Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

When the first Avengers movie was released 3 years ago, the thing that impressed me more than anything was how much that movie was like a comic book actually brought to life. What really sealed that impression for me was the obligatory fight of misunderstanding between two super heroes (Iron Man vs. Thor) we get mid-way through the film that would've looked equally at home on a comic book page. 

With Avengers: Age of Ultron, the concept of the comic book brought to life is embraced even more fully. Over the course of the 2+ hours of this movie, we get: 

An opening of the super team in action. How many comic books open with the star or stars already in action to set the stage for the greater challenge to come? And what about this "ripped from the pages" slow motion set piece we get to see in this opening sequence. 

Plot connections to other comic books movies. I almost felt like I could see little caption boxes at the bottom of the screen with notes like "As you saw in Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, True Believers" or "If you're not watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., go fix that now...after you finish this movie first, natch!".  

A super team's superior numbers being outmatched by unexpected players. We've seen this said before in comics: "I can't believe one person took us down like that."

A surprising romance between two members of the team. I'll give you a hint: the woman in this relationship is Black Widow. (Duh!) 

All that's just in the first act of the movie. Joss Whedon has never shied away from his comic book inclinations. For example, the 5th season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer looked and felt like it had been torn right from the pages of a comic book. 

But Whedon's greatest strengths comes from character development, either individually or in interactions with others. Front and center is, of course, Robert Downey Jr, back once more as the snarky super genius Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. Stark is still glib and a bit of a dick but he's a man who recognizes his fellow Avengers as friends. It's an interesting combination of Stark's inherent intellectual superiority coupled with a true heart felt desire to protect the world while taking his friends out of the line of fire that leads to his creation of Ultron.  

Now Ultron is a piece of work. Visually, his metallic robotic form looks sinister and powerful. But it's James Spader's voice work that makes Ultron truly scary and very unique. Ultron may be an artificial intelligence but he has a very strong element of human arrogance coupled with a wicked wit. Ultron is the dark reflection of Tony Stark. Spader's voice work captures some of Downey's tics as Tony Stark but with a darker, scarier weight.  

In addition to our core group from the first movie (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Capt. America, Black Widow, Hawkeye), we get to see new characters appear (Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision) with guest appearances from other comic books movies (War Machine, Falcon). But the original six do not get slighted from further attention. We learn more about Black Widow's past and how Clint Barton spends his days when he's not Avenging as Hawkeye. If any of that group does not get the same level of attention, it may be Capt. America but he's the one Avenger with the most recent solo movie (Winter Soldier) and the next in line solo outing (Civil War). 

As for the new kids, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are a bit flat early on but really come out as more well rounded personalities when they switch sides (Spoilers? Oh come on!) and begin fighting alongside the Avengers. 

And then there's the Vision. Talk about stepping off of a comic book page but the Vision is so perfectly realized visually. (Man, that is some serious cape action!) The Vision is a very late arrival to the group but has some very effective moments such as the speech to the team before their final assault and his final confrontation with Ultron.

Joss Whedon combines elements of drama, comedy, action and character development that feels like a cohesive whole. Future films of The Avengers will be in the capable hands of the Russo brothers but Whedon is a hard act to follow and will be missed. 

Meanwhile, I want to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron again!

Side note: Among the many, many previews screened before the movie, there were 3 of special note. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens  Still getting the feels from Han Solo's "Chewie, we're home" line. 

Ant-Man  I was under the impression that the audience wasn't quite sure what to make of Ant-Man. How much of this is supposed to be super hero stuff and how much is it supposed to be farce? There's a lot dramatic statements of facing destiny and doing great things. But there's also a scene with Ant-Man being threatened by a train...specifically Thomas the Tank Engine. I really hope this movie is at least moderately successful. Marvel Studios needs to switch up the super hero formula once in a while or they're going to wind up in a rut. If Ant-Man is an outright bomb, well, there's less chance of similar off beat offerings. Well, whatever the reaction to Ant-Man, it was still more positive than the reaction to...

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice  Me, I'm a longtime DC guy from way back when but damn, I felt...nothing. Of course I had seen this trailer before but the same could be said of the Star Wars preview. DC's trying to play in Marvel's sandbox  but I really don't see those efforts being as successful. As my daughter so succinctly and accurately put it, BvS:DoJ is a fan fiction come to life.  

OK, all I got for now. Tomorrow's post, Comic Book Theme Week continues as I reflect on the Free Comic Book Day 2015

Until then, be good to one another. 

Action Comics#1000

Shhhhhh! I'm reading Superman in Action Comics#1000!   And it.... is.... AWESOME!!!