#Marvel Saturday

It was a drizzly ten hours in Manchester on saturday. So instead of going out with the three dimensional people to get soaked, I stayed in and overdosed on superheroes. Was it worth it? Well, read on…

If you’re a regular visitor to the blog, you will probably have spotted some noticeable omissions (or gaps, if you like) when it comes to some of the bigger releases that come our way. Often, these glaring spaces will be because I haven’t had the chance (sometimes) or budget (mostly) to see what I want to. However, there are occasions where I have just decided that my opinion on a movie is so irrelevant that it doesn’t really require any input from me. In short, if my opinion will help in any way, then I will normally give it. If not, I usually won’t bother. Such is the case for superhero movies. Not only do I find them tiresome, predictable and hollow as a general rule, but there are already so many opinions out there for you to choose from, that my admittedly completely non fan-boy geek will count for nothing. Furthermore, I have spent the sum of no hours whatsoever discussing these films with others. I don’t choose to watch them (in any kind of rush, at least) for all of these reasons.

There does come a time when I do get round to them though, and yesterday was one of those days. I looked through my list of films that had passed me by without raising so much as a quizzical eyebrow and the three featured movies here all tentatively made me wonder; which one should I drag my tired and wisened ego through, as I’m going to have watch at least one of them eventually anyway? I put this question to my Twitter followers, who were pretty much in agreement that if I had to pick one, then The Winter Soldier was probably the most satisfying. There were calls for all of the three films mentioned, however, which didn’t really fill me with much solace. So, as if to kill three birds with one stone, I decided to just watch them all, have done with it, and then be totally up-to-date with the Marvel cinematic universe before the release of the imminent Guardians of the Galaxy, which I am actually looking forward to, as it happens.

First up was the second film in the Thor franchise starring Chris Hemsworth as the Norse nutcase with a hammer. If you’ve seen the first movie, then you’ll already know that this canon has been expanded somewhat since the original Scandinavian mythology came into existence. Seen as a god that protected humanity, his job here isn’t that different, but his origins will come as a surprise to most historians not versed in the Marvel version of the character. With turns from Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Natalie Portman is helpless waif Jane, plus Idris Elba (coolest man on the planet) and of , Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the gang are all back.

Of the three films on offer here, it is the least riveting and most ridiculous. Having watched the first film a few years back and then completely forgetting about it the minute I switched it off, I have only a hazy recollection, so can only say that it seems like it follows on well enough and makes enough sense to comprehend (just about). It looks lovely in shouty loudness, but the mostly persona free adversaries don’t give you much to get excited about. Like most Marvel offerings, this is big blockbuster cinema. There was a nice, albeit brief, cameo from Chris Evans, but the standout performance was the dastardly Loki (Hiddleston) who is as devilishly watchable as always. It even provedes a couple of laughs along the way.

Second on my list to see was Marc Webb’s new stab at re-booting the Spiderman franchise with Andrew Garfield reprising his role of Peter Parker in the last film. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey is also back, along with Sally Field and fleeting appearances from Dennis Leary and Campbell Scott. Added to the roster this time around is Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne, Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Paul Giamatti’s eastern european loony-tune Aleksei Sytsevich. If you keep your eyes open, you might also even spot Felicity Jones, if you’re lucky.

As I have been heard to utter before now, there aren’t many instances where you can legitimately say “I actually prefer Tobey Maguire”, but this will be the second time I’ve said it in the past few years. This is not because Andrew Garflied is a bad actor. Far from it. If you look at his previous work before he became insterstellar in the role of Peter Parker, he has the ability to electrify a screen without the need for cgi or a mask, so it came as a surprise to me personally when he agreed to take on the role. I’m not surprised he was asked, but I was taken aback when I heard that he’d agreed. If anything, I expected him to become a new James Bond in the next fifteen to twenty years or so.

This second film in the re-booted story of Peter Parker and his web-slinging antics is Webb’s difficult second film. You know the one, where the exposition is less important because the back story has already been filled in the first film? The second film really needs a valid and formidable adversary and here we are offered, predominantly, Electro, as previous fan of Spiderman who goes all psycho-voltage when accidentally becoming the recipient of some new superpowers. Add to this that the story of Harry Osborne/Green Goblin has really not got started good proper at this stage, plus the continuing stormy on/off relationship of Peter and Gwen, due to his problems with possibly putting her in danger because of his recently acquired power and responsibilty.

Critical calls of ‘too many cooks’ have been heard, but these shouts have usually been quelled by suggesting that in this project, there are actually fewer real baddies than in most other Spiderman movies, and most certainly in the case of the pre-dating Sam Raimi films (fresh though they may still be, hence possibly the reason for criticism in this regard). Overall, the visual effects are impressive but I was occaiosnally reminded of Saints Row 4 with the overuse of neon, not to mention that free-roaming nature of Spiderman himself. Accused of being a bit too romcom for most hardened fans, it might delve a little too deeply into schmaltz at times, but no so much as to overshadow the story or the action. In all, ap erfectly legitiamte addition to the canon that Webb has re-started, but somehow lacking the more innocent magic of Raimi’s previous adaptations.

The last of the offerings from Marvel that I had yet to see was the newest adventure for Chris Evans’ Captain America, Steve Rogers. The Winter Soldier is the second in the franchise (not including the Avengers) of the young patriot that goes from weedy to superhero with the help of a serum he ingests during an experiment to create the perfect human specimen. Again, he is fighting truth, justice and the American way.

Joined most notably by Black Widow Scarlett Johansson and Samuel Jackson’s Nicky Fury, The Winter Soldier is without doubt the most complicated plot of the three films on offer here. So complicated, in fact, that you may just give up on the story altogether. It is an unconvincing, convenient narrative at best. Shield has been infiltrated and much to the surprise of everyone, Nick Fury becomes the target of Hydra, a shadowy, mysterious (aren’t they always?) sub-group of Shield, led seemingly by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) with an entirely different and more selfish agenda. As I say, whether you should even be interested in this convoluted political jiggery-pokery is questionable and although critics have largely responded kindly to the film, it may or may not be due to this more sober thread.

Any film with Johansson in it is probably going to get my vote anyway and her performance here, reprising her Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow from previous films is still crying out for a movie of its own. Given Marvel’s plans to turn Thor into a woman, it would seem foolish to ignore such a golden opportunity to take advantage of, as Romanoff is easily the strongest female character Marvel has.

The film has the most smarts and impressive acting chops of all the three films but sometimes feels like it is becoming lost in its own exposition, which in turn, may turn some action fans off altogether. There is enough to keep them happy here, but they may become a little bored by what seems to be an excessive amount of chit-chat. Certainly bette than the first episode of the franchise, however, with Steve Rogers becoming more and more accustomed to life away from early twentieth century.

From a purely entertainment perspective, The Amazing Spiderman 2 probably just shades a victory in this Marvel three-way battle. The Winter Soldier is almost certainly a more accomplished production and arguably a better film because of it. Looking at the scores given to each one on Imdb, they seem to be more than slightly generous, but I think we have the fanboys to thank for those. As I say, as one reviewer that is rarely moved to watch these, unless on rainy days such as the one we ‘enjoyed’ yesterday, I look on them as popcorn fodder even at the best of times and if I’m honest, see little here to raise the value of any of them above that current pigeon-hole. We’re a long, long way off Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, anyway. Honestly, a day that provided few surprises, but nonetheless, still rip-roaring, noisy, mostly braindead fun.



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