What I thought of Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home acts as a coda to Avengers: Endgame and the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole while throwing out seeds for the next phase of the MCU. It is also a film that  messes with the characters of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and not for the best either.

From here on in lie SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

The film takes place shortly after Endgame where the world is still reacting to the death of Tony Stark (less so the Black Widow) and the return of half the life in the universe after five years.  The problem lies with the return of people who’ve been essentially dead for half a decade suddenly returned to life to deal with the people who survived. A Spidey film could have been the perfect place to deal with the angst of this through Peter Parker; a comic character who is angst himself but instead we get a few gags as Peter and his pals (who all happened to be main or secondary cast members who died during the Snap) go on a jolly to Europe.

I get the idea to give Peter and co a break as a plot tool to show how the world (well, Europe) has changed but while on holiday Peter is contacted by Nick Fury who has hooked up with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall having enormous fun), a self-proclaimed hero from another reality who snuck through chasing four elementals after the Snap. At this point Peter is mourning Tony Stark and is vulnerable to another role model entering his life to dish out helpful lessons in life.

The problem is that the very essence of Spider-Man/Peter Parker is that he’s learned his main lesson in life that great power comes with great responsibility due to his selfishness causing Uncle Ben (the man who raised him as his own son) being murdered. Now we don’t need to see Ben die yet again on screen but in every version of Spidey out there this is the core of who he is, even the Ultimate version written by Brian Bendis on which this version is largely based. Up to now things have worked with Peter desperate for a father figure in Tony Stark and carrying on his lesson learned from Ben’s death but here Peter is a lovesick arsehole doing silly things to prove himself to MJ and Mysterio who he barely knows.

Nobody is fleshed out. Nobody has sensible motivations.  Mysterio is yet another bitter villain who just wants revenge on Tony Stark, or on his legacy,  while Peter and MJ’s relationship feels rushed and unearned even though Tom Holland and Zendaya work their arses off to make the best of what they’re working with.

Far From Home isn’t a bad film. It’s a summer blockbuster that is fun and entertaining but the script is a road accident as it feels like it took a desperately quick rewrite after Endgame to take that film into account, not to mention work so it sets up Phase 4. Plot overtakes story and characterisationas these films are made on a production line. That’s one reason why most recent MCU films use a load of green screen work which makes scenes look cheap and rushed. However ignoring the character of Uncle Ben changes Spidey. It takes the guilt and self-loathing (in those Ditko/Lee strips Peter not only hates himself but is often a pretty unlikeable bit of work) out of Peter Parker and replaces it with a whining stupidity that ends up with Peter giving Mysterio the key to Stark’s technology because Peter here is an idiot.

Which is a shame. Tom Holland is a perfect cross between the John Romita and Ultimate era Spidey. He’s a good actor who will clearly be the new cornerstone of the MCU in the decade to come and will hopefully have better to work with in the future but Far From Home feels rushed and more interested in the overall arc of the MCU than telling a great Spidey story.

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What I thought of Heroes in Crisis

Written by Tom King and drawn by Clay Mann, Heroes in Crisis was yet another massive event title which promised to ‘change the DC Universe forever’, or at least til the end of June. It is an interesting, but seriously, seriously flawed experiment  but more on that in a moment.

The story centres round Sanctuary, a centre created by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman designed to help superheroes deal with the physiological effects of being a superhero. Basically it’s a drop in centre for people suffering with PTSD. This in itself is a great idea as it deals with the violence intrinsic in superhero comics and forces the reader to confront the fact their favourite genre is a violent one soaked in wish fulfilment.   This would be a great chance to do something unique and original as Tom King is certainly a talented enough writer to pull it off.

Except it doesn’t. It fails badly because it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it a murder mystery or a psychological study of the superhero because merging both doesn’t work as all of the threads become a mess as King also throws in some threads from his Batman run not to mention enacting obvious editorial demands which ends up making the ending pretty worthless.

But is an experiment. It does try to say something different. Mann’s art is pretty good often following a 9-panel grid but again it all feels a bit empty which is a shame as DC need something to give them a hard kick in the arse and this could have been it.

What I thought of some recent comics…

For many folk who follow this blog one way or another you possibly followed me because of my reviews of comics and although I don’t have the time (or to be honest the energy right now) to pick this up again but I do miss it so here’s a rundown of some of the comics you should be picking up, and some to avoid,

Starting with…

The Immortal Hulk.

