I know I may be flamed for posting such a review, however I couldn't help but walk away from the theater today — after over two years of anticipation — without feeling a little letdown by the latest Marvel installment. A sequel to the first “Avengers” movie was always going to be a difficult task, we all knew it, however “Ultron” seems to miss the mark in subtle ways that leave this fan scratching my head a little and trying to figure out why I can’t love it. By writing this, I hope to understand why a little better myself and see what others have to say about it.
The film had all the staples of a great superhero action film: great characters, explosive action, witty banter, excitement and fun, but there was just something that seemed off with that took away from its magic and diminished its impact. Let me apologize in advance if this is a little long, and while I won’t go into every detail here, there may be spoilers, so beware.
The story is fun. That is unquestionable. From the beginning we see a lot of action and we discover that the team has built a strong relationship and working dynamic. It is a lot of fun to see them together again, and the one-liners and funny comments are great.
Despite how fun this is out of the gate, it comes off as a little out of place because we have not seen them together in a while and yet they seem like they’ve never been apart. How did they become such a well-oiled machine already? There was no awkwardness or sense of knocking the rust off and getting back into the groove; it appears they have been doing this for a while despite the fact that there has been no indication of the Avengers assembling since the previous film, even for those of us that watch “Agents of SHIELD” on a weekly basis.
This may be a nitpick, but with the opening of the film being the attack on Hydra, it just seemed a little jarring that everything was so easy for them (aside from Hawkeye’s injury), especially against such a formidable enemy as we saw in “Winter Soldier” last year. That coupled with the new “lullaby” that Black Widow has to employ to subdue Hulk and bring him back down to being Banner, feels strange, especially when the previous film established that he could apparently control his transformation to some extent. Widow’s new-found role as the Hulk-whisperer seemed only to set up what I feel was the most out-of-place element of the film. But more on that in a little bit.
As I said, the film had a lot of great moments in the story. The party scene in-particular was terrific. Had this been the opening of the film showing them getting together and reacquainting themselves before being called off on the mission, I think it could’ve alleviated some of the uneasiness I mentioned before. And the look on Thor’s face when Cap moved Mjolnir a smidge, and his sigh of relief when Cap couldn’t lift it, was priceless.
The film is able to build tension scene after scene very well, from the introduction of Ultron, to the twins’ decision to change sides, to the ultimate showdown. There are moments where we can understand how dangerous the situation is, but only because we are told it is dangerous.
At no time do we see Ultron’s use of the internet to travel world-wide disrupt anything or wreak havoc on the world. He doesn’t cause mass power failures or disrupt communications. He doesn’t instill any fear in the populace except at the end, and then it is only in the one city in Segovia. Had we seen world-wide panic, and the Avengers having to deal with other events, the desperation of the situation would have been more palpable, I believe.
I think the strongest part of this film is the character development. Some of it is revelatory, some of it is funny, and some of it is a little too weird and way out of place. But, character development is strong.
The best character development we see, I believe, is in Hawkeye. For one, he actually shows up in the film and plays a part in more than just the ending. He’s a major player in the film and helps ground it and make it relatable to the audience. I believe he is actually the proxy for the audience in that he sees these super-powered, extraordinary people with great abilities, and as he puts it at one point, “I have a bow and arrow.”
Hawkeye gets the most revealing development because at one point when the Avengers need to lay low, they go to a farm in the country. Hawkeye’s farm. Where we discover that all this time, despite the jokes by other people about not having a girlfriend, he actually has a wife and kids. As a dad with two boys and one on the way, I instantly connected with Hawkeye and saw him in a new light. To me, he became the star.
Thor’s character is developed a little more as we see him easing in to life among us mere mortals. The classic fish-out-of-water story is always good fun, and we get to see a small glimpse of that as he is interacting with people at the party.
The weirdest character development comes in the form of the aforementioned budding romance between Banner and Widow. This is put on full display at the party as they flirt with each other but it came way out of left field. I felt like, “what the frak is this?” when I first saw them at the bar. Romanoff’s demeanor seemed so out of character and it was so jarring, it’s as if the writers felt they had to attach her to someone and Banner was the only one available. They knew Hawkeye was untouchable since he has a secret family; Stark is with Pepper (who is conspicuously missing from this—it would’ve been fun seeing her interact with Thor and Cap, etc.); Cap is too clean cut and wholesome to get involved with her (although they had a great dynamic in CA:TWS); and Thor just wouldn’t.
To top it all off, Widow and Banner (mostly Widow) kept talking about running away together and not sticking around to help the team. This also felt so wrong and out of place it was like this “Widow” was a totally different character from what we saw in “Winter Soldier” or any of the other films. Seeing a little of her backstory was interesting, but it was also kind of confusing and choppy.
Stark is another character who I feel was several degrees off. Granted “Iron Man 3” showed us a paranoid Stark who tinkered and created multiple suits to protect Pepper and be ready for any threat he could think of; there was just something wrong with him here. More than what Scarlet Witch did to his mind at the beginning. For instance, he experienced the danger of the twins and was shown the death of his team, but instead of bringing this to them he simply decided to build Ultron? This was not development, this was regression of character. It took away from the growth he had in the other films. I actually feel Stark is less likeable than before — and he was probably my favorite going in.
Ultron’s character was fun, but seemed less menacing than even the Dark Elves from “Thor: The Dark World.” I envisioned a Terminator-like AI that was scary and threatening, yet he didn’t really threaten anything until the last act. James Spader was great, but I think he would have stolen the show had the character been written as a larger threat than we got.
Speaking of Ultron; where did that program come from? One instance Stark and Banner are analyzing the scepter, the next they decide to try and crack the computer code hidden inside the gem and adapt it for… Ultron. The name is dropped and I don’t remember them even discussing where it came from? Is it something Stark had in his pocket for a long time? Did it come from SHIELD? Hydra? The movie synopsis and spoilers all state that Ultron was a long-dormant program. Now, I may have missed it, but I don’t remember it ever being explained in the film. They just say, ”hey, this has a computer AI more advanced than JARVIS, let’s plug it into ULTRON and see what happens.” All we got was a name-drop, and no exposition as to what Ultron was before they meddled with it.
Also, all computer communication is routed through Oslo, Norway? Even Pentagon and US missile defense? Did I hear that right?
Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great moments in the film, and I did enjoy the heck out of it. But there were moments where I felt something was missing. One big example of that was near the end when Fury showed up with Falcon, War Machine and the Helicarrier from “Avengers” to save the people of the city. The music and the appearance of the ship was truly heart-pumping, but when Fury mentioned he had the help of some friends pulling “the girl out of mothballs,” it would’ve been a great moment (and I almost expected) to have Coulson and some of his team there to lend a hand in the rescue, tying the show and the film together, and making for a very epic moment. Longshot, I know. But it would’ve been awesome.
Falcon and War Machine were also sorely underused until the very end. It was nice seeing them at the party for a little while, but not having them run backup to the team throughout — especially with such a threat as Ultron — was a missed opportunity. They could’ve easily been utilized with my aforementioned world-wide Ultron-caused disruptions, which is also a missed opportunity for the film.
To say I was a little disappointed, or let down, by this movie I think is pretty clear. I enjoyed it a lot. My kids really enjoyed it. My wife enjoyed it. It had good humor, really good characters, great action, and was a lot of fun. But when I left the theater, I didn’t feel the excitement I felt when I left after the first “Avengers” in 2012. Or like I felt when I exited after “Winter Soldier” last year. I didn’t experience that “WOW” factor that I expected. There was something off, something missing, and something that made me question whether I have become burned out on superheroes (I hope not, I’ve put so much into my boys’ SuperHeroKids YouTube videos), or whether this film just didn’t quite live up to the hype. I went in excited and came out a little underwhelmed. In the end, I really do like the movie, but I felt much like I did with “Man of Steel;” I wanted to love this move, but I just couldn’t.
In closing, I guess it says something when just after the Hulkbuster fight, I look down at my 5-year-old who was begging to go see this film all week; and at 3:30 in the afternoon amidst all the explosions and action, he was fast asleep.
Go see it. You’ll enjoy it. But don’t be surprised if you feel like something just didn’t hit the mark with this one, you’re not alone
Thanks for reading; sorry it was so long. Let me know what you think in the comments below. I'm interested in your take on the film, but be civil; there's no need for anger or fighting.
Also, don’t forget to check out Youtube.com/SuperHeroKidsOnline for our own little superhero videos. We will be premiering a new episode soon that was partially shot on location at Kennedy Space Center.