Saturday, May 02, 2015

"Avengers: Age of Ultron": review

About halfway through watching "Avengers: Age of Ultron," I walked out.

Okay, maybe I should put that in context. Right around the time we were going to see the origin of The Vision (Paul Bettany), I couldn't hold back the urge to take a shit any longer, so I hauled myself ponderously upright, lumbered out of the theater, found the men's room, and launched a cloud of alien warriors into this realm through my very own wormhole. I was back in my assigned seat (it's assigned seating in Korean movie theaters) about five minutes later, intestines grumbling, convinced that I had missed the five most important, most magnificent moments in movie history: the part where The Vision comes into existence with a lightning zap and a triumphant cry of, "It's aliiiiive!"

It's kind of a shame that "Avengers 2" skewed so close to "X-Men" territory without ever actually referencing those other Marvel heroes: Ultron, the Frankensteinian spawn of Tony Stark's hubristic plan to save the world through an AI-powered global defense system (read: Skynet; yes, all this has happened before...), waxes rhapsodic about the need for mankind to evolve—an idea that Magneto would certainly get behind. But Ultron seems confused about whether his mission is to help mankind evolve, or simply to exterminate all of humanity. We've been down this road a thousand times before in sci-fi films, so it's a bit unfortunate that the central concept in "Avengers 2" is such a rise-of-the-machines cliché.

In fact, "Avengers 2" seemed to borrow and repurpose movie tropes and camera shots from everywhere. There were moments that reminded me of Zack Snyder's fast-then-slow camera work in "300"; at other times, I thought of the recent "Superman" film (reviewed here), what with all the massive property damage and implausible lack of citizen casualties. There was that "X-Men" subtext that I referred to earlier, and then there's the fact that most of the over-the-top battle scenes had a very been-there-done-that feel to them. Ultron's notion that a cataclysm is a healthy "reset" button for the human race is a trope also found in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol."

I also have to admit I'm confused about the Hulk's state of mind. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who's falling for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as the plot unfolds, is afraid of what a relationship might mean. He doesn't want to hulk out and accidentally rip his new girlfriend apart like tissue paper, and somehow he retains his gentleness toward Natasha Romanoff even while in his Hulk state (shades of King Kong). But the Hulk's IQ must not be that low, because at the end of the movie, he's flying along inside the Avengers' jet, and he switches off a monitor. Is that something a temperamental, atavistic brute is supposed to be able to do?

That said, the Banner/Romanoff relationship felt like a good pairing. Black Widow is a spy; she's trained to keep secrets and to be emotionally invulnerable. The Hulk, by contrast, is a brute so strong that he pretty much is a force of nature: lies and evasions don't work on him. Natasha probably finds that refreshing, and her nerdy side is also attracted to Bruce Banner, who is, in a manner of speaking, the Hulk's nerdy side. So the pairing works, and I'd like to see this romance develop over the next few films.

Director Joss Whedon sloshes buckets and buckets of spectacle onto us, pausing only occasionally for breath. I have to give the screenwriters credit for so deftly shoehorning tons of expository dialogue into the story without making it all seem cumbersome. The writers definitely had help from the actors, who all hit their notes perfectly this second time around.

While I'm making admissions, I'll admit I started feeling a naughty crush on Elizabeth Olsen (younger sibling of her famous, or infamous, twin sisters), who played the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff. I don't know what it is about the girl's face, with its soulful eyes and interesting angles, but I found her fascinating. As for her powers, well... she would have fit right in among the X-Men, but I'm pretty sure Logan would have been banging her by Sunday.

Overall, I found "Avengers 2" watchable, but I'm in no hurry to see it again. The movie suffers from an acute case of sequelitis: much of the action feels rehashed; the level of spectacle is even bigger and more ridiculous; Seoul does indeed appear in the movie, but aside from a clear shot of the 63 Building in Yeouido, the filmmakers managed to make most of the city look fairly nondescript. On the positive side, the interplay between and among the heroes is still fairly witty for a big, dumb action film, and as mentioned before, the Hulk-Widow romance was a nice touch, although it came at the expense of the evolution of the Stark-Banner bromance. (One question does get solved in this film, though: is it possible to knock the Hulk unconscious?) Thanks to the missing five minutes, I'm a little behind on The Vision's origin story, but that doesn't feel as tragic as I made it out to be earlier in this review. Oh, and hats off to James Spader for providing a better villain this time around. I was never a fan of Loki, who was (1) merely second fiddle to an even bigger villain in the first movie and (2) a poor interpretation of the Loki of myth.

So, yeah—I'll give the movie an ever-so-slight thumbs-up. It's big, it's loud, it's fun, but it's also more of the same.

ADDENDUM: I also liked Friday, the pert, Oyrish-accented cyber-lass who has replaced Jarvis as the voice of Tony Stark's suit. I can imagine a "Her"-like situation developing as Stark falls in love with his AI assistant. The music was better this time around, too, probably because the score was by Danny Elfman and not Alan Silvestri. I like Silvestri's work ("Abyss," "Predator," "Back to the Future," "Avengers 1"), but Elfman's score in this movie, which retains some of Silvestri's leitmotifs from the first movie, has a more heartfelt touch.



  1. I'm not sure how much of the Vision origin you missed, but here's a description:

    Stark discovers that the reason Ultron has not been able to get access to nuke launch codes is that the Jarvis software has not been destroyed as thought but is actively preventing Ultron from getting that access. Stark convinces Banner to imbue the machine/flesh hybrid they stole from Ultron with the Jarvis software.

    Cap and others arrive and try to stop them. Then Thor shows up and uses lightning to bring the being to life. He's Jarvis, but not Jarvis. He's Ultron, but not Ultron.

  2. Thanks, Chip.

    Based on that two-paragraph description, I was in the theater for the first paragraph, but missed everything described in the shorter second paragraph. Was Thor trying to stop The Vision from being created, or was he trying to help the process along? If he was trying to help, why would he do so when the other Avengers were trying to stop Stark? I missed out on all that.

    (Vision turns out to be the only other being able to use Thor's hammer. That was interesting.)

  3. Kevin,

    I thought of you when I read this movie review. Hope you enjoy.

  4. Mark,

    Fascinating essay. You first: what was your reaction to it? (I assume you saw the movie.)



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