But do Dead Men Make More Sequels?

So, a fifth Pirates of the Carribbean film. Once again the Disney company have dragged a hungover Johnny Depp out of bed, dressed and put him on set and let him loose. Is it worth it?

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Well, sort of… They did keep that lovely main theme, so that’s something.  It tries, it really tries to recapture the sense of adventure that made the original film so much fun, and manages some wonderful moments, but doesn’t quite get over the line. Given the time between films 4 and 5 and the well documented issues during shooting (Barnaby…) that’s not really a surprise.

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For starters, we don’t get enough time with the new leads to really care about them, what with one of them being a cut rate Orlando Bloom and the other constantly being chased for witchcraft (In character that is), an element which seemed somewhat out of place for the time period. It reminded me a little of the way science and faith were treated in Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who, but that’s a discussion for another time. I guess some setup to the Carribbean witch trials would have been nice to help set the scene, but that might have meant cutting Depp, and I’m guessing they don’t want to anger their golden goose by limiting his screen time. (Me? I’d have cut it and blamed the Australian Government)

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Mercifully it’s closer to 2 hours in length than 3, which is a welcome relief given how numb my arse was getting halfway through the third film. I’d comment on the fourth, but I genuinely don’t remember enough about it to comment. As for the rest of the cast, a mostly CG Javier Bardem does a fine job (I kept thinking of him as his character from Skyfall), chewing at as much scenery as he can get his hands on, which isn’t much after Depp and Geoffrey Rush are done with it. On the bright side, there’s a small appearance from [NOT REALLY A SPOILER BUT I’M STILL KEEPING IT SECRET SQUIRREL] and one of the villains turned out to be [LOUD SQUEAL OF JOY FROM MY WIFE], which was lovely as I didn’t know they were in the film at all.

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Maybe there were a lot of deleted scenes, or maybe they tried from the outset to make the film shorter,* the stories that came from set don’t make it sound like a functional production. How much of that is down to Depp (Or his dogs) I’m not sure and am trying not to guess at, but I’m pretty sure there’s a far better film lurking in there. (I’m an optimist that way) It could be we’re blase about the supernatural elements, as opposed to the surprise they were in the first film, but the seeming need to go bigger and bigger with each film just hasn’t paid off. For an example; there’s a fight scene near the end that should be amazing (I can see how I’d run it in an RPG), but it swiftly become’s little more than Depp jumping around on a green screen, and while that’s not wholly unwelcome, it get’s old.

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Also, in barely related news, for a film that seems to be trying to wrap up the series, the after credits scene annoyingly hints at further films, and is in no way up to the Marvel standard. Maybe it’s finally time to sink the franchise down to Davey Jones?

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I give it 3 raised cutlasses out of 5.

PS: I also discovered I know someone who doesn’t know who Errol Flynn is. A double bill of Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood is in her future. 🙂

*An approach Peter Jackson could do well to remember.

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PARKOUR! The Movie.

AKA Assassin’s Creed. This is less a review, and more a collection of random thoughts concerning the film. Also, there be spoilers.

I came to the film not having played the games much outside of Black Flag (Cause you know, pirates.), but I know the basics. It seems to be represented pretty well, though I don’t know if the Templars grand council consisting entirely (As far as I saw) of old white people was a subtle political jab or a case of you work with the extras you have, not the ones you want. Cause you know, when have old white people ever wanted to stop people from having free will?

I’d say I was certain that gaming tables and LARPs will soon be deluged by players wanting to play good assassins, but I’m fairly sure that already happened about the time of the first game. Also, it’d have to be a much better film to have that sort of impact – there’s good reason cons were jam packed with Ledger Joker cosplayers for years after The Dark Knight. (There’s an urban myth floating around that at a UK LARP event following the release of Fellowship of the Ring there were no less than 9 characters named Legolas) Ahem. I digress.

