Have the wheels of the Marvel juggernaut finally begun to wobble? Avengers Age of Ultron (or AAoU) isn’t bad per se, but it feels closer to the Guardians of the Galaxy end of the quality spectrum than Winter Soldier. The Marvel standard plot points are all present (large object plummeting to earth in the finale, weak villain motivation and a desire to shoehorn in every shout out / set up possible) at the expense of everything that made the first film so much fun (witty characterisation, dialogue etc.,). That’s even before you note some of the dodgy politics creeping in (explained in spoilers).
Seriously, whoever thought that “Unable to have a child = Monster” was a message to include in a film like this needs having words with (as well as showing a map of the world, seriously the coast of Africa is a big place, maybe you need to pin point the location a little bit more).
The good things; Hawkeye – seriously they’ve upped their game significantly with Hawkeye, moving him from third wheel on the team to the glue holding it together. The scenes with him and his family bring a welcome change of pace to the film, slowing things down to allow time to breathe (and for some characterisation). The character even gets a chance to point out the absurdity of his situation (and in doing so provides one of the biggest laughs of the film) in a film full of demi-gods, mad scientists and monsters.
Chris Evans / Captain America – once again they seem to have nailed the character perfectly, being sufficiently cheesy (the “Language” gag) whilst so open hearted that the other characters cannot consider doing anything other than following him. Evans nails not only the physical element (and there is some astonishing stunt work) but the honesty of the character to the extent that it’s difficult to figure out who they’d replace him with if they ever needed to.
However the rest of the film feels distinctly lacking, sure there’s the patina of Whedon dialogue but even that seems to have taken a back seat to what is obviously more of a marketing exercise than an attempt to produce a distinctive product these days – don’t get me wrong I’m not expecting high art, but as most summer releases continue to up their game in terms of quality this feels distinctly sub-par. Everything feels a little rushed, nothing is given time to breathe in order to avoid you spending too much time looking at the ever increasing plot holes, and as mentioned before the ending is beginning to feel a little stock now – large object plummets to Earth no longer creates tension.
Worse still (for me), the clarity of the effects work on the first film has been replaced with a mess of grey and brown smoke and debris, obscuring the action and producing a confusing mess – how much of this is a result of watching the film in 2D is unknown, especially given that it’s a post process conversion, but it lacks the cleanliness and ease with which the first film could be followed. This is especially true in the films climax, where it’s sometimes difficult to geographically link each character as each environment is so indistinct as to be almost meaningless.
These films usually succeed or fail on the strength of their villain, and unfortunately AAoU never really gives its villain chance to shine, nor any insight into their personality (beyond being insane). Like the Transformer films, having a villain who is essentially a walking special effect with no human comparison or focus reduces the lack of empathy or understanding of their motivations we can have, instead they have to resort to producing a new super power each time we see them as a way of maintaining interest. Ultron (nicely voiced by James Spader, but lacking the unpredictability he can bring as an actor) feels a forgettable speed bump on the way to the inevitable Avengers Three.
And that’s the principle problem with AAoU (and all current Marvel films by extension), they feel less interested in telling the story of the current film and more so in creating / continuing a franchise. At no stage is there any desire to attempt to create something different or push the boundaries of what the genre can do, it’s all feeling a bit samey, a bit safe. At this stage I’m convinced that Marvel need to fail (and possibly fail hard) in such a way that forces them to re-evaluate the way that they are producing films to avoid the rot of formula setting in.