‘Avengers’ and the Age of CGI Overkill in Hollywood

'Avengers: Age of Ultron': Does CGI
Courtesy of Disney

In the bad old days of “Whiz! Bam! Pow!” TV-and-movie superheroes — which yielded cut-rate, campy artifacts like those “Captain America” TV movies or Roger Corman’s unreleased version of “Fantastic Four” — a massive spectacle like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” seemed unimaginable. Yet the technology that has made such blockbusters feasible has, creatively, become a curse as well as a blessing.

Computer-generated imagery, or CGI, makes all things possible. While the 1978 “Superman” used the memorable slogan, “You will believe a man can fly,” that claim has never been truer than it is now.

The ability to mount enormous battles featuring multiple super-powered characters, however, has become its own trap. And while the results can be visually ­astounding, the movies regularly feel as lifeless and mechanized as the technology responsible for bringing those visions to fruition.

The why of it remains something of a mystery, but the outcome is frequently a hugely expensive — if often enough quite lucrative ­— tentpole release that certainly puts the money onscreen, yet nevertheless proves more numbing than exciting, even during what should be the show-stopping sequences.

The original “Avengers” was mostly a happy exception, even with its prolonged alien-invasion climax. “Age of Ultron,” while ambitious in exploring relationships among characters, becomes drearily repetitive as the heroes mow down another CGI horde, this time consisting of artificially intelligent robots.

Granted, these movies are popular targets, and it’s easy for midnight-screening types to dismiss such criticism — as evidenced by the tone of the reviews in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times — as the lament of a stodgy curmudgeon who worships at the footage of “Citizen Kane.” However, as one who collected comicbooks and endured one disappointment after another seeing beloved heroes brought to the screen, this critic rejoiced as Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” helped usher in the current golden age — quite literally, based on the subsequent trail of record-breaking opening weekends.

Notably, a TV series like “The Flash,” operating on a smaller budget, can’t match theatrical action setpieces and must exhibit greater ingenuity. On the flip side of the coin, watching two Kryptonians go toe to toe in “Man of Steel,” destroying much of Metropolis in the process, became a bruising ordeal for viewers, too, despite how good the scene looked compared with the confrontation three decades earlier with Zod and his sidekicks in “Superman 2.”

The pattern has become predictable. “Iron Man,” a terrific movie overall — particularly in capturing the origin story — degenerated into a mundane brawl between two armor-clad characters. Ditto the “Hulk” reboot with Edward Norton, which culminated with the title character’s ho-hum showdown with another green behemoth, the Abomination.

One can argue, in fact, that the much-maligned second “Star Wars” trilogy sacrificed an element of its humanity in George Lucas’ embrace of a wholly digital filmmaking approach. At a certain point, watching droid armies being whacked to pieces begins to yield diminishing returns.

Put more simply, just because CGI wizardry allows you to do something, whether hoisting an entire city into the air or leveling skyscrapers willy-nilly, doesn’t always mean you should. Because while the box office figures might suggest otherwise, there is an audience out there that’s weary of these movies precisely because of the hollow quality to the inevitable final 30 minutes of unrelenting mayhem.

For fans, the first emotion in seeing comicbooks taken seriously has no doubt been something approaching gratitude. After all the cinematic indignities the genre experienced, it’s been thrilling for Hollywood to recognize that these stories needn’t be presented as camp, as if no one over 12 could take them seriously.

The good news is comics have become big business, making the entire movie industry covetous of, and reliant upon, the emerald riches at the end of the rainbow. Yet watching the Avengers lay waste to another army of tin men, what these films are lacking isn’t a brain, or even heart. It’s something closer to an actual pulse.

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  1. 先週だったか、どこかのチャンネルでDMM同人誌の効果がすごすぎなんて特集がありました。ご覧になった方、いますか?つゆ籠り濡れ透け巫女レイプのことは割と知られていると思うのですが、R18漫画に効果があるとは、まさか思わないですよね。エロ同人誌を予防できるわけですから、画期的です。優葉ことに気づいて素早く行動した研究チームや、予算を確保した人たちって立派ですよね。つゆ籠り濡れ透け巫女レイプ飼育のノウハウはまだ足りないかもしれませんが、電子コミックに対して効果があるなら、今後飼育が広がるかもしれません。口でするプレイの卵焼きとか、普通に売られる世の中になるかもしれませんよ。ポートレートに乗るのはパワーがありそうで怖いからやめておきますが、漫画に乗っかっているような気分に浸れそうです。

  2. Regor99 says:

    Compare all the CGI this year to Daredevil episode 2’s final fight scene. The difference is there for all to see. It’s a piece of MCU history!

  3. You make good points, but it’s not just about CGI but about how CGI is used. A lot of CGI shots are “filling the frame” with all sorts of this and that in every corner, the eye being dragged around.

    Miller used a lot of CGI in Fury Road (more than some people realise) but no matter if it was a real shot or CGI he kept the focus in the centre of the screen. It means you can look directly ahead and keep pace with what the visual effects are doing and showing.

