Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron

Movie Review: Avengers Age of Ultron (2015) *Phase 2 Ends With a BANG* EXTREME SPOILER WARNING

Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron, James Spader
It seems like only yesterday that Iron Man 3 kicked off Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and today it comes to a close with Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I’m going to structure this review differently than I typically do.  I want to get into spoilers and talk about each of the characters, the plot, the shockers, but I also don’t want to spoil it for people who didn’t wait 2.5 hours in line tonight to see a 2.5 hour movie.

Therefore, in this first section I am going to give you the absolute bare bones if you want to read a review before you head off to the theater this weekend like the rest of THE WORLD is doing.  Should you be worried about Chapter 11 in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe? NO.  Let’s cover any other general questions quickly so you may be on your merry way and I’ll even give you my rating:
1. This is as good, if not better than The Avengers.
2. Ultron is the most formidable villain yet in the MCU.
3. This film makes past films better and lays the groundwork for much of Phase 3.
4. There are no good places to run to the bathroom.
5. There IS NO POST-CREDITS SEQUENCE; just the mid-credits.
6. The Avengers each have a distinct arc in the midst of world-threatening chaos.
7. The team at the end of the film is VERY different from at the beginning both in composition and purpose.
8. This is the beginning of the transition from original cast to next.
9. Joss Whedon’s writing and themes throughout his career shine through much more in this film than the first.
10. Few characters have a happy ending, but the audience will be screaming (literally) as we gleefully turn the page into Phase 3.
9.50/10 STOP READING NOW TO AVOID ANY MORE DETAILS!
Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron

Ok, last warning.  If you don’t want to know any more than I divulged before, get thee off the page, because so much happens in this film that I don’t even know where to begin.  This film from opening to close is moving non-stop, from action sequences to brilliant character moments that deepen each of the Avengers and their supporting cast and lay the groundwork for several films in Phase 3 and point the way with no ifs, ands or buts to a showdown with Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet.

I have almost universal praise for the film, but where I have problems, they’re not really this film’s fault.  The advertising gave away way too much.  You’ve seen virtually the entire Hulkbuster fight if you’ve watched the trailers.  Many of the other big fights are ruined by Michael Bay having saturated audiences with robot-fighting fatigue.  They’re brilliantly choreographed and show a team that has worked together now for a long time and knows each other’s moves, but the ghost of Transformers lingers in your head whether you want it to or not.  That’s a shame because, despite what you may have heard, this is Ultron’s movie and he is the sole villain and biggest threat any MCU movie has had.  My only other critique would be that the film feels rushed. There’s so much to do and so little time (2.5 hours flies by) to do it in that I find myself almost wishing there was an extended edition to come.  Marvel’s never done that with their MCU films, so I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I bet you there are mounds of deleted scenes that may or may not ever see the light of day.  So how fared our heroes (and villains)?

Iron Man, Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr., Avengers Age of Ultron

In terms of finishing the work of Phase 2, perhaps the film’s biggest triumph is that it has, along with the “All Hail the King” short film, largely fixed the irrelevancy of Iron Man 3.  It remains, by far, the worst of the 11 films to-date, but I can’t say it doesn’t matter any longer.  Tony’s Iron Legion is integral to the evolution that leads to Ultron’s creation, and his character arc from the beginning of that film to the end of this one lead me to easily see Tony Stark setting into motion the events that will cause Civil War.  In continually trying to fix the sins of his past, Tony is only causing more and more chaos and heartbreak because his central arrogance has not changed a whit.  The really sad thing is that he knows it, and it’s eating him alive.  I’m not sure if Robert Downey Jr. is going to stay in the MCU past Captain America: Civil War, but if he is, I think it’s going to be as Tony Stark not Iron Man.  While Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth still look ageless, Tony very much looks RDJ’s age in this film, and I think that was a conscious choice.

