Back in 2012, everything that Marvel Studios had accomplished since its inception came to its most pivotal moment when their most ambitious effort made its long-awaited debut in cinemas around the world. There were many (including me) who doubted that having so many superheroes in a single feature would result in an overkill, the anticipation from its fanbase was already off the charts & in more ways than one, this ensemble story was destined to fail. But the way The Avengers surpassed every hype & expectation, the way it tore through the global box-office, and the way it was embraced by critics n viewers all over the world is what laid the foundation on which Marvel Studios stands today.
There is no denying that The Avengers was an unexpectedly delightful surprise which exquisitely paid off the huge gamble that Marvel took by not only grossing billions of dollars in box-office collections, eventually becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time, but also ended up as one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of its year. It put to rest every doubt, every preconception & every question anyone ever had about the shared universe idea that Marvel introduced into the world of superhero filmmaking. The monumental success of The Avengers was a game-changer as almost every other studio with comic-book character film rights is now busy creating a similar shared universe.
What actually made The Avengers click so well with viewers wasn’t its accumulation of many superheroes in one feature but the flawless manner in which director Joss Whedon balanced the elements of action, humour & drama into one fascinating extravaganza that offered lots of laughs, spectacle, emotions, entertainment & satisfaction over the course of its runtime. Riding on the excellent platform provided by earlier instalments, the second phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a smooth run in both critical & commercial departments until it all came down to the sequel everyone had been waiting for, which at first did seem like another success but is unfortunately way too messed up in actuality.
The much-anticipated sequel to The Avengers, the penultimate chapter of Marvel’s Phase Two plan & the 11th instalment in MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Avengers: Age of Ultron brings back the team of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow & Haweye under one roof once again as this time they face an adversary they never saw coming. Having retrieved Loki’s sceptre from the Hydra facility in an Eastern European country, the team celebrates their hard-earned moment of peace that’s quickly cut short by one of Tony Stark’s artificial intelligent programs that goes horribly wrong, resulting in the birth of the unexpectedly sentient Ultron; a mechanical artificial intelligence that plans to employ Stark’s global defence program by eradicating humanity.
Written & directed by Joss Whedon, just about everything that might’ve gone wrong in The Avengers goes wrong in this sequel as Age of Ultron is an overblown, overcrowded & extremely convoluted mess of an action-adventure that neither succeeds in finding the perfect balance between its different elements nor provides a smooth flow to its narrative like the way it did in its predecessor. Whedon’s direction also lacks the commitment this time & looks tiresome as if he simply wanted to finish the film anyhow & go home. The writing is shabby too for the new characters are poorly handled, the storyline in itself is quite banal, the action is soulless and even though the screenplay boasts a few interesting ideas on paper, its execution on the film canvas is an absolute disappointment.
While its story does head into a darker territory this time, adds greater depth to the arcs of subordinate members of the Avengers & brims with cleverly executed moments of wit, it’s the complete lack of coherence that hurts this film most. The heaviness of the opening act, the nonsensical incarnation of Ultron, the over-reliance on CGI action, the uneven switching between different plot points & several wrong turns that ultimately lead to an uninspiring finale are some of the many things that have a negative effect on the whole experience. Camerawork is chaotic during the action sequences although the visual look is commendable. Editing is bothersome for the story didn’t need to be as long & tiring as it was. And the soundtrack is a rehash of the original that has nothing new to offer.
Coming to the performances, the film brings back Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner as the original members of the Avengers while the new cast comprises of James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Elizabeth Olsen. There isn’t really much to add about Marvel’s reprising cast except for Johansson & Renner whose respective characters of Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow & Clint Barton aka Hawkeye have a greater presence this time, plus we also get to learn more about their backgrounds. Also, Natasha’s budding romance with Bruce Banner aka Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, wasn’t all that necessary to begin with plus the overuse of the green monster in this sequel sort of makes this character redundant like the others.
As for the new additions, James Spader plays Ultron; an artificial intelligence discovered within the gem of Loki’s sceptre which is used by Stark & Banner to bring to fruition the pilot peace program that backfires. Spader’s voice does bring a very compelling quality to Ultron but the character is so poorly conceived in the script that it simply fails to live up to the tag of a formidable villain. Taylor-Johnson & Olsen chip in with fine inputs as the Maximoff twins; Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch respectively, between them the former can move at superhuman speed while the latter is proficient in magic, hypnosis & telekinesis. And we finally have Paul Bettany who, in addition to his role as the voice of Stark’s A.I. companion J.A.R.V.I.S., also takes over the role of Vision; an android created by Ultron.
On an overall scale, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a highly disappointing follow-up to The Avengers that collapses under the burden of its own ambitions in a spectacular fashion. It’s not that this movie ever marketed itself as anything more than a popcorn entertainer but it’s only sensible to expect a sequel that’s on the same radar as its predecessor. Where last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy proved that there are many interesting stories left to tell in Marvel’s repertoire, Age of Ultron points us towards the faint cracks that have begun to appear in their closely structured universe. I don’t really know if it’s the after-effects of Mad Max: Fury Road that made me totally numb to the CGI-heavy sequences it had in store or if those moments really were that lifeless but purely from the storytelling perspective, Age of Ultron definitely isn’t one of Marvel Studios’ finest offerings.