THE AVENGERS PART 2 is probly the most comic bookiest comic book movie achieved by mankind so far, which is to say that most of the action scenes have like 15 different supermen and secret agents and shit flipping around shooting magic beams and power waves and explosive arrows and laser things and doing super punches and alley ooping each other and what not as they fight against an army of flying wiseass robots. There are two main characters who wear capes, one that turns into a giant monster, one that’s from a viking fantasy dimension or whatever, at least two that fly of their own accord and two using the jets on their power suits, one that moves faster than sound and another that does mind control and shoots red, uh… magic I guess?… from her hands. It’s not played exactly “gritty” but it’s not a joke either. It means it.
After writer/director Joss Whedon (SPEED)’s masterful job of combining all the different Marvel characters into one supergroup in part 1, he has an even bigger miracle to pull off, and ends up with more mixed results. Because after you’ve managed the trick of combining all these worlds and characters into one coherent movie (which honestly I didn’t believe could be done), the challenge is how do you do it again and make it seem new again and bigger this time but not worse? And the answer is “it’s hard to say.”
I’ve heard it said that the original AVENGERS suffers from taking too long to set up the characters, that they should’ve just come in right away and started punching each other and going “I’m Captain America and you’re The Hulk and we’re standing here together aren’t we that’s so crazy though right!?!?” or whatever. I strongly disagree. I think one of the best parts of that movie is seeing where all the characters ended up after their last movies and how they come together to become a team. That’s the story. It made it seem monumental: shit has gotten so bad that we gotta send for help from all over the world, bring them all together. The recruiting is a classical, enjoyable formula for building up drama in an ensemble action adventure (think UNCOMMON VALOR). In this one it opens with them all mid-super-battle and you get the impression that maybe they all just live together now, like in the Real World house or something, and have magic punching laser fights in the woods every weekend.
It’s okay though because it’s a great opening scene. It kinda reminded me of a STAR WARS prequel, specifically the opening of REVENGE OF THE SITH, with its long take heavily-digitally-animated shot moving through a complex battle with our heroes flying around bantering with each other while shooting faceless armored bad guys to show how they get along and how good they are at what they do. (Please understanding that coming from me that comparison is a big compliment, though I don’t think this is as good as REVENGE OF THE SITH, which I still contend has an opening 30 minutes as thrilling as any blockbuster type movie of the 2000s.)
It’s a messier, more convoluted movie than the first, with sometimes less natural execution of its many ideas. For example Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s creation of an artificially intelligent being that goes rogue and tries to conquer the world is not something that happens over time, it’s something that happens in one night while they’re at a party. They basically just run the “turn Loki’s crystal into A.I.” program and go have cocktails while it installs. And there are two characters who go from being so bent on killing Tony Stark that they join up with the first insane robot that tells them he’s gonna destroy the Avengers, to actually just becoming impromptu Avengers when they realize their boss is evil, and I didn’t quite figure out that transition there. I guess they cut it down from a longer version and they must’ve had to take some of the connective tissue out.
Since we’ve already experienced the novelty of the all-star team-up movie they gotta throw a bunch of new shit at it. One area where I did feel it was an improvement over the first is with the bad guys. To my mind the Marvel movies never have the best villains, and although Loki is maybe the most memorable one I don’t think he’s that great. Ultron (animated robot character voiced by James Spader) is more interesting to me because he’s strange. He’s an animated robot character who’s sometimes damaged and wobbly, often a smart ass (like his creator), and who has a tendency to muse and philosophize and shit even though he’s not human. A weirdo. And his army of robots look a little cooler than the aliens in the first one, although they serve the exact same purpose: swarming digital cannon fodder.
Whedon does about as good a job as you can balancing that many main characters, and allowing for brief appearances by many of the supporting players from the different movies (Falcon, Professor Naked Guy, the guy that they accidentally cast Idris Elba as so they have to keep bringing him back even though what the fuck are you gonna actually do with that character, etc.) He wisely puts more emphasis on the characters who don’t have their own movies: Hawkeye, Black Widow, and a little of SHIELD Agent Maria Hill (not as much Nick Fury, who I forgot had faked his death, and I still forget if everybody already knew that or not).
But with this type of saga they also want to add new characters in. For example in the first AVENGERS they added Maria Hill, and we had only seen Hawkeye in a brief cameo before, and Agent Coulson and even Black Widow were expanded from smaller roles, and we’d never seen Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner or Hulk. This time the new characters are, uh, not that impressive. They’re the Russian-ish “enhanced” twin war orphans Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, who were first seen in the embarrassingly shitty credits tag of I believe it was CAPTAIN AMERICA 2. They’re okay, but they’re not as interesting or cool as previous Avengers (or X-Men, which they seem more like) and they break the previous Marvel rule of “You know what, we have Scarlett Johansson, let’s not make her do a Russian accent.” Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen, OLDBOY remake),who I guess is called Scarlet Witch in the comics (or ScarWit), has the power to make people have nightmare visions, a novelty that wears out real fast, so good luck not killing her off in the next movie, fellas.
Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, SAVAGES) is apparently the character Quicksilver in the comics. Due to some weird bureaucratic mix-up or typo there is a different version of the same character played by Evan Peters in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. There he was a scruffy nerd with a Walkman, rock t-shirts and silly goggles. Internetters were up in arms when they saw photos, but his big bullet time scene turned out to be the highlight of that movie, and I can’t imagine anybody prefers this Under-Armour-wearing, frosted-tips version here, even though it’s supposedly closer to the comics version of a guy with pointy white hair in a lightning bolt leotard.
As a continuation of the saga this is a little weird. SHIELD got destroyed at the end of CAPTAIN AMERICA 2, now in this one it’s already “hey guys, we have SHIELD again! But you can trust us now though! We repaired the flying aircraft thing too!” But Whedon, at least this time, seems more interested in characters and giving them arcs and what not. Most of my favorite parts were little moments, like the super heroes all hanging out at the party and taking turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer. I was more invested in whether Bruce Banner would wise up and seal the fuckin deal with Black Widow than with whatever Thor was doing in the, uh… he goes into a magic well? And it has something to do with that crystal from Loki’s staff, or some other crystal, and it helps to… do something with creating the, uh, where they were combining a robot with humans or whatever, and put JARVIS into it?
Seriously, I have no god damn clue what was up with that entire subplot, that is gonna need to be explained to me I guess. But it seemed like you could just ignore it and the plot made more sense that way. Actually Thor is the one main character that didn’t get enough to do, although his hammer gets some of the best scenes and I approve of his decision to start wearing earthling clothes sometimes.
Hats off also to a weird scene, a fight between two computer programs visualized as holographic abstractions. Hard to describe, and it was hard to figure out how to do it, I’m sure, but it’s an unusual cinematic moment.
The action scenes are also a unique case. I definitely couldn’t follow everything that was going on, but it seemed to have more to do with the complexity than the presentation. It’s just that there’s so much to keep track of in some parts it’s kinda overhwelming. There were at least a couple great shots that seemed designed more to be studied on blu-ray than understood on the big screen. It’s different from the infamous TRANSFORMERS version of too much visual information, because it is decipherable in chunks. You can’t take it all in, you just gotta decide to focus on Thor or The Vision or whoever and then you’ll be able to see what’s going on on their section of the screen.
Those people who were weirdly offended by their belief that millions of people secretly died off screen in MAN OF STEEL will be happy to see that the Avengers make the protection and rescue of civilians a major concern and activity during the battle scenes. Like the upcoming BATMAN AND SUPERMAN: DAWN OF A SUPERFRIENDSHIP they make the past activities of the super heroes a controversy, with the Avengers and Tony Stark’s ROBOCOP remake style drones treated as unwelcome American occupiers in some places. I wonder whether it’s a direct response to the MAN OF STEEL nerdtreversy or whether it was a coincidence? But talking about collateral damage so much comes off as novel in this, which sort of proves that it was never a thing with previous super hero movies, including the first AVENGERS. I will leave it to some enterprising nitpicker to examine why they put so much more effort into rescuing the Europeans in the climactic battle than the Africans in the middle one, but otherwise I like it. It’s a good source of drama.
Hey man, I noticed Danny Elfman did the score for this one, his first of the official Marvel Studios movies (though he did Ang Lee’s HULK and Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN). Or at least he did part of it, it also credits Brian Tyler as a composer, both working with different orchestras, and based on the themes Alan Silvestri wrote for the first movie. So it’s kind of a hodge podge. Maybe that explains why he didn’t Danny Elfman that shit up. Throw some dittity-dittity-dittity Danny Elfman type sounds in there so you know it’s Danny Elfman. Oh well. It works. The Avengers have the catchiest theme of the Marvel movies. They still gotta work on that.
If this comes across like a negative review that’s not what it’s supposed to be. I wouldn’t rank this in the top of the Marvel movies (current top three: THE AVENGERS, WINTER SOLDIER, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY I think), but it’s in the middle somewhere, which makes it better than most movies. AGE OF ULTRON is a movie with many flaws, but they’re interesting and unique ones. It does seem to me like if they keep going bigger and adding more characters and powers into the mix as they seem to be doing for the next AVENGERS (which will be a two-parter) that they’re gonna lose most of the civilians, because how the fuck are we supposed to know what all this is, man? Speak English. I think instead of going bigger bigger bigger it’s now crucial to do some with these characters where they strip it back down to the basics and be more intimate.
And at the same time the ending of this one, while it works well for the story, doesn’t do the greatest job of that comic book movie thing of making the audience say “oh shit, I can’t wait for the next one!” Because SPOILER at the end they have a new line-up for the team where several of the main characters have left and are replaced by the leftovers from the other movies like War Machine and Falcon. The B-vengers. And the movie treats it like “You guys isn’t this awesome!?” instead of “Oh shit, how is this ragtag group of underdogs gonna fill those mighty shoes?”
But it truly doesn’t matter how it seems to me, because Marvel have proven again and again that they know what they’re doing, and can pull off things that seem crazy to me (including but not limited to the space movie where one of the main characters is a talking raccoon). So I look forward to seeing if they can keep that up. I’m guessing they can.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.