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June 05, 2015
Shark Bite Theatre
Avengers: Age of Ultron: More Story, Please
by Andrew E. Lindsay

I remember as a kid watching reruns of the “Batman” TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Caped Crusaders. It was campy and over-the-top, and the special effects were, well, not very special and not very effective. But at least we could see our superheroes brought to life on the television screen.

Later, Lou Ferrigno donned a lot of green body makeup to help us believe that Bill Bixby’s Dr. Banner was transforming into the raging, growling, smashing “Hulk.” A decade and a half after Batman, the camp was less intentional, the drama was heightened but not really believable, and Lou Ferrigno was pretty buff compared to Bixby, but not really hulking by comic book standards. But at least we could see our superheroes brought to life on the television screen.

About the same time, Christopher Reeve made us believe a man could fly when Superman showed up on the big screen. Special effects were getting better, yes, but most of it now looks pretty dated, even silly. But at least we could see our superheroes brought to life on the silver screen.

And so it went, and so it goes. A cinematic holy grail, of sorts, for comic book nerds and special effects geeks, to represent faithfully and believably on a movie screen what had always been relegated to the lowly comic book page. On paper, heroes can do anything the writer and artist can conceive.

For a dime, or a quarter, or a dollar, or four bucks (depending on when you grew up), you could embark on a tale of action and adventure where your imagination worked to fill in the bits between the frames and make the magic real and believable.

But translating that magic into movies and TV shows always fell short. But not now; now you can do anything. Literally anything.

And the new Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is quite full of anything. Anything super you can imagine has been chucked into the super soup. For 141 minutes, there is so much super activity going on that you almost forget that movies live and die by their story lines, not by their star power or by their incredibly expensive special effects.

So you probably think I didn’t like the movie. I liked it fine; I just want more. Not more special effects. More story, more substance.

For starters, the plot seemed strangely familiar, like I’d seen it before. Because I had: In the first Avengers movie. You know, a horde of alien bug things were swarming into our airspace in an ultimately futile attempt to eliminate humanity. In the new film, we’ve replaced the alien bug things with sentient android things who are, surprise, also intent on wiping out humanity.

We’ve got some familiar friction between our motley crew of heroes, but, as is to be expected, they stick together when it matters the most. This does make for some delightful, bantering dialogue and funny barbs, which help to break up the endless action scenes. As in never-ending.

I don’t know when these super folk ever get time to nap or use the toilet, because everything is in a constant state of chaos and commotion. Even for the super class, this has to be exhausting.

I rather enjoyed James Spader’s voicing of Ultron. I realize he tends to be rather polarizing as an actor, but his oddly syncopated vocal pacing was slathered in equal parts honey and poison, which has a similar effect of enjoying being crushed to death by an anaconda.

An interesting departure from the first movie, and apparently a direct response to it, as well as (probably) the most recent Superman film, was the decidedly overt effort to minimize the collateral damage during their constant, epic battles. Great effort was spent to make sure we saw how careful they were to preserve human life, as well as the homes and businesses and property of said humans.

That’s good, of course, but it was such an obvious contrast from the first film when they took out several square miles of Manhattan without any real awareness of the mere mortals who were forever in their line of fire that it sort of became its own distraction.

There was also a tender, family-focused moment for Hawkeye, which helped frame the whole “let’s make sure we don’t forget about the little people” theme mentioned above. It was sweet, it was honest, and it was one of the very rare moments where the film slowed down long enough for us to get our bearings, catch our breath, and remember why we cared about any of this.

There were also some genuinely funny moments, my favorite being when all of the Avengers were at a party taking turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a great comic moment that also reveals much about the character of our characters.

So the movie makers have taken up the long-standing gauntlet and met the challenge. We have finally made superheroes visually real, believable, and mesmerizing in their limitless superness. Superhero movies are no longer shackled by technical difficulties or tiny budgets or gaping holes in the fabric of suspension of disbelief. Mission accomplished: it all looks real.

So now I would like to throw down the gauntlet and challenge the movie-making wizards behind the curtain to use their powers for good and not just for making bank. Write stories that hold up on their own and stop relying on the sheer awesomeness of your special effects vault to keep us in our seats for a couple of hours.

I suppose that superhero movies have become sort of the western of today. In the 1950s, westerns were everywhere, or at least anywhere they could wrangle up some ponies and some ten-gallon hats.

But, looking back, most of these oaters are pretty forgettable. Not because they didn’t have ruggedly handsome cowboys and beautiful horses, and not because there was any shortage of gunfights and guys getting shot off of balconies and such. They’re forgettable by the hundreds because they foolishly followed a familiar formula and forgot to write a story anyone cared about.

Stagecoach, High Noon, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. These movies hold up, decades later, because they told stories people care about, and not because of their star power or their special equestrian budgets.

So take a note, superhero movie makers, before your own genre rides off into the sunset of forgotten films.


Copyright © 2019 by Andrew E. Lindsay Printed from NauvooTimes.com