Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Two new bits of information from the set of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. First, according to Twitch, the movie is looking to add a new international location to its filming schedule, and will be shooting in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea. Rumors of a Korean shoot have been circulating for some time now, and although star Mark Ruffalo has shot them down in the past, Korean representatives have confirmed that South Korea will be joining Italy and the U.K. as filming locations for the upcoming film. In addition, Korean actress Kim Soo-hyun has been added to film's cast of thousands, and although her character has yet to be revealed she has reportedly been cast "in a villain role."
Kim's character would be the third villain in Age of Ultron, as James Spader and Thomas Kretschmann have already signed on to play Ultron and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, respectively. It's very likely that her character will play more of a supporting role, and probably work for or with one of the two main villains of the film, although, since her role is being kept under wraps, there's still a chance that she would be playing a more prominent villain. Superhero films have often been known to use multiple villains as a way of distracting both the heroes and the audience from the real villain of the piece, which means either Strucker or Ultron would be used to draw attention away from a more important character. However, both Ultron and Strucker are long-term adversaries of the Avengers in the comics, so it would be a more logical choice for the film to use them as the primary villains.
Regardless of the size of the role that Kim will play, the addition of a third villain might be cause for concern amongst fans of the series. Of course, having multiple villains in a superhero film is nothing new, but it's a difficult feat to pull of successfully, which might explain why there are so few films in which such a trope has worked well. Most movies like to establish some sort of backstory for their villains, in order for the audience to understand why they have turned to evil, and why they choose to terrorize this particular city or hero. Adding a second or even third villain would then require additional backstory for those characters as well, which tends to eat up a significant amount of the film's runtime — not to mention the fact that a film can only sustain so many subplots before everything starts to become convoluted. Spider-Man 3 attempted to circumvent the backstory issue by connecting Sandman with Uncle Ben's murder, but even that became confusing when added to Harry Osborn inheriting his father's role as the Green Goblin and Venom turning to evil after a petty feud with Peter Parker. Yes, that film has a myriad of other issues, but having three separate superheroes competing for screentime and Spider-Man's attention did nothing but drag things down even further.
Of course, even if Kim is playing a more supporting, henchman-type role instead of being a distinct villain in her own right, that doesn't necessarily mean the film is in the clear. Iron Man 2 attempted to add in a second villain with the addition of Justin Hammer, who plays a secondary role to Ivan Vanko, and assists in his scheme to take down Tony Stark, but ultimately, his storyline feels like an unneccessary subplot, and he's dispatched with easily and quietly. The plot of the film works just as well without him, and he doesn't add anything important to Tony's story or even to Vanko's story, so all he's doing is providing addition wisecracks and taking attention away from the rest of the story. It's not just Marvel that has difficulty balancing multiple villains, either; The Dark Knight Rises attempted to work in both Bane and Talia al Ghul by having the former provide the main villainy causing problems within Gotham, while distracting Batman from the fact that Talia was the mastermind behind the whole thing. Most of the film's plot focused on Bane, and when it was revealed at the very end that his story was actually hers, it felt more like an attempt at a surprise twist ending than anything else. She was never given the attention needed to make that ending feel earned or justified, which again, results in the double-villain trope being unsuccessful.
Even without factoring in Kim's character, the deck is stacked against Age of Ultron. Both Ultron and Strucker are significant parts of the Avengers mythology, which means they have complicated and dense histories, which the film will have to find a way of condensing or entwining in order to do justice to both of the character's origins and relationship with the Avengers. Marvel has been known to focus on one villain as the main antagonist, and slowly establish the second one as a long-term villain who will play a more significant role in the next film. However, in this case, it's impossible to tell if that will be the direction they choose for Age of Ultron, as neither Ultron or Strucker gives of the impression of being a one-and-done character, which makes it all the more important that both characters receive the time and attention they need. The best way to go about this would be to follow in the footsteps of The Dark Knight, which incorporated Two-Face's origin story into the Joker's plot, and allowed them both to succeed as the villains of the piece. If Age of Ultron can find a way to combine the two stories — for example, having Ultron work for HYDRA, or having him be the catalyst for Strucker's founding of the organization — then it might be able to avoid the "multiple villain" curse that haunts superhero films.
With the addition of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Rhodey, Age of Ultron already has the difficult task of keeping the story from becoming over-crowded with characters, and so, as a result, multiple villains doesn't seem to be a solid plan. They're already having to relegate some of the good guys to background and subplots, which makes it hard to see where writer/director Joss Whedon will be able to fit in the many backstories needed to sustain a proper villain arc. Furthermore, the increased size of the cast seems to be counterintuitive to the "smaller" and "more personal" nature of the story that he has promised, as more characters means there is less room to focus on the individual, be it hero or villain. The Marvel universe has thus far seen great results with its attempts to focus on the psychological and emotional elements of the characters as well as the action that we expect, and the description of the script for Age of Ultron makes it sound as if this will be joining Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier as successful looks at the inner lives of the heroes. But adding in so many new characters seems to undermine that story thread, and might only result in a film that has too many plots to properly explore anything.
We're hoping that Marvel will be able to avoid the pitfalls that come with having too many villains in a film, and we'd like to see Age of Ultron join the short list of superhero films that have been successful. However, the larger this cast seems to grow, the more reservations we have about whether or not the film will be able to pull it off. It's a delicate balancing act to work so many subplots and backstories into a film that is cohesive and engaging, but Marvel's on a hot streak right now, so we'll just have to hold out hope that Age of Ultron won't allow everything to come crashing down. And if it does, at least they'll have a few dozen more films in which to make things right.
Much like the somber melodies that float throughout its 105-minute runtime, Inside Llewyn Davis will remain lodged in your head weeks after you and the film first meet. With Oscar Isaac's "Fare thee we-e-ell..." ringing daintily in your ears, you'll shuffle out from the grasp of the Coen Brothers' wonderland of gray, but you won't soon be able to relieve yourself of what is arguable the pair's best film yet. Llewyn's is a story so outstandingly simple — he's a man who's s**t out of luck, and not especially deserving of any. He wakes up, loses his friend's cat, plays some music, and wishes things were better. And yet his is the Coens' most invigorating and deftly human tale yet.
Llewyn Davis makes the bold, but practical, choice of never insisting that we love its hero. He's effectively a jackass, justifying all the waste he has incurred with the rudeness he showers on the majority of those in his acquaintance. But Llewyn Davis isn't the villain here, either. The villain is the industry, and all the uphill battles inherent to its machinations. The villain isn't Llewyn's substantially more successful contacts — an old pal Jim (Justin Timberlake) and new fellow couch-surfer Troy (Stark Sands), but the listening public that prefers their saccharine pop to his dreary drips of misery. The villain isn't Llewyn's resentful old flame Jean (Carey Mulligan), no matter how many volatile admonitions she might shoot his way, but the act of God surrounding their unwitting adherence to one another. And it's not even the cantankerous and foul Roland Turner (a delightfully hammy John Goodman), but the endless, frigid open road of which each man is a prisoner (if the film has one flaw, it's that this segment carries on just a bit too long, but that might very well be the point). The villain is the cold.
Call it all a raw deal. But the real dynamism isn't in the challenges that happen outside Llewyn Davis, but in the determined toxicity brewing inside as he meets each and every one.
But this isn't the Coen Brothers' Murphy's Law comedy A Serious Man — we don't watch a chaotic pileup of every imaginable trick that the devil can manage to pull. Llewyn is steady throughout, not burying Llewyn deeper but keeping him on the ground, with the fruit-bearing branches forever out of his reach. In its narrative, Llewyn Davis is as close to natural life as any of the filmmakers' works to date. Perfectly exhibited in a late scene involving a trip to Akron, Llewyn isn't a cinematic construct, but the sort of person we know, so painfully, that we are very likely to be... on our bad days.
Still, working in such a terrific harmony with the grounded feel of Llewyn himself, we have that Coen whimsy in their delivery of 1960s New York City — rather, a magic kingdom painted in the stellar form of a 1960s New York City. And not the New York City we're given by the likes of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Closer, maybe, to Spike Lee or Sydney Lumet, but still a terrain unique to moviegoers. A New York that's always recovering from a hostile rain, and always promising another 'round the bend. One that flickers like a dying bulb, with its million odd beleaguered moths buzzing around it against the pull of logic. There is something so incredibly alive about the Coens' crying city; this hazy dream world's partnership with half-dead, anchored-to-earth portrait like Llewyn is the product of such sophisticated imagination at play.
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And to cap this review of one of the best features 2013 has given us, it's only appropriate to return to the element in which its identity is really cemented: the music. Without the tunes bobbing through the story, we'd still likely find something terrific in Llewyn Davis. But the music, as beautiful as it is, is the reason for the story. As we watch Isaac's hopeless sad sack drag himself through Manhattan's winter, past the helping hands of friends and into the grimaces of strangers, as we struggle with our own handfuls of nihilistic skepticism that any of this yarn is worth the agony (or that our attention to its meandering nature is worth the price of a ticket), we are given the rare treat of an answer. Of course it's all for something. Of course it's all about something. It's about that beautiful, beautiful music.
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