Sounds fun, right? :)
I’m back this time to look at Avengers: Age of Ultron, the follow up to 2012’s uber-successful money printing machine that was The Avengers.
For those that might have come into the comic book cinema game a little late, The Avengers was the capstone on what has now become known as Phase I of Marvel’s plan to take over the world. At the time, nobody knew any of that beyond that Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man had all had individual films released building to a later collaborative effort. Such effort arrived, it provided a pretty decent MacGuffin, a villain that was already part of the canon, occasional bursts of well-placed levity, an equal amount of screen time for most everybody, and everybody went home happy after the fact.
Oh, how those days are behind us.
As Grantland’s Wesley Morris (for my money the best film critic working today) put it best:
Now, after a dozen more superhero films, a third of which serve as appetizers for this second installment, you start to feel like you’ve eaten too much. This latest, most overwhelming iteration of the Marvel blockbuster began, in 2008, in mutual gluttony: We wanted more superheroes as much as the studio did. Seven years later, with movies and network shows and a streaming series (and comic books), I don’t know when more is going to end. Will there be no subsequent stand-alone series that won’t be co-opted for cross-promotion, for synergy?
That one paragraph seems to pretty well encapsulate my exact thoughts even as I was sitting in the theater watching the film. Did the filmmakers actually care about the experience that would be watching the movie, or were they simply hitting all their checkpoints to make sure that they could plod right along to the next one in the series?
In this installment the original six Avengers are on hand, along w/ a pretty healthy handful of additions. The summation makes for such a crowded palate that mainstays such as Thor (by most accounts a highlight of the Avenger franchise) ended up w/ a whopping eleven minutes of screen time. Quicksilver was introduced and let go all in the course of an hour and a half, contributing a total of seven lines to the entire Marvel universe.
To me, what these two examples speak to is the larger problem of the entire comic book cinema portfolio these days. Filmmakers don’t seem to understand that what made/makes the source material so great is that these are characters w/ 40+ years of backstory and character development. People aren’t mindlessly plunking down money to find out what Hulk smashes next, they want to know more about how Bruce Banner handles himself.
There’s no time for any of that here though. Beholden to the massive slate of movies Marvel has already announced (something absurd like 11 in the next three years, including the already released Ant-Man), story and character development are already secondary to making sure the train keeps pushing forward.
Towards the end of this movie I realized we were heading for the climax, yet so little felt vested, it seemed like just another plot point on some predetermined outline. “Oh look, another city about to be laid to waste as the Avengers beat some people up. Wait…they’re saving this one instead?”
I don’t want to sound completely down on this, b/c it is good mindless entertainment and there are certainly lesser ways to spend $12 a couple of hours. Still…don’t go in expecting something as good as the first, and definitely go in expecting anything but a transition piece between phases in the Marvel Universe.
This wasn’t a movie made for audiences. It was a movie made for money. Lots and lots of money.