MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Is Too Big For Its Own Good

Age-of-Ultron-Review

Film: Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans
Directed by: Joss Whedon

The Marvel cinematic universe has finally reached its tipping point.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron is the eleventh film in a series that began with 2008’s Iron Man. The nine films between those two titles have introduced big screen versions of legendary comic book heroes, assembled them, and even gave most of them a sequel. Audiences know these characters whether or not they have ever picked up a comic in their entire lives, so one would imagine their latest adventure as a team would waste no time cutting directly to the chase, right?

Over the course of its nearly two and a half hour runtime, Age Of Ultron features many battles, but also quite a bit of assembling, as our heroes are pitted against one another time and time again. The catalyst for these disputes come in many forms, from the mind-warping powers of Scarlet Witch, to the argument over whether or not man was meant to create artificial intelligence, but there is never a single moment when the fate of the Avengers comes into question. The only thing you don’t know is how long it will take for everyone to put their differences aside and begin working together for the common good. The answer, if you care to know, is somewhere between ninety and hundred minutes of screen time.

The reason for all these disputes, not to mention the plethora of dialogue-filled exposition sequences, is the need for Marvel to push their cinematic universe into the long-awaited and highly publicized ‘phase three.’ Having already established a presence in the world of film where everyone knows every title is connected, as well as the major players fighting against one another, Marvel now needs to move their numerous characters and plot lines closer to the penultimate Infinity War – Part One that is currently set for release in May 2018. Through every scene in Ultron you can feel Joss Whedon and his team attempting to move an entire universe forward while simultaneously telling a thrilling story in the moment and also developing the relationships between on-screen characters in a way that is both interesting and capable of foreshadowing potential future conflict(s).

As a result of all this, Age Of Ultron is less fun than the previous Avengers film. That isn’t to say it’s not good, because it most certainly is, but Ultron simply has too much to do. The story is so focused on making sure everything is constantly moving forward that the action sequences begin to seem more like tedious hurdles than comic book escapism. The first time the Avengers saved the world it was something special, but now its their job, and it feels like work to watch it play out on screen. Until the very end no one even worries about whether or not they will be killed. They simply fight, and the ensuing five or ten minutes of robot-filled carnage offers little engagement for the viewer.

Where the film soars is in its ability to continuously make us fall for its leads. One sequence in particular, just before Ultron arrives on scene, showcases the entire team celebrating a recent victory atop Stark tower without their signature costumes. Everyone is dressed to the nines, sharing drinks and stories of past glories with friends. It’s a completely believable and entirely laid back sequence that not only makes you feel the characters are real, but that they actually care for one another. You can sense the camaraderie in their actions and hear it in their laughter.

Unrelated to the rest of the cast, but still worthy of praise, James Spader gives a pitch perfect performance as the voice of Ultron. There is something to his delivery that is very reminiscent of his character from the NBC series The Blacklist, but it works so well that people familiar with the show probably won’t complain. I only wish there was a reason or need to bring him back as I feel his delivery is as chilling as any Marvel villain we’ve seen to date.

Whedon, presenting his second and final film for the Marvel universe, handles the exposition sequences far better than the action. This has always been true for the filmmaker, and while he’s still only adequate with on-screen destruction, the intimate moments that take place far away from the violence are what give us a reason to care about Age Of Ultron. The rising tension between Iron Man and Captain America, for instance, makes you uncomfortable in your seat. Comic fans know what lies ahead in next year’s Civil War, but those who don’t can really get a sense for what may be on the horizon with how Whedon presents their relationship on-screen. Likewise, Black Widow’s affection towards The Hulk feels real. She and Hawkeye both have more purpose this time around, and Whedon gives the audience just enough of each to make us care. Again, it’s all about balance, and this is one area the film gets right.

I hesitate to critique Age Of Ultron too harshly as it has been tasked with doing more than any other film in the Marvel universe, but I also know after seeing twice in one week’s time that I always leave the theater feeling unfulfilled. There used to be an element of surprise in the Marvel cinematic universe, but knowing where everything is headed makes the conflicts in Age Of Ultron feel almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things. We know the actors will return, at least for one more film, and we know what ultimate villain is behind everything. I applaud the studio for finally incorporating more elements of realism, such as the characters discussing the stress that weighs on them from knowing the impact these battles in city centers has on everyday people, but it’s not handled in the kind of meaningful way you might expect. Marvel wants to make things feel a bit more grounded without having to change the way they tell their stories. They want it all, and that is ultimately what makes Age Of Ultron fall short of its potential glory.

GRADE: B-

Review written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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