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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” bigger, better and emotional

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THE FOLLOWING IS SPOILER FREE! YOU’RE WELCOME!

Some say lightening rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels. But even with a concept like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you would think there wouldn’t be that big of a fanbase. Considering how much love there was towards the first one, especially making it, another adventure with the ragtag of anti-heroes was inevitable and I couldn’t be happier to say it comes close to being better than the original.

So what quest lies for our heroes? Well, without giving too much away, each member finally comes to terms with the term family and the meaning behind it. If the first film was about how they met and why they relate to each other, this one goes deeper. The characters and even us understand just crucial they are to one another.

Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has to deal with the realization of who is father truly is. An entity named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally meets up and we get a sense these two have a bonding father and son relationship. I like how we get an idea of how Peter’s father means to him, but there is a sense of something questionable here. Peter  has lived a long time without a father figure, so how would he take to heart someone whose never been there for him? The basic thought of emotions play until Ego’s true persona that is shocking and unique at the same time. While they both share similar qualities, they are far different from each other in many ways.

Also on the sideline, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is having a hard time coming to terms with where he stands. His crew of scavengers feel he’s not gritty as he once was while the Captain himself wonders if he can change his ways. A crucial highlight is when the blue skinned blighter has to reluctantly team up with the “equally heartless” Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradly Cooper) as the two come to terms with themselves.  Both of them can’t stand each other, but find they are the same person from the inside out and have to know what matters to them the most.

Elsewhere, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have their own troubles. The green warrior has sibling rivalry issues to handle while the big muscle head himself is still trying to find a way to belong. While Gamora has to come to terms with her broken sisterhood, Drax finds companionship in the strangest way in understanding his poor ways in socialization even when he tires. And of course, I can’t forget Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) who is a new reincarnation of everyone’s favorite walking tree. This time around, he starts life anew and has to understand its harness along with it. Thankfully, this toddler variation doesn’t outstay its welcome and knows when to chime in at the right spots.

A big surprise to the table is the addition of a new character named Mantis (French actress Pom Klementieff). This bug-like creature has the ability to feel and manipulate emotions while also trying to understand how complex human beings really are. There is a level of comedy and drama to this character which make her a nice addition and clear scene sealer. Then again, her scenes with the misunderstood Drax make for the best moments in this sequel.

I’d go into deeper details of the story, but I feel its best for you to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” yourself. James Gunn returns in the writing and director’s chair giving us a world that is unlike ours and yet similar in many ways. From hot topics like creation to lost fatherhood, Gunn really channels how complex the human race can be with these characters. And for someone to take on such a difficult issue and tell it through these anti-heroes we love so dearly, I congratulate him for doing so. There’s much humor, action and plenty of color to behold. Dare I’d say, its literally more colorful than the first film when we see the multitude of planets and how their different races run. All I have left to say is that “Vol. 2” will certainly give a run for its money how much it tops not just the first, but other classics like “Wrath of Khan” and “Empire Strikes Back.” I maybe overdoing it, but I personally feel it deserves to be up there with those sequel classics.

“Doctor Strange” other-worldly enjoyable

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“Doctor Strange” is a movie that truly lives up to its title. This is a strange entry in the Marvel Universe, but a unique one. Of all the superheroes, he is the only one who can walk through different dimensions and bend reality. With a movie adaptation out, the possibilities seem endless for a character like this. Of course, the usual origins route has to be done in order to understand who this person is. Chances are if you can get through that, you will have a good time.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon with a high ego yet maintains a lot of ambition. This is proven after a car accident renders his hands useless as he tries to find a way to restore them. An incident like this proves just how far his character will go to save his reputation along with his usefulness. His knowledge of medical procedures show his understanding for the human mind physically but doesn’t have a mental grasp.

His journey leads him to a place in Napal where he learns a group of people might know how to cure his injured hands. As it turns out, this is really a coven of sorcerers who protect the world from evil. Sounds basic on paper, but when you get into the belief system and different spells, “Doctor Strange” starts to become more theoretical. Strange, himself, is more equip with knowing the world as he sees it; through scientific measures and practices. The journey into the place of sorcerers give off a belief vs. fact argument as Strange questions if his traditional methods are more powerful than magic.

