Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mount Toberead 7: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I'm not sure why this one sat on the mountain as long as it did, and it was literally years. It could have to do with the fact that I'm really not that into Gaiman. I have read some of his work (Good Omens, which he cowrote with Terry Pratchett and I mainly read that because of Pratchett's involvement, Neverwhere and Norse Gods), and came away not all that impressed. Norse Gods was fun, but I tend to prefer the retellings by the likes of Roger Lancelyn Green.

Anyway the letter G came up. I looked at the shelves in the library and The Graveyard Book leapt out at me. It is far and away the best Neil Gaiman book I've read. It won the Hugo and I can see why. It may suffer from the fact that people see it as a 'kids book', and yes it was clearly written for a younger audience, but it's one of those rare books that works on a cross generational level. Kids can read it and will enjoy it, but adults can also read and enjoy it, but possibly for a number of different reasons.

It's certainly a different sort of book, about a child who escapes from a murder attempt and is found by ghosts in a nearby graveyard. They raise him, along with the help of a vampire and dub him Nobody. Often protagonists in novels aimed at younger readers can grate on older readers. I didn't get that with Bod, I genuinely liked him and wished him well.

The Graveyard Book is quite enchanting. It is at various times funny, touching, sad, frightening and tense. I haven't heard anything about a filmed version, but I think it would work well on screen, possibly better than other filmed Gaiman works have. The version I read featured illustrations by Chris Riddell and they set it off perfectly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mount Toberead 6: The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde

How did this one even wind up on Mount Toberead? The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde's debut and the first book in the Thursday Next series) is one of my all time favourite books. I've read it many times and enjoy it every time. The two sequels (Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots) were worthy successors and together make a wonderful trilogy. That is however where it should have ended. There can be too much of a good thing, and the Thursday Next books have been becoming less and less entertaining, beginning with the 4th book of the series (Something Rotten), there have been 3 books since Something Rotten.

Jasper Fforde hasn't written another Thursday Next book since The Woman Who Died a Lot, that was in 2012, and while there is a note in the back that Thursday will return, there hasn't been anything forthcoming. I kind of hope there isn't, because Thursday Next has become the sort of series that lives on past glories and has gone to the well too many times, only to find it dry.

Some of my most loved things about the books were the Bookworld and Thursday's Uncle Mycroft. Neither are present in The Woman Who Died a Lot. Fortunately Thursday still has her pet dodo Pickwick, but there's not enough of the extinct bird, either.

By now the jokes have become stale and strained. The characters behave illogically, they've always been silly, but that was in keeping with the sheer weirdness of the reality they lived in, in this book and the previous one, it just seemed off. There's a great deal of deus ex machina at work here, so readers know that the characters aren't in any real peril, because they'll find some magical way out of whatever situation they find themselves in. This kills tension and detracts from the narrative itself. The situation of Thursday's son Friday was one of the most interesting, but even that ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

To be honest, and it hurts to say this, but The Woman Who Died a Lot could have stayed on the mountain and I wouldn't be any the poorer for not having read it.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mount Toberead 5: The Hanged Man by P. N. Elrod

Firstly do not pay any attention to the cover. It's awful. I'm not sure what they were trying to do with it, but it bears next to no relation to the book behind it.

My wife had read this and really enjoyed it, so when I came to E in this particular reading challenge I decided to give it a whirl.

It's fairly hard to categorise. It's rather steampunky, although I don't recall seeing an airship. It is set in Victorian times in London, although it's an alternate Victorian age, with the young queen marrying a charming commoner, rather than Albert, and as a consequence gave the vote to women much earlier than happened in our reality, and they play larger more responsible roles in society in general.

There's a paranormal aspect to it, in that the central character Alex (full name Alexandrina, after the Queen) is a reader. This means that she can partially read people's minds. Werewolves and seers also make appearances in the book.

It has a mystery. Alex works for the police force in a way and uses her talents to solve murders, which is what the title refers to, her latest case concerns a hanged man.

There's also some romance between Alex and the by the book, but upstanding Lieutenant Brooks, who is assigned to Alex for  most of the case in the book.

It was quite a lot of fun with plenty of quirky characters and an interesting look at an alternate reality. It occasionally put me in mind of Gail Carriger's The Parasol Protectorate, although not as funny and The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris, not as steampunky.

The ending indicates that it's the first book in a series, although no sequels have yet appeared.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mount Toberead 4: The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

Why was this in the pile? Look at that cover! How could you not buy it? The cover initially drew my eye when I first saw it in the book shop and I bought it for my wife. It was more her sort of thing than mine. For one reason or another (mostly that we have so many books!) neither of us ever got around to reading it, until now.

On the surface of it The Woodcutter sounds like another fairy tale themed YA romance. The actual book is very different. There is a romance, but it's not YA. There are also fairy tales, but it's not one fairy tale, it's loads of them. There is pretty much every European fairy tale you could think of, and even a few you may not know, shoe horned into the pages of The Woodcutter.

It's a quick and easy read, but also quite fun. It's not really humourous as such, in fact the title character is rather humourless, but the fun comes from the spin that Kate Danley has put on the well known tales and seeing how she'll weave them into her narrative.

I was pleasantly surprised by this. It made me think of Garth Nix's Frogkisser! which I adored, but whereas Frogkisser! riffed on fairy tale tropes, it was an original story with original characters. This has those same tropes, but because they're being enacted by the characters they were originally written for, no new characters.

I also kind of like the idea that there's a world out there where all the fairy tale characters live together. That's one of the things I like about Amy Mebberson's webcomic Pocket Princesses. I liked the idea so much that I've even used it in two books of my unpublished Realmspace series. Admittedly Realmspace may never be published, but I keep writing them because they're so much fun.

It's that rare beast in fantasy these days, in that it is a standalone story. Admittedly I'm uncovering more of those with this reading project (3 out of the 4 books I've read have been standalone). I could see it making a pretty good film and it's one of those unknown little gems.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mount Toberead 3: Chalk by Paul Cornell

Chalk didn't spend long on Mount Toberead, but it was the only unread book by an author whose name began with C that took my fancy. I think my wife bought it, but it was something that we knew we'd both read.

I've enjoyed Paul Cornell's Shadow Police novels, although he tends to be best known for his Doctor Who work. So, it wasn't much of a chance when I pulled this one off Mount Toberead.

