Movie: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

I enjoyed the movie for the popcorn flick it was. But does it live up to the hype and the quality of recent Marvel outings like Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy? No. It doesn’t even surpass the quality of the first Avengers movie.

To be fair, I don’t really know what the problem with Age of Ultron is. There was too much going on, but at the same time, I do not know what else they could’ve taken out. There were too many characters, and some of them were short-changed; and I feel like the Hawkeye storyline was more an apology to the actor than an actual need for story-telling purposes. That said, I do love every scene Linda Cardellini was in.

Before I delve into the film further, I must give a warning. I will discuss the film at length and there will be spoilers. So leave now if you have plans of watching the movie, and don’t want to have twists ruined for you. Okay?

Okay. Now, let’s begin with what I didn’t like about the film.

Number one: Black Widow. The Natasha we met in Avengers and got to know better in Winter Soldier is gone. Instead we get a teen-aged girl with a lot of bravado, and a big crush on Bruce Banner. Now, while I understood the appeal of Banner to Natasha, I’m not a fan of how writer Whedon went about in showing it.

We start the film in battle. Natasha shares a moment with The Hulk during said battle. And in the next scene, she’s already flirting with him. (And I don’t care what the Cap says. That was flirting.) It felt so off. And it didn’t feel earned. I felt cheated that Natasha’s journey into realizing she has feelings for the Banner wasn’t shown to us, the audience. But mostly, I didn’t like how the love story was forced upon us when, by the end of the film, it turns out that there was no need for it at all.

Why were we given an undeveloped love story and made to invest in it, if it wasn’t even going anywhere? And no, don’t tell me that it was a set up to Bruce saving Natasha in Sokovia. Thor could’ve done that. There wasn’t even a fucking guard to keep Natasha in that cage. (And, let’s be real. If Natasha was able to make that primitive spy gadget to communicate to Hawkeye where she was, she could make a fucking key to escape that old-as-hell jail cell.)

And don’t tell me it’s a set up for The Hulk to leave the Avengers. Because it sure as hell doesn’t fly. Why? Because of the number two reason I don’t like Age of Ultron: everything Whedon did right by The Hulk in the first Avengers movie was undone in the sequel.

Fans cheered when Hulk was finally given justice on the big screen–thanks to Whedon. So it comes as a big shock that the big guy’s undoing would be in Whedon’s hand as well. Everything established in the first film, of how he was controlling his anger instead of fighting it, was thrown out the window for a love story between him and Natasha. A love story that, as you can tell by now, I’m really not a fan of.

Because it made monsters of the characters we were already growing to love. While Natasha became a damsel in distress that she never should’ve been, Bruce was having an identity crisis. When he’s with Tony Stark, he’s a whipping boy who never stands up for what he believes in. When he’s with Natasha, he’s a stuttering fool who has forgotten that he already dealt with romance before. He had Betty. He knew a relationship with a woman would be hard. But he loved Betty enough that he trusted himself with her.

He doesn’t have that with Natasha because their relationship was never processed properly. (That said, they never acknowledged his relationship with Betty either, so…)

And Hulk flying off into the sunset doesn’t sit well with me either because Bruce has done the running away before. It didn’t work. He understands that he needs people, just as much as he needs to be careful around them.

To be honest, I would’ve liked it better if the rumors from before the film premiered had been true. That the Hulk was catapulted into space while fighting Ultron. Because that’s the only way I can see Bruce leaving his Avengers family. Unwillingly. And, you know what? This could’ve been the major ‘death’ that the heroes could rally around. I mean, none of them would know that the Hulk could survive in space, right?

Because the death that we got? It only actually left an emotional impact on two characters. So, in the end, the whole climax felt disjointed. And this is the third reason why I didn’t like the Age of Ultron movie: there was a huge set-up for a major characters’ demise, but the death we got instead was insignificant. (Which pains me to write, because I absolutely adored Whedon’s and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on Pietro Maximoff.)

Let’s break it down: in this film, we finally get to know Clint Barton. We find out he has a family who he’s been trying to keep safe–and secret. Throughout the film, it’s underlined how much more mortal he is compared with the other Avengers–even with Natasha in the mix. And then he makes a promise to his wife, which you know is a death wish in big action films. Then, as a final nail in the coffin, his wife tells him how important he is to the Avengers, because he is the one who grounds them.

Clint Barton becomes the reason why the Avengers are fighting. For the good people who want to do good, not because they are forced to–but because they want to. Because they believe that there is a future worth fighting for.

And while I like the fact that Whedon subverts expectations by not killing Barton, the death of Pietro lacks the emotional punch for it to live up to the build-up Whedon wrote. For more than half the film, Pietro was a villain. A villain with valid intentions and a good back story, but a villain nonetheless. And what’s worse, he only even emotionally connected with Barton. And his sister Wanda, of course. But that’s it. You can’t rally around the death of someone who, for the most part, had been fighting against your goal.

Which is why I think Hulk being catapulted into space would work better was the pay-off to the Barton build up. He is as much a part of the Avengers team as Hawkeye is. He has connections with all the characters–even Wanda who would feel guilty for what she made him do in South Africa. And viewers are already invested in the character.

Now, did we need Wanda’s scream of death that disabled so many Ultrons? Not really. Did we need the badass way she ripped out the main Ultron’s core? That’s a no too, even if it is cool that the main villain dies at the hands of a female character. But we could’ve given that scene to Natasha instead.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Age of Ultron. But whatever it was, it wasn’t the film we got. It wasn’t the sassy-as-fuck Captain America who had a steady stream of sarcastic one-liners at the ready. It wasn’t the hard-headed Tony Stark who did things with reckless abandon, although I wasn’t really surprised by this one. It wasn’t the under-utilized Thor who was literally a deus ex machina. … Literally. What with him being the final key to bring the Vision to life. It wasn’t the Natasha Romanoff who undid all the good that the Natasha in the first Avengers and Winter Soldier had done. And it wasn’t the unsure Bruce Banner who acted without a spine for the entirety of the movie.

But with all my complaints about the movie, I did enjoy watching it. I enjoyed the twins. I enjoyed the Vision. I enjoyed Linda Cardellini, and Samuel L. Jackson, and the introduction of Helen Cho. I loved how it was equally important for our heroes to save the innocent people as it was to defeat the villain. And I loved how the film didn’t shy away from the fact that there will be casualties in battles like this.

And, honestly: I enjoyed the film going boom.

That said, my advice to people who have already enjoyed the film on first viewing? Don’t watch it again. Because I did. And that’s when I picked up all the things that didn’t hold up, and the things I realized I didn’t like.

I really hope Ant-Man is better than Age of Ultron.

Book: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer – Season 9

"Buffy, the Vampire Slayer Season 9"

Has it been two years? I can’t believe it’s taking us this long to start and end seasons nowadays. Sure, the budget restrictions are gone now, but I fear that Buffy has lost something along with it: urgency.

I know Buffy has a niche market. I am very thankful to Dark Horse for even picking Buffy up as a continuing title. But after the blockbuster Season 8 that was just… too much, you’d have thought that Season 9 would have learned its lesson.

Well, it did. In the end. But, it took us two years to get there.

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is not really about Buffy as it is about the relationships she has with her friends. And her family. When the team behind the Buffy comics started Season 9, they made a promise to bring Buffy back to its roots. And it did start out that way. Until it got out of control–again.

Suddenly Buffybot was back, and so was Spike’s bug ship, then zompires happened, we met Severin, Illyria came back–and although all of this were restrained and much more manageable than back in Season 8… it lacked the one thing that TV show had: its cast of lovable characters.

