Prior to the release of The Avengers in 2012, writer/director Joss Whedon was asked how he could make a sequel that is bigger and better
than his original. He told SFX:
“By not trying to. By being smaller. More personal, more painful. By being the next thing that should happen to these characters and not
just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time.”
Whedon would soon officially be brought aboard the inevitable sequel, but apparently his concept for it wasn’t.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a convoluted, overstuffed, borderline incoherent film. It tries to do far too much and (even for someone who has
seen every one of these films multiple times) is an occasionally baffling experience.
It’s a tribute to Whedon and his superb cast that the film manages to be entertaining at all, let alone good. Although, Age of Ultron is right
on the border of what I would call ‘good.’
The film is undeniably funny (and fun), but it doesn’t match its thrilling, triumphant predecessor in any aspect.
Age of Ultron plunges us into confusion from the very opening as The Avengers lead an assault on a Hydra base. Anyone familiar with the
previous films in the series will be a bit baffled. Didn’t Tony Stark retire in Iron Man 3? And if S.H.I.E.L.D. was destroyed in Captain America:
The Winter Soldier, how is the team reunited again?
I thought the point of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe concept was to maintain a consistent thread running through all the films, but that
seems to go out the window whenever convenient.
Even taken as its own beast, Age of Ultron’s plot is difficult to follow. Other than knowing who the good guys and the bad guys were, I can’t
say I knew what was going on most other times.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is given the film’s most honest lines when he explains to newbie Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) that “None of
this makes sense.”
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) represent the two most prominent new heroes, although neither makes much of an
impact. Scarlet Witch has the abilities of hypnosis and telekinesis, while Quicksilver runs really fast. Don’t call them ‘mutants’ though, those
rights are owned by a rival studio.
Quicksilver was also recently portrayed in X-Men: Days of Future Past by Evan Peters, who was far more memorable with far less screen
The film’s best new character is Ultron. An unwilling creation of Stark, the quirky robot makes an amusingly unconventional villain. James
Spader’s performance is surprisingly funny. Even if he doesn’t make for a particularly imposing villain, at least he has a personality. That’s
more than I can say for some Marvel villains (Guardians of the Galaxy…).
There’s also a fun (kind of) new hero introduced called The Vision, played by Paul Bettany. A protagonist mirror of Ultron, he would be the
best newcomer if he had more screen time. The two share a scene near the end of the film where they discuss the merits and perils of
humanity. It’s one of the best moments in the picture.
Amid the film’s almost constant chaos, the sense of humor is Age of Ultron’s saving grace. The performances from the entire cast (Led by
Robert Downey Jr. as Stark) are energetic, and their chemistry, along with Whedon’s quirky dialog, always keeps the film entertaining.
Unfortunately, despite all the ambition and effort that went into Age of Ultron, there is simply too much going on. It produces a jumbled
mess, with Whedon frantically trying to juggle screen time for the film’s huge cast.
Add in the overly convoluted nature of the plot, and you can almost see the director desperately trying to plug holes to keep his production
To his credit, he manages to sneak in a few nice character moments between the film’s relentless battles. There’s an enjoyable sequence
early on where the team has a party together at Stark Tower. It’s a fun and unique moment that shows these superheroes enjoying a night
off. It’s moments like these that hint at Whedon’s desire to portray the heroes as humans, rather than action figures.
It’s been well-documented that Age of Ultron will be Whedon’s final Marvel project. His recent interviews have been shockingly candid,
citing numerous battles with studio executives over the film. According to Whedon, they went so far as to threaten cutting a sequence at a
farmhouse (One of the few extended, down-to-Earth character moments in the film) if he didn’t include a tangential cave sequence with
Thor that supposedly hints at future installments. “I respect these guys, they’re artists,” Whedon told the Empire Film Podcast, “but that’s
when it got really, really unpleasant.”
It’s a pointless scene in the film, and it’s sad to see a director have to distance himself from his own film because it really isn’t his. (“I was
so beaten down at that point that I was like, ‘Sure, OK — what movie is this?’”)
Given that, it’s no wonder Age of Ultron often seems in conflict with itself. It wants to be darker than the original, but its sense of humor is
even sillier. The director claims he wants to make a more character-driven film, but the sequel is stuffed wall-to-wall with so many action
setpieces that the audience is numb to them by the final act.
These sequences do get a much needed boost from composer Danny Elfman, who was brought in to replace much of Brian Tyler’s score at
the last minute. A little research shows that just about every triumphant moment can be attributed to Elfman. He does an exceptional job
adapting Alan Silvestri’s theme from the original and adding his own unique twist.
As expected, production value is also exceptional, with stunning visual effects and superb sound.
Even with its spectacular scale and lovable characters, Age of Ultron is a disappointment. It’s inferior to the original in almost every way,
with far less of its thrilling heroism and sharp pacing.
Moreover, the story of the production is even more frustrating, as the elements in the film that work well were seemingly not valued by the
producers and executives at Marvel Studios. Their clashing with directors is becoming a troubling theme. (See: Alan Taylor’s rumored
ousting from Thor: The Dark World and Edgar Wright’s departure from the upcoming Ant-Man)
Avengers: Age of Ultron is an enjoyable film, but one that seems like it should have been much better. The sad part is that it probably could
have been had the studio trusted the director that gave them their biggest hit of all time.
We’ll never know for sure, however, and Age of Ultron will go down as a serviceable, but underwhelming sequel.
* * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark
Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
Music by: Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman
Cinematography by: Ben Davis
Released: May 1, 2015; 141 Minutes