CONTENT NOTE: This review will contain spoilers

 

We should have known from the first scene. Like Lethal Weapon 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron begins with a clear statement of intent. No expository build-up to getting the band back together, we go straight into the middle of an action sequence. The Avengers are in Eastern Europe, in pursuit of the reconstituted Hydra, who have possession of Loki’s sceptre. The mission is to regain the sceptre so that Thor can return it to Asgaard and square the circle left after the events of Avengers Assemble.

The mission is successful, but things soon go awry. With Bruce Banner’s help, Tony Stark has plans of his own. Aware of the increasing peril Earth tends to be in since we first saw him in Iron Man, Stark wants to harness the power of the sceptre to give the planet a self-sustaining defence system, a “suit of armour around the world.”

The experiment goes wrong and Ultron is created. An artificial intelligence system with the ambition of Stark and the rage control problems of the Hulk. Ultron believes that for Earth to reach its full potential the Avengers must be destroyed, with any and all human life being acceptable collateral damage.

There are a number of problems with this film. The most fundamental is that despite the 2 hours and 21 minutes running time, Age of Ultron tries to do far too much. I always felt that Joss Whedon had an impossible task in making the first Avengers movie work, simply because of the demands of dealing with so many characters, fitting them into a plot and walking the tightrope between satisfying the financial and artistic requirements of the project. Incredibly, Whedon made all the plates spin last time. He was unable to do so again.

In fairness I don’t think he’s solely to blame. As odd as it may sound, Avengers Assemble (a lot like the first Star Wars movie) was something of a leap of faith. The idea of creating a comic book world in cinema, as dense as the Marvel universe had never been done before. But now, the subsequent success makes these films Hollywood’s golden goose and the priority is to ensure that goose keeps laying golden eggs.

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Ultron

 

Whedon didn’t just have to give us a new narrative and develop the characters we all know, but also bring in new ones. The introductions of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision function with limited success, if at all. And while Ultron is a good premise, I don’t think he’s one that lends to the medium of cinema particularly well. James Spader was an excellent choice to voice the villain, but the character is pretty lightweight and comes off as little more than an over-privileged trust-fund kid who’s never been told no before. Sadly, it only highlighted just how good Tom Hiddleston’s performance was as Loki in Avengers Assemble.

It was nice to see the adventures take place in other parts of the world other than America, although there’s weight to the counterargument that watching a story where (mostly) American heroes go to other nations and cause destruction is a little too realistic for comfort.

Whedon does his best to keep the jokes and snark coming, but the levity doesn’t take as well this time around. Partly because the narrative is suffocated by the constant demand for “action beats” and that the story at play is quite a dark one and doesn’t really lend to the arch humour that makes Whedon’s work so entertaining. It didn’t help that much like recent Christopher Nolan movies, at times the atmospheric score seemed to take precedence over hearing actual dialogue.

The nadir of this was the much trailed fight scene between The Avengers and Ultron’s robot minions. The non-diegetic music is deliberately triumphant at this stage, a sequence that’s meant to have fans wanting to punch the air in affirmation, the equivalent to this scene in the last movie. However, it felt like watching a band of 20 guitar players all trying to play solos at the same time.

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While Age of Ultron will make a shedload at the box-office at times it feels that one isn’t actually watching a movie, but instead a lengthy rigmarole to ensure that the pieces are in place for Captain America: Civil War, set to be released next May. There is no doubt that film is a tantalising prospect and one that will have comic book fans frothing at the mouth in anticipation. However, it was yet another subsidiary demand that diverted from the narrative thrust of the story at hand. [1]

What made Avengers Assemble work so well was that the characters felt like members of a band, all with different roles, but equally important to keep the music compatible. This time around it felt like the stage was too crowded to hear any harmony and in its stead we ended up with a lot of noise. [2]

 

[1] – Not to mention give us a sliver into the world of Black Panther, who’s scheduled to join the party in the summer of 2018.

[2] – To give it a pro-wrestling analogy, Age of Ultron is redolent of the N.W.O habitually adding members to the faction, until the group became a parody of itself.

 

shane1-300x296A mixed-race film graduate, Shane Thomas comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History, and is a writer for the Writers of Colour website. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it