Kevin Feige is the Harvey Weinstein of superhero movies. Every time a director with a unique vision comes along, he bends their ideas into a shape that fits his grand plan for an overarching superhero narrative, just like how Harvey Weinstein has annoyed directors from Miyazaki to Scorsese by re-editing their films without their knowledge in order to achieve a wider audience. Joss Whedon shouldn’t be subjected to Feige’s tinkering with his movie, considering he wrote and directed Marvel’s biggest movie to date, yet Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie that stinks of directorial compromise, where every single uniquely Whedonian idea on screen is complimented by a dozen generic ones. If nothing else, Age of Ultron will be remembered as the movie that will be finally putting an end to Marvel being called “risk-takers”; this is one of the most generic sequels of all time, that left me longing for the pure fun of the first Avengers outing.
Feige has spent so much time envisaging an idea for a unique, overlapping cinematic universe he has forgotten that you need to let a great director take full control to realise that vision for the best possible results. Instead, his tinkering with other people’s movies highlights that he is nothing more than a wannabe auteur, who wants other directors to realise his vision because he isn’t talented enough to do so himself. No wonder Joss Whedon is bowing out from Marvel after this, as there appears to be no room for creative freedom among directors at the studio anymore.
It is not Whedon’s fault this movie is so generic, as you can see that there is a movie similar to the first in there, yet the humour is rendered obsolete by the drastic change of tone from the first that more recalls a DC film than a Marvel one. Heck, it even recalls Man of Steel in it’s climactic action setpiece, where an entire city gets destroyed, yet we see no fatalaties. There are no real stakes in this movie, as Feige’s vision ensures that every Marvel movie serves as little more than an advert for the next (in this case, next year’s Civil War), so we aren’t on the edge of our seats praying for the fates of our heroes, as the release dates for their next adventures are already set in stone.
People often complain that the X Men movies frequently ignore the other mutants in order to solely focus on Wolverine. Whilst I share that criticism, Age of Ultron is the best argument in favour of focusing on only one hero. Here, nobody gets an extensive focus, reminding me at times of the Youtube phenomenon Too Many Cooks, as we were endlessly introduced to new characters and barely getting to spend anytime with any of them, despite the film dragging on humourlessly for what felt like a decade. The film’s commitment on focusing on all characters at all times renders every action sequence incoherent, as at many moments multiple fight scenes are happening at the same time, even though the moments that stayed with me are the quiet character moments, that are few and far between. Marvel fans have demanded Feige make standalone Black Widow or Hulk movies and Age of Ultron is only going to increase that, as Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson are the best things in the movie by a country mile.
As the movie around them does the generic sequel thing of “going darker” (seriously, how are Marvel considered masters of risk taking?), these characters are the only two that benefit from it, exploring their relationship and actually giving something worth rooting for. One scene, in which Johannson gives a revelation about her graduation after training to be an assassin, is genuinely affecting, delivering an unexpected surge of emotion into an otherwise plodding film. More surprisingly, Jeremy Renner is fantastic too – Hawkeye was the worst thing about the first movie, yet here, his acknowledgement that he is the most normal and relatable Avenger (a family man aware of his own weaknesses next to the other superheroes) means his character finally makes sense to me. In a soulless, crushing behemoth of a blockbuster, these intimate moments of emotion were received rapturously.
It was moments like this, as well as the more comical moments (although I did only laugh twice and one of them was at a throwaway line about an omelette), that prove that Joss Whedon was fighting a losing battle in the director’s chair. All his auteur trademarks are here, just rendered obsolete by Feige’s need for it to go darker to tie into future MCU storylines. Any comedy moment can’t be laughed at as it is rendered tonally out of place due to the fun-sucking “darkness” that the narrative needs to work. The result is a film at war with itself, presumably the result of a director and a producer at war. Despite the mediocre end product, it is a rare case where I couldn’t hold the director responsible.
The movie’s central plotline, about Ultron, an AI created by Tony Stark that comes to life and immediately has what can be charitably called existential dilemmas, is also somewhat boring due to the onslaught of movies about AI’s released recently. After Ex-Machina and Chappie this year alone, with the awfully titled Terminator: Genisys still to come, I’m experiencing AI fatigue. Whereas Ex-Machina and Chappie explored human emotion via an emotionless sentient being, there is nothing approaching emotion in Ultron’s character – he is yet another generic villain with the same “killing superheroes will make the world a better place” plan. Really, if this movie doesn’t stop Marvel being called “the masters of risk taking”, then modern cinema goers have really low standards.
Age of Ultron was a crushing disappointment, especially considering many have considered it better than the first. Even though the emotional moments were the ones I responded to the most, I didn’t feel that the movie needed to go pseudo-Christopher Nolan and go unnecessarily dark for the sequel. In fact, it’s the most famous quote from one of Nolan’s superhero blockbusters that stayed ringing in my mind once the film had finished – “why so serious”? If you now can’t even rely on Marvel for a fun, good time blockbuster, who can you rely on? Age of Ultron feels defined by studio interference, making me happy that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with Marvel – a talented writer/director of his stature shouldn’t be compromising his vision for anybody.