Allow me to preface my review with an explanation: I’ve seen all Marvel movies multiple times, and loved them unequivocally. Even “Thor”, with the bad wig and worse grandstanding and the weird “Odinsleep” that nasty old Dad apparently falls into periodically.
Normally my walk out of a movie theater is somewhat dazed because I’m still enraptured by what I just spent $11 and two hours of my life to watch. I reanalyze bits of dialogue, scenery, and story arcs. I mentally rehash a lot of scenes the next day.
I paid to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron twice, and both times I left feeling… bereft. As though I sat down to watch a movie and lots of loud noises later, I couldn’t quite recall what the entire premise actually was. You Marvel enthusiasts might as well get out your pitchforks now. I’ve never had the most popular opinion on this blog and I’m not about to start kowtowing today.
“Age of Ultron” is polished, superbly filmed and full of quippy one-liners that made myself and my fellow moviegoers laugh out loud. Tony Stark has never been more witty. Hulk’s rage will scare you. Steve Rogers’ prudish insistence about language on the team is refreshing and old-fashioned. And yet, there are serious flaws in this story, starting with the complete lack of a story arc for Tony Stark, aka “The Mechanic”, better known as Iron Man; and ending with Black Widow’s brooding menace as she stares blankly at a wall whilst apparently contemplating life without her potential One True Love.
Tony Stark, beloved King of Sass of 3 separate Iron Man movies and unofficial leader of the Avengers, creates a terrible, species-ending “murderbot” who deviates from its true purpose of providing “a suit of armor around the world” (otherwise known as Peace In Our Time) by deciding the best way to protect the world is to kill every human on it. THEN, because one extraordinarily powerful robot isn’t enough, Tony aims to correct his mistake and creates ANOTHER ROBOT. And he ups the ante on Robot #2, because he actually allows it to keep the Infinity Stone-excuse me, did you not hear me, an INFINITY STONE-from Loki’s scepter in its flesh-simulacrum forehead. And then… that’s it. Iron Man flies around, sasses his firstborn Ultron, he and the team have their asses handed to them by a frail witch with undulating fingers and the apparent stealth of a ninja, Iron Man activates VERONICA and fights with the Hulk, Iron Man is lured into a barn by a pregnant lady to play mechanic on a tractor, Iron Man creates Crazy Robot #2 and leads it into battle, Iron Man has his girl F.R.I.D.A.Y. run specs to figure out a solution to Ultron’s crazy scheme to simulate an asteroid colliding with earth with a crazier solution that seems half-baked at best, Iron Man heads out to the new Avengers headquarters in a conspicuous orange car for the sole purpose of arguing about the validity of a robot wieldng Mjolnir, then he waxes poetic about the farm with the tractor, calls his car to him like a large obedient dog, and then drives away.
Tony has learned nothing except that next time he wants to create an insane murderbot he’ll have to be more clandestine, because- bafflingly- his fellow teammates became very angry when he built his two boys. In a real story, a character makes a mistake, realizes his mistake, learns from it, and continues on with his life slightly changed for the better. There’s an emotional payout for the viewers. Tony Stark’s story has no arc, no betterment, just bigger cooler gadgets, jokes about omelets, and two immensely powerful robots with absolutely no governance. If I were the Avengers, Tony would be on a watch list. If I were Nick Fury, Tony would have a personal bodyguard named Phil Coulson to ensure that he didn’t try anything that stupid EVER AGAIN.
Speaking of stupid, Thor spends part of this movie away from his fellow Avengers on a special super-secret mission with his buddy Erik Selvig to find a mysterious “mirror” spring that apparently electrocutes you and then shows you visions. Motivated by visions of Ragnarok, Thor abandons his teammates in their time of need in order to chase down visions of an apocalyptic… party? And a blind Heimdall? Ok… Things are different on Asgard and I’m willing to cede that maybe a party like that does signify the end of Thor’s world in some unknown way. But his flitting away doesn’t hold true with what his stand-alone movies have consistently reinforced. The Earth is under Thor’s protection, he will take care of its inhabitants, he cares deeply for his humans whose lifespans resemble a gerbil’s. If Thor cares so deeply for Earth, why isn’t he working on saving it so he can hustle back through the Rainbow Bridge and report his vision to Daddy Dearest?
There are various other issues with the film- what in the world was the point of Rhodes trying to generate appreciative laughter at his antics during the party? Was Andy Serkis’ scene even necessary? Are you really expecting me to believe that Bruce Banner cannot accurately read “Wakanda”?- but the one I will end with is this: Black Widow and the Hulk.
The Internet has blown up, flipped tables, sent death threats, and committed all manner of vile behavior in the name of Black Widow and her feminism. A bunch of die-hard Marvel enthusiasts terrorized Joss Whedon to the point that he quit Twitter. All this occurred for a fictional character starring in a fictional movie, and I’m disgusted by it. Muster up half that motivation for people dying due to the recent disaster in Nepal and you can rant about Joss Whedon’s secret anti-feminist leanings all you want.
The fact remains that this is Joss Whedon’s movie, and his character motivations, and his writing. So if he wants Natasha Romanoff to decide that the Hulk might be her one true love, so be it. I don’t like that Black Widow’s flirtatious involvement includes four of her own team members, and I don’t like that she refers to herself as “a monster” in front of her potential lovebird Bruce Banner, whose monstrous qualities drove him to attempt suicide, and I don’t like that Natasha once again uses her feminine wiles to catch a man off guard and then shove him down an endless hole in the ground in order to disregard his wishes to stay out of the fight and run away with her. I sure as hell don’t like that Black Widow seems to have adopted her Avengers team as some sort of unruly Boy Scout troop, necessitating that she quip about “picking up after” them, play the buxom barmaid while serving drinks, and call her Hulk-soothing abilities a “lullaby”. I don’t like any of it, but it doesn’t take away from the overall story.
Natasha and Bruce’s potential romance is the antithesis of what’s happening in the rest of their lives at that time. It’s a fragile and yearning and unexpected thing in the midst of their deadliest war yet, and it provides the audience with the same relief that aloe provides a sunburn. Among the action and the snark and the insane (dare I whisper, unnecessary) carnage, Bruce and Natasha are a little vacation to let you catch your breath before the fighting starts again. The arc is tragic and unfulfilled and bittersweet enough to make you want a lot more.
And that’s where I come to the real crux. Joss Whedon’s writing is, in my opinion, above the par in nearly every production he’s ever been a part of. His genius is in character motivations, the slow unpeeling of layers upon layers of backstory, and dialogue. Unfortunately Joss’ inability to write this movie better is due to Marvel Studios and their compulsive need to stuff every other scene with loaded little tidbits that you might recognize two films from now. They set up and stage their future movies within their current ones, and never has it shown more than in this film. I’m not saying do away with all the secret little Easter eggs that audiences wait for so breathlessly at the end of each movie-just keep it contained to those scenes and quit permeating the entirety of the film with the stench of the billions of dollars the studio’s going to make off of “Guardians of the Galaxy: Even More Old Music” or “Civil War: Tony Didn’t Learn from His Prior Mistakes”.
If Marvel could be persuaded to stop this unnecessary exploitation of their future films and get back to the business of writing for the story they want to tell right then, perhaps I won’t write another 1500-word blog post about one of their movies.
~ Shiera Carter ~