Tag Archives: Ant-Man

Countdown to ENDGAME | Ant-Man


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Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel

Ant-Man

ant man

Take a few minutes to remember the flavor of Ant-Man:

In recent years, Marvel has mined its back catalog and made movies of characters with far less name recognition than Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Thor. The trend started with the smash Guardians of the Galaxy and continues with Ant-Man. What they have done is proven that superheroes sell if they are handled correctly.

Ant-Man is handled correctly from start-to-finish. Part caper, part family drama, part high-concept heist movie, Ant-Man has a terrific cast (Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas are all terrific) and propellant plot and a just the right touch of irreverent absurdity to make it a real delight.

This was a “creative tension” movie with original writer/director Edgar Wright bowing out and star Paul Rudd and new director Peyton Reed stepping in to finish the project. Rumor has it that Wright did not want to play in the Marvel sandbox and participate in the universe building that is now incumbent in these films. Frankly, it is hard to imagine Ant-Man without the Marvel Universe connections. They are part of what makes the movie such fun.

I gave Ant-Man  FOUR AND A HALF SUGAR CUBES out of a possible FIVE when I reviewed it upon its initial release.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and SHIELD operative
  • Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp
  • Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man
  • Hope Van Dyne
  • Pym Particles
  • Luis, Scott’s good friend
  • Kurt and Dave, Luis’ associates
  • Ant-tony, Scott’s flying ant

CONNECTION(S) TO ENDGAME:

  • There are no overt, infinity stone connections, though the Quantum Realm was a huge part of Ant-Man and the Wasp… more on that later.
  • If we understand that Infinity War finds a fractured Avengers team following the events of Captain America: Civil War, we have to note that Scott Lang faces off and gains measured respect from the Falcon who, in both the end of the movie and the post credit sequence (lifted directly from Civil War) is looking for Scott to assist the Avengers generally and, later, Cap’s off shoot team specifically.
  • SHIELD and Hydra also get shout outs and Hank Pym references Sokovia which also ties to Civil War which ties to the war of the Infinity variety.
  • More to come from Ant-Man and the Wasp…

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Ant-Man and the Wasp – A Movie Review


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ant man wasp

Peyton Reed director of Ant-Man and the Wasp and his team of writers, which includes star Paul Rudd (in very fine form here) had an unenviable task ahead of them when they set out to make their film. Knowing they were going to follow the massive Avengers | Infinity War they had to decide, if you will pardon the pun, to go big or go home.

Surprisingly – and effectively – they chose to go home or, at least, to stay close to home. Of all the Marvel Studios films to date, Ant-Man and the Wasp might be the smallest (okay, that one was totally unintentional – I caught it on my proofread!) in terms of stakes and scope.

Picking up over a year after Ant-Man and almost a year after Captain America: Civil WarAnt-Man and the Wasp opens on lovable hero Scott Lang (Rudd) who is holding up as well as he can under the house arrest he agreed to in exchange for his release from prison following the events of Civil War – somebody get me his lawyer if I get into trouble. Violating the Sovokia Accords in Civil War was tantamount to treason. A year of house arrest? Nice job, counselor. Scott is waiting for the day, coming very soon, that he can take off his ankle bracelet, bid farewell to spot inspections by the FBI and leave his home.

Of course, completing his sentence will not be that easy. It turns out Hank Pym (a very fun, very game Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly who is so good perhaps Marvel sound have titled the film The Wasp and Ant-Man) need help that only Scott can provide.

And off we go…

What is  bold about the movie is the change of pace tone it strikes. It is about as far removed from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as any one of these films to date and, following the heaviness of Infinity War, that is a surprisingly welcome change. The universe is not at stake. The fate of the world does not hang in the balance. The survival of the city is not in play. Rather there are personal goals at hand and family goals at that.

In setting the scale in this fashion, the filmmakers avoid one of the traps that hangs up superhero movies, namely how is tension created without building bigger mousetraps after bigger mousetraps? Ant-Man and the Wasp understands that its best assets are its sterling and delightful cast (Michael Pena is back as Luis!), the fantastic shirking/growing action scenes and a breezy plot (that may not hold up to very much scrutiny).

Paul Rudd is lovable, energetic and as excited by what he can do as the audience is watching him do it. He is all emotion and utterly convincing as a C-List superhero trying to simply be a dad. His comedic timing is spot on and his Ant-Man is the most grounded of all the Marvel characters – less silly than Star Lord and less angsty than Hawkeye. I could watch this shtick for a long time before it got old. Evangeline Lilly deserves a larger spotlight than she gets here, and the spotlight here is pretty large. Her Wasp is a no-nonsense, accomplished heroine who is more than capable of carrying the film and the caper on her own. Together, they are a wonderful team. The movie could have done a bit more with their dynamic, actually.

The set pieces are truly inventive and fun to watch. Peyton Reed does a remarkable job keeping them fresh and distinguishing them from the kind of action we have seen in prior films. There is some creativity at play here and the effects benefit greatly from being experienced on the big screen.

The plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is intended to be light and airy. It succeeds. Perhaps too well. If there is a draw back its found in the success of these films. We expect them to be layered thematically, to swell with emotion, to make us cry while we laugh. Infinity War set that high a bar. Ant-Man and the Wasp is not that movie. It is something different. Once I allowed myself to settle into that, I had a great time.

You will, too.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP receives FOUR GIANT SALT SHAKERS out of a possible FIVE

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Countdown to INFINITY… Ant-Man


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Thirteen: Ant-Man

ant man

Take a few minutes to remember the flavor of Ant-Man:

In recent years, Marvel has mined its back catalog and made movies of characters with far less name recognition than Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Thor. The trend started with the smash Guardians of the Galaxy and continues with Ant-Man. What they have done is proven that superheroes sell if they are handled correctly.

Ant-Man is handled correctly from start-to-finish. Part caper, part family drama, part high-concept heist movie, Ant-Man has a terrific cast (Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas are all terrific) and propellant plot and a just the right touch of irreverent absurdity to make it a real delight.

This was a “creative tension” movie with original writer/director Edgar Wright bowing out and star Paul Rudd and new director Peyton Reed stepping in to finish the project. Rumor has it that Wright did not want to play in the Marvel sandbox and participate in the universe building that is now incumbent in these films. Frankly, it is hard to imagine Ant-Man without the Marvel Universe connections. They are part of what makes the movie such fun.

I gave Ant-Man  FOUR AND A HALF SUGAR CUBES out of a possible FIVE when I reviewed it upon its initial release.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and SHIELD operative
  • Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp
  • Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man
  • Hope Van Dyne
  • Pym Particles
  • Luis, Scott’s good friend
  • Kurt and Dave, Luis’ associates
  • Ant-tony, Scott’s flying ant

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • There are no overt, infinity stone connections, though the Quantum Realm may get some play in the upcoming movie
  • If we understand that Infinity War finds a fractured Avengers team following the events of Captain America: Civil War, we have to note that Scott Lang faces off and gains measured respect from the Falcon who, in both the end of the movie and the post credit sequence (lifted directly from Civil War) is looking for Scott to assist the Avengers generally and, later, Cap’s off shoot team specifically.
  • SHIELD and Hydra also get shout outs and Hank Pym references Sokovia which also ties to Civil War which ties to the war of the Infinity variety.

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And There Came A Countdown To INFINITY…

Avengers Infinity War will open on May 4. Let me go out on a limb here: it will be one of the most successful movies of all time. I cannot wait for it.

You are among the millions who have watched the trailer, right? No? Take a moment. Click below. I will wait.

Okay, the question is: how do you get ready for Avengers Infinity War? What should you do and how should you do it?

We here at And There Came A Day are here for you. Last week, I saw a a tweet that suggested that, if you watch one Marvel movie a week beginning in the first week of 2018 and screen a subsequent Marvel film weekly, you will complete your preparations the very week Infinity War opens.

I intend to follow the schedule below (which in NOT the order in which the movies were released, but the order in which they took place) and post my reviews weekly.

We will see how it goes… I suspect it will go very well.

Get ready, world, for the Avengers to assemble again!

January 1 – 7:  Captain America: The First Avenger

January 8 – 14:  Iron Man

January 15 – 21:  The Incredible Hulk

January 22 – 28:  Iron Man 2

January 29 – February 4:  Thor

February 5 – 11:  The Avengers

February 12 – 18:   Iron Man 3

February 19 – 25:  Thor: The Dark World

February 26 – March 4:  Captain America: The Winter Soldier

March 5 – 11:  Guardians of the Galaxy

March 12 – 18:  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

March 19 – 25:  Avengers: Age of Ultron

March 26 – April 1:  Ant-Man

April 2 – 8:  Captain America: Civil War

April 9 – 15:  Doctor Strange

April 16 – 22:  Spider-Man: Homecoming

April 23 – 29:  Thor: Ragnarok

April 30 – May 6:  Black Panther

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Can’t Be Civil, Can You?


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This needs little introduction, but I will say this: don’t turn away until after the title card…

 

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – A Movie Review


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mission impossible rogueLet’s get this out-of-the-way first. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation  is the best of the five films. There is no question of this. Period. Best.

If you haven’t seen this movie, go. Right now. That’s the mission. Accept it.

I am likely to go see it again.

What’s remarkable about Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is that they’ve been making these movies for almost 20 years now; Mission: Impossible opened in 1996. At that time, Tom Cruise was already a star. Young and confident, Cruise was very good in the original Mission: Impossible film as young Ethan Hunt, a relative new-comer to the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) whose faith in the system is shaken by his mentor’s betrayal of Hunt’s team. Mission: Impossible was certainly a solid movie and Cruise was very good but nowhere as good as he is in this movie.

As a seasoned Ethan Hunt who has been through the wars as-it-were, Cruise commands Rogue Nation. He’s so good that he manages to avoid one of the most significant issues with movies like this. Normally they need a strong villain. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t need a great villain. It has a pretty amazing Tom Cruise working with a fun team of supporting agents – the returning Simon Pegg is particularly delightful.

On the poster and in the previews are images of Cruise hanging on the side of a plane (notice I write “Cruise” and not “Hunt” because, famously, Cruise did the stunt himself) trying to thwart a weapons deal. It’s a stunning scene and Cruise looks every bit the action star doing it. It’s hard to believe he’s 53-years-old. One of the coolest things about the plane stunt is that sequence opens the movie. Once it’s complete, if there’s time for the audience to catch its breath and think, the reflection might be “wow – director Christopher McQuarrie (who puts on quite a show here) just gave us his best stunt and the movie isn’t 10 minutes in yet.

Wrong. The best comes later and, unlike prior Missions, the best has as much to do with the plot, which is clever and quick, as it has to do with the action.

In the film, Hunt is searching the world for an organization called “The Syndicate” – and this is a nice throw-back to the television series as The Syndicate was a long time foe of that group. The Syndicate functions as an anti-IMF and no one, save Hunt, believes it exists. Yes, this is pretty standard fare – an agent against the world – but we want to see Cruise in this scenario and he makes it work.

The actions of Hunt in the earlier films have caught up with him as the IMF is dissolved and folded into the CIA as a result of those events (like the destruction of the Kremlin in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol). Alec Baldwin is playing a great character named Alec Baldwin – er, I mean, Alan Hunley – who is doing his best to shut down Hunt and the gang. Jeremy Renner’s Brandt tries to defend the team to no avail, but the chemistry between the two actors clicks as it does later when Renner and Cruise share the screen.

Frankly, Cruise is like a point guard in the movie – his every move makes his co-stars look better.

Disavowed by the government, again, Hunt has to prove the existence of The Syndicate in order to clear the names of those on his team. He is partnered with Rebecca Ferguson’s Isla – a secret agent who may be double (triple?) crossing Hunt or maybe not. Ferguson is really very good in this year of strong women in action roles and holds her own with her magnetic co-star.

Thus begins a very typical (and that’s a GOOD thing) Mission: Impossible plot with enough twists and turns to support the increasingly outrageous action. There are car chases. There are motorcycle chases. There are fist fights and shoot outs. There are incredible set pieces.

All of this is hung on the strength of the plot and the steadiness of Tom Cruise. The movie doesn’t fail to recognize that Hunt is older, it embraces the fact. If Cruise’s Hunt isn’t invincible anymore, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is all the better for the change.

We need Mission: Impossible 6 in front of the camera. Now.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION receives FIVE SECONDS BEFORE THIS MESSAGE SELF-DESTRUCTS out of five.

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Ant-Man A Movie Review

Ant-Man


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For the duration of this review, I am going to try to resist making any kind of size pun. We’ll see how successful I am.

Last summer, Marvel Studios seemed to learn with the late summer blockbuster success of Guardians of the Galaxy which followed the blockbuster success late spring of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that releasing a smaller movie following a big one might be a very good way to continue to build the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Next summer they will try it again with Captain America: Civil War in May and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in August. Will they strike the same kind of gold this summer with Ant-Man? Maybe not as much gold as they minted with GotG, but surely enough.

Ant-Man is the second Marvel Studios release this summer following the blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. As such, it has existed in the shadow of that extravaganza and that has been both a blessing and a curse. It’s been a blessing in that expectations for Ant-Man are nothing like the expectations for Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s been a curse in that people seeing Marvel Studios’ movies have come to expect a grandiose, intricately connected film that references Captain America and the Avengers and Tony Stark and plays into the tapestry of that universe.

Ant-Man doesn’t set up that way. With a sharp focus on two primary characters, Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, Ant-Man is more a passing-of-the-torch legacy story than anything else. The trick here is that, before the movie, there was no torch to pass. That Douglas’ Hank Pym was hero-ing around in the Ant-Man suit in the 1970s and 1980s was a revelation. Before this movie began, one might have thought Bruce Banner’s Hulk or Tony Stark’s Iron Man were the “first” superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not so fast. As it turns out, SHIELD had been associated with at least two heroes prior to Banner’s experiments and Stark’s suit, prior to Nick Fury becoming the Director. Those two heroes are Ant-Man and… well, no spoilers here.

Michael Douglas is wonderful as Hank Pym, an aging scientist desperate to see his creation – the Pym Particle – not used for evil. Douglas balances the right amount of gravitas with a certain sprinkling of twinkle in his eye to make Pym far more than a secondary character and a simple plot device. Douglas shines in his scenes with Paul Rudd and also has great chemistry with the underused Evangeline Lilly, who plays Hope Van Dyne, his somewhat estranged daughter. Much like Robert Redford who was in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Douglas plays the entire movie straight with no knowing winks to the audience or no air of superiority over the material. This is a credit to Douglas as he spends a lot of time shoveling exposition and talking about things like communicating with ants. He’s a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The opening sequence of the film is, in-and-of-itself, proof of that.

Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne isn’t served nearly as well. Though she is very good in the movie, Ant-Man continues a somewhat troubling trend for Marvel Studios’ films, namely that they don’t know what to do with a strong female character. Much has been written about this and I won’t delve too deeply into it here. Suffice it to say that, while Lilly is a welcome addition to the movie, has great rapport with Rudd and is a nice addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she is all but superfluous to the goings on here. One can easily envision a version of this movie without her character appearing at all from strictly a plot perspective, and that’s a shame, Marvel Studios has to do better with its women.

What Marvel Studios has done with its casting is truly remarkable. They have found almost perfect actors to inhabit their lead roles. Ant-Man is no exception. Paul Rudd makes a fine superhero, at least a fine superhero of the Ant-Man variety. The characterization written here (and Rudd did a polish on the script) is completely in the actor’s wheelhouse. Witty, intelligent and down-on-his-luck, Rudd’s Scott Lang is a modern-day Robin Hood trying to listen to the angels of his better nature to work his way back into his daughter’s life. Rudd makes the scenes with his daughter work. The audience never questions the relationship. He also displays the appropriate amount of “WTF?” as he learns about the Ant-Man suit, about the ability to communicate with insects and about Hank Pym’s plan.

