Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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“I think you’re confusing peace for quiet.”

Marvel needs to look hard in the mirror and seriously ask itself what it is trying to do. As is the case with most of their movies, save for Guardians of the Galaxy and remnants of the Iron Man trilogy, there is no sense of completion. They bring out everything but the kitchen sink, failing to do what movies and stories are supposed to accomplish in their most basic form. It needs a three act structure with a sense of finality and an ability to stand alone rather than be lost amidst such an ever-growing, confusing, jumbled, incoherent and homogeneous series of films that the word “sequel” should be trampled beneath the endless barrage of punches and explosions. From the character development to exact plot details, Avengers: Age of Ultron is chalky and recycled formula that not even the hungriest of babies would blindly grab for. Writer/Director Joss Whedon said that this movie nearly killed him. Now I understand why, and it’s almost entirely not his fault.

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I’ve been refreshed by every synopsis there is to read. I’ve watched every interview with cast and crew that I could make time for. Still, I don’t know what was going on in this movie and had no idea what it was even about. There’s an A.I. robot called Ultron (James Spader) inadvertently made by Tony Stark, and how he accomplishes this feat is never clear. Ultron is helped by two powerful Russian twins (Quicksilver played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Scarlet Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen.) Ultron’s goal? Eradicate humanity, because why not? Then there are infinity stones (?), Hydra operatives (?!), and an attempt to levitate a Russian city high enough to slingshot back into the earth causing mass extinction (?!?!). Avengers: Age of Ultron gallivants for 2+ hours, and little to none of this movie is beyond a first grade reading level.

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You can’t blame Whedon though. I’ve watched plenty of movies and studied the industry long enough to be able to tell when a filmmaker is either excited about their vision or stripped of their creative control. This is not his movie; It’s Marvel’s, and by the incompleteness it is obvious they edited this film down to the bare skeleton of what Whedon was shooting for. Avengers 2 was an unenviable task for anyone, let alone the man who made the first installment (which I honestly didn’t care for either.) The thing is, Whedon is a great storyteller with a bona fide comedic voice. We know this, and in particular scenes, like the superhero knights of the round table taking a crack at lifting Thor’s hammer, Whedon gets to bring his dry humor often controlled by one-liners and pitch perfect directorial timing. Watching Avengers 2 reminded me of Margaret Keene’s story in last year’s Big Eyes. This is somebody’s masterpiece, but the true artist isn’t getting to take credit for it. Instead there are scrawls all over this film, the worst of which is a TERRIBLY forced moment between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff, both saying they can’t have kids. It’s as awkward and unnecessary as a parental sex talk.

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An “Age” is a distinct period of history. Sorry Marvel fans, but despite James Spader’s intrepid voice and motion-capture performance, this film doesn’t live up to its name. Scenes come and go showing no hope of conclusion, characters literally pop up out of nowhere emerging from shadows like a creepy ex flagging you down for, “just one last chance!”, and the culminating battle results in, showing Marvel’s frequent style, a massive object submitting to earth’s gravitational forces to threaten humanity. Here’s my main gripe though. These superheroes, all duplicitous and two-faced (literally, they all have aliases besides Thor, the most driven character of the bunch), have nothing left to avenge besides their own self-induced problems. Their stories don’t carry over from one to the other. How could they? Marvel Studios is attempting to take a Thanksgiving meal and blend it into one smooth puree. But they can’t. There are too many franchises, too many TV shows, too many obvious moneygrabbing attempts that sacrifice the overall quality of what they’re setting out to achieve. Compare just about any Marvel film to Christopher Nolan’s work with Batman (begrudgingly including TDKR), or even parts of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and it looks like foolish, exaggerated child’s play.

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Is there action? Hell yeah. Is there comedy? Of course there is with Whedon on board. Most importantly…is there a story? Yes, but it is buried in the rubble of imploded buildings and collapsed bridges caused by our own superheroes. The timely tale of Ultron, like the manmade mechanical monster, never gets to breath. Avengers 2 makes you wonder why Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is the bravest and most compelling of the bunch. Why Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) needs more screentime for her interesting backstory. And why The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the most physically and emotionally complex character still hasn’t been green-lit for a potential reboot with such a masterful actor in the driver’s seat.

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Films like this, epic in scope but unfocused and diluted in story, have to make a decision. Do you scoot up and shoot at a 10 foot target from 1 foot away? Or do you continue to aim at a 100 foot target from 10 feet away? It may be the same ratio, but with more distance and scale comes more variables. Statistically speaking, and at the decisive box office, the chances of hitting the bullseye are the same. That doesn’t mean one too many a Thor yell or a Hulk Smash or an Iron Man jet-pack whoosh can’t make you miss by a longshot in any direction though. Whedon is done with Marvel, and although I admire his creative strength, it’s clear Avengers 2 suffers from the tired and cramped hand of a weary, worn out, sleep deprived artist.

“None of this makes sense.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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