Spider-Man: Homecoming – Engaging characters make up for ho-hum action

The Marvel-Sony partnership prompted by the critical and commercial failure of 2014’s Andrew Garfield starrer The Amazing Spider-Man 2, seems to be paying off. Early indications are that Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to pull in box-office cash in the same range that Sam Raimi’s original trilogy scooped up from 2002 to 2007. Reaction from critics and audiences likewise has been positive.

What’s made the difference?

Firstly, Spider-Man is now integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) via his introductory appearance in Captain America: Civil War last year. Audiences are have been deeply involved with the characters in the MCU for some years now. Naturally, any new character introduced into an MCU film benefits from that halo effect. And that’s exactly what was set up in Civil War; we were introduced to a teenage Spider-Man played by Tom Holland and another new character Prince T’Challa of Wakanda (aka the Black Panther), both being set up for their respective solo films. And so here we are with Homecoming successfully picking up speed in the slipstream of Civil War and Black Panther scheduled to follow suit next February. Audiences know that whenever they go to watch an MCU film featuring any one character/ team, they will get some bonus Marvel character appearances as well; in the case of Homecoming, the guest stars are Iron Man, his security chief Happy Hogan (played by director of the first two Iron Man films, Jon Favreau), Pepper Potts and Captain America appearing in some public service videos.

Second, this time around audiences don’t have to endure an entire film repeating the well-known origin story of Spider-Man bitten by a radioactive spider. Instead, we get to see the character already set up with his powers and his suit. The fun part is seeing how his mundane teenage world contrasts with the jet-setting lifestyles of the Avengers, who he looks up to and so desperately wants to be a part of.

Third, the casting this time really works:-

EVERYBODY likes (loves!) Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.

Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (aka the Vulture) is the best villain in the MCU (traditionally a weak area) and the 2nd best Spidey villain after Alfred Molina’s Doc Octopus from 2004’s Spider-Man 2. While not as tragic a figure as Doc Ock, Toomes’ motivation to move into a life of crime is something one can sort of empathize with.

Peter Parker’s high school gang are all interesting characters and oh-so-ethnically-diverse; his best buddy Ned is played by Jacob Batalon, who is of Filipino origin; class nerd Michelle is played by the multi-ethnic Zendaya; love interest Liz is played by African-American Laura Harrier and class smart-ass Flash who is blond and muscled in the comics is now played by Tony Revolori, who is of Guatemalan descent.

In fact, the only character I didn’t really care too much about is Peter Parker himself. Not because Tom’s a bad actor, but perhaps because the 21-year-old actor is too good at acting as a whiny 15-year-old motor-mouth who wants everything…at one point in the film, I really couldn’t handle that non-stop high pitched voice of his as he provided a running commentary during an action sequence!

Speaking of action sequences, that was the key weak link in the film for me. While I was engaged with all the characters, the action and the fights didn’t hold my attention at all. I think it’s because the outcome is so predictable. C’mon! it’s a PG-13 film. Of course, no one important is going to die or get maimed. This isn’t Game of Thrones, right? Well, to be fair to the studio, they did try that route in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with Mary Jane Watson; I don’t think that movie failed because of that plot point at the end, but it’s understandable that the producers didn’t want anything really nasty to happen to any characters in this all-important reboot. And so, we end up with 3 action set-pieces which are all big-scale and spectacular, but not really gripping.

What was fun about the action scenes was all the showcasing of all the tech that Tony Stark had built into Peter Parker’s suit. The suit AI (F.R.I.D.A.Y.), a female version of J.A.R.V.I.S. seemed a bit too good to be true, even more intelligent that J.A.R.V.I.S., it seemed to me!

And to round off the complaints, I still dislike the mismatched fonts of the movie title.

By now, anyone who’s been to a few Marvel movies knows to wait back for mid-credits and post-credits stingers. Well, there are two in this movie. The first stinger sets up a potential villain for the sequel, a criminal named Mac Gargan who becomes the Scorpion in the comic books. The 2nd one is really cheeky joke, eliciting appreciative laughter from the audience in the theatre.

