Top Five Christian Bale Films

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Christian Bale has got a new film out this week called ‘The Promise’ which is the new film directed by Terry George and co-stars Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon. I thought this would be a suitable time to have a look back at Bale’s career and count down his Top Five films, in my opinion. These films are based on both his performance in them and their quality – if I was ranking simply based on his performance, the list would dramatically change.

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5) Batman Begins

Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film that redefined the comic-book genre and introduced the idea of an origin story, Bale gets a lot to do here and his performance as Bruce Wayne / Batman is very conservative.

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4) 3:10 To Yuma

I’m a sucker for Westerns and James Mangold’s remake of ‘3:10 To Yuma’ had me giddy. It is perhaps one of the best remakes to date – Mangold manages to use the iconography of the genre but also stick his signature stamp onto it. Bale’s character is very multi-dimensional and he really goes through a lot of stick and Russell Crowe also gives a great performance here.

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3) Out Of The Furnace 

A very unlikely choice and although ‘Out Of The Furnace’, on paper is Scott Cooper’s worst film, for me the film is near-perfect. It is a revenge thriller full of many layers and Bale’s performance as the troubled protagonist is completely full of conviction and his character goes through a hell of a lot in this film. Forget ‘American Hustle’ of that year, this was the film Bale shone in!

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2) The Prestige

A very close race and I was tempted to put this first, Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Prestige’ is a masterpiece and full of brains. It is endlessly rewatchable and I always notice something new in this film each time I watch it. Both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are excellent here but I think Bale gives the better performance as a character full of layers. It’s a shame that this film is quite underrated when it comes to Nolan’s filmography but if you can seek it out, it is more than worth your attention.

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1) The Dark Knight

What would a Christian Bale list be without this iconic film? ‘The Dark Knight’ is the film that rules all comic-book films and which all comic-book films strive to reach the quality of. It is simply breathtaking and features perfect measures of action, brains and narrative. Performance-wise, of coure this is the late-Heath Ledger’s film with his daring turn as the Joker which ultimately earnt him a posthumous Academy Award. Bale’s Bruce Wayne / Batman does get sidelined but Bale really develops as a character here and particularly in the now-iconic prison interrogation sequence, Bale more than holds up his own against Ledger. Great film and a measured Christian Bale performance.


So there we go, there’s my personal Top Five. You’re probably wondering though, where are ‘The Machinist’, ‘American Hustle’, ‘The Fighter’ (for which he won an Oscar for) and ‘The Big Short‘? Well whilst I do like those films, I feel that these five are more special to me although these films do contain some of his best performances too. Here’s hoping ‘The Promise’ is worthwhile and that this very versatile and talented actor’s career continues to flourish.

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‘The Promise’ will be released in UK cinemas on Friday 28th April

Ranking The Best Picture Nominees

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The Academy Awards have now been and gone and ‘Moonlight’ ended up being triumphant edging out ‘La La Land’ which took the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s by storm. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference. Unfortunately, I have only recently managed to watch ‘Hidden Figures’ hence why I am a little late.

Let’s get started…

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9) La La Land

The film that everyone loved and expected to win Best Picture, it is with heavy heart that I found ‘La La Land’ to be an incredibly disappointing film that is totally undeserving of all the praise it received. I really wanted to like this film and I kept trying to make excuses for Chazelle but there’s just too many mis-steps to ignore and the film feels very disjointed in its pacing. The performances are admirable and Gosling and Stone carry the film well but by no means are they awards-worthy and the script in particular, which is normally Chazelle’s main attribute is dismally lacking and doesn’t have any direction to it. The whole plot of the film is by extension, confused and the film doesn’t know what it wants to be and the many elements of the narrative just aggressively don’t come together. Did I miss something in this film? Did I watch a different film to everyone else, not the one that has made such an impression on both critics and audiences and has attracted sterling reviews? (My Review here)

There is now a big step up in quality…

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8) Moonlight

‘Moonlight’ makes for quite a mixed watch and starts off well enough in its first two segments only to undo itself in its third. I couldn’t really connect with the characters in the third act and found the film quite alienating. That said, the film is not an easy watch and this is a film that warrants rewatching so the rating of this film has the potential of increasing. Aside from my issues with the film, it features some great performances, a superb score  and some interesting cinematography and the film can only be admired for what it is trying to do even if Jenkins doesn’t quite have the experience to fully execute his vision. In terms of positioning on this ranking, I did have to juggle this with my no. 7 pick, ‘Fences’ and whilst this film warrants a rewatch, the reason why I am ranking it below is because I found ‘Fences’ a little more fulfilling the first time. (My Review here)

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7) Fences

Just edging out ‘Moonlight’ but this could very easily swap places on rewatching it, the big problems that hinders ‘Fences’ for a considerable amount of its lengthy run time is that it isn’t particularly cinematic. Straight off the bat, the film felt this way and the film made me want to be in a theatre experiencing this narrative on stage. For the first half an hour or so, this is particularly problematic but I began to settle into the film when its narrative kicked in and through its excellent performances. Even when the film settles, it can still never quite shake off this feeling. Funnily enough, it is in the film’s quieter moments where it isn’t so dialogue-laden that it begins to feel more cinematic and it is on the strength of August Wilson’s screenplay which is a terrific piece of work that the film overall just about works. There are a number of really touching scenes peppered throughout the film that are stunning to behold and I found the narrative in Wilson’s script particularly strong. It’s a good film but I don’t think it’s Oscar material. (My Review here)

Now we get to the excellent films:

