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.

Thoughts on Robocop

This photo was taken for the new Robocop movie coming out. As you can see, the newly designed suit is not unlike the redesigned Batman suit of Nolan’s series of films. I’m not exactly sure what prompted the need to be different from the old silver suit worn by Peter Weller before Robert John Burke.

If you don’t need to be reminded, skip to the next section after…

Rebooting your Memories

The original Robocop was a strange, interesting conglomerate that satirizes commercialism, discussed unionization of police forces, internal corporation rivalry and exposed a world where the line between government and corporation was thinning. The financially strapped city government hires OCP, Omni-Consumer Products, to contract out the police force as a cost saving measure. OCP in turn, looks for ways to automate the labor, resulting in the revivial and cyborgization of one Alex Murphy.

The second movie was different on many levels, and in some ways is more interesting to talk about. The CEO of OCP had a new vision for how to handle Detroit: privatization. Basically, that meant turning an entire city into a home owner’s association. With the Detroit city government growing closer to defaulting on its debt to OCP, taking over of the city somehow becomes a possibility. Apparently, seizing a government somehow includes seizing everyone’s private property as well. Yeah, I don’t think that’s how the law really works.

This vision for Detroit can be seen as benevolent, but flawed by its methods. If they explore it again in the new movies, it would be a great way to shake up the tiring “profit hungry corporate mindset” of a villain.

With the police force still on strike against OCP, the corporation needs new volunteers to produce a bigger and better version of Robocop, their one success in a sea of failed prototypes. When Robo’s war on drugs happens to put drug lord Cain in police custody however, an OCP executive sees a chance to produce to a new prototype that she can control. Themes of the drug war, gentrification, public budgetary concerns and corporate image were all present, but these themes were not well explored.

The third involved a corporate take over just as OCP moves to seize control of Detroit. It involved robot ninjas. I think I’ll leave it at that.

A World to Mold

Robocop, formerly Alex Murphy, is a product of his setting. The world of Robocop’s Detroit is not unlike modern life, but differs on a simple key point. In reality, the government often comes after corporations waving a stick, and corporations in turn lobby and strike a deal (more often to their, not always our, mutual benefit) to calm the bureaucrats down. In Robocop’s world, the corporations have somehow near fully reversed the bureaucratic-food-chain, and have the government by the cojones.

In this shaky situation, a figure like Robocop can have dozens of variations, as he tries to walk a line between respect for private rights while upholding the public good. While justice is a rock, hard and unyielding, law is the wind, changing direction to match the times, so what is to be done in the face of sometimes contradictory legal arrangements? And the question must be asked as to whether he is man or machine by legal definition, for the outcome of which defines him as person or property.

In the second movie, others resisted becoming a robot cop. But Murphy survived the complexities of his psychological arrangement in that his original raison d’etre was to be a cop and a believer in law and order to begin with. But that is not to say he didn’t have his own internal struggles as his directives conflicted with his past life as father and husband.

There is a lot of depth here to explore beyond the ultra-violence of the original comics. And to that effect, the new Robocop movie seems to have enlisted some intriguing talent. Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton are all thrown around on the IMDB listing. But the titular role is left to Joel Kinnaman, formerly of AMC’s The Killing.

I certainly hope they intend to Nolanize the Robocop series, at least in the psychological way. But I do miss the familiar silver suit of the Tin Cop.