Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Is Avengers: The Age of Ultron the Ultimate Marvel?


I liked Avengers: The Age of Ultron but not because it is the best of the Marvel Universe, it isn't.  Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier will both be tough to beat.  What I liked about the Avengers and many of the Marvel movies is they get the idea that even special effects movies must have strong characters, a cohesive theme, and that superheroes need to be heroes.

There is character in Age of Ultron, and while we get a few origin stories for new characters like Quicksilver, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch, we also see characters who interact with each other.  Bruce Banner (the Hulk) loves Natalia "Natasha" Romanov (Black Widow) in a doomed to fail romance...maybe.  We learn that Clint Barton (Hawkeye) has a very secret life that was protected by Nick Fury.  We see friction between great egos. Captain America believes the Avengers need to lead through the transparency that Fury and Shield failed to do. Captain America tells Tony Stark that he has never seen his dark side. This conflicts with Stark who wants to save all through technology at any cost.  It is Stark's drive that causes the release of Ultron. We view the conflict between Thor and Tony and Captain America. Thor feels the human heroes too often meddle in affairs that humans don't understand, but Thor also tends to make sudden decisions without consulting the rest of the team.  In short, the heroes who unlike other comic book heroes have no alter-egos, are very human.

The actors who play these roles all have gravitas as they play in what should be considered a very over-the-top genre. Chris Evans as Captain America plays the "boy scout" like super soldier delivers his reminder to his team to watch their language with ease and without seeming like he should be standing with his hands balled in fists at his waist with a flag waving in the background.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has managed to take the most egotistical superhero ever created and make him likable. Mark Ruffalo has even overcome the stand-alone movie versions of the Hulk that have come before.  Finally, Robert Downey Jr. owns the Ironman role. We accept these characters not as the silly stereotypes movies and television of the past but as real within the confines of the world created.  I mean who came up with the idea of wiping out life on Earth by dropping a city on the planet?  It is a ludicrous idea and yet we are as watchers easily are drawn in.  Marvel has found a blend of actors and humor that truly works.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron has, as other Marvel movies before them, a unifying idea.  Comic books are, after all, morality tales.  The driving idea in this one starts a little with the one started in Winter Soldier about the dangers of hidden power, but it quickly develops the idea that all are capable of behaving like monsters.  The obvious monsters are Ultron and the Hulk, but there are also the inner demons like that of the trained assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or Thor's vision of having so many die because of his failed leadership. The twins, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Wanda Maximoff) learn that just because Stark built bombs he is not a monster and that an artificial intelligence claiming to want peace, Ultron (James Spader) is.  Not all monsters are visible.

Finally, there is a simple idea that the DC movies have forgotten of late.  Superheroes need to be heroic.  They should do all they can to save lives.  Each of the heroes in one way or another value the lives of those they fight for. The under-utilized until now Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gives a strong performance as what a human hero should be.  Each Avenger demonstrates the willingness to lay down his or her life to save the innocent.  The movie is not about the destruction but about what the heroes do.  Superheroes can die, but they die protecting others.

The usual issues with these movies apply.  There are points where the CGI overpower the performance.  I love James Spader. I am less enamored of a completely CGI villain.  As was the case with many of the newer comic book movies, too much is made of the CGI scenes and particularly with the larger digital projection and IMAX screens the effects become blurry.  The new slow motion effect is, to put it bluntly, trite.  The first time the Avengers power out in slow motion is fun and very comic book oriented.  The number of times that this effect is used detracts from the pacing.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron works because it is for comic book nerds like watching a live action comic book.  I don't grow tired talking about the easter eggs or explaining to my wife who Thanos is.  I will probably get tired of the debate of "Is Quicksilver really dead?" or "Which of the original Avengers will return now that we have the first rotation of new Avengers?" or "Will Mark Ruffalo ever get his stand-alone Hulk?" or "Why is Quicksilver different in Avengers than the one in X-Men?"  Ahh well, let the speculation begin.  Go see Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I will buy the Blu-Ray.