Vacation (Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, 2015)

The newest addition to the Vacation legacy is an attempt to reboot the previously successful franchise and bring the story to a whole new audience. It’s a shame then that it fails to do either and also tarnishes the memory of the originals in the process.

It stars Ed Helms as the now grown up Rusty, who we know as the son of the old Griswold family. He now has a family of his own to look after. Following in his father’s footsteps, he decides to reboot their family bonds by taking his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two sons Kevin (Steve Stebbins) and James (Skyler Gisondo) to Walley World. Hilarity ensues.

The opening twenty minutes or so as they set up the characters is delivered in a very tedious manner and doesn’t really achieve the desired results of showing a truly dysfunctional family. There are some cheap gags as the four family members conform to some stereotypical character traits before the real action gets going and some fun starts, but to have such a slow start to a big summer comedy is a risky move that contributes to the film’s downfall.

The best moments come when the Griswolds interact with other characters appearing in cameo roles. Most notable are Chris Hemsworth as Stone, the well-endowed brother-in-law, and Charlie Day as Chad, a depressive river rafting guide. Both spawn some great moments that are let down by the punctuating gags between about rim jobs and swimming in poo.

The lowest point is when Chevy Chase appears in a wholly unfunny late scene. Watching him attempt to make the removal of a medium sized guitar from a large cabinet look awkward and clumsy for over ten seconds is simply excruciating.

It’s a valiant attempt to bring the kind of humour that made the originals so successful to a new audience but it actually tarnishes the originals as I’m now questioning whether they were all of this quality. Avoid this film unless your main priorities are familiarity with a rehashed storyline and a lack of anything remotely thought-provoking.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) sees the ever-growing cast of superheroes pitted against Ultron, the villainous result of an experiment in peacekeeping by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner that goes catastrophically wrong. Bringing back almost all the huge stars from the previous films (Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman were the only notable omissions), we see a number of dynamic storylines interwoven intelligently with some hugely impressive action sequences and set pieces delivering an answer to the age old question “What does a $250m film-making budget buy you these days?”. Quite a lot actually.

The opening sequence, set in the frosty hills of Sokovia, a fictional Eastern-European country, was one of the best opening action sequences I’ve ever seen, slowly re-introducing our familiar heroes one at a time whilst setting up the plot for the rest of the film, along with two of the main enemies they would encounter: Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch respectively). It had enough elements to feel like we hadn’t seen it before and had an over-arching purpose so the spectacle didn’t feel gratuitous.

There has been a concerted effort this time to give more depth to the main characters that are yet to have their own standalone films. Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is arguably the central character this time around. He is portrayed as the emotional glue that holds the rest of the team together and he finally gets the opportunity to prove how integral he is. It’s a nice touch as he is perhaps the least super of our superheroes, though I must say the manner in which they introduce a backstory for him is a little clumsy. There’s probably not enough depth to the character to warrant a stand-alone film so this is a great substitute.

Elsewhere Bruce Banner / Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) have a blossoming romance, and we get to see a softer side to both characters that hadn’t been shown before. The intimacy reminded me a little of the now-much-underrated Peter Jackson version of King Kong, with Naomi Watts’s Ann Darrow playing off against Andy Serkis’s ape to a never-before-seen level of motion and facial expression capturing. It made me really keen to see a standalone film exploring their relationship more, though how that would fit into the grander scheme of planned films I’m not sure.

It was nice that Andy Serkis got a cameo appearance as Ulysses Klaw, along with many other recognisable stars (I’d put Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie in this category due to their limited screen time). His accent fell somewhere between East London, Eastern European and the required South African, though he’ll get chance to further develop that in Black Panther in 2018 [1].

Johannesburg is just one of many recognisable cities from around the globe that shows up in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Another such city is Seoul in South Korea. Interestingly, the Korean government reportedly paid Marvel Studios £2.4m for Seoul to be portrayed in a positive light for tourism purposes. I don’t think this is a problem really. It was just nice that London didn’t get blown up. Again.

I’ve seen a lot of huge blockbuster films fall flat in recent years. Any of the Transformers sequels, The Dark Knight Rises, Pacific Rim, Real Steel. More often than not, they just aren’t amazing films. Marvel, however, get it right time and time again. With a wave of films being announced to take us up to the end of the decade, the test will come not in successfully releasing a film like Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film destined for success. Rather, the true test will come with a film like Ant Man, due for release later this year. It’s a film everyone thinks will be a huge flop. If they can pull that one off and make it successful, then they truly do have the Midas touch.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in UK cinemas now and globally over the next month. [2] [3]

[1] Ulysses Klaw is the main enemy of Black Panther, for which there is a MCU film set for release in 2018. Chadwick Boseman is set to star in the lead role.

[2] There is only one post-credit sequence this time around, which appears about halfway through. There is nothing at the end after the credits so you don’t need to wait. Howard the Duck does not appear.

[3] I went to see this film with fellow WordPress blogger Jordana Makin, who has a blog titled “Ahoy Small Fry“. Check it out, it’s pretty cool.