Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. Next up: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
JOHN: As I write this, the sequel to the third-highest grossing movie of all time (2012's The Avengers) will have made about $187 million in its opening weekend with millions more around the globe. Marvel has a built-in fanbase with people who are eagerly anticipating the movie and will see it no matter what. Reviewing a movie like this is almost a fool's errand. I mean, is there anybody still on the fence about whether they will see Avengers: Age of Ultron? You know you're going to see it. Expectations couldn't be higher, so I'm happy to report that the new Avengers is good. Sometimes very good. But, it's not good as the first. Like most sequels, it's bigger, more ambitious, louder, more cluttered, more overstuffed, just more more more. Yet, it lacks the fun and novelty of the first. It's more serious, and as epic as its action sequences get, none of them really stand out and, more often than not, a lot of the action is incomprehensible - especially that Hulkbuster sequence. I'm getting ahead of myself though. What are your initial impressions of Joss Whedon's latest entry in the MCU?
JULIE: We took the time to watch the first Avengers movie last weekend, before going to see Age of Ultron yesterday. I had forgotten what a fun, well-executed movie that was. Other than not giving Hawkeye much to do, that movie's pretty perfect. I'm with you, however, on the second Avengers installment. It lacks some of what made the first one so good, which is understandable, I guess. In the first movie, a lot of the fun comes from these characters interacting for the first time. In Age of Ultron, they already have the history (which does inform the best scene of the movie, the party; I'd watch these characters/actors hanging out together not doing much of anything for a full two hours). But because Whedon and company have two hours to introduce Ultron and the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, while also having to send Thor off to do THINGS, there's not a lot of down time. The action sequences are big and plentiful, but it's too much and a little too muddled. Much of the action is each Avenger using his or her best ability to knock off one robot after the next. It starts to become repetitive, and it starts to make me long for the small moments, like Thor watching Captain America almost move his hammer.
Since I mentioned some of the new characters, what did you think of the twins and James Spader's voice work?
JOHN: Funny how you mention Spader's voice rather than the character of Ultron itself. That's kind of what you take away. Spader is perfectly cast in the role, but I'm not sold on Ultron as a character, as a villain, or as a special effect. I don't think Whedon writes him all that well. He doesn't get a lot of good lines, and his motivations don't make much sense. I mean, he's basically evil right from the start with no time for self-discovery. Spader cocks his head from side to side in the performance capture suit, so you know that Ultron is him, but he plays it just like any other Spader villain. And the effects work is downright shoddy at times - I never bought Ultron as a real character like I do, say, Andy Serkis as Caesar in the Apes films. I liked Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in the small doses we get of them, and I think they work as good foils to the Avengers team. Both of their powers work well in conjunction with each other. I also like their backstory and vendetta against Stark. It's kind of incredible that Whedon does right by them while he's juggling so many other characters. Whedon also makes good on the Hawkeye character finally, giving him a real place on the team and fleshing him out more.
Some of the other character work doesn't quite hit the mark though. Like you mentioned, Thor is off doing THINGS (mostly setting up plot for Avengers: Infinity War), and it's kind of hastily thrown into the movie, as if mandated by Marvel (which it probably was). I loved Black Widow serving as Hulk's "lullaby" to get him to change back to Banner, but I wasn't sold on their romance out of superhero guise. Then again, there's just enough given to each character to push this film over the mindless blockbuster hurdle. Whedon gets points for at least trying something interesting, and there's definitely a beating heart to this movie.
I agree with you 100% about that party (or "revels") scene. Loved it, loved it, loved it. If Guardians of the Galaxy taught us anything, it's that these group superheroes are more entertaining when we see them interacting and joking with each other, rather than fighting the good fight. Maybe that's just a gut reaction to seeing so many comic book movies. The action gets repetitive and feels obligatory, and I'd trade all four big action sequences in the film for more moments like Don Cheadle's "War Machine story." In fact, my favorite scene in the whole movie is the one you mentioned: Captain almost lifting Mjolnir, and Thor's reaction to it. Actually, come to think of it, the best jokes in the movie all involve Mjolnir, like everyone's "oh shit" reaction when the Vision (Paul Bettany) hands the hammer to Thor, and Cap's ribbing Thor about an elevator's "worthiness" to raise the hammer.
What are your favorite moments? Least favorite? And, where do you think we go from here?
JULIE: Speaking of Ultron, I never quite "got" what the character was doing, as far as his appearance. There wasn't much difference between his original look and his jacked up look. There was no evolution. Also, he was supposed to be this creation-gone-wrong of Tony Stark, but the two basically have nothing to do with each other. Also, how Jarvis managed to best Ultron in the end (or all along), I have no clue.
