As a great funk song once said “there ain’t no stopping the Marvel Cinematic Universe now.” It’s perhaps the most guaranteed money-maker in cinema right now, and as far as quality goes, it’s been consistently fantastic enough to etch it’s way into pop culture with talons as strong as gold titanium alloy. So with that, the second wave of films about The Avengers comes to a climax here, in this highly anticipated Age Of Ultron. Getting to this point has been something of a geek Mecca, but the question is, does it provide that near religious high that the original Avengers did, or is this eleven film long (and counting) film saga finally starting to show some wear and tear?
We pick up with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) picking up the pieces of the fallout of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, by collecting artifacts stolen by Hydra, one of which being Loki’s staff. With the power the staff provides, Stark finds himself able to fuel an artificial intelligence program he’s been working on, something that if done right, could take the place of the Avengers in protecting the world. Unfortunately for him, it’s not done right at all, and leads to the creation of Ultron (James Spader), a deeply cynical creature who believes that the only way to protect the world is to mold it into something new, and this new place most certainly does not have The Avengers in it.
If there’s anything Age Of Ultron can be proud of, it’s the sheer sense of scale and fun it captures. In some ways even more so than the original, this thing feels like a comic book ripped straight off the panels, and onto the screen. Returning writer/director Joss Whedon keeps things moving at a nimble pace, constantly bombarding us with new action sequences. This could get tiresome in some movies, but when you have characters as cool as these, it never really gets old to watch them use their respective powers to mow down any fools in their way. Beyond that, while the writing may be weak in certain other areas, it excels at being funny, almost to a fault. There is a witty one liner for almost every ten seconds of screen time, and a solid ninety five percent of them are hits. Taken simply as a roller coaster ride, there almost certainly won’t be as many that are as massive and fun to ride as this in 2015.
At this point, the cast is so completely settled into their roles that there isn’t really a whole lot to say about them that hasn’t been said already. They each completely inhabit these roles, and at this point feel like nothing short of family. With that said, Whedon’s screenplay serves some of them a great deal better than others, with some of them so oddly written that I would go as far as to say that it invalidates what has come before. Evans, Hemsworth, and Renner come out the best, the first as strong willed and morality rooted as ever, the second stretching his comedic chops with some of the movie’s funniest moments, and the third finally getting a chance to really shine with some wonderful action beats, and a great deal of plot elements that give him depth and humanity.
While Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is always a riot, he’s reduced to a vending machine of one liners here, and ultimately his motivations for creating Ultron seem not only quickly came to, but out of character with how much he matured in Iron Man 3. He comes off as more of an impulsive ass than anything here. Meanwhile, Ruffalo’s Banner feels like an entirely different character, lacking the quirky cynicism that made him such a charmer before, and it certainly dosen’t help that he’s stuck in a romantic subplot with Johansson’s Black Widow that feels entirely forced and out of character for both of them, particularly the perviously calculating and mature Romanoff. This is a character who has gone from “love is for children,” to a doting babysitter for the big green monster she has a crush on in the blink of an eye, and Whedon does a terrible job in selling that transition.
As far as new characters go (yes, there’s more) most of them don’t leave a huge impression. I had high expectations for Spader’s Ultron in particular, especially after a strain of weak villains in this series, and quite frankly, he does not deliver. It’s not Spader’s fault at all, who gives a very spirited and expressive voice performance indeed, but quite simply it’s an issue with how the character is written. Conceived as something of a son to Tony Stark, he has inherited his sarcastic, insecure sense of humor, and quite frankly, it makes him completely non threatening. He comes across as more of a priss who won’t shut up than anything, going between odd humor that never quite lands, and typical bad guy monologuing that could be out of a sunday comic. Meanwhile, there is the introduction of Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson, which yields mixed results. Olsen seems completely lost in her role, lacking both the screen presence and the chops to pull it off. With her constantly slipping accent and silly over acting, she comes off more like a power rangers villain than anything. Taylor Johnson is a little better, but isn’t given a great deal to do, and therefore comes off as a bit of a waste, especially considering how well the character was used in X Men: Days Of Future Past.
Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly delivers enjoyment in spades. Despite any problems that might be there, it’ll always be a treat to see these characters together, barbing and bickering with each other. It’s a massive action extravaganza that’s constantly topping itself, and demands to be seen on the biggest screen with the biggest crowd. However, once the smoke clears, it falls a bit short in the story department, sacrificing the integrity of some of it’s characters, contorting them to fit it’s themes, when perhaps it should be the other way around. It’s not so much the step into darkness we were promised as it is an entertaining middle chapter before Civil War really tears it up, but as a summer movie, one could certainly do a whole hell of a lot worse.