Top Ten Tuesday – The Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies (Ranked – Including Black Widow)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was for participants to list the top ten favourite book titles that are questions.  While this was a particularly interesting and unique topic, I decided to do something a little different.

I am sure that it will come to now surprise to anyone who has read some of my posts that I am a major fan of all things comic related, which includes the fabulous works coming out of Marvel.  I have an outstanding amount of love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney’s juggernaut film franchise that brings some of the most iconic Marvel Comics characters to life in their own distinctive universe.  I have been a fan since the very moment I saw the trailer for Iron Man all those years ago (it has only been 13, but it sometimes feels so much longer).  Since then 24 films have been released in this series (as well as some excellent television shows), some of which have been good, some of which have been adequate, and most of which have been pretty damn exceptional and have defined a generation of film fans.

This series seems pretty unstoppable at times, which is why it was so very strange that, for the first time since 2009, we did not have an MCU film last year, thanks to our old friend COVID-19.  It has been two years since the last MCU film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and in that time a lot of stuff as happened.  I know that during some of the worst parts of 2020 and early 2021, I was nostalgic for a time when a new MCU film was just on the horizon, and I felt that having that again would add a little normality back into our lives.  That is why I was so excited last week when I was able to go see the much anticipated and long-delayed Black Widow.  Seeing a MCU film on premiere night was pretty special to me, so, in honour of that, I thought I would take this time to highlight the MCU franchise.

I am sure that many MCU fans can appreciate how much of a task ranking these films in order can be.  Many are absolute masterpieces and some of the very best comic book films out there, and each MCU entry is vastly different from the others, which makes comparing them very difficult.  This is partially compounded by the fact that there is no such thing as a bad MCU film, as even the worse film in the franchise is still leaps and bounds above most other comic book films out there.  In addition, preferences for which film is better than another can change daily, especially as movies become more dated and new material is introduced.  However, I was determined to pull this list together, so I knuckled down and had a long think about every MCU film that I have seen.  During this time, I considered each of the films’ casting, story, graphics and legacy.  However, the most important thing that I considered was how much I would want to watch the film again.  Taking all this into consideration, I was able to come up with a ranked list that I think captures my personal feelings and opinions about these various films at this point in time.  So let us see where the various films ended up.

Spoiler warning below

List (Ranked – Reverse Order):

24. – The Incredible Hulk

The_Incredible_Hulk

I want to make something clear: The Incredible Hulk is not a bad movie. It is actually pretty watchable, with an interesting cast, some decent graphics and an enjoyable story about the origins of the Hulk and his conflict with the military.  Despite this, it is probably the least enjoyable MCU film, and for that reason many people skip it or try to ignore it when doing an MCU marathon.  Edward Norton, while a fine actor, does not really click as Bruce Banner, and the later re-casting with Mark Ruffalo really highlights that.  In addition, he does not have any chemistry with Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, who was a borderline damsel in distress (especially when compared to the strong women that dominated the early MCU films).  A pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell is underutilised as Doc Samson, a character that was never featured to its full potential (I want a raging, muscle-bound Ty Burrell with flowing green locks, dammit).  I liked Tim Roth as the villain (before he was CGI’d), and William Hurt is a great Thunderbolt Ross.  While the movie starts off strong, I think it lost its way towards the end, and the CGI fight between the Hulk and the Abomination is sloppy, especially compared to most other MCU entries.  Still a solid comic film, but, unfortunately, something must take out the 24th spot.

23. – Thor: The Dark World

Thor-_The_Dark_World_poster

I must admit that the only reason that this did not score lower than The Incredible Hulk was purely because of Tom Hiddleston’s performance, as he was at his Loki best.  Still, in comparison the rest of the MCU, this movie is not great, especially as it compounds many of the faults of the preceding Thor movie.  It has a weak story, and I am not a major fan of the portrayal of Asgard in this one (I laughed in scorn when the flying boat ships starting fighting the Dark Elves).  The cast, with the notable exception of Hiddleston, is also not amazing here.  Chris Hemsworth, while a better actor in this second film, is still playing Thor way too seriously, and he still lacks any great chemistry with Natalie Portman, who was obviously unhappy to be involved at all.  While Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård and Idris Elba do bring some flair and thespian backbone, the film is very much let down by its villain.  Malekith is one of the worst villains in the MCU and is constantly overshadowed by Loki.  Despite this, The Dark World is still a fun film and has some great moments in it.  The death of Frigga is pretty heartbreaking, and the final fight sequence, while a bit random at times, is very entertaining, combining great visuals with some excellent comedy.  Let us also not forget that this was the first time Infinity Stones are mentioned, making Thor: The Dark World an important entry in the franchise, and one I can re-watch very easily.

22. – Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_Complete_Poster

I was very disappointed by Ant-Man and the Wasp, as it should have been so much better than it was, and it ended up being another weak entry in the franchise.  Most of the comedy, character development and style are recycled from the first film without anything new being added.  In addition, the villains are extremely weak, with Hannah John-Kamen not bringing any strength to the character of Ghost, and Walton Goggins’s Sonny Burch is a very odd, if amusing, secondary antagonist.  This film does have its strengths.  It is visually beautiful, the main cast is great, with Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas keeping the amazing chemistry they had in the first film, and I especially loved Lilly’s expanded use in this film as The Wasp.  Michael Peña still shines as Luis, whose riffing long stories are so much fun to see.  While this is a fun movie, it suffers from being released less than three months after Infinity War.  The sheer expectations that people had going into Ant-Man and the Wasp really altered people’s perception, and I know I was hoping for a whole lot more, especially when the “snap” happened.  Still, the post credit scenes were great, and that clever question mark struck surprisingly hard.

21. – Iron Man 2

Iron_Man_2_Official_Poster

People were hoping for a film that could stand up to the first Iron Man, and unfortunately, Iron Man 2 just did not deliver.  Despite very strong performances from Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a newly cast Don Cheadle, this film was not as good as the first, relying too much on CGI and not enough on story.  Mickey Rourke’s villainous Whiplash was ok, if a bit overacted, but he was nothing to really write home about.  Still, this film has a lot of fun parts to it.  Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was extremely zany and, as always, it was so much fun to see him perform (I am really hoping he comes back for Armor Wars).  In addition, this was also the film that gave us Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, a role she debuted perfectly, especially with that epic corridor scene, although the character does develop into something better later.  An extremely fun action romp that I am actually pretty fond of, Iron Man 2 just does not live up to some of the other films out there, so it has a lower spot on this list.

20. – Thor

Thor_Official_Poster

Thor is a fun movie that serves as a great introduction to some of the best characters in the MCU.  Unfortunately, it is a little rough compared to some of the later entries, which knocks it down a bit.  The film is a little too serious for its own good, perhaps thanks to director Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean approach, and while it has an amazing fish out of water story to it the scenes set in Asgard are over the top, and I am not the biggest fan of the way they turned the Asgardians into a science fiction race rather than a mythological one.  Still, the cast is very good, and it introduced Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to a wider audience.  While an unnaturally blond Hemsworth was still finding his feet in this film, Hiddleston lays some great groundwork with Loki, setting him up perfectly and ensuring he would be a memorable and exceptional villain.  Natalie Portman fills the role as love interest well, although her chemistry with Hemsworth is a bit off.  Overall, this is a great film defined by the new Thor and Loki.

19. – Captain Marvel

CaptainMarvelPoster

Though it is ranked a little low, Captain Marvel is still an outstanding comic film.  The first Marvel film to feature a female superhero lead, this film needed to do a lot, while also being one of the unfortunate films to be released between Infinity War and Endgame.  Despite this pressure, it definitely delivered providing a well written, entertaining and clever film.  I deeply enjoyed the cool 1990s setting, and the creative team do a great job bringing some nostalgia to the film, especially with the great music.  The twists about the Skrulls was also pretty fun, setting up some interesting stories for the future, and I liked how it tied into the origins of the Avengers team.  In addition, I reckon you will have a hard time finding anyone who was not moved by the Stan Lee tribute in the opening credits.  Brie Larson does a great job in the titular role, although I look forward to seeing her relax into it a bit more in future films.  Samuel L. Jackson was great as ever as Nick Fury, and the de-aging worked surprisingly well.  Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch and Annette Bening are all pretty awesome in this film, although I think Jude Law particularly shone as eventual villain Yon-Rogg.  Overall, the visuals and acting turn this into a good film, and the only reason it is lower on this list is the incredible competition from the future entries.

18. – Doctor Strange

DrStrangePoster2

Doctor Strange is an awesome movie with many cool features to it.  This includes the first-rate cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Tilda Swinton doing some fantastic work in this film, although Benedict Wong was a particular stand out for me.  I did think that Mads Mikkelsen’s villain, Kaecillius, was a bit under defined, and it seemed a bit of a waste chucking an actor of Mikkelsen’s calibre into such a role.  I also felt that Strange could have gone through a little more character development, as he keeps up his arrogant persona well after this film ends.  The story is also a tad unpolished, and I particularly thought that the rift between Strange and Baron Mordo was a little forced.  Despite all this, Doctor Strange is visually spectacular, and viewers are treated to a kaleidoscope of colour and movement every time magic is used.  This visual work really enhances the entire film and I think this was a pretty strong comic film.  I am very keen to see how the next Doctor Strange film turns out, especially if it combines a better story with the already great characters and visual effects.

17. – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers_Age_Of_Ultron-poster1

Next we have the second Avengers ensemble movie.  Age of Ultron was another MCU film that had many expectations surrounding it before its release, especially after the success of the original Avengers film.  Director and writer Joss Whedon had to do a lot in this film, including introducing new characters, continuing existing storylines, and setting up future films.  Unfortunately, this proved too much to pull off.  It is still a very good movie, with the all-star cast doing an outstanding job bringing their iconic characters to life, especially the veterans from the first Avengers film.  James Spader brings some real malevolence and humour to Ultron, although the villain’s use of a disposable CGI army was a bit unoriginal.  Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen both debut their characters extremely well, and while they are not as strong as they later proved to be in WandaVision, they are an interesting inclusion.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver is a little less impressive, especially as Evan Peters absolutely killed it as the same character in an X-Men film less than a year before.  The story is pretty fantastic, although it definitely suffers from the creative team trying to fit way too much into it, making it a weak or derivative in places.  In addition, it has one of the most pointless post-credits scenes in the entire series.  I did think the action sequences were very good, especially Hulk vs Iron Man, although I did think they spent a little too much time trying to recreate the feel of the original film.  Still, this an excellent film, and it serves as a major part of the franchise, even if it is outshined by every other Avengers film.

