What I'm Watching: Avengers - Age of Ultron
It's been a long time coming. After the blockbuster appearance of the Avengers, something no one thought would ever be possible, we had to wait three years for the next installment of the team's adventures.
Since then we've had Iron Man throw away his arc reactor and have his house wrecked. We have traveled to Asgard for a second visit, and took Jane Foster along for the ride this time. We got officially introduced to the Infinity Stones. We watched as SHIELD fell and Hydra rose. We guarded the galaxy with Peter Quill, a talking raccoon and a stoic tree, amongst others. We got to meet Thanos up close and personal. ...I may have marathoned every single Marvel movie over the last week and a half.
And here we are, Age of Ultron.
It's gonna be pretty clear, but just to say it right up front because sometimes my opinion gets lost in the criticisms; I loved this movie. LOVED it. Probably more than the original movie, but more equally, and in different ways.
As I said somewhere in my thoughts on Avengers the first, the movie is a great *experience* but the actual plot always felt a little lacking. It's pretty standard stuff, albeit done VERY well. And packed with so much fanservice and really good action that you don't really realise the flaws for much later. And it's still enjoyable, but it's very much a big popcorn movie with some great stuff in there. I still grin like a fool watching all those moments, I still catch myself squeeing when I see Thor and Cap and Iron Man ON SCREEN TOGETHER for the 'first' times, doing things we never thought we'd see. But the villains were always the weak link. Yes, Loki is a great character, and Hiddleston played him so so well, but he always felt like he was more of a pawn (And he was, to be fair) and more there to have there be a threat, than anything else. And having his characterless drone army of aliens didn't help any.
Now, with Age of Ultron, I didn't find quite as many of those "Yeee!" moments. In some ways, that's because we've been here before. And that's not a bad thing. There's still moments of powers being used creatively together, they just don't QUITE have that same impact. But that doesn't make them bad. There was no way a *second* Avengers movie would capture the same sort of magic of "This is something we've never seen before and this is actually happening!!"
I quite honestly found Ultron to be a MUCH MUCH more compelling villain than Loki was in the first Avengers. He has his entire story here in this movie, it's HIS show, and he brings such a unique worldview and philosophy to the movie that he is a much more rounded character. Loki's plan always felt like, "Eh, because reasons and I have daddy issues", while Ultron has a very compelling and reasonable reasons for the whys of everything he's doing. And sure, Ultron ALSO has his own army of characterless drones, but it is at least sensible here, since that is all they EVER were, they're robots, Tony's Iron Legion drones. It echos the first movie almost to the point of being redundant, but makes SO much more sense that it's okay to me. The Chitauri were supposed to be this alien race, with their own culture and whatnot, but instead were just cannon fodder. Here, the Iron Legion is the same thing, and that's okay. It's a fine distinction, and the armies are almost identical, yet somehow I like one and scrunch up my nose at the other. It somehow identified a problem with the first movie's narrative, didn't really change it, per se, but still improved on it.
Which is very much how I felt for the whole movie. This is exactly what I want from a sequel. A reunion with 'friends', bigger than the first, but not repeating the first. Too many sequels look at the gigantic successes of their predecessors and go, "Hmm, we need to replicate that exactly, don't mess with anything!" I always point to Austin Powers, where the second movie does almost all the exact same jokes, to the point where you can almost see someone off camera with a checklist making sure they hit the marks each time.
And yes, I can hear you all now pointing at my earlier paragraph and saying, "But Jason!" and I *know* what I said. There is some reuse of ideas. But with any big summer action movie, you are bound to get the typical cannon fodder army. This movie used that to its advantage though, and used an antagonist that it made sense with. And sure, there's a few moments of similarity, but they are few and far between, and Age of Ultron takes more of its own direction rather than following blindly in the footsteps of the first movie. Which yes, we could probably argue about back and forth, and I don't think either side would be entirely wrong, or right. I land on the side where the uniqueness outweighs the copying.
Sadly, like most big action movies with long runtimes, this movie had a lot cut for time. Even if I didn't know that going in, I could have told from the story structure. Too often things just happen, like Thor's entire plotline feeling rather tacked on and quickly rushed. As is the case, I'm sure most of the cut scenes are character moments, and it's a shame that those are always the first to go, because the studios want their big action sequences. If we care about the characters, we care more about the action, no matter how over the top or silly it is, because we're invested in the people. Still, there's enough there that it's not totally devoid of character. The very long 'revels' scene after retrieving the scepter is great, serves to be really good downtime, everyone gets a nice little moment, and sets up the cast nicely.
The same goes for Clint's farm, where everyone retreats to when things are bleak and they need to stay off the radar. Part of me wanted to hate the idea of Clint having a family, because I come from the land of comics, where is family is known as Mockingbird. Yet they really one me over, and helped make Clint that much more human. I suspect Joss went, "Yes, I know Clint had a rough time and wasn't himself for the first 90 minutes of the other movie, this is gonna be ALL about him!"
