April 30, 2015

CINEMA | It's the Dawning of the 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

"You know I totally support your avenging."
Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man | Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon's second superhero team-up film is unsurprisingly filled with eye-popping comic book spectacle and fun jumping right out of the screen. However, Avengers: Age of Ultron is also often bloated, overstuffed, unsatisfying, and fairly grim at times. In the hands of a less gifted writer and director of actors and scenes, Marvel Studios' latest film could easily be a total mess. For the most part, it serves to carry our beloved heroes precisely where they need to be in the greater Marvel shared universe and does so on a huge scale.

While being wildly ambitious in its size and scope of storytelling, Age of Ultron is the film that most resembles the middle chapter of a much larger story as the repercussions have little consequences (besides the usual potential destruction of Earth). As the film moves fairly joyously along, the third act and ultimate climatic reveals itself to be particularly ridiculous. It's also by far the most comic book-y film and has all the hallmarks of a huge crossover event down to the thrilling visual spectaculars and lack of greater depth.

Age of Ultron feels mostly like Captain America's film as Chris Evans continues his hero's journey from The Winter Soldier with seeds of doubt being planted by Robert Downey Jr. for conflict with Iron Man's problematic morals just as Mark Ruffalo's Hulk is riddled with doubt. Scarlett Johannson is given a nice arc and plenty of action and quips as she cements her presence as Black Widow in the group. Chris Hemsworth's Thor relies a little too much on his charm and god-like demeanour as he disappears during the middle of the film to serve his own objectives and is by far the most inconsequential member of the team. Jeremy Renner is finally given some substantial material and some of the film's best one-liners avoiding Hawkeye's usually superfluous inclusion.

Don't forget the likes of Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and many others reprising their roles. Newcomers Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (don't call them "mutants") with dubious accents, who play twins Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, figure into the plot's mechanics but aren't given a proper arc as they're used mostly as underserved devices to motivate our heroes and move the dubious plot along.

What usually defines any superhero film is the quality of its main villainAge of Ultron lacks the same theatrical amusement of Tom Hiddleston's Loki. James Spader as the titular artificial intelligence and sentient robot is effectively menacing and threatening but never satisfies our hunger for more character depth. His overly maniacal and underwritten material are constantly reiterated but remain largely unfulfilling. He exists to be purely evil and for no reason, doing and saying things because the film demands it. It remains unclear exactly why he's so bent on destruction aside from the flaws he sees in humanity.

Chris Evans Captain America | Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron

What's most remarkable and joyous about this film is the confidence and vision of the film stacked with gorgeous cinematography by Ben Davis and seamlessly choreographed action. This distracts from the hugely jumbled plot and narrative failure to follow through on the greater seeds of unrest planted throughout. Furthermore, Age of Ultron is so choppy and rushed in parts leaving the impression Whedon had to cut and alternatively shoehorn far too many many different elements to serve future films.

It's clear many of the Avengers still have competing motives as Iron Man and Captain America still don't quite trust each other and frequently break out in conflict (no doubt alluding to their future battle in Civil War). A huge plus is the almost complete lack of a greater S.H.I.E.L.D. presence aside from a few instances of world building as Jackson's Nick Fury is relegated to a minor expositional device.

Most of the complaints levied against Age of Ultron may be largely superficial but are systemic of the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even though in most respects the second Avengers is superior to its predecessors, Marvel's winning formula is showing signs of fatigue due to us seeing everything before and this film feeling so much more disposable than previous individual entries. Despite marvelling at the ambitious scope and construction of its visual storytelling, I was often bored by the sprawling battle scenes and long running timeEugene O’Neill long.

The very talented Whedon has clearly laboured hard to maintain a certain level of quality in Avengers: Age of Ultron with a light, comically witty touch carried over from the first, using all his tricks to work magic, but the task of constantly juggling so many characters while integrating new ones into such a dense continuity is almost too much. The film hits all the check marks of the MCU and The Avengers while being surprisingly inconsequential and ultimately less satisfying.

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