I’m shocked that I have more negatives to bring up than positives, but with the direction that Marvel have been heading towards in terms of quality regarding their cinematic universe at the moment, I shouldn’t have really been that surprised.
The cast from Marvel Studios’ previous films have naturally returned to their respective roles but one of the major downfalls of "Age of Ultron" is that there is little to no development to these characters at all. Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), again, makes reference to the alien invasion from "The Avengers", as he did in "Iron Man 3", and his sudden return to his superhero career as Iron Man is never explained. Rogers (Evans) is an improvement but overall feels like he’s been copied and pasted from the first ensemble film whilst Thor (Hemsworth) is severely underused and has the most nonsensical subplot (that is meant to tie into Thor’s upcoming film…?) in "Age of Ultron”.
One of the best aspects of the film, however, is Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, whose character is greatly developed and, in comparison to the rest of our beloved Avengers, feels ‘genuine’; it’s easy to see why his character has always been left lingering in the background in previous Marvel movies but his particular situation in "Age of Ultron" has evoked him to open up to the rest of his team and to us, the audience, to subsequently obtain a better understanding of the character.
While Hawkeye’s character has been pushed a little more to the forefront, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow seems to have taken a step back from the result of a very forced and poor romance 'blossoming' between her and Bruce Banner. Scarlett Johansson’s character has always seemed quite strong in previous Marvel films and the insight to her character via flashback sequences in "Age of Ultron" would have only reinforced that impression if it wasn’t for the fact that Black Widow was so desperate to get into the Hulk’s pants (especially when she told Banner she should have gotten in the shower with him *cringe*). Is it necessary for every comic-book movie to contain romance? With no previous chemistry existing between the two characters, the writers simply ticked their checkbox of including ‘romance' as they squeeze Black Widow and the Hulk together and expect something ‘magical’ to happen.
Although it is nice to see the cast come together again since their ensemble debut, the characters simply engage in very generic and repetitive conversation and are constantly turning on each other which soon becomes very tiring. We already witnessed enough of that in the first Avengers movie; there’s no need to show us more of the same thing. If you are aware of Marvel’s current movie plans and their ‘Phases', it is easy to piece together that this forced conflict within the group is all necessary buildup for the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and though this conflict will be accentuated in the 2016 movie, the teasing towards this event was just not subtle.
On a related note, Marvel is dabbling excessively in what I dislike the most about their attempt at creating a very ‘cohesive’ cinematic universe; their need to set up events that play out in the future. In itself, "Age of Ultron” is quite a solid movie with a definitive beginning, middle and ending. However, most of the bits in the ‘middle’ can be cut out, i.e. the need to introduce characters and locations (and "Age of Ultron" features MANY of these) that will have greater significance in future films. As mentioned previously, Civil War appears to be the prioritised chess piece in this movie. With this in mind, the film feels overstuffed with characters, hence why characters, overall, feel so underused and underdeveloped. Despite this, the cameo appearances from side characters at the beginning of the film is a nice acknowledgement to their presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is later justified when we see the new roster for The Avengers at the film’s ending.
Introduced into the movie’s new roster of heroes are Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), her twin brother Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the Vision (Paul Bettany), their presence definitely welcomed. The transition from antagonists to heroes feels natural on behalf of the Twins and the skill set/powers displayed by the three definitely feels like a nice, fresh change from the remaining members of the Avengers. While Olsen’s and Johnson’s performances are sufficient, it is worth noting that their Eastern-European accents are notably off at times. Paul Bettany as the Vision is definitely one of the film’s highlights but unfortunately just feels like another character that Marvel have attempted to shoehorn into their movie universe, making his presence and role feel underused.
Interestingly enough, these three new heroes, whom I would personally say take the spotlight in "Age of Ultron" (as well as Hawkeye, we definitely can’t forget Hawkeye in this film), become heroes in the first place due to their interaction or relation with Ultron, the titular villain. I’m not sure about you but if these characters are not sufficiently convinced by the villain to join them and subsequently just lead a robot army instead, it’s easy to see how flawed the villain’s motives are. Ultron is one of the biggest problems of this film. Do not let the trailers fool you into thinking that he is menacing because he simply isn’t (though kudos to him as he is one of the more ‘interesting' Marvel villains, I guess).
