Talking Movies [A-Day]: Avengers: Age of Ultron


Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.


Talking Movies

Released: 1 May 2015
Director: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $365 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Paul Bettany

The Plot:
After finally defeating the last remnants of Hydra, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor Odinson (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) face an even greater threat when Stark and Banner’s prototype for an artificial intelligence, Ultron (Spader), becomes self-aware and concocts a diabolical scheme to unleash an extinction-level event upon the world.

The Background:
After the unprecedented success of Avengers Assemble/The Avengers (Whedon, 2012), the MCU was well and truly on its way to becoming an unstoppable multimedia juggernaut. Following the conclusion of that film, the MCU firmly entered its second phase and director Joss Whedon stated early on that his intention for an Avengers sequel was to tell a more personal and intimate story rather than necessarily being bigger and better. Taking inspiration more from the likes of Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) than the Marvel Comics story of the same name, the script initially included the first appearance of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and many were surprised to see Whedon focus on Ultron after teasing Thanos (Damion Poitier) the end of the first film. The script also saw the introduction of Wanda (Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Johnson), who both Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox were allowed to include in separate film franchises thanks to a legal loophole. Tensions were frayed between Whedon and Marvel’s executives, however, as they disagreed with some of his scenes and choices, which eventually led to Whedon parting ways with the studio. Although Avengers: Age of Ultron made about $100,000 less than its predecessor, it still grossed $1,404 billion at the box office. Critical reception wasn’t quite as universally positive as with the first film, however; while the effects and action were praised, many were disappointed with how overstuffed and mundane the film was.

The Review:
Much has changed in the MCU since the conclusion of Avengers Assemble; not only has the entire world seen that extraterrestrial threats lie beyond our planet, but all manner of strange and powerful cosmic artefacts and concepts are now loosed upon the Earth. One positive that came out of the whole debacle, though, was the formation of the Avengers themselves and, since the last film and the fall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), the team have dedicated themselves to tracking down Loki Laufeyson’s (Tom Hiddleston) sceptre and erasing the last remnants of the clandestine organisation Hydra, which has secretly been manipulating events behind the scenes ever since World War Two.

Inspired my Loki’s sceptre, Stark convinces Banner to help him create Ultron.

The retrieval of the sceptre is a cause for much celebration within the team as it marks the end of a lengthy campaign against Hydra, but it leads into not only all of the film’s subsequent problems but also opens the MCU up to an ever greater threat lurking deep amongst the stars. Within the sceptre, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (who had bonded over their keen love for science in the first film) discover a powerful gem, just one of the many Infinity Stones, that holds the key to completing Stark’s plans for a global defence program known as “Ultron” that he is desperate to deploy to protect the world form extraterrestrial threats. Shaken by his experiences in the last film, where he saw just how outgunned and outmatched the Earth was compared to the vastness of the galaxy, Stark is keen to build a metaphorical suit of armour around the world and encourages Banner to assist him in completing Ultron despite the doctor’s reservations. Banner, still a timid and cautious fellow, argues the moral and potentially dangerous consequences of giving birth to an artificial intelligence without the approval of the entire team and without proper testing, but is persuaded to co-operate by the force of Stark’s conviction.

Banner and Romanoff struggle with their pasts, natures, and feelings for each other.

Although in a far more comfortable position within the team and with himself, Banner is still subject to the whim of his green-skinned alter ego. Thanks to his ability to summon the Hulk at will, Banner is a valuable asset to the Avengers out in the field and, in an unexpected turn of events, the Hulk is easily subdued and calmed down by the influence of Romanoff. When in his more stable and timid human form, Banner has a close relationship with Romanoff that sees him clearly besotted by her but missing or ignoring her obvious flirtatious advances. He explains this as him being aware that Romanoff flirts with everyone, and the obvious interpretation is that he is afraid to act on his feelings because of his monstrous passenger, but he later reveals that he is holding himself back because he cannot offer her anything resembling a “normal” life. After the accident that first triggered his transformation, Banner has been rendered sterile and potentially dangerous by the sheer amount of Gamma radiation coursing through his veins, to say nothing of the fact that he can’t allow himself to get too excited for fear of triggering a transformation, burdening the doctor with a tragic loneliness no matter how close he is to his team mates. While it may seem strange that Romanoff is suddenly so infatuated with Banner, he represents a sense of kindness and stability that is often missing from her chaotic and deceptive life; even when Banner is explaining himself to her, she opens up to him and reveals some of the horrendous experiences she suffered in the “Red Room” while being trained as an efficient and ruthless spy. Since this also involved a full hysterectomy, she also sees herself as inadequate and monstrous since she’s not only done countless despicable things in the past but is so pained by her inability to be a “real” woman that she feels she can’t be anything more than the famed Black Widow.

While Thor’s side quest derails things somewhat, it’s great to see Barton’s personality fleshed out.

For Thor, recovering the sceptre spells the end to his brother’s impact upon his beloved adopted world; since the last film, Thor has built quite the rapport with his team mates and their extended families and revels with them as he would conquering Asgardian comrades. Thor is enraged, however, when he sees Loki’s magic perverted into Ultron and very nearly comes to blows with Stark over his reckless actions in meddling with cosmic powers beyond his comprehension. Thor’s concerns over the gem are only exacerbated after his encounter with Wanda, which causes him to suspect a greater threat and seek out his friend, Doctor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), to accompany him on a short side quest to learn more about the mysterious gems that keep popping up in his life. After spending the majority of the first film under Loki’s control, Barton gets far more screen time and relevance in the sequel than I think many people expected; rather than focusing on his relationship with Romanoff, the film initially suggests that he may be a double-agent or keeping his own secrets from the team, but dramatically reveals that he has a wife and kids that he has kept quiet from everyone except for Romanoff. Protected and hidden from official records by former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Barton’s family provides refuge for the wounded and exhausted team after their encounter with the twins and goes a long way to fleshing out Barton’s character beyond just being “the guy with the arrows”.

Tensions rise between Steve and Stark as both characters have very different methods and ideologies.

Finally, there’s Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. Still very much the field leader and default commander of the superhero team, Steve has committed himself to tracking down and eradicating Hydra’s influence as part of the guilt he feels over not finishing the job back in World War Two. Steve’s old-fashioned sensibilities are a source of much amusing banter within the team, but his pure heart, dedication, and moral integrity mean that he’s devoted to saving and protected all lives above anything else. Indeed, he’s so pure-hearted that he’s even able to ever so slightly budge Mjölnir during a friendly competition, is the only one of the team not driven into a paranoid frenzy by Wanda’s cruel visions, and, of course, takes the moral high ground when he sees the consequences of Stark’s arrogance first stumble to life. Burned by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014), Cap is understandably annoyed that Stark would go behind their backs and unleash a potentially world-ending threat upon the world, but is also fair and just enough to try and convince the twins of Ultron’s threat and accept them into the team despite the destruction their actions have caused.

Ultron twists Stark’s vision for peace and personality quirks into a megalomaniacal plot for extinction.

As for Ultron…Like a lot of people, I was surprised to see the second Avengers film make a sudden left turn towards Marvel’s famous cyborg maniac, but curious to see how the character would be brought to life. Since Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) would not make his debut until the following year, the film alters Ultron’s origins and has it be a creation of Stark and Banner (though mainly Stark); personally, I feel like another redraft of the script could have restored Pym as Ultron’s creator and introduced the character earlier, perhaps with Pym also taking the place of Doctor Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) and helping to further set up his antagonism towards Stark and the Avengers in Ant-Man (Reed, 2015). Regardless, I can understand the change, and Ultron’s depiction as this conceited, self-righteous, boastful villain makes for one of the MCU’s most loquacious and enigmatic antagonists if nothing else. Positioned as a dark reflection and extreme perversion of Stark’s desire to protect the world, Ultron learns of humanity’s tendency towards war and self-destruction by first absorbing Stark’s resident A.I., Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Paul Bettany) and then trawling the internet. It concludes, as many sentient A.I.’s do, that humanity can only be truly united and learn to survive and prove their worth after suffering from near extinction and sets in motion a dual plot to spread his influence through multiple, disposable copies of itself while forced Cho to construct a near-invulnerable synthetic body and to turn the ravaged nation of Sokovia into a gigantic meteor to drop onto the planet and bring humanity to the brink of desperation…and greatness.

The twins cause havoc with the Avengers before reluctantly joining forces with them to oppose Ultron.

Ultron is assisted by the twins Wanda and Pietro, who were subjected to bizarre and horrendous experiments by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), a Hydra commander who unfortunately gets very little screen time before being killed offscreen but who leaves a lasting impact in his influence on the twins. While the brash and snarky Pietro exhibits superhuman speed, Wanda wields a dangerous and unpredictable red energy that allows her to fire off psionic bolts and manipulate the minds of others. It’s thanks to her influence that Stark sees a vision of the Avengers left decimated and the Earth vulnerable to alien invasion (which compels him to create Ultron in the first place), that Romanoff is forced to relive her traumatic experiences in the Red Room, that Thor learns of the cosmic disaster threatened by the Infinity Stones, and that the Hulk goes on a mindless rampage through Johannesburg. Wanda and Pietro have their own vendetta against Stark that causes them to willingly assist Ultron; Stark’s weapons caused the deaths of their parents and left them trapped, fearing their own death, for two days when they were children. However, when Wanda learns that Ultron’s plan extends beyond killing Stark and destroying the Avengers and into worldwide genocide, the twins turn against the maniacal machine and reluctantly join forces with the Avengers for the action-packed finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s true that Avengers: Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to; not only was Avengers Assemble a massive, massive box office event, but it changed the course of the MCU and both comic book films and cinema forever. Add to that the decision to title the film after one of the biggest and most complex crossovers in then-recent Marvel Comics and the film definitely had a bit of an uphill battle; I get that titling films “Age of…” was a common practice in Hollywood for a while, and the desire to capitalise on Brian Michael Bendis’ story arc, but I would have picked Ultron Unleashed instead, which would have both paid homage to the comics while also slightly lowering audience’s expectations somewhat. Still, the banter and wit on offer is just as entertaining and compelling as in the first film; the team give Steve a hard time for calling out Stark’s bad language, Thor’s mission report on the Hulk’s actions against Strucker’s forces is amusing (as is his banter with Stark regarding their girlfriends), and it’s nice just see the team relaxing and socialising outside of battle.

While the action is big and exciting, the film primarily sows the seeds of dissension between the Avengers.

I think the film gets a bit of a bad reputation because it opts for a more subdued and interpersonal story rather than necessarily being bigger and better; the film starts basically where the first film left off, with the Avengers operating as a co-ordinated and efficient team, sharing banter and doing their parts individually and collectively in the assault on Strucker’s fortress. It took basically the entirety of Avengers Assemble to get these big egos and characters to work through their issues and set aside their personal grievances for the greater good, so to see them in action as a fortified unit is incredibly gratifying as a comic book fan. When Ultron first reveals itself to the team, they instinctively leap into action and the question isn’t whether they can fight together, but whether they can co-exist and stay on the same page regarding the greater threats. While Stark’s actions in trying to pre-empt their defences against these dangers were irresponsible, his motivations are entirely understandable and he was right: the Earth did need to prepare itself for a greater threat, but arguably they would have been in a better position to do that if Stark had consulted with his team mates first. As angry as Thor is with Stark for meddling in cosmic powers, Steve is equally disappointed in his friend’s recklessness and the first hints of friction between the two are sowed in this film; while Steve fully believes that the team is best served working together, win or lose, Stark would rather prepare for the best-case scenario and have contingencies in place, no matter how morally questionable they are.

When Wanda screws with the Hulk, Stark is forced to bust out the awesome Hulkbuster mech!

This is further evidenced in the dramatic and exciting depiction of “Veronica”, a massive mech-suit designed by Stark and Banner specifically to combat the Hulk. A contingency neither wish to see put into action, Stark is forced to call upon this “Hulkbuster” armour when Wanda screws with Banner’s mind and sends the Hulk on a mindless rampage. Although we don’t get to see Banner’s nightmarish vision, we can assume that it must be either incredibly devastating, traumatic, or tragic based on what Stark, Cap, Thor, and Romanoff are forced to relive, and it’s most likely something that ties into the fear Banner and the Hulk have of each other. Either way, the rest is an absolutely massive and incredible impressive brawl between the Hulk and the Hulkbuster; easily Stark’s biggest and most powerful armour yet, the Hulkbuster quickly repairs and rearms itself when damaged by the Hulk and is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the Green Goliath, however it’s still heavily implied that the suit was designed to quickly overpower and subdue the Hulk, something easier said than done considering the Hulk’s ever-growing rage. Indeed, it’s only after a prolonged beatdown and having a building dropped on his head that Wanda’s influence is finally shaken for the Hulk, who’s left visibly distraught at the damage and destruction he has wrought.

Although the Hulk doesn’t get to talk, the film is full of fun cameos to set up the new Avengers team.

Sadly, despite the Hulk clearly uttering words in Avengers Assemble, the Green Goliath returns to being a largely mute creature who communicates only in growls, grunts, and facial expressions; indeed, he kind of fades into the background by the finale before jetting off to places unknown in order to keep Romanoff safe from his violent nature. While I was quite happy with the amount of Hulk action on offer in the film, it is disappointing that he wasn’t depicted as talking here as I was expecting him to be fleshed out more in that regard. Age of Ultron does, however, have time for a few fun cameos from Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who officially join the Avengers by the end of the film, and provides a slightly bigger role for former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who largely replaces Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and even Fury as the Avengers’ go-to liaison, and all of these characters (except, obviously, for Coulson) play a part in the final battle against Ultron. Another criticism of the film was the shoe-horning in of unnecessary world-building, specifically Thor’s “vision quest” that seems to serve little purpose other than reminding audiences of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) looming threat. Personally, I never had much of a problem with this as it made Thor pivotal to the creation of the Vision (Bettany); furthermore, much of the film is devoted towards further exploring Stark’s guilt and desperation regarding his friendship with the team and his desire to protect the world, all of which paid off beautifully as the MCU progressed.

Hawkeye forms a bond with Wanda and seems destined to die but it’s Pietro who takes one for the team.

Thanks to being revealed to be a loving and devoted father and husband, Hawkeye slips naturally into the role of a mentor to the twins and the heart of the team; he initially has an antagonistic rivalry with the condescending Pietro but is the only one of the team to anticipate and counteract Wanda’s mind control. When the twins join the team, he helps to integrate them into the Avengers’ code and nowhere is this more evident in the pragmatic and honest pep talk he gives to Wanda, who is overwhelmed by the chaos and insanity of the battle against Ultron’s drones. This perfectly encapsulates not just Barton’s moral centre but also the entire point of the Avengers as a team and a concept: no matter how crazy things get or how unwinnable the odds seem, they shake it off and keep fighting until the very end, regardless of the outcome. Cap reinforces this philosophy when he tells the team: “If you get hurt, hurt ‘em back. If you get killed, walk it off”, and these words have a significant impact not only in encouraging Wanda not to hold herself back in the battle against Ultron but also in Pietro’s decision to be selfless for the first time in his life. Seeing Barton using himself as a human shield to try and protect an innocent child, Pietro rushes in and saves them both at the cost of his own life, a random and absolutely unexpected (and potentially unnecessary) sacrifice that continues to be a little confusing. It appears Whedon decided to kill off Pietro because it would have been too obvious to off Barton, a character who had been set up throughout the entire film as basically doomed and living on borrowed time, but keeping him alive ended up paying off on a longer story arc for the character within the MCU.

Ultron aims to transfer itself into the perfect body, but its Vision grows to oppose and destroy it.

Ultron begins life as a confused and disembodied artificial intelligence; as it quickly absorbs information, its curiosity turns to contempt and it soon perverts Stark’s desire for “peace in our time” to the extreme. It regards Stark’s other creations as mere puppets and is quickly able to learn everything about the team, and the world, and evade true destruction by escaping through the internet and transferring its consciousness halfway across the world into a slew of disposable bodies. As a fully CGI character, Ultron is certainly impressive; the only real complain I have is that I don’t think it needed to have lips. Thankfully, Spader provides an enigmatic and surprisingly layered performance; Ultron fully believes that its actions are just and truly cares for the twins, and is unsettling in its unpredictability as it can be charismatic and almost kind-hearted one minute and then a complete psychopath the next. To help position itself as an unstoppable overlord in its new world, Ultron has Cho create a perfect synthetic body; however, the Avengers are able to intercept this form and, despite concerns about Stark’s recklessness, infuse it with J.A.R.V.I.S.’s consciousness, Thor’s lightning, and the mysterious Mind Stone that was contained within Loki’s sceptre, thus giving birth to a new artificial lifeform dubbed the Vision. Understandably cautious and wary of this new individual, the Avengers’ fears of the Vision’s intentions are immediately set aside when he proves his mettle by being capable of wielding Mjölnir; while I can understand the argument that the Vision’s introduction is a bit rushed and his powers somewhat ill-defined, having him grab Mjölnir like it’s nothing was a great shorthand to tell us everything we needed to know about the character at that point, and he plays a pivotal role in paralleling Ultron’s destructive megalomania with a more pragmatic and reasonable logic.

The Avengers stop Ultron and avert worldwide disaster, unaware of an even greater threat on the horizon.

Having used Stark’s technology, Cho’s research, the power of the Mind Stone, and the near-limitless potential of Wakanda’s Vibranium, Ultron succeeds in lifting Sokovia high up into Earth’s atmosphere. Its inexhaustible army of drones may be simply disposable minions for the Avengers to tear apart, much like the Chitauri, but the stakes are far bigger this time around as the Avengers are forced to hold off Ultron and its copies while also trying to slow or safely stop its make-shift meteor, all while trying to evacuate the entire city onto Fury’s repurposed Helicarrier. They’re successful largely thanks to Wanda who, devastated by her brother’s death, decimates Ultron’s drones and crushes its primary body, ripping its heart out for good measure before the Hulk sends it flying off the floating city. Thanks to Stark and Thor, the landmass is overloaded and blasted to smithereens before it can pose a threat, and Ultron’s final form is seemingly eradicated forever following a philosophical debate with its “son”, the Vision. In the aftermath, Thor returns to Asgard to investigate the Infinity Stones and Stark officially leaves the team to follow through with the promise he made to Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) and Cap and Romanoff move to a new Avengers facility far outside of the city where they prepare to train a new team of Avengers. However, while all seems well between the team, the Mad Titan, Thanos, arms himself with a glistening gauntlet and prepares to take care of matters personally.

The Summary:
I remember being somewhat underwhelmed by Avengers: Age of Ultron when I first saw it at the cinema; it wasn’t that it was bad, or necessarily worse than Avengers Assemble, but it didn’t really seem to be much better than its predecessor. Avengers Assemble was such a big event because it was the first time these characters were coming together onscreen and I had waited so long so see comic book characters in a shared universe rather than being restricted to isolated worlds, so it always gets extra credit for me due to that and the power of nostalgia. Being just as good as one of the MCU’s best films is nothing to be ashamed of, however, but I think I, like many audiences, was just expecting something a little more substantial from the team’s next big outing. Still, it’s definitely gotten better over time and remains an action-packed spectacle that ties into Phase Two’s themes of challenging the status quo of the MCU and lays the first hints of dissension within the Avengers. Seeing the Avengers in full force never gets old; as much as I enjoy the direction the MCU took, part of me would have liked to see one more film of them as a cohesive unit with the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind them, possibly battling the Masters of Evil, simply because I enjoy the banter and teamwork of the Avengers so much and it’s always a spectacular moment whenever that rousing theme kicks in and the team appears onscreen.

While a bit bloated, Age of Ultron is a stronger entry in the MCU than you might remember.

While it’s not a perfect film by any means, Age of Ultron introduces a lot of new elements to the MCU and makes an impact with its entertaining action scenes; it’s still amazing seeing Iron Man don the Hulkbuster armour, Pietro’s superspeed and Wanda’s freaky magic add some unique pizazz to the film’s events and finale, but the film really makes its mark with the introduction of the Vision and Spader’s performance as Ultron. A complex and psychotic villain who is all the worst parts of Stark dialled up to eleven, Ultron is both menacing and amusing thanks to its overabundance of personality and snark, and is perfectly juxtaposed by the more life-affirming and analytical Vision. Overall, I feel it’s an under-rated entry in the MCU that is more than deserving of a little more respect and credibility; sure, it’s a little overstuffed and introduces a lot of new elements but, as Ultron states, “with the benefit of hindsight” I think there’s a lot on offer in Avengers: Age of Ultron and that it works wonders for encapsulating the spirit and integrity of the team, perfectly setting them up for their eventual disassembling and climatic reassembling against their greatest every threat, so I’d say it’s a more than worthy follow-up despite some flaws here and there.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Avengers: Age of Ultron? How do you feel it holds up against the first film, and the other Phase Two movies? Were you disappointed with the depiction of the Hulk, Banner’s romance sub-plot with Romanoff, and Pietro’s sudden and dramatic death? What did you think to the new characters introduced to the team in this film, specifically Wanda and the Vision? Where does Ultron rank amongst the Avengers’ villains for you and what did you think to the alterations made to his origin, and Spader’s performance? Would you have liked to see one more Avengers movie before the team splintered and, if so, which characters would you have liked to see added to the team? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to sign up and share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below, or drop me a line on my social media.

Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man (PlayStation 2)


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 16 April 2002
Developer: Treyarch
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PC, and Xbox

The Background:
There was a time when it seemed like every single cinema release had to be accompanied by a videogame adaptation; big-budget movies, especially, were often released alongside a hastily created videogame tie-in that often failed to properly capture the spirit of the film they were based on. As the flagship character of Marvel Comics, Spider-Man has a long and varied history with videogame adaptations across a variety of platforms so it was perhaps no surprise that Sam Raimi’s 2002 live-action $825 million blockbuster would be accompanied by a videogame tie-in. To be fair, Spider-Man benefitted from that fact that it was developed by Treyarch, who had previously had success with the character; indeed, much of Spider-Man’s combat and level progression was based on Treyarch’s previous Spider-Man game. This was reflected in the game’s reception as Spider-Man became the fifteen highest-selling videogame of 2002 and enjoyed high scores across all platforms. While some reviews criticised the game’s claustrophobic indoor sections and short length, it was generally regarded as the best Spider-Man videogame at the time of release. I remember buying the game for the GameCube after seeing the movie, having been won over by the game’s trailer and the film itself, but being underwhelmed by it after playing it to completion so I’m curious to see how it holds up today after the success of Spider-Man’s subsequent videogames.

