Thursday, 24 September 2015

avengers: age of ultron

i know pretty much everyone has probably posted a review of this movie already and on top of that i’m late to the party, but fuck it, this is what i thought of avengers: age of ultron.

first of all, the character work in this film was amazing. the writing was great, the actors were on top form and there was some fantastic story-telling on display here. the love story between black widow and hulk was like something from a film noir and played so well i was almost in tears at the end. i also loved the conflict between captain america and tony stark – that one man needs a war to feel alive and the other hates the fighting so much he will do anything to stop all wars ever. there is a real complexity to both points of view and to the conflict those opinions engender that works well with these characters, and i’m guessing that conflict will be played out in civil war. there were some nice little moments too, like the part where they get to the safehouse and thor leaves because he’s not going to get any answers there, and you can see that cap is desperate to go with him but knows he can’t. that said, i thought thor was a little short-changed in terms of character development in this film as he didn't have all that much to do except set up his next movie. hawkeye on the other hand gets some real development in this film and goes from a character who felt shoe-horned in to the last film to one who really feels integral to the story. for a huge summer blockbuster to have this much emotional complexity to the characters is amazing and should be appreciated.

having taken that into account, let’s look at how black widow comes across in the film. i can’t call myself a feminist and not look at the backlash that forced joss whedon to leave twitter. most of this was to do with the fact that her character becomes defined by her potential to be a mother – that she refers to herself as a ‘monster’ because she’s sterile, and that she essentially becomes a mother to the team with hulk being a substitute baby. and this is troubling, it’s one of the things that always ruins female superhero movies because the guys writing them think that all women care about are babies. for example, the awful elektra movie is so awful because it insists on giving elektra a surrogate daughter, thus falling into exactly the same trap and making her all about motherhood, instead of all about the killing and stuff. my verdict is that people have generally been overthinking this. i'm not saying it's not a valid reading, because it's all there. however, my first thought was she’s a monster because she’s a killer, and the hulk isn’t a surrogate child, he’s a fellow monster and probably the only person on the team she can really relate to. i read their relationship as two characters with a real darkness in their past finding solace each other. far from being a mother/child relationship, it’s the only adult relationship in the entire film. black widow is not defined by her inability to have children, she’s defined by the temptation to give up on peace for the world so she can find peace for herself. that’s what banner wants, and the fact that she betrays him is so tragic because it’s necessary. once again she's cheated out of the thing she wants because she isn't given a choice, and that's something everyone has to face at some point in their lives.

io I didn’t have a problem with the so-called misogynist backstory that drove whedon off twitter, because it’s a reading, not a fact. i did have a problem with black widow being kidnapped and thrown into a cage – that was bullshit. sure, you can justify it on the basis that she kicks ass throughout the film and then she uses her situation to reveal the location of ultron’s base, but it’s still a woman in a cage moment, and you can’t get away from that. add to that the fact that between widow, scarlet witch and various female civilians there were like half a dozen moments of women being carried to safety by men. in  a way what’s offensive is that this more casual misrepresentation of female characters wasn’t considered offensive by the feminist audience, because to be honest it’s the norm in these films. it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film, but i can’t say i wasn’t disappointed.

however, the biggest issue with black widow being thrown in a cage is why? why did ultron take her in the first place? why did ultron do anything that he did in the film? i get that ultron wants to destroy the world, that’s fine, but none of his decisions made sense. he has the power to control computers, so this should have been like maximum overdrive, right? like he should have got into all the computers, ruined the economy, shut down the hospitals and played real life carmageddon with all the vehicles. that’s what i would have done if i was ultron, which i’m not. instead he fucks off to a made-up country like he’s doctor doom, builds an army of flimsy robots, steals some vibranium because … reasons and fucks around with making himself a paul bettany body because bettany rocked in gangster no. 1, or whatever. then there’s something about a mindstone, like from hawk the slayer, and thor seems to think that’s important because he knows he'll get another movie out of it, but no one else really gets it, i certainly didn’t. and then ultron’s big plan is to make a city float up into the air and then drop it on the earth, for no reason other than it will look visually impressive but will also take some time to execute so it’s a good third act plan.

i’m sure the plot made sense on some level and i’m sure someone would be able to explain it to me, but it felt like the film didn’t care so why should i? there were long passages of dialogue devoted to the character development and i loved that, but it felt like the filmmakers were kind of embarrassed by the plot so it was only ever explained in brief throwaway moments where someone would talk really quickly about mindstones and vibranium or whatever. did it matter? not really, because i cared about the characters enough to go along with it, despite the headache i got everytime i tried to work out what was really going on.

the thing is, making superhero movies is hard. really this should be a kids movie, but the studios are so determined to appeal to everyone that they infuse it with all this deep character stuff for adults which is great, but then they have to serve the plot too and make sense of the fact that this is a movie about people in costumes fighting robots. i think nolan got this right in the batman movies, but he did so by going too far the other way, in that the batman films are almost too grown up (one day i’ll write an epic piece about nolan’s batman trilogy and why they are three of the greatest films ever made, but not right now). marvel have traditionally focused more on the fun, kid-friendly aspects of their world but here it feels like they’ve lost some of that focus because they’re trying so hard to appeal to everyone. the geek audience is wider now, it’s not just teenage boys, it’s adults who read the comics as kids, it’s people all over the world (so setting your film in a fictional eastern european country so you can destroy it may not go down too well in eastern europe), it’s women of all ages, but it is still kids as well and to attempt to appeal to every single one of those groups is insane.

but it kind works at the same time, and ultimately i enjoyed it. i did think there was some amazing writing here, i think whedon did the best he could with what he had and there is a lot to admire on screen, and i think the actors were all great and poured a lifetime of emotions into every line of dialogue. i just wish that occasionally i knew what was actually going on, but maybe that's just me.


  1. It's been a few months since I've seen the movie, but I do believe the "Why doesn't Ultron take over the worlds computers and just nuke the planet" question is explained in the movie. The explanation being that the remnants of Jarvis was blocking him from accessing the net. That's what Tony discovers when he visits that datacenter or whatever it was in Norway for one scene.

  2. okay, that makes sense, thanks for explaining!