The world’s greatest heroes the Avengers find their unity and the safety of mankind once again tested when they inadvertently unleash an unstoppable artificial intelligence determined to control the world and destroy them.
Marvel has carefully transferred their astonishing universe of heroes and villains to the big screen with a consistent success that left long term rivals DC comics embarrassed and hopelessly outclassed. Avengers Age of Ultron rests comfortably on the laurels of the past nine Marvel big screen adaptations, again doing justice to the high standards of the studio and director Joss Whedon.
An all-star cast, past success and an unlimited budget is never a guarantee of quality of course, but in Whedon’s capable hands the billion dollar franchise continues to strut nicely towards another inevitable box office triumph.
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans all clearly enjoy reprising their now well established characters. However, it’s actually Scarlett Johnasson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffao who benefit most from an opportunity to add depth to Black Widow, Hawkeye and Hulk respectively. Largely without the benefit of a solo movie, these characters still have the most room left or exploration and development. In particular the chemistry between Ruffalo’s tormented Bruce Banner and Johansson’s catsuit clad Black Widow is satisfyingly both subtle and surprising. Combined with Hawkeye’s unexpected revelations it provides the film with some genuine heart amongst the CGI mayhem.
James Spader is a particularly welcome addition as the voice of titular villain Ultron. His gravel voiced performance is suitably menacing and breathes considerable life into an otherwise two dimensional villain. The film also boasts a few crowd-pleasing action set pieces, most notably the much anticipated fight between a rampaging Hulk and Iron Man in full Hulk Buster armour.
The first Avengers film was the culmination of a decade’s preparation, launching a billion dollar franchise with the near perfect blend of comedy, action and convincing comic book drama. Matching those standards and meeting fans sky high expectations was always going to be a near impossible task for any sequel, even for Marvel’s accomplished creative team.
Age of Ultron largely follows the formula of the first Avengers adventure, but ultimately feels like a holding point as Marvel gears up for even bigger and more spectacular storytelling in the already announced sequels. Comic fans and those familiar with the Marvel cinema universe will already have a good idea of what to expect for the Infinity Wars films and Marvels ultimate villain Thanos. Particularly for comic fans there may be some impatience at how slowly Marvel is building towards that heavily foreshadowed climax.
Though James Spader is an excellently villainous actor, Ultron is a fairly generic threat with the usual army of evil robots. Those that found the climactic battles of Avengers Assemble to be a little repetitive and lacking in real danger will likely feel much the same about the seemingly endless battles with Ultron’s easily disposed of minions. Outside of notable set pieces like Iron Man’s Hulk battle the film’s action often lacks a little variety.
While the film does add depth to some characters, particularly those who haven’t had solo films like Hawkeye and Black Widow, the more established heroes have a considerably less room left to grow. Iron Man, Thor and Captain America have already had much of their issues resolved across eight films. Amongst the increasingly crowded cast new characters Scarlet Witch, Vision and Quicksilver also don’t have nearly enough time to establish themselves. It must be admitted that the most recent X-Men film Days of Future Past which also featured super-fast hero Quicksilver embarrassingly upstaged Marvel’s own lycra clad version.
Overall Age of Ultron takes the predictable path of making things ‘darker’. Ever since Star Wars took this route with Empire Strikes Back, it seems to be acknowledged as the only way to surpass or match auspicious first films. Unfortunately the film is forced to increasingly sacrifice humour to make more room for more angst and inevitable brooding.
The Ugly Truth
Avengers Age of Ultron is another satisfying slice of comic book escapism featuring all your favourite Marvel heroes. It continues to introduce new faces and lays the groundwork for amazing things yet to come. Less ardent fans may find the non-stop action a little repetitive during the film’s lengthy second half but it’s hard to deny the undoubted quality of Marvel’s work. The real challenge for the future will be how the studio maintains its accessible mass appeal as the cinematic universe become as increasingly complex as their vast and complex comic book world.
When high school teen Bianca (Mae Whitman) discovers that she is the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her more popular friends, she seeks the help of her childhood friend to get strip herself of the label.
It feels almost wrong to describe The Duff in the way it will no doubt be compared to considering the two films tiny difference of only eleven years between release dates, but it truly feels like a modern Mean Girls! Just typing that out felt wrong. Mean Girls is such a tremendously popular film that still rings true to new audiences eleven years later, but here’s where the difference lies between it and The Duff. Strange as it may seem, Mean Girls was made in a time when the social groups were just starting to change. The geeks have now inherited the earth and this is partly due to the social networking boom that’s been growing more rapidly over the last decade.
The Duff takes this in it’s stride and works with it to create a new high school rom com which just feels simply much more up to date with it’s constant referencing to Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram and every other social networking platform imaginable right now.
