Thursday, 12 September 2013

Why and how the Marvel Movie Multiverse should finally merge (or I indulge in some wishful thinking)

This time last year, as The Avengers demonstrated the potential for a shared universe, the same questions were being asked the world over: "Where's Spiderman?", "Where are the X-Men?", "Why isn't Wolverine in the team?". Marvel had created an ingenious concept in the MCU but without some of their biggest characters.

Now it seems any studio with a comic-book franchise is following Marvel's approach. Warner Bros. and DC are (presumably) moving towards an eventual Justice League film whilst Fox and Sony look to expand their Marvel properties (X-Men and the Fantastic Four at Fox and Spiderman at Sony) into wider universes. Admittedly both have tremendous scope to grow but really there's one thing all fans want to see: all the Marvel heroes together in one mega franchise. 

Although there's always the chance the rights to these characters could revert back to Marvel Studios (as with Daredevil last year), Fox and Sony won't let these characters go without a fight. Daredevil didn't perform well and Elektra was a flop. Fox had little else they could do with the franchise and allowed it to revert. X-Men, the F4 and Spidey won't fail. No matter how the critics or comic-book fans feel about the films they will inevitably gain enough profit to justify a sequel. If the X-Men are ever to team up with the Avengers and Spiderman it will have to be through an agreement between Marvel, Fox and Sony.

Sony are probably the most likely to make an agreement with Marvel. It's already been revealed Stark Tower was nearly added to Amazing Spider-Man and dropped because of time constraints, whilst the Oscorp logo can be found in the Iron Man 3 mobile game. There's also the pictures of Andrew Garfield leaving Marvel offices with what looks like a stack of Avengers comics featuring Thanos (although this could be a coincidence, he is a comic-book fan himself after all). 

Fox is much more complicated. Recently both Marvel Studios and Fox appear to have had some conflict over character rights, namely Quicksilver. As soon as Joss Whedon revealed that the speedster would be joining the Avengers in Age of Ultron, Fox announced Quicksilver would also be in Days of Future Past with many observers seeing this as a move to protect character rights from Marvel. There was also an issue earlier this year with Marvel offering an extension of the Daredevil rights for access to some Fantastic Four character which Fox declined. Another problem is the fact that the X-Men franchise has enough properties to feasibly build a strong shared universe (especially with the F4), something Sony doesn't.

But despite this a deal really is in all of the studios favour. Sony and Fox get the opportunity to broadcast their films as part of the MCU which seems to be a guaranteed way of making a profit sing The Avengers (although Iron Man 3 is probably not the best test of this). Marvel on the other hand gets access to all of their tentpole characters.

So how would it work? Really there wouldn't have to be much change. The only difference is the profits would be shared according to who owns which property and Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios would have enough creative control to veto any ideas which don't fit the overall plan. But imagine the possibilities! A Captain America and Wolverine team-up set in the war. Spiderman and Nova in a New Warriors film. Civil War. Really anything ever published in a Marvel comic book. No boundaries. No worries about which characters belong to whom. In short, it's a win-win for the studios and a fanboys dream.

Now I'll stop being optimistic and accept this will never happen...

Friday, 21 June 2013

Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing' Review

Filmed in just 12 days on a limited budget, Joss Whedon's adaption of the Shakespearean classic successfully captures the magic of the original play. Updating the setting from 16th century Messina post-war to (presumably) a politicians estate, the film is quite frankly a delight.

For those who aren't familiar with the play, Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of the feuding Benedick and Beatrice and how they eventually fall in love (with help from their friends and relatives). Alongside the pair is the secondary romance of Hero and Claudio and the machinations of Don John. If you count any of this as spoilers: one, do not read on; two, go and read some Shakespeare (it's not as difficult as it sounds).

