Published on May 8th, 2015 | by Brad0
Avengers: Age of Ultron – A Review
So, if you’ve been living on the planet Earth the last few months you might have noticed that Avengers: Age of Ultron, the eleventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, hit cinemas worldwide this past week. The film serves as a sequel to 2012’s worldwide megahit Avengers Assemble, at the time of writing the third-highest grossing film of all time, though Furious 7 may have overtaken it by the time this goes out. Furious 7, incidentally, way better than either of the Avengers movies.
Yeah, straight to the chase, I didn’t like Age of Ultron very much. I’m not a hater. First two Iron Man flicks aside, I really like the series up to this point, and the last seven in a row prior to this one have been pretty top-notch blockbusters, but this just didn’t do it for me at all. Not that I didn’t expect this, to a point. Let me take you back to October of last year. Marvel were coming off the back of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, probably the best two films in the series so far. The hype train for Avengers: Age of Ultron was starting to get into gear, and in October, the first teaser dropped;
Again, let’s be blunt – that trailer sucks. You’re coming off two rollicking adventures, you more or less bill yourselves as the light, fun ones as opposed to the broody introspective movies that come from DC/Warner Brothers, and this is the tone you go with? It looks bloody miserable. I get that they were going for sequel-dark, but that just doesn’t look like it’s going to be fun to sit through. And as for the design of Ultron himself? He couldn’t look sillier and less threatening if he was Ben Kingsley in his pants.
So the trailers had me going in with no confidence, but it turns out that’s not really a problem. The tone of the movie is so far-removed from the tone of the trailers it’s practically false advertising. This movie loves its jokes. In fact, it goes completely overboard with them, to the point where I was practically begging for the gloomy misery of the trailers to come back. There’s a balance to be struck as regards humour in movies of this type – too little humour and it becomes exhausting to sit through, but too much and it becomes impossible to invest in the scenario with any degree of seriousness. For a lesson in how to get this balance spot-on, look back at Avengers Assemble – that movie is consistently funny, peppered with great one-liners, but it never feels pervasive or distracting. And when the stakes get serious, the movie gets serious right alongside it.
Fast forward three years, and I’m going to look at a specific moment from Age of Ultron. It’s from the opening set-piece, the otherwise excellent assault on Castle HYDRA. Credit where it’s due, this is mostly a great scene, exciting and funny and it gave me a sense that I may have been completely misled by the seriously underwhelming trailer campaign. Then we got the first warning shot that things weren’t completely kosher in the state of Denmark. Iron Man breaches the castle defences, and comes up against a group of guards. He raises his hands and says “Hey guys, let’s talk it out.” He then proceeds to shoot them all, quipping “Good talk.” So far not so bad, right, that’s a funny line and caps the scene off just nicely. Then one of the guards pipes up “No it wasn’t!” and my face hit my palms. That line is too much. It should have been cut. This is true of about 75% of the jokes in the film. And it brings us squarely to the chief problem with Age of Ultron, and the chief difference between it and its predecessor. Where Avengers Assemble is a Marvel movie made by Joss Whedon, Age of Ultron is a Joss Whedon movie made by Marvel.
I really don’t like Joss Whedon’s work all that much. I find his style of writing and dialogue to be utterly insufferable, more smug and self-aggrandising than the worst excesses of Aaron Sorkin, but with none of Sorkin’s earnestness and heart. Where Avengers Assemble worked so well, and indeed where the MCU at large works so well, is tempering the writer/director to their template, so you end up with a Marvel movie with flourishes of the auteurial voice of the filmmaker to flavour it with personality. With Age of Ultron, I think the success of Avengers Assemble caused Marvel to loosen the reins on Whedon a bit. And Joss Whedon’s unleashed id has never really struck a chord with audiences before. Sure, Age of Ultron is going to do huge money these first few weeks, but it’s already splitting opinions, and I don’t see it having the staying power to do the same business as its predecessor.
While you would expect giving Whedon freer rein at script level would drop the quality off a cliff, what might take you by surprise is how poorly made Avengers: Age of Ultron is. The framing of the action scenes is at times more than reminiscent of Olivier Megaton’s work on Taken 3. The editing is so hyperactive, particularly during the action sequences, that there were times were I pretty much had to throw up my hands and wait for the scene to be over so they could tell me who won. Added to that is the most egregious violation of the 180 degree rule I’ve seen in years, as at one point in the much-vaunted Hulk vs Hulk-Buster fight, Iron Man throws a punch and then in the next cut the Hulk flies off in the opposite direction to where the punch was thrown.
Speaking of that fight – how many civilians did the Incredible Hulk murder in that scene? He was smashing cars with people in them left right and centre before Iron Man got there and got into the Hulk-Buster armour, “hilariously” named Veronica. Because, y’know, Bruce Banner’s girlfriend is called Betty. Betty and Veronica. From Archie Comics. Yep, even the big selling point of the film is reduced to a joke. Whedon! *shakes fist* Seriously, though, that body-count. Superman and Zod would weep if they caused that much death and devastation. And one of those two was a genocidal maniac. These two were both meant to be the heroes.
One of the larger selling points from the marketing for the film was the introduction of several new players to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The titular villain, played by James Spader, of course. Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), brought in with a lot of hype, hoo-ha and legal wrangling. They, along with Thomas Kretschmann’s Baron von Strucker, were previously introduced in the mid-credits sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. And in smaller roles, Black Panther villain Ulysses Klawe (Andy Serkis) and android Avenger the Vision (Paul Bettany). The challenge was always going to be giving these characters enough screen time, and condensing their convoluted histories and origins, whilst still keeping the movie entertaining and compelling. To my mind, the film largely failed in that task. Not in the case of Vision and Klawe, who make excellent work of their limited roles to practically steal the film, but the rest are much of a muchness. The decision to kill Strucker off, and off-screen to boot, was a really poor one. Thomas Kretschmann could have been a great recurring villain for the MCU, and he’s reduced to almost a non-entity here. HYDRA as a whole are pretty much a non-entity here, to be honest, reduced from the ultimate big-bad a year ago to mopped up before the title card here.
The real problems, though, come with Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. The wonder twins, subjects of much discussion and wrangling before the film came out, are flat-out boring. Quicksilver in particular suffers due to the inevitable comparisons with Evan Peters’ version from X-Men: Days of Future Past, a contest which Peters wins handsomely. If Avengers: Age of Ultron had so much as one scene with the joy and life of the “Time in a Bottle” sequence from DoFP, it would have been a much more pleasant experience. And then there’s Ultron himself. I love James Spader, and thought he was an awesome choice for the role. And he’s really good in it, it’s a hilarious performance. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. Tonally, Ultron is a mess. His plot is to exterminate the human race, but he spends the entire movie making so many jokes that we can’t take him seriously. He’s meant to be this enormous threat, but he spends 90% of his time running away. And he looks rubbish. The film needed a villain on the scale of Loki, Red Skull or Alexander Pierce; Ultron ultimately proves about as effective a villain as Trevor Slattery or Ivan Vanko.
Here’s the thing – my review isn’t going to affect anything. The film’s doing good business, it’s already the second-highest grossing film of the year. But it is spectacularly bad. And though I’m in the minority on that point, the divide in opinion is significant, and suggests a serious chink in the armour moving forward. Whether this is a sign of disenfranchisement with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a general weariness for superhero films or a single aberration remains to be played out, but one thing is for certain – even for those who like the film, and even for Disney, Avengers: Age of Ultron has proved a disappointment.