So the girlfriend and I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron over this past weekend. In short, this is what I thought of it:
- Not enough of the stuff I liked: character development, conversations between characters, motivations for why they do what they do, etc.
- Too much of what I don’t: Giant action set pieces, destroying whole cities with little or no consequences, and good luck keeping track of who everyone is and what they’re doing.
Let me break this down a bit more, because I think this highlights a lot of the problems that we’re experiencing with comic book movies as they become more and more popular and lucrative.
The too much of what I don’t is pretty easy to figure out. It’s become a growing (pun not intended) problem with these movies as they progress. Too much time spent on these action pieces that are almost indecipherable sometimes. Can you really keep up with all these different people fighting through a whole city? I didn’t think so either. And it’s not just this movie that’s guilty of it. Putting aside the fact that Zach Snider really has no idea whatsoever about what Superman is really about, does anyone really think that there would not be repercussions for most of Metropolis basically being leveled at the end of The Man of Steel? And putting aside the fact that Christopher Nolan turned one of the best superheroes ever written into a one super dour note guy by the time we got to The Dark Knight Returns, they more or less turned all of Gotham into a prison! In the real world, no government would have let that happen.
There are plenty of reasons we could look at for why this happens. A lot of it has to due with international audiences, I’m sure. Stuff doesn’t always translate away from English all that well, but everyone speaks the language of explosions. That’s part of it, but I think the fanboys are the real reason we’re here today.
People forget this by now, but when it was announced that Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the 1989 film, the fanboys were angry as hell about it. They’re letting the guy who did fucking Mr. Mom be the Caped Crusader? What the hell is that shit?? Yet, the 1989 Batman movie was a revelation that picked up the baton that the Superman franchise had dropped and pushed comic book films into the stratosphere. If that wasn’t bad enough, fan boys are still angry about the retconning of the Joker’s back story. They dared change an iota of Bruce Wayne’s backstory? That’s fucking heresy. Forget that the change made the whole thing more compelling, not less. I think you get what I’m saying.
I understand the desire for some fanboy service in these movies. If you don’t do that, you end up with Batman & Robin and George Clooney is the caped crusader with BatNipples in his Batsuit. I’ll never understand the thought that went into those meetings, but I think everyone involved with that movie wishes it had never been made. The problem is when you surrender completely to the fanboys and offer up some sort of orthodoxy that these kinds of movies cannot really sustain. Even when you go with a mostly original story like they did in Age of Ultron, fanboy service must be met and it changes the tone and effect of the movie.
Instead of tearing up a whole town, give me more of the interactions between the characters. That scene where all of the Avengers, plus Falcon and War Machine are at the party trying to lift up Thor’s hammer? Give me 45 more minutes of it. I would have loved to hear more of the banter that would have surrounded that. Playful insults and injokes and innuendo. That would have made for great fun. After all, it could be you and your friends sitting around a table joking around, except that there’s a Norse god, a billionaire, a 100+ year old super solider who still looks under 30, and a few other interesting characters involved. Tell me that would not have been better than the appearance of the Hulkbuster and demolishing half of a city just to more or less say that they got the Hulkbuster into one of these movies? I thought so.
While we’re at it, give me more of that Banner/Romanov… uh… whatever that was. They could have done so much more with it, but didn’t. Maybe it’s because fanboys are scared of girls and fear romance? Who knows.
More than anything, give me tons more of Tony Stark’s broken psyche. There’s a lot of fertile ground there. The actual Iron Man films did a decent job exploring some of this (including daddy issues in the 2nd one; if my daddy was Roger Sterling, I might have some issues as well), and there are some scenes here where we can tell that Tony was very affected by what happened at the end of the first Avengers. That’s super interesting stuff in the right hands! And Joss Whedon was those hands! But, still, nope, need to make room for another robot being blown up super easily.
I think it may be time for comic book movies to rein it back in a bit. Take on smaller stories and let the characters shine through. I say this because both a good superhero and a good villain are more defined by their internal shortcomings and fallacies than just oh look I’m the bad guy, and he’s the good guy.
In the end, though, these movies keep making obscene amounts of money, which will make studio heads decide there is more and more need for bigger set pieces and more action. And it is only we, the fans, who end up losing out the most in the end.