The first two paragraphs of this review were written several days in advance of the reviewer actually seeing the movie, to sum the reviewer’s feelings going in.
3 years ago The Avengers hit the culture sphere like a cattle prod to the base of the spine. With the exception of the two Iron Man films, Marvel studios had been having trouble making a big smash blockbuster, having to mostly content itself with solid, if financially and critically unremarkable, hits. Then The Avengers came along, giving us our first real taste of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be, and smashing box office records along the way.
But despite it being the lead in to the overall much better second phase of the MCU, I find myself less excited for the sequel than I was for the first one. A large part of that is just market saturation. The Avengers was one of only 5 or so superhero properties in 2012, whereas 2015 has nearly a dozen including TV shows and Netflix series. And honestly, with the even greater deluge intended for 2016, I’m starting to grow tired of them. But none of that really matters to whether this movie lives up to the original.
Okay, actual review starts now.
The plot is devoted to the Avengers, aka Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, aka those dudes from the first movie. In the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D. being disbanded in Winter Soldier, they’re wandering around the planet raiding Hydra’s old safehouses, looking for Loki’s scepter. As the movie opens, they’ve discovered it in a Russian safehouse (or maybe not Russian…Russian-esque) which also happens to house two of Hydra’s human experiments: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen).
After Scarlet Witch gives Iron Man a vision in which Earth is destroyed and the other Avengers killed because he failed to act, he tries to create an artificial Iron Man, to police and protect the world. Unfortunately, he creates Ultron, a robot who has read the Necron codex too many times and decides that the best way to protect humanity is to wipe it out, or at least damage it enough to make it evolve.
So I don’t waste the time of people who just want my raw opinion: there is no metric by which this movie is not a fairly major disappointment. It’s by no means a terrible or even a particularly bad movie, in fact it’s probably a good one (if not great) but it’s a fairly major step down from the first one and one of the weaker Marvel movies in recent years.
The biggest problem, the one that is at the root of all the other issues, is the pacing. The movie is moving WAY too fast, jumping from scene to scene at a moment’s notice. I feel like, given that director Joss Whedon left Marvel after this movie, that it got cut down pretty heavily in post production, possibly as part of a studio mandate to push for a higher percentage of action (as if it needed it).
That seems like a minor issue, but it digs its way into everything else. The story seems sloppy and overly reliant on deus ex machinas because it’s moving too fast for me to figure out where characters come from and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Thor shows up at one point to do something absolutely vital, despite having been absent from the plot for 20 minutes and over 3,000 miles away and I have no idea why he came back, or why he decided to do what he does (although the winner for that has to be Nick Fury’s third act contribution).
It shows up in the action scenes too. It’s tempting to say that I kept such good track of the action in The Avengers because the climax took place in a city where I actually lived for a while, but it’s also because the action had a very consistent sense of geography. There were multiple moments in Age of Ultron where I was completely lost as to where everyone was in relationship to each other.
The character work similarly suffers from the film’s inability to slow down. Iron Man’s character arc eventually reverses its position, Bruce’s eventually just sort of sputters out (and is mostly a repeat of his arc from the first Avengers), and Steve doesn’t even seem to have one. On the other hand, Clint’s arc is pretty solid, maybe a little cliched (can’t say more without spoiling) but it works. And it’s nice to see my favorite character getting some actual screen time (yes, Hawkeye is my favorite character, shut up).
But, on the other hand, no one, but no one, gets the short end of the stick like Black Widow. I don’t want to spoil, but taking one of the handful of female characters in the MCU whose presence and identity aren’t tied into a male character and shoving her into a romance would be bad enough. But the writing and choice of partner just feel so goddamn forced. I’d buy her in a romance with Pepper Potts before I’d buy this romance.
The new characters are up and down, mostly down. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch hang around the periphery of the plot, causing or solving lots of problems but never really getting a ton of depth. Ultron is fun in concept but he wears his influences too proudly on his sleeves and never really evolves beyond it (plus I’m unsure of what his exact power set was). There’s another new character, but he doesn’t show up until act 3 and thus can’t really get much in the way of characterization.
Well now that I’ve spent the better part of 600 words whinging, I do want to say there’s a lot to like about this film. The action is, aside from the poor geography, very well directed. All of the actors are still great in their roles and just speaking for me, it’s nice to get to see the Hulkbuster armor in action (…I like the Hulkbuster armor, okay?).
In fact, overall I still rather enjoyed it. So why did I spend the vast majority of this review whining? Because I don’t need to tell anyone to go see this movie. Because its direct predecessor is the third highest grossing movie of all time, and one of the most wildly entertaining blockbusters ever made, and if this movie doesn’t break a billion worldwide, I’ll be shocked. So while this movie is solid if flawed, I feel like examining its flaws is more interesting than telling you to go see it. You’re gonna go see it. In fact, odds are you already have.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he was lied to about how much Falcon and War Machine are in this movie.
– good action scenes
– solid acting
– great special effects
– Hawkeye is actually in it!
– paced way too fast
– character work is sloppy
– not enough Falcon or War Machine