Avengers: Age of Ultron

Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 161 mins
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson
Genre: Action, Superhero, Comic Book
Country: USA

The world has changed since The Winter Soldier.  S.H.I.E.L.D is gone and the only thing standing between Hydra and their evil plans being ticked off their “to do” list is the Avengers.  We leap straight into action in a snow-kissed location in the Eastern half of a made-up country as our heroes look to retrieve Loki’s staff and the infinity stone that resides within it.  Like before, Whedon drops us into the middle of a situation but if he’s going to keep the wheels from coming off the wagon we’re going to need to see more of the characters behind the costumes.

I’d every intention for this review to be straight up on to the site the moment the film was watched but to be honest, aside from other commitments, there’s been a struggle to really grasp the pros and cons of AOU.  Whedon’s eye, as always, captures a beautifully rendered film.  The way he plays with colour, grain, angle, etc gives the film an almost documentary feel to proceedings as the world watches “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” lay down some smack on anyone and everyone who’s perceived as a threat.  The introduction of the Tony Stark Police Department (or Iron Marshalls) is a nice touch.  Already we’re being shown glimpses of where we’re going, the party lines of Civil War and the wealth of material that Joe and Anthony Russo are going to have at their disposal.  The way Whedon nods towards the bigger geo-political picture without fully commiting to comment is awkwardly admirable.  It is a slow burn that’s occurring amidst this orgy of action sequences.  Yet for all my wanting to love Avengers: Age of Ultron there were more problems than proclamations in the 2 hours 40 and change.

Yes, the action opener was fun.  Big and brash and got the tempo up straight away but it was also incredibly formulaic and almost third person shooter in its self referential way.  Each of the components of the set piece were exhilarating in their own way but as a whole it lacked any real danger or uncertainty… though the introduction of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) was so much fun and the complexity of the Banner-Romanoff relationship landed on the right side of ambiguous.  Hulk vs. Hulkbuster was a scene that the entire movie was almost marketed around yet it felt incredibly anticlimactic to have it rolled out so early.  Alfred Hitchcock once acknowledged that letting the bomb [1] go off in a movie was one of his biggest mistakes, as the longer it ticks away the more tension you can create; and I can’t help but think of this when I see the two Titans square off.  The big guy's rage is caused by Scarlet Witch, this is not a problem, but it’s really the only uncontrollable flash of “true” Hulk we get to see and as such, much of Ruffalo’s woe-ing about what to do lands very flat.  Where is this great uncontrollable beast?  Where is the city flattening rage?  Are Marvel so sure they want to close the door on a Planet Hulk adaptation that they’re happy to simply allow one of their most iconic characters to become little more than a ringer when there’s a fight going?

One of the issues with the first Avengers movie… in fact probably the only issue with the first movie was it’s lack of a first act.  I understand entirely why Whedon jumped straight into the “disorder” portion of the film, he had a lot to do and almost no time to do it, but it meant that those characters not fortunate enough to have had solo outings in the last few years were left short changed on the character front.  The auteur takes a brave step to one-side and gives pause to consider Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Johansson) as people before protagonist’s and though it’s welcomed, it’s clunky and misshapen.  Sure, I like the idea of Hawkeye having a family and house chores and a normality away from the day-to-day cray-cray he sees at work but the presentation was so chocolate box Americana that is actually came close to sending audience members (well… me) into a diabetic coma.  Johansson[2] breaks out the acting chops and delivers a side of Natasha that is sensitive, still recovering and in search of something “more”.  I’ve recently reconnected with Matt Murdock and as such have been binge consuming Daredevil (both comic and Netflix form).  I have a deeply rooted love for Black Widow.  She’s a complicated character, one who you sense will never be truly happy because she’s never been shown how to be and though I appreciate what Whedon is doing in these scenes with Banner (Ruffalo) I’ve a problem or two with how he is doing it.

Yes, Natasha is a woman.  That catsuit hugs so tightly there’s no mistaking her for anything else but she is also a soldier, a warrior, and something of a lost soul.  Describing herself as a “monster” is fine.  In many ways, and in many story arcs over the past fifty years she has been monstrous but AOU defines her monstrous-ness on what she can’t do.  On her enforced sterilization.  She’s a monster because she can’t become a mummy?  And what of the people that did this to her?  Aren’t they monsters?  If Natasha is a monster it is because of what she has done and not because of what she can’t do.  At best Whedon took a shorthand course and did his best to pepper the character with tragedy in order to humanize her but at worst it’s little more than the casual sexism that’s all too common, welcome and expected in Mainstream Hollywood cinema.  There’s a bigger argument here, one I touched on in a guest article for Inanity & The Girl [here] but the bottom line is that Black Widow has been reduced to little more than a nice ass that can’t have babies.  The first movie made a lot about the fact that she had “red in her ledger” that she wanted to rub out.  Where is this red?  Is this not what makes her monstrous and keeps her up at night?  It stinks.

Then there’s Banner.  I’ve made zero secret of the fact Hulk is a favourite of mine and that his treatment in the Marvel Universe is shocking compared to the likes of Thor (or Snore in my house).  AOU puts Banner (and Ruffalo) at a new low.  He has effectively been neutered.  Yes, he has one uncontrollable rage brought on my voodoo (who-do?) but other than that the big green meanie seems to be pretty well under control.  There is no lashing out.  There’s no accidental injuries to loved ones, there’s little collateral damage and he even has the clarity of mind to turn a communication screen off and fly a plane.  What… the actual… fuck?!  Are you kidding me?  Welcome aboard Flight 105 to Infinity War, I’m your Captain today –Captain Hulk, we’ll be cruising at an altitude of… How is Ruffalo meant to play Banner when they give him nothing to play against?  Yes, he’s still the frightened pacifist but why?  And how?  It’s as though New York occurred on a Monday and the Ultron on a Tuesday because he has had zero character development in the time we’ve been away.  The lack of a solo movie has hurt him more than Feige could have ever guessed.  I love The Hulk because of the tragedy in his character.  The more he helped the more he lost.  It was true sacrifice but now he’s more tragic than tragedy.  A love sick puppy, frightened of commitment because of the monster inside he’s controlling rather easily.  It’s a weak rom-com inside a formulaic superhero movie and it has to stop otherwise the next few years of Marvel’s master-plan are going to become really difficult to sit through.

Maybe it was because the Daredevil Netflix series was so incredibly good that AOU seems to have more cracks and faults in it but I doubt it.  Tony Stark and his mouth are more annoying that ever.  Snore couldn’t be more 2 dimensional if he was in an Atari game, Captain America was given little more to do than give orders, Hawkeye is drifting, the Twins had their moments but Black Widow and Hulk have been absolutely wasted.  This did not feel like a Joss Whedon movie.  His work has more balance, intelligence and character than this.  This felt like a movie in which ego trumped director and though it would only be speculation whose ego it was, it’s sad to see Joss Whedon sign off from the MCU with such a disjointed mess.

[1] “There is a distinct difference between "suspense" and "surprise," and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.  We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!" 

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

[2] Joint first in the “Most Short Changed Avenger” sweepstakes with Mark Ruffalo.


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