Opening this week:
Avengers: Age of Ultron—The big-budget superhero blockbusters of the last decade or so are not, I confess, my favorite genre. I loved Sam Raimi’s first two Spiderman movies and the first two Iron Man flicks as well, and the first Captain America movie, the period piece, had some flavor. But as these and other series have extended and expanded and intermingled with each other, bloat and rote have begun to set in.
Don’t get me wrong; I always find something in all of them to enjoy—there are always exciting scenes and entertaining performances, or, if nothing else, Scarlett Johansson to look at. But for me, there’s a certain hyper-seriousness to the writing of the recent Marvel and DC spectacles, and also a sterile visual atmosphere—a result, I think, of the wall-to-wall CGI—that’s a bit dreary, almost oppressive. Most of them also feel overplotted, and at least a half-hour too long.
So it’s possible that you could find less cranky and whiny commentators than I to hold forth on the matter of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Because, though it gives me no pleasure to take a “you kids get out of my yard” tone, everything I said above applies to this latest Marvel all-star game.
The main hero line-up this time includes Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner aka The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the aforementioned Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Evans as Captain America, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, among others. The plot this time is yet another variation on the Frankenstein theme: Ultron is an android endowed with massive artificial intelligence, recklessly created by Tony Stark to keep the world peaceful and safe.
Regrettably, Ultron decides the most efficient way to accomplish this is to wipe out the human race with the help of his army of killer robots, and Tony and his Avenger pals have their hands full stopping this. Interminable wild chase and fight scenes ensue, many featuring buildings collapsing into graying clouds of rubble—an unsavory, reflexive modern motif that can’t cease to be obligatory in movies like this soon enough to suit me.
But, as usual, Avengers: Age of Ultron has its compensations. For instance, there’s Elizabeth Olsen, soulful as ever, as Scarlet Witch, some sort of freaky Eastern European super-psychic, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her super-fast twin brother Quicksilver. And, as aforementioned, there’s Scarlett Johansson to look at.
But the most fun that this movie offered me was its title character, voiced, and performed by “motion capture,” by James Spader. I’ve long been a fan of Spader, from his beginnings in the‘80s as a sort of off-the-bench honorary Brat Packer, through to his hilarious courtroom harangues and pervy lewdnesses on Boston Legal. Avengers: Age of Ultron should have devoted far more of its length to verbal sparring between Spader’s ironic purring and Downey’s nervous, nattering insolence—a clash between two of the greatest smart-alecks in contemporary pop culture.