AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
*** (out of 5)
May 1, 2015
Robert Downey Jr. as TONY STARK / IRON MAN
Chris Hemsworth as THOR
Mark Ruffalo as BRUCE BANNER / HULK
Chris Evans as STEVE ROGERS / CAPTAIN AMERICA
Scarlett Johansson as NATASHA ROMANOFF / BLACK WIDOW
Jeremy Renner as CLINT BARTON / HAWKEYE
James Spader as ULTRON
Samuel L. Jackson as NICK FURY
Don Cheadle as JAMES RHODES / WAR MACHINE
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as PIETRO MAXIMOFF / QUICKSILVER
Elizabeth Olsen as WANDA MAXIMOFF / SCARLET WITCH
Paul Bettany as JARVIS / VISION
Cobie Smulders as MARIA HILL
Directed by: Joss Whedon
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
After “The Avengers” broke box office records three years ago and gut-punched DC onto the fast-track to a “Justice League” movie, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is kicking off the 2015 summer movie season. I’ll admit my anticipation for this movie was as high as it could be. I was an unexpected crazy fan of the first film, which I thought was far better than any of the standalone movies that led up to it. It was impossible to mitigate my expectations.
It is probably not a surprise then that I wasn’t as wild about this movie as I was its predecessor. I didn’t hate it, and I’m sure upon subsequent viewings, I’ll find more to like about it. But it wasn’t a game changer that the first film was.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” has the heroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) continue to join forces with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to battle Hydra. After taking down one of Hydra’s strongholds and confiscating Loki’s scepter, Tony Stark decides to interface the artificial intelligence inside it to an abandoned secret planetary defense system known as Ultron.
However, once installed, Ultron decides the best way to bring peace to the Earth is to effect an extinction-level event that will wipe out humanity and reset the evolutionary clock. The Avengers must work together to defeat Ultron, while also battling two enhanced villains – the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – who are out for revenge.
On the surface, all the elements are there for a summer blockbuster, and there’s a lot of fun things happening in this movie. In particular, writer/director Joss Whedon infuses a lot of the banter between heroes with some pretty clever one-liners, showing that the strength of these characters can be found when they come together.
However, while I’ve found that superhero sequels can often be superior to their origin stories (e.g., “Thor: The Dark World,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and DC’s “The Dark Knight”), these second installments runs the risk of suffering from sequelitis and engaging in too much fan servicing. In this sense and from a story cohesion perspective, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” plays out more like a sequel to a single previously successful film than the eleventh film in a larger series.
As I see this film (coming at it having not read the comics but loving the films as well as not really being into Joss Whedon’s more popular properties), there are two main problems with this movie. They of course dovetail into a firework of other smaller problems, but it boils down to just two things: 1) it’s not terribly well written, and 2) the action sequences never really stood out.
The script problems were the biggest issue I had. Comparing this film to “The Avengers,” there is no competition. In the previous film, Whedon managed to take four different well-formed superhero characters and mix them in with a handful of other lesser-developed arguably non-super characters, and weave one hell of a movie. The main hero characters of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk interacted organically together, and they had real differences to overcome.
At the same time, the characters that didn’t have their own movie (like Black Widow, Hawkeye and Nick Fury) got their own service and managed to fit in well. Later movies – particularly “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – developed the secondary characters of Black Widow and Nick Fury further to give them some real depth. In fact, the only one that was left out of that movie was Hawkeye. Whedon tries to rectify this with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but it became more of a burden than it should have been.
“The Avengers” was allowed to breathe. If you’ll pardon the pun, there was some assembly required. However, when faced with a sequel in which the team had already come together, Whedon fell into the traps of many sequels to ostensibly character-driven stories and had to manufacture conflict where there really wasn’t. In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” we have Thor flying off to consult with people who are barely in the movie, we’ve got a will-they-or-won’t-they budding romance between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff that barely holds together, and worst of all we get Hawkeye’s backstory (which is about as humdrum and uninteresting as they come).
Also, to get the villain introduced early enough in the film, there’s about two pages of dialogue between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner that crams what should have been the film’s introduction into a nonsensically and insane lab discussion. Essentially this:
TONY: Hey Bruce, check this out! There’s an artificial intelligence programmed into Loki’s scepter.
BRUCE: Oh that’s cool. So?
