Avengers: Age of Ultron

Hey there viewers! We’re back today with the much anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron. Directed by Joss Whedon and starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth, the film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.

Avengers: Age of Ultron follows the creation of artificial intelligence by Tony Stark in hopes to keep the peace. However, when things go awry with the robot, named Ultron (James Spader), Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must stand up to the task of taking him down and keeping the world safe.

7.0 out of 10

Both Screenwars and Joss Whedon’s highly anticipated blockbuster release, Avengers: Age of Ultron, are back and ready for action after a productive siesta – albeit the robot-crushing crew are better prepared for earth-threatening battle…

But regardless of Screenwars’ aptitude in fighting the Marvel supervillain, the Avengers are still subject to our critique; instead Zach and I suit up with word processors, thinking caps, and a family sized bag of Doritos to battle our nefarious nemesis – a film review.

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Age of Ultron certainly lived up to the visual expectations of its prequel, and again the film crew put on a fabulously flashy show of special effects that depicted everything from the glistening and idyllic Stark Tower to the wasted war zones of Eastern Europe. Hundreds of metal clad (yet surprisingly fragile) robots were brought to life on top of a flying city where a hulking green giant and magically gifted twins, among other incredulous beings, energetically battle as the entire setting crumbles to pieces. In all, Avengers is again a successfully exciting example of special effects that won over the audience’s fixated gaze for a lengthy two hours and twenty-one minutes – which is however, quite the movie marathon.

The plot of the film certainly lent itself towards the movie’s entertaining qualities as well. The very beginning of the film dropped you right into the action, picking up again where Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off with the Avengers attempting to finish off the resurgent forces of Hydra. Without giving away much… the movie progresses and leaves few opportunities for viewers to become bored or be prompted with questions, and in between the fighting scenes sit well delivered jokes and jibes, including the amusing gaffe were the other Avengers, try as they might, are unable to pick up Thor’s hammer. The plotline is nuanced enough to yank the audience into the story, yet it does not require any quantum mechanics-esq thinking to understand the events. Not long after the avengers assemble, Ultron makes his grand and violent first appearance.

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As Marvel villains have come and gone from their big screen spotlights, they adhere to a rough character template where they exact frightening but obviously fictional harm against humanity; rarely do these costumed villains establish real fear in the hearts of movie-goers with their predictable evil-doer monologues. However Ultron became the first villain to cause a stir in my gut, and a quiver in my popcorn clenched hands. James Spader’s metallic and penetrating voice struck the audience; the modulation of his tones created a character devoid of compassion or feeling. The performance was ice-cold, and the spooky, partially burned iron-man mask of his first iteration paired up with the voice acting created a truly haunting character. The evil plan, although typically merciless and far fetched, was helmed by a daunting, truly scary Ultron, whose later robot forms are progressively crueler looking and wield glowing red eyes that channel the lava-like contempt and hatred from within this villain.

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Although I found the enemy to be actually frightening for a change, this chilling nature of his also made the struggle between the heroes and Ultron more compelling. Never before was the righteous path of the beloved Marvel heroes so important and so necessary; the heartlessness and fear-inducing persona of their opponent demanded victory for humanity. The makers of the Avengers did not disappoint, and their efforts created a thrilling and entertaining spectacle out of an often ordinary and only moderately eventful Friday evening. Of course, Age of Ultron is no fine art; instead it is the graphic graffiti to the Mona Lisa, or the skateboard routine to the ballet dance concert. You won’t depart the theater with great wisdom or any novel realizations… but you will be windswept from one hell of a ride.
~Simon

7.5 out of 10

Disney has some great high-class problems going this week: it failed to live up to it’s two hundred and ten million dollar opening by only coughing up a measly two hundred million dollar opening, an issue which we all can relate to I’m sure. Sucks right?

Alas, Age of Ultron (The long-awaited sequel to the first Avenger’s installment) is still a thumper of a film when it comes to the stats: it’s maintained its number one slot on the box office mast for two weeks now and, if the overseas numbers are any indicator, it won’t be leaving there in the next century.

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So, while Disney’s CEOs decide whether they’ll buy yachts or 747s, let us determine how well Mr. Joss Whedon has fared in his latest comic adaption. In my humble opinion, pretty well.

