The Avengers are back, called into action again by yet another threat to mankind. In the same way soap operas have more than their fair share of drama, so the Marvel Universe is plagued by things out to get us. Luckily, we have our own hand-picked team of superheroes eager to fight the good fight.
In the first movie, 2012’s The Avengers, our heroes managed to defeat an alien army intent on subjugating Earth on the orders of Loki, Thor’s Asgardian brother. This time the threat is even greater, with an artificial intelligence known as Ultron seeking to wipe mankind off the face of the planet in order to achieve (a sick kind of) peace.
Is The Avengers: Age of Ultron worth watching? Read our spoiler-free review for geeks below to find out.
It Opens With a Bang
Things start with a bang, as we rejoin the Avengers — Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow — midway through a mission that sets off the chain reaction of events that make up the bulk of this movie. It’s the perfect way to reintroduce us to the team, and we’re reminded of the fun interplay between the characters. Which is where writer/director Joss Whedon excels.
Unfortunately, things slow down very quickly, and that explosive beginning quickly turns into a whimper. By the time the next big set-piece arrives, it feels very overdue, even though we’re still only 30 minutes into a film with a running time of 142 minutes. These lulls in the action reveal the biggest problem with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Picking Up a Paycheck
The characters adopt a tired, “Here we go again” attitude as they realize their tour of duty as an Avenger may never actually end. Tony Stark in particular doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life fighting bad guys. And while this is a rather important plot point, it appears to have fed into the mindset of the actors themselves, as most of them phone in their performances for their overly generous paychecks.
It feels very much as though Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) are growing tired of these characters after appearing in at least four films apiece. Which leaves Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) needing to lift their game to compensate. They do, but not quite enough.
Breathing Life Into Ultron
The actual plot of The Avengers: Age of Ultron focuses heavily on Ultron, an artificial intelligence that is accidentally unleashed to wreak havoc on the world.
Ultron, brilliantly voiced by James Spader, is designed to help maintain order in lieu of the Avengers. However, after consuming all of the information he can get his hands on, Ultron decides that the best way of achieving peace on Earth is destroying humanity and starting over afresh.
This goes against Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which we briefly touched on in our list of fantastical books featuring memorable robot characters.
The first law states that, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” But Ultron achieves true sentience, at which point no human law has any bearing on his mindset.
As he says himself, “There are no strings on me,” an obvious reference to humanity’s treatment of robots as puppets bound to do exactly what they’re told to do.
Ultron is brought to life in a way which would not be believable in our own universe, but this is the Marvel Universe, and anything goes. The characters explain away how Ultron came to be in a rather clunky manner, but then this is a movie aimed at people of all ages, so the use of simplified language should be expected.
The character itself is physically very well-realized, being a striking structure you wouldn’t want to stumble across in a dark alleyway. This makes him a suitable villain to battle the Avengers from the bold beginning of the film to the rather unsatisfying conclusion. And, with the failure of the actors to express much beyond boredom, Ultron may just be the most human character featured in the film.
Mirroring Our Own Thoughts on AI
Hollywood has been tackling the subject of artificial intelligence for many decades, but the Age of Ultron plot is a rather timely storyline. The world’s leading technologists are starting to publicly express their worries about the technological singularity actually happening, and Marvel is therefore mirroring our own thoughts on AI with this ridiculous popcorn flick.
When the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk are concerned about the future, the rest of us should probably listen, and then heed what they have to say on the matter. Otherwise Ultron, or at least our own version of him, could become reality. And whatever else you take from this film, that isn’t a reality any of us should embrace willingly.
Messy and Fragmented
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a strange film, in that all of the various elements are present, but there’s just something missing. The plot works, but still ends up feeling messy and fragmented. Your favorite characters are all there, but none of them really stands out. There’s a little humor, an adorable love story, and plenty more besides. But none of it quite fits together in the same way as the first Avengers movie.
This is due to a mix of a) unreasonable expectations, which could also impact Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and b) the film feeling very much like a stepping stone between the movies that have come before and the movies coming down the line.
Whedon tries his best, but on this occasion fails to lift the source material to anything above average. The result is the comic book movie equivalent of painting by numbers.
Is This Peak Comic Book Movies?
We may well have reached peak comic book movies here, with The Avengers: Age of Ultron setting us off on a long, slow decline towards no one caring any more.
The quantity of films being released is going up, but the quality is going down. And there will soon be a definite and undeniable feeling of, “Been there, done that” permeating throughout the whole genre. That is unless Guardians of the Galaxy 2 brings something fresh to the table.
The Avengers from 2012 was an epic adventure starring your favorite comic book characters brought to life on the big screen. And it worked. Age of Ultron is an average adventure starring now over-familiar versions of your favorite comic book characters. And it only just works by the slimmest of margins.
- Stronger storylines for Hawkeye & Black Widow.
- Hulk smashes it again, literally.
- Unmissable set-pieces aplenty.
- Ultron is brought to life rather successfully.
- The actors phone in their performances.
- There’s too much humor and not enough humanity.
- It all feels a little tired and dated.
- You need to have seen every other Marvel movie.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t a bad movie. Unfortunately, it isn’t a very good one either. You will be entertained as you consume your own body weight in popcorn, but you’ll leave the movie theater wanting more. Not more action, more humor, or more peril for the characters, but more effort on the part of everybody involved. Which, for a summer blockbuster, just isn’t good enough.
MakeUseOf rates The Avengers: Age of Ultron 3 Stars out of 5.