Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Poster


Glancing at a “news” article recently, I read that Avengers: Age of Ultron is the highest-grossing U.S. film release of the year. In other news: water is wet. For God’s sake, this is a non-story considering the drivel it was competing with during Q1. According to Wikipedia, Age of Ultron is the eighth highest-grossing film of all time but, as we know, just because something is successful doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.

After the heart-stopping success of the first Avengers film, Joss Whedon reprises his position as both writer and director. If you’ve seen The Avengers, you’re essentially in for more of the same; that is, a heavy emphasis on frenetic, computer generated action sequences. Indeed, they deserve an in-depth focus because that’s basically all that’s on offer. Like The Avengers, we’re treated to a slew of highly choreographed, fast-paced, but ultimately superficial fight scenes, all of which fail to disguise the fact that the plot is an insipid, go-nowhere sightseeing tour of exotic locations.

The problem with a lot of the fight scenes in Age of Ultron is that there’s no weight or impact to what we’re seeing. The heroes dispatch the enemies with such expediency that it hardly makes a difference whether the bad guys are there or not, meaning that any dramatic tension dissolves right before our eyes.

Before the advent of CG, there was a school of thought that dictated that superhero movies were an unwise proposition because even with the most intricate practical sets, it was still a tall order to capture the larger-than-life spectacle of comic books. Now, however, I can’t help be feel that we’ve gone too far in the opposite direction as we find ourselves living in a time when the average superhero movie can be made of ninety-five percent green screen.

Chunks of rubble and smashed scenery fly around like they’re made out of cotton, and the over-reliance on computer generation means that everything has a weirdly clean, unreal-looking quality to it in a way that reminds me unsettlingly of the Star Wars prequels. I noticed a significant visual downgrade as soon as the action sequences started up, although I did have the misfortune of seeing the film in gimmicky RealD 3D bullshit vision—which inevitably makes everything look atrocious—so I’m willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt there.

So, the action is more of the same, but what about the characters? Well, that’s where Whedon really decided to knuckle-down and ruin everything. A critic I like once made the observation that Whedon has no conception of character voice, meaning that the dialogue of each character is virtually interchangeable with the others. And more to the point, enough with the fucking quips, Whedon! Not every character has to make some pedantic retort or vapid observation every time they open their mouths!

I felt like I was watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where every line of dialogue is some smarmy insipidity that makes you want to kick the offending character’s teeth in. It’s almost like Age of Ultron was written by the same amateurish, ham-fisted—oh, wait. Come on, Whedon. Give us a little substance, for God’s sake—not the adventures of the Bland Brigade.

A big problem with the film is the introduction of the new character, Vision. He’s some kind of android, I guess, infused with the power of one of the infinity stones, but despite establishing that the Avenger’s couldn’t possibly defeat Ultron without Vision’s help, he contributes nothing during the final showdown. Excuse me, that’s not entirely true. He punches him. Once. Ultimately his presence would have meant precisely as much whether he was there or not, apart from Disney having a new toy to sell, obviously.

There’s also been an attempt to characterize Black Widow and Hawkeye, and while I can appreciate the intention, Natasha Romanov’s character seems to have done a complete 180 in between films. From uttering the line, “love is for children,” in The Avengers to “I adore you,” in Age of Ultron, she didn’t seem to undergo an arc so much as Whedon decided to arbitrarily fuck around with his own canon for the sake of poignancy.

I mentioned the plot a moment ago, so let’s refocus our sights. Weirdly, the events of Age of Ultron are decidedly scaled-down compared to those of the first, mainly due to a reliance on telling rather than showing. The alien invasion of New York is swapped for a rouge AI trying to do…what, exactly? Kill everyone, presumably—but his motivation for doing so seem incredibly poorly justified, despite multiple villainous monologues filled-to-bursting with meaningless pseudo-philosophical bullshit.

We’re told on multiple occasions that if the villain succeeds, billions of people will die. The most we see in the film, however, is one little town being terrorized via some kind of anti-gravity device. My point is that it would have helped if we had seen or heard a demonstration of the destructive capability of this plan (like the destruction of Alderan in A New Hope, for example) instead of just having to take Captain America’s word for it. There’s also an early setup about a growing anti-Avengers sentiment among the populace, complete with anti-iron man graffiti on some walls, but that aspect of the plot is quietly dropped and never referenced again.

The larger story, furthermore, is rife with plot holes, mostly concerning Ultron’s evil plan. For example, consider the impossibility of destroying a true, adaptive AI that’s been established to already be inside the Internet, replicating itself. Tony Stark brings it up at one point, but seems to forget about it just as quickly. And again, was Ultron not forward-thinking enough to station one, or five, or ten robots outside of the town that his consciousness could inhabit as a contingency? The devil is in the details, Whedon. Perhaps with a little more polish, the script wouldn’t seem like it was rushed out in a week in an attempt to capitalize on a pre-existing franchise.

I think the reason that the first Avengers film worked was because we were all collectively taken in by the massive lead up, and were mostly happy to see the characters that we had come to love play around in a big, explosive blowout of a film. As cathartic as The Avengers was, it was totally inept when it came to actually telling a story—a problem which is compounded to a rather worrying degree in Age of Ultron.

Some might respond to the points I’ve raised by saying “it’s a superhero blockbuster. What did you expect?” But to them I would respond by saying that excuse doesn’t brook with me when Avengers: Age of Ultron exists in the same world as The Dark Knight.

