Review: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

Avengers

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an overwrought film. It’s got a thirst for destruction, a heavy-handed villain, and four-five-six-too-many characters to juggle. It is also a hell of a lot of fun, an exercise in expertly-crafted blockbuster filmmaking with a few wicked jokes and just a tinge of exhilarating pathos.

In this follow-up to director Joss Whedon’s well-received original Avengers, our superheroes have gone through the ringer in a series of intervening Marvel Cinematic Universe attractions. Don’t worry, I haven’t seen a single one of these stand-alone films (including a supposedly bad Thor and an apparently excellent Captain America) and I, too, was able to piece together the frenetic plot on hand here.

Essentially, after being dealt a hard blow in an opening battle, the Avengers get their hands on one of the six infinity stones tossed around in Marvel’s earth-and-space odysseys. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) wants to delve into artificial intelligence by going ahead with his Ultron program, which would, as he says, “wrap the world in a suit of armor.” But uh-oh! A.I. is too intelligent and takes on robotic form, Ultron himself (voiced by James Spader). Add into the mix the villain’s ability to travel the world through internet connections, his enlisting of a brother-sister duo, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) wronged by Stark in the past, and a dastardly plan to kill off the global population in an effort to “evolve” life on earth, and you’ve got Age of Ultron.

It sounds clunky, and in some ways it is. But Whedon deftly pieces together the film’s many disparate, globe-trotting parts, crafting interesting action sequences and emotionally-satisfying character beats in the midst of the lengthy runtime. It doesn’t hurt, either, that this truly is Ultron’s film: he is a frightening, dynamic villain worthy of the epic surrounding him. Continue reading

Weekly Scene: Under the Skin

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Rarely have I so enjoyed a film as confounding and purposefully elusive as Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s critical hit of 2014. Ordinarily, a plot this murky and a narrative this incomprehensible would make me grow weary and frustrated almost immediately; instead, I sat rapt in Scarlett Johansson’s sensual performance and the eery beauty of this extraterrestrial tale.

Set in Scotland, the film follows an unnamed woman (Johansson) who drives around urban locales, picking up men and taking them home. That home, it turns out, is an abstracted pitch black lake of viscous liquid. As the woman walks on its surface, stripping her clothes, the men follow, sinking slowly into the darkness and disappearing before our eyes.

It turns out our mystery woman may be an alien, and she may be consuming these men, though whether it is for her gain or the purposes of the men on motorcycles who follow her around remains unclear. Confused yet? Things really don’t get much clearer than that. Continue reading