Running Time: 141 minutes
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgård, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson
If you’ve heard about Avengers: Age of Ultron, you pretty much know what to expect from this film even if you haven’t seen it… and you probably did, judging by its box office. The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise is spectacular, funny and occasionally dramatic – thanks to the screenplay by Joss Whedon. It’s says a lot about MCU films that, after seven years, we have come to expect a certain level of entertainment from them.
Avengers: Age of Ultron re-unites us with a group of now-familiar heroes – from genius billionaire Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth). As if half a dozen superheroes wasn’t enough, the film introduces new characters such as telepathic/telekinetic Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and superfast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Over them looms a new threat – artificial intelligence called Ultron (wonderfully voiced by James Spader). Built by Tony Stark to protect humanity, Ultron instead decides to follow time-honored tradition of AIs everywhere and go on a murderous rampage with an army of robots.
So much for plot. The thing is, I’ve already seen better MCU outing this year and it didn’t even play in cinemas. First season of Daredevil premiered on Netflix this April. Its gritty, small-scale story follows young lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) who, in the guise of vigilante Daredevil, fights street crime all the while wrestling with his own conscience. Daredevil had some of the most engaging characters I’ve seen in Marvel Cinematic Universe and featured by far its best villain – Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).
This brought home something I’ve noticed while watching Age of Ultron as well some of the last year’s MCU films like Captain America: Winter’s Soldier. In all of them I was far more interested in small human moments of characterization then in the CGI bombast. For all the epic fights and large scale urban destruction in Age of Ultron, I wouldn’t mind seeing a film made entirely out of scenes like the one where guests at the party jokingly (and unsuccessfully) try to lift Thor’s hammer. It’s a bit unfair to expect that a superhero blockbuster delivers something it wasn’t really made for. But look at it this way: ten years ago I knew next to nothing about most of these characters. Marvel did such a fantastic job of introducing them that now I wouldn’t mind watching a story about their everyday lives.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is entertaining enough but after seven years the formula is beginning to feel a bit stale. How many times can we watch CGI-Earth almost getting incinerated or invaded before we get bored? To paraphrase Syndrome from Incredibles – And what a warm and funny superhero story that was! – once everything is amazing, then nothing is. I expect that over time this saturation with spectacle will begin to eat into ticket sales of superhero films. But, for better or worse, by that time this decade will probably be known as “Age of MCU”.