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Not Really a Team

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) by Joss Whedon

On rewatching this, I was sometimes like ‘I don’t remember this at all’ which is probably not surprising since it’s been a while since I watched it – and a lot has happened in the MCU since. Still, I couldn’t even say I had a feel for this movie at all. I think in a way I always felt that this movie was disjointed, kind of wildly put together – a hack job, if you force me to be completely honest.

Why? Well, I feel like I should give credit to the director/writer here – Joss Whedon. Most of us probably have a complicated relationship with the man, he probably killed your favorite character, too. Still, he did an excellent job with The Avengers, so why not here?

We’ll see. First, a synopsis:

The Avengers finally defeat Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and retrieve Loki’s scepter. After some tests, Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) discovers the blueprint for an A.I. in its shiny blue thingy and downloads it to use it to man an army of Stark-controlled A.I. to police the world, or something (and he really thought THAT was a good idea?). Anyway, it wasn’t a good idea since the A.I. (James Spader) has other plans and starts with destroying Jarvis (Paul Bettany) before building himself a body.

Then he starts a rampage. He kills Strucker in prison and teams up with two enhanced humans – Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) Maximoff (‘he’s fast and she’s weird’ as Hill puts it) – to kill the Avengers. But his ultimate goal is destroying the whole human race and when Wanda finally discovers this plan, the Maximoffs team up with the Avengers to end Ultron.

It seems pretty straight forward but there are snatches in the plot that make our heroes act out of character. And I think this is the biggest fault Age of Ultron has, why everyone hates it so much – or at least considers it one of the worst MCU entries. And you can certainly argue that fear makes many people act irrationally and it’s a big theme here with Wanda showing almost everyone their greatest ones.

But – big but – would Tony really just download an A.I. whose origin is most likely alien (it came after all from Loki, as far as he knew), whose origin is also likely sinister? And be like: Oh, but this is gonna end all war and I can retire. And would Banner (Mark Ruffalo) agree to this? I mean, these two are supposed to be the genius-Avengers. Put aside all Tony’s hubris, his bravado, his devil-may-care personality… no, I don’t think so. Not even if he feared his team dying. And Banner hadn’t even been affected by Wanda at this point, so why would he agree to something this reckless? He’s such a push-over in this movie.

But, apparently, they had to do this or there wouldn’t be an Ultron. Now Ultron comes out of that shell around the Infinity Stone – the Mind Stone. That scepter came from Thanos (Josh Brolin) and so Ultron was part of his plan to end the Avengers and the human race, right? I mean, the mid-credit scene seems to make this clear. That’s why he gave Loki the scepter, the A.I. was a failsafe if the original plan – Earth being destroyed by Loki and the Chitauri – failed. Well played, Thanos. But the failure of the failsafe, of course, gave the Avengers a powerful new member: Vision. It also explains why Ultron and Thanos’ plans are so similar.

Anyway, besides Banner and Stark acting OOC to create an adversary, so does Thor (Chris Hemsworth) when he goes on his vision quest. I don’t want to say that he’s not spiritual or anything but I do feel like we meet a different Thor in Ultron than in any other movie, someone who saw the glimpse of something in his fear vision and went to research this and came back to us with the whole story of the Infinity Stones. I mean… who else looked at the screen like they were a character on The Office for a minute? And armed with that knowledge – that the Infinity Stones are the most destructive power in the universe, he still thought it a good idea to animate that corpse from Ultron’s cradle… I’m calling bullshit.

And I haven’t even touched on Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and her calling herself a monster because she can kill but not create life (others have commented and I really don’t want to get too deep into this because you all know I’m just starting a rant).

Fear makes us do a lot of things, fear is very powerful that way. But it will not take away our intelligence (Stark), it will not make us instantly do what we fear most (lose control, Banner), it will not make Thor research Infinity Stones instead of checking that his father and friends were okay (I do presume that his fear was that Asgard somehow dies without him, unless it’s that his homies party without him, it’s hard to tell). And I don’t think it would make Natasha fall in love with Banner because, after all, he’s a monster like her? None of this makes sense, Whedon just fit the characters to his plot.

There are other things that I take offense with (Rhodey [Don Cheadle] and Sam [Anthony Mackie] being literally treated like sidekicks, for example) but having the Avengers run around like headless chickens for most of the movie is the worst.

They were supposed to be pulled apart, of course. It was part of Ultron’s plan to plant derision but in that it’s basically like The Avengers – that’s just to get us one step closer to Civil War. What I miss seeing is an Avengers team that is actually a team because we don’t get to see this until Endgame. And maybe that was the plan but it still gets kind of old here, having the Avengers fight among themselves, having another reason to break up, to fight against each other, to stack their teams with new members. I know, Civil War is kind of necessary but I would have liked to see a movie where they actually just be a team. Probably just me.

Now I’m going to forget most of what happened in Ultron again so I can actually sleep at night and not seethe in annoyance any longer.

Next Ant-Man – the one I liked more than you did.

