Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron
I recently saw the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers). It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old. I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.
By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Ultron is a movie based on Marvel comic books that falls at the end of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie is the eleventh in the film series, which also includes nearly two seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a television series), one season of Agent Carter (also a television series), Daredevil (a Netflix series), and five Marvel One-Shot films. Needless to say, this film is deeply entrenched in a clearly established, long running, and sprawling interconnected media universe. I point this out at the outset as I think a lot of the criticism this movie has received forgets this fact.
Now, like anything else, a review of a movie really depends on what one expects from it. This movie is not deep, complex, or profound cinema. It does not have remarkable acting. This is a science-fiction action movie based on comics books and should be measured accordingly.
This movie is really good in that it does not fall victim to a lot movies of this type, which includes bad acting (saying it does not have bad acting is not the same thing as saying it has remarkable acting), an incomprehensible and/or non-existent plot (the plot is pleasingly straight forward), terrible dialogue (the dialogue is actually very good as it continues the fun, light hearted and quippy dialogue from the first Avengers movie), and scenes which engage in way too much expository.
If the viewer is a comic book fan and/or Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, this movie hits all the right spots. This movie is nearly top to bottom action and almost all of it is really well done. One of my friends said that after this movie one may feel like he needs a nap because there is just so much happening.
This film finds the team united and fighting missions together and opens with a great action sequence showing the team in action. So, unlike the previous film which had to spend most of the film showing how the team gathered together, this film opens with them already being a well oiled machine. As a result, one sees a lot of the action sequences and team work hoped for by the end of the previous film, as well as their team camaraderie. Therefore, this film also dispenses with any explanations as to the team members’ powers, motives, and history, as all of those things have already been established in prior films.
As this film is part of a larger and ongoing series of movies, not only does it fail to explain a lot of the past (as noted above) it does not take a lot of time to flesh out various brief references to things as Marvel is confident those things will be fleshed out in future films or television shows. So, for example, there are passing references to the Infinity Gems without explanation, but the viewer is presumed to know what they are (from prior movies and television shows) and to have confidence more information will come in future films and television shows. Another example is the 5 minute (or so) scene featuring Ulysses Klaw. You learn a little about him here but his scenes really do not add anything significant to the film. For the uninitiated, his scenes seem superfluous in an already full movie, but for those “in the know” his scenes are an obvious set up for the upcoming Black Panther movie and possibly others (like Captain America: Civil War). Also, when I first heard about the full cast in this movie which, in addition to the Avengers line up from the previous film and Ultron (the bad guy), also includes three new superheros (Quicksilver, Scarlett Witch, and the Vision), Helen Cho, the Falcon, War Machine, and Agent Hill (and others), I got concerned that this film would fall prey to what afflicted Spider-Man 3 and the later Batman films in Burton series, which was way too many characters crammed into a film. Fortunately, despite the long list of characters, they do not weigh the film down as there is no imminent need to flesh them all out in this film in particular as Marvel is confident future films will do the job. Merely adding in those puzzle pieces for the purposes of advancing the story of this particular film suffices for the moment.
After seeing this movie, the fact that this movie is part of a huge serialized movie franchise really hit home and why some of the criticism leveled at it is unfair. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, I think, a new way of movie/television entertainment that, as far as I know, has never been done before. Some of the criticism I have seen complains that there is not enough character development for some characters (e.g.: Baron Strucker), not enough for others to do (e.g.: War Machine), random superfluous scenes (e.g.: the Klaw scenes), and too many characters (e.g.: introducing the Vision). What I think these critics forget is that this movie is not a stand alone film; those “missing” features will be developed in future films or television shows. It is not even a “middle film” in a trilogy. It is just a cog (albeit a larger one) in a huge wheel of movies, television shows, and characters. It does not need to meet all of the needs noted above because other films or television shows will do it or have done it already and to expect those things from this movie is to expect something it was never designed to deliver. This new way of movie making really, I think, ought to be viewed as if it was a really large, well produced, and enormously budgeted television series. One would not make the criticisms like the ones above for a middle-season episode of a television show. So, I see no reason why they should be made for a serialized film of this nature.
Is this film perfect? No. I have to say that at some point “saving the world” becomes just another day at the office, and that, I think, really takes the wind out of the sales of this movie in terms of suspense or impact. We all know the world is not going to end and all of the characters have future movies to appear in so nothing too terrible will happen. Perhaps that is why the threats in the individual movies, though smaller in scale, are a little more compelling as they seem to have real consequences. When everything is world ending it gets a little tiresome and trite. It may be a minor thing, but I am disappointed Ultron does not look like his comic book counterpart. I never envisioned him with lips and speaking like a human, much less having the smarmy, sarcastic, and snarky demeanor of James Spader, complete with a series of one-liners. I would also like to point out that the trailers for this movie have features (and even scenes) which are not in this movie, which is annoying. Also, Ultron’s army of robots was rather silly. When you see their sheer numbers it may seem to be challenge for our intrepid heroes to defeat them all, but when you realize that they all crumple like soda cans, you realize that maybe Ultron should have spent a little more time on R & D before be created them. Of course, where Ultron gets the time, energy, and resources needed to create himself, much less his huge army of robots, is never really explained, which is a little annoying to me. Also, despite all the buildup about Strucker in the SHIELD television show (and the mid-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), I was rather disappointed to see how little he was in the movie. Finally, although I acknowledge the serialized nature of this movie franchise above, I was under the impression that the individual movies would all serve as plot and character development which would each culminate in an Avengers movie which would in turn break out into further development in individual films and return to culminate those developments again into the next Avengers movie and so on. This movie did not do that. This movie seems just “there” in that it does not seem to be the culmination of the Phase Two movies like the first Avengers movie was the culmination of the Phase One movies. I guess this movie serves to introduce some important new characters and formally establish the mind gem and set up the events for future films, but any Marvel movie could do that. I really had greater expectations for an Avengers movie than just serving to advance the story. I expected it to be the next turning point in the story like the first one was.
All-in-all Marvel has another winner on its hands even though the events in the movie were not quite as pivotal as I was hoping them to be. It is worth seeing if only for the sheer spectacle and, if one is a fan of these characters and/or the movie series, it is a lot of fun and really enjoyable.