Avengers Age of Ultron

Well I’ve been lucky enough to see Avengers: Age of Ultron twice now (3D in the double feature and a 2D 9:15 am showing with my wonderful wife) so I suppose I should write about it.

Avengers Age of Ultron

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Rated PG-13

When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron is magnificent. I’ve seen it twice in the theaters and am likely to watch it again. I also look forward to buying it on Blu-Ray. I will say that 3D did not add anything to the movie for me so I’d recommend against the extra charge. I saw a preview for Jurassic World in 3D and that looks like the 3D may be worthwhile.

That said, Age of Ultron is way too much. The CGI is seriously overwhelming. Whedon wanted a lot of the action to be freeflowing but I prefer setpieces properly designed where you can always tell what is happening (think Raiders of the Lost Ark). The CGI setpieces do showcase all of the team’s abilities and appearances but there is a serious case of information overload and in 3D, it is so much worse.

As a comic book fan, I love getting to see all the characters I grew up with appear on the big screen. Unfortunately the screenplay packs in so many, there is no room to breathe. We get The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, and Black Widow all returning from Avengers. We also get Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Ultron, Baron Strucker, and Vision new to the movie series. Also appearing are War Machine from Iron Man, Heimdall and Erik Selvig from Thor, Nick Fury and Maria Hill from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Peggy Carter and The Falcon from Captain America.

Since Vibranium figures prominently in the plot, Ulysses Klaue is introduced, played by Andy Serkis in a rare non-CGI appearance. I expect this is supposed to set up the future Black Panther movie. There was even a scene with Loki that got cut and of course a character not mentioned in the end credits scene.

Another nitpick, and it is a nitpick, is that the dream sequences seem poorly handled, especially the ones involving Thor. Several things are given hasty or even no explanation. One would think that that wouldn’t happen in a two hour and twenty minute movie but Whedon just stuffs and stuffs and stuffs until the movie is bursting.

Now back to the original verdict. Age of Ultron is marvelous. All the characters are given good character beats. Hawkeye who had the worst storyline in Avengers gets the best one here. We had a great Hulk vs. Thor battle last time so here we get a great Hulk vs. Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armor!) battle.

The battles are frantic and packed with state of the art CGI. They are a lot of fun if a little hard to follow. The humor in the script is great, including a nice running gag at Captain America’s expense. This is definitely a Joss Whedon film and I look forward to what he does next (sadly he’s done with this series).

If you like Marvel’s cinematic universe, you’ll like this film. Go see it and you only need to stay for the first post-credit sequence. There isn’t a second one as in the first movie. Joss felt that he could not top the shawarma scene.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The same day I took off from work to see the dreadful Sabotage, I was able to catch a Captain America double feature. It really helped wash the taste of Sabotage out.

Captain America Winter Soldier

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) РRated PG-13

Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Wow. I was beginning to be disheartened. I enjoy all the Marvel movies but after The Avengers, Iron Man 3 was exciting but a bit of a letdown. Besides all the tomfoolery with one of my favorite villains, they seem to have written the script based on focus groups and added a cute kid sidekick.

Thor 2 was even more of a letdown. A movie about Norse gods should have just a bit less lasers and space ships. I like Christopher Eccleston but he didn’t make much of an impression as a villain. Even the humor was less.

They took Natalie Portman’s scientist Jane Foster and turned her into a pathetic god-stalker, someone who is only defined by her relationship to Thor. She was a strong character in the first movie and in the second, she just becomes a catalyst. Ah well enough whining – I honestly enjoy all of the Marvel films even if I nitpick them.

One Line Review: Superb storytelling allows all characters room to breathe.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with a wonderful script. While the focus is obviously Captain America, the Black Widow, the Falcon, and Nick Fury receive ample time and a good fleshing out. Agents Jasper Sitwell and Maria Hill return from earlier movies. Robert Redford makes a rare appearance as Alexander Pierce, Nick Fury’s boss.

The scriptwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely threw in a lot of callbacks and natural consequences. We find out what happened to Arnim Zola after the first movie and re-encounter the shadowy figures in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. from The Avengers. Fans of the comic book will have a hard time spotting all of the references and in-jokes but there are some obvious ones clearly planned for the future such as Brock Rumlow and Agent 13.

The direction by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo keeps things moving at a brisk pace. There is a lot of nice humor and banter in the early going before paranoia sets in. I did enjoy how much smarter Black Widow seemed than Captain America.

The action scenes are fine but there aren’t any real showstoppers. This actually works as the directors keep the film grounded and focused on the paranoia. We do get to see plenty of Cap, The Falcon, Nick Fury, and Black Widow kicking butt but it seems more martial arts oriented than superhero focused.

Oh and stay through the credits for two extra scenes as seems to be the new Marvel norm (Thor The Dark World and The Avengers each had two extra scenes). The first is a very nice teaser but the second seemed an unnecessary coda.

