Monday, May 4, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The summer blockbuster movie season of 2015 has officially kicked off with the release of the much anticipated superhero team up flick, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Phase 2 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has been building up to this moment since the release of Iron Man 3 back in 2013 (and will conclude with Ant-Man in July), but does it live up to the hype?

When Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) inadvertently installs an alien A.I. into one of his mechanical creations the megalomaniacal Ultron (voiced by James Spader) is born. The Avengers (Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) must once again unite as a team to save the world from the psychopathic robot’s ultimate goal – the extinction of mankind.
I like the original Avengers flick. It was fast paced and fun, but I also felt it was supremely flawed and more than a little bit awkward at times (the entire pre-opening titles scene especially). However, with all the “assembling the team” bullshit out of the way this flick takes off and never really stops until the end credits roll. From an opening action scene that was brought on by events in the previous week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD to an “Earth shattering” extended action scene in the finale, this flick is one of the most hectic and busy films I’ve ever seen. Not only do we have the original characters to follow, but returning side characters (Falcon, War Machine, Maria Hill, JARVIS, Baron von Strucker, Heimdall, Erik Selvig, Peggy Carter), new characters (Vision, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Ultron, Ulysses Klaue, Dr. Helen Cho), side plots and revelations that it is more than a little overwhelming at times. Thankfully writer/director Joss Whedon was able to find creative and entertaining ways to deal with the expansion of the universe and still make it relatable, comprehensible to a layman and most of all – bad ass!

The cast is once again in top form. One of the most appealing aspects of these films is the fact that all these top tier actors are together on screen for extended periods of time and they all look like they’re having the time of their lives. Downey is as brash and arrogantly loveable as always. Evans keeps his roided boyscout interesting and likable (loved the ongoing joke about cursing). Ruffalo and Johansson share some amazing chemistry. Renner gets to show off the fact that his character is the heart of the troupe. Unfortunately Hemsworth, while still rocking as Thor, basically is relegated to the role of Mr. Exposition. Even when Samuel L. Jackson pops back up as Nick Fury he shows off why his character is so damned cool.
The new additions are rad as well. I especially liked Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elisabeth Olsen as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch respectively. They were given an arc that is not only believable but highly emotional. Paul Bettany’s Vision was pretty cool as well as he plays the part as an otherworldly god looking upon an inferior species with respect and admiration. Unfortunately we don’t get the chance to see Vision develop at all because he doesn’t show up until the final act of the film. My favorite of the new characters had to be Linda Cardellini as Hawkeye’s wife, Laura. She not only helped to ground the film during the mid-section, but went above and beyond in taking Hawkeye from an entirely one-note dude into one of the more interesting members of the ensemble.

But what about all the comic booky shenanigans, you ask? There are more references to future developments than you can shake a stick at floating around here. There’s mention of Wakanda, the Infinity Gems/Gauntlet, the Kree enhanced Inhumans (which is being set-up on Agents of SHIELD) and more. There were times that these references felt like they were shoehorned in so it could be a jumping off point for future Phase 3 films (Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Inhumans), but it wasn’t terribly distracting. There’s also plenty of events from different storylines that pop up here and there such as the Hulkbuster Armor Iron Man vs. Hulk. The script pulls from plenty of sources to make up it’s dense plot, but none of it really feels out of place.
The success of this movie falls on the back of one man, and one man alone – Joss Whedon. His knack for being able to wrangle massive ensemble casts and actually have each character stand out to have their moment in the sun is beyond impressive. The cast of this film has doubled when compared to the last one and the fact that the story manages to make (almost) complete sense, develop the characters further and actually be entertaining without tuning into a giant clusterfuck like Spider-Man 3 speaks volumes as to why Marvel has entrusted him with their flagship franchise. As always his knack for sharp, witty dialogue (one out of place rape joke aside) and strong female characters shines through amidst all the testosterone flying around. Sadly he will not be returning for Avengers: Infinity War as the making of this film took such a toll on him that he has burnt out prematurely. Boo. Suck it up. :-P

