Friday, May 8, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

    I was never the huge-huge fan of Avengers every other geek on the planet was. I loved the Avengers film but I considered it to be an example of pure mind-candy with no real nutritional value. Loki is leading an army of aliens to invade the Earth, the Avengers assemble and stop him. To be fair, that's all the plot the majority of the fans wanted from the movie and I'm not sure it would have been improved by trying to tell something like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

    Nevertheless, Avengers was a very tight movie.

    Avengers: Age of Ultron is fat.

    Jabba the Hutt fat.

Ultron is a fantastic villain--no if's, and's, or buts.
    Don't get me wrong, none of this fat is ever boring. It's mind-candy every bit as much as Avengers, especially for long-time comic book fans. Oh, look, there's the Hulkbuster armor! There's Ultron! There's Baron Strucker! Look, there's that guy we like from the comics who we totally didn't expect to show up here. The movie is doing its very best to entertain and it, for the most part, succeeds but I can't help it's throwing as much at the wall as possible in hopes some of it will stick.

    The premise of the movie is fairly simple: Tony Stark builds a A.I. (Ultron as voiced by James Spader) in order to help patrol the Earth and protect it from alien invasion. Having never, apparently, seen Terminator--the A.I. rebels and proceeds to try to kill the Avengers. The Avengers have to stop him. Along the way, they pick up Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who are originally enemies of the team but convert when it becomes apparent Ultron is insane.

The slow-motion in the movie nicely replicates comic book panels.
    The problem isn't the premise of the movie but the insistence of it trying to fit in everything it can to the deterrent of the story's progression. For example, the Black Widow and Hulk romance plot is widely criticized for coming out of nowhere. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, per se, but it doesn't really relate to anything regarding Ultron. Likewise, there's Thor's vision quest that does nothing but remind audiences about the ongoing Infinity Stone subplot.

    To give a general sense of the movie for me, there's an extended chase sequence toward the end of the movie where the Avengers are doing very cool stuff involving planes, trains, motorcycles, and automobiles as well as a truck-top fight. There's nothing un-enjoyable about the fight sequence but it's very much padding.

    Not even the character development sequences are perfect given there's an extended farm sequence which seems designed to slow down the plot to a crawl. I will, admit, I did like the subversion of a typical superhero cliche that every last one of them has to be a committed loner. I won't elaborate on that, you'll have to see the movie.

The Scarlet Witch is an impressive new character and rightly gets a lot of attention.
    There's a much-much tighter film here which would have been much more enjoyable to me. I would hate to see any of the sequences lost because none of them are BAD but they don't really make the film better, either, just longer.

    Enough with the bad.

    James Spader's Ultron is awesome. He manages to capture the quirky Whedon-esque humor of Tony Stark as well as the menacing child-like insanity of the comic book Ultron. He's never NOT entertaining when he's on screen and I really regretted his inevitable death. Ultron is an engaging character and the fact he's probably been warped by either Hydra programming or Thanos makes me sympathize with him perhaps before than I should. I certainly bonded with him more than any of the other A.I. in the movie, including the one I should have been happy to see appear.

    Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch play an excellent role as the moral counterparts to the Avengers in the film. Both portrayed as victims of American military aggression, they've found themselves allied first with Hydra then Ultron before finding themselves with the Avengers. I get the point Joss was attempting to make about how heroes can be on both sides, but I think he chose a poor group to ally them with. Given their comic book counterparts are biracial Jewish/Romani, I can't say it's the best idea to have them team up with a Nazi-derived organization against Americans.

    Sends the wrong message, y'know?

The Hulk is much more expressive this time around--having his own character separate from Banner.
    Nevertheless, I found both characters very entertaining and wished I could see more of them but they don't get much beyond, "we hates nasty Tony Starks forever" followed by trying to get their redemption. Their actors manage to make the most of their short number of scenes, though, which I salute them for. I liked them so much that later developments in the movie left me feeling quite cross with Joss Whedon.

    The arrival of a secret Avenger (pun intended) at the end of the movie was a welcome surprise but I can't talk much about them without spoiling their appearance. Even so, as much as I appreciated their depiction, it seemed like a bit too much. I would have preferred to focus on the existing number of characters versus adding yet another to the already-full roster. Nevertheless, I can't imagine anyone doing a better job capturing said character's majesty and grace. Longtime Avengers fans will love this character and I wouldn't mind a movie starring them.

    Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is the one I think who benefits most from this movie as Joss Whedon gives him plenty of chances to show off why he's awesome. In an unusual subversion of traditional gender roles, Hawkeye is portrayed as the "heart" of the team. As the sole mortal man who isn't repressing horrific trauma, he is the guy who keeps the group grounded. I'm not sure this is the best fit for the character with Captain America on the team but it worked for me. I also loved a delightful subversion of his backstory as a brooding loner--bravo, Joss.

Ultron's childlike humorous qualities are an addition to the character I'd like to see in the comics.
    What did I think of the Black Widow and Hulk in the movie? I think the two of them should have remained friends, oddly enough. I like their bonding over their shared tragedies and mutual self-loathing. The Black Widow hates the fact she's a product of a murderous super-soldier/ballet school murder-program and Hulk is the Hulk.

    Still, it seems like an odd sort of place to begin a romance and I found it annoying she was the one required to calm down the Hulk. I mean, part of what makes Natasha great is she's one of the least nurturing and gentle female characters in the history of film.

    Oh well, at least the movie goes in the right direction for it.

    The rest of the Avengers get okay scenes to show off their various personalities. Captain America gets to kick a lot of ass but has a running gag of everyone thinking he's lame and white bread. Iron Man is, as usual, always trying to out-think problems which don't exist yet. Thor is enjoying what amounts to an extended vacation on Earth which has blinded him to his responsibilities back on Asgard.

The Hulkbuster armor scene is entirely gratuitous--and yet pretty awesome anyway.
    I regret the fact neither Falcon or War Machine are full-time Avengers, which is something I would have loved to see on screen. War Machine, at least, gets a surprise showing at the end of the movie which was long overdue.

    Minor villains Baron von Strucker and Ulysses Klaue also give in entertaining performances before leaving the movie. I'm actually rather disappointed in the former since I think he could have been a much larger part of the story without distracting from the other character's development. Baron von Strucker could have been Ultron's second-in-command or chief henchmen or something.

    If you saw the original Avengers, you know what you're going to get from this movie. It's full of whiz-bang action, beautiful set pieces, funny character moments, quips, explosions, and the occasional warm fuzzy moment. Joss Whedon was perfect for these movies and I'm sorry he's leaving. It's not a great movie but it's entertaining and more than worth the price of a ticket to go see in theaters.

    But expect to have some scenes you want to go to the bathroom during.


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