The Hulk has had long runs of quality throughout the character’s long life from the original Kirby/Lee run, through to Herb Trimpe’s long run, and so on. This latest run written by Al Ewing and drawn by Joe Bennett is rewriting the character in a horror setting although still playing with the superhero genre. It owes a lot, and I mean a lot, to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and Neil Gaiman’s superhero work.

It is however a stunning work in its own right melding body horror. supernatural elements and superheroics. This is by far the best comic produced by the Big Two today.

Batman.

Tom King’s run initially was offputting to me but he’s developed a clear story for Batman/Bruce Wayne that’s went from strength to strength. DC suffer from producing reams of utter drivel with art trapped in DC’s sub Jim Lee house style. King’s Batman run is blessed from having artists who can actually draw comics.

The Walking Dead.

This is a title which has been treading water for some time since the introduction of the Commonwealth with the title often resembling an essay of the benefits of capitalism versus socialism. With issue 200 coming soon it was clear Robert Kirkman would pull something out his hat for that issue to rival #100’s death of Glenn and introduction of Negan.

Well he’s done that in #191 and #192 and in these two issues the entire comic is up in the air as I have no idea how the comic is going to develop from now on. Picking these issues up won’t be easy as they both are selling around the £10 mark already and look to increase once the second print hits.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Remember the days when Marvel used to produce fun, all-ages comics that anyone could pick up? They’re more or less gone but Squirrel Girl keeps the flag flying with light, fun superheroics every issue and it is a complete delight.

Wicked and the Divine

This title was one again I was less than excited about at the start but is now clearly the best superhero based title out there today. It is however nearing the end so pick it up now and you’ll get the final days of one of this decades most interesting mainstream books.

The Green Lantern.

Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s revamp of Green Lantern is interesting mainly thanks to Sharp’s stunning art. Morrison is going back over old ground in terms of style and although it is readable, there’s not much going on here apart from Sharp’s splendid art.

The Avengers.

As a title, this sells like proverbial hot cakes and it should do but I’ve never been convinced by Jason Aaron as a writer and this title won’t be the book that sells me on him having one good title in him and that’s about it. Its readable but disposable rubbish.

Savage Avengers

Remember the 90’s when any old shite would be thrown out if it had a bunch of EXTREME characters who were anti-heroes so they could do EXTREME things every month? Well, this is that book but they’re doing SAVAGE things instead of just being EXTREME. With a lineup of Wolverine, Elektra, The Punisher, Brother Voodoo, Venom and err, Conan this is a shameless cash cow designed to milk the Avengers brand, the Conan IP, and the popularity of Wolverine, Punisher and Venom for every single fucking penny Marvel can get out of the punter. It is terrible but it does serve as a signpost as to how awful comics can get.

 

And that’s it. Hope this pointed you in the direction of some good books and warned you off others. I may end up making this a monthly thing, so until the next time go out there and get yourself some good comics.

What I thought of Avengers: Endgame

In 2007 I read in Empire magazine that a film version of Iron Man was on it’s way from the newly formed Marvel Studios along with a new Hulk film. Future plans included a Thor and Captain America film as Marvel expanded into film media with what characters they’d left having sold the film rights to all the crown jewels like Spider-Man and X-Men during the 1990’s when the company was on the verge of going out of business.

Iron Man, Thor and Captain America (along with Hawkeye and the Black Widow who made appearances in those early Marvel films) were characters from comics who’d had the odd good run, but the majority of the comics featuring these characters were landfill comics. Basically these were destined for dealer’s 50p boxes with the odd issue/run standing out. Add into the mix Robert Downey Jnr who was in 2007 desperately piecing back something of a career after his drugs and alcohol problems of the 90’s left him popping up in films like the underrated A Scanner Darkly, or Zodiac, or the rather wonderful Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.He was never really a megastar, and you most certainly didn’t pin the hopes of a virgin movie studio upon him.

But we’re now in 2019, Downey Jnr is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Iron Man is as recognised a superhero as Batman or Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest moneymaking machine in film history, hence why Disney bought the company. Endgame is the end of a number of story arcs that started with Iron Man in 2008 as well as setting up some of what comes next so what maybe plotholes could actually be setting up future films, or TV series.

So, the film. From here on in lie SPOILERS.

The film starts right after the events of Infinity War, with the remaining Avengers trying to work out what to do next now that half the life in the universe has been wiped out. Meanwhile in space Tony Stark is near death’s door as he and Nebula try to return to Earth from Titan in the damaged ship of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Saved by Captain Marvel who returns the ship to Earth, Tony is bitter, angry and cynical after his defeat at the hands of Thanos plus seeing the likes of Spider-Man die in front of him has left him jaded. Leaving the Avengers to retreat and set up a family, the remaining team decide to find Thanos and use the infinity stones to reverse what he did. Upon finding Thanos they find he’s used the stones to destroy them leaving no way of changing things back to what they were, so Thor kills Thanos and the film jumps five years into the future.

