Friday, 24 April 2015
Avengers - Age Of Ultron
Stark They Were
And Golden Eyed
Avengers - Age Of Ultron
Directed by Joss Whedon
UK cinema release print
Warning: Really quite huge spoilers implied in the text here...
don’t read before watching if you really don’t want to know.
Okay. Where to start on this big beast of a movie?
There’s been a lot of pre-hype to this next Avengers movie, as can be expected. Clips started being released maybe a year ago? I think in the case of this movie that was maybe a bit of a mistake because, honestly, the clips released are probably some of the best parts of the film and I could have done with, especially the Hulk-Buster armour, being a bit more of a surprise. Maybe I would have responded to the film a little better if it had been.
Now, I have to say that this is certainly not a bad film and neither, despite first impressions, is it a mess of a movie. It’s actually quite a good, solid little entertainment. However, it’s also not a great movie and, if I totted up some kind of personal ranking for the Marvel Phase 1 and Phase 2 movies, I guess, for me, it would come about halfway down the list.
Just so you know where I’m coming from, I actually gave the original Avengers movie a not so hot review (read it here) and I have to say I was kinda disappointed with that one at the time. However, I rewatched it on Blu Ray about a year later and, it has to be said, it grew on me quite a bit and I really enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. This new film isn’t half as good, in my opinion, and it’s certainly not up to the standards of, say, more recent Marvel movies like Iron Man 3 (reviewed here) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here)... although I liked it a hell of a lot more than the Marvel Universe Phase 2 movie that preceded it (and you can read that review here).
But, like I’ve said before, this particular set of Marvel universe films have been put together by producers who have an uncanny knack of both getting perfect casting (there’s not a bad or inappropriate performance in this film) and picking just the right directors for the job. Following up on this we have writer/director Joss Whedon, who directed the first Avengers movie and was presumably chosen, at least partially, because of his proven ability to work wonders with films and TV shows which require a strong, unifying story arc involving interaction with a large ensemble of characters... such as Firefly, Serenity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Once again he manages to skillfully wield this army of ever increasing characters that the producers are throwing at him to get something that, while not always gold, is at least very serviceable and satisfying in parts.
The movie once again features Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark (Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (Hulk), Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth as Thor (you know... The Mighty), Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and an impressive roster of other regular characters from the Phase Marvel Universe popping up in places where you’d like to see them... the only noticeable absences being Downey Jr’s and Chris Hemsworth’s leading ladies from their stand alone films. Added to this cast are four new characters including the titular character Ultron, a bad guy voiced and motion captured by James Spader. We also have the Iron Man series regular Paul Bettany back as both his usual “voice of Jarvis” and the first live action movie incarnation of “The Vision”, although this character’s origins are terribly messed around with. One good thing about that, though, is the fact that the actor having also voiced Jarvis is absolutely accounted for in the course of the story at an almost metatextual level.
Two other new characters on board are “the twins” Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, aka Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch as played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson respectively. Now this is an interesting thing because, as I mentioned in my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Pietro is also in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise now, played by a different actor and with different origins. In the original comics he was a mutant (as he presumably is in X-Men: Days Of Future Past - reviewed here) and both he and The Scarlet Witch started out as villains in the 1960s, part of Magneto’s mutant army, before switching sides and joining The Avengers. In Avengers: Age Of Ultron they are, instead, genetically enhanced humans who have been modified by agents of H.Y.D.R.A. So it will be interesting to see if audiences get confused with Quicksilver’s inclusion, in two completely different guises, in both franchises.
Asides from the company politics which allowed for stuff like this to happen, however, I’m happy to report that Spader, Bettany, Taylor-Johnson and Olson all do a great job and more than hold their own against the regular cast members in this movie... which can’t be an easy task when there’s so much talent in the room, so to speak.
So there’s bad things and there’s good with this movie.
For starters, while Banner/Hulk is more integrated into the plot in this one, not to mention a romantic sub-plot with one of the other characters, he also has less impact. In the first movie, they held back on Hulk a little and when he did get a couple of moments, they really counted and were extremely funny. The humour of all the characters is still in here but, especially with Hulk, its quite toned down.
Another problem for me is the structure. This kind of tent peg movie usually builds to a spectacular climax and, though it certainly has a lot of money up there on the screen and has an epic feel to the way it’s been shot and edited... it still feels like there’s a heck of a lot less going on than in the previous collective outing. I think one of the reasons for that is that there’s no real surprise in terms of opposition at the end. In the first film, Loki was the bad guy and it wasn’t until the last hour that he brought on thousands of aliens and even some bigger alien flying slug thingies... the stakes kept getting bigger, at least on a visual level. In this one, although the stakes get bigger in terms of what’s actually going on, on an eye candy level with the antagonist it’s just... more of the same. We have loads of multiple variants of Ultron and he’s everywhere at once. When he’s killed or seems near defeat he brings on... more Ultrons. Yeah, okay, we’ve seen that trick more than once throughout the movie... we didn’t really need to see it again. Now my regular readers know I’m not one for going with a standard, cause and effect, build to a big finale structure and usually revel in films which are brave enough to take a less obvious approach... but in the case of this film I think it does kinda hurt the picture a little, if I’m being honest. I also don’t think it’s anyones fault because, until you get this stuff in an editing room, you’re kind of rolling the dice as to how what you’ve captured and created digitally comes across and so... I think it’s just one of those things. Saying that, I think most people will be more than satisfied with the structure and spectacle in this one... so I’m probably in a minority on this point.
