Sax von Stroheim writes:
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.
- I really didn’t care too much for the first Avengers movie. You can read some of my observations here.