Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Paul Bettany
Directed By: Joss Whedon
Written By: Joss Whedon, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Marvel, 2015
PG-13; 141 minutes
3.25 stars (out of 5)


If you're wondering why I haven't blogged about this week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's because I wasn't sure if I needed to see this movie first. So I haven't watched S.H.I.E.L.D. yet.

I can officially say I'm no longer impressed with 20+-minute long action sequences. They all look alike, and we've become so used to them they no longer wow. What would wow? Oh, some actual character development and plot.

Can't say they didn't try. This installment in the ever-growing franchise reveals [spoiler alert!] Hawkeye's (aka Clint Barton's) hidden family, namely a wife and two kids with a third on the way, living on a secluded farm. Also, there was an attempt to create some kind of relationship between Dr. Banner and Natasha. But it's all done so perfunctorily that one gleans no actual emotional gratification from it. It isn't organic or made believable through any growth; it's merely dumped in front of the viewers like a lazy waitress drops your meal in front of you, tells you to "enjoy" in a cigarette-scarred voice, and wanders off without any further interest in you.

Thing is, Joss Whedon is usually very good with character, so I suspect this is a classic tug-of-war between meeting the studio demands and doing what he loves and does best. Unfortunately, this compromise doesn't really work for me. All these movies look and sound the same, and there is little to no progress made from one to the next. Same ol' problems. Same ol' solutions.

It's a wonder the Avengers are allowed to operate at all given the amount of damage they do. It's almost a case of the cure being worse than the disease. A protracted fight between Iron Man and Hulk in the middle of Ultron underscores the point. They weren't even fighting a bad guy, just each other. And I don't see why Iron Man didn't just knock Hulk out in the first place (since that seems to have been what settled things some billions of dollars of damage later).

If you're wondering about the story, well, okay . . . We start, of course, mid-action, with the Avengers raiding a bunker in Sokovia. They're looking for the Chitauri Scepter, and they find it, along with the Wonder Twins Maximoff twins Pietro (Quicksilver) and Wanda (Scarlet Witch). The get the scepter; the Maximoffs go free.

By analyzing and using the scepter's power—which is apparently some kind of code or program?—Tony convinces Bruce to attempt to create an A.I. that will work to defend the world so the Avengers won't have to. But of course that goes pretty damn wrong, and we end up with Ultron (Spader), whose solution for making the world safe is to eliminate the humans. By convincing the Maximoffs that his mission is to end the Avengers, Ultron get them on his side. But (in a completely foreseeable flip), once the Maximoffs understand Ultron's true goal, they side with the Avengers. More fighting . . . And ever more fighting . . . And a little more for good measure . . .

One of Scarlet Witch's powers is mental manipulation. Basically, she gives people nightmarish hallucinations by playing on their fears or past pain. I couldn't help but be reminded of Young Sherlock Holmes and the series of hallucination sequences in that film. Sure, it's one of my favorite movies from when I was a kid, but it's pretty bad when a 2015 movie is reminding me of one from 1985. Maybe that says more about my age than anything else, but it also says something about a lack of fresh ideas. Or at least a lack of fresh ways to implement old ideas.

Meanwhile, you'll notice I didn't even list Chris Hemsworth (Thor) on the header. He's conspicuously absent for a large portion of the film, goes off to take some vision bath . . . A truly bizarre subplot that detracts rather than adds to the movie. We get as much or more of Paul Bettany as a physical incarnation of Jarvis known as Vision (thanks to the Mind Stone or whatever . . . I wonder how excited Bettany was to actually be in the movie? Did he call his mom and say, "I actually get screen time!"?)

In the end, what we seem to be left with is turnover. Captain America and Natasha are still there at Avengers HQ, but Banner has gone AWOL, Tony and Thor have taken off, and Barton has gone home to the farm to redo his dining room. Instead we're left with Vision, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and War Machine filling the gaps.

I give Ultron a slightly more than middling score because it is still entertaining and well produced. I mean, it does what it's meant to do, I guess. And has lovely Whedonesque moments of humor. Could have used more of those and fewer fight sequences.

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