Trippin’ Out! Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a very strange film. Obviously, it’s strange just on a surface level – I mean, it’s a movie about a web-slinging teenager in red spandex fighting off elemental monsters with a man wearing a goldfish bowl on his head. But it also occupies a very strange place in the wider MCU. Rather awkwardly, it’s billed as the closing chapter to Phase 3 and left with the unenviable task of wrapping up everything from the last 11 years of Marvel movie magic. However, after the sheer feeling of finality in Avengers: Endgame, it was inevitable that Far From Home was always going to feel a little insignificant. Spider-Man is my favourite Marvel mainstay by a long distance, but how was his standalone sequel ever supposed to compare to a mammoth multi-part, multi-hero mash-up?

Let’s just be completely honest here: it doesn’t. Leave your expectations at the door, because this comes nowhere near the scale of the epic two-part Thanos takedown. And yet, weirdly, the film’s positioning in the MCU is also a reflection of Peter Parker’s place in the post-Endgame world. Compared to the Avengers, Spider-Man is a small-time hero – how can he possibly step up to fill the void left by the likes of Iron Man? At first, it seems impossible. But, somehow, the film (and Peter) must find a way to rise above the pressure.

At its core, Far From Home is part Endgame epilogue and part Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel. Both of those sound like promising things – or, at least, they would in isolation. The problem is, the dark and emotional subject matter from Avengers is at total odds with Homecoming’s humour-fuelled high-school hijinks, leading to some serious tonal whiplash and one of the most uneven openings to any MCU movie. All the tragedy from Infinity War and Endgame has suddenly been replaced by comedy – and it’s not that the jokes are bad (even if a fair few of them don’t land), it’s just that it feels kind of wrong to be laughing at these massive, world-changing events. The first half of Far From Home walks a very fine line between comical and disrespectful, which feels slightly uncomfortable and misjudged considering Endgame is only three months old.

Things seem to go from bad to worse once the actual plot kicks in. Peter, weighed down by the burdens of being a superhero, decides to go travelling to Europe with his schoolmates. He’s determined to relax and finally make his move on MJ, who he’s conveniently developed a crush on since the closing scenes of Homecoming. All of that is fine and dandy – but then he gets caught up in a scuffle between a caped crusader called Quentin Beck and a gigantic water monster in the Venice canals. It’s silly stuff, made even sillier when Nick Fury enters the fray to explain that Beck (aka Mysterio) hails from a parallel dimension. Apparently, his version of Earth has been destroyed, so now he’s here to fight four elemental creatures before they can wreak havoc again. Realising there is a common threat, Spider-Man and Mysterio team up to finish the job. It’s as ridiculous and as flimsy as it sounds. Was this the best they could come up with after Thanos?!

And yet, about halfway through the film, something changes. I can’t tell you what, but when it happens (and you’ll know when it does), the movie magically hits its stride. The threat becomes more grounded, the stakes become more real, and the action finally becomes more focused. Much like Peter Parker on screen, the film is forced to step up in the face of impending doom, and it rises to the occasion. While the first half of Far From Home is rather questionable in quality, its second half is hands down one of the finest in the MCU. There’s one absolutely standout scene that will leave your mind boggled (again, you’ll know it when you see it), leading up to a thrilling final face-off over London. All the worries and bad feeling from the start are washed away by a tidal wave of triumph, and you definitely leave the cinema on a high. Maybe the script’s just way more meta than we thought, purposely starting off on shaky ground so that the eventual turnaround is all the more memorable by comparison. It certainly wouldn’t be out of keeping with the movie’s messages and themes.

However, while the story may be a tale of two halves, one thing that’s consistent are the performances. Tom Holland once again captures the youthful innocence of Peter Parker, still reeling from the death of Tony Stark (whose face is, quite literally, everywhere he goes). Jake Gyllenhaal is having the time of his life as Mysterio, bursting with charisma and stealing the show whenever he’s on screen. Meanwhile, Zendaya makes for a brilliantly unique twist on the MJ we know and love. She’s cynical, she’s badass, and a complete breath of fresh air. The rest of the cast fulfil their roles just fine, although they’re mostly just comic relief.

Looking back, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the kind of film that will probably improve exponentially on a second viewing. Once you can judge it on its own merits and not just view it as a direct follow-up to Endgame, it’ll be easier to appreciate its strengths as well as overlook its shortcomings. All I know is, while the opening left me underwhelmed at first, Far From Home did enough to win me back by the time the credits rolled. Speaking of which… make sure you stick around! This film has arguably two of the most important post-credits scenes in any Marvel movie. The first completely changes the future of Spider-Man, while the second completely changes the landscape of the MCU. Whatever Phase 4 has in store, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

So, it may be no Avengers: Endgame – and it’s definitely no Into the Spider-Verse – but Spider-Man: Far From Home is more than worth your time. Even if you have your doubts, try to go into it with an open mind. First impressions can be deceiving, but trust us: this film’s one hell of a trip.

(Perhaps in more ways than you expect…)

Album Review: Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent

Lewis Capaldi really has come out of nowhere, hasn’t he? While the Scottish singer-songwriter has been actively making music since 2017, it wasn’t until the start of this year that he really left his footprint on the industry. The tides of fortune started to turn in his favour when he was nominated for Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits 2019, and then they really started to turn when he dropped the music video for “Someone You Loved” in early February. Single-handedly putting organ donation back into the public consciousness – complete with a heart-breaking performance from his dad’s second cousin (who just so happens to be the Twelfth Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi!) – it was a perfect storm of powerful music, powerful talent, and a powerful message. The video went viral in an instant, and the song went on to dominate the UK singles chart for seven consecutive weeks.

What’s even more staggering is that all of this success happened before Lewis even had an album on the shelves. Three months since he catapulted to stardom on the back of “Someone You Loved”, his debut record is finally available to buy, download, and stream. Understandably, expectations are high, with an ever-growing fanbase (both of his music and his hilarious social media antics) eager to get their hands on this release. Does it live up to the lofty standards that Lewis has set for himself so far? Or is it really as divinely uninspired as its self-deprecating title suggests?

Things start out promisingly enough with “Grace”, which is the perfect choice for an album opener. It’s not a new song – fans of Capaldi’s work will recognise it from an earlier EP – but it’s got just the right amount of punch, boasting a catchy rhythm that’ll have your toes tapping from the off. Wisely, Lewis slows it down a bit for the second track, “Bruises” (again, not a new addition to Capaldi’s repertoire). This raw and stripped-back song really shows off the strength of Lewis’ vocals, and is actually far more indicative of what the rest of the album is like. In short: if you enjoy gravelly tones, soft piano, and songs about heartache, then this is going to be the record for you.

Track three, “Hold Me While You Wait”, is Lewis’ latest single. It’s a sort of middle ground between the first two songs – definitely more up-tempo than “Bruises”, yet lacking the instant oomph that’s found in “Grace”. Still, it’s perfectly well-written and performed, and proves that Capaldi won’t just be a one-hit wonder in the charts. It’s not until four tracks in that we finally get the song we’ve all been waiting for: “Someone You Loved”. It was thoroughly deserving of all of its success earlier in the year, and we’re happy to report that it’s the standout track on here as well. Even without the music video to really drive home its emotional wallop, this is a fantastic ballad that somehow manages to retain its immense power and replayability even after multiple listens. Everyone can find a meaning in its profound and poignant lyrics – we guarantee it’ll be one of the all-time classic tearjerkers for many years to come.

