The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Don Cheadle, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader
For many people, Marvel’s The Avengers was (and still is) the pinnacle of comic book adaptations on the big screen, a culmination of several years of interconnected superhero stories brought together in one gigantic all-star team-up. Although many of the characters were once considered to be too goofy or obscure to appeal to mainstream audiences, we now know that nothing could be further from the truth. Moviegoers everywhere flocked to theatres making it one of the most successful movies of all time and triggering a seismic shift in Hollywood thinking.
Now three years later, the inevitable sequel has arrived, bringing with it a brand new set of problems to be overcome. This time we know the audience is there, frothing at the mouth for the next massive blowout, but how do you follow up a movie like The Avengers? You can add more characters and even bigger battles, but at the end of the day, there eventually comes a point where bigger is no longer better. The Avengers: Age of Ultron still manages to entertain, but you can feel it creaking and shuddering under its own weight every step of the way.
It should probably go without saying that the plot of this movie is both ridiculously simple and extremely convoluted. The minute you start thinking about it in any sort of detail, your brain cells will self-destruct. After recovering Loki’s sceptre from Baron Von Strucker (yes, that sceptre is still causing trouble), Tony Stark and Bruce Banner discover that it contains A.I. code inside of it (of course it does). They attempt to harness it to create the ultimate global defense computer, but instead unwittingly give birth to a hostile consciousness known as Ultron, who sees himself as the next evolution of humanity. Together they must find a way to stop him before he can create a synthetic body for himself and exterminate everyone on the planet.
As you would expect, there are some additional complications along the way including the Maximoff twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who have chosen to side with Ultron in order to exact revenge on Tony Stark. Played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla) and Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) they are new faces that never really prove to be all that compelling despite (or perhaps because of) their extremely powerful abilities. Some of Quicksilver’s thunder was also stolen by Bryan Singer who also featured the character in X-Men: Days of Future Past last year with at least one fantastic action sequence that is never really topped here.
James Spader voices Ultron and seems to be having a blast delivering diabolical dialogue, but ultimately the villain is still a little too generic. We’ve seen plenty of robots and/or A.I. characters doing the whole “humanity is a virus” thing and although they try to play up the angle that he could be right, it’s never given any real consideration. It doesn’t help that in order to make him a physical threat for the whole team they need to give him an army of anonymous CG clones, which gets pretty dull from a visual standpoint. That being said, his Pinocchio-inspired introduction is quite effective and creepy, if only they could have sustained that throughout the film.
One thing this movie does better than the first Avengers film is that it opens with a bang, putting us right in the middle of a full team assault on Baron Von Strucker’s stronghold. The snow is a nice touch and the team chemistry is immediately apparent, but it doesn’t take long to realize that there aren’t really any new tricks this time around. We’ve already seen most of of what these heroes are capable of. There is a decent action sequence in the middle of the film involving Captain America and Black Widow chasing down Ultron on a moving truck, and I am guessing the Iron Man vs. Hulk fight will be a highlight for some, but even that gets pretty repetitive and silly, taking city-wide destruction to its limit. Overall, most of the action just sort of blurs together and fails to leave much of an impression.
In order to make up for that, perhaps, they do try to make us care about the team members a little more this time around by deepening some of their interpersonal relationships. In particular, they focus on the characters who don’t have solo movies to expand on their back story such as Hawkeye, who gets a lot more screen time and is humanized more than any of the other characters. Ironically, they never do fully justify why the team needs him, but at least we are given a reason to root for him. There is also a romantic subplot involving Bruce Banner and Black Widow which may seem ridiculous on paper but actually works thanks to the acting abilities of Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson.
If all of this sounds like I’m down on the movie, the truth is I still enjoyed myself, mostly due to Joss Whedon’s script which could be one of the strongest he has written in terms of dialogue. The movie is peppered with all kinds of clever exchanges and one-liners but the dialogue never draws too much attention to itself, instead relying on the natural personalities of the actors to see it through. For every quip, there is an equal and perfectly weighed counterquip. In particular, he gets a lot of mileage out of a couple of running jokes throughout the film related to Captain America’s aversion to profanity and some friendly competition over wielding Thor’s hammer.
Ultimately, the comedy is the icing on the cake that I think will leave people with a smile on their face and a desire to revisit The Avengers: Age of Ultron in the near future. That being said, this movie does serve as a reminder that the Marvel machine is not infallible and that these team-up movies cannot really exist without a ton of nonsensical exposition and mindless action. The movie feels a bit empty compared to its predecessor and it looks like things are only going to get more rote with the obligatory two-parter The Avengers: Infinity War on the horizon. Summer moviegoers often say they want pure escapism with no strings attached, but if a movie doesn’t hold you down and make you fret or make you frown, well… where’s the fun in that? — Sean