Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers-age-of-ultron-concept-computer-wallpaper-pictures-jpg Three years ago we got the culmination of so much with the release of The Avengers. Bringing together a group of unlikely characters from individual movies and slamming them together into one epic finale; and boy did it work. Fast forward to today and we are embarking on a similar path, but the stakes are a lot higher for many reasons. Can Avengers: Age of Ultron deliver on the promise of more teamwork, world building, and copious amounts of fun? The answer is a resounding yes and with plenty to spare. Avengers: Age of Ultron meets those challenges and creates some news and hurdles them as well. Director Joss Whedon leads an ensemble cast of superheroes through a film that pushes everyone to be better. Whedon, who cut his teeth in television, has come a long way from serialized vampire vs teen girl shows. However, leaning on his roots of juggling large casts has proven to be his greatest asset. Its nice to have the director of these films be the writer as well because we can compare them directly to one another. In this case, we can see Whedon’s writing and direction have gone from good to pretty damn great. Creating more cinematic shots of these inherently ultra-cinematic moments makes the film feel more grand and works for the spectacle that we have come to expect. Whedon has said that the making of this film almost killed him, but it seemed the stress was worth it. He has pushed his writing and direction to the limit and we benefit from that tremendously.

The film picks up pretty much from the bonus scene at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Relax, if you didn’t stay in your theater seats for the extra you will not be lost. We are immediately introduced to Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) as possible foils for The Avengers. They are “enhanced” and present a completely new set of challenges for our heroes. The entire team that we know from The Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are all back in action from the onset of the film. We get an understanding that the team has been leading missions from Avengers Tower (formerly Stark Tower). The teamwork aspect of the film is a very real change. We see the crew play off of each other and are more assembled than ever before, well in most aspect. Due to his extreme hubris, Tony Stark decides that he will build an artificial intelligence named Ultron without consulting with the team. Tony sees this as a way to be a peace keeping force in the world to end the era of The Avengers. Things like this tend to go wrong, and so it is the same here. Ultron is “born” and immediately decids that he needs to destroy The Avengers for the sake of mankind.

The film goes the ways in which you might expect, sans one thing. The film takes an amazing tonal shift at one point and really gives the most character development we’ve seen in a comic book based film in quite some time. Drawing the audiences into a scenario of actually caring for and about something. While I am sure less mature viewers will deride this as the “boring parts.” What Whedon is able to create is a space for us to know the characters deeper. Its a wonderful bit of film making and makes the impact of events that much deeper.

The performances by all the principal actors is much the same as we’ve seen before. All very solid with Robert Downey Jr. leading the charge as the most seasoned actor. Chris Evans’s Captain America has really come into his own since his last solo film. He has truly embodied the character. The real stand out without a doubt is James Spader’s Ultron. While not a human character, the role of Ultron was motion captured from Spader himself. We get all the great mannerism of the man and it works so well. His voice gives a bit extra “superiority” complex to the character. Spader’s amazing performance shifts from the inquisitive to the mad in seconds, the emotional spectrum makes for a villain who is worth the team’s time and effort. Combined with Joss Whedon fantastic writing, Spader has a massive sandbox to play in and you won’t soon forget his impact in this ever expanding universe. Ultimately, Avengers: Age of Ultron is what we want in these films. Its a perfect balance between fun, action, and depth. A true step up from the first Avengers film in every single way.

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Review: The Judge

TheJudge The Judge is at its heart a simple film on a complex issue. On the surface the movie presents the classic movie trope of a ‘big city kid goes back home to his Midwestern roots.’ While that familiar trope is ever present the movie is more than it appears to be, but that isn’t always a good thing. In the case of The Judge there is good and bad that tends to seep through the cracks of the main narrative. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hot shot criminal defense attorney who during a high level case gets a call that his mother has passed away. In the midst of his seeming perfect life, Hank packs his bags and heads back to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana; so the trope begins. While a loving relationship was obvious between Hank and his mother, his paternal relationship was nonexistent. Hank’s father, Joe (Robert Duvall), known mostly as just The Judge, is a cold and brutal father. Never letting up on Hank and his big city ways. Never being understanding or the least bit compassionate towards his middle son. His almost cartoon-ish hatred for his son gets a tad out of hand in the first third of the movie. Luckily, director David Dobkin, works to soften the man with a heart of coal as time goes on. The audience never has a chance to like Joe, but they learn to respect him. An interesting juxtaposition to Hank’s character who you like and respect from the beginning, even when he is a scoundrel.

When the Judge is accused of hitting and killing someone on the night of his wife’s funeral Hank is forced to come to his father’s rescue whether he likes it or not. The trailers for this movie do a pretty good job of establishing that as the narrative of the film. A father and son working together and through their problems in the courtroom, but is that why we are here? I would argue that is not why we are here at all. The true crux of The Judge is how to deal with aging parents. There will be a time when a child has to become the caretaker of their parent(s). When a child might have better answers than mom and dad. There will also be a time when a parent must let go and relinquish the reins to their offspring. A difficult task for all parties involved but in a way, as The Judge postulates, completely inevitable.

