Monday, August 17, 2015

Man from U.N.C.L.E. Review

*Originally Published in the Monroe News*

The fourth in a chain of spy movies this year, Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a film adaptation of the 1960’s TV show, privileges the cool and glamour of the spy profession over the bang and sizzle of more action oriented takes on the genre. If you’re looking for high octane stunts, go see “Rogue Nation.” If you want beautiful people to make you laugh - see this one.

Pairing the American art thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), blackmailed into service by the CIA, and the Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), “The Man from Uncle” follows the ideologically opposed spies as they seek out a rogue organization manufacturing nuclear weapons. To do so, they must work with Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the mechanic daughter of the ex-Nazi scientist allegedly coerced into building the bomb. But the plot takes a passenger seat in this extravaganza of spy cool.

From the opening sequence, which pits Solo against Kuryakin against one another in a race to Ms. Teller, Mr. Ritchie takes time between action for Solo to simply be cool, shooting off one-liners and demands with swagger. Kuryakin, on the other hand, while he has his moments of cool, comes off as a hot tempered but by-the-book brute. And that’s okay, because unlike in his “Sherlock Holmes” films, the two very different agents ultimately can’t succeed without one another. They differ vastly, but compliment one another well.

While several plot twists await throughout the nearly two-hour yarn, they’re never too compelling, serving rather as vehicles for what Mr. Ritchie really wants to focus on with this film: pretty people acting and interacting. Even the primary villain is more saunter and smolder than believable threat. The movie takes place in the 1960s, but you’d never know it if it weren't for the occasional rotary phone. Everything feels so hyper stylized, from the costumes to set pieces. The period-appropriate spy score by Daniel Pemberton adds to Mr. Ritchie’s thesis of a sensory-oriented experience.

Except for an intentionally hectic multi-screen scene in the third act, the action burns slowly, again serving in a secondary role of highlighting character cool or allowing them an opportunity to exchange witty banter. Some scenes delve into the absurd in this pursuit, but they never seem out of place - a testament to the film’s consistency and self-awareness.

Like I said in my review of “Rogue Nation,” I ran to my car and tried to slide over the hood after watching Mr. Cruise's latest spy caper. After leaving “Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” I was more inclined to buy a new suit. Sacrificing narrative depth and action, this film provides ample doses of cinema glam by using and often subverting spy genre tropes.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Fantastic" this superhero reboot is not - Fantastic 4 Review

I wish I could believe director Josh Trank, best known for his over-the-shoulder supervillain case study “Chronicle,” intended his franchise reboot “Fantastic 4” to be a satire of studio micromanaging of artists. It contains the necessary ingredients: greedy military officials wanting control of the Baxter kids’ inventions and, later, their powers, baiting them with their much-needed funding.

Such a critique wouldn’t be out of place in the superhero film industry. Joss Whedon recently split from Marvel claiming a stifling of creative freedom, and the original director of “Ant Man,” Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”), who worked on the film for nearly eight years, was replaced when the film began shooting due to creative differences with the studio. It’s indicative of a problematic tension between creators wanting to push the envelope, and the studios who rely on formula to ensure box office returns and sequels.

The same tension is evident in this rendition of Marvel’s first family, the story of four children who, through a freak accident of scientific mumbo jumbo, come into the possession of super abilities. It wants to be something unique, going so far as to delay any semblance of an action scene until nearly halfway through the film, instead spending time developing a number of potentially rewarding themes: environmentalism, scientific and personal ownership, and parent-child relationships. But then the tone shifts for the second act, and while it’s not as attentive as the first, it remains redeemable until the hasty and sloppily filmed third act
As such, the film doesn’t deserve the credit of being considered a carefully constructed and thoughtful satire. The unclear thematic threads and a complete lack of narrative integrity suggest something more akin to an identity crises, either between Trank and Fox Studios or within Trank himself.

Aside from a few instances of meaningless science babble (“his biochemistry is off the charts”) the film actually actually starts out pretty well. Pacing wise, it privileges a slow and intentional burn in lieu of something more explosive as seen in the Marvel films, allowing us ample time to explore the relationships and idiosyncrasies of the major characters. Dr. Storm (Reg E Cathey) struggles to urge his children (Johnny, played by Michael B. Jordan, and the adopted Sue, played by Kate Mara), Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to collaborate for the sake of scientific progress. As they build a device that facilitates inter-dimensional travel, Reed and Sue exchange a number of appropriately awkward flirt scenes, Johnny provides sass and Victor gives the middle finger to any and all authority (literally and figuratively).

