Sunday, May 10, 2015

Avengers: Yawn of Ultron

     It's my own fault, and there's nobody to blame but myself: I'll admit I was excited when the first trailer for the new Avengers dropped late last year: Joss Whedon returning to direct after the stellar first incarnation of our favorite superhero clan, a new villain that I wasn't too familiar with, our favorite cast of characters returning (plus a few new faces, like Quicksilver, who stole the best scene in the recent X-Men: Days of Future Past). But expectations can turn into a fickle problem: Avengers: Age of Ultron is--no doubt--an incredibly well-made superhero movie, a Marvel of colorful, fast-paced entertainment and humor that would make any 12 year old laugh. But it just doesn't bring enough new to the table to be more than well-made: it's more of the same Avengers, with an uninspired villain and action scenes that too often delve into pieces of metal clanging against each other.
     Three Marvel movies, two of them solo projects since the last Avengers film, are better than Avengers: Age of Ultron: Iron Man 3, the 2nd Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The problem with having film versions of The Avengers is there is not nearly enough screen time for each of the characters--they are all battling for our time and laughs like the Royal Rumble of a WWE match. The great HBO show Game of Thrones for an example: with dozens of characters, we need 10 episode seasons (and sometimes that doesn't even feel like enough) to truly get involved in each character's plight. A two hour and twenty minute Avengers movie, when we get 3 new, significant characters added to the main ones, just isn't enough time. It's a collage of colors and metallic action with not enough new excitement to make much of a dent in the summer movie season.
   Yet again, this Avengers at least somewhat focuses on Loki's staff and the power of the Infinity Stone that lies inside of it. Who will harness this power, the Avengers (Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye) or a new Artificial Intelligence known as Ultron that can take over the Internet and anything metal to build an army of Iron Man-esque steel to--you guessed it--try and destroy the world? I think we all know the world isn't going to be destroyed, and most of the tension lies within the characters that are jockeying for screen time.
     I hear that Ultron is pretty powerful in the comic book world, but--voiced by James Spader, an interesting if weird decision--in the film he never matches up against the distinct powers of our Avengers: in other words, he never stands a chance. Originally, he has two new characters on his side (Quicksilver, played by Kick-Ass's Aaron Johnson, who can move at the speed of light...and the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olson, who can give people visions and animate her power of telekinesis), and they add a nice change of originality. But anyone who knows the comics knows whose side they are really on. The action set pieces are huge and impressive (there are at least 3 or 4 of them), an intensely admirable attempt by Whedon to shock and excite--they just don't excite enough when compared to the action of the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe. (It's futile to compare to the best action of the last few years, The Raid 2. I don't even bother anymore.)
     Reading over this review, I feel like a grumpy old man. No doubt kids in their teens will love Avengers: Age of Ultron, with its bombastic special effects, its attempts at humor, its blasts of action. But damn it if Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn't feel like The Avengers with a new coat of fresh paint. And like a new coat of fresh paint, occasionally Ultron comes to close to the excitement of watching paint dry: a new unexciting villain, a plan to destroy the world, a plot that jumps between a dozen characters with scientific jargon that doesn't make a whole lot of sense: It's got a been-there-done-that feel. At one time, late in the movie, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye states (I'm paraphrasing), "We're on a city rising into the sky, fighting an army of robots, and I'm using a bow and arrow--this doesn't make much sense". Agreed.     (C+)

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