Ranking The MCU

As of today with AntMan and the Wasp, I’ve now seen all 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe titles that began just over a decade ago with Iron Man. That seemed like a nice round number to do my initial rankings of them. I will plan to update the list as time goes on, beginning next spring with Captain Marvel.

I’ve seen some of them more than others and my opinion for certain ones have risen and fallen over time. For instance, Captain America: Civil War has grown in my appreciation of it. On a lesser scale, my disappointment for Avengers: Age of Ultron has dissipated a bit. And while I’m still in the minority for believing The Dark World is a little better than the original Thor, it’s not too good and has lost some luster in my view.

So we arrive at my listing of the 20 MCU titles thus far! Let the debating begin…

20. AntMan (2015)

19. Iron Man 2 (2010)

18. Thor (2011)

17. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

15. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

14. AntMan and the Wasp (2018)

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

12. SpiderMan: Homecoming (2017)

11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

10. Doctor Strange (2016)

9. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

8. Iron Man 3 (2013)

7. Black Panther (2018)

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

4. Iron Man (2008)

3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

1. The Avengers (2012)

Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: Infinity War invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses  one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s Iron Man, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!

All of this runs the risk of Infinity War coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and Civil War, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads Infinity War to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.

What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in Civil War two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.

Delving too far into what happens in Infinity War would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.

The conclusion of Infinity War leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Avengers: Infinity War

This weekend is all about Avengers: Infinity War at the box office as it barrels toward a potentially record-setting debut. The film looks, at the least, poised to set the all-time opening weekend record for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the 19th picture in the MCU as the multi-billion dollar franchise is about to hit its ten-year anniversary. 

Infinity will certainly make its mark financially, but could Academy voters take notice? In short – probably not. The pic stands at 85% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a bit below the original Avengers from 2012 (92%) and a bit above 2015 sequel Age of Ultron (75%). No MCU title or any comic book adaptation has managed a Best Picture nomination and I see no reason to think this will.

Having said that, the Marvel folks stand their best opportunity yet to score a nod in the biggest category of them all. And that would be Black Panther, which was released in February. It stands a real shot. Looking through the Oscar history with this franchise, The Avengers scored a Best Visual Effects nomination in 2012 and lost to Life of Pi. No nominations were given to Ultron.

Bottom line: Infinity War could find itself in the mix for Visual Effects and possibly even the Sound categories. Yet any real MCU love from voters will go to King T’Challa.

A Marvel Cinematic Universe Box Office History

As we await the potentially historic debut of Avengers: Infinity War this weekend, we also mark a decade of the vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe that began in 2008 with Iron Man. Ten years later, Infinity is the 19th feature in a franchise that has grossed nearly $6 billion stateside and almost $15 billion worldwide. With Friday’s release of Infinity, I’m estimating it will have the second highest domestic debut of all time (behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/17/avengers-infinity-war-box-office-prediction/

My blog didn’t begin until the fall of 2012, shortly after the release of the first Avengers feature. That means I have done 12 opening weekend box office predictions for MCU releases prior to Infinity. I thought this might be a good time to take a trip down that lane on how I’ve done with their pictures of the past:

Iron Man 3 (2013)

My Prediction: $172.4 million

Opening: $174.1 million

I started off well with my prediction for Tony Stark’s third franchise entry, which had the benefit of coming right on the heels of The Avengers.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

My Prediction: $85.6 million

Opening: $85.7 million

My high mark in MCU estimates came here – only $100k off!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My Prediction: $86.3 million

Opening: $95 million

I underestimated Cap a bit here, but not too shabby.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

My Prediction: $74.6 million

Opening: $94.3 million

Yeah… the sizzling buzz for Guardians in summer 2014 caused anticipation to rise and rise. It’s hard to remember now, but this was actually considered a risk for Marvel at the time. The buzz exceeded my take by nearly $20 million bucks.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

My Prediction: $212.7 million

Opening: $191.2 million

The question with this first Avengers sequel is whether it would top the $207 million achieved by its 2012 predecessor. If so, it would have had the largest domestic opening at the time. I predicted it would and it fell short. Strangely enough, it would be Jurassic World one month later that would earn $208 million and set the debut record until The Force Awakens came along.

