Darke Reviews | Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I did the math on the way home. Took the day off and spent the better part of it at the theatre. Granted I slept til 1:30 then headed over, but yeesh. Was it worth it though? Double Feature of Avengers and then Age of Ultron, discounts on food and drink. Conversation with another movie geek on the comics, animated movies, and general geektitude. Yep all of it was worth it. It was weird hearing people in the audience who hadn’t seen Avengers first and odd to note things that raised questions in the first Avengers in light of Winter Soldier. But…did Age of Ultron live up to the hype?

Let’s be honest folks – you are going to see it anyway regardless of this review. This easily falls into the #seeitanyway category. Let me see if I can keep to my usual spoiler free territory.

Written and directed by geek god Joss Whedon, the film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of all the previous films. It starts mid-stride with the Avengers continuing to try to find Loki’s staff in the wake of the events of Avengers. It’s clear they’ve worked together awhile on various missions enough so that they have clear roles and methods in how they work with each others powers, or lack there of. A new threat of their own making rises in the form of Ultron. An AI with a goal and the Avengers must overcome their internal issues and external ones to win the day, will they?

Lets talk the cast a moment. Our favorites return in the roles that we love them for. Chris Evans is once again on point as Captain America, he still has his ghosts, but as Dr. Irskin asked of him – be a good man. RDJ of course returns as Iron Man with no real acknowledgement of the events of Iron Man 3 one way or the other. I think we are better for that. He was made to play Tony Stark, but it is clear that he is both comfortable and tired of the role. Mark Ruffalo is given significantly more time as Bruce Banner and is allowed to show more than he did in the previous film. I still believe he is a secretly genius casting and he does well with what he is given. Chris Hemsworth takes Thor out for his 4th outing and doesn’t do much new or at all I suppose. ScarJo gets her own 4th showing as Black Widow, the assassin and spy, and is actually given more depth this time with the barest glimpse into her background.  Jeremy Renners complaints were clearly heard after the last movie and has a lot more time as Hawkeye with some significant divergence from his comic roots. They don’t hurt, but they are surprising. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders all become proof positive that the writer and producers heard the complaints about Iron Man 3 and went ‘oh yeah, all of these guys exists and you know should be here…even briefly’. Sadly we get no Paltrow or Portman as Pepper and Jane; which we do hear some snark about in film – it’s nice. Of course we also have the introduction of Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Godzilla) as Pietro Maximoff, who can’t be called Quicksilver due to rights issues, and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff, more commonly known as the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Old Boy). Ultron is gifted with the voice of our favorite man in a fedora from Blacklist, James Spader. I swear this man could read a phone book and make it sound delicious.

Whew….was that too busy?

That there is the movies problem. It’s taken me twenty minutes to think about this and a good twenty minutes talking with my partner in crime this evening. The problem here is the film is too busy. Too big. We aren’t given a chance to breathe, save one scene. The scene we are ostensibly supposed to be able to revel in the quiet, is just too tense to enjoy the moment. It’s off putting rather than relaxing. The tension was ramped up and kept at a certain level that left you bordering on uncomfortable. It all was too much. Too many locations, too many fights, too many cuts. Too busy.

Things that need explanation are left painfully vague or explained too quick to sink in. There is expectation you have seen everything to this point and if you haven’t you may scratch your head at a few scenes. It’s clear there are significant cuts and edits to the film as well as a few scenes from the trailer are noticeably missing. I think Joss stumbled on this one, it’s not a failure, but it is a clear stumble. He wrote himself into corners he didn’t know how to write himself out of elegantly or cleanly. When he did give himself a needed out, the outs came off awkward. While I am rarely one to encourage films to be split into two, I think there was enough material here that this could have or should have been. It wasn’t in the plan so it couldn’t be and the narrative pays for it. I feel, I believe the studio interfered more this time as well. Joss is far from perfect, but there’s just something wrong about the entire picture on a level I can’t quite put my finger on. It is almost as if they were trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle they had with the first Avengers and didn’t quite stick the landing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve overly expounded on the problems here, but the movie is still solid. You will continue to love and hate the characters as appropriate. The fight sequences are solid in their own right. The movie properly zooms into comic book physics without batting an eye and we are ok with all of this. The movie still has humor in the right places and darkness in the others. The famous Hammer and party sequence are everything I hoped they would be. Spaders voice work and mo cap of Ultron is in a word incredible. The man’s presence can be felt even if he himself is not on screen.

TL;DR

The movie lands solidly in the better than average to as low as the “it’s ok” realm. I might (probably) watch it again to see if my opinions on it shift the needle in either direction. This is still likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year, though Furious Seven has set a benchmark that will make it hard for other films to hit. This one, probably will though – and deserves to. The movie **is** good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t quite as good as the last Avengers and doesn’t quite have the same magic.

