Several weeks have passed since the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe dropped, so I feel comfortable now releasing my review with commentary. The following is a spoiler-free assessment for those who haven’t seen it yet.
Let me start by saying that I’m disappointed with the amount of hate and nitpicky criticism this movie is getting. If you’ve been reading this space for the last few weeks you are probably aware that I have grown out of that phase of fanboy life and as a fanman I intend to separate myself from that as much as possible. I will not be calling anyone out nor will I be insulting or overly-critical in any way but I will be rebutting points that I’ve seen floating about the ‘net regarding the film that I believe qualify as hate and nitpicky criticism.
First, I have to give credit to the writing and production crew of the entire MCU for the way the movie was so cleverly interwoven with the “Agents of SHIELD” show. If you’re a fan of the MCU movies and haven’t checked out the show yet I really do urge you to check it out. As a “spy show” it stands well on its own but when taken as it was originally conceived; more tales from the MCU for those who aren’t getting enough from the films themselves, it performs that job well too. I’m sure it would not take more than a cursory search of the web to find a timeline with recommended viewing order so newcomers would be able to see and appreciate how well embedded into the films’ mythology it is.
Once again, Joss Whedon has put together another great instance of a comic book on film, done correctly. One of my favorite things about comic books is how your mood can run the gamut of emotions during the course of single twenty-two paged issue. Whedon’s clear understanding of the medium the source-material comes from is on display here. Like many comics I’ve ever read, the first scene actually opens well into an action sequence that began before the reader, or in this case the viewer, got there. The purpose is to convey to the audience the idea that the Avengers’ work is never done. Throughout the movie, his sense for entertaining and engaging dialogue is on display. While there were places in “Avengers” where I felt like I was watching characters from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in cosplay, here the dialogue never felt overdone. As a soldier I have a different perspective on the “combat chatter” too which is: it’s not uncommon for soldiers to use their sense of humor to cope with the dangerous situations where they find themselves. I once read that the developers of the game “Army of Two” wrote in-game dialogue after listening to recordings of real soldiers in combat situations only to dial it down after focus testing because testers thought it sounded too macho and therefore ridiculous. Basically, that’s a lot of words to just say, “I thought the dialogue was perfect.”
Regardless of your personal feelings on movies being screened and subsequently released on home video in 3D, the tracking shot of every Avenger passing by the camera all at once, slowed dramatically just long enough to let us appreciate it, looked great. Several action sequences use the combined 3D and slow-mo affect to equal effectiveness throughout the movie.
Hawkeye fans, among whom I count myself, will be pleased to note that his role in the film as well as on the team was greatly expanded. I’ve seen several complaints that the references to him as the glue or backbone of the team were unnecessary, at best, or ham-fisted, at worst. Let me tell you that as a devoted comic reader myself, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and whether they were ham-fisted or not is irrelevant. Remember that we’re still dealing with an art form, the source material that is, which was originally intended for children (feel free to argue the merit of that statement in the comments below). The scenes existed to help ground the movie in reality a little bit but also to teach a little something. The ham-fisted aspect comes from the fact that subtlety gets in the way of the message, not just for children but even the casual viewer who isn’t fluent in Marvel lore. Anyone who would like to argue that the presence of blood, gore and foul language in the comics or the movies makes me wrong is welcome to do so. Without any hyperbole or arrogance I can, and will, argue that those three elements do not make comic books “for adults.” Without digressing too far let me just say that comic books that are truly created for adults contain much more complex factors and are typically even referred to by another name in order to provide parity. You would be forgiven for not being aware of the distinction, but that would not make the assessment that comics containing blood, gore, and foul language are “adult entertainment” any less wrong. [Ed. I look forward to all of the angry comments that I’ll promptly delete and remain hopeful that someone will attempt to have an adult discussion with me on the issue.]
We finally got to see the results of the individual members working as a team when they’re not fighting evil. Not only that, we got to see them hang out socially and we even got to see them argue and fight. While that might seem like a minor issue, from my perspective I can say that it is not. The Marvel Comics brand has been tackling complex issues for decades. In the comics Dr. Banner is considered one of the smartest men on the planet and simultaneously the most dangerous because of the big green guy that lives in his head. Previous MCU movies have touched on this but not to the degree that this one did.
One of the greatest things this film does is reminds us that these are human beings, superpowered as they may be; real people dealing with very unreal circumstances. Banner frets over the damage he’s done and the potential danger he represents. Stark is still trying to escape his past as a weapons builder. Captain America is aware that he’s alone and believes he has no place. Thor is still struggling to understand his purpose as the next ruler of Asgard and the responsibility he feels to Jane Foster and the people of Earth. Black Widow regrets her past as a Soviet assassin. In one of my favorite moments, while the rest of the Avengers are forced to see their worst fears made real, Hawkeye escapes this fate with a clever nod to the previous Avengers film.
Comic books being what they are, there are plenty of massively over-powered villains from comic lore to choose from, but the choice of Ultron makes sense on many levels. He is the embodiment of the entire team’s worst nightmare, and to a certain degree he represents a real-world fear that many have regarding technology today. Head executive producer Kevin Feige has already said this film is the culmination of the collective beating that the team took in their solo films between Avengers flicks. Those solo films basically dealing with each character’s “dirty little secrets” come to a head here.
I’ve heard it said that Ultron wasn’t given his proper due because he wasn’t given a chance to develop properly as a character. To that I say, “What’s there to develop?” He’s an evil, intelligent robot bent on destroying humanity, what else do casual viewers need to know? Long story short, I thought he was perfect.
I did have one complaint about the movie and I’m sure I’ll be lambasted for being cliché, but I was sorry that it had to end. I have literally no complaint, I just don’t want to have to wait until June to see “Ant Man.”