(Another) Sign o’ the Times

I’m beginning to think I’m living on some other planet to most folks, and that the title of this blog is getting more pertinent than ever. I read on the news today that Avengers: Endgame has broken UK records for digital downloads. In its first week it has totalled 335,400 downloads.

Who are these people buying digital downloads? Who are these people who have abandoned physical formats and jumped onto this digital train to God only knows where? I don’t get it. I don’t think I ever will. Ever since I ‘lost’ my digital purchase of Robotron on my old Xbox 360, a few dozen digital albums I bought on Virgin Music several years ago and my digital copy of Blade Runner that mysteriously vanished from my Flixster account, I’ve sworn off digital anything. I don’t trust it. Far as I can see, nobody ‘owns’ anything when they buy something digitally, its instead just a license and I can trust any vendor about as much as I can trust Rancors are vegan.

But digital is certainly popular with someone. Me, I can easily wait an extra week or two to buy a copy on 4K disc if its a film I really want to see at its best, or on blu-ray or wait a few months longer to see it on streaming via Prime or Netflix or maybe Sky. But I’ve got shelves of discs behind me that most folks are just not interested in, home video collections going as out of fashion as decent Star Wars movies.

The BBC news report also states that as far as Avengers: Endgame is concerned, its widely expected that it won’t appear on other platforms such as Sky, Netflix or Amazon and will instead other than digital sales will only appear on Disney’s own Disney+ platform for streaming. As long as physical disc formats are still in the mix and I have that choice, then I’m reluctantly fine with the situation (to a point) but I am sure we can all see where the future is eventually heading.  Sign o’ the times indeed. I’m feeling old enough these days without this nonsense.

 

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

end1A crushing disappointment. I’ll get that out of the way right now. While I didn’t believe Avengers: Infinity War was the slam dunk classic that some, or even the majority of, fans did, I did have hopes that my reservations with that film would be addressed by the second film, that things that troubled me would make sense in hindsight. Alas, the simple truth of Endgame is that it doesn’t – indeed, it just throws more wood into the fire and causes even more consternation.

One caveat here- while I have read loads of Marvel comics from the 1960s/early 1970s era, I know nothing about the original Thanos material in the comics that, presumably, led to an Infinity War saga that crossed over several of the Marvel comics lines. So I have no way of knowing if my issues with it all stems chiefly from the comics themselves and the films being faithful to them. I suppose the film-makers are caught in no-mans land, somewhat, if they are beholden to those comics and keeping faith with them.

But if so, then oh boy, I wish they had gone the other way and trod some other path. Time travel? Alternate timelines, ignoring time paradoxes with some kind of casual “nah, that’s just movies” remark and just doing whatever they please?

Let’s get this right: at the end, for some unfathomable reason they just don’t make clear, while they have dismissed the inherent paradoxes of time travel as nonsense. they maintain that somebody has to go back and return the Power Stones to where they came from in the several desperate time-zones and locations. So Captain America elects to do this, and they send him back – presumably he has some kind of Time Machine Wristwatch so that once he delivers one Power Stone he can then dial up another location/time and deliver the next one and so on, which suggests that perhaps they should have done this in the first place when they originally went back for them- all the heroes together to each Power Stone and then move on to the next, etc. But anyway, conveniently bypassing that particular plot hole, Captain America goes back and delivers each Power Stone, presumably fixing any temporal issues we were earlier told were not an issue. Then he decides to go back to 1940s America and his lost love Peggy Carter and spends his life with her, presumably spending his life in some alternate timeline thus created- and yet ends up on the park bench in the current (?) timeline as an old man. Surely he should be in some other universe/timeline in which he stayed with Peggy, not the one in which he fought in the various Avengers/Captain America movies and Peggy married someone else and…

Its just noise. I know that all it is. Its all nonsense, trying to make sense of it and it’s only a comic book superhero caper, its grown men (and women) dressed up in silly costumes with silly powers that defeat all laws of physics. But surely it could do without all that noise of plot holes and paradoxes and sensical conflicts and fan service?  That first section of Endgame, in which our heroes traumatised by the finale of Infinity Wars unite to track down Thanos and undo the Snap that took out 50% of all life in the universe- surely that should have just been the entire Endgame movie? Just spread it out into some huge interplanetary adventure figuring out where Thanos is and figuring out a way to defeat him and use the Gauntlet to fix everything? I mean, ultimately, it would do without all the Time Travel theatrics, which don’t ultimately really fix everything (we don’t get Gamora back, or the Vision etc) and just give me headaches every time I think about it.

