Archive for Joss Whedon

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Age of Ultron

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to battle a foe of their own making in the latest Marvel behemoth to hit the big screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whirlwind of action from start to finish with a massive cast of characters from virtually all the previous films. So much so, that the story is propelled forwards at break-neck speed to cover the developments in everyone’s lives while also introducing new characters as well as set up the plot.

Sounds like a bit of a mess? It is a bit. Unless you’re a comic book aficionado it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with who everyone is. Especially as there are so many cast members that enough time cannot be afforded to build them up enough to make them 3D.

The most obvious examples of this are ‘the Maximoff twins’, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (though only known by the names Wanda and Pietro – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). They are new characters, but their origins were actually revealed at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Also, James Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie), although big characters in the Iron Man films and Winter Soldier, are marginalised to the point where The Falcon isn’t even referred to by name.

Credit where credit’s due, though, director Joss Whedon does a stellar job with the over-stuffed hand he has been dealt by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He starts the film in the middle of a big action set-piece where we get to see all the Avengers from the first movie doing their thing side-by-side, evoking the big splash pages from the comics.

He then does a balancing act of slowing down to find some human interaction between certain characters, fleshing them out more, namely the scientist bromance between Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the burgeoning relationship between Banner and Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a massive expansion of character in Age of Ultron, he’s always been a B-list Avenger but finally gets a chance to shine here.

There are some stunning visual effects in this film, as we’ve come to expect, but the slower moments between the characters are needed, not just for a chance to breathe, but to showcase Whedon’s knack for writing great, naturalistic and witty dialogue. Some of the standout lines include Hawkeye proclaiming that his role in these apocalyptic battles is ludicrous, bearing in mind his weapon is a bow and arrow. His wife (yep, he’s a secret family man) saying “I totally support your avenging” and The Vision (Paul Bettany – who is a welcome return to the screen in physical form) riffing with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about the balance of Mjolnir (yes, The Vision can weald Thor’s hammer).

James Spader voices the titular villain, Ultron, with real menace but, as with most Marvel villains, is a bit two-dimensional and is easily dealt with in the end. There is a cameo from Andy Serkis as a South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, who will eventually link Black Panther to the Avengers’ roster, as well as the mention of Wakanda. But this is a digression.

It is clear that Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to these films. He knows what the fans want to see and how to write snappy dialogue as well as handle massive effects shots. The problem is, that there are almost too many characters to fit into one movie and after the addition of move characters in the coming years before the next Avengers film, Infinity War in 2018-9, has been split into two parts. However, the end of Age of Ultron introduces the idea that certain characters can be written in and out to solve this problem, something Marvel will, surely, have to think about. Bearing in mind that people coming out of the cinema today couldn’t remember the red bloke’s (The Vision) name or who that purple guy at the end is.

It’s a bit of a mess, but Whedon is the only man who could have made sense of it all, despite the fact it felt like Marvel’s marketing department were insisting on certain shots or the inclusion of certain scenes. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films you won’t have a clue what’s going on. The Marvel films are starting to get further away from stand-alone as they go. But, if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. Can too much of a good thing be bad for you?

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Review: Avengers Assemble

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2012 by Tom Austin-Morgan

This film has been hotly anticipated for the last four years after Sam Jackson appeared at the end of the trailers of Iron Man introducing himself as Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and letting the cat out of the bag about The Avengers project. Over the next four years we’ve had our introductions with all the highly volatile individuals who would later be forced into fighting together to save the world: Iron Man, The Black Widow, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye and Captain America.

There was a genuine sense that this film could have been hugely over-hyped and all the superstar egos could have clashed on set as opposed to gelled, destroying the film entirely. No one could say that they envied whoever had the task of directing this epic superhero movie. But Joss Whedon was the man  appointed to helm this ambitious project and he has certainly exceeded expectations.

As he has proved with his previous work his scripts crackle with a kineticism and wit rarely seen by writers of standard Hollywood blockbusters, and this film is far from standard. First off Loki, the god of mischief (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor’s brother is back from the void and he’s really angry! He steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. and takes off with it and some staff members including Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Sevlig (Stellen Skarsgård), who both return to reprise their roles from Thor. This forces Fury into action assembling the rag-tag band of misfits and egotists who will form the last line of defence for a world now forced into a war it surely cannot win.

The way in which they bring the characters together is really well written, as otherwise it could have felt quite contrived; luckily for Whedon each character has already been fully fleshed out before in  at least one film where they are the star. So no tedious re-treading of back stories means that he catapults us straight into the action. But after the initial good feelings at getting the team together tensions soon arise between the heroes; this soon culminates – under the control of Loki – in the fractures splitting the team apart. The result of which sees Bruce Banner losing it and turning into the “giant green rage monster” and having a fist fight with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is the only one among the cast who is close to powerful enough to match the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). This rivalry carries on throughout the film and provides a few really funny moments.

The interplay between the characters at this point is ludicrously strong and only a script written by such a massive fan could possibly have held all these megastars together. Personally I expected Downey Jnr to run away with his scenes and be the stand out star of the piece, but everyone has equal amounts of screen time and equal parts drama and snappy one-liners. In fact the one person I had expected to find uninteresting became the star thanks to the script and some mighty fine acting.

