SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING DISCUSSION CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVE YET TO SEE THE MOVIE.
JIM DOOM: So I remember being in the parking lot outside the theater in Bellevue after seeing the Hulk, or Incredible Hulk — whichever one was part of Phase 1 — thinking, “This is going to build up to an Avengers movie someday, but that is so far away.”
And now not only did that happen — they’ve done it again.
So now that we’re at the conclusion of Phase 2, I’d like to ask you this question kind of in two ways — how are they doing in terms of the movies, as in, what are your top-level thoughts on Avengers 2, and how are they doing in terms of the long-form universe-building?
DOOM DELUISE: It’s interesting that you put it that way, and I want to get back to making a point about the phrasing of that question, but, to just go ahead and answer it, I think they’re doing a pretty great job on both fronts. When it tips too strongly toward ignoring the long-form storytelling (Iron Man 3), it’s obviously not a very good thing (though I personally loved that movie), but the same can be said for when it goes the other way (Iron Man 2).
But the Avengers movies are in a really weird, never-before-seen-in-movies spot, in that they have to blow off an entire “Phase” of movies, but they also have to lay the groundwork for not only the next “Phase,” but also the next chapter of Avengers movies themselves.
That’s not much of an answer. I think Avengers 2 struggles with this problem, and it probably is the number one strike it has against it, as I feel it sometimes spends too much time trying to shoehorn in stuff for what’s coming next.
That said, it still delivers a really great movie, and I loved it.
JIM DOOM: And I may have stacked the deck too much with that question, because that’s the thing I’ve been wrestling with as I think about it.
Want to go into what you wanted to say about that question before I go into what I’m thinking?
DOOM DELUISE: Sure. I think it’s not only a struggle for the enjoyment of the movies for the audience, but, based off what little I’ve heard about the behind-the-scenes stuff for these films, I think that Marvel Studios is pushing full-on for long-form universe-building, while individual directors are trying to tell strong stories for the actual movies they’re in charge of, and I think it’s leading to a lot of conflict, which might be a big reason why Joss Whedon is out as director of the next movie. Well, that, plus lots of other reasons. But at least that’s my read on it.
JIM DOOM: I’ve really been marveling at…
DOOM DELUISE: Oof.
JIM DOOM: I just realized what I said.
I’ve really been impressed by the universe-building so far. But Avengers 2 made me think, “Ok, it’s gone a little too far now.”
There were little things about the movie that I didn’t really care for — choices I would’ve made differently — but I could understand why they were made for the sake of the long-term story.
So I’m probably a little cooler in my overall review. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure I’ll see it again, but for me the plot worked more on paper, almost like part of a formula, than it did on the screen.
It really felt saddled by its subsequent-film obligations and wasn’t able to be a standalone classic like I felt Avengers 1 was.
So — let’s run through the usual routine of things we liked and didn’t like. Starting with — you say you loved it, and that’s pretty high praise — what about it pushed it so high for you?
DOOM DELUISE: I guess it’d be really easy at this point to sort of accept that what we’re seeing on-screen is sort of standard fare, since we’ve seen these characters played by these actors so many times before, but I was sitting in the theatre behind a couple of little boys with their parents, and so I think I subconsciously had it in the back of my mind the entire time I was watching it to think about what it’d be like for me to see this when I was 12.
So I was just kind of in awe the entire time. While it isn’t anything particularly NEW, we still get to see THE AVENGERS fighting ULTRON on a GIANT SCREEN.
If you want me to get more specific, I can, but, overall, I think it’s worth pointing out that this is an amazing time to be a fan of comics and movies, watching these things come together.
JIM DOOM: True that.
I read Iron Man in the comic books now with Robert Downey Jr.’s voice.
In my head, that is.
DOOM DELUISE: Otherwise, I really like that they give Hawkeye more TV time to show the people how great he is, and I loved the moments where the Avengers got to just interact. When they’re given room to breathe, and they get to have character moments between each other, it doesn’t get much better than that.
JIM DOOM: Yeah — that is so true. There’s not really a weak link in the bunch. They’ve assembled an incredible group of actors who pretty easily fit into their roles as those characters, as opposed to feeling like their respective celebrity alter-egos.
