Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Spoilers: Ultron is a week old.

I have only gone to three midnight screenings in my life. Usually, I'm never too fanatical about a movie to see it directly at midnight, though I have seen several movies the day they came out. However, there are times when I feel compelled enough to see a movie the very second it comes out and to be one of the first people to experience it. I've seen Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 at midnight (I had my reasons), and I've seen Guardians of the Galaxy at midnight and you can read about my reactions here. So now to join the ranks of midnight movies is Age of Ultron, the culmination of Marvel's Phase 2 and set up for Phase 3 and the new Avengers lineup. It has a lot to do and a lot of plot points and characters to address, and it shows. I wouldn't say that this movie is as cluttered as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it's still pretty full. Thankfully, it's still a good movie... I think. This is a really complicated review...

So, before we can even actually begin, we should probably address the previous Marvel Phase 2 films and Marvel's general attitude after the success of The Avengers. So, I think it's pretty safe to say that The Avengers was a massively successful movie that made billions of dollars and was just a great action movie. No joke, The Avengers was probably the best action movie in decades just based on its scope, scale, character, atmosphere, and its sense of humor. It was a phenomenal movie that justified the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's the definition of a superhero movie and companies are still trying to copy its success, Marvel included. A lot of the past Marvel Phase 2 movies have been trying to capture the same scale and wow factor as The Avengers, mostly through Iron Man 3 and Winter Soldier. Marvel put a lot more focus on action these past few movies with little in the way of a memorable plot. Marvel switched having a good plot with having a good twist, and most of Marvel's Phase 2 movies have been defined by their twists rather than their characters and plot. It's a decent route to travel on, but it's had the repercussion of being more forgettable. Once the twists set in and the action is done, there's not much left to most of Marvel's Phase 2 movies, barring Guardians of the Galaxy. 

 It's refreshing to see Marvel go back to making a movie that has very few, if any, twists and instead puts the focus on the plot and overall story. The Avengers are on the hunt of Loki's mind controlling scepter, and quickly are able to get it from Baron Von Strucker. Once they do, the Avengers have a brief little celebration and Tony Stark is able to use the files from Stucker's lab to finish an A.I project he's been working on for years; Ultron. Ultron is completed, decides that the only way to save humanity is to destroy humanity, so he plots to destroy the Avengers by any means necessary, mostly by pitting them against each other and strengthening his own forces.

Truth be told, the best thing about this movie is the eponymous robot himself, Ultron. From the second we see him, Ultron has more personality than any other Marvel villain thus far. Unlike Loki, Ultron is actually intimidating and has a certain presence to him that makes him an incredibly credible threat. Not only that, but Ultron is surprisingly funny and has some of the best lines in the movie. It's usually just a quick little quip, but Ultron was actually funnier than most of the Avengers with the exception of Iron Man, who is still the master of snark and has a personality beyond comparison. However, I don't think that this movie is as quotable as other Marvel movies, which is a bit disappointing given that Joss Whedon directed it.

From here on out, it's really hard to decide what to talk about next. Even though I know I just saw Age of Ultron, I felt like I saw three movies at once here. In total, this movie had its own plot regarding Ultron and his machinations, set up for Captain America: Civil War, resolution to the mid credits sequence of The Winter Soldier, set up for Black Panther, developing a relationship between Hulk and Black Widow, creating Vision, establishing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and set up and further the overall plot of the Infinity Gems and Thanos. The movie feels stuffed to the brim with plot points and ideas that after each scene, it pretty much will transition to a completely new plot point away from the main Ultron plot. Is that bad? In a way, yes it is. I feel like the movie was incredibly long just so that it could establish all of these plot points and give proper development time towards each character. That was one of my initial fear with The Avengers. I feared that the movie would be too big and would have to focus on giving each character adequate screen time and development to the detriment of the overall plot. Thankfully, The Avengers was just a big old slug fest, but here? Here the movie puts the Ultron plot front and center, so giving each character proper development and scenes, establishing new characters, and setting up new plot points means that there's a lot to get across, so the movie pads its time to 2 and a half hours to get it all across. And that's with the movie already being heavily cut to be less than 3 hours.

