Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Director: Joss Whedon

Spoiler-Free Review

Good fun, but dare I say that the thrill is gone?

I suppose that this was inevitable. I absolutely loved (and still love) the first Avengers. I loved it so much that, despite my very best efforts to temper my enthusiasm, the sequel was bound to disappoint me. The good news is that it isn't more than a minor letdown, which in reality is a "win".

Age of Ultron gives fans all of the superhero action that they could want, with plenty to spare. Of course, this isn't what set the first one apart, and it's not what sets this one apart. This movie has some great set pieces, well-choreographed fights (albeit often composed mostly of CGI constructs), and confrontations which are compelling due to the combantants' motives. The battle that takes place in the middle/end of the second act is worth the price of admission, alone. I never found the finale to be as much pure fun as that of the first movie, but it is certainly impressive and entertaining.

What may turn some people off a tad is the complexity of the story. It's actually rather clever and intriguing, and the more I dwell on it, the more I like it. However, like much of the movie, the points are often laid out rather quickly, leaving viewers scrambling to catch up a little too often. I also couldn't help but think that Joss Whedon was having to work a little too hard to connect all of the dots of characters and story lines from other movies and TV shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Again, he's probably one of the very few who could even manage it in any way. His weaving of these various elements is rather well done, but it does seem to have put a bit of a strain on the pace and rhythm of the story.

The movie definitely fell prey to one of my greatest worries going in - character overload. There are simply WAY too many characters. Even the first Avengers was a bit of a stretch, giving us six "main" characters who have to come together. In Ultron, we get the six primary Avengers, two minor heroes from other MCU movies, and three new wildcard, superpowered characters. There simply isn't enough screen time to build any real connection with the newer additions. I will, however, say that I appreciated how the story focused a little more on characters and relationships that got short shrift in earlier movies. Whedon was clearly not content to simply revisit old ground, which keeps the movie fresher than it might have been.

He looks pretty cool, is certainly powerful, and has a unique
backstory. But it's a little tough to get past Ultron's moving
"lips" and the one-liners.
I did find a slight lack of satisfaction in the villain Ultron. He's actually curious and compelling in many ways, but a few aspects of the character strike odd chords. Most obvious is the robot's dialogue. Ultron mostly speaks in imposing dicta, though he will throw in glib one-liners here and there. It strikes an odd note, given his grand plans of mass destruction. There may be an explanation for this, though I have to work rather hard to get to this "maybe." Such unresolved conundrums are not what I look for in a superhero flick.

The ultimate test of the MCU movies to me is whether I feel like watching them a second time. For me, with Age of Ultron, it's a definite "yes." However, unlike the first movie, I'm unsure as to whether my opinion will improve or degrade upon repeat viewing.

Update!! (Still no Spoilers!!!)

I saw the movie again. Two things:

1. I can't recommend the 3D and/or IMAX viewing enough. My first viewing was on a smaller screen, in standard visuals. I splurged for the 3D IMAX experience this second time, and was blown away with how much it added. I typically don't care about such things, but the scale and planning of this movie lent itself to massive 3D visuals.

2. The movie holds up quite well upon watching again. Many of the weaknesses described above still stand, though a few of the more subtle plot points became clearer when seen again. This is actually a positive to me, since I appreciate tales that reward second or even third exposures.

I was quite glad to have my return trip rewarded. I have to give the movie a solid, if not wildly enthusiastic, recommendation.