The law of diminishing returns strikes big-time in Avengers: Age of Ultron, an overstuffed mess of one-note characters, gaudy, incomprehensible CGI, and really, really bad one-liners. It’s so unexpected that you almost forget how fresh The Avengers was three short years ago, and what a welcome reprieve it was from the dark and despair-filled entries of the superhero genre at the time. That goodwill vanishes about as quickly as the infrastructure in Age of Ultron. Writer/Director Joss Whedon – most likely coerced by studio meddling, I hope – packs so many characters and battles into this 141-minute trailer that the end result has the weight and satisfaction of partly eaten cotton candy.
As the film opens, the Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – narrowly capture Loki’s coveted scepter from the grasp of Hydra. To their surprise, the scepter has an artificial intelligence. Things go haywire in a hurry when Ultron, Stark’s sentient global peacekeeping initiative, becomes infected by the A.I. rebels. Now bent on creating his own army of robot drones and decimating the Earth’s population, Ultron must be stopped.
The main problem here is that somehow, after one film together (save the films devoted to individual heroes), these characters have become one-note and boring. Now that their origin stories and capabilities are known, the awe is gone. And since they’re all essentially untouchable, the extensive battles contain no dramatic gravity whatsoever. Whenever Whedon tries to interject some non-one-liner levity and clever references you can almost hear the studio heads yelling, “No! Just blow some more stuff up!” Nothing is given time to breathe and build organically. It’s like the Frankenstein’s monster of building a movie around what you think people want – mainly brainless, chaotic action sequences – and not truly capitalizing on a promising first entry driven by interesting characters and snappy dialogue. The “A.I. is taking over!” angle feels tired, and Whedon does little to spice it up. The globe-trotting story is absurdly complicated, especially considering it’s all for naught since everything happens exactly as expected for the genre. Only James Spader’s down-played voice work saves Ultron from being as forgettable a villain as Fantastic Four’s Silver Surfer. And Avengers: Age of Ultron has far more in common with that film than it has any right to.
Selling movies relying so heavily on spectacle is difficult as ever these days. Every blockbuster has a $150+ million budget and boundless resources. Stories must always drive the action, and that’s where Avengers: Age of Ultron tragically missteps. Whedon is said to be leaving the series after this entry, and that’s the right move. He’s far too talented a writer and filmmaker to be caught up in the Disney cash-in gears. The Avengers are by no means a lost cause, but going back and taking a hard look at what made the first film such a joy would be a good place to start moving forward.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Length: 141 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.
Theatrical Release: May 1, 2015
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon. Based upon the comic book by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson