You guys, I finally saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last night! I am now counted among the true believers once again (read: I can go back to Tumblr).
But despite my uber-excitement after how much I loved the first Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, I have to admit, I left the theater disappointed.
It’s been suggested that my disappointment is a result of too-high expectations, misunderstanding the filmmakers’ intentions, not being able to keep up with the breakneck pace of the story, and/or simple failed hype. Maybe. Those are all entirely plausible explanations.
But I don’t think I’m expecting too much for this Avengers to be as well-written, well-directed, and well-played as the first. I do understand the filmmakers had boatloads of story and characterization and Phase 3 setup to cram into 2h 20m. I was breathless with the pace, but I was never lost for long. And I didn’t watch Finding Nemo for five years because I didn’t want hype to influence me, so pbbbbhhhttt to that.
After mulling it over, feeling like a super Bad Geek, I quickly realized the root of my disappointment lies in the most obvious of places: the storytelling.
Ultron feels like it’s two movies crammed into one. Or two different treatments of the same story by two different writers/directors, then spliced together by a third guy. There’s a disjointed quality between being a Very Serious Civil War Buildup Movie and a Fun Superhero Movie with Big Ideas. Like it can’t decide what to be. I agree this could be intentional–broken framing is a great way to enhance the point that the movie’s about dysfunction–but it’s heavyhanded and overused, destroying the sense of flow that connects us to the characters who, by the way, are why we give a shit about watching eleven movies (so far) in the first place.
The dissonance between these two styles is so strong that I entirely forgot I was watching a Joss Whedon flick and not a Michael Bay actionporn except for blips of perfectly-timed humor and heartwrenching moments. Worse, those gems of Jossness that made Avengers so fantastic are trite, jarring or downright huh? when presented against the megaserious backdrop. Entire scenes are out of place (Why did we spend so much time at Rancho Barton and go to Thor’s cave (that sounds bad)?) and characters’ attempts at humor or three dimensions fall flat without space to breathe. The final film is a battleground between leashed Joss and the studio, resulting in a clunky story that doesn’t measure up to the tight, witty, emotionally-invested bar set by Avengers.
AND ANOTHER THING.
There are tons of supercool ideas presented in Ultron that I wanted to explore more deeply, but given the frantic pace, we don’t get that chance. I wanted to understand Ultron and his evolution; at the beginning, he parrots Tony and perverts the idea of peace through a computer’s lens, then 20 minutes before the end says he’s “gone beyond” that. How?! Further, we’re thrown Vision and he’s accepted immediately, his comment about being neither Ultron nor Jarvis buried under “get ‘im, Ray!” talk. The power of fear is touched on, but we never know what Bruce saw or how Steve managed to not go batshit broken like the rest of the team. And what about the fascinating relationship between Banner and Romanov–where did that come from?! Because of the film’s leaping between action sequences, we miss out on goldmines of ideas and the precious storylines and entanglements that come with exploring them.
There are a bunch of other nitpicky things I could harp on (too-convenient twists, for example), but the basic gist of my disappointment is that Age of Ultron is filled with conflicted, disjointed storytelling with too much focus on OMG THE WORLD WILL END and not enough on character and ideas.
All that being said, I promise I didn’t hate Ultron. I’d see it again! (Besides, I’m reserving my “least favorite Marvel movie” spot for Ant-Man.) I’m just sad it was so lackluster. Somewhere between Iron Man 3: Tony is Has Feels (slow, one idea, overwrought) and Ultron: Do All The Things (overstuffed, unfocused, flat) is the right balance of plot, character, ideas, and franchise. They nailed it with Iron Man, Avengers, and Guardians; as a decent fangirl, I believe they’ll find it again.
On the upside, there’s this: