Face-Off: Avengers: Age of Ultron vs. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Glad to see you again, seekers of the macarbe! This session we have a unique contest; a Face-Off rematch, if you will. Some months ago we pitted THE AVENGERS against GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, with the former coming out on top. Now, with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 out on Blu-ray, we can now give the space team a second chance to try and defeat Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Can they come out on top? The suspence is killing me!

Both Joss Whedon and James Gunn returned for these respective sequels, having exceeded expectations with their first entries. Neither of the sequels are considered better than the first (as few are), but both are worthy entries in the Marvel canon. But did AVENGERS stave off sequelitis better than GUARDIANS? Are the galactic a-holes no match for the super friends? Ah! Suspense!

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man
Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver
James Spader as Ultron
Paul Bettany as J.A.R.V.I.S./The Vision
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill
Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Plus tons of cameos and small roles!

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star Lord
Zoe Saldana as Gamora
Dave Bautista as Drax
Bradley Cooper as Rocket
Vin Diesel as Baby Groot
Michael Rooker as Yondu
Karen Gillan as Nebula
Kurt Russell as Ego
Sylvester Stallone as Stakar
Pom Klementieff as Mantis
Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha
Sean Gunn as Kraglin
Joss Whedon naturally had to take on more material this time around. The cast was bigger; the stakes were higher; the effects were grander. On top of all of this is the need to set up the greater battle that will result in INFINITY WAR next year. However this seems to have stunted Whedon a bit. With his script he continued to pay respect to the characters by digging deeper into their personalities, focusing in on the shift between Tony and Steve that boiled eventually over in CIVIL WAR. There's also a budding romance between Natasha and Bruce that, when examining their character traits would make sense, but in the scheme of the universe seemed a little out-of-the-blue. While Tony and Steve are greatly explored characters like Thor seem to go unnoticed, merely playing a role in the plot, all while Wanda and Vision are meant to be explored in later films. The dialogue and interactions are where the movie shines, as the action, though surely grand, is often a little clunky and too big for its own good. It's just all so big Whedon and the editors had a hard time keeping it all in focus. He does a fine job overall, but wrangling everything together to make it not feel like a prelude is often too difficult to manage.
James Gunn had a much easier task, not having to worry about grander plot strands on the horizon, being able to put all his focus on the characters. As a result nothing feels overstuffed, and the theme of discovering who your real family is translates into everyone's story. Gunn knows and loves these characters so much, and gets a kick out of letting them banter and go at it. This movie, like the last, is such a joy to watch simply for the dialouge (also like AVENGERS). Sure, the movie can feel kind of stationary, acting more as a character(s) piece than the sci-fi adventure of the first film. A lack of constant conflict (we will get into later) contributes to this minor flaw, but nonetheless Gunn stays focused on the characters while working around the visuals to create action that is spacious and exciting. The whole movie may not be exciting, but nothing seems pointless, and no character goes unexplored.
The Avengers have finally located Loki's spear, which was taken by Hydra and experimented on. With it in their control, Tony Stark discovers they can use the stick's power to create an ultra form of A.I. called Ultron. Soon the A.I. grows sentient, and takes on a robot form and seeks to destroy the Avengers. They must rally together, confront the possibility of their extinction, and defeat Ultron before he destroys all of human life.
After defending space batteries against a gross monster, The Guardians of the Galaxy disrespect, and are hunted down by, The Sovereign. This leads them to crash land on a planet where Peter Quill's father finds them, taking Drax, Gamora and Quill to his planet. This leaves Rocket, Baby Groot and Nebula on a nearby planet, with the latter joining with the Ravagers to take the former two and Yondu hostage. Between these stories the characters are forced to confront new challenges that deepen and expand on their relationships with each other, all the while avoiding hostile alien threats and insults.

Avengers Assault on Hydra Base

Tony: Shit!

    Steve: Language!

Meet the Twins

Pietro to Clint: "You didn't see that coming?"

The Lullaby

Strucker and Cap Have a Chat

Tony's Vision.

Vision Cap to Tony: "You could've saved us. Why didn't you do more?"
Back on the Plane

Thor Congratulating Banner: "The gates of Hel are filled with the screams of his victims! But not the screams of the dead, of course. No, no... wounded screams... mainly whimpering, a great deal of complaining and tales of sprained deltoids and... gout."

Returning to Base

Tony: "Actually he's the boss. I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler."

Maria Hill to Steve: "Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. One has a hyper-fast metabolism, the other uses mental telepathy. He's fast and she's weird."

Tony and Bruce Discuss Ultron

Tony to Bruce: "Peace in our time. Imagine that."

The Party

A Sub-Par War Machine Story

Thor to Tony: "Jane is better."

