Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (★★½)

avengers-age-of-ultronFull disclosure: I’m not an avid superfan of the Marvel universe.  This shouldn’t disqualify me from talking about the newest mega film “Avengers: Age of Ultron” but it’s worth noting.  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and some other new cast of characters make up Joss Whedon‘s poem to superhero fans everywhere.  There’s nothing that can really be analyzed when speaking about the film.  It checks all the boxes for an action film; it blends together the wit and humor of the franchise, and will surely solidify itself as the top blockbuster of the year.  If all this is indeed true, then why am I left feeling so hollow and empty following the credits?

Some ideas that come to mind when looking back:  The element of surprise lacks sorely in these films.  The good guys always win, because Marvel needs them to.  They’re building towards an “Infinity Part 1” and “Infinity Part 2” in 2018 and 2019 and that’s the goal.  What had fans so excited and invested in “The Dark Knight” trilogy is that director Christopher Nolan (and I guess for argument’s sake Warner Bros.) really explored the world outside of just Batman.  He wasn’t afraid to discard of major characters in order to push Batman forward.  Now, I know what some of you will say: “Marvel killed off Agent Coulson in ‘The Avengers’.”  And that’s true, but the haphazard way they utilized his death as tool to “bring them together” was cheap.  Maybe I just didn’t see it as a true loss for any of the characters to believe into it.  Maybe it was more of a loss for the audience.  

The audience isn’t head over heels for Rachel Dawes.  She’s nearly a horrible female character constructed from the motion that a man who fights in the night needs a heroin to save him from himself.  Not to mention that neither of the portrayals by either Katie Holmes or Maggie Gyllenhaal are flattering to either of their resumes.  But when she dies, we feel the distraught pain and near inconsolable loss that it does to both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, so much that we believe in the transformation and difficult decisions both make.  “Avengers: Age of Ultron” dabbles in that aspect but not in the areas that it should.  “The Twins,” as played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, present an interesting dichotomy to the heroes, as they’re fueled by a deeper purpose.  Whedon gives them an emotional arc that the films very much need.  

From a structural standpoint, I’m sure everything Whedon does is sound however; he shows no mercy for anyone who does not know enough information about the universe and its crew.  Only seeing “Iron Man,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “The Avengers,” was not enough.  Not following comic books since I was kid, and forgetting virtually everything about any of them that isn’t named Hulk or Spider-Man (and yes, the video online is fake, he’s not in the film), kept me at an arm’s length nearly every step of the way.  Ultron’s inclusion into the story was a fascinating one, as Whedon took the time to introduce, get acquainted, and relish in this mechanical being.  When new heroes are thrown into the mix, you barely know they’re names.  Marvel should be welcoming new fans with open arms, and not so much in an obvious, painful way should they recap the characters, but leave clues or indicators about who some of the past heroes might have been, so we can get excited together.

One of the highlights of the first film was its spunk and humor, which I’m sure, is a common denominator in all Marvel films by this point.  In “The Avengers,” they operated within the parameters of the scene, and presented a natural progression of comedy that never felt forced.  Evidently Marvel got the memo that they’re funny, because they revved up the humor to level 10, ultimately becoming too much and spilling over.  It was just overwhelming at times, as if someone let the comedic genie loose and didn’t put him back.  What felt like every five minutes, a limerick, pun, jokes about bromance, jokes about having sex, and constant one-liners were being thrown around.  For the first half of the 142 minute film, it works, until it just doesn’t.

ultronFrom a technical standpoint, there are no shortcomings.  The Visual Effects seem to be cleaner and more intricate as bigger, louder battle scenes are taking place.  The score by Danny Elfman and Bryan Tyler is spectacular and orchestrated very well in key scenes.  Cinematographer Ben Davis captures some gorgeous action scenes and frames them magnificently and Charles Wood‘s production design is heavily apparent as seen in many of his works in film.  

Robert Downey, Jr. was given his most dramatic arc of the “Iron Man” character yet.  He rose to the challenge.  Chris Evans’ Captain America is as one-dimensional as he’s been in previous films.  Chris Hemsworth‘s Thor gets some of the biggest chuckles.  Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow explores new realms of her inner-self while Mark Ruffalo profoundly illustrates the struggle of both Bruce Banner and the Hulk.  If you haven’t been a fan of Hawkeye previously, Jeremy Renner is afforded so much more emotion and charm this time around.  This is also thanks to Linda Cardellini and her rich presence.  Paul Bettany‘s Jarvis, plus a certain new addition is mystifying.  Don Cheadle gets an opportunity to be cheered for as War Machine as does Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.  And God bless the producers for giving Andy Serkis a chance to present more of his capabilities in front of a camera and without motion capture attached.  Even though it’s brief, it’s still memorable.

And finally, James Spader, another living, breathing reason we need a special award for voice work and casting at the Oscars because he was just the perfect choice for everything that Ultron had to offer and performed it incredibly.  His standard yet sophisticated explanations of plans, hatred, and humor was truly the defining moments of the film.  Even though his “diabolical” plans for destruction are as confusing as anything Marvel has produced thus far.  

Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a super fun ride.  The best action film of the year so far.  With killer fight scenes, interesting assemblies, and fantastic action sequences, you can’t do any better during the weekend than a trip to see the must-see film of the summer.

Avengers: Age of Ultron” hits theaters on May 1, 2015.

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