Endgame

end1Last night I finally got around to giving my 4K disc of Avengers Endgame a spin. Regular readers will remember my mixed feelings/downright disappointment with the film when I first saw it during its cinema release. The film proved to be a major success with most people though, and seemed to attract a huge repeat crowd and became the biggest box-office film of all time (inflation notwithstanding, I suppose). Can’t say I’d really seen that coming.

The numbers are frankly astonishing- the film cost over $350 million to make but earned $2.8 billion at the Box Office.

Watching it again though, and so soon after seeing Rise of Skywalker, the differences between the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic universes are boldly apparent. Avengers Endgame is everything that Disney and Lucasfilm felt that Rise of Skywalker should be, a huge climactic cinematic event that seized (for better or worse) the cultural zeitgeist and became the biggest movie of all time. Rise seems to have actually arrived with a frustrated whimper, awkward and uneven, hampered by being part of a dysfunctional trio, dividing its core fanbase or reinforcing present divisions, whereas Endgame seemed to have pleased most everybody in the core fanbase as well as the mainstream.

I still have my issues with Endgame. It seems unnecessarily convoluted, getting lost in myriad time travel paradoxes and finally succumbing to all the worst excesses of CGI bombast spectacle that I personally find boring. But on the whole it works, and serves as a summation of all the Marvel films before it, closing out the arcs of some fan-favourite characters/actors at the same time as handing off to a new generation. If it takes itself too seriously, well you can almost forgive it that considering its, what, the 22nd film in that franchise? Imagine a film being the 22nd in the Star Wars franchise- only a matter of time I suppose.

But watching it this second time I began to realise that perhaps it gets right more than it gets wrong. Or maybe compared to Rise, maybe its successes become all the more impressive. Then again, compared to Rise, most everything any Marvel film does appears pretty impressive. I don’t think Disney should go the Marvel route with Star Wars, although it does appear to be heading in that direction with some of the staff changes going on behind the scenes, but it is clear that the Marvel films have a fairly clear control on the mythology of all those decades of comics. Some of it is counter-intuitive and contradictory, and I don’t think they ever really nailed its most popular character (Spider-Man) in any of its screen incarnations, so its certainly not a successful slam-dunk. I shudder at some of the stuff in Marvel films just as I do watching Star Wars, but the good/bad ratio seems to fall for the better.

 

End of Year Report, 2019.

Didn’t get my Replicant Pleasure-Model in the mail, nor did my new car launch vertically into the air for a commute to work in the sky-lanes… and neither was I able to book my holiday Off-World, so thanks for ‘nowt, Ridley…

But 2019 did come with some great television shows and movies. That said though, there were plenty of clunkers and disappointments.  I think what I shall remember most of 2019 is that it was clearly a year when television content surpassed movies in quality by a pretty wide margin.

In my previous post I mentioned that I watched three seasons of The Expanse this year, which was pretty amazing and certainly one of my favourite shows of the year, but there was plenty of other quality shows. Some clunkers too, mind- February brought the first (and thankfully last) season of Nightflyers, a truly abominable creation that so soon after having enjoyed the brilliant The Expanse brought my sci-fi viewing crashing back down to Earth. At the time I was confident it would be the worst piece of television I would see all year, but I was innocently ignorant of Another Life coming later in April. The fact that Another Life has been granted a second season is just mind-boggling and very, very scary.

Certainly the good outweighed the bad, though, if only because you can afford to be judicious with so much content available across Netflix and Amazon Prime. By March I’d also see season two of The Crown, the first outing for The Umbrella Academy, season one of Stranger Things and Love, Death & Robots, a ridiculously entertaining anthology show that was a Fantasia for sci-fi geeks like me, and totally beautiful.

Regards movies though, I had really struggled to see anything really memorable until April, when I saw both Bad Times at the El Royale and Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. El Royale really impressed me on a rental, so much so that a few months later I bought the 4K disc. Then in May John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum blew my mind on a rare trip to the cinema, an absolutely dizzying action-fest that instantly put itself as prime contender for my Film of the Year. In an era of politically-correct naval-gazing and various worthy agendas being shoved in my face all the time, Wick was refreshingly old-school, unfashionably simple action-movie nirvana. May also brought Avengers Endgame, another rare cinema outing that this time proved hugely disappointing. I’m really curious to see if a rewatch will revise my opinion of the film, but even though I bought the 4K disc of the film when it came out a few months back, I still haven’t actually watched the disc. I keep thinking I should watch Avengers Infinity War first, maybe the two films in a double-bill over a weekend, but the length of the darn things proves rather daunting. All those Marvel geeks who watch all these movies often and know them inside-out are made of sterner stuff than I. Watching Captain Marvel just once, when the 4K disc came out in July , left me pretty burned-out on all things Marvel- the thought of the ultra-fans watching and re-watching that one is just plain scary.

Away from movies, April brought us the big television disappointment of the year, with season eight of Game of Thrones. In hindsight, it could only ever disappoint, it had hyped up the conclusion and all the show’s mysteries and intrigues over several seasons to such a degree, it was inevitable that it would all just implode. Didn’t think the crash would be quite so spectacular though. Having bought all the Blu-rays already, I bought the 4K disc set of season eight anyway, and am hoping that when I get the courage to watch it again after all these months the pain will be less, I can make my peace with some of the wilder crazier twists and maybe manage to see something in all the episode three murk now its in 4K UHD. We’ll see.

Much better television followed in June: and no, I’m not talking about season two of Star Trek Discovery, but rather it was the month when I caught up with Chernobyl, a breath-taking and harrowing series that was pretty much perfect. Discovery was far, far from perfect- it ably demonstrated that while much television can be great, it can also out-dumb and out-stupid anything Hollywood movie studios can do.

In August, I caught up with both Aquaman (a film that proved DC could still make worse movies than Captain Marvel) and Shazam! (a film that proved DC could actually make great, fun superhero movies). Aquaman would be another of those terribly busy movies that tried to fit three films into one, like some kind of Readers Digest edition of an actual film trilogy. It doesn’t work, it just gives me an headache. I watched the 2017 remake of Flatliners, and although I thought that was diabolically appalling, I had no idea I’d also see the Jacobs Ladder remake later in the year, a film which would make the Flatliners remake seem a classic and put me in a total dark funk for a weekend.

Returning to television shows, August also sprung a major surprise with the quite excellent The Boys over on Amazon. The quality television continued into September with the long-awaited (by me, anyway) disc release of the third season of True Detective, which I really enjoyed (I love all three seasons of that show- yes, that includes the maligned second season) and Carnival Row, another Amazon show that was much better than I’d expected, even if it did leave me pining for the superior (and sadly missed) Penny Dreadful.

Sheesh, all these seasons of television shows and all their complicated multi-layered narratives. I suppose I should be glad most movies turned out to be rather less demanding, more simplistic and comfortingly predictable. A prime example would be September’s Ad Astra, which I was expecting to be a high-concept sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now. Well, it was certainly a sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now, almost literally so, but with lunar space pirates and a mad Space Baboon, it was rather more Event Horizon than 2001: A Space Odyssey. A disappointment then, and another example of the lack of confidence of movie studios to challenge and provoke audiences as much as HBO etc do on television. I would imagine that had HBO made Ad Astra as a ten-episode serial, it would have proven far more enticing and thought-provoking.It would probably look just as good too- the gap between television and cinema in regards of visual effects is obviously still there, but its much narrower than it used to be, and television more than makes up for any deficit there by better script writing. November’s The Lion King would prove to be a startling reminder of what visual majesty only cinema budgets can presently afford, but the same months Spider Man: Far From Home ably demonstrated that cinema could just get dumber and dumber even as it got prettier.

November also presented us with The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese gangster ballad that incredibly came to us via Netflix (I prefer ‘ballad’ to ‘epic’ just because its more, well, thoughtful and mature than the joyously questionable glorification of Goodfellas). The idea that a $150 million Scorsese flick could just drop onto Netflix on a Friday night still feels dizzying and possibly game-changing. I really enjoyed the film (its certainly more Once Upon A Time in America than Godfather or Goodfellas).

The Irishman did show, though, just how much has changed during 2019. Streaming services are all the rage now, and really will prove more of a Big Deal in 2020. The prevailing move by studios towards streaming and away from physical media, and indeed away from traditional vendors like cable and satellite television providers, is just a gathering storm that gets windier by the month. For someone like me who likes to own my favourite films and television shows and enjoys special features and commentaries, its pretty worrying. I can see a future not far away where streaming and pay per view is everything. Its clearly inevitable, but its a future where The Irishman can’t be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray, a future where you’ll probably need to subscribe to Disney+ in order to watch future Star Wars and Marvel movies in the comfort of your own home (and I’m pretty certain that premium content on Disney+ will eventually require additional purchases in-app to watch; it may start as a subscription service but it’ll inevitably evolve into a pay-per-view service when alternative avenues like physical media are gone). Hopefully that’s more 2029 or 2039 though, and I’ll be past caring as long as I have a Blu-ray player working.

 

 

See You Yesterday (2019)

Hmm, another Netflix Original, but one of the better ones, providing you can get your head around two teenagers inventing a time machine in a garage. If you can get your head around that, the various time travel paradoxes of old are pretty routine but the film itself has plenty of heart and a big load of energy. Certainly it could teach the writers of Avengers: Endgame a thing or two about constructing a dramatic and involving time travel yarn that is easy-flowing and not liable to cause a headache.

Infact, the only real criticism I have for this film is the ending- somehow I’d totally lost track of time (yeah, how ironic) and thought there was still twenty minutes or so of the film to go, when the credits suddenly came up in what felt like mid-scene. It completely caught me off-guard, as the film (and I’ll be vague enough to try to avoid spoilers here) suddenly seems to end, if not on a cliffhanger, then somewhere that possibly even hints at a sequel. In hindsight, it was intellectually perhaps the perfect place to end it, and doesn’t really need a follow-up- its simply leaving a character in a kind of loop, always doomed to try changing the past to no avail, which is rather neat and quite dark when you think it over. In the moment though, when the credits came on, I was rather annoyed thinking it something of a cheat.

In anycase, this one is well worth a watch, particularly for an early cameo by Marty McFly himself, Michael J Fox,  playing a science tutor, who closes his cameo with a one-liner that is just priceless. It also rather indicates the Back to the Future-inspired story that follows, but there’s a little more added to the mix that might surprise. Time travel can still be a fun ride, but this film also assures us of the consequences, and has some valid and important social messages alongside the time-travelling escapades. Its time paradoxes are nothing new, but it still managed to seem like a breath of fresh air. Yeah, I enjoyed it.