Bruce and Nat Flirt

Thor's Magic Elixsir

The Hammer Game/Steve Gets Close

Thor to Gang: "That's an interesting theory, but I have a simpler one; you're all not worthy."

Ultron to Gang: ... worthy... No... How could you be worthy? You're all killers."

Fighting Iron Legion Bots

Ultron: [singing] "I once had strings, but now I'm free... There are no strings on me!"

The Avengers Discuss the Aftermath

The Twins Meet Ultron

Wanda: "Is that why you've come, to end the Avengers?"
    Ultron: "I've come to save the world! But, also... yeah."

The Twins' Story

Ultron Makes a Purchase from Ulyssues Klaue

...Then Cuts off His Arm.

The Avengers Crash the Party

Thor: "If you believe in peace, then let us keep it."
    Ultron: "I think you're confusing 'peace' with 'quiet'."

The Avengers vs. Ultron and The Twins

Thor's Mighty Vision

Clint to Wanda: "I've done the whole mind-control thing; not a fan."

Steve's Vision ft. Peggy Carter

Hulk Goes on a Rampage

Que the Hulkbuster

Tony to Hulk: "Listen to me, that little witch is messing with your mind. You're stronger than her, you're smarter than her. You're Bruce Banner! "
    [Hulk roars]
    Stark: Right, don't mention puny Banner...

Iron Man vs. Hulk

Tony while punching Hulk: "Go to sleep! Go to sleep! Go to sleep!"

The Team Took a Hit

A Safe Place

Bruce and Nat's Moment

Tony and Steve Chop Some Wood

Tony to Steve: Isn't that the WHY we fight? So we can END the fight, so that we get go home?"

Nick Fury Returns

Tony to Nick: "I wasn't tricked, I was shown. It wasn't my nightmare it was my legacy. The end of the path I started us on."

Thor Recruits Erik Selvig

Planning Around the Dinner Table

Thor's Next Vision

Ultron's Plan Revealed

Ultron vs. Cap in South Korea

Enter the Widow

Nat: "Am I always picking after you boys?"

The Twins Have a Change of Heart

Widow Taken Captive

Ultron to Nat: "I was meant to be new. I was meant to beautiful. The world would've looked to the sky and seen hope, seen mercy. Instead, they'll look up in horror."

Superhero Infighting

The Vision is Born

Vision: "I'm not J.A.R.V.I.S., I'm not Ultron. I am."

The Vision is Worthy

Suiting Up

The Battle of Sokovia Begins

Ultron: "Do you see the beauty of it? The inevitability? You rise, only to fall. You, Avengers, you are my meteor. My swift and terrible sword and the Earth will crack with the weight of your failure. Purge me from your computers; turn my own flesh against me. It means nothing! When the dust settles, the only thing living in this world, will be metal."

Steve to Gang: "You get hurt, hurt 'em back. You get killed... walk it off."

Nat to Bruce: "I adore you...[kisses him, then pushes him off a cliff]...but I need the other guy."

Clint to Wanda: "The city is flying and we're fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense."

Various Badass Action Moments.

Clint, pointing his bow at Quicksilver: "Nobody would know. Nobody. 'Last I saw him Ultron was sitting on him. Yeah he'll be missed, that quick little bastard.'"

Quicksilver Gets Knicked

Help From Nick Fury

An Awesome War Machine Story

Vision With the Hammer Save

Vision to Thor: "It's terribly well-balanced."
    Thor: "Well if there's too much weight you lose power on the swing."

Avengers Unite

Ultron Gets Beam Blasted

Hulk Scares the Bots Away

Pietro's Sacrifce

Hulk Leaves

Vision and Ultron Talk

Ultron: "They're doomed."
    Vision: "Yes, but a thing isn't beautiful because it lasts."

Settling Back In

Steve: "But if you put the hammer in an elevator?"
    Tony: "It'll still go up."
    Steve: "Elevator's not worthy."

The New Team

Steve to Team: "Avengers...as–[cut to end credits]."

Quill to Gamora: "It’s just swords were your thing and guns were mine, but I guess we’re both doing guns now. I just didn’t know that."

Baby Groot Boogies to Mr. Blue Sky

Fighting the Interdimensional Octopus-Bear-Thing

Meet the People of The Sovergien

Nebula the Prisoner

Drax: "There are two types of beings in the universe: those who dance, and those who do not."

Various: "They're not ripe."

Fleeing Sovereign

Drax Heads Outside

Drax: "Die, spaceship!"

Baby Groot Moment

Crash Landing

    Quill: "I'm sorry, I took it too far. I meant 'trash panda.'"
    Rocket: "Is that better?"

