Sunday, April 26, 2015

Movie Review - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron improves on the first Avengers film in almost every possible way from its visuals, to its action, and even the humour, but it stumbles just by a bit in the storytelling department.


While I enjoyed the first Avengers movie, and as good as the story was in keeping us invested in all the superheroes teaming up together, I felt that from a cinematic presentation perspective, it was fairly bland. The cinematography was kind of generic, and didn't create a sense of mood. Then again, as I've mentioned before, I'm also nowhere near a fanboy of the Marvel movies. I enjoyed them OK, but they're just not my thing. Maybe that's part of the reason why in 2012 I liked The Dark Knight Rises a little more than The Avengers, at least that movie know how to create a dark atmosphere with its cinematography, even though the story had quite a few holes.

Thankfully, that visual aspect has been improved a lot in the sequel. Age of Ultron feels quite a bit moodier than the first film. But don't take that to mean that The Avengers has gone for the Man of Steel levels of gritty reboot. In fact, in a surprising twist, there is a heck of a lot more humour in this movie that the first. I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud in this movie, but I'm pretty sure I laughed more watching Age of Ultron than the first movie. The best part is that the humour in this movie flows well with the narrative of the film, and they don't feel like the movie is pausing itself to make fun of itself like the first film. OK, maybe a couple of times it does, but it was still funny! The end result is a film that is simultaneously darker than the first film while also being funnier. Not something that can be executed well that easily.

And you will definitely need the humour, because the Avengers face a more threatening villain this time around. The gem that powers Loki's sceptre in the first film somehow contains a sentient being, and in this movie, that being manifest itself to become Ultron, who takes control of Tony Stark's Iron Man suits, and then escapes to build himself a robot army to make humans extinct, all in the name of peace, somehow.

I know that there are many who liked Loki as a villain in the first movie, probably for his charisma, but I never found him a real threat in that movie, that he could potentially tear the Avengers apart. But in this movie, Ultron looks and sounds more like a villain that poses a genuine challenge to the Avengers, partially thanks to a menacing voice and motion capture performance of James Spader as the titular role. And he is given the Maximoff twins on his side, Pietro (Quicksilver), who is superfast, and Wanda (Scarlett Witch), who has psychic and telekinetic powers.

The action in this movie definitely feels a little bit more tense than first film, where I felt that the big fight in the city doesn't feel memorable or unique, or even intense at all. The music score by Brian Tyler, with some contribution by Danny Elfman, at least gets your heart pounding a bit harder this time round. With all that said though, there are also quite a few times where the action is a little hard to follow with all the tight camera angles, but at least the tension is there.

Right, let's talk visual effects. There are over 3000 CG effects shots in this movie, and there are some effect sequences that will blow your mind away with it's sheer scale that surpasses the original film. However, that sheer quantity of effects shots also resulted in some CG shots that look a little bit too unconvincing. For example, the shot where Black Widow ejects out of the aircraft in a motorcycle and lands on the road, I found the animation lacks weight or impact when she lands on the ground. If you want to see how a motorcycle landing on a ground from a height really looks like, go watch the canal chase scene in Terminator 2 again, when Arnold lands in the canal with his bike. I'm sure a motorcycle landing from that height would create some sparks on the ground, or we would see at least some action in the suspension.

Aside from the occasionally subpar effects shots, the story can get a little bit convoluted at times, where sometimes characters would spout exposition that I have no idea what they're talking about or what does it have to do with the main story, or its just trivial dialogue hinting at future Marvel movies (Marvel movies do that a lot). It was those exposition scenes where I felt the movie could have been trimmed, given its two-and-a-half hour runtime. 


And there are some parts that actually lack exposition or explanation, like it was never explained how Nick Fury got back into SHIELD full time again, even though it was established that he was retired and was dead on paper from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And out of nowhere, Black Widow suddenly has a romantic connection with Bruce Banner. Were they really a thing at all, was that even established or hinted at in the first film, or any of the previous films? I though Black Widow was flirting with Captain America in The Winter Soldier, or that maybe she might fall for Hawkeye that the first Avengers film hinted at. But oh, Hawkeye now has a wife, so he and Black Widow cannot be a thing anymore. I just felt that the Bruce Banner and Black Widow romance feels a little shoehorned and out of place.

Then Thor disappears midway through the film and finds this mysterious godly water pool that suddenly exist, and then after seeing some visions, little of which is seen, he suddenly comes back and spouts more exposition and, without giving too much away, does something that will affect the Avenger's fight against Ultron dramatically (and rather way too conveniently).


So those are my minor gripes with the story. There are a few plot points that feel shoved in out of nowhere, and I felt that the pacing can be a little slow in some spots. But by improving on the visual aesthetic and the action, and making this film slightly darker without being overly gritty thanks to much better humour, Avengers: Age of Ultron is still a very fun popcorn comic book action film that you won't regret seeing.

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