And so, we have a Sony back on track with the Spider-Man franchise, with more than a bit of help from their ‘friends’ at Marvel/ Disney. Fans can only hope that this success could fuel a similar partnership between Marvel and Fox to resurrect the Fantastic Four franchise (although Marvel boss Kevin Feige has assured reporters that the possibility is beyond remote).

We still have one MCU film to go this year – the ‘buddy road film’ Thor: Ragnarok releasing in November, featuring Thor and the Hulk forced into mortal combat in an alien coliseum.

Next year, there are no less than 6 Marvel films! Three are MCU films from Disney – Black Panther (Feb), Avengers: Infinity War (May) and Ant-Man & the Wasp (July). The other three are mutant films from Fox – X-Men: The New Mutants (Apr), Deadpool 2 (June) and X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Nov). Oh, the joy!


Captain America: Civil War – The Avengers sequel that’s better than the Avengers sequel

And so, the Captain America trilogy has come to an end. It began nearly five years ago with The First Avenger, a movie characterized by its simplicity and earnestness, reflecting the spirit of the times. During World War II, when your country asked you to fight, you fought; and it was easy to tell your allies from your enemies. The 2014 sequel The Winter Soldier was set 70 years later in the present day, but drew its inspiration from the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, a time when spies and double agents made it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. The sibling duo of Joe and Anthony Russo are back again in the directors’ chair for the third and seemingly final entry in the series, Civil War. This time around, they seem even more at ease in managing what has become a hugely complex storytelling effort. Not only does Civil War continue with the second movie’s theme of “you don’t know who your allies are”, it goes one step further and turns friends into enemies.

The trailers made it clear that Civil War features pretty much all the characters from The Avengers; Age of Ultron and has frequently been referred to as ‘Avengers 2.5‘; in fact, the Russos will be directing the next two films in the Avengers series, so Civil War is indeed a bridge, both story-wise and thematically, between Age of Ultron and 2018’s Infinity War Part 1.

The only complaint I had after watching the movie yesterday (and this has been echoed in multiple reviews) is the absence of a worthy villain to challenge Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. To think that over the course of the trilogy, we have gone from Hugo Weaving’s menacing Red Skull to Robert Redford’s duplicitous S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce to Daniel Bruhl’s rather bland Colonel Zemo…that’s somewhat disappointing.

The two new characters – Black Panther and Spider-Man – do add some freshness to the growing ensemble of heroes. Many critics have praised Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Prince T’Challa/ Black Panther and so I was expecting something very special. I came away a bit disappointed with Boseman’s rather stiff rendering of the Wakandan prince. What did work was the wonderful chemistry between him and his father, which is a credit to South African acting veteran John Kani, who plays King T’Chaka. Spider-Man, on the other hand is an unqualified hit and Tom Holland seems a perfect embodiment of the wise-cracking teenage superhero that we all love. I was least expecting his entry into the plot at the point that it happened and there was a collective gasp of joyful surprise from the audience when we all realized whose apartment we were in.

While all the reviews have spoken glowingly about the set-piece fight sequence at the airport in Germany, I thought the opening encounter in Lagos was also very well done, with the camera work particularly effective at bringing the audience into the midst of the hand-to-hand combat in a busy market place. It’s reminiscent of the shaky cam/ quick cut style of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies, but far easier to watch. The Russo brothers describe themselves as ‘guerilla filmmakers’ and you understand why.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing very distinctive as far as the theme music is concerned. Henry Jackman is the composer and I loved what he had done with X-Men: First Class in 2011 (particularly Magneto’s Theme). But all we get here is a generic, bombastic score with lots of strings and horns. The best music in the extended Avengers/ Captain America film series so far is still Alan Silvestri’s theme from The Avengers.

Here are my top moments from the movie:-

  • Black Widow’s stylish fighting jacket – Scarlett Johansson continues to be the style icon for the Marvel movies, sporting a tan cotton jacket during the opening fight scene in Lagos. The jacket is already a hot seller on many online stores.

