Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

You’d think I’d been frozen in Carbonite with the length of time that we’ve been away, right? Or maybe frozen beneath the permafrost awaiting someone to unearth us?? Although we apologise for our recent lack of activity at Film Phage, there’s much more to those opening two sentences than mere hypotheses: Star Wars and Captain America. What happens when you try and blend the intergalactic space drama that is Star Wars with that Marvel-bent that is becoming the hallmark of the comic book movie? Well, you get a film about a tree, a raccoon, a human and some aliens. My friends, you get Guardians of the Galaxy… perhaps the finest post-Avengers movie in Marvel’s stable.

Now, when this was announced over 2 years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, it raised a lot of eyebrows, including my own (yes, a Phage has eyebrows). Marvel were seemingly trying to transition from the grounded approach of Iron Man and Captain America to a film about the aforementioned talking trees and raccoon combo of Groot and Rocket. This didn’t make sense and genuinely appeared to be a case of jumping the shark in our eyes. But much has happened in the intervening two years. Marvel have brought in Gods, fire breathing Extremis people and aliens, along with a mere glimpse of the “mad Titan” Thanos at the end of Avengers… a reference that was lost on the vast majority of viewers, but pervaded nevertheless.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Skip forward to 2014 and on the eve of this year’s SDCC, we got our preview screening of Guardians of the Galaxy. Could Marvel make it pay off? Of course they could. They’ve delivered what is possibly the finest “Phase 2” film of the bunch. Yes, whilst in our hibernation, we saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier… but we didn’t think it merited all that praise. Mainly because we find ol’ Cap to be quite the dull hero in his one dimensional “must do good” attitude. If we’d written it up, we’d have slapped a solid 3 Phages on it… in case you were curious. Briefly, Guardians of the Galaxy tells the tale of Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the highs and lows he goes through after scavenging a mysterious orb. Through various bounties placed on his head, he’s thrown together with an oddball group including an assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his tree companion Groot (Vin Diesel) and warrior Drax (Dave Bautista) as the villainous Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) quests after the orb, which he plans to use to commit mass genocide. All of this is set against a very colourful backdrop of planets and characters, plus that famous Marvel humour.

Where do I start? Let’s start with the nerdy paragraph shall we? The one where we talk about it tying into the Marvel universe and linking to the source material? Briefly, this film, despite being set away from the Iron Man / Thor / Captain America trinity fits perfects providing you’ve been paying attention since Avengers. Die hard fans will see certain plot elements coming together and can see where Avengers 3 or Avengers 4 will be heading… *cough* Infinity Gauntlet *cough* (we can’t wait for the SDCC reveals on Saturday!). Plus, we FINALLY get our first real views of the arch-bad Thanos (Josh Brolin). A HUGE grin came over our Phagey face when we saw him on-screen finally. We cannot wait for more of him in the future! As for how it links to the source material? There are liberties taken, but they all work, and should just be kicked to the back of your mind for now.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

What works so well in this ensemble piece, as it does in The Avengers, is the strength of the cast. Whilst The Avengers had several films to set up the characters and their origins, James Gunn does a fantastic job of doing all that within the film’s 2 hour run time and taking them on an adventure too. Chris Pratt is enormously charismatic and really is the “every man” that people can relate to. In fact, despite being a guy romping through space, he’s the most grounded lead character in all of Marvel’s endeavours. I could actually go through each of the cast members in turn and sing their praises (God knows I love doing this with Bradley Cooper all the time anyway), but that’d take far too long. Suffice to say, that there are no weak links in this story. Even Lee Pace, as Ronan The Accuser comes off very well here. I only mention this, as typically villains are fairly one dimensional (spare Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) in their aims… such as Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, or Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in Iron Man 2. Here it’s nice to see a villain that genuinely looks menacing and works well.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

No Marvel movie would be a Marvel movie without a dose of humour. Well, unless the title is prefaced with Captain America. Guardians of the Galaxy brings humour by the bucketload and genuinely made me laugh on several occasions. As dedicated reader will know, I’m not one to laugh at everything like some deranged drunkard (although many audience members are), but this had some good belly laughs thrown in there. Plus, they reference Kevin Bacon a lot… no joke…

