A movie review of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron with
Direcow, Kakita and Korgath
They’re back, all assembled. They’re the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes, and after the smash hit in 2012, director Joss Whedon is back at the helm with the usual suspects: Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Hawkeye. The first movie truly was lightning in a bottle – a large ensemble movie weaving together threads from various other movie into one impossibly cohesive whole. With the second, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, can Thor strike twice at the same spot, or does Heimdall have some rule against that?
To mark this occasion, Direcow, Kakita and Korgath have got together to do their first reviewgitation since 2013 – and yes, this is spoiler-free! (Check out the spoiler-tastic version here.) More under the cut.
To be honest, I was very afraid of the possible missteps Marvel could have made. From movies to TV series, Marvel has had a very good run, and I was seriously afraid that the law of probability would catch up with us. I suppose I shouldn’t have worried: Joss Whedon can do no wrong. Well, he can do SOME wrong, but we’ll talk about that later.
That’s true – it’s a bit of a high bar that Marvel continues to set, especially with back to back critical successes with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians Of The Galaxy. On the whole there’s a lot a good – and I’m happy to say that Avengers:AOU is great. If you want to stop reading here, that’s what you really need to know. Better than everything else kind of great? Well …
The action and banter is all there, that’s for sure. The movie opens with massive action and it doesn’t let up. We have the post-battle revelry, the one-liners between the characters, and the Hulk/Hulkbuster fight that I think everyone was waiting for. And none of it disappointed.
I was astounded by just how well-designed and imaginative that Hulkbuster fight was – it truly is a gem – and there were the additional nice touches of Marvel (quite obviously) telling DC how death and destruction should be done.
I thought the first act was a fantastic way to start the movie. You know your audience has seen every Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) at least once, and you’re not afraid to remind them why they love this franchise. The “one long take” style of teamwork that worked so well in the climactic Battle of New York in the first movie? Make it the opening sequence. The audience is automatically primed for bigger and better things and the movie didn’t let up … until it did.
There was a lull in the middle part of the movie as the heroes retired to lick their wounds, but I honestly thought that was welcome respite. No nuanced movie can be just action (See all Bayhems), no hero can rise above without having the chance to lose (See most Supermans), and I watch Marvel movies not just for the action, but the characterisation as well.
It pretty much follows the pacing of the original Avengers, when the heroes had to regroup and find a reason to keep fighting. It’s not the best – and it does lead to some questions we’ll talk about later – but in all Whedon keeps it coming, whether it’s the action or the quips. It is really in the characters.
The thing that got me the most excited early in the filming of Age of Ultron was the announcement of James Spader as the title villain. As Ultron is an entirely digital construct, he would live and die by the voice, and James Spader, coming from The Blacklist and Boston Legal, just to name a few, gave me immense confidence that Ultron would have the necessary gravitas and pathos to be pulled off right. And he didn’t disappoint. This was the Ultron I wanted, the Ultron that wants to save humanity by destroying it, and the AI that all singularity theorists are afraid of.
I’m not a big James Spader fan, having not watched many of the shows he’s been in. But I have to say this version of Ultron is a revelation. Sure, there are all the things you say in the trailer, from the creepy bits and such, but there’s an added dimension that’s a bit of Whedon and a whole lot more of crazy glee that Spader gave to the voice.
Needless to say, James Spader owned this role. There was just something so perfect about the casting. The Ultron we got was more snarky than Robert Downey, Jr could ever hope to be. Casting James Spader meant Robert Downey, Jr finally had a foil that he could play off.
You’re right – you can almost feel Spader taking what Robert Downey Jr has done with the role and running away with it like he was some puppet just freed from strings. But I have to admit that’s why it’s a little odd to see, well, one familiar character end up being just like a man on a string.
This brings up what I was saying earlier – that lull in the midst of all the action. It’s where we learn more about backstories and move the plot towards the finale, but it’s also where something stands out like a sore thumb.
The one thing I’ve loved about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how they’ve managed to capture the essence of each character so well that it FEELS faithful to the comics. But here, the MCU version of a character seemed like a totally different character. Not unlikeable, mind you, but just … not the one I had known from the comics.
Part of the “problem” stems from the whole MCU versus what we know in the comics – especially if you’re a huge comic fan like Peter. This being the MCU, to expect them to be the same as their comic counterparts would be an exercise in futility – it’s been clear that things just aren’t the same. But therein lies the rub – if we want to kick up a fuss about Zack Snyder not understanding Superman … well, what if he’s just not “Superman” Superman?
At any rate, odd blips aside, in terms of setup for the future Whedon has done a bang-up job. From the heroes to the upcoming threat, it’s clear to see everything about to boil over into the future … its just a grand, pure fanboy thing.
I don’t know, I’m still skeptical, but it’s no fault of Whedon’s. The danger of any ensemble movie is that there are too many characters and moving parts to give all of them a chance to shine. For Vision … they did show him doing many awesome things, but I wanted to see much more of him.
Still, Paul Bettany looked amazing, didn’t he? It’s obviously a mix of CGI and makeup, but that otherworldliness … I’m not sure how long they planned this, but to see the Vision in the “flesh” brought such joy. Especially with all those Vision powers.
So there we have it – we’re harsh, because we love the universe so. All in all, other than THAT misstep, I think we have a winner. Thor didn’t strike twice – I personally left the first screening of The Avengers with shaking hands, this was more of a pleased smile – but I enjoyed myself to the Maximoff. There’s a lot to be full of fanboy glee about – especially the Vision – but what it does lack compared to the original is more of the sheer joy of discovery which is hard to replicate in a sequel filled with characters you’ve grown up with. Still, in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the adventures, the banter, the characters, the action, this is what summer blockbusters should be made of.
A lot of this movie’s greatness comes from the realisation that they don’t need to try that hard. Unlike the first Avengers movie, which needed to prove so many things, this one comes smack in the middle of plans stretching till 2019. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already a golden goose, but Age Of Ultron proves no one is content to rest on their laurels. They’re taking risks, they’re setting the stage for actors to retire characters, and they’re making some damn good movies in the process.
The thing about continued success is that sometimes people grow too used to it. It’s true that Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were good movies, but Avengers was the first time an ensemble superhero flick got made, and they knocked it out of the park. But Age Of Ultron comes after the Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy. And we’ve already seen the magic trick once. As geeks, this means we generally try to figure out how the magic works, which sadly leads to everyone being overanalytical. And we forget that (Nolan notwithstanding) the magic is the white whale that DC has been hunting for, like … forever.
Was Age of Ultron good? Definitely. Especially Ultron. Did it have flaws? Definitely. Was it the best thing ever? Proooobably not. Will I watch it again? Probably yes.
The Avengers: Age Of Ultron opens Apr 23 in Singapore.