After Marvel signed Mark Ruffalo up to play Bruce Banner and “the other guy”, Edward Norton railed against the studios claiming that they went for a cheaper actor rather than the official story stating that they felt Norton wouldn’t want to work in an ensemble cast, and I felt for him; he had made the Banner/Hulk character his own and I really enjoyed The Incredible Hulk. But Ruffalo really stepped into the shoes of the character and gave a fantastic performance as the weary, reclusive scientist who had mastered his control of the monster inside. The scenes between Ruffalo and Downey Jnr really rattle along as the two characters connect over a shared passion for science. He is also both vulnerable and threatening at the same time, a trick that is not easy to pull off, and when he becomes the Hulk he causes non-stop carnage as well as providing at lease two moments of  genuinely hilarious, belly laugh moments of slapstick comedy. One of these, that took me completely by surprise, was his confrontation with Loki, where he cuts the villain’s diatribe short by picking him up and swinging him around like a rag doll into the ceiling and the floor before wandering off retorting “Puny god”!

Contrastingly, I felt that both Captain America and Hawkeye were utilised far less than they could have been and were just there for window dressing purposes.

Another character I felt came alive much more than in her previous film outing was Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who displayed a much more vulnerable side as well as the kick-ass martial artist from Iron Man 2; she also proves herself as an adept interrogator in a couple of key scenes, most notably against Loki where she double-bluffs him into telling her his plans for dividing the team. A scene in which Whedon manages to get the Chaucerian expletive ‘quim’ past the sensors, which is to be applauded. As far as I can remember this was the only swear word in the film and would have gone over the heads of most, he didn’t even cave into the half swearing that other films have stooped to in the past and proves that you don’t need to swear to make a script engaging.

There was a point in the final battle where the spectre of Transformers style CG confusingness could have set in, but Whedon stepped up to the mark once again and managed to make an apocalyptic battle for the end of the Earth into something easy to follow. In fact some of the best shots were used in these final minutes. There is one ‘continuous shot’ that tracks around the streets of New York showing off each character fighting the aliens who are terrorising the city after the Tesseract opens a portal to the dimension Loki appeared from at the beginning of the film. One other shot that really impressed me was from inside a car that was flipped onto its roof. The camera was stationary in the centre of the car looking through the windscreen as the car was rolled; the thing that really stuck out in this blink-and-you-miss-it shot was the fact that it was real, unlike a lot of the stunts in these kinds of films, but it didn’t look out-of-place in amongst all the CG effects shots. Another example of good directing with an eye for visual effects.

After a four-year wait Avengers Assemble lives up to and exceeds expectations and finally put Joss Whedon on the map as a top class director, hopefully we’ll get to see more of him in the years to come as he truly deserves recognition. This is a must-see blockbuster in a sea of utter tosh that is saturating the multiplexes at the moment.

Review: The Cabin In The Woods

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2012 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Made 3 years ago, in 2009, this project was put on the shelf after MGM, the studio which produced the film, filed for bankruptcy. This kind of disappointment seems to follow Joss Whedon’s projects since the runaway success of Buffy and  Angel; for example the TV series Firefly was cancelled after just one series even though it proved popular. Luckily though, he created the successful TV series Dollhouse and landed writing and directing roles on Marvel’s Avengers: Assemble – possibly a reason Lion’s Gate bought the rights to The Cabin In The Woods and have released it just before the Avengers movie.

It’s going to be very difficult to review this film without giving too much of the plot away, because it’s a bit of a genre-bender, but I’ll try. We start off with a clichéd title sequence with blood dripping down the screen over pictures and carvings of ancient scenes showing sacrifices. And then it’s suddenly interrupted by a scene between Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who are standing around a coffee machine in an office talking about their marriages and what they do. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie, and sometimes is the reason it detaches you from the action and causes huge amounts of confusion.

Just as suddenly as we’re taken out of the title sequence, the actual title literally screams onto the screen and we meet the young cast readying themselves for a weekend away from their studies by visiting the titular cabin. Amongst these you have all the stereotypes of teen slashers: The jock (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), the stoner (the hilarious Fran Krantz), the slutty blonde (Anna Hutchinson), and the two slightly nerdy ones who are being set up together (Jesse Williams and Kristen Connelly). Can you see where this is going? You’re not even half right!

Needless to say there’s something not quite right with the cabin as they are informed, in a rather aggressive way, by a red-neck gas station worker…and just about here is where I’m going to leave the plot.  Needless to say this film is a strange one; written  by both Whedon and Drew Goddard (Alias, Lost, Cloverfield), this is a reaction to the torture-porn films that have saturated the horror market in the last few years. The Cabin In The Woods takes teen horror back to its early 90s roots in films like Scream and Urban Legend in a very knowing way.

I would say that you need to go into this film with an open mind, because if you’re expecting a straightforward nuts and blots slash-em-up then you may be disappointed; however, if you think along the lines of the Lost format then you’re much closer to how this film plays out. Which is quite distracting in places, but adds an overbearing sense of intrigue to the story’s development. There is a brilliantly blood-drenched 15 minutes in the third act that is extremely enjoyable, but the ending may leave some with a sour taste in the mouth as it all seems to crescendo a little too quickly.

The Cabin In The Woods is a film made with care by genuine fans of horror, and I can’t wait to see what kind of job Whedon does on the Avengers. But here I can’t help but feel that sometimes they were just trying a bit too hard to push the envelope and actually, the more you know about the conventions of horror the less scary and more like a comedy the film becomes. That said though, it sure is something to talk about and a fast-paced, enjoyable romp.