Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Fair Warning: There will be spoilers! I'll try not to give away too much but there are a few twists that I want to discuss! 

The films of phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all asked, in different ways, "what makes a hero?" The climactic film in that run then asked, "what makes a team (of heroes)?"  These questions led to some great hero origins and, in my opinion, the best superhero movie of our time in The Avengers.  After Avengers the focus shifted to much murkier questions and answers: what are the consequences and effects of being a hero (Iron Man 3)? Of creating a world where heroes are needed (Agents of SHIELD)? Where is the line between trying to protect our values and undermining them (Captain America: the Winter Soldier)? That final question and theme is carried over into Age of Ultron, which also asks - where is the line between a hero and a monster?

Or, that's the idea. It's one of many themes and plots that crowds this very entertaining but extremely full film. This movie has had a wee bit of media coverage and advertising, so I may not need to tell you the plot, but just in case, here it is: The Avengers team has to defeat Ultron, a deadly artificial intelligence with a bazilion robotic bodies who is intent of destroying the human race. Of course he wants to do this because he was created to bring "peace in our time" by Tony and Bruce (epic fail, guys), with the help of Loki's scepter from the first movie...oh and Tony's motivated because Scarlet Witch aka Wanda Maximoff got in his head durring a mission and preyed on his paranoia...But, yeah. Evil Robots!

In a way the character Ulton, voiced with deliciously lazy misanthropy by James Spader, is a great metaphor for the movie and the characters that fill it. On the one side, both Ultron and the film bearing his name are gamely entertaining, awesome when it comes to fight sequences and very shiny and pretty. It shouldn't be a surprise that you can see all the millions of dollar it cost to make the movie on screen. Though, the quality of the CGI still had some uncanny valley elements to it that made it very clearly not real, especially in the very first sequence of the film which throws you straight into a huge sequence. I saw the film in standard format, not 3D, so perhaps it was more enjoyable in that format. All said though, the film making is on point and every Avenger and side character gets a chance to be funny, endearing and interesting, even briefly. 

At least we're pretty.

At least we're pretty.

On the other hand, Ultron loses some of his impact as a bad guy because there are just so many of him. The same goes for the sheer amount of characters and plot beats packed in here. We have now  nine or ten avengers depending on how you count, plus side characters and bad guys and that makes the film feel over-stuffed. While some characters do get individual arcs, others are given short shrift. This I found to be particularly true of Thor (who writer/director Joss Whedon continues to write with all the subtlety of Olaf the Troll) and Captain America (who has very little to do but be the upstanding, slightly sad, conscience of the group). We do get to see some characters learn and grow, but they have so little screen time it can be a bit unsatisfying.

We also can guess from miles a way how everyone will grow. Ulton is a rather predictable AI villain in the grand tradition of SKYNET and every other robot that's decided humanity was the greatest threat. However the way in which Ultron decides to engineer our extinction is pretty unexpected and cool. In the same way, Age of Ultron is predictable in many of it's plot beats - the teams is at odds! The Hulk hulks out! Teamwork will save the day!  - and surprising in others. We've traded out a Hawkeye/Black Widow romance for Natasha and Bruce falling sweetly in love, while Hawkeye is...happily married with a farm, and 2.5 kids?! Okay...There were a few twists that I was able to guess from a single shot in the trailer, but that maybe was just me.

And finally, both Ultron the film and the bad guy are defeated by the growing weight of the mythos of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While in previous films the connective tissue between the different Marvel properties was built on Easter Eggs and covert references, this whole movie is full to brimming with reference to nearly every marvel property ever. So much so that a newbie to this universe (if such a person exists) could be extremely confused. I got felt like this movie was less the climax of phase two of the MCU but a set up for phase three.

There were a few other random things that stuck out to me. Maria Hill's party hair and make up were awful. It annoyed me to no end that in the various foreign nations our heroes visited they spoke to terrified crowds in English. In the African nation of Wakanda it was extremely weird that a bunch of the police and military (not any of the citizens, mind you) were white or at least not African. I did like that there were more female characters this time around, and I'm pretty sure we passed the Bechdel test, but Natasha's focus on being sterile and how it was another thing that made her a monster was pretty jarring from a feminist viewpoint. Also - how could you give me so many characters and his scepter but NO LOKI? :(

All in all, I had fun watching this movie but it was a tad exhausting and not as tight or thrilling a journey as the first Avengers film. Despite that, I'm pretty sure it will do okay at the box office.