Comics Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #3

Brian Michael Bendis raises the stakes for the Last Son of Krypton…

Man of Steel #3.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #33 by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Ryan Sook, Jason Fabok & Wade Von Grawbadger / Colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

Rogol Zaar arrives on Earth and is ready to take on the Man of Steel…

In review

After a slightly patchy second issue, this week’s instalment of The Man of Steel kicks things up a gear as Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for the impending conflict between Superman and his new nemesis: Rogol Zaar, the maniacal brute who may have been involved in Krypton’s destruction.  The fact that Bendis has taken such a creative risk and shakes up the established Superman mythos is a gutsy one but impactful and will no doubt have readers debating for some time.

Via flashbacks in the first two issues of The Man of Steel, we’ve learned of Zaar’s hatred for the Kryptonian civilization and his desire to eradicate it completely – a ‘quest’ that now brings him to Earth is pursuit of the Last Son of Krypton.  Zaar is a formidable force and Bendis pulls no punches in that respect, the book’s opening pages depicting the decimation of the Fortress of Solitude at the hands of the deranged ogre.  It’s a dramatic and emotional blow that is going to change Superman’s world forever.

If all this sounds dark and depressing, it isn’t – it’s just gripping and compelling stuff that makes comics a great reading experience.  Bendis retains a strong hook on the character of Superman and all that he stands for, but like the world we live in things can often seem hopeless and even DC’s first hero can face those situations.  There’s still a little fun to be had before the emotional gears begin to turn as Superman continues to investigate the mysterious rash of fires in Metropolis, this time enlisting the help of a certain Dark Knight Detective in an enjoyable – and quite funny – cameo from one of DC’s other mainstays.

Ultimately, Bendis gives us a Superman that isn’t completely invulnerable (and exploring those vulnerabilities is what makes the character more relatable) as he soars to the Fortress to discover the damage, joined by Supergirl it’s an effective sequence of scenes that engages the reader and leads to the book’s finale as the Kryptonians face off against Zaar – which ties nicely into Bendis and Jim Lee’s short in Action Comics #1000 and sets anticipation for next week’s issue rather high.

In terms of the art, it’s surprisingly good – Ryan Sook’s style is not too dissimilar from that of Ivan Reis, sure it’s not quite as lavish but his characters are powerful and emotive and the action is epic and exciting.  Jason Fabok returns to pencil the continuing interlude concerning the absence of Lois and Jon that’s being threaded throughout the series.  It’s a tantalising tease and Fabok’s work is always a highlight – given that he’ll be pencilling the whole of #6, it promises that the series should conclude on a high, so long as Brian Michael Bendis continues to deliver the goods.

The bottom line:  The Man of Steel starts building momentum as it heads toward the half-way point and Brian Michael Bendis’ first Superman story continues to show promise.

The Man of Steel #3 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

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Film Review: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

J.A. Bayona picks up where Colin Trevorrow left off in the sequel to 2015 hit, Jurassic World… 

Jurassic World - Fallen Kingdom

Get ready to run: Chris Pratt faces danger in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, from Universal Pictures.

 

Spoiler-free review 

Starring:  Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ted Levine, Toby Jones, James Cromwell, Jeff Goldblum

Directed by:  J.A. Bayona / Written by:  Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly / 128 minutes

What’s it about?

Owen Grady and Claire Dearing join an expedition to rescue the dinosaur residents of Isla Nublar when the island’s volcano threatens its destruction…

In review

Life once again finds a way in the sequel to Colin Trevorrow’s smash relaunch of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World.  With J.A. Bayona – director of The Impossible and A Monster Calls – at the helm this time out, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t nearly as good as the first Jurassic World (which in all fairness did set the bar exceptionally high) although it still delivers plenty of gripping dino-fuelled action and mayhem to keep the majority entertained.

It’s been three years since the disaster that befell Jurassic World and the park’s genetically engineered dinosaurs have been left to roam free and live out their own existence without any interference from humanity.  This of course all changes once Isla Nublar’s once inactive volcano begins to erupt, threatening to destroy the island and leading to a rescue mission of sorts as philanthropist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), an old colleague of John Hammond, devises a plan to capture as many species as possible and transport them to a new home.  As is always the case though, there are sinister forces that have other plans for the creatures.  The scenario is perhaps a little familiar and does lead to some predictable plot beats but there are still a few surprises thrown into the mix that keeps it all from becoming too stale.

