Ladies and Gentlemen…the Summer Movie Season has arrived!! ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is the first of the major ‘tent-pole’ flicks lined up for what SEEMS to promise a kick-ass Time at The Movies, over the next 3 months. This is a perfectly appropriate start for the deluge of cinematic treats heading our way. It’s also a perfectly appropriate way to distract one’s self from the detrimental effects of ‘one beer too many’ the night before…as I discovered.
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the way with which the studio has approached The Big Picture arc of the intertwining story-lines. Added to which, even the lesser entries (*cough* ‘Thor: The Dark World’*cough*), still show care and style in how they’re crafted. THIS movie is no different…and it’s all kinds of ‘kick ass!’. Director Joss Whedon (‘Firefly’) has very solidly morphed into a filmmaker who clearly understands the art, language and history of film (and, clearly, ‘spectacle’)….while effectively adding his own ‘flavor’ to the ‘institution’ of movie-making. In that sense, I can easily liken him to some other current directors like JJ Abrams (‘Star Trek’), Brad Bird (‘The Incredibles’) and Zack Snyder (‘Watchmen’). Whedon knows how to piece together exciting, well-edited action sequences while maintaining an under-current of clever, light humor, often carried aloft on the snappy dialogue and always-interesting characters. THIS is a perfect example of THAT at work. First thing’s first: is ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ better than ‘The Avengers’ (2012)? If I have to answer with complete honesty, I would have to say….(Dramatic Pause)…No. I found the ‘experience’ of the first film somehow more…complete. I think that stems from the efficient pacing of that film’s script. ‘Avengers 1’ was written and edited VERY well, in my opinion. There was a ‘flow’ to the visual narrative that effortlessly carried the viewer along with it. This one ran along at a good clip too…but there were a couple of sequences where the pace sputtered noticeably, mostly in Act 2.
The flick opens with a bang. And a *crash*!! And several *booms*!!! Gunfire. Roaring engines. Snappy dialogue. The Team is back! We catch up to ‘Iron Man’ (RDJ), ‘Captain America’ (Evans), ‘Thor’ (Hemsworth), ‘Black Widow’ (Johansson), ‘Hawkeye’ (Renner) and ‘The Hulk’ (Ruffalo) in the midst of a siege on a well-protected HYDRA base, in the fictitious Eastern European country of ‘Sokovia’. They kick all kinds of ass and discover some interesting goodies. Among the ‘goodies’ discovered, the Avengers have their first encounter with a pair of ‘Enhanced’; twins ‘Wanda’ (Elizabeth Olsen) and ‘Pietro’ (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)…also known respectively as ‘Scarlet Witch’ and ‘Quicksilver’. Yes…’Quicksilver’. Not the same ‘Quicksilver’ that we saw in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (2014), as played by Evan Peters (‘American Horror Story’), but a new spin on the character. Apparently it’s a ‘rights’ thing between studios. *shrugs* Anyway, after some trippy encounters with these two revenge-minded siblings, the Avengers limp back to Stark Tower, now the Avenger Headquarters. As they piece together what they discovered, ‘Tony Stark’ (Robert Downey Jr.) and ‘Bruce Banner’ (Mark Ruffalo) toil on a project that ‘Stark’ believes will add a crucial line of defense to our planet, in the event that another alien attack appears imminent. This key computer program that they’re developing amounts to the first true instance of Artificial Intelligence: Project Ultron. As their progress is met with obstacle after obstacle, unknown to them, a deus ex machina type of glitch occurs…and Ultron (James Spader) is off and running! The sentient program dumps itself into the smashed body of a battle drone and then crashes a party at Avengers Headquarters, in a most eerie fashion. Among the attendees privy to the birth of this soon-to-be-pesky A.I., we’re graced with the presence of a few of the cool support characters that routinely show up in these flicks, namely the sexy ‘Maria Hill’ (Cobie Smulders), ‘Falcon’ (Anthony Mackie) and Stark’s good buddy ‘Rhodes’ / ‘War Machine. From this point, ‘Ultron’ is out there…and, like those goddamn Cylons, he has a plan. And it’s an ambitious plan, involving a landmass connecting with another land mass, at something resembling Terminal Velocity. Naturally, we can’t have some friggin uppity robot pop on the scene and start bringing the ‘noise’, so our heroes lay in for a smack-down!….which naturally proves to be a bit more difficult than expected.
This sequel is terrifically entertaining and there are tons of good things to say about it, but earlier I did admit that I thought the first movie was still the superior film. Why do I feel that way? Glad you asked. The pace of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, for the first Act, is all GO! GO! GO!!!. There’s then an event that causes the team to wisely go into hiding…which they accomplish at the farm of…(drum-roll, please)…’Clint Barton’ / ‘Hawkeye’ (Jeremy Renner)! While the sequence is well done and necessary, I felt that it tapped the brakes just a lil too hard, noticeably adding ‘slog’ to the flow. It was great to see ‘Hawkeye’ get some ‘flesh’, as it’s common knowledge that he was the Avenger who got outright screwed in the last flick; being reduced to a stooge for ‘Loki’ for 3 quarters of the movie. There were also a couple small details that I had trouble ‘buying’, such as the omission of facts concerning the effects of temperature and thinning atmosphere on human beings, or a not-quite-feeling-it romance between two key characters. But those gripes are easily cast aside, in the face of how much ‘awesome’ does populate this flick.
There’s honestly too many cool details, and scenes, and quotes, and action sequences etc, to delve into in the span of a modestly-sized review, so I’ll just list off some of the sweet shit that pops into mind, KNEEJERKREACTION-style!
-I loved the opening ‘winter forest’ action sequence! It nicely demonstrated, through the flurry of action and banter, the team truly working as a team. The camera work was kinetic and creative, and not once did I lose the ‘geography’ of the battle. A fun scene to kick this story off with.
-Like the first film, there’s a lot of clever situational humor and witty dialogue. Like NEARLY everything Joss Whedon has been involved with writing (‘Alien Resurrection’ SUCKED, Joss!…I have yet to forgive you for THAT one.), the banter crackles and gives life to characters saying them…while making us chuckle among all the carnage being thrown on screen.
-If you’re an Explosions Fetishist, this is the movie for you! EVERYTHING gets blown the fuck up!! There’s debris EVERYWHERE! It was great! Despite the fact that ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ committed the sin of showing me something awesome in the trailer (an entire floor of a specific office building exploding into a massive ball of flame) and then having it NOT be in the damn film (I saw where it belonged; the smoking wreck of the building in the background of a shot), this flick has tons of shit being smashed and / or exploded in the most spectacular fashions. (Inner 12 year old boy claps with glee)
-I loved seeing the additional Marvel Universe characters that pop in. Aside from the 3 mentioned above, we also get Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) popping back into play with the kids. Even key characters, like Pepper Potts, get a mention, when not able to be onscreen. It all helps keep this ‘universe’ connected and that is one of Marvel’s noticeable strengths with these movies.
-I have to say again that I appreciated the time dedicated to exploring Jeremy Renner’s ‘Hawkeye’. This served as a slick apology for how the first films script treated the deadly archer. ‘Hawkeye’ also gets the distinction of one of the funniest, most self-deprecating lines in the whole film.
-The 3D was pretty good. It wasn’t quite as immersive as I would’ve liked, but it did have some moments where I had to admit that the depth and scale looked sweet as hell, coupled with Whedon’s settings. There’s a scene that takes place in a huge, mostly-dry expanse of beach used as a salvage / graveyard for huge container ships. The Establishing Shots alone bordered on breathtaking.
*Side note: The second Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer played before the feature and the 3D on that one was incredible! If I was uncertain before about what format I’m seeing THAT one in…it’s now a moot point. Star Wars 7 WILL be seen by THESE eyes in 3 fucking D!
-I liked Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on ‘Quicksilver’ and the effects and camera tricks used to bring his Super Speed to life. I think Evan Peter’s portrayal, for the brief time he was used in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, was more fun…but this version had his own ‘thing’ going. Without SPOILERS, I will say that I’m a little surprised at a certain direction they went with the character, but I guess we’ll have to wait to see what comes of it in the next flick.
-I found myself pleasantly surprised by James Spader’s portrayal of ‘Ulton’. I don’t know why, but from the trailers, I somehow expected his mannerisms to be more…stiffly ‘robotic’. However, Spader and Whedon chose to give the evil bastard human traits in speech and movement, along with mannerisms that helped define the personality developing inside his nefarious A.I. program.
-It was cool to see Paul Bettany (‘Master and Commander’) FINALLY get to be more than JUST the voice of Tony Stark’s computer server ‘JARVIS’. This time ‘JARVIS’, though a series of outside influences, evolves into a sentient being incidentally worthy of carrying Thor’s hammer. When I first saw the original comic book imagery of ‘Vision’, the being he becomes, I thought it looked TOO comic booky to fit into this cinematic universe. But I was wrong. They actually made Vision work, with a fitting back-story regarding his creation.
And, as I’m sure you’ll discover on your own, there’s much more cool shit worthy of discussion in this movie, that I don’t have room or time to list here.
All in all, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ is a kick-ass, fun-time summer blockbuster follow-up to the previous kick-ass, fun-time summer blockbuster that spawned it. The cast is expectedly great, the dialogue snaps crackles and pops, the action scenes are grand, exciting and VERY destructive (in a Fun way, not a ‘Man of Steel-remind-you-of-9/11 kinda way), and the stakes are appropriately high. It does lag a little in the mid-section, but pretty much apologizes for that with the action-packed climax. It’s a rad start to the Summer Movie line-up and I’m eager to see what the next Avengers film will yield. I’ll easily recommend the 3D format, but I do feel that you’re still going to have a good time with the film in 2D also. Avengers assemble!!
“There are…no strings…on me.”