Random Thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers-age-of-ultron-trailer-comic-con-2014

I had the opportunity to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron last night, a whole four hours before it was officially supposed to be released.  I know, I know, it’s galling, such a thing.  Releasing movies early ranks among the level of software pirates, parking meter tricksters, and spree murderers on the scale of ethical lapses.  As you all know, I am a just and righteous man, so I was just going to stay home.  Unfortunately, I hang out with the wrong crowd, and my so-called friends kidnapped me and forced me to watch it.  How vile!  I am absolutely aghast that they would force me to counteract my morals like that.

But, while I’m at it, I figured I’d at least put my thoughts down on the film.  Not so much a review, no, with a film release this big, you can get those anywhere, and I like to think that people come to Lost to the Aether for something a bit different.  And also, they come here because I am so smart, handsome, and interesting.  Anyways, if you want the bottom line, I enjoyed it a little less than I did the first film, but it’s still a good movie.  Beyond that, well, here are some completely random and unconnected reflections I have on the movie.

  • So, a big change in the way the film delivers its story, whereas the first movie was all about the individuals coming together as a group, then the big, bad, world invasion, the second film breaks things down to a human level.  It’s more about how each character is as a human.  The first act sees a good amount of the team just goofing around with each other.  It’s a film about personalities, rather than the group as a cohesive whole.  The central conflict comes about because of a few character’s personal choices, the film goes out of its way to round out some of the characters who haven’t gotten much spotlight on them, and everyone gets their little moments to let their guard down and show who they are.  It’s a more human-level experience, that I think really works for the sequel.
  • Unfortunately, this is tempered by the characters still being really flat.  I think that just comes from the age we’re in.  Big budget films need international markets to find success, and deep, complex characters are a lot more difficult to effectively translate between languages and cultures.  Still makes for a worse experience overall, no matter how necessary it is.
  • Hawkeye has himself a long-term relationship.  I’m pretty sure that only came about to remove him as a candidate for Black Widow, after all the teases in the first film.
  • Instead, Widow’s with the Hulk.  I never bought their relationship.  Their actors are really lacking in chemistry.
  • For that matter, I don’t really jive with the way they handled the Black Widow in this film.  The past movies she’s been in, like the Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2, the First Avenger, she really added to it.  She had her own unique part in the conflict, she dealt with things in a unique way, and she actively contributed to the plot.  Moreover, she was distinct.  Irreplaceable.  In this film, Black Widow’s just here to be the woman.  She has two scenes offering some brief glimpses into her backstory, sure, but other than that, her point in the movie is the play the traditional feminine roles.  She’s the matching girlfriend, the emotional support, and the damsel in distress.  Her character has degenerated.  She was once a distinct figure in her own right, now she’s just the Smurfette of the crew.
  • I’ve never read an Ultron story.  I have no idea what his personality’s like.  I’m pretty sure it’s not like this.  But that’s not a bad thing.  It would have been pretty easy to have him be the big generic death robot.  Having him like evil Iron Man adds a bit more to the character.
  • I don’t think you can call something an ‘Age’ when it’s pretty much wrapped up within the week or so this film covers.
  • There’s deaths in the film.  I won’t say who or when or how, but yeah, people die.  The movie gets absolutely no mileage out of it.
  • And you know, I never thought I’d be complaining about this, but I think I’m just getting tired of the Whedonistic snark.  It’s all nice and funny when you sprinkle the dialogue with clever quips.  When everyone’s doing it, and they do it anytime anyone does anything?  It gets a little old.
  • The creators did some nice work in building some leads for future movies.  And not just the next Avengers, either.  I’m pretty sure we saw the creation of a villain for the upcoming Black Panther, for instance, and I didn’t even notice until I slept on it.

And, that’s about all I got right now.  ‘Till next time.

Machete Don’t Review

machete kills poster

Philosophical question here.  If someone deliberately tries to make a bad movie and succeeds gloriously, have they done something good?

To understand the background for the recently released Machete Kills, you have to start a couple films ago in 2007’s Grindhouse.  The directors of the film put trailers for fake movies in between each of Grindhouse’s segments, one of which for an over-the-top parody of 70’s exploitation films starring the film industry’s biggest “That One Guy”, Danny Trejo.  I imagine director Robert Rodriguez had planned to leave it at that, but the trailer turned out to be surprisingly popular, so of course they turned it into a movie.

