Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

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The following is an extensive review of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Because of this, spoilers are guaranteed, so turn away if you don’t want it ruined for you.

The Avengers came out in 2012, and swiftly rose to become the third highest grossing movie of all time. It was critically well received too, scoring 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Naturally, this set very high expectations for the sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, again to be directed and written by Joss Whedon. (Note: The first installment also gave writing credit to Zak Penn, but that was not the case here.)

But Age of Ultron hasn’t had quite the same success. The movie seemed to have fallen short of financial analysts’ expectations, likely due to the Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight, although it seems that it is catching up for lost time. And the critics were somewhat less forgiving of the movie too, which hovers around the 75% mark.

Comparing the latest to the original, Age of Ultron didn’t have some of the advantages the first one did. There was a tremendous amount of hype caused by five prequel films that established and developed the “core four” characters; Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was tacked onto a couple of the movies, and while not totally developed then, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) was introduced in Iron Man 2 while Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) got winked at in Thor. Even the villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was pre-established.

As one can see, the stars for the first film were in alignment. No new characters were introduced. But the second Avengers movie differed greatly in this regard. It was larger in scope, introducing no less than four major characters and some fresh supporting cast, including arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (portrayed by Andy Serkis) who loses an arm to Ultron, likely setting the stage to become Klaw for Marvel’s Black Panther. The Avengers travel the world, and even deal with some political fall out for their actions. But while the first was fun and light, the sequel was considerably darker in tone in contrast to the first installment…

Age of Ultron


Characters

Characters have always been Director Whedon’s strength, and in Age of Ultron the old crew continues to shine. Early, we get a few great jokes and rib poking between the crew. From Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) shock of being warned about foul language by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) to the party jests and friendly vibes, the good times are great and enjoyable for all to watch, however short they last.

Four new and major characters share screen time in Age of Ultron. The first two were the fraternal twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, better known as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the talented Elizabeth Olsen respectively. The siblings held Tony Stark in contempt, after almost losing their lives to the weaponry his company built. The integration of Stark Enterprises in this manner is an excellent reminder about Tony’s past and how, despite his efforts to become a good guy, he still has plenty for which to atone. The twins are so interconnected that they’re effectively one character. While Pietro’s abilities prove to be a handful for the Avengers to deal with on their own during the fight scenes, Wanda’s telepathic abilities force dreams upon the main characters, paving the story telling path for the audience.

The results of this range from decent and important, to faulted. On the plus side, Tony Stark’s vision of the Avengers defeat sets the stage for the creation of Ultron, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) dream lead the Avengers to knowledge of the Infinity Stones (although the later bath scene was disjointedly added) and whatever Banner (Mark Ruffalo) saw led to an impressive show down between himself and Hulkbuster Iron Man. On the downside, Steve Roger’s continued affection for Peggy Carter didn’t really reveal anything new about him, and the discoveries about Natasha Romanoff seemed to cast a darker element without the payoff of insight that drives the plot.

UltronThen there was the troubling Ultron. Created by Stark to be the defender of earth, the protection they needed after the attack on New York in the first movie, Ultron’s construction makes complete sense. But while the origin story is effective and James Spader lends a particular charm to the antagonist, his motivation is weak.

During Ultron’s awakening, Jarvis’ attempts to welcome Ultron into existence sends our villain to read up on human history and immediately decides the human race must be removed to fulfill his objective. If the intention for his motivation was a logical assertion that humanity must be destroyed to protect the earth, then Ultron’s well developed understanding of sarcasm is rather inexplicable.

On that note, there was one phrase Ultron used to almost mock comic book movie tropes. When the Avengers meet Ultron in Ulysses Klaue’s hideout, Stark asks about Ultron’s intentions. “I’m glad you asked that, because I wanted to take this time to explain my evil plan,” Ultron replies and starts the fight. Two problems dog this line. First, while the villainous monologue is cliche and perhaps lazy, Ultron’s zeal remained under developed on the screen, and the tired trope would have been more effective than nothing.

