Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Directed by Joss Whedon.
2015. Rated PG-13, 141 minutes.
Cast:
Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Hemsworth
Chris Evans
Scarlett Johansson
Mark Ruffalo
Jeremy Renner
Paul Bettany
James Spader
Elizabeth Olsen
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Don Cheadle
Colbie Smulders
Anthony Mackie
Haylie Atwell
Samuel L. Jackson

We catch up with the Avengers mid-mission. They are in Germany, trying to recover the scepter Loki used so effectively in the first movie. They manage to get their hands on it and bring it home, but not without some trouble. Every member of the team, save for Hawkeye (Renner), has his/her mind manipulated by Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch (Olsen) to show them their biggest fear for the future. This motivates Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) to continue working on the Ultron program, meant to be a bigger, better JARVIS (Bettany) that will save the world. He then thinks better of it. However, Ultron (Spader) is a stubborn type and springs to life, anyway, apparently killing JARVIS in the process. Ultron does intend to save the world. To him, that means getting rid of the thing that's destroying it: humans. As you might imagine, the Avengers don't take too kindly to this and try to stop him.

Even though we're focusing on the same characters, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a very different movie than its predecessor from a tonal standpoint. the first movie is largely humorous. Even Loki's dead serious speechifying is often met with snarkiness and sarcasm. The fate of the Earth might be on the line, but there is a sense of fun maintained throughout. this time around, things are dark and ominous. On numerous occasions, particularly the early scenes featuring Scarlet Witch and the visions she makes our heroes have, it feels like we're watching a horror flick. Between these moments, they speak with great dread of things to come. the levity that lightened similar occurrences in the first film is gone. In its place is much emotional hand-wringing. This makes the movie resemble the gritty DC flicks rather than most of its MCU sister-films. Age of Ultron is not completely devoid of laughs, though. There are pockets of comedy stashed within. Most notable is the scene preceding the first appearance of the titular villain when our heroes take turns trying to lift Mjolnir, Thor's hammer. There is also the quite noticeable return of the type of banter used in the first movie during this film's final battle.

With the more serious tone comes a greater emphasis on the fears and motivations of the characters. Age of Ultron is hit-and-miss, here. On the hit side is Hawkeye, the Hulk (Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Johansson). In Hawkeye's case, the movie hits it out the park. We learn a lot about him and watch him grow into something more than 'just a guy.' With the Hulk and Black Widow, I'd actually say it was both a hit and a miss rather than a complete success. By himself, the Hulk again goes through lots of stuff and continues to be one of the more intriguing things about this franchise. Black Widow is framed by her affection for Banner. The relationship between them is wonderfully realized and, along with Hawkeye, adds a level of humanity missing from the first film. The part that misses is what's missing. We have no idea how they got to this point. It feels like a big gap between the franchise's two movies that must be addressed. Newcomers Wanda and Peter Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson), aka Quicksilver, also get a nice story-arc that serves the movie well.


On the miss side, we have Thor (Hemsworth), Captain America (Evans), and Iron Man. That last one is the most disappointing. We're told of a connection between Stark and Ultron. The movie is flush with opportunities to explore this further, yet fails to take advantage of them. There could have been more layers to the battle than what we are given. For Thor and Captain America, it's more understandable that they aren't examined. Something is clearly bothering Thor, but it's equally clear that whatever it is will be dealt with in his next standalone feature. Cap really doesn't have much going on. No harm, no foul, there.

All mumbo-jumbo about tone and character development aside, most people are here for the superhero action. That can also be hit or miss. As with the character stuff, the Hulk fares best. To be honest, it's probably because we see the least of him. When he's in action, the camera is often tight and shaky. This conveys a sense of the mayhem he causes without giving us a chance to focus on him. Wide shots of him tend to reveal that we are looking at a piece of technology rather than the uncontrollable and monstrous id of Bruce Banner. Conversely, close-ups of the Hulk when he's not fighting are amazing. He looks more like a real entity than ever before. Other characters suffer a similar fate. Wide shots of them, especially when the screen is full of combatants, are a bit troublesome. They're too clearly cgi. Part of it is that the action often seems sped up too fast. This robs the heroes of their weight. In those moments, we're taken out of the movie because we know we're watching a collection of pixels rather than sentient beings. At other times, everything looks perfect. We completely buy in to all the madness flying around the screen. For obvious reasons, this is most easily achieved when Hawkeye and Black Widow are on the screen. Side note on Hawkeye: the dude shoots like a thousand arrows, but his quiver is always full. I think that qualifies as a super-power. Anyhoo, he does look great fighting off baddies.