The Plot:
After being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid, high school senior Peter Parker finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider, and, when his beloved Uncle Ben is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter. After failing to capture and study this “Spider-Man”, who overcomes a variety of costumed menaces and robots, Doctor Norman Osborn transforms himself into the web-slinger’s most dangerous threat yet: the maniacal Green Goblin!

Gameplay:
Spider-Man is a third-person action game with a primary focus on beat-‘em-up action but which also includes a fair amount of web-slinging and a little bit of awkward stealth and extremely simplistic puzzle solving. As you might expect, players assume command of Peter Parker; the game begins right after Uncle Ben has been shot and at the very beginning of his crimefighting career as Spider-Man, and players are given a number of standard options when it comes to combat: X lets you jump and you can press it again in mid-air for a double jump, while Square throws a punch and Circle unleashes a kick. You can mix and match these button inputs to execute quick combo attacks (which you can review from the pause menu), and pressing either button near certain objects will allow you to pick up and throw them at your enemies. Of course, it’s not all about beating up random thugs across the city; at any time, you can press R2 and Spider-Man will start slinging webs (yes, they just attach to nothing, get over it) and won’t stop until you press X or slam into a wall. You can hold down R2 to speed up your web-slinging, though this does limit your turning ability, and you can press R1 to quickly zip upwards or straight ahead on a web zip-line; you can also press L1 to lock onto enemies, which is super useful when you’re swinging around and asked to attack enemies in mid-air.

Spidey can use his webs to attack his enemies but, unlike in the film, is limited by web fluid.

Spider-Man will automatically save himself with his webs if you fall while traversing the city rooftops and will automatically climb walls when close to them, though you can press the left analogue stick to enter a crawling state and the camera does tend to get very jerky and annoying when you’re clambering around on walls and ceilings as your perspective can get turned around pretty easily. If you’ve played the fantastic Spider-Man (Neversoft, 2000), you’ll be immediately familiar not only with Spider-Man’s combat and web-slinging but also with his web-based attacks. Pressing Triangle sees Spidey shoot out a quick web, but holding it allows him to web enemies up; if you press up, down, left, or right on the left analogue stick (or directional pad, if that’s your preference), Spider-Man will send out a high-impact ball of webbing, yank his foe towards him, wrap his hands in webbing to increase his punching power, or create a web dome to shield himself and send enemies flying with a press of X. You can also switch to different control styles that see you utilise the other face buttons for these commands, but you’ll find that these web attacks consume your web fluid (represented as a blue bar under your life meter), which is very strange considering Spidey had organic webbing in the film. Spider-Man can also dodge incoming attacks by using the left stick in conjunction with X to hop out of danger, though I found this to be awkward at best and unreliable at worst, and you can even press in the right analogue stick to look around and set your target for a zip-line.

Web-slinging sections see you using the compass to chase villains, rescue civilians, and disarm bombs.

All of these controls and gameplay mechanics can be reviewed in an optional tutorial mode, where the legendary Bruce Campbell snarkily talks you through all of Spider-Man’s abilities, and you’ll find question mark hints occasionally dotted around levels to help you out as and when. Like the 2000 game, Spider-Man is basically divided into two distinct gameplay styles: one sees you out in the city, swinging about the place, and the other sees you confined inside buildings. When out in the city, you’ll need to make use of a compass to navigate towards your next objective or keep track of your current target; you need to use this in conjunction with a Height Meter that shows your position compared to that of your objective, which can be a very clunky system as it’s not always clear where you need to go. Basically, just follow the compass direction until it flashes white, and then try to orientate yourself up or down to get to where you need to go, but invariably your compass will be absent when inside buildings. When web-slinging around the city, you’ll be tasked with hunting down thugs and putting a beating on them until you find information on where you need to go, racing after a target as they fly away from you, hunting down bombs or taking out robotic drones (often against a tight time limit), rescuing civilians from harm, and using your webs to secure water towers, bridges, and other objects to stop them from hurting civilians. When trying to keep track of a specific target, you really need to make use of the lock-on feature or else it’s very easy to lose sight of them and thus fail the mission; I also found that spamming Triangle was the fastest way to actually attack enemies in mid-air, but of course this will drain your web fluid. Luckily, the pick-ups that refill your health and web fluid will respawn so you can swing back over and grab them if you need to, but this will cost you time and probably see you fail your objective. Checkpoints in Spider-Man are few and far between; you can only save your progress after completing a level and, if you die or fail your mission, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of the level, which can lead to you repeating frustrating sections again and again.

Spidey must crawl and fight around claustrophobic interiors using a clunky stealth mechanic.

When confined to the interior of buildings, the game introduces a clunky stealth element; when Spider-Man is in certain shadows, the face on his heads-up display will turn dark blue and he’ll be hidden from enemies. This is essential to safely sneaking past cameras and enemies in many levels; though you won’t fail the mission if you’re spotted, an alarm will be raised and mechanical Super Soldiers will relentlessly chase after you, forcing you to quickly zip away and find a shadowy area to wait out the alarm. One of the most common tasks when in these claustrophobic areas will be heading through or acquiring keys to unlock doors; these doors can be difficult to identify as the areas are so bland and boring, and the enemies holding the key tend to be a little tougher than the usual mooks. Other times, you’ll need to use X to activate consoles, sometimes in a certain order, acquire codes from active PCs, web-zip past steam vents or through laser trip wires, and zipping up into vents to awkwardly crawl around and progress further. These levels also have much more focus on grounded beat-‘em-up combat, but the game quickly emphasises that discretion is the better part of valour and you’ll be tasked with deactivating security walls and laser traps in order to progress a little safer. The game comes with a number of different difficulty modes that obviously make enemies tougher and increase the game’s challenge; completing the game on higher difficulties also allows you to unlock additional content, which can be further unlocked by acquiring points for your combat, stealth, and level-completion strategies.

Graphics and Sound:
Obviously, Spider-Man is a videogame tie-in that came out on the PlayStation 2, so you can’t expect super high-quality in-game or cutscene graphics. However, Spider-Man is reasonably impressive and I can see why people would have considered it the best Spider-Man videogame at the time; New York City is rendered as a large map and even subject to rain and lightning storms and rendered in both day and night-time depending on the level you’re playing. However, it’s not a sprawling open world with numerous side quests or non-playable characters to interact with; although you can see traffic moving down below, you can’t go down to street level and the city is basically completely lifeless save for thugs, bosses, and a few civilians in need of rescue.

Environments can be quite bland and lifeless but some shine through weather and lighting effects.

The interiors are where the game really fails to impress, however; you’ll explore such dynamic and exciting areas as…a bland warehouse, the sewers and subway tunnels, and the high-tech Oscorp building. This latter is easily the most visually impressive and interesting of all of the game’s environments, inside or out; while it is a bit confusing as every area looks grey and bland, it’s given some variety with some blinking lights, laser traps, and different rooms containing consoles and power generators. Another interesting area is a bank, though you’re only really in here for one boss battle, and you’ll even be treated to a very mediocre interpretation of the balloon parade from the film, which includes a single inflatable panda bear and a sequence where you crash down through skylights while battling the Green Goblin, and of course conclude the game in a showdown on the Queensboro Bridge.

Cinematics are quite blurry and the awkward in-game cutscenes are quite laughable.

While the game’s thugs and enemies aren’t much to shout about, being largely generic and unimpressive, Spider-Man is rendered quite well despite every character model appearing as a stiff mannequin. Spidey does little hops and flips when climbing over ledges, assumes comic-accurate poses when left idle, and even busts out fancy animations when web-slinging that closely emulate the film. The game uses both pre-rendered and in-game graphics for its cutscenes, with the pre-rendered ones obviously being the more impressive of the two; the in-game models don’t even move their mouths and the voice acting is more miss rather than hit. Tobey Maguire, especially, sounds more wooden and awkward than ever, especially when trying to deliver quips as Spider-Man, and the game is sadly completely lacking Danny Elfman’s awesome and iconic score. The music that does play during levels is generally suitable enough, if a bit generic, but it does clumsily and noticeably loop, which just screams of low production values, and of course you’ll be faced with the long load times symptomatic of that era of videogaming.

Enemies and Bosses:
Spider-Man is faced with a number of nameless, faceless, disposable goons as he swings around the city and tries to use his powers responsibly; at first, he’s tasked with tracking down Uncle Ben’s killer, who here is interpreted as part of the Skulls gang, so you’ll be beating up unscrupulous street thugs in the early going. Some of these have pistols to defend themselves with, and they’ll also put up a block to defend themselves against your attacks. These thugs get a reskin as guards working for Oscorp who must largely be avoided and webbed up to stop them from raising the alarm and bringing in the Super Soldier robots. Wile Osborn’s miniature Spider Slayers are annoying robotic enemies who zip around on claw-like lines and try to roast you alive, these Super Soldiers are a massive pain in the ass. They relentlessly hunt you down, blasting at you with explosive bolts that are near-impossible to avoid, and the levels can be so restrictive that you’re better off just restarting the level rather than trying to desperately find shadows to hide from them.

After tracking down his uncle’s killer, Spidey must avoid the Shocker’s blasts in the city sewers.

Spider-Man’s first mission is to hunt down Uncle Ben’s killer; after beating up a bunch of his fellow gang members, Spidey finally tracks him down and faces off with him, only to be blasted full-force in the face over and over by the murderer’s shotgun! The killer sets a precedent for the game’s boss battles in that he, like all of the other bosses, is spry and tough enough to shrug off, dodge, and no-sell all of your web attacks except for the web-hands, so you’re best bet is to zip up to the ceiling and stay out of his sight, blasting at him with your impact webbing or dropping down to deliver a beatdown when he’s suitably confused. After a quick side quest where you swing around towards red balloons to take snapshots of Spidey for the Daily Bugle, you’ll need to rescue security guards being threatened by Herman Schultz/The Shocker. Once they’re safe, you’ll pursue him into the sewers and subway tunnels, where he’ll send blasts of concussive sound at you that you’ll need to dodge using your web-zip; this isn’t too much of a challenge to overcome and, afterwards, you’ll get to face him in combat. The Shocker launches projectiles of sound at you and can protect himself with a devastating whirlwind of damaging soundwaves, but was actually easier for me to pummel into submission than Uncle Ben’s killer.

After making short work of the Vulture, you must defend and then subdue the maniacal Scorpion.

Spider-Man’s next test comes when Adrian Toomes/The Vulture robs a bank; Spider-Man first chases after the Vulture by progressing vertically up a tower that catches fire and sees you slipping through holes and under stairs to zip your way upwards, then you need to chase after him as he flies away through the city and puts citizens at risk. Finally, the two face off in the skies around the Chrysler Building as rain and lighting fill the arena; Spidey must fire webbing at the Vulture while avoiding his charges and attacks in order to force him to land so he can put a beating on him, making him the easiest boss of the game by far. Afterwards, Spidey crosses paths with MacDonald “Mac” Gargan/The Scorpion, who just randomly appears out of nowhere; at first, you’ll need to protect him from Oscorp’s miniature spider-bots but then he turns against you and forces you to fight him. This is quite a tough fight even on Easy mode as the Scorpion leaps and scrambles all over the place, blasting at you with his tail, and grappling with you whenever you get close to him. It’s best to keep your distance and fire off impact webbing from afar, and then dodge his attacks so you can hit a few combos on him and put him down. Fittingly, the Green Goblin is the game’s most recurring villain and, though you won’t encounter him face-to-face until you’re halfway through the game, he more than makes up for it in his appearances; the first time you face him, you need to avoid his glider attacks and missiles and rescue Mary Jane Watson from the aforementioned panda balloon before battling him head-on.

As annoying as Oscorp’s mech is, the Green Goblins persistence and aggression is even worse!

Whilst on his glider, the Green Goblin is basically a tougher version of the Vulture as he flies around tossing pumpkin bombs and firing bullets and missiles at you, forcing you to fire off your webbing or striking at him when he comes close. Afterwards, you’ll have to chase after him and web up parts of the environment that he damages, before forcing him through a skylight for some ground combat. These fights are easily the toughest of the game as the Green Goblin bombards you with pumpkin bombs, blinds you with flashbangs, and can easily choke the life out of you and snatch you out of the air. Your best bet is to stick near the respawning health power-up, dodge his combos and hit some of your own, and blast him with impact webbing whenever you can. Afterwards, you’ll be forced to swing across the city against a time limit disarming his bombs, which is an annoying mission thanks to the janky compass and drones flying around the city, then destroy fifty of his Razor Bats before taking a detour through Oscorp and battling a giant mech. Before you can attack this directly, you’ll need to desperately swing around the enclosed arena destroying shield generators and being pummelled by missile turrets, constantly spawning drones, and avoiding the mech’s gigantic laser. Thankfully, there’s plenty of pick-ups in the area and the mech goes down pretty easily with a few web shots once the shield is lowered. Afterwards, you’ll have to chase after the Green Goblin as he flies off with Mary Jane and tosses explosive traps in your way, before finally facing off with him on the Queensboro Bridge. After getting Mary Jane to safety, you then need to repeat the same tactics as in the first couple of fights against him but now in the same battle; swing around firing webs at him to ground him and then dodge his melee attacks to land a few combos, but watch out for his big bomb blast attack. By this point, you should know how to dodge and go grab a pick-up when needed, and I know I found finishing the Green Goblin off actually easier than the first fist fight with him. After you end him, Mary Jane awkwardly gives Spider-Man a big ol’ snog on top of his mask while they stand over the lifeless body of Peter’s best friend.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike in pretty much every modern videogame, Spider-Man is not blessed with regenerating health; as a result, you’ll need to pick up red and red-and-blue Spider Icons to restore half or all of your health. Also, like in the 2000 game, Spider-Man can run out of web fluid so you’ll need to grab blue and blue-and-silver Spider Icons to refill this bar. As mentioned, I find this an odd inclusion as Spider-Man had unlimited organic webbing in the movie but I guess it makes sense to keep him from being too overpowered. Luckily, these restorative pick-ups respawn after a while so if you find yourself struggling against a particular boss, you can usually backtrack or swing back around to collect a pick-up and keep yourself from losing a life. If you search around your environments, you’ll also find gold Spider Icons that will unlock additional combos to add to your repertoire, but that’s about it in terms of power-ups; you don’t earn experience points and can’t upgrade any of Spider-Man’s abilities or pick up temporary power-ups, meaning you basically end the game exactly as you started it but with maybe a few additional combos.

Additional Features:
If you visit the game’s ‘Gallery’, you’ll be able to view movies and artwork for the game, and you’ll be able to revisit any level you’ve cleared from the main menu as you progress. As mentioned, you’ll receive points every time you clear a level; these are awarded for your combat variety, stealth, and the amount of damage you take. Once you hit a certain number of points, you’ll automatically unlock some additional content from daft stuff like big hands and feet and exaggerated ragdoll physics to skins for Spider-Man, such as his wrestler outfit and acclaimed artist Alex Ross’s rejected design for the movie suit. You can also unlock a Peter Parker skin and enter cheat codes to play as guys like the Shocker and other enemies, though they all play the same as Spider-Man and don’t change the story in any way.

There are a number of cheats and unlockables, including a fully playable Green Goblin!

However, if you beat the game on the “Hero” difficulty, you’ll unlock the ability to play as Harry Osborn under the guise of the Green Goblin! This eliminates the pre-rendered cutscenes and alters the plot somewhat as this story picks up after the conclusion of the game and sees Harry take up his father’s mantle to research his death, and gives you access to an entirely new set of abilities. The Green Goblin can’t web-sling or climb walls but, with a press of R2, you’ll hop onto his glider and can rocket around the place at will; you can fire bullets, missiles, and bombs while on the glider, but your weapons will overheat in time so you’ll need to wait for them to cool down. On the ground, the Green Goblin’s melee attacks are the same as Spider-Man’s but, in place of webs, you have access to pumpkin bombs and Razor Bats and can race around on rocket boots like a madman to send enemies flying! Honestly, this was an incredible addition to the game and is a great way to encourage a second playthrough that adds an extra layer of challenge to the game as the Green Goblin can’t hide in the shadows, but can jump on his glider to blast enemies with missiles even when inside the most claustrophobic environments!

The Summary:
I remember being so hyped for Spider-Man’s first big-screen adventure, and so won over by the trailer for the videogame that ran before the film, that I went out and bought this for the GameCube that same week (if not that same day). I also remember finishing it pretty quickly, and this second playthrough was no different; as is the case with almost every videogame tie-in to a movie, Spider-Man isn’t an especially long game; levels aren’t built to allow exploration and are incredibly linear, so all you’ll have to worry about is trying to cope with how bland and similar the areas can look in each level. There’s also not a huge amount really asked of you; maybe you need to activate a console here and there, or input a code to open a door, or rescue a civilian, but these instances are few and far between and the game soon falls back into a routine of either web-slinging or clunky stealth sections. “Clunky” is the best way to describe this game; Spider-Man controls like he thinks he should be using tank controls, the camera and mechanics make web-slinging and wall-crawling very cumbersome at times, and your combos and dodging abilities are severely limited, making everything quite basic and monotonous. This may explain the game’s short length, as it’s over before it can become truly mind-numbing, but some levels are more frustrating than others; the stealth system is poorly implemented and it’s disappointing to see Spider-Man restricted to claustrophobic interiors rather than free to swing around the city. Basically, the game is a reskin of the 2000 Spider-Man title but stripped back in terms of bonuses, unlockables, and variety; there’s some fun to be had here, mostly in how cheesy the dialogue and cutscenes are, but you’re not really missing much if you skip this one for one of the many other Spider-Man games available even on the PlayStation 2.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played the videogame tie-in to Spider-Man? Which console did you buy it for and were you impressed with it back in the day? What did you think to the web-slinging and combat mechanics? Which of the enemies added to the game was your favourite and would you have liked to see the likes of the Vulture and the Scorpion in Raimi’s films? What did you think to the game’s stealth gameplay and the unlockables on offer? Which Spider-Man videogame or movie adaptation is your favourite? Sign up to leave a reply below or drop a comment on my social media to share your thoughts on Spider-Man.

Talking Movies [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man


Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first b bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 3 May 2002
Director:
Sam Raimi
Distributor:
Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget:
$139 million
Stars:
Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson

The Plot:
Academically-gifted but socially inept high school senior Peter Parker (Maguire) suddenly finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider after being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid. After his beloved Uncle Ben (Robertson) is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter but soon finds himself tested when scientist and industrialist Doctor Norman Osborn (Dafoe) is driven to insanity after subjecting himself to a strength-enhancing formula and becoming the maniacal Green Goblin.

The Background:
After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee collaborated with artist Steve Ditko to create Spider-Man, whose debut issue became one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time and whose subsequent popularity has seen him become the flagship character of Marvel Comics. Although Spider-Man enjoyed some success in animated adaptations and even had a live-action series back in the seventies, the story of his big-screen debut is a long and complicated one fraught with legal issues. Development of a Spider-Man movie can be traced back to the early 1980s, when producer Roger Corman tried to get a film off the ground with Orion Pictures. After that fell through, Tobe Hooper came close to directing a more horror-themed take on the character before the Cannon Group began financing a new script and initially brought in Joseph Zito to direct. Cannon’s financial difficulties saw the project fall apart and producer Menahem Golan took the film rights with him to 20th Century Film Corporation, where he divided the distribution, home video, and theatrical rights up and hired James Cameron to write and direct a new Spider-Man adaptation. Cameron was the one who introduced the idea of Spider-Man having organic webbing, which was just about the only element retained from his script as the film rights became mired in lawsuits and Marvel’s legal troubles.

After decades of legal issues, lawsuits, and strife, Spider-Man finally made his big-screen debut.

Eventually, Marvel recovered and sold the Spider-Man film rights to Sony Pictures Entertainment for $7 million; the studio turned down David Fincher’s pitch in favour of Sam Raimi, who was a life-long fan of the character. Many young, fresh-faced stars were considered for or interested in the lead role before Raimi cast Tobey Magiure, who underwent a physical transformation for the role. Raimi, whose background was more in traditional and practical effects, was convinced by visual effects supervisor John Dykstra to bring Spider-Man’s superhuman feats to life using CGI but still used practical stunts wherever possible. Finally, after decades in aborted attempts and a hasty edit following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Spider-Man released to overwhelmingly positive reviews that praised the cast and visuals while also criticising the Green Goblin’s suit. The film’s worldwide gross of just under $830 million meant that it was a phenomenal box office success; Spider-Man was accompanied by action figures, comic book tie-ins, and a videogame adaptation and also kick-started one of the most successful and beloved comic book trilogies in all of cinema.

The Review:
The hype for Spider-Man was absolutely palpable back in the day; the film came out around about the same sort of time that my friends and I were old enough to travel to the next town over easily enough ad see films and the trailers and marketing were absolutely everywhere. I remember being so excited for the film just based on the brief snippets in the music video for the film’s excellent hit single, “Hero”, and I bought the videogame adaptation for the GameCube the same day that I saw the film based entirely on its trailer and how good the film was. I grew up reading Spider-Man comics from the seventies and eighties and watching the nineties cartoon, and up until this point the only live-action Spider-Man I’d been exposed to was the Nicholas Hammond version from the seventies which, while ambitious, was obviously limited by the budget and restrictions of the time. This was a big deal; a big-budget, special effects laden superhero film during the days when the industry wasn’t awash with blockbuster comic book releases and I remember being absolutely ready for it at the time.

