Marvel has been pretty impressive in their creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From “Iron Man” in 2008 to “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014, their record has been fairly spotless.
OK, I wasn’t a huge fan of 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” but that is merely a blip when I look at the rest of the films within the MCU.
They’re films that I can watch over and over, never getting sick of them. I can discover new Easter eggs and inside jokes each time. The laughs are just as solid, the action as action-y, and the relationships as strong as ever.
And then I watched “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and honestly, it just didn’t live up to the standard that Marvel created all those years ago.
I hate admitting that. I hate leaving a theater feeling like I’ve been let down.
In this case, the MCU created a level of excellence I’ve come to expect, and director/screenwriter Joss Whedon has always been a favorite. He’s the mastermind behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog.”
And yet, “Age of Ultron” just didn’t work, for whatever reason.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good popcorn flick. The basics of entertainment are all there: one-liners, the big bad, romance and plenty of action. Maybe, at the end of the day, there was just too much of all of the above.
Whedon has always been heavy on character development. Regardless of the jokes or action, his stories touch us. It’s the very basis of a Whedon script. It’s what’s meant to happen.
Instead we have an oddly fractured team with oddly placed stories. The Avengers don’t seem cohesive, and we have weird attempts at character development.
Take Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), for example. The twins tell their Tony Stark sob story to Ultron (James Spader) at a random time that doesn’t fit the flow of the scene. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a wife and kids no one has ever heard of before — and no, it’s not Mockingbird. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has gone from being cute and sarcastic to a sad lump that bemoans every brick the Hulk crushes. And then there’s Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the baby-making she can’t make happen.
I will weigh in on this one just once. I was not bothered by the Widow’s sentimental moment over the loss of a working uterus. As I told my movie buddy, I don’t believe Natasha is worried she can’t be a baby-making machine, but rather the fact that her choice was taken away. Whedon has been writing strong female characters for decades, and I don’t believe he’s about to change now. The scene didn’t make Widow any less a hero than her male counterparts. It was simply one moment in a long string of weird moments. Trust me, that exchange with Bruce wasn’t a lot less feminine than Hawkeye planning which room to redesign next.
That’s part of the issue for “Age of Ultron,” I think. There was just sooooooo much happening. Not only does the film try to create some emotional connection with almost every character — except Captain America (Chris Evans), who honestly didn’t have a story arc at all — but it manages to pack in a ridiculous amount of characters into a film that clocks in at two hours, 21 minutes.
There are the main characters mentioned already, plus Thor (Chris Hemsworth) — mmmmm, Thor. Add in Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Jarvis/Vision (Paul Bettany). Then go ahead and add in War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). With so many people and storylines stuffed into the film, it’s really hard to actually give sufficient time to either the characters or the story itself. It’s even harder with the amount of action included in the film.
I realize I’ve torn this movie to shreds, but there are things that do work here. Spader is pretty awesome as Ultron — an artificial intelligence created by Stark who builds himself a body and tries to destroy the world. It’s not the Ultron I expected, but he’s deliciously sinister. And creepy. Definitely high on the creepy scale. He might be a “man” made out of metal, but he’s one of the most “human” villains we’ve seen the team face yet.
Secondly, I DO applaud the attempts at giving these characters something deeper than super powers or high-tech gadgets. There were real attempts at humanizing the characters and making them as ordinary as you or me. Of course, the script also had Thor taking a really confusing bath in a pool — mmm, wet Thor — so there are some hits and misses.
Thirdly, I recognize that there was a lot to cover in this film. You’ve got an incredibly big villain in Ultron. His presence means a much darker film. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was badass, but there was still something light about him. “Age of Ultron” HAS to be a darker, more complicated film. Plus, you’ve got any number of future franchise movies to set up, which is why we get Thor taking a lightning-infused bath. His glistening wetness clues us in on the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, which will be at the center of “Avengers: Infinity War.” And yes, the cast list for future movies is only going to get bigger.
Overall, “Age of Ultron” isn’t in the same league as past MCU films. Marvel set the bar very, very high, and it’s possible they can’t reach it again. I’m curious to see how this summer’s “Ant-Man” will perform. “Age of Ultron” is fun. But the laughs aren’t as loud and the action seems a bit tiresome at times. I’ll see the film again, and I’ll even own it, but “Age of Ultron” isn’t a top-tier film in the MCU.
Bottom-line: You’ll get Hulkbuster armor, but this movie won’t be busting anyone’s Top 10 for 2015.