Last year, when I wrote my review of the original Avengers, one of my main critiques was that certain parts of the film seemed to have been trimmed down in the interest of time, offering short shrift to some characters. However, this was in lieu of creating a fun and frantic action film with some fantastically witty screenwriting to fill in the film’s quieter moments, and seeing as it was a miracle that the film managed to juggle so many distinct characters into a coherent narrative, its shortcomings were certainly forgivable. Now, we have Age of Ultron, a sequel that has astoundingly somehow become larger in scope than its predecessor, and is miraculously another good film in its own right. It’s just unfortunate that the franchise’s problems got bigger along with it.
Tony Stark, frustrated with the pain and suffering that he and the Avengers must continually fight against, seeks to pre-emptively end the war against Earth by building Ultron, an artificial intelligence designed to protect the world so as to make the Avengers unnecessary. Alas, the AI goes rogue, and in its madness determines that in order to save the world, humanity must be destroyed so that a new mechanical race may take over the planet. Now it is up to the Avengers to stop Ultron and his robotic army from destroying the very world they intended to protect.
What director Joss Whedon does best are character interactions, and this film seems to try its hardest to find the space for its more intimate moments. Thankfully, it mostly succeeds by placing emphasis on characters we do not see in their own franchises. Black Widow, Hulk, and Hawkeye each have very involved character arcs that serve as a great reminder as to why they are on the team. This isn’t to say that the Cap, Iron Man, and Thor don’t all get humanizing moments, but their individual arcs feel somewhat redundant of their own most recent films. Ultron himself is also a remarkably good foil to Tony Stark, mirroring his creator’s sardonic quips with a misguidedly mad lilt. Less interesting are the inclusion of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as Ultron’s primary lieutenants, as their presence feels more obligatory to Marvel’s franchise management than necessary to telling the best story possible. This isn’t to say that their inclusion detracts from the story at all, but it does tend to overstuff the film in terms of character arcs.
And that’s the biggest flaw in the film: there’s just too much going on. Whedon’s original cut of the film was reportedly over three hours long, and it shows. In order to make room for the climactic third act and keep the film under 150 minutes, the editing team really took a hatchet to some of the less necessary scenes. Some scenes feel particularly rushed and only serve as connective tissue in order to keep the action setpieces coherent, turning those scenes into a Cliffs Notes version edited down to the bare essentials. Now, don’t get me wrong; the action scenes are expertly realized, with great emphasis on battle cinematography and impressive stunts, as well as a clear concern for the civilians affected by the villain’s chaos. However, the film begrudgingly places emphasis on the action at the expense of its ability to let its characters and scenes take a moment to breathe.
Now, does this mean Age of Ultron is a bad film? Hell no. I really enjoyed it, and it’s a fun ride from start to finish. What I am saying, though, is that it is sorely in need of a Director’s Cut, one that has the runtime necessary to accomplish both its storytelling and action-centric ambitions. And thankfully, it is already rumored that one is on its way for the Blu-Ray release. In the meantime, though, Marvel fans will not want to miss out.
On the other hand, is three hours too long for a superhero film? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.