You know when you love a band on the strength of their first album, and it was such a good album that you’d swear they had supernatural talent? Then the second album comes around and the hype is saying ‘if you liked the last one, wait until you hear this!’ And you’re so convinced the previews are on the money that you tell yourself there’s no way you’re going to be disappointed.
And then you hear the album. And it’s really good. Eons better than everything else out there. But there’s something missing. Something that made the first feel untouchable; an overarching concept, tone or message that so beautifully encapsulated all the individual songs and messages and made them feel like small parts of a much larger whole.
That’s Age of Ultron to me.
I love the film. Love it. Have already seen it twice in-fact. But as much as I want it to be as good as, or even better than the first Avengers film, it’s not. And I know you’re probably going to counter with ‘but obviously it’s not as exciting as the first time seeing all these characters on screen together’. But that’s not it.
To go back to the music metaphor, AoU is like a rock song that everyone thinks is great because it has lots of exciting riffs and maybe an explosive chorus, yet lacks the quality of being a coherent quality song all the way through.
The problem is there’s just so much going on. Not only are there bucket-loads of main characters to give arcs and limelight to, but there’s also characters that are missing (Pepper Potts and Jane Foster to name a couple) and who need crucial dialogue time to explain their absence and thus placate the fans’ nit-picking. The dialogue is snappy of course, dripping with trademark Whedon self-aware comedy and comic-book quote-ability, but the film has to move so fast (even with its 140 minute running time), that moments of drama and even comedic asides feel shoe-horned in between action sequences.
I feel like I’m being overly harsh here, because when AoU does something brilliantly (and it frequently does many things brilliantly) it becomes as jaw-droppingly amazing as anything committed to film and called a blockbuster. But it lacks that thing the first Avengers had where the film felt like the culmination of lots of smaller stories into one huge epic. This time it feels like there’s more going on, but much of it is there to set-up future films. In-fact that’s definitely it. The real issue is that Whedon has been cajoled into teasing/teeing-up other properties (Ulysses Klaue and Wakanda point to Black Panther, Stark and Rogers arguing sets up Civil War, Thor’s worry about the Infinity Stones with accompanying vision sets up Ragnarok and Infinity War) and it hampers the story going on right now.
But there’s lots to love (I feel like I have to keep saying that, just as any fan of a property must apologise for their disappointment in any element of a new creation). The action is stunningly choreographed, particularly in the opening assault on Baron Strucker’s base, and the final battle with Ultron in the remains of a chapel in the centre of a levitating village! Whedon and his team can’t half manage a fight, and I was never lost in the geography of a scene. There’s also great action beats for each hero, and the way they work together has improved (as it would with any team sticking together long enough) so that we are treated to smile-inducing moments like Thor taking out an entire team of goons by generating a shockwave from Mjolnir striking Cap’s shield.
And for those wondering about Danny Elfman’s contribution to the film, it’s there but you can’t truly hear his influence until the credits start to roll. Elfman takes Alan Silvestri’s original Avengers theme and spices it up with some trademark Elfman dark strings and choir notes which (purposefully?) resemble his Spiderman theme.
Here’s the thing: If you loved Avengers you’ll love Age of Ultron. Just don’t go in hoping to have that first experience bettered, because though it’s bigger, more expensive looking and brimming with more iconic heroes, it never quite assembles (sorry) the way that first one did.
But there’s lots to love…