Friday, April 22, 2016

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Things worked out conveniently last month by plucking out Man of Steel from my backlog last month in prep for Dawn of Justice. Now it is a month later and Captain America: Civil War is about to hit theaters so the perfect way to prep up for that is by devouring last year’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron (trailer) BluRay out of my backlog box for today’s entry.

I loved the first Avengers film. It was everything I wanted it to be and it easily lived up to anticipation of the several previous Marvel movies leading up to having Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teaming up for the ultimate superhero team. Age of Ultron opens up in the best possible way with the team kicking ass in a marvelous CG/action showpiece on a routine mission in the fictional eastern-bloc country of Sokovia.

The Avengers successfully retrieve what they are after from an illegal arms dealer, but only after Iron Man got zapped by some form of mind control by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Scarlet Witch and her twin brother, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are mutants from the X-Men universe, which FOX has the rights to the films for, but somehow through some agreement, loopholes, or some combination of both Disney was able to use these two characters here as long as they were not referred to as mutants, but “enhanced.” I think I got those details right, but the fine print with Disney/FOX/Sony having the rights to certain Marvel characters gets more confusing every few months. If you got an afternoon to kill go ahead and Google the details and try not to turn green yourself making sense of it all.

The mind control trope was one of the few nitpicks I had with the first Avengers movie, and it was unfortunate to see it revisited here in an even bigger format. There is at least some plot payoffs behind it though, because it influences Tony Stark to unintentionally create an AI based from the object they hunted down in Sokovia under the guise of a world peace protector thinking nothing can possibly go wrong. Sure enough, the AI becomes self aware and runs rampant, and takes over one of Stark’s spare suits of armor to become this film’s primary antagonist, Ultron (James Spader).

A favorite scene of mine in the film is the victory party the Avengers throw early on after returning from Sokovia. It features plenty of fan-favorite cameos from supporting characters, and amusing references to why other characters could not make it there. It all builds up to a fun contest to see if anyone could successfully yield Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Like most Marvel Studios films, there are a ton of nice little gags sprinkled throughout the film for necessary moments of levity that do overstay their welcome like the awful gags in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and all of The Transformers films. Many props to director, Joss Whedon for actually making sure the gags were funny too. I do not think anything can top Hulk smashing the shit out of Loki in the previous film, but rest assured there are plenty of fun moments for every character here.

One of the many reasons the first Avengers film worked so well is because they somehow found a way for the star-studded cast to all have seemingly equal scene time with each character having their own major moment throughout the film. The only hero that got somewhat short-shrifted was Hawkeye because he was a mind-control lackey to Loki in most of the film, to which there is an awesome payoff reference to in Age of Ultron. Hawkeye gets redeemed in this film with a couple scenes where we find out a lot more about his background in a nice palette cleanser scene that allowed the movie to breathe between big battles. Without going into too many details, I was not a big fan of it when I originally saw it at the theater, probably because it caught me off guard a little too much, but on second viewing it resonated with me a lot more and I was able to reset and get amped up for the film’s big final act.

Rest assured, Whedon did another successful job in giving all six Avengers their moments to shine in the spotlight. Since the film is nearly two and a half hours long, there were a couple moments where I wondered why I have not seen so much of Avenger X or Y, but shortly thereafter they would pop up again in a big way. Like in the first Avengers, there is a huge climatic battle for the film’s final act. The final act battle is a mammoth CG/Action spectacle that was an absolute joy to take in and get lost in. I would rank the final act a notch or two under the final battle in the previous film, but the sequel still manages to have just as many edge-of-your-seat moments that delivered.

The film wraps up nicely with a fun tease of a new roster shake-up for the Avengers for next year’s two-part sequel, and the requisite, post-credits stinger contains another sequel teaser to keep us talking until it hits. It would have been a tall order to have Age of Ultron to be on par with the first Avengers movie, but it aged better than I originally thought a year later. There are still some qualms I have with the film like the aforementioned reliance of the mind-control trope, not buying into Ultron as the major be-all villain that Loki was last time around, and this sudden romance emphasis between Banner and Widow that seemingly happened from out of nowhere and was not alluded to at all in the first film. While these are still nitpicks of mine with Age of Ultron, they did not weigh down as hard on me they did the first time around resulting in a far more enjoyable film.

Age of Ultrons has the perfect amount of extra features. I love me some extras, but I feel obligated to watch them all, no matter how awesome or awful they are. First off, props to Marvel for having subtitles on their extra features, as it is a rarity among most home video releases. The extras kick off with 12 minutes of deleted scenes that have optional director’s commentary from Whedon. Next up is a brief-yet-spectacular three minute gag reel, full of great outtakes that continues to prove how Marvel produces some of the best gag reels yet, with top honors going to a couple of Hulk fails.

Next up is three behind-the-scenes features totaling a half hour. Global Adventure is a skip-able three minute piece on how they shot scenes around the world that I would have loved to see them expand on a lot more other than “yeah, it was really cool to shoot in Korea.” Infinite Six is a must watch seven minute piece on the importance of the Infinite Gems/Stones and how they have been building up over the last few films to the big payoff in next year’s Avengers films. From the Inside Out is a 20 minute general overview of Age of Ultron where it interview and introduces the new characters, and goes into detail on set designs and some of the CG special effects implemented in the film . The extras round off with a commentary from Joss Whedon. I usually prefer multi-person commentaries for better flow of discussion, but Whedon has a lot to say on topics like enjoying not being forced to accommodate 3D this time around, character cameos, religious/cosmic ideologies and fighting to keep Hawkeye’s big scene in the film.

