Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rulebook Casefile: Turning Phrases in Age of Ultron

I really did like Age of Ultron, honest, though I seem to do nothing but nitpick. To wit…
I like a lot of Joss Whedon’s work, but I’ve always found his public persona fairly irksome: too eager to hoard credit and diminish the contributions of his co-workers. Typically, he’s dropped hints in the press that the stuff you like about Age of Ultron was all his and the stuff you didn’t like was all Marvel.

But I disagree, as some of the things that irked me were classic Whedon problems:
  • The story was at times more interested in subverting our pre-established narrative expectations than in creating its own expectations.
  • Too many different characters employed the same kind of quippy postmodern jokes.
  • Too much of the dialogue consisted of characters reversing their own turns of phrase, or reversing each others’.
I don’t have the script, and I didn’t take notes, but even just visiting IMDB’s quotes page, you find two examples:
  • Tony Stark: Banner and I have been doing research...
  • Steve Rogers: -That would affect the team.
  • Tony Stark: -That would END the team.
And later:
  • Ultron: THIS is the best I can do.
Neither of these is that bad, and you can pull this stuff off occasionally, but it quickly wears out its welcome, because we can never totally ignore how unnatural this is. As I discussed before, we don’t listen very well to each other, and different minds have different built-in syntax, so we’re unlikely (and probably unable) to neatly reverse anyone else’s turn of phrase.

Later, we have a better example of how to pull off a rousing dialogue callback:
  • Tony Stark: How do we cope with something like that?
  • Steve Rogers: Together.
  • Tony Stark: We’ll lose.
  • Steve Rogers: We do that together too.
Steve repurposes his own language, which sounds far more natural, but achieves the same clever callback feeling which gives dialogue both more fizz and more resonance.

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