Review: Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Curmudgeonly film critic Julius 'J-Peps' Pepperwood takes in the second Avengers film and boy does he have some thoughts...
Whatever your thoughts on the current crop of Marvel movies, from the runaway success of 2008’s Iron Man gamble, to the billion dollar-grossing success of The Avengers, you can’t deny that the studio has grown and nurtured a rabid and committed fan base who flock in ever larger numbers to watch the latest superhero extravaganza.
While watching their latest and perhaps biggest film yet, Avengers: Age of Ultron, in a Leicester Square cinema stuffed full of fans of all ages, we here at RWD couldn’t help but wonder what it must be like as a child of today, wide-eyed at the sight of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk battling it out on the big screen?
Would the bombastic and CGI-supplemented action scenes register so flat? Would the jokes, relentless and heavily telegraphed, land any better? Marvel is often accused of catering to a younger, more profitable audience, but Age of Ultron feels like the first film the studio has aimed squarely at fans too young to remember Spider-Man on Live and Kicking or racing home to catch X-Men on a Friday evening after school.
For those of you old enough to remember those times – oh, what great times they were – then we’re afraid to report that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a big, dumb movie, with a scale and scope far beyond anything Marvel has attempted – bar, perhaps, Guardians of the Galaxy, which remains their ballsiest and best film to date – but fails to deliver on anything beyond superhero fan-porn fare.
We’re a Phase on from the original Avengers film, where the unlikely band of robot suit-clad billionaires, World War 2-era super soldiers, Nordic gods and gamma-irradiated scientists with serious anger problems joined forces to put a stop to an alien invasion.
In the years since, the Avengers have become pretty good pals. They even have banter! Iron Man swears, Captain America disapproves; Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye even addresses his comatose state in the previous film with an almost fourth-wall shattering moment.
But when Robert Downey-Junior’s Tony Stark inadvertently creates a monstrous sentient robot dubbed Ultron, the group’s newfound harmony is threatened by an enemy not simply content with world domination, but tearing the Avengers apart.
It’s a globetrotting story, taking us from Eastern Europe, to South Africa, Seoul and more. Beyond the stage-set bounds of the original film, Age of Ultron’s visuals thrive in the real world, where the Avengers’ global presence is not only tested, but questioned.
So far, so good, no? Well, the problem is, Joss Whedon gets it all wrong. He had an almost impossible task of juggling all these characters in the first film, but mined real comedic territory in the team’s differences and clashes. Think of when Iron Man and Thor first crossed paths? The comedy landed.
Here, however, it all feels so… stilted? Every character is squashed into a corner, and as such they lose dimension. Captain America, a character Marvel just got so right in Winter Soldier, struggles to do much beyond slam his shield into a visually stale robot army and throw archaic comedy quips about.
The worst offender of the film, however, is Whedon’s titular villain, Ultron. Voiced by the inimitable James Spader and rendered in all his robotic glory by the talented folks over at ILM, Ultron is an advanced AI capable whose former peacekeeping program routes have targeted the Avengers as the problem with the Earth’s current crises.
The problem is, he just doesn’t work. We don’t see him develop as a character; he’s simply introduced, and exists. His voice is cool, sure, that’s why they hired Spader, but his character is a mess of poorly communicated ideals and bad jokes. Wildly veering from slapstick comedy one moment to megalomaniacal posturing the next, Whedon never finds the balance, and the film suffers as a whole.
Maybe we’ve been spoiled too much. Surely the prospect of a film featuring all these characters in a variety of insane, imaginative visual showcases is enough to get you out and into a cinema seat? And yet, Marvel is on such a financial role, with a film or two out every year at least, that I think we might have hit a bit of superhero fatigue. As I mentioned earlier in the review, Marvel delivered an ensemble piece last year – in a space-opera wrapping, no less – and the ambition paid off big time.
Words by Julius ‘J-Peps’ Pepperwood