Iron Man

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
Photo Credit: Colin Zelinski | Daily Texan Staff

Phil Coulson has come a long way since his first appearance in “Iron Man” as the seemingly unimportant agent of a seemingly unimportant agency. Five movies later, Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, has attained the status of geek legend. What better way to reward such a rank than by giving him his own television series? 

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” already has five episodes under its belt, each one displaying the witty humor, explosive action and mythological continuity that makes the Marvel movies so great. Coulson thrives as the connective tissue between the Marvel films, with his appearance in “Iron Man” laying the groundwork for his cameos in later films, often popping in to offer a goofy line or to help debrief the future members of the Avenger Initiative. Gregg’s starring role in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is rife with the promise of amazing crossovers on the horizon. 

But didn’t Coulson die in “The Avengers”? Although his life was tragically cut short by Loki’s badass blade, he appears relatively unharmed in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..” This plot twist provides one of the series’ most compelling mysteries. In the pilot, Coulson reveals that his death at the hands of Loki was merely a ploy with the express goal of uniting the dysfunctional superheroes into one unit. After his faked death, Coulson escaped to Tahiti to await further orders. As soon as he is out of earshot, two superior agents make the case that Coulson’s idea of what happened is far from the actual truth, and that there is something he does not know. 

Gregg’s performance as Coulson has always carried a disarmingly stoic energy that conceals greater truths we may not yet know about the character. In the early days before “The Avengers” was released, I had a theory that Coulson may be a double agent for the Skrulls, a shape-changing race of aliens from the comics who were believed to be Loki’s army in the film. His death in “The Avengers” effectively disproved my Skrull theory and left me feeling quite disappointed there was not more to discover about the son of Coul.

With this recent development in the series, that curiosity is rekindled, and I have a few new theories as to why everyone’s favorite agent is still alive. One theory is that Coulson is a clone, an ideal example of the perfect S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. I could see a warehouse of Coulsons lined up for distribution every time he dies. With this, S.H.I.E.L.D. would always have an effective team builder on hand who never ceases to exist. My other theory is that S.H.I.E.L.D. retains a semblance of Thor’s Asgardian technology that awoke Coulson with some freaky Nordic magic in Tahiti. Coulson himself states, in what has become a catchphrase, “Tahiti is a magical place.” 

Regardless of how or why Coulson is still alive, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is proving to be one of the most compelling entries yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The general impression of the comic book reader in American society has largely been a negative one: an overweight mouth-breather whose pride in memorized minutiae is only matched by his cruelty to the uninitiated. Even in a city like Austin, where a seemingly infinite number of alternative cultures thrive, comic books have occupied a niche market many assume is comprised entirely of people like “The Simpsons” Comic Book Guy. 

Until now, that is. In the wake of the massive success of superhero films, comic book readership has increased dramatically, crossing social barriers and improving sales. 

Zach Martin is the creative director of Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy, one of the largest comics and games stores in the nation. Dragon’s Lair opened 27 years ago and has grown from operating out of a small house to its current facility on West Anderson Lane. Dragon’s Lair sees a mix of customers from all demographics, from families with kids on Saturday mornings to people who walk in while shopping nearby, Martin said. He also described the clientele of the new location as surprisingly diverse.  

“We don’t have a set demographic,” Martin said. “For a while, it was easy to pinpoint people who found us because they were looking for a comics store. Now, people just wander in.” 

And not only do they wander in, but they keep coming back. Martin contributes this surge in interest to the string of successful super hero movies released in the past five to 10 years. 

Brandon Zuern is the manager of Austin Books & Comics on Lamar Boulevard, another Austin mainstay that has been around for 36 years. Zuern agreed that big budget comic book movies have played a large part in the increased interest in comic books. 

“‘Iron Man,’ that was a big deal,” Zuern said. “After that first movie came out, people loved it. We had a lot of people coming in then. We had new people coming in. We had kids wanting ‘Iron Man’ figures and comics.”

This boom did more than just boost sales of “Iron Man” paraphernalia.  

“I think there used to be that stigma, that stereotype of what the comic reader looked like or sounded like or acted like,” Martin said. “But now, people you wouldn’t necessarily pinpoint as a comic reader say ‘Hey, I saw “The Avengers” for the first time, can you point me to some titles? I just want to read more.’” 

Marvel’s cinematic universe goes further than just attracting new readers to existing characters — it’s also reshaping the way longtime fans read comics. 

“I’ve been a comic book reader since infancy,” Plan II junior Rosalind Faires said.

Faires said her dad first introduced her to superheroics, and — in accordance with his tastes — she exclusively read DC Comics for most of her life. 

“The first real experience I had with Marvel was watching ‘Iron Man,’ and I loved it … it turned me on to this whole other universe I’d never even looked at before,” Faires said. 