Nerdy outcast Peter Parker finds his life changed forever by an errant spider bite.

Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, a nerdy high school senior who is unpopular with pretty much everyone in his school. A regular target of bully and brutish jock Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Joe Manganiello), Peter is subjected to cruel pranks and harassment on a daily basis despite being something of a scientific prodigy. Since his parents died when he was young, Peter has been raised by his doting, loving, and supportive Aunt May (Harris) and Uncle Ben, who provide for him as best they can on their shoe-string budget. He also enjoys the friendship of Harry Osborn (Franco), a spoiled rich kid who is struggling to succeed academically and to live up to the expectations and standards set by his influential father, Norman Osborn. Crucially, though, Peter pines for his neighbour, the gorgeous and popular Mary Jane Watson/M. J. (Dunst), one of the few people to actually show some kind of decency towards him despite hanging off Flash’s arm. Peter’s life changes forever during a routine science trip to a genetics laboratory; fascinated by the institute’s work in gene-splicing the various abilities of different spiders into a “super-spider”, Peter is concerned only with snapping a few photos for the school paper and awkwardly trying to find the courage to speak to M. J. Consequently, he doesn’t notice an errant super-spider biting him until it’s too late and, upon returning home, he crashes out and is subjected to vivid dreams as his body undergoes a startling physical transformation.

Peter initially uses his newfound powers for personal gain, with dire consequences.

When he awakens, Peter is better than ever: his eyesight has improved, his body is muscular and defined and his reflexes are so attuned that time seems to slow when he perceives danger. Most obviously, he can now eject sticky webbing from his wrists and adhere to surfaces just like a spider and Peter is overjoyed at the revelation that he has gained the proportionate arachnid’s abilities. So caught up in his newfound superhuman powers is Peter that he forgets all about his chores at home and easily bests Flash in a fight; concerned about Peter’s welfare, Uncle Ben tries to reach out to his young nephew, understanding that he is going through “changes” that will come to define his adult life, but Peter spitefully rejects Ben’s advice and heads off to try and earn some money at a wrestling event. Wishing to buy a car to impress Mary Jane, Peter crafts a bright, colourful outfit for himself and takes on Bonesaw McGraw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage) inside a steal cage, easily toppling the muscle-bound braggart. However, when the wrestling promoter (Larry Joshua) stiffs him on the pay cheque, Peter willingly allows a thief (Michael Papajohn) to escape with the promoter’s money. This decision comes back to haunt him, though, when he leaves the arena and finds his beloved uncle dying in the street from a gunshot wound. Driven to a mindless rage at seeing his father-figure die, Peter puts aside his apprehension and uses his webs to swing across the city in pursuit of the culprit, only to find it’s the same thief he let escape earlier!

Spider-Man makes an impact upon his debut, riling up Jameson and captivating Mary Jane.

Heartbroken at having indirectly caused his uncle’s death by not using his great powers responsibly, Peter crafts a new costume for himself and vows to honour his uncle’s memory by fighting crime as Spider-Man. Although he quickly gains a reputation as a mysterious masked saviour, Spider-Man’s presence and motives are questioned by the pugnacious J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), the editor of the Daily Bugle, who does everything in his power to tarnish Spider-Man’s name by branding him as a vigilante menace. This works in Peter’s favour, however, as he is able to sell Jameson exclusive and improbable pictures of Spider-Man in order to pay his way through college. However, his obsessive dedication to helping others as Spider-Man begins to put a strain on his personal life; Peter is fired from his job for being late and completely misses that Harry is now dating Mary Jane. On the plus side, this means Peter gets to interact with M. J. a bit more; since Harry is constantly trying to impress his father, he isn’t as attuned to her feelings and his solution to any problem is to spend money. As M. J. comes from an abusive home life, she wants more than frivolities; she needs to be seen as more than just a piece of eye candy for a change to have her voice and dreams heard. Although she is amazing by Spider-Man and fascinated by his mystery and abilities, Peter makes an equal impression by actually being there for her, listening to her, and offering advice, which soon comes to cause a bit of friction between him and Harry.

Osborn, obsessed with maintaining his funding, transforms himself into a supervillain.

Amidst all of this personal drama there’s Harry’s father, Norman. An affluent and well-respected scientist and businessman, Norman is absolutely dedicated to both his research and his company, to the point where he often neglects his son and appears to be somewhat ashamed of him for not aspiring to be more. Norman takes an immediate liking to Peter and the two bond over their shared love of science; Norman even offers Peter the respect he’s never shown to Harry when Peter graciously turns down a potential job offer and soon comes to be a surrogate father-figure in the troubled teen’s life. However, Norman is under an immense amount of pressure from his Board of Trustees; his experiments and research into producing a performance-enhancing drug and a weapons-capable glider have failed to impress and, desperate to ensure OsCorp continues to receive military funding, Norman test his drug on himself. The result is a violent and painful physical transformation that also causes his mind to snap, birthing the maniacal and uninhibited personality of the Green Goblin. Succumbing to his darker impulses, Norman avenges himself against the Board as the Green Goblin and comes into conflict with Spider-Man; unlike the petty thugs and criminals he’s fought before, Spider-Man finds the Green Goblin to be just as tough and durable as he but with the added benefit of all kinds of dangerous toys and weapons in his suit and glider. The Green Goblin admires the strength of Spider-Man’s heart and conviction and initially tries to tempt him into an alliance rather than causing death and destruction in needless conflict. Since this goes against his strict moral code, Spider-Man of course rejects this offer but their antagonism only escalates when Norman (who becomes increasingly unstable the more he gives in to the Goblin’s influence) pieces together that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same. Armed with this knowledge, the Green Goblin targets Peter’s nearest in dearest, putting Aunt May in the hospital and luring him to the Queensboro Bridge (and a final confrontation) by taking Mary Jane as a hostage.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right away, I need to take some time to talk about Danny Elfman’s score. Initially, I wasn’t that big a fan of it; in typical Elfman fashion, it’s very dark and moody, which didn’t seem to immediately fit for a Spider-Man theme but it quickly grew on me and has since become synonymous with the character. It’s a little scary, a little ominous, but then it builds to this rousing crescendo that perfectly encapsulates the freedom, power, and fortitude of Spider-Man. It builds a sense of mystery and intrigue over the opening title sequence and is peppered throughout the film at key emotional moments but really comes to the forefront for the iconic final swing of the film, which was what sold the composition as a legitimate Spider-Man theme for me even if I hear a little too much Batman (Burton, 1989) and Darkman (Raimi, 1990) in it at times. Before I get into some of the film’s standout moments, I want to take some time to address some negatives. First of all, Maguire’s Spider-Man isn’t too great with the quips. One of the best things about Spider-Man is that he’s constantly babbling witticisms, insults, and nonsense while web-slinging and beating up bad guys. Even when being assaulted by the Sinister Six, he still has a daft comment to make and it’s one of his most enduring characteristics. Here, Peter does quip when under the mask but Maguire’s deliver is very stilted and uncomfortable (“It’s you who’s out, Gobby! Out of your mind!” stands out as a particularly low point) and, as much as I enjoy Tobey’s performance, he seems a little bit lost at times. Though he’s a great Peter and perfectly captures that nerdy, seventies characterisation of the character, it definitely took him a while to grow into the Spider-Man role and I think he just needed a little bit more direction and tutoring on how to work under the mask.

A coming-of-age story about teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and at a crossroads in their lives.

Similarly, I’m not a massive fan of Kirsten Dunst; she’s not so bad here but there just doesn’t seem to be that much chemistry between her and Maguire. She’s pretty enough and conveys a lot of layers to M. J.’s personality but she definitely improved in the sequels, though I can’t help but notice that she’s a bit of a slut (like, she’s dating Harry but flirts with Peter and then snogs Spider-Man?) Finally, some of the special effects obviously haven’t aged too well but I don’t begrudge the film for that as it basically set the standard and laid the foundation for all Spider-Man films to follow. There are also a lot of interesting and relatable themes at work in Spider-Man; crucially, the film is obviously about power and responsibility. Peter was so powerless for much of his life that he easily gets carried away by his superhuman abilities; at first, when he hits Flash, this isn’t a conscious decision on his part but he chooses to spend his day exploring his newfound abilities and to selfishly use them to try and earn money and impress a girl. While many bemoaned the addition of organic webbing to Peter’s repertoire, I always thought it was an inspired change; it made (and still makes) total sense to me that Peter would inherit that ability from the spider bite and it’s not like we don’t get that he’s a science nerd so I always thought (and still do) that this alteration was for the better and should’ve become the status quo. Plus, it plays into another theme of the movie: puberty. Spider-Man is a coming-of-age story for all three of its young characters but especially for Peter; they’re each at a crossroads, on the cusp of becoming adults, and trying to find their place in the world outside of high school but only Peter has the added pressure of actually, explicitly, becoming something else. Considering all of the pressure and confusion raging within him, it’s no wonder that he blows up in front of his uncle or that he selflessly and completely devotes himself to saving lives as Spider-Man after his tragic death.

Willem Dafoe steals the show as the Green Goblin by effortlessly switching personas on the fly.

Conversely, there are a number of amazing performances in the film; Cliff Robertson is superb as the kindly and benevolent Uncle Ben, conveying a stern, but fair, fatherly warmth and it’s utterly heart-breaking to see Peter go off at him in an adolescent rage and to then have to watch him die. Rosemary Harris is similarly loveable as Aunt May; far from the fragile, ignorant, annoying burden she is in the comics, Aunt May is a supportive, wise, and loving while still being a concern for Peter since she’s the only family he has left. Additionally, James Franco more than makes up for Maguire’s stumbles; there’s not a huge amount for him to do in this film and yet he manages to convey all of these complex and conflicting emotions and facets of Harry’s character. Harry craves Norman’s attention and affection but feels inadequate against his father, and Peter; even “stealing” M. J. from him doesn’t bring him the satisfaction he desires since, by then, Norman’s sanity is fraying and his obsession has shifted towards Spider-Man. The absolute highlight of the film’s supporting characters is, of course, J. K. Simmons as Jameson; I remember having such a smile on my  face when I first saw him and, even now, he so perfectly embodies the loud, obnoxious, demanding editor. Though essentially a tyrant who uses his paper to spread his own agenda, even Jameson is shown to have a moral code when he lies to the Green Goblin to protect Peter in a surprisingly impactful moment. If Simmons was having fun in his small role then Dafoe appears to be having the time of his life! Easily the most charismatic and memorable part of the film, Dafoe expertly walks the fine line between over the top and dead serious, switching on a dime between his two personalities and absolutely chewing up the scenery every time he’s on screen. The Green Goblin is fearsome, vindictive, and deadly, incinerating the Board members (some of whom were his close friends) and endangering lives without a second’s hesitation all to satisfy himself and, later, to lure out Spider-Man.

While many dislike the Goblin’s suit, I found the costumes and visuals to be impressive and fitting.

Unlike Maguire, Dafoe also knows exactly how to use the Goblin’s restrictive suit to his strengths, altering his voice and exaggerating his movements at every opportunity, and the scene where he talks to himself in the mirror (and to his mask) are all the proof you need that Dafoe made for one of the best supervillains in the genre. I mentioned before that some of the special effects haven’t held up too well and, while that is true (Spider-Man can look a little plastic-y at times, for example), the majority of them hold up extremely well thanks, largely, to Raimi incorporating a lot of traditional, practical effects; the Goblin’s suit and glider, for example, are usually always practical, as is the Spider-Man suit. While I’m not a massive fan of the raised webbing and the mask is a little too stiff, the Spidey suit looks absolutely incredible and is a fantastic recreation of the comic book artwork. I was never really too bothered by the Green Goblin’s restrictive, military suit; he wasn’t really a villain I had encountered all that much so I didn’t really care that he’d been visually altered. Now…yeah, I can see why people would be disappointed (especially considering Raimi dabbled in more faithful designs) but I find the helmet and its permanent, vicious smile to be quite unsettling and there’s something very off-putting about barely being able to see a masked killer’s eyes through a gruesome visage. Plus, the fights between Spider-Man and Green Goblin more than make up for this and I enjoy how they escalate throughout the film from a mid-air scuffle to the Goblin threatening Aunt May and their climatic (and vicious) battle.

Peter is devastated to unmask his foe and find his mentor, whose death only adds to his guilt.

Having pieced together Spider-Man’s true identity, the Green Goblin terrorises Aunt May and kidnaps M. J. (since “everyone” knows that Peter has been in love with her since he was a kid) to goad Spider-Man into a confrontation. Earlier, the Green Goblin offered Spider-Man the choice to join him, something Peter adamantly refused; angered by the insult, the Green Goblin forces him to make another choice: between M. J.’s life and the lives of a trolley car full of little kids. Like any good superhero, Spider-Man finds a way to save both, though at great physical strain on his part. Thanks to a gaggle of prideful New Yorkers, he’s able to lower M. J. and the kids to safety but is violently dragged into a brutal fist fight with the Green Goblin. Assaulted by the Goblin’s superior technology, Spider-Man is bloodied, beaten, and battered, his reflexes and strength effectively neutered by the Goblin’s unrelenting assault. Spider-Man’s vicious counterattack is halted by the revelation that it’s Norman under the helmet; pleading with Peter to spare him, Norman tries to manipulate and prey upon Peter’s good heart in one last cruel effort to kill his foe. Of course, Spidey’s reflexes kick in and Norman ends up skewered on his own glider; with his last breath, he begs Peter to keep the truth from Harry, a decision that weighs even heavier upon Peter when Harry swears on his father’s grave to make Spider-Man pay for killing him. Additionally, the entire escapade has taught Peter that his powers and responsibilities as Spider-Man mean that those closest to him will always be at risk, so he selflessly chooses to walk away from Mary Jane after she suddenly professes her love for him in order to continue putting others first as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

The Summary:
There’s something very pure, innocent, and wholesome about Spider-Man; since superhero films didn’t dominate the box office at the time, it was incredibly refreshing to see big-budget, serious adaptations being made of beloved comic book characters. Alongside Blade (Norrington, 1998) and X-Men (Singer, 2000), Spider-Man laid the foundations of the unstoppable juggernaut that we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and changed the way audiences (and Hollywood) thought about superhero films. Fundamentally, though, Spider-Man works as a love letter to the classic sixties and seventies Spider-Man stories; like Superman (Donner, 1978), the film can be cheesy and a little campy at times but that’s all part of the charm and direction Raimi is clearly shooting for. It’s not some gritty reimagining or part of a wider, colourful world of superheroes; it’s a very focused, carefree and yet poignant action/adventure film that exists within its own bubble, one that’s very close to our world but also a little brighter and maybe a little more fanciful and exaggerated but in all the right ways and it totally works for this version of the character. Spider-Man set the standard for how superhero films were made going forward; every subsequent adaptation had an origin story, a bit of a romantic sub-plot, and a villain who was in some way connected to the hero and it took a while for the genre to shake off those trappings but, here, they’re all fresh, new, and entirely fitting thanks to its timeless themes of power, responsibility, and maturity. Furthermore, it set the standard for all future Spider-Man movies; without Spider-Man, we wouldn’t have Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland, and without Raimi filmmakers wouldn’t have the visual language for how to convey Spider-Man’s costume, powers, and moral integrity. The technology, performances, villains, and scope of the character has changed, improved, and been expanded upon over time, even in Raimi’s sequels, but it all started here with this entertaining and whimsical roll of the dice that hits far more than it misses and still holds up incredibly well to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Spider-Man? How excited were you for the film back in the day and where does it rank for you against the many other Spider-Man movies? What did you think to Raimi’s approach to the character? Were you a fan of Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter and the Spider-Suit, and were you excited to see him return to the role? What did you think to the Green Goblin’s suit and Willem Dafoe’s performance? Do you think the film still holds up or do you prefer other filmic interpretations of the character? Whatever your opinion on Spider-Man, sign up to leave a comment or drop me a line on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Back Issues [Spidey Month]: The Amazing Spider-Man #14


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Story Title: “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin”
Published: 9 April 1964 (cover-dated July 1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
In 1962, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee followed up on his success with the Fantastic Four with Spider-Man; his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles and Spider-Man’s popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comics. Easily one of Spider-Man’s most devious and iconic enemies is the Green Goblin; although a number of people have assumed this elf-like guise, the most famous face behind the mask is Norman Osborn, industrialist and father to Peter’s best friend. Stan Lee’s initial pitch was very different from what the Green Goblin turned out to be, and he continued to clash with artist Steve Ditko over the character’s true identity. Although his identity was initially a mystery, the Green Goblin would go on to be a central figure in many of Spider-Man’s most prominent storylines and a recurring figure in Spidey’s life both in and outside of comics.

The Review:
According to the issue’s first splash page, the Green Goblin came about after a concentrated effort by the Marvel writing staff to deliver “the greatest 12¢ worth [they] can” and wastes no time in introducing readers to “a really different villain” by opening with the shadowy wrongdoer hard at work in his high-tech basement laboratory. There, the mysterious Green Goblin puts the finishing touches to his “flying broomstick”, a rocket-powered flying device that completes his fearsome, colourful costume. With his look complete, the Green Goblin meets with the Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan, and Ox), a trio of the city’s most notorious gangsters, and coerces them into working for him to defeat Spider-Man (who previously got the Enforcers arrested some time prior to this story) by intimidating them with sparks shot from his fingers. Strangely, the Green Goblin’s plan involves offering struggling filmmaker B. J. Cosmos the chance of a lifetime: a sure-fire action movie with the Green Goblin and the real Spider-Man as the stars!

The mysterious Green Goblin offers Spider-Man the chance to make bank on a Hollywood movie.

We then catch up with Peter Parker, who’s in a far better position, socially at least, than usual; not only did he get a 100% score in his last exam, but his intelligence earns him the admiration of Liz Allen, who not only coos over him but actually stands up to Eugene “Flash” Thompson when the football star continues to mock Peter for his lack of physical acumen. Peter’s surprise at seeing Liz leap to his defence and joy at seeing Flash taken down a peg or two is cut short when he hears news of the Green Goblin flying around the skies of Manhattan, so he quickly dashes off to confront the garishly garbed goblin as Spider-Man. Rather than getting into a fist fight, however, the Green Goblin tells Spidey about the movie opportunity and, despite his better judgement, the web-head goes to check it out and finds that the filmmaker is willing to pay him $50,000 to star in a movie that pits him against the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. Despite the fact that the last time he cashed in on his spider powers, Peter learned a harsh lesson about using his abilities responsibly, Spider-Man actually agrees and signs a contract since the cash would allow him to provide for his beloved Aunt May. Although receptionist Betty Brant isn’t best pleased at her man socialising with Hollywood starlets, and Aunt May worries about him making a big trip out to California, Peter is not only given license to get out on his trip but even assigned to cover the movie shoot by editor J. Jonah Jameson, thus promising even more profit from the gig.

Spider-Man is easily duped by the Green Goblin and attacked by the Enforcers.

Upon arrival, Spider-Man is amazed at B. J.’s make-up effects and doesn’t suspect that anything’s amiss (so much for his much-lauded spider-sense…), but quickly learns that he’s blundered into a trap when the Enforcers attack him during a “rehearsal”. Spider-Man’s agility and spider-sense help him to largely avoid the trio’s attacks, but he’s several disorientated when the Green Goblin tosses stun grenades at him and deftly avoids his web shooters thanks to his…*sigh*….rocket-powered broomstick. This gives the Enforcers the opportunity they need to dog-pile him, pummelling him mercilessly and leading to a common sequence where Peter musters all of his spider strength to throw them off and then whips up a “man-made dust storm” to temporarily blind his foes. The story then jumps back over the New York to find Aunt May already writing a letter to her nephew, Liz again standing up for Peter to Flash, and Betty continuing to suspect that Peter’s cheating on her over in Hollywood; I guess the point of this is to show that the never-ending drama in Peter’s life continues to churn over even when he’s not around, but the leaps in logic these characters make never fails to astound!

Of course the Hulk randomly shows up! I mean, why not?!

Thankfully, the story quickly returns to Spider-Man’s plight; the web-slinger takes cover in a nearby cave to catch his breath and ends up being trapped inside by, and with, the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. One by one, Spider-Man picks off the Enforcers; he nabs Montana, webs up Fancy Dan, and knocks out Ox with a single punch to the jaw, but the Green Goblin is not so easily ensnared thanks to burning away Spidey’s web net with his broomstick. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, who else should randomly appear in the cave but Doctor Bruce Banner’s enraged alter ego, the Incredible Hulk! Naturally, the Hulk attacks Spider-Man on sight and goes on a rampage, much to the Green Goblin’s glee. When Spider-Man’s attempts to reason with the Green Goliath fall on deaf ears, he’s forced to rely on his agility to avoid the Hulk’s attacks, stunned to see the beast tear through his webbing, and succeeds only in almost breaking his hand when he wallops the Hulk in the face! Realising that he can’t reason with or out-fight the Hulk, Spider-Man puts his health (and life) at risk by tricking the Hulk into smashing the boulder and freeing them from their confinement.

Spider-Man must settle for having survived as he’s left out of pocket and clueless to the Goblin’s identity.

Now back out in the open and able to swing again, Spider-Man turns his attention back to the Green Goblin; however, he’s too weak to properly overpower the Goblin’s broomstick and ends up falling to the water below. When he spots the Hulk heading back into the cave, Spider-Man is duty-bound to rescue the Enforcers before the Green Goliath can find and hurt them, and flees the scene to confront B. J. over his business associates. B. J. is aghast that the army would arrest his stars, but quickly hits on the genius idea of trying to sign the Hulk to an exclusive contract as a replacement antagonist. When Spidey arrives to talk about his fee, the web-slinger is left out of pocket due to the film being cancelled and given just enough money to cover his trip back to New York. Rather than be concerned about the Hulk being free out in the desert or question his willingness to sell his abilities out for fame and fortune, Peter returns to the city and ponders where and when the mysterious Green Goblin will strike next. Speaking of Spidey’s fiendish new foe, the story ends with the Green Goblin returning to his lair and lamenting his failure to destroy the web-spinner and position himself as the new head of a worldwide criminal syndicate. Still, the experience (and the unexpected appearance of the Hulk) teaches the Green Goblin the valuable lesson that one can never think of everything, but he consoles himself in his anonymity and resolves to strike even harder in his next criminal escapade.