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6) Arrival

‘Arrival’ is masterfully constructed by Villeneuve and for its first two thirds is particularly gripping. The performances are strong here too and yet again, Villeneuve’s team behind-the-camera do some good work. However, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew in its last third and although the film is still very interesting and original, it does begin to derail and struggle through towards its ending. I’m not going to go into spoilers as this is a film that needs to be watched blindly but I felt the film did leave a lot of questions unanswered and the ending does have a few plot holes to it. This is a film that warrants multiple rewatches so perhaps things will become clearer on subsequent viewings. It’s a film that for a sci-fi is very low on action and big set-pieces – this is very much a thinking person’s sci-fi and is not too dissimilar thematically from films such as ‘Contact’ or ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ for example. Denis Villeneuve is one of my favourite directors currently working in Hollywood so for this film to come 6th is testament to the quality of not only this film but the subsequent films in this list. (My Review here)

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5) Lion

To my surprise, I really liked ‘Lion’ and found it to be an emotionally rewarding and heartfelt experience and the material was respectfully judged by Garth Davis. It features some very real performances with the standout being Dev Patel and although it can’t quite shake off the biopic feel at times, its narrative manages to do a lot of the heavy lifting. It also features a very memorable score that is respectful and well-judged and the cinematography is equally effective in encapsulating the narrative of the film. (My Review here)

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4) Manchester By The Sea

‘Manchester By The Sea’ is a heartfelt, expertly crafted film that features a career-defining performance by Casey Affleck and it takes its time in really developing its characters and allowing its audience to emotionally connect with them. The rest of the cast are also very strong and the narrative really goes to town with these characters who all go through their own equally debilitating experiences. That said, the film does have some flaws in its tone which is a little unbalanced at times and a couple of baffling musical choices also awkwardly impact the film. (My Review here)

And now the top three…

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3) Hidden Figures

‘Hidden Figures’ is an extremely easy film to like and barely puts a foot wrong; I was utterly charmed by it the whole way through. It is competently directed by Melfi and has just the right blend of comedy and factual drama in it to prevent it from being too laborious or too comedic. Not only are the performances are great in this film, but the characters are all really well-developed and the screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder is wonderfully written. What stops this film from being perfect is it is fairly conventional in parts and there are a couple of story arcs that are a little underwritten. But these are very small nitpicks in an otherwise near-perfect film. (My Review here)

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2) Hacksaw Ridge

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is one of the best war films I have ever seen and features some stunning performances with Gibson’s signature gory yet visceral battle sequences that really throw these men into hell-and-back. Gibson is able to really portray the hardship that these men endure time and time again and whilst I am ever respectful of those fight for their country, this film elevated my respect even more for them whilst watching this film. The film is extremely well-shot and features many memorable sequences – this film fully deserves the Awards attention it is getting! That said, the film is not without fault and an inconsistency in tone is this film’s biggest problem as the two distinct halves of the film don’t quite gel together. The first half in particular of the film which develops these characters and prepares Doss for the battle that lies ahead often head into conventional territory and it is quite bizarre as it almost feels like Gibson is knowingly do this but to what purpose, I’m not sure. However, when the film is able to go berserk, it does and it is immensely satisfying. (My Review here)

And the best film is…

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1) Hell Or High Water 

Far and away the best film of this selection, I loved ‘Hell or High Water’ on first viewing and it gets better on every rewatch. It is a very well directed film that boasts some terrific performances by its cast, particularly Jeff Bridges and I normally don’t like Chris Pine so for him to not only be in a great film but give a great performance is a miracle. The film has a lot to say on American society and it perfectly develops its characters and features some terrific sequences. It also features one of the very best scores of the year by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. There wasn’t a chance in hell that this film would ever win but at least it’s getting the recognition it deserves – go and see this film!

Summary

Overall, this is not the strongest collection of films nominated for Best Picture by any means, but it generally a consistent and worthy selection of films with the exception of ‘La La Land’ but I can see why many people have taken to the way that they have with the film. ‘Moonlight’ ultimately won the Best Picture Award which is deserving due its subject matter and I hope the film manages to reach the heights of the others on this list on subsequent viewings – it does have that spark but I couldn’t quite connect with it. ‘Hell or High Water’ is by far and away the best film here but it didn’t connect with critics and audiences as much and many were surprised to see it even nominated. I’m just happy that ‘La La Land’ didn’t win as I cannot understand the praise that that film has received, as much of a fan of Damien Chazelle as I am, it really missed the mark.

Ranking The Comic-Book Films Of 2016

With 2016 bringing us a slew of comic-book films, 6 to be exact and them all receiving very different receptions now would seem like a suitable time to rank them. Although comic-book films are prevalent every year at the moment, 2016 has allowed them to branch out with DC ramping up their cinematic universe with the releases of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ so we now officially have the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe which will continue to battle each other throughout the next few years. DC have had a particularly hard time this year with both of their films receiving negative reviews and drawing lots of controversy. I love controversy as I have had different reactions to both films but I can understand why they have drawn up so much debate. ‘Suicide Squad’ is also the first comic-book film to be from the perspective of the villains and ‘Deadpool’, a comic-book adaptation that is 15 / R-rated and it really earns this rating. I wrote a post earlier on this year but I do think this will be interesting for the future as we will hopefully get some adult-orientated comic-book films.

So this hasn’t just been a typical year in this genre hence why I have felt the need to rank them. Let’s get started!

