Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios/Motion Pictures

Dueling Critics: Age of Ultron

15:30 May 01, 2015
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Earth's mightiest heroes are back in Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron. This time the Avengers – Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – battle artificial intelligence in the form of Ultron (voice of James Spader). Also thrown into the mix are mutant twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Fritz: Leaving the theater, I think both of us felt Avengers: Age of Ultron was an "It's good, but..." movie. We liked it with some qualifications. So why don't we start by talking about what worked. How does writer/director Joss Whedon make this film worth the viewer's time?

Dave: Well, Whedon delivers what the audience wants and expects - an abundance of colorful super hero action and witty one-liners. He knows how to stage and execute digital action. Sure it's frenzied but most of the time you can actually see what is going on. And he infuses his movies with welcome humor. 

Fritz: Yes, he stages action and writes one-liners well. But he also does a good job of juggling A LOT of characters in a way that doesn't feel incoherent. Characters come in and out of the forefront, but I never felt "Wait, what happened to...?" like I do in a lot of films with an unwieldy amount of characters. 

Dave: Yes, he juggles multiple characters well, but I did feel it reaching the breaking point. A few times I was thinking "Where is Hulk? And Thor?" In fact, during the final battle Thor comes out of nowhere after not having been seen in a while, and another character, Captain America I think, asked, "Thor, were you napping?"

Fritz: I also enjoyed the added focus given to Jeremy Renner's character (Hawkeye). In the previous film, he felt almost like an accessory, but here Whedon makes an effort to turn him into a real character. If there is a single main character in the film (there isn't), Hawkeye might be the closest to it.

Now for the downside. Like the original Avengers, the weakest part is the 3rd act when the main characters fight a seemingly endless parade of interchangeable aliens or robots. This film's finale has a grimmer aspect to it (I won't spoil it for readers), so that was a nice change of pace, but I do wonder how many times they can go back to that well before it becomes truly tiresome. I know you're not a fan, but I thought of the James Bond franchise while watching it. There's only so many times a character or characters can fend off world domination without it becoming either tiresome or laughable (the TV show 24 also suffered from this in later seasons). It may not be fair to criticize this movie for what might happen in the future, but I couldn't help but think about it while watching. What did you think? Where did the film stumble for you?

Dave: While it delivers what fans expect, it is, however, more of the same. For future installments to remain fresh, the filmmakers need to come up with new scenarios instead of having the good guys battling robots in the city. Split up the characters and have several battles in different places going on at once, like in the finale of Return of the Jedi.
It was good that they fleshed out Hawkeye, but I wished they would have done even more. Yes, make him the main character this time around, and for the next installment, let a different character anchor the story.

There is a potential romance between Banner/Hulk and Black Widow, but I feel it wasn't handled very well. It felt like an after thought. What did you think? Should Hulk have smooched Black Widow?
Because this is a sequel it's a given that this is going to lack the freshness of the original. The fun part of the first Avengers is the central conflicts the main good guys have with one another. There is some conflict here, but not much, leaving most of the characters kind of hollow. That's my main gripe.

Fritz: Yes, Hulk should've kissed Black Widow. Superheroes in a romantic relationship together? THAT would be a fresh, innovative, and potentially funny development to throw into the series. We've seen the tortured hero who feels he can't be with the woman he loves because of who he is, blah blah blah. Also, seeing Black Widow in a relationship would also be a way for viewers to learn more of her character. Since she hasn't had her own movie, either, she's one of the least developed characters.

Do you have a favorite Avenger? Is there one you'd be happy to still see more and more movies centered around?

Dave: Tony Stark/Iron Man is my favorite Avenger. I love that the character struggles with his massive ego in saving humanity. Plus, I love his sarcasm and Robert Downey Jr. does right by the character. The Avenger I would like to see more of is Black Widow for the reasons you just stated...and I just love my sweet ScarJo.
Who's your favorite? 

Fritz: Iron Man's a good one - his seedy history plus his humor makes a nice balance between the serious/silly tones that superhero movies can struggle with. But I'm probably most partial to Captain America. It may be because the scrawny nerd in me identifies with him, but I'm also fascinated by the concept of a man out of his own time. It was explored a little bit in The Winter Soldier, but I think his separation from his time could be a neat metaphor for the alienation most people feel as they age and the world of their youth is phased out into something different. No, no, Disney, please don't back all of your money trucks up to my door at once for my idea of using a superhero movie as a metaphor for aging. I'm sure dozens of people might want to see that.
Final thoughts?

Dave: Age of Ultron is entertaining enough, but it really is more of the same and you probably won't remember it in a week's time. 

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