16. – Captain America: The First Avenger

CaptainAmericaTheFirstAvengerComicConPoster

Captain America is an excellent film that takes the MCU wackiness right into the centre of WWII.  This film features an impressive origin story that does the classic comics proud while also making use of a great cast of characters.  Chris Evans shines as Steven Rogers in this film, and I loved the transition from a weakling with a strong heart to the ultimate symbol of strength, goodness and freedom.  At the same time, you have an outstandingly evil Red Skull in Hugo Weaving, which I think perfectly balanced the entire film.  Add in the great supporting cast in Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Toby jones, and you have a pretty exceptional group of actors in the film (Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman and Natalie Dormer also have small roles).  The story is very strong, and there are very few flaws or plot holes for it to stumble upon.  An overall outstanding film, this was one of the better entries in the early days of the MCU.

15. – Black Widow

Black_Widow_July_9_Poster

Now we reach the very latest entry in the MCU, with last week’s fantastic release, Black Widow.  I will admit that I did go into Black Widow with some slightly higher expectations brought on by a two-year drought in MCU films.  However, I still deeply enjoyed this movie, which finally gave Scarlett Johansson her own solo outing.  Anchored by a great cast, Black Widow was an exceptional film which did a great job highlighting the character’s mysterious origins and finally telling her story.  I was pretty hooked after its strong opening, especially after a sequence featuring a beautifully slowed down Smells Like Teen Spirit.  Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are all outstanding, and I loved the unique family dynamic created between these main characters.  Despite this strong start, I did feel that the ending was rushed, and there is a certain two-week gap in the story that is still bugging me.  I was also not blown away by the villains, with Taskmaster and Dreykov being a little underwhelming.  Still, this was a great film, and I was just super glad that it finally came out.  I also am a little more excited to see more of Florence Pugh as the next Black Widow in some future MCU outings, and it will be interesting to see if this film gets a sequel.

14. – Black Panther

Black_Panther_Poster_October_2017

Featuring one of the best African American casts of all time, Black Panther was an exceptional film that combined a great character-driven story with some awesome visuals.  This film did a brilliant job bringing the nation of Wakanda to life, and I had a wonderful time exploring its advanced technology and compelling past.  The late great Chadwick Boseman is an outstanding Black Panther, continuing the great work he did in Civil War.  He is joined by the fantastic Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke, who all bring their new amazing characters to life in a distinctive way.  Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis both make fantastic secondary appearances in this film, and I like the manic energy Serkis brings to the role of Ulysses Klaue.  One of the most noticeable stars of the film is Michael B Jordan as Killmonger, one of the best and most complex villains in the entire MCU.  All these wonderful performances are wrapped up in a fantastic story, with some amazing visual scenes.  The entire sequence in Busan is beautiful, and the final fight is pretty epic.  If I were to make a criticism of the film, it would be around the CGI rhinos; whose presence I think was just a little too ridiculous.  An overall exceptional film, you will be shouting “Wakanda forever” until you run out of breath.

13. – Iron Man 3

Iron_Man_3_IMAX_poster

Director Shane Black had a lot of pressure to deliver the third and ultimately final Iron Man film immediately after the success of The Avengers.  Luckily, Iron Man 3 is pretty epic, and ends up being a very different film than some of the previous Iron Man movies, as Black presents a gritty, well-written tale around a traumatised Tony Stark.  This was a very clever techno-thriller, which plays off the damaged protagonist perfectly.  Downey Jr is once again exceptional in this film, and you get to see the Tony Stark beneath the snark and sarcasm.  With the usual great cast of supporting characters, as well as a couple of fun villains, this was a pretty cool film.  I personally enjoyed the twist with the Mandarin, and thought it was extremely clever and funny, although it was a controversial choice (I really hope Ben Kingsley has some sort of cameo in Shang-Chi).  While there is more of a focus on the story, there are still some outstanding action sequences, including the assault on the Stark Mansion and the final epic confrontation between the various suits and the Extremis soldiers.  I also very much liked the inclusion of the scenes were Stark has to use more low-tech methods to beat his enemies, and the multi-part suits add a lot of fun to the overall story.  An overall incredible film, I will admit I did not like this one too much when I first saw it, but several re-watches have really enhanced my opinion of it, pushing it above some of the great entries above.

12. – Spider-Man: Far From Home

Official_FFH_US_Poster

This second Spider-Man film faced the daunting prospect of being released less than three months after Endgame.  However, despite all that pressure, Far From Home was an incredible film that continues to highlight one of the best portrayals of Spider-Man ever.  While not as good as Homecoming, Far From Home boasts an amazing narrative loaded with feels.  Featuring an uncertain Peter Parker still reeling from the death of his mentor and the legacy left behind, this story takes the protagonist on a whirlwind adventure in Europe.  Thanks to an outstandingly talented Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, this film is loaded with great twists and false leads, and I loved how we were punked into believing this would be the start of the multiverse.  Tom Holland continues to shine as Spider-Man and I loved the boyish enthusiasm he brings to the role, as well as his sense of fun and duty.  Samuel L Jackson serves as a harsh, but intriguing mentor figure as Nick Fury, backed up by Cobie Smulders.  The recurring cast from the previous Spider-Man movie are still a lot of fun, with Zendaya serving as a great love interest, Jacob Batalon playing a romantically distracted Ned, Jon Favreau as a fun Happy Hogan, and you have to love Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson.  Another spectacular and amazing film, the epic post-credit scene sets up the third Spider-Man film beautifully.

11. – Ant-Man

Ant-Man_Poster

What is it with Marvel casting comedic actors as fantastic action stars?  Paul Rudd was a surprising choice to play Ant-Man, but he ended up knocking the role out of the park, and Ant-Man was one of the funniest MCU movies ever.  I have a lot of love for this movie, from the great characters, wicked humour, intriguing origin tale, and the fact that this movie is essentially a super-powered heist story.  It features a fantastic cast, each of whom add so much to the tale, from Rudd’s excellent comedy, Evangeline Lilly’s badass Hope van Dyne, Michael Douglas’s take on iconic comic character Hank Pym, and Michael Peña’s hilarious Luis.  The real strength of this film is the outstanding size shifting, as Rudd and Corey Stoll’s villainous Yellowjacket shrink and grow throughout the film.  I was blown away by the really cool graphics surrounding the shrinking, and you have to laugh as a variety of items are shrunk and grown throughout the final climatic battle.  There was also a great appearance from Anthony Mackie as Falcon, and it is one of the more entertaining hero-on-hero fights out there.  An impressive and hilarious thrill ride that will have you chuckling the entire time.

10. – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

GOTG2_Payoff_1_Sheet_Online_lg

One of the most re-watchable films in the entire series is Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.  This sequel is pure fun, bringing back the amazing elements that made people love the first film.  Featuring an outstanding cast, an unbelievably catchy musical score and another fantastic story, you are in for a lot of excitement.  The returning cast continue to seamlessly inhabit the roles they played in the first film, and it is impossible not to fall in love with Baby Groot.  Kurt Russell serves as a particularly good villain (just ignore the de-aging in the first scene), and I loved the eventual reveal of his true nature.  This movie is exciting from start to finish, with a bonkers finale that culminates in two godlike beings fighting with a range of creations, including Pacman.  However, the most memorable and touching part of the movie is the death of Michael Rooker’s Yondu Udonta, a scene guaranteed to make you cry, especially at the funeral with Father & Son playing.  Other highlights include five post-credit scenes, a unique and catchy credit song and one of the best David Hasselhoff cameos ever.  I honestly enjoyed this one just as much as the first, but due to a slightly weaker story and some lost character development, I have it slightly lower on the list.

9. – Guardians of the Galaxy

GuardiansoftheGalaxyTheatricalPoster

From the sequel to the original, the first Guardians of the Galaxy film clocks in at number nine.  While now an established part of the MCU and wider Marvel Comics, Guardians of the Galaxy was originally a bit of a gamble, as it featured a somewhat obscure group of Marvel characters.  Luckily, the gamble paid off, as director James Gunn produced an outstanding and memorable film, with its own unique style and humour.  Bringing together five excellent actors in the central roles, and expanding the borders of the MCU into space, there is so much going on in this epic movie.  The epic music gives the entire movie a touch of nostalgia, and several great acting careers were made thanks to this film.  A beloved and exceptional entry in this amazing franchise.

8. – Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider_Man_Homecoming_One_Sheet_1

There have been many attempts to do a great Spider-Man film over the years, but the most recent might be the most successful.  Following on from Civil War, Tom Holland brings Spider-Man to his own movie in Homecoming, which takes the character back to his roots as a high school student turned crime-fighter.  This is a sweet and compelling film that shows an eager Spider-Man attempting to rise to his potential.  Holland perfectly inhabits the character in a way few others have, and it was great to have a younger, fresher face to the iconic role.  This movie has a great story to it, and I loved the combination of wider conspiracy and the adventures of a teenage hero.  Michael Keaton is at his best as the Vulture, giving the character a very sinister edge, especially in that menacing car scene.  MCU newcomers Zendaya, Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori all add so much to the movie’s humour, from Zendaya playing the snarky girl who is totally not watching Peter, to Batalon playing Ned, Peter’s guy in the chair.  I also love the use of Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau in this film, particularly as they start the fun tradition of having another hero mentoring Parker in one of the films.  A great and memorable film.

7. – The Avengers

Theavengersnewposter

Next we have the film that proved that a joint superhero franchise could work, The AvengersThe Avengers is possibly one of the most significant films in the entire MCU, due to the way it brought together the stars of the various introductory movies and forged a cohesive, team-based narrative around them.  Established MCU stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L Jackson all perfectly bring their respective characters back and the various larger-than-life personalities have a wonderful time interacting with each other.  Hiddleston shines as the villainous Loki, adding more depth and madness to his already great character, crafting one of the best villains of all time.  In addition, the newly cast Mark Ruffalo proved it was possible for someone to do a good Hulk.  All these actors, characters and existing storylines come together perfectly and viewers are left with a sensational film with some amazing sequences to it.  While the front half of the movie is great, it really picks up steam in the second half, especially after one of the most tragic MCU moments (Coulson, nooooooo!!!).  The battle of New York was one of the most epic moments in film up at that point, and I loved director Joss Whedon’s use of continuous shots.  A perfect first introduction of The Avengers, this series could only go up from here.

6. – Captain America: Civil War

Civil_War_Final_Poster

Sixth spot is given to the amazing third Captain America movie, Civil War.  Loosely based on the Marvel crossover comic of the same name, this film serves as a mini-Avengers movie, bringing in all the characters who appeared in Age of Ultron, as well as Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Winter Soldier and Black Panther.  Serving as a perfect introduction to several amazing characters (Spider-Man and Black Panther really shine here), there is such a good story behind this movie, especially as Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other.  Featuring several epic scenes, including that unbelievably awesome airport fight, and the final emotional battle between two former friends, you cannot leave Civil War without having your pulse raised to the max, especially in that iconic moment when Iron Man’s repulsor beam hits Cap’s shield.  The directors really focus on characters here, and there is so much amazing drama and development.  I do think that the villain, played by Daniel Brühl, was a little understated, but the rivalry between the two main heroes more than makes up for it.  Easily one of the most iconic films in the franchise.

