By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler Alert
The Avengers are back together for one final mission and what they’re looking for is Loki‘s sceptre. It contains a stone with a ‘mind’ of its own and since Winter Soldier, this film’s immediate predecessor, the country of Sokovia has become a place of interest for Earth’s mightiest heroes (and villains too) in Age of Ultron.
This film begins in the middle of the action director/writer Joss Whedon wastes no time in getting fans salivating at magnificent special effects and combat choreography. Between these set pieces are moments of exposition to tell a story about how Ultron (sweetly voiced by James Spader) gets created and what his goals are. He’s supposed to be part of a special global defence program that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) want to fully develop. What is born is the ultimate artificial intelligence that deems mankind is flawed.
I had trouble accepting the fact that he wanted to become more human in a style similar to the literary Pinocchio. Both are out to make trouble. In other ways, neither of them fully understand morality. Every action they make has consequences. Their desire to be cut free from their creators just hints at what’s to come. For this Avengers villain fixated on destroying the human race and leading the survivors, just what he means by no strings most likely centers on him desiring to be freed from hidden pieces of computer code in his program that could potentially shut him down in an instant. Stark never considered the possibility of his creations going rogue and this movie would have ended fast if he did think of adding a shut-down feature.
Now that the idea of “no strings” has spilled into the Marvel Cartoon Universe in the latest episode (“The Ultron Outbreak”) of Avengers Assemble (at least the producers there have kept the character design simple and robotic), I feel the concept is getting overused. Ultron should simply remain a purely mechanical being instead of trying to become a bio-mechanical organism. I can understand why he wants a human appearance. By looking like them, he can be accepted by what’s left of humanity to worship as their saviour — but isn’t that a flawed idea? Why should he forsake his birthright in favour for taking on a more advanced humanoid figure? I’d be more afraid of how a virus can spread through the Internet than with a robot who is connected to the ‘net via the cloud. The latter can be severed than something that’s residing in different parts of the Internet.
I also think this villain’s character design was too much. Those circular servos that function as his cheek bones were distracting. They did not help him look very menacing. Now if it was hollow, and it peeked into the disturbing mechanics behind how organisms operate, I’d be enthralled and repulsed at the same time. All those facial characteristics that were moving on a big screen made Ultron look like one of Michael Bay’s Transformers. By showing less detail to his servo functions is better than featuring a nuanced sneer.
Another problem I noticed is that length of time it took for him to transfer consciousness keeps on changing. When considering that Stark and Banner left the lab to go have a party while the original Ultron program was being compiled and uploaded, I had to wonder when the great leap in digital transmission technology happened to allow the finished Ultron “computer code” to jump from robot to robot when he started fighting the Avengers. He could not upload himself to his new body in time because of the biology involved to form a chemical neuro-network, but yet for computer circuits (usually comprised of NAND gates for the fastest response) the speed is nearly instantaneous. Yes, I know my computer science. Shouldn’t Ultron know that’s a flaw in itself?
I also had to wonder when this relationship between Black Widow and Hulk started? Is it needed in order for audiences to understand why it’s only her who can calm the salvage beast? All Natasha has to do is to offer her raised hand to the advancing Hulk. As he slows down and stares at her like an angry lion, all she has to do stroke his paw to placate him. I’m guessing that the team made a leap in being a functional fighting force in between films because it’s great that Hulk’s bestiality can be turned off in an instant. It gives the often distraught Banner a sense of control. In what’s not cool with him is the backlash since this movie’s release about how ‘tamed’ Romanoff has become.
Ruffalo defends Whedon and so do I. I’m okay with the Beauty and Beast analogy Whedon is making and I believe that the studio execs interfered with what Whedon wanted to put together as a film. I’m sure on the cutting room floor, if not the wastebasket, is the development to explain the rushed parts of the movie, like in why Natasha decided to remain jailed. She was playing with Ultron much like how she played with the gangster in the first film to get secrets instead of the other way around. Had more of an explanation be offered, I’d be okay with sitting through a three-hour film. Although Age of Ultron felt long, a lot of needed character development was ditched in favour for a seemingly shorter run-time.
And just maybe, Quicksilver’s importance in this film might get better understood. He hardly added to the story. When considering I loved him in X-Men: Days of Future Past, at least that moment was explained. He existed to rescue Magneto. The action sequence that followed upon the Master of Magnetism’s release is the best moment in Marvel Cinematic history where I easily laughed and cheered him on. Sadly, 20th Century Fox’s movies are not part of the collective. If they did, then mutants would properly exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since they do not, any crossovers is not going to happen. I dislike the fact that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are a result of gene manipulation from the mystical energies contained in Loki’s Staff. Since it’s able to twist minds, I can accept how Scarlet has gained her powers, but the speedster’s energies seem left field given what’s known about what this magical staff can do. Not all of this film’s logic is perfectly explained.
As the box office has shown after opening weekend, everyone just wants to see the gang back and donning their favourite red, yellow (gold), white, blue, green, purple and black tights back on the big screen. Hopefully by the third film, just who will be the Avengers can show their true colours. This movie ultimately felt like a set up for things to come than be a self-contained story.
3 Stars out of 5