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As you may have noticed, I enjoy superhero films. And games. And sometimes graphic novels. So, naturally, I have been looking forward to The Avengers: Age of Ultron since it was announced. Admittedly, I actually found myself less enthusiastic about it as time went on, to the point that when I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn’t remember that I was going to see it. But, I was happy to be going back in to see Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, et al. Mostly, I wanted to see one of the new additions to the Avengers team, The Vision. Well, I say mostly, but it was half that and half wanting to see James Spader’s Ultron.
From the trailers, we got the impression that Ultron could be the first villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who was truly menacing, intimidating, and scary. Someone who posed a very real threat to the Avengers, powerful as they are. Unfortunately, what we got was…a comedian.
Let’s start from the start. The snowy, forest scene that we saw plenty of pictures of gets blasted apart by the Avengers and Hydra. Already, about 1 minute in, the film made its first mistake. It tried to copy the impressive single-shot sequence from near the end of the first Avengers. The one where the camera moves from one Avenger to the next, to the next, without cutting. It looked good in that film. In this film, it was some of the worst CGI I’ve seen for a long time. It was contrived and looked simply awful.
And that just, for me, sums up a lot of Joss Whedon’s writing in Age of Ultron. He seemed more concerned with getting cheap laughs than telling a story. With forcing ‘cool’ scenes than actually telling us what the hell was going on. Although the story is simple, I found myself confused more than once. Ultron himself seems to go through a few different variations of his evil plan but we, the audience, seem to find that out by accident. Of course, the story itself is the biggest cliche there is when it comes to stories involving artificial intelligence, but that should have been okay. After all, it’s how a story is told that’s the main thing. Unfortunately, it was told quite badly.
Ultron. It’s James Spader! How do you get a voice like James Spader’s to come out of your villain’s mouth, and still manage to make him benign and unthreatening? Yes, he’s more powerful than any of the Avengers and, yes, he kills a few people, but he also jokes constantly. It takes a very special writer to write a character who is both witty and scary, and Joss Whedon is not that writer. So yes, Ultron is funny. Very funny in places. But what do you want from a big, bad villain: threat and menace, or some laughs? The humour of the Marvel films is one of their attractions, but set yourself a damn limit!
It’s Iron Man 3 and Mandarin all over again. Remember how good the trailers seemed? How menacing and threatening The Mandarin sounded? We knew it was going to be good. Then we watched the film and…Trevor Slattery. What? Not that Ultron isn’t a threat. He’s just not threatening.
It seems like Whedon wanted him to be like a moody teenager at first, since he has only just been created. But he never really bothers to push the character down that route. Which leaves him a bit all over the place (like most of the film).
James Spader is, naturally, very good as Ultron regardless of the writing.
You’ve probably noticed that the writing is the main let down of the film for me. It had little structure. Things just happened. It was simply ‘Oh now this is happening’, rather than ‘This is happening because he did that, and they need this outcome, blah blah blah…’ Rarely was there much cohesion between the scenes and the storytelling.
So those are my main complaints.
It’s less of a complaint, but I was disappointed with how little Paul Bettany’s The Vision was in it. He appears late on in the film, and only really has 4 or 5 scenes. And a very small handful of lines. Yet, despite that, he was one of the best things about the film. Him and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who was much better utilised this time round. And funny.
Thor seemed a little redundant this time, despite practically being a god. In fact, he took more of a beating from Ultron than any of the mere mortals, who held their own against him perfectly well. But there was no real story to his character, other than in a set up for future films. Though in light of the other issues, this didn’t really bother me. He was still Thor as we know him – though perhaps not taking quite as much punishment as we know he should be able to.
Overall, I did enjoy the film, you might be surprised to hear. I will definitely watch it again, perhaps at the cinema with the free ticket I got to make up for the flickering of the screen throughout.
I should probably list all the things I liked about it now, but it’s actually a lot harder than listing the things I didn’t. The memory of the film seems quite blurry, thanks to the aforementioned lack of structure.
Ah, but I know what I will complain about again though! Coulson. No Phil Coulson. The current events of Agents of SHIELD do mean that it kind of makes sense that he wouldn’t have a cameo, but I’d hoped they would find a way. After all, his death in the first film caused such outrage that Marvel had to bring him back!
But then I read Whedon’s comments on the topic. As far as he’s concerned, Coulson is dead to the MCU. Basically, he sounds extremely bitter, with his ego bruised by the fact that Marvel decided to undo his decision to kill the character. I wouldn’t be too happy either, but at the end of the day, these characters are Marvel’s not Whedon’s. The fans are Marvel’s, not Whedon’s. So I’m as disappointed with Whedon as I was with the film. More so, actually.
What I found amusing by his statements concerning Coulson, though, was that he said that the plot device of someone dying and then coming back can be used to the point of there never feeling like there’s something at stake. While that’s true (and let’s ignore the fact that it doesn’t lessen the impact at the time), he’s saying this after putting out a film that contains the utterly pointless death of a main character. Not only is it utterly pointless, and only there so that we feel like the whole thing had been dangerous and they didn’t all get out unscathed, but it seemed like he had been thrown into the film for that purpose.
I understand the idea that characters might need to die, otherwise it’s all too easy and clean and nothing really feels like it’s at stake, but that’s not necessarily the case. Ultron could have been the villain who tore the heroes apart on the inside. Who got in their heads and broke them. After all, as someone said: Ultron probably knew more about each of them that they knew about each other. He could quite easily have used that knowledge. No one needed to die in order for them to not make it out unscathed. But more to the point, if you are going to kill a character, don’t make it so entirely contrived.
But anyway, that’s probably enough ranting. Go and see it. It’s quite good, despite what I’ve said… I’d probably rate it 4th or 5th out of the Marvel films.