Doctor Strange — a review

Gonna take a lot of window cleaner to clean this thing.

Gonna take a lot of window cleaner to clean this thing.

My first introduction to Doctor Strange was a TV movie that was produced in 1978. I haven’t seen it since then (although that will change soon, because I’ve recently discovered that it’s available on video,), but I remember liking it very much at the time. My father, upon hearing that I had enjoyed this tele-film, proceeded to get me the Doctor Strange comics. To say that the comics were psychedelic head trips on paper is putting it mildly. Doctor Strange ventured into mystical realms that were best described as an LSD trip without the LSD. Once exposed to the comics, my love of the TV movie lessened, as I realized just how lame the movie was, compared to the unrestrained imagination on display within the vibrant panels of the comics.

This was why, when they announced that Marvel was producing a cinematic version of the Sorcerer Supreme, I was eager to see it. Not restrained by the meager budget of a TV film (nor the limited special effects of the 1970s), I figured that a new Doctor Strange film would finally be unfettered and just as crazy as it wants to be. And Doctor Strange, the latest superhero saga to emerge on the Marvel cinematic assembly line, does not disappoint. Benedict Cumberpatch, the modern day Sherlock, plays the lead role of Dr. Steven Strange, a brilliant (and arrogant) surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident.

Let's see...where is it? Ah, here it is: Chapter 17, How To Bring About The End of the World.

Let’s see…where is it? Ah, here it is: Chapter 17, How To Bring About The End of the World.

Hearing of a man who used alternative methods of healing himself from paralysis, Strange follows his lead and seeks the advice of the Ancient One (the always great Tilda Swinton), a powerful mystic who winds up teaching Strange far more than just regaining the use of his hands. There is a secret society of sorcerers who protect the Earth from full-on assaults from other-worldly realms, but this society of protectors is under attack by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his followers. Strange soon finds himself taking up arms–of the magical kind–to defeat this new threat to Earth.

Scott Derrickson, who directed the Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, helms DS, and he’s the perfect choice. Having plenty experience in imaginative scary movies, Derrickson adeptly handles the Strange proceedings with aplomb, and in retrospect it makes sense to hire a director with horror movies in his wheelhouse, because Doctor Strange is the closest thing to a horror film that the Marvel universe has. But in this case, Doctor Strange feels more like a dark fantasy tale that’s a blend of Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and the ending of 2001. As weird as that may sound, Derrickson makes it all work very nicely.

Hello, cape. You look like a very nice cape. Would you like to come home with me?

Hello, cape. You look like a very nice cape. Would you like to come home with me?

Cumberpatch proves to be perfect casting as Strange, truly becoming the character in a rousing scene where he literally rises up in the air, his cape flowing, to confront a baddie. Tilda Swinton gives her usual excellent performance, where she seemingly shape-shifts into another character made fully rounded just by her performance alone. Rachel McAdams is also extremely good, making the most of the thankless role of the girlfriend who gets left behind. Her wide-eyed reaction to Doctor Strange–who appears in her hospital, seeking medical attention–and the weirdness he brings with him is endearing to watch. Filled with imaginative eye candy that will make this a must-see on Blu-Ray, Doctor Strange is a fun ride through the mystic realms and beyond. –SF

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders — a review

Holy animation, Batman!

Holy animation, Batman!

Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders is a loving tribute to the 1960s TV series that manages to feel like the second 1960s-era Batman movie, thanks to the voice-casting of original Batman and Robin stars Adam West and Burt Ward, along with Julie Newmar, who reprises her role as Catwoman. Taking place in the same time period as the series, the film is filled with the social mores of the time, such as having Catwoman demurely step to the side whenever Batman and Robin battle the villainous henchmen (complete with the customary BIFF! BAM! and POW! word balloons the original series always flashed during the fight scenes).

Catwoman is a part of a fearsome foursome of rogues that includes the Joker, Penguin and the Riddler as they set out to work together to wreak havoc on Gotham City. The fact that these villains team up, along with their use of a penguin-themed zeppelin later in the film, is a nice nod to the original 1966 Batman movie that was released during the height of the TV show’s popularity. But there are plenty of fun Easter eggs here, all riffing on the various incarnations of Batman. One of my favorite moments is when Batman, having been struck on the head, sees three Catwomen standing before him, with two of them looking just like Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt.

They may be nefarious villains, but they still wear their seat belts!

They may be nefarious villains, but they still wear their seat belts!

There are also fun nods to Michael Keaton’s Batman, the Nolan Batman films, and even a shout out to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. But while it tweaks the nose of the original series (like when Bruce outright fires Alfred for not stopping a nosy Aunt Harriet from snooping around), this animated version is still very respectful of the source material. I first saw the 1960s Batman series when I was a toddler, so I always took it very seriously–until a viewing when I was older made me realize that the show was much more lighthearted and whimsical, but still entertaining in its own way.

That was what the makers of this animated feature realized as well, and they sought to recreate that same silly vibe, and they succeeded marvelously. The characters are all drawn just like they appeared in the series (although this version of the Joker, while drawn to look like Caesar Romero’s version, doesn’t have his painted-over mustache–and I’m actually grateful the filmmakers’ dedication didn’t go that far), and even the original 1960s Batmobile makes a valiant return. If you’re a diehard Batman fan, like me, then this is the movie for you. –SF

X-Men: Apocalypse — a review

Excuse us, we're looking for a Mr. Apocalypse. Have you seen him?

Excuse us, we’re looking for a Mr. Apocalypse. Have you seen him?

After the mind-bending time travels of the superb Days Of Future Past, the X-Men are back, and this time they’re squaring off against none other than Apocalypse himself. If you’re wondering who the hell Apocalypse is and where he got such a spiffy name, he’s an old villain who originally appeared in 1986, in issue number 5 of the comic book X-Factor. In the film, Apocalypse is originally from Ancient Egypt, and winds up sleeping for several thousand years after being betrayed by his own people and buried under a collapsing pyramid in an opening scene that’s riddled with so much hyper active CGI that it feels more like a bad video game.

Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse under heavy make up and one of these big rubber suits that I thought went out with old school hand-animation of physical models. Speaking of old school, XM:A takes place in 1983, rounding out the present ’past tense’ trilogy that started with X-Men: First Class (which took place in 1963) and continued with Days Of Future Past (which took place mainly in 1973). But XM:A lacks the gravitas and the coolness of its two predecessors, while still retaining a goofy sense of fun. The main problem was that, despite his impressive name, Apocalypse really doesn’t do much but talk, talk and talk some more.

What did that SOB say about my outfit?

What did that SOB say about my outfit?

He recruits four of the mutants, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and a young Storm, as his four horsemen, and yet there’s never any clear explanation as to why he needs them (it’s suggested later that they serve as his bodyguards, but why would Apocalypse even need protection if he’s so all-powerful?). And unlike some of the better X-Films, like X2 and DOFP, there are moments here when the film’s pacing comes to a screeching halt to service the exposition, as well as to pay another needless visit to William Stryker’s military facility to rescue mutants who have been abducted by the nasty government.

Shouldn’t Apocalypse be the main focus of the film, since he’s supposed to be such a bad ass villain from the dawn of time and all of that? No, and that’s annoying. But since the movie doesn’t really show Apocalypse doing anything but recruiting mutants in endless ‘getting the band together’ scenes, where he’s babbling on like a used car salesman, then maybe the visit to Stryker’s lair wasn’t such a bad idea after all. While it’s not as good as DOFP, XM:A still has its enjoyable moments, like another great Quicksilver scene, as well as the welcome return of Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne). Granted, it’s a fun entry in the series, but it’s for from being the best film in the series. It would have been nice if XM:A tried to raise the bar just a little bit, instead of relying on superhero tropes and settling for being just a decent fan service flick. –SF

Captain America: Civil War — a review

Darn it, we were at the wrong gate! Our plane's on the other side of the airport! Avengers, run like heck!

Darn it, we were at the wrong gate! Our plane’s on the other side of the airport! Avengers, run like heck!

