There’s a rumor that a major figure of the French cinema, retired from public view, now cannot even go to the movies in his waning days: four, five minutes would pass and he would shriek in bloody horror as if from waking terrors. He would not only have forgotten what he was watching or where he was but the very function of images advancing in the darkness. I began to forget the breathless, teetering, tottering, careening, catapulting “Avengers: The Age Of Ultron” about twenty minutes into its 141-minute running time, but slouched instead of shrieked. Zoom, quip, wham, smirk, quip, blam! Quip! Oh so much too-muchness on an inhumane scale. In crafting his sequel to Disney-Marvel’s $1,518,594,910-grossing 2012 original, writer-director Joss Whedon admits the gargantuan effort it took to compile, let alone complete this pummeling juggernaut: “I have been to the other side of the mountain. I gotta say, it’s been dark. It’s been weird. It’s been horrible,” Whedon unloaded to Buzzfeed. “About a month and a half ago, I said goodbye to my kids, and I’ve been living in Burbank next to the studio. I feel every day like, I didn’t do enough, I didn’t do enough, I didn’t do enough. I wasn’t ready. Here’s failure. Here’s failure. Here’s compromise. Here’s compromise. I’m now coming out the other side, realizing that once again, for all its many varied and soon-to-be-heralded flaws, it’s my movie. It’s the movie I set out to make. And I have the honor of saying, it’s fucking bonkers. So there’s that.” And then there’s what Los Angeles-based critic James Rocchi tweeted: “Every Marvel Movie contains at least 75 past years of comics canon AND at least 15 future years of Disney ‘planning.’ Doesn’t leave much room.” So what room is left for mystery, majesty, joy, surprise, catharsis, a breath of air? Not much in this crushing mass, the dim computer-generated images made worse by 3D. Postures are struck that are antiwar, and postures are struck that are pro-invasion. And those damn cities: always under siege. The urban masses on view are smaller, less recognizable, and even apocryphal, with the de rigueur sequence of shots nodding toward the street-level damage and confusion of 9/11 in Lower Manhattan. The CGI Hulk has a cute love moment with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow; two minor characters appear to be having a private Fritz Lang lookalike contest; a series of sets with see-through floors seen from beneath also evoke that master’s architecture; Chris Evans is quietly charming, and Cobie Smulders, well, Whedon’s camera very much likes watching her walk away (and ogling this one costume with a bold, stark zipper up her skirt to the base of her neck). Marvel majordomo Kevin Feige recently revealed that every Marvel movie has a specific homage to “The Empire Strikes Back”: a minimum of one character or random victim will have their arm lopped off. Having priorities is good. With Robert Downey Jr. (insurmountably insufferable), Chris Hemsworth (insuperable), Mark Ruffalo (in lurvvvv), Chris Evans (in good cheer), Scarlett Johansson (in squinky black), Jeremy Renner (in the family way), James Spader (incognito), Samuel L. Jackson (in for an instant), Cobie Smulders (in lovingly cut trousers ogled by the camera once more), Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Stan Lee. 141m. Reviewed in 3D. (Ray Pride)
“Avengers: Age Of Ultron” is now available worldwide in multiple formats. Your satisfaction may vary.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.