‘Till the end of the line’: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ wraps up a decade of superhero storytelling

AvengersEndgameFinalPoster-Top-1024x576.jpg“This is not going to go the way you think…”

Remember that line from “The Last Jedi” trailer? Marvel fans were wise to keep those same words of warning in mind as they walked into the theater for “Avengers: Endgame.”

The culmination of approximately 10 years and 20 films, “Endgame” is the bittersweet and emotional conclusion to this stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I knew going in that the Avengers would have to pay a steep price to stop Thanos, and I thought I was prepared to say goodbye to some of these characters. Turns out, it was harder than I thought, and while the ending is satisfying, it’s definitely a gut-punch.

I’m not even going to attempt to write a regular review here, because literally anything I say would be a spoiler. And by this point, you’ve either A) already seen it; B) have made plans to see it; or C) this isn’t really your thing and you don’t plan to see it at all, which means that no review of mine is going to convince you of anything. 😉

These are some of my VERY spoiler-filled thoughts on the film, so final warning if you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want to have the twists ruined for you — stop reading now!


WARNING: Literally SO MANY spoilers ahead

All right, if you’re still with me, that means you’ve (hopefully) already seen “Endgame” and we can all commiserate together.

I don’t quite know how to review a movie like this. It’s weird to think that this has all been building since a little movie called “Iron Man” in 2008. I don’t think anyone back then guessed that the end to this story arc would gross $350 million in ONE weekend — and that’s just domestically. It’s a cinematic event film that people needed to see on opening weekend.

I’m sure that in the days and weeks to come, plenty of bloggers will be breaking down the story and all the plot’s twists and turns. I know that if I sat down and started picking apart the details, I’d uncover a few plot holes or inconsistencies in regards to the time travel stuff.

But in the end, what this movie comes down to is the characters, and it’s a fitting end for these superheroes that we’ve come to love over the past decade.

While one could argue that they maybe could have shaved 15-20 minutes off the film to bring its runtime below three hours, none of the time feels wasted to me. We get lots of little character moments, which are all the more meaningful since this is probably the last time we’ll be seeing many of these characters.

“Endgame” has some surprisingly funny moments, despite its more serious tone overall. This helps to break the tension, and also shows how many times, these troubled characters use humor as a coping mechanism.

I was surprised by how quickly the Avengers killed Thanos in the opening minutes — a twist that serves to throw the audience off balance. I had a lot of theories about “Endgame” and really only one of them came true (Falcon taking on the mantle of Captain America, which I’m really excited about).

This twist also provided a good set-up for the main plot of the film, a so-called “time heist” to steal the Infinity Stones from previous points in the timeline and then use them to undo Thanos’ snap. As I mentioned earlier, the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” stuff may have more than a few holes in it if you look closely, but I loved the scenes themselves and seeing the Avengers revisit important moments from their past. It reminds the audience of how much these characters have experienced — and how much they’ve grown.

I appreciated the movie’s slow burn set-up, which culminated in a truly epic final battle that brings together all the characters for one last stand against Thanos. It also contains one of my favorite moments in the entire MCU — when Cap calls Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, to his hand, proving himself worthy. That moment earned cheers both times I watched this movie in the theater over the weekend.


I wish I had time and space to talk about each character’s journey in this film in depth, but I’m going to highlight the characters that I believe are the two greatest Avengers, and whose stories are the main drivers of this film: Iron Man and Captain America.

For the past year, I’ve been saying that in order for “Endgame” to make an emotional impact, at least one major character needed to die. Thanos is THE “big bad” of the MCU, and if he’s defeated too easily, it undercuts the dramatic impact of “Infinity War” and, truthfully, the entire MCU.

However, I wasn’t expecting Iron Man and Black Widow to be the two major characters to die. Especially with the long-rumored Black Widow spin-off film (which I hope is still happening, as a prequel), Black Widow’s death came as a shock. The scene where she and Hawkeye are fighting over which one of them is going to make the sacrifice is tough to watch, but highlights the strong bond between their characters. It’s a bond I wish had been explored even more in the preceding films.

I really thought that Tony was going to end this movie by retiring and serving in a mentor role, popping up in cameos every now and then. As I’ve mentioned before, Iron Man is my favorite Avenger and one of my all-time favorite film characters, actually. Seeing him die upset me far more than I was prepared for, but I think that in the end, I’ll come around to accepting the story’s conclusion.

Iron Man started the MCU, and even though I didn’t want him to die, I appreciate that the film gave him a powerful final scene, letting Tony be the one who finally stopped Thanos and saved the universe. I could spend another whole blog post going over his character journey throughout the MCU (actually, I did!), but I have loved seeing his redemption arc and watching him grow from a selfish, spoiled playboy into the galaxy’s greatest hero. I would love for a future film to feature his daughter carrying on his legacy and wearing one of the Iron Man suits.

