Movie Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron
The road to hell is paved with good inventions.
You barely have time to put on your 3D glasses before you’re whizzed back into a warzone that has the same on-screen intensity as the crescendo of the New York battle against the Chitauri in the first Avengers and you know you’re in for one hell of a ride!
Written & Directed by Joss “Grr. Argh.” Whedon: The Ultimate Avenger. Most infamous for co-writing Toy Story and creating low budget serials like Buffy, Angel, Firefly before graduating to small, indie hits like Serenity & Avengers – okay, we get it – you’re talented. This is Whedon at his most Whedonest. Whedonisms – the cinematic landscape is littered with. When Iron Man squeals in delight upon finding a hidden room or quietly, respectfully requests the Hulk to, “go to sleep”. Quips fire straight and true as if shot by Hawkeye, himself! However, not all of them land.
Robert Downey Jr continues his scenery-chewing romp as Tony Stark as Iron Man as Robert Downey Jr. Chris Evans is settling in comfortably as the First Avenger, growing bolder and more righteous as he builds towards the ominously named, 2016 Cap movie; Civil War. Hemsworth looks great and paints Thor with a perfect balance of omnipotence and grandiose humour. Mark Ruffalo is a standout as Bruce Banner/ Hulk and is so compelling to watch. His performance as Banner is so restrained yet expressive that his Brandoesque, mumbling, whispers sound like shouting and only add to the ever-looming threat that he can “Code Green” at any moment. His performance is tragic, hopeful, vulnerable and all-powerful, all at the same time and his dynamic with the Black Widow is one of the film’s highlights.
Don Cheadle lights up the screen as James Rhodes / War Machine. By the very fact that he even cracks a mention is a testament to his talent. Having only four or five lines, one of them being a retelling of another! Give him his own movie already!
Enter “enhanced” twins, newbies – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Olsen, the younger sister of another set of famous twins – Marie-Kate & Ashley, yes, those twins, and a respected actor in her own right starring in the critically acclaimed indie, Martha Marcy May Marlene. Olsen plays the Scarlet Witch whose abilities include telekinesis and hypnosis that literally bring the Avenger’s nightmares to life. Taylor-Johnson, no stranger to kicking ass from Kick-Ass fame joins as her brother, the speedster, Quicksilver. If you’re fans of the comics then you already know the relationship these guys have to Magneto and the mutants. Quicksilver already appeared on our screens in 2014 in Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past played by Evan Peters and I have to say that if they transposed that Quicksilver into this film, who is arguably more Whedonesque than Whedon’s own, then it would have made for a better fit. Odd casting with performances that just miss the mark and accents that seem to come and go. You can’t help but feel they wasted an opportunity with these two. It’s just a shame that X-Men: DOFP got there first, but all’s fair in love and civil war.
And what’s Avengers: Age of Ultron without its villain? Well, it’d just be Avengers: Age of – which is just ridiculous! James Spader brings all of his Boston Legal-Blacklist snarkiness to the titular character as the very, forward thinking, lovechild of the Science Bros; Stark and Banner, who in an attempt to stop all the fighting inadvertently create the very thing they fear. With an entrance reminiscent of Ledger’s Joker (easy DC v MCU fan-boys) and eerily brought to life by motion capture, Spader’s performance is both unnerving and utterly engaging which is never more true than in his movements of listening. It’s Ultron’s childlike-naivety, all knowingness and flippant attitude toward genocide that makes him so terrifying and a worthy foe for the Avengers. But to be fair, he was born yesterday.
You want action, there’s plenty of it. Every time Iron Man flies it’s exhilarating and the battle between him and the Hulk is a smash. (Gotta give me one) If they keep this up there’s not going to be much of the MCU left to film!
Mo-Cap, SFX, Enhanced & genocidal robots aside, the test of a good story is its ability to stay grounded. Which is where the true stars of the film shine. They don’t have superhuman strength, or super speed or a magic hammer. They’re not geniuses, playboys, billionaires or philanthropists. They are the blue-collar workers of the Avengers, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.
Scarlett brings some much needed light and shade to her character, which is absolutely imperative being the only woman in the original line up. In 20 years we may look back and compare what Scarlett is doing today in the same light as Nichelle Nichols did for women as Star Trek’s Uhura all those years ago albeit without the racial undertones. Even though the divide is much less prevalent today, there is still the very real and prominent issue of equal rights and pay for females across the board. Yes, concessions can be made that this type of film is marketed to teenage boys and young male adults who buy the comics and merchandise but there are a growing number of very vocal female fans that are crying out to be represented in films such as these and girl, do they deserve it! As the Wonder Woman (I realise – DC, apologies) movie struggles to get off the ground, losing and gaining another director, Scar Jo’s Black Widow has never been more important. Whedon, ever the frontrunner for strong female leads from Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy to Angel’s David Boreanaz. It’s progressive writing such as his and layered performances from Johansson that’s starting to make it less about the spandex and more about what’s underneath. I mean, um, er, what’s on the inside. You know what I mean!
Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton / Hawkeye is of the same ilk. He is the everyman. Sure, people want to be Tony Stark or Thor or Cap but people can relate to Clint. He has the family life and the never-ending list of projects to do around his home and he goes out there and gives it his all and backs up the bigger guys because it is his job. When the story literally flies off into the air he is what keeps it grounded because he remains both relatable and accessible, and together with Johansson, forms the real heart and soul of Age of Ultron.
It was always going to be a mammoth task to top the biggest superhero movie ever made. Age of Ultron doesn't quite manage to do it and in an effort to juggle so many characters and plot threads it drops a few balls but puts on one hell of a show in the process. History and logic tells us that at some point we must reach saturation point with the superhero genre, but darling, this movie ain’t it.