I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of belief.

I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of belief.

 

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON wastes no time sending our heroes once more into the breach. As we open in Sokovia, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are launching a full-on assault against a Hydra fortress. In this moment, they move and fight as one – each using their individual skill-set to fight as a solo, and likewise knowing when to step back and accompany. The sequence culminates in the image you see above: with all six heroes pushing forward. They are lined-up in perfect harmony, like notes on a staff of glorious music.

It’s a moment of balance, elegance, execution, and perfect measure…and it never returns.

AGE OF ULTRON begins with our heroes seeking to retrieve Loki’s sceptre after it was stolen from S.H.I.E.L.D. by Hydra. Just before finally laying their mitts on it, they are confronted with two superhumans who are the product of Hydra’s experiments. Twins named Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Just before laying hands on the sceptre, Tony Stark falls victim to Scarlett Witch’s powers. In his mind, she plants a terrible vision – one of his entire team fallen, and the knowledge that he could have done something.

From this terrible vision, Ultron is conceived.

With the help of Bruce Banner, and unbeknownst to the rest of The Avengers (and what remains of S.HI.E.L.D.), Tony harnesses the power of Loki’s sceptre and creates a being of artificial intelligence. However, before Stark and Banner can understand just what sort of genie he is letting out of the bottle, Ultron becomes self-aware. He channels the unlimited access and information available online and takes hold of Starks legion of drones as physical hosts. To Ultron, Earth has a brighter future without humanity on the planet to screw things up, so this sentient A.I. makes it his mission to eradicate humans from the world…beginning with The Avengers.

Just to give himself that added advantage, Ultron reaches out to Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch as co-conspirators.knowing full well that one of Stark’s weapons caused the death of their parents many years ago. So goes the dawn of the Age of Ultron.

The challenges that befall The Avengers are many. They must continue to harness the power of The Hulk without laying waste to whole cities. They must be able to let Stark invent new counter-measures without giving him enough rope to create entirely new problems. They must recognize just what power is contained in Loki’s sceptre, and the greater threat it could be part of.

Most of all, they must find a way to put aside their differences and work as one…again.

 

Hulkbuster

 

AGE OF ULTRON is actually at its best when our heroes are gathered in one room and talking. It seems strange to say that, but believe me it’s true. While I will never tire of watching what new toy Tony Stark will unleash next, or another neat trick Captain America can play with his shield, the truth is that there’s something entrancing about watching these gods and monsters interact as humans. The appeal of the Marvel Comics Universe has always been that it’s grounded in some version of our reality, and in our reality we talk to each-other, we worry about each-other. In our reality, we get afraid, and from that fear, our mistakes are made.

The Avengers are no different. They each come with baggage, and no two suitcases are alike. So this isn’t a place where ego takes over and everyone feels the need to yell, not anymore. This is a place where everyone is haunted by a different nightmare, but the threats they face have a way of making everyone’s nightmare a possibility.

Then in an effort to make everything even more human, we turn to Hawkeye. This, the member of the group who is most likely to get picked last for a game of kickball, becomes this story’s beating heart. He’s the one that reminds everybody what they’re fighting for, and the one who seems the most empathetic to everyone around him. Perhaps it comes with being the most fragile?

But best of all, Hawkeye is the one character in the story who stands in for us when it comes to the pure absurdity of it all. In the late going, he looks Scarlett Witch square in the eye as chaos reigns and says “We’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow! None of this makes sense.” Hawkeye gets it, and in this moment AGE OF ULTRON gets it too. However, it loses it far too quickly.

The film loses it by never again matching the fluid execution of that opening sequence. It keeps splintering the group into solo fights, duos, or trios. None of these sequences stand out all much – save for one smackdown between two of them, and even then it stands out for pure architectural carnage. Perhaps it’s because The Avengers spend so much time fighting mindless drones, or perhaps it’s because none of them ever seem to be in true peril. Whatever the reason, there is no one set piece in this film that has enough excitement to match the assault on Nick Fury in THE WINTER SOLDIER, or the Monaco Grand Prix in IRON MAN 2, or even the assault on The Helicarrier in the first Avengers film.

We know what each of them are capable of individually, and have even seen them do amazing things in twos and threes (Iron Man with War Machine, Captain America with Black Widow and The Falcon). So now that the time has come once again for them to unite as six, after three long years of hype, promises, and story build-up, we can’t help but feel like we deserve…more.

At the end of the day, AGE OF ULTRON is a perfectly filling and satisfactory cheeseburger. Therein lies the rub: Marvel should be above that. Moreover, “Phase Two” should have been about cooking up a more delicious and satisfying cheeseburger. Every character has been given so much time on-screen over three or more films of their own to establish themselves. They’ve experienced victory, experienced loss, discovered what they are capable of as individuals and a team. However, none of that was of interest to Marvel Studios. It appears as though the only real usefulness they saw “Phase Two” fit for was to mine it for more characters…and mine it they did.

Those harmonies that AGE OF ULTRON shows flashes of? That’s the song Marvel should be playing. Unfortunately, as catchy as a song as Marvel is playing, it’s still only using three chords.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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