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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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Review: Iron Man 3

Cinema Review

Iron_Man_3_theatrical_posterMarvel have launched what they are calling phase 2 with Iron Man 3 and while it can’t match the sheer exuberance of The Avengers it still maintains all the elements that made Iron Man such a hit such as the high octane comic book action you could want and Robert Downey Jr. giving the role a touch of swagger and wit. It is certainly a better story than Iron Man 2 and I think it might be better than the first one though I’ll wait until I have seen it again to decide.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is still haunted by the memories of his brush with death at the end of The Avengers film and sine he can’t sleep he has thrown himself into developing Iron Man suits. We get a flashback to years before Tony became Iron Man in Switzerland. Being Tony he is fascinated by an attractive female scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) but gives a geeky male scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) the brush-off. This all comes back to bite him on the ass in the present which is only to be expected since a large number of the evil villains superheroes have to battle are disgruntled scientists with a chip on their shoulder from having their genius ignored by the hero. The organisation that Killian wants help in founding is called Advanced Idea Mechanics or A.I.M. This organisation will be familiar to people who read Marvel comics as antagonists of The Avengers.

A new terrorist called The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has appeared on the world scene attacking American targets with some new type of bomb that leaves absolutely no trace and so of course Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) is put on the job in his War Machine armour but the government have decided to give the armour a tacky paint job and renamed him Iron Patriot. This does lead to lots of piss-taking by Tony.

Tony himself gets right on the Mandarin’s case when Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) gets seriously injured in an explosion outside the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. After the Mandarin does one of his videos taking credit for the blast Tony holds a press conference outside the hospital where Happy is lying unconscious. Tony tells the Mandarin that he’s coming for him and dares the Mandarin to attack him, even giving out his home address.

Tony is at home with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and he gets a visit from Maya Hansen who he barely remembers. She wants to warn him about Aldrich Killian but before she has a chance to say anything three helicopters full of the Mandarin’s henchmen start blowing up the place. This leads to a big action scene where Tony has to get Pepper and Maya to safety while the helicopters are destroying his house. Tony takes out two copters but ends up knocked into the sea and covered in rubble by the third which flies off.

When Tony escapes the rubble and flies up into the air but the damage to his suit results in it losing power and crashing in the middle of the countryside, hundreds of miles away. The world thinks Tony is dead so he lets Pepper and Rhodey know he’s still alive. He has to get his suit fixed and recharged and he gets help from a young boy called Harley (Ty Simpkins) with access to a garage and a neglectful mother. With Rhodey’s help he investigates the explosion and finds himself up against the Mandarin’s enhanced super-soldiers without his suit or his computer. This part of the film has Tony realises he’s not just a man in a can but without his suit he is still a technical genius.

I think that the villains in this film are the weakest part of it and they have no convincing motivation for what they are doing. Guy Pearce plays the sleazy sociopathic Killian very well and Ben Kingsley was a revelation in the role of the Mandarin but the main weapon on their side was secrecy and once their secrets were out they were no real threat to Tony and Rhodey. This means the climax had to rely on the predictable damsel in distress trope and of course that means Killian kidnapping Pepper, forcing a confrontation with Tony. Despite being such a hoary old cliché they managed to make it pretty exciting with whole of lot of robots and explosions.

I know people were wondering if Marvel could keep up the standard set by The Avengers and I think that with this film they haven’t tried to do that. I am glad they are keeping the solo films separate while not ignoring events happening in the others. The story is fairly straightforward and though Tony does have tough time it never sees too tough for him to handle without needing to call in help. There is a very controversial character revelation that will be very divisive but it didn’t give me any problem, but then I’m not really a big fan of Iron Man comics. I can totally understand if people feel differently about it. I know it’s a big brash expensive block buster with lots of special effects but it’s also a lot of fun and a lot of the time that is what I want from a film.

Rating 8.0/10

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Posted by on May 2, 2013 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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