Hosted by imgur.com

  • Scott Lang shows he can go both ways – The airport fight sequence is the showpiece of the movie. It’s where the growing schism between the two factions of the Avengers becomes all-out war. A last minute reinforcement for Captain America’s side is Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. But there’s a big surprise in store as Lang shows that there’s more than one way to use those Pym particles.
  • Goodbye Peggy Carter – This was a really poignant moment for me. I’m sure Rogers-Carter doesn’t have the same ring to it as Romeo-Juliet, but for me, their unfulfilled romance has been one of the great tragic on-screen love stories of recent times, perhaps accentuated by actress Hayley Atwell’s strong performance in the Agent Carter TV series.
  • Cap keeps the Carter family connection strong – Steve Rogers moves right on, building a nice relationship with Peggy’s niece Sharon, although I do find it very difficult to accept the vapid Emily VanCamp as a replacement for the feisty Hayley Atwell.
  • We get to see the Raft – The prison for super-criminals makes an appearance.
  • Audi product placement – Audi continues their association with Tony Stark and the Avengers. Tony Stark is seen driving the super cool R8 V10 plus Coupé. The new SQ7 features prominently in a tunnel chase sequence involving Bucky, Cap and the Black Panther (check out Audi’s tie-in ad below).
  • Aunt May is really attractive – What a brilliant casting idea to get Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Even Tony Stark seemed interested.
  • CGI is getting better at making actors look young – A low profile company called Lola VFX has been creating younger versions of actors on-screen for a few years. They ‘de-aged’ Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan for a flashback scene in X-Men: The Last Stand. In last year’s Ant-Man, a young Michael Douglas appeared in the opening scene. In both those films, they were able to take 20 years off the faces of actors in their late 60s/ early 70s. In Civil War, there’s a scene featuring a very young Robert Downey Jr., who appears to be in his late teens or early twenties; a significantly tougher task and a sign of how much the technology has improved. This is a sign of things to come in the sub-specialization now known as ‘visual cosmetics’.
  • Closing titles – The closing title sequence uses abstract shadows to describe the character played by each actor. A nice touch to have ’13’ come up against Emily VanCamp’s name, as Sharon Carter is called Agent 13 in the comic books.

And so, Marvel has yet another bona fide hit on their hands. The Disney machine already has two big hits this year with Zootopia and The Jungle Book. Look for Civil War to zoom up the charts and potentially overtake the current 2016 box office champion Deadpool in the coming weeks.

Top 10 moments from Avengers: Age of Ultron (spoilers ahead)

Here are my Top 10 moments from Age of Ultron. There is no standout like the “Puny God!” scene from the first Avengers movie, but still plenty that I will look forward to when I watch the movie a second time.

1. The opening battle slo mo shot.

Hosted by imgur.com

2. At the party: James Rhodes/ War Machine tells a joke.

3. At the party: Romanoff and Banner have a moment.

4. After the party: Finding out who’s worthy.

5. After the party: “There are no strings on me”.

6. Ulysses Klaue loses an arm; what will he gain? Stay tuned for Black Panther in 2017.

7. Iron Man brings ‘Veronica’ to the Hulk.

Hosted by imgur.com

8. Hawkeye’s safe house.

9. The Vision is born…and he’s worthy.

10. The climactic battle: “All of you against all of me”.

Honorable mention: The running joke after Captain America chastises Iron Man for use of a curse word; Iron Man continues to push the boundaries, with statements like “I hope you weren’t playing hide the zucchini!”.

Lots of ‘geek out’ moments for comic book fans. Enjoy!

Marvel line-up 2015-17: Part 2

In the second part of my listing of Marvel properties coming to the screen in the next 3 years, let’s look at what 2016 has in store. Compared to the 3 films in 2015, we have a very crowded slate with of 5 titles in the 9 month period from February to November 2016.

