Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Comic books – at least, the ones from the two major commercial publishers – don’t work like most other media. They’re serialised entertainment, even more so than most television, where the actual unit you pay to read (the comic itself) isn’t the same length as the stories being told. And not just in a “this story runs for six issues” way either: characters can have individual “story arcs” that run longer than any one story, or they can appear in a self-contained scene then vanish from that comic book series. So when Avengers: Age of Ultron is described as ‘the most comic book movie ever”, what they really mean is that it’s like reading an individual issue of a comic book: it might contain a beginning, middle and end, but for just about all the characters it’s just a slice of their on-going saga.
Technically this is a movie about the rise and fall of Ultron (James Spader), a self-aware computer created by Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Bruce “The Incredible Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to defend the planet against the kind of alien attack that happened in the previous – and frankly, better – Avengers film. But Ultron turns evil the moment he’s switched on, then jets around never quite explaining the motives behind his plan to wipe out humanity in order to force it to evolve or something: he’s a dull villain and his evil scheme is nutty even by super-villain standards. That’s because Marvel – which is now part of Disney – isn’t all that interested in villains: the good guys are where the marketing money is, and all too often this film feels like an exercise in brand maintenance as it works hard to keep all your favourite Disney characters exciting without changing them any as characters. You know, like an actual story might do.
To be fair, pretty much everyone here gets a string of decent character moments, most notably Banner, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) – who are the three characters without their own movie series – while the more established characters largely look annoyed to be here. The action scenes are plentiful yet never really jaw-dropping in the way that the ones in Fast & Furious 7 sometimes managed to be, while writer/director Joss Whedon’s usual quips feel a little burnt out here, adding to the impression of a film about a bunch of tired guys going through the motions rather than a group of heroes energetically stepping up. But that’s what this film is about. It’s a vision of a never-ending treadmill that individual characters might be able to escape from but that the Marvel Universe as a whole – and the audience watching them – never, ever can.