After their double header of awesome in 2014 Marvel came back in 2015 with Avengers Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, two of their most troubled productions. How do they hold up and show the way for what is to come?

AVENGERS: THE AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

DID I FALL ASLEEP? Yes. Can you guess where? Immediately after Thor shouts “Is that the best you’ve got?” in the final battle I started to nod off. I woke myself up and saw the big CGI battle was on and rewound to see what I’d missed and nearly passed out again. but I made it through! But another CGI army ending. Boring.

DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? It’s okay. Disney did not stint and hired the Great Alan Silvestri but not one of his more notable efforts.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: This is a bad movie.

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I mean the opening scene alone has some of the WORST CGI of all times, video game animation with actors faces awkwardly pasted on. It’s like when my uncle used to cut apart my plastic animals and put different parts together for me when I was a kid. I wasn’t fooled. I mean seriously you are going to tell me something that looks like this is good?

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BTW, as I watch these MCU movies, the greatness of SacrJo’s stunt woman becomes ever more apparent. ScarJo herself is utterly unathletic, despite the number of action movies she’s starred in. They don’t even show her running. She *is* good at getting into the “superhero crouch” and rising up looking fierce however, which is the minimal physical requirement for portraying a superhero.

By the time this movie was made, Joss Whedon was finishing up his contract with Disney and as he revealed in countless interviews since, he was exhausted and miserable. Marvel brought him in on the cheap to script doctor and fiddle with everything for three years and he was totally run ragged from it. Here’s a typical quote:

“I was so beaten down by the process,” Whedon said. “Some of that was conflicting with Marvel, which is inevitable. A lot of it was about my own work, and I was also exhausted.”
Whedon blames himself for the narrative that the project wasn’t perfect, and said he had failed.

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“I think that did a disservice to the movie and the studio and to myself,” Whedon said. “It was not the right way to be, because I am very proud of it. The things about it that are wrong frustrate me enormously, and I had probably more of those than I had on the other movies I made. But I also got to make, for the second time, an absurdly personal movie that talked about how I felt about humanity, and what it means, in very esoteric and bizarre ways, for hundreds of billions of dollars. The fact that Marvel gave me that opportunity is so bonkers, and so beautiful, and the fact that I come off of it feeling like a miserable failure, is also bonkers, but not in a cute way.”

Just how imperfect is Ultron’s narrative? Well, the script itself is not bad, it’s just the utter joylessness of the movie – and it’s not a completely purposeful joylessness. It’s no wonder that Guardian’s of the Galaxy’s goofy joking came as such a relief after watching the tense banter in the “party scene” in Ultron. It’s tense by design – these being sare all egotists and don’t really trust each other, as subsequent events will show. The brief skirmish between Cap and Tony shows how things are going to disintegrate more. But it doesn’t make for a relaxing time.

So basically you have a miserable man making a movie about how a team breaks up. No wonder I always find watching this a slog.

Ultron’s birth and plan are also a bit hard to parse. He’s born hating his creators? It’s expected that we’ll learn that Thanos was somehow connected to his birth, as witness the “I’ll do it myself!” sting at the end, and that would make this make much more sense in retrospect.

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A bigger problem, for me anyway, is that the new characters – Scarlet Witch, Vision and Quicksilver – just aren’t very interesting. Aaron Taylor Johnson has the muscles and action moves to play a superhero, as he has done many a time, but if you didn’t know Pietro was the Avenger who was going to die, you haven’t read nearly enough comic books.

As for Elizabeth Olson’s Scarlet Witch…I just don’t get it. Her powers are frustratingly nebulous as is her portrayal as a goth girl with black nails etc. She’s a total cypher whose ephemeral screen presence barely makes a dent in a film stuffed with heavyweights like Downey and Evans.

Paul Bettany was in place for the Vision for a looong time, and he looks weird enough, but I also didn’t get why Wanda suddenly perks up when he’s around. Is it just the English accent? I know girls love that. Seriously, making a Wanda/Vision relationship beleivable is going to be hard enough but when that’s the most plausible reason for the attraction, you may have a problem.