Okay, I can’t really leave this without saying something about Natasha and the horrible, HORRIBLE story line she had. Apart from the Banner-fiasco, let me just say: Making being infertile Natasha’s greatest fear is just wrong. For once, she’s known this since she was a teen, there’s 15 years of water under that bridge already. I’m not saying she can’t be emotional about this but the question is why would she fear something that’s a fact of her life? Also: she’s a modern woman, she certainly has heard of adoption. Being sterile doesn’t mean she can’t have children, I’m sure Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) could fashion her a brand new identity that would be able to adopt a child if she ever was to retire. Making Black Widow’s story line about a man AND impossible children, urgh, dude, women are more than love interests and/or incubators! End rant!

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Are We a Team Yet?

The Avengers (2012) by Joss Whedon

In Captain America: The First Avenger, the main villain Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) retrieves an ancient artifact from a guarded crypt in Norway. The powers of this artifact, from now on known as the Tesseract, are not revealed but it seems to be an unlimited power source. Schmidt uses it to power his weapons, he also dies at the end of the movie from touching it. We see it fall into the ocean and being later retrieved by a search party looking for Captain America.

Present day: the Tesseract resides in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that is in the process of being evacuated because this ancient power source has somehow been turned on.

This is the beginning of Marvel’s The Avengers.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back from the dead and collaborates with others to take over Earth. He’s given a mythical scepter together with instructions to take the Tesseract. So he does, he also takes Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as his mind-controlled slaves. Despite the fact that the Avengers Initiative has been scrapped, Fury (Samuel L.Jackson) still brings Banner (now Mark Ruffalo), Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and Rogers (Chris Evans) together to get the Tesseract back.

However, when they capture Loki, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appears and wants to bring his brother home. A fight between the heroes ensues but is solved when Thor agrees to join the group and have Loki imprisoned on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Only, it seems that that was Loki’s plan all along…

This is the movie in which Marvel first assembles its first Avengers team and it is a truly magnificent movie. Of course, younger me undermines me once again in this post. Nothing of what I formerly said about The Avengers holds true (except that I still very much respect and love Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man), especially not what I said about Whedon. Eight years is a long time and I’ve come to love the franchise, or maybe I just came to understand it.

The Avengers is also the end of Phase I in the MCU, it combines all the solo movies, all the singular heroes, puts them together in a group that is bigger than its components (yes, bigger even than Tony Stark’s ego). And I think the size of it is what you take away from it. The plot, the fights, everything gets a wider scope. We’re introduced to the big bad guy (Thanos) without being told who he is (comic book fans know, of course, the rest of us is like: is that guy pink?).

This is the first time, Loki is resurrected. He hasn’t been the most remarkable bad guy in Thor, I would even suggest that Thor doesn’t have what you’d call a bad guy. Loki is family, and at the level he operates in Thor it seems more like a family squabble than having an opponent to defeat. Thor’s origin is a lot more about himself than about setting up Loki as a bad guy. Maybe that’s why he operates on a far more familiar level than anyone else could in The Avengers. He’s become a worthy opponent, even if we already know that there are bigger villains behind him. In my other review, I wrote that he’s bad at being bad and I stand with that. He always tries to be the tough guy but then he’s beaten senseless by the Hulk. He lacks the authority of a truly evil villain, he’s mischievous (God of Mischief, after all) and his story from here on out confirms that.

The Avengers, on the other hand, are true good guys but at this point, they’re still individuals, not a team. They struggle with each other, with not being the biggest hero in the room anymore. With having a God in their midst, a guy that was on trading cards in the 1940s, one that could obliterate them all if he lost his temper, and one that just wants to be the one calling the shots. And then there’s Black Widow, the wild card, one that we don’t know much about (and after this outing it seem ridiculous that we don’t have a Black Widow movie but the makers at Marvel are still resisting at this point). I’m reluctant to calling Hawkeye a team member here, probably because he’s Loki’s puppet for most of the movie which makes him kind of the weakest link. But he holds his own in the final battle and that makes him part of the Avengers.

It doesn’t help that Loki’s scepter is throwing a wedge into any kind of amiable conversation at this point, but the team comes together slowly and only when they’re challenged to. The group forms for the big fight in New York, Banner takes a big step by not running away again after he loses his temper on the helicarrier. But the Avengers isn’t a fully formed group, nothing too tight. And maybe they never really will be. The fact that they fight well together, that they’re friendly in the future never really seems to signify that they’re friends. Considering that Civil War is right around the corner, the Avengers team-up seems very fragile at this point. It doesn’t help that the man (Nick Fury) who brings them together and the organization (S.H.I.E.L.D.) behind him have their own agenda.

The counsel behind S.H.I.E.L.D. seems really deviant at this point, outlines of people on screens that only Fury is allowed to talk to, people who scrapped the Avengers Initiative and instead set their money on having Tesseract-powered weapons – just like Hydra did in the 40s. And ultimately deciding to nuke New York. It doesn’t bode well and is possibly the set-up for the big Hydra-reveal in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

And this is just one more point to prove that The Avengers brings all the strings together and puts new ones out into the second phase of the MCU. The Avengers makes us hungry for more, just like the heroes are hungry in the end credit scene. It says: this is only the beginning – and what a beginning it was!

Next: Iron Man 3 (the movie I truly hate)

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Rented: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) by Joss Whedon

muchado-poster

I’m not sure if I told you how I came to love Shakespeare. I had tried to read Macbeth at some point and labored through three pages of it before throwing it into the corner not to pick it or him up again for years. And then I watched Much Ado About Nothing – Branagh’s version – and fell in love.

muchado2It’s still my favorite movie version, it’s still one of my favorite plays, it’ll always have a special place in my heart. And I would probably not have endeavored to watch a different version if it hadn’t been for this addition to the title: A film by Joss Whedon.

And then, of course, there was the casting of Amy Acker as Beatrice. One of my favorite actresses playing one of my favorite Shakespearean characters? Count me in.

And now I’ve watched it. In fact, I’m at this moment watching it a second time in one day. Oh, my goodness, what a ball, a blast, a festival of wit and comedy and noir elements that make this movie not better than Branagh’s, but different and wonderful.

I must confess that I couldn’t imagine anyone playing Much Ado differently, in each and every scene I had a flashback to the ’92-version. But slowly the actors of the Whedon-verse acted themselves into my conscious and I couldn’t resist their charm. I’m fascinated, I’m stumped, I can’t stop watching. And how do you even begin to resist Amy Acker?

Let me tell you something about Acker – she’s genius. In every part I’ve ever seen her, she not only amyacker2convinced me, she awed me with her talent. I loved her as Doctor Saunders/Whiskey in Dollhouse, and I’m madly in love with Root in Person of Interest. She’s just so special in every role, she’s amazing.

But she’s not the only one in this brilliantly cast Whedon-family adaptation of Shakespeare. I never liked Alexis Denisof better than when he played Benedick, he’s earnest and smart and comical when he’s told that Beatrice loves him. Such an honest performance. I loved Fran Kranz in Dollhouse and I love him as Claudio. And then there’re Nathan Fillion as Dogberry and Tom Lenk as Verges and, hell, they’re the funniest thing – yes, funnier than Michael Keaton and Ben Elton even.

muchado4I guess, I have one thing to criticize, though. While I first thought it refreshing to see Riki Lindhome cast as Conrade, I feel that casting Conrade with a male actor in this version would have been even better. Making Don John (Sean Maher) a gay villain – not a caricatured man who is evil because he’s limited to his gayness, but just a villain who happens to be gay… That would have been even more interesting than having a Shakespeare character emasculated.

Apart from this, I simply love Whedon doing Shakespeare. But then, has there ever been a thing Joss Whedon has done that I didn’t love?

muchado-cast1

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Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) by Joss Whedon

It’s funny but I don’t know why I watched this. I didn’t want to, I actually wasn’t the least bit tempted after I saw the trailer. And then I stood infront of the movie theater yesterday and I could have watched Spiderman or W./E. but instead I watched The Avengers. I am still a little astounded by this turn of events… but, well, so I watched it.

I guess I had forgotten that it was directed and written by Joss Whedon but when I saw that it had been done by Whedon I was a little bit peeved. I mean, Whedon gave us one of the best female action tv heroes of the nineties, then he tried to give us fabulous shows like Firefly and Dollhouse and for no apparent reason failed… they were very good shows. And now he gives us The Avengers and my surprise is that it is mostly a make-no-prisoners-dick-flick. Sure, he tried to integrate The Female into this film but with all the phallic imagery (the same as when I wrote about Thor) and male heroes and male villains it kinda got… c**k-blocked.

What we saw of female hero-ship was mostly Scarlett Johansson looking verrry goood (men got over-the-shoulder-shots, Scarlett got full-ass-shots) in catsuit. The same could be said about what little we saw of Gwyneth Paltrow (those cut-offs, dayam!). There was only one female character who seemed almost too much of a character and that was Agent Hill (Colbie Smulders). And this is probably the difference between Whedon and any other director – he actually thinks female characters are important. Other than that, well, Captain America (Chris Evans) seems a little creepy, I never liked Mark Ruffalo, though his Banner was okay, I guees. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still the coolest superhero Marvel has (I love Stark, and I love Downey playing him), and the Loki-guy (Tom Hiddleston) is so hilarious… he’s such a bad villain, and I mean bad not in evil but just plain bad, almost trashy, because he so isn’t evil enough but still he gets the upper hand sometimes – and he’s so pretty.

Mainly this movie is a pissing contest – hell, that lengthy fight between Iron Man and Thor (Chris Hemsworth)! See me still rolling my eyes as I think about it. When it was over, I actually asked the characters to rezip their pants, because really… really…

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t detest it, it was entertainment. Some things were fun, others were totally geeky. But at the end of the day, this is not the kind of movie I want to watch anymore. And not because I think myself too old or too mature (or whatever) to geek out over an action movie – I am not above geekdom, at all – I am just not willing to pay 13 Euros to watch men being heroes and women being eyecandy. Given, the women in this film weren’t just eyecandy but they weren’t quite the heroes the men were… or maybe I just don’t get the whole world domination/war theme that sells us that there actually are heroes in something as pointless as war.

I know, I always promise myself: no more dick flicks, but then I end up seeing some anyways… I don’t know. I should have watched Madonna’s W./E...