When it all comes together, Age of Ultron is a very good film. It's hard to compare it to its predecessor because it's good in almost a completely different manner. the witty jokes and light-hearted bickering that carried us through that first movie are rare this go-round. This is a heavier film that goes out of its way to make the threat seem real to our heroes. No, we don't start believing in floating cities, or anything like that. However, the self-doubt the team is going through is much more palpable this time. The movie does a good job getting us to believe that our heroes don't fully believe in themselves. this is key to movie's success. Even though we know who must come out victorious, the insecurities of our heroes plants enough doubt in our own heads to keep things interesting. While this approach is really a continuation of the path taken by Iron Man 3, it's serious enough to make it feel out of place within the MCU. That might be a bit off-putting for some. Still, Age of Ultron more than holds its own. It just doesn't bring a barrel of laughs with it.

12 comments:

  1. I think I liked this less than you did, but I agree with some things that you pointed out, particularly the Hulk-Black Widow romance arc. It really just appeared out of nowhere, and despite Black Widow being a tough character in the other movies, she was very different here. The connection of Iron Man and Ultron could have been more utilized, and Thor could have done more but he was pretty much used just for comic relief.

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    1. Addressing those things would certainly have made it much better, but I did enjoy it a good deal.

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  2. Great write up! I had a good time watching this, but I had a few issues with how Whedon wrote Natasha this time around, and what they ended up doing with Quicksilver at the end. Those two things made me not enjoy this as much. The Twins were the best part for me.

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    1. He did seem to have her hell bent on starting up a romance. And the twins were excellent.

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  3. One of the things I liked best about this film was James Spader as Ultron. He was a perfect fit for the character but I think Ultron wasn't written quite right. They tried to make him funny, like most of the other characters, which took away from what was supposed to be a menacing character. A few one-liners here and there would have been fun (and even welcomed) but it was a little to much for an AI hellbent on destroying humanity. Everything else about him was good, though. Great review!

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    1. Now that I've climbed from beneath my rock and started looking at other reviews for this I've come across a few lamenting Ultron's humor. Have to be honest, I didn't feel he was trying to be funny save for a feq lines here and there. Overall, I found this one much less funny than the first one. Spader was excellent, though.

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  4. Nice review! I had fun watching this, but the second I left the theater and started thinking about it, it began to sour for me. It's the first time I've seen clearly that the Marvel movies have a definite rhythm and structure, and once I noticed that, the whole thing really fizzled. But the cast continues to be enjoyable enough to lift it above the average, just barely.

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    1. I think that rhythm has been fairly evident since the very first Iron Man. I understand that might be a turnoff to some, but it doesn't bother me.

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  5. I very much agree that the character building of Hawkeye was one the film's strongest points, also the moments that made the film seem like a horror were pretty damn creepy. A fun film for sure, but not a memorable one

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    1. Glad to see Hawkeye get some time to shine. And yes, several of those "visions" were kinda creepy.

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  6. I do agree with a number of your points, but I don't agree with your assertion that this isn't a "barrel of laughs" - I think AoU is the funniest of all Marvel films to-date, the joke-to-minute ratio is way high here. Still, I can't argue with the overall darker tone of this movie compared to, say, the first Avengers movie. Love the review, dude. Nice work!

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    1. Everyone keeps saying that to me. Maybe that's a sign that the jokes just didn't work for me. I know they were there, but I felt like there were long stretches where they weren't going for them. Maybe next time I see it, I'll feel differently. Thanks!

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