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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: Thor – The Dark World

Cinema 

1185066_386159968178782_1116796319_nOdin (Anthony Hopkins) gives us a potted history of Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the Dark Elves in a voiceover with the battle on the screen. Basically they existed before light came into the universe and Malkieth wants to return the universe to darkness and they have created weapon called the ether to bring it about during the conjunction of the nine realms. Odin’s father Bor destroyed the dark elf army and forced Malekith to withdraw into hiding. Bor could not destroy the ether so he hid it on the empty world of the dark elves.

Forward to the present and on Asgard they are dealing with the consequences of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) actions. First for what he tried to pull on Earth Odin puts Loki into a cell where only Frigga (Rene Russo) his adopted mother visits him. Next Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three battle long and hard to restore peace to the nine realms now that Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge has been rebuilt.

On Earth Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is hard at work dating Chris O’Dowd but the date gets interrupted by Darcy (Kat Dennings). She has actually been working and this is first time she took a break. Now Darcy is here with one Jane’s instrument that keeps beeping, indicating an anomaly just like the ones she detected before that turned out to be Bifrost.

Darcy has got herself an intern called Ian (Jonathan Howard) who has found something very strange. It’s out in some abandoned industrial zone where gravity is behaving very strangely and there seems to be wormholes around the place. They have all sorts of fun playing with the wormholes so it’s obvious something bad is going to happen. Jane falls through another wormhole and finds herself on an empty dead planet. It turns out that this is the world of the Dark elves and Jane seethe ether which enter her body.

Thor had been talking to Heimdall (Idris Elba) when Jane went into the wormhole. Heimdall saw Jane vanish from his sight so Thor heads to Earth to look for her. Jane comes back to Earth through another wormhole and is shocked to see the police there but she’s been gone for five hours so Darcy had no choice. Thor arrives just then and Jane is happy to see him but pissed off that he didn’t come to see her last time he was on Earth. When the ether energy inside Jane strikes out suddenly Thor realises that this dangerous and so he grabs Jane and whisks her off to Asgard.

Odin is not at all happy about Thor bringing Jane to Asgard and though he sounds like an arrogant old bigot he may be thinking of the problems of relationships between long-lived Asgardians and humans but he still doesn’t have to be such an old prick about it. He changes his mind when he discovers the ether inside Jane which the Asgardian doctors say is killing her.

When Jane got filled with ether Malekith and his dark elves were awakened. He launches an attack on Asgard to get to Jane and retrieve the ether. The Asgardians defend themselves and drive off the elves but at the cost of many Asgardian lives. This sends Odin into a rage and he wants vengeance so knowing that Malekith will return for Jane he imprisons her.

This time it is Thor who has the cooler head and comes up with a plan to take the battle elsewhere and lessen the potential for death. For that he needs the help of Heimdall, Sif and the Warriors Three and he also needs Loki’s specials skills. Thor frees Jane and they head off to take down Malkeith.

I think this was a better film than the first which was only really an introduction to Thor and the world of Asgard. This film we get a lot more of the characters doing things and seeing how they relate to each other. Odin is not all the harsh but wise king, he makes mistakes and is conflicted between what he wants to do as a father and what he feels bound to do as a king and I‘m really glad they have Anthony Hopkins in the role. We get to see a bit more of Jane Foster and Eric Selvig and Darcy does the comedy relief. We see the complex relationship between Loki and Thor a bit more in this film when they are reluctantly forced to work together yet there’s a sense that both want to. The only weakness in this film is the one note villains. They want to destroy the universe because that’s what they want to do. Overall I had a good time with this film but I doubt it is going to convince anyone who didn’t like the first film.

Rating 7.5/10

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Posted by on November 4, 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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Review: Thor

When I heard about Marvel’s plans for a Thor film I was not very confident about what the result would be since the character can seem very cheesy when badly handled. When I heard Kenneth Branagh was on board as director and they had Anthony Hopkins signed up to play Odin I thought the film might have good chance after all

The film opens on Earth with physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) looking at strange weather systems with assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and another scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). She thinks they are connected to phenomenon called an Einstein-Rosen bridge, commonly called a wormhole. They get close to a tall tight narrow whirlwind in the middle of the New Mexico desert and take readings and photographs to gather evidence for Jane’s research. They get far too close to column of debris and dust and suddenly they find they’ve hit someone.

