Friday, May 1, 2015

The Best Friends Gang

Year: 2015
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Run Time: 2 hours 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but comics are kind of a big deal now. Audiences worldwide just can't get enough of hot women in leather, even hotter men in leather, robots, monsters, sardonic quips, and wanton property damage. After Marvel combined the superhero formula with the geek champion auteur Joss Whedon, the ne plus ultra of nerd culture was born: The Avengers. The film went on to make all the money in the world.

This year's sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron is more or less the lynchpin of Marvel's Phase Two, the success of which could make or break the approximately 2,600 years of scheduling that the studio has already announced. It was inevitable that Avengers 2 would make money on name value alone, but a massive dip in quality could really poison audiences against the Phase Three efforts, which will include lesser-known properties like Doctor Strange, The Black Panther, and Captain Marvel.

Luckily for the company and for comic fans everywhere, Age of Ultron is a fairly worthy successor to the Avengers throne. Marvel ain't going nowhere just yet.

And yet there's still no Black Widow movie.

Age of Ultron begins where absolutely nothing left off: with the Avengers re-teamed, storming a Hydra stronghold to steal Mr. MacGuffin Loki's scepter. If you don't have a thorough knowledge of all 10 previous Marvel Cinematic Universe entries as well as one or two of the television shows, prepare to hit the ground sprinting and wheezing. 

While you're hacking up a lung, let's have a brief re-introduction to our main cast of characters. The assembled Avengers include Iron Man aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the billionaire playboy weapons manufacturer with a robotic exoskeleton; Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), a gamma radiated scientist who turns into the opposite of the Jolly Green Giant when he's angered; Captain America (Chris Evans), the long-preserved purveyor of the American Dream; Thor (Chris Hemsworth), an otherworldly being with otherworldly deltoids about whom Norse mythology has been written; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), an ex-spy with thighs that can snap your neck; and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), an ace shot with a bow and arrow, and my personal favorite Avenger. 

While we're on the subject, where's my Hawkeye movie?

The Avengers are mowing through the faceless goons when Hydra introduces their two newest creations, the X-Men mutants Eastern European experiment volunteers, the twin siblings Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Their parents were killed by Stark weaponry and they want nothing more than good ol' fashioned revenge on Iron Man and his posse. Eventually, for reasons that he is a dick, Tony Stark decides to see if he can create artificial intelligence. He does, and it is called Ultron (James Spader, of all people), and it wants to destroy the human race. Good work, Tony.

While Ultron tries to find himself an enhanced body and wipe out the population of the Earth, the Avengers work their way through a series of interpersonal tensions and have climactic, building-leveling fights in just about every location across the globe that will let film crews past Customs.

My personal biggest concern with Age of Ultron was if it could capture the sprightly comedy of the first installment, and I was not disappointed. Sarcasm and wit drips from the eaves of the film like the aftermath of an explosion at the molasses factory. The best scenes of the film are those that take a break from the Important Comix moments to just let the personalities of the characters ping off of one another. As this was exactly what I was looking for, I was immensely pleased, but the fact remains that the film is a little lopsided. The renewed strength of the dialogue can't quite match the diminishing returns of the battle sequences.

I understand that there's only so many combinations of blows, laser beams, and hammer thrusts that the action scenes can provide (which they do, amply), but there's a certain lack of creativity behind the combat, especially in the climactic sequence. There are some admittedly terrific combo moves when two Avengers combine their powers, but for the most part these sequences feel disjointed. It doesn't feel like a team working together so much as a series of vignettes about punching.

Hella rad vignettes, but still.

The biggest flaw of the film, and the only one than comes even within a mile of being film-breaking is its middle third. There is a swath of about 30 minutes in which the humor is dropped in favor of arbitrarily introducing what feels like dozens of plot strands that make the whole mess far more complicated than it needs to be, leaning a little heavily on extracurricular comic-reading to get its point across. Also there's a few scenes sprinkled into the middle that feel like they're ripped directly from a 90's techno-thriller where high school kids battle online villains through the "'Net." It doesn't make a lot of sense and it's not particularly fun, but it doesn't take too long for the film to incorporate these elements and get back on its feet.

Also there's some shockingly dark implications that the Avengers might not be much better than a terrorist group considering the widespread damage they inflict across the globe, some of which echoes 9/11 imagery a little too closely for comfort. The film seems tentatively tempted to explore this thread before it jams itself back into Fun! Action! Mode.

HA! HA! HA! Big funny Iron Man! Please don't think about the skyscraper we just leveled.

But the dark side of Age of Ultron isn't ample. It's not like this is a Christopher Nolan flick. For the most part it's an engaging, light adventure pic that reliably executes what should honestly be a premise as stale as a Big Lots gingerbread house. It's fun, it's big, and it's thrilling. What more could you want, honestly?

And now that we have an entire Avengers film and umptybillion Iron Man/Captain America sequels under our belts, we know the characters more intimately than ever before so the juggling act of handling so many personalities simultaneously is a little smoother. This is perhaps the only element of the film that's actively better than its predecessor. Age of Ultron grabs a handful of genuine character moments  and tosses them to each of the Avengers like an overeager flower girl. These developments are perhaps a little bit more reliant on basic emotional indicators rather than truly intensely three-dimensional personas, but holy hell we're talking about a comic book movie. This is revolutionary.

So overall, yes, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun time at the movies. It doesn't capture the lightning in a bottle that the original film did, but its light bulb in a bottle does the trick.

PSA: Once the black and white credits scroll, feel free to take off. You can stick around until the end of the credits if you wish, but brace yourselves for a fat wad of nothing.

TL;DR: Avengers: Age of Ultron is a reliably entertaining sequel to a generation-defining superhero hit.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This? You already have.
Word Count: 1217
Reviews In This Series
Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015)
Captain America: Civil War (Russo & Russo, 2016)

3 comments:

  1. Yeah, it was as decisively "okay" as any movie has been in a while. I swear that Ant-Man is gonna be incredible though.

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    1. Oh, and Hawkeye? Really? Really?

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    2. Whatever, man! I love Hawkeye. He knows that he's awesome, and he gets invited everywhere even though he doesn't actually have any superpowers. Also he's probably the funniest one.

      I likes me an underdog, I guess. He's the Ringo of the Avengers.

      Although, to be honest, Ringo is my least favorite Beatle. But he can't shoot a bow and arrow, to my knowledge.

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