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Avengers: Age of Ultron | Review

The Wrath of Bland: Whedon’s Poo Poo Platter Continues

Avenger Age of Ultron PosterMainstream event cinema continues to shackle box office glory and narrative familiarity to a creative deathbed as Joss Whedon returns with another glossy Marvel chapter in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The sort of film impervious to critical praise or derision, it’s fair to say that Whedon’s considerable talents at least place his super hero efforts in top shelf status, but to what end? His endless cavalcade of varyingly skilled superheroes make for more purposeful entertainment than Michael Bay and his own never-ending Transformers cash cow. But Whedon’s helming the exact same kind of inevitability. Where’s the tension when we already presume there will be another sequel or spinoff? For every ounce of visual glory on display in this latest chapter, there’s an equal detraction in character development, dialogue, or narrative dissonance. But the core audience for these ventures doesn’t care to see or bother to deal with these shoddy slights. The type of cheap, cornball narrative that used to pad out cheesy television films and mini-series has migrated into being a staple of the film industry, a reverse effect to the types of challenging, innovative, and original material we’re seeing pop up on the small screen.

For those who’ve kept up, Whedon dumps us into the action where our stalwart band of heroes continues to battle the flagging remnant of the Nazi organization HYDRA (see Captain America: Winter Soldier for reference). Fighting their way in to steal an item known as the scepter, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is injured. As the team overtakes Nazi baddie Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), they discover he’s made the most advanced form of artificial intelligence ever designed, Ultron (James Spader), an entity that seems to destroy Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) own A.I. system, Jarvis. Meanwhile, a set of angry Russian twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) whose parents were killed by Stark, are out for blood. Wanda has a specific skill set that allows her to fiddle with people’s psyches, so we get a little glimpse into the private fears of Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, whose flashback features, of all people, Julie Delpy), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). While the team retreats to Hawkeye’s private family farm to regroup, Thor absconds to collect Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) from London to assist. And Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow consider romantic union when he’s not transmogrifying into the fearsome Hulk.

How does one top the third highest grossing film of all time? By concocting an endless, unrelenting glut of overly stuffed action sequences populated by a host of characters there is not quite enough running time to properly flesh out, that’s how. Is there a point in complaining about the cringe worthy accents of the Russian twins (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, previously a couple in 2014’s Godzilla)? Or the useless inclusion of Paul Bettany as Jarvis?

To the franchise’s hardcore fans, apparently all is as it should be, and for everyone else, their opinion be damned. But the examination goes beyond the film itself, which, with the exception of the Hulk, is excellent spectacle. However, in an age where we are so bombarded with similar cinematic language, Avengers: Age of Ultron is ultimately not very memorable. It’s most dynamic performance happens to be the voice of James Spader as Ultron, who delivers Whedon’s overly mawkish dialogue with a bit of finesse. A monologue concerning our unwitting ability to create what it is we most fear (including a great bit about the culturally acceptable necessity of children) recalls an era of supreme villainy often excluded from these predictable storylines. Confused and harried by the sheer amount of ‘stuff’ happening on-screen at any given time, Whedon’s ingenuity is really just stalled on the same narrative fixation as any number of recent sci-fi schlock—–the threat of artificial intelligence.

It’s unnecessary to go on recounting the film’s lackluster detractions (Black Widow’s forced attraction to the Hulk and the little lullaby routine, plus Hawkeye’s deliriously silly detour to a hokey 1950s styled home life with wife Linda Cardellini, rank as some of the film’s more grating sequences, as women still factor into this geekdom quite awkwardly). Those who love this kind of drivel will most likely be pleased while the minority will continue to balk at the continual onslaught of predetermined tent poles already scheduled years into the future.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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