The real trouble with The Duff is it’s premise. A film which has a main premise of an idea that every friend group has a Designated Ugly Fat Friend who is deemed the more approachable in order to flirt with their friends is a dangerous one that could have had a more disastrous outcome. Fortunately The Duff comes out mostly unscathed. This is due mainly to the incredible talent of Mae Whitman. She holds the film on her own spectacularly and with a much respected grace that skims lightly over the line of offence and never crosses it. While the supporting cast do have their moments, such as Robbie Amell’s cute role of the best friend, and Ken Jeong and Allison Janney occasionally popping up for a golden moment or two, Whitman is the force that holds this film together.
For a film which tries to defy the status quo and send the message that we don’t need to be labelled, The Duff still manages to hit many of the traditional rom-com rules, to the point where it feels like it’s unfortunately following each step of the rom-com gospel word by word. Because of this the film becomes predictable almost from the very beginning. To all rom-com fans it won’t be anything particularly groundbreaking unfortunately.
The Ugly Truth
The Duff has a good idea as its main premise, and brings a good flow of plenty laughs throughout. However it’s determination to stick to the rom-com guide brings down its chances of being a Mean Girls for a new generation.
Last seen taking down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in spectacular fashion, Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family are back. And as fate would have it, Shaw has a brother. Who is seeking revenge. And is Jason Statham. Need we say more?
The Fast and Furious franchise is an incredibly rare gem that only began to find its footing from its fourth instalment. With the first 3 focusing on racing mainly as it’s heart and soul, 4, 5 and 6 kept the cars but dialled down the racing in favour of action. So far we’ve had a bank heist in which a safe is dragged along the streets of Rio de Janeiro and a chase sequence along the worlds longest runway. But, you may ask, how can this be topped? Simple. Replace the traditional three act structure with a bigger, more action packed three set-piece structure.
Fast and Furious 7 includes a beginning, middle and end of pure adrenaline that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. With horror master James Wan (Insidious, Saw) taking the franchise to terrifying new depths. Each action sequence tops the last and just when you think it can’t get any bigger, it does. And then it does again.
Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson return of course, but the new additions of Kurt Russell and Jason Statham bring an already stellar cast list to dizzying heights. With Russell’s involvement in the next instalment recently confirmed, we can but hope that his scenes were just a tease for what’s to come. A very big tease too!
Of course, this film can’t be talked about without mentioning Paul Walker. From the very beginning Walker’s character has been the driving force behind all bar one film. With his unfortunate passing in 2013, this instalment was destined to be something to be both anticipated and feared. With details of Brian O’Conner’s storyline being kept under wraps and being well aware that to spoil this part of the film would be the worst crime, all we can say is, job well done. Walker’s legacy is respected in the best way possible and will not leave a dry eye in the screen. No matter how many times you see it.
After an ending like this it’s almost sad to hear that the franchise will continue. The knowledge that Walker truly can’t come back in any big way is disheartening to say the least, however the promise of more action-packed stories from a franchise that has reached it’s peak is too tempting to say no entirely.
There are only two items to discuss in this section, both of which are the barely passable to be considered truly bad. The first and strongest point to make is that the action, while clearly choreographed brilliantly, is at times brought down by the use of a shaky camera. While it’s nothing as bad as the worst offenders (we’re looking at you Taken 3!) and in retrospect seems almost unavoidable at points, it does occasionally and infrequently, threaten to throw you off guard and make you lose your bearings ever so slightly.
The second point is really nitpicking and probably wouldn’t be noticed by too many but, as a Tarantino fan, I feel the need to point it out. If you have Kurt Russell appearing in a franchise in which one of the main selling points is fast cars and spectacular crashes, surely a Death Proof reference, even the tiniest one somewhere, is needed? Just me? But hey, we still have Stuntman Mike for at least one more film so perhaps if we keep our fingers crossed that much tighter…
The Ugly Truth
Fast and Furious 7 is without a shadow of a doubt, the best in the franchise. The action is turned up to twelve, along with the talent and emotion. With action sequences that try and succeed in topping one another, it demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. And more than once!
When accident prone alien called Oh (Jim Parsons) sends an invite to his house warming party in his newly invaded home, he inadvertently brings the possibility of both his race (the Boov) and the planet’s previous owners’ total destruction. The planet in question: Earth!
With a voice cast that includes the star of The Big Bang Theory, two pop stars (Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez) and a comedy superstar (Steve Martin), Home seems to cater for just about every audience member. We even have the recognisable voice of Badger from Breaking Bad (Matt Jones) pop up throughout!
Add to that a beat popping soundtrack scattered with songs from two of the aforementioned cast members that will make you ‘put your hands in the air like you just do not care’ as Oh so eloquently puts it, and Home has everything checked off the animation blockbuster list.
The story is simple and sweet, sending the message that it’s ok to be different while accompanied by some beautifully colorful animation. Oh and his new human friend Gratuity (Rihanna) nicknamed Tip, go on a quest to find Tip’s mother and save the world. It’s a fun ride with jokes aplenty along the way. Highlight’s include Oh’s inspired use of a cookbook to literally cook dinner and his childlike limited vocabulary. His inability to form proper sentences should grate on our patience, but when it comes out of Jim Parsons’ mouth it’s just undeniably endearing. In truth most of the films highlights come from the cute and colorful Oh.
On a side note. If Tip’s delightfully lazy cat Pig looks oddly familiar it’s probably because it bears more than a passing resemblance to the cartoon feline featured in Big Hero Six. Proof at least that Garfield hasn’t entirely ruined the careers of all animated cats.
While Home is fun and colorful with a lovely message behind it, it does look like Dreamworks are slipping in quality ever so slightly. They can do wonders with films like How To Train Your Dragon 2 but ultimately their smaller films (Which Home arguably is when compared to HTTYD franchise) aren’t quite as technically accomplished as their daunting competitions from Disney and Pixar
The Ugly Truth
With great animation, voice actors, music and messages, Home ticks all the boxes. There’s no denying it’s charm, but the emotion is perhaps slightly missing.
In a post-apocalyptic society strictly divided into casts by personality types, Tris Prior and her fellow ‘Divergent’ renegades that defy classification, must find a way to fight back against the sinister forces determined to take control of what’s left of human civilization. As Tris battles her inner demons, the shifting loyalties of her friends, family and even enemies test her like never before.
Picking up mere days after the events of the first film, Insurgent promises fans answers to some of the questions and emotional issues left unresolved during the frantic climax of Divergent. The film makes the most of a clearly improved budget to explore the ruined remains of Chicago and the even more fantastical world of the virtual reality tests Tris must overcome.
Theo James is still appropriately rugged as Tris’s handsome love interest Four and Shailene Woodley remains a welcome alternative to the typical damsel in distress cliché that so often ruins action blockbusters. The mere presence of talents like Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Kate Winslet also immediately improve the attention span of audiences. It gives at least the impression of substance behind even admittedly threadbare and predictable material.
Those that found the deadly virtual reality games that tested Tris in the first film interesting, will be pleased to see that concept taken to even more elaborate places. It gives the film an excuse to escape an otherwise generic and dreary dystopia and at least insert some CGI heavy fantasy action sequences.
Fans of the book series and first film will welcome the continuation of the Divergent saga, but for the uninitiated this will prove a confusing and disappointing experience. Though the film makes a cursory effort to explain the situation with a quick opening monologue, in truth if you haven’t seen the first film you’ll be left entirely lost.
Sadly like all the other recent ‘young adult’ franchises the Divergent series struggles to maintain the relative promise of its first big screen outing. The first film offered a moderately intriguing tale of a dystopian future and misguided social engineering. The sequel continues that adventure with an obviously bigger budget, a lot more angst but far less novelty.
Shailene Woodley is a talented young actress but her character is simply far too preoccupied with self-doubt and recriminations. It’s so unnecessary and unhelpful it often threatens to make Tris more irritating than inspiring. In one scene our hero literally ‘squeaks’ with discomfort whilst confessing her feelings of guilt over past deeds. Perhaps all the tears, self-loathing and melodrama will be less distracting and annoying for a target audience of teenagers, but grown-ups may find it far harder to empathise.
Though Insurgent boasts a cast that includes Miles Teller, Ansel Elgot and Kate Winselt the sad truth is that none of them ever have the slightest chance to demonstrate their undoubted talents. Somehow Insurgent manages to make every character feel like they’re being given insufficient screen time and lacks emotional depth or complexity. Even when characters make supposedly dramatic decisions or betrayals, it feels irrelevant because there’s so little emotional investment in proceedings.
Only fans of the actual books will be able to tell whether something has been lost in translation to screen, or if characters motives really were always so poorly defined and explored in the original story.
Though the film spends a big chunk of time and its bloated budget putting Tris back into elaborate virtual realities, it’s just a transparent excuse for expensive superhero style action sequences. Again it’s impossible to really care about what happens as both the characters and audiences are fully aware that it’s never real. It doesn’t matter if people die or entire cities crumble, because nothing is actually happening.
Overall Insurgent’s biggest failing is that despite all its troubled nightmares, dramatic haircuts and angst ridden dialogue its almost entirely lacking in actual emotional substance. It simply lumbers through predictable story arcs merely out of an unfortunate obligation to perpetuate a valuable ‘franchise’.
The Ugly Truth:
Unless you’re already a devoted fan of the Divergent series, it’s probably best to avoid getting involved at this stage. Insurgent is a typical blockbuster sequel that feels mostly superfluous and redundant. Occasional bursts of CGI action and the mere presence of a talented cast can’t disguise that fact that the entire film feels at best like a set up for a hopefully more interesting third chapter.
Our chat with Ansel Elgot about the Divergent Sequel and Shailene Woodley below: