Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie Review

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Review:

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Avengers: Age of Ultron continues the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s string of really watchable and entertaining superhero films, but had more serious problems than its predecessor, The Avengers.

Age of Ultron picks up about a year after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with the Avengers attacking a HYDRA base where Baron Strucker has been hiding Loki’s magical scepter from the first Avengers film, as well as practicing human experimentation in an attempt to create more “Enhanced” humans with special powers. The Avengers successfully recapture the scepter, but Tony Stark gets whammied by Scarlet Witch, one of Strucker’s Enhanced, and decides to use it to create an artificial intelligence to protect the world from alien attacks like that on New York in the first Avengers movie. Precisely how he manages to convince Dr. Banner that this is a good idea remains somewhat unclear to me, but needless to say, it all goes to hell when the artificial intelligence – Ultron – gets online and promptly decides that the only way to really bring peace to Earth is to get rid of the Avengers and most of humanity.

Not a great plan, Tony.

Not surprisingly, given that we are talking about a Marvel film written by Joss Whedon, the highlights of the film were the impressive action sequences and the snappy dialogue. The opening attack against Strucker’s base in Sokovia had blatantly obvious CGI and green screen shots and was a little disappointing, but most of the others were outstanding. I particularly enjoyed the battle between Hulk and the Hulk Buster “Veronica,” which had a lot of funny remarks by Tony, and the final battle, which was full of spectacular visuals, especially the circular shot as the Avengers defended the core.

Whee!

Joss being Joss, there were also lots of laugh out loud lines throughout. He’s a master of snark and I love snark.

My biggest problem with the film was that, unlike the first Avengers film, it seemed like a placeholder rather than a natural progression. The Avengers tied together the various threads of the solo movies from Phase 1 and brought everyone together into the Avengers Initiative; Age of Ultron just seemed like it was filling in while we wait for Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. It kind of rehashed Cap’s character development in The Winter Soldier (and not as well or as subtly), and Tony Stark’s in Iron Man 3 as well. Any development Tony went through in the course of Age of Ultron itself was more or less negated because he made his biggest mistake while whammied by Scarlet Witch and was then vindicated by Thor when he tried to repeat the same fucking thing that got them an Ultron problem in the first place. (How he got Banner to go along with the same terrible idea TWICE is even more of a mystery to me.)

In a minor preview of Civil War, Tony and Cap fight when Cap catches Tony trying to create the SECOND artificial intelligence, but as soon as Thor steps in in support of Tony, they’re all buddy-buddy again despite the fact that Tony went behind the team’s back not once but TWICE and in the process created something that literally tried to extinguish humanity. Like, what? It could have been a perfect set up for Civil War and instead we got Cap joking about whether an elevator could lift Mjolnir (which, yeah, funny, but still) and telling Tony he’ll miss him.

The only real progression identifiable at this point is the apparent resurrection of S.H.I.E.L.D (which, after the events of The Winter Soldier, Cap goes along with why, exactly?) and the creation of Cap and Black Widow’s New Avengers, but both of these take place at the very end, and aren’t really tied in with the rest of the movie much at all, unlike in The Avengers, where the creation of the original Avengers team was the entire point of the film.

Other notes:

  • Wow, I really, really hated the Bruce/Natasha. Egad. I went in determined to be open-minded about it, because despite being a Clint/Natasha shipper, I am also a multishipper and am rarely truly OTP about my OTPs (I love me some Steve/Bucky/Natasha, for one) but man. It was written horribly, from their actual dialogue together to the blatant lampshading by Cap and Laura, and it dragged down every scene it was in.
  • Bruce and Natasha’s characterization in general was a total mess. Bruce himself (as opposed to Hulk, who did have that great fight with Veronica) existed only as Tony’s doormat and Natasha’s love interest in this film. Natasha had more evidence of personality than that, at least, and despite Scarlet Johansson’s pregnancy during filming, she also had several great action scenes, most notably the one where she saved the whole world by stealing Vision’s body from Ultron. So at least we got that much. But far too much of her screentime was taken up by her pursuit of Bruce, which might have been okay if it had been better written, but instead landed her with several lines that made me actually groan out loud with how awful they were. So that sucked, because Bruce and Natasha are two of my favorite characters and I thought Joss wrote them both pretty well in The Avengers, so I really wasn’t expecting them to be so awful in Age of Ultron.
  • It was especially ironic given that Joss’s stated reasoning for not doing Clint/Natasha (as Marvel apparently originally planned) was because he wanted to show that men and women could have platonic friendships. But Natasha already has a well written and close platonic friendship with a man in the MCU. With Cap. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier it’s pretty obvious there’s some attraction between the two of them, at least on his part (the bikini line, his reaction to the kiss on the escalator, etc.) and she essentially offers herself to him in the car with her line about “Who do you want me to be?” But when he says “How about a friend?” they make a mutual decision to be friends, and personally, I thought it worked wonderfully for both characters. Far better than the blatant and totally unsubtle “Oh, and by the way this is Clint Barton, my BEST FRIEND” business in Age of Ultron.
  • I don’t even know what was going on with Thor. His storyline seemed like it got A LOT cut out of it and was kind of confusing and disjointed as a result. However, I did love his interactions with Cap in particular – adorable! And they had some really cool moves together with the shield and the hammer.
  • It was nice to see Clint get so much more to do, given that he spent most of The Avengers brainwashed. He had some great lines and I liked how he kind of took the twins under his wing.
  • Laura was a pretty bland and generic Supportive Wife, but she wasn’t actively offensive like the Bruce/Natasha, so I was okay with it, although all the stuff at Clint’s farm seemed a little unnecessary and more like (yet another) blatant statement that CLINT AND NATASHA ARE NOT TOGETHER, OKAY? rather than anything actually relevant or useful to either plot or characterization. I’m baffled why Joss Whedon fought to keep the farm scenes in the film, since they really didn’t add anything to the story that couldn’t have been accomplished in other ways, especially since it came at the cost of cutting out so much of Thor’s subplot that what was left made little sense.
  • Also, Pepper Potts on a farm? Really, Tony? Are you even listening to the words coming out of your mouth?
  • For that matter, I don’t 100% understand why Cap and Tony were so crazy about the farm at all, given that they’re from Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively. On the other hand, it did give us the spectacle of Cap chopping wood in a tight t-shirt (and ripping a log in half with his bare hands) so I ain’t complaining too much.

