Starring: Nick Frost, Jodie Whitaker, Luke Treadaway, John Boyega, Paige Meade, Danielle Vitalis, Somin Howard

Director: Joe Cornish

Writer(s): Joe Cornish

Cinematography: Thomas Townend

Original Score: Steven Price

Running Time: 88 Mins.

I have a growing dislike for the more mainstream films from the British industry, it would seem that the hoodie/gang culture has provided an excellent platform for which aspiring Brit’s to jump off, whether it be for dramatic effect (of which they have appeared in their droves, following the initial success of Kidulthood), horror (Eden Lake) or out-and-out comedy (Anuvahood). However for the one or two that are actually good, Harry Brown and the aforementioned Eden Lake, most are bland identikit films that trawl the media stereotypes meaning we are represented with gang after gang of mixed race youths who are on the whole deeply annoying (unintentional) parodies spouting their inner city slang such as bruv, merc and innit, and pulling out blades and/or guns left right and centre, depressing as it is this is what the British film industry and the youth of today is provided with as entertainment.

So forgive me for initially writing Attack the Block off as yet another in a long line of dire gang culture films, the trailer alone was a painful enough experience, seemingly edited down to appeal to the most dumbass of cinemagoers…witness my surprise as I can happily say, ignore the trailer, ignore the way each of the amateur actors come across as just that, amateur and ignore that this looks like Kidulthood + Aliens. Before you get too excited however, it is far from being the amazing feat of cinema many critics have suggested, it is however an enjoyable romp that moves at a lick and has a clutch of convincing turns by first-time actors plucked from the suburbs in which the film is set.

Director Cornish (of the Adam & Joe Show, admittedly something I have never watched) was quick to point out he has taken inspiration from many sources, and much like Shaun of the Dead (to which this has drawn lofty comparisons) the nods to films ranging from Critters to The Goonies to John Carpenter’s The Thing are used as a platform to jump off rather than for the purpose of parody, something which means you aren’t left thinking “oh, that scene was ripped from a much better film”. Obviously the height of Shaun is never hit, Cornish isn’t as skilled a writer and paints everything a little to broadly and as the film shifts into it’s third act he makes a grave error in trying to make social commentary on what makes the hoodies who they are and why they do what they do, it tries for apathy and only serves to hit the audience like a sledge-hammer in a Daily Mail-like assault.

While I’m on the negatives, Jodie Whitaker is terrible as the main female presence, put to shame by the kids who are in turn realistic (prior to the sermonizing scenes), funny (ignore the terrible and unfunny scenes n the trailer, they work much better in context), and convincing, particularly John Boyega as the leader who ends cutting an iconic and heroic figure, I never expected THAT from the marketing! The action, as I said, is non-stop and well staged but the trump card is in the direction…Cornish may not be the greatest writer but he sure knows where to point a camera, opening with a fantastic establishing shot he is relentless but not showy and allows the film to belie its low-budget restrictions with some very well staged action set pieces that could match many of the summer’s blockbusters for sheer excitement, and more than that there is often a nice line originality as the kids employ all kinds of things as weapons (rockets being my favourite).

No, it isn’t amazing and doesn’t break any boundaries, there are still flickers of the hoodie/gang culture, particularly in Drug King High Hat and the slang is bandied around a little too much but given I largely forgot about it shows that either it was prevalent enough to bother me or made the characters more likeable…either way it doesn’t hinder the film enough to instill too much criticism. Nick Frost shows up for a bgger role than expected but adds very little, and the slide into stoner comedy towards the finale is dangerously close to spoiling much of the hard work, thankfully the actions of Boyega in reluctant action hero mode distract enough have you leave with a smile rather than a scowl.

VERDICT

Attack the Block is a success for Cornish in that he manages to (mostly) over-ride the awful trailer that promised yet another dire Brit film, far from being great I am just happy to say this is good, solid and entertaining with some inspired direction that bodes well for future films, all that and I’ve not even mentioned the unique and creepy alien design.


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Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Karl Urban, Maggie Q, Stephen Moyer, Christopher Plummer, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif

Director: Scott Charles Stewart

Writer(s): Cory Goodman, Min-Woo Hyung (Graphic Novel)

Cinematography: Don Burgess

Original Score: Christopher Young

Running Time: 87 Mins.

