Movie review: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated PG-13, Action, 141 minutes
As previously demonstrated on “Firefly,” his space-cowboy television series, and in his horror-comedy series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Joss Whedon possesses a knack for marrying geek instincts to rollicking action. However, in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Whedon saddles his story with too much action and writes characters with little emotion. A blank superhero is super forgettable.
The opening sequence attempts to prove the Avengers are smart with a montage of humorous one-ups between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — all while they battle an undefined evil bunkered in a forest of fictional Eastern European country Sokovia.
The question becomes, why merely text and drive when you can engage in witty two-way radio repartee while wielding super weapons? Stark is a quipping head seen inside his tricked-out, flying, weaponized suit. Captain America plays both offense and defense — thanks to his indestructible shield.
Thor tosses a fearsome hammer. Hawkeye takes aim with his bow and quiver of trick arrows, and Black Widow uses anything handy to disable her opponents from atop a powerful motorcycle. It’s a relief that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) can do no more than grunt, glare and flatten buildings while in the form of his superego, the Hulk.
The superhero mind-set reflects one reason teens find these characters so relatable: They barely register the gravity of life and death situations, therefore are always ready to best one another.
To be fair, the film documents Black Widow Natasha’s soft spot for Bruce Banner, despite the monstrous tendencies he exhibits as Hulk. (Fans will note this storyline diverges from the comic book — where the two never get together, but since more and more adaptations create storylines that differ from their written source, why not explore alternate possibilities for these Marvel characters?)
The main problem with the story line in “Age of Ultron” is that it rehashes the artificial-intelligence-gone-wrong premise, you know, the one where the A.I. in question decides people are the biggest threat to peace on Earth.
Here, Ultron (James Spader) leaves the confines of the Internet to assume a humanoid-robotic form by improving upon Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. Not surprisingly, Ultron manufactures dozens of clones, obligating the Avengers to terminate him again and again and again.
Uniquely qualified to take on Ultron is Stark’s own A.I. creation, Jarvis. Spoken in Paul Bettany’s luxurious British accent, Jarvis resembles a floating, fiery-orange circle of neural pathways.
Joining the Avenger’s team are a pair of twins given enhanced powers by an evil scientist. They are Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who moves faster than the eye can see, and his sister Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who fools her quarry with induced visions after she swirls her hands in the vicinity of a victim’s head.
Stark’s friend Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) eventually assists the team and the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), briefly returns as the crankiest guy ever to do the right thing.
The film struggles to provide each of its numerous heroes and villains with a moment to shine as editors Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek cut the computer-generated imagery battles to within an inch of comprehension, except for those including the Hulk, whose temper often prevents him from discerning between friend and foe. His perpetual confusion makes the Hulk’s sequences inherently funny while providing humor that feels organic to the situation.
Bringing a sense of physicality and interesting facial expressions to the blue screen action is nearly all this cast can do, along with wringing shreds of coolness from their lackluster lines.
I’m inclined toward action flicks, except those that are as choppy and repetitive as “Age of Ultron.” One last complaint. When hiring high-priced actors, a director ought to provide them with an opportunity to justify their super paychecks.