Sunday, May 1, 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I really don't want to review Age of Ultron, for a number of reasons. One being that I'd really rather talk about Ant-Man, another being that I don't want to admit that it's not nearly as good as The Avengers, and finally, because I don't like to think about Joss Whedon losing his touch finally.
Age of Ultron is by no means a bad film. Compared to Fox's offerings in 2015, it's head and shoulders above Fant4stic. No, that's not saying much (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is good in comparison) but it's still a decent enough movie. Is it a good film on its own? Yes. Is it as good as any of the previous MCU installments? Absolutely not. It's not better than The Winter Soldier, The First Avenger, Iron Man 1, 2, or 3, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, the first season of Daredevil, or the first season of Agents of SHIELD. It's also not better than any subsequent MCU installment, Jessica Jones, the second season of Daredevil, Ant-Man... We'll have to see how it holds up in relation to Civil War, The Punisher, Luke Cage, the second season of Jessica Jones, and Doctor Strange.
Yadda yadda, spoilers inbound, you know the drill.
From a story perspective it's a great idea, sure. The problems stem from Joss Whedon's direction. Not his writing, his direction. His writing is as good as it's always been, but the timing on most of the jokes is off just enough that it makes them less funny than they should be. Compare this to Whedon's previous work, such as Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers, the first season of Agents of SHIELD Buffy The Vampire Slayer, almost anything, the timing on all of the lines is spot-on perfect, every single one of them hits a comedy bulls-eye you didn't even know existed. These days though, his direction seems like he's going through the motions of what made him great. There's a reason I didn't include the second season of Agents of SHIELD in the list of things better than Age of Ultron, because despite overall having less bad moments than the first season did (We don't get young Ward who doesn't look a damn thing like the adult actor) there are less good moments and more mediocre and bland ones. There's nothing as awesome as Nick Fury and Phil Coulson teaming up to take down a traitorous SHIELD agent, and despite having a really interesting plot, it's not exactly inspiring to watch, especially considering the massive pains they've got to go to to make sure that they let you know that this organized group of people with odd genetic mutations aren't mutants, but "Inhumans" because Marvel is too cheap to just buy the rights to the X-Men back. Not like that's their most iconic team or anything. Not like they're some of the most beloved characters in the comics or anything, not like Wolverine is one of Marvel's most iconic characters. But sure, bring in all these original characters and D-listers nobody knows or cares about, bring in all these Inhumans. Pretend we should care when any of them die.
Speaking of which, this brings me to the big addition to Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They're just sorta injected into the story without a lot of buildup, even if you were watching Agents of Shield up to that point. The twins were introduced in The Winter Soldier, which was more than a bit exciting. Not to say that their introduction in this film was a bad thing, and it's nice to see foreshadowing being paid off, but I was hoping they would get their own movie before they appeared in an Avengers film. In The Winter Soldier they were locked up in cages with their powers going haywire, now they're basically just roaming around the Hydra base that The Avengers are laying siege to without much explanation. They were supposed to be fighting The Avengers, but they just sorta slunk off into the distance to return later in the film.
After the opening action-sequence, the movie basically turns into Friends with superpowers for a while. They literally spend about twenty minutes of the film goofing off in Avengers Tower for a while before Ultron (Played by James freakin' Spader) shows up and starts wrecking the place. He "kills" Jarvis, and begins using Stark's Iron Man drones to take over the world. The Avengers go into hiding at Clint's house, and the twins meet up with Ultron to take their frustations out on Stark before going rogue and meeting up with The Avengers when they find out that Ultron wants to raze the planet of all living things and create a world of robots.
Stark puts Jarvis back together from the internet and they track Ultron down to where he's going to try and make his stand and they stop him, but Quicksilver dies and The Avengers go their separate ways. Tony drives off in a car while Steve begins training a secondary Avengers team to fill the holes in the main-teams lineup.
Overall, it's a fine film, but the specific details are what drag the movie down. Back in The Avengers they spent a lot of time building up the relationship between Natasha and Clint, but it wasn't exactly a romantic relationship. Then they spent literally all of The Winter Soldier building a romantic relationship between Natasha and Steve. Come Age of Ultron, out of nowhere they're acting like Natasha and Bruce have an established romantic relationship despite Bruce already having a girlfriend, and despite all the development between Natasha and Steve in the previous movie the previous freaking year! This is also despite Natasha having seen Bruce's bad side in The Avengers when he tried to kill her. Not only that, their relationship includes her taking him down from Hulk form when their mission is over. Contradicting everything we know about The Hulk from the last two films he's been in. Bruce spent all of The Incredible Hulk learning how to control his powers, and he'd basically mastered the transformation come The Avengers, being able to transform basically at will. Did they just forget or did they purposefully ignore everything from the previous films because they had a new idea for shipping in mind? Were the writers dueling over who they wanted to pair Natasha with? If so, Joss Whedon was dueling with himself since he seemed totally on-board with the Natash/Clint shipping in The Avengers.
Then there's the generally lazy tone of the film in the middle. I know that it probably had to have a softer, slower tone compared to the original so they could have some non-combat team interactions, basically allowing them to be regular human beings and goof off a bit, but it was also a bit irritating to watch. It seems like the kind of thing they should have a TV miniseries for, rather than devoting a portion of the film to it. I don't know, it's difficult to say what could have been done better when almost everything turned out alright in the end.
Personally, I would have cut the relationship between Natasha and Bruce, and brought Betty in so we could actually get more references to Hulk's storylines than we have been. Weren't we supposed to be getting another Hulk movie with The Leader in it? And what ever happened to The Abomination? I loved The Incredible Hulk, why can't we get another solo Hulk film? Because Universal owns the distribution rights? Bullshit. Disney has enough money to buy those rights back and have more than enough dough left to buy the rights to Namor, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men back with change left over to buy about twenty more franchises! They'd make the money back on them about the time they released the first movie. I know Marvel basically lives and breathes on playing the waiting game, that's how they got the rights to Daredevil, Spider-Man, The Punisher and others back. The problem is that the longer they leave the rights in the hands of others, there's less you can do to foreshadow those characters introductions unless you decide to take a couple of years to introduce the characters, which I know they won't do, because it was only a year since The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out before they started referencing Spidey in the MCU, and it's only been a year since they got the rights back that they're introducing him!
Then we get to the biggest problem with the film, Whedon's comedic direction is so far off that what I know would be funny jokes just fall flat. It's not just delivery, it's the editing and the pacing that makes the jokes fall flat.
The performances are excellent, especially James Spader's and Robert Downey Jr's. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, all of them are great. The problem is the story they were forced to tell. I like the twist on the Ultron storyline they used, I like the interactions between Banner, Stark, Rogers, and the others. The problem is the sub-plot of Banner and Romanoff's relationship and the fact that the movie is about thirty minutes too short. Tony brings Jarvis back off-screen, there's not enough development between The Twins and the rest of The Avengers, and worst of all, Quicksilver dies at the end for no reason. If anyone was going to die on the team it shouldn't have been someone who was literally just introduced. This is what wrestling fans call "burying" a character. It seemed like they were setting up Hawkeye's death (which would have sucked as well, since he also hasn't had a solo movie) but pulled a fast one at the end. Apparently the original version of the movie didn't kill off Quicksilver or Hawkeye, which would have been a better ending than killing either of them.
All in all, while I was disappointed, it was still a decent film, and I can't really bring myself to hate it, partially because everything is there that makes a good movie, and it's still a good movie, even if it's not a damn good movie.
In the end, I give it a 6.8* rating, it's basically mediocre bordering on greatness. Next week should either be Ant-Man or The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, one or the other.

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