Friday, May 22, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron


  Despite having seen this before I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, (which I just saw earlier this week) I didn't feel the urge to write a review on it right away. It was lots of fun, and it does justice to the 'shut-off-your-brain' genre of summer blockbusters. People who are already tired of Marvel's efforts won't find anything new to enjoy here, and lasting fans will really enjoy it. Age of Ultron is yet another pleasantly watchable chapter in Marvel's big franchise universe. It's full of hints and 'easter eggs' carefully placed for astute fans to find and starts rumors about. As an action movie, it's fun. As an ensemble movie, it's well balanced. As a Marvel movie, it's about what you'd expect. When it all comes down to it, it's just a really big talent show.

  These ensemble movies are beat by beat showcases. They're expected to have certain things happen, and under a certain tone no less- and Age of Ultron is as good as they're going to get for what they are. I firmly believe that if you don't like them, then you want them to be something they're not supposed to be. Ergo, these movies simply aren't for you. And I can respect that. This is simplicity at it's finest. Basic good vs. evil against a backdrop of modern technology and cautionary tales of every sort. It's like the second coming of 80's action movies. Except, mired in kid-gloved politics and encumbered by light-touch world issues.

  Nevertheless, you have your heroes, and you have a reason to root for them. Emotional interludes are doled out in equal measure with exposition just so we can still feel something for our protagonists when stuff starts blowing up. That's all these movies really are. And what's more is... I'm okay with that. So long as we can have a secondary line of properties like Daredevil. Which is still the best thing out of Marvel so far because by the very nature of it's format, it's enabled to deal with characters and emotions in a way the movies aren't. I can see Marvel running out of rope unless they wise up a bit and flesh out this universe even more with more weighty content like Daredevil.

   However Age of Ultron is exactly what I hoped it would be and I had a great time. I'm sure the plot has been rehashed on every single blog from here to kingdom come, so I'll skip that for now. It's fairly obvious they're setting up a second team. It'll probably be led by Ant-Man, and under him will be The Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Falcon, War Machine, and/or the Black Panther. I'm not sure how Dr.Strange will fit into all that, but hey, there's a lot of rope left still. Marvel has the next decade of movies planned out. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, it's a great time to be a nerd.

  I can't argue with that. Age of Ultron isn't perfect, and like the Iron Man sequels, I largely suspect that it'll get better with re-watches. Hell, most of these movies get better with a few re-watches. I think that's their strength: their watchability. They're simple, carefree, Saturday matinee fare that take light jabs at serious topics. On one hand, that frustrates me. They are still managing these movies to appeal to the biggest audience possible. Which means things like the 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline from the Iron Man comics that dealt with Tony Stark's alcoholism get quietly mothballed because they're deemed un-family friendly.

  Is that sort of approach really thinking about the comic fans who've been fans of this stuff all along or is that just thinking about the long term profit margin? Did Chris Nolan hold back with The Dark Knight? Not at all. Whether or not you still think that's a good Batman movie is up to you, but it wasn't kid's play. As opposed to Iron Man 2... Now, granted, Captain America: The Winter Soldier felt very grown up and instead of toying with world issues and modern problems, it made those things the fundamentals of the movie. I can safely say The Winter Soldier stands head and shoulders above most of the Marvel movies right now, but Age of Ultron is up there. Not quite on par, yet not a full step back either.

  There's some scary good acting from all those involved, some fantastic action scenes, and some memorable one liners. Again, it suffers from the 'setting up the next one' thing that Iron Man 2 did, but that's alright. There's a ton of familiar faces, a few new ones and it all works out okay in the end. Paul Bettany is fantastic as The Vision. Easily a massive highlight of the movie. In fact, he's probably my favorite part of it. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson both do really well as Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) respectively, but rather than the main characters I felt they should've been, they're relegated to background roles basically. Until the climax of course.

  Hawkeye is given a better role overall this time around and for once he feels like he has a unique personality all to himself. Ultron himself is scary, and surprisingly witty. Loved him. James Spader did a great job with the voice and the motion capture. All that aside though, there's some odd stuff like Banner and Romanov having a romantic vibe, Thor's character development being relegated entirely to foreshadowing for future films, Tony Stark's character arc from Iron Man 3 being all but ignored, and the Avengers themselves are all teamed up again in the beginning of the movie, and from the sound of it- have been doing their thing together for a while recently. I dunno what was up with all that, some of it is out of left field, some of it ignores continuity (that I'm aware of), but nonetheless...

  The movie is fun. It's exciting, it's funny, it's a big action packed spectacle. I think that's all anybody really wants from it. I was left feeling like I spent my money well and that I had a good time. I didn't feel the 'someone pinch me is this really real?' feeling I had, walking breathless and smiling out of the first Avenger's movie, but I reiterate, again, I had fun. Which is more than I can say for a lot of modern blockbusters.  Marvel has yet to drop below the standards set by their previous films, and I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that these movies aren't being made by studios that don't care in the slightest. Age of Ultron did not disappoint. It's second only to Mad Max this summer (haven't seen Furious Seven yet) as essential-ish viewing.

Much like Guardians of the Galaxy before it, Age of Ultron is another big, loud, fun, sci-fi superhero romp with the right combination of elements to keep Saturday matinees alive and well. We need more of those.

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