While I think the movie is bloated with extraneous scenes, what's there is still very good. All of the Avengers have solid development and we learn a lot more about them, though they're not as charming as they are in their individual films. The best treated characters are Iron Man and Hawkeye, though Iron Man getting good development is hardly surprising. Iron Man is still his normal snarky self and is still perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr., while Hawkeye gets a surprising amount of development to the point where a significant portion of the movie is dedicated to him. The rest of the cast are fine, but Captain America is still his bland and uneventful self. I don't feel invested in him, but thankfully he doesn't do much in the movie.

As an action movie, I think the original film is a much better action movie, though Joss Whedon himself admits that this movie wasn't going to be a giant action movie. His intention was to make the movie a lot more psychological and focus more on examining the team dynamics, which the movie does beautifully. The team is strained like never before and we see exactly how each members views one another. We see Hulk and Iron Man bond while creating Ultron, Hulk and Black Widow develop a relationship, while Thor... just kind of goes off and does his own thing. Thor's purpose in this movie is to just set up the rest of the Marvel films. Still, from what we see, the relationships between each member is well defined and is the crux of the movie.

Getting back to the point at hand though, the action isn't as apparent as before, but when it's there, it's great. The heavily touted Hulkbuster fight is the best scene of the movie and is thrilling to watch. They're quips, buildings are decimated, and it lasts for a good five minutes. The final fight scene is enjoyable, but goes on for a bit too long for my tastes. It's a huge climax for the movie, but again, it feels like there's too much going on during it. We see every character during the final fight, but because the team is getting closer to double digits, it takes an eternity for any development to happen in the fight scenes.

It just struck me that I've been making the same complains in this review; It's too big and long for its own good. The MCU has expanded to the point where the Avengers films are going to have a huge amount of development and character in them. Hell, Infinity Wars is going to be a two part film now, most likely due to it being too immense to contain in a single film. Maybe I'm just complaining so much because I'm tired of superhero movies. Phase 3 has 10 films in it, DC is launching its own cinematic universe, and in the past two years I've seen enough superhero movies to last me a lifetime. I don't know how much longer I can last until the superhero genre bores me to the point where I don't even care that Marvel is doing Infinity Wars.

But that's neither here nor there. I need to judge Age of Ultron as it is and not for what it represents for the superhero genre. Still, the biggest feeling I get from walking away from Age of Ultron is that it's done way more than it should have. I don't feel disappointed, because what I've seen was still great and a ton of fun, but I felt drained after watching it. I felt like I had been through a marathon and that because the movie threw so much at me, not much has stuck to me. I still throw out quotes from the first movie like it was noboby's business. Loki catching the exploding arrow. "Puny God". Iron and Loki confronting each other. There were so many great moments in the first movie, but I struggle to think of any memorable lines in this movie.

The biggest shame about this review is that even though I've been writing this for quite a while now, I feel like I barely even scratched the surface of the movie. I feel like there's a thousand other points to discuss, dissect, and analyze, but I have no time for it. I have a gut feeling that a lot of people will love this movie and say that it lived up to every possible expectation, but I hate that I have to be the dissenting voice in this case. Again, I don't think that the movie is bad, but the MCU is getting too big for its own good. That is fairly evident given how big this movie is and how much has to be crammed in to make every fan happy. In that effect, by trying to make everyone happy and address every plot point and character, it weakens the movie as a whole. Sometime there's too big for its own good, and Age of Ultron is 100% too big. It's too big, but not in the way that made The Avengers memorable. The MCU needs to shrink, but that's not going to happen any time soon. I only wonder how much longer I can last until I burst from all of the superhero films.


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