Monday, 25 May 2015

Review: Avengers - Age Of Ultron (fourth-pass)

World of Blackout Film Review

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2D) Poster

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2D) (fourth-pass / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 141 mins / Dir. Joss Whedon / Trailer
WoB Rating: 7/7

Previous reviews: [one] [two] [three]

Now, I love Iron Man. It's no secret, and I've never tried to make it one. It's fair to say I have a slight obsession with ol' shell-head, and not just the Robert Downey Jr incarnation. Although I have a moderate grounding in Marvel lore, I'm by no means an expert, which is what makes reading/watching the vintage and retro stories so exciting. But back to the present day and MCU iteration. Sorry to spring this on you, but take a seat. We need to talk about Tony…

Why is Iron Man in Age Of Ultron?

He really doesn't need to be there at all. Tony Stark sure, but the actual Iron Man super-ego*1 himself? Over the course of the three standalone movies (plus Avengers, which feeds his neuroses for the third film), Tony Stark is challenged physically, intellectually and psychologically, and emerges triumphant - and crucially, wiser. Backed by Brian Tyler's gorgeous score, Tony stands among the clifftop ruins of Stark Mansion and throws his now-obsolete chest-mounted arc-reactor into the Pacific ocean. Never a one for undue sentiment, he knows that this is the closing of a chapter, and even though his final words to us are "I am Iron Man", the card at the end of the credits reads 'Tony Stark will return'...

Tony Stark will return

…so why did Iron Man return? Do the focus groups at Marvel really think audiences won't bond with an Avengers movie unless it stars the character who started the ball rolling back in 2008? Don't get me wrong, it's always a pleasure to spend time in his company, but it seems Age Of Ultron has been used as a kind of buffer to get War Machine to pick up the mantle left by the departing Iron Man. This, in itself, is great as we finally get a little more diversity within the team, but also because I want to see how Stark's armour fares when it's got a different pilot inside. James Rhodes' fighting style and team ethic will (should) be noticeably different for a start. But should it really take a whole movie just to swap out the characters, given that Stark doesn't come to any earth-shattering conclusion after the battle of Sokovia? Rather than go out on a high (as he already has done), this fifth starring role seems like a muted coda for him, as he decides he needs a bit of downtime and pootles off to be with the missus, making War Machine feel even more like a reserve-choice.

There was a period in the 1970s/80s comic chronology when Stark battled with alcoholism, in a kind of socially-aware, if not socially-conscious move by Marvel. During this period, Stark went off to rehab and trusted the armour to Rhodes. In Secret Wars in particular, Rhodes wore the Iron Man armour itself (rather than the guise of War Machine), and even the other Marvel heroes/villains weren't aware at first who was behind the mask. A retooling of the booze problem has been all but nixed for the MCU, although I still think it could be handled with enough tact for a 12A audience. Importantly, this could have given the perfect opening for Tony Stark to be on the bench for the film, as Rhodey steps in to help his partner. It would also give Tony something to actually go off and work on at the end of the film, too; explaining his resulting absence from the next few movies.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like A.I.?

The other elephant in the room is Stark's apparent reason for being in the film: Ultron. I, of all people, am acutely aware of the reasons that the MCU movies don't follow the established and classic stories from the comics. Notwithstanding that writing styles and social conventions change, Marvel need to be able to produce something that's new for all fans. So while familiar names, relationships and places are used (with a plethora of easter eggs to sweep up a lot of the others), the stories are indeed a new continuity, leaving the writers free to introduce and dispatch characters as required (well…).

But I know damned well that I'm not the only one who's noticed that Tony Stark didn't create Ultron before. Ultron, the self-replicating, self-upgrading metal bastard that he is, was created by professor Hank Pym, the scientist who was also the first incarnation of Ant-Man. Now normally, a switch of this kind would hint at the sort of film-rights-issue which sees Quicksilver appear in AoU as the result of genetic experimentation, not as a mutant. If Hank Pym fell under the remit of a Marvel property currently under license to Sony or 20th Century Fox, then it would be understandable to substitute his efforts for Stark's (being that he's technologically advanced enough to pull it off). This would also give Stark his crucial reason for being in the film. So why this significant alteration to the lore? Who owns the cinematic rights to Hank Pym?

Marvel Studios do, of course. Pym is due to debut this July in Ant-Man, and will be played by none other than Michael Douglas. They've got the character, they've got the situation, they'd rather not use it thank you very much. Age Of Ultron could have been a great opportunity to introduce Pym, even if he was only assisting Stark in Ultron's creation. With a little contrition and guilt he could still have been redeemed (Stark was, apparently) in time for this Ant-Man appearance.

Again, it's not that I didn't absolutely adore Age Of Ultron, but a different movie, where Hank Pym and Tony Stark create Ultron, the failure of which sends Stark deeper into his unresolved issues whilst James Rhodes proves himself as a full-time Avenger, leaving Tony to go and battle his demons as Hank swears himself off robotics? That would have been much better for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole than The Tony Stark Show…

…feel free to disagree, obviously.

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Course it bladdy is.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
For fans, it'll be a buy-er.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Some yes, some no.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, I wouldn't put it like that, exactly…

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Course there bladdy is.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Again? Really? You know that Mace W-… okay, Scarlett Johannson starred in 2005's The Island alongside Ewan 'Obi-Wan' McGregor.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I use 'super-ego' in the psychoanalytical sense, I'm not saying that Tony Stark is like, super egotistical. Although he also is. Which is why I think I identify with him so much. We've got a lot in common, Tony and I, once you take out the looks, money, intellect and bravery. Oh, and the driving licence. I don't have one of those, either. Still a lot in common, though.

• ^^^ 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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