Ant-Man (2015)

My Prediction: $73.3 million

Opening: $57.2 million

I gave Paul Rudd and company too much credit here. The Ant-Man is the second lowest MCU debut (only The Incredible Hulk is below it at $55 million). Nevertheless a sequel is on its way this summer.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

My Prediction: $205.6 million

Opening: $179.1 million

My streak of going over on these predictions continues for the third feature…

Doctor Strange (2016)

My Prediction: $77.3 million

Opening: $85 million

A little low, but at least I got to within $10 million here.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

My Prediction: $166.4 million

Opening: $146.5 million

AND we’re back to going high…

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

My Prediction: $117.8 million

Opening: $117 million

After some whiffs, finally got back to solid estimating with Spidey’s well-received reiteration.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

My Prediction: $107.6 million

Opening: $122.7 million

Positive WOM pushed Thor’s third feature $15 million better than my projection.

Black Panther (2018)

My Prediction: $193.8 million

Opening: $202 million

This was an estimate that kept going up and up. I got pretty close, but still didn’t have it reaching the $200M+ plus number it achieved.

And there you have it! My checkered MCU history. We shall see how that $242.2 million take for Infinity War pans out soon enough…

Avengers: Infinity War Box Office Prediction

It may feel like winter in many parts of the country even though it’s spring, but next weekend is essentially the start of the summer box office in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War invades theaters. This is the 19th picture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that began a decade ago with 2008’s Iron Man and the third installment of the Avengers franchise that kicked off in 2012 (an untitled fourth installment is out next summer).

After 10 years of these superheroes populating our screens in one form or another, Infinity War is the picture that brings them all together. That means we have the Avengers we’re used to seeing together: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’ve got a whole lot of company this time around, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and the whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). Josh Brolin is main villain Thanos. Other actors from the MCU returning include Gwyneth Paltrow, Idris Elba, Paul Bettany, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Benicio del Toro, Cobie Smulders, Angela Bassett, Tessa Thompson, and Jon Favreau. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who directed 2016’s Captain America: Civil War) are behind the camera. Whew…

The gathering of the entire MCU is one impressive selling point and there’s been developments that have even increased the anticipation for Infinity‘s release. Last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was well-received, as were Guardians and Thor sequels. Yet perhaps more than anything else, this February’s Black Panther turned into a phenomenon – becoming the third highest grossing domestic earner of all time.

Projections have steadily increased in the past few weeks. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Infinity War could have the largest stateside opening of all time. In order to do so, it would need to surpass the $247 million achieved by 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To accomplish the 2nd biggest debut, it would need to exceed the $220 million of last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It will almost certainly achieve the record for an MCU premiere, which is currently held by the original Avengers at $207 million.

I believe this will pass Jedi and rather easily. Getting to the Awakens number is doable, but I’ll project it falls a bit under that milestone.

Avengers: Infinity War opening weekend prediction: $240.2 million

 

Ranking the Superhero Summers

We’re past the midway point of the 2017 summer box office and one thing is clear: it’s been a rather terrific season for the superhero flick genre. In fact, there’s a very good chance the summer’s top 3 earners will belong in that classification. That’s not the first time this has happened (more on that later), but it’s still pretty remarkable.

This got me thinking – what have been the greatest and worst superhero summers of this 21st century? After all, it was the summer of 2000 that got the superhero genre alive and kicking again and it’s never let up. 17 summers ago, it was the release of X-Men that helped revive a genre that had hit a low point three summers earlier with Batman & Robin. In 2002, it would be Spider-Man that would set the opening weekend record and ensure that no summer following would be missing some comic book character headlining. **2001 is the only summer of this century in which there’s no superhero pic.

This leads to my newest list: ranking the superhero summers with explanations provided below. We’re talking 17 summers, so I’m counting down from the worst to the best in my humble opinion.

17. 2009

The Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Just one flick in this particular summer. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had just kicked off the year before, so there was no follow-up ready. Instead, we got Wolverine’s first spin-off and it’s the worst of the whole bunch by a significant margin.

16. 2007

The Movies: Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The third Spidey entry closed the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire on a very weak note and the Four sequel was none too impressive either (to be expected after a middling at best predecessor).

15. 2010

The Movie: Iron Man 2

Tony Stark’s return to the screen after 2008’s juggernaut suffered from being overstuffed with two many villains, etc… One of the lesser MCU entries.

14. 2006

The Movies: X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns

Two pics that failed to meet expectations – The Last Stand suffered a big quality drop-off after the second X and Superman Returns (the first Supes flick in nearly 20 years) couldn’t live up to the hype.

13. 2015

The Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four

Disappointing as it featured two of the weaker MCU entries and a seriously misguided Fantastic Four reboot.

12. 2013

The Movies: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine

IM3 was an improvement over part 2, The Wolverine was an improvement over Origins. Man of Steel? A letdown in many respects, just like Superman Returns.

11. 2004

The Movies: Spider-Man 2, Catwoman

Would probably rank higher because Spidey 2 is arguably the best of the bunch, but loses points due to the catastrophe that is Halle Berry as Catwoman.

