Avengers: Age of Ultron
“Avengers –,” Chris Evans’ Captain America begins his signature cry with conviction before being cut off prematurely to black.
There is an aura of enchantment whenever people watch superhero films. For a couple of hours or so, one obligingly suspends disbelief in favor of a flashier, more colorful lifestyle that exists only within the confines of the silver screen. Unlike its comic book counterparts, the process of experiencing the exploits of caped and masked men within the movie house brings the fantasy ever closer to audiences; every thud of each extra-terrestrial super villain to the ground sends sonic vibrations to jaw-dropped moviegoers, while shots of titanic floating headquarters double as possible stills for a paint rendition of Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. However, mesmerizing technical feats alone would make for a rather two-dimensional offering. As the critical eyes of pundits and fanatics alike have become even more complex, so has the art of making superhero films, as evidenced by Joss Whedon’s most recent contribution to the much heralded Marvel franchise, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The much awaited film opens with the journey of the Avengers through the snowy mountains of the fictional Sokovia in order to retrieve Loki’s scepter from the hands of Wolfgang Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). Following the retrieval of the item, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), after realizing that the scepter holds artificial intelligence within it, convinces Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to clandestinely use the gem to complete the Ultron program. However, the plan backfires as Ultron foregoes its originally intended purpose and instead opts to eradicate humanity.
The film’s narrative, though, does not stick solely to this premise. Director Joss Whedon, who also doubles as the film’s screenwriter, crafts various interweaving story arcs: the blossoming romance between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov (Scarlet Johansson), the secret family life of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the journey of the mysterious Maximoff twins, and many more. All these he does with a strict sense of balance, never showing a blatant sense of favoritism towards any one angle.
In conjuring up this web of plots, Whedon successfully tries his hand at almost every possible genre – action, comedy, drama, romance, and perhaps most evidently, science fiction. He utilizes and combines various filmmaking elements, all the while making sure the movie does not look like an overblown parody of itself.
Another thing to Whedon’s credit is that he does not try to emulate other directorial efforts in the same category, such as that of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Whereas Nolan’s style was characterized by dark lighting, a sense of bleakness, and a strictly urban setting, Whedon’s is distinctly different. He has crafted a trademark brand for the series that is distinguished by daring antics, surprising humor, and subtle jabs at love affairs, among others. It is a formula that not only works, but also thrives in a day and age that demands artistic innovation.
The film also features the same cast as that of its 2012 predecessor, albeit with a few changes. Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kickass and Nowhere Boy fame plays the role of Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver while Elizabeth Olsen, who appeared in last year’s Godzilla, portrays his sister, Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch. The Eastern European background of the two characters required Taylor-Johnson and Olsen to utilize thick Balkan accents in their portrayals, an undertaking that seemed like a breeze to both actors. Their performances were truly a testament to their ability to bring to life their characters, removing any resemblance to either of the two’s previous roles.
If Taylor-Johnson and Olsen shined in their full-fledged debuts to the world renowned series, Jeremy Renner avoided the much feared sophomore slump. Renner’s Hawkeye, who appeared as a primary character only in the The Avengers, added a sense of humanity to the production. After being exposed to robotic brawls and flying bodies for majority of the film, it is quite refreshing to witness the humane side of the group. It serves almost as an anchor to the movie’s often tottering nature, pulling it back down whenever it feels like the story has gone too serious or too unrestrained. His scenes may not necessarily be considered dramatic masterpieces, given the superhero nature of the story, but it is a good, commendable effort worthy of recognition in its own right.
As ironic as it may sound, perhaps the biggest contribution to Avengers: Age of Ultron’s triumph is the fact that most audience members enter the cinema knowing what to expect. The film is not one that people watch for the sake of priding themselves in being “aficionados” of art, and audiences do not enter the movie house expecting the film to be the most complex, psychological piece of drama. Rather, it is a 141-minute visual spectacle that sweeps eager fanatics and regular moviegoers alike off their feet once Alan Silvestri’s eponymous theme song reaches its symphonic crescendo.
In that two hours or so, people leave whatever pre-occupied thought they have outside by the theatre doors; they have no time for such, and who would? Once Captain America and company take the helm, only the starkest (pun intended) attention is acceptable.