Avengers Assemble for a Grand Sequel that Falls Short of its Predecessor
The Avengers – Age of Ultron : ***1/2
When Tony Stark attempts to create “a suit of armor around the world” with the Ultron program he accidently Frankensteins a sentient being that thinks the only way to save the world is to start over with an extinction event. When it is time for the team to band together, they find that their differing ideologies of right and wrong are getting in the way of them reuniting in an effective manner. Can the Avengers set aside their differences and assemble?
Age of Ultron shares a similar structure to the first film, but in reverse; in the beginning you have the team together fighting as a cohesive unit, but as the stakes get raised their personal differences split them apart. And, similar to the first film, it all comes together spectacularly in the climax. While it is neither as fun or fresh as the original, it is definitely one of the finer films in Marvel’s Phase 2 lot.
What really sells this film are the small moments; everyone trying to lift Thor’s hammer, Black Widow and Hulk’s flirtatious bar banter, Stark and Cap arguing over why they fight, everything at the safe house, Hawkeye talking to Scarlet Witch during the final battle. It’s the scenes between scenes that soar. The action in the film was certainly cool, but it’s been seen in these movies dozens of times over. What we haven’t seen much of are the quiet character moments.
Major props have to be given to Joss Whedon with his script here because every character has a complete arch in the film that works both solely for this screen ride, as well as furthering the characters from their previous events, and setting up what is to come. More astonishing is when you assign a number to those characters. It is fourteen. Fifteen if you include Stark’s A.I. Jarvis separately. Juggling fifteen characters and giving them all some kind of pay off, or growth is astounding. Juxtapose this with any XMen feature and you will see how purely astonishing that is. No characters really get lost in the shuffle as well, save for Thor, but it sounds as if many of his scenes hit the cutting room floor and will be featured on the DVD.
The cast, as always, is excellent with Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen being highlights. I also loved James Spader’s portrayal of Ultron. His voice is executed with laser precision, and his delivery full of menace, but with a weight of humanity. It helps that Whedon writes the character so believably. He is in essence dark Stark. He also has an understandable motive for his genocidal beliefs.
Where the film falls a bit flat is that this time feels less like a film and more like a comic book come to life. We are taken around the world in these grand battles that lead from one to the next, but it gets to be a bit too much. It also concerns itself with a lot of cinematic universe building, which gets in the way of the personal story this film is trying to tell. Is it cool that they introduce Wakanda and Klaue? Yes. Is it cool that Thor sees visions of Ragnorok? Of course. Did they need to take up so much screen time? Probably not. This isn’t something I necessarily fault Whedon for. This feels more like moves on the studio’s part to string everything together. I like that these movies connect. It is fun for viewers who dedicate their time to watching these films see that it is all one world. That is great, but I utter caution: don’t do it at the expense of the film you are having us watch. The major complaint most people had with Iron Man 2 (which is not as bad a movie as most people suggest, but a weak point in the franchise) is that it just seemed to be a two hour trailer for The Avengers. The biggest complaint about this film is that it seemed to be a two hour trailer for Marvel’s Phase 3 line up.
I was also none too pleased to see Black Widow as the damsel in distress in the lead in to the climax, but it did lend to a nice pay off with Hulk. That said, the movie’s climax really solidified my appreciation for the film. It did what no other superhero movie has done; it showed the heroes concern for saving civilian life. Sure, this has been touched on in a few past films (Spiderman 2, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers) but never have heroes gone to such lengths to ensure the safety of regular human life. That is what won me over with the film. After seeing such brash disregard for civilian life in Man of Steel’s climactic battle, this was a breath of fresh air. This is what these movies should have been concerned about all along.
So, while Age of Ultron doesn’t surpass the original (let’s face it, few of these types of movies do), it stands as a worthy sequel. I have a feeling that public perception of this flick will be a bit lackluster to start because it isn’t as good as the first, but once Phase 3 kicks into gear people will likely point to this as being one of the better films of the bunch.