Posted by: themoviecheese | May 6, 2015

“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” Review

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Review by Tom Stewart (TheMovieCheese)

Phase One of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe ended with the eventual teaming of the Avengers, and so now Phase Two has built to that films sequel, The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Is it a sequel though? Is that what we can call it? Technically, it’s more of a sequel to both Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Winter Soldier, since events that transpire in both of those films (Stark creating the Iron Legion, the collapse of SHIELD, introducing the “twins”) are what has led to AoU’s plot. SHIELD is gone, the team have an uncertain future, Stark is still having nightmares, and Banner is more afraid of the color green than he ever has been before. Somehow, MCU godfather Joss Whedon has to find a way to gell all these threads together into what will undoubtedly be the second biggest (sorry, but Star Wars) film of the year. Yes, the shit just got very real. Maybe.

Age of Ultron wastes no time in throwing us right into the thick of it, opening with a blistering action set piece featuring our team setting out to retrieve the staff from the first film. It’s a truly thrilling sequence featuring more than one shot that seems straight from a comic book panel. This is our opener, and it’s a Testament to what a *real* Whedon summer blockbuster can be – a full-on, two and a half hour thrill-a-thon. Age of Ultron barely stops for breath, and it’s a good job that’s the case, because the action sequences are definitely it’s strongest suit. Also, this time round this is a *true* Whedon film. Whereas on the first Avengers, Whedon merely did rewrites, here he has written and directed the whole thing and it really does show; mostly for the better, but also, it had to be said, for the worse.

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The major problem I had with Age of Ultron is that it seems to lack a clear focus. Everything in the film seems to just *happen*. There is barely any build up at all to the creation of Ultron himself and it’s because of this that I found myself feeling a lot less excitement than what I thought I would. The films second action sequence is a very Whedon-esque sequence in which Ultron attacks a party that the Avengers are holding. It’s a great sequence, but the build up to it is ridiculously fast, not allowing the audience to build up any amount of tension. Instead of thinking “Oh shit, that’s Ultron!” I just thought “Oh… that’s Ultron? Okay”. It’s definitely evident that a large chunk of Whedon’s film has been cut by Disney/Marvel, and this is what gives way to the aforementioned lack of focus and indeed a huge pacing issue.

Another thing that severely hurts the film as a whole is an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I just couldn’t shake that I’d seen everything in Age of Ultron before, and that’s because it is literally Avengers Assemble all over again. Replace the Chitauri with robots and you have the exact same film. Ultron even acts exactly the same as Loki…and that brings me to my next problem: Ultron himself. Don’t get me wrong, James Spader does a superb job with the material he’s given; the problem I have is with the material itself. Why is it that Marvel have this huge army of writing talent (Whedon, James Gunn, Jon Favreau, Shane Black etc) and yet none of them can write a decent villain? Why is it that every single Marvel villain either turns out a wise-cracking douche (Loki, Ultron) or generic and forgetful (Ronnan, every single Iron Man villain). Why does every villain have to be a damn comedian? What ever happened to them just being threatening and, you know, EVIL? The problem with these Marvel films is that they keep writing their villains to be “cool”. I’m fine with a cool villain, but there has to be a level of threat.

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Age of Ultron’s biggest problem though is that the appeal has been lost. This isn’t necessarily a fault as such though, as this is something that’s extremely difficult to replicate (although I’m certain that Infinite Wars will do a good job of it). What made Avengers Assemble so great was seeing these characters on screen for the first time. That’s something just fifteen years ago we never (ever) thought we’d see. However, now that we have seen that, the appeal of seeing them together on screen is lost. The action scenes are still exciting, but it’s essentially just another ensemble movie now, and the excitement you feel is akin to watching something like X-Men or Oceans Eleven – you enjoy seeing the characters together, but it’s not gonna “Wow” you like it did the first time.

However, I’m not here to destroy the film, far from it. Whedon is still a master of the summer blockbuster and this is no exception. There is a LOT to like in Age of Ultron once the initial disappointment dissolves. Like I said, the action scenes (whilst very similar to the first film) are superb, with two stand outs being a seriously tense fight between Captain America and Ultron atop of a speeding truck and a fight between Iron Man (in his Hulk Buster suit) and the Hulk. In fact, the Hulk/Banner is once again one of the best things about the film and features in one of the film’s most surprising narrative saving graces – a superbly written sub-romance between him and Black Widow. This subplot definitely gives gravitas to Banner’s character, but also gives much needed depth to Black Widow/Romanov.

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Another character who is given a heft of depth and character development this time round is Hawkeye/Barton. It’s been no secret that Jeremy Renner wasn’t a fan of how his character was handled in Avengers Assemble, and it has definitely been rectified here. Without spoiling too much, he essentially becomes the main character for the whole film on several occasions – each of which are brilliant. His character is fleshed out in truly surprising ways and he’s also definitely the funniest and has undoubtedly the very best line in the entire film.

Ah yes, the jokes. This being Whedon, expect the gags to come thick and fast. As in Avengers Assemble, some of them are a hit, and some not so much. Whether you take to the dialogue as a whole does depend entirely on your judgement of Whedon as a talent, since this time round the screenplay is completely his baby. If you didn’t like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly, your perception of him is not going to change here.

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Of the new characters we have Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision (I don’t think that’s a spoiler at this point). Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver essentially take on the role that Hawkeye had in the first film, in that they are villains that are *not really* villains. The Vision, however, takes on a role that is totally vital. He also just happens to be one of the best things about the film and has two of the best moments in the film.

Conclusion:
In the end, Phase Two has been a backwards form of what Phase One was. Where as the solo films of Phase One all took part in building up to Avengers Assemble, in Phase Two only two of the films built up to Age of Ultron. Instead, Age of Ultron’s narrative informs us of things to come in small snippets. We are presented with a darker film than the first, but one that suffers from a sever lack of focus. It’s a film of random events that have been placed in narrative order with a throwaway villain that Marvel never have to worry about using again. The purpose of this film was to cleverly introduce us to new Avengers characters that could possibly one day take over the mantel from the team we’ve grown to love. In that regard, it’s succeeded in making these minor characters feel more significant than we first thought. But all of this – even wrapped up in superbly choreographed action sequences – can’t stop the sense of familiarity and the overwhelming feeling that a lot of plot has hit the cutting room floor.

Rating: 7/10

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