Have we reached a superhero movie plateau? That’s a question I’ve been struggling over since I left Avengers: Age of Ultron with deeply polarizing thoughts on the film. Writer-director Joss Whedon has spent an impressive amount of time shaping the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to culminate to this very moment that I would consider to be the biggest nerdgasm cinema has ever achieved thus far. It’s a spectacular ballet of many moving parts. And as breathtaking as the movie may be, Age of Ultron definitely has the feeling that this marvelous house of cards producer Kevin Feige has built could come crashing down at any second.
After The Avengers, how would Marvel Studios top one of the biggest blockbuster events in cinematic history? It’s a tall order considering few could have predicted the gamble of Phase 1 would pay off with such success. After five, singular movies focused on introducing the major players, The Avengers assembled as a premier franchises of the generation. Could lightning strike twice?
Now that Marvel had us in their clutches like Hydra waiting amidst SHIELD ready to strike, the studio had pretty much free rein to expand their cinematic universe and explore more bizarre territory, such as a sentient tree, a talking raccoon, Dark Elves, and more. Which has led audiences to one of comics’ most notorious villains ever created, Ultron (voiced brilliantly by James Spader). If we can accept that we are all Groot, then a psychotic artificial intelligence should be no problem.
Phase 2 has done a fair job to prepare moviegoers up to a point, but mainly through character growth. Driving Age of Ultron is Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) anxiety of out worldly threats. There is little to no concern on the dissolution of SHIELD – you’ll have to watch ABC’s Agents of SHIELD to understand the consequences of The Winter Soldier – or the fallout from the Dark Elves attack on the universe. While the bulk of the run time is involved with cleaning up Tony’s mess and Ultron’s thin schemes to “save” humanity, the rest concentrates on developing our heroes old and new as well as establishing components for Phase 3. This does not make for a captivating reward for Phase 2; regardless I found myself getting lost in its world building because of my inherent fandom around Marvel properties.
What makes The Avengers a superior film is its plot. There is added benefit from all of Phase 1 in that its individual parts complement the events of The Avengers through commonalities such as the Tesseract and Loki. Whereas Age of Ultron doesn’t have legs to stand on other than Tony’s arc from Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. We have a more fulfilling sense of who these characters have become, but that can only take a movie so far if the story does not prove to have a hook compelling enough to keep me invested.
Not only do we have to keep up with Ultron’s evil plans that are unreasonably silly, but also the emotional weight Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizbaeth Olsen) carry with them and how they gained their powers from Hydra; the continuing tease of the Infinity Gems and the powers they hold; the birth of the Vision (Paul Bettany); the vibranium black market run by Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis); the cradle created by Dr. Helen Cho (Kim Soo Hyun), which can regenerate organic tissue; the unexpected, budding romance between The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and the one who acts as the team’s moral compass, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). It’s like Game of Thrones for superhero movie fanatics.
However interesting this may all seem, it’s a glorious mess that didn’t feel as grand as I expected it would be. In actuality, I felt empty on occasion. My eyes were enjoying more than what my ears were telling me. I appreciate how mature the franchise has become and the conviction the film exudes in putting together all the pieces. And as well as I was able to follow along with the copious amount of information Age of Ultron bestows, the film is so busy weaving all of its threads together that it glosses over the finer details that makes this universe as engaging.
Each plot point sprints to get to the next. No need to worry about who the twins are, “one is fast and one is weird,” as Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) explains to Captain America (Chris Evans). He has written a very slick and funny script that pays in on full through certain story devices such as Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) hammer Mjolnir, though not every element is treated with the same care in the particulars. I’m fine that Whedon doesn’t want to hold my hand, and there’s no need to, but it feels as if he didn’t have as much heart in fleshing everything out, only providing light appetizers and not a richer, main course.
There is a lack of regard in answering bigger questions too. Age of Ultron assumes that if you’ve seen one movie about evil AI you’ve seen them all. Ideas of human evolution and our necessity of life are tossed around with only vague responses found in return. There are many thrilling and beautiful action sequences that take up a chunk of the film’s run time, but at least some consideration could have been taken to approach some of the darker themes. Scarlet Witch is able to induce a “dream” like state in the Avengers that make them question themselves; and as interesting as these sequences might be, they do little to push momentum of the plot forward.
Don’t get me wrong, I am really happy to see the gang back together. Having everyone interact with one another again made me squee with joy. The personality of Ultron shines through thanks to Spader’s delicious delivery of the quippy dialogue, and the ominous presence of the mechanical nightmare is handled astonishingly well. Even all the little moments from the B-level characters such as Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) were a gas. There are many singular scenes that form a very entertaining whole that boost its rewatchability.
And as much amusement that I got from the enthralling fight between Hulk and Iron Man; seeing the MCU stretch its legs further into comic lore; the introduction of all the new characters, specifically The Vision; and the flourishing chemistry from these actors together, Age of Ultron felt all too familiar from its predecessor with far toO few new ingredients to reap from its awesomely nerdy benefits. I’m glad to see our heroes not faced with a blue beam of light from the sky, yet they could not get away from an army of CGI figures seeking their destruction at the climax.
My expectations going in may have been way too high, but a formula has definitely presented itself in how team up movies are made that it has become as obvious as the structure in which we approach individual hero stories. Despite the fact, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a very coherent film stuffed with so many wonderful threads that it’s packed too tightly, making the seams visible, ready to burst at one false move. Superhero movie fatigue has not quite set in on me yet, though I can feel it closing in if Marvel does not take more care in formulating this monster of a shared universe it started and explore new ways in telling these stories.
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With a run time of 141 minutes, the film is now in theaters and is rated PG-13 intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.