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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Marvel has so dominated the summer movie scene for the last few years, I’m kind of surprised I’m writing about “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in May.  What are we going to do in July?  Watch it on DVD? Come to think of it, as big as this movie is, there’s a good chance it will still be playing in July.  We’ll just watch it again.

It’s a lot less comic book-y than the first movie, which was loaded with gags and jokes and just determined to be a lot of fun for girlfriends who roll their eyes at all things geek (it succeeded.) This time around, director Joss Whedon seems to be operating on the assumption that by this time you’re either a fan or a hater, and there’s no point in making movies for the haters. “Age of Ultron” is a darker, denser movie, less interested in going for the joke (though it finds plenty of humor) and more interested in exploring the broken and/or human sides of this team of superheroes.

The bad guy, Ultron, is agreeably creepy, due to very good voice work by James Spader, who makes him arrogant, snide, and occasionally funny.  He’s a robot/AI created by Tony Stark with an assist from Banner, and the film isn’t very interested in why he decided to be Earth’s destroyer instead of protector — a few weak and scattered comments about his motivation are made, but the overall sense is he’s just born that way.  (The comics, in contrast, are obsessed with Ultron’s motivation.) Credit Spader more than Whedon for everything memorable about Ultron – without such a great voice, he’d easily become just another bland evil robot villain.  As it is, he’s the king of the evil robot villains.

The action scenes, as we’ve come to expect from Marvel, are visually coherent and exciting, and there’s nothing as ludicrous as taking down an entire airship with an arrow. Ultron’s plan to create an extinction event is clever and, once underway, difficult to foil — I’m not entirely sure the way the Avengers stopped him (sorry, was that a spoiler?  SPOILER ALERT: the good guys win) would actually work.

But, as is happening more and more in these Avengers movies, it’s the scenes in between that are really interesting, almost to the point where I was let down when the action started ramping up again, because I wanted to conversations to continue.  Black Widow has a thing for Banner/Hulk, and I love the way she pursues him, trying to convince Banner that he’s more man than monster.  (Across the board, Hulk is a troubled and troubling character here, as opposed to the joke and visual gag factory he was in the first film.  There’s a poignant moment when, at the end of a rampage, he looks out and sees the destruction he’s caused, the terror in the eyes of innocent people, that is a highlight of the CGI.)  We get to meet Hawkeye’s family, and overall Hawkeye is given more to do and be than the lamest Avenger.  (There’s a fantastic moment where he recognizes the silliness of his bow and arrow, in a way that makes him seem all the nobler for it.)  Thor gets a kick out of watching everyone try to lift his hammer, and we do too — and then that plot point comes back around later.

We also spend a few moments with plenty of other familiar characters – Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon (is it weird that they’re all black?) and are introduced to two new characters, though I’m not sure that bringing them in at this point was a good idea.  Elizabeth Olson plays Scarlet Witch, though I don’t think she’s ever actually called that in the film. Her superpowers have been changed from the comic books, where’s she’s evidence that a lot of late night poker games were played at Marvel; she could affect chance, making people lucky or unlucky with the wave of a hand.  One can see how that might be difficult to translate to the screen, so instead she messes with people’s minds, and shoots some kind of fireballs out of her fingertips.  She’s not that interesting a character, and doesn’t add much to the film.  Worse is her twin brother, Quicksilver.  Whedon and Marvel make a bad decision here.  Quicksilver was featured in last year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” produced by Fox.  The character was at the center of one of the best, most joyous, funny and enjoyable scenes in the movie and in any movie released last summer.  Fox won’t share X-Men with Marvel, so this is the same character but different; what was one comic book universe has split into two cinematic universes, and that sets up competition between the two Quicksilvers, competition Fox wins, hands down.  I’m not going to say what happens to Quicksilver in “Age of Ultron,” but I’m kind of relieved we probably won’t see him again in an Avengers movie.

One thing I really enjoyed about this movie was its attention to innocent people and the collateral damage these massive, building-smashing fights between demi-gods creates.  There’s a clear refining of the Avengers directive: their job is to protect people.  Defeating bad guys is a way to protect people, but moving the battle out of major population centers – or moving the population, if that’s not possible – is the priority.  This focus on every day people, essentially, on us, the non-powered civilians watching the film, gives the film its heart.

Aside from the goofy fun that was “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which felt like a comic diversion more than the next step in the grand Marvel franchise, I’ve grown kind of weary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and felt unimpressed with Phase II.  “Age of Ultron” reenergizes the whole set, and I guess I’m back on board as a result.  Heck, I might even go see “Ant-Man” in July.


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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

2 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said

    Actually Fox owns X-Men..Sony has Spider-Man.

  2. Thanks… fixed.

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