Things get a bit more jaunty afterwards in “Maybe” (even if its actual premise is based in self-loathing and negativity), only to slow down again in “Forever”. The track that follows, “One”, is particularly curious – an extended thank you letter to somebody’s ex for all the suffering and pain that they inflicted. It’s certainly a different spin on the standard love song, and its intentions are undeniably in the right place (the message essentially being ‘thanks for messing up, because that’s what led her here to me’), but the actual execution feels a little awkward and misjudged the first time round. Maybe it’ll be a grower, who knows. Luckily, the album course-corrects pretty quickly with “Don’t Get Me Wrong” – it’s far from the most remarkable or memorable track on the record, but it’s a decent effort that confidently ticks all the boxes you’d expect from a Lewis Capaldi number.

“Hollywood” is probably the most upbeat track on the record, or at least it has the most upbeat tempo by comparison. After eight slow songs in a row, it (quite literally) makes a welcome change of pace, helping to pick the listener up again as we enter the home stretch of the album. It’s a fun little ditty, and one we definitely won’t be skipping on repeat listens. Things fall back into safer, more traditional territory with the next two songs, “Lost On You” and “Fade”, before closing out with experimental effort “Headspace”. It’s an admirable final bow that sits slightly off-kilter from the rest of the album – here, it’s just Lewis and an electric guitar, performing something that wouldn’t be entirely out of place as one of Dave Grohl’s more subdued tracks from Foo Fighters’ In Your Honour and Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace.

In terms of the individual tracks that are on offer then, it’s a pretty strong selection – and definitely not a bad way to make a debut. If there’s one criticism that can be levelled at the album though, it’s that a lot of the songs are very similar in their style and their tone. Apart from a few unforgettable knockouts like “Grace”, “Bruises”, and “Someone You Loved”, it can be hard to tell some of the tracks apart. Lewis Capaldi has clearly carved out his niche as the Scottish Ed Sheeran, and he’s absolutely nailed the magic formula for that – but, at the same time, a smidgen more variety wouldn’t have gone amiss. It’s even more of a shame considering how comical and lively Capaldi is on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. There is a notable disparity between the art and the artist – this is, after all, the man who sells novelty sunglasses and ‘Lew Roll’ toilet paper on his official merch store – so we hope in the future we get to see a little more of his bubbly personality shine through.

Is Lewis’ debut uninspired? You could argue yes, perhaps, a little. But whatever the title says, it isn’t divinely so, and certainly not to a hellish extent. If you’re a fan of Capaldi’s music, you’ll find something to appreciate here. This release isn’t ready to be just another of your mistakes – instead, it’s getting kinda used to being something we loved.

Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent by Lewis Capaldi is available now.

Game Review: Team Sonic Racing

It’s been a bumpy old road for Sonic the Hedgehog recently. Every time he manages to build up a bit of good will from his fanbase (e.g. Sonic Colours, Sonic Generations, Sonic Mania), he always seems to stumble again at the next available hurdle (e.g. Sonic Lost World, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, Sonic Forces). It’s clear that the mainline Sonic titles are hit-and-miss these days at best, but luckily his spin-offs have managed to retain far more consistent quality. Does Team Sonic Racing, the third in a trilogy of kart racers from British studio Sumo Digital, live up to the pedigree of its past?

Before we speed off the starting grid, let’s take a quick look back at the games that came before it. First there was Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing in 2010, a spiritual (if completely different genre) successor to SEGA Superstars Tennis (2008) and SEGA Superstars (2004). While it was received with the inevitable response of “Mario Kart clone!” and “why is Sonic in a car?!”, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was a legitimately solid kart racer that pitted the blue blur and friends against a star-studded selection of SEGA favourites including AiAi, Alex Kidd, Billy Hatcher, and Ulala. Then, in 2012, Sumo Digital decided to go one better with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a sequel which improved on the original in almost every way. As well as brand new characters (including guest racers like Wreck-It Ralph, Team Fortress, Football Manager, and… er… Danica Patrick), it also boasted the added novelty of tracks and vehicles dynamically changing as the laps went on. No longer were you just restricted to driving a car on the road – now you could also fly through the air and jet over water… all in the same race! Had it not been for Mario Kart 7 coming out before it (complete with hang-gliders and underwater racing), this would have been a truly original concept. Still, it made for a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience, and one that arguably even toppled Nintendo’s own releases.

Understandably then, fans have been clamouring for another entry in the Sonic spin-off franchise for quite a while. After seven years of patience, their prayers were finally answered when Team Sonic Racing was announced in 2018. However, it’d be fair to say that first reactions to the game were mixed. It reassuringly retained the same look and feel as the previous two titles, yet at the same time, it also felt like a step backwards. The once-titular SEGA All-Stars had been dropped from the game entirely, with this new entry focusing solely on Sonic’s cast of characters. The Transformed aspect that everybody loved had been removed as well, which was seen as a costly move by many. So, what does Team Sonic Racing introduce to make up for these missing elements? The answer to that is in its title. Sonic’s latest foray into the fast lane isn’t just about beating the competition – it’s about beating them together.

While there is an option to play more ‘traditional’ solo races, Team Sonic Racing typically has you competing as part of a trio. The basic controls and format are essentially the same as they’ve always been, except now it’s not just your position you have to worry about. At the end of each race, your three team members’ points all get tallied up – so even if you come in 1st, if your two buddies end up at the back of the pack, it’s going to drag your final score down. How do you possibly keep everyone together on the track though? Team Sonic Racing introduces a number of new mechanics, such as Slingshot (where you can get a speed boost by driving in one of your team-mate’s slipstreams) and Item Transfer (where you can offer power-ups to someone else, or request them for yourself). If you manage to co-operate enough times, you’ll be rewarded with the Team Ultimate manoeuvre – an invincible speed boost that lets you temporarily harness the real super power of teamwork. All of this may not sound as exciting as the multi-vehicle racing from Transformed, but it’s just as impressive in execution – and unlike Transformed, at least the gimmick of Team Sonic Racing is actually something new. They’re only little touches, sure, but they completely change the way you approach each contest. Even when you’re miles ahead of the competition, you’ve still got to stay alert and help propel your team-mates forward.

So, Team Sonic Racing plays great. Thankfully, as is the norm for Sonic games these days, it also looks and sounds great too. The graphics are bright and vivid, with a stable performance that’s able to withstand the high-octane action (60 FPS for PS4/Xbox One and 30 FPS for Nintendo Switch). The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, essentially a greatest hits of Sonic music history, both in terms of the track listing and the composers. Jun Senoue, Richard Jacques, Tee Lopes, Hyper Potions, and more have all come together to work on these tunes – and whaddya know, the dream team delivers! From a remix of Sonic R‘s “Can You Feel The Sunshine” to a mash-up of Sonic Unleashed‘s “Cool Edge” and Sonic Colours‘ “Reach For The Stars”, there’s a little something for everyone. It’s all topped off beautifully with a brand new Crush 40 title track, “Green Light Ride”, which is up there with some of the band’s most iconic work. Even the subtle, more trance-like version that plays during loading screens really gets your adrenaline pumping! We’ll definitely be downloading the OST (Team Sonic Racing: Maximum Overdrive) at the earliest opportunity.