There are some truly nice moments in this too, though.
For instance, there’s an extended version of the pre-release clip Hammer scene, where The Avengers are having a party and everybody, or almost everybody, tries to lift Thor’s hammer off the table. It’s quite fun but... Joss Whedon’s genius doesn’t stop there... it’s actually a really nice set up for a punch line which comes into play for the last act of the movie. So if you do get fed up with this early sequence, remember that it’s all an elaborate set up for a great and humorous moment later on in the movie which also, I should add, tells you everything you need to know about the calibre of one of the new characters and is pretty great movie shorthand for getting a feeling of trust and bonding with the core group of Avengers going. It’s a really nice moment when it happens and, judging from the gasps of glee from the audience I was with... you’ll probably know just what I’m talking about if you’ve seen this film.
Another great thing here is that none of the new characters are skimped on. Sure we get less coverage than maybe most of the regulars do but, the new characters aren’t just treated like add ons here... they have a sense of history and identity, even The Vision, and because of this there’s a great moment towards the end of the film where... oh wait... that really would be a spoiler too far but... well... lets just say, I didn’t see that coming. So that was kinda unexpected which, with modern movies, can only be a good thing.
Another great moment is where we realise that, as much as we think we know these characters from the previous films, there’s always something new up their sleeve. Take Hawkeye, for example. Not only does he very quickly and efficiently, temporarily take care of a character who has pretty much knocked out the entire team at one point, but when the chips are down he fleas with his team to his safe house where we, and most of the team (only Natasha Romanoff knows this fact about Hawkeye which, given their history, is no surprise), get to meet Hawkeye's best kept secret... his wife and kids. So this is all good stuff and it’s in moments like this that we see Joss Whedon’s beating heart breathing life into these four colour creations and bringing the humanity, along with his cast and crew, to these famous creations.
And then there’s the music...
I’ve commented before on the dire lack of musical continuity within the Marvel Phase One and Two movies and have tried to justify it to myself by comparing it to a comic drawn by the same artist but with different inkers each issue. However, this film has two music credits which, surprisingly, come up separately... Music by Brian Tyler and Music by Danny Elfman. The credits don’t share the same screen and, with an album release towards the end of next month which seems to have different cues by each of the two artists, I’m guessing this was not a collaboration. So what happened here? Was Brian Tyler busy because his time on the project over ran and Elfman was called in to score the rest? Or did the producers just reject part of Tyler’s score and instead of having Elfman replace it all, just had him rewrite the bits they didn’t like. I’m sure it’ll be a while before the truth of that situation is revealed to enquiring minds but, it has to be said, the real surprise here is how well this patchwork approach works in the final movie. Both composers seem to have made themselves subservient to certain films in the history of some of the characters and are happily quoting from various themes throughout the series. This gives it a nice musical continuity which really, and puzzlingly, seems to be quite successful...although it has to be said that it’s a noisy movie and a lot still gets lost in the sound design.
So there’s that.
There’s only a mid credits end scene in this one and, if truth be told, it really feels like a retread of an end credits scene from one of the previous movies. However, the film leaves the movie in a spot where it’s quite clear where the characters can go from here and this thing seems to be leading directly into the next Thor and Captain America/Iron Man movies. It’s also getting clearer how the second Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, when it gets made, will jigsaw nicely into proceedings when it comes time for the big two part Avengers Infinity War movies which will signal the end of Phase Three... as this one signals the end of what the Marvel people call Phase Two. Meanwhile, we’ve got the first Phase Three movie, Ant Man, being released in a few months and, since that character and his many later incarnations also has such a strong history with The Avengers in the 1960s and 1970s comics, it will be interesting to see just how many characters they can try and cram into Infinity Wars when it finally hits our screens a few years from now.
But for now we have this film, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and, though I was a little disappointed in places, it’s really not a bad movie and I reckon if I take another look at it at some point soon, I might enjoy it better. My experience with films of a certain type is that sometimes my brain doesn't enjoy the movie too much the first go around because it’s too busy processing all the information some directors like to cram in. So there’s no need for me to recommend this one... if you are into superhero movies which, in the mightly Marvel manner, are pretty much modern morality plays dealing with broad stroke issues then this one’s right up your street. Like I said at the start of the review, it’s certainly not a mess and it’s worth taking a look.