Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers Age Of Ultron (PG13 – 141 minutes)

The Avengers first appeared in Marvel comics in 1963, created by Stan lee and Jack Kirby.  The original lineup was Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp, Thor, and Hulk.  Once Captain America was discovered trapped in ice in issue 4 – he joined them.  The rotating roster is the trademark of the Avengers, with virtually everyone from the Marvel Universe having been an Avenger at one time or another.  The idea is that they join together with the unifying “Avengers, Assemble!” to battle any evil that is too great for one hero to tackle.

In 2012 – The first Avengers movie ended Marvel Cinematic Universe phase 1, and moved us into MCU Phase 2 – which includes Iron Man 3 (May 2013), Thor 2 (November 2013), Captain America 2 (April 2014), and Guardians of the Galaxy (November 2014).  These all rolled perfectly right into Avengers 2 – Age of Ultron.

If you’re not watching Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Tuesday nights on ABC, then you may find the opening of this movie slightly jarring.  On MAOS, Coulson and team have been tracking and battling Dr. List and the remnants of Hydra while Hydra has been experimenting on people attempting to make their own version of Inhumans (people with powers who seem to be enhanced due to alien DNA) and end up making Enhanced folks (people with powers who are enhanced due to genetic experimentation).  Coulson and team finally locate where Loki’s spear from the first Avengers movie has been taken (remember, SHIELD had it at the end of Avengers, but then in Winter Soldier, SHIELD fell and was revealed to be infiltrated by Hydra, so they have had the Spear since then).  Coulson calls Maria Hill, and tells her to send in the Avengers to Baron Strucker’s stronghold in the fictional eastern European country of Sokovia (which I’m sure borders on Latveria) to get back the spear and shut down Hydra for good. 

This movie picks up right where that episode ends, as we are immediately plunged into a battle as the Avengers are attempting to take the Hydra stronghold where Strucker is holed up with List and the spear.  List takes off with the weapons, as “the Twins” (Stucker’s enhanced experiments) get to test themselves against the Avengers.   We briefly saw the twins (Wanda and Pietro Maximoff) at the end of Winter Soldier, and as Maria Hill sums up their powers, “he’s fast, and she’s weird” – basically he’s got superspeed, and she’s got some telekinesis and some mental manipulations.  In the comics – they are the children of Magneto, and she’s one of the most power mutants alive…however, in the MCU, we’re not allowed to say Magneto or Mutant, so they’re enhanced orphans. Wanda zaps Tony’s mind as he is learning that Strucker was building robots, and experimenting with Chitari leftovers.  He has a vision in which he sees all the Avengers dead, and a dying Captain America blames him.  He shakes it off (no – he doesn’t, that’s going to haunt him for a while) just in time to grab the spear and head out.   This is also where we first see the ‘lullabye’ protocol, which is something that Black Widow and Bruce Banner have worked out and helps Widow shut down the Hulk back into Banner. 

Relieved that they seem to have defeated Hydra, they go back home to Avengers tower and decide to have a party, in three days.  Why they decide not to have the party immediately is not clear to me (maybe Thor needs to go shopping for party clothes?) – but most likely to allow Stark enough time to convince Banner to help him get the Ultron Initiative working.  Apparently he’s been working on it without success, but now, with the extra computer knowledge from Loki’s spear, he can get it to work.  Essentially, Ultron is an AI (artificial intelligence) created to protect the world, so the Avengers can get some time off.  Here we come to that same question – Why, oh why, doesn’t anyone in any movie who is thinking of creating an AI ever watch any other movie where someone does that?  It always goes bad.  The first thing a sentient machine does, every single time, is to decide that the best way to save the world is to eliminate humanity.  So guess what, Ultron goes live, gets an attitude with Jarvis (and seems to destroy him), then decides to create himself a body to eliminate humankind. 

This interrupts the party – for the record, I loved the party scene.  It was really fun to see the Avengers all relaxed and hanging out.  The Stan Lee cameo was awesome, the Falcon bit was awesome, Stark and Thor debating who has the better girlfriend was awesome, the Banner/Widow flirtation was awesome, the War Machine story was awesome, the everyone-tries-to-pick-up-the-hammer bit was beyond awesome.  But then – Ultron comes out, takes a page from Smaug’s book and gets real talky.  Then he turns Stark’s “Iron Legion” (backup automated Iron Man suits controlled by Jarvis) against the Avengers, steals the spear, and heads out.  Once the rest of the crew finds out what Tony has been up to they get a bit angry, but then put their heads together and decide that Ultron is after Vibranium, and only Ulysses Klaw has some, or knows how to get more – so they head near (not to, not yet anyway) the fictional African nation of Wakanda.  