Willow was off having her own adventure. Xander and Dawn were mostly footnotes throughout the season before taking center stage near the end. And Spike was… Well, Spike was there and then wasn’t there and then was there again. And I felt Dark Horse broke its promise. Buffy didn’t go back to its roots. It just scaled down the problems of Season 8.

Of course, it wasn’t until we reached the last arc before I realized this. Xander going all-rogue felt out of character, not because I couldn’t imagine him doing what he did–it was because I felt unprepared for what he had done. We never really saw him much, so when he turned tables? It was a shock–and not the good kind.

Willow’s quest to restart magic ties in nicely to the end of the season–but because I was never able to find a copy of the miniseries here in the Philippines–I never really understood the importance of Willow’s journey. And without her side journey, the new seed felt like a deus ex machina.

Of the core team, it’s Buffy who stuck to what we were expecting. And stayed there. She didn’t grow, she didn’t evolve, she was just static. And I felt that, more than the spell that made her Stepford Wife, this was because we took out the people who would make her grow: her friends. Buffy became a lone wolf. A quippy lone wolf, but alone nonetheless.

Now that the season is over and we have a few months of rest before we begin Season 10, I hope Joss Whedon and whoever’s writing next would go back to what made Buffy really work: the relationships. I wouldn’t mind fall outs, I wouldn’t mind solo adventures–so long as they’re warranted. So long as we see it develop before our eyes. So long as they don’t come left of field.

Six years after the show has ended, I’m still a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. And although I believe that Seasons 8 and 9 are the weakest yet (and consider the fact that Season 1 was abysmal with its effects), I continue to hold on to the hope that the Buffy I love still exists. Somewhere.

Please don’t turn me off, Dark Horse.

Book: Angel & Faith, Live Through This

"Live Through This"

Throughout history Angel has had a lot to make up for, but it’s his most recent mistake that may forever alter the course of this fan-favorite antihero–the murder of one of Buffy’s most trusted allies. In his ongoing search for redemption, Angel firmly believes he’s found a way to make amends–by reviving the dead! Cue Faith–rebel Slayer charged with helping angel recover in the aftermath of his biggest misdeed. Out of fierce loyalty she supports his ridiculous scheme, if only to prevent him from going too far to attain his goal. Past, present, and potential future threats emerge as this unlikely duo struggles against real and personal demons while hitting the dark streets of London.

I finally found a copy of this! Now, if only I could find the rest of it–

Yes, I liked it. I’ve always been fond of Faith as a character on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and Angel always has this effect on Faith that makes her want to be better–I’m happy that the two characters get to share this title together.

Back when Buffy and Angel were in the television, I was more of a Buffy fan as Angel went down its darker route. Buffy was always about living life, and facing problems. Angel dwelt too much in what was done, and repentance, and atonement. And I can’t say I didn’t like it. It fit the show’s noir sensibilities. I just preferred Buffy‘s relatively lighter tone.

When Faith was introduced on Buffy, she stuck out like a sore thumb because the latter’s world did not fit her. I liked the character. I liked how we’re seeing a different kind of Slayer, one who had to make choices different from Buffy’s. One who didn’t have the support system of friends– But in Buffy’s world, she was turned into a villain. Not because of who she is, but because of who she was.

And I didn’t get this until Faith came to Angel.

Faith, as a character, really doesn’t fit on Buffy’s world because she wasn’t moving forward. She was stuck in the past, unraveling her character and the choices she made. That made her a perfect fit for Angel. And this was apparent in the few episodes of the spin-off the featured her.

Angel and Faith clicked, and not romantically. That was key. They knew who they were, and who they were trying to become. They understood each other. And they respect each other so much that they aren’t afraid to call each other out on mistakes.

And that companionship–that respect–is what makes Angel & Faith, the comic series, way better than Angel: After the Fall, even though I’ve only read the first five issues as of yet.

No offense to the people behind the latter title. Angel: After the Fall was smart. It just didn’t feel like Angel. I’m not a comics person. I picked up Angel: After the Fall because I was interested to see the characters I loved on television live on. The characters I got in the title were not those characters.

