Review of "Dolittle"

Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), the doctor that talks to animals, has exiled himself in his compound since the death of his wife Lily (Kasia Smutniak). He’s still surrounded by the animals he rescued with Lily, including a cowardly gorilla named Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), a constantly cold polar bear named Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), a duck with an artificial leg named Dab-Dab (voiced by Octavia Spencer), a glasses-wearing dog named Jip (voiced by Tom Holland) and leading them all is a headstrong macaw named Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson). Dolittle’s isolation is broken when a teenager named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) shows up with an injured squirrel. The squirrel was accidently shot when Tommy was out hunting with his uncle and cousin. Tommy bundles up the squirrel and Poly guides him to Dolittle’s. Dolittle performs surgery on the squirrel, named Kevin (voiced by Craig Robinson), and he survives but swears revenge on Tommy. Also arriving at the mansion is Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), Queen Victoria’s niece. She tells Dolittle the Queen is ill and needs his attention immediately. Reluctant, Dolittle initially refuses to leave the compound, but the animal’s rebel and force him to go. When Dolittle arrives, he sees an old friend from medical school, Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen) is treating the Queen. Mudfly is dubious of Dolittle’s methods and animals and is jealous of his talents. Also on hand is Lord Thomas Badgley (Jim Broadbent), representing Parliament. Using Jip’s sensitive nose, Dolittle figures out the Queen has been poisoned by drinking tea laced with the poisonous plant Deadly Nightshade. The only cure is a rare fruit that grows on only one tree, located on an island that doesn’t appear on any map. If the cure isn’t administered soon, the Queen with die, so Dolittle, several of his animal friends and Tommy, who has appointed himself Dolittle’s apprentice, set off on a dangerous journey across treacherous seas, looking for an island that may not exist and encounter animal friends and human foes from his past.

Watching “Dolittle,” I kept waiting for the moment the film completely falls apart. With mostly negative reviews and a Rotten Tomatoes score in the teens, I assumed the movie would begin showing us characters late in the third act we hadn’t seen before or would start espousing Nazi propaganda. None of that happened. Sure, its muddled, messy and has the pacing of a child fed only sugar and crack, but “Dolittle” is an enjoyable catastrophe.

“Catastrophe” is too strong a word, but there are things about the film that don’t make a great deal of sense. For instance, there are phrases said by the animals that didn’t exist at the time, like “Code Red.” Access to an unconscious Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) is far too easy. While the guards act like they are going to try to stop a gorilla, ostrich (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) and polar bear from being near the fallen queen, they don’t fire their guns or draw their swords. It appears anyone in nice clothes and with a friendly face could walk into the palace. I realize these issues, and more are due to the comical and fantasy aspects of the story and must be forgiven to some extent, however what I have a harder time wrapping my head around is Robert Downey Jr.’s accent.

Why did he choose to sound like a male version of Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire? And why was that choice apparently made after principle photography as his voice appears to have been dubbed for the majority of the film? Speaking in low whispers, as if telling a secret to someone that isn’t there, Downey is difficult to understand through the film, and his dialog is frequently repeated or expanded upon by an animal or human costar. It’s one of many odd choices by Downey for a character that’s been portrayed in movies by Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy.

Like his choices in the “Sherlock Holmes” films, Dolittle is a person beset by quirks and twitches. He’s antisocial, preferring to live in a world of his own making. He is a creature of habit that hates to have his routine disrupted. Dolittle is protecting himself from pain caused by people leaving him, so he’s banished people from his life. I suppose that’s okay for someone that is surrounded by a menagerie of friendly animals with whom he can converse, but the animals in “Dolittle” are just furrier versions of people in their behaviors and personalities. Since they depend on the doctor for care and food, these analogs will never leave him and, in my opinion, that’s cheating the only redeeming factor of this Dolittle. He misses his wife with such a deep grief he cannot force himself back into the world. If he had also pushed all the animals away, then I might be a bit more sympathetic to the character, but he has replaced people with talking animals.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the film at all, and yet I did. Once you get used to Dolittle’s quirks and other oddities, you are swept up in the frenetic pacing of the film that hardly allows the audience to absorb one strange event before the next begins. From the introduction of Dolittle and his zoo of a house, to his arrival at the palace and the introduction of the villain, to the start of the voyage, “Dolittle” doesn’t slow down. That’s works in the film’s favor as the audience doesn’t have time to ponder the weird events as they unfold.

