Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron REVIEW

And so Marvel's phase 2 reaches it climax! Technically phase 2 will be epilogued by Ant-Man, so it's not over, not yet... But certainly all roads lead up to this point where we see our heroes assemble and dazzle us with spectacular heroics against the biggest threat yet!

However, many might leave the second Avengers film a bit underwhelmed... If you're expecting great action, then the film certainly delivers. If you're expecting something more behind that, then you'll be left feeling that even the Hulk is pulling his punches. And if you're going into Age of Ultron expecting something deeper considering the themes of artificial intelligence and what its ramifications are, then you're better off getting a ticket to go see Ex Machina instead...

The first Avengers film worked on every level. The hype paid off and it was a superb climax of phase 1 where finally fans got to see their favourite heroes on screen in a dream project that was finally here and Joss Whedon delivered on every level with everyone playing their part. It was indeed a satisfying close to everything that led up to it. The post-credits reveal of Thanos, only whetting our appetite for the future. But here-in lies the largest problem with the 2nd Avengers film...

While the first part was indeed the climax of a story. Avengers 2 is more interested in advertising to us the future, rather than concluding the present. Not that we didn't expect set-ups for the obvious future films, of course they'd be there, but one would hope that such plot layering would be far more subtle, the sort of thing you don't want to notice while engaged in the movie except in hindsight. Instead Avengers 2 practically screams out at you, "See this? We're not really going anywhere with this here and now, this is for the upcoming films! Stay tuned!" And so... Avengers 2 is more interested in advertising to us the next films - Civil War, Ragnarok, Black Panther and of course the far-off Infinity War... And this gets in the way of the current story, to its detriment.

The other weak part of Avengers 2 is that it's own plot is set up quickly and very conveniently. Perhaps the convenience of it is hinted at by a quick mid-credit scene (Stay in your seat for 15 seconds of a tease, but there's no need to stay all the way after the entire credits roll, there no shwarma to be had this time... you're welcome!). But who can say? The film suffers larger from having too much going by too quickly. The times the film slows down are the best parts, the humour being chief amongst them where we just get to see the guys chill and stuff. Hawkeye gets some neat insight into his life. The past of Black Widow is also a highlight that's glimpsed at. There is indeed a romance of sorts between the Hulk and Black Widow, though I could take it or leave it.

The conflict of primary interest will be about Tony Stark and Ultron, but this is sadly under-developed, despite that Ultron himself is pretty awesome. There are a lot of missed opportunities here, particularly with fleshing out the issues that Stark is having, how they come into play with Ultron, and even leading up to teh creation of the Vision. Everything feels rushed. I've heard the director's cut was an hour longer and apparently a lot was removed from the film, some scenes of significant length which will be put as extras on the home video release. But one can't help thinking that some of these decisions were studio-driven which may be what has led to director Joss Whedon's departure and what many express may have been frustration working with Marvel. But that's just my own speculation.

We should also mention the twins, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, both who begin as the villains here, a product of Hydra experiments. However their motives feel underdeveloped. Sure they've got good reasons, but we're not really sold on them. Again, everything feels rushed and convenient. no time to empathise or to even really feel like either of them have a plan and more like they're making it up as they go along and counting on luck that things will work out according to plan. Ultron remains the primary villain here, and every moment with him is pretty awesome. But rather than focus on the more interesting introspective parts, we are led to a cartoon villain plot to destroy the world that it really feels kind of off that this strategy is really the best a powerful AI with access to vast amounts of information could come up with...

If you're already invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then Avengers 2 is that middle chapter episode that you need to see so as to follow where the story is leading from here for every individual member. It might even be the case that the individual films coming up from Cap and Thor and new characters will be far better in quality than the ensemble cast strictly because they'll have one plot and focus to stick to instead of several. At the very least the spectacle and action help make up for the time. But there are moments of other technical problems, such as awful editing... For example, there is an odd edit that screams out 'censored for rating reasons' where a man's arm gets cut off by Ultron. But it's just a quick, bad jump cut, where we are obviously missing something in between so that we never witness the deed. Little things like that are problematic. Equally problematic, but nitpicky, is that many scenes will strictly be shot lazily as people just talking without any interesting camera placement or direction, instead relying entirely on the charisma and dialogue of the characters, which thankfully, is pretty good thanks to the quality of the cast members and doses of humour.

I checked out the film in 3-D. But outside of a few poignant moments, you won't be missing much by sticking to regular-D. But it certainly doesn't hurt if you opt for it outside of the fact that action scenes were certainly not shot with 3-D in mind so most of the time, the depth perception is unnoticeable and largely pointless.

The Avengers Age of Ultron, is a mis-step. It's attempting to juggle too many balls at once, and will feel like that awkward middle chapter that doesn't really go anywhere other than to hint at things to come. But it's certainly not boring, and there is a great time to be had so it's best enjoyed without over-thinking about it. But compared to the first outing, it's certainly going to leave you feeling disappointed. Well, there's always next time so no reason to stop being a true believer!