Avengers: Age of Ultron



Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Based on “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The best recommendation I think I can give AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is that by the time the final credits were through rolling, my face hurt. But it was a good hurt. I’m being totally honest with you when I say that for about 85% of the movie I had the biggest grin on my face. The times I didn’t were during the appropriate and genuine moments of emotional crises suffered by the heroes. And those were welcome and necessary moments. Because Joss Whedon gets The Avengers. And he knows that without those scenes where they bicker, fight and squabble like a family, we won’t give a damn when they assemble to go into battle to save the world.


And this time around, saving the world has a personal angle to it as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is responsible for the menace threatening it. Yep, Tony’s been playing Dr. Frankenstein and has created an artificial intelligence named Ultron. Working in conjuction with Doc Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Tony designed Ultron (James Spader) to be a worldwide defense program. It’s obvious to the rest of the team: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) that Tony is still feeling the PTS of the Chitauri Invasion of New York. It could well be that his manic desire to protect The Earth from future invasions may be clouding his judgment just a wee bit.


Such an understatement. Ultron achieves sentience and sets out on his own agenda to save The Earth. An agenda he feels that can only be accomplished by eradicating humanity. Ultron recruits two “enhanced humans” to his cause. The twins Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Formerly experimental subjects of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) they eagerly join with Ultron for reasons of their own that concern Tony Stark.


That’s the bare bones of the plot and that’s really all you need to know. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is so much fun because it’s exactly what I look for in a superhero movie and Joss Whedon knows how to make one, that’s for sure. The action sequences are nothing less than spectacular and even though they’re extremely busy, it’s always very clear which Avenger is doing what and why. I especially liked the different and inventive ways Whedon came up with for Captain America and Thor to work together using their signature weapons of shield and hammer. Each and every one of the fight scenes is big enough to have easily been the conclusion of any other superhero movie. Trust me on this. Right from the raid on Strucker’s Hydra base that starts the movie, Whedon cranks it up to eleven and keeps it there for the entire running time.

But it’s not all wall to wall action. Whedon knows how to slow down the action to allow the human, emotional moments to take over and they’re just as suspenseful as the action sequences and in some cases, a complete and total surprise. There are revelations concerning Hawkeye, the Black Widow and The Hulk that I really didn’t see coming. And in the case of Hawkeye, those of you who like me, complained that he didn’t have enough to do in “The Avengers” will be delighted to hear that he gets more than enough to do this time around.


James Spader as Ultron does some interesting things with his characterization that has subtle echoes of Downey’s characterization of Tony Stark which only makes sense to me. Chris Evans can no longer be billed: Chris Evans as Captain America. From now on he gets billed: Chris Evans is Captain America. While he still is presented as a man out of time, it’s his values and morals from that time that always gives the team its drive and sense of purpose. It provides a nice balance to Tony Stark’s Australia-sized ego and single-minded focus on what he thinks his best for the world.

As the new kids, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen hold their own with the more experienced ensemble cast and carry their roles admirably. I really enjoyed Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and preferred him to the Quicksilver in the “Days of Future Past” X-Men movie. That version was too frivolous and smart-alecky for my taste while Taylor-Johnson had the intensity and pissed-off attitude I like in my Pietro.

It’s a big, complicated story with a lot of characters and a lot of cameos featuring faces you’ll recognize from the standalone movies featuring Thor, Iron Man and Captain America but you’ll never be lost or feel like the story doesn’t once know where it’s going. And the best thing about it is that it’s a superhero movie that makes you feel good. The Avengers never lose sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be the good guys and even when they stumble, they pick themselves up and jump right back into the fray. It’s downright refreshing to see superheroes who worry first about getting civilians out of harm’s way before going into combat with the bad guy (in a marvelous massive melee combat scene I’m convinced is a homage to the final shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”)


AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON gave me the same feeling I had as a kid when I first discovered the comic book and I treasure that feeling. It shows that superhero movies can be visually eye-popping and have astoundingly jaw-dropping fights and still not lose sight of what makes these characters work: they are men and women of godlike power who truly care about protecting the world and the people who inhabit it.  By all means, go see it and have fun.


141 Minutes

The Avengers


Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.


I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  At least not until “Avengers 2”

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  What a silly question. of course you have. As for me I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes





Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Barry Mendel

Joss Whedon’s pulled off something only a few creators before him did.  He created a science fiction show that so captivated the imagination of viewers world wide that ‘cult’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Like “Star Trek” before it, “Firefly” had a short life during its initial run, got cut down in its prime but was resurrected as a major motion picture.  The good thing is that “Firefly” fans didn’t have to wait quite as long as the “Star Trek” fans did and during the wait, “Firefly” was rebroadcast on The Sci-Fi Channel which only helped the reputation of the series as a whole and allowed a bunch of folks who came in late to see just what all the fuss was about.

I was one of those who came in late.  When “Firefly” was originally shown on Fox I was working nights at Home Depot and never could remember to set my VCR to tape the show.  Naturally I was a major fan of Joss Whedon’s other TV shows; “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”.  Both shows delighted me with their wonderful dialog, plot twists and sharp characterizations and I was highly intrigued by the descriptions of “Firefly” which everybody told me was basically ‘The Wild Bunch In Outer Space’ I didn’t catch the series until it started it’s run on The Sci-Fi Channel and immediately became hooked.  And now we’ve got the movie SERENITY which achieves a couple of remarkable feats for a movie based on a television show: first off, unlike the “Star Trek” movies, it doesn’t feel or look or play like an episode of the series on steroids.  This is a major story with major consequences for all the characters.  Second; it manages to fill in anyone who hasn’t seen it on the backstory of the characters and the universe they inhabit without confusing the hell out of those who have never seen “Firefly” or boring to tears those who have.  Third; it stands on its own as a thrilling, edge of your seat science fiction action adventure.  The last 45 minutes alone are enough to give you a heart attack from sheer adrenaline overdose.


