Monday, May 4, 2015

[REVIEW] Avengers: Age of Ultron


Spoiler Warning: The Full review contains some very minor spoilers, most are hinted at or explicit in the trailers for the films, but if you want to remain spoiler free I suggest only reading the short review. 

Short Review
Age of Ultron is entertaining and promblematic in all the same way as the first Avengers movie. I liked it, but I’m also glad this is Joss Whedon’s last Marvel film. Bring on the age of the Russo brothers!

Full Review
The fear of sequel slump looms large for Age of Ultron considering the success of the first Avengers’ film. There’s a lot of ways to go wrong and very few ways to do it right. On the whole Age of Ultron does it right. It plays it safe with a good mixture of humor and action, but then also goes a step further by exploring the characters.

The first Avengers film centered around the question “can these superheroes really be a team?” The answer was yes, the opening sequence of Age of Ultron echoes it. We seen the Avengers at their best, working together they’re an unstoppable force. There’s even a joke about in the dialogue. 

So with the team established and stronger than ever, the new question asked in Age of Ultron is “what is the difference between heroes and monsters?” This question is the hidden genius that elevates Age of Ultron beyond a paint-by-numbers action comedy sequel, and sets the tone for Marvel Phase Three.

Ultron himself is the embodiment of crossing the line between superhero and monster. He’s a powerful AI created to protect the world, who turns into one of the most powerful villains the Avengers have ever faced. This perversion of good intentions, along with a dash of Scarlett Witch’s powers, forces each Avenger to question their own humanity. The answer is the underlining message of the film. 

In the age of super powers the difference between heroes and monsters is compassion and respect. Two qualities perfectly embodied in the new character Vision, who provides a powerful reminder for the entire Avengers team. Heroes defend the powerless, while Monsters seek to control them.

This theme is echoed through out the movie, in good ways and bad. I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of stuff in this movie that annoyed the shit out of me. Like a romantic subplot that dominated Natasha’s story arc and felt like a huge step backward after all the amazing character development in The Winter Soldier. To be clear, I don’t have an issue with Natasha having a romantic subplot, and I actually like who she’s paired up with. (I’ve shipped it since the first Avengers film) I have a problem with the execution of it being one of the most cliche superhero tropes, that is not only sexist, but cissexist. TRIGGER WARNING! 

The issues don’t stop there. The only other women from the original Avengers film, Maria Hill, is relegated to a personal assistant, and is the butt of a gross objectifying joke about her being at the center of a tug-o-war between Tony and Fury. Add on top of this the notable absence of the other women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jane and Pepper. Who are only mentioned in a joke where they are tokens of achievement for their significant other, Tony and Thor, to use in a pissing contest. While, Wanda “Scarlett Witch” Maximoff is a welcome addition to the sausage fest that is the MCU, and I love how the twins continue laying the ground work for “Civil War,” there is still a lot problems in Age of Ultron. Most of which can be laid at the feet of Joss Whedon.

I don’t want to turn this review into Whedon hate fest, but the things that don’t work for me are all embodied in him refusing to learn new tricks. Joss is that guy who keeps telling the same joke at every party, because it never stops being funny for him. Sadly, we’ve all already seen the first Avengers movie, and while it was great, recycling the humor isn’t. There are too many witty quips that seem out of character for the people saying them, and feel really forced in moments where subtle humor would have been a better fit. 

The initial villain in the film, Baron Strucker is not only a character from the comic books, but he’s established in the MCU, both in the post credit scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and in the current season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s used as a plot device and quickly tossed away. I don’t mind a few throwaway characters, but Age of Ultron is littered with the bodies of human plot devices, more than a few of whom are women. Like Dr. Helen Cho (yay woman of color) who seems to only function as a joke aimed at female fans of Thor and to deliver exposition about new technology that’s important to a male character. Not to mention some spoilery stuff that’s done to spotlight Hawkeye and his importance to the team that employs more throwaway characters and feels so forced it left me rolling my eyes. 

Honestly, they could have cut Hawkeye out of the film, given the significant scenes he has with the Maximoff twins to Natasha, and the scenes would resonated more with Natasha delivering those lines, especially in a crucial scene involving Wanda. Plus, we’d actually have two women talking to each other in a MCU film. As it is, the only reasons this movie (debatably) passes the Bechdel test, despite having 6 named women characters in the cast, is because of a brief conversation in a flashback.

It feels like more time and energy was spent on developing the men at the expense of women, and that includes making the character development of the ONLY woman Avenger about one of her male teammates. *smashes face into keyboard repeatedly* 

Marvel still isn’t any closer to solving it’s downright laughable issues with handling women. These aren’t new issue for Joss Whedon either. So keeping them in mind is important to tempering any expectations one might have of Age of Ultron being a better MCU film, in that respect. It’s more of the same, but at least it’s consistent in both what it does right as well as it’s failures.

What it does right is bring the action and laughs. It delivers jaw dropping visuals, and stunning moments of emotional resonance. We even get indulgent moments where fans get to see all the characters we love coexisting together, as friends and fellow fighters. That’s a big key to the magic of an Avengers film. 

I love this movie, if for no other reason than its flawless introduction and establishment of Vision, and a Steve Rogers moment that made me cry. All that aside, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun time at the movies. You’re milage may vary.



P.S. For those of you who are noticing similarities in the themes of Age of Ultron and the latest Batman v Superman trailer. Good eye. Yes, Marvel just threw down the gauntlet.

Age of Ultron is a straight-up slap in the face to the DC Cinematic Universe, and specifically a counter argument to Man of Steel. I’ll even go as far to say that MCU has effectively created a character who is more like comic book canon Superman than DC Cinematic Universe’s own canon Superman. I don’t make the statement lightly.

This is Marvel not only reestablishing that they know how to make great superhero movies, but that they are ahead of the game on every level. While DC is building up to introduce their superhero team, and are just starting asking questions about humanity in the face of super powers. Marvel effectively just kicked in DC’s door, took a big shit on their floor, and walked away whistling “I’ve got no strings on me.”

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