The Transformers 2 Of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
With the announcement by Marvel Studios of the next wave of films, the path for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is set for better or worse. They’re committed to a certain path down the road and no matter what happens negatively, of either commercial of critical failure (or both), the next half dozen plus Marvel Cinematic Universe films are plotted out and Marvel has now committed itself to a path of certain footing but uncertain reactions. And Age of Ultron, the sequel to the profoundly successful Avengers film, feels like a film designed to tread water while the next great cinematic story line is told over a handful of films.
It doesn’t help that it makes The Avengers look like a brilliant masterpiece by comparison. The film suffers from two main problems both stemming from the film’s exorbitant 150 minute plus run time. Oddly enough one of the problems was the same from the highly flawed first film in the franchise.
It starts out with a fairly simple premise. Banding together to reclaim Loki’s scepter from rogue Hydra agents, the Avengers invade a small Eastern European country and promptly wreck the place trying to find it. When they’re succesful in retrieving it, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) discover that the gem powering it may contain the key to Earth’s protection. Rattled from the events of the first film, they set about the Ultron project. Designed to be Earth’s guardian against Alien invasion, it of course turns out to be evil. Plus it’s snarky and voiced by James Spader, as well, and Ultron decides that the key to world peace is to exterminate humanity. The band of heroes (Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson) is back together to stop him. Throw in a pair of twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olson) with a grudge against Stark and it’s a globetrotting adventure to stop Ultron and his desires to end humanity.
It’s an admittedly great setup. The first wave of MCU films were there to set up The Avengers to face off against a threat so massive that none of them individually could tackle. Thus the point of the franchise is that this is about being so much bigger in scope than the rest of the individual films. Thus Ultron makes sense from a conceptual standpoint. The events of The Avengers have significant long term consequences for the entire MCU and it reverberates throughout the franchise. Thus it makes sense that someone like Stark would want to negate this threat for all time with something so massive that the Avengers team wouldn’t be needed. It’s a nice nod to continuity for Whedon to make the existential threat of something like Ultron as a failed attempt at doing something good.
The problem is that the film suffers from the same problem as the first: it’s potentially a good 90 minute film waiting to come out that’s packed with too much baggage to pad it out to a near three hour running time. The film is packed with an hour of fat that could easily be trimmed and not affect the film’s overall story arc whatsoever. Much like how the first hour and twenty minutes of The Avengers was jam packed with plenty of moments that could get cut out and not miss a beat, Age of Ultron suffers from the same problem. There’s too much going on, mainly owing to the sheer volume of actors from other facets of the MCU showing up for no other reason other than to make it feel like the event film it properly is.
It’s understandable because of how much the MCU has grown that they’d try to fit in as many characters as possible, of course, but it makes the film hard to keep track of after a while. The film’s massive action sequences in the opening and final acts need a score card to keep track of the players for huge portions. It makes it hard to care about anything going on because we can’t get emotionally invested in anyone long enough to make it matter.
Whedon’s inability to shoot action in a meaningful manner since Serenity is a problem, again, as this is a film that takes all of Michael Bay’s dizzying mannerisms of shooting action and puts them on display again. For all the massive set pieces required for a film like this it gets difficult to watch because everything is poorly shot. Whedon is trying to cram so much into every shot that the big action sequences feel like a chore to sit through. Throw in his desire to throw witty one liners into nearly every scene, as this feels more like a comedy with action sequences as opposed to a big blockbuster action film with the occasional comedic moment, and the film doesn’t have the sort of cache to make the film’s big action sequences feel as if anyone needed for the next series of films won’t make it.
It takes away from any danger the cast could be in because Marvel’s schedule makes retaining everyone mandatory at this point. There is no danger, no element that not everyone will make it. It’s what The Avengers did have going for it and even then the one hero’s death was taken back to create a television show.
The film’s lone bright spot, once again, comes from Ruffalo. After both Edward Norton and Eric Bana tried (and failed) to turn the Hulk into a franchise film character it’s interesting that Ruffalo has single handedly turned Bruce Banner/Hulk into one of the most compelling characters in the entire MCU with fairly limited screen time. Given a fairly limited story line, once again contemplating the sort of violence that the Hulk commits when Banner loses control, Ruffalo brings a fairly complex character into the film’s more compelling moments with fairly limited screen time.
Age of Ultron is a franchise and studio in cruise control right now. The future is planned, with two of Marvel’s signature comic book events coming to life in the next couple years in the Infinity War and the Civil War. A plethora of characters, all with their own films, are coming to bear as well. It may be a great day for a comic book fan, to rule the roost at the top of the box office, but it’s a lousy one for anyone interested in quality cinema.
Writer / Director: Joss Whedon based on “The Avengers” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Notable Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader, Paul Bettany, Robert Downey Jr.