10. 2016

The Movies: Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse 

A mixed bag. Civil War is one of the finer MCU pics, Squad is that mixed bag, and Apocalypse was a major disappointment.

9. 2003

The Movies: X2: X-Men United, Hulk

X2 is perhaps the strongest X entry, but Ang Lee’s Hulk (while having its moments) was often a pretentious bore.

8. 2000

The Movie: X-Men

Only X-Men in this summer, but it deserves props for kicking off the genre in a major way once again.

7. 2002

The Movie: Spider-Man

Even more than X-Men, Sam Raimi’s first Spidey ensured a heaping of genre entries for years to come.

6. 2014

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Guardians was pure joy, Past was a solid X pic. Loses points for the mess of a Spidey sequel.

5. 2005

The Movies: Batman Begins, Fantastic Four

OK, so Fantastic Four was not so good. Yet this is in my top 5 because Batman Begins not only kicked off the heralded Nolan trilogy, but it’s my personal fave superhero pic of the century.

4. 2011

The Movies: Thor, Captain America: First Avenger, X-Men: First Class

Though not of these flicks are great, they’re all solid in my view. Thor and Captain helped usher in the MCU era as we know it and First Class rebooted its franchise in a pleasing way.

3. 2012

The Movies: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man

Avengers is the granddaddy of MCU, Rises ended up the trilogy in a mostly satisfactory manner while Spidey was a slight letdown (though miles better than its sequel). As referenced earlier, these 3 pictures would mark the highest 3 earners of that season.

2. 2017

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Three highly entertaining and well-done entries that marked the first super-heroine success.

1. 2008

The Movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Dark Knight is considered by many to be the genre’s artistic peak and Iron Man was a fine start to a franchise that just keeps charging along. Incredible was a more satisfying (though still flawed) Hulk pic than five years earlier and Guillermo del Toro brought his visual splendor and humor once again to the Hellboy series. A rather easy pick for #1.

Or is it? What are your thoughts on the superhero summers?

Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses of All Time (5-1)

Today we reach the final installment of my listing of the Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses in box office history with the top five!

Here are the five ladies that have grossed the most stateside:

5. Julia Roberts

Career Earnings: $2.7 billion

Franchises: The Ocean’s pictures

Highest Grossing Picture: Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – $183 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 11 (Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Erin Brockovich, Hook, Notting Hill, Valentine’s Day, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Pelican Brief)

Lowest Grosser: Fireflies in the Garden (2011) – $70,000

Overall Rank: 30

4. Helena Bonham Carter

Career Earnings: $2.7 billion

Franchises: Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland

Highest Grossing Picture: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) – $381 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 9 (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cinderella, Planet of the Apes, Les Miserables, The King’s Speech)

Lowest Grosser: The Theory of Flight (1998) – $73,000

Overall Rank: 28

3. Cate Blanchett

Career Earnings: $2.8 billion

Franchises: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit

Highest Grossing Picture: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – $377 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 10 (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Cinderella, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Robin Hood, The Aviator)

Lowest Grosser: Little Fish (2006) – $8,000

Overall Rank: 27

2. Cameron Diaz

Career Earnings: $3 billion

Franchises: Charlie’s Angels, Shrek

Highest Grossing Picture: Shrek 2 (2004) – $441 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 11 (Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, Shrek Forever After, There’s Something About Mary, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, The Mask, Vanilla Sky, Bad Teacher)

Lowest Grosser: Head Above Water (1997) – $32,000

Overall Rank: 19

  1. Scarlett Johansson

Career Earnings: $3.3 billion

Franchises: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Highest Grossing Picture: The Avengers (2012) – $623 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 7 (The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Iron Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Lucy)

Lowest Grosser: A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004) – $164,000

Overall Rank: 9

And there you have it, my friends! Your 25 highest grossing females in the history of the movies…

Todd’s FINAL 2015 Oscar Predictions

Here we are folks! After numerous posts prognosticating on what and whom will be nominated for the Academy Awards honoring 2015’s best, we will all collectively find out tomorrow morning. This Oscar season has been filled with much intrigue and a great deal of uncertainty.

