This weekend I got to see Avengers: Age of Ultron at the IMAX. It was a great experience and a good movie. While the film captured the spirit of an Avengers Marvel Comic and the characterizations of the heroes and the villains were spot on, it’s the little nuances when it comes to filmmaking and screenwriting that writer and director Joss Whedon missed that kept it from becoming the great film it could have been.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is just like a comic book come to life. The opening sequence in the forest on the way to Baron Strucker’s hideout on the quest for Loki’s scepter are just like a splash page of a comic book. From the action transpiring in those opening scenes I thought I was watching George Perez’s art come to life. That inciting incident introduces us to the Avengers assembled on the quest to take down Strucker and his henchmen on the quest for Loki’s scepter. On the journey to discovering the scepter, Tony Stark (who takes off his armor for some reason) runs afoul of Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. Interestingly enough, one of Wanda’s “Hexes” leads to Tony Stark getting the vision to create a shield to protect the earth from evil. Unfortunately who will protect us from the heroes and their ideals? A question I thought should have been answered in the story, but this is never explored.
With the fall of SHEILD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Tony Stark starts getting idealistic about bringing peace to the world on his own. While he’s given Thor’s trust to analyze Loki’s scepter he starts abusing that trust to achieve his goals through ulterior means. Instead of analyzing Loki’s Scepter he works with Dr. Banner to create a technological shield to protect the earth. Together Banner and Stark create the artificial intelligence known as Ultron. And While the heroes are taking a Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans moment to hang out and party, Ultron is born and is discovering the world. After he takes down Jarvis, it lets itself be known to the Avengers by attacking them through Tony Stark’s own Iron legion robots. Ironically, the shield that Stark used to defend the world is now out to attack the very humans that created it!
With his prototype body destroyed, Ultron goes back to Strucker’s labs and creates himself a new one. There he discovers Maximoff Twins and recruits them in his master plan. The misguided orphans want revenge on Tony Stark and The Avengers for the destruction of their homeland and their family, Ultron just wants to destroy humanity. An evil version of Tony Stark, Ultron is out to replace the world’s chaos with his own order. Typical comic book story.
The Avengers discover Ultron is on the quest for Vibranium and track him to the African coast. We get a lot of great Easter Eggs in this sequence where the Scarlet Witch’s hexes take the team down. Unfortunately a lot gets lost in this sequence story wise. And while we’re distracted by the montage of images in the characters’ pasts by a big Iron Man Vs. a mind controlled Hulk sequence that ends the first act, a lot winds up unexplained.
With the Avengers beaten, and Ultron making off with the Vibranium, the heroes have to deal with a publicity backlash after the Hulk and Iron Man demolish most of a downtown African City. The defeated heroes get in their Quinjet and head to Hawkeye’s farmhouse and spend some time resting and recuperating all while planning their next move. There’s some great character interaction here and But when Tony Stark goes into the movie starts falling apart. The unevenness of the story starts to show once Nick Fury pops in to give Tony and the Avengers advice.
After Fury gives the heroes a pep talk we learn that Ultron isn’t out to create a new Vibrainium body for himself, but to evolve. He heads over to Dr.Cho’s with the vibraninum to find out about the synthetic flesh used to heal up Hawkeye to create a new body for himself made up of flesh and vibranium with the mind Gem. The Scarlet Witch reads Ultron’s mind (PLOTHOLE) and realizes he’s not out to protect humanity but to destroy it. Cap, Hawkeye and the Black Widow go on a quest to get the body from Ultron. They get it, but the Black Widow winds up getting captured.
With the body back at the Avengers Tower The Avengers debate whether or not to upload Jarvis into it. There’s a bit of a battle, but Thor fresh from his bath comes in and charges up the body and gives us an expository plot point about the Infinity Gems. But that plot point gets lost as the Vision is born. The android shows he’s ready to fight for good by picking up Thor’s hammer. With the Vision activated, the Avengers go to fight Ultron in the final battle in Slorenia.
There they find out that Ultron plans on using all the remaining vibranium to lift the city city up into the sky and using it as meteorite to destroy all life on earth. The Avengers fight to save lives of citizens and stop Ultron. The story really starts to unravel as Nick Fury and a Sheild Helicarrier and War Machine pop in as Deus Ex machinas to save citizens. In all the mayhem Ultron is defeated, the city is destroyed, and the heroes save the day. The Hulk, Hawkeye, and Tony Stark leave the team and the Avengers Assemble at their new compound in Upstate New York. And Shawn is left wanting more due to all the unexplained and unresolved story points.
Avengers Age of Ultron is a fun comic book movie. Yeah, it’s an entertaining movie, but not a satisfying one. There’s a lot going on the surface, but not much depth and substance. When you look at the movie from a story perspective it just comes across as a bit flat and one-dimensional. And the main reason it’s so flat and one-dimensional is because it tries to do too much onscreen. Less is more, and I wish Joss Whedon would have given us less flash and more substance.
I’ll say that Avengers: Age of Ultron is stronger in its sum than in its parts. And its strength is being just like the comics its based on. Many of the action sequences are just like comic panels come to life. Again, I saw the spirit of George Perez’s art in many of the cinematic sequences. And the characterizations of all the heroes definitely captures the spirit of their comic book counterparts. Every actor not only looks like the heroes in the comics but their “voices” sound just like the ones in our heads when we’re reading a comic book.
Another strength of the movie is that it does have a fun energy about it. What I liked most about it is that and that in spite of all the destruction that transpired Earth’s Mightiest acted like Heroes. They fought to stop the bad guys. They made every effort to protect and preserve human life. In spite of their personal issues and their flaws they all remained heroes to the end.
There was a great sequence where Hawkeye talks to the Scarlet Witch about being the guy with only a bow and arrow in incredibly dangerous situations. That one scene OWNS everything the CW tried to do with its pathetic Arrow Show over the last three seasons. THAT is the spirit of who Green Arrow is and what he’s about. Fighting for the little guy because he is the little guy. And making a big impact with small actions. The scene where he goes to save the boy who was left behind in the city was one of the most powerful statements in the movie about being a hero. We needed more scenes like this. Now if Quicksilver had lived to understand the motivations for Hawkeye’s heroics the scene would have been absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, Whedon had to kill him the same way he killed Anya in the series finale of Buffy, an ancillary death that was just there and had no real emotional impact on the story.
Unfortunately being just like a comic book has its fair share of disadvantages as well. Cinematically being just like a comic book is actually one of the things that holds Avengers: Age of Ultron back from being the great film it could have possibly been. I believe the first plot point was telegraphed to the audience in that Hulkbuster Iron Man Vs. Hulk battle scene. Yeah, the fight was exciting, but like the end of the first issue of a three issue comic arc, but from a screenwriting perspective I saw it coming a mile away. And all the unexplained story points and unexplored concepts led to a very uneven story that remained very rough in quite a few places. There wasn’t much craft when it came to the screenplay for Avengers: Age of Ultron and it showed onscreen in the pacing and story points. It’s these little nuances that make a screenplay a tight, well-crafted story and I didn’t see much of that rock-solid screenwriting he used on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer applied when adapting the story for this sequel. Yeah, Whedon captured the spirit of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in his script, but he violated the letter of too many basic screenwriting rules to get there.
The other big issue I have with Avengers: Age of Ultron were the special effects. There were JUST TOO MANY OF THEM. There was so much going on in some of the fight scenes it was like the movie had Michael Bay level ADHD. Some scenes were Michael Bay Transformers level crazy in terms of business. It was impossible to keep up with everything that went on in some cases. A special effect enhances the story and shows us something about the actions that define the character or moves the story forward. Unfortunately when there’s too many things going it gives you a headache. Advice for Mr. Whedon next time: LESS IS MORE.
The third issue I have with Avengers: Age of Ultron is that it just tried to cram too much story into one movie. Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like over 200 issues of Avengers Comic books crammed into one three-hour film. We go from the creation of Ultron, the introduction of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, the creation of the Vision and the introduction of the Avengers Academy all in one movie. It was like having ten movies worth of story in one film and in some cases it was a bit overwhelming to take in all these little details. Again, LESS IS MORE.
Joss Whedon says he was under a lot of pressure to top the first Avengers film. Well, here’s some advice from Shawn James the writer: Don’t try to top yourself. All that’s going to do is make you crazy and anxious. Don’t try to meet or exceed someone elses’ expectations, just tell your story and the audience will appreciate it.
What I’ve learned from my two decades of experience writing serialized stores like the Isis series and The Temptation of John Haynes is to take each story as its own. Yes each story connects with previous ones, but each story is its own entity with its own beginning, middle and end. Once a writer applies this approach their lives will be a whole lot easier. Continuity doesn’t have to be drum tight, but easy enough for a child to follow the basic details.
And another thing I’ve learned is that less is more. Smaller and simpler often has a bigger impact on the audience than big and elaborate It’s the little things a writer puts in a story that stays with them and allow them to connect with the characters. Stories are about people. Unfortunately it was very hard to connect with any of the characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron on a human level because so much was going on and so many characters in a single frame. People were there, but it was hard to care about any of them.
Again, I’ll say go out and go see Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s a fun entertaining film with a fast pace and lots of action. I wasn’t going in expecting anything but an action movie and that’s what I got to see, a good, not great action film. When it comes to these Marvel Studios movies I’d just like to see a little more craft on the screen. For the big budget movie I didn’t expect to see so many rookie mistakes in the screenplay and the special effects. I’m hoping for Avengers 3 or the rest of the Phase 2 and 3 Marvel Studios films everyone starts to understands that less is more and focuses more on making the plots tighter and better developing the characters. People go to the movies to see people and I’d like to see a bit more humanity in these Marvel Super hero movies.