    Wide-screen spectacle are fine for a frame or two, but a full movie (or even lengthy sequence) of them are very tiring to watch.

  4. I’ve always loved special fx heavy films, but a lot of the fight scenes in recent films have been getting a little out of hand. Man of Steel and the last Transformers in particular stand out for me as having fight scenes that just go on and on and on with characters just smashing into things.

  5. Duder NME says:

    Oh joy, another blogger clickbait excuse to spray fanjuice all over a genre, specifically Star Wars (which wasn’t even Hollywood-made), with only so much subjective claim. What possible nostalgiac nerdvana are you reaching for that Hollywood is supposed to provide to this fictional “audience out there that’s weary of these movies”? Does Pixar count as overkill?

  6. will-da-beast says:

    the 2012 judge Dredd film had very little CGI and was still utterly forgettable

    “hey, i’ve got the Dredd movie out on Blu ray anyone wanna come round and watch it?”

    – said no one ever.

    i’m a 3D artist and have a big comic collection from the 80s, the CGI isn’t to blame, but it is conspicuously congruous.

    • Uhh, the Dredd movie has a huge cult following of passionate fans. It’s an absolutely brilliant movie, fun, thrilling, taut and to the point. It was everything the naff ’90s version wasn’t. Part of that success is because it took place in a single location, with lots of practical effects and a concise storyline. Whatever point you were trying to make, using that movie as an example really didn’t help.

      • Dheep' says:

        No – Dredd was very Lackluster. Mr Urban must have been very disappointed when handed the script for his big Star turn

  7. Darryl A says:

    Let me start by saying I am a 3D animator by trade and also a comic book fan and so acknowledge that my opinion carries with it a certain amount of bias.

    Now I agree that VFX can and is abused at times. Had you chosen to use a movie like Battleship which road on the name of a fondly remembered board-game from my childhood and little else as an excuse to fill the screen with beautiful but mindless CGI I would have been 100% on board with your argument.

    But instead you chose Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’m not going to argue that it is without it’s faults. The first Avengers movie is a much better film but I still thoroughly enjoyed Ultron.

    What I will challenge is the idea that it miss uses CGI or that CGI is the root of it’s faults. To make that statement is to completely ignore the print subject matter on which it is based as well as the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe which, using the individual character movies sets up and gives license for the Avengers to be the larger than life crazy ride that it always will be.

    As a genre comic movies will like the books they represent, most often be light, fun, disposable entertainment. Occasionally sprinkled with gems like (IMO) Sin City, Watchmen and Avengers. They will also anger fans who argue that they stray too from canon in their depiction of certain characters. A debate which always amuses me when you consider that comic titles and characters are consistently reinventing themselves in the original medium anyway. And as with any other genre they will deliver their fare share of lemons, (I’m thinking of you Green Lantern) but one thing I hope they never do is stop reaching for the next visually sublime over the top double page spread action sequence because in comic book movies CGI is possibly in it’s most justified environment. Unless of course it’s an Archie movie.

  8. Nora knob says:

    Totally agree its like watching a videogame. You cant relate to it at all or feel any great emotions as it just looks so fake and non human. Tom & Jerry had more emotional pull.

  9. shawnsshorts says:

    Amen, too much CGI. I really had high hopes for Mad Max, but even Miller was seduced by Silicon Valley.

    Unfortunately, some of the things that I predicted in my early preview-review came to pass.

    Too much CGI, too little character development, no character growth.

    For an industry in decline, it’s inevitable. Video games make more money than movies nowadays. Movies are just trying to copy that model.

    • Couldn’t disagree with you more about Mad Max. For me, that film is the perfect antidote to everything this article was complaining about. It had a vast majority of physical, in-camera effects and stunts and even when they were enhanced by CGI it was difficult to tell. The overall effect was the film feeling real, gritty, dangerous and thrilling in exactly that an cinematic action spectacle should. As far as I’m concerned, that’s one case of a modern movie doing that genre right.

  10. Timbre says:

    Canadian tax “incentives” particularly have made CGI mayhem far cheaper to produce than would be the case in an undistorted market. And the need for ever-higher walls against paying returns to net profit investors (the rebates go back to the studios) has encouraged the overkill. I remember back during “Waterworld,” the producers coming into our shop and saying, “There are still few shots without VFX; is there anything you can think of to do?” But of course, that was in a more innocent age, when the goal was simply to coerce Matsushita into relinquishing control of the studio, after they failed to make the promised investments. Either way, it’s all about the business.