So, this is Paul Bettany’s second attempt at playing the lead in a big (ish) budget fantasy with ex-SFX man Scott Charles Stewart at the helm, can they hit the pay dirt this time and learn from their mistakes after the dull and lifeless Legion…in a word, no. Priest IS a marginal improvement over Legion in that it at least offers up a little more from its potentially fun premise than the guys previous effort could muster but to be fair that is like saying a losing an arm is better than losing a leg, in fact their isn’t anything here that suggests Stewart is capable of directing anything other than a slapdash film that shamelessly rips ideas from other, marginally, better films, think Jonah Hex’s animated prologue, I Am Legend feral vamps, a future war look from Book of Eli or any number of post-apocalyptic efforts.

But n, the pillaging doesn’t end there, these elements are then strung together with a plot that is pure western in its execution (The Searchers in particular), and has a loner “hero” who grunts his lines and is more than prepared to kill the niece he hunts for if she has been “turned”. No this is not a film about lesbianism, the turning I speak of concerns vampires and in this current market of vampire movie saturation you need to be good to stand-out, suffice to say Priest doesn’t. The opening introduces an admittedly neat idea, that a war between vampire and human kind threatened to destroy the Earth leaving the church to resorting to training a group of “priests” that have “special abilities” r.e. they are pretty much superhuman with ultra fast reflexes and a nice line in throwing stars and daggers (they don’t use guns see), however said priests are rendered useless in the face of the vamps retreating…or have they?

The main issue is that the whole thing is so hastily sped through that we don’t get to know anything about a single character for long enough so that it registers on an emotional level, this in turn leaves the action scenes flat as they lack in any form of tension. Bettany is, as ever, a capable actor and makes for a striking presence as the priest of the title. But he is afforded nothing to work with script-wise and is simply reduced to killing and grumbling hokey lines of exposition, largely to Cam Gigandet’s lawman who looks thoroughly confused.

Many fantasy films of late have had a crack at reinvigorating the genre in some kind of 80’s style Krull revival, Solomon Kane was one that seemed to know what to do with it’s “new” star and limited budget making the scope fit well, though Priest’s budget was higher it is squandered on below-par vamps and some shoddy 3D that recalls the worst parts of the Resident Evil franchise, not a comparison anyone would want lumbering with! Thankfully Bettany is more charismatic than Jovovich, though the same can’t be said for the rest of the casting, they either look baffled (a la Gigandet and Maggie Q as … priestess?) or appear in the briefest, and most needless, of cameos such as Plummer and Dourif…and the less said about Urban as the Black Hat, the better!

The worst offence carried by Priest however is its incessant dour tone, they is no room for fun here as everything is so heavy handed…and handled, a capital offence when your premise takes in vamp killing priests with a little humour and pizzazz called for, even a comedy sidekick would have been welcome to provide a break, unfortunately the initial mild interest of the SFX wanes to nothing in the end and a train set finale is fumbled with no tension and one of the poorest face off’s between hero and villain for quite some time…I can safely say I don’t look forward to another Stewart/Bettany fantasy film!

VERDICT

If not one of the poorest of the year Priest will definitely go down as the film that squaders a fun premise in the worst way possible, over quickly enough not to rant over it is none-the-less lifeless…much like the vampire hordes that inhabit it’s world…on the plus side it IS better than Legion, just.

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, James Frain, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider, Mark Povinelli

Director: Francis Lawrence

Writer(s): Richard LaGravanese, Sara Gruen (novel)

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Original Score: James Newton Howard

Running Time: 120 Mins.

Water For Elephants marks Robert Pattinson’s first foray into romance following a little known franchise you may have heard of where he played a vampire with a tendency for a girl who is largely deemed unsuitable at best and unobtainable at worst. Here he takes on the role of a young man who, much like his Twilight counterpart, falls for a woman who is also unsuitable at best and unobtainable at worst, this is where any similarities end however, Water For Elephants you see is a much more classic romance, classic in the sense that it is the kind of sweeping epic that was common in Hollywood’s Golden Era, in fact everything is present and correct bar, surprisingly in these days of bloated blockbusters, an overlong running time.

