Earth's Mightiest Heroes are all back: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Hulk; the Avengers -- and Joss Whedon; and the biggest Evil Genius currently in film-making. They've returned to save the world again, because that's what they do.
|And they're doing it more efficiently and with more pizzazz than ever now that they've already found their footing as a team.|
This is one of those rare cases where the plot is not only just a good excuse to make the movie, but is actually making the movie better by taking the backseat. A Joss Whedon plot is always solid, but priority here is given to character. It's the biggest movie of the summer, brimming with action and distractingly cool special effects, but the thing that left the biggest impression was still the Avengers themselves, and their surprisingly not-super, but superbly-human struggles and dilemmas.
Every Avenger has their moment to shine, and their due dose of character development. And I love the way they were prioritized. Avengers who have solo movies -- that would be Stark, Steve and Thor -- stepped graciously into the background a little and gave the other less fortunate but equally lovable heroes a longer turn in the spotlight -- that would be Barton, Romanoff, and Banner.
|"We'll be right here if you need us..."|
Clint Barton, or Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) after spending most of the first movie playing MVP for the wrong side, gets the extra development to make up for it, and then some. Mr. I-see-better-from-a-distance is hiding a wife and two-and-a-half kids in a farm house situated on some rolling green hills! This instantaneously gives him both a layer of explanation, and two more layers of mystery. And oh, I was so mad at Whedon, because I knew, I knew it was a great set up to sucker-punch so hard, and I never would have forgiven him (again) if he'd done it, but that Whedon is just too unconventional and unpredictable for that, and my favorite Avenger happily lives on. But not only that, he got to live up to his hero potential in the fight scenes, and got some of the best, most Whedon-esque lines to say, which he owned with burning sarcasm. His equally inspirational and hilarious rant at Wanda was just the best.
|Hawkeye sitting on his perch like a cool Hawkeye, 'cause Hawkeye is cool.|
And then Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and I mention them together, because yes, they are an item now. And first of all, I like that -- Nat's friendships with Cap and Barton are too good to ruin with romance, and Nat and Bruce make an unexpectedly good pair, on and off the field. Natasha is a beautiful enigma, (the kind that is Whedon's specialty) being so cold and deadly at work, but with her elegant hairstyle, and wearing flouncy skirts off duty. And I loved the way she picked Banner and then just went for it. We all know what she's like when she flirts (as Cap says and Tony knows too) and it's great to see the minute but important differences when she's serious. The dynamic between her and Banner is wonderfully unique, and wouldn't be so without the romantic element.
|She is always an interesting, complex and fun character, but Whedon's version of her is my favorite.|
Banner, though, I don't quite understand. I certainly understand the center of his character -- his fear of himself -- but I don't understand how that motivates him to act. Plus I assume there's more going on in there besides that. Did he run away at the end because of fear, or because he wanted to be alone, or was he just mad at Natasha for kissing him and pushing him off a cliff? Hard to tell, but whatever kind of mixed-up he is, it's complicated, understandable and convincing.
|I like these two together. They're both some strange characters with some serious dark sides; not as different as you might think.|
Iron Man, or Tony Stark, (Robert Downey Jr.) is the veteran of the team, and has done so much growing in his three solo outings that he hardly has anywhere to grow now, but does seem to have started on an arc that will lead to some interesting places in the future. He gets his share of snide comments and makes everything look cooler, and that's plenty. Same basically goes for Thor (Chris Hemsworth); he has his humorous moments, and his hinting dramatic moments, and all those bits about people being worthy to lift Mjolnir or not, so he continues to be awesome and quite helpful.
Captain America; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still trying to find a place where he fits in the world, but he keeps his problems in perspective and concentrates on the problem at hand. It seems like it would be easy to make Cap boring or into a shallow goody-goody, but his well-adjusted persona and predictability instead make him an effortlessly engaging, lovable and sincere character. And I'm glad he got his dance with Peggy, even if it was just a vision.
|And now, saying "language!" is a movie reference that even Cap will understand!|
Now the newbies; the Maximoff twins, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) or, as they are never referred to in the actual movie, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. They temporarily work for Ultron before switching over to the good side, and for two new characters in an already bursting cast, they make impressively good and compelling additions. Firstly they are important to the plot, but eventually are welcome to the party on their own merit as characters.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of-- well of her anyway. Sadly I can't say the both of them, because Pietro is the one who doesn't make it though the movie. He dies heroically saving Hawkeye and a little boy from a shower of bullets, and it was sad. Sad in a good way -- the kind that actually sincerely induces the word "aww." It made me like the character even more, and gave him that last boost of character he needed. It was neat actually, with Hawkeye being set up for the sucker-punch, and him and Pietro having a testy rivalry going throughout the movie, ending with that reused line, "you didn't see that coming" -- Quicksilver's first and last. So both their development was used up, but now with her being an Avenger and her brother being dead, there's a new beginning waiting for Wanda.
