This is a weird movie. Not that the narrative is odd, or that the characters are out of character, or anything like that. No; it just feels… like a bridge.
It’s a far-too-long prologue for everything else that’s to come.
It took me a while to figure that out, and now I’ve got it in words it makes complete sense of my feelings.
I’m not saying it’s all bad. Not at all. The good things:
- I love James Spader. Have done ever since Stargate. No, I haven’t seen Boston Legal, but I have seen The Blacklist. I think he was a great choice for Ultron: he doesn’t have a booming megalomaniac voice (well, not naturally) – which is kind of the point.
- Hawkeye has been a bit of weird character for several movies and we finally get some context for him and some nice character moments, especially with Wanda.
- I like Paul Bettany, although I’m kinda unconvinced by Vision at this early stage.
- In the context of the later films, the fact that pre-existing rifts just get worse here is interesting – and also shows that they are fundamental issues which apparently none of them were adult enough to have a proper discussion about?
- Every moment involving Thor’s hammer.
- The Hulk / Iron Man fight is Just. Too. Long. Get on with it already. We get the idea! Move the narrative along!
- I understand the point in the narrative but I find Wanda’s manipulation of people’s minds deeply, deeply unsettling. This isn’t a negative of the narrative, but it’s not something I enjoy watching.
- Thor’s whole dip in the pond thing. It seems so completely outside of the narrative. Its sole purpose is to set up Thanos, and have Thor be the catalyst of Vision’s creation. But it really doesn’t fit.
- I hate, I hate, everything about Natasha’s discussion with Banner about whether they can run away together. I hate it. I hate Banner’s assumption that Nat’s only reason to run away with him is to have a cosy house with kids. I hate the suggestion that not being able to bear children somehow makes Natasha monstrous. This scene infuriates me.
- And finally, I am unconvinced by Ultron himself, which is completely devastating for the film. The idea that someone moves from ‘save the world’ to ‘destroying the world is the only way to save it’ isn’t a new one, and thorough villains can even make a pseudo-logical explanation for why that’s true. But Ultron’s leap from saviour to destroyer is too fast, largely unexplained, and… just frustrating. It’s relying on the notion that AI must automatically be evil (otherwise why destroy Jarvis at the outset?) rather than properly demonstrating how a baby AI gets to that point (because let’s be honest, if you were an AI, wouldn’t you be tempted to destroy humanity and start over?).
So the film creates Vision, shows us Thanos, properly flags “infinity stones”, solidifies serious rifts within the Avengers, and gets Wanda on their side.
Like I said. It’s a 2.5-hour prologue.
… is also pretty good, you know? More problematic in some respects than previous films; possibly including some aspects that just make this a solid no for some viewers (completely fair).
The main problem with this film is the depiction of disability as something that needs to be fixed. Don’t get me wrong – I can get behind someone with an amputated limb having power fantasies of it growing back and being stronger than ever, etc. But this doesn’t come across like that to me (she says as an able-bodied person; please, feel free to disabuse me). But the VP seems to be on Aldridge’s side precisely because he wants to ‘cure’ his granddaughter(?) – because, the implication is, she’s not ok in a wheelchair. And that’s all really problematic.
For me, though, the good includes:
Guy Pearce. Just that. That’s most of what I have to say. The man’s kind of an Australian Gary Oldman: a chameleon. And he’s great.
More Don Cheadle is always good.
Ben Kingsley and what they did with the Mandarin: I was so worried about the name of the character, and had nightmarish visions of what it might be like in a modern film. But what they did! Making it an examination of the manipulation of media (which is only more relevant now) was brilliant.
Actually addressing the issue of PTS. It’s focal but dealing with it isn’t – which is a bit problematic since it seems on one level to suggest that you just ‘work it out’ (literally, as a mechanic); however, the suggestion that The Great Tony Stark would have anxiety attacks after New York is wonderful – and probably a brave choice, given that I feel like American films still make ‘Vietnam War veteran with PTS’ a pitiable and/or criminal figure.
The child. As a rule, I loathe when films insert children into narratives like this, because they are almost universally corny and awful. My touchstone for when it works is Lex and Tim in Jurassic Park: they are actually a part of the narrative, they interact with the narrative but don’t overwhelm it, they are not overwhelmingly cheesy, and the actors are fine. Harley, too, fits this bill – and of course, the film seems to be quite consciously flipping the stereotype I loathe (“but I’m cold…”). What makes me weep is that the actor who plays Harley went on to play the example I use at the other end, for where children are just awful in a film: Jurassic World.
Finally, I loved the end credits, too – they so clearly signal that this is the end of the focus on Iron Man (which actually isn’t true, given later films, but at least puts to rest the possibility of further Iron Man films).
And so, in six movies (chronologically), we get three of my top 5 MCU films. Not a bad hit rate.
Ah, this film. There is definitely a level of nostalgia… which is stupid because 8 years is not enough for nostalgia – you would think – but maybe because, despite all the bad things the team deals with, this feels like such an upbeat film overall? with the snappy dialogue especially. And things just get so gloomy and sad for all of them, later on. Yes, of course Coulson’s death is hard; but I also know that Tahiti is a magical place… and it’s about the whole vibe of the film. It’s such a joy to see this core of the team all together, even knowing where it’s all heading. To see them butting heads (literally and figuratively), but also figuring out how to work together. To see aspects that will be picked up throughout the franchise – Thor’s hammer/ Capt’s shield/ Tony’s power pack, for instance.
I have Issues with Joss Whedon these days, but it must be said that he knows how to write witty repartee. And I really like that aspect!
This is our intro proper to Hawkeye – and I both like him more, in this, than I did initially… and also got angry all over again at the way his turn to Ronin was treated – and our absolute first intro to Mark Ruffalo as Banner/Hulk. Apparently the Edward Norton Hulk should be considered canon? I just cannot. I watched Eric Bana’s turn as Bruce many years ago, and I thought he was good – Bana has a wonderful way of being both heroic and human (why yes, he is Hektor for me now and always, thanks for asking). Norton… just no. Does not work in my head at all. Cannot. Ruffalo, though: inspired. Gentle and science geek, and doesn’t look ridiculous as a green ragemonster.
One thing I really noticed is that this is beginning of Steve Rogers breaking. Yes, he ignored Tommy Lee Jones in the first film, that was knowing that he wouldn’t be putting anyone else in harm’s way, and it was for Bucky, which is always a driving factor. Here, though… he explicitly distrusts a commanding officer, and that distrust is proved appropriate, which is new. And ends up leading to a lot of later consequences. Poor Steve.
The other thing I noticed is just how ill Loki appears at the start of the film. He looks haggard – terrible bruising around his eyes – he looks so tired and worn. And much older. Which speaks to the presumably difficult months he’s had since letting himself fall off the Bifrost. And almost makes me feel sorry for him.
I love this film. It’s not perfect, but gosh it’s good.