Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

Well, here I am. Doing the typing thing again. It’s been a minute since I last posted, but I’m going to make up for lost time easily with more consistent updates. They might be small, but I want to make sure I don’t lapse out of writing like some sort of New Year’s gym resolution. I started this review weeks ago, but it took until now for motivation to finally eat away at the thick layer of procrastination that’s kept me from reviewing this past month. This review of Age of Ultron is my first foray into the abyss that is non-gaming reviews. Don’t expect much to change in terms of style, the Assorted Nuts section is just a space for me to air my grievances on things other than gaming.To wit, the sequel to the disturbingly popular Avengers film of 2012 is no exception from my flaming blade of criticism and rhetorical questions. I finally saw the much-anticipated film, complete with all the time-tested amenities that have become traditional for pop culture movies during initial weeks of release: the crying baby that has to be escorted out, the guy who sits behind you and eats an obnoxiously loud snack food throughout the entire run time of the film, and the group of people who laugh out loud at everything, no matter how dumb. It’s comforting to know some things will never god damn change. However, despite all these delights, I still found myself capable of engaging with what was a decent enough stepping stone for Disney’s newest and flashiest cash cow, erm… I mean, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film suffers from the same problems a lot of these movies have, but cheeseball writing and ludicrous plot devices aside, the film is still just good enough to warrant a matinee priced viewing. Even if it is just to see the fight between the Hulk and Iron Man.The plot of the film is typical, boilerplate comic book fluff. (Alan Moore just had a shiver go down his spine) The bad guy, Ultron, who is cool because he’s a robot and that’s sort of new-ish, just wants what all good, artificially intelligent constructs want: to destroy all of humanity. The movie rushes through Ultron’s reasoning behind this, lazily cramming it within the same 4-5 minute long space as his “birth,” but what level of depth should have been expected anyway? I was actually fine with the change in Ultron’s origin to something that works better for the film universe, but his character isn’t more than an evil, mechanical punching bag. Either Joss Whedon’s grown self-aware regarding the malarky of these sorts of stories and didn’t feel like this antagonist really require a character arc, or perhaps he just didn’t care. Regardless, the premise manages to work since a film like this is more about the journey than the destination.  Though, I’d like to ask whoever came up with the title to elaborate on what exactly they think constitutes an “age.” Do they really consider the week or so that Ultron exists equatable to an era? That span of time feels like something more appropriately used sarcastically, like referring to that week your mother-in-law was staying in town as the “Age of Carol.” He hardly does anything at all until the final battle scene, and not a single civilian dies, gets hurt, or is even aware that he is a threat until then! Sure, that’s great PR for the Avengers and means they’re doing their job (sort of, not really), but neither Ultron’s plan, execution of said plan, nor his very existence were things any normal person would have known about until they saw the news about a floating city that night. Compare this now to the Green Goblin character in the 2002, Sam Raimi Spider-Man film. By the time Ultron’s childish scheme is put into action, the Green Goblin would have already murdered a dozen people, terrorized a parade, burned a building, personally attacked the protagonist’s loved ones, and endangered the lives of something close to 20-or-so children. Oh yeah, and he beat the shit out of Spider-Man. You know, actually showing that he was a threat as well as a dangerous, homicidal maniac. The menace of the Green Goblin  managed to create a level of tension and suspense in the film, and made the viewer forget for a second that Spider-Man is going to win at the end – like something a good movie would do.Perhaps then, the title is actually a reference to Ultron’s literal age. As in, he’s a naive, days-old baby who struggles with interpersonal communication and rational thinking, and is constantly seeking the attention of humans. His character is both gifted and flawed with oddly human-like qualities. In one respect, it makes his dialogue more interesting than some run-of-the-mill, “humans must die!” tripe, but at the same time, contradicts his own identity. On more than one occasion he references God, and in one instance in particular, the Noah myth.  I’m not sure what to even make of that. Whether it was supposed to be pro- or anti-religious, or whether it was to further compound the idea that Ultron lacks the ability to think critically. Also, his portrayal by the countless Disney animators, whose names clog up the credits like LA commuters in rush hour traffic, is worthy of a “meh” at best. Anytime he’s on-screen and not shooting a completely impotent laser, he’s given the Film Studies 101 treatment and placed at an angle above the camera to look intimidating and scary. But by the tenth time it happens, as he saunters toward whoever he is addressing his “I’m so badass” speech to, it starts to come off less like a foreboding super-villain, and more like a middle schooler acting tough to fit in with high schoolers. Eventually, Ultron’s lack of competence and inability to actually do anything remotely sinister catches up with him. In a film in which his name is literally the title, Ultron is sadly reduced to an uninteresting prop that sinks under the weight of a half-dozen side stories and Marvel movie tie-ins that Age of Ultron forcibly squeezes into its run time. Also, before I can move on, one other gripe I have with him is his physical design. (Here comes the comic book nerd in me) If he bases his form off the iron man suit in this film, why then does he alter his head to have human-like eyes, as well as a moving mouth complete with teeth? Just… what?? Do I really need to address why teeth make no sense on a robot? Why does he have a mouth in the first place? A flat, reinforced face with a speaker in it would make more sense. The extra moving parts are just a liability. There was nothing wrong with his original comic book design. In fact, because of the comic’s removal of the human aspects, Ultron visually represented his separation from the natural world, marking a clear distinction in him as an “other”. This switch to a more human design just came off as ugly, unnecessary, impractical, and backward, effectively making Ultron an all-around uninteresting, all-talk, no-walk antagonist who doesn’t make sense, doesn’t have clear motivation or reasoning, looks stupid, makes illogical decisions, and has dialogue that only manages to transcend the contrived Snidely Whiplash idiocy of cartoons on 2 or 3 occasions within the film. Overall, not an impressive villain for an unmemorable obligation of a movie. I think this makes for a good enough segue to talk about the  heroes of the movie now. The returning cast does an admirable enough job performing roles that they’ve clearly grown comfortable in, but new additions Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver don’t all reach the levels of the Avengers proper, or even Don Cheadle’s War Machine for that matter, who only makes a couple of brief cameos. Vision, the most intriguing of the three new characters, unfortunately only gets a small amount of screen time. His philosophy and powers as an android makes him more thought provoking than most of the Avengers mainstays, and certainly more so than newcomers, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. These two just don’t inspire the same level of curiosity, and have a kind of “our sequel needs more heroes” funk to them. Furthermore –  oh,…Ahem, it seems I’ve just been ordered a cease and desist from Disney.  I meant to say NOT-Scarlet Witch and NOT-Quicksilver, since y’know, legal reasons.  Anyway, my stance remains the same on these characters. Not-Scarlet Witch looks and behaves nothing like the comic book character, and simply put: Not-Quicksilver of  Avengers < Days of Future Past Quicksilver in virtually every way. And strumming the character design chord again, Not-Scarlet Witch looks less like a comic book heroine, and more like a grungy teen who can’t stand her parents and waxes on about how no one in society “gets her.”

