Movie Review ~ Tag


The Facts
:

Synopsis: One month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds- barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade.

Stars: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Rashida Jones, Isla Fisher, Leslie Bibb, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner

Director: Jeff Tomsic

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: In their marketing, the studio releasing Tag is making a big deal of pointing out it’s based on a true story which, miraculously, is correct.  That’s the first and last genuine thing about Tag, a dreary supposed comedy that manages to take an interesting kernel of inspiration and turn it into a childish game no one will want to play a second round of.  Based on a story first reported in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article (and nicely profiled in a segment on CBS Sunday Morning), the original subjects fielded so much interest in their story they quickly cashed in on a deal for Hollywood to buy the rights to their curiously ongoing game.

Tag uses the basic premise of the shenanigans and takes heavy liberties with the storytelling as it follows five forever friends that have been playing the same game of tag one month each year for over three decades.  When one of the members who has never been “It” decides to quit, the other four scramble to get their hands on him before the month is up.  Problems arise when the quartet arrives to find their tricky target in the middle of his wedding weekend…but will that keep them from doing anything and everything they can to pass the touch and break his winning streak?

Oof…where to start with this?  Proving the bro-tastic juvenile antics of middle aged men in arrested development is a genre that’s still alive and kicking (even after the diminishing returns of The Hangover trilogy), Tag is a rare film that produces absolutely no likable characters for any audience member to latch onto.  None.  Starting at the top, there’s the usually affable Ed Helms (Vacation) as Hoagie, a sad-sack holder of the eternal tag flame who seemingly does nothing but wait until the yearly event to get his game on.  At the start of the film, he’s applying for a job as a janitor just to be able to tag his corporate friend Bob (Jon Hamm, Million Dollar Arm) and get him onboard with the  plot to tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy).   Your enjoyment of the film will be determined in these opening minutes between Hoagie and Bob – it’s a litmus test of how much lame-brainedness you’ll be able to take for the next hour and a half.

With Bob, Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher, Now You See Me) and a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis, Annabelle), ahem, tagging along, they recruit tag buddies Randy (Jake Johnson, The Mummy) and Kevin (Hannibal Buress, The Disaster Artist) and make their way to Washington state.  It’s there they plan to nab Jerry, who has been expecting the arrival of his old friends for one last round before he settles down with Susan (Leslie Bibb, Iron Man).  The resulting antics follow the gang as they repeatedly try to outsmart Jerry who manages to stay a few steps ahead and just out of reach.

Making his big screen directing debut, Jeff Tomsic may know his way around some cleverly staged bits of entrapment but too often he places the camera directly on his actors…someone should have told him the GoPro business is so 2012.   No one is helped by Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen’s staid screenplay that features expected developments and one remarkably tasteless joke the film returns to so often the audience literally began loudly groaning each time it was brought up.  Director and screenwriters don’t bother fleshing out any of the characters, nor do they explain how 47 year old Hamm and Renner were in the same class as 44 year old Helms, 40 year old Johnson, or (yikes!) 35 year old Buress.

Sure, movies are allowed to be silly and we’ve totally had enough films to stock a small college dorm room DVD library featuring men behaving like children – but I guess I’m just bummed Tag didn’t aspire to be anything more than a stupid time waste.  They at least could have presented some halfway decent characters for the cast to dive into.  Johnson’s (exhausting) character is a stoner who puffs away the entire movie and then thinks he’s somehow appealing to an old flame played by Rashida Jones, Decoding Annie Parker, in a part so thankless she literally should have actually been thanked in the closing credits.  Then there’s Wallis’ reporter who just drops her story on Hamm’s questionable corporate ethics to report on this tag battle.  She must have had a giant per diem she’s willing to blow as she hops around the west coast with a group of dumbbells.

Aside from Bibb’s entertaining but slightly manic turn as Renner’s fiance, the only person that manages to eek a shred of kudos here is Fisher.  By-laws prevent “girls” (ugh) from playing so she’s the pitbull wife egging her husband and his friends on, all the while gnashing her teeth in desperation at wanting to play.  Her foul-mouthed rages provide some muted laughs and much like her role in Keeping Up with the Joneses (another one Hamm snoozed his way through) she’s proven more than capable of being the most interesting person onscreen.  Come to think of it, I’d have much rather seen a female version of this story…but maybe we’ll get a remake in 10 years with Sandra Bullock in Fisher’s role.