However, a character named the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) proves the importance of mystical belief over science. Or at least the two can be one in some way. She proves useful in showing her new accomplice how vast the universe is within secret and odd ways. I liked how the calmness of this character really defined her. True, this is the usual master with knowledgeable ways, but an interesting one. The moments that made her stood out was when she argues with Strange’s faith. My only nitpick is they try to put in this twist about how she might be deceiving her followers which felt a tad unnecessary.

I say that because the main conflict of the plot doesn’t seem to have much room for it. A group of rebels, led by Dannish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who plan to unleash a monster from a darker dimension in hopes to take over the world in some way. But even the good vs. evil aspect feels a tad underplayed when we are exploring this new realm and the possibilities of traveling between space and time. Once we get to the zealots and their grand plan, it almost feels like a footnote after scenes of Strange training and learning about the new world along with its powers.

These effect-heavy scenes were more interesting than the villains as it proves the biggest eye-candy of the movie. We get treated to Strange traveling briefly through different dimensions (almost an homage to the vortex of light in Kubrick’s 2001), jumping through self-made portals and exploring more the sorcerer culture. When it was exploring this bizarre world of magic and mind over matter, it got interesting. But when it picked up and got back to the villains, the plot turns into your basic “whose the real bad guy” scenario.

On the bright side, it makes for a good excuse for intense action scenes that even push the limits of “Inception” and “The Matrix.” “Doctor Strange” goes further by having the sets actually move like the twisted gears of a clock or a puzzling Rubix cube. Between the fist fights, whole buildings and roads twist and roll around and it only gets bigger once we draw down to the climax. Unfortunately, if you took away the amazing effects, all that would exist is clunky fight scenes. The added sets that constantly move at least add tension and a dream-like feeling.

“Doctor Strange” is once again another step in the right direction for Marvel. They already proven before that they can do more than just superhero movies. “Strange” shows Marvel can channel any genre into their heroes and fly with it. The only flaws I do have to nitpick, which keep me from saying this is their best, include some odd pacing  and the handle of the material. In the first 20 minutes or so, the tragic backstory goes immediately into the training and the final third immediately launches itself into the typical good vs. evil battle. And I understand newcomers need to understand key terms in this odd world, but even they break the aspect of telling as opposed to showing. Characters keep mentioning about this massive creature which might destroy the world, but makes the mistake of talking instead of giving us an idea of this being’s power. When we do see this god-like creature, there’s not a sense of menace because we didn’t see this thing or action or understand its motive.

I must also tag on that despite the PG-13 rating, this is not a movie I would recommend for younger viewers. I would dare say this is one of Marvel’s darkest movies in violence and tone. From surgical procedures to a beheading seen in shadow, I’m honestly miffed at how this got away without getting an R rating. On the other hand, what we see is not too graphic to upset, but when you have talks of surgery on the spinal cord and scenes with out of body experiences, this might be something not for kids under 9 or 12. Parental guidance is strongly suggested for this entry.

Although, I can look past the flaws and say “Doctor Strange” was a fun ride. Full of imagination and creative fantasy, I once again find myself wondering what else Marvel has up its sleeve. After traveling through space in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the world of the small in “Ant Man,” “Strange” goes beyond the realm and even delivers, what I hope, a possible new franchise. One I even predict will be bigger since “Iron Man” made its debut. If not, at least it was a good start to the holiday season.

“Captain America: Civil War”explodes with fun and emotion

captain_america_civil_warAfter watching “The Winter Solider” right before seeing the new entry in Marvel’s line-up, I had a feeling it would be a tough act to follow-up a sequel that is edgy and asks if the famed stars and stripes superhero is a symbol of his country or something else. The idea of comparing and contrasting him and his old friend, Bucky was a unique element. How S.H.I.E.L.D was using Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) despite giving some leeway in contrast to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who is so brainwashed to the point you can’t tell if he’s good or bad. “Winter Solider” was packed with plenty of action, but something felt lacking. I wanted it to go deeper into the psyche of Steve as well as where he stands in a world of superheroes. Long story short, thank goodness “Civil War exists. It easily trumps the old saying that “lightening rarely strikes twice.” And already, it’s become my 2nd favorite Marvel movie next to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Chris Evans returns as the thawed World War II veteran who is caught in a huge cross fire. As it turns out, the damage made in his previous Avengers victories were causing more harm than possible with lives lost during their battles. The government plans to crack down on the superhero business, but all that changes when Steve’s buddy Bucky gets in the mix. Without spoiling too much, a series of assassinations leads to the Winter Solider’s blame while Steve thinks otherwise.

This part of the story alone sets up a unique mystery that keeps us guessing to the very end. When the story is not engaged in fist-fighting, things take a back seat as we try to connect the clues behind the true mastermind. Is this Bucky’s real doing or is something else in play here? Again, without giving too much away, when we do find out the truth, the answer is satisfying and certainly shocking. Dare I say, “Civil War” has one of the most biggest twists in all of film history and already I’m in shock about how well it plays out. Rarely does my jaw drop to the floor, but this has to be one of the few moments in my life a reaction like that was needed.

As for everything else, viewers will be treated to a very serviceable and explosive summer blockbuster. Every character motive has a purpose to exist on why one is after another. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is upset over Steve’s will  to co-operate as Steve feels the country he serves is starting to not feel the same as it once was. This gives all the more reason for these two to duke it out. We’re not just interested in seeing who has the upper hand, but get reasons for why these two can’t compromise. It makes the drama more intense considering how used we are seeing Tony and Steve play off each other like close college buddies.

As for the fight scenes, they are satisfying and serviceable. Each one is well-choreographed and packs with edge. The best one is easily the brawl at the airport as Marvel characters ranging from Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) take sides with each team having equal advantages. Both have one who is inventive while another has supernatural abilities like Vision (Paul Bettany). With both sides evenly matched, it makes this fight scene the more enjoyable to watch as each one tries to outwit each other.

Surprisingly, the biggest highlight I found was not Tom Holland making his first incarnation as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Though granted, I thought he was a great fit coming off of Toby Maguire’s decent run and the disastrous Andrew Garfield (less said the better.) For me personally, the biggest thing I’m taking away is Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Black Panther. In a way, I felt like I was watching the origin of the character even if I knew little about him. His character arch fits nicely with the one of many themes about the effects of vengeance. Boseman was sleek, bold and very intimidating when it came to his moments on why he has a beef with Bucky. In a nutshell, I hope this character gets his own movie, because Boseman deserves it.

And as said before, Tom Holland is a surprisingly good fit for the web head. In hindsight, the filmmakers should have opted for a younger incarnation. Holland is able to carry the charisma as well as be crass yet likable. He isn’t annoying and I found myself laughing at every quip and joke they threw at him. Despite his purpose being nothing but an extended cameo, I am more than curious to see how well Holland does in his future solo film.

As for the rest of “Civil War,” I really can’t praise too much. Though if I did have to nitpick, the first 20 minutes are a tad slow and some odd editing choices are made (like having the name of countries be told to us in BIG WHITE LETTERS THAT SPAN ACROSS THE SCREEN.) But more curious are the allusions and references to “The Empire Strikes Back.” I don’t know if this was intentional, but I did find them interesting to be honest. Truly we get a sequel that is powerful, fun and emotionally gripping. In a way, I wish this was the movie “Batman Vs Superman” tried to be and failed in the end. “Civil War” is well written, packed with action and knows when to linger between comedy and tragedy. If you want a grand start to the summer, this is an explosive start.

“Deadpool”vulgar, violent and nasty fun

There are few movies today that rarely make an impact or hit the mark. In fact, last year’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” rocked theater seats for the wrong reasons. The hyped killed the movie along with its boring script and unsexy scenes of foreplay. Why do I bring this clunker up? Because it was released during Valentine’s Day. Jump to a year later and finally we get a movie around the holiday that is unapologetic, offensive, sexy, loaded with harsh language and very ultra violent in spots. And I loved every minute of it.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

“Deadpool” is another Marvel adaption done right as the red-suited, breaking the fourth wall superhero has languished in development hell for 10 years. Now, he finally gets his due with Ryan Reynolds donning the suit he was born to play in. The character as a whole is fun to watch. Armed with two katanas and limited gun ammo, this baddie spends most of his time chasing down folks that damaged his life and poking jabs of his own movie to the audience. Not only is he immune to bullets, his body can regenerate new limbs while also cracking one comedic catchphrase after another. Reynolds clearly is having a ball playing the ultimate satire of brooding superheroes here.