Chalk isn't really a fantasy novel, it's not really horror, either. The title refers to the giant chalk figures that appear in some parts of England, and what magic there is in the book is in relation to them.

It's really the story of Andrew Waggoner a bullied boy growing up in the early 80's. The confronting nature of the story doesn't make Chalk a necessarily easy book to read, despite it's size (it's not much over novella length), although I read it quickly, largely because I felt compelled to read on.

After a particularly brutal bout of bullying, Andrew suddenly gains a shadow. The new boy looks like Andrew and he's nearly always with Andrew. Andrew calls him simply Waggoner (most of the characters, especially the male ones, are referred to by their surname) to differentiate from himself, and while he's at pains to explain that Waggoner is real, the fact that no one else can seem to see or really hear Waggoner, suggests that he's a part of Andrew's personality that was unearthed by what the bullies did to him.

It is very well written, despite how confronting it is, and the characters while not exactly engaging or likeable are both compelling and believable. I prided myself in knowing nearly every song that was referenced in the early 80's pop soundtrack that was the backing of Andrew's life and the story of how that life changed over the course of one year.

Chalk is highly recommended, it's the sort of book that you can lose yourself in and that will stay with the reader for a long time after they close its pages for the final time.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mount Toberead 2: The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

This one had been sitting on the TBR pile for a very long time. I can't remember exactly why I bought it. I was looking for something a bit different and from things I heard about The Sword-Edged Blonde, it would fit the bill. Despite the Baenish cover, it is actually a Tor release.

The idea behind it is to write a hard boiled detective novel, but put in a fairly generic pre industrial fantasy world setting. Alex Bledsoe does this effectively. Eddie LaCrosse would fit right in with Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. At times early in the book the setting comes across a bit more like an old West, rather than  mid 20th century Chicago or New York.

It's once the story settles in that the problems begin. It's a fairly standard sort of detective story. Eddie is hired to clear the name of a beautiful woman who is accused of a gruesome crime that she claims to not have committed and doesn't even have a clear memory of the night it took place. All so far, so standard, and so good.

It's at this point that the story takes a rather long journey to the Forest of Coincidence. The accused woman is the wife of one of Eddie's best friends, and he's the king of a nearby country, Eddie himself is the rightful Baron LaCrosse, but he ran off years ago for reasons that will later be explained.

The story then splits into two. One is set in the current time and the other takes place 13 years before. The switching between the two timelines is rather confusing at first. There were times when I wondered if I'd missed something and had to check.

At various times The Sword-Edged Blonde hits on every detective story trope in the book, and there's nothing wrong with that. Cliches aren't necessarily a bad thing, if they're used in a different way. That doesn't happen here, it's almost as if the author had a checklist and worked his way through them. Possibly he was trying to do a parody of them, but just lacked the skill to pull it off effectively.

My biggest issue was the setting. It was only the pre industrial fantasy setting when it suited the author to be that way or if he could shoehorn the concept into it. For instance Eddie doesn't carry a gun, instead he's referred to as a 'sword jockey'. However he frequents what are called inns or taverns, but they're written as if they're 20th century diners and the customers are served by waitresses who wear name tags. That's only one example of the anachronisms that abound throughout the book.

I kept reading and I finished it. It was readable, but not particularly memorable and I have no desire to read the sequel (there apparently was one, there are even a few pages in the back of the book advertising it, but I can't remember ever actually seeing it). If anyone was in the mood to read something along these lines, but done better there's Glen Cook's Garrett P.I series and First Watch by Dale Lucas, which felt like Lethal Weapon, but in a high fantasy setting.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Mount Toberead 1: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

We've all got one, come on admit it, you have a mountain sized amount of books about the place that you always meant to read, but for one reason or another have never gotten around to.

I have kind of given up on the 3rd iteration of my Reread Project. There were a few reasons, it was my 3rd time around and I was running out of things to reread. My experience with Creator by Jeremy Leven was kind of shattering, that was a book I never wanted the suck fairy to visit, and it visited that book...HARD. Then I got bogged down with Julian May's Saga of the Exiles, which always seems to crash and burn in the 3rd book for me.

So, I looked at the shelves in our library and thought there were all these books that either I, or my wife, have bought and intended to read, but one of us never has. I decided to go through the library alphabetically (I may miss the occasional letter, there aren't many authors whose surname starts with Q for instance) and find one of these long neglected tomes and read it, then talk about it here.

My first choice was Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

This is not a biography of Michael Hutchence's daughter, but a sort of a prequel to Peter Pan.

It's probably best described as a YA fantasy romance, but there's a bit more to it than that.

The book is curiously narrated in first person by Tinkerbell. This was an interesting choice, and it allowed the author to give the reader little previously unknown facts about the lives and habits of the Neverland faeries, as well as Tinkerbell's life pre Peter (her father took off with a faery called Belladonna, which is interesting as they normally keep the same partner for life).

Mostly it is however about Tiger Lily. Jodi Lynn Anderson had to play around with canon here a bit. Tiger Lily isn't a Native American, she's a member of a tribe indigenous to the island, although she's not really one of them either, she was found by a character called Tik Tok, who was a sort of shaman and adopted into the tribe.

Because she doesn't act like the rest of the tribe, Tiger Lily frequently finds herself on her own exploring the island and that's how she meets Peter and his gang of boys, the Lost Boys, which is not how they're referred to in the book.

Peter seems to have a strange fascination for all the women that cross his path. First Tiger Lily, then Tink and lastly Wendy. He also had some sort of relationship with at least one of Neverland's mermaids.

It initially becomes a love triangle, which later turns into a square when Wendy arrives, and there's also the presence of Maeryn (the mermaid) lurking around on the fringes.

Recently it's become rather popular to portray Peter as a rather sinister, manipulative character. I;m sure the temptation to do that was there for Anderson, but she doesn't really. He's definitely not heroic, he's dangerous, boastful and fairly self obsessed, but he's a young boy who never grew up. If her origin story is taken, unlike the rest of the boys, he got to his current age (she describes the main characters of Tiger Lily, Peter, Wendy and the boys as being around 15 - 16, which doesn't quite ring true to me. I've always seen them as closer to 12, and their behaviour is more like pre teens than 16 year olds) without any external influence. They can remember other people and some of their behaviour is influenced by that. Peter's isn't. So he's best described as careless.

Cat Valente said in her wonderful Fairyland series that all children are heartless, because their hearts haven't had time to grow and develop, and that's Peter to a tee. He doesn't think about anyone other than himself, because he's never had to do so.