Time has past. The world is trying to cope but we’re told economies around the world are in collapse while people try desperately to live normal lives while trying to cope with overwhelming grief. This first hour or so is not what you’d expect from a billion dollar blockbuster. There’s genuine big ideas as well as how grief affects people and how the phrase ‘moving on’ is easier said than done. There’s also hints that actually, Thanos may have been a lunatic but the oceans are becoming cleaner and well, life is going on. The film however doesn’t dwell on this for too long which isn’t too much of a shock but I hope in future films we see how this world has changed.

After Scott Lang frees himself from the Quantum Realm (another reality) he was left in at the end of Ant Man and the Wasp, he meets up with the Avengers to propose a ‘time heist’ to steal the Infinity Stones throughout time to make a new Infinity Gauntlet to turn back what Thanos did. Tony Stark is initially reluctant having now settled down with Pepper and having a child but rejoins the team after a sort-of reconciliation with Captain America.

The film then flips tone as firstly the original team is reformed, and then embark on a heist to steal the infinity stones throughout time which means the Russo brothers and scriptwriters Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus can do a tour of past MCU films, specifically the first Avengers film and Thor: The Dark World. This section allows the three core Avengers some personal moments so Tony meets his father, Thor meets his mother, and Cap looks longingly at Peggy Carter. Meanwhile the Black Widow sacrifices herself to get the Soul Stone which means all the stones are returned to the current day so the Hulk can use the stones to change things back as the Hulk is the only one of them powerful enough to use the stones.

The Hulk does indeed bring back everyone but not without being badly hurt in the process, then Thanos from 2014 (there’s lots of time travel stuff here) comes from the past to the present to get the stones, while destroying Avengers Mansion, and the Avengers. A big fight breaks out with Thanos and the core Avengers of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America who nearly beat Thanos, but his armies are pouring down on the Earth and all is lost…until all of the characters lost in the last film, come back along with the Wakandan tribes, sorcerers, Asgardians, and pretty much every film Marvel Comics bit of intellectual property barring the TV shows in a huge fight which everyone expected and just about stays on the right side of being a tedious cut scene from a computer game.  The gauntlet is in the hands of Thanos and just as we expect all to be lost, Tony Stark has stolen the gems from under him and clicks his fingers to wipe out Thanos and his armies.Tony dies, everyone is sad and we have a funeral to end Tony Stark’s arc and to maybe set up the future of the MCU.

Thor goes off with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye returns to his family, Hulk is still around, but it’s Captain America who has the best ending as returning the stones back in time he decides to stay with Peggy to have the life he thought he could never have and the film ends…

Endgame is a titanic film. To think that in 2008 the first Iron Man film we’d end up at this with a film which isn’t just on track to be the biggest of all time, but is an astonishing piece of modern culture that cuts across every social, class and cultural divide you can imagine. I find it hard to imagine where Marvel go from here, and yes, sequels to Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and Doctor Strange will ease the way in the future, but it took 11 years and 22 films to get here  using mainly the lower tier A list, not to mention B and C list Marvel Comics characters to forge what they’ve done here.

Of course Disney/Marvel now own the Fantastic Four and X Men characters which if done right would give the boost to keep it going for years, if not decades to come. We’re talking of a sausage factory here. Getting back to this level of popular culture? I don’t know. Plans for the future are still vague though a few TV series are announced for the new Disney channel but you can’t just throw Galactus or the Kree/Skrull war (which is where I think they’ll go) in two or three years for the next Avengers film without building up as effective a set of villains like Loki or Thanos so someone like Doctor Doom seems essential.

For now though Endgame is a triumph. It gives the audience what it wants, as well as what it didn’t know it wanted. It manages to hold together everything, and even for the first hour managed to challenge expectations massively but mainly it happens to massively entertain, even seriously provide some moving scenes for the 3 hour running time. To tie together 22 films to a coherent ending, not to mention acting as a new start for the next decade of Marvel is a task. My only real complaint is that I wish this massive piece of pop culture resulted in more people reading comics let alone actually knowing the names of the men and women who created these characters who make billions for Disney.

So, if you’re a fan of the films and/or comics go and see Endgame. If this is the peak for Marvel then it is a bloody good peak to hit.

