Thursday, 30 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

Marvel's Avengers Assemble hit theaters in 2012 and it was an instant success. Joss Whedon had delivered everything we wanted: charm, action and heart. The film is ranking now in the three highest grossing film of all time after Titanic and Avatar. Kevin Feige and his associates have built a cinematic empire quite unprecedented in Hollywood history, a genuine solar system. In fact, since the first Avengers movie we've seen Iron Man, Captain America, Thor on their own; now we have the chance to see them interact once more and how they have changed, how their world have changed through those films which is something very unique to Marvel in movie business. Age of Ultron is picking up where last year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off. The film actually dives right into the action as the team has already been assembled, we get straight to the things that matter and skip the hour long "assembling" part of the first movie. It helps that characters wear these roles as comfortably as second skin. The film benefits also from this much more global scale, compared to its predecessor. We needed new locations, as the majority of superhero movies are set in New-York, it became a little cliché and repetitive to see another tall skyline with a fight happening on top of it. Age of Ultron provides just that. Our heroes visit Europe, Asia and Africa as Ultron goes global in attempt to wipe out mankind. The opening sequence is an incredible piece of action filmmaking, staged as a single shot that shows all Whedon's brilliance.

These characters are the most important thing. This film allows us to a deeper understanding of the characters and to emotionally connect with them in ways we never did before. There are material for humour and conflict as they pair up some characters in unexpected ways. Furthermore Humanity is found in each hero, in more intimate and building-characters moment that had distinguished the first Iron Man and Captain America. We knew very little about Black Widow's back story, we heard some interesting hints at her past in The Avengers though. This is a character who's back story would translate very well onto the big screen due to her espionage narrative, plus she's a spy and spy have secrets. She also becomes the "Hulk whisperer". The intuitive tenderness with which she deals with the troubled and introspective Dr. Bruce Banner, played greatly again by Mark Ruffalo, is turning into a sweet love affair which gives the tender core of the movie and the most moving scenes. Clint Barton/Hawkeye checks in after spending most of the first movie as a mind controlled puppet. This film defines him as a person and as an Avenger as well, he's not only a cool guy with a bow and arrow. Distance from his usual family drama allows Hemsworth's Thor to shine a little more than last time. Steve Rogers/Captain America is once again a solid reminder of wartime values. While Stark's self doubt journey he took in Iron Man 3 is still evident and his obsession to create a perfect piece to protect the earth is still alive. Robert Downey Jr. is pure gold as Tony Stark and his differences with Captain America provides most of the comic relief, as well as the serious differences in their philosophy is where the real depth can be found. 

Genetically enhanced twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff: she of blazing psychic powers and he of blinding speed; allow Whedon to flex his visual imagination in ways that the first movie never hinted at. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson each are pretty good in roles that are far more critical to the story than one might assume for new characters hanging around, they're very wounded and serious characters. Their addition as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are fine but Quicksilver is not that entertaining, he was much better in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Moreover it's great that they figured out a way to get flesh and blood Paul Bettany as Vision in the franchise. It is a very welcomed addition to the team that comes in the form of an android and it can be hoped, if not assumed, that this most interesting character will play an even more important role in the final two Avengers installments. Vision works brilliantly and Paul Bettany completely earns the promotion from his previous JARVIS voice-over work. 

Marvel succeeded in the top priority of introducing a worthy opponent for its superheroes. Ultron is a cool and sophisticated creation, what he lacks - of course - is a heart; which is what makes him such an imposing villain. He's a much serious threat than Loki was and this time the team is in serious danger. He's finally the villain you'd expect to go up against the world's mightiest heroes (beside Thanos obviously). It seems that he could actually do some damage even if he's ultimately just a robot. The movie's visual effects wizards have a grand and fantastic time with Ultron but James Spader has an even grander one giving voice to the machine. He embraces his character completely. Spader is a fantastic piece of cast and exactly the guy for the job. I'm over the moon with this choice! Ultron even made it to the top three all time villains in the Marvel Universe, being a major nemesis of the Avengers for decades in comics. However Ultron is not just this insane deadly cold killing machine, he's much more than a cold cyborg attempting to eradicate human life out of general indifference towards it. He has a point, and equally important he has personality. In his brilliant performance James Spader goes beyond reading Whedon's words, channelling Stark and Whedon's own personality - their not mass murdering robot (thank God!) - but the wit, sense of humour, his unexpected goofiness and thoughts on some humanity failure are definitely Whedon playing to his strength. Nonetheless his creation and how we get to him being so bad feels a little bit rushed. Something should have happened to get us to this point which leads me to highlight that Whedon's original cut for the movie was over three hours long and that the Avengers blu-ray will have an extended cut as well as an alternate ending which is awesome; but I do feel like there are a lot of things removed from the original cut to get it back down to two and a half hour. When we get back to the whole team after their second meeting with Ultron we are suddenly watching just a handful of scared people in a jet acting all too human.

In fact, characters are all richer now that we know them better, keeping humanity of these mighty heroes on the foreground. While the movie comes back to action it stays even more engaging this time around, precisely because they have given us another reason to care. The city-destroying final confrontation has become a bit of a classic but Whedon does it so well and with such joy that you can't blame him for it. His script is a thing of wonder, jam-packed with great lines. Humour always played a large role in Marvel productions and in Age of Ultron comedy lands and draws big laughs that don't interfere with the intensity of the epic super-heroism action. From the first shot to the last there's barely a break and quieter emotional moments don't feel forced.  It is filled with incredible action sequences all of which are beautifully shot by Ben Davis, who directed photography on last year's gorgeous Guardians of the Galaxy. The cgi is actually amazing as there's not one shot that seems fake, you know it is computer but it doesn't affect you're appreciation of the movie. In MCU all movies have to tied up together in some way and so - and it's my only issue with the movie - there are certain scenes throughout the film that are needed to help explain things that happened previously or even things that are going to happen in up coming movies such as when Thor visits this cave. It doesn't really fit this film, but makes sense for what is coming up in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Marvel have to continue to rely on unique writers and directors to keep its movies from turning into repetition. Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't a hit because people knew the characters, it was a hit because it was filled with Nicole Perlman and James Gunn's voices. 

Age of Ultron brings a lot of questions meaning : what's next? Why did they do this or that? What's their relationship now? But also more important themes as whether a superhero is useful or destructive and what it truly means to be one? What it means to be a team or responsible for your actions? It brings a more profound discussion. This film exudes the love of comics. It takes some shadowy side roads but ends up mostly along the main highway to deliver what the audience wants, as any significant deviation from the source material is taken as a personal betrayal by the hardest-core geeks. It further increases intrigue with the post credit scene - that I won't spoil - and anticipation for Avengers: Infinity War Part I & II  already scheduled for release in May 2018 and 2019, respectively. Finally Age of Ultron gives us that most destructive of all universal forces: man's own best intentions. 

Overall, the greatest success of Age of Ultron is its ability to recapture elements that made the first film enjoyable without walking along on already beaten path. Indeed, the story has grown in size and complexity as characters and action are handled very well. The film evolves towards a more refined but not less fun storytelling while Marvel's magic is once again on full display in a hilarious, darker, emotional, thrilling and undeniably epic superhero experience. Unlike its title character, Age of Ultron most definitely has soul. 

P.S: Please actually go see it in theater, don't watch it on streaming. Go to the movie and experience it on a big screen like it should be, and if you don't want to go to the theater wait for the blu-ray! Support those guys because they're making something special, they're creating magic and amazing entertainment.

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