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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (DJ's SPOILER FREE Take)


CELEBRATORY
Now, I'm not a psychic or anything.  I'm not from the future or possess some mutant power over probability or telepathy or the space time continuum.  However, I know...without a shadow of a doubt...that The Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be taken for granted in the next coming months.  Oh, we'll all see it, for sure.  But cynics and critics who get paid a dime a word to say such cliched things as "this comic book movie craze is wearing thin for me" are going to crap on this film.  Hell, even some fans of the property are going to take for granted how great this film is.  The main question these groups of people will ask is if it is better than the first Avengers.  My answer to that is...no.  After hearing that, everyone will rush to judgement and think the film is a disappointment or even a failure.  It is astronomically far from that.  What you have to realize is that even before Age of Ultron was made, it was going to be impossible to make it better than the original.  The original Avengers is literally a dream come true.  It is a film that is the first ever culmination of years of planning and set-up for something that was thought to be impossible to pull off.  More so than Sin City.  More so than Watchmen.  The Avengers was not supposed to happen...but it did...and it was great.  Flawed?  Sure.  But despite whatever criticism lobbied toward it, it will forever have that glow of the first time.  All you realistically can hope for in a sequel is for it not to squander its predecessor's steam or lose its way.  For it to continue exploring and expanding on the things that worked well in the original while managing to fix whatever mistakes the original suffered from.  Thankfully, Avengers: Age Of Ultron does that and then some.

Avengers: Age of Ultron centers around the assemblage of Earth's mightiest heroes as they try and fend off a global assault from a self-aware computer program called Ultron.  The program itself is accidentally created by Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark.  The team must fight for their lives and fight to stay together while the world is on the brink of total annihilation.  But I don't want to really talk about that.  I want to talk about the real reason why this film works and why it will continue to work going forward. 

What is the best parts of any Tarantino movie?  Is it the ultra violent action scenes?  Is it the cool soundtrack?  Is it the story?  Not for my money.  It is the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their witty verbiage in their interactions.  What was the best parts of the new Star Trek films?  Was it the space battles?  Was it the phaser shootouts?  Was it the lens flares?  Not for my money.  It was the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their palpable chemistry.  Their understanding of who each of their characters are.  The same can be said of the first Avengers and thankfully of Age of Ultron.  Don't get me wrong, the action scenes and set pieces in all these films are crazy good.  However, these team-up Marvel films go as far and will continue to go as far as the characters' chemistry and interactive dialogue will take them.  Action scenes are easy to pull off compared to the task of assembling a large cast of characters that you have to make lovable in different ways and believable in their conversations with one another.  Special effects are a cinch compared to writing a character so well that fan boys geek out about them as much when they are out of their super suit having a normal conversation as they would seeing them in their super suit battling murderous megalomaniacal robots.  Avengers: Age of Ultron's chemistry is its superpower.  The story has its flaws, but you are willing to forgive them because you love these characters and you love to be a fly on the wall in their superhero lives. 


The original players that return...Tony, Cap', Thor, Widow, Banner, Hawkeye...are just as good if not better than before.  Robert Downey Jr. is the rockstar of the group without managing to overshadow the others.  Chris Evans' ability to be honest and vulnerable as Steve Rogers yet stern and leader-like as Captain America is a marvel to watch. (See what I did there?) Hemsworth's Thor seems to work best when he is allowed to be humorous and play up the fish out of water trope, which he does again here.  Hawkeye gets a much talked about backstory, but in my opinion, he also gets much better material to work with as a team member.  The Banner/Widow "thang" does take some getting used to, but ScarJo and Ruffalo make it feel genuine.  Scarlett Johansson is also given a scene in the middle of this film that was almost out of place in its subject matter and the dramatic power in which she plays it.  Kudos and whoa.  
Hey Widow.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes Called...
To be honest, the new players are the ones that I really spent my time focusing on.  Getting inserted into a world where the chemistry of characters is so important is no easy feat.  3 out of the 4 newbies manage to slide in with ease.  Elizabeth Olsen really does a fine job with Scarlet Witch, proving that she is keeping all the talent in the Olsen family.  Paul Bettany's jump from voice over J.A.R.V.I.S. to live action Vision is so good that it is a flaw in the film that we don't get more of him.  Andy Serkis even steals a scene as a character who may or may not be the nemesis in the upcoming Black Panther film.  But my one standout from the Avengers: Age of Ultron is predictably James Spader's titular character.  The thing you have to prepare for, which will catch you off guard as it did me, is how funny and alive Ultron is in this film.  Some who have seen this performance already have been put off by this, believing a robot wouldn't possess this much personality.  However, if you take the time to understand that this is a robot with the soul of one Tony Stark, it makes sense.  Ultron would of course be as eccentric and comically quirky as its genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist father.  Fans of James Spader will be amazed by how many of the actor's signature mannerisms and facial ticks are alive and well in Ultron.  Getting back to my point about dialogue scenes, Ultron's verbal interactions with Vision are possibly my favorites in the film.

Quicksilver is the new player that I had the most issues with.  The largest praise I can offer Aaron Taylor-Johnson's performance is that it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  He and Olsen's accents are not even as bad as I thought they were going to be.  Taylor-Johnson is not really bad at all.  It is just a bit of a low-key performance for a character that had so much more personality in X-Men: Days of Future Past.  And I freely admit that I thought Taylor-Johnson would be the superior Pietro Maximoff.  However, Evan Peters, much like what his character would do, steals Taylor-Johnson's lunch in comparison.

Here I've been waxing poetic about character and dialogue and chemistry and I have neglected to talk about the popcorn action moments in this film.  I apologize.  Rest easy.  There are many. 
PUNY AFFORDABLE SEDAN!
Soooooo many.  So much so, that the biggest action scene in the first Avengers is merely the opening scene to this film.  Whedon, having written great set pieces in comic books for years, seems to have finally come into his own creating them as a director in his films.  The television show composition and cleanness of the first Avengers, a topic of criticism in the past, is gone thanks to the addition of cinematographer Ben Davis.  Davis, fresh off his stint on some film called Guardians of the Galaxy, really makes the film appear more cinematic while keeping its vibrancy. (Sorry DC)  Both know exactly what we want on a base level in an Avengers film, and both generously spoon feed us battle after battle with a wink and a smile. 
NERDGASM!!!
Speaking to the flaws of the film, I will say that there are some very hurried and even skipped over moments of exposition and character development in spots.  You can almost feel when a scene has been trimmed down for time.  This is why I was initially happy when the film was reported to be 3 hours long at first.  Film length never bothers me if there is a lot of story to tell or character development to get through.  You have not one but two beings of artificial intelligence whose motivations come at you at breakneck speed.  This is something in which Marvel appears to recognize, considering their announcement of an extended cut Blu-ray with alternate endings coming our way in the future.  Long films do limit their own box office receipts, so I understand the give and take that Marvel/Disney are up against.  Fans of the stand alone films Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World will also be saddened to see little to nothing being carried over from those two films into Age of Ultron.  Most importantly, why Tony is back to being Iron Man after appearing to give it up in his last cinematic outing.  

Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the best summer popcorn flick you're going to see this year...the best you've had in two years...and the most fun you'll have in the theater until the end of the year.  No, I don't think it surpasses its predecessor on a comic book movie level, but that should not prevent you from CELEBRATING it or the fact that we got TWO of these films that were an unrealistically optimistic fantasy in our minds a little under a decade ago...with TWO MORE on the way!  Have some Vision...get tangled in strings...don't drink from Thor's flask...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.  

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