The character stuff is so strong.
DOOM DELUISE: Totally. And Vision. Oh my goodness, that gave me chills.
JIM DOOM: Okay, since you brought up Vision, and since we both felt pretty positively about this movie, I want to go into one of the things I didn’t care for.
DOOM DELUISE: Go ahead. [makes jerk-off motion]
JIM DOOM: I’ll state up front that this is one of the things that makes sense from a big-picture, extend-the-franchise sense, but I thought made for a weaker standalone movie.
Ultron made the point early on that people create the things that ultimately destroy them, because in these creations, they’re giving life to the things they fear.
I saw this as a wonderful setup to his pure creation rebelling against him — so maybe his personality, when bonded with actual living tissue, sees the value in life, in trial and error, in growth, etc.
And Vision — by nature of fulfilling Ultron’s dream of evolution — rejects Ultron’s plans.
To me, that’s the meaningful outcome. That’s the dramatic irony.
Not taking Ultron’s half-finished creation, demonstrating that the heroes haven’t learned from their mistakes at all and instead will repeat their mistake, but this time it’s going to work out.
Because Thor hits the box with his hammer.
Now this fits into another thing I didn’t care for, but I understood why they did it.
I think you have to protect the gimmick of Thor being the only one who could lift his hammer.
I thought it was an awesome touch that Thor winced a bit when Captain America tried, because you could see he was thinking, “Uh oh, if anyone can lift it, it might be this guy.”
Great character moment that got both of them over huge while protecting the gimmick of the hammer.
I thought it was all cheapened when Vision was able to lift it. Mega-cheapened.
However, their mega-plot insistence on making Vision’s life possible through the mind gem required them to establish Vision’s worthiness.
Otherwise we’d be like, “Holy crap, why is everyone cool with this godlike character just walking around with the mind gem?”
But they took care to establish that it’s cool guys — he was worthy of lifting the hammer.
So it was good attention to detail that established what I’m sure will be an important plot point later on, but at the expense of two things for me:
1. The irony of Ultron’s demise, which ended up becoming much less ironic and therefore much less meaningful, and
2. The gimmick of Mjolnir, and the reinforcement that only Thor is worthy.
DOOM DELUISE: Well, Thor and Beta Ray Bill and Storm and Thunderstrike and Loki and Odin and Captain America…
JIM DOOM: Those weren’t good ideas either.
DOOM DELUISE: No, I’m kidding, but the gimmick is intact here in the movies, and you’re right.
You’re absolutely right.
JIM DOOM: So again, I totally see why they did it, and I think it was good attention to detail. But I don’t know if it was worth the cost, and I think they could’ve found a different path.
It’s symptomatic of what I see as kind of an overthinking of the movie. It flows very logically.
But I feel it lacks much of the heart of the original.
Another example: Ultron’s master plan.
The whole idea of manufacturing a meteor to create an extinction-level event makes a lot of sense.
Build the meteor, lift the meteor, drop the meteor. It mechanically made sense and it fit Ultron’s character really well.
But I just kind of groaned at it. It was so much spectacle, so logically constructed, that it lacked the emotional resonance I hope for.
Movie 1’s big bad villains probably made a lot less sense on paper, but something about the way the spectacle there happened just felt much more sincere and emotionally connected.
I realize I’m speaking in vague intangibles, but sometimes in art, the thinking is all there but things just don’t click and there’s really no good reason why.
DOOM DELUISE: Well, I think a lot of the emotional resonance of a massive extinction-level master plan is naturally tempered by the fact that we know what’s coming next. We know that all of the main actors are signed on for Civil War. Unfortunately, it’s a byproduct of this sort of storytelling.
When you know that the plan is doomed to fail before it even starts, it becomes less interesting, of course. The same was true(ish) for the first movie, but it was visually easier to follow the action in the first movie, and there were fewer moving parts to it (and, obviously, fewer characters), so it connected a little better for several reasons.
Until they brought out the lifeboats at the end here, I honestly couldn’t tell what was happening, if the action was taking place on the rising rock or on the surface.
When you get caught up on those details, it can very easily negatively impact the way the movie connects, overall.
