Avengers review (no spoilers): Life would be better with a big hammer


There’s one moment that sums up the spirit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe perfectly, and it involves puking. That’s not a negative. Hang with me here.

If you lived in the MCU, chances are you or someone you know would probably already be dead or maimed for life. That’s what comic book movies (and, to a far greater extent, the source material) don’t much delve into: how damn hard it would be to go about your day-to-day business in a world where dudes can drop cities on your head. In Avengers: Age of  Ultron alone, thousands of people on at least three different continents end up running for their lives as humans, robots and gods collide and hit each other with everything this side of an entire mountain range.

To its credit, AAU tries to sort out this particular conundrum, from the heroes’ side: the Avengers take a definite pro-saving-people stance in this one, which seems a deliberate reaction to the heedlessly destructive city-leveling antics of Superman in “Man of Steel.” You get the requisite dangles from great heights and kids in danger and lost puppies and that sort of thing. But there’s one moment that encapsulates the spirit of this movie perfectly.

Thor and Captain America — you know them, we don’t need introductions — rescue a couple people in cars from certain, highly horrible (albeit cinematic) death. And when they’re back on safe ground, do the people wave and say, “thank you, brave heroes!” Heck no. One of them does exactly what we would do: opens his car door, leans out and pukes his guts out.

Epic comic-book fantasy shot through with real-world elements: that’s the key to the MCU, and that’s why — against every single rational belief — the tales of a flag-wearing World War II icon, a Norse god, and an exxxtreme Robin Hood, among others have become our newest national mythology. Sure, it says plenty about America that our current heroes are recycled from half a dozen earlier sources, but it’s always been thus.

And hey, speaking of America: only Captain America gets the short end of the hammer in this flick. Which is fine; the guy’s coming off one of the best Marvel movies ever in Winter Soldier. Somehow every single other Avenger gets time in the spotlight, which is an impressive feat considering this movie also has FIVE large set-piece fight scenes.

The plot: Tony Stark (Iron Man, but you knew that) figures that if six Avengers are good protectors, an entire army — an iron shield, if you will — would keep the peace on Earth, protecting it from threats both human and alien.  And since army-building always ends in the establishment of lasting peace, the movie is about 14 minutes long.

Of course it’s not. This movie has single, dramatic punches that last 14 minutes. Stark accidentally creates Ultron, an artificial intelligence that seeks to enforce peace by imposing its will on humanity. A computer ruling over humans? That’d never happen, we laugh as we check our iPhones for the 50th time today.

When it comes to Avengers movies, you’ve always got to consider the matter of scale. Each movie has to amp up the threat exponentially. When Thor or the Hulk can belt pretty much anyone into orbit like an angry Albert Pujols, a single enemy just won’t do. So you’ve gotta throw hordes of enemies at them, piling on like angry, lethal five-year-olds.

In the first Avengers, our happy heroes faced down an invading alien army. This time around, they’re facing a killer robot, and you can imagine what the breadth of the scale is. (Hint: think about how you’re reading this.) We also know, from previous Marvel movies, that Thanos is coming, and bringing an entire universe with him, in Avengers: Infinity War, in 2019 and 2020. After that? Well, either the Avengers take on God, or they go the other direction entirely and start mediating middle school cafeteria spats.

Anyway, back to AAU. This isn’t a movie so much as a theme park ride, where you get yanked along through a series of scenes that range from intense (not one, but two different extended looping single-camera shots of the Avengers battling like hell) to funny (you do not have a single story in your life that would impress Thor or Iron Man) to surprisingly emotional. I mean, check out this scene between Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and James Spader’s Ultron:

Whoa! That’s searing right there. Anyway, the keys to this flick are Thor’s hammer and Iron Man’s tech, and as we all know, every so often you need to just smack the hell out of technology to make it do what you want. That, I think, is the message here. And it’s a good one.

Jay

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