The dialogue, for the most part, is refreshingly crisp during this segment of the film. Doom comes off a little dry at first, and his more Machiavellian tendencies don’t shine like they need to in order to properly foreshadow his later detachment from humanity, but several rather thought provoking speeches and conversations establish a solid foundation of ideological tension and psychological motivation.

Sue Storm (Kate Mara) uses her powers to prevent theater goers from seeing this film 
Then tragedy strikes, causing the teens to acquire their powers, which make them seem more like monsters than superheroes at first, and properly so. Reed’s stretch powers come off as freakish as he snakes himself through a ventilation duct, Johnny's body uncontrollably erupts in flames, and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Reed’s childhood friend, is a monster cocooned in rock, slowly freeing himself one limb at a time.
Things mature in this stretch, with the stakes heightened, but the pace increases so much that interpersonal tensions seem too quickly resolved and the themes previously established soon loose their grip.

With a final brilliant scene of slow, monstrous villainy, the last remnants of Trank’s competencies extinguish, giving way to a third act that completely disregards the established themes for a short, uninspired fight scene during which Reed makes a statement no longer than a tweet that resolves all conflicts among the characters and unites them against a villain attempting - you guessed it - world destruction. It’s quick and cheap.

It doesn’t even look good. While the Johnny's flame powers and Ben’s rocky bod look alright up close, the environment is so clearly green screened that it’s distracting. It looks like cheap rock in the foreground and a Bob Ross painting behind.

The tragedy of “Fantastic 4” is that, unlike other superhero nonstarters like Ryan Reynolds’ “Green Lantern,” it possessed such potential, as demonstrated by the first act. For whatever reason, though, it collapsed, leaving viewers unsatisfied and fans disappointed. This is not an acting issue - the cast did great considering what they were given. This is a writing issue, regardless of the source, and there’s no redeeming such a fundamental weakness.

Save your money and skip this one, folks. Stay home, watch ‘Chronicle” and weep for what could have been.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation Review

This review was originally published in the Monroe News

Yet another summer sequel, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” marks terrific Tom’s fifth venture in the iconic series. Under director Christopher McQuarrie, this globe-trotting installment tosses the 53 year old Cruise into ever more breath-taking (literally) set pieces strung loosely together by a flimsy Sherlock-Moriarty styled back and forth.  

The film begins with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, the now legendary operative of the Impossible Mission Force, tracking down the mysterious (and not so cleverly named) Syndicate, an international terrorist organization made up of ex-superspies promoting war a destruction on a global scale, as villainous organizations are wont to do. However, some - chiefly the CIA agent Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) - accuse Hunt of fabricating the organization’s existence to justify his thrill-seeking hero complex. Citing the fallout from the film’s predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” Hunley succeeds in dismantling the IMF, forcing Hunt and friends to, once again, work as fugitives of their own government to dismantle yet another the global threat.

Several times the film dances around the idea of psychologically examining Hunt, a man who puts himself in ludicrous amount of danger, gamboling not just with lives, but with the security of nations, and relying on luck to win the day. But the superspy refuses to yield in his belief that the Syndicate’s leader, Lane (the creepily subdued Sean Harris) isn’t manipulating events from behind the scenes.

But we never question the infallible Hunt, and in order to validate his many high-octane set pieces, the focus quickly transitions to a more external tension between Hunt and Lane. The former obsessively attributes the world’s tragedies to the criminal genius, and the latter tolerates his potentially useful foe in classic bad-guy fashion. The relationship becomes a “I knew you knew I knew that you knew” kind of back and forth.

It’s familiar, but that’s okay. Lane’s megalomania serves for more than a few dramatic, high-tension scenes, especially when including the film’s leading lass, the cleverly named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose loyalties - while confusing - are less of a mystery and, again, more of an impetus for dramatic action.

Indeed, a cerebral thriller is not the mission you will accept when you choose to see this blockbuster. The Mission Impossible franchise is all about the crazy action, and “Rogue Nation” delivers. From high speed motorcycle chases filmed in extremely tight shots to maximize the sense of speed to infiltrations of underwater safes, “Rouge Nation” succeeds in moving butts to the edges of their seats. However, it’s the more combat oriented scenes that really steal the show. McQuarrie found a perfect balance of acrobatic speed and strategy to make Hunt seem like the most formidable guy in a  fight without breaching into the unrealistic or relying on choppy editing, a feat most obvious during a great set piece backstage of an ongoing opera.

