Despite being responsible for an incredible cinematic achievement in 2012's The Avengers, Joss Whedon seems more focused on his supposed failures in last year's sequel, [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035). Maybe it's just that we so recently had Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice to show us how much worse it could really get, but Age of Ultron still has plenty going for it.
His second Avengers outing was definitely less well received, for many valid reasons, and there seems to have been a huge amount of behind-the-scenes production drama that left the director with a sour taste in his mouth and a refusal to come back to the franchise. Coming off of such a success as The Avengers, the landscape had changed. It's nice to believe that the success of a project would allow more freedom for the next one, but in many cases the opposite turns out to be true. The audience has an expectation now and the studio needs the sequel to perform just as well, if not better. So rather than take risks, it's safer to do the same thing again (something 22 Jump Street knows all about.)
The Avengers was damn near perfect. For a movie that could have easily been over-stuffed, every character had a chance to breathe and develop. It had a villain charismatic and engaging enough to justify the team-up and the action scenes were absolutely inspired, truly like watching a comic book come to life. Everything after The Avengers was arguably going to be a step down. In many ways, Whedon actually fixes some of the issues with the first film, such as Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, who became one of the standout characters of the sequel. But everything else had been seen before, so arguably the “Wow” factor was gone.
Many of the narrative choices may not have worked in context correctly but individually make a lot of sense. The chaotic middle act of the film is deliberate, to make the audience feel as lost as the characters, to sell how defeated the Avengers have become. Thor's infamous bath scene serves a narrative purpose to actively seek knowledge, refocus both the Avengers and the film itself. Yes, it was clunky and came off as a promotion for Infinity War, but Thor's side-plot creates the Vision, brings the Avengers back together and sets them off to fight Ultron. A few tweaks and the scene could have worked to its full potential, motivating the film rather than dragging it down.
That's one of the most glaring and frustrating things about the film. It absolutely feels like it needed another run in the editing room, with a few pick-up shoots if necessary. So many of the narrative issues in the film could easily be fixed with a little tweaking, like Thor's quest or Ultron and the twins' lack of development. There's an incredibly solid, personal film about superheroes in there but it's simply missing about 10-15 minutes of footage. This is one of the few films that could justify those extra minutes back, considering the massive cast that the audience wants to spend time with.
And of course the cast is one of the reasons why it still works. They have such an easy and natural chemistry with each other that, when they get to spend time together and bounce off each other, the film flows. They're charming together and that's why the moments when they fight are so hard to watch and may influence the negative opinion of the film. These are people we want to see get along because when they do magic happens. But that magic has to be earned and a story can't just have everything go smoothly for the whole run time. There has to be conflict for the characters and this is where a little extra run time could have benefited, to give each character a little bit more time to breathe. As it stands, things are still a little too rushed.
Despite his stunted development and a very rushed introduction, James Spader's Ultron is captivating. The man could describe the details of a blank canvas and still be charming as hell and he brings all that to Ultron. The twins are a fine addition to the overall cast, each doing a solid job with the screen-time they're given. But again, just a few more minutes to explore Ultron's motivations or the lives of the twins beyond the immediate story would make a huge difference. There's one deleted scene included in the home release where the twins interact with the people of Sokovia just before meeting Ultron for the first time, and in only a couple of minutes establishes them far more as characters. All the story needs is a few more moments like that.
Like the previous team-up, Age of Ultron has some spectacular action sequences that are near impossible not to get caught up in. The Avengers' raid on the Hydra base is a brilliant opening sequence, showcasing all the strengths of the team-up right from the get go. The fight between Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is both hilarious and thrilling, reminding us just how terrifying the Hulk can be. When the Avengers come together to fight Ultron at the end, it's hard not to feel a little thrill as their theme starts to play. At the end of the day, Whedon remembers that these characters are heroes and inspiring and treats them as such. They save as many lives as possible because that's what they do. It's moments where Captain America (Chris Evans) declares that he's not leaving until every civilian is safe that sell the movie.
Like all films, Age of Ultron has its flaws and its mistakes. By no means should we just ignore them; after all, we should want the best from any film. But Age of Ultron is very far from the disaster many proclaimed it to be. I left Batman v Superman feeling like it was a waste, but Age of Ultron was still a fun couple of hours. There are many ways that it could have been better, but most of them could easily have been fixed and that's what makes it the most frustrating. The potential is right there, just not quite found. But it still could be, if Joss Whedon can only forgive himself and make that Director's Cut to show us the movie as it should have been.