It’s sequel vs reboot as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out two of the biggest blockbusters of 2015.

At the time this article was written, Avengers: Age of Ultron has made a shade under one billion dollars at the global box office, while Mad Max: Fury Road has just opened to a mixed critical reaction and bizarre backlash from men’s right’s activists.

So, which film is worth your hard-earned cinema dollars? Read on and find out!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

(Directed by Joss Whedon)

If this is your first foray into the Marvel cinematic universe, you could be forgiven for being a little confused. With a massive cast of characters and backstory built up over seven years and almost a dozen films, getting your head around The Avengers can be a little daunting.

So here’s a quick summary; you can either watch the next 7 minute clip or read the following paragraph...

Drunken playboy Tony Stark invented some flying armour and decided to become Iron Man to make up for all the harm he had done (and continues to do) as an international arms dealer. Captain America was a super-solider in WW2 who was frozen in ice and recently thawed. Thor is a super-strong flying God either from Asgard or Australia, while the Black Widow is an ex-Soviet assassin. Scientist Bruce Banner was dosed with gamma rays and becomes the Hulk when he’s angry, and Hawkeye has a bow and arrow and gets way too much screen time in this movie.

The Avengers were formed by Samuel L. Jackson to face global threats — and the threat in this case is Ultron, voiced by James Spader. Starting life as a creation of Tony Stark designed to safeguard the planet, things go a little wrong when Ultron develops consciousness and decides that the Avengers are a big part of the problem and need to be eliminated. Far from a one-note villain, Spader brings a wonderful complexity to Ultron, taking the Joss Whedon penned script and adding layers of nuance and menace.

Packed with action, Age of Ultron nonetheless takes time to pause for some nice character beats, like the team sitting around after a mission talking about who could pick up Thor’s hammer (and is therefore worthy of ruling Asgard — long story). When this setup is paid off later in the movie is invokes a simple joy akin to picking up a comic book for the first time — this is a movie that could turn millions of young people into nerds.

In a film stocked with good actors, Robert Downey Jr shines as the arrogant Iron Man, with Chris Evans providing his perfect foil in the noble Captain America. Scarlett Johansson continues to make the Black Widow one of the most interesting female characters in the Marvel Universe, while Mark Ruffalo is the first actor since Bill Bixby to get the Bruce Banner character right. Chris Hemsworth has some fun with Thor, while smaller players Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make the most of their roles. A special mention must also go to Paul Bettany, playing new character The Vision, as Bettany brings a pathos and humanity to a character we have no real reason to care about.

My only criticism of Age of Ultron is that at 141 minutes it’s about half an hour too long, with a number of scenes dragging unnecessarily. Taking this into account, it’s still one of the most enjoyable times I’ve spent at the movies this year and there is no doubt I’ll be buying it on DVD when it comes out.

Mad Max: Fury Road

(Directed by George Miller)

It is a somewhat rare occurrence that a filmmaker gets to remake their own movie and historically the results have been mixed.

Michael Mann knocked it out of the park when he remade LA Takedown as Heat, while German director Michael Haneke failed to capture the anonymous menace of the original Funny Games with his English language remake. And the less said about Takashi Shimizu’s remake of The Grudge (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar) the better.

Way back in 1979, a young Australian director named George Miller made Mad Max. Shot on a shoestring budget, the movie relied on high-octane car chases and practical stunts and starred a former TV actor called Mel Gibson.

Two years later, Miller made essentially the same film on a much higher budget, known either as Mad Max 2 or The Road Warrior, depending on which country you lived in (most American audiences had never heard of the first film). 

In 1985, Miller made the second sequel Beyond Thunderdome, but it lacked the gritty appeal of the first two films and, for a while, the franchise appeared to be dead.

Fast forward 30 years and Mad Max is back with a new star, a strong female lead and special effects that will melt your eyeballs. With a reported production budget of $150 million, approximately ten times the entire cost of the original trilogy, Fury Road is visually spectacular yet underwhelming and somehow light on gravitas. Whereas in the 1979 original you felt Max’s pain as his wife and family were ripped away from him, Tom Hardy’s Max is an inarticulate brute, seemingly incapable of feeling any emotion except anger.

The fault lies not with Tom Hardy — a talented actor who has proven his chops in films like Bronson, Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises. Nor does it lie with Charlize Theron — who plays Imperator Furiosa, a strong independent woman and the real lead character in the film. And nor does it lie with the amusingly recognizable supporting cast, including Aussie acting stalwarts like John Howard and Richard Carter, wearing ridiculous costumes and comedy fake noses.

Unfortunately, it seems, any lack in Mad Max: Fury Road needs to lie with director George Miller. Starting out life as a rebel who shot many of the road battle scenes in the 1979 original without any stunt training or approval from the local police, Miller has matured into a director who can make pigs talk and penguins sing, but doesn’t seem able make an interesting action film these days.

Essentially a remake of Mad Max 2, Fury Road is the first action film Miller has made since 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome. Unfortunately, the fact that the movie is essentially a two-hour car chase does little to make you care about the characters. The plot (such as it is) is wafer-thin, and involves Max protecting Furiosa, as she tries to rescue a bunch of scantily-clad ladies from their cartoon-evil husband — a scenery-chewing Hugh Keays-Byrne.

Thanks to cinematographer John Seale, Fury Road is great to look at, but bears all the emotional resonance of the last Transformers film. On the upside, I enjoyed the stylistic touch of the heavy metal guitarist who is chained to a car and accompanies the bad guys whenever they appear, playing appropriate riffs for the situation. Hilarious.

The Verdict

In this age of blockbusters, many movie fans lament the lack of simple, old-fashioned stories. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, I honestly wouldn’t recommend either of these films. Try Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, or John Wick with Keanu Reeves. Two very different, very traditional stories, well told.

While still an excellent film, Avengers is pointlessly convoluted at times and suffers from being the middle film in a longer story — some bits just don’t make much sense if you haven’t seen the other movies.

On the other hand, Mad Max chooses to eschew story altogether to focus on more car-based stunts and explosions. If you’re a rev head, this may be the perfect film, but don’t go if you’re bothered by a bit of female empowerment. Men's rights activists, please stay home.

I really wanted to like Mad Max: Fury Road, but ultimately the experience left me unsatisfied.

While I am sure Dr George Miller is far from a fool, I am reminded of a Shakespeare quote to sum up this latest Mad Max:

‘A tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

Sorry George.

Like what you just read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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