5. – Iron Man

Iron_Man_Official_Poster

At number five, we go back to where this series started, with the first film, Iron Man.  This outstanding film completely revolutionised the superhero genre.  Featuring a perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr in the lead role, as well as a great group of supporting characters, this film captures the transition from playboy to a selfless hero.  With a tight, powerful story, this movie perfectly combines action, drama, and comedy to make an exceptional film.  The graphics are amazing and still hold up to this day, and there is a great gradual visual evolution of the Iron Man armour.  Despite there being no guarantee that this movie would succeed, the creative team manages to tell a great solo story, while also laying much of the groundwork for the wider MCU to come.  Not only did a surprise Samuel L Jackson cameo popularise the current trend of post-credit scenes, but there are several great references to characters and locations that would be used for years to come.  One of the best films in the franchise to focus on one superhero character, this is the film an entire franchise was built on, and boy did they chose an outstanding foundation stone.

4. – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier_main_poster

When Captain America: The Winter Soldier was announced, I do not think any of us were prepared for just how incredible this film would be.  In their first MCU film, the Russo brothers created one of the most thrilling espionage films in the entire franchise, with twist after twist layered into its captivating narrative.  Chris Evans reaches a whole new level in this film, and his usually naïve and wholesome Captain America is forced to get down into the dirt to defeat his enemies.  Making great use of franchise regulars Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson and Cobie Smulders, as well as a returning Sebastian Stan, this was an incredibly well cast movie.  I loved the introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and it is always great to go back and see where the future Captain America’s journey begins.  Legendary actor Robert Redford is a pretty sinister villain, and I loved the change of pace for this great actor.  However, I must really highlight Stan’s turn as the Winter Soldier.  While I knew who would be behind the mask, it was still a fantastic portrayal of this great character, and you will be moved by his tragic plight.  There are so many epic moments to this movie, and I loved the big twist about Hydra and SHIELD that would change everything about this franchise (it was so good, it turned Agents of SHIELD into a completely different show).  A powerful and captivating film that is one of the absolute classics.

3. – Thor: Ragnarok

Thor_Ragnarok_SDCC_Poster

We are now down to the final three, which are easily the best.  Third spot is given to the zany and the fantastically hilarious Thor: Ragnarok.  I know many people, myself included, were unimpressed when they announced that they were doing a new Thor movie.  However, the moment the first trailer came out, I knew that this would be something different.  The brilliant but insane Taika Waititi used all his substantial creativity to produce a wild and crazy thrill ride which takes Thor on a bonkers adventure of self-discovery.  Killing off many of the worst elements of the first two films (sometimes literally; goodbye Warriors Three), and adding in more humour, fantastic actors and an outstanding story, Ragnarok instantly stood out from the other films in the franchise.  Waititi let Hemsworth unleash his full comedic potential in this film, ensuring that fans were laughing along with every sentence.  Cate Blanchett was a fantastically evil villain, while Tessa Thompson brought a drunken anger to the new character of Valkyrie, plus you cannot ignore the hilarious Korg.  Add in a returning Hulk, a teleporting Dr Strange, and the madness personified that is Jeff Goldblum, and you have a cast that is capable of outshining even Tom Hiddleston’s excellent Loki, although Hiddleston is still a hilarious treat with some of the best lines.  Despite this mainly being a comedy, Waititi adds in enough drama and some spectacular drama to hit the feels button, and you run the full range of emotions in this film.  Beautiful filmmaking at its best, you will spend this film laughing your head off at all the awesome jokes.

2. – Avengers: Endgame

71niXI3lxlL._AC_SL1183_

To beat Ragnarok on this list is a pretty tall order, so let us bring in the highest grossing film of all time and the utter culmination of 11 years and 22 films, with Avengers: Endgame.  Following on from the epic conclusion of Infinity War, Endgame is set in a universe where half the universe has been turned to dust, including some of your favourite characters.  When an opportunity to reverse this is presented, the remaining heroes jump at the chance and find themselves facing the biggest battle of their lives.  There is so much that is epic and awesome about this film, from the continued use of the amazing extended MCU cast, to the sheer tragic sadness that inhabits the world after so much loss and defeat.  Each of the surviving characters is caught up in their grief and helplessness, resulting in many different forms, including Ronin Hawkeye and fat Thor (a brilliant comedic choice that is just so hilarious and unexpected).  This film has literally every major hero from the franchise, and more, come together, and the amazing Russo brothers manage to ensure every single one of them gets their moment and no-one is overlooked.  There is an amazing story to this film, raging from time travel adventure to epic battle for survival, with several characters’ journey in the MCU coming to an end.  I challenge anyone not to react during the two big scenes at the end (He is Worthy, and Avengers Assemble), and you will leave this film breathless and in utter joy and happiness.  A worthy and exceptional film that nearly topped the entire list.

1. – Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers_Infinity_war_poster

That leaves only one film left at the top, and for me the absolute best film in the entire MCU film series is Avengers: Infinity War.  This was a hard choice to make, and while I could have easily moved up Endgame due to shear epicness, I felt Infinity War was the stronger movie.  Not only does it bring together the events of the previous MCU films perfectly, showing fun new character interactions and fights, but it has an incredible and powerful story backed up with an exceptional cast and some amazing visuals.  There are so many cool moments to this film, and very few things you could criticize.  In addition to the outstanding and massive returning cast of characters, James Brolin absolutely shined as Thanos, and this film cemented him as one of the greatest film villains of all time.  Viewers knew that they were going to experience some heartbreak with this film, but nothing quite prepared you for seeing the tragic deaths of several characters, especially Gamora.  Top it off with that memorable and heart-breaking ending, where the villain actually wins and your favourite characters are dusted right before your eyes.  I think every single person left this movie in shock and awe, and there was no way that I could place any other film higher on this list.

Well that is the end of that list.  I think that I chose pretty wisely when it came to my rankings, and this is how I would truly rate each and every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Now, I know that not everyone is going to agree with my ratings (heck I would be extremely surprised if anyone else had the exact same order I do), so feel free to share your feelings in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which films you enjoyed.  If people like this list, I may revisit it again this time next year, especially as there are six new MCU films coming out between now and then, and it will be extremely interesting to see where the upcoming MCU films end up ranking.  I am particularly keen for Thor: Love and Thunder, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, and I think that all three have a lot of potential.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, also sound like amazing films, and I am extremely keen to see how they turn out.  I have rather less faith in Eternals, despite its loaded cast; however, I have been surprised before.  Until then, make sure to comment below and have fun enjoying the glorious MCU whenever you are feeling down.

Film Review – Batman: Soul of the Dragon

Batman - Soul of the Dragon

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film 40

Director: Sam Liu

Producer: Bruce Timm

Writer: Jeremy Adams

Length: 82 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive into an intense and addictive DC Comics martial arts adventure with the latest entry in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, an outstanding and deeply enjoyable film that explores several amazing DC characters in a very unique way.

While The Unseen Library is primarily dedicated to providing book and comic reviews, I have in the last year been experimenting with reviews and articles about another great passion of mine, animated superhero films.  I have always had a lot of fondness for this genre and I started focusing on it more last year when I reviewed Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, and even further when I did an extended Top Ten Tuesday article listing my favourite superhero animated films, which primarily featured DC Universe Animated Original Movies.  DC continues their domination of the animation market with the very awesome Soul of the Dragon film, which serves as the 40th entry in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range.  I had an outstanding time watching this latest animated offering and it is definitely a new favourite film of mine.

Bruce Wayne, Richard Dragon, Shiva and Ben Turner are four of the best martial artists on the planet, utilising their skills and training to become truly elite fighters.  While each of these renowned warriors are now on their own different paths, they shared a similar start on their journey as students at the secret monastery of Nanda Parbat.  Training under the legendary O-Sensei, these four, along with other notable students, not only learned the martial techniques that allowed them to become the fighters they are today but also became a close-knit family, until one terrible night changed everything for them.

Now their paths are about to cross again when Richard Dragon discovers that a fanatical organisation, the Cult of the Kobra, have stolen an ancient and dangerous artefact that Dragon and his fellow former students are intimately and tragically familiar with.  Travelling to Gotham City, Dragon recruits Bruce Wayne, who now fights criminals as the vigilante Batman, to help him stop Kobra and save the entire world.  Attempting to recover another artefact guarded by Shiva, now a feared Gotham crime boss, they soon discover just how long and deadly Kobra’s reach is.

With Shiva and Ben in tow, the four former disciples of O-Sensei prepare for the battle of their lives as they attempt to infiltrate Kobra’s island base.  However, nothing will prepare them for the dangers they will encounter, nor the horrors unleashed from their past.  Can these four dangerous fighters work together to save the world or will an ancient and deadly force be unleashed?

Batman: Soul of the Dragon is an excellent and amazing animated comic book film that proved to be an absolute treat to watch.  This is a standalone film which is directed by Sam Liu, written by Jeremy Adams and featuring Bruce Timm as an executive producer, and together these talented people have produced a fantastic and powerful feature.  Liu and Timm are the genius behind some of the best animated comic films that are out there, including Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay and the incredible The Death of Superman, and they have once again done an outstanding job with Soul of the Dragon, creating a unique and entertaining comic book tale.  Making excellent use of an exceptional narrative, a great group of characters and a very distinctive vibe, Soul of the Dragon is an outstanding and wonderful film that is really worth watching.

Soul of the Dragon has a particularly awesome and captivating narrative that follows its four iconic central protagonists on an epic quest to right the wrongs of their collective past.  This movie contains an original tale set in the 1970s that draws heavily from classic DC martial arts comics to create a fantastic film that not only dives into the origins of some amazing DC characters but which also presents an exciting character-driven adventure.  This movie starts off with a captivating bang with Richard Dragon discovering a sinister plot with ties to his time as a student.  The story then quickly starts to reunite the four major characters, with several impressive action set-pieces dominating the early part of this movie, all of which were a real treat to watch.  The story than takes the protagonists to an island fortress where they must face their enemy before he can unleash a terrible force of destruction.

Interspersed with the main story are a series of compelling flashbacks that follow the protagonists’ training under O-Sensei, which provide some excellent context to the main story.  I thought that the flashbacks were a particularly impressive part of the movie and I liked they expertly tied together main narrative with the past, creating a richer overall story.  I also felt that the narrative did an excellent job of introducing each of the characters while also highlighting the differences between their modern appearances and their former lives as students.  I did think that the main story was a little rushed and could have potentially used a little more plot in between the protagonists’ reunion and their arrival at the antagonists’ island.  Still, this did not impact my enjoyment of the movie too much, and the last third of the film is so damn epic and emotionally charged that you forget about this slight misstep of pacing.  All of this wraps up with a memorable and interesting ultimate conclusion, which will leave you wondering about what, if anything, is going to happen next.

Thanks to the standalone nature of this movie, potential viewers do not need to have watched any prior DC animated features to enjoy Soul of the Dragon, and indeed minimal knowledge of the various characters and comic elements is needed to follow along, as the narrative provides a fantastic and detailed introduction to all the relevant parts of the plot.  All of this makes for an epic and just plain awesome story that honours some classic DC characters and comics while also introducing them to a new generation of DC fans with this fantastic adventure.

In addition to the first-rate story, I was also impressed with how well this cool movie was put together.  It contains some outstanding animation, especially when it comes to the impressively exciting action scenes, with a particularly well-put-together car chase halfway through the film being an amazing example.  This proves to be a very action-heavy film, with a huge number of fluid combat sequences that perfectly captures the skill of the combatants and which successfully translates the style of the original martial arts comic.  Parents should be warned that this is not an animated feature for younger children, thanks to some of its over-the-top content, but everyone else is going to love seeing all the exciting fast-paced scenes unfold.  I particularly liked how this animated movie had such a distinctive and entertaining style to it, which really enhanced my enjoyment of the film.  As the story is set in to the 1970s, the creators attempted to replicate the feel and tone of the era in a number of different ways, such as the technology, locations and the animated appearances of the characters.  The creative team also made sure to include a ton of appropriate slang (you haven’t seen anything till you’ve seen Batman say: “Let’s get it on”) and an excellent instrumental musical score that is not only very 70s in its sound but which perfectly fits the movie’s distinctive narrative and tone.  Soul of the Dragon draws a lot of inspiration from classic kung fu films, especially those featuring Bruce Lee, and you can really feel the creators’ love of the genre with all the little details they chuck in.  There are also a number of fantastic allusions to classic James Bond films, including several very familiar musical themes, some entertaining lines from certain characters and even a dangerous car chase with a gadget-laden car that ends with a vehicle getting whisked away on an electromagnet attached to a helicopter (a very fun call-back to You Only Live Twice).  I absolutely loved how well this film came together, and all the exceptional animation and clever tonal shifts combine perfectly with the great story to produce an enthralling and memorable viewing experience.

In addition to have an amazing and entertaining narrative, Soul of the Dragon is backed up by a fantastic roster of characters from across the DC Comics canon, voiced by an exceptional and talented collection of actors.  While this movie contains several great supporting characters, the story is mostly set around Bruce Wayne, Richard Dragon, Shiva and Ben Turner, each of whom are heavily featured in both the main narrative and the flashbacks.  While all four of these main characters are great in their own right, a lot of their appeal lies in fantastic connection they have with each other and with their master, O-Sensei.  These great protagonists have an excellent rapport, and it proved to be really great to see them interact with each other throughout the film.

The lead of the film is probably Batman, who is voiced by David Giuntoli of Grimm fame, who provides a fantastic take on the character with his voice work.  I liked how there were two versions of Batman: the vigilante who featured in the main story and the younger student in Nanda Parbat.  This proved to be an interesting portrayal of this iconic character, as the writers attempt to explore Bruce’s determination, even as a young man, to do the impossible and fight evil no matter the cost.  It was also great to see him evolve from the student in the flashbacks to the vigilante in the main story, and there are some fun scenes that showcase him becoming a more focused and terrifying fighter when he puts on the mask.

While Soul of the Dragon is nominally a Batman movie, Bruce is somewhat overshadowed by some of the other main protagonists.  This is no fault of the character’s portrayal or characterisation; it is just because the other protagonists are just a little more exciting and enjoyable.  Part of the reason why this is the case is that Batman is the least skilled martial artist in what is essentially a kung fu movie, as it is established that his fellow students are better fighters than him (this is true in both the film and in the comics).  While this does mean that some of the other characters’ action sequences are a little more visually impressive, you instead get to see Batman fight in different ways.  There is a great focus on how Batman utilises trickery and fear to supplement his weaker fighting abilities, and there are some excellent scenes around this, including a key one towards the end of the film where he uses a combination of his gadgets, cunning, and even his own cape to defeat a superior foe.  I did think that the version of the character was a bit blasé about keeping his identity secret with his friends, and he didn’t seemed as opposed to people using lethal force as you would expect, but this was an outstanding take on Batman and I really enjoyed his appearance in this film.

One major character who was a true highlight of this movie was Richard Dragon, an iconic character who is widely regarded as one of the best fighters in the DC canon.  Despite his popularity in DC’s martial arts comics, this is the character’s first appearance outside of the comics (the Richard Dragon featured in Arrow is a different character altogether) and he voiced by The Chairman himself, Mark Dacascos.  Depicted as Asian in the film (the comic character is traditionally a red-haired Caucasian), this character looks a lot like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and is portrayed as an international super spy.  Despite this being a Batman film, in many ways Richard is just as much the main character of this movie, with much of the story revolving around him.  Richard grabs focus right from the start, where he engages in some amusing spy antics, which include outwitting a James Bond-esque character in a fancy casino, effortlessly and stylishly fighting off some goons, and parachuting onto a boat filled with beautiful women (a scene very reminiscent of The Living Daylights, Bond music included), before identifying himself as “Dragon, Richard Dragon”.  Each of Dragon’s subsequent scenes are really fantastic, from the fluid and exceptional action sequences to the fun interactions he has with other characters, including an entertaining scene with a pompous bouncer.  Dacascos does an exceptional job voicing this character and he provides Richard with a confident, intelligent and generally calm air that proves to be extremely easy to enjoy, while also including some vulnerability in several amazing scenes.  All of this helps to produce an exceptional character and I am extremely glad that the introduction of Richard Dragon to a wider media went so well.

The next major character in the movie is the dangerous and delightful Shiva, who was voiced by the talented Kelly Hu.  Lady Shiva, as she is better known, is one of the deadliest assassins and martial artists in the DC canon.  I felt the creative team did an outstanding job showcasing Shiva in Soul of the Dragon, as she is portrayed as a merciless killing machine and living weapon able to destroy her opponents with minimal effort and nothing but her bare hands.  The character has some of the most brutal combat sequences, which were not only beautifully animated but which proved to be extremely entertaining to watch.  I felt that Shiva went through some fantastic character development throughout the film as she transforms from a dedicated student to a ruthless crime lord who even Batman is afraid to deal with: “I’m working up to it…”  I also really loved the choice of voice actor for this character as Kelly Hu does a sensational job bringing Shiva to life.  Hu, who is known for her comic book roles in both animation (as Cheshire in Young Justice and Karai in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and live action (as Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2 and China White in Arrow), has previously voiced Lady Shiva in the Batman: Arkham Origins video game, and it was great to see her return to this fantastic character.  She gives this version of Shiva a particularly deadly air; you can tell with every sentence just how confident she is in her own ability and lethal potential.  Not only does Shiva have some of the best fight scenes in the movie but she also has some of the best lines, such as when she chooses her opponent in one of the big boss fights: “I’ll take the girl, her look offends me!”  I also absolutely loved one scene which saw the voice of Karai from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles face off against three green-clad ninjas respectfully wielding sai, nunchaku and a bo staff.  The character’s casual comment of “You know how to use those?” followed by her effortlessly taking all three out was just perfect and it has me laughing pretty heavily.  I think that Shiva was probably my favourite character in the entire movie and I am really impressed with how she was written and portrayed.

The final member of the main four characters is Ben Turner, the angry and dangerous African-American fighter better known as Bronze Tiger.  Bronze Tiger is a major martial artist in the DC canon who is probably best known for his run in the Suicide Squad comics.  Bronze Tiger is voiced by Michael Jai White, who recently portrayed the live-action version of the character in Arrow.  I really liked Bronze Tiger throughout Soul of the Dragon, as the film captures a lot of his essence from his original comic appearances and subsequently turn him into a fantastic character in this movie.  Part of the reason why is that he goes through the most development out of all the main characters, especially as several flashbacks bridge the gap between his student days and his current character, showing several pivotal events in his life.  I absolutely loved his look in this movie, as they made the decision to model him on African-American actor and martial artist, Jim Kelly, with some elements of other 70s African-American characters like Shaft and Luke Cage thrown in.  There is a particularly fun joke around this character when Richard misremembers the character’s codename as Black Samurai, a reference to the Jim Kelly movie of the same name, and the subsequent approval of the team at his actual codename of Bronze Tiger was very entertaining.  White does some excellent voice work for Bronze Tiger in this film and he successfully showcases the character’s intense anger at the start of the story before evolving it into a more zen-like persona towards the end.  I would say that Bronze Tiger was a little overshadowed by the three other protagonists, but he was still a great addition to the movie and is a fun character to follow.

Aside from the main four characters, there is a particular focus on the mentor character of O-Sensei, who is voiced in this film by the legendary James Hong.  O-Sensei is a fantastic character with an intriguing history in DC Comics, being a major figure in the lives of Richard Dragon, Shiva and Bronze Tiger.  This is actually O-Sensei’s first named appearance outside of the comics, and he proves to be a fantastic and fun addition to the movie’s narrative.  Hong portrays the character as a wise but humorous kung fu master, offering deep insights and amusing jokes in equal measure to the younger characters, while also forming them into a close family.  O-Sensei proves to be an extremely likeable character, with some deep and powerful moments that ensure that the viewer appreciates and enjoys him.  I particularly loved Hong’s voice work throughout the movie and I felt that he really dived into the character and made him stand out, especially in some later scenes in the movie where there are some intriguing twists around him.  An overall outstanding and exceptional part of the cast, I am extremely glad they got Hong for this movie.

No comic book movie will be complete without some villains, and to my mind this is where Soul of the Dragon falls a little flat.  The antagonists of this film are the members of the Cult of the Kobra (essentially DC’s version of Hydra, both of which were created by Jack Kirby).  Kobra are led by their prophet, Jeffrey Burr (voiced by Josh Keaton), backed up by his henchmen Schlangenfaust (Robin Atkin Downes), Lady Eve (Grey Griffin) and King Snake (Patrick Seitz).  While all of these characters are voiced perfectly and have some cool moments throughout the movie, such as Burr’s creepy introduction, his belief in his prophesised destiny and Schlangenfaust’s hidden abilities, I honestly found each of these villains to be a little underwhelming.  None of them (with the possible exception of Schlangenfaust) really stood out to me and they were all very generic sort of villains to the story.  That being said, Soul of the Dragon did feature two hidden antagonists at different points of film who add some major twists to the tale.  Both of these villains were rather good and moved the story along in some intriguing and entertaining directions.  I particularly loved the appearance of one antagonistic character towards the end of the movie, and while his appearance was slightly predictable, it proved to be a major highlight of the film, resulting in some outstanding scenes.  As a result, it was rather easy for me to forgive some of the downsides of the Kobra villains as the overall antagonists of this film turned out to be extremely good.

Overall, I think that Batman: Soul of the Dragon was an exceptional animated film that was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.  Thanks to its combination of an epic story, captivating and well-written characters and a tone that is a fun nod to classic and campy kung fu movies, this movie gets a full five stars from me.  This is definitely a movie I will watch multiple times in the future, and it comes highly recommended.  I very much looking forward to seeing the next entries in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range (there is a Justice Society movie and an adaption of Batman: The Long Halloween coming out later this year), and I will have to have a go at reviewing them when they come out.

Film Review – Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Justice League Dark - Apokolips War

Studio: Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment

Series: DC Universe Animated Original Movies – Film 38, DC Animated Movie Universe – Film 15

Director: Matt Peters and Christina Sotta

Producer: James Tucker

Screenplay: Mairghread Scott

Writers: Christina Sotta and Ernie Altbacker

Length: 90 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For this review I am going to go a little outside my wheelhouse by reviewing the latest animated comic book adaption from DC comics, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Fair warning: this is going to be a rather in-depth analysis, so those people who have not seen this film yet might be better served watching it first and then coming back. I will also have a spoiler alert for a key part of the movie towards the end of the review, so keep an eye out for that.

Over the last 13 years, DC Comics have been leading the way over Marvel Comics in the distinctive field of animated movie adaptations of their comic books. While Marvel have produced a couple of decent animated films, such as Planet Hulk and Hulk Vs., the DC adaptations have been leaps and bounds ahead of them. Most of these epic DC animated films have been part of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies project, which has produced 38 distinctive animated films since 2007. There have been some rather impressive and enjoyable releases as part of this project, and I have watched each one of them as soon as they have come out.

While a lot of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies stand alone, 15 films were set within a shared universe, with the same group of voice actors reprising their roles multiple times. This shared universe, known as the DC Animated Movie Universe, started in 2013 with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, and examines an alternate universe inadvertently created by the Flash. This new universe is very heavily influenced by The New 52 continuity of comics (but don’t hold that against it), and features an interesting collection of films featuring a range of different DC characters, although there is a noticeable and understandable focus on Batman and the Justice League. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is the 15th entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe and serves as the conclusion to most of the storylines that were featured within the preceding 14 movies. This film was directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and features a story written by Christina Sotta and Ernie Altbacker, with the screenplay written by Mairghread Scott.

Following two previous attempts to conquer Earth by intergalactic tyrant and New God Darkseid, the Justice League is determined to safeguard the planet no matter what. Led by a vengeful Superman, the League launches a pre-emptive attack against Darkseid’s fortress planet of Apokolips, when it becomes clear that he intends to invade Earth again. However, the League’s attack fails miserably as they fly into a trap set by Darkseid, who uses his new troops, the Paradooms, to swiftly defeating the entire Justice League, killing or capturing most of its members.

Now, two years later, Earth has been brutally conquered by Darkseid, who has devastated the planet, and intends to drain it of its magma in order to fuel his future designs of conquest. With nearly all of Earth’s heroes killed during Darkseid’s assault, only a scattered few remain to oppose his plans. At the fore is Clark Kent, the former Superman, who has been stripped of his powers by Darkseid, and who now leads a resistance movement with his wife, Lois Lane. Determined to save the Earth no matter the cost, Clark recruits the surviving members of the League and the Teen Titans: Raven, Damian Wayne and John Constantine for one final mission.

With the help of an odd and violent group of villains, including Lex Luthor, Etrigan the Demon and Harley Quinn’s Suicide Squad, Superman and small team attempt the impossible, a second assault on Apokolips. However, even if they succeed in reaching Apokolips, they will face terrible opposition. Former members of the Justice League, including Batman and Wonder Women, have been converted into loyal soldiers for Darkseid, and they will do everything in their power to defend him. Can Superman and his team defeat Darkseid once and for all, or are these Earth’s final days?

Well damn, now that was one hell of an animated film. As I mentioned above, I have watched a ton of animated comic book adaptations but Justice League Dark: Apokolips War might just be one of the finest and most impressive animated adaptations that DC comics has ever created. This outstanding, five-star film is just plain amazing, and I had an incredible time watching it (multiple times). Apokolips War contains an intense story, pulse-pounding action, an amazing voice cast and a superb connection to prior films and comics, which helps create an epic and powerful animated movie experience. The creative team behind this movie did an exceptional job on this film, turning it into an intense and addictive viewing treat that I absolutely loved. Viewers should be warned, this is not a film for kids, as it has a well-deserved R-rating (MA15+ in Australia), which it earns very quickly and very explicitly.

At the heart of the excellent movie is an exciting and clever story that pits the broken remainder of Earth’s heroes against the ultimate villain in the DC canon. Apokolips War has such a cool concept, starting off with the entire Justice League getting taken out in the first few minutes and then abruptly jumping two years into the future, showing a world devastated by an evil alien invasion. This perfectly sets the scene for a character-driven narrative that follows the last desperate attempt of a handful of mixed protagonists, as they attempt an all-or-nothing mission with extremely high stakes. This results in all manner of character development, tragedy, intense action, and a fantastic smattering of witty humour, which all comes together into a compelling and utterly memorable overall narrative. I was deeply impressed with where the writers took this fantastic story, and I really appreciated all the existing storylines and the substantial character arcs that they were able to explore, expand on and finalise within the movie’s hour and a half run time. This was such a great story, and it worked exceedingly well with the enjoyable characters, eye-catching animation and the awesome team of voice actors to create an amazing overall film.

One of the things that I think I should address first is about whether or not you need to see the other entries in the DC Animated Movie Universe before watching Apokolips War. Due to its cool action and well-written plot, this is a film that is rather easy for viewers unfamiliar with the franchise to follow and enjoy, although a lot of the story elements will make a lot more sense if you are familiar with the DC Comics universe and characters. While you can probably get away without watching any of the previous movies, this is the 15th and final entry in an interconnected universe, so there are obviously going to be some advantages to watching these other films first. For example, you get a much better understanding of the characters, their relationships and their personalities in this universe, and having this knowledge about the characters beforehand can really increase the dramatic punch that a bunch of their actions have. I also personally enjoyed the continued storylines of this film universe, and I liked seeing how this movie wraps up a lot of character arcs and answers some interesting questions. As a result, I would strongly recommend watching some of the other movies first: The Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War, Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Justice League Dark, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen as a bare minimum (yes, I know that calling seven movies a minimum is a bit much, but that just goes to show how intricate this animated universe was).

The creators of this movie utilise an intriguing and unique cast of characters, continuing many of the character arcs established in the prior animated movies. Fair warning: quite a few major comic book characters, including some characters who have been key additions to this animated universe, die in the opening moments of the movie, while some others only get a few scenes, often without any dialogue, before they are also killed. While this movie has quite a huge death toll, I think most of the killings do serve a purpose by motivating the surviving characters, highlighting the brutal nature of the film and its antagonist, or providing a real emotional punch to the viewer. While a large number of characters from the DC universe only get small roles, Apokolips War does contain a rather intriguing and diverse group of central characters who are extremely interesting to follow.

The main character of Apokolips War is John Constantine, the rogue magician last seen in Justice League Dark. Ever since his live action television series a few years ago, Constantine has been popping up in all manner of DC Comic adaptions. Constantine is a fantastic central protagonist, constantly moving the plot along and providing entertaining commentary and witty remarks about the events occurring around him. He also has a rather tragic storyline, which sees him full of regret and shame after he let down his love interest, Zatanna. Not only does this result in a conflict with Superman, but it also serves as a driving force throughout the movie as he tries to redeem himself. Constantine also serves as the heart of the entire movie, acting as a confidant to several characters and providing inspiration during key moments, including one impressive speech at the very end. While he is an amazing character, he was a bit overused when it came to solving problems, as he seemed to have a magical solution for nearly every obstacle that the protagonists came up against. While it does show off his resourcefulness, and his jack-of-all-trades approach to magic, I thought that it was a bit of a crutch for the story at times. Still, I loved Constantine as a protagonist, and I cannot think of anyone better to be the main character for this film.

Another character that I really appreciated throughout this movie was Superman/Clark Kent. If the recent live-action DC movies have shown us one thing, it is that Superman is a very hard character to write or portray at times, due to his powerset, his iconic nature and his somewhat dated ideals. However, the DC Animated Movie Universe is one of the few projects which has covered the character perfectly and allowed the viewer to care about him. His use in The Death of Superman and its sequel Reign of the Supermen was particularly impressive, and the creative team have followed that up extremely well with Apokolips War. In the opening scenes, he is an angry and vengeful character, recklessly determined to take the fight to Darkseid and finish him off for good. However, following his defeat, he is cast back down to Earth without his powers and with a painful liquid Kryptonite tattoo to remind him of his failure and to demoralise those people he encounters. Despite this, Superman shows his usual spirit and determination, rallying the remaining heroes to Apokolips, and is a generally fun and inspirational character. The best thing about his character, however, is his relationship with Lois Lane throughout the film. Lois is a major badass in Apokolips War, reverting to the resistance leader persona that she had in The Flashpoint Paradox and leading the various heroes and villains (whom she brings to her side after a boxing match with Harley Quinn in a very fun scene). The relationship between Lois and Clark is one of the major emotional centres of Apokolips War, and it serves as a great continuation of their entire joint character arc from their previous movies. It also leads to the most powerful and emotionally charged scene of the entire movie, which was an extremely touching and memorable moment.

The other major protagonists are the two surviving Teen Titans, Robin and Raven, who both add a lot to the plot. The Robin in this movie is the Damian Wayne version of the character, who has been a focal protagonist of several films in the DC Animated Movie Universe. While Damian Wayne is not my favourite Robin (Tim Drake for the win), he has been a solid part of this shared universe, especially in the two Teen Titans movies. In Apokolips War, Damian is his usual arrogant self, although he has grown and matured since his introduction. However, the events at the start of the film turn him to a darker path, and he ends up leading the League of Shadows like his grandfather before him. While at first reluctant, he is convinced to help their mission by Raven, to whom he had grown close in Justice League vs. Teen Titans and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Damian’s major scene is the eventual encounter he has with a Darkseid controlled Batman, and their emotionally charged fight sequence is a great part of the movie. Raven is also a fantastic character as she spends most of the film fighting her literal inner demon, her father, Trigon, whom she has imprisoned in the gem in her forehead. The emotional turmoil of the film and the constant conflict against her father has drained Raven, and she is a shell of herself throughout Apokolips War. Raven has some rather dark moments in this film, and her continued inner conflict is an excellent part of the plot. I really liked that the writers chose to focus on Raven, and it turned out to be an exceedingly interesting continuation of her storyline from the excellent Justice League vs. Teen Titans film. I also really enjoyed seeing the extension of the relationship between Robin and Raven. There had been some hints of a connection between the two in their previous entries in the universe, but the writing team took the time to explore it in more detail in this film. There are some rather nice moments as a result, as well as some heartbreaking sequences (this is a pretty traumatic film after all), and overall, both of them proved to be a great addition to the movie.