I also loved that there was some good turnaround and callback with Clint and mind-control too. This time, the entire team gets taken out with it, EXCEPT Clint, and he stops the threat. AND I loved that this was a true sequel, in that a lot of the junk leftover from the first movie was what was used to start things bubbling for this movie, like Loki's scepter, the Chitauri, and their giant spaceworm.
Which leads me to the characters. While the plot gets kicked off by Stark and his plotting, and the big three are always around, this movie very much planted the focus on the other characters. You know, the gang that doesn't have their own franchises yet to explore their issues and characters. Which is 100% the right decision. Cap, Thor, and Tony have their own movies to deal with their own PTSD or whatever. Let's use the lesser characters in the Avengers to tell THEIR stories, since they don't have the forum. The comics did this, and it is great to see the movie doing this.
Back to Ultron, man did Spader do a great job. I loved that they used his voice for the Iron Legion, before they were corrupted and Tony's willing drones. It made for a logical evolution, and didn't have Ultron's voice be created out of nowhere. It was there all along. But still, Spader is Spader, and it was hard not to picture Reddington from The Blacklist going against the Avengers half the time. Still, the quips were funny, and if your dad is Tony Stark, it makes sense. I especially loved when Ultron would get fractured and flustered and almost spit and sputter because he had too many things all trying to come out of his mouth at once, from his plans to his hatred of Tony, to everything else. It weirdly humanised him, and was such a great touch to see this usually eloquent robot just lose his cool and have moments where he couldn't get the words out, he was THAT emotional.
INFINITY GEMS INFINITY GEMS INFINITY GEMS EVERYWHERE!! Loved *actually* seeing them as gems, the truth behind all their other forms we've seen, and setting up the future. And I geeked out every time someone *actually said* "gem" instead of Stone. They still call them the Infinity Stones overall, but slipping in 'gem' on occasion, well...there's my fanservice for Avengers 2, really. That, Wakanda, Klaw (Who is now set up nicely to follow in his comic counterpart's footsteps!), and even tiny moments like it being Vision rescuing Wanda Maximoff...yeah, there was still quite a few good moments of those sorts.
Ahh, the twins. They were fun. I know people are unhappy with the race of the people cast, and their heritage, and being experimented on by Nazis, and that's all fair points, but I still really enjoyed the characters as we got them. We rushed maybe too quickly past their shifting motivations and it was hard to get a feel on just why they were doing things sometimes, but that's clearly one of the things that got left behind. Pietro may not have been quite as flashy or with quite the same amazing scenes as he got in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but I loved his snarky, know it all attitude, it felt very much of the character.
As did Hawkeye's added screentime, and his own quips. I'm sure some Hawkeye fans will disagree, but I thought Clint was very much inline with who I feel he is, and he had one of the most Clint moments I've seen.
Now, there's been a lot of complaints that the movie is a mess, with too much going on, but I never quite found that to be true, outside of my previous comments that they breeze by some plot points, such as the fate of Baron Strucker. While yes, the movie has a LOT going on, and things maybe flashed by at a breakneck pace a bit too frequently, I never felt like I lost the plot or wasn't sure what was going on, which was an issue I had with Loki's machinations in the first movie. He seemed to be more motivated by 'the character needs to do this for the plot', while this time, everything felt like it made sense, and was going somewhere, even if it was going too fast sometimes.
Part of the problem, and this is no complaint, is all the cameos. It packs in so many faces, and it's great and daunting at the same time. It's great to give it that universal feel, but also there's SO many people who are only there and then gone. It can be a bit much. This movie picks up on threads from nearly every single Marvel movie and references them, and nudges many of them forward. I know that's been another complaint by other reviews and people, hey want Avengers 2 to 'be its own movie' but not me, I really enjoyed that they are celebrating that this is a shared universe, they all exist alongside each other. And nowhere did that feel more apparent than in this movie. Age of Ultron solidified that this truly is a shared universe, IMO, and if that means maybe having a few quick cameos, well, I'm willing to make that sacrifice.
So, it's not a perfect movie, and it was never going to be. It's a huge summer blockbuster. But they did probably the best job of serving all their masters here; from the fans, to the money people, to the plots, to the larger picture, and everything else. It took everything I loved not just about the first Avengers, but from the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and upped the game, while actually telling a good adventure story with great action and a compelling, interesting villain.
If the plot rushes by a bit too fast, well...that is a problem, but hopefully one that can be corrected on the home video release. I honestly think this is as much a problem of wanting to not have people in the theatre forever, and also an issue of the limitations of IMAX. I know there's a runtime limitation there, and I kinda hate that we're limiting movies from breathing and being what they want to be, because of that. But THAT is another rant entirely.
So yeah, I loved Avengers: Age of Ultron, although it's far from perfect, and it's not the best MCU movie, but good gods was it a GREAT ride and delivered on so much of the promise of everything that came before, that I can forgive it the small slips it made.
OH and one last thing? Joss? That final moment before the credits? I HATE YOU SO MUCH!! Freakin' tease!! (But I did love seeing the New Avengers facility, and the new team with some familiar faces, expanding that universe inch by inch!)