Obligatory Age of Ultron Comments

So, Kate and I hired a babysitter last night, and went to see the new Avengers movie. You might not have heard of it, it's kind of obscure...

(There will be some mild SPOILERS below; if you're intensely opposed to that sort of thing, don't read the rest of this...)

So, I didn't realize it at the time, but it was a big mistake to watch this excellent video about Jackie Chan's style yesterday morning:

(in a sorta-kinda related vein, this Max Gladstone blog post is also very interesting...)

Having watched that video in the morning, and its discussion of how Jackie Chan's fight choreography and directing contrasts with the American equivalents, because I spent a lot of the fight scenes thinking "Yeah, I can't tell what the hell is going on here..." And, you know, I realize this is a stylistic choice and in some sense the Hong Kong style as just as much an artifice, and that in this case the rapid-cutting style is forced in part by the fact that 80% of the combatants are CGI robots. But, in the end, noticing all the rapid cutting kind of undercut the spectacle...

So, anyway, the actual movie was... fine. It's a comic-book movie, and I don't really expect more from those than expensive spectacle. I can't quite decide whether it helps that the filmmakers are aware of the absurdity of some of these scenarios, and hang the occasional lampshade on it ("...and I have a bow and arrow."), or if that just makes it worse that they don't bother to fix the stupider bits.

Having grumbled about the handling of SCIENCE! in the previous installment, I will note that they get a half-point bonus this time out for nodding in the direction of specialization. They actually bring in an outside expert for some things, and in one scene Tony Stark admits that Bruce Banner is better at bioscience than he is. Which brings them up to, like 1.5/10 on the movie portrayal of science scale...

Of course, as I'm a huge nerd, I did inadvertently retcon one of the bits that made no sense, namely how they ended up over the ocean so that people falling down after the final battle landed in water. Which you could sorta-kinda try to attribute to the Earth's rotation-- that is, as the giant rock is boosted straight up, it continues rotating at the speed of the surface, which is not fast enough to keep pace with a point directly below it as the altitude increases. So, the Earth turns under it, and if you take their Ruritanian setting to be a Balkan country, that would carry you out over the Aegean Sea after a bit.

Of course, I suspect this doesn't actually work, because all the characters can still breathe at maximum altitude (including the non-super-powered Avengers and the civilians they're trying to save), and thus they aren't high enough for the speed difference to add up to much. Also, this is a universe where in the first Captain America movie it takes, like, fifteen minutes to fly from somewhere in the Alps into the remote Arctic, so maybe Marvel Europe is just a tiny archipelago of island nations.

At a much more general level, I remain pretty down on the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe project. Admittedly, this opinion is enhanced this morning by the fact that the two guys sitting to my left in the theater were big Marvel fanboys, and their delighted exclamations over tie-ins to other movies and comics got steadily louder and more distracting over the course of the movie. But ultimately, I've never been a comic-book guy, so the stuff that the massive tie-in structure adds for comic-book fans holds little appeal for me. Certainly not enough to make up for the problems it inflicts on the movie, which packs eight pounds of...plot into a five-pound bag. The need to find character moments for all of the over-stuffed cast makes the movie way too busy, and the need to tie into whatever grand cosmic plot is supposed to be going on without further bogging the movie down leads to thuddingly awful scenes like Thor's highly abbreviated Infinity Stones infodump.

Strip out the cosmic stuff, cut the team in half, and you have the elements of a really good movie here. Working within the strictures of the Marvel universe, though, it maxes out at... fine. It's very good for what it is, but what it is isn't a thing I particularly want.

In other "not what I want" movie news, the set of godawful trailers inflicted on us before this included one for the Superman vs. Batman movie. And, you know, grimdark is as much a valid stylistic choice as the cornball platitudes that form the core of the Marvel movies, but if we must have comic-book movies built around these opposing aesthetics, I'd really kind of like some that don't dive headfirst into self-parody.

Anyway, those are my reactions, for what little they're worth. Thus, I have met the statutory requirements to keep my blogging license for another year...

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There _is_ a comment from Cap towards the end of the sequence that he's starting to find it hard to breathe (and I think an addition that the rest of them must be having more trouble), but it's easy to miss.

By Kate Nepveu (not verified) on 03 May 2015 #permalink

The fact that they can breathe at all probably rules out an Earth-rotation effect. Back-of-the-envelope, the radius of the Earth is about 6400 km, so if you were at airplane-like altitides of about 10km, that would be a 0.2% difference between the rotation speeds. That would be about 3 km/hr at the equator, so the only way the final scene could've ended up over water this way is if the fictional city was a beach resort. And that's at the equator-- the effective speed is lower at European latitudes.

I decided many years ago that I wouldn't worry about the science in movies like this, and just hope to be entertained. In that sense I liked this one: I thought that it was much better paced than the first.
I did enjoy seeing the new (I think it is the new one) Audi R8 at the end, when Stark drives off. The new TT appeared too: wonder what Audi paid for that product placement.

as the giant rock is boosted straight up

I haven't seen the movie, but how do we know the rock was boosted straight up? That's a set of measure zero, and it wouldn't take much of a zenith angle to produce the desired drift speed. That's how launches from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg work: you aim the rocket such that if something goes wrong with the launch, you hit the self-destruct button (if needed) and watch the debris fall into the ocean rather than a populated area.

There is also the question of prevailing winds. For a real rocket launch, the launch crew will adjust the elevation and azimuth of the rocket to take winds into account (the effect adds up for a long enough flight), and if winds are too strong or too variable, they won't launch. Of course, prevailing winds at the latitudes in question are the wrong way to push a rock from the Balkans into the Aegean, unless you boost it so high that everybody dies (because you need to be in the stratosphere to pick up the reversed winds at high altitudes).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 May 2015 #permalink

My suspension of disbelief can stretch extraordinarily far, but the thing that broke it here for me was all the times that Tony says to Bruce "hey, let's go perform technological miracle X" and they do it in like five minutes. Reverse-engineering somebody else's technological miracle so you can reapply it your own way is essentially instantaneous. (The "synthesize the new element" scene in Iron Man 2 struck me the same way; it's kind of like the "checking the cell structure" dance in Sleeper, except that it really works.)

But that's comic-book technology, I guess.

By Matt McIrvin (not verified) on 09 May 2015 #permalink