Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 'Age of Ultron' Teaser

Thrills, spills and adventure.
As we all know, in the age of modern cinema, the main job of the Hollywood film is to live up to the trailer with which it was sold to audiences. With that in mind, let's not bother waiting until next year to see 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron' and just review the teaser that Marvel released today after it was leaked. There are three dominant features to this teaser: Ultron doing what bad guys do, delivering monologues; people running around screaming and carrying on, including the majority of the Avengers; and Iron Man in the Hulkbuster Armour fighting Hulk.
Beep boop.
Obviously the most intriguing element is going to be Ultron himself: his truncated line "not to protect the world, but you don't want it to change," cuts rather deeply to the heart of the entire superhero premise. Superheroes are a purely reactive force. They wait for things to go wrong, and then try to put them back to how they were before. If they capitalise upon this it could potentially be interesting. We also hear him quoting Disney's 'Pinocchio,' presumably in reference to him seeing himself as freed from the shackles not literally of his control by the Avengers but from society, convention, tradition, morality, cultural conditioning and so forth. It's an interesting idea and I hope that it goes to interesting places.
Upon discovering the fine print in his supposed six-film contract.
Back to the gym for another ten years.
Now let's talk about people running around screaming and carrying on. There's some kind of intense masochism in Hollywood action cinema these days, that morbid fascination where you don't want to watch but can't look away. Specifically, it's a masochism about 9-11 and terrorism in general, with action films becoming obsessed since the rise of CGI with huge swathes of destruction being cut through densely-constructed cities, buildings falling over, and helpless people fleeing for their lives. This already reached its logical conclusion in 2013's 'Man of Steel' where a city was reduced to a wasteland revealing the existential brittleness of modernity, so I fail to see what more mayhem of that nature will achieve here. This  teaser also includes footage of the Avengers looking dour, of course, because that's how we get our drama. This I feel like we see all the time in trailers now: lots of notionally 'intriguing' shots of the heroes looking all distressed.
Coming soon to a toy store near you.
Finally our last major element is Iron Man in the Hulkbuster Armour fighting Hulk. We see a weirdly large amount of this. Didn't we already see Thor fight Hulk in the last film? I suppose Captain America will fight him in Avengers 3 and then we can call it quits. This is the same stuff as the last item though really, devastation in an urban environment and heroes showing a reckless disregard for collateral damage. We get some other random stuff as well of course, like the token shots of Hawkeye and Black Widow, Andy Serkis for some reason and some dancers. "Nothing lasts forever" is Black Widow's pointless cliché. Nick Fury appears too, unfortunately. I'm sick of him. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver appear too but not in such a way as you'd notice. Pietro needs his pointy hair and bright blue jumpsuit.
"If you don't stop I'll take my shirt off again!"
The thing is, apart from Ultron I can't help but feel like this is just the same old song and dance. Our heroes are shown in a comfortable place, something goes wrong, they have a big punch up with the bad guy and it ends. So the real challenge, then, is for 'Age of Ultron' to not live up to its teaser, to do something different, to surprise me. Maybe the full trailer will be different. Do I trust Joss Whedon? Not even slightly. I'm not a great enthusiast of his work. He's competent, yes, but he's also going to be constrained by the edicts of his employers.
My face when trying to find information on when and
why they were retconned into being Magneto's children.
The biggest issue with these Marvel films, however, is the ridiculous hype and over-excitement that this stuff seems to generate. If you like these Marvel films that's fine. I like some of them, but I'm going to be an outlier when I say that I think 'Captain America: The First Avenger' was the best one and that 'The Winter Soldier' in my opinion just isn't what people say it is. All genres run stale, and I feel like superhero cinema, or at least the superhero cinema that began with 'Batman Begins' and 'Iron Man,' is exhausted. Obviously other people don't agree, but I don't understand why. I think a lot of you need to start thinking a little more critically about what you watch and realise that just because there's loads of 'cool' CGI action, stuff blowing up and actors making sarcastic, postmodern, self-aware and self-referential quips doesn't mean that what you're watching is good. You also need to realise that there's nothing commendable or noble about wanting 'just action' and nothing deeper. That's the attitude of a fatuous dullard who's intimidated by other media because they're too lazy or insecure to try them.
"Would you like a cup of tea, sir?"
I'm not trying to write off 'Age of Ultron' from the start and I think elements of it look vaguely interesting, but I think 'geek culture' or genre culture or whatever it is is really suffering from a condition where every new thing is the 'best thing ever' and it's a race to see who can express how much they love these films or TV shows or games or whatever with the most hyperbole. The thing is, these films are adequate, but they're not masterpieces, or inspired, or works of genius. They're workmanlike pieces of 'product' that follow corporate templates to maximise profit, and they're not deserving of great praise or enthusiasm. The advent of CGI certainly means that there's no craft to them anymore, because unlike the period from the late Seventies, through the Eighties to say the mid Nineties effects are not an accomplishment. They're an expectation. There's nothing we can be shown visually now that we couldn't imagine. You need to look for more in what you consume than the 'cool factor' of Hulkbuster Armour or Cap's shield getting broken, and figure out if there's something more beneath the surface, and if there is, then whether it's the same trite, simplistic message that mainstream cinema spews forth constantly (usually about humdrum themes such as trust and friendship) or if it's something radical and new (insofar as anything can be new). That's the job of 'Age of Ultron,' then: to not live up to the teaser where it seems to be a generic angsty action film, and to use whatever's going on with Ultron himself to show us something we wouldn't see otherwise.

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