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Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Man, the time can really fly by on you sometimes, can’t it? It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 3 years since the biggest super hero movie of all time, The Avengers. A groundbreaking feat, the big-screen adaptation of Marvel’s premier super team combined together multiple multi-million dollar franchises to bring several beloved comic book icons to life on the big screen. And it was actually good. Such an accomplishment is one that would have seemed impossible to most fans a decade ago, and the fact that they pulled it off led to some highly deserved accolades. But the world moves on, Marvel Studios moved on with it to Phase Two. The inevitable sequel to The Avengers would have to try to be bigger and bolder than even the mighty original, which brings us to the present and the newly released Avengers: Age of Ultron. And while there are some challenges that cause the film to stumble in some areas, the overall package is indeed one hell of an impressive movie.

The action, as you probably know, centers around the MCU’s biggest heroes squaring off against Ultron, an AI experiment gone horribly wrong. Along the way, they pick up new enemies and allies, and we gain more tidbits about the grand scheme of things with the Infinity Gems Stones being moved around. With this as our backdrop, we are taken a wild ride from start to finish. Make no mistake; Age of Ultron is unabashedly a popcorn movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but know going in that you won’t find a lot of deep-thinking moments, even relative to other MCU movies like Winter Soldier. With the return of both the actors and director Joss Whedon, it should come as no surprise that AoU brings a similar tone and atmosphere as the original, combining large action set pieces with dialogue-heavy character interaction. Thankfully, Whedon is a master of both, with fight scenes that drip with fan-pleasing glee and snappy dialogue that has become the director’s trademark, made all the better by a talented cast that has become very comfortable with their respective roles.

As we have come to expect, all of our returning actors give great performances. Robert Downey Jr gives us Tony Stark’s affable arrogance, Chris Evans strongly portrays Cap as righteous but melancholy, and Mark Ruffalo brings both Banner’s charm and the Hulk’s rage to life masterfully. And after having to sit out most of the original, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye steps up to deliver some of my favorite moments from the whole movie. This being a sequel, though, there is also an array of new characters on display. Among these, James Spader’s Ultron in particular is outstanding. Equal parts disarmingly fascinating and morbidly insane, Ultron is just as mesmerizing as he is menacing. Another villain worth mentioning is Andy Serkis’s Klaw, who was memorable in his brief appearance, and who has me looking forward to seeing more.

On the heroic side of things, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are both on the scene, portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen respectively. Other than some…distracting Eastern European accents, the pair do a good job bringing the characters to life, giving the twins emotional chips on their shoulders that play well into their role in the story. For me, though, the best new addition to the good guys’ bench is Paul Bettany as the Vision. After providing the voice for our favorite virtual butler for so long, it’s impressive to see Bettany transition so  well to having more physical presence. The character has a compelling mystique to him, a product of both writing and performance. His reveal in Age of Ultron is in many ways similar to the Hulk’s from the original: lots of build-up for a showstopper at the end.

So the acting is strong across the board, but how do things stack up in the story department? For the most part, pretty well. The characters all have clear motives and events flow naturally from cause to effect. The story switches back and forth from over-the-top action and fight scenes (Hulk vs Hulkbuster is everything you dreamed it would be) to small character moments to flesh out our heroes. Yet while these moments are well executed, they also illustrate the film’s biggest pitfall: it is extremely crowded. What moments there are were put together well, but there are several characters (the Maximoffs and Thor chief among them) that don’t get fleshed out quite as much as you would want. I suppose that this problem is one we should have expected; we all knew the cast was comprised of a small army. Considering that, Whedon and company did as well as people could have reasonably hoped, but the dense cast is still a noticeable problem.

Other than this, all of my other complaints are of the nit-picky variety. The CG in some scenes is surprisingly hokey looking, it is somewhat unclear to me just what exactly the movie’s version of the Vision is capable of, and there are some scenes where our more powerful members are conspicuously absent (Thor going on his spirit walk, for instance), presumably to keep the villain from being defeated before the finale.  And while I didn’t mind so much, some comic fans might take issue with some fairly drastic changes for some of the characters. Really, though, issues like this amount to pinpricks in the side of a battleship: hardly something that is going to sink the project.

Age of Ultron brings together an amazing cast to tell a gigantic story, and is full to bursting with engaging characters, astounding action, and sheer fun. Ultimately, it didn’t knock my socks off like seeing the team together for the first time did in 2012, but I had been waiting for that my whole life without knowing it. And after seeing how awesome Marvel’s tentpole Avengers franchise continues to be, I’m sure it will feel like another lifetime while we wait for Infinity War. 

VERDICT: Go see it as soon as you can

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Movie Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

rs_634x939-140324091106-634_jennifer-lawrence-x-men_ls_32414Days of Future Past returns movie going audiences back to the days where Brian Singer was in control of the merry band of mutants and all of their aesthetic trappings. That was almost enough right there to get my buttocks into a seat to screen this over Memorial Day weekend. The coup de grace was the enormous cast with an ambitious storyline that spans two different time periods in an attempt to merge the First Class film with the old guard. Did it work?

I thought so. In fact there wasn’t too much about the movie I didn’t outright dislike in such a manner that I desperately needed to run to twitter or some other social media to scream bloody murder about needlessly. I enjoyed the transitions between the bleak post Sentinel future and the Vietnam War/Nixon era of the 1970’s. I enjoyed the opening sequence so much I realized that Singer may also be the person who could successfully do a Terminator film. Look at how he shoots the scene with the bones, the ominous lighting choices, and the cattle cars for humans and mutants alike. Pretty chilling stuff.

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I also enjoyed the look of the Sentinels in both past and future versions. The look of Trask’s designs really felt as if they jumped off of a comic book page. With the use of purple and off white plus the lanky yet somewhat chunky exterior I yearned to see some old school style battles between the mutants and these new machines. Yet it was the Sentinels of the future that really showed off just how bad things get for the X-Men in the future.

Reminds me of Nimrod...
Reminds me of Nimrod…

Adaptable, nigh invulnerable, and damn near unstoppable. If this was rated R the scenes with these bad boys would be a horror show….especially with….no….that would be spoiling. I’m trying not to do that as best as possible. I think you’ll enjoy watching these Sentinels work.

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Speaking of the Sentinels lets talk about their creator Bolivar Trask who is played by Peter Dinklage. I thought he played the part of a cold, science minded weapons monger with a somewhat subdued sadistic glee. Referring to mutants as “it” just added to the way Trask viewed those who are different from him; it was as if Trask was being played as having a messianic complex merged with a Napoleonic one. I felt he was far worse than how William Stryker was portrayed in X2 and Stryker was a bastard. Yet for all my praise of the role I just don’t like Dinklage. He’s a fine actor but I just don’t like him and I don’t know why. There is another in the cast that I do not care for but I will digress for a moment and talk about how finely cast this film really was. Lets start with Michael Fassbender. How was he in the movie? Look at his title card!

I control Perfection not magnetic waves!
I control Perfection not magnetic waves!

Yes that is a Photoshop and I don’t care. Fassbender and McAvoy both nail the younger versions of Charles and Erik that we have known for years. I was eagerly awaiting their reunion; almost as much as Sir Patrick and Sir Ian’s on screen reunion. I have felt that Fassbender understands Magneto almost better than McKellen does and he just oozes confidence, determination, and righteous indignation that makes Magneto such a powerful villain.

 

Magneto playing with his...umm...balls of steel.
Magneto playing with his…umm…balls of steel.

 

Temper that with a man fueled by the pain of the losses of his “brothers and sisters” and you really have a hard time feeling contempt for such a complex character. Fassy gets this. Everyone else was also firing on all cylinders too. Miss Lawrence was just a joy to watch as Mystique and it was refreshing seeing the character being portrayed as a complex individual than Magneto’s shape shifting henchman. Nicholas Hoult brought Hank McCoy to life again. Jackman is Wolverine again. I like his portrayal of Logan but I just wished this wasn’t so Wolvie centric this time around. Additionally all of the smaller (recurring) roles were equally well played and it looked like the cast just had a blast putting on the X-Gene one more time. But the one that stole the show for me and my movie going buddies was Quicksilver.

Looks can be deceiving. Quicksilver was amazing!
Looks can be deceiving. Quicksilver was amazing!

Evan Peters blew my mind here. He got it. He got the smug attitude, the superiority complex, and the squirrel on cocaine laced coffee hyperkinetic behavior that is all earmarks to Peter Maximoff. Additionally the scene where Quicksilver cuts loose in the kitchen is just jaw dropping but more importantly FUN. You see how Peter sees the world around him move and easily see why he is oh so very powerful with just super speed. After seeing this version of Quicksilver I can conclude that Whedon and Avengers 2’s “miracle” have their work cut out as this could be this definitive cinematic Quicksilver. Yes I completely dropped my critical eye and just geeked out during the scenes he was in; I admit it.

Overall I was content with this movie; it delivered a fun X-Men franchise film that was (in essence) a giant reset button from which they can move forward without all of the ill will and bad juju that came along with X3: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and The Wolverine. This is the fresh start that Fox needed to keep this franchise running and now the future is bright for the time being. There were some mild pacing issues that cropped up; at one point I thought to myself “shouldn’t this be almost over now” and we still had another 45 minutes to go. It could have be tightened up some more in post production as I thought quite a few scenes lingered on more than needed but that didn’t detract from the overall fun of it.

X-Men Days of Future Past is a good but not great movie. I feel that is due to this film correcting the sins of the past franchise films. Yet Singer and crew do the unthinkable and keep it entertaining and make the audience want more. I look at this film as a new #1 and it now can only get better from here.

And yes there is a post credits scene to allude to what is coming next. It made me happy.

 

 

 

 

Oh and who was that miscast actor that I’ve despised for many years?

 

*********SPOILERS*********

I cheered when this happened. It was a LONG time coming Ms. Toad Struck by Lightning.... oy vey.
I cheered when this happened. It was a LONG time coming Ms. Toad Struck by Lightning…. oy vey.