A lot of things changed when The Avengers hit theatres in 2012. Marvel’s ambitious plan of slowly building a ‘cinematic universe’ actually worked. Clubbed together, the mediocre second installment of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films actually gave way to one of the most astonishing team ups in popular cinema’s history.The Avengers made so much money that every single, major movie studio is now desperately trying to replicate the formula.
After the post-Avengers films and Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel universe is now so big that it feels like an unstoppable expanding force. In fact, it’s so big that The Avengers: Age of Ultron has become a small, middling entry that’s working towards a bigger goal. That is the undoing of the new Avengers movie — it’s an extremely entertaining summer blockbuster, but it still feels like a step back from the first movie.
If you’ve seen the first film or any of the trailers for Age of Ultron, you know the plot: Iron Man creates a highly intelligent artificial intelligence that somehow goes rogue and threatens to destroy the human race. The AI is called Ultron, and he’s voiced by James Spader with his trademark, sardonic grunt. That’s the end of the plot. The rest of the story is just the Avengers teaming up, breaking up, and teaming up again to thwart the villain. Flimsy and predictable? You bet.
The thing with Age of Ultron, apart from the boring plot, is that it drops the ball from the very first scene, by assembling all of the Avengers for a sequence that is as action packed as the finale of the original movie. The scale is set to such a rousing high in the first ten minutes that director Joss Whedon has no choice but to incorporate more special effects, on bigger and grander scales, with the hope of upping the film’s tempo. So more buildings crumble; there’s more destruction, more pain for the heroes, and a darker palette. As people witnessed in Man of Steel, exploding buildings don’t necessarily add dramatic heft or much wow factor any more. An audience tends to become desensitized to it after the fiftieth explosion.
Regardless of the Man of Steel Syndrome, the ensuing mayhem in Age of Ultron is still entertaining. There’s not a penny spared in creating some of the biggest action set pieces ever in cinema, and Whedon deserves the praise for that.
The money shot in the film is the one featuring Iron Man and The Hulk battling each other – every second of that sequence is snazzy enough to make a fan pass out with excitement. By now the Avengers have learned how to fight as a team, and some of the stuntwork is like a tag team ballet dance of nut kicking. And it’s beautiful.
However, what’s missing are those sweeping, crescendo moments where an action scene culminates into something jaw-dropping, like Banner saying he’s always angry, turning into the Hulk, punching an alien and leading up to the Avengers assemble in the first movie. Here it’s ‘smash boom bang wham bam thank you man I’m off to the next action scene hey look out behind you!’
Age of Ultron, unfortunately, is a portal to the Infinity Wars movies, and thus has the task of introducing new characters into the universe. So apart from Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow and The Hulk, we get to meet half a dozen new superheroes, plus a few old friends and that’s where the film begins tearing apart at the seams.
There’s a sequence where Thor meets Professor Selvig and goes to a lake and screams, for no apparent reason. There’s a new, all-powerful, gemstone in this film, but its power is hardly enough to beat Ultron, which is never explained. Ultron is like every other Marvel universe supervillain – inconsequential. We’re shown that there is a great deal of simmering thought process in Ultron, yet we’re never told what his plans are and why he’s doing things. We’ve seen the story of AI gone wrong countless times, so one expects a fresh spin on the genre trope, but we don’t get any. Ultron is as generic as they come.
The lack of Ultron’s motivation is made up by an addition of Hawkeye’s story, compounded by some hilarious self-aware takedowns. We know a guy with a bow and an arrow is no match for nuclear powered aliens dropping down from the sky, and Whedon finally does some fan service to that notion. While the Quicksilver in this movie isn’t as impressive as the one in Days of the Future Past, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is an interesting character who, along with Vision (Paul Bettany), would be the major draws of the upcoming films.
Juggling so many characters, Whedon crumbles under the weight of his own ambition and each character plays out as a factory-like contractual obligation, fulfilling a minimum quota of dialogues and stuntwork. Characters enter the scenes, add something unsurprising to the film, and exit awkwardly, usually because of an explosion of some sort. It becomes frustrating after a point of time.
The gap between the lack of characterization and the giant action is padded up by a painfully cheesy romantic track between two Avengers, and it ends up being an eyeroll. Whedon has publicly ridiculed stereotypical cinema women who keep falling for the hero for no reason, and that’s exactly what happens in this movie.
The one thing that never disappoints about a Marvel film is the comedy. The salty humor is present in full form here, from Stark’s throwaway lines to Hulk’s screaming and pounding. It’s the comedy that makes it easy to just ignore the film’s gaffes, sit back, unload the tub of popcorn into your mouth and go with the flow of the mayhem on screen. The Infinity War movies are years away, but there are a ton of fillers on the way, from the look of things. It’s up to Marvel to now deliver something unexpected, seeing as we already know the path. Perhaps the looming threat of Batman vs Superman will ensure socks being pulled up in the Marvel camp.