Thursday 30 April 2015

Review: Avengers - Age of Ultron (third-pass)

World of Blackout Film Review

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (3D) Poster

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (3D) (third-pass / HUGE PLOT SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 141 mins / Dir. Joss Whedon / Trailer
WoB Rating: 7/7

Okay, you read that spoiler-disclaimer up there, didn't you? The one which says "HUGE PLOT SPOILERS"? Yeah. Good. I'm entirely serious, don't read the rest of this review if you haven't seen the film. I'm just very aware that Age Of Ultron isn't out in the US yet*1 and yet I've seen it three times so I'm all like 'oh what, this old thing?' and some folks are like 'Hey! Don't tell us that [REDACTED] dies, you monster!'. Well don't worry, that's what this spoiler-break is for, so that any of the things I'm going to look into don't get picked up by your RSS feed or somesuch.

So while you mull it over and decide whether you want to scroll on, here's a picture of a Beagle dressed as Thor to calm your troubled mind…

Still here? Smashing, the spoilers will be here in a moment, but first here's the timeline of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies so far…
[2008] Iron Man
[2008] The Incredible Hulk
[2010] Iron Man 2
[2011] Thor
[2011] Captain America: The First Avenger
[2012] Avengers Assemble
[2013] Iron Man 3
[2013] Thor: The Dark World
[2014] Captain America: The Winter Soldier
[2014] Guardians Of The Galaxy
[2015] Avengers: Age Of Ultron

…and here's a timeline of what's to come...
[2015] Ant-Man
[2016] Captain America: Civil War
[2016] Doctor Strange
[2017] Guardians Of The Galaxy 2
[2017] Spider-Man
[2017] Thor: Ragnarok
[2018] Avengers: Infinity War Part 1
[2018] Black Panther
[2018] Captain Marvel
[2019] Avengers: Infinity War Part 2
[2019] Inhumans

Now the reason I mention this is that we're 11 films into a 22-movie series (confirmed so far), and the end of Avengers: Age Of Ultron has left me with one question...

Why won't Marvel kill off their heroes?

The final scene of AoU introduces us to the next iteration of The Avengers; Captain America and Black Widow, who we already know and love, a welcome spotlight for War Machine and The Falcon, plus Scarlet Witch and The Vision. That's quite a change of lineup when you consider no-one died to make it this way. Tony Stark decides he's going to pootle off back to Pepper for a bit, Bruce Banner has stealth-moded off the radar of an organisation which seemed to have no trouble tracking him down previously, Thor has just remembered he has some pressing admin which needs doing on Asgard, and Agent Barton's bought the farm. And not in the usual cinematic sense. No-one, in fact, buys the farm.

The Avengers who are phased out are essentially put on ice, like toys put back in the play-box because new ones have arrived on Christmas morning. In many ways (read: business) it's a responsible attitude, but one which restricts development of the timeline. It's certainly not that we don't want to see Iron Man's super-facetious version of a super-hero, and watching The Hulk single-handedly destroy an entire building then spend ten minutes looking remorseful about it hasn't lost its appeal quite yet. But this practice of restricting permanent change in the timeline starts to leave you with the feeling that very little's actually changing at all. Plenty of induction-days, not so many funerals.

In fact, the only (named) characters who actually die in this film are the ones introduced in it, too. Poor old Quicksilver does his best but is never quite as charismatic as his X-Men incarnation, and a fatal spray of anti-armour artillery from an Ultron-piloted gunship sees him stretchered off onto SHIELD's rescue heli-carrier while his sister has a bit of a meltdown (although given how many Ultron-drones were closing in on the magic-plunger at that moment, everyone would have been royally screwed if her wave of anger and grief hadn't fried every toaster in a five-block radius). That said, the script had already explained that the source of Quicksilver's power was a super-fast metabolism, and those shells look like they passed right through, to me. All I'm saying is, don't be surprised if he makes a return in the future. Agent Coulson survived worse.

Then there's Ultron himself; the film's uber-baddie who seems far more flippant and sarcastic than any comic version of the character I remember, and also considerably less of a genocidal maniac (he still is one, of course, just less somehow). For two hours we're shown Ultron constantly upgrading himself and inhabiting thousands of bodies simultaneously; he disappears into the internet itself and essentially absorbs the sum of all human knowledge, a move which even The Avengers admit will make him almost impossible to destroy. Then they destroy him. Maybe in his haste to crush all of everything in the world ever, Ultron didn't leave a backup of his personality back at the workshop or… y'know, on any capable machine connected to the internet anywhere in the world? It seems unlikely to me, so while we get a fantastic final scene between Ultron and The Vision, again I wouldn't be surprised if he manages to crop up again to annoy Earth's Mightiest Heroes (his ultimate indestructibility is his calling card in every other version of the character, after all).