Many questions abound:

  • Will the performances of Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) be recognized in lead Actress or Supporting Actress? That query alone makes predicting both of those races tricky this year. I will go with both being recognized in Supporting, but if Oscar voters go lead with one or both, it changes the whole dynamic. There’s also the possibility that Vikander could be honored in Supporting for Ex Machina and not Danish, which adds to the confusion.
  • Will the Academy nominate their first Star Wars pic (The Force Awakens) since the original 38 years ago? It’s already become the highest grossing film of all time and could certainly lead to even more eyeballs watching the telecast. That said, I have it narrowly missing the cut.
  • Will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win the gold statue for his work in The Revenant? Precursor awards including the Golden Globes point to yes. A nomination seems assured.
  • Is Spotlight truly the front runner or not? Many other possibilities are out there for an “upset” win. It is, at best, a soft front runner.
  • I’ll finally note that my predictions reflect a belief that Straight Outta Compton will be shut out. This goes against what several other predictors are saying and many have it being recognized in Best Picture. Another high profile offering that I have coming up empty: Black Mass.

As I’ve done for the last several weeks, I’m listing my predicted nominees and other possibilities in each category by likelihood of being nominated. Just because I have something listed as #1 doesn’t mean I’m predicting it to win (I’ll have my first blog post up predicting the winners this weekend). In parentheses after each entry is how far each predicted nominee/possibility has fallen from my previous predictions last week. On Thursday evening, I’ll have a post up letting you know how well (or not so much) I did.

Let’s get to it, shall we? My FINAL predictions:

Best Picture

As I see it, there are 21 films vying for anywhere from 5-10 spots. The magic number is usually 9 (last year it was 8). I’m going with 9 this year, though I believe 10 is more probable than 8. And strangely enough, my predicted nine has stayed the same over the course of the last month or so. Straight Outta Compton, Sicario, and even The Force Awakens have made some waves of late, but I still have them narrowly missing.

  1. Spotlight (No Change)
  2. The Big Short (No Change)
  3. The Revenant (+3)
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road (-1)
  5. The Martian (No Change)
  6. Carol (+1)
  7. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  8. Room (-4)
  9. Brooklyn (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

10. Straight Outta Compton (No Change)

11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)

12. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

13. Sicario (+1)

14. Inside Out (-1)

15. Steve Jobs (+1)

16. Ex Machina (+2)

17. Trumbo (No Change)

18. Beasts of No Nation (-3)

19. Son of Saul (+1)

20. The Danish Girl (-1)

21. Creed (No Change)

Best Director

Tuesday’s Directors Guild of America usually provides a reasonably reliable snap shot of at least three or four of the nominees that will end up being recognized here. Their picks were Tom McCarthy, Ridley Scott, George Miller, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Adam McKay. Of those, McKay seems the most vulnerable (with Miller and Scott behind). I’ll keep my prediction for Todd Haynes in and there’s certainly a chance there’s a shocker nominee as we sometimes see in this category.

  1. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (+1)
  2. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant (+1)
  3. Ridley Scott, The Martian (+1)
  4. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (-3)
  5. Todd Haynes, Carol (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies (+1)

7. Adam McKay, The Big Short (-1)

8. Denis Villenueve, Sicario (+5)

9. Lenny Abrahamson, Room (-1)

10. F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton (+1)

11. John Crowley, Brooklyn (-2)

12. Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight (-2)

13. J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-1)

14. Jay Roach, Trumbo (Previously Unranked)

15. Cary Fukanaga, Beasts of No Nation (-1)

16. Alex Garland, Ex Machina (Previously Unranked)

17. Laszlo Nemes, Son of Saul (-2)

18. Ryan Coogler, Creed (Previously Unranked)

19. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs (Previously Unranked)

20. Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl (Previously Unranked)

Best Actor

This race is increasingly looking like ‘The Leo Show” with Mr. DiCaprio likely to nab (finally) his first Oscar. Only Leo seems to be a totally safe bet (though it would be a surprise to me if Redmayne and Fassbender don’t get in and probably Cranston too). I would say numbers 5-8 are practically interchangeable while anything 9 or below would be a fairly big surprise.

  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (No Change)
  2. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl (No Change)
  3. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  4. Bryan Cranston, Trumbo (No Change)
  5. Matt Damon, The Martian (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Steve Carell, The Big Short (-1)

7. Will Smith, Concussion (No Change)

8. Johnny Depp, Black Mass (No Change)

9. Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes (No Change)

10. Michael Caine, Youth (No Change)

11. Michael B. Jordan, Creed (+1)

12. Geza Rohrig, Son of Saul (-1)

Best Actress

As previously discussed, all the rules go out the window if either Rooney Mara or Alicia Vikander are recognized here instead of in Supporting Actress. That said, I feel pretty confident about Larson, Ronan, and Blanchett. The rest? Not so much.