The Silver Bullet ~ Arrival

arrival_ver10

Synopsis: Taking place after alien crafts land around the world, an expert linguist is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat.

Release Date: November 11, 2016

Thoughts: At first glance, Arrival looks like any other of the hundreds of like-themed films detailing alien invasion and a race against time to figure out how to communicate with them.  Dating back to the campy films of the 1950s all the way up to modern turns like Contact in 1997, this theme seems so played out…so why do I get the feeling that Arrival is going to be different?  Maybe because it’s helmed by Denis Villeneuve who, in movie after movie like Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, impresses?  Or maybe because it’s headlined by a strong cast including Amy Adams (American Hustle), Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy), and Forrest Whitaker (Southpaw).  This one has apparently crept up under the radar for it’s fall, um, arrival, and now that we have our first look it’s ascending high on my anticipated list for this autumn.

Movie Review ~ Captain America: Civil War

captain_america_civil_war_ver18
The Facts
:

Synopsis: Political interference in the Avengers’ activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl, Tom Holland, Marisa Tomei

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 146 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: With the release of Captain America: Civil War we’re now 13 movies deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and no one would blame you if you think all the Marvel films are starting to blend into one another.  Before taking in the screening of CA:CW I was chatting with a friend, mentally trying to put together what events happened in which film and who was introduced when. I’m not as devout a fanboy to pull the connections out of thin air so it took me a while and in all honesty to full enjoy the offerings in CA:CW you’ll want to go back and re-watch 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I made the mistake of not revisiting the earlier films and paid the price, too often playing catch-up.

So let’s just assume you’re up to speed with the goings on involving our superheroes, namely Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Iceman), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., The Judge), & Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Her).  Opening with a boffo action/chase sequence that finds Captain America, Black Widow, Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Godzilla), and Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain) stopping the theft of an infectious disease, the group winds up inadvertently bringing about the deaths of innocent civilians.  The ramifications for their mission, compounded by the previous massive destruction seen at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron is cause for the US Government (led by a mostly awake William Hurt, The Doctor) to step in, attempting to regulate the Avengers with the help of the United Nations.

While most of the team is willing to go along with being governed, Captain America is wary of signing his name for fear of being unable to help whomever and whenever he pleases (and interesting reversal for a man once used as wartime propaganda).  When his friend Bucky Barns (Sebastian Stan, Ricki and the Flash), aka the Winter Soldier, is possibly framed for a bombing at a peaceful meeting of foreign dignitaries, Captain America goes against his fellow Avengers and sets out to clear Bucky’s name while avoiding his former allies.  Add into that some secrets from the past that link Iron Man to the Winter Soldier and a mysterious man (Daniel Brühl, Rush) with a bone to  pick with our heroes,  and you have a globe-hopping film that alternates between vengeance and allegiance.

I’m not going to lie, there’s a whole lot going on here but directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (returning to the director’s chair after Captain America: The Winter Soldier and getting ready to direct the final two-part Avengers finale) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely manage to juggle the characters, action, and multiple plotlines with striking ease.  Even Joss Whedon, who so memorably delivered The Avengers with nice complexity, couldn’t produce a follow-up that flowed as well as CA:CW does.

You may not remember every little Easter Egg that pops up and the action scenes may be slightly overwhelming but it’s never a chore to keep up with the pace.  Okay, it’s about 15 minutes too long (it’s the longest Marvel film to date) and the performances tend to be on the stoically self-aware side (especially from Downey Jr. who seems to be going after a special Oscar for eye acting) but it’s the kind of crowd-pleasing adventure that audiences went looking for in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What’s nice to report here too is that some of the most exciting parts of the film haven’t been spoiled in trailers…in fact some sequences from the trailers have been edited to REMOVE spoiler characters and developments.  Marvel has a way with the element of giddy unexpected surprises and there are several neat-o secrets waiting for you.

