Sunday, May 3, 2015

Theatrical Review: Avengers- Age of Ultron

Date: Sunday, May 3, 2015
Time: 12:15pm
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Party: 3 (my mom and aunt)

[Returning Cast from previous Marvel movies]
Tony Stark/Iron-Man- Robert Downey Jr.
Steve Rogers/Captain America- Chris Evans
Thor- Chris Hemsworth
Bruce Banner/The Hulk- Mark Ruffalo
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow- Scarlet Johansson
Clint Barton/Hawkeye- Jeremy Renner
Maria Hill- Cobie Smulders
Nick Fury- Samuel L. Jackson
Dr. Eric Selvig- Stellan Skarsgard
Rhodey/War Machine- Don Cheadle
Falcon- Anthony Mackie
J.A.R.V.I.S.- Paul Bettany
Peggy Carter- Hayley Atwell


Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff- Elizabeth Olsen
Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff- Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Ultron- James Spader
The Vision- Paul Bettany
Laura- Linda Cardellini
Dr. Helen Cho- Claudia Kim

Writer/Director: Joss Whedon

Duration: 150 minutes (+3 trailers)


Audience and Previews

The theater wasn't quite as packed as I hoped/feared. The youngest attendees couldn't have been older than five, but there was a good age range throughout. The audience also wasn't quite as active as the previous "Avengers" (which had the greatest audience participation I think I'd seen with any movie- with the "Twilight" midnight showing coming close).
But there were still plenty laughs had, which was nice. There were also certain moments where the movie wasn't just quiet, but the audience (except the youngest among us) was silent. A pin could have dropped and you'd hear it.

Not surprisingly, two of the three previews came from the comic book genre. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a teaser where we had a glimpse of Ben Affleck staring at the suit and him and Superman suited up facing one another.
Then there was Ant-Man... I'm still on the fence because that's easily the stupidest name I'd ever heard for a superhero (Paul Rudd apparently agrees, according to the trailer). I'm also not a big fan of insects, so I was cringing at the scenes where we had close-ups of ants and other insects. But the special effects and the acting looked really good. I guess I'll wait until the hype before I decide. [Unlike with this movie, whether the reviews were good or bad, I'd still be going].

The other was your typical disaster movie: San Andreas... which I heard they were having second thoughts about releasing on the set date because of Nepal. It stars Dwayne Johnson (who apparently gets 5 movies a year... whereas I'm lucky to see any of my personal favorite actors ONCE a year) and I also recognized Alexandra Daddario (who I know as Annabeth from the Percy Jackson movies... however out of line they were with the books, I will miss them not adapt to my favorite book of the series).

Amidst the action...
Spoilers from here on out, btw
Whenever I look up articles on writing tips, I often find people suggesting to start a story in the middle of the action.
Kudos, btw, for Paul Feig and Marvel company picking this up immediately where "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." left off last week because it was the perfect segway. Phil Coulson's "Operation Theta Protocol" involved getting the Avengers to locate Loki's scepter.

Last night, we rewatched the first "Avengers" in preparation for this movie... I made sure to note what happened to the scepter. Forgive me for missing where it went considering EVERYTHING that went down in New York. We last saw Black Widow holding it when the Avengers had Loki surrounded and defeated.

Supposedly, the scepter has been taken to a HYDRA forest somewhere in Eastern Europe. So we get an amazing opening sequence with all the Avengers on call, taking on various HYDRA soldiers with their various skill sets. Within the fortress, we also get a glimpse of our two new characters: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. (For whatever reason, though, they are never called that... just like Black Widow is never called by that name). They were experimented upon with the scepter and it allowed them certain powers. Quicksilver has super inhuman speed and the Scarlet Witch has telekinesis and strong powers of hypnosis. We see him use his powers on the Avengers while she takes on Tony Stark when he gets inside to retrieve the scepter and various data files.

Surprisingly, she does not take him out as it could be expected... considering he's the only Avenger inside. Instead, she haunts him with visions of the other Avengers having fallen, and glimpses the abyss that caused his PTSD in the final Iron-Man film. She lets him take the scepter, apparently, because it will lead to the destruction of him and the Avengers.
...hmm... it's almost like she took a page out of Loki's book- he allowed himself to be captured in "Avengers" so he can work mind games while buying time for his comrades to track him down via the scepter.

