Tuesday, May 5, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Avengers: Age of Ultron made for a great afternoon at the movies! I went to Medina’s Regal Cinema with son Eddie, daughter Kelly and our neighbors Giselle and Greg. Because we went on a Sunday early in the afternoon, our tickets were only $5.50 each. I can’t begin to recall when I last saw a major release on its opening weekend at such a low price.

The movie opens with the Avengers invading a Hydra base to retrieve Loki’s scepter. It’s an impressive action sequence and only one of several in the film.

Enhanced humans Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch make their Marvel Cinematic Universe debut. You can’t say the “M” word in any Marvel movies not made by Twentieth Century Fox. They more than hold their own against the Avengers with cocky Pietro bowling them over like ten pins and Wanda messing with their minds. She leaves something behind in Tony Stark’s brain.

Stark asks Thor if he and Bruce Banner can examine the scepter for a few days. They find the weapon is powered by an infinity stone. They try to use that power to develop a better way to defend Earth from alien invasions. The road to Hell...

Things go horribly awry. Ultron, the new artificial intelligence created by Stark and Banner, has his own plan for bringing peace to Earth. He gets the best of Jarvis and assumes control of a legion of Iron Man robots. Said robots crash the celebration party. Things go even more horribly awry and, before long, the heroes are facing an extinction level threat.

I have some notes on Age of Ultron, but, to read them, you’ll have to ignore the following warnings...

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Writer/director Joss Whedon could be an enhanced human. His script has eleven heroes, assorted SHIELD and Hydra agents, Ultron and a couple other villains from the comics, and the usual looming menace in the end credits. The script and the movie flow like cool water over a fall. There are defining moments for almost every character. There is comedy and tragedy. There is romance. There are inspiring scenes of heroism in the midst of terrible destruction. It is the super-hero movie that embraces its super-hero roots instead of making them all dark and ugly as DC Comics does with its films. Honest to Godzilla, I want to hug Joss Whedon right now.

What a great gathering of characters and what an amazing ensemble cast to play them. Robert Downey Jr. has made Tony Stark his own and, man, would his Tony be both wonderful and impossible to live with. James Spader’s Ultron is Stark on steroids: cruelly sarcastic and emotionally explosive. It’s a far different Ultron than we’ve seen in the comics, but it works perfectly here.

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a delight. The party scene is huge fun. His teamwork with the Avengers is impressive. His key moments with the Vision are just so right and, by the way, Paul Bettany is great as the Vision.

Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo made for a surprising romantic pairing, but they made it work. We need a Black Widow movie sooner rather than later.

Chris Evans is, as always, on point as Captain America. The script uses humor to remind us that Steve Rogers is, indeed, a man out of his own time. The “language” running joke is as funny as anything I’ve seen in super-hero comics or movies.

Jeremy Renner delivers an outstanding performance as family man and do-it-yourself handyman Hawkeye. Renner is an actor I’ll watch in anything. He’s that good.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen have a character arc that was truly impressive. Their transition from wanting Tony Stark to suffer to joining the Avengers plays out beautifully.

Stan Lee has his best cameo ever. The audience laughed in delight the moment he appeared on the screen. To know my boss and mentor is to love him, even if, like most moviegoers, you only know him from a distance. If I ever make movies, Marvel or otherwise, I’ll always have a cameo role for Stan.

The movie has the usual fun nods to the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wakanda, the kingdom of the Black Panther, is mentioned. We see Ulysses Klaue, who, as Klaw, was the first super-villain to face the Black Panther in the comic books. In an illusion inflicted on Captain America by the Scarlet Witch, the band playing at a huge party is named for Roy Thomas, co-creator of Ultron and the Vision. Hayley Atwell appears as Peggy Carter in that scene. I’m certain there are other Marvel references I missed.

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The general opinion seems to be that Avengers: Age of Ultron, while a great movie, isn’t as good as Avengers. However, the more I think about the two films, the more I believe the two movies are equally good. The character play between the heroes is more easy/familiar than in the first movie. We know these characters better and they know each other better. The exciting action sequences are just as memorable as in the first movie, but, like the best of the Marvel comic books, it’s the characters and dialogue that keep us coming back for more.

Avengers: Age of Ultron gets my highest recommendation. I hope to see it again and I’ll definitely buy the Blu-ray when it’s offered for sale.

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The theater showed several previews before Avengers: Age of Ultron. Jurassic World looks awesome. Tomorrowland looks pretty darn spiffy as well. Ant-Man and Pixels look like fun. Fantastic Four strikes me as rough with mediocre special effects, but I’ll probably see it when it comes out.

The biggest disappointment - and this came as no surprise to me - was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC just doesn’t know how to make good super-hero movies. All they can do is twist their classic characters into even darker versions of themselves than they are even in DC’s depressing super-hero comic books.

Here’s the key difference between Marvel and DC super-hero movies. In Marvel’s movies, the heroes and the filmmakers put a premium on keeping civilian deaths to a minimum. DC’s movies are little more than destruction porn and human slaughter porn. They revel in the high body counts they put on the screen.

Maybe you think the protection of human life in the Marvel movies is unrealistic. I don’t care. I want to see heroes saving people. I want to see heroes being brave enough and clever enough to save people against impossible odds. The DC movies lack the heroism and optimism that are the very heart of the super-hero genre.

I won’t be seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I won’t see it at a theater. I won’t rent it. I might not even get it from the library for free. I’d rather spend two hours watching the cheesiest giant monster movie ever made than spend that two hours wallowing in the soul-crushing darkness that is DC.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of our hard-riding Rawhide Kid Wednesday series.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

4 comments:

  1. I love Age of Ultron too! All of the acting was top notch and

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    I like how it was the Vision saved the Scarlet Witch. If there's another Avengers movie I'd like to see them as a romantic pair as in the comic book. Great movie and i also liked it as well as the first!

    Dan Lorenzen

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  2. Phil B SoencksenMay 5, 2015 at 3:44 PM

    Once again, you've hit the nail on the head in regard to "respect for life" in the new DC Cinematic Universe versus the Marvel Cinematic Universe/Marvel Universe.

    Make no mistake, in "Age of Ultron," the death & injury count had to be very high. "You can't save everybody" is not just a superhero trope. It's a grim realization for our heroes. But perhaps the difference with the Marvel heroes is that while they know this, they still try to save everyone they (super)humanly can. And they genuinely regret the deaths of people they can't save.
    A single death used to be a big deal in comics. In some of them, it still is. I place the turning point for both Marvel and DC in the late '80s/early '90s with titles like "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Maximum Carnage" when villains like the Joker and Carnage began to routinely and viscerally rack up triple digit body counts. With every multiplied death toll, each death became less meaningful.
    Granted, it was a logical evolution from some much older storylines in which villains would just steal themed objects ("the jewel incrusted top hat on display at the museum"), but it got very dark, very quickly.
    A new generation embraced this new norm and older storylines began to look silly to them. "Why was it such a big deal that Capt. Stacy died? He was just one guy." Increasingly violent video games fed into this, too.

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  3. I just saw it today- I refuse to see movies on opening weekend. It turned out that the theater I saw it at has a special Tuesday price of $5 for a single movie per customer (a little more if it's 3D, but being slightly crosseyed I can't watch 3D movies), so I lucked out.

    I loved the movie. Frankly, I thought it was even better than the first one. But...


    SPOILER ALERT! WARNING!



    Since Wanda was one of the people responsible, in a way, for the creation of Ultron, doesn't that kind of make her the Vision's grandmother? That's... kind of disturbing.

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  4. Tony, may I add something to why I think the Marvel movies are better than DC (by a longshot!!)

    When Marvel first came out in the 1960s the press billed them “Super-Heroes with problems.” What they really were were HUMAN. The characters seemed more real and therefore character development played more into the stories. We see that in the movies, with friendships and even rivalries. They have personalities that could be built one.

    The DC heroes of that era were all out of the same mold, they were Boy Scouts. They got their powers, their uniforms, girlfriends and then automatically went out to fight crime. Marvel’s characters had to be nudged. And they didn’t all get girlfriends in the first issue. That developed. And of course, being human, the Marvel characters had a sense of humor. No one in the DC world does.

    The writers of the Green Lantern movie obviously saw Iron Man. Although (not unlike Thor) Hal Jordan was chosen because he was worthy (another Boy Scout) by the ring, they played him like Tony Stark for the first boring hour of the movie. The ring said he was worthy, why was he such a jerk? It didn’t make sense. The DC characters (except for the Dark Knight series) don’t connect with.

    Oh yes, Marvel did have one Boy Scout: Captain America and they make a joke of it throughout the movie(s). And he has trouble living with it sometimes.

    (PS: The Spirit remains one of the worst movies I have ever seen.)

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