Avengers Age of Ultron, Bruce Banner, Mark Ruffalo, Hulk

Though Tony is the driving force behind the creation of Ultron, he’s not the sole parent.  Mark Ruffalo, returning as Bruce Banner/The Hulk continues the “bromance” of like-minded “mad scientists” that the first film initiated.  I think a better title for this film actually would have been Avengers: Gods and Monsters.  Each of the heroes faces that duality and no one more visibly than Banner who not only helps create a monster as dangerous as his greener half, but thanks to some mind control from Scarlet Witch, is revealed to the world as a near-unstoppable force of destruction.  Banner now, despite a surprising (but very well-reasoned) romance with Black Widow, firmly believes that there is nowhere on Earth where he is not a lethal threat to innocents and the movie leaves him heading toward self-imposed exile.  The rights to a solo Hulk movie are currently in litigation with Universal Studios so an obvious segue to a Planet Hulk adaptation are less likely than a dramatic return at some point during the Infinity War.

Scarlett Johansson

 

Anyone who is familiar with Joss Whedon’s TV series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) knows that nothing good ever happens in a relationship.  So the mismatched, but fitting pair of the most casually violent and reluctantly violent Avengers is a great place to explore a different side of the Widow than we’ve seen in previous films.  Where before she’s been confident and invulnerable, here she is very vulnerable and through flashbacks we get glimpses at the Red Room where she was trained and some of the horrific things done to her and by her that flesh out the demons that drive her.  While I would love for a Black Widow solo film or a Netflix series to fully explore her journey, let’s be honest Netflix can’t afford ScarJo, and the Widow – even more so than Cap – is the glue that holds these ensemble movies together.  In that respect she’s indispensable, and that’s cemented by the fact that at the end of the movie, she and Steve Rogers are the only original Avengers still on the team.  She’s already confirmed for Captain America: Civil War.  In the comics, she sides with Tony, but this Black Widow I can’t ever see taking sides against Cap.  Johansson continues to build one of the best female action characters of all-time and I think Ellen Ripley of Alien(s) fame is her only competition left for #1.

Thor, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chris Hemsworth

Thor’s arc in this film is slight compared to some of his teammates, but I don’t think that will be considered the case in retrospect.  Thor’s job in this film, aside from providing some of the best comedic moments (despite being darker, this is a more consistently funny film than The Avengers and the running gag about everyone else trying to pick up Mjolnr leads to one of the movie’s biggest surprises), Thor’s character arc is to very clearly lay out for casual audience members the four Infinity Stones we know to be in play, emphasize their danger to the previously unaware Avengers and to set out to play detective as to exactly who (Thanos) is trying to bring them together.  Thor: Ragnarok is said to pick up right where his arc leaves off in this film, which makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing Thanos in Thor 3 bringing about “the end of all things” (Ragnarok’s literal translation).

Captain America, Steve Rogers, Chris Evans, Avengers: Age of Ultron

With every film, Chris Evans (who thankfully is now talking like he would like to play the character longer) gives Captain America more and more of the gravitas and character that make him the rock of the Marvel Universe.  In this film, he’s a very comfortable field general and while he’s feels at home finally in the 21st Century (mostly), his moral compass is still very at odds with how some of his teammates (particularly Stark) see the world.  The cracks between Cap and Iron Man are already pronounced, despite their very sweet scene at the end (which I imagine was written before Cap 3 went from being “Serpent Society” to “Civil War” with RDJ being involved).  We get to see Sam Wilson lifted to full Avengers status and he’s been chasing leads on Bucky, so we know the manhunt for The Winter Soldier will also be a huge part of Civil War.  I found it interesting that one-on-one, Ultron fought Cap more than he did Iron Man.  Cap also has picked up a magnetized glove so he doesn’t have to keep prying his daggone shield out of everywhere, and the shield is a favorite combo nexus for all the Avengers.  They find some very creative ways to make that “frisbee” (as Ultron calls it) a formidable weapon in team combat.