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6) X-Men: Apocalypse 

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ severely drops the ball big time – it is far and away the worst entry in the entire franchise and apart from a promising first 45 minutes or so, is an overlong CGI bore. The story is incoherent and sloppy and particularly towards the film’s climax, the film is unwatchable. Even the acting which is normally stellar is very underwhelming and there are many examples of both old and new characters phoning it in. Oscar Isaac is an especially awful villain and it’s such a shame to see such a talented actor reduced to a throw-away role like this. There is some stuff to like here – there are a couple of good sequences peppered throughout the first two thirds of the film and particularly the film’s opening is  rather promising but other than this, it is with heavy heart that this film is an outright disaster. (Review here)

And now for the good one’s…

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5) Deadpool

‘Deadpool’ is unfortunately a bit of a disappointment given the hype it has recieved but individual set pieces and sequences are absolutely fantastic. Director Tim Miller really knows how to direct action and the opening action sequence is perhaps the most exciting action sequence in a comic-book film this year. Ryan Reynolds is also perfect in the titular role but the rest of the cast aren’t particularly great. It does suffer from a low budget and tonally, it can be quite obnoxious in parts. The humour is also quite primitive given the directions that they could have gone in although I do admit that I did chuckle a few times. Fox also heavy-handedly promote their X-Men universe to the point where it feels that is being rammed down the audience’s throat which is a shame. It would be great to see Deadpool team up with his X-Men counterparts but a constant reminder that this is happening shouldn’t occur. The film is also so focussed with lambasting every other comic book film that exists that it falls into conventionality, particularly the third act. Now all this would seem negative – there is a lot to like in this film but it is also deeply flawed. Sadly, Tim Miller won’t be returning to direct the sequel. (Review here)

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4) Suicide Squad

‘Suicide Squad’ is unfortunately a disappointment compared to the promise of the trailers that have preceded the film for the past year and half. It is quite noticeable that this film has been tampered with by the studio – the film often feels like a music video in its editing and the whole film feels incredibly disjointed and its humour feels very forced at times. The story is virtually non-existent – it is paper thin and the characters are solely put first. Now that all said, there are large portions of the film that David Ayer seems to have made that are left in the film and there are some outstanding sequences buried in this middling adaptation. Ayer also does a very good job in developing the characters enough for audiences to care about them and warrant a sequel even if the film that they are in here isn’t the best. The cast assembled here have clearly put in a lot of effort into their roles and the performances clearly pay off with Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Viola Davis being the standouts. There is one exception which is Cara Delevingne who is absolutely god-awful in this. Although very promising in places, ‘Suicide Squad’ is ultimately nowhere near good enough as it should have been and is further evidence of a director’s vision being compromised by the studio. But I would definitely be up for a sequel with the hope of an improved narrative and less studio interference. (Review here)

There is a big step-up in quality from here…

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3) Captain America: Civil War

‘Captain America: Civil War’ is a very solid effort from the Russo brothers and is an improvement over ‘The Winter Soldier’. It has a great cast and is one of the rare ensemble comic book films of recent times to not feel overstuffed. The film is however overlong – it takes a long while to get going and there is a lot of excess baggage that could have been trimmed but when the film does get going after 45 minutes or so, it’s surprisingly coherent for a film that has a lot of characters to juggle and is well-paced. Surprisingly, the film also features one of the best villains in the franchise, an aspect that Marvel are not good at and consistently fail at even in their best films, but Daniel Bruhl makes for a menacing and calculative three-dimensional villain and is the best comic-book villain of the year out of all these films. This is a strong comic-book film that develops the MCU but the reason why it’s at 3rd is because it doesn’t do particularly much in the way of risks. (Review here)

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2) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

It was a tough choice where to rank this film – in many ways, this could have been my favourite or it could have been behind ‘Captain America: Civil War’. Although ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is wildly uneven and its overstuffed story is very incoherent at times, there are aspects of this film that are absolutely stunning. Director Zack Snyder took a lot of risks here and although this film has received a whole host of different responses, this is by no means a safe comic-book film and is more of an experiment. Snyder’s treatment of these superheroes is very controversial at times (here Batman kills people unlike in the comics for example) and there are some gaping plot holes and some questionable decisions in the plot. Larry Fong’s cinematography is jaw-droppingly good and there are some outstanding camera shot that are a pure spectacle to behold. A lot of the cast here are great – Ben Affleck’s performance is a brilliant rendition of the Caped Crusader and Gal Gadot and Jeremy Irons are also welcome additions. Unfortunately Henry Cavill’s Superman is sidelined but is more fleshed out in the superior Ultimate Cut. The film does suffer in its final act which is an action sequence too long and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a misfire. This film is a marked improvement over its predecessor, ‘Man of Steel’ and the film is very entertaining and features some outstanding sequences and some interesting ideas. ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is not your conventional comic-book film and is all the better for it. Sadly I don’t think Zack Snyder will be given quite as much creative freedom for ‘Justice League’. (Review here)

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1) Doctor Strange 

‘Doctor Strange’ is a delight from start to finish – it is thoroughly entertaining, extremely well-paced and has perhaps the best visual effects that I have seen in a film for a while. The film is bolstered by its excellent cast who are all wonderful and Scott Derrickson is a clear fit for the material –  you can really tell the passion that has gone into this film behind the camera. It’s a lot more stripped down than a lot of the other comic-book films this year  which means the film can get a chance to breathe and develop these characters. Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character is wonderful as is the rest of the cast which was a given from day one – when you have a cast comprising of Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton, you know you are in for a treat. Although the film takes less risks than ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, it is more coherent and has a lot of heart to it which gives this film the edge. A really impressive film and hopefully we’ll have plenty more to see from these characters as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand. (Review here)



What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister


 

Ranking The X-Men Films

With 2016 bringing not only one but two ‘X-Men’ films, now would seem like a suitable time to rank the entire lot. It is currently the 7th highest grossing film franchise of all time so clearly a very profitable brand and one that is generally regarded highly. In my opinion, the series is mostly very good – at its best, near-perfect, but at its worst, crushingly disappointing.

Let’s get started!

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9) X-Men: Apocalypse

Unfortunately, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is the only bad film of this series. Apart from a promising first 45 minutes or so, the film is a CGI bore. The story is incoherent and sloppy and particularly towards the film’s climax, the film is unwatchable. Even the acting which is normally stellar in this series is very underwhelming and there are many examples of both old and new characters phoning it in. Oscar Isaac’s titular villain is a total disaster and the film is even mean-spirited in places taking unnecessary shots at ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ which ends up backfiring on itself. There is some stuff to like here however – amidst all of the incoherency, there are a couple of good sequences and the film opens up rather promisingly but other than this, this is a film to avoid. (Review here)

Now for the good ones…

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8) X-Men 2 (alternatively known as ‘X2’)

Generally regarded as the pinnacle of this franchise, I’ve always found this film to be quite baggy in places and muddled but it sets itself very nicely for ‘The Last Stand’ and has a great villain in Brian Cox as William Stryker, a recurring character in this series. Perhaps the reason why I dismiss it a little is because of how much I had enjoyed its predecessor which redefined the comic book genre. This film is a lot less enjoyable and at times, is a chore to sit through and the film has a lot of exposition in it which does make the film come down a bit at times. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the film – I just don’t understand why it is generally regarded as the best entry.

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7) Deadpool

‘Deadpool’ is an interesting spin-off in this franchise and it’s refreshing to see that this film has the courage to push the boundaries in its age rating. It is unfortunately a bit of a disappointment given the hype it has recieved but individual set pieces and sequences are absolutely fantastic. Ryan Reynolds is also perfect in the role. It does suffer from a low budget and tonally, it can be quite obnoxious in parts. The humour is also quite primitive given the directions that they could have gone in although I do admit that I did chuckle a few times. Fox also heavy-handedly promote their X-Men universe to the point where it feels that is being rammed down the audience’s throat which is a shame. It would be great to see Deadpool team up with his X-Men counterparts but a constant reminder that this is happening shouldn’t occur. The film is also so focussed with lambasting every other comic book film that exists that it falls into conventionality, particularly the third act. Now all this would seem negative – there is a lot to like in this film but it is also deeply flawed. (Review here)

There is now a big step-up in quality…

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6) X-Men: The Last Stand 

‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ is a very misunderstood film after Bryan Singer’s first two directorial efforts that were so widely praised, ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ gets a very bad wrap but it is in fact a no-nonsense, entertaining film by Brett Ratner that isn’t scared of deviating the story in set in the first two entries of this franchise. It’s much leaner and simpler than ‘X-Men 2’ but this works in the film’s favour and Ratner doesn’t mess around with killing off some key characters which makes the story very unpredictable and all the more enjoyable. As the film is so economical in its pacing, it falls short in its character development and the film doesn’t carry much of an emotional arc.

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5) X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise and generally regarded as one of the best instalments, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ is overrated but the film does have many moments of sheer brilliance and has an interesting narrative.  One of my initial worries when the film first came out was how they were going to handle the heap of characters, but it’s not a big issue at all.  love how Bryan Singer has tried to ‘right the wrongs’ of past films and he has almost got it there, albeit with still a few holes to fix. There are some terrific sequences in the film, most notably the now infamous scene with Evan Peters as Quicksilver breaking Magneto out of the Pentagon. However, the film is about 15 minutes too long and its third act is a bit of a comedown from an otherwise focussed film. Although it’s not quite a triumph , it’s  still a very valiant effort from Bryan Singer.

And now for the greats…

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4) X-Men

The film that kickstarted this franchise off. Although the effects may seem quite dated now, ‘X-Men’ is an endlessly entertaining film and Bryan Singer’s best out of his 4 efforts in this franchise. Singer establishes and develops the characters that we have now grown to love and is very faithful to the comics that the film is based on. This film also marks Hugh Jackman’s first appearance as Wolverine who is excellent and as ever, Ian McKellen makes for a menacing villain. As mentioned though, this film hasn’t aged particularly well but it still manages to entertain as the story is very sharply focussed and the film boasts some fun action sequences.

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3) X-Men Origins: Wolverine

This is probably the part where you stop reading this list and completely disregard it.  I know this film is generally regarded as the worst entry by a long shot, but allow me to justify myself. I really enjoyed ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ as it is suitably gritty and works as a great revenge tale for the superhero that we have all come to love. There are some outstanding sequences here such as Wolverine’s transformation and there are some cool action scenes, most notably the now infamous helicopter sequence. It does also have a surprising amount of heart as the film explores the relationship between Wolverine and Kayla very well and we really feel for Wolverine when everything is taken away from him. The film also has some really good performances here – Liev Schreiber is the best Sabretooth to be portrayed on-screen to date, Danny Huston makes for a great villain and even Taylor Kitsch and will.i.am, two actors who have played in some terrible films give valiant performances here. What really angered fans with this film was its treatment of Deadpool – I agree that it does make some mistakes with the character but his introduction in the beginning is fantastic and if fans didn’t feel so strongly about this, we would never have got the ‘Deadpool’ film that we have today. Give this film another chance, don’t take it too seriously and you may find yourself having a great time watching this.

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2) X-Men: First Class

‘X-Men: First Class’ is an intelligent and extremely entertaining entry in this franchise that marked the beginning of the prequel trilogy and rejuvenated fan opinion of this franchise after ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ and ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ had been negatively received. This film successfully blends superheroes with history and the film features some fantastic performances, most notably Michael Fassbender who proves himself a great Magneto and in my opinion, has the best scene in this entire franchise in a bar in Argentina. Kevin Bacon also makes for a menacing villain and the film’s new ‘younger’ cast are all a great match for the older cast in the original trilogy. Henry Jackman’s score is very effective here too and there are some great themes. However, the film does stumble in its third act where it does lose some steam but other than this, the film provided a successful return to the franchise and is a film that fans generally regard as one of the best entries in this franchise.

