Movie Review: The Avengers, Age of Ultron
Hey, did you hear that Marvel made a superhero movie this weekend? Yeah, some team called The Avengers. Ringing any bells?
The second team-up movie is out and making big bucks at the theaters…but is it any good? A rousing summer blockbuster with exciting visuals and a memorable villain, Age of Ultron suffers from weak writing and poor characterizations in places. The end result is a flawed experience that ultimately manages to move the franchise forwards, and your enjoyment of it will largely depend on whether or not the highs outweigh the lows.
The Avengers, Age of Ultron (2015)
The Avengers 2 begins with a flurry of action as our team of heroes raids the last remaining Hydra stronghold (for THAT backstory, see Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Marvel’s Agent’s of Shield.) They’re searching for Loki’s staff (for THAT backstory, see Avengers 1!) that has been used by Hydra to enhance humans to superhero levels. The good guys easily crack open the fortress and retrieve the weapon, but come across two super powered individuals that are able to go toe to toe with them: Quicksilver, who has super speed, and Scarlet Witch, who can manipulate reality and control other people’s minds. Iron Man is mentally attacked and shown a future where all of The Avengers have died in an invasion similar to the first Avengers film. He vows to create a peace-keeping army to prevent that future from ever coming to pass.
Iron Man recruits Bruce Banner to help him place an artificial A.I. found in the staff of Loki into his army of automated Iron Man suits in order to create a force that would replace The Avengers. It goes about as well as you would expect from a program in an evil scepter: Ultron, a self-replicating and self-improving program decides (ala Skynet) that the best way to protect humanity is to supplant humanity…by wiping all of the meat-bags off of the planet. The Avengers are now faced with a fight against an army of robots and the two enhanced humans who join his side.
You Hit ‘Em High
The action in Age of Ultron is where the film shines. It is big and bombastic, without devolving into a mess of CG and explosions. The team feels cohesive, the banter flows naturally, and you get to see everyone in their element. The fights do a better job of showing the interplay between the different characters than the slower moments of dialogue. Having so many mouths to feed and four new villains to introduce, it’s really important that all of the fighting manages to further the story instead of bog it down.
One reason for the strength of the action is that the new bad guys are capable and fun. Whereas a lot of the comedy falls flat in Age of Ultron, Quicksilver is repeatedly hilarious, throwing great asides and physical humor into his fighting style. Ultron is excellent as the big bad in this film, managing to be threatening and omnipresent through his robot army. As powerful as he is, he is also vulnerable, and reacts to his own shortcomings realistically. The cat and mouse game between Ultron and The Avengers is crisp and taught, with each side scoring points and the final outcome up in the air till the very end.
I’ll Hit ‘Em Low
A great deal of the film is the action, which is lucky since the slower moments show the weakness of the film: the characters are pretty one-sided. Tony Stark is an egomaniac, Captain America is stick in the mud, Bruce Banner is an angsty worry-wart, and Thor is…absent, mostly. Black Widow gets mugged the worse, as we see her transition from an effective and capable operative in The Winter Soldier into the team’s nurse-maid and perpetual girlfriend. At least Hawkeye gets to have his own life, and he’s just the guy who shoots arrows real good!
You wouldn’t expect as much character development in a team-up as we got in the stand-alone films, but so much opportunity gets wasted. A party early on happens just to show us that larger cast of characters, but Falcon and War Machine are given small lip service, and the female leads from the other films are not just absent, but become a joke for being absent. Hell, Stan Lee gets more screen time than Don Cheadle! Again, when Scarlet Witch scrambles the team’s mind, we see the heroes drawn back into their pasts, but more time is spent on Cap Am and Thor (who have had two movies apiece to show their origins) than Black Widow, who we get to see had an amazing origin story that is just glossed over. Other opportunities are there to build up the complicated relations between the heroes, but are fumbled left and right. Joss Whedon seems positively intent on excluding material from the stand-alone films, and the nuanced relationships that had formed there get chucked out the window.
The dialogue in Age of Ultron swings between amazing and horrendous. There are amazing scenes where Hawkeye and Quicksilver interact, and then there are scenes where Tony taunts Captain America like a schoolboy, gets in inane boasting matches, and then casually drops a rape joke into what was a great group-building scene. There’s tin-eared, and then there is obviously offensive.
For all of the failings, I still found Age of Ultron to be an enjoyable film. It manages to find its footing in its action sequences, and uses those sequences to drive the narrative (not only of the current film, but also the grander MCU narrative that will lead up to both Civil War and The Infinity War.) The new characters are fun and exciting, and the conflict feels genuine and intense. Poor characterization and offensive dialogue make this a film to recommend with a strong caveat, and will certainly leave some viewers with a bad taste in their mouth. The finale manages to bring the film more in line with the larger Marvel universe, and leaves me hopeful that further outings will manage to dodge the pitfalls Whedon fell into, and to create a broader franchise that will carry over into next years big film, Captain America: Civil War.