The worst Marvel movie yet, but still pretty fun
Treading water. Those aren’t the words I want to write about the latest Marvel superhero movie, but the biggest problem with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is that it gives us everything we want and nothing we don’t.
Look at the stories Marvel has told most successfully. Each has incorporated elements we could never have guessed at: “Avengers” was so talky it felt closer to a “Gilmore Girls” episode than a superhero movie. “Winter Soldier” incorporated elements from the 70s man-on-the-run genre. “Guardians of the Galaxy” had an early-Spielbergian sensibility and surprising emotion. We didn’t know how badly we wanted these elements until we were watching them unfold on-screen.
“Age of Ultron” takes no such risks. Without taking those risks, it doesn’t introduce anything particularly new. New characters and new gadgets, sure, but that’s the definition of a James Bond film where nothing really changes, not as a crucial Marvel entry.
When you’re trying to please an audience more than tell a story, you also take some risks with pacing and characterization. The strength of the first “Avengers” is that -- up until the climactic battle scene -- Joss Whedon directed it like a really long TV episode. He turned his own weakness into a strength. I applaud him leaving his comfort zone in “Age of Ultron” and going for something bigger, but it relies on the weakest elements of Whedon’s writing and directing.
The ratio of battle to conversation is reversed from the first “Avengers,” but Whedon is best when focusing on individuals’ struggles in a group dynamic, not shooting a battle scene. When we finally take a break from the action that delivers some badly needed backstory for Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the film completely finds its footing and the emotional space to engage its viewers again. “Age of Ultron” needs more such moments.
Without enough room for characters to actually speak with each other, we end up with some utterly broken characterizations later in the film. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) both make decisions later in the film that are completely inconsistent with their characters. Why? The plot demands it. The villain Ultron (James Spader) is a mad robot concocted by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). Ultron is the least consistent of them all. Early threats of a poignant vengeance story boil down to destroying the earth one more time and a climax lifted from the middle of the first “Avengers.”
Surprisingly, a lot of the humor in “Age of Ultron” falls flat, too. There are more than enough jokes to make up for it -- it’s a funny film -- but I can’t remember so many clunkers in one Marvel film either.
Worst of all, the color is desaturated to make the film look bleaker. It’s all blues, grays, and reds. Yes, I realize the color grading is a nod to the upcoming “Captain America: Civil War,” but Marvel’s strength isn’t looking bleak. It’s being vibrant. Why try to look like “Man of Steel?” The Internet just got done tearing a “Batman v. Superman” trailer to shreds for being so dark you can barely tell what’s going on. “Age of Ultron” isn’t that egregious, but it’s definitely grayer and dimmer. There are ways to be bleak that lend themselves better to Marvel’s incredibly colorful visual style than this.
“Age of Ultron” is essentially a greatest hits collection. The action scenes are all good, but they don’t exactly mesh together. You might start to miss the quieter lulls in between that helped bridge epic moment to epic moment in a way that lent them more awe. Crammed together like this with so little space in between, so much sound and fury just begins to feel loud.
All that sounds pretty negative, but I enjoyed myself. It’s a solid movie. Marvel’s just set a very high bar that “Age of Ultron” doesn’t meet. Most fans have a lot invested in the franchise, so you’ll be cheering on the strength of all you’ve been through with these characters before. It’s for this reason that the action’s still rousing and emotional. “Age of Ultron” isn’t trying to be a complete film, so it’s tough to judge it as one. As an isolated movie, it’s a mess. As one long action scene bookended by more plot-heavy films, it functions.
It’s part of a bigger cinematic universe, and -- like the Avengers themselves -- the other members lend support when one of them is weak. This just didn’t blow me away the way “Guardians” and “Winter Soldier” did last year, and it lacks the focus of the other Marvel films. Two stars out of four. It’s very watchable, but it doesn’t feel crucial. It’s rated PG-13.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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