Film Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

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Sound and Nick Fury…

If Joss Whedon’s Avengers was the staging post that marked Marvel Studio’s integrated and overlapping cinematic universe as a box office phenomenon, his second try, Age of Ultron (no.11 in the series for those struggling to stay the course) could be the film people talk about when debating where it all went wrong. The project’s pitfalls are laid bare during 141 minutes of noise and incident; a film that lacks definition, depth and a dramatic arc worthy of a standalone movie. Age of Ultron is what happens when the franchise imperative trumps storytelling. It’s a clear out of old and redundant characters and a fleeting introduction to new ones ahead of further adventures. It’s two and a half hours of prologue.

Perhaps it’s the strain of making a film lumbered with so much baggage, or the fact it’s a transitional movie, but Whedon’s blowout feels laboured, right down to the quips. You can almost hear the suits baying for more spectacle, higher stakes, while reminding Joss that there’s threads to be tied off and new characters to establish, all the while demanding his trademark frivolousness. Well, something had to give and that turned out to be the movie’s spine.

Whedon’s skipping stone approach to plot means that elements vital to piquing and deepening audience interest are rendered as mere impressions – an image here, a quick line of dialogue there, and relax if you were worried about investing in a dramatic moment, Joss is here to undercut it with a drop of drollery. This ride needed breaks but they’re all in the wrong places. We spend too much time watching the Avengers introspect at a country hideaway and none with Tony Stark as he contemplates his motives for creating a potentially dangerous A.I in response to a nebulous threat to planet security.

Whedon thinks it’s enough to drop in the key scenes – Tony’s apocalyptic nightmare, a chat with Bruce Banner about the possibilities, when what’s really required in establishing the threat Ultron represents is the building of tension, a threat to the characters and the world that’s so immediate and so vivid that the audience can accept Stark’s gamble as a necessary punt in the face of a no win situation. But such a set up requires more than the grand orchestration of expensive setpieces; it needs character conflict and groundwork – the stuff that Whedon could only deliver if he was prepared to slow down and scale back the pyrotechnics. There’s no time for that when you have no many marks to hit on the franchise map.

Consequently none of the dramatic beats in Age of Ultron convince. In their stead there’s a changing of the guard, with the villain, whose motives had the potential to be interesting, reduced to a pretext. Perhaps Whedon knows it was all a bit too much which is why he’s stood aside for Winter Soldier’s Anthony and Joe Russo. That’s a smart move because the duo took the second Captain America movie by the scruff of the neck and gave it a little tension and weight. Age of Ultron lacks both and the result’s bombastic background noise. Perhaps the real movie’s on the cutting room floor.

Directed by: Joss Whedon

Country: US

Year: 2015

Running Time: 141 mins

Certificate: 12A for the Scarlet Witch's cleavage, "I totally support your Avenging", and Andy Serkis.

12 Responses

  1. YOUR FATHER says:

    Well…wel…YOUR MOM

  2. Tim Earnshaw says:

    I’m going to start a community for people who are repelled by the title of this and who would never, even at gunpoint, watch it for that reason. Age Of Ultron? AGE OF ULTRON?

    I read Marvel Comics back in the mid-late sixties, and they were marvelous. I can see nothing at all that connects the hip, funny, socially-aware artistry of those comics with the headachey mess of Marvel films – full of sound and Nick Fury and signifying nothing. A self-referential fanboy universe that Doctor Strangely has as little to do with film as to the original comics – no narrative, soundbite screenplays, no depth, no drama, nothing remotely human, let alone superhuman. All the artistic and cultural worth of a collection of boxed action figurines.

    You actually quite enjoyed this movie, didn’t you, Ed?

  3. BKB says:

    The General Audience is going to give absolute 0 Fucks about any critic reviews of this and have a blast with it.. This is making well over 200M OW and all these mixed or bad reviews critics are spewing will be completely forgotten..

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      In truth, it’s hype and box office that’s transitory. Ultimately all that’s left are the reviews. Q1: How does anticipated box office relate to the quality of a film most people have yet to see? Q2: What does box office have to do with quality when a brand’s as strong as this one?

    • Mike says:

      Sure, put your marbles on the side of General Audiences.

      The people who have made huge hits of TWILIGHT, Adam Sandler, TRANSFORMERS, these generic Marvel movies, and “silly fun.”

      Why should I care about a corporation’s bank account? I don’t. There are your zero fucks, buddy. Personally, I don’t care how many people see this movie, I never participate willingly in the dumb-down.

      • Matt says:

        The MCU is a cut above Twilight, Transformers and Adam Sandler. Come on now.

        The proof of that isn’t just the superior box-office numbers it delivers or the near-universal popularity it enjoys which leads to it becoming a cinematic event in the same way Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings used to be, either.

        The proof of that is the smarter questions it asks and the superior talent it recruits. Transformers uses Michael Bay. Who even directed the Twilights? Transformers hires models and actors/actresses with very limited resumes as eye candy. MCU hires…well, ScarJo, who might be eye candy but is also a good actress.

        Now granted that’s mostly down to budget, but it’s also intelligent choices, and for further proof of that look behind the camera. DC comics hired a style-over-substance borderline hack like Zack Snyder for their big blowout movie, Man of Steel. The MCU hired the more modest and understated but excellent Joss Whedon for Avengers and Shane Black for Iron Man 3. That’s *smart*. When they wanted to market Cap 2 as a political thriller they hired Robert Redford as the villain. That’s *smart*. It’s a series of high-quality decisions leading to high-quality filmmaking that seriously draws.

