“As I like to say: keep your friends rich and your enemies rich, and try to find out which is which.” – Ultron
James Spader gives one of Age of Ultron’s standout performances as main antagonist Ultron, an A.I. created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner with a view to protecting the world when the Avengers retire. Needless to say, things don’t quite work out that way.
Cue a number of elements similar to what we’ve seen before: an enemy who intends to tear the Avengers apart ‘from the inside’, subsequent infighting between the heroes due to said manipulation, followed by heart-to-hearts and dramatic realisations of needing to save the world as they all come together again, and eventually having to fight a whole army in an overblown climax. One-liners, showing up in the script every few minutes, are supposed to make us laugh. Frequent close-ups on civilians are supposed to make us care during the major action sequences. To me the whole thing came across as evident of a confident studio-hired team, patting each other on the back for another job well done.
Don’t get me wrong: this IS a job well done as it pertains to Marvel’s successful formula for the MCU so far. I’ve considered each movie in this unique Hollywood studio experiment to be of a consistently high, polished quality ever since the first Ironman in 2008. Though Age of Ultron represents the first time I’ve felt it all getting just a little… stale.
Most of the major players are present, for what is the biggest Marvel ensemble so far. Fans of Robert Downey Jr (Ironman), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) will not be disappointed as each take to their roles with increasing ease – perhaps too much so by this point. In some scenes I felt hints of complacency beginning to creep into their performances – not least from Downey Jr’s Stark, who often relies on quips and snarky comments to get an easy laugh from the audience.
That being said, in Age of Ultron there is even more opportunity offered for Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow), and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) most of all, to take centre stage in two of the film’s main story arcs, the former an unlikely blossoming romance, the latter revealing Hawkeye to be a family man who may just be the glue holding the group together. These subplots help prevent the film falling into blockbuster obscurity and ensure there is at least more substance to be found here than in the average Michael Bay movie.
My favourite performance of the movie, however, belonged firmly (and surprisingly) to Elizabeth Olsen, who more than holds her own among the bigger characters and is, frankly, a breath of fresh air for every scene she’s in as Scarlett Witch. Together with Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver) as the Maximoff twins, Olsen comfortably shines as the brighter star of the two, though it is the former who has arguably the more memorable individual moments.
Let’s be honest: you know what else to expect from these films by now. The biggest disappointment about Age of Ultron for me is not that it’s any less exciting or entertaining than the first Avengers movie – though in many ways I found it both less exciting and less entertaining – it’s actually that, for all the extra content and convoluted story set-ups it manages to pack in, its ambitions do not really seem to be any higher than what we’ve already seen in the past. The Avengers deal with interpersonal issues before fighting a generic army at the end; this is the same as before.
While Ultron may initially seem a unique villain, it ultimately turns out he is anything but – aside from nice dialogue and hints at parallels with his creator Tony Stark (which are never fully explored), his motivations and aims are barely separable from those of the other Marvel enemies we’ve seen past and, no doubt, future.
In the end I certainly don’t consider it a bad movie, though I think it could turn out to be somewhat of a watershed for the MCU. Where will they go from here? Regurgitate similar movie structures and script outlines going forward? If so then I’m afraid my interest and enthusiasm for what they’re doing could deteriorate yet further. But for now, I’m willing to simply say Age of Ultron is largely more of the same, and for most people that’s probably enough to give it a pass.
6 / 10