Category: science fiction

Marvel Cinematic Universe: movie reviews Assembled

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I had a bit of a strange experience when on holiday in Spain earlier this year. In the town I was staying there was an advert for an open air screening of “Captain America”. Nice. It did not say which Captain America film, but a QR code took you to a YouTube trailer for The Winter Soldier (Captain America 2). I hadn’t seen it, so I went along.

In the end, I missed the first 30 minutes of the film, so I assumed it was The Winter Soldier.

When I got back to the UK, I watched The Winter Soldier, in English this time. It was not the film I saw in Spain. I then watched Civil War (Captain America 3) and it was awfully familiar.

I really enjoyed both films, so I decided to prolong my stay in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and watch a few more.

A few things to add:

1) I’m certainly no expert and I couldn’t explain all the intricacies of the plots.

2) Never stop watching before the end of the credits – there are twists and links to the next film(s) that you should not miss…

3) It’s best to watch these films in order. Where I have become confused, it is typically because something has happened in a previous film that I hadn’t seen.

4) There are still a number of films to see that have already come out…

– Thor: The Dark World (I’d prefer not to, but this should sit between Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
– Ant-Man
– Doctor Strange

… and several more still to be released.

So here we go, in the order that the films feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Iron Man: here

Iron Man 2: here

Thor: Crap

Captain America: The First Avenger:

Pretty good, not as good as the following Captain America films. Benefits from a re-watch after seeing the two sequels.

Avengers Assemble: here

Iron Man 3: here

Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

Up there with Iron Man as the best of the films in the MCU, we discover that S.H.I.E.L.D has been infiltrated by the enemy and that Captain America’s best friend has been turned into a brainwashed killer. It’s effectively part 1 of a story that concludes with the third film in the series, Civil War.

Guardians of the Galaxy:

A move away from straight superhero fare, this is an enjoyable sci-fi flick. You find out more about the Infinity Stones – these have appeared in some of the earlier films too. I look forward to seeing the sequel.

Avengers: Age of Ultron:

This was a disappointment, especially as I had really enjoyed the first Avengers movie. The film looks like a video game, especially during the action at the beginning. The Hulk has to be included but there is little character there to develop and the idea of a romantic relationship building between Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) and Bruce Banner (Hulk) seems far-fetched, is unconvincing, lacks any spark and leaves me a bit queasy.

The idea of sowing discontent between the Avengers is a good idea and leads nicely into the events of Captain America: Civil War. It is also essential to see this before Civil War, as there are a couple of characters that appear here for the first time.

Captain America: Civil War:

This may as well be another Avengers ensemble movie given the huge cast that appear from elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Some of the characters that appear in this film appear for the first time in other films and if you haven’t seen them you will be somewhat lost. I had no idea who some of the characters were because I originally saw this straight after Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not having watched Avengers: Age of Ultron first meant that people such as Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) and Vision featured heavily but were not introduced in any way.

Still, very good.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2:

Lots of fun but I got the impression that they needed to do a sequel pretty quickly and came up with this. This deals with the main character Peter Quill discovering who his dad is, only to find out that he is a) a god and b) an arsehole. It’s hard to see at this point how this integrates into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe – maybe the next Avengers film?

Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was better than I was expecting and was a lot of fun.  Spider-Man first made an appearance in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War and here the adolescent Peter Parker gets some help from Tony Stark, in particular a new outfit that has some rather impressive features.  New York looks great.  You can’t go wrong with this – it’s light-hearted, has a decent enough plot and serves as a good introduction of Spider-man into the Marvel Universe.  I’m looking forward to seeing how they use him in the next Avengers film.

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Film: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

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When the last Star Wars film – The Force Awakens – was released I wrote this in my review:

It achieves its basic requirement: putting down firm foundations for the several more Star Wars films and spin offs that will be coming our way over the next few years.

I enjoyed the spectacle but I thought the plot was a re-run of previous films:

Don’t expect miracles from the plot – once things get going you do get a real sense of déja-vu.  This is the third time part of this story line has been used in the Star Wars films.  You’d think that the bad guys would have a bit more imagination by now.

Rogue One is the first of a number of spin-off movies, including one due next year that currently goes by the name of “the untitled Han Solo Star Wars movie”.

I’d heard this film was good, as in “it’s good for a spin off”, but I really enjoyed it.  It looks great, it keeps the action flowing and the music clearly takes its cues from the original scores but builds on them well.  It is definitely part of the Star Wars universe.

Most importantly it has a plot. The events of the film provide background to the original Star Wars film and effectively explain that film’s title “A New Hope”.  It’s great to get some new revelations.

If all the Star Wars spin-off “stories” are as good as this one then it bodes well for the future.

 

 

Mini review: “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu

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I’m not a big reader of science fiction but I started to dabble more in the genre at the end of last year (2015) when I tackled some Larry Niven (see Ringworld, Tales of Known Space and Neutron Star).  Before that there was Ender’s Game and Hugh Howey’s Wool, but that’s about it.

I’m not even sure how I came about this book. The main attractions were that it was a Hugo prize winner and the fact that the writer was Chinese. I’d also heard that this was the first part of a trilogy and the second book was better than this one.  So my expectations were high but tempered.

This is a “first contact” story, ie contact – or at least communication – between humans and an alien race.  It is a hard science fiction story, but one that doesn’t read as science fiction for a large part of the book.  This may put off some sci-fi fans, but as the book goes on the story arc moves from history > technology > science > startling premise and ideas.

In fact the end of the book is astounding.  I will be reading the sequel (The Dark Forest) at some point.

Something to note in relation to the audiobook version: the translation of the book is good – at least it read well in English, dealing impressively with some big ideas at the end – but some elements of the early story did not make sense.  I switched to the (printed) book and found that there were a number of notes from the translator which explained some of the meaning behind certain words or phrases.   So as much as I like audiobooks this time I recommend reading the book itself, simply for the extra context that it brings.