After all, it's just a ride….

The Avengers – Age Of Ultron (2015)

ultronI’ve never quite understood or appreciated the financial vagaries of the film business, so even my inexperienced eye can’t quite fathom why one of the titans of this years film schedule would get an overseas release a full nine days ahead of its stateside debut – I mean it’s not as if a behemoth on the scale of Marvel Comics The Avengers: Age Of Ultron needs to generate a little on-line buzz or supportive word of mouth now is it? Disney wields one of the most advanced and expansive marketing juggernauts in modern media parlance so it certainly wouldn’t be saving a few grand on P&A costs across different release territories would it? No, after the first installment of Joss Whedon’s warmly received Marvel franchise picture become the third top-ten grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation) all expectations were on the inevitable return to the vengeance afflicted victors replicating the initially successful formula – adrenalized action based antics, fanboy friendly narrative arcing, cute quipping, team based pyrotechnics and state of the art CGI wizardry. Well, all these contours are covered in Whedon’s return to make what he’s called ‘the most difficult project of my entire career’, with an elevated angle as Age Of Ultron yearns to be more entertaining, funnier and frantic that its predecessor, with a timely technological villain which I’m confessing is a favorite of mine from the original comics – the .James Spader voiced  annihilating automaton Ultron.

aveb2Opening in media res with an action sequence amongst the best in the film the crew are paying a violent visit to the land of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s specter from the evil clutches of Hydra general Wolfgang Von Strucker. The gangs all here including the increasingly green-goo-eyed Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Arrogant Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain Sidelined (Chris Evans), Timotei (Chris Hemsworth), ha see I’m married in this film so the rumors aren’t true (Jeremy Renner) and a more prominently deployed Hulk (The Hulk). The dastardly Strucker has been experimenting on his local subjects to make them into what the film euphemistically terms the ‘enhanced’, giving a broad stroke backstory to two new additions to the MCU The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her accelerated brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) which I’m guessing has been divorced from the comics continuum due to rights issues – can’t exactly name them as Magneto’s mutant children when he doesn’t exist in your cinematic universe now can you? Anyway, with the specter acquired Banner and Stark get boffining with the artifacts  infinite power and inadvertently breathe life, Pinocchio style,  into Stark’s secret Ultron A.I. project which he designed to protect the earth from a repeat alien invasion like that seen in New York three years ago. With the antagonist activated the film ambles through a cacophony of character beats, world travelogue hopping and digitally enhanced mayhem in a mostly incoherent fashion which leaves the viewer reeling in confusion rather than celebration, although I guess to be fair to Whedon he has clearly yearned to push so much into the film that much of his ambition oozes out at the super-powered seams.

aven3Now I know what you’re all thinking, that this is the long-awaited three decades in the making unofficial screen rematch showdown between Downey Jr. and Spader since the 1985 social urban classic Tuff Turf, right? It’s something of a conundrum is this installment in the increasingly dense Marvel Universe, as although in many dimensions it is an enhanced and intensified reprint of the original issue I initially walked out of the cinema amused but not as agreeably exhausted as I reeled from the first picture back in 2012. I’m guessing that Age Of Ultron will probably benefit from a re-watch which I am tempted to indulge which may ensure many of the sub-plots and garbled dialogue will fall into place, but fans of these movies and comical carnage in general will be in hog-heaven, with many characters from the MCU getting cross-over celebration. Whedon has focused his quill on both Hawkeye, Black Widow and by association Brucy Banner’s story arcs, while Thor and Captain America get relegated to barking orders and embarking on watery quests, the former due to Whedon’s self-confessed difficulty with writing for the character, although Thor does got the majority of the best lines with the Mjölnir manipulating machinations (‘Yes, it’s got a really nice follow-through’). As with the first film it must be a logistical nightmare to maintain momentum with over a dozen characters to juggle over a studio mandated 2 hours & ten runtime (although I think we’re getting an extended edition on Blu), so inevitably some plot serving plates crash to the floor while others soar off into blockbuster bruising awesomeness.

aveb3The new mutants enhanced on the block are reasonable enough additions to the team despite their weak motivations and abrupt shift of allegiances, while my deeper personal disappointment with the film lies with Ultron. Visually impressive and given some semblance of consciousness with Spader’s command of some malfunctioning dialogue he’s less a megalomaniacal herald of humanities certain extinction than he is a slightly distressed toaster, with incoherent monologuing and plotting which frame him as ultimately more farcical than fearful – the MCU just can’t quite get the villans right can they? Those skrulls chitakri were a bit rubbish, the Kree guy from Guardians was undercooked, I can’t even remember the villains from the Thor movies, neither Mickey Rourke nor Jeff Bridges did much as Shellhead’s nemesis and I know everyone loves Loki but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s less the immortal god of deception than a petulant, sneering weed. Far more successful is the WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD activation of The Vision with Paul Bettany finally earning his keep with numerous hours in the make-up chair, once he arrives on the scene the film which was beginning to  plateau for me with its doodling sub-plots  kicks up another gear as it leaps into its extended final act of mechanoid mayhem and CPU crafted carnage, while the whole Natasha & Bruce romance was just embarrassing to witness and frankly reduces a strong character to a cow-eyed simpleton in a very dreary fashion. Just to get into full geek/nerd mode I found the Hulk/Iron Man scrap a trifle underwhelming (Stark still hasn’t worked out that beating the Hulk makes him angrier and stronger,doltish FFFFFFOOOOOOLLL*), some of the MCU legandarium loring such as the introduction of Klaw had me grinning in fanboy fascination, and I thought the extended if rather silly final Slovakian Sokovian show-down was a lot of fun when it wasn’t being interrupted by boring footage of choking, tear-stained refugees weeping in humble acquiescence at their wonderful American saviors – all must worship at the spandex and chrome hewn heels of super-powered hegemony SPOILERS END.

ave4The films early release in European, Korean, Brazilian, Russian and other territories has not been without some controversy from some ill-judged comments by various members of the cast, some deliberately viral baiting stupidity from Channel 4, but I think this ‘spat’ between Downey Jr. and Iñarritu’s claims of ‘cultural genocide’ deserves a little thought. Have those renegade pinko homo-loving libruls in Hollywood seriously spun out fifteen years of blockbuster superheroics as some dark fascist plot to enslave the mind of children across the globe? I think this is more a case of filmmakers of even Iñarritu’s stature becoming increasingly frustrated in funding doors being denied to them unless they are making franchise features, so they blame the messengers rather than the hordes of punters who are flocking to these films, right or wrong. I don’t think you could accuse The Avengers of launching any cultural torpedoes other than some sparse spins on the whole ‘technology without oversight is evil’ or the usual ‘power wielded without responsibility’ creed which is as old as the movies themselves, and having seen the film twice now with the specific intention on picking up more plot threads and machinations underneath the superpowered chassis the only other algorithms Whedon has wrought revolve around evolution which don’t hold much water. Those right-wing readings have always been appropriated to superhero material of the printed or moving form since Miller and Moore pummeled the genre into a new level of sophistication in the late 1980’s, and with appropriate timing two of their series were announced to return this week. Second time around the distinct lack of genuine threat or peril still serves as a distraction from the fist-pumping action beats and satisfying quips, for these seeking a fun night out at the flicks this is high yield vibranium in contrast to DC’s dull charcoal smeared severity. The age of Ultron is over, and the age of the Ant is soon to begin;

*Private joke, nothing to see here, please move along….although this revelation might make one of my regular readers pass out….

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