When February 22nd rolls around next year, I can guarantee that Avengers: Age of Ultron will not be nominated for Best Picture. Nor should it be for, in my opinion, the movie always has too much going on to ever come together in a complete and fully rewarding way. That said, I can also guarantee that Joss Whedon will miss a nomination as Best Director, and this will be a far greater oversight. That is because while Avengers: Age of Ultron may not be an incredibly “good” movie, it is still a really fun and well-made one. Considering the weight of characters, plot threads, action sequences, and emotional threads that all had to be balanced: this is an achievement, one that is not likely to be repeated this year (and perhaps ever).
To give a rundown: Age of Ultron is the continuing adventures of Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury – meaning all these characters are in the movie. Oh, and let’s not forget the three new Avengers: Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision (of these characters begin the movie as villains). Okay, got them too. Oh and let’s not forget the cameos and supporting characters: War Machine, Falcon, Maria Hill, Stan Lee (cause apparently he needs at least one scene), Peggy Carter, Heimdall, Erik Selvig, Baron Strucker, Ulysses Klaue, and many others… seriously – there are others. I’m just done listing them. Oh, and OH YEAH – Ultron… and Thanos too…
I just named enough random names in a row to sound like part of the book of Genesis.
For those wondering, the film has a running time of 141 minutes, or two hours and twenty-one minutes, which is not that long. To give a comparison, if I may; The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug ran 161 minutes… and that did not even contain the whole story of a children’s book. Damn.
And it works, that is the single most impressive thing I can say about Avengers: Age of Ultron. It does not always work well – indeed there are several sequences where the mass of the movie appears poised to explode out and bury the plot – but this never happens. In part because Whedon stuck again to basics (like he did in the first movie).
Ultron is a simple villain, but still well done. His plan is not complicated, his emotions are not buried under layers of psychosis. He is a refreshingly human robot with a simple dream… a dream of killing all humans. The voice work of the wickedly talented James Spader helps bring the character to life, as well as a beautifully tragic birth sequence.
A simple main conflict allows Whedon time to work with his characters – and work he does. Rising tension between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), fluttering eyelashes between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) questioning his purpose and his actions, and arguably the best scenes of all saved for Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – and a path from villain to hero for Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury is the only returning star who feels a little left out in the cold.
Of course… this is a summer movie – and that means action. Those looking for it will get their fill. A castle raid, an oil tanker brawl, Hulk vs. Hulk Buster, Avengers vs. Ultron: the movie brings it all in spades. By the end, one might even be a little sick of slow motion sequences of our heroes beating up on robots… but one can also get sick from eating too much ice cream.
Joss Whedon has done the near impossible, wrestling this much comic book into one movie. Time will tell exactly how much of his background as a comic book writer and official super geek helped him achieve this – or whether others who don’t share this background can do the same (Marvel is certainly hoping they can). Whedon’s familiarity with the characters and source material has clearly helped him to do more with less in his past two mega superhero mash-ups.
It is simply too bad that he will not be returning for the sequels. Time will see if the Avengers can triumph without their real leader.