'Avengers: Age of Ultron' is a messy, Disney-fied compromise

City Paper

It’s no secret by now that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” director Joss Whedon fought the Disney suits over reducing the running time of the second movie in the Avengers franchise and also over adding at least one contentious scene that the people in charge felt needed to be in there. The result is a movie that looks, feels, and sounds like a superhero blockbuster, but never coheres and instead jumps from scene to scene, sometimes with no explanation. It’s a big, long, loud disjointed mess that expects its audience not to notice or maybe not to care, because supposedly the existence of a new superhero epic is enough to make viewers rejoice.

The loose plot of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” revolves around the latest plan from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to create a world police force called the Iron Legion made up of hundreds of duplicate Iron Men. Following an opening fight scene featuring Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) that takes place in a fake Eastern European country with the Avengers battling the last of terrorist organization HYDRA, Stark tries to convince fellow Avenger scientist and anger management poster boy, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), to join in his mad plan.

Banner and Stark move their hands around in the air a whole bunch and use CGI virtual computer screens to create Ultron, a computer program similar to Avengers favorite, the disembodied manservant Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.). As the pair head out to party with their teammates, Ultron takes over J.A.R.V.I.S (voiced by Paul Bettany) and Starks’ armored army. Now that Ultron has a body, he hides out in the former lair of Baron Von Strucker and uses HYDRA tech and the staff of Loki from the first film to create drone Ultrons. He’s also joined by two new characters: Wanda “Scarlet Witch” (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the brother and sister team who were given their powers in the film by the aforementioned Strucker, and have a hatred for Tony Stark after they were left in a collapsed building as children waiting for one of his bombs to go off. Ultron plans to use the pair to “tear the Avengers apart from the inside” using Wanda’s mind-control power and Pietro’s super speed.

One of the many frustrating elements of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is its misguided attempts to “humanize” everybody and everything in it. Ultron has been given a new look. Instead of the fixed and jagged mouth and slats for eyes that he has in the comics, Disney decided to go for a human-looking android with expressive features, including lips. The point of Ultron is that he’s not human: His goal is to wipe humanity off Earth to save it from itself. Although he’s voiced by the great James Spader, who delivers his lines with his signature lackadaisical menace, he’s not exactly right for Ultron, who should sound like a machine come to life, not like the guy on NBC’s “The Blacklist.”

And Whedon and Disney should be blasted into space for what they do to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Though she still kicks ass, she’s been twisted into this strange mother figure who lulls the Hulk to sleep and gripes about “always picking up after you boys.” Nothing of her back story from the previous film is mentioned and instead we get snippets of her assassin training and a line about being sterilized which leads her to refer to herself as a monster. Because she can’t have kids. Fuck you for that one, Disney. Seriously. It makes us await the arrival of Wonder Woman in the Batman movie next year, and we’re willing to bet our favorite Amazon won’t be shaming women because they can’t have kids.

We learn of Widow’s assassin back story after she has been manipulated by Scarlet Witch, who also sends the rest of the Avengers into a dreamlike space where they meet their fears. From there, we get Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who goes into a cave to figure out his vision or something, we don’t even know; it’s a scene that Whedon tried very hard to keep out of the film. Apparently, the golden god’s vision was so important to the franchise that the suits threatened to cut a major scene if the director didn’t leave it in. It’s confusing and convoluted and should have been left out.

And while all this dreaming is going on, Ultron is in Seoul trying to get a Korean doctor to make him a living body with a 3-D printer. Yeah. OK. The 3-D-printed body though will become the best part of this mess of a movie. It becomes the character Vision. Vision, played by Bettany, is the living embodiment of J.A.R.V.I.S. and has one of the Infinity Stones embedded in its head. The stone will play a major part in the next Avengers film and has a story too long to get into in this review. See, everything about this movie ties into the next movie or the next, next movie, which is a maddening way to actually enjoy the movie you’re currently watching.

In the end, father Stark and son Ultron square off in a colossal battle between the Avengers, now with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as well, who have turned against the robot and War Machine (Don Cheadle) of the Iron Man films, and Ultron’s army of androids.

It’s worth pointing out that the last time Downey and Spader went against each other, the latter forced a young RDJ to blow and screw guys for money in 1987’s “Less Than Zero.” The difference this time is that the audience is the one getting   -, not a desperate hustler played by RDJ who at least got some cash out of the deal. 

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