Avengers: Age of Ultras
In Italian football, a subset of club fanatics are commonly known as ultras, these aren’t your average supporters, they are an organised and controversial part of the game. They wield great power and influence over the club, more so than most would like. However their support isn't blind, the ultras can turn their backs on their own team when they are not happy with performances.
A sort of ultras also exist in context of geek culture, right now a split between the comic book movie franchises of DC and Marvel can be pointed to as an example. However unlike their football counterparts, these supporters are of the more close minded order. Admittedly, this comparison is a little extreme, but I couldn’t resist the word play.
However the following review of Avengers: Age of Ultron (and the greater MCU) will give a little credence to it as I believe fan bias or external factors are contributing to the fact this movie is getting a bit more love than it deserves.
**SPOILERS FROM HERE ON**
**SPOILERS FROM HERE ON**
The film opens like an Expendables movie as the team raids an ex-soviet-esque base wiping out countless faceless goons to reclaim Loki’s scepter. When Tony Stark discovers it holds an incredible piece of technology that will allow him to create his Ultron program he acts immediately to prevent what he believes will be the death of the team if he doesn't do so. The Ultron program will supersede Jarvis with true artificial intelligence (but really I think they mean artificial consciousness). Within about 35 seconds, all this is done, the most important act in the film is delivered like a tacked on plot beat rather than being fleshed out. When Tony tells Bruce Banner, there is no time for talking it through with the rest of team, his words echo a producer's, telling the director "let's get right to the action!"
In short, Avengers: Age of Ultron is not a great film. It may not even be a good film. On the basis of purely technical and objective “film” reasons, it falls short on some basic principles. The pacing is not good, due to bad scripting and forced editing (they couldn't really make Thor's "Vision" quest work as an example).
The rushed to action set pieces are also a technical failing, as they aren't exactly cutting edge, especially from a choreography point of view. The CGI is top-notch (for the most part) but that is expected. The actual ideas within the action are not. For example, the convergence scene in Thor: The Dark World cleverly uses Mjölnir's (Thor's hammer) auto-return feature to cut in and out of different action sequences as it travels through the different worlds as the portals overlap. It universe has setup these rules and the movie has fun with it during the action sequence. The only clever thing that I can point to in Avengers: Age of Ultron was again the use of Thor’s hammer, when a full speed Quicksilver sees the hammer flying past him in slow motion and attempts to grab hold it only to be dragged with it due to his unworthiness to hold it. However there aren't any memorable action shots within the film, such as the iconic moment in Avengers: Assemble when Bruce transforms into Hulk a punches the Chitauri ship in one swift movement proclaiming he is in control because he's "always angry."
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we saw a down to Earth, hit by hit use of martial arts choreography. With this approach, an audience member you can engage as they feel each kick and punch whilst being able to follow and understand the action and its repercussions within the story. Watching CGI versions of the actors destroy countless robot minions without any struggle makes you wish you had a game controller in your hand. There are no stakes, it's just a dizzying spectacle of light. The film could’ve used a few less nonsensical minutes of generic bot kills in favour of some character building. Even sequences such as the Hulk versus Hulk-buster are fun but simply more roller-coaster riding in a film already overflowing with it before the final battle scene.
You can argue that character development is secondary in an action film but that is what makes stakes all the more important. A lot of weight needs to be added to the action consequences, however at no point during the raising of the city in the final batter did it appear that Ultron's plan would work, or even make sense. They setup a "we need to stop the techno-babble" context but the consequences weren't clear.
In Avengers: Assemble, good use of editing with the cutting between Pepper Potts on the plane listening to Tony while he flies to meet the Chitauri mother-ship is an example of how emotion can be added to an action sequence. Even if we know the good guys will win, we can still get attached to the fact that Pepper doesn't know.
Where Avengers: Age of Ultron also fails, is it's context within the greater MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as the film ultimately serves as yet another go-between. Each of stand-alone movies, with different degrees of success has been focused on developing the lead character In the Captain America: Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World, both protagonists make difficult choices after understanding their role in the world. Captain America, disillusioned by the acts of SHIELD, sets out to change the nature of their role. Thor, takes up residence on Earth, leaving his role on Asgard behind. Even, in Iron Man 3, which I didn't enjoy, we see Tony elevate himself beyond the suit, "I am Iron Man", as he destroys all his suits.
None of this is alluded to in Avengers: Age of Ultron and some is downright ignored, taking away from the character's previous development altogether. Tony is flying around in his suit acting like the Tony Stark at this beginning of Iron Man 2. Bruce Banner/The Hulk has become a victim of the fact the studio wasn't happy with The Incredible Hulk or Edward Norton. His lack of control has basically regressed the character.
Continuity is as much about connecting dots as character motivation. Suddenly deciding that a character is motivated by this or that when it may be at odds with our previous experience with them cannot be glossed over with a line of exposition. We need to buy into it as well so that we can connect. Meaning that either the film maker's didn't agree where the stand-alone films were taking the characters or it was all just getting in the way of the "story" they were trying to tell. What we are left with is a series of unexplained plot details which don't connect to where we left off.
The film is a victim of it’s own universe, not a bridge to the future, nor a continuation of the past, it’s just another entree. Similarly to it's superhero comic source material and soap operas in general, the next issue is more important, but then the once after that. The mid-credit screen basically unabashedly proclaims it as we see Thanos (the cosmic villain behind everything) "Fine! I'll do it myself".
Whereas Avengers: Assemble also had some of these problems it benefited from the novelty of it’s own set up. It was the first time the team had been together, the assembly itself was fun and we understood how each character fit in as the preceding films were all coming together.
The consensus is that most of the issues outlined above are actually being agreed on, yet no one seems willing to give the actual movie a negative review because well, Marvel movies are good right? The hesitation is to agree that our expectations were too high and could never meet them. I don't believe this is the case, the people behind the MCU have proven that can combine popcorn entertainment with some decent character arcs and having created so much rich history and back story now, we should expect them to make us care more and more about these characters and the difficult tasks they face.