And the best X-Men film is…

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1) The Wolverine

A surprise winner compared to other lists, ‘The Wolverine’ is a perfect film up until its final act that does what most other comic book films can’t – not just be a great comic book film but also a great action film to boot. As the characters of Wolverine and the rest of the cast are very well developed, one forgets that they are watching a comic book film half the time and we really feel his pain. The film features some great action sequences particularly one on a bullet train and at a funeral and up until its final action sequence that descends into generic comic book territory is a perfect adaptation of what a Wolverine film should be. Hugh Jackman gives the best performance he has done of this character here and both Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto give assured performances and will hopefully progress further into the film industry on the merits of their work here. Marco Beltrami’s score is beautiful and endlessly atmospheric. James Mangold proves himself as a director here and hopefully the sequel to this film will be just as good – we will find out next year!

 


What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister

Ranking The Best Picture Nominees

The Academy Awards have now been and gone and ‘Spotlight’ ended up being triumphant edging out ‘The Revenant’ which took the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s by storm. Here I rank the Best Picture nominees in order of my own personal preference. Unfortunately, I have only just got round to watching ‘Brooklyn’ hence why I am a little late.

Let’s get started…

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8) The Martian

Unfortunately, ‘The Martian’ was very disappointing. Even though it had been overhyped, as a film it just didn’t work. The performances were not bad although Matt Damon’s nomination was rather undeserved and allowed talents such as Johnny Depp for his performance in ‘Black Mass’ to get snubbed. Ridley Scott’s direction was also ok but he has done far better work, for example 2012’s ‘Prometheus’ is a much better film than this.

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7) The Big Short

A very original and intelligent film that does deserve a place in the ‘Best Picture’ category but it is towards the bottom of the list due to the fact the film has a lot of issues tonally. At times it comes across as very smug and obnoxious and the film has a bit of an identity crisis as director Adam McKay can’t quite shake off his comedic roots. That said though, it is very original in the way it all plays out and the acting, particularly by Christian Bale and Steve Carrell.

(Click here to read my review)

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6) Brooklyn

‘Brooklyn’ is a fairly unremarkable film that feels quite disjointed and a little too ordinary for the Best Picture Academy Award. However, Saoirse Ronan gives a career-best performance here and there are some outstanding scenes that work separately to the rest of the film. Compared to ‘The Big Short’, I would argue that ‘The Big Short’ is definitely more original and better Awards material but ‘Brooklyn’ is stronger as entertainment.

There is now a big step up in quality…

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5) Bridge Of Spies

In parts, ‘Bridge of Spies’ is outstanding, particularly in its first half and has a revelatory turn from Mark Rylance which won him the Academy Award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’, deservedly so. Tom Hanks manages to carry the film along, but Rylance’s absence is sorely missed in the second half and the film loses steam. Usual business from Steven Spielberg, but still good fun.

(Click here to read my review)

Now we get to the excellent films:

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4) The Revenant

A little sluggish in parts, ‘The Revenant’ is a fantastic piece of work with outstanding performances and assured direction from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It’s a very sensory experience and Lubezki’s cinematography is gobsmacking and earned him another Academy Award. This was also the film where Leonardo DiCaprio finally was given an Oscar for his role here, deservedly so.

(Click here to read my review)

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3) Spotlight

A gripping tale of the Catholic Church scandal, ‘Spotlight’ is a very assured film that features fantastic performance from the entire cast and a brilliant, tight script penned by Tom McCarthy who also directs. The only reason why it doesn’t rank higher is the fact that it doesn’t particularly do a lot to set itself apart from other films of this type but it’s still supremely entertaining and satisfying.

(Click here to read my review)

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2) Mad Max: Fury Road

An astonishing piece of work by director George Miller against all the odds. Whilst ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is not perfect by any means and lacks in the story department, the action sequences are a gargantuan work of art and on a technical scale, the film is jaw-dropping. Interwoven into all the action on-screen is a wonderful female leading role by Charlize Theron who is able to redesign the role of the woman in the action film genre.

And now for the best film…

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1) Room

‘Room’ is a flawless piece of work. It is an inspiring watch and reaches various emotional heights. The performances from the cast all round are nothing short of incredible and Lenny Abrahamsson’s careful and assured direction works wonders. The film has a beaming heart at its core – at times the film is devastatingly sad and at others, warm and feel-good. It is expertly paced and takes ample time to develop its characters. ‘Room’ has received a rare 5-star rating from myself and on top of that, is one of the best films of the decade so far. 

(Click here to read my 5-star review)

Summary

Overall, a worthy selection with the exception of ‘The Martian’ and ‘Brooklyn’, but in terms of originality, ‘The Big Short’ deserves its spot even if it is a flawed film. It’s also one of the strongest fields in recent years. ‘Spotlight’ ultimately won the Best Picture Award which is deserving. ‘Room’ is by far and away the best film here but it didn’t connect with audiences as much as this and it was a toss-up between ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Revenant’. I’d have been happy if ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ would have won but the Academy would be very trepidatious to say the least, to give the highest Award to a blockbuster. 

 

Ranking Pixar Films

With the release of ‘Inside Out’ and ‘The Good Dinosaur’, now seems an appropriate time to rank the films by Pixar. Pixar are geniuses when they come to animation and are yet to make a bad film – even the worst film on this list is still decent by animation standards, it’s just a let-down when compared to what Pixar can achieve.

