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.

Darke Reviews | Godzilla (2014)

I have to say the movies are certainly making it harder for me to write these reviews and keep to my rules of no spoilers. The trailers did a good job of keeping *most* of the spoilers from the audience. Until recently movie spoiler/insider sites have been keeping one under wraps. Why? No clue. These places pay a lot of attention to every detail in trailers and if they missed it and I saw it – I need to get paid to do this. I also debated doing an old vs. new segment on this comparing the Broderick 1998 version to the 2014. I debated it long enough to realize I can’t give a single point in favor of Broderick. Not. One.

So what does 2014 bring?

A plot. A cohesive plot. We get to thank the writers Max Borenstein (who has done nothing you’ve seen) and Dave Callaham (Expendables, Doom) for part of that. Some of you by now are going – why is there a plot? Well truth be told, we need one these days. We demand it. If there wasn’t a plot (Pacific Rim) the movie gets torn apart by critics and movie goers alike. Even thin plots (any Roland Emmerich film) fare better and at least get a laugh for their pitiful attempts. If you try and fail with ridiculousness (1998 Godzilla) you are eviscerated. As an audience we have trouble making up our mind. In the end its safer to have one that makes sense – which they did. Mostly.

Gareth Edwards, our director who brought us the visionary film Monsters. It was far more subtle than District 9 was in its plot. He was a good choice for this movie as he appreciates the sense of scale and how to insert characters into stories bigger than them. Its an important talent and was needed for this picture. You can tell that he loved the original movies and wanted to bring some of that beautiful flavor back into the genre.
This leads to one of the potential problems with the film as well.

The characters are irrelevant. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass and the upcoming Avengers 2) and Elizabeth Olsen (OldBoy and…the upcoming Avengers 2) are always interesting to watch and very human. I think fandom’s will have a field day that Quicksilver and Wanda play a couple in this movie. I also have to make a call out that the family name Brody appears to be a call out to Jaws. Especially as Olsen’s character is named Elle (Ellen was the wife in Jaws). Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Rock of Ages) and Ken watanabe (Last Samurai, Inception) are always watchable. Even if Watanabe is mostly staring off into space the entire movie, muttering yoda like words of wisdom that will ultimately go unheeded.

These characters all have stories and these stories are intertwined with that which we came to see – The monster. It also highlights the problem. Their stories don’t matter. They are observers in their own lives. They think they are active but they are brought along for the same ride the rest of us are. Taylor-Johnson even gets a few painful, eye rolling character moments that hurt to watch, but they didn’t last too long. At least, unlike Man of Steel, he has a reason to continue with the story and while the reason is relatively thin, it works better than so many other “you look trustworthy or useful, come along!”

Of course, if you are reading this still, you want to know about Him.

He is everything he needs to be. He is large. He is in charge. He is the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. He even is able to emote, not bad for an animal. He is epic. All we needed was a mic drop and we’d be good. The roar was so worth it in the XD. He just LOOKS good. Yes, he is bigger and “fatter” than he has been before. Buildings have changed a bit since his original appearance and I am quite good with the scale. I am quite happy that in the end we are irrelevant to him. Ant, meet boot.

From an FX standpoint, the movie is actually really well done. 3D isnt needed, but if you can get higher quality sound and need to see it in 3D – do it. I was overall really impressed with the creature design and effects and their integration into the story. Seeing cities laid to waste in epic battles was also well done. You don’t get to see all the battles and its worth it to make the climax of the film what it needs to be.

TL;DR?

Godzilla absolutely met my expectations. It was appropriately epic. It is a really good modernization of a classic icon. Plenty of nods to the original films exist. I want you to ignore anyone who talks about the Godzilla cartoon of references Gadzooki, they weren’t paying attention.

Should you see it?

Well, yes. I am not as jazzed as I was walking out of Winter Soldier, but I am looking forward to seeing this again tomorrow night. Again if you have to see it, please see it with the best sound system you can. 3D still is not required. It is also surprisingly kid friendly. Not entirely sure how they manage it but they did.

This does rank as one of the better films this year and may hold the title in the top 5 for awhile.

Please enjoy Godzilla, but don’t go in expecting your Kaiju world to be blown.

Next week, another anticipated film. X-Men: Days of Future Past.