Avengers Re-Assembled

Ultron is an assertive villain. Emotive. Cold. Unreal. He is a robot, yes, but not a pre-programmed killer. He (it?) considers the ramifications of his vile actions and proceeds to revel in their cruelty. Ultron becomes the physical embodiment of artificial intelligence, a egotistically superior thinking machine. He sinks into the technological systems of the Avengers and strangles them into submission. This is not an artificial threat which must exist because of tension – a placeholder for a group of heroes to conquer and claim victory over – but a legitimately formed character.

Since Loki, Ultron (James Spader) is the first such instance of a refined villain in Marvel’s growing catalog, and it comes in a single movie stuffed with poster-hogging comic icons (Thor, Iron Man, Hulk) plus those who have been brushed aside previously (Hawkeye, Black Widow) and newcomers (Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch). The writing aptitude is sensational.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is empathic too. It’s loud. There are explosions. Gunfire. Buildings collapse. Cities are raised and warships appear as superheroes duel their rivals to further accentuate scale. Age of Ultron whips by; often it’s a blur which screams, “Welcome to Hollywood’s summer.”


And this is the best kind of popcorn blur in the comic sense, a film engorging on ideas and proving snappy with its naming conventions: Age of Ultron. This is not a future. Ultron’s age is today where our interconnected computer systems are unavoidably vulnerable, our reliance on technology is distressing, and the capability of rights-crushing surveillance via these systems is certain to be tragic. Age of Ultron, as with every should-be-repetitive-by-now-but-its-not Marvel movie, covers the warnings and perceptive observations with doses of humor. The gags fly in equal tandem with the action, but the urgency is not lost. Accessibility instead of preaching.

It would be plain to call Age of Ultron the same but different, another entry in a razzle dazzle spectacle which cost an unconscionable amount of money solely to sell itself and merchandise. Yet, nothing about its surface feels artificial, nor is any of this normal. Age of Ultron is almost distracting in its story integrity, using its means to do well by giving people of all types someone to cheer for. The film recognizes (and deals with) the inherent cyclical nature of what has been created, gently swapping the permanent story tenants Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Liam Hemsworth) to isolate the “lessers,” the humans.

Never has this Marvel cycle focused intently on speaking from representation of its actual audience rather than above them.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are now placed in the center of this plot. Their lives – their specifically non-super strength imbued lives – are focal points. Never has this Marvel cycle focused intently on speaking from representation of its actual audience rather than above them. Suddenly, anyone who was given a stand alone film is supporting fodder. That’s a switch worth rooting for, capturing empathetic personal drama to counteract the widening chasm in the supposed “real world” grounding. Comic movies are increasingly harnessing the absurdity of print comics. Humanizing is a form of mild antibiotic against the fantasy.


So between the masterfully decorated shoot and punch-em-up flurries, Age of Ultron slips in origin stories, the Black Widow/Hawkeye story anchors above (which arguably should have come ages ago), a twin duo of new mutants, and another mechanical counterpart to Ultron. That’s six total. And then, to the mercy of the character, still finds room for a sympathetic – not brooding – Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Marvel has made their sharpest Hulk film. To see it happen inside of another movie is remarkable. There are no seams and no skips. The talent to balance the individuality, let alone the action and enriching social introspective, is that rarest of gifts.

All of this (intricately) jumpy storytelling bounces around until once again it lands on Ultron, contemptuous and superior as he feels. He wants to end the world – few bad guys seem to want to do anything else – but in this context, the writing is amongst the most callous of its kind. Superheroes flock to a danger zone for their glory, while underneath the bevy of scattered robot corpses are enacting their wry commentary. We’re probably doomed as a species by our own intellectual, creative arrogance. Our time is probably short. But as we exist, humans may as well have a great time, preferably giving money to home studio Disney. So be it. The view is great. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]


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