Usually, when I say a film is “good” what I usually mean is “good enough.” I enjoyed it, but I had no strong feelings either way.
Having said that, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is good. However, I am not sure if it is good enough.
“Age of Ultron” is a sequel to about four different movies. So yes, there is a lot going on. The seven original Avengers are back: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). This time, they must save Earth from Ultron (James Spader), a robot created by Tony Stark for peace who decides he must destroy mankind.
In between that, there are a bunch of subplots, some welcome and some inexplicable.
I have to hand it to director Joss Whedon, making the most anticipated superhero of the year and then stopping halfway through so the characters can chill at a farmhouse and talk is a bold move. It is a move that will anger a lot of people. In fact, it actually answer Sam Rockwell’s pressing question from “Seven Psychopaths”: what would happen if an action movie paused, and all the characters instead just go out into the desert and talk?
Right, this is an action movie, so I can’t forget about the action. “Ultron” looks great. Nobody can argue that some of the fight scenes aren’t spectacular feats of choreography. I liked watching all the Avengers fly through the air in the middle of a snowy Siberian forest. I enjoyed seeing Black Widow drop out of a plane while riding a motorcycle. I especially enjoyed watching Hulk and Iron Man punch the crap out of each other.
These are among the films money shot moments. Unfortunately, they were all given away in trailers and various clips. Anybody who pulled off the miraculous feat of not watching a single trailer for “Ultron” before the film will be rewarded for their diligence. Marketing and art are two separate things but with a Marvel product, it is difficult to tell the difference. I think the reason that “Ultron” doesn’t strike me as anything more than simply “good” is that there isn’t much to be surprised by here. Congratulations to those of you who were surprised by anything, as you have managed to avoid the entire internet.
There’s a weird thing going in “Age of Ultron” in that it is nearly 150 minutes long, and it feels like there is both too much and not enough. Avengers movies are tough. It is inherently an idea overstuffed with heroes and world-building. As much as I enjoyed those quiet moments of character backstory, it still feels like not everybody got their fair share of screen time. And mainly by that, I mean Ultron.
I have a feeling that Ultron would have made an amazing, terrifying villain. Instead, his motivations are cloudy, and not in the cool, ambiguous way. Ultron keeps talking about how he is a peace keeper, and how humans must go. However, we never see what pushed him that way. This is a guy who wants to commit genocide, yet the film really undersells that. It also doesn’t help that he disappears for a while as the Avengers enjoy the rural life. Ultron also alludes to the idea that perhaps to some people, the Avengers are seen as evil. That’s an interesting idea. Part of me wishes the film could have explored that. I think Whedon could have done it in a smart way without going too dark and gritty.
Hold up, I should review what’s onscreen. “Age of Ultron” at least shows a lot of self-awareness for the genre that it dominates. Scenes of buildings and bridges collapsing are met with emphasized efforts to clear civilians for safety. Yes, this is a summer blockbuster, so it is fun when stuff blows up. However, Whedon has found a way to make that fun without feeling like we are rooting for thousands of innocent people to die. It feels like a giant middle finger to “Man of Steel.”
“Age of Ultron” is inherently flawed. “Avengers” should be a TV show, not a movie. I rewatched the original the other day. I liked it much better than I remembered. It might partially be because Loki is such a great villain. And with that, comes the biggest problem with “Ultron”: nobody seems vulnerable here. Every fight feels like a victory won too easily. The villain seems to hold no real power or intellect. Hell, half the new Avengers they introduce have powers that don’t even make sense. The film doesn’t bother to explain it because f**k you if you haven’t read the comics, I guess.
But hey, you have to admire “Ultron” for its ambition. Additionally, its best moments typically have nothing to do with the action. The best scene in the movie is when everybody sits around a table drinking, joking, and trying to lift Thor’s hammer. “Ultron” is mainly about how, despite the fact that these heroes always save the world, they have a hard time relating to the rest of humanity. Their powers will isolate them in many ways. That is some dark stuff that Marvel is dealing with here, and it is the thing I like best about this film. The scene of them messing around shows that they all truly need each other.
The fact is that there’s about five more years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. None of our heroes can flat out die yet. Thus, “Ultron” feels a bit too safe. When the going gets tough, the team can go hide out at Hawkeye’s country house.