(Week 19: May 5 – 11)
The new short story is proving a little elusive. I have the plots and the characters; I have a compelling start; and I have a conclusion that’s hopefully worth the journey. However, it’s not quite gelling yet. By ‘gelling’ I mean I’m not sufficiently confident that I can do the story justice, which means it doesn’t excite me as much as it should, which means it almost certainly won’t excite the reader as much as I hope.
I’ve opted for a little early surgery to hopefully get things on the right track: trimming a bit here, moving a bit there, and so on. It may, however, turn out that this one wasn’t quite ready to be written.
On Sunday I watched Avengers: Age Of Ultron with the Elderbeast. I had originally opted to skip this relatively disappointing entry in my Marvel rewatch, but the Elderbeast is lately obsessed with rewatching as many of the films as possible in the wake of Endgame. I suggested Iron Man 3. He suggested Age of Ultron. I lost.
If anything, my opinion of Age Of Ultron has sunk even lower after this rewatch. The Whedon zingers are still there, but lack their usual sparkle. Where the first Avengers outing was fluid and exhilarating, this one feels more like a series of tent pole scenes that were conceived before the plot had gelled. By rights, this should be a truly epic outing (rogue AI attempts to destroy humanity) but somehow the stakes come across as relatively small (certainly not Avengers-worthy) and the attempts to inject tension only serve to make the team feel fragmented: we end up watching a series of superheroes doing different things, instead of an Avengers movie.
Likely conscious of his reputation for killing off second-tier characters, Whedon spends a lot of the film building up Hawkeye to be a sacrificial lamb, only to save him at the last moment: but this only ends up coming across as a cynical attempt to play the audience. Equally, the faux single-take that opens up the movie feels less like impressive use of cinema trickery to emphasise the unity of the team, and more like the fiddling of a bored filmmaker who wants to show off. Meanwhile, I wonder at which point Joss Whedon decided he hated Iron Man because it’s hard to draw any other conclusion from the way the character is presented here.
However, this is far from Whedon’s worst misstep with his characters. One of my biggest beefs with the movie remains Whedon’s handling of the women. Look back at the first Avengers movie where Maria Hill is a key member of SHIELD, and Black Widow pretty much owns the film (yeah, two major female characters isn’t a great ratio). In Age Of Ultron, Black Widow is defined by her failed attempt to spark a relationship with Bruce Banner and her (still awful) self-identification as a monster; Maria Hill is now Tony Stark’s PA and serves little function than to provide exposition at key moments; Hawkeye’s wife is given little identity beyond being someone who stays at the farmhouse and raises children while Hawkeye is off saving the world (and, even more cynically, is arguably only there to show us what Hawkeye stands to lose if he were to die at the end of the film). Even Scarlet Witch is largely defined by her relationship with men: Baron Strucker, her brother—and her major pivot in the movie only comes after a pep talk from Hawkeye, another man. Worst of all is Black Widow, whose self-identification as a monster due to her infertility is still one of the worst moments in the MCU, while her only shot at redemption is presented as being in the arms of another man.
(I do want to clarify that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with being a PA, or a wife/mother, or needing a pep talk from time to time. My gripe is that all of the female characters are presented in roles where they either prop up men or are defined in terms of the men around them. Coming from the person who gave us Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I find this really disappointing.)
Among the highlights is definitely James Spader’s performance as the petulant Ultron. There’s also some great foreshadowing to the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are both handled well (though I wonder where Wanda’s accent wandered off to in future movies).
Ironically, the most consistently viewed post on this blog is something of a defence of Age Of Ultron.
Fridate horror was The Conjuring, which I initially remembered as a film that tries hard to be scary, but isn’t really as scary as everyone says. On this rewatch I’ve decided that everyone was probably right, and it does have some pretty effective scares. It devolves a bit towards the end, but I did like that the film has a few different threads that it weaves together into a fairly effective build-up (so effective, in fact, that it’s a slight surprise when the film has the decency to end, instead of continuing to escalate).
Over the weekend I also caught up a bit more with the final season of Game Of Thrones; specifically managing to watch episodes 2 and 3. If you’re keeping track, you’ll know that these episode comprise the prelude to the battle of Winterfell, and the battle itself. As such they make for an extremely effective double bill. There are some rightful complaints that this season is rushing a little towards its conclusion, especially given the languid pace of earlier seasons. However, these two episodes give us almost three hours of screen time focusing on a single day in the show. It’s an instance where television gets to show off the advantages it sometimes has over cinema. Episode 3 is a stunning and relentless depiction of the battle, while the preceding episode packs in all the foreboding and a bunch of character work (and proves surprisingly moving in many parts).
This final season may end up being as flawed (or otherwise) overall as the preceding seasons, but I feel like I’m unlikely to see two episodes of any other show as masterfully executed as these.
For my birthday, my friend brought me a copy of Doctor Who Meets Scratchman. This is a novelisation, by Tom Baker himself (!!), of a screenplay he developed in the 1970s, but which never made it to the big screen. It’s pretty cool having a Doctor Who book written by a Doctor Who, but I was even more excited to note that it’s written in the first person – i.e. it’s a Doctor Who writing a Doctor Who book as Doctor Who.
I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it. Tom Baker’s prose (written with some help from James Goss) is delightful, and the characterisations of Sarah and Harry are spot-on. I can totally see this story fitting into the era and, based on the story so far, am pretty disappointed we never got to see it made.
Rather excellently, a 1970s style concept poster has been created for the movie that never was by BrianAW over at Deviant Art (where you can see a full size version).