Avengers posterMarvel Studios‘ Pixar-esque run of ever-climbing box office has resulted in no shortage of expectations for the studio in general, and specifically for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to 2012’s The Avengers. In The Avengers, fan favorite writer-director Joss Whedon is widely credited with pulling off the daunting trick of bringing together superheroes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk from separate films, adding less-super heroes in the form of Black Widow and Hawkeye, and throwing in villain Loki and a horde of aliens, all while building the Marvel brand and luring a broad cross-section of the public into the theater. Did Age of Ultron live up to these lofty expectations? The answer, of course, is yes and no.

The film opens with the Avengers attacking a HYDRA base, searching for Loki’s scepter, a dangerous loose end from the first film’s climactic battle. In a passing nod to Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) post-traumatic stress, Stark drags Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) into an ill-conceived effort to use the scepter to create Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence designed to protect Earth against future dangers. Of course, nine out of ten film AIs believe that humanity itself is the prime threat to the planet, so it is little surprise when Ultron recruits superpowered HYDRA agents Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to help him take on the Avengers.

Avengers assembledIf this sounds like a full plot, it only scratches the surface of a bloated 141 minutes, leaving out a romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Banner, the creation of android Vision (Paul Bettany), some time on the farm with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and any number of easter eggs and setups for future Marvel movies. Joss Whedon is the genuine article, a writer’s writer with an impressively risky track record, but even he is unable to craft a compelling story from the dozens of plot elements bouncing around. He attempts to fall back on his trademark wry humor, and some of it works, but his treatment of Ultron is fatally flawed, with Spader coming off more like wisecracking Spider-Man than a menacing, malignant intelligence.

The Marvel way of film-by-committee is well documented at this point, and tales of post-production fighting began to leak out even before the film’s premiere. The meddling is evident in the sequence at Hawkeye’s farmhouse, where it is clear that quite a bit of footage hit the cutting room floor, leaving the aftermath of an attack on the Avengers as a confused muddle. Some eyebrows were raised when Age of Ultron failed to reach the box office heights of its predecessor, with early blockbuster Furious 7 sticking around, followed by the summer crush including the Jurassic World juggernaut. Ultron may have delivered on the expectation of a massive profit, but it ultimately leaves some doubt on the Marvel machine’s ability to continue plowing through superhero fatigue.

 

UGeek Rating: 6/10