Of course, not everything’s entirely perfect. For all the visual splendour on display, there is a notable lack of variety in the character and racetrack selection (many of which have very similar looks and designs). The Team Adventure story mode, as welcome as it is, is also paper-thin and could have benefited from some animated cutscenes rather than simple static images with voiceover. Some players will also take issue with the game’s lottery-style method of unlocking new car parts and cosmetics – a random gacha machine that either spits out upgrades, vinyls, horns, or (most frustratingly) one-use power-ups. You’re going to need a lot of patience and a lot of tokens to unlock everything, although in fairness the game does seem to skew things in your favour: if you’ve been playing a lot as Sonic, you’re more likely to unlock his car parts first, and so on.

All in all though, Team Sonic Racing is another perfectly fun addition to the hedgehog’s spin-off series. It may not have the same scale of ambition as Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and it may not have the same level of refinement as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but it’s still a worthy runner-up that more than deserves your time. Considering the lukewarm first impressions and a worrying delay from Winter 2018 to May 2019, it’s a huge relief to see this game turn out so well. There are niggles, make no mistake – but they’re nothing that can’t be remedied with a round of patches or downloadable content. Team Sonic Racing is a thrilling and fresh experience, and even when it stutters, there is potential to be found. With any luck, SEGA will build on this foundation in the future – and maybe even crank it up a gear next time.

Team Sonic Racing is out now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Top 5 Memorable Eurovision Acts

Here we go again! Tonight, the Eurovision Song Contest returns for another evening of international music and total, utter madness. 2019 marks the sixty-fourth edition of the show, and while not every single year has been incredible, you can always rely on two things: the UK will fail spectacularly (long live the days of “nil points!”), and at least one performance will end up being memorable. Whether that’s for the right or the wrong reasons though often remains to be seen. (I’m looking at you, Scooch! *cringe*)

Join me now as I count down the top five Eurovision acts from my years watching the contest. They may not have necessarily been the best performers on the night – but they were at least the ones I remember most…


5. Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma

Country: Italy | Year: 2017 | Score: 334 points | Position: 6th

For me at least, 2017 was not a particularly vintage year for Eurovision. It had all the familiar ingredients, blending the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I wasn’t really a fan of the winning song (Portugal) and nothing else especially stood out to me. That is, except for this. To be honest, I don’t really know why I remember “Occidentali’s Karmi” with such fondness. Maybe it’s just because it was a much-needed moment of madness in another otherwise forgettable year. But I think it’s a pretty cool and catchy song in its own right, and Francesco Gabbani’s performance dares to go full-on crazy by the end.

Let’s just face facts: dancing gorillas make everything better.


4. SAARA AALTO – MONSTERS

Country: Finland | Year: 2018 | Score: 46 points | Position: 25th

A controversial choice, perhaps. Saara Aalto may have achieved the impossible by somehow coming below the United Kingdom in last year’s contest, but in my opinion she deserved far better from the Eurovision voters. Finnish singer Saara shot to fame (in the UK, at least) on The X Factor in 2016 and offered up a rare glimmer of genuine talent on Simon Cowell’s manufactured music machine. For the first time since Ben Mills in the 2006 series, I was properly invested in a contestant and their progress. Typically, she didn’t win, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a singing sensation nevertheless. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear she had been chosen to represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest, singing “Monsters” from her album Wild Wild Wonderland. It’s a great choice all round, and she was definitely among the stronger singers on the night – unfortunately, some over-the-top staging from The X Factor‘s Brian Friedman made the performance a bit too messy and distracting. Oh well.

Maybe they should have gone for Saara’s stripped-back multilingual piano version instead. Now that’s what Eurovision is all about!


3. LENA – SATELLITE

Country: Germany | Year: 2010 | Score: 246 points | Position: 1st

I remember this one fondly for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s an absolute banger. Just like Lena herself, “Satellite” is captivating and quirky, and it’s impossible not to find yourself caught up in the rhythm. It’s exactly the sort of weird genius that Eurovision thrives on – and thrive it certainly did, as it went on to win the contest. On a personal level, 2010 was the perfect year for this to happen, too. I’d just finished studying A Level German at college and I had a trip to Berlin planned for the summer – in short, I was fully invested in the country’s culture. I knew the UK were never going to win, so Germany were effectively my second team. And by golly, they did me proud!

I also really enjoyed Stefan Raab’s cover version from the opening of Eurovision 2011, which might even surpass the original. Viva Deutschland!


2. LORDI – HARD ROCK HALLELUJAH

Country: Finland | Year: 2006 | Score: 292 points | Position: 1st

This was the year I properly got into Eurovision. Up until 2006, I’d always just seen it as a night of camp and silly pop music – which, let’s be honest, isn’t wrong. But in 2006, along came Lordi with their “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, and they completely tore up the rule book. I was in my early teens at the time and very keenly into rock music, so this demonic-looking band and their heavy metal music really spoke to me on a spiritual level. Plus, y’know, it was just hilarious seeing them juxtaposed against everyone else up on the stage.

Needless to say, I absolutely loved Lordi’s performance, but I never expected them to win. Imagine my surprise then when they stormed to the top of the leaderboard with the highest number of points ever seen in Eurovision history (up until that point, anyway). 2006, more than any other year, proved that the contest offered something for everyone, and I decided to tune in every year that followed in the hope that, one day, another Lordi would come along and steal my rockin’ heart.


1. VERKA SERDUCHKA – DANCING LASHA TUMBAI

Country: Ukraine | Year: 2007 | Score: 235 points | Position: 2nd

When I think of Eurovision, I think of this. Verka Serduchka’s show-stopping performance from 2007 was nothing short of iconic. It was brilliant, it was bright, and it was bonkers – everything that the contest represents. On the surface, the whole thing sounded like a joke: a drag act dressed in tin foil, doing a silly dance and singing in a slew of different languages? It was a controversial entry, but amazingly, it worked. Verka became an international sensation overnight and the Ukraine shot to second place in the table (if you ask me, they were robbed!). With a pinch of cheeky charm and a multilingual melody that truly celebrates the contest, “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” remains one of the standout Eurovision songs, even a whopping twelve years later. Lordi may be my favourite winning act from Eurovision history, but Verka Serduchka’s performance will forever be the most memorable.

Come on, everybody join in!

Sieben, Sieben, ai lyu lyu
Sieben, Sieben, ein, zwei
Sieben, Sieben, ai lyu lyu
ein, zwei, drei
Tanzen!

Parker Life: Spider-Man’s Homecoming

Spider-Man in the MCU is a curious beast. Despite being one of Marvel’s most popular character (if not the most popular character!), he didn’t actually appear in the multi-franchise phenomenon until eight years after it began. Audiences were clamouring to see their friendly neighbourhood superhero fighting alongside the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. So what kept Spider-Man from joining the Avengers for so long? The answer, as it turns out, is a rather complicated web of film rights and fan expectations.

Let’s cast our minds back for a moment, long before the MCU had even started. Spider-Man’s cinematic adventures first began in… well, Spider-Man. While Sam Raimi’s 2002 film starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Willem Dafoe wasn’t the first superhero movie to ever hit the big screen, it was definitely the one that brought the genre back into the public consciousness. In the UK, it even made a historic impact on the industry, being responsible for the introduction of the 12A certificate (a middle-ground between PG and the now-defunct 12 rating). Superhero mania was officially back with a bang, and the movie spawned two sequels: the conveniently titled Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3. The second film was particularly superb, and to this day is often ranked as the best Spider-Man (if not the best superhero) movie of all time. They’re wrong of course, now that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a thing. But I digress.