Aside from the relationship between Peter and Tiger Lily, which is beautifully and lyrically described and written, it also comes across as a very real portrayal of young affection between characters who are still developing physically, mentally and emotionally, there's a side story about Tiger Lily's tribe and how they lose a sense of what they've always been, especially the tragic Tik Tok, due to the intervention of the well meaning Englisher Phillip. Oh, and I found Anderson's versions of both Smee and Hook very interesting and different.

I wouldn't put this in my top books for the year or anything like that, but I did enjoy it and it was a pretty decent start to the project.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After drafting Peter Parker as Spiderman as a sort of Avenger in Civil War audiences did wonder if they were going to give the wallcrawler his own solo film. It made sense, he was one of Marvel’s biggest names. Possibly THE biggest name. There was however a problem. Spiderman isn’t owned by Disney (he’s not alone there. The X-Men and The Fantastic Four aren’t either, that’s why we had 2 different actors portraying Quicksilver. It’s unclear whether Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox will bring the X-Men and the FF back into the fold and allow them to use the characters in MCU films in the future), he’s a Sony property, and they’d already made 4 movies using him. Marvel then came up with a plan, Sony would continue to own the character, but would lease him to Marvel/Disney and thus was born Spider-Man: Homecoming (pretty sure the title is a reference to the deal).

I approved of a lot of what they did with Homecoming. Not quite sold on him being ‘mentored’ by Tony. Tony can barely look after himself, I don’t see how having him mentor someone else is a good idea. I’m also not a huge fan of making him a regular Avengers member (which is where I think they’re heading despite the ending of the film). I know in the current versions of the comics Spiderman has been affiliated with the Avengers, but that roster is ever changing much moreso than the films, but they will need every hand to the pump when they go up against Thanos in the Infinity War. As an aside the current official Avengers roster seems to consist of Iron Man and Vision. War Machine is still in physical rehab and at long odds to recover sufficiently to resume active duty. Captain America, Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch are all fugitives, same probably goes for Black Widow. Black Panther is hiding Bucky in Wakanda and busy ruling the country. Thor and the Hulk are both off planet.

The scenes with Peter fumbling his way through being Spiderman were highly entertaining and I loved him giving the old lady directions, that’s real ‘friendly neighbourhood Spiderman’ stuff (not pleased that Tony came up with that tag, either). I get why his hi tech Spidersuit (or should I call her Karen?) had a training wheels protocol, but I did ask myself why the Iron Man suits that Tony let Rhodey fly around him didn’t have the same thing. Honestly, did he do any training whatsoever? I did question how hi tech Tony had made the suit he gave Peter. Peter was doing fine before he got that suit, I can see who fitting better works and the enhanced vision, but more than 52 web settings? That’s just overkill. What Tony did was think of Peter as being like him. A really smart guy with his mind as his greatest asset and the suit does the physical work for him, but Peter isn’t like that. The spider that bit him gave him enhanced strength, agility, speed, senses and the ability to walk up walls. The only thing he added was the web fluid. He doesn’t need a super smart suit. I think the suit caused some of the problems to be entirely honest.

I can see why Peter acted the way he did and it didn’t help that his go to guy at Stark was Happy, who had apparently been taking a course of Tony’s ‘how to be a dick’ pills.

I was glad that they didn’t simply rehash Peter’s origin story again. That’s been filmed at least 3 times before and we didn’t need to see it again.

Loved so much that they did, though. Aunt May, Peter’s friend Ned (he’s never had a friend really before), the new version of MJ, Liz; the object of Peter’s affections, how awful Flash was, the villain (the Vulture awesome!), everything just worked. Eager to see more of Spiderman.

The casting was one of the things that they got right made it work. Tom Holland and Marisa Tomei reprised their roles from Civil War. Robert Downey Junior played Iron Man again and Jon Favreau and Gwyneth Paltrow appeared for the first time since Iron Man 3, and it was clear from the ending that Pepper and Tony are back together as a romantic item and not just a working couple.

Whoever cast Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend the nerdy Ned, was inspired. He made a great ‘man in the chair’ and was the source of much of the film’s humour. Laura Harrier did a good job as Liz and wasn’t just another mean girl. Zendaya’s interpretation of MJ was an interesting take on the character and not one that many people would have expected.

One of the best bits of casting was Michael Keaton as the Vulture, and Liz’s Dad (I did not see that coming). Keaton is a talented and recognisable actor, despite how he made his name in films like Nightshift, he does menacing very well, even when he’s not wearing a bat costume (I wonder if he’s the only actor who has played both an iconic hero and a villain for the two major franchises?). Fortunately the character wasn’t killed, because I would like to see him again, and there’s a reason why he keeps Pater’s actual identity a secret.

The cameos were many: Tyne Daly as a government official who causes salvage worker Adrian Toomes to break the law and become the Vulture. Kenneth Choi was Principal Morita, and I can’t help but think as the same actor played a Howling Commando by the name of Morita in Captain America that the principal is a grandson. Peter’s much put upon teacher Mr Harrington was a great turn against type by Kenneth Star, best known as ascerbic Guilfoyle in Silicon Valley. Jennifer Connelly voiced Karen, which  is a nice bit of casting when you know that she and Paul Bettany (Vision/Jarvis) are a couple. For some reason there was a lot of fuss about Donald Glover as a petty thief who helps Peter find the Vulture and his gang on the ferry. Stan Lee’s cameo was tiny, he’s an angry resident who shouts at Peter when he sets off a car alarm trying to apprehend someone in the act of car theft.

Jon Watts directed. A fairly new face on the scene and I think that helped with the freshness of the film as a whole.

A sequel is guaranteed. I can’t see Spiderman not being of use in Infinity War either. This new Spiderman may hold the interest for more than a couple of films, which has been the fate of the previous 2.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

After taking itself rather too seriously Doctor Strange audiences were ready for some good old fashioned fun and in the MCU FUN is spelled Guardians of the Galaxy.

This time the Guardians manage to upset a race of gold skinned people who call themselves the Sovereigns. They probably would have been taken out by the Sovereigns remote controlled navy, except for the intervention of a highly powered individual. He referred to himself as a Celestial and his name was Ego (that there is a clue), he also claimed to be Peter’s long lost father. While Peter comes to terms with this information and learns to deal with his godlike father, the other members of the crew concern themselves with other things.