The CGI animals are obviously CGI. Sometimes they look more digital than others and the sight lines between the human and animal characters don’t quite line up. Despite this, it never bothered me. Perhaps it was the voice work by a wide and diverse cast that made the second-rate effects more palatable. Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer and John Cena all turn in enjoyable performances as a variety of animals. Most of them are far more interesting than any of the humans.

Michael Sheen had to pick splinters out of his teeth with all the scenery he chews as the villain Dr. Mudfly. His evil ark is easy to predict as soon as his character is shown picking leeches out of a jar to apply to Queen Victoria to treat her mysterious illness. He even has a twirlable mustache which, for some reason, he doesn’t twirl. That seems like a missed opportunity for such an obvious bad guy.

Antonio Banderas is perhaps the oddest casting for Rassouli, King of the Pirates. While Banderas, nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in “Pain and Glory,” gives it his all, the role is underwritten and a throw-away character that solves a problem late in the second act. There’s an effort to make Rassouli something bigger by giving he and Dolittle a past connection, but that only serves to make the meaninglessness more obvious. Still, Banderas does his best with a role that probably took only a couple of days to shoot.

“Dolittle” is rated PG for some action, rude humor and brief language. There are a couple of scenes of mild violence including a brief battle with the Queen’s guards, cannon fire that sinks a ship, an explosion in an arms cache, some leaps and falls that might be considered dangerous and a diver nearly lost in the sea. None of it should be stressful to even young children. The rude humor consists of fart jokes. Bad language is mild and widely scattered.

The humor in “Dolittle” is what actually won me. While it is basic prat falls and more than a few fart jokes, it works as a light diversion for a world that’s on fire and tearing itself apart. Could it have been better, much, much better? Yes, it should. Robert Downey Jr.’s first film since his final appearance as Iron Man should have been more polished and, maybe more meaningful. Instead, we get a movie about a guy that talks to animals and goes on adventures, that sounds like male Mrs. Doubtfire and whispers and twitches a great deal. It won’t win any awards, except may a Razzie or two, but it also isn’t the least bit offensive and children may love it, while leaving their parents to wish for something more. And yet, I still liked it.

“Dolittle” gets four stars out of five, and may God have mercy on my soul.

This week, I’ll be reviewing “The Gentlemen” for WIMZ.com.

Also opening this week is “The Turning.”

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Avengers: Endgame”

Following their defeat at the hands of Thanos (Josh Brolin), the surviving Avengers are in different stages of grief. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is floating in space with Nebula (Karen Gillan) onboard the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. They are out of power and will soon be out of breathable air. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are at the Avengers’ headquarters trying to figure out how to track down Thanos and mount another attack, gain control of the Infinity Stones and reverse “the Snap” that wiped out half of all life in the universe.

That’s all I can really tell you about the story of “Avengers: Endgame,” otherwise people will yell at me about spoilers. There is a great deal going on in the film and a proper synopsis would likely take a couple of pages, even if I left out the ending. It’s an expansive movie that takes advantage of a decade and 21 films in the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is an achievement unlike anything in comic book movie history and movie history in general. The closest thing to what Marvel has accomplished here is the coming end of the Skywalker saga in the “Star Wars” movies. It is a feat of movie universe creation that will be difficult to repeat.

“Avengers: Endgame” is certainly about the enhanced abilities of dozens of people as they face an impossibly strong opponent with a fervent belief what he’s doing is correct. But what makes this film especially effective is the little human moments of emotion, grief, fear, remembrance and joy that highlight important turning points in the film. The first, a very, very minor spoiler, is Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton enjoying a family cookout when his wife and kids become victims of Thanos’ snap, leaving him frantically searching for them. Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors and architects of several MCU films, treat the capturing of this moment like a found-footage film. The movements of the camera are somewhat shaky, and we feel as if we are eavesdropping on a private scene that quickly becomes a catastrophe. There are several moments like this throughout the film that are to varying degrees much like this opening shot. For such a massive film, spanning across space and time and including so many heroes, the Russo’s still find ways to bring it all down to a personal level, one on one with a couple of characters chatting about how the snap destroyed their lives.

