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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers_Age_of_Ultron

At the Movies

Another year another round of superhero films from Marvel with the second big team-up film Avengers. This comes in at a time when the previous successes have put Marvel and Disney firmly at the top and this has resulted in reactions ranging from plain old snobbery to petty childish tribalism about an imaginary war between the big two comic book companies and their film studios. This episode of the Avengers may not have the excitement of being the first time round but it has as much action and epic battle scenes and of course the snarky humour is there. It does seem to be a bit rushed at times and director Joss Whedon has already promised an extended Bluray release.

This film does an ideal job taking us from the events of Marvel’s phase two films and setting up the next phase of films with references that will be spotted by fans of the comics. The team work together much more fluidly and this is readily apparent in the opening big action scene as the team invade the fortress of Hydra’s Baron Von Strucker in a fictional East European country.

They are trying to recapture Loki’s staff which they know Von Strucker has being using for human experiments, two of those experiments being Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, twins who now have very different superpowers. If you saw X Men: Days of Future Past you’ll have good idea that Pietro is a speedster similar to DC’s Flash. Wanda’s power is harder to describe but she fires waves or focused blasts of destructive force which is about the best representation I can think of for describing her probability bending powers. Equally dangerous are her mental powers that can induce hallucinations.

After their successful mission the Avengers and their friends have a celebration but Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have a little private meeting to discuss using the staff’s technology for Tony’s Ultron programme, an AI for robots that Tony wants to build to defend Earth from future alien invasions. They leave the programme running after seeing its first few attempts are failures and join the party to play with Thor’s hammer. This is when Ultron is born and he gate-crashes the party and steals the staff.

That’s enough plot as any more and it will be spoilers. I’ll just mention that Vision is created in the film’s second half and he is another great character with impressive powers that allow him to go to toe-to-toe with Ultron’s main body. It’s great to see Paul Bettany promoted from a disembodied voice to playing such powerful and iconic Avengers character and I look forward to seeing more of him.

This film is bursting at the seams with characters and some scenes have hit the cutting room floor just for the sake of the running time. Fortunately Hawkeye definitely gets a little more focus almost as an apology for his limited part in the first film. There is something that seems to be developing between Bruce Banner and Black Widow. There is the same witty dialogue familiar from the first film including a running joke at Captain America’s expense and their fooling around at the party with Thor’s hammer comes back later with a nice pay-off. Even the killer robot Ultron has a sick sense of humour it’s inherited from Stark.

The film actually takes time to show that innocent people get hurt during their battles and that there are legal consequences and worse. This might be a bit of dig at previous superhero films where no-one thinks about those caught up in these battles. I think it’s really a fortunate coincidence or very good timing that this comes after the release of the Netflix TV series Daredevil about a hero living in such a community. This also ties in to the new situation caused by absence of SHIELD to give the team any sort of authority to act. The climactic action scene is just as much a rescue mission as is it a battle against Ultron which means Hawkeye and Black Widow are just as important as Thor and Iron Man.

As a fan I will not be very neutral about this film and if you don’t like comic book films this will not convert you. It does really rely on knowledge of the other films to fully grasp what is going on in this one and some scenes may only really make sense when we see future films, especially one with Thor. None of this is really a problem for me since I’m used to episodic storytelling from TV or comics and accept that this is what Marvel are doing.  This is a really good solid action adventure film and I know it does not quite have the excitement of the first Avengers film but that was inevitable. Personally I was quite buzzed by the post climax scenes but that is heavy spoiler territory so I’m saying nothing else about it here.

Rating  8.5/10

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2015 in Film

 

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

At The Movies

Captain America WSI love what Marvel are doing with their films and even though I never got into Cap in the comics I always liked the character when he appeared in crossovers. Captain America always seemed a more political character than the others which means his adventures perfectly transfer into the political thriller genre with espionage which is just what Marvel chose to do here

The film opens with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Captain America, leading a squad of SHIELD agents on a mission to rescue a bunch of SHIELD techs from a SHIELD facility in the Indian Ocean that has been hijacked by pirates.  Fellow Avenger Black Widow, Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) is also along on the mission but she has her own orders that Steve knows nothing about and he’s not very happy about getting kept in the dark, especially as it endangers his own rescue mission. Seeing Cap in action in these scenes with his shield is just thrilling and the action is really well choreographed.