And a wonderful movie it was.  Freed from the standard filmmaking constraints of “making sense” and “not being totally stupid”, 2010’s Machete was a celebration of wild badassery and rampant sex, forming a modern take on the blaxploitation craze while straddling the line of parody the whole way through.  Sporting more fake blood than that weird uncle of yours on Halloween and less plot sense than the ending to Mass Effect 3, Machete was such a beautifully dumb action movie that nevertheless has some real substance behind it.

So how exactly do you follow that up?  How do you make a sequel based on a joke that’s already been told?  Well, apparently, you make Machete Kills.

The obvious thing to do when creating a sequel to something where the main selling point is just how excessive everything is would be to just push the envelope even further.  Take the dials that are already at eleven, and twist them up to 15 or so.  Get the party loud enough to where you start blowing out your neighbor’s windows.  Machete Kills, on the other hand, tones things down considerably.  It’s like the neighbor comes over and politely asks you to turn your music down, and you actually listen.  Who even does that?!

But yeah, the sequel is much less extreme than the original was.  The violence is less inventive and more restrained, the sexual content is mostly gone, and many of the traditional ‘exploitation’ elements have just been forgotten.  And honestly, that last one is probably the biggest factor dragging this movie down.  While it never stops being so self-awarely redonkulous, Machete Kills does not seem to poke as much fun at its subject matter as its predecessor did.  And when you’re not being tongue-in-cheek about many of the moments presented, it just kind of creates a bit of dissonance, like you’re expecting the viewer to take some of the craziest pieces seriously.

One of the biggest draws of the first Machete was getting name actors in the most bizarre roles, and in some senses, the casting of Machete Kills may be even better in that regard.  Obviously, Danny “I can’t believe he’s finally getting a starring role” Trejo returns as the title character, with Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba also reprising their roles from the last film.  They’re joined by Charlie Sheen making a four-course meal out of the scenery as President Rathcock, Mel Gibson hamming it up as one of the primary villains, and Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas all showing up and having nothing to do with anything really.  But honestly, the stunt casting really works out well in this movie.  Gibson in particular seemed to be having a huge amount of fun in his role, more so than in any other movie I’ve seen him in.

All in all, Machete Kills seems to lack the spirit the original had.  They’re both stupid frenzied movies, to be sure, but the sequel doesn’t quite feel as personal as the previous one did.  The first Machete had a surprising amount of substance for what it was.  It was a movie with things to say, and while it said them by essentially screaming obscenities into a bullhorn, its content all worked well together, fitting the pieces into a very solid whole.  Machete Kills, on the other hand, seems much more disjointed and indecisive.  Events seem to happen randomly, the tone and themes vary wildly and drop easily, and there are a lot of characters and plot points that never seem to connect with the main plot.  That’s not to say there’s nothing of value here; there are a couple of smart things the movie does, particularly one where the ending connects with what seemed to be a throwaway gag in the beginning in such a major way.  But for the most part, it feels a lot like they were just throwing ideas out there and not paying attention to what actually worked together, rather than building a cohesive whole.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie.  It’s not.  It’s alright, if you’re into action fare and don’t mind a healthy dose of deliberate stupidity.  Problem is, it’s just not as good as the first one, and since the movie seems to operate with the assumption that you’ve already watched that movie, well, why would you not just go for that instead?

Man of Steel, Film of Crap

header-zack-snyder-on-man-of-steel-violent-flight-and-krypton-recre

 

So, let’s try and start this review off on a positive foot.  Let’s list the things I like about the movie.

1.  It sure is pretty.  The visual design is very striking. The special effects are held to a high standard, and there’s a lot of them in the film.

