The Avengers assemble! This time to fight ultra baddy Ultron!
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fanboy's dream come true.
This movie has a special place in my heart because as a child Iron Man and The Avengers were my favorite comics growing up.
You see, the sad truth of it is, I began reading comics when I was five years old, when my parents divorced. My father had us on weekends, and would buy my brother and I each comics from the comics rack at the local gas station for those long commutes between Bozeman and Glendive, Montana. That's a three hour long drive (one way) with nothing much to see but prairie and the occasional tumble weed. And this was pre-gameboy era, so, comics were the thing.
Yes, those were the good old days when small convenient stores and even gas stations carried the latest mainstream comics titles. Not always in the best condition, but always available and they were great for those long three hour car rides.
Now imagine my excitement when I finally got the first Avengers movie. After twenty years of being a die hard Avengers fan. Yeah. I peed myself with excitement. Twice. And then one more time just for good measure.
Now, as a 20 year Avenger fanatic, I have to say that I was sorely disappointed in the first movie. In fact, I would say that next to Iron Man 3 it is actually the second weakest installment in the entire Marvel phase 2 universe.
Many will disagree with me. As a summer popcorn movie, Avengers works. It's simple. Short. And sweet.
But there's no story. Not really.
With the first Avengers film you get roughly thirty to forty brilliant minutes of the characters forming the team. Then you get an hour and a half of nonsensical alien invasion BS and a flurry of action scenes so hectic that it just becomes monotony.
And this is coming from a guy who staunchly defends the Man of Steel as a great action / alien invasion film. But you know what? Man of Steel succeeded where the first Avengers film failed.
Here me out here, because I know a lot of people hated MoS. At least with MoS the threat felt real. People WERE dying on screen. And after Superman barely came out on top of Zod's henchment Superman had to fight Zod himself! And Zod was superior to him in every way. With MoS the stakes felt real, and there was a gravitas to the tension building up to that final scene between the two Titans, and a feeling that things were dire because we didn't know if Supes could win out in the end. Not against Zod. And that made the film good. Well, at least better than the first Avengers movie, which fell flat less than an hour in.
Avengers one had this super-mega-awesome team assembled from the most iconic heroes in comics or on screen. And then some CGI aliens come down, no thanks to the toiling of Thor's brother Loki, and they wreak a bit of havoc by blowing a lot of the city up (apparently no people though which isn't very realistic given the scope of the city's destruction) and then are ceremoniously defeated.
But the "action porn" of both Man of Steel and Avengers have really different feels to them. People were more forgiving of Avengers because it stayed true to the incarnation of the comic book heroes. They helped people get out of the way. They were no on screen civilian casualties. And they win in the end -- well, after a gratuitously long action sequence of playing splat goes the alien. Man of Steel was a bit out of character, because they made it an origin story and Supes was out of his depth for the whole length of the film, and by the end he wasn't even a hero yet. Hell, he has yet to even claim that title. But which is why a lot of people hated it, apparently.
At any rate, I am more forgiving of the gratuitous nature of the final battle scenes in MoS than Avengers, because, truth be told, I can't forgive Avengers. I waited 20 years for the first Avengers movie and within 30 minutes it devolved into gratuitous action with no story. Gratuitous action. No story. Do I need to say it again, or would that be too gratuitous?
Let me prove it to you. Here's the story to the first Avengers film. Loki steals the scepter with the infinity stone. He opens a portal to bring down an alien invasion force to be his army. Apparently, his entire evil plot is to rule Earth as a God. The Avengers Assemble (this is the cool part of the movie). Then they fight Loki and his alien goons for the entire rest of the film. Yeah. That's it.
Like I said... gratuitous. No story.
For a summer blockbuster meant to be a popcorn film, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The first Avengers movie is fun. It's got cheese, plenty of humor, and it doesn't take itself as seriously as Man of Steel did. But that's all it has going for it. And quite frankly, it's a boring film.
I recently saw the first Avengers movie again on television, and after the first 30 minutes I changed the channel and watched baseball instead. That's how much I am bored by the first Avengers movie. It forced a 20 year Avengers comic book fanatic who's been waiting half his life for a film which unites these iconic heroes on the silver screen to watch fucking sports! Fucking sports!!
The good news is that Avengers: Age of Ultron is not that!
Age of Ultron is much, much BETTER!
What I Liked:
Where to begin? There is so much to like about this film.
The first thing I'd have to say is I really liked that they chose Ultron as the villain for the second installment. He's the main villain to the Avengers and he's a major badass. Or just as bad as they come, I should say.
A couple of things I appreciated this time around was that they tied Ultron into this Marvel cinematic universe splendidly. In the comics, Ultron is the invention of Hank Pym (the original Ant Man), but in the Marvel CU the Ant Man movie came out after Age of Ultron, so they made him Tony Stark's mad-scientist invention, and it works. No complaints here.
I also like that Ultron was all sorts of eccentric, a bit of a loony-bot, and very vaudeville in his emotiveness. It's not what you'd expect from a robot A.I. character. Most of the incarnations of Ultron have all been these doomsday, Terminator-esque, killing machines. This Ultron quotes Pinocchio, cracks wise jokes, is funny, and entirely unpredictable. He saunters about, but is terribly one-track minded, he even rips off one human character's arm in one scene and then apologizes for it even as he is in the middle of chastising this person for not taking him seriously, and it makes you cringe and laugh at the same time.
Even the Scarlet Witch says at one point during the film that Ultron is a genuine sociopath and can't tell the difference between saving the world and destroying it. And all this helps to make Ultron genuinely a frightening villain. He's very human in his behavior, in his mannerisms even, but completely without a conscience. He is executing a protocol, like any machine, and I (personally) happened to love this depiction of him. I have to tip my had to Joss Whedon for making a true villain that, also completely incredible, very believable and scary.
I also liked the fact that all the characters had there own mini-story progressions. I hesitate to call them story-arcs per se, because they were a little less than that, but there were some real nice character moments sprinkled throughout the film. I especially liked the moments with Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Bruce Banner, Nick Fury's cameo at the end (bringing the S.H.I.E.L.D. story arc full circle), and even Tony Stark's computer A.I., Jarvis -- who (without giving away too many spoilers) plays a larger role in this story than all the previous Marvel CU films combined.
What I didn't Like:
Unlike Avengers one, where I found tons not to like, this film was actually sparse on the negative aspects. It was darker, had more characters, but it was balanced really well. The story never felt like it was going off the rails, like the first film where it set up an interesting Loki story and then just threw aliens at you until the cows came home. I guess when you have a Hulk, Loki isn't much of a threat. Which is why they probably threw that joke in there. But, like I said, total train wreck at the end. Age of Ultron manages to hit all its plot points without skipping a beat, and that is a fantastic feat. Joss Whedon should be commended.
That said, I do think the running time was extremely long. It's even longer than the other overly long Disney movie, Tomorrowland. But I get it, there was a lot of story to cram in to just two and a half hours. A lot of characters. A lot of plot threads to weave. And they had to balance it and pace it in just such a way that it didn't seem rushed.
So, perhaps the long running time of this film can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. I personally prefer long movies, when there's ample story to enjoy, and this had exactly that. That said, I do think they could have trimmed some of the robot fights by a couple minutes here and there. Shaving, say, five more minutes off the film wouldn't have hurt it in the least.
Another thing I thought was strange was that when the Scarlet Witch gets into Black Widow's head, Captain America's head, Tony Stark's head, and Thor's head we all see their nightmare visions. But when she gets into Hulk's head... nothing. All you see is the Hulk smashing up South Africa and you get an action spectacle with the fan-favorite Hulk Buster armor. It was a pretty cool action piece, and it was actually pretty economic in its execution. So I can't complain about the scene itself. But... it still seemed like something was missing.
Now, I know for a fact that Hulk's worst fear is himself, or at least Banner's worst fear is the Hulk, but what does Hulk fear when he's the Hulk? Even just a thirty second flash of Hulk standing over the dead bodies of the Avengers, whom he killed, in a nightmare would have been enough. Or maybe something as simple as Hulk looking into his trousers only to find that not everything beefs up to "Hulk size" when he's mean and green and that revelation alone would terrifying for him. But it just felt something...anything...was needed.
Another minor complain I have is that Ultron, right at the end, sort of loses his menace. He's this unstoppable force up until a scene where the Hulk busts in and... well... you'll know when you see it. And then nothing. I really wanted one last hurrah with him coming out again on top, and having all the heroes exhausted and beaten that they can't believe he's not defeated. That's when I'd have the Vision swoop down and stop him.
It's just my opinion, but I feel that would have made a bit of a more dramatic climax. For what it is though, Age of Ultron works as well as you could expect a film of this size with this many facets to it and with such a sizable cast of characters to work with without sacrificing anything.
What Bothered Me:
If you watched George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road this year, you'll have noticed something interesting. Almost all the characters are centered in all of the shots. Most films are not made like this because it's hard to get those nice comic-book-like dynamic angles if you center the camera around the characters all of the time. But it had the interesting side-effect of making all male and female characters even on the screen -- this meant it was much harder to sexually objectify the women on screen because they were perfectly balanced, in frame, with their male counterparts. Quite genius film making from George Miller. But, here's the kicker, it wouldn't exactly work in a comic book movie like Avengers.
Comic books movies are supposed to be dynamic! And Age of Ultron is very dynamic and true to its comic book roots. That said, I do have to say one thing. As the film wore on, I noticed something kept happening. Again, and again, and again it occurred to me that the camera was literally molesting Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.
She's sexy, yes. I love her femininity as much as the next guy. Tough women heroines rule! I love them. But after Ultron kidnaps Black Widow, and she's lying against the crate terrified, and we expect to have a similar fear scene as in the first Avengers when she faces the Hulk, we instead find her head cropped halfway out of the frame but her bulging cleavage is left in.
I dunno, but I couldn't help but think, wow, that's some emotive cleavage.
Then, when she's lying on the floor in the scene directly following it, her shirt is unzipped even more (somehow), and again her breasts seem to be the focal point of the shot.
Yes, she's sexy, we get it. But in a scene where the main villain is threatening you, and we pan to the heroine's breasts... not her face... I have to wonder. Aren't we maybe exploiting her figure a little bit too much in a scene where it's not required?
Now, most people won't even notice this, in the same way that they probably didn't notice the amount of centering shots going on in Mad Max, but I did. Now you will too, since I mentioned it (you're welcome). And it was fine for the first two hours. But that last half hour, well, it began to bug me. Because they kept fucking doing it. Not only that, they kept on doing it in scenes were it was completely unnecessary.
I don't know about you, but I call this exploitative and gratuitous. Okay Joss Whedon, we know you have a strong female lead, and you're proud of her, but you don't need to keep reminding us of how nice her boobs look for darn near three freakin' hours. Just, you know, maybe stop molesting Scarlett Johansson with the camera for two minutes. K?
But I get it. Joss Whedon has to appeal to the teenage market, right? The kids that will purchase tickets three or four times with their parents' hard earned cash to see that sort of thing and, perhaps, start their 20 year love of Earth's mightiest heroes. And if it's Scarlett Johansson's boobs that get them there, then by Odin's beard, so be it. More of that -- some studio exec, somewhere, exclaimed (obviously).
Here's the thing though, I could imagine writing the exploitative boob shots into the story where it would make sense.
Maybe Whedon could have had Ultron run his finger down Black Widow's chest as he threatens to tear her heart out -- unzipping her suit a little bit more as he monolgues his evil intentions, and then a little bit more, until it becomes uncomfortable and awkward to watch. Then have Ultron's finger linger there for a moment, right between Black Widow's breasts, which are about to fall out of her open suit, as if he is making a point to demean and degrade this heroine. Here we have a chance to let the villain sexually objectify her to show her how truly powerless she is against him, because that would be creepy as hell.
Then have him not do anything, because she's small fish and he has bigger fish to fry.
I mean, you could focus on her breasts for a reason, and it would add to the story, and make the villain seem more psycho than he already is, and it would give Black Widow a real reason to fear this evil machine, because she just got molested and degraded by it and stripped of all her power and dignity, and that's terrifying. It would also make Black Widow's long staring at the wall scene at the end a little more meaningful, I think -- because she'd be thinking about more than just the love of her life who ran off (major cheese!). She'd be thinking about much more, and that would be left up to the audiences imagination.
That's story telling.
And I think Joss Whedon missed a big fat opportunity here.
Final Two Cents:
Joss Whedon outdid himself, and that's a good thing.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is far superior to the first Avengers film in nearly every way.
The action sequences aren't overdone. Every scene propels the narrative forward. The new characters, Ultron, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and even The Vision all have decent arcs and decent character development. The original cast all show more growth as characters. The witty banter is there. The jokes are all there. The villain actually feels threatening unlike the in the first film. More seems to be riding on the line in this one. It's a much darker story. And I for one ate it up.
Of all the superhero mega-blockbusters, this is my second favorite; right after Captain America: Winter Soldier (a superb action film and wonderful superhero film in nearly every way).
So, yes, I would recommend this film to anyone who likes action, adventure, and science fiction blended perfectly with your typical superhero fanfare that we have come to know and love from the Marvel CU.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.