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.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service

Up next on our agenda is the new spy thriller Kingsman: The Secret Service. Directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson, the film is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. Also, congrats to Simon for his Screenwars writing debut!

The movie starts with operatives led by Harry Hart (Firth) infiltrating a terrorist base, when suddenly his partner Lee is killed by a terrorist’s grenade in a moment of rash oversight by Harry. Harry gives Lee’s wife and son a medal of honor awarding Lee’s bravery; on the back is a number that calls in one favor to Harry should the two ever need it. Fast-forward 17 years and the family lives in a lower class neighborhood, where Lee’s son Eggsy (Egerton) has turned to petty thievery and drugs. After being thrown in jail, Eggsy realizes that the call to Harry is more than just a get-out-of-jail-free card, and now faces the once in a life-time opportunity to become a Kingsman.

7.0 out of 10

The spy movie has struggled the last few years. Sure, Daniel Craig’s first bond film, Casino Royale, was a sleek and stylish drama that helped reinvigorate interest in the classic franchise. But then we had Quantum of Solace, a disaster of a film that peaked with its Jack White and Alicia Keys theme song and failed to build upon the heartbreak of Casino. Then Skyfall came along, and while it was certainly entertaining as a popcorn action flick, it was a severe departure from the spy Bond that we’ve come to love over the years.

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I think a big part of the reason why newer spy movies are looking less like the Sean Connery sleuth and more like a bang bang explosion type film is simply the fact that we live in an age with such amazing special effects, and, frankly, most people go to the movie theaters for gunshots and big set pieces rather than the slow-build tension that characterized Connery’s Bond. Unfortunately, there is definitely something lost in these new spy movies.

Kingsman, for it’s part, attempts to shirk the stereotypes of the modern spy film and find it’s own niche, much like director Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass did for the superhero genre. And for the most part, I think Vaughn succeeds.

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He relies often on the strength of an exceptional cast, which features acting greats like Michael Caine, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson. Firth was fantastic as an aged yet restless spy attempting to father the son of his old comrade into the spy business. He has deft comedic timing and some hilarious deadpan, which is surprising for a guy synonymous with Oscar winning dramatic roles like King George VI in The King’s Speech. Samuel L Jackson is also hilarious, and he accentuates his character’s accent and irrational fear of blood (given his business) to great effect. My favorite character was definitely Eggsy, the young and immature kid dragged into the spy business that cost his dad his life. He too provides comedic levity in the film, and he is often the outlet for Vaughn’s satirical comments on the mold spy film. Eggsy is brash, arrogant, and yet somehow moral and redeeming. I hope Taron Egerton gets some more starring roles in the future.

Kingsman is also predictably violent. If you’ve ever seen Kick-Ass, then you know that Vaughn’s affinity for blood and gore makes even Quentin Tarantino a little be squeamish. He had to tone it down a bit for X-Men, given that those were such mass-marketed films with a diverse viewership, but now that Vaugn is back in his niche he goes a little bit blood happy. There are shooting, knifings, strangulations, decapitations, and just about everything else you can think of. Still, it’s never very realistic nor shocking, but it certainly is entertaining.

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For the most part, Vaughn’s strategy in mocking the typical spy movie is to adhere to its formula but point out is ridiculousness. This strategy pays of brilliantly for a while, but at a certain point it seems like he switches up satire for laziness and Kingsman devolves into the convoluted, overdrawn spy movie that we’ve seen all too much of over the last few years. Still, Kingsmen is relentlessly entertaining, even if it teeters on the edge of contrived and banal towards the end.

I’d like to indulge myself in a little tangent here for a moment, but it requires a warning: spoiler alert (sort of).

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Without giving away too many details, let’s just say that towards the end of the movie Obama’s head explodes into cloud of multicolored debris. While the movie doesn’t outright call him President Obama, he is clearly seen in the White House and looks and sounds like Obama. It’s Obama. How interesting that in a year in which Sony Pictures was hacked and threatened for releasing The Interview, which features the death of King Jong Un, an American filmmaker releases a film in which our POTUS dies, and nobody says a thing. I don’t think The Interview or Obama’s death in Kingsmen should be big deals at all; they’re movies. I would like to just take a second to note that (rightfully) nobody has made Kingman’s content a big deal. Take that North Korea.