Spider-Man 3 on the other hand was… not so great. Rather than focus on what made the first two films a hit, it instead tried to bite off far more than it could chew. The story was all over the place, with action pin-balling from one sub-par plot point to another. It also crammed in way too many villains: Harry Osborn’s New Goblin, the Sandman, and Venom. Any one of these could have been the basis for a movie on their own, but instead they were just thrown in all at once, resulting in an over-stuffed, confusing mess. Needless to say, it didn’t do so well, and plans for a fourth (and fifth, and sixth) film were eventually scrapped in favour of a total reboot.

Enter The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. Directed by Marc Webb, this completely revamped film started literally from scratch, beginning again with the origin of how Peter Parker (now played by Andrew Garfield) gained his powers. It was a darker, grittier spin on the story first witnessed in Spider-Man, swapping out some of they key players – such as Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) instead of Mary Jane, and the Lizard instead of the Green Goblin – but effectively just retelling the same narrative we’d seen before. In the end, it was an alright but fairly forgettable film. Still, it did well enough to warrant a sequel – and that’s where the wheels fell off the franchise for a second time.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a car crash, plain and simple. As a film, it’s not without redeemable moments – but in terms of the series’ longevity, it re-committed the same cardinal sins that Spider-Man 3 suffered from seven years before. By this point, the MCU was in full swing, and The Avengers had proven how much money a shared cinematic universe could pull in at the box office. Sony Pictures, who hold the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise, decided they wanted a piece of that action for themselves. They envisioned that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would set up a whole cavalcade of successful sequels and spin-offs, and so (once again) they forced in a number of disparate elements into the film to set them up. Turns out their ambition was misjudged: the movie under-performed and all future plans had to be scrapped. With the mighty Marvel ruling the superhero genre, there just wasn’t any room for Sony’s Spider-Man to compete against the Avengers.

You know how the old saying goes. If you can’t beat ’em… join ’em!

In February 2015, the planets finally aligned: Sony and Marvel agreed a licensing deal that meant Spider-Man would be able to appear in the MCU, much to fans’ delight. The slate was wiped completely clean yet again, with Tom Holland cast in the role of the web-slinger going forward. This brand new Spidey made his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, recruited by Tony Stark for the iconic airport battle scene in Germany. As far as entrances go, it was a memorable one, and it gave audiences exactly what they wanted straight away. There was no need to wade through a standalone Spider-Man film before getting to an epic crossover – rather, Peter Parker went head-on with the Avengers straight away, and everything felt right with the world once more.

Of course, a proper MCU Spider-Man film was also inevitable. In 2017, Marvel released the cleverly named Spider-Man: Homecoming, hinting at the high school setting while also cheekily referencing the character’s original source. As we briefly glimpsed in Civil War, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was a younger, more naive character than we had seen in either Spider-Man or The Amazing Spider-Man. Yeah, he goes to school and is meant to be young in those two versions too, but here he actually feels like a kid. It’s a very distinct approach, and Homecoming also smartly does away with the whole Spider-Man origin story. Marvel weren’t stupid: they knew we knew it all by now, or at the very least didn’t need to see Uncle Ben dying for the third time in just over a decade. Instead, the movie laser-focuses its attention on Peter’s life, coming to terms with his studies and his relationships, as well as all his powers.

Because it’s such a wildly different take, Homecoming might not be for everybody – it’s much more of a comedy than it is a superhero flick. That said, it was easily the most consistent and high quality Spider-Man film we’d seen since Spider-Man 2. It also further established Peter Parker into the wider world of the Avengers, setting up Tony Stark as a pseudo-father figure and mentor who helped guide Spidey on his way. This culminates in Avengers: Infinity War, where Peter bravely joins Tony on a one-way ticket to outer space. Stranded on the planet Titan, they fail to put a stop to Thanos’ plan. With a snap of the Infinity Gauntlet, half the universe fades away into dust. Of all the heroes that were lost that day, it’s Peter Parker’s death that we remember most. His desperate, innocent cries as his body crumbles apart are utterly heartbreaking – and ultimately drive Tony to bring everybody back in Endgame.

Thanks to the licensing deal between Marvel and Sony – in which Marvel make the films, but Sony own and distribute them – we were already aware of Spider-Man: Far From Home before Infinity War and Endgame were released. Naturally, this meant we all knew Spider-Man would come back from the dead – but then, didn’t we all kind of know that anyway? To the surprise of absolutely no one, Peter and Tony reunited on the final battlefield and shared a hug. N’aww. Alas, Tony laid down his life mere moments later to save the universe from Thanos’ army – but his influence on Peter’s journey will never be forgotten. The latest trailer for Far From Home shows that Peter is still mourning the death of Iron Man, and is being poised to take his place. Will he pick up Tony’s mantle and lead the Avengers into a glorious new era? We’ll just have to wait until the summer to find out.

So, Far From Home aside, what does the future hold for Spider-Man in the MCU? That’s difficult to say. Tom Holland was apparently signed on for three solo movies and three crossovers – including Civil War, Homecoming, Infinity War and Endgame, that only leaves one standalone Spider-Man to go (unless the contract gets renewed, of course). It’ll be a shame if that’s the end of the road for Peter Parker, as it feels as if he’s only just getting started in the MCU. But, following last year’s success of Into the Spider-Verse (another series I hope Sony doesn’t over-expose), you can understand why they might want the full rights to Spidey back ASAP. But even if this dream collaboration only turns out to be short-lived, one thing is certain: based on the evidence so far, history will look back on Spider-Man’s MCU adventures as a golden age for the character on screen. Even if it’s just this once, we got to see Peter Parker become a Marvel superstar – and that’s an achievement that can never be taken away.

Infinity Thor: An Avenger in Three Parts

Let’s not beat around the bush – the first two Thor films weren’t great.

The original had the potential to be a grand Shakespearean epic. It certainly had all the right ingredients: top-class actors like Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, and Natalie Portman. A rich tapestry of Norse mythology to play with. A legendary director in the form of Kenneth Branagh. But, while it was probably the most visually striking movie from the MCU’s Phase One, it ended up being a by-the-numbers bore-fest, with way too many canted angles for its own good.

By contrast, Thor: The Dark World is a much more interesting film – but all the messier for it. The plot is utter mumbo-jumbo, Christopher Eccleston is horribly underused as dreary Dark Elf Malekith, and the directions on the London Underground are simply unforgivable. Seriously, there is NO WAY you can get from Charing Cross to Greenwich in only three stops, let alone on the same tube line. Do your research, Marvel! Still, while the story’s infinitely less cohesive than the original, I think on balance I prefer it, if only because it dares to take more risks. Either way, they’re both pretty poor.

Thankfully, in 2017, director Taika Waititi stepped up to the plate to bring us the third and final chapter in the Thor trilogy – Thor: Ragnarok. However, it’s such a vastly different film to the first two entries, it hardly feels like a ‘part three’ at all. In fact, if anything, it’s the start of a whole new story – and a whole new trilogy – for the character of Thor. A more light-hearted, quippy, and cosmic God of Thunder goes on a different journey in Ragnarok, which leads him right the way through Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. If you ask me, these three movies are the ‘true’ Thor trilogy – the “Infinity Thor” saga, if you will. (Ahem.)