Without spoiling too much, Deadpool’s true face is Wade Wilson, a mercenary whose fun life is turned upside down when he’s diagnosed with cancer. I always find it odd when a movie like this goes from ultra-fun to a serious tone shift. But the way it gets executed works. It provides there is more dimension to this pun-spewing maniac and even some tragedy like other superheroes.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

At his reluctant aid are two X-Men members, the metallic Colossus (motion capture by Andre Tricoteux, voice by Stefan Kapičić) and the cynical Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). While most of the comic relief is played up from their interactions with the hammy ego, they both have a unique yin and yang personality with Colossus believing in the moral ways of a superhero while NTW just wants to see stuff blow up. Seeing these two mutants makes me wonder why they weren’t used as much (with the exception of Colossus who was performed originally by Daniel Cudmore in previous X-Men installments. He declined when he found out his voice was to be dubbed), but it opens the door for more under used Marvel characters to be seen.

Also enjoyable are Deadpool’s adversaries in the form of a blind roommate (Leslie Uggams donning a foul mouth) and a social bartender (T. J. Miler) that assist the loony ranging from weaponry to advice. Even if they don’t make a big difference, you can appreciate the fun personalities when it comes to taking bets on who is going to die or stashing a supply of drugs for fun.

As fun of a thrill ride “Deadpool” is, there are only two minor problems. On paper, the story is not that interesting. If you took away the comedy and the incredibly, graphic action scenes, you get a run of the mill origin and revenge story. Guy goes through chemically imbalanced transformation, seeks to avenge those who wronged him and so forth. I feel without the comedic moments or the over-the-top environement, this would have been a generic “Darkman.” Thankfully, this is not that kind of movie. This is almost like if “Darkman” mated with “Wayne’s World” and gave birth to an R-rated “Freakazoid.” And that’s the G-rated description.

The only other fault I can think of is the villain Ajax (Ed Skrein). There really is nothing that memorable I can think of outside of giving Wade a reason to go after him. They don’t him much of a motive outside of using people to test a mutagen on for study. But when you consider the amount of harm he caused, it does give Wade reasons to get back at him. I just wish they made this Brit baddie a little more interesting outside of being a mutant that has great strength and can’t feel pain.

deadpool-tickets-166826But I can ignore those flaws because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I can hold my head up high and be glad we got another Marvel movie done right. Like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” we are giving a movie that is straight to the source and all out fun. Heck, I would actually like to see what direction they would take this insane character for at the next movie. Overall, “Deadpool” is the first movie I have seen in theaters this 2016 and can say its going to be hard trying to top this one. Now of course, a little minor caution that this movie has tons of bloody action and bare nudity to the fourth base. But hey, would you rather see this with your girlfriend or sit home and watch Jamie Dornan seduce Dakota Johnson by eating a piece of toast shirtless? I think the answer is very obvious.

And like with all Marvel movies (well some), this one has a post-credit scene. Please do stick around because it is worth it. To quote a wise man, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.”

P.S. Best Stan Lee cameo to date…ever

“Fantastic” dud

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....no, I didn't hit anything on accident. That is how I feel about this one.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..no, I didn’t hit anything on accident. That is how I feel about this one.

I recall last year seeing a high school performance of the “Beauty and the Beast” musical with a friend of mine. It was a study for play performances and this was a last minute choice. Let me tell you, everything looked like an Ed Wood movie. 75% of the cast wore wigs, 75% of the cast was mostly female and the beast costume looked like the Cowardly Lion’s twice removed cousin. But you know what, it was entertaining. Something about seeing the cast trying to perform under all the bad make-up and cheap sets was far more entertaining then the junk I had to see today.

The plot (that is if you can call it one) involves a science prodigy named Reed Richards (Miles Teller) who creates a machine in his garage that transports matter to another dimension. A scientist named Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) notices this at a science fair Reed attends and uses not just the machine but Reed’s skills to perfect his similar creation. The craft in general looks like a bunch of radioactive barrels with two solar panels hovering above it. This is only a sample of how “fantastic” the look of this movie gets.

Upon learning some government executives plan to send other scientists in, one of the creators Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) convinces Reed and two other colleges to be the first to try it out. As one would expect, mayhem ensues with them gaining bizarre abilities after their disastrous visit. Again, its hard to say if there is a real story here as the rest of the movie has our main characters cooped up in an army bunker as Reed and the survivors of the accident are coaxed into working for the government.

