Tag Archives: Stellan Skarsgård

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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It’s Hammer Time…Again

Super-fans will get their fix, but everyone else might feel like this ‘Thor’ is just ‘more’

thor251e6e6b3ae340Thor: The Dark World

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman & Tim Hiddleston

Directed by Alan Taylor

PG-13, 112 min.

It’s hammer time again as Marvel Comics’ mallet-wielding Norse god of thunder makes his third appearance on the big screen.

Chris Hemsworth returns to the starring role and strides confidently into the story, which builds on elements from the first Thor (2011) as well as the The Avengers (2012), in which Thor joined with his fellow Marvel do-gooders Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk.

Superhero franchise flicks have become big booming business, in case you haven’t noticed. All the ones based on Marvel characters start with a “flip-book” montage of Marvel iconography and end with teasers during and/or after the credits promoting upcoming movies, and the plots of most of them are already working ahead, spinning threads on storylines in the making and setting up new characters.

In this movie, as he does in every movie based on one of his characters, Marvel’s founder Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo, and an Avenger pops in for a cameo. And now there’s a TV show, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., about characters spun off from the movies that spun off from the comic books.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Maybe that’s why this movie often feels like one big, expensive promotion, and the main dramatic driving force of this Thor just seems to be “more.”

Superhero fans will probably get their fix, but everyone else could easily feel like they’re being hammered into submission by a major marketing plan.

The characters are the same as be-Thor…I mean before. There’s the blonde-haired astro-Nordic beefcake himself; Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the beautiful, brainy Earth scientist who loves him; his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the king of the cosmic kingdom of Asgard; Thor’s resentful step-brother, the treacherous trickster Loki (Tim Hiddleston); and an assortment of returning supporting players, including Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, and Kat Dennings from TV’s 2 Broke Girls.

The story’s…well, if not the same, more of the same: Something catastrophic will happen if Thor doesn’t stop it. In this case, it’s an evil force called the Aether in the hands of Dark Elves who want to use it to seriously gunk up the universe.

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As the ensuing computer-generated battle rages across the vastness of space, and the story ping-pongs between Asgard and England, Middle Earth-ern bows, arrows, swords and shields mix with Star Wars-ish laser blasters, teleportation devices and anti-gravity beams, as if two sets of mismatched action figures somehow spilled out of the toy box and onto the play mat.

Think of it as Game of Thrones in a galaxy far, far away. Which isn’t too much of a stretch, given that director Alan Taylor’s impressive TV resume includes that particular HBO series.

Tim Hiddleston

Tim Hiddleston

But Hemsworth owns his role, and so does Hiddleston as the villainous Loki, who has certainly become one of the franchise’s strongest second-tier characters.

It’s Stellan Skarsgård’s nutty professor Selvig, however, that really intrigues me. He prances naked around Stonehenge, uses a pair of shoes to explain a complicated theory of planetary alignment, knows how to take the oomph out of Armageddon, and works without pants because he says his brain functions better that way.

Now, when is that guy getting his own spin-off?

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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