Hopefully we will see more Kingsman films in the future. They certainly help to break the monotony of superhero movies and crappy Adam Sandler movies. I think in a few years we should expect Taron Egerton to be commanding roles in both comedic and dramatic characters.
~Will

8.0 out of 10

Hello, Screenwars loyal readers! I’m Simon G, and I go to school with the other writers here: Vig, Zach, Will, Nic, and Sam, all of whom I thank very much for allowing me to review the new spy action-thriller, Kingsman!

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If you have any suspicions that this movie will fall far short of the always smooth, James Bond films; I wish to quell these concerns immediately. While Kingsman does not bear the universally known brand name of Ian Fleming’s popular spy hero, this fun and flashy feature does not disappoint in bringing classy, impeccably well dressed spies together with explosions and fights that will surely rivet your eyes to the screen.

Although it is surprising that the likes of Colin Firth and Michael Caine, who are classy, A-list British actors, assumed characters in this comedic film, their appearances only added to it. Their roles as spy agents of the Kingsmen secret organization was truly entertaining and exciting to see; even from the very beginning Colin Firth is seen deftly dispatching his foes with a classy flare. But this would be blood and gore, Tarantino-esq movie was well balanced with a healthy dose of dark humor as there are quite literally “mind-blowing” scenes where fatalities are accompanied with colorful fireworks. The comical, yet exhilarating action comes with an appealing protagonist played by Taron Egerton, who plays the troubled but promising Eggsy trapped in the rough neighborhood. His rebelliousness, humor, and position as a loner in the midst of both posh British school boys and barbaric street thugs puts him in the audience’s heart as he struggles across the many challenges facing a prospective agent. The Kingsmen mobilize to face the global threat imposed by Samuel L. Jackson’s evil persona, and the action only intensifies as cinematography that can only be described as totally awesome shows close up pans of agents when they engage in fisticuffs with whole hoards villains.

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If anything drew from the flick, it is the same thing that made it so electrifying: the flamboyant and plentiful action sequences. Although completely seat-gluing for young boys, the movie does not appeal as much to more refined moviegoers who prefer a nod to interesting plots and compelling characters. Although not devoid of these attributes, it is obvious that Kingsman had a particular emphasis on broken noses, flying teeth, and acrobatic pistol wielding. Further emphasis on the more complex aspects of plot and character development would have led Kingsman to truly match the sophistication of the spies within it. For the classy, British, fast-paced spy battle movie that it was however, it really made a blast out of a Saturday afternoon, one that would surely entertain anyone who loves energetic, nail biting thrillers.

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Underneath the action-packed layer of British guns, grenades, and gentlemen spies, there are undertones of socio economic divides, and suddenly what seemed to be a gratuitously fight-filled movie becomes a film with a real message. Eggsy’s upbringing, a humble and lower-close existence, clashes in staunch separation with that of the well dressed gentlemen from the Kingsman secret service. They wear their finely tailored suits and ascots while Eggsy sports his loose jeans and sweater. Eloquent speech hallmarks Harry, while cusswords and eclectic grammar define Eggsy and the bullies from his neighborhood. Although gadget wielding spies are not common, there is a very real line between social classes in the world, but this unassuming movie does an excellent job at closing the gap. At various moments Eggsy ridicules Harry for his obvious affluence, but through the growing friendship between the duo they break down the barriers that their immediate appearances set between them. Harry implores Eggsy to take up the spy opportunity presented to him and to not throw his life away as he had in the past, presenting the classic principle that hard work and dedication, (even to becoming a lethal, gun-slinging spy) can propel you into success. The mentor later reminds Eggsy that a true gentleman is seen from the maturity one has gained from their former self rather one’s superiority over their cohorts, an invaluable lesson that brings some real life morals to yet another spy-thriller. Despite what the trailers may bombastically show, Colin Firth beating evil-doers to a pulp looks absolutely kick-ass, this movie has meaning hidden between the scenes. As the Kingsmen preach, “Manners [really do] maketh man”.
~Simon

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%