Drax inexplicably seems to fall for Ego’s servant, an antennaed empath called Mantis. Gamora denies her depth of feeling for Peter and he tries to do the same with her. Meanwhile Rocket and the baby Groot hang out trying to fix the broken ship and ensure that Gamora’s sister Nebula doesn’t kill everyone.

Yondu gets involved when the Sovereigns hire him to kill the Guardians and return their property that Rocket stole, because he’s Rocket.

Ultimately everyone learns about themselves and not everyone gets out alive, although all the important people do.

It is a fun romp, which is what everyone expects from a Guardians film. It has absolutely no connection to the rest of the MCU films, no destiny stones and no appearances from other heroes or villains.

At times it’s a little too much fun and not enough story, but the cast are good enough to keep it on track and some of them provide the more serious moments that every film requires.

The cast from the first film all came back to reprise their roles, including Michael Rooker as Yondu and his performance is the standout, he makes the change in a formerly irredeemable character make total sense and it also explains a lot about Peter’s past. As with the first film, the Vin Diesel voiced Groot stole the show, he’s unbelievably cute as a toddler tree, and often reminded me of my own toddler nephew with his behaviour.

Newcomers for this film were Pom Klementieff as Mantis. The French actress provides the right sort of childlike wonder required of a sheltered creature like Mantis. Kurt Russell as Ego was great casting and an excellent performance, no one ever gets anything, but the best from Russell. Australian actress Elizabeth Debiecki is unrecognisable under the make up as the Sovereign’s high priestess, but she has the appearance and manner to carry off the role believably. Her height, sometimes a disadvantage when she towers over leading men, works for this role. The other role with substance is Sean Gunn (the director’s brother) as Yondu’s minion and he does a good job with it, playing it with suitable whackiness.

The cameos abound and clearly Hollywood want to get in on the Marvel phenomenon. Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames and Michelle Yeoh all appear briefly as members of the Ravagers the group of space pirates of which Yondu is one. Miley Cyrus also briefly voices a computer. David Hasselhoff appears as himself for a very small role. Stan Lee’s cameo was a bit larger and he effective plays himself, boring the Watchers (godlike cosmic beings who observe) on an unnamed and desolate satellite.

James Gunn showed that he really understood what the Guardians were about in his first run as director and he deserved a second go.

In many ways the second film was even more fun that the first one, but it needed to find more of a balance and maybe go for a few less laughs. It answered plenty of questions about Peter’s background, but did leave one large one out there, which was What do they have to do with the Avengers and how is it going to fit in with the larger story out there?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange was an odd call for me to give his own solo film. I was never greatly into the character, although I did collect The Defenders for a while, but Strange never seemed to play a major role in it.

The rather psychedelic character with his origins in Asian mysticism definitely belonged in the 60’s where he started.

Viewers knew that he’d be introduced into the MCU ever since his name was mentioned by Sitwell in The Winter Soldier. That actually brought up some questions about the timing of this one. He was known about by Hydra as far back as Winter Soldier, but only seems to have acquired his powers recently.

The film is a pretty standard origin story and the mind bending Inception style effects aside is rather pedestrian for a Marvel movie. Even the A-list cast seem to be unable to bring themselves to do any more than was strictly required for their roles. Possibly that’s direction or story.

The only real reason I can see for them to make Doctor Strange when they did was to introduce The Eye of Agamotto into the story, as it is one of the Infinity Stones.

As it was an all new character for the MCU we had to have an all new cast.

Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Stephen Strange. He has the right look for the character, although in the comics I always felt that he and Tony Stark could double for each other and when Tony has the Iron Man suit on, who really knows who is behind that faceplate? Cumberbatch does arrogant very well and that’s what Strange is at the beginning before he loses the use of his hands in a car accident. He loses a lot after that, and I felt that his cape took the acting honours post accident.

I’m not even sure why Rachel McAdams is in the film. I know she plays Strange’s former love interest Christine Palmer, but the character does nothing that couldn’t have been played by any actress from central casting. Maybe they felt they needed a female character and it had to be an actress with a profile.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo is quite good and he’s the one who goes a bit above and beyond with his performance and he hides a dark secret which is spelled out at the end of the film in one of the post credit sequences.

I’m sure that they thought it was edgy casting when they put Tilda Swinton in the role of the Ancient One, a role that is generally thought of as male. Swinton’s fairly androgynous, but in this I never saw her as anything other than a bald woman. She also played it by the numbers and never stretched herself.

Mads Mikkelson is a great bad guy, although in this one he was as flat as most of the rest of the cast, The most remarkable thing about him was the eye make up he wore.

There were no cameo appearances of note, maybe Benjamin Bratt as Pangborn, but that’s it. Chris Hemsworth appears as Thor in a post credit sequence, some of which was reused in Thor – Ragnarok. Even Stan Lee’s role as a bus passenger is forgettable (I had to look it up on imdb for find it for the review)
Director Scott Derrickson also had writing credits on this. Neither were something to be greatly proud of.

I do admit the very existence of this film has me shaking my head. There is apparently a sequel planned, but I don’t know why and can only hope it’s better than the first one.

Captain America - Civil War (2016)

With Ultron being a bit of a disappointment, the Avengers franchise needed something to rescue it from mediocrity and that salvation arrived in the form of Captain America.

Civil War is technically a Captain America movie, but it’s really an Avengers movie, people often refer to it as Avengers 2.5. It features all of the Avengers, aside from Thor and the Hulk (their absence is noticed and referenced), and it introduces new ones.

It has that same spy thriller feel as The Winter Soldier (the opening sequence could have come right from an action spy film).

The action is brilliantly choreographed and while they utilise a lot of locations as Ultron did, there’s the feeling that they have reason behind it. The story advances and it connects. It also poses some very interesting questions.

For me, Tony, is once again the genuine bad guy in this and the title references the fact that the Avengers, specifically Tony and Steve, are fighting each other.

General Ross (last seen in The Incredible Hulk) throws something called the Sokovia Accords at the group. He claims it’s the work of the UN and that they’d be under the control of the UN If they sign it, but it has Tony’s fingerprints all over it. He has his conscience pricked by a grieving mother of a US college graduate doing charity work in Sokovia when the Avengers destroyed the city in pursuit of Ultron. Tony thinks its his fault and technically it is, he did create Ultron after all. The question he never thinks of is what if the situations had been altered and the kid had been killed Sokovia because the place was a lawless failed state (which it was) and the Avengers or Iron Man could have saved him, but didn’t. Wouldn’t the same mother still blame him for her son’s death? He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. 

