Glen Falkenstein

Film Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

In his review of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Glen Falkenstein finds equal measures of “The Good, Bad and Ugly”, but overall finds it a whimsical, technically-accomplished, deeply-flawed enthralling beast.

 

There is no question the Avengers sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron will make at least several hundred million at the box office, it’s only a matter of whether it makes a billion.

It barely needs an explanation – director/writer Joss Whedon reunites Iron Man (Downey Jr), Thor (Hemsworth), Captain America (Evans), The Hulk (Ruffalo), Black Widow (Johansson) and Hawkeye (Renner), introduces super-siblings Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksliver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and creates an explosion-heavy, CGI-laden, comic-book drool-fest.

Cast and established cred aside, the latest Marvel entry manages to be good, bad and ugly at the same time – here’s why.

The Good

You could have sat the above cast and creative team in a restaurant and watched them eat for two hours and it would have been an amazing film. Filled with Whedonesque one-liners, tense action and an established ensemble the creators don’t need to waste time re-introducing, Age of Ultron gets straight into it.

The opening and closing action sequences are stand-outs – the film kicks off with a full-cast melee in some non-descript corner of Eastern Europe. We jump between characters and mini-battles in single, fluid shots like we’re flipping through the pages of a comic book. Seeing the Avengers charge their enemies en bloc then breaking off to dispatch foes single-handedly is as delightful as watching the wrangling amongst the team itself. It’s always been a question – who would win in a fight, Thor or Captain America and Whedon treats us to a particularly good scuffle in Africa between The Hulk and Iron Man.

With an original and memorably epic finale, Marvel has again delivered 2+ hours of bliss-filled escapist fantasy.

The Bad

Ultron. The big-bad is a CGI robot menacingly voiced by James Spader who summarily decides that he wants to save humanity by exterminating it. There’s no real motivation here that’s very convincing; no one wants to ply the Earth for natural resources or establish a benevolent dictatorship – Ultron has joined the cavalcade of Marvel villains who turn up just to destroy things and render themselves a useful foil for our heroes.

It gets frustrating watching special effects taunt the team – the very real Tom Hiddleston proved a consummate antagonist in the first Avengers film. Spader would have been great in some form on screen – instead, some of his best lines from the trailers didn’t even make it into the sequel. The huge promise of an unnerving opening sequence where the android emerges from Stark’s laboratory doesn’t pay off – the same issues may face upcoming sequels as a very purple Thanos (Josh Brolin) inevitably takes on the crew.

The Ugly

The Black Widow. Last year, to the great discredit of the superhero genre, the Captain America sequel was the best female-driven superhero movie of 2014, featuring Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff in a supporting role. The long-promise of a Black Widow spin-off has not been fulfilled, and despite the presence of Elizabeth Olsen and an impending Captain Marvel movie, the franchise could have done better with its female leads.

SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother) barely registers, while the absences of both Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) are explained away with a few lines. Natasha spends much of her time hankering for the Hulk, later being taken captive then rescued by her male counterparts from a big castle.

An audience of loyal followers have come to expect better from the creator of Buffy. Even if the traditional comic-book and Avengers fan-base did not include such a high proportion of women as it does today, it’s one of many unfortunate oversights in a generally clever and tightly-scripted franchise.

Missing the tone set so well by last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron, like its antagonist is a whimsical, technically-accomplished, deeply-flawed enthralling beast.

 

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