Marvel Movie Musings, Meanderings, Meditations and Miscellania
I assumed Joss Whedon would make a classic season finale episode of the MCU with Avengers: Age of Ultron. It seemed the obvious thing to do. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is essentially a very expensive TV show with episodes at six monthly intervals then the Avengers movies must be the season finales? Right?
And so, logically, Age Of Ultron would be a character-rich, emotionally intense movie. It would take the good and fun work of the first Avengers movie and add to it real emotional weight, real tragedy, real man tears.
Isn’t that what we all wanted from Age of Ultron? What we expected?
Instead, Whedon made a Story of the Week about a homicidal robot who tries to end the world for some reason then dies.
I have no idea why Whedon made that initial choice which makes no sense, and I wish he hadn’t done so. In one wrong fell swoop Whedon consigned Age of Ultron to a minor entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when it should have been the centrepiece (at least to date).
By electing to build Age of Ultron around the monster of the week structure, Whedon fatally wounded his movie. He would pay for that error a hundred times over in the editing room, wrestling with his weak ass footage, failing to make it add up to anything.
Whedon ended up collapsing over the finish line in May 2015, and then was never seen or heard from again for a hundred years.
Why Relegate The Main Characters To Subplots?
What is Captain America’s arc in this film? He is the head of the Avengers, he’s their flesh and blood symbol. An actual World War 2 hero. Why is his arc some weak sauce “needing to find somewhere to call home” noodles?
What about Thor? A character who should be central to these Avenger movies but who got shafted in the first Avengers; and let’s not even mention his own wretched movies. Surely Whedon makes up for that here? Nope. Poor Thor ends up getting 10% the screen time of a robot no one cares about.
In the end Thor isn’t given any arc at all, even something as paltry as the Cap finds a home “arc”. There simply isn’t time for Thor in between the 800 times Ultron must get killed. So, instead of giving Thor an emotionally engaging human storyline, they put him in a jacuzzi. Poor, poor Thor. Please, Ragnarok, give Chris Hemsworth something deserving of his efforts and talents.
Many complained, with some justification, about the Banner/Widow love subplot. And, to be fair, it did seem to come out of nowhere while not really going anywhere, well, other than making the observation that these two characters have rather a lot in common, when you think about it.
But I feel this isn’t a case of a bad storyline or poor chemisty between the actors – it just needed major fleshing out; it needed to become a real storyline instead of three scenes. You know, instead of that pesky robot hogging the whole frikking movie.
The central conflicts of Avengers 2 should have felt integral to the main characters, it should have been about the Avengers. Instead it was mostly the Avengers spewing out interminable plot exposition about which types of metal substances Ultron may or may not be made out of.
So there’s all this exposition about how the robot becomes the robot and which metal he’s made out of. He basically looks the same before and after except he’s marginally fatter. Then, when he’s finally fat and juicy he dies, never to be seen or heard from again.
Ladies and gentlemen… Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Captain America: Civil War
This impression that Whedon made a really bad central decision with Age of Ultron is reinforced by the transcendent Captain America: Civil War – a movie where the superheroes are 100% of the movie. All of it. Even the villain has a believable, understandable and human need for justice, instead of wanting to end the world because: plot.
Incidentally, this is why I have no hope that Infinity War will work out as well as Civil War. When I see a big scary CGI guy trying to end the world my reaction is bored disappointment. I’ve seen that play out too many times already, and just because this time the dude has a big multi-coloured knuckleduster changes nothing.
With Civil War we have a film driven by human hopes, needs and pains, not driven by the filler of CGI explosions and a 90 minute villain who does the same thing villains always do, which is fail and die.
Civil War is a film we are sucked into hard, a movie with tangible reality and emotional heft. Having seen Civil War three times I’m ready to declare it the first Genuinely Great Movie made by Marvel Studios.
Look, I adore Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s my current Hangover Movie, no less. In those crucial hours when alcohol poisoning has reduced you to 40% capacity, and subtext really needs to yell, I reach for my Guardians of the Galaxy blu-ray.
But with Civil War, Marvel bring an A-game I wasn’t sure they were capable of, or had the balls for. It carries itself like a great movie by managing to juggle 100 incompatible elements seamlessly. It’s emotionally resonant and rich, it’s powered by a central conflict that matters, and it contains probably the two best action scenes Marvel have yet put on screen. It’s a better film than Guardians of the Galaxy, period.
Civil War elevates every other movie in the canon. In big and small ways. For example, in the Small folder: before Civil War, Howard Stark was an amusing, watered-down Roger Sterling cad who doesn’t do anything except build a model town, or something. That had an element in it that was a triangle, or something.
Now, with Howard’s tragic demise, he has posthumous layers. More importantly, the storyline gives Tony Stark humanity, depth and empathy – much needed from a character increasingly hubristic and irritating.
The MCU Soap Opera
The MCU has become a supernatural soap opera. An insanely-priced supernatural soap opera. Most soaps try not to spend more than a couple of million per episode. Disney are currently shilling out around $500m per episode of the MCU. It needs to touch a billion at the worldwide box office to keep Disney happy.
At what point does the general audience become completely confused by what is going on? More and more characters get introduced, more powers that are barely ever explained, more conflicts that are hinted at, more romances that are given just a nod.
When does the audience just totally lose the thread?
Based on the slightly disappointing $1.2bn for Civil War it looks like it may already be happening.
This is, incidentally, why CSI: Drug Miami Downtown Cop Patrol is about to be commissioned. Stories of the week are easier to follow for a mass audience who apparently have the memory span of the average gold fish swimming in suspiciously yellow water.
Screw ’em. If you can’t keep up with two episodes a year you don’t deserve Civil War.
Civil War is better than Age of Ultron.