dir: Joss Whedon
Well. That happened.
This will probably be the ‘biggest’ movie of the year, with the possible exception of the seventh Star Wars flick that comes out around Christmas. It has the most advertising, the most merchandise, the most cross-promotional opportunities and the biggest cast of superheroes we’re likely to see in a donkey’s age, let alone an Ultron’s age.
Wait, at least until the next comic book movie comes along. Which is… probably a week or two away?
Such a juggernaut, such a monolith of concentrated media saturation can’t help but put you off your popcorn, if you’re a cynical person who’s tired of just these kinds of ‘events’. You start seeing things less for what they are, and more for the sad things they say about us and the world we now live in.
If I can switch that voice in my head off for a while, though, I may just find elements of the experience a tad enjoyable? Maybe I’ll laugh a little, maybe I’ll cry a little?
By some set of freak circumstances yesterday (Sunday), I found myself sitting in a cinema I haven’t sat in for a long time (the Westgarth, ye olde Valhalla), watching this latest extravaganza for the eyes and the soul. And worried as I may have been over what would transpire, I was not overly disappointed.
I mean, I have problems with it (too many bloody characters for one, a boring plot contrivance or two for another), but, as a long term fan of Joss Whedon and all his works, can I really complain?
You see, as nerdy as it may make me seem, it’s his work that is infinitely more interesting to me than the stuff these movies are based on. I could not give a tinker’s dam, a fat rat’s arse or any other equivalent unit of disinterest for the comics the Avengers movies are based on. I could really say the same about all of the Marvel movies that have been pulverising the box office since the first Iron Man.
I read comics, it’s true, but none of these Marvel ones have ever mattered to me (never bought them, never read them). The kinds of comics I read (except for the Batman ones) aren’t really made into movies, and when they are it’s a uniformly awful experience for all concerned. I also find the idea of a bunch of completely ‘unique’ heroes forced together as a superteam to be a financial rather than creative decision in almost all circumstances.
I respect Joss Whedon for pointing this one fact out, as he did before the first Avengers came out: there is no good reason for these characters to be in a group together, and as such any time they’re put in a group together it shouldn’t entirely work properly, and there needs to be an overwhelmingly unique reason (something none of them individually could resolve).
Well, I don’t think any of that makes any real sense, but since they’re expecting us to know everything that’s happened in the preceding films, there’s stuff we’re just going to have to accept as given if we’re going to voluntarily put ourselves in the cinema to enjoy the cinematic carnage for over 2 hours of screen time.
So, if it’s all too absurd, well, why are you watching a flick with jolly green giants, Norse gods and Soviet assassins in it anyway?
Or witches and guys in flying armour and evil robots and super soldiers etc?
The list continues. When the flick opens, it’s in the middle of a fight we don’t know anything about, but happens like we should know what’s going on, like it’s a continuation of something from a preceding chapter. I lose track of these things.
There’s a guy with a monocle (Thomas Kretchsman) and a German accent, so we know he’s evil. He has some base in the mountains that the assembled Avengers are powering towards.
Then there’s two new enhanced characters who can do mystical stuff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and even more mystical Russian accents, and they run rings around our heroes and screw with their minds terribly.
In the midst of all this mindfuckery, Tony Stark (Downey Jnr) sees a vision of all his ‘friends’ (as if a narcissist of this calibre could possibly have friends) dead in a pile, Captain America’s (Chris Evans) famous shield torn in twain, even a dead Hulk, if you can imagine such a thing.
He is shaken to his metallic core. He must do something to prevent this from happening. Anything, no matter how short sighted or overall stupid.
They get what they’re after (Loki’s spear from the first flick), and the hot item is meant to be taken back to Asgard lest it fall into German hands again. But, let’s just tinker with it before it goes back, yeah? What could possibly go wrong?
Stark finds that there’s something really complicated within the spear, something so complicated it means a whole new way of structuring computer processing, In other words, Artificial Intelligence somehow.
About two seconds after this new intelligence is created, it basically, like almost all artificial intelligences in every sci fi flick ever, decides it hates humanity, becomes a super robot calling itself Ultron (voiced by James Spader), and starts its plan to wipe them all out.
But first it’s going to trade witty barbs with the Avengers before killing them all.
Casting Spader to voice this otherwise blank/generic villain is a masterstroke. Whedon has always been great at making his villains seem all the more villainous because they’re so witty and quippy, but Spader brings real menace to his vocal work, dripping with malice and good humour. Sure, nothing he ultimately does is that different from anything any other villain does in these flicks, but it’s a delight to hear his take on these kinds of Big Bad statements.
So basically the Avengers are called upon to solve a problem the Avengers themselves have caused. At one particularly hilarious point, when Ultron endeavours to construct the best version of himself possible, a version that would be virtually indestructible, Stark seems to repeat his mistake, only in a far more terrible way. His arrogance and hubris led us to this moment, and yet his arrogance and hubris compels him to make an even worse mistake.
And out of absolutely nowhere, thanks to the inexplicable (or more accurately, terribly explained) intercession of a certain Nordic god, Stark’s entitled technocratic leanings are rewarded…
By the creation of yet another character I’ve never heard of, entering into the already over-stuffed ranks of the good guys. The net effect of all these crossovers and all the available backstory is that eventually the Avengers flicks will have a cast of thousands of branded characters, all doing their idiosyncratic thing, with their individual witticism and look, and precious little else.
Along the way there’s character moments for each and every one of the goddamn characters. Every single one of them. And there are like 46 of them, so naturally that soaks up a lot of screen time in an already long film.
So. You ask yourself: is it for the quiet character moments, the interactions between the characters, or the action, the relentless, overwhelming action that I watch these films for? Well, I guess I watch it for all those elements, and you would hope there is a nice balance of the various competing elements in order to make it less of a generic experience. There’s a scene set in a church towards the end of incredible action that is like nothing I’ve ever scene before, and is thrilling precisely because someone with an unlimited budget and plenty of skill has constructed something action-wise we’ve never seen previous.
This comes long after the other fairly incredible pure action scene where Iron Man and an angry Hulk (as opposed to the usual kind) affected by Scarlet Witch’s, uh, magic throw down and tear some unnamed city apart. Stark busts out an even bigger suit of armour seemingly created with the intention of taking out the big green guy if he ever arks up. It’s a phenomenal scene (of course it’s all CGI, what’s the other option?) mixing humour, intense but well choreographed action and a feeling that there’s something at stake (even though clearly there isn’t).
The less said about the budding romance between Black Widow and the Hulk, the better. Only because if it works at all, it works because it’s mostly so low key. They’re such good actors that even they can sell something that feels like such a superfluous afterthought / calculation by a studio executive (‘How can we appeal to the Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey-loving chicks in the audience? I know: Romance!) So, perhaps awful motives, but not completely awful result.
In the main I’d say that Whedon usually gets the mix right. Honestly. I know that it sounds like I absolve him of all sins, but it can’t be easy putting these together, and he’s adept at it, and does probably better than most. I think where some of it falls down is that there’s too much plot, and enough of that plot is dull, or feels fake, or at least inorganic to what was going on (seriously, the bit with Thor going into a magical pool is beyond stupid and arbitrary, but is deemed necessary to give him a reason for something he does that makes no sense anyway later on).
The introduction of the twins is interesting, especially to me since we’ve seen Quicksilver before, at least another version of Peter Maximoff recently, as a mutant in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Completely different characters with exactly the same name, appearance and abilities but different origins. It’s funny, but hey, it doesn’t matter. I guess Scarlet Witch is far more important in the scheme of things. She has a better go at the fake Russian accent, but I had to laugh when she was urging the residents of her fictional Potemkin town to flee their homes, she yelled at them in poorly accented English rather than whatever language they speak in Sokovia.
Ah, Sokovia. We’ll miss you, fictional semi-Russian town, with your Prague-like vista and your Soviet-era inhabitants. You produced Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver though, so you can’t be all bad, because they’re pretty awesome, and they hate Tony Stark almost as much as Ultron does.
If I had an actual feeling of disappointment, yes, it was at the end when the mid credits sequence promised yet another instalment in this never-ending saga, which implies even more tie-ins and crossovers and special guest stars and maybe they’ll even get Bart Simpson and KITT from Knight Rider and Howard the Duck and Gandalf and Luke Skywalker and and and… It’s all too much. I feel like I watched a two and a half hour trailer for the next film, and that doesn’t please me, and the overarching Marvel plan for galactic domination fills me with dread, not excitement.
Probably as good as the first, though it could feel like just another instalment in an endless series that will never end until a hero/villain rises up and destroys our planet in order to stop more Marvel movies from coming out.
8 times my biggest laugh was seeing Scarlet Witch’s hair once she comes to the States and discovers a stylist uses a good non-Russian conditioner out of 10
“I've got no strings to hold me down / to make me fret, or make me frown / I had strings, but now I'm free / There are no strings on me!” – freedom is such a wonderful thing – Avengers: Age of Ultron