I was expecting Captain America to die in this film, but I really loved the ending they gave his character. After all he’s been through, he deserves to lay down the shield. And the scene where he finally gets that dance with Peggy Carter was a beautiful, poignant ending to his story. Does it break all kinds of time travel rules? Yeah, probably. But emotionally, it just feels *right.*


In short, there are places to be picky with this film. There’s the confusing timeline stuff, and I’ve heard debates about Thor and Hulk’s character arcs. I’ll be curious to see how the CGI ages. But Tony and Cap’s storyline was a home run, at least for me, and reminds us how much the MCU owes Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.

It’s possible we’ll never see another film series quite like this one, and I don’t know what the future of the MCU will look like from here. But I’ve really enjoyed this journey, and it’s meant so much to me as a geek. Thanks for the memories, MCU!


Endgame: What’s ahead for the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

A journey that started a decade ago will come to an end next April, with the follow-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity War.” We now know the sequel will be titled “Endgame,” though what sort of ending the film will have is still anybody’s guess.

How many of the original Avengers will we have to say goodbye to forever? And will “Endgame” truly serve as an ending for the MCU as we know it, or will it be more of a springboard for future storytelling opportunities (or both)? I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned to find out!

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve watched the “Endgame” trailer multiple times by now. It’s a somber and emotional trailer, and I thought it did a great job hinting at the sort of movie we’ll be getting, without giving away too much. The tone is definitely going to be darker here, and appropriately so. Half of the universe has vanished, thanks to Thanos’ snap, and the Avengers’ failure to stop him is weighing heavily on them.

I appreciated that Marvel was willing to actually let Thanos use the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of “Infinity War.” It’s a gut-punch of a scene…with one caveat. Others have pointed out that as the year has gone by, that scene has been robbed of some of its emotional impact by the fact that all the Avengers who disappeared are almost 100 percent guaranteed to come back. We know their deaths — as well acted as they were — are not going to stick, because many of them are going to appear in sequels of their own.

Still, I can understand why certain characters were chosen for the snap, and certain ones were left alive. “Endgame” will give us what may very well be our final chance to see all the original Avengers in action together, before some of them retire or possibly even die.

Captain America has been one of my favorite Avengers characters. Will “Endgame” be his final film? Will someone else take up the shield?

I love all these characters. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them on screen over the past decade, and one of them dying would break my heart. But… (and please don’t hate me here!) at least one of them NEEDS to die in “Endgame.” Thanos is one of the most serious threats the Avengers have ever — or possibly ever will — face, and defeating him needs to come with serious consequences. “Endgame” will be the culmination of 10 years of franchise building. A major character death will give this film emotional weight.

When it comes to character deaths, I think the most likely candidates are Captain America and/or Iron Man, which is hard because they’re two of my favorites. The MCU began with Tony Stark, and him sacrificing himself in “Endgame” to save the entire universe would be such a poignant and powerful moment for the character. But, I also really love the idea of him and Pepper finally tying the knot and then him retiring, serving as a consultant to the new Avengers team and a continued mentor to Peter Parker.

Cap is the most logical choice to make a sacrifice, and it would be interesting to see what could happen in future films with either Bucky or Falcon picking up the shield. Chris Evans has done such a great job in the role, and I’d love for his story arc, however it ends, to be epic and emotional.

As for the overall plot of this film, I’m trying hard not to speculate too much. I’ve heard rumors about time travel (which would be a cool twist to add to the MCU) or everybody who disappeared being trapped inside the Soul Stone. I’m really curious to see what role Scott Lang/Ant-Man plays in this story, partly because I just adore Paul Rudd and also because I’m really intrigued by what could happen with the Quantum Realm.

How much of an ending will “Endgame” be?

Beyond that, I really just want to be surprised by this movie. I want “Endgame” to do for the MCU what “The Last Jedi” did for Star Wars. I know that’s a slightly controversial thought, because Episode VIII sparked a lot of debate within the fanbase. However, one of the things I appreciated most about “The Last Jedi” was the way it dared to shake up its fictional universe and make us ask tough questions about characters we love.

I’d love for “Endgame” to be a challenging film that digs deep into who the characters are and forces them to make sacrifices with lasting consequences. I’m hoping for a darker film that balances tragedy and hope, and provides some sort of definitive ending to the first decade of the MCU. I want the impact of “Endgame” to be felt in all the MCU films that come after it.

It will be really interesting to see what the MCU looks like post-“Endgame.” There’s still lots of potential with Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and there’s a wealth of untapped material with Black Panther and the world of Wakanda. And, of course, I can’t wait to meet Captain Marvel and see how she ties into “Endgame.”

Years down the road, maybe we’ll look back and see “Infinity War” and “Endgame” as the peak of the MCU, and the films that follow will be smaller in terms of both scope and box office. I’d be okay with that, actually. I’d love to have more films focused in on individual characters, with smaller stakes (similar to the excellent “Spider-Man: Homecoming”). Someday I want to see a live action Miles Morales, and I’d be game for a Guardians/Thor team-up.

So, what are your hopes for the future of the MCU? What do you think will happen in “Endgame”? What are some of your theories, hopes and fears?

Box office breakdown: Summer 2018 in review

InfinityWar5aa86b6fdaeb5.0It’s hard to believe it, but another summer movie season has already come and gone at the box office. Although this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, the biggest winner of the summer was “Avengers: Infinity War,” wrapping up a decade of buildup and letting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate villain, Thanos, take center stage.

