When I think back to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the best thing I can compare it to is a multi-layered Impressionist painting. From up close, it often looks and feels like an over-stuffed mess, as if director Joss Whedon was trying to cram as much as possible into his 2 hour and 20 minute timeframe. When you look back on the movie as a whole, though, just as if you see a Monet painting from afar, it’s hard to think of it as anything less than spectacular.
So many characters, so little time
In Age of Ultron, the Avengers have to team up yet again to stop a global threat. This time, it comes in the form of Ultron, a snarky, villainous robot (voiced by James Spader). Originally created by Tony Stark as a form of protection, Ultron turns on them and decides he would rather destroy the world instead. In addition to the robot legion that he creates, there are two super-powered twins that ally with him – the very fast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the telekenetic Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). On the Avengers side, we have the usual – Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); along with a few new additions, including the mysterious Vision (Paul Bettany).
If that sounds like too much for one movie, that’s because it probably is. Age of Ultron had to accomplish what must have sounded impossible in the first place. Not only did it need to introduce a new villain, add new characters, and bring the original Avengers back together, it also had to plant the seeds for future Marvel stories, including the pending Infinity War saga that is coming in 2018. To have it not only be an enjoyable stand-alone film but also connect to the wider Marvel world must have been something extremely difficult to achieve. And, at times, Age of Ultron does feel like a convoluted mess. I almost wish the movie was longer, so that it had more time to expand the depth of characters that we were just introduced to.
A major issue I had with Age of Ultron is the villain himself. I did enjoy the witty, sarcastic manner of the character, who somehow managed to be both charismatic and terrifying (James Spader was also the perfect casting choice). At the same time, though, he is not nearly as memorable a villain as past Marvel movies, such as Loki from the first Avengers. In the case of Loki, we had an entire movie to set up his character, and the events of the first Thor are what motivated him to attack Earth in The Avengers. But here, we only have the first few minutes of the movie to set up Ultron. Ultron is simply born, and then he just decides to be bad. There is no real motivation for his behavior, and it’s something that was truly lacking in comparison to the first movie.
A beautiful mess
In the hands of anyone other than Joss Whedon, Age of Ultron really could have been a disaster. Whedon not only captures just enough adrenaline-pumping action, but he also delves, at least a little bit, into the backstories and motivations of each of the characters. And they are each heart-breaking in their own way, especially Black Widow, of whom we discover just how she became the super-spy that she is today. In a movie that was already over-flowing with content, Whedon somehow fits in that extra sensitive touch. It is just enough to boost Age of Ultron up from the ranks of action-spectacle into a movie that actually contains believable emotion.
As mentioned, though, the balance is just a little off. In order to layer the film with sentiment, Whedon throws in somewhat out-of-place “deep” moments between characters, which really do not add much to these particular scenes and instead feel like an unnecessary distraction. One scene between Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch feels particularly awkward, and probably should have either been longer or had taken place much earlier in the movie.
A cinematic event
Really, though, it’s hard to ignore the sheer scope of Age of Ultron. The battle scenes are like nothing that Marvel has ever done, and they put even the past movie’s New York alien attack scene to shame. There are more highlights than I can think of, whether it’s the exhilarating, intense battle between the city-destroying Hulk versus Iron Man in his supped-up Hulkbuster armor; or the initial fight when the Avengers invade the army base where Loki’s scepter is held (that one iconic shot from the trailer); or even the final climactic battle, when an army of robots is attacking the Avengers.
In this slow motion scene, each of the Avengers, in turn, get to do their own badass moves – Iron Man flies from robot to robot, blowing them up with his arsenal of high-tech weapons; Hulk, in a rage, punches and destroys robots left and right; Captain America spins and tosses his shield, breaking bad-guys in half; Thor explodes them with lightning or with a swift crack to the face by his hammer; Black Widow is fierce, managing to hold her own despite having no super powers. And Hawkeye, who I always thought to be more of an outsider compared to the others, here gets to kick just as much ass as the rest of them (not to mention some of the movie’s best lines). Each Avenger gets their moment, and it’s just so, well, cool.
A new addition to the Avengers team is Vision, who is here played by Paul Bettany (who earlier voiced JARVIS, Tony Stark’s robotic butler). Now, he is a formidable being with almost god-like powers, and not only does Bettany do a fine acting job, but the character is also just so sleek and impressive, with his red suit, flowing golden cape, and remarkable ability to hover in midair. If what I have read about the comics is also true about the movie, apparently Vision will have a huge role to play in the upcoming stories – and this is only a good thing.
Convoluted, messy, and over-stuffed, The Avengers: Age of Ultron also somehow manages to be an incredibly enjoyable ride. Each of the actors bring their A-game, and each of their characters has their own moment to shine, despite the movie’s overabundance of side-stories. Not to mention that the special effects are like nothing you have ever seen.
Age of Ultron is not a masterpiece, and it may be inferior when you compare it to its predecessor. But anybody who loves superhero movies is sure to get a kick out of it, because it is really a heck of a lot of fun. And when it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters.
(top image source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)