Tag Archives: Andy Serkis

Super-Stuffed

New ‘Avengers’ is full of most everything—including itself

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner

Directed by Josh Whedon

PG-13

Summer is when Hollywood rolls out its big guns, and this star-packed, superhero-stuffed eruption certainly starts things off with a bang.

The second movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise, it’s full of just about everything, including itself. It’s got all six of the do-gooders from the first movie, plus a couple of newbies. It’s dense with character backstories, relationship dramas and plot points that zip and zing in every direction, including forward—to more movies to come—and backward, riffing on things that happened in previous ones. It begins with one extended mega-wallop of a fight, a castle siege in a snowy forest, and ends with an even larger one, on a crumbling island city in the sky. And it crams even more in between, including a dyna-whopper that rips up most of Manhattan.

I imagine insurance premiums for the Avengers are through the roof.

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James Spader provides the voice of Ultron.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) band together again, this time to fight an evil, smack-talking robot, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who quotes the Bible and sings a ditty from Pinocchio as he goes about his mission of global annihilation.

Two new characters, the genetically altered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also come aboard—but only after playing freaky and fast for the other team first. Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders return for cameos. Look—there’s Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings! Paul Bettany, previously unseen as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer system, Jarvis, materializes anew as a floating, red-faced uber-android named Vision.

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Paul Bettany

If you’re a Marvelite, you’ll probably be in fan-gasm heaven. Otherwise, you might find the constant, crashing swirl and whirl of imagery and the barrage of inside references overwhelming and exhausting.

The cast is top-notch, and returning writer-director Josh Whedon packs the script and the screen with cleverness as well as ka-pow. But even at a lengthy 141 minutes, things still feel jammed and crammed. All the busy CGI huffing and puffing make the quieter moments stand out even more, like a scene in which the other Avengers, a bit tipsy after a party, humorously try (unsuccessfully) to lift Thor’s hammer from a coffee table, or the romantic subplot between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, in which she reveals a deep secret about her past and he painfully admits why his raging alter ego makes him less than ideal as a boyfriend.

It’s all part of the Marvel long game, a studiously crafted, mega-million-dollar maneuver in which comic-book characters are morphed from page to screen, connected, separated, then re-combined in various combos for a seemingly endless chain of box-office catnip. Coming up: Ant Man on July 15, a new Captain America next summer, the third Thor plus Dr. Strange in 2017 and another Avengers in 2018.

“Someone’s been playing an intricate game and made pawns of all of us,” muses Thor as Ultron draws to a close. True that, in more ways than one.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Monkey Business

‘Apes’ sequel further muddles the line between monkey and man

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell & Jason Clark

Directed by Matt Reeves

Rated PG-13

Whose side are you on when battle lines are drawn between people and other primates? The answer may not be as clear-cut as you think, especially in this terrific second installment of the latest Planet of the Apes series, which muddies the moral ground—as well as other things—between monkey and man.

As Dawn begins, we’re reminded that some ten years ago (in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes), scientific experimentation—and exploitation—resulted in a proliferation of genetically modified apes and began a widespread viral wipeout of the world’s human population.

Now, in a decimated, post-ape-ocalyptic world, a tribe of hunting, gathering apes—who have learned to communicate through sign language, rudimentary writing and grunted speech—rule the densely forested hills outside the city that once was the metropolis of San Francisco.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESWhen a small group of humans are discovered deep inside ape territory, it begins an uneasy truce—until dissenting factions on both sides stoke tensions to something much more aggressive.

Director Matt Reeves, whose resume includes the monster movie Cloverfield, the moody vampire saga Let Me In and several episodes of TV’s 1998-2002 series Felicity, draws from all those projects for his talent pool and technique. Felicity star Keri Russell is the movie’s female lead, Kodi Smit-McPhee played the bullied young teen in Let Me In, and several of Reeve’s bravura sequences—like the one of apes on horseback, firing machine guns—are as tense and scari-fying as almost anything you’ll see in any monster movie.

But Reeves and his team of FX wizards also create something above and beyond any of those movies—and most other movies, period—when it comes to blending live-action with digital effects. The apes, created through a process of “motion capture” photography where live actors are first filmed then digitally “overlaid” with their personalized primate characteristics, are nothing short of spectacular. You won’t be to separate pulse from pixels, no matter how closely you look.

Hunting partyAnd even though the “human” cast also includes Gary Oldman and Jason Clark (from Zero Dark Thirty), top billing goes to someone you’ll never see, at least out of his digital ape-draping: Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, the chief of the apes, is the true star of this show. Serkis, who’s also portrayed Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and the biggest ape of them all in King Kong, is a marvel, humanizing Caesar as a diplomat, a father, a husband and a leader who knows that leading can sometimes mean making difficult, unpopular, dangerous and even life-or-death decisions.

With a story that connects to contemporary (as well as ancient) issues and themes—trust, family, betrayal, racism, war, survival—this smart, muscular, action-packed blockbuster is easily one of the summer’s most rousing sci-fi crowd-pleasers. It’s some seriously strong, exceptionally well-made monkey business.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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