Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Part of me feels like the best - and most succinct - way to assess The Avengers: Age of Ultron is to just point a finger back at you. You're either in or you're out. If you didn't like the last handful of Marvel films, this is more of the same. If you're into it? You're into it.  Sure, you may be one of the people who's into it with the caveat that you feel like the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is misused. Or, you're one of the people who's into it but annoyed that there aren't more powerful ladies.  Or, you're into it but you really feel like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a useless character. Or, you're into it but you're like, dude, there were some plot holes...what was happening with those "dream" sequences? Or, maybe you feel like Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past) should be playing Quicksilver (here played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), there should be more shirtless dudes, more jokes, less explosions, more James Spader voice. Everyone has their conditional "yes, but" for how they would have liked this juggernaut to be, so I'll leave it to the individual think pieces and comics experts to dismantle those instances further.  

My deal is this: I'm totally on board. Would I have liked it more if Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) didn't have to default to a love story?  Yes. Would I have liked it more if she didn't have a moment where she's like "ehhhh, i'm a genetically engineered assassin who can't have children"? Yes. Because I have feelings about evoking motherhood when it doesn't need to be part of a character's narrative and thoroughly do not get why that has to be in that conversation at all.  But did that little conversation severely disrupt my enjoyment of the film? No. No it did not. Because, if we're being honest, I still feel like Black Widow is steadily growing from the flat archetype she first appeared as in Iron Man 2. 

Here's the thing: for everything that might seem tepid or redundant about this latest Avengers family outing, Joss Whedon has taken care to make sure it remains tonally consistent and true to its characters.  We're at the point where one of the biggest goals for a film like this is simply to not mess up a good thing.  Maintaining the status quo is no small feat when you're dealing with this many moving parts, that Whedon manages to keep the film up to snuff with his first go while doing all the necessary fan service is - like it or not- a major achievement.  Yeah, it's not breaking the genre, but it's damn consistent.

When it comes to our core team, we've broken-in the characters, know the ropes, and even as everything blows up spectacularly, there's something relaxed about our access to them.  If the first Avengers film was a bit of an origin story, Age of Ultron feels like the big, exuberant pay off.  We're here after so many sequels because we like these characters and want to hang out again. While it's hard to say when enough is enough when it comes to a good thing, the balance between individual threads and team turmoil is surprisingly steady.  This machine still works, and for every thundering action sequence we seem to be gifted with clusters of smaller, charming interactions between the key players.  There's a wonderful party scene, for instance, with the off-duty heroes struggling to pick up Thor's hammer, family time spent in Hawkeye's (Jeremy Renner) secret living room, and all those tiny instances where - unlike so many other comic films of late - the Avengers take the time to do what they're supposed to do: save individual people, as many as they can, as quickly as they can.  Shit may go down, but they're down in the thick of things pulling citizens from the rubble. 
Sometimes, it's really that simple. Though there are a handful of confusing threads, largely involving the addition of the twins (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) to an already out sized world, the film is at least on par with its predecessor.  Whedon and the crack team of brand managers at Marvel Studios have pieced together their Frankenstein monster with care.  Far from a lumbering, unruly beast, Age of Ultron is a slick, smartly paced thrill ride.  At  this point, the actors have all but become their characters, and there's nary a beat skipped or a quip dismissed. If they can keep this up, we're looking at a franchise with some serious, serious longevity for years to come.

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