30 April 2015

Avengers Review

I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron a few days ago and have been meaning to write something about it other than ZOMG! Vision!. So I've taken the time to compose my thoughts and write something about them as someone who appreciates the writing-aspect of the movies and comics as much as I like the spectacle.


I’ll get some things out of the way. I’m  a bit of a Marvel fanboy. Not in the sense that I knock DC or other properties, but in the sense that I’m not just as well-versed in them as I am in Marvel stuff (on which I’m hardly an expert, either). More specifically, I’m a big MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) fan. I've been there since Day 1 in 2008 when the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man were released to an unsuspecting public and am still there now. I've had my criticisms, but mostly I just love watching what comes next. I watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D every week and am glad I waded through the first season as I am enjoying it now (though I preferred Daredevil land Agent Carter, which are all very different beasts).

So I went through the ritual of watching all previous MCU films (apart from Guardians of the Galaxy, which has little to do with the Earth-based MCU, and which I had seen quite recently, anyway), finishing off with Captain America: the Winter Soldier, (still the best MCU film so far, in my opinion) a few days before I saw Age of Ultron.

The film opens in Media Res, with the gang going after Loki’s sceptre from the first Avengers film. I like the cold open before the title credits, though it felt a bit jarring starting out like that, The banter between the gang (mind your language!) was great – I felt there were far more hits than misses, though felt that Baron Von Strucker was wasted, after his introduction in the mind-credits scene in the Winter Soldier, though in hindsight it was to be expected. 

The film then moves on to the true open pretty quickly after an enjoyable party interlude where we get some nice character moments, including the appearance of Sam Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie, who is great) as well as James Rhodes. Ultron appears, a failed experiment of tony Stark and Bruce Banner (enjoying the role of mad scientists) and this is the first problem – Marvel villains.
I don’t think Marvel has created a truly memorable villain since Loki (and one might easily argue that the appeal of Loki is his portrayal by Tom Hiddleston). Malekith and the Winter Soldier were both stymied by lack of characterisation and screen time (the former, I believe was the victim of lots of edits), Whiplash, Mandarin, Red Skull and Warmonger were all subpar, in mu opinion. Ultron was certainly his father’s son, which I think is where he fell short – a bit too much snark/Stark for my tastes. As always the trailers advertised one thing, where the film itself had something different in mind. I usually end up preferring what the trailer promised to the final product (Mandarin anyone? Though I do like Trevor Slattery J ).

The film gets a bit confusing in the middle, especially around Thor’s subplot, which I believe might have been compromised in the final edit (again). The film tries to set up the MCU’s various sequels, planting seeds that will bear fruit in other films, and I think it struggles for it, though Joss Whedon does a good job of making something out of the tangled mess the film could easily have become (though he doesn't do so perfectly). Hawkeye gets a nice role to play in the middle of the film, though and, much like the first Avengers film, I found myself loving the characters playing off one another in these quieter moments.

But that’s not what most people paid for and the payoff comes quickly enough in the last third, where everything comes together in the now-standard MCU final battle, which to be honest, I’m getting a bit tired of. A last act brawl with enemy hordes. It was done in Iron Man 2 with the drones, again in the Avengers with the Chitauri, and again in Iron Man 3 with the extremis guinea pigs (one might argue that Guardians of the Galaxy has a similar ending, though I don’t think it counts). We need something different. Perhaps (god forbid) something more cerebral. We were promised that Age of Ultron would be smaller than its predecessor, and I was pleased by that comment, though left the cinema thinking it was just more of the same. Lets hope Ant-Man and Doctor Strange can give us something else.

The film’s epilogue shows us the characters all going their separate ways, again, setting up events for their next solo outings. This could not be more blatant that the last line, uttered by Captain America, which simultaneously gave me shivers and made me roll my eyes. The film isn't even over yet and already we’re advertising the next installment. Though I must say that shot with the new incarnation of the Avengers team assembling was pretty damned exciting, and I only need to wait one year to see them in action in the Winter Soldier.   

I applaud the filmmakers shying away for overused locations, going for places like south Africa, eastern Europe, and south Korea. Makes for a refreshing change,  I must say. I also enjoyed the emphasis on preventing collateral damage and civilian casualties (like Iron Man redirecting his fight with Hulk to an empty skyscraper or the evacuation of civilians. Man of Steel, please take notes J

Mmm... Wanda

I really did enjoy this, and the character interactions really made me think about my own characters how I can make them live and breathe more like real people, rather than just names on a page. What I love about films like this is the way they get me thinking about how i can better create characters and have them work on the page. Vision, especially, stood out as having a really great creation story and his mannerisms and THAT SCENE where he... (you'll know what i mean if you've seen it!) really do make him stand out, even though his origins differ greatly from the comics. 

There were a few niggling points that bothered me, though nothing that stands out. Though I would say it might have been more enjoyable if had used a structure that was more different to the original.

However, the verdict is still out on which Avengers movie is the best. I think I’m leaning towards the original ,as the thrill of seeing these characters get together for the first time is just too difficult to beat. Though Age of Ultron does give it a run for its money.  

What happened to this version of Ultron?

One thing I must mention, though not related to the film directly, is the marketing barrage that assaulted us in the weeks leading up to release. Luckily I was strong of will (just this once mind you!) and survived without watching anything other than the main trailers, though seriously, after watching the film i sat down and watched all the official clips and mini trailers that were released and it was so easy to map out the film, beat-for-beat through those videos alone. All the great reveals (vision, floating city) were given away in those trailers. Good thing I did not see them as they really would have given away the whole thing. Strikes me as odd as it smells of desperation from Marvel (or Disney), when they surely have a huge hit on their hands, regardless of the film's qualities.

27 April 2015

Out of the Void!

So, It’s been a while. The sporadic update trend continues and, unlike most updates I don’t really have anything to add to the posts below. No new maps or bits of fiction.

I’ve been busy writing a new story whilst polishing off my earlier novel, Twilight of the Gods (nee, Twilight of the Idols) and will be looking into getting an American Social Security number so that I can self-publish on Amazon/Lulu in America as well as Europe.

The new story is the P.O.V of an itinerant chronicler who travels with merchant caravans across the Sammaean mainland. It begins as a standard National Geographic-style travelogue, though will develop into a specific story that follows Chronicler’s (for that is his name) exploits over a 10-15 year period after he has settled down into the rose of an advisor to an enigmatic ruler who sets out on a pilgrimage to a land that promises answers to a question (existential quandary, really) that has been bugging him. I’m quite enjoying writing this one and do hope something comes of it.

I’m still updating my world map and also polishing up the first volume of the Encyclopaedia Elyden (the dictionary of terms) so that I can print it up as a reference document for myself (for now…) though that will take a lot of fiddly corrections and updating of entries so that they’re all standardised with one-another, as so far there a hodgepodge of entries spanning a near-10-year period and various different styles from vague bullet points to detailed entries.

My problem, as always, is one of multi-tasking (no jokes from the girls, please). I tend to stick to one subject at a time so cannot edit one story whilst writing another and so long as I’m writing I tend to spend little time on worldbuilding (unless a part of the story necessitates some) or cartography. Making matters worse is a friend of mine’s current work on the creation of a board game in which I’ve become heavily involved in rules design and playtesting (including the creation of the game-board itself when the time is right), which is taking away some other time.

So I’m thinking of finishing off the first draft of the as-yet untitled Chronicler story, after which I will concentrate fully on the editing and rewriting of Twilight of the Gods. I’ll then see to getting that published while I work on editing and rewriting the Chronicler story.

At least that’s the plan.

We’ll see whether or not that plan makes it alive to the enemy’s ranks (not that I’m implying you faithful readers are the enemy – you’re really not!)