“Infinity War” made a boatload of money — over $2 billion worldwide, to be precise. Domestically, though, it couldn’t *quite* touch “Black Panther’s” insanely impressive $700 million. “Black Panther’s” exciting reign at the box office is a topic worthy of an article all on its own, and the film clearly resonated with audiences.

“Infinity War” is my personal favorite movie of the year so far, simply because it was such a joy to see all these characters we’ve fallen in love with in one big movie together. I figure most people have heard about the ending already, but just in case, spoiler alert! I loved that they actually let Thanos snap with the gauntlet, even if I’m 100 percent sure that those characters who disappeared are coming back. In fact, that’s my one little gripe about the film; the deaths are well-acted, particularly the scene with Spider-Man and Tony. But I know these deaths aren’t going to stick, which guts their impact just a little. However, I’m waiting to pass judgement on that until I see part 2 next year, because I have a feeling some of the original Avengers will be called to make some devastating sacrifices in order to bring back the characters who crumbled into dust.


While “Infinity War” was the biggest film of the summer, there were quite a few nice, smaller surprises along the way. I actually enjoyed “Deadpool 2” a lot more than the original; I liked the story more, I laughed at the jokes more, and Josh Brolin was awesome as time-traveling soldier Cable (Brolin wins the award for this summer’s biggest overachiever, as he also did an awesome job playing Thanos). And speaking of awesome, “Mission Impossible – Fallout” was fantastic, and is one of the best action flicks I’ve seen in a long time. I always forget about that franchise, and then it always comes back and amazes me. It was definitely a must-see this summer.

I was sad to see “Solo: A Star Wars Story” under-perform, because it really was a fun movie, despite all the drama behind the scenes. Sure, it didn’t carry the same narrative weight or emotion as “The Last Jedi,” but it’s an entertaining heist flick, and it deserved to make more money than it did. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise, and now it seems like an insanely long wait until Episode IX. I still think Disney should have held “Solo” until late fall this year, but we’ll never know how that might have played out differently at the box office.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” didn’t receive glowing reviews from critics, but I had a lot of fun watching that movie. Dinosaurs on the big screen always make me smile.


Although I didn’t see any films this summer that I disliked, I was a bit disappointed in a couple of films I was really looking forward to: “Incredibles 2” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Granted, I still had fun watching these movies, and I was glad I saw them in the theater. But at least for me, neither one of them *quite* lived up to their predecessors. I know others who really loved them, though, and I’d still recommend them.

The last film I saw this summer was “Christopher Robin,” and I thought it was a perfect note to end on. Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh adaptation was a lovely little tale about rediscovering joy in life, and it felt like an incredibly relevant and timely message. The importance of kindness, friendship, and compassion is a lesson that needs to be shared as often as possible.

And…that’s it! There are a couple other films that were released this summer that I’d like to catch on DVD but I probably won’t be back at the theater until late fall. I hope everyone had a great time at the movies this summer, and I’d love to hear your favorites and least favorites! Here’s my quick list — what’s yours?

Favorite movie: Avengers: Infinity War
Least favorite movie: Incredibles 2 (I’m really sorry, Pixar! I promise, I didn’t hate this movie!)
Best scene: Thor arriving on the battlefield in Wakanda
Best soundtrack: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Best laughs: Deadpool 2
Best special effects: Infinity War
Best character: Thanos
Least favorite character: The villain in Incredibles 2
Most suspenseful: Mission Impossible – Fallout
Best surprise: Christopher Robin


Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 6: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and ‘Ant-Man’

Well, I thought had successfully planned out my Marvel blog-a-thon. Before I started, I checked the DVD release dates for “Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man,” to make sure I could rewatch them for this project. The original estimated release date for “Ant-Man” was mid-October, so I thought I was good to go, but later I learned it was pushed back (oops). At least I was able to watch it twice in theaters this summer, and I did rent “Age of Ultron,” so I’ll forge ahead anyway!

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

If I had to pick a phrase to describe my relationship with “Age of Ultron,” it would probably be, “It’s complicated.” I actually only watched this movie once in theaters, which is unusual for me — I watched the first Avengers movie two times in 24 hours the weekend it was released, and I saw “Guardians of the Galaxy” three times in one week (I’m not kidding when I say I’m a hardcore Marvel fan). 😉 But for whatever reason, “Age of Ultron” just didn’t grab me as much as some of the other Marvel movies have. Many fans seemed to feel “Age of Ultron” wasn’t a bad movie, but it was a bit disappointing. Although my thoughts didn’t really change after watching it a second time, another viewing did help me sort out my thoughts.

There are some good things about “Age of Ultron.” It was nice to see more backstory for Hawkeye, the Avenger who often gets short-changed. He had a larger role in the plot this time, and we got to take a peek at his life outside S.H.I.E.L.D. and we learned he has a family. James Spader was great as the voice of Ultron, the artificial intelligence who nearly destroys the Avengers and the world. Spader’s voicework is eerie and mesmerizing, and I wanted to see even more scenes with his character. Paul Bettany also is great as the mysterious new superhero Vision, created by melding one of Ultron’s experiments, Tony Stark’s computerized “butler” J.A.R.V.I.S. and one of the Infinity Stones. And the fight between Hulk and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster suit is pretty awesome.