  • I was pretty meh about Vision on the whole, but the hammer reveal was well done and got gasps in my theater, including from me, despite being spoiled in advance.
  • I ended up liking the Maximoff twins quite a lot and hope we’ll see more of both of them.
  • I also liked Ultron quite a bit. He was much funnier than I expected.
  • I’m glad the hammer wobbled for Cap. I think he probably could pick it up if he really wanted to.
  • I heard about the running “language” gag before seeing the film and was deeply confused, because Cap was in the fucking Army, you can’t tell me he doesn’t swear. Joss has tended to write Cap in the past as if he has a really big stick up his ass – a stick nowhere in evidence in his solo films (I think he may actually be the character who’s sworn most onscreen in the entire MCU) – so I thought it might be more of the same but it worked better onscreen than I expected because Tony’s reaction (and Cap’s embarrassed response to his teasing) implied that he was surprised Cap said it because Cap actually swears all the fucking time. Which is much more in line with my headcanon! (There’s a funny ficlet offering one plausible explanation for why Cap said it in the first place.)
  • Also, did Whedon imply Cap is a Yankees fan? Are you kidding me? I don’t even follow baseball, but even I know a Brooklynite from the 30’s would cut out his own tongue and eat it for dinner before saying anything complimentary about the Yankees.
  • Overall, though, I thought Cap was better written than he was in The Avengers, although the lack of Bucky was glaring at a couple points. It was never really explained why Cap was taking down HYDRA with the Avengers while Falcon was off looking for Bucky, given that it was the exact opposite of Cap’s stated priorities at the end of The Winter Soldier. It also seemed odd to me that his vision from Scarlet Witch was focused on his PTSD and inability to leave the war behind, neither of which is really much of a revelation for anyone who watched The Avengers or The Winter Soldier. Or for him, either, I don’t think. (Though maybe that’s why he had so much less of a reaction to his vision than the others did to theirs?) Given that the visions seemed to focus on fears and regrets, I would have liked to see some reference to the fact that he just recently discovered his best friend in the world spent 70 years being tortured, brainwashed, and used as a killing machine, even if they couldn’t get Sebastian Stan for any new footage.
  • Also re: Cap’s vision, it was a little weird to me that the vision suggested that Peggy thought either one of them would ever be capable of leaving the war – she certainly didn’t leave it, as we saw in Agent Carter and with her founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, I’m not gonna lie, that beautiful, happy smile Cap gave her as they started to dance made my heart melt.
  • I was so happy to see the Jewish tech guy from The Winter Soldier who wouldn’t send up the helicarriers that I squeaked loudly enough to get a funny look from my neighbor.
  • The Winter Soldier was essentially a political thriller with superheroes and I didn’t really go into Age of Ultron expecting it to be as politically astute as that, but dammit, I expected more than we got! Tony’s desire for “a suit of armor around the world” has so many implications given the current debates (both in the real world and in the MCU) about freedom vs security, the military-industrial complex (I’m old enough that I immediately thought “Strategic Defense Initiative,” and Tony and Bruce are BOTH older than I am, so did that expensive clusterfuck just not happen in the Marvel universe?), and American hegemony, yet the implications were barely explored. Cap had one good line about the futility of pre-emptive war and that was about it.
  • I liked that the Avengers repeatedly made efforts to evacuate civilians to safety. It seemed like a deliberate thumbing of the nose at DC’s Man of Steel, and it definitely made them more sympathetic by comparison.
  • It’s pretty cool that the New Avengers are two black men, two women, an artificial intelligence, and Cap. Much more balanced than the original lineup. 🙂

Overall, a highly entertaining film, but it lacked some of the depth and heart of previous outings in the Marvel universe.

And now the wait for Captain America: Civil War begins!

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Additional Reading:

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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The Cutting Edge Movie Review

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Review:

Toepick!

Geez, I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this one yet. The Cutting Edge has been one of my favorite movies for pretty much as long as I can remember. Like, to the point that I can remember being very confused about what the fiance’s “foreplay” line meant, because for whatever reason, my normally strict parents let us watch this movie in elementary school despite the sexual references. (It was rated before the PG/PG-13 split, so it’s rated PG but should really be PG-13.)

The story focuses on Doug, a star hockey player who has to give up his career after an injury and turns to pairs figure skating instead, in the process getting paired with rich, spoiled Kate, who is determined to add Olympic gold to her collection of medals after a disastrous first Olympics with another partner.

Due to the aforementioned parental strictness, this was one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw (possibly even THE first), and I think I must have imprinted on it hard, because Doug and Kate are one of the ur-bickering couples in my mind and I adore a good bickering couple to this day. The script is great, the chemistry is great, and although I’m not a huge fan of sports movies in general, I loved this one because it was about figure skating. Most of the actual skating for the film was done by Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, a Canadian pairs team known for their spectacular stunts, which the film takes full advantage of.

A classic.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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Pride and Prejudice Book Review

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Review:

It’s probably safe to call Pride and Prejudice my favorite novel. It comes down to Pride and Prejudice vs Middlemarch, but while I consider Middlemarch to be the slightly better novel, I’ve read P&P a lot more times. And watched the BBC adaptation a lot more times, as well as most of the other film adaptations, including the modern AU, the weird black & white one with the 1840s fashion and the totally OOC Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and the Bollywood version.

