In the last dozen years or so, there have been 19 Marvel (MCU) movies. More than one a year on average. The pattern seems to be that the second movie in each mini-sequence is a dud – Thor 2 and Iron Man 2 very much spring to mind (although I really wish they didn’t). The good, of course, is that MCU movies have in the main been far far better than the DC superhero (DCU) movies. Thor Ragnarok (Thor 3) was undeniably entertaining and Black Pather was a triumph. There again, MCU movies are very formulaic, relying almost entirely on ‘male bantz’ (macho heroes boasting about their prowess – even Black Panther is ultimately phallocentric) and then a big special FX scrap. It really has to be asked, then: do we need a movie like Avengers Infinity War in which all the different mini-franchises collide and there are more superheroes than minutes in the movie’s actually running time (2hrs40mins!) ? Really? Isn’t it just going to be a horrendous mess without time for genuine characterisation?
Well, Infinity War just about pulls it off, to be honest. The trick, you see, is that the movie follows the baddie’s (Thanos’s) story rather than the story of any do-gooder. We get to understand the baddie’s rationale for his extreme actions and engage with him intellectually even if we cannot identify with his cosmic ambitions. We expect him to lose out ultimately, but that is not necessarily the case in this movie. He is a being of devastating power who actually brings proper jeopardy to the ‘good guys’. Indeed, a host of major heroes end up dead (not gonna spoil who, but it’s a bit shocking).
So, as the audience, we are caught between following Thanos’s quest (almost empathising with him as he makes terrible personal sacrifices) and rooting for the likes of the annoying Iron Man, the overly square Thor and the ridiculously immature Spiderman. At the end of the movie, the audience I was with sat in stunned silence – with no certainty about how to react to what they had just seen. They all hung on to see if there’d be an extra scene after the credits to make everything ‘feel better’. I ain’t gonna tell ya.
So how would I rate the movie? Well, I do rate it. Just not with a score. It’s a movie that is there on its own terms. Very much worth a look… but I’m a Marvel fanboy who knows a lot of the MCU mythos. If you’re not up-to-date, you might end up entirely bewildered by it all.
Marvel’s new series on Netflix has an 18 certificate, and with good reason. There is plenty of brutal violence in The Punisher, violence that is occasionally gratuitous and stretches credibility. For all that, it is a compelling watch and actually has… heart (a bloody and eratically beating one, but one that just about keeps going) . You see, the writers have made it all character-driven and there are no throw-away characters. Each protagonist and antagonist has a moral dilemma and a rationale for how they behave. We pity Frank Castle (the war vet whose family have been murdered) as much as we root for him as he seeks a vigilante’s vengeance. There are bigger themes explored too, including how far two human beings should risk trusting each other, how society uncaringly uses people, how lying can protect others, and so on. All in all, then, it’s well worth the viewer’s time.
It isn’t perfect, of course. In addition to the graphic and voyeuristic violence (no, it isn’t doing something clever with this), the plot tempo suffers in individual episodes and there is a lot of annoying repetition (presumably to remind dumber viewers of what’s going on). Yet such things are entirely forgivable when there are genuinely moving scenes, neat plot twists and great acting from Jon Bernthal in the lead (you might know him as the Deputy Sheriff in The Walking Dead), from Ebon Moss-Bachrach (a humorous techno-geek side-kick who keeps Frank Castle in touch with his humanity) and from Ben Barnes as the baddie.
Those who are coming to The Punisher just because they’re Marvel fans won’t be disappointed either. There is crossover with Daredevil via the Karen Page character and with Luke Cage via The Turk (a fave petty criminal of mine). Certain plot moments figure significantly in the Daredevil series, but they are told from a different perspective in The Punisher series.
The ‘mood’ of The Punisher series is far closer to the gritty and realistic Jessica Jones series than it is to anything like the hammy/cheesy Iron Fist or The Defenders. (That’s a good thing, believe me.) And the plotting is far, far better than in Luke Cage. And the issues explored are smarter than in Daredevil. So… The Punisher is a definite step forward in many ways. Check it out.
So, Channel 4 (UK) launched the new superhero series Agents of SHIELD this week. Was it any good? Bubble gum stuff really… which in Dalton’s world simply isn’t good enough. Missed opportunity. Look, I’m an oldschool Marvel fanboy, I even used to work in a comicbook store. The stuff that is being peddled on C4 at the mo just lacks the grit of the comics I used to read. There was no menace whatsoever. The ‘baddie’ was simply a misunderstood guy who fell in with evil scientists cos he needed the money to look after his family.
The episode had the required wise cracks that are a hallmark of Marvel, and enough babes and dudes to satisfy the eye, but the plot was just too thin – made even thinner by the fact that there was a commercial break every five minutes, meaning that actual screen time for the entire episode can’t have been more than 40 mins of the entire scheduled hour. To be generous, then, it was hard for the writers to fit in character introduction on top of a compelling plot. Something had to give, and sadly it was the plot. Maybe the jury’s still out, though, since there were plenty of nods towards larger themes that still need to play out, and hints about a clandestine movement working against SHIELD. So, I’m gonna give it a second episode, but it better start delivering overtime! … Especially when there are series like Game of Thrones being produced that are of a much higher standard.