Deadpool. Releases in Feb 2016 – The wise-cracking mercenary Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, has been a cult favourite for years, particularly because of his non-stop talkative nature and his habit of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ with the audience. Equipped with an accelerated healing factor, Deadpool started off as a villain and then over time has been cast as an anti-hero. He has appeared on-screen once already, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009. He was played by Ryan Reynolds and somehow this mess of a movie managed to morph his character into a a completely different villain called Weapon XI, who combined the powers of a number of other mutants. In the climactic battle scene, Wolverine decapitates Deadpool. But we know that in the world of comics, no one stays dead for too long. So, after a few years of ‘will they, won’t they’ rumours, it was with great fanboy excitement that a Deadpool ‘test footage’ clip was released on the internet, followed by the announcement of the film release in early 2016. The movie will be directed by first-timer Tim Miller. Marvel movie fans, be warned, this will be an R-rated film with violence and profanity; definitely not suitable for a family outing with the kids (hence the non-summer release date).

Captain America: Civil War. Releases in May 2016 – As a lot of fans suspected after seeing the Crossbones character appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year, the next chapter in his standalone saga is going to deal with the Civil War storyline. This is one of the biggest Marvel story arcs in recent years, which is likely to create far-reaching ripples in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The Civil War ‘crossover storyline’ published during 2006-07 is spread across several titles and deals with a Superhero Registration Act passed by the government, which ends up splitting the various superheroes into two factions, for and against the Act. Iron Man and Captain America end up on opposing sides, leading to widespread conflict, violence and some superhero deaths.

Since the Disney/ Marvel movies do not have rights to all the characters involved in the comic book storyline (such as the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four), the movie will feature a simpler storyline which focuses on the ideological conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, something which has been foreshadowed already in The Avengers. Oh and incidentally, at the end of the Civil War comic books, Captain America is apparently assassinated by Crossbones; but of course, we know that nobody stays dead in comic books, so have no fear, Chris Evans will still have one more movie left after this one to complete his 6-film contract! The other big source of excitement in this movie is the introduction of a new Marvel character, T’Challa, the prince of the African state of Wakanda, whose alter ego is Black Panther.

X-Men: Apocalypse. Releases in May 2016 – Three weeks after Disney releases Captain America: Civil War, rival studio Fox brings out the sequel to their most successful superhero movie ever in terms of global box office, this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. After the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine practically killed the X-Men franchise, Fox rebooted the series with the outstanding X-Men: First Class, set during the Bay of Pigs event of the 60’s. This 2011 Cold War thriller is perhaps my all time favourite entry in the X-Men series. Days of Future Past took place in the 70’s and the time-travel story element effectively re-wrote various bits and pieces of X-Men cinematic history. The next entry X-Men: Apocalypse is expected to take place in the 80’s and will have the oldest known mutant as its super-villain: the 5000-year-old En Sabah Nur, aka Apocalypse. The character was teased during the post-credits scene of Days of Future Past, but the version we see in that scene is of a very young Apocalypse. What we will see in X-Men: Apocalypse will be closer to the image below; not a nice guy.

Bryan Singer will be directing an X-Men movie for the 4th time, but no news yet on which mutants will appear this time around, or whether the older cast from the original series (including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) will make an appearance. I think we can take for granted that fan-favourite Hugh Jackman will be there as Wolverine. Since he doesn’t age, it’s very convenient for Fox to just pop him into any of these X-Men movies irrespective of which time period the film is set in!

Doctor Strange. Releases in Nov 2016 – After months of speculation, Marvel finally confirmed a date for the Doctor Strange movie, although they have yet to confirm who is playing the character. There has been a virtual revolving door of highly regarded leading men who have been considered for this role, with Benedict Cumberbatch widely tipped to sign on. While the initial set of Marvel films were set in the world of high-tech science (Iron Man’s armour, Captain America’s serum, Hulk’s gamma radiation), the next set of films have explored aliens across the universe (Thor’s world Asgard and the various planets visited by the Guardians of the Galaxy). Now with Doctor Strange, Marvel opens the doors to the supernatural. Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands after an accident. Forced to seek help, he eventually is trained by a mysterious benefactor in the Himalayas and takes on the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme, protector of the Earth against supernatural threats. Horror director Scott Derrickson has been selected to helm the film and an earlier script is being re-written by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus). This is another risky venture by Marvel, partly because the magical subject matter is likely to appeal to a different audience type vs. their previous films and partly because the director and writer have had very limited critical or box office success in the past. Of course, Marvel has scored home runs with newbie James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and hit-and-miss indie directors Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon, so who’s to say this latest throw the dice won’t work. Marvel make their own luck and their brains trust led by Kevin Feige just seems to have a feel for what audiences will like.

