Saturday, 25 April 2015
Avengers Age of Ultron: A Mixed Bag (SPOILERS)
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Avengers Age of Ultron is a mixed bag. On the whole it's an enjoyable film but comparisons with other Marvel films are inevitable, and this film suffers in comparison with its predecessors. It's probably the weakest and least satisfying of all the movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but to be fair most of those films are exceptionally good, and there's still lots to admire in AoU.
Ultron looks and sounds amazing. I could listen to James Spader's evil voice all day. Spader's obviously been motion captured and it works brilliantly. They've managed to make a CGI robot, with limited facial expressions, full of personality. Spader's performance is evident in every shrug of Ultron's shoulders.
The relationship between Banner and Black Widow serves to flesh out both characters nicely. In lesser hands it could feel tacked on but here it feels natural that these characters, both of whom are trying to deal with their darker natures in different ways, would be drawn to each other. Mark Ruffalo's performance is superb, conveying Banner's angst, humour and repressed emotion with considerable charisma. I usually find Scarlett Johansson wooden but she did an excellent job here and really helped us get into the Widow's head.
The increased focus on Hawkeye was very welcome since he spent most of the first Avengers movie hypnotised. I'm still a little disappointed that Jeremy Renner is playing a character who's closer to Ultimate Hawkeye than classic comics Hawkeye. But that's a personal bugbear on my part, the handling of the character here, by both the script and Renner, can't really be faulted.
Tony Stark continues to get a lot of attention, but that's fine with me, since as far as I'm concerned, out of all The Avengers he's the best and most complex character, and is also played by the best actor. Tony continues to struggle with the glimpse into infinity he experienced at the end of the first Avengers movie. The fact that this still affects and motivates Tony shows a level of maturity not usually present in a genre where ordinary people are usually able to process and accept the fantastic with no ill affects. Tony is a man with a big ego who's used to being in control and now he's scared by his (and the Earth's) vulnerability and insignificance. This is all conveyed beautifully by Downey Jr's performance. More than any other MCU character Stark is on a journey and I look forward to following it further in Captain America 3: Civil War.
I'm really hoping that the appearance of a supporting character called Dr. Helen Cho might lead to an appearance in the MCU at some point by Amadeus Cho. Amadeus is a teenaged boy who's also the seventh smartest person on Earth. He's one of my favourite Marvel characters. Anyone who's curious about him should check out Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's Incredible Hercules.
Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and the Vision are played brilliantly by their respective actors and they look great, but there's just not enough time spent on them to give them the development that the plot requires. Scarlet Witch becomes a new member of the Avengers. Vision is a creation of Ultron who sees the worth in humanity and thus proves the villain wrong. Quicksilver (SPOILER) makes a heroic sacrifice at the end of the film. All of these things mean they're too significant to have such little attention given to them. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch hate Stark and so they ally themselves with Ultron. After realising that Ultron plans to destroy the world they switch sides. Fine, makes sense, but why is their hatred of Stark instantly forgotten? By the time Quicksilver dies we just don't know enough about him to care.
Vision sees the worth in humanity. Why? Because he's also Jarvis? Maybe, the film doesn't spend a lot of time on it. As it stands it feels like humanity has Vision's trust without earning it. Vision comes out of his little creation pod with his personality and motivation fully formed, and he even pulls his costume out of nowhere. Ultron also suffers from being rushed into existence. Just as the Vision has no clear reason for liking humanity, Ultron has no clear reason for hating it. Banner and Stark literally create him over three days. Ultron then scans the internet and decides the best way to fulfil the mission Stark has given him (protect the world) is to kill everyone. It makes no sense, he's a baddie just because. Also, why does he even need Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch?
In any other series of films all this might be forgiveable, but Marvel is notable for having fleshed out their characters over several films. With a hero as fully formed and complex as Tony Stark running around, the dodgy motivations of Ultron, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver stand out like a sore thumb.
The ending of the film also left me feeling dissatisfied. Ultron levitates a huge portion of a city into the air. He plans to drop it back to Earth like a meteorite, causing the extinction of the human race. Captain America is faced with an impossible decision. Destroy the floating city with people still on it or continue to try and rescue them and risk the extinction of mankind. Just as Black Widow is convincing him that they have to blow the whole thing (including themselves) to kingdom come, Nick Fury turns up in a helicarrier and saves them all. I found it extremely disappointing that a character like Cap, who sees right and wrong in simple terms, was posed a dilemma like that and then spared from having to make a decision by a big, fat cop out. Don't get me wrong, I don't think The Avengers should have blown themselves up, but if you're going to give your characters difficult ethical dilemmas I think the solutions should be a bit better than Nick Fury pulling a helicarrier out of his arse.
Oh noes! Teh end of the MCU?
At least as far as I'm concerned this film has fallen short of the high standard set by Marvel with their previous movies. If Marvel want to set up characters like Scarlet Witch and Vision as the next chapter in MCU history then they'll have to work harder than this to make us care about them. But I'm not especially worried. Avengers Age of Ultron has been getting good reviews everywhere else (what do I know?) and let's face it, Marvel have set the bar so high for themselves that they're bound to fall short now and again. If their other recent offering, the Daredevil TV series, is anything to go by the MCU still has plenty of life in it yet.
And of course, Amadeus Cho is still to come!