Leading the cast once more is Chris Pratt’s dino-wrangler (more accurately, animal behaviourist) Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as Jurassic World’s former park manager, Claire Dearing.  Both are as solid as they were previously and continue to have great chemistry and are joined by Daniella Pineda as dino-veterinarian Zia and comical technology whiz Franklin, played by Justice Smith.  Rounding out the supporting cast is Isabella Sermon as Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie and a trio of slightly cartoonish villains played by Rafe Spall, Toby Jones and Ken Wheatley.

James Cromwell is a tad underutilised as Lockwood but certainly serves a purpose and a small cameo from Jeff Goldblum is welcome yet seems a missed opportunity to include Dr. Ian Malcolm in a more active and more significant capacity (he was the best thing about Independence Day: Resurgence after all) – maybe in the already announced third instalment then?

However, it’s arguably one of the film’s non-human characters that steals the show – the velociraptor called ‘Blue’ who makes a heroic return and who audiences had already become attached to in the previous film.  The character of Blue is deepened further with an exploration of the bond between the raptor and Owen that’s actually quite believable and endearing.

One aspect of Fallen Kingdom’s narrative that works particularly well is that it treats it’s dinosaurs as living, breathing animals and not just bloodthirsty monsters, granted there is an element of that and how else could the threat of the ‘Indoraptor’ – the film’s central ‘nasty’ created using the DNA of Jurassic World’s Indominous Rex – be made effective, but it’s also refreshing that we end up rooting for ‘characters’ such as Blue and Tyrannosaur ‘Rexy’ (Jurassic Park’s original T.Rex who was also a triumphant addition to Jurassic World) as much as main stars Pratt and Dallas Howard and actually caring about the plight of these creatures who are being callously exploited in the pursuit of wealth.

Fallen Kingdom boasts some exciting action (although surprisingly, far less time is actually spent on Isla Nublar than the trailers might suggest) and J.A. Bayona handles it all with skill and whilst there’s naturally a lot of CGI on display there’s still a decent amount of practical effects being utilised.  There are numerous laughs (some moments funnier than others) and a great deal of fun to be had but Fallen Kingdom is a touch darker than the first Jurassic World and the terror has been pushed up a notch, delivering some genuine heart-pounding scares and sweaty-palm tension – the film’s atmospheric opening sequences (which easily ranks as one of the franchise’s finest moments) and pulse-pounding final act being the biggest highlights.

When it comes down to it Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t a sequel that exceeds the greatness of what’s come before, but it’s definitely more a case of The Lost World than Jurassic Park III and neatly sets the scene for part three.

The bottom line:  Not quite as successful as Colin Trevorrow’s beast, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still an entertaining addition to the Jurassic Park saga that has some great moments despite an overall lack of originality.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in U.K. cinemas now and opens in the U.S. and worldwide from 22nd June.

Comic Review: ‘The Man of Steel’ #1

Bendis takes on the Man of Steel… 

Man of Steel #1.jpg

Cover art for DC’s ‘The Man of Steel’ #1 by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image belongs: DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Jason Fabok / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

A powerful threat from Krypton’s past looms as it’s Last Son prepares to face his greatest challenge…

In review

Following his short stories in Action Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, former Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis presents his first full DC comic with The Man of Steel #1, commencing the weekly six issue series that will lead into Bendis’ run on Superman and Action Comics beginning next month.

Most would argue that Superman is in no need of a creative relaunch given that Patrick Gleason, Peter J. Tomasi and Dan Jurgens have been doing just fine with the character and given readers some of the strongest Superman comics since before the New 52.  Coupled with the fact that some people love Bendis and more and more these days seem not to, it’s understandable that a number of fans will be approaching this title with caution.  There needn’t be any worry because on the basis of this first issue, Brian Bendis clearly loves the character and has a strong handle on the Last Son of Krypton, whether he is soaring into the skies as protector of the innocent and vulnerable or seeking truth and justice as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.  Unlike John Byrne’s 1986 Man of Steel mini series this one isn’t a reboot, just a little bit of a refresh and a new start without undoing any of the work produced over the last couple of years.

