Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
OK. I give. I mean it. "Uncle."
I am a proud comic fan. I enjoy comics and I enjoy comic book movies. I love a lot of things about the Marvel "cinematic universe." I have followed the development of the latest sure-thing blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron with rabid interest alongside millions of other fans. And there are things to love about the movie. But, at the same time, enough is enough.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (how do we shorten that title? A:AoU? That is somehow worse than LOTR:ROTK, which, if you know what movie that is you are A: a geek and B: agree with me) suffers from the Marvel cinematic universe sickness of TOO MUCHERY. Too much. Of everything. This movie, while boasting some very fun moments, some cool character beats, and several really good lines, makes me whistful for the early days of Marvel. The days when they honestly weren't sure they were going to pull this whole thing off and they had to rely on more than just momentum, total brand awareness, and good marketing. The original Iron Man had Tony Stark fight one guy at the end - and it was a decent fight! The Incredible Hulk boasted a single enemy which the big, green guy had to thrown down against to save Harlem. Even Captain America: The First Avenger featured the Red Skull as an ultimate villain for Cap to square off against. Ever since Iron Man 2, however, the third act of almost every Marvel movie has become a mess of CGI-crafted aerial warfare. It is as if uber-producer and mastermind Kevin Feige is not happy unless there are forty or so things flying around being destroyed at any given time. This inevitable, over-the-top, drawn-out, and cliched climax is a foregone conclusion from the similarly heavy-handed opening fight scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron (no, I will not call it A: AoU!!). And from that first scene, the film slowly drained my excitement for the whole endeavor.
The movie begins where the Marvel cinematic universe left off after Captain America: The Winter Solider. S.H.I.E.L.D. is in ruins, Hydra is on the run, and the Avengers are on the attack. They have been scouring the globe for Loki's scepter, missing since the end of the first Avengers movie (why was it missing again?). It has been used by Baron Von Strucker, a Hydra mad-scientist/general, to create new mutant-like, enhanced humans (I have to say "mutant-like" because Marvel has licensed the rights to the word "mutant" to Fox for the X-Men franchise and are legally prohibited from having "mutants" in their own universe). The Avengers shut down Hydra and retrieve the scepter.
Once back at Avengers tower in New York, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner decide to use the scepter to create a super-powered artificial intelligence which they can empower to defend the world against any foes who would attack us. These are the same guys who were super-indignant that S.H.I.E.L.D. was using the cosmic cube to create weapons in the last Avengers movie - how quickly they forget. Of course, their experiment works and Ultron is born. Ultimately, Ultron immediately decides that the best way to save the world is to destroy the Avengers. This is almost his first thought. I mean, from the instant he is created, he has decided to be EEEEEE-VILLLLL and that destroying the Avengers is priority one.
James Spader voices Ultron and I must give credit here. He is terrific in the role. Spader's voice and cadence are totally his own, almost Christopher Walken-esque. He is so good as Ultron, and yet, as usual with Marvel movies, he is given so very little to do other than immediately plot the world's destruction. With a movie so jam-packed of heroes, supporting characters, new heroes, new villains, old heroes from former movies, and the token Stan Lee cameo, there just isn't room to develop the villain or give Spader any reason to do what he does. And the fact that his character can duplicate his consciousness and upload himself all over the place just means more and more and more CGI robots. All the time. All over the place.
The first Avengers was fun. It took some time to assemble the team and allowed the characters to bounce around a bit before grudgingly working together to save the planet. In this movie, they are all together from the first scene and yet the film feels slower, more bloated. The introduction of another Frankenstein-monster/android superhero late in the movie feels like that one extra slice of pie that you thought you wanted but just didn't need. Too much. And the twins, the "mutant-like" characters introduced in the first scene, not only change allegiance two thirds of the way through the film, they suffer a tragedy that the audience is supposed to care about. We JUST met them. And they were dicks for half the movie.
Writer-directer Joss Wheden fills the film with his usual great dialogue and snappy one-liners. Robert Downey, Jr. continues to ooze charm as the smarmy billionaire he is in real life. Chris Evans' Captain America is righteous leadership personified and the Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow are all given a bit more development than in previous installments. But at the cost of the story. Thor? What about Thor? Don't worry about him. He disappears for a third of the movie to swim in a mystical pool which reveals to him...nevermind. Thor is in this movie as well.
It's not all Whedon's fault. There is a lot to do in an Avengers movie. Everyone needs their due. Imagine if there were six or seven James Bonds in each James Bond movie and you needed to give them each a few scenes to develop, shine, struggle, and overcome. Come to think of it, perhaps that isn't a terrible idea! No. No, it is a terrible idea.
- Spader's performance as Ultron is ridiculously entertaining.
- Whedon's dialogue, Robert Downey, Jr.'s delivery, and Ruffalo's Hulk.
- Too many characters, too many Easter eggs (did you catch the Wakanda reference?! No? OK, so maybe you aren't a geek. How did you know about LOTR:ROTK then?)
- CGI, CGI, CGI
Brass Tacks: The movie is, for better or worse, a cinematic comic book. It requires previous knowledge of almost every character, an interest in the new characters that are introduced, a severe suspension of disbelief, and the interest in picking up the next issue before you even open this one. B-