The direction of the film is great. The choice to film entirely in black and white gives the film a sense of timelessness, aided by the lack of contemporary references and simple costume (mainly suits and summer dresses). Whedon's choice of set and music also creates a stylish and chic feel to the film. Set entirely in his Santa Monica home, the film's location feels small and intimate but not claustrophobic. This enclosed nature helps to create a sense of believability in the rather fast-paced romances, especialliy with Hero and Claudio. The music of the film (composed by Whedon) once again rejects contemporary sounds and leans towards a smooth jazz-like feel including a rather nice re-working of 'Hey Nonny Nonny' (strangely Much Ado featured more jazz music than The Great Gatsby).

The cast, comprised almost entirely of previous members of Whedon's productions (I'm not going to pretend to know where everyone's from, sorry Buffy and Firefly fans), all perform excellently and feel completely at home reciting Shakespeare. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof have perfect chemistry as Beatrice and Benedick. Both have great comic timing, particularly in the deception scenes. Newcomer Jillian Morgese played a Hero with much more strength and confidence than previous interpretations of the character. With the use of just her body language and expression, she managed to portray a Hero much more suited for a modern audience with a less submissive attitude towards Claudio.

The only real flaws of the film are the flaws in Shakespeare's script. Dogberry and Verges are still superfluous. More scenes of Beatrice and Benedick's sniping would be much more interesting. There are still too many plot holes and Hero still forgives too easily. However this can't be blamed on Whedon or the cast and Shakespeare can't exactly rewrite the script now.

Much Ado is a lesson in how to adapt Shakespeare and literature in general. Effortlessly modern, the film still revels in Shakespeare's script and the ingenious wit found therein. The cast all turn in solid performances and the film is a delight to watch.

5 Stars

Afterthought: I know everyone else is lauding Luhrman's The Great Gatsby right now but Much Ado really is superior in every sense. It's a shame it's not receiving the same media attention or a wider release.

A thought after the afterthought: With all the black suits and Agent Coulson I like to think of this film as part of the MCU. Just a regular SHIELD party.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

How the Young Avengers could enter the MCU (part 2)

In my last post, I explored some options as to how Cassie Lang, Kate Bishop, Billy Kaplan and the Vision (Iron-Lad's relation, not Ultron's) could assemble on screen. Today, I'll be looking at the other members of the team: Teddy Altman, Eli Bradley, Tommy Shepherd and Nathaniel Richards.

Captain America 3
Introducing Eli 'Patriot' Bradley:
A long established fact of the MCU is that others have attempted to recreate Dr. Erskine's formula. The Incredible Hulk's version of Banner's origins involved the use of gamma radiation for this very purpose. So, it wouldn't be too difficult for the Marvel Studio's to introduce Eli's grandfather Isaiah Bradley in a future Captain America film. This can be achieved through flashbacks throughout the film and towards the end, Eli could be introduced when Cap visits the now elderly Isaiah. Eli can then be reintroduced in a Young Avengers project as Patriot.

Guardians of the Galaxy/Ms. Marvel/SHIELD
Introducing Teddy 'Hulking' Altman:
Of the teams founding members, Hulking is probably the hardest to introduce. Unlike his teammates, he doesn't hold any direct link to any existing characters in the MCU, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. Firstly, with his role as heir to both the Kree and Skrull empires he fits nicely into a cosmic film. Loosely adapting an arc from Young Avengers Volume 1, the empires could converge on Earth to take Teddy by force leading to the Guardians of the Galaxy intervening. However this is relying on the film getting a sequel or Marvel wishing to bring the team to Earth.

Another option is a Ms. Marvel solo film. It's long been rumoured that Carol Danvers will be joining in The Avengers 2 (or maybe even earlier in GOTG), which would inevitably lead into a solo film. With her origins, this would likely involve a connection with the Kree and hopefully Teddy's biological father Captain Marvel. This would be the perfect opportunity to introduce Teddy, or at the very least the Kree, to the MCU. One final possibility is (as mentioned in my last post) a cameo or guest appearance in SHIELD, which hopefully will be used as a springboard for more obscure Marvel characters.