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Speaking of attraction then there’s the Hulk/Black Widow thing which is shoehorned in. Millions of pixels have been written about that, but I want to throw one thing in there. All those people who were offended at Natasha’s “monster” scene just wanted to be offended. Everyone in the cast call themselves a monster at one point and in the context of the scene it’s VERY clear the reason Wanda thinks of herself as a monster is because she’s been raised and physically altered to be an assassin who kills people and never looks back. While I’m all for tearing down subtext, there’s a huge difference between women who can’t have kids and women who were raised and physically altered to be assassins who actually kill people and never look back. If you identify with the latter, of, but if not…sit down in the boat.

Which is not to say that the Black Widow doesn’t come off as horribly uneven in all of these movies. Burdened with Hollywood’s obsession with “There can be only one” major speaking role for a woman in action movies, Natasha is a reflection of however the filmmaker du jour thinks about women. She *is* perhaps the most complicated character in the movies, but that complexity has never really been explored properly.

Plus it’s a no win situation. Everyone complains that Gamora was too serious in GOTG, and when James Gunn made Mantis a goofball like the rest of the characters he was accused of making Asian women submissive and infantile. I guess what we need is 50% of the characters in any given movie to be female so that they can be as varied as the male characters.

I didn’t enjoy Age of Ultron when I saw it in the theaters and I didn’t enjoy it any more now. I can tell a lot about these movies when I look for stills from IMDB. The ones from Age of Ultron are all badly composed and poorly lit.  Watching this movie, all I can see is Joss Whedon ticking off the days on his jail cell wall.

Extra notes:

• Clint’s house is Rivendell.

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• BUT on the GOOD SIDE! Klaw and Wakanda! A cameo that would pay off FOUR YEARS LATER. Kevin Feige is a genius!

• Thor going off to “take care of something” and the Hulk getting into a spaceship was the Han-in-carbonite moment for the MCU and we didn’t even know it.

WOULD I REWATCH: Yeah, but with a heavy heart.

ANT-MAN (2015)

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DID I FALL ASLEEP? Surprisingly, no.

DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Heck yeah! A very different score from the other sludgy orchestral efforts. In keeping with the “heist” film vibe, Christolphe Beck delivers a snappy, propulsive theme inspired by Lalo Schifrin and 70s detective shows. Plus good song choice. A surprising winner!

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: Ant-Man is the only Marvel movie that I never saw in theaters. I guess I was just too demoralized by the loss of Edgar Wright, whose baby this had been for years. In fact, I don’t think I ever watched this movie all the way through. It was the most like a fresh movie to me, and while it wasn’t that good – it may be the most disposable of all 18 MCU films – it also had its moments.

In many ways it was the most utterly MCU-esque of all the MCU movies, perhaps for that reason.

Badly shot opening scene that looks like it could be from a TV show? CHECK. The opening scene, aside from a callback to Peggy Carter (who doesn’t say or do anything notable) is totally dependent on having seen 10 other MCU movies for any interest and looks second unit all the way.

• Gratuitous appearance by another character from the MCU making this part of the continuity? CHECK. The always delightful Anthony Mackie has a brief appearance as the Falcon so Ant-Man can appear in Civil War.

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A terrible, weak villain? CHECK. The two baddies – played by Corey Stoll and Bobby Canavale – are TV level and tv actors, no disrespect but you could probably pop in dialog from any other superhero movie’s villain for Darren Cross and it would be the exact same result.

Big CGI battle at the end between a hero and his evil twin? CHECK. Yellowjacket vs Ant-Man is enlivened only by the fact that it was often Paul Rudd in a suit and not CGI.

But there were also good things:

• In a shock, the Older White Man (Michael Douglas) is actually a good guy and not the villain.

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• This movie actually has some of the best, most unexpected action scenes in all the MCU. I was genuinely shocked! The ant stuff and the battle in the briefcase are great – I wish Ant-Man had been able to just TURN DOWN his regulator so he wouldn’t go totally subatomic at the end, but you can’t expect an big inventor like Hank Pym to think of something practical like that. But it was still a cool ending.

• Paul Rudd. He can read the phone book.

• I liked this movie’s focus on fathers and daughters as opposed to EVERY OTHER MOVIE’S focus on men and their fathers, absent, bad and passive aggressive. But still…fathers, fathers, fathers. It takes two to make a thing go right, you know. It takes two to make it out of sight.

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THE UGLY: Evangeline Lilly’s hair-do…why? I know its from the comics but somethings are best left forgotten? Lilly is a very beautiful woman – and with strong action chops as well – but that hair was like a helmet of dread.

Like the insect it is named after, Ant-Man is a small film. After the Edgar Wright embarrassment, Kevin Feige probably felt like there was no way to abandon this film without loking like a douche, and he fund the way to make Ant-Man super cool in Civil War. Would the world be the same if it had never existed? Kinda. Ant-Man di show once and for all that Feige was boss and anyone who wanted to make a movie outside the Marvel Formula would be stamped on like a tiny insect.

WOULD I REWATCH: I never thought I would say this, but yes.

Next time: the most important MCU movie of ALLLLLLLLLLL: Captain America Civil War

You’d find the rest of MY MCU REWATCH reviews here.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Ultron is deeply flawed, but I actually like it lot. The deleted scenes on my DVD would have helped immensely, and Marvel really was wearing out the third act by this point, but it would be kind of hard for an Avengers movie not to have an OTT ending. (Spidey:Homecoming was a welcome resizing of the final battle.) And I liked the Bruce and Natasha stuff. If they hadn’t given her friendships with Steve and Clint first, I’d have understood the reaction more (and the Steve/Natasha friendship might be the best character story thread in the MCU), but I thought it made perfect narrative sense in the movie. Joyless? Sure, but with purpose.

    As someone who thinks Edgar Wright peaked with Spaced, I didn’t mind at all that he wasn’t onboard at the end, although it’s a bit jagged as a result. The most utterly MCU-esque of the MCU movies? Yeah. Nail on the head there. Hoping the next one build’s on the debut’s strengths and overcomes its weaknesses because the core cast is really fun.

  2. I gotta respect other people’s opinions, but I wholeheartedly disagree with everything you wrote about Ultron. It has some of the most unique themes I’ve ever seen in any movie. It may be overstuffed and exhausting, but if you pay attention it’s also genius.

  3. With exceptions, I probably could say that I liked moments from these movies upcoming. Just using Avengers AoU as an example, it featured the return of Avenger’s corny Cap, who is bothered by bad language. Sorry, no. After Brubaker’s run, if someone pressed me who my favourite superhero is, it’s Cap. The idea of a WW2 veteran being bothered to the point of correcting poor language focuses on the wrong element of who Cap is not great to me. Wonder Woman did this better. So, if it’s Whedon (who is very verbal, and might gently mock an old-timey conservatism, and who praised the Russos as doing things in Winter Soldier that he himself could not do), or just the need to contrast who each Avenger is in this movie aimed at kids, it misses the mark of the character. That being said, my favourite part in the movie is Cap getting back on that truck to renew his fight with Ultron. Glad it exists. So, moments.

    Other thing that I want to mention is the throwaway, quick end to Baron Strucker, whom I recognised as the very good Danish actor from the exceptional Borgen TV series (he played the Prime Minister’s husband). Such a throwaway for such an actor was not good (and this starts the trend in throwaway associations between Marvel movies, which I find grating when I see it). Have to believe Whedon as an educated liberal has seen Borgen (or somebody has), and that’s why the actor’s there. Also, I think what liberal-minded Whedon was most happy about was shooting on location Seoul and Lagos; that’s pretty good.

    Hulk and IM fight, decent. Ultron’s human like movement as based on Spader was offputting for me. Otherwise, all ok, did the Frankenstein derivitive thematic work fine, with suitable spectacle.

    Antman, I loved the rapid verbal monologue of that latino character that was kind of crime genrey. Stand out. The genre elements and kid gag action made it more interesting while the superhero stuff dragged. Still, Scott’s interesting, can agree with Heidi.

  4. I agree with you review of Antman, but you’re forgetting Michael Pena as Luis. I’d seen the actor in drama movies, but seeing him do comedy was a revelation. I would pay to watch him explain anything as that character. Also, Paul Rudd is magic. He does well with the role.

  5. I remember I was actually bummed out for several days after learning that Edgar Wright had left Ant-Man. I was really looking forward to the movie and then it seemed like it would be some hastily-cobbled filler episode in the MCU. Well, it was a bit of filler (much smaller in scope compared to other MCU entries), but I loved it. I can’t say that I’m not curious as to what Wright would have done, but I think Peyton Reed did a great job with the tone of the movie. It was certainly a breath of fresh air after the too self-serious Age of Ultron. Props to the actors in the movie and the myriad screenwriters for actually creating interesting characters that I cared about. I do happen to like quite a few Ant-Man stories from the comics, but most of them involved the Avengers (or the FF, in the Fraction/Allred run), so this movie exceeded my expectations for what a solo Ant-Man story could be.

    On the other hand, I think Age of Ultron suffered a lot because there are so many good Avengers vs. Ultron stories in the comics that the film could have drawn on, but it just wasn’t as good as any of those great comic stories. The CGI battles were also as gratuitous as any that have appeared onscreen. I thought the character work with the Avengers themselves was pretty good (I loved the party scene, as did my non-comic-reading friends. The Black Widow/Hulk stuff was questionable). The characterization of Ultron was just underdeveloped. The Pym/Ultron/Vision “family” in the comics is a great spurce of psychological intrigue, and it was absent in this film. A bit of a shame.

  6. True, Ultron wasn’t perfect – but let’s keep in mind our high expectations for the MCU films. Contrast that to the DCU, which barely managed to spit out one Justice League film,despite the presence of the three most famous superheroes of all time. JL makes Ultron look like Gone With The Wind, comparatively. A testament to how good these films have been,,,

  7. I’ve never understood the appeal of Joss Whedon (and I’ll never forgive him for how he (and WB management) sabotaged and butchered “Justice League”), but I actually kinda liked “Age of Ultron.” I thought it was much better than the first “Avengers” film (which is way overrated and is a slog to get through in the middle). I also really liked Vision. Thought it was an interesting twist on the Spock-like character these genre films usually have.

    “Ant-Man” was amusing from top to bottom it felt like a TV movie. Tried watching it a second time and couldn’t get through it.

  8. “…but let’s keep in mind our high expectations for the MCU films…”

    I would actually argue that much of the MCU’s success is due mostly to the low expectations audiences bring to these films. Many sites are doing these retrospectives of the MCU right now, and almost all of them are having the same general reactions that Heidi is: that the overwhelming majority of these films are just okay in retrospect once the ether of the Disney marketing machine has worn off.

    I would argue that the DC films were the ones that suffered from outrageously high expectations. If you read the reviews of the DC films, most people didn’t evaluate them (especially the Snyder films) based on what was actually on screen, but instead compared those films to the fan-fic film that most people in the audience had been creating with those characters for the past two or three decades. The reality was never going to live up to the platonic fantasy (for what it’s worth, I loved MoS, BvS, and WW; hated SS and JL). That, plus the fact that the Snyder films (for better or worse) actually had a distinct style and a distinct point of view, which was always going to be polarizing.

    My two cents.

  9. No love for Michael Pena? : ) I totally agree with Paul Rudd being compelling even if he just read the phone book, but Pena in this film shows to be a close second. One thing I enjoyed about this film (as I did Spider-Man: Homecoming) was that the stakes were a little lower than most of the MCU save-the-universe plots and stayed close to home — nice to have the variety. But I was surprised at how bland the villain was here.

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