By pretty well, I mean it wasn’t exactly earth shattering. It wasn’t the universe-quaking sequel portrayed by those dark teaser trailers nor was it quite the “Empire Strikes Back”-esque darker chapter Whedon claims he was going for; it was more of the same thing and it was fun. By the end of the movie, we’re pretty much exactly where we were at the end of the last Avengers.

AOSTA, ITALY - MARCH 24: Jeremy Renner is seen filming on location for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on March 24, 2014 in Aosta, Italy.  (Photo by Photopix/Getty Images)

This was pretty much a carbon copy of every Marvel film. I won’t bother to detour from spoilers because, if you know Marvel’s well-played formula, you know exactly how this will end. There’s a goofy yet intimidating villain, a romantic tease with Black Widow, some cool Iron Man technology, Hulk smashing his teammates, Cap. being folksy, Thor being epic, and Tony Stark (Who has basically become a one-liner machine) giving up the suit it. Of course, there’s table setting. Oh, yes, buster, there’s more table setting than ever. You better get used to it.

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But absolutely nothing’s wrong with the list above, especially if your expectations are properly calibrated. If anything, it’s all done even better than in the first go-around. This time, it feels like a story and not just a shopping list of plot points. There are great scenes of our characters just hanging around and interacting (Whedon has such an excellent grip on these guys, by the way) and said heroes fall neatly into their natural roles in the team. Whereas the first felt somewhat fragmented, this felt like a multipart comic book with just a little chop in some of the action sequences but nothing that detracts too much.

There’s still some odd stuff in there however. It feels a few rewrites away from ascending to an excellent level status definitely. There’s a bit of a shoehorned romance between two of our heroes and some weird little detours in the story and tone that don’t get much resolution. The new characters are a little hit and miss with Vision being the ace in the hole and the “enhanced” (Fox owns the word ‘mutant”. Sorry, Disney.) twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, being just okay. The former doesn’t quite measure up to the Fox’s X-Men version’s enjoyability but thatt’s a bit of an unfair comparison.

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I find myself saying this with more and more Marvel movies but, if you don’t care for the usual Marvel formula, sit this one out. Otherwise, you’re in for some more terrific Avengers antics and more than enough sequel-teasing.

Still waiting on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 though.
~Zach

What did you think of the newest fixture in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below.

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Snowpiercer

Hi everyone! Today we’ll be taking a look at the South-Korean sci-fi film Snowpiercer. Starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, and Ed Harris, the film is rated R for violence, language and drug content.

Snowpiercer follows a post-apocalyptic Earth in which a failed climate-change experiment sends the world into an Ice Age, killing everyone except for a select few who board the “Snowpiercer”, a train that travels around the world non-stop. On the train, a class system emerge, and Curtis (Evans) and Edgar (Bell) attempt to make their way to the front of the train, evening out the inequalities along the way.

8 out of 10

It’s refreshing to see something so cool like Snowpiercer, even if it isn’t from Hollywood (even if the cast is primarily famous American actors). I definitely would not have seen it if Evans, Bell, or Harris weren’t in it, so the inclusion of famous American actors was a very smart choice by the South Korean producers. It helped that these actors lived up to their regular standard as well. Chris Evans delivered a surprisingly strong performance as a perennial bad-ass on his way to revolt against the remains of humanity. He was brave and sharp, yet had fears that made him vulnerable. I really liked his character for that, even after the mistakes of his past (I would tell you what they are, but it is a bit of a spoiler) cloud his character.

Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer all deliver fine performances as well. They are all very unique, interesting characters and my only regret is that none of them (specifically Jamie Bell) receive the same amount of attention and development that Chris Evans’ character does. You might be wondering how I can expect this, since Chris Evans is, quite frankly, the protagonist. And you might be right. However, I just felt a lack of connection and empathy towards the recurring characters, specifically Bell’s and Hurt’s. However, this is not to say their characters are bad: I just wish we could build more of a connection to them. When something tragic happens to them (and let me tell you, a lot of tragic things happen to them) we really don’t feel nearly as engaged as we would with Chris Evans’ character.

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The tone and storytelling of this film were very good. It was gritty, dark and exciting. The action was engaging and frequent, though moments were spared for solid, relevant dialogue. There was no superfluous dialogue and every word spoken was meant to further the plot, establish the setting, or just be purely entertaining. It’s great when a movie is straightforward like that: no nonsense.

However, one big thing this film was missing was good effects. The effects in this movie were very subpar, to put it plainly. I won’t go too far in my trashing of the effects since it can be attributed to a relatively low budget, but the outside world did not look realistic at all. Most of the film takes place inside the train, with occasional glimpses of the outside world. Those occasional glimpses didn’t look like glimpses at the outside world, more like glimpses at crappy CGI work. In the end, it didn’t really take anything out of the film, thankfully. But man, would it have added to it.

Overall, I’d recommend checking out this film. It’s an interesting exploration of social classes, with an interesting new take on it the topic time. Though about 20% of it is in Korean, this has virtually no impact on the comprehensibility of this film (if you have subtitles, of course). Snowpiercer is a really compelling, entertaining film that takes risk you will no doubt enjoy.
~Vig

8 out of 10

We talked about anthropomorphic apes last week so let’s move on to a (even more mature) movie about….people…of different classes…on a train….during the future….which is in an ice age.

As you can see, Snowpiercer is one of those movies that asks the audience to cement some of its logical gaps themselves so they can fully delve in to the world it has to offer (A pretty awesome one at that). In fact, I remember a handful of my friends saying it was “unbelievable” and “so good” but few of them could describe the actual movie.

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That’s how complex it is. Snowpiercer has an environment that would take multiple volumes to set up but it must make due with its 120 minute mark; a daunting task that becomes impossible when you throw in character development and even logistically moving the story from script to screen but Snowpiercer does it. And, man, does it do it well.

As I said last review, one of the purposes of sci-fi is to kind of step back to take a look at humans and their quirks. What can humanity survive exactly? Why can’t we, even in disaster, cooperate?

Snowpiercer is one of those one-in-a-million premises that examines these questions (Among others) nicely. The entire setup (Which probably sounded completely ridiculous on paper) just loans itself to a plethora of ideas. This movie gives itself a lot of directions which is a very important virtue. It may sound pretty basic (All of humanity stuck on one choo-choo train? How absurd!) but it builds a complex world around it.
I also enjoyed the use of practical effects and sets. You can tell that the producers didn’t lazily push the actors in front of the green screen; instead, they took the time to build the railcars and effectively created a cramped yet interesting atmosphere. In addition, its harder for actors to do their shop in front of a hanging green sheet instead (See the Star Wars prequels).

And how about Chris Evans? These past two years have been awfully good to him and he finally has someone other than Marvel to thank. Chris Evans is a likeable lead who’s relatively flexible with his roles. In short, he’s come a long way from Fantastic Four and I’d certainly like to see more of him. The rest of cast work very well with their characters also.

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Overall, Snowpiercer was one rewarding flick. If you can suspend enough belief to get invested in its premise, you will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.

It’s been a good year for sci-fi, eh?
~Zach

 

IMDB: 7.0 
Metacritic: 84
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

This week we’ll be tackling the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest feature, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson, it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gun-play and action.

The next installment in the Marvel Universe involves Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) carrying out an array of missions for SHIELD with the help of the Captain Nick Fury (Jackson). However, as the movie carries on, it becomes apparent that something isn’t right with the organization. Old enemies return, alliances are tested and the captain must survive with constantly shifting circumstances, with the mysterious force of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) breathing down his neck.

9.5 out of 10

Marvel’s most recent fixture is bigger and badder than anything we’ve seen to this point. It’s a 2 hour, 15 minute roller coaster ride that keeps you engaged and on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Captain America: The First Avenger was pretty terrible. It was boring, the action was cheesy, and overall, the connection to Captain America he is known so well for having was missing. Steve Rogers is a character we’re all supposed to be able to empathize with and the first one failed to make his story captivating enough for us. The second one, despite him no longer being a scrawny, regular man, makes it easier for us to enjoy his story. It isn’t ruined by poor pacing and a fruitless plot. Everyone has been in a place where they don’t belong; we can empathize with his struggles of trying to fit in with a completely new time period. We can’t quite say we can understand, but we feel bad for him. And that’s what makes this movie so good. We want Captain America to win, and we feel great everytime he succeeds, and we’re scared everytime he gets knocked down. He’s an extremely likeable character, unlike Thor and Iron Man with their cockiness.