Aside from the actors mentioned above, special shout-outs go to Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up) as Black Panther and Tom Holland (The Impossible) as Spider-Man.  A reboot of a reboot of Spider-Man was of little interest to me but Holland’s introduction gives my Spidey senses hope that another take on the web slinging hero isn’t the worst idea in the world. If the character feels like a late addition to the mix, it’s because the deal to bring Spider-Man over to Marvel from his home at Sony didn’t happen until the eleventh hour, necessitating some obvious Spidey shoe-horning to take place. Boseman, as an African prince seeking justice for a fallen family member, is a cool addition to the group and a post-credit scene (the first of two) gives us a small idea of where he may turn up next.  Jeremy Renner’s (The Bourne Legacy) Hawkeye, Don Cheadle’s (Flight) War Machine, Paul Bettany’s (Mortdecai) Vision, and Paul Rudd’s (Wanderlust) Scott Lang/Ant-Man all have their moment of glory though this is ultimately Captain America’s movie so enjoy them while they’re there (especially Rudd’s cameo which is better than a lot of Ant-Man).

With the uptick of comic book movies arriving in theaters, a small backlash is developing and I think it’s mostly out of overall fatigue.  With each new Marvel movie, it’s becoming almost a necessity to go back and review everything that came before…something that’s good for movie theaters and their marathon screenings but bad for audiences that don’t have the time to devote hours and hours to do their homework.  Recent failures like 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot and the critical disappointment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (for the record, I liked it, get over it) might have given the Marvel studio heads a moment of fear.  Yet their output is just continually in another league than their competitors and their juggernaut franchise lives to fight another day with Doctor Strange arriving before 2016 is over.

Check out my reviews of these other Marvel movies: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, & Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The Silver Bullet ~ Captain America: Civil War

captain_america_civil_war_ver2

Synopsis: An incident leads to the Avengers developing a schism over how to deal with situations, which escalates into an open fight between allies Iron Man and Captain America.

Release Date:  May 6, 2016

Thoughts: It’s the beginning of the end of the latest phase of the Avengers Marvel Universe.  After two movies where he was clearly top dog, Captain America (Chris Evans, The Iceman) has to contend with the larger than life  presence of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr, The Judge) and some familiar Marvel faces from movies past.  While I’m a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I must admit that I’m getting a little fatigued with these films.  With so many other studios jumping on the bandwagon and an oversaturation of Avengers-related entries slated for release over the next several years everything is just starting blur together for me.  Focusing on a battle between allies, Captain America: Civil War has a lot riding on it, and hopefully by next summer I’ll be ready for a dose of superhero adventures.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (May)

arnold-terminator-almostdidnotstar

Hasta

We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.

I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.

May

Though the summer movie season has traditionally been thought of as Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the past several years studios have marked early May as the start of the summer movie wars and 2015 was no different.

Kicking things off on May 1 was Avengers: Age of Ultron and, as expected, it was a boffo blockbuster that gave fans more Marvel fantasy fun. While it wasn’t as inventive as its predecessor and relied too much on jokey bits, the movie was everything a chartbuster should be: big, loud, worth another look.

Acting as a bit of counter-programming, the next week saw the release of two very different comedies, neither of which made much of a dent in the box office take of The Avengers. Critics gnashed their teeth at the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara crime comedy Hot Pursuit but I didn’t mind it nearly as much as I thought I would. True, it set smart girl power flicks back a few years but it played well to the strengths of its leads and overall was fairly harmless. I hadn’t heard of The D Train before a screening but was pleasantly surprised how good it turned out to be, considering I’m no fan of Jack Black. The movie has several interesting twists that I didn’t see coming, proving that Black and co-star James Marsden will travel out of their comfort zones for a laugh.

Blythe Danner proved she was more than Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in the lovely, if slight, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It may be too small a picture to land Danner on the end of the year awards list she deserves but the drama was a welcome change of pace so early in the summer.

Another early May drama was a wonderful adaptation of a classic novel…and one I forgot to review when I had the chance…here’s my brief take on it now…

                                         Movie Review ~ Far From the Madding Crowd
far_from_the_madding_crowd_ver2The Facts
:
Synopsis: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 119 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s celebrated novel was a moving drama brimming with quietly powerful performances and lush cinematography. It’s a story that has been duplicated quite a lot over the years so one could be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen this all before. Still, in the hands of director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) and led by stars Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), & Michael Sheen (Admission) it stirred deep emotions that felt fresh. Special mention must be made to Craig Armstrong (The Great Gatsby) for his gorgeous score and Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her aforementioned picturesque cinematography. You missed this in the theater, I know you did…it’s out to rent/buy now and you should check it out pronto.

Around mid-May the summer bar of greatness was set with the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road. The long in development fourth outing (and semi-reboot) of director George Miller’s apocalyptic hero was a movie lovers dream…pushing the boundaries of cinema and filmmaking into new places. A vicious, visceral experience, I can still feel the vibration in my bones from the robust film…a real winner.

