I can't believe it has already been three years since Marvel unleashed its cinematic monster, The Avengers, onto the public. I still remember how excited I was after having seeing all of the buildup and connections that were teased in the previous, standalone films (ie: Iron Man, Thor, etc). Naturally, Marvel was aware of how big of a fan I was, so it was no surprise that they happened to release it a week before my birthday and you can bet your bottom dollar that I was going to see it. You can imagine my equal amount of excitement when I realized that Marvel was set to do so again, this time with the sequel, The Avengers: Age of Ultron! With my fiancée, brother, and old roommate in tow, we embarked on what I would have thought would be another successful chapter in the Marvel line-up, but did it meet our standards?
Visually, I feel like the film almost overdid itself. There were numerous over-the-top action sequences, complete with just a smorgasbord of superheroes getting their screen time quotas in. The main villain character, Ultron, was completely computer generated and yet I found he stood out less in action scenes than some of the rendered forms of certain heroes performing their various super attacks.
My second problem with how the film presented our favorite heroes parrots something many other critiques have already said: there were too many characters. Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, War Machine, Falcon, Nick Fury, Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Quicksilver; did you lose count yet? Yea, I thought so. During several climatic moments, the screen was literally cluttered with a dozen costumed crusaders, to the point that it became almost a chore to follow the action. By the end of the film, I was grateful for the focus on one-on-one interactions as the characters readied themselves for future events. I am becoming concerned, especially with the Infinity Gauntlet (one of my favorite mini-series of all time) coming up, that if future films are forced to contain ten or more big name actors / actresses, audiences might not be as receptive. I feel the solo films are going to surpass the flagship team in terms of enjoyment if this trend continues.
I hate to say it, but the plot Avengers: Age of Ultron suffers from being a sequel. The first film was such a success that a sequel requires a monumental amount of work to surpass it. The film managed to ramp up the amount of action, but the story suffered due to the sheer number of characters that required screen time. We catch only snippets of character development, most of which is directed towards a rather forced relationship between Hulk and Black Widow, which leaves little time for absorbable dialogue. Aside from catchy one-liners, which Whedon is known for, I struggle to remember any moments in particular that stood out when compared to the first film, which I felt had significantly more memorable scenes.
I think the hardest part of the film to accept was Ultron's master plan. He is intially presented as this highly intelligent being, capable of controlling what seems like hundreds, if not thousands, versions of himself, but rather than use this army to conquer the world he decides to smash a small country into the planet. I understand that after the first film they needed something large and cataclysmic, having already done the army of non-human creatures, but this was a huge stretch. It made nearly as much sense as two characters that had very little prior exposure suddenly developing a forced relationship... Oh, wait.
This leads us to one of the hot topics of the net: the budding relationship between Black Widow and the Hulk. We, as the audience, are basically force fed through several unexpected, and frankly awkward, conversations and scenes. I feel that the best example of how poorly this relationship was handled, was during the scene where Bruce and Widow bump in to each other near the bathroom. Their brief exchange seems to contradict their hermitic behaviors. The crux of the conversation comes when Widow calls herself a monster due to her infertility, which I felt was just poor characterization. I believe it would have been more relatable if she were to compare how is a monster because of her time spent as an assassin, with all of the killing and what not, to how Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk. By making it about not being able to have a baby, I felt like the audience was being forced to remember that the Black Widow is the only woman on the team. I wonder, however, that even if Black Widow had acted in a different fashion, if I would have been less likely to roll my eyes at some of the onscreen interactions between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanova.
I think the part that had me the most disappointed was how quickly Black Widow pushed aside her feelings for Bruce Banner when the situation needed the Hulk. There were scenes dedicated to building up the relationship between Bruce and Widow, but when push comes to shove (literally), Widow prioritized saving the world over her own happiness. This act calls to question the entire early half of the movie. Was Black Widow being sincere? Was she doing it as a mission? We, as the audience, are meant to sympathize and empathize with her supposed struggle, but she ends up giving up her future to save others. For me, this was the real underlying theme of Black Widow's characterization; sacrificing her future happiness for the good of the cause. Whether it's her fertility or her relationship, she has the strength to give up what matters most to her when it comes down to the wire.
The New Line-Up
The Vision (Paul Bettany) - I have been a fan of Paul Bettany playing the iconic voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. since the first Iron Man film. His English charm and dry delivery perfectly suit the computerized assistant to Downey's Tony Stark. His costume, mannerisms, and scenes were fantastic, and it's no surprise that he was my favorite of the new line-up.
Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) - I really wanted to like her, honestly. I was very keen on her being in the film, even impressed, when the initial images of her costume / action scenes were spoiled, but her ever-changing accent really kept me from enjoying her scenes. Bearing in the mind the source material this character is shaped from, the film does a good job of explaining her "Hex powers" in realistic terms. I think film did a good job of depicting Scarlet Witch, especially considering how they were not allowed to call her mutant or by her superhero name due to Marvel's past sale of the X-Men and all mutant related franchises to Fox.
Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) - I think we were spoiled with the Fox version of Quicksilver found in X-Men: Days of Future Past. While I feel Aaron Taylor-Johnson's version of Quicksilver, the cocky speedsterm, was significantly more accurate to the comics, I found Evan Peters' depiction in the X-Men film much more enjoyable.
(I'm sure you may know this already, but just in case, both Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Evan Peters starred as friends in another superhero film: Kickass.)
Ultron (James Spader) - Ugh, I'm not sure what to say about the main villain of the film other that he was a total miss for me. His master plan was awful, his design was all wrong, the dialogue was uncharacteristic, and even James Spader's voice, one of the big catches for me, seemed far and away from what was portrayed in the initial spoiler films. After Tom Hiddleston's fan-favorite performance as the cunning Loki, I was eager to see a colder and more vicious villain - one I thought we would find in the calculating mind of Ultron. Instead, I feel like we were given the PG version of what could have been a really ruthless challenge for our avenging superfolks.
I realize that most of this review might come across as negative. I didn't like the plot, I didn't care for most of the new characters, and I found the movie overall forgettable when compared to the first of the series. Would I watch it again? I did and it was still a pretty enjoyable film. Even though I'm not sure anyone could argue that Avengers: Age of Ultron will be anywhere near as memorable as Avengers; it certainly fit the definition of a summer blockbuster to the tee. If I had to rate the film on the academic scale, I would give Avengers: Age of Ultron a solid B, whereas Avengers would be an A.