There are a lot of superhero movies these days, evidently the subject of much critical handwringing. Maybe they’re poisoning popular cinema — bloated advertisements for themselves draining resources and eyeballs away from more worthy fare. Or maybe they’re just the latest pop trend, no different from the glut of westerns or zombie movies in decades past. Either way, they’re not going anywhere. So, as an experiment, rather than sneer at them for flaws likely intrinsic to manufacturing a piece of Interlocked Content Architecture™ designed for the attention of millions worldwide, maybe we’re better off focusing on what they can (and often do) get right. Avengers: Age of Ultron is a film jammed with incident, nearly constantly making good on its promise of teaming up Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as they smash bad guys (in this case an artificially intelligent evil robot bent on human extermination). Where the previous film climaxed with a nifty stitched-together CG shot of the team combating the latest menace, this one opens on one and proceeds to drop them every fifteen minutes or so. As computer generated spectacles go, each of these is cleverly staged — there isn’t a lot of crummy handheld, not much over-cutting either — and packed with ingenious gags like the one where Thor strikes Captain America’s shield with his hammer to create a bad-guy shattering sound wave.
a film jammed with incident, nearly constantly making good on its promise of teaming up Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
Director Joss Whedon continues to recognize the appeal of corralling Marvel’s well-cast actors (even the lesser Thor movies tend to coast on charm) and just letting them bounce off each other, streamlining long stretches of exposition by combining them with punchy screwball-comedy banter. Whedon takes great pains to establish real interpersonal emotional stakes for the characters even while we know things must return to status quo in order for the next six movies to exist. Ultron benefits largely from big subplots about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and his secret domestic life, or a blossoming romance between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). And from the presence of evil killbot Ultron, who gets a wonky voice performance courtesy James Spader, playing the villain as a temperamental snob, almost confused as to why anyone would want to protect the puny humans from extinction. While a lot of these movies are accused, and not always incorrectly, of being same-y, individually they aren’t devoid of their own idiosyncrasies. Ultron in particular boasts things like Paul Bettany’s weird “bio-organic synthezoid,” named The Vision, a supremely goofy red-skinned robot man with a cape and a laser-shooting gem in his forehead. He shows up for the third act and literally nobody bats an eye or seems eager to rationalize his presence. And while the movie devotes plenty of screentime to shredding skyscrapers and other displays of demolition, it also spends time on actually rescuing civilians in peril. Even amongst literally Earth-shattering events, Iron Man is seen snatching up some bystander falling off a bridge. As potentially insidious pieces of corporate content go, this one is relatively thoughtful, almost defiantly weird, and very frequently fun, and if it’s damning it with faint praise to suggest that maybe that’s enough, then so be it.