We are stuck in a perpetual middle. Never moving forward, always taking glimpses of what will be, and never savoring what simply is. Avengers: Age of Ultron follows up last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier by providing incident without resolution because something else has to happen. Still. The end is the beginning. Again and again.
We can argue that the comic book films of the past failed to accurately capture the looks and names and powers of their comic book counterparts, but they managed to be complete works. There is something endearing about just making one movie with all the gusto of “This might be our only shot!” Now that the Marvel films are a self perpetuating success, they can function as an infinite string of incidents, forever building, teasing at a climax that might come someday. Yet, for all of their clues and easter eggs, these films are all made with little need for backstory. Age of Ultron gives little reference to past films beyond an Iron Man hissy fit and some mumbled asides between The Falcon and Captain America, but you’d never know that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated by a secret Nazi sub group and it doesn’t even really matter. The end of The Winter Soldier had all of the Helicarriers destroyed or decommissioned and Nick Fury going into hiding. Yet here is Nick Fury, in a helicarrier, saying something about “it was in storage”.
Age of Ultron is in such a hurry to cram incident and character and charm and hints of what is to come that it never catches it’s breath, which is incredible since it’s a two and a half hour movie. The action never settles enough to give much beyond a brief “whoa” before we’re cutting to something else, because there is always something else. In the first five minutes the movie is already hinting at movies three or four years out. Movies that haven’t even been made. I don’t know if we’ve hit the nadir of special effects but everything here looked great yet fake at the same time. There isn’t a single “how did they do that?” moment because the answer is obviously “computers”. Furious 7 isn’t a paragon of reality either but it has it’s toe just slightly dipped in reality so when characters drive their cars off cliffs and out of planes and through buildings it still has an awe to it. Everything moves so fast in AoU that you can’t focus on anything anyway so there isn’t much to want to analyze. Sure, some of it was neat. I’m not a monster.
Moments that are placed for “charm” and “character” deserve the quotation marks because they feel like window dressing at this point. Tony Stark’s charm and smarm, Thor’s god mixing with mortals vibe, Captain America’s man out of time, these are all given their expected lip service but it is perfunctory and stale. Director Joss Whedon has mentioned numerous times in the press that he couldn’t do another one of these movies because he is exhausted, and I can feel that exhaustion. Every quip is labored, like Whedon is screaming “Who cares anymore?” When the characters take time away from conflict to have some conversations and regroup, the film comes to an abrupt halt so everyone can have over-before-they-started debates about what to do next. We know the Avengers aren’t going to give up and it’s frankly boring as shit to have everyone hem and haw around someone’s house. This movie didn’t need to be any longer and yet here we are watching Iron Man and Captain America chop fucking wood! Then Nick Fury appears from behind a pile of haystacks and I thought “Oh good, something might happen.” but Fury just has more speechifying to add to the pile. These scenes all play better than they should because this cast is stacked with A-List top notch talent, but seeing Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo together on screen just reminds you that you could just watch Zodiac again.
One of the big complaints that will forever plague Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is that it doesn’t have enough scenes(or perhaps any) of Superman rescuing people. Much ink and hand wringing was dealt out lamenting this fact, even though no one actually died because it’s a movie. Sure you could take it as a betrayal of the character, that Superman should be shown saving people. Marvel Studios is in no danger of this kind of backlash because Avengers: Age of Ultron has many many many scenes of people being evacuated. Onto flying evacuation pods, every fake life is spared. While these scenes are there to make the film feel “real” they are repetitive and frankly un-cinematic. It’s a pretty good bet that Snyder probably had some evacuation scenes in the Man of Steel script and he said, “That is some boring shit, cut it and let’s have more collapsing buildings.” No one told him no because Warner Brothers is out of their fucking minds.The first Iron Man felt audacious even if it’s audacity was an accident and has since been subsumed by the franchise, like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Iron Man 3 came closest to recapturing that spirit, and in the process made some comic fans very angry. Which is good! A film that gets the blood up! Age of Ultron is perfected to offend no one. But I digress. If you want to see people being loaded into vehicles to be flown to safety, Age of Ultron is your bag.
Avengers: Age of Ultron ends with a shrug, with characters leaving nonchalantly and new characters walking in immediately to take their place. The adventures continue but so what? Back to the perpetual middle.