Picking up sometime after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Taika Waititi very quickly makes his impact on Thor: Ragnarok. The opening scene alone, with Thor chained up and dangling around in a circle, is funnier than anything from the first two films. The surprises then keep on coming at rapid fire: Loki’s still alive! Odin is on his deathbed! Thor has an evil sister! Mjolnir gets destroyed! In the ensuing chaos, Thor ends up stranded on an alien planet run by Jeff Goldblum (who is an absolute delight as the quirky Grandmaster). There, he meets faces old and new – including the unforgettable Korg and Miek, the enigmatic (and alcoholic) Valkyrie, and the Grandmaster’s warrior champion: the Hulk! Ragnarok is easily one of my favourite MCU movies (and quite possibly the very best standalone entry), purely because it does away with all the pomp and epic scale of what came before it. Ironically, just as Thor gets a buzzcut, he decides to let his hair down. With vibrant colours, a pumping soundtrack, and gut-busting laughter from start to finish, this is the Thor film I’ve always wanted to see. It also has a delightful, profound twist among the madness: Asgard is a people, not a place. The landscape of old is quite literally torn down at the end, leaving Thor and his dominion to scour the stars for a new home.

At least, that is, until the very first scene of Infinity War. I won’t lie, I was a little apprehensive about how Marvel Studios treated Thor in the third Avengers epic. While it’s certainly a shock to open on the destroyed Asgardian ship, completely wrecked up by Thanos and his cronies, it sort of diminishes the triumphant, rousing ending of Ragnarok. The ambiguity surrounding exactly how many people Thanos killed didn’t help upon first viewing (was it everyone, or was it 50%?), but with the hindsight of Endgame, it’s easier to look back on Infinity War more kindly. We now know that half the Asgardians survived (including Korg, Miek, and Valkyrie), and have now safely settled down in New Asgard on Earth. Still, that didn’t make it any easier a pill to swallow back in 2018 – and Infinity War only continued to course-correct from there, giving Thor an artificial second eye after having only just taking one away from him in Ragnarok. It wasn’t that these were terrible moves, or that Thor’s journey in Infinity War was unenjoyable – quite the opposite in fact, his adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the movie’s highlights – but after all the changes Ragnarok set up, it seemed a shame to be throwing them away again in the very next instalment. Maybe I just got too attached to Chris Hemsworth with short hair and an eyepatch.

You can only imagine my surprise then when I first saw Avengers: Endgame. After taking the brunt of a burning star to forge a Thanos-killing weapon in Infinity War, Thor fires away at the mad purple titan. He hits his target, but fails to land a killing blow (“You should have gone for the head!”). Even though he wasn’t the only Avenger to lose at Thanos’ hand, Thor was the one who could’ve stopped him in the dying moments. Instead, his miss led directly into the Snap which wiped out half the universe. Naturally, I expected him to be suffering a lot of guilt and regret as we moved into the Endgame. What I didn’t expect was for Thor to get revenge on Thanos in the first 15 minutes of the film, and then turn into a boozed-up, beer-bellied dude-bro for the rest of it.

It was a brilliantly hilarious twist – the introduction of Fat Thor in New Asgard (complete with Fortnite and Noobmaster69) was one of the finest scenes in Endgame. Having Thor so riddled with post-traumatic stress gave his character an extra layer (or maybe quite a few, judging by that stomach!) – and fair play to Marvel, they didn’t transform him back into his old muscular self, even for the final battle. It’s not a direction that everyone will like – I completely understand the controversy about fat-shaming for laughs, and Thor’s less-than-convincing panic attack – but it was a bold decision to make, especially for one of Marvel’s staple superheroes in the finale of their flagship franchise.

In the end, that’s what makes the “Infinity Thor” trilogy so interesting. They may all weave the same narrative thread, but each of the three films push Thor in completely different directions. In Ragnarok, Thor loses his home. In Infinity War, Thor loses his people. In Endgame, Thor loses himself. To throw the dice so wildly – not once, not twice, but thrice – is an admirable gamble, and even if not every step in the journey is one that you agree with, it’s undeniably kept the character fresh. Frankly, after being little more than hammer-wielding eye-candy in Thor and The Dark World, that can only be for the best.

Unlike Iron Man and Captain America though, Thor lives to fight another day after Endgame – but what’s next for the God of Thunder? Certainly, an appearance in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (or should that be “Asgardians of the Galaxy”?!) would not go amiss. A fourth standalone Thor film, if it’s in the vein of Ragnarok, would be more than welcome too. Wherever the MCU decides to take him next, let’s just hope it’s a bit less of the old, and a bit more of the new.

In short: to infinity… and beyond!

Rise of the Guardians: Marvel’s Unlikely Heroes

I don’t think anyone expected Guardians of the Galaxy to be the runaway hit that it was.

Marvel Studios may have been rolling the dice when they released the first Iron Man back in 2008, but by 2014, they had well and truly established themselves as a bona fide cinematic empire. Not only did they have at least three hit franchises under their belt – Iron Man, Captain America and Thor – they also had the unprecedented Avengers crossovers, which revolutionised comic book movies on the big screen like nothing else had ever done. So it was understandably a little strange when, hot off the heels of big Phase 2 hitters Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Thor: The Dark World, Marvel decided to lead into their next big epic – Avengers: Age of Ultron – with a brand new franchise starring a load of characters that barely anybody knew. It was a bold, unexpected choice, because unlike the Avengers that we’d come to know and love, the Guardians of the Galaxy weren’t highly revered superstars. On first glance, and in the film’s own words, they were just “a bunch of a-holes”.

And yet, it’s probably that complete lack of awareness that allowed Marvel to do whatever they wanted with the Guardians. Rather than having to arbitrarily meet a load of fan expectations, they had the freedom and the opportunity to create something completely original that stood apart from their previous works. It was weird, it was wacky, it was wild – and all the better for it. Aside from a few loose connections to the Infinity Stones and Thanos (who, before destroying half the universe in Infinity War and Endgame, first showed up in The Avengers post-credits scene), Guardians of the Galaxy is the most disparate franchise in the MCU. As such, it’s by far the most standalone, and probably the easiest to invest in if you’re not (or can’t be bothered becoming) well-versed in all the other Marvel heroes.

Like the original Iron Man film, Guardians of the Galaxy was a gamble – albeit one with infinitely lower stakes if its box office was a bust. They needn’t have worried though, because the first Guardians movie brilliantly grabs you from the off. That opening scene on Morag does everything nigh-on perfectly to prepare the audience for what’s to come. Incredible, atmospheric, sweeping sci-fi vistas? Check. Hilarious and lovable performances from the lead cast? Check. An absolute stonker of a soundtrack? Check, check, and double check! It’s an absolutely perfect cinematic recipe, gifting us a scene that’s so iconic that it was even chosen for a revisit during the Avengers: Endgame time heist.

So, the film may have all the core ingredients in the right places, but what about the Guardians themselves? Well, in addition to being portrayed by some of the finest actors in the MCU – Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista – they are also, quite clearly, the underdogs. You could argue that the Avengers are a team of underdogs as well, certainly in context of their 2012 face-off with Loki and the Chitauri. But, at the end of the day, they’re all good guys doing good things, and you know no matter how much evil they go up against, they’re always going to win.

