The End of an Era – Avengers: Age of Whedon
As a long-time Marvel obsessive, I feel I need to preface this review of director Joss Whedon’s latest blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, by admitting that my viewing began with a serious case of fangirling. Yes, I even overspent at the snack counter on the special combo just to get the novelty Avengers cup. I’m one of those people, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
Having said that, my obsession has dealt me an unfair set of cards in reviewing the film; although my love for the cinematic universe runs deep, it also means I’ve found equal amounts of fault. Don’t get me wrong, the film is a must-see – but decide for yourself if it falls victim to the curse of the sequel.
My aim with this review is to be as spoiler-free as possible, but just in case any do escape my net: if you haven’t seen the film yet, be warned!
To summarise the plot: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) becomes obsessed with what is essentially an Avengers retirement plan, and secretly teams up with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to create an Artificial Intelligence called Ultron, voiced by the always sassy James Spader. A bit of a Frankenstein dilemma definitely ensues because this ‘creator vs. created’ battle is one for the record books, naturally involving the potential annihilation of the entire human race. The rest of the team find out about Stark’s experiment in the most violent of ways, and it’s up to them to band together and save the day – cue applause.
We also get the utmost pleasure of being introduced to two more super-powered people in the form of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, otherwise known as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (albeit with altered origin stories). Now, if you can somehow get past the ridiculously inconsistent accents that actors Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson have come up with, the dynamic between these two is actually one of my favourite parts of the whole movie (even though it’s not till quite late that you’ll realise why). There’s an interaction between Wanda and Ultron that is equal parts devastating and cheesy, and it works – well worth the price of the popcorn you’ll be scarfing down to avoid emotionally self-destructing. Who knew an Olsen sister could invoke such a reaction?
The other best part of the film for me was the character development of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Evidently the producers felt bad for reducing him to a pseudo-bad guy in the previous Avengers, because he was quite easily the most fleshed out character in the whole film. The backstory they gave him was a welcome surprise (though comic lovers will be divided I’m sure), and he really comes into his own as a justifiable member of the team. He’s got the gallantry of Captain America, the focus of Black Widow, some of the best one liners in the whole film – and yep, all he has is a bow and arrow. Watch out Legolas, you’ve been eclipsed as my favourite cinematic archer.
Now, before I start getting too emotionally involved with the film again we need to discuss the negatives – though fewer in number than most sequels would have, they are still present. It physically pains me to admit it, but most of these fall squarely on the shoulders of Joss Whedon (Buffy fans please don’t hurt me!).
One of the biggest disappointments was the character arc of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Without giving too much away, I was incredibly disappointed that her development was reduced to the trailer-alluded romance between Natasha and de-Hulked Bruce. C’mon Joss, she’s the only female Avenger, and this is what you came up with for her? A Hulk whisperer? Worse still, at one critical juncture she alone is the only one taken prisoner. I’m not saying both characters don’t deserve a bit of loving, but it does seem trite that such a misogynistic trope was employed, rendering ScarJo as nothing more than a love interest and a damsel in distress. Admittedly the brief insight into her backstory was fascinating, but this is the badass Natasha Romanoff we’re talking about here! She’s dangerous, multilingual and mysterious… but a victim? Nope, I don’t buy it.
Additionally, I feel like at times it was painfully obvious just how much content was squeezed into the film. One of the biggest things that appealed to me about the original Avengers film was how balanced it was, and I just didn’t feel that with this one. Marvel films should be overwhelming because of how epic and awe-inspiring they are, not because it’s physically challenging to comprehend all the different things going on at once. With so many characters I don’t expect full backgrounds and development for each, yet it really seemed like a lot of things were tacked on for the sake of inclusion. The whole thing had Whedon written all over it, and that’s not a bad thing, but it seemed like he was trying to push the boundaries too far after his initial Avengers success, losing many of the delicately structured features that made the film so well-received.
Ultimately though, I will end on a positive note and say that one of the biggest things that Joss Whedon got right for me was the connection and set up towards the Infinity Stone storyline. Having gone to the screening with someone who hadn’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy (a grievous offence in my books), I can accept that for newcomers the concept was a bit ambiguous at first, though as a well-versed Marvel obsessive I found it linked quite successfully. Easily the most interesting aspect of this is the inclusion of Paul Bettany’s character Vision. For those who haven’t yet seen the film, watch out for a scene featuring Thor’s hammer that I genuinely believe is one of the most seemingly offhand yet critical reveals in the cinematic universe.
Overall, I fell in love with the film. The banter was on point, the apocalyptic danger almost seemed feasible, and the characters were as self-deprecating as ever. It will be a bittersweet farewell to say goodbye to Joss Whedon, but I think the franchise is only going to be improved by the creative genius of Joe and Anthony Russo at the helm. Nonetheless, I can safely say it has only made me more excited for Ant Man and the subsequent roll out of Marvel’s Phase Three films, and I’m keen to add to my growing collection of overpriced Avengers cups.