        And that quality started at the very beginning – the entire MCU is built on the back of Robert Downey Jr’s great performance in the first Iron Man and after that it has escalated and escalated. So really, for all its special effects and bombast, the MCU is built on quality, class and more class. Not substance-free explosions and “silly fun”.

        Don’t get me wrong, Age of Ultron IS silly fun. But it’s also got something there when you scratch the surface, and that’s what has made these so successful – while the cynical still reject Transformers, Sandler and Twilight.

        So yeah I usually agree “popular movie doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good”, but with the MCU the popularity is so universal, and so exhaustive, and performs so well with critics – this review aside, it’s doing pretty well critically, as did Avengers 1 – that the MCU’s popularity becomes a decent metric of its quality. Because to pull in the numbers AoU is going to pull, you have to not only convince the room-temperature IQ Transformers zombie, but people like you who say “popularity isn’t everything”. And they have. Not you, specifically, but even some of the most cynical people around have fallen in love with the MCU.

        And that is the ultimate proof that these movies are of the utmost quality. My favourite quote about AoU is this:
        “If this is what the apotheosis of branded, big-studio entertainment has come to look like in 2015, we could be doing much worse.”

        “Much worse” would be Transformers or Twilight. AoU is actually good, and a massive cut above the examples you listed.

  4. jeff conn says:

    Hahaha what a god awful movie, nothing but noise and booger eaters. thanks god i didnt pay to watch this sh!t. anyone who liked this film is a retarded moron. get a life!

    • Matt says:

      Man, I put far too much effort into that last comment of mine, so I admit to vainly checking back every couple of days to see if somebody replied.

      To finally get a reply and for said reply to be, well, this total garbage of a post… kind of disappointing

      • Tim Earnshaw says:

        Superhero movies occupy a genre, like porn, that has so far failed to come up with a Great Movie which transcends the genre. It’s a self-enclosed, self-referential world for obsessives who aren’t (like porn freaks) really interested in film at all. All the “smart” business decisions that led to the production of (*barf*) AGE OF ULTRON (*brushes teeth*) are impressive only for people into comic book superheroes. Good for them. But to suggest that this (or any other caped-up wisecracking rubberhead movie) qualifies as Great Film is asinine. This is popcorn. There’s nothing wrong with popcorn. But it ain’t a meal.

        • Matt says:

          The Dark Knight?

          • Matt says:

            Also frankly that whole comment reeks of elitism to the point of near delusion.

            To say a film that has grossed this much and has this much mass appeal is for obsessives who aren’t really interested in the medium is insanity to me. And while you may rave and foam at the mouth at its success, the fact of the matter is it IS successful, and that success is meaningful.

            And the beauty of it is – this review aside – it’s not just commercially successful, but critically successful. Marvel movies routinely review well on the whole, especially recently with both Guardians of the Galaxy and The Winter Soldier being widely praised (both very different movies, too. Within the confines of the comic-book genre, anyway).

            I don’t think anyone with genuine film knowledge is calling for Oscar nods anywhere here except for effects, sure. But it’s plain to everyone that RDJ’s Iron Man vs. Henry Cavill’s Superman isn’t even close, that Mark Ruffalo has done an excellent job with the conflict of Bruce Banner. These are strong central performances that stop effects drowning out the movies.

            I also think people see far more depth in Marvel movies than in Zack Snyder’s efforts with DC, for instance, and that is why they are more beloved. Like I said, hiring Redford as the villain in Cap 2 was a clever move and lent the movie credence and weight. And that was useful, because Winter Soldier was a movie that had things to say about the current political landscape, security, surveillance, etc. Not *new* debates, certainly, but presented in a new way, in a mass-marketable way – in a way that reaches a new audience. Is that not useful? Using the popularity of the MCU, The Winter Soldier probably generated far more discussion about wikileaks than the movie about wikileaks, which was shameless Oscar bait.

            That’s what is most impressive about these movies to me. They could make a depth-free popcorn fest like Michael Bay did with the Transformers movies and laugh all the way to the bank, but Marvel has consistently strived to deliver a higher class of movie through credible casting, wise decisions and thoughtful plotting. Benedict Cumberbatch is already set up as Dr Strange. That’s exciting to me because he’s an excellent actor. And that’s not because of some self-referential, enclosed world I live in – it’s because I loved The Imitation Game.

            That’s my problem with your whole viewpoint, really. Your issues seem most fitting with stuff like Michael Bay Transformer movies (and/or TMNT). They’re not only reviewed far worse than MCU movies on the whole, they just evidently don’t have anything there when you scratch the shiny surface. Marvel movies DO. They *do* cast better actors and fitting directors. They *do* have smarter things to say than the average superhero movie. They *do* occasionally ask far more complex questions than they need to.

            But yeah I just keep circling back around to “self-enclosed, self-referential world” and my head spins a little. If they are stuck in a “self-enclosed world”, then that world is absolutely freaking enormous to the point that *that* world might as well be *the* world, and you seem a tad bitter that you’re one of the few standing outside of it, not quite getting what all the fuss is about.

            And it’s fine to be stood there. They’re not for everyone. But to me, it’s not fine to be so derisory. That does you no favours because it just looks to me like you’re not discerning enough, like you’re just dismissing these movies out of hand.

            (PS: But yeah seriously The Dark Knight – and really the entire Nolan Batman trilogy – snaps your entire post in half like a twig anyway, so this is all moot)

      • Sean says:

        Just a quick response to Matt – I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t comment on it. But your comment was a thoughtful one, and deserved a better response. Still, hang in there!