Warning: This is a **SPOILER HEAVY** review. If you haven’t seen The Avengers: Age of Ultron, turn back now, unless you don’t mind spoilers.
From the first lines of dialogue I already knew what kind of film this was going to be…a kids’ film. Despite the dark, ominous trailers, the promise of escalating conflict between the heroes we love, and the masterfully orchestrated rendition of “No Strings on Me;” Avengers Age of Ultron was a watered down version of what the film should have been.
What sets DC and Marvel apart is Marvel’s willingness to poke fun at itself. Ironically, that same strength is what caused this film to suffer. Perhaps if Marvel took a page from DC and used a more serious approach to this film, it wouldn’t have felt like a disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is by no means a failure. Avengers: Age of Ultron has great action, good pacing and some iconic comic book moments that would leave any fan squealing for more.
The problem, comes from the film’s main villain, Ultron. When we’re first introduced to the maniacal H.A.L., the Avengers are joking, partying and having a good time, when his disfigured robotic form walks in and immediately changes the mood. Ultron’s introduction is great, because it shows a stark (hah) contrast between himself and the Avengers. The soulless voice, the inhumane form; it’s a very disturbing image that highlights the differences between the two sides.
Fast-forward a few scenes later, and we witness Ultron in his full mechanical glory, a human-like robot that… cracks jokes? And not just jokes…. bad jokes, I’m talking Tyler Perry quality. The dichotomy between the Avengers and Ultron quickly diminishes, and the once badass Ultron suddenly feels like a cheap one-liner.
There was a silence in the theater when everyone realized this; a dreadful uncomfort that set in, as people slowly realized the apathetic, merciless Ultron we were introduced to in the trailers and the beginning of the film was reduced to half a Jeff Dunham act.
This revelation took all the tension out of the film, and from then on Ultron never felt like a serious villain. His once powerful monologues were sadly comical, his eerie and powerful presence felt more misplaced than anything, and his motives were more questionable and confusing than third act of a Michael Bay film.
This problem persists through most of the film as well. A serious moment is often rattled by a joke that more often than not falls flat. It worked incredibly well in the other Marvel films, but was overused in Age of Ultron and served more as a distraction than comic relief.
Additionally, the film had issues deciding what exactly it wanted to accomplish with each character. The love plot between Black Widow and Bruce Banner was forced and ultimately led to nothing. There was one scene between the two in Hawkeye’s home where it seemed like Mark Ruffalo himself couldn’t believe how this was all playing out.
Why do the writers continuously play “Who is Black Widow flirting with” hopscotch every movie? Stark in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye in Avengers, Rogers in Captain America 2. Look out Falcon! She’s coming for that flying D in Civil War!
Another scene in Hawkeye’s home that felt forced was the chat Hawkeye had with his wife. I felt like he had great characterization in this film, but the whole scene screamed, “show me, don’t tell me.” In the scene, Hawkeye’s wife emphasizes how important he is to keeping the Avengers together; and it’s something I would have much rather learned through Hawkeye’s actions rather than his wife’s words. Many people criticize the lack of character development, I think it was there, albeit a bit.. messy.
One of the things I loved about the film was the emphasis on saving lives. I guess Marvel took the fan criticisms of Man of Steel to heart. Seeing the heroes split up and use their powers in creative ways to save people was a refreshing change from the “Beat-up everything, cue explosions” we’re used to.
Here’s What I would have done: in this film the Hulk is a time bomb without a clock. There’s no build-up, so his appearances are sub-par and don’t have the impact they did in the original. In the first scene of the film, I would have kept Banner in the truck. Picture this: all the other Avengers are duking it out, but they’re struggling. They argue back and forth about “Code Green,” and finally Cap gives the word. The fighting stops, silence fills over the battlefield. The ground starts to rumble, the trees stir… and Hulk leaps out from the forests and makes his grand entrance. This sets up the Hulk as both a threat and a necessary weapon, a nuclear bomb you don’t use until your ass is against the wall, and when the dust settles a part of you feels guilty for unleashing it unto the world.
This would trickle over into the rest of film as Banner gets mind-screwed by Scarlet Witch and attacks a city. In the film, the Hulkbuster scene felt pushed in for fan-service and wasn’t woven into the story well. This would also develop Banner’s character as he questions whether he can control the Hulk, and ultimately lead to him leaving the team.
Speaking of Scarlet Witch’s Illusions; I would have put more emphasis on the visions the Avengers had and used that as a source of character development and conflict. Iron Man’s vision causes him to create Ultron, this results in him doubting himself. Thor’s vision shows Ragnarok and the destruction of Asgard, causing him to focus on his home and distance himself from Earth and the Avengers. Cap should have had a vision of the impending Civil War, leading to mis-trust in his allies (especially Stark). Black Widow was handled well, but the dark tone of her past didn’t mesh well with the jokey tone of the film. I feel like Whedon “tried” to do this, but didn’t hit the mark.
When the Avengers reach their lowest point, when all hope seems lost, the one person who wasn’t controlled, Hawkeye, rallies the team together. He gives some sort of speech about being mind-controlled during Avengers, and motivates everyone to team up again against Ultron. This would remedy the aforementioned Hawkeye problem and SHOW him being the soul of the team, instead of us being told.
Most importantly I would have toned downed the jokes from everyone but Tony Stark. His character felt diluted because everyone else was filling his shoes by delivering one-liners. Ultron should have been serious, destructive and one-dimensional. Yes, I believe making Ultron one-dimensional would have benefitted this film. When you have six other characters who need their own arcs, I don’t mind having the Robot bad guy acting like a robot bad guy.
The film never took the serious turn it needed to leave an impact on the audience. Avengers had that moment when Coulson died; things got real and the jokes stopped. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, you have jokes sprinkled in between scenes of destruction, dismemberment and death. It creates this jarring disconnect between the audience and takes you out of the film, so it never sucks you in completely. At best, it leaves you feeling underwhelmed and craving what could have been, instead of what you received.
Kevin Feige was recently interviewed and said the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never take a dark turn; the humor is in the DNA of the movies and nothing will change that. I’m not asking these films to take a dark turn, but I do want them to take themselves seriously. If the writers, and the characters never take the situation they’re in seriously, then, sadly, neither will the audience.