16) The Good Dinosaur

Pixar’s most recent offering is very disjointed and a tonal jumble but as a film in its own right, it’s decent. The story is all over the place and whilst individual set pieces work, as a whole the film doesn’t quite gel together. That said, the animation here is stunning and there are many sweeping panoramic shots of landscapes that are stunning to behold. (Review here)

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15) A Bug’s Life

Pixar’s second film couldn’t quite match their debut, but ‘A Bug’s Life’ is still good fun even if it doesn’t pack the emotional punch that we have come to expect from Pixar. It all feels a little too simplistic and it’s not particularly memorable. Unfortunately, it has too many parallels to DreamWorks ‘Antz’ which came out shortly beforehand.

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14) Brave

Although it’s a disjointed film and is second-rate Pixar all the way,’Brave’ still has its moments with its relatable characters and simplistic, easy to follow story.

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13) Wall-E

This would normally feature right at the top of many people’s lists, but it’s nowhere near as good as it’s made out to be. There are many dull moments in ‘Wall-E’ and its pacing is uneven, but when the film gets into its rhythm, it’s fabulous.

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12) Cars

John Lasseter’s pet project isn’t one of Pixar’s best, but it’s still a satisfying film and good fun. As well as its sequel, the race sequences are wonderfully realised and are exhilarating to watch.

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There is now a big step-up in quality…

11) Toy Story

The first ever Pixar film was an incredible debut and it has laid the foundations for sequels that are even better than this original outing. The script is outstanding.

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10) Monsters University

Although the sequel to ‘Monsters Inc’ wasn’t quite as refined as its predecessor and had a wobbly first act, it managed to redeem itself half-way through and storms to the end and packs an emotional punch.

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9) Finding Nemo

A very memorable and quotable entry to the Pixar canon, ‘Finding Nemo’ is an emotional journey and the characters are wonderfully developed. It doesn’t rank quite as highly as its pacing is a little uneven at times.

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8) Cars 2

Many critics and audiences alike aggressively disliked this film, but I thought it was even better than the original. It’s better paced and has an interesting story. It’s barrels of fun.

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7) Inside Out

Pete Docter’s most recent film out of three, although this is his worst one, it is still near-perfect. ‘Inside Out’ is extremely original and has a wonderful script but the reason it cannot quite rank as high is because the story is a little too conventional and predictable in parts. (Review here)

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6) Ratatouille

Brad Bird’s first of two offerings for Pixar, ‘Ratatouille’ is a tale of how anyone can do anything they want and it’s an uplifting, satisfying and mouth-watering journey of a film. It’s more mature than a lot of other Pixar films which is for the better and elevates the film.

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5) Toy Story 2

The sequel that nearly ended up being a disaster, Lasseter decided to release it in cinemas as opposed to straight-to-DVD and it ended up being even better than the original. It’s better paced and features a terrific climax with the characters.

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And now for the best of the bunch…

4) Toy Story 3

The 3rd ‘Toy Story’ ended up being the best one and what elevated it from the other two was its emotional heart. It is paced perfectly and the spirit that was present in the first two films lives on here. I just hope they don’t botch up the planned 4th instalment – please, Pixar, leave this perfect trilogy as it is.

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3) Monsters Inc

Into the top three, Pete Docter’s first of three offerings, ‘Monsters Inc’ is hilarious and has memorable characters and is very emotional at times. The combination of John Goodman and Billy Crystal is a match made in heaven and the two bounce off each other extremely well.

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2) The Incredibles

A close second, ‘The Incredibles’ is better than most superhero films out there and it has a very warm heart. Its superheroes are very relatable and the film is expertly paced. The perfect superhero film.

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And the best Pixar film is…

1) Up

The best Pixar film undisputedly, ‘Up’ is an emotional roller coaster yet hilarious at times and and it has a tremendous heart. The first five minutes is perhaps the best opening to a film in history. It’s an extremely memorable and quotable film and it’s just wonderful to watch. A perfect film.

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So what does the future hold for Pixar?

‘Finding Dory’, a sequel to ‘Finding Nemo’ is scheduled for June 2016 and ‘Coco’, an original Pixar film directed by Lee Unkrich behind ‘Toy Story 3’ is scheduled for November 2017. ‘Cars 3’, ‘The Incredibles 2’ and ‘Toy Story 4’ are also in development.

 

Top Ten James Bond Films

With the release of the 24th film in the James Bond canon ‘Spectre’, now seems right to reflect on the series as a whole. Here I rank my Top Ten James Bond films:

10) You Only Live Twice 

I really battled with what should have been 10th place. Numbers 1-9 were not hard to pick at all but in my opinion, 3 films are worthy and to be honest, depending on the mood I’m in, I could quite easily interchange them. It was a toss up between ‘Goldfinger’, ‘A View To A Kill’ but in the end, ‘You Only Live Twice’ prevailed. The unveiling of Donald Pleasance as arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld was fantastically done and having Bond in Japan provided a refreshing change to the series. It’s also Sean Connery’s best work as the spy, this being his 5th film and he begrudgingly returned to make ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ in 1971 which was an utter disaster. A really solid film.

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9) Skyfall

Despite being overrated, ‘Skyfall’ is still extremely entertaining and Javier Bardem as the memorable villain, Raoul Silva was very sinister. There are some extremely giddy action sequences here and reintroducing Moneypenny and Q back into the series provided a sense of familiarity. My issue with the film and why it is ultimately the weakest of Daniel Craig’s quadrilogy thus far is it overlong and there is a lot of excess padding to the film.

