by: Jay Carlson
Joss Whedon had his work cut out for him when signed on to direct 2012’s The Avengers. Marvel had a string of hits under its belt, but Whedon had the unenviable task of bringing all those characters together, which tonally should have been a nightmare, but Whedon was successful and The Avengers went on to become one of the biggest hits of all time. I don’t know that many other filmmakers could pull off a feat like that.
It could be argued that in many ways Whedon’s task is even more difficult this time out. He’s now not only responsible for following up one of the biggest films of all time, but having to try and show us something that we haven’t seen before, which is no small feat. THEN On top of just trying to make a great film, he’s also tasked with taking all of the dangling plot threads from the other films and television shows since the Avengers and work it in and make it cohesive as well as dropping in new threads for all the future Marvel films.
Was he successful?
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a perfect summer movie. Is it a perfect movie though? No, but there’s enough to make it an extremely enjoyable experience. The action scenes are top notch and frankly dizzying at times, it really feels as though he’s created images that have leapt off the comic page.
This time out the Avengers have all become very comfortable working as a team, each working off of one another like riffing jazz musicians who are in the zone, making for some really entertaining moments. There came a point early on during the film when I became desensitized to the action, much in the way I became desensitized by breasts while watching Showgirls at 16. (Both things shouldn’t be possible)
Beyond the action, there’s the story to consider. I really loved the journey we saw Tony Stark go through in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, but it feels as if we’re seeing a completely different guy in Age of Ultron. We left Tony executing “Operation Clean Slate” and blowing up all his previous suits, but right off the bat we see that Tony has been busy building a slew of unmanned suits. It’s Tony’s need to turn over peacekeeping to an unmanned AI superhero that becomes his undoing.
The opening action sets the scene as the team take down a Hydra stronghold run by Baron Von Strucker who has been busy since we last saw him at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s here that we are finally introduced to the twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and how powerful they truly are, dismantling the team from inside out.
Renner has still yet to click for me in any way in these films, which is a shame as he is an extremely talented actor. It feels as though Whedon felt the need to overcompensate for his lack of importance in the first film and went the other way, giving him a subplot that gave him more screen time but still felt unimportant to the overall plot. He feels out of his league among the titans of the team, I buy Black Widow in this mix more than I do Hawkeye.
With a film like this, action is the motivating thrust, with story taking a backseat. That’s not to say that the story was lacking, it was fine but it’s obvious that the story is there to serve as a means to bring us to the next big action set piece. One of the rare exceptions was the time that Whedon spends with Natasha, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). They share some of the film’s best moments, but also expose how few of those real character moments Age of Ultron contained.
Whereas the original Avengers felt like the culmination of something that had been building throughout those early films, Age of Ultron feels more like a clever set up for future films. Rather than the film feeling present, it felt like Whedon was under the constraints of having to establish all the new threads for the next phase of Marvel films. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Marvel is doing with this interconnected universe of stories spilling across television and cinema screens, but there are some inherent drawbacks in storytelling in this manner though and Age of Ultron exposes that fact. One of the main reasons Guardians of the Galaxy played so well was that it wasn’t overtly setting up every other Marvel film. It was focused on telling that one story in the best way possible.
Ultimately Avengers: Age of Ultron is a hell of a fun ride with characters I love spending time with. I loved the addition of Vision and Scarlet Witch to this universe, especially and as much as I complain about the film being too much setup, I do like what they’ve set up for the future.
Being able to get the gang together every few years is a treat and I feel fortunate that we live in a time where the impossible is possible on cinema screens. I just hope that future stories don’t become further hampered with setting up what’s coming next so that we can enjoy what’s happening right now.
The film is out tonight, what did you early bird, die-hard fans think?