When a film is bookended with an elderly person recounting some significant event from their youth it is inevitable that comparisons with Titanic are drawn, especially when the central drive is a romance of lovers separated by social status and particularly when you know the film will culminate in a disaster of sorts (even if it doesn’t quite hit the tragic heights of Titanic‘s fateful voyage, though in all fairness few things do). So now I have the comparisons cleared up we can move on to assessing Water For Elephants on it’s own merits, and they are indeed plentiful. As mentioned before this is a streamlined affair, yes there is a bounty of class (and little known) support actors bringing everything from laughs to villainous heavies but none are dwelt upon too much, they add just enough to give a real sense of circus life circa 1930’s, whether it be the trapeze artists, strippers, animal trainers, clowns or midgets, all the bases are entertainingly and sufficiently covered.

Suffice to say the bulk of the film focuses on a love triangle (something Pattinson must be familiar with after Twilight) between runaway-vet Jacob (Pattinson), trapeze artist Marlena (Witherspoon) and the villain of the piece August (Waltz) who also happens to be Marlena’s wife and the owner/ringmaster of the Benzini Brothers circus. Thankfully just as much time is spent building up the relationship between August and Jacob, acting as sometime father figure, sometime brutal and erratic maniac who doesn’t think twice about flinging employees off a moving train or beating an elephant with an iron rod. It is in the realtionship between the men that the film truly becomes alive, Waltz is as always a magnetic presence and can do the unhinged yet charming thing in his sleep (one suspects), but he is more than simply coasting and hints at August’s schziphrenic nature without ever being OTT, yes he can be decidedly brutal but it is never anything other than scarily convincing.

What Waltz lacks in sbtlety Pattinson makes up for, many critisize the man for showing little range though I have defended this since his excellent turn in last years Remember Me, yes he does tortured souls well but there is more than mere moodiness and wallowing, the guy has charm and has become a heart-throb for more than simply looking good. There is an element of the love sick puppy in Jacob, there has to be for the romance to work, but he is also nt without a sense of humour and handles the lighter moments with ease, far from being a joker he can smile convincingly and be warm and likeable, a key attribute for any film star. He holds his own against Waltz and allows the man to grandstand but in his phisical performance can match the man blow for blow (often literally).

Slightly less engaging is the romance, it may be the age difference but Witherspoon and Pattinson just don’t gel as well as you may expect despite the 1930’s glow they give off, yes they look the part but chemistry is somewhat lacking, not enough to make it dull but just enought to stop Water For Elephants being a real classic of its genre. Thankfully in director Lawrence (who previously made two very dark efforts with I Am Legend and Constantine) we have a man who knows his material, directed with the panache you would want from a circus-set, depression-era story there is magic in the cinematic sense that will transport you to Hollywood’s Golden Age of cinema…so “they DO make ’em like they used to” after all.

VERDICT

Like a blast from the past Water For Elephants displays all the hallmarks of a “classic” Hollywood production, handsome couple, dastardly (but very well acted) villain, sweeping vistas and a charming but intriguing setting lit with the glow of the “Golden Age”, high praise indeed.

Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Rob Corddry, Stephen Root, Sigourney Weaver

Director: Miguel Arteta

Writer(s): Phil Johnston

Cinematography: Chuy Chavek

Original Score: Christophe Beck

Running Time: 87 Mins.

“If you liked The Hangover, you’ll love this” raves the poster for Cedar Rapids, indeed if you have seen any of the trailers or adverts for the film you will likely expect just that, another Hangover-like bawdy boys-own comedy that embraces that most current of trends, bromance. Alas this is just another case of misdirection in an effort to build on that film’s success, given that it stars Ed Helms (Stu from The Hangover) to advertise it as such was really a no-brainer to try to get the audience flocking in droves and have the cash registers ringing. It is a strategy which has failed, badly, across the pond it disappeared without a trace while it will likely follow suit now it has found a release here, maybe the audience is too savvy to fall for marketing ploys (unlikely) or maybe (and more likely) word-of-mouth has put most movie-goers straight, Cedar Rapids really isn’t that funny.

