When screening a movie, there are several factors to consider. First, does this film play by its own rules? Second, is it enjoyable? Third, is there anything new in it—a story idea, a casting choice, a director’s vision, a visual design? Fourth, if screening with an audience, how does it react? Fifth, does any of that matter?
If the movie is, say, Transformers: Marky Mark Arrives, the answers are no, no, no, poorly and yes. A truly crap film and crap viewing experience.
If the movie is Avengers: Age of Ultron, the answers are sort of, yes, sort of, like a bunch of overcaffeinated children and not really. This is a movie where the audience goes nuts when the Marvel logo pops up on screen (ugh—the thing hasn’t started yet, people), so objectivity is a mixed bag.
But there is something magical about the Marvel movies that is lacking in many dumb, big-budget action extravaganzas. Compared to Transformers: And the Funky Bunch, with its lead-paced screenwriting, direction and editing; incomprehensible production design; and stupid plot decisions (you’re going to kill off TJ Miller in the first 30 minutes and let Mark Wahlberg live? OK!), the Marvel movies are gold, Jerry! Even the underbaked Thor series and first crummy Captain America are better than most of the pap out there.
Age of Ultron does what the smarter Marvel movies do: It drops the audience into the action at the top, gets them locked in to thrills and chills, and then worries about the story later. When we catch up with the gang (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk and whatever Jeremy Renner is), they’re storming a fictional eastern European country, looking for a scepter they need to grab, hold and then remove from the planet in a few days. Why a few days? So that bad stuff can happen in the interim for them to fix, of course.
Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) get the idea to make artificial intelligence out of the scepter, and boom—before you know it, there’s a living computer called Ultron (played hammily by James Spader) trying to destroy the planet in order to save it—whatever that means.
Oh, wait! It means lots of things blow up! Ho, ho! I haven’t had this much fun with things blowing up since Furious 7. There are some creaks in Ultron’s momentum: Downey seems like he’s at the end of his Avengers rope, though he does have the movie’s best jokes (describing a day as being “Eugene O’Neill-long,” for example), and Renner gets a family that exists only in stansd-by-your-man world.
On the bright side, there’s a budding, sweet romance between Hulk and Black Widow/Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is finally put to good use and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) delivers the goods (she’s accompanied by her twin, Quicksilver, but he’s played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who’s as forgettable here as he is in every other movie in which he appears). The action is easier to follow than in the first Avengers film, and Ultron takes the unusual step of saving extras’ lives instead of pounding them into sand. Plus, Ultron doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s fun all around.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Directed Joss Whedon
With Downey, Johansson and Hemsworth
Regal Stadium 14/Violet Crown