As a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I went to see the new Avengers as soon as I could, meaning today (April 22) at 00.10 at Le Grand Rex.
Here is my spoiler-free review. The film is spectacular, a visual triumph. It is also enjoyable and interesting. Yet I was not 100% on board with the latest Whedonic heroic. Parts of it are simply too problematic.
Avengers: Age of Ultron brings back together our six now well-known Avengers (Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor and Hulk) and introduces three new faces in the shapes of Scarlet Witch, her twin brother Quicksilver and the Vision. The story revolves around Tony Stark’s obsession with creating an AI capable of protecting Earth when the Avengers cannot. That particular idea backfires spectacularly when Ultron decides to turn against our heroes. He intends to save humanity by forcing it to evolve at first, then simply by destroying it. His thought-process on that one is strangely fuzzy but considering the amount of rage and contempt he seems to have for his creator, I was willing to let that go.
The first action sequence is gripping, a beautiful moment of cinema. I am not an expert, but the fight choreography and the staging are pretty spectacular. If you are as enthusiastic as I am for that colourful bunch of superheroes, you will feel like cheering. That sequence is inventive, dynamic and the camaraderie is strong between the characters. It sets the bar quite high but the finale still manages to get close in both quality and enjoyment.
However, the rest of the movie left me with mixed feelings.
To remain mostly spoiler-free, I will have to bypass some of the most obvious problems I had with the script. Nonetheless, I will say that I was disappointed with the role Whedon gave to the Black Widow in Age of Ultron.
If you know me a little, you will know she is my favourite Avenger. A Soviet spy and assassin, she possesses a complex back story within the comic verses (one of the most recent runs, Brubaker’s Winter Soldier, comes to mind) which MCU has yet to explore beyond a precious few hints. Scarlett Johansson portrays her beautifully, introducing new layers to a character that was never meant to be just a sexy addition, as so many continue to imply. Johansson adds complexity, emotion, a strong human side to what we could call Black Widow’s bad-ass avenging persona. I refuse to use the problematic “strong female character” moniker – even if she is one in the canonical sense – for she is a strong character, period. I loved what Whedon did with her in The Avengers.
Age of Ultron definitely does not do her enough justice. Whedon does explore her friendships with the rest of her teammates. However, she becomes the tool of a specific subplot, which encompasses a lot of her interactions on screen with little effect except making the whole thing feel forced and artificial. In addition, some of her lines are definitely problematic. The film delivers at times a rather essentialist vision of femininity which I would like to explore in a more complete review.
Her friendship with Hawkeye, though, is still a pleasure to watch on screen. That brings me to my next point: the Hawkguy himself. I was not as bothered as many were by how Hawkeye was portrayed in The Avengers, though I understand the frustration: few lines, grim, angsty, suffering from guilt… He is far from the comics’ beloved character, no matter the run, even the Fraction/Aja/Wu/Hollingsworth one which came after the movie was released. In Age of Ultron, he really gets to shine, even if something in his character arc takes him so far from the comics that it did bother me. Jeremy Renner is free to explore his character and he does so with relish.
I am not the first to say it, but it is true: Hawkeye definitely gets the best lines.
Although there are still scenes of connection and camaraderie between members of the team, I find that Age of Ultron lacks something in that department. There is no question that the movie is darker than its predecessor and that it sets in motion what we now know will come in Captain America 3. Yet, even though Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a more serious tone than The Avengers they still retained that indescribable something that made them so enjoyable and entertaining to someone who loves banters and chemistry between heroes. Here, the underlining tensions and conflicts are always weighting on the overall atmosphere. At the same time, there is little mention of those movies’ legacies in their main protagonists’ interactions in Age of Ultron.
A lot is packed in 2 hours and 22 minutes, at a pace that is not without reminding us of a short comic book run. In that respect, I tend to agree with those who say this is might be the closest a comic book films came to the source material in structure and storytelling. However, the rhythm also tends to be uneven.
The film introduces a lot of characters, old and new, which means some of them are barely there to say hello, so to speak. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers take the figurative back seat. Tony Stark’s struggles are interesting to follow, but too little time is granted to both characters to really get into the meat of it. To my great pleasure however, the female cast expands and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill gets a sizable role. Ultron is far from being as fun or even as complex as Loki had been, but he also did not have a previous movie to establish his character. I was therefore quite pleasantly surprised by how offbeat he appears, compared to what we usually associate with an “evil” AI personality. It tends to make it difficult to take him seriously at times, though. The twins now… the twins are interesting. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver was up against some pretty stiff competition with the X-Men’s version being such an unexpected success in Days of Future Past. Unsurprisingly, he does not win the prize. But as a mirror to the far more interesting Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), he is pleasant enough.
The Vision won my heart, however. Talking too much about him would probably be spoilery, so I will simply say I loved the glimpses we get into his character.
Avengers: Age of Ultron has both good sides and bad sides. It is enjoyable. The story is gripping. But it made me uncomfortable at times and some of those moments were linked to my favourite characters, which means I could not enjoy the movie as much as I did the first one. I miss the camaraderie, some lightheartedness. I miss a certain idea of the Black Widow. One of my problems with the film might be that Joss Whedon has a vision for the MCU and especially the relationships within it that I do not share. I recognized his brush in the main romance and how it progresses and was disappointed. I do not know what the Russo Brothers will make of the Avengers, but after seeing Age of Ultron, I am rather satisfied that it is going to change hands.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Directed and written by Joss Whedon
Runtime: 142 minutes
With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, James Spader…
Soundtrack by Brian Tylor and Danny Elfman