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8) Spectre

A hair better than ‘Skyfall’, ‘Spectre’ is much more playful in tone and harkens back to the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. The performances are excellent with Christoph Waltz being the standout as the villain and Dave Bautista is the most effective and sinister henchman in a Bond film in a long time. Ben Whishaw is also excellent in his developed role as Q.  The locations and cinematography are also mesmerising. ‘Spectre’ is not without its flaws – it has a slow middle section in its lengthy 148 minute run time and the ending is extremely predictable.

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7) The Man With The Golden Gun

Granted, ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ is extremely silly but it is so entertaining. Roger Moore ups-the-ante in his second film as 007 and there are some giddy stunts and inventive action sequences. The iconic Christopher Lee as the villain, Francisco Scaramanga and Herve Villechaize as the henchman are a perfect pairing and are suitable nemeses for Bond. This film was an absolute ball from start to finish and there is not one dull moment.

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6) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 

George Lazenby’s solo outing as 007 proved to be one of the best Bond films, despite his horrific performance. The story was extremely well crafted and the action sequences superbly shot. This film has given inspiration to many blockbusters of today for its Alpine sequences. The film is a little overlong, but intellectually, it is one of the most challenging films of the entire series. Just a shame that Sean Connery didn’t want to continue with the role and it’s also a shame that the producers didn’t want to carry on the story of this film where it leaves off. An excellent film.

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5) Casino Royale

Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond was extremely dark and serious, contrary to Pierce Brosnan’s disappointing quadrilogy. The tone is very dark and the story is one of the best of the entire series. The crane sequence and torture scene cement the film’s darker tone and are a spectacle to behold on-screen. Mads Mikkelsen is a perfect villain and extremely sinister. Unfortunately, it does step down a notch in its third act but ‘Casino Royale’ is ultimately an extremely good entry.

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4) Quantum Of Solace

A controversial choice, but I preferred ‘Quantum Of Solace’ to its predecessor, ‘Casino Royale’. It’s much better paced and the 105 minutes fly by. The action sequences are extremely well crafted (the shaky cam makes it more frenetic) although I do think the best action sequence in Craig’s career is the crane sequence from ‘Casino Royale’. The Bond girls are much better here and aren’t just used for their looks and sex – Olga Kurylenko is extremely feisty and Gemma Arterton is sound in one of her first roles before she went into the big leagues. Mathieu Amalric is a brilliant villain, despite being physically weak. An excellent sequel and in my opinion, the best of Craig’s films so far – a shame that no-one else seems to agree.

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3) From Russia With Love

The 2nd Bond film was a classic and is Sean Connery’s best work as 007. It was a much bigger film in budget than ‘Dr No’ and for the best, a much better story and script. ‘From Russia With Love’ starts out slow, but develops into a fast paced and satisfying action film and the villains are fantastic, the standout being Robert Shaw. Daniela Bianchi makes for a fantastic Bond girl and the film is also Desmond Llewelyn’s debut as Q.

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2) Licence To Kill

A controversial choice, but Timothy Dalton is phenomenal here and makes for a really gritty, no-nonsense Bond. ‘Licence To Kill’ was the first Bond film to receive a 15 certificate from the BBFC and this makes for outstanding action sequences that are much more violent than any of its predecessors and it’s for the better. Mexico as a location really works and Robert Davi is an extremely effective villain and is bolstered by a young Benicio Del Toro as a henchman. The Bond girls are also well played by Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto. It’s a shame that ‘The Living Daylights’, Dalton’s debut wasn’t as exciting as this and a shame that he couldn’t carry on with the role.

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1)  Live And Let Die 

In my opinion, ‘Live And Let Die’ is the ultimate James Bond film. Roger Moore’s first outing as 007 is sublime and this is his best performance in all of his 7 films. The tone is much darker than its predecessors but it is also much more witty which makes for the perfect balance. Yaphet Kotto is a fantastic villain and the action sequences here are amazing, the highlight being the crocodile farm. The film is also complimented by the series best theme song penned by Paul McCartney and Wings.

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Worst Outings 

3) Die Another Day

Pierce Brosnan’s worst film by a long shot, this film was implausible and the action sequences are very choppy but that said, it’s still perfectly watchable. Halle Berry is awful and John Cleese makes for an extremely irritating Q (although he is named R). It’s good that Brosnan went when he did.

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2) Moonraker 

The film was still rather entertaining, but it’s utterly implausible. Bond in space. Really? The first half is good enough and there are a couple of not bad action sequences but the film just goes off the rails and the film becomes really tedious and laughable, especially once Bond arrives in space. Henchman Jaws, who was iconic in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ is brought down to embarrassment as he finds love in a woman called Dolly who happens to be short. What was everyone thinking when they made this?

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1) Diamonds Are Forever

There have been some real disasters in the series but the worst film of them all is undoubtedly, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. Sean Connery looks completely bored and the story is a complete mess. The film is devoid of any fun, except for a good car chase sequence mid-way through the film. Charles Gray is a horrendous Blofeld and the Bond girls were not much better. The henchman, Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are just plain laughable. Awful!

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Summary 

The James Bond series is still growing strong with 24 instalments to its name. Save for a handful of bad ones, all of them are very entertaining and the series has cemented itself as the 3rd highest grossing film series of all time, behind Harry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s hoping for many more entertaining memories with our favourite secret agent!

Marvel Cinematic Universe – Ranked!

This Summer, Marvel’s latest addition to their ever-growing franchise, ‘Ant-Man’ rounded off Phase 2 of their cinematic universe. The upcoming ‘Captain America: Civil War’ will begin Phase 3. Here is my ranking of the first two phases:

Marvel Cinematic Universe – Ranked! 