The Summary:
Um…okay, so…Marvel claim, right from the first page of the story, that the Green Goblin will be this big, impressive, unbelievable new foe for Spider-Man and the fiend’s big debut plot is to trick Spider-Man into signing on the a film so the Green Goblin and his unimpressive goons can try and beat him up. I mean, as far as villainous plots go, it’s hardly tossing your girlfriend off a bridge or murdering countless innocents! While the Green Goblin would eventually live up to his hype and become arguably Spider-Man’s most dangerous villain ever, you’d never know it from this first issue; and you can’t even say that Marvel didn’t know how to debut new Spidey foes at the time as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus made a much more impressive debut that same year some months prior and he came across as a far more formidable foe.

Considering how important he would become, the Green Goblin makes an inauspicious debut.

Just about the only thing that the Green Goblin has going for him is the question of his true identity; when he’s not wearing his mask, his face is constantly obscured or in shadow and I can imagine this was incredibly intriguing at the time as it was uncommon for us readers to not know who Spidey’s villains were behind their colourful costumes. Rather than flying his iconic glider, the Green Goblin straddles a ridiculous rocket-power broomstick and tosses stun grenades instead of his trademark pumpkin bombs; he doesn’t seem to exhibit any superhuman powers, and yet is able to intimidate the Enforcers just by causing some sparkles to fly from his fingers (an ability that doesn’t show up again this issue and appears to have no actual function). The Green Goblin barely even fights with Spider-Man; instead, he sets the Enforcers against him, and these three are incredibly underwhelming characters. Sure, Ox is a brute and Montana has his trusty lasso and I guess Fancy Dan is supposed to be quite agile, but they’re never really portrayed as an actual threat even when they have the numbers advantage.

The Hulk completely overshadows the Green Goblin and only adds to the mess of the issue’s plot.

Then there’s the nonsensical inclusion of the Hulk! Now, I get it; Marvel loved to cram in random cameos from their other characters into stories at the time, and it’s incredibly possible that there’s more context for his appearance in his own comic, but all he really does is completely overshadow the Green Goblin and the main plot. Not only that, but Peter acts really out of character here; he signs up for a movie deal without hesitation despite his vow to use his powers responsibly rather than for personal gain and is not only easily duped by the Green Goblin but is spider-sense is unreliable, at best, at warning him of the obvious dangers around him. The action is pretty good, to be fair, but then it always is in Spider-Man comics; ultimately, this is a good showcase for Spidey as you get to see him hold his own against the Hulk, but the entire selling point of the story was the conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and we get so little of that that the Goblin may as well have not been in the story at all. This is the very definition of style over substance; the Green Goblin is mysterious and colourful but hardly makes a great first impression and the story is full of filler, nonsense, and overshadowed by the Hulk. This could have been a cool opportunity to have this strange, maniacal imp-like villain torment Spider-Man and constantly give Spidey the slip but, instead, we get this weird plot about him duping him with a movie deal, and then Spidey just checks out of there rather than trying to chase after him, resulting in an inauspicious first appearance for someone who would become one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on the Green Goblin’s inauspicious debut? Were you a fan of the villain at the time or did he win you over in a different story (and, if so, which one?) What did you think to Peter’s willingness to sign up for a movie deal and shirk his responsibilities? Who is your favourite Spider-Man villain and why? What did you think to the Hulk showing up in this story? Whatever your thoughts on the Green Goblin, sign up to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Talking Movies: Thor: The Dark World

Released: 8 November 2018
Director: Alan Taylor
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget:
$150 to 170 million
Stars:
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins

The Plot:
After defeating his step-brother, Loki Laufeyson (Hiddleston) alongside his fellow Avengers, Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) has been busying fighting to maintain order across the Nine Realms. However, after his love interest, Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), becomes infected with the mysterious “Aether” and becomes a target of the malevolent Dark Elf, Malekith (Eccleston), Thor is forced to set aside his grievances and team up with his brother to confront this dangerous new threat.

The Background:
Even before the blockbuster release of Avengers Assemble/The Avengers (Whedon, 2012), Kevin Feige, head honcho of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), promised that Thor would have another adventure. The team-up’s unprecedented box office success meant the MCU entered is second phase with a huge amount of momentum and expectation, but the experience of directing Thor (Branagh, 2011) left director Kenneth Branagh drained and reluctant to return for the sequel. At one point, Patty Jenkins was attached to direct but left due to “creative differences”, a decision that angered star Natalie Portman. Once Alan Taylor secured the director’s chair, the filmmakers set about progressing Thor’s relationship with Loki and expanding upon the gritty, more grounded approach to the merger of science and magic seen in the first film. Although Thor: The Dark World surpassed its predecessor’s box office with its worldwide gross of almost $645 million, the film wasn’t as well received as others in the MCU; while the performances and fantastical elements were praised, many criticised the film’s pace and weaker elements.

The Review:
Like the first film, Thor: The Dark World opens with some narration and scene-setting from the wise and powerful Odin Allfather (Hopkins), who tells the story of the Dark Elves (an ancient, malevolent race from the time before there was light in the universe) and their leader, Malekith, who sought to return the Realms back to darkness using the destructive power of the Aether before he was stopped by Odin’s father, Bor (Tony Curran). Unable to destroy the Aether, Bor buried it deep in a far away Realm and Malekith disappeared for aeons to Svartalfheim at the darkest corner of the cosmos. Sadly, this time around the narration falls into the same trap that so many narrations do in that we end up hearing the story all over again when Jane arrives on Asgard; it would have been just as effective to show the opening scene without Odin’s narration and then have him fill the gaps in later, or flash back to the opening battle later in the film to combine them into one scene.

Still a mighty warrior, Thor has matured a lot, though is preoccupied with thoughts of Jane.

Thanks to Loki’s attack on New York City, the balance between the Nine Realms has been upset and Thor has been too busy setting things right alongside his allies to make good on his promise to return to Jane. Thor still retains much of his arrogance in battle (but then again, when he can explode a Kronan with one swing of Mjölnir, I feel a little pride is understandable) but he’s noticeably changed since learning humility in the first film; he’s far more respectful to Odin, who treats him as more of an equal for his good deeds, but the two disagree on Thor’s feelings for Jane. Odin believes that, since human lives are so fleeting, Thor would be better served turning his attentions towards his ally and comrade, Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but the Thunder God is driven to distraction by his yearning for Jane. This actually sows the seeds for an eventual character arc for Thor in the MCU; since the first film, Thor has been groomed for and expected to take the throne but, here, we see that his adoration for Jane and Earth means that he cannot focus on the remaining Realms in the way a true king of Asgard should. We’d see the culmination of this in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), of course, where he abdicates his royal responsibilities and finally embraces his true self but, here, he’s at a crossroads between doing what’s right for him and doing what’s right for the cosmos.

Thanks to being possessed by the Aether, Jane visits Asgard and we see more of the mighty Realm.

Despite her half-hearted attempts to move on from the hunky Thunder God, Jane remains equally distracted by thoughts of Thor; however, when Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) alerts her to odd readings nearby, she can’t help but investigate in hopes of seeing Thor return to Earth. Instead, they find odd gravitational and special anomalies at an abandoned industrial district in London that render some objects weightless and transport others to another dimension. Following the source of the signal, Jane is unwittingly sucked into the Aether’s hidden dimension and absorbs the protoplasmic Infinity Stone. Their paths finally cross again when Heimdall (Idris Elba) loses sight of her in this moment and Thor returns to check on her, finding her not only as feisty as ever but also incredibly dangerous thanks to the Aether’s influence. This results in one of the best things a sequel can do and that’s taking a character tied to one world in the first film (Jane) and bringing her to another (Asgard) in the sequel; just as Thor was a stranger in a world beneath him in Thor, so too is Jane a stranger in a world beyond her here. Odin is unimpressed, nay angered, that Thor would bring a mortal to all-mighty Asgard and Jane is both overwhelmed and captivated by the technology and culture of the Golden Realm.

Malekith might be a bit of a weak villain and a waste of Eccleston but damn, does he look bad-ass.

Malekith’s plot can only occur at a specific time when the Nine Realms are in perfect alignment known as the “Convergence”, which temporally sees brief portals to the Nine Realms open up and cause all kinds of disruption and conveniently comes around at the same time as the Aether is discovered. Having fled to the further reaches of the universe with what little remained of his army following his defeat, Malekith is also awoken when the Aether is disrupted by Jane and immediately restarts his campaign to claim its awesome power. Considering how strong and complex a villain Loki was in the first film, it is admittedly disappointing to see him followed by Malekith, a character whose motivations basically boil down to wanting to spread darkness and discord throughout the known universe simply because he wants to. Indeed, Malekith is so obsessed with his plot for power and destruction that he willingly sacrificed a great number of his own people during the great war with Bor. However, I don’t really know much about the character as he’s only popped up in a couple of the Thor comics I’ve read, so all I’m really looking for in a superhero villain is someone who looks cool, is vaguely threatening, and for the hero to butt heads with (anything else is just a bonus for me), so my main gripe with Malekith is that the filmmakers completely wasted an actor of Eccleston’s talents since the Dark Elf disappears for massive chunks of the film and is mainly just seen posturing and monologuing until the finale.

Loki steals the show in every scene he’s in and completely overshadows Malekith.

It doesn’t help that Loki returns to this film and not only overshadows Malekith at every turn thanks to Hiddleston’s effortless charisma but also steals every scene he’s in. Following his defeat in Avengers Assemble, Loki is brought before his father to explain his actions; Loki is unapologetic and even arrogantly justifies his actions as simply being his divine right to conquer and rule lesser beings such as humankind. Odin, however, is unimpressed, countering that it was Loki’s destiny to die and that only Odin’s mercy spared him from that fate so that he could grow to hate him. Indeed, Odin specifically states that it’s only because of the mercy of his wife, Frigga (Russo), that Loki has been condemned to an eternity in the dungeons of Asgard rather than execution for his heinous acts. Ever the petulant child, Loki remains an emotionally complex and damaged character; he is deeply resentful of his father and brother, and yet still has much love for his mother and truly believes that he was simply doing what was destined of him to do and that his actions pale in comparison to the blood Odin has spilt in his aeons of conquest.

Malekith’s army, led by the monstrous Kurse, storm Asgard and kill Frigga.

Although they lack the numbers they once had (largely because of Malekith nonsensically killing most of them), the Dark Elves are quite a formidable army; wielding energy weapons and grenade-like devices that cause miniature black holes that destroy everything in range, their numbers are further bolstered by Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a Dark Elf that Malekith transforms into Kurse, a monstrous being of pure rage and animalistic strength. Having infiltrated the prisoners being taken to Asgard, Kurse causes a jailbreak; though he amusingly decides against freeing Loki, the God of Mischief directs him in Odin’s direction and unintentionally causes his beloved mother’s death when Kurse delivers a fatal stab wound to Frigga after she chooses to protect Jane. Just as Frigga’s death sends Thor into a blind rage, scarring half of Malekith’s face in the process, so too is Loki distraught by her loss; united in their grief, Loki agrees to assist Thor in once more defying Odin’s decree to remain on Asgard and use a secret exit to track the Dark Elves to Svartalfheim. Seeing Thor, Jane, and their allies interacting with Loki is a source of great amusement since none of them like or trust him but are forced to rely on him, and Loki of course uses the situation to his advantage to fake his death as part of his ultimate scheme to seize Asgard’s throne.

While his Asgardians allies don’t factor too much, Thor’s human friends play a vital role in the finale.

In a surprising twist, the consequences for Loki’s brain tampering are seen in Doctor Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), who has been driven to near madness by what he saw and learned while under the spell of Loki and the Tesseract. Despite his unpredictable and wild demeanour, this proves to be valuable information in helping Thor and his allies oppose Malekith’s plot. Unfortunately, the Warriors Three – Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – are still largely used for little more than comic relief and to add recognisable Asgardian bodies to the fight scenes but Thor: The Dark World does manage to squeeze in a far larger role for Heimdall; he not only takes down a Dark Elf ship with nothing but knives(!) also suffers a crisis of conscience when his duties as Gatekeeper are rendered superfluous by Malekith’s looming threat. Similarly, Odin is greatly expanded upon; grief-stricken by his beloved’s death, he prepares to fortify Asgard’s defences and sacrifice as many Asgardian lives as it takes to ensure ultimate victory, once more pushing Thor into taking matters into her own hands.

The Nitty-Gritty:
In a nice change of pace, much of the Earth-bound side of the story is set in good old Blighty so we get to see London under threat from cataclysmic destruction rather than the United States, which is nice, and much more of the film takes place on Asgard. Jane’s arrival causes much consternation among the Asgardians, who believe her to be largely inconsequential and meaningless even though she possesses the Aether, with only Thor and Frigga treating her with any kind of respect and kindness. While awestruck by the beauty and magnificence of Asgard (she has, after all, effectively paid a visit to Heaven), Jane still manages to hold her nerve; she openly challenges Odin’s boorish attitude towards her and even slaps Loki right in the face for the destruction he caused in Avengers Assemble. As for Loki, he adds a great deal of comedy to the film through his witty criticisms of Thor’s plan, demeanour, and actions; he even assumes Steve Rogers/ Captain America’s (Chris Evans) form in an amusing scene and seems to live to mock and critique his brutish brother.

Thor: The Dark World wonderfully expands the cosmic scope of the MCU.

While Thor masterfully introduced the idea of the MCU’s vast cosmic universe, Thor: The Dark World expands upon it wonderfully; as mentioned, a great deal takes place on Asgard and just the film’s very existence was further proof that there are many competing legends, stories, and warmongering races out in the galaxy just waiting for their time to strike. Accordingly, the film is much bigger and action-packed in its scope; unlike the first film, Thor is at full power for the entire movie and we get to see him and his people in far more battles than before. The opening depiction of Asgard’s war with the Dark Elves effectively set up how desperate and obsessed Malekith is with obtaining the power to achieve his goals, the prison breakout was a great way to showcase Loki’s indifference (however true or false) to the fate of his adopted people, and Malekith’s merciless campaign against Asgard made sure that both Thor and Loki would have personal stakes in the battle against Malekith. Of course, it’s not all perfect: the destruction of the Bifröst Bridge was this big, emotional event in Thor but it’s since been rebuilt and the status quo has returned as a result, which kind of undermines the first film’s ending (though, to be fair, that already happened in Avengers Assemble so I’m really not sure why a line or something wasn’t added in to Thor to downplay this event or at least plant the seeds of hope for Thor).

Loki plays on his brother’s affections to weasel his way to a position of power once more.

Still, the costume design remains incredible; of all the MCU characters, Thor may very well be my favourite both in terms of his character and his visual representation. His always looks fantastic, as do all of the Asgardians, and I really like the threatening and somewhat alien design of the Dark Elves; Malekith may be a bit of a weak villain in terms of characterisation but he definitely cuts an intimidating figure. The film also beautifully and naturally continues the ongoing sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki; Loki’s deceptive nature is key to tricking Malekith into freeing Jane from the Aether and, while he initially appears to have double-crossed his brother and reverted to his vindictive ways, it turns out that Loki was simply playing a role to give Thor the opportunity to try and destroy the Aether. So committed to this role is Loki that he even shields, an actively saves, Jane from attack and ultimately dies in Thor’s arms in an emotionally weighty scene after suffering mortal wounds to destroy Kurse. Of course, this is later revealed to all be part of a grander deception by Loki as the film ends with the twist that he has somehow disposed of Odin and taken his form as king, a surprise that the third film would unfortunately simply explain away in anticlimactic fashion rather than capitalise on the potential of Loki ruling Asgard under the guise of his father.

Thanks to his allies, Thor is able to end Malekith’s dark ambitions and save the Earth once more.

Of course, there has to be a big, climatic battle between Thor and Malekith at the end of the film. Having absorbed the Aether, Malekith wields incredible cosmic power that more than makes him a match for Thor’s brute strength. Easily able to take Thor’s blows, and even his lightning, the battle between Thor and Malekith rages through the Nine Realms thanks to the Convergence, which makes for a striking visual as they topple and tumble between the Realms (and, amusingly, all over London) and Malekith teleports around, renders himself incorporeal, and attacks with tendrils of red energy. Unlike in the last film, where Thor took out the Destroyer in a triumphant return to full power and bested Loki in a dramatic battle between siblings, Thor actually has help this time around as Jane, Selvig, Darcy, and Darcy’s intern Ian Boothby (Jonathan Howard) construct and place the specialist scientific equipment needed to send Malekith packing back to Svartalfheim, where he is subsequently crushed by his own ship. It’s definitely a bigger and more bombastic finale than the first film, which was obviously much more focused on Thor proving his worth as a hero and a warrior, but Phase Two of the MCU was all about kicking things up a notch and Thor: The Dark World definitely does that while still addressing and hitting the same emotional beats and themes of the first film.

The Summary:
Honestly, to this day I still don’t understand why people don’t like Thor: The Dark World; it’s very similar to how I don’t get why people rag on Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) but I think some of the problem might be that the first films were so well done and Phase One of the MCU was such a massive surprise in terms of success and consistent quality that expectations were maybe a bit too high going into the sequels. Now, obviously Thor: The Dark World isn’t quite as good or memorable as the first film (primarily because of how weak Malekith is) but it’s a really good follow-up to the themes and characters set up in Thor and Thor’s character progression in Avengers Assemble. I like how the scope is so much bigger, how the society and inhabitants of Asgard are expanded upon, and how well it sets up the Infinity Stones and contributes towards the larger overall narrative of the MCU’s second phase. The film is far more action-packed while still being humorous and heartfelt, developing the complex relationship between Thor and Loki while also showing how much Thor has grown as a character since the first film. Maintaining the franchise’s incredible costume design, special effects, and visual style, there’s a lot to enjoy in Thor: The Dark World and I definitely feel like it’s worth another look with fresh eyes.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Thor: The Dark World? If not, what is it about the film that you dislike, specifically? What did you think to Malekith as a character and a villain? Did you enjoy Thor’s character progression and the expansion of his relationship with Odin and Loki? What did you think to setting more of the film off-world and in a location other than the United States for a change? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? Whatever you think about Thor: The Dark World, sign up and leave a comment below or drop a line on my social media.

Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (Xbox 360)


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 7 September 2010
Developer: Beenox
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
Eager to capitalise on his success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee conceived of Peter Parker/Spider-Man alongside Steve Ditko and the troubled teenage superhero first appeared in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. A near-instant hit, Spider-Man quickly made the leap to cartoons, films, action figures, and a number of videogames as well as seeing numerous other incarnations in the pages of Marvel Comics. In 2010, developers Beenox brought together four distinct versions of Spider-Man, each with their own aesthetic design and playstyle, for Activision’s next Spider-Man game. The developers sought to have the bosses of the game be just as distinct, as well as including some first-person sequences to break up the action and employing the talents of many notable Spider-Man voice actors to pay homage to the character’s long history. Although the game received mostly positive reviews, in addition to some downloadable content (DLC), it was eventually de-listed after Activision lost the Spider-Man license.

The Plot:
During a fight between Spider-Man and Quentin Beck/Mysterio, the mythical Tablet of Order and Chaos is shattered into fragments, causing chaos throughout the multiverse and falling into the hands of some of Spidey’s most notorious foes. To retrieve the pieces of the Tablet, Cassandra Webb/Madame Web unites four versions of Spider-Man from across the multiverse: the classic “Amazing” Spider-Man, the grim and stoic Spider-Man Noir, Miguel O’Hara of the futuristic 2099, and the black-suited teenaged “Ultimate” Spider-Man.

Gameplay:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a linear, mission-based third-person action title that has players battle a number of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes as four distinctively different versions of Spider-Man, each with their own unique appearance, levels, and personality. While some Spider-Men have slightly different abilities, combat styles, and gameplay, there are many fundamental gameplay mechanics which the four Spider-Men share: they all jump with A (and tapping A again in mid-air will perform a double jump), can land a fast strike with X and a strong attack with Y (and holding down either button performs a charge attack and an air launcher, respectively), and web or grab objects and enemies with B and you can mix and match these attack commands to string together a few basic combos. Naturally, you can web-sling by holding the Right Trigger; release the trigger and hold it again to perform successive web-slings or tap RT to perform a super handy web-zip to quickly dash to perches and platforms. Tapping the Right Bumper sees you fire off a quick web shot (which I found to be largely useless), you can press up on the directional pad to enable the spider-sense (which acts almost exactly like the “Detective Mode” from the Batman: Arkham videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) and allows you to see through walls and obstacles to highlight enemies and collectibles), and you can also hold the Left Trigger to enter an “Evasive Stance” that lets you dodge and roll away from enemy attacks.

While the Amazing Spider-Man takes the direct approach, his Noir counterpart sticks to the shadows.

Each Spider-Man has a few different options available to them that make their gameplay a little different; the Amazing variant is a pretty standard Spider-Man with no additional abilities whose gameplay consists of a mixture of combat, web-slinging, and wall-crawling with some very light puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. His Noir counterpart may not have any additional abilities but he plays considerably different from his mulitversal allies; for one thing, Spider-Man Noir’s world is rendered entirely in the moody black-and-white of the 1930s and, for another, he’s far more reliant on stealth. Again, like the Batman: Arkham games, Spider-Man Noir has to stick to the shadows and avoid spotlights and being spotted by gangsters, who will fill him full of lead if they spot him and briefly hunt him down unless you flee to the shadows. This means you have to stay up high, out of the way, and in the darkness, sneaking up on enemies or taking them down from a variety of positions with the B button. Spider-Man Noir does also get to engage enemies in direct combat but only in specifically designed sections; most of your time will be spent webbing up gangsters from the shadows, which is pretty fun but nowhere near as challenging or varied as in the Batman: Arkham games as Spider-Man Noir doesn’t have any gadgets or options to distract or toy with his prey.

Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 have special abilities that are unique to them.

Both Spider-Man 2099 and Ultimate Spider-Man make use of the Left Bumper; since he’s wearing the bestial black suit, Ultimate Spider-Man can build up a “Rage” meter by attacking enemies and, when it’s full, pressing LB sees him fly into a rage and attack enemies faster and with more powerful tendril attacks. In this regard, Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be more geared towards combat but, in practise, I found his gameplay mostly the same to his Amazing counterpart but with the added bonus of a useful attack buff. Spider-Man 2099 can utilise LB to activate his “Accelerated Vision”, which briefly slows down time and allows him to better dodge and react to incoming attacks and obstacles, and this meter will automatically refills over time. Spider-Man 2099 also has to endure a number of freefall sections that see you holding A to dive faster towards a target and use B to grab them and X to punch them all while avoiding debris and other obstacles.

Annoying first-person segments and rescue missions mix up the gameplay.

Other than that, the four Spider-Men share the remaining gameplay mechanics: this means you’ll be mashing B on certain walls and objects to rip them down or toss them at enemies and bosses, rescuing and protecting civilians and scientists by fending off enemies, swinging over to them, picking them up with B, and carrying them to a safety point; and taking part in some awkward first-person punching sequences. These appear during the majority of the game’s boss battles and see you using the two analogue sticks to punch or dodge, which is an interesting mechanic to add in but ultimately seems like something that could have been restricted to just the Amazing Spider-Man to help him stand out from the others. Other challenges include web-slinging away from danger (sometimes towards the camera, which can be very disorientating), web-zipping to enemies perched above, destroying certain objects, or activating or deactivating generators. Each level generally repeats these sections at least three times; if you have to rescue three civilians in the early part of a level, you can bet that you’ll be rescuing five a little later on, for example.

The game’s not especially difficult but can be long and tedious at times.

When not in combat or an action situation, each Spider-Man’s health will slowly regenerate, though you can also replenish it with Gold Spider Emblems scattered throughout each level. Occasionally, you’ll find water, acid, or electrified pits that will cause an instant respawn; other times, if you fall or fail a web-sling, you can recover with RT to save yourself. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has three difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, and Hard), though the game isn’t massively difficult on Normal. Hard mode obviously results in more durable and aggressive enemies, and mixes up their placement and how many hits will defeat a boss, but there are many checkpoints and respawn points sprinkled through the game’s levels, which can get quite long and tedious as you progress. Additionally, like many Spider-Man videogames, mechanics such as wall-crawling and web-slinging can get a bit janky in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions thanks to the controls bugging out when on walls and ceilings and the camera proving unreliable and jerky at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension’s levels are entirely linear; there’s no free roaming or overworld to be found here, which is fine as that can be a little daunting, and instead you’ll explore a variety of levels that can be both large and intimidating and narrow and claustrophobic. When in wider, more open areas, your options for exploration are largely limited by walls (both visible and invisible) and gameplay objectives that constantly push you forwards. Still, there are at least a wide variety of locations on offer; you’ll scale Osborn Tower in the city, a disused desert mine, a ruin-filled jungle, and a hydroelectric dam amongst others. Primarily, the game leans towards a vibrant, quasi-cel-shaded style, especially for the Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Men, though not to the extent where it looks like ugly 2D characters monstrously rendered in 3D as in other games.

The game is full of visual variety in its levels, graphics, and characters.

Where the game really shines, though, are in the Noir and 2099 levels; the Noir levels are rendered entirely in monochrome, with sporadic use of colour only appearing when using the spider-sense. The heavy shadows and stark contrast of white on black immediately makes these sections stand out not just from the rest of the game but also its closest competitors, the Batman: Arkham titles, and reminds more of MadWorld (PlatinumGames, 2009) and Frank Miller’s Sin City comics and films (ibid, 1991 to 2002; ibid and Rodriguez, 2005; 2014). Similarly, the 2099 levels are an explosion of futuristic neon and technology; indeed, I found the 2009 levels to be a bit of a sensory overload and a bit difficult to digest, making it tricky to know where I was supposed to go since every level was so bustling with lights, metal, and colours. Still, it’s a great way to make each Spider-Man’s locations even more visually distinct from each other, though there was maybe a missed opportunity to mix things up a bit later in the game to have, say, Spider-Man Noir in the 2099 world.

The graphics hold up really well but it’s the voice work that really makes the game shine.

While the game’s music isn’t much more than the standard superhero fare of rousing horns and tunes, the voice acting is absolutely top notch! Each Spider-Man is voiced by a notable and popular Spidey voice actor from his many cartoons, which saw not only Dan Gilvezan’s return to the character after a twenty-five year absence but also the return of Christopher Daniel Bares, who voiced the Spider-Man I grew up with in the nineties cartoon. Neil Patrick Harris is easily the best of the four, though; he always makes for a fun and fitting Spider-Man and his delivery really sells the character’s many quips and witticisms. Stan Lee narrates the start and end of each chapter and Nolan North even reprises his role as Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool, who steals the show in his oil rig-turned-reality show by constantly berating and taunting Ultimate Spider-Man and breaking the fourth wall at every opportunity. The in-game graphics are brilliant; levels and enemies are as visually distinct as the four Spider-Man and the game runs very fast and smooth (when the camera isn’t freaking out on you). The cutscenes are equally impressive, if a bit inconsistent as they’re comprised of the in-game graphics, higher quality cinematics, and partially animated sequences, but they tell the story well enough and are always fun to watch.

Enemies and Bosses:
There are a number of goons to pit your spider-powers against in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but, for the most part, once you’ve faced the first wave of enemies in the first level, you’ll encounter the same troupes again and again but in new skins. You’ll find regular enemies who come at you with their fists and melee weapons (baseball bats and swords and such), gun-toting enemies who either chip away at your health or blast you full of holes when playing as Spider-Man Noir, shield-carrying enemies who you must zip towards and hop over with A to attack from behind, and larger enemies who will put up a block that you need to break with your air launcher attack. Other enemies include smaller versions or duplicates of the level’s main foe that can generally be taken out in one or two hits but swarm all over you, larger enemies that toss out grenades or seeking rockets, and all manner of zombies and genetically-engineered monstrosities. One aspect I really enjoyed was that enemies can actually attack and harm each other, which is incredibly helpful when swarmed by foes, and you can also throw objects such as barrels and flaming debris at enemies to help whittle them (or, at least, their health) down.

The Amazing Spider-Man battles Kraven, the Sandman, and the Juggernaut for the Tablet pieces.

Each level is structured around locating, pursuing, and/or confronting one of Spider-Man’s villains and retrieving a piece of the Tablet from them; thus, each level concludes in a boss battle but you’ll actually battle each boss a number of times throughout each level. The first boss the Amazing Spider-Man comes up against is Sergei Kravinoff/Kraven the Hunter, who leads you on a merry jaunt through the jungle, shoots at you through his sniper rifle, and initially battles you inside of a caged arena. Here, you’ll need to dodge and evade his jumping strikes and counterattack in response, web-zip to the convenient columns to avoid the floor spikes, and finish him off with some first-person punching. In the second battle, he’s much stronger and faster thanks to the Tablet fragment but the strategy remains the same; take advantage of the spawning columns to avoid his attacks and strike as and when you can but don’t linger in one area for too long or he’ll knock your ass down. Later, you’ll have to pursue Flint Marko/The Sandman through an abandoned mine, using your web pull to drench his raging sand tornado and battle his gigantic form within the mine itself. Here, you must trick him into slamming his fists into water carts to muddy them up and make them vulnerable, then toss barrels at his face to defeat him. Afterwards, he draws you within his chaotic sandstorm and his personality begins to unravel; you must web-zip around the floating debris avoiding his giant fists and tossing water barrels at his face so you can deal some real damage and put him down once and for all. Finally, you’ll battle and purse Cain Marko/The Juggernaut in a construction site, through the city, and in the wreckage of Osborn Tower; initially, you simply have to avoid his charge attack to cause him to ram into specific towers and beat on him when he’s lodged in the ground, but his later empowered form sees him add a whole bunch of annoying ground pounds and smashes to his repertoire. Still, as long as you dodge away and stay away from his powerful grapple moves, it’s not too difficult to avoid his attacks and projectiles and put a big beating on him when prompted.  

Spider-Man Noir’s bosses can be a bit tricky, confusing, and mundane, respectively.

In the train yard, Spider-Man Noir follows Joseph Lorenzini/Hammerhead and it’s in the first fight against him that you might hit a considerable difficulty wall; Hammerhead uses a huge Gatling gun to keep you at bay whenever his lights (or the spotlights in the arena) spot even the slightest part of you. After taking cover behind walls, you must wait for Hammerhead to rotate away and run around behind him, staying wide and in the shadows, and press B when prompted to put a beating on him but the game doesn’t make this very clear and Hammerhead spots you way too easily. In the second fight, you have to avoid his machine gun fire and toss barrels at him to force him to blow up a piece of machinery with his rocket launcher, then zip up to the higher platform as he fires wildly into the fog to do big damage with a takedown, and then avoid his head-on charge to finish him off. Later, Spider-Man Noir pursues Adrian Toomes/The Vulture through the grimy streets and confronts him in a large warehouse; the Vulture is another annoying and confusing boss as he darts around slicing at you and tossing knives and you’re encouraged to use the spotlights to blind him and deal big damage but it’s unnecessarily random and difficult to get him into position to actually utilise this mechanic. When powered by the Tablet fragment, the Vulture’s claws and bite need to be avoided in first-person and then you go through the previous battle again but this time he also tosses Molotov cocktails at you (which you can cause him to drop to damage him instead). Finally, Spider-Man Noir tracks Norman Osborn/The Goblin to a warped fairground and has a number of first-person encounters with him before finally facing him inside the circus tent. The Goblin isn’t really all that, though; simply web towards him and jump over him to attack the glowing weak spot on his back, then zip up to higher ground when the lights go out to hit a takedown, before fending off his goons (or causing the Goblin to attack them himself) and avoiding the swipes from his column and pummel him when he’s stuck in the ground.

Ultimate Spider-Man’s bosses were probably the most fun and varied for me.

Ultimate Spider-Man’s first foe is Max Dillon/Electro, who he battles and pursues through a hydroelectric power plant to a huge dam; the first fight is quite annoying as Electro blasts at you with a huge laser and protects himself with an electrical field but the second bout is initially quite confusing as Electro teleports across generators and shields himself from your attacks. Soon, he drops to the floor and sends electrical blasts your way, but these leave him exhausted and vulnerable to your attacks. After fending off his electrical minions and draining his health, he’ll use the Tablet fragment to grow to gigantic properties and become invulnerable, similar to the Sandman fight. To defeat this giant Electro, you need to use your webbing on his hands to cause him to damage the dam behind him while avoiding his laser beams. When the fight switches to the other side of the dam, you’ll need to survive against the enemies he spawns and avoid his fists on an increasingly-small platform until prompted to web his head so the breached dam can finish him. While on the oil rig, Spider-Man is forced to take part in Deadpool’s warped reality show; this inevitably leads to a showdown between them that sees Deadpool teleporting around, slicing at you with his swords, and shooting at you all while his devoted fanboys rush in to join the fight. When he’s standing with a B prompt above his head, don’t web-zip over to him or else he’ll just teleport away; instead, rush over and approach from the ground to best him. After outrunning a tidal wave, you’ll battle him inside a caged arena, where he uses the Tablet to duplicate himself and rains explosive punching bags between rounds. However, simply evade these, and his attacks, and target each of his duplicates in turn and he’ll soon go down, but the final battle against Carnage is particularly striking since the creature has ransacked the Triskelion and corrupted its inhabitants into bloodthirsty monsters! In the first fight against Carnage, it leaps about the remains and wreckage of Quinjets and Helicarriers swiping and skewering you with spikes, but is perfectly susceptible to your attacks and can be dealt big damage by web-zipping it into the conveniently-placed furnaces nearby. In the second phase, Carnage encases itself in a bulbous, tentacled shield that some mechs will destroy with flamethrowers; this leads to a first-person sequence and Carnage blasting spikes, maniacally hopping around the place, and it draining your health to replenish its own if it gets hold of you!

Spider-Man 2099’s bosses tend to be very samey, tedious, and chaotic.

Spider-Man 2099 first butts heads with the Hobgoblin during a freefall sequence that sees you pummelling him and smashing him through obstacles. When you hit the ground, Hobgoblin hovers out of reach and tosses pumpkin bombs at you that you must grab with your webs and throw back at him to down him for a beating. After being empowered by the Tablet, the Hobgoblin conjures gargoyles to distract you and adds a bombardment of bombs to his arsenal, but the strategy remains the same; he’s just faster and more aggressive and you have to finish him off with a mid-air, first-person pummelling. O’Hara’s second boss is Kron Stone/The Scorpion, who leaves explosive, acidic eggs and spawns smaller versions of himself; the Scorpion initially charges at you and tries to smash you with his tail, but if you evade these attacks he’s left vulnerable to a beating and you can easily toss his eggs at him when he takes the high ground to spit acid at you and use B to beat him down. When powered by the Tablet, things are mostly the same but there’s also a large pit in middle of the room that Scorpion pounces at you in and fills with acid; however, throwing eggs at him will cause him to take a dip and be left wide open for a beating. Finally, O’Hara has to fight through Doctor Serena Patel/Doctor Octopus’ elaborate facility, avoiding her mechanical arms in freefall and trashing her gigantic Mecharms before confronting her at the heart of the complex. Here, you need to web pull three generators to lower her shield while avoiding her lasers, then jump over her energy shockwaves to do damage on her. When she powers up, she scuttles around fully shielded and firing lasers across the ground, but you can easily trick her into offing her own minions and defeat her by tossing their explosive cores at her.

All four Spider-Man take it in turns to whittle down and defeat Mysterio in the finale.

Once all of the bosses are beaten, the levels cleared, and the Tablets recovered, all four Spider-Man are thrown into a dimension of pure chaos as Mysterio uses the completed Tablet to become a gigantic, all-powerful God. First, you have to web-zip across floating, fragment platforms as Spider-Man Noir; there are no enemies to fight but you must make sure to avoid the light or else Mysterio will fire projectiles your way, and then simply press B when prompted to web pull his head into a rock. Ultimate Spider-Man then has to fend off a whole bunch of illusionary goons and then destroy the floating orbs after they’ve conjured an illusionary version of a boss, which hurts Mysterio, before quickly web-zipping across the wreckage when Mysterio destroys your platform and then hitting another web pull. Spider-Man 2099 has the easiest time in this fight as you simply have to freefall past Mysterio’s projectiles and magic obstacles to grab and pummel him, but the Amazing Spider-Man has to endure a gruelling gauntlet against a whole bunch of monsters while avoiding Mysterio’s projectiles. Once the enemies are cleared away, you can use the web pull to send a rock flying at Mysterio and must then web-zip to another, smaller platform and repeat the process until he’s downed for one last smash of his helmet to defeat his aspirations for good.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the various levels in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, you may be disappointed to find that there aren’t any power-ups to find beyond the odd health-restoring Gold Spider Emblem. However, every level contains a number of challenges that make up the “Web of Destiny”; while most of these are unavoidable and story-based, many others are optional an easily missed unless you check the Web in each level. You may have to complete certain sections under a time limit, defeat certain enemies in certain ways, or perform certain moves a number of times in order to clear the challenges but the reward is some extra “Spider Essence”.

Collecting Spider Essence allows you to upgrade your abilities and unlock new costumes.

As you clear defeat enemies and bosses, clear levels, and complete these challenges, you’ll be awarded with Spider Essence, which essentially acts as a combination of currency and experience points and can be spent upgrading your health and regenerative capabilities, and unlocking new costumes and attacks, all of which make the game even easier and more chaotic as you plough through enemies with a longer health bar and additional strikes. You can also acquire additional Spider Essence by finding Silver Spider Tokens and Hidden Spiders in every level, which also count towards completing the Web of Destiny, so it pays to give each area a quick scan with your spider-sense for any collectibles.

Additional Features:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has forty-two Achievements on offer, with the vast majority of them popping as you play through the story and take down the game’s villains. There are also Achievements for completing the Web of Destiny, unlocking all the upgrades, and finding every Spider Token and Hidden Spider, which adds some replayability to the game. Other Achievements pop when you defeat up to five-hundred enemies, complete the game on each difficulty (which are stackable), maintain Ultimate Spider-Man’s Rage mode for a full minute, and perform a combo of up to two-hundred hits but there aren’t too many fun or quirky ones that ask you to go off the beaten track. Otherwise, that’s about it; you receive either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal and unlock character models and concept art after clearing levels and there were some additional costumes for those who pre-ordered the game back in the day but there’s not really anything else to come back to besides any Achievements you missed. It might have been nice to include a boss rush or a survival mode, or as mentioned earlier mix and match the Spider-Man in a free play mode, but the Web of Destiny will keep you pretty busy for a few hours, I’m sure.

The Summary:
I’ve wanted to play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for years; sadly, I missed out on it when it first released, and the game has become very expensive and hard to come by since then. Thankfully, I was able to snap it up and finally get to grips with it and it was actually a pretty good way to spend a few hours. It’s not especially long or difficult, at least not on Normal mode, and can probably be finished in a day if you play non-stop from morning the late evening but there’s a fair amount to come back to once you’re done. Fittingly, the four Spider-Men are the main highlight of the game; each one looks, sounds, and plays a little differently from the other and it’s fun to go nuts with Ultimate Spider-Man’s rage and then stealthily stalk gangster as Spider-Man Noir. Splitting the game into individual levels helps to keep things interesting and fun, but levels do tend to drag on and enemy and boss variety doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Most of the bosses boil down to winning one of those annoying first-person sequences, pursuing them through the level, battling their first form (usually with hit-and-run tactics, using their own attacks against them, or taking advantage of them getting stuck) and then fighting their Tablet form, which is either a giant version of the boss or a faster, more powerful version. A janky camera and awkward wall-crawling and web-slinging can make the game frustrating but these are recurring concerns in Spider-Man videogames and, overall, I found the game to be pretty fun and entertaining for the voice acting and visual variety alone.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you played Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions? If so, what did you think to it? Which of the four Spider-Men was your favourite? What did you think to the way the game handled the four Spider-Men and the different playstyles? Which level and boss battle was your favourite (or most frustrating)? Are you a fan of Spider-Man teaming up with his multiversal incarnations?? Which Spider-Man videogame is your favourite? Whatever you think, sign up and leave a comment or let me know on my social media and check in next Friday for more from Spider-Man Month.

Talking Movies [Thor’s Day]: Thor


In August 1962, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby introduced readers of Marvel Comics (specifically Journey into Mystery) to Thor Odinson, God of Thunder and mightiest of the Asgardian deities. Through associations with Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers, and a number of cosmic, mythological adventures, Thor has gone on to become another of Marvel’s most successful and versatile characters, with appearances in cartoons, videogames, and a number of incredibly profitable live-action movies. Being as it’s the first Thursday (or “Thor’s Day”) of the month, what better way to celebrate the God of Thunder than to take a look back at his impressive MCU debut!


Released: 6 May 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Budget:
$150 million
Stars:
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, and Anthony Hopkins

The Plot:
The heir to the legendary throne of Asgard, Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) is a brash warrior who longs for glory and is almost unstoppable thanks to his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir. After inciting war between Asgard and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, he is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth by his father, Odin Allfather (Hopkins), and forced to learn humility to reclaim his lost powers.

The Background:
Thor may have been the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but a big-screen adaptation of the character was originally pitched by director Sam Raimi to 20th Century Fox back in the nineties; though the project lay dormant for nearly a decade, it gained momentum after the success of X-Men (Singer, 2000). After the character and movie rights changed hands numerous times, writer Mark Protosevich came onboard to draft a script that was part-superhero, part-Biblical allegory for the fledging Marvel Studios as part of producer Kevin Feige’s outrageous plan to introduce a number of Marvel’s greatest heroes in solo movies before uniting them against a common foe. After Matthew Vaugh dropped out of the project, Guillermo Del Toro briefly flirted with the concept before Marvel scored a massive coup by securing Kenneth Branagh as the film’s director. Relative-unknown Chris Hemsworth beat out his own brother and co-star Tom Hiddleston for the title role and Branagh landed a coup of his own by casting renowned actor Anthony Hopkins as Odin, who lent a credibility and gravitas to the production. As the first film in the MCU to introduce cosmic, magical elements, Thor was to be a bridge between science and magic and to help expand the scope of Marvel’s shared universe, while still laying the foundation for their first big team up. Thor released to widespread acclaim; the film made just under $450 million at the box office and catapulted Hemsworth and Hiddleston to superstardom in the process.

The Review:
After Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) proved to be such a phenomenal success, I was cautiously optimistic about the fledgling MCU; when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appeared in the film’s post-credits scene and hinted at other “[superheroes] flying around” and name-dropped the “Avenger Initiative”, the excitement for what was to come was palpable. And yet even I was curious as to how the films, which had been so heavily based in technological and science-fiction, would introduce more bizarre, cosmic events and characters such as Thor. When Mjölnir appeared in the post-credits scene of Iron Man 2 (ibid, 2010), the possibilities for Thor’s inclusion in this world suddenly seemed endless; was he known to the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.)? Had he appeared in Marvel’s shared world before? For me, Thor was the true test of whether the MCU would be an actual success because its one thing to present characters augmented by science but it’s quite another to have them rub shoulders with a literal Norse God!

Thor was our introduction to what would become a much larger and more dangerous universe.

