It’s all Joss Whedon’s fault! He made The Avengers in 2012 and set the bar for the comic-book movie genre
with his ingenious, funny writing and engaging interplay of superheroes. He’s
the reason I had high hopes for Age of
Ultron, even though it bears the burden of being a sequel. But I’m sorry to
say I came away disappointed. Long, loud, and confoundingly cluttered, the film
shows stress cracks early on, as it tries to disturb the temporary harmony its
characters achieved in the first film, just so Whedon can pull them back
together for a rousing finale. It doesn’t quite work.
Yes, it’s fun to see the Marvel stars at odds with each
other, spouting wisecracks galore. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man is as
self-centered as ever, and draws Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/The Incredible
Hulk into his daring scheme to harness an artificial intelligence. Chris
Hemsworth’s single-minded Thor and Chris Evans’ straight-arrow Captain America
don’t like the results, while Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black
Widow have their own reactions to the chaos.
As if it weren’t enough to juggle six leading players (along
with Nick Fury, Rhodie Rhodes, et al), Age
of Ultron introduces four major new characters. Ultron is the ultimate
adversary, a superbrain without a conscience
in a humanoid body; he’s performed with relish by the great James
Spader. Fold in two disaffected younger people (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson)
with dubious accents from a battered Eastern European country called Sokovia who seek revenge on our American heroes, and
an eerie entity known as Vision (Paul Bettany) whose purpose and identity
shouldn’t be spoiled here.
That’s not all: Whedon throws in a newly-minted romantic subplot
and a family backstory for Hawkeye. Was all this really necessary? (Hardcore
Marvel enthusiasts might disagree with me.)
Adding to the muddle is a tsunami of scientific jargon-babble,
spouted mostly by Downey and Ruffalo as their dangerous experiment goes awry.
The movie dares us to follow along toward a lumbering climax in which our
heroes try to save the nation of Sokovia. This culminates in a massive sequence
of destruction and a final challenge for the Avengers but Whedon, of all
people, should know that we can’t root for people we don’t know. The Sokovians never
become characters; they’re just stick figures in a crowd, and this undermines
the dramatic intention of this crucial sequence.
Humor is what set The
Avengers apart from Christopher Nolan’s deadly serious approach to
storytelling, and it’s a major asset once again. The moments of pure fun in the
new movie involve wisecracks tossed back and forth by the Marvel all-stars, who
enjoy needling each other.
But that lightness of touch is sorely missing from the movie
overall, and that’s a shame. The mere presence of the formidable heroes will be
enough to please many fans, and the visual effects are outstanding, but I was
hoping for a film that would provide the complete sense of satisfaction I
derived from The Avengers’ debut
movie. “More” isn’t always “better” and this film is evidence of that.