Avengers, dissemble! AGE OF ULTRON swaps character for ‘splosions

avengers age of ultron costumes

You guys, I finally saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last night! I am now counted among the true believers once again (read: I can go back to Tumblr).

But despite my uber-excitement after how much I loved the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, I have to admit, I left the theater disappointed.

It’s been suggested that my disappointment is a result of too-high expectations, misunderstanding the filmmakers’ intentions, not being able to keep up with the breakneck pace of the story, and/or simple failed hype. Maybe. Those are all entirely plausible explanations.

But I don’t think I’m expecting too much for this Avengers to be as well-written, well-directed, and well-played as the first. I do understand the filmmakers had boatloads of story and characterization and Phase 3 setup to cram into 2h 20m. I was breathless with the pace, but I was never lost for long. And I didn’t watch Finding Nemo for five years because I didn’t want hype to influence me, so pbbbbhhhttt to that.

After mulling it over, feeling like a super Bad Geek, I quickly realized the root of my disappointment lies in the most obvious of places: the storytelling.

Ultron feels like it’s two movies crammed into one. Or two different treatments of the same story by two different writers/directors, then spliced together by a third guy. There’s a disjointed quality between being a Very Serious Civil War Buildup Movie and a Fun Superhero Movie with Big Ideas. Like it can’t decide what to be. I agree this could be intentional–broken framing is a great way to enhance the point that the movie’s about dysfunction–but it’s heavyhanded and overused, destroying the sense of flow that connects us to the characters who, by the way, are why we give a shit about watching eleven movies (so far) in the first place.

The dissonance between these two styles is so strong that I entirely forgot I was watching a Joss Whedon flick and not a Michael Bay actionporn except for blips of perfectly-timed humor and heartwrenching moments. Worse, those gems of Jossness that made Avengers so fantastic are trite, jarring or downright huh? when presented against the megaserious backdrop. Entire scenes are out of place (Why did we spend so much time at Rancho Barton and go to Thor’s cave (that sounds bad)?) and characters’ attempts at humor or three dimensions fall flat without space to breathe. The final film is a battleground between leashed Joss and the studio, resulting in a clunky story that doesn’t measure up to the tight, witty, emotionally-invested bar set by Avengers.

AND ANOTHER THING.

captain america tears log in half avengers age of ultron

There are tons of supercool ideas presented in Ultron that I wanted to explore more deeply, but given the frantic pace, we don’t get that chance. I wanted to understand Ultron and his evolution; at the beginning, he parrots Tony and perverts the idea of peace through a computer’s lens, then 20 minutes before the end says he’s “gone beyond” that. How?! Further, we’re thrown Vision and he’s accepted immediately, his comment about being neither Ultron nor Jarvis buried under “get ‘im, Ray!” talk. The power of fear is touched on, but we never know what Bruce saw or how Steve managed to not go batshit broken like the rest of the team. And what about the fascinating relationship between Banner and Romanov–where did that come from?! Because of the film’s leaping  between action sequences, we miss out on goldmines of ideas and the precious storylines and entanglements that come with exploring them.

There are a bunch of other nitpicky things I could harp on (too-convenient twists, for example), but the basic gist of my disappointment is that Age of Ultron is filled with conflicted, disjointed storytelling with too much focus on OMG THE WORLD WILL END and not enough on character and ideas.

All that being said, I promise I didn’t hate Ultron. I’d see it again! (Besides, I’m reserving my “least favorite Marvel movie” spot for Ant-Man.)  I’m just sad it was so lackluster. Somewhere between Iron Man 3: Tony is Has Feels (slow, one idea, overwrought) and Ultron: Do All The Things (overstuffed, unfocused, flat) is the right balance of plot, character, ideas, and franchise. They nailed it with Iron Man, Avengers, and Guardians; as a decent fangirl, I believe they’ll find it again.

On the upside, there’s this:

Black Widow motorcycle dropping from Quinjet Age of Ultron


 

Why “Guardians of the Galaxy” is my new favorite Marvel movie

Guardians of the Galaxy alternative movie poster

I didn’t want to buy into all the hype about Guardians of the Galaxy. Love for it has been on every inch of the internet, but the last time I let myself get worked up about OMG THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER, it was Finding Nemo, and I was seriously let down.  (Awaits hate mail.) Plus, in this era of movies, I’ve become the sort of person who reuses to watch trailers because they basically show you the whole movie.

But HOLY CRAP this movie is every bit as rad-tacular as I heard it is.  And more. It’s everything I wanted it to be, everything I love in a story.

There are plenty of reviews out there talking about the relevance to the Marvel universe (both film and comic) and about how fun it is to watch and about the nitpicky -ism issues to be considered. Feel free to look those up; I’m not going to talk about them because blah.

What made me love this movie – what makes it my favourite of the entire Marvel film series so far – isn’t just the snappy, hilarious, organic writing or the incredible settings. It’s not even the fact that the characters are all confident and self-aware (to different degrees), eliminating the posturing and need to prove something to each other that often drags down ensemble films.

What’s special about this movie is the world itself.

While all the standalone Marvel superhero flicks and even Avengers deal with how people adjust to a new way of life and new information and new reality, the Guardians world is lived-in. There aren’t any questions raised about space travel, multiple livable planets, myriad races, or alien tech. It’s all just there – accepted as normal. The audience is swept along with what is, without lots of explanation or backstory, because the characters live here and they know. We get to skip the angst of worldbuilding/discovery and leap straight into the fun stuff.

The reason this is so amazing is that it allows the characters to pursue the plot, asking questions about the fate of the universe, how to beat the bad guy, and their personal flaws rather than trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the world. The backdrop of Guardians is understood, filled in for the viewer with a little visual here, a snippet of dialogue there, never enough to overwhelm us with long histories or jolt us out of flow with unanswered questions. It leaves the story abundant room to run, room denied us in the Iron ManThor, and Captain America  properties. Guardians develops characters and builds forward momentum, rather than getting stuck a struggle of new vs. old.

Yes, there are TONS of hilarious and touching one-liners in this flick, and the soundtrack rocks hardcore, but it’s that grungy, broken-in Firefly-esque personality to the setting that makes it really shine. I recommend it without hesitation to anyone who likes lighthearted space opera – regardless of their feelings about Marvel.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s safe to go back to Tumblr

Guardians of the Galaxy: 5/5

Groot light seeds - Guardians of the Galaxy