Bendis paces things gently in The Man of Steel #1 which functions very much as a scene-setter as he establishes the basics and teases the larger overarching narrative.  Via flashbacks, we’re reintroduced to Rogol Zaar, the brutish new villain designed by Jim Lee and introduced in the Bendis/Lee short in Action Comics #1000 and whereas that dropped readers straight into an all-out brawl here we get more character depth, an idea of his motivations and ominous hints at an intergalactic conspiracy relating to the destruction of Krypton.  Zaar could turn out to be both an imposing and personal threat for Superman (and his adopted home) with potentially high stakes so hopefully Bendis delivers.

Those set-ups aside, Bendis keeps things fairly simple (there’s some wordy exposition here and there but nothing too dense) as we see Supes tackle Gotham criminals Firefly and Killer Moth, out to cause trouble in Metropolis, whilst he investigates a series of electrical fires.  In these scenes, Bendis nails the core tenets of the character – conveying that sense of strength and inherent good but also dipping into those subtle nuances of loneliness that can occasionally haunt him.  Brian Bendis proves equally adept when dealing with Clark Kent as mild-mannered news reporter and family man, scenes with Lois and Jon being both heartfelt and fun.

The art by penciller Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado (with Jason Fabok contributing the final two pages of the book) is pretty solid as is to be expected.  There are a few spots where it feels a little rushed (and unfortunately the red trunks are still here) but otherwise it’s business as usual from the pair with powerful, emotive characters and beautifully composed environments enriched by Alex Sinclair’s colours.

Anyone expecting explosive all-out action and gripping drama from the outset will likely be disappointed by this premiere issue, but if every Superman (heck ,any) comic was like that it’d soon become boring, right?  With The Man of Steel #1 Brian Michael Bendis and collaborators Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Alex Sincalir and Jason Fabok provide readers with a taste of potentially exciting things to come.

The bottom line:  A promising new beginning for Superman, The Man of Steel #1 demonstrates that Brian Michael Bendis has a good handle on the character and gives tantalising hints at what’s ahead.

The Man of Steel #1 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #600

It’s a farewell from Brian Michael Bendis as he caps off his run on The Invincible Iron Man…

 

Inv Iron Man #600

Cover art for Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man #600 by Chris Sprouse (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

 

Warning! Contains Spoilers.

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Stefano Caselli, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Daniel Acuna, Leinil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr, Mark Bagely, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna, Andrea Sorrentino / Colours by:  Marte Garcia, Alex Maleev, Daniel Acuna, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiold & Rachelle Rosenberg

What’s it about?

“The Search for Tony Stark” Finale : Tony Stark emerges from the shadows as Iron Man returns to face the threat of the Hood and a face from the past…

In review

The 600th issue of The Invincible Iron Man is a milestone for more than one reason, the book’s numeric value aside it’s not only the conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title (which commenced in 2015) but also the prolific writer’s final comic for Marvel (for the foreseeable future at least) as he departs for DC after working at the ‘House of Ideas’ for almost twenty years.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 serves as a fitting, albeit slightly muddled and not overly spectacular final chapter in “The Search for Tony Stark”.  It’s not the greatest comic Bendis has ever written, nor is it an out-and-out classic issue of The Invincible Iron Man but it does the job adequately.  Following the events of issue #599, Tony Stark is back and ready for action as he faces a hostile takeover of Stark Industries, a threat from Hydra and demons from the past as Riri Williams must decide where her future lies now Iron Man has returned and Victor Von Doom seeks retribution.

Where The Invincible Iron Man #600 does succeed is in its revelations, chiefly the resurrection of Rhodey (who had fallen at the hands of Thanos in Civil War II) – this could be a huge spoiler for some (hence the warning at the head of the review) but surely most readers will have been expecting it, given that very few characters ever die and then remain so in comics…notwithstanding that the issue’s cover can be seen as a giveaway.  Anyway, it’s handled brilliantly being both emotionally satisfying and funny and no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Rhodey/War Machine in Dan Slott’s forthcoming run.

