Reviews

The Superhero Film Bubble Continues to Grow With 'The Avengers - Age of Ultron'

As deft in its dialogue as it is predictable with its action sequences, Age of Ultron is a frustrating experience, forever hinting at depths that it can’t be bothered to explore.


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Marvel Studios
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-05-01 (General release)
UK date: 2015-04-23 (General release)
Website
Trailer

A sturdy piece of inessential workmanship, The Avengers: Age of Ultron begins where it ends, with Joss Whedon shooting the works. In "Sokovia,” another made-up slice of the Balkans, the Avengers are assaulting a mountain fortress controlled by Hydra. That would be the world-spanning network of bad dudes discovered at the end of the last Captain America to have infiltrated the S.H.I.E.L.D. network. It’s not entirely clear what their motivations are besides being evil. Perhaps they’re ticked off at not having quite as cool a name as Cobra Command.

The gang’s all here, deities and beasts like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), super-suited heroes like Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans), and regular old humans like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Between Cap’s magic shield, Hawkeye’s all-purpose arrows, and Iron Man’s ability to fly anywhere and do anything, they’re cutting through the Hydra lines like a warm knife through butter. The Avengers trade quips as they leap, dart, and crash their way through the snowy Sokovian woods. All in a day’s work.

What’s the purpose of all this seamless teamwork? A couple of the usual gleaming MacGuffins. Some Hydra baddies with grim faces and vaguely Germanic or maybe Russian accents (one even has a monocle) are doing terrible things with Loki’s scepter. The Avengers get there in time to get the scepter but not to stop the escape of two Sokovian twins with custom-built superpowers. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) have had it in for Tony Stark ever since their family was killed by Stark family munitions. Later on, a pesky Stark-created artificial intelligence named Ultron (voiced by James Spader) will get his hands on the scepter and start creating an army of robots to do what every villain in the Avengers films wants to do: destroy the world. There’s also another one of those all-powerful Infinity Stones that keep cropping up whenever a Marvel film needs a reason for people to start smashing things up.

The best thing that can be said about Avengers: Age of Ultron is that it moves more swiftly and more enjoyably than its fun-free predecessor. Everyone ends up in a gigantic air-borne set piece that rumbles on three times as long as necessary, but at least the script sets us up for why it’s happening, unlike the alien ex machina conclusion of the first film. Whedon dashes the between-action moments with light comedy and the glimmerings of a romance between Black Widow and Hulk. Like Jon Favreau in the first two Iron Man films, Whedon brings his A-game to the dialogue scenes, understanding that if we don’t connect with characters before they’re in danger, we won’t care when they are in danger. It’s the sort of formula that used to be de rigueur in the movie industry, but now seems like a quaint relic from a time before CGI took over everything.

It’s a bad time to be a regular old human being on the silver screen. The Marvel and DC empires, along with the surprisingly agile newcomer Lego, have inserted their tentacles into seemingly every aspect of the business like a virus hatched by one of their bad guys. The release dates, story beats, character introductions, product rollouts, and marketing pushes for the overpopulated Avengers team, along with ancillaries in the X-Men universe, the Justice League films, and all the scattered pinpoints of comic-book light (Guardians of the Galaxy, the upcoming Suicide Squad) are now adding up to an entertainment juggernaut that feels either like the dawning of a new era or a bubble about to burst.

With Marvel having plotted out its films through at least 2019, it's possible to see an entertainment future fully dominated by origin stories and reboots, youth-skewing TV shows and X versus Y showdowns, most of them accompanied by timpani-heavy Hans Zimmer scores and breathy trailers promising -- again and again -- the end of human life as we know it. Who knows? Maybe by 2020, even NPR will be on board, podcasting superhero adventures in old-timey serial format, with narration by Ira Glass and a soundtrack by the Kronos Quartet.

Come to think of it, that might be good challenge for The Avengers franchise. Whedon had bigger creative and technical hurdles to overcome with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. But he’s already said that he won’t return for future Avengers installments. This leaves hope that he might return to more quick-witted, and honestly entertaining, work like his Much Ado About Nothing adaptation. Robert Downey Jr. as Hamlet? Chris Hemsworth as Henry V? Maybe Chris Evans could play Richard III.

More likely, though, the Avengers films will grind on into the cross-pollinated Captain America versus Iron Man storyline that this entry all too clumsily establishes. More Infinity Stones will be found, more threats to Earth vanquished in the nick of time. That sound you hear is the bubble getting near to bursting.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.