Thor Gets Thunderstruck in THOR: RAGNAROK

Marvel is on a roll this year. They’ve released three new installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok), as well as Logan, Hugh Jackman’s poignant final appearance as Wolverine.

And I loved all four of those movies.

The latest is THOR: RAGNAROK, which is absolute loads of fun.


Image: Marvel/Disney

The standalone Thor films are generally regarded as some of the weaker entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. They’re not terrible by any means, but they’re not as good as the Captain America or Avengers films, for example. Ragnarok is by far the best solo Thor movie and one of the best MCU movies in general.

The movie was directed by a New Zealander named Taika Waititi, previously known for two well-received independent films, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I haven’t seen either of those films, but I’ve heard lots of great things about them. Ragnarok is Waititi’s first foray into big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and he nails it. He perfectly captures the humor, beautiful visuals, and exciting action scenes that MCU movies have become known for. His style is the perfect fit for Thor.

Ragnarok is a surprisingly hilarious movie, and is right up there with Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy films as one of the funniest Marvel movies. The cast has great chemistry and there are more funny lines and moments than I can even remember off the top of my head as I’m writing this. Waititi has said that much of the dialogue was improvised, which shows how good the actors are together.

Chief among them are Chris Hemsworth as the heroic Thor and Tom Hiddleston as his mischievous adopted brother Loki. Both actors have been playing these roles since 2011, and they’re both fantastic. Their relationship is consistently interesting and funny, and it’s so much fun to watch the two actors bounce off each other. Even though they’ve been playing these characters for more than half a decade, the tempestuous relationship between the brothers doesn’t feel stale, and is one of the best things about the movie.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot, since the film is still brand new. Suffice to say that Thor and his pals have got their hands full this time around, since the film’s villain is easily one of my favorite villains of the year.

Her name is Hela.

She is the goddess of death.

She is played by Cate Blanchett.

She’s awesome.

Image: Marvel/Disney

“Oh, I’ve missed this,” she purrs, after making short work of Asgard’s armies. She is a force to be reckoned with, and Blanchett plays her perfectly. She reminded me a bit of Cruella de Ville, although perhaps Maleficent would be a better comparison. Either way, she’s fantastic, and Blanchett looks like she’s having a great time playing her. Hela is easily one of the best MCU villains, and just might be my number-one villain of 2017.

The movie is a joy to look at. The different settings in which the movie takes place all look gorgeous, as do the denizens that populate them. The movie is full of eye candy and the visual effects are among the best I’ve ever seen. Between Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel movies have been killing it with cutting-edge visual effects that are wondrous to behold.

The action scenes are exciting and will really get your blood pumping, and the movie contains two excellent uses of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which was also used to great effect in the film’s trailers. “Immigrant Song” includes the lyric “Valhalla, I am coming,” so it’s perfect for Thor. And everyone knows that Thor is the God of Thunder, but in Ragnarok we get to see him cut loose with his thunder and lightning powers in ways we haven’t seen onscreen before. The results are fun and badass, which is everything Thor needs to be.

Image: Marvel/Disney

And let us not forget the green elephant in the room. That of course would be the HULK, who hasn’t been seen onscreen since 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s played once again by Mark Ruffalo, who perfectly embodies Bruce Banner’s absolute bafflement in finding himself on an alien planet with no idea how he got there. The Hulk is a very fun character and it’s great to see him portrayed so well, after Marvel’s first two Hulk movies (2003’s Hulk and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk) met with mixed results.

The film’s trailers, posters, and other marketing material heavily promoted Hulk’s role in the film, which does somewhat lessen the impact of his initial appearance in the movie. There’s quite a lot of buildup to the not-so-jolly green giant’s big introduction, but if you’ve seen any of the movie’s posters or trailers, you already know what’s coming, so the moment doesn’t resonate as strongly as it would have if Hulk’s involvement had been less highly publicized.

Image: Marvel/Disney

Still, it’s hard to fault Marvel for promoting Hulk’s involvement, not to mention it would have been very difficult in this modern smartphone era to keep it a secret. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity though, since if Hulk had appeared with no one having had any idea he was going to be in the film, minds would have been blown. Mind you, I’m not criticizing Hulk’s inclusion in the movie, merely the way Marvel chose to promote it. Hulk fits right in to the story, and the scenes with Thor and Hulk are hilarious and give parts of the film a buddy-comedy vibe.