However, as a whole, “Age of Ultron” just doesn’t seem to capture the same magic as “The Avengers.” It may be there’s simply too much going on. One of the things I loved about “The Avengers” is that even though you had a lot of characters with big personalities running around, I felt like each of those characters got their moment to shine, and it was a blast to watch them learn to work together. In “Age of Ultron,” you have a new villain, several new side characters and two new Avengers: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. It also doesn’t help that “X-Men: Days of Future Past” debuted their own version of Quicksilver a year earlier, and that he had what was arguably the year’s best and most fun action sequence, a slow-mo prison breakout set to “Time in a Bottle.” I even kinda forgot Andy Serkis had a small role in “Age of Ultron.” I felt like poor Captain America didn’t actually have a lot to do in this film, and some of the other characters also got lost in the action.

I wanted to see more of a focus on the storyline involving Tony creating Ultron. The idea of people creating their own demons is a dark but fascinating theme that wasn’t fully explored in this movie. Tony’s creation of Ultron was a little rushed, and the Avengers were too quick to gloss over the fact that he created Ultron — and Vision — without consulting them. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are both intriguing character concepts, but I feel they weren’t fully explored either. The humor in the movie also doesn’t work as well as it does in some of the other Marvel films. There are definitely some funny moments, such as everyone trying to pick up Thor’s hammer and Thor’s slight moment of panic when the Cap almost moves it. But there aren’t as many quotable lines or memorable moments as “The Avengers.”

Another thing that bothered me was the unexpected romance between Bruce Banner/Hulk and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. I don’t have a problem with the idea itself, it just felt too forced here and I wasn’t really feeling the chemistry between the characters. I wish previous films had done more to set this up. It also felt confusing because Captain America and Black Widow had so much chemistry in “The Winter Soldier.”

I feel bad for criticizing this movie, because I really do love these characters and I appreciate the films Marvel has put together. I just think that in the end, “Age of Ultron” was trying to be too many things, and it didn’t live up to the promise of those dark, thrilling trailers. Instead of a stand-alone film, “Age of Ultron” simply feels like a bridge to other Marvel projects. It teases the smackdown between Tony and Captain America in “Civil War.” It teases the Asgardian apocalypse in Thor’s sequel “Ragnarok.” It teases the showdown with Thanos in “Infinity War.” (Interestingly, it did not tease the next-up Marvel movie, “Ant-Man.”)

Like I said, “Age of Ultron” is not a bad movie, and I still do plan to add it to my DVD collection. It just wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, and it doesn’t strike me as one I’ll rewatch as often as some of the other Marvel films. Ironically, the Marvel film I was more worried about was “Ant-Man,” which so far is actually one of my favorite movies of the year.

Ant-Man (2015)

I’ll try to be brief in my section on “Ant-Man,” since I technically wasn’t able to rewatch it for the blog-a-thon. I’m really excited for it to come out on DVD, because it is one of my favorite Marvel films and it turned out to be such a fun surprise. Although it’s on a smaller scale than some of the other MCU films, it’s refreshingly clever and funny. One of Marvel’s greatest strengths is casting the perfect actors to play these characters, and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man is no exception. While I was originally a little skeptical about whether Marvel could pull off a movie about a man whose superpower is shrinking down to the size of an insect, watching Scott Lang run around with an army of ants was actually pretty cool.

The film’s only drawback is its villain; Corey Stoll is a good actor and the Yellowjacket suit looks super cool, but the script doesn’t do much to develop the character. However, it’s still a great movie overall, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Marvel will work the character into future films, such as “Captain America: Civil War.”

“Ant-Man” finishes the reviews for my Marvel blog-a-thon, but I’m planning to post a wrap-up later this week, with my final ranking of Marvel films. Now I just need to get caught up on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”!

Hits, misses and plenty of surprises: Summer 2015 in review

ant-man-jumpingThe summer movie wrap-up is probably my favorite blog to write each year. Summer blockbuster season is my favorite time at the box office, and it’s always fun to look back over the summer and review the hits and misses. While there are always a few surprises, I have to admit that this year, pretty much all my predictions were a bust. 😉 The movie I thought would be the biggest blockbuster of the summer as well as my personal favorite — “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — actually turned out to be neither. Instead, “Jurassic World” was the biggest blockbuster, breaking records set by the first Avengers movie. I was also surprised to find my favorite movies of the summer were “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Ant-Man.”

I’m still trying to decide how I ultimately feel about “Age of Ultron.” Like all Marvel movies, it was fun to watch, and I enjoyed seeing it in the theater. I really love these characters — and the actors who play them — and it’s always great to watch them onscreen. But this is the first Marvel movie in a long time I only watched once in theaters (I’m still not confessing how many times I saw one of my most-watched Marvel movies “Guardians of the Galaxy” in theaters 😉 but it was more than twice). I definitely want to watch “Age of Ultron” again when it’s released on DVD to see if my thoughts change. On first viewing, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the first Avengers team-up film. There’s a bit too much going on, and some subplots and characters don’t get quite enough development (i.e. the Hulk/Black Widow romance, the introduction of new heroes Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, Andy Serkis’ too-brief cameo appearance, etc.). Even though it made more money than Marvel’s other summer 2015 offering, “Ant-Man,” the latter felt like a better film.

