I haven’t slept well the past few weeks; endlessly I toss and turn wrestling with the big existential questions. If there is an all-powerful god, why does he let children suffer? What does morality ultimately mean if the sun is one day going to expand swallowing all of life as we know it? Which will have a bigger box office this year, Star Wars or The Avengers?
In an attempt to garner insight into the most important of these three questions, I asked a bunch of movie-goers which film would be more popular this year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens or The Avengers: Age of Ultron, results were as follows:
Group of 20 something guys- “Star Wars!”
Group of girls with Cpt America shields – “The Avengers!”
Pimply Asian kid- (whispering) “Please don’t talk to me…”
Smelly Neckbeard in trench coat- “I will never love again after Jar-Jar, that movie was like my holocaust…”
Hot girl in tight shirt- “Stop staring at my chest, creep!
Eurotrash in Hugo Boss button down- “I have stock in Disney, I win.”
Whether or not Star Wars ends up beating The Avengers at the box office, it will have a hell of a time living up to its quality. Joss Whedon has managed to strike gold again with Age of Ultron, delivering a film that is both bigger in scale yet more intimate than his last outing.
Being the second movie in a trilogy, Age of Ultron is naturally darker (don’t believe me? Consider; in The Empire Strikes Back; Han Gets frozen in carbonite, in The Two Towers; Gollum decides to lure Frodo and Sam into a trap, and after I; you are left with the knowledge that The Godfather Part 3 exists. This doesn’t mean that the movie turns into a broody DC misery fest, Instead it keeps the traditional Marvel levity while allowing the characters relationships (and the natural distrust that forms when people with different motivations are forced to work together) to grow.
The film isn’t without its faults however,
Firstly, pacing is all over the place with us spending lots of screen-time going into great detail about smaller elements, while other themes and background details get forgotten in the rush to the finish. Apparently the first draft of Age of Ultron ran well over three hours, and it seems that to get it down to a reasonable runtime cuts were made with a cleaver rather than a scalpel. A 3+ hour directors cut fully exploring the characters would be very welcome and would seem much less indulgent than the LOTR extended editions.
Secondly, special effects don’t exist. That is to say that they aren’t special anymore. It was halfway through Chappie the other week when I realised that finally we can render a robot to appear like he belongs. Hooray. However- Just because you can have elaborate realistic battles go on for 45 mins doesn’t mean you should. Sensory overload is real and after a while the audience just kinda tunes out. A tense conversation between your five main characters being more exciting than Cpt America, et al. punching a robot into pieces, means you either have a great script, or the elaborate action scenes aren’t as engaging as they once were. The answer for Age of Ultron probably lies somewhere in-between.
The film may seem a bit all over the place at times and the final action scene numbed the fatter parts of my arse, but overall the many highs of the film outweigh its few pitfalls. Joss Whedon has opted not to return to direct the next Avengers, instead wanting to focus on smaller more intimate projects -perhaps a western set in space (one can dream…) His parting gift however is the most entertaining experience this side of grabbing a drink with Bill Cosby.
So before I do anything, I need to preface this review by saying I’m not an enormous Marvel fan or even a comic fan in general. I have absolutely no problem with any aspect of the culture or movies, and have quite enjoyed the films of the Marvel universe that I have seen (Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man 2, Captain America 2, and vague recollections of The Avengers, of which I saw whilst extremely inebriated). However, I lack the time and motivation to allow myself to invest so much effort into watching a film series with so many characters, crossovers, references I won’t understand…
Ok, okay, OKAY. Lumpsky bought the tickets for Age of Ultron months in advance, told me what films in the series to watch in order to understand what was going on, and in classic Scotty style, I didn’t. Actually I did, but the ones I have listed in the previous paragraph were apparently and literally the least useful out of the Marvel universe in which to grasp the story. So it’s with that knowledge, and an incredibly rushed synopsis of what I needed to know from an extremely irritable Lumpsky and his wife (“I’ve been waiting for this for two years, ask one question and I will castrate you” were some of the phrases being thrown around during the previews) that I went into Avengers 2 and to be quite honest I thought my review would be unfairly skewed due to my own procrastination. The verdict?
Well that was pretty damn fucking awesome. It is a true testament to the genius of director Joss Whedon, his impeccable cast and no doubt the thousands of incredibly talented crew that really justifies why this series is so popular and the financial rewards that this franchise reaps. Everything from the acting, sets, special and practical effects, dialogue, scripting, sound effects and music explodes off of the screen, truly representing the sheer love and respect that Whedon holds for this universe. I’d be damned to find a flaw anywhere and if I had to, it’s on me; simply the fact that I got lost at some plot points and references tied into previous films/comic books.
The plot itself is so dense, and probably so heavily discussed by this point that there is little point reiterating it; Plus the less you know going in, the better the experience is (not that I had given myself much of a choice). However, I could easily describe this as the Empire Strikes Back of the series; tone gets darker, characters crumble and question each other under self-doubt, and the bad guys; well, they get badder. And yes, it gets a whole lot more personal.
The ensemble cast of Avengers oozes of so much charisma and charm that I dare anyone to say that someone doesn’t absolutely own their character by this point in the franchise. I also never thought I’d see the day when I thought someone whose name ended in Olsen would be the most interesting character in a movie, let alone one of this scope, but Elizabeth Olsen (paired with an actually pretty impressive Aaron Taylor Johnson as Quicksilver, whose chemistry together actually doesn’t suck this time, looking at you 2014 Godzilla) as Scarlet Witch is equal parts intense and heartbreaking.
Final and absolutely massive props to the script here, which is dripping in Whedon wit; damn, when he wants to make us laugh, your ribs will be breaking, yet tailors it so brilliantly to the established personality of each character that it never feels forced, and never feels set up. It just rolls off of the character’s tongues so naturalistically that you get angry that more screenwriters just aren’t as talented as Whedon. He is in his prime as a filmmaker and this is EXACTLY the guy Hollywood needs.