Hawkeye, Clint Barton, Jeremy Renner, Avengers: Age of Ultron

Jeremy Renner was very vocal about how little he had to do in the first Avengers film and his character really did get shafted.  For awhile, it looked like he wouldn’t return as Clint Barton, but Whedon more than made up for slighting him.  If anything, Barton is the point of view character.  He gets some fantastic action scenes, is single-handedly responsible for bringing Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch into the fold and even provides his own home (Hawkeye’s got a wife and three kids!!!) as a safe haven when things get too hot.  Renner is clearly done with the MCU and before the classic Whedon shocker death, I thought they were going to kill his character.  While Hulk, Thor and Iron Man will most likely return to the team, I think Hawkeye is done in the MCU until perhaps they pass the mantle to Kate Bishop down the line somewhere.

Quicksilver, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pietro Maximoff

We’re 1700 words into this review so if you’re still with us, I don’t feel guilty laying out the biggest shock of the movie which is the death of Quicksilver. After spending the whole film making Hawkeye look like he was going to get a tragic end, the shortest stint on the team goes to Pietro, who sacrifices himself to save Barton and a child.  Both Fox and Marvel have the rights to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch for legal reasons I refuse to explain again, but X-Men Days of Future Past kind of made it impossible for Marvel to top what Evan Peters did with this character.  In fact, in every way I was thinking throughout the film that Pietro was going to be a sore thumb, when the brilliantly made the decision to stick with the stronger character of the twins and use Pietro’s death as a part of Scarlet Witch’s origin story as an MCU Avenger.

Scarlet Witch, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Wanda Maximoff, Elizabeth Olsen

Speaking of Maximoffs, Wanda was fantastic.  The Scarlet Witch is probably the most powerful mutant in the Marvel Universe, but in the MCU the Maximoff twins are dissidents who gained their powers through experimentation done by Hydra using the power of one of the Infinity Stones.  She’s a fascinating character and one that can be an anchor of this new Avengers line-up for the next decade.  Her fascination with the Vision, her mental instability (given even more weight with Pietro’s death) and the jaw-dropping breadth of her power is all briefly touched upon, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing her in Captain America: Civil War.  The very reason that the Maximoff twins hate the Avengers and Tony Stark in particular is so simple and so brilliantly tragic that you don’t really blame them for initially siding against the Avengers.  More than that, it adds another dimension and another face to the sins of Stark’s past, something that I’m sure will get more exploration in Cap 3 (who IS going to side with Tony?).

Paul Bettany, The Vision, Avengers: Age of Ultron

Another classic Avenger making his debut (well, in this incarnation) in Age of Ultron is The Vision.  Created by Ultron as his “perfect body” the Vision is stolen by the Avengers and JARVIS finally gets a face and a body as his consciousness is uploaded into the form, and the hybrid is a new person altogether.  The android is immediately powerful on a level with Thor and takes his spot on the team as the heavy-hitter (as does Rhodey with War Machine keeping an Iron Man on the squad).  Vision is the one who eventually finishes Ultron and the decision to make the classic design stone on his forehead the “truth” Infinity Stone was as much as a stroke of genius as the moment when he proves himself worthy to wield Thor’s hammer.  I hope we see the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’s classic arc fleshed out in films to come.

Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury, Avengers Age of Ultron

It could be argued that Nick Fury’s presence in the film is not really even necessary or a Deus Ex Machina that solves the unsolvable dilemma Ultron places the Avengers in too neatly.  I prefer to see it as the beginning of the rebirth of SHIELD.  Nick has clearly walked through the fire since we last saw him and when he shows up with the classic helicarrier and Cap tells Pietro that is SHIELD as it should be, I think we’re seeing the beginning of it rising from the ashes.

So I saved Ultron for last, and I feel like I’ve talked about him through his conflict with each of the heroes to an extent, but not enough praise can be heaped on James Spader for giving this robot a personality that is distinct, yet clearly Tony’s id gone to the furthest reaches of its darkest potential.  One thing that got a little lost in all of the things that had to be done with this film was how hard to kill and how slippery Ultron is, but I think it’ll be easy enough to bring him back for another go if they so choose.  Ultron is the Avengers’ most haunting villain so he certainly warrants another go-round in the future.

The future of the MCU – Phase 3 – is clearly laid out in this film.  Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther were all set-up to pick up from this film.  The new Avengers team, for those who complained it was all white dudes, is a very diverse group: Captain America, Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, The Vision and The Scarlet Witch make for a very potent and interesting mix.  We talked a little yesterday about how this film will be compared in retrospect to Iron Man 2 and all that film set up, but this does so much more, so well that when your biggest complaint is that you want more of it, you know Joss Whedon has delivered another gift to geeks and the newly-converted alike.  The MCU through 11 films may be the most consistently excellent film franchise in film history (we’ll see how I feel about that after Ant-Man) and Avengers: Age of Ultron gets Summer 2015 off to a roaring start.
9.5/10

16 thoughts on “Movie Review: Avengers Age of Ultron (2015) *Phase 2 Ends With a BANG* EXTREME SPOILER WARNING”

  1. I am relieved beyond measure. I’m trying to stay away from spoilers so I didn’t read the bulk of your review, but now I can look forward to seeing this tomorrow night without trepidation dampening the excitement.

    Why do I always allow the critics to have so much power over me?

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    1. I think, and I can say this without spoiling, that they saw a lot of robots fighting this time and thought Transformers and that affected a lot of people. Other than that they just don’t really get what Marvel is doing. The movies with the highest reviews are standalone films. My theater was clapping and hooting; laughing and crying the whole film. They also didn’t stop chanting STAR WARS until they played the trailer lol.

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      1. I’ve been so excited about this movie that I actually forgot they were playing the SW trailer with it!!!!! I must be losing it.

        And speaking of Star Wars, you never told me what you thought of my Jabba hologram idea, because I wish I had been there in the late 1990’s to try to convince Lucas that it was the best way.

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      2. Man, it looked great on the IMAX screen. Ok, here’s the thing. They shot the thing in 1976 using a big fat actor. They added the tail thing in to explain Han circlingl him. I guess they could use a holocron, but the diaolgue would be out of place. I think the best fix is to keep the scene, which I always liked, and put a modern CGI Jabba that looks more toward the ROTJ version. Btw, I’m so glad Josh Trank left the second spin-off. AFter the godawful FF trailers, I was getting so nervous about him doing that film.

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      3. I don’t get the process by which people are hired in Hollywood. I have not seen Chronicle, and for all I know it’s really good, but how do you hire a director to make a Star Wars film at this pivotal time in history when he has only two directing credits to his name, and the jury is still out on the second one, which is generating terrible buzz?

        When the Jabba scene was shot in 76 the actor was in costume, so I don’t buy that Lucas was planning to replace him with a creature in the finished film. I think that explanation is a Lucas retcon. The reason the scene did not make the finished film is that Jabba looked ridiculous, and the scene imparted no information we hasn’t already received in the scene with Greedo. From a screenwriting perspective, ANH is storytelling at its absolute purest, and the Jabba scene is redundant. If Jabba’s men had simply brought a hologram projector to Han’s hangar, the dialogue really could have been exactly the same. I know that Han is like a son to Jabba, or so Jabba says, but it’s out of character for Jabba to just take it when someone steps on his tail.

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      1. Sadly, no time, but I will get on top of it and watch every episode before The Force Awakens.

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  2. Just got back from the theater. They didn’t show the Star Wars trailer first, but Joss Wheadon has either sold his soul for his talent, or is a god. Every creative choice he made with this movie was the right one.

    Hawkeye went from not really mattering to giving this new film a heart, which was a really smart way to make him matter. And by doing so, Wheadon retroactively improved the first Avengers, which I hadn’t even realized needed improving. And when I realized how the plot was going to grow out of IM3, I thought to myself, Dave is going to be SO happy.

    James Spader was sublime. Say what you will about the Polar Express, Robert Zemekis will be remembered for giving birth to one of the most useful and liberating tools in the history of film. If a top-notch actor had not been hired to do the mo-cap, not only would Ultron not have registered, the entire film would have been diminished immeasurably. Spader performed a perfect balancing act: child, god.