All the surviving characters are broken in some way, but Thor is the most obviously damaged. Again, no spoilers, but the God of Thunder is little more than the pop of a balloon for most of the film. He’s given up being a hero and just drinks beer and plays video games. Seeing the character turned from a grandiose blowhard to a drunken coward is something I can’t say I expected but enjoyed as Chris Hemsworth expertly molds Thor’s stately demeanor into that of a pathetic lush that has given up on saving the world and himself.

Returning to Jeremy Renner, his Clint Barton is put through the emotional wringer by the film. After losing his family, Barton becomes a murderous avenger, pardon the expression, who in the comics is known as Ronin. This leads to the reunion with Johansson’s Natasha as seen in the trailer. Renner hasn’t been given much to do in his previous appearances in the MCU other than make a life-saving archery shot and be brainwashed by Loki’s Infinity Stone-powered scepter. This time however, Renner is in the center of the action and forced to deal with more loss. He delivers a powerful performance, exposing his raw feelings and becoming a reflection of the audience’s emotional turmoil.

There are more scenes like that in “Avengers: Endgame,” but telling you about them would be a spoiler, so I won’t ruin the movie for you. I will say the film is more emotionally deep than any MCU film before it and has plenty of laughs as well. Despite its three-hour run time, the movie has no wasted space and no filler. You may have seen the articles online telling you when you can take a bathroom break and these scenes are not the most earthshattering or the most important to the plot, but they don’t feel like a waste of time either. I’ve seen far shorter films that could have used a trim, but there is almost nothing in the movie that could have been legitimately cut.

“Avengers: Endgame” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and some language. There is some blood shown in the more violent scenes. An arm gets chopped off in battle, but it isn’t bloody. A head gets lopped off, but it is hidden and not graphic. A throat is slashed with a sword, and while it does bleed a great deal it doesn’t spurt blood like in an R-rated film. There are numerous fights and battles throughout the film. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I clearly loved the movie, the story, the performances, the visuals, it all worked for me completely…except for the way Steve Rogers story was wrapped up. Again, no spoilers, but there was just something too cute about how Captain America’s long tale was ended. Yes, I’m giving this fantastical story way too much thought, but there are some questions in my mind if the way things end for him is even possible and not undo everything we know about the character and his adventures in the MCU. I should ignore it, but the more time passes, the more I’m confused and want an explanation. Actually, I have an explanation…it’s a movie based on a comic book. Nothing else needs to be said.

“Avengers: Endgame” gets five stars.

Now that “Avengers: Endgame” has snatched up all the box office money, four new movies are opening this week to look for the change hiding under the cushions of your couch. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

El Chicano—

The Intruder—

Long Shot—

Uglydolls—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest in movies, TV and streaming, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website boxofficemojo.com, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—

Overboard—

Tully—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming entertainment news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has experienced a great deal in his 15 years: He lost his parents and lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super strength and the ability to climb up walls, and he briefly joined the Avengers at the request of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) during the battle in Berlin. Stark is letting Peter keep the high-tech Spider-Man suit Stark gave him for that battle. Peter wants to be an Avenger but Stark thinks its best if Peter is just your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and deal with mundane street crime in New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is not your average street criminal. He was once a salvager working to clean up the mess left after the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Chitauri but he was shut down by a government agency taking over the clean-up, ruining him financially. Toomes kept some of the salvaged alien tech and began making very powerful weapons he sells on the black market. Peter, patrolling as Spider-Man, comes across a gang breaking into an ATM using some of Toomes tech and in the fight a corner store across the street from the bank is destroyed. Peter makes it his mission to find out where these weapons are coming from and follows a van containing some of the weapons when he is attacked by a man wearing jet-powered wings and with hydraulic claws on his feet. Toomes has made a flying suit with the alien tech and attacks Peter, nearly killing him. Peter is persistent and tries to capture Toomes and his gang during a weapons deal on the Staten Island Ferry that nearly leads to mass casualties. Stark, angry Peter is taking on missions that are above his experience, takes back the high tech spider suit leaving Peter feeling like a failure and unworthy of being an Avenger.