end2.jpgTime travel is real: okay, so we go back and kill Thanos before the events of Infinity War. We’ve established it won’t create any Time Paradox because Back to the Future is just, hey, a movie. We go back, nuke Thanos or flush him out an airlock or decapitate him and presto, everybody’s back, because Thanos didn’t live to get all the Power Stones. Or, let’s go back to every previous Marvel movie that featured a Power Stone and steal it and destroy it before Thanos could get it. Presto, everyone’s back, and there’s no Power Stones or Gauntlet that could ever snap them away. No, instead, let’s go back, steal those Power Stones, then use it to do our own snap (without the Gauntlet?)… er..

Yeah, only the Gauntlet can harness and control the powers of those Power Stones, I think that was established earlier, so what the frak does Iron Man do at the end of Endgame? When he and Thanos are having that wrestling contest, Iron Man somehow comes out of it with the Power Stones without Thanos sussing what he’s done in a split second of wrestling masterclass brilliance, and no, I don’t remember if he’s actually wearing the Gauntlet having somehow undressed Thanos of it like some kind of party trick Paul Daniels would be proud of, he’s just in his Iron Man suit and somehow he performs a Counter-Snap anyway? WTF? The grand conclusion of the saga has me scratching my head about what the hell actually happened- a clever twist or terrible storytelling?

I realise they filmed both Infinity War and Endgame together, back to back, but it really feels as though they shot and released Infinity War, and then had to figure some way out of it with Endgame, to fix it all back. “How do you fix the problem of Infinity War?” seems to be a question they didn’t already have an answer to, which for me feels weird, because presumably they had all this mapped out before they even started shooting any of Infinity War, nevermind what Endgame became. I mean, they did, obviously, because this is how they made the two films but it doesn’t feel like it, it doesn’t feel inherently sound or whole. Which is what disturbed me the most about Endgame.

Repeat viewings may answer some of my concerns and may make more sense of it all, but I rather doubt it. I think Endgame (and it’s a bit of a shame, but that also includes Infinity War before it), is rather a miss-step for Marvel. The box-office seems to be beyond spectacular so I’m likely in the minority as usual, but hey, box-office billions in no way reflects upon actual quality. It just possibly reflects upon the gullibility of fan-boys and a general public clamoring for the next big Event Movie. From my one current viewing, I’m of the opinion that Endgame was pretty poor and a crushing disappointment.

And next week I’m watching the grand conclusion of season eight of Game of Thrones, another saga that threatens to collapse under the weight of fan expectations and several years of build up and hype and popular-culture hysterics. I sense a pattern emerging and its not particularly pretty…

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

ant1.jpgSomething that struck me while watching this highly entertaining film- the sheer logistics of making a film like this just boggles the mind. Nowadays we sort of brush off stuff such as what this film throws on the screen with a dismissive “nice CGI” comment, as if it’s all the product of a box of tricks on auto. But there is so much more to it. The fight scenes for example, during which our two titular characters flip between normal size to miniature or even giant, must have been filmed in live-action multiple times to ensure continuity with lots of stop-starts and seperate camera set-ups (bad guy swats at non-existent tiny wasp then boom she switches to full-size and punches him, or focus suddenly pulls from life-size punching bad guy to miniature heroine that is placed into shot in suddenly sharp focus reacting to him before leaping into counter-action). Just the organisational side of it (camera angles/lenses/lighting/props/continuity etc) must have been laborious to the extreme, and yet edited together it looks so great and natural. Take the car chases in the film and the vehicles being miniature one moment, life-size the next,  adding a level of complexity to an otherwise pedestrian stunt sequence.

We take it so much for granted. I recall many years ago a visual effects guy remarking that if the audience ‘spots’ his effects work then he has failed, and while there was some irony to the guys comment back then (a dinosaur is a dinosaur, for crying out loud, and likewise a spaceship is, well, a spaceship when all is said and done, so most effects work can’t help but scream its own name), these days I have to wonder. I think part of the problem is how widespread and numerous these big effects films are these days. In the old days, a Star Wars film was still pretty much unique to itself each year or two, and while some other blockbusters would come out, few ever really came close to a Star Wars film in quality or scope. These days you see stuff in television productions that can equal film effects in quality if not in scale/number of shots, and certainly, several big effects films can be released in a single season, nevermind year.

So anyway, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a genuine marvel to me, effects-wise, and the story and the cast are no slouches either. Indeed, while general consensus appears to be that its one of the minor Marvel entries, for me I’d say it’s one of the strongest, certainly superior to the over-hyped Black Panther. I really did enjoy this film more- the finale was genuinely interesting and involving, thanks mainly to the great characters, their warmth and the humour that permeated the film in general. Here is a comic-book movie that remembers to be fun and it’s a great antidote to the almost Biblical seriousness of stuff like Avengers: Infinity War.

Sure, I suppose in a few years it will be films like the upcoming Captain Marvel and the epic Avengers films that people may look back on as classic iconic films of their genre, but I rather think that something like Ant-Man and the Wasp merits the same consideration.  The cast are great, the action scenes are great, the film can be funny and dramatic, it’s a great film.  Maybe it could have been a bit bolder in some artistic choices (it may have benefited from a jazzier, more un-Marvel music score, just to shake things up a little) but on the whole it really surprised me how good this film was.

First thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War

avFirst of all, kudos to a commenter on a forum who said this film would have been better had the Avengers first jumped into a spaceship, and Thanos proceeded to pursue them throughout the film at a steady speed waiting for them to run out of fuel…

Anyway. Maybe Lucasfilm will sit up and take notice of what Marvel has done here, fashioning a genuine blockbuster with action and spills and relentless drive – and I do mean relentless. I mean, this thing hardly ever pauses to take any breath, it feels like one action sequence after another, and yes, that does get wearying and while many seem to love it I do feel it weakens the movie as a solitary movie. But of course, even discounting its a part one to a part two, this film is really the culmination of several films and series in the Marvel universe so it’s hardly going to function as a single movie proper.

What is fairly breathtaking is the sleight of hand, the brevity and shorthand of both character arcs and the confident performances. There is a confidence and belief in the audience knowing who these characters are and what their drives and arcs are. We know who they are what they are doing and why and it’s all done so casually, offhand remarks or glances, it’s quite remarkable. Rarely is this film clumsy.

The film is, however, nowhere near as perfect as some reviews seem to infer. Maybe its my age, but I’m getting rather weary of endless effects sequences and so much CGI that the film almost feels like an animated movie. Maybe I would have appreciated more pause, less race to the next stunt/explosion/fight sequence. But I suppose at this point -19 films in- that Marvel have earned this assault on the senses. Maybe I’ just getting old.

Maybe, of course, the relentless action and assault on my poor optic nerves will pay off with a second film that is a little more reflective and which takes stock of the apocalyptic action with some emotional impact. Or maybe not. It will be fun finding out, of course.

As for poor DC. Well, they might as well put up the white flag and reboot everything. The gap in quality between the DC films and the Marvel films is just getting silly now. Game over, I think.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

av1Spoilers-free folks. This is just intial thoughts from having just seen the film. I’ll reserve detailed analysis for after a second viewing (if my nerves can stand it).

Has the Marvel-led superhero bubble finally burst? Well of course not. Avengers: Age of Ultron pretty much delivers on all the hype and expectation following the triumphant original, but there are a few things that are starting to annoy me about these Marvel movies. They need to break the mold sometime. Marvel Studios, following a few false starts, has largely cracked the formula for an entertaining superhero movie and has used this to great effect on the last few movies (certainly the Phase 2 era films) but I feel there is a need to do something different. And soon.