Saying that signing the Accords is the same as him ceasing productions of weaponry doesn’t wash either. Yes, Stark stopped making bombs, but did he go and recall all the stuff what was already out there and being used? Did he really stop doing it? How else did the US military get hold of an Iron Man suit for his good friend James Rhodes to fly around in and call himself War Machine? (yes, I know technically War Machine is an Avenger, but he does whatever the US military tell him. He doesn’t sign the Accords because it’s the right thing to do, he signs the Accords because he’s told to).

Steve refuses to sign and his reasons for doing so are pretty simple. What if they get told to do something they don’t want to or think is not in the greater interest? What if they’re prevented from going into a situation that they can affect positively by the Accords? Its not as cut and dried as Tony thinks or as Ross wants them to believe. 

I had another question. Ross shows them footage of the Chitauri attack on New York, the devastation when SHIELD came down in Washington, Sokovia and the building in Lagos that Wanda blew up at the start of the film. He wants them to feel bad about what happened, all the people that died, and I’m pretty sure that they do, However what if the Avengers hadn’t been there? New York would have either allowed the Chitauri to take over Earth or the security council would have nuked the city. If Steve hadn’t taken SHIELD/Hydra down they would have killed millions, the same with Sokovia and Ultron, although Ultron was Tony’s mistake and if they hadn’t been in Lagos then Crossbones would have unleashed a dangerous biological weapon of mass destruction. 

Yes, they all came at a cost, but the cost would have been far greater without the Avengers, or if they’d been tied up in red tape.

This puts Steve and his allies against Tony and his. It culminates initially in a face off between Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, Black Widow (although she’s still playing her own side), Spiderman (yes, he was introduced into the MCU in this film) and Black Panther (also introduced) and Captain America, Falcon, Bucky (the Winter Soldier), Ant-Man, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. It’s damn good fight and the dialog although it wasn’t written by him, is right out of Joss Whedon’s play book.
While I felt Ultron lacked both spark and complexity, Civil War has both and lots of them.

Aside from Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo, whose characters don’t appear in this film, everyone else reprised their roles from Chris Evans to Emily Van Camp as Sharon Carter.

The newcomers were Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spiderman) and Chadwick Boseman as T’challa (Black Panther). I’ll say a little about both of them below.

Tom Holland was a really good call for casting. For the first time they’ve cast a kid as Peter Parker, who actually looks like a nerdy 16 year old. This is probably helped by the fact that Holland was 19 when the film was released and even younger when he actually played the role. One thing that I’m not totally keen on, it works for this film and in the solo effort, but it is going to have to change, is that Peter’s character and patter stays the same whether he’s wearing the suit or not. What is as the very heart of the Spiderman story and persona is that once Peter puts the suit on he stops being nerdy Peter Parker science student and becames instead The Amazing Spiderman, dangerous and exciting vigilante and superhero. At present Tom Holland’s version doesn’t do that.

Chadwick Boseman has the right look and build, but that’s as far as it goes for me as Black Panther. I think my main problem is his voice. He uses a rather whispery, gravelly type voice for the character, which is probably correct, but when I read about Black Panther in the comics I always heard a deep, commanding voice in my head, kind of like James Earl Jones. I also don’t think Boseman is particularly compelling in the role. I actually think Marvel may have missed a trick here. I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t gender flip the character and make Black Panther a female, instead of a male. The MCU don’t do it a lot, but they do tend to be slightly sexist (few female heroes and no solo film for any of them, although the upcoming Captain Marvel should address that), so they should think outside the box where they can.

Smaller, but still important roles include Daniel Bruhl as the bad guy Zemo, who is playing the Avengers like a fiddle for his revenge. Alfre Woodward as Miriam, the grieving mother who stops Tony at MIT to prick his conscience. The wonderful Marisa Tomei as Aunt May (thank God they finally cast someone age appropriate, of course I’ve also had a thing for Marisa Tomei ever since A Different World) and the introduction of Hobbit star Martin Freeman as the over zealous Deputy Head of the County Terrorism Unit Everett Ross (reports to, but is not related to General Ross). Stan Lee’s now looked for cameo came at the end of the film as a deliveryman who accidentally misreads Tony’s surname as Stank.

The Russo’s did such a great job with The Winter Soldier that they got this film and upped their game. It’s also netted them directing duties for Avengers: Infinity War.

Just like with The Winter Soldier, Civil War is the blueprint about how to make an MCU movie and has everyone eagerly awaiting Infinity War.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ant-Man (2015)

I personally feel that the MCU treatment of Ant-Man was long overdue. The Hank Pym version of Ant-Man had been a founding member of The Avengers along with his wealthy socialite girlfriend (later wife) Janet Van Dyne (aka The Wasp).

While the new version changes a lot it also doesn’t ignore the origin. Hank Pym was the first man to discover the ability to shrink himself to the size of an ant and communicate with the insects and also was married to Janet who shared his missions and shrunk herself.

In the comics the role of Ant-Man went to ex con Scott Lang, and that’s what happens in this film.
The film is fun, I hadn’t realised just how much fun until I rewatched it. Some of this stems from the fact that lead actor Paul Rudd is a comedian and had a hand in the writing.

Paul Rudd played the title character, and he did with a great sense of humour and plenty of comedy, to be expected with his background, but never overdone.

The big name of Michael Douglas played Hank Pym and he did a great job. He made an excellent elder statesman, was always believable and I liked his tough love mentor role.

Lost and The Hobbit star Evangeline Lilly was cast as Hope Van Dyne, and she does a good job with both the physicality of the role and the gradual relationship with Scott.

Scott’s former cell mate Luis is also played with plenty of humour by Michael Pena, who while he is well known for serious roles was great as the fast talking Luis.

Chief amongst the villains was Corey Stoll as Hank’s former protégé Darren Chross.

Bobby Cannavale appeared in a rare turn as someone who wasn’t totally bad. His character of cop and Scott’s ex-wife’s fiancé Paxton was a thorn in Scott’s side, but was essentially a good person doing what he saw as his job.

There were cameos from Hayley Atwell as an aged up Peggy and John Slattery as Howard Stark again. Stan Lee’s cameos seem to be getting smaller as he gets older, this time he was a bartender in one of Luis’ stories. Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson also appears.