So, what are the shortcomings? Honestly, I can’t isolate any. Some may say this is simply “The Avengers in Space” or feel that it’s becoming formulaic for a team up movie to play out this way. Some might even brandish this as Marvel’s Return of the Jedi owing to some “toy-friendly” characters like Rocket and Groot, but I disagree. The pace is frenetic, the acting is sharp and the humour is on point. This is Marvel firing on all cylinders… bring on next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Simply put, if you’re a fan of any of Marvel’s past adventures, then this will have you riveted. I’d also argue that if you haven’t been dedicating masses of time to these films in the past years, you’ll pretty much be ok too. There are threads of continuing plots running through it that may make little sense if you haven’t seen The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World (particularly the after credits scene), but the film can stand alone on its merits too.

And this marks our thawing from the Carbonite! We have returned from our long hibernation, and for that we apologise. We still saw films… we just… well, went off for a while! You’ve heard about the Ebola outbreak in Africa right? Well, a Phage gets distracted! Ha. And maybe this is actually just OUR Return of the Jedi? Maybe I’ll start wearing black, become a real Jedi, cut off my father’s hand and throw an old man down a well? Well, as I write this, it IS a Friday night… so anything is possible…

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

Advertisements

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I love comic book movies. What? You didn’t know? Where have you been hiding for the past year or so? Anyone that’s read Film Phage for a length of time knows that I positively gush whenever a comic book movie is released. Especially when they come out of the Marvel Studios lot. Sure, the Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four (OK, maybe not them… until their reboot in 2015) franchises excite me, as they feature some of my favourite characters, but it’s Marvel Studios that are storming ahead right now. Speaking of storms… it’s about time we heard from our favourite Norse god. One that wields a massive hammer, speaks in a semi-olde world tone… and enjoys taking his top off for at least one scene in every film. Yes, it’s the return of Thor in Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

As is common across all of Marvel’s “Phase Two” films up to present, Thor: The Dark World, like Iron Man 3, picks up after the events of The Avengers. This will be something that we also see happen in next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but probably not Guardians of the Galaxy. Essentially, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard with his somewhat devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after the latter tried to take over Earth (naughty, naughty!). So we see Loki sent to the dungeons whilst Thor attempts to deal with the latest threat to the “Nine Realms”… Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith is a dark elf determined to bring about the end of all worlds by ushering in a return to the darkness that prevailed in the universe before… erm… the universe by capturing the Aether. Ok, there’s a lot of oddness in the plot, but this is Thor – anything can happen! He’s a goddamn god… for god’s sake. God! Add into the mix Thor’s ongoing love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and we have ourselves a plot!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World arguably boasts the strongest ensemble cast of any of the individual Marvel Studios movies. With the likes of Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Portman, as well as Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as Friga and Idris Elba as Heimdall. The cast is strong, and this film really showcases that. Each character has more room to breathe and develop. The first film, like so many origin stories, placed a lot of effort into developing who Thor was and how he would become the hero we know in this film. Now that that’s out of the way, Thor: The Dark World can show the Thor world we all needed to see… and it bloody well works!

This is a more fully-realised film than the original Thor. The Asgardian universe feels more fleshed out, the action is more frenetic and the set pieces are far bigger. I mean, who thought that the final showdown in Thor was impressive? It was just Thor versus a set of armour in a small town in the US. This was hardly the super showdown we would want! Thankfully, no battle in Thor: The Dark World is as dull… especially not the final battle between Thor and Malekith. Why did I like it so much? Well, not just because it was set in good old London, but because it was simply entertaining.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Entertainment is high on Marvel’s agenda it would seem. For despite the subtitle of “The Dark World”, Thor isn’t a dark affair. Like April’s Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World features good slabs of humour in the mix. Not all of it hit the mark for me… not in a way that some critics would have you believe any way. This isn’t a comedy film. It has humorous elements (especially in the final battle), but they never distract from what’s actually going on in the film. This is a very good thing.]

