Josh Whedon is a director I have admired for his Firefly series, and several of his cinema projects. In the case of Avengers: Age of Ultron he is all in— both the writer of the script and the director of the mayhem. I suppose its appropriate that May begins the summer blockbuster season with Mayhem. And there is indeed mayhem aplenty in this two hour and 21 minute film (certainly one of the longest, if not the longest of all the Marvel films). In a sense it is understandable that one needs a big and wide palette to paint on when you have no less than six super heroes and several other regulars like Nick Fury crowding the camera lens, even at wide angle. It is difficult to maintain focus and a linear plot with so many characters. Somehow Josh Whedon manages this by: 1) having only one major villain on the other side of the ledger (though with one artificial villain and six super heroes how come he couldn’t be dispatched more quickly), and 2) by focusing on the Avengers as a team, working together, although we do have a few pastoral scenes at the rural home of Hawkeye, and a few romantic moments between the Black Widow and the Green Man (I kept waiting for Bruce Banner to sing– it’s not easy being green).
What did I like about the film? Some of humor is wry and enjoyable, though often it is a sort of gallows humor. Thor thunders at Ultron– ‘Is that all you’ve got’ and when it isn’t one of his pals says ‘You had to ask!!’ There are quite a few Whedonesque lines such as—-
1. “It’s been a really long day—like, Eugene O’Neill long.” — Tony Stark/Iron Man
2. “I’ve done the whole mind control thing. Not a fan.” — Clint Barton/Hawkeye
3. “He’s fast and she’s weird.” —Maria Hill, describing Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch
4. “Victory should be honored with revels.” —Thor
5. “I don’t want to hear the ‘Man Was Not Meant to Meddle’ medley.” — Tony Stark/Iron Man, on whether or not he should develop artificial intelligence .
One of the better moments is when Stan Lee makes his usual cameo, this time as a war veteran drinking Thor’s grog and quips “You know I totally support your Avenging”. Well actually it is the other way around— Stan is being bankrolled to the hilt by the Avengers. When you’ve got the likes of Scarlet Johannson and Robert Downey Jr. etc. working for you, you are going to make some money.
The setting for a good deal of the film is in ‘Sokovia’ which appears to be in eastern Europe or even Russia, but in fact the movie is filmed in South Africa, Italy, Bangladesh, South Korea, and the U.K. One thing these Marvel films lack is the sort of cultural ambience and education one used to get in the Bond films. Travelogues they are not. The various settings are just venues for more fighting. And of course the fighting goes to ridiculous lengths….. without our heroes really getting hurt. As one of the Avengers exclaim at one point in the film— ‘this is ridiculous’.
What is not ridiculous is the honing in on the arrogance of Tony Stark who thinks he can create world peace by producing a shield around the world to protect it from aliens, using artificial intelligence to do so. But instead, he unleashes mayhem upon the planet. Who will protect humankind from itself, would have been a better theme. Sometimes its hard to tell whether the Avengers are doing more damage, or rescuing us from danger. Of course, we don’t really expect verisimilitude from a comic book movie, but we could have used more scenes like the one where the other Avengers try to pick up Thor’s hammer (cue M.C. Hammer singing his theme song ‘Can’t Touch This’), all to no avail. We could also have used some scenes with Pepper Potts, but no such luck.
At the end of the film we are informed that some Avengers are retiring to be replaced by others, and in the trailer we are warned that the purple people eater is coming for us. In other words, it ain’t over until it’s over. And apparently, considering the box office this episode has already generated— that will be a long long time in the future.