Monday, June 01, 2015

Age of Ultron, Part 1

So...Age of Ultron. If you've heard anything about Age of Ultron, I'd like to tell you it's true. I'll get into spoilers after the cut, but it was a fun time and I'm looking forward to Civil War and Infinity War.

In case you didn't know, Age of Ultron, also known as Avengers 2, is a sequel to 2012's Avengers directed and written by Joss Whedon and based on characters created by--at the very least--Jack Kirby, Stan Lee.

Age of Ultron is epic and feels epic. It establishes the build from the start and the tension is kept tight, even when they introduce the New Thing Which Will Definitely Be Plot-Critical in an Hour or So. A handful of plot threads are cut short, keeping you from being certain about what's happening next. At the same time, they're so surgically cauterized that you don't feel as though your time has been wasted.

It's a fun ride. While the second part of a trilogy is traditionally the darkest one with the most downbeats, AoU is a celebration of The Avengers at the peak of their form. They fought off the Chitauri last time and you know that Thanos is going to be kind of a big deal in the future...

This isn't a spoiler, right? Thanos is coming. this is more like the last of the good times before things go bad. Age of Ultron never forgets that the world is at stake, but nor does it let that get in the way of the sheer joy of being The Avengers, from James Spader almost channeling Gul Dukat as the smarmy, insane Ultron, to The Avengers themselves energetically circling their villain like a wolf pack bringing down a mammoth.

The setpieces feel more like setpieces in this one, but everything is still bright and vibrant. Hits land, stories arc, and there's few moments where someone's story stalls. I'd fuckin' kill to have one classic Star Trek movie created with this level of detail and energy for each player.

Also, in case I have to say it...

...but I wouldn't want that movie to be as dumb as this one. In my first Avengers review I mentioned heaving a heavy sigh every time Fury spoke. Well, I think everyone has that sigh-inducing dialog now. The banter is fantastic, but every time someone tries to utter a profound meditation on the theme of this movie, it's hollow garbage. “Everyone creates what they're afraid of”? What?

That's also what happens if you don't stop wars before they start, Captain Greatest Generation.

Only Ultron gets away with it because he's an idiot with extreme anti-social personality disorder who wants to destroy the human race. I'm fine with having a villain who has a mental disorder. I don't even mind that Avengers movies are two for two in that respect. It's common for writers to say, “Well, he's crazy” and use that as an excuse to quit working with a villain's perspective or motivation. “He's crazy,” so he can suddenly do whatever he has to do to let the hero win when the odds were otherwise impossible. Ultron bucks that in that he demonstrates a lot of human needs and his character shifts are a constant whittling away of all the pretenses that stand between him and his ultimate, nihilistic goal. He's still motivated by his own reason and--frankly--childlike emotions.

It's comforting because by the end of this movie I don't know what goals anyone else has. Apparently Cap has given up on having a life and runs Avengers full-time? Stark is going to...? Thor is doing space detective stuff? Hill works for Avengers again/still (she did before?? Not enough question marks)? Fury is middle management at Avengers, Inc.? That every character who's headlining a franchise goes their own way is cool, in that we finally get a Sidekicks movie.

It also contains the three geography tropes I hate the most: whole countries that are the size of a city, something TV Tropes has handily named Ruritania, and the thing where Africa is a country.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe goes to such lengths to ground itself that it is mind-boggling when it falls back on these transparent, lazy tropes that remove it from the real world (in some cases, literally, Segovia).

They couldn't even pick the name of an African country out of a hat! It could even be the landlocked South African Republic. Just--

There are 52 countries in Africa. There are one billion people. It's 20% of this planet's land mass. 12% of it's population! If you bundled The United States, South Korea, and the--apparently city-sized--nation of Segovia you could shove them all up Africa's ass with enough room left over for a China, India, Japan, and a whole Western Europe. But no. It's “Africa.” This is legitimately Transformers levels of insulting. Between that and the boob thing (I'll get to it), I almost tossed my notebook at the screen and left despite this being an otherwise enjoyable movie.

Age of Ultron isn't that clever and I think the best thing I can say to that is that it's not trying to be clever. It's not crowing about the "Ultron gets his meteor" reveal. It's very satisfying, but there's no build to it; Ultron simply had time to come up with a primary plan of global annihilation when he accepted his nuclear hacking attempt wouldn't work. 

It's not a twist, it's a surprise. That's not a criticism. Like so much of the rest of the movie, it's devoid of pretense in interest of just giving you the good stuff.

Concluded Friday.


