Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron Official image

Image courtesy of Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Avengers: Age of Ultron
| published May 13, 2015 |

By Isaac Fink Thursday Review contributor

Superhero films are in a renaissance right now, with a new one seemingly emerging from the major studios every few months. The biggest one of this year however, is Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to the first Avengers film that released back in 2012, and the end of Marvel's “second phase” of their cinematic universe.

The Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe began with the first Iron Man film in 2008, which was later expanded into “Phase 1” of the MCU, consisting of Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers film. The idea of a unified continuity in which all the characters exist together in an interlocking world resonates with audiences, and insures big box office receipts. But over time and as the franchise expands in scope and complexity, the movies—sadly, predictably—have become stale.

Thor 2 and Iron Man 3, while both doing well at the box office, were very poorly received by hardcore fans and some critics. Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were far better received, Guardians for its humor and heart, and Captain America for being “dark and gritty.” But Captain America 2 was only dark by MCU standards, only by comparison to the lighthearted, flashy romps of the other films in the franchise could The Winter Soldier be considered dark. There is no real loss of life, no real sense of peril, no deep message about morality or politics even though it tries to pretend that there is. Ultimately, like the rest of the films in the Marvel cinematic universe, it is completely lacking any real depth.

That's why when I heard over and over again in interviews with actors and producers that Age of Ultron would be “darker” than the first Avengers film, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. And sure enough, when the movie rolled around it was the same as every other Marvel film; a new villain decides, after only five minutes of screen time, that humanity and the Avengers need to be destroyed. The heroes have to work together to fight faceless hordes of emotionless enemies, flashy explosions and special effects are there to spruce up every scene, we get very forced arguments between Iron Man and Captain America to set up Captain America: Civil War. Ultimately, despite the expensive special effects and digital layering, it fails to impress.

There were some aspects of the film that showed a lot of potential. The titular villain, Ultron, was incredibly entertaining, and James Spader's performance is excellent. His partners in crime, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, god-awful fake accents/acting aside, had a personal vendetta against Tony Stark, which could have added to their character. But ultimately, this subplot is completely ignored and Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch have no problem teaming up with Tony when they decide to be good guys.

But the biggest waste of potential by far, is the film's climax. The Avengers are faced with a choice; to let the city be destroyed, along with everyone inside it, in order to save the rest of the planet, or save the city and doom the rest of the world. This would have been an amazing opportunity, showing the complete and utter heartbreak of the heroes, realizing that they can't always win, the weight of their choice weighing down on them, and best of all, the public perception of our heroes after making their morally ambiguous decision. This could have given the film depth that the franchise severely lacks. But of course, since it's the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the writers and producers ruin it by having Nick Fury show up out of nowhere with a magical giant plane into which can fit the entire population of the city. This insane amount of wasted potential left me in a sour mood for the rest of the film.

This isn't the only kick in the face to fans hoping for the movie to evoke SOME kind of emotion in the audience. Leading up to the movie’s release, the Hollywood marketers told us over and over again “one of the Avengers won't make it” and “someone will die,” and these statements turn out to be a borderline lie. While an “Avenger” does technically die, it's not any of the heroes you know and love. Instead, they kill off one of the brand new characters introduced in the film, someone who never even officially joins the group. His death evokes little impact other than perhaps curiosity over why they would kill him off so early instead of developing him more in later films and killing off a more well known and loved character instead to generate a more emotional response from the audience.

This disappointment is only further intensified by the fact that this movie releases right on the heels of the first trailer Batman V. Superman and Marvel's own Netflix series, Daredevil. In a single two minute trailer, Batman V. Superman is already tackling more complex and emotional issues than anything Marvel has released. In Marvel's Daredevil series, which is part of the same interconnected world as The Avengers, we have a loveable cast of characters who are incredibly well written and developed, with real human feelings and human struggles. Characters die and it doesn't feel like a cheap cash-in on people's emotions, but instead like the true, realistic consequences for the heroes actions. It isn't constant explosions and special effects, it has its slow moments, we see the characters actually have conversations with each other, debate ideals, fight, bleed, stumble, fall, and finally triumph. It's hard to believe that Daredevil takes place in the same continuity as the rest of the MCU when it has everything the rest of the franchise lacks. Maybe Marvel should start letting their Netflix series writers write their movies.

In the end, Age of Ultron is a perfect representation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole: a shallow, lifeless film, completely devoid of any substance, but serving as a way to cash-in to make Marvel a bigger pile of money. People will excuse it by saying “it's only a superhero movie, it doesn't need emotion.” But no, we've had superhero movies that have made us feel something, we've had The Dark Knight, we've had Watchmen, we shouldn't allow Marvel to continue to get away with making these soulless popcorn movies. The Avengers: Age of Ultron, like every other film Marvel has made thus far, is all style, no substance, and I give it a 4 out of 10.

Related Thursday Review articles:

X-Men: Days of Future Past; Lori Garrett; Thursday Review; May 29, 2014.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Lori Garrett; Thursday Review; May 9, 2014.