Oh, the humanity5/6/2015
Though he may have cleverly tricked you into thinking otherwise, Joss Whedon is, at his core, an action director. The reason he may have tricked you into thinking otherwise, is because there is no action director alive who manages to instill his heroes with such a sense of genuine humanity as Whedon can.
It is hard to gauge whether or not “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a better movie than 2012’s excellent “The Avengers,” if only because they both do different things very well. The first film’s action sequences feel more visceral. They seem crisper, and the action feels like it is driven with a greater sense of purpose. Meanwhile,“Age of Ultron” feels more like it is crossing off a “to do” list. Explosion: check. Building collapse: check. Glib Tony Stark one-liner: check. Make no mistake, the action scenes in “Age of Ultron” are still magnificent to see — they just feel less like the point.
And that is a good thing in this case, because in his last contribution to Marvel’s universe, Whedon has chosen to take a bunch of superheros and gods and turn them into humans. We feel for every person we see on the screen, and for the newest additions to the family — Scarlet Witch (a scene-stealing Elizabeth Olsen) and her brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — our hearts ache.
“Age of Ultron” picks up the action shortly after the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The extra-governmental agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is in shambles and The Avengers are acting as a sort of global peace keeping force, rooting out pockets of the evil Nazi holdover organization, Hydra. After assaulting Hydra’s headquarters in the opening scene, The Avengers once again recover the staff that Loki used to cause most of the havoc in the original “Avengers” film. Studying it at Avengers HQ leads Tony “Iron Man” Stark to a breakthrough in artificial intelligence, which he immediately, and without informing the rest of the Avengers, puts to use in his pet project: the “Ultron” program. The intent is to create an army of self-actualized robots to take over for the human Avengers, and bring about, as Stark says, “peace in our time.”
That goes poorly, as anyone who has seen the trailer is aware. But from there, Whedon subtly shifts the focus on us. Ultron (voiced delightfully by James Spader) might be the antagonist of the story, but the film’s final two thirds are ultimately about the nameless masses. Acting as almost the complete antithesis of Zack Snyder’s 2013 “Man of Steel,” “Age of Ultron” goes out of its way to show our heroes being, well, heroic. Fight scenes revolve not so much around smacking the bad guy, but instead place an emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties. In one of the more perfectly constructed scenes in the film, the Incredible Hulk (the incredible Mark Ruffalo) goes berserk through a metropolitan area. After being subdued, Hulk looks over the destruction, sees the wounded and terrified civilians and is overcome with guilt and regret.
Whedon’s heroes — whether it be Captain America, “Firefly’s” Mal Reynolds or Buffy — care about the people they defend. It makes them vulnerable, and it makes their fights seem all the more just. There is a lot going on in “Age of Ultron,” and not all of it works perfectly. But Whedon has taken a summer blockbuster and instilled it with more humanity than posssibly anyone thought possible. CV