Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Posted: May 4, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

*Editors note: This review contains no spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron. It does however contain spoilers for earlier Marvel films The AvengersIron Man 3, and Captain America: The Winter SoldierAvengers-Age-of-Ultron-Official-Movie-Poster-2015Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The original Iron Man was a big hit and while I always knew the film would surely spawn successors, I never would have imagined Marvel studios to gain total dominance over the blockbuster season. Multiple Marvel properties come out every year which always perform well at the box-office and are generally liked by audiences. The most popular and successful film of the lot (though not the best) is almost certainly The Avengers, the film that brought together the team of superheroes for the first time and capped off Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the wake of The Avengers, Phase Two has trucked along smoothly, more or less. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pushed the limits of how good these films can be, Thor: The Dark World pushed the limits of how bad, and then Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy sat comfortably in the middle. With this Phase winding to a close, writer/director Joss Whedon has returned to close out Phase Two while ushering in what is yet to come with the highly anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The film opens in the heat of the action; the titular Avengers are engaged in combat in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia. The team is trying to take a secret military base run by evil organization HYDRA, and regain the sceptor used by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in The Avengers. Upon finding the sceptor, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) realizes he can use it to power a new A.I. program called Ultron, which can act as a safeguard for the Earth that will supersede The Avengers themselves. With the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the two secretly begin developing the A.I. However upon awaking, Ultron (voiced by James Spader) sees humanity as needing to be saved from themselves. This, the robotic creation, aided by superpowered siblings Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), launches a violent campaign against The Avengers and the world guaranteed to bring destruction and chaos. Naturally, The Avengers can’t allow this to happen.

The general rule of thumb with blockbuster sequels is to go bigger, and it’s a rule Age of Ultron commits to. The action set-pieces are uniformly larger, new characters are introduced, the old characters are given more backstory, jokes are more frequent, and the scope is larger. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this type of approach, but it does lead to some problems here. Namely that there is so much content jammed into this film that it becomes really messy. The story here really is all over the place, the pacing is awkward, and most of the central ideas underdeveloped. This is especially hurts the film’s villain, Ultron. The character’s motivation is never properly fleshed out and he ends up becoming a generic evil robot who believes humanity can only be saved by being destroyed. This is a trope used in science-fiction from The Terminator (Skynet) to Mass Effect 3 (The Reapers) and this film doesn’t bring anything new to the proceedings. Ulton just makes generic speeches about the need to evolve, but he doesn’t actually have an ethos. Additionally, the character is a lot more comedic than the trailers have suggested. I found it clever at first that Ultron reflect the jokey personality of his creator, Tony Stark, but after all it just removes any sense of menace he might have had. It’s unfortunate too because James Spader’s voice work is really effective, but ultimately the film undermines the performance.

One of the most impressive things Whedon was able to do in the first film was balance the many different characters and personalities, but he bites off more than he can turn too here. First and foremost is the addition of new characters. In addition to new villain Ultron, the film also features the aforementioned twins Pietro and Wanda, otherwise known as Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch to comic book fans. The thing is, I get the feeling these two were chosen more for their powers than their characters. I say this because while their abilities are weaved into the plot and action scenes well, their actual backgrounds and motivations feel a lot more forced. The film also introduces another Avenger in the third act (most probably know who I’m referring to, but just in case I’ll remain spoiler-free). The character itself seems cool, but they come into the film so late, so briefly, and to share the screen with so many others that little impact is made. And then there’s the fact that many of the returning characters are given their own moments, particularly the characters who haven’t had as much solo films. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner, and especially Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are given a lot more attention this time around. I like seeing this stuff, but it’s written into the film in a way which largely halts the plot and kills the pacing. Maybe if these characters had their own films we wouldn’t need for all of it to be dumped into the middle of this film. The dense plotting also leads to certain subplots being fairly confused. There is a subplot involving Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in particular which felt very odd and poorly explained.

