Hollywood whiz kid and libertarian folk figure Joss Whedon (Firefly) finally grinds Marvel’s creative engine to a halt with the flat, overwrought Avengers 2 picture, Avengers: Age of Ultron. It sputters and spins.
With a generic, meaningless title as generic and meaningless as its Ready for Hillary arrow logo movie poster, this mediocrity exploits the past, flaps its lips and signifies nothing. After years of defending and enjoying these comics films, such as Thor, Iron Man and Captain America, including last year’s sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is among 2014’s best movies, I found Avengers 2 to be the amalgamation of every negative stereotype about geek-gamer-fanboy subculture; a hyperactive, meaningless mess. If you loved Whedon’s other overrated, overstuffed fare, from one cancelled TV series to another and every bloated thing in between, you’ll love this monster mash, too.
However, if, like me, you were drawn into his blank worlds of TV’s Dollhouse and whatever else and came away utterly unimpressed, this, too, will deflate the dollars and senses. I deliberately braced and lowered expectations before the show just to loosen up in case Marvel let Whedon have his way with this one. I was bored within five minutes.
It takes an effort to waste Robert Downey, Jr. (The Judge), Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and secondary players such as Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Anthony Mackie (Black or White) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). But writer and director Whedon makes them all look bad, though Evans fares best, with atrocious lines that are supposed to be snappy but instead come off as a half-formed Forties rehash. Everything is too fast, too forced and totally counterfeit. The plot never develops. The characters never develop. The theme involves some sort of indictment of German superman philosophy and propagates the Bush-Obama foreign policy directive to elevate not killing civilians to the highest moral purpose at the expense of letting madmen who’ll destroy everyone go. The Avengers sequel reduces the avenger—the hero—to a sacrificial soldier in a thankless drudgery of duty. More than once, someone shrugs that it’s been a long, bad day.
More than once, I felt this as a long, bad movie. Aside from nitpicks, including that Scarlett Johansson’s character has miraculously lost any trace of an accent that I could have sworn her Black Widow character once had or that James Spader sounds like the National Car Rental ad guy as the voice of evil biotech villain Ultron (not like James Spader), too many characters are shoved into too little plot with no real point.
The result is an arbitrary kitchen sink movie with some of the worst dialogue written for the screen.
“They scratch the surface and never think to look within,” a character says of human beings, for instance. This comes after multiple one-liners, smash-ups and explosions and no exposition. Characters change allegiances for no coherent reason. What usually makes Downey’s caustic Iron Man appealing falls flat without context. I never did figure out why Renner’s bow-and-arrow character was doing in a subplot as deep as a country music video. Throwing in derivations of Silver Streak (1976) or Spider-Man (2002) and a collapsing skyscraper, mega-earthquake and a subplot pairing Johansson (Her) and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, with the romantic chemistry that suggests, and any remaining action heroism is strung out in long-winded riddles, belabored contrivances and sight gags. Disney’s John Carter made more sense.
Add dream sequences, inner turmoil and an anti-climactic showdown in the air between the avengers and Ultron and Avengers: Age of Ultron is at best an action movie with psychobabble and badly written banter.
Three years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about a publicity piece in one of those promotional publications on The Avengers that gave me pause and made me wary of Joss Whedon’s anti-heroism. This weekend, Avengers: Age of Ultron, underestimating its cast, audience and studios and taking its fans for granted, adds nothing to Marvel’s universe and further detracts from the series. Disney’s Thor director, Kenneth Branagh, delivered what may be this year’s best picture, Cinderella. By contrast, Disney’s Avengers director, Joss Whedon, delivers a manic mixture of incomprehensible plot points that minimize Marvel’s iconic heroes in the worst new movie I’ve seen in some time.