The same week that Mad Max came back into our lives, a so-so sequel found its way to the top of the box office. Pitch Perfect 2 was a lazy film that’s as close to a standard cash grab as you could get without outright playing the original film and calling it a sequel. Uninspired and lacking the authenticity that made the first film so fun, it nevertheless made a song in receipts and a third film will be released in the next few years.

Tomorrowland and Poltergeist were the next two films to see the light of day and neither inspired moviegoers enough to gain any traction. Tomorrowland was actually the first film of the summer I saw twice…admittedly because I was curious about a new movie theater with reclining seats that I wanted to try out. As for the movie, the first half was an exciting adventure while the final act was a real mess.

I thought I’d hate the Poltergeist remake way more than I did…but I ended up just feeling bad for everyone involved because the whole thing was so inconsequential that I wished all of that energy had been directed into something of lasting value. While Sam Worthington made for a surprisingly sympathetic lead, the entire tone of the film was off and not even a few neat 3D effects could save it from being a waste.

May went out with a boom thanks to two wildly different films. If you asked me what I thought the prospects were for San Andreas before the screening I would have replied that Sia’s cover of California Dreamin’ would be the only good thing to come out of the action picture starring everyone’s favorite muscle with eyes, Dwayne Johnson. I still feel like Sia came out on top but the movie itself was a more than decent disaster epic, a little too long but made up for it with grand sequences of mayhem and destruction. Can’t imagine it will play nearly as well on a small screen but I wasn’t hating the film when the credits rolled.

A film I wasn’t too thrilled with at all was Aloha, Cameron Crowe’s own personal disaster flick. I still don’t know quite what to say about the movie because it was so dreadful that I’ve attempted to clear it from my memory. What I do remember was that it wasted its strong cast and exotic locale, as well as our time. Truly terrible.

STAY TUNED FOR JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST!

Movie Review ~ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

mission_impossible__rogue_nation_ver9

The Facts:

Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Tom Hollander

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: If there’s one thing I’ve said time and time again in this here blog it’s that Tom Cruise knows how to deliver a spectacular action film.  Off-screen antics aside, Cruise proves with each new release that he knows how to build off of his strengths and give the audience what they came for.  Never less than 100% committed to the work (see his bold turn in the otherwise blah Rock of Ages), he’s best when he’s going the extra mile.

That being said, for this fifth installment of the TV show turned blockbuster franchise I felt that Cruise and company didn’t take as strong a step forward as they did with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  That film felt fresh, with a renewed interest in inventive action sequences coupled with an intriguing plot of crosses, double crosses, and triple crosses.  Cruise tried out some cool stunt work and director Brad Bird produced a nice mix of over the top action and sly spy work.

With Bird off directing Tomorrowland, Cruise brought old pal Christopher McQuarrie into M:I5 and that’s where some problems surfaced.  All four previous installments had brought Cruise together with different directors he had no prior shorthand, but this is the first time Cruise is working with a director he has history with.  McQuarrie wrote 2008’s Valkyrie and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow for Cruise and wrote/directed the underappreciated Jack Reacher back in 2012.

So what we have is a star and a writer/director that kinda already had it all figured out before starting up production and the final effect feels like an overly safe but still better than average film that could have been great.  No matter how many of his own stunts he was reported to have performed himself, Cruise isn’t challenged much by McQuarrie to truly push the limits so the resulting movie feels slightly tentative and more in service of protecting the profitable franchise instead of doing something truly original.

Not that McQuarrie’s script is your run-of-the-mill spy tale.  Sure, there’s a lot of intrigue to go along with the spy movie checklist items but it’s more intelligent than its predecessors and aims high in covering a lot of thoughts and ideas.  Each previous Mission: Impossible film has had its share of twists and turns and this is no different, it’s a credit to the filmmakers that even when the plot points feel rehashed from similar films they still manage to be effectively entertaining.

Building off of an idea introduced in the final moments of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation starts with Ethan Hunt and his IMF (Impossible Missions Force) compatriots attempting to prevent a stash of nuclear armaments from falling into the hands of the shadowy organization known as The Syndicate.  At the same time, the future of the IMF is called into question by a high ranking government official (Alec Baldwin, Aloha, doing his best impression of Alec Baldwin) and soon Hunt becomes a wanted man by The Syndicate and his own government.  Teaming with a skilled agent with a questionable allegiance (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules), Hunt hops around the globe in search of the head of The Syndicate (rat-faced Sean Harris, Prometheus, a mostly forgettable villain).  Saying more of the serpentine plot would take up too much room here but suffice it to say that the quest isn’t easy and more than a few lies will be told along the way.

