Friday, May 8, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: Ultron & Other Death Machines

I’m still digesting Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I suppose it says something about the movie that it’s nearly a week later, and I’m still thinking about it, still trying to decide what it was trying to say.  It didn’t feel like it was all that deep at the time, but there was a lot there, and it’s one of those things where I find that I’m still processing it all.

Truth is, I can’t wait to see this movie again.

Warning: This post may contain spoilers.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to come back later.

Director Joss Whedon told Empire Film Podcast (minor spoilers ahead) that Marvel brass weren't thrilled with the scene in the film, in which Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) visits his family at their farmhouse, along with the moments when the characters experience dream sequences. On the other hand, the studio was quite adamant about including the segment involving Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) joining Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a cave.

"The dreams were not an executive favorite either — the dreams, the farmhouse, these were things I fought to keep," Whedon said. "With the cave, it really turned into: they pointed a gun at the farm's head and said, 'Give us the cave, or we'll take out the farm,' — in a civilized way. I respect these guys, they're artists, but that's when it got really, really unpleasant."

The Infinity Gauntlet is my daughter 
Emma's favorite book.
That cave scene is not bad.  It was rushed, but I agree with Marvel’s brass that it was, in fact, necessary.  Without that scene, the whole concept of the Mind Gem—and its importance—makes very little sense.  Okay, so we could probably get away without putting the Mind Gem into the movie at all, basically by building Ultron’s creation as an accidental byproduct of tesseract energy, which is clearly in better keeping with the events of the first Avengers movie, but I think that the Mind Gem makes sense here, too.  In fact, I leaned over to my daughter Emma and whispered, “The Mind Gem is in the scepter,” right at the beginning of the movie.  It’s nice to be right, of course, but I think I was right because the movie clearly foreshadows its developments right out of the gate.  That’s good plotting.

As I wrote in my initial review of the movie, the version of this story that’s a Netflix series spends an entire episode in that cave scene, and it’s probably one of the better ones in the entire series.  We’re still not completely sure what Thor’s vision was about during that scene, but the scene itself is perhaps the most compelling bit that Thor has in the entire movie.

Look at it this way: the movie is over-stuffed with characters and ideas.  If you were going to take something out, what would you remove?  You could remove the Vision, but his creation is central to the primary plot, and I think it really works.  In a sense, the Vision’s creation and amalgamation into the team is the movie’s true climax.  That’s not a negative; it’s simply very interesting on a character level.  This is a movie that has both an action climax and a character climax.  You could also remove Quicksilver, but he’s a good foil for his sister.  

Or you could take out Thor.  Of the core Avengers, he’s got the least to do.  If you take away his dissertations on the Mind Gem and his quest in the cave, he no longer needs to be in the movie at all… and that’s okay, but it doesn’t set up some of the follow-on stuff, and we all really like that follow-on stuff.  This is why I’m glad Whedon caved and left Thor’s stuff in the film.

Appearing on the Empire podcast, Whedon reveals that he wanted to feature Spidey as part of the new Avengers lineup at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but pesky rights issues got in the way of his plans. Whedon says he wanted both Parker and Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers in that final scene, “but neither of the deals were made” at the time. It was only after the film was locked that Marvel finally got their hands on the radioactive spider-dude, so it was way too late for Whedon to make his (and our) dreams come true...

This team was successful largely
because it was so offbeat.
I’m sorry to say this, but that would have been a huge mistake.  Drop Spidey and Marvel into the last scene of the movie with absolutely no introduction whatsoever?  No.  This movie already had at least one too many characters as it is, and yeah, we all still enjoyed it, but there was a lot there.  No more was needed.  In fact, it would have been a better film with a little less.  No less running time, less total plot.

Rumors have it that the new “Spider-Man” will come from Whedon’s friend and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard of “Cabin in the Woods…”

If you’re familiar with Whedon’s work, then you’ve also seen a goodly amount of Goddard’s.  He also wrote a few of the early episodes of Daredevil, which may account for my liking the first half of the series a little more than the back half.  The whole thing was great, yeah, but for me, the first four episodes were the best.

3. Friday Hair Metal: Joan Jett & Miley Cyrus
This was supposed to be for a charity event.  I really liked it.

Russia's new tank reportedly will be faster than America's Abrams, may have a larger main gun and could be part of a 13-vehicle system that will put everything from personnel carriers to self-propelled artillery onto the same chassis…

The new tank will weigh 48 tons and could hit speeds of more than 50 miles per hour, according to a spec sheet released by Russia's TASS news agency and translated by the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office. The three-person tank will be able to fire up to 12 rounds per minute from a 125 mm main gun that can fire multiple types of munitions, including guided missiles, with a range topping out at 8,000 meters.

It’s an interesting design.  I have my doubts that it’s faster than the Abrams because I have personally had an Abrams up to 55 mph, although that involved disconnecting the turbine’s governor.  Still, it’s not only possible to get an American tank going that fast, it’s actually pretty easy.  I don’t know how many real world applications there are for 50+ ton military vehicles moving at highway speeds, but from an engineering perspective, it’s impressive that it’s a thing now.

The new tank, the Armata, boasts a 125mm main gun and a coaxially mounted machine gun, and I’ve read reports of a coaxially mounted 30mm chain gun as well, although it seems far more likely that this is simply a different build on the same chassis.  This particular chassis is the basis for tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and several other vehicles, so why cram everything into a single build?  Considering that the main battle tank (MBT) is supposed to fire both traditional shells and missiles—and that both are 125mm in diameter inside a tiny unmanned turret that already has to have room for a shitload of electronics and an autoloader—this vehicle’s magazine capacity must already be stretched thin.  Trying to cram belts of 30mm ammunition in there with everything else seems like an unworkable idea to me.

That said, I will give the Russians credit for creating and actually fielding an interesting, innovative design.  By making the turret unmanned, they’ve essentially made it disposable.  This allows them to drastically reduce the turret’s armor, greatly reducing weight, which in turn improves fuel efficiency, and—if they’re clever with turret basket and blast wall designs—makes the crew compartments far more survivable.  Yes, you can hit this tank with a Hellfire missile and presumably melt the turret.  But if the blast walls shape the charge effectively, most of the explosive force will stay in the turret—and then go straight up into the air directly above it.  Thus, the tank crew survives, as do most of the tank’s important bits.  The Russians then replace the turret as a complete end-item and continue on with that same basic machine.

Will that work?  Can the Russians even get this tank into production?

I have no idea.

If I were a Russian tank commander, I would be concerned about the electronics and all the automatic gizmos.  It’s a lot of moving parts, and moving parts don’t always fare well in the dirt and grime of the real world.  Moreover, Russians aren’t exactly known for their careful engineering and craftsmanship.  Looked at another way, this is Russia’s attempt to build a German tank.  I would not have said that this is an example of the Russian Army playing to its strengths.  This is the same army, after all, whose most famous maxim is, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”  That’s not what this is.

Not surprisingly, this tank is expensive.  The price tag I saw was $7.4M each. currently lists the M1 Abrams at $4.3M apiece.  That’s the world’s largest economy paying a bit more than half-price for a tank that is at least 75% as good.  Looked at long term, this is a tough tradeoff for the Russian Army, and that’s doubly true when we consider that Russia was on the brink of total financial collapse less than a year ago.  Granted, American tank production is not a going concern right at the moment, but then again, the Russians are saying that they’ll need more than fifteen years to fully field their new tank, and that’s for public consumption.  What this means is that Russian production isn’t exactly blazing along.  In reality, it sounds like the Russians have a design and a few working prototypes.  This is not the same thing as “fielding a new tank.”

Still, there are some good ideas here without doubt.  I don’t know if this is necessarily the best execution of them, but it’s not hard to see where some of these basic concepts could go into something like an American light tank that is both deployable and survivable.  Maybe nobody’s talking about that anymore, but it’s conceptually interesting that the idea at least appears to be feasible given current technology.

5. The Wells Report is out.
This has already been a long post, so I’ll let my favorite sports/business guy Andrew Brandt sum it up via Twitter.

 I'll save shilling for my book this week and just note that I did an interview to support it a couple of months ago with Sea-anan Empire's Jessica Kong.  Want to know more?  Go read the interview.  I was really pleased with how it came out.

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