' ' Cinema Romantico: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Ultron of the Age referred to in the title of the new “Avengers” movie is an artificially intelligent mechanized villain with the deliciously wicked speaking voice of James Spader, hell bent, as he must be, on global destruction for the simple reason that he looks at earth, sees a cesspool of anti-intellectuals and declares they all need to die since they can’t evolve. The irony is not lost. Writer/director Joss Whedon’s film, like so many superhero box office threshers before it, is beholden to its creator’s vision up to a point before it must revert to the immutable structural requirements of the superhero movie, one of which involves a so-called “action packed” third act over which a thick smog of sameness settles, numbing the senses to any preceding goodwill, dissolving into CGI pollutant. “You dummy,” the masses will declare. “It’s ‘just a movie.’ The people want CGI fistfights and robotic multitudes.” Fair enough. But ask yourself, faithful consumer, what kind of review Ultron himself might pen of the movie in which he stars? “Evolve, you stupid movies!” I imagine him shouting as he pounds his robot hands on the laptop. “EVOLVE!!!”

“Age of Ultron” opens in the midst of an action sequence, all the varying Avengers taking turns in the spotlight to wield their respective superpowers, a showcase returned to almost verbatim in the third act, a telling gesture that illustrates how the movie moves in a straight, unchanging line despite its abundance of absolutely every-freaking-thing and that every-freaking-thing means Whedon struggles to find ways to pack it all in. Knowing this, he simply halts the narrative to just, like, show the stuff people paid to see. “Shot of Thor wielding his hammer? Check! Shot of Captain America utilizing his shield? Check! Shot of Tony Stark making witty wisecrack? Check!” It’s so absurdly itemized. When you’re writing a screenplay off a studio-issued checklist, well, your ability to tell a complete story is severely compromised.

Still, like the first “Avengers”, Whedon slyly finds way to include his preferred brand of character and whimsy, proffering a bounty of glorious quips that take shots at movie clichés, American foreign policy and even occasionally feel as if they were leftovers from the “Mystery Men” buffet. “I totally support your Avenging” says Linda Cardellini in an incredible off-kilter sequence re-purposed from the fragments of humdrum domestic dramas. It finds the Avengers laying low at the isolated country homestead of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and you momentarily glimpse an alternate reality where Whedon made a relaxed “Avengers” movie entirely at his home, a la “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Even better is the auxiliary romance of genuinely intimate grandeur between Dr. Bruce Banner (a wonderful Mark Ruffalo) being coaxed out of his Hulk-ness by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Fay Wray to his Kong. An early moment in which she eases him off the brink momentarily transcends all the computerized pummeling around them. Yet it never achieves a genuine resolution, a subplot told in jump cuts rather than a full arc. This also plagues Scarlet Witch, embodied in a not accidentally bewitching performance by Elizabeth Olson whose vexed smile is the film’s finest “effect”, a character who’s a straight-up enemy, until she’s suddenly an ally if for no other reason than inevitable sequel set-up, proper character trajectory and payoffs falling by the wayside. The bottom line trumps all. There was supposedly a longer cut of this film and no doubt character building moments were scrapped, cost-cutting like an overly expensive oceangoing vessel doomed to sink before it even leaves port.

It signals a corporate mentality, an insistence on the status quo, that too often takes over, and that goes for The Avengers themselves. “That’s not against bylaws,” says Captain America to Dr. Bruce Banner, and all you can think is “bylaws”? The Avengers have bylaws? Like some Fortune 500 company with Monday morning meetings? Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders) strolls around in tight skirts and heels like the CEO of Avengers Inc.

Tony Stark and his alter ego Iron Man, still the most interesting character in this universe, often seems baffled by the white collars posing as superheroes. “Please be a secret door,” he says at one point, feeling a wall, evoking the sensation of a man who wants to flee his own situation (and Downey Jr., paradoxically locked in and out to lunch, evokes the same thing). Ultron, in fact, is spawned because of Stark, so desperate to outsource his and his pals’ Avenging to an A.I. entity, likely so he can return to “the revels” he adores so much. This creates the oddly un-commented upon juxtaposition of The Avengers fighting to rescue humanity from their own hubris. Stark’s responsible, yet hardly made to pay for it, which would be really, really funny except that in an often funny movie this is the one detail it somehow does not realize is funny.

Movies like this, of course, are not supposed to take place in the real world, which is fine because this one definitely does not. These Avengers and their principal enemy are more like gods squabbling and fighting on some distant CGI mountaintop, claiming to care, in their respective ways, about the “humanity” down in the cheap expensive seats watching this testament to excess, but really having no more general interest in us than in the compensation we provide to further their brand.

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