There’s a tragic and heart-wrenching climax to Victor Von Doom’s tenure as the ‘Infamous’ Iron Man and one that may precipitate his return to a more villainous path – another area for Dan Slott to explore with the impending Fantastic Four relaunch.  The return of Stark’s biological father (see the International Iron Man limited series), Jude also adds to the drama whilst helping to bring things full circle.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 does become a little jumbled though.  Despite its increased page count there is so much going on and barely enough space, although the pacing never feels rushed.  It can also be a bit of a trying read at times, much of the book is narrated by the A.I. version of Tony Stark and it’s quite dense as Brian Michael Bendis packs in a lot of exposition that serves to both recap events of his entire Iron Man saga and set the stage for the future.

There’s still room reserved for some action, the highlight of which is Stark’s attack on the Hood and his gang as he fights to prevent Stark Industries from falling into enemy hands, Jim Cheung’s beautiful double-page splash featuring numerous past Iron Man armours – evoking memories of Iron Man #300’s Iron Legion.

The expanded roster of artists is a little tricky, granted some of Marvel’s strongest talent has been engaged here and it’s a particular pleasure to see David Marquez contribute but it’s a shame that the whole book couldn’t have simply been divided up between Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev in the same manner as previous issues, but it’s perhaps partly necessitated by the jump to 42 pages.  Still, it’s fairly consistent overall but the random jump between artists can be a little jarring.

In the end, it feels like Brian Michael Bendis may have had more up his sleeve for Marvel’s Iron Avenger but with his time at Marvel now up we can only see what’s in store with Dan Slott’s Tony Stark:  Iron Man.  The Invincible Iron Man #600 isn’t perfect but Bendis has produced a memorable run on the character (and given us Riri Williams in the process) and although it’s not as fulfilling as it could have been, there are certainly some good moments within.

The bottom line:  “The Search for Tony Stark” comes to an end in Brian Michael Bendis’ flawed but enjoyable final issue of The Invincible Iron Man.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

Ron Howard and Alden Ehrenreich punch it as they chart a young Han Solo’s journey to the Kessel Run… 

Solo

Alden Ehrenreich leads the cast of Lucasfilm’s ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’  (image used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright owner).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettnay

Directed by:  Ron Howard / Written by:  Lawrence Kasdan & Jonathan Kasdan / 134 minutes

What’s it about?

Dreaming of becoming the greatest pilot in the galaxy, Han Solo embarks on an adventure where he meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and is pitted against Lando Calrissian as he seeks to obtain his prized ship, the Millennium Falcon for use in a daring intergalactic heist…

In review

Following all of the behind the scenes drama surrounding the exit of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and extensive reshoots implemented by Lucasfilm with the hiring of Ron Howard, it’s fair to say expectations were somewhat soured for this latest standalone Star Wars story chronicling the early adventures of a young Han Solo.  A film that many a Star Wars fan would argue they never even wanted in the first place, Solo rises from the ashes of those initial issues of its troubled production and via the talents of director Howard, a surprisingly witty and charming lead and scintillating visuals proves to be an enjoyable addition to the Star Wars cinematic canon.

Opening on the crime ridden streets of the planet Corellia, Solo introduces us to a younger version of the iconic scoundrel some years before his fateful encounter with Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope (aka 1977’s original Star Wars) as he attempts to escape to a better life with girlfriend Qi’ra (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke).  Events taking a bad turn, Solo soon finds himself disillusioned and without cause as he fights for the tyrannical Galactic Empire – but the future hero of the Rebel Alliance gets another chance as he joins the devious Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his ragtag group of outlaws (amongst them Westworld’s Thandie Newton as Beckett’s wife, Val) on a raid to steal a valuable fuel source and deliver it to the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate.

