Sometimes the worst enemies are the ones we create ourselves.
That’s the difficult lesson the Avengers learn in “Age of Ultron,” as the team of superheroes face a genocidal artificial intelligence named “Ultron”… who was created by Tony Stark/Iron Man. Ultron was meant to protect the Avengers and the world from danger, but he quite literally takes on a mind of his own, builds himself a robot form, and tries to destroy the world.
“Age of Ultron” is the follow-up to 2012’s blockbuster superhero round-up “The Avengers.” Director Joss Whedon throws new challenges at his team of superheroes this time around, and it’s a conflict that one of them won’t survive. It’s already pretty much a given “Age of Ultron” will be the biggest movie of the summer – the real question is, does it live up to the hype generated by its wildly successful predecessor?
The short answer is, “Age of Ultron” is big, action-packed, and lots of fun. There’s plenty of banter between the heroes, the fight scenes/special effects are perfectly choreographed, and there are plenty of the trademark Marvel one-liners (such as a running joke started when Captain America chides Iron Man for using “bad language”). Marvel has well cast all of its roles, and once again, it’s a blast watching the dynamics between the very different heroes.
However, it is fair to say that overall, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t pack quite the same punch as “The Avengers.” Maybe that’s because at the time, “The Avengers” provided something we hadn’t seen before. Marvel produced a series of detailed solo films for each of the characters before throwing them together for a sort of superhero “Magnificent Seven”; all the build-up definitely paid off. The movie felt fresh and exciting, and I walked out of the theater feeling that rush of geeky giddiness. Although I also got that feeling from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it just wasn’t as strong for “Age of Ultron.”
*Warning: Major spoilers ahead!*
What I did love about “Age of Ultron”: Ultron himself is a fascinating villain, and I love the concept that as Tony Stark fights the robot, he’s really battling the manifestations of his own inner demons. Ultron is voiced with creepy perfection by James Spader, whose character is equal parts frightening, patronizing and captivating. He’s one of the best — and despite the fact he’s a robot, one of the most complex — villains to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also loved Vision, the entity created to help the Avengers bring down Ultron. He’s played by Paul Bettany, who previously played J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark’s computer system. Vision is an intriguing enigma, and I definitely hope we see more of him in MCU films.
The action scenes in the film don’t disappoint, taking the Avengers to various spots around the globe. It was nice to see more of a backstory for Hawkeye, a character that sometimes seems to be overlooked in the Avengers line-up (a fact Hawkeye even cracks a joke about in the film). I enjoyed catching a glimpse into Black Widow’s past as well, and I hope we learn more about her backstory in future films.
I do have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of the romantic subplot between Black Widow and the Hulk. It’s not that these characters aren’t an interesting pairing; I think they are, and it’s a subplot that could work. However, it seemed to move too fast in this movie, and I don’t think film makers provided enough build-up. It also seemed like an odd plot shift after the decidedly flirty chemistry between Black Widow and Captain America in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” I had really been hoping the MCU would explore this chemistry more in later films, especially since Black Widow/Captain America would make an interesting pairing, as well.
I also wanted to see more development for the two new Avengers, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I was genuinely surprised by Quicksilver’s death at the end of the film. We’d heard rumors an Avenger was going to die, but most of the speculation seemed to be surrounding Hawkeye. The film even seemed to set up Hawkeye to make the ultimate sacrifice, but Quicksilver takes a round of bullets for the archer, telling him (and the audience), “You didn’t see that coming.” I wish the film had lingered a bit more on this moment, to heighten its impact.
In short, “Age of Ultron” introduces some interesting concepts and sets up some intriguing storylines for future movies (I’m really excited for “Captain America: Civil War” now). Like all Marvel films, it’s a blast to watch, though die-hard fans may leave the theater wanting just a little more from it than it ultimately delivers.
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The first few minutes of the pilot episode of a new TV series are always critical. In a short amount of time, you have to successfully introduce the main character, set the tone for the series, provide background information so the audience knows what is going on but also leave enough mystery so they’re intrigued enough to keep tuning in.
The new Marvel series on Netflix, “Daredevil,” starts off the first few minutes of its first episode with two key scenes: showing how future crime fighter Matt Murdock is blinded as a child due to a toxic spill, and then fast-forwarding to an adult Murdock asking forgiveness from a priest for his vigilante actions. It establishes that this show will be gritty, tightly-written, thought-provoking — and thoroughly engrossing. By the time they started playing the opening credits, I was already hooked.
First off, I think Marvel made a good choice to tell the story of Daredevil — a blind defense lawyer who moonlights as a crime-fighting vigilante — in a TV format. I didn’t see the original Daredevil movie starring Ben Affleck but know that it is not exactly beloved by fans. Netflix has produced a show with cinema-like quality but is able to tell the story in a more episodic format.
Daredevil is an intriguing hero. Unlike some of the other heroes, his defining accident doesn’t give him superpowers (like Spider-Man and his spider bite). He doesn’t have fancy gadgets or unlimited resources like Iron Man or Batman. Instead, even though he can’t see, he uses his other senses to fight crime. Hearing becomes vitally important, as Murdock must listen carefully to tell when an assailiant is running towards him or preparing to fire a gun.
