Monday, October 5, 2015

Movie #330: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is, of course, the sequel to The Avengers and continues the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Paul Bettany, plus a bunch of other people.

So. The Avengers are out busting heads, and take down a Hydra outpost run by Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). There, they find Loki's scepter...but also two superpowered individuals, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson and Olsen, respectively), who fuck them up a bit. They take the scepter back to New York, where Thor (Hemsworth) gives Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) three days to play with it before taking it back to Asgard.

They use it to create an artificial intelligence called Ultron (Spader) that quickly decides that life on Earth needs to "evolve" and the Avengers need to die, so it takes the scepter and runs off, leaving the Avengers to scramble. They track Ultron to Wakanda, where he's buying vibranium from a scuzzy arms dealer named Klaue (Andy Serkis, setting up to be the big bad in Black Panther), but Wanda hypnotizes all of them, including Hulk, sending him into a frenzy in a civilian area.

They retreat to Clint Barton's (Renner) farm and meet his wife Laura (Linda Cardellini), and try to regroup, but Ultron is out doing terrible things. They eventually wind up stealing the next-gen android body he was going to upload himself into, and throwing a bunch of Thor-power into it via the mind gem (the thing in Loki's scepter) and creating the Vision (Bettany). Then they all go and fight Ultron and his many clones. Pietro dies saving Hawkeye.

Holy shit. This movie is busy as hell. It improves on a second viewing because you know enough of what's going on to appreciate the characters and their interactions a bit more, but I honestly think...a couple of things, really.

I think this is, to date, the weakest Marvel movie, in part because it aimed so high and just bit off more than it could chew. Sure, Dark World (we'll get to the Ts eventually) wasn't terrific, but it was more focused and more consistent. I also think that there were some scenes that were cut that should have been left in, not least was the extended version of the vision in the cave. Sure, it would have added running time, but the movie is already hella long, and it would have a) given Stellan Skasgaard more to do and b) let Hemsworth act a little more, plus set up the coming conflicts a bit more.

And that's really the big issue: The whole movie is a stepping stone for future Marvel movies. Unlike its predecessor, it's not really about very much on its own, and I'm sure that once more MCU movies come out we'll see more context for what happened here, but that's an awful gamble on a movie with so much to keep straight.

I think Black Widow (Johansson) should have had more to do, but that's true of literally everyone. Even the people with stuff to do didn't get to do that much. The big stink about Widow was that she referred to herself as a "monster" because she can't have kids, but honestly I think that's only one possible interpretation of what she says, and in context it makes more sense. I dunno. Maybe I'm too forgiving.

Final thought: Someone other than Joss Whedon should have directed this. Holy shit, if they could have gotten Sodeburgh (good with large casts), maybe? But Whedon was getting bored and frustrated with Marvel pulling the leash, and the result is that the dialog is still snappy and Whedony, but the movie overall feels spread too thin.

(I still like it, see. Just pales in comparison to the first one. And I'm still pumped for Civil War.)

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Contagion