Thursday, May 7, 2015

How Long Should Age of Ultron Have Been?

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Avengers: Age of Ultron came out this past Friday, and it was an incredible movie.  There are a lot of good things to say about it—most of which I said in my spoiler review—and no matter how much I say, I always think of more.  I loved how much of Hawkeye we got to see.  All of the new heroes were interesting and compelling.  Ultron wasn’t quite the villain Loki is, but he was still very unforgettable.  The team dynamics were fun to see—especially getting to see the Avengers in battle together at the beginning of the movie.  The final fight scene with all of the Avengers was amazing!

However, with all of the good things this movie had going for it, there was one significant drawback:  the length of the movie.  Avengers: Age of Ultron is 2 hours and 21 minutes long.  And it should have been LONGER!

That’s not the kind of thing that you hear very often:  “This movie should have been longer.”  A lot of times people walk out of a movie complaining that “that was 2 hours of my life I’m never getting back.”  And with some movies that is correct.  However, some movies feel like they need to be longer so that there is more time for character development and for all of the different—and important (that’s the key here)—plots.  Age of Ultron is one of those.  There are so many characters and so many different vital subplots (both for the movie and the future of the shared universe) running around that it feels like we needed more time for the movie to really delve into them and give them their due.

In other words, #AoUDirectorsCut

Warning:  SPOILERS ahead.

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If you read my spoiler review, you probably noticed that there were a number of places where I thought there were pieces missing.  The montages of Tony and Bruce building Ultron and Vision felt like Bruce’s part got shortchanged.  Why did he decide to go along with Tony—especially on Vision after what had happened with Ultron?  The Twins’ decision to join the Avengers made sense, but it still felt like they needed a little more of a gradual shift in their allegiances, as opposed to seeing Ultron’s plan, running off, seeing Cap fighting Ultron, and deciding “that looks cool; I want in on that.”  And on that subject, I thought that there needed to be a little more of Hawkeye and the Twins fighting together for Quicksilver’s sacrifice to be as meaningful as it could have been.  Don’t get me wrong; the meaning was there, but it would have been even more meaningful if we’d seen a more of him and Hawkeye together.  However, of everything I identified, Thor’s “vision quest” with Selvig suffered the most.  What was that pool?  Thor gave a one-sentence explanation, but that did not feel like enough.  How did they find it?  What did it actually do?  That whole thing needed to be a little longer to do it justice.

The under-two-and-a-half-hour time limit did not give Age of Ultron enough time to do sufficient justice to all of the different plot threads that Joss Whedon had to weave together.  A few things got shortchanged, and the movie actually did suffer some for it.  It was still a good movie—don’t get me wrong—and none of the plot threads were left completely dangling.  It seemed like Whedon had to cut out all but the bare essentials for virtually every plot thread, and all of the filler was missing for most of them.  I suspect this is why my wife’s first reaction on walking out of the theater was, “the pacing felt off.”  It moved at such a breakneck speed for most of the movie, and every single thing was absolutely vital.

Long story short, certain movies just plain need to be longer than others.  We already accept that children’s movies should be closer to an hour and a half or less than to two hours.  Many comedies seem to hover right around the hour-and-a-half mark for some reason.  Why can’t some movies go the opposite way?  Movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron in particular would do well in a three-hour-or-longer time frame.  And I think everyone would win if studios embraced that.

The movie studio can produce a longer movie which allows more time to set up a shared universe.  It also gives them more time to devote to the “minor” characters, keeping those actors happy.  Imagine if they had another 90 minutes in Age of Ultron:  they could have fleshed out Captain America and Thor’s characters far more than they had the chance to do in the movie.  Directors would be happier because less of their material ends up on the cutting room floor.  The longer movie also lends itself to higher ticket prices, which means more revenue for the studio.  If Age of Ultron were 90 minutes longer than a regular movie, I would not be averse to paying between 50% and 75% more for my tickets.  This would give the studio an additional 25% to 37.5% money in revenue.

The movie theater benefits from the increased ticket prices as well.  Even more than that, they benefit from increased refreshment sales (after all, that’s where most of their profit margin comes from).  If the movie is 90 minutes longer, then it seems appropriate to place an intermission near the halfway point, giving people an opportunity to use the bathroom before the conclusion of the movie.  However, while the patrons are using the restroom, they may also stop to get more soda and popcorn before the movie restarts.  This would greatly increase the theater’s profits for those movies.

Of course the patron wins because he or she gets even more of what they enjoy, and a higher-quality finished product because it was able to fill in all the gaps.

Now, there may be some people who are turned away by the length of the movie, but I don’t think that would be significant enough to impact the movie’s bottom line.  Giving a 30-minute intermission around the halfway point would probably make the longer runtime more palatable for those who might not want to sit for four hours straight.  Theaters may not be as willing to show movies that take 5 hours (including clean up) if the movie is unlikely to fill the theater (based on the movie itself, not the runtime), but increasing the ticket prices would more than make it worth their time, especially since they only need someone to clean the theater once during that time instead of twice.

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I am not suggesting that every movie needs to do this—or even that every comic book movie should be four or more hours long.  Single-character stories like Ant-Man or Doctor Strange should be able to fit into a 2 hour runtime without going over much.  What I am suggesting is that certain ones could use it.  Primarily, I would suggest that any movie (particularly comic book adaptations) which has more than 7 characters could benefit from a longer run time.  This would include just about every team-up movie:  Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Avengers: Infinity War parts 1 and 2, and Captain America: Civil War on the Marvel Studios side; Age of Apocalypse on the Marvel Fox side; Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, and the Justice League movies on the DC side.  Any of these major team-ups would benefit from an extra hour or more of screen time to help develop additional subplots and fill in the arcs of “minor” characters.

The product that we received with Avengers: Age of Ultron was very good.  The major plots were complete (though perhaps a little rushed).  The minor plots were present, though not as fleshed-out as many of us would have liked.  All of the characters got screen time, and those who had received the least in the previous movies (or were new in this movie) received the most screen time and had the most satisfying arcs in this movie.  However, Avengers: Age of Ultron would have been much, much better if Joss Whedon had been given an additional hour or more to work with.  And when we get to the end of MCU Phase 3, the Avengers: Infinity War movies will be given a better chance at success if they are each allowed a longer runtime to accommodate the diverse characters and plots which will need to be included.

For now, I guess we’ll just have to hope that we get a #AoUDirectorsCut.

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