His plan, simply, is a heist and Ant-Man is very much a well executed heist movie. It hits all the heist-movie plot points, including pulling together a rag-tag band of professionals to assist in the final gambit. Of these, Michael Pena’s Luis really stands out and has the most heroic moment of the film – if not of any Marvel film. Watch for it near the end of the movie. Give me more Pena, please. Find a way, Marvel. You’re smart folks.

Ant-Man is at its best when it plays as an action-comedy. Rudd is, primarily, a comedic actor and seeing Douglas run through some of the same paces reminded me of his Romancing the Stone and War of the Roses days. There are laugh-out-loud moments to be found here and the action, especially the sometimes jaw-dropping “micro-world” action, is very much up-to-snuff.

As I wind down the review, I note that I’ve not mentioned Ant-Man’s antagonist in the movie one time. The reliable Corey Stoll plays Darren Cross, a former protegee of Hank Pym’s, who is ready to unleash terror on the world… yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. White guy, corporate power broker wants to make some money in despicable ways. We’ve seen this before and, while the two-dimensional Cross, who eventually puts on a “Yellow-Jacket” suit with very similar powers to the Ant-Man suit, is fine as a villain, he is absolutely no more than that. Hey, Marvel, while you’re fixing your problem with women in your movies, take a look at your villains, too. Giving Stoll some interesting character ticks doesn’t make him a fully developed character.

Peyton Reed directs the film and he had the unenviable task of replacing genre fan guru Edgar Wright, who had developed the movie over a number of years. Wright has a unique voice. Marvel Studios is obviously looking for a more “house” voice and Wright apparently chafed against those constraints. Reed stepped in with little prep time and with a lot of Wright’s material at his disposal. He manages to be true to Wright – there is some really crazy stuff happening here and some moments and lines that are so bizarre they must be left over from Wright’s development – while slotting Ant-Man nicely into the pantheon of Marvel Studios’ films. That’s something of an impressive high-wire act.

Though there is A LOT at stake in the movie (Hank Pym reminds Lang and the audience of that any number of times), director Reed keeps the audience centered on what’s really going on: Scott Lang taking a shot at redemption and trying to become a better parent. That these very themes also spill over to Hank Pym’s character arc is very nice symmetry, indeed.

ANT-MAN receives FOUR AND A HALF SUGAR CUBES out of a possible five.

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Ant-Man… No Room For The Wasp, Huh?

Scott and Hope

Evangeline Lilly teaches Paul Rudd a thing or two about throwing a punch.

If you’ve seen Ant-Man, Marvel Studios’ latest offering , you know that it is a fun movie and a very different take on the superhero tropes than we’ve seen Marvel’s films to date. I’ve seen it referred to, in a number of places, as Marvel’s 11 after the terrific George Clooney heist movie Ocean’s Eleven and, while Ant-Man is attempting to stake out a corner of the Marvel movie universe distinct from the one inhabited by Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, an essay by Allyson Johnson on the terrific website themarysue.com points out that it has one thing very much in common with all the other Marvel films: female characters taking a back seat to male characters.

Johnson’s points are pretty hard to refute.

You can read her article HERE. There ARE SPOILERS in this article, so wait until you’ve seen the movie to read it or, if you don’t plan on seeing Ant-Man (which would be your loss) but have seen other Marvel movies, dive right in. It’s really interesting stuff.

My own review of Ant-Man will follow soon…

Ant-Man

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And Now There Comes Civil War – What Marvel Is Doing Is Truly Remarkable

Has there ever been a series of interlocking movies like what Marvel Studios is creating with their Marvel movies? There have been long movie series (the Bond movies, Star Trek movies, the Star Wars saga), there have been series that have rebooted themselves (the Planet of the Apes movies), there have been movies based on other media (the Harry Potter movies, the Twilight movies) but there is really nothing even resembling Marvel’s interlocking, but relatively stand alone, films.