The Young Avengers
Introducing Nathaniel 'Iron-Lad' Richard and Tommy 'Speed' Shepherd:
Before talking about these characters, I should probably outline where I see Young Avengers fitting into the wider scheme pf the MCU. Firstly, I don't think a film is the right place for these characters. A TV series would give them more room to expand away from their older counterparts and create a tone more suited to their specific team dynamic. Secondly, the first season should, at least for the first half of the season, focus on how these characters already established in the MCU come together with the main conflict being the ominous presence of Kang.

Iron-Lad should be the first character the viewer meets in the pilot, possibly discussing an imminent threat from the future and his plan to stop it. This leads into him gradually recruiting or meeting each team member as the pilot progresses, ending with the team breaking into Avengers Mansion/Stark Tower/the Helicarrier and stealing the Avengers relics like Cap's shield and Hawkeye's bow.

From that point onwards the series can feature individual episodes dealing with each member's respective story arcs. Mid-way through the series Tommy can be introduced. Also with Joss Whedon's comments about a "brother and sister dynamic" in the Avengers sequel it seems possible that Tommy and Billy's parentage could be addressed.

The finale of the series or mid-season finale should involve Kang's forces arriving in the present day and the team contacting the Avengers for help. This can lead into Avengers 3 or 4 (or any other sequel assuming Marvel Studios is here for the long haul).

These are just some ideas as to how Marvel could introduce the Young Avengers into the MCU. Although this is probably just wishful thinking. Any Young Avenger's fan likely has a long wait until they see the team on screen...

Monday, 15 April 2013

How the Young Avengers could enter the MCU (Part 1)

I've talked several times before about my love for the Young Avengers, specifically Wiccan. So, it's no surprise that the possibility of a film for the group excites me and has left me wondering how the team could seamlessly enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I've accepted the fact that the team won't assemble before Phase 3 at the earliest so lets just bypass Phase 2 for now. Although if Loki does die as rumoured in Thor: The Dark World, there's nothing to say he can't be resurrected as a young child, but this post is purely focusing on the team from
Volume 1. Following Marvel Studio's winning formula, I'm going to discuss possible options for films where one or more of the team can appear establishing them for an eventual team-up.

Introducing Cassie 'Stature' Lang and possibly the Vision:
For anyone who isn't up to date regarding Marvel's smallest hero, currently three different men have taken up this mantle: Hank Pym, founding Avenger and genius scientist, Scott Lang, one-time thief, recently resurrected hero and member of the newest incarnation of the FF, and Eric O'Grady, creepy member of The Initiative who likely is not going to appear in the film (but if he does Edgar Wright's long-term collaborator Simon Pegg seems like a good choice). For the Young Avengers to appear both Hank Pym and Scott Lang need to feature.

Firstly, Hank Pym is needed to allow Vision to be born. Not only did he discover the Pym Particles which allow Ant-Man to gain his powers, but he also designs and builds Vision's father Ultron. Seeing as Ultron is one of the Avengers biggest threats, it doesn't seem too unlikely that he will appear in the MCU at some point. However, if the robot does not factor into Marvel's long-term plan the Young Avenger's Vision can be introduced as a remotely controlled suit which Iron-Lad leaves behind, technically Young Vision is this anyway but older Vision needs to be built by Ultron to inspire the design of Young Vision (continuity's a bitch).

Secondly, Scott Lang, should he appear, will probably be accompanied by his daughter Cassie whom he takes up theft for in an attempt to pay for medial treatment. With rumours that the film could feature two separate incarnations of the character, Scott and Hank seem the most likely candidates. If she does appear as a young child this could be a fun cameo for Young Avengers fans and establish her as a member of the MCU for a future team-up.

