Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Originally posted May 29th, 2015

There are no strings on me...

My favorite part of The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a party scene.  There are no superhero costumes, no loud explosions, and no CGI effects.  The scene is about a group of very different people who have been through a lot of crazy experiences, and this is their chance to relax, hang out, and drink with each other.  It's a really fun scene, with razor-sharp writing and excellent acting all around.  If you've been following this eleven-film-long saga, this is a major payoff for you, and definitely a showcase for writer/director Joss Whedon at his most pure.

The rest of the movie is (for the most part) a good superhero team-up movie.  While the novelty of seeing all these classic characters interacting is gone for the most part, their chemistry and dynamics shine through at every turn.  The film kicks off with an extraordinarily over-the-top action scene on a snowy mountain in the poor country of Sokovia, as The Avengers have already assembled and are retrieving Loki's old scepter from evil scientists who have been experimenting with it on humans.  Two of these experiments, twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) Maximoff, have special abilities that allow them to take on the Avengers and pose a major threat.  Once the scepter is retrieved, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) a.k.a. Iron Man and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) a.k.a. the Hulk, begin experimenting with an artificial intelligence found within the gem that gives the scepter its power of mind control.  Naturally, while trying to harness the power of the A.I. (voiced by James Spader) for the good of humanity, it backfires and decides that in order to save Earth, he must destroy all humans.  It's up to the Avengers and their allies to stop Ultron before he eviscerates the entire planet's population.

Age of Ultron is well paced, with solid character development and fun action.  The balance between comedy and drama is handled nicely (like the first), and none of the main characters get totally lost in the shuffle.  In fact, the only underdeveloped character from the first film, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), gets plenty of great focus.  I've seen complaints about a love story between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner, and while I admit that the actors don't have much chemistry, their reasons for wanting to be with each other are really compelling.  I'm also interested in this whole Infinity Stone thing (and I can't wait until The Avengers meet the Guardians of the Galaxy in a later film to tie everything together).  Add to that all the fun and unexpected cameos from other characters in the Marvel cinematic universe, and things are looking really good from a character perspective.

I don't want to rant about the overuse of CGI in modern movies, so all I'll say is that it actually becomes exhausting to watch so many CGI-infused action scenes.  I've heard that Age of Ultron is the most expensive film in the franchise to date and has the most digital effects, but I probably could have guess it just by looking at the thing.  There has yet to be an Incredible Hulk that doesn't move like a cartoon character during action scenes, and this is no exception.  In close-ups and slower moments (aided by motion capture) he looks fantastic, but otherwise, I just don't believe he's there.  Yes, there were moments when my jaw dropped in amazement or I got chills from a thrilling battle, but honestly, most of the action could have been cut in half and the movie would still have been enjoyable.  Imagine that last scene from the first Avengers, which was a busy, over-the-top, but very entertaining CGI showcase.  Now imagine watching it three times, buffered by expository scenes and you have some idea of how the plot flows in this movie. Meanwhile, the score by Brian Tyler and Danny FREAKING Elfman of all people manages to be somehow less memorable than Alan Silvestri's incredibly generic score from the first movie.

Pietro and Wanda are given some backstory that is supposed to make them hate Tony Stark (making them villains for the time), but their inclusion in the story is unnecessary and their motivations are flimsy. They come off as kind of stupid for helping out Ultron, and so their redemption rings a bit false.  Ultron's motivations are also muddy and his conception as a villain might make more sense if I knew anything about the comics, but I don't, so I found it needlessly unclear.  I did, however, appreciate that he has a sarcastic personality and doesn't speak with a bland, robotic monotone like I expected.

I can't help feeling a bit disappointed by the second Avengers movie, but it's still a fun ride all around.  It's a bit too long and overstuffed with characters for its own good, but it can be thrilling and funny all the same.  A stronger villain motivation would have surely bumped my score up a notch, but at the same time, it's impressive that the movie works at all.   It becomes a series of events rather than a compelling story, and even though the climax is chock-full of spectacle, it's unfortunately a bit empty, not unlike the Transformers sequels.  I saw it in IMAX 3D, and my feelings on the format remain the same: IMAX good, 3D bad.  It's still a must-see for fans of the franchise, and entertains on a number of levels.  The film focuses on action scenes rather than a story, but thankfully the characters don't get lost in the all the digital pyrotechnics.