MOVIE REVIEW: Why “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” Let Me Down, Slightly [SPOILER WARNING]

The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen
Directed by Joss Whedon
Philippine Release Date: April 22, 2015
Runtime: 142 minutes
MTRCB Rating: PG-13

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When The Avengers came out three years ago, it was a massive and unprecedented success. The end product of five (or four, if you want to pretend that The Incredible Hulk never existed, in which case, well, I can’t really say I blame you) movies’ worth of setup and the on-screen realization of an idea brought up in the first Iron Man movie via a secret scene that many people may have even missed, The Avengers was unlike any other superhero film the moviegoing audience had ever seen before. It was essentially the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on The Expendables, except with colorful costumes and superpowers, three times the wit, and about a hundred percent more plot.

Come to think of it, the only thing the MCU and “The Expendables” equally managed to do well was wasting Mickey Rourke.

Like it or not, The Avengers kicked off a new trend in these kinds of films – the let’s-put-as-many-characters-in-this-thing-as-possible approach. Why else do you think Warner Bros. finally decided to get off its butt and push harder for a Batman and Everyone Else, er, I mean, Justice League movie to come to fruition? What other reason could Sony have had to even think that a Sinister Six movie was a good idea (apart from the fact that “Spider-Verse” still wasn’t a thing at the time)?

“And when we’re done, we can move on to *other* great stories, like the Clone Saga, or Sins Past, or One More Day, or…”

Anyway, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you are most likely aware that a little movie called The Avengers: Age of Ultron managed to sneak its way into theaters, prepared to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and smash box office records with the intensity of a thunderclap from the Hulk himself.

Me being me, I ended up catching AoU (acronyms are cool, kids!) on opening day. Actually, I wanted to watch the midnight screening, but a certain telecom company bought all the tickets to all the screenings near my area (thanks a *lot*, guys), and my only other option was to travel approximately two hours with my poor girlfriend in tow, all for the privilege of seeing the movie half a day ahead of everyone else. I decided to scrap the midnight screening plan – after all, my favorite character isn’t even in it.

What I really want to say is, well… I’m glad I didn’t pass on a good Tuesday night’s sleep just for this.

Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t *like* this movie – it’s an easy 7.5/10 for me, maybe even an 8. It’s just that I didn’t like it as much as I was hoping I would. Here are the reasons why.

And yes, SPOILERS AHOY, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, turn back while you still can.

4. Everything was happening at the same time, loudly. All the time.

The first Avengers movie had the distinct advantage of being something we all hadn’t seen before. Go on, tell me that the fanboy in you didn’t wet his imaginary pants during all the scenes that showed the Avengers fighting side by side and actually working together.

Come on, tell me that this wasn’t awesome.

I guess it’s reasonable, then, that the “wow” factor wasn’t as strong in AoU than it was three years ago. What used to be fresh and eye-catching then has now sadly become run-of-the-mill – nothing remarkable. Then again, maybe it’s not because we’ve seen superheroes working together before; maybe it’s because this movie seems to prioritize that over offering an actual compelling story. (More on that later.)

There are like 9 main Avengers in this film, plus a handful of supporting characters, including some that were either underused or unnecessary (What were Dr. Helen Cho and Ulysses Klaw- er, Klaue even doing there? What was the point of using Baron von Strucker in the film, seeing as he ended up getting killed off-screen within the first hour of the film anyway?). Then, there’s the big baddie himself, Ultron. That’s around 15-20 characters all battling for screen time, and it takes carefully balanced plotting to do such a large number of stars justice.

While the characters do get their own moments to shine (Hawkeye in particular had quite a few), AoU relies heavily on flying debris, falling buildings, and massive destruction to keep the audience from dozing off. If you fill your movie with one explosive action scene after another, everything just sort of becomes one big, loud, complicated mess. AoU managed to dodge that bullet, but only barely.

The only scene in AoU that came even remotely close to sending chills down my spine was that 360-degree shot of Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision disassembling the ever-(non)living crap out of Ultron’s drones, and that’s just because I was excited by the idea that I could watch that scene thrice and find details I may have missed the first couple of times.

Besides, when your opening sequence contains the obligatory the-entire-team-in-bullet-time shot – one that you’ve unfortunately opted to include in the trailers – perhaps you’re tipping your hand a bit too early.

3. The Ultron in the trailers wasn’t the Ultron we got.

Okay, I admit it – the first time I saw Ultron, I was a bit disappointed. I mean, how do you manage to take this…

If this doesn’t scream EVIL MURDERBOT, I don’t know what will.

…and somehow end up with this?

I’ve got no strings on me. No pants, either.

However, I still had a bit of faith in Joss Whedon’s take on the sadistic, nigh-indestructible killer robot from the comics, because he sounded really creepy in the trailers. Like, the kind of creepy that tells you that he would not feel any remorse while ripping the flesh off innocent people’s bones with his cold, metal hands.

Unfortunately, instead of the sinister, calculating Ultron I was expecting, we got a smart-mouthed villain who somehow manages to embrace the ideology of the original character with almost none of the cold logic behind it that made him such a memorable and frightening foe in the first place. (And yes, I know he was based on Stark’s brain patterns – still doesn’t make him any less annoying.)

At the very core of Ultron the comic book character lies two reasons behind his obsessive quest to rid the world of humanity: an absolute lack of fondness for the human race (or any form of life in general), and a deep hatred of his creator, Dr. Hank Pym, after whose brain waves his were patterned. Ultron the movie character strives to exude both (with Tony Stark taking Pym’s place as Ultron’s “father” here), but manages to do justice to neither.

And no, I’m still not over how dumb his face looks.

ultron avengers

>my face when I first saw the MCU Ultron design

2. It’s not so much an Avengers sequel as it is a two-hour preview of films to come.

There’s way too much stuff in AoU, and hardly enough story. Characters and concepts are shoehorned in for the sake of teasing the Marvel movie lineup for the next few years, and it’s sort of annoying. Thor’s vision, which really didn’t make much sense in the context of the film, was nothing but a teaser for Thor: Ragnarok. Klaue and references to Wakanda were written into the plot to set up Black Panther. The movie rather clumsily acknowledges the existence of the Infinity Gems, and the brief mid-credits scene confirms that this is basically Marvel telling us as early as now to line up for Avengers: Infinity War, Parts I and II.

“Promote my movie? Fine. I’ll do it myself.”

Instead of feeling like a sequel, it feels like a gigantic ad, a prequel – all setup, not much substance. It’s like Iron Man 2 all over again, and the last thing you want your movie to do is to feel like Iron Man 2.

Then again, it could have been worse.

1. Marvel has already proven that they can do so much better than this.

What really gets my goat about all of this, though, is that Marvel has proven that they can make movies that rise above tired superhero movie tropes and actually bring something new and remarkable to the table. In a world where Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Netflix series Marvel’s Daredevil exist, I find it hard to accept that AoU feels as if at some point during the film’s creation, somebody took a look at its flaws, said “Screw it, we’ll still make tons of money anyway,” and went ahead with filming it, as is.

“We have a Hulkbuster – your argument is invalid. And your house is gone.”

A few other gripes:

– How come Tony Stark got to walk away from the destruction of an entire European country at the hands of his own creation? What were the ramifications? Where were the ramifications? Why wasn’t that addressed? I guess there’s plenty of room for that in Captain America: Civil War, but still.

– Why introduce Quicksilver only to kill him off? What was the point? If they wanted a big, emotionally charged death, they should have killed off one of the original cast, or settled for just the whole “Hulk is missing/Thor heads off to Ragnarok/Tony retires” scenario (which would have been more than enough). As it stands, we didn’t even get the chance to like Pietro. Sure, he seems to heal fast (and was even shown shrugging off a bullet wound in his arm like it was nothing), but he sure seemed pretty dead. Then again, we didn’t see a funeral, so maybe they stuck him into that cell-regenerating pod (assuming Thor’s hammertime antics and Vision’s “birth” didn’t damage it beyond repair).

So what was this, one gigantic middle finger to Fox?

(What, you didn’t see that coming?)

– The Natasha-Bruce romance was unnecessary, and actually made the Black Widow less of a compelling character. I would have preferred to see more of her dealing with her dark past than playing the role of damsel in distress during the latter half of the film. Plus, it seems rather odd that we’d get this from Whedon, an opinionated filmmaker who has been very vocal about his stand on gender equality.

– What the heck did Ultron really want? Mass extinction? The evolution of life into something greater? A world ruled by machines as perfectly made as the Vision? And why was he just sitting there and waiting for the Avengers to kick his ass? I love the irony in him being defeated that way, after he gets a couple of good lines in during the first half of the film that make fun of the typical supervillain tendency to meticulously explain every part of their nefarious plan to the hero, only to be foiled soon after.

It’s a shame, since a lot of things in the film were enjoyable, too. The party scene, the banter between characters, and the revelation of the new Avengers lineup at the end of the film all make it a must-watch for any fan of the comic book or film franchise.

Don’t hesitate to grab the opportunity to see this in cinemas. It’s well worth the price of admission, to be sure. You might want to manage your expectations, though; at some point, watching the film might start feeling like an obligation; “required viewing” before sampling the films in Marvel’s next phase of movies instead of the leisurely experience that movies are supposed to be.

The age of Ultron has arrived, and it could have used a bit more metal polish, I think.

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