Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron RETRO-REVIEW

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Now that I’ve worked my way through all the movies that came out before I started blogging, it’s time to start in on the two that I have already reviewed.  Rather than re-review the entire movie, my goal with these two “Retro-Reviews” (Age of Ultron and Ant-Man) is to revisit what I wrote the first time, see if it still holds up, and—particularly with Age of Ultron—see if the deleted scenes help clarify the issues I had with the movie’s theatrical cut.

First up is Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is big team-up #2 for the MCU.  But before getting into that, let’s talk about “ambitious projects.”

I suppose you could say that this entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is one giant “ambitious project.”  After all, creating an entire universe with many different branches, all of which are actively connected across movies, TV, and print materials is something that has only been done a handful of times before—to be honest the only one that ever comes to mind is the Star Trek universe, particularly between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.  Iron Man was rather ambitious for a newly-formed independent studio’s first independent foray into movie production.  The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger were all ambitious for various reasons:  Hulk because it was the second Hulk movie in a decade, Thor because it was an attempt to bring mythology into technology, Captain America because it was not even set alongside the other movies.  All of that, however, pales in comparison to the ambition behind The Avengers, which pulls heroes and supporting characters from five previous movies together into a single movie with a massively-expanded new cast.  Hence, the biggest question that movie asks and answers is:  “Can we really put a bunch of comic book characters together on screen and call them ‘the Avengers’?”  Obviously the answer to that question is a resounding “YES!”  Phase 2 is somewhat less ambitious, with the only truly ambitious projects being Guardians of the Galaxy (“What do you mean, there’s a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree???”) and Ant-Man.  Avengers: Age of Ultron falls somewhere between the two extremes.  It is more ambitious than, say, Iron Man 3, but not quite as ambitious as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy.  Much of the “ambition” in Age of Ultron is in the fact that this movie expands the roster by adding four new (to the universe) characters and must take into account both the events since the last team-up and the Phase 3 plans which they had already announced (such as Infinity War).  This was quite the difficult undertaking.

In my original review I noted that there is relatively little character development from the established characters (particularly Steve, Tony, and Thor).  That still holds true for the most part, but in that original review I didn’t account for the type of movie this is.  Age of Ultron is not a character-driven movie; it is an event-driven movie.  This means that though there is still character development, the driving factor in the movie is what is going on around them.  Further, because some of the characters had already appeared in Phase 2 movies, those characters can take something of a backseat in terms of character development in this movie.  Instead, Whedon focuses in on characters like Hawkeye who had not appeared yet in Phase 2, as well as his new characters of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, and Ultron.

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Also in my original review I said that I think Quicksilver needs more character development for his death to be really meaningful.  I do still stand by that to some extent, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was.  Quicksilver had already shown himself to be the more “heroic” of the Maximoff twins—he is protective of his sister, he is always the first one into the fight, he is the more enthusiastic in joining the Avengers.  One of the deleted scenes also helps to set this up:  Pietro gives the boy’s sister a slinky dress from Paris in the marketplace right before the twins meet Ultron.  So it’s not like Pietro is primarily saving Barton in that scene; he is saving this kid that he knows.

On the subject of the Quicksilver death, there has been a meme going around comparing speedsters which unfortunately I can't find.  In a nutshell, the X-Men franchise’s Quicksilver is super fast (“faster than a speeding bullet”), as is the CW’s Flash, but the Avengers’ Quicksilver is just weak and slow.  That both made me chuckle and annoyed me when I first saw it, but I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong with it.  Then I watched the first several episodes of The Flash (still haven’t finished season 1 on Netflix).  But it wasn’t until very recently that I put it all together.  What is wrong with that meme?  Experience.  How long had the FOX Quicksilver had his powers in Days of Future Past?  It is unclear but probably several years, which is long enough to experiment with them and figure out just how fast he can go before needing to use his super-speed to redirect bullets.  By contrast, Age of Ultron’s Pietro had only had his super-speed for a year or so based on the mid-credits scene from The Winter Soldier, and it’s unlikely that he was really allowed to experiment with his speed too much before the Avengers attacked the Hydra base.  I think at this point he is still really developing his powers and learning to use them.  We see the same thing from Wanda, particularly in the development from Age of Ultron to Civil War.  The thing that really drives this home for me is The Flash, where Barry spends the first half-season or so trying to figure out his top speed and learning to live with his super-speed.  He still hasn’t quite figured everything out after weeks and months of testing himself and fighting crime on a daily basis.

Long story short, I’m pretty sure that if Quicksilver had lived through Age of Ultron, he would have figured out how to outrun and redirect bullets by the time Civil War rolled around.

Oh, and Marvel is also a whole lot better than FOX at showing that their characters actually need each other in the team-up movies.  If Quicksilver were as fast as his comic book counterpart, he would have been able to destroy all the Ultron bots by himself in about 3 blinks of an eye, and get everyone out of the city before the city was more than 4 inches off the ground.  And if that were the case, why would he need the Hammer, Man-in-a-Can, the Frisbee Golfer, and the rest of ‘em?  By contrast, the only reason FOX’s Quicksilver didn’t end the entire conflict in Days of Future Past by himself was because he had to stay at home and babysit his little not-twin sister!  (Gauntlet= Thrown Down)

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The other big moment to talk about is, of course, the universe building, which is best exemplified by Thor’s vision quest.  In my original review I said that I thought his decision to go off and try to find answers made sense because it was his way of coping with his “Witch-induced vision.”  At the same time, I also said that I thought they should not have cut the vision so short.  And having seen the deleted scenes, I think I was right!  In the theatrical cut there is no reason for Selvig to be there except as a pointless Skellan Skarsgaard cameo, since Thor is the one having the vision and Thor is the one who knows where the pool is; in the deleted scene, Selvig is actually necessary because rather than a vision, it is an interrogation.  The deleted scene also provides much better details than the theatrical scene as far as laying out what the Stone is and how it fits in and all that.

Ultimately, both deleted scenes I mentioned specifically are ones which it feels like the movie really needs.  The Quicksilver one gives his death somewhat better context:  he is sacrificing himself for the child, not for Barton.  The Thor one at the pool gives Selvig a purpose for being there beyond the fact that Whedon felt bad that what he did to him in The Avengers turned him into a raging buffoon in Thor: The Dark World!

So is Avengers: Age of Ultron the best Marvel movie ever?  No; of course not.  The Avengers was much more ambitious as the pioneering work in what is becoming something of a Hollywood go-to:  bringing multiple movies together into a shared universe and putting all the characters on screen together.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an incredible movie for its character development and political intrigue, to say nothing of the surprise Hydra reveal—you know a twist is good when it comes as a shocker the first time through but you can see the evidence when rewatching (in this case not just The Winter Soldier, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 and the Phase 1 movies, as well).  Captain America: Civil War may be better yet than all of the previous movies for how it not only juggled a massive cast but also gives everyone clear motivations and development arcs through the movie.

Having said that, Age of Ultron is still a good movie, one that I enjoy rewatching every so often.

What did you think of Age of Ultron when it first came out?  Has your opinion of it changed since then?  Do you want to see Quicksilver brought back?  If so, how?  Let me know in the comments!

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