Marvel is the new Pixar.
Both launched their first foray into filmdom with critically and commercially loved entries (Iron Man and Toy Story respectively). They’ve each amassed a lot of goodwill from fans, critics and moviegoers alike. Neither studio places a major emphasis on big names, be it behind the scenes or in front of the camera, instead they’re focused on talents they could work with to create something special. Their box-office returns, merchandise sales, tie-ins and product placements make their parent studio (Disney) a sh*tload of money.
Most relevant to the point I’d like to make here is both have made questionable script choices in the past. For every Toy Story we get a A Bug’s Life and for every Iron Man we get a Thor (which truth be told I didn’t mind as much) or worse an Iron Man 2 (this I despise with a passion).
This second outing for The Avengers sees things taking a dark turn. Why we’ll never know but one can assume it was to combat the chorus of “this is for children” surrounding the earth’s mightiest heroes first movie. At my age I’m all for more grown up adventures but only if it is warranted. Here the choice feels forced, like many elements of the script which I’ll get to shortly.
Phase one of the Marvel Cinematic universe consisted of lightweight harmless entries or as I refer to them “The Golden Age” stories. They covered the character origins, had copious amounts of action and humour married with light drama. Ingredients for the perfect guilt-free time at the movies. Though they had minor rough patches along the way that phase culminated perfectly with The Avengers. Yes, it was almost a children’s cartoon adopted for the big screen but if that was their goal they succeeded with aplomb.
No point changing the formula merely for the sake of change. The basis of Age of Ultron, I would argue, is even more pulpy that it simply does not justify this tonal shift.
If anything what a second round deserved was a stronger antagonist. Having our heroes battle a nameless (yes, I’m aware they’re called the Chitauri but who really remembers or cares?) army of alien invaders seemed like an easy cop out. Heck, most of Marvel movies have failed to utilise a solid all-out baddie (IMHO Winter Soldier doesn’t really count since he’s more so an anti-hero).
Here again we’re saddled by a generic, two-dimensional villain in the titular Ultron. His whole purpose of existence seems to be to give our heroes something to go up against and his motives to hate them are severly undercooked. Sure he’s really a puppet in the larger scheme of things but even Loki’s arch had more weight and purpose than this bad guy plucked straight from Saturday morning cartoons.
Other elements in the script appear shoehorned without adding any real value. Did we need to balloon the already massive cast with the new edition of brother-sister duo of the Scarlett Witch or Quicksilver (played by onscreen romantic couple of Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson from last summers Godzilla)? Do we need two of our lead characters to suddenly form a romantic entanglement? Is yet another rethread of “hero facing an identity crisis” mandatory in comic book sequels?
Very little is added here that is welcome and even the welcome additions are questionable.
We learn a little bit more about a character who seemed outmatched to be on this team but again this seems to come out of left field. Writers will need to interject with new character additions but this decision left me scratching my head asking “Where were these characters were this whole time?”. Specifically the characters thrown in here (relating to one of the Avengers). Like were they in cryostasis the whole duration of the first movie? These characters apparently share a deep, meaningful relationship so why weren’t they there to help when their loved one was in peril during the first go-round? Yeah, it’s just a conundrum writers will face when penning these multi picture spanning arcs but it’s a frustrating issue nonetheless.
Joss Whedon is no stranger to working with an ensemble of characters and doing each of them justice. He’s a fine with quick quips and keeping the tone light when needed. Marvel is said to have a big say in their directors first vehicles. Rightfully so since most of the directors they sign end up directing with the biggest budgets of their careers. Only right Marvel make a sound investment and keep close tabs. So far only 2 of their directors have returned for another outing. Jon Favreau fared terribly in his second attempt (my personal much despised Marvel flick Iron Man 2). Joss Whedon only fares modestly better here.
Surprisingly neither is returning for another bout. Does Marvel meddle too much in these movies? Are they too busy trying to inject new characters and plots for future sequels and/or spin-offs to care how it affects the plot at hand? Your guess is as good as mine. What is clear is this particular story could’ve been much stronger had it been streamlined.
Besides an uneven script we’re forced to endure poorly choreographed action sequences. Naturally comparisons are drawn with the set pieces in the first which, though never visually stunning, were serviceable and clear. Here they’re a mess and at times impossible to follow. Even when the action is kept between a smaller set of characters, for example the much hyped Hulk vs Iron Man in his Hulkbuster suit, it’s lacklustre and never quite registers on the awe meter. How I wish Marvel turned to visual mavericks to aid in these scenes.
Age of Ultron ended up reminding me of another failed second entry – Iron Man 2. Like that sequel this too seems to pre-occupied with embellishing the main course while not caring if the ingredients go well together.
Still this thing will make Disney/Marvel a sh*tload of money.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Andy Serkis, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Claudia Kim, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba
Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in Singapore and Malaysia on the 23rd of April 2015