Monday 27 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I've enjoyed most of the Marvel films I've seen, but I don't embrace them all equally.  The Iron Man films were all excellent, and my opinion of 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014) is identical to everybody else's opinion of 'Guardians of the Galaxy'.  I found 'Captain America' and 'Thor' (both 2011) to be flashy but ordinary, and 'Age of Ultron' shares one of the main issues I had with 'Thor' - in both cases, the central conflict looks to be morally complex, but the villain, after a short period of seeming to have an interesting motivation, decides to be entirely, overtly, evil.  Both films promised to be dramas, and both gave way to something less challenging.

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' is a film full of punching.  Iron Man is a very cool person, whom money and technology have blessed with super punching powers; he's better served by his own films, and the fact I'd seen the superlative 'Iron Man 3' (2013) so recently probably injured my opinion of this movie.  The Hulk is a very nice guy, with an interesting central conflict - the same as in the last Avengers film (2012), so it's hard to be quite so engaged by it this time around; technology has given him super punching powers too.  Captain America is an all-American hero, and a bit boring, and technology has given him super hitting-people-with-a-shield powers.  Thor is a Norse space-god, and space-magic indistinguishable from advanced technology has given him hitting-people-with-a-mallet powers.  Then there's Black Widow, who doesn't seem to have any technological advantage, and seems to kick people more than she punches, and Hawkeye, who's really good at shooting really good arrows.

They're all incredibly attractive, but in different ways.  They kick ass, and especially much they punch ass.  Most of them have had films of their own, showing that they're all individually capable of bringing down vast, blockbuster-sized enemies, so once they're all working together, the obvious problem is finding an enemy that takes them two hours to stop.  Thankfully the legion that confronts them this year is one that can be affected by punching, but one great enough in number that the punching can go on for at least twenty minutes unabated.

Ultron, whose age it is.
The side of evil is given a number of assets, making this Age of Ultron seem a relatively tricky case, but as more and more of the villain's forces defect to the side of good, a victory for the heroes looks ever more likely.  The film seems to keep promising that nobody is safe, that this fight will have a terrible cost - and so it should!  A villain as powerful as Ultron would seem more of a credible threat if his plot had a body count.  I was disappointed when 'The Return of the King' (2003) saw all its main heroes survive - I'd hoped for a bloody hobbit-massacre to show the extent of the threat Frodo faced, and when everybody lived it made the 9-hour struggle feel cheap and easy.  I didn't hold out any such hopes this time around - but I won't say any more, for fear of spoiling the film.

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' is pretty exciting to watch - explosions, set-pieces, familiar characters doing their thing, witty exchanges and reasonable angst - but as you may sense from the paragraphs above, I wasn't quite satisfied.  Part of the problem was that there were no ordinary people in the cast of characters.  All the major players are well-versed in superheroism and high-octane showdowns.  There's no young Steve Rogers, no Pepper Potts, no Foggy Nelson, and none of the heroes even need to pass for normal - these are heroes who have given up their secret double-lives.  I think I've really been spoiled by Marvel's other 2015 project, 'Daredevil', which has recently shown up on Netflix - a hugely satisfying masked vigilante story, with dozens of interesting, human characters to care about.  'Age of Ultron' tries to put Hawkeye at its emotional core, and shows him to be ordinary and American and handsome, but this doesn't make him especially interesting.  He's no Matt Murdock.

The only real people in this film, with lives as humdrum as our own, are the huge crowds of potential victims.  The Avengers work to save these hapless lemmings, and it makes ordinary humanity seem a real drag, a hindrance without merit.  I like that these superhero films spend time showing the heroes rescuing people - it worked well in the recent Batman movies, and it was a nice feature of 'The Avengers Assemble' (2012), but here I spent my time wishing the villain would do his thing, wipe out these troublesome extras, and move the narrative on a bit.

Check it out in cinemas now (or in cinemas next week, if you're American).  Despite my complaints, there's plenty to enjoy here.

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