TONY: Well, I was thinking of interfacing it with my entire computer network at Stark Industries, programming it into practically undefeatable robot drones, giving it unrestricted access to the core systems including my own artificially intelligent yet totally British butler, all in the name of peace.
BRUCE: Do you really think that’s a good idea? Didn’t that scepter come from the god of mischief who nearly destroyed Earth by unleashing an army of alien monsters on us? I mean, there’s at least a remote possibility that the artificial intelligence in there has a tiny shred of evil left in it, right?
TONY: I don’t want to be lectured about tampering in god’s domain, not by you, and not by goody-two-shoes Captain America. I’ll totally do this all hush-hush by myself.
BRUCE: But how? There’s no way you’ll get approved to develop the technology to do this.
TONY: No need. I’ll just use Ultron.
BRUCE: You mean that all-encompassing planetary defense system you’ve been developing for years that has preoccupied your every thought since the destruction of New York but you haven’t bothered to utter a single word about for ten movies?
TONY: That’s the one.
BRUCE: Still… how do you know this artificial intelligence will be a good thing, especially with all that weapons technology at its fingertips? I mean, I’m just a nerdy scientist who can tap into seemingly unlimited rage power, and you guys have a string of defenses against me, from Hulk-busting armor to Natasha’s lullaby love touch.
TONY: Just trust me.
BRUCE: But surely you’ve seen movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” “WarGames”…
TONY: Trust me, Bruce.
BRUCE: …“The Matrix,” “The Terminator” and all of it’s sequels. Something always goes wrong.
TONY: Seriously, Bruce, that’s not gonna happen.
BRUCE: Even not-so-good movies like “I, Robot,” “Eagle Eye,” “Transcendence”…
TONY: Bruce! What’s the worst that can happen?
BRUCE: [shrugs] I suppose you’re right. Hey, you want to go check out “Ex Machina” this weekend?
TONY: Sure, we can grab shawarma for lunch afterwards. [smiles at camera and winks]
I’ve heard it said before that a movie is only as good as its villain, which makes sense because that is what our heroes have to unite against. Loki as the villain in “The Avengers” was fantastic, but in this film, Ultron is underdeveloped.
It’s a great idea, but more time seemed to be devoted to other things than to really focus on what makes this thing tick. More over, the addition of more characters – specifically Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but also a general slate of thugs who come and go – seems a bit too crowded. There’s already so many good guys in this film that the trap of superhero sequels to increase the villain number just sends the story all over the place here.
Then there’s the action. These sequences are, as expected, top notch. You have fantastic special effects and some really innovative stuff happening from the visual side of things. However, there’s a generic feel to these moments. Where the action set-pieces of the first film seem distinct and different from one another, you could practically edit together these moments throughout “Avengers: Age of Ultron” even when they happen on entirely different continents, and nothing would look any different.
Add the fact the movie has a washed-out palate, which I suppose does distinguish it from the first film’s bright and colorful look. Unfortunately, this contributes to the heroes getting lost in a cloud of punching and falling rubble that could be from any point in the film.
Of course, all of these complaints does not mean “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a dud of a film. It’s still a really fun Marvel superhero movie. It’s good, but it’s just not crap-your-pants awesome like the first film was. And that’s a shame because the string of films between these “Avengers” installment have been significantly better than Phase 1 in my eyes.
But yeah, you get to see all your favorite heroes again. You get to see the Avengers try to pick up Thor’s hammer. You get to see one of the best Stan Lee cameos out there. You get to see the “Infinity War” teased throughout the film. You get to see Hulk smash.
I can’t say that I didn’t like “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” I’m sure I will see it again, and watching it in IMAX 3D is still an experience (though I’ll reiterate that I wish the color had popped more, but maybe we’ll just have to wait until VideoLab gives it the color-correcting treatment they recently gave “Man of Steel”).
I’m just a bit disappointed in what I got from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” similar how “Godzilla” was a come-down from “Pacific Rim” or “Star Trek Into Darkness” didn’t quite have the punch that “Star Trek” did. I’m sure when I see “Avengers: Age of Ultron” again, whether it be during its theatrical release or on Blu-ray, I’ll feel better about the whole experience. However, until then, I’ll have to cross my fingers for when “Ant Man” comes out in a couple months for my Marvel fix.