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.

The Signal – 7/10

The Twilight Zone meets X-Men

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The Signal starts off as a relatively straight forward hacker road trip but then quickly takes a turn for the bizarre and never stops turning. A young cast featuring the decent Brenton Thwaites, the slightly better Olivia Cooke and the brilliant Beau Knapp is held together by veteran actor Laurence Fishburne who is suitably sinister as a mysterious scientist.

A common criticism of films of this ilk is that they can’t decide what they want to be. The Signal director William Eubank doesn’t seem to care much for choosing a genre as The Signal flits between Sci-Fi, Action, Romantic Drama and Found Footage horror. This seems to have been a deliberate choice on Eubank’s part to disorientate the viewer however, rather than a lack of ideas.

Eubank mixes some grandiose ideas and Terrence Malick-esque arty direction with over the top plot twists to create a baffling but compelling viewing experience. The Signal is not a film you will forget in a hurry but the pay off of the final twist at the end is offset by the fact that rest of the film is so weird which reduces any shock value.

I don’t know what genre The Signal is supposed to be, I don’t know what the message of The Signal is supposed to be, hell I don’t even know if it is any good or not. I do know that it left me wanting more though and that is always a good thing.

The Wolverine – 7/10

Wolverine… but in Japan!

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It is easy to get lost in the current X-men time line what with all the sequels, prequels, half reboots and origin stories so to get something straight The Wolverine is intended as a straight sequel to X-Men 3 so there is lots of a ghostly Jean Gray rearing her large forehead at inopportune times. Despite this obviously still being fresh in his mind ‘loner’ Wolverine still immediately finds himself embroiled with another damsel in distress in the form of newcomer Tao Okamoto’s Mariko. Before any of this however we see Logan at Nagasaki while the A bomb drops which makes for a pretty impressive visual spectacle.

The visuals are admirable throughout actually what with most of the movie taking place in vibrant and colourful Japan and the acting and basic premise are also solid. Hugh Jackman has now completely nailed playing Wolverine and gives possibly his best performance to date in the never ending franchise. The story is an interesting one and there is more to it than ‘What would happen if Wolverine fought Samurai!?’ but this being Marvel and and an action film it still falls into familiar tropes (good guys turn out to be bad guys and also a fight on top of a train? Really?).

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One thing that sets The Wolverine apart from nearly every film that takes place in this world is the relative lack of actual mutants. Wolverine and antagonist Viper aside it is slim pickings with Logan mostly battling mere mortals plus his own inner demons which is an interesting direction to go in.

I love all of the X men films (apart from X-men 3) including X-Men Origins: Wolverine so it was going to be hard for experienced director James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted, Walk The Line) to miss as far as I am concerned but for Marvel sceptics this will do nothing to change anyone’s mind and for Marvel fans I know I am not the only one who would have much preferred a Deadpool or Gambit movie.

A solid if possibly unnecessary entry in an already bloated series.

Chaplin – 7.5/10.

Troubled genius Robert Downey Jr plays troubled genius Charlie Chaplin.

Citizen cane … Robert Downey Jr in Chaplin (1992).

I had no real interest in Chaplin before seeing this movie but I had heard good things about RDJ’s performance and I was not disappointed. While he earned all the plaudits for his realistic portrayal of Chaplin’s on stage slapstick persona, it is the quieter, more personal scenes in which Downey Jr shines.

The great thing about Robert Downey Jr is he plays flawed geniuses so often (Iron Man, Zodiac, Sherlock Holmes etc) but he plays them all completely differently and his Chaplin is possibly his best (if not as fun as Tony Stark) of the lot. A brilliant supporting cast of Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Dunn, Anthony Hopkins, John Thaw et al further help to bring Chaplin to life but sometimes leave the screen a bit crowded.

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My one criticism of Chaplin would be that director Richard Attenborough tries to fit too much in. In covering nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s life in just two and a half hours it started to feel confusing as to what was going on as ‘The Little Tramp’ was married four times and did so much with his life. It is however, a testament to the quality of the film that even at such a long running time I would have happily seen proceedings stretched out for another forty five minutes in order to give the story more time to breath.

Whether you have any interest in Charlie Chaplin or not is immaterial, if you like good cinema than you should watch Chaplin.

NOMINATED FOR 3 OSCARS

Thor: The Dark World – 8/10.

Comic book fans constant clamoring for film adaptations to be ‘darker, darker, DARKER’ culminates in directors actually putting ‘dark’ in the title.

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Jane Foster is filled with a malevolent power putting her at the centre of a battle between Thor and a great evil.

A lot of people think we have been overwhelmed with the deluge of comic book adaptations in recent years, particularly those related to Avengers. I personally think the Avengers series has maintained an unlikely and very impressive high standard throughout and this very much continues with Thor: The Dark World.

Chris Hemsworth has improved as the series has gone on and seems much more at home as the eponymous hero. One of the attractions of Thor was revered director Kenneth Branagh bringing serious actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgård on board and they bring a touch of class to the sequel as well (particularly the always excellent Hopkins as Odin) despite the absence of Branagh at the helm.

Tom Hiddlestone again has lots of fun as panto villain Loki. Only a subdued Natalie Portman disappoints but that is understandable as she didn’t want to be appear but couldn’t get out of her contract.

Post Avengers the Marvel films really seem to be hitting their stride with Iron Man 3 also impressing. If you liked the other Marvel films you will not be disappointed with Thor: The Dark World.

Kick Ass 2 – 5/10.

Brilliant, game changing film spawns rubbish sequel.

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Kick Ass 2 picks up where Kick-Ass left off. Kick Ass has found some new friends to fight the good fight whilst Hit-Girl tries to adapt to life in her new high school. Meanwhile Red Mist has re-badged himself as ‘The Motherfucker’. Obviously.
Kick Ass 2 is neither great or terrible but it has great moments and it has terrible, terrible low points, unfortunately the latter outweigh the former. The whole Hit Girl plot line of hanging out with the ‘popular kids’ and going on her first date is as excruciatingly awful as it sounds and feels as unnecessary as Peter Parker going emo in Spider-Man 3.
The new superhero’s are pretty good, featuring Donald ‘Turk’ Faison and Jim Carrey, the new super villains less good, being completely forgettable other than a terrible soviet stereotype named ‘Mother Russia’. A disappointing sequel that brings nothing to the original, seriously not worth watching.

The Amazing Spiderman – 8.5/10.

Another reboot, another origin story but how does The Amazing Spiderman compare?

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Andrew Garfield Vs Tobey Maguire – Garfield was born to play Spiderman AND Peter Parker. Maguire’s problem was that he made a suitably geeky and awkward PP but wasn’t bad ass enough to be Spidey. Garfield absolutely nails this role, watch everything he is in. Best up and coming actor in Hollywood right now. Watch the red riding series or Boy A for further proof.

Gwen Stacey vs MJ – Easy one this, MJ is a fucking bitch the whole time and Gwen Stacey should always have been the love interest in any Spiderman movie. Emma Stone is also excellent as Gwen, in fact the entire movie is cast brilliantly.

The Lizard Vs Green Goblin – Brave move to go with The Lizard but it just about pays off. To be fair the Green Goblin was also a great character so I’ll call that a draw.

Amazing Spiderman vs Avengers/Dark Knight Rises – Miles better than DKR, not as jaw dropping as the Avengers but maybe… just maybe a better movie. I LOVE SPIDERMAN!!!