The Avengers: Age of Ultron is the newest film in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) which will officially bring to a close their Phase Two (with the exception of the last minute, Ant-Man due out later this Summer). It is one of the most watched leaked trailers on YouTube and one of the most anticipated films of the year, and arguably, one of the most anticipated sequels ever. This film delivers all the big-budget Hollywood names, impressive & stunning visual effects, and action-driven scenes we have all come to expect from Marvel Studios, but this time Joss Whedon suffers severe amnesia and forgets what the most defining quality of the previous Avengers movie was: heart.
I have never really watched Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, even after I accidentally came across one of the more popular episodes, “Hush,” decades ago, nor have I seen a singular episode of Firefly, which among avid television enthusiasts, nerds, and critics, you’d find them raving about Whedon’s cinematic work. Having never seen Joss Whedon’s previous works, television nor film, I must say I was beyond impressed when he took the helm of the first Avengers film, where he aptly wrote & directed it. His attention to character development and especially the balancing of each of the characters individualization & subplots was a titanic feat in itself, blending the slower & sincere moments of the film with it’s Marvelistic “crash, boom, bang” scenes that didn’t feel uncomfortably juxtaposed to one another. Overall, the first Avengers did a dazzling job of delivering a summer blockbuster in 2012 that left me exclaiming, “Excelsior!” at the end of it. So, I was more than eager to see Whedon’s Age of Ultron, but unfortunately, it didn’t do it for me this time.
Age of Ultron immediately catapults us into the film, where we see the Avengers attempting to overtake the last HYDRA stronghold in the small, fictional European country of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s missing scepter from the first Avengers film. We see all of our returning favorite characters such as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) laser blasting HYDRA soldiers, Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans) bludgeoning other soldiers with his vibranium shield while on his motorcycle, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) flying in while hammering foes in the face, and of course, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) causing general, yet massive Marvel-style destruction.
After we’re reintroduced to our favorite heroes we waste no time with character relations. Once we get past relatively weak tension between Captain America & Iron Man that is supposed to fuel the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and the new romantic boundaries built between Hulk & Black Widow, we find the Maximoff twins, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) & Quicksilver (Aaron Johnson), who seem like hollowed out tropes of Marvel characters with a nauseating European accent, to be droll and surprisingly unimportant in regards to the plot (except for that one part), yet a decent match for the Avengers. But, besides Quicksilver’s quickness, Scarlet Witch’s powers are really never defined in the film unless you count Agent Maria Hill’s (Cobie Smulders), “basically (…) she’s weird,” in which the film begins to take it’s first downward turn.
When Tony Stark finds Loki’s scepter, Scarlet Witch tricks Tony into seeing a premonition of what’s to come for Earth’s mightiest heroes & it looks frightening as all hell. This beautifully chilling dark moment we realize that Tony Stark feels like the weight of the world is on his shoulders, as if he was Atlas himself. Once back in the New York City, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, Hulk’s alter ego, set out to create an artificial intelligence peace-keeping program called, Ultron (voiced by NBC’s Blacklist favorite, James Spader) which is built as “a suit of armor (for) the world.” And it’s from this haunting premonition that the film begins to dissolve, as another excellent, story driven, character motivated, Marvel epic devolves into a another big budgeted, catharsis-absent, arc-less Summer blockbuster. Where was the heart?
Being the 11th film in the MCU, which purportedly is supposed to address all the previous, as well as future, films, we find ourselves lost in the middle of this $250 million incessantly CGI’ed schlock desperately grasping for a tangible scrap of mutual emotion. It’s as if, after Ultron became a physical sentient being, Whedon became a careless filmmaker and decided to make a two hour & twenty one minute MCU ad. The character’s motivation becomes shallow and unrealistic, almost questionable from what we’ve come to expect. Thus, the story becomes weaker, and frail, as we the audience cannot relate to the severity of Ultron’s diabolical plot. We are left at a detrimental distance away from the film itself. I felt that as the film progressed I had trouble caring, not for the film itself but, for the story.
Maybe it’s the hours of CGI which waned my interest? Maybe it’s how illogical Ultron is even as the know-it-all sentient? Maybe it’s the unnecessary neon blue lines accentuating Black Widow’s curves? Maybe it was Thor going off to do some skinny dipping in a cave somewhere? Maybe it was Tony Stark never apologizing for almost destroying the very world he saved before by creating Ultron? Whatever your answer is to these questions, the film falls short of becoming one of the best Marvel films.
Now I am not saying that the film is not entertaining (because it certainly is), but it lacks the humanistic appeal that would make it so. It skirts around how deep these characters have previously been developed in the other films and we seem to get a cardboard cut-out of what they are instead of a flesh & blood representation of who they are. Often, you find the scenes where nothing exciting is happening between the star-studded cast to be some of the most entertaining spots seasoned throughout in the film. Even when we are reintroduced to Marvel’s smaller characters played by Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, and Anthony Mackie it doesn’t tell this entertaining story anymore effectively.
Whedon knows how to play the characters off of each other, and arguably this may be what has made him so popular with Buffy, Firefly, and the first Avengers, yet it’s obvious he had no idea who the characters were when they were by themselves. But, can you blame Joss Whedon for trying? No. Hell no! In fact, they’re are countless articles you can find on the internet stating that Whedon & Marvel executives were constantly arguing over his directorial decisions in both Avengers films. You can’t blame the man for trying to tell a better story by sticking to his guns.
The bottom line is that the film, Age of Ultron, like the Avengers team itself, is an entertaining hot mess. It energetically bounces from scene-to-scene all while keeping us, the audience, emotionally at arm’s length as it has trouble finding its pacing throughout it’s careless presentation of the human race’s threat of world-wide extinction. The characters seem bored which leave you feeling less empathetic to the Avengers cause and overall threat. The antagonist, Ultron seems too personable, irrational and unfocused for a sentient “murder bot” determined to annihilate the Avengers & Earth. The cinematic landscape & action scenes keep your senses keen, your visual palette wet, and your anticipation teetering on the edge as the introduction of the beloved Marvel characters you all know and love put you over that edge. It’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen, just don’t expect to walk away thinking you’d feel anything other than entertained from a less than stellar installment of the MCU.
Final Rating: 6.5/10
Movie Theater or Home Theater: Movie Theater
Best Candy to be Paired with this Film: Popcorn & Milkduds
Final Thought: If Ultron’s new self was an unstoppable, Vibranium-celled, Mind Stone wielding sentient that is near indestructible: why did Ultron let Hawkeye & the rest of the Avengers take Vision away from him SO easily?