WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS
At this stage of the game, it seems impossible to be truly surprised by a Marvel film. That’s not necessarily a knock against the billion-dollar team that effectively changed the way people make and watch superhero movies when they introduced the now-fabled “Marvel Universe,” it’s just that, well, when you sit down for a Marvel movie you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get in terms of drama, story, action, and character. That doesn’t change with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which brings about an end to the second phase in Marvel’s plan for world cinematic domination with the usual solid skills that we’ve come to expect.
I’ve enjoyed all the Marvel films that I have watched to more-or-less the same degree, but that doesn’t mean Marvel is infallible. Despite the overall enjoyment factor of the film, with this, its eleventh film, writer-director Joss Whedon seems intent on pushing some of Marvel Films’ more tiresome elements to the extreme. For instance, Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t just full of whippy quips from its handsome, athletic cast — it’s positively drowning in them. Every single scene features at least two (usually several more) of the sarcastic, wise-cracking retorts, and by the film’s third hour (it is 141-minutes long) they have ceased to amuse and instead take the attention away from the whiz-bang effects and highlight the lazier-than-usual writing. Top points to that “Catholic rabbits” gag, though.
And Whedon certainly seems to have a two-steps-forward-one-step-back mentality when it comes to casting — he’ll bring on such talented women as Julie Delpy, Linda Cardellini and Claudia Kim, but give them nothing to do. Meanwhile, the usually wickedly-entertaining Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is essentially reduced to swooning with hearts in her glossy googly eyes over a Hulking Dr. Banner (Mark Ruffalo). I know most audiences who are planting their $15 down for this movie aren’t going to be basing their enjoyment of this film on whether it features decent gender representation, but we’ve seen what Marvel has done with the Black Widow character before in Captain America: Winter Soldier and with the eponymous character in television series Agent Carter, so by this stage portrayals of female characters shouldn’t be this regressively simplistic.
Still, the general blueprint does continue to work effectively in the showbiz stakes, and in the moment it can be terrifically entertaining. This time, the ensemble of super-beings are rescuing an artifact that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) believes to be of great importance (I couldn’t say why, but maybe we’ll learn more in Thor 3 in 2017, *nudge* *wink*). Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) decides to use this artifact to make the ultimate Artificial Intelligence, but as is wont to happen, something goes wrong and Ultron (voiced by James Spader, but looking like a robotic gym bunny with quite an impressive homoerotic metallic butt) takes the planet’s safety into its own hands. Captain America (Chris Evans) is suitably upset and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), always a bit of a forgotten entity, has his own mess to deal with. The rest follows as expected.
Several of the huge — and I mean HUGE — action set-pieces are gloriously entertaining, especially a truck heist. The characters of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) make valuable additions to the cast despite their silly accents, with Olsen especially proving to be the film’s strongest asset. Her story allows a strong and much-needed dose of genuine emotion to filter through the CGI of crumbling cities and exploding robots. Fans will likely find Avengers: Age of Ultron a highly-satisfying end to Marvel’s phase two, getting ready for phase three (which they drop plentiful hints about throughout the story).
The less said about the Ant-Man trailer that preceded it, however, the better.