Released in 2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spectacular mix of comic book fun and spy movie paranoia that managed to not only update the title character to the 21st century, but also made a major change to the overall status quo of the Marvel cinematic universe. That’s a pretty tall order for any one film, making The Winter Soldier one of my all-time favorite Marvel superhero movies. But what about the sequel, CA: Civil War? Does it measure up to Winter Soldier? Yep, Civil War does measure up, and even manages to surpass Winter Soldier, which was a feat that I was not expecting but was pleasantly surprised to see.

The start of Civil War sees Cap leading a team of Avengers tracking down mercenaries led by Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in an African city. They find their targets, but in the battle, many innocent people inadvertently become targets as well. While that threat may have been eliminated, it raises a hue and cry across the world that the Avengers have become just as dangerous as their foes. The secretary of state (William Hurt, reprising his General Ross character from The Incredible Hulk) spells it out to the Avengers that, either they accept government oversight, or they’ll be forced to retire.

Cap isn’t too keen on accepting government oversight, while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), feeling guilty after meeting a mother who lost her son during one of Avengers’ skirmishes, is all for it. But Cap takes action when his best bud Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) gets blamed for a terrorist attack. Ignoring orders to let others capture Bucky, Cap decides to go rogue and get the answers from Bucky himself. This leads to the “Civil War” of the title, where the heroes that make up the Avengers split up behind either Captain America or Iron Man. While this is definitely the third Captain America film, the number of heroes within it makes it feel more like the third Avengers movie–one that’s much better and far more enjoyable than the limp and unimaginative Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Missing your shield, Cap?

Missing your shield, Cap?

Despite the large cast, the Russo Brothers (who also directed The Winter Soldier) do a marvelous job at giving everybody a moment to shine. The Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is much more sympathetic here than she was in Age of Ultron. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also has a stronger presence, proving that the Russos would be the perfect choice to direct her standalone movie (whenever the hell Marvel feels like doing it).

The fight scenes in Civil War are so good they’re staggering, and as with the fights in Winter Soldier, here they also advance the plot while providing some great eye candy. The introduction of Spider-Man to the Marvel cinematic universe (he was previously unavailable due to rights issues) is very well done, with the filmmakers wisely avoiding the origin story and having him be an already established hero in his own right. Tom Holland does a great job playing him as the high school kid he always should have been. Seeing him here in Civil War makes me really look forward to Spidey’s standalone movie. Captain America: Civil War is another great chapter in the ongoing saga of the Marvel cinematic universe, serving the greater storytelling saga all without losing its own identity as being an enjoyable film in its own right. Don’t miss it. –SF

Ant-Man — a review

Luke, I am your father...sorry, just had to get that off my chest.

Luke, I am your father…sorry, just had to get that off my chest.

After sitting through the two and a half hour funeral dirge known as Batman Vs. Superman, I needed something light and entertaining to cleanse the palate, so to speak. When I realized that I had not seen Ant-Man, I decided to give it a shot. I initially avoided this movie for two reasons: it looked very silly, and there was an infamous behind the scenes story regarding how the original director, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), who had worked on and off on the film for eight years, abruptly left the production–supposedly when the script was changed without his knowledge or input. There were plenty of people who said that Wright should have trusted Marvel. But my take on this was that Marvel should have trusted Wright.

But while we can never really know what Wright’s fanciful vision of Ant-Man would have been like, director Payton Reed (Bring It On), who stepped into Wright’s big shoes, does a fine job at turning Ant-Man into a success. Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, an ex-convict who’s been recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his grown daughter Hope (the divine Evangeline Lilly) to steal some dangerous high tech that’s being developed by Darren Cross (the always good Corey Stoll), Pym’s former protégé at Pym’s labs. Having left the company after some bad blood had been spilled, Hank Pym has no control over this tech, and his only choice to stop it is to steal it.

You lose that suit while it was still mini-sized again, Scott?

You lose that suit while it was still mini-sized again, Scott?