The biggest surprise of the summer for me was “Mad Max: Fury Road.” With a 98 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating, the reboot of the classic ‘80s franchise is arguably the best movie of the summer. It’s a tense and thought-provoking action film with amazing visual effects, and while the strange post-apocalyptic setting takes a bit to get used to, the movie is a great ride. It’s also exciting to see an action movie with multiple nuanced roles for women, and though Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is the character whose name appears in the title, rebel leader Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is the star of the show.

I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed “Ant-Man.” Marvel’s long-delayed origin story created some negative pre-release buzz with the departure of original director Edgar Wright, but the movie turned out to be a fun, lighthearted treat. Paul Rudd is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Ant-Man, and the film makers found a way to make a hero whose powers are shrinking and running with ants look really cool. The clever action sequence that takes place on the miniature train set is one of my favorite movie scenes this summer. I’m definitely on board for an “Ant-Man” sequel.

“Jurassic World” was a bit hit with audiences and ended up as the biggest blockbuster of the summer. While I was surprised to see it break “The Avengers” box office tally, now ranking as the third highest-grossing film of all time, I think the movie did well because it played on nostalgia for the original 1993 film and captured a sense of magic the previous two sequels didn’t quite attain. A stronger script would have made this a better film, but it was fun and made for a good summer popcorn flick. It was great to see new (and old) dinosaurs, and Chris Pratt makes a strong case for why he should be hired for the Indiana Jones reboot, playing a motorcycle-riding raptor wrangler.

Tom Cruise’s “Rogue Nation” proved that even after almost 20 years and five films, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise isn’t running out of steam. This is a fun but smart spy thriller, and as far as I’m concerned, Cruise can keep making these films as long as he likes.

The biggest flop of the summer was undoubtedly the “Fantastic Four” reboot, with a cringe-worthy 8 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. We’ll never know whether the movie was doomed from the beginning or whether the studio’s tampering ruined what may have been a better film. It’s tough for fans who are still waiting for a definitive Fantastic Four movie. It will be interesting to see if Fox has another go at this or decides to let Marvel take back the rights and work the Fantastic Four into their overall cinematic universe.

So, what do you think? What was your favorite film of the summer? What was the biggest surprise? What was the biggest disappointment?

Movie review: Avengers re-assemble for ‘Age of Ultron’

avengers-age-ultronSometimes the worst enemies are the ones we create ourselves.

That’s the difficult lesson the Avengers learn in “Age of Ultron,” as the team of superheroes face a genocidal artificial intelligence named “Ultron”… who was created by Tony Stark/Iron Man. Ultron was meant to protect the Avengers and the world from danger, but he quite literally takes on a mind of his own, builds himself a robot form, and tries to destroy the world.

“Age of Ultron” is the follow-up to 2012’s blockbuster superhero round-up “The Avengers.” Director Joss Whedon throws new challenges at his team of superheroes this time around, and it’s a conflict that one of them won’t survive. It’s already pretty much a given “Age of Ultron” will be the biggest movie of the summer – the real question is, does it live up to the hype generated by its wildly successful predecessor?

The short answer is, “Age of Ultron” is big, action-packed, and lots of fun. There’s plenty of banter between the heroes, the fight scenes/special effects are perfectly choreographed, and there are plenty of the trademark Marvel one-liners (such as a running joke started when Captain America chides Iron Man for using “bad language”). Marvel has well cast all of its roles, and once again, it’s a blast watching the dynamics between the very different heroes.

However, it is fair to say that overall, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t pack quite the same punch as “The Avengers.” Maybe that’s because at the time, “The Avengers” provided something we hadn’t seen before. Marvel produced a series of detailed solo films for each of the characters before throwing them together for a sort of superhero “Magnificent Seven”; all the build-up definitely paid off. The movie felt fresh and exciting, and I walked out of the theater feeling that rush of geeky giddiness. Although I also got that feeling from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it just wasn’t as strong for “Age of Ultron.”

*Warning: Major spoilers ahead!*

What I did love about “Age of Ultron”: Ultron himself is a fascinating villain, and I love the concept that as Tony Stark fights the robot, he’s really battling the manifestations of his own inner demons. Ultron is voiced with creepy perfection by James Spader, whose character is equal parts frightening, patronizing and captivating. He’s one of the best — and despite the fact he’s a robot, one of the most complex — villains to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also loved Vision, the entity created to help the Avengers bring down Ultron. He’s played by Paul Bettany, who previously played J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark’s computer system. Vision is an intriguing enigma, and I definitely hope we see more of him in MCU films.

The action scenes in the film don’t disappoint, taking the Avengers to various spots around the globe. It was nice to see more of a backstory for Hawkeye, a character that sometimes seems to be overlooked in the Avengers line-up (a fact Hawkeye even cracks a joke about in the film). I enjoyed catching a glimpse into Black Widow’s past as well, and I hope we learn more about her backstory in future films.

I do have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of the romantic subplot between Black Widow and the Hulk. It’s not that these characters aren’t an interesting pairing; I think they are, and it’s a subplot that could work. However, it seemed to move too fast in this movie, and I don’t think film makers provided enough build-up. It also seemed like an odd plot shift after the decidedly flirty chemistry between Black Widow and Captain America in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” I had really been hoping the MCU would explore this chemistry more in later films, especially since Black Widow/Captain America would make an interesting pairing, as well.

I also wanted to see more development for the two new Avengers, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. I was genuinely surprised by Quicksilver’s death at the end of the film. We’d heard rumors an Avenger was going to die, but most of the speculation seemed to be surrounding Hawkeye. The film even seemed to set up Hawkeye to make the ultimate sacrifice, but Quicksilver takes a round of bullets for the archer, telling him (and the audience), “You didn’t see that coming.” I wish the film had lingered a bit more on this moment, to heighten its impact.

In short, “Age of Ultron” introduces some interesting concepts and sets up some intriguing storylines for future movies (I’m really excited for “Captain America: Civil War” now). Like all Marvel films, it’s a blast to watch, though die-hard fans may leave the theater wanting just a little more from it than it ultimately delivers.

2015 movie preview: My most anticipated upcoming films

870ae77d2c2310133b4fc937959c42d92b5bb4e6Every January, I like to put together a list of my most anticipated films for that upcoming year. It’s fun to peek ahead, and it’s also fun to look back at that list at the end of the year, and see how many of my “most anticipated” actually ended up on my “best of the year” list.

This year, I narrowed my list down to my top 5, and interestingly, they all happen to be sequels. While normally I also like to include some original films with new concepts, the sequels coming out this year are unique in that many of them are high-pressure or high-risk. Will “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “James Bond: Spectre” live up to their critically and commercially well-received sequels? Will “Jurassic World” prove to be a successful reboot of a well-loved franchise? And, perhaps the biggest risk of all, will J.J. Abrams be able to successfully continue the “Star Wars” legacy?

Here is a ranking of my top five most anticipated movies for 2015. I’d also love to hear what movies would make your list!

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2

Mockingjay“Mockingjay — Part 1” was a financial success, but didn’t rise to quite the same heights as its tense, masterfully-crafted predecessor, “Catching Fire.” “Part 1” felt more like a prelude to “Part 2,” coming out this November — and hopefully it will be a stronger film.

Many fans expressed frustration with the ending of “The Hunger Games” book trilogy, and it will be interesting to see how closely the film follows the book. The movie will undoubtedly be dark, featuring a difficult invasion of the Capitol and the loss of some beloved characters.

4. Jurassic World

Jurassic World“Jurassic Park” continues to be one of my favorite Steven Spielberg films. From the dinosaur special effects, which still hold up pretty well even today, to that soaring, iconic theme from John Williams, it’s a fun, crowd-pleasing classic. I was really skeptical about the reboot … until I saw the preview, and though I tried to resist at first, I finally had to admit that yes, the preview stirred those same feelings of excitement I had gotten while watching the first movie.

It also will be fun to see Chris Pratt in another action role, after “Guardians of the Galaxy” made him a breakout star.

3. “James Bond: Spectre”

SPECTREThe last Bond film, “Skyfall,” was an elegant, stylish spy thriller, and director Sam Mendes is back for the next installment in the Bond franchise. Daniel Craig has earned himself a place near the top of the “best Bonds,” and this could be his last outing. Fans hope the film’s title is a reference to the secret terrorist organization that has shown up in past Bond films.

While I’ll be sad to see Craig go, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for rumored Bond replacement Idris Elba.

2. “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

images2012’s “The Avengers” is going to be a tough act to follow — a fact director Joss Whedon seems to be well aware of. He appears to be taking the Marvel sequel in a darker direction, having the team of dysfunctional superheroes create their own worst enemy: an artificially intelligent robot called “Ultron” with a frighteningly warped sense of justice.

Rumors about the plot are running rampant of course, including one that a major character could die in the film. I admire Whedon for his willingness to take a risk and give us a (presumably) darker film, but I hope he will be able to find a nice balance between this darker tone and the spirit of fun we’ve come to love about the Marvel films.

1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Forum-menace---an-image-f-011Most likely no one is surprised this movie ended up at the top of my “most anticipated” list. 😉 “Star Wars” has long been my favorite film franchise; “The Empire Strikes Back” is my all-time favorite movie, and the series has always occupied a special place in my heart. That’s why I’m thrilled — and terrified — that the saga is continuing this December.

I love what J.J. Abrams did for the “Star Trek” movie franchise, and I hope he can work his magic again with “Star Wars.” I loved the teaser trailer, and how it brought back the feel of the original series. I love that some of the original actors will appear in this film to pass the torch on to the next generation. This is certainly a risky project, but I hope it will be just as amazing as we all dream it will be. Here’s hoping “the force” is with J.J. Abrams and Disney this December! 😉

“Age of Ultron”: Trailer kicks off speculation about Avengers sequel

avengers-age-of-ultron-concept-posterWell, let the speculation begin.

