Avengers: Age of Ultron full movie review - "Cuttlefish"
Comparisons to Spider-Man 3 are a bad sign.
Sam Raimi's legendary mess set the standard for how bloated studio superhero films could easily become if not carefully curtailed. The genre was henceforth faced with a challenge: rise to the "MORE! BIGGER! DIFFERENT AND BETTER!" demand of increasing returns in a steadily oversaturated market without buckling under the condemnation of "WHOA! TOO MUCH!" ? no easy task.
Or is it? For years, Marvel Studios held the golden ticket, keeping their action driven by humour and character beats, and remembering to have fun. Audiences, it seems, were not as keen on "BIGGER! MORE!" as on fresh, funny, and human ? qualities nerd God Joss Whedon's 2012 Avengers delivered in spades.
Whedon announced that his Avengers sequel would be smaller, darker, and more personal. You can guess which two he succeeded at.
If anything, Age of Ultron will likely surpass Spider-Man 3 as genre benchmark for exhaustingly busy - a cautionary tale of pressures superhero blockbusters should not cave to if they want to remain relevant. The consolation: even at his worst (sadly?) and most studio- bridled, Whedon remains incapable of making a work without moments of passion, joy, and gleeful inventiveness. Ultimately, most of Age of Ultron is very good; the main concern is that there is simply so much that it feels too exhausting to pack the same triumphant punch and clockwork (dare I say it) assembly of its predecessor. Whedon's TV background is apt, as Age of Ultron feels more like a miniseries - tons of worthwhile, memorable moments, but too much to watch in one go.
Thankfully, Whedon keeps the kernel of the story simple amidst its thousands of locations and often unnecessary subplots (sorry overlong farm scene and Thor's mystery exposition cave). The worst redundancy is namedropping the Infinity Stones ? aka, MacGuffin of most of Marvel Phase 1 & 2, and the catalyst of the upcoming the two-part Infinity Wa? oh, you knew that already? So did everyone else, thanks to Benicio Del Toro and his wacky hair in Guardians of the Galaxy. Generic climaxes or not, Marvel's biggest pitfall is now wasting precious screen time 'world-building' instead of trusting that its already established audiences know how to google.
The film's action is lively, inventive, and constantly moving ? the opening raid on Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann)'s Hydra safehouse alone contains more mayhem (and likely budget) than all 13 hours of the Marvel Netflix Daredevil series combined, complete with a long take tracking shot giving each character their smashing in the spotlight cleverly recalling its predecessor in Avengers' climactic showdown. This constantly zippy combat does wear a touch thin after the next several fights are similarly bouncy, and you begin to wish that at least one fight ? particularly the long awaited Hulkbuster pugilistics (still awesome) ? would stay still, and each blow count and resonate more. Instead, the CGI clanging becomes increasingly consequence-free, making it resoundingly less exciting over time.
Whedon's ultimate boon is his uncanny ability to give each of his massive cast moments of character development amidst the mayhem (take note, Peter Jackson and his '12 hours into The Hobbit and most of the dwarfs still haven't spoken'). All of the returning Avengers feel fresh and believable, even evidencing interesting character growth. Robert Downey Jr's Stark gets as many laughs as ever, but drifts into unsympathetic, self-described 'mad-scientist' terrain, doggedly rekindling Jurassic Park's creation debate for the smart phone age of instant technological gratification. His clashes with Captain "language!" America (Chris Evans, wearing the role like a comfortable leather combat glove) foreground the upcoming Civil War ideological conflict in the one piece of 'world-building' that feels natural and thrilling.
It is odd to yearn for more Ultron in a film named after him, but James Spader's performance- captured supervillain is a thrilling, fantastically believable creation. Interpreting Ultron as a furiously resentful adolescent gives Spader's silky baritone the chance to spout out as many exquisitely sulky "Leave me ALONE!"s as eloquent zingers. Of equal fascination is his brainchild - Paul "JARVIS" Bettany's Vision. Scarlet with a golden cape, the '60s antique Vision is a hard sell, but Bettany's deftly ethereal performance makes his inclusion a high point (complete with a priceless sight-gag I won't ruin here). Likewise, in what should be an extraneous subplot, Andy Serkis' South African Ulysses Klaue damn near walks away with the show with his stupendously fun scene-chomping. The prospect of Serkis' return in 2018's Black Panther is mouth-watering.
Newcomers Aaron Taylor-Johnson and (especially) Elizabeth Olson both impress as the "fast and weird" Maximoff twins, wobbly accents notwithstanding, and their unique abilities help keep the smashing fresh and interesting. Chris Hemsworth's Thor steals most of the best laughs and lines, alongside Don Cheadle, who should really just get his own War Machine movie (miniseries?) already. Even Jeremy Renner's notoriously maligned Hawkeye picks up his share of character beats and laughs, mining the "everyman surrounded by gods" trope for all it's worth.
The cataclysmically weak point: the execrable Beauty and the Beast pastiche (wasn't Pinocchio enough?) Black Widow/Hulk romance. Their pairing never even remotely rings true, coming dangerously close to The Hobbit-levels of distracting, almost-tanking-the-show romance. If anything, the film is sure to play brilliantly on Blu-Ray, if only for the ability to fast-forward through these asinine 'BruTasha' interludes.
Ultimately, Age of Ultron is a generally solid maelstrom of superhero fun, but somewhat too incohensive, too much, to sit well in a single sitting. The incorrigible excess would be enough to crave the smallness (ha?) of Marvel's next release, Ant-Man, if it didn't look even more soulless since the departure of spark-of-life Edgar Wright. As it stands, as a more grounded antidote, Netflix's Daredevil is rather fantastic. Plus, it has a good zinger about cat videos. Whedon would be proud.