Reflections on Avengers: Age of Ultron after first viewing SPOILERS

Spoilers.  Spoilers.  Holy heckfire, spoilers.  If you read beyond these lines its your own dang fault and don’t you dare blame me.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (A2) left me with mixed emotions that all came together to give me a good feeling in the end.  Why?  Well, I believe that the strength of any super hero movie is its villain.  We need a villain that we can sympathize with.  Joss Whedon has done what we have never had before:  make a successful super hero film with more than one villain.  My favorite villain in this film has brought me to a catharsis about what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is leading to.

Can you guess my favorite villain in the movie?  Nope, its not Ultron.  Ultron is a “classic” Marvel villain, in many ways, and that is not a compliment.  Ultron is better than most in that his dialogue is very human, injects humor in his madness, and has an interesting plan for execution of that madness.  But Ultron doesn’t make this movie.  He is just the means to an end.  This movie isn’t even really about Ultron, even though he gets title credit.

At this point you might be saying to yourself:  “The Maximoff twins are your favorite ‘villain’?  Are you nuts?”  And if that were true, you’d be right.  I’m not a huge fan of the “de-mutanting” of the Twins.  If you’re not a comic fan, the long and short of it is that Fox owns the rights to X-men and the characters.  This includes Magneto’s children:  the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.  So, although Wanda Maximoff and Pietr Maximoff have identical names and powers as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, you can’t call them those names, and you had to redefine their powers as “enhancements” like Captain America, instead of what they really are in the Marvel Universe:  mutants.  I liked The Twins, but they are secondary characters, with very undeveloped backstories that are just eye candy.  Whedon made a vain attempt to make them relevant, and maybe they will be in the future, but their presence is just incidental to the real story here.

Back to the original point.  My favorite villain.  The best villain in A2 is The Avengers.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  One of the best (and legitimate) criticisms leveled at Marvel movies in general is that they lack any real consequences for the hero’s actions.  They can destroy whole cities and no one gets upset.  Its like the citizens of Earth are oblivious to them unless they’re right there and the human cost of their actions is out of the picture.

A2 works to confront this issue head on.  Recap:  They go to get the Chitauri Sceptre from Hydra.  The Scarlet Witch spooks ’em all.  Stark uses the Sceptre to develop Ultron.  Ultron smashes the team, the Hulk does exactly what Banner fears, and Iron Man is barely able to stop him.  The public hates the Avengers (as well they should) and they go into hiding.

That’s awesome.  Now, at this stage, I was rooting for the Avengers to lose and have them lose hard.  Am I a killjoy?  No.  Its because that would make for a gutsy story.  The Avengers should lose, and then we have a real reason for Marvel Civil War, besides the “registration” part of the original story.  Somewhere along the line, about three quarters of the way through the script, Whedon wimps out or is forced to wimp out by studio executives.  Who knows.  But up until the point where they win, I’m on board.  And then it kinda loses me.  I like that they mostly work to protect people on the giant land chunk.  That’s important.  But I also think that Cap loses his concern over what Stark is doing way too quickly in this movie.  He has a great line about a third of the way in:

Stark:  How do we cope with something like that?

Cap:  Together.

Stark: We’ll lose.

Cap: We do that together too.

See, Cap gets it.  If there is one thing that I like about these movies is that they nail who Cap is throughout this whole time (except maybe the last 20 minutes of this movie).  Cap is a hero because of two things that sets him apart and that makes Tony Stark his anti-thesis: 1) The ends do NOT justify the means and 2) The only way is the ethical way, even if its the hard way.  In case it isn’t evident, I’ll be squarely on Cap’s side in the Civil War.

Stark represents business logic and thinking:  it doesn’t matter who gets hurt, so long as we protect the bottom line.  Cap represents old-fashioned ethical idealism. Anyway, I don’t want to drone on, but if we’re watching this movie, and watching Stark talk Banner into helping him build Ultron, and watch Stark’s narcissistic sickness seep into him and we don’t think the Avengers are the villains in this film?  Yikes.  Its a thing of beauty.  Banner represents the middle ground in this debacle.  He knows there’s something wrong, yet he still makes the bad call.  I would classify Thor as neutral, except when he’s not, and except when he’s on the other side?  His actions are confusing in this regard.  He sees Vision as a destroyer, yet brings him to life?  Was he trying to destroy him instead of “quickening” him?

If Whedon had really done his job in this movie, we all should walk out hating The Avengers and that would have made this the Empire Strikes Back of this series.  Instead we got something “safer” and more mainstream.

I give it props because it gets close, closer than I thought it could, to be sure.  The thought of Civil War is brewing in my mind.  I think that the best move would have been to have the Avengers lose here and set Cap and Stark against each other starting at the end of this movie.  In a true second act, the hero(s) have to lose and they need to stay defeated at the end of this part of the narrative.  I just find it real weird that we keep getting teased Civil War over and over again, yet, once again, Cap and Stark somehow walk away from this one friends.

I guess, when push comes to shove, that’s the one thing that I disliked about this film.  Steve Rogers should not walk away from this one friends with Tony Stark.  But it happens, wrapped up in a nice little package.  It weakens the film.  It prevents it from having the emotional gut shot that Winter Soldier did.  It doesn’t make it a bad film.  It makes it a safe film, and safe films just aren’t as memorable as films that take risks.

Now, there was a lot to like in the moving picture, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoyed it.  But that one choice makes me enjoy it slightly less.  We’ve drawn it out too long.  We’re something like 11 movies in and it’s just one teaser after the other.  Narrative be damned!

Other things I liked:  the dialogue humor was there, but I probably didn’t enjoy it as much this time because I was expecting it.  I like to be surprised.  There are lots of good lines and I’ll notice them more in the second viewing.

I liked Vision, but he didn’t really get much screen time or development and he mysteriously disappears almost entirely for a good chunk of the last segment of the film, until he’s “needed” again for the narrative.

I like all the connections between the rest of the narrative.  The Sceptre being an Infinity Stone, Erik Selviig’s brief return to help Thor, the attempts to give Barton and Romanoff’s characters more backstory, the witchy dreams that each character has, etc.

Minor gripes?  Some of the CGI was a little hokey, especially at the start.  Physics be damned in the end sequence.  I doubt that the land chunk could even be lifted, I doubt that anyone could survive the altitude, and if it is truly that altitude, there is no way it picks up enough speed to cause a cataclysm anyway, whether Stark and Thor “succeed” with whatever it is they did or not.  It also sure as heck doesn’t not kill anyone on the ground when it lands.  And, of course, breaking it into many chunks does not dissipate the energy involved.

I hope you enjoyed the movie.  I did.  Despite what I said above, I enjoyed it and will go see it again in the theatre, probably with the wifey later this weekend. I think, overall, it was great, but it could have been superb.  But, not enough risk-taking.  More risk taking!

 

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