Image: Marvel/Disney

There are some new characters, such as the hard-drinking badass Valkyrie played by Tessa Thompson (of Creed and Westworld fame) and the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum at his most Jeff Goldblum-iest. These characters are a lot of fun, and I look forward to hopefully seeing more of them in future movies. There’s also Skurge, played by Karl Urban. Skurge is the only character who felt unnecessary to me. I like Karl Urban a lot but his character seemed like a bit of an afterthought.

There’s also Korg, played by Taika Waititi himself, although you’d never realize it because Korg is some kind of rock monster. He’s a very funny and likable rock monster though, and proves to be a strong ally for Thor and his pals. Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin and Idris Elba as Heimdall, and it’s fun to see both of them again. There’s also a brief but fun cameo from a certain Sorcerer Supreme, as well as the expected cameo from Stan Lee.

Thor: Ragnarok is a film that succeeds on every level. It’s quirky and weird and hilarious and beautiful and exciting and absolute tons of fun. If you weren’t impressed by previous Thor films, give this one a try. It just might change your mind.

On November 17, another big superhero movie lands in theaters. That movie is Justice League, and it’s got a lot to live up to after four excellent Marvel movies and the also-excellent Wonder Woman. We’ll have to wait and see if it can live up to the high standard of those movies, but in the meantime there’s another reason to head to the theater this weekend. It’s Murder on the Orient Express, and we’ll be talking about it next week.

Advertisements

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Seriously guys, why can’t we be friends? Why are you fighting? Stop it! STOP IT!!

Ok, sorry, I just get so emotional sometimes. Captain America: Civil War is upon us, and it is a rollercoaster in more ways than one.

Superheroes fighting each other is nothing new, just a few months ago Batman and Superman threw down, but instead of two heroes clashing, in this movie there are an even dozen duking it out.

On one side: Captain America, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Scarlet Witch.

On the other: Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, Black Panther, and the Amazing Spider-Man himself.

civil war

Wow, that’s quite the roster. Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers movie in all but name. The only Avengers who do not appear are Hulk and Thor, and they are missed, but not too much, since the movie already has a plethora of costumed characters.

But what is the cause of these heroes’ disagreement? Basically, it has to do with accountability. The Avengers may be good at saving the world, but said world-saving is frequently accompanied by large amounts of collateral damage. The governments of the world have had enough, and seek to impose a new set of regulations to keep the Avengers in check. Tony Stark aka Iron Man is in favor of this, Steve Rogers aka Captain America is not, and the rest of the Avengers choose sides accordingly. There’s also a nefarious character with the catchy name of Zemo who is influencing events from behind the scenes, but to say too much about him would be to give the game away too soon.

I love this movie’s central conflict. It’s a fantastic setup because there are compelling arguments for both sides, which makes the character motivations clear for all involved. A movie with this many characters could easily become unbalanced. Batman V Superman for example was ungainly as hell with less than half as many superpowered individuals. But this movie has a clearer sense of purpose, and feels more coherent as a result.

Civil War throws a few new characters into the mix, with great success. Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, is an excellent addition. Wearing a badass black costume made of vibranium, which is the same material Captain America’s shield is made of, and complete with Catwoman-esque retractable claws, the character makes a strong first impression and I am looking forward to his solo movie, which is due out in 2018.

Official-Captain-America-Civil-War-Black-Panther-Image

And let’s talk about Spider-Man. There’s a lot of cynicism relating to this character, due mostly to the fact that since 2002 there have already been five Spider-Man movies, presenting two different origin stories for the character who has been played by two different actors. The idea of yet another Spidey reboot was not something many people were overly excited about, but if next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming is half as charming as Spidey’s appearance in this film it could be something really special.

This latest version of the webslinger is played by a young actor named Tom Holland, with whom I was largely unfamiliar, but he really nailed it here. The movie presents Peter Parker as a penniless nerd who’s brilliant but so poor that he has to scavenge computer parts from the garbage. Tony Stark recruits him to join his cause and Holland has great chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. The scene where Tony first meets up with Peter is one of my favorite scenes in the film. It makes perfect sense that Tony and Peter would get along, since they’re both such huge science nerds. Peter Parker basically is a young Tony Stark, only dirt poor instead of filthy rich.

captain-america-civil-war-7166

And how can you not love this exchange:

Tony: You got a passport?

Peter: Um, no.

Tony: Ever been to Germany?

Peter: No.

Tony: Oh, you’re gonna love it there.

Peter: I…I can’t go to Germany.

Tony: Why not?

Peter: Because I…I have homework.