This is not to say that it is a failure, I don’t think that the makers set out to craft a comedy and certainly not a bawdy one though one element does go against this concept and that is John C. Reilly, moving quite some distance away from the character he played in Cyrus, Dean Ziegler is overbearing, obnoxious and loud but obviously a loveable oaf after all is said and done the thing is his mugging comedy jars with the rest of the film and feels although this is a role meant for some other much funnier laugh out loud premise. Around him everyone else plays it (relatively) straight, and not just straight but largely toned down to drama-level performance, no-one show boats and bar a sojourn to a drug fuelled party and a late night swimming pool romp the tone and plotting it low-key, so low key in fact that Cedar Rapids really is more indie drama than comedy.

Sadly it is in this confusion that the whole thing doesn’t gel, Helms proves he can act and Reilly demonstrates he can be very funny (once more), Anne Heche reminds us what a good actress she is and Whitlock Jr. riffs on his role in The Wire (an odd place to find such a running joke) all the more strange given the hugely different audience demographic for The Wire and this. All of which begs the question who is this film for? I quite simply don’t know, and as solidly well acted as it is each character is not much fun (bar Reilly), the direction rather limp and lifeless creating a stagnant mood and a very slow 87 minutes, while the colour saturation makes the proceedings closer in look to a social realist drama!!!

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the cameo appearances by Sigourney Weaver (wasted and bizarre a choice as Helms love interest) and an equally underused Rob Corddry who can be very funny but barely registers, with a plot concerning insurance sales that eventually tries to make a comment on society, and such other heavy themes, by which point you will have been likely bored and/or confounded at how much of a mess the film becomes. Director Arteta’s last film had a similarly mixed take on seemingly foolproof material (he has Ed Helms and John C. Reilly on a weekend getaway for gods sake!) yet in Youth In Revolt at least some of the elements worked, here his best efforts can’t over-ride the simply bungled efforts of a studio reaching for financial success and a writer striving for poignancy in comedy.

VERDICT

Sadly Cedar Rapids isn’t even in the same genre as The Hangover, hard as the poster would want us to believe such a comment, it is instead a strange hybrid of drama and indie comedy that manages to fail on both counts with the only plus point being a very funny (but oddly out-of-place) turn from the ever reliable John C. Reilly.

Starring: Toby Kebbell, Brian Cox, Tony Curran, Ashley Thomas, Adi Bielski, Tom Brooke

Director: Matthew Hope

Writer(s): Matthew Hope

Cinematography: Philipp Blaubach

Original Score: N/A

Running Time: 98 Mins.

Toby Kebbell is a bloody good actor, there I said it, we got that vital piece of The Veteran puzzle out-of-the-way, he has proven his worth in some home-grown flicks including Dead Man’s Shoes and Rock ‘n’ Rolla and followed those up with a couple of high-profile supporting turns in (expectedly) huge Jerry Bruckheimer Blockbusters, alas both failed to set the box office alight and did little for Kebbell’s career, despite him often being mooted as the best thing in both The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. So back to Blighty he has come, taking his first lead role as a para veteran returned from Afghanistan to his London council estate home to find that he is frequently mired by memories and trauma of his past and met with two factions who wish to use his “skill-set” for their own gains.

The Veteran is effectively an attempt at melding two distinct drama plots into one and largely failing to make either prove convincing, let alone mesh well together and alongside one-another. The first sees Kebbell’s character Miller contemplating rising up against the stereotypical hoodies on his estate as his friend is terrorized and said friends brother corrupted by the gang, imagine if you will a half-baked Harry Brown with a younger (but equally talented) vigilante. The problem is so little time is intermittently spent on this part of the film you wonder why they bothered with it at all, and every time we cut back to see what is going on any momentum is lost and the less said about the OTT finale the better.

On the other hand is what seemed to be the initial idea for the film, having Miller be embroiled in a story that sees him uncover a terrorist cell operating in the UK at the employment of shady “government” operatives Cox and Curran, both of these men do little more than bark orders and then disappear adding little heft that is suggested by their presence (particularly Cox who often makes a film with the smallest of parts). The mission is not quite that simple however and so many people become involved (Russians, Pakistanis) that it veers very close to a Guy Ritchie film minus the smarts and the humour, in fact this is a film that wants to be self-righteous and just fumbles it at every step meaning the worthy speeches given on terrorism and war that seek to make a point simply feel like sermonizing without any backup in the film overall.