But Hunt isn’t alone in stealing the show. Ilsa comes in at a close second, flipping around enemies like Marvel’s Scarlet Witch, though without unnecessary displays of cleavage. Appreciably, the film treats Ilsa less like a spy in a man’s world and more like a spy in a spy world. Of course she would slip off her heels when planning to get in a fight.

Beyond Ilsa and Simon Pegg’s Benji, who spends his time in equal parts on a laptop and providing a sarcastic vent amidst the crazy action, the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t get much to do until the film’s third act. Jeremy Renner plays a witty yet conflicted foil to Hunt’s obsession, and Baldwin is a serviceable CIA jerk, but it’s Pegg, with his name brand subtlety and timing, who grounds the film for the non superspy audience members.

Will you leave the theater ruminating upon the nature of men in power and those who devote themselves to stopping them? No - wait for the next Bond film for that (hopefully). Will you run out of the theater and try to slide over the hood of your car while audibly humming the classic Mission Impossible tune? I sure did. While not the smartest in the franchise, “Rogue Nation” provides a more than serviceable action blockbuster experience.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ant-Man Review

*Article originally published in the Monroe News*
In 2011, we asked how a Norse god of thunder could fit in with a science experiment and a man in a metal suit. In 2014, we wondered again about the wisdom of adding a talking raccoon and a walking tree to the mix. Both turned out rather spectacularly, yet audiences still furrowed their brows at Marvel’s newest title about a guy who can get really tiny and talk to insects.

The 12th - yes, 12th - installment of the juggernaut that is the Marvel cinematic universe and the end of Marvel’s “Phase 2,” director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man was an unexpected but inspired choice, words that define the casting and some inventive action scenes. However, even this minuscule hero can’t escape the confines of a formula that’s proven itself effective time-and-again.

The film follows Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, a mechanical engineer / free-running burglar fresh out of prison and just trying get a job and make his daughter proud. He declares a desire to stop breaking into places and stealing stuff. Then, after some failed attempts at regular employment, physicist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits Lang to break into a place a steal some stuff. That place is Pym’s old company, Pym Tech, and the stuff is the ‘Pym particle,’ a dangerous nuclear innovation that allows for the shrinking powers of the Ant-Man suit, but is - of course - capable of causing world-altering destruction. Pym’s protege Darren Cross forced Pym out of the company and plans to make a profit by selling the Pym Particle to the typical baddies. So, along with Hope Pym, Hank’s martial artist daughter played by Evangeline Lilly, the band prepares for a heist of Pym Tech.

In the same vein that Captain America: Winter Soldier crossed genres as a spy thriller in superhero spandex, so too is this film a superhero twist on the classic heist film throughout its first two acts. We see the recruitment phase, the planning phase (which doubles as the essential training montage of any superhero origin story), and the eventual heist, complete with a water-pipe entry, guard swaps, and laser grids. Sadly, though, the heist plot devolves into a Marvel-typical and rather hasty bang-boom-zap-whap fest for the last half of the third act.

Up until that flashy third act, the film spends much of its time on character and relationships. We sympathize with Lang’s desire to become the hero his daughter already sees him as while struggling just to get a job and pay child support. By the same token, Pym and Hope have to navigate the lingering scars of Pym’s distance after the death of Hope’s mom. Even Cross’ megalomania is due in part to a sense of daddy-abandonment, communicated by a mix of respectful indulgence and self-absorbed triumph. But with the inclusion of the unmemorable brawl at the end, few of these character dynamics, with the exception of Pym and Hope’s daddy-daughter issues, get a chance to really land.
There’s actually a scene in the film when Pym catches Lang finicking with the mechanics of the Ant-Man suit, which he warns him against because the small device in question is what keeps the wearer from going “subatomic” when shrinking, drifting into the quantum realm where the rules of time and space no longer apply. And Lang, in Rudd’s perfect timing, replies “Well, if it ain’t broke.”

