I am just not sure how I feel about living in a world where Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets more screen time than Thor (Chris Hemsworth). No disrespect to Renner, but this is not exactly what I signed up for.
Last night the stars aligned so that I could finally get around to watching Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thanks goodness for that because I don’t think I could take the anticipation much longer. While I’ve never read any of the Marvel comics, I’ve always really enjoyed the big screen adaptations that they have inspired. The first Avengers movie back in 2012 was one of my favorite movies of the year that year and managed to kick my enthusiasm for the Marvel Universe into another gear. That affection has generally been rewarded – I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier a lot, but was less enthralled with Iron Man 3 – and my excitement over Avengers: Age of Ultron was palpable.
After all that build up, it isn’t all that surprising that while I liked the new Avengers movie, I didn’t necessarily love it. With so many characters to service and a convoluted plot, Age of Ultron just couldn’t live up to its predecessor. It was still a very fun movie and I enjoy spending time in this world very much, but it’s definitely a step down from some of the other Marvel movies. Better than most, but Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t reach the same rarefied air as my favorite films from this universe.
Now, I was prepared for some of the letdown since while one of my favorite film/television tropes is putting the gang together, it is inevitably a little less exciting once said gang has been assembled and they are simply going about the business of being a gang. The assembling is more exciting than the actual avenging. The relationships between the characters have generally been established – more on that later – and by the second film they have at least some semblance of knowing how to work together. So some of that original magic is bound to evaporate over time.
Avengers: Age of Ultron wastes absolutely no time in reorienting you with the characters or laying the groundwork for the plot of the film; the movie opens mid-battle, so you are immediately thrown into the action. It’s exhilarating, but it’s also a little discombobulating – assuming that you’ve seen the previous movies, you are aware of who the Avengers are – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the aforementioned Thor and Hawkeye – but the first five minutes of the movie it isn’t exactly clear what has forced them to reassemble and what exactly the stakes are. The opening sequence of the film is also reintroducing two characters that made a brief appearance in the tag of Winter Soldier – Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson). Add in the inherent dizziness of all the action and my head was spinning a bit almost instantly. There’s a lot to process.
While the gang is initially taking time out of their busy schedules of starring in their own solo movies to try and recover Loki’s staff, things get a little more complicated when the artificial intelligence within the staff’s gem takes over Stark’s program Ulton and becomes sentient. Believing that he must destroy humanity to save Earth, Ultron (James Spader) and his band of killer drones are the new target for the Avengers. Honestly, all the motivation doesn’t really matter; all you really need to know is Avengers = good, drones = bad, and the world is in peril.
While Age of Ultron isn’t quite as fun and lighthearted as the original Avengers movie, there are still plenty of laughs within the film. There are some scenes in involving Thor’s hammer that got some big chuckles from the audience. That sounds dirty, but I assure you that it isn’t. The interactions between odd couple Captain America and Tony Stark are always going to lead to laughs as well, so while Age of Ultron weighs more heavily on the serious side than you might expect, the trademark humor does bubble up every once in a while to break the tension.
The action sequences in Age of Ultron are really something and everyone on the Avengers is given their spot to shine. If you like car chases and explosions and general mayhem and destruction, you won’t be disappointed. Unlike some superhero movies, there is more than just throwing people into buildings in Age of Ultron – though there is a little of that as well – and there is a very conscious attempt to protect civilians from harm’s way. The camera work in the film does a lot to heighten these battles; there are some very cool slow motion shots when the Avengers are all fighting together as a group that stood out in particular. While Hawkeye and Black Widow were kind of on the bench for a lot of The Avengers, they are more front and center in Age of Ultron. There’s enough ass-kicking to go around for the whole team.
However, the greatest blessing o Age of Ultron – bringing all the Avengers together – is also its greatest curse. With so many characters to service in the movie, something had to go and it some of the plot is apparently what got cut. The overall story feels a little disjointed and there are certainly some plot holes that would have benefited from further explanation. Thor’s sub-story, for example, makes very little sense as presented. He disappears for most of the film (boo!) and even when there is a scene that is supposed to clue the audience in on what he’s been up to, it does little to actually illuminate what he’s trying to do. That’s indicative of the larger story as well, where the viewer has a sense that we’re jumping from plot point to plot point without a lot of discussion or explanation. There are some dream sequences in the film that I’m not really sure what exactly to make of and the moments aren’t given much time to breathe before we are barreling on to the next Avenger. I liked the back story that was fleshed out for one of the characters, but I’m not sure if that was the most effective use of time given the other narrative issues that were underserviced. With up to ten Avenger and Avenger-adjacent characters in play at any given time, plus the appearance of other secondary characters from the previous films, there is just too much ground to cover in Age of Ultron and the result is a film that feels rushed and/or half-baked in some sections. Even the final scene feels a little rushed.
My other big issue with Age of Ultron revolves around a new relationship within the Avengers that is introduced in the most inorganic way. There has been nothing to hint at this potential pairing in any of the other movies –in fact, contrary evidence has been introduced in at least two other movies – and since very little time can be spent on exploring this relationship’s origins, it just feels completely forced and shoehorned in. As presented, it really doesn’t make a whole ton of sense; I have no issue with the pairing in theory, but it just isn’t executed very well in Age of Ultron. They try with some lazy writing to cover the necessary legwork to make this relationship somewhat believable, but that fails to do the heavy lifting. It’s a disservice to Black Widow in particular, who they had done such a nice job with in Winter Soldier. Scarlet Johansson does her best to sell the story line that she’s saddled with, but even she can’t fix this out of right field story.
Some other thoughts:
- Joss Whedon is sort of a liar – while there is no post-credit scene after Age of Ultron, there is a scene about halfway through the credits. So if you are a Marvel completest, don’t leave as soon as the credits start to roll.
- Three more characters were supposed to appear in Age of Ultron and I don’t care how short these appearance would be, that would have been way too much. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, which makes me a little nervous for the humongous cast for Avengers: Infinity War.
- Vulture breaks down how much screen time each Avenger gets, but I think that their numbers are way off.
- Age of Ultron makes use of Jeremy Renner’s real-life house flipping skills.
- There are a ton of Easter Eggs within Age of Ultron; this video highlights a lot of them:
- Maybe I just missed it in all of the hubbub, but I don’t know if they ever say Paul Bettany’s character’s name in the entire movie. I had to look it up when I got home.
- Even though adding more characters to the mix made things difficult in the film, I did enjoy the addition of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to the mix. Elizabeth Olsen makes everything better.
- The Quicksilver of Avengers has a different back story than the Quicksilver of X-Men. Because this nonsense isn’t confusing enough on its own.
- I no longer watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but apparently at least one question from Age of Ultron will be addressed in in an upcoming episode.
- James Spader’s voice was built to be a menacing evil drone. Just saying.
I may sound like I am a little down on Age of Ultron and while I didn’t like it as much as its predecessor and some of the other Marvel properties, I certainly did enjoy it overall. With such a big cast to deal with, it was hard for Joss Whedon to spend a lot of time on any one person or plot. I think the decision to double down on a lot of substories was ultimately not the right decision as they weren’t given enough time to be done right. If Age of Ultron is guilty of anything, it is trying to do too much in too little time. In some areas, this leads to undeveloped story telling; in one instance in particular, this rush does a disservice to some of the characters. Age of Ultron is still a fun movie that will entertain you throughout. It simply isn’t able to reach the high water mark that it set for itself in the first movie. Still, there’s lots to enjoy here and despite the issues that I had with the execution of Age of Ultron, I am still looking forward to next installments in the Marvel Universe. I enjoy these characters and stories enough that even the weaknesses can’t derail my overall enthusiasm for the movie. Age of Ultron is good. It just isn’t great.