The Sinister Six. Releases in Nov 2016 – Just one week after Doctor Strange comes out, rival studio Sony is set to release a a film about super-villains. Sony owns the rights to the Spider-Man franchise and all related characters. They had a fantastic run with the original trilogy directed by Sam Raimi (from 2002 to 2007). The reboot directed by Marc Webb and released in 2012 had a so-so reception, but everyone agreed that the two leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had fantastic chemistry. In this summer’s sequel, they killed off Emma Stone, effectively ending any reason that audiences would want to watch a 3rd or 4th movie in this franchise. Although the global box office take was around USD 700 mn, it was still lower than what the original Spider-Man made 12 years earlier, not factoring in ticket price inflation. Sony has effectively put future Spider-Man sequels on hold, but seems to be going ahead with Sinister Six, a film that brings together 6 of Spidey’s biggest enemies. In the comic books, the Sinister Six have gone through a few changes in line-up over the years and the film is expected to feature a new grouping consisting of Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Rhino and Vulture. The film will be directed by Drew Goddard, who I have plenty of respect for as the writer of intelligent and entertaining scifi properties like Alias and Lost on TV as well as the movies Cloverfield and World War Z.

So, it’s a mixed bag in 2016. We have two sequels which will be surefire winners – Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. There are two new properties, largely unknown outside the fan base – Deadpool and Doctor Strange – which can take Marvel into new demographics and genres respectively. And there is one film The Sinister Six which is still very much an unknown entity.

X-Men: Days of Future Past struggles against summer competition

How times have changed. Until a few years ago, the Memorial Day weekend in the US would have signified the true beginning of the summer movie blockbuster season. This was the weekend that the biggest movies of the summer would be released, a trend started off by Star Wars in 1977.

This year, for me it actually feels like half the summer is already over. I’ve watched the 4 movies I was most looking forward to already – Captain America 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past. In the 9 weeks of summer that’s officially still left to go, I only have 3 movies I really want to see – Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow (getting great early reviews), the potentially dark and depressing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Marvel’s new franchise hopeful Guardians of the Galaxy (featuring Bradley Cooper voicing a talking raccoon, Vin Diesel voicing a talking tree and some awesome music from the 1970’s).

So, this is my mid-summer scorecard, which also doubles up as a review of X-Men: DoFP:-

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 8/10: I’ve already gone ga-ga over this film, so there’s not much more to say. The 3 Marvel movies released so far have come from 3 different studios. Captain America is produced by Marvel themselves, while Spider-Man and X-Men are with Sony and Fox respectively. Well, it shows. Marvel Studios, with Kevin Feige in charge, just has an intuitive feel of their own material; they have most of their casting right (except for Sebastian Stan as Bucky/ The Winter Soldier) and the look of their films (colour and texture) is glorious. They have the best balance between humour, gravitas and action (something that has been consistent from their first release in 2008, Iron Man).


  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – 7/10: This was the surprise package for me. I didn’t like the idea of this reboot when it happened in 2012. I didn’t like Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man (how would he fit his ‘big hair’ into his mask, I wondered). I didn’t like Emma Stone because I had seen her in Easy A (2010) and found her character irritating. I loved Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) too much to accept these pretenders to the throne. Well, I had to admit, Garfield made a refreshing change from the dour Tobey Maguire. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone was sparkling. And they kept it going in this summer’s sequel. Although Jamie Foxx was a disappointment as Electro, the creepy performance of Dane DeHaan, the action sequences and the heart-breaking ending all contributed to making this a pretty good entry in the series.