Where the film really excels is the breath-taking stunt work.  From the opening airplane sequence (already more than a little spoiled by the trailer and poster) to an underwater operation to thwart a complex security system to an edge of your seat motorcycle chase through the Moroccan desert, the film is a must-see on the biggest screen possible.  I didn’t catch it in IMAX but will seek out a screening later to really appreciate the scale of the work that went into these stunts that are more than worth the price of admission.

While Cruise may be the star of the show, Ferguson manages to swipe the film right out from under him.  Previous movies have placed the females as little more than damsels in distress (no matter if they’re trained super agents or not), but Ferguson represents a character that’s Hunt’s equal in every way.  Sure, her presence in a variety of skin baring costumes gives Cruise and audience members something to swoon over but McQuarrie wisely keeps it all business, adding to her mystery.  We never really know quite what side she’s on, so we never know what to expect when she appears onscreen,

While I’ve loved Simon Pegg’s work as a supporting cast member in Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and two previous Mission: Impossible films, it was an unfortunate mistake to beef up his role here as Cruise’s nervous ally within IMF.  Sure, he’s a valued element of comic relief but he’s made too much of a central figure here, taking time away from Cruise, Ferguson, and the forward motion of the plot.  It’s not all Pegg’s fault, but I’m sure Jeremy Renner (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Ving Rhames (Won’t Back Down) would have liked a little more screen time of their own.

I felt like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol heralded the start of a new chapter of Ethan Hunt and the IMF and thankfully that’s continued here in Rogue Nation.  I do, however, wonder whatever happened to Paula Patton from Ghost Protocol, and Maggie Q from #3…not to mention Hunt’s wife (Michelle Monaghan, briefly seen at the end of the last film).  I kept hoping for a hint at what’s to come next but sadly the film leaves us with more questions than answers.  I’m invested enough in the series to keep accepting future Missions…but hope that the next outing feels a bit more challenging.

Movie Review ~ Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers_age_of_ultron_ver11

The Facts:

Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

Stars: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Linda Cardellini, Mark Ruffalo, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgård, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Delpy, Idris Elba, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Chris Hemsworth, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Claudia Kim

Director: Joss Whedon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Here’s the thing that I like most about a good smörgåsbord – there’s something for everyone. Hot food, cold food, deserts, salads…it’s all at your fingertips and you can have as much or as little as you like. When presented with so many options, the whole experience can be somewhat overwhelming…but once you’ve had the chance to survey the selections and try out some choice cuts, you usually wind up walking away feeling a sense of fulfillment.

If any movie of 2015 (or any film in recent memory, actually) can be likened to a smörgåsbord it most certainly is this hugely anticipated follow up to 2012’s The Avengers. Offering bigger thrills and higher stakes, it’s a gargantuan film that redefines the term blockbuster. Still, I have to be honest and say that while it’s an all-together overpowering outing from the get-go, it took me a good twenty minutes to acclimate myself to writer/director Joss Whedon’s awe-inspiring sequel.

Starting up in the middle of the kind of go-big-or-go-home battle usually reserved for the latter half of other would-be blockbusters (the first of five jumbo battle royales featured in the 2.5 hour film), there’s no time wasted in re-introducing our friendly group of superheroes. Most of the crusaders have solidly led the way in their own films (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) while others have turned in noble supporting turns (Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine) in the same movies. Grouped together on screen, as The Avengers proved so impressively well, they can defeat schemes of world domination while rattling off Whedon’s quip-heavy banter.

Whedon knows his way around a clever turn of phrase but there’s a limit to how much witty repartee can be tossed at the audience before it begins to feel a little too astute for its own good. There seems to be an overly earnest need to kick things off on the right foot by giving us the greatest hits of Tony Stark, the master of delivering a one-liner, while storming the eastern European castle featured in the beginning battle. It’s just all a little much for this reviewer…but luckily Whedon and crew achieve a nice balance of fun and furious action in a plot that has a lot going on but never feels overstuffed.

