My friend and I emerged from the theater showing Avengers: Age of Ultron. Immediately, two guys carrying popcorn enthusiastically asked us, “Is it worth it? Is it worth it!?!” We both shrugged, groaned, and said, “Meh.”
The Avengers film franchise has developed into the most visible form of superhero-storytelling in pop culture. Avengers Assemble was the pinnacle of comic book movies. It was an artistic and commercial feat. Marvel created a quality collection of movies and then brought them together for an epic crossover. Ultron lacks that sense of accomplishment; that sense that this is something never done before. Instead, it felt, all through the marketing and the film itself, like a vehicle to make mountain ranges of cash. There’s no soul to this movie, and while the first film was the pinnacle of comic book movies, Ultron is the high water mark, where the wave breaks and crashes back down. It doesn’t speak well for Avengers 3: Infinity War that audiences are already starting to feel superhero fatigue.
With Ultron being so uninspired, it’s hard to hold on hope for Infinity War. Ultron starts in a cartoonish battle with explosions and generic bad guys getting destroyed. (Hydra may be the most one-dimensional, boring villain in all of film at the moment. They’re just generic Nazis with no clear motive beyond “world domination”). The action is a series of rapid cuts, whirring pans, and overdone explosions. It becomes too hard to follow, and the many long, single-shots in the film overwhelmed me with chaos rather than increased clarity. The acting wasn’t much better. Robert Downey Jr. is phoning it in through most of the movie, hitting the same snarky Tony Stark jokes that he could do in his sleep. Black Widow and Hulk get a forced romantic plot, which the script hammered in with every minor character saying, “They have a thing! Did you know they have a thing?” Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen do what they can with a lackluster dialogue, but we never get close to the sense that the Hulk can gingerly whisper in Black Widow’s ear in a crowded Tokyo neighborhood while “Just Like Honey” plays in the background. None of the Avengers go through any serious character development or are in any serious danger. The franchise has reached the point where it’s too risky to disrupt the status quo, and a result, the story becomes stagnant, without any sense of risk. We know everyone’s going to live because they have to fight Thanos in Infinity War, and killing Hawkeye doesn’t sell action figures. Minor characters are disposable, but the main characters won’t be touched.
The other major issue is that there are too many minor characters. With Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, and many other supporting characters in Ultron, the film could only give passing impressions of them. With the Guardians of the Galaxy and surely a few more superheros getting thrown into Infinity War, it’s going to be hard to distinguish these characters beyond “that guy with the metal wings.” Rather than being fully fleshed out, they’ll just be another hectic fighter in a massive, blurry battle.
The Avengers franchise has started to get too big. The first movie was interesting because it was such a huge risk—betting millions of dollars hoping that Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man 2 could all be hits that would generate the interest in an Avengers movie—and then actually making that movie one of the most thrilling and highest grossing films of all time. Ultron, though, plays it safe. It falls into the standard boundaries you get once any franchise reaches critical mass, and studio executives are too afraid to take risks and do anything creative. We get a plot heavy on one-liners and generic action. It’s hard to think Infinity War will be anything but the same, except in space, and that’s a travesty for the depth that these characters can show in the comics. But, with Joss Whedon leaving the franchise, can new directors Anthony and Joe Russo add a new life to Infinity War? Will the third and fourth additions to the franchise be as creative and lively as the first?
What did you think about Age of Ultron? Do you believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe has peaked? Tell us what you think in the comments or on Twitter!