Summary (Warning: This review contains minor spoilers)
Jurassic World, the fourth film in this dino-saga, stars Chris Pratt as dino-wrangler and trainer Owen, Bryce Dallas Howard as the theme parks director and supervisor Claire, and Vincent D'Onofrio as the duplicitous military contractor Hoskins, and a slew of other characters including the two boys Gray and Zach played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson respectively.
The film opens 22 years after the tragic failure of the first Jurassic Park. Over that time, we are to assume that InGen managed to iron out all of the kinks that plagued the first three films, and finally manage to set up the theme park in a safe manner.
This is where Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), director of the new them park, comes in. Ever the savvy business woman, Claire wants to maintain Jurassic World as a main attraction the world over. But due to waning ticket sales, she has brought in private investors. The thing is, these private investors will only fund the dino-research and park if they can get bigger, better, and scarier dinosaurs. As such, InGen has disembarked with the traditional development of bringing extinct dinosaurs back to life but has since began experimenting by mixing dino-DNA to get new hybrid creatures.
Out of their mad science comes Indominus Rex, a mashup of dino-DNA. Indominus Rex, however, proves to be much more intelligent than anyone anticipated and it escapes its confines and goes on a park wide killing spree, killing everything it finds, whether human or dinosaur. In essence, they didn't bring back a dinosaur, they invented a monster!
At this time, Claire's two nephews, visiting the theme park, get lost off grid when they take a wrong turn in their gyro "hamster" ball.
Enter Owen (Christ Pratt) a handsome ex-Navy Seal who now trains a pack of velociraptors as part of a joint InGen military program designed to see if dinos can be trained to obey humans and thus weaponized.
Enter the zealous Hoskins, who wants to see a field test so he can then make millions selling dinos as weapons to the military.
Just as people begin to die, Owen, along with Hoskins, set out to stop Indominus Rex's rampage once and for all. Meanwhile, Claire, along with Owen, must find her missing nephews before its too late.
What I Liked:
I took my 5 year old daughter to this film and, being a fan of the first film, she loved every moment of it. It's scary, but not too scary. I'd say Jurassic Park 2 is actually far darker and scarier than this film. This film is more reminiscent the first Jurassic Park, with some light hearted banter, likable characters, and dinosaurs everywhere.
I especially liked the numerous nods, winks, and homages to the first film. There are holograms of dinosaurs in Jurassic World that are just clips of the first movie. There are locations from the first film that the characters go to that have since gone furrow, but links the two worlds together nicely. I like that the explanation for the new theme park isn't overly complex. We just sort of go along with it. After all, it's been 22 years and a lot of what has transpired since then is hinted at but, at the same time, left largely up to the audience to decide.
I like that this was, ultimately, a monster movie.
As in, there was a REAL monster in it.
I liked that the monster here was a real monster, a genetic freak made in the labs, and the product of humanity's over eagerness to play God.
Although many critics panned the film for having an overly simplistic plot, I thought the simple plot played well and acted as a nice re-introduction to the Jurassic Park universe.
After all, I am a Junior High school teacher, and not a single one of my 13 and 14 year old students had even seen the first Jurassic Park film. That's how outdated the franchise is. So, to me, it made sense they went with a new story and a new cast instead of getting bogged down by an outdated mythology that nobody knows about because they simply haven't seen the films.
That said, even with a simple A to Z plot, and with pretty standard characters, there is a lot to like about this movie. Its pace is fast, the movie never lags, the sub-plot ties into the main film perfectly, the Indominus Rex truly seems like the villain of the film and it works great as an entertaining monster movie. If you were expecting more from it, however, you might be dissapointed -- because, really, that's all of it.
Perhaps the thing I loved the most, however, is that the director Colin Trevorrow shot the film with a Spielbergian romantic eye. This means that nearly all the shots are done in the style of Steven Spielberg. What is surprising is how well Colin Trevorrow can employ Spielberg's style and techniques yet still come up with artistic and captivating storytelling of his own.
There are just some standout scenes that stick with you, such as Claire's standing with an orange flair in her hands, trembling in fear as the large doors open to reveal the only thing that might be capable of defeating Indominus Rex. The two boys getting knocked about in the hamster ball felt very much like the car in the tree scene with Dr. Grant and lil' Tim in the first movie. Little scenes between the actors and the dinosaurs, such as the scene where Owen and Claire find a whole heard of Brontosauruses slaughtered, only to lay the last one to rest in a teary eyed scene was very reminiscent of the Triceratops scene in the first movie. Every interaction between Owen and his raptors is fun to watch. Overall, the film hits more than it misses.
What I Didn't Like:
I have several issues with Claire. Not that she was a bad character, I just felt she was underdeveloped. She had more time on screen than all the rest of the cast combined, but she's not at all memorable. The only thing that stood out about her was that she ran through the jungle, fought dinosaurs, drove heavy SUV vehicles, and fought her way through all the mayhem in high heels. It wasn't at all realistic.
It was so blatant and in your face though, even going as far as to zoom in on them at the end, that I swear it had to be an in-joke or a spoof on pulp adventure stories of the Jane in the Jungle type character. But no, it seems it was really just a needlessly stupid bit of film making. A whole movie fighting dinosaurs through the jungles of a tropical island in high heels? Blarg! Stupid.
While some people have criticized the InGen military subplot as not being necessary to the film, you could take it out and essentially have the same plot given a couple tweaks -- such as the velociraptor program being an in-house InGen project that has nothing to do with the military -- I actually didn't mind it. To me, it seemed like a little bit of world building, and it lays the ground work for them to go in a different direction with the inevitable sequels that will follow this monster blockbuster (the highest grossing film of the summer!). Also, after all that happened in the first three films, can we honestly say the military wouldn't get involved a fourth time around? So, I can excuse the military subplot, even though it wasn't entirely necessary.
Maybe in the sequels the story could revolve around the weaponization of dinosaurs. Maybe the technology gets stolen or is being sold on the black market and suddenly dinosaurs are found being used to terrorize innocent lives. Maybe it could be the Marines getting called in to fight dinos in the vein of the movie Aliens. Who you gonna call when your dinos get rowdy? Owen, ex-Navy Seal and dinosaur wrangler / trainer extraordinaire. Also, they could bring Claire along for her expertise, since she dealt with it all the first time around and is at the top of her class in battling dinosaurs in high heels. In my opinion, they should leave the kids out of it the next time around.
One last little gripe I had is that, although containing a solid, straight forward story and being a very well made film, the characters fell flat.
Even Hoskins, your stereotypical mustache twirling villain, felt rather bland. He had nothing to do but stand around looking smug. I mean, they could have had him try to kill someone at least, even just to save his own neck, but that didn't even happen!
Meanwhile, our lead Owen was your down to earth, get the job done, kind of man, and he did everything required of him -- such as look majorly badass on a motorcycle in a raptor pack, but with a kind of emotional detachment that made him feel rather blah.
At the same time, Claire was your straight up one-dimensional business woman, too busy to bother with family or things like being caring. And speaking of caring, even though its hinted at early on in the film that she and Owen had a past romance, there is no flirting or romantic banter between them for the rest of the entire film. It's as though it never happened or they simply moved past it -- but this film could have used a little injection of something extra -- and a nice little unresolved romantic sub-plot actually would have worked well here.
The kids, although the most three dimensional of all the characters in the movie, really didn't have much to do except run around and try not to die. Even the "funny guy" in the office, played by Jake M. Johnson, although extremely likable, didn't have very many funny lines.
No pun intended, but all these characters just seemed to be along for the ride, but not much else.
What Bothered Me:
The high heels thing. I just can't let it go. It's that annoyingly bad! So stupid.
Anyhoozit, onto my final two cents.
Final Two Cents:
I had a lot of fun watching this film. After showing my daughter the first three films this year, her excitement for this film was over the top, and I was pleased that she loved the movie as much as I did. It's a fast pace, action-adventure, on top of a monster film. I am still a little disappointed that the characters fell so flat, but the action was fun and, besides, the dinosaurs stole the show and had the best scenes anyway.
Overall, Jurassic World plays as one big homage to Jurassic Park on top of its being a solid action / monster film. So who am I to complain? And if you loved the ending of the first Jurassic Park movie, then you'll definitely love the ending of this film (albeit somewhat predictable, I still thoroughly enjoyed it). But that's all I'm going to say.
I personally feel this is the strongest installment in the franchise after the first film, and I would definitely recommend watching this movie to the avid movie goer and feel it is a solid entry in the once thought extinct franchise.
Writerly Things: Swoopers vs. Bashers and on Binge Writing
In Conan O'Brien's recent interview with historical novelist Erik Larson, he talks about writing styles and the process Larson goes through when he writes. Larson, like many serious authors, states that he abides by a page-a-day rule (41:00 minute mark) in which he only writes one page a day, seven days a week.
Larson claims this allows him to keep writing the next day as he can fill in what needs to happen next and he never experiences writers block because he always knows right where to pick up. It's a technique I've heard a lot of writers utilize, including Earnest Hemingway.
Larson goes on to say (around the 43:00 minute mark) that "The worst thing a writer can do is...write for ten hours...binge writing is the worst thing."
This is where I part ways with Larson and those who feel that binge writing is a bad technique. All it signifies to me is a different process that may work for a different type of writer. Different people have different thinking processes, and for me binge writing works phenomenally well.
The page-a-day rule is fine too. I tend to slow down to around five to ten pages a day when I'm writing non-fiction, such as my book The Swedish Fish, Deflating the Scuba Diver and Working the Rabbit's Foot: Answering Christian Apologetics. When I wrote The Swedish Fish I had to get in about ten pages a day. The reason is because with non-fiction you have to cover a certain amount of material that you can't just leave as an incomplete thought. It's more technical, so you know what you have to write toward.
Whereas when it comes to fiction the writer is more free to write at the speed of thought. And I think this is where the dangers of binge writing, as Larson seems to think, comes into play. Fast and loose writing is often disorganized and not well edited.
But I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. It's just a different writing style.
Kurt Vonnegut once observed there are two types of writers. He mentioned:
Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”
Because my writing preference is to binge write, i.e. sit down for 10 hours and crank out page after page and chapter after chapter, I frequently go back and painstakingly fix everything that doesn't seem to work. I suppose this would place me into Vonnegut's definition of what he calls a swooper. A writer who just throws alphabet soup at the wall to see what will stick and then goes over it painstakingly, fixing everything that doesn't work.
I prefer writing in this way because in the editing process I often get fresh ideas or, other times, decide to try things differently than I wouldn't have the first time around. With this style of writing I always find there is more I can expand on as I add details, or trim unnecessary bits, or fill in visual information, or tweak dialog.
This style of writing, the swooper style, feels to me a lot like playing with LEGO building blocks, where you begin by setting out to build an airplane, the airplane you envision in your mind, but then you are having so much fun with the building blocks that you just keep adding to it. Pretty soon you end up with a spaceship with laser guns, quadruple FTL drives, and detachable lifeboats, etc. & etc., and suddenly you've created something bigger and better than you set out to do.
Granted, an argument could be made that a meticulous writer would never encounter such a problem, since they would have avoided it by being paying extra close attention to all the details. But I'm not so sure. Writers are, after all, only human. Mistakes are bound to be made.
Now, with a more meticulous writer we might say they are prone to make less mistakes because of the tight controls they set on their writing, but for me personally, mistakes are where the spontaneity happens. A lot of my own writing mistakes, as dreadful as they seemed at the time, have forced me to find innovative or imaginative ways to fix them and this has led to unexpected story elements -- sometimes compelling me to go an entirely different way with a character or a subplot.
So, the higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way method of writing is perfectly suited for my needs as a writer. And that's the thing I want to stress. When it comes to writing, it's best to do what works for you.
The second style of writer, according to Vonnegut, are the bashers who write one sentence at a time and painstakingly make sure everything is just right before they move on to the next bit of writing.
I know that Mark Twain was a serious basher. It seems that, according to the above interview, Erik Larson is one too. I can see how this take it easy, be thorough, keep it lean style of writing can be appealing.
But if I'm being honest, this style just doesn't work for me (personally) because my brain cannot be satisfied with just one page. Writing just one page for me would be a lot like forcing yourself to eat just one french fry from a tasty order of fries. Sure, it can be done, but who'd want to do it?
When my brain gets spooled up it wants to paint a white canvas in words until it's all filled in, because this is where I find my imagination really kicks in and begins to take over, this is where all the fun is.
That doesn't mean that I think bashers lack imagination when they write. But it certainly is much more constrained. I'd rather let lose than cull back, but that's just a personal preference. As long as you have an output, as long as you keep on writing, then you're a writer. The rest is just a matter of taste.
Although, I think it goes without saying, outside factors can play a big role in what kind of writer you become as well. Let's not forget that our environments help to make us who we are -- not only as people -- but as writers too.
You see, another reason I tend to be a swooper and a binge writer is because my free time is highly limited. Some days there just aren't enough hours in the day to place aside a solid block of time to sit down and write. And if I was going by the page-a-day rule, and I missed a few days of writing due to outside events or circumstances, well, then I think you can see how I would be extremely difficult to ever get anything done.
As Larson explains in the above interview, he is accustomed to rising early (around 4 AM) to get his writing in. Setting away some time to write is sound advice, advice I try to follow (and advice I think every writer serious about writing should try to follow), but some days it's just not possible. Larson mentions that he developed the regiment when he had toddlers, because nothing gets done during the day when you have rugrats to worry about. This is very true. As a father of two young ones myself, I can relate.
Of course, this is one of the main reasons I am forced to binge write. My schedule largely revolves around my family's schedule. And between having a full time job outside of my writing chores and devoting time to my family, writing gets often gets pushed to the back of my priorities. I wish it didn't have to be that way. But it is, so I write when I can find the time -- and that means I have to get as much done as humanly possible in that amount of time -- so I binge write. I don't really stop to worry about where it's all coming from or whether or not my muse we be there the next day, because I'm too busy writing. After all, I don't know when I'll get another chance to write freely -- so I make the best of it.
My dream, of course, is to make a living wage writing full time. Who wouldn't love to be able to do that? But writing full time and making a living wage on your writing alone is relatively a recent development as recent as the printing press at any rate. And then, even with a printing press, and a certain amount of popularity, there was no absolute guarantee you could make a living off of writing. Think back to Edgar Allan Poe who struggled horribly to make his bread and butter on writing alone even as he was extremely popular as a writer. Think about H.P. Lovecraft who lived in borderline poverty his whole life because he tried to survive off the meager income he could make writing, then died penniless. Think of all the countless writers, both past and present, who continue to struggle to make ends meet off their income as a writer. The truth is, unless you are J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, or someone lucky enough to land a big juicy book contract, odds are you'll need a second job just to stay a float. And there's nothing wrong with that.
If anybody slams writers who have to have a full time job in addition to their writing and might insinuate nasty things -- like they're not real writers because they can't eek out a living by their writing alone -- then I have no time for such narrow minded people.
First of all, these people don't know the history of the medium, which in my book makes them little more than an imbecile. But more than that, as a writer who writes full time, works full time, and raises a family full time, I don't have the luxury of time to worry about what people think about how I should or shouldn't be as a writer. All I can do is share what works for me personally, and most of these lessons are learned through trial an error.
Regardless of what anyone says, there is no set model or template any writer must adhere to in order to be a proper writer. Writing, like painting, is an art form. And there are different techniques, different ways of doing it, different strokes for different folks, but there is no one correct way of doing it except to just do it.
If you write, and that's what you love to do, then you're a writer. It doesn't matter if you're a page-a-day writer or a binge writer, a swooper or a basher, if you write -- and you've completed your writing projects, published them, whether you are self published or published via a publisher, then you are a writer. After all, you wrote something. And in my book, that makes you a writer.
My paranormal, comedic noir, detective, mystery, romance story The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston: Rough Justice is now out courtesy of Winlock Press and Permuted Press!
A special thanks to the art team over at Permuted Press for supplying such an amazing piece of cover art!
And that's what I wanted to talk about in this post. The struggle to find the perfect cover image.
First off, I am very lucky. Not many authors get a say in their cover art. Typically what happens is you provide a brief description of the characters, then an artists (not of your choosing) gets assigned to handle the art chores, and they come up with something.
Now, it goes without saying that the quality and style of artists vary widely. Some are better suited for the job than others. Some might be excellent artists but the art doesn't fit the genre or the tone of the piece. There are numerous factors to consider when dealing with cover art.
I am lucky precisely because I had a bit more say in the selection process than other writers, to the chagrin of my editor (I'm sure) who had to bare with me as I kept rejecting all the cover art that came in.
But you know what, I don't think she would have gone along with me if she didn't agree with me. Ultimately, your editor and publisher will put the limit on how much input you have in the selection process. Usually it's none.
But I'm lucky. I am lucky because Winlock Press decided to keep me in the loop the whole time.