While the above main characters are great, I really need to highlight the inclusion of the entertaining side characters, who add an incredible amount of fun and excitement to the movie. At the top of this list is Etrigan the Demon, last seen in Justice League Dark. Etrigan was easily the most amusing character in the entire film, mainly because he is comically depressed following the death of the human he was bonded to, Jason Blood, in his previous appearance. Because of this, he spends most of the film following Constantine, looking for something to break him out of his stupor, and being too apathetic to take anything seriously or even to rhyme (which is a big problem for a rhyming demon). His antics are very entertaining, and every appearance he has is designed to make you laugh, right up to the end. I also loved the fantastic use of the Suicide Squad characters in this film. Harley Quinn is her usual, exceedingly violent and over-the-top self in this film, and it was fun to see her lead the Suicide Squad: “Best boss ever”. Next up you have the always dependable Captain Boomerang, who is at his sleaziest right of the bat. Boomerang is another fun addition to the team, due to his funny jabs towards the other members of the Squad, and he has some great moments, including starting an Australian/British rivalry with Constantine. However, the best member of the Suicide Squad has to be King Shark, who stands out right from his start when Constantine hilariously identifies him as one of his exes (which is a great nod to Constantine’s bisexual orientation in the comics). Unlike the pacifist King Shark we see in the Harley Quinn animated show, this version of the character is a bloodthirsty killing machine who gleefully eats several people. He also appears to only be able to only able to say one phrase: “King Shark is a shark!” which I thought was a nice homage to Groot. Pretty much every scene with King Shark is just great, and you will surprised how much fun his constant declarations of “King Shark is a shark!” becomes, especially as it leads up to an amazing joke with Captain Boomerang. I loved all four of these characters, and their inclusion was a masterstroke from the creators, due to how much heart and humour they add to the film.

No superhero movie would be complete without a great antagonist, and Apokolips War features the biggest bad in the entire DC universe, Darkseid. Darkseid has been the major villain for the entire DC Animated Movie Universe, from his destructive introduction in the Justice League: War, to his manipulations in The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen. As a result, Darkseid is an amazing antagonist for this movie, as you get to wrap up his storyline and see how he has been building up to this battle for the entire length of the DC Animated Movie Universe. Darkseid is exceedingly ruthless and destructive in this movie, more than living up to his reputation by brutally taking out the Justice League and killing so many protagonists and heroes. I loved his portrayal as a cold uber-tyrant, and he has some awesome scenes, such as taking out the entire Green Lantern Corp by himself, or facing off against a raft of powerful opponents (including one massive brawl against another major DC antagonist). Of course, his most evil acts revolve around his treatment of the heroes that he captures in the opening acts of the film. I have already mentioned his depowering of Superman, but that is nothing compared to what he does to other members of the League, as he turns them into twisted cybernetic monstrosities, slaved to his will. I was particularly impressed with how he managed to twist Batman’s mind, turning him into his chief enforcer and strategist. Having the ultimate hero become as ruthless as the Batman in this film is a little jarring, and I felt that it was a rather intriguing character arc to explore. I also have to mention Darkseid’s new foot soldiers, the Paradooms. Paradooms are the traditional Apokolipian soldier’s, the Parademons, who have been enhanced with the DNA of Doomsday, making them more than a match for most of the heroes in the Justice League. While the name ‘Paradooms’ is a little uninspired, they do add an exciting new element to the story, especially after the thrashing that the Justice League gave the Parademons in Justice League: War. I did think that their power levels were a little inconsistent at times, as one minute they are killing the entire Justice League, the next they are getting taken out rather easily by the Suicide Squad, but overall they were a destructive addition to the universe. I really liked this collection of antagonists, and I think that having such impressive baddies, really amped up the stakes and my enjoyment of the film.

Apokolips War has a truly impressive voice cast, with most voice actors returning after prior appearances in the DC Animated Movie Universe. At the forefront is Matt Ryan, who once again voices Constantine to perfection in this film. Anyone who has seen any live action or animated feature where Ryan portrays Constantine will know how awesome his work is, and in Apokolips War he once again shines, bringing his brand of charm and roguish appeal to the character. I also must highlight Jerry O’Connell voicing Superman in this movie. O’Connell has been killing it as Superman throughout this shared universe, and Apokolips War is some of his best work. He brings a great deal of passion to the role, and I think that his voice expertly captures all of Superman’s attributes, from his inherent positivity, to his anger at Darkseid and everything that he has done. O’Connell’s Superman also has an amazing amount of chemistry with the film’s Lois Lane, although this is not surprising, considering that Lois is voiced by O’Connell’s real-life wife, Rebecca Romijn. Romijn also does a fantastic job with Lois, and I really like her take on the character, showing of Lois’s boundless confidence and deep love for Clark. Romijn also touches on Lois’s vulnerabilities and doubts in this film, and this helps her produce one of the best and most heartfelt sequences in the entire movie.

I am also a major fan of young voice actor Stuart Allan and his take on Damian Wayne. Allan has been voicing Damian since 2014, and he has always perfectly captured the character’s arrogance and reckless personality. I like how Allan has grown up in step with the character, and his portrayal of Damian in this film adds some more restraint, uncertainty and vulnerability to the character after the opening events. Another impressive young voice actor in this movie is Taissa Farmiga, who returns to voice Raven for the third time. Farmiga has a much younger and more vulnerable take on the character of Raven than Teen Titans fans would be used to, and I think it works extremely well, showing off how scared Raven is of herself and her inherent darkness.

There is also a fantastic group of voice actors voicing the many side characters and antagonists in this movie. Candyman himself, Tony Todd, voices Darkseid, and his deep and callous take on the character, really helps to make the antagonist seem even more menacing and evil. Jason O’Mara does another amazing job as Batman in this film, and I like his more calculating take on the character, especially when he is under Darkseid’s control. Rainn Wilson is also entertaining as Lex Luthor, and he brings a real cowardly, slimy air to his parts of the film. Rosario Dawson is once again cast perfectly as Wonder Woman, and I loved her strong and confident voice for this character. John DiMaggio, Hyden Walch and Liam McIntyre all return to voice members of the Suicide Squad they have portrayed before, and they are all rather entertaining. I have already mentioned how much I loved DiMaggio’s King Shark, and it was fun to see him provide a new voice to the character after portraying him in Assault of Arkham. Walch provides another excellent turn as Harley Quinn, bringing some great energy to the character, and I think I prefer her portrayal to that of her Teen Titans co-star Tara Strong. McIntyre also does an excellent Captain Boomerang, and I personally liked it when they cast an Australian in the role, even if the character is a bit of a silly Australian caricature. While there are a couple of actors who I haven’t discussed, I think I have done enough to show how this movie has an exceedingly strong voice cast, and there was not a single miscast in the entire film.

I also have to praise the amazing animation quality featured within this movie. The animators behind Apokolips War have helped produce an incredibly slick movie with some impressive backgrounds and some fantastic and eye-popping action sequences, some of which were quite brutal and over-the-top at times. Apokolips War also features some cool and unique character designs, as many of the character had new and distinctive looks as a result of the harsh plot of the movie. This includes the depowered Superman with the Kryptonite S on his chest, half-dead cybernetic Justice League members and a whole new evil costume motif for Batman. I also have a lot of love for how the musical elements of this movie fit in with the visuals, and some of the instrumental scores that were featured really helped some key events pop out and stick in the mind, especially when combined with some of the impressive animation. For example, there is a great scene about two-thirds in where the music helps really enhances a major moment around one of the key characters, there is also a bit right at the end of the movie where the score plays extremely well with a really visually impressive moment, creating a fantastic ending for the entire movie. This helps turn Apokolips War in a visual and audible treat, and I thought that the fantastic combination of these elements helped to create an excellent movie.

 

The next paragraph gets extremely plot heavy in its discussion, so I am issuing a SPOILER ALERT.

I need to discuss how the entire movie concludes, mainly because I am in two minds about it. The film essentially ends with the entire DC Animated Movie Universe being erased out of existence, when Constantine talks the Flash into creating another Flashpoint once it becomes clear that the Earth is doomed. While it was an amazing scene, especially with the monologue that Constantine gives to convince Flash to do it and the fade to white that heralded the end of the movie, I thought it was a controversial way to end the film. Not only was it a rather predictable move thanks to several discussions about the alternative Flashpoint universe made earlier in the film (and the fact that time travel was the only obvious way to fix everything), but it also seems to do the rest of the amazing film a disservice by instantly erasing it, and it reminded me of those television episodes where major events turned out to be dream sequences or simulations. That being said, I did think it was a great way to conclude the entire DC Animated Movie Universe, which was created as a result of a Flashpoint in the very first movie, and it keeps the entire plot of this shared universe rather contained. It will be interesting to see what happens next in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies range, and whether they create a new animated shared universe in the future. I also would love if they maybe set another movie in this universe post-Apokolips War, because seeing what happened in the crumbling ruins of Earth with a depleted Justice League has a lot of story potential

SPOILERS END

 

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is an incredible and highly recommended animated comic book adaptation, which serves as an epic and memorable conclusion to the DC Animated Movie Universe. I had an exceptional time watching this movie, especially as it blended a dark and clever story with amazing characters, impressive animation and a top-notch team of voice actors. This was an overall great film, and it might be one of the best new movies of 2020 so far (which to be fair, might be due to most films getting pushed back this year). I had a great time reviewing this animated film, and I might spend a bit of time reviewing more animated comic book movies in the future. As most of them are adaptions of existing comic books, I think this is close enough to my current focus as a reviewer to fit on this blog, and I look forward to examining some of my favourite animated comic book movies in the future.

Hit-Girl, Vol 4: In Hollywood by Kevin Smith and Pernille Ørum

Hit-Girl in Hollywood Volume 4

Publisher: Image Comics (Paperback – 19 June 2019)

Series: Hit-Girl – Volume 4

Writer: Kevin Smith

Artist: Pernille Ørum

Colourist: Sunny Gho

Letterer: Clem Robins

Length: 112 pages

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Lights, camera, bloodshed and mayhem! The world’s most dangerous pre-teen assassin, Hit-Girl, travels to Hollywood in the fourth instalment of the brilliant and exciting Hit-Girl series.