Next up for the studio is Ant-Man, featuring a lesser known character in the Marvel Universe. This movie is in the unenviable position of following this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and last summer’s surprise smash (a movie whose tone seems close to Ant-Man‘s) Guardians of the Galaxy. So what does Marvel do to remind the movie going public that this all fits together? It does this:

ant-man-avengers-posters-marvel

You may not know Ant-Man, but you know these other guys. Come see our movie.

Marvel even makes efforts to tie in the television show Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in a remarkably important way. MINOR AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON SPOILER HERE: Did you wonder from where the Avengers were getting the information on HYDRA strongholds they were cleaning out, where they were told Loki’s scepter was being held and where Nick Fury dug up the helicarrier that the Avengers used to rescue, remarkably, the population of Sokovia in the movie? All of this happened during the second season of the show, all of it the results of the work of Agent Phil Coulson (played by Clark Gregg), a character all the superheroes calling themselves The Avengers think is dead. Only those watching the show would have known this in watching the movie and that fact made them feel they have inside knowledge while not detracting from the movie in the slightest. Nice move, Marvel. Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill even appeared on the show in April and she’s clearly talking in Avengers Tower to a shadowed Coulson.

agents-of-shield

Finally, Marvel makes it clear that the action in their movies is continuous and what they are going to do in Captain America: Civil War reads more like Avengers: Civil War than it does a Captain America movie:

Captain America: Civil War picks up where Avengers: Age of Ultron left off, as Steve Rogers leads the new team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. After another international incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability and a governing body to determine when to enlist the services of the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers while they try to protect the world from a new and nefarious villain.

Civil War Logo

There is nothing else like this in the history of cinema, right? I certainly can’t think of anything.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review

Age of Ultron PosterHow does Joss Whedon, writer and director of 2012’s Avengers top his own creation? How does he capture the imagination of the world-wide movie going public and reel them back in for two and a half more hours of Avengers action? How does he out-do what seemed incredibly difficult to do in the first place? These are questions Whedon must have asked himself when he sat down to break story ideas for the sequel that would eventually become Avengers: Age of Ultron. It takes something of a mad scientist to accept this kind of challenge. I, for one, am very glad he did.

I won’t be alone in that assessment.

First things first: it’s eventually going to be very difficult for Marvel Studios to receive both solid reviews and big money for their movies. I thought that the bubble was going to burst with last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy (boy, was I wrong!). Some think it pops with July’s Ant-Man. But there are indications sneaking in at the corners of the reactions to Age of Ultron that some opinions are about to turn and that being great (like Age of Ultron is) is not going to be enough.

People don’t like the New England Patriots. They win too much.

People are going to begin decrying Marvel movies for the same reason. It starts here.

The Junior Senator, as we left Age of Ultron (my second viewing, his first), suggested that some comments he’d read about the film indicated that some people had their narratives already set in their minds and that those narratives were very similar: the movie has too much going on, there are too many characters, the action is too crowded.

Don’t you believe it. When you see Age of Ultron and, if you’re reading this review, you’re likely going to see it, pause for one second and see if you can keep all the characters straight. Forget the big ones from the last Avengers, I’m talking about the ones who weren’t in the last movie. Can you keep War Machine straight from Ultron? Do you confuse Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch? Are you not able to discern between… wait, I won’t name any other new characters because this is a spoiler free review. Suffice it to say that, while there are many new characters and there is a lot going on in Age of Ultron, movie goers can keep it all straight. To suggest anything else is lazy thinking.

I admit that Age of Ultron is a very different movie than Avengers and, as Whedon is a child of The Godfather and Star Wars, perhaps that is to be expected. Modern audiences have grown up thinking the second chapter of a movie series has to unspool with more gravitas than the first. The Godfather II is far darker than The Godfather. It has a far more complex narrative structure, too. Some might argue it’s a better film. The Empire Strikes Back turns away from the almost sunny tone of Star Wars. It tells a far more “adult” tale and the characters suffer significant loss before it’s over. The end is something of a cliffhanger, indicating all is not right in the universe. Just as his contemporary Christopher Nolan put together a bleaker and far deeper Batman sequel in The Dark Knight, Joss Whedon understands that Age of Ultron has to take the characters and tone of Avengers and do something different and more complex with them in the sequel. He succeeds in this goal so well that one of my first reactions to Age of Ultron was loss. I wanted it to be more fun. Avengers was fun and, while Age of Ultron has fun moments, the stakes to the main characters (if not to the world overall) are so much higher in this film that I left the theater a bit wistful… much like the reaction I had to Lando and Chewbacca flying off from the Rebel Armada at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Don’t get me wrong: that’s a very, very good thing!