Tony: Okay, I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just say that.

Isn’t that great? I love it. Of all the major superheroes, Spider-Man is the only one I can think of whose origin is firmly rooted in being a kid, and this movie manages to capture that with only a limited amount of screentime.

It also bears mentioning that Aunt May is now a hottie. She is played by Marisa Tomei, who even Tony Stark refers to as Aunt Hottie, which makes Peter hilariously uncomfortable. Tony Stark is something of an authority on the subject, since as we all know he once went 12-for-12 with Maxim cover models. I’m not sure how I feel about Aunt May being hot, but…okay, that’s a lie. I’m totally fine with it.

Moving on, what makes Tony and Peter’s interactions work so well is emblematic of what makes the rest of the movie’s characters work. The dialogue and characterization are sharp, and most of these actors have been playing their roles for years, so they understand their characters very well and have natural chemistry with one another. Every character has a good amount of screentime and gets to show off his or her abilities in fun and creative ways. Each superhero feels important to the story and none of them are extraneous.

And the action sequences are fan-freakin’-tastic. The fight coordinators, stunt crews, and special effects technicians did amazing work bringing the many action scenes to life. There are a lot of epic fights in this movie, but the highlight has to be the centerpiece airport battle between Team Cap and Team Iron Man. It’s one of the best smackdowns in superhero-movie history, and must be seen to be believed. Just wait till you see the trick Ant-Man has up his sleeve, it’s a showstopper.

Captain America: Civil War was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, and they prove themselves to be every bit as adept at balancing the character beats with the ass-kicking action as they demonstrated in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which they also directed. The Russo brothers are also set to direct the next two Avengers movies, Infinity War Part One and Part Two, and we can rest assured that Earth’s mightiest heroes are in good hands.

I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, but the Captain America movies in particular are noteworthy for how each film builds upon the previous ones. The Iron Man sequels were uneven and Avengers: Age of Ultron, while still fun, didn’t quite live up to the high standard set by its predecessor, but every Captain America movie has felt like an expansion of the themes and stories developed in the previous entries, and it’s been really great to see the series evolve.

flimflam

Captain America: Civil War is one of those rare blockbusters that works on just about every level. It’s smart, funny, action-packed and balances a large number of characters and stories with aplomb. It’s my favorite movie of the year so far, and sets a new standard for future superhero films.

2015: The Year in Villainy

Another year, another roundup of baddies. There were a lot of big-franchise movies this year, with a lot of big-name villains, as well as a couple of memorable new (evil) faces. Without further ado, let’s get to the villainy!

Richmond Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service

2015 villains valentine

Samuel L. Jackson played one of the most unique villains of the year. A billionaire who wants to destroy humanity because he believes they are a disease that must be exterminated in order to save the planet, he speaks with a lisp and grows nauseous at the sight of blood. He’s also got a first-rate evil lair hidden in the mountains, protected by surface-to-air missiles and an army of henchmen. He may not be the scariest villain of the year, given the film’s comedic tone, but certainly one of the most entertaining.

Deckard Shaw in Furious 7

2015 villains shaw

I love Jason Statham, and he doesn’t usually play bad guys, so it was really fun to watch him cut loose and turn to the dark side for a while. I’ll admit that his character didn’t have all that much personality, but every time he showed up in the movie, his appearance was accompanied by a fight, shootout, or ridiculous car chase. He kicked plenty of ass, and probably got his hands dirty more than any other villain on this list, which earns him a spot as one of my favorite villains of 2015.

Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron

2015 villains ultron

For a while, Gollum was the most realistic digital character around, but some of the recent Marvel movies have given old Smeagol a run for his money (Rocket and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy are other examples of this). But in terms of digitally-created villains, Ultron steals the show. Age of Ultron was a mixed bag, the story was a bit of a mess and the whole film felt overstuffed, but it was still plenty of fun and James Spader gave a fantastic performance as the titular villain. He gave Ultron distinctive mannerisms that made him feel like much more than just your average everyday murderous robot. When you’ve got five or six superheroes in one movie, you need a villain capable of standing up to all of them, and Ultron fit that description perfectly.

Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road

2015 villains immortan joe

I may be biased here because Mad Max: Fury Road was far and away my favorite movie of 2015, but Immortan Joe was also my favorite villain of 2015. A classic dictator and a first-class bullshit artist, Immortan Joe was the kind of villain who would scare the pants off you, but he was so magnetic you couldn’t take your eyes off that terrifying visage. He was the kind of villain you love to hate, and his was also one of the most viscerally and emotionally satisfying deaths of the year. When Charlize Theron’s equally-badass Furiosa hooked his mask to the wheel of his truck and ripped half his face off, it was enough to make you want to stand up and cheer.