With Harrison Ford so universally adored as one of the most beloved Star Wars characters – one who is a cinematic icon, regardless – fears of anyone else stepping into the role would not be unfounded.  Rest assured that Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) is a worthy successor and a great fit for the part, charismatically conveying the swaggering mannerisms and cocky attitude (ably assisted by the writing from veteran Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan) without coming off as a mere imitation of Ford’s take on the loveable rogue, more of an embodiment than an impersonation and much like Chris Pine in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek is afforded some latitude to add his own mark without betraying the essence of such a memorable character.  Emilia Clarke is fine enough as Qi’ra (but certainly no Carrie Fisher) but Ehrenreich is at his best when playing off against new pals Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (The Martian’s Donald Glover similarly channelling original actor Billy Dee Williams whilst equally making the part his own).  The ever reliable Woody Harrelson makes an impression as Beckett and shares some great moments with Ehrenreich but it’s a part that’s maybe not as fully realised as it could’ve been.  Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinty War) is another high point in the role of Crimson Dawn’s leader Dryden Voss, which the actor tackles with some glorious scenery chewing might.

Jon Favreau (director of Marvel hits Iron Man and Iron Man 2, also appointed to oversee the forthcoming live action Star Wars television series) adds to the fun as the voice of Beckett’s pilot, CGI character Rio but it’s the motion capture performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando’s faithful droid companion L3-37 that stands out, although admittedly filling the void left by Alan Tudyk’s K2-SO in Rogue One, Waller-Bridge is similarly wonderful as L3 and delivers some genuine laughs…and even a little bit of heart.

Overall, the plot manages to maintain momentum and delivers an almost continuous string of excitement in a fun and visually striking adventure.  Where Solo does falter however is in some of its predictability borne out of the demands of being an origin story, whilst it can (together with the numerous nods to the history of the franchise) often enrich the experience for Star Wars fans, the potential scope of the narrative is restrained a little by the need to check off certain items as well as a couple of surprisingly unsurprising twists.  There’s also not a huge deal of development to the character of Han Solo beyond what we already know but that’s arguably down to the placing of the film in the Star Wars timeline.

Those flaws notwithstanding, Solo is never less than a highly entertaining space adventure and is bolstered by quality production values and epic visuals that only enhance its action sequences, which includes a gripping mountain top train heist but the highlight undoubtedly being the infamous Kessel run as Han and Chewie take control of the Millennium Falcon for the first time – John Powell’s score effectively evoking a sense of nostalgia as he employs those classic John Williams themes that are so intrinsically connected to the Star Wars mythos.

Solo is by no means the greatest Star Wars film but it’s a pleasingly solid and fun ride that may even serve as a palette cleanser for those who were not so enamoured by Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.

The bottom line:  Han shoots first in Lucasfilm’s enjoyable Solo: A Star Wars Story which features a likeable lead performance and some tremendously executed action sequences.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now.

Flashback: ‘Iron Man’

Ten years ago, a certain cinematic universe was born…

 

Iron Man 2008

In the beginning: Robert Downey Jr and Jeff Bridges head-up the cast of Marvel Studios’ ‘Iron Man’.

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg

Directed by:  Jon Favreau / Written by:  Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway / 2008

What’s it about?

After escaping captivity and near-death in Afghanistan, weapons manufacturer Tony Stark builds a hi-tech armoured suit and embarks on a mission to thwart evil…

Retrospective

A surprise hit back in 2008, Iron Man was not only the first theatrical release for Marvel Studios but the Big Bang of the multi-billion dollar grossing Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A decade later, it’s hard to imagine that a feature film adaptation of one of Marvel’s lesser known (the rights to the likes of Spider-Man and X-Men held by Sony and 20th Century Fox, respectively) characters was considered a huge gamble and had the fate of a potential film franchise weighing heavily on its shoulders.

Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures (Disney’s purchase of Marvel would take place in 2009), Iron Man would take the Howard Hughes inspired character created by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber together with artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby (first appearing in Tales of Suspense #39, published in 1963), place him in the 21st Century and meld the core elements of billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark with the performance of lead star Robert Downey Jr.