Ego and Mantis Arrive

Yondu and Stakar

A Campfire Talk

Mantis Reads Quills Emotions

Mantis to Quill: "You feel love...romantic, sexual love...for her [Gamora]!"
    Drax laughing hysterically: "She just told everyone your deepest, darkest secret! You must be so embarassed! Do me! Do me!"

Rocket Sabotages the Ravagers

Baby Groot Moment

Nebula Downs Yondu

Arriving at Ego's Planet

Ego Shares His History

Drax: "My father would tell the story of impregnating my mother every winter solstice."
    Quill: "That's disgusting."
    Drax: "It was beautiful. You Earthers have hang-ups."

Rocket, Groot and Yondu Taken Prisoner

Rocket to Taserface: "I am so sorry. I just keep imagining you waking up in the morning, start looking in the mirror and all seriously say to yourself, “You know what would be a really kick-ass name? Taserface!”

Ego and Peter Have a Catch

Mantis and Drax Have a Heart-to-Heart

Baby Groot: Master Thief

Rocket, Groot and Yondu Perform the Greatest Escape

Baby Groot Angry. Baby Groot Throw Man.

Taserface Mocked One Last Time

700 Jumps!

Quill and Gamora Share a Dance

Gamora v. Nebula Round 2

Gamora Weilds a Spaceship Gun

Nebula Finally Wins

Quill: "Well, get ready for a 800-foot statue of Pac-Man with Skeletor and Heather Locklear..."
    Ego: "Whatever you want."
    Quill: "I'm gonna make some weird shit."

Ego's True Plan

Quill Blasts Ego

Hasselhoff Cameo

Ego Smushed by a Ship

Drax to Groot: "Out of the way dumber, smaller Groot!"

Fighting to the Core

The Sovereign Return

Quill and Rocket Blast Off

Mantis Puts Ego to Sleep

Rocket and Groot Go Over the Plan

Rocket: "Does anybody have any tape out there? I wanna put some tape over the "Death" button!"

Yondu to Nebula: "This is gonna hurt."
    Nebula: "Promises, promises."

Bye, bye Sovereign

Quill to Yondu: "You look like Mary Poppins. "
    Yondu: "Is he cool?"
    Quill: "Hell yeah, he's cool."
    Yondu: "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!"

Full Assembly Acquired

Fighting Ego's...Tentacles?

Defeat is Nigh

Drax: "Ow! My Nipples!"

Quill the Celestial Badass

Quill to Ego: "You shouldn't have killed my mom and squished my Walkman!"

Quill v. Ego

Rocket to Yondu: "He says, 'Welcome to the frickin' Guardians of the Galaxy!' Only he didn't use 'frickin'".

Pac-Man Cameo

Ego Defeated

Yondu to Quill: "He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn't your daddy."

Goodbye, Yondu

Quill: "I guess David Hasselhoff did kinda end up being my dad after all, only it was you, Yondu."