The first trailer for Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” arrived earlier than expected, thanks to a leak (Marvel proved to be a good sport, claiming — tongue-in-cheek — the work of pesky “Hydra” agents). At any rate, the trailer is here, and fans have quickly begun dissecting the two and a half minute video.

And there’s certainly a lot going on in those two and a half minutes. We catch a glimpse of the team of superheroes, looking weary and war-torn. We witness streets covered with ashes and rubble. The tone is grimmer, darker than the first Avengers movie, veering closer to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. We get a sense that this battle is going to cost the Avengers — as a team and as individuals. And unlike its predecessor, this movie may not have a happy ending.

Marvel tends to not give away the best bits of their movies in their trailers, a fact I’ve always appreciated. The trailer for “Age of Ultron” teases far more than it reveals, but it’s given us plenty to speculate about.

In the movie, Ultron is a robot created by Tony Stark that develops a mind of its own and becomes a threat to humanity. I really liked the look of the robot in the film, and James Spader voices the character with an eerie menace. At first I was wondering how they would top the villain from the first Avengers movie, and I worried a robot might make a less dynamic villain. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the most colorful and arguably the best of the Marvel movie villains, but I think Ultron has the potential to be an intriguing and menacing villain. Although the idea of technology turning on humanity isn’t a new concept in science fiction, it’s interesting that one of the Avengers ends up creating the team’s enemy. This will undoubtedly develop tension amongst the team members.

Another major factor I noticed in the trailer is how surprisingly dark it feels, at least for a Marvel film. There’s no banter between the characters, no snarky one-liners from Tony Stark. I’m sure there will be some of this in the final movie; director/writer Joss Whedon is known for his dialogue, and the banter and bickering between the superheroes was part of what made the first Avengers movie so fun. However, I do think the second Avengers film will be much more serious, and it will be interesting to see how this goes over with movie audiences. Marvel has developed a winning formula of humor and heart, with lovable but sometimes dysfunctional characters. Audiences seem to love — and trust — the Marvel formula so much that they made a blockbuster of Marvel’s once obscure round-up of characters “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The movie was quirky, fast-paced and funny. Will audiences like seeing favorite characters in a more serious setting?

I don’t mind if Joss Whedon takes the second Avengers movie a little darker, especially since it could help the sequel from feeling like a rehash of the original. However, I hope he doesn’t make the movie TOO serious or take out too much of the witty banter between characters. Whedon has shown, through projects like his Western-flavored sci-fi series “Firefly,” that he can balance darker themes and rapid-fire humor.

I’ve also heard some speculation that one of the major characters could die in this movie. It would be a way to surprise audiences, and is a move Marvel hasn’t really made before. Several Marvel characters have gone to the brink of death and come back (Nick Fury, Steve Rogers, Phil Coulson, etc.), but a major character death would be a game changer — if they actually stayed dead. While I think as a storyteller, Whedon is gutsy enough to kill off a member of the Avengers team, Marvel won’t kill one of the “big three” — the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America solo franchises make too much money. I don’t think it will be Black Widow; I still hope to see a solo movie for her character, and there’s too much fun chemistry between her and Captain America to kill her off. I can’t see them killing Hulk either, and Nick Fury has already “died” once. Hawkeye could be a possibility, especially since he’s probably the least likely to get a solo film.

As the sequel to the all-time highest grossing superhero movie, there’s a lot of pressure riding on this film. I think Joss Whedon will pull it off, and the trailer already has fans excited about the sequel.

Movie preview: Will ‘Captain America’ continue Marvel’s dominance in superhero cinema?

34832 KS_New_capATrying to guess what movies will become hits isn’t an exact science. Sometimes a film will come seemingly out of nowhere — like Disney’s recent animated musical “Frozen” — and become a huge hit at the box office, while other times even an A-list cast or a prestigious director aren’t enough to elevate a film from a short, disappointing run in theaters.

However, Marvel’s new Captain America movie “The Winter Soldier” (out in U.S. theaters Friday) appears to have all the makings of a hit. Advance reviews are very positive (currently at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, about in line with “The Avengers”), and the movie is tracking for an $80 million+ debut, similar to the Thor sequel.

“The Winter Soldier” looks to be yet another blockbuster from the now seemingly bullet-proof Marvel Studios. It has been interesting to watch Marvel evolve its line-up of “Avengers” tie-in films, which started in 2008 with the surprise hit “Iron Man.” Marvel has used a now well-refined formula — fun characters, good action sequences and dashes of humor — to make stars of what were once considered more B-list superheroes. I’d argue Iron Man and Captain America are now just as well known as Batman and Superman.

There was some concern Marvel might experience a post-Avengers slump, and the solo superhero films might seem like a bit of a letdown after the big-budget team-up of all the superheroes in “The Avengers.” However, that doesn’t seem to be a problem so far. Interestingly, both the Captain America and Thor sequels will open higher than their predecessors, probably thanks to a boost from “The Avengers.”