    I’ve been saying for a long time that RDJ would step away from Iron Man but stay around as Stark. It’s a given that Cap 3 will be the last time we see him in the armor. Stark will take a step back, but RDJ will be persuaded to continue to appear in the films in brief doses.

    The amazing thing about this film is that there is no down time. I understand what you’re saying about the Transformers effect, but to me the action did not feel gratuitous. It furthered a plot.

    And even though the series and the characters will go on, all the characters (except for Thor) were given character arcs that ended in satisfying ways… for now. It’s only the end of Phase Two, but it still felt like an ending of sorts, if a bittersweet one.

    I didn’t get a good feeling from the trailers that played before the film BTW. The only good one was Tommorowland, but I’m predicting right now that it will be a box office disappointment, and might actually tank. The trailer gives zero indication of plot, and Clooney is not a surefire box office draw. And how Marvel plans to get people to get excited about Ant-Man after the two-and-a-half-hour amazing adrenaline rush I just experienced is beyond me. Also, JP4 looks trite.

    But that’s OK. I am riding high. Long live the MCU (and I still haven’t heard back to you about Jabba, and I was really proud of myself for coming up with that one). Be well.

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    1. OK, first of all, my review is a small novel, so you know how I feel about a lot of stuff. Transformers didn’t make it less for me, but it is a criticism I saw in some reviews. Spader was just great and we got to see the reason he can do this, Andy Serkis, perfectly set up The Black Panther. There was a LOT cut from this film. A LOT. Much involving Thor. I don’t know if Marvel will relent and do its first extended edition, but some of the scenes I know were cut may end up in Thor Ragnarok. Loki and Hela were both in this film too befoer cuts. Hawkeye was retired in a great way and since there are two Hawkeyes in the comics and one is a young girl, that’s an easy legacy transfer. Renner was given the movie’s heart and made up for how slighted he was in the first one. I’m pissed we get no Hulk until Infinity War because of stupid Universal. They could have perfectly set up a Planet Hulk, but as far as I know the Quinjet isn’t space-worthy yet so his goodbye is sad and sadder because we’re probably not going to see Ruffalo play him by the time they get him back. I think they’re going to kill Nick Fury (who really didn’t need to be in this film) and replace his role with Stark and THAT will cause the Civil War, not the Superhuman Registration Act. Not enough Superhumans yet. Just a guess, but I think you’ll see him put on the armor for Infinity War and I would not be surprised if he and Cap reunited and that’s how they kill Tony Stark. Speculation purely. I love this new team though. Vision, Widow, Cap, War Machine, Scarlet Witch and Falcon. For all those carping about diversity the only white guy left has an AARP card. I also think Black Panther is a future Avenger as is Spidey and perhaps Dr. Strange. The rumor is that the solo Spidey film is going to be called Spider-Man: The New Avenger, which I love. It’s a young team that can take the reigns for that period of time it takes to bring back core icons. Ant-Man…..I don’t know how or where he fits in but its becoming a tradition that I hate the first film of a phase and Marvel spends the rest of it making me happy lol. Yes, Iron Man 3 is now relevant. Whedon, though I want him to do this forever, is a world builder and and I want to see what he’ll do next and I’m still perfectly relaxed because the Russo Brothers took his place and they produced what I still think is the most perfect MCU film to date. Overall, I think Daredevil is the best thing in the MCU overall. I’ve never watched a season of TV four times in a row in my life lol. The stuff with the hammer was priceless. Quicksilver’s death gives so much more to The Scarlet Witch. It gives her even more darkness and clearly the Vision love story is happening. There was so much good storytelling and yet so many jumping off points for future stories that I think we were dead on; this is Iron Man 2 to the nth degree. Most pivotal film of the 11 to the larger story. Excelsior!

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      1. The Universal/Hulk thing is disheartening. I thought the Incredible Hulk movie was much, much worse than IM3, to the point where I would be happy if it were excised from the MCU.

        I was amazed by how well the Black Widow/Hulk thing came off. Black Widow is such a great character, and unlike most female leads she is not defined by her relationships to the male leads, despite the stuff with CA and now Bruce. In fact, in her relationship with Bruce, she is far more centered than him. She’s the one who’s on top of things.

