When I went to the theater in 2012 to see the original Avengers movie, the excitement erased everything else in my life. It was everything I had been waiting for since the post credit scene in Iron Man four years previously. The jokes about the end of the world between my best friend and I included the phrase “at least we get to see Avengers before the apocalypse.” I went into the theater and sat down, heart racing as I waited for Robert Downey Jr. to grace the screen.
The movie that followed that excitement wasn’t perfect, but any flaws on the screen were overshadowed by Hulk punching Thor and Captain America reflecting Iron Man’s repulsor beam with his shield. If Joss Whedon got nothing else right, he nailed the iconic moments between the heroes. I would go on to see the movie a second time within the week and a half dozen more since.
Knowing this, I was cautiously optimistic about Age of Ultron. I knew that the same feeling wouldn’t exist; that the newness had worn off. It would have to be a story that drove the movie to new heights rather than rely on the characters star power I put my faith in Whedon to craft an excellent story with great action sequences and maybe a dash of romance. Age of Ultron delivered on some of these fronts, but when I walked out I wasn’t racing back to the theater for a second viewing. I was shrugging and trying to understand what the movie lacked.
Here’s what I finally came up with. Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not an amazing one.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my time with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch it again someday. All that means is that I had the highest hopes for the film and it didn’t quite make it.
Age of Ultron doesn’t feel like a sequel. It feels more like an extension of the first movie. Whereas the first film spent a lot of time building the plot and relationships, this one was free to dive into the action. There’s nothing wrong with diving right in as long as you give some strong reasons for why throughout the movie. The opening sequence was a lot of fun, featuring the full roster versus a Hydra base. It managed to recapture some of the magic of seeing the characters fighting alongside each other. Then, things begin to go wrong.
Not only for the Avengers as Tony and Bruce build a murderbot, but for the film itself. Tony is afraid of aliens and builds a robot that wants to destroy the world. It’s not the worst plot, but the movie could have benefitted from exploring Tony’s fears a bit more. Rather than develop the ideas, they’re shown in a series of hallucinations about the death of the Avengers and Asgard. Sure, that speeds things up a lot and gives more time for punching robots, but there was a lot of room there for growth. The motivations in the film are all derived from fear, but rather than ‘show’ us what to be afraid of, it tells us.
The moments I enjoyed the most in the movie were the quiet ones. Bruce and Natasha growing closer didn’t offend me; I enjoyed the moments they shared. Hawkeye and his secret family gave him something more to fight for than an idea. I might be in the minority, but those are the moments that I think the movie needed more of.
I don’t have a problem with action-heavy movies. I enjoyed all of the action scenes, especially the fight with Ultron in Seoul. When Black Widow dropped out of the jet and scooped up Cap’s shield on her motorcycle, I wanted to cheer. When the Hulk squared off against Tony’s Hulkbuster armor, my eyes grew painfully wide and stayed that way until it was over. The action is fast, hard-hitting, and a ton of fun. I just wanted something more from this outing. The plot development and character moments can’t all happen in the stand alone films.
I hope this approach isn’t consistent with the Phase Three in the MCU. When the Infinity War comes around, I want to see more than four hours of heroes punching Thanos. I want the characters to continue to grow throughout the two films. The time has passed for a superhero film to just look cool. To prevent fatigue, the films have to keep things changing.