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Avengers: Age of Ultron - Spoiler-free movie review (plus free bonus rant!)

Nathan Strum


Okay... let's try this again.


After my last attempt to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was so fed-up with going to the movies, I really had no interest in trying again. But here I am, in a different multiplex, ten minutes away from my second attempt. I'm not holding out much hope, since I've since read several articles that state that movie theater chains intentionally tell their employees not to correctly change over their projectors from 3D to 2D, since it costs time and money and they don't want to train people to do it right. I guess I'll find out soon enough.


When I update this entry after the movie, I'll post some info about the other theater's response, and my response to them. Time now to post this and shut off my iPhone. Wish me luck!




(One movie later...)


If you recall from last time, I stopped short of reviewing Avengers: Age of Ultron because the projection was so dim, I literally couldn't see a lot of what was going on. I was distracted through the whole movie by how dark the picture was, as well as how low the volume was (I couldn't hear a lot of the dialog).


I wrote a complaint to the movie chain, who e-mailed an apology and offered free passes, and then put the theater manager in touch with me, who also apologized and similarly offered me free passes.


I turned them both down.


My response to them was that I wasn't interested in free passes, but rather some assurance that I was going to be able to see movies presented properly. I (admittedly sarcastically) asked Regal if they could recommend another theater, to which they replied to me to type in my zip code on Regal's website, which would find the next nearest Regal theater. Not helpful. The theater manager said that their technical support people would be investigating what had happened, and I responded that I'd like to hear the results of that investigation. However, I already knew the issue.


I linked to a couple of articles last time, but this one is better still - from the Boston Globe. This succinctly describes the problem with theater chains using Sony 4K digital projectors for both 3D and 2D screenings, without changing the setup between the two. It diminishes the brightness of 2D screenings by half, or worse. According to the Globe (and other articles), some theater chains are intentionally choosing not to change out their lenses, despite knowing the negative effect this is going to have on the projection. And yes - they do know. It would be impossible to be even remotely associated with running a movie theater (much less a chain of them) without understanding the technology behind them.


They're just choosing to ignore it, because in the end, they simply don't care. And apparently, neither do audiences. If the audiences complained enough, or stopped going, things would have to change.


But most audiences don't notice, because they don't know what they're looking at. They're there to watch a movie - not critically analyze it. If it's dark, they probably just chalk it up to "being at the movies", as opposed to say, watching the movie on Netflix on an iPad.


By going to a different theater (although unfortunately, still part of the Regal monopoly) and choosing a screen that had been running 2D all day, I had hoped that maybe I'd luck out and get a properly set up projector.


No such luck.


They were still running it with the 3D lens in place. How do I know? Well, from the Boston Globe article, "If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, thats a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place." In fact, I could clearly see the 3D lens on the projector after the lights came up after the movie. It's pretty unmistakable. The 3D lens looks nothing like the 2D lens.


So... how hard is it to change the lenses? Well, take a look for yourself. It takes about 6 1/2 minutes. And this is something that - at most - might have to be done once per day. And that's pretty unlikely since most theaters aren't going to be changing between 2D and 3D screenings during the day. Maybe on the weekend when a big movie is opening. It's not rocket science. But theater chains don't want to do it. They deem it unnecessary, because people aren't complaining.


But look at it this way - if the concession stand employees were spitting in everyone's Cokes, but nobody complained because they didn't know, would that make it okay? (For all I know, maybe that's a policy of the Regal chain, too.)


I will say this - the projection was marginally better than the other theater. Was it good? No. But it was at least tolerable. However, the incessant buzzing in the sound system was not. So I'll be writing Regal again.


And unless I find another theater to go to, this will be my last movie review. I'm done.


I was planning to see quite a few movies this year, too. Here are the ones I won't be seeing now:

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Tomorrowland
  • Jurassic Park
  • Terminator Genisys
  • Inside Out (we had a sneak preview of this at work - but I was too wiped out from our end-of-year crunch to go, now I wish I had)
  • Ant Man
  • Fantastic Four (admittedly - I probably would've skipped this one anyway)
  • Spectre
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Too bad. I bet at least two or three of those would have been pretty good. But man... I'm going to be saving a truckload of money!


So then... onto the review itself. And I will endeavor to separate my viewing experience, from the movie itself.


From the opening action sequence of the film, Age of Ultron seemed muddled. Over-busy. Jumbled. The whole opening was full of quick quips and all-too-fast cuts, with nobody getting any real focus. And really this sums up a lot of the movie for me as well. It's unfocused.


The first Avengers movie worked well because there were effectively only five Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and the Black Widow. Hawkeye spent most of the film as a brainwashed baddie. There was enough screen time to go around, and give everyone their own moments to shine.


Now though, you have all five of those Avengers, plus Hawkeye, plus Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, plus the Vision, plus various other characters (several villains besides Ultron, and a few other superhero cameos) and suddenly the movie is incredibly crowded. And all of the character moments seemed forced, too. A sort-of romance blooming out of nowhere, backstory/flashback/nightmare dream sequences that are so shallow as to give us no insight into any of the characters, a hidden double-life, the sudden (and completely inexplicable) re-emergence of a significant plot element, the sudden (and completely inexplicable) change of characters from vengeful villains to selfless heroes, forced bickering and conflicts, out-of-character behavior, and so forth. It all seemed very artificial, and did nothing to endear these characters to me. I had a hard time really caring about them, or what happened to them. And these are all characters that, in other films, I really like.


I should point out that it's not that they're particularly unlikeable, but Age of Ultron does nothing to help these characters grow. Even the worst of the Iron Man films at least moved Tony Stark forward in some way. And for my money, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is now the gold standard for what a character-driven superhero movie should be. Age of Ultron is a step backwards. They gave Hawkeye some better scenes this time around, but they almost seemed to be there to make up for him being a zombie for most of the previous movie.


Then, there's the villain. Marvel paid for James Spader, so they wanted to use James Spader. I guess they wanted Ultron to be conflicted, emotional, flawed and human. But he was too human. He was too... odd. Too funny. His face was too expressive. So expressive, it became distracting. Let me spell this out for you Marvel: Ultron is a ROBOT. For comparison, how much personality does C-3PO manage to convey without being able to even blink? Ultron's voice, at times, just wasn't robotic enough. Or angry enough. There was no menace to it. It should have sounded more like a malfunctioning computer... metallic dementia tinged with rage, like in Colossus: The Forbin Project. Now that was a scary computer.


Also, I had trouble buying into Ultron's motivation, anger, or ultimate plan (which was patently ridiculous - something which may work in a comic book, but not in a comic book movie). And speaking of the movie feeling crowded... how did Ultron (or his creators) ever find enough time to make so many copies of him? I suppose maybe his copies were making copies, but it would have been nice if it were better explained. Frankly, there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. Massive, gaping plot holes. The first Avengers movie isn't exactly a pantheon of logic, but at least Loki's motives were clear, and he was incredibly entertaining to watch. Here, Ultron is just a big, goofy disappointment. And one that is apparently very easy to repeatedly destroy, regardless of whatever super powers (or mildly enhanced abilities) you happen to have. Seriously... how does Quicksilver manage to destroy big, metal robots just by punching them, without seriously hurting himself?


There was one character who came out of the movie working very well indeed - and that was the Vision. He's kind of a weird character in the comics, and one which I wasn't sure would work in a movie, but he worked incredibly well. He had some of the better moments in the film, although his powers were largely skimmed over, so if you blinked, you wouldn't really know what he was really capable of doing. They also glossed over the Scarlet Witch's abilities, just chalking them up to being "weird". I guess a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, but a few more words wouldn't have hurt. Better still, a few less characters wouldn't have hurt.


I suppose some people are lamenting over Joss Whedon being done with making Avengers movies now, but I'm not. Frankly, I think he bit off more than he could chew with this one. Too many characters, and not enough time spent to really develop them. The major threat was hokey, the film was cluttered, the action sequences were noisy and unfocused... it just wasn't up to the standard the first film set. By the time the next Avengers films come out, I wonder if the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be so cluttered that this will become the norm? I'm already worried that Captain America: Civil War may tread that ground, since reportedly there will be quite a few characters appearing in that film. If the last Cap film proved anything, it's that sometimes smaller is better. (Smaller in terms of the character focus - the plot ramifications of course were huge.)


That said, there were some great moments in the film. The Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight was particularly fun (despite most of it being spoiled in trailers and commercials), although it was apparently shot for a different aspect ratio than what I saw it in, because the action was cropped in so tight, it made it difficult to see what was happening at times. This happened throughout the film, too. Maybe the IMAX release was better. Can't blame the theater for that one though... that's just bad cinematography.


In the end, Avengers: Age of Ultron just can't live up to its predecessor. Or really, most of its predecessors. It's not that it's bad, but it's not on the same level as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. Or The Avengers. Or Iron Man. With this one, Marvel stumbles a bit. But with $1.2 billion in box office revenue, they probably don't care.


And at least it's not a DC movie.


Avengers: Age of Ultron gets a 7.2/10. (But only because I gave Man of Steel a 7, otherwise it'd be closer to a 6.

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I mostly agree. I didn't feel anyone was really a character in this film, just automatons checking off items on a franchise checklist. Personally, I didn't like Vision. I thought his character was extraneous and irrelevant. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver similarly felt superfluous. As you said, it was jumbled, and had too many characters for any of them to get any focus. What character moments did exist felt random and strained.


It was very much like a big crossover comics event with lots of characters. No character gets any real exposure and all of them act out of character so the event can move forward. You're probably right that this is what the Marvel Cinematic Universe will look like going forward.

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