The cynical among us would look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a blatant cash grab in the third version in 15 years of the character on the big screen. The hopeful among us would look at it, as the title suggests, as a homecoming of sorts for the character as Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) was directly involved in the creation of the story and allowed Tony Stark/Iron Man and Captain America to be used in this film made by Sony/Columbia Pictures. Everyone that enjoys superhero films was just hoping it would at least be an improvement over the Andrew Garfield version of the web-slinging teenager or the third Sam Raimi film. I am happy to report all is looking good in the Spider-verse.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels like a more hopeful and positive version of Spider-Man. Perhaps not completely rebooting the character back to the death of Uncle Ben (again) allows this version of Peter Parker to be more positive and less mired in the guilt of that character’s death. That’s not to say Peter doesn’t take the role of being a superhero seriously: If anything he takes it too seriously and devotes all his free time to waiting for a call from Stark to go on another Avengers adventure. This Peter Parker is shown living a dual existence between being a high school student with the responsibilities that entails and being a superhero looking for trouble in his neighborhood. Several times he decides he has to don his suit and face the dangers of his job while letting down his friends and classmates. He leaves a party, leaves an academic decathlon and leaves his date at the homecoming dance and most of the time despite the sacrifice of his personal life; he fails at being a hero. Even when he loses his Stark-tech-enhanced suit, he still feels the obligation to wear his amateurish homemade version and fight the bad guys. It’s his willingness to fail and not give up that makes this Spider-Man especially appealing.

Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is obviously enthusiastic about the part, being quoted in interviews saying he’d like to be the web-slinger for the next 30 years. While that’s unlikely he is contracted for a total of six films and it should be fun seeing Holland and the character grow up over time as long as the scripts and stories are good.

Michael Keaton plays perhaps the best villain in any Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes is a menacing figure with a hair-trigger temper but Keaton has the talent and intelligence to play him with a quiet menace and makes his volatility that much more frightening. A scene late in the film could be used as a convincing argument for a best supporting actor Oscar for Keaton. There’s a chance we’ll see him again in future Spider-Man films and I fear Peter Parker is in for a rough time should the Vulture be freed to fly again.

The rest of the cast is strong and provides terrific supporting performances for the leads. Zendaya is especially good as Michelle, a bookish, oddly turned classmate of Peter’s. She is always close by to provide an ego deflating comment or dose of reality for Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Marisa Tomei’s version of Aunt May is the most modern and certainly the youngest in the character’s movie history. This Aunt May is a force to be reckoned with for Peter as she isn’t easily put off or deceived. It’s also a source of humor as more than Tony Stark is shown flirting with her or expressing interest in her. There is a great deal of potential in this version of Peter’s guardian including future scenes where she is able to extract herself from trouble without the assistance of her super powered nephew.

While the film is a good mix of humor, character development and action, there are times when the action looks muddy. The CGI battles frequently occur at night, making the fast movements nearly impossible to see. While the special effects are very good during the daylight scenes the nighttime set pieces tend to get lost in the darkness.

There’s also another little thing that bothered me about “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Peter’s friend Ned discovers his secret identity (not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer) but then he can’t stop talking to Peter about it in school, constantly asking him questions even when they are surrounded by other students. If I had a secret of that size I certainly wouldn’t want my friend chatting about it out loud around other people. There are numerous situations where Ned is asking question but he isn’t being subtle and there are always people standing or sitting nearby. It is a recipe for having your secret spread all over school in no time and inevitably discovered by the super villains you fight. That really stuck out to me.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief suggestive comments and some language. There are numerous fights but no gore. One person is turned into a pile of ash by an alien weapon. Spider-Man is shown being dragged behind a van and thrown into trash cans and mailboxes. There is a plane crash and other mayhem caused by the weapons. I do not remember anything that could be considered suggestive other than some very mild comments about Aunt May. Foul language is mild and scattered.

