When February 22nd rolls around next year, I can guarantee that Avengers: Age of Ultron will not be nominated for Best Picture. Nor should it be for, in my opinion, the movie always has too much going on to ever come together in a complete and fully rewarding way. That said, I can also guarantee that Joss Whedon will miss a nomination as Best Director, and this will be a far greater oversight. That is because while Avengers: Age of Ultron may not be an incredibly “good” movie, it is still a really fun and well-made one. Considering the weight of characters, plot threads, action sequences, and emotional threads that all had to be balanced: this is an achievement, one that is not likely to be repeated this year (and perhaps ever).
To give a rundown: Age of Ultron is the continuing adventures of Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury – meaning all these characters are in the movie. Oh, and let’s not forget the three new Avengers: Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision (of these characters begin the movie as villains). Okay, got them too. Oh and let’s not forget the cameos and supporting characters: War Machine, Falcon, Maria Hill, Stan Lee (cause apparently he needs at least one scene), Peggy Carter, Heimdall, Erik Selvig, Baron Strucker, Ulysses Klaue, and many others… seriously – there are others. I’m just done listing them. Oh, and OH YEAH – Ultron… and Thanos too…
And it works, that is the single most impressive thing I can say about Avengers: Age of Ultron. It does not always work well – indeed there are several sequences where the mass of the movie appears poised to explode out and bury the plot – but this never happens. In part because Whedon stuck again to basics (like he did in the first movie).
Ultron is a simple villain, but still well done. His plan is not complicated, his emotions are not buried under layers of psychosis. He is a refreshingly human robot with a simple dream… a dream of killing all humans. The voice work of the wickedly talented James Spader helps bring the character to life, as well as a beautifully tragic birth sequence.
Of course… this is a summer movie – and that means action. Those looking for it will get their fill. A castle raid, an oil tanker brawl, Hulk vs. Hulk Buster, Avengers vs. Ultron: the movie brings it all in spades. By the end, one might even be a little sick of slow motion sequences of our heroes beating up on robots… but one can also get sick from eating too much ice cream.
Joss Whedon has done the near impossible, wrestling this much comic book into one movie. Time will tell exactly how much of his background as a comic book writer and official super geek helped him achieve this – or whether others who don’t share this background can do the same (Marvel is certainly hoping they can). Whedon’s familiarity with the characters and source material has clearly helped him to do more with less in his past two mega superhero mash-ups.
This is both a continuation of last week’s article and a very in-depth, very spoiler-filled review of Iron Man 3. If you wish to see Iron Man 3 but have yet to do so: don’t read this. There’s plenty of other fun articles on the website, read them. If you’re not the kind to mind spoilers, okay but you have been warned. There will be no surprises left for you after you’ve read this article. If you’re looking for the segment on The Avengers 2, skip to the end: last couple paragraphs. I’ll mark it off with it’s own bold heading. Okay, we good to go? Let’s dive into it then.
Last week I expressed a belief that we, as a culture, were fast approaching the end of superhero movies. There’s been a lot of them lately and at one point too many becomes too many. Yesterday I saw Iron Man 3. I found it to be an enjoyable summer action flick that definitely entertained me. There was just one problem. I didn’t like it. No, I was not a fan of Iron Man 3. I enjoyed the theater experience but afterward as I thought about what I had watched, the film’s flaws irked me more and more. I don’t remember the movie fondly and, if given the chance, probably will not seek it out to watch it again. That’s a more negative reaction than the one I had to Iron Man 2 (another flawed but fun movie). So the question becomes: why don’t I like Iron Man 3? I just acknowledged that it was (at least initially) fun to watch. It is not X-Men III: the Last Stand (thank god it’s not that bad) but even that was a movie I was up for watching multiple times. Yet no love for Iron Man 3.
Let’s begin with the Phase Two problem. For those of you who don’t know, Marvel Studios labels the superhero films they’re working on into phases. Phase One was the five films before the Avengers: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: the First Avenger. Then the big one happened: The Avengers. The film was meant to be a result of a combination of efforts from the five movies preceding it to create a movie that otherwise might have been impossible. Mission accomplished. But as the smoke settled over New York at the end of the Avengers, the question became: what’s next?
Phase Two consists of four films: Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World, Captain America: the Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’re wondering what Guardians of the Galaxy is – you’re not alone, it’s a film kinda like the Avengers but made up of heroes you (nor anyone else in the general public) has ever heard of before. What could go wrong with that one? Anyway these are the films meant to get us pumped for the Avengers 2. What’s my problem with these films: we’ve already had the Avengers. Like it or not, there is now a Marvel cinematic universe that currently contains seven heroes (eight including War Machine – sorry, Iron Patriot) and is getting more populated all the time. So where are they in Iron Man 3?
Okay, Thor is not on the planet, that’s an easy one. Bruce Banner also could be explained away by saying that he is trying to lay low. That works – to an extent, before falling flat against the circumstances of Iron Man 3. Now we get into the spoilers. During the first half of the film, Tony Stark’s house is attacked and demolished by the Mandarin (we’ll be getting back to this guy later). As a result, Tony is cut off from all of his resources and must rebuild himself while the world thinks he’s dead (the only one who initially knows otherwise is Pepper Potts). Yeah, Tony and Bruce became friends during The Avengers.
So worst case scenario: Banner believes that the Mandarin has murdered Tony Stark… that might be something to get angry about. Best case scenario: Pepper called Bruce afterward and informed him that Tony was still alive. I find this harder to believe because a phone conversation with Banner would be a hard thing to accomplish (he is in hiding) and even if it happened: why would Bruce not want to help Tony, given what has just happened? This is not Avengers nitpicking. This is how movies work. Whenever you set something up in a film, you need to keep addressing it: this is what separates films from comic books. Tony and Bruce cannot just be convenient friends. This is how Iron Man 3 portrays them. Banner is actually in the movie – he appears in the after-credits scene listening to Tony Stark tell the events of Iron Man 3. He is the man for whom the whole narrative has been framed. So yeah, clearly they are still friends. And we all know that nobody actually wants their friends around when they’re in trouble… just after the fact, right? Yeah, doesn’t work.