Thanks then that we have an actor as good as Kebbell to keep us at least watching and engaged in his character if nothing else, Miller is a man lost somewhere between being Harry Brown and Travis Bickle simmering with intensity and yearning to do something worthwhile, it is a great shame the man doesn’t have a better plot to weave this character into. More than this though there is proof, f proof were needed, that he can be a total badass pumping people full of lead left, right and centre…somebody give this man a meaty role to get his teeth into and get him the notice he deserves!

VERDICT

The Veteran succeeds only in demonstrating that Toby Kebbell can rise above even the most muddled material and forge a great performance despite all the elements going against him, two poorly executed plots and a half-baked attempt at a serious message about terror do not help the film as it lives only on the energy and conviction of its star.

Starring: Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Jennifer Garner, Nick Nolte, Luis Guzman, Geraldine James

Director: Jason Winer

Writer(s): Peter Baynham

Cinematography: Uta Bresewitz

Original Score: Theodore Shapiro

Running Time: 110 mins.

Russell Crowe continues his assault on Hollywood, stateside upon its release Arthur hit the top half of the chart suggesting his star power isn’t in question, tellingly it quickly dropped suggesting the word of mouth on this particular film wasn’t all that strong, posing the question as to why… Well it isn’t for lack of ambition on Brand’s part, taking on an iconic and previously Oscar-winning part (by Dudley Moore) Brand seems the perfect fit to play a billionaire man-child who spends most of his life drunk frivolously spending his inherited cash on things such as antique suits and iconic movie cars and so it turns out he more than holds his own proving he does have some range and can be rather sweet with the bawdy humour that was evident in Get Him To The Greek.

The film starts with a skit involving the Batmobile from Batman Forever, something which seemingly serves simply to suggest how much money Arthur really does have, sadly it doesn’t raise the requisite laughs only one or two smirks, not a good start for a supposed comedy. Thankfully each progressive scene in the first 20 minutes builds to something that is sufficiently humourous if not all-out hilarity, what helps even the balance is that the heart of the film makes it a breezy and likeable experience, this is thanks to Brand and his chemistry with Mirren and Guzman (despite the latter being criminally underused), both prove perfect foils for a man who is often walking the edge between funny and annoying and if nothing else the film always avoids becoming annoying.

This may not seem like a glowing review (it isn’t) and that is simply because this type of film was never going to break any new ground, rather it treads old well-worn ground sufficiently and well enough to entertain just enough. At times the jokes hint at a better film but that could have only occurred with a more experienced director and in particular a writer who had the conviction to make Arthur more than a sum of its parts, alternately the casting department have done a great job and in all honestly I can’t imagine anyone better suited to the role than Brand, Mirren having worked with him before also seems the perfect fit and helps some potentially soppy scenes from becoming as such with her barbed wit.

Because Arthur’s world revolves around money the resultant message is a no-brainer and having his love interest be a “poor” illegal tour guide being far from surprising, he even uses his wealth to help her publish a book, it’s in plot points that are this shockingly hackneyed that you will cringe ever so slightly, but some of the billionaires escapades are amusingly realised though it seems odd that in these times of yearning to get a 12 certificate certain things are inevitably muted…the fact that Arthur is an alcoholic never births anything other than drunken hijinks, though I never expected a hit and run or attempted suicide something a little more edgy would have been nice.

It seems strange to have said that about Brand, a man who up until now has seemed like he was incapable of “toning it down” has proven twice in the last month he may have longevity in his acting career and the ability to turn his considerable charm and comic timing to kids films (Hop) and, now, family comedy, now all he needs to do is find material as good as he is and we may just have something special but for now I guess we will have to make do with passably entertaining films that don’t squander the mans talent but fail to fully capitalise on it.

