AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (USA/12A/141mins) Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Linda Cardellini, Hayley Atwell, Elizabeth Olsen, Cobie Smulders, James Spader, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba.
THE PLOT: In a bid to make the Avengers redundant, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) sets about making global peacekeeping androids, named project Ultron. When Ultron comes into contact with Loki’s sceptre, however, it becomes self aware and bent on destruction. Of course, it is up to the Avengers to take him down.
THE VERDICT: With the first AVENGERS movie, way way back in 2012, Joss Whedon not only made a fun, funny and exhilarating movie, but he also cemented himself in the hearts and minds of Marvel fans everywhere. This time out, however, it seems that Whedon’s gruelling schedule has taken something of a toll on the writer/director, as some of his trademark sparkle is absent.
The gang is all back, and on spectacular form for MARVEL AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, and new additions to the cast work well in terms of the story. Elizabeth Olsen plays Scarlet Witch, and does well with the role, making the character loyal and strong, while also creepy and scary. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does less well as Quicksilver; not only is he in the shadow of Evan Peters, who played the character wonderfully in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but he seems rather disengaged from the role, and his recurring joke becomes as irritating as his chewy accent. James Spader does incredibly well in bringing the righteous and violent Ultron to life; his voice drips malice and he is definitely a worthy foe, he just feels less solid than Loki in Avengers Assemble, perhaps because Loki had a chance to ramp up through Thor.
Whedon’s script starts out truly Whedon-esque; the opening set piece is a rollercoaster that soon gives way to plenty of silly giggles. It’s not long, however, before the film becomes almost entirely wrapped up in the action at hand, and forgets that the Marvel films are almost always infused with a sense of fun and laughter. That’s not to say that the film stops being fun, it just loses its sense of humour. Also, there is a love story injected into the mix that seems to come from nowhere, and disappear as soon as its not needed.
As director, Whedon keeps the pace of the film fast and fun, with the film rolling from set piece to set piece, with only a brief let up in the middle for some dialogue and bonding. This gives the film a sense of urgency, but it also means that eventually, the set pieces begin to blur together. The film is well shot, however, and Whedon painstakingly ensures that we know enough about Ultron and his intentions that he feels like a credible threat, just not a particularly familiar one.
In all, MARVEL AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is a worthy follow up to the films that have gone before, and neatly sets the stage for the next Marvel tsunami that is already on the horizon. Some of the new characters work better than others, but the ensemble works incredibly well. Whedon’s trademark banter and humour sometimes gets lost among the scale and scope of the film, butMARVEL AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON ends up being almost as much fun as the one that went before, if slightly drawn out. Rating: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FALLING (UK/16/102mins) Directed by Carol Morley. Starring Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Florence Pugh, Anna Burnett, Greta Scacchi, Rose Caton, Monica Dolan, Morfydd Clark.
THE PLOT: Set in an all-girls school in England, 1969, best friends Lydia (Williams) and Abbie (newcomer Pugh) are struggling with everyday teenage issues – such as, you know, pregnancy, and your brother getting off with the girl you secretly desire – when the wobble in their friendship triggers a strange psychogenic illness that’s soon gripping their classmates. This mass hysteria boasts such perplexing symptoms as fainting, nausea, severe headaches and convulsions, and its origins may be in the raging hormones, a sexual awakening, or it could just be linked to Lydia’s difficult relationship with her agoraphobic mother (Peake).
THE VERDICT: Inspired by real-life mass hysteria cases around the world – and, in particular, the 240 pre-teen and teenage girls in El Carmen de Bolivar, northern Colombia, hospitalised due to shortness of breath, headaches, nausea and fainting spells – Carol Morley’s second feature (after 2011’s true-life docudrama DREAMS OF A LIFE) is a sensual and seductive affair. Shades of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, SWEETIE, INNOCENCE and HEAVENLY CREATURES abound, but Morley is enough of a culture vulture to make this tale her own.
She’s aided and abetted beautifully by Williams and Pugh, whilst Morley regular Peake struggles to make an impact, even if her caged character is a crucial part of the jigsaw.
Capturing the magic and tragic that comes with lust’s first kiss, THE FALLING may not tread new ground here, but it does stand on its own two feet. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to my Born To Pun class. RATING: 4/5 Review by Paul Byrne
THE GOOD LIE (Kenya | India | USA/12A/110mins) Directed by Philippe Falardeau. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Corey Stoll, Kuoth Wiel, Femi Oguns.
THE PLOT: Having spent many years in a Kenyan refugee camp after Sudan was engulfed in civil war, refugees Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) are awarded a chance at a new life in the US. When they arrive, however, they find life in the fabled land of America is very different than the one they are used to.
THE VERDICT: Refugees from Sudan who found themselves scattered around the world are now The Lost Boys of Sudan, and there is little doubt that the stories of these survivors, and the hardships they went through are daunting. Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal, who play Jeremiah and Paul in THE GOOD LIE, were both forced to become child soldiers, and it is perhaps this level of experience and trauma in these actors’ lives that makes the film work far better than it should.
Reese Witherspoon presumably lent her name to THE GOOD LIE in order to get the film made. Her role is rather small and unimpressive, since this is the storey of the refugees, bot the Americans who helped them. The same goes for Corey Stoll as Jack. Oceng, Duany and Jal are the emotional heart and soul of the film, and they do well in getting the audience on their sides. The trouble is, they are often let down by a trite and slightly insulting script.
Speaking of the screenplay – written by Margaret Nagle – it is the seeming desire to show how strange the Western world is to these Sudanese survivors that makes the film feel a little twee and insulting. There are entire scenes where the characters are treated like idiots for not understanding technology or the way the US works, then pandered to and talked down to when characters try to explain the way of the world to them. It is this that distracts from the power of the survivors’ story, and turns the film from a drama to a slightly cringeworthy comedy.
Director Philippe Falardeau does well enough with the action set in Sudan, when the characters are children, but when they come to the West, the film turns – probably unintentionally – into a tale reminiscent of Eddie Murphy’s COMING TO AMERICA. There is powerful emotional heart at the centre of THE GOOD LIE, but sometimes it is difficult to see, buried as it is under a layer of schmaltz and saccharine.
In all, THE GOOD LIE is a film about a subject that needs exploring, but since this film is determined to be feel good, rather than emotionally true, this is not the film needed to tell the tale. Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal are strong in their roles, but are hampered by an overly sweetened script that lacks subtlety. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes