Length: 141 min
Writer: Joss Whedon
Dir.: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr., Chris Hemswoth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, James Spader, Paul Bettany et al.
I’ve held off reviewing Avengers: Age of Ultron because I have honestly found it difficult to make my mind up about it. I’ve seen it twice now and left the cinema with a different opinion both times. Finally, though, I’ve reached some sort of conclusion. You know the drill; massive spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
The plot of this movie is so vast and convoluted that I’m not even going to attempt to outline it in any detail. Basically, after recovering Loki’s staff from a Hydra base, Stark (Downey Jnr.) discovers that it contains some form of artificial intelligence (I think) and resolves to use this alien A.I. to kick start a global peace-keeping programme of his own design called Ultron (Spader). Exactly what Ultron is for or what it does, or why Start didn’t think to use his already sentient and thoroughly sarcastic British butler programme J.A.R.V.I.S. for this (enjoy that plot-hole; it renders the movie pointless) remains a mystery. Never the less, Ultron turns out to be a bit of a nutbag, starts building an army of evil robots and decides to wipe out humanity by levitating a city and turning it into a meteor. Yes, really. Along the way, Ultron manipulates two super powered orphans – Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson respectively) who have beef with Stark and mess with the Avengers’ mind-tanks. An entirely artificial superhero called Vision (quite literally the embodiment of deus ex machina) is created, and they all have a big fight with Ultron at the end.
Not much to say about the actors to be honest; the returning cast are as good as we know they are. Special mention should be made of Chris Hemsworth as Thor, whose character has probably matured the most over the course of these movies. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye also get more to do in this movie and does pretty well. Both characters are hampered by the story, however, but more on that in a minute. James Spader and Paul Bettany are brilliant as Ultron and The Vision respectively; stealing many of the scenes they’re in. Olsen and Taylor-Johnson don’t really have much of an impact as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, to be honest; they both get a bit lost in the confusion of the story.
One of my chief criticisms of the movie is that it feels disjointed and lacks cohesive connections with the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is particularly apparent in the film’s opening which almost starts in medias res, with the Scooby Gang raiding the last in an apparently long line of Hydra bases. Time has obviously passed between the two Avengers movies and even between this film and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it still seems jarringly non sequitur. This is further exacerbated by the Avengers themselves, who all seem to have entirely different motivations and even mannerisms since the last time we saw them. Despite destroying his suits, throwing his chest piece into the sea and ostensibly coming to terms with his fear of failure in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark is back with new armour (the Mark 43, presumably), a gang of robot backing singers forebodingly called the Iron Legion, and his fear of impending planetary doom is the main instigator of the plot. Thor, instead of enjoying his self-imposed exile on Earth with Natalie Portman and doing a bit of avenging, is now intent on recovering Loki’s glow stick of destiny and taking it to Asgard for some reason. Perhaps the most jarring of these character changes is from Black Widow (Johansson), who goes from a morally flexible superspy to having the hots for Bruce Banner (Ruffalo). I’m not saying that this subplot isn’t interesting – if anything I would have like to see it developed a bit more – it’s just a bit out-of-the-blue and slightly contrived. Having said this, I definitely don’t think Whedon deserves the amount of abuse that’s been levelled at him by the hardcore ‘Clintasha’ fans just because he tried to do something different.
There are so many sub-plots and side stories and characters to keep track of that the film can be quite confusing. The audience has to follow Stark’s fears of failure; the Black Widow/Banner romance; Captain America trying to find his place in the world (again); the motivation of the Maximoff twins; trying to figure out what the fuck Ultron is going on about; Hawkeye’s new found family; the whole host of side characters from other Marvel films who show up; Thor’s weird dream side story thing; Nick Fury showing up randomly (again) with the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier (somehow); the ‘birth of Vision’ (more on that in a minute); Banner not trusting himself or the Hulk (again)… the list goes on. It’s not surprising, then, that many of these elements seem crow-barred in and others do not get the time they need to be developed fully. This is further complicated by blatant fan-service sequences and presumably studio-ordained franchise tie-ins.
For example, the Hulk vs. Veronica section of the movie, while being awesome, also feels unnecessary. It seems like it is only in the movie to show off the Hulk-buster armour that everyone thought was in Iron Man 3 (and, of course, to sell toys). Further, Thor’s mid-story detour from the main plot seems to serve only to set up his next stand-alone movie, Ragnarok, and the next couple of Avengers movies by hammering home the fact that the Infinity Stones are a thing. Despite lacking the intended subtlety and exposition of the original scene (which I would’ve liked to have watched) it was so clearly cut down in the movie that it barely made any sense.
Despite all of this, though, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the film. For all its problems, plot holes and flaws, I just liked seeing these characters on the screen again. Incidentally, some of the stand-out scenes in the movie are when the Avengers are sat about talking. There’s a scene at the beginning (and it was included in some promotional videos) of them all hanging out drinking beer and chatting, and it has genuine warmth. This is where the movie shines, although I gather this section has also raised some controversy. Despite Whedon’s established talent – especially with dialogue – and earnest attempts at innovation, it’s not quite enough to save a movie that’s full-to-bursting with half-thought-out ideas crammed in by an increasingly cynical studio. It’s fun, but it could have been so much better.