Hit Girl S2 #1

This current Hit-Girl series has been a lot of fun, as it follows Hit-Girl on her world tour of destruction and vigilante justice, with a new creative team at the helm of each volume (which are each made up of four issues). I have been really getting into this series, and I loved the first three volumes, having previously reviewed the first and third volumes, Hit-Girl in Columbia and Hit-Girl in Rome. This fourth volume, Hit-Girl in Hollywood, is another interesting addition to the series, featuring the intriguing creative team of Hollywood screenwriter Kevin Smith and artist Pernille Ørum, and contains Season 2, Issues #1-4 of the Hit-Girl series.

I have to say that I was rather looking forward to this fourth volume. Not only does it have a cool-sounding premise but it also features the writing talents of Kevin Smith, who has written and directed some rather entertaining and distinctive comedy movies (my favourite is Dogma). Smith has also written several comics over the years, which have ranged from the good to the controversial. I am a massive fan of several of his comics, including the incredible Daredevil: Guardian Devil, and his run on Green Arrow back in the early 2000s, which brought back the titular character and set up one of my favourite comic book series of all time. Some of his other work has been a little less well received, such as Batman: The Widening Gyre (which featured the infamous “bladder” spasm incident), but Smith has always been able to create an entertaining story. As a result, I was rather intrigued to see his take on the character of Hit-Girl, and the result was a rather unique and memorable tale.

Hit Girl S2 #2

Mindy McCready, the pre-teen vigilante known as Hit-Girl, is living her best life, killing bad guys and distributing her lethal brand of justice across the world. However, during her most recent mission she becomes aware of something truly terrible: someone is making a big Hollywood movie of her life and it is going to feature a dramatic re-enactment of her father’s death. Determined to stop the movie from being made, Mindy travels to Hollywood to crack some heads and put the fear of Hit-Girl into the movie makers. Deciding to strike at the very top, Mindy breaks into the set to have a “talk” with the studio boss, however, she instead comes across a rather disturbing scene that she was not expecting.

It turns out that there is another vigilante running around Hollywood, and she has in her sights the most evil and vicious predators there are: Hollywood executives who prey on young women. Her latest vicious attack on the studio boss behind the Hit-Girl movie has garnered a large amount of attention, and Hit-Girl is now the main suspect. Hit-Girl needs to find this new vigilante and get out of town fast. But with both the FBI and the remnants of the Genovese mob family gunning for her, can Hit-Girl survive, and what happens when she meets up with a vigilante who has even more issues than she does?

Hit GIrl S2 #2b

Wow, now that was something! I have to admit that I did have a suspicion that Hit-Girl in Hollywood was going to be a rather weird entry in the series, but I was not expecting just how crazy Smith and the artistic team ended up making it. I honestly think the best way to describe this comic is with the phrase “over-the-top”, as this comic features some rather extreme examples of violence and vengeance that a lot of people are going to find rather uncomfortable. I personally found the comic to be quite entertaining, and I liked seeing the crazy character of Hit-Girl in a whole new setting, especially one that makes fun of the Hollywood elite and dramatic method actors who fall deep for their beloved craft. However, even I had to admit that this comic had some issues which made it just a little too insane to completely enjoy.

Hit GIrl S2 #3

The comic actually starts by displaying a graphic and somewhat unexplained school shooting, which is probably going to turn away a bunch of potential readers right off the bat. Hit-Girl brutally intervenes to stop the shooting (graphically killing the two teen killers), but becomes more concerned when she discovers she has an unauthorised biography which is being adapted into a movie, and she travels to Hollywood to put an end to it. Once there she discovers that another teen girl is running around town in a Hit-Girl inspired costume, castrating predatorial Hollywood executives as “Dick-Taker”, whose introduction made me crack up and stop taking this comic seriously. While I could maybe overlook the portrayal of a school shooting at the start of the comic, Dick-Taker officially made this story way too over-the-top for me, especially as Dick-Taker wears a very disturbing and artistic cape that appears to made up of the stitched together skins of the male extremities she has removed (I kid you not!).

Hit Girl S2 #3b

All of this is way too crazy, and it does not help that Hit-Girl in Hollywood’s story is a bit weak in places. The big shoot-out in the fourth issue is cool, but it all happens rather suddenly, and all the key players are in the same place at the same time, prompting Hit-Girl and Dick-Taker to team up, which happened just a little too easily for my taste. I wasn’t a big fan of seeing Hit-Girl fighting the FBI either, as she has a “no killing cops” mindset which was a big part of the end of Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall. I also thought that it was a bit of a waste to use the remnants of the Genovese mob in this story, and the manner in which the final member of the family that has been the main antagonists of Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass was taken down is a tad odd.

Hit Girl S2 #4

Now, despite the flaws and over-the-top extreme nature of much of the comic, I did like parts of Hit-Girl in Hollywood, which made it a mostly fun read. This comic is chock full of gratuitous violence, expertly brought to life by the artistic team, which, let us be honest, is one of the main reasons that you would buy a Hit-Girl comic. I also really liked how the entire first issue was told completely without any dialogue, except for in the final scene. This first issue turns out to be rather cool, as watching Hit-Girl’s outrage grow as she finds out that not only did someone write a book about her but it’s being turned into a movie is pretty entertaining, and showing her sitting on the Hollywood sign saying “I see dead people” in the very last panel is a great way to foreshadow the death and destruction that is bound to follow. I also liked Smith’s take on the crazy, fake town of Hollywood, and it definitely made for an interesting setting, filled with several entertaining characters, quotes from popular movies and a relevant storyline about sexual predators in Hollywood getting what’s coming to them. The whole storyline around the origin story of Dick-Taker is also a rather intriguing version of extreme method actors, and I thought it was interesting to see how inspiring someone like Hit-Girl could potentially be to other disenfranchised young women. My favourite part of this comic had to be the emotional scenes where Hit-Girl visits the set of the Hit-Girl movie and sees them recreate the moment her father died. The combination of anger, fear, regret and sadness that is shown on Hit-Girl’s face and in her thoughts is pretty intense, and it makes for a rather great scene.

Hit Girl S2 #4b

Overall, I’d say that Hit-Girl in Hollywood is an interesting addition to the series that dials up the action and excitement but which is probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I personally liked most of it, but I have to admit that parts of it were off-putting and the whole comic is a bit too crazy for its own good. Still, people looking for an extreme and explosive comic with some memorable moments to it could do a lot worse than Hit-Girl in Hollywood, and you are guaranteed to have a few laughs with this one. I am giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars, although I can imagine that a lot of other people will not be as generous with their ratings as I am. I am looking forward to seeing where the next volumes of this series go, and I cannot wait to get my next Hit-Girl fix.

Throwback Thursday – Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Moving PIcture Cover.jpg

Publishers: Corgi and ISIS Audiobooks (14 November 1991)

Series: Discworld – Book 10

Length: 332 pages or 10 hours and 8 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

Because my blog shares the name of a building featured in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, some people might have assumed that I am a fan.  You would be right, so very, very right.  I have loved Discworld since I was a small child, and my appreciation and respect for the complex writings of the late, great genius, Sir Terry Pratchett, has grown with me.  The Discworld series represents one of my ultimate comfort series of books.  It’s the series that I go back to at any time when I want something fun and familiar to enjoy.  I have read all of the adult books set in Discworld multiple times (I have yet to read all of the young adult ones), and it is an unusual year when I do not listen or read some of these books in my spare time.  Pretty much every single book in this series deserves five out of five stars or higher (with one or two exceptions that I may mark down to a 4.75 with a heavy, heavy heart), and you are unlikely to find any real criticisms about this book below.  After nearly a year of running this blog, the continued exclusion of a review of any of Pratchett’s Discworld is a travesty, and one that I seek to rectify in this somewhat late Throwback Thursday with a review of the 10th book in the series, Moving Pictures.

Before I review Moving Pictures, here is some quick context of the Discworld series for those people unfamiliar with these books.  Discworld is the main series of Sir Terry Pratchett, set upon the Discworld, world and mirror of worlds.  The Discworld, or the Disc, is a flat world that rests on the backs of four massive elephants, who themselves stand on the back of a gigantic turtle swimming in space, Great A’Tuin.  The Discworld itself features a huge range of different nations and continents that bear striking similarities to real-world locations.  This series is, without a doubt, the best series that utilises a combination of fantasy and satire in the entire world.  The seamless blend of the two elements is just incredible, and both elements do an unbelievable job at enhancing each other.  Before his death, Pratchett wrote 41 books in the Discworld series, six of which are considered young adult books.  While the books can be read in any real order, the series were mostly written in chronological order (with the exception of Small Gods), and events from earlier books in the series are often referenced.  Although most of the Discworld stories are self-contained, a number of the books are linked together by a recurring main character and are subsequently grouped together into subseries.  These include the Rincewind, Witches, City Watch, Death, Tiffany Arching and Moist von Lipwig subseries, in addition to a few standalone books that fall outside of any of the subseries.  Characters often appear in other Discworld books outside of their subseries, and there are a string of side or secondary characters who appear in multiple subseries and standalone books.

The book I am reviewing, Moving Pictures, is a standalone book that does not really fall within any of the main subseries.  It is sometimes considered part of minor subseries, called the Industrial Revolution subseries, with The Truth and Monstrous Regiment, but I am not a big fan of that distinction.  As it is the first Discworld book I am reviewing, you might think that it is my favourite book in the entire series, which is not true; although it does get five out of five stars from me and I have enjoyed it an amazing number of times, it is not my absolute favourite Discworld book, although it is high on the list.  It is, however, an easier one for me to review as there is a lot I can say about it.

Goodreads Synopsis:

‘Holy wood is a different sort of place. People act differently here. Everywhere else the most important things are gods or money or cattle. Here, the most important thing is to be important.’

People might say that reality is a quality that things possess in the same way that they possess weight. Sadly alchemists never really held with such a quaint notion. They think that they can change reality, shape it to their own purpose. Imagine then the damage that could be wrought if they get their hands on the ultimate alchemy: the invention of motion pictures, the greatest making of illusions. It may be a triumph of universe-shaking proportions. It’s either that or they’re about to unlock the dark terrible secret of the Holy Wood hills – by mistake…

The blurb above is a bit vague on the details of what is actually happening in Moving Pictures.  Essentially, the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Discworld (and a central location for many of the books), suddenly develop filmmaking, which they call moving pictures, and set up a filming base at the ancient and abandoned Holy Wood.  The moving pictures issue a weird siren call to the inhabitants of the Discworld, dragging all manners of people and creatures from across the lands and infecting them with their magic (not a metaphor).

Among those drawn to Holy Wood are Victor Tugelbend, a former student wizard, and Theda “Ginger” Withel, a small-town girl with big dreams.  Thanks to the magical on-screen chemistry between them, Victor and Ginger quickly become the superstars of the fledgling moving pictures industry, especially when the Discworld’s most infamous salesman, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, comes to town and takes over the studios.

