Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

ageofultron1

Edited by: Pat Aldo (cousin, co-author, Marvel expert)

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an exciting, action-filled spectacle and a new mark in the timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since the first Avengers, I’ve been waiting for this group of heroes to team up again, and here it is. I thought it would be hard to recreate the same kind of magic as seeing them assemble for the first time, but it wasn’t. There’s more character development this time around and we get to see the relationships within the team evolve. Everything I loved about The Avengers is back in Age of Ultron, with the addition of some new, interesting heroes and a different kind of villain. Marvel fans will likely be pleased with the result, but for those who aren’t quite on that bandwagon, it’s still a pretty fun blockbuster and there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it too.

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are back together as an epic team to take down a HYDRA bunker run by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), who is in possession of Loki’s scepter and is using it to experiment on humans. Siblings Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are two such humans who have developed abilities as a result. Scarlet Witch is capable of telekinesis and mind control, while Quicksilver can run at the speed of light. Because they have a personal vendetta against Stark, they allow him to take back the scepter, knowing full well what he’ll use it for will backfire. Ultimately, he and Banner use it to jump start a peacekeeping program called Ultron. Ultron, after seeing the kind of destruction people like the Avengers can cause, becomes a new threat who believes the only real path to peace is their extinction.

ageofultron6

Despite whatever feelings one might have about the movie’s flaws, Joss Whedon deserves a ton of credit for creating such a giant film that successfully juggles a large group of characters, ties up loose ends from the previous events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and sets up for the next few films to come, while at the same time, still maintains its own unique story. That may sound daunting, I know, but it never gets as overwhelming as you’d expect. What’s necessary to accept about the MCU is that “it’s all connected,” which means you’re going to get a lot more out of every film if you’ve been following the timeline up until this point. That’s not to say that none of the movies can stand up on their own, because many do, including Age of Ultron, but knowing what’s going on in regards to the bigger overall story is certainly going to affect your experience with it.

For me, there’s a special nerdy excitement I get out seeing these characters that I’ve been watching for the past 7 years interact with one another. What makes this experience different from the first Avengers is that the characters all know each other now so the relationships between each have had a chance to evolve. The smaller moments in the film where the team’s hanging out together are some of the best scenes, like when they’re partying at Avengers Tower and Thor challenges his fellow Avengers to try and lift Mjolnir. It’s also nice to see that some of the supporting characters from other movies aren’t totally forgotten about, like James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) from the Iron Man movies and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) from The Winter Soldier.

ageofultron6

The action is just as good, if not better than in the first movie, starting out with a tracking shot following the team while they work together to breach the HYDRA bunker. It’s quickly paced and full of adrenaline, and of course, you’ve got the trademark humor and one-liners spread throughout. Take it how you will, some people enjoy the humor and others don’t. The jokes are excessive at times and it does down play the threat a little bit, but Marvel’s thing isn’t to be super serious, and that’s a theme that runs throughout all its films. If you haven’t accepted that by now, you probably never will.

The formula for Age of Ultron is definitely cut from the same mold as the first. There’s some build up of story which leads to a climactic battle, and then it winds down towards the end. Most, if not all superhero films follow this formula, so it may seem a bit repetitious, but the way it is executed definitely helps. There are plenty of epic moments in the action that make up for the over-familiarity and I love seeing the teamwork in play.

ageofultron3

One thing I was somewhat disappointed with was that Ultron wasn’t as menacing as the trailers made him seem. I think James Spader did a good job, but the most threatening aspect of his character was the fact that he can travel through the internet and access anything he wants, gaining him the upper hand. He’s also able to upload his consciousness to any of his robot legion as well. But these individual bots are pretty easily defeated, and thus prevent Ultron himself from contributing to the larger battle sequences. I think that besides Thanos, who’s been portrayed as the puppet-master of sorts, Loki remains the MCU’s best villain to date.

Additionally, I wasn’t overly fond of what they did with Black Widow’s role in this film. I like how both her and Hawkeye have more to do this time around, and Hawkeye’s character development is great, but I can’t help but feel like Widow was reduced to a stereotype. The romance between her and Banner seemed unwarranted, and it was too random for me to get behind. Their scenes together seemed cheesy and forced, and basically, I just wish they hadn’t made the only established female character on the team a love interest. I enjoyed finally discovering Widow’s backstory, but her character can be so stiff at times. This could just have something to do with Whedon’s take on her. Something my cousin, Pat, actually pointed out to me was that Widow and Scarlet Witch don’t exchange any dialogue in the film. I think if Marvel can improve on anything in the future, it’s the way they handle their female heroes, and I’m eager to see how they fare with the Captain Marvel movie, since it’ll be the first film in the MCU centered on a female character.

ageofultron4

The Maximoff twins, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, are both incredibly welcome additions to the film. The Witch’s abilities are, admittedly, cooler than Quicksilver’s speed, but they both work well together. I found her capability to manipulate the Avenger’s minds particularly awesome, allowing the team’s human nature and vulnerability to be revealed. Though the twins’ Eastern European accents may have proven to be a struggle at times, I think Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fit their roles perfectly. I only wish that they had a little more screen time.

The best addition, however, would have to be the Vision. Hands down, Vision is the MCU’s latest breakout character, and his presence was insanely rewarding. This beloved comic book character, often referred to as “the Android Avenger,” is especially visually appealing, showcasing phasing abilities and powerful energy blasts. It’s fantastic to see Paul Bettany, who has been voicing Tony Stark’s A.I. program JARVIS for years now, finally assembling with the Avengers on-screen in physical form. He serves as a wealth of knowledge and powerhouse for the team, moving forward, and his addition to future installments is incredibly exciting!

The next adventure for our heroes will be in Captain America: Civil War in 2016. Judging by the emerging conflicts shown between Stark and Rogers, I’d say Age of Ultron has already set a pretty solid foundation for this upcoming plot. Despite whatever small faults I may have had with it, I think Whedon did a job worth recognizing with such a difficult task. Avengers: Age of Ultron is an enjoyable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an exciting reunion for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I truly loved it.

4.5/5

Advertisements

Snowpiercer (2014)

snowpiercer

Snowpiercer, the first English language film of Korean director Bong Joon-ho, is a train ride like none you’ve ever seen before that takes us car by car through the layers of dystopian society. Based off of a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige, it’s an innovative story involving classic societal difficulties like class struggles, corrupt leadership, and an unraveling of morals and principles when it comes to human survival. This film stands out amongst other sci-fi films thanks to Bong’s unique style of visuals and storytelling that is not often seen in English language films, making it one of the most enjoyable, as well as critically acclaimed, sci-fi movies to come out in recent months.

The year is 2031. The world has plunged itself into an ice age due to a government experiment gone wrong in which they tried to control global warming. Curtis (Chris Evans), his friend Edgar (Jamie Bell), and a wise man named Gilliam (John Hurt) are amongst a large group of lower class train inhabitants who are forced to live in the bleak tail end of a huge train that circles the globe indefinitely thanks to a perpetual-motion engine designed by the all mighty Wilford. No one really knows who Wilford is except for a select few people, but those in the front end of the train hail him like a god. After a not so welcome visit by Mason (Tilda Swinton) and her guards who have come to remind the unfortunate tail enders of their “place,” and Tanya’s (Octavia Spencer) son is taken away for unspecified purposes, Curtis decides it’s a good time to execute the rebellion they’ve been planning for quite some time. The objective is to make their way to the front of the train and get to Wilford. They enlist the help of a Korean engineer named Namgoong (Song Kang-ho) and his daughter, Yona (Ko Ah-sung) who are both hooked on a drug called Kronol, which turns out to not only be addictive, but has explosive properties as well. The rest of the movie plays out with surprise after surprise with the contents and environment of each car of the train being discovered for the first time by our tail end rebels.

The story is overall pretty dark but Bong, as he usually does, manages to incorporate a strange kind of humor into the film. At one point, the group enters a classroom full of children who are being taught to worship Wilford and the train he built, all the while this ridiculous propaganda is coming from the mouth of a seemingly pleasant pregnant teacher (Alison Pill). To everyone’s surprise, though, she can wield a gun just as well as she can brainwash the minds of small children. Some of the things that happen in this movie are laughable, but not in a bad way. It’s kind of a reminder of how truly messed up society can get, that it’s almost unbelievable. Not to mention, heavy subject matter can always manage with a little humor, albeit dark humor.

It is only further on in the journey, once Curtis and the others get past a large army of axe wielding thugs (yeah, it gets weirdly violent) that we realize how high, or shall I say, forward the upper class are living. We go from the dark, dirty back of the train to the light, colorful front of the train and it’s like entering a whole other world.

We also learn how low the lower class used to live. Before they were being fed disgusting looking protein bars that look like gelatinized blood, they were being starved to death and forced to turn to cannibalism. Messed up, right? Meanwhile people in the front of the train are having a grand old time, they’ve got sushi bars, clubs, flammable drugs to get high on. They’re living the high life over there. However, we also learn that our heroes aren’t so heroic after all. No character is black and white. As we all know, maybe not from experience, is that the struggle for survival makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do, and this is the case for Curtis especially, although I won’t reveal why.

In the end, this is a character study. In a dystopian future we see how high some will rise and how low some will fall. I can imagine if we ever found ourselves in an apocalyptic situation, shit would hit the fan similar to the way it does in this story, or any other post-apocalyptic story for that matter. We see how different characters deal with their situations, and we get a glimpse into the desperation of the main character as we see him fight for a life in this world where people were no longer meant to live.

All of the actors do an incredible job with their roles, particularly John Hurt and Chris Evans. It’s always nice to see Chris Evans in anything aside from Captain America and various stupid rom-coms. Tilda Swinton also rocks some ridiculous looking fake teeth in this movie, but it’s her raw talent that makes that strange, bad guy charisma really shine through.

The images in this movie are fascinating and imaginative, from the frozen world outside to the amazing set designs inside the train. Everything in this movie is art. Snowpiercer really is a different kind of film. The story and characters are complex. I wasn’t really expecting the ending, but I guess that’s a good thing. Some of the violence may seem a little over the top, and perhaps it is, but I just attribute it to the fact that with rebellion often comes violence, and that’s reality. I don’t know if reality often comes with axes dipped in fish blood, but hey, I’m always open to a little bit of creativity.

4.5/5