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I continue to not be able to put aside the logic (or lack thereof) of a group of assassins who have a recognisable uniform and a signature weapon. Still, it’s far from the greatest logical leap needed for this film, which has the Knights Templar searching for an apple that contains humanity’s genetic code in order to ‘cure’ violence. Oh, and they have a magical device that let’s people live through their ancestors memories. It could be said that it’s Jeremy Iron’s best genre film, but that’s damning with very, very faint praise. That and it’s not that terrible. It’s still not great, but he’s done worse movies – one only has to look at him in Star Wars Episode IV Eragon. As for the film as a whole, it could have been far, far worse (See also Super Mario Brothers).

Characters don’t really get much to do – Fassbender glares stoicly and grunts his lines while bouncing around in a CG harness, Irons all but sleepwalks through it with his voice rarely being raised above a monotone (I think it’s meant to convey something about his lack of emotions showing his devotion to the cause, but it just seems like he’s heavily medicated) and Marion Cotilliard tries bravely, but seems more a plot device than a character (See also Natalie Portman in Thor: The Dark World). On the bright side, Brendan Gleeson is always lovely to see, though again he’s more plot device and exposition spouter than character.

It’s also an oddly bloodless film given it’s body count, with people getting stabbed, garotted and pierced with arrows, crossbow bolts and knives, but barely a drop of blood is shed, outside of a few major incidents involving characters with dialogue and even then there’s far less than could be expected. Speaking of knives, in the scene where Fassbender’s 15th century ancestor and his compardre (Who’s name I don’t recall being mentioned, despite her and said ancestor’s involvement) escape from the fires of the Inquisition and Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Let’s face it, you can’t Torquemeda anything!), where the hell did all those knives they threw come from? Had they not been searched well enough, or where they magically picking up them from all the people they’d killed? It’s a mark against the film that I spent more time pondering that through the Ye Olde Jason Bourne style chase scene, along with the unintentionally hilarious moment when as they’re about to escape they dramatically draw their hoods up*. Speaking of that, I’ve a lot of respect for the CG and/or costume department wizardry that kept said hoods up while the cast were crashing, stabbing and bashing about the place.

So. Not the worst film I’ve seen (That title is currently held by The Smurfs 2 – we’re never letting my niece choose what movie we see again) and there’s some nice visual moments (The flyovers of medieval Madrid are lovely), but this isn’t the film to do for video game movies what X-Men did for comic book films. Especially given how much the ends screams sequel. I also can’t confirm an after-credits sequence, as I badly needed to pee and wasn’t willing to risk it. Still, it’s not a Marvel film, so I don’t think I missed anything.

2 and a half impractical wrist blades out of 5.

* Though not as funny as the dramatic “I’ll be back” in Terminator: Salvation, a moment that cause my wife to burst out laughing in the cinema.

Annoying paternal instinct.

The only Supergirl I’ve seen was the 6 minute preview of the pilot a while back and a variety of press shots. I’m reliably informed it’s really good and I mean to get around to watching it, once I catch up on Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. The second Superhero Fight Club promo on the other hand, has me wanting to watch the show NOW and to have daughters to show it to.

(My wife continues to accuse me of wanting daughters solely because I get to name them. That might slightly have influenced me…)

Suicide Squad (2016)

So, Suicide Squad.

Yes I saw it. In my defense, ticket’s were $8 and I’m a sucker for bad films.

I’ll try to stay light on spoilers, but there will be some. I went in with some pretty heavy preconceptions – a general dislike of DC based films and Jared Leto, parts of fandom’s creepy romanticisation of Joker and Harley, the rumours that it sidelined Arrow’s version of the Sqaud, being fairly ho-hum about the advertising, Amanda Waller not being played by CCH Pounder etc. And thats without the recent discovery that, of all people,  Shia LaBeouf could have been in it. So, now that I’ve seen it, what did I think?

Eh. A solid 6/10.*

Look, there was a lot stacked against the film. The stories of Leto’s on set behaviour were one thing but director David Ayer’s all but torturing the cast takes it up a notch. As the story goes, try acting – it’s much easier. Anyhow, about the film.  Then there’s the rumours of arguments over the final cut, large numers of deleted or alternate scenes, reshoots to add humour, executive meddling and a general panic over the reaction to Dawn of Justice, and really, it’s almost amazing we got as good a film as we did.