Thor was also a first in the MCU for opening with a narration, fittingly enough by Odin himself, that briefly introduces the idea of the Nine Realms and Asgard’s place in the tapestry of the universe; thankfully, this information isn’t made completely redundant when it’s shared with other characters later in the story as Thor notably relates the true nature of the universe in a different way from his more grandiose father. A wise, enigmatic, and stern figure, Odin has high hopes for both of his children regarding their destiny as future kings of Asgard. It’s important to not that, while Asgard is certainly populated by beings we would consider to be superhuman, they are not strictly Gods in the MCU. Instead, they are others of their kind have been worshipped as Gods, had stories told about them as though they were Gods, but are just as mortal and fallible as we are for all their superior strength, technology, and durability. For me, this doesn’t diminish Thor’s appeal or that of the Asgardians; they’re still incredibly long-lived, with Thor himself being thousands of years old and yet still very much a child, and capable of wondrous acts, such as instantaneous travel across the Nine Realms thanks to the Bifröst and summoning thunder and lightning with their incredible weapons.

Be merciful, say “death,” For exile hath more terror in his look, Much more than death. Do not say “banishment.”

Asgard is a realm of great prosperity and peace; for centuries, Odin has led the Asgardians in defending the Nine Realms from chaos and incursions and the film begins with him ready to step down and pass those responsibilities onto Thor, his eldest son. Heralded as a hero, Thor is a battle-hungry warrior who has proved himself in conflict time and again to be brave and strong enough to lead his people into battle, but Odin cautions that a true king must also be wise, fair, and just. Nevertheless, he’s fully prepared to pass the crown to Thor when the ceremony is interrupted by Frost Giants from the desolate ice realm of Jotunheim who attempt to reclaim the mystical Casket of Ancient Winters from Odin’s treasure vault. Angered at the Frost Giants’ blatant disrespect and consumed by his pride, Thor disregards his father’s decree that he is to launch no counterattack and heads into Jotunheim alongside his allies to confront their king, Laufey (Colm Feore), an action that angers his father as it breaks the shaky, but long-standing, truce between the two realms. With Asgard now on the brink of an unnecessary all-out war, father and son rage at each other in a fantastically well-acted scene in which Odin’s heartbreak at Thor’s sheer blind arrogance is all too clear; enraged at Thor’s reckless actions, Odin strips Thor of his powers and armour and banishes him to “Midgard” (what we call Earth) without his hammer in a burst of fury.

Thor finds allies on Earth but is devastated when he finds he can’t lift his enchanted hammer.

Rendered a mortal, Thor is both angered and dismayed at what he sees as his father’s cruel and unjust punishment. Almost immediately, he (quite literally) bumps into a group of scientists in New Mexico: Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), Doctor Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), and spunky intern Darcy Lewis (Dennings). The three are conducting research in the area when Thor is deposited in their laps through what they perceive as a wormhole and become immediately captivated by him for his physicality, lineage, and knowledge of worlds beyond our own. Her curiosity piqued, Jane becomes enamoured by Thor; the mysteries of his being are as attractive to her as a scientist as his allure is to her as a woman and he is equally taken by her inquisitive nature and scientific tenacity. Thor’s arrival also attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., who dispatch Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to secure the area, resulting in Jane’s notes and equipment being seized. Eager to retrieve Mjölnir, atone for disrupting Jane’s work, and to prove to the group that he is the God of Thunder, Thor is aided in infiltrating the S.H.I.E.L.D. base but is left devastated when he finds his hammer has been enchanted so that only one who is “worthy” can lift it. Finally realising the folly of his impetuous ways, Thor becomes repentant and is heartbroken to learn from Loki (Hiddleston) that his father has died of a broken heart and that he can never return home, but finds solace in regaling Jane and his newfound friends with stories of Asgard and the Nine Realms.

Loki is a manipulative trickster who conspirers to seize the throne of Asgard for himself.

Of course, Thor has been deceived, as has all of Asgard, but the God of Mischief himself, Loki. Raised alongside Thor and having fought by his side in countless battles, Loki nonetheless finds himself constantly in his brother’s shadow; smaller and slighter than his muscle-bound brother, Loki’s strengths lie in illusions and manipulation rather than brute force and strength. With his silver tongue, he easily encourages Thor’s campaign into Jotunheim with but a few words all while conspiring with Laufey to murder Odin and take what will not be willingly given to him. Craving the throne of Asgard for himself, Loki showed the Frost Giants a way into Asgard that even the all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elbra) was blind to and, after learning his true heritage as Laufey’s son, he flies into a distraught rage at his adopted father that exacerbates his falling into the “Odinsleep”. Seizing his opportunity, Loki claims the throne and prepares to allow his true father to enact revenge on his fated enemy; after toying with his brother and leaving him distraught with his lies, Loki resolves to tie up loose ends with the Destroyer, a massive mechanical construct that he sends to Earth to kill Thor so that his rule can never be challenged. There’s a reason why Loki is one of the MCU’s most enduring characters, both as a villain and an anti-hero, and that’s largely due to Hiddleston’s masterful performance at capturing the God’s anguish and fury at being denied his rightful time in the sun; there’s a tragedy to Loki that motivates his actions and an intriguing dichotomy as he both loves and hates his brother and father, respects and is envious of them, and his every motivation is geared towards winning the affection and approval of both by any means necessary.

Thor’s allies provide him with the support necessary to be a great warrior and a better man.

Luckily for Thor, his Asgardian allies learn of this plot and arrive on Earth to aid him. The large and ravenous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), the grim and stoic Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral the swashbuckling romantic (Josh Dallas) – collectively known as the “Warriors Three” – and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the strong-willed warrior maiden, all willingly follow Thor into even the depths of Jotunheim and have fought many battles alongside him and Loki. At first, they are devastated to learn of Thor’s banishment but pledge their allegiance to their new king out of loyalty to the throne of Asgard. When they learn the truth of Loki’s deception, however, neither they nor Heimdall hesitate to provide Thor with back-up but, fundamentally, these characters are primarily there for comic relief, to flesh out Thor’s world and relationships, and to add a few more superhuman bodies to the battle against the Destroyer. Indeed, the film wisely places much of its focus and runtime on Thor’s burgeoning relationship with Jane and grounding him in the “real world” of the MCU in the process. Not only does this provide some amusing moments (Darcy tasing Thor, his attempt to escape the hospital, and Erik trying to match beers with him are notable highlights), but it also gives Thor the chance to learn that there’s more to life than glory and battle and he grows from a selfish, arrogant warrior into a selfless hero who puts others before himself and is willing to sacrifice his own life to save even those he has only just met.

The Nitty-Gritty:
At its core, Thor is a tale of fathers and sons; fittingly Shakespearean in its grandeur and scope, Thor weaves a story of betrayal and secrets as Odin’s attempts to maintain and foster peace between Asgard and Jotunheim ultimately lead to the destruction of his family. Though a benevolent figure, Odin is harsh and uncompromising; he doesn’t hesitate to subject Thor to a punishment worse than death as recompense for his foolhardy and rash actions. At the same time, though, it’s pretty clear that Odin does this fully expecting Thor to learn humility and to prove himself worthy of Mjölnir once more. Doing away with the dual persona of Doctor Donald Blake was a great move, I feel (and I enjoyed the quick shout-out to Thor’s traditional alter ego), as it really isn’t necessary to tell this story and it’s so much more impactful seeing the muscled, fittingly God-like Thor struggle to adapt to being a mortal.

Thor is forced to learn a lesson in humility to earn back his power and his hammer.

Of course, the downside to this is that Thor isn’t really Thor for the vast majority of Thor’s runtime; we get to see him in full regalia at the beginning of the film, where Asgard is rendered in stunning beauty, and for the climatic finale but, in the middle, he’s stripped down to the basics. However, this is obviously the entire point of the film and it works fantastically as a way to slowly introduce these cosmic and outlandish concepts to the otherwise grounded MCU. Dumped on Earth as a mortal, Thor’s history is related to us and the other human characters by Selvig so we can see how Asgardians were worshipped as Gods here on Earth, and Thor reveals to Jane that magic and science are one and the same in the realm of Asgard and directly relates outlandish concepts like Yggdrasil to Jane’s more scientific understanding of the universe. This grounded approach to the subject also results in two extremely emotional and impactful scenes: the first is Thor’s cry of utter anguish when he finds that he cannot lift Mjölnir and the second is his triumphant return to full power after giving his life. Thanks to us following Thor’s journey from braggart to humility, it’s not hard to share Thor’s adulation at having proved himself worth once more.

I absolutely love Thor‘s visual style and costume design.

One of the things I absolutely love about Thor is the costume design and aesthetic of the film; Asgard is a gorgeous golden city full of wondrous and grandiose architecture and technology and its inhabitants, particularly our main characters, look absolutely fantastic all decked out in their armour and attire. Even now, the sheer spectacle of seeing the likes of Thor, Odin, and Loki in glistening armour remains impressive and I absolutely love how weighty Mjölnir seems and how intricate all of the costumes are. Clearly inspired by Olivier Coipel’s 2007 redesign of the character, Thor looks both familiar and suitably updated for his big-screen debut and I love how the film showcases even ridiculous aspects of his powers, such as spinning Mjölnir around rapidly in order to fly. That’s not to discount Loki, Heimdall, and Odin, who all look stunning as well; garbed in regal armour, Odin appears both wise and glorious and Loki looks both regal and menacing fully garbed in his green and gold attire and sporting a fearsome horned helmet. Add to that the visual of the Destroyer wrecking its way through New Mexico, the dark and dreary ice wasteland of Jotunheim, and the imposing, demonic appearance of the Frost Giants and you have a film that, while not necessarily action-packed like other MCU movies, is visually breath-taking to behold.

Loki is defeated and presumed lost, just like Thor’s road back to Earth and Jane.

Thor also turns things on their head a bit by kind of casting S.H.I.E.L.D. as antagonists; concerned only with isolating Mjölnir and learning everything they can about the hammer’s arrival, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson appear much shadier and untrustworthy than in their previous appearances. However, this is obviously just a misunderstanding and, by the end of the film, Thor pledges to Coulson that he is a trusted ally and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is more than willing to return Jane’s work to her after getting to the bottom of the incident. Restored to full power, and now fully aware of his brother’s deception, Thor returns to Asgard to confront Loki, who has killed Laufey as part of his desperate attempt to win Odin’s approval. Although Loki is far from a physical match for his brother, he’s more than capable of holding his own thanks to his illusions and his prowess with daggers and a staff, and refuses to listen to Thor’s pleas to end his mad aspirations for power. Although bested by his inability to lift Mjölnir, Loki sets the Bifröst to remain open, thus threatening the very existence of Jotunheim and forcing Thor to make another sacrifice, this time of the heart as he willingly destroys the Rainbow Bridge and strands himself on Asgard (…for a short time) to end Loki’s theat. In the end, Thor tries to save his brother from falling into the chaotic abyss beyond Asgard but the mischief-maker ends up willingly falling into it after his pleas for Odin’s approval are rejected. With Loki presumed dead and the doorway to Earth closed, Thor reconciles with his father, having grown into a wiser man over the course of the film, and is moved to learn from Heimdall that Jane is tirelessly searching for signs of his return.

The Summary:
Honestly, Thor may very well be my favourite solo film of the MCU’s first phase; if this film were to be made now, I have no doubt that Marvel Studios wouldn’t have played the concept anywhere near as safe as they did here but it’s thanks to Thor easing the general audience into the fantastical, cosmic aspects of the MCU that we now just take for granted that we now have so many mystical and alien heroes and stories in this interconnected universe. A fantastic marriage of action, humour, and resonating themes of betrayal and humility, Thor is both grandiose and grounded in its scope; add to that some absolutely stunning visuals, costume design, and performances from Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Hopkins and you have a truly unique superhero film that set the standard for the genre to be so much more than just mindless action. The sheer gravitas that Kenneth Branagh brings to the narrative and these often ludicrous characters is astounding and his vision of the story as this Shakespearean epic was absolutely spot-on, resulting in one of the most beloved and memorable anti-villains in the MCU and the beginning of a far larger story arc for Thor (and his brother) within these films and it all began here, with a harsh lesson in humility for the battle-hungry Thunder God.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Thor? Where does it sit for you in MCU hierarchy, especially in Marvel’s first phase? What did you think to the performances by the actors and the Shakespearean slant on the narrative? Were you impressed with the film’s visuals and costume design? What did you think to Thor’s lesson in humility and his romance with Jane and what are your opinions on Loki as a villain? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Thor in the comments or on my social media so feel free to drop me a line and be sure to check back in next Thursday for my review of the sequel!

Back Issues [Spider-Man Day]: The Amazing Spider-Man #1


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Story Title: “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon!”
Published: 1 March 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
By 1962, Marvel Comics had achieved incredible success with the Fantastic Four and, eager to follow up on this, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee sought to create a teenaged superhero for his younger readers to identify with. Inspired by a fly climbing up his office wall, Lee created Spider-Man (with the emphasis on the hyphen) and turned to artist Steve Ditko to finalise the character’s costume and accessories. Spider-Man’s debut almost didn’t happen, however, as Marvel publisher Martin Goodman disliked the concept and relegated the story to the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. However, Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time; Spider-Man’s subsequent popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and The Amazing Spider-Man has been in publication ever since.

The Review:
The issue begins with what has, in my experience, become a tried and true staple of all Spider-Man comics and that is the recap of Spider-Man’s origin. Some time after the death of Uncle Ben and bringing his murderer to justice as Spider-Man, Peter Parker recounts to himself (and the reader) the story of how he was bitten by a radioactive spider, took on a costumed persona to try and earn some money, and inadvertently caused his uncle’s death by not using his powers responsibly.

Maybe the other kids are right to mock Peter; he should have taken cash in hand!

Now, he and his beloved Aunt May are in a bit of a bind; they have no money to pay their bills and the landlord is literally on their doorstep demanding the rent! Although Peter offers to quit school to get a job, May insists that he continue his studies to become the scientist his uncle always dreamed he would be and, very briefly, Peter considers using his superhuman abilities to commit crimes to pay the bills. Quickly, though, he realises that his Aunt May would be devastated if he was ever caught and imprisoned and, instead, decides to fall back on show business. His duel commitments as Spider-Man and bookish nature continue to make Peter a laughing stock at school since all the hip kids of the sixties want to do is have fun and “jive” rather than study. Still, they would be amazed if they knew that Peter was really Spider-Man, who puts on a dazzling show at the town hall but, while he gets paid, he’s unable to actually get a hold of the money since he not only foolishly asks for a cheque but he asks that it’s made out to “Spider-Man”! I mean, come on, Pete; at least take cash in hand! At the same time, Spidey finds public opinion of him is immediately swayed thanks to the efforts of J. Jonah Jameson, writer and editor of the Daily Bugle, who not only writes a scathing editorial branding Spidey a “menace” but also goes all over New York City delivering lectures that paint Spidey as a bad influence and an outlaw compared to “real heroes” like his son, astronaut John Jameson, because he hides behind a mask.

Spider-Man runs rings around the Fantastic Four when they try to contain him.

Although many aren’t taken in by Jameson’s words, his efforts are enough to put an end to Spidey’s media appearances. Peter is similarly driven to frustration at his inability to get a part-time job and the fact that Aunt May has resorted to pawning her jewellery to make ends meet. The next day, Peter is on hand to witness John Jameson lose control of a space capsule shortly after launch after the guidance device malfunctions. While the guys in charge of the launch fail to think of a way to save the astronaut, Peter suits up as Spider-Man and, despite Jameson’s protests, hitches a ride on a plane to intervene. After webbing himself to the capsule, Spidey is able to manually engage the emergency chute and the capsule glides safely to the ground. However, despite his good deed, Peter is shocked and angered to find that Jameson has called for Spider-Man’s arrest following the incident and has even publicly blamed the wall-crawler for the entire thing as a means to fool the public into thinking him a hero. This time, public opinion is swayed massively in Jameson’s favour and a wanted notice is posted for Spidey’s capture; even worse, Aunt May also believes Spider-Man to be a dangerous criminal. Thankfully, in the next story, Peter hits upon the genius idea of trying to repair his reputation (and make some cash) by joining the much-loved Fantastic Four, thinking the team would jump at the chance to work with a super-powered teenager (why, especially when they have Johnny Storm/The Human Torch on the team already, is anybody’s guess). Since you apparently can’t just walk into the Baxter Building, Peter does the only natural thing and breaks in as Spider-Man; unsure of his intentions, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic activates the building’s self-defence measures and tries to hold him captive in a plexi-glass cage.

The Chameleon impersonates Spider-Man to steal military plans!

Contrary to the now-iconic front cover image, Spidey immediately breaks free of this trap and, as a result, gets into a tussle with the Fantastic Four. He tosses Benjamin Grimm/The Thing aside with ease, webs up Mr. Fantastic’s elastic arms, easily outmanoeuvres Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl’s pathetic efforts to ensnare him in a rope thanks to his spider-sense, and uses his fantastic agility to run rings around the Human Torch. Eventually, cooler heads prevail and the five are able to talk it out. However, when Spidey learns that the Fantastic Four are a non-profit organisation, and that they are in doubt about his reputation thanks to Jameson, he promptly leaves, disgruntled. Meanwhile, at a military installation across the city, Dmitri Smerdyakov/The Chameleon uses his incredibly life-like masks and disguises to steal documents from a restricted area to sell to Soviet Russia. After hearing of Spidey’s failed attempt to join the Fantastic Four, and his status as a public menace, the Chameleon not only deduces that Spidey must be desperate but also that he would make for a perfect fall guy for his plot to steal more missile defence plans. To that end, he uses his fancy technology to broadcast a message that only Spider-Man, with his heightened senses, would be able to hear (the Chameleon apparently being smart enough to work that out as well, conveniently) and, unable to pass up the chance to make some money, Peter (oddly referred to as “Peter Palmer” in one panel) heads to respond to the call.

Spidey apprehends the Chameleon but does little to repair his reputation.

At the same time, the Chameleon masquerades as Spidey and steals the plans using a specially-created web gun and fleeing in a helicopter right as the real Spidey arrives to be accosted by the cops. Realised he’s been played for a fool, and having spotted the helicopter’s escape, Spidey dramatically slingshots and parachutes his way across the city using his webs and then steals a motorboat to track the Chameleon to a Soviet submarine. Despite the Chameleon’s best efforts, Spider-Man is able to force him to the ground and convince the cops of his innocence. However, the Chameleon escapes custody using a smoke pellet and slipping into another face mask, that slippery devil! Despite being out of web fluid, Spider-Man is easily able to track the Chameleon down in the local vicinity using his spider-sense but, just as he nabs the crook, the cops accost Spidey, believing him to be the fake! Enraged and despondent, Spider-Man escapes into the night completely unaware that the cops did catch the Chameleon in the very next panel and thus proving that he was innocent all along.

The Summary:
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is a pretty decent comic, overall. Like all comic books published in the sixties, it suffers a little bit from the narrative style of the time but, unlike others I’ve reviewed from around this time, these are nowhere near as bad; characters aren’t constantly yabbering on in “hip” slang, for instance, and while Spidey and the Chameleon do constantly narrate their actions as they go, it’s not as intrusive as in other comics. As a result, I found this an enjoyable enough read but it’s not as good as it could be simply because it wastes quite a bit of time reminding readers of Spider-Man’s origin. Still, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 quickly establishes many of the character traits and recurring themes that would plague Peter throughout his career; mainly, money troubles, public opinion, Jameson’s endless crusade, and the frail nature of his Aunt May.

I’ve always found the Chameleon to be an underwhelming villain but he’s good enough here.

Peter Parker is a youth constantly on the short end of life; nothing ever seems to work out for him in either of his guises and he is constantly beaten down by society no matter what he does, and yet he perseveres. This aspiring quality is emphasised here; though Peter does get angry and dejected at his lot in life, he never gives in to the temptation towards crime and is steadfast in his decision to use his powers for good. One good thing that comes from this issue is the answer to the question of who Spidey’s first super-villain was and the answer, disappointingly, was the Chameleon. It might just be me but I’ve never been a fan of this character, or of stories of mistaken identity and fraud in my superhero comics, but thankfully that latter aspect is only a small part of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. If anything, more time could have been spent on the Chameleon framing Spidey for crimes; this would have made Jameson’s tirade against the web-slinger make a little bit more sense (he just comes across as an asshole and a blowhard here), to say nothing to turning the public (and the Fantastic Four) against him and adding to Peter’s woes.

The Fantastic Four dropped in for what amounted to a quick cameo amidst some classic Spidey action.

Also, I feel like the front cover is deliberately misleading; clearly designed to attract readers of the Fantastic Four, who were Marvel’s first big superhero success story, it kind of implies a greater conflict with the group that, in reality, is confined to just a few panels. This is good, on the one hand, as Spidey never needed their help in getting out of danger or anything but it does kind of set the foundation for a bad practice in Marvel (and all of comics for that matter) to use popular or established characters to sell their new releases (ironically, Spider-Man would come to be one of the most infamous examples of this). Still, the comic is full of relatable teenage woes and angst, colourful and larger-than-life characters, and set the standard for Spidey’s status quo going forward. There could maybe have been a little more action and web-slinging amidst all the angst but it’s still an enjoyable read and a must-have for any die-hard Spider-Man fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Spider-Man’s iconic debut solo outing? Were you a fan of the character at the time or were you introduced to him through some other means and, if so, what were they? How relatable did (or do you) find Spider-Man as a character? What is your favourite Spider-Man storyline, costume, or character and why? What did you think to the Chameleon being his first villain? Do you like the angle that the public is so easily turned against Spidey or do you think it doesn’t make much sense given how many superheroes run around New York? How are you celebrating Spider-Man Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for Spider-Man Month starting this Friday!

Screen Time [Captain America Month]: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier


First appearing in 1941, Marvel Comics’ star-spangled super soldier, Steve Rogers/Captain America, has become one of Marvel’s most recognisable and celebrated characters not just for his super patriotism but also for being a prominent member and leader of Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers. Having successfully made the jump to live-action, Cap is now a widely celebrated, mainstream superhero and, since American’s celebrated Independence Day this month, I’ve been spending every Tuesday in July paying tribute to the star-spangled man with a plan himself!


