Saturday, April 25, 2015


Can't belive we're at another Avengers movie. It feels like just yesterday that I was lining up for Iron Man 3.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to The Avengers and the 11th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone, so Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are leading the Avengers as the world's #1 peace organization. Stark's plans of using A.I. in hopes of keeping the peace goes horribly wrong as he creates the Avengers' worst enemy - Ultron (James Spader).

Obviously, Marvel Studios has been on a high streak recently, with top-notch comic book films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, and with Captain America: Civil War on the horizon, you betcha I was excited to see how this film would shape up.

Shockingly, the film manages to double up on the character work and the action. I wouldn't have thought that the most interesting characters coming out of that film would be the characters who don't get their own movie. Less popular characters such as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are given much more to do this time around and Whedon adds more depth to them. I applaud the move to give a relationship angle to Natasha and Bruce, because I find they perfectly compliment each other. Also, Hawkeye may have just proven himself to be the most important member of the team, being the most human character in this group of gods. The new characters also get their own moments to shine in the film, but really, it's Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) that gets to take home best newcomer award.
Whedon knows how to create interesting group dynamics while also fleshing out individual characters, and that's as evident as ever here. The back-and-forth between characters is just as effective here as it is in the first Avengers film, and it gets even more interesting when they throw the Maximoff twins and the Vision (Paul Bettany) into the mix.

The action set pieces are what you already expect from Marvel; a lot of laughs and very fun sequences that look like they're pulled straight of the comic. Whedon's strength at keeping action sequences that have way too many things going on focused is also evident here.

The most talked about aspect of this film will definitely be Ultron. I feel that Ultron is the perfect Marvel Studios villain. He captures the studio's charismatic spirit and he proves to be perfect foil for the team. Spader turned out to be a great casting choice, as his really powerful voice could alternate between the genocidal prophet and the narcissitic evil genius, and still pull it off. He's also the center of the main theme of the film - which is the failure of heroes.
Throughout the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you never really got the sense that these heroes' failures would prove catastrophic... until Ultron. The film highlights every civilian they have to save/fail to save, the effect of every decision, and life after heroism, after acting as protectors. I like those themes they brought up in the film.

The film is far from perfect, however. Pacing is an aspect of the film that I thought would've improved in the sequel, but it didn't, it's worse actually. There might've been less of a clunky first act in this film (they hit the ground running), but the film made me feel like they were rushing through highlights. There's so many things going on, plotwise, and the film tackles all of it. It's not like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, where most sub-plots were inserted solely as set-up. It's more off the film biting off more than it can chew, and as a result, they happen to rush through a lot of scenes. The build-up is faulty as well, things just happen because plot convenience. They make sense, sure, but build-up would've made the execution a whole lot smoother. Also, it would've had a greater impact had there been proper build-up. I admire the first Avengers film for its simplicity. They brought in just the right amount and gave time for things to sink in. I didn't feel that smooth flow in this film.

As I said, the individual character work was really well done in this movie, and I like the theme they brought up, but I felt that the story never came around full circle, thematically speaking. The final moments of the film happen pretty quickly, and they don't reall tie up the main theme of the movie. It's just sorta left there hanging. It's partially the fault of the how they ended the film, tonally. It would've worked better had they addressed it with the complete opposite of the tone they actually used.

Pacing issues aside, I had a blast with Avengers: Age of Ultron. They got a lot of things really right and the moments where the film gets to breathe prove to be equally as great & important as the fun and exciting action sequences, if not more. The first film earned $1.5 billion worldwide, so I know you're already going to see it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

FURIOUS 7 movie review

Instead of taking a shot every time Vin Diesel says "family", how about we all join hands and cry a river? It's the natural reaction.

Furious 7 is the seventh installment in the Fast & Furious series. The film is directed by James Wan (of The Conjuring). This go around, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) for killing his brother back in London in Fast & Furious 6. A covert ops unit led by "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russel) also gets involved, enlisting Toretto's crew to retrieve a worldwide tracking device from terrorists. That's the plot, with everything you love about the Fast & Furious gluing all of it together.

I've been a huge fan of the Fast & Furious series only since Fast Five (which is the first one I watched). I watched the other films later, but Fast Five is when they really found their identity, by upping the ante with ridiculous action fare and giving more attention to a single idea brought up in The Fast & the Furious - family. It's what drives the Fast & Furious series for me, and I'm happy to see it's still at the forefront in this installment.

The first act of the movie is undeniably clunky and unfocused set-up for a plot that is nonsensical and convoluted, but the film still manages to tie up all their plotlines together through action sequences, believe it or not. The film really kicks into full throttle in its first big action sequence, showcasing the characters playing off each other with their insane on-screen chemistry. From there, it's just hits all the right notes and delivers on everything you love about and want from a Fast & Furious movie. 

There are unbelievable action sequences that prove to be immensely entertaining spectacle. I don't know how they continue to keep topping the level of absurdity every film, but they somehow succeed at it. However, "this time it's not just about being fast," as Vin Diesel said. The stunt work and fight sequences in this movie are absolutely breathtaking. Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey make special guest appearances to showcase their amazing skills but even Diesel, Walker, and Statham get to join in on the fighting fun. The choreography and the camera movements lend themselves perfectly to make the fights just as exhilarating as the chases.

What makes these films particularly so exciting to go back to is not just the action sequences, but the earnest way they put forth their simplistic ideas of family and loyalty. It isn't deep analytical subtext, it's a heavily emphasized theme. One that should make you feel close to and a part of this "family". It's what makes you care about these characters, even though they're admittedly one-note. This series is self-aware of what it is and doesn't try to do anything more, which gives it the opportunity to really excel at what they are good at and what they can achieve. It's a simple approach to a simple idea in order to create the best outcome.

James Wan truly understands how the Fast & Furious series works, which is made clear by the fact that everything I love about the series is still present in this film. He pays respect to the visual style, overall feel and tone that Justin Lin set up during his time working on the last four installments. It feels just enough like a F&F movie, but there's enough of Wan's visually appealing flavor and energy there to make it special, I'd say this is one the better directed Fast & Furious films (second to only Fast Five). I would say the finale tops Fast Five's finale. It feels like something taken out of a superhero movie (which the series has now become, actually). Wan most certainly can deliver on the visually stunning set pieces and exhilarating action sequences and he understands the relationships between characters and ultimately what the Fast & Furious series is about.

Furious 7 is just as earnest and emotional as it is absurd and illogical. Touching on family themes and putting characters we care about in explosive action sequences, it becomes another worthy installment in this mighty series. And of course, the Paul Walker tribute at the end was respectfully and beautifully done. He's definitely going to be missed.