Marvel is eating itself

Avengers: Age of Ultron is another carefully constructed product that feels like the work of a tightly run committee rather than creative individuals.

Avengers vs. shawarma
It’s been eight years since Marvel Studios first introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Eight years of world-building and origin stories, of characters who aren’t what they seem, who die and then are resurrected, of last-minute heroic derring-do and slow-motion fight scenes. An incredible amount of work has been done to weave a cohesive universe, and that work has been handsomely rewarded with some of the highest-grossing films of all time. Yet, in the eight years since Marvel released Iron Man, very little has changed in the actual content of the films. The Marvel films are carefully constructed products that feel like the work of a tightly run committee rather than creative individuals. When you sink this much money into something, you can’t risk it not pleasing the four quadrants, and Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is no different.

Avengers Age of UltronThe film opens with the Avengers still seeking Loki’s scepter, which is in the hands of an evil Hydra operative in a made-up Eastern European country called Sokovia. Having retrieved the scepter, the Avengers return to home base, where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) sets to work creating an artificial intelligence so carefully tuned that it should prevent Earth from ever being attacked by aliens (the problem they faced in the first Avengers film, you’ll recall). Something goes haywire and the result is Ultron (voiced by James Spader), an ultra-intelligent cyborg hell-bent on ridding Earth of its most tenacious pest: humans. The Avengers must band together and prevent Ultron (and his new evil sidekicks, a couple of super-powered Sokovians played by Elisabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnston) from destroying the world.

There are a couple of advantages to the MCU lasting this long. For one, Whedon doesn’t bog down the movie with more of the additional origin story / world-building horseshit that makes some of the other films in this series such a slog. He (correctly) assumes that the audience doesn’t need to be spoon-fed everything that happened in the dozens of hours previous. It also gives the actors a little more room to breathe and mess around — I might be the only person out there who would much rather watch the cast of the Avengers sit around and make bad dad jokes (which consists of less than 10 minutes of the film’s 141 minutes) for an entire film than watch them dispatch 10,000 robots from a church in ruins, but that the film at least gives its extremely stacked cast time to hang out is nice.

On the flipside, Avengers: Age of Ultron plays out disturbingly similarly to the first installment: same reliance on a stupid MacGuffin, same ‘allegiances will be tested’ twist at the midpoint, same unpersonable central villain with a half-assed world destruction scheme, same chaotic action scenes, same serialized lack of stakes. These are unfortunate by-products of creating such immense tentpole films, but their repetitive narrative homogeneity could be avoided if the films felt in any way organic. Avengers: Age of Ultron reminds me not of the joy of filmmaking but of the efficiently anonymous products that I create at my office job (Guardians of the Galaxy would be the outlier in this particular situation). In a perfect world, a fun blockbuster shouldn’t feel this coldly impersonal — or at least I would hope that it doesn’t, but I seem to be in the minority here. ■
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in theatres today, Friday, May 1. Watch the trailer here: