Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (spoilers below the fold)

On Friday I took my daughter to see the newest Marvel film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even in the middle of the day on a weekday, the theater was quite full, but not sold out. We saw it in normal 2D, and I couldn't see any scenes where seeing it in 3D would have added anything, but someone who saw it in 3D or Imax 3D might have better insight.

(As an aside, if your local theater is an AMC, and you see more than a couple of movies each year and get popcorn when you do, it is so worth paying the money for the AMC Stubs card. It really does pay for itself many times over.)

I am an unabashed MCU fanboy, and I went into the movie with high expectations. And I have to say those expectations were not disappointed. This really is a worthy successor to the various predecessor films, especially the first Avengers. I put it in the top five of all MCU movies, behind The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Iron Man.

Some spoiler-free thoughts:

I found the plot to be serviceable. It does tie up some loose ends from previous films, and goes off in a fairly reasonable direction. Some people think it was over-complicated, but since when it comes down to it this is a comic-book movie, I do not go into it expecting Casablanca. It worked, and was reasonably well-explained.

What really sold me on the film was the interactions between the Avengers themselves. In the first Avengers movie, we saw Thor fight Iron Man, Hulk fight Black Widow, Iron Man bicker with Captain America, Hawkeye fight all of them... it got old. But in this movie, we see genuine character development. We find out new things about the characters, and the relationships between the characters really moved forward. They're not the same people at the end of the movie that they were at the beginning, and it was great to see. Those moments are used to break up the incredible action sequences, rather than gobs of tedious exposition. There was one Avenger vs. Avenger fight, which has been heavily teased in the trailers, but in the context of the film it didn't seem nearly as tacked on.

The action sequences are, of course, awesome. Although I did find the fight sequence at the very beginning to be a little off. The CGI in places was obvious, and there was some shaky-cam that I found distracting. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the bad guys; they were simply there any time an Avenger needed something to blow up or someone to kill. But the rest of the action sequences were terrific, and the shaky-cam seems to have really been used sparingly after the first twenty minutes.

James Spader's Ultron, as the central villain of the piece, was beautiful to behold. Seeing that very human dialog come out of that robotic face made his quips and sarcasm all the creepier. He was a much better villain than the Chitauri ever were in the first Avengers movie. The other characters are well-established so we don't need to go through the awkward "getting to know you" scenes, and the actors by this time are so comfortable in their roles that it seems effortless for them.

If anything, I take points away from the movie because it is so big. We see lots of different places in the world getting destroyed, and in a way that detracts from the interpersonal interactions that make this film so wonderful.

All in all, this was a worthy addition to the MCU, and most definitely worth seeing. There is one helping of schawarma halfway through the credits, but nothing at the very end. Unless the key grip is your cousin, no need to stay until the lights come up.

Spoilery thoughts below the fold:

This movie is quite obviously setting up a bunch of stuff for future films.

First, we get our first look at Wakanda, which is the source of the vibranium used to create Captain America's shield, and which in the comics is the homeland of Black Panther, who just happens to have a movie coming out in 2018. And Black Panther's chief nemesis, Klaw, who was portrayed by Andy Serkis in this film (he's the South African guy who sells the vibranium to Ultron and gets his left hand chopped off for his trouble, which is actually perfect, as Klaw in the comics has a sort of sonic weapon for a left hand).

Obviously, we're seeing the new Avengers roster getting set up. Gone are Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Iron Man, in are Falcon, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, and Vision. My internal jury is still out on the new character of the Vision, but I'm happy to wait to see how he's used in other films before rendering judgement.

Speaking of the Vision, I'm pretty sure in the comics he doesn't have an Infinity Stone in his forehead. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the two Infinity Wars movies.

And speaking of Falcon, it would have been nice to see him involved in the final battle, evacuating civilians from the floating chunk of city. After all... isn't that exactly his wheelhouse? Flying around? To see him at the very beginning, and then only at the very end, was... odd.

On the whole, I can totally see how this film tees up Captain America: Civil War next year. Tony Stark, disillusioned by his experiences at trying to keep the peace outside of the auspices of the government, is in favor of the Registration Act, while Steve Rodgers, disillusioned himself by the failure of SHIELD in Winter Soldier, and seeing the value of individual actors (as in the Avengers as an independent force, seen at the very end of this film), is against it. It works out neatly.

I personally found the mid-credits seem to be completely lame. Sure, it sets up Thanos for the Infinity War films, but we already knew that. It really felt like Whedon felt he had to include something, so he threw that together in ten minutes. It would have been infinitely cooler to see a tie-in to the Inhumans, given everything that's building up over at Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, but perhaps Whedon's well-known aversion to returning Coulson to life rendered anything to do with the TV show as a non-starter.

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