Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Genre: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Director: Joss Whedon
Personal Rating: 6.5/10
Marvel’s massive shared universe with nigh endless crossover potential continues to grow with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which probably set a record for number of significant characters interacting on a single screen. The adventure is an exciting, fun, and even sometimes funny addition to the MCU, though it generally has a more grim and serious tone than the first Avengers. Of course the movie had its flaws, foremost among them being that it was unfocused and stretched thinner than the cheese in a hot mozzarella stick as you test how far it will go before snapping, but the consistent character focus and strong action sequences make an undeniably strong combination.
And so let’s start there, with the characters. We’ve got the old gang of Natasha, Cap, Clint, Thor, Stark, and Banner back, of course, plus new major players Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, Vision, and big bad robot-man Ultron, not to mention a party of cameo appearances. One of Age of Ultron’s greatest strengths, in my opinion, is that the characters carry the weight of the film. Fight and action sequences are informed by and further characterization, rather than just being a flashy centerpiece to show off the special effects budget. As icing on the cake, the actors and actresses all turn in brilliant performances – emotional, humorous, and delightful to watch – for what they’re given. Unfortunately, there are simply too many characters trying to accomplish too many things, and the characters feel off-balance because of it.
Since the premiere, the Internet has been in endless debates centering on Age of Ultron‘s romance between Natasha and Bruce. A sense of fascination and attraction was established between them in the first Avengers film, so an expansion of the romance was only natural for Ultron. However, it had the detrimental effect of taking up an inordinate amount of screen time and occasionally making Natasha sound like a high school student trying to get asked to prom (her flirting with him at the bar comes to mind). While I appreciated Whedon’s attempt to give each Avenger a character arc, handily provided by Scarlet Witch-induced hallucinations, they needed more time to actually develop anything, and the romance seems a strong place to trim and make space. Personally, I would have preferred more time on Thor’s sub-quest discovering the truth about the Infinity Stones or with the whole team at the Barton farm experiencing some actual teambuilding.
The true standouts in the cast were the newcomers. James Spader’s Ultron exhibited stunning aggression and emotion, while Paul Bettany’s Vision was the perfect foil of introspection and calm. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch straight-up stole several scenes and on at least two occasions left me thinking that she might be one of the strongest characters in the whole film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver, on the other hand, was a victim of simply not being given many chances to stretch his acting talent. From the get-go, primary focus is given to his sister, but he does the best he can with the scraps. Considering how his own story ends, I have to think that Whedon considered him a throwaway from the beginning, a necessary evil to get Scarlet Witch in the game.
The story containing all these powerful forces is fairly standard and, while enjoyable, is both predictable and highly reminiscent of the first Avengers. Replace the Chitauri with an army of highly breakable robot men and New York with a fictional European city ripped from the ground and you’ve got the ending fight scene worked out. Yes, there was a sense of facing overwhelming odds, but once Vision prevented Ultron’s escape through the Internet, it was only a matter of destroying the robot forms already made. In essence, Ultron was a swarm of large, metallic bees and the trick was swatting enough without getting stung too many times.
As mentioned earlier, the tone of the film is more serious than its precursor. There is an added emphasis on collateral damage and a greater focus on civilians caught in the crossfire of the Avengers’ battles. While increasing the human element of the film, the shift in tone also works to set up Marvel’s Phase 3, especially the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. After all, the climax involves the total annihilation of most of a city, and thus forces a significantly large population into homelessness and refugee status. The “Stark Relief Foundation” probably cannot handle that much responsibility, and considering an Avengers-produced murder bot caused the problem, the ensuing debate is bound to effect heroes everywhere.
Ultimately, Age of Ultron is a good, strong, enjoyable addition to the Marvel universe, but it suffers from trying to include so much. It is too wrapped up in what it can show, and not necessarily what it should. But the Avengers lineup at the end is amazing enough on its own to make me ready for Phase 3.