That pretty much sums up the film’s deference to the established Marvel movie structure. You want to see Rudd change it up, and it looks like he might with a voiced aversion to violence early in the film and his grounded origin not as super soldier, space pirate, or genius playboy philanthropist, but as a struggling father with money issues and a tendency to fall back into undesirable habits when life gets hard. But, in the end, there’s the wise old voice of consumerism warning the film away from tweaking with the formula and falling into a land  low box office revenue.
Visually, Ant-Man is one of Marvel’s most innovative films to date thanks to the the Ant-Man shrinking mechanics. When Lang first tries on the suit, he finds himself on shrunken odyssey through his apartment building during which he was caught up in tidal waves of bath water, dodged the dancing feet of raving teenagers, fled a roaring mouse the relative size of an elephant, and was sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Later fight scenes including a bout in a brief case which spills into a child’s toy-laden bedroom further the Toy Story inspired technique of changing up the typical action paradigm with new views on the mundane, like iPhones and a Thomas the Train set.

And while perhaps seemingly inconsequential next to lighting wielding demigods, the use of ants in the film is actually pretty cool. Lang learns to communicate with and control four different ant species, all with their own specific talents, which are put to use in subtly creative ways throughout the film, including a providing winged mounts, covering camera lenses, and forming improvised life-rafts, bridges, and ladders.
As far as acting, Rudd is a team player, adding his name brand dry and awkward sarcasm to scenes, but generally serving in a reactionary role rather than drawing attention to himself. Douglas’ Pym, on the other hand, steals every scene he’s in, whether with a witty remark and a tearful admission. Lilly plays Hope as a hardened and determined female lead, balancing cold condescension with enough vulnerability to make the relationship conflicts that ground the film work. Corey Stoll tries so hard to make his Darren Cross equal parts spurred child and insane megalomaniac, but the writing never lets us care too much, and by the time Cross dons the Yellowjacket, he becomes little more than a video game villain frustratedly ranting at Lane. Lane’s culturally diverse gang of fellow thieves serves to provide some three-stoogy comedic relief, especially Michael Pena’s he-said-she-said scenes. But the real show-stealer in this film is Lane’s daughter, the adorable Abby Ryder Fortson, who utters innocent, awe-inducing one-liners through the gap where her two front teeth should be.

Ultimately, the film will convince audiences that Ant-Man is, in fact, cool. Heck, it will convince them that ants are cool! Novel visuals and fight scenes owing to Ant-Man’s powers mix up the traditional action movie pallet, though the attention to characters makes it okay when the people just talk to each other. In the end, this is a Marvel film, with all the humor and action associated with the name, though in this case, especially, the explosive third act is a betrayal of the better superhero-heist film this could have been. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Avengers Age of Ultron Review

by Travis Trombley

The original Avengers film narratively peaked in a brilliant panoramic tie-in shot that showcased the heroes working both independently and cooperatively while fighting off Loki’s Chitauri army. Rather than cutting to and from the heroes in isolation, the shot weaves the scenes together with devices like Iron Man zipping between locals, Hawkeye’s arrow, or some kind of launched debris. It visually represents this team of heroes finally coming together - the true assembling of the Avengers, if you’ll allow me the indulgence.

Age of Ultron opens with the same kind of grand single-shot as the Avengers attack a H.Y.D.R.A. base hidden in a European tundra. These characters are already a team. “But can they remain as such?” Age of Ultron asks.


Few sequels bore more weight of expectations than Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, written and directed by pop culture legend Joss Whedon. No small degree of 2012’s Avengers massive success was due to the simple fact of its existence. While a regular occurrence in comics and saturday morning cartoons, never before had several multimillion-dollar cinema franchises been combined into a single narrative experience. Age of Ultron would not benefit from the same novelty, and - cognizant of this - Whedon tries desperately to imbue his sequel with the humanity, wit, and contemplativeness for which he is so affectionately known.

After recovering Loki’s sceptor from the first film, Tony Stark - in the doomed fashion of Boromir wanting to use the Ring of Power to forward his own ends - convinces Bruce Banner to help him use the artificial intelligence he discovered inside the glowing, blue gem to create Ultron. The goal? A benevolent program that, when paired with his self-modeled sentry robots, would defend the earth from any future alien invasions, of course...

