There’s really no reason to review Avengers: Age of Ultron. You’re going to see it. It’s going to make $2b at the box office. We will all accept it as our new leader. Not to bludgeon the importance of film critics, but this movie is beyond all of us, so it’s definitely a lot more interesting to forego the typical this-was-good-that-was-bad review concept and, instead, discuss the specific elements of the newest Marvel movie that make it a stellar example of pop filmmaking.
For one, it’s massive. Joss Whedon has attempted to craft a two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie solely out of action sequences and only fallen short by about twenty minutes. Whether that’s accurate or exaggerated is hard to say; I didn’t have a stopwatch at the screening, but my body was still vibrating at the cellular level an hour after the credits rolled.
There’s so much action that it’s almost parodic. It could just as easily have been called Avengers: Paths of Glory. If all war movies are anti-war movies, this one attempts to hammer that violent point as loudly as possible against our foreheads, and all of it is done with gorgeously choreographed cinematography and top-level CGI that bring the battles to aggressive life. The onslaught is unceasing. It’s as if Marvel saw people raving about the 30-minute Battle of NY finale to the first team-up movie and figured, why not, let’s make an entire movie out of that.
Thus, there are no fewer than 6 large-scale, extended fight sequences and 1 mini-fight in the 140-minute film. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye do battle at a castle compound; they do battle in a fictional Eastern European city; they do battle after a party celebrating their last battle.
They also fight off the African Coast, in an unnamed African city, on a South Korean highway and high up in the sky.
If you didn’t catch that, there’s a lot of fighting going on. It’s the primary mechanism for solving problems.
Unfortunately, regardless of how inventive those sequences (read: most minutes of the movie) are, they all operate to highlight how lame Ultron is as a villain. This isn’t a new problem for Marvel’s movies. They even seem to be comfortable tossing out softballs until Thanos ‐ the real baddie ‐ goes down to earth to battle them for himself.
(And Thanos had better be truly amazing or you’ll hear some air being let out of the tires.)
This issue’s softball is an AI created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner as an attempt to hang up the capes, the intention being that warding off an alien invasion should be the endgame for their crew. Busting low level criminals is sort of stupid in the face of global threats from other dimensions (sorry, Batman). Meanwhile, henchmen in the form of a mind-bending Scarlet Witch and an ultra-fast Quicksilver add human muscle to Ultron’s creative-yet-meatheaded plan and to draw out the worst fears of the figures we’ve come to know over the past dozen movies.
They ponder those issues while resting at a safe house in the country where Captain America chops twice as much wood as Tony Stark. There are serious conversations with beautiful capsules of wisdom. There are stern looks. More than anything, though, there are witty remarks and self-aware quips. The movie is genuinely hilarious at points, offering the same kind of well-edited humor and congenial running jabs that Avengers had. Tony’s cool frustration when fighting Hulk, Thor’s charming narcissism, Black Widow’s sandpaper dry commentary, all of them making fun of Cap. It’s all here with the added bonus of a greater character focus on Hawkeye who, for some reason, seems to recognize that he’s living his life in a ridiculous comic book movie.
There’s a gloss over the comedy that makes every character sound like they’re Joss Whedon, but the actors navigate it well and it ends up making the downtime feel like a genuine breather.
Boiled down to its basics, Avengers: Age of Ultron consists of those three things. The action does the lion’s share of work, the consternation over doing the right thing/being worthy adds gravitas, and the comedy of close friends is woven into the other elements to lighten everything up. Even during the heat of battle, someone’s ready with something off-the-cuff to offer.
On that front, the most emblematic scene of the entire movie comes when the team members take turns attempting to lift Thor’s hammer. It featured heavily in trailers, and at the time it seemed almost like a cut-scene made specifically for marketing. It was wacky, an encapsulated bit of slapstick, but it also serves a multi-faceted purpose in the narrative. It’s funny, it illustrates the core moral question of the story (who is worthy to wield the responsibility of protecting life?), it gives the movie a symbol that becomes important to the plot later, and it’s sandwiched between two fight scenes.
It’s also important to point out that Age of Ultron attempts the impossible. In the wake of the Battle of NY, the group’s neurosis about protecting the innocent leads to a gigantic climactic fight scene wherein saving every single bystander in harm’s way becomes as important as defeating thousands of Ultrons. After they set up a perimeter, Tony remarks that, “if even one [Ultron] gets through, that’s game over,” and you get the feeling that the same phrase applies to letting even one innocent person die. Allowing a single person to perish during the city-wide avalanche of missiles, metal and laser beams would mean failure. It simultaneously raises the stakes of the battle, makes it insanely naive, and thrusts a throbbing middle finger straight at Man of Steel (even though The Avengers killed hundreds in its climax, too.)
In conclusion, it’s probably not unfair to think of Avengers: Age of Ultron as the most comic book-y comic book movie made yet. It’s large and bombastic with strong comedic chemistry and grandiose ideas condensed into deep breaths taken between punching sessions. It demands a dedication to source material as well as the prior entries, and some of the sequences work best if you don’t think about them too hard. It’s also energetic and entertaining, but if Marvel wants to up the ante for the next team-up, it’ll have to be a two-hour version of the Omaha beach scene from Saving Private Ryan. I can’t think of a movie with a higher action to non-action ratio. Or maybe I just don’t want to.
The Upside: Massive, lavish action sequences that are clearly shot and creatively choreographed; laugh-out-loud humor; strong team dynamic; sheer ambition
The Downside: Often unrelenting; a stupid villain; a when-all-else-fails-just-punch mentality
On the Side: Since all MCU movies are connected, this should technically be called Iron Man 11.