film’s big laughs. He’s very good.

But it’s an elevation of material that plays at being clever, while really just being an effective repackaging of the same-old, same-old. Remove the jokes and everything you would expect from a superhero origins story is present and correct. 

So maybe everyone was a little tired of the same old, same old from Marvel et al and wanted something different. That’s the explanation I can think of for why a pretty average film ended up so damn popular. The action when we get it is pretty good, there is some imagination behind the cameras, but it’s basically a teenager’s idea of the best film, like, ever rather than an actually very good film. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it puts a nice shiny new tyre on it.

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles swing into action in this brilliant superhero-action-comedy

Director: Brad Bird

Cast: Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), Spencer Fox (Dash Parr), Samuel L Jackson (Lucius Best/Frozone), Jason Lee (Buddy Pine/Syndrome), Brad Bird (Eda Mode), Elizabeth Pena (Mirage), Wallace Shawn (Gilbert Huph)

In a world awash with superheroes, what if they were suddenly found legally responsible for all the destruction and chaos that surrounds their battles to save the world? If it suddenly became illegal to be a superhero? That’s exactly the world that spins out in The Incredibles: one where secret identities aren’t just a matter of choice, they are legally enforced by a government?

After all superheroes are banned, because clearing up the legal after-effects of the heroics is just too damn expensive, they retire into “ordinary life”. Fifteen years later, Bob Parr aka Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson), is working in a dead-end job for a tight-fisted insurance company, whose values are the antithesis of his own, and moonlights, doing small superhero acts where he can. Meanwhile his wife Helen aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) raises their children, who have their own super-powers. One day Bob is contacted by a secret government agency to re-start his superhero work, and he jumps at the chance – but quickly finds he’s in over his head.

The Incredibles is pretty much a perfect film. I think it might just be one of the finest films Pixar has produced (and that is saying a lot). It’s not just a brilliant family comedy, it’s also a superb action adventure. In fact, its super-hero action is so well done, it trumps nearly any live-action film you can think of. Brad Bird pulls it together with aplomb and gives the film its own brilliantly distinctive visual style, a jazzy 1960s look with cool angles and heightened reality backgrounds. It’s terrific. And it’s really, really funny.

Just the very idea of superheroes being sued is funny. A series of newspaper headlines early in the film covers everything from train crash survivors suing for trauma, to a hero with x-ray vision being accused of being a peeping tom. From there the film has huge fun with superhero tropes –it’s just inherently funny to see these god-like heroes going through the tedious 9-to-5 and school runs the rest of us need to put up with. Throw in plenty of hilarious sight gags, plus some brilliant comic diversions (not least a brilliant monologue on cape-based disasters, that really pays off at the film’s end) and you’ll not stop laughing even after umpteen viewings.

It also balances all the humour and super-heroics with very real-world problems. It’s an animated family comedy that looks at the impact of a male mid-life crisis on family dynamics, and the impact that a distant, disengaged father can have on his children. Not the usual Disney content is it? Bob Parr is a frustrated, bored man, who feels trapped by missing the excitement and drama of his youth. He wants to recapture his glory days, but is overwhelmingly worried about whether, frankly, he’s up to it any more. He’s overweight, out of shape and past his best.

It’s also funny that Bob’s midlife crisis expresses itself in listening to police scanners, and roping best friend Lucius (a put-upon Samuel L Jackson) into carrying out acts of derring-do on the sly. “Just for once, can’t we just go bowling” Lucius complains. Not that it stops Lucius from throwing down later on in the action (after a brilliant “Where’s my super suit?” argument with his wife).

Poor Bob. Compared to Helen’s intelligent resolve and strength of mind, he’s also emotionally under-developed and unable to articulate his feelings. If you’d like to criticise the film you could say that it falls very much into the standard clichéd family structure (father is the breadwinner who feels trapped, mother is at home being a domestic hero), but the film gets past it because it always pulls itself up when it feels like its heading that way – even if it needs someone like Edna Mode to literally slap Elastigirl around the face and tell her to pull herself together.

And you have to give a pass to a film that has such empathy for its characters, not least the two kids. A cripplingly shy, moody teenage girl whose power to become invisible – no wonder she’s too shy to talk to boys. A hyperactive boy, whose power expresses itself in raw speed. These two kids feel really real, and the relationship (and loving rivalry with each other) really works. It’s clear the family bonds between the four are very strong.

Those battles are quite something by the way. Helped a great deal by Michael Giacciano’s terrific score – inspired by half a dozen 1960s and 70s spy and action franchises – these scenes are dynamic and electric. Brad Bird shoots the film like a real action film, and packs it with some brilliant humour. This is easily the most thrilling children’s animated film you’ll never see. Its action is a mixture of pure Bond and superhero thrills. And while some scenes are just plain grippingly cool to watch – is it a surpise that Syndrome geeks out? – others are a perfect balance between drama and action. A sequence with Helen piloting a jet, targeted by missiles, demanding Violet create a forcefield around the jet, and then desperately making a shield around the children using her own body is both stirring and moving (who can’t empathise with a child who feels they have let their parent down?). 

The film also has an imaginative and fun spin on the standard super-villain in Syndrome and a decent mystery thriller that unfolds especially well over the film. Throw in plenty of small moments – many of them supplied by Brad Bird’s brilliantly voiced cameo as costume designer Enda Mode (a wonderful pastiche of Edith Head) – and you’ve got a gem for all ages. The entire cast is excellent – Craig T Nelson and Holly Hunter in particular are superb. The Incredibles ticks so many boxes I hardly know where to begin. Want a brilliant animation? Check. Want a hilarious superhero parody? Check. Want a family comedy? Check. Want a thrilling action film? Check. This film delivers on so many levels it should have a PhD. It’s simply sublime film making and story-telling. It’s hard to beat.