Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers-assembled★★★

Does the world need more reactions to ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’? As of this moment, the picture has already grossed 125% of its $250million budget – it had the second biggest box office opening of all time, only surpassed by, appropriately enough, the first ‘Avengers’.

‘Age of Ultron’ is a solid entry in the Marvel cannon. I might be battling superhero movie fatigue and it is only going to get worse (Marvel and DC have a reported thirty projects in the works between now and 2020). With each entry adhering to the “bigger is better” belief, the day may arrive in which the sensory overload puts me to sleep the way babies nap to block out overwhelming stimuli. Thankfully, today is not that day.

Writer-director Joss Whedon was able to juggle the various moving pieces skillfully in ‘The Avengers’; in ‘Age of Ultron’, he drops the ball on a number of occasions. Bigger and louder doesn’t necessarily mean better. And with a running time of 142 minutes, there isn’t much room for air. In addition to the all-star ranks – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – there is an assortment of supporting players from Marvel’s solo outings – The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) among others. And of course there is the titular villain voiced by the invaluable James Spader. It’s a crowded canvas. Too many characters. Too much exposition. Too many behemoth set pieces. Too much of a muchness.

It looks like we need rescuing. Again. The plot, not that it really matters, involves Tony Stark creating Ultron, an autonomous version of himself that can’t quite distinguish between world peace and annihilation. There is no shame in being baffled by the plot machinations – the villain appears equally perplexed (he can fire wisecracks like Stark, but he has got Banner’s befuddlement and insecurity). Ultron is a prime example of our conviction in technology running berserk; as a creation, Ultron looks the part (eat it, Chappie) but he isn’t the minacious presence he should be partly due to his identity crisis.

As The Avengers traverse from one major city to another (some real, others fictional), each model city is nearly left in a heap of ruins. Whedon serviceably stages these sequences but there are only occasional glimpses of true artistry at work – an overhead shot of our heroes in circular arrangement attacking in every direction is an example one of them: the cinematic equivalent of a splash moment. Whedon isn’t as imaginative as Bryan Singer is for the action moments – look at what Singer accomplished with Quicksilver in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’.

And while that final digital showdown runs far too long, I must say I greatly admired how much time was dedicated to protecting civilians caught in the enfilade. Part of the reason I considered ‘Man of Steel’ to be an epic failure was because there was no consideration for human casualties – Superman and General Zod threw each other from skyscraper to skyscraper, over and over again, and the picture failed to show the multitudes of civilians being killed.

‘Age of Ultron’ is at its best when we are just hanging out with the gang – in a farmhouse where we learn more about Hawkeye, or early on at a party where everyone is in noncombatant mode exchanging quips while trying to lift Thor’s mighty hammer. Watching these scenes, I was convinced that I would be more receptive to an indie-version of ‘The Avengers’ – a movie that gives us time to spend with these characters, to let the dialogue sparkle brightly; a movie that didn’t feel the need to conclude with a gargantuan never-ending CGI set piece. But, I’m not sure that’s what audience members want. You’ll get out of this movie what you’re hoping to get out of it and I suppose that is totally fine. Marvel Enthusiasts will be in comic book heaven. And Marvel Agnostics might just be pleasantly surprised. QED.

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