The story as a whole meanders so much it makes me wonder how can you not deliver a single storyline with something like this. Then again, the Fantastic Four adaptions do have a strange history of their travels to the big screen ranging from Roger Corman’s produced and (as of this review) infamously unreleased affair to Tim Story’s two films. It appears the idea of taking a team of people getting superpowers and using something with them could make for an interesting film. But only this latest reboot proves that executives and writers make it hard for themselves thinking there is no material to work with when their could be.

Last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” worked by having no origin story and only focusing on how the team members got together while delivering a fun and unique ride thanks to James Gunn. “Fantastic” seems to focus on the main characters and where they stand but it doesn’t go anywhere until the last 30 minutes when an actual plot happens but its far too soon. Most of time, the team is being manipulated by an evil government agent (or a possible scientist. either way, he’s dressed like an evil government agent so why not? Also he is played by Tim Blake Nelson) or trying to pick around for something to do. It appears there are ideas for spin-off films here and there as Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is off fighting in other nations in news reports, Reed Richards is playing “Borne Identity” in Panama while trying to find a cure and Victor is very much forgotten in the other dimension until the last half-hour. The amount of space is at a waste.

The biggest crime of all has to be the acting performances. Not a single human being in this movie emotes or even acts interested. Most of the time, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) talks in a robotic manner while keeping a hush tone. I barley remember a moment when one solitary person gave a smile or cared for another when in danger. Even the romantic chemistry between Reed and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is interesting as toast as they try to share some interest of science but have odd John Hughes quirks. Some like Jamie Bell try but it feels like they know there is nothing to work with in a story that is so next to nothing. Reg E. Cathey gets a much deserved examination for how that actor never breaks his dull performance. I guess he’s trying to be Samuel Jackson-ish by being serious and dead pan. But when he carries this trait throughout the whole movie, it makes me want to cut every scene he is in to avoid such an annoying delivery. When words came out his mouth, I wanted to sleep.

Even more bizarre is the tone as the opening of the movie is reminiscent to Joe Dante’s “Explorers” as young Reed and Ben try out the homemade dimension jump device but then things keep changing throughout. First, it tries to be a serious science fiction movie then cranks up the intensity in spots that look more brutal than passable for viewers when its not needed.

Sure enough, it all ends in a climax that looks vaguely similar to “Man of Steel” as Doom shows up and plans to somehow destroy both Earth and the new planet in the dimension. How can such a travesty be averted? They have a fight scene on the uninteresting, CGI laden set while throwing debris and junk at Doom. Its formulaic and doesn’t have flair. Again, “Guardians” had risk with Star Lord, Drax and Groot making their way to stop the villain who was floating his way down to the planet to obliterate it. For support, you had Rocket and a team trying to prevent the ship from touching the planet and Gamora trying to shut down the security system while dealing with her sister. Sounds complex on paper but those two sentences described an energetic, engaging, on the edge climax that build and builds. Once the big fight happens, it evaporates like celluloid dust in hopes the film will end sooner.

Even prior to the release, “Fantastic Four” has been slammed by fans for being inaccurate to the source by changing certain things like the Human Torch being portrayed by an African American and certain character relationships. Most strange is how Sue Storm is adoptive but is never fully discussed. Something that wasn’t elaborated on that lead me to believe Doom and Sue were siblings when they weren’t. It was just information that wasn’t heavily addressed. Still, that didn’t bother me as much but what really did was the workings of the script, the performances and the overall movie in general. Why bank on Doctor Who and Rick and Morty with dimension jumping? Is outer space not interesting enough? Because that is how our leads got those powers in the process with the exception of Doom getting his from a lab accident. I went in with an open mind thinking this movie would be ok but it turned out to be worse than I imagined.

This is not an adaptation that reflects the source while giving viewers of new something to appreciate. It does the opposite by giving nothing to both parties in return. Even the character motives are standard and dull as an expedition to the new world is crafted from Doom’s drunk escapade as the evil government agent exploits the team for every other reason why this kind of guy would. Because this team has ultimate powers and as always in these kind of scenarios, the government wants control of that power. Yawn, yawn, yawn, double-yawn and deep sleep. I hope viewers who read this review are smart enough to see a more “fantastic” movie in the theater next door. At least “Howard the Duck” was far more inventive, creative and unique in comparison.