  1. Brie Larson, Room (No Change)
  2. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn (No Change)
  3. Cate Blanchett, Carol (No Change)
  4. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy (+1)
  5. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)

7. Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold (+1)

8. Emily Blunt, Sicario (+3)

9. Blythe Danner, I’ll See You in My Dreams (+1)

10. Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back (-1)

11. Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van (Previously Unranked)

Best Supporting Actor

Bottom line: I feel like Rylance and Stallone are the only safe bets here. This category has been wide open for quite some time and all 12 performers listed here could get in. Very curious to see how this works out come tomorrow.

  1. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (No Change)
  2. Sylvester Stallone, Creed (+1)
  3. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (-1)
  4. Paul Dano, Love and Mercy (+1)
  5. Christian Bale, The Big Short (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Michael Keaton, Spotlight (No Change)

7. Michael Shannon, 99 Homes (No Change)

8. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight (No Change)

9. Tom Hardy, The Revenant (No Change)

10. Jacob Tremblay, Room (+1)

11. Benicio del Toro, Sicario (-1)

12. Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton (Previously Unranked)

Best Supporting Actress

Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander seem like safe bets – as long as they’re nominated here and not in Actress. Kate Winslet (fresh off a Globe win) and Jennifer Jason Leigh should play here, too. The fifth slot is truly up for grabs, I feel.

  1. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (No Change)
  2. Rooney Mara, Carol (No Change)
  3. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (+1)
  4. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (-1)
  5. Helen Mirren, Trumbo (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Jane Fonda, Youth (-1)

7. Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria (No Change)

8. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (+1)

9. Joan Allen, Room (-1)

10. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (No Change)

11. Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy (No Change)

12. Marion Cotillard, MacBeth (Previously Unranked)

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Spotlight (No Change)
  2. Inside Out (No Change)
  3. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  4. The Hateful Eight (-1)
  5. Sicario (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Ex Machina (-1)

7. Straight Outta Compton (No Change)

8. Love and Mercy (No Change)

9. Son of Saul (+2)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Big Short (No Change)
  2. Carol (No Change)
  3. Room (No Change)
  4. Steve Jobs (+1)
  5. Brooklyn (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Martian (No Change)

7. The Revenant (+1)

8. Beasts of No Nation (+1)

9. Trumbo (-2)

10. Mad Max: Fury Road (Previously Unranked)

11. Anomalisa (No Change)

Best Animated Feature

  1. Inside Out (No Change)
  2. Anomalisa (No Change)
  3. Shaun the Sheep Movie (No Change)
  4. Kahlil Gabran’s The Prophet (No Change)
  5. The Peanuts Movie (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Good Dinosaur (-1)

7. When Marnie Was There (No Change)

8. Minions (Previously Unranked)

Best Documentary Feature (First Time Predictions)

  1. Amy
  2. The Look of Silence
  3. Winter on Fire
  4. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  5. He Named Me Malala

Other Possibilities:

6. Listen to Me Marlon

7. Best of Enemies

8. The Hunting Ground

9. Where to Invade Next

10. Heart of the Dog

Best Foreign Language Film (First Time Predictions)

  1. Son of Saul
  2. Mustang
  3. A War
  4. The Brand New Testament
  5. Embrace of the Serpent

Other Possibilities:

6. The Fencer

7. Labyrinth of Lies

8. Theeb

9. Viva

Best Production Design

  1. The Danish Girl (No Change)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)
  3. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  4. Carol (-2)
  5. The Revenant (+4)

Other Possibilities:

6. Brooklyn (-1)

7. The Martian (Previously Unranked)

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+3)

9. The Hateful Eight (-3)

10. Cinderella (-3)

Best Cinematography

  1. The Revenant (No Change)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  3. The Hateful Eight (No Change)
  4. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  5. Sicario (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Carol (+1)

7. Son of Saul (+2)

8. The Martian (-2)

9. The Assassin (-1)

10. Spotlight (Previously Unranked)

Best Costume Design

  1. The Danish Girl (No Change)
  2. Carol (No Change)
  3. Cinderella (+1)
  4. Brooklyn (-1)
  5. Far from the Madding Crowd (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Mad Max: Fury Road (+6)

7. The Hateful Eight (-1)

8. Suffragette (-1)

9. The Revenant (No Change)

10. Mr. Holmes (Previously Unranked)

Best Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Big Short (No Change)
  3. Spotlight (+2)
  4. The Revenant (No Change)
  5. Bridge of Spies (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Martian (-3)

7. Sicario (+3)

8. Steve Jobs (-2)

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+3)

10. The Hateful Eight (-1)

11. Room (-3)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Revenant (No Change)
  3. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (+1)

Other Possibilities:

4. Black Mass (-1)

5. Mr. Holmes (No Change)

6. Concussion (No Change)

7. Legend (No Change)

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Revenant (+3)
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  4. Sicario (No Change)
  5. The Martian (-3)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