Air Date: 19 March 2021 to 23 April 2023
Network: Disney+
Stars: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Daniel Brühl, and Emily VanCamp

The Background:
Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become more than a success; from humble beginnings, it has evolved into a nigh-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut that has brought some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved, and obscure, characters to life in a way that no one could have ever predicted. Only a handful of the films produced by Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have met with any kind of negativity or mixed reaction, and in a world that is becoming increasingly bleak and cynical the MCU achieved an impossibility by making the Star-Spangled Avenger himself, Captain America, a blockbuster movie franchise. Although Marvel Studios had dabbled in television ventures before, most notably with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their various Netflix shows, they really ramped up their focus on TV productions to coincide not just with the MCU’s fourth phase but also the release of Disney+, the streaming service of their parent company. Unlike other MCU TV shows, these shows were spearheaded by Feige and focused heavily on maintaining and expanding the continuity of the MCU going forward. One of the first pitches for this concept was a “buddy cop” series the focused on the dysfunctional friendship and grating banter between Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Stan); the series aimed to not only explore this relationship and Sam’s struggles with accepting the mantle of Captain America, but also tackle relevant social issues such as racism and coping with grief and change. Although delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier eventually released weekly on Disney+ starting from 19 March 2021 and was the most-watched show on the service for some time. Critically, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was extremely well-received, with reviewers praising the show’s depiction of racism and the dynamic between the two leads, though some criticised the show’s pacing and execution. Still, the show was successful enough to earn not only a second season but also a fourth Captain America movie that will see both stars reprise their roles on the big-screen and continue the plot threads left hanging at the end of the season.

The Plot:
Six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), Sam Wilson struggles to live up to the mantle of Captain America and Bucky is still recovering from his brainwashing as the Winter Soldier. The two are forced to begrudgingly join forces with not only each other, but one of their worst enemies, to investigate a terrorist group in a worldwide adventure that tests both their abilities and their patience.

The Review:
I am a bit late to the party when it comes to Disney+ and their various original content; the main reason for that is the sad fact that neither my television nor my service provider actually carry the app, and I didn’t really want to be watching the shows on a smaller screen. Ordinarily, I would wait for the home media release but it seems as though we might have to wait a while for that, or might not get it at all, so I finally decided to get started on working through them earlier this year and was excited to finally sink my teeth into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier since it was the one that looked most like what I enjoy about the MCU. Naturally, given the title, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier primarily focuses on Sam and Bucky and the fallout from Avengers: Endgame. At the start of the show, Sam continues to run missions for the United States military as the Falcon, quickly making an enemy out of Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), and enjoying the chance to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Sam is determined (obsessed, almost) with helping people, trying to offer his services and council, and protecting others, even when it’s beyond him, but he is conflicted about taking on the mantle of Captain America.

Sam gives up the shield, feeling he can’t live up to expectations, and tries to help his family.

Believing that he’s not able to live up to Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) legacy, Sam delivers an emotional speech in Washington, D.C. at a ceremony (more like a eulogy) at the Smithsonian Museum for Captain America where he entrusts the shield to the museum so it can be displayed as a symbol of hope and unity. In a recurring motif throughout the show, Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) questions this decision, believing that times have changed, and that the world is “broken” and in need of fixing, and that Captain America is more important than ever before. Sam, however, remains steadfast in his decision to give up the shield since he can’t shake the feeling that it doesn’t belong to him, and instead tries to direct his attentions to reconnecting with his family. Sam’s sister, Sarah (Adepero Oduye), and his nephews Cass (Chase River McGee) and AJ (Aaron Haynes), maintain the family fishing business in Louisiana, but fell on hard times during the Blip and have struggled to stay afloat since the snapped were returned. While Sam is still somewhat stuck in the pre-Blip past, Sarah is faced with the cold, hard fact that she is out of options thanks to getting into debt; Sam, however, is determined to help, despite her cynicism, and is sure that he can help broker a new deal/loan at the bank and turn the business around. However, despite the adulation of the bank clerk for his heroics, Sam faces greater hurdles than he expected; things changed after the Blip, Sam’s income is questionable (apparently Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) didn’t pay the Avengers, which I find odd), and the Wilson’s don’t have the collateral or standing to qualify for a loan. However, there’s also an undercurrent of racial prejudice throughout this meeting; though Sam refuses to quit, Sarah isn’t surprised that they got turned away and somewhat resents Sam’s absence (whether by choice or by fate) and efforts to swoop in and save the day when she’s been struggling so hard for so long, by herself, to keep the business afloat.

Bucky and Sam clash over the shield, but are forced to unite against a new breed of super soldiers.

Already greatly troubled by these burdens, Sam is clearly conflicted when the United States government opt to reactivate the shield and pass the mantle of Captain America on Captain John Walker (Russell). The former Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, isn’t quite as shy about hiding his feelings regarding the matter, however. Although he’s received a full pardon for his past crimes, Bucky is legally mandated to attend regular therapy sessions with Doctor Christina Raynor (Amy Aquino) and continues to be haunted by vivid, explicit memories of his heinous past. Although he routinely lies to and criticises her, Dr. Raynor sees through his bullshit and he reluctantly relates that he’s been going through a list of his victims and trying to make amends with their families or bring those responsible for his conditioning to justice according to Raynor’s strict series of rules that prohibit him from killing, harming others, or doing anything illegal in order to help stave off his nightmares. Bucky is aggravated that Sam gave up the shield; he believes that Steve trusted in Sam, that he believed in him, and that Sam threw it all away like it was nothing and his stoic demeanour cracks when he states that if Steve was wrong to believe in Sam then maybe he was wrong to believe in him (as in Bucky) as well. This causes a great deal of tension between the two, who already had a pretty frosty relationship to begin with, which only escalates as they investigate a terrorist group known as the Flag Smashers. Led by Karli Morgenthau (Kellyman), the Flag Smashers believe that society was better during the Blip and want to restructure the world to remove all borders, both political and social, but are radical in their methods. Karli, and seven of her followers, have been granted superhuman strength and durability thanks to a new version of the super soldier serum, and use that power to launch a campaign against the oppressive governments and conglomerates, particularly the Global Repatriation Council (GPC), who seek to return the world to the way it was before the Blip. Sam is first alerted to the group by his military liaison, Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez), who is badly injured trying to fight Karli during a bank robbery in Switzerland, and the bulk of the series revolves around his efforts (and the efforts of others) to track them down. Karli comes across as very sympathetic and morally grey antagonist; her idea for a united world free from corruption is an admirable one, but she enforces her ideals through extremism and violence, which clearly puts her in the wrong. With slightly different methods and motivations, she could have rallied people into a productive force for good but, instead, she is a revolutionary posing as a freedom fighter. In a very short time, she has amassed a cult-like following of people only too eager to offer them food, shelter, and resources and Karli is determined not to let the same people who were in power before the Blip return to positions of authority, and to go to any lengths necessary to bring about “One world, One people”.

Walker is made the new Captain America, but his psyche deteriorates from the pressure.

While Sam actively sympathises with Karli’s plight, and makes every effort to try and talk her down, neither Bucky or Walker share his unique approach to the situation; a former high school football star, decorated soldier, and American patriot, Walker initially struggles with the weight of expectation placed on him by assuming this mantle of Captain America. His wife, Olivia (Gabrielle Byndloss), and best friend, Sergeant Major Lemar Hoskins (Clé Bennett), offer him their utmost encouragement and support and Walker quickly takes to the public limelight, signing autographs and appearing live on Good Morning, America, and coming across as humble and appreciative of the opportunity (despite his impressive military record, physical fitness, and intelligence quotient) and selling himself not as a super soldier, but as a brave man looking to continue Steve’s legacy. Walker’s position as Captain America causes a great deal of friction between him and Sam and Bucky; although he helps them to (unsuccessfully) fight Karli and the Flag Smashers, his repeated attempts to work with them are met with reluctance and hostility (especially from Bucky, who quickly senses something is off about Walker). Bucky and Sam’s resentment of Walker is only exacerbated by his increasing arrogance and bravado; Walker’s mental stability is fractured further when he’s repeatedly left one step behind (or out of the loop) in the pursuit of Karli, is met with scorn and disrespect by the Flag Smashers, and is repeatedly bested in combat by both super soldiers and the Wakandan special forces, the Dora Milaje. He’s resentful of those with enhanced abilities, and the judgement he faces from the likes of Sam, and being forced to sit on the side lines, which causes him to blunder into situations full of piss and vinegar and even disrupts Sam’s attempts to talk Karli down.

Walker is driven to the edge by Lemar’s death, but given a new opportunity by the mysterious Val.

Walker is joined in the field by Lemar, who fights by his side as Battlestar. While Bucky is ready to simply force Walker to give up the shield, Lemar acts as the voice of reason and not only manages to keep Walker focused but tries to keep the peace between them and Sam and Bucky to better pool their resources. When Walker is distraught at being so handily beaten by the Dora Milaje, Lemar admits that he would jump at the chance to take the super soldier serum since the benefits would far outweigh any side effects, arguing that they could have saved lives (and spared themselves a lot of bloodshed) during their time in Afghanistan. This is all the convincing Walker needs to take the serum for himself, but his already unstable mind and quick temper are only exacerbated by the serum, and by Lemar’s death at Karli’s hands. Walker’s grief quickly turns to outrage, and he takes his anger and pain out on Nico (Noah Mills), Karli’s close friend, beating him to death with the shield in front of numerous bystanders, many of whom record the incident on their phones. Walker is so traumatised by these events that he actually tries to justify them as being part of his duties as Captain America, and a brutal fight breaks out between him, Falcon, and Bucky when Sam tries to reason with Walker and Walker’s paranoia kicks in. Walker rips Falcon’s wings off, half-crazed by ego and madness, and Falcon is forced to break Walker’s arm to get the shield off him. Although Walker avoids a court martial for his actions thanks to his service record, he’s stripped of his rank, benefits, and the mantle of Captain America. Understandably, Walker is outraged at this betrayal but is given a second (well, third, technically) chance by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who sympathises with his plight and offers him a new assignment as the U. S. Agent.

Zemo adds an extra dimension to the show, offering a twisted but logical perspective on the world.

Walker’s instability isn’t helped by Sam and Bucky’s decision to turn to Helmut Zemo (Brühl) for help; although Zemo is a dangerous radical and terrorist who cannot be trusted, he knows more about super soldiers than anyone left alive, but even Sam is aghast when Bucky orchestrates Zemo’s escape from prison and convinces him to aid them based on their common enemy. Zemo is only too eager to help rid the world of super soldiers, who go against everything he believes in, and the two reluctantly agree to utilise Zemo’s wealth and resources as a baron (not to mention his knowledge of Hydra and the super soldier serum). Zemo adds an extra dimension to the abrasive relationship between the two leads, riling up both Bucky and Sam with his mind games and taunts; Zemo questions the logic behind giving symbols and people too much power as you forget their flaws and it brews conflict. Despite being a bigot and a terrorist, Zemo makes some great points about the parallels between good and bad, heroes and tyrants; Zemo argues that his willingness to murder Hydra scientist Doctor Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi) shows he has the will to complete their mission, indicating his intention to kill Karli, whose attacks are becoming more and more frequent and dangerous. He also makes a convincing argument that to be superhuman is to be a supremacist, that Karli will not be able to stop herself escalating her methods and her goals, and basically comparing the Avengers to the Nazis and other supremacist powers on principal alone, while also expressing respect for Captain America for his strength of character. Zemo’s poisonous philosophies and mind games continually grate on Sam and Bucky, and his very presence causes controversy, especially when Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and the Dora Milaje come looking for him. Ayo only allows Bucky (whom she still refers to as the “White Wolf”) eight hours to make use of Zemo out of a fraying sense of respect, however while nobody trusts Zemo (and rightfully so), he actually proves to be super useful to the group’s investigation: he leads them to Madripoor, a desolate, neon-drenched haven for disreputable types run by the mysterious “Power Broker”, and to Nagel’s knowledge of the new super soldier serum. He often slips away from conflict and is ordered to stay out of the way, but actually goes out of his way to help Sam and Bucky, even donning his iconic ski mask to clear a path for his unlikely allies.

Both the Dora Milaje and the jaded Sharon disapprove of Zemo, but Sharon is hiding a dark secret.

Zemo’s even able to use Turkish Delight and his way with children to lead them to Karli, but doesn’t show his whole hand to maintain his leverage, which riles Bucky up almost as much as Zemo’s smug, self-righteous, condescending hospitality. Still, his single-minded campaign against super soldiers causes some problems for the more righteous heroes; he not only executes Nagel, but he wounds Karli and angrily destroys the majority of her serum vials, which only serves to galvanise her extremism further. Zemo is instrumental not just in aiding Sam and Bucky but also in granted Bucky some of the closure he desperately needs; his code words no longer trigger Bucky’s conditioning, and Bucky opts to spare him so he can face imprisonment, and the two even part ways with a kind of mutual respect and understanding for each other. Zemo actually proves to be more of an asset than Sharon Carter (VanCamp), who was driven off the grid to Madripoor after helping Sam and the other Avengers during Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016). Resentful that she was left without the aid of the Avengers and to fend for herself, Sharon is less than welcoming to them, especially Zemo, because she’s been forced to live on the run, without contact with friends and family, and has been alone this whole time. Begrudgingly, she offers them shelter and has set herself up as the owner and proprietor of an art gallery filled with stolen, priceless pieces; recent events have left her cynical of the whole hero gig and she openly criticises their devotion to a cause she no longer believes in. Distrustful and bitter, Sharon agrees to help in return for Sam’s help in clearing her name and returning her home; while Sharon brokers a deal with some clients, the three blend in at her party, resulting in the now-infamous clip of Zemo partying down to some beats! Although Sharon’s information proves fruitful, and she’s instrumental in stopping Karli and the Flag Smashers in the finale, she is repeatedly shown to be somewhat shady and untrustworthy throughout the show, making suspicious phone calls and even hiring Batroc to add a wild card to the final episode. When Sam, Bucky, and Walker join forces to chase Karli down, Sharon is revealed to be the Power Broker in a tense showdown that sees her gun down Batroc for having the insolence to blackmail her and then shoot Karli to save Sam’s life after his attempts to reason with her fall on deaf ears. Despite her odd behaviour, Sam arranges for her to receive her full pardon, but, while she gratefully returns to a governmental role, she makes a suspicious call to an unknown party promising to deliver full access to the government’s resources going forward.

A central theme of the show is racism and overcoming oppressive labels and bigotry.

A central theme throughout The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is of racism and the power of symbols, labels, and Captain America; racist struggles and undertones permeate every aspect of the show, from Sarah’s efforts to keep the family business afloat to Sam being referred to as “Black Falcon”, and there’s even an unsettling scene were some cops randomly accost Sam, with the implication that they only backed down after realising that he’s the Falcon. These racial tensions are explicitly emphasised through the introduction of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), an African American veteran super soldier who fought, and defeated, the Winter Soldier in the Korean War. Jaded and betrayed by his country, Isaiah was imprisoned and experimented on for thirty years to help replicate the super soldier serum, leaving him a cynical and tortured individual. Sam is angered that a Black super soldier existed and has been buried and forgotten, and how many people got screwed over just to make the shield and Captain America a thing, regardless of how much good both have done. Isaiah bitterly talks about the oppression faced by Black people everywhere, especially soldiers who put their lives on the line for their country only to face bigotry and hatred upon returning. Isaiah reveals that his wife died while he was in prison, and that a bunch of prisoners such as himself were subjected to super soldier experiments and sent on missions even if they were unstable. After some of them got captured, Isaiah learned that the higher-ups were planning on destroying the camp rather than let their dirty little secret get out and rescued his comrades, only to be left a lab rat whose only salvation came from a sympathetic nurse. Sam is moved by his tale, and desperate to use every resource he has to tell it to the world, but Isaiah doesn’t share Sam’s optimism since Black people have been oppressed and erased for generations; he maintains that “they” will never let a Black man be Captain America, and that no self-respecting Black man would want to represent such a flawed symbol.

Sam finally embraces the Captain America mantle and delivers an impassioned speech about responsibility.

Although Isaiah’s tale causes Sam to contemplate if he should destroy the shield, Bucky emphasises that the shield is a symbol of hope to many, including himself. When Sam calls in the favours owed to his family by the neighbourhood, even Bucky gets stuck in with fixing up the family boat, and apologises for judging Sam’s decision. He helps Sam train with the shield and Sam encourages him to find his own path in life rather than looking to other people to guide him, and to “do the work” to make amends for his past by offer his victims closure, or a service, to properly put his sins to rest and, in that moment, they forge their friendship (though they still maintain their grating banter). Bucky’s support helps Sam to conclude that, while Isaiah may have a point, he owes it to all of those who suffered and sacrificed to stand up and keep fighting…and take on the shield, which he eventually manages to get the hang of after an inspirational training montage. This culminates in Sam making a dramatic appearance in the finale garbed in his all-new Captain America costume, courtesy of Wakanda, which is heavily based on his Cap suit from the comics and incorporates elements from his Falcon outfit, including the wings. As faithful as the suit is, though, I do feel like it’s a bit “busy”; it’s got white and blue and red and all kinds of different parts and details to it, which is fine, but it does seem like it could be streamlined and simplified going forward. Crucially, while Cap has (presumably Vibranium) wings and his additional technology and abilities allow for particularly exciting chase and action sequence involving a helicopter and a rematch with Batroc, Sam refuses the super soldier serum and uses his position to make an impassioned speech to the GRC representatives, the crowd, and the press about the dangers of labels and the importance of asking why people do the things they do. In a poignant address, Cap emphasises that that they all have a chance to make real change, to help those in need, and acknowledges that people will hate and judge him for being a Black Captain America but, despite that, he’s still there, a simple man with a strong belief that people can do better and the importance of setting a strong example and wielding power responsibly.

After much loss, Sam and Bucky form a real partnership, while Val prepares her own schemes…

This comes after a dramatic and tragic final confrontation with Karli and the Flag Smashers, who launch an attack on a GRC conference; earlier in the series, Nico expressed his belief that the world needs heroes that “look like them”, that can relate to their plight, and even suggests that Karli has the potential to be as influential as Captain America because of her willingness to fight for those in need and to get her hands dirty in the process. Karli believes that the shield is “a monument to a bygone era” and serves as a reminder only of the people history forgot, and that the serum is the only way to bring about real change, and as part of that she only plans on killing people that “matter”, like John Walker and even Sam, as it will send a stronger message. This dismissive attitude raises the ire of Walker in the finale, but Sam consistently sympathises with Karli’s plight; for five years, the world completely changed the way it operated, offering aid and co-operating in a way that had never been seen before, but things have returned to normal and that is a jarring transition for many, especially the poor, underprivileged, and oppressed, who see Karli as a freedom fighter. Sam attempts to reach out to her, and convince her to come along peacefully, and is met with aggression and resistance; Karli rejects the notion that she’s a supremacist because she’s fighting against big, oppressive corporations but Sam argues that she’s killing recklessly, and heading down a dark path. Even when Karli threatens Sam’s family, he continues to try and reason with her and, when they go head-to-head in the finale, he refuses to fight her…or to back down…even as when she flies into a rage and mercilessly attacks him. After Karli is fatally shot by Sharon, she dies in Cap’s arms, leaving him with only an apology and regret at the unnecessary loss of life, and that tragedy fuels his big speech at the end.

The Summary:
I really enjoyed The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; everything about it was indicative of a top-notch MCU production, from the music to the presentation, characterisation, and world-building. It was literally like watching a six-hour long movie rather than an episodic show, and a lot of that is due to how well the two leads characters are written. Sam and Bucky share some relatable and entertaining banter and dick measuring regarding their knowledge of pop culture, the craziness of their superhero lives, and it’s clear that they have a begrudging, grating, almost brotherly relationship. Bucky despairs of Sam’s reluctance to make or share his plans and goes out of his way to match his efforts, even leaping out of a plane at two-hundred feet without a parachute just to prove a point. When Karli threatens Sam’s family, Bucky insists on suiting up with him and has his back, despite the two having an abrasive relationship; this is best seen in an amusing moment where Dr. Raynor forces the two to sit down for some therapy and they push back against Dr. Raynor’s methods, rile each other up, and are forced to confront their issues. Although the two agree to part ways and never see each other again following this, they are soon bonded by their mutual respect and come to trust and even help each other with their doubts and issues. Bucky even has a little flirty banter with Sarah (which Sam warns him about) and, by the end, is laughing and enjoying himself with Sam’s family and neighbours. Their dysfunctional, brotherly, odd-couple dynamic is one of the highlights of the show and it’s great to see them ending the season as trusted allies.

Walker becomes increasingly unhinged, but it remains to be seen if he’s truly redeemed himself.

A clear standout of the show was also John Walker, who gave a great turn as an unstable, violent, and unhinged version of Captain America. At first, he’s the humble, dutiful poster boy but it doesn’t take long for cracks to begin to show in his façade; the pressure of living up to Cap’s legacy weighs heavily on his shoulders and his ego and anger are only exacerbated by the disrespect and lack of recognition he receives from Sam, Bucky, and others. Walker has a tumultuous relationship with Sam and Bucky, who both see him as unworthy of the shield, and their attempts to join forces almost always become a war of words and very nearly lead to them coming to blows. The super soldier serum only escalates things further, finally granting Walker the power he so desperately craved but also driving him to sully his image by literally staining the shield with blood. However, Walker remains a complex and layered character; a tool of the system, he was used and abused just like countless other soldiers and left hanging after the government that made him washed their hands of him. After being stripped of the shield, Walker fashions his own, far less durable one and heads into the finale looking to kill Karli to avenge Lemar, but ultimately chooses to abandon his crusade in order to help save a truck load of hostages. Despite Sam and Bucky’s very valid reservations about Walker, he comes through in the end, but the series ends on a slightly ominous note with him rebranded to U. S. Agent and signed up to whatever Valentina has in store for him.

