Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Okay, I'm just gonna have to jump right into this one. Avengers: Age of Ultron. This movie was all over the place, and I sorta feel like I'm going to be all over the place while talking about it, so let's just start with the good, and keep in mind that there will be spoilers in this review (and in case you don't believe me about there being spoilers, lemme prove it to you right off the bat).

So the best audience reaction the movie received definitely came when the worthy Vision handed Thor his hammer back, which was admittedly an awesome moment, and I loved the running gag involving Thor's hammer throughout at that. But to the point, the audience loved this, which is great, assuming that we can ignore that the actual best reaction of the whole night period came at the hands of the freaking Batman v Superman trailer of all things. Just, ugh. That, plus a comment from the person sitting in front of me that the (awesome) new trailer for Tomorrowland looked like "more Spy Kids crap" made me sort of hate my audience going into this thing. But that's neither here nor there, though I suppose you could say that in a way my letdown in my audience perhaps acted as a nice segue into the ensuing letdown that was to come, so let's talk about the actual movie itself.

Like the first Avengers, I thought the characters were pretty well balanced throughout. Ultron was a really interesting villain with an intriguing ideology, and I loved the character's personality interjected by James Spader, who gives off such a sinister innocence that just sorta gets under your skin in such a good way. Such a creepy character, yet such a joy to watch on the screen.

But I would say the highlights were the side stories involving Hawkeye and his secret life, as well as the brewing romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. The character moments are this movie's absolute strongest aspects, and the performances all around were as good as we've come to expect by this stage in the game.

That said, while the ensemble cast on the whole was well balanced enough, where this movie strays away from the first Avengers in terms of balance is in its pacing. More to the point, there's just too much god damn action in this thing. And unlike the first movie, the vast majority of the action scenes are just incoherent and boring.

The movie opens with the equivalent of a CGI cartoon that looks like it would feel more at home in one of the Hobbit movies, as the Avengers get right into the action, and we set the stage for this movie that basically exists just to set the stage even further for more future movies, but more on that later, we've got even more action to discuss! Similar to my complaints regarding the action in the second Captain America movie, a lot of the action in this movie is shot and edited in such a bland way that sorta just jumps back and forth with quick cuts all over the place and ultimately fails to connect on any level, which left my mind constantly wandering throughout. There were moments and shots in the first movie that truly felt inspired, but I really didn't get that feeling from anything happening here.

Now, while the action may not have been inspired, it sure as hell did feel at times like a retread (though I do like the idea behind the floating island scenario, the last action sequence in many ways mirrors that from the first movie), and at other times, a blatant rip-off. For instance, remember that iconic train sequence from Spider-Man 2? Yeah, this movie completely recreates that scene here. And as it was being set up, I seriously sat there thinking to myself, "they're not really going to just straight up steal that scene from Spider-Man 2, are they?" But yes, they in fact did. And I kinda couldn't believe it as I was watching it. Now, perhaps this is merely an homage to that movie, seeing as how Spider-Man is now officially going to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future? Perhaps, but, I'm pretty sure this scene was filmed well before that deal ever went down, so I kinda doubt it, and this was most likely just the blatant rip-off that it feels like.

But that's not even the worst of it. No, I would say the worst came during the fight that was probably hyped up most in the trailers, that being the epic encounter between Iron Man and the Hulk. And oh boy, where do I even begin? This whole fight just felt like way too much, like the movie was blowing its load way too early (and hell, maybe that's even fitting, given how many dick jokes that are in this thing). But beyond the fight just dragging on way too long and suffering from the same tedious, uninspired issues as the other action sequences, this fight did something else that I'm actually kinda surprised to see in a Marvel movie.

Now, remember how Man of Steel ended with that big city-leveling action sequence that everyone threw an absolute bitch-fit about? And, upon reflection, deservedly so, considering the character in question, and how much of that battle and the ensuing destruction was most likely preventable. And then remember how The Avengers sorta acted as a counter to that sequence, what with the city-leveling action in that movie being an act on our heroes' part to prevent further destruction? And hell, recall how Guardians of the Galaxy even explicitly included a scene calling for a city-wide evacuation in order to save the citizens from the incoming destruction in that movie's climax? So one would assume that we're seeing a pattern of Marvel almost being the anti-DC in this regard, right? At least, until now.

See, there were points during the fight where it appeared like much of it was Iron Man fighting to prevent further damage from the Hulk's rampage, and he even at one time does try to escape the city with him. But then he makes the decision to end the battle by tossing the Hulk through a building in progress, leveling it in the process, complete with blatant 9/11 imagery in tow, and blatantly not only further damaging the city, but putting its citizens in direct harm, if not from debris, then from the ensuing cancer that they'll likely be having to deal with as a result of the ash.

So, yeah, Marvel actually went there. And hell, much of this movie even felt like the type of destruction-porn that you'd come to expect more from a Transformers flick than a Marvel movie, and it's quite frankly just sort of shocking to see them go that route at this point. I mean, I suppose you could argue that Iron Man's decision at this point was one made in order to try and contain the situation as much as possible, and either way, it's not a decision that personally bothered me necessarily. It's just something I happened to notice and that clearly stood out to me as I was watching it for the reasons expressed above, but hey, maybe I'm making too much of nothing. After all, I suppose that the way the last big action scene played out does sort of make up for this entire aspect anyways, so I dunno, but either way, let's move on.

Anyways, so the action was definitely off in this thing, but not only that, but the humor, too, seemed a bit off as well. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some good chuckles to be had in this thing. But where the first Avengers was filled with tons of funny little moments and sight-gags like the Galaga joke, the closest this movie really hit to that style of quick gag was Tony Stark having a "Jarvis Is My Copilot" sticker on his wall.

Also, Marvel has apparently given up on post-credits sequences, as this movie doesn't even have one at all. Yeah, there's a mid-credits sequence, which is just about the lamest (and most obvious) one yet, and which really doesn't do any more to set up the next movies that wasn't already shown in both Guardians of the Galaxy and the mid-credits scene of the first Avengers.

And speaking of, that's sort of this movie's biggest problem, is that it feels like it exists solely just to set up even more future movies. And this is especially odd coming from director Joss Whedon, especially after having just recently read an interview from him expressing how movies should be a singular, stand-alone experience, and how gutted he felt when people proclaimed the mid-credits sequence of the first movie to be a great set-up to the next one. And yet, now here he is making a movie that is anything but a singular movie-going experience.

And as a result, seeing as Marvel has already announced every single movie leading into the next Avengers, there are scenes near the end that are completely devoid of any sort of stakes or tension, because we already know well in advance that certain characters are due to be in the next movies. I dunno, but I do kinda hate how Marvel went ahead and made those announcements, and I do miss how you originally didn't know the next movie until the post-credits scene, which acted as a tease for it. But I guess seeing as now that there's no more need for a tease, of course they don't bother anymore.

But even beyond that, the thing is, there reached a point during this movie where this whole expanded universe idea just began to feel overwhelming, like they're just setting up too much, expanding too far, with no end in sight, and I just don't know that I'm on board for the ride anymore. I mean, of course I'm going to see them and grow excited as we get closer to each new film's release, but just looking out on the horizon now, it just feels like too damn much, and I think this movie may have been the breaking point that really makes me dread this entire "cinematic universe" model that so many production companies are so insistent on moving forward with. The idea was a cool one at first, but the novelty's really beginning to wear thin for me now, and I'm really growing to miss the days of that aforementioned "singular experience".

So yeah, I don't know, there's my rambling review for the latest Avengers movie I guess. And it probably feels like I've been overly cynical of it, but I really can't even say that it was a bad movie. In terms of execution, it just feels like a movie that's content with going through the motions for the most part, which is just a bit of a shame. But outside of some nice character moments, this movie really does nothing especially wow-inducing that makes it stand out on the whole, and that's what's ultimately so disappointing about it. All in all, Avengers: Age of Ultron was just an okay movie.


... This movie's biggest sin, though?

Not enough Loki!