“Another epic tale about incredibly powerful beings fighting against one another with melodramatic overtones? Ugh.” – Theater critics in ancient Greece reacting to the latest play about Gods and mortals
Whenever a new cinematic comic book adaptation hits—and, admittedly, it’s becoming a near weekly event—critical reaction divides into two camps: “Yahoo!” and “Poo-Poo.” The Yahooers irritate the Poo-Pooers with their exuberance for a film more concerned with “oohs and ahs” than realistic pathos. The Poo-Pooers irritate the Yahooers because the Poo-Pooers are joyless dicks who think themselves intellectually superior when really they’re just being contrarian fart boxes.
It’s totally fine to not like comic book movies…or any genre, really. But it’s the height of pseudointellectual snobbery to suggest that somehow we’ve “had enough” of a certain type of movie or that the proliferation of superhero movies has literally had any impact on the films the Poo-Poo gang prefers. The tropes explored by comic book films are timeless, borrowing from themes as old as those in biblical storytelling and creation mythology. And if you can look at a towering spectacle of an animated character like The Vision (Paul Bettany) in Avengers: Age of Ultron and aren’t impressed by the technical prowess necessary to birth such a creation on screen… see the aforementioned fat box comment.
Age of Ultron opens with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) raiding a compound where bad guys have already created two new “enhanced” humans: the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). As Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) explains to Cap, “He’s fast, she’s weird.” One of the “weird” things Scarlet Witch can do is make people see their worst nightmares. Iron Man’s worst nightmare is failing to protect the earth against invading alien forces, like the ones that almost killed earth in the first movie. So he creates an artificially intelligent robot, Ultron (James Spader), that will protect earth. In the history of film, creating artificial intelligence has never gone well. So the remainder of the film is one big fight between The Avengers and Ultron’s horde of robot lackeys.
Writer/director Joss Whedon so deeply grasps the core appeal of Marvel comics: fun and distinct characters who try to do good against impossible odds while engaging in super cool action. There are some delightful slyly meta moments, like Hawkeye admitting he’s sorta lame and Hill noting the lack of women in the film (which is clever, Joss, but isn’t a fix for, you know, actually having more women in the film). By its very nature, this sequel can’t replicate the singularly fantastic feel of seeing the gang come together for the first time. But what it loses in surprise, it makes up for in understanding the best parts of every character.
Another thing people only do to comic book movies is compare them to each other. Nobody walks out of a drama like Boyhood and says “Now rank all the dramas.” Age of Ultron is fun, ephemeral summer fare. As lame-o Hawkeye says in the film “that’s our job.”
Grade = A-