An inspired casting choice, the once troubled Downey Jr was able to channel his demons into the role of Tony Stark – a character who had plenty of personal struggles in the comics – and turn in a performance that balances wisecracking quips with some hearty introspection.  Downey Jr is certainly a strong point and although this interpretation of Tony Stark differs somewhat to the more broody version comic book readers would be used to up to that point (writers such as Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis leaning him more towards the lighter, playful big screen version in subsequent runs), it’s a take that fits with what Marvel were seemingly going for with Iron Man – a colourful, fun action film with nuances of maturity, tucking in themes of redemption as the film’s protagonist seeks a more heroic and morally justifiable path.  When we first meet Stark, CEO of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries, he’s not the most likeable of people – a carefree and careless egotist who likes to drink, gamble and womanise in equal measure.  Yet, over the course of the film we grow to care for Stark as he reflects on errors of the past and embarks on his journey to becoming ‘Iron Man’.

 

Iron Man 2008 (2)

Robert Downey Jr: inspired casting for ‘Iron Man’.

The plot of Iron Man is fairly straightforward and functions well as an origin story and although it lacks the sophistication and artistry of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins it’s entertaining and gets the job done.  Updating the Vietnam-era setting of Iron Man’s comic book debut to that of post 9/11 Afghanistan, Tony Stark is gravely injured by one of his own weapons and captured by militants where his life is saved by fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub) who fits an electromagnet to Stark’s chest, preventing deadly shards of shrapnel from piercing his heart.  Put to work on constructing a missile, Stark instead builds an armoured suit, powered by a refined version of the electromagnet and escapes.  Having witnessed the horrors of war and how his weapons could be used for untold evil, Stark returns home with a change of heart, announcing the end of munitions manufacturing at Stark Industries, to the reticence of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).  Frozen out by the rest of the board, Stark develops a new iteration of the armoured suit and sets out to destroy the cache of stolen weapons being utilised by the very terrorist group who held him captive.  Meanwhile, Stane has other plans for the future of Stark Industries and will stop at nothing to realise them.

Downey Jr is ably supported by Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Pepper’ Potts, Tony Stark’s trusted, often frustrated, assistant who non-the-less is always at her boss’s side.  Paltrow is solid in the part, gifted with some plucky lines and it’s only bolstered by the easy chemistry between herself and Robert Downey Jr.  Adding further to the star-power is Academy Award nominee Terence Howard, who makes his only appearance as Tony’s friend and military liaison to Stark Industries, Lt. Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes.  Grumbles over pay negotiations for the sequel would lead to Howard being replaced by Don Cheadle, who continues in the role to today.

As the big bad, Jeff Bridges brings gravitas to the role of Obadiah Stane elevating it above something that could’ve easily come off as too pantomime in less capable hands, resulting in one of the more memorable Marvel film villains.  Stane’s increasing mania as he builds an exo-suit of his own is fun to watch, leading to an explosive finale as Stark dons the Iron Man armour to face off against Stane and his formidable ‘Iron Monger’ suit.

Iron Man 2008 (3)

Tony Stark takes flight in the Mark III Iron Man armour…

Director Jon Favreau (who also appears as Tony Stark’s driver, ‘Happy’ Hogan) keeps things energetic and exciting, delivering slick spectacle without sacrificing the smaller and more intimate character moments.  The film’s design is commendable, the highlight of which is the Iron Man armour itself.  Based on the designs of comic book artist Adi Granov and created using a mixture of CGI and practical elements – implemented by the legendary Stan Winston Studios – it’s a faithful translation of the red and gold future Avenger from the four colour pages to the silver screen.

Iron Man remains a highly enjoyable watch, whilst Tony Stark’s Avengers outings are generally stronger and the character, along with Robert Downey Jr’s continued success in the part, has grown and matured.  The film’s positive reception cemented the plans of Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the wider superhero world teased by the inclusion of Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and a post-credits appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as the organisation’s director, Nick Fury) and instilled Marvel with the confidence to adapt other lower-tier comic book properties such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange all of which would be well received by audiences and critics alike.

Geek fact!  An Iron Man feature film had lingered in development since the 1990s, with superstar Tom Cruise at one point mooted as a possible candidate for the lead role.

All images contained herein belong: Marvel Studios and used for illustrative purposes only.