I get that it’s a totally predictable and boring choice for favorite book, but it really is just that good. And I don’t just mean the romance, although the romance is obviously wonderful. Jane Austen was freaking hilarious and an extremely astute observer of life, so even if you don’t like romance in general, you should give this book a try for the satire.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Middlemarch Book Review

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Review:

Middlemarch gets my vote for the best English language novel ever written, and possibly my favorite as well. It comes down to Middlemarch vs Pride and Prejudice and I can never choose. Middlemarch is longer and more challenging than Pride and Prejudice, so I haven’t read it as many times, but although not openly satirical or as sharp-tongued as Austen, Eliot shares both Austen’s wit and her deep and nuanced understanding of the foibles of human nature. At the same time, Eliot’s novel is much further-reaching than Austen’s. Middlemarch is subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life” and unlike Austen, who confines her pen largely to provincial gentry and their romantic and financial entanglements, Eliot lays out the whole life of a small English town in the 1830s, from gentry to vagrants and everyone in between. The psychological realism she achieved is remarkable, especially considering the field of psychology barely existed at the time the book was published, and despite the very different world her characters inhabit, you will recognize them as well as if they were your next-door neighbors (indeed, it’s quite possible that some of them are), and grow to care deeply about them.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

Hawaii Five-0, Season 1 Review

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Review:

This reboot of the classic 70’s show Hawaii Five-O had major issues with excessive product placement and glamorizing police brutality from the start, but it was fun enough to overlook the problems for awhile. Unfortunately, towards the end of season one, there were several plot developments that annoyed me to the point that I never returned to the show for season two and season one remains the only season of the show that I’ve watched.

But, issues aside, Hawaii Five-0 really was fun, and there were a couple episodes that rank pretty high on my list of most entertaining individual episodes of television that I’ve ever seen, so if you’re looking for some slick, shiny, action-packed entertainment, you could do a heck of a lot worse. The eye candy is also ridiculous. The Hawaiian scenery is so gorgeous that it might as well be an advertisement for the Hawaiian tourism bureau, and the cast….

Well, let’s just all thank God for Alex O’Loughlin’s willingness to take off his shirt and leave it at that. Daniel Dae Kim, Scott Caan, and Grace Park round out the main cast and they aren’t exactly painful to look at either.

As someone who loves a good Bickering Couple, the relationship between O’Loughlin’s Steve McGarrett and Scott Caan’s Danny “Danno” Williams was also a major highlight of the show. It only takes a couple episodes for them to go from wanting to punch each other in the face to full-on heterosexual life partnerhood, complete with Danno drawing hearts in the air at Steve as he’s being taken away after an injury. I am not even kidding. Watch this:

It’s worth watching the show for their carguments alone. In fact, their bromance was so blindingly obvious even CBS got in on the fun:

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Corelli’s Mandolin Book Review

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Review:

Corelli’s Mandolin is one of my favorite novels to pick up and get lost in. Set in World War 2 era Greece, it tells the story of a young Greek woman named Pelagia who falls in love with an Italian soldier and mandolinist.

I was a little slow to get into the novel, because it’s written in a somewhat rambly and discursive style that tends to wander off on tangents a lot and change styles at random. You’ll see what I mean immediately, with the charming third person first chapter and the second chapter that’s essentially a monologue in print (and ends with a dead cat, which almost made me put the book down right there). However, once you get past the initial chaos, the charming wins out. When there are no dead cats and crazy Duces involved, de Bernieres writes beautiful prose, with a lot of vividness and wit (often to the point of laughing out loud) that sucks you into the story and makes it come alive.

The ending was disappointing compared to the rest of the book, but not to the point of ruining it. However, you will want to skip the beautifully shot but horribly miscast (and, frankly, just all around butchered) film version of the book.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Movie Review

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Review:

I don’t think of myself as being a big fan of Westerns in general, but ironically enough, two of my all-time favorite films are Westerns. Since they both happen to be written by the same guy, it might be more of a William Goldman thing than a Western thing, but even so, I probably shouldn’t discount the genre quite as much as I tend to do.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my parents’ favorite movies and is probably second only to My Cousin Vinny in the frequency with which it’s quoted at family get-togethers. Based loosely on the lives of real-life outlaws Butch Cassidy and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, it’s one of the greatest buddy comedies ever made, and is loaded from start to finish with laughs, mainly from its witty and memorable dialogue. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are in their prime, both as actors and heart-throbs (luckily, the film is color, so you get the full effect of Newman’s incredible baby blues), and there are also some enjoyable action sequences.

