Comic book movies have been the 800-pound gorilla in the theater for so long now that I think I’m experiencing superhero fatigue. Moreover, while maintaining a single, joined timeline between multiple franchises was a stroke of genius and a testament of will, the Marvel films are becoming a little unwieldy. While the first Avengers felt tightly woven and made sense as long as you had watched all of the separate films before it, this time around there’s just too much going on to fully comprehend – and not all of it you’ll care about. Still, the action is about what audiences have come to expect, so if that’s all you need, then Avengers: Age of Ultron won’t disappoint.
Still fixated on the events of the first Avengers film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) can’t get the idea that Earth is vulnerable to an alien attack out of his head. A powerful relic that he recovers from a Hydra base, however, gives him ideas of creating an artificial intelligence, dubbed Ultron (voiced by James Spader), that could deal with any threat. Unfortunately, Ultron escapes and comes to the logical conclusion that the biggest threat to the planet is humanity itself. Partnering with two mutants, the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Ultron goes about enacting his plan to extinguish humanity. Now it’s up to the Avengers to come together once more to save the world.
There’s always been a very wide line drawn between the Marvel films and other mid-year blockbusters, like the Transformers movies. With Age of Ultron, that line just got a lot narrower, if not blurred entirely. The Transformers movies have always been defined by their excess. A lot of things happened on screen that weren’t always explained, but allowed for more time to melt audiences’ faces with action. While the quality of Age of Ultron isn’t at that level, the comparison is still apt. A lot of things happen in this film that will only make sense to people who know the story outside of the movie. And for those of us who don’t, the film throws out token lines of exposition to explain locations and motives, which isn’t the most satisfying way to tell a story.
For all of the talent that went into this film, the story still comes off as recycled. How many times are audiences going to be bashed over the head with movie plots telling us just how bad humans are? People are so bad, in fact, that when a computer performs a sober assessment, it decides that we all have to die. We’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again, but at least the method of humanity’s potential destruction is new.
The action is decent, which means that it’s on par with previous Marvel films, which means the action is above average compared to most films. But the action also feels largely toothless. Sure, it’s fun to watch superheroes knock each other around the city, especially when one of the characters is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), but when the main enemy is a bunch of robots, it’s difficult to feel the sense of carnage that this film wants to instill. Nevertheless, there are superb moments when the film truly captures a comic book pane coming to life, with all of the characters fighting on screen at once. It’s in those short sequences that audiences are reminded why these films are beloved by so many.
Unfortunately, the drama between the action sequences weren’t chosen well. Does anyone really care about Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) personal life? Does a romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk interest anyone? I understand that two of these characters don’t have their own line of films, and the last Hulk movie was in 2008 with nothing new announced, so this was an opportunity to flesh out these characters, but their special moments still felt forced.
Ultimately, Avengers: Age of Ultron is an adequate film. It will no doubt offer the thrill ride that audiences are looking for. It has great CGI, explosions, rippling muscles and women in slinky cat suits. The story may not be exactly fresh or entirely coherent, but does that really matter when you can watch Iron Man punch the Hulk in the face over and over again?