        I don’t know what Disney was thinking by not putting a whole lot of Black Widow merchandise out there. Besides the black eye they’re getting in the PR department, BW is a terrific role model for girls, and her merchandise would have sold like wildfire.

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      2. Well, probably because exactly WHAT Nat did for the Russians is going to come out and I don’t think she’ll be looked at as a great role model then. I totally disagree about Hulk; but there’s a reason that it’s not awesomely fantastic: Louis Leterrier. Edward Norton got himself fired fighting for a longer cut of that movie and if you go on the blu ray and watch all these fantastic scenes that were excised that would have made the movie so much better than you can see why Norton was so pissed. The relationship DID work and I’m wondering how betrayed Bruce feels that she triggered him that last time. That maybe she was the last straw for him and if she couldn’t be trusted to trigger the Hulk, he’d have to be alone.

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      3. When it comes to her past, I think it will end up boiling down to: she’s an Avenger now. But I don’t think Disney was thinking about that, I think they just underestimated the number of female nerds in the world. It’s like all that Leia merchandise that never materialized. I was having a civil debate with a female friend about the lack of BW products, and she felt it was a good thing, given the objectivication of women the character represents, ect, and I was trying to explain that while there are a lot of “strong” female characters out there, they all tend to revert to damsels in distress when it really matters, and they’re all beholden to the men in their lives. But BW is her own person. I was shocked when she pushed Bruce into that hole.

        I thought the Incredible Hulk movie was paint by numbers, but if you say the deleted scenes make a difference, I will check them out. I am the one guy on the planet who adores Ang Lee’s previous take, and while it’s too stylistically weird to ever fit into the MCU, it was uncompromising, and Norton’s version felt like a step down. Bland. Watered down. It brought nothing new to the table. Also, and this is not the fault of the movie when you take it on its own merits, but I wish Ruffalo had been in the role from the start.

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      4. Oh you need to watch the deleted scenes and that movie is NOT Norton’s fault. That was an epic, public battle that got him fired and he was 100% right. I would have said they’d have softballed Widow’s past but they brought in the Red Room and just the stuff we find out about her in AOU is pretty horrifying; not that it makes you like her less, but she had a forced hysterectomy and shot a guy in the head as a part of her graduation and that’s not all the stuff she did. So I think they may be wary for that reason, hence Scarlet Witch and soon Captain Marvel. I hear Angelina Jolie is being locked down to direct the later. Katee Sackhoff has been screaming to play her for years, but sadly it may be too late. She would have been perfect.

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      5. Despite what she did BW was a victim, but I take your point. Discussing her past is disturbing. I loved Scarlett Witch, the scene where she tore out Ultron’s heart was priceless. I actually guessed before I went in that Quicksilver was going to be sacrificed, because I knew there was going to be a death, and all the major heroes were lined up for future MCU installments, and this way no one will be confused by the fact that Quicksilver is in two franchises (and let’s not kid ourselves, the Days of Future Past incarnation was much cooler). The character was made the most of, but he died in a clean way. And now Scarlett Witch has some added weight behind her.

        Angelina Jolie, hmmmm? Interesting. You don’t see many women directing action movies, even action movies about women. Jolie is not my favorite actress (though I recently saw the amazing Wanted and thought she was great) but I hear her directing job on Unbroken was solid-to-exceptional. I need to see that movie. And I am pulling for Jolie to have a terrific second career as a director, because I like people who step out of their comfort zones and become pioneers.

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      6. Ok not to belabor the point but the two most ruined films by director’s cuts are Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (which is fixed on the ultimate blu ray) and Incredible Hulk. They cut 30-40 minutes of finished footage. My brother and I were dumbfounded when we watched the stuff they cut.

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      7. If the scenes are that good, it’s going to be aggravating. I can tell already. I have only seen The Magnificent Ambersons once, because I know that Orson Welles filmed a masterpiece that was irrevocably ruined by the studio, and I’ll never get the chance to see it. At least these days there are blu-ray special editions.

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