The Marvel machine rolls on with the international box office at its mercy as the Avengers assemble for a second time to give a beat down to scores of faceless clunks of metal led by an under-used villain with so much potential – basically the first movie, No? It would have been a tad disingenuous of me to have been expecting something different.
The Avengers movies are the old school reunions where we take a break from the issues of the solo movies to unite and have but at an arduous 180 minutes, surely there was some room for some concrete stuff or some semblance of a story on basic level. I did approach this film with some degree of my negativity which is grounded in some personal predilections like my growing disdain PG13 CGI violence and my cynicism towards the studio execs, but the film knows its audience and screenings will be filled with people who enjoy this film with watering mouths and blissful eyes.
The Avengers; Age of Ultron beckons the denouement of the phase 2 of the Marvel cinematic universe whilst also inducing some sense of panic in some film purists and some semblance of fatigue in others. Phase 3 awaits us over the next 3 years with offerings ranging from Captain America: Civil War to Black Panther and more and yours truly will play his part in fuelling the Marvel machine whilst masked in a shroud of sanctimonious cynicism. My main problem with this film is the fact that it’s ultimately just product. Joss Whedon and co are hardly Michael Bay types and we do get snippets of humour and invention but forget Ultron, the real villain is the big red Marvel machine.
I won’t devote much time to the plot because it is blandly contrived and technologically conceited chaff and as rubbish as the opening drab CGI-laden action sequence. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have been experimenting, behind their teams back, with an artificial intelligence programme that could serve as the ultimate defence for earth against any potential superhuman and powerful extra-terrestrial foes – an iron suit for the world. It has some parallels with The Winter Soldiers riff on the post 9-11 dogma that saw a Pandora’s Box opened in the name of security and peace but of course they screwed up and birthed the rouge megalomaniac bundle of extra-terrestrial data that becomes Ultron.
That’s as much by way of coherence plot wise because there really is no story here and we are just being served a product in the shape of the characters with little room for any proper storytelling or creative influence. Thankfully we do have Joss Whedon seemingly helming affairs and he does spin the films emphasis on character to its advantage. The Thor, Iron Man and Captain America characters are pretty much the same so refer to any old reviews but the film does try to milk something from the newer cast which keeps us engaged and interested in the film.
We are introduced to Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his twin, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). They possess the abilities of super speed and telekinesis respectively or as one character puts it; “he’s fast, she’s weird”. These two characters had a seemingly defining encounter with Tony Stark during their childhood which shaped them and their desire for penance against Stark. It is through the Scarlet Witch and her mind manipulation abilities that that we get a sense of the inner workings of some of our Avengers with fears and vulnerabilities spilled out to the audience. We even get a glimpse of Natasha Romanov’s (Scarlett Johansson) dark past in an intriguing reveal. “To what point?” I hear some ask. Beats me.
Mark Ruffalo is again at his troubled and quasi-pensive best as Dr Bruce Banner and a beauty and the beast type relationship has developed between Romanov and himself and some have cheekily tagged Johansson’s character the Hulk Whisperer stemming from her tender handling of the raging green monster. There seems to be some intimacy developing between the two which permeates whatever demons may have forged them and there is some semblance of a love affair on our hands. One of the oddest character, by virtue of his surprisingly sizeable screen time, is Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton/Hawkeye.
We spend what feels like way too much time with the B list avenger but I did welcome the almost surreal journey into his simple life which ties in with his basic (albeit lethal) skill which is archery – a far cry from the complex roots of and abilities of his teammates. The attempts at character development are commendable but never fully realized because even the marathon running time isn’t enough to sell us completely on what Whedon tries to realize. Everyone demands screen time so much so that the cast are stealing the film from each other especially in the action sequences that involved nonsensically self-aware hyper cross cuts between the various characters in the heat of battle with an almost impossible number of cameras angles complementing the CGI.
Marvel films have consistently served up remarkably underwhelming villains and for me, the success of this film was going to hinge on the handling of the big bad Ultron. This deranged metallic chunk of AI is brought to life by the enthralling voice of James Spader who is somewhat a blessing and a curse to the mammoth Marvel Villain. On the one hand Spader has the gravitas to make Ultron as fascinating and intimidating as he ought with the script providing him with darkly comic quips following monologues centred on the extinction of the human race.
On the other hand, we get too much actual Spader to the extent that it basically becomes a cybernetic Red Reddington (which isn’t a bad thing because I love me some Spader) meaning we leave the film with no original vision of the character. Ultron comes off as all talk and no action and you will be hard-pressed to find an iconic visual or moment to tie him to. He however does come with some interesting ideas that give perceptive audiences something to muse over as he has this overarching Old Testament God complex about him. He creates and desires a world populated solely by minions in his own likeness and image and subtle parallels are drawn with the Old Testament God’s disappointment with the human race leading to his genocidal predilections. Ultron is a character ripe for interpretation and you may sniff some Dr. Frankenstein riffs as far as Stark’s relationship with his creation who is a projection of himself.
It’s the play on some ideas that keep me from tagging Marvels latest film ostensibly soulless and I do see a script that may have been going somewhere but the mark left on me and audiences will be that of the big red machine stifling all semblance of creativity with sequences and characters aimed at selling action figures. On set production reports already conditioned my outlook of this film and I am thrilled Whedon is leaving the studio that disingenuously claims to be a custodian of the source material.
Again I hearken back to this film just being product and the suffocating marketing which may have ruined the best part of this film for those who still religiously watch trailers – the character of Vision. Vision affords this film the opportunity to end on a high with best moments of humor and dialogue surrounding him whilst also serving as a conduit for Whedon’s humanist outlook which provides us with break for thought.
This film is packed to the brim despite no real story to tell and delivers the earth shattering battles amidst egregious spectacle. I won’t deny some action sequences blew me away but I have no patience for this new brand of CGIxploitation which disregards the visceral and intimate nature of proper action.
The masses will have fun with this and good on them but Marvel studios raised my expectations with their previous phase 2 offerings and I want to say they dropped the ball but I’m also tempted to say they never even cared. I’m just grateful the film engaged me on an intellectual level in spite of the lowest common denominator action fare.