Mini-review Monday: Fifty Shades of Grey, Avengers: Age of Ultron

It’s a sad day when your mother is more up to date with movie viewing than you are. Such is the price for living in the inaka. Anyway, since I’ve been averaging one cinema visit a year since moving here, I’ve had to do a lot of waiting for DVD release. The following are catch-up mini-reviews for two high profile 2015 releases.

Fifty Shades of Grey
The movie adaptation of EL James’s erotic bestseller was this year’s big Valentine’s Day release. There has been much snickering about the book, but I was honestly prepared to approach the film with an open mind. I would give it a chance; judge it entirely on its own merits. After all, a good chunk of criticism of the novel centred on its writing style. With a movie, we wouldn’t have to endure heroine Anastasia Steele’s cringe-worthy inner monologue. That would be an immediate plus.

And yes, Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of sexually naïve Ana in this romantic drama is fine. The character is considerably less irritating on the screen than on the page. This said, the film as a whole is awful. It does a marvellous job of painting heterosexual twentysomething relationships as materialistic and immature – Anna’s most cherished moments with enigmatic billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) seem to involve him buying her expensive gifts and treating her to novel experiences like helicopter flights… all while a booming love song plays.

This cycle of bought affection, punctuated by sex, fights and dubiously possessive behaviour by Christian, repeats over and over during the film’s 128-minute running time. It’s tedious and makes Fifty Shades feel much longer than it really is. As for the ending, though its abruptness is in keeping with the source material, it’s completely unsatisfying. Absolutely lousy Valentine’s fare.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
You know, I’m not entirely sure what went wrong here. 2012’s The Avengers is regarded as one of the finest superhero movies ever made – successfully wielding a large cast, demonstrating heart and delivering both laughter and epic action. With Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon and the whole original cast back for sequel Age of Ultron, things should have been the same, right?

[insert Lex Luthor voice here] Wrong!

Age of Ultron is a strange disappointment, with the fun mostly leeched from proceedings. Most of the characters are grim faced, with even Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man stripped of entertaining one-liners. That role seems to have been passed to the film’s title villain (voiced by James Spader), a sentient AI intent on exterminating the human race.

It’s not all bad. As a South African it was great to see my country feature prominently, and the fight scenes are still engaging. It’s just that for the most part, Age of Ultron feels overstuffed and largely nonsensical. It hits the ground running and the audience is expected to be up to date with each character’s story arc, not to mention the development of the Marvel cinematic universe as a whole. And, honestly, it’s been a while…

Leaving more of a bad taste, however, is the treatment of women in the film. With the exception of cast newcomer Elizabeth Olsen – as telekinetic and psychic-powered Scarlet Witch – female characters are confined to supporting roles. If they’re not simply absent, they’re onscreen solely as girlfriends, wives, mothers and assistants, existing as foils for the male characters. This even includes Scarlett Johansson’s badass Black Widow, who here calls herself a monster not because of her assassin’s past, but because she is unable to fill a certain womanly function. That this “demotion” comes from the pen of Buffy’s creator is a huge, grating surprise.

While Avengers: Age of Ultron is far from a complete dud, it’s messy and memorable for the wrong reasons. A let-down.


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