As Joe Palmer hires a bumbling lawyer, C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) to represent him instead of his son, we get further conflict. Hank is constantly maligned by his father. Whether for his skills, his past, or his marriage Hank is given no quarter by his father even in the times of turmoil. While Joe seems nicer to Hank's brothers, there is some years of abuse lying under the surface for them as well. The brothers seem to constantly feel the brunt of Joe time and again as they stayed behind in Carlinville while Hank left all those years ago. The youngest brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong) has some disabilities and hence further reinforces the notion of taking care of aging parents. Dale represents the question of children who can never take care of their parents or even themselves. The oldest brother, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) is the utmost example of the left behind in the small town trope. His life isn’t what he believed it would be and he’s sullen and angry about it. Short anger outbursts with speeches of exceptional meaning play to the opposite of Robert Downey Jr.’s staccato speech pattern that seems to be on rapid fire; perfect mismatch.

The Judge deals with heavy topics under the guise of a simply story. The scenes of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. trading verbal blows are the easily some of the films best. I found myself wanting more of it, but sadly that never came. Duvall’s portrayal as Joe was wonderful. An old judge who never has a nice word to say, but absolutely demands respect. Vincent D’Onofrio was great in the moments he had but he was tragically underused. Robert Downey Jr. as expected steals the show. His fast talk style makes him a fish out of water, and that works towards the larger narrative. The first half of the movie is an absolute mess unfortunately. Never quite gaining its footing until the trial gets underway. That was the most frustrating part of the film. So many great factors that just couldn’t get together from the onset. Strong performances all around but poor choices of minimizing certain characters and pushing up others. For example, a stronger showing of D’Onofrio’s Glen would have helped round out Joe and Hank specifically. In the end, The Judge makes some grand gestures, but fails to deliver on some of them. While not being a failure by any means the movie just doesn’t hit the mark that it should have.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Judge" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]

Review: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 The latest installment in the series that kicked off a phenomenon in modern movie history has arrived. Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 is the first real leap for that summer blockbuster brass ring. The hype for everything Marvel after last year’s juggernaut, The Avengers, has put this movie on everyone’s radar. The general rehashing of past films won’t cut it. So how does Marvel take on the Herculean task of matching the hype?

With new director Shane Black at the helm its hard to see how this movie could fail. Having such writing credits from fan favorites like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Good Night under his belt, Black was poised to bring a fresh perspective to the franchise. Black definitely delivers in this capacity. Iron Man 3 feels nothing like the two previous movies directed by Jon Favreau. Frankly, it has a completely different feel than all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I can tell you right now that extreme fanboys will not appreciate the subtle nuances of this movie, but rather will complain about things like “he isn’t in the suit enough.” Marvel had the task of trying to make you truly care about Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his life post Avengers. This is difficult, as a viewer you just want the hero to suit up and stop the bad guys. Sadly, that is not all that makes a hero a hero. Tony Stark is more Tony than he has been in all of his previous appearances.

The movie starts out with an interesting premise of the United States being terrorized by a figure known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). This character plays similar to a movie version of Osama Bin Laden. A fearsome deliverer of threats and kept promises via television broadcasts. The similarities of the challenge to America as a superpower is pretty striking and heavy for a comic book movie. Notions of are you really the good guys? plays pretty heavily in The Mandarin’s modus operandi. Brutal in his tactics the villain drives the virtuous hero, Tony, to the razor’s edge. We see Tony dealing with the aftermath of The Avengers and a newfound shake in confidence. The nuance of emotion that the character goes through is surrounded by clever jokes very much in the Shane Black playbook. By far the funniest movie Marvel has been able to pull off thanks largely to the line delivery by Downey Jr. As in the other appearances of the character, Downey just shines.

The movie makes excellent work of tying together all three Iron Man movies. We even see a familiar face from a prominent and influential character from the first outing. I found the supporting cast to be quite beneficial. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) was an excellent asset to play off of Downey and the Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) character. All the main screen actors helped to deliver a new type of Marvel film, one with a serious tone. The brutality of this movie was rather surprising. It helped to really ratchet up the tension and dire circumstances that everyone found themselves in. I was forever surprised as to how far they were able to push this terrorism theme. I think the entire movie is sort of a metaphor for where the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is going post Avengers. The movie is about coming to terms.

Coming to terms with terrorism, true villains of the world, loss, and a myriad of other things. Tony works to come to terms with who he is. He spends most of the movie outside of the suit trying desperately to get back into it; his security blanket. The MCU has been playing it fairly safe up until this point and now with Phase 2 they can’t reach for their security blanket anymore. They have to shed those preconceived notions and branch out anew. Tony started it all so he is the perfect choice to be our view into the next phase. While I thought Iron Man 3 was unconventional in its story and not inline with what we’ve previously seen, I really enjoyed it. A man on the run trying to discover what and who he is. Based loosely on the Extremis comic storyline, but more importantly the 5 Nightmares comic storyline. This is where I think most extreme fanboys will lose it. They were hoping for the overly science fiction aspects of Extremis, but got the slow and intelligent burn that is the 5 Nightmares story. Dealing with Tony’s major fears as Iron Man the 5 Nightmares is exactly what the Tony Stark character needed. A kick in the ass to reboot him for the bigger battles to come. Getting past his own personal demons was the only way for him to face what comes next. For that reason I say Iron Man 3 as a solid start into the madness that is Marvel Phase 2. Can’t wait for Thor: The Dark World!

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