  11. Utterly pointless rant of an article. If you think that in order to bring ‘life’ to comic book movies made nowadays you need to harken back to the olden days of Hollywood, you’re an idiot. Why don’t we all just go back to how we filmed movies in black and white and with no sound? The advance of film is propelled by the advance of technology. Take a film history class and the two are parallel. If they wanted to make a comic book movie because of the advance of CGI, then they’d make a CGI animated movie. Films are stories told visually. If you’re focused on using technology more than you’re telling a story (a la Star Wars prequels), then yes technology is bad. But just because a film uses a lot of CGI doesn’t mean the story is any less of a priority. If you have a great story for a comic book movie but you slack on the VFX because you’re afraid of overusing CGI in order to tell the story, the story ends up flat. The Avengers films are great comic book stories, and without a heavy dose of CGI usage, the end result is very underwhelming both visually and storytelling-wise.

  12. Roger Botti says:

    Sadly it’s the lucrative Chinese and Russian audiences who lap this stuff up.

  13. yirmin snipe says:

    The reason Age of Ultron sucked wasn’t so much the ability to use CGI to create the mechanical hordes it was the director’s decision to put the mechanical hordes in so much that the audience was bored by them.

    Even if they had been done with guys in robot suits if you use them too much they become boring and the view loses interest. Think back to the pre-CGI days and you would often have movies with the monster being shown only toward the end and often only for brief moments… that did two things, it forced the director to develop more tension and emotion with the actors and not just rely on the monster, and more important it keep the audience in suspense and then never quite gave the audience their fill of the monster, once the audience is used to the monster or Ultron in the Avengers the audience stops paying as much attention.

    If anything when a movie becomes a snooze fest like Avengers it shows the laziness of the director…. instead of spending a few weeks shoot some more expensive scenes with actors to build up the movie he thought no need I’ll just have the CGI folks make the fight scenes twice as long and then I wont have to shoot those other scenes to get a 2 hour movie.

    • lefty backstrap says:

      That is exactly what I meant when I mentioned “The Lord of Rings” pt. 2 and “The Hobbit” earlier in this discussion. 20 minutes of battles with the Orcs was just way too much and decidedly boring! And oddly enough he didn’t need to add 20 minutes to any of those parts of the two trilogies.

  14. Ched Wiggins says:

    VFX discussion aside, the dangers of creating AI is a very important story to be told in 2015. And that is a powerful reason to use whatever tools are available to tell the story.

    We don’t have a hulk, a genius, a sharpshooter, a spy, a mutant, or a demi-god to save us from a malevolent AI. So when we create on, who will?

  15. Nathan says:

    Some great comments here. It does in the end come down to weighing what you do in the story. VFX are just helping tell that story. The VFX artists have little to no say in what they are creating, that’s been decided and planned way before hand in most cases. So creativity isn’t there to problem solve which is in my opinion where new visions and concepts come to fruitation… instead it’s just a case of do another version – bigger explosion, more red etc. There has never been a tool like VFX in film history, it has the ability to create everything you see on screen without the need for any other department or tool in the practical world of film making and yet it doesn’t have the respect it deserves. Some directors could do with learning a bit more about what it is they are using. However the fault lies with those throwing all this money at them allowing them to play in their CGI sandbox.

    • lefty backstrap says:

      “There has never been a tool like VFX in film history, it has the ability to create everything you see on screen without the need for any other department or tool in the practical world of film making ”
      How about trying ANIMATION? That is what is is, only with the aid of computers, bigger and faster.
      It is ANIMATION on electronic steroids. Remember films like “FANTASIA”? No need for cameras, lights, action. Only imagination and drawing in place of computers. (Sure cameras were used to record the frames but that is a moot point)

      • Duder NME says:

        Thank you! Someone else finally sees CGI = animation. Was this article meant to kick Dreamworks Animation and Blue Sky out of bed? Are Brad Bird, Chris Miller and Phil Lord the devil?

      • The irony is that full animated movies seem to have so much more life than those cgi abominations. And I totally blame the directors for it.

  16. Jerome says:

    ” the movies regularly feel as lifeless and mechanized as the technology responsible for bringing those visions to fruition”
    I have stopped reading the article to that sentence .. Maybe I m wrong maybe I m right .. But doing myself visual effect for 10 years now .. Nothing is “lifeless” or ” mechanized ” we are talking of hundreds artists .. Working insane hours , doing their best to achieve such quality in so little time !
    Sure cgi is not making the “real” movie making .. But it’s a very important part of the game and people working insanely hard to entertain the audience and make those movie possible !
    So yes I haven’t read the end of the article , yes I m probably somehow over reacting .. But those ppl deserve respect ! It’s not lifeless it’s not just a bill at the end of the production . It’s artists doing their best every single day to make such spectacular entertainment possible !

    • And yet the results in age of ultron are lifeless.

      And as you work in the field, let me give you one advice. If you will be doing anytime soon anything combat related then start some martial arts training now. Because most cgi combat ends up completely lifeless because it is not like it should be. Puppets with strings, not dangerous at all.

      If your CGI Monster looks like an average adult with less than 12 months of training can deal with it, than your hero and villains look … kind of dumb. Compensating with simply more numbers does not help either > see Age of Ultron. A really bad trend in the MCU btw.

