This is a full review of the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Avengers: Age of Ultron. There will be numerous spoilers, so I recommend you watch the film first… like… twenty times. For those of you who are still reading this even after the spoiler warning here is a brief summary of my review.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is, in my opinion, possibly the best on screen adaptation of a comic book. It is exciting, action-packed, hilarious, and fun, fun, FUN! Some argue that the film was striving so hard to be like a comic book that it fell short of being a great film. I say the exact opposite. Its radical similarities to the source material are the elements that make it a fantastic addition to the archives of cinematic history.
Now go watch it before you read any more.
When a studio and a director are deciding how to adapt a preexisting story (novel, video game, comic book, older movie) they periodically have to make hard decisions. The thing they weigh is which elements of the source material will help them make a great film. It is a widely accepted thought that when you change the medium of a property you have to adapt, remove, or replace some of the original pieces. This process causes many fans of the original source material loose sleep. They cringe at the thought of watching their favorite scene, character, or conversation get a makeover. On top of that they have to explain to everyone who is unfamiliar with the source material everything they missed. Their new part time job is informing the uneducated masses who Grand Admiral Thrawn, Tom Bombadil, and Dr. Donald Blake are (and let’s face it, nobody wants that profession).
On the other hand, the director’s job is to make a good movie. If that means making changes, then they have to make them. After all the director’s paycheck doesn’t get signed by fanboys or even the writer of the original story. They are responsible to the studio that is backing the project. Furthermore, there is a system in the film industry. There are elements that go into story telling on the big screen, and these are the guidelines that a wise director will adhere to if they want to continue getting hired.
For the longest time I believed that there was no way for the director to satisfy both the serious film community and the rabid fans. Perhaps it will never happen. At any rate, I do not think Avengers: Age of Ultron will effectively satisfy both parties. But I also do not think it was meant to. AoU was not ever intended to slake any film critic’s lust for cinematic perfection. It was not made in hopes of winning the Oscar for best picture. So what was it supposed to do?
In short… Avengers: Age of Ultron removed the need for any required reading.
I don’t like it when I watch a movie and I have to consult an expert in the franchise to explain the plot holes in the film so I can get what was going on. Sometimes it is as simple as my misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the story on film. But other times I hear the words I dread the most, “You should read the book.”
NO!!!!! NO!!!!! NO!!!!!
Maybe the book is a great read, and maybe it is a fantastic exploration of the story, but a book should NEVER be required reading for a film. For example: I shouldn’t have to read the Hunger Games to understand what the sponsors were there for. The movie should explain them or just not mention them at all.
Well, Avengers: AoU made everything clear that needed to be clear. Heck, you could probably get what was happening if you had never seen any of the other MCU films. A friend of mine brought his wife, and she had only seen two of the other MCU films. She was just fine by the end. The film was a comic book on the big screen. All of the flaws were perfect representations of a comic book. It was very fast paced. There were a whole lot of characters. Ultron’s transition into a villain was quick. Every character had their moment, but none of them really took the spotlight. It was nonstop action. Hmmm… sounds exactly like a comic book.
Perhaps my single favorite aspect of the movie is that I don’t feel the need to tell anyone that they should read comic books to understand the movie. Comic books could enhance the audience member’s view of the lore and characters, but they are not necessary for enjoyment or understanding. Anyone who leaves the theatre, whether they love or loath the movie has gained a clear understanding of everything I love about comic books… and they never had to read one for themselves. That is the movie’s strongest point; it is an unfiltered comic book on the big screen.
As far as the film being crowded, I disagree entirely. No one has ever made the argument that Oceans 11 was over crowded. And no one left the theatre saying, “Casey Affleck was barely in there… he only had five lines.” But everyone complains for some reason about the super hero team up movies. It’s like we all want a team up movie, but we can’t stand that it means everyone has to share the screen. Make up your minds, people.
AoU had some incredible storytelling devices. There were numerous times that the story was able to accommodate the many characters and their plot lines to give them all a sense of forward motion.
Captain America: In Barton’s little house on the prairie (see what I did there?), shortly after the team has arrived, Steve walks outside the front door and Thor flies off. There is a beautiful moment where the camera is in the house. It is fixed on him as he is standing just outside the door. The music hits a perfect note, and he looks around at the house. Not a single line is spoken. But SO MUCH is communicated in that short time. You can tell he is weighing everything around him. He is remembering that this is the life he wanted. He wanted to settle down. And he is deciding if he still wants that… if he could still have that. Later, at the end of the film, he opens up with Tony and tells him the conclusion he has arrived at.
Iron Man: I love the direction he went. His decision was entirely rational. He wanted to protect everyone, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he built a solution. I totally get his logic, and I totally get why he didn’t consult anyone else. He built all of his suits before without the others, so why should he ask for their approval now? He was acting the exact same way he always acts: solo. He still has not learned how to be a team player, and I believe Captain America: Civil War will continue down that path.
Hawkeye: His story was my favorite, mostly because of the death of Quicksilver. Many people are saying that Quicksilver’s death was rather unemotional because the film had not built a strong attachment to his character. My stance is that Quicksilver’s death was relevant to two other characters (Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye), and so it is relevant to the audience through them. Now, obviously the Quicksilver fans were not happy about this decision, and I’m afraid I have no great answer for them. But in the grander scheme of the story his death was the hardest thing Barton could have endured. Even after he had come home to his family he was still ready to fight, and if necessary, die. In the moment where he was apparently about to meet his end he had picked up a child and was trying to make an escape. When he realized he could not get away he made peace with his end. Jeremy Renner’s face told so much in those few seconds; the man is brilliant. He didn’t want to die at all, but he accepted it and made his final action one that might be able to spare the boy in his arms (though it was unlikely to have worked). Then he gets saved… by another young man. The irony is the burden that Barton now has to live with. He was trying to save one boy, and another one died to save him. I believe Clint Barton would absolutely rather have died than see someone younger than him on his team loose his life. I believe he now is suffering a fate worse than death. That is how Quicksilver’s death serves the film.
There are other brilliant storytelling devices in this movie. The Vision was glorious. They introduced his character and built trust in him almost instantly with the hammer. Think about it. There was no reason they should have trusted him, but in one swift motion he was able to instantly prove his pure motives. This serviced the film perfectly and allowed for quick character development.
The movie was rapid, but I don’t think it was rushed. I think they knocked it out of the park. And if you want to compare it to the first one I say the only thing Avengers 1 has that AoU lacked is the novelty of being the first. Other than that one factor I say Avengers: Age of Ultron is a better film on every front. The action is mind-blowing, the tone is intense throughout, the characters are built upon as the story progresses, and it is a near perfect comic book adaptation.
What do you think?