Again, because of the abundant amount of characters, it is so difficult to focus on a single character and that unfortunately includes the villain; we never get a full insight into what Ultron is truly capable of. He is alluded to having the ability to access any computer and do what he pleases (this is never explicitly shown to us in great detail, just told to the audience) yet the most he seems to accomplish is zip back and forth between his individual robots. What’s annoying is the fact that we don’t even get to see how the main body of Ultron himself is built as all that occurs off screen and he just magically appears as a freshly made entity whenever the film needs him to. The villain is also made to be too human in some aspects with his dialect and (facial) expressions and is composed as acting much too casual considering his ‘motives'; Ultron is simply is just all talk and no action.
Speaking of action, I’d rather we didn’t... "Man of Steel" quickly made viewers tired of seeing building after building being demolished and flying pieces of rubble and debris everywhere and so, to see this happen so often in the Avengers sequel is to experience something so tedious, exhausting, cliché and repetitive. Apart from an impressive and quite unexpected moment where Ultron’s drones take off with a truck from the ground, I had no aroused reaction at all to the action sequences. Characters may don slightly upgraded weapons and suits and may be pulling off some combo moves together but the choreography just isn’t striking enough as it was with “The Winter Soldier”.
Due to the bland action sequences, it never feels like the heroes are in any danger at all. There’s no tension to be anticipated at all and the stakes throughout "Age of Ultron" just never feel high enough. Sure, some villain galvanises the team of heroes to navigate through several different locations and stop him from destroying the planet before it’s too late but, I don’t know, I may or may not be experiencing some déjà vu… Marvel don’t seem to know how to amp up the stakes and tension; all they really seem to know is how to amp up the number of characters they can squeeze into a 2 hr and 20 minute movie. As mentioned above, the action sequences are all so generic (and all contain so much destruction) that it’s difficult to tell when we’ve reached some kind of pinnacle or climax where we can expect the film to really blow out, hence why the third act of “Age of Ultron” is just so underwhelming.
The capacity to introduce something fresh and innovative seems like a challenge for Marvel Studios at the moment. Loki’s sceptre is once again used as another plot device and is a necessary weapon for our titular villain as they’re simply not menacing or intimidating enough to not need it at all. Though it is nice to see that particular element return from “The Avengers”, where it worked very appropriately, its use as a ‘plot device’ in this sequel is very apparent and disappointing considering it is, yet again, another means for Marvel to tie together their cinematic universe and tease future plans through the reveal of the infinity stone hidden inside the sceptre (the stone later being used to generate the Vision). Thanos, who we were first introduced to in “The Avengers” and later see in “Guardians”, makes his third overall appearance in the MCU in the mid-credits scene, wearing the Infinity Gauntlet which is yet to bear any of the appropriate stones. It is difficult to come across a memorable and well-developed villain in the string of Marvel movies since 2008 and with the preparation towards Thanos most likely being the major villain in “The Avengers: Infinity War (Pts. 1 and 2)”, I really do hope that the build-up towards his character will not be yet another disappointment.
“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is no improvement on Marvel Studios' former works and, sadly, just not even on the same standards. The film is simply overstuffed with mediocre gags, characters, repetitive dialogue, dull action and an underdeveloped villain with a generic army at their hands. As a result, there’s hardly a reaction to have towards “Age of Ultron” other than the feeling of being underwhelmed by how much a potentially good story and exciting villain have been sacrificed at the expense of Marvel ticking off all the ‘essentials’ (i.e., ‘big' action, comedy, the teasing of future films, generic plot and villain) in order to please the average moviegoer. Apparently, a three hour cut of this film exists which I hope delivers a ‘fleshed’ out and well-balanced feature in comparison to the theatrical release. However, we won’t know for sure until the Avengers return on DVD and Blu-Ray. In the meantime, unless you are taking your kids to the cinema, save your money on tickets and rent the film later this year instead. There’s nothing to miss here. “Age of Ultron” is one of Marvel’s most forgettable movies to date.