And while the heroes banter about in a brilliant party scene in Avengers Tower (Whedon’s wit and insight into social behavior shines in these scenes), complete with cameos from Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes and Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, an adorably romantic exchange between the awkward Banner and seductively confident Natasha, and an Arthurian-style who-can-lift-Mjolnir contest, Ultron wakes up. Voiced by the brilliantly cast James Spader, Ultron comes to consciousness immediately realizing the same syllogistic truth as every AI, like, ever...

  1. I am tasked with defending humanity.
  2. Humanity is corrupt and will kill itself and/or the planet.
  3. Therefore, I must kill humanity to protect it from itself. . . duh . . .

the-avengers-age-of-ultron-trailer-is-officially-2-9002-1414042621-1_dblbig.jpgThe appeal of the narrative, thankfully, rests not with this tired mechanic. Unlike past A.I.s, Ultron benefits from Spader’s trademark suave, more poetic and charming than cold computer. After dispatching Jarvis, the menace confronts the Avengers for the first time in the form of a broken, limping sentinel, which makes the confrontation all the more unsettling. An intimate fight scene with the plain-clothed heroes ensues, and the Pinocchio-quoting/humming Ultron steals Loki’s sceptor and sets out to build himself an army of, well, himself, thus precipitating the film’s globe-trotting plot, which consists of little more than races to resources with bouts of banter and explosions between.

As with the first installment, Whedon endows his villain with an interesting philosophical logos. As Loki touted humanity’s proclivity towards servitude and - fancying himself a god - saw himself relieving them of the chaos-causing burden of free will, the megalomaniac Ultron sees himself as a messiah of sorts, come to alter the earth paradigm. He sets up in a church and misappropriates Christ’s words (“Upon this rock, I shall build my church,” he says in reference to a stockpile of vibranium), among other biblical allusions. His goal is an indictment of the Avengers: “You want to save the world, but you don’t want to see it change.” Ultron recognizes humanity’s need for something more profound and permanent than salvation: evolution.

The villain, born out of Stark’s ambitious desire to “end the fight,” embodies the tension between Captain America and Stark. The proactive latter believes that the Avengers will eventually lose the fight unless they alter the paradigm by whatever means possible, winning the fight before it even begins. The star-spangled former champions old-fashioned teamwork to beat evil as it rises.

Ultron’s answer to the tension is simple: even if you win, humanity would eventually destroy itself anyway, so it’s best to just get rid of those pesky humans now. He accuses Stark of shortsightedness and Cap of a self-defeating identity, accusing him of being “God’s righteous soldier, pretending [he] could even exist without a war.”

This is a rebuke against the genre as a whole, not just the Avengers. These heroes are super-powered preservers of the status quo, protecting the establishment from outside interferences, and they are needed only as long as the establishment is attacked. In this, Whedon comments as much on the military-industrial complex as he does the nature of the ridiculously popular superhero film/TV genre: They promote peace, but their existence depends on the lack thereof.

And make no mistake, this is a film dense with physical conflict, much of it flawless CGI thanks to Industrial Light and Magic. The action scenes generally play out on grand scales, much like the New York and helicarrier sequences from the film’s predecessor. Hulk bounds to and fro smashing whomever and whatever he pleases, Thor fires lighting around and tosses foes with his famous hammer, Iron Man flies about loosing a variety of armaments upon enemy combatants, and Widow flips about evading enemy fire with grace, all just like before.

The stand outs here are Captain America, who retains the acrobatic power so well choreographed in Winter Soldier, though he only gets the benefit of one toe-to-toe bout with the main meanie, and newcomer Scarlet Witch, whose telekinetic powers are used in as many creative ways as the Force in Star Wars, though with more satisfying visual effects.

The aforementioned fight scene scene in Avengers Towers is one exception to the unmemorable parade of explosions and punches, probably because it relied more on traditional filming techniques than forgettable CGI. The characters needed to coordinate and scavenge for resources more so than they do in regular combat, which provided a refreshing change of pace.

Another exception: the long-awaited match between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in the famous Hulkbuster armor. Playing on the Hulk-centric moments of the first film, this scene is as full of laughs as it is gasps at impressive maneuvers and sheer destruction. Brutal, fast, smart, and funny this standout sequence demands appreciation.


Even more impressive than the amount of action in the film is the fact that Whedon also managed to fit a lot of heart into the scenes between stuff going boom.