Lots of great action throughout these first 15 minutes with a little character building (particularly Black Widow and The Hulk) and a tiny bit of forced laughter.
I realize that they're trying to produce something for the younger audiences, but the whole "watch your language" running joke... I'm sorry, it was kinda lame. [On the plus side, that's the only huge negative drew from the movie overall... aside from there being maybe too much action at times]

Ergo the plot...

Besides doing a once over about the two new characters, I knew this much: Ultron was an A.I. peacekeeper Tony Stark created in hopes it would grant the Avengers their eventual retirement. And that this experiment would be one that takes on a life of its own and a purpose counterintuitive to its original intention.
Translation: Ultron wouldn't preserve peace, it would destroy the world, believing that it's the only way to save it.
The mere idea of Ultron as a villain would be super genius if not for the whole "destroying the world" thing.

A Detraction for Tony Stark

Anyone who knows me knows I love me some RDJ as Tony Stark... but after the fact, part of me can't help but think that if Ultron killed him.. well, he might have deserved it. Nobody should experiment with artificial intelligence because it NEVER ends well. Certainly, not for the creator.
The fact he doesn't just do this once but twice in this movie... neither time without consulting the other Avengers besides Bruce Banner- his reluctant partner-in-crime... that's kinda hard to overlook.
This can only mean then that the next Captain America movie will be interesting... whether I'd be #TeamTony or #TeamCap.

I would say that Tony as a character hadn't been the same since what happened in New York. "Iron-Man 3" had its problems, but it had a lot of strong character points for him.
Maybe the whole energy is off for me personally because Tony Stark, while the root of this movie's source of villainy, didn't steal the spotlight as much as he had on previous occasions. He certainly didn't have the gift of ample one-liners he had in the previous "Avengers." There still are some good scenes. Like where he and Captain America are chopping firewood and Cap has the bigger pile because he doesn't need an axe. And the whole lifting Thor's hammer scene, but everyone had a great moment there.
Right now, I can only remember how he "woke up" out of the Scarlet Witch's spell in a cold sweat :P I didn't know Robert could sweat on cue like that.

Pluses and Minuses for Everyone Else

The other members of the cast are given more to do and get more development- a plus for some who don't have stand-alone movies yet.

To me, Thor has always been the type of guy who was all good looks with very little substance to back him up aside from wielding that hammer. But when the Scarlet Witch puts him in a trance, he actually witnesses something noteworthy and pursues it as a potential lead. Sure, it does give the people in charge the excuse to show Chris Hemsworth without a shirt... but him taking initiative and following it through... that's impressive. Going a little further than what Captain America did in "Avengers," investigating Phase 2.
And by further, I mean clueing us into what the next Avengers will be about: the Infinity Stones. [In addition to Loki's scepter, so far, we have the Tesseract, Aether and the stone from "Guardians of the Galaxy"]

Captain America has time to reflect on the past he didn't get to finish with Agent Carter and acknowledges he might not be able to afford to move back to Brooklyn... but for the most part, he isn't given as much to work with as he does in stand-alone movies. Not intellectually anyway. But his fight scenes were choreographed so well with the shield and such... those guys definitely upped their game.
See, Ultron, it's more than just a Frisbee!

Considering their back story, I always expected Black Widow and Hawkeye to get together. But that isn't meant to be... supposedly. She and Bruce Banner had shared moments before, but I didn't think too much of them. Suddenly, the Marvel people decided that we needed a love story in here somewhere. So why not put those two together? Write that Black Widow came up with a "lullaby" that allowed Hulk to resume human form. It's something that would become handy, but whether or not anything will happen between these two remains to be seen.

This does, however, allow for more character development for her. Her bout with the Scarlet Witch was about as brutal as Harry Potter dealing with the dementors in "Prisoner of Azkabhan"... the horrors in her past, how she was created, trained to be an assassin at a young age- it took her longer to bounce back than the others.
And her budding relationship with Bruce Banner allows for some of these things to come out. Plus she adds that sterilization came with the process of graduation from this "academy" she was part of.
Between the "dementor" thing and the part of the film where she was kidnapped by Ultron (for apparently no reason, other than to allow the excuse for her and Bruce Banner to get another scene together), you would think that the people in charge were being cruel to our lone female Avenger. Throwing her through all the female plot clich├ęs.
But she still kicks lots of ass, so it's not as if she's not taken seriously.