7. Bridge of Spies (Previously Unranked)

8. Jurassic World (-1)

Best Sound Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  3. The Revenant (No Change)
  4. The Martian (No Change)
  5. The Hateful Eight (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Sicario (-1)

7. Jurassic World (+1)

8. Bridge of Spies (Previously Unranked)

Best Visual Effects

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  3. Jurassic World (No Change)
  4. The Martian (No Change)
  5. The Revenant (Previously Unranked)

Other Possibilities:

6. Ex Machina (-1)

7. The Walk (No Change)

8. Ant-Man (Previously Unranked)

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (-1)

10. In the Heart of the Sea (-4)

Best Score

  1. The Hateful Eight (No Change)
  2. Carol (+1)
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+2)
  4. Bridge of Spies (-2)
  5. The Danish Girl (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Spotlight (No Change)

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)

Best Original Song

  1. “See You Again” from Furious 7 (+2)
  2. “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground (-1)
  3. “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre (+4)
  4. “Simple Song #3” from Youth (No Change)
  5. “So Long” from Concussion (-3)

Other Possibilities:

6. “Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey (-1)

7. “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey (-1)

These FINAL predictions reflect a belief that the following pictures will receive this number of nominations:

10 Nominations

The Revenant

9 Nominations

Mad Max: Fury Road

8 Nominations

Carol

7 Nominations

Bridge of Spies

6 Nominations

The Martian

5 Nominations

The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight

4 Nominations

The Big Short, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

3 Nominations

Room, Sicario, Steve Jobs

2 Nominations

Inside Out, Trumbo

1 Nomination

Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, Concussion, Creed, Far from the Madding Crowd, 45 Years, Furious 7, The Hunting Ground, Joy, Jurassic World, Love and Mercy, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Spectre, Youth

And there you have it, folks! My final Oscar predictions! I’ll have an update posted tomorrow. Until then…

 

Todd’s Weekly Oscar Predictions: January 8th Edition

We have arrived at my weekly Friday predictions for who and what will be nominated for the Oscars honoring 2015 pictures. This will be the last Friday I’ll be doing so because the nominations themselves come out this Thursday, January 14th. I will have one final post of predictions either on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

One consistent source of consternation is whether Rooney Mara will be nominated in lead Actress or Supporting Actress for Carol (same goes, to a lesser degree, for Alicia Vikander’s work in The Danish Girl). Last week, I had her in Actress, but now I’m switching back to Supporting. We shall see. As with my posts every week, it will show where the movers and shakers have shifted around with chances of nomination.

So here goes… my penultimate Oscar predictions…

Best Picture

  1. Spotlight (No Change)
  2. The Big Short (+1)
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)
  4. Room (-2)
  5. The Martian (+1)
  6. The Revenant (+1)
  7. Carol (-2)
  8. Bridge of Spies (+1)
  9. Brooklyn (-1)

Other Possibilities:

10. Straight Outta Compton (+3)

11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-1)

12. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

13. Inside Out (-2)

14. Sicario (+4)

15. Beasts of No Nation (-1)

16. Steve Jobs (No Change)

17. Trumbo (+2)

18. Ex Machina (Previously Unranked)

19. The Danish Girl (+1)

20. Son of Saul (-5)

21. Creed (-4)

DROPPED OUT: Anomalisa

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Director

  1. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)
  2. Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (-1)
  3. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant (+1)
  4. Ridley Scott, The Martian (-1)
  5. Todd Haynes, Carol (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Adam McKay, The Big Short (No Change)

7. Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies (+1)

8. Lenny Abrahamson, Room (-1)

9. John Crowley, Brooklyn (+3)

10. Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight (-1)

11. F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton (Previously Unranked)

12. J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-1)

13. Denis Villenueve, Sicario (Previously Unranked)

14. Cary Fukanaga, Beasts of No Nation (-1)

15. Laszlo Nemes, Son of Saul (-5)

DROPPED OUT: Ryan Coogler, Creed

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Actor

  1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (No Change)
  2. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl (+1)
  3. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs (-1)
  4. Bryan Cranston, Trumbo (+1)
  5. Steve Carell, The Big Short (+3)

Other Possibilities:

6. Matt Damon, The Martian (-2)

7. Will Smith, Concussion (No Change)

8. Johnny Depp, Black Mass (-2)

9. Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes (+1)

10. Michael Caine, Youth (-1)

11. Geza Rohrig, Son of Saul (+2)

12. Michael B. Jordan, Creed (-1)

DROPPED OUT: Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: Carell. Out: Damon.

