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The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted on the 05 May 2015 by Christopher Saunders
The Avengers: Age of UltronI hadn't dipped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man 3, two years, four films and several TV series ago. Much as I liked earlier franchise entries, I worried that it would collapse under the volume of its sprawling, fathomless mythology. Sadly, the bloated, boring The Avengers: Age of Ultron proved me right.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) create a new artificial intelligence from captured HYDRA technology. Unfortunately, their creation becomes Ultron (James Spader), a sentient intelligence who plans to destroy the world. Helped by supervillain twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), he starts eliminating HYDRA leaders and criminals before turning on the Avengers. Ultron uses Scarlet Witch's mind-melding powers to turn the team against each other, while Ultron plans to create himself as the next stage in human evolution.
The Avengers was a miraculous thrill ride: somehow, Joss Whedon pulled off the perfect balance of action, characters and quips. It was an incredible, once-in-a-life gathering of superheroes that pleased casual viewers and comic devotees alike. Unfortunately, box office diktats demanded a sequel, and teaming up the Earth's Mightiest Heroes went from novelty to obligation. That's probably why Age of Ultron seems so lifeless.
From the introduction, with our protagonists slaughtering dozens of faceless bad guys, to the finale, where they destroy hundreds of faceless robots, Age of Ultron offers nothing but interminable, interchangeable action. The plot's nonexistent and the villains suck. Ultron wants to destroy humanity (yawn), Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch want revenge on Tony. Their scheme involves turning the Avengers against each other, hardly a daunting task. Just have them order pizza and watch the sparks fly. Since our heroes are nigh-invincible, and the villains pixelated clay pigeons, there's no stake in anything.
Ultron barely stops for breath and its character scenes clunk. For one, Black Widow and Bruce Banner inexplicably fall in love. Since they had two scenes together until now, we don't buy it. Meanwhile, we meet Hawkeye's family, which might matter if we cared about him. Then Ultron and Jarvis debate humanity's value with dialog cribbed from Transformers. Even the banter lacks Whedon's customary spark: the only funny gag involves Thor's hammer, which is more visual anyway.
What could the cast possibly do? Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo handle their scenes with professional skill, if not conviction. Jeremy Renner relishes his expanded screentime, though it amounts to little. The others are in paycheck mode: Robert Downey Jr. drops double entendres, Chris Evans acts uptight, Chris Hemsworth poses for the ladies, Samuel L. Jackson scowls. We've seen it all before. Unlike the original Avengers, everyone seems bored.
James Spader relishes his snarky villain, and Paul Bettany's Jarvis is finally made flesh. But did we really need Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver (much less memorable than Evan Peters in X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch? They're uninteresting clutter in an overstuffed film. Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgaard, Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie, Peggy Atwill and Cobie Smulders have mandatory walk-ons. Evidently, Tom Hiddleston's Loki was left on the cutting room floor: he might have brought some life to the show.
Has Marvel's schtick worn thin? Fear not, we have at least six more years and a dozen films to go! Maybe Ant-Man will turn the franchise around - if not him, surely Howard the Duck.

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