2015-04-30

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Just What You Expected

by Yo Snyder

With Avengers: Age of
Ultron
you should pretty much know what to expect going into it; action,
laughs, heroic spectacle and just a tinge of edgy darkness. Avengers delivers
exactly the Marvel movie product you expect, and that may be its greatest
downfall; there’s nothing really that surprising about it. It would have been
impossible to recapture the sheer thrill and joy of seeing the Avengers
assembling for the first time on the big screen. Since that time, Marvel has
refined their formula and they crank these movies out like precision clockwork.
I guess that’s what makes films like Captain
America: Winter Soldier
and Guardians
of the Galaxy
standout in the Marvel landscape; they’re slight aberrations
and tweaked takes on the established formula; in short, they took a few risks. Avengers: Age of Ultron does not. It
could have, the story was ripe with opportunities to do so, but it plays it by
the book and delivers a fun if unremarkable super hero team-up adventure.

The problem is shortly after I left the theater I realized
that I had pretty much just seen the same movie as the first Avengers film. The
setting was different, the bad guys was different, some of the costumes were
different, and yet so much of was so familiar. The team assembles, they don’t
always get along, a bad guy comes along with a plan of wreaking extreme
devastation on the earth, tears the team apart even further, the team finds a
reason to regroup and reconcile, the team takes down the bad guy, the team bittersweetly
goes their separate ways. So, pretty much The
Avengers
, but now with Ultron instead of Loki.

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t fun;
just familiar and unsurprising. The key scene of Iron Man vs Hulk is well worth
the price of admission, and the final battle with Ultron is epic, bombastic and
has just the right amount of comic book flair to it. There are a couple frames
that if they were paused would look very much like some of artist Alex Ross’
work, which gave those scenes the feeling of leaping off of the page and onto
the big screen. The introduction of Vision is a lot of fun, and mixing in some
true super powers thanks to Quick Silver and Scarlet Witch gives this outing a
slightly different feel; it’s fun to see an Avengers film with some true super
powers on display beyond iron suits, enhanced athleticism and smashing.

What really weighs the film down is there are too many
tangents. The core story of the Avengers trying to stop Ultron is a good one,
and there are some really interesting ideas and dynamics to be explored there;
especially with Tony Stark trying to figure out how to take down is wayward
“son”, let alone figuring how to bear the burden of creating said “murder
‘bot”. Unfortunately, not enough time is devoted to developing those threads,
and instead we head off on a side mission with Thor that seems to bear little
relevance until a last minute exposition patch. We get teases of new Avengers,
teases of what will come next after this adventure, and romantic and dramatic
tangents that seem to serve little purpose other than someone thought they
needed something more than big battles and quippy quips but wasn’t quite sure
how to work that other stuff in. The movie just has too much going on and feels
like it’s on the edge of derailing completely before settling in and regaining
its footing in the final act.

All of those tangents also leaves less time for the
development of Ultron as well, which is shame as he’s easily the most enjoyable
and charismatic villain in the MCU since Loki. James Spader gives him the
perfect mix of unpredictable danger and sarcastic charm. He’s an overwhelmingly
ominous threat that feels like the right size challenge to necessitate the
Avengers assembling against him. However, all the other tangents filling up the
movie keep him from developing into one of the truly great screen villains of
all time and instead, like so many Marvel movie villains, often feels more like
a plot device than a fully realized character. However, his slogan of “There
are no strings on me” does provide some interesting food for thought.

Ultron believes that in order to be free he must be
disentangled from his creator. A lot of people seem to have a similar belief
about freedom; if only they can cut the strings to their creator, then they’ll
truly be free. What’s ironic, and also quite tragic, is it’s not being
entangled with God that causes our downfall, it’s getting entangled with sin.
In order to be free, it’s not our strings to God that need to be cut, but
rather the strings of all those rebellious desires that control and manipulate
our lives. Jesus Christ didn’t come to ensnare us with ties to arbitrary rules
of morality, but rather he came to liberate us from corruption, deceit,
destruction and death with Truth (and yes, there is such a thing). Jesus came
to offer us true freedom (Galatians 5:1), for it is not the strings connecting
us to our Creator that makes us slaves, but rather the strings of sin are what
tangle us up in slavery. Our fierce, independent nature may want to sing along
with Ultron “There are no strings on me”, but let us not be deceived into
thinking that means we should be cutting ties with our Creator.

Marvel has quite the production line these days, and they
have a very polished and refined product. Now they’re in that unenviable
position of trying to do just enough to keep things fresh and different while
keeping things familiar enough to keep fans happy, and on top of that,
continuing to tease all the future developments they have in the works for
their ever growing cinematic universe. Other franchises have crumpled under
that weight (looking at you, Amazing
Spider-Man
), and while Avengers: Age of Ultron teeters in that direction,
it ultimately sticks the landing and delivers another extremely enjoyable romp
in the MCU. So, is it a bad thing when something delivers exactly what you
expect, but nothing more?

Score: 5 of 7 –
Avengers: Age of Ultron is fun, but it certainly felt like something was
missing…something unexpected, not a part of the plan or formula. It also has
some pretty surprising innuendo, and some fairly gritty violence. More Avengers
is good, but it’s not necessarily better.