Back in the 1980s, Hank Pym was originally Ant-Man, working with his wife The Wasp on special missions for the government. Pym created a special suit that could shrink him down to the size of an ant, while increasing his strength tenfold. This is the same tech that Cross is trying to weaponize, and what Pym wants Lang to steal for him. But this heist is different in that Lang gets to wear and use the original Ant-Man suit. Maybe the movie is more prosaic without Wright’s stylish touch, who knows? But when I was watching it, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Ant-Man is refreshingly different from the other superhero movies in that it’s a lot funnier, with the humor coming from the situations, so that it’s not too over the top, but just perfect. Having Michael Peña in the cast doesn’t hurt; the guy’s so funny he nearly steals every scene he’s in. There’s also a healthy respect for the sciences that’s presented here that one can only hope but help but spur some young minds into that field. It’s reminiscent of the first Iron Man film in terms of the sheer fun that it presents. And if it is a little silly in some places, that’s not a bad thing, either. Certain overly pretentious movies out there could do well to take a page from Ant-Man and get a little silly. — SF

Batman Vs. Superman — a review

Call  me Robo-Bat one more time...go ahead, I dare ya!

Call me Robo-Bat one more time…go ahead, I dare ya!

In Batman Vs. Superman (to be referred to as BvS from here on out), Zack Snyder’s grandiose epic, we’re introduced to Batman first–or, rather, to Bruce Wayne, where we once more witness the gunning down of Thomas and Martha Wayne outside of that frigging movie theater. As a life-long Batman fan I’ve had to put up with watching this scene over and over in various films and TV shows, which makes me appreciate the 1989 Batman film all the more for how director Tim Burton instead hints at the tragedy.

But as we see in BvS, Snyder is more of a blunt force director. While he’s a good visual stylist in his own right, he’s never been big on subtlety. So we have no choice but to watch Martha Wayne (played by Lauren Cohan, Maggie from The Walking Dead, in a blink and you’ll miss her scene) get shot in the face, which haunts Bruce Wayne (a superb Ben Affleck) to begin his crime fighting career as the Batman. Snyder’s take on Batman is that the Dark Knight is a twenty year veteran of the superhero game who is absolutely brutal on criminals; he brands special cases, like sexual deviants, with a bat-symbol, signaling them out in prison for further rough treatment by the general population. It’s a harsh take on the Dark Knight, who at least is decked out in a marvelous new costume.

Wayne has lost a building filled with his employees during the free for all battle that erupted between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) in Metropolis at the end of Man of Steel. Two years later Wayne’s still simmering with rage at Superman (once more well played by Henry Cavill). Along comes Lex Luthor (a hyper-active Jesse Eisenberg), who takes advantage of Wayne’s anger at the Man of Steel to manipulate him into fighting Superman in the rumble of the century.

What's with you guys? Mingle, already!

What’s with you guys? Mingle, already!

While I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would have, there are problems galore, such as how self-righteous Batman is at Superman slaughtering untold innocents when the Dark Knight becomes a one man wrecking crew in his pursuit of criminals, carelessly causing all sorts of destruction with his Batmobile (which is not the most inspired design; it looks like a giant grey pancake on wheels), not giving much thought to injuring any innocents in his single-minded rampage for justice. The always good Holly Hunter is largely wasted in the role of a senator who tries to reel in Superman. And a bomb goes off with Superman right in the room, killing hundreds, yet the Man of Steel never notices the device until its too late. Just like in Man of Steel Superman seems to be dropping the ball by letting innocents die literally all around him.

It’s because in BvS, as well as in Man of Steel, it’s clear that Zack Snyder really doesn’t know what to do with Superman. He’s treated like an all-powerful god who’s above the cares of mere mortals, and yet whenever Snyder tries to humanize Superman, like when he makes love to Lois Lane in a bath tub, it falls flat. And come to think of it, much of the movie feels this way. As spectacular as the imagery looks, there’s rarely any sincere feeling or emotion behind it. And the whole film, which is designed to set up a cinematic Justice League series, feels unfinished. It’s also unrelentingly grim and solemn to the point that during the rare moment when someone actually cracks a joke it comes off as being more of a shock than being genuinely funny.

Stand aside boys, I got this.

Stand aside boys, I got this.

