Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the June issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last Thursday.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Just as the huge box office success of this second installment in the Marvel superhero collective franchise seems the result of the multiplier effect of having so much star power on the screen at one time, the movie’s over-stuffed plot and almost incomprehensible dialogue structure feels like an attempt to give each iconic character his or her due, as if the producers were contractually mandated to treat everyone equally. In the end, Avengers: Age of Ultron proves to be a sufficiently entertaining film while you are watching it and totally forgettable once you aren’t. Should theaters be obligated to hand out plot precis to make sure people get it all? Or is that something only critics care about? As a director, Joss Whedon has earned a reputation for making action set pieces coherent and exciting at the same time, and since he alone is responsible for the script, he has obviously gone to great pains to make the story compelling on its own merits. But some things are just unachievable. At the center is Ultron, a robot overloard voiced by James Spader that is the result of an AI program designed by Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Ultron is supposed to one day replace the Avengers as the planet’s last defense against extra-terrestrial evil, and of course the program becomes full of itself and decides it would rather destroy the Avengers just to see if it can. That’s as good a premise as you’re going to get in a superhero movie, but each character has to have a personal dramatic arc, and if those arcs intersect, so much the better. So Banner and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are given a romantic subplot that never reaches its natural conclusion, while Stark, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), and Thor aka Thor (Chris Hemsworth) engage in macho pissing contests presumably underwritten by Ultron and his familiars. On the margins is Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), whose superhero particulars have never been sufficiently explained, and the only principal character with a family to speak of. In fact, the movie takes a rather leisurely detour to visit that family in all its model American normalness, as if Whedon were afraid we’d forget these people are really human (well, except Thor). But with all the self-deprecating jokes, wielded mainly by Downey (he calls one particularly trying day “Eugene O’Neill long”), and furrowed brows, the heroes’ humanity is never at issue, only their relevance as characters. The set pieces are thus a relief, since they provide the viewer with a break from making sense of the plot, which becomes even more convoluted with the late entrance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the constant reappearance of twin beings (Elizabeth Olson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson) whose super powers are practically X-Men level in their arbitrariness. When your budget is limitless, you can hire anyone for any reason. (photo: Marvel) Continue reading