Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

"Is That the Best You Can Do?"
Considering Sokovia's Impact on the World

The Avengers was a big deal. Two years in the teasing and planning, it was a construct of cross-character integration of the main-stays of the Marvel Movie Universe—its greatest hits of sorts—that pulled disparate elements together while celebrating the differences in its players. It found moments where those contrasts could function as story and team-building. It was a minor miracle of a movie becoming greater than its separate elements. It's writer-director, Joss Whedon, made few if any missteps in that first film and seemed to do no wrong. He became the "go-to" guy in the "Marvel Movie Universe."

And it made billions of dollars. So, anticipation was high for the inevitable second movie bringing together the team that gives their all to stop threats that have already happened—The Avengers.

That second one, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is bigger, with more characters (bringing in some of the supporting tier from the franchises to bring some color—literally—to the group—sad to say, I've been blind to the fact that all The Avengers are white, white, white) and expanding the star-factor with (roll-call!) Robert Downey Jr., Chris's Evans and HemsworthMark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, along with Don Cheadle (use this man, please!), Idris Elba (ditto!), Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarskg√•rd, Julie Delpy (cameo), Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany, Hayley Atwell (cameo), Linda Cardellini, Andy Serkis (in the flesh, this time) and that's without mentioning tons of extras and floods of CGI characters—mostly doing the stunts for the leads—who briefly morph with the pixelated ones in close-ups (and some of the effects work is a bit dodgy) to let us know they showed up on stage at some point.   
There's a lot of this...
There are 21 special effects houses involved in it, two composers (Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman) for the wall-to-wall music, locations spanning the U.S. (urban and rural), South's Africa and Korea, Italy, Bangladesh and England. There are all manner of vehicles, and more action sequences that feel like free-for-all's with the occasional tag-team effort.
And a lot of this...
It's bigger, certainly. But not better. The emphasis is on action (which people like and have come to expect) and less on the character interactions (which is frankly tougher to pull off because they require imagination and not the kind that can be engineered on a drawing board), which made the first one sparkle. The villain of this one, an attempt at A.I. defense called Ultron (portrayed via motion-capture by James Spader) has little appeal—a malevolent attitude, certainly, but little wit (which made Tom Hiddleston's Loki a fun villain) and the movie suffers from the lack of anti-charm.
Far, far too much of this...
His plot is to bring peace to the world...but through extinction, and his manner of doing so is an elaborate natural disaster that will poison the planet to wipe out humanity in the same way dinosaurs were rubbed out. For an artificial intelligence, Ultron is not very bright—what good is peace if there's nothing around to enjoy it, and (by the way) no sustainable grid with which to recharge. Maybe Ultron needed more time in sleep mode to calculate his plan to the last decimal.
Not enough of this...
One nice touch is that Ultron is a mechanical version of Tony Stark (Downey) in the first Iron Man movie, trying to create a way to keep itself alive—ironic in that it is Stark whose idea to make The Avengers obsolete (and safe at home) to the world is what is the genesis of the Ultron creation. Stark's hubris cannot fathom that activating something found in the headquarters of an evil group named "Hydra" could actually not come to some good, especially empowered by the jewel in the staff that Loki (the aforementioned Hiddleston—not appearing in the movie, unfortunately) was using to blast all manner of things that displeased him in the original Avengers movie.
Way too little of this...
The ultimate side-effect of the combined efforts of hero and villain is "The Vision" (Bettany), a mainstay of the graphic Avengers, who, along with two others of the long-time members, Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson) and The Scarlet Witch (Olson)—S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill describes them as "He's fast; she's weird"—and seen in the teaser of Captain America: Winter Soldier, are introduced to the group, as well (despite the changes, this team is still as lily-white/Aryan as they come—I mean, Thor? Captain America?). They are given brief introductions, starting as unlikely allies of Ultron and then, when his clunky machinations become all too obvious, switching sides to the good guys. Olson's Witch has a brief effectiveness by invading the minds of the group's members and giving them depressing flashbacks (with cameos) that puts them in unproductive funks. The rest of the time, she has the telekinesis power of "getting the writer out of a jam." Handy.
Too much of this...
The corps is still the corps: there's the big three—Cap, Iron Man and Thor—and (as they used to sing on "Gilligan's Island") "the rest"—Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye—with the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Nick Fury, Hill) as support, showing up in the nick (no pun intended) of time. With the decimation of S.H.I.E.L.D HQ in CA: Winter Soldier, the Avengers now have their own New York pad—apparently the former Stark Industries—that sticks out like a sore, easily targetable thumb on the skyline—it even has the Avengers logo on it to help even the dumbest of villains know where to aim. It's no wonder that one of these complexes gets destroyed every single movie.
I'm okay with this...
"Is that all you've got?" he says, reading my mind.
Time Magazine has pointed out that, in this day of hacking, Ultron's way of doing things is not only inefficient, but hopelessly stuck in the 20th...even 19th Century. Forget the nuclear codes he has access to, Ultron should be connected enough to infect and take over anything with internet capability. But, no, Ultron, sophisticated computer-app that he is, likes to punch things. That's how this little tin god wants to take over the world. How hi-tech. The only advantage is that the superheroes have to punch back and that's what the audience wants, according to the studio. It gets so stupid that Ultron, when he could merely take over the controls of the jets the heroes are flying to make them as aerodynamic as bricks, actually gets into the cockpit of some flying machine with GPS and everything and flies around shooting things. Dumb.
This, too much...
But, let's forget about the laziness and safe writing inherent in that avoidance. The bulk of Age of Ultron couldn't accommodate anything but the broadest and simplest of problems—big set-pieces with fisticuffs and shield-tossing, and flying hammers and splintering metal. Nothing as intricate as trying to wrest control of a flying rig from an anti-auto-pilot. Not as visceral. But it might have been more interesting.
And this...
Now, that's a thought: maybe the North Koreans hacked the Disney/Marvel computers, too, and messed with the script, inserting studio notes saying "change the costumes" (to sell more toys), "need more fights," "let's see more of the white guys," and "cut the dialogue." Maybe there was an evil computer plot, after all, but behind the scenes. No such luck, I think. More likely, Marvel/Disney said, "Hey, you did such fine work last time, Whedon, we're going to interfere with it."  And it's good for the corporate sponsors to sell more cereal boxes and sippy-cups.
Maybe, it's just that first movie seemed so fresh because it was the first time seeing the "assembled" Avengers, and any follow-up was going to seem not as inspired and old-hat. Whatever the reason, this time, they're not assembling, they're dissembling—I'm not exactly sure what the point of it was, after all that, other than to make another bazillion bucks. The idea of that underwhelms me, as did the entire movie itself.

The whole film left me feeling like this: 
And this...

* Here's an asterisk without any sort of link to the main body of the text—don't strain yourself looking for it.  Also, don't stay throughout the credits expecting one last little tease.  There isn't one.  The brief appearance of Thanos (Josh Brolin) is all there is.
My favorite part...because it was unexpected.

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