“Ant-Man” is bite-sized fun

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tests out his new abilities as the Ant-Man in the latest fun romp from Marvel

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tests out his new abilities as the Ant-Man in the latest fun romp from Marvel

Ever since Marvel came on the scene with their Cinematic Universe, Hollywood has never been the same. Who would think such simple concepts like a man who can get big during his anger or a Norse god with family issues become box-office gold? Not to mention, the studio is also testing the waters with unknown characters to see if there is some franchise potential. “Ant-Man” happens to be one of them and it nearly succeeds despite some flaws.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a bugler with a heart of gold who is looking for redemption and be a hero in his young daughter’s eyes. Only problem is that one big “steal from the rich” heist landed him in jail and a distant and divorced relationship with his wife. Paul really channels the wise-cracking tone of Robert Downey Jr but you also really care for him. He understand the problems the character is going through and will risk anything to get his family back together and his name cleared of crimes.

Unfortunately, that all changes when a professor played by Michael Douglas asks him to pull off a huge heist that not only keep a big invention under wraps but also save the world. Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) has invented a suit that is powered by a serum that can shrink a man down to the size of an ant while also be giving superhuman strength. Sounds silly on paper but looks good when executed.

Problems are afoot when an evil tycoon (Corey Stoll) has taken over Hank’s labs in hoping to duplicate his powerful suit for militant purposes and other assorted evil plans. The motive is very misty but its another situation where apprentice sees and tries to overcome his mentor. Its a basic motive that really doesn’t have much driving power. Without giving too much away, there’s an explanation about the chemicals of the shrinking serum messing with his brain but we never get that implication outside of telling and not showing.

When it’s not rehashing the usual tropes of a superhero origin tale, “Ant-Man” survives with the premise, humor and well-staged action scenes. Giving that Scott can be the size of a bug, it opens the door to many creative spectacles like trying to survive a three-story building drop within the building and a surprisingly creative fight on a kid’s toy train set. If this movie wasn’t made today, it would be hard to see such convincing special effects and not to mention some CGI ants that look cute while retaining their realistic body structure.

The main theme(s) deals with redemption as Scott hopes to rekindle with his young daughter while even Hank has to deal with his (played by Evangeline Lilly). Their relationship feels cold and distant compared to Scott’s who only wants to be a hero to his little girl. When the action and effects take a break, we do get some good character depth that only makes us wish there was more there as Hank reveals the fear of losing his child as much as Scott does yet differently.

While it doesn’t raise the bar or prove to be perfect like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, “Ant-Man” does provide a lot of fun and gives us characters that are unique to watch. Unfortunately, a strong story is sadly missed here as the focus is primary on a lot of tongue-in cheek dialogue that borderlines at a near self-spoof. “Ant-Man” has not had a smooth pre-production history as Edgar Wright was to helm this entry but left due to creative differences. In a way, I do wonder how much of Wright’s material made it to the final cut considering his co-writing credit and there are times when the comedy feels self-aware like in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. One example is when Scott breaks into a home and notices the heavy amount of security ranging form a fingerprint scanner to the basement to a safe made of the same metal used to craft the Titanic. Its ridiculous on paper but somehow feels plausible in execution.

The better way to describe this movie is a mix between The Rocketeer and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as the rocket jet-pack is substituted for a suit and we explore more than just someone’s backyard from time to time. I was honestly surprised by the amount of fun and effort but it falls short when compared to Iron Man or Captain America. Its obviously not trying to raise the bar and just be an entry for the sake of enjoyment. And seeing how many times they play around with the shrinking and use the microscopic words to great potential, I found myself feeling satisfied with this fun-sized flick. Its very rare we get a film to show the wonders of inside an ant hill while also the danger of a bathtub from a bug’s point of view. While it doesn’t do much new and uses the same cliched notes and beats from the casual origin story, the fun factor is so high here that I can’t help but recommend it.

“Ultron” worthy sequel

The Avengers are back! Truly a good kick to the summer

The Avengers are back! Truly a good kick to the summer

When “The Avengers” came out, there was a tidal wave of excitement in 2012. Not only was it a crossover with our favorite characters but opened a new door for superhero movies in general. It proved you can have a good story with straight up fun action. Well, I didn’t think it could be topped but it was…by “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Call it personal taste, but what “Guardians” did was perfect the “raised bar” further with such a premise that sounded strange on idea but turned to be something more like “Futurama” where the focus is on the characters and how they relate. It felt like there wasn’t a way Marvel Studios could top itself again and sadly “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is proof.

Now, don’t mistake this as a negative review. “Ultron” is a good sequel and a great follow-up to one of the best superhero blockbusters. But part of me feels there’s only so many times you can surprise your viewers, let alone amaze them. I’m not saying Marvel is bad seeing they are keeping a good track record but at this point, one must be cautious before the next big “tent pole”. The hype for “Ultron” and marketing has been making it out to be this next big “Godfather II” sequel in my opinion and going in viewers must know that what they will get is not a masterpiece. But rather something that really kicks off the summer movie binge.

The Avengers return with everyone at the helm when a new threat comes into view and this time its man made. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) crafts a new defense program called Ultron that is basically a living and breathing computer program set to save the world. And it just so happens that Loki’s staff provides some extra ingredient in bringing his creation to life. At first it starts off as an abstract form but later takes the body of a robot with the voice of James Spader who believes the only way to save the world is to destroy all of humanity. With the threat of extinction at hand, the gang tries to remain one step ahead of the technologically advanced villain while also try and work as a better team.

What made the first Avengers work in the first place was the concept itself. A group of superheros getting together, trying to work off each other and fight together. This was something really new at the time and I feel “Ultron” tries to place it in a fresh direction while it has some familiarity. The biggest risk is that secret service S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t there to help them out so now everyone has to work together despite having some problems with one another. Iron Man keeps butting heads with Captain America (Chris Evans) over the right way to handle government creations (seeing Cap was made to protect through a serum) while Thor is stuck between his way of handling things and the “human way.” Even Bruce Banner tries to keep his Hulk under control while dealing with a romance between him and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) that ends in a bittersweet moment that’s very heartbreaking.

James Spader is the menacing Ultron who plans to protect the human race by destroying it....odd

James Spader is the menacing Ultron who plans to protect the human race by destroying it….odd

Ultron himself is an interesting character pushing the boundaries for what is good for the human race even if it means killing it. Sure this is something that has been done before yet the characteristic and motivation is what keeps it fresh. Ultron plans to fabricate a being close to his own thought and when it does form, there’s more than just a unique good vs. evil ploy but even the question of how much technology can evolve to the point a living being can be human yet android. James Spader dons a personality that gives the metal menace a fun yet diabolical personality as he tends to channel the sarcastic quirk of Tony Stark as almost a clone of the playboy scientist.

With everything that works in the movie, are there things that go against it? For starters, its a sequel and at this point, viewers expect a retread or something fresh. Director Josh Whedon returns going in a direction that is a bit edgier than the first film but at the same time carries on elements that made the first film work. They don’t feel like a complete clone of the first but more take things in a different aspect. The group fights but this time its over the ethical “saving the world” choice. There are big action scenes as one city gets torn up after another but feel more slick and up the ante. A notable highlight is a fight between Iron Man and Bruce as the Hulk with an African city in risk being demolished. There are moments which make me wonder if the first is trumped seeing a few things are fixed like the character of Hawkeye getting more screen time and development. But there’s some bits of territory that almost feel familiar like the big climax where a city is in danger as the Avengers try to save every civilian they can. There are some additions that add on the risk factor while keeping it entertaining but there’s only so many times you rehash certain beats like stalling the villain or Iron Man trying to stop some form of ticking bomb.

The heart of “Age of Ultron” is really the story which feels like a superhero version of the Frankenstein mythos. Creator makes a near human replica out of old artifacts (in this case an old computer program and Loki’s staff), creator rejects creation, creation sees the world and seeks after another like him and revenge against creator and so forth. Even the second half feels a little “Bride of Frankenstein” in spots while again giving a modern yet fresh take. This is the glue that held the whole movie together in the midst of its explosions and reheated yet well-done cliches for me. It shows you can take old elements and give them new life to something entertaining while also smart when it needs to be. As a sequel and follow-up to the first film, “Ultron” works fine enough to give a high recommendation but as the next “bar raising” movie is something to be debated.