Peyton Reed was another one of the MCU’s left field directing choices, but he seemed to work and had a good light touch for the film.

I have to admit that I really liked this one. It was probably the sort of action super hero comedy that audiences needed after the overly serious and disappointing Age of Ultron.

Post credit sequences hint at two things: Hope will become The Wasp and Scott is going to be called into service with The Avengers.

The Avengers - Age of Ultron (2015)

For some reason Avengers 2, or Age of Ultron just didn’t work for me. It should have. They had all the major cast members back and even the same director, but it lacked something.

Everyone seemed to labour under the misconception that bigger, louder and more expensive is better, and that’s not always the case. The actors were all good without anyone being outstanding. They worked together when they had to, but didn’t have the same feel of cohesion that they did when fighting to save New York in The Avengers.

Its easy to see where a lot of the money went. The destruction of an unnamed African city while the Hulk and Iron Man hammer away at one another wouldn’t have come cheap. The sad thing about the scene, while its visually stunning and very well done is that the whole thing is unnecessary, or at least it didn’t need to be as long and as destructive as it was. Then there are all the locations; The Avengers go everywhere in this one: Sokovia (an invented Eastern European country), Africa (an unnamed location somewhere on the coast), Seoul and some stuff in New York and an undisclosed location somewhere in the US, but those were probably just sets. The party in NY is probably one of the best bits and it showcases the Avengers just hanging out and being friends.

The party also managed to explain why neither Jane or Pepper appear, and while neither Thor or Tony actually admit that they’ve broken up with their respective partners, reading between the lines, it appears that they have. Jane’s not that much of a concern for Thor, but Pepper was what kept Tony from going totally over the top with his reckless narcissism. In fact it’s Tony’s inability to work as a member of a team, his need to prove that he is the smartest guy in the room and his obsession with being the one person who can protect the rest of the world that creates Ultron. The absence of Loki hurt as well.

So much of this one just felt overdone and they lost sight of many of the things that made The Avengers such a great film.

As I’ve said the majority of the cast returned, including the peripheral characters like Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Erik Selvig, Heimdall, Sam Wilson, Rhodey (not really an Avenger, more of a tool that does the US military’s heavy lifting while wearing one of Tony’s suits), Peggy and of course Stan Lee, who is a veteran at the party, who bites off a bit more than he can chew and is carried from the room, drunkenly muttering ‘Exelshior’.

New cast members included Linda Cardellini as Laura Barton (yes, Clint had an unknown family. Only Nick and Natasha knew about them. I think it was dropped in there so that they could continue to force Natasha and Bruce together and to give the MCU an out when Jeremy Renner decides he doesn’t want to be Hawkeye any more) and Paul Bettany as Vision (yes, he was Jarvis’ voice, but as Vision he appears in person).

Most of the rest were bad guys: Julie Delpy was Madame B (Natasha’s instructress at the Red Room), Andy Serkis played a villainous arms dealer, Claudia Kim was Helen Cho, a brilliant doctor forced to do Ultron’s bidding, Ultron’s voice was provided by James Spader. Both Wanda and Pietro Maximoff had appeared in a post credits sequence in The Winter Soldier and those roles were filled by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson. They were The Scarlet Witch (kinetic and mind altering ability) and Quicksilver (super speed). I couldn’t help comparing Taylor Johnson’s performance with that of Evan Peters, who played the same character in the X-Men franchise and unfortunately the Avengers version came off second best.

I don’t think Joss Whedon’s heart was in this one. I don’t know, but it just didn’t seem to be there. Very few of the usual Joss moments appeared.

I was a little sad that this didn’t work. I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, I did, but it didn’t have the same sparkle that The Avengers did and it even compared badly against The Winter Soldier, although Scarlett Johansson yet again walked away with all the acting credits.

The post credit sequence with Captain America and Black Widow training the new Avengers in Falcon, War Machine, Scarlet Witch and Vision, which indicates that the MCU is thinking ahead to when the regular cast members either get too old or don't want to play the roles any more that they have heroes ready and willing to go. This fits in the comic book Avengers, which is an ever changing roster.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

After The Winter Soldier it was reasonable to expect another Avengers film, or something featuring a character the audiences were familiar with, at least something set on Earth. What we did not expect was Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians did have their genesis in Marvel comics, but they weren’t that big of a title.

A team of spacefaring adventurers composed of a genetically engineered, anthropomorphic, angry at the universe raccoon by the name of Rocket, his best friend a walking, talking tree who by dint of it being the only thing it ever said everyone assumed it’s name was Groot, a vengeance seeking, heavily muscled, red skinned humanoid who took everything said to him literally, a green skinned female humanoid considered a living weapon and then there was Peter ‘Starlord’ Quill, an opportunistic Terran thief who had more than his share of luck, was not really what anyone thought the same company who had just given us The Winter Soldier would present as it’s follow up.

Despite all of the above Guardians of the Galaxy is connected to the wider story of the Avengers. The plot of the film centres around the hunt for the Orb, which is actually the 4th infinity stone (the others to this point have been: the Tesseract, the yellow stone that powered Loki’s staff and the Aether), it seems to give the holder power, but no one can actually handle it without destroying themselves. Of course, it hasn’t yet met Peter Quill.

Despite by now being able to ask for and get almost any actor they wanted for even small roles, the relatively low profile Chris Pratt was chosen to play Peter Quill. Prior to landing the role Pratt was best known for his role in the soap opera Everwood and the comedy Parks and Recreation, exactly what the people at Marvel saw in him that prompted them to cast him as the lead in an action film (maybe it was the amount of comedy in it) I don’t know, but it worked. Since the film Pratt has established himself as an action star, being in Jurassic World, and the reboot of The Magnificent Seven, as well as the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy that the success of the first film made inevitable.

The female lead role of Gamora went to Zoe Saldana. Saldana’s SF leading lady credentials were well established having already played the lead female in Avatar and Uhura in the Star Trek reboot. She’s not entirely recognisable being covered in green makeup, but she does work well with Pratt and the rest of her group, not all of who are human.

Wrestler Dave Bautista was cast as Drax. The role suited him, making use of his impressive physical build and athletic ability. He also showcased a talent for comedy, which had not previously been part of his repertoire.

Groot was voiced by action star Vin Diesel, but as the only thing her ever says is ‘I am Groot’ most of the credit for making the walking tree the surprise breakout star of the film has to go to the special effects team.

