Joss Whedon did nothing wrong.
Oh Summer Blockbusters, we need you, yet we despise you. We have glossy explosions juxtaposed with characters sitting down to talk about reasons why we are going to have another glossy explosion, roll credits with a post credit scene establishing the next movie. The irony is that these segments rarely tie into each other, we don’t really care about why there is going to be another action setpiece because we know it’s going to happen anyway, we already saw it in the trailer.
I can’t really blame Hollywood for that. It’s a tried and true formula that generates revenue. I can’t really blame the audience either, as much as we all want to talk crap about it we watch it anyways because a part of our brains inherently finds flying cars and post 9/11 imagery of buildings collapsing on one another appealing. Yet amongst these young adult teen dystopia sagas that star supermodel adults pretending to be teenagers with dubious acting talents and superhero franchises there comes along the rare example of a Hollywood Blockbuster with something to say, with ideas that might not create a fluid cohesive film but gets us to think a little before the next car or building or dumb sex joke blows up.
What I’m really getting at is that Avengers 2, however flawed, actually has some pretty neat ideas.
HA! I just suckered you into reading about me talk about Joss Whedon, but honestly the man doesn’t get enough credit for carrying a huge lumbering franchise and still fighting to retain the stories he wants to tell.
Hollywood villains suck, they really do. It’s always about a power hungry tyrant who just wants to blow stuff up. Here, let me write one for you. Exotic Foreigner or Alien wants to blow stuff up because the movie needs to give the heroes someone to beat up/blow up by the third act. He can’t overstay his welcome or remain undefeated because there’s going to be a sequel and we need to go through the other roster of villains because we need to establish a “cinematic universe”. Rather than a character we have an excuse for wanton destruction and essentially lazy writing.
Joss Whedon is not a lazy writer; in fact I would categorize him as the polar opposite of a lazy writer. He’s a creative force with a lot to say, his stories are filled with colorful characters that banter back and forth but with absolute sincerity. He revels in subverting genre conventions but knows when to pull back and give the audience exactly what they want. He is a tour de force of Fanservice whose cancelled projects only serve to give him more merit as the unappreciated nerd god.
You can tell that this is a man that deeply cares about the characters within his movies. They bicker back and forth but always with full sincerity and all the while maintaining wit and charm, and never at the expense of cheap laughs (The Avengers being the mild exception). Whedon understands that humor humanizes and grounds characters, and given the coked up attention span of movie goers today he uses his witty quips as shortcuts for staccato characterization. Buffy throws a zinger, and immediately we see her as more than just a blonde bimbo who delivers questionable fight choreography. Mal utters “I aim to misbehave” and we immediately understand why having Han Solo as the lead in Star Wars might just work.
But Ultron, our chrome and shiny antagonist in Avengers 2, might just be the best villain the Marvel Cinematic Universe have created to date. He’s a flawed petulant child with serious daddy issues. He desires to change the world for what he sees for the better, but his plan to do so changes multiple times throughout the movie and by the end he himself doubts if that’s really his intentions all along. He seeks to be understood, and since when is the last time we saw a Summer Blockbuster villain who actually wishes to be understood by our heroes and the audience? He’s savvy, arrogant and oh my god is that an actual character? Villains who are actual characters!
Avengers 2 is a flawed movie, it’s two hour running time barely containing multiple plot threads bearing the weight of a bloated franchise. But Joss Whedon brings forth the sincerity and artistic integrity that felt severely lacking in the popcorn flicks today.
Or you can just go see Mad Max: Fury Road again. Your choice.