The Guardians, on the other hand, are a bunch of ragtag, selfish rogues. Peter Quill (the self-proclaimed “Star-Lord”) starts out as little more than a petty thief, working for (and double-crossing) a band of other thieves led by his blue-faced foster father, Yondu. Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, seemingly just doing the mad titan’s dirty work for him – although secretly intending to stab her purple daddy in the back. Rocket and Groot are simply scouring the galaxy for money, taking any opportunity that they can to cash in on a bounty or make a speedy sale. In fact, they all initially meet (and are subsequently thrown into captivity) because they are all getting in the way of each other’s own wrong-doings. Realising they actually have a common goal in mind, as well as skills that work in tandem, they decide to forge an unlikely alliance, along with the overly literal, Thanos-hating Drax. They cleverly escape from prison, they go on the run, and then all hell breaks loose as they find themselves in the middle of a space race for the Power Stone. Of course, the Guardians eventually turn out to be the heroes in their own right, but it’s fascinating to follow a group of protagonists that are, for once, so morally grey.

Guardians of the Galaxy may be a sharply written, tightly directed, and fantastically acted film, but the real star of the show is (of course!) the aptly named Awesome Mix Vol. 1. There’s no hyperbole here: this is, quite possibly, the greatest licensed soundtrack ever put into a movie. Not only is it an insanely good collection of songs, they are also woven into the movie in such natural, effective ways. Rather than simply being background music, the soundtrack is actually (semi-)diegetic, forming the emotional core of the entire story. Again, the opening scene on Morag is a perfect example of this in action, with Quill dancing around to “Come and Get Your Love” as he raids the ancient temple. The hits keep on coming from there, from “Moonage Daydream” to “I’m Not in Love”, ending on the unforgettable “I Want You Back” scene with the dancing Baby Groot. The film alone was already pretty special, but the soundtrack really catapults it into another realm of genius.

Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy received the critical and commercial success that it deserved, and a sequel inevitably followed. But while the reaction to it was fairly positive, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 didn’t garner quite the same enthusiasm that the original movie did. It still retained everything that made the first Guardians so great – the humour, the characters, the gorgeous CGI backdrops, and (obviously!) the music – but it cranked them all to the max and dialled everything up to eleven. In short, it tried to re-do what the original did well, but bigger and better. Again, the opening scene is incredibly telling. On this occasion we’re treated to a clever little sequence of Baby Groot dancing around to Mr Blue Sky as the Guardians battle against some unspeakable horror in the background. It’s an endearing introduction and seamlessly shot, but it’s hard to shake the sense that it’s treading familiar ground. This feeling permeates through the sequel, meaning that – while still an excellent entry that remains one of the most enjoyable in the MCU – Vol. 2 is a much more exaggerated and chaotic film than its predecessor.

Make no mistake though: it’s a beautiful kind of chaos, revelling in vibrant colours and off-the-wall insanity. But it’s easy to understand why some might find it too cartoony, with the overall narrative taking a back seat as a result. The first Guardians culminated in one of Marvel’s trademark epic third act face-offs, with a galaxy-wide conflict against the rather forgettable Ronan (hands down the weakest link in the original’s core cast). By contrast, Vol. 2 is a much more intimate, personal affair, honing in on character development and relationships. Quill reunites with his estranged father, Gamora tries to bury the hatchet with her sister Nebula (a star turn from Doctor Who alumna, Karen Gillan), and Rocket comes to terms with what he’s really like on the inside. It’s all strong stuff, but it’s also quite at odds with what the audience have come to expect from Marvel movies by this point. Even the final fight feels surprisingly small-scale, despite the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance.

Whatever your opinion on the second chapter though, there’s so much more that could be said about the Guardians of the Galaxy – their decisive impact in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, their influence on the ever-resurgent Thor franchise, the possibilities for what could happen in Vol. 3. We’ve not even been able to mention Pom Klementieff’s adorable psychic Mantis, who made a wonderfully charming addition to the team in Vol. 2. Alas, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what we could discuss here. But hopefully that’s a testament to just how captivating Marvel’s band of heroic misfits are – and if you only ever watch one MCU movie, then you simply can’t go wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy. It’ll leave you hooked on a feeling and high on believing in no time…

O Captain, My Captain: The Star-Spangled Man

I must admit: I never really ‘got’ Captain America to begin with. I was first introduced to him in the original Avengers film, and while he seemed to be a perfectly enjoyable character, he didn’t click with me the same way some of the other heroes did. Maybe it’s because I’ve typically preferred my superheroes to have some sort of ‘power’ – for example, Spider-Man’s web-slinging or Iron Man’s suit. Maybe it’s because I’m British and not American, and therefore the overt patriotism flew right over my head. Whatever it was, I could never really see Captain America as anything more than a boring, bulky bruiser who threw a shield around like a Frisbee.

And then I actually sat down and watched his films.

Captain America: The First Avenger is just… wow! The MCU may have been going for three years before Cap joined the fray, but it really hit its stride with his first solo outing. Like Iron Man 2, this is very much a set up for 2012’s The Avengers (I mean, they’re not even trying to hide it in the movie’s subtitle!), yet it manages to dodge a lot of the Tony Stark sequel’s mistakes. By virtue that the story is set in the 1940s, it is automatically far removed from the wider goings-on in the MCU – and all the better for it. At its core, this may be another cookie-cutter origin story from the ever-reliable Marvel machine, but The First Avenger stands out in a number of ways.

Purely on a visual level, the war-time aesthetic sets the film apart from the other MCU movies, offering a truly immersive period setting. In context, Steve Rogers’ hero is also wildly different from his peers. At the start, he is just an ordinary guy – less than ordinary, in fact. He’s a short and skinny dweeb, brought to life thanks to some weirdly impressive CGI. Sure, he gets beefed up halfway through and becomes the super soldier Captain America, but he earns that transformation not because he’s the strongest, or the toughest. He’s chosen because, in a world of gung-ho warfare, he’s the only one with his heart in the right place. In Steve’s own words: “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from”. His blossoming relationship with Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter (a instantly lovable character in her own right) is also the most convincing romance we’ve seen to date in the MCU, and their final conversation as Steve crashes into the ice is truly heartbreaking. Throw in some fantastic performances from a cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and Toby Jones, and you’ve got yourself a winner. (There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Doctor Who‘s Jenna Coleman, which can only ever be a good thing.)

Of course, Steve doesn’t die – he’s just frozen solid for 70 years, where he finally wakes up in the modern day and is enlisted by Nick Fury to join the Avengers. His inevitable sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a wildly different film to The First Avenger, but there’s very little drop in quality between the two. Steve may no longer be fighting a physical war, but he is fighting an emotional one as he comes to terms with 21st Century life. In place of Peggy Carter, we get Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow and new recruit Sam Wilson, played by Anthony Mackie. Just as Steve is adjusting to the world around him, his past comes back to haunt him. Hydra, the organisation that he thought he’d defeated in the 1940s, has infilitrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and turned his oldest friend – James “Bucky” Barnes – into a metal-armed, psychotic assassin. The stage is set for a tense and political thriller, full of action and emotion (and twists you won’t see coming) in brilliantly equal measure. It’s hands down one of the best MCU films, and puts Iron Man 2 to shame when it comes to doing a sequel right.