But when the story universe of Buffy and Angel merged once more, resulting in Angel & Faith–I was intrigued. And it took me forever to find a copy of the title. But based on the first five issues alone–

I’m sticking with this title.

Soon as I find the next volumes.

Movie: The Cabin in the Woods

"The Cabin in the Woods"

Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen. If you think you know this story, think again.

The Cabin in the Woods is a horror film that doesn’t just scare you–it makes you think too. And while this isn’t the first movie to subvert the horror genre, this is definitely one of the few good ones. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a big fan of anything that involves Joss Whedon. Though, come to think of it, he has yet to do anything that I didn’t like.

I don’t actually know how to, or where to, start writing about this film. I know that I liked and enjoyed it. And yet, there’s something about the film that puts me off. Is it because of the choppy editing MTRCB imposed? Though, to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure if it was the MTRCB who made those very jarring cuts or if it was the distributor who chose to do so to keep the film Rated PG-13.

There were two or three of these jarring cuts that, while it doesn’t detract from the story telling, it’s certainly distracting.

Now, I’ve read a lot of reviews that sing high praises for the film. I don’t think I can do the same. I mean, it’s really good. But when all I can come up with to defend this statement is that the movie’s good because it is mind-blowingly twisty… Well, there’s a bit of a problem there.

The dialogue has the Whedon trademark of being snappy and snarky, but while it fit awesomely with The Avengers, I thought the laughs took away the fear of the viewers. I mean, people were screaming at the beginning of the film! And yet when the horrors escalated (alongside the witty one-liners), the screams receded. People just weren’t scared anymore.

I liked the movie, I did. And I would recommend it to anyone without a moment’s hesitation. But, I don’t know, there’s something abou the movie that puts me off for some reason. Something that is preventing me from embracing the whole thing with careless abandon. Heck, typing this reaction post, I just realized that this is the first Whedon project that I’m not thinking about watching again.

So take from this confused post what you will. The Cabin in the Woods is awesome, but don’t come in with high expectations.

Movie: The Avengers

"Avengers"

When an unexpected enemy emerges that threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury, director of the international peacekeeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Spanning the globe, a daring recruitment effort begins.

The Avengers is undeniably a Joss Whedon film: with an opening that is reminiscient of how Buffy, the Vampire Slayer ended its television run, and a tragic second act that harkens to all his works. All of them. And, of course, let’s not forget the rapidfire exchanges of dialogues that are very, very Whedonesque.

Being a big fan of Whedon, I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that I completely enjoyed the movie. There was a point, sometime near the beginning, when I just stopped trying to analyze it and decided to just enjoy the ride. And the film does that: it makes you stop whatever critical thinking gears you have from turning, and tells you to just follow whatever happens on screen with fanboy (or fangirl) glee.

Come to think of it, I have absolutely no idea if the story structure was sound. I just know that there was a story, and a structure, to the events of the film.

Then again, having so many superheroes, almost all of whom had their own movies, team up for one adventure would put anyone’s creativity to the test–and Whedon definitely passes with flying colors. Never mind if there were things that were just too convenient. It’s a superhero movie, it’s based on comics logic, we just accept what happens and move on.

And I realize that I’m not really going to be objective about this movie. I loved it, plain and simple. I think the world of it. The action was great, the dialogue were great… Everything was great! I can’t wait for a sequel, if they plan on doing one! So for anyone looking for a reaction that has more than gushing would be wise to look somewhere else. For anyone else who just wants to gush with me, you can do so in the comments. I promise to gush back.

That said, I do have this one teeny, tiny nitpick I want to bring up: Thor’s stylized way of speaking didn’t seem consistent to me. It was very stiff upper lip when he was talking to Loki, but it was immediately simplified when he was conversing with any one of the Avengers and Nick Fury. Or am I overanalyzing this? What did you guys think?