Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The IT Crowd.

I'll say this for the movie poster: It really was a WYSIWYG ad for the flick itself.  Think the poster is confusing and crowded?  So's the movie.  Avengers: Age of Ultron suffers from the Spider-Man 3 syndrome of shoehorning far too many characters old and new into the story, but unlike the disgraceful Spider-Man 3, the sequel to 2012's luminous and practically perfect Avengers is still worth watching.  I don't envy director Joss "God of the Nerds" Whedon his massive task in creating and then offering this follow-up to the same audiences that had adored Avengers.  The pressure to produce a worthy sequel must have been absolutely unimaginable, and I'm not going to complain (too much) that the movie cracks a little under that pressure, especially when I know that the studio's demands must have pushed Whedon's own creative liberty into a corner.  This brings up a host of other issues of various grades of nitpickery, but the short version of my review is this: flawed but still fun, Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off the 2015 summer movie season in fine style ... and it's almost a certainty that I'll go see it again.  The Cinema-Mad Sibling thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was a better follow-up film to the first Captain America (2011) than Age of Ultron is to Avengers.  Well, he's not wrong.

OK, I'm going to try to talk about the movie without spoiling it for everyone who hasn't it yet. (Once you have seen it, you can take a look at this and join the debate. All I'm going to say now is that Marvel should be careful.  Really, really careful.)  Three complaints, and then a few observations and one unqualified hoorah.

One: The crowding issue.  Yes, I get that Marvel wants to bring all the Avengers back together and give them a new adversary to fight.  I get that.  I also get that Marvel wants to introduce a few new characters.  The problem is that we end up with not enough time with any of the characters old OR new for character development.  This is compounded by the cameo appearances of a zillion other characters who have no real role in this movie but who show up anyway because they point you to other Marvel projects.  UGH.

Two: Joss apparently did not have the narrative room to BE JOSS.  The movie is so stuffed with characters and occurrences that it doesn't have nearly enough time for it, and by that I mean time for him to give us the witty banter and bickering that he's so good at ... and that is so good at character development.  Joss is really good at people standing around and talking ... arguing ... flirting ... hassling ... The witty retort, the sly verbal jab, the underplayed humor.  For a lot of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I couldn't even tell that it was a Joss Whedon movie.  That's not to say that the movie itself as spectacle wasn't entertaining.  I was entertained ... but it felt a little hollow because it didn't feel like Joss's project.

Three: Ultron was a missed opportunity for a couple of reasons.  One is that we really could have done more with Tony Stark and, to a lesser degree, Bruce Banner.  They were the ones who gave rise to Ultron, and I didn't think the movie did nearly enough with the emotional fallout of it.  There should have been.  There should have been TONS OF IT.  That would have been character development and a real meditation on how even the best-laid plans of well-meaning superhero science bros gang aft agley ... because that has some serious real world resonances in terms of tech and artificial intelligence getting out of hand and of protective measures that become themselves perils.  Road to hell, good intentions, anyone?  While we're at it, Ultron is voiced by none other than James Spader himself, an actor who has elevated smug superiority to a veritable art form, and we could have done so much more with that.

A few observations:
  •  Give us a Black Widow movie, and the fans will stampede to see it!  Shoot, even give us a backstory movie called Budapest based on one throwaway line from Avengers, and we will rush to get in line!
  • There's a lot going on in the movie, but if I'm going to be honest, I'll tell you that the party scene at Tony's is probably my favorite scene because it wasn't jammed full of CGI and special effects and whatever else: it's mostly about people being people.
  • Let me save you some time: There's a bonus scene in the middle of the credits but not one at the very end.  
  • If we hadn't already in previous movies grown to like and care about the individual Avengers as people, we wouldn't give a hoot about any of them in this movie.  That's not a compliment.  Losing sight of characters' humanity is a mortal sin that no amount of mammoth special effects wizardry can undo.  If we the audience don't care about the people, then we'll have no emotional stake in what happens to them. 
The unqualified hoorah: Paul Bettany is back on screen!   Here's the story behind that.  To be honest, I've had a soft spot for Bettany ever since he played Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight's Tale (and he's terrific opposite Russell Crowe in Master and Commander).  As much as I love him being the elegantly starchy voice of JARVIS, I'm frankly delighted to see him on screen again.  Yes, I know he's been in some stinkers (*cough* Da Vinci Code! *cough*), but, hey, who hasn't?

Mad Minerva gives Avengers: Age of Ultron a grade of B+. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron runs 141 minutes and is rated PG-13 for various action sequences, a bit of language, and some suggestive comments.

Rotten Tomatoes gives
Avengers: Age of Ultron the Fresh rating of 74%.

Next up: I'm seeing the much-ballyhooed Mad Max: Fury Road. (Updated: Now online!)

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