Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron may only be the sec­ond install­ment in Marvel’s exhaus­tive series of magna opera, but a cer­tain kind of famil­iar­ity has already been estab­lished. This is both good and bad. It’s good because the audi­ence know what to expect, and the audi­ence is rarely dis­ap­pointed by Joss Whe­don. But it’s bad because there is no oppor­tu­nity for amaze­ment beyond the desul­tory thrills that high-powered, oblit­er­a­tive brawls between CGI crea­tures engen­der. What’s the point of watch­ing super­heroes save yet another day if there’s no child­like sense of won­der­ment? I won­der. After all, it’s the same everytime—our rag­tag group of heroes usu­ally face down adver­saries who, when not slith­er­ing through inter­galac­tic por­tals above Man­hat­tan, more dis­turbingly emerge from clan­des­tine lab­o­ra­to­ries (or Tony Stark’s own base­ment) as per­verted brain­childs of overly ambi­tious peo­ple who think they found the ruth­less solu­tion to the prob­lems of the world. In Age of Ultron it is the lat­ter, as the epony­mous A.I. sys­tem designed as a “sen­try sys­tem” against future extrater­res­trial incur­sions elects instead to play God and usher human­ity into a new era of evo­lu­tion. James Spader, who voices Ultron, lends cred­i­bil­ity to a robot with a dark, twisted soul and a wry sense of humor, although the tease of a truly mem­o­rable and com­pelling char­ac­ter unfor­tu­nately never fully mate­ri­al­izes. It’s frus­trat­ing, but not uncom­mon, as more new char­ac­ters intro­duced as the next crop of Avengers also feel sac­ri­ficed to the fran­tic action of the story, where Every­thing Must Keep Mov­ing For­ward No Mat­ter How Silly It Is. Paul Bet­tany, as a seraphic being with con­fus­ing abil­i­ties and even more bewil­der­ing ori­gins, arrives at the eleventh hour to seem­ingly save the day but then devolves into a back­ground fig­ure in the final bat­tle, while Eliz­a­beth Olson, as the Scar­lett Witch, is sad­dled with an East­ern Euro­pean accent, a twin brother called Quick­sil­ver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and two expres­sions: bug-eyed alarm, and glow­er­ing fury. But who needs them, while we can still enjoy the holy trin­ity of Robert Downey Jr., per­fect­ing his genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist schtick as Iron Man; Chris Evans as Cap­tain Amer­ica, whose moral purity remains hilar­i­ously irre­proach­able, even if he has devel­oped a keen sense of self-deprecation; and Chris Hemsworth, as the Norse god Thor, who’s never more lik­able then when sport­ing a beam­ing grin and dis­mem­ber­ing robots with his ham­mer. You also have the per­pet­u­ally pouty Hulk, played by Mark Ruf­falo, who devel­ops a roman­tic attach­ment with Scar­lett Johannson’s Black Widow. Unlikely cou­ple? Sure, but some tinges of ten­der­ness amidst the ram­pant machismo is always appre­ci­ated. Keep­ing with the theme, Jeremy Ren­ner, as Hawk­eye, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who accom­pa­nies the super­heroes on their peace­keep­ing sor­ties, is given a back­story, more one-liners, and the honor of infus­ing the pro­ceed­ings with a lit­tle down-to-earth human­ism. It’s a wor­thy attempt, but even Renner’s best “WTF am I doing here, I’m just a nor­mal dude” impres­sions fail to ground, or define, Age of Ultron. The film is a never-ending spec­ta­cle of noisy razzle-dazzle that could go on for five more hours and have the same amount of emo­tional impact, or lack of. I think a rea­son why is that amongst all the irony and the wit­ti­cisms, Whe­don for­got to add moments of real grav­i­tas. Moments that make the audi­ence stop laugh­ing, so that the jokes stand out even more when they start laugh­ing again (because they are pretty good). Pow­er­ful moments. There’s a scene where Thor is barely hold­ing off Ultron’s assault, and he responds to an insult with the usual grandil­o­quence —only to cut his own retort short by quip­ping, with a shrug, “I’m run­ning out of things to say.” Wham, bam, pow! It plays well, but a bit of seri­ous­ness wouldn’t have gone amiss either. B+