John Connor in Terminator Genisys

2015 villains connor

You’ve got to give the makers of Terminator Genisys some credit. It took some serious cojones to make John Connor, the savior of humanity in the previous Terminator films, the bad guy in the most recent installment. That would be like making Harry Potter a dark wizard. But what one hand gives, the other hand takes away, since the reveal of Connor as the bad guy was relentlessly spoiled in every bit of the film’s advertising. Posters, trailers, you name it, all of it gave away the big twist. It was really too bad, since it hugely undermined the film’s big reveal of the villain. Jason Clarke still did solid work in the role, but the damage was done and the twist didn’t have as much of an impact as it should have. Still, it took balls, and I do have to give the filmmakers some credit for that.

Yellowjacket in Ant-Man

2015 villains yellowjacket

Ant-Man was great fun, one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw this year. And it just makes sense that Ant-Man’s nemesis would be another insect-based character. Yellowjacket had the same shrinking abilities as Ant-Man, but of course he added more laser guns, as any self-respecting villain probably would. The climactic battle between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket is one of the most unique in all of cinema. You will not find anything else quite like it, and that alone makes the movie worth checking out.

Solomon Lane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

2015 villains lane

The fifth installment in the venerable spy series was all about providing Tom Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt with equals. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson neatly stole the movie as slinky, sexy spy Ilsa Faust, who was every bit the equal to Cruise’s character, but she’s not on this list because she was not the villain. That title belongs to Solomon Lane, the devious criminal mastermind who managed the difficult task of frequently out-maneuvering Ethan Hunt himself. He’s a shadowy figure for much of the film, speaking in a silent, raspy voice that drips with menace. The villain in the previous Mission: Impossible movie was a bit flat, but Solomon Lane more than made up for that.

Franz Oberhauser in Spectre

2015 villains oberhauser

Spectre was a bit of a comedown after the awesomeness that was Skyfall, and that included the film’s villain. Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor, and it’s always fun to watch him be evil, but his character was not quite as memorable as Javier Bardem’s was in Skyfall. Still, Waltz is more than up to the task of being a Bond villain. Few actors provide more reliable villainy than Waltz, and he does so again here. There’s nothing really wrong with his character or his performance, but it would be tough for anyone to follow up Javier Bardem’s villainous turn in Skyfall, even an actor of Waltz’s caliber. But it’s still a kick to watch Waltz do his thing, even if his character wasn’t all it could have been.

Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

2015 villains kylo ren

Don’t worry, this entry will be spoiler-free. Although, given the ridiculous amount of money Episode VII has already made, most people reading this will have probably already seen it. But on the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give anything major away. Suffice to say that Kylo Ren’s true identity drops a pretty big bombshell in the middle of the Star Wars mythos. He’s played by an actor named Adam Driver, who I was unfamiliar with, but I thought he did a pretty great job playing a role that he must have known would be carefully scrutinized by legions of rabid fans. The Force Awakens was a hell of a ride, and it did exactly what it was supposed to do, in that it left you wanting more, and wanting more NOW. It’ll be a few years before we get to see the continuation of the story, but I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for everyone’s new favorite dark Jedi.

So there you have it, the best of the best of 2015’s villainous vagabonds. There are plenty of big movies coming in 2016, including a whole slew of comic-book movies that feature some truly iconic baddies (does the name the Joker ring a bell?), so I’ll see you at the movie theater.

Size Does(n’t) Matter

I had my doubts about Ant-Man. At first I was excited about it, since it was going to be directed by Edgar Wright, one of my directorial heroes who made the epic trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End.

Then Wright dropped out of the project due to “creative differences” or whatever, and was replaced by a director I’ve never heard of, and my enthusiasm dimmed. Still, I figured I’d see the movie anyway, though more out of curiosity than anything else.

What a surprise to discover that Ant-Man is quite a fun movie. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a good dose of summer fun that I ended up enjoying quite a bit more than I had anticipated.

ant-man psotre

The main character of the film is Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, an ex-con recruited by Dr. Hank Pym to wear a suit that makes you really small in order to…hang on, let’s back up a bit.

Dr. Hank Pym is played in the film by Michael Douglas, and he’s an important character in Marvel lore (I think he was one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics) making his big-screen debut.

