By: Kevin Jordan
Give me more!
Are you tired of superhero/comic book movies yet? Apparently, a lot of critics and film snobs are, based on their latest round of whining in reviews of The Avengers: Age of Ultron (the film was released internationally last week, so reviews are everywhere). And, it’s not just them – a lot of regular moviegoers have been complaining about the number of superhero/comic book movies too. Listening to all of these people talk, you’d think half the movies released in the past ten years or so fit in that category. Of course, we’ve heard this Chicken Little refrain before, and they were rightfully ignored as well.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and I’ll prove it. If we start with the beginning of Marvel’s domination of Hollywood and your bank account, we also find the most saturated year for those movies in the history of the industry – 2008. Already, you’re thinking “bullshit; that can’t be right.” 2008 saw the release of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, Punisher: War Zone, Hancock, and The Spirit. Toss in Jumper (actually a novel and not a “graphic novel”) and Wanted (which really comes off as just a straight action movie) and you have nine of those movies. No other year has had more than six and this year has the fewest releases (three – Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four) since 2002 (only Blade 2 and Spider-Man). Not convinced yet? In any given year, there are approximately 600 movies released world-wide, 200-300 of which make it to theaters. If we do the math, that’s between three and nine superhero/comic book movies out of more than two hundred or more. That is not too many unless you don’t understand math (in all fairness, I understand why people think there are so many – it’s because they make tons of money and get tons of attention). If anything, there are not enough because nothing belongs on a big screen more than these movies. In contrast, there were 24 American and British horror films released just last year (which is how many total superhero/comic book movies were released from 2010-2014), and nobody complains about that, even though most horror movies aren’t worth the time, effort, or money of a theater trip. What I’m trying to say is sit down, shut up, eat your popcorn, and enjoy a movie that is ridiculously entertaining.
In related news, Age of Ultron is the eleventh movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is easily as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, if not The Avengers. Incidentally, that’s the other reason I don’t understand the complaining – the quality of these movies has only improved and every one of them is, at worst, very entertaining. More is not a bad thing unless we’re talking about mutant turtles or exotic marigold hotels. The Incredible Hulk may have been a fairly bad movie, but it beats sitting through slogs like Boyhood.
Like its predecessor, Age of Ultron isn’t going to win any awards for plot, but like its predecessor, it doesn’t need to. The plot is the same as every superhero/comic book movie before it – bad guy wants to destroy humanity and the Avengers must stop him. What matters is that the characters don’t get ruined by bad writing, the overarching plotline of the Infinity Stones progresses, and things go boom. Anyone complaining that the plot isn’t original or that the movie is overstuffed (and a lot of critics are saying just that) are people who hate life, kick puppies, and write things purely as click-bait. They also dismiss all of the smaller things happening in the movie that are very interesting and make it well worth watching.
(Mild SPOILERS coming.)
For one thing, James Spader steals the spotlight as Ultron, the titular villain and artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to bring peace to the world. (Ultron wants to bring peace alright, but quickly realizes – like Skynet before him – that the only way to do that is to rid the world of humans.) Spader’s smarmy delivery, sans any robotic or growly Batman-esque intonations, sets Ultron apart from any other movie robot before him. He’s so humanlike, you often forget he’s a robot until he reminds other characters of that fact. Essentially, he’s playing a James Bond villain if Bond villains had a sense of humor.
Building on top of that, the movie takes time to further humanize the rest of the team. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a family, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a heart, Banner and Stark have scientific blinders doubling as fatal flaws, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have doubt, and Jarvis (Paul Bettany) gets a body. I’d argue that saving the world is less interesting than what all of those things mean for the future of the characters and the team.
Another thing is that the wit and banter between all of the Avengers is as fun as ever (and the thing that is sorely missing from DC’s movies, save The Green Lantern). There’s a running joke about bad language and an entire scene devoted to lifting Thor’s hammer – as well as dozens of smaller quips and japes throughout the film – all of which kept the audience laughing and the film from taking itself too seriously. Perhaps the best moment of the film comes when Hawkeye acknowledges how ridiculous it is that he fights with a bow and arrow. I mean, come on – how can anyone not like a movie that can pull off a stunt like that without coming across as a joyless hobgoblin?
Perhaps the best thing about the movie is what I liked the most about the first film – none of the characters seem expendable, none of them are short-changed, and there seem to be more than ever. The film introduces two new characters – Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – Russian siblings who have been enhanced by Hydra with the help of Loki’s scepter. The two are given back stories that explain how they got their powers and their motivations and ample screen time for the audience to enjoy them. The two actors even manage to make us forget how bad they sucked in last year’s Godzilla. Plus, even the bit roles for lesser characters (War Machine, Falcon, Agent Hill, Agent Carter, Nick Fury, Heimdall, Professor Selvig, Thanos) work since they remind you that this movie is just a chapter or two of a very large story. And yes, that’s a lot of characters.
If the movie has any real flaw (besides the 3-D), it’s that a couple of the action sequences rely a little too heavily on CGI and it’s very noticeable. The opening scene in particular, while exciting and fun, leaves a little to be desired in the realism department (yes, I realize how that sounds). I think the problem is that Joss Whedon (writer/director) had something in particular he wanted to show, but that something was impossible to do with actual humans, so the computer got the full assignment. Maybe time and schedule dictated it be done this way, but it’s definitely the worst part of the movie. It’s a flaw, but a small one that is easily forgiven because of the rest of the movie.
The real problem with this movie is that the rest of the summer is going to be downhill. There are quite a few movies to look forward to this summer, but what are the chances that any of them are going to be as fun and entertaining? Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road looks like a crazy romp, Chris Pratt may or may not actually be a velociraptor (Jurassic World), Arnold will be back (Terminator: Genisys), The Fantastic Four is rebooting itself, Paul Rudd is Ant-Man(?!), and Rogue Nation is Tom Cruise’s next impossible mission, but….wait, nevermind. Give me more!!!
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, then, pay to see it again. Nobody ever ate steak and thought “there’s too much steak being made.” They just sat down, ate it, and enjoyed it.