But stupidly, thanks to the scope of Iron Man 3‘s plot, Banner isn’t the only noticeable absence. Iron Man 3 involves a terrorist targeting America, in particular America’s government institutions. The finale involves an attempt on the president’s life. They respond by turning War Machine into the Iron Patriot: essentially giving America a superhero. That’s great but – wait, doesn’t America already have a super hero?
Thanks to the plot setup in Iron Man 3, it falls to Captain America: the Winter Soldier to explain Cap’s absence. I don’t buy the whole “he’s still getting used to the future” defense. He already jumped at a chance to help in The Avengers. I have a really hard time believing that Captain America went into hiding after New York. It’s not in his character. He’s a soldier (like War Machine), his job is to defend his country. There’s a few other minor Phase Two problems but these were the two big ones. Now, remember when I said we would get back to the Mandarin?
I mean the actual Mandarin in the movie.
Yeah so Iron Man 3 splits up the Mandarin into two characters. One is Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery: an actor who is hired to give the world a Mandarin they can more easily believe. This is actually really clever on one hand. For those of you out there who aren’t familiar with the Mandarin: he was basically created (initially) as a propaganda villain for those evil Asians in Vietnam (pretty racist when you think about it). So Iron Man 3 turned that part into pure propaganda. The Mandarin is real in the movie, he’s Aldrich Killian. Kingsley is used as a social commentary for the audience: look at how willing we are to believe that someone who looks like Osama bin Laden is an evil terrorist while nobody suspects the rich white guy. That is, on one level, really well played Iron Man 3.
Yet despite his racist beginnings, the Mandarin is a fairly rich comic book villain. In fact he’s Iron Man’s biggest villain. And thanks to Iron Man 3, we will never see him on the big screen. Yeah, we got a version but without any of the Mandarin’s actual powers (his ten magical rings – I know, magic rears its ugly head again in the Marvel universe). He was sacrificed for social commentary. This would not be so bad if there hadn’t been another person who had done this without sacrificing character integrity.
In the Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan effortlessly constructed villains the Joker and Two-Face into a social commentary on America’s war on terror. The movie was brilliant and is widely regarded, by many, to be the greatest superhero movie of all time. Then, in theDark Knight Rises, Nolan transformed Bane into a haunted shadow of what Batman could have been – had he fallen. Why is that worth mentioning? Because Nolan did it without removing anything from what made Bane Bane. He understood the character enough to portray the essentials without the more problematic aspects (Bane has only been done once successfully in the comics, Knightfall; he is not an easy character to do). Point is: Christopher Nolan already did it. And he did it better.
All right, this is getting a little long and we haven’t even gotten into the Avengers 2 so I’ll wrap it up. Briefly let me say that I had problems with the film’s overly comedic tone. I’m fine with Tony Stark being snarky and spouting one-liners. That’s who he is, he handles his situations with humor. I can relate to that. However, there are one too many slapstick moments in the film involving other people where it takes away from scenes that otherwise would have been dramatic. Not every scene in a comedy needs a laugh – sometimes less is more. Okay, that’s out of the way.
Another thing: Tony Stark has a unique and strong voice and the movie captured it. Problem was it was contagious because every other character in that movie sounded like Tony Stark as well. Okay – that’s a script problem and on screenwriters Drew Pierce and Shane Black. Was it a huge deal: no. So let’s get to the last huge deal. Also the PTSD could have been handled a lot better (Tony has been in near-death experiences before so that should not have been the focus). Anyway, about that ending…
Let’s talk about Tony Stark and what he does at the end. He removes the shrapnel in his heart, essentially curing him of the need to constantly carry his power source. WHAT. To be fair, this does happen in the comics. Also to be fair – I’ve never read the comics AND THIS MAKES NO SENSE WITH WHAT THE MOVIES WERE SAYING. Remember the plot of Iron Man 2? Remember that he was dying because he had that in him? Why didn’t he take it out then if all that was needed was a simple medical procedure? He had the money! Why did Iron Man 2 happen at all if the answer was so simple?
But that’s not my biggest problem. My biggest problem is that it completely undercuts the scene between Tony and Bruce in the Avengers. “This stops it. This little circle of light. It’s part of me now, not just armor. It’s a… terrible privilege.” That’s how Tony describes his condition to Bruce Banner. As part of him. More than just a suit. Tony can take off his armor but that light in his chest – and everything associated with how it came to be, is what makes him Iron Man. When Iron Man 3 has him just remove it at the end, they kill that Tony Stark. I’m sorry but I felt it was bizarre, completely unneeded and much too final for a character who will appear again… maybe. All I know is that the result of that scene made me closed to the idea of Iron Man 4.
But anyway, what did I mean maybe? We’ll see Tony Stark again right? At least in the Avengers 2. Maybe. But it might not be Robert Downey Jr.
Iron Man 3 was an enjoyable summer movie but it was a poor Iron Man film. It gave me new appreciation for the Dark Knight Rises and the fact that Christopher Nolan was able to make a trilogy with a strong beginning, middle and end that never once failed the character of Batman. Iron Man was also a lot of fun back in 2008 but that’s five years ago. Tony Stark looks old under the armor. It’s time to retire him. The world of superheroes is coming to an end. It was a fun ride, but it is definitely over now. Phase Two is already showing that.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.