Though there’s more conflict in the new “Avengers,” it comes in a more conflicted package
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader
Release Date: May 1
By all rights, the Marvel Cinematic Universe should not work as well as it does — the constant juggling act that is required to keep so many balls in the air is nothing short of Herculean. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” represents, in many ways, a clearer test of the effectiveness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the first “Avengers” film did: It passes that test, though not without a few hiccups.
The plot is simple enough. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), in response to continuing fears of an alien invasion leftover from “The Avengers,” makes a peacekeeping artificial intelligence called Ultron. The robot — played brilliantly by James Spader — decides that keeping the peace would be a lot easier if humans were dead, so he begins to build a robot army. The whole gang from Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) returns to put a stop to the mechanical mastermind’s machinations.
Spader himself as Ultron is mesmerizing — the way in which the robot is so human (and in many ways a reflection of his creator Tony Stark) provides one of the main points of interest in the film. The performance and motion-capture technology combine to create the image of an incredibly flawed and fractured psyche in the body of a “murderbot,” in the words of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Spader’s villain is at times funny, unsure of himself, curious and cynical.
The other spotlight character this time around is the Avenger who got short shrift in the last big movie: Hawkeye turns out to have a lot more depth of character and backstory than we gave him credit for and receives many of the funniest and best lines. That’s an important point to make because, in many ways, this “Avengers” film is a comedy. It thrives and breathes in the moments away from the action, like in a party scene involving our heroes all getting drunk and trying to lift Thor’s magic hammer.
As usual with the Marvel and other superhero films, those more “talkie” sequences provide most of the value of the film. T hese moments are contrasted with the big, mindless sequences between the heroes and baddies made out of tissue paper. “Age of Ultron” was marketed in many ways like an “Avengers” version of the classic “Empire Strikes Back” — a darker and more involved dramatic ride that ramped up both the external and internal conflicts of the original. The internal conflicts here are certainly more developed to an extent, but the external conflict is, as usual, so much useless fluff. Ultron, for all his Shakespearean pathos, poses very little threat — there is no moment when we feel as if our heroes are in danger, and that sense of filler could be dangerous for a massive franchise that will soon have to fend off audience fatigue. The film is incredibly worthwhile as an action comedy where we get to know a bit more about some of our favorite heroes. But is it a Marvel film that asks hard-hitting questions like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” did or truly imperils our main heroes like the new Netflix show “Daredevil”? This “Avengers” film is not quite worthy enough to lift that hammer.