Back at the SHIELD Triskelion headquarters Steve wants a serious word with SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about what is going on. Fury takes Steve down to the basement to show him what they have been working on: three new helicarriers bristling with weapons due to be permanently stationed in the skies linked to spy satellites and able to attack anyone on Earth deemed a threat, called Project Insight. Steve is not happy about any of it and especially Fury’s feeble excuse that they have to take world as it is not as the want it to be. It is the all too familiar conflict between freedom and security and as the name suggests SHIELD is all about security and Cap’s not sure he wants anything to do with it.

There a nice scene where Steve goes to a museum a sees an exhibition all about him and there is hint that the second half of the first film had a lengthy period of time compressed in those scenes since it mentions his adventures with the Howling Commandos and his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) which we only got in a montage in that film.  I hope we get to see some of that history in more detail in a future film or TV series. Cap also visits the very old Peggy Carter for a bit of closure

There are a couple of new characters his film needs to introduce and the first is Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) Chairman of the World Security Council, who are those shadowy outlines we saw giving Fury orders in The Avengers. Pierce is an old friend of Fury’s and he actually persuaded Pierce to take the job. Fury wants them to halt the launch of Project Insight while he investigates the data Black Widow retrieved and Pierce agrees.

Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) gets introduced when he befriends Steve when they are out jogging and Steve laps Sam several times with the words “on the left” .  Sam is an Afghan War vet who now runs a support group for vets to help them cope with the psychological stresses of joining the real world again. It is no secret that he is also the superhero called Falcon who fights bad guys using a pair of mechanical wings and jets that seem to use repulsor technology like Tony Stark’s.

Nick Fury comes under attack by a very well organised group led by a mysterious assassin called The Winter Soldier and it is clear that not everyone in SHIELD can be trusted so it is up to Steve and Natasha to find out who is behind it. SHIELD has many enemies and it seems when they cut off one two more grow its place. Winter Soldier is someone Natasha has come across before and she knows he is deadly, skilled and relentless.

This film has a plot with many twists and turns and secrets getting uncovered so it really would be risking spoilers to talk much more about the plot but this film really has a lot of call-outs that will please fans of the comic books. It is also a story that whose events are going to have a major impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even though the film is mainly about Captain America it was nice to see a lot more attention paid to the SHIELD organisation with real questions being asked about what its role is and what is was intended to be. We see Nick Fury getting involved in the action and we get to see a lot more from Natasha Romanov and even Maria Hill gets a bit more to do

This film is just what I wanted to see with a great story that works as an entertaining political thriller while still having all the action elements expected from a comic book story. This film is really plugged into the Marvel Universe much more than the other solo films and ties the present into past with revelations that have ramifications not just for the future but the past too. I know some people are wondering about where Tony Stark and Bruce Banner were but I never got he impression that they were needed or even in the loop enough to be called in by SHIELD to sort out its internal problem.s Any fans of the Marvel film will probably love this but I’m sure it will appeal to anyone who likes action thrillers too.

Rating 9.0/10

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Posted by on April 6, 2014 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Avengers Assemble

There has been a lot of preparation for this film with origin stories for four of the main characters or five if you include Loki’s introduction as the villain in Thor so now the film has finally been released it is a great relief that the preparation has really paid off in a film that the delivers the best translation of a comic book into a film so far.

In a continuing comic book series the job of setting up the characters and some of the plot has been done in previous issues or even in issues of separate solo series. This film is in that same position so it can get straight down to the plot from the start. Villainous Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots with the leader of the alien Chitauri race. He offers them a tesseract if they give him army to conquer Earth, the planet it is on. This tesseract is a source of almost limitless power and was left on Earth by Odin, king of the Asgardians and Loki’s adopted father. The tesseract was tracked down by Johan Schmidt, a Nazi scientist better known as the Red Skull who used it to power his own attempt to create weapons he would use to conquer the Earth for himself. His plans were thwarted by Captain America who crashed Red Skull’s plane into the Arctic where he was frozen in ice for 70 years. A search at the time failed to recover Captain America’s body but they did recover the tesseract.

The tesseract is currently in a SHIELD research facility, being worked on by physicist Dr Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) when it starts putting out bursts of energy and drawing the attention of SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) The tesseract has the power to open portals to other worlds and Loki uses this to teleport himself right into the lab. He uses his power staff to attack Nick Fury and the SHIELD agents guarding the lab. He also uses his staff to turn Selvig and several agents into his obedient slaves, including sharp shooting hi-tech archer Clint Barton or Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). With his new slaves he escapes with the tesseract.