There is so much to like in this movie. The action of Avengers, which was both exciting and verging on overpowering, is superseded by what occurs in Age of Ultron and Whedon has a more sure hand with it. Rather than roll the last act (big good vs. big bad’s minions) as one, long fight sequence, Whedon intersperses the explosions and slow motion battle with honest-to–goodness character moments that work. They work because the audience cares about the characters, some of them introduced earlier in the movie. While there are plenty of incredible set pieces on hand, they are balanced throughout the course of the movie by smaller and more intimate moments.

The cast is wonderful – so comfortable in their roles and so believable in them, too. It’s difficult to single any of them out as either the weak link of the ensemble or the stand out. Robert Downey, jr. once told us onscreen that he is Iron Man, and it’s impossible to argue the point; I don’t know where Downey ends and Tony Stark begins. Chris Evans takes Captain America – a character who could be painfully one note – and makes him somehow nobly tragic. Thor, as played by Chris Hemsworth, is quite amusing. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is the everyperson eye into the team. They are all damn good in the roles and very fun to watch.

Scarlet Johanssen as the Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk deserve special mention, not because they are any better than their co-stars, but because the script does call for a little more from them. The scenes they share are almost poignant and they are every bit the match for them. It might be difficult to find deeper, emotional moments in a green-screen spectacle, but these two manage to do it and make it look easy.

A review of Age of Ultron would not be complete without a mention of James Spader as the artificial intelligence called Ultron, bent of revenging himself against the Avengers and, of course, destroying humanity. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen the film twice and, on the second viewing, I really watched Ultron carefully. It’s an incredible movie creation, to be sure, but I had read that Spader did the motion capture work himself and one can really tell it’s Spader bringing the character to life. It’s not just the actor’s voice (which is perfect by-the-way), it’s the physicality of the role. Spader doesn’t voice the character. He plays the character and he stands toe-to-toe with the likes of Downey, jr., Evans and Hemsworth who’ve played their respective characters time-and-again. Spader makes Ultron a special villain. That’s more than half the battle in a movie like this.

Age of Ultron has a lot going for it before it starts. It has a built-in audience. It has a tremendous cast. It has special effects wizards on hand. It also has a very smart and snappy script. More on the smart in a moment. Whedon’s Avengers are so quippy, they sometimes sound as though they’ve been written by Aaron Sorkin and have stepped directly off the set of The West Wing. This is fine by me and it serves the movie well when Ultron trades barbs with the team. At one point, after a particularly amusing comment by Ultron, Iron Man says “he beat me to that one by one second.” Part of the fun here is the verbal jousting among the characters. It amuses throughout the movie and, if some of the references are a bit off the beaten path (“Banksy” anyone?), that’s okay. It’s a Joss Whedon script. We should know what we’re in for.

It must be challenging to surprise us with these movies at this point. It must be difficult to develop a story that keeps our attention. No longer can these movies rely solely on their amazing special effects (which Age of Ultron has in spades). They have to do something more, they have to tell these heroic tales with a different spin, they have to – dare I write it – inspire their audiences to think.

There is a lot to think about in Age of Ultron. There are questions raised of trust and of heroism, of parenting and of friendship, of science and of faith. Blithely dismissing the possibility that such issues could be raised in superhero fare is a mistake. Between the robots and the superheroes and the explosions and the quips, there are some pretty serious questions being posed. Good on Joss Whedon for doing so.

Age of Ultron has an almost two and a half hour running time, but it feels light on its feet and, when it’s over, it promises us that “The Avengers Will Return.” I will be there when they do.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON receives FOUR AND A HALF “I Bet You Didn’t See That Comings” out of a possible FIVE.

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