The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Well, that was... big. No wait, big isn't an adequate enough word. That was huge. After this, I understand why "Avengers: Infinity War" is going to be divided into two movies. If "Age of Ultron" was huge than "Infinity War" has got to be gargantuan. But was "Age of Ultron" good? Having slept on that, my answer is "yes, but..."

It was great to see these characters all come together again. More than that, it's nice to see a film series where characters actually seem to develop as opposed to playing the exact same beats over and over again throughout sequel after sequel. Thor is now a thinker as opposed to a berserker rage warrior, he takes the time needed to get answers instead of going in half-cocked with his hammer. Captain America has grown into his role as the leader of these heroes. The Black Widow has learned to open up and not constantly be on guard and on mode 24/7, but vulnerability leads to heartbreak. Bruce Banner is an even more broken man than he's been before. Tony Stark has created his biggest blunder, and nearly destroyed the world... I hope that when next we see him, he's learned from it; but given that we'll be seeing him next in "Captain America: Civil War", it seems like he's going to be taking responsibility a bit too far (to say the least).

For those of you like me who were disappointed that Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye had way too little to do in previous movies, or felt like an afterthought in the first "Avengers", this movie is one big apology. Hawkeye really gets to shine, we get to know not just Hawkeye but Clint Barton. What motivates him, why he does what he does, and that he is every bit the snarky, sarcastic smart ass that he was in the comic books. Like a lot of other things, it's Ultimate's background with 616's characterization. I was very happy with Hawkeye.

And then there's the villain of the piece, Ultron. I thought he was great, James Spader was great. Genuinely creepy. Menacing. Psychotic. A being of pure rage and hate. Everything the Ultron of the comic books is, but altered since Hank Pym did not create him. An artificial intelligence created to bring peace in our time, and to do that he's decided to destroy humanity, because what greater source of chaos and destruction is there than humanity? It's a story we've seen told with A.I.'s many times, but few of them contain such rage, psychosis, and snarky sarcasm. Now, I've seen a lot of people complain about Ultron being snarky and sarcastic, that he's supposed to be a cold, emotionless killing machine. I ask if these people ever read a comic book, because Ultron is sentient, Ultron laughs, Ultron is rage and hate, and snark and sarcasm. Now, as opposed to the comics, some have complained that he's too snarky and sarcastic. Gee, I don't know, it's almost as if this version of Ultron was created by Tony Stark.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were fun additions who I wish had gotten more to do, but we'll see more of at least one of them later. The strength of the shared universe aspect of these movies is if you feel a character is getting the short end of the stick, they'll get more time later on; Hawkeye being the prime example at the moment. I thought that Scarlet Witch's powers were really effectively done, especially for a character who's abilities in the comics have always been rather vague and not that well defined. Quicksilver, well, he was a better character here than the version in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" but he didn't have anywhere near as good a sequence as the DOFP version did when they busted Magneto out of prison. So, which version was better? Your mileage may vary. If character means more to you, than AoU Quicksilver was better, if powers mean more, than DOFP is better.

I refuse to spoil Vision, just go see it. All I will say is that I am happy with Vision.

Also, I absolutely loved that the Avengers' first priority during battle scenes was saving lives. Even when it was just Tony Stark against the rampaging Hulk, Tony made it his first priority to get the enraged beast away from civilians, it was easier said than done, but at least he tried. You see, Zack Snyder?! YOU SEE?!

So in terms of basic story and character, I was happy with what we got. For me, the characters are the most important aspect of any movie, and thankfully they got that right. Unfortunately, here comes the "but." And it's a big "but."

I thought the editing was lousy. Too much was happening at too fast a pace with too many people to keep up, and for me as a guy who lives and breathes Marvel, this is a pretty big problem. I mentioned this on Facebook last night and a friend of mine, a Mr. Frank Paur (who you might remember as the Supervising Director of "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes") had this to say: "I can understand why Joss Whedon wouldn't take another Marvel movie right now. It's hard to top Avengers 1, and the sheer magnitude of all the characters has got to be a nightmare. I completely understand the editing choices". And he is right. Considering everything, I do understand the editing choices, but it was too big a movie for the run time, and I wish that announcement by Amazon that the Blu-ray was going to be an extended edition hadn't been debunked, because this movie needed more time to breathe, and more time with everybody. This is why I am glad that "Avengers: Infinity War" will be two parts instead of one, because just about everybody will be coming back along with Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and the Guardians of the Galaxy along with Thanos, Loki, and who knows what other villains. "Lord of the Rings" didn't have a cast as big as "Avengers: Infinity War" is going to.

I also didn't care for how the action sequences were filmed. Why? Too much Michael Bay shaky-cam. The worst offender being Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor vs. Hulk. Not that there weren't moments there that I didn't enjoy, mostly brought about by Tony Stark as a character, but I didn't like how it was shot. The first "Avengers" movie had a much cleaner, far less kinetic style of photography to it. There were moments where the only reason I was able to tell what was happening or who was who were the different colors everybody was wearing. Also, there was one action sequence too many, there should have been more of a break before the final battle sequence... which, I do admit, was one of the coolest set pieces I've seen in a movie in a long time.

Another big issue, and this is an issue that's been building up for a long time, a few paragraphs up I mentioned a strength of the shared universe aspect. But, sadly, the shared universe has become a double-edged sword. There was so much set-up for future movies, it often came at the expense of this one. Remember how big a problem this was for "Iron Man 2"? Yeah, it's kind of like that. While worrying about Ultron, the seeds for "Captain America: Civil War", "Thor: Ragnorak", and "Avengers: Infinity War" are being sowed, which is fine, but I could have done with less sowing. I'm sure this will play better when all the Blu-rays are on my shelf and I am re-watching them, but when you're waiting years for the seeds to bear fruit, it's annoying. This was very much a middle episode. But, unlike some other middle episodes ("Desolation of Smaug", I'm looking at you!) at least it had a beginning, middle, and end (which makes me realize I was way too kind to "Desolation of Smaug", this movie was even more packed than that but managed to be a lot more self-contained). Once again, thank gods that "Infinity War" will be in two parts, after seeing this, that's the only way to do a movie that huge.

The worst part of the viewing experience wasn't the movie itself, it was two things. The audience we sat with was very obnoxious. Teenagers who wouldn't shut up, wouldn't stop laughing at inappropriate moments, and thought their own jokes were so damn funny. This happened the first time I saw "Captain America: The First Avenger", which killed my enjoyment... of course further viewings without such an audience improved the movie's quality for me, so I hope a future viewing of "Age of Ultron" without an audience will allow me to pay closer attention to what was going on, and make it more coherent for me. The second problem was, someone in the projection booth messed up during the last ten minutes, and the picture and audio fell completely out of sync. I'm talking about picture at least forty-five seconds before sound... at first I wondered if it was a strange editing choice, but nope. Thankfully, they let us re-watch the last fifteen minutes after a thirty minute wait. But these two unfortunate elements really sucked the fun out of the evening.

And, I realize this is a cop out, but I am not giving the movie an overall grade at this time. I need a second viewing because I initially wrote a very negative review of "Captain America: The First Avenger" only to re-evaluate it later with a second, better viewing. So, you'll get my grade when I do my end of the year grading, and have seen the movie on Blu-ray in my own house on my sixty-five inch HD-TV.

Farewell, Joss. Russo Brothers, it's your turn.