“They put the building in the middle of the city, so that everyone could be equally close to God. I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of belief.” – Ultron [voiced by James Spader]
After looking forward to the eleventh installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for two years, of course I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron on opening day. The film had all the great action and special effects a big summer movie should have, and, for us comic book geeks, a pretty faithful representation of our favorite characters.
Although not my original intent when creating this blog, it seemed like a no-brainer to do a review now and then, given how big superhero movies have become. Please note that I’ve done my best to keep this review relatively spoiler-free, but I would refrain from reading any further if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know anything about it.
There’s plenty to like here. By now, we all know who these characters are and what makes them tick, so throwing them into a sequel which furthers each of their stories while fighting a new, larger than life villain makes for great fun. After all the commercial and critical successes Marvel Studios has had in building this universe, I really can’t imagine a scenario where Kevin Fiege, Joss Whedon and co. would have botched this.
The action, as usual, is fantastic, and the reason it’s so good is because the characters are front and center. There’s very little action for action’s sake, but plenty of action that furthers the story (something that the rest of Hollywood would do well to remember!). Plus, it just looks beautiful! Sure, the flying city at the end of the movie makes no sense, but I’d pay the price of admission again just to see the camera pan around all the Avengers assembled around the city’s core, protecting it from rampaging robots at the end of the movie. Great stuff, as we’ve come to expect.
As far as story and script are concerned, Whedon was faced with the unenviable task of juggling an already huge cast carried over from the first film while adding no less than five new characters to the group. I’d say for the most part he succeeds. We get Whedon’s trademark sharp dialogue, while giving every character at least a little time in the spotlight, something much easier said than done.
Perhaps the strongest part of the film, however, is the dynamics the new characters bring to the group, most notably the Vision. Is there anyone who didn’t love seeing him casually pick up Thor’s hammer, after a lengthy discussion earlier in the film about no one being worthy enough to lift it? One of many brilliant moments provided by Whedon while being played ably by Paul Bettany, it condensed an entire plotline- trusting a new member- in ten seconds.
While the shared universe that all these characters inhabit is half the fun of these movies (and comics, for that matter), I found it to be AoU’s biggest weakness. Yes, Whedon did a good job of giving every character a few nice moments, but given how many characters there are in this movie, it got tiresome. Despite being an ensemble cast, it might have helped if there was one character whose eyes the audience saw the events through, like Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, or Xavier in X-Men: First Class. Couple that with the fact that a great deal of the film is meant to set up the next phase of Marvel movies (currently planned through 2018), and the overall product is weakened as its own story. “Setup episodes” work great for television, not so much for movies.
Also, some of the motivations of the characters feel very stretched- most notably why Tony Stark created Ultron in the first place- perhaps in part due to the amount of other plotlines in the film. I heard a rumor that 40 minutes were cut for the theatrical release of the film. Here’s hoping a director’s cut is eventually released which will give us a more comprehensive look at the movie.
Ultron sees himself as a solution to a great problem. One might even go so far as to say he exhibits a Messiah complex (complete with sitting in a chair of a generic-looking, Eastern Orthodox-esque church when we first see him). He frequently mentions that everything he does is for the benefit of planet earth, and that humanity will never succeed at realizing the planet’s potential. Of course, this makes for effective storytelling, since the villain is most often who the action of the story revolves around- the stronger the villain’s motivation, the stronger the story. In this case, the villain believes his mission is to protect the earth, and the only way to protect the planet is by eliminating biological life. A warped idea, sure, but then, what real-life bad guy ever sees themselves as a bad guy?
I am convinced more and more that there is no such thing as a bad person. But there is such a thing as a misguided one. No human being is inherently evil, we are each created good. How then, does one explain evil things done in the world? At the risk of oversimplifying, I believe evil things occur when one places oneself above others, either in the name of our own self-interests, or a warped system of morality, or perhaps without even realizing it. There is no easy answer, of course, but in all these examples, I’m inclined to believe that the individual or group is chasing what they believe to be some kind of benefit, not because they want to do something deliberately evil.
Is there a little Ultron within us, or at the very least, some voice that says we are better than others, or we matter more? These questions are part of what makes us human- the struggle of good vs. evil- and make for thought-provoking storytelling.
Not without its flaws, but overall, Age of Ultron is a solid chapter in a great saga. Grade: B
– Father Niko