Age Of Ultron tears itself apart from the inside

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


Avengers: Age of Ultron
3 out of 5

There was never any doubt that Avengers: Age of Ultron would be a box-office smash — it’s gonna make roughly a gerbillion dollars. The only question mark concerned quality: the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to grow and with every new piece of mythology, it becomes more cumbersome. Would writer/director Joss Whedon be able to keep the franchise fresh and nimble while saddled with tons of back-story, not to mention the need to introduce new pieces for future installments?

The answer is… sort of. In Avengers: Age Of Ultron Whedon ups the ante at every corner and he’s not afraid to introduce new elements to shake up the status quo. But all that comes at the cost of fluidity.

Also, it feels like the movie was made by committee (which it was).

Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t bother dealing with the dangling question left over from Captain America: The Winter Soldier: why didn’t Cap simply call the rest of the Avengers in to deal with Hydra? Well, at least he’s not making that mistake again. In a very kinetic sequence (similar to the last movie’s Times Square battle, times three), Earth’s mightiest heroes attempt to eradicate the terrorist organization. The mission might have been a success if it wasn’t for two Russian siblings with their own set of powers (and massive chips on their shoulders) who’ve pledged alliance to Hydra — Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.

In a stroke of genius, Scarlet Witch lets Iron Man get his hands on Loki’s sceptre, fully aware that Tony Stark’s megalomania is far more dangerous than any villain the Avengers might have to deal with. And lo and behold, Stark uses the magic stick and his genius to create Ultron, an artificial intelligence entity that’s supposed to protect Earth.

Unfortunately for Stark and co., Ultron (digitally played by James Spader) comes to the reasonable conclusion that the only way to achieve this is to wipe out humanity.

All hell breaking loose ensues.

Whedon has already announced he’s not coming back for Avengers: The Infinity Gauntlet, which isn’t a huge surprise — he’s clearly having a hard time juggling six main characters and a dozen supporting roles. It’s also obvious where his sympathies lie: while Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hawkeye and Black Widow get character arcs, Captain America and Thor are one-dimensional, bearing only a passing resemblance to the fully realized characters of their respective franchises.

Whedon does succeed at making the Avengers look vulnerable, not a small feat considering their comparative advantages. Predictably, the creator of Buffy peppers the script with zingers — from puns to killer Eugene O’Neill references — and plays with our narrative expectations. Where he fails is in the overall story, which can’t get past one big convenience: for such an almighty piece of machinery, Ultron gives the Avengers plenty of chances to regroup and plan their next move.

Still, Ultron is the best villain the Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced since Loki, as a terrific Spader finds the sweet spot between intimidating and droll. I found myself wanting more Ultron and less Stark, whose act is getting a little old (although it should pay off in the next Captain America, in which Stark is poised to be the villain). The whole notion of a conscience-free saviour turning against those he’s supposed to protect is a poignant one (think drones), but other than introducing the subject, the film does little with it.

The movie is at its best during the quiet times. The Avengers party (seen on the trailers) is the film’s highlight, as the heroes’ interactions remain fascinating. Black Widow and Bruce Banner fumbling around the possibility of romance makes more sense than it should. Even Hawkeye, by all accounts the team’s Zeppo, reveals himself as its most soulful member (!?!?!) and the one with the most at stake. He’s the audience’s stand-in.

There’s a lot of information in Avengers: Age of Ultron to absorb in just one sitting, so hardcore fans should prepare for at least a couple of trips to the multiplex. Avoid 3-D prices — it’s not worth it.

Bottom line: it’s becoming a pattern for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to hint at greatness, but come up short every time. Maybe Captain America: Civil War will break the pattern?