Iron Man 2 – Marvel Superhero week

This is Marvel Superhero week – why? Because even though I am almost 50, I still love comic books. Iron Man 2 is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Iron Man 2 (2010) – Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

Wealthy inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) — aka Iron Man — resists calls by the American government to hand over his technology. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has constructed his own miniaturized arc reactor, causing all kinds of problems for our superhero. Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson co-star in director Jon Favreaus sequel based on Marvel comic book characters.

I loved the first Iron Man movie. I loved the handling (and updating) of the origin story as well as leaving enough room for the emergence of a good villain to quickly be trounced but mostly I loved it as a wonderful vehicle for Robert Downey Jr. and his quirky acting style.

Robert Downey Jr. does get to shine here as well but more attention is paid to the other characters (as compared to Iron Man which was basically a one-man show). Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau return as Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan and are given more substantial roles. Paul Bettany again voices Jarvis.

For some reason Terence Howard was not asked back to play Lt. Col. James Rhodes. Instead he was replaced by Don Cheadle (who I have loved since he played Mouse in The Devil in a Blue Dress). The first line Don utters is “Look I am here, its me, deal with it, lets move on” which is a very humorous response to the whole replacement fiasco.

To more closely tie-in The Avengers event in May 2012, Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury as does Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Scarlett Johansson plays a kick-butt Natalie Rushman AKA Natalia Romanoff AKA…

Everyone performs well and it is nice to see so many Marvel heroes onscreen (Iron Man, War Machine, Nick Fury, Black Widow) and allusions to several others (Black Panther, Captain America, Thor). The post-credit sequence remains intact.

Having said that, director Jon Favreau has tried to pack way too much into the movie much like Sam Raimi did on Spider-Man 3 (though it does not experience anywhere near that level of failure). The main plot deals with Whiplash trying to take revenge on Tony Stark but there are separate subplots involving a Senate sub-committee, SHIELD, Rhodey, blood poisoning, Justin Hammer, Natalie Rushman, and more.

I suspect that Marvel pushed Favreau to do too much with this film. The result is that while the film is quite enjoyable, it seems to come across more as a series of requisite scenes than as a whole story. While disjointed, it is still very shiny and fun.

People Watch: Look for the standard Stan Lee cameo as well as Christiane Amanpour, Larry Ellison and DJ AM Adam Goldstein playing themselves.

Eight Legged Freaks – Size Matters week

In honor of the wonderful Valentine’s/Birthday/Father’s Day/Christmas present my wife gave me, I am featuring giants this week. Today it is giant spiders which admittedly my wife couldn’t watch. Eight Legged Freaks is currently available on instant Netflix.

Eight Legged Freaks

WATCH: Eight Legged Freaks (2002) – Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence, brief sexuality, and language.

“When a toxic waste spill near a small Arizona community causes spiders to mutate into rampaging arachnids the size of automobiles, it’s only a matter of time before the eight-legged freaks develop a taste for prey other than insects. David Arquette and Kari Wuhrer star as the duo that rallies the town’s defenses in director Ellory Elkayem’s affectionate send-up of the creature features of yesteryear.”

“They’re not aliens – they’re spiders”

As might be inferred by both the title and the two stars, Eight Legged Freaks does not take itself seriously. It is not intended to be a scary film or a straight out comedy. It comes across as a loving homage to the classic giant creature movies like Them! or Tarantula!

In a tie-in to yesterday’s film, Them! is shown on a TV in the background.

The film opens with the ubiquitous toxic waste accident. It then segues into a scene with the wonderfully creepy Tom Noonan (strangely uncredited) as Joshua, owner of the spider farm. This allows us to see all the different types of spiders (jumping, trap door, etc.) and their methods of attack prior to supersizing them.

Many of the fights are played for laughs. There is a cute off-camera fight between a cat and a giant spider that is shown in Looney Toons fashion as a series of drywall imprints. One of the bit plays dies on an organ donor poster.

Aurally the film is a treat as well. There is a wonderful and near constant use of the Itsy-Bitsy Spider theme throughout the movie. The spiders make all kinds of funny animal noises. My favorite is a bit involving a muzaked Strangers in the Night.

David Arquette is the same likable schmo here that he plays in the Scream series. Genre veteran Kari Wuhrer is the hot sheriff and love interest and actually acquits herself quite well. They make a cute couple.

All of the supporting cast paint their characters in broad strokes. Stand-up comedian Doug E. Doug has a lot of fun as a conspiracy nut while stand-up comedian Rick Overton plays Deputy Pete. Character actor Leon Rippy (Deadwood) hams it up as the slimeball mayor Wade.

Arac Attack is mentioned a few times in the film. This was the original title of the film. At some point someone felt that Arquette’s exclamation late in the film made a better title. Neither is a particularly good title – I wonder if this film would have done better if it had had a better title and perhaps a more high-profile star.

Netflix presents Eight Legged Freaks in high definition and it sure does look pretty. I recommend this tongue-in-cheek horror film because above all it is just plain goofy fun.

People Watch: I bet indie darling Scarlett Johansson wishes she could leave this off her resume. She appears as the Sheriff’s daughter.