There are bright spots here, one of them being Gail Godot as Wonder Woman, who infuses her character with so much vitality that I wished she was in the film a lot more. I’m really looking forward to seeing her standalone Wonder Woman film, now. Another bright spot is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, whose frantic performance makes sense when you view it within the context of the story: he is the herald for a far greater evil that will threaten earth. Perhaps being in the presence of such a monstrous threat, or even just knowing that it exists, would be enough to make anybody a wild-eyed maniac.

While far from being the perfect film (Snyder seems hell bent on pissing off DC comics fans at every turn, which is annoying) BvS is still fascinating to watch, largely for the big battle at the end, and the promise of an even more epic story to come that has a truly frightening villain at its core. Here’s hoping the Justice League movies, which is something I’ve wanted to see since I was a boy, are handled correctly. With Snyder at the helm, I have my doubts that it will be done right, but time will tell. –SF

Deadpool — a review

Whoa! Wait, I think I did leave the stove on after all!

Whoa! Wait, I think I did leave the stove on after all!

From the very opening of Deadpool, with its joke-filled titles (“Starring God’s Perfect Idiot”; “Directed by an overpaid tool”) set to Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning, I knew I was in for a very special treat. Ryan Reynolds, whose previous misbegotten superhero film, Green Lantern, is already a bad memory, redeems himself here as the titular character, a mercenary with superpowers who’s better known for his smart mouth than anything else. I’ve never read the comics, but Deadpool was well known for breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader, which is something that Reynolds’ version does in the film with the movie viewer to great effect.

It should be noted that Reynolds had played Deadpool once before, in another really bad superhero film called X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which was so bad it almost makes Green Lantern look good in comparison…almost). But Reynolds’ part in that film amounted to little more than a glorified cameo, and the Wolverine filmmakers didn’t have a very good grasp on who Deadpool really was–where first time director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick so faithfully recapture the essence of this irrelevant character with such fun that it makes their movie a sheer joy to watch.

Another reason Deadpool is so enjoyable is the fact that it’s rated R. Deadpool, along with everybody else in the movie, curses like a sailor, and it works so well you wonder why they didn’t do this sooner (technically, this isn’t the first R-rated superhero movie; that would be Blade, released in 1998–interestingly, Reynolds would later co-star in Blade Trinity, the second sequel). An R-rated superhero film was the next logical step at this rate, and Deadpool’s gritty world, along with his snarky, dark sense of humor, practically demanded the rating.

Reynolds is fantastic here, easily knocking it out of the ballpark. Morena Baccarin, best known from Firefly and Homeland, is perfect as the love interest. Carla Carano (Haywire) is a stand out as Angel Dust, an intimidating enforcer for the main villain. Brianna Hildebrand also stands out as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, the “moody teen” from the credits, and Stefan Kapicic provides the voice for Colossus, a CG-rendered hero from the X-Men who keeps trying to recruit Deadpool. I was very pleased to see this film was a smash hit, guaranteeing more off-kilter adventures of this extremely funny and very likeable hero. –SF

Fantastic Four (2015) — a review

Looks like the barbecue got a little out of hand.

Looks like the barbecue got a little out of hand.

Oh, the horror of the Fantastic Four! A movie that was reportedly so bad that its director, Josh Trank, famously sent (and then deleted) a tweet stating how stinky he thought his own film was. He blamed executives at 20th Century Fox for stifling his vision while it was still in the crib, while said executives stifled Trank’s directing career by losing him a gig directing a Star Wars movie. The F4 film, widely viewed as a rush job to secure the rights for Fox to the Marvel superhero team for another several years (thus keeping them out of Marvel studio’s hands), quickly bombed at the theaters. I saw this travesty, this…this…cinematic terror, and what did I think of it?

Well, um…actually, I kind of liked it.

No, seriously. I’m not being snarky or cute here. When the movie started in the cheap matinee at which I saw it (in 2-D too, I was really slumming it here, kids), I braced myself for a fantastically bad superhero movie that was supposed to make that god-awful Green Lantern flick look like Citizen Kane in comparison. And while it takes its sweet time getting started, introducing us to Reed Richards and Ben Grimm as elementary school kids building a teleporter out of parts from Ben’s family’s junkyard, things pick up when, at a science fair years later, Dr. Franklyn Storm (the always good Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (the always equally good Kate Mara) spot Reed’s invention and see the potential in it.

