A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

There are two distinct audiences for superhero comic book movies like The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012) and this one, its sequel. One audience is just the casual fan of action movies. The other is the hardcore devotees of the comic books on which the movies are based. Pleasing one audience without losing the other is a hard trick to pull off. The hardcore audience knows the backstories of all the characters and is likely to be turned off by any inconsistencies with the source material. But the audience ignorant of the backstories needs some exposition to get them clued in to who these people are and what they're up to. Whedon is probably the person best qualified to deal with the problem, for one thing because he brings his own hardcore devotees along with him: the fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who trust Whedon to keep them entertained no matter how complicated and absurd the storyline becomes. I don't happen to be steeped in Marvel Comics lore myself, but I've watched every episode of Buffy at least once, so I appreciate Whedon's ability to take me along for an amusing ride. He does this by not taking anything in the Avengers movies terribly seriously. As in Buffy, what you have is a bunch of characters wisecracking through the apocalypse. And fortunately, the producers have enough money to spend not only on special effects but also on a huge cast of likable actors who relish the gags Whedon gives them and have the skill to play it all with the right blend of seriousness and tongue-in-cheek. In the end, the movie seems a little overloaded with stars -- in addition to Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner, there are cameos by Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, and Don Cheadle, as well as the luxury casting of James Spader as the voice of Ultron. Keeping all of them busy squeezes the action sequences into incoherence. That may be why Whedon confessed to feeling exhausted afterward and declined to write and direct the third film scheduled in the series.

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