The long wait for Marvel fans to see what Earth’s Most Profitable Heroes have up their sleeve has finally come to an end. After the firestorm of positive reactions and nerdgasms over what Joss Whedon was able to assemble with the first Avengers, it comes as no surprise that Avengers: Age of Ultron is already stockpiling money overseas and is poised to dip into the disposable income of many a fanboy and fangirl stateside.
The big question here is what can Whedon and the Marvel team do to keep this momentum rolling. While there are marked differences, this explosion of films liked by both the general public and typically cynical critics reminds me of the heyday of Pixar … you know, back before they started making NASCAR cartoons, resorting to sequels, and doing so much to help get Disney back on track that they let things slip for themselves.
But that’s a different discussion.
Here, we have Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all coming back together to save the world once again. Some new faces have entered the fray, most notably the non-Fox Studio X-Men franchise Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and a new enemy with his name in the title has come to wreck shop (doing so with the voice of James Spader, which was kinda fun).
And without going into spoiler territory (Whedon fans know a certain something is likely to happen), and hoping not to lose any nerd cred that I might carry, I’m sort of not all that excited about what I just saw.
Where are you going???
Come back …
Fine. I guess I’m just writing this for me now.
Ian, what didn’t you like about this? Well, it basically rehashes the exact same plot of the first Avengers movie. In that one, Loki attempted to turn the team against one another and keep them distracted while he put an endgame scenario into place. Here, Ultron utilizes the talents of the Scarlet Witch to turn the team against one another and keep them distracted while he put an endgame scenario into place.
And what do they add in when you don’t really need to introduce characters anymore? Well, aside from actually introducing a few new characters, the answer is that in an attempt to develop the characters a bit more, what’s happened is that Whedon found a way to slow the movie down a bit too much and make sure audiences feel how uncomfortable their chairs are. We learn of a budding romance between Avengers that makes no sense from a comic book perspective and another of the team has been hiding a little something something that frankly, I couldn’t have cared less about.
Perhaps more troubling for me is that while the first Avengers film has Whedon’s trademark sense of humor stamped all over it, much of that has disappeared here. Instead, this is basically like mixing up a teeny dash of Doll House and a huge spoonful of the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only with the Hulk playing Buffy in a weird kind of way. Maybe he’s more like Spike. Whatever. The point is that Age of Ultron is a more somber expression of these characters than we’ve seen previously …which should tell you something.
And that would have been fine I suppose, if it didn’t create significant sections of film that felt like the cost the audience was forced to pay to watch the next action scene. Speaking of which, let’s talk about that action. Sure, some of it is spectacular and more than a few shekels were spent on CGI. But the fast cutting seemed on overdrive here and more often than not, I felt myself getting restless because there were simply too many things happening at the same time. And while I’m no spring chicken, I like frenetic action, and still found a number of the action scenes a bit too hectic, haphazard, and with simply too much CGI. There were moments where it felt like the Battle of Helm’s Deep with fancy tech and super powers instead of axes and magic.
So with all that negativity, surely I hated the film, right? Well, no. While I struggled with large chunks of the middle section and think there was simply too much set up for future films trying to get packed into the 2 hour, 21 minute runtime, Whedon and team bring most of it back together by the end. I’m still intrigued to see how the upcoming Wars (Infinity and Civil) will play out; and the little tease given in the credits was anything but surprising but does get me a little excited for what’s to come as the Infinity War storyline is one I loved backed when I collected far too many comics.
Marvel fans will surely eat Age of Ultron up and it’s going to make ridiculous sums of money. But I’m now starting to focus my attention on whether or not this empire that’s been erected by Marvel and Disney can sustain itself over the next decade … and it had better if they want to tell the stories they want to tell. In the meantime, Marvel has a much bigger problem on their hands: How to not let Ant-Man suck all the momentum out of their cinematic juggernaut.
Somehow I think people are so ensconced in their fandom (which is basically at an Apple level of obsession) that they’ll probably enjoy it if there was just 90 minutes of foreshadowing for the next movie but you never know when Marvel will release their Cars or, shudder the thought, Cars 2. All I can say is good luck, Mr. Rudd.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.
Running time: 2 hours 21 minutes
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