FRESH POUR: Avengers – Age of Ultron (2015)

Fresh Pour is back! Every week, Clint takes a look at one or two new releases – just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

avengers age of ultronAvengers Age of Ultron
Dir. Joss Whedon
Marvel Studios

By now, it’s hard to dispute Marvel and The Avengers’ lasting popularity and appeal – with the first film, writer/director Joss Whedon managed to perform a delicate tightrope act between the leads of several huge superhero movies and meld their personalities into a tight and fun (if visually flat) adventure. That film’s success allowed Phase 2 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to take even greater chances, shaking up the series with risky films like the politically-tinged Winter Soldier and the wacky space adventure Guardians of the Galaxy. Now we get to Age of Ultron, and I can’t help but feel a little bit…underwhelmed? Numbed?

Let’s start with the things that worked, of which there are many, particularly when viewed in isolation. For one thing, my major criticism of the first Avengers has been somewhat addressed; Age of Ultron looks like a real movie instead of an ABC Movie of the Week. As a team, the interactions are still pretty great, especially Downey as the series’ main emotional anchor. (Wait, didn’t Tony Stark decide to stop being Iron Man in his last movie? I knew he was coming back for this one, but are we really not going to address it?) There’s a concerted effort in the film to make it more character-centric, with each main Avenger having their own personal demons to overcome, and the Scarlet Witch-instigated dream sequences for each Avenger provides a welcome bit of visual artistry in a franchise that focuses a bit too much on bland consistency.

However, I can’t help but feel as though they overcompensated on the script, which is a bloated, incomprehensible mess that feels a bit too overstuffed to work the way it should. Starting out with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trying to make a killer robot AI, only to have it turn on them and work to take its revenge on the Avengers, the film snowballs into a convoluted globe-trotting chase for vibranium, two Russian siblings with superpowers (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, good but underused), shimmering future pools, and the creation of a synthetic AI creature named the Vision (Paul Bettany). On top of that, we get some character-building subplots for Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Banner and Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen) which, while welcome, feel somewhat extraneous to the main plot. (Did anyone else wince a bit at Black Widow calling herself a “monster” because she, like the Hulk, is sterile?) Not only that, we get about three or four giant superhero fights at the same scale as the climactic battle as the first Avengers. While they’re all ambitious and great in a vacuum, when viewed back-to-back it just ends up feeling samey and difficult to parse. I usually have a high threshold for empty CG spectacle, but there’s only so many times I can watch Hulk smash before my eyes start to glaze over.

The new players in the film add a little spice to the mix, but they’re constantly fighting for screentime in a movie whose gimmick is that it already has six protagonists. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are a fun little duo, but they get the same treatment as Hawkeye from the first movie – spending most of the film as villains before having a change of heart and fighting with the team at the big climax. Bettany’s Vision is also interesting and audacious: a visibly alien character with his own sense of naivete and meditative look at the world, who shows up just late enough in the movie for him to not really have a bearing on anything important. Even Spader’s Ultron suffers a bit from the crowded cast; Spader’s droll purr makes for a deliciously sardonic and self-aware villain, but he just doesn’t get enough time to really shine as he should. If it were me, I would have cut out either the Maximoffs or the Vision and left them for another movie. Between these guys and the million redundant references to the other MCU movies of both past and future, Age of Ultron stumbles under the weight of responsibility it has to market the rest of the movies in the series.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself watching Age of Ultron – and you likely will too. It’s got all the Whedony goodness you’re probably looking for, as well as just the right amount of superhero spectacle and CGI punchmen. At this point in the Marvel structure, the Avengers movie is clearly designed to be this waystation “big event” that transitions us to the other satellite elements of the MCU, but this inevitably makes it suffer as a film in its own right. Even if you like big superhero battles and the individual Avengers characters, there’s just too much movie in here to make everything stick the way it ought to, which is a frustrating thing to experience at this point in the MCU.

Clint’s Verdict: Liked It

Avengers Age of Ultron Drinking Game (MILD SPOILERS)
1) Drink whenever someone says the word ‘monster’
2) Drink any time an Avenger falls from a great height
3) Drink for every cameo from a supporting character from a previous Marvel film
Finish Your Drink When:
The Vision says, “Well…I was born yesterday.”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound, Crooked Marquee and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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