It’s big, it’s loud, it’s stuffed to the rafters with explosions and crashes and fights and stuff. It’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to 2012’s The Avengers and the 11th film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, this 2015 action popcorn spectacle features a slew of characters and plays every bit like the sequel and/or bridge movie that it’s supposed to be.
By now, everyone knows that these sorts of blockbuster pictures are commodities designed for maximum box office impact. That’s fine, but Whedon and Co. still have a job to do in cobbling together the pieces of Avengers: Age of Ultron into something that functions as halfway interesting. They accomplish that, to a degree, but any actual humanity or life can be hard to find.
The movie opens with the Avengers taking on a Hydra base in hopes of tracking down Loki’s sceptre. They find Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), two superhumans angry at Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) for their parents’ deaths at the hands of his many weapons. Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) use the sceptre’s gem to activate a global defence program.
Said global defence program turns out to be Ultron, voiced by James Spader. And said Ultron wants to eradicate humanity to achieve global peace, so he attacks the Avengers and makes off with the sceptre to upgrade his form and activate an army of robots. The superhero team springs into action to stop Ultron’s nefarious plans.
The Avengers team includes Iron Man, Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There are also former agents of the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Colbie Smulders). And there are friends of the Avengers, like War Machine (Don Cheadle) and others.
This horde is thrown into a blender, with wrangling and romantic entanglements providing the obligatory meat of Avengers: Age of Ultron. But it mostly feels hopelessly haphazard, like the relationship between Banner and the Black Widow that mostly focuses on how the good doctor can’t quite control the big green guy within and how she can’t have kids and is therefore a comparable freak.
There’s also some infighting, which presents some unique opportunities that aren’t explored with much depth. Stark’s propensity for technology is juxtaposed against Captain America’s more “organic” approach, plus Iron Man’s notions of protecting the world with some kind of barrier is a loopy but logical extension of the man’s mentality.
But these strands are pushed into the larger whole and pressed into service of the destruction porn stylings of Whedon, who crafts cityscape after cityscape with the sole intention of ripping it down. He also eliminates any moral opacity by going to great lengths to show that a city or building is nearly hollowed out of people, thus ensuring the audience can enjoy the big bangs without flinching.
Consider how Stark has to tangle with a rioting Hulk throughout a city. Consider how he scans a building to ensure it’s empty of puny humans being driving the green dude through it. Ignore everything else. This happens again at the end of the picture, with time spent clearing out a city before the Avengers and their enemies blow it the hell apart.
These shrieking action sequences are everything in Avengers: Age of Ultron, even if Whedon tries to stuff in some personal stuff and has the characters snap off one-liners. Funnily enough, the best moments come from Renner’s Hawkeye as he makes fun of how downright silly everything gets. “I have a bow and arrow…nothing makes sense,” he tells Olsen’s character.
Now, it’s clear that what was once the property of “nerds” on the undercarriage of popular culture is now popular culture itself. And it’s clear that the mainlining of comic book characters will continue to rip the delicate plumes off the source material until nothing’s left. But to what end does Avengers: Age of Ultron contribute to the destruction and/or elevation of the genre?
That’s harder to measure. In most ways, this is just another comic book movie. It’s overstuffed and often sticky, like in its non-treatment of female characters. But it’s also as loud and impatient and stupid-colourful as a Michael Bay movie, only better by a few degrees because there’s more to “like” in the final analysis. Whatever that means.