Friday, May 1, 2015
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON review
The Marvel hype machine can be exhausting if you actively read movie news or, really, if you have a facebook/twitter account. Every day, a new piece of information regarding an upcoming Marvel film is unleashed and somebody you know is talking about it. It's not even just Marvel anymore, it's Star Wars, it's DC. Unless you shut your computer off and go outside, it's easy to get caught up in all that.
I did my best to ignore all possible news-related items regarding "Avengers: Age of Ultron" before this weekend. When the first trailer was unleashed a few months ago, I shrugged. I try not to judge movies based on trailers, but it's hard not to when you see your friends and peers constantly making such a big deal out of it. Needless to say, I was approaching "Age of Ultron" with a degree of apprehension. After the immense success of 2012's "The Avengers," how could the sequel possibly live up to the hype? For me, the first trailer for "Age of Ultron" suggested that it was going to attempt to outdo the first film in every way imaginable, but none of it seemed all that fun to me. I loved "The Avengers" because of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's budding friendship, the rivalry between Stark and Steve Rogers. The weird way in which Thor fits in with these guys. And I even got a kick out of how Hawkeye really always seems to be out of his element. You only shoot arrows, dude! C'mon!
Well, I gotta say, I was fairly surprised to find that "Age of Ultron" is not completely devoid of fun. It even had a villain that seemed to genuinely challenge the Avengers this time around, but luckily for them, they had a lot of help. Like, a lot of help. Like, Nick Fury and War Machine, plus Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Plus, more (I don't wanna give away too many spoilers so I'll leave it at that). It seemed that whenever any of these guys really seemed down and outnumbered, and remember there's already six of them, they always had someone to back them up. Don't get me wrong, this still made for some entertaining action sequences, but it also wound up becoming a bit of a mess. There are so many goddamn characters that have to be followed this time around. First we got Iron Man fighting Ultron over here, then you have Black Widow doing her thing over there, then Captain America is running around throwing his shield, and wait, where's the Hulk? Where's the Hulk? No, seriously, where's the fucking Hulk? Oh, there he is.
It's hard to just sit back, relax, and take the action sequences as a whole, especially the big grand finale, because you have all these great superheroes coming together and you want to see each of them in action. I thought Joss Whedon did a phenomenal job with the balancing act in the first film, but when you add five extra characters to the mix, it's nearly impossible to maintain any coherency.
Too many characters is really the fundamental flaw with this movie. Too many characters and a desire to wrap things up as neatly as possible. But let's start with the first point. When you already have six superheroes and you add a couple other fringe characters to the mix, it makes it difficult to get sucked into any of these characters' struggles, thoughts, feelings, etc. This is especially true with the villain, Ultron, who initially comes across as sophisticated and somebody who could really do a lot of damage to the Avengers. But, because we spend so little time with him, once the going gets tough, he just turns into your run-of-the-mill "evil genius." In the end, there's really not much to him. Loki had that goofy "I'm totally the bad guy" smile in the first "Avengers," Ultron has "I'm totally the bad guy"-type quips. I really just wanted the dude to shut up towards the end.
That ties into my second point about the movie wrapping up too neatly. In the beginning of "Age of Ultron," Tony Stark has a vision of the future that seems to suggest destruction on a massive scale, the type of destruction that could change the very fabric of the Avengers. Largely because of that vision, Stark's creates Ultron in order to maintain peace on their planet. Unfortunately, Ultron has other ideas.
From there, you begin to wonder. This is Stark's creation. Will serious destruction occur thanks to Stark's creation? It would've been really interesting if, because of Stark, the whole fabric and foundation of the Avengers is permanently (or at least partially) damaged. But, of course, because this is Marvel and there are dozens of films to plan out over the next 15 years, none of this winds up mattering. Ultimately, the status quo beats any attempt to make things interesting in the MCU. Sigh.
Whedon does the best job he can juggling these characters, but you can tell it's a struggle for him. First of all, his original cut was over three-and-a-half hours long and you can sense that there's a lot that we're missing here. Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen, has mind control abilities that she unleashes on the Avengers, which kinda fucks them up for a little while. They get flashbacks or visions or fantasies that we can only get a couple glimpses of and it's not enough to get a good sense of how these visions are affecting these characters. In the end, it doesn't really seem to affect them at all.
And there are other examples where you can tell Whedon wants to do a little more with these characters, but it all just feels wedged in. Whether it's Hawkeye's backstory, the relationship between Bruce Banner and Natasha, or any of the scenes with Nick Fury---there's a lot to explore here, but when you're required to get to the next action sequence every 20 minutes, this makes it difficult to get a good handle on any of these storylines.
A 210-minute Avengers movie would've been ridiculously overstuffed, but this 144-minute version still feels too jampacked. And this is because we kinda/sorta explore these different little storylines in between the action sequences, but they never really go anywhere. Instead of cutting entire storylines out, it feels like Whedon wanted to leave in as much as he could even if it had nothing to do with the central plot.
The central plot being the Avengers teaming up to stop Ultron from destroying the world. Not exactly complex stuff, but even then, we get all these long-winded explanations as to what Ultron's plans are and none of it feels particularly important.
It seems as if there are supposed to be emotional characters arcs in this film, but because Whedon had to cut the running-time down so heavily, you don't really get a full sense of those arcs. And those arcs seem to be a way to mask what's really a very basic plot, and when they are chipped away in the editing room, that means we're left with this really tired plot that was never supposed to be a focus of the film in the first place.
Because you can have a rote plot and get away with it as long as there's enough things going on that you barely notice it. The problem with "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is that there are plenty of things going on, but none of it is explored with enough depth to make you care.
But hey, I still enjoyed it. It was still more fun than what I feared it would be. There were still fun little moments between the characters that I enjoyed and the action sequences mostly delivered. This is one of those cases where... yes, I had a lot of problems with the film and my criticisms of the movie may not reflect the final grade. When it comes to making a huge blockbuster film that delivers all the basic goods, I would say Joss Whedon definitely delivered. Unfortunately, he was trying to do much, much more with this film and so what we're left with is kind of a huge mess. An enjoyable mess, but a mess nonetheless. That probably explains why Whedon won't be returning to the "Avengers" franchise for the "Infinity Wars."
Then again, did he really expect Marvel to want to release a three-hour film? What was he thinking there? It's nice to be ambitious, but sometimes you have to work with what you've got. You can get an "A" for effort, but what ends up on the big screen is ultimately the only thing that matters. It's a shame because Whedon was really a big part in injecting life into this big Marvel machine. You have to remember that the MCU franchise was initially all leading up to "The Avengers" in 2012. And people really weren't all that interested in "Thor" and "Captain America: First Avenger" when they came out. Those movies did solid BO numbers, but they were not the runaway hits that the "Iron Man" movies were.
Whedon's first "Avengers" film was what really gave everyone a sense as to how fun a Marvel movie could be and I think that should have been his modus operandi for the second film. Instead, he tried stuffing as many ideas into the sequel as he possibly could and the movie (as well as him, in a way, seeing as how he's not returning) wound up suffering, creatively, as a result.
It's going to be interesting to see where it all goes from here as the Russo brothers take over this mega-franchise. Can they find a way to keep the humor and lightness as they enter the "Infinity Wars" or will the Avengers movies start to feel by-the-numbers at a certain point? Especially since the plot to "Age of Ultron" was as by-the-numbers as it gets, it's not a very good sign as to what we can expect moving forward. Because as much as I rag on Whedon for being too ambitious with this movie, I get a nagging feeling that we'll all be missing him in a few years.