SkilTao said...

I definitely felt saturated in quippy one-liners. Guess the dialog's substance:quip ratio is much lower than the previous movie. I'm surprised how fun Spader's Ultron was; being a smarmy, almost-Gul Dukat (I'd quibble against insane) explains it.

The movie verse is carrying arcs across multiple movie lines remarkably well - Iron Man's PTSD-fueled zeal for planetary security, Cap's patriotic pseudo-anarchism, and I presume Thor has something going even though I haven't looked too carefully... Robert Downey Jr. seems to be known for making his own alterations to scripts and plots, and Joss' biography (which is a thing I've apparently read) quotes Downey as saying Joss is the only writer/director whose work has been unimpeachable.

With the implosion of SHIELD I guess Stark funds The Avengers as private military contractors? (That has no chance of ending badly.) I hope The Sidekicks shoot Hulk into space during Civil War, in time to meet the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Also, I only now realized that Infinity War is double-length because all these characters won't fit otherwise.

Is Segovia not taken from the comics? From the movie I thought it was bigger than just that one city and mountain fortress. (On the other hand, I didn't see the "there may be no way to make you trust me" bit coming, so clearly I wasn't on the ball when I watched it.)

I'm pretty sure the movie said "Africa" because they didn't want to specify Wakanda (and it's not like anybody who knows the upcoming movie schedule won't figure that out anyway)... and if population and landmass are to dictate how we refer to regions, then we probably shouldn't refer to China, India or Russia as single countries either. I agree, though, that the movie could've gained by grounding itself with real-world geography; it at least could've been a good bit to have Cap name a country that existed in the '40s but doesn't anymore.

VanVelding said...

Gods, so many characters. Not a bad thing, but it'll be hard to keep them all balanced in IW. We'll see though and even if it's bad, it'll be fun to take apart. Fandom knows no loyalty and no taste. We're like a spy that's also a goat.

I don't think Segovia is from the comics. I guess our feels may vary, but we never see much more than a small village by a castle in the woods. Segovia being any bigger than that wasn't conveyed to me. I wish it had been.

Saying "Wakanda" would've set things up better. One day we're going to go to Wakanda and it'll be a known thing. Slapping Wakanda on the name of that country would be a big, obvious call-out and setup. Also, that city wasn't nearly advanced enough or Wakanda enough to be Wakanda. Also, if--if--Hulk's rampage is ever mentioned again, I'd bet it'll be "that rampage in Africa."

SkilTao said...

Yes to goats, double yes to a Cold War comic called "goat-vs-goat."

I wonder if any version of the script ever had Black Widow as one of "the twins," just so that the name "scarlet" would only ever refer to one person.

Apparently Sokovia (I guess there's a marvel artist named Segovia, wonder if that's coincidence) is shown on a computer screen as being on the Austrio/Czech border. So you're probably right that it only has the one city.

I think the African city was just whatever city the arms dealer happened to be docked in, not necessarily the place he got the metal from. There's a "nation of mutants" in the X-Men comics, right? I wonder if the movie-verse will have the Inhumans founding Wakanda as the equivalent.

They could invert the "continent = country" trope by having Thor refer to anything in the USA as being "in North America." Or put a lampshade on it by having Spiderman (when he joins) always naming street corners instead of cities.

VanVelding said...

The "Segovia" thing was too nerd perfect. I really thought I googled that to the point of certainty. Ah well.

I hope they keep Wakanda for Wakandans. One of the central points of the country is that it's the most powerful, advanced nation and Earth and it's made by folks from Africa. Take that away and I gotta start looking around for where all my fucks went. :-\ Hopefully, they keep the Marvel cinematic universe more interesting than trying to shove all the special into a few pigeon holes.

I would absolutely love if it Thor did that.

SkilTao said...

It's my habit to envision things as compact and concise as possible. I can see how that is not always the best idea plot-wise. One one hand, I trust Joss' superior knowledge of comics; on the other hand, I don't think he has all that much involvement in the day-to-day of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is where the "Inhumans" bit is playing out.

Also, he may not write or direct the Black Panther movie (which is getting a stand along movie? I don't know how many solo titles it gets in the comics trade), so my trust in him may be moot anyways.

SkilTao said...

"One one hand" = "on one hand."

SkilTao said...

"stand along = stand alone." Christ, really? This is not my day.

VanVelding said...

Black Panther runs, in my experience, tend to be pretty short. He's an important guy in the universe, but it's apparently hard to run him solo. I've enjoyed the ones I've read, but there haven't been too many.