Much like after reliving Man of Steel, I am now primed and ready for Captain America: Civil War after reliving Age of Ultron. Again, this was much better on second viewing with a fresh set of eyes, and I cannot recommend enough for everyone to revisit this as the perfect refresher on what is transpiring in the world of Marvel movies. I will tip my hat again to Marvel for managing to go all these years this past decade for successfully pumping out two films a year for quite awhile now and having them all build and connect to each other for the ultimate payoff in a Avengers film. Civil War is looking like it will be the unofficial third Avengers film since it features most of Age of Ultron’s cast minus a couple key players, and it appears that much like the Civil War comic book arc from 2006, it will have major ramifications in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

redvsblue Season 12

Welcome back to my monthly entry covering each season of the web machinima series, redvsblue. Season 11 ended with the reds and blues split apart and stuck in the middle of a civil war on the planet, Chorus, between two factions: The New Republic headed up by Kimball(Lindsay Jones) and The Federal Army headed up by Doyle(Gray Haddock). The second installment of this three part story arc that is season 12 of redvsblue (trailer) is all about discovering the back story on the two factions of Chorus, and naturally things heat up when a third mysterious faction enters the fray.

The first half of the season is about Grif(Geoff Ramsey), Simmons(Gus Sorola), Tucker(Jason Saldana) and Caboose(Joel Heyman) organizing a team of soldiers to attempt a rescue mission for Wash(Shannon McCormick), Sarge (Matt Hullum), Donut(Dan Godwin) and Lopez who were kidnapped by a squad of New Republic soldiers headed up by another elite mercenary, Locus (Gray Haddock). The mercenary Felix(Miles Luna) heads up this mission for the reds and blues to recruit several New Republic soldiers to join their team. If you dug the montage of training scenes last year of the reds and blues failing like only they can in training, than you are in for a treat as they somehow manage to make them fail in bigger, better and more ridiculous ways than you can imagine in their efforts to recruit some new comrades.

The primary theme of this season is that a lot of our favorite RvB goofs are finally growing up just a tisch this season. Tucker finds himself with some more responsibility this season than he is accustomed to which results in a few surprising heart-to-heart dialogues with Wash and Caboose. Yes, Caboose gets serious this season like only he can, and the people at Rooster Teeth found a way to perfectly pull it off in one of the best scenes this season.

Eventually Tucker’s team manages to rendezvous with Wash’s squad where they find out there is a lot more to the civil war going on than what they were lead to believe. The gang realizes they are in the middle of something much bigger than Chorus alone when the aforementioned third faction enters the mix and a whole lot of double crosses and betrayals open up the plot this season to a whole new level. Compared to some previous seasons where the RvB lore got to be so convoluted to keep up with I was surprised at how the narrative unfolded and I was not thrown aloof at whose side everyone was on once the final act kicks into full gear.

As with most of the latest seasons of RvB, expect some surprise returns of characters who were AWOL for a season or two to spice things up. RvB is like a long running comic book series with a deep roster of resonating characters that can take a season or two off and come back in a powerful moment for the series. This has helped in previous seasons with both primary and supporting characters, and the old cliché, “absence makes the heart grows fonder” proves true here as having a sabbatical for characters helps freshen them up a bit upon their return.

Season 11 saw a return to basics for the traditional machinima animation of RvB. Season 12 still has a heavy use of traditional machinima, but brings back the custom in-house animation for a wide array of scenes than the combat scenes they were restricted to before. This results in some unexpected chuckles during the non-combat scenes and other narration scenes where I was use to the traditional machinima animation. One last thing to point out this season is it introduces a lot of new characters. There are too many to break down here, but suffice it to say we get to know a lot new soldiers for all three factions. This is a good introductory season to them as the season does not let us get attached to them too much other than to Doyle and Kimball in their leadership roles, and one outside-the-box medic in the form of Dr. Grey (Emily Grey). However, the new squad members that join Tucker’s team I warmed up to by the end of the season and I am curious where they wind up in season 13.

The standard extra features in previous RvB seasons are present on the season 12 disc. There are two deleted scenes and five minutes worth of outtakes. I will give Props to Rooster Teeth for hearing me out in my entry on season 11 on why they do not take the time to add subtitles to their series because they make their long-overdue debut on the season 12 disc. There are three behind-the-scenes features totaling just over a half hour interviewing the cast and crew. Return to Chorus is about how season 12 came to be and has the cast commenting on all the betrayals and major returns throughout the season. New Characters interviews the new voice actors and gives some extra background info on the debuting characters. Production Process focuses on the animators being excited to bring back custom animation as they break down a couple of their pivotal moments this season.

The PSAs this season are among RvB’s best works yet, and each one is cannot miss material as they cover hot topics like con and dating app etiquette and the joys of camping…outdoors that is. Finally we have another excellent commentary from the cast and crew of Rooster Teeth. Three people are recording but they constantly rotate in and out cast and crew aside this season’s director, Miles Luna every few scenes to keep the commentary fresh and lively. Noteworthy commentary topics this season consist of the characters growing up this season, the technical process of ‘selects’ in the Rooster Teeth studios, stumbling across amusing double identities on Tumblr and the fun challenge of making unsympathetic characters sympathetic.

We are 2/3’s of the way through this story arc of RvB and I find myself on board and invested into the greater mystery that is the civil war of Chorus. I am anticipating how it wraps up when I cover season 13 next month. Speaking of which, I just ordered season 13 from Amazon and am expecting it in the mail in the coming days. It released a few months ago, and conveniently will wrap up the current three part story arc. With that said, that will bring me up to date on all the redvsblue seasons Rooster Teeth has released on video and will serve as the perfect jumping off point as my final entry for the series on the blog. I just wanted to make sure to get that out of the way for everyone, and am looking forward to covering it next month!

Past redvsblue Blogs

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4 and Grifball Bonus Discs
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7
Season 8
Season 9
Season 10
Season 11
RvBX Bonus Discs