April 24, 2015
Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Paul Bettany, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson
Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor and Captain America … Avengers: The Age of Ultron offers the obvious thrill of seeing this superpowered/super-talented sextet from Marvel Comics all together in one film. But we already got that in 2012’s runaway global hit Marvel’s The Avengers. What does Part 2 offer that Part 1 did not? Answer: really not that much more.
For writer-director Joss Whedon – who helmed the first film too – the challenge was to portray an evolving group dynamic in The Age of Ultron, with each member settling down into this formidable assembly, having had some time since the first film to establish friendships and gauge the competition. Incredibly enough for a bunch of colleagues this diverse and this gifted, they’re completely apolitical amongst themselves. Sure they have their differences of opinion about strategy, but where are the insecurities? Except for a fleeting moment when we see Captain America through Thor’s eyes, everything’s all sweet and honey between them.
How intriguing that a character exemplifying America’s omnipotence should feel threatened by a pre-Christian European mythological deity. Age of Ultron occasionally holds out such flashes of wry humour and depth, and vignettes of budding relationships, but it does nothing to develop them further. Now why on earth couldn’t we have got more of that in this film, Mr Whedon?
Before going further, it’s only fair to introduce the leads to non-comic-book-geeks among you. The Avengers are a superhero squad that first appeared in print in the 1960s in the US. The individual characters have their own separate lives that had been chronicled in several books before they joined hands. Over the years, the membership has varied. In the two film adaptations so far, the team has consisted of:
(a) Iron Man a.k.a Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), the eccentric billionaire industrialist, inventor and wearer of a metallic suit of armour fitted with advanced weapons and other gadgets;
(b) Hulk/Dr Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the genius scientist accidentally exposed to radiation as a result of which, if he gets enraged or agitated, he metamorphoses from a gentle, reticent man into an uncontrollably destructive, green-skinned giant with superhuman strength;
(c) Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), an archer who hits the bull’s eye every time;
(d) Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a skilled warrior and former Soviet agent who defected to the US;
(e) Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the seemingly indestructible hammer-wielding Norse god who can manipulate weather, fly and crush his opposition in ways no human being can; and
(f) Captain America or Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), an ordinary man enhanced through scientific experimentation during World War II, then kept frozen to be revived for future use. His costume is in the colours of the US flag. His weapon: a metal shield.
They’re a league of potentially fascinating characters played by worthy actors. In this, the second Avengers film, the six must save the world from destruction at the hands of the robot Ultron (voiced by James Spader, best known in India as that delightful devil Alan Shore from TV’s The Practice and Boston Legal). Ultron has human cohorts, the twins Wanda the mind-bender and her brother Pietro the speedster a.k.a. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who are the product of experiments on humans. The siblings are played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Add to this mix the beautiful-bodied and morally interesting robot Vision, given form and life by actor Paul Bettany who has so far voiced Stark’s butler/assistant Jarvis in the Iron Man series.
This film though, is less than a sum of its best parts. The reason is simple: Age of Ultron’s plus points are dwarfed by an overwhelming feeling of how generic it is. The ‘scientific’ or pseudo-scientific explanations for sundry developments come off as boring, confusing mumbo-jumbo. And despite the pace and energy of the battle sequences, there are no stand-out moments that take the breath away because of an imaginative concept rather than the SFX involved. Remember Christopher Reeve in his Superman avatar freezing a lake with his breath and flying off with the island of ice in his arms to hold it over a factory fire that in turn melts the ice and is extinguished by the resultant shower? Not a single moment like that in this film.
Age of Ultron is better in some of the personal interactions between individual members in the league. Particularly nice is the arc of the twins’ motivations through the story. My favourite scene in the entire film is a party where all the Avengers turn up looking delicious in civilian clothing. Apart from the visual relief and the fact that several of them are stunners, there is warmth and humour in their conversations and some appealing insights into who they are.
Hulk – with his many internal struggles – remains one of my favourite superheroes of all time. Here is a humanoid who can’t control his transformations from Dr Banner to superhero, and desperately fights his strength because, as Romanoff puts it, when he does get into battle he knows he will win. In this film too, Hulk has the strongest backing of the writers. We delve into his inside story, while Hawkeye gets an entire side story (not a sparkling one, but at least it’s there). Captain America has his moments too that go beyond Chris Evans’ good looks.
Iron Man, on the other hand, is dealt with rather superficially. Yeah yeah, we know he’s cheeky, and of course the charismatic Robert Downey Jr makes him funny, but tell us more.
Thor does not develop in any way in Whedon’s hands, remaining the same dull, seemingly invincible, invulnerable guy through the Thor and Avengers series. And Black Widow is dull because the writers seem not to care enough to flesh her out. So busy were they focusing on Scarlett Johansson’s hot body and how her pretty nose peeps out from behind that curtain of wavy hair, that they did not bother to make her a creature we can invest in.
Perhaps another title for Avengers 2 could be: The League of Extraordinary White Gentlemen (With A Token Woman Carelessly Thrown In For Political Correctness). There are a couple of token black people too uncaringly chucked into the blend – Avengers’ boss Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson and another associate played by Don Cheadle – but in this world of white male dominance, they operate on the sidelines.
And please don’t say the team of the films can’t be blamed, since their base material is the comic series. Heard of evolution, anyone?
The entire cast is efficient, as are the leads whose inability to rise above mere efficiency is a fault of the inconsistent writing and not their acting talent. Ruffalo as Banner, Andy “Gollum” Serkis in a memorable cameo as a criminal in South Africa and Bettany as Vision are the only ones who deliver nuanced performances. To be fair, they are the only ones with characters of substance.
Avengers: Age of Ultron has some good patches. Unfortunately, they have not been stitched well enough together. Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor and Captain America remain as physically strong here as they were in the 2012 film. Cinematically though, they’ve waned with the passage of time. This is a film that takes the committed fan for granted.
Rating (out of five): **1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments)
Release date in US:
May 1, 2015
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avengers:_Age_of_Ultron