‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whopping blockbuster to open the summer season. It is fun, and it moves quickly through plenty of high-action scenes. Unfortunately, it is a bit too clogged with superheroes and regular heroes to create much real dramatic interest. It is pretty good, but not in the same league as the original film.
Our six original heroes from the first movie, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) begin the film by attacking a fortress held by survivors of the old Nazi Hydra mob in Sokovia, a mythical land in Eastern Europe. Unlike in their usual attacks, they are somewhat befuddled when they face a pair of Hydra-created superheroes, the Maximoff twins: Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is superfast, and his sister Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who is telekinetic. She can move things with her mind and really mess with people’s heads.
After the good guys get together, they return to their favorite activity — carping on each other’s behavior. Then Stark and Banner work together to create a worldwide defense system based on Stark’s private computer system, JARVIS. Instead, they get the robot Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who decides the best way to have peace is to kill off the human race. That leads to very long action scenes with our heroes seemingly battling an unending series of robots and others.
A very real problem is that there are so many heroes that they get lost in the shuffle. Most become stereotypes. Stark is Wile E. Coyote, always finding out his inventions come back to become his enemies and never learning. Banner is afraid to have a relationship with anyone, particularly Black Widow, because of his other, larger half. Captain America is such a dull stick that he never finds a woman. Thor has found one (in his movies), but she’ll die on him soon enough since he’s immortal. Black Widow was sterilized as part of her training. Essentially, all are locked into their roles, appreciated only when killing bad guys.
There is an attempt to humanize Hawkeye, generally seen as the least effective of the heroes, by showing him in a sweet family life not far from The Brady Bunch. Much of his dialogue seems to focus on projects he’ll do around the house as soon as he kills off the people planning to kill off humanity. He seems the most human of the heroes, the Everyman among them. And we have to learn to appreciate Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who turn out to be more complex than at the start. There were at least a half-dozen other heroes and superheroes from the franchise in small roles.
The actors are all fine, particularly since most of the roles are basically two-dimensional. Writer/director Joss Whedon appears to have created the movie as a series of wild action scenes, heavily reinforced with computer-generated images, and then tried to fill in the spaces in between with mawkish love or comedy scenes. There are plenty of cute quips to keep us amused until we get a chance to see our heroes leaping from the sky or performing insane stunts as a way of keeping our interest. And, unfortunately, as the action jumps from one hero to another and back again, dramatic continuity goes out the window.
On the other hand, the movie was fun. I found it a nice way to spend more than two hours, since anytime I began to feel my attention wander, there was another battle scene. Some of the fights went on for amazingly long periods of time, and Whedon’s use of clever humor, mixed with occasional bits of pathos, worked well to keep me involved. It is an effective use of craft. There was not much art involved; the drama was a bit mawkish, and since we already know that most of the characters will have their own movies coming up, there seemed little danger that the important ones would perish.
But everyone in the audience seemed to have a good time — and what else can we ask of a summer movie? More people will see this film than, with the exception of American Sniper, all the nominated Oscar movies from last year combined, and probably all in the first weekend or two.