‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: That is one angry robot


There aren’t too many obstacles more daunting for a filmmaker than colossal expectations. Joss Whedon has to deal with a whole lot of them in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

After all, his 2012 flick “The Avengers” was one of the most popular movies in recent memory, scoring excellent reviews, grossing $1.5 billion worldwide and establishing Whedon as the A-list director long-term fans of his early work (the groundbreaking TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the quixotic sci-fi show “Firefly”) always assumed he was.

Now for the follow-up, which — while being well-paced — can’t help but feel a little overstuffed and a bit long. Iron Man even makes a joke about a particular situation feeling “Eugene O’Neill long” — no kidding, dude.

A host of new characters are introduced, including the robot baddy Ultron (a motion-captured James Spader), the enigmatic android the Vision (Paul Bettany, formerly the voice of Iron Man’s computer, Jarvis), the Eastern European “enhanced humans” Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, still the best Olsen) and her twin brother, speedster Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

The plot threads get a bit tangled, but “Ultron” opens in midbattle, as the Avengers — Tonk Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.); Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Thor (Chris Hemsworth); Bruce Banner, aka the rampaging Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); Captain America (Chris Evans); and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — take down another base belonging to international terrorists HYDRA.

In the process, they free Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who have a beef with Iron Man from back when their country was bombed with Stark-manufactured arms. Quicksilver runs really fast, while the Witch can, well, there’s an energy bolt thing and she can control minds. It’s a little confusing if you don’t have a decent grasp of Marvel comics B-listers.

But you can’t say “Ultron” is not Whedon-esque. As Whedon noted in an interview with the American-Statesman in 2009, dysfunctional teams are his thing: “I’m only interested in people in the way that they play off each other, the way they connect and don’t, the way that they band together and fail to — all my stuff sort of ends up being about that.”

To wit: We have a developing romantic relationship between Hulk and Black Widow, Stark and Banner working on a next-generation artificial intelligence, and someone on the team has not been entirely honest about their private life.

Of course, the AI goes nuts, stuffs itself into an indestructible robot body and judges humanity too messed up to be worth saving, so maybe it’s time to blow up the world and start over. Time for some punching.

Whedon is in a tricky spot, having to make a decent stand-alone movie and advance the larger story-ball down the field, a ball that will allegedly culminate in “Avengers: Infinity War” parts 1 and 2, due in 2018 and 2019. Whedon has passed the directorial torch for those to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo. There is a mild exhaustion to “Ultron,” as if Whedon is frustrated he has to hit all these beats rather than making a tight story.

And Ultron the character is the exact point where CGI fails Whedon a bit. Whedon writes tortured, depressed villains quite well — Ultron’s sadness at the state of things manifests as genocidal rage. But while Spader does his level best, his voice-acting can only do so much if the CGI can’t quite “act” the character’s pulpy complexity.

But Whedon is still Whedon, and the grace notes — the snappy patter, the team dynamics, the “man, that was cool” moments — go a long way. A smart, goofy scene involving nobody being able to pick up Thor’s hammer but Thor (as only “the worthy” may lift it) pays off so brilliantly down the line that it induced actual fist pumps in the audience.

And the film pops to life when Bettany shows up as the Vision, an android cut from the same thoughtful cloth as Data on Star Trek if Data were less wide-eyed and a better puncher. With his red face and green body, Vision looks good and comic-booky while possessing a fascination with humanity that translates as a singular nobility and morality.

That sort of thing is always welcome in superheroes.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

Hypnobirthing delivery technique reportedly used by Kate Middleton but what is it?
Hypnobirthing delivery technique reportedly used by Kate Middleton but what is it?

Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton, gave birth to a baby boy on Monday. >> Read more trending news  This is the third child for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who welcomed their new son into the world in the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital in London. According to reports, Middleton endured a...
Port Aransas ranked among best vacation spots for families with young children
Port Aransas ranked among best vacation spots for families with young children

Despite ongoing recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey ravaged most of the small coastal town, Port Aransas recently made a list of best vacations for parents with young children. The list says Port Aransas is perfect for teaching kids to fish and learn to surf, and its 18 miles of beaches provide fun for kids of all ages. The popular Texas tourist...
Whistleblower sparks investigation into Georgia film tax credits
Whistleblower sparks investigation into Georgia film tax credits

Georgia state officials are investigating after an anonymous whistleblower came forward with allegations that Warner Bros. improperly claimed more than $600,000 in Georgia tax credits for work on the movie “Sully,” the industry publication Variety reported. >> Read more trending news  The 2016 film, directed by ...
Queens of the Stone Age start loud and then turn up the volume at Austin show
Queens of the Stone Age start loud and then turn up the volume at Austin show

For most the past 20 years Josh Homme has managed to cultivate one of the more consistent and readily identifiable sonic imprints in modern rock music. While he shifted creative gears with occasional side projects such as Them Crooked Vultures or a recent collaboration with Iggy Pop, Homme’s main gig as lead singer/guitarist...
Weekend music picks: Eric Church, Mobley, Blackheart finale, more

Friday: Mobley “Fresh Lies” release at Waterloo Records. The adventurous electro-pop artist doesn’t consider this new release an album. Instead, he thinks of it as an album-sized excerpt of an ongoing project, his exploration of the relationship between man and country cast as a romantic love song. This idea...
More Stories