With no stops scheduled today for The Dawning of Firebird Alex blog tour, this seemed a perfect time to offer my thoughts on something different. Last night, Michelle and I saw the Saturday night opening weekend showing of Avengers: Age of Ultron (in glorious 2D; regular readers know my distaste for 3D). There’s a lot of full reviews, and I hate to give spoilers, so here you’ll just get my impressions. And my impressions are precisely what I wrote in the title—I very much enjoyed the movie, but not quite as much as the first Avengers film.
Let’s get to the good stuff first. All the acting is excellent—the returning cast absolutely inhabits their roles, and the newcomers Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing the new Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver also sold their characters well. Paul Bettany isn’t a newcomer to the series, having done the voice of JARVIS since the original Iron Man, but his first on-camera role as the otherworldly Vision was great.
Director Joss Whedon has the ability to write stories that are global in scope, comic book wacky, and yet still leave room for quieter character moments and lots of sharp, quippy banter. He tears the team down, separates them, and builds them back up again, while creating an army of robots, an evil AI with anger issues, and a story that truly spans the globe. He makes the stakes both epic and personal. And not every thread gets wrapped up neatly with a bow.
On the other hand, so many characters means that there’s many themes brought up and left hanging, conversations never completed, some disjointedness. Marvel has said that there will be a release of a director’s cut with more than an hour of extra material, even an alternate ending, so clearly there’s a lot we’re missing. And yet despite feeling that we needed more, I felt that some of the action scenes went on too long. Some of that may have been my personal distaste for slow motion in action scenes. I prefer fast, kinetic action. I don’t think the original Avengers had much slo-mo action at all. But this one, we had a lot of slow-mo, hero-worship moments. There had to be some, of course, whenever you have a speedster like Quicksilver, but there was, in my personal opinion, more than was necessary. I’m sure a lot of people love that, but to me it just stops the energy, and if anything draws attention to how heavily the movie relies on CG. But my point is, I think the movie might have been better served if the action scenes were trimmed, and some of the character moments left in.
Something also needs to be said about the big bad. James Spader does a great job of giving Ultron character. But ultimately, he’s not the just-shy-of-unhinged-but-almost-relatable villain that Hiddleston’s Loki was. One of this movie’s big themes is should heroes be pre-emptive vs. reactive. Ultron lends himself to that, as the ultimate perversion of pre-emptive security. But being the vessel for a philosophical argument, even when brought to life so well by Spader, isn’t nearly as gripping as Loki, a wounded step-brother driven to usurp what he feels fate has unfairly stripped away from him.
Joss Whedon juggles a lot of balls in the air for this movie, and mostly keeps them in the air. That is one hell of an achievement, and makes for a very entertaining film. This isn’t the ultimate superhero film, but it’s certainly worth seeing. I think we might be reaching the point where we’re beginning to see the disadvantages of the Marvel Cinematic Universe being so connected. Maybe superhero stores really are best when told in long-form serials like Daredevil, 13-episode “mini-movies” that allow for decompressed storytelling. And for my personal taste, a bit less slo-mo, please.