Then there's the reasons for the other heroes' departure. While I'm very aware that the movies can't (indeed shouldn't) be straight-up adaptations of the comic stories, Tony Stark took a break from being Iron Man in the mid 1980s to attempt to conquer his alcoholism, and James 'War Machine' Rhodes wore the armour in his stead. While it's great that Don Cheadle gets to wear his character's regular armour (hey, I loved Iron Patriot but let's dial that back a little), surely this would have been a more solid reason for Stark's (temporary?) abdication from the group? The three Iron Man films did a great job of painting a more rounded picture of Tony-Stark-The-Man than they did Iron-Man-The-Hero. Wouldn't a natural extension of this be showing that he's still battling his internal demons, rather than "well, I supposed I'd best go and spend some time with the missus - you know what they're like!"? I'm also not entirely convinced that Iron Man should have been in this movie at all, but that's a ponder for my next review. The fact remains that there are (presently) no more standalone Iron Man movies scheduled, so unless a TV show is in the works, why retire the character so noncommittally?

Then there's Bruce Banner. Not dwelling on the fact that his exit isn't a million miles away from that of the last Batman, I'll give it to Marvel that The Hulk really is a character that needs a little solitude between appearances. It's how the 2008 Edward Norton movie ended, and pretty much how every episode of the Bill Bixby-era TV series closed, too. So it's what the character's used to, if nothing else. It's also an ending which sets the character up perfectly for another spin-off adventure, but there's nothing scheduled there, yet.

Then there's Thor. He spent most of the film stewing over the hallucination given to him by Scarlet Witch and has gone off to investigate the perceived meaning. That's fair enough, as he's the only one of the group to have a working knowledge of the Infinity Stones, and he's due to appear in a standalone/sequel in 2017.

Then there's Hawkeye. Lovely, cuddly Clint's backstory has been so hastily assembled that the glue's still drying when The Quinjet touches down behind the barn. It's deserved, of course. The guy's been essentially playing second-fiddle since his cameo in the first Thor movie, and it's nice to know he's more than just a bow, an arrow and a frown. But Age Of Ultron heavy-handedly points towards the delivery of Barton's KIA Medal in just about every scene he has… then doesn't have the bottle to kill him (again, I must stress that I like this characters. I don't want them to die, as such. I just want to see some consequences). Sure, The Hawk can be wheeled out for a future appearance or cameo, but will there be an accompanying scene of him sitting glumly at home, promising not to get killed?

But it's not like it's just Age Of Ultron that's doing this. In Thor: The Dark World, the film essentially ended in the same place it started, other than the wrecking of Greenwich Observatory's new lawn and the death of Frigga, a character who was incidental at best. Sure, she's Thor's mum, but it's not like the whole Asgard dynamic was about those two squabbling. Secondary characters turn up in that film, scowl and then die (and Odin doesn't count as there's little chance he died off-screen). The Winter Soldier achieved a greater amount of scene-shifting by essentially dismantling the SHIELD organisation, but again this was done with minimum cast-casualties (first-appearances or previous background characters only). Now obviously in Age Of Ultron, the dynamic *has* changed massively, but it's still be done in a very non-permanent way. Is this an insurance policy so that if MCU Phase Three and beyond doesn't go down as well as hoped, the original Phase One lineup can be pulled back out of stasis?

So. Tell me why I'm wrong. Tell me why packing the kids off to Summer-camp is fine in this instance. Tell me why the film's final battle only apparently has one casualty (although I'm pretty sure there'd be a shitload of civilians killed or trapped in the wreckage in Sokovia, and more than a few who just fell off the edge). Tell me why Marvel can't bear to kill off any of their heroes, even the one that got kebabbed with The Loki-Pokey Stick.

Comments-box or Facebook, either will be smashing, thanks.

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Hang on, do I have to answer these every time I see the film?.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Well, they're self-imposed rules, so I suppose I do.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
I mean obviously, you should go and see this in the cinema, as that's where it'll look best.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
That said, I wouldn't bother with the 3D unless that happens to be the screening you're saddled with.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
It's not like it ruins the film, but it doesn't really make it any better.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Any what's the point of paying extra for something which is only going to make the film a bit darker and not really improve it?

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
This again? Okay, Chris 'Captain America' Evans lent his voice to the 2007 animated T.M.N.T. movie, which also starred James Arnold Taylor who voices Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
I can't believe you want a different one of these each time, especially since Mace Windu's in the film…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I have no idea why the UK gets an early release. As I recall, we did for Guardians Of The Galaxy, too. For obvious reasons I can't really complain about it, but if I lived on the other side of the pond I'd be a bit miffed about it, frankly.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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