The longer run time allows for a deeper exploration of these complex and flawed characters.

Other highlights of the show obviously include Zemo, thanks to his moral ambiguity and his twisted philosophies that actually make a great deal of sense; his inclusion was a masterful addition and really added to the dynamic between Sam and Bucky, as well as allowing the character to shift gears towards a more comic-accurate depiction, and it was fun seeing him rile the two leads up. Equally, Karli proved to be a surprisingly sympathetic and relatable antagonist; just as Zemo predicted, she grows increasingly bolder and more violent in her methods, eventually becoming willing to die and execute hostages for her cause, which unsettles even her followers. Yet, even when pushed right to the edge, she has a vulnerability to her; her adopted mother gave her shelter and love, and she’s just looking to provide for those in need and to stand up for the oppressed, but has turned her crusade against corporate or governmental propaganda and symbols like Captain America and her physical strength more than matches the strength of her beliefs thanks to the super soldier serum, making for an extremely dangerous and unpredictable enemy to unite these unlikely allies. Another emotional highlight was Bucky’s quest for redemption; haunted by this past and lost in a world that has passed him by, Bucky is desperately trying to find some purpose in life but finds himself constantly hampered by his violent actions. Not even a cute little date with a waitress (Miki Ishikawa) helps to alleviate his guilt and it’s only through fighting alongside Sam and that he’s able to start to come to terms with his sins. This comes to a head in the finale when he finally heeds Sam’s advice and finds the courage to confess his part in death of his friend Yori Nakajima’s (Ken Takemoto) son; it’s clear that he’s still got a long way to go to find the peace he wants but he ends the show in a far better place that he started it thanks to the partnership (and friendship) he builds with Sam.

Sam resolves to use the shield as a positive for for real change, and to help Bucky through his trauma.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is full to the brim with the biting, witty banter you’d expect from an MCU production and some exhilarating and exciting action sequence; Falcon dives and barrel-rolls through the air in freefall, Bucky throws bombs with his cybernetic arm, and action scenes are given a real punch (no pun intended) thanks to the Flag Smashers being augmented by the super soldier serum. Sam’s refusal to enhance himself in this way might be a questionable decision given he’s taking on the mantle of Captain America, but it goes a long way to keeping him humble, vulnerable, and relatable; he’s just a normal man striving to do better, without the shortcuts that Walker takes. Ayo and the Dora Milaje also contribute to some epic fight scenes, particularly in the way they humble Walker and even subdue Bucky by disabling and removing his Vibranium limb. Even more impactful, though, are the socially relevant themes in the show, such as racism and the power of labels and symbols; it’s no surprise that Isaiah’s story is framed as a dark parallel to Steve’s, and it’s deplorable to hear about what he went through while Steve was heralded a hero for similar deeds. It thus carries a significant impact when Isaiah ultimately gives Sam his begrudging approval and respect after being won over with Sam’s determination to be a symbol of his people and all those who suffered to make America the country it is today. Isaiah is moved when he sees that Sam has made good on his promise and arranged for him and his fellow soldiers to finally be recognised and honoured at the Smithsonian’s Captain America wing, and I applaud the show for tackling these unsettling issues head-on, even if Sam’s big speech might be a bit on the nose. Overall, this was a fantastic experience; it was literally like a fourth Captain America movie and really helped to flesh out Sam and Bucky and the changes brought to the MCU following Avengers: Endgame. I do wonder how explicitly subsequent movies and productions will relate to the events of this show, but it was a fun journey to go on and I’m excited to see how all the loose threads will be connected together going forward and for Sam’s big-screen debut as the new Captain America.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy The Falcon and the Winter Soldier? What did you think to the banter between Sam and Bucky, and the dynamic added to the duo by Zemo? Were you happy to see Sam accept the mantle by the end or would you have preferred Bucky become the new Captain America? What did you think to Karli and her motivations, and did you enjoy the moral ambiguity of the show’s characters? Did you enjoy the introduction of U. S. Agent to the MCU and what do you think the future holds for him? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would like to see make it to the MCU? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or Captain America in general, sign up to let me know below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies [Captain America Month]: Captain America: Civil War


First appearing in 1941, Marvel Comics’ star-spangled super soldier, Steve Rogers/Captain America, has become one of Marvel’s most recognisable and celebrated characters not just for his super patriotism but also for being a prominent member and leader of Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers. Having successfully made the jump to live-action, Cap is now a widely celebrated, mainstream superhero and, since American’s celebrated Independence Day this month, what better way to celebrate this than by spending every Tuesday in July paying tribute to the star-spangled man with a plan himself!


Released: 6 May 2016
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Brühl, and Chadwick Boseman

The Plot:
After saving the world from a near-extinction event, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) work alongside a new team of Avengers. However, Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) unpredictable powers damage their credibility and spell the end of the team unless they agree to fall under the jurisdiction of the world’s governments. This causes tensions between Steve and the other Avengers, particularly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), that are only further exacerbated when Helmut Zemo (Brühl) activates James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier’s (Stan) brainwashing and inspires a conflict within Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Background:
Considering that Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014) was such a massive hit and that, by 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had basically become an unstoppable franchise juggernaut, a third Captain America movie was never in question. The first film of Phase Three of the MCU was originally revealed under a very different title before it was revealed to be taking inspiration from the controversial storyline of the same name. Pitched as a psychological thriller, Captain America: Civil War quickly became the biggest solo Marvel movie when many returning characters and Avengers signed on to feature. The film saw not only the debut of a new team of Avengers and the introduction of T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman) but also the long-awaited inclusion of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU. The directors lobbied hard to include Spider-Man and, after much negotiating, Marvel were able to reach an agreement with Sony Pictures to recast and share the character. Though ostensibly Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War was incredibly successful; it made over $1.150 billion and was the highest-grossing film of 2016. Like its predecessor, the film was almost universally praised; while some criticised the film’s bloated cast and premise, many were impressed with the film’s action and intrigue and the dramatic way it fractured the Avengers to set the stage for the MCU’s biggest film yet.

The Review:
I honestly can’t say that I really had much of a reaction when I found out that the third Captain America movie wouldn’t be tackling the Serpent Society; I only really know the group from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010 to 2012) cartoon, where I found them to be annoying and over-used. However, I was a bit concerned when it was revealed that Marvel Studios would be adapting the “Civil War” (Millar, et al, 2006 to 2007) storyline as not only was I not a fan of how out of character everyone (especially Iron Man) acted in that story but the MCU Avengers had just ended Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015) on a high note and, like the downfall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), it seemed a bit too soon to be tearing these characters apart when they were still so new as a group.

Cap’s efforts to train a new Avengers team are disrupted when his loyalties are divided.

One thing I’ve always found odd about the “Civil War” storyline is the fact that Captain America, the living embodiment of America’s ideals, is the one fighting against the government and Stark, the arrogant industrialist who actively spits in the face of governmental boards, is the one pushing for registration and culpability. Yet, it sends a clear message when the bastion of truth and freedom finds something oppressive about the ruling body and Steve is a proud man who sees the world in old-fashioned shades of black and white and has learned enough about the modern world to become suspicious of those who wield too much political power and who just wants to do the right thing without compromise. The trailers and hype for the film excited me and I was keen to see a Marvel solo movie featuring so many additional costumed characters in supporting roles as I am a big fan of that in my superhero movies after years of them all living in isolated bubbles. Plus, even with the expanded cast, the film remains, at its core, a Captain America story and is completely focused on Cap’s divided loyalties between his Avengers team-mates and his old friend-turned-brainwashed assassin, Bucky. Cap begins the film as the field commander of the newly-formed team of Avengers we first saw at the end of Age of Ultron; as always, he is all business when on the job and determined to teach the younger members of the team, like Wanda Maximoff, how to best scope out potential targets and situations and build a rapport as a team.

Wanda’s unpredictable powers are the catalyst for the film’s events.

The catalyst for the eventual conflict within the Avengers is Wanda; unlike the other members of the Avengers, she’s still very young, inexperienced, and an outsider. Add to that the fact that her “Hex Powers” are both unpredictable and volatile and she is a bit of a powder keg, despite her generally calm and composed demeanour. Deep down, she just wants to help people and do the best she can so, when she instinctively uses her powers to hurl Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) into the air to keep his suicide bomb from killing innocents, she is devastated when her throw goes awry and kills several Wakandan humanitarians. Although Steve tries to console her, rightfully pointing out that no-one, however (super)powerful can save everyone, she only really feels a connection with the Vision (Paul Bettany), another being born of an Infinity Stone to whom she has grown very close and who desires to not only explore his abilities and humanity but who also seeks to understand the nature of the Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead.

The Avengers are divided on the Sokovia Accords, which would see them conform or retire.

Cap’s team is also comprised of his friends, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and Black Widow. Now much more comfortable in his role as a superhero, the Falcon has built a camaraderie with the other Avengers and is a vital member of the team thanks to his drone, Redwing, and his specialised flight suit, both of which allow him to provide unprecedented air support. Natasha, meanwhile, continues to be an absolute bad-ass in the field, striking with speed, precision, and power, while also sharing the responsibility of teaching Wanda how to conduct herself out in the field. They, and many of their team mates, live and train at a specialist compound, paid for by Stark’s not-inconsiderable funds. Stark, meanwhile, has semi-retired from the superhero life and is only brought back into the fold after the incident in Lagos which, especially after the devastating events in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, call into question the unchallenged actions of the Avengers. Thus, in a continuation of his growing sense of impending cosmic danger and his desire to protect the planet by any means necessary (and due to his guilt at being responsible for collateral damage caused by the Avengers’ actions), Stark is immediately onboard with the “Sokovia Accords”. Although Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt), now promoted to Secretary of State, acknowledges that the world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt, he stresses that they must register to answer to a democratic committee before acting so that they can be properly held accountable for their actions. The Sokovia Accords rattle each member of the team in different ways based on their previous experiences and relationships; James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Vision, for example, look at the numbers and the orders and, influenced by their relationship with Stark, believe that signing the Accords is the only logical action whereas Sam is adamant that it will only be a matter of time before the government screw them over.

Zemo plots to destroy the Avengers from the inside out and is focused only on his vengeance.

Steve, ever the soldier and pragmatist, argues against “[surrendering] their right to choose” and his conviction to take a stand against being controlled, even by the United States government, is galvanised after the death of his former flame, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who firmly believed in standing up for her beliefs. However, when it appears as though Bucky has attacked the ratification of the Accords and killed the peace-affirming Wakandan king, T’Chaka (John Kani), Steve makes it his mission to personally track down his former friend and bring him in before he can be arrested by the authorities. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa, overwhelmed by grief and bloodlust, dons the ceremonial Vibranium suit of the Black Panther to hunt down and kill Bucky, causing tensions to bubble to boiling point. It is into this tumultuous storm of ideals, emotions, and conflicting beliefs that Zemo enters the fray. A survivor from Sokovia who relentlessly goes on a hunt torturing and murdering Hydra operatives to acquire “Mission report. December 16. 1991”, a document that proves the final spark to ignite the titular civil war within the Avengers. Zemo has acquired the Soviet’s book of codewords and is able, through his charm and false documents, to gain access to Bucky after he is arrested and activate him in order to acquire the information he seeks. Bucky, who has been living off the grid and on the run since the end of The Winter Soldier, continues to suffer from decades of cryogenic stasis, manipulation, brainwashing, and memory wiping, which have made him a confused and purely instinctual creature. Although Steve still remembers their time together as friends and the entirety of Bucky’s past, Bucky is haunted by fragmented memories of his time as an assassin and naturally paranoid, lashing out at friend and foe alike when they try to reach him.

Everyone, especially Black Panther, is after Bucky thanks to Zemo’s machinations.

While Wanda shoulders a lot of the guilt for what happened in Lagos, Steve feels he is also to blame as he was distracted by Rumlow’s mention of Bucky. Still, he is steadfast that what he, and the other Avengers, do cannot be regulated by a governing body, especially after how deeply entrenched Hydra was into S.H.I.E.L.D. This causes a clash of ideals and beliefs between and Stark; showing his partial growth as a character, Stark is now more than willing to compromise and work within the system to keep them in check and also to ensure that the team stays together but Steve is adamant that they shouldn’t have to answer to anyone lest they be stopped from intervening where they are most needed. While the Sokovia Accords themselves probably would have divided the Avengers enough to cause some kind of conflict, they potentially wouldn’t have come to blows if it wasn’t for Zemo’s manipulations and Bucky’s apparent culpability in T’Chaka’s death. When he comes to his senses, Bucky reveals that he was just one of many Winter Soldiers created by the soviets and that Zemo was responsible for the bombing at the ratification. Stark, however, remains oblivious to the deception that has taken place and takes it upon himself to lead his allies in apprehending Bucky, even if it means recruiting the young and relatively untested Spider-Man to help throw Cap off his game and fighting against his allies for the greater good. Steve, realising that he is now, once again, a fugitive, puts together a team of his own to defend Bucky and fight their way to uncovering and exposing Zemo’s plot. To this end, he recruits Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, on Sam’s suggestion, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to help him out, and such is the strength of Captain America’s conviction and fortitude that he is able to convince ex-cons like Scott, retired heroes like Clint (both of whom have familial responsibilities), and Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) to put themselves and their careers at risk to help his cause.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Being as it’s basically an Avengers movie in disguise, Captain America: Civil War is a natural escalation of The Winter Soldier in every way. As a result, it’s bigger and far more intricate and bombastic than the previous Captain America movies but, arguably, maybe not the definitive ending to a trilogy of standalone movies in the same way as, say, Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) tried to be. However, there is a very good reason for this and that is that, at this point, MCU movies were much more about focusing on a singular hero but also expanding their shared world exponentially in the lead-up to their biggest movies ever. Despite its heavy subject matter and action-packed events, the film also has time for absolute tone-perfect comedy; Bucky and Sam’s reaction to Steve’s admittedly awkward kiss with Sharon, Scott’s gushing over meeting Captain America and the other Avengers, and Spider-Man’s incessant quips and references during the big airport fight all brilliantly break the tension and add some pitch-perfect levity to the film.

Tom Holland made an immediate and exhilarating impression as the all-new Spider-Man.

Of course, one of the main selling points of the film is the climatic fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man and the introduction of Spider-Man to the MCU. As much as I loved Andrew Garfield in the role and still think it would’ve been a lot simpler and easier to simply fold him and the Amazing Spider-Man films (Webb, 2012 to 2014) into the MCU, casting a younger actor as an inexperienced version of the character was a great way to introduce Spider-Man with a clean slate and Tom Holland played the role to perfection. Although enthusiastic about getting a shot to team up with heavy-weights like Iron Man and the Vision and eager to impress both Stark and the Avengers, Spider-Man is in way over his head; still he holds his own and delivers both quips for days and some of the best web-slinging in just one big fight scene even after (at the time) nearly fifteen years of Spider-Man movies. Though young and operating in a homemade suit that allows him to use his powers responsibly, Peter is still portrayed as something of a child prodigy as he manufactures his own webbing and web shooters and, despite not mentioning his beloved Uncle Ben by name, has the same strict moral code as any other iteration of the character, making for perhaps the most well-rounded portrayal even after many decades of Spider-Man adaptations.

The fight between the two teams soon escalates when Rhodey is critically injured.

The clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man isn’t just about Spider-Man, though, or even Steve and Stark; instead, it’s a reluctant fight between close friends and allies, many of whom use known weaknesses against their team mates in order to gain a bit more ground. While you might think that a guy like Hawkeye is no match for the Vision, his various trick arrows do a decent job of disrupting the synthezoid and burying Iron Man beneath a pile of cars. Similarly, Cap is technically physically outmatched and reluctant to fight against a teenager like Spider-Man but is able to best him using his shield and distracting him with falling debris. Another star of the conflict is Ant-Man who, in addition to enlarging vehicles with Pym Particles, makes an entertaining and amusing debut as Giant-Man, and we even get to see Hawkeye and Black Widow go at it, albeit with an acknowledged reluctance. Even Stark doesn’t actually want to fight; he brings his team to the airport to convince Cap to stand down out of respect for their friendship and for the sake of the team, and specifically orders them to subdue their former allies rather than grievously harm them. However, despite this, and as entertaining as this clash between the two groups of Avengers is, things end up becoming much too real when an errant shot from the Vision ends up crippling Rhodey from the waist down, which only adds further fuel to Stark’s fire.

Cap is forced to defend Bucky from Stark in the finale as the Avengers implode from within.

Both Steve and Stark make compelling arguments for and against signing the Sokovia Accords but, as is to be expected of the storyline and these larger than life characters, take their argument to the extreme. In the source material, this led to Stark hunting down and imprisoning his fellow heroes in the ultimate act of uncompromising betrayal, becoming something of a tyrant in the process. Here, he doesn’t go quite that far until he has absolutely no other choice; despite his grating personality, it’s clear that Stark sees Steve and the others as trusted friends and allies and like Natasha, is more than willing to compromise to keep the team together, in check, and to advocate for amendments to the Accords later down the line. However, both Steve and Stark are pushed too far when the others continuously refuses to see things from their perspective and to compromise their integrity or conscience. After the climatic airport fight, however, and the truth of Zemo’s manipulations is revealed, Stark swallows his pride and heads to Siberia to investigate the other Winter Soldiers. Unfortunately, his conflict with Steve and Bucky is reignited when it is revealed that Bucky was brainwashed into killing Howard and Maria Stark (John Slattery and Hope Davis, respectively) to acquire super soldier serum for the Soviets. Stark’s introduction to the film, and a major sub-plot of his previous appearances, dealt with his unresolved issues with his father and, upon learning that both of his parents were taken from him, he flies into a mindless rage and attacks the two in a fantastically realised and emotional fight scene. Though torn between his friendship with Stark and his loyalty to Bucky, Steve ultimately has no choice but to choose to defend his old friend in order to get him the help he needs and, in the process, Zemo’s master plan succeeds as the Avengers are torn apart and Cap gives up his shield to go on the run with Bucky.

It’s a bittersweet ending as the Avengers are left divided and scattered thanks to Zemo’s efforts.

This finale is the perfect culmination of a film that is packed full of fantastic action sequences and fight scenes; expanding upon the brutal, gritty action of The Winter Soldier, Civil War continues to deliver some hard-hitting action from the likes of Cap and Black Widow, especially. Their fight against Rumlow is a great way to open the film and, following an equally engaging conflict of ideologies and beliefs, the action only escalates as Steve desperately tries to reach Bucky and bring him in independently only to end up fighting against the German police in a cramped stairwell and racing across the rooftops and streets of Berlin. Black Panther joins the battle for this latter sequence in a brilliant introduction to the character that only scratches the surface of his physical capabilities. Unlike other MCU villains who, by this point, showed glimmers of complex personalities and had somewhat multi-faceted personalities but were often just dark mirrors of the titular heroes, Zemo is quite the layered villain. Unlike his comic book counterpart (who, visually, he wouldn’t come to resemble for some time), Zemo isn’t some crazed fascist dictator or maniacal supervillain. Instead, he’s a former Sokovian soldier haunted by the loss of his family in Sokovia due to the Avengers’ actions and who wants to bring them down from the inside out in order to ensure that they never again threaten the safety of innocents. Simultaneously, Zemo has no love for Hydra either and wishes to see both costumed heroes and villains made a thing of the past; he also views his crusade to be a suicide mission as, once he sees Iron Man driven to the point of murderous rage, he considers his mission complete and prepares to kill himself. He is stopped, however, by Black Panther who, having witnessed the Avengers tear themselves apart over grief and rage, chooses to spare his father’s killer and see him brought to true justice. The damage, however, is done; even though the film ends with Cap going to rescue his friends from imprisonment on the Raft and offering an olive branch to Stark, the Avengers are effectively disbanded and wouldn’t come together again until the greatest threat imaginable came knocking.

The Summary:
As brilliant as the last two Captain America films were, Captain America: Civil War was a massive escalation for the character. In many ways, you could make the argument that Marvel Studios could have had the third Cap film focus solely on his hunt for Bucky and made a third Avengers movie for the “Civil War” storyline, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing its different characters and themes. None of the extra Avengers or the wider conflict between them overshadow Cap’s story or the continuation of his character arc and story with Bucky and, if anything, all of the different conflicts and personalities help to bolster this narrative. At its core, Civil War is a film about secrets, truths, and complex ideologies; both Steve and Stark have valid points for and against superhero registration and Bucky is a tortured soul responsible for an untold number of tragedies and atrocities and yet he wasn’t in full control of himself and was forced into perpetrating those acts and that, as much as their friendship, motivates Steve to protect him to see that he gets help rather than be unjustly imprisoned or killed. Black Panther vows to kill Bucky to avenge his father but chooses to spare Zemo when he learns the truth, showing a fundamental moral compass that helps to define him in his brief screen time. Stark is also driven to avenge his parents when he learns that the Winter Soldier killed them and the result is the complete fracturing of any trust between him and Steve, disassembling the Avengers and, similar to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier, fundamentally changing the nature of the MCU to ensure the stakes are as dire as possible for when Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes calling. As under-rated a gem as Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) is and as impressively thrilling as The Winter Soldier is, Civil War edges both out in terms of sheer spectacle and showed that even a solo MCU film could have Avengers-level implications for Marvel’s shared universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Captain America: Civil War? What did you think to the conflict between Steve and Stark and were you on Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Did you enjoy seeing the other Avengers in the film or do you feel like it got a bit too crowded for a Captain America movie? What did you think about Zemo, his character and motivations, and Bucky’s overarching story? Are you a fan of the “Civil War” comic book? Did you enjoy the debut of Black Panther and Spider-Man? What did you think to the decision to tear the Avengers apart at that stage in the larger MCU story? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would have liked to seen make it to the big screen? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger this month? Whatever you think about Civil War, or Captain America in general, drop a comment down below.