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That film would have been better. A lot better

For starters, Will Smith is genuinely great in this. I’ve not seen a lot of his recent work, but I understand why he was cast. The guy has charisma and the fact this isn’t a vanity project for one of his children may have helped as well. Viola Davis knocked it out of the park as Amanda Waller, showing just how hard as nails the character is. True, she’s not CCH Pounder, but she looks more like comics Waller than Arrow’s version and that alone is worth something. Hell, I’d say she did as good a job as Pounder would have done.

EDIT: In the cold (Actually warm and extremely fucking unwelcome) light of day I realized that what I’ve just said about Davis is a pretty shitty backhanded compliment and I meant no such thing. She does a hell of a job, and managed to both overcome my bias and win me over. (I’ve not seen her other work, so it wasn’t anything to do with her, merely the typecasting in my head) There’s a moment about 2/3rd’s of the way through where you get a no holds barred, no beg your pardons reminder of why you don’t fuck with Amanda Waller and Davis sells it like a boss. For her, it’s just another day at the office. Maniacs, serial killers, costumed weirdos and extra dimensional magicians – Amanda Waller does not care for your shit. So yes, major compliments to Viola Davis on her performance and for managing to not knock the fuck out out of Jared Leto.

Batfleck is great in his limited screen time and the hints at future movies are far less clumsy ‘Let’s introduce the Justice League’ like what we saw in Dawn of Justice. They aren’t great, but they aren’t as bad. Robbie, for all the time the trailers spent focusing on her body, also does a great Harley Quinn. It’s not that the cast are terrible, they do well with what they have to work with. It’s more what they have to do that’s the problem.

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I’m guessing he just read the script?

The Bad:
The villain’s plot is kinda pointless and lacking in build-up, the military mostly serve as red-shirts to make the main cast look competent and Captain Boomerang (While played by an actual Australian) mostly exists for comic relief and to produce beers from nowhere. There’s also large stretches of the film with very little threat – the first time we see the villain’s minions, there’s a brief moment where it seems casualties could ensue, but from then on it’s fight scene shaky cam and we know the main cast heroes are going to be fine. I mean, you don’t cast the likes of Will Smith just to kill him – we’re not making Executive Decision here.

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Alright squad – 3, 2, 1 and strut!

Now we come to the Joker. Much has been written about Leto’s Joker, and yeah… It’s not great. (For the record, my Joker of choice is Mark Hamill, closely followed by Cesar Romero) It seems an attempt at a younger, edgier Joker, but I’m not seeing it. Also, since his plotline isn’t really related to the rest of the film, you probably could have cut most of his screentime and not affected the film a bit. Hell, that would have given you more time to introduce the main players, develop the relationships between them or just be able to read the bios that flashed up on screen for about 5 seconds. Katana basically got nothing – her background was explained by Rick Flagg in about 20 seconds.

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Hey, whatever get’s you through the movie…

And as for the soundtrack, it was another mess. I can understand why they used it (That being it was the one part of the trailer people liked), but the use of rock songs as character motif trick both isn’t used and is overused. And can someone explain to me what Black Sabbath’s Paranoid has to do with Harley Quinn? It would have made more sense to play it when Joker’s on screen, but making sense isn’t the strong point of Zack Snyder’s DC Cinematic Murderverse** (io9’s joke, not mine. I only wish I’d thought of a line that good ). It almost seems as if they watched Guardians of the Galaxy and learned all the wrong lessons.

Look, I don’t want to trash the film outright. There’s bits that worked and worked well. And for all it’s flaws, it wasn’t Green Lantern. The DC films are improving, but still aren’t quite there yet. At least the TV shows are doing well…

*Also, I also didn’t want to buy any of the cast’s costumes.

** Which the rumoured Booster Gold movie apparently won’t be a part of

Back to normality. Or as close as I get.

First off, many thanks to those who read and commented on my recent post on mental health. The comments have been much appreciated.It wasn’t easy, but I got that far into it that not writing it would have felt worse. Again, you have my thanks.