Faires said that above all, it was the touches of realism in Marvel’s movies and comics that converted her. 

“I love the way ‘Iron Man’ and Marvel comics in general engage with the real world,” Faires said. “Their stories take place in real cities — the movies have clips from real television personalities. That was such a breath of fresh air.”

Thanks to the influence of movies such as “Iron Man” and “The Avengers,” comic book readership is transforming from a symbol of difference to one of coolness. 

“The movies are the gateway drug,” Martin said. “They’re a way of bringing people in and showing them that comics are for everybody.” 

But returning to the same franchise too many times can be met with diminishing returns. 

“If it’s yet another Batman movie, that’s not going to sway a lot of people to comics,” Zuern said. “By the third or fourth X-Men movie, they’ve already got all their new fans.” 

Despite this, Austin’s comic stores are filled with a mix of new readers brought in by film or television adaptations, former fans looking to pick up titles again and unwavering enthusiasts who have been subscribing to titles since birth. 

“We’ve got males, females, all races, creeds,” Zuern said. “I’ve got UT student customers. I’ve got UT professor customers. I did not know that comics were enjoyed by as wide a piece of humanity as it is until I moved to Austin.”

The Avengers

Thor portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, left, and Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, are shown in a scene from “The Avengers” (Photo courtesy of Disney).

Ever since Samuel L. Jackson poked his eye-patched head in for the post-credits stinger in “Iron Man,” audiences have been looking forward to the inevitable “Avengers” movie. In creating this film, Marvel Studios had to launch four separate franchises and establish four superheroes worth caring about in the process. One misstep, and it could have been a disaster. Not only did they do it, they absolutely nailed it. “The Avengers” is the best film in the Marvel canon, a massively entertaining summer blockbuster and a huge success for writer/director Joss Whedon.

Thanks to their respective setup films, we already know Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It would be easy to say Whedon had all the tough work done for him since each of these heroes was established in their own film (or two), but juggling these big, distinct personalities could have been an equally foreboding challenge. Whedon doesn’t disappoint, and he crafts a true ensemble, even as each character gets his own big moment.

Each of the films preceding “The Avengers” had its own issues, but if there’s one thing Marvel has done right on a consistent basis, it’s casting. Chris Hemsworth has had a great month between this and the Whedon-scripted “The Cabin in the Woods,” and his Thor is much more layered and interesting as he is forced to battle with his brother, the nefarious Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Hiddleston is fantastic here, full of anger and insecurity, and his chemistry with Hemsworth gives the film’s conflict an emotional complexity that many comic book good vs. evil stories lack.

Evans and Downey are the characters who chafe the most often as Captain America’s unflappable optimism clashes with Iron Man’s shielded cynicism, and “The Avengers” is smart in the way it incorporates Tony Stark’s daddy issues into their relationship. Evans continues to impress as Steve Rogers is relocated to a time period he doesn’t understand, and Downey’s Tony Stark comes so naturally at this point that it’s impossible to discuss the character without thinking of his portrayal.

The only major cast member who didn’t get a chance to establish himself in a previous film is Mark Ruffalo, but he’s a perfect fit for Bruce Banner, and the Hulk ultimately ends up walking away with the movie. Ruffalo plays Banner not as an emotionally conflicted scientist, but as a man who’s come to terms with his unusual condition. When the Hulk finally comes out, it’s equal parts inevitable descent into madness and joyous celebration of destruction, and many of the best beats in Whedon’s sprawling Manhattan climax focus on the green force of nature..

For “The Avengers” to work, Marvel needed not only someone who could write well for its heroes, but someone who could deliver action scenes on a massive scale, and Joss Whedon turns out to be the perfect man for the job. His setup is quick and easy, and starting with the opening assault on a military base, Whedon stages his action scenes with incredible scope. From there, he just goes bigger and bigger, while never losing sight of his characters and infusing the most intense moments with a sharp sense of humor.

The film’s final action set piece, a sprawling alien invasion in Manhattan, is a climax in the truest sense of the word. Whedon finds a way to pay off character dynamics that have been simmering the entire film while staging one of the most impressive, massive action scenes to hit screens in far too long. Imagine the epic final battle in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” but this time, you actually care about the characters, and you have an idea of how insanely exciting and satisfying “The Avengers” is.

“The Avengers” is the event movie that every summer blockbuster wishes it could be, the final result of a grand, multi-franchise experiment that works better than anyone ever dreamed it could. Thanks to Joss Whedon, the strong cast and the undeniably smart people pulling the strings at Marvel, “The Avengers” is a resounding success and a wonderful start to what promises to be an unforgettable summer of movies.

Printed on Thursday, May 3, 2012 as: 'Avengers' blasts off with solid cast, staging