Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly doesn’t have any more crashing vehicles, imploding buildings and pummeling superheroes than your average comic-book movie. But would it have been too much to ask that the film had something other than them?
Marvel’s The Avengers, the first time the studio brought together its various product lines – I mean, superheroes – got a lot of mileage out of the camaraderie among its main characters, as well as its amusingly megalomaniacal villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). There are a few nice character moments in Age of Ultron and another good villain – the diabolical AI program of the title, playfully voiced by James Spader – but mostly it registers as yet another Marvel punchplosion.
The “punchplosion” is the studio’s signature touch. It’s when one of its heroes unleashes a flying fist – sometimes while holding a weapon – which results in a massively reverberating thud. In Age of Ultron we get an especially magnificent one when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), wearing a plus-size Iron Man suit, takes a swing at the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), whose own fist meets Iron Man’s fist in mid-air. Double punchplosion!
I’m not immune to such things – I still get a thrill from the extended single takes here, which swing from one Avenger to the next in the midst of a fight. But I also have other interests, and I expect that a movie written and directed by Joss Whedon, as the first Avengers was, will deliver something that might serve some of them. Avengers: Age of Ultron is not that.
The “punchplosion” is the studio’s signature touch.
It is crowded though. In addition to the usual suspects – which also include Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – Age of Ultron gives us a few new characters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen play super-powered twins who join Ultron because their parents were killed years earlier by a shell produced by Stark’s factory. And then there is another AI figure, whose identity I won’t spoil, that figures in the third act. If one of the impressive feats of the first film was the way Whedon was able to juggle everyone, both narratively and in the action scenes, I’m afraid he’s outnumbered here. There were times in the climax when the movie sidetracked characters for so long that I almost forgot they existed.
That unfortunately goes for the villain, as well. Ultron makes a great entrance near the beginning of the film, hobbling into an Avengers party in the form of one of Stark’s old, damaged robots. (It was the first body the AI program could infiltrate.) He looks like a deranged marionette, and indeed his clever catchphrase becomes, “There are no strings on me.” After an analysis of the Avengers’ career thus far, Ultron blithely concludes, “You’re all killers,” and decides the world would be better off without them. Given the level of destruction that always seems to follow in their wake (I believe three different cities are wiped out in this film alone), it’s hard to disagree with him.
No sort of self-critique of the superhero as warmonger is going on here, however. You’ll have to go back to the original Iron Man for that. Ultron’s goal soon becomes a familiar one – human extinction – and with the stakes rising to that degree, the scale of the production rises accordingly. Avengers: Age of Ultron ends as so many of these films do, with our heroes reducing a metropolis to rubble in the name of justice. And Ultron? The snide wittiness gets mostly lost amidst the chaos. But he does get in a few good punchplosions.