One detail I’d like to bring up that I find more than a little necessary when it comes to a franchise, and this will make me come off as a huge dork, is musical continuity. I know, I know. Who cares. Well, I do. Why? Remember the main theme from Star Wars? Of course you do! Everyone knows that fantastic piece of music by John Williams. Well, what if when you saw The Empire Strikes Back the main titles were set up the same, but a completely different composition were played over it instead? It kind of dissociates the memory of the original. Right? That music is iconic. What if the original Indiana Jones theme was only used in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Something would feel missing from the sequels, wouldn’t it? Well, every one of these Marvel films has fallen into the “new movie, new composer” trap. Even movies from within the same series, such as Iron Man, have never had a consistent theme for the character. Each of the three films has had different composers who came up with completely different main themes. I want to be able to associate a piece of music with that character just as I do with Superman, Batman or even fucking Marty McFly! Sure Alan Silvestri didn’t return for the scoring duties for Age of Ultron, but Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman took his place and continued using his main themes from The Avengers regardless of the fact that they never came up with them themselves. The moment I heard the main theme I knew instantly that I was watching an Avengers flick. Little things like this go a long way, especially for someone like me.
I do have some issues. They aren’t as major as the ones I had with the original, but they do kind of reflect the fact that there was way too much going on within the story at times. My main gripe has to do with the inception of Ultron himself. What exactly was he again? The info is kind of glossed over so that we could quickly move on to Act II. I got that he was some sort of alien A.I. trapped inside the Mind Gem of Loki’s scepter, but why when activated did it:
A)     have a bad attitude
B)     know lots of Earth slang and pop culture references
C)     have a mirrored personality of Tony Stark
It didn’t really make any sense to me and because of that I really wasn’t too invested in the character. It was almost as if the audience was expected to know the character’s comic book origin from the start so we could fill in the blanks ourselves.

The same goes for the opening action scene where the Avengers take on Baron von Strucker’s Chitauri enhanced soldiers outside his experimentation facility. This scene makes zero sense since all the information about why the Avengers are there in the first place was only divulged on Agents of SHIELD and not in the film itself. It’s as if they randomly came together to attack this joint when in fact the situation is way more complicated than that. A line of dialogue about getting some intel from a few disavowed SHIELD agents about the facility would have gone a long way to explain everything. Instead the scene comes off as mere spectacle and not much else.
Did any of this hamper my enjoyment of the film at all? Not really. Since I watch Agents of SHIELD on the regular I knew exactly what was going on from the start, but the Ultron issue still bugs me. Maybe I missed something? I don’t know. I do plan on seeing the film again so maybe I flaked over some dialogue and could catch it on a second viewing.

I found Avengers: Age of Ultron to be a better film than the original. No origin story for a team who just had individual origin stories themselves allows for a much more streamlined and competent picture with little to none of the growing pains that comes with it. Even though there is so much going on and so many old and new characters to keep track of I never felt like I was falling behind or getting confused. And the best part is that through all the shoot shoot bang bang stuff each of the characters comes out a little bit more interesting in the end. That’s more than most summer blockbusters could ever hope to achieve. I sure hope that Captain America: Civil War can maintain this momentum and be as well made as Age of Ultron. That will be a massive film filled with even more characters (like SPIDER-MAN!) and crazy plot twists. If Anthony and Joe Russo can pull that off… then Marvel really can do no wrong.

4 out of 5

My list of Marvel movies (so far) from favorite to least favorite:
1.     Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2.     Guardians of the Galaxy
3.     Avengers: Age of Ultron
4.     Thor
5.     Iron Man
6.     The Avengers
7.     The Incredible Hulk
8.     Iron Man 3
10.  Iron Man 2
11.  Captain America: The First Avenger

#Marvel #Avengers #AgeOfUltron #IronMan #Thor #BlackWidow #Hawkeye #Hulk #CaptainAmerica #NickFury #Ultron #ScarletWitch #Quicksilver #Falcon #Vision #WarMachine #InfinityGems #InfiityGauntlet #Thanos

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