Sunday 26 April 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

It's here at last  -  the age of The Age Of Ultron, the next step in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sequel to The Biggest Super Hero Movie Ever ( TM )  -  so what's it like? Well, it's pretty good actually. ( How's that for an incisive critical appraisal? )
The movie starts at a gallop with our heroes busting up the castle stronghold of evil Nazi throwback Baron Von Strucker ( who gets one of the funniest lines in the film ) and attempting to recover Loki's sceptre, which happens to contain yet another Marvel Universe McGuffin, the Mind Stone, one of those pesky Infinity Stones which will no doubt cause all sorts of problems in future movies. ( I still think of them as Infinity Gems as they were named in the comics but I'm old-fashioned like that. ) From this almost-generic scene the various plot threads spin out  -  Tony Stark likes the look of Strucker's AI experiments and thinks nicking the tech to create an army of police-bots is a neat idea
( it isn't ); embittered, super-powered twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are freed in the chaos to plan revenge against the West in general and Stark in particular; and an unlikely romance begins to blossom between the Black Widow and the Hulk.
It will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that Stark's plan for "a suit of armour around the world" to protect us from intergalactic menaces like the first movie's Chitauri is a spectacular failure, resulting in the genesis of Ultron, this installment's Big Bad. The metal maniac quickly decides, only seemingly moments after his "birth", that the human race don't need defending, so much as wiping from the face of the Earth, starting with his "father" and the rest of the Avengers. Cue many, many action scenes...
Now, don't get me wrong, a lot of this is great fun and very exciting but at times AOU almost strays into Transformers territory, with lightning-fast cutting and multiple points of view making for a lack of focus in some scenes. With more than the usual burden of expectations placed on any movie sequel it seems that Joss Whedon has lost some of the clarity of the first movie. And, as in the first movie, there's quite a flabby middle section. ( I know... there's no need to get personal, is there? ) But on the plus side...
The new characters  -  Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and the long-awaited Vision  -  all add interest and a level of unpredictability which shakes up the Avengers status quo in a very welcome fashion. Paul Bettany's Vision receives the least screen time but probably has the most potential. I'm hoping for a lot more from this enigmatic character in the future. The Widow / Jolly Green Giant romance is quite touching and gives Mark Ruffallo a real chance to shine. In fact, Whedon ensures that all the sprawling cast of main characters get their time in the sun, with Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye far better served this time around. And there are a ton of cameos from MCU regulars like Sam Jackson, Cobie Smulders ( love that name! ), Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle and even Hayley Atwell. Plus the inevitable Stan Lee in possibly his funniest appearance yet. And then there's the big bad robot himself:
James Spader absolutely runs away with the movie through his voice performance alone  -  not an easy task when the likes of Robert Downey Jnr and Scarlet Johansson are up there on the screen. From his first appearance as a walking scrapyard, slowly gaining sentience, to his marshalling endless legions of Ultron-bots to swarm over the Avengers, Ultron is the quintessential super villain  -  intelligent, sarcastic and witty, nearly always one metal step ahead of his foes and never quite tipping over into AI insanity, but always delivering his lines in Spader's purring, mocking tones. A worthy successor to Loki and definitely one of the best and most believable villains yet to stalk the MCU.
While inevitably not feeling as fresh as its predecessor, AOU is spectacular entertainment and sets the scene for future Marvel movies, from the passing reference to Wakanda ( home of the Black Panther ) to the final scene appearance of a certain mad Titan. And, with the traditional-for-the-comics roster change now introduced into the movie ( "The Old Order Changeth!" as Stan would say back in the day ) the future's certainly looking interesting for Earth's Mightiest Heroes...

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Herb Trimpe

I was sad to hear tonight, via Kid Robson, that ace Bronze Age comic artist Herb Trimpe has died at the age of 75. Herb was, for me, the definitive Hulk artist but he was, of course, far more than that. A very gifted artist and, by all accounts, a lovely guy too, Herb will be missed by his fans and, above all, his friends and family. My condolences to them at this sad time. Above is a scan of one of my favourite Trimpe issues of The Incredible Hulk, number 140 ( June 1971 )  -  "The Brute That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The Atom", a very groovy tale from firebrand writer Harlan Ellison, featuring ol' Greenskin's adventures in a sub-atomic world and highlighting Herb's exciting and expressive style in all its Kirby-esque glory.

RIP Herb Trimpe
( Check out some wonderful reviews of Mr. Trimpe's work at this long-lost blog. )

Sunday 12 April 2015

Cornish landscapes

Recently we spent a week down in our beloved Cornwall and, although the weather was mostly awful, I managed to get a few half decent photos  -  or as decent as my phone can capture. I often wonder if it would be worth investing in a proper camera again.( Our last one was stolen when our house was burgled a couple of years ago and was never replaced. ) Camera phones are obviously handy for quick snaps but my Samsung in particular is not great on picture quality. Anyway... here are a few lovely Cornish landscapes, starting with Lizard Point above, mainland UK's most southerly point. We always see seals basking in the waters here but this time we were lucky enough to see the most seals we've ever spotted in the wild in one day. No pictures of said aquatic beauties  -  you'll just have to take my word for it, Dear Reader :-)
Here are Sarah and James posing in front of the Lizard Lighthouse. ( That's some bad hat, Harry. ) We went on a very interesting tour of the lighthouse, learning about its history and present day use. We also heard that author JRR Tolkein once stayed here and was very taken with the lighthouse. Our guide said that this structure, with its two towers, may have been the inspiration for Mordor's own twin monuments... but I think that's probably as much in the realms of fantasy as Middle Earth...
 Here's the beautiful lighthouse lens.
And the lighthouse itself...
And a few more shots of the Lizard coastline...
 The slipway below is at nearby Church Cove. Looks a bit steep :-)
 And these last few shots are from windswept Mullion, just down the road from where we were staying.
 Even though our holiday was slightly spoiled by about three days of constant wind and rain, plus a nasty bout of food-poisoning for me, it was worth it for the times the weather lifted and we managed to get out and about in such a beautiful landscape. A windswept, rugged Cornwall still beats a lot of other, more manicured, holiday destinations in my book...


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