Movie Review: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany
Joss Whedon

Seconds into the film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already overdoing it. It opens with an assault on a Hydra base, and the team is kicking ass, but with the exception of a fantastic shot straight out of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it’s underwhelming, a more elaborately choreographed and at the same time less thrilling version of the battle sequence at the end of “The Avengers.” The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is to be expected, but what isn’t expected, or appreciated, is the “Transformers”-like fixation it has with breaking stuff (as in entire cities) for no reason, and worse, there are no consequences for doing so. On top of that, writer/director Joss Whedon’s normally snappy dialogue is woefully lacking. Whedon has said that he’s walking away from the Marvel universe after this (Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are taking the reins on the next two “Avengers” movies), and after seeing “Ultron,” it makes sense; from the looks of things, this movie killed him.

Inside the aforementioned Hydra base is a gold mine of military weapons, both mechanical and human, created by Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). He’s used Loki’s scepter to give orphaned twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) superhuman powers, namely (and again, respectively) super speed and all sorts of telekinetic abilities. The Avengers do not get any of Hydra’s data, but they do acquire the scepter, and in studying it, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the brilliantly stupid idea to convert the scepter’s alien power source into an artificial intelligence that will work to achieve world peace, an idea he’s had for years but has never been able to perfect. This time, it works, and the new consciousness, which he had nicknamed Ultron (James Spader), has a plan for peace on Earth. Unfortunately, his plan involves the extinction of mankind.

Wanda can get people to see things, namely their worst fears. We see the nightmares of everyone she touches, except for Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who goes on to do the most damage: he terrorizes a large city, the very thing he spent years of his life in exile in order to prevent. Of all the nightmares that the audience absolutely has to see, this is the one. Instead, we get Hulk’s reaction to his visions without context, which culminates in a ridiculous street fight between Hulk and Iron Man that does tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage (though it admittedly has a good laugh halfway through). Everything about this is wrong, and the opposite of what Whedon normally stands for as a storyteller. Just one line explaining that Stark will pay for everything, or that the Avengers are losing the people’s trust, would do. We get neither.

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Movie Review: “The Judge”

Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thorton, Dax Shepard
David Dobkin

The person who edited the trailers for “The Judge” should get an award. They made this movie look fantastic, an edge-of-your-seat legal thriller with an estranged father and son at the center. Then we see the director’s cut, as it were, and discover what it really is: one the flimsiest courtroom cases ever filmed, and the father/son story is a smoke screen for a much, much worse plot line: the yuppie who finds his soul. This was a popular theme in the early ‘90s (“Regarding Henry,” “The Doctor”). I will drive to California and burn Hollywood to the ground if they try to make this a thing again.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a stereotypical soulless big city defense attorney who discovers that his mother has passed away. Staring down a divorce (due, naturally, to his workaholism), Hank takes a solo trip to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana to pay his respects and play friendly with his estranged family. Hank and his father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the town judge, haven’t spoken in years, and not even Hank’s mom’s death can soften things. Hank plans to leave the day after the funeral, but as he’s packing up, he discovers that his father’s car is damaged, showing signs that he was in an accident the night before. It turns out that Joseph struck and killed someone with his car, and knowing that his father needs a rock solid defense, Hank stays behind to give him one. Hank’s biggest obstacle to properly defending his father, is, of course, his father.

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“Iron Man 3″ continues to dominate box office

Iron Man 3

If you one of those guys who loves betting so much that you even lay money down on box office numbers, let’s hope you had week 2 of “Iron Man 3″ beating week one of “The Great Gatsby.” Gatsby opened well with a $50.1 million debut, but Iran Man hung in there after a monster opening weekend to pull in another $72.5 million to win the box office last week. It’s nice to see movies live up to the hype, at least when it comes to ticket sales.

You have to give Marvel credit, as they strung together hit after hit across all of their characters. After “Avengers” I thought the third installment of of the Iron Man franchise could end up being a letdown like we’ve seen so many times in this genre, but Marvel is firing on all cylinders, and there’s something about the Tony Stark character created by Robert Downey, Jr. You see Iron Man merchandise everywhere, including slot machines at the Vegas casinos and even virtual slot machines at Betfair casino.

Next week things will get even more interesting as J.J. Abrams is back with “Star Trek Into Darkness” which has a great shot of winning the weekend. As for hype, Abrams is getting plenty of it. With Star Trek he’s already responsible for reviving one of the great science fiction franchises, and then next year he’ll tackle the big one with the Star Wars franchise. After George Lucas belly flopped with the three prequels, let’s hope Abrams is the right choice to take Luke, Han and the others on a worthwhile journey. At the very least the next Star Wars movie will probably be the easiest box office winner to predict. But in the meantime you’ll have to figure out if the Trekkies can rise to the occasion next week.


Movie Review: “Iron Man 3″

Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce
Shane Black

When it was announced that Jon Favreau would not return as director of the third “Iron Man” film, the producers surely fielded offers from every name director in town. So how did Shane Black land this gig, again? The guy hasn’t written or directed a feature film since 2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and yet here he is, doing that Shane Black thing once again, only this time with superheroes, while trying his best to streamline his R-rated ways for a PG-13 audience. As it turns out, “Iron Man 3″ works, but just barely, and it’s more in spite of Black’s influence than because of it. At the beginning of the second act, Black begins to get in his own way, and for anyone familiar with his work, it’s not long before a strong case of deja vu sets in. He even set the movie during the holiday season, just like “Lethal Weapon.” And “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is not handling the events that took place in “The Avengers” well. He can’t sleep, he’s experiencing panic attacks, and he’s neglecting his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The last thing he needs is a crisis, so of course he receives two, in the form of a think tank genius named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who’s trying to woo Pepper into funding some groundbreaking genetic research, and a stone-cold terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who has launched a series of unusual bombings across the country. Tony dares the Mandarin to take him on; the Mandarin responds by destroying his house. Tony Stark, one of the richest and most famous men in the world, is at rock bottom.

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Trailer for “The Avengers”

If you’re having superhero movie fatigue, you probably aren’t too thrilled about “The Avengers” coming out in 2012, while hard-core comics fans can’t wait.

Most movie fans are somewhere in the middle, and big movies loaded with stars will get plenty of buzz and probably generate a huge audience. “The Avengers” will be one of the biggest new movies of 2012, and you can catch a sneak peak with the new trailer.

I enjoy superhero movies as much as most people, but I was getting a little tired of the genre with the sheer number of new films being released. But I saw “Captain America” and was pleasantly surprised as it was one of the best new films of 2011. Chris Evans was excellent as Captain America and it had a pretty cool story. When you see the clip above, you’ll see some interaction between his earnest character and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, and you can see that the writer will have some fun with the various personalities. Throw in some eye candy with Scarlett Johansson and you have the ingredients for s solid film. That said, they better not screw up the villains!


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