There’s a moment in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, one of the more compelling examples of well-executed large budget entertainment, in which Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm suggests that the minds behind the restoration of dinosaurs were so preoccupied with whether they could create that they never paused to consider whether they should create. Over twenty years later, Malcolm’s reflection could be just as readily applied to the Marvel Studios and their frenzied franchise saturation, albeit with far less hazardous consequences than Alan Grant and co. incurred. Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the latest Marvel film release and an example of large budget entertainment gone awry, may well be the first significant indication that the filmic universe that the studio has fostered over the past seven years is neither stable nor necessary.
The first Avengers succeeded because of Joss Whedon’s remarkable flair for bonding six dissimilar comic book heroes and facilitating the sharing of narrative and situation. The story was slight, but Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and The Hulk not only existing onscreen together but also belonging onscreen together was something surely even the most contemptuous of film critics might have appreciated. It was effortless, or at least it seemed effortless, and there was something forceful about such a natural union of heroes that shielded Whedon’s less admirable cinematic sensibilities from scrutiny.
Age Of Ultron, a victim of the fact that Whedon has already pulled off the trick once already, is by comparison an absolute mess and arguably a stronger indication of Whedon’s ineptitude for storytelling. With the novelty all but faded, Age Of Ultron is reduced to a relentless torrent of verbal quips,of varying quality, competent nevertheless forgettable action sequences and a narrative with an overwhelmingly fleeting attention span. Detailing the plot would require more space and time than a review should allow and a reader is willing to sacrifice, respectively, and the benefit would be minimal. There’s so much going on in Age Of Ultron and it’s far too much. Moments of intrigue and depth are hastily swept under a rug of one-liners and mind-numbing developments. Ultron, the central villain, is a compelling screen presence and yet is given no opportunity to convey real purpose or emotional significance because the film just moves along far too quickly.
Whedon’s writing is distinctive and certainly entertaining at a superficial level and yet his devotion to sharp one-liners reduces every character in the film to a thinly veiled riff of the same personality. The inhabitants of Ago Of Ultron, Avenger and villain alike, are assigned a series of witticisms, sometimes related to their individuality, sometimes not, that essentially highlight that each character has come from the same mind rather than establish each character as a personality in their own right. It’s a regression in development, especially considering it’s not only a sequel to Avengers but also that many of the core Avengers members have also had a handful of unaccompanied film to contribute to their character.
It’s meant to be mindless entertainment but mindless entertainment can be done well and it can be done poorly. The most creatively successful Marvel film to date has been James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which managed to establish a world, five heroes and a couple of villains over the course of one film. Perhaps the crucial difference between Gunn’s film and other films that occupy the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it felt like its own film. Whether it’s Whedon’s fault or the pressure from Marvel was too creatively crippling, Age Of Ultron feels like a bridge between films; far too concerned with building the greater Marvel world and compressing storylines than in any real storytelling. There’s a wealth of usable information in the source material at Whedon’s disposal, but it doesn’t appear as though he stopped to consider whether he should use it.