 

What I thought of Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is the latest game from Rockstar and is is one of the greatest bits of entertainment you’ll ever experience. If you’re an experienced gamer or someone picking this game up for a play because of the hype then you’ll experience something that doesn’t just subvert games, but it takes time to tell its story rather than bursting through levels to power your main character up ASAP to fight the end bosses.

Your main character here is Arthur Morgan; an outlaw and a cowboy in the final dying days of the Old West, and the early days of industrialisation in 1899. As Arthur you get to ride round the simply enormous map in a super-detailed way and you get to experience yourself things like the forests being cut down or the railways expanding, or more industrialisation sneaking into your world. The world changes around you but there’s still loads of wilderness which means it can take minutes for you to ride from one mission to another, and the exploring I mentioned takes hours and hours. There is a fast track method of travel but it doesn’t immerse you as riding around on your horse, which of course is customisable in a way that makes you grow fond of this digital animal as you would a flesh and blood one.

From here on in there’s spoilers, so be warned.

You play as Arthur, part of the Dutch Van Linde gang and essentially his right hand though Arthur has also had Hosea to help raise him so the game sets up the device where the main protagonist has essentially two fathers (we find out during the course of the game that Arthur’s read father is a bastard he was glad to see die) who have ensured a vague code of honour for the gang to live through. As the game opens, something has went wrong in a heist and the gang are forced to run to the cold snowy mountains to hide and regroup before finding somewhere warmer to settle for a while.  This first few hours of the game are basically your tutorial levels and you get to know the gang slowly. You also get to know Arthur and discover what he is as the game drives you into gunfights and train robberies where you decide whether to beat people to death or shoot them or let them go.

The honour system decides what sort of person Arthur becomes as well as defining how your experience of the game proceeds. So if like me you were killing everything in sight for the first 20 or so hours and then realised that the game was failing to give me the rewards I’d read about I changed my game. Also, I’d grown tired of Arthur as a killing machine so I stopped killing bystanders as well as looting their bodies, and my honour improved. My experience of the game improved as those first hours are hard before you end up being given the freedom to do what you want. When you are given that freedom you have the ability to explore possibly one of the best realised worlds you’ll see in a game.

The game is constructed into chapters that feel more like a season in a TV programme. The first few chapters lure you into a familiarity as well as a video game like invulnerability for your cast. It isn’t til the gang go to St. Denis (a very thinly disguised New Orleans) in what is supposedly Dutch’s big plan, that things start really going horribly wrong, and the Dutch of the start of the game who is a crook, but not a psychopath, is very much on the road in becoming a lunatic. The story then becomes how the gang splinters after Hosea’s brutal death as Arthur and Dutch go their different moral ways. By now I’d started playing Arthur as a bad guy trying to be better, so I realised the game lured me in and I’d become so immersed in the world and the life of this digital character called Arthur that I wanted him to be the doomed melancholic hero I wanted him to be. By now of course you know Arthur is going to die as he has TB, so your task is to redeem him while giving him a decent life (which you can through a few side missions) before he dies.

And dear god, this game is glorious in character building. It takes time to do anything which forces you to be patient, because when the game delivers what you want, it does so extraordinarily well. This from near the end of the game is one of the few moments I found myself laughing at how well, and how perfectly done, everything was.

I haven’t mentioned Micah, but as a bad guy Micah serves his purpose. He’s not Rockstar’s greatest villain (look to GTA: San Andreas for that) but as an out and out bastard he’s brilliant a he nudges Dutch towards being darker & less honourable. Dutch himself is a character you can use to hit those people who thinks video games can’t develop nuanced characters or relationships because Dutch and Arthur prove that to be wrong.

Eventually you come to the end, and depending on how you’ve live your life you die either in agony with Micah’s knife in your back or peacefully with the sunrise shining in your face. It’s a perfect end which makes the epilogue an often tedious task as you start playing as John Marston, the protagonist of the first game which is fine but you’ve invested so much into Arthur that having to actually shovel shit to get to the point where, eventually, you get to kill Micah. In fact the epilogue is one of the few negatives of the game (alongside a simply fucking awful targeting system that can be sort of fixed by fiddling around in the settings) but even then I can sort of see the point of having this slow epilogue that leads to something horrendously violent and cathartic but once done and you’ve sat through the credits (which is essential) you get to carry on playing as John, so you can visit Arthur’s grave where, depending on your honour, interesting things can happen…

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a triumph. It’s a work of art which makes you sad when you leave a fully realised world in a game that forces the player to reassess how games are played or experienced. You live as Arthur and through a mix of writing, acting and your decisions you form this amazing experience that is going to be hard for Rockstar to top. Indeed, I look at the entire industry and think how can anyone top this (Death Stranding looks promising) or even how Rockstar can top this?