Best Actress

  1. Brie Larson, Room (No Change)
  2. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn (No Change)
  3. Cate Blanchett, Carol (No Change)
  4. Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (+2)
  5. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Rooney Mara, Carol (-2) MOVED TO SUPPORTING

7. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)

8. Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold (+1)

9. Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back (Previously Unranked)

10. Blythe Danner, I’ll See You in My Dreams (-2)

11. Emily Blunt, Sicario (Previously Unranked)

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: Rampling. Out: Mara (moved to supporting)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (No Change)
  2. Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation (+1)
  3. Sylvester Stallone, Creed (-1)
  4. Christian Bale, The Big Short (No Change)
  5. Paul Dano, Love and Mercy (+4)

Other Possibilities:

6. Michael Keaton, Spotlight (No Change)

7. Michael Shannon, 99 Homes (-2)

8. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight (-1)

9. Tom Hardy, The Revenant (-1)

10. Benicio del Toro, Sicario (+1)

11. Jacob Tremblay, Room (-1)

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: Dano. Out: Shannon.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (+2)
  2. Rooney Mara, Carol (Previously Ranked in lead Actress)
  3. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (-2)
  4. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (-2)
  5. Jane Fonda, Youth (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. Helen Mirren, Trumbo (-2)

7. Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria (+2)

8. Joan Allen, Room (-3)

9. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (-3)

10. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (-2)

11. Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy (-1)

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: Mara, Fonda. Out: Mirren, Allen.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Spotlight (No Change)
  2. Inside Out (No Change)
  3. The Hateful Eight (No Change)
  4. Bridge of Spies (No Change)
  5. Ex Machina (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. Sicario (+4)

7. Straight Outta Compton (-1)

8. Love and Mercy (-1)

9. Trainwreck (Previously Unranked)

10. Mad Max: Fury Road (Previously Unranked)

11. Son of Saul (-2)

12. 99 Homes (-4)

DROPPED OUT: Joy

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Big Short (No Change)
  2. Carol (+1)
  3. Room (-1)
  4. Brooklyn (+1)
  5. Steve Jobs (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Martian (No Change)

7. Trumbo (+3)

8. The Revenant (-1)

9. Beasts of No Nation (-1)

10. The Danish Girl (+2)

11. Anomalisa (-2)

DROPPED OUT: Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road (moved to Original)

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Animated Feature

  1. Inside Out (No Change)
  2. Anomalisa (No Change)
  3. Shaun the Sheep Movie (No Change)
  4. Kahlil Gabran’s The Prophet (+1)
  5. The Good Dinosaur (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Peanuts Movie (-2)

7. When Marnie Was There (No Change)

DROPPED OUT: Minions

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: The Good Dinosaur. Out: The Peanuts Movie.

Best Production Design

  1. The Danish Girl (+1)
  2. Carol (-1)
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  4. Bridge of Spies (No Change)
  5. Brooklyn (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Hateful Eight (-1)

7. Cinderella (-1)

8. MacBeth (+3)

9. The Revenant (-1)

10. Far From the Madding Crowd (No Change)

11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-2)

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: Brooklyn. Out: The Hateful Eight.

Best Cinematography

  1. The Revenant (No Change)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)
  3. The Hateful Eight (-1)
  4. Sicario (No Change)
  5. Bridge of Spies (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Martian (No Change)

7. Carol (+1)

8. The Assassin (Previously Unranked)

9. Son of Saul (-2)

DROPPED OFF: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Costume Design

  1. The Danish Girl (+1)
  2. Carol (-1)
  3. Brooklyn (+1)
  4. Cinderella (-1)
  5. Far from the Madding Crowd (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

7. Suffragette (+3)

8. Trumbo (Previously Unranked)

9. The Revenant (No Change)

10. MacBeth (-2)

11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)

12. Mad Max: Fury Road (-5)

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Big Short (+5)
  3. The Martian (+1)
  4. The Revenant (-2)
  5. Spotlight (-2)

Other Possibilities:

6. Steve Jobs (-1)

7. Bridge of Spies (+1)

8. Room (+4)

9. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

10. Sicario (-4)

11. Straight Outta Compton (Previously Unranked)

12. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-2)

DROPPED OUT: Carol

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: The Big Short. Out: Steve Jobs.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Black Mass (+1)
  3. The Revenant (-1)

Other Possibilities:

4. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (+2)

5. Concussion (-1)

6. Mr. Holmes (-1)

7. Legend (No Change)

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. The Martian (+2)
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-1)
  4. Sicario (+1)
  5. The Revenant (-2)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Hateful Eight (No Change)

7. Jurassic World (+1)

8. In the Heart of the Sea (-1)

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Sound Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (+1)
  3. The Revenant (-1)
  4. The Martian (No Change)
  5. Sicario (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Hateful Eight (+1)

7. In the Heart of the Sea (-2)

8. Jurassic World (No Change)

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: Sicario. Out: In the Heart of the Sea.