At the end of the film we are promised Spider-Man will return. We know he’s in “Avengers: Infinity War” as well as its sequel and two more scheduled solo movies. That, along with his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” would total Tom Holland’s six contracted films as the web slinger. While it is difficult for any series of films to maintain the quality of the original, Marvel seems to be more successful at it than most. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have this Spider-Man for a while and not need to reboot the franchise for quite some time. As long as the future films are as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I’m perfectly happy with that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets five stars.

Three new movies open in wide release this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Big Sick—

War for the Planet of the Apes—

Wish Upon—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

While raiding a HYDRA base in the small eastern European country of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s mind control scepter, the Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in the form of the Hulk, encounter the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen).  He possesses super speed while see can manipulate minds and emit energy pulses.  Their powers have been enhanced due to HYDRA experimentation that has killed all other test subjects.  The raid is ultimately successful and the scepter is recovered but Wanda plants the nightmarish image of all the Avengers dead in the mind of Stark.  This leads him to restart a program to create, in his words, a suit of armor around the world.  The Ultron program was stalled due to software issues but Tony believes he and Banner can use the mind-control stone in the scepter to rewrite the program and create an automated defense system.  Tony’s helpful computer program J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany) continues working on various configurations of the program and it comes to life.  Confused, J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to aid Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in understanding his existence.  Ultron quickly overwhelms J.A.R.V.I.S. and takes control of Tony’s robotics lab, creating a rudimentary body for himself.  Ultron has misinterpreted Tony’s intensions and decides the only way to protect the Earth is to destroy all human life.  During a celebration party in the Avenger’s tower, Ultron makes his presence known and attacks the team but they are able to defeat him; however, the program of Ultron escapes into the Internet and finds facilities to create more versions of himself.  Ultron also approaches the Maximoff twins about helping him destroy the Avengers.  The pair has a particular hatred for Tony as their parents were killed by weapons from Stark Industries.  They agree to help and the three, along with several robots, head to the African nation of Wakanda to meet with arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who possesses a huge amount of the super strong metal vibranium.  The Avengers show up as well and a major battle ensues.  Wanda is able to place spells on nearly all the Avengers and each is shown devastating images of either their past or their greatest fears.  Banner is transformed into an out of control Hulk causing him and Tony, in his Hulk-Buster armor, to battle and nearly destroy a Wakandan city.  The world is turning against them due to all the property damage they cause, the team is in shambles and questioning if they can still be an effective fighting force and if they can defeat Ultron.

If you see “Avengers:  Age of Ultron,” strap in and leave the large soft drink at the concessions stand as you are in for a 140 minute rollercoaster of action and special effects.  You may also want to bring ear plugs as the film is quite loud with all the metal clanking and various things exploding nearly all the time.  It is a visual spectacle that works well within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); however, if you are looking for meaning on a deeper level you may be disappointed.

The early trailers made it appear “Avengers:  Age of Ultron” would be a dark and serious affair.  That worry is unfounded as the trademark banter between the characters is fully on display even in more serious moments.  Each character has a chance to lighten the mood with the interplay between Stark and Rodgers delivering the most lighthearted moments.  Thor, Natasha, Barton and Banner also get opportunities to make the audience smile and chuckle.  Even the newly added Maximoff twins get a chance to throw off a quip.  It can’t be considered a full-on comedy but the film is much less dour than first looks suggested.

The quality of acting is about what you expect in any Marvel film but having Spader provide the voice of Ultron raises the quality of the villain’s performance.  James Spader gives Ultron a level of gravitas that might have been missing from another actor.  Ultron’s commanding baritone voice ringing with condescension, his ease in dancing verbal rings around Stark and the others and the cold calculation of his ultimate plan puts him head and shoulders above most other Marvel villains.  Plus, the robot Ultron is literally twice as tall as anyone on screen.  That physical dominance of the frame only adds to Spader’s voice acting.