Fury needs help to retrieve the tesseract from someone as powerful as Loki and to that end he first calls in his best field agent Natasha Romanov or Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and sends her to bring in the world’s foremost expert in gamma radiation Dr Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)  and the Hulk to help them find a way to locate the tesseract by tracing the gamma radiation it gives off. He also calls in billionaire hi-tech manufacturer and Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) to take down Loki when they find him. It doesn’t take long for Stark and Banner to locate the tesseract and it’s very easy to trace Loki when he attacks people at a wealthy dinner party in Germany. Iron Man and Captain America manage to capture him but not the tesseract so they are taking him back to the SHIELD heli-carrier to be interrogated. Suddenly they get attacked by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Loki’s adopted brother who wants to take Loki back to Asgard. Iron Man and Thor battles for while but Captain America interrupts the fight and talks some sense into them. There really is fantastic interplay of the characters of this very mismatched team and there is a lot of big egos and butting heads before they pull together at the end to fight to save Earth from Loki’s mad schemes

This story could be lifted right from an issue of the Avengers comic and the film really is the closest I’ve seen to a film with the authentic feel of a comic book. The whole thing plays out just the stories in the comic books and the characters are very well written and directed by someone who understands how to translate the insane action sequences of a comic book like The Avengers onto film. There is a so much going in the climactic battle but I managed to follow everything easily.

Like a comic it spends very little time on back story, diving straight into the plot with the luxury of having most of their character development done on earlier episodes but this shows the characters learning to interact as a team. We learn a bit more about Hawkeye and Black Widow and we get to see how even though they are “only” highly trained humans they get to play a part in team of powerhouses like Iron Man, Hulk and Thor. In particular I’d say the surprise for me was really how right the Hulk and Banner are in this film and I’m glad that Mark Ruffalo has agreed to do more films featuring the Hulk. As Banner he is very carefully calm and quiet with a wry humour. As the Hulk we get to see him on a raging rampage but also later as the calmer powerhouse easily ripping through the enemy ranks. He also has more brutal sense of humour with some excellent scenes that really stand out and I’m not surprised the general reaction after seeing the film is a desire for more Hulk.

This really is a must see film for fans of superhero comic books as well as anyone who enjoys big science fiction adventure films. The dialogue is full of humour but nothing goes too over the top.

Rating 9/10

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

 Steve Rogers (Chris Evans in a really weird-looking body swap CGI) is a weedy little guy who desperately wants to join his buddies in the army fighting against the Nazis during the Second World War. Unfortunately he’s just not fit enough. After trying several times and being rejected as medically unfit he is spotted by a scientist Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who is impressed by his relentlessness. He has him recruited to a special scientific division under the command of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) in the care of sexy English agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Rogers is picked for a pioneering experiment to create a super soldier. Using a mixture of Erskine’s super-soldier serum and technology provided by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) (Iron Man Tony Stark’s father) weedy CGI Rogers turn into a big beautiful pumped-up Chris Evans.

Erskine is German but he fled from Germany when his super-soldier experiments there went badly wrong and transformed the Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) into the megalomaniacal Red Skull. Red Skull is determined to take over the world for himself and to do this he acquires the Cosmic Cube an artefact left by Norse ‘gods’ which his pet scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) uses to create weapons. He also forms his own fanatically loyal army of followers called Hydra.

To prevent the Americans destroying his advantage Red Skull sends an agent to kill Dr Erskine and destroy his experiments. He manages to kill Erskine but is too late to destroy the experiment. However without Erskine the super-soldier experiment is abandoned.

Rogers is recruited to front a publicity campaign for war bonds, touring the country with dancing-girls in a cheesy Captain America costume. But it is not enough for Rogers and he wants to get involved in the fighting. When he hears that Red Skull has captured a large number of allied troops including his childhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Rogers goes behind enemy lines alone to the Hydra base and rescues almost 400 troops, including Bucky.

The story continues with Rogers being equipped with a leather Captain America costume, being given his iconic shield and hand-picking a squad of men to go around Europe wrecking Hydra’s bases and trying to stop Red Skull’s plans to dominate the world by destroying huge chunks of it.

This is film is a fine lead in to next year’s Avengers film and it really does a great job of setting up Cap’s back story. The wartime setting was pretty well done and I wouldn’t have minded seeing another Captain America film set back in that time but I doubt that will happen very soon. Red Skull was a bit of a one-note villain and his only motivation seems to be that he is mad and evil (which just like the comic-book character I suppose). It may not as good as Iron Man but it is better than Thor and the Incredible Hulk and has raised the stakes for The Avengers . After all this build up that film had better be spectacular

Rating 7/10

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Entertainment, Film

 

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