Rocket’s voice was provided by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper. Cooper has good comic timing and the character or Rocket again gave him plenty of opportunity to utilise it. Again credit to the special effects team for making Rocket look real, even to the point of giving him facial expressions. Who would have ever thought an anthropomorphic raccoon would get close to top billing in a big budget Hollywood action flick?

Hard man Michael Rooker (Merle in The Walking Dead) played Peter’s foster father Yondu, and although he’s only partially recognisable under the makeup, he doesn’t hide his voice or his nature.

Djimon Hounsou had a relatively small role as a pissed off alien treasure hunter trying to track down Peter and meets his fairly gory death at the hands of Drax.

John C. Reilly gave the film a bit of humanity as hardworking family man on the planet of Xandar, which is what much of the action revolves around.

Glenn Close basically channelled her role from Air Force One, but with way more interesting hair. She was the leader of Xandar; Nova Prime.

Former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan was cast as Gamora’s psychotic cyborg adoptive sister. Not that any of Amy could be seen under the make up.

Lee Pace played Ronan the chief bad guy, although I think that role really belongs to the shadowy Thanos, voiced by James Brolin.

The only returnees in this one are Benicio Del Toro in his second appearance as The Collector and the ever present Stan Lee, briefly seen as an aging Lothario in the scene on Xandar that introduces Rocket and Groot.

The whole thing is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Audiences were so busy laughing that they didn’t really wonder how the whole thing fitted into the large overarching story, even with the presence of the 4th infinity stone. The world building was impressive and it honestly looked better and made more sense that anything I’ve seen in the new Star Wars films (Canto Bight anyone?).

The post credit sequence wasn’t anything particularly significant, but it was very cute, with Baby Groot jiving in its pot to the Jackson 5, only to freeze every time Drax looked in it’s direction.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Captain America - The Winter Soldier (2014)

Time for Captain America to get his second solo outing. After a couple of relatively disappointing solo films following The Avengers, had the MCU lost the magic of their first 5 films? Could they recover it? In my opinion Captain America – The First Avenger, stood second only to The Avengers in terms of quality, so the expectations were high. It was going to be a challenge though, because the first film had the backdrop of the second World War, and support from characters like Peggy Carter and actors like Tommy Lee Jones. In his other appearance in the modern day, Steve had the advantage of being in an ensemble cast and having their characters to bounce off. This time he carried the film and it was set in the current age.

Captain America – The Winter Soldier was a game changer, and I rate it as the second best of the MCU films, it’s almost impossible to knock The Avengers off that perch for me.

Chris Evans saddled up as Captain America again. An aged up Hayley Atwell played a Peggy suffering tragically from dementia in a small role. The interesting decision was made to pair the boy scout persona of Steve Rogers up with the dangerous and morally conflicted Natasha Romanov wonderfully portrayed by Scarlett Johansson (I still can’t understand why she hasn’t got a movie of her own and saying that she’s the co-star of The Winter Soldier, which she is, doesn’t really cut it). Samuel Jackson returned as Nick Fury and had quite a significant part. Interestingly Sebastian Stan also came back, despite Bucky having been killed in Captain America.

Smaller roles were taken by Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill (I love Maria and wish they’d use her more), and Stan Lee once again had a cameo, this time as a security guard who finds Cap’s uniform missing from its exhibit. Jenny Agutter reprised her role as a member of the council. Powers Boothe was replaced by Alan Dale, so the Australian connection remained, although Dale is originally from NZ.

New characters on the side of good were Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) played by Anthony Mackie and Emily Van Camp as Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter), written in as a love interest for Steve, and how surprising she just happens to be related to Peggy!

A few bad guys returned: Toby Jones’ Zola came back in quite a surprising way, and confirmed that the Allies should have found a way to have him conveniently die in custody when they captured him. Maxmilian Hernandez’s Agent Sitwell came back and we saw his true colours as an agent of Hydra, same went for Gary Shandling’s crooked Senator Stern.

It’s a measure of how big these films now are that they could sign Hollywood royalty in the form of Robert Redford and cast him as bad guy Alexander Pierce. He was absolutely brilliant and the way he casually shoots his housemaid for seeing something she shouldn’t have is chilling. Frank Grillo played SHIELD turned Hydra operative Rumlow (readers of Marvel comics would see that Brock Rumlow would become villain Crossbones from his final scene). Another SHIELD/Hydra operative was Aussie character actor Callan Mulvey, he specialises in playing mean looking types. I appreciated seeing Georges Batroc as played by Georges St Pierre. Not sure if Batroc will return, 
but I remember him as admittedly a 2nd rate villain, but a fun one.

The Russo brothers directed and while I hadn’t heard of them before I have to admit that they were the best directors of an MCU film since Joss Whedon helmed The Avengers.

The reintroduction of Hydra and showing how they’d insinuated themselves into every level of government and law enforcement worldwide, especially in the US, was a game changer for the MCU. It didn’t just affect this film. It reverberated through the storyline of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D TV show and turned it from a fairly lightweight, pedestrian affair into something else different and much better. It also came up during the 3rd Captain America film, Civil War and will continue to run through the films going forward.

The Winter Soldier is a very different film for a superhero film. It was as much tight, action packed, modern day spy thriller as it was superhero film. There was cross and double cross, it featured spies and had secrets from the past re emerging to affect the present. It was rather like a Daniel Craig era Bond film with superheroes added.

There was great chemistry between Natasha and Steve and I’m really not sure why they didn’t follow this up, rather than trying to pair Natasha up with Bruce/Hulk and Steve with Sharon. Both pairings are extremely forced and as a result don’t come across as particularly believable.

Just like with The Avengers this was going to be hard to top and while the MCU’s next move in trying something completely different was surprising, I think it meant that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes they had made in how they tried to follow up The Avengers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Thor - The Dark World (2013)

Giving Thor a second solo movie made perfect sense. I do still wonder why The Dark World didn’t come out before the, in my mind, unnecessary Iron Man 3 (I’ll stop talking about it now, I really need to build a bridge. I didn’t realise how much I disliked that film until rewatching and reviewing it).

Anything that followed The Avengers was going to be a hard act to follow and The Dark World suffered from a few problems. Chief among them being striking a balance between what takes place in Asgard and what takes place on Earth and how could they link the story of a standalone film into the overarching one that began with the discovery of the Tesseract in Captain America?

