Friday, 24 July 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

I collect the figures, read the comics and watch the films, but the “superhero” film genre is becoming increasingly saturated with the same thing over and over again. You just have to look at Marvel and DC’s release schedules for the next couple of years, and it’s clear that Hollywood and modern cinema in general, are being suffocated by these multi-million dollar franchises. After waiting an eternity for its release over here in Japan, Avengers: Age of Ultron was one of my most anticipated films of this year. Yet for all its bells and whistles, the film feels like a significant step back in Marvel’s recently stellar form. And it can all be simply attributed to one thing; crap writing. 

Tony Stark’s overzealous need to protect humanity from the unknown is rewarded with a sentient A.I. program named Ultron, who unfortunately plans to eradicate the human race. Tensions arise, the team’s chemistry is tested and destruction ensues as the Avengers come to the rescue..?. At the story’s heart, and even in the title, is the introduction of the villainous Ultron. Yet as a continuation of Marvel’s inability to create genuinely threatening antagonists, the physically imposing Ultron fails to really bring anything of stature or note. I can’t fault James Spader’s vocal performance, but this iconic character’s transformation to the screen is bitterly disappointing. The needless, smug remarks and Stark mannerisms belittle the initial menace and threat that’s effectively established with the character in the first act. It’s therefore frustrating that one of the quintessential figures of the Avengers lore is reduced to a tedious and vapid figure with an “evil plan” that’s ridiculous beyond belief. 

This labelled “Age” of Ultron similarly finds little justification through the course of the film. It’s ultimately a weekend of mild nuisance for the Avengers, where each member has minor obstacles they have to overcome as a team. The foundations are there for a film of impressive scale and dramatic weight, but it’s constricted by a lack of drive and ambition from the writing. These inconsistencies and problems ultimately infect the majority of the film. Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner’s forced romance falls flat on its face to an uncomfortable degree. Their relationship feels tacked on rather than of genuine affection, which in hindsight had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. It’s an amateurish technique of forcing emotional gravitas to the ensuing events and it shows. 

One issue that has been a constant problem with the Marvel films of late is the underlying desire to further develop its overall “Universe”. Age of Ultron spends a tiresome amount of screen time on setting up Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: The Infinity Wars. Previously, hidden secrets, minor details and easter eggs offered fans glimpses and signs of the bigger composition of the Marvel totality. But with the vast nature and multiplicity of the franchise, it seems that casually inserting mini trailers/ teasers for upcoming films has become the norm. It’s genius marketing, but distracts from the film at hand. Yet even when the decision is made to include these elements, they’re either forgotten about or trivialised. Take Captain America: The Winter Soldier for example. The final moment of that film is the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D at the hands of Hydra. It’s a significant event that see’s Nick Fury disappear off the grid, S.H.I.E.L.D’s secrets being leaked to the public, and Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon going their separate ways. But in Age of Ultron a couple of lines of dialogue are deemed sufficient to resolve these major narrative ramifications. It’s an intriguing angle that could have been used to create uncertainty over the Avengers’ public perception, but alas it’s completely wasted. 

But for all my problems with Age of Ultron, it was still entertaining to watch. Even with the massive drawback of an unintelligent script and story, the entire cast do a relatively good job. The chemistry between the team members is on display, and it’s one that remains engaging and charming to witness. While Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen’s accents are as inconsistent as the screenplay, they manage to justify their recruitment into the Avengers. I actually really enjoyed Scarlet Witch’s mind games with the rest of the team. Exploring the inner psyches and torments of our heroes, added more weight to each decision and reaction. Heroes with fragility or past trauma are always a lot more interesting than the immortal beings they’re usually whittled down to. Meanwhile the action set pieces are handled well and certainly look the part. The film hits the action beats that a blockbuster should, and the spectacle is, for the most part, satisfying.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an acceptable sequel, but loses the intellect, charm and cohesion that propelled the superhero team to popular stardom back in 2012. At the time, Avengers Assemble was a surprisingly enjoyable blockbuster that felt sincere and fitting to its origins and the source material. Meanwhile last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier brought a sophisticated and thematically, engrossing story of conspiracy and espionage that offered a different perspective to the franchise’s characters and the genre itself. Guardians of the Galaxy took many by surprise with it’s gung-ho attitude and strong sense of humour throughout. This ability to infuse a unique element or personality has become an important factor in defining these individual films. Age of Ultron is an “Avengers” film, and by that stipulation it should be one of grandeur and lasting consequence. Yet while the aesthetics and performances are handled well, the sub-par writing leaves a film of missed opportunities and squandered ambition.