Let’s pick apart: Avengers Age of Ultron

Let me start by warning you that this is not going to be a balanced review. It’s not a review. It’s a critical analysis where I will pick apart the parts that didn’t work for me. I did enjoy the movie, it had some really good lines and some great action sequences. Unfortunately, there were many parts of this particular movie I didn’t like so much.

To me The Avengers – the first movie – was near perfect. I loved every aspect of it and have watched it many times since it first came out. I’m also a huge fan of the director, Joss Whedon, and most of his work (even Dollhouse). I’m not hating on the franchise or the writers or anyone really. When I find a movie jarring, as I did this one, I like to identify what exactly about it didn’t work for me so that I can possibly improve my own writing. If you loved the movie, that’s totally fine and there will be no judgement here.

If you loved the movie so much you don’t want to read anything critical about it, you’re welcome to skip this post :).

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Structure

I felt, first and foremost, that the letdown of this movie was not the cheesy dialogue or stereotypical plot points but the structure. Cheesy dialogue can work in the right place at the right time, but the pacing felt to me like, well, a train wreck (and one that completely overshadows the actual train wreck featured in the film that was pretty awesome special-effects wise).

Pacing in a story is the overall “when things happen”. I look at it in terms of highs (high-action sequences or other times when tensions are high) and lows (periods of conversation, the calm before-the-storm, times when the characters feel safe). Usually this feels like a mountain range, slowly building up to the highest peak (“climax”) and then winding down to the end.

The first Avengers movie went roughly like this:

Climbing up the slopes of the mountain, building tension, Fury and others discuss the Tesseract. Then BOOM high-action scene as the wormhole opens. It continues with a series of lows and highs – the recruitment of the Avengers is a low (even though Black Widow’s is an action sequence, she’s on the phone the entire time making it amusing rather than tense), Loki’s distraction while procuring iridium is a high, once he’s imprisoned we hit a low etc. This all builds up to the ultimate high with the scene with the wormhole above New York and Iron Man flying out of it to save the world. It is both a climax in the action and a pinnacle for his character development. Which I think is a critical point – the character emotions follow the same building towards the climax and so by the time we reach it we’re invested in all of the characters.

This movie is nothing like that.

We begin with action, which is good, but it’s overwhelming because there’s so much going on at the same time and you feel like you’re being launched into the movie on a peak rather than building up towards it. Maybe it relies on you being up-to-date with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Regardless, I feel a movie should stand alone. There are highs and lows for the rest of the beginning, the party being a good example of a calm-before-the-storm low where we all know something is wrong, but the characters don’t. However, where the movie falls apart, is after their minds have been messed with and they go to the “safe house”.

Personally I found that hidden family a little difficult to believe. These kinds of big revelations need to, in my opinion, have some kind of foreshadowing (Maybe there has been in a spin-off series I haven’t watched?). At any rate, regardless of my feelings about the family or why it was added (I have a theory I’ll discuss later), that sanctuary represented a low – but not just one low – an entire series of about five lows, all in a row, all emotional, all on top of each other. It dragged, it let the plot sag, it came across like a dream sequence when everyone talks about their feelings in a way they’d never usually do. No one was particularly in character, no one had much character at all. And it broke the golden rule of writing, it was all about the telling and the telling and the telling (vs. showing). It just went on too long.

When they returned – where did they return to? I was so lost – there were suddenly a bunch of highs all in a row, all on the same level, right up until the end battle and somewhere, shoved in between all that, Thor went to go have a vision that gave him the ex machina answer to everything?

The end battle was good in terms of highs and lows, as the beginning was. I liked the big climax and the wind-down. But that middle… to be honest it came across as someone trying their best to finish Nano before the end of the month.

I have a horrible feeling that’s just what happened. They had a lot of content that needed to take place in a short space of time, so they shoved it into the middle, in a few badly-written scenes, and hoped that if the beginning and the end were strong enough no one would notice.

Soapy dialogue

I’m a big fan of cheesy dialogue actually. Some of my favourite pieces are ones were people reveal their hopes, fears, and feelings. I never understood why people complained about it. Until now.

That middle was unbearably badly written. I can’t even remember what was said between Cap America and Iron man, just that I was grimacing the entire time. And that’s coming from someone who lives for the touchy feely stuff!

Again, perhaps it’s more to do with pacing. Perhaps Black Widow’s great confessions about the procedure that was done to her would have felt more genuine if it didn’t happen in amongst four other scenes filled with talking and feelings-sharing. Which brings me to…

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Chemistry anyone?

Oh my god. When some executive decided that Black Widow and Hulk should get together in this universe, did they check there was any, at all, chemistry between the actors? Because I saw nada. It was the most awkward thing I’ve seen, possibly ever.

Meanwhile, Widow had good chemistry with Captain America and fantastic chemistry with Hawkeye… which is probably why they felt they needed to give him a surprise family and kids. Just to persuade the audience not to ship him and “Nat”.

Black Widow

Let’s get onto my peeves with “Nat”.

I’d like to take you back to her intro scene.

In this movie, sure she gets to take part in the action. I’m not denying that she’s still a strong, capable woman. Yes, she kicks ass and rides a motorbike. I’m putting this sentence here, up first, because I can foresee the comments that will tell me that I’m just trying to “find problems”.

In this movie, she also gets to be the lovesick schoolgirl, pining after Bannner, the damsel in distress and – perhaps most shockingly – have a great speech about how she’s worthless because she can’t have babies.

I literally turned to Graham and asked, “Is this really happening?”

There are other gems like “Am I always picking up after you boys?” Because I’m the mother, obviously. But I guess that’s closer to nit-picking.

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Ultron’s motivation

So Ultron sees the evil that is humans and wants to wipe them out. I totes get that. Even though at the beginning he says the evil is the Avengers. But that’s fine, you know, maybe they misunderstood him. I thought that he didn’t kill the doctor woman because she was a good person and hadn’t murdered. That made sense.

But then suddenly, somehow, during that dreaded middle bit his motivation is also to improve himself? Since when? He built himself a pretty awesome metal body, why would he want the weakness of flesh, especially when he hates humans? And when that would give Scarlet Witch the power to manipulate him? He may always be trying to improve himself in the comics, but the Avengers haven’t read the comics so how would they know this?

Okay so maybe he wanted to use the Mind Gem and that’s why? Somehow? I dunno, maybe that connection got dropped on the editing floor.

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Conclusion

I heard that it was originally a much longer movie, that could explain the pacing issues and perhaps go some way to fixing the ickiness of Black Widow’s role in this. I’m going to be looking out for a director’s cut.

As I said there were some great parts, it wasn’t completely without emotional impact. I liked Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye’s speech to her about doing the job was a highlight. I liked the running gag about Thor’s Hammer – even though the person behind me was kicking my seat the whole way through that party bit. Spader’s acting was pretty much on one level – I kept seeing his Boston Legal character rather than the robot because he acted them almost exactly the same – but it worked. I mean he’s a robot, robots are by nature on one level.

And the little Whedonisms are always good – Ironman going “yay” when he spots a secret door, for instance.

Oh yea and that epic battle in Joburg with the SAPS and the SADF and the terrible fake South African accent that preceded that.

Another thing I liked was that they hinted that the mind was the most powerful weapon, therefore the Mind Gem was so powerful (though they never really explained how it had anything to do with computers).

I liked that underlying message about the power, and failings, of the mind.

What are your thoughts?

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