However, reality on the Discworld is always a bit thin, and Lovecraftian monsters (a favourite recurring antagonist of Pratchett’s early Discworld novels) are revealed to be the ones who planted the idea of moving pictures and Holy Wood in the alchemists’ heads.  Using the new sort of magic created by Holy Wood, the creatures start to break through.  With the wizards of Unseen University, the people who are supposed to guard against these sorts of incursions, distracted by the arrival of an unconventional new Archchancellor, it is up to Victor, Ginger and a ragtag band of other Holy Wood characters to save the day.

This book has so many moving parts to it that it’s hard to know where to begin when reviewing it.  While the main story is concerned with the introduction of moving pictures into the Discworld, there are a number of other entertaining storylines going on throughout the book, each one complementing the main story and creating an amazing overall narrative.  The major appeal of this book is its sharp and intelligent satire of the movie business, which also examines the nature of a film industry in a world as crazy as the Discworld.  I also quite like all the amazing characters, either introduced or built up in this book, many of whom appear in later books in the series.

This book is absolutely hilarious and filled with a huge number of clever and outrageous jokes and observations about the film industry, all of which lie on top of Pratchett’s usual humour about day-to-day life in the Discworld and his random observations, many of which are perfectly introduced in the book’s footnotes.  The main storyline is an amazing portrayal of the hectic early days of the film industry, placed in a fantasy setting.  The cameras are powered by miniature demons (who paint the pictures really, really fast), the lighting is done by salamanders, actors of all species make up the cast, the audience eat ‘banged grains’ while watching the ‘clicks’ and the film’s monsters and villains are all trolls in crude costumes.  However, literal movie magic is making people do strange things (strange even for Discworld folk), talking animals are showing up looking for work, Dwarfs are singing “Hihohihohiho” as they work, characters routinely burst into song and dance in the rain, and one producer keeps threatening to turn people into stars, all while the book’s few straight-characters look on in bemusement.  All of this is amazing, and the sheer number of fantasy-assisted jokes throughout the book is pretty unbelievable.

At its heart, Moving Pictures is a satire and a critique about the film industry as a whole.  Quite a large amount of the story is dedicated to parodying the real-life the crazy effect that movies can have on audiences and the people who make them, as the book shows some ridiculous events.  The story also reflects the insubstantial nature of fame and the fragility of dreams surrounding the movie industry.  The fast-moving world of the film industry is also shown, although sped up even more for comedic and story value, as they film creators are constantly searching and finding new advancements in their field.  A great example of this is shown when Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler invents and then continually advances the art of advertisement, so that, within a few short weeks, the film industry goes from ineffective text advertisements to eye-catching posters and explorations of product placement and subliminal messages.  Pratchett handles these critiques very skilfully, and you cannot help but laugh aloud as he skewers the film industry quite cleverly throughout Moving Pictures.

Pratchett also filled Moving Pictures with a ton of references to iconic films and elements of the film industry.  Many of the characters involved with the films are caricatures of famous movie actors, with Victor playing all the typical romantic or manly male heroes of the day, and Ginger is essentially Marilyn Monroe.  Several films are parodied throughout the book, such as Gone With The Wind, which becomes Blown Away, an epic love story set around a famous Ankh-Morpork Civil War.  There is a rather good King Kong parody, in which a gigantic woman kidnaps a poor defenceless Ape (the Librarian) and drags him to the roof of the tallest tower in Ankh-Morpork, all while two wizards on a broomstick shoot at it with a crossbow, with one shouting “If it bleeds, we can kill it!”  That is only scratching the surface of the references featured within this book.  A golden figure with a name starting with O plays a big part in the story, the various studios are all parodies of real-life studios, and there a huge number of funny and subtle references to various famous films.  Examples of these include Wizard of Oz, Lassie, Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Looney Tunes, Blues Brothers, Casablanca, Tarzan and Star Trek just to name a few.  Readers can go through this book multiple times and not pick up every detail, which is a testament to the cleverness of Pratchett and his ability to come up with some hilarious references.

I have always found the way that Pratchett utilises or re-uses his characters to be extremely fascinating; while some characters appear in multiple books, a number of his main characters, especially from his earlier books, are only used once. There are several examples of this, including Mort from Mort, Pteppic from Pyramids and Esk from Equal Rites (who did appear in a later young adult novel, but there was a significant time gap between the writing of these two books).  While Pratchett may have simply had only one story in mind for these characters, I have a feeling that he simply did not like how they turned out and decided not to use them again under any circumstances.  Mort is probably the best example of this.  Despite being the protagonist of the first Death subseries book Mort, he never appears in any of the Death subseries books again (aside from one brief flashback), and is instead replaced by his own daughter, Susan.  It is interesting to note that most of the main characters who were never or rarely used again are somewhat similar to each other, being young heroes without too many obvious flaws to them.  On the other hand, the unique main characters Pratchett creates with notable flaws, such as Rincewind, the wizard who has turned cowardice into an art form, or the overly cynical and dangerous alcoholic Sam Vimes, helm multiple books.

If I have to make one criticism about this book, it is the weak and somewhat inconsistent main characters, Victor and Ginger.  Ginger is a generic female character, and while she is a good parody of Marilyn Monroe and other early screen actresses, she is pretty one-dimensional and unlikeable.  Victor starts out with some very interesting character traits, as he is described as an extremely lazy person, whose unique brand of laziness forces him to become a brilliant student wizard in order for him to succeed in his quest to fail every test he ever takes by a certain point margin to ensure he remains a student.  However, these character traits are pretty much thrown out the window a few chapters in and he becomes a typical male hero for the rest of the book.  While this sort of straight-man character was needed for this wacky adventure, it is surprising that the character never again really shows the slightest hint of some of these earlier established character traits.  It is interesting to note that neither Victor or Ginger appear in any of the subsequent Discworld novels, so I think there is a strong possibility that Pratchett might also have disliked how these characters turned out.

While one or two of his earlier main characters were somewhat unimpressive, Pratchett always managed to make up for this by creating a range of memorable and enjoyable side characters.  It was always interesting to see which of these side characters would appear in various later books, as you knew Pratchett had to like them as well.  For example, Granny Weatherwax was a supporting character in Equal Rites, but Pratchett must have liked writing her, as she became a major character in the Discworld series, even getting her own subseries with several other witch characters.  Moving Pictures is perhaps the best example of Pratchett’s love of side characters; while Victor and Ginger never appear in the Discworld again, many of the side characters introduced or developed in this book have major roles later in the series.

For example, I was always impressed with how this book turned two minor characters from Guards! Guards!, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler and Detritus the troll, and gave them more expanded roles in Moving Pictures.  Dibbler was an opportunistic merchant who got a couple of good, if minor, scenes in Guards! Guards!, but in Moving Pictures, Pratchett transformed him into a ruthless and extremely savvy salesman who gets in the front door of every major new opportunity inflicted on the Discworld, but is often forced by circumstances back to becoming a sausage-in-a-bun merchant.  Dibbler was absolutely fantastic as the stereotypical sleazy film producer, and it is unsurprising why he suddenly became a major recurring character throughout the Discworld books, not only appearing in nearly every book set in Ankh-Morpork but also having clones of him appear in the other nations and cities, all of whom sell disgusting local delicacies.  Detritus is another great example, as he goes from the simple bouncer introduced in previous books to a troll seeking love and a new way of life.  Pratchett comes up with a great personality for Detritus in this book, and it carries through to the City Watch subseries when he joins the Watch in Men at Arms and becomes a major recurring character in this subseries and other books set around Ankh-Morpork.  Other recurring characters, Death and the Librarian, are as awesome as ever, but Dibbler and Detritus are the real standout stars of this book.

Several new characters introduced in this story also make a number of reappearances throughout the rest of the Discworld series.  A good example of this is the talking dog, Gaspode, who is a fantastic and sarcastic character through the book.  He has some great scenes, with the highlight being his friendship with Laddie, a Lassie parody and idiot who Gaspode takes under his wing.  The idea of a clever, underappreciated and sarcastic talking dog side character apparently worked so well that Pratchett found a way to return his magical intelligence and ability to speak a few books later in Men at Arms (the same book Detritus reappeared in) and he then featured in several additional books.

You also have to love the new wizard characters that Pratchett also created for this book.  Before Moving Pictures, the faculty of Unseen University, with the exception of the Librarian and Rincewind, were replaced each book with a new group of senior wizards, thanks to the competitive nature of succession in the university.  However, this 10th book introduces a brand new and more permanent faculty of Unseen University, led by Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully.  Ridcully is a fantastic character as he is big, loud and sporty man who is generally the complete opposite to any other wizard previously shown in the Discworld series.  I really enjoyed his storyline and found it to be one of the most entertaining in the entire book.  Pratchett must have agreed, as Ridcully became the only recurring Archchancellor in the Discworld series.  This also allowed for the creation and stabilisation of unique characters to make up the senior faculty of Unseen University, including the Bursar, the Dean, the Chair of Indefinite Studies and the Lecturer in Recent Runes.  While the other wizards have a fun romp breaking out to go see the moving pictures, the Bursar has a great story, as you get to see the first signs of madness that would afflict him throughout every other book he appears in, as he first encounters the stress associated with working under Ridcully.  I also liked the introduction of a young Ponder Stibbons, whose bad day while trying to escape from the university is pretty humorous, but also the complete departure from his later role as the only serious member of the faculty.  Thanks to their entertaining storylines, the wizards would appear in multiple books in the rest of the Discworld series, and while they never had their own specific subseries, they would get major inclusions in several other subseries, including substantial stories in The Last Continent, Soul Music, Lords and Ladies and The Hogfather, as well as their own novel, Unseen Academics.

While I have physically read most of the books in the Discworld series, including Moving Pictures, these days I tend to only listen to the audiobook formats of these books.  The Discworld audiobooks are pretty awesome, and the two narrators for the series, Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs, both do an incredible job.  I find that the humour in the Discworld novels is massively enhanced by the narration, and I love listening to the stories this way.  At 10 hours and 8 minutes, this is not a long audiobook, and I always tend to power through these books really, really quickly.  Planer is a comedy veteran and has an awesome audiobook voice, and it is quite impressive the sheer range of different and distinctive voices he can come up with.  I also like his incredible consistency when it comes the multiple books in the Discworld series; for example, voices he creates for Moving Pictures are generally the same used for that character in later books he narrated.  The audiobook format of Moving Pictures is my preferred way to enjoy this book, and it is really worth trying out.

As you can see from my extremely long rant above, I absolutely love Moving Pictures and the Discworld series.  Pratchett created an incredibly complex and extremely funny novel that laughs right at the heart of the film industry.  The sheer range of references in this book is amazing, and the creation and enhancing of the various side characters featured in this book has massive ramifications for many of the later Discworld novels.  If you have yet to experience the joy of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, get on it as soon as you can.  It is well worth it, and Moving Pictures is a great place to start your Pratchett adventure.  I fully intend to review more books in this series in the future.