In terms of character origin films, I think Iron Man had the strongest story, followed by Thor and then Captain America. However, Captain America may very well turn out to have the best sequel of the three. I really like Chris Evans’ portrayal of Captain America/Steve Rogers. He’s earnest and idealistic, but there’s also a sense of sadness and a deep longing for the era he was pulled out of and can never go back to.

I’m also excited because it appears — at least from the trailers — that Marvel is taking this movie in a new direction. It’s a superhero movie that’s also a political drama and a study of the ethics of espionage. S.H.I.E.L.D. is supposed to be “the good guys,” but are some of the methods they use in the name of national security morally defendable? How will Captain America react to the shifting values and evolving technology of the modern era?

I’m glad Marvel decided to pair up Captain America with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in “The Winter Soldier.” Film makers have an opportunity to highlight the contrasts between their characters — she’s a “cloak and dagger” assassin, he’s a more straight-forward soldier — but, at least in “The Avengers” movie, they seemed to work well together. There’s been some speculation over whether the chemistry between the characters is romantic in nature. If so, that could result in some interesting fall-outs in the second Avengers film. I’m also looking forward to seeing what roles newcomers Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie will have in the new Captain America film, as a senior leader within S.H.I.E.L.D. and a new superhero, respectively.

I have high hopes for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and I’m excited to find out what comes next in the Marvel cinematic universe. The real test for Marvel will be its sci-fi superhero film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which hits theaters in August. It’s a departure from what Marvel has done before and will show just how big of a draw the Marvel brand is for a film that doesn’t include its “big three” superheroes: Iron Man, Thor or Captain America.

Fans vs. the critics: Are movie critics too tough on certain films?

the-hobbit_2422493bJust out of curiosity, I logged onto the Rotten Tomatoes website — which compiles movie reviews from various sources — before going to see “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” last month. I wanted to see what the critical consensus on the film was, and I was a little concerned when I saw its rating was only 65 percent. This isn’t a horrible score (it means 65 percent of critics still gave it a positive review), but it was a much lower score than I was anticipating, and it was certainly lower than the 90+ percent ratings earned by the three “Lord of the Rings” films.

Ultimately, I ended up going to the film and enjoying it very much. While I certainly respect the opinions of those who didn’t like the film, I personally thought it was a fun, light-hearted adventure. “The Hobbit” was the very first fantasy book I read as a kid, and the movie brought back fond memories for me.

However, it has been interesting to watch the different responses to this film online, and there seems to be a bit of a rivalry between fans and critics. When one critic from a well-known website said “The Hobbit” was “a bloated and often quite-dull would-be adventure that has little of the wide-eyed wonder and emotional pull of the original trilogy,” one reader responded by calling the critic “just another guy paid to walk into a theater and write about something he has neither the wit to understand nor the skill to create.”

This example highlights an issue I’ve been noticing for a while. Critics tend to be tougher on big-budget action/adventure films, even though these films usually perform well at the box office. And I think with the rise of social media and the potential for more interaction and sharing comments online, fans have been more vocal about criticizing the critics for being too picky.

Right or wrong, I think many movie-goers have the impression that traditional movie critics from the major media outlets can be a little bit “snooty” and like only “serious” films. Fans sometimes feel that critics are talking down to them, and I’m sure most people would agree that it is hard not to feel offended when someone rips apart a film that meant something special to you. I’ll admit a certain critic did rub me the wrong way in his review of Marvel’s “The Avengers” when he criticized the film and then stated something like, “But I’m sure the mindless masses will flock to this film anyway.” I did not have a problem with him sharing his opinion, even though I didn’t agree with it, but I do wish he hadn’t called people who liked the film “mindless.”

But, in critics’ defense, reviewing movies is tough, especially if you’re trying to review every new release. That’s a lot of films to watch in one year, and it’s probably easy to get burned out (and, perhaps, less forgiving of a film’s flaws). Critics are asked to be as objective as possible about an art form that is, by nature, subjective. If you don’t like science fiction and fantasy as a genre, you’re probably going to rate those films a little lower than other films. If you do like sci-fi and fantasy, you’re going to tend to rate those films higher. It’s just natural that your personal preferences will color your overall perception of a film. It’s probably not practical for all media outlets to have a special critic for each genre, even though it would be nice to have critics that love dramas reviewing dramas, critics that love sci-fi reviewing sci-fi movies, and so on.

I do think critics need to remember, though, that there’s a difference between films that are great from an artistic standpoint (films that have an important statement to make about society, films that take creative risks, etc.), and films that are designed to simply be fun to watch. For example, “The Avengers” isn’t a deep, philosophical film — and it isn’t meant to be. It’s just a fun roller coaster ride we’re meant to sit back and enjoy. “The Hobbit” is based off a book that was meant to be a light-hearted adventure for children (and children at heart). Films like “The Hobbit” and “The Avengers” should be reviewed differently than a film like “The Master.”

So, what do you think? Do you feel critics are too tough on certain types of films? Should critics try to be as objective as possible when reviewing films, even if it is from a genre they don’t like?