  • Godzilla – 8/10: I love movies and books that tease the arrival of something unexpected and awe-inspiring (think Jurassic Park in 1993 and Independence Day in 1996 and countless scifi/ first contact books I’ve read). I don’t mind not seeing the creature/ alien invader in its entirety till the end (think Cloverfield in 2008). Godzilla scored on both counts. Just seeing him roar was thrilling. Unlike many action films these days which rely on shaky cams and quick cuts, Godzilla had an editing and framing style which worked for me…lots of wide shots, held for long enough to see the creature and its surroundings. The cinematography is by Seamus McGarvey who has been Oscar nominated twice for Atonement and Anna Karenina – both beautifully lit and colorful, but also able to use shadows to capture the somber moments. This is the man who has now graduated to big spectacles like The Avengers and Godzilla. The quality shows on screen. Having an actor of the quality of Bryan Cranston anchor the first half of the movie also made a big difference.


  • X-Men: Days of Future Past – 6.5/10: This was the film which I expected would get my highest score of the summer. I love Bryan Singer’s work from the original two X-Men movies and I absolutely loved X-Men: First Class, which Singer produced. From screenwriter Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Sherlock Holmes), I expected to see lots of snappy dialogue and humour, blended with action (yes, he did co-write the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, but he had owned up to that and promised to make amends this time around). Perhaps because of these high expectations, I came away a bit disappointed, even though there are some outstanding set-pieces in the film.


Let’s start with what worked:-


The opening action sequence was fantastic. Many things happen at the same time and the choreography is outstanding. I have long been a fan of Colossus from the comic books and in all these years, we only had a brief glimpse of him saving the students during the Xavier Mansion attack in X-Men 2. So it was great to see him in battle with the Sentinels, assisted by a bunch of new faces. The best of the lot was Blink played by Chinese actress Fan Bingbing; she has the power to open portals over short distances allowing her team mates to attack or escape from the Sentinels. Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) runs off with Bishop (French acting sensation Omar Sy, completely under-utilized) in tow, phasing through various solid objects with Sentinels in pursuit. Super stuff.

The real scene stealer in this film is Evan Peters who plays Peter (in the comics, he is Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver). There is a truly memorable scene in the Pentagon, which brings all the talent of the film makers and cast to the fore; the set design, props, choreography, special effects and acting all ensure that this will be a much viewed clip on YouTube for years to come.

The fight scene in Paris involving Magneto, Mystique and Beast – taking place on the streets in front of a large crowd of newsmen and members of the public, much of it caught through the perspective of their 8mm cameras.

The end-credits teaser which features En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse) in Egypt nearly 4500 years ago, with his Four Horsemen in the background. This sets things up for the next sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse due for release in May 2016, also directed by Bryan Singer.


Four things that didn’t work for me:-


I thought the title sequence was quite generic, featuring graphics of DNA combining and recombining with some artificial looking bits. I thought they could have been a bit imaginative and played with a time travel theme, or with representations of the different mutant powers. Even if they didn’t do this with the opening (for fear it would give away too much), they could certainly have done it with the closing titles (Pacific Rim and The Avengers both did this quite well).

James McAvoy as Charles Xavier – although we’ve been told that Prof X was going through a tough spell in 1973, it is difficult to reconcile James McAvoy’s take on this character vs. his own interpretation in X-Men: First Class and the iron-like resolve of Patrick Stewart character even in those bleak times being hunted by Sentinels in the future. Whatever the justification for his personal crisis, I just found James McAvoy too wimpy and whiny.

Tom Sigel’s cinematography – In recent years there has been a trend of switching from film to digital cameras. The only problem with some of these cameras is that they lack the inherent texture of film, the graininess/ mistiness that gives movies their magical/ fantastical feel as opposed to the realism of a news broadcast on TV. Because of this, I really dislike watching movies on HDTV/ BluRay and I also dislike movies like Michael Mann’s Public Enemies which look so hyper-real, the scenes actually look like someone’s amateur home video. Sometimes its also about how the cinematographer sets up the camera, as the same digital camera can produce a different visual texture in different movies. Well, in X-Men DoFP, it looked like the close-up scenes and the night time scenes were shot with this ‘home video setting’, while the big action sequences look fantastic and ‘film-like’. It felt like I was watching two different movies spliced together and it irritated me no end.

