I saw the Avengers 2: Age of Ultron last weekend. It’s already made an obscene amount of money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the writing is any good. I couldn’t put down my writer’s glasses even if I wanted to, so I might as well put my thoughts into a blog.
Of course, big spoiler warning, I’m going to ruin everything for you, so go see it first. I’ll say this before getting down with the nitty-gritty, I had a lot of fun watching this movie. So, the second part of the wallpaper, then the spoiler-riddled review.
Whedon is the king of ensemble casts. Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and especially Firefly are shining examples of how to put together a group of characters and have their differences and interactions play off each other. This works because of some brilliant scenes like all the heroes trying to lift Thor’s hammer, and the running gag about Captain America’s remark about swear words at the beginning of the movie.
I liked the way Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were brought into the fold. They have good motivation to hate Stark and America’s superiority complex, and an equally good reason to start working with the Avengers later. However, I missed a (verbal) showdown between Stark and the twins. After all, they still have to hate him after joining the Avengers.
I also liked the way Hawkeye was set up to die for most of the movie, and then at the end, bang, it’s Quicksilver who bites the dust. You see the foreshadowing of meeting Hawkeye’s family, hearing about how he’s nearly finished with their house, how he’s almost off the floating city then turns around to save a single kid. It all screams “Hawkeye’s gonna die”, and then he doesn’t. Whedon isn’t shy about killing off characters (look at Buffy, Angel, and Serenity), although he sometimes brings them back too. This raises the stakes, and that increases engagement.
Beyond that, it just all looks so cool. Big shiny machines, robots, over-the-top action scenes, and all the super heroes kicking ass together. What person raised on super hero comics wouldn’t like that.
What doesn’t work
First, pacing. The action is too fast, and the breathing spaces feel wrong. Up until the appearance of Ultron things are alright, but after that it doesn’t work well. Too much action, then too much breathing time with meandering changes of plot direction. People move around a lot, going to different places, but it feels like moving gears in a clock that doesn’t quite run on time. It didn’t help the climax any either.
But, worse, far worse, is Ultron. Could somebody, for once, create an AI character who does not conclude that the best way to bring peace to the world is to kill off humanity. It’s been done to death, been brought back to undeath, then been done to death again. Go read Charles Stross’s Rule 34 for realistic scary AI. They did do some things right, at least trying to provide a legitimate reason why Ultron couldn’t just blow up the world through the Internet, but still. It’s been done. too. much.
Then there’s the anti-double-climax. At the start, the movie was showing clear signs of stress inside the team. The tension builds, as each member is subjected to Scarlet Witch’s powers. They get defeated and flee to a safe house. ‘Now the team will fall apart, only to get back together at the climax’ I thought. Nope. Didn’t happen.They sort of patched things up, and we went to a second ‘Tony Stark is going to go insane’ plot. Okay, switching tracks, I’m cool with that. Nope. Didn’t happen. Tony was right all along and created the mighty Paul-Bettany-bot called the Vision.
The Vision reeks of Deus Ex Machina. The team starts to fall apart, everybody’s mad at Tony Stark, and there a god-like uber-worthy dude pops up. Yeah. Pretty convenient. He can also shunt Ultron off the internet, but you’ll have to fry his robots by hand, you know. He is one-sixth of the greatest power in the universe, but he can’t stop a robot in a plane from shooting Quicksilver. Nice one.
The last part of the movie doesn’t feel very climactic, because of all of the above. The bad guy is reduced to some robots that the united good guys kick into oblivion. The stakes did not feel high enough. There’s no ‘oh-my-god-Iron-Man-is-going-to-blow-himself-to-oblivion’ scene, no death-star-trench-run, nope, just some guys and gals kicking robot ass.
And finally, something I cannot fail to mention: what’s up with the Thor-topless-in-a-pool scene?
So, in short, Age of Ultron is not as good as Avengers 1, but still awesome. You can always see the smudges better on a clean window, so yeah, I had some gripes, but I still loved it.
And every time, after you walk out the theatre, there’s the long wait ahead for the next Marvel movie. Ant Man’s, I think.