Too far in a few places: Age of Ultron

Somewhere out there, in the myriad of possible universes, exists a 3 hour version of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I wish that universe were this one, because I’d love to see that movie. What exists, what we have on our hands here, it’s impossible not to see as more a series of compromises than an actual film. More a game of chicken between a director and a studio, the Cave versus the Farm and so forth.

That old saying, about how a good compromise is one that leaves both parties equally dissatisfied? That’s this movie in a nutshell.

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All it really needed was room to breathe, and maybe for them to not shove a Black Widow/Hulk romance down our throat. (How do I ship that, even? Banneroff? Bulk?)

But mostly breathing room. Keep in mind, this is a movie that insists on introducing three new heroes (the Vision and the Maximoff twins,) three villains (Ultron, Ulysses Klaw and Baron Von Hydra), six action set-pieces (Hydra base battle, Party battle, First Ultron battle – Africa, Hulkbuster battle, Second Ultron battle – Korea, and Final Ultron battle to end all battles battle – Sokovia) two dream sequences and a love story invented out of whole cloth. Sprinkle in a few cameos (Falcon, War Machine, Stan Lee, that guy from Winter Soldier who wouldn’t launch the Helicarriers) and then try to cram it into less than two and a half hours to maximize ticket sales, and what you wind up with is kind of a mess.

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Seriously though, Helicarrier Guy is the best.

So if not breathing room, then restraint. Resist the urge to make your sequel so much bigger and betterer than the original, because that’s the kind of Promethean hubris that can derail your film franchise faster than you can say Amazing Spider-man 2. Did this movie really need to shoehorn in Klaw to set-up the Black Panther movie? Maybe, and maybe in the long run this decision will bear out as a genius move. But I would have taken one less action sequence just to have that stuff with Thor in the cave make sense.

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And normally I’m not the sort to argue about a topless Thor; indeed, it’s my preferred mode of Thunder God. But it’s just so random and weird and forced and awkward and obviously intended to set up future films, that it begins to come off as a cynical cash-grab.

Which it is, and believe me, I’m not naive enough to think these movies exist for any other reason than to make an insane amount of money. But it’s like after the monumental success of the first Avengers movie, the studio just lost their mind and forgot that it was a great film first and a money-maker second.

But even though it is not the greatest movie ever made, and a lot of – dare I say – mistakes were made in the execution, there’s still something to be said for the ambition at play here. I like ambition. You know what else I like:

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Tiny heads on giant bodies.

Fucking Hulkbuster, that’s what. I feel like this entire sequence was kind of trailer bait, but so what. It worked. I was always going to see this thing, in theatres, multiple times, but damn if I didn’t swoon a bit seeing glimpses of this battle in the trailer.

I also really liked – and perhaps I should have led with this – was the ongoing saga of Tony Stark is actually batshit insane. Seriously though, what we have here is another chapter in the Choices and Consequences of Tony Stark. He’s still very much ruled by the events of the first Avengers and I like that. If you’re going to build a realistic comic book universe, and then have aliens invade, well then that should have consequences, and it very much does. Yeah, Wanda Maximoff definitely gives him a little nudge at the beginning, but the seeds of his fear – the fear that leads him to create Ultron – are already there. You can also see a direct correlation between the final fight in Iron Man 3 and the Iron Legion here. It’s just more of that juicy shared-universe continuity that makes these movies greater than the sum of their parts.

Hey, speaking of shared continuity, does anyone remember Betty Ross?

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Betty Who?

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Oh, right, the white shirt in the rain.

I mean, the movie remembers her (I can’t think of any other reason the Hulkbuster was code-named ‘Veronica’), but no one else appears to. And for the record, I don’t object to Banneroff (Bulk?) on principal, and I can even squint my eyes a bit and see how the pairing could work: besides attractive people being attracted to each other being the most natural thing in the world, her explanation to him at the party makes sense; and for him, she’s in his peer group of super-people, which probably takes a lot of the edge off. (Although, Bruce, I would seriously consider the potential ramifications of dating someone named Black Widow. I would.)  Still, a throwaway line and a continuity nod to the former love of his life would have been appreciated, is all. Something to tell me I didn’t waste my time in re-watching the Incredible Hulk. Even though I obviously wasted my time re-watching the Incredible Hulk.

So while the romance itself didn’t bother me, I was annoyed by the insinuation that they would run away together and quit the Avengers and leave someone else to deal with the homicidal, freakishly powerful, killer robot bent on genocide. I thought that felt a little out of left field, and it isn’t helped by a simpering, gag-me-with-spoon line delivery from Scarlett Johansson:

I’m running with it… with you. If running’s the plan… as far as you want.”

Seriously, look at that final fight beside the doomsday trigger – they needed everybody for that. If they had bailed, everyone on the planet would have died; not that it was even remotely believable that they would bail, so why was this even in the movie? I would gladly have taken a bit more explanation on what was happening in that cave. What was happening in that cave?

You know what else I would have trimmed down? That whole farmhouse scene. I gotta side with the studio on this one, that went on way too long. I mean, there was stuff in that i liked:

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This, mostly.

And the Heroes in Hiding After a Crushing Defeat is a time-honored trope that I can get behind. That being said, besides forcing in a romance that nobody wanted or asked for, all the Farm does really is solidify the inescapable fact that Hawkeye is the blandest, boringest super hero of all time. Were there even any doubters on that score?

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Not anymore.

So you can turn your brain off and enjoy this movie, that’s the good news. It even has a halfways-decent score to help facilitate the mindless entertainment, thanks the addition of legendary composer Danny Elfman to the proceedings. The bad news is that Age of Ultron is – and it hurts me to say it – a flawed, bloated, rushed, mess of a movie. Leaps in logic are made to get the heroes where they need to be for their action sequences, a lot of character development is left at the wayside in favor of… less compelling character development (seriously, Thor and Cap get shafted in this film, with the latter in particular given nothing really to do but fight). And it’s unfortunate, because there’s a great film in here, somewhere. I loved the idea of Ultron, the global threat of him in a world where the internet rules almost every aspect of our lives. I liked that he had a bit of his maker in him, even if that didn’t really make a lot of sense. (In the comics, Hank Pym creates Ultron from his own brainwaves, resulting in a villain that has a lot of his mannerisms. Here, that explanation doesn’t really work. I mean, Jarvis isn’t like Tony, so why… never mind.)

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And I thought James Spader’s performance was one of the highlights of the film: the snark, the menace, the humanity. Despite being a robot (android? A.I.?), Ultron is one of the most human villains we’ve ever seen in the MCU and I could have happily spent more time in his company, at the expense of, say, an unnecessary romance or Hawkeye’s painfully boring domestic life.

So in the final analysis, Age of Ultron, a film I obsessed over prior to it’s release, for which I sought out trailers and articles, interviews and spoilers (I even live-streamed the red carpet premier like a loser) gets a C-, or, in keeping with my unconventional ratings scale, 6 cities falling out of the sky out of 11. It’s a credible addition to the greater MCU, but forgot to be it’s own movie for the greater part of it’s own movie. It’s fine, I mean, it’s okay; but it’s just okay. You know who can get away with being just okay? Thor movies. That’s about it. When it comes to the Avengers, these culminations of a buildup over multiple movies, well, the expectations are high. Too high, in this case, which made the let down all the more painful.

One final note: what the hell is going on with the Hulk in these movies? Like, what is actually going on?

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At the end of Incredible Hulk it’s implied that he’s gained control of his ability to change, except that in Avengers it’s clear he hasn’t, except at the end when he apparently has (that would be the “I’m always angry” line), except in this movie where he has, but he needs Black Widow to be the Hulk whisperer, except at the end when he uses a touchscreen to end a facetime call and then calmly sits in the Quinjet and flies off into the sunset.

Normally I wouldn’t complain about internal consistency in comic book movies, except that, of course I would, and that’s also the entire point of the MCU. I look forward to this being explained in Thor: Ragnarok, by which I mean this had better be explained in Thor: Ragnarok. Otherwise I might have to smash something.

 

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