A well-deserved classic and must-see film.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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Adventures in Marvel Movie-going

I have never been a comics fan. First and foremost, I find the the physical act of reading them really difficult. I suspect they’re too visually busy for me, causing me to get distracted easily and have problems following the narrative thread, but I’m not really sure, as I don’t have the same problem with newspaper-style comics, even the more visually experimental ones like the later Calvin & Hobbes strips. On top of that, I haven’t been overly impressed with the writing of most comics I’ve attempted (which is, to be fair, not many, thanks to the aforementioned problem reading them). To me, they read like something halfway between a novel and a film, but with neither the depth of a novel or the immersiveness of a film. (Sorry, fans, I’ll turn in my geek card now.) On top of that, I don’t like the typical plots of traditional comics – superheroes gifted their powers by some bizarre accident involving radiation (or whatever) are inherently less interesting to me than someone who’s developed their natural abilities to the highest level via hard work and dedication. And supervillains with grandiose plans to destroy the world are even worse. So yeah, nothing against those of you who do like them, but comics so far have just not been for me.

Comic book movies haven’t been that much better, in general. Spider-man and Spider-man 2: yawn. Batman Begins: yawn. The Dark Knight: better, but only when Heath Ledger was onscreen. The Dark Knight Rises: on my list to watch someday on account of Tom Hardy, but not very high on my list. Supermannever watched in any form, unless you count this Smallville humor vid. X-men: on my list to try, but again, not exactly high on the list.

Marvel’s recent oeuvre, on the other hand, has started to pique my interest a bit more. It’s managed to produce not one, but two entire movies based on comic books that I really liked. I’m not sure how long this will continue, considering that the contracts on its biggest stars are running out, but for now, I’m enjoying it.

My adventures in Marvel movie-going, so far:

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Sherlock (BBC) Review

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Review:

Does anyone else just… not get what all the fuss is about?

Seriously, I feel like the entire world LOOOOOVES this show. I wanted to love it, I really did. Unfortunately, it makes me want to tear out my hair.

You see, Sherlock does some stuff so well and then just completely bombs other stuff to the point that I can’t even believe some scenes are written by the same people. Maybe the pod people that were always hijacking Buffy the Vampire Slayer moved to England? But in this case, it’s not even that there are good episodes and bad episodes, like season two of Buffy. Every single episode is a mess of brilliant stuff mixed up with total crap. Too much crap for me – I quit two thirds of the way into season two.

Warning: for some reason, Sherlock brings out the profanity in me. If you don’t appreciate f-bombs, stop reading now.

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The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman Book Review

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Review:

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman, by Louise Plummer, is one of my favorite YA romance novels. It’s an extremely witty and tongue-in-cheek read, in large part because of the great use of first-person narration. Kate is a very intelligent and charismatic heroine and she narrates as if writing a romance novel based on her own life, complete with frequent consultation of The Romance Writer’s Phrasebook and hilarious commentary on the bodice ripping descriptions she finds there. She is also (speaking as a fellow tall, plain-ish nerd with bad eyes) extremely relatable, so I’m sure there was some wish fulfillment involved in my enjoyment of this book when I first read it as a never-been-kissed teenager. However, I’ve found it equally enjoyable as an adult.

Another thing I liked and found relatable was the portrayal of Kate’s family. As someone who really didn’t have a rebellious teenage phase and whose relationship with my parents ranged from pretty good to great even at the height of my puberty-induced hormonal moodiness, I really enjoyed the depiction of a loving and mutually respectful parent-teen relationship. (There’s also a great depiction of female-female friendship, in keeping with the book’s feminist themes.) The novel is set over Christmas break in Minnesota, and Kate’s (mostly) happy family life and Swedish Christmas traditions add to the cozy, comforting atmosphere, making it an especially good read for the holiday season or the sorts of days when you don’t feel like doing anything but curling up with a blanket, some tea, and a good book.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)