By Matthew McKibben | April 30, 2015
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, Claudia Kim, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy
One film, two critics, Avengers: Age of Ultron reviewed via G-Chat by Matthew McKibben and Linc Leifeste:
Matthew: I want to get a few things out of the way up front. Although I’m a person who prefers the more grounded DC Cinematic Universe to the more light and fun Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m a huge fan of what Marvel has done with their movie properties. The fact that they’ve turned their 2nd and 3rd tier heroes into household names is nothing short of miraculous and they deserve all the respect I can give them. While I am not a huge fan of Iron Man 3, I give the rest of their movies “B” and “A” grades. If you really think about it, the first Avengers should have not worked at all. All that being said, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a bit of a mess, although a big, fun, loud mess.
Linc: Yeah, you and I have sort of danced around having the DC versus Marvel discussion a number of times. And if we have to be labeled, I’d say you’re a DC guy and I’m a Marvel guy (although I think I’m probably less invested in the whole thing than you might be). But truth be told, what I’ve learned from the ever-increasing output of superhero movies is that, as much as I grew up loving comic books and dreaming of seeing some of my favorite characters on the big screen, superhero movies aren’t really my bag. Especially ultra-dark, brooding, serious superhero movies like DC has been putting out and “epic CGI-filled space villains-destroying-population-centers but ultimately being defeated by a band of super powerful good guys” like Marvel has been doing with the Avengers movies. So this film was ultimately just too big, too busy and too loud for me. And then there’s the problem with the film trying to set up/advertise future films instead of just telling its own story. That said, it was still a lot of fun, at least when my eyes weren’t glazing over from sensory overload.
Matthew: If the movie theater is a lunchroom cafeteria, Marvel is the table with the jocks everyone’s gravitating around while the DC table is the one with kids with painted black nails and Metallica t-shirts. I’ve made peace with that. I get what you’re saying about the movie being big and busy. That sensory overload thing is 100% real in this movie. I read a review where someone compared Avengers: Age of Ultron to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. Joss Whedon’s certainly crafted a better movie than Michael Bay’s Transformers, both in terms of story and how the action is displayed on screen, but they’re kind of similar in wanting to jam pack as much visual data as they can on screen. Watching the Transformers robots fight in the Bay films resembles what it might be like if you ever tried to put tin foil down a garbage disposal while Hans Zimmer’s brass section wails in your ear. Whedon’s grasp of action is certainly more nuanced and entertaining than that. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much visual data one’s brain can take at any given point before you kind of just tap out. I found myself making a conscious decision to say “Okay, I’m just going to focus on what Hawkeye is doing in this scene. I’ll check out what Thor’s doing in this scene the next time I watch it.” On top of everything else, each character is basically doing money shot action move after money shot action move. Who needs to just punch a robot to defeat it when you can throw your shield through its head?
Linc: So is this a movie that you expect will garner repeated viewings for you? Because I’ll be honest, if I wasn’t the father of two young boys who are already clamoring to be allowed to see it, it’s probably not something I’d be likely to watch again. And come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve watched ANY of the current round of Marvel films more than once (unlike, say, Raimi’s Spider-Man films). And as further proof that my appetite for these movies is waning, I’ve not even seen Thor: The Dark World or Captain America: The Winter Soldier once.
Matthew: I already have tickets to see it again this week, and like you, am the father of two young kiddos who are also begging me to see it, so repeated viewings on some level are all but guaranteed at this point. I’m curious how my second and third viewing will sit with me. There’s so much going on in this movie that I feel like a second or third viewing is needed to be completely fair in my rating of it. DAMN YOU, DISNEY! But it certainly wasn’t a movie I left dying to immediately see again like happened with the first Avengers movie. If nothing else, this movie made me appreciate the standalone Marvel movies more, as they’re more focused and a little less epic. The Marvel standalone films, and even the first Avengers movie to a certain degree, all do a pretty credible job at giving you character motivations and reason for the action. This movie isn’t really concerned with letting these characters’ motivations inform the action, like they’ve done in the past. This movie isn’t concerned with holding your hand and explaining where these heroes are coming from. If the Marvel standalone movies are the homework, this is the final exam.
