In a relentless drive to up the ante in Marvel comic-book sequels, it’s only Joss Whedon’s sense of humour that saves this noisy, CGI-laden behemoth from crash, bash and smash tedium.
The script is a load of portentous twaddle about artificial intelligence, monsters, mayhem and extinction-level events, or, put another way, any excuse to run out our current favourite superheroes. It’s an awful lot of epic for your money, and you can tell Whedon has put his usual care into the dialogue, but at nearly two and a half hours, you have to ask; do we need quite so many metal-fetishised CGI robots smashing cities to pieces?
New additions Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Anna Karenina) and Scarlet Witch (a revelation in Elizabeth Olsen). Paul Bettany (Transcendence) as The Vision looks utterly ridiculous in his pink latex prophylactic costume and makeup, and only Bettany’s acting talent heads off a laugh out loud reaction.
There’s a budding romance between leather-clad assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson – Lucy) and Mark Ruffalo’s (Now You See Me) Jekyl-and Hyde Hulk. Jeremy Renner (MI4: Ghost Protocol, Bourne Legacy) gets to be the hero this time as promised as the man with suddenly most to lose, Hawkeye.
Chris Hemsworth appears to have lost interest in the whole Thor routine, which leaves Robert Downey Junior to wise-crack through the movie alongside the maturing Chris Evan’s Captain America.
This picture is packed with cameos, including the obligatory Stan Lee, and netting most of the Marvel franchise characters – Hayley Atwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Don Cheadle, Antonie Mackie.
Guest villain this time around is full-metal pyschopath Ultron, a superbly designed and rendered mechanical marvel (ahem), given creepy voice by the unseen James Spader (Alien Hunter, Secretary). Pitching somewhere between Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector and William Shatner-level dementedness, Ultron is the Franken-science experiment gone wrong (of course), whose idea of world piece is, of course (yawn) human extinction. When is it not?
Unfortunately for the big set pieces, we’re either back in I, Robot or Transformers territory; either lots of small robots or lots of big robots getting smashed along with trucks, trains, skyscrapers, whole cities; you name it, if it’s on screen, it will get smashed. Everything in this is at super-mega-huge-hyper-scale, there’s nothing small about it and that puts pressure on the characters to inflate their existential dramas into crises, with their tortured back-stories. Well, Joss, I have news for you; this ain’t The Iliad.
So the plot is immaterial, the villain as see-through as his metal chassis and Whedon falls back on smart one-liners and the charisma of his stars to carry this nonsense to its overblown conclusion. Seriously Joss, we preferred it when you had to stretch a budget to fill the screen and had properly proportioned characters such as, say Serenity; when you didn’t succumb to the Jerry Bruckheimer school of massive metal mayhem and big explosions. Sorry, BIG EXPLOSIONS!! You get my drift.
From one improbable and non-survivable jump, fall or throw to the next, I /can/ tell whenever the actors are replaced by CGI and at that point I really don’t care; which equates to about two hours of the total running time.
While Avengers Assemble is still a favourite movie, the following cycle of super-hero flicks from Winter Soldier to Guardians via Man of Steel may well have jumped the shark. I was properly stirred by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman’s excellent heroic soundtrack, but the rest of Age of Ultron passed by like a half-day advert for Silicon Graphics workstations and whatever version of Massive CGI software is on the market now.
This crop of super-hero movies are our generation’s Ben Hur and Spartacus, big-canvas spectaculars, built as an industrial product for big screens, big speakers and big buckets of popcorn, with big budgets and big box-office; so the money men are happy. Somehow I’m not. The key thing I think I’m missing is the mental age of a fourteen year-old boy and an excess of testosterone. Age of Ultron is a blast, but it ain’t the future of cinema. RC
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
Running time: 2 hr. 21 min.
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Thomas Kretschmann, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Claudia Kim, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Stan Lee, Henry Goodman, Stellan Skarsgard