One of the trade-offs to Marvel’s shared universe is that many of the films don’t really work as self-contained entities as each film serves to merely set up the next film. This wasn’t really a problem with the first Avengers as it had been what every film had been building to up until that point. I would have assumed this to be true for Age of Ultron as well, but not so. Much of the runtime is spent setting up future installments, particularly the growing antagonism between Iron Man and Captain America (Chris Evans) (which will likely re-emerge in Captain America: Civil War) and the knowledge of Thanos and the Infinity Stones, which will naturally play a large part in the next Avengers film, and may crossover into the next Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s important to think of the big picture, but not to the extent that the actual film suffers, which is what happens here. There’s just far too much going on, to the point that I’m not actually sure what the point of this singular film is. There seems to be some theme pertaining to whether or not the Avengers do more harm than good, but that never really translates, and the growing sense that the team must come to an end also feels off. Additionally, for all the work Whedon has done to hype Phase Three, this doesn’t actually fit too well with what has come before. The film opens with the Avengers on a mission as if this is par for the course for them, but after the first film the team went their separate ways and haven’t been back together since, and this is at least two years after. It feels like there’s something missing there. What’s more, Iron Man 3 ends with the implication that Stark has destroyed all of his suits and retired from crime fighting, but here he’s in typical Iron Man fashion. True, there is a sense that he would like to stop, but it’s still contradictory. There’s also the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D was destroyed and disbanded at the end of The Winter Soldier (one of the most interesting moments in the lore thus far) but the resources on display hardly make it seem as if nothing was lost at all. What was the point of all that if Marvel was just going to reaffirm the status quo at the nearest opportunity? Granted, some of this might have been explained in the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but that’s frankly not good enough.

For all my complaining, the film is perfectly watchable. There is a lot of large-scale action here, lots of witty quips, and the cast remains fun and charming. However even many of these praises come with a caveat. The action, while mostly entertaining, is more or less par for the course when it comes to superhero films. Damn near every action scene is a variation of what was seen in the first Avengers and it never really matches that film’s level. Part of this pertains to the pacing. While the first film was able to space the action in such a way that each scene fell into place well, the spectacle in Age of Ultron becomes numbing quickly. Additionally, Phase Two films like Iron Man 3 and especially The Winter Soldier had far more creative bouts and set-pieces than the standard big brawls depicted here. As far as I’m concerned the best action scene in Age of Ultron is a brief one were an outmatched Captain America fights Ultron on his own. Additionally, while much of Whedon’s witty dialogue works, it isn’t as funny as the wit showed in Guardians of the Galaxy or even the first Avengers. Whedon’s reliance on witty dialogue also begins to serve as a detriment to the film, particularly during the climax where the plethora of humour constantly undercut any sense of tension.

Age of Ultron is by no means a terrible film, nor is it the weakest entry of the MCU. The film is so busy that it’s never boring, the special effects remain very strong, and there are moments of goodness sprinkled throughout. But the film is also heavily flawed, and the Marvel formula is becoming increasingly tiresome. It’s also worth noting that while Phase Two has remained largely the same, Marvel has taken some chances. Iron Man 3 was a more stripped down adventure with a ballsy twist, Captain America: The Winter Soldier committed to a thematic action thriller that genuinely changed the Marvel universe, and Guardians of the Galaxy’s setting and heavy comedy helped differentiate it. Granted, all of these films still relied on the typical Marvel elements to get by (though The Winter Soldier did far less), but there was at least an effort to be different, and that brings some respect. The only Phase Two film which didn’t take any chances was Thor: The Dark World, a film so forgettable and dull precisely because of the lack of risk. Age of Ultron may be much better than that film, but it isn’t much more creative at its core.

C

Comments
  1. Great review. I think the film was good but still quite disappointing.
    Not sure if it is in comparisons to their reason great films but it felt like a foot note rather than a solid film of its own.
    2 hour trailer for phase 3 is a bit harsh but not wholly untrue.

  2. brikhaus says:

    Very good review. I haven’t seen it yet, myself, so thanks for a spoiler free review. Most of your criticisms were things I had already suspected about this movie. I think Joss Whedon tried to do too much in his last movie, and if he tries to do even more, then it just simply can’t work.

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