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 (we need to talk about Barton). 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, there will be spoilers. More under the cut. Came here by accident? Check out our spoiler free review here.
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 a massive assault on a HYDRA base, and the tracking shot that everyone’s seen and loved in the trailers. But 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. And once you realise why “Veronica” is named so, well, that’s icing on the chocolate cake.
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.
Incidentally, although I love the hero on hero fights … between Loki’s staff and Scarlet Witch’s magic whammy powers, the heroes really need to get some anti-mind control tech. Tony Stark should get on that, rather than building Ultron.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ULTRON
Ultron! James Spader! We loved him! Another!
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. This is an important point, because I will be contradicting myself almost exactly later on, but I am perfectly fine with my MCU villains being given almost entirely unique origin stories. My love for Iron Man 3 was heightened, not diminished, by the genius twist of the Mandarin’s reveal. In the same way, my appreciation for MCU Ultron is heightened, not diminished, by the fact that it is Tony Stark, and not Hank Pym who invented Ultron. Because the Ultron we got out-swaggered Tony Stark. 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 character who’s been with us all this while 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. It might not have been as bad if it was in the midst of everything else, but with our chance to catch our breath, well, Hawkeye, aka Mr Clint Barton, exposes what might be the movie’s biggest failing.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT BARTON
Despite my lack of trailer watching, I was already spoiled that Clint had a wife (Linda Cardellini!!! Looking as amazing as ever) and children. This affected me deeply. Even before Matt Fraction’s Hawkguy was a thing, Clint Barton was a crucial part of the Avengers and the Marvel universe as a whole.
And this is where my hypocrisy shows. 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. Cap’s heart and leadership qualities, Tony’s swagger and genius, Thor’s struggle of being a literal god among men. Clint, on the other hand, never quite got that treatment.
The comic book Clint Barton is a former carney, a man who’s idea of commitment is to an ideal, not exactly a person. Clint’s relationship with Bobbi (and their subsequent marriage) in the comics was such a big deal because comic book Clint was a commitment phobe. MCU Clint seemed like a totally different character. Not unlikeable, mind you (Jeremy Renner brings a special and WELCOME kind of pizzazz) but just … not the Clint Barton 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?
Exactly. So, you know, when it seemed like they were building him up for the big Whedonesque sacrifice we knew was coming … I had made my peace. Except, this was Whedon. And I should have known better.
I had a niggly thought at the back of my mind throughout the movie, but it wasn’t until the guys started talking about it that it got laid bare to me. For the better part of the movie, I was dreading what would happen to Hawkeye. He had the retirement speech. He had the looking at family photo shot. (Why does Hawkguy have a family?) He had the ODE TO HEROIC SACRIFICE IN G-MINOR playing. The cues were all coming that he was going to die a Whedon death. Which … well, I agree that for an integral Avenger like Hawkeye, it kind of sucks that between his mind control in Avengers, and his dangling noble sacrifice, he’s less of an Avenger than a plot device.
Which was part of our problem, that we can agree on – Hawkeye has not really existed other than to be a plot device. And when you have every other character – while different from their book counterparts – calling out a reference in one way or another, Hawkeye doesn’t seem to give his character’s legacy any justice whatsoever. Yes, it’s an ensemble film, and yes, we needed something to move the plot forward – but when everybody else was done so right, this just sticks out like a sore thumb.
Not that I am saying I would rather have him dead …
Me neither. But of course, a Whedon death is a Whedon death purely because of its unexpectedness, so…
Bait and Switch. The noble sacrifice is instead Quicksilver’s, and I don’t think any of us saw it coming until 5 seconds before it happened. Still, I’m glad it was Quicksilver’s death, and not Hawkeye, and Clint Barton gets (hopefully) the retirement that every aging cop on the force seems to long for but never get.
