Friday, May 15, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

As I understand it, Marvel/Disney was originally considering doing only one superhero team up movie, but after The Avengers broke box office records and became the third highest grossing film, they changed their minds. Following The Avengers we got to keep up with some of our heroes in Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Finally, with much anticipation, The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) was released. While it's an exciting and fun ride, it's not nearly as satisfying as the first Avengers movie.
Now officially fighting as allies, The Avengers - Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) - raid a Hydra outpost where Hydra has been experimenting on humans using the scepter previously wielded by Loki. The Avengers encounter two of the experiments; twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) who possess powers of superhuman speed and psychic powers respectively. Once the scepter is retrieved, Stark and Banner discover an artificial intelligence within the scepter's gem and secretly use it to complete Stark's Ultron global defense program. Unexpectedly, Ultron (James Spader) believes he must eradicate humanity to save Earth. The Ultron A.I. eliminates Stark's A.I, J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany), takes control of Starks global defense program, and attacks The Avengers in their headquarters. Building newer mechanical bodies to house himself in, Ultron soon has an army of robots under his control as well as the Maximoff twins. Ultron puts his complex plan into action, but as he systematically exploits the weaknesses of each of The Avengers, the six of them may not be enough to save the world again.
Joss Whedon returns to direct Age of Ultron. He's proved his writing and directing skills many times over. He is particularly proficient in telling stories with multiple characters; it's tricky to tell a good story about more than one or two characters and still give them their own compelling story arch. That was expertly done in the previous Avengers movie. Here, Whedon again allows the very distinct characters their own screen time, lets them have their moment to shine, and lets them bounce off of each other wonderfully.
There are problems with the movie, though, and I'm not confident that it is Whedon's fault. I can tell studio executives got their hands on things a lot, effectively limiting and constraining Whedon's creative liberties. It's as if they tinkered with what was probably a much better script to maximize what they thought would make money and draw in audiences, at the expense of what would be a solid, satisfying movie. Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were phenomenal successes because they were left in the hands of competent directors and writers. If future Marvel movies are manipulated by the studio and executives as much as this one is, I can't see the franchise doing as well further down the road.
The movie becomes practically bloated with his huge cast of characters with new allies, enemies, and cameos making appearances. Maria Hill, Nick Fury, War Machine, Peggy Carter, Prof. Selvig, Heimdall, and Falcon all return from previous movies to make appearances to varying degrees. There are even some overt hints at future characters whom we know will be getting their own movies if you know what to look for. Don't get me wrong, it's incredibly exciting to see more Marvel characters make it to the big screen, but it effectively gets to the point that there are too many characters to keep track of. Age of Ultron doesn't rely on previous films to develop the returning characters; they still develop and have their own story arches, but there are so many story arches to keep track of.
Age of Ultron is a long movie with a run time just shy of two and a half hours. As I understand it, it was originally closer to three hours long. You can tell that there were chunks of the movie omitted. After having his mind toyed with by Wanda, Thor decides that he must leave briefly go on a vision quest. We see very little of this quest, none of the actual vision, and are left confused by Thor's sudden change in perspective. This was not a small change as Thor suddenly takes actions against his fellow Avengers, insisting that they trust him. We don't understand Thor's motives here, and it is caused by important scenes being cut from the movie. There are a couple of other times where scenes left on the cutting room floor make the story hard to follow. It's no less exciting and fun to watch, but certainly gets harder to follow and a bit confusing.
One of my favorite scenes was the party following the retrieval of Loki's scepter. Our heroes are socializing, relaxing, and sharing their victory. Thor and Stark quibble about who has the better girlfriend, Romanoff and Banner flirt with one another in a charmingly awkward way, Rhodes/War Machine tries to find an audience to tell his victory stories to, Steve gives relationship advice about waiting too long, and it culminates with various characters trying to lift Thor's hammer. This developed the characters various histories, interests, and personalities wonderfully. But the tone changes drastically when Ultron interrupts, appearing for the first time in a battered mechanical body. He's weak and just learning how to make a body for himself; he resembles a broken, creepy marionette and delivers a disturbing and beautifully written dialogue about how The Avengers are all killers, and he has a mission to bring peace to the world. In spite of its flaws, what the movie does well, it does very well. It may be bloated with many characters, but they are, for the most part, good characters. Even Ultron is an intimidating and menacing villain.
The previous Avengers movie was incredible, and was greater than the sum of its parts. The Avengers: Age of Ultron, frankly, is not. But it still boasts some pretty incredible parts and is one heck of a fun superhero party. There's more superhero action, the story is influenced by the various storylines from all the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies all the way back to Iron Man, and boasts some amazing visual effects. It is abundantly clear that the movie suffers from creative constraints imposed by the studio and scenes that were left on the cutting room floor. But there is going to be a three-hour extended cut with an alternate ending available once it hits blue-ray, so maybe that will improve the overall quality by having few scenes left out. This is absolutely worth seeing in the theaters; it may not be as satisfying as the previous film, but it's not one to miss. I also advise watching the phase two Marvel movies I mentioned at the top of this review again to remember where our heroes were before this movie started.

Joss Whedon won't be returning for the third Avengers movie. Do you think another director will do as good a job? Comment below and tell me what you think!


  1. I think Jon Favreau could handle it, if he ever decided to come back. He can navigate quick, clever dialogue, and big action sequences. I wish Whedon would write the script, still. His writing is marvelous.

    1. I couldn't agree more! Though I think after the treatment Favreau got previously, especially after getting the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling, I doubt he'd come back to work on another Marvel film.