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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Much Ado About Nothing Review

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Experience has taught us that pulling off contemporary Shakespeare adaptations are phenomenally hard to do as evidenced by the device opinions on both Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. This week, Joss Whedon of Avengers fame steps up to the metaphorical plate as he tackles Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

Several things are remarkable about Much Ado About Nothing purely from a production standpoint. For instance, the film was shot entirely at Whedon’s personal estate in Santa Monica, California. Additionally, and due in part to the very intimate scale of the production, filming was completed in just under two weeks- a remarkable timeframe- during Whedon’s contractually obligatory vacation after post-production of The Avengers. 

The film is beautifully directed, and one can tell that Whedon approaches the story with incredible enthusiasm. As is the case with much of Shakespeare’s work, the tempo of the piece is hugely important. Whedon proves that he has a clear vision of not only what the piece is supposed to look like, but he also gives special attention to the rhythm and the beauty of the spoken word. His actors, for the most part, do a masterful job of giving special emphasis to the language of the piece and the many complex and sometimes subtle exchanges between characters.

Starring an ensemble cast and featuring the talents of Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond and Fran Kranz, the film is a beautiful looking, light-hearted comedy with a fanciful, pseudo-noir feel. The trifecta of Denisof, Gregg and Kranz steal every scene they’re in and bring a fundamentally human element to Shakespeare’s sometimes unintelligibly highbrow dialogue. Performances were generally exceptional all around and were only dimmed by the only slightly stilled portrayals of the antagonists, Don John and Borachio.

I’ve heard it said that the style of the film- black and white with some chic and jazzy aesthetics- did nothing to serve the narrative and ultimately detracted from the experience. My thoughts, however, are the opposite. To me, it seems as though Whedon’s choice of a monochromatic color scheme is intended to allow the audience to focus more on the language and dialogue of the piece, rather be distracted by the set dressing. Speaking from my own personal experience, Shakespearian dialogue is often devilishly hard to understand, especially when we’re being introduced to new characters. Another possible reason for the aesthetic choices are to establish a tone of semi-fantasy- almost to a degree of magical realism. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, you’ll find that some pretty incredible things end up happening- things that might make more sense within the context of a sort of fanciful, magical world. Therefore, I believe Whedon’s choice was not only innovative, but practical as well.

I understand that the prospect of sitting through a two hour, black and white production filled with Shakespearian dialogue may be off-putting for some viewers, but I assure you that your fears are unfounded. Whedon’s interpretation of this classic comedy is smart, fun, expertly paced, beautiful looking, brilliantly acted, and genuinely funny. Much Ado About Nothing has made it’s way, quite unexpectedly, to my top films of the year and fully deserves and resounding recommendation.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

The Avengers Review

The Avengers just might be the new gold standard for the superhero genre.  More then simply creating a great action movie, writer/director and nerd icon Joss Whedon delivers a well-polished product that succeeds at more then just wowing audiences with spectacular visual effects. Whedon is able to incorporate some witty humor into what would otherwise be a tedious two and a half hours.

The Avengers is the story of the battle for Earth between the evil Demi-god, Loki, and a group of big name superheroes know as, well, The Avengers.  The main challenge with making a movie like this is that is no central character in the film, and instead a cast of iconic characters vying for screen time.  Whedon does a commendable job of incorporate every character, but he fails to properly  develop the characters. The only characters that seem to really develop are those that never received their own movies.

Disregarding some poor character development the main issue I had with this film was the main plot. Despite dynamic action sequences and the frequent laughs, the central conflict isn’t very compelling and seems to offers nothing in terms of originality.  The basic plot of the film is a group of superheroes trying to track down a fairly ambiguous cube called the Tesseract in order to stop an alien invasion.  Even with the solid performances in this movie, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about their mission at all.  As a whole, I was much more interested in the witty banter between characters.

As far as acting in the movie, I’d like to talk about something other then Robert Downey Jr.  He, of course, is great, but at this point I think everyone knows what to expect from him.  I would, however, like to talk about the biggest surprise of the film, Mark Ruffalo.  Although it was pretty lousy of Marvel to replace Edward Norton despite the fact that he wanted to reprise his role, after seeing this movie I completely understand their decision. Ruffalo offers a new take on the character of Bruce Banner, which is refreshing, because, quite frankly, the Edward Norton version was less then stellar.

Ultimately, this movie is definitely worth your watch.  Even if you haven’t seen the five preceding Marvel movies, you will still be able to thoroughly enjoy your time with it, and if you have, there are plenty of small allusions to the previous movies that will please the more dedicated fans.  After seeing Avengers, I have high expectations for what is to come in the upcoming installments to the Marvel franchise.

Rating: 4 out of 5