Pym is a brilliant scientist who has invented a suit that allows its wearer to shrink to the size of, you guessed it, an ant. Turns out this has more practical applications than you might think, as it increases the user’s strength by a large amount (there’s some explanation for this that currently escapes me, but I remember thinking that it kind of made sense, you know, under the circumstances) and being really small makes it quite a bit easier to sneak around in sensitive areas unseen.

Pym has also invented a device that’s a sort of earpiece that allows its user to control ants, which again comes in handy more often than you might think.

man of ants

Pym chose Lang to wear the suit for a couple of reasons. First, Lang is a skilled cat burglar whose skills will come in handy for the job Pym has in mind for him, and second, Lang is motivated not by personal greed but by the need to help provide for his daughter Cassie, who idolizes him.

Pym wants Lang to break into the headquarters of one Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, who has invented his own version of Pym’s superpowered shrinking suit (although his version has more laser guns and looks meaner), which he calls the Yellowjacket, and intends to sell it to the highest bidder.

jacket of yellow

The meat of the film is structured like a heist movie, sort of like Ocean’s Eleven with superpowers. You know: the plan, the setup, the crew, the practice, the execution, the escape. This is all executed pretty well, and is quite a bit of fun to watch.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is that its makers were clearly aware of how inherently ludicrous its premise is, and must have had a lot of fun coming up with inventive sight gags. It really is completely unlike any other Marvel movie.

ant of mans

It’s not a movie about saving the world, and that’s kind of refreshing. I mean, it kind of is, since Pym doesn’t want his former protégé to sell his weaponized shrinking suit to bad guys, but its story is more contained than the somewhat bloated narrative of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The movie does tie in to the larger Marvel universe (there are brief appearances by Peggy Carter and Howard Stark at the beginning of the movie, as well as references to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers – there’s even a cameo by an Avenger, although I won’t spoil which one), but is still easy to follow on its own.

It’s also quite funny, although it does seem like it’s trying a bit too hard to be funny at times. There are almost too many jokes actually, sometimes I wanted it to lay off the jokes a bit. None of the jokes are in bad taste or anything (this is still a mostly family-friendly film) but sometimes I wanted it to lay off the jokes a little.

Still, the action scenes are fun. The special effects look a bit computery at times, but oh well. There’s pretty much no way this film could have been made without CGI, so I can forgive the slightly cheesy special effects.

i love retro movie protres

I did enjoy the film’s climactic battle. Hero and villain battle on top of a speeding train, and use their super-strength to fling train cars at each other as the massive machine lumbers along the tracks. The twist is (slight spoiler alert) that all of this takes place in a little girl’s bedroom, and the train is Thomas the Tank Engine. So as hero and villain are engaged in an epic battle, to the outside world, Thomas the Tank Engine is just going around and around his little track. It’s hilarious and kind of adorable, and is nothing you would find in any other movie. It’s hard to be original these days, but Ant-Man’s ridiculous premise lends itself to originality very well.

The film’s acting is also solid. Paul Rudd is an actor known mainly for comedies, and he demonstrates great comedic timing and is very likable. Michael Douglas is, well, Michael Douglas. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge Michael Douglas fan, but he’s well-suited to this kind of role (rich, grumpy, eccentric, brilliant inventor/businessman).

The love interest is Pym’s daughter Hope, played by the lovely Evangeline Lilly, who recently played the badass elf warrior Tauriel in the second and third Hobbit films. Hope has some pretty severe daddy issues, and unfortunately falls victim to the movie-cliché of calling her father by his first name, which is something that always annoys me. But I still liked Hope despite some of the clichés in the writing of her character and Lilly and Rudd have some enjoyable back-and-forth banter.

her hair is severely styled

Even though the movie wasn’t directed by my hero Edgar Wright, the film’s replacement director, Peyton Reed, still did a good job with the outlandish material. There are several sequences that seemed like something Wright could have directed, which made me happy. Wright still has a screenwriting credit and an executive producer credit on the movie, so his contributions to the project are still there.

Overall, Ant-Man is a lot of fun. There are some clichés, but there’s also quite a bit of originality, although the villain didn’t get much personality, which is too bad. Overall, I think I liked it more than Age of Ultron, which is shocking to me. It’s less busy than the bloated Avengers sequel, and is actually quite refreshing. So go see it, you might just be surprised. And this probably goes without saying, but make sure you stay ALL THE WAY through the end credits. Trust me, it’s important.

Original-Opening-For-Ant-Man

THE FUTURE

Sometimes, I feel like I’m living in the future.

It seems like only yesterday when Nick Fury dropped by Tony Stark’s house to have a chat about the Avenger Initiative.

If you had told me way back in 2008 when that first Iron Man movie came out that I would one day find myself sitting in a theater waiting for the Avengers sequel to start, I would have told you that you be crazy.

And yet, here we are. Avengers: Age of Ultron is upon us, and it’s every bit as gigantic as you might expect.

Avengers_Age_Of_Ultron-poster1

The movie assumes a lot of familiarity with the previous movies, so if you haven’t seen those you might be a little lost. But I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re interested in Avengers: Age of Ultron, then you probably had some interest in the previous movies, so I don’t think Age of Ultron’s lack of plot setup hurts the movie in the long run.

Age of Ultron starts off with a bang, joining the Avengers mid-battle, as they take down one of the last remaining Hydra fortresses. It’s a great way to start the movie, and it’s important because it shows our heroes working as a team. They know what they’re doing, and they know each other. They are a well-oiled machine.

Avengers-assembled

Those dudes on the right are so boned I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

Within the Hydra fortress, Tony Stark makes a discovery which allows him to re-activate a dormant peacekeeping project, called Ultron. Things promptly go awry, and Ultron decides that the only way for there to be peace on Earth is for there to be no humans on Earth, so he begins to set in motion events which will lead to the extinction of mankind.

Or…something. To be honest, the movie’s storytelling is a bit muddled. I understood the broad strokes of the plot, but there were a few aspects of the plot that were kind of puzzling to me. There was one subplot in particular involving Thor in which I had absolutely no idea what was going on, or what the point was. A week later, I still don’t.

As with many blockbuster sequels, Age of Ultron is more than a little overstuffed. It’s a lumbering behemoth of a movie, one that sometimes groans under the weight of its many parts. There’s a lot going on in the movie, and not all of it works. Some subplots seem shoehorned in, and some characters get short shrift. There’s also a romantic subplot between Bruce Banner and Black Widow that felt a bit out of place to me, although I did like that we get to see more of Hawkeye and Black Widow’s back stories.

But as clunky as it is, Age of Ultron is still quite a bit of fun. The special effects are fantastic (as they should be, considering the movie’s $250 million price tag), and the many action sequences are consistently thrilling to watch. My particular favorite was probably the skyscraper-leveling brawl between the Hulk and Iron Man, with Iron Man equipped with his meaty, badass Hulkbuster armor.

avengers-age-of-ultron-trailer-hulkbuster

The film also benefits from an excellent villain in the form of James Spader’s Ultron. His motivation isn’t all that original (humans are a disease and must be exterminated in order for the world to survive, blah blah blah, it’s pretty much the exact same reasoning as the villain Samuel L. Jackson played in Kingsman: The Secret Service a few months ago), but Spader’s vocal performance is fantastic, and Ultron looks great.

He has some humanlike characteristics, such as a wry, somewhat sarcastic sense of humor, that keep him from being just another boring deathbot. His facial expressions are also quite impressive, I mean, he’s a robot with facial expressions! Touches like this ensure that Ultron never becomes boring or clichéd, and he remains scary and formidable throughout the movie. When you have six famous superheroes as your main characters, you need a villain worthy of all of them, and Ultron more than fits that description.

ultron

The movie’s greatest pleasures are its characters, all of whom are played by talented actors who have been playing these roles for quite a few years and quite a few movies, and all of them fit into their roles like a glove (like…gloves? I’m not entirely sure how that metaphor should go, but you get the idea). Robert Downey Jr. once again proves that he was born to play Tony Stark. He’s just awesome.

So yeah, the movie’s far from perfect. It didn’t captivate me quite as much as its 2012 predecessor did. Partly I think that some of the novelty may have worn off a bit, for me at least. Let’s face it, as much as I like these movies, there have been an awful lot of them over the last couple of years. Still, I’m looking forward to Captain America: Civil War (due out next year) and the next Marvel Cinematic Universe movie is Ant-Man, sooooo…still not sure what to think about that one. I’ll still see it, but more out of curiosity than anything else.

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t quite as streamlined as its predecessor, but it’s still a well-made, well-acted piece of summer blockbuster entertainment that is sometimes confusing but always fun, even if it isn’t as fresh as it was the first time the Avengers assembled.

avengers retro poster

And boy do I love these retro-looking posters.