I really have to come back to an earlier point to sum up why Thor: The Dark World worked so well: the cast. Chris Hemsworth has really grown into the role in a way that I’d now find it hard to replace him, just as I do with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. I’m eager to see whether Chris Evans‘ turn in next year’s Captain America sequel will do the same for him, as for me, he’s currently the weakest link in the “core” group of heroes. But it doesn’t end there. Tom Hiddleston epitomises what’s so great about Marvel’s casting choices; he’s simply fantastic. Hiddleston clearly loves playing Loki and his chemsitry with Hemsworth is at an all-time high. We need more of this in the future. Please Marvel, please. I could volley the same sort of compliments to the main cast, but I’ll avoid getting carried away. Needless to say – it’s a great effort from Alan Taylor on directing this entry into Marvel’s canon. Just give us more Thor!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Oh, and a sidenote? That mid-credits “stinger” teaser scene? Thank you Marvel. That’s much appreciated! Just as Thanos’ appearance at the end of The Avengers confused many non-hardcore comic fans, I feel that this one will totally throw you off the scent. But if you’re a comic book fan… and particularly are keen to hear a bit more of the Thanos mythos… it’s worth waiting around for.

Thor: The Dark World is another roaring success for Marvel Studios. Whilst it probably won’t attract the sort of audience that Robert Downey Jr. is capable of pulling with Iran Man films, it certain ranks as one of the best movies out of the studio. Sure, it has a bonkers plot, and Christopher Eccleston is criminally underused, but it’s a great piece of superhero action. Arguably, some might say, the comic book movie of 2013. So now… all eyes are on 2014… where we can expect Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes, 2014 looks like a tasty fight!

So, why see Thor: The Dark World? Well, see if you tick any one of these boxes: 1) You like comic book movies, 2) you like lightning, 3) you like Chris Hemsworth‘s massive pecs, or 4) you just like bloody good films. If you’re ticking more than one of those boxes, then why aren’t you at the cinema already? Or at least googling “Chris Hemsworth topless” to know why the ladies love this Austrailian! Oh… you’ve already done that haven’t you? Cheeky!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

 

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Few films ignite as much of a passion in me as ones stemming from the Marvel Studios lot. I grew up reading those comics back in my youth, before neglecting them throughout my teenage years in favour of attempting (and failing) to bring the lady Phages running to me. They were dark times. Although I still don’t regularly read any of the comics, I’ve embraced that part of my past and really enjoy Hollywood’s attempts at bringing your comic heroes onto the big screen. And since you’re wondering – this also correlates pretty well with attracting the lady Phages too. See – comic knowledge is a pretty hot asset to behold! So, naturally Marvel’s build-up to last year’s Avengers Assemble / The Avengers was something that really drew me in and had me hooked. Every film, regardless of the relative absurdity and obscurity of the hero, landed a startlingly good direct blow! And so we come to the third instalment of the franchise that started it all: Iron Man 3. Can ol’ shellhead hold our interest for a third solo outing, or has he outstayed his welcome?

The short answer? No, Iron Man has not outstayed his welcome. In fact, he’s more than welcome and encouraged to put his feet up and get comfy. You see, I’d go as far as stating here that Iron Man 3 is perhaps the best instalment in the Iron Man series of films. It far out-paces Iron Man 2 and at least equals, if not surpasses the canned genius of the original Iron Man. A bold statement. But what makes it so good?

Iron Man 3

Fanboyism aside, Iron Man 3 really drills into a darker direction for the franchise, which is the key to its success. We’re all very accustomed to Tony Stark / Robert Downey Jr. cracking wise at every chance he gets. This film is, and isn’t, different. Let me explain. Much has been made in the trailers of this being a “personal” journey for Tony, who’s emotionally damaged from the events of The Avengers. Hell, he’s seen aliens, flown a nuclear bomb into space and met gods. He’s been through a fair bit! So not only does he have that to contend with, but he’s also dealing with a new terrorist threat stemming from someone known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). It all gets a bit personal, which leads to Tony being the target of the aggressor’s aggression!