12) The Incredible Hulk 

It has a couple of moments of brilliance and a couple of well-choreographed action sequences but ‘The Incredible Hulk’ is ultimately a very lazy, boring and uninspired film that doesn’t feel as if it belongs in this cinematic universe. Tim Roth, however, does make to be one of the better villains that Marvel has had so far though as the aggressive Abomination.

11) The Avengers: Age Of Ultron

A sequel to a near-perfect original that is overstuffed, boring and all over the place. I admire director Joss Whedon for trying to not make a typical sequel and Marvel apparently interjected in production and made Whedon get rid of some scenes and film some new footage that would link to future instalments. This film is so concerned with setting up future films that it forgets that it is a film in the first place and fails abysmally to entertain.

10) Iron Man 2

‘Iron Man 2’ is a disappointing, overstuffed sequel that is all over the place in its pacing and is very boring in parts. Luckily though, director Jon Favreau manages to retain the humour and charm of Tony Stark’s character and the film boasts a couple of top-notch action sequences. It’s a shame watching Mickey Rourke here as he put a lot of work into the role of the main villain, Whiplash, but apparently a lot of scenes were cut during the editing process.

At this point, the rest of the films are much better in terms of quality…

9) Captain America: The First Avenger

A pleasant, nostalgic watch that successfully sets up future instalments and the characters are well-developed. The film does have some issues in pacing and overfamiliarity in places and is at least 20 minutes overlong but what is here is very promising.

8) Thor: The Dark World

Not as good as its predecessor, but still a fun sequel with a brilliant middle section with a couple of impressive action sequences. It would rank higher if the film didn’t feel like it was made so much by Marvel executives – director Alan Taylor doesn’t make a single director’s stamp onto this film at all. The film also relies way too much on humour which with the right measure is good to see in a comic book film but there are too many stabs at cheap humour that it ultimately lowers the tone of the film considerably. It’s also a bit of shame that Christopher Eccleston is woefully underused as the main villain, Malekith, who apparently lost a lot of scenes during the editing process.

7) Thor

Kenneth Branagh’s take on the Norse God is entertaining and the sets are very grand and the film is complimented by a brilliant script. This film is also Tom Hiddleston’s debut as the best villain Marvel has so far, Loki and he really is a perfect fit to the role. What stops this film ranking higher is it is a little confused in its pacing with a rather drawn out beginning.

The films jump up in terms of quality agin here…

6) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A superior sequel to ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and a very promising career turn by the Russo brothers who had previously directed comedies. It’s good to see them ditch the unnecessary humour that had plagued ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and the fact that they don’t rely on CGI for the action sequences, instead they try and shoot action practically is also very promising and makes the action sequences all the more enthralling. They also manage to make the film a political thriller first, a comic book film second which is very impressive. However, this film is massively overrated. The opening half an hour or so is very patchy in its pacing and the film does feel overly familiar at times where a character dies but as usual, comes back to life. Marvel, if you are going to kill a character off then JUST DO IT!

5) Iron Man 3

A massive step-up from the disappointing ‘Iron Man 2’, this film almost reaches the heights of the original. The plot is particularly strong as is the acting, with newcomers Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce very convincing in their roles. What is very impressive is that the film takes a *BIG* risk plot-wise which ultimately pays off. The film is a little incoherent which stops it ranking further up the list, but overall it’s a very solid sequel that isn’t obsessed with referencing other Marvel films too much.

4) Guardians Of The Galaxy 

A fun, feel-good film that successfully sets up the space world to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film has a very warm heart and the characters are developed very well and are relatable. Acting is top-notch and the pacing is spot-on, as is the feel-good soundtrack. I was initially very sceptical of this film as the director, James Gunn, has a bad track record but he is perfectly suited for this world. What stops this film ranking any higher is it is a little generic in its plot, but makes up for it in sheer entertainment.

Now into the top three…

3) Iron Man

The film that started it all and still ranks as one of the very best. ‘Iron Man’ boasts some brilliant acting by Robert Downey Jr and some exhilarating action sequences. Jon Favreau is perfect for this franchise as the film has just the right blend of action, humour and thrills.

2) Ant-Man

‘Ant-Man’ is an excellent and entertaining character-driven film that has a warm heart and innovative action sequences. Wright’s input is incredibly obvious and is all for the better and the casting is near perfect. The storyline is fun and the pacing is spot-on as well. However, one cannot stop themselves from unpacking the film when watching it to distinguish all of Edgar Wright’s directorial traits in it and ultimately ponder what Wright’s finished film would have been like. However what has remained is very, very promising and Marvel have another series to their name and rightly so. What sets it apart from other films in this universe is that Ant-Man is fighting for a purpose, to protect his daughter and this elevates the film tremendously.

So the best film is…

1) The Avengers 

‘The Avengers’ is the result of all the world-building and five films that set it up, the crowning jewel of Phase 1. A team-up of superheroes in film has never been done before so this film would either cement the universe’s future or would be a underwhelming climax to what had been set up. This film is the best Marvel film there is to date and rightly so. The action sequences are top-notch and the script is first class – it has just the right blend of humour and plot-line. The characters really bounce off each other well. It’s just a shame that director Joss Whedon was unable to make a satisfying follow-up.

Summary 

Marvel can be very proud of what they have achieved so far and DC are looking to emulate their success with the release of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and ‘The Suicide Squad’ next year. Whilst all the films differ in quality, what they have is very solid and their best films are truly superb. Here’s hoping for an equally satisfying Phase 3, which will culminate in ‘The Avengers: Infinity War’ where the superheroes will battle supervillain, Thanos, who has been teased for a couple of films now.