Thursday, April 23, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015/US)

Julien Faddoul

** (2 stars)

wd – Joss Whedon   (Based on the Comic Book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)
ph – Ben Davies
pd – Charles Wood
m – Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman
ed – Jeffrey Ford, Lisa Lassek
cos – Alexandra Byrne

p – Kevin Feige

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Don Cheadle, Thomas Krestchmann, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Claudia Kim, Julie Delpy, Linda Cardellini, Andy Serkis

It’s difficult to subject Avengers: Age of Ultron to any kind of criticism without viewing it within the cinematic quicksand of superhero films that have swallowed Hollywood ideation. All Hollywood movies are now about superheroes whether it is explicitly stated or not. Many sequences in this particular film feel burden-laden. But is this a reaction to the film in question or to the culture that surrounds it?

Loyal readers will already be aware of my assessment of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Marvel Studios, with the first Avengers (which I loved) and Guardians of the Galaxy (which I liked) being the only two that reached any kind of cinematic significance for me. None of these characters are able (apparently) to sustain a separate episode on their own but when combined, as they were back in 2012, and with the guiding hand of writer/director Joss Whedon, studying for the test was finally no longer a requirement and characters and action coalesced to produce exhilarating abolition and joyful wordplay.

Avengers: Age of Ultron activates with the action already in development, with Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) raiding the fortress of Baron Strucker (Thomas Krestchmann), the remaining agent of Hydra. Strucker possesses the Staff of Loki, which has within it one of the 6 Infinity Gems. The plot of the film instigates when the Avengers gain possession of the staff/gem.

Tony Stark recognizes that there’s an intellect within the gem that could postulate AI for a military of mechanized Iron Men to maintain Earth’s safety from outside invaders. Like all movie characters, they never learn that dealing with AI is always a bad idea. The almighty Kubrick taught us this.

So, of course, Stark is promptly rebuked for his arrogance when the intelligence transforms itself into Ultron (James Spader), who penetrates the world’s processors and starts accumulating his own automated militia to expunge the human race and allow the planet to start over without us.

A set of Russian twins, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), otherwise known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who were formerly working for Hydra, join Ultron in his quest. The former has telekinetic powers (I think) and the latter subsumes super speed with Ms Olsen and Mr Taylor-Johnson doing only humdrum Boris and Natasha impressions.

One of the biggest problems with Marvel movies has been the cogency of their villains. Loki from the first film is the only villain (out of 11 films!) that has aspirations that were clear and concise. Instead of suffering from a napoleon complex like the rest, he truly accredited his actions with that of purity for the universe. Mr Whedon’s interpretation of Ultron is commendably on similar ground – and no one does creepy better than Mr Spader – but the clarity isn’t there. One can calmly accept the why of his actions but it is a lot harder to accept the why of his existence.

Another aspect of the first film that is sorely lacking here is Mr Whedon expert cinematic coherence with its action set-pieces. Aside from a lengthy CG shot at the film’s opening that beautifully establishes the time, place and mood, there’s nothing particularly exhilarating here. Mr Whedon seems to have fallen back on what the other, lesser Marvel films (that weren’t directed by him) display: an editorial assemblage of coverage.

At this point of the review, dear reader must be wondering what the logic behind my 2-star rating is. If I were to prognosticate, I do predict that general audiences, fanatics or otherwise, will find the film to be an overall disappointment from the previous one. I will admit that I might be being a tad generous with Avengers: Age of Ultron because what is certainly evident when leaving the cinema is the amount of work and contemplation that was put into it.

Interestingly, Mr Whedon does here what none of the other films have, in that he deals with these heroes’ earthly attachments with alarming stakes. The film contains more intimate, conversational scenes than usual, which consider the character’s appetites and desires. These include a revaltion about Hawkeye’s life, a romance between Banner and Black Widow and a philosophical crisis for Tony Stark. We even get a death this time.

The first act presents us with a rather long party scene thrown by Stark in which the characters merely hang out and joke with one another as if they had stepped into a Linklater film. A lot of credit should be paid to the cast who, despite their large paychecks and contract security, don’t slump. Mr Ruffalo in particular is given some difficult stuff to do.

In the end, there is so much to keep track of that the meal is overwhelming and one walks out of the cinema real slow. But again, am I reacting to the film or to the films? Critics have been saying Hollywood is in a rut since the beginning, but at least they used to be interesting ruts.

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