I look forward to finding out out how the industry can go better than this game, but for now we have a work that is not just a spectacular bit of entertainment, but a genuine work of art that’ll be talked about for as long as we play video games.

What I thought of Daredevil season 3

I didn’t mid season 2 of Daredevil. Yes, it did die off after the first half of the season and ended in a terrible final episode designed more to set up The Defenders that provide good storytelling. Also the Marvel series on Netflix are overlong, with some episodes being glacially slow or just there to pad out the season. Daredevil season 3 is as good as the Marvel Netflix universe gets. It never feels padded out, there’s no filler episodes and the story moves to a satisfying ending that essentially would have set up future seasons had Netflix not cancelled the series,With Marvel/Disney being coy as to whether this cast returns.

Season 3 picks up after The Defenders with Matt Murdock (still played wonderfully by Charlie Cox) battered and broken being cared for by Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley reminding us that she’s still a talent) while Foggy and Karen carry out their own fight against the Kingpin (a fantastic Vincent D’Onofrio). 

Season 3 also throws in Bullseye, though he’s never referred to as that name, it very definitely is that character and he gets a backstory too where he’s either a broken child or vicious bastard depending on your point of view. And this moral nuance is embedded throughout the season as characters aren’t black and white, but various shades of grey. Even the Kingpin isn’t a total bastard as there’s some humanity there but overall he’s still a monster, as well as Marvel’s best cinematic villain. Forget Thanos or Loki, Wilson Fisk is magnificent with how evil his corrupting influence is being the slow burn of his evil this season as Fisk uses one good man to his own needs.

That good man is Agent Nadeem played by Jay Ali. Nadeem is a good man working in the FBI trying to do what’s right, but desperate for money after paying for his sister-in-law’s cancer treatment so he pushes himself into a position that places him next to the Kingpin and Matt Murdock/Daredevil. This season Daredevil sheds his red costume for the plain black one he started out with, as Matt struggles with himself trying to work out who and what he is.

There’s a lot going on this season, which means there’s no padding, or filler episodes. Indeed one episode which could have been a filler (Karen) gives us essential background on Karen Page plus it allows Deborah Ann Wolf to show us what she can do. Overall all the main players get their moment, the introduction of Bullseye means we’ve got an equal in fighting ability to Matt which also means plenty of scenes where Daredevil takes a beating, in fact there’s a lot of fight scenes where various protagonists take a hellish beating.

Daredevil season 3 is the best thing Marvel’s done for Netflix. It’s an almost perfect crime/superhero drama that uses the potential for these characters while utilising the comics history of them to tell new stories. After the cludgy second seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (not seen the second season of Iron Fist & probably won’t) this shows how things are done just in time for it to get cancelled as Marvel/Disney pull as much of their intellectual property back in-house. Whether Disney/Marvel will have the creative bollocks to do something like this season of Daredevil in-house remains to be seen (and I’m wary they will) but this will stand as testament to what can be done when creators work together to do something good.

What I thought of Star Trek: Discovery season 2 episode 1

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery contrary to what some fans said, wasn’t actually bad as it tried to do something different with the Star Trek formula, though the season was let down by a staggeringly awful final episode which wrapped everything up so poorly that it undid much of the good work the season did though the last shot tease of the Enterprise was a nice touch.

Then comes this first episode which in one fell swoop brushes away many of the criticisms of the first, so the overall tone isn’t as grim, supporting characters suddenly have names, and although it takes much of its tone from the 2009 J.J Abrams reboot though buried in what is a pretty action packed episode is something akin to Star Trek.in the what is the season’s overall arc which is finding out what the strange red bursts happening across the galaxy are..

Sonequa Martin-Green returns as Michael Burnham, while Anson Mount débuts as Captain Pike, the first captain of the Enterprise who plays it like the the film version of Pike rather than the original series. These two are clearly the main two protagonists but it feels slightly more of an ensemble piece that last year so all is good right? Not everything. It feels slight and there’s not enough in it to detract from the feeling it’d rather be about the action that anything else. As a whole though the series kicks off well; it’s fast paced action with a touch of fun missing from the first season that seems to be intent on taking us on an adventure rather than just tread the grounds of the first year.

So good start, let’s see where it goes from here.