(For general information on my movie rating system, especially regarding adaptations, click here.)
I finally saw Avengers: Age of Ultron (hereafter AoU). I know I’m behind the times a bit on this, and if you stick with me and my movie blogs, you’ll find that I almost always am. In the words of the great Jedi Master Yoda: “When two young children and a wife you have, see many movies, you will not, mmm?” But the good news is, you’re likely to have seen it by now, so you’ll know what I’m talking about in the article, and you’ll be able to argue with me more effectively in the comments section below.
THINGS THAT DISTRACTED ME
- Too many characters. This is something that, to a certain extent, has always turned me off to the Marvel Universe, going as far back to my childhood relationship with their comics. While the broad range of characters and plot threads can be a fun saga from time to time, it can become overwhelming and discouraging to someone who can’t keep up with the 10,000 different things you have to pay for in order to do so. (I’ve gone into this topic in detail in my “Howard the Duck” article.) At any rate, the problem is particularly pronounced in a movie. There just isn’t room for all these characters and all these plot threads in 2 hours. You can’t keep track of all them, and thus, you quickly stop caring about any of them.
- Lack of character cohesion. Another thing I’ve always thought is weird in comic culture are these disjointed “teams” that they try to sell us, like the Avengers or the Justice League. Not only do they spend half the film snoringly fighting each other, but since they all hail from vastly different backgrounds and possess radically different powers, these characters don’t seem to have anything that resembles collectiveness. They don’t even have matching costumes. Now my wife will probably argue with me and point out that soldiers in the army all come from different backgrounds and have different talents, but look how much I love Saving Private Ryan (and I do). To which I respond thusly: (1) Soldiers in the army have uniforms. At least they look like they belong together. (2) Far more importantly: soldiers in the army train together and learn battle tactics that require cohesion and coordination of disparate talents across ranks. Even in the midst of the chaos of war, there is some discernible method at play behind the madness. In AoU, there’s just the madness. The only exception to
this is the tendency for every other character to take a turn playing with Captain America’s shield—which is, in fact, a pretty badass tactic… So why isn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. or Tony Stark or somebody mass producing Vibranium shields for everyone?
Hard to take seriously. There’s a whole lot of banter between the characters throughout the movie. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, and it’s usually something that Joss Whedon uses to good effect. This time, though, it’s too much. Banter is something that belongs in the first act of a film, establishing camaraderie between the characters. But if the tone is meant to be menacing or threatening, especially at a global level (which Ultron at least seems to want to be), then banter needs to decrease in frequency beyond the first act, until it is almost or entirely absent from the most critical, climactic scenes. In AoU, the heroes, and even the villain, are cracking-wise the entire way through. My dad used to call these lines “little Jimmies,” after their habitual use by James Bond. The problem is, as long as characters are spouting little Jimmies in the middle of a life-or-death scenario, I’m afraid I’m just not convinced that it’s a life-or-death scenario. (And is it just me, or did James Spader as Ultron sound more like Seth MacFarlane as Brian?)
THINGS THAT TOTALLY ABSORBED ME
- Character development for Bruce Banner/Hulk. This is the one exception to the gripe I made above about not caring for so many characters. They did choose one character—or two, if you count his dynamic with Black Widow—to focus on, and that was the Hulk. I don’t know if I feel this way because I am biased, but Mark Ruffalo was much more interesting this time as Bruce Banner. His internal struggle with his identity and his affliction were much more pronounced than they were in the first Avengers movie—almost a restoration of the emotional conflict we got to explore with Edward Norton’s or Bill Bixby’s portrayals. Moreover, the sheer beastliness of the Hulk in this film was exciting, terrifying, and more profound than the “friendly ogre” persona he had in the first film.
- My son’s excitement. Far and away, this was the best part of watching AoU. While I watched with a critical eye, none of the things that were distracting to me was even a thought to my son. Plagues of growing up, I suppose. You won’t be surprised to know that I can’t hear the jingle bell anymore, either. But it was such fun watching him get excited at every scene, listening to him gasp and mutter “…Hulkbuster…” when Tony dons the suit; listening to him bust up laughing or shouting at the TV like some avid football fan. So despite the gripes I had, AoU definitely delivered the goods in terms of blockbuster, popcorn-shoveling family fun. And really, this quality should not be understated, since fun and entertainment remain the bedrock of American cinema culture. Bedrock? Or should I say Infinity Stone?
What did you think of Avengers: Age of Ultron? Did it live up to your expectations? How does it measure up for you against the other projects in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? And most importantly, who’s your favorite super-hero?