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Full of Sound and Fury

 141 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed byJoss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, James Spader 
Avengers Age of Ultron

One of the earliest lessons I learned in life, a lesson that is reinforced every time I go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, is that merely because something is enjoyable, ten times as much of it does not make it ten times as enjoyable. In fact, it more often than not makes it unenjoyable, a lesson that is driven home ten times over in the latest bloated Marvel superhero epic, Avengers: Age of Ultron.


For those unfamiliar with the group, the Avengers include practically every Marvel superhero whose rights are owned by Disney. They include Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce “Incredible Hulk” Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor “Thor” (Chris Hemsworth), and a couple others with no superpowers but a number of other martial arts skills, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). If it takes an entire paragraph to introduce the heroes (and I’ve left some names out), you can imagine how overloaded the plot is.


Indeed, much of the plot consists of the heroes beating the daylights, first out of some inept, thuggish Eurotrash Hydra agents, then out of some spiffy looking but equally inept robots. The robots are under the command of the film’s archvillain, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), an artificial intelligence created by Stark to protect the world from other superpowered archvillains. Somehow, Ultron’s wires got crossed and his goal is now to protect humanity by exterminating it. Fortunately for viewers, Ultron’s sense of humor remains intact, as Spader’s wry quips provide the chief source of actual entertainment in Age of Ultron.


Ultron’s master plan is to cause a major city to rise thousands of feet in the air, then come crashing down to earth, creating an impact that will rival the asteroid hit that destroyed the dinosaurs. Even with a super duper atomic engine of some sort that Ultron invented to levitate the city, the process conveniently takes an inordinate amount of screen time, which allows the Avengers plenty of time to destroy hundreds of Ultron’s robot minions and foil his plan.


The numerous action scenes, most of which are quite repetitive and unimaginative, take up approximately two thirds of Age of Ultron’s running time. To break up the massive assault on viewers’ senses (especially in 3D), writer/director Joss Whedon inserts humorous banter among the characters, especially Iron Man and Captain America. A few of these quips are funny, but, unlike Spader’s invariably droll dialogue, most of them by now are highly repetitive and sound like the characters are just going through the motions. A running gag between the two of them about the clean cut Captain America’s use of extremely mild profanity was bad to begin with and got progressively worse. I felt at times as if I were watching a particularly weak later episode of Cheers with Cliff and Norm delivering the same putdowns for the hundredth time without any real conviction.


Whedon, whose strength has been character development, both in his television series and the original Avengers, tries for character development here but falls short, probably due to the movie’s commitment to giving each hero an appropriate amount of special effects sequences (gotta sell those action figures), even if most of them are unremarkable. An intriguing subplot in which the various heroes have to face their inner demons in a series of dream sequences is left frustratingly and almost incoherently unresolved. 


Since the better known superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America have starred in two or three individual movies already, their characters are fairly well established, and there was little Whedon could do to add significant new details. So, he resorted to building backstories around the lesser known heroes, Black Widow and Hawkeye, and two new characters, twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who start out as villains before deciding to help out the good guys. Their stories are actually fairly interesting: as children in an Eastern European country, their family was killed by a bomb built by Tony Stark’s company, giving them good reason to bear a grudge. Interesting they may be (and Scarlet Witch’s mental powers allow her to bedevil the Avengers far more than the speedy Quicksilver can), but the limited amount of screen time available for side storylines is one more frustrating aspect of the film.


The best new storyline involves Hawkeye, about whom viewers knew virtually nothing, but who now has two kids and a wife (Linda Cardellini) who realizes the value he brings to a group of guys who could easily break him in two. Less successful is the attempt to jumpstart a romance between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. They have little chemistry, and the only reason for pairing them is to allow Scarlett Johansson to try to calm down the Hulk by rubbing his finger in a scene that’s a direct ripoff of the Peter Jackson version of King Kong.


At one point early in the movie, the characters banter about whether to kill the Eurotrash Hydra flunkies they attack in the opening sequence. This scene illustrates a fundamental problem with Avengers: Age of Ultron, one the movie never resolves. Watching a giant green monster, a guy in a souped up iron suit, and a Norse god pummel relatively weak ordinary human villains flunkies just isn’t that much fun, especially if the audience starts to think about just how much destruction the heroes are actually inflicting. So, Whedon remedies that problem by having the Avengers blast a bunch of robots to bits in the finale. That solution creates another problem, however. In order for the non-super powered members of the Avengers to be able to stand a chance against those robots, the machines’ powers must be limited too. The result resembles an extended YouTube video of a child pummeling his favorite toys.


In the closing credits, Whedon teases the audience with a brief view of yet another supervillain (voiced by Josh Brolin), who promises to be an even more powerful foe when he takes on the Avengers in the next film in the series (a virtual guarantee given the huge box office take this week). Here’s hoping against hope that someone associated with the franchise will realize that less can be more and will cut back on some of the excess and return to actual movie-making instead of making each film an extended exercise in CGI work featuring nearly interchangeable costumes with nondescript bodies inhabiting them.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) on IMDb