Avengers: Age of Ultron recently took its place next to the previous Avengers on the list of all-time highest box office sales; though this latest installment was unable to surpass its predecessor. Aside from the box office numbers, Age of Ultron did everything it could to closely resemble the first movie, ultimately leaving fans without anything new or noticeable to see.
Once again, the Avengers have to team up in order to save the world from a seemingly unstoppable threat. This time, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) accidentally create an artificial intelligence, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), hell-bent on destroying the human race. Ultron attempts to create an extinction event and the Avengers must band together with new allies to stop him.
Fans like me who have been anticipating this movie and what it means for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU) will largely be disappointed. Stark’s mistake gets him a quick scolding from Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), but is quickly forgotten by the end of the movie as they walk away like old friends. I’m not sure how we’re going from that to their huge battle in Civil War, but it feels like a huge missed opportunity.
The film does feature strong performances by the newcomers to the film, starting with the two robotic characters, Ultron and Vision (Paul Bettany). Both Spader and Bettany do a fantastic job of striking the difficult balance between robotic and human speech, with their dialogue feeling very natural and even funny. The Maximoff twins, Pietro and Wanda (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) give strong performance with realistic reactions to the craziness going on around them, particularly Olsen, as Pietro’s lines consist mostly of quips.
Additionally, the film hits all of the marks set in place by the first Avengers. The cinematics are breathtaking, especially when all of the Avengers are fighting close together, and the film manages to keep up its light-hearted nature throughout. Once again, we see the team have some in-fighting (besides the mind-altered Hulk rampage) while ending with the team stronger and ready to face the next challenge, this time with even more members than before.
Still, the similarities to the first film are so distinct that Age of Ultron lacks any original story. Stark takes risks that put the team in danger, Rogers criticizes Stark but eventually stands with him, Hulk goes crazy and fights a teammate, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hits hard and looks pretty, and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gives the team a rousing speech to inspire them into battle. Ultron’s powerful weapon is even Loki’s staff. The new characters are great to see whenever they’re on screen, but they hardly get any screen time over the big name superheroes. Vision’s “birth” is a pivotal point in the film; but after it happens, he’s on screen for a few minutes at best.
When the main characters are on screen, nothing is different from the first movie and the team seems bored with what they’re doing. During the first action scene, they spend most of the time making jokes at each other or about how easy the fight is. The dynamics among the team are exactly the same except for Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Her mostly neutral role in the first film was replaced with a new drive; unfortunately, her entire purpose as a character now is simply to be the love interest of Banner. Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets to have a speech about duty and responsibility, but Romanoff is relegated to a side character who simply supports the big boys during their fight. Like Romanoff’s role as a romantic interest, the change in Wanda’s appearance at the end of the film emphasizes her femininity over her power. Both of these represent what Marvel says a woman superhero should be: traditionally attractive and with another member of the team.
Age of Ultron brings up huge questions that loom over both the Avengers series and the Marvel movies in general; including freedom versus security, responsibility and power, and the value of life itself. Yet all of these questions are only hinted at, mentioned very directly and then dropped entirely for the rest of the film. Instead, we are treated to a perfect ending where everything wraps up neatly and nobody has any problems anymore because the bad guy is dead. The story moves along without any meaning to it, but the box office doesn’t care. I just hope someone at Marvel does.