Captain America

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Fans of Iron Man, Captain America and the other members of the notorious Avengers clan don’t have to worry about. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” not living up to the legacy of its action-packed predecessor. “Ultron” is on par with “The Avengers” in terms of CGI-laden action and great humor, but it doesn’t aspire to add anything groundbreaking.

The film is exactly what audiences expect from a Marvel film. It’s a fun, thrilling ride that, despite a few story hiccups, serves as an entertaining summer blockbuster.

After the events of the previous film, Captain America (Chris Evans) and the rest of the Avengers struggle to protect the world from an ever increasing number of threats. Desperate to create a way to guard the planet so that the Avengers aren’t constantly needed, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) creates a sentient computer program called Ultron (voiced by James Spader) designed to patrol for crime. Upon uploading himself into a mechanized body, Ultron goes rogue when he determines mankind is the greatest threat to the planet and teams up with two mutants to rid the Earth of humanity. The Avengers race to stop Ultron as deep-seated divisions among the team threaten to tear the group apart.

“Ultron” again proves that Marvel films can be light-hearted despite the destructive action sequences and heavy themes of doubt throughout. Unlike movies based on characters from Marvel’s rival DC Comics, such as the colorless, brooding “Man of Steel,” “Ultron” is filled with humor that makes the characters more relatable. Sequences, such as the celebratory party thrown at the Avengers headquarters early in the film, work as great character development while providing some laughs. It proves Earth’s “Mightiest Heroes” are interesting even when they’re not battling bad guys.

Director Joss Whedon expertly handles the action scenes. He thoroughly plans every shot to clearly capture every punch and explosion. Watching Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Iron Man go toe-to-toe in a citywide rampage is a delight. The only downside is the climactic battle, which takes place in a crumbling city besieged by Ultron’s robotic army and feels derivative of the final battle from the first film.

The film’s heart comes from its strong acting. Downey carries a majority of the film’s one-liners, and his sarcastic demeanor is charming. Evans’ Captain America is a good-natured and forceful leader, but Downey’s presence overshadows him. Evans only truly shines in the fast-paced action sequences. Spader’s Ultron possesses the charisma of a megalomaniac with a major God complex, and his sardonic nature is humorous and eerie at the same time.

The film does have flaws that keep it from being a true superhero epic. Some weak side-stories plague the plot. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is sent on a pointless side-quest, and the payoff only turns out to be a setup for the next sequel. Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow suddenly become love interests, a twist that comes out of nowhere. The motivation behind their attraction is so thin that it’s difficult to believe. The film’s pacing is also off in some crucial moments. Ultron’s “birth” is rushed through too quickly, while a few quiet, sentimental moments run far too long.   

Overall, “Ultron” proves that superhero films still have some punch left in them. It may possess a few structural issues, but it remains a solid action film that embraces the fun and excitement of comic book stories. With heartfelt, funny performances by both the leaders of the team and the villain, “Ultron” is easily the next hit in Marvel’s long string of successes.

 

  • Director: Joss Whedon
  • Genre: Action
  • Runtime: 141 minutes
  • Rating: 8/10 Robot Armies

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a prime example of the growth of the Marvel film series. Just as the first “Captain America” film led into the events of “The Avengers,” “The Winter Soldier” also serves as a setup for larger events to come. Even though the movie connects with a much bigger plot, it still manages to tell an entertaining, self-contained story. “The Winter Soldier” is a fun, thrilling superhero flick that beautifully mixes serious action with funny humor and likeable characters.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with adapting to life in a modern age while embodying the role of Captain America. He stays loyal to the country by continuing to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and its head, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Finding a plot in the works to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. down from the inside, Captain America works with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and former soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to stop forces that plan to simultaneously assassinate millions of citizens. Meanwhile, the three are stalked by a mysterious enemy, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who poses a deadly threat to the team.

Marvel films tend to include an appropriate amount of humor in their plots and often use it more naturally than the gritty DC Universe films. “The Winter Soldier” follows this trend, as most of the jokes stick while every subtle, humorous gesture possesses great timing. These action scenes are phenomenal and well-paced while maintaining a constant, pulsing thrill. The action-loaded climax, which takes place on a monstrous Helicarrier, demonstrates the excellent pacing and brutality of each punch. 

The effects, despite relying on an overload of CGI, seem real enough to enhance the setting. The story features a few gimmicky, predicable plot elements, but it unfolds with a smart instinct for audience expectations and is richly entertaining. References to other Marvel heroes and villains are dropped constantly, yet they feel like natural universe-building, not forced synergy. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo show a clear knack for balance as they paint a fun comic book story with heavy action and complex character relationships.

Evans steps up his acting game as Cap, who finds his loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and his country tested. But it is clear that Johansson and Mackie are the real acting powerhouses. Johansson has Widow pegged as a sardonic, but dangerous, heroine who is enchanting in almost every scene. Mackie, who plays Falcon, is also a humorous and effective character who commands the camera. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, who actually has a larger role in the film than he has had in any other Marvel film, and it seems that he has perfected a formula that keeps his performance of the character from growing stale. Robert Redford plays a big role in the film, dominating as a powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. official. Oddly enough, the titular antagonist is surprisingly underplayed. The Winter Soldier is offered as a small tool of a larger threat. Stan, who played a role in the previous film, portrays him as overly mysterious, and while he looks extremely cool with his robotic armor and lethal persona, he lacks much of a character. The Winter Soldier is more of a force of mayhem than a fully realized villain.

Overall, “The Winter Soldier” is perhaps the best Marvel offering since “The Avengers.” Its great action and fantastic story present pure blockbuster entertainment. Mixed with stellar performances and well placed humor, the film proves that Marvel has succeeded in finding the balance that keeps superhero movies fun without being too gritty or campy. Despite being considered a prequel for next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “The Winter Soldier” is a great blend of elements that make an incredibly powerful superhero movie.