The show is a little grittier than we’re used to seeing from Marvel; to me, it feels like a cross between the CW’s gritty DC Comics show “Arrow” and a classic crime drama. Interestingly, the show also doesn’t seem to use a lot of CGI special effects — a fact I didn’t actually notice until later, when I was thinking back over the episode. Instead, the show relies on well-coreographed fight scenes.
I was impressed with the first episode and am looking forward to watching more. Even though the show is more serious in tone, I like that they still include a few moments of humor, something I hope they keep up throughout the series. After this promising start, I’m also looking forward to some of Netflix’s other planned projects with Marvel.
By Ashley Bergner/Box Office Buzz
In recent years, Hollywood has become quite adept at transforming well-known fairy tales into something creative and unexpected. “Snow White and the Huntsmen” brought a sense of gothic grit to a famous children’s story. “Maleficent” turned a seemingly irredeemable Disney villain into a more sympathetic figure (and switched up the classic fairy tale cliche of “true love’s kiss”). The TV show “Once Upon a Time” featured a split narrative that had fairy tale characters living in a small American town under a curse.
However, Disney’s new live action “Cinderella” is a surprisingly straightforward and traditional retelling, sticking fairly close to the storyline of Disney’s own 1950s animated version. While I like many of the revisionist fairy tales we’ve seen, in this instance, the traditional tone works perfectly, and “Cinderella” is a charming, beautifully-shot family film.
I won’t spend much time describing the plot, because most of you probably know the story by heart already — the cruel stepmother, the fairy godmother, the royal ball, the glass slipper, the “happily ever after.” The film stars Lily James, best known as the character Rose from “Downton Abbey.” James gives the character a sense of sweetness and kindness without being artificially earnest; her gentle spirit is genuine. She has a nice sense of chemistry with “Game of Thrones’” Richard Madden, who plays the prince. Although technically they don’t really have much time to get to know each other (and we learned from “Frozen” that you really shouldn’t marry someone you’ve just known for a day!) the romance is sweetly portrayed. Cate Blanchett is icy and elegant as the “evil stepmother; she thankfully doesn’t overplay the role, giving the character a few sympathetic touches. Holliday Grainger and fellow “Downton” alum Sophie McShera are great fun as the two over-the-top stepsisters, with entertainingly hideous costumes and constant bickering. And Helena Bonham Carter has a brief appearance as the quirky fairy godmother.
Another highlight of the film is the gorgeous set design and elaborate costumes. Bright colors pop off the screen, and Patrick Doyle’s lovely score fits perfectly with the film.
As I mentioned before, director Kenneth Branagh keeps the story fairly traditional, and in this case, it works, because while it is traditional, it certainly doesn’t feel stale. The lively performances bring a freshness to the well-known tale. Although this Cinderella doesn’t immediately come across as empowered a heroine as perhaps some of the other princesses in recent fairy tale retellings, she’s more than just a helpless damsel-in-distress pining away in a tower. She’s not a warrior but she does have courage, and determines not to give up, even when it looks like her story won’t have a happy ending. She doesn’t rely on fancy dresses, expensive carriages, or even necessarily the prince to make her happy; she finds that inside.
As much as I like some of the grittier fairy tale retellings, sometimes it’s nice to have a straightforward “happily ever after.” “Cinderella” is rather like a finely-crafted piece of cake — sweet but still with substance.
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Every January, I like to put together a list of my most anticipated films for that upcoming year. It’s fun to peek ahead, and it’s also fun to look back at that list at the end of the year, and see how many of my “most anticipated” actually ended up on my “best of the year” list.
This year, I narrowed my list down to my top 5, and interestingly, they all happen to be sequels. While normally I also like to include some original films with new concepts, the sequels coming out this year are unique in that many of them are high-pressure or high-risk. Will “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “James Bond: Spectre” live up to their critically and commercially well-received sequels? Will “Jurassic World” prove to be a successful reboot of a well-loved franchise? And, perhaps the biggest risk of all, will J.J. Abrams be able to successfully continue the “Star Wars” legacy?
Here is a ranking of my top five most anticipated movies for 2015. I’d also love to hear what movies would make your list!
5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2
“Mockingjay — Part 1″ was a financial success, but didn’t rise to quite the same heights as its tense, masterfully-crafted predecessor, “Catching Fire.” “Part 1″ felt more like a prelude to “Part 2,” coming out this November — and hopefully it will be a stronger film.
Many fans expressed frustration with the ending of “The Hunger Games” book trilogy, and it will be interesting to see how closely the film follows the book. The movie will undoubtedly be dark, featuring a difficult invasion of the Capitol and the loss of some beloved characters.
4. Jurassic World
“Jurassic Park” continues to be one of my favorite Steven Spielberg films. From the dinosaur special effects, which still hold up pretty well even today, to that soaring, iconic theme from John Williams, it’s a fun, crowd-pleasing classic. I was really skeptical about the reboot … until I saw the preview, and though I tried to resist at first, I finally had to admit that yes, the preview stirred those same feelings of excitement I had gotten while watching the first movie.