This leads to another confrontation with Ultron, during which Wanda messes with everyone’s head – except Hawkeye, because he’s on the lookout for that kind of nonsense after dealing with Loki in the last movie – literally, he says that.  Wanda also whammies Banner - which unleashes the Hulk on Johannesburg.  This leads to Stark having to call down “Veronica”, or the Hulkbuster suit for the Hulkbuster/Hulk battle that all the hardcore fans have wanted for some time. 

Eventually the Avengers are beaten, bruised, and depressed as they head home.  Maria Hill lets them know they cannot go to Avengers tower, because everyone is angry with them.  They head to a ‘safe house’.  And here, in the middle of the movie, seems to be the part Joss Whedon created in response to everyone who claimed Hawkeye was useless (remember, he created the Buffy episode Hush after many comments that his episodes were too talky).  Hawkeye (spoiler alert) is married with kids that SHIELD helped him hide to keep them safe.  Here, at his secret farmhouse, his wife reminds him how important he is to the Avengers.  Widow and Banner consider running away together, but then just succeed in bumming each other out (in a really touching and well done scene).  Cap and Tony cut some wood (including an awesome moment where Cap rips a log apart with his bare hands), and Nick Fury shows up to give everyone a much-needed pep talk.  They head to South Korea, where apparently Ultron has gone to download into a new body created by geneticist Dr. Cho that is half vibranium and half real tissue.  While he’s uploading, the twins get upset at his worldwide destruction plans and promptly quit his service and help the Avengers – at which point Cap immediately starts giving them orders.

Widow successfully steals the new body, but unsuccessfully gets captured in the course of another huge action piece.  The body gets taken back to the tower, where more arguing ensues about whether or not to upload what’s left of Jarvis into the body.  As they are arguing, Thor appears and uses his lightning to animate the body – which wakes up, and puts on a cape and becomes Vision, with Jarvis’s voice.  Vision gives another brief pep talk so the Avengers can go end Ultron, who has decided to go back to Strucker’s castle in Sokovia, and raise the city to turn into a meteor to drop back on the earth from a height high enough to wipe out humanity.  The Avengers arrive and get into a huge battle with him and all his robots to defeat him.

They do – but not without a cost, they also save all the people (take note, DC).  Eventually they head back to the new Avengers base (outside the city, a really smart move).  Tony, Bruce, and Hawkeye all seem to retire, and Widow and Cap get ready to train a new group of Avengers.  Happy ending – oh, until Thanos grabs his gauntlet and gets ready to collect some gems (we’ve seen the Tesseract/space gem which is blue, the Aether/reality gem - red, Loki’s Spear/mind gem - yellow, and the Orb/power gem – purple…we’re still missing orange and green).

Once again, Joss Whedon excels at directing a big group of thrown-together family units.  The action is spectacular, and yes – there is a lot of it.  There are five major action sequences in this movie.  Every character (and there are a lot) is given their moment, and they perform it well.

  • Once again, Robert Downey Jr. continues to be the heart and soul of the MCU.  He also continues to be indistinguishable from Tony Stark, but that is what we love.  I did feel that this is the first time Tony was just a bit unlikeable in moments.  He seemed to be very able to manipulate Banner into doing what he wants him to. There are many, many RDJ moments that are fantastic – the bits during the Hulkbuster fight, the desire to find a secret door, the breakdown while fixing the tractor.  He’s great, and I’m very interested to see him in Captain America 3.

  • Chris Evans plays Captain America and he just gets better and better in this role.  You really take notice every time he talks, and he is definitely in charge of the team this time around.  I love that the rest of the Avengers really look to him for guidance, and I love how quickly the twins fell in line once he gave them orders.  Evans also does an amazing job looking very haunted and sad by his vision of Peggy as he is considering all he lost.

  • Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, and yes, he does get shirtless to go into the memory-pool (what?).  He had a little less to do in this movie than in the first one, but the everyone-tries-to-pick-up-the-hammer scene is one of the best parts of the movie, and pays off big time at the end.

  • Mark Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner and performance captures the Hulk really spectacularly.  The performance capture work has gotten so good that you can really see some emotions playing across the Hulk’s face once he comes out of Wanda’s spell.  I also really loved the flirting scenes between he and Widow, it really makes you want these two to have a chance at happiness.

  • Scarlett Johanssen plays Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and again, she is pretty great in this.  She has some amazing action sequences, but the flirting with Banner is some of the best stuff in the movie.   

