The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
The newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may take its name from the robotic super-villain, but Ultron is by far the worst part of the film. In fact, the titular robot manages to overshadows the story’s better elements with its poor character arc and simplistic motives. Ultron is set up as a mirror of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a man who is unable to work effectively with his teammates because of his own ego-maniacal tendencies. The conflicts between individual team members in the Avengers take center stage in “Age of Ultron”, while Ultron itself takes the backseat as an undeveloped villain who exists solely to move the plot along. Ultron’s origin story consists of a laboratory montage, technobabble (that borders on “CSI: Miami”-level parody), and an overly-long party scene that ends with Ultron monologuing about the imperfections of the human race. Ultron’s personality reflects an evil Stark and nothing else, while his intentions to cleanse the world of humans are never really fleshed out beyond humans being, well, imperfect. Whedon almost certainly realizes how weak Ultron is as a villain, but a plot device is needed to bring the infinity stones to light, and the big bad seems to be a necessary evil. However, Ultron never accomplishes much, and as a villain, he’s boring.
Boring is not something a Marvel movie should ever be. It can be schlock without much thought in its plot, but fan service, fight scenes, and special effects typically elevate Marvel movies enough so that even the worst of them are entertaining. Unfortunately, the majority of “Age of Ultron” is a slog because of Ultron. Only in brief, personal moments, where characters are developed (especially Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, and Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, played by franchise newcomers Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) and during the last third or so, when the Avengers are united by a new hero, is the movie at all redeemed. “Age of Ultron” gives a lot of time to developing the Avengers’ characters, but there should have been even more time dedicated to fleshing them out. The film starts with a bang (a long fight scene) and has many more, but with each long fight there is less personal time for the characters themselves. Shaky cam also makes an appearance throughout the movie, bringing the fight scenes down quite a few notches in quality. Product placement abounds in a jarring way – listen for the Skype notification sound near the end of the film and revel in how much it kills the mood.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is more about the Avengers and how they interact with each other, through love and hate, than it is about Ultron itself. The film really does shine when it focuses on these more compact, individual stories, even when the execution of these sub-plots is clumsy. It’s unfortunate that everything else reduces the film to something watchable, but not enjoyable.