So, the result of this flabby villain is that, by the end of the movie, we're just watching the Avengers pick off machine after machine after machine. It reminded me of some of the upper-level levels in Skylanders where it's just needlessly tedious. "I know I'm going to win, so can we just put an end to this charade?" It was more about the Avengers outlasting the robots than it was about them defeating them using their singular skills. (Thor should've tossed a giant magnet at Ultron at the midpoint so that the Avengers could've spent the rest of the movie being buds).
The thing about Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver is that they were WAY harder to defeat than Ultron. I wasn't sold on Scarlet Witch at the start, but she has some brilliant moments at the end (including a heart-to-heart with Hawkeye). I'm not sure how the franchise will use her going forward, but it is nice to see another lady get some screen time. (Though my vote is always for More Maria Hill!)
While I'm with you on the character stuff (the lullaby with Hulk was great/pushing the romance was not), one thing I do love about this franchise is that everyone works so well together. It reminds me of great TV shows, like Parks & Rec (Hi, Chris Pratt!), where the writers could take any two characters and throw them together to make something decent. I love all of the Avengers permutations: Iron Man with Cap, Cap with Black Widow, Banner with Tony Stark, Thor with Cap, Maria Hill with Cap, everyone with Cap.
The thing with the party is that it shows us that these are real people who know each other. They are a family. The more this franchise can play that up, the better served it will be -- especially going into the Civil War.
Most of my favorite moments happened at the party -- the hammer stuff (like you said, all the hammer stuff), Cheadle's speech, Cap and Falcon with the vets (how awesome is it that Captain America's only "friends" are WWII vets?), Cap and Iron Man chopping wood (not a euphemism). The thing that separates the Marvel universe from DC is the humor. We need to see more of that. It grounds us in the story, and makes us like these people and root for them as a team/family. They are the heir apparent to the Fast & Furious franchise.
JOHN: Ha, agreed! Hulk is totally the Dom Toretto in this gang. I think we're both saying the same thing. I'm actually looking forward to Captain 3: Civil War more than the final two-part Avengers: Infinity War. I want to see Cap and Stark going up against each other in a war of words way more than I want to see all 10+ Avengers take on Thanos in some intergalactic fight. Also, just a side note: after all this build-up, there's no way Thanos lives up to the hype and delivers on the promise of best villain ever. Don't get me wrong though, I'm still totally pumped for the next installment. I love seeing the new wave of Avengers gather around Cap and Black Widow at the end here. That's another movie I'd pay to see, and you don't even need Hulk, Hawkeye, Stark, or Thor. Speaking of Hawkeye and Fast/Furious connections, I wonder if he comes back. The filmmakers gave him an out at the end of this movie much like Paul Walker's Brian got at the end of Furious 7, where he could just settle down with his family and ride off into the sunset.
Everyone keeps waiting on Marvel to fail, and if they continue making movies like this, they never will. Sure, it's not as good as the first Avengers, or Winter Soldier or Guardians (the three best Marvel movies, for my money), but I'd peg it right in with Iron Man 1 and 3, and Captain 1, in terms of overall quality and entertainment value. I've already seen it twice, and will probably watch it another dozen more times in my life. Just because a movie meets expectations rather than exceeds them doesn't mean it's a disappointment. We do know that Whedon won't be back. I'm going to miss his wit and clever banter. He has a clear affection for these characters, and it shines through. But, I'm excited to see what the Russo Brothers do with Cap 3 and Infinity War. I think Age of Ultron mostly works on its own merits, but let's be honest - it's really just another stepping stone to the next chapter. Just wait until Star Lord and Groot join the mix. Final thoughts and rating?
JULIE: I'm with you on Captain America 3. The dynamic between Tony Stark and Captain America has always been one of the best parts of this franchise. They are two de facto leaders, but Cap wants the job (has been trained for the job) and Tony Stark just kind of falls into it. They have very different ideas about how the world works. I've always been less interested in Captain America than the other Avengers, but what Marvel has done with him throughout these movies has been brilliant. He is much more than a rah-rah Greatest Generation cheerleader. He doesn't sit back and long for the good old days, though he is much less cynical than some of the other Avengers. He's been through a lot of rough stuff in his life, but he always strives to be a good role model and to look on the positive side.
[end of love letter to Cap]
I cannot wait to see Star Lord mingle with these folks. Also, I look forward to seeing the Winter Soldier again. And, if we're talking about dream Marvel movies, I want to see a Black Widow film where she teams up with Maria Hill and they go on Alias-style spy adventures. There's such a deep bench here, where, really, tossing any two of these folks could result in a great pairing. I'd watch a Don Cheadle/Maria Hill/Goop movie. I'd be happy to see Thor and Vision wander off together and do THINGS. Rocket Raccoon hanging out with Hawkeye. Okay, maybe not that.
As far as ratings go, on a Brady Bunch scale, I give this a solid 1973 Jan, after she gets cute.
JOHN: Random, but reasonable. Me? On second viewing, I'm bumping my first watch rating of 3/5 to a 3.5/5. See you at Ant-Man.
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