Its 500 years in the future and mankind has effectively used Earth up but that’s okay since there are thousands of other worlds out there that have been terraformed so that humanity can spread out.  This makes for an interesting contrast since the inner worlds are at the pinnacle of technology and luxury while the outer worlds scrap by as best they can with little of either.  You could be flying a starship through a nebula in the morning then riding along a dusty trail on a stallion with a wagon train in the evening and nobody bats an eye or thinks it odd.  Out on the fringes mercenaries play their trade, taking jobs of questionable legality and flying under the radar of The Alliance. These are people who would cheerfully hijack The Enterprise and sell it to a Klingon chop shop for parts.

Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) was once a decorated soldier who fought against The Alliance.  After the war he bought a Firefly-class freighter, named it Serenity and looked for a crew.  His first recruit was Zoë (Gina Torres) who fought with him in the war and continued to serve with him after it was over with a fierce loyalty one rarely sees.  Her husband, the sometimes goofy Wash (Alan Tudyk) signs aboard as pilot.  He’s more easy-going than the rest of the crew unless his wife is in danger.   Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the ship’s mechanic who is infuriatingly upbeat and perky, even when she’s about to be ripped apart and eaten alive.  Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is a hulking, mean-tempered brute that serves as Mal’s enforcer.  Inara (Morena Baccarin) is a licensed Companion (yeah, it means just about what you think) who has a running love/hate battle with Mal.  During their adventures during the television series Serenity picked up three more crew members: Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) a man of faith with some dark days in his past and Dr. Simon Tam, who along with his sister River is really at the core of the story that drives the movie’s plot.


Simon has rescued his sister from an Alliance hospital that is more like a chamber of horrors.  It was here that River was programmed to be a living weapon of extraordinary skill and grace and The Alliance fears that River’s powerful psychic abilities may have uncovered some of The Alliance’s greatest secrets and indeed she has: one that involves the death of an entire planetary population and the truth behind the star spanning cannibalistic hoard known as The Reavers.  To prevent this secret from being revealed, The Alliance has sent The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofar) after them and once he learns that River is aboard Serenity, The Operative begins going after any and everybody who has ever given aid to the crew to force them to turn River over to them.  It becomes a race to stay ahead of The Operative as Mal and his crew tries to find out what it is River knows and reveal the secret before they’re all killed by The Operative and the forces of The Alliance or even worse, captured by The Reavers.

SERENITY is quite simply, a terrific movie.  There’s a surprising amount of characterization for such an action packed movie but that’s because Joss Whedon knows how to use dialog to maximum efficiency to move the story along and reveal character and that’s what it does here.  The interaction between the characters is one of the best things about the movie and the scenes where the crew of Serenity argues and bicker about their situation and how they’re going to survive it have real meat and crackle in it.  It’s some damn fine writing.  And Whedon was smart to choose to resolve the River Tam plot from the television series since if we never get another Serenity movie we at least have that explained.  In fact, there are a number of subplots that are resolved and by the end of the movie, nobody is the same as when it started and the whole dynamics of the crew has been changed in a bittersweet yet exciting way.


The action scenes are really exciting with the final shootout with the dreaded Reavers being one of the most nail-biting scenes I’ve seen in any movie and Joss Whedon manages to wring every drop of suspense out of the scene.  I was actually thinking for about five minutes that he was going to give us an ending like that of “The Wild Bunch” or the final episode of “Blake’s 7”.  In fact, SERENITY at times reminded me of “Blake’s 7” in tone in that each of the characters have their own agenda for being on the ship: some are strictly there for the money.  Others for altruism.  Others because they’re on the run.  Nobody’s a complete good guy but they’re not all bad either.  It makes for a different vibe than “Star Trek” where everybody polished up their medals every chance they got while reciting The Prime Directive.

The acting is a lot better than movies of this genre usually sees with Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau and Chiwetel Ejiofar being the standouts here.  A great bad guy can make a movie and as The Operative, Chiwetel Ejiofar is outstanding.  The Operative is a terrifying opponent not just because he’s so physically adept but he’s such a pleasant, friendly guy even while he’s mass murdering everybody in sight.  Part of what makes him so dangerous is that he never raises his voice or gets mad and sounds like he’s making perfectly good sense while he’s figuring out the best way to stick you with his sword.  And Adam Baldwin looks like he’s having a ball as Jayne Cobb who wants only to earn a dishonest dollar and stay away from Reavers.  And he’s got most of the funniest lines in the movies and my vote for the best one of all and no; it’s not the one you’re thinking of, either.  And Summer Glau takes the last hour of the movie and makes it hers without question.

So should you see SERENITY?  Chances are that you’ve probably seen it already and if you have then I have no need to recommend that you do so.  But if you haven’t seen it yet and are still debating about it, then take it from me: Netflix it.  It’s a superior piece of space fantasy that has intelligence, wit, charm and takes itself seriously but not too seriously if you know what I mean.  Despite the dark twists the plot takes, SERENITY has its eye firmly on one objective: to immerse you in a terrific adventure movie and it does so in a grand and good-old fashioned Saturday afternoon adventure movie style.  Enjoy with my blessings.


120 minutes