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‘Age of Ultron’: An over bloated, hyperkinetic disappointment

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REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media

Back in 2012, “Avengers” became a box office sensation, garnering $1.5 billion worldwide. It achieved the status of being the biggest grossing film with comic book characters ever made. Indeed “Avengers” ranks below only “Avatar” and “Titanic” for commercial success. That makes it the biggest grossing film made by a guy not named James Cameron.

I had not been enthused by the prospect of the original “Avengers.” Having already endured a litany of schlocky films featuring comic book heroes, I had little enthusiasm  for seeing yet another one. Besides, the concept of cramming so many Marvel comic book superheroes into a single film seemed like a horrible miscalculation to me.

The film’s writer/director, Joss Whedon, proved me dead wrong. I must confess that I was blindsided by just how good “Avengers” was. I had never seen a film that exceeded my expectations by such a wide margin.

“Avengers,” did a superb job of balancing kick-ass action set pieces with dialogue that manifested a snarky sense of humor.  The protagonists were provided with well-developed back stories. Their interactions with one another and their boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) proved compelling. The film provided a super-villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), consumed by a sense of sibling resentment towards his brother, Thor. He exuded a Shakespearean brio that made him fascinating. “Avengers” was a fast-paced affair, but allowed breathing space for the viewer to process what was going on.

When I learned the cast of the sequel, “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” I was taken aback by the sheer number of characters. The central core of spandex-wearing heroes from the original was back. This included Tony Stark/Ironman (Robert Downey, Jr.,), Steve Rogers/ Captain America (Chris Evans) , Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/ The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Cliff Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Erstwhile S.H.I.E.L.D honcho, Nick Fury (Jackson), was also scheduled to return.

The super-villain, Ultron, was going to be voiced by James Spader. Not enough star power for you? The cast of characters also boasted Natasha Romanoff./Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Pietro Maximoff/ Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Sam Wilson/ Falcon (Anthony Mackie),  Heimdall (Idris Elba), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), Madame B (Julie Delpy), and Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann).

In addition, the film violated the Marvel proscription against creating cinematic characters that hadn’t previously appeared in the graphic novels. JARVIS had been fixture in the Marvel universe as Tony Stark’s omniscient virtual butler. As voiced by Paul Bettany, the computer program entity had graced the “Iron Man” trilogy. Here, Bettany becomes corporealized as a newly-minted character, Vision.

It’s certainly one helluva cast. However, even with an expansive running time of nearly two and a half hours, I couldn’t imagine how this would be adequate to accommodate such a plethora of name actors.

Recalling how wrong I had been about the original “Avengers,” I suspended my misgivings about the sequel. Perhaps, Josh Whedon could pull it off again.

Unfortunately, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” falls far short of its precursor. It is not a case of a few isolated shortcomings. In every regard, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is vastly inferior to the antecedent film.

Let’s start with the basic premise of the film. An opening scene features the heroes reassembling after they have been off on their own individual adventures. They are attacking an enemy HYDRA stronghold. There, they recover the magic scepter that had been wielded by Loki in the original.

The acquisition of Loki’s scepter prompts Tony Stark to try implementing his long-gestating dream. He plans to harness the scepter’s power to create Ultron, a sophisticated computer program. He theorizes that this will enable him to “encase Earth in armor.” Stark contends that this protect the planet from any alien invasion.

However, in some sort of inexplicable process, the computer program takes on a physical form as an eight-foot metallic android. He comes replete with a jaundiced perspective on the human race. Since Ultron regards humans as irredeemably pernicious, he will “save” them by annihilating the entire species. As he pronounces, “When the dust settles, the only thing living in the world will be metal!” “

As he has demonstrated on the television show, “Boston Legal,” and numerous films, James Spader is a marvelous actor. He is capable of considerable nuance. However, Ultron is a poorly formulated character. His transmutation from a glorified computer program to towering megalomaniac results from some sort of ill-defined process. Ultron is more powerful than all of the heroes combined. However, he doesn’t bother to destroy his adversaries. So, essentially you have a supposedly brilliant super-villain, who makes totally illogical strategic decisions.

The distinctive amalgam of action and inspired dialogue that marked the original is egregiously absent from “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” There are a few one-liners that are supposed to be jocular. However, for the most part, they land with a thud.

My concern that the film would be encumbered by an excess of characters turns out to be well-founded. Many of them are shoe-horned into a narrative that is gratuitously convoluted.

The film’s pacing is poor. The viewer is subjected to a non-stop barrage of violence that lacks any sense of human scale.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” ends up being an over bloated, hyperkinetic disappointment.

**1/2 (PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments) 141 minutes Walt Disney Pictures

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

 

 

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