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Friday, February 7, 2014



EDITORIAL: Here’s Why THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON Isn’t Going To Be the Bloated Mess You Think It Will Be



If you’ve been hearing all the news around the web, Marvel’s just added Paul Bettany to The Avengers: Age of Ultron’s roster and there’s a floating rumor Ms. Marvel might be part of the team, as well. If you’re counting, that means that these two characters will be joining Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Nick Fury, Iron Patriot and (maybe) Falcon in the sequel to the biggest superhero movie of all time.

So, how is this film not already over-capacity? What separates this movie from early critiques of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Days of Future Past, and Batman vs. Superman? At first glance, not a single thing. Looking at the previous films, however, there's a different story.

First up, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. If you’ve seen the trailers, you already know there’s three primary baddies fighting for Spider-Man’s attention. Combine that with a Gwen Stacy romance subplot, a who-was-my-father subplot, a new-best-friend-who-becomes-my-greatest-villain subplot, and the general this-character-needs-to-grow sprinkles and you’ve got a hell of a lot of movie. Just all that information can be dizzying, so it makes complete since that the preconceived notion of this movie is going to be an explosion of convolution. That the first film was heavily cut and unable to adequately juggle more than one story at a time is a fair warning sign, as well, despite the change in screenwriters. If The Amazing Spider-Man couldn’t handle its own weight, you’d be forgiven to think the sequel won’t as well.

Now, how about Days of Future Past? Let’s make one thing clear: the X-Men movies don’t suffer from being “overstuffed.” Granted, your favorite X-Men characters may not get more than ten minutes in the spotlight, but practically every X-Men movie handles plot really well. They’re normally very focused, structured films. They’ve also always had two (three) stars: Wolverine and the Professor X/Magneto dynamic. Everyone else? Jean, Mystique, etc... they’re playing a big second fiddle. The movies are always aware of this, so while you may groan at the films for being Wolverine vehicles (and I do, too), in reality, they’re doing what they’re doing exceptionally well (while still giving the side characters some busy work).

Days of Future Past, however, is taking an enormous step with its storytelling. Simply put, the stakes have never been higher, the battlefield never so expansive, and the characters never so integral. And that’s where my fears for Days of Future Past lie. Because while it could chalk itself up to being another Wolverine/Professor X/Magneto vehicle (and it definitely seems to be doing that), it’s also holding up a story that affects all the surrounding characters as we’ve never seen them. Frankly, it makes character development a more integral element than the previous movies. With that many characters under that kind of weight, you’ve got to be wary of an unbalanced film. Hell, it’s even been rumored they had to cut out Anna Paquin’s Rogue. Under all that consideration, that’s slightly worrying.

Finally, let’s chat Batman vs. Superman, because a lot of folks are quick to bring that one up against The Avengers: Age of Ultron’s extensive cast. Batman vs. Superman has a lot to do. It’s opening up the DCU (something Man of Steel does only by spirit) and is utilizing two majorly iconic characters: Batman and Wonder Woman. We don’t know the extent of Wonder Woman’s role, but it’s rumored to be a fairly strong secondary one, right in the shadow of the ongoing Batman/Lex Luthor/Superman debacle. The movie is not only bringing in these big names, but is also dealing with something Man of Steel didn’t (even though it probably should have): the destruction of Metropolis and how the world views Superman.

That’s not really a theme you want to squash in the first twenty minutes of the movie so you can move on to the juicy fight scenes. And disregarding theme is something Man of Steel did the first time around with its “Will the world accept a Superman?” question that was unanswered. Already, it’s entirely fair to go in skeptical. Now the film has to organically incorporate a completely different kind of villain and an almost anti-hero with what we can assume is a radically different ideology. Not forgetting, of course, this Batman is already established in this universe (and that establishment might take a little establishing). Now give Wonder Woman some weight, because she’s got to be good enough to sell her own movie, and you’ve got a lot of balls in the air. All of this is completely disregarding the actual plot of the film, which I’m going to assume involves more than Lex Luthor throwing a hissy fit and Batman and Superman punching each other.

But all of that doesn’t really answer the question of why The Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t as bloated. And the reason is actually pretty simple. Take all the examples I’ve given at the top. Pretend the movies have come out and all three films were incredible. All were masterpieces. And then, pretend that there’s a film starring Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. What’s going to happen in the movie?

They’re going to fight something. After all, that’s what you came to see, right? You came to see The X-Spider Trinity, not each individual trying to incorporate their own film into a bigger one. This is the fanboy critique about The Avengers that I never understand. The protagonist of The Avengers is not Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, or Thor. The protagonist of The Avengers is the Avengers. The team. The team, composed of individual parts, is the protagonist as a whole. This whole character development stuff? You’ve already been given it. That’s literally the entire point of the solo films.

Can we just be honest, here? The Avengers movies have the simplest plots on purpose. Because Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige understand that those films are all about the stakes. If Marvel decided to attack the comic arc of CIVIL WAR, they wouldn’t likely push it all into one film; it would be an arc that spans the solo movies, with the conclusion being an Avengers film.

The Avengers movies are likely going to be adding these characters like The Vision and Ms. Marvel to familiarize audiences with their image before getting solo films. And the thing is, it works. Iron Man 3 made a billion dollars. Thor: The Dark World nabbed more money than its predecessor as well. Remember, not everyone who saw The Avengers saw those earlier films. But they’re showing up to the sequels.

You might hate it, but the very nature of what Marvel has done with its cinematic universe is shaping how we perceive characters and character development. The Avengers movies are less films and more season finales to television’s most popular show. They promise one big shebang before starting up a new season, and by the time you’ve gotten there, you really only need the investment in the action. If the show (in this case, movies) has done its job right, you’ve already bought the characters.

All of this is to say that a bevy of characters does not make a movie overstuffed; a bevy of subplots does. Don't make the mistake of thinking that The Avengers: Age of Ultron is trying to fit a movie in for each character. The simple fact is that it doesn't have to.

All this is a look back on what has been and what’s to come. Is it possible The Avengers: Age of Ultron tries too much with its plot and becomes lost in a shuffle of character favoritism? Sure. However, from what we know so far, it sure doesn’t look that way. 

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