2.  The casting was excellent.  A lot of good, big-name actors that really fit their roles.

3.  Henry Cavill looks really, really good with his shirt off.

There.  That’s it.  That’s all the good things I have to say about the film.  Other than those, it is absolute dreck.  It is a case study in style over substance, expecting the viewer to get distracted by all the shiny, shiny visuals and completely ignore the absolute incompetence in actually delivering a film.  I didn’t like it, is what I’m trying to say.  Is that coming through at all?  There was barely any characterization, the plot was completely forgettable, and the action… well.  Let me preface this by saying I loved 300, from the same director as this movie.  I count Tony Jaa’s The Protector as one of my favorite movies, and everything in that film is delivered by fist.  I have a special place in my heart for “action porn”, those movies where the plot is just an excuse to make people’s bones break.  So, in light of that, when I say I got bored with the nonstop action in Man of Steel, you know it means something.  The introduction is bloated, while the main plot barely goes anywhere.  And the film is just joyless.  That’s the best way I have to describe it.

The problems come from the filmmakers trying too hard on half the things, and not trying at all on the rest.  Take the aforementioned fight scenes that make up most of the movie.  Sure, it was exciting at first, to see a bunch of kryptonians pounding on each other.  Yet they went on waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay toooooooooooooooooooooooooo loooooooooooooooooooooong without any progress whatsoever!   Superman couldn’t hurt the villains, they couldn’t hurt him, and neither really had much to gain from the early fights, yet they kept ineffectually slapping at each other anyway.  It was obvious they were trying to make the viewer have the feels of ‘OMG THIS IS AWESOOOOOOOOOOOME!!!!!”, what with everything that could conceivably explode doing so five times at once and the stuff that wouldn’t explode only doing so once, yet the action took forever to get anywhere, and it just got dull.  And worst yet, between the shakycam and the constantly changing camera angles, techniques that are supposed to inject energy into fight scenes, it was almost impossible to keep track of what was going on.

On the barely caring side, we can use the characterization for an example.  I was reminded of nothing more than crappy teenage fanfiction in this film.  Oh, there’s certainly nods towards developing characters, such as Superman ‘learning’ humility from his Earth dad teaching him that letting people die was more important than people knowing that somebody has superpowers, but the attempts never actually went everywhere.  Beyond that, nothing.  Superman had barely any motivation, and little character.  It wasn’t the actor’s fault, Cavill just wasn’t given much material to work with.  There was nothing to him.  He was far more of a plot device than he was an actual person.  The worst is Lois Lane.  Again, it’s not Amy Adams fault, the entire character seems to have been written like a bad Mary Sue.  She’s able to intimidate career military officers, can outgun trained soldiers, figures out who Superman is effortlessly, and the protagonist instantly falls in love with her with absolutely no development, yet she contributes nothing to the plot!  You could write her out completely, and the movie would be exactly the same.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the early drafts didn’t have Lois Lane in them at all.

And the entire film is like that.  It tries too hard with the issue of Clark Kent being accepted on Earth, and balances that out by not trying at all to have a plot beyond ‘dudes show up, superman punches them’.  It tries too hard to make the kryptonian culture seem alien, then doesn’t try at all to make its secondary characters matter.  And so it goes.  It was constantly trying to make me feel the feels that I didn’t really feel, and I was left aghast at all the obvious shortcomings.  So that’s my review.  This film is crap.

You make your own Demons:Iron Man 3 Review

iron-man-3

We write about a number of things here at Lost to the Aether.  Mostly video games and writing.  That’s two things.  Two’s a number.  It seems to me that both my writing posts and my video games posts have their own audiences, and when I write about one it tends to alienate the other.

Well that’s not good enough for me!  It’s inherently unfair!  So with this post, in a move for equality, we’re going to alienate both groups equally and talk about movies!  Besides, it’s so rare I get to talk about something topical.  We’re going to review Iron Man 3, out in theatres for a couple of days now.

The original Iron Man movie was good, momentously so.  It was one of the films that performed solidly enough to bring life to the superhero movie genre, and is one of the few superhero films to make an origin story entertaining.  Iron Man 2 took all that momentum, and let it fly away.  Let’s not talk about Iron Man 2.  Following that, Tony Stark and Iron Man stole the show with the Avengers, leading the pack in one of the highest grossing films of all time.  There’s some good legacy built up behind the franchise, is what I’m saying.  So how does Iron Man 3 hold up?  Is it a worthy successor to the films that have come before it?  Is this the life changing movie of the summer?

Continue reading