Disney has the luxury of having no real competitors in the superhero genre at present, but if they keep pumping out more toothless work like this, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the public eventually recognizes it for the schlock that it is.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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Rampant Cinemania: Iron Man 3

This Week: Gabriel Vogel, Joe Holley, Albert Cantu, and Andrew King

Show Notes:

A Glimpse Beneath the Curtain: 0:00 – 2:00

What We’ve Been Watching:

Black Snake Moan: 2:00 – 3:55

Baby Doll: 4:48 – 8:00

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo: 8:00 – 12:20

A Clockwork Orange: 12:20 – 14:59

Lawrence of Arabia: 14:59 – 18:00

Being John Malkovich: 18:00 – 21:30

My Name is Nobody: 21:30 – 23:59

Iron Man 3 Review: 23:59- 54:29

Iron Man 3 Review

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First off, let me take a moment, on behalf of the Simply Film crew, to apologize for last week’s little hiatus. The college student is a fickle beast at the best of times, and when finals roll around, we tend to withdraw into an autistic state, colloquially known as “couldn’t be asked.” Now that exams are coming to a close, we can get back to what really matters: the movies.

This week, the year’s first superhero flick hitting the big screen was Iron Man 3. I think the film has already made more money than exists on the entire planet, and if you do in fact posses the ability of sight, chances are good that you’ve already seen it around 2 or 3 times. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at what old Tony Stark has up his sleeve this time around.

Iron Man 3 is helmed by genre veteran Shane Black, who perhaps does action comedy better than anyone else in the industry. With accomplishments like Lethal Weapon, The Last Action Hero, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang filling out a robust resumé, the bar was set preposterously high for Iron Man 3- his first foray into the Marvel universe. Happily, Black doesn’t disappoint as far as both the action and the comedy are concerned, and real effort has been made to flesh out Tony Stark as a character as he interacts with people and situations in his trademark caustic manner. Action sequences, likewise, are explored in a fresh new way as Stark’s toys get a fun, new spin and provide for some enthralling visuals. In an unprecedented turn, I actually recommend investing in the jaw dropping 3D experience if you have the chance and are willing to drop the extra cash.

Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, who at this point in his career has almost reached cult hero status, in the same vein as Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack. While I appreciate that RDJ is a polarizing figure, with some folks being off-put by his flamboyant personality, it’s basically accepted fact that no Iron Man, past or future, will equal his. RDJ captures Stark’s incorrigible roguishness and scathing brand of humor like no one else can. Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow also reprise their roles as Col. Rhodes (aka War Machine) and Pepper Pots, respectively. The surprise standout, however, was the supremely talented Ben Kingsley as an ‘international terrorist’ known as The Mandarin. Kingsley gave a delightful and genuinely charming performance, which was unfortunately let down by some extraordinarily disappointing writing.

I’ve got a slew of issues with this film which are exacerbated by a thick coating of disappointment. The film had so much going for it: the cast was talented, it had a budget larger than the GDP’s of several third world countries combined, and it had the entire wealth of the Marvel canon to draw from. Why, then, did it ultimately fall flat?

Good question! The story is a good place to start. The weird thing about Iron Man 3 is the Iron Man as a charter is barely involved in it at all. From the beginning, he’s reactionary, and simply responds to what’s happening around him. In a normal hero story, the plot is driven by the actions of the protagonist, which allow the audience to get invested in the struggles of a single individual. Here, Iron Man could have sat around catching up on episodes of Game of Thrones (save the final showdown, obviously) and things would have been largely the same. In the second act, the story takes a wrong turn at the corner of Contrived Cove and Arbitrary Avenue, with characters serendipitously being in the right place at the right time when Tony Stark just so happens to blow into town. The relationship between Pepper and Tony is quite stilled and unconvincing, which is important because the old girl is kidnapped (Kidnapping? In a Shane Black movie?) and the audience feels no motivation to get her back. Come to think of it, her whole role in relation to Tony is strange too. She seems to show no empathy towards Tony when he is shown suffering from severe symptoms of PTSD, even when Tony entreats her to be patient with him. With this kind of unconvincing relationship, it’s hard to get engaged in the personal struggles of the characters.

And the twist. Oh, the twist! I can’t really talk about this next section without revealing the  SPOILERS BELOW, so be warned. About half way through the film, The Mandarin- the big baddie that the whole movie has been hyping up- is revealed to be nothing more than a hoax, orchestrated by a character we were introduced to earlier. But here’s the thing: The Mandarin is replaced by a completely generic, uninteresting, uninspired, insipid, bland, banal, trite, and ultimately boring charter who has no distinguishing characteristics aside from being the evil white guy du jour. With an absolutely ambiguous and arbitrary motivation, Whitey seems to want to be in charge just for the sake of being in charge. That’s not good storytelling! That’s just laziness! At least The Mandarin was interesting to watch.

To me, Iron Man as a series is finished. I was curious to see how the franchise could continue to ramp up the stakes after the presumably world-shattering events of The Avengers. My big questing was “Where do we go from here?” Sadly, Iron Man 3 provides no answer, and doesn’t seem to keep the series fresh enough to warrant another sequel. Nevertheless, we’re reminded at the during the credits that “Tony Stark will return,” but the only place that I see him still being relevant is in The Avengers 2.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5