Linc: Speaking of multiple viewings, I would probably need two or three viewings just to try to make sense of the plot. Without giving away too much [Warning: plot content that might be considered by some to contain spoilers, follows], let me let me take a quick stab at a condensed version as I understood it after one viewing. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) wants the team to be able to disband to keep them safe so he’s been working on designing an army of robots to take the Avengers’ place, leading to the creation of a robot with artificial intelligence, Ultron, who immediately attempts to destroy humanity by sucking up a chunk of territory from somewhere in Europe and making it into a flying island? Oh, and to show his godlike nature, he’s also created his own creature, an android (or synthetic humanoid?), with one of those powerful crystals (Infinity stone?) implanted in its forehead, who becomes known as The Vision and turns out to be a good guy and ultimately helps the Avengers defeat Ultron and his army of robots while also rescuing every person and dog from the endangered floating island before it’s destroyed in battle. Oh and there are also a couple of new heroes, brother and sister Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who were initially fighting with Hydra against the Avengers but ultimately joined the Avengers. There’s also a subplot about the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) having the hots for each other. By the film’s end, the Hulk and Iron Man are ready to retire from “Avenging” and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) shows up a couple of times for some reason and he and the other Iron Man/War Machine (Don Cheadle) are going to be part of the Avengers going forward. Oh and that big purplish guy in the floating chair (Thanos?) is really mad about the Vision having that stone in his head and has plans to get it for himself. Did I miss anything?
Matthew: slow clap Summarizing that two and a half hour movie is no easy task, my friend. You hit it on the head. I’m sure in the novelization of the movie, that last chapter with all the new Avengers will be titled “The New Avengers Assemble while Marvel Negotiates New Contracts for the Original Cast.” Yeah, like I said, this movie is the Final Exam. They fully expect you to know who someone like Baron Strucker is because they don’t really have enough time in this movie to explain it. He’s a part of Hydra, Hydra is bad, let’s move on. That’s something I both like and dislike about the movie; it works as a larger story, not a self-contained one. Even though the first Avengers is a continuation of multiple storylines, I think most people could come into it relatively new and get it. I’m not so sure that’s possible here. I really liked the notion that Tony Stark’s vision of impending doom for his friends would bring out the worst in himself and that he’d go to extraordinary lengths to make something like Ultron (with the help of Bruce Banner). The idea that Ultron is a robot who combines Stark’s cockiness and Banner’s hidden appetite for destruction is probably the smartest part of the movie. My biggest issue is with Ultron himself. Casting James Spader to both voice and provide the movements for Ultron is an inspired choice, but one that didn’t fully work with me. I didn’t find Ultron all that menacing or intimidating. His design was mostly excellent (though it bugs me when robots have lips that move) and you believe he’s on screen, but the characterization didn’t work for me. It’s too, for lack of a better word, Spader-y. He’s the guy who terrorized teenagers in 80’s high school movies, not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Linc: Yeah, Spader/Ultron worked for me but his voice is so distinctive that I kept thinking of Spader every time Ultron spoke. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’d say overall I found myself mildly underwhelmed by the movie but the one thing I was most excited about coming in didn’t let me down, and that was the introduction of the Vision (Paul Bettany). For some reason, I picked up a comic as a kid in the late 70’s that had the Vision in it and I was immediately hooked. And I thought the film did a great job of presenting the character visually, with a striking appearance that’s pretty close to the look from the comics. And the way he was introduced in the film was pretty exciting. I found the character compelling, which is more than I can say about the other new characters. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch kind of fell flat for me.
Matthew: Paul Bettany is a fine actor, but a part of his strength as an actor is his blandness and that served the character well here. It’s probably not easy doing the part-robot, part-human thing and Bettany pretty much nailed it. I liked Scarlet Witch in this more than Quicksilver. X-Men: Days of Future Past set the Quicksilver bar extremely high and everything he did in this movie paled in comparison, sad to say. Perhaps Joss Whedon should have had more Jim Croce on the soundtrack.The Scarlet Witch stuff worked for me, despite Elizabeth Olsen’s proclivity to keep dropping her Russian accent. The scene where Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver stop the speeding train was one of the few scenes in the movie where I thought about clapping upon its conclusion. The single best action piece in the movie, though, was the Hulkbuster vs Hulk battle in Wakanda. I’ll admit that it was the scene I was most worried based off the trailers, but the scene was fun and kicked an enormous amount of ass. If this movie nailed any character stuff, it’s the Bruce Banner – Tony Stark as dueling mad scientists, and that kind of comes to a wonderful head as they destroy that city.
Linc: I’m with you on the whole “Scarlet Witch > Quicksilver” thing. And also, I’m no dialect/accent expert, but I found Olsen’s accent to be literally painful. And as a longtime fan of the Black Panther, just the mention of Wakanda is exciting to me. So yeah…the more we talk about this the more likely I am to actually pay attention when my boys are watching it repeatedly in the not too distant future (I said earlier I’d not see any of the Marvel movies more than once…not completely true as we own The Avengers and have watched it on family movie night several times…I’ve just not paid full attention throughout). You know, I feel like we’ve probably out-talked the attention span of our average reader at this point. Any points we’ve not hit upon that you’re eager to talk about?
Matthew: Let’s see…I’m not a huge fan of how they’ve given Black Widow and Bruce Banner/Hulk a romantic subplot, but it is the arc in the movie that has the biggest payoff and most intimacy. Just once I’d like to see a woman character in one of these movies that isn’t lusted after. After Tony Stark lusted after her in Iron Man 2 and she got a little hot and heavy with Cap in The Winter Soldier, the last thing I wanted to see was her as a romantic foil for yet another Avenger. I think it betrays her character a bit. The Hulk stole the show in the first Avengers, but the second movie really is the Hulk’s movie, ultimately. At least he’s the character I most associate with in this. Most of the Avengers stay pretty even throughout this, but Bruce Banner/the Hulk’s storyline really has a beginning, middle, and end. You can tell where they’re going with tension between Iron Man and Captain America, but I don’t know that the tension between the two characters really pays off in this. They certainly have more work to do before they get to them duking it out in Civil War next year. Hawkeye’s story doesn’t really connect with me here, but I love the idea that we might get a standalone story showing his family and his backstory. I definitely appreciate the idea that Joss Whedon had a monumental task before him with this movie, so despite my misgivings on the movie, I applaud him for attempting to give the various characters in this story arcs that do the characters justice. So yeah, on the whole, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a bit of a mixed bag, but one that ultimately works more often than it doesn’t.
Linc: Agreed for the most part, although I think my tolerance level for epic superhero movies has about been reached. I can only handle so many shots of guys in tights getting in three-point stances before or after jumping into action. I think from here on out I’ll try to limit my superhero watching to Netflix’s Daredevil and characters along those lines and leave the CGI-filled films featuring battles against robot/alien armies to someone more appreciative.
Matthew: Yeah, truth be told my biggest gripe about this movie is that it’s ultimately another movie where the Avengers battle a large, faceless army that I care nothing about. The final battle in Avengers: Age of Ultron is essentially the Chitauri battle from the first movie, only now they’re mindless robots that can be ripped apart and dismembered. I’m not done with these types of movies, but I’m feeling the exhaustion from them. I need more intimacy in these battles. If I don’t care about the robots, then I’m basically just watching a PG rated zombie movie. I hope that Avengers 3 is more about “major villain vs major hero” and doesn’t instead become another movie of characterless CGI armies invading Earth.
Rating: 7.5/10 (Matthew), 7/10 (Linc)