Avengers: Age of Ultron
Opens Fri., May 1. Rated PG-13. Written and directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
When I excitedly proclaimed to a friend of mine that I’d be reviewing Age of Ultron (and thus, seeing it early) he had only three words for me. “Don’t be biased.”
It was a fair request. I started reading comic books at age 7 and have three Marvel tattoos, one of which is actually the Marvel logo. I’m literally branded.
Simply put, I’m a Marvel fan.
Age of Ultron, which marks the 11th (11th!) cinematic outing for Marvel Studios, is the 11th time I’ve assembled at my earliest convenience (usually Thursday at midnight) to enjoy the sight, sound and spectacle of the now-Disney-owned studio’s offerings.
In 2008, it was Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., played by Tony Stark. Or the other way around?) and The Incredible Hulk (then played by Edward Norton, though the diva’s since been recast by the incredible Mark Ruffalo). 2010 saw Iron Man 2, fleshing out Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and introducing the world to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.
The following year brought Thor (and the now-Sexiest Man Alive’s Chris Hemsworth), with a Hawkeye cameo (played by Jeremy Renner, arguably miscast, though underutilized). 2011 also saw Chris Evans perfectly don the star-spangled shield in Captain America: The First Avenger.
But the world was ready for more than just the first Avengers. It wanted them all, and there was no greater evidence of this than Marvel’s The Avengers, 2012’s unprecedented feature, written and directed by Joss Whedon (who returns for the sequel in both capacities). It united each of the actors above, fulfilled every fanboy’s dream, and as the third highest-grossing film of all time, managed to make a few bucks.
Since then, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America (in The Winter Soldier, arguably the strongest of Marvel’s films) have had popular, cinematic universe-expanding and top dollar-grossing sequels, and moviegoers have been introduced to the Guardians of the Galaxy (arguably the most fun of Marvel’s films).
What made Guardians so unexpected was that it did exactly the opposite of the wildly successful Avengers, introducing moviegoers to a team of individuals all at once rather than through a series of other films. And it worked, even with a talking tree and raccoon. So with Age of Ultron, could the studio come back down to earth?
Well, Houston. We might have a problem.
The film sees the introduction of the James Spader-voiced titular character Ultron, a robot both comical and homicidal, as well as the quirky, quippy speedster Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and mind-altering, telekinetic Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, proving amongst her family that the third time’s the charm for acting classes). We’re introduced to Paul Bettany, who’s voiced artificial intelligence J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Iron Man films, as well as Avengers, who takes a physical form in the character of the beautifully rendered, beautifully portrayed Vision. But whereas Bettany’s Vision is well-realized, that of writer-director Whedon starts to grow thin, like the air upon atmospheric re-entry.
Whedon’s strength, the quiet moments amidst summer movie blockbuster chaos, are too few and far between to balance the almost absurd level of action. So much so that, even when a quiet moment hits to explore characters who don’t have solo films — like Renner’s Hawkeye or Johansson’s Widow — you’re happier than the Avengers are to take a breather.
The movie won’t disappoint in sensory stimulation, and you need only turn on your television or head to Google for the clips and trailers to prove it. Tony Stark’s “Hulkbuster” armor takes on the Hulk, Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer take down legions of robots, and Ultron levels city and hero alike. It’s a visual feast in true Marvel fashion.
But at this, the 11th hour, it’s clear that Whedon was a bit leveled himself: tasked with closing out threads from the last Iron Man, Thor and Captain America sequels, as well as setting up the next slate of Marvel films, to the detriment of much of the heart, charm and charisma that his first film brought to the fold. (The next slate of films, by the way, has been announced through the year 2019 — including the two-part Avengers: Infinity War, which Whedon will not return to helm.)
There’s plenty to love in Age of Ultron, and most will love it. It’s my hope that upon a second viewing, which I still look forward to and already have tickets for, I’ll be able to watch it without the nagging awareness that despite what 2012’s Avengers showed us, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are far more interesting apart than assembled.