Super-Hero Fatigue is Real: My Thoughts on “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Sax von Stroheim writes:

ultron

Back in 2008, A.O. Scott wrote a think piece about how, in the wake of movies like The Dark Knight, which, according to him, took the genre as far as it could go, audiences were going to tire of super-hero movies, and they would soon be on their way out. I thought, at the time, that Scott’s argument was really bonkers: an obvious case of wishful thinking on his part. He was bored with these movies and he (like a lot of other people who considered themselves sophisticated fim critics) resented that the popular success of super-hero movies meant that he had to at least pretend to take what he saw as goofy, childish morality plays seriously. Scott projected his own boredom and resentment on the moviegoing public at large.

Scott didn’t notice (maybe because as a film critic, trapped in a NYC film nerd bubble, he had lost touch with that larger moviegoing public) that people loved these movies. And these were real people, too: not just dudes who talk about movies on the internet all day, but just plain folks who had never heard of Ain’t It Cool News. Soccer Moms and NASCAR dads were as excited about the first Avengers movie as any stereotypical D&D-playing nerd.

7 years later, though, I think Scott, or anyone else so inclined, could make a better case for us having reached peak super-hero. Not because these things have stopped making money, but because unlike with the first Avengers movie or last year’s crowd-pleasing Guardians of the Galaxy, and despite it making a ton of money, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who really, honestly liked (let alone loved) the sequel to The Avengers, Age of Ultron. I don’t know anyone who was excited by it, let alone inspired by it. People who saw it seemed to see it out of a sense of obligation.

For me, this is the first real (albeit anecodtal) evidence I’ve seen of super-hero fatigue, precisely because Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie that people should have gotten excited about. It’s easily the best of the Marvel movies, practically the only one that doesn’t primarily get by on loading the cast with charming, charismatic performers (which is not a bad strategy, by the way). The filmmaking is as good as anything Joss Whedon has done: unlike in his first Avengers movie there’s a real attempt here to give the action sequences a uniform look and feel. It doesn’t seem like each one was farmed out to a different effects house. Each action sequence is choreographed not just to show off some CGI effects, but for dramatic and thematic effect: like in a real movie.

And Whedon continues to be good at the cute stuff that he’s always been good at: using humor to undercut the more bombastic action adventure elements of the movie and bringing just the right amount of brooding, teenage angst to the proceedings. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance as a bad-but-maybe-not-that-bad guy is particularly soulful and it was a stroke of genius to cast James Spader as the voice of Ultron: his vocal work does a great job of suggesting a curdled, spoiled version of Robert Downey Jr.’s bad boy charm.

I’d argue that this is the first Marvel movie that really captures what’s great about the best Marvel comics: the sense of everyday humanity juxtaposed with incommensurate weirdness, which throws that humanity into greater relief. Anyway, it’s a really good movie, and I hope people can appreciate it for its own qualities and not just because it’s something they have to watch because it’s been forced down their throats by Marvel’s marketing machine.

Related

  • I really didn’t care too much for the first Avengers movie. You can read some of my observations here.
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5 Responses to Super-Hero Fatigue is Real: My Thoughts on “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

  1. Zimriel says:

    Most of us who watched “Guardians of the Galaxy” didn’t consider it a superhero movie. We saw it as a new Flash-Gordon that happened to be set in “the Marvel universe” whatever the heck that is. The only superpowered beings I saw were alien villains.

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    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      That’s fair enough. Still, it’s very much a comic book movie, if not a super-hero movie per se.

      I didn’t find room to mention it, but it seemed to me that the Ant-Man movie, though it didn’t make a gazillion dollars in the US, was still much better liked by people who actually saw it than the Avengers sequel. I think a big part of its appeal is that it isn’t quite a straight super-hero movie either, but rather a comic (as in funny ha ha) caper movie with some sci-fi/super-hero elements — closer to the Mission: Impossible movies than to the Batman or Iron Man flicks.

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  2. peterike2 says:

    I enjoyed the first Avengers movie, kinda-sorta. Haven’t gotten to the second yet. This inspires me.

    I was a comic book nerd in my misspent youth, and at the time I would have thrown my mother off a bridge to have all the comic book movies that we have now. I wonder if I would have received them more enthusiastically then? I suppose so. I only this week got “Guardians” in the mail from Netflix, so looking forward to that. Though the characters aren’t the least bit like the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” comics that I remember.

    Then again, I still haven’t seen the “Howard the Duck” movie, so I suppose I’m pretty behind on things. I do remember the hysteria about Howard the Duck #1, and how it was impossible to find on newsstands, and there were stories of delivery trucks being hijacked to get copies, which were selling for dozens of dollars only a few days after it was released for 25 cents. I never did get a copy. I got Howard #2 and many others after that. It was pretty weird and probably kinda creepy, but Gene Colan was an excellent artist who picked it up after a few issues.

    Oh, but I digress.

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    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      The movie Guardians are a fairly faithful adaptation of their more recent comic book incarnation (from 2006) who, in turn, have only a loose connection to the original Steve Gerber-penned Guardians stories. (Personally, I prefer both versions of the comic book Guardians to the movie, which struck me as being needlessly sentimental and pretty much half-baked after an admittedly strong opening 20 minutes).

      I love the Howard the Duck comics. A complete collection (including #1) is pretty affordable nowadays (averaging around a buck a piece or less for a full run). Colan really was pretty great, and Howard was one of two Marvel comics that really allowed him to show off what he was best at (the other being Tomb of Dracula). He was not really a great fit for their super-hero books, despite being a better artist than most anyone else drawing them there at the time.

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  3. Fake Herzog says:

    Wow. As a long-time Marvel fan and comic-book/action movie geek, I’m going to have to register a note or two of disagreement. First of all, the story supporting “Avengers 2” was a bloated mess and obvious stuff was left on the cutting room floor just to get the movie to a reasonable length (e.g. what the heck was Thor doing in that weird place with Stellan Skarsgard?) Second, I liked some of the fight scenes — others were too busy (all those robots flying around made it tough to follow the action.) You are spot on about Spader’s work — he did an excellent job. I also liked the quiet scenes at Hawkeye’s house — that was fun for me. Overall, though, the movie was too bloated and too big for its own good — and I say that as someone who was excited to see all those characters on the big screen (look, ma, there’s Vision!)

    Meanwhile, I went into “Ant-Man” not expecting much and came out with a big smile on my face. I loved that movie! Michael Pena was just amazing and Paul Rudd nailed the role. That movie, along with “Guardians”, shows that Marvel can do light hearted fun. We also know they can do dark, thanks to the excellent “Daredevil” series on Netflix (the Kingpin in that show is Marvel’s best villain to date.) I wonder with Doctor Strange if they can do weird?

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