The music by John Ottman. Nothing to write home about. I was missing something iconic like Magneto’s theme from X-Men: First Class. Although to be fair to the man, he did have his hands full editing the film…that’s right, he’s a world class music composer and film editor. I think he’s a better editor than a composer.

That’s it for my mid-summer scorecard. I feel bad about being so harsh on X-Men; perhaps I may revise my score by the end of summer!

The best and worst Marvel villains

Marvel Studios started leasing its characters out to studios in the late 1990’s starting with New Line’s R-rated Blade series. We then saw Fox releasing X-Men in 2000, a franchise that is going strong to this day with the upcoming release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Emboldened by this success, Fox also tried its hand with Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Sony got into the act with the Spider-Man franchise in 2002, now rebooted and with 4 more movies staked out till 2018. Sony also produced two Ghost Rider films with Nicolas Cage. Meanwhile, Universal released a couple of Hulk movies in 2003/ 2008 and Lions Gate jumped in with two R-rated Punisher films in 2004/ 2008.  By 2008, Marvel was producing its own films with the first two Iron Man films plus Thor and Captain America being distributed by Paramount before Marvel was bought by Disney.

In all these years, I’ve never known Marvel to make a movie with a really lame villain, until now.

Of course, this observation excludes duds like Daredevil in which every aspect of the movie is so laughable that it hardly matters whether Colin Farrell’s Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin are more ridiculous than the superhero or not. Ang Lee’s Hulk also came very close. The military led by potential father-in-law General Ross was Bruce Banner’s primary adversary and produced some great action set-pieces, but other than that, the big guy had to fight three mutant dogs (shouldn’t they leave that for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?) and his own dad who becomes a big err…energy thing at the end. While the Weapon XI/ Deadpool hybrid character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was certainly a powerful foe, I thought ‘pretty boy’ Ryan Reynolds was the wrong choice to play him, not to mention the incredible conceit of bastardising Deadpool into a multi-powered character called Weapon XI just to set up a climactic fight scene with Wolverine. I had also mentioned recently that The Winter Soldier in the recent Captain America sequel looked pretty tame. Luckily, the audience had all the SHIELD/ HYDRA intrigue going on to keep them on the edge of their seats.

But none of these misadventures can compare with the ultimate ‘loser villain’ that I just saw on the big screen last week in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Jamie Foxx was completely miscast as Electro, looking bloated and middle-aged (he is 46 and looks cooler in real life) and nothing like the sleek super-villain from the comics or Disney’s Ultimate Spider-Man animation series. The script writers, the director and casting director must all take the blame for this mess. Having taken so much time to set up Max Dillon’s character as an introverted and socially insecure engineer (complete with comb-over), the film-makers just could not change that personality overnight once he gained his powers. Fortunately, with the film so packed with villains, we had Dane DeHaan to save the day…equally disturbing as both Harry Osborn and the Green Goblin.

But as I said at the beginning, Marvel is better known for getting it right than getting it wrong. That brings me then to my top villains in the Marvel cinematic universe thus far, in chronological order of appearance in movies over the years:-

