Thursday, 27 August 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

The Avengers return, but does it live up to the hype?

As the sequel to 2012’s 'The Avengers' (released in the UK as 'Avengers Assemble'), one of my favourite films of recent years, I naturally had a lot of expectation for this year’s sequel from the moment of its announcement. This excitement only increased with every subsequently released nugget of information regarding the plot and characters, and again with each still or piece of concept artwork.
It seemed as if this film, like all great sequels, would have everything great about the first film amplified to new levels of excellence. This film was going to be an epic which would make the first film seem embarrassingly subpar by comparison.
So, did the film live up to my expectations? Let's get to the review and find out!

It was great fun to see Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, Black Widow and the Incredible Hulk back together in the opening action scene fighting villains and bouncing writer/director Joss Whedon’s trademark snappy dialogue off each other once again, and it instantly felt as if you were back together with a group of old friends as the film began.

A common complaint with the previous Avengers film was the side-lining of characters Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widdow (Scarlett Johansson, left) in favour of other, more familiar characters. However Age of Ultron gives both Hawkeye and Black Widdow more screen time, fleshing out their characters and backstories throughout. This extra development also adds more depth to the team as we now have a better understanding of these characters’ motives and their relationship with their teammates. In addition, new characters Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) lived up to their hype and were both welcome additions to the Avengers line-up and definitely characters I would like to see more of in future entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Of course, one of the biggest talking points surrounding this film has been its titular villian, the highly advanced robot, Ultron (pictured below right). Marvel have attracted some criticism in recent years regarding the villians in their films as many believe that most of them have been unmemorable or poorly developed, with the exception of Tom Hiddleston's character Loki. However, I am pleased to say that Ultron was certainly one of the more intruiging and memorable adversarys we have seen so far in this series, but he was not without faults in my opinion.
Visually, Ultron is spectacular, looking very threatening and also true to his design from the comic books. James Spader also does a great job of voicing the character and giving him personality, even if he is basicly a robot.

However, I felt that Ultron’s motivation in the film was somewhat unclear. This  was frustrating since it is typically the most intriguing aspect of the character for me. The original idea behind Ultron in the comic books is that he is a robot programmed with the aim of protecting the Earth from any threats. However, he soon decides that humanity is the biggest danger to Earth and that the best way to protect Earth would therefore be to wipe out all human life. However, in the film, this idea seemed only to be glanced over briefly before Ultron simply became another villain for the heroes to stop, robbing the film of a potentially interesting theme.

We also didn’t really get to see Ultron do any major damage similar to what he has been known to do in comic book story lines such as ‘Avengers: Ultron Unlimited’ where he and his clones wiped out the entire population of a small country. Perhaps something as extreme as that would be a little too much for a film of this kind, which is of course trying to also appeal to the family market, but it would have been nice to see something which displayed just how dangerous and evil Ultron can often be.

Despite all this, Ultron was far from being the worst villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. In fact, I would argue that he is one of the better ones that we have seen. Ultron does have several memorable, intimidating moments throughout the film through both his dialouge and his actions.
He certainly has a lot more personality than, say, Malekith, the villain from Thor: The Dark World, but he often feels to be lacking a consistent amount of threat.

I felt like this film often touched upon interesting ideas and themes, but none of them were ever fully realised. It feels as if there is a really great character study somewhere within this film that is struggling to get out. Director Joss Whedon actually said that the original cut of the film was around 4 hours long, so there was a lot of stuff that had to be cut out to save time. It would be great to see an extended cut of the film at some point on dvd, as I believe that even just adding an extra 30 minutes or so to further flesh out some of the characters and plot points could greatly improve the film overall.

Still, despite these gripes, Avengers: Age of Ultron did thoroughly entertain me from beginning to end and all the things that made the first film great are still here; Joss Whedon's witty dialogue, some stunning set pieces, a continous sense of fun throughout and a great cast who have now all grown comfortably into their roles. A mention should also go to the special effects, especially those used to bring the Incredible Hulk to life on screen, which are even better than those in the previous film.

While this film may do little to redefine the superhero genre, it is still a more than satisfactory addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will no doubt be welcomed and loved by all fans.

Rating: ****

Agree/disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments, or tweet me @daniel_bb8

Friday, 14 August 2015

Dredd review

Today I've decided to shine some light on an overlooked gem from 2012; Dredd directed by Pete Travis. The film is of course based on the 2000ad comic book strip Judge Dredd, set in a post-apocalyptic America, where most of the country is an irradiated waste-land and the population live in a huge 'Mega-cities'. With unemployment high and crime rampant, a police force known as the Judges act as Judge, Jury and on-the-spot executioners, with Judge Dredd, played to a tee by Karl Urban, being the toughest of them all.

Judge Dredd and new rookie Judge Anderson, are sent to a 200-story apartment block to investigate a drug clan and its leader 'Ma-ma', played with malevolence by Lena Headey, who have taken control of the block, using it as a manufacturing plant for a time-altering drug known as 'Slo-Mo'. Upon their arrival, Ma-ma seals the Judges inside the block and orders for them to be hunted down and killed. As you would imagine, chaos ensues.

Despite it's limited setting, the film is able to perfectly capture the run-down, crime-ridden and general unpleasant nature of Mega-City One from the comics, making this a much more authentic adaptation of Judge Dredd than the 1995 film which starred Sylvester Stallone. It would have been nice to see the a bit more of the Mega city, but what we do see looks fantastic, with high production values bringing the comic book to life and disguising the film's relatively small budget of $45 million.

The film frequently employs use of slow-motion to effectively represent the perspective of 'Slo-Mo' users, often cutting between this perspective and regular speed during action scenes, switching from the viewpoint of the Judges to the gang members. This creates stylish, exciting action sequences which are very well shot and easy to comprehend, something which is often lacking in action movies today.

The strong performances, particularly Olivia Thirlby's, are what stands out most in the film, with Karl Urban also offering a downright perfect portrayal of the titular Judge Dredd. Of course, in keeping with the classic tradition of the comic strip, we never actually get a full view of Dredd's face as it is mostly obscured by the iconic Judge's helmet. However, this did not stop Karl Urban from throwing his all into the role and delivering a very memorable performance.

If you are a fan of comic book movies, or even just action and sci-fi movies in general, I highly recommend that you give Dredd a watch, as there is a good chance many of you will have missed it the first time around.

Rating: ****

Agree/disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet me @danj_101