Oh Joss what have you done. It all started so well this super hero lark, there were films where things happened other than piles upon piles of CGI’d fight scenes, where characters would develop, grow up, learn, adapt and blossom. Do you remember the days, the rose-tinted days of old, when men were men, when Iron Man was released and Tony Stark wasn’t a parody who was more, well, troubled, or Captain America, when he danced with chorus girls and had inner conflict, or even Thor, who was cast out and had to learn humility by falling in love with Natalie Portman. Oh boy, humility was a tough one for him.
Suffice to say I have mixed feeling about Age Of Ultron. Let’s start with positives. There’s some genuinely nice scenes in the film, the moment of “is anyone worthy of lifting the hammer” is clever and well-acted by Chris Helmsworth, there’s something lovely about finding that at least one of these superheroes has people who care about them who are, well, normal, and the lightness of touch and comic timing is funny. The problem is that these moments feel like bits added to break up the shooting and hypertense action sequences – at best they would be the easter egg in the closing credits of their predecessors.
Fundamentally it comes down to time – this is a film with 9 (arguably more) leading characters and it feels like we barely scratch the surface of character. Yes the fighting is what they do, but we watch films for the rites of passage that the characters go through, the development, the growing up. There are points, and I think specifically of the slow motion sequence at the end where I’m desperate for one of them to die, maybe more, so that at least it speeds up what’s going on and moves us to the next point of interest after the latest shootathon. There is clearly an upper limit to the number of characters a film can comfortably support, I was reminded of Guardians Of The Galaxy with 5 leads (of which 1 barely speaks).
The film lasts over two hours with a plot (and i use the term loosely) that revolves around something happening and then the whole event having to be explained for the audience members who are getting lost, quite possibly most of them. The ratio of action to drama (and they are different things I think) feels about 95:5 when you watch, is probably, in reality about 60:40 and needs to be, I think, 20:80.
Joss Whedon has made an admirable attempt in making this epic drama filled with loads of epic characters acceptable, to even make sense and get something half cohesive is, I think, a miracle. However the concept doesn’t work for a film literate audience, this is a film for 14 year olds who need constant action, and that’s just not me. Bring on the next solo superhero movie.