JIM DOOM: Also I can’t believe I’m saying this, particularly in the post-Man of Steel era, but as much as I appreciated the attention to and prevention of civilian casualties, they almost beat that subject to death.
I think the important thing to show is that these heroes are considering that issue.
Show us that a couple of times — get it established — and I think we’ll be good.
DOOM DELUISE: Yeah, but I think they were purposefully taking a pot-shot at DC with that. You’re right, they went overboard, but it was to give Man of Steel the middle finger.
JIM DOOM: But you raised a good point about the consequences. Obviously Ultron won’t successfully destroy the earth. But there could be some micro-level losses, and that’s what they’re left to deal with.
And I started to grow to resent the Hawkeye red herring.
They seemed determined to convince us, over and over, that Hawkeye wasn’t coming home.
I liked that Hawkeye got more screen time, but come on — a good portion of that was solely to build misdirection.
The Hawkeye/Scarlet Witch scene on the battlefield was top notch.
And the stuff on the farm was fun and led to some great moments.
But really — was there a reason to give Hawkeye a family other than to tease that he would die?
DOOM DELUISE: I think you’re right, but they basically had three options with regards to Hawkeye:
1. Keep him in the same role as the first movie, reaffirming that he doesn’t really belong with the rest of the team.
2. Build him up by establishing some backstory and giving him more stuff to do on screen, so that we firmly buy him as a strong asset to the rest of the team.
3. Build him up by establishing some backstory and giving him more stuff to do on screen, so that his death means something to the audience.
There are probably more, but those are the three main ones.
They were trying their damnedest to elevate him, and it’s hard to do that without also making the genre-savvy audience think you’re setting up his death.
JIM DOOM: I’m guessing you’re contending that option 2 is what happened, but I don’t really think that happened.
He didn’t have a backstory — he had surprise elements tacked on.
And it didn’t do anything to make him more of a team member.
And there were far too many references to him promising to come home to say that it’s just an unfortunate consequence of audiences being genre-savvy.
That wasn’t us seeing a formula — that was the audience being fed something.
DOOM DELUISE: It was heavy-handed, sure.
JIM DOOM: I think the Scarlet Witch scene was a great example of how you could build Hawkeye up without having to tack on the awkward secret family.
DOOM DELUISE: Well, I don’t think that the surprise of him having a secret family necessarily comes across as cheap. I think it says a lot about his character.
JIM DOOM: That doesn’t make Hawkeye more compelling to me.
His character so far has been the loyal soldier. We don’t really learn anything about him other than he has kids.
DOOM DELUISE: And a wife!
JIM DOOM: And he’s exposed his secret family to a known double-agent.
The Hawkeye story for me isn’t, “Hey guys, I have a secret family!”
The story is in scenes like the Scarlet Witch scene, where the loyal soldier who has spent his life following orders also shows that he has some awe-inspiring ingenuity and leadership quality. He’s more than the order-taker; he’s rising up to develop the next generation.
I think that’s a pretty great turn for that previously relegated character.
But it’s an arc that can’t be completed because he also retires to live on the farm with his genetically modified stomach.
DOOM DELUISE: Well, I think it’s an arc that completes itself the moment Scarlet Witch joins him in battle.
JIM DOOM: I swear there had to be a payoff to the genetically modified stomach that must’ve been stricken with a rewrite. That kept coming up!
I thought maybe he was going to break open, or Ultron could tap into his skin, or something.
There was no payoff at all for the oft-mentioned genetically modified stomach.
DOOM DELUISE: Let’s hope there is in this review!
By the way, now that we’ve talked a bit about Scarlet Witch, what did you think of the twins in this thing?
JIM DOOM: They grew on me. I was sad to see Quicksilver go, but for cleanliness sake, it’s probably good to not have the guy existing in two universes at once.
I thought Days of Future Past had a much better spotlight scene on his powers than Avengers 2 did, though I got a kick out of the use of Mjolnir in that segment.
I thought they got around the lack of mutations in the Avengers universe pretty cleanly, following the rules they’ve set up regarding the infinity gems.
DOOM DELUISE: I like to think that Joss Whedon has been really busy the past couple of years, working on this, and so he was finally able to sit down and watch Days of Future Past this weekend, and when it got to the Time in a Bottle scene, he just shut his TV off and said, “Well [bleep].”
JIM DOOM [laughing]: No doubt!
And who knows, maybe he didn’t even try. Because how do you do a kickass Quicksilver scene without just ripping that off?
DOOM DELUISE: Good point.
JIM DOOM: So maybe the “ooh!” grab Mjolnir, get launched, was the next best option. I laughed at that.
DOOM DELUISE: I like that Quicksilver is gone, honestly, but for a different reason than your reason.
There were a lot of moments in this movie where Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were sort of just standing off to the side, awkwardly hugging each other or holding hands, and it kept reminding me of their roles in the Ultimate Universe, and I kept getting mad for thinking about that, so, in that sense, I’m glad he’s dead.
JIM DOOM [laughing]: I don’t even remember them in the Ultimate universe!
DOOM DELUISE: It was during Loeb’s run. He made them incestuous.
JIM DOOM: Oh man.
Well, thankfully I forgot that.
DOOM DELUISE: Didn’t Blob eat one of them, too? I forget.
JIM DOOM: No, Blob ate Wasp.
I thought those two characters — the twins — were actually really well done though. I liked their motivation and their turn.
I thought that was all handled really well.
DOOM DELUISE: I did too. No, I did, distractions aside.
JIM DOOM: Oh and another thing I really liked was the establishment of the New Avengers.
That’s surely something that is required for Civil War, but I thought, “How awesome is this that they have done such a good job of elevating their second tier of characters that I would actually be excited to watch a movie with this team of Avengers?”
DOOM DELUISE: That is pretty awesome, yeah.
JIM DOOM: I knock on this movie for what I see as getting a little too tangled in the universe building, but I don’t want to get too far off the fact that there’s still some pretty freaking amazing universe building going on.
I’m guessing when we sit down and watch all four Avengers movies, this will feel just fine in the middle.
I just wish it also functioned as well as a standalone.
I think about my complaints and then I look at things like the Suicide Squad photo.
Marvel just set the bar really high.
DOOM DELUISE: There were some off parts of this movie, to be sure, and I can’t really disagree with any of your points (even the Hawkeye ones, really), but I think that the good still so far outweighs the bad, for me, that I’m willing to overlook any flaws and see this for what it is.
There’s barely any way it could have lived up to the first Avengers movie, but they still created an amazing second episode in a four-part story that is absolutely worth the money it costs to see it. Plus, who would have guessed in 2003 that we’d see a movie where Vision flies across the screen whilst holding Scarlet Witch in his arms, and that movie would be the most popular movie of the year?
JIM DOOM [laughing]: No doubt.
And I want to be clear, the good far outweighs the bad for me, too.
But I don’t necessarily agree that they couldn’t have made a movie as good as Avengers, because the flaws in this seem to be easily correctable to me.
It’s a movie that plays out feeling like it’s serving too many masters, but even with all of that, it’s still an awesome effort, bringing to life characters and storylines in a way I don’t think any of us could have ever dreamed of before 2000.
Your point early on was so right — we’ve got it really good.
DOOM DELUISE: Small nitpick: They iced out Wonder Man.
JIM DOOM: Oh yeah, what’s his origin again?
Is Vision a clone of him?
DOOM DELUISE: Yeah.
JIM DOOM: Man, Wonder Man would be such a great spin-off character. His solo movies would be so good.
DOOM DELUISE: I would love to see a movie about a struggling actor in Hollywood who also happens to have nearly uncontrollable ionic powers.
JIM DOOM: Anyway, to wrap this up, I wasn’t as high on it as you, but at the same time, there was also nothing about this movie that made me less excited for what is to come.
These are incredible movies that have so much respect for the characters and more importantly they have respect for themselves, so they’re really willing to own who they are and what they’re doing. I think that’s so crucial to this success.
Civil War is going to be amazing.
The Infinity War is probably going to be amazing.
My critiques of this movie are easily categorized as “things it got bogged down in setting up subsequent chapters” but I am incredibly excited for those chapters it has set up.
I mentioned in our initial chat that this movie felt like a transitional champ to me. Sometimes you just need a transitional champ.
DOOM DELUISE: Believe that.