Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Film Review, a movie directed Joss Whedon, and starring James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Evans, Paul Bettany, Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Julie Delpy, Hayley Atwell, and Linda Cardellini.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a follow-up film that does not eclipse the original. Surpassing the original is a feat few films (The Dark Knight, The Godfather 2, Aliens) have accomplished. Avengers: Age of Ultron will not be added to that list. The Avengers is superior in many ways, most-notably in its subtleties and nuisances, elements not found in this film. In The Avengers, there was something lurching in the shadows, a “Phantom Menace” if you will. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, what the viewer saw was what they got.
Avengers: Age of Ultron was a self-aware film but there were moments when it turned that disadvantage into an advantage, e.g. Tony Stark: “What’s the Vibranium for?” Ultron: “I’m glad you asked that. I’d like to take this moment to tell you my evil plan.”
Then there was the inexplicable and nonsensical about the film: Ultron (James Spader) knew the Avengers would show up to the Vibranium deal (or at least thought they might) and had a mental manipulation contingency plan in place with the twins (Scarlett Witch and Quick Silver). If Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) could get that close to each Avenger, why not kill them? Manipulating Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), the killer of their family, was a means to an end, but what ultimate purpose did letting the others live service? This plan, Ultron’s if-The-Avengers-show-up contingency plan, was the plan of an unthoughtout child. Pulling The Avengers’ ‘strings’ served no goal. If the murky end game was: distraction, disbandment, disillusionment, resignations, you name it, why not just kill them and be done with the nuance once and for all?
When Avengers: Age of Ultron needed to, it became the James Bond films of old: the clearest, most effective path to victory avoided, convoluted plans carried out until the bad guy (or android and mutants in this case) ran himself and the bloated plan into the ground (e.g. Ultron commandeers one of Tony Stark’s stealth Avengers planes in the third act of the film and instead of flying away from the battle field in it, thwarting The Avengers plans for him, and living to fight another day, he decided to go on bombing runs.).
The main problem with Avengers: Age of Ultron was its antagonist, Ultron. His anger toward Tony Stray was groundless. Tony Stark hadn’t done anything malicious toward Ultron yet Ultron demonstrated an almost deep-seeded hatred for him, going so far as to maim someone for daring to insinuate that he was one of Stark’s mindless automatons.
The script for the Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t give Ultron’s Tony Stark animosity one shred of credence. In effect, Ultron’s anger had no origin story and thus rendered him 2-dimensional and ultimately forgettable. Since there was no reason for Ultron to act petulant with regards to Tony Stark, besides being a new born, parts of his behavior and actions, e.g. the aforementioned maiming, were never be explained. If Ultron were John Doe from David Fincher‘s Seven, that would be okay (i.e. his present actions were more interesting than who he was and his past), but that villain is in a significantly higher echelon than Ultron.
For all of his bark, Ultron was never as sinister or as devoted to evil as Darth Vader. He was also not as clever, manipulative, or as charismatic as The Governor. Ultron was, however, witty, introspective, and verbose. The problem was that these traits were not good enough for the cadre and caliber of opponents he faced. Great heroes need great villains and Ultron was not as mighty as his competition, not in the way Loki had been with his ‘gift’ from Thanos. Ultron recognized his deficiency and tried to become what was necessary to overcome his adversaries through The Vision but was not allowed to. This prevention hamstrung one aspect of the film (the foe) and bolstered others (the hero roster, fan-boy wishes, etc.). If Ultron had been allowed to complete The Vision upload, the film would have been significantly better in terms of a viable, real threat to The Avengers.
The version of Ultron present in Avengers: Age of Ultron was created by Joss Whedon to be disposal. That disposability was coupled with a major, rehashed James Bond plot point: world domination. Ultron was going protect humanity by wiping it out because it refused to change, refused to evolve (or that evolution was taking too long). He would wipe it out by raising a large chunk of earth and then slam it back down, creating an E.L.E. If Ultron was so anxious to create the unimaginable and do the undoable, why not enact a plan just as preposterous but one that would not kill humanity and achieve “piece in our time”: 1.) why not destroy all the war weapons on the planet with his machine army, 2.) why not steal a large majority of the world’s nuclear weapons, bring them into outer-space, and tell humanity that if all wars do not cease immediately, he will begin dropping them (in effect, creating a solar Sword of Damocles over humanity). Something similar was accomplished in Robert Wise‘s The Day the Earth Stood Still and in Frank Herbert‘s Dune: God Emperor.
Ultron could have done the same. Continuous forced peace across the planet would have been his “Age.” Instead, the viewer was left to wonder: Why was The Avengers 2 called “Age of Ultron”? What Age? Ultron never dominated or ruled anything or any group of people for any amount of time. ‘Ultron Rages’ may have been a more appropriate title for this film.
For all of his shortcomings, Ultron had the best dialogue in the film: “Of course none of you are worthy. You’re all killers.” Or “Captain America. God’s righteous man. Pretending you could live without a war. I can’t physically throw up in my mouth, but…”
Seeing that introspection about Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) realized in his dream sequence made Ultron’s bumbling manipulation plan worth its inception. Seeing Captain America discontent in a room filled with those celebrating the end of World War 2, including Margaret “Peggy” Carter (Hayley Atwell), was very insightful into whom he had evolved into because of warfare. Not even Peggy, young, beautiful, sane, and at his fingertips, could assuage the emptiness that peace would bring him. Bravo Whedon. Well done.
What the viewer learned of Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)’s past through the Scarlett Witch manipulation subplot deserved its own film, a movie that fans will never be granted (it wouldn’t be a superhero movie, it would be a Soviet Union, spy, assassin film – think FX’s The Americans. The Marvel Universe does not want a film like that.).
Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron had moments of entertainment and laughter but the film was missing what made the original special. The film began like a cartoon, with CGI heroes and bad guys defying gravity and physics, leaping, hitting, and shooting. There was no intensity, no Loki-through-a-portal moment in the film, no Thor trapped in a falling Hulk cage scene. What Avengers fans got was a step backwards, overall, from the previous film, even-though some characters’ storylines were advanced in intriguing ways.
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