Weird thing about doing a wildly popular franchise is that actors fall over themselves to be in them, and if they’ve already scored a gig then they’re happy to hang onto it, at least for a while. That makes the job of casting the film way easier.

The list of actors that returned to reprise their roles from Thor in Thor – The Dark World is fairly lengthy: Chris Hemsworth in the title role, Natalie Portman as his love interest, Tom Hiddleston as the duplicitous Loki, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Kat Dennings as comedy relief Darcy, Stellan Skarsgard in his 3rd appearance as Erik Selvig, Ray Stevenson reprised Volstagg and Jaimie Alexander donned her Sif gear again, Rene Russo was Frigga for the second time and she had a bigger role and did something other than stand around looking serene. Idris Elba was Heimdall again.

There was a change of actor in Asgard, with Zachary Levi (best known as Chuck and the voice of Flynn Rider in Tangled) replacing Josh Dallas as Fandral.

Other notable smaller roles and cameos included: Jonathan Howard as Darcy’s hapless intern Ian. Comedian Chris O’Dowd as a hopeful and ultimately unsuccessful boyfriend of Jane’s. Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo was as an inmate of the asylum that Erik finds himself in after a nudie run at Stonehenge. Chris Evans also appears briefly and quite funnily as 'Captain America'.

The villain of the piece is a dark elf by the name of Malekith, played by former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston. Malekith left me kind of cold and he was a rather generic villain. His main function really was to introduce the aether into the storyline and it is the 3rd of the infinity stones. The first was the Tesseract, the second the one in Loki’s sceptre. There are 6 in total and we still haven’t seen them all, 4 years later and quite a few films on. The post credit scene where Volstagg and Sif deliver it to The Collector gave Benicio Del Toro a cameo.

The director was another odd choice. I assume, despite being successful with Thor, that Kenneth Branagh had left to pursue other interests. The job went to Alan Taylor, who has mostly worked in 
TV, not film.

The standout performance and the best thing about the film was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. He plays the character so well. Most of the characters in the MCU films are either heroes or villains. They choose sides. Loki isn’t either and the only side he chooses is himself.

Hemsworth was also very good and his understandable fury when Thor finds his slain mother is one of the film’s best dramatic moments.

In contrast I felt Natalie Portman’s performance lacked fire, despite slapping Thor and attacking Loki when she encounters him again.

There were a few misteps in the film. One is Malekith, another is the decision to turn Erik nto a figure of comic fun. Difficulty was still experienced with balancing the two stories; the one in Asgard with the one on Earth and I can foresee significant difficulties with the relationship between Thor and Jane. Asgard was wonderfully realised, though, and I liked the contrast of futuristic modernity (energy guns, spaceships) with the city’s classical aspect.

It was a fun film and significantly better than the preceding MCU film, but still felt there was something lacking, and a feeling that it was just a little too light.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Iron Man 3 (2013)

I thought it was an odd idea to follow up a team epic like The Avengers with a solo star film. There was fresh ground they could have plowed and it was an even odder decision to make that solo film the 3rd one focussing on the same character; Iron Man, especially when both Thor and Captain America had only done the one film each and we were still waiting (and still are) for something to star Black Widow. As a result, to be totally honest Iron Man 3 is a bit of a mess.

Casting was again a fairly simple exercise: all the usual stars returned to the roles that they had become known for A notable absence was Samuel Jackson, so that meant the film would not feature Nick Fury. Jon Favreau did not direct (he did produce), but he appeared for the 3rd time as Happy Hogan, and he got to do a scene set in the 90’s where he has the most ridiculous hair. I was a bit surprised and to be honest disappointed that Stan Lee’s cameo featured him as a pageant judge, rather than another mistaken celebrity he bore a passing resemblance to. Mark Ruffalo played Bruce in the post credit joke.

William Sadler was cast as President Ellis. He did an okay job of pretending to the POTUS, but it’s a pet peeve of mine when they make up a known figure like the President.

Child actor Ty Simpkins played Iron Man’s sidekick when Tony was off the grid (he’d later find greater fame as one of Jurassic World’s juvenile leads). I always think a franchise is in trouble when they have to start casting obnoxious kids (his character was, the actor isn’t) for the cute factor and the occasional laugh.

We had not one villain, but a few of them. Guy Pearce continued the Australian tradition for the MCU by playing Aldrich Killian, founder of AIM (they didn’t make a big thing of it in the film, but I do vaguely remember AIM as being a big deal in the comics). Pearce almost phoned the role in. I doubt when his career is at an end he’ll look back on this one fondly. He even villain monologued.

They cast Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. From my early morning cartoon watching, I remember the Mandarin as being one of Iron Man’s major opponents. Such a disappointment to find out that this incarnation is a down on his luck British actor. Kingsley seemed to enjoy chewing on the scenery and his turn as Trevor Slattery did get a laugh.

Rebecca Hall played Maya Hansen, the scientist, whose work made Killian’s weapon possible, only to be betrayed and killed by him.

Shane Black’s a good writer, but as his last directorial job was with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005 I’m not sure why he directed this. Surely it would have made more sense to give that work to Favreau, his role as Happy isn’t that much bigger than it was in Iron Man 2. It’s another mystery of the film.

There’s so much wrong with Iron Man 3 that it’s hard to know where to start. It makes sense after what he went through in The Avengers that Tony has PTSD, but he’s bad enough when he doesn’t have it, seeing him with it makes it worse. There’s so little explanation for so many of his actions.
I still don’t understand why Pepper stays with him, even being aware of and at times making light of his many failings. I also hated what they did to her and then just kind of hand waved it off.

If 3 terrorists in helicopters can take Iron Man out, as they did in this film, then why hasn’t it been done before?

Why on Earth do they keep suiting Rhodey up as War Machine or Iron Patriot as he’s known in this one when he continues to prove that he sucks at it? Even Pepper did a better job when she found herself in control of one of Tony’s suits. Jarvis handles them better. With one boot and one glove Tony was a better and more effective Iron Man than Rhodey is with the entire suit and its armaments.

The problem long running franchises have is that while the characters don’t age, the actors do and they also get bored. The way they wrap things up in this one, and the very fact that it was made at all, prior to giving Thor and Captain America a second film, indicates that RDJ may have flagged an intention to walk away from the role. He’s clearly stayed on, but this is something they’ll have to deal with sooner rather than later, hopefully they handle it better.