Synopsis: When Tony Stark attempts to create an AI to protect the Earth, things go rather badly. Lots and lots and LOTS of action ensues, and in general, only the audience has a good time. But its a very good time indeed.
“Age of Ultron” is the movie “Avengers” should have been. That is, it is what I expected the first time: big, loud, colorful, fun, stupid. Like reading a stack of comic books on a Summer afternoon while drinking Mountain Dew all day, and eating nutritious bowls of Skittles and M&Ms. “Avengers” by some miraculous alchemy, not only balanced it all but made it look easy. Here, the strain shows–but man, what a show it is. And I dug the hell out of it: I don’t mind grunts of effort and smiles over gritted teeth when I see a circus act quite like this. It delivers the goods you hoped for, but is not the “what the–?!” wondrous surprise the original was. And maybe that can’t be done, quite that way, a second time. Maybe now its just tell stories in this amazing world of gods and superpeople, including a touching romance as “Black Widow” morphs into the Hulk Whisperer. Oh, it’s glorious nonsense, but I did have to dial my head down a leetle younger to really surrender to the whole thing. But…it was worth it. It surely was. An A-. With a big grin.
I think for me the difference is that the first “Avengers” captured a spark of actual art. There was a touch, just a dab, or truth about human experience, the sense of all of us searching for a place we fit in the world. A relation to humanity that makes our existence make sense. And for Hulk and Cap, I saw that clearly. Especially Hulk. Stark and Black Widow and Coulson had very clear personal arcs. And Fury and Hawkeye were doing their jobs well. Different levels of engagement, but they wove together in a way I’d not seen before. Here, Natasha was fully engaged with life, as well as being in a romance/bromance love triangle with Stark and Banner, Stark’s ego was explored,and Hawkeye was given a very nice, rather sneaky backstory. Quite enough personal material to hook it all together (Thor was a bit at loose ends, but there was some very funny stuff with his hammer), but when you’re keeping this many balls in the air, it’s hard to tap-dance at the same time. It really is a dancing bear in spandex, and really, isn’t that what you go to the circus to see?
Overall, I think Joss Whedon is a miracle man. Can’t believe the juggling act AGE OF ULTRON turns out to be. Every weakness I saw came from the fact that it is, by necessity, an ensemble corporate entertainment, which had to serve a dozen different masters. I don’t doubt the frustration you can feel baking off of him in interviews. But there are ways that it is less like movie than a day-long visit to Marvelland. All the rides work great–but are safe. The food is colorful but bland, and all the performers are smiling and eager to please and talented and pretty and can perform precisely to demand…but (with a few exceptions) you have zero idea of who they are behind the masks. While watching, I was thinking that we have reached a fascinating moment in entertainment: one in which television and movies have switched places, or blended in an odd and unexpected way. Where television now excels in telling limited stories (Breaking Bad) and film is now the domain of open-ended serial storytelling. Didn’t see THAT coming.