My mild irritation started early on. Ultron commences in the midst of a battle as the Avengers attack a Hydra outpost in the wilds of Eastern Europe. Its all very thrilling and impressive, as each hero gets his/her moment to crack a witty line of banter and despatch a bad-guy with aplomb in a violent beauty shot usually in slo-mo. Now I’m not sure if this is director Whedon’s attempt to de-construct the comicbook movie; each hero gets a slo-mo/still-motion beauty shot like freezing a comicstrip frame. I’m sure it gets the geeks weak at the knees and salivating profusely but it feels rather generic at this point as it seems to hammer home the fact that this is indeed a comicstrip brought to life . Each hero gets his moment, then we move on to the next, and this is so stylised and forced (it even felt like one long uninterrupted take but I maybe wrong) that it feels distracting, like a piece of camp theatre or a pop video; style over content. It just took me out of it, making me overly-conscious of the technique and form, as if I was being made aware of the creative team ticking the boxes from some ‘How To Shoot A Marvel Movie’ guide. Likewise some of the heroes are rather obvious cgi dopplegangers in some shots, as if the sheer amount of effects work in this film necessitated a lowering of the overall quality. It is all so blisteringly fast too. I saw the film in 2D but can well imagine many finding the 3D version nauseating. Its just such a cacophony of images and noise; films have gotten quicker and quicker regards cuts between shots etc but this really felt like an assault on the senses. A sign of the times/harbinger of the future no doubt, and I wouldn’t isolate Ultron alone in this but it did annoy me. Post-opening things settled down somewhat but again kicked into high gear with each inevitable action sequence. ‘Well of course’, I hear you say, ‘its a superhero movie.’ But how many times does this have to be repeated and raised to a higher level with each subsequent entry? Where will this even end?

Regards Ultron, the grand finale is as noisy and frenetic as anything before it, except raised by the power of ten- so while its scale and energy recall anything from the grand conclusions of Captain America: Winter Soldier to Thor: The Dark World (or indeed the original Avengers movie) here its bigger and louder still. And again, I just have to wonder,where will this eventually end, reaching its mad zenith of cgi spectacle? The next Avengers film will actually be two films shot back to back, so I can only imagine with some trepidation the mad crescendo the second part will end with (“We’ll need bigger cinemas”, to paraphrase a line from Jaws).  As it is, I walked out of my viewing with a pounding headache. Induced from the noise or the hectic images or the feverish combination of both, I can’t say, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m getting too old for these blockbuster sensory overloads.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

iron3Iron Man 3 is certainly  a welcome improvement on the ill-judged Iron Man 2. Unfortunately it suffers the hardship of following on from the superlative Avengers movie (a problem also shared by the impending Captain America and Thor sequels). There is just no way it could live up to that movies huge epic scale, and for the most part, it doesn’t seem as if it even wants to. It just follows its own path, albeit with some welcome consideration of the impact that the events of the Avengers movie would have on the characters, particularly Iron Man himself, who glimpsed  things through the wormhole that have left a mark on his once overconfident psyche. It may be somewhat superficial in execution but its surprising nonetheless. Just a pity it involves an irritating and needless child sidekick for some of the movie.

In this film,  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) stays out of the Iron Man suit for a lot of the time, even for many of the action sequences, and I can understand the logic behind it. Its a problem many of these comicbook films suffer from- why spend millions for a ‘star’ actor only to hide them behind a mask for most of the time? Indeed, it could be anyone once the mask is on. There is also the dramatic element of seeing the hero’s face/eyes etc and emphasising with the character, rather than the distancing (albeit iconic), features of a mask.  As a dramatic device I can appreciate its value, but it is something that irritated me endlessly with the Spiderman movies- in every film’s grande finale he seems to spend most of the time without the mask even on.

In the case of Iron Man3, it can be argued that over three movies prior, we’ve seen everything there is to see regards Iron Man suited up in action. We know what he can do. Having the character out of the suit and in jeopardy can only increase the tension (and get the studio more quality time ‘seeing’ the expensive actor rather than his cgi double, so everyone wins).

Unfortunately by the film’s end it falls into the same old trap as many other blockbusters, resorting to the eye-candy of OTT cgi and explosions and shouting etc. We still get to see Downey Jr out of his suit but instead replace him with forty-plus automated Iron Men battling an army of superhumans that glow in the dark.  It sums up all the current thinking in Hollywood and these epic sequels (what’s more exciting than a cityblock being totalled? Lets see a city destroyed! (Transformers 3), or in this case,  what’s more exciting than one Iron Man? Lets have forty!). Its supposed to be exciting but it really serves to undermine the dramatic tension and betrays a lack of imagination and ambition. I couldn’t care less about the cgi cartoon uber-violence. The real dramatics are of Stark and the villain rival Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) battling, even though even that is somewhat undone by the cgi effects. And in a curious similarity to events in Star Trek Into Darkness, even death no longer means anything when you have Magic Blood.  Hell, seems anyone can be a super-hero these days. Maybe Paltrow will get her own Super Pepper spin-off movie.