The 2015 summer movie season has officially begun, and with it another Marvel comics blockbuster kicks it off: the Avengers Age of Ultron, a sequel (of sorts) to the wildly successful 2012 film, the Avengers. Written and directed by Joss Whedon (the creator of fan favorite TV series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), Age of Ultron is 2 hours and 21 minutes long and is rated PG-13.
The Avengers series of movies are based on the Marvel comic book of the same name. The idea being that when there was a threat to our planet that no one single superhero could defeat alone, heroes from a large assortment of comic books would band together to form earth’s mightiest heroes: the Avengers. Typically, the cast of heroes include: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and an ever changing group of heroes that range from Captain Marvel, to Spider-Man, to Luke Cage, to the Scarlett Witch, and many many more. Nearly all of the major heroes in the Marvel Universe have been Avengers, or at the very least have been aligned with the super team for action packed battles with nefarious super villains.
The first Avengers flick had a lot going for it, as it was very unique amongst other movies. In the scheme of things, no other movie studio had ever really tried anything like the Avengers before. Marvel Studios took the films: Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Captain America, Thor and made sure that they were all part of a shared universe, known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU. In the MCU, all of these movies take place in a shared timeline, meaning that each movie has the ability of letting plot points effect the events of the other movies. It also meant that these characters from different movies could meet, and create a super team, should a threat arise that required such a team. In 2012, that threat arrived as Loki (from the Thor series) arrived on earth with a mission to bring an army of extraterrestrial beings to bring humans down to their knees to serve him. The heroes banded together and ultimately learned to become a formidable team. The Avengers movie was fun, funny, and a bit vapid, but a nearly perfect popcorn flick that was over 2 hours long but moved at a great pace. A rare “lightening in a bottle” experience, it captured the hearts of the planet as it easily made over a billion dollars in box office revenue worldwide.
The challenge in making a follow up to the Avengers, was twofold:
- You have to make the film more of a continuation of the ongoing cinematic universe and less a direct sequel – while at the same time telling a self contained story.
- You have to try and recapture that “lightening in a bottle” experience and with it gain the same “it prints money” phenomenon worldwide.
In interviews, Joss Whedon said the key to topping the original team up film, was to not try and top it, but to make the film smaller, more personal, with more at stake that would leave a bigger impact. In some ways he succeeded and other ways he falls short of his own goals. And that’s really what Age of Ultron feels like, a movie that’s trying so hard to be so many things, that it doesn’t quite get all of those things right. Which is not to say that it is a bad movie, in fact I found it rather enjoyable to watch. It is a tremendously entertaining action film, it’s just not the best film in its pedigree.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron really had a couple of hard acts to follow. Guardians of the Galaxy was this in your face, smartly written, and creatively directed romp of a blockbuster which certainly had the “lightening in a bottle” feel. Then there was Captain America: the Winter Soldier, which is arguably (meaning I will argue with anyone who disagrees with me) the single best film in the MCU. The Winter Soldier has a great political thriller plot line, that deftly maneuvers a large cast of characters in a story that concludes in such a way that it turns the whole cinematic universe on its ear! More than that, the emotional stakes for Captain America are very high as he tries to understand what is happening around him, discovers who he can trust, and ultimately unravels the mystery of the Winter Soldier – the revelations of the latter rock the Cap to his core. This left the Age of Ultron in the unenviable position of keeping the momentum going, and as high as it tries to soar, it just can’t do it.
In an effort to keep this as spoiler free as possible, I will attempt to only reference specific events that happen in the following trailer (perhaps in a few weeks I will drill down on the very specific things I liked and didn’t like):First, the good: the action sequences are very cool, and in a lot of ways feel very much like a comic book. Heroes work together to take out enemies, and they do so with a metric ton of razzle dazzle and finesse. The comedy is on point, with a lot of running gags, perfectly timed one liners, and just enough “grown up” humor to keep the adults laughing while the kids scratch their heads. The new characters: Quicksilver, the Scarlett Witch and the Vision are all really cool, and are a welcome addition to the cast, adding a lot of needed variety both in differing personalities and also in presenting us with uniquely new super powers to view onscreen. Possibly of the greatest importance, Hawkeye is a very key character this time around, in many ways acting like the heart and soul of the team, while glimpses into his personal life show us why the Avengers fight so hard to protect the people of this fine planet we call home. Hawkeye is the anchor that helps keep this film afloat and his character arch resonates in a very powerful way the better parts of the movie.
The bad: the pacing of this movie is a bit uneven, in some ways it moves too fast and other ways it nearly grinds to a halt. The slowness is especially noticeable when the movie continually (almost to the point of CW teeny bopper levels of obnoxiousness) tries to convince us that the Black Widow and the Hulk should be in love. It doesn’t work, not even a little. And then there’s the repetition from the first Avengers flick which seemed unnecessary in this one: tearing the team apart internally, fighting mindless unending waves of enemies, and Nick Fury mother hemming the team by giving a needing them a pep talk at the absolute critical moment.
The ugly: Ultron really isn’t all that menacing (he may actually tell more jokes in this film than Tony Stark, but I didn’t count, so don’t quote me on that) and his endgame is the kind of thing that a preteen child would think of, and certainly not what you would expect a hyper advanced artificial intelligence with nearly unlimited resources to put together as his master plan. Honestly, it’s just kind of goofy, just like Ultron.
But there is hope! The Vision is a delight, and what his character will bring to the cinematic universe is nothing short of exciting. The set up at the end of the movie, does a great job of extending the longevity of the MCU and giving it legs for the future. Also, the Infinity Stones are referenced again and a set up for the big event coming in 2018 was set in motion as well.
The Avengers Age of Ultron is a flawed but serviceable film that is a lot of fun to watch. The good times in this film far outweigh the negative portions that I have nitpicked. The characters are still the ones you love: Tony Stark is still the funny one, Cap is still the straight guy, Thor is still the awkward fish out of water, and Black Widow is still having to take care of all these problematic boys. They are fun to watch on screen, and when the dialogue pops, it’s hard not to fall in love with the gang all over again. The main problem it runs into, is that the plot isn’t strong enough to be much more than a filler film until the Civil War and Infinity War movies arrive later, and in the larger scheme of things that’s ok. Not every MCU film has to be the best comic book film ever, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a fun popcorn blockbuster film. Just don’t go into Age of Ultron expecting the best superhero team up movie of all time, go in ready to have a fun time with a group of heroes that you already love and you’ll enjoy the movie so much more, I guarantee it!