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)

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