The Avengers! Man, what an exciting time to be a nerd, right?! Hollywood is just assaulting us with a barrage of movies (and TV shows!) that tickle our nerd-parts. Later this year we’re getting a brand new Star Wars film, and then more every year for the forseeable future. Next year we’ll see Batman and Superman duke it out on the big screen, as well as Tony Stark and Steve Rogers butting heads in Captain America: Civil War. Ant-Man, Suicide Squad, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Aquaman, etc. The list of characters starring in their own big screen films goes on and on, and it continues to grow!
Right now though, let’s talk (SPOILER-FREE) about the film of the hour, Avengers: Age of Ultron…
We catch up with the team as they’re executing a full-scale attack on a HYDRA fortress run by Baron von Strucker. After completing the mission, Tony and Bruce begin experimenting with some new technology they discovered and, inadvertently, Ultron is born. Ultron, in true to the comics form, becomes self-aware and realizes that the only way to save the earth, is for humanity to become extinct and he means to carry out said extinction. It’s funny because during the movie my 7 year old looked at me and said, “This is kind of like Terminator!” (Not that I have to explain myself to you but, for the record, the only Terminator movie he’s seen is the PG-13 version of Terminator: Salvation.) Ultron pre-dates Terminator by almost 20 years, so it’s interesting that the theme of “machine making man obsolete” seems to be a reoccurring theme in sci-fi and fantasy entertainment.
The cast is all fantastic. Everyone does a great job. I mean, most of them have been doing it for a while so it’s not like it was all that much of a stretch. I do want to focus on some real stand-outs though. (Additionally, there are some characters that I’d like to mention but, as much as it pains me, for the sake of being spoiler-free, I’m leaving them out.)
First up, Hawkeye. It was so satisfying to see Jeremy Renner get a chance to really BE Clint Barton. He steals the show. He’s funny, he’s effective, he’s self-aware, and he gets s**t DONE. After what happened to him in the first movie, he totally deserved an opportunity to prove himself, and he did that and more. No one can ever again question Hawkeye’s worth as an Avenger because he earns some serious respect in this movie. Honestly, he’s the main reason I can’t wait to see it again.
Another amazing performance comes from Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch. Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a great job as her twin brother Pietro, Quicksilver. He’s cocky, funny, and little bit erratic. But it’s Olsen who really steals the scenes with her devout focus and quiet intuition. She’s the strong, silent type without being a muscley meat-head. Her powers are incredible. I feel like they’ve only scratched the surface with her and I’m very excited to see more.
The last role I’d like to acknowledge is the incomparable James Spader as the main robot-man himself, Ultron. I’ve been a fan of James Spader for years but, as a big fan of the Blacklist, there were so many times that I was like, “This a robot version of Raymond Reddington… and I’m OK with that!” Ultron isn’t necessarily despicable. He’s clearly misguided and arrogant, which makes sense considering who created him… and Spader does a fantastic job of capturing that grand ego of Ultron’s that always made him such formidable foe in the comics.
Visually, the film is fantastic. Normally I go to the 3d Imax showing first, but this time I skipped that (I may still see it in that format later) and watched the regular version. It was still an amazing experience. The action sequences are all really exciting and big. Even the small scale stuff has this… fullness (maybe that’s the right word)… to it that shows off the films layers and depth.
The plot moves along at a pretty steady pace and even the “slower” moments serve the purpose of the story. We get background details on a few of the characters that we haven’t previously and that’s important to understanding their nature, what drives them, and how they are important are to the team.
Now for the part I do not enjoy (because I am not a critic and I hate critics and people who nitpick art are the most irritating, soulless people on the planet). Addressing some… discrepancies… of the film. So, at the end of Iron Man 3 we’re led to believe that Tony has given up being Iron Man, but here he is fully suited up and blasting baddies. No explanation given that I noticed. Then there’s the fact that much of the action is very similar to stuff we’ve already seen. Fighting in the woods (Captain America: The First Avenger), fighting on a boat (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), fighting on a highway (also Cap: TWS), and fighting in the middle of cities (like, EVERY movie). (To their credit, all of the action is very good, and the catalyst for the fight at the end is pretty ingenious.) Also, Ultron’s mouth moves so perfectly like lips speaking and it’s just… bizarre. I suppose if I can buy into sentient computer programming then I could buy into metal that moves fluidly, but still…
One thing I’m going to try to get in front of and address, even though, believe me, I’d much rather not bring it up at all, is Black Widow’s role in the film. I’ve seen some people voice thoughts that she added nothing to the team and existed only as a love interest for Bruce Banner. I do not intend to demean anyone’s point-of-view, but I, personally, did not pick up on this. I do acknowledge that this is a concern for some, and I even sort-of understand how her role could be perceived that way, but I noticed several things that without her would have ended terribly. (It’s hard to mention this with out being spoilery, but I promise I’m trying.) One important character in the film may not have even existed if it wasn’t for her blind courage and bravery. Also, she’s pretty much THE reason the Avengers discover Ultron’s endgame-plan. Some say she only contributed to the team by calming Hulk down and helping him turn back into Bruce. Well… yes, she does do that, but we also get to see what happens when she’s not around to do it and it doesn’t end well for, like, an entire city. She does have this almost sappy pursuit of Bruce in the movie, but it never seemed to me like the character was out of control of herself. I never got the impression that she was a “damsel in distress” (needing help doesn’t immediately equate to that, ineptitude does, and Black Widow IS NOT inept), and I never felt like she was sexualized. (Being sexy does not immediately equate to perverseness or salaciousness. Women are allowed to be sexy without it meaning they’re an object. Just like men are allowed to be sensitive without it meaning they’re weak.) She’s a strong, independent woman who knows what she wants, and she wants Bruce. Perhaps this dynamic of the film will be problematic for some, but I genuinely hope people will try to see how crucial she was to the team.
Lastly, let’s address the Hulk in the room. Is this movie better than it’s predecessor, Marvel’s The Avengers? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. I don’t think so? (Honestly, I probably enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy more.) I mean, it’s always tough for a sequel to recreate the magic of the movie that came before it, and that isn’t its fault. Let me try this analogy… It would be like drinking a really great, really expensive whiskey and then drinking it again another time. The second time you drink it it’s most likely gonna be from a different batch but it’s still gonna be great. You’re just always gonna remember that first time more fondly and vividly because of it’s significance. The Avengers movies are like a good (not a great, but a good) whiskey. It doesn’t take much to enjoy them, and you enjoy them because you know how they’re going to make you feel. Are they gonna change your life? Nah. But that’s OK because they’re not supposed to. If you go into anything expecting to be let down, you’re going to be. If you reluctantly buy a bottle of whiskey with the mindset of, “I don’t know about this… I bet it’s nowhere near as good as (blank).”, then it probably won’t be. You’ve already prepared yourself for disappointment and rather than enjoy what you have, you seek out flaws so that you can be right and keep your self-image intact. That doesn’t make you a connoisseur, it makes you a jackass. All that to say… try not to go into Avengers: Age of Ultron (or ANY movie for that matter) with any specific expectations. It is what it is. If it doesn’t hit the spot for you, that’s OK, but don’t assume it’s not before you even buy your ticket. You get to go to a nice theater, plop down in a comfy seat, enjoy some delicious hot popcorn and a cold soda, and watch Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hulk all duke it out against Ultron. ULTRON! That’s a household name now! Be excited nerds! Something we’ve loved for years, something that has made us happy, is now making people all over the world really happy! Rejoice! The Age of the Nerd is upon us! I have seen the future… and it is good!