The second problem is correlated, and wouldn’t exist had it not been for a line by Hawkeye towards the end of the film. During a tense moment, Clint tries to connect with the audience with the lines , “The city is flying! We’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow! None of this makes any sense!” But the statement effectively broke the fourth wall, and risked jarring the viewers out of the moment entirely, right at the film’s climax. The two lines build a case that perhaps Joss Whedon’s frustrations with Marvel were finding their way into the script, and risked harming the finished piece.

Among those grievances, Whedon also wanted to cast more characters including Spider Man and Captain Marvel. But the ensemble cast was already quite filled out and there was still one more to add; Vision, portrayed by Jarvis’ voice actor Paul Bettany. Created by a union of Jarvis, the Mind Infinity Stone and an android body made of Vibranium, Vision is a truly last minute addition to the Avengers who somehow manages to completely gain their trust with a two minute long talk, the results of which were slapdash and required a considerable suspension of belief to accept. To add anyone else is simply too much.


Relationships

hulk-blackwidowOne theme constantly explored in Age of Ultron is love interests. All of the core Avengers got a nod of some kind; Tony and Thor had an gentle ego driven face-off about their girls, Pepper Potts and Jane, at the celebratory party. During a hallucination brought on by the Scarlet Witch’s powers, Steve Rogers recalled Peggy Carter.

Best of all, Mr. Whedon invested a healthy dose of screen time establishing Barton/Hawkeye and his budding family. As there are no immediate plans to schedule Hawkeye for his own movie, to see him receive his due here makes one cheer for the little guy.

But then there is the big guy and a certain Ms. Widow.

The budding relationship between Romanoff and Banner (Mark Ruffalo) was not a highlight of the movie. It’s not that the relationship itself wouldn’t work; the characters had chemistry and weren’t without possibility. It was interesting to see Romanoff more vulnerable, such that even the bonhomie Captain acknowledged her attraction with a nod to their time together in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

But fans who saw The Incredible Hulk know of Bruce’s involvement with Betty Ross (then played by Liv Tyler). While some defenders of the move may rush to deny correlation between that Hulk movie and the current Avengers, they may forget the final, after credits scene where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) makes a brief appearance to speak with General Ross about the Avengers initiative.

Age of Ultron turned its back on that, and Betty went unmentioned. While it’s not hard to imagine Tony returning to his old ways perhaps, or the boisterous Thor acting without thinking, the introverted Dr. Banner is difficult to see as the philandering type. While everyone can relate to Banner’s loneliness, the absence of guilt isn’t becoming of the good doctor. At the very least, some acknowledgement of his former relationship would have helped. At most, some closure to connect the two movies in the greater continuum.

hulkbusterBut neither was offered, and the issue was compounded by a tongue-in-cheek jest calling the Hulk Buster armor “Veronica,” in reference to the love triangle of Archie Comics. Ignoring Bruce’s previous love life results in incoherent story telling, and feels as though it clashes with the dozen-movie strong universe.


The Verdict

After seeing The Avengers, one’s first instinct is often just to watch it again. To relish the fun and charm of these unlikely superheroes bickering and prodding one another until they realize just how high the stakes really are and banding together to save the world. It didn’t need dark and gritty.

Avengers: Age of Ultron however is something of a mess. It’s enjoyable for turning the brain off for two hours, but the fun doesn’t cling to the audience afterwards. The focus and Easter-eggs seem to rush into preparing the stage for a bigger battle, rather than focusing on the one at hand. Too many new characters are introduced, and trying to divide the time amongst them all equally proved to be a burden. While worth watching, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t the cause for celebration we had hoped it would be.

At least Daredevil was amazing this year.

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A Superhero Start

I’ve pretty much screwed up my New Year’s Resolution. I just finished cleaning up my submissions list and realized that although I got one in, I missed three windows in the process, one of which I had an idea for.

But I have to say that, given the projects I’ve been working on, it’s proven worth it.

With Far Worlds finished, I turned my eye back to story writing. My buddy Jonathan Ward shared a tale he was working on for a super hero publication. Andrew liked it a lot. I sat on it for as I wrapped up my novel synopsis for a certain indie game. But once I finished it, I gave Ward’s story an eye over. For whatever reason, the story excited us enough that Andrew and I decided to pitch stories as well.

What happened next was somewhat unexpected, but very awesome. After watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I had a conversation with Andrew, who had seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We talked about what Marvel was doing right versus Sony’s difficulties in story telling. The discussion got me thinking about our own short stories. So I went back to the publisher and Ward and asked permission to gently tie our stories together in the same universe, using distant details.

Ward gave it his blessing. The publisher was not only cool with it, but shot us a more interesting offer on top of it: Apparently, interest in the anthology was so high, he decided to try a quarterly. If we put together at least four authors doing at least four novellas, he’ll take a look with an eye to publish.

What happened next was very rapid. Two more buddies joined us, Robbie and Alec. Robbie had a test to take so couldn’t submit to this anthology. (Today as a matter of fact. If you’re reading this, good luck Rob.) Alec found time and after rolling over his initial idea, penned a strong short story that he submitted (bringing us up to four stories). Once done, we started swapping ideas and fleshing details out for these novellas and tying our heroes together.

Let me tell you. There is nothing quite so refreshing as having fellow authors you can bounce ideas off of.

Writers have a constant problem of half baked ideas. We’re plagued by them. Most of the time, the answer is to just jot the idea down and put it on the shelf to revisit later. Sometimes two halves combine to make a solid good one. Other times, we accumulate details to make that half-idea full.

But when you have a team and an open mind, a thought from one of your buddies can turn that unfiltered concept into something perfect. All of a sudden, those “near complete story” ideas are suddenly packed to the brim with rich details, subplots and fleshed our characters.

The other half of the good news is that it’s a group of novellas. Andrew and I tend to have a problem where our worlds grow. We don’t mean for them to, but short stories tend to become novelettes. Our work for Far Worlds, for example, became a little longer than it should have. Hanna teased us about that and she was right.

A novella is great practice in bridging the gap between short stories and novels. You have more elbow room to develop more characters. You can take your plot up a notch and have the word count to better explore the world. The other benefit is that it’s easier to find beta readers for. Finding friends to review a short story is not a big deal, as a short story should only take 15 to 30 minutes to read. Novels often take more than a reading and usually a few hours. But a novella might be just an hour or two.

So I’m really looking forward to the project, hanging with the guys and carefully tying our novellas together.

This Summer’s Biggest Hopes

“Busier than a grave digger on Armageddon*,” I told my friend Jonathan Ward. I have been bad and too focused on other projects to spend the 30 minutes it would take to review his short story he intends to submit. Fortunately, I finished and sent it last night, and the guys and I are rather excited about developments that we’ll announce a few months from now.

But now it’s time to think about the summer’s best trait: The blockbuster movies.

The summer started off just right, too. Friday night, I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier and I have to say that my faith in Marvel has been restored. Although I enjoyed The Avengers, I wasn’t absolutely floored by Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger. The first movie with our good Captain was pretty good but lost some steam towards the latter half. But The Winter Soldier really revived my interest, being darker and more thoughtfully inclined.

Despite the movie’s name, Captain America: The Winter Soldier didn’t feel like it had a central villain. The beauty was that instead of engaging one man, Steve Rogers fought an army, and an army has to be inspired by something great, something they believed in. A view, a vision of how the world ought to be. The movie was afraid to go into the depths of how each side defined things like freedom and control, which is reasonable to understand as you cannot do such a thing without risking proto-partisan philosophy. Things get intriguing when you loathe to admit that, on a few points, you actually agree with the villains even if you disagree with their methods.

The movie was just overall well done. Fine character development including the introduction of the awesome Falcon, fantastic action, a great story plot and the right mix of heart and head. It’s the right blend of superhero and spy.  You know, fans of Joss Whedon or The Avengers are probably going to hate me but… this was probably Marvel’s best movie. I wouldn’t want the next Avengers installment to be like this, but as long as we get great films like The Winter Soldier alongside the rest of the Marvel universe, I’ll be one happy fan.

So trust me. If Marvel’s movies have been sagging for you, the latest from the good Captain will put you back in the theaters. But with that out of the way, it’s time to talk about that which is upcoming.

Time for some film noir.

Time for some film noir.

Top Picks:

Wally Pfister’s Trancendence has my eye. Pfister has been Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer for sometime, but at last he goes out on his own in a movie with Rebecca Hall and Johnny Depp.

Edge of Tomorrow also has my eye. I can’t help it. No matter how you feel about him, I have to applaud Tom Cruise for…
1) Making the sci-fi movies I want to see.
2) Actually making an effort to make them relatively interesting and original.
3) Sparing no expense to make it look good.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For as this movie has been stuck in development hell for some nine years. But I’m really, really looking forward to it after all this time.

Guardians of the Galaxy simply because it’s a departure from almost everything we see from Marvel in every way.

The Giver is scarcely the first thing that comes to mind when people think of action blockbusters, but as it is based on a book I remember reading from my childhood, I am somewhat relishing the thought of seeing Jeff Bridges as the titular character.

And finally, although it’s a little after summer, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

Potentials:

Alright. So if I hear good things about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 I will probably check it out. It’s not that I’m against it, but it does feel like they’ve gone over and pushed too many villains into it again, without too much time to let them grow on the screen. We will find out.

X-Men: Days of Future Past because although I’m not much of an X-Men movie fan, I am a sucker for time travel stories.

Finally, I won’t get my hopes up for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but I’ll try to have an open mind.

*- A war torn world in the Warhammer 40k universe.

Costumes

POW! WHAM! BIFF! Biff?

POW! WHAM! BIFF! Biff?

So Halloween this year could seriously be a four day event. It falls on a Monday, and since Halloween is so popular, people will be celebrated it as early as Friday. Maybe even at Thursday’s happy hours.

Because of this, it would be a shame to make a single costume that I wear for three or four nights. So, I’m going to put together at least two costumes, possibly three.

I’ve taken to brain storming which costumes I’ll go as. I’m thinking one super hero and one funny, and the third as part of the group.

The superhero is going to be either Batman or Captain America. Either way, it’s going to take time to assemble. I can probably pull it off for less than $20 to $30.

How? First, I already have black combat boots which can work for either costume, although they may need some tweeking for Captain America. For Batman’s armor, I can cut shapes using cardboard, wrap them in duct tape which not only keeps them in place but also imparts a “roughness” to them. Then spray paint them in black.

Using this method, doing the arms and chest and shoulders will be easy. Doing the pants will be a challenge, but I’ll figure something out. A black sheet will take care of the cape, and finding a cheap belt to spray paint in gold will handle the utility belt.

Only problem is the face. The ears, no problem. If I really want to go crazy with this, I can probably make a mask out of paiper-mâché. It maybe best to do a combination, using cardboard to handle the ears and the straight portion of the nose, and then paiper-mâché to handle the curves of the face.

If it looks good I’ll write a how-to guide so people who like to put effort into their costumes. It’s going to be a great year. I think for my funny costume, I’ll be going as the Bitch Hunter. Mom would be so proud, and Will Ferrell is probably going to sue me.

Halloween

Yes, Halloween is a month and a half away. Guess what? I don’t care.

Fact is, I love Halloween. Dressing up, being goofy, funny and scary. There is no finer way to celebrate the autumn season than with the clash of colors and fun I get from a great Halloween night. This year however, Halloween falls on a Monday, so it’s effectively going to be a four day celebration. People will dress up on Friday right through to Monday. For me, that means I can do up to four costume ideas. The ol’ gear box in my head is cranking and thinking up of a few ideas.

In the mean time, I’ve taken to rereading some tales from the Old World, including Mathias Thulmann, Witch Hunter trilogy by C.L. Werner and the Blackhearts Omnibus by Nathan Long. The Warhammer Fantasy universe is far more Halloween-esque than its 40k counterpart. Why? I guess it’s because it’s less science focused and more mythical, and the colors I often see of it include more browns and oranges. The monsters tend to be more traditionally scary, like the undead, skaven and orcs. If I recall from the Witch Hunter trilogy opening, C.L. Werner is a huge Halloween fan. And something about it shows through his work. I’ll be posting reviews of these omnibuses soon enough.

Captain America? Batman? Or… would I dare go as Thulmann himself? Warhammer fans might know me, but other people would be lost. Unless of course, I could tie the idea into this oldie genius skit from Saturday Night Live. Or, this guy:

What could possibly go right?