If I had to guess, I'd say there are a couple reasons for this. First, I think it might have to do with the fact that I wrote a strange novel -- a really strange novel -- that cannot easily be classified as any given genre.
The Scarecrow & Lady Kingston is a little bit Western. It's a detective story and a police procedural. It's a mystery in the classic sense of a "Who done it?" story. It's a comedy. It has unexpected romances and a thrilling sword fights on the top of a speeding locomotive (yes, both happening simultaneously). It's got a bit of magic and a bit of mischief in it. And one of the main characters is a fantasy character -- a real life, walking and talking scarecrow. The Scarecrow. John Scarecrow.
Scarecrow's partner, Julie Kingston, is a detective who gets promoted to Lieutenant early on (yeah, I made her the same rank as Columbo, so sue me). She kicks ass and takes names later, and gets thrust into the limelight when she starts dating a celebrity.
The story has assassinations, gangsters, prostitutes, murders, Hollywood celebrities, and even a giant robot fight toward the end.
It is literally a novel that cannot be pinned down.
The story is something along the lines of if you were to take Twin Peaks, L.A. Confidential, and The Wizard of Oz and mix them all into a batter, then bake that batter in the format of a sitcom that's romping around with a romcom, only to pull out a cake made from a recipe nobody has ever seen before.
So, yeah, how do you draw the art for such a strange Chimera of genre fiction?
I'm lucky because when the first cover art came in my editor agreed with me when all I could say was, "What's that?"
It didn't look like my characters. It didn't even follow the character description guidelines given to the publisher. So it was a pass. That's not to say the artist wasn't talented, but they simply were wide of the mark.
Then I showed the powers that be some art that I had commissioned of my characters, and they all loved it. So we contacted the artist and got their permission to use it commercially for the book cover, at a small price of course, since no artist should have to give their art away for free.
Now we were really over budget. On top of this, I had to delay the project because we had no official logo or title piece for the novel. After all, it was supposed to be part of a series. This, of course, bothered me because when it comes to long series and their cover art, even the title itself, things like continuity and brand recognizability matter.
Think of your favorite fantasy series of novels and their cover art. Whether it is George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones covers or the Harry Potter novels, there is a specific style and consistency you come to expect from these epic series. Publishers want to create a recognizable brand. Something that will speak to your from the bookshelf and whisper innocently from the end-cap book display, "Buy me, buy me!"
I'm lucky because Winlock Press totally agreed with me. But they were strapped for time. Also, the budget for the book was spent. And so, I offered my own suggestions using my own commissioned art. This is what I came up with.
I'm lucky because the hard working folks at Winlock Press liked what I came up with (at the last minute, over budget).
At long last everything came together and was sent off to Permuted Press, who has the final say in the matter. Relief!
But then the unspeakable happened. To our surprise Permuted Press said "no" to the cover as it wasn't in tune with their publishing standards.
That was a shocker, because the art was top notch. But I get it. Permuted Press sells horror, paranormal, and science fiction and here was a peculiar genre bending book coming from their imprint Winlock Press that they couldn't even classify as any set genre. And how does one select the "right" tone for such a thing?
As a publishing company that has a certain feel to their books, it makes perfect sense that Permuted Press didn't want pastel colors and hip anime-esque characters adorning the cover of one of their books. It's just not in tune with their publishing standards. I get it. I do.
So it was back to square one. But by this time the book was stuck in limbo, because it was already three times over budget and now passed its deadline too! (Totally my fault by the way!)
And still nobody was satisfied.
That's about the time I felt as though the book might get scrapped, or put on the back burner indefinitely.
But then Permuted Press stepped up and took over the cover responsibilities. And come what may, whatever they came up with was going to go straight to the press.
The image at the top, with its cool blue contrasting the bright red, and the moody noir feel done up beautifully in a painted style is what we got. And I think you'll agree that it's stunning.
Did I mention that I was lucky?
Not only am I lucky to be under the Winlock Press banner who cares enough for their authors to keep them in the loop and as a part of the creative process, but I am lucky to be part of a new wave of publishing that isn't simply about making the bottom dollar but cares deeply about putting out the best product possible.
So count me lucky. And, not to sound entirely self-serving, let me wish the best of luck to all you aspiring writers and artists out there too!
Carry on doing what you love to do best, and stay awesome!
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.