There’s a fascinating, surprisingly tender romance woven between Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Romanoff, a born and bred warrior, admits that she finds Banner’s resolve to avoid the fight because he know he will win said fight a refreshing quality, and the adorably awkward Banner remains too conflicted about the danger his greener side can pose to the notion of a stable lifestyle, let alone a romantic partner. Theirs is a light-hearted but tragic yarn that plays on the tension through which the movie finds a much-needed change of pace and emotional center, especially when it leads to insights into Romanoff’s tragic backstory.

As already noted, Stark’s struggle to end the conflict also contributes to the film’s maturity. He takes the Uncle Ben maxim to the extreme, believing that as the world’s smartest inventor he has a responsibility to protect the whole world. Early in the film he sees a vision of a world destroyed, his friends dead. A dying Captain america stutters a few bloodied words: “Why didn't you do more.” This sets into motion Tony’s unilateral mission to save the world before it even needs saving. And when Ultron backfires, the angsty Stark, acted with equal parts charm and tragedy by Robert Downy Jr., who has perfected his character on a Captain Jack Sparrow level, vehemently defends his choices despite their obvious repercussions, asserting time-and-again that his call was the right one - his self-centered perspective the one that will save his friends. It’s his megalomania that drives the moral division of the team throughout the film. He is, to use a Stark-appropriate metaphor, the motor that propels the dysfunction that defines the stuff that happens between explosions.

Newcomers Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, each receive their own short but thoroughly rewarding story arcs. Rooted in a tragic story of survival, the twins - at first willing agents of HYDRA and later Ultron - are a frightful yet comedic pair. But they grow on you. They care about more than revenge. The speedster Pietro finds benevolence with a motif of outwitting Hawkeye while Wanda illustrates the true evolution from villain to Avenger.

Late addition Vision, voiced by Peter Bettany, the former voice of Jarvis, energizes the third act with an aloofness that rings at once hilarious and oddly religious. In terms of a physical presence, watching the android “float” as though gravity doesn’t affect him (or his cape) is more interesting than watching him shoot yellow lasers from his forehead - this guy is here for dialogue, and Whedon wanted it that way. And on that note, it’s Vision who ties the narrative together with a line at the end. With so much dysfunction and inter-Avenger strife, which serve to prove Ultron’s premise that humanity is inherently self-destructive, Vision offers a counter perspective: “There is grace is their failings. I think you missed that.” In this, Vision asserts a beauty in the Avengers’ - and by extension humanity’s - defiance of an inevitable destruction.  

In addition to heart, and in compliance with the Marvel Studios philosophy, Age of Ultron is quite funny. From the token Starkisms to more nuanced, extended jokes, the film is full of laughs. Even Ultron elicits as many giggles as he does chills. A number of running gags generate an especially large payout of laughs, such as the gang’s mocking Cap’s old-fashioned intolerance of “bad language words.”  

Like it’s character roster, the Avengers stands as hodgepodge of themes and narrative arcs, each of them given due screen time, but none of them stealing the show, necessarily. By that token, however, the attempted central thematic arc regarding the team dysfunction and supposed reconciliation receives no real conclusion. Somewhere among the booms, one-liners and isolated character moments, the Avengers decided to be a team again. In this, the film seemed to lack that encompassing narrative closure the first one accomplished so well; it seems Age of Ultron sacrificed the more dynamically rewarding ending for more meaningful mini arcs. Like I said before, Vision’s comments about human failings seem to be the best we get in terms of thematic closure.

But the nature of the genre demands a sacrifice of complexity, especially when one considers that a large portion of its target audience will be wearing Age of Ultron backpacks to school soon after seeing the film. The philosophical villain and dysfunction of the team are thought-provoking enough to satiate more intelligent viewers and to make the massive set pieces worthwhile without becoming allegorical.

As a sequel, Age of Ultron delivers. The Avengers team is the main character in the film, and the relationships mimic that. When Hulk leaves, we know he’s thinking of Widow, not Vision, and when Widow stands stoicly in the new Avengers base, we know she’s hating him for it. When Hawkeye comments about redoing the dining room, we know he’s accepting in his mind that he will fight another fight, despite his insistence that he would stop. When Stark leaves the Avengers at the end, we know he’s coming to peace with the fact that he can’t save the world single-handedly, and Cap readies to train the new Avengers, knowing that the fight which defines his life will go on. The arcs are small, but they add up to something profound enough to showcase Whedon’s attempt to create something more than world-building fodder like last year’s Amazing Spider-Man 2.