Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Toaster's Ramblings - Avengers: Age of Anxiety!

We are now less than 2 months from what is arguably the second most anticipated film of the year (some might debate that with Star Wars Episode 7). I am excited of course. I am a total geek, have seen every Marvel movie is theaters to date (note that by this I mean Marvel Studios, I skipped Elektra because it looked terrible). So there is that anxious 'waiting for Christmas' type of feeling waiting for May 1st.

That said, I am worried about Age of Ultron. I touched upon this briefly a couple of months ago, but I thought I would go into it a bit more. I am afraid there will be too much going on and too little time to do it in. Plus it seems to build into the "phase 3" of the Marvel movie-verse master plan. That doesn't sound too bad right there, but when you expand the details, the task seems pretty daunting.

First, you have a ton of new characters to introduce. So far it seems we have Baron Strucker, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Ulysses Klaw (the character Andy Serkis is rumored to be playing), Vision, some random mystery characters from the trailers (the disrobing woman in the caand of course Ultron. Now not every character here needs much of a time investment. I figure Klaw will be a brief cameo. Strucker will likely get the Batroc treatment from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as in he's a big deal for the first fifteen minutes of the film. However, the rest need some real time to explain and develop. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision will probably all become prominent Avengers (based on the comics). Vision will need an entire origin story along with Ultron!

Second, let's get into Ultron for a bit. Ultron is completely new to the film universe. In the first Avengers movie, Loki already had been introduced in Thor and established as a bad guy. This allowed less time to be spent on explaining him and more on the formation of the Avengers team. This luxury is not afforded to Ultron. We not only have to establish who he is but where he comes from and why he's a threat worthy of an entire team on heroes. Also, consider this... in the first Avengers movie, Joss Whedon really nailed the Loki character. It established him as a true super villain, something that Marvel films had been and continue to lack. In order for Ultron not to seem like a flash in the pan baddie (like Whiplash, Red Skull, Malekith or Ronan), we need some real time invested into him, with major scenes and huge moments that make him memorable.

Third, you still have six established Avengers team to spend time with. Obviously, Iron Man will get his spotlight in the overall story, but Captain America and Thor have to have their screen time. Plus, you still have Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, who received the weakest amount of screen time in the first Avengers and... aside from a cameo in the first Thor movie, has never been in any other film. So, not only do you have the six established heroes slugging it out for screen time, but from the trailer we also see Iron Patriot, Agent Hill and Nick Fury all show up at some point. So that's at least nine established characters returning for the sequel and six new ones!

Can you see what makes me a little weary? Put it this way, both Spider-man 3 and the Amazing Spider-man 2 were criticized with being too cluttered with old and new characters that sacrificed the overall story. Spider-man 3 only had three new characters (Sandman, Venom and Gwen Stacy) to add to the established Spider-man, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn (not including cameos from Aunt May and J Jonah Jameson). Excluding cameos, Amazing Spider-man 2 had to add Electro, Rhino, Norman Osborn and Green Goblin to the story that already had Spider-man, Gwen Stacy, Peter's dad and Aunt May.

Fourth, Age of Ultron seems to be trying very hard to create new movie franchises during it's run time. If the rumors are to be believed, many new characters might be featured as cameos to help try to fill out the Marvel Films universe before Civil War and to promote new franchises like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange. The fatal flaw of Amazing Spider-man 2 was the fact that Sony was clearly more interested in pushing their Spider-man movie-verse agenda than actually telling a compelling and interesting story. There are ways to insert new characters in a brief manner that will pique the audience's interest. The trick is to use fine brush strokes. You can't be forceful, or else it stops being 'fan service' and just becomes obvious desperation. If Avengers 2 becomes too crowded and jumbled with introducing new characters, cameo or otherwise, it will suffer the same fate as Amazing Spider-man 2.

Fifth, Avengers 2 is clearly a transitional sequel. By this, I mean that the movie is being used to build the next part of the story. Usually, transitional sequels tend to... not be very good. Look at Matrix: Reloaded. Now, quickly look away lest your eyes burn! While the first Matrix film was a stand-alone story, Reloaded was a mess, an obvious cash grab with a plot that I still don't completely understand. Now compare that to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. 'Empire' was a transitional sequel, but an excellent one that focused on character development and told a compelling story. Yes, it paved the way for Return of the Jedi, but unlike Reloaded, it left it's mark... more memorably that 'Jedi' did to be honest.

The first Avengers was a stand-alone film. It had it's own self-contained story that felt like a true culmination of all of the preceding films into a massive end-all-be-all over-the-top climactic battle. Avengers 2 is clearly building toward Captain America: Civil War, which worryingly has been building more hype as of late than Age of Ultron, a film that hasn't even been released yet!

To be fair, I have a lot of faith in Joss Whedon. Not only does his television biography speak for itself, but he made the first Avengers work on a huge level, making it the first superhero super-film. I hope that he has crafted a good story that gives the proper attention to the veteran Avengers while helping establish Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Ultron in the process. I hope the any other character cameos are kept reasonable and brief. Based on the trailers, it seems like Age of Ultron has that Empire Strikes Back feel to it... characters forced to face their shortcomings, a splintering of the group and high prices to pay for fighting the 'good fight.' Such themes have made for some of the greatest sequels of all time, such as the previously referenced Episode V, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Dark Knight and even Godfather II (though that last one wasn't exactly about fighting for the angels).

Hopefully Age of Ultron will be Joss Whedon's 'The Empire Strikes Back' and not another disappointing ill-conceived cash-grab sequel.

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