It also will be fun to see Chris Pratt in another action role, after “Guardians of the Galaxy” made him a breakout star.
3. “James Bond: Spectre”
The last Bond film, “Skyfall,” was an elegant, stylish spy thriller, and director Sam Mendes is back for the next installment in the Bond franchise. Daniel Craig has earned himself a place near the top of the “best Bonds,” and this could be his last outing. Fans hope the film’s title is a reference to the secret terrorist organization that has shown up in past Bond films.
While I’ll be sad to see Craig go, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for rumored Bond replacement Idris Elba.
2. “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
2012’s “The Avengers” is going to be a tough act to follow — a fact director Joss Whedon seems to be well aware of. He appears to be taking the Marvel sequel in a darker direction, having the team of dysfunctional superheroes create their own worst enemy: an artificially intelligent robot called “Ultron” with a frighteningly warped sense of justice.
Rumors about the plot are running rampant of course, including one that a major character could die in the film. I admire Whedon for his willingness to take a risk and give us a (presumably) darker film, but I hope he will be able to find a nice balance between this darker tone and the spirit of fun we’ve come to love about the Marvel films.
1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Most likely no one is surprised this movie ended up at the top of my “most anticipated” list. “Star Wars” has long been my favorite film franchise; “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, and the series has always occupied a special place in my heart. That’s why I’m thrilled — and terrified — that the saga is continuing this December.
I love what J.J. Abrams did for the “Star Trek” movie franchise, and I hope he can work his magic again with “Star Wars.” I loved the teaser trailer, and how it brought back the feel of the original series. I love that some of the original actors will appear in this film to pass the torch on to the next generation. This is certainly a risky project, but I hope it will be just as amazing as we all dream it will be. Here’s hoping “the force” is with J.J. Abrams and Disney this December!
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By Ashley Bergner
Box Office Buzz
Although 2014 seemed to get off to a slow start at the box office, there were plenty of fun movies at the theater this summer, kicking off the season early with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in April and wrapping up with the surprise hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” in August.
Several more big movies are slated for release this fall and winter, though I don’t think they’ll challenge “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which are currently occupying the top two slots on my list of favorite movies of the year. Here are some of the films I’m most looking forward to later this year. What movies are you most excited about, or most looking forward to watching?
“The Maze Runner” (Sept. 19)
Based on a popular novel, “The Maze Runner” continues the trend of dystopian young adult book-to-movie adaptations. It’s about a group of teenagers trapped inside a giant, seemingly impossible maze filled with deadly creatures. While the trailer for the film looks interesting, it faces the same risk as several other recent films with similar themes: coming across as too much like “The Hunger Games.” It will be interesting to see if the premise for this one is different enough for it to succeed at the box office.
“Interstellar” (Nov. 7)
Like many of director Christopher Nolan’s projects, “Interstellar” remains shrouded in mystery. We know it takes place in space and is about a team of astronauts who are searching for a way to save humanity as the Earth fails to support life. Beyond that, Nolan plans to keep us guessing. Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has planned for this one. The movie also has a strong ensemble cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1″ (Nov. 21)
Although “The Hunger Games” is one of my favorite book series, I will admit the final book in the trilogy — “Mockingjay” — is my least favorite. I’m also not sure how I feel about splitting the book into two films. Still, I’m hoping the movie will address some of the issues fans commonly seem to have with the book, and Jennifer Lawrence will likely turn in another strong performance as Katniss, the former Hunger Games victor who is forced into the role of rebel leader.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” (Dec. 12)
It’s been more than 50 years since Cecil B. DeMille brought the Biblical epic “The Ten Commandments” to the big screen, and in December Ridley Scott will present his own version of the Old Testament story of Moses. Ridley Scott is no stranger to period epics — “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Robin Hood” — and I’m looking forward to seeing his take on this story. The costumes, set details and battle sequences look impressive so far.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (Dec. 17)
Although fans will probably always debate over whether Peter Jackson should have split “The Hobbit” into three movies, the story comes to a close this year with the final chapter, “The Battle of the Five Armies.” Jackson has saved the biggest set pieces for last, with the film likely to be book-ended by Smaug’s attack on the village of Lake-town and an epic battle at the foot of the Lonely Mountain. “The Hobbit” films so far have been lighter than “The Lord of the Rings” in tone, but “The Battle of the Five Armies” will probably be the darkest of “The Hobbit” films, and the grandest in scope.
“Into the Woods” (Dec. 25)
The 2012 film adaptation of “Les Misérables” proved to be a hit with audiences, and this year Disney is bringing another famous musical to the big screen: “Into the Woods.” The musical is a darker take on the adventures of favorite fairy tale characters such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. The production has caught some flak based on rumors that Disney has watered down some of the edgier elements of the plot, but film makers have promised it will be a faithful adaptation. The cast includes Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine and Emily Blunt.