Monday, 11 May 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Yeah, I know I said I had no interest in watching The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but since almost everyone else in Winnipeg has seen it, I need to talk about it. If I do so without first seeing the film, I lose my credibility as a critic. So I found a coupon in my wallet and went to Grant Park to watch the 2D version of the film. Needless to say, I went in with the lowest of expectations. As a result, I enjoyed Ultron more than I thought I would. 

I mean that last sentence literally, because it was the character of Ultron I enjoyed most about the new Avengers film. More to the point, it was James Spader (one of my favourite actors), who provides Ultron’s voice, that made Ultron such a fascinating character to listen to, though it didn’t hurt that Ultron had most of the film’s best lines.

For the two or three of you who don’t know, Ultron (the character) is yet another consequence of the brilliant but stupid actions of the world’s favourite superheroes - the Avengers. This time, we have Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk), our two resident genius scientists, deciding that the best way to bring lasting ‘peace in our time’ to our violent planet is to create an artificial intelligence, in robot form, who will permanently keep the peace, allowing the Avengers to rest up or take a vacation. The result is Ultron, an artificially intelligent robot whose mission is indeed to bring lasting peace. Ultron wants to be the Earth’s saviour, just as he was created to be. Unfortunately, for those living on the Earth, Ultron’s analysis is that such lasting peace can only be attained by ridding the Earth of those most dangerous of lifeforms known as humans. Leading the way in protecting those destructive humans are a group of monsters calling themselves the Avengers, so Ultron will have to get rid of them as well.

Given that a number of the Avengers in Age of Ultron refer to themselves as monsters, there seems to be some consensus emerging here. But no, while the Avengers do spend some of their action time fighting each other (due to the influence of a young woman who'll become known as Scarlet Witch), they eventually focus their fighting energies on destroying their latest creation even when that creation is simply trying to save the planet from the scourge of humanity. Poor Ultron! So unfair! Just because James Spader has a reputation for playing sleazy characters (or cold-blooded fellows like Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington in The Blacklist) doesn’t mean Ultron isn’t a nice guy. 

Alas, it is the Avengers (monsters though they may be) who are supposed to be the superheroes in this film and they attack the poor villain and his robot minions with wild abandon. I suppose we should be relieved by the fact that most of the countless creatures killed (destroyed?) by the Avengers in Age of Ultron are lifeless robots. But are they really lifeless? And while we are led to believe that Ultron’s opposite number is an artificial intelligence called The Vision, what does it say when The Vision, who thinks it’s wrong to kill, nevertheless decides that the only course of action in this situation is to kill Ultron (just as Ultron’s only course of action was to kill humans)? 

Sigh. To say I’m disappointed with Joss Whedon’s writing and direction of The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an understatement. I know he’s capable of better than this. As enjoyable as Ultron is, the film as a whole is  waste of time and talent. The plot is thin, the interminable action is as boring and repetitive as superhero action can get and there are fewer moments of fascinating and/or funny dialogue between the Avengers than in the first Avengers film. There is still some of that, and you can tell the actors (far too many in this ensemble cast to mention by name) are probably having fun here, but mostly Age of Ultron seems to be an excuse for same old same old pointless action and special effects. Kenneth Turan, one of my favourite film critics, summarizes the film well when when he says: “the ideal vehicle for our age of immediate sensation and instant gratification, it disappears without a trace almost as soon as it's consumed.” There’s nothing here for the masses to be wasting their time and money on.

Though there is Ultron, who is given such fascinating lines as: 
  • (to the Avengers): “How could you be worthy? You're all killers. You want to protect the world, but you don't want it to change. There's only one path to peace... your extinction.”
  • “Everyone creates the thing they dread. Men of peace create engines of war. Invaders create Avengers. Parents create … smaller people? Er … children! I lost the word there. Children! Designed to supplant them. To help them end.”
  • “They put the building in the middle of the city, so that everyone could be equally close to God. I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of belief.”
  • (when asked why he killed someone): “Wouldn't have been my first call. But, down in the real world we're faced with ugly choices.”
Good stuff, though the words often ring hollow (e.g. Ultron’s ‘change’ is a world devoid of humans, hardly what anyone would endorse). Somewhere in this film there may be an attempt to satirize the military-industrial complex, but it all gets lost in the endless violent action which is obviously aimed at a young audience that has become utterly desensitized to such violence. Still, if we think of Ultron as the victim, and the Avengers, who have brought so much misery and mayhem to the planet (and then worked tirelessly to undo the damage they have caused), as the villains, maybe there is some potential for thoughtful discussion here. So I’ll give Ultron: The Age of the Avengers (:-)) ***, though my mug is nowhere to be found. 

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