The Avengers films should culminate their phases in a team up film like this and reflect on past events while telling a new story — and in turn become an “event” film. What made the first great was this build up of the individual films into an event that we had never seen.
As the nefarious cartoon robot, Ultron, wreaks havoc, The Avengers battle him across the globe in a dense and intricately connected comic universe, but the conflict with the group turns inward the more that they learn about Ultron.
While intriguing thematically, most of the film feels like a “been there done that” type of thing. Ultra as a villain lacks motivation, specificity, and a unique plan. It’s the same old destroy the humans and the world except that instead of aliens it’s robots.
The film feels like an obligatory meet up for the Avengers rather than a culmination of events from the recent films. Most of the Marvel films lack personality (save Iron Man 3) and simply head for competent storytelling and a mix of humor and action, which is fine. I enjoy and even love a couple of them (The Avengers!). Age of Ultron has higher ambitions than all of the other Marvel films with it’s grand scale and occasional arty ambitions, but the execution of the story and their larger components in this universe is misguided. Never do the stakes feel personal or important. The Winter Soldier felt infinitely more important and urgent than this because of its separation from the other films. The scale of this film and its allegiance to Marvel’s brand, makes it buckle under its own weight.
The story jumps from location to location with overlong action scenes that are without rhythm or momentum. The plots moving parts are not of the same machine but instead unattached to each other and without connection. The enjoyment of the battles depends on whose fighting each other instead of the actual filmmaking. This is why it feels like television.
Whedon occasionally has a remarkable eye for creating images that look like a comic book, but the difference is that in a comic book you can stare at the page while here the editing is so fast and sloppy that you can never soak into the mood and aesthetic of the film. I was left simply watching people punch each other and then talk about events that just happened or are about to. Ultron poses an interesting opportunity as a villain to explore a Frankenstein monster of Stark’s, but he’s treated as simply a sarcastic villain of the week.
While The Avengers was about the teams differences and coming together to defeat a force of evil, this gives each character an issue to fight with, but their not externalized into something cinematic. We’re left watching WAYYYYY too many characters talking about issues that aren’t even shown on screen…. Seriously, there’s like 10 super humans in this movie. It should be noted that everyone fits their roles near perfectly and I quite enjoyed the new characters — especially Scarlet Witch, played by the fantastic Elizabeth Olsen! If she was the villain in this I think it would’ve been a far better film because her powers are linked to the core of this film, which is about characters flaws on a global scale and how it affects the avengers as a team.
Most of the film’s issues come from them having to set up the next films — a massive mistake that I thought they learned from Iron Man 2. After all, the best movies in this franchise are all about looking to the past. The Avengers is their best film because it’s all about these characters putting their pasts aside to create something new. It’s also why Captain America is the best superhero of this team. He’s a man from the past walking through the future.
Whedon usually nails the character beats and humor, but the tone is at odds with the events of the film. For example, Iron Man does his quips as usual but they don’t land the same laughs this go around because it’s not only a darker film, but also a film that tries to builds genuine Shakespearean-esque states.
Now onto the Hulk, the best part of the first film. The build up and patience to use him not until the third act was brilliant. Here he’s the one that has the most smashing and destroying of anyone. His excessive use applies to the entire film’s excess. Bruce Banner is a fascinating character because he’s in a constant struggle of being a man whose trying to bring peace through science but then he turns into an Id driven green monster that destroys everything with no rational. That great character trait is glossed over and he mostly just sulks while Black Widow is forced into a “will they or won’t they” relationship with him. It’s a semi interesting subplot but like all the other subplots, it’s bogged down by the overcrowded narrative.
The saving grace is that these are massively fun characters played by great charismatic actors and it’s fun to see them together fighting and talking. Plus the action, while excessive, is insanely choreographed at times. The fact that the outlandish comic books final third act even fits with the rest of the film is some sort of achievement.
Kids will likely love the film and adults that just want a fun time with superheroes will enjoy it, but I think we should demand much more though — and that’s not to say there wasn’t an attempt here. Whedon definitely wanted to do some interesting thematic things and tell an epic comic book story, but it tries too much and doesn’t coalesce the previous films’ events like its predecessor did.
This is a film that encapsulates the absolute best of Marvel (character interactions/fights) and the absolute worst (Lacking aesthetic/commercialization/setup). I sadly felt nothing while watching this and that’s unfortunate because the first one made me cheer and feel like a kid. I gotta say I’m worried about the next films because there are SO many super humans now and I have no idea how this is gonna work… I’m looking at you X-Men 3. Age of Ultron lacks cohesiveness and never quite kicks into gear, but it occasionally travels down interesting avenues that make it one of Marvel’s weirder and more unique films.
For Reference: The Avengers (B+)