  1. Magneto/ Erik Lensherr – No one can match the evil mutant for his ultimate combination of brains and mutant brawn, not to mention a genuine belief that he is fighting for the future of humankind. His tragic experience in the Warsaw camp (depicted first in X-Men and in greater detail in X-Men: First Class) only add to the pathos of the character. Brilliantly played first by Sir Ian McKellan and then by Michael Fassbender, I can’t wait to see them both in the same film in a couple of weeks’ time.
  2. Green Goblin/ Norman Osborn – Willem Dafoe is one of the busiest actors in the industry, but he rarely signs up for the kind of meaty lead character roles he had in PlatoonThe Last Temptation of Christ and Mississippi Burning in the mid-80s, having switched to interesting supporting roles instead. In his Oscar-nominated turn as Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire (2000), he showed how well he could play ‘scary’. Two years later, he showcased this talent to a much wider audience as Norman Osborn in Spider-Man. My favourite scene – the Thanksgiving lunch at Peter’s place when he gives Aunt May a murderous look after she slaps his hand for reaching out for the food.
  3. Doctor Octopus/ Otto Octavius – As played by the incredibly talented Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock is the most tragic of Marvel’s cinematic villains. The loss of his wife during that fateful experiment and his own self-sacrifice and redemption at the end of the film certainly elevate him above the typical evil super-villain.
  4. Loki – Everyone’s favourite bad guy has now graced three Marvel films – Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. Loki has the perfect mix of brains and brawn, with charming good looks and a sense of humour thrown in. Played by 33-year-old Londoner Tom Hiddleston, there is little doubt that he will return in future Marvel films. He even gets the best CGI scenes – who can forget the pummeling he receives from the Hulk (“Puny God!”) in The Avengers or his switch to Captain America in The Dark World!
  5. Sebastian Shaw/ Dr. Klaus Schmidt – Kevin Bacon is absolutely hateful as the cruel and slightly mad Dr. Klaus Schmidt in the Warsaw concentration camp scenes of X-Men: First Class. Later in the film, he re-emerges as the suave Sebastian Shaw. Only an actor of Kevin Bacon’s caliber could pull off the transformation believably.
  6. Green Goblin/ Harry Osborn – Like father, like son. In the just released The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Hollywood’s new ‘disturbed young man’ Dane DeHaan is truly creepy as Harry Osborn aka Green Goblin. Who wouldn’t be with a dad like Norman Osborn (played equally creepily by Chris Cooper)? I actually thought he was scarier as Harry than after the transformation to Goblin!

I am hoping that in a couple of weeks I will be adding Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask to this list. Fingers crossed that X-Men: Days of Future Past will not disappoint.

The Winter Soldier – product placements galore

There are a number of product endorsements in this summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

In the opening sequence when Steve Rogers meets Sam Wilson, Chris Evans is wearing a prominently branded Under Armour Vent shirt. UA has really put together a strong marketing campaign for their Under Armour Alter Ego collection, targeting young adults who are a big superhero fans. Later in the film, Evans is wearing UA’s new Electric Blue Speedform Apollo running shoes (USD 99.99 only!).

Sam Wilson himself is more of a Nike man, with actor Anthony Mackie featuring the logo prominently on his T-shirt in one scene.

Then of course, there are a few scenes with Scarlett Johansson wearing a Tiffany Hearts® Arrow pendant. This is apparently a nod to her close relationship with Hawkeye from The Avengers. However, I haven’t really seen any promotional work done by Tiffany & Co. around this piece of product placement.

In terms of vehicles, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) drives a beautiful black Chevy C7 Corvette Stingray and there are a bunch of other Chevy vehicles (including the Tahoe SUV) in the movie’s chase sequences. In fact, Chevrolet got the movie’s directors to make this really cute TV commercial for the Chevy Traverse SUV which is a spoof on the movie trailer. Chevy also got the stars to arrive in their cars for the movie’s world premiere in mid-March.

Cap himself, being a down-to-earth regular guy and all, drives a Harley-Davidson Street 750 and the company has done a fair bit of PR around that in the US over the past few months, even running a contest with a custom Captain America themed Street 750 up for grabs.

I also noticed a HTC One being used in the film by Nick Fury; this is apparently the latest model of the HTC One – the M8 – which has just been launched last week and HTC is running a concurrent ad campaign in the US with the copy “only the best for the first Avenger”.

Steve Rogers and Black Widow also visit an Apple Store at one point and there’s a bit of fun with Rogers having to distract an overly helpful store employee while Black Widow tries to get hold of some information online.

Some of these are obvious placements with the brand putting in additional investments over and above to amplify the movie tie-up. Under Armour, Harley-Davidson, Chevrolet and HTC are the best examples of these. In the case of Tiffany & Co. and Nike, I couldn’t find any online activity related to the placements, so if they paid money for it, then I would say it was a dud investment.