Avengers: Age of Ultron – 8.5/10

Avengers vs Skynet…

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The problem that director Joss Whedon faced when following up the inaugural Avengers movie is how to keep things fresh in the face of the series overall approaching double figures. To do this Whedon brings previously unexplored characters to the fore with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow enjoying much more screen time and a fleshed out back story.

Also helping to bring a different feel to Age of Ultron are new faces Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch respectively. I have been banging the Olsen drum for ages and whilst I would like to see her take on something more challenging she again impresses here.

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Elizabeth Olsen continues her hot streak.

Perhaps the biggest ace in the pack for the Avengers sequel however is villain Ultron. Masterfully voiced by James Spader, Ultron is part Pinocchio, part Frankenstein’s monster and part Terminator to create a memorable and powerful antagonist for the Avengers to tackle.

In terms of the returning cast Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth improve in every instalment as Captain America and Thor as they have been allowed to grow into their roles gradually. While series favourites Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo take a bit more of a back seat in Age of Ultron, with Downey Jr seemingly coming to the end of his involvement in the Marvel universe.

It is very discouraging that Joss Whedon has decided to step down from the directing the third and final Avengers film Avengers: Infinity War as his talent in combining so many disparate characters into one finished article is unparalleled and with Ant-Man, Wasp, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, Falcon, Captain Marvel and maybe ever the Guardians of the Galaxy rumoured to appear it is difficult to see how Avengers: Age of Ultron will not be the last great Avengers movie.

28 Weeks Later – 6/10

28 Days Later but for a dumbed down American audience…

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Director Danny Boyle took zombie films to the next level with his seminal classic 28 Days Later, unfortunately 28 Weeks Later feels like two steps back. This is especially disappointing as it all starts off so well. The opening scene is a frenzied and harrowing introduction and a reminder of how terrifying the world has become in the wake of the rage virus. It is mostly downhill from there as England is now a military state in the hands of the American army which means Rose Byrne putting on an American accent and Jeremy Renner playing an unimaginative stock soldier character.

The scenes with British trio Robert Carlyle, Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton work best as this most brings to mind what made the original so good. Hails of bullets and massive explosions are a mile away from the isolation and claustrophobia of the first film. The behaviour of the infected has changed as well with them becoming a lot more ‘bitey’ to suit the common perception of zombies and there is even suggestion of retained memories and a survival extinct which is both unexplained and at odds with 28 Days Later.

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Another disappointment is that key moments from the first film such as eye gouging and the unforgettable soundtrack are recycled here although the opening and the helicopter scene are powerful and wholly original which makes 28 Weeks Later a frustrating watch as it is evident the potential for a great piece of work was present.

There have been much worse horror sequels but 28 Days Later was so good it didn’t really need the story to be continued.

American Hustle – 8/10

Two con artists are caught by the FBI and coerced into helping forge an investigation into scams involving politicians, the mob and some awful haircuts.

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Occasionally a film will come along where the acting is so strong the story doesn’t really matter. The Big Lebowski is one such film or the ultimate example would be Glengarry Glen Ross. American Hustle is almost there as well.

The main four players Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper and especially Jennifer Lawrence smoulder and spit against each other brilliantly. There are so many layers to the relationship between characters and the chemistry between them that it keeps your head spinning throughout. A wonderfully eclectic supporting cast of Jeremy Renner, Louis CK, an ever menacing Robert De Niro, and Shea Whigham among others make every scene pop off the screen with each cast member at the top of their game.

The story is what lets American Hustle down though, it starts off intricate and interesting but it definitely runs out of steam by the end, with the ending feeling a bit rushed and deflating. There are better films in this years Oscar pool but if someone from American Hustle doesn’t take home a statue for acting they have been robbed. They should make up an award for best hairpiece just for Christian Bale. It really is a sight to behold.

American Hustle is not as good as director David O. Russell’s last two films (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) but it is still a very good piece of work.