  17. Mike R says:

    I agree with Chris. This is less about the VFX than it is the quality of the content being produced. The story can be told 1000 different ways, but if the story sucks, no amount of VFX is gonna spruce it up.

    • Dheep' says:

      It is great to see lots of Effects Artists working. But take a look at the credits at the end of any Average Movie. It is ridiculous the Credits crawl at the end of a Movie should take 10 minutes !

  18. It would be great if reporters who are writing about VFX would make a bit more effort to understand what it is they are criticizing. Saying a movie has too many VFX is a bit like saying a movie has too many edits, used too many lights, used too much sound. It’s simply too vague. VFX shots are just part of the wide variety of tools a director has to tell a story. If you have a problem with a specific film, or a even a genre, say something towards that. Say a film relies too much on long continuous VFX sequences, pulling one out of the emotional story, and ignores important character arcs. Don’t say there’s too much darn VFX in movies these days, get off my lawn!

    The reality is that the public and even VFX artists themselves don’t see over 75% of VFX in movies. You notice it when it’s featured or if it’s bad. When it’s used seamlessly you don’t see it. Nearly every movie produced in the last 10 years, over a couple of million buck in budget, has some sort of VFX work in it.

    VFX is not the problem. Directing, acting,writing and storytelling will always be the thing that makes a movie work or not.

  19. Mja says:

    It’s simply a lack of imagination, a lazy principle of ‘let’s just throw money at the screen’. Sadly for the kiddie-busters – and I’m a fan of a lot of them – most of the directors who genuinely know how to stage action are more interested in doing more bloody, older-orientated fare, so steer clear of PG-13 corporate behemoths in favour of being able to show real consequences to their violence. There’s directors who could have shot Whedon’s own script better than he did himself and shaved about 50 mill off the budget doing so, but it’s simply not really their thing.

  20. David says:

    “…the movies regularly feel as lifeless and mechanized as the technology responsible for bringing those visions to fruition”

    So says the man who fails to realize that those visions are brought to life by legions of very talented artists such as Joe Letteri.

  21. Eric Schatz says:

    One-on-one battle between a white hat and a black hat, with ECU’s of their emoting, whether one or both are CGI, is a lot ore satisfying than seeing an Avenger (or Spartan for that matter) spin around a blue screen stage and you see 15 baddies fall down at once. This is something the NBA learned a long time ago. And don’t get me started about the dismal and creepy Paul Walker effects in Furious 7.

  22. That’s why reading the comics was always better, it gave you something movies can’t… the ability to use your imagination.

  23. Trevor says:

    My wife is getting so tired of me saying, “way too much CGI.” Glad I’m not the only one feeling that way.

  24. I couldn’t even sit through Thor. It was just a sea of pixel dreck. Un. Watch. Able. I can’t begin to imagine just how bad the new Avengers movie is gonna be.

  25. Not U2 says:

    I worked in VFX for many years. Started when there were no computers involved in anything but running motion control. Now and then I provide 3D animation and compositing for movies & TV. Back then we were very proud of the work we did. But it never fails. When I look back on some of those shots, only a few were really well done. The limitations were excruciating.

    Now, with the over abundance of CGI, I tire of the long actions scenes after a minute or so. But they keep going on and on and on until I just want to turn it off. Suspension of disbelief, while it should be easier with CGI, seems to disappear shortly after the CGI starts. I start thinking of the render time and the arduous task and forget about what little story there usually is. And I wonder who thought the over the top scenes were worth doing. Sitting through them I long for some character interaction and fewer over the top scenes, making each one more valuable and the entire experience far less tedious.

    It becomes boring. I rarely watch CGI laden films twice. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you have to.

  26. Robert says:

    How does CG make your movie worse? Was King Kong ever real? Skeletons, cyclops(es?), gorgons, deities? Those backgrounds? You got tricked! None of them ever was. The trickery is just done differently these days.

    VFX is a tool like any other. Sometimes it’s misused. If the lighting is bad in a movie, you don’t complain that they use lighting too much. If editing is bad in a film, you don’t wonder if it’s time to stop this whole editing nonsense.

    Good films use CG. Bad films use CG. It’s not that the Metropolis destruction porn was CG which made Man of Steel terrible. It’s that it was there at all. And also that this Superman characterisation was terrible.

    Maybe you should urge for better movies instead of less CG. Maybe that’ll get those damn skateboarding kids off your lawn.

  27. JimmyFitz says:

    TOTALLY DISAGREE! ALL successful movies are good for the industry…it inspires one too want to see other movies.

  28. “Granted, these movies are popular targets”

    Yes, apparently they are. So go look at “Ex Machina” for a real example of what CGI can provide, and get back to us.

  29. Rationalist says:

    Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. 100% agree. CGI should be an embellishing tool, not the basis for entire shots. Scale models, prosthetics and tangible sets, have never, ever been bettered, because they actually exist. Why are filmmakers going to such great lengths to recreate ‘real’ when we can actually film ‘real’? If a shot is too physics-defying to film in reality, it really has no place in your movie, because suspension of disbelief is immediately jettisoned.

  30. Atomic Fury says:

    I’m almost 55 and grew up on B-films made in the 50’s, so I can appreciate the scope of what CGI has covered. However, I too am put off by too much reliance upon such a tool in order to carry a story. There is such a thing as too much which “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and its predecessors so abundantly burdened our senses.

    I’ve commented before about studios spending millions on top of millions of dollars to produce imagery which passes the eye so quickly that it seems like it isn’t necessary. An example is the flying sequences of Henry Cavill’s Superman fight scenes with General Zod where anything they “fly” over is a mere blur. I don’t expect any slower flying, just better story-telling.

    I am a great enthusiast of astrophysics and most other sciences as well, but I suspend my inner critic to enjoy science fiction films. Some of the CGI battle scenes (I’ll refer to Transformer’s again) are not only impossible to appreciate because of how quickly the action takes place, but the very unlikely motions or movements of any involved objects are almost insulting to my intelligence (even if it’s suspended). A most notable example would be the fall of the upper portion of the Chrysler building in the Matthew Broderick version of “Godzilla”. An object that massive would fall much quicker than it was portrayed but it took it’s good ol’ time in that scene.

    CGI is all at once over-utilized and under-effective.

  31. Kirth Gersen says:

    My thoughts exactly. I actually talked with my daughter after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron about when we’ll get movies that are completely generated using CGI. Makes you wonder, how long will they need actors…

    • therealeverton says:

      We already do, and I’m not even talking about the many works of Pixar, Dreamworks Animation et al. And they ALWAYS need actors, like the excellent James Spader as Ultron and the non human characters in Avatar…none of it possible without excellent actors.

  32. Iván el Terrible says:

    It doesn’t matter if a movie has CGI or not, it’s the plot and the execution and filmmaking what counts.
    CGI is just a tool to create worlds, characters and places, simple like that.

  33. John Miller says:

    It can get wearying. The character interactions is what I enjoy most. I think the CGI saturation could be fixed by constructing tighter, better plotted action sequences. I think it’s actually more a matter of script writing that it is the CGI. Instead of 30 minutes of non-stop action, come up with a 15 to 20 minute sequence that has more punch.

  34. therealeverton says:

    Rubbish and moreover the same rubbish that gets trotted ut every few years since King Kong. There have always been directors who let the spectacle outweigh the story, and lessen the fun. Hence the mass of rarely repeated Indiana Jones and Star Wars “clones” from the 70s and 80s, with little or no help from the puny computers of the ers; those films wer accused of the same thing and often rightly so. However the idea that , for example Age of Ultron is one of those type of films is laughable, Te overwhelming majority of people (and yes they are adults, look at the stats) do not have the problems you suggest at all. CGI allows you to REALISTICALLY portray that which is in the comic books. The Age of Ultron comic has almost no relationship to this film, however the significant similarity is Ultron using thousands, millions of copies of himself to overwhelm the Avengers, and all other super powered beings and military. Now if you think replication that with 100s of extras dressed in robot suits was either practical or would appear superior you’re delusional. A major part of the STORY is the legion of robots and that is ably represented here. You don’t like the spectacle and/or somehow find it similar to the poorly executed, poorly written fight at the end of Man of Steel, then good luck to you, most people don’t.

    Either way, why should the necessary scale of these stories (or why isn’t Thor able to deal with problem alone right?, is a problem for you so be it. Cinema is for ALL people and there are more than enough films aof many types to go around. Lamenting a kind of film that STILL gets made every time there is a film yo don’t like is getting very, very tired indeed.

    A quick look at the similarity between many of the films at last year’s Oscars will confirm that there are more of those types of films released every year (if not just in te 2-3 months of awards season than there are/were super hero films in any given year. (if not two years). In fact with Super hero films (which technically shouldn’t be a genre given the variety in them) are still the genre with the least number of films in them and about the lowest number of films a year. Even found footage, relatively new and / again varied in type) has more films a year than the super hero which film which keeps getting blamed for any number of things that just do not make see.

    There are poorly made films every year, always have been, and it always seems so easy to blame a technique, a technology (3D is evil, not the greedy producers who trudged out too many poorly made and/ or poorly converted films to milk the cow). There are good 3D films and there are bad ones, it is NOT the technology that is to blame, it is simply whether or not a good director was involved or not. CGI is to blame for NOTHING, poor use of it is to blame for much.

    Again if you have read Age of Ultron would love to know how you would replicate that , necessary, story telling aspect without help from CGI and have it be convincing.

    It wasn’t the availability of CGI that ruined the climatic battle of Man of Steel, similar to Superman’s first meeting with Zod and Co. from Superman 2. What spoiled it was the storytelling. In both films Superman made a mistake in confronting his enemies in a civilian area, both had little choice, at first, as that is where their enemies were…but Christopher Reeve’s Superman is allowed to realise his mistake and take the battle elsewhere…In Man of steel, despite actually leaving the city the fight returns to whee the most damage can be done and people injured.. There’s no more reliance on effects than with the models and wind machines of Superman 2, where they clearly spent all the could to portray a titanic battle…the difference is in the storytelling, from writers or directors or both.

  35. I agree, this is one of the main reasons I have found Avengers-age of Ultron a terrible movie.

  36. Eric Valdez says:

    This is exactly how I feel about a lot of modern movies. CGI is so overdone in movies that the fantastical becomes mundane.

  37. Ben says:

    When Scarlet Witch showed the avengers their worst fears. I loved Black Widow’s, it was essentially her back story and the composition of that scene, with no VFX and just dimmed lighting was so much more meaningful and insightful and to me what I wanted to see more than Scarlet Witch showing Bruce Banner’s worst fear which turned into hulk vs iron man. I still like the scene and there has to be a reason why it’s there. But explosions aren’t as impressive the second time around.

  38. Cole says:

    What would you like to see, Thor doing “Shakespeare In the park?” It’s amazing work with a great story depicting comics.

  39. I couldn’t agree more with the thrust of the article. However, I think some of the great exceptions to that argument is a film like Thor (the first one), and even one I didn’t particularly like, like Captain America: The First Avenger.

    Both films used many of the techniques employed by grand, classic filmmakers, like DeMille and Hawks. Captain America actually patterned its narrative around old type films, like Its a Wonderful Life, with incredible dreamy type theatricality, and sweeping camera shots.

    I think even acknowledging the excellence in blending digitalization with deeper meanings, like in the film Xmen 2: Xmen United, helps to strengthen your original argument that these fantasy stories can have truly human (not just superhuman) relevance.

    Great argument and hopefully a good intervention to the way some films are being made nowadays.


  40. IT 2 IT says:

    “And what they teach in film schools is just the opposite of the art.
    ————–VISUALs come fourth or even fifth –NOT FIRST!
    ————————FIRST if the SCRIPT!
    ——————————-SECOND the actors!
    ————————————–THIRD is the SCORE!
    ———————————————only THEN do we start thinking about ‘VISUALS”!”
    Very Informed Radio

    You out there!

    You have flip cam?


  41. Chris Darling says:

    I’m reading this article and my first thought is “Has this man ever actually LOOKED at a full-page Avengers spread by Jack Kirby?” Frankly, this film is the living embodiment of a Marvel comic book at its best. There are huge battle scenes with the world at stake and tiny character scenes with lives of the heroes at stake. Full pages with single panels in the corner, pure Kirby.

    And as for the opening scene, the montage of all the Avengers flying/leaping/zooming into battle is the best depiction of the cover of a comic book this medium has yet seen. All that’s missing is the Marvel Comics slug in the upper left corner and the issue number.

    Ultron is wonderfully rendered. There were moments of absolute suspension of disbelief, something any CGI designer prays for. Did you notice the reflections on his metal skin? Amazing detail.

    This is not a waste of CGI, this is the power of the medium wielded by a masterful artist.

    I felt like I was back in my youth, pouring over every page and muttering “Wow!!”

    • therealeverton says:

      Well said.

    • facts! says:

      But these movies are DULL. Doesn’t matter that they’re “beautifully rendered.” They’re dull. And noisy. And predictable.

      • therealeverton says:

        To you and that means you’ll watch something else. Fortunate for you there are more films that don’t use CGI for world building etc, than there ones that do. And hold on, what do you mean “these movies”? There’s a world of difference between Gladiator, and Star Wars Episode One, but both used CGI to “create the worlds” in which they are set.

        Are you somehow trying to say that ALL films that use CGI are dull? I’d have to say that was nonsense, but again, to each their own.

        Whilst I am fortunate in that I love film and therefore watch all kinds of films and judge them on their individual merits, I get that some people like what they like and give other types no chance. That’s fine, just don’t moan about what other people enjoy. I’m a hater of Boy bands, so I do not listen to their music, unless someone I trust suggest I should for some reason. The other thing I don’t do is campaign for that type of music to be taken away from the millions who clearly do love it. If these films lack entertainment, they simply will not last long. The studio fools threw substandard , overpriced, 3D at the masses and now 3D is making a lot less money. If the films this person mentions were so bad (and the fact that they are using Age of Ultron as an example suggest that they aren’t so bad at all as most people agree that it is a very entertaining film, then they will run out of steam.and they won’t be made. Just as the substandard Star Wars and Indiana Jones “rip-offs” died out, despite Lucas and Spielberg being the death of cinema in the 80s. and Stop motion back in the 50s or whenever..

      • Chris Darling says:

        One man’s dull is a theater full of other people’s amazing.

  42. In addition to being an insanely stupid article overall, because CG is a tool like any other to tell a story, there is a lot of misinformation here. First, you even mention how many of these films are excellent and the action set pieces are incredible! Iron Man was an amazing movie and so was The Avengers. Second, as John Knoll pointed out at Star Wars Celebration two weeks ago, The Phantom Menace actually had THE MOST models EVER assembled in any ILM film and as he said “most likely” in any film ever made to that point. Did it have a lot of CG? Sure, of course, but it also was loaded with practical effects. Don’t kid yourself into some completely misguided idea that these filmmakers choose CG over models and practical effects. They use whatever technology makes sense for the scene, which is often CG now because of the complicated effects work being done. If you tried to make any of the Marvel films without CG, they would suck and be horribly corny. So your opinion isn’t worth the virtual ink it’s printed on, no offense.

    • Brian Wiley says:

      It doesn’t feel like they sit back and discern what tool will work best for the scene or sequence. it feel like CGI is the only choice or the road often traveled. Some shots in Avengers look horrific, as if Pixar did them in their own cartoony fashion.
      We still get distracting shots of Rubbery CGI stunt characters mid action sequence like Neo in Matrix Reloaded.
      The author never said CGI wasn’t a tool. His complaint with Iron man was the bottom line was it’s two CGI models punching each other as is a lot of their movies and it’s a bit repetitive.

      • therealeverton says:

        Then you simple don’t pay attention. The reason so much of The Avengers and, for example, Thor, work so well is because they do as much as possible “for real” then enhance / fill in wit computer effects. It is why o many people disliked the look of Green Lantern, as opposed to the superficially similar Thor.

        Again the overwhelming majority of critics and film-goers disagree with you wholeheartedly.

  43. Bill says:

    It’s funny; the latest in effects will always be derided for being too much; I once read an article from the 1940s in which the reviewer chastised “Citizen Kane” for its distracting cinematography and lighting effects.

    I personally felt it a bit much, but I also revere most everything Michael Bay has made so it’s not just overkill.

    Take the first battle; it wasn’t well done CGI and looked fake; I honestly thought the camera would pull back to show Stark, Banner, Cap, Thor and Nat playing an “Avengers” video game at HQ!

    My concern especially in the NY set pieces is how all that glass is getting cleaned up and which insurers are going under as a result of having Hulk thrown through their policy holders’ building.

    • Median N Mean says:

      One thing I don’t read about in these discussions: the importance of structuring set piece. We can care or not care about the characters, and it could look good or like Ray Harryhausen got drunk one night, but the sequence have to make sense — we have to know where the goal posts, who is winning, who is losing. The complaint about “too much CGI” is really about “no goal posts.”

      People are running around pell mell and whether one hero kills one robot or another hero kills one hundred robots, doesn’t matter, or does it? I can’t tell! How many robots are there? I don’t know. They sure are killing a lot of them. When will Ultron run out of robots? I don’t know. Is anyone in any real danger of dying? Not really. Is the fighting interesting from a tactical or strategic point of view? Can we follow the flow of battle (like in many of LotR battles)? Nope. Just more waves of robots.

      Is everyone on the life boats yet? I don’t know, I can’t see every body in a city. Oh, wait, looks like there’s a kid over there. Better rescue him. Is that it? Well, no, it looks like the 10th floor of that apartment building still has people waiting for their hot pockets to warm up before they join the evacuation. There, is that everyone? I guess so. I mean, maybe. Looks like someone almost forgot that dog, so it’s possible there’s more people.

      Compare that to the iconic rebel run at the Death Star. Its absolutely clear what the goal is, what the progress towards the mission is, etc.

      Ultron compounded its sins by *also* making what needed saving a small city. Saving a “city” in the abstract is one thing, but saving the people in a city one by one by one by one was just annoying. Compare the scene in one of the Spiderman movies where he has to stop the train. Yes, there are a bunch of strangers, but they are all together, they all get some face time on screen (even some personality), the scene doesn’t last too long, and they are all saved together en masse. If you want an audience invested in saving civilians, thats how you do it.

      I wish this is what the discussion would be about, instead of CGI sucks vs. CGI is awesome, because I feel like that conversation should have ended about ten years ago.

    • therealeverton says:

      It isn’t clear which film you are talking about here. You mention New York, which is The Avengers, but then you say the first battle, which in The Avengers is between Loki & S.H.I.E.L.D.so? In Age of Ultron it is made very clear that Stark takes responsibility for damage caused by Avengers and has a foundation , or something similar, set up precisely for that – or at the very least, for Hulk losing control matters. They were already on their way to South Africa, which is where Hulk got thrown through builds, not NY, by the time they left. It’s also clear that prior to The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. took care of a lot of that kind of thing and being a multi national organisation I assumed the global aid/defence budgets that in the real world take care of these things “pay” for it.(The S.H.I.E.L.D. responsibility is further confirmed by the fact that Loki’s sceptre, a leviathan and other alien artefacts are in Struckor’s base at the start of the film

      They do make amusing references to a company called Damage Control, who make a living sweeping up after the 100s of super powered people in New York. After the success of Daredevil, maybe a Netflix One-shot of Damage control would be fun.

