Late to the party hot-take: Age Of Ultron is actually kind of great.
“The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.”
Character trumps plot in Joss Whedon’s quietly underrated, loud superhero sequel. From a basic narrative viewpoint, this movie is a mess. City-hopping, destruction porn, muddled sub-plots and deus ex machina plague this tale of megalomaniacal robots and all its cataclysmic stakes – but its commitment to character separates it from the crowd. The dichotomy between Iron Man & Ultron is fascinating (even where the latter’s evil scheme is not). He’s a pitch perfect manifestation of everything that’s wrong with Tony Stark – brought to live magnificently through James Spader’s sinister flair and a pretty memorable running Pinocchio motif. The Twins go from one-note antagonistic clichés to well-rounded anti-heroes, and get increasingly endearing with every interaction with the man with the bow and arrow. Barton is undeniably Whedon’s crowning achievement, as we watch the walking piece of cardboard from The Avengers morph into the people’s champion. The second-act twist is such a ballsy change of pace, grounding a film that comes dangerously close to going off the rails (on multiple occasions) with genuine emotional stakes.
Not every little detail works – most notably Widow & Banner’s often eye-roll-inducing courtship. Whedon’s intentions were probably noble here (building on the pair’s noteworthy chemistry from the first film), but defining the sole female Avenger’s character on her ability to bear children feels weirdly reductive. Tonally, it’s more of a mess than other Marvel films. It skews darker, and as a result, some of the slapstick humour feels painfully out of place. Hulk punching characters offscreen was funny in the first film; Here, it’s repetitive. I’ve long since grown tired of Hollywood’s hard-on for overblown CGI finales. Oddly enough, this one gets a pass. I’m not invested in Ultron’s long-term plan, but watching these nine heroes unite to kick mechanical ass while mixing in some traditional citizen-saving makes for some great superhero cinema. Ben Davis does a hell of a job framing all the action. Visually it’s a huge step up from both The Avengers and Civil War – even if Marvel’s colour-grading efforts look as ugly as ever.
A victim of its position as the middle child in this trilogy (and cinematic universe as a whole), it’s over-flowing with set-up and world-building – but at least some of that comes naturally. The growing tension between Stark and Cap bleeds nicely into Civil War, while Banner’s new Buster Bluth/’I’m A Monster’ complex & Thor’s (admittedly heavy-handed) Hel vision serve as nice little appetisers for Ragnarok. It’s also undeniably comic booky – perhaps even more so than the first film. Easter eggs can only take a flawed film so far, but I’d be lying if I said the presence of the Hulkbuster, Vision, Klaw & that third act money shot didn’t at least tickle my inner geek. I came away mostly disappointed with Age Of Ultron in cinemas. A year ago I wasn’t even remotely interested in revisiting it. I guess you could say I like this movie now? I didn’t see that coming.
I feel like the moment where Hulk takes control of Ultron’s quinjet and the villain exhaustedly exclaims “oh no, not again!” sums up Joss Whedon’s state of mind towards the end of making this movie. So tired.