REVIEW: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”


It could be said that the first Avengers movie was in a ‘can’t miss’ position. Sure, with that much ambition comes a degree of risk. But fans had already shown their devotion to the Marvel movies at that point. Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor each had their own films which had earned a ton of box office cash. Bringing them altogether was sure to bring in truckloads of more money. That proved to be true to the tune of over $1.5 billion worldwide. And of course that doesn’t include home-video, merchandising, etc. More importantly, as a movie fan, the first film was fun and very satisfying.

So as is customary in modern Hollywood, a sequel was on the way and we get it in the form of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Writer and director Joss Whedon is back this time with a new and unique set of obstacles in front of him. First, it’s always a challenge for a sequel to recapture the magic of a successful first movie while also being distinctly its own film. Also, if Whedon thought expectations were high for the first movie, they are nothing compared to what people will expect from the sequel. And then there is the question of superhero fatigue. Can Whedon and company continue to energize a genre that has a small but growing list of detractors?


I always give Marvel Studios credit. Their movies aren’t the assembly line sequels that we see each and every year. Certainly some films work better than others, but Marvel is always building upon their bigger cinematic universe and continuity which I enjoy. But for those not thoroughly invested it could be a legitimate stumbling block. “Age of Ultron” is unquestionably an installment – a transition chapter in this enormous franchise. Loose ends are tied up and potential plot holes related to other Marvel films are addressed throughout. Again, these are things that will satisfy fans but probably fuel the indifference of those not on board.

The film starts with our heroes attacking the snowy mountain compound of Baron von Strucker. He was the guy last seen in the mid-credits scene of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Strucker has obtained Loki’s scepter and is using its powers for human experiments and other nefarious practices. The results of the conflict leads Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) to fulfill an ultimate peace keeping goal of his – the creation of an ultimate A.I. named Ultron (voiced by James Spader). Ultron becomes self-sustained and self-aware and immediately begins his own plan of global peace which happens to include the distruction of the world. Tony’s mishaps with Ultron and his failure to inform his fellow Avengers of his project creates a festering tension between the team. But they must work together if they have any hope of beating this new threat and once again saving the world.


That is just a brief set up to what is a movie jam-packed with moving parts. There are so many characters and subplots that are being serviced and it is a testament to Whedon’s writing skills that the film is coherent at all. Wrapped around the central story are countless tie-ins from previous movies and setups for future films. It truly is a miraculous feat, but it’s not a flawless one. There were a handful of things that felt terribly shortchanged occasionally to the point of making no sense at all. During these moments it was as if Whedon was saying “Look, I have so much to cover. I just need you to go with this.” Sometimes I found that a little difficult to do.

But considering the insane amount of moving parts and the hefty ground the film is asked to cover, “Age of Ultron” is an impressive accomplishment. All of the core characters are back and get their moments to shine. In fact the amount of screen time between each hero felt much more balanced than in the previous movie. It also helps to have actors who have become more and more comfortable with their characters. In addition to Downey, Jr., Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) each are a load of fun. We also get a good assortment of past side characters and some very intriguing new characters. The super powers endowed Maximoff Twins, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are an interesting addition and there is the appearance of another new character who really got my geek juices flowing.


“Age of Ultron” is clearly a movie aimed at serving a passionate fan base  which is really good for devotees like me, but maybe not so good for those unfamiliar with or lukewarm to its many intricacies. I ate up the funny banter between each unique superhero personality. I loved the large-scaled action which seemed ripped straight from the pages of a comic book. I was interested in the future movie tablesetting even when the scenes didn’t always play out smoothly. In a nutshell, “Age of Ultron” was a fun and entertaining ride that succeeded as the central cog in Marvel’s constantly moving cinematic universe.

“Age of Ultron” is not a movie devoid of problems and your experience will probably be influenced by the degree of affection you have for these characters and this universe. As a fanboy I loved being back in this world, I laughed at a lot of the humor, and I was thrilled by the big effects and larger than life action sequences. Yet while it scratched nearly all of my itches, it’s hard not to point out the messy patches. Still considering the film’s enormous importance to the Marvel movie universe and the even higher expectations, “Age of Ultron” succeeds where so many movies would have failed. Now I’m ready to start building towards the next installment.


REVIEW: “The Railway Man”

RAILWAY POSTER If “The Railway Man” wasn’t based on a true story it would probably be dismissed as unbelievable hyper-drama. But it is based on a true story which for me made it all the more fascinating. It’s adapted from the bestselling autobiography of Eric Lomax and it strikes a number of heavy emotional chords. It looks at the stresses of war but not through the normal battlefield lens. Instead it examines the trauma some are left with well after the war has ended.

The first thing the film does right is its casting. Colin Firth is unquestionably one of the best actors in the business and this is material he can certainly handle. He plays Eric Lomax and we first meet him as a reserved if not slightly awkward train enthusiast. He sits down with a group of friends and tells them about his chance meeting with a woman named Patti who is stunningly played without an ounce of flash or glamour by Nicole Kidman. The two fall in love and eventually get married.



But in one of the movie’s few clunky bits of storytelling Patti and the audience learn that Eric is holding a lot of inner anguish. Patti’s love for her husband and nursing instincts wants to help him, but he continually shuts her out. She seeks information about Eric’s wartime past from his friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård). She finds out that during World War 2 he and some fellow British soldiers were captured by the Japanese and were placed in a hard labor camp where they worked on the railway between Thailand and Burma. During that time Eric endured unspeakable torture which has left him a broken man.

The audience gets to witness the events through a series of well done flashbacks. Jeremy Irvine plays the younger Eric and his resemblance to Firth is uncanny. Irvine was a big surprise and his performance stands right there with Firth’s and Kidman’s. In a great bit of method acting Irvine lost a significant amount of weight for the part. I also read where he did all of his own torture scenes. It’s truly impressive work. Actually I found all of the flashback sequences to be impressive in terms of production and in how it fits in the narrative.

The movie could have easily settled in as a traditional historical war film, but it doesn’t. Instead these flashback scenes work hand-in-hand with the film’s greater focus – an emotionally fragile man, the relationships surrounding him, and his ability to face and overcome the scars left from such traumatic savagery. I loved how these two narrative components worked together. For me each gave the other more meaning. Director Jonathan Teplitzky does a good job of maintaining a necessary cohesion between the two minus a couple of jarring instances where it seems key information was left out.


An argument has been made that “The Railway Man” is too polished and it takes the “safe route”. Others have pointed to its sentimentality feeling unearned. And then there are some who have taken issue with the liberties the film takes with the actual account. For example revenge fuels the film’s version of Eric, but in reality that doesn’t seem to have been the case at all. Each of these criticisms bring up valid points , but I can honestly say none of them hindered my enjoyment of the film or my connection to the characters in any way.

Ultimately “The Railway Man” works because of the amazing story and the fabulous performances that bring it to life. Firth is enthralling and unforgettable. Kidman is precise and beautifully reserved. Irvine shines in what should be breakthrough work. Sure, at times it is emotionally-driven and undeniably sentimental. It may be polished up and too much of a ‘prestige film’ for some. But to let those things hinder your experience would be a shame. I did find myself longing for information that the film chooses to skip over, but that’s my only gripe in what is otherwise a beautiful and moving movie.