That’s enough with all the analytical, meaningful bullcrap; the real fun in this movie is in its action and integration with the Marvel Universe. Like I said earlier, this movie is a fast-paced ride from beginning to end. The action sequences are well-choreographed, and as a result, a lot of fun to watch. The car chase scene with Nick Fury is extremely badass. The character of the Winter Soldier? Badass. Black Widow? Badass, if used in the right context. The whole movie is a lot of badassness if you ask me. The comedy is not excessive either. It wasn’t forced or overused like it was in Thor 2, nor was it radically underused like the first Captain America. The above average writing mixed with the immensely enjoyable action is what made this movie so good.

One of the arising worries many are experiencing about the Marvel Universe is the introduction of so many excessive characters that it just becomes too overwhelming. That could have easily become a problem with the debut of two dynamic characters in Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). However, the characters are so nicely constructed that it’s not a problem. The Winter Soldier was undoubtedly my favorite character in the film. He was dark and vicious, yet still showed signs of humanity throughout, which kept him relevant. Not to mention, Black Widow actually wasn’t a boring, irrelevant character just there for her sex appeal in this one. She was actually pretty freaking cool. I applaud you, producers!

This story did something Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 could not do; it moved the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward. Its plot was fresh and relevant, allowing it to be a good film even without the superhero part attached to it. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t say anything further, but it was a huge risk taken that will really pay out in the long run for MCU, setting up new villains, new heros, and new plot lines that can be explored and utilized in many future Marvel movies.

Overall, this movie is probably my favorite Marvel film so far. It is fun, relevant, action-packed and accomplishes an overarching goal that makes the Marvel universe more interesting than ever before. God Bless You Captain America 2.

9 out of 10

A couple of months ago (While talking Thor 2), I talked about my fear over the fact that the Marvel Universe could very well be spending these next few years spinning its wheels until we get to Avengers 2. Phase I played out more like a solid drum roll while Phase II is just running the clock with very cool, but unsubstantial, stuff to keep us occupied until Joss Whedon finishes, well, whatever he’s doing in Seoul.

But The Winter Soldier really killed it here. It became the best movie of Phase II by leaps and bounds and managed to occupy a spot (Probably fourth or so) on the top five Marvel movies ever (Not just the Disney ones). It moved the universe forward, built up more suspense, yet also managed to satisfy and keep me excited for the time being in the best way possible.

Let’s start with Cap. and the rest of the gang. Cap. has it bad when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Not as bad as Hawkeye. Wherever he was during this, though.). He was probably the least fleshed out of the Avengers members and doesn’t get a lot of good material since his only plight is, as Tony Stark put it so eloquently, being a “Capcicle”. The Winter Soldier knows full well that Cap. is a boy scout and builds the story around it. In fact, he’s less of a boy scout and more of a regulator and a judge, somebody who has to involve himself in SHIELD’s clandestine activities while also trying not to become Nick Fury Jr.

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Captain America (Chris Evans)

That is, after all, what makes The Winter Soldier so great. It has a lot underlying political stuff without being heavy handed. Cap’s struggle against whether surveillance is right may be relevant but its not entirely topical which puts it a tier below The Dark Knight which dealt with similar issues.

The surveillance stuff doesn’t just work on a thematic level but also on a story level. Without giving too much away, the fear that the characters are being under constant watch gives this a sort of claustrophobia and grants the story with a sense that our heroes are being gradually cornered. As Vig brought up to me a while back, the Marvel Universe seems to be giving us a ton of villains while slowly killing off or retiring the good ol’ good guys. I hardly think it’ll be anything that sinister but, if it’s handled well, it could definitely lead to a universal plot point that could trump all plot points.

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)

The Winter Soldier pulls a lot of big big moves off smoothly while keeping all of the action pretty small scale. No cities are really torn through, just a couple of SHIELD bases yet this managed to excite me for the next Marvel Installment more than any of the previous ones. As always, keep it coming, Marvel, I (Along with DC) would love to see if you could keep this up.

IMDB: 7.8
Metacritic: 70
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%