If you were going to see it – see it! You’d ignore the review or not want to read it anyway (despite me being spoiler free when possible)

If you were on the fence – eh…see it Matinee.

If you were curious – I’d ask what rock you’ve been living under and why you haven’t seen the others. You definitely don’t want to start on this however, and you’d likely feel lost as there’s enough history required for this one to not make this a first timers film.

 

Coming Soon

Review season has begun, I get the next week off after that. Mad Max and Pitch Perfect in the same weekend – thankfully not vying for the same audiences. Tomorrowland follows with San Andreas the week after (though that review will be late due to Phoenix Comicon). The rest of summer after that looks to be hit and miss. Here’s hoping folks.

Sunday, you might get a special throwback review…Big Trouble In Little China has a screening at one of my local theatres.

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Darke Reviews | Captain America:The Winter Soldier (2014)

Darke Reviews – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I promised Beth and Stef I would start off with the TL;DR on this one.

Holy Amazeballs. Yes. Go See this film. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect (but maybe spend) $200. Go see Cap. It is one of the best films to date in the Marvel cinematic universe and the best film to date this year. To be absolutely clear it is not a perfect film. There are flaws I will go into below, but it did everything I needed it to. It made me smile, made me sit on the edge of my seat, made me giddy with anticipation of something strange, made me laugh and even made me cry.

Go see it. Full price. No 3D, it isn’t needed by a long shot.

Full review time? I suppose so. Lets see if I can set a speed record on this writing.  These normally take me about 45 minutes to an hour to write because I want to choose everything I say carefully and keep the review SPOILER FREE!

Directed this time by Anthony and Joe Russo. If you’ve never heard of them that’s ok. Their biggest credit is the TV comedy Community. Seriously. These guys were given Captain America. I have absolutely no idea what Kevin Fiege and the other Marvel producers saw in them, but it worked. They got exactly what they needed from their actors and every shot. The down side is that the movie was filled with some magnificently beautiful fight sequences that I would have loved to watch. Really, I am tired of quick cuts and camera motion. What I could see of the fights was pretty amazing and painful. The movie also has some pacing issues which fall on the directors feet, as it runs a long two hours and thirty minutes and at times feels it.

The time of course is needed for the complexity of the plot. Ed Brubaker is credited with the concept and story, that was converted to screen play by Chronicles of Narnia writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  The three of them created a Bond worthy plot within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Bible. NOTHING in these films is done without forethought or planning. When I consider that, it tells me that parts of the plot that seemingly came out of left field were planned. It tells me they knew what they were doing and the filler was done exceedingly well. The movie runs long and a few scenes could have been cut I suppose, but I really enjoy that the writers bothered to put quiet moments. Emotional moments for the characters to let their relationships build and let you get to really know who they are in the dark. They intelligently don’t over explain when lesser writers would have spelled some things out. I applaud them for that.

Of course the writing and direction need actors. Thankfully the movie has them and for once they aren’t chewing scenery. Even Redford as Alexander Pierce comes across with a subdued yet powerful presence. Samuel L Jackson stopped being Samuel L Jackson and was Nick Fury. The limelight, however, belongs to Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie. I’ve talked about the need for chemistry in a film before. You know when actors are not a hundred percent comfortable with each other, their roles, or  some element of the film. Here they all make it look effortless. The quiet moments have a serene and subtle quality that they need. The moments of bonding feel natural and not forced. The moments they need to be strong and dominating the screen as larger than life beings come across just as well with these actors. Each one of them has their moment in the sun and they cast a tremendous shadow when they get it.  I was really pleased with the balance of their characters through the movie in a way that surprised me.

I didn’t mention the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t get to do a lot other than kick ass. I am not saying his performance wasn’t good, but it didn’t hold the nuance the others brought.

From a technicals standpoint, the 3D is largely wasted on the fact you can’t appreciate the motion of Falcon flying due to quick cuts and massive camera movements. I swear the cameraman may have been having a grand mal seizure. This is by far the biggest flaw of the film. Everything else is on par with all we’ve been given before. This is something Marvel needs to be careful of  as the effects need to continue to advance with the years or things will look dated. The movie doesn’t suffer from that yet, but it wont be long before it could.

Overall the movie is, as I mentioned before, arguably one of the best Marvel films to date. It is up there with Avengers. It feels like a comic book movie that Captain America SHOULD be in. It feels like they should be doing this and the plots complexity fit perfectly. There’s enough references to the other Avengers in the film to make fans smile and unlike refuse like Iron Man 3 or a flawed Thor Dark World, happens quick enough and in such a way that calling in back up doesn’t feel viable.  So thats another applause there. It was enough to have who they did, doing what they did.

Of course, stay for the post credits scenes. Yes, plural. The first is more powerful, but the second has meaning.

That’s it folks. Speed record set (30 minutes). Go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Cap movie we needed and deserved.