While Avengers: Age of Ultron works in pieces as a stand-alone film, it will really pay off for the wise viewer that has already seen Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Solider, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Several familiar faces from these films pop up and, as was the case in the The Avengers, it’s nice to see how many cross over characters play a part in the action without it all feeling like a ComicCon version of The Love Boat.

What’s the plot you ask? Best to let you find that out yourself so as not to spoil some of Whedon’s more elaborate set-ups. What I can relay is that it involves a villainous bit of Stark created Artificial Intelligence named Ultron spectacularly voiced by James Spader (Mannequin) managing to inject humanity with a devious sarcasm into this completely CGI role – it’s hard to imagine anyone else giving voice to the destructive machine with such flair. Ultron has big plans for The Avengers and the world as a whole from the moment he comes online with the help of a familiar piece of sought-after power. Aided by a pair of powerful twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Elizabeth Olsen…both featured in last summer’s Godzilla) and a host of bad robots, Ultron keeps the hits coming right up until the grandest of grand finales of any large-scale action film I can recall. The only way it could have been bigger is if the theater set off fireworks at the end.

Returning to the fray are Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge), Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy), Paul Bettany (Mortdecai), and Samuel L. Jackson (RoboCop) and it’s worth noting that everyone seems happy to have their moment in the sun and then let their colleagues have their time to shine too.

Marvel is just on an unstoppable roll now and with the next Captain America film due in 2016, the next Thor film due in 2017, and the two part Avengers finale arriving in the two years after that there’s a whole lot more ground to cover. Let’s not forget the other Marvel films on the big and small screen that will surely play a part in future development deals.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is Whedon’s swan song in the director’s chair and he’s followed up an adrenaline blast of a first film with a layered and just as entertaining sequel that pushes ideas and characters forward. Make sure to see it on the biggest screen possible with the best sound (the 3D is optional…I wouldn’t think it’s a requirement) to truly max out your Avengers experience.

The Silver Bullet ~ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

mission_impossible__rogue_nation

Synopsis: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Release Date: July 31, 2015

Thoughts: I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several blogging years defending Tom Cruise. There’s a faction of audience members that can’t get past Cruise’s religious beliefs, wacky couch jumping tendencies, and somewhat self-aggrandizing attitude. Still…here’s the thing…the man knows how to make a movie. In fact, I’d say that Cruise has energetically come out of a mid-career slump of outings that were too serious and “important” and settled nicely into delivering popcorn chomping ready events that highlight his strengths. A lot of that renaissance was firmly cemented with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — maybe the franchise’s most enjoyable outing yet. I’ve got a good feeling about 2015’s upcoming fifth installment of Cruise’s spy series…and apparently so does Paramount Pictures. The studio moved it up from a prime Christmas Day release to an end of the summer bow that could be perfect time for box office gold. Reteaming Cruise (Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow) with his Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack the Giant Slayer) and with familiar faces (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames) returning and a new beauty (Rebecca Ferguson, Hercules) on board this is one mission I’m more than happy to accept.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers_age_of_ultron_ver10

Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to The Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

Release Date:  May 1, 2015

Thoughts:  Summer 2014 isn’t quite a distant memory yet (though with the paltry offerings it very well should be) but audiences are already looking toward the treasures that 2015 has to offer.  First on most every “must-see” list is this sequel to the super-duper big time hit of 2012 Marvel’s The Avengers which sees the whole gang in front of behind the camera reunited to drum up some more box office gold for Walt Disney and Marvel Studios.  Like The Dark Knight, I wonder if the bar has been raised so far that the sequel won’t be able to reach the same heights…but never count dependable writer/director Joss Whedon out because it’s clear he knows what he’s doing.  The countdown to May 2015 has officially begun with this nifty little tease at what deadly force The Avengers are about to face…I know I’ll have that dang Pinocchio tune in my head for days now.

The Silver Bullet ~ Kill the Messenger

1

kill_the_messenger

Synopsis: Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, a reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.

Release Date:  October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Though it reeks of Jeremy Renner continuing his neverending quest for Oscar glory, there’s little doubt that the real life story serving as the basis for Kill the Messenger has potential to be a pivotal moment in his career.  Look, we all know that Renner (The Bourne Legacy, American Hustle) can act with the best of them…but I feel the actor is taking himself a bit too seriously at this point.  Working with director Michael Cuesta to bring journalist Gary Webb’s life to the big screen, Renner makes a good impression in this first trailer…though it does feel like we’ve seen this exact same story told several times each decade .