Avengers: Age of Ultron Dir. Joss Whedon

[Marvel Studios; 2015]

Styles: superheroes
Others: The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America

Something keeps telling me I’m not the one who should write this. I should recuse myself, because I’m too done with Marvel movies, and superheroes in general, to be the guy who dutifully repeats the line about what Avengers: Age of Ultron at least does well. But here I am writing this, so I better go ahead and repeat it: this film is saved from being as bad as Transformers (or any other multi-hundred million dollar CGI mess you could name) by Joss Whedon, a director whose sense of levity and narrative rhythm raises the multi-franchise marketing effort that is the Avengers above the level of the merely noisy to the plateau of the fleetingly entertaining. And if I could just relax, stop being so grumpy about what this movie and everything it stands for are doing to my beloved cinema, I could less cynically convey to the readers of Tiny Mix Tapes (Do you folks care about superheroes? As much of a cross-section of you as would be found in any subculture, I guess?) what’s most praise-worthy about this new Avengers movie: that it seems at times to be the apotheosis of the Hollywood Dream Factory, a gleaming, mind-bogglingly difficult-to-produce movie that required such a high degree of organization of talented craftspeople to become what it is that it should be stared at in awe, the final, most profitable result of the machine our American industry set into motion in the nineteen-teens. Whether I can stomach superheroes or not, it’s the truth that a man like Whedon, who can direct a team of people this big to create a palatable movie when the stakes are this high, deserves a measure of praise. The reason I’m giving it to him only back-handedly is because I know he can do better; his talents are being drained by this franchise; he doesn’t deserve a compliment from the front hand. He is a talented man who’s committed himself to the task of making sure that the best our immensely powerful and resourceful studio system can do is remind film fans of what it really thinks of them, which is that they are as intelligent as a nine year old watching TV on a Saturday morning.

Anyway, what’s the movie about? Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) creates an artificially intelligent robot using a magic crystal from the alternate dimension that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes from. The robot, Ultron (voice of the inimitable James Spader), thinks that humanity must be destroyed if it is to evolve. Ultron’s brain is one with the internet and this somehow makes him powerful enough to build a machine that can lift an entire Russian city out of the earth and into the air, where it will then drop back down like a meteor, thereby creating an extinction-level event, dinosaur-style. The Avengers must overcome their differences to work as a team to stop him. That really is what happens in this movie. And, like I said, the impressive thing is that Joss Whedon and his armies of technicians (CGI and otherwise) make this make sense, even if we know it’s only cartoon sense.

Anyway, what’s this movie really about? The same thing as the last one: whose super powers can top who else’s, and at what time, and under what circumstances. Is Iron Man’s armor stronger than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)? Can Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a mere mortal covert government operative, somehow get the best of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has superhuman speed? Can Captain America (Chris Evans) lift Thor’s hammer? If Age of Ultron comes down to anything besides money (it doesn’t, but go with this), it comes down to a giant game of rock-paper-scissors: Iron Man’s armor beats Hulk’s muscle. Hulk’s muscle beats Thor’s hammer. Thor’s hammer beats Iron Man’s armor. Around and around and around for more than two hours, something like a group of nine year olds arguing at recess. The whole world ostensibly hangs in the balance for The Avengers to save, but absolutely precisely nothing is ever at stake, because you are always reminded that you are watching a cartoon but being asked to call it a film that deserves to be written about. The only people who need to write about Avengers: Age of Ultron are the accountants at Marvel and Disney; any other words (I have to admit) have been wasted.

Sorry, but fuck how not-terrible this movie manages to be. There’s a lot of Ozu up on Hulu Plus, which means that if I must give my money to a giant corporation (and we all know I must), at least I’ll be getting something worthwhile in return.

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