There is complete change of scene to realm of Asgard, an elegant science fiction paradise inspired by Jack Kirby‘s original artwork. It is inhabited an advanced benevolent race whose science is so beyond our comprehension as to seem as if they were gods to our ancestors who knew of them. We hear the voice of Odin recounting the history of Asgard and Jotunheim, land of the Frost Giants. Odin fought against the Frost Giants in their home and defeated their king then took a casket containing the source of their power preventing them from attacking Asgard again. He is telling this story to two young boys, his sons Loki and Thor, inspiring a lust for violence in young Thor. He makes a point of telling the two boys that only one of the can succeed him to throne of Asgard

Years later there is a ceremony being held for Thor, that thing where the heir to throne gets officially recognised as such. We get to see adult Thor in all his big blonde Chris Hemsworth beauty and in a costume that looks a lot like those in the comics. The Asgard sets are really spectacular and have an immense sense of scale yet the characters in full costume really manage to occupy that space. Just before Thor is named as Odin’s heir Odin detects that Frost Giants have got into the palace to try to retrieve the power source casket. They don’t last long against a giant robot Destroyer guarding the casket that blasts them into dust.

Odin is concerned with finding out how the Giants got into Asgard but Thor is raging and wants Odin to take a more aggressive action against the Frost Giants. Odin rejects that idea completely causing a bit of a hissy fit from Thor. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) manipulates Thor into disobeying their father. Thor ropes in his companions the Warriors Three and Lady Sif into accompanying him to Jotumheim. Unfortunately for Loki he has to join them too.

They set off for the Rainbow Bridge Bifrost, guarded and operated by Heimdall (Idris Elba). It’s not an actual rainbow like in the comics but a bridge of quartz pulsing with energy from Asgard leading to a wormhole-creating thing that needs Heimdall’s sword to operate it and can open a wormhole to any of the other eight realms, including Earth or Midgard and of course Jotunheim. Heimdall agrees to let them go to Jotunheim but warns that he may not let them back if doing so would endanger Asgard.

The six figures enter a broken and decaying Jotunheim and confront the king Laufey (Colm Feore) who warns them to just go. He suggests that the source of their the security breach may lie closer to home, a remark that Thor takes great offence to despite it being totally true (here’s a hint, Loki is the god of being a total dick, especially in the Marvel Universe).  He starts the fight and soon everyone else is roped into helping him smash Frost Giants. Unfortunately no-one else can actually keep going against countless numbers of Frost Giants and Fandrall gets injured. Thor wants to just keep fighting but they manage to return to the crossing point of the Bifrost as hordes of Frost Giants bear down on them

Bifrost appears but with very angry Odin incandescent with power and rage. He faces down Laufey and takes the Asgardians back to Asgard. Still in Bifrost Odin really lets rip on Thor calling him vain greedy and cruel. Thor is unrepentant and tries to hit back with petulant insults back at Odin. Realising Thor is too immature to wield the power he does, Odin strips him of his power and his magic hammer Mjolnir and banishes him to Earth. Just as he arrives he is hit by the car driven by Jane Foster.

The film changes gears here to give a bit of a ‘fish out of water’ comedy. On Asgard you can accept the wierd archaic language as part of the strange character of the place, but Thor-speak on contemporary Earth really marks him out as a bit of an oddball. They don’t take his claims to have come through the wormhole from Asgard seriously until Jane sees strange alien constellations and a pattern of a figure in the photographs they took of the wormhole.

Thor’s hammer Mjolnir has landed in the desert nearby and has attracted a lot of local interest as word gets out about how immovable it is. A large crowd of people are taking turns trying to move the thing, including Stan Lee. Coulson, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent appears on the scene and radios in that it has arrived, hinting at a certain level of foreknowledge of Thor’s arrival that is never really explained in this film but then this story is only part of the build-up to the 2012 release of The Avengers film.

This film is very entertaining and certainly does a great job of introducing us to most of the major characters in Thor’s world. The scenes in the fantasy realms of Asgard and Jotunheim are great, especially when Thor is fighting. The scenes on Earth are okay but to be honest we don’t get to see much of Thor the hero on Earth and we get more of Thor the loud pompous doofus. Film adaptations of comic book characters often find themselves forced to compress a character’s story arc into a single film and for better for worse that certainly happens here. That compression will not make fans of Thor comics happy, but I’m sure they will get as much pleasure from finding fault with the film as others will get from just watching it.  At least Thor got a film which is more of an introduction than poor Hawkeye gets with his little cameo here. When Black Widow was introduced in Iron Man 2 she saw a bit of action. Clint Barton doesn’t even get that.

The cast in this film did great job but Anthony Hopkins really stands out, giving just as much to his portrayal of Odin as he gives any other character. Chis Hemsworth is big and pretty enough to play Thor. Natalie Portman was okay but there wasn’t a lot for her to do. The Warriors Three were a bit..  well Fandrall was okay as was Hogun was but what’s with the puny Volstagg? Ray Stevenson was okay but just needed to be bigger.

Rating 7/10

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Entertainment, Film

 

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