Doctor Strange
Introducing Billy 'Wiccan' Kaplan:
The only other (semi) confirmed Phase 3 films seems like an odd choice to introduce a member of the team. To date no member of the group has had a strong connection to Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme, so why would any member appear in a Doctor Strange film? Well, Wiccan does have mystical reality altering power (something which surely would gain the attention of Doctor Strange) and in a flash-forward to a possible future for the team, in Young Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1 (a side issue to the main Children's Crusade series), Wiccan had taken on the role of the Sorcerer Supreme.

Bearing in mind this probably isn't canon anymore, it still presents an interesting idea to introduce Doctor Strange and Wiccan together. Instead of simply telling Strange's origin in the upcoming film, the viewer could be welcomed by a teenage boy dabbling with magic before becoming an apprentice to the hero. This could introduce a popular young hero (and begin diversifying the Cinematic Universe with it's first LGBT and Jewish character) and establish Strange as a more experienced hero breaking the mould of superhero films. Introducing Wiccan in this way would also work around the absence of the Scarlet Witch and Mutants in general.

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD
Introducing Kate 'Hawkeye' Bishop:
Presumably, with a pilot not airing until the Fall and then another year's production before the first series can air, Marvel Studio's first venture into TV will just be starting season 2 when Phase 3 begins (well if the pilot's a success that is). With Kate's namesake being an agent of SHIELD, it only makes sense that she'd have some ties with organisation (especially since Hawkeye has a relatively small profile in the MCU). Kate could easily be introduced as a trainee agent of SHIELD in a second (or any further) series of the show.

If Joss Whedon takes the route of using the series as a platform to launch smaller, more obscure heroes into the Cinematic Universe, there could easily be an episode with another member of the Young Avengers (possibly Hulkling, but more on that next time) and establish a relationship between the two. If a major project involving the team arrives less time needs to be spent on the dynamic between individual members and more on the team as a whole.

Alternatively, Marvel could reintroduce Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton as a more comical, less serious hero and launch Kate in a Hawkeye solo film. But only if it takes inspiration from Matt Fraction's current book.

So far we have four members of the team introduced with four original members (Hulking, Patriot, Speed and Iron-Lad) left for Part 2. I honestly thought I'd cover all of the team in one post. If you'd like to hear more of my ideas for how the team could assemble on film check back here soon!

Afterthought - Just in case I don't write Part 2 before Iron Man 3 is released (only 8 days left in the UK!), am I the only person hoping that the little kid who helps Tony is Amadeus Cho? Maybe I just love teen Marvel too much.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Stop calling Wüthering Heights a romance! (or I hate Cathy)

Every genre of literature has a few books which stand above the rest. For horror we have Dracula and Frankenstein, for fantasy Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, for mystery the works of Agatha Christie. Hopefully you get the point. Now, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights is often portrayed in this way for the genre of Romance. Cathy and Heathcliff are held in the same esteem as Romeo and Juliet and Darcy and Elizabeth. Most, before reading the novel, perceive it as a tragic love story between the two. The issue is Cathy and Heathcliff's story just isn't a Romance whichever way you look at it. Even if you slap the Gothic sub-genre on the front, Wüthering Heights cannot be called a romance.
Love story? Not likely.

So lets look at the conventions of a romance and try to see how Wüthering Heights might fit into these, if at all. A romance usually has three stages. Towards the beginning, two characters meet and fall in love. Obstacles then arise preventing them from being together. Finally at the conclusion of the novel these challenges are overcome so the protagonists can be together. If we really wanted to Wüthering Heights could fit into some but it's not an easy task.

At the beginning of the novel Cathy and Heathcliff meet, but it's hardly love at first sight. Although this may not be much of a problem (Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy are closer to hatred than love at first sight) the pair never really fall in true love. Heathcliff may have fell for her, but Cathy never acted as if she loved him. She delighted in tormenting both him and Linton and exploiting them to gain her every whim and desire.

So they don't really match the first criteria for a romance, but what about the other two. Obstacles do arise, but these aren't external character or other factors. The obstacles are Cathy's selfishness. Nothing else. There were plenty of opportunities for the pair to be together, but her need for attention and wealth led to her marrying Linton. At this point she could have let Heathcliff go and move on but she continued to want his company and forcing him to stay (I finally see the parallels to Twilight). Still, if they managed to get together in the end the novel might still be a romance, but they don't. Cathy dies mid-way through the novel still trying to manipulate Linton and Heathcliff against each other.

Looking less at the content and structure, lets look at the characters. Traditionally the central couple of a romance are likeable, even if the supporting cast are detestable (think Romeo and Juliet). With Wüthering Heights the opposite is true. Although no character is really anyone you'd like to be friends with the peripheral characters, at least have some redeeming features. Cathy and Heathcliff themselves don't. Cathy is selfish, manipulative and greedy, whilst Heathcliff is cold, cruel and to an extent murderous (although at least he was made that way by neglect as a child and Cathy's manipulations). I think you'll agree that even if they're not at the beginning, by the time both dies they are monstrous. They're not characters you want to fall in love and live happily ever after. Not in the slightest.

If this is true, then why do people see the novel as a "romance" or the more apt description of a "gothic romance"? The only plotline in the novel which resembles a romance is Cathy Jr. and Hareton and even that's barely a love story. So please can why just give Wüthering Heights the label it deserves and call it simply "gothic". I'm sure when Miss Brontë wrote the heights, she did not intend for it to be a romance and certainly not for Heathcliff to be seen as a hero which women fell in love with. It's an exploration of evil and the darkness in side of humanity. Not a love story.

Afterthought: I may have been a little harsh on Cathy but I'm not sorry. I really didn't like her.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Young Avengers #1 Review

I don't think it will come as any surprise that I was excited for this book. The Young Avengers have long been my favourite comic book team, Wiccan's my favourite superhero and I loved Kid-Loki in Journey Into Mystery. So I picked up this book with high hopes, and thankfully Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie delivered. Beware, spoilers ahead.

The opening pages (which have been floating around the internet for weeks now) are goregous! The art team have created some great visuals and the first fight scene of the series is stunning. Reminiscent of the layouts in Matt Fraction's and David Aja's Hawkeye, these highly stylized sequences are some of my favourites in comics and are a joy with these characters.

Moving on from these initial pages, my other favourite moments in this issue were the interactions between Wiccan and Hulkling. Gillen writes a truly believable relationship between the two and, as with JIM, it's in these smaller character moments where his writing shines. It's also nice to see Teddy stand up for himself instead of simply following Billy (Sorry, Wiccan. Don't worry you're still my favourite).

After this we get to spend some time with everybody's favourite teenage God of Mischief, Kid-Loki. I just love this version of Loki. He's funny and witty, but with a malicious edge. An actual God of Mischief, which Loki often isn't portrayed as (usually he's just evil). and I can't wait to see some him interact with the rest of the team. Although if anyone can explain how JIM ended I'd be grateful (I'm still confused whether this is actual Kid-Loki, Adult Loki in a teenage body or a combination of the two).

In short, a really strong opening issue. The art and writing for this issue is brilliant and I love all the characters so far (admittedly I am slightly biased in the case of Loki, Wiccan, Hulking and Hawkeye). It will be interesting to see the team come together and how thing's progess. My only negative, the months wait before #2.

4 and a half stars

Friday, 11 January 2013

Les Misèrables Review (or I play 'West End Where's Wally')

As a mega fan of the musical on stage, I was (unsurprisingly) looking forward to Tom Hooper's big screen adaption. I even (unsuccessfully) auditioned to be an extra for the opening scenes! With stunning visuals and terrific acting this could have been the perfect movie musical. However whilst some moments reach the height of the medium, others were too flawed to overlook.

For those who do not know the story a former prisoner, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), is in hiding after skipping parole. He rescues Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a dying prostitute and then adopts her daughter before getting caught up in a French Revolution whilst still being chased by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). I say "a French Revolution" and not "the" intentionally. This isn't the one with Marie Antoinette and the guillotine. It's surprising how many people who, even after seeing the stage-show, believe this.

I think the general consensus is that Hathaway is the stand out performance in this film. As Fantine, she truly exemplified the benefits of singing live on camera. Although not the big booming belt I'm used to, her 'I Dreamed A Dream' dug deep into the emotional truth of the song and was utterly haunting. She deserves the Oscar which I'm sure is coming her way. It's strange to think this is the same girl from 'The Princess Diaries'

Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried both surprised me as Marius and Cosette. Listening to previews of the songs several weeks ago, I was a little worried for these two but on film it worked beautifully. 'A Heart Full of Love' was a highlight of the film for me. Another couple who were much better than expected (especially after seeing Sweeney Todd) were Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers. Unfortunately at times the direction and orchestrations let them down.

The stage actors were a delight. I has no qualms for Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) and Samantha Barks (Eponine) knowing they could handle the score. 'On My Own' was wonderful on film and Barks somehow managed to perform it stronger than at the 25th Anniversary of Les Miz. Also for anyone playing West End Where's Wally when watching I found Alexia Khadime and (possibly) Diane Pilkington, my first Elphaba and Glinda, in Lovely Ladies and a Marius and Enjolras (not sure of the actors names) at the Barricades. Oh, not to mention Colm Wilkinson and Frances Rufelle but you couldn't miss them.

Now for the stars of the film Jackman and Crowe. I won't beat around the bush, neither had the vocals for this score. Crowe managed to surpass my (pretty low) expectations but Javert needs a much stronger voice. Jackman was the star of the piece and at times he was perfect. The smaller songs like 'Valjean's Soliloquy' and 'Who am I? worked fine and he could handle them. Other songs his acting pulled it back but I cannot forgive 'Bring Him Home'. This song is incredibly difficult for anyone to sing unless you have a huge range. Unfortunately Jackman does not and this was a low point of the film for me. Maybe Hooper should have allowed one or two songs to be dubbed or at least modified.

That's covered the huge cast. Now for some technical details. The costumes and sets were amazing! Despite knowing many of the filming locations (I was sat in a cinema about 100 yards from where they filmed 'Look Down') this really looked like revolutionary France. I'd be shocked if the production designers and the costume department don't get the Oscar.

Hooper's direction was strange at times. A clear close up of an actors face for 3 straight minutes should not work but somehow it did. Well for the first 3 songs to use it and then it became a bit dull. Hooper and the cast have been touting his decision to have everyone sing live on set for months as many things. I've heard' "revolutionary" (haha, that's punny) and "groundbreaking" from nearly every single actor. As a musical fan I feel I should point out Rex Harrison sang live in 'My Fair Lady' but on the whole it worked very well here. It allowed actors to give new and unique takes on songs, many have seen hundreds of times before, and still perform them beautifully. However I do wish some moment were dubbed or at least modified as some songs were painful to listen to.

I think my biggest pet hate were the changes to lines in songs and the new parts added in. Some of the changes were bizarre and simply broke the rhythm and rhyme of songs. I hope these changes aren't absorbed into the stage show as many seemed completely out of place and random. Now seems a good time to talk 'Suddenly'. It was okay but nothing special. The only purpose it served was to gain an extra Oscar nomination. A nomination which won't be won as the songs not that exciting.

I think I've probably been a little harsh on this film. I know I'm comparing it to the stage show and they're two different mediums. However overall I loved the film. I thought it was touching and beautiful and some of the score was perfection. Unfortunately the miscasting of Javert and Valjean let the film down. I still love you Wolverine and I know you have a Tony, but the vocals just weren't good enough for this score.

4 Stars

Afterthought: If anyone hears someone mention Su-Bo please slap them on my behalf? Thank you

A thought after my afterthought: Did Cameron Mackintosh have a cameo? I swear I heard he did but didn't see him.