Friday, May 1, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

It's funny how a big screen can add legitimacy to an otherwise lackluster trailer. Whereas I was entirely uninterested in Dwayne Johnson's San Andreas and George Clooney's Tomorrowland, both of the trailers which showed before Ultron were better than their slightly different internet counterparts. (I expected to see the trailer for The Force Awakens make an appearance, but they didn't show it or I missed it when I was taking out a loan for stale popcorn.)

I still don't think San Andreas is going to be a good movie, but Hollywood has actually stopped cramming mindless disaster films down our throats, so maybe it's time for a new one. As for Tomorrowland, I think it's going to be a great movie. Before seeing the newest trailer, it didn't look like my cup of tea because it reminded me too much of City of Ember. The trailer they're showing now has some great science-fictional action in it. It's hinting at the kind of creativity that elevated Minority Report above a routine action flick.


I'm tempted to call Age of Ultron a routine action flick, but I can't. Not when one hero swings a hammer no one else in the world can lift, not when another hero turns into a monster when he gets angry. The truth is you really can't go wrong with this kind of material. Even phoning it in would produce something entertaining to watch. I just think The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy were better, more focused films. The best thing this film manages is its authenticity: we've seen a lot of directors use camera gimmicks and special effects to make their films look like comic books with varying results (Ang Lee's Hulk film was among the more laughable efforts), but Age of Ultron actually feels like a comic book more than any other film I've ever seen. And it manages it without resorting to cheap tricks like superimposing a panel over the action or adding yellow-boxed narration.

the dumbest effect in a Marvel movie ever

The sequel also gets a leg up on its predecessor in the very first scene: we don't have to wait an hour for the Avengers to assemble. This time they're already assembled, kicking ass in the impressive long take we already saw in the trailer. The shot culminates with them gathering into a group before arcing gracefully through the air in slow motion, action-poses at the ready. Their mission in progress: retrieve Loki's staff from some bad guys who ended up with it after the events of previous Marvel films.

The biggest complaint people have so far is the film's too long. I didn't feel that way. I only felt it was a little too dense for its two and a half hour running time. Tony Stark is once again the main character, but Joss Whedon seems hellbent on giving each of the Avengers equal screen time, even Hawkeye and Black Widow. Meanwhile the film's most interesting character, Ultron, is kind of relegated to scenes that would have been so much cooler had they not been so brief. In one of the better scenes, Ultron meets Jarvis; it takes place entirely in cyberspace and probably would have been deemed unfilmable by lesser directors.

So no, it's certainly not a routine action flick, but the magic of seeing all these characters in a movie together has worn off. I guess you could say it's a routine Marvel film. The climax isn't quite as good as the annihilation of New York City in the first film and the villain's master plan verges on the absurdity of Zod's plan in Man of Steel. Still, I saw a kid in the audience literally on the edge of his seat as Ultron's minions mercilessly assaulted the Avengers. So yeah, the endgame is pretty exciting, but the solution to it all is just a little too familiar.

I'm too big a fan of Scarlet Witch to criticize her onscreen portrayal objectively (her special effects, however, are pretty cool). And this Quicksilver is a little more phony than the one we saw in Days of Future Past, even though we all expected the opposite to be true (I think that scene, unfortunately, was better than anything in Age of Ultron, and I'm typically not a big fan of X-Men movies). The romance between Banner and Romanoff is forced, especially the way it concludes, and Thor goes off on a tangent that probably made more sense on paper than it does in the final product.

The actors are beginning to show their age, particularly Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Most of us would love to see older, grizzlier versions of their characters, but it's a safe bet that the studio execs won't want to risk it. I'm not saying there's a complete reboot in the foreseeable future, but I don't see the franchise (as it's currently cast) going on much longer than ten years—and it's been seven since Iron Man came out. All good things must come to an end, right?

Age of Ultron is yet another chapter in the overall story, a story I'm assuming will conclude with Thanos. Like any big story, some chapters are better than others, but necessary just the same. I'll probably skip Ant-Man, though.

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