By the end of The Winter Soldier, a new status quo is in place and plenty of plot threads are still left dangling. The third and final standalone story, Captain America: Civil War, picks these up and runs with them. It does what all good threequels do – bringing the ongoing narrative to a climax, while raising the stakes to bigger and better levels in the process. As a result, it’s not as tight a movie as The First Avenger or The Winter Soldier, but it retains the same amount of impact and emotional resonance, for entirely different reasons. There are some very grandiose set-pieces and it’s amazing watching all of the Avengers (including Spider-Man and Black Panther) throw down at the airport. The real heart of the movie, however, belongs to the conflict between Steve and Tony – the two figureheads and most human characters in the team. When a political decision and the resurgence of Bucky Barnes forces them to butt heads on a global scale, the tension is palpable. It’s what makes the villain, Zemo, one of the most calculating in the MCU. He’s not an extraordinary guy with any supernatural powers. He knows he could never destroy the Avengers on his own. Instead, he tricks them into doing it themselves – and that’s far more devastating an outcome. A bit more resolution might have been nice to round Cap’s story out in style, but it’s clear that Civil War is, in the end, just setting up what’s yet to come.

All put together then, without a doubt, the three Captain America movies stand tall as the best standalone trilogy in the MCU to date. They have by far the strongest through-line, and are each exceptionally crafted films in their own right. By comparison, the Iron Man trilogy is iconic but uneven, and Thor didn’t really take off with any impact until his third outing in Ragnarok. The only other series that might come close to matching its quality is Guardians of the Galaxy – but that all depends on how Vol. 3 turns out, whenever that’s released.

For as good as the individual Captain America films are though, I think it’s fair to say that the character got a little bit short-served in the wider Avengers ensemble pieces. Whereas Tony Stark’s wit and intellect helps propel him to the forefront, Captain America’s ordinariness instead makes him fade into the background. It’s not that he’s badly used in these movies, far from it – he’s just an inherently less interesting hero to look at than, say, the Hulk. He gets some fun scenes, like when he tries to pick up Thor’s mighty hammer in Avengers: Age of Ultron. But it doesn’t help when he’s quite purposely thrust into the shadows, like he is in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s not really until Avengers: Endgame that he comes into his own, stepping up and stealing the show by the leading Earth’s heroes into battle. The shot of Cap facing down Thanos’ army is nothing short of iconic, and it’s only right that this war-torn soldier should be the one to rally the Avengers against their greatest foe. His wielding of Mjolnir is utter fan-service, let’s be honest – but it’s incredibly cathartic all the same.

It was also the correct decision to let Steve Rogers survive the battle. Tony Stark’s addiction to being Iron Man was always destined to be his downfall, so it was only fitting for him to bow out as a hero. Rather, for Cap’s journey to go full circle, he needed to go back to the beginning. Luckily, Endgame is a movie all about time travel, so the opportunity for Steve to return to the 1940s is finally handed to him on a plate. After returning the Infinity Stones to their rightful places in the past, he settles down with Peggy Carter and lives the life he always wanted. By the time we catch up with him again, he’s an old and withered man – no longer Captain America, but content with his lot. He passes on the mantle (and shield) to Sam Wilson, and . The MCU’s Infinity Saga closes out with the dance he promised Peggy all those years ago. You can nit-pick the time travel logic all you want, and curse the film-makers for omitting the reunion with Red Skull back on Vormir – but, when all is said and done, there couldn’t have been a better ending for Captain America than this.

Steve Rogers, we salute you.

The Iron Giant: Tony Stark and the MCU

Eleven years ago, this very month in fact, cinema gave birth to a legend. Not many people would have bet on 2008’s Iron Man being such a success, let alone going on to spawn the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, against all odds, this make-or-break film starring (at the time) controversial actor Robert Downey Jr. went on to win over not only the box office, but the hearts of comic book fans and cinema-goers across the world. Now, following the release of Avengers: Endgame, we’ve seen the Iron Man story come to a close. But what was it that made this character so beloved, and the unexpected stand-out in an ever-expanding line-up of iconic superheroes?

It’s almost funny to think that, when this film first came out, the odds were stacked against it. If Marvel were ever going to achieve their goal of making an Avengers movie, they had to roll the dice on a standalone story first. And, while he’s now one of the most popular superheroes of all time, Iron Man didn’t quite have the same A-list billing in 2008. You’d better believe that if Marvel had the rights to someone like Spider-Man back then, they’d have been kicking off their cinematic universe with him, rather than a man in a tin can.

But, perhaps, this very limitation is what ended up making the first Iron Man such a classic. Because they didn’t have an instant win on their hands, they needed to make as great a movie as they possibly could. Make no mistake, Iron Man is not a perfect film – but it does everything it needed to with admirable aplomb. It’s very much a blueprint for how to make a successful superhero origin story (one that Marvel themselves have reused time and time again), welded and tinkered into something that shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. In short: it’s a well-oiled machine, much like Iron Man himself. Robert Downey Jr., too, proved himself as the perfect man for the job. Thanks to this film, he will no longer be remembered for his fall from grace before the MCU. Instead, he will forever be associated with Tony Stark, Marvel’s rebellious but heroic billionaire genius. It’s the role that Downey Jr. was born to play. He is Iron Man.

Of course, familiarity breeds contempt, and it wasn’t long until the Iron Man franchise started to stutter. Revelling in the success of the first film and desperately building the foundations for 2012’s The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for us Brits), the inevitable sequel – Iron Man 2 – was a far cry from the quality of the first. The need for a genuinely good movie was no longer there, as Marvel knew they’d draw in an audience no matter what. And, to be honest, it really shows. While Iron Man 2 is not a terrible film, it is a messy one. Tony Stark is reduced to an unlikable arse, Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash is underdeveloped, and too much time is spent introducing the likes of Black Widow and War Machine. Yet, there’s a fascinatingly weird charm to the whole thing, and Marvel still proves it’s the king of set pieces – the scene on the Monaco racetrack is exhilarating stuff.

And then, at last, along came The Avengers. As the character that kick-started the MCU, it seemed only fitting that Iron Man would be the default figurehead of Marvel’s superhero squad. It’s really rather impressive how, when stood next to beefed-up buddies Captain America, Thor, and Hulk, Tony Stark manages to hold his own (and more often than not even steal the scene). Naturally, it also feels right that he’s the one to save the day, flying through a wormhole to save reality from Loki’s invasion.

After all that spectacle though, where do you possibly go next? Crashing back down to Earth, as Iron Man 3 soon proved. The third and final chapter in the Iron Man trilogy sees Tony Stark spend the least amount of time in his super-powered suit, haunted by PTSD and on the run from a terrorist organisation. Even if it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the original, it’s a marked step up from Iron Man 2. Thematically, it’s my favourite of the Iron Man films, especially the snow-filled scenes of Tony tinkering away as “the mechanic” in rural Tennessee. However, as much as I loved (and I do mean loved) the hilarious Mandarin twist, the movie kind of goes off the rails from there. The climax quite literally explodes into a big and bombastic battle, but things are all the less coherent as a result. At least we get the thrilling Air Force One rescue scene in the build-up.