  • Jeremy Renner plays this newly completely developed version of Hawkeye, and he suddenly is way more interesting than he has been before.  I loved the scenes at the farm house.  I definitely fell for the red herrings all the way through the movie where Hawkeye does his best “Dead Meat” from Hot Shots impression. I am hoping this is the only Avengers review that you read that will reference the movie Hot Shots.  If you don’t get that reference, it’s time for you to watch Hot Shots again.

  • Samuel L. Jackson plays Nick Fury, or really just plays Sam Jackson with an eye patch.  But since that’s how I prefer my Nick Fury – that makes me really happy.  He shows up just in time to give the Avengers the pull-together they needed.  To get that in the last movie, they had to kill Coulson.

  • Don Cheadle plays James Rhodes/War Machine, and he was great in this movie in a tiny supporting role.  He really helps out in the end, but really shone in the party sequence where he keeps sharing a ‘War machine’ story to impress people.

  • Cobie Smulders plays Maria Hill, and she’s mostly exposition in this movie, but she’s good at that.  She helps keep everyone in line.

  • Anthony Mackie plays Sam Wilson/Falcon, and I could have used about 150% more Falcon in this movie – he was one of my favorite parts of the Winter Soldier.  He definitely will get more action next time around as he seems to be one of the new Avengers.

  • Aaron Taylor Johnson plays Pietro Maximoff – and his accent was passable, the speed looked good, and he’s really there just to support his sister.

  • Elizabeth Olson plays Wanda Maximoff  - her accent was also passable.  She really does a great job, so much more than I was expecting.  She has a lot of funky hand gestures to do during battle sequences, and her power really becomes apparent as the movie progresses.

  • Andy Serkis consulted on some of the performance capture, and also appears as Ulysses Klaw, who we can assume will be one of the main villains in the upcoming Black Panther movie.

  • Haley Atwell plays Peggy Carter in Cap’s vision/dream, and that really just made me want more Agent Carter on TV.  That series was great and you can still catch it on Hulu if you missed it.
  • One of the two above-and-beyond performances of the movie is Paul Bettany finally in front of the camera as Vision (as opposed to the years off-camera as Jarvis), and I cannot tell you how much I loved him.  I was a bit surprised, because I was not sure how they were going to do a convincing humany-type android.  However, they pull it off, he looks amazing, and Bettany gives a gentle but reassuring performance that just made me want more Vision.  Also – there are several moments of Wanda sneaking extended looks at him.

  • The second of the two scene-stealers is James Spader as Ultron, which I think we all expected.  Once again, the performance capture is so exceptional, that it was very off-putting how  James Spadery Ultron behaves.  I really expected Ultron to show up with Raymond Reddington’s fedora at several points. 

The movie is fantastic.  I’m not sure I thought it was better than the first Avengers, but I sure did love it.  You will hear some loud criticisms of this movie – the first being that it was too big and had too many characters.  My disagreement with that is that this is the Phase 2 culmination, so it should include all the characters from Phase 2.  I felt they did a great job including everyone, without shortchanging any particular character.   And, I still wanted more - I wanted Carol Danvers, T'Challa, and Stephen Strange to all show up!
The second major criticism that you will hear is that there are too many action sequences.  What?  It’s a summer popcorn action movie; it’s supposed to have a lot of action!  But yes, there were 5 full action set pieces.  I felt that was balanced perfectly with some quiet, emotional sequences.  I will say the final action sequence, where the Avengers battle a ton of robots, feels very much the same as the final action sequence of the first movie, where the Avengers battle a ton of aliens.  The thing that Marvel does well is balance out the tone in these movies:  Yes, this one has excessive action, but that is balanced with wonderful character beats and truly funny humorous moments (hear that, DC?) They have also succeed in the very complicated task of building an entire cinematic universe with a group of people that genuinely enjoy working with one another, and all of them understand that they are part of the bigger whole unit.  Yes – you’ll get your stand-alone movie, but then you have to also be willing to be a bit player in someone else’s stand-alone movie. 

10 out of 10 – even with the excessive action and really long running time, I loved it, I thought it was fantastic, and I cannot wait to see what Marvel does next (Ant-Man comes out July 17th).  We know they are working on Phase 3, and hopefully will continue through Phase 4, 5, 6, etc.  Marvel is a huge universe, and they could continue indefinitely. 

Bonus Video 1: Ant Man Trailer

Bonus Video 2: Avengers Family Feud

Bonus Video 3: Avengers Cast Interview

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