Invisible girl my ass...once I'm done hacking these bastards, they're gonna remember me forever!

Invisible girl my ass…once I’m done hacking these bastards, they’re gonna remember me forever!

They invite Reed to improve upon the teleporting project at a super special school for super special youngsters that’s overseen by an evil branch of the government led by Tim Blake Nelson (who’s making a career at playing these type of oily guys). When Reed, Sue and the gang make the project work, opening a portal to a new world, Nelson wants them to shut it down while they go converse with NASA about sending a team of explorers through. But the boys, in a drunken spree, all decide to do their best impersonation of Neil Armstrong by taking an unauthorized trip, which goes bad in the worst way, giving them all (and Sue, who didn’t go, but still got zapped in the lab) their superpowers.

I have no mouth and I must give a speech...what to do, what to do....

I have no mouth and I must give a speech…what to do, what to do….

Is the new F4 right up there with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I consider to be the best Marvel film yet made? Oh hell no; the new F4 still has some clearly visible problems, like a lack of characterization, as well as a pretty bland looking production design (and it would also be really nice if the Thing wore pants). But I dig their take on Doctor Doom, and how the foursome slowly became a real team at the end. It’s not a faithful reproduction of the comic, but taken on its own terms as a science fiction film that slowly turns into a superhero movie, the new Fantastic Four really isn’t that terrible. It may be nowhere in the same league as The Winter Soldier, but F4 is still actually better than Green Lantern (Jeez, now that movie really blew). –SF

X-Men:….The Rogue Cut — A Review

You were saying...?

You were saying…?

I held off on writing about X-Men: Days Of Future Past last year because I had heard there was a director’s cut coming down the pipeline. I didn’t think I’d have to wait a year for this to come out, but there you have it, and personally, I think X-Men: Days Of Future Past: The Rouge Cut was well worth the wait. The movie’s storyline is based on the classic Uncanny X-Men comic issues #141 & 142 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, which has the X-Men being hunted down like fugitives by an army of scary robots called Sentinels in a nightmarish future.

I will be happy to help you with anything you don't understand, citizen. Just hold still.

I will be happy to help you with anything you don’t understand, citizen. Just hold still.

The film version has the same basic story as the comic, but instead of sending Kitty Pride back into the past to correct the timeline, the film sends back Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to the year 1973. He doesn’t go back physically; his mind, or soul, is sent back to inhabit his younger body in that age. The reason the year 1973 is so special is because that was when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinel program. But what Mystique doesn’t count on is her killing Trask only helps to create the nightmarish future where mutants are hunted down and killed.

Ironically, it’s the assassination of one of their most hated enemies, Bolivar Trask, that Wolverine is sent back to stop in the hopes of creating a brighter future. X-Men: DOFP wound up creating a much brighter future for the fans of the cinematic X-Men series just by existing. With Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men films, back at the helm, DOFP is an incredibly self-assured movie that grabs you by the throat from the first frame and never lets go. Singer manages to juggle a large cast of characters within a coherent storyline, all while ramping up the ’wow’ factor as much as he can.

For the last time, we're not interested in your Amway products!

For the last time, we’re not interested in your Amway products!

One such ’wow’ moment is the use of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to help spring Magneto free from prison. When the guards are called out, Singer sets up a magnificent sequence showing Quicksilver using his super speed powers on the guards, who never had a chance. The added scenes include Magneto and Iceman breaking into the old X-Men Mansion (now held by the Sentinels) to rescue Rouge to serve as back up for a badly wounded Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) who’s overseeing Wolverine’s excursion into the past. This added scene gives Ian McKellen’s Magneto some much-needed moments to show off his powers, which are now nicely intercut with the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) breaking into a government vault in the past.

You the X-Men guys? No, you're on the wrong set, we're shooting Hostel 15 here.

You the X-Men guys? No, you’re on the wrong set, we’re shooting Hostel 15 here.