Iron Man 3 (2013)

What’s so different in this entry is the fact that we see a lot more of Robert Downey Jr. and less of the shiny red and gold suit. A LOT more Downey Jr. This is a great asset to the film. With The Dark Knight Rises, some decried the fact that Christian Bale was only in the batsuit for a small fraction of the film, as he spent a lot of time with a broken back / being an old moany guy. This isn’t the same for Downey Jr., as we actually see him having to act and not just deliver quippy lines. He goes through a lot of hardship over the course of the film, and it’s great to see this emoted on-screen for perhaps the first time in all of Stark’s / Downey Jr.‘s appearances as the character.

Whilst I’m focusing on the actors, I need to give a lot of credit to both Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin and Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian. Both are sublime in their more “fiendish” roles. As regular readers will know, I’ve got a lot of time for Guy Pearce. I thought he was great in Lockout and Lawless; he’s a very versatile actor. This is no exception. And Kingsley? Well, I was worried he might be a hammy villain as his recent performances have left a lot to be desired on the big screen, but… well, it works. You’ll see what I mean. I’m being deliberately vague, but you’ll see why when you’ve watched the film!

The Extremis arc...

The Extremis arc…

Now that I’ve mentioned the name Aldrich Killian, I think it’s worth coming round to the source material that the film draws from. As I said at the outset, I’m still in touch with what goes on in the comic book world, even if I don’t read them any more. As a result of this, I’m fully aware of where Aldrich Killian and The Mandarin fit into the Iron Man mythos. Overall, the film draws heavily from the Extremis arc of the comics – Extremis is the name for a new form of weapon – essentially a way to weaponise one’s own body with untold abilities such as fire projection (seen here), or untold speed and strength. Imagine Captain America’s super soldier serum, but on a load of horse steroids. That make you breath fire. Now, the film takes liberties with this storyline in a way that involves The Mandarin and also drops some of the other interesting parts of the comic’s plot… but I won’t say what or how. I’ll leave that for you to see. So, although I’m a fan of the comic storyline, I thought it was handled really well here and adapted lovingly.

So, whilst I talk of the plot, let’s mention why I’ve been so deliberately vague in previous paragraphs… there are twists. BIG twists. Twists so big that no-one would guess them, regardless of how many issues of Iron Man you’ve read. It’ll catch you totally off guard. If I’m honest, I was a little bit peeved to see the major twist, but can also appreciate it with hindsight. Let’s just say that this film isn’t going to pan out the way you expected from the trailers. I’ll say no more, nor any less.

The mysterious Aldrich Killian...

The mysterious Aldrich Killian…

And that’s it… for Iron Man… for now. As many will know, this is Robert Downey Jr.‘s last contractual obligation to play Iron Man. I’ve no doubts that Marvel will throw money at him to secure him for The Avengers sequels, but what of Iron Man 4? Well, Iron Man 3 really does play out as the conclusion to a trilogy. Shane Black has lovingly crafted a finely scripted, well acted, well paced film that wraps up the Iron Man story in spectacular fashion. As much as I’d want to see an Iron Man 4, I very much doubt we’re going to see it in the next 5 years at the very least. I hope we see more of Downey Jr., and I suspect that we will… but more stand-alone Iron Man films? I’m doubtful, to say the least…

Oh, and finally… stay until after the credits. Yes, there are a TON of people listed as doing Digital Effects, but the final scene? Well, I quite like it. It’s a nice way of tying it all together.

Iron Man 3 is one of the strongest outings from Marvel since they opened their own studio with the release of Iron Man back in 2008. The film feels polished, lavish and complete. It’s got a lot of pay offs for fans and also doesn’t act as a “bridge” to another movie, which is one of the major critiques levied at Iron Man 2. It’s its own movie. Its strengths lie in the scripting, direction and acting… so pretty much everything. The twists won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I can guarantee you one thing: “you’ll… neverrrr… see… them… coming…” (to quote The Mandarin).

My nerdish devotion to all things Marvel has again paid off with Iron Man 3, perhaps more so than any other movie spare The Avengers itself. My pre-teen self is elated by how good these films have turned out. And the post-teen me? Well, it’s been rewarded with a fantastic slice of modern day cinema that combines espionage, action and thriller qualities to make one hell of a film. Even the comic book geek in me is sated for now. So, back to more pressing issues until Thor: The Dark World in October… where all dem lady Phages at?

Phage Factor:

5 Star