FILM REVIEW: THE AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

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Tony Stark: Shit!
Steve Rogers: Language.

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: As The Avengers defeat the remaining forces of Hydra a new threat arises as Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempt to develop a new security system for the world. When their experiment backfires, Ultron is born. A computer program/robot who wishes to exterminate humans from earth.

With mammoth expectations from Marvel Studios after last year’s critical and box office successes Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers Age of Ultron arrives with slight disappointment from fans. It is an impossible task for Whedon to top his first attempt of combining Marvels favourite heroes in 2012’s The Avengers. It is also an impossible task to keep the Marvel brand fresh off last years quite surprising hits especially Guardians of the Galaxy. However with a deeper look you can see that Whedon actually has topped the original with better chemistry between the heroes, a better villain with James Spader’s sly Ultron and bigger and better action set pieces beginning with a snowy attack on Hydra’s base in the opening scene.

This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers, in the new film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." The movie releases in U.S. theaters on May 1, 2015. (Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel via AP)

Avengers Age of Ultron actually delivers what everyone wants; nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps that is the issue with the Marvel brand in general, with every film released we are teased with the next feature. In 2011 we knew with the releases of the original Thor and Captain America and the success of the two Iron Man films that we would have an Avengers film the year later. With the ending of The Avengers and the reveal of Thanos we knew we would get an Infinity Wars Avengers film coming up. With Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World we knew we would get an Avengers sequel in 2015. There are no more surprises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even with the release of Age of Ultron we know next year we’ll get Captain America: Civil War. Marvel has even released their five year plan to the press so we all know what adventure our heroes will go on eventually. This takes the surprises and stakes out of the picture for Avengers AOU because we know Iron Man and Captain America will face off in next years Civil War and Thor will fight again in a further sequel in 2016. All we can do is try and enjoy this particular adventure on its own terms even through we know no one significant will die and nothing significant will happen that will alter Marvel’s five year plan.

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However sitting in the cinema and watching the action unfold, listening to Whedon’s witty banter come out of my favourite heroes mouths I can’t help but feel in love. I love Downey Jr’s snark and wit in Tony Stark, I love Evans naivety and stoic in Captain America, I love Hemsworth’s viking swagger as Thor, Johansson’s sexy Black Widow and Ruffalo’s brooding Bruce Banner. There is also Renner’s new and improved Hawkeye, Cheadle’s over-eager Rhodey and Anthony Mackie’s dedication to Cap in Sam Wilson. There are new surprises with Spader’s brilliant Ultron, Paul Bettany’s unique and amazing The Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s sexy and scary Wanda Maximoff. Unfortunately Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff is a bit of a letdown after last year’s superior version in X-Men Days of Future Past. As you can see I’m a huge fan of Marvel and even though I know where each franchise is going I can still enjoy this adventure on its own terms and I think in time people will look back at this as one of the better adventures in the Marvel canon. Even though there are multiple plot lines, too many characters and the novelty of the heroes coming together for the first time removed, I think Whedon still excels as a comic book film auteur. It is a shame he is leaving the franchise however I believe he will deliver another excellent film soon.

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With excellent performances, brilliant action set pieces and a great villain in Ultron, Whedon has delivered a worthy sequel to The Avengers and also paves the way for more adventures that I can’t wait to see.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Gamora: We’re just like Kevin Bacon.

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: A disparate team of thieves and bounty hunters join together to save the galaxy from an evil tyrant named Ronan the Accuser.

Review:

The latest blockbuster from Marvel Studios delivers all of the adventure and excitement of their previous comic book adaptations. A fast and enjoyable ride that will push these Marvel characters into the mainstream. The problem is it also doesn’t improve or transcend the genre either. This is not a complaint as this film not only delivers the thrills of the best superhero genre films but also subverts the conventions with quirky humour and a superb soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits. The only problem is that it doesn’t attempt to move beyond what has come before such as this years Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which delivered breathtaking action with excellent character drama. Perhaps it is too soon to compare this film to Captain America TWS because we have gotten to know those characters through multiple films and this is an origin story which ultimately must follow those conventions strictly to gain a wider audience. The inevitable sequel may use its time to delve into the characters further and create a deeper and more realised narrative. However what we have here feels somewhat rushed and fast paced to the point of shallow character development and more emphasis on special effects, action and humour. For the average movie goer this is sufficient for a good time at the movies and although this film is better than most of the blockbusters this year, including The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s not a game changer either.

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The story begins in 1988 with a child named Peter Quill listening to ‘I’m not in Love’ the smooth 80s ballad on his Walkman, while waiting in a hospital preparing to see his ill mother. A heartfelt opening which is perhaps unlike any opening of a Marvel film we have seen. The heartfelt sequence is soon interrupted by Peter running off and randomly being taken by a spaceship. Cut to the future where Peter is a grown man still listening to his Walkman searching for a lost orb on another planet. We can see shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars immediately. Director James Gunn quickly subverts the genre with the Indiana Jones looking Chris Pratt dancing around the planet while he looks for the orb. This is a fun film with lots of humorous moments throughout and possibly the closest we’ll get to a great sci-fi comedy in the vein of Ghostbusters. Chris Pratt is almost a lighter Bill Murray. The film quickly gets into the space action and Gunn films it clearly and allows special effects to dazzle the audience. Peter quickly gets introduced to the other members of the team including Gamora (the sexy Zoe Saldana), Rocket, an anthropomorphised raccoon (voiced by a scraggly Bradley Cooper), the dumb and lovable tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the bulky Drax the Destroyer (played with deadpan humour by professional wrestler, Dave Bautista). The crew come together rather quickly and I didn’t completely buy their immediate friendship based on how they get together. The films biggest fault in my opinion is in their introductions and the fast paced plotting of having them immediately all come together to become friends and ultimately defeat the evil force threatening the world. It’s almost as if the writers thought “Hey, we’ve got a team of badass characters who all have individual quirky traits who need to get together to save the world and then become best friends just like the avengers!” However these characters would have benefitted with more character development in their earlier introduction scenes and also remain individuals by the end. I’m not sure if it was necessary to establish them as a great team by the end because of how independent their backstories are. *Spoiler alert* I have to say I didn’t buy the ending where they all got together to go on another adventure. The film set them up to get together to fight this evil but I didn’t believe that they would always stay together and remain a team because of their pasts. I guess the comic book might have developed the characters better, but I have never read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic and I didn’t quite buy them as a team in this film.

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However these complaints aside I have to say the humour, action set pieces and the characters were all excellent and I did have a great time watching this film. Narrative problems aside this was a fun ride.

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Rating: 3.5 Stars