There’s also a nice added scene with Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) together again at the X-Mansion that recalls their budding romance from X-Men: First Class. The Rouge Cut should be considered the definitive edition of this film, since the restored scenes help to flesh out an already great movie. Plus, this version of the DVD/Blu-Ray also contains the original theatrical version of the film, as well as a nine part making of documentary that’s very informative. X-Men: Days Of Future Past: The Rouge Cut may have a long title, but this riveting and fun film is well worth your time. –SF

Avengers: Age Of Ultron — A review

Could those with tickets for the 11:00 show anybody listening to me? Hello? I hate opening day....

Could those with tickets for the 11:00 show please…is anybody listening to me? Hello? I hate opening day….

The bad tidings start from the very beginning, when Avengers: The Age of Ultron begins like a James Bond film, with the Avengers already in the middle of a mission where they’re taking down the evil Baron Strucker (the always good Thomas Kretschmann, trapped here playing a one-note character). Avengers: Age of Ultron using the proven formula of another successful action film series right out of the gate is not very promising, but I forgave Joss Whedon, the writer/director, since this was an effective way to show this dynamic group in action, which leads up to a really cool slow-mo sequence of the entire Avengers team literally swinging into battle.

Nice…but oh, wait a minute, once these Hydra goons are squashed, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the really bad idea that the human race would be much better off with a sentient robot army lording over them (apparently the Terminator films don’t exist to serve as a warning against robots in the Avengers universe). This leads to Ultron, a Frankenstein-like monster who rises up to curse his creator Stark and the Avengers. This sounds like a great idea, but the Ultron robot is given voice by James Spader, who never really makes this bad guy feel very threatening for me.

Feel free to Just call me Red....

Feel free to just call me Red….

There’s too much witty repartee between Ultron and the Avengers for my taste, too many moments when the action stops, when the heroes pause to listen to this overgrown garbage can crack wise when they should be cracking its shiny head instead. It’s the famous ‘villain monologue’ scene that The Invincibles (a MUCH better superhero flick than this, BTW) makes fun of in smart scenes where the heroes actually get the villains to bather on as a way to defeat them. And even Ultron’s allies, a pair of super-powered glimmer twins named Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, barely register in this way overcrowded film, leaving the Avengers without a decent enemy to square off of (where’s Loki when you really need him?).

This Avengers flick travels to exotic cities all over the world and promptly trashes them in overdone CGI battles that felt too cartoonish and over the top. But it’s not just the overabundance of CGI that’s the problem here; I was also getting just as weary of the whiny, phony angst in the “quiet” scenes as I was of the CGI-on-steroids battle sequences. It turns out that even Ultron is ultimately suffering from daddy issues, given his hatred for his “papa” Tony Stark. It’s a shame. Where the first Avengers film felt fresh and exciting, this one seems tired and stuck in a rut, falling back on easy story-telling formula (and CGI) instead of even trying to be inventive.

And I got an unintentional laugh at the climatic set piece, where the Avengers are oh-so-careful to herd innocent civilians to safety before and during the final battle, which is an uninspired repeat of the Battle of New York City from the first film, only this time with robots. Having the heroes being overly careful with protecting citizens is actually a nice touch, and it brings up a good point. It’s basically the Merry Marvel team saying, ‘Look, this isn’t Man Of Steel! See? We care about the little guys on the streets!’

Touché, Marvel. But as flawed as Man Of Steel was (and yes, that flick certainly had its problems) I still enjoyed it far more than I did Avengers 2. I own MOS on Blu-Ray, and from time to time revel in its good parts (Antje Traue still rocks very hard as Faora-Ul–now she’s a cool villain!). Despite being flawed, Man Of Steel still manages to bring me enjoyment, which is a lot more than I can say about Avengers 2.

Probably the most annoying thing about Avengers 2 is that it didn’t stand on its own as a film, but wound up being too unoriginal, filled with far too many “been there, done that” moments. Thankfully, it’s been announced that the Russo Brothers, who did such an outstanding job on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, will be directing the next two Avengers films. Maybe this infusion of new blood behind the cameras will be what the Avengers series needs. –SF