VERDICT

Arthur shows Russell Brand can tone down his usual routine and become a relatable character who is warm and funny at once (quite a feat given that his character is a billionaire), maybe next time the material will match the man himself but until then Mirren and Brand’s quipping will suffice.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Stellan Skarsgard, Clark Gregg

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer(s): Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne

Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos

Original Score: Patrick Doyle

Running Time: 114 Mins.

Thor, a film that could have gone spectacularly wrong, yes he is a superhero (in that he hails from Marvel comics) but unlike (most) Marvel heroes he is a god, and not only is he a god but he is THE god of thunder meaning much of the characters time is spent in the fantasy realm of Asgard not our world, he uses a hammer as a weapon which is thrown and returns to him boomerang-style and to top it all of he uses said hammer to fly and has family and friends with names such as Frigga, Loki, Odin, Heimdall and Volstagg. Alas on the path to an eventual Avengers film that will see Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and Hawkeye team up with Thor, the opportunity to finally see him make his way to the big screen was ripe.

Eyebrows were raised when Kenneth Branagh was announced as director, though in hindsight he is the perfect fit, used to tackling historical and Shakespearean works this was a man who could wrangle scenes set in a grandiose realm where the language spoken was of ye olde times and saw Shakespearean themes more than touched upon, it is no surprise that there are elements of Iago in Loki and his turn to “the dark side”. This is merely the beginnings of what makes Thor a resounding success, far from the mess that many feared. Opening with a brief real world scene we are promptly whizzed back to the stunning realisation of Asgard, set design is spot on and overcomes the initial fears of a tacky Flash Gordon aesthetic.

The Asgard sequence is admirably long, not ever feeling as such but giving enough space for the key players to breathe and become more than just ciphers or plot devices, Hopkins as Odin is shockingly restrained and resists the chance to ham-it-up as he did in The Wolfman and The Rite. It is hard to tell whether it is the directors assured direction or the deftness of the cast (most likely both) that make Thor plausible and as much fun as we could have hoped for. Marvel has thus far always been spot-on with their cast choices, Downey Jr. now seems like a no-brainer for Iron Man while Chris Evans looks the part in the forthcoming Captain America so what of the two central characters here?

Both Hemsworth (Thor) and Hiddleston (Loki) fit their parts to perfection, Loki has depth beyond mere pantomime villainy and if he seems underwhelming to start there is a reason for that which becomes obvious later on, but the real star here is Hemsworth. He impressed in mere minutes of screen time as Kirk’s father in Star Trek (2009) and now has been gifted the chance to make himself a bone-fide star AND becoming the first and only incarnation of a hero beloved by many (most of whom despised the thought of a screen version). Thor is a man caught between boyhood and taking responsibility, a hot head with very clear frailties each of these traits bubbles beneath a man/god who is likeable whether he is waging war with good intention or (when Earth-bound) attempting to woo Natalie Portman (the obligatory love interest that feels a touch tacked on) or buy a horse from a pet shop. This kind of fish out of water stuff can be terrible given the frequency it has been tackled but here it feels fresh and segues in and out of the Godly goings-on well.

Naturally in a film so stuffed with characters and exposition (there’s a lot to get through to take us up to Thor’s place as an Avenger) some of the fan favourites seem to have been included simply for that reason, fandom. Gods such as Rene Russo’s Frigga and Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg barely get a look-in, though each does what they can with their limited time. The warriors three are fun and handy to have in a fight which leads me to, lastly but far from least, the action, each set piece (and there are many) feels different, takes place in a different setting and utilises differing styles and characters whether it be a smack-down against the Ice Giants or a one on one between Loki and Thor.

If I were to level flaws at the film it would be this, Natalie Portman seems to be working on auto-pilot and Kat Dennings is a step too far in the comedy stakes aside from that I could quite happily have sat through another 30 minutes to allow for a little more breathing space, though if we were saved a lot of the overt build up seen in Iron Man 2 for The Avengers I guess that can only be a good thing.

VERDICT

For a film that could easily have been a complete mess Thor comes out the starting gates of Summer season anything but, great on every level being cast and directed to perfection for material that required a keen sense of time and place (both of the audience wants and needs and the fans demands), if Thor is the God of Thunder, Branagh is the current God of Marvel and has ladi down the gaunlett for Joe Johnston and ol’ Cap!