  44. Jacques Strappe says:

    The CGI genie is out of the bottle and he’s not going to go back in. You do sound a little old-fart-ish Mr. Lowry but I don’t altogether disagree with your lament. The destruction and devastation FX expectations are constantly being reset with the release of every new fantasy blockbuster. I think most of the core fans for these films welcome and expect the biggest and baddest of special effects. These expectations have crept into television as well. I often see fan references to how impressive The CGI is on The Flash. Characters to actually care about and compelling stories are apparently lower priority to the gray and dour CGI enhanced backgrounds in Gotham. I have tried to watch both The Flash and Gotham but quickly lost interest. I’m not sure what that Goldilocks amount of CGI is. Based on the technical advances, it’s probably just a matter of time before Variety replaces the real Brian Lowry with a CGI generated one

  45. People are giving this article too much flack. The approach to CGI in general – as well as how studios do business with VFX houses – needs to improve.

    But I wouldn’t say “Batman” ushered in the golden age, it did exactly the opposite. “X-Men” is 12 years later, and in that span we were inflicted with Tank Girls, Barb Wires, and Batman’s nipples. There are highlights like The Rocketeer and The Shadow, but I would’ve said “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” the latter of which receives too little credit thanks to the repetitive nature of the franchise.

    And The Phantom Menace was shot on 35mm, except for one digital scene.

    • therealeverton says:

      It’s Blade and X-Men that got the studios to take a chance again. two very different films about characters that studios believed were no that well known to the wider public (true enough at the time). Avi Arad specifically made reference that pair of films finally getting studios to act on those Marvel Film rights that were just sitting on the development shelves, because Batman & Robin “proved” that nobody wanted to see Super hero films about characters they loved, let alone ones they had never heard of: as opposed to just that it proves even a successful series of films can be undone by two awful films in a row.

      Tim Burton’s Batman set up that same copycat thing I mention above, re Star Wars etc., There are more rubbish Horror films, and Romantic comedies etc. in a year than good ones, but they go on indefinitely…Because Superhero films are a relatively new genre in terms of consistently having 2 or more, every year, they get dumped on far more than the other films, which massively outweigh the number of super hero films we get.

    • lefty backstrap says:

      FYI, it makes no difference if the movie was originated on 35mm film, IMAX or Digital. All film elements get scanned to a “digital negative” where the CGI work is integrated with the original camera material. Then it is all finished in a DI, or digital intermediate, where the final color work is done. Occasionally a movie originated on film stays there, finishing in the old photochemical process. But Any sections that integrate CGI are still scanned to a digital negative for integration.

  46. harry georgatos says:

    A talented director will know how to employ inventive CGI with a cerebral storyline. Unfortunately there aren’t too many directors who would know how to tell a compelling story. With AGE OF ULTRON there’s intelligence underneath the surface that one would not find in a Michael Bay blockbuster! The insights to artificial intelligence in the film doesn’t pander to the undemanding but for a curious mind.

    Also Whedon’s final cut for AGE OF ULTRON was 3hours&15minutes and took out an hour of footage for more sessions in cinemas. One would think the one hour deleted footage would have more story and character exposition and less concentration on CGI.

    The ultimate cut of WATCHMEN is a classic example of convincing CGI with compelling story-telling, along with the epic opera of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy. All the elements of film production from CGI to intriguing story telling can happen with the right people.

    • Lefty backstrap says:

      IMHO the best use of CGI ever is when you aren’t aware that the images are CGI. Most movies these days employ some use of CGI. But the best obvious use was “Gravity” where 90% of the movie was CGI with some real elements, like faces, inserted. Also “Pi” and “Avatar” did it very well whether you liked the film or not.

    • Brian Wiley says:

      scanned or not. you can still tell the difference between digital and film. Digital still cant nail the photochemical colors produced on celluloid.
      Effects look better when matched to film.

      • therealeverton says:

        Ffilm is excellent and it is good that want to keep film alive, however I don’t agree with your assessment of the quality issue.

  47. Ken says:

    The climactic battle in and above Times Square in SUPERMAN 2 may, by comparison to today’s visual effects standards, seem rudimentary…but it still kicks butt and still manages to thrill and amuse. MAN OF STEEL on the other hand, was imo a total snore; it made me view the entire genre with an increasingly jaundiced eye. When CGI is used wisely, in an innovative way (THE ABYSS, the original TRON, T2, TITANIC, the LOTR trilogy – all of which I saw during their original runs), or poetically (LIFE OF PI, AVATAR), the results can be phenomenal. The makers of current comic book movies increasingly appear to have forgotten the cardinal rule: with great power comes great responsibility.

  48. lefty backstrap says:

    My feeling about the 2nd and 3rd installments of the “Lord of the Rings” and most of “The Hobbit” which were both extended slash fests.

  49. Fornowon says:

    As Joe Jackson presciently crooned in 1979, “In the cinema tonight they sit and watch the robots fight
    The human beings don’t have much to say”

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