Best Visual Effects

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road (No Change)
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Change)
  3. Jurassic World (+1)
  4. The Martian (-1)
  5. Ex Machina (No Change)

Other Possibilities:

6. In the Heart of the Sea (No Change)

7. The Walk (No Change)

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Previously Unranked)

9. Everest (-1)

DROPPED OFF: The Revenant

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Original Score

  1. The Hateful Eight (No Change)
  2. Bridge of Spies (No Change)
  3. Carol (No Change)
  4. The Danish Girl (+1)
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Spotlight (No Change)

7. Steve Jobs (No Change)

8. Mad Max: Fury Road (+1)

DROPPED OFF: Inside Out, The Revenant

WHAT’S CHANGED: No Changes

Best Original Song

  1. “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground (No Change)
  2. “So Long” from Concussion (+1)
  3. “See You Again” from Furious 7 (-1)
  4. “Simple Song #3” from Youth (No Change)
  5. “Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey (-1)

7. “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre (-1)

WHAT’S CHANGED – In: “Love Me Like You Do”. Out: “Earned It”.

These current predictions reflect the following breakdown of films getting these numbers:

9 Nominations

Mad Max Fury Road

8 Nominations

Carol, The Revenant

6 Nominations

Bridge of Spies, The Martian

5 Nominations

The Big Short, Brooklyn, The Danish Girl

4 Nominations

The Hateful Eight, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

3 Nominations

Room. Sicario, Steve Jobs

2 Nominations

Ex Machina, Inside Out

1 Nomination

Anomalisa, Beasts of No Nation, Black Mass, Cinderella, Concussion, Creed, Far from the Madding Crowd, Fifty Shades of Grey, 45 Years, Furious 7, The Good Dinosaur, The Hunting Ground, Joy, Jurassic World, Kahlil Gabran’s The Prophet, Love and Mercy, Shaun the Sheep Movie, Trumbo, Youth

That’ll do it for now, folks! I’ll have my FINAL Oscar predictions up next week…

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron moves the Marvel Cinematic Universe onwards while answering the questions we’ve been pondering for years. How is the romantic relationship going between Hulk and Black Widow? What’s going on with Hawkeye’s wife and children out on their family farm?

Wait, what?

These two out of nowhere subplots are emblematic of a pervasive problem with the sequel to the 2012 mega blockbuster. When Joss Whedon made the original three years ago, it was hard to imagine him combining Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye into a cohesive and satisfactory experience. Did he ever though and it resulted in one of the greatest superhero tales to reach the screen. With Ultron, many of the fears that were assuaged the first time are present. Here, the struggle is real and Whedon can’t manage to recapture the magic the second time around.

The pic dives headfirst into Avengers action in Eastern Europe with our protagonists obtaining Loki’s old scepter and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) discovering its artificial intelligence capabilities. This results in the creation of Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a robotic monster hell bent on ending the world… you know, like all MCU villains. We’re also introduced to Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), characters played by different actors in last year’s in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Incidentally, Quicksilver was used much more effectively in the latter.

Of course, we have most of the Marvel crew back. Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, who’s turned into one of the more interesting characters even though her aforementioned romance with Dr. Bruce Banner aka Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) seems to be a forced concoction to earn them more screen time. Same goes for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who isn’t one of the more interesting players and his previously unseen family history doesn’t help. And there’s Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Evans’s Captain America, both coming off sequels that improved upon their predecessors. Not the case here. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon appear in more limited fashion. The girlfriends of Iron Man and Thor (Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman, respectively) are missing.

Where Ultron serviceably succeeds is its action sequences, including a humdinger battle between Hulk and Iron Man. The Marvel team obviously know how to make these glorious battle sequences and they acquit themselves fine here, though nothing matches the brilliance of the 2012 edition’s breathtaking climactic sequence. The issues I had are several and not just the needless subplots. Ultron is not an especially compelling villain. Many of the humorous quips fall flatter than normal. Even Downey Jr. (truly an example of the perfect actor in the perfect role) isn’t as fun this time around.

In a way, I found Age of Ultron comparable to the third Hunger Games entry, Mockingjay – Part 1. It’s necessary to view it so we can move on to the rest. With the MCU, that includes two more Avengers pics and forthcoming Thor and Captain America threequels. Ultron is “must see” viewing for that reason and that reason alone. Yet I hope what comes next elevates beyond the material we are given this time.

**1/2 (out of four)