Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Claudia Kim, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis
Directed by Joss Whedon
Expectations: Superhero high.
Let’s just get it out of the way: Avengers: Age of Ultron is not as good as the first Avengers film. It simply does not deliver that same sense of fun comic book action, but the good thing to note is that Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t really attempt to hit those same notes. It’s fundamentally a different type of film; it’s much darker in tone, and its main purpose seems to be more about setting up future films in the series than telling its own interesting storyline. Part of my problem with Marvel’s Phase 2 films is that they were all fairly unrelated to one another, lacking in even the relatively sparse world-building that existed in the Phase 1 films. Consequently, Avengers: Age of Ultron bears the weight of tying everything together, and this makes it feel like more of a big puzzle piece than a coherent picture all its own.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing — in fact, these threads that lead directly towards Infinity Gauntlet (and less so towards Civil War) were among my favorite scenes in the film. I’ve been a supporter of Marvel’s unprecedented way of bringing comic book storytelling to the big screen, but the main fault in that method is that everything takes so long. The first hints of the Infinity Gems were probably six or seven years ago at this point, and that’s a crushingly long time to wait for something to develop. These are the times I wish I had no knowledge of these things, as then these moments would just be mere hints at something to come instead of ruthless teases. And to think we’re still three years away from actually seeing Thanos bring all the gems together and kick some major ass with them. Sigh.
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens mid-battle, and if I remember right the very first shot is another of those “single takes” that flies through the battle to showcase each Avenger doing their thing. It’s one of the stand-out shots in The Avengers, but it felt kind of odd to open on that kind of crescendo. I suppose the idea was to quickly get everyone in the mood that the last film put them in three years ago, but without the build up it just felt weird to me. Anyway, who cares… it’s the Avengers and they’re all avenging; this is exactly what I came for. What felt like more of a leap was that the film opened with a raid on Baron von Strucker’s castle, which was only in a post-credits scene in Captain America: Winter Soldier. That can’t be right, can it?
Anyway, if you missed that scene good luck knowing who these guys are, but I guess in these films it doesn’t matter much who the Avengers fight, just that they fight someone. And fight they do! Monocled Euro-Villains! A fleet of the same-looking robots! Themselves! It feels like there was a distinct attempt by the filmmakers to distinguish the fights of Avengers: Age of Ultron from anything the first film had, but for me nothing in this one carried the same charm or memorability. The stuff in this one seemed more chaotic and visually assaulting to me, but maybe I just need to see it again to have it all stick.
What I did love was the end battle. Finally it seemed like Whedon and Co. were able to shed the darkness cast over most of the film to deliver pure superhero fun. That’s not to say there weren’t moments of that throughout — like Hulk taking the turbo-punch to the face — but the ending was the first time where there was a thick concentration. It all comes to a head during a short sequence with all the Avengers defending a key point. They are grouped around it in a semi-circle and as the robots attack, the camera moves in slo-mo around the heroes, highlighting each one. It’s like a very confined version of the “Avengers in one shot” thing, but it’s also a lot more than that. It managed to capture the beauty and the thrill of turning the page and coming upon a two-page spread of superhero action, everyone locked in majestic poses of supernatural battle. As the shot continued, it also reminded me of the welcome but elusive big brother of the two-page spread: the fold-out cover. This shot hit me like a ton of Jack Kirby bricks right in the part of my brain that still thinks I’m eight years old. It’s FANTASTIC. Easily my favorite moment of the film.
The thing that bugged me the most, though, was probably that Ultron had lips. Well, not lips really, but his “metal” mouth moved as if it was made of flesh, which is really odd to look at when his mouth is basically two pieces of flat metal coming together. I understand that it would have looked weird if his mouth opened like a muppet’s, but maybe figure out a better way? Am I just a nerd complaining about dumb stuff? Well, yeah, but it bugged me. Not enough to matter, but if it bugged me I’m sure there are others (and probably whole blogs and forum threads devoted to raging against it).
I’m sure this joke has been made by many before me, but Avengers: Age of Ultron seemed more like the film the MCU needed, instead of the MCU film we necessarily wanted. There was lots to like, but I’m in no hurry to see it again. The bits of setup for Infinity Gauntlet and Civil War were great, and the way this film handled all the secondary heroes really bodes well for the upcoming films which will presumably be more like this than the previous ones. Anyway, it was fun, and that’s all I wanted.