Movie Review | Avengers: Age of Ultron
Movie summary: When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it's up to Earth's mightiest heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plan. (IMDb)
Internet hyperbole - where everything is either incredible or rubbish - would have you believe that Avengers: Age of Ultron falls into the latter of those two categories, but is far from it. Don't get me wrong, it's nowhere close to the former either but instead falls somewhere in-between here. There's a lot of good, but also a lot of not-so-good stuff in this packed movie.
And the fact that it feels so packed is one of the major problems. This movie was made when Marvel Studios still answered to Ike Perlmutter and the 'Creative' Committee, which really shows - especially Thor's subplot further setting up the Infinity Stones and having little to do with the actual story of the movie. It also meant the writer-director, Joss Whedon, got burnt out and that too is easy to see.
The first Avengers movie was a miracle with everything came together to work as well as it did, but you can see how much Whedon struggled to replicate or further the formula here. It may well be that Perlmutter and the Creative Committee can shoulder some of the blame, but I think it's also such a big project that it was simply too much for one man to write and direct by himself.
You only have to look at phenomenally well-received Infinity War and Endgame were, and those movies had two directors and two writers each time - effectively spreading that pressure across a group rather than a single person. Whedon was the perfect choice to bring the team together, but I don't think he really knew where to best proceed from there - even though Ultron was his choice for the villain this time around.
At this time, Marvel Studios' movies also had a reputation for underwhelming or flat out terrible villains, and Ultron definitely counts as one of the more disappointing 'Big Bads' to have entered the MCU. James Spader's voice performance is fine, but the material was lacking and Ultron was far too humorous to take seriously.
His visual appearance didn't help matters either, with his unmoving, emotionless visage from the comics replaced by robotic lips and a far more expressive face that only served to humanise him - a worthy goal to try for in most cases, but it works against the character here. It doesn't help that he's not that much of a physical threat to the team either, leaving you wondering why he's such a big deal.
The saving grace of Age of Ultron, and most of the MCU's lesser efforts, is the cast and how well they interact with each other. By this point, most of them had appeared in multiple movies as their particular character, knowing how to play them faultlessly, and the chemistry between them is still magical even though this is the second go-around for this particular team.
Even most of this movie's worst critics still acknowledge how great the party scene is near the start of the movie, just getting to see the characters we know and love having a good time and simply hanging out with each other - many would argue that a film of the Avengers just hanging out would've been preferable to what we actually got with Age of Ultron.
The thing is, there are other moments just as good in this movie that make it a worthwhile watch for me, even if it's nowhere close to Marvel Studios' better efforts. The long one-take at the start (aided by a lot of CGI) is great; Hulk vs Hulkbuster; the quieter moments at Clint's farm; Hawkeye's talk with Wanda while fighting Ultron's drones; Nick Fury helping to save the day; Vision's final meeting with Ultron; and there are plenty more.
The problem is that these moments are connected by 'empty' movie time, where it can feel like certain scenes are there that don't need to be (which Whedon would almost certainly agree with); or some that go on just a little bit longer than necessary, leaving you impatient for the next scene to begin. These sections aren't 'bad' per se, but neither do they add anything of value to the movie.
Two other huge pluses in Age of Ultron's favour should also be noted in the forms of Paul Bettany's Vision and Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda - both of whom would go on to become far more important by the time Thanos makes his move in Infinity War. Their introductions here feel a little contrived, but they're still enjoyable to watch - including Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Wanda's brother, Pietro.
I think that Age of Ultron is treated a little harshly by some, but it's still not a particularly good movie either. It's pluses definitely outweigh its minuses, but that really is about as much as you can praise the movie: there's more good than bad here, although there is still a lot of bad. However, if you love the characters, you might well love this movie - the cast still shine regardless.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a lot of fun to watch, but is a bit of a mess when it comes to the story - the cast and their off-the-charts chemistry save the movie, with James Spader's Ultron never feeling as big a threat as needed to require the efforts of the entire team. Later MCU movies have retroactively improved Age of Ultron, but it still doesn't stand out as a great movie in its own right.