Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

First, let me state that I am an unabashed Joss Whedon fan. From Angel to Buffy, Cabin in the Woods to Dollhouse, and of course Firefly, I pretty much watch anything he creates.

I was on a business trip in Canada when the first Avengers movie came out, and we went to a midnight show the morning it opened. Since I was on another business trip, this time to Chicago, when Age of Ultron came out, I decided to do the same.

I didn’t really care for it.

Now before all the haters come out, I’m glad I saw the film and don’t feel that it wasted several hours of my life (unlike some movies) but I was disappointed.

What follows is why, and warning, spoilers a’plenty. It’s funny, when I review a movie I like it is easy to describe it with few spoilers, but in giving a slightly negative review to something with such a fan base I feel compelled to defend my view with examples.

Here, I’ll add some carriage returns so you can still look away. Last chance.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Okay, the movie starts out with our heroes raiding a Hydra base looking for Loki’s scepter. So far so good, although I can’t really remember when the scepter got lost but I went with it. Things seem to be going our team’s way until two mutants, erm, excuse me “enhanced humans”, named Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch join the fray. While the Avengers are ultimately successful in retrieving the scepter, the Scarlet Witch plants a vision into Tony Stark’s brain that he would be responsible for the death of his companions, and by extension, the world.

Liked that part, so I’m pretty jazzed.

Next, we’re back at Avenger HQ and Tony’s vision still haunts him. He has been working on project “Ultron” which would create a global defense system that will render the Avengers unnecessary, and all he lacks is the AI to animate it. In experimenting on Loki’s scepter, he and Bruce Banner discover that there is an AI in the gem. When they attempt to use it to complete the Ultron project, they unleash the intelligence who is now intent on destroying Stark and the rest of the world’s humans.

Here’s where I start to lose it. Let me state for the record that I am a huge fan of James Spader and I loved they way he brought Ultron to life. But I had a really hard time understanding why Ultron would immediately develop such a hatred for Tony Stark. There was almost no creator/creation interaction, and there was a lot of focus on Tony’s offhand comment “Peace in our time” (which I took as sarcastic WWII reference). Anyway, the monster is alive, angry, and after confronting the Avengers, he escapes (his consciousness can travel via the Internet).

And it went downhill from there.

The rest of the movie is pretty much the Avengers chasing Ultron around. Ultron builds himself a new, coolio body (which was much more expressive than I was expecting – I was thinking it would be more like V in V for Vendetta) as well as an army of robot soldiers he controls. He also goes to collect the remaining world’s supply of vibranium (the metal used in Captain America’s shield) and the Avengers attempt to stop him. This results in the Scarlet Witch putting the whammy on the Hulk and Stark has to don “Veronica” – a Hulk-busting suit – to subdue him. Ultron escapes with the metal and the Avengers are blame for the resulting destruction.

Okay, the suit was cool and I can still hear the line “go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep” but it really didn’t advance the plot much.

The Avengers retreat to Hawkeye’s house in the country, where we find out he has a family, and there is a period of “character building”. I almost fell asleep at this point, although that probably had as much to do with the reclining chairs at the AMC 600 as the movie (really nice theatre). Yes, I know that super hero movies can’t be all fight scenes and gadgets, but I found myself not caring by this point.

Now, the coolest thing, to me, about the movie was the introduction of another infinity stone. See, Ultron wants a more realistic (i.e. non-mechanical) body and he is using tech to build one. While it is growing in a capsule-like thing, he cracks open the gem in Loki’s scepter to reveal a smaller yellow gem, which he places on the new body’s forehead. Once the body is ready he plans to upload his consciousness into it. He must know the gem is powerful.

One of my all time favorite movies is Guardians of the Galaxy. As it was mentioned in that film, there are six powerful infinity stones in existence. The purple one is featured in that movie, and the Tesseract from the Thor films is the blue one. Now we see the yellow one, setting the stage for the upcoming Infinity War when Thanos attempts to collect all six.

Now, that is cool.

Anyway, Ultron is interrupted by the Avengers before he can complete the transference into the new body, and they make off with the capsule. Stark then puts J.A.R.V.I.S, an AI, into the body and there is a big fight scene between the Avengers as they attempt to decide if this is a good idea or not. Thor settles it by smashing the capsule holding the body with his hammer, and the resulting lightning (“It’s Alive!”) causes it to awake. The new entity is called “Vision” and features the infinity stone on its forehead.

Then the film heads toward the inevitable climax, which was pretty much the same as the end of the first Avengers movie. The team (now augmented by Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch who have switched sides) swat a bunch of flying things out of the air. Ultron and Vision fight (à la Loki and Hulk), and eventually Tony Stark flies into a glowing hole and sets off an explosion.

Yawn.

I know this movie wasn’t easy to make. You are dealing with a huge cast of characters, many of whom have their own entire franchises and many who could, and you have to cram a lot of plot development into less than three hours. I wish there was more reason for Ultron’s hatred and more interaction between him and his creator. I wish there was less sitting around the farm and more humor. And I wish the ending wasn’t so derivative of the first movie.

So I didn’t really care for it and I probably could have waited until it came out on Blu-ray.

Before all the flaming starts, please understand that it’s okay if you liked it. In fact, I hope you did – it doesn’t not make you a bad person. It just wasn’t to my taste.

I am, however, now very eager to see the Infinity War. I love Thanos as a villain and the whole infinity stones back story is cool. Thor mentions that four infinity stones have surfaced, but I don’t know where the green one appears. Perhaps an upcoming movie? Guess we’ll find out.

[UPDATE: Ken Kennedy pointed out that the fourth “red” stone was in Thor: The Dark World. Don’t know where I got that is was the green stone in my head, and while I saw that movie it must have slipped my mind.]

Review: The Lamps Plus Saga

Okay, I debated a bit about posting this. There are too many people who would identify this story as a customer service “nightmare”. This isn’t a nightmare – it’s a first world problem that is a bit frustrating. Not being able to find food or shelter – that’s a nightmare. This is just a pain.

The story starts last fall. I was having some people over for a holiday party and I finally decided that I needed to replace some lamp shades that got busted in the move out to the farm – fifteen years ago. They weren’t that damaged when we moved in, but after having a number of kittens over the years all it takes is one small defect to interest them, and then, bam, that’s it.

As is my habit, I got on-line and did a search for lamp shades and found Lamps Plus (lampsplus.com). It was a good website and I was able to narrow the choices down to exactly what I was looking for, and with relatively little hassle I got some quality lamp shades. The only real problem was that the tracking number I got in the e-mail kept showing as invalid, and I was worried that they wouldn’t show up in time. They did and all was well.

Fast forward a few weeks. Where the “first world problems” angle comes in is that we have access to a cottage near the coast of North Carolina. The only issue is that it needs some furniture and my wife, who is particular about such things, could never find furniture she liked. That is until Lamps Plus sent us a catalog with this picture in it:

She thought that room would go perfect in the cottage and I agreed. Thus started the current saga.

I was going to place my order on-line, but I could not find the white armchair in the foreground listed. Plus, I had the additional need that anything heavy needed to be shipped to the coast (three hours away) but anything shipped FedEx should come to the farm.

I got in touch with a sales agent (I should point out that all the sales agents I’ve spoken to have been friendly and courteous), explained my situation, and ended up placing three orders.

The first was for the little teal side table, the coffee table and a television stand (not in the picture). Those would come FedEx so I had them sent to the office where we have a full time shipping department in the building.

The second was for the sofa and the teal console (seen in the back right of the picture). Those would come freight. I stressed that I needed them to be shipped together, since I would have limited time to get down to the coast (it’s at least a six hour round trip) and she said they should since they were both in stock.

The third was for two of the armchairs. She told me that they would be back in stock in March and I was so excited I ordered two of them.

So far, so good.

For my job I have to travel a lot. This week I was in San Francisco when the three items from the first order arrived, and on the morning I was leaving I get a call from the shipper that the console had arrived. When I asked about the couch, they didn’t know anything, so I called back to Lamps Plus and was informed that the sofa wouldn’t ship until March 2nd.

(sigh)

I spent about an hour going back and forth between Lamps Plus and the shipping company looking for options. I have a completely booked schedule for the next week and going to the beach was going to be a huge inconvenience. I asked the shipping company if they could hold the console until the sofa arrived, and they said yes but they would charge a $48/day storage fee. I asked Lamps Plus if I could just refuse delivery so it would be returned to them and they could ship it with the sofa, and they said “no” and if I did there would be another fee. If I had the shipper send it to my house instead of the coast, the fee was going to be more than the cost of the console.

(sigh)

I had no choice but to decide to go to the coast and get the console. Of course the shipper was as helpful as Comcast with “we’ll be there between 11am and 4pm”. My plan was to return back to North Carolina Thursday night, drive to the office and put the boxes from the first order in the car, and then get up early Friday and drive to the coast in order to meet the delivery truck.

Operating on little sleep, I made it to the coast just before 11am and started unpacking. The little teal side table was fine, but it turned out the TV stand had been damaged in shipment. There was no exterior damage but something had poked through the back panel of the stand:

You can’t really see it from the front and the last thing I wanted to do was to have to pack the whole thing up again (you can’t imagine the amount of gauze, Styrofoam, tape and cardboard they wrap around these things) so Andrea suggested I just ask them if they would discount for the damage.

Also, after unpacking everything, I realized that we really didn’t have room for both chairs I had ordered, so I called Lamps Plus back with the goal of asking about the discount and reducing my chair order from two to one.

I was connected to Jackie, who has been a real soldier throughout all of this. She was able to put in the order change and then she just asked me if I could send in pictures of the damaged TV stand. She also helped me change the address for the sofa delivery. I’ll have it sent to the farm and worry about getting it to the coast on my own, because there is a good chance it will show up at a time when I can’t make it down there and I can’t afford ~$50/day in storage fees.

I sent in pictures of the damaged stand, and by this time it was about 1pm. I called the shipping company for a status and they estimated that the truck would be arriving around 2:30pm, so I went out and grabbed some Chinese takeaway and came back to find an e-mail from Lamps Plus canceling the entire order for the chairs.

(sigh)

I got back into the phone queue for Lamps Plus and actually ended up back with Jackie. She was frustrated about the order cancellation (she had specifically noted to only delete the one) and said she’d fix it.

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. The console arrived without damage and, on orders from Andrea, I took lots of pictures of the furniture (her career is insanely busy at this time of year so she couldn’t join me) and headed home.

Later that day I got an e-mail offering $50 for the damaged TV stand (cool) and another one correcting my order to just the one armchair.

I thought everything was cool until I started showing Andrea the pictures. When I got to this one, she was like “what’s that?”

I had not noticed that they sent to us a brown coffee table instead of a white one, which was key to the look of the room.

(sigh)

So I wrote back to Jackie and asked what my options were. The best scenario I can think of would be to order a second coffee table. When that arrives, I will carefully unpack it and place the brown one in the box for a return. That’s the best I can hope for and I can think of a lot of other things that can go wrong, especially since I still have a sofa and a chair to get. As I sent that late on Friday I have not heard back as I write this.

I buy most of the things I need, outside of food, on-line. I am a huge fan of Amazon because they have insanely good customer service. I am comfortable dealing with issues, but I’ve been spoiled. I’m not sure what is up with Lamps Plus, but I think it may be one of those cases where they have taken on more things than they can handle. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is incredibly easy to buy lamp shades from them, but furniture is a totally different matter.

But the true measure of a company is how things are handled when things go wrong, and the jury is still out on Lamps Plus. I’ll update this post as the saga continues, and I hope it gets indexed by Google so that people searching for “Lamps Plus” and “furniture” and “problems” will have at least one data point to go on.

I just know that at this moment what was once a good vendor/consumer relationship has been soured, and I’ll be hesitant to order from them in the future.