The acting of Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo is put to the test in the film’s biggest flaw:  The will-they-won’t-they romance of Natasha and Banner.  While an unknown length of time has passed since “The Avengers,” the notion of these two becoming a couple seems a bit out of left field.  Perhaps this is writer/director Joss Whedon’s attempt to humanize these bigger than life characters.  Since we know very little of their lives outside of teaming up to fight a world-threatening evil, this might have been an effort to bring these demigods down to our level.  Quite frankly, it feels a bit tacked on.  Banner and Natasha are probably the two most dangerous members of the team.  She has been trained practically since birth to be an assassin and he fears he will hurt innocent people when he transforms into an out of control rage giant.  The two of them together strike me as a disaster waiting to happen.  It also doesn’t help that she was flirting with Rodgers in “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier” and in the comics has been romantically connected to him and Barton.  Of course, I don’t understand how anyone could turn down the affections of Natasha who is probably the sexiest woman in any of their lives, but that’s just me.  While the romance sections of the movie pay off by the film’s end, they tend to bring the story’s momentum to a halt.  They probably could have been incorporated in a different way to fit better within the narrative.

Then there’s the problem with all the Marvel movies and superhero films in general:  The concept of meaningful stakes for the characters.  So far, nearly every MCU film has followed a predictable pattern of a worldwide threat bringing out the hero or heroes, that threat nearly defeating the hero then with one final effort the hero wins.  Marvel has a slate of films mapped out over the next decade that involves these characters.  Since we know they will be around in 2018 for whatever sequel, where is the danger to the protagonist?  It simply isn’t there.  We know Iron Man, Captain America and the rest will live to fight another day since they have a contract calling for them to appear in however many more movies.  The only mystery is how the villain will be defeated and that’s not nearly as satisfying as truly being in doubt as to if the hero will survive the final attack.  This formula make get a shakeup in coming films as both Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans are nearing the end of their contracts.  Also, the next Captain America film is based on the comic book storyline of a battle between factions within the superhero community where not everyone survives.  The fiscal realities of increasing star salaries and actors desire to work on different projects may be what puts some real threat into the evil plans of the villains.

“Avengers:  Age of Ultron” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and some suggestive comments.  There are fights throughout the film between robots and Avengers, Avengers and Avengers and Avengers and others who are not robots or Avengers.  It is all fairly mild as film violence goes.  There is very little blood and no gore unless you count the robot guts that are displayed when one is destroyed.  During the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight, a building under construction is demolished, some people in an elevator are nearly killed and the Hulkbuster suit has a piston-action fist that repeatedly punches the Hulk in the face.  All the suggestive comments are between Natasha and Banner except for one ancient reference by Stark during the scene where each Avenger tries to pick up Thor’s hammer.  Foul language is widely scattered, very mild and used as the set up for a running joke.

The weirdness of business agreements between companies is on full display in the film.  In the comics, the Maximoff twins are the children of main X-Men villain Magneto; however, since Marvel sold the movie rights for the X-Men and the use of the term mutant to Fox, their heritage could not be mentioned.  You might wonder how the characters could be used at all.  It comes down to the fact that the pair has been in both the X-Men and the Avengers so the lawyers decided both companies could use the characters.  Clear as mud, right?  Then, here comes Spider-Man who had been the cinematic property of Sony but can now appear in both Marvel and Sony movies.  It is enough to make one’s head spin; but if the complicated storylines of superhero movies don’t induce vertigo then legal issues between movie companies should be a piece of cake.  What does this have to do with whether “Avengers:  Age of Ultron” is worth your time and money?  Nothing, I just thought it was interesting.  Since most Marvel movies are critic proof, it really doesn’t matter what I think.  I will offer this one bit of advice:  Don’t pay for the 3D.  There is a few times it makes items on screen really pop out but most of the time it is hardly noticeable.  See the standard version and enjoy the ride with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  It isn’t art but it’s fun.

“Avengers:  Age of Ultron” gets five stars.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Just a couple of new films this week and both are comedies.  Maybe I’ll review one of them or maybe it’ll be another film.  Stay tuned.

D Train–

Hot Pursuit–