Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (Can't We All Just Get Along?)

Why the hate?

Forget the cinema score (for which Avengers: Age of Ultron scored an A), because those ratings are often skewed by super fans.  The reality is that there is a significant segment of the population that walked out of the cinema feeling less than satisfied with Marvel Studios latest release.  Now, I’m not asking you to queue up the violins; Age of Ultron is doing more than enough business to keep Bob Iger off the street corner with a tin cup.  What I do wonder is why some feel the movie is so lacking and nefarious that it warrants trolls sending twitter death threats to Joss Whedon and a series of blog commentaries declaring the portrayal of Black Widow an affront to gender equality?   

Relax, people.  It’s a movie and an entertaining one at that.

With that being said, it’s by no means a perfect movie and some of that disappointment has to stem from the weight of expectation born from Marvel Studios’ two most recent cinematic releases: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.  The former is a clever, well-paced action film cut from the same cloth as those political paranoia suspense flicks that so defined the 1970’s; and the latter is a witty unapologetic sci-fi flick loaded with all the charm that the Star Wars prequel films lacked.  Unfortunately, Avengers 2 is neither of these things and I think that contributes to the opinion of some that the movie falls well short of some incredibly lofty expectations.  Personally, I can boil my issues with the film down to two key points.


First, it suffers from a hybrid malady that is two parts Iron Man 2 and one part Spider-Man 3.  Like Iron Man 2, the film dedicates much of its time acting as an infomercial for the next phase of Marvel films.  I almost expected to see Tony Stark bust out a Slap Chop and start cutting up some onions.  But seriously, that Marvel wants to use their biggest film-to-date to set up the next phase of movies is not necessarily a bad thing - it just can't be the most important thing.  I absolutely enjoyed the winks and nods and the promise of things to come embedded in casual references, but at the end of the day, the film has to have a clear unimpeded arc and this movie has a few too many open ended narrative strings branching off from the main plot.  And like Spider-Man 3, the film seems to suffer from the toxic combination of a director in his franchise swan song and good old-fashioned studio interference.  Joss Whedon has candidly stated in a number of interviews that there is a lot going on in this movie and that some significant pieces were mandated by the studio, which most definitely would account for some mismatching plot pieces and incomplete storytelling (See: Thor’s arc).


Another area where the film has issues is the relationship between Black Widow and Bruce Banner.  To those who view this as misogynistic and a slap to face of women’s equality, I would respond with this: some people end up in relationships with people that they work with.  Now whether or not that is a good idea, is another discussion all together, but regardless it happens.  So no, my issue is not about gender equality, but instead a cinematic mechanical issue.  The dynamic between Black Widow and Banner feels the opposite of organic and the lack of chemistry between Johansson and Ruffalo really exasperates that feeling.  It would normally be forgivable had we not just recently seen what great chemistry in a Marvel movie looks like in Captain America: The Winter Solder – in which the dynamic between Johansson and Chris Evans elevated that movie from really good to great.  And thus, the Widow/Hulk coupling feels less than authentic and more a plot layer written for the purposes of adding weight to Banner’s decision at the end of the film; a decision that could have stood on its own.


Despite these shortcomings, there are some really great things going on in this movie. First and foremost, the movie is incredibly fun.  I didn’t go into the cinema expecting Godfather 2 and neither should anyone else, but in reading the comments from the knights of the keyboard and everyone else with a soapbox to stand on, the film failed because it’s not on display at the Louvre.  To those who demand cinematic art, I would like to remind them that it’s called the ENTERTAINMENT business for a reason; because it is supposed to entertain (and to make money).  This film does both.  Still, even the most ardent detractor would be hard-pressed to deny that the jokes are snappy and the action sequences are immense and thrilling.  There’s a witty camaraderie shared between the cast members that is not unlike that of George Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven crew, but fortunately for Downey Jr. et al, they don’t plummet into the self-congratulatory hubris that doomed Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen (to a lesser extent).


Another thing that worked in this movie was Ultron.  One of my fellow film enthusiasts and a former colleague has long championed the belief that Marvel underwhelms with its villains.  I do not necessarily disagree with his assertion, but what I would argue is that it’s a byproduct of dedicating their screen time to establishing not only the heroes, but also their respective places in the vast cinematic universe.  The one exception here would be Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who should almost be considered a co-star in the Thor Franchise.  And while Ultron is not necessarily the strongest villain and is visually banal, I think the way the character is written – that of a petulant, immature, uneven character bearing all the worst parts of Tony Stark’s narcissism, is smart.  He’s not a perfect villain, not even close, but James Spader (shout-out to Andover) elevates the character considerably.

So what’s the verdict?  It’s pretty darn good, but not great.  It’s fun and worth seeing on the big screen (if you haven't already), and most definitely a second time on the format of your choice to make sure you’ve digested everything that was going on, because there’s a lot.  Love it, like it, or hate it, I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that the best part of the movie is that it promises that there are some very big things to come… or should I say little things as Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is up next.

3 comments:

  1. Great review, as always! I will head into this movie with the wise words of this review in mind!

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  2. Listen to my words instead mariepea: this movie was slow, bloated, had no tension... 2/5 stars

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