Movie reviews: Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Falling, The Emperor’s New Clothes

There was a time, and a much simpler time it was too, when a superhero had what it took to save the world all on his own. 

Movie reviews: Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Falling, The Emperor’s New Clothes

Global geo-politics are rather more complicated these days, of course, and Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (12A)

– which follows on from Avengers Assemble (2012) – features a veritable platoon of superheroes uniting to undo the damage wrought by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr), aka Iron Man, when he allows the artificial intelligence Ultron (voiced by James Spader) to infiltrate Stark Industries and create an army of robots designed to eliminate the Avengers in the name of world peace.

Captain America (Chris Evans), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are the most recognisable of the superheroes, although the movie also introduces the siblings Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), all of whom have a part to play in confronting the seemingly all-powerful Ultron.

And therein lies the problem with Joss Whedon’s largely entertaining and frequently funny movie: while the physics-defying action sequences come thick and fast, and are brilliantly edited, there’s very little time given over to developing the individual characters for any viewer who isn’t already a fan of the comic-book creations.

The notable exception is the burgeoning relationship between Black Widow and the Hulk, which hints at a potentially intriguing Beauty and the Beast tale, but otherwise, and unless you’re a superhero fanatic, Avengers: Age of Ultron delivers rather too much bang for your buck.

Opening in 1969, at an all-girls school, The Falling (16s) initially focuses on Abigail (Florence Pugh), a conscientious student fond of quoting poetry who has just discovered the temptations of the opposite sex.

When Abigail gets pregnant, her friends – who idolise her – are shocked, none more so than Abigail’s best friend Lydia (Maisie Williams); and when a tragedy subsequently strikes, the school is suddenly afflicted with an epidemic of ‘falling’ as the girls begin to suffer inexplicable fits of fainting.

Written and directed by Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life), The Falling is a gripping tale of innocence and youth struggling to come to terms with the demands of adulthood.

Morley juxtaposes a backdrop of fey late-’60s flower power and its relaxing of the social mores with the regimental style of schooling the girls are subjected to, in the process emphasising the way in which the teenagers’ suppressed sexuality finds increasingly extreme ways to express itself. Are the girls genuinely possessed by a ‘hysterical contagion’ caused by grief and loss? Are they neurotically seeking attention?

Or is there something more genuinely spiritual in the air? Morley is in no hurry to provide easy answers to a fascinating conundrum, and the leisurely pace allows the characters to explore some very dark areas of teenage sexuality.

Pugh and Williams are superb in the lead roles, each reinforcing the other’s commitment to a relationship of tactile, sensual innocence, while the wider cast – including Greta Scacchi, Maxine Peake and Joe Cole – provide excellent support.

“Everything you’re going to hear in this film you already know,” declares Russell Brand at the beginning of The Emperor’s New Clothes (12A), a documentary in which Brand rails against social and economic injustice, particularly in terms of how the filthy rich continue to get richer despite bearing responsibility for the recent economic tsunami.

Brand’s cheekily irreverent Everyman persona makes for enjoyable viewing as he travels around the UK interviewing families who are struggling to make ends meet (and trying, but largely failing to interview various bankers), but he really isn’t telling us anything we haven’t heard before.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the film intersperses straight-to-camera diatribes from Brand in which he quotes mind-boggling statistics about the disparity in wealth between rich and poor, all of which, he suggests, should ‘make you angry enough to kick a pig into a ditch’.

It’s all very infuriating, certainly, but the longer it goes on the more deadening the statistics become, and you begin to wonder what the point of the film is.

Are the viewers expected to leap from their cinema seats and storm the economic equivalent of the Bastille?

There’s very little by way of a practical alternative to the current system, as broken as it is; that said, it’s Brand’s job to ask questions rather than provide answers, and his sincerity and enthusiasm for the cause certainly can’t be faulted.

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