I’m a little curious about Quicksilver’s “death” – because no one actually stays dead in the MCU. (EDIT: Unless you’re Frigga or Maya Hansen) Unlike Coulson, whom the audience had come to care about on a cult level over several movies, Aaron Taylor-Johnson didn’t quite have that kind of appeal? I think? I don’t know. I’ve always liked Taylor-Johnson since Kick-Ass. And I gotta say, fridging the dude to motivate the lady is quite a nice turn of the tables.
They do have the … cradle of life? Honestly, I just call it the Lazarus pit. And did anyone else get flashbacks of T.A.H.I.T.I. when Hawkeye’s chest was getting stitched up? I also thiiink I saw another callout between Age of Ultron and Agents of SHIELD, but I’ll wait till the season wraps up to see if any of my predictions come true.
Yes! Which is rather nice, when you think about it. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t start off on a very good foot, and now it’s sufficiently ingrained in us to think about it even during the bigger movies. I’m not saying it is exactly like T.A.H.I.T.I., but it was nice to keep feeling more of a shared universe, however much we’re reading into it.
Anyway, I was just thinking – is this part of the deal of being allowed to use Quicksilver in the MCU? After all, this is the only character that’s been shared by both Marvel and FOX, and so it’s like a “here, you can keep Wanda, we’ll keep Pietro”.
Actually,I suspect Wanda was always going to be a mainstay in the MCU. Marvel as a unit has always kept Wanda front and centre for the past decade and beyond. She has been terribly maligned as a character, no thanks to Bendis! …
If one more person reduces her to “No More Mutants” again … (hur hur, no more robots!)
… But remains very much a crucial piece of the Marvel Universe. It’s no surprise that she’s whom they’re keeping, leading into Phase 3.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PHASE 3
I didn’t want to believe it, but at the epilogue, when the card read “New Avengers Facility”, I wasn’t sure if I was reading too much into it. So you can imagine my excitement when Cap and Widow walk out to greet the “New Avengers” – War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision. Best Geekgasm of the night, by far. Think about it, Rhodey becomes Iron Man, Sam becomes Cap, Vision can wield Mjonir (not that he needs to, he has a freaking Infinity Stone for a forehead) and Scarlet Witch is more powerful than everyone else. Add that to the fact that Carol, Peter and T’Challa are on their way?!? Mind. Blown.
Indeed, 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.
True. And just as we see the introduction of the New Avengers, we also see the exit strategies drawn up for the original team. Thor, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have arcs that segue directly into Ragnarok and Civil War. On the other hand, Banner, Natasha and Clint could easily have the option of disappearing movie wise or having a little Hunt-the-Hulk side flick. Planet Hulk, anyone?
Exactly! While “Space Hulk” (hur hur) might or might not happen, there’s a lot of open land in the MCU left to explore.
But let’s not forget the immediate future, which we’ll get to see in Captain America: Civil War. A-thousand-and-one memes have been made about this, but to see lines being drawn – lines between sides that are just as right as each other – and to see the incoming threat that draws the entire series together … 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, and I felt that was the case for some of the (I hesitate to call them B-team) New Avengers. War Machine had some good lines and action sequences, but Falcon was hardly used, and Vision … they did show him doing many awesome things, but he barely got enough time to develop.
But that’s also part of building for the future, isn’t it? I guess we could’ve balanced it all out for both the new and old guys – but I guess there’s some baton passing there.
I suppose. It IS true that Vision was born yesterday, so maybe some character can develop in the next movie. Also, I was very amused that Mjolnir was essentially a Norse sword-in-the-stone trope, and a visual short form for explaining to the Avengers why Vision should be kept on the team, because there were a lot of reasons to distrust him.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT VISION
Paul Bettany looked amazing, didn’t he? It’s obviously a mix of CGI and makeup, but that otherworldliness coupled with that Jarvis vibe … 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.
I wish Vision kept the JARVIS voice-modulation though, and not just straight human.
Totally agreed. I felt it was a nice touch to cast Bettany, but it would’ve been nicer to literally get JARVIS’ voice.
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 in Singapore Apr 23.