     

Returning to the primary cast now, I need to make it especially clear that I am thoroughly and utterly appalled by the decision to weave a watered down romance element into the Avengers. I assume this was a decision made by someone with money. At least, I hope so. Because when I bought my ticket for this movie,  I had no idea I would soon be physically writhing in my seat. There is absolutely ZERO chemistry between Scar Jo and Marky Mark Ruffles-Oh. The whole thing feels forced from the get-go and even dips into a realm of unpleasantness I did not think was possible for Scarlett Johansson. In a particularly awkward scene in Hawkeye’s house (The movie really slows down for a bit just as it is getting exciting), Natasha Romanov approaches Bruce Banner as he comes out of the shower. She then proceeds to straight up tell him she wished she could have been showering with him. Banner, as well as myself, began thinking “Daaaaaaaamn girl, you need a glass of water? Cuz u sound THIRSTY as F@CK!” But it only gets worse as the conversation goes on. At first, it just feels like Natasha’s character learned everything she knows about romance from the intro dialogue of porn scenes, but she quickly strays into bizarro territory when she brings up the fact that she’s infertile and proceeds to have a mini breakdown, all the while Bruce is just standing there damp and wearing only a towel. It just doesn’t feel right to make the “strong female character” suddenly this heartbroken, “I-need-a-man” type out of the blue, especially at another character’s expense. By the final battle of the movie however, Banner is, of course, just as in love with her as she is with him. I mean, he’d have to be completely remiss of testosterone and his five basic senses to deny Ms. Johansson, but within the confines of the film, it’s a spanner in the works that truly ruins the film for me. A little part of my soul withered up and died watching that godforsaken scene. Touching briefly now on the remaining members: Thor doesn’t really do anything special beside set up his next solo film, Tony Stark is unapologetically douchey and never gets reprimanded for having caused Ultron in the first place, Hawkeye’s newfound, quippy attitude and his surprise family (who conveniently keep Nick Fury in their barn house in case the script needs a motivational speech) are both flat lines unintentionally strengthening his title claim of “Nobody’s Favorite Avenger,” and Captain America… well, actually, Cappy is actually pretty consistent throughout. Congrats Disney, 1/10  is technically better than a 0/10.  To be fair, there is still some stuff to like here. Underneath the sophomoric script, weak plot and character development, lack of tension, stutter-step pacing, countless conveniences and implausibilities, annoying interjections of obvious product placement (C’mon, Bruce Banner would be smart enough to know Beats are shit), a forgettable villain, a cringeworthy Black Widow, and a narrative so cluttered with subplots it belongs on a TLC hoarder show, is some fairly decent action and comedic moments. The Hulk vs Iron Man battle is creative and kept me on the edge of my metaphorical seat… up until its cop-out ending that is borderline insulting to the intelligence of the audience. I laughed at some of the jokes… don’t ask me to remember any, but I’m certain I did for at least some of them. And Ultron is even cool during that one bit when he sarcastically says “I really wanted to take this opportunity to explain my evil plan,”… right before blasting Iron Man with an ineffective laser beam. It’s a movie with far too many “That’s cool I guess, but…” moments. For me, there’s simply not enough to bring me back a third and fourth time the way the original movie did. I know this sort of opinion makes me something of a persona non grata amongst the internet fanboys, but as someone who is fully aware of the fact that Hollywood has transformed itself into a factory to churn out this shit (just look up the laundry list of films both Marvel and DC have lined up for the next few years), I just can’t accept mediocrity, and neither should you.

Obligatory Number at the End: 6.25/10