 

Film Review: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Marvel Studios unleash an entire universe on audiences in the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War…

Spoiler-free review

 

Infinity War

The Avengers unite with the Guardians of the Galaxy to take on Thanos in Marvel Studios release ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (image belongs: Disney/Marvel Studios, used for illustrative purposes only).

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin

Directed by:  Anthony Russo and Joe Russo / Written by:  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely / 149 minutes

What’s it about?

Earth’s mightiest heroes – with the aid of some new cosmic friends – unite to prevent the galactic titan, Thanos from harnessing the devastating abilities of the all-powerful Infinity Stones…

In review

Perhaps the most anticipated cinematic event since the return of Star Wars, Avengers: Infinity War begins the culmination of ten years of the highly successful, box office conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The biggest, most ambitious Marvel film to date (until next year’s as yet untitled Avengers 4 that is), Avengers: Infinity War is a rousing rollercoaster ride packed with emotion, action and laughs in a dazzling, heartfelt and often spectacular comic book blockbuster.

Having already helmed two of the strongest MCU entries, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, directors Anthony and Joe Russo once again prove, with ease, that they are adept at balancing epic scale and a large cast of characters ensuring that high stakes are maintained without sacrificing focus on the people.  The narrative is relatively simple and splitting it into three ‘sections’ (with separate strands of the story taking place around the world and in space) prevents the expansive set of players from becoming muddled into one gigantic crowd which would only disservice the individual heroes audiences the world over have grown to love.  It’s a bit of a genius stroke that helps to break the film down neatly and isolate smaller groups of characters – the only downside being the inevitable disappointment that certain Marvel heroes don’t get to team up this time.  There is also a sense that, whilst everyone is given their moment to shine, some are perhaps not given as much prominence as might be expected.  To say this film is big (both in terms of its visuals and its cast) is an understatement and it’s commendable that, in the grand scheme of things the Russo brothers have managed to hold together all the disparate elements of Infinity War as well as they have.

Tonally, Infinity War follows a slightly darker path which is to be expected given the stakes that naturally come with the end of all things but like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War there’s still a good dose of levity where it’s needed and a lot of fun to be had, whether it be the verbal sparring between Iron Man and Doctor Strange, Spider-Man’s over-eagerness or Thor’s interactions with the Guardians of the Galaxy, together with numerous instances of fist pumping heroics – whilst it may seem all hope is lot at times, there’s often an undercurrent of hope running beneath the surface.

Whilst this is an Avengers film and we get to see all our old – and new – favourites with key moments for Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Panther (and many more, including the Guardians of the Galaxy – Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and a stroppy teenage Groot), Infinity War is very much the story of its central villain, Thanos.  First teased in the post-credits sting for Avengers Assemble, Thanos, thanks to the efforts of screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and the motion capture performance of Josh Brolin (realised with some good CGI) is a powerful antagonist for sure and one with a lot of depth – there’s strong emphasis on character and a real sense of what his motivations are.  They say the best villains never see themselves as being truly evil and although Thanos is responsible for atrocious acts, Infinity War takes the opportunity to explore what makes the mad titan tick.

Infinity War isn’t total perfection though, at this point in the MCU there’s a certain – perhaps unavoidable – element of predictability that springs from a tried and tested formula and the pacing of its earlier acts can feel a little erratic and inconsistent.  Also, whilst much of the humour is well placed (and actually funny) there’s still the odd moment of forced slapstick that doesn’t quite hit the mark but it’s much more effective than some of Marvel’s other releases and never lapses into the outright absurdity of Thor: Ragnarok.  Some of the action can also be a little too frantic in its execution, although the Russo’s seem to have dialled back a little on some of the more overzealous ‘shaky-cam’ usage seen in their Captain America outings.

So, is Infinty War the best comic book film ever?  No, it’s certainly not The Dark Knight but nor does it try to be anything other than what it is.  Is it the best Marvel film?  Time will tell, but for now there’s no hesitation in declaring it as one of the greatest.

The bottom line:  Avengers: Infinity War was always a seemingly impossible task but directors Anthony and Joe Russo have pulled together an epic, exciting and at times moving comic book adventure that’s sure to be yet another hit for Marvel Studios.

Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas now.