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Which is Better? ‘The Avengers’ vs ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’

avengers vs age of ultron

Which is Better is a monthly editorial series where I dare to compare the best and worst of everything. This month: Is the first Avengers movie better than its 2015 sequel, or is it the other way around? 

Last year, my friends and I debated this for an episode of my podcast, Now Conspiring. But to be honest, the debate didn’t go anywhere because we all sort of agreed (for once). Now that enough time has passed to let the movie sink in properly, I’ve decided to revisit these two movies and decide for myself.

Granted, a lot of fans of both movies have been debating this since last spring, pointing out every flaw in each movie that could somehow tip their arguments. But it’s unclear whether or not the somewhat lukewarm reception to Age of Ultron was a result of superhero movie fatigue, Marvel fatigue, or something else that may not be a reflection of the movie’s true quality.

If we’re judging by box office, it’s even murkier. At first glance, it may seem that Avengers is better than its sequel because it pulled in $100 million more at the box office, which is a drop in the bucket compared to both movies making roughly $1.5 billion each.

avengers vs age of ultron

But aren’t sequels supposed to be bigger hits than the originals? You’d think that, but it’s actually more common to see diminishing returns depending on the franchise.

Sticking to Marvel superheroes, not a single Spider-Man movie has made as much money domestically as the first one, despite Spider-Man 2 being considered a huge improvement and one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.

Most regard Empire Strikes Back to be the best of the Star Wars films, yet it made $200 million less than A New Hope, not even adjusting for inflation. Let’s not even get started on Return of a Jedi actually failing to net a profit.

So the argument has to come down to the movies themselves, metrics aside. For this week’s Which is Better, I’ll break both movies down on a series of points crucial to what makes a superhero movie great.

Starting with,

BEST STORY

avengers vs age of ultron

Few will argue that The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron (AOU) are wildly different when it comes to plot execution. And for good reason.

Much of the beginning of Avengers centered around exposition that united all of our “mightiest heroes.” It was incredibly entertaining, of course, considering how new it felt to see these characters side by side in one movie.

But the plot was otherwise quite basic: The threat is established, the heroes are brought together to address it, a central action set piece gives them a reason to work together, and they save the day in one final battle. Pretty simple.

AOU had a lot more freedom to be complicated since a lot of that character-building exposition was done in the last film, and also because Avengers was such a monumental hit that the studio was confident people would remember what was going on in their cinematic universe.

So with AOU, we got three villains (sort of), tons of new side characters, and another world domination plot. And that was including many of the new characters introduced in the “Phase 2” of Marvel movies, Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding.

In AOU, Tony Stark’s creation was the established threat, but unlike Loki (who was also tied to a main character in a close way), Ultron was a complete unknown to the audience. He arrived on the scene quickly and drove the plot as soon as he showed up.

avengers vs age of ultron

The heroes were already together by this point, so the movie spent more time developing them as they worked to deal with the threat of Ultron. If we’re judging both movies by complexity and character arcs, than AOU surpasses the original in spades.

And that’s because the first Avengers is essentially a party, or a celebration of the fact that Marvel pulled off one of the greatest team-ups in cinematic history. But aside from some quips and other quick dialogue, the characters didn’t progress much from beginning to end. They just decided (again) to do what they’ve already done in their own respective movies: be heroes.

“Saving the day” wasn’t such a black and white solution in AOU, which I found very refreshing. Each Avenger had an agenda, and some sparks of disagreement and strife popped up between these characters, teasing the upcoming Civil War.

This worked because getting invested in characters is what made AOU feel more like a complete story compared to the first Avengers, which was more of a continuation of a running story that didn’t feel all that resolved by the end.

To be fair, AOU having a more complex plot also brought on a ton of narrative issues, many of them being the cause of Joss Whedon having to set up future movies with throwaway scenes that didn’t feel as cohesive. A good example is Thor’s mini-vacation to awaken his new powers, a side adventure that was given hardly any time to be built up or explained well. As I mentioned earlier, Ultron was also rushed as a villain, probably to give more time to the Wakanda references they had to include to set up Black Panther.

So AOU isn’t perfect, but I’d say the good certainly outweighs the bad. The darker tone wasn’t quite as dark as people hoped for, but there was a new sense of tension that actually got a payoff in the end with one of the first key deaths in these movies. And a lot of what doesn’t work that well in AOU is sort of indicative of the same problems existing in the original. We just didn’t harp on them as much back in 2012 because the novelty of the film was so, well, novel.

Both movies have great, enjoyable narratives, but I have to give this point to AOU for being bolder and containing a more dense story, flaws aside.

BEST CHARACTERS

avengers vs age of ultron

I’ll do this one fast. It’s a tie.

As I mentioned earlier, AOU was fantastic at giving us more insight into these characters, which gives it a huge advantage in this debate. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are notable exceptions that I give a pass due to the messiness surrounding the rights for those characters.

That said, Avengers pulled off something equally impressive by reintroducing the core team without spoon-feeding us tons of information about them we didn’t need to know. Marvel could have easily decided to treat us like we’re stupid and need a “Previously on” in order to remember who Thor and Captain America are.

To put it simply, both movies do a terrific job at showcasing great characters. The story elements behind these characters are certainly stronger in AOU, but we’ve already evaluated that in the previous section, so it’s a tie.

BEST VILLAIN

avengers vs age of ultron

Loki or Ultron? Oh, who am I kidding…

Everyone (I think) loves Loki. It’s been a running joke for some time that he’s pretty much the only “good” Marvel villain. And for the most part, I actually agree.

He was an effortless scene stealer, in no small part thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful take on the character. He captured the comic-book villain quite well, while also updating it perfectly for feature films. He was funny, arrogant, and even a little sympathetic. But despite this, he was incredibly threatening, despite not having any “raw” power.

We knew throughout Avengers that Loki wasn’t that strong of a guy. Yet he commanded a ton of presence and was taken incredibly seriously. Using him for the first movie was a perfect choice because he was the perfect villain to contrast the raw power of the Avengers, who were vastly more intimidating when it came to brute strength.

Yet he wasn’t even “smarter” compared to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. There was just an unspoken mental advantage he was able to hold over the heroes just enough to provoke them into finally stopping him.

Ultron was an attempt to up the ante with a villain who could be strong enough to bring down the Avengers, but they went with giving him an advantage aside from brute strength again.  Not being that powerful himself, Ultron commanded a huge army and could tamper with their technology, even the Internet.

A problem that arose with this was when Scarlet Witch introduced yet another alternative to brute strength with her mind powers. But by the end of AOU, the Avengers do what they always need to do: save the day with their muscles…and lasers and hammers and what not.

An unstoppable villain that could have defeated all of the Avengers with brute strength would have strangely been more refreshing and a unique challenge for our heroes. It’s actually a bit ironic because I’m sure being different was what the writers intended to do. And while Ultron himself was sarcastic and entertaining, I found myself feeling almost nothing when he was discarded.

Best villain goes to The Avengers.

BEST ACTION

avengers vs age of ultron

I’m actually cheating a bit by saying “best action,” because I’m really talking about how these movies work overall as action films. So I’m judging how beautiful they are, set pieces, how the special effects aid the experience, and of course, fight choreography.

That criteria in mind, this is a pretty easy decision. While both films are extremely polished, AOU is the one that stands out when it comes to those moments that define a great action movie.

Like I mentioned earlier, AOU is just more dense. Avengers has three major action scenes, and all of them are incredibly one-note and completely one-upped by the sequel.

For example:

The Avengers starts with a series of minor confrontations between the Avengers themselves. This is done even better in AOU when they’re fighting Tony Stark’s suits after the party, as it’s a surprising action scene that gets the plot started on the right tone.

The second act of Avengers features Hulk on a rampage. AOU one-ups this in a huge way by unleashing Hulk on innocent people, forcing Tony Stark to don the built-up Hulkbuster armor and finally prove a worthy challenge to the overpowered character. This is, in my opinion, the best action scene in the MCU for a laundry list of reasons.

Finally, the original ends with a massive battle where the heroes are vastly outnumbered. And in the end, someone nearly dies. AOU one-ups this by actually killing off a character (albeit not someone as key to the franchise as Tony Stark).

Aside from all that, there’s just a lot more going on in AOU when it comes to the action. I don’t think it’s necessarily prettier, but I’d be hard pressed to find anything about the original that trumps it in this category.

Point goes to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

THE VERDICT

avengers vs age of ultron

Well, it looks like my answer is the same as it was a year ago. I consider Avengers: Age of Ultron to be better than The Avengers. It has a better plot, it maintains what we love about the characters in the original, and it has a more expansive, thrilling set of action scenes.

It wasn’t a landslide, obviously, and to be completely honest, The Avengers is still my favorite out of the two. The experience I had watching it was unlike any other I’ve had in the theater, and it’s filled to the brim with quotes and moments I’ll get nostalgic over for years to come. But I can’t say that I think it’s a better film, overall, even if it has just the right amount of Loki.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s talk about it in the comments. And let me know what you’d like to see compared in the next Which is Better. 

Thanks for reading this! You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

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Is ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ About to Become The Best Movie of 2015?

mad max fury road best movie

I knew something was up when film reviewer Chris Stuckmann awarded the fourth Mad Max movie an “A+.” And when The Dissolve gave its second ever 5 star rating to the Tom Hardy/Charlize Theron film.

Now the film is even getting praise from traditional outlets. AP is calling it a “poetic masterpiece.” Chicago Tribune claims it makes Furious 7 look like Curious George. The George Miller movie has a stunning 99% on Rotten Tomatoes at this time. I don’t think I’ve heard of this much praise about a fourth sequel since Rocky IV, not that I was even alive back then.

Go on…Is ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ About to Become The Best Movie of 2015?

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review, Best Trailers For The Worst Movies

age of ultron review podcast

In this week’s episode of Now Conspiring, we’re joined by Reid Jones as we have a spoilery discussion about Marvel’s latest Avengers-related assembly. If you want to avoid spoilers, stop listening at the 8:25 mark of the podcast and then pick it up again at 34:44.

But Age of Ultron isn’t all we’re talking about this week. We also cover the new Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts film, While We’re Young for a quick review. We also cover the latest movie news, including the recent 21 Jump Street crossover, the AMC Star Wars marathon, and more.

Later in the show, we try to decide what the best trailer is for the worst movie. Don’t forget to add your suggestion to the comments!

Enjoy the show, and don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes and rate/review us if you like us! THANKS!

Question of the Week: Who is your favorite Avenger?

By the way, our Song of the Week this week is “Bad Dream” by The Mowgli’s. Be sure to check out their new album (same name as the song), which is in stores now.

Other music you heard in this episode:

  • “Something Personal” – Bright and Early
  • “Irreplaceable” – Beyoncé

Retronalysis: What You Missed About Ultron In ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

OK, I’m sure not all of you missed this. If you caught it and feel offended, then…I don’t know, that’s something you need to work out on your own.

I’ve already reviewed the film in length, so if you haven’t seen Age of Ultron yet and want to avoid even mild spoilers, you can check out my spoiler-free review and come back here when you see the film for yourself. Long story short: it’s a good movie worthy of its place as an Avengers sequel.

While I enjoyed the film, I had a few complaints in regards to some of the character and narrative development. Specifically, I disliked how “rushed” the first act was in terms of establishing Ultron as a villain. When you watch the movie, you’ll notice that we sort of jump into this plot (which isn’t heavily related to the opening scenes) with Tony Stark suddenly revealing to Bruce Banner that they can create an artificial intelligence.

avengers age of ultron

After a brief montage (seriously, a montage), they succeed in using the gem inside Loki’s scepter to create an A.I., though they leave before realizing Ultron has been created. I’ll spare you the details on what happens next in case you haven’t seen the movie yet, but the short version is that Ultron as a villain is born over the course of about ten minutes.

I didn’t like this because I felt like such a crucial part of what makes Ultron, well, Ultron was glossed over for the sake of getting right to the action. A noble goal, but for a movie that’s 2.5 hours long, I would have preferred just a few more scenes to familiarize us with Ultron’s motivations. Honestly, though, this is all nitpicking, especially since the 3-hour long director’s cut will likely fill in the blanks in a more satisfying way.

Now on to what you may have missed. See, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ultron’s personality over the last few days. As a villain, he has a compelling spark to his tone and delivery that makes him seem more like a misguided anti-hero instead of an instrument of pure evil.

avengers age of ultron

I realized that this is explained in a very subtle way near the beginning of the movie. Ultron was essentially created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. They’re like his parents, and in an amazing way, Ultron inherited the best and worst traits of these parents.

Ultron is sarcastic, impatient, and brilliant. Much like Tony Stark. He’s also prone to violent outbursts, like Bruce Banner. Most of all, Ultron has a specific vision for the world (like his fathers) and has the strength and will to carry it out. The only problem seems to be something that is later fulfilled by a character I won’t spoil.

Obviously, this is intentional on the part of Joss Whedon and his team of writers. When crafting Ultron as a character, it must have seemed perfectly natural for them to borrow from established characters, so we would familiarize ourselves with Ultron quickly and immediately feel threatened by his claim on the world. The father-son dynamic is reflected several times in the movie later on, of course, as Tony banters with Ultron over the fact that he’s his maker.

avengers age of ultron

This film would have been so much better, in my opinion, if they had just given Ultron a little more room to breathe in this way, so more audience members could catch that he’s a product of this world created by the Avengers (not just the literal Avengers themselves). After all, facing themselves is a sizable threat that the Avengers would (and did) have to face, even though the movie sort of sidetracked in that regard.

Now, in case you were hoping for some easter eggs, I can at least give you a few morsels to chew on. I didn’t notice as much as some other Marvel fans, but I did catch something related to Tony Stark and J.A.R.V.I.S.

When Tony has to find another program to help him fight Ultron, we see him settle on “FRIDAY.” In the comics, Tony uses FRIDAY as his virtual personal assistant, and she is very similar to Ultron in that she’s like his child. Remember that Ultron wasn’t actually invented by Tony in the comics, so Marvel was clearly introducing FRIDAY as a subtle nod to the origin story they gave to Ultron.

avengers age of ultron

I’ll have to watch the movie again, but I’ve also heard that Jocasta’s name can be seen around the same time Tony grabs the FRIDAY program. I can’t confirm this yet, but that would be an interesting easter egg considering Jocasta was created by Ultron to serve as his robot girlfriend (though she later becomes an Avenger).

That’s all I have for you guys. Hope you enjoy (or enjoyed) Avengers: Age of Ultron. Again, if you want my full review on the movie or just want to know my thoughts on it, you can check that out here.  

Review: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

avengers age of ultron review

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t as dark and dreary as one might expect after watching the trailer (or several of them, for that matter), but it’s still a superb action film, even if it’s a bit too familiar for most Marvel fans craving a step in a new direction.

Like the last ensemble film, our heroes must unite (and bicker endlessly) to take down a villain related to one of the Avengers (this time, Tony Stark), culminating in an all out battle against the villain’s army (this time made of robots in the place of aliens). And unlike Avengers, there are two or three other climaxes thrown in for good measure, depending on who you ask.

This makes Age of Ultron at least “feel” much longer than its predecessor, especially previous Marvel films with only one central character, as it’s stuffed with too much action to follow on the first viewing. That makes it essential viewing for anyone somewhat familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and happy about that fact, but it’s not quite the genre-defining movie we may have unwittingly expected.

And that’s OK. Age of Ultron does what Marvel movies do best: deliver some of the most spectacular action scenes possible with this generation’s lineup of iconic heroes. And that’s definitely satisfying for anyone remotely interested in the lore involved. It’s absolutely an event movie that will best be experienced by a crowded theater of super-fans giggling at every quip and jab these characters perform onscreen. But I expect it will also be a fun distraction on a slow Saturday night at home.

What makes Age of Ultron essential, however, is how remarkable it is to see this experiment continue to evolve with even richer stories for characters we thought we knew. There’s more going on in the head of Tony Stark than ever before, and that’s obviously counting three movies dedicated solely to his character arc. Several other characters are given their rightful due, specifically with Hawkeye becoming more than an irreverent archer afraid of mind-manipulation.

The romance between Hulk and Black Widow manifests early, saving it from feeling like a spurred encounter. Instead, we’re forced to wonder about the circumstances that caused it, which happened entirely offscreen. It’s not the strongest element of Ultron (that goes to the realization of Vision as a mainstay), but it’s certainly one of the riskiest. And who doesn’t want more risks from the film franchise that has it all?

Grade: A-

Why Do Movie Trailers Suck?

movie trailers suck

We’ve all watched that trailer. It gives away the whole movie, including key plot twists. Sometimes you watch a trailer that isn’t even close to what you get in the real movie (we’re looking at you Frozen and Kangaroo Jack).

And sometimes, a movie trailer is just plain bad, even though the movie itself is quite good. Well this week on the Now Conspiring Podcast, Maria and I delve into what makes our trailers, well trailers. Is it money? Greed? Power? Greedy power? We discuss.

Later in the show, we quickly review PaddingtonAmerican Sniper, and Blackhat. And we also cover this week’s movie news, including our thoughts on the Oscars, the new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer, and more.

Stick around for our Netflix Recommendation of the Week, and as always, we finish the show with new Movie Releases coming this weekend.

Question of the Week: 

Why do movie trailers suck? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to our show on iTunes for updates on every episode!

Links to cool things we mentioned:

My American Sniper review. 

How George Lucas almost directed Star Wars: Episode VII.

The second trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron (which Maria hates for some reason).

All of the Oscars nominees in one place! 

15 Movies That Could Make 2015 The Best Year Ever

Pop Quiz: What’s the most anticipated movie of 2015?

BUZZER

The answer is too many. See, 2015 is shaping up to be a big (and I mean big) year for movies, and the list just keeps growing.

Below are just the 15 we know about: (in no particular order)

15. Mockingjay (Part 2)

The story so far is that the final movie in the “Hunger Games” franchise will be a two-parter. Because hey, if it worked for Harry Potter, then it works for Katniss (Catness).

14. Superman/Batman (Working Title)

The world’s finest are officially teaming up in 2015. I’m sick of talking about it too.

13. Warcraft


Based on the video game responsible for ending millions of relationships, Warcraft is currently in pre-production and has been announced as a 2015 title. I’m skeptical on whether or not this will translate well to film, but the lore is definitely rich enough to craft (unintended pun) an immersive fantasy film.

12. Avengers: Age of Ultron


Like I said, it’s going to be a big year.

11. Pixar’s “Inside Out”


I know what you’re thinking. Of course the Pixar Theory guy brings this up. Well leave me alone! You know you want this too. Besides one other movie, this is the only non-sequel we know Pixar is working on and the concept is awesome and original.

It’s apparently about an amazing world that exists within the mind of a 12-year-old girl, who is probably Boo fingers crossed.

10. Assassin’s Creed


Even non-gamers have probably heard about this (maybe?), so I have high hopes for Hollywood’s next attempt at nailing a video-game adaptation. What they’ve got going for them so far is Michael Fassbender on the cast, but we don’t yet know how they’re going to handle the story.

All we know for sure is that Desmond and the Animus will be the driving force of the plot, which is unfortunate. That was easily the weakest aspect of the games, at least later on, but I understand why they want to run with this interesting premise of a man living as his ancestors and getting wasted with Leonardo DaVinci.

9. Peanuts


Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, but I’m weirdly excited about this. It’s in 3D so it will probably make the TV movies look like District 9 (I’m bad at comparisons), but the Peanuts characters definitely deserve to finally hit the big screen.

8. Star Wars Episode VII


I’m pretty sure I could just stop the list here…

7. Ant-Man


This will be the “other” Marvel movie coming out in 2015, but don’t expect it to get lost in the shuffle. It will be coming out in November, a month usually devoid of superhero action, and will be directed Edgar Wright

But Jon, who is Edgar Wright and why should I care?

Well inner dialogue, Edgar Wright has directed multiple movies and cult classics, such as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and the recent film, The World’s End. We like this guy, basically.

Thanks Jon. 

Um…you’re welcome.

I love you.

6. Mission Impossible 5


Before Ghost Protocol, a sequel to the now 20-year-old Mission Impossible franchise wouldn’t have caused much excitement. But now we know just how good these spy thrillers can be, so let’s hope Ethan Hunt’s next outing lives up to the last.

5. Finding Dory


Technically, Dory has already been found (in our hearts), but that doesn’t mean the Finding Nemo movie will fail to make millions cashing in on our love for aquatic mayhem and feels.

4. Bond 24


The follow-up to Skyfall, considered to be one of the best Bond films of all time, will also be vying for our attention come 2015. Daniel Craig is set to reprise his role and Sam Mendes will also be returning as director.

The pressure is surely on, as the duo must be able to live up to the success of Skyfall, which may not be easily done.

3. Pitch Perfect 2


I could just say, “Enough said.” and many of you would nod at your computer screens and proceed to scroll to #2. Unfortunately, there are people who haven’t watched this movie, which means there are people who don’t like this movie.

Yes, I am one of those moviegoers that was forced to see this movie by attractive females and then walked out loving it. It was more funny than cheesy, although barely, and it has really picked up a rabid following thanks to word-of-mouth and meme culture. I’m expecting the sequel to make a bigger splash.

Also: Fat Amy.

2. Terminator (Reboot)


I only care because Arnold has personally announced his involvement, though I’m taking that news with a grain of salt. Though I’ve never been much of a Terminator fan in the past, I don’t doubt this will be a big deal in 2015.

1. Jurassic Park 4


Look, I’m not going to BS you guys. Dinosaur Island 4 wasn’t even on my list 10 minutes ago, Avatar 2 was. Then someone approached me and said in a 1920’s voice, “HOLD THE PRESSES, SEE! AVATAR 2 COMING OUT IN 2016, SEE! READ ALL ABOUT IT!” Then he threw an iPad at me.

So I panicked because 15 is a cooler number than 14, so I scavenged the depths of the internet to find another movie coming out. It was between Pirates of the Caribbean 5Independence Day 2 and a new take on Cinderella, so feel appreciative.

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