With his standalone stories now wrapped up in a neat three-film box set, Iron Man would continue to pop up as a player in the larger Avengers cast. He’s very much the cause of the destruction in 2014’s Age of Ultron, and he seeks to repent for his actions by signing the Accords in Captain America: Civil War – a crossover that sees him going toe-to-toe against some of his closest friends. By the time Avengers: Infinity War rolled around in 2018, Tony Stark was a broken hero. And yet, when faced with the greatest threat the universe has ever known, he does not hesitate to jump into his Iron Man suit and take the fight to Thanos. They lose, of course, and the Snap takes its toll when Tony is forced to watch his protégée Peter Parker (whom he started to mentor in Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming) vanish away into dust.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Tony to get home from Titan in Avengers: Endgame quite as easily as he did – and I’m a little disappointed. The brief scenes we get of him and Nebula stranded out in space are absolutely captivating, and I could have watched an entire movie following their isolated struggle. However, after being saved by a Captain Marvel shaped deus-ex-machina, things still manage to take an interesting turn. Tony is, surprisingly, one of the luckiest survivors of the Snap. He and Pepper Potts finally start a family and they build a home together. He’s got everything he ever wanted, and there’s no reason for him to want to undo the events of Infinity War. Except, of course, he’s addicted to being Iron Man. From this point on (just like Thanos himself), we know that Tony’s fate is inevitable. He’d never willing give up his newfound happiness, but he can never truly give up wanting to be a hero either. So, he cracks the mysteries of time travel, helps to regather the Infinity Stones with the rest of the Avengers, and ultimately lays down his life because it’s the only way to win. The journey of Iron Man, and of the MCU, goes wonderfully full circle in this moment. The words that gave birth to an unprecedented 22-film saga are also the ones that bring Tony Stark’s adventures to a close: “I am Iron Man”.

Of course, as Tony’s funeral surely proved, his influence will never be forgotten. On-screen, we only have a couple of months to wait until we see Peter Parker dealing with the death of his idol in Spider-Man: Far From Home. But off-screen, too, the legacy of Iron Man – of what it did for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in turn for superhero films and the cinema industry as a whole – will live on for generations to come. We may now have The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, but the MCU is the true Star Wars phenomenon of the new millennium. Many other studios have tried to copy its success (chief among them, the DC universe’s Justice League), but none have ever managed to come close. The Marvel story will continue on, but Iron Man will forever be the original – and, quite possibly, still the best.

King of the Swingers! Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

I very nearly didn’t go to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. After all, the web-slinger’s adventures on the big screen have been pretty hit or miss since Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film in 2002. Sure, there had been cinematic standouts like Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, but equally there had been disastrous duds like… well, mainly the two The Amazing Spider-Man films, to be honest. So, when I first saw they were doing an animated movie with multiple Spider-Men (including, but not limited to, a Japanese anime girl and a talking pig), I was cautious to say the least. Considering it was also coming from the studio that, only a few months prior, had brought us the baffling and barmy Venom, my hopes weren’t very high. So, without even meaning to, I’d subconsciously written the film off without giving it a chance.

But, it was Christmas time, and I was going to the cinema with a friend, so we needed something to watch. We’re both big fans of superhero films, which meant it came down to a decision between Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the DCEU’s latest offering at the time, which happened to be Aquaman. I should note now that I still haven’t seen Aquaman, so for all I know it may be a perfectly serviceable movie. But, the incredible Wonder Woman film aside, we’d been more than let down by what DC’s cinematic universe had to offer. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was disappointing beyond words, and Justice League was far too messy of a rush-job to enjoy. So, Into the Spider-Verse it was. I sat down, popcorn in hand, not really knowing what to expect.

It only turned out to be THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE™, didn’t it?!

For a film I hadn’t intended to watch at all, I ended up seeing it three times at the cinema, which is practically unheard of for me. Generally speaking, I might go to see a film twice if I really, really like it – to be honest, the only recent examples I can think of are The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi – but thrice?! That’s insane. In fairness, the third occasion was a limited-run IMAX 3D screening, which was an entirely different experience (and a whole other review!) all in itself. But the fact that I made that special effort, and willingly paid the extra for the privilege, just goes to show how special Into the Spider-Verse truly is.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but it came as no surprise to discover that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were the masterminds behind this project. A few years earlier they’d turned the seemingly-impossible The LEGO Movie into one of the breakout films of 2014, and their magic touch now worked its wonders for the web-slinger as well. Into the Spider-Verse manages to take the Miles Morales character, a new take on Spider-Man from an alternate branch of the comic books, and completely reinvent him for the movie-going public. The story is written with Back to the Future style precision, the jokes all land with pitch-perfect hilarity, and (most importantly) the characters all get given enough room for them to breathe and to develop. Miles, Peter B. Parker, and Gwen Stacy get the lion’s share of the spotlight (understandably), but it’s quite impressive how the movie also makes us care about the likes of Peni Parker, Spider-Ham, and Spider-Man Noir in such a short space of time.

What’s more, Into the Spider-Verse boasts a very distinct look that blends the two-dimensional aesthetics of comic books with more three-dimensional CGI animation. Underscored by a catchy, urban-meets-orchestral soundtrack, the action bursts out of the screen with vivid colours that really pop. I implore you to pause the film at random intervals, because every single frame is a work of art. If I had to choose just one shot to rule them all though, it’d be from Miles’ leap of faith moment. You know the one I mean – and it even comes with my favourite stage direction in any screenplay EVER, just to boot.

Miles walks to the edge of the roof, the wind buffeting… and LEAPS! The camera is UPSIDE DOWN. Miles isn’t falling through frame. He’s RISING.

Most of all though, it’s clear that Into the Spider-Verse is a movie made with love. There are countless call-backs to the Spider-Man stories of yesteryear (including some very unsubtle nods to Sam Raimi’s trilogy, as well as THE FUNNIEST POST-CREDITS SCENE OF ALL TIME™). The Stan Lee cameo, in particular, is one of the best he’s ever done – made even more poignant after he sadly passed away. And yet, for a film that’s so adorned with Easter eggs and references, it’s also a perfect stepping on point for any Spider-Man newcomers. You can watch Into the Spider-Verse without ever reading one of the comics or watching any of the earlier films, and it’ll all make total sense. It’s a multi-dimensional crossover, it’s a celebration of everything that’s come before, but it still manages to remain accessible to every viewer. By shifting the focus away from Peter Parker and making this an origin story for Miles Morales instead, Lord and Miller have given us a Spider-Man movie for a new generation. Miles’ Spider-Man is relevant, he’s cool, and he deserves to leave an impact on the comic movie culture.

Looking back, it’s almost criminal that Into the Spider-Verse had a bit of a slow start at the box office, but once people realised just how good it was, it shot to success thanks to impressive word of mouth. Now, in just five months since its release in December, it’s become Sony Pictures Animation’s highest grossing film of all time (grossing over $375 million worldwide), achieved a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and won a number of prestigious awards (including an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe, all for Best Animated Feature). Things just keep on getting better and better for the movie, and I’m sure that it will stand the test of time as a modern classic. I certainly can’t see myself ever getting tired of it.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. The storming success of Into the Spider-Verse has, inevitably, led to sequels and spin-offs being announced for the near future. If done right, these have every potential to be brilliant, so fingers crossed they’ll turn out great. I just hope the studio isn’t merely trying to cash in while they can, because if anything comes along that tarnishes the first film’s legacy, it would be nothing short of sacrilege. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.

In the meantime, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital download (complete with some amazing bonus features, including a brand new Spider-Ham short and an insightful film-maker’s commentary). Go be a hero and give this movie your money, like, RIGHT NOW. You needn’t worry about it being a leap of faith – you have my certified guarantee that it is absolutely worth your purchase.