(A movie review! We know, it’s something we’re experimenting with, let us know what you think and would you like to see more movies on CnG?)
Joss Whedon has claimed that Avengers: Age of Ultron is “baldly, nakedly me” and it is crystal clear that when Elisabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch makes her flittering, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it disappearance through a door mere minutes in that you’re definitely not in standard blockbuster territory. In Whedon we have a director who has championed sci-fi and horror throughout his career and he is unashamedly flexing those muscles here and you know what – it works.
Visually, Age of Ultron is a treat. The choreography of handling so many characters and carnage on screen is really something to be applauded and the dark hallucinations brought on by the aforementioned Scarlet Witch are simply beautiful. It’s dark when it has to be and, shock horror, a blockbuster that doesn’t set every action scene at night? Unheard of these days. The 3D, as utterly pointless as 3D remains, is unobtrusive and never jarring which is always a bonus too. There is an incredible fluidity to the battle scenes which sees our protagonists (who must be into double figures now) switch weapons, combine powers and gleefully swing out of each other in ways reminiscent of the Marvel vs Capcom series of videogames. When Stark’s Hulkbuster suit comes out to play, let’s just say the trailer does a wonderful job of giving absolutely nothing away as to how fucking RAD the entire scene is. I, too, will say nothing. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
Taking such joy in the destruction and chaos comes with its own downfall however as Whedon’s faults become apparent. Iron Man saving people stuck in a lift but then firing plasma cannons with no accuracy whatsoever amongst large crowds clash within moments of each other. While we’re supposed to care about the human race and how to save it from Ultron’s end-game of extinction, the “big set-piece” is more important to the director. As is the now norm, the enemy-du-jour are faceless, metallic clones of each other so the delight of seeing heads carved in two, limbs rendered and God-knows-what Hulk is doing is a little reductive. Minor quibbles to otherwise thoroughly engaging action sequences I must point out.
If Whedon has grown immeasurably as a director, he has unfortunately stagnated as a writer. The dialogue, not always but enough to be noticed, is clunky and soulless. His attempt to bring together the team of misfits (something prevalent in almost all his work) falls well-short of other recent ensemble pieces, most topical of all the Fast & Furious series which delights in its ham-tastic approach. Age of Ultron never goes full ham but neither does it give any real gravitas to the drama between the characters. The emphasis on Ultron’s motive to split them up is constantly referenced but there’s nothing to split up in the first place. I just do not believe these people have any interest in each other. I don’t mean they don’t like each, I just mean they probably don’t have each other’s phone numbers. There is a water-cooler banter between them which seems horribly forced. While a lot of this could be put down to the script it doesn’t help that the two Chris’ performances are bafflingly poor. Hemsworth is constantly reigning in the true comedic nature of Thor being a pastiche of Norse mythology and as for Evan’s Captain America – I can’t think of a more boring character on screen since Tom Hanks in anything Tom Hanks has ever done. Unfortunately Whedon gives them most of the snappy one-liners which then completely miss the mark. There is a levity to proceedings which is welcomed however and James Spader’s deliciously droll Ultron is unpredictable and worthy adversary.
This, however, leads me to the true stand-outs. This is Jeremy Renner’s film. Finally given enough screen-time to show what an accomplished actor he’s become, he manages to anchor not just the team on screen but the film as a whole. He wilfully strides out of the shadows here and from the excellent James Bond-esque, pre-credits scene onwards he becomes the heart of everything, something that was sorely lacking in the first movie. ScarJo puts in a well-balanced and nicely nuanced performance too, as Black Widow, which is a sentence I never thought I would write. If you can get past Olsen’s hilariously poor 1990’s Eastern European accent, her descent into Elvira territory is brilliantly put together by the costume and make-up team. Whedon just cannot keep the camera away from close-ups of her being a little sad but to be honest I’m perfectly fine with that.
This is without doubt a flawed film but both Marvel fans and Whedon-ites will absolute flip for it. I was delighted to see so many genre tropes, flickers of horror here and there, nods to Terminator and Stan Lee’s best cameo yet. I have no idea if it will hold up on repeat viewings but I had a blast with it first time around, something I can’t say about many of the MCU movies. I’m finally sold on Joss Whedon as a director too; the man can create chaos in a wonderful way, but as a writer…better call Drew Goddard for Infinity Wars there, Joss. That’s not for a while though, for now the bar has been set for the summer of 2015 very early and it’s been set very high. This is going to be a huge, huge success and deservedly so.