|The way their powers are portrayed is cool -- glowing red magic for her and a jagged blue trail for him.|
And now -- dun da-dun-dun duuuuun -- Ultron himself. I never really wondered or cared how good a villain he'd be, I suppose because I knew he wouldn't be able to compare with Loki, no matter how creepy he can make children's songs sound. Another point for Joss and Marvel; Ultron doesn't even try to fill Loki's shoes. He even forgoes doing evil plan-revealing monologues! James Spader does his thing that only James Spader can do, and turns Ultron into the most amusing and sinister artificial intelligence that is hip on pop culture you've ever seen. He is a lively robot, and seems to have every human emotion that your typical delusional murderous maniac would have -- right down to temper tantrums. He also looks great; his robotic face is very expressive and just creepy enough, and the way he is every one of his minions adds importance to every kill an Avenger makes. Overall he's just very well planned, designed and acted super-villain.
|He will crush you -- and look so patronizingly bored while he does it.|
Mentionable, but less featured characters include Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue (you know it's a huge movie if Andy Serkis only gets a side mention, but he does get the biggest side mention, because his short screen time doesn't decrease his awesomeness), Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders as Agent Hill, Don Cheadle as the War Machine; Anthony Mackie's Falcon, Stellan Skarsgard's Dr. Selvig, and of course Peggy Carter -- Hayley Atwell.
Paul Bettany's Vision is almost a side character, except he's almost not even a character at all -- he's every bit an unwaveringly good AI program, and very little like a human pretending to be a robot. The snarky AI computer JARVIS has always been a favorite of mine, and having the computerized butler become Vision was a great inclusion that fit in ideally with the plot. He may not technically be JARVIS anymore -- floating elegantly through the air on willpower and creating capes out of nothing like some strange celestial being -- but if he sounds like him, is sharp-tongued like him, and yes, looks like him, then there's certainly no loss.
|Ultron: "You're unbelievable naive." Vision: "Well... I was born yesterday." Yep -- JARVIS's personality definitely stuck around.|
There's only one real problem in this entire picture, and that is that there were a few times during the action scenes where it was hard for me to tell who I was watching and what was going on; most prevalently in the Avenger Tower scene. That's it. Another viewing or two and it will disappear. Otherwise the action is styled perfectly to suit our heroes -- occasionally ever-so-slightly on the cheesy side, but fun, original, fun, magnificent, fun, entertaining, and definitely fun.
There is one thing that can be taken as good or bad: Age of Ultron is basically a replica of the first Avengers. It's the exact same formula -- the exact same ingredients, baked into the exact same cake. Its icing is different of course, with different details, more colors and extravagant decoration -- that is, it's bigger, three years more advanced and filled with more fantastic Whedonisms -- but underneath it's still the same. Here's the thing though; it's a really delicious cake. It is perfection, and everyone knows you don't mess with perfection. Unwritten movie rules try to say that you can't just add details to the original formula for a sequel and make a good sequel at the same time, and often that's true, but I'm glad Whedon ignored the rule and did what he wanted, because this movie was almost exactly the same as the original, and exactly what I wanted it to be.
|So congratulations on the resounding win!|
With the signature style of Whedon, the Avengers gives us a plethora of brilliant jokes to laugh at, countless moments to surprise and wow us, tricky mind games to worry us about the fate of our favorite heroes (or was that just me he was torturing?), and a couple deeper thoughts to tempt us to chew on that complements our popcorn. It gave us a long but fast-paced and epically scaled clash of a plot line, ending with a grand climactic battle in the sky against a totally evil and dislikable, but never annoying villain -- to a perfectly satisfying conclusion. Every technical aspect was sharpened to a fine point; superhero-ed cinematography style, clean and bright special effects, a meticulously honed script for maximum cheekiness in banter, and a cast that obviously had so much fun, yet delivers on the involving performances from the smallest side character, to the mightiest of the many mighty heroes.
To put it very, very simply: this movie is awesome.