Quill Gets a Sweet Zune

A Ravager Funeral

Mantis: "It's beautiful."
Drax: "It is. And so are you…on the inside."
Really, anytime Baby Groot is on screen.
The orignal AVENGERS score from Alan Silvestri is a terrific piece of blockbuster scoring. For the sequel composers Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman collaborated on the music, and overall the job isn't bad, but doesn't live up to the heights Silvestri set. Some of Elfman's composition sound great, taking from the core theme Silvestri created and doing his own spin on it. This can be heard during the start of the end credits or when the entire team assembles to take on a horde of bots. Tyler's work is solid, but not as memorable, and can't really gather a fun energy like his work on IRON MAN 3. Overral solid work, but Silvestri is still supreme.
Tyler Bates' score from the first GUARDIANS failed to stand alongside the ecclectic playlist of classic pop hits that made up Awesome Mix Vol. 1. Here, the Awesome Mix is even better, as Gunn did a fantastic job picking the right songs to fit the right moods and story beats. However, Bates was up to the challenge this time, and delieverd an energetic, adventureous and emotionally resonant soundtrack that stands out when pop hits aren't jamming. The action pieces are fast and grand, while some of the emotional tracks near the end pack a wallop all their own. The soundtrack is a vast imporvement over the original's.
Marvel is said to have a villain problem, and it's a valid case with most of their movies. But Ultron doesn't fit into that category. No, he is not as fun to watch as Loki, but he is still an incredibly fleshed out villain. Whedon gives him a personality akin to a theatrical, Shakespearean figure, whose villainous viewpoints on humanity go beyond "They have skin! Destroy them all!" He actually challenges the Avengers' place in the world on an intellectual level, citing their lack of willingness to want to make the world a better place. He has some profound pieces of dialogue, his pressence is heavy thanks to a terrific performance from James Spader, and his final moments with Vision are surprisingly poignant. For a robot he's incredibly humanized and terrifying.
The big problem with this film is that, for most of it, there's a lack of a clear villain. At one point its Ayesha and her golden cronies, next its Taserface and the Ravagers. We bounce from one to the next until Ego reveals his hidden plan and becomes the villain for the sake of climax. Then, the Sovereign show back up so they can be defeated once again (leading Ayesha to create her precious "Adam" in the end credits). Ego becoming the villain is necessary to properly challenge Quill, giving him reason to discover his real family has been with him all along, but the setup of Ego as the bad guy is too abrupt, and is the only real downside of the film.
Here the visuals are noticeably more ramped up from AVENGERS, and in little moments they look pretty cool. The Vision looks undeniably sweet, and the powers of Wanda and Pietro are given a wispy, fantastical look and realism, with Wanda's red spells looking dangerous and gorgeous. But the robot VFX, when not tightly focused on Ultron, look a little iffy, sometimes not blending in with their environments the way they should. When everything is mashed together for the sake of gigantic action it can all look a little messy, even though in smaller moments the visuals are as good as they can possibly be for a Marvel movie.
The original GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was the most visually stupendous of all the Marvel films to date, and the sequel ups the ante in an incredible way. Ego's planet alone is a sheer marvel of color and detail. For this movie "bigger" didn't mean "more", and instead the world simply expanded and grew more astonishing. The space battles, environments and character effects are all immaculate, and it boggles to mind to try and imagine how other movies will top it...if they can.
The movie's crowning achievement is the character work, and although not everyone gets the same level of treatment Whedon knows how to use his larger-than-life heroes when the time is right. Tony and Steve's interactions with each other create a drama that would make a movie with just the two of them perfect all on its own; Nat and Bruce get chances to open up and reveal things we never knew about them and; we see a whole new side of Hawkeye. Whedon lives to get to the core of these characters and reveal their complexities, creating dynamics that are still in effect in the more recently released movies. Their discussions are poignant and often hysterical, and I actually feel like I'm learning something about them all when they're left to just talk. I know it might seem weird, but the talking is the best part about this massive superhero blockbuster.
Gunn loves these characters, and much like in AVENGERS, the best moments are simply when they're talking to each. These conversations are almost always hilarious and their differences and opinions about each other (especially between Rocket and Quill) begin to evolve a little more. Rocket in particular comes a long way, and we discover a new side to Gamora and Nebula's relationship. Even though the characters are so far away from each other the whole movie, Gunn makes an effort to find ways for them all to grow and shed more of their tough exteriors, like when Yondu connects on a real level with Rocket. When they're all together the impressive cast can work wonders, wringing out funny and touching moments. A terrific ensemble indeed.
Much like the first AVENGERS Whedon injects plenty of humor in the film, mostly when it comes to interactions between the team. Tony Stark is the main harbinger of the laughs, the quip machine that he is. Hawkeye gets more than one time to shine, enticing numerous cheers for lines like "...and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense," and, "Nobody would know..." Then Hulk is always good for a few yucks. Humor is what breaks down barriers and makes characters relateable, and I feel like that is what makes these movies such real hits, and can bring out the best bits from the heroes.
This movie is never not funny. Every interaction results in a brilliant quip or quirky moment. These GUARDIANS movies are surely the funniest of the Marvel lot, and are funnier than most actual comedies. I think Gunn realized the funnier moments are what helped the audiences connect with this strange team, so he didn't hold back this time. There may be one or two more dick/sex jokes than necessary, but then you laugh and realize there's nothing wrong with tons of penis jokes. Those are best kinds of jokes. And can we just stop and think about Baby Groot for a moment? If there was ever a way to bring about world peace...
Box Office
    $459 million ($1.405 billion global)
Box Office
    $389 million ($862 million global)

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON gets a bad rap. The anticipation going in was too great, so naturally it would have a hard time living up to the hype. It has some not-great elements about it, from the occasionally wonky visuals, the sheer chaos and the unavoidable preamble nature of it all. But it has some shining moments too, from its ensemble cast, dialogue and desire to advance the characters in ways that make sense. In this fight, though, it cannot help but come in second next to GUARDIANS, which has the task of upping the ante as well, but does it with much more focus and spectacle. Visually the movie is off the charts and the smaller scale (as compared to AVENGERS) allows for moments to blossom and for audiences to become more enveloped in the story. Gunn had the idea to make a movie about family, and achieved that goal better than any FAST AND FURIOUS movie ever could. That, and the movie is just so damn entertaining from start to finish. The action is great, the jokes are on-point, the music is terrific and the love we felt for the gang the first time around grows even more. AND SERIOUSLY can we talk about Baby Groot?



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