Before I forget, I was meaning to post a writeup of a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf I saw recently, and I’m still struggling to decide how to sum it up, with the closest thing that comes to mind being Apocalypse Now. Before you commence throwing things, let me explain. Both are overly long, begin with things seeming not to be going well, and that feeling of dread and unease only intensifying throughout, wih a last act that’s a cavalcade of WTF. This is possibly why I shouldn’t be reviewing theatre. Though in my defence, Margaret Pomeranz and I both quoted the same piece of Shakespeare* when we reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which I choose as a mark in my favour. I’m also 2 episodes into The 100, which I’m enjoying, though I think I’m between 10-15 years too old for it’s primary audience.

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It was the second session of my D&D game last night, and didn’t go too badly. I’m not as great as I’d like to be at running social encounters and there was a bit of railroading (And I regret it), but the players still seemed to enjoy things and that’s what counts. We learn by doing after all. The Wizard spents more time stealing cheese than doing anything magical, the Rangers are drunks with the Rogue not far behind, the Paladin has a secret identity as a masked vigilante and the Fighter is seemingly keener on theatre tickets than cracking heads. They’re an interesting bunch and I’m really enjoying devising adventures for them. I’ve a few plans for them in motion – they still have no idea who their mysterious benefactor is (I’m attempting to play him like Raymond Reddington crossed with Mr Morden) after all. They’ve also levelled up for the first time, so it’s almost time to UNLEASH THE OWLBEARS!

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Moving on, this will likely be the last update on the post apoc game for a while, as I have to delve back into the Hyborian Age to finish my Sydcon event. Been trying to write factions (Settlers, Scavengers, Ambos etc) and work out background stuff for it, but it’s both getting to the stage where I want to bring other people in and am having the dip in the initial enthusiasm. I love the idea of the settlement police being an in-character faction (Working name: The Boy’s in Blue) and have been trying to come up with Boons and Flaws instead of stats. I’m not proud, but I laughed at the idea of calling the sneak boon ‘Where the Bloody Hell are You?’ patching people up is ‘Band Aid’ and catching and returning thrown weapons had to be ‘Classic Catch’. I’m writing it, I’m allowed to be the only one amused. Trying to put an actual rules system together is one of the things I’m planning on leaving till last, as it’s not something I’ve done before, but there’s ideas I want to make sure I’ve put down incase I forget them. Background and overly purple flavour text? I’ve got that covered. Anyhow, the Hyborian game – 6 PC’s, 4 of them female and (mostly) wearing sensible armour. I’m kinda pleased with that. Pirates, savages, darkest sorcery, bloody combat, Northern barbarians, Southern decadence, the treasure of a long forgotten kingdom and candles that burn with a wierd green flame… It’s been fun to write. 🙂

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What else is up soon? Zedtown’s up in a few couple of weeks and I’m crewing that. I don’t know what role I’ll have yet, but I’m sure I can costume it with minimum effort. Should be a blast. Anyhow, time to return to the days of high adventure!

“I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”
Robert E Howard – Queen of the Black Coast

*Work out which bit and there might be a prize for you!

Trailers.

So,a bunch of trailers got released at Comic Con over the weekend. My thoughts are as follows:

Doctor Strange – So, the second trailer finally show’s us some magic.It has helped cement my issue with the film (Outside of the piss poor attempt at defending the whitewashing), namely that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Strange and not Chiwitel Eigofor. It’s not that I think Cumberbatch will do a bad job, far from it, and he sure looks the part, but it’s by far the obvious choice. At the time of casting I tweeted that the MCU could use less white guys (and got called racist more than once), and I stand by that. That mght be why the announcement that Brie Larson is playing Captain Marvel and who’s playing who in Black Panther has me nervous. Well, not nervous, but hopeful. The further the MCU goes along, the higher the chance is they’ll screw something up (And I mean a Green Lantern-esque level of screw up, as opposed to the Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World) and I don’t want that to happen to those two films. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of either character, but I really don’t want the first female led and mainly black cast movies to be shit.

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Justice League – In short, Bruce Wayne interviews people. Seems to have added more jokes (Perhaps all the ones that were missing from BvS…) and a lot lighter tone. Cast look good, though more Cyborg would have been nice. Badass Aquaman is cool. Still not Brave and the Bold Aquaman, but that’s what YouTube is for.

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Wonder Woman – Please DC, don’t screw this up. The actons looks great, though I’m hoping the slow-mo is for the trailer, Chris Pine seems to be playing Steve Trevor like Kirk and Diana’s line “What I do is not up to you” is fantastic. Plus the evening gown and sword combo  works surprisingly well. 🙂

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King:Skull Island – They appear to have learnt from the Tripod song and got to the fucking monkey. Smart.

Suicide Squad – How many trailers, clips and sneak peeks can they release before it’s possible to assemble the entire movie? Still, the more they show that isn’t Harley, the more interested I get. Also, the more I see of Viola Davis as Amanda Waller the better – she’s not CCH Pounder, but I think she’ll do well.

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Star Trek: Discovery – It’s really not much, just the ship (Which we now know is clled Discovery) leaving spacedock. Reminds me of sketches I saw from the abandoned Phase 2 series. It’s Star Trek, so I’ll watch, but I’m still waiting for casting news to get really keen.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – A Guy Ritchie film, which is both good and bad. At first glance looks Excalibur crossed with Lock Stock. Points for trying something different, but adding some LOTR to the mix enthuses me even less. Sword looks nice though.

American Gods – Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday. Do I need to say more? Well, how about Gillian Anderson?

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The Lego Batman Movie – If you say something, anything, bad about this (At least that isn’t a variant on ‘We have to wait how long?’), we can no longer be friends.

I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed, but that’ll do for the moment. Also this:
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Ghostbusters (2016)

I want to be like Holtzmann when I grow up.

I’ve been trying to think of another way to start this, but that’s my overwhelming impression of the film.

So the Ghostbusters remake has arrived. Does it match the originals, or does it fall in a heap, as a large and toxic part of the internet wants it to? Damn right it matches them and then some. It’s the most fun I’ve had at a cinema in a long time, and that includes Deadpool. Were it not for Civil War I’d have this as the film of the year, and it may still hit that. (Yes Rogue One, you’re still in contention) It’s been hard for me to keep my neutral hat on, as the mere existence of the film has stirred an almighty amount of hatred, far in excess to anything I’ve seen, even Jar Jar Binks. (And if you still can’t stand him, read Ahmed Best’s Reddit AMA – he seems like a lovely guy who was genuinely excited to be in the movie) So yeah, I wanted this to be good and I freely admit that. If you’re going to remake a movie, then you should at least try to put a different spin on it, instead of a carbon copy (Psycho remake, I’m looking at you). And really, does the world need yet another movie with a mostly male cast? Besides, this film isn’t interfering with the originals in any way, so where’s the freakin’ problem?

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So, the movie itself. Is it perfect? No,  but neither were the originals and I had so much fun watching it I didn’t care.It made me want daughters to watch it with, a feeling I’ve not had since showing Niece, Age 7 The Princess Bride. (She loved it and spent the rest of the night yelling about how she wasn’t left handed) To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original films that any childhood nostalgia has faded (We first meet Venkman when he’s electrocuting someone while trying to get laid, something I’m pretty sure wouldn’t fly today), and I never caught the fandom bug as much as others. Yeah, they were a lot of fun, but they didn’t have the spark (Or lightsaber hum in my case) that made me truly obsess over them. Getting back to the point, it takes a little time to really get going, what with the introduction of our heroes and establishment of the threat (Who it could be taken to be a representation of the people attacking the movie). Yeah, not all the jokes worked for me (Even some of the bodily function ones, something I never thought I’d say), but there was a steady enough stream of them that I wasn’t left bored. We even got technobabble that the Doctor would be jealous of! (At one point we were so close to a ‘reverse the polarity’ I could almost taste it)

The main cast all share an equal amount of screen time and spotlight moments, the cameos and nods to the original are well done and don’t take too much away and Chris Hemsworth has some mighty comedy chops – I knew he was funny, but damn. Speaking of the cameos and nods, one feels too short and one a bit too long, but you’re never going to get a perfect ratio. Well, unless you’re The Force Awakens, or modern Doctor Who… I digress. And whatever you do, stay till the end of the credits. Heck, the credits alone are worth staying for- Marvel could learn a thing or two about from them about making the wait for the post credits scence less of a grind. Really, the only quibble I have with the film is I wasn’t a fan of the music over the credits and the new arrangment of the theme tune. If that’s all I’ve got to complaint about, then that’s pretty high praise.ghostbusters-movie-2016-proton-packsSo yeah, see it. It matches up to the originals, is an enormous barrel of laughs and both sets up sequels (Not too shamelessly) and slyly hints at a larger universe. I’m really looking forward to the next one.

Really, all that’s left to ask is has someone statted them up for the RPG yet?

Civil War: A Review

First off, the film continues the recent trend of me seeing movies and wanting to buy half the wardrobe. Specifically, one of Cap’s jackets and a coat that T’Challa wears. (Not in that fabric, but style.) Clearly that’s a market that needs to be tapped – instead of ushers we need tailors standing outside cinemas asking patrons what clothing they wanted and their measurements. (For the record I’d also love Star Lord’s coat/jacket thing, all of Han Solo’s jackets and the red coat that Thor wears during the party scene in Ultron.) Now that we’re done with the hard hitting insightful criticism you were expecting, let’s look at the film itself!

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In short: woah. Hell of a film. Probably the best they’ve done so far – overall I still prefer Iron Man and Avengers, but the idea of a romantic comedy starring the Vision we came up with on the ride home may top that. Tell me you don’t want to see the Vision take a cooking course!

Marvel managed to build on plot threads from Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron (Which I still feel should have been called Fortnight of Ultron), give all of the major characters enough spotlight time (Including the newbies, who were done wonderfully) and drop enough hints at future plot and Easter Eggs that I didn’t want the film to end. It also left plenty of future threads dangling (Though not quite as many unanswered questions as The Force Awakens left me with) – there was no ‘everything wrapped up neatly’ end and I really liked that. There’s the political and spy intrigue of Soldier, enough quipping to fill 3 more Iron Man films and enough kaboom to maybe keep Zack Snyder happy, but more than that, it’s fun. It’s the major advantage Marvel films have over DC (BvS:DoJ I’m looking at you…) and I continue to love it.

It’s not a strict adaption of the Civil War plot, but that’s a good thing – I’m not sure the MCU’s Tony Stark would clone Thor, for which we should be grateful, though the aftermath of that mess would be fun to watch. There’s no easy answers to the conlfict between characters either – both side’s make their case and both can be seen to be in the right, which is what I’d hoped for. Just having them fight for no good reason is dull, but people convinced of the rightness of their cause, that’s something else. Stark has his paranoia and guilt while Cap is well, Cap.

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While I’m of the opinion that this version of the MCU should wrap up after Infinity War Pt 2, and switch to smaller scale stuff for a while before a reboot – progects like the Thunderbolts, the Runaways or just more Netflix series etc, if the films keep being this good, I don’t want them to stop. (A Punisher spin-off got announced today, which I can’t say I’m thrilled by. Yeah, they did the character really well, but I’d vastly prefer The Further Adventures of Foggy and Stick.) Mind you, their response to accusations of whitewashing in Doctor Strange didn’t do so well, but that’s a rock and a hard place situation. Either you’re accused of perpetuating the ‘You’re Asian so must know Kung-Fu’ cliché or of casting white people as Asian characters. Still, claiming the Ancient One is Celtic was a pretty terrible move, though not as terrible as Zack Snyder’s glee at murdering Jimmy Olsen.

So, bring on Doctor Strange and hurry the hell up with Black Panther.

PS: And yes, I’m still miffed at Ultron not using the ‘Ultron, we would have words with thee’ exchange.

PPS: Also, there’s 2 post film scenes – at the start and end of the credits. Worth staying for.