The fact he spent so much of "Avengers" brainwashed by Loki, I couldn't wait to see what Hawkeye would have to work with. He probably had the most scene-stealing moments of anyone- a real plus. I cheered when he got the jump on Scarlet Witch before she could work her magic on him. He had a certain electromagnetic arrow that rendered her useless and her brother no choice but to remove her from the situation.
We also find out that he has his own secret family life that we don't see until the Avengers need to go into hiding. No wonder Jeremy Renner couldn't say anything in the talk show interviews...

New Characters, Action and Special Effects

First and foremost, this is an action-packed superhero film. And other than being superfluous at times, the action sequences and effects were SO good. Like cinematic action had just peaked and set the bar for the rest to jump. Especially loved the effects with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They wouldn't have had the same impact without them.

The fight scene between a bewitched Hulk and "Veronica," Tony's beefiest suit was massive with plenty of comedic moments, but it was mostly destruction. Continuing to harp on Bruce Banner's insecurity about his condition... sadly, it would seem that confidence isn't coming to him anytime soon.

While not as annoyingly invincible as the villain in "Iron-Man 3," Ultron was a worthy foe. He was set on his war path and couldn't be persuaded otherwise. Early on, his powers were so unparalleled, it was almost scary. I approached this movie with a lot of optimism and very little to go on, so I was more marveled [pardon the pun] than intimidated. Him using the hundreds of robots to do his bidding... a little lazy on behalf of the writing because Tony Stark has done the same thing. It'd be another thing if the robots were constructed with the vibranium Ultron used to turn that Eastern European city, Sovokia, into a meteor.
The fight between him and Captain America was really good as well, but when he met his makers- his intentions were more malicious than his presence.
James Spader had the best voice for him- and it was a relief that it was just his voice in this. "Tuff Turf" has me convinced that he was good looking in his younger days... at the age he is now, he just looks creepy :P

Loki, I have yet to take seriously as a villain, but he at least had charisma going for him. [And I kinda miss not seeing him in a movie with Thor... supposedly he had a cameo that was written out, but might make the Blu-ray extras]

Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch had a good back story with Tony Stark... how his weapons destroyed their family and they sought revenge. But the trick was figuring how they'd eventually change sides. Once Ultron became more human, she was able to see his destructive intentions.
Both had great interaction with Hawkeye because you never knew quite what to expect. The running joke was "Didn't see that one coming"... considering how Quicksilver has the speed thing and has moments where the results surprise even him.

I already kinda knew he wasn't going to survive this movie, but I was still kinda sad about it. The Russian accent was growing on me :P [had this been a year ago, I'd have been devastated]
At least there's still his X-Men incarnation [although played by another actor without the Russian accent].

Cameos and No-shows

Well, at least I can't say this time that RDJ got special treatment- being the only Avenger who had their love interest in the movie.
There was no appearance by Pepper or Jane Foster :P but that didn't stop him and Thor trying to one-up each other with their girlfriends' accomplishments.

One of the greatest highlights of the movie had to be the final party at Tony's place... final because it's the last light point of the movie before Ultron arrives.
Our token Stan Lee cameo is here and has great laughs to go with it.
Lots of great interaction with the characters. We get to see Falcon and Rhodey. Afterwards, everyone tries to lift Thor's hammer and hilariously fails.

I was disappointed Falcon didn't get more to do other than randomly show up here and at the end. Loved him in the latest Captain America movie [something I should probably revisit, now that the whole HYDRA thing makes sense].
Rhodey, meanwhile, got to tell stories at the party, get on Tony's case about "representing" when they couldn't lift the hammer, and he helps with the final battle scene- where Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. lend a hand with evacuation. [Too bad Phil Coulson couldn't make it... seriously, how long can they keep secret the fact he's alive? would the Avengers turn rouge if that truth was revealed?]

Believe or not, the scene with Thor's hammer wasn't just filler... when Tony created his second A.I. being [The Vision], Thor's hammer was the one thing that convinced the other Avengers he was fighting for the right side. He was able to lift it and was therefore worthy.
Considering how Thor nearly choked Tony out over Ultron, him being the one person on his side about this creation was a